March 18, 2010, Issue #157
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
email@example.com, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
LAST MINUTE EDITOR'S NOTE: All the Hudson Valley people who have signed up with us to travel to Washington for the big peace rally Saturday, March 20, have been accommodated. We will bring 55 in our bus. The other 15 or so wait-listed people will travel on the Pittsfield bus, which will pick them up in New Paltz. Information will be sent to all the passengers Thursday. There still may be a couple of seats on the Pittsfield bus. If you just now want to get to the rally, contact us as early Thursday as possible.
1. AT LAST: GREAT NEWS ABOUT U.S. ECONOMY! — "Great news" for whom?
2. RIGHTWING EXTREMISTS, MILITIAS SURGE IN U.S. — The U.S. is facing a surge in anti-government extremist groups and armed militias.
3. THE DEMOCRATS IN POWER — Part 1 What Do The American People Want?
4. THE DEMOCRATS IN POWER — Part 2 What Will The Democrats Do For The People?
5. THE DEMOCRATS IN POWER — Part 3: The Broader Political Context.
6. PENTAGON LIED ABOUT AFGHAN CITY — That big U.S. attack on Marjah was public relations hype.
7. MEDIAN WEALTH FOR SINGLE BLACK WOMEN: $5 — While single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61% of their single white male counterparts), the median wealth for single black women is only $5.
8. THE ENTHUSIASM GAP — Robert Reich: " The Republican base is fired up. The Dem base is packing up. The Dem base is lethargic because Congressional Democrats continue to compromise on everything the Dem base cares about."
9. NANCY RICE (1915-2010) — PRESENTE! — One of the Mid-Hudson region's foremost and longest-lived left activists, Nancy Rice of Highland, N.Y., died Feb. 24 at the age of 94.
10. IN MEMORY OF NANCY RICE — "The banks are made of marble, with a guard at every door."
11. STATE BUDGETS: DON'T CUT THIS, CUT THAT — The relationship between the hard times for state and defense spending.
12. WHAT HAPPENED TO CANDIDATE OBAMA? — Katha Pollitt: "What is the point of Obama being conciliatory and careful if his opponents are reckless and don't want to conciliate?"
13. CUBA AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT — Alone among world nations, only our island neighbor, Cuba, has attained sustainable environmental balance.
14. WAR AND HIGHER EDUCATION — "We have nothing against higher education. It's quite positive, unless it is used to side with the oppressor, as it too often is in Washington."
1. AT LAST: GREAT NEWS ABOUT U.S. ECONOMY!
By the Activist Newsletter
The economy's not as bad as it looks. Last year, millions of American families lost their homes to foreclosure, and total unemployment/underemployment reached 17% of the work force. Things have gotten a bit worse so far this year, but don't worry: there's a big silver lining to the dark clouds of recession.
According to a March 9 report from a the Spectrum Group, a Chicago consulting firm specializing in the affluent and retirement markets, the number of U.S. millionaires (not including primary residence — NIPR) increased by 16% in 2009. That comes to 7.8 million millionaires up from 6.7 million the year before, according to Spectrum's “Affluent Market Insights 2010.”
Wait, there's more good news: The number of Ultra High Net Worth households — those with a net worth of $5 million or more (NIPR) — advanced 17% to 980,000 last year.
And now here's the sunny-skies clincher: Forbes magazine just released its list of the world's billionaires — and guess what? The total number of billionaires in 2010 has jumped to 1,011 worth a combined US$3.6 trillion — up from only 793 in 2009 with US$2.4 trillion.
We're not talking chicken feed here. Do you know what $3.6 trillion can buy? Let's put it this way. It is enough to finance the Pentagon and all the Bush-Obama wars for three more years!
Fortunately it's our tax money that pays for national defense, so the billionaires will be able to invest their earnings into creating jobs and income for American workers, and in manufacturing lots of things for them to buy. It's a win win situation!
As residents of New York State we're bursting with special pride about the Forbes report. Can you guess why? Because the world city with the most billionaires is our own New York City — with 60 of 'em, including Mayor Bloomberg. And these rich people are not snobbish. The fact that they are willing to share their city with well over 1.5 million poor people is a testament to their sense of equality and democracy. Like, we're all in it together!
According to a statement by Spectrum president George H. Walper Jr., “the nation’s millionaires — together with its Ultra High Net Worth households — are bouncing back from the recession. Following a sharp decline in 2008, both groups saw their numbers advance nicely last year.... While still well short of its all-time high of 9.2 million in 2007, 2009's growth in the millionaire population is nevertheless welcome news for an economy still working to recover.”
Did you get it? They are bouncing back! This obviously means happy days will be here again real soon. When the Ultra High Net Worth households come bouncing back to their waiting mansions and servants, can the Ultra Low Net Worth households be far behind? Hell no, a rising tide lifts all boats — sleek yachts and homemade rafts alike — so let the good times roll!
2. RIGHTWING EXTREMISTS, MILITIAS SURGE IN U.S.
By Chris McGreal
The U.S. is facing a surge in anti-government extremist groups and armed militias, driven by deepening hostility on the right to Barack Obama, anger over the economy, and the increasing propagation of conspiracy theories by parts of the mass media such as Fox News.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), the U.S.'s most prominent civil rights group focused on hate organizations, said in a report that extremist "patriot" groups "came roaring back to life" last year as their number jumped nearly 250% to more than 500 with deepening ties to conservative mainstream politics.
The SPLC report, called Rage on the Right, said the rise in extremist groups was "a cause for grave concern" given their propensity to use violence during their heyday in the 1990s, most notably with the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. It added that the issues driving support for such groups were increasingly populist and that "signs of growing radicalization are everywhere."
"Patriot groups have been fuelled by anger over the changing demographics of the country, the soaring public debt, the troubled economy and an array of initiatives by President Obama that have been branded "socialist" or even "fascist" by his political opponents," the report said.
"Already there are signs of… violence emanating from the radical right. Since the installation of Barack Obama, rightwing extremists have murdered six law enforcement officers. Racist skinheads and others have been arrested in alleged plots to assassinate the nation's first black president. One man from Brockton, Massachusetts — who told police he had learned on white supremacist websites that a genocide was under way against whites — is charged with murdering two black people and planning to kill as many Jews as possible on the day after Obama's inauguration. Most recently, a rash of individuals with anti-government, survivalist or racist views have been arrested in a series of bomb cases."
The report says the patriot movement has "made significant inroads into the conservative political scene" in part driven by a growing view of the U.S. administration "as part of a plot to impose 'one-world government' on liberty-loving Americans."
"The Tea Parties and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism," the report says.
The SPLC notes that the rise comes as part of a deepening disillusionment with government in which just one quarter of Americans think government can be trusted. It said that a recent poll found that the anti-tax Tea Party movement is viewed in more positive terms than the Democratic or Republican parties.
"The signs of growing radicalization are everywhere. Armed men have come to Obama speeches bearing signs suggesting that the 'tree of liberty' needs to be "watered" with 'the blood of tyrants.' The Conservative Political Action Conference held this February was co-sponsored by groups like the John Birch Society, which believes President Eisenhower was a communist agent, and Oath Keepers, a patriot outfit formed last year that suggests, in thinly veiled language, that the government has secret plans to declare martial law and intern patriotic Americans in concentration camps," the SPLC said.
The report says that, unlike during the 1990s, the patriot movement's core ideas are more widely propagated and accepted by prominent politicians and some in the mass media, such as the Fox News presenter Glenn Beck.
"As the movement has exploded, so has the reach of its ideas, aided and abetted by commentators and politicians in the ostensible mainstream," said the report. "Beck, for instance, reinvigorated a key patriot conspiracy theory — the charge that the federal emergency management agency is secretly running concentration camps — before finally 'debunking' it."
How far such language is now part of the mainstream political discourse was confirmed by Politico today, which reported that it had obtained a Republican national committee document detailing plans to raise election funds with "an aggressive campaign capitalizing on 'fear' of President Barack Obama" and a promise to "save the country from trending toward socialism."
In the presentation, the administration is portrayed as "the Evil Empire," and Obama as the Joker in Batman.
Patriot groups and militias are planning a march on Washington next month ostensibly in defense of the right to carry guns.
The SPLC has identified 512 groups, including "patriots" and militias, which it accuses of pushing extreme anti-government doctrines or promoting political conspiracy theories. It says that many are not directly involved in violence but help feed extremism.
States with several groups include: Texas (52 groups including American Patriots for Freedom Foundation, Central Texas Militia, Texas Well Regulated Militia); Michigan (47 including Northern Michigan Backyard Protection Militia); California (22 including State of California Unorganized Militia, Northern California State Militia, American Armenian Militia, Freedom Force International); Indiana (21 including Indiana Sedentary Militia, Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia, 3rd Brigade); New York (17 including Empire State Militia); Oregon (14 including Oregon Militia Corps) and Kentucky (13 including Kentucky State Militia – Ohio Valley Command).
— This article appeared March 4 in the Guardian (UK)
3. THE DEMOCRATS IN POWER
Part 1 — What Do The American People Want?
By Jack A. Smith
After more than a year in the White House, President Barack Obama's high rate of popularity has fallen, perhaps enough to result in serious losses for the Democrats in the November Congressional elections. His 68% approval rating when he entered office fell to 47% by the end of his first year, the lowest first-year-end ranking since that of President Gerald Ford in 1975.
Many independents who voted Democratic in the last election are pulling away. A number of working class voters are looking askance at what they consider the Obama Administration's inattention to their decades of wage and benefit stagnation, now exacerbated by the Great Recession.
During the campaign many poor and working class families, who are suffering the worst in the recession, evidently took Obama at what appeared to be his word about moving quickly to alleviate their plight. Patience is strained when a worker is jobless or fears foreclosure or must feed a family with the help of a food kitchen. This, too, reduces popular appeal.
A sector of liberal and progressive voters — many of whom were among President Barack Obama's strongest supporters — are expressing disappointment about his presidency, and consternation regarding the seeming inability of the large Democratic majority in Congress to pass centrist legislation, much less the center-left changes required by the American people.
Columnist Katha Pollitt declared in The Nation March 8 that the liberal base of Obama's constituency, "pro-choice women, labor, civil rights activists, opponents of war, progressives, leftists, civil libertarians — is demoralized." (See her article below.)
There are several reasons for these developments. One of the most important stems from the 2008 election campaign itself when a not insubstantial portion of the electorate seemed convinced that the first-term Illinois senator would be able to perform the equivalent of political miracles once elevated to the White House.
This is understandable, though it imposes a staggering burden on the anointed miracle-maker, not least when confronted with an utterly destructive Republican opposition in Congress.
After eight years of Bush Administration pandering to the rich, denying climate change, attempting to destroy Social Security, launching wars on false pretenses, justifying torture, and creating conditions for the worst recession since the Great Depression, the majority of the American people were desperate for change.
It seems, however, the changes the people desired went beyond Obama's cautious, middle-of-the road agenda, and we believe it is a serious factor in the decline of presidential popularity.
Though not clearly articulated, masses of people were demanding change of a transformative nature, not simply replacing Republicans with Democrats, but with new policies to correct old and now staggering problems.
The changes many sought were rational, significant and often progressive:
• Reducing the power of the Wall St. gamblers and the greedy banking system with stronger regulations.
• Reversing the steep decline of better-paying manufacturing jobs.
•Ending the deterioration of Main St. in a program to revive American cities and rural towns.
•Halting the three-decade attack on working class and lower middle class income and living standards.
• Overhauling the educational system to bring American children up to international standards.
• Stopping America's incessant wars, including the war in Afghanistan.
• Closing the expanding gap between rich and poor by taxing away a large portion of the disproportionate wealth and assets of the top 5% of the population.
• Legislating a single-payer healthcare system, which Obama at one time supported until his presidential ambitions dictated otherwise.
• Strengthening civil liberties after the Patriot Act and other erosions of democratic freedoms under the Bush Administration.
The election-year recession with its high unemployment and housing foreclosures compounded the popular desire for substantive solutions from the post-Bush White House.
Candidate Obama was more than obliging to multitudes of Democrats and independents seeking change, adopting the concept of "change" as his principal campaign pledge to the voters, encouraging ever-increasing crowds of supporters in their repeated chants for "Change We Can Believe In," and "Yes We Can," meaning Obama can bring about the changes America needs.
At the same time, though he explained some of the programs he sought, Obama never defined the "change" he would deliver or commit himself and the Democratic Party to the visions of change in the minds of many millions of voters. The campaign did little to discourage Democratic and independent voters from thinking that their extensive hopes for change, for turning an historic corner in America, would be fought for and attained when the party dominated the White House and Congress.
Actually, the Democratic Party and Obama had no intention of governing other than from the political center/center-right, and well understood that many of the changes sought by the electorate were of a center-left orientation that would be sidelined after the party assumed power. Obama views himself as a non-ideological pragmatist, whose strategy for legislative success seems based on creating programmatic unity between the political center and the right — a methodology that usually succeeds, when it succeeds at all, in producing legislation that is right of center.
Most of the political left understood this from the beginning and entertained few illusions about the political goals and limitations of today's Democratic Party. Of course the Democratic Party and the president are superior to the right/far-right Republican opposition, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not there will be progressive legislation in the next three or seven years. Judging by the performance of the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House so far the answer is negative.
Many liberals and progressives during the campaign had hopes Obama might govern, at minimum, from the center/center-left. Certain prominent progressives fostered this illusion by depicting Obama as a closet progressive, implying he might turn out to be the reincarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
FDR was not a progressive in many ways but he understood what American capitalist society needed at a time of potentially existential economic and social crisis, and fought for it without concern that the right wing despised him. He wore their contempt like a merit badge, because he recognized that the Republican obstructionists of the time were placing their petty class interests ahead of the national interest, and with it the fate of the socioeconomic system to which they subscribed.
In a related issue, covert and less frequent overt racism is indeed a factor pertaining to Obama's declining popularity, and must be condemned. The March 6-10 issue of The Economist suggests that "bigotry cannot explain, however, why Mr. Obama's approval rating among white Americans has fallen since he took office, from roughly 60% to 40%. As the president pointed out in September: 'I was actually black before the election.'" The publication continued:
"Democrats have a Caucasian problem. It is not new: no Democratic presidential candidate has won the white vote since Lyndon Johnson [42 years ago]. Mr. Obama actually did better among whites than John Kerry did [in 2004]. But in the past year white voters have become grumpier, and this is especially true of white males. There is even talk of a repeat of 1994, when a surge of “angry white men” helped Republicans take over both chambers of Congress.
"Sixteen years ago, it was blue-collar white men who were the angriest. This year, too, they are smarting.... Two-thirds of the jobs destroyed since it began belonged to blue-collar men. Black men have been worse affected than whites, but their loyalty to Mr. Obama and his party is unshakeable. Not so for white men, whose unemployment rate was a comfortable 3.9% in 2006 and still only 6.8% when Mr Obama was elected, but is now a painful 10.3%."
Although the two ruling parties remain ensconced in a conservative cocoon to one extent or another, much of the electorate that supported Obama in 2008, whether or not it identified as such, advocated a number of center-left survival programs. Even a number of rightists, as well as many other Americans, are angry at Wall St., the big banks, and the ultra-generous government bailouts to the millionaires primarily responsible for the recession.
The Obama Administration, which essentially turned its national economic policy over to the same "experts" who helped bring about the recession (Summers, Geithner, et al.), finally directed a few critical remarks to Wall St. and the bankers after — not before — the masses of people expressed their acute indignation about their huge bonuses and privileged treatment by the government. The White House criticism was tepid and largely for show.
As an example of the center-left views of a large sector of the American adult population I will quote a few paragraphs from an article by Paul Street, available on ZNet titled, "What's the Matter With the Democrats" (link at bottom). Quoting a variety of public opinion polls he pointed out that:
• "71% of Americans think that taxes on corporations are too low (Gallup Poll, April 2007), 66% of Americans think taxes on upper-income people are too low (Gallup Poll, April 2007) and 62% believe corporations make too much profit (Pew Survey 2004).
• "77% of Americans think there is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few big companies (Pew Survey 2004), 84% think that big companies have too much power in Washington (Harris Poll 2007), and two-thirds think that 'big business and big government work together against the people’s interests' (Rasmussen Reports, 2009).
•"A majority of American voters think that the United States' 'most urgent moral question' is either 'greed and materialism' (33%) or 'poverty and economic injustice' (31%). Just 16% identify abortion and 12% pick gay marriage as the nation's 'most urgent moral question' (Zogby, 2004). Thus, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the population think that injustice and inequality are the nation's leading 'moral issues' (Katherine Adams and Charles Derber, The New Feminized Majority [Paradigm, 2008], p.72).
• "Just 29% of Americans support the expansion of government spending on 'defense.' By contrast, 79% support increased spending on health care, 69% support increased spending on education, and 69% support increased spending on Social Security (Chicago Council on Foreign Relations [hereafter 'CCFR'], 'Global Views,'2004).
• "69% of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide health coverage to all U.S. citizens (Gallup Poll, 2006) and 67% 'think it’s a good idea [for government] to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens, as Canada and Britain do, with just 27% dissenting' (Business Week, 2005).
• "59% of Americans support a single-payer health insurance system (CBS/New York Times poll, January 2009) and 65% of Americans respond affirmatively to the following question: 'Would you favor the government offering everyone a government-administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and over get – that would compete with private health insurance plans?' (CBS-New York Times, September 23, 2009)."
The center/center-right government of President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid rejects these popular views as being too "left."
(Continued in Part 2)
Paul Street's article is at http://www.zcommunications.org/what-s-the-matter-with-the-democrats-post-massachusetts-reflections-on-popular-resentment-the-liberal-left-vacuum-and-right-comeback-by-paul-street
4. THE DEMOCRATS IN POWER
Part 2: What Will The Democrats Do For The People?
The broad Democratic and independent "Yes We Can" movement that elected Obama has hardly any visibility these days. President Obama demobilized his enthusiastic supporters when he took office, relying on his high popularity, a big legislative majority, skillful structuring of elaborate compromises with the opposition, and centrist policy initiatives to accomplish his objectives.
But even with a 60-40 Senate advantage (now 59-41) and an overwhelming majority in the House, the Democrats have little to show for it. There are several reasons why Obama's strategy has produced hardly any legislative results of note.
First is the nature of the Democratic majority in Congress. Centrists and conservative Blue Dogs rule. The minority liberals usually tag along with the majority, and it's up to the handful of progressives, such as Reps. Barbara Lee (CA) and Dennis Kucinich (OH), to lead the losing struggles for peace and uncompromised social programs for the American people.
[For clarity, the terms "liberal" and "progressive" are not in our view interchangeable but represent historically different currents. Simply put, progressive is to the left of liberal, as the politics of the three different Progressive Parties formed in the 20th Century made clear.]
Second, the obstructionist Republican minority in Congress routinely thumbs its collective nose at Obama and the Democratic majority, remembering how they hamstrung President Bill Clinton — another consummate centrist and compromiser — for much of his eight years in office. Clinton's most important (and practically only) "achievement" in social program policy was to dismantle "welfare as we know it."
Obama's campaign statements about how he and the Congress would govern as "Americans" and not as Democrats or Republicans may have been useful for harvesting votes from the "believers" but couldn't conceivably produce effective results in practice. The Obama Administration's decision to buy off the Republicans with concessions rather than to fight them has cost the Democrats a great deal in terms of legislation and public support.
As New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote March 7: "Obama prides himself on not being ideological or partisan — of following, as he put it in his first prime-time presidential press conference, a 'pragmatic agenda.' But pragmatism is about process, not principle. Pragmatism is hardly a rallying cry for a nation in this much distress, and it’s not a credible or attainable goal in a Washington as dysfunctional as the one Americans watch in real time on cable.
"Yes, the Bush administration was incompetent, but we need more than a brilliant mediator, manager or technocrat to move us beyond the wreckage it left behind. To galvanize the nation, Obama needs to articulate a substantive belief system that’s built from his bedrock convictions. His presidency cannot be about the cool equanimity and intellectual command of his management style."
Third, the Obama Administration's programmatic proposals start from the center and move to the right as they wend their weary way to withdrawal (for fear of filibuster), great compromise, defeat or, as may happen with the eviscerated healthcare bill, a victory in Congress for much weakened legislation.
Since January 2009, when the Democrats took over the government, there has been a paucity of successful big legislation save for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $787 billion "stimulus" bill Obama signed Feb. 17 last year. It was a good anti-recession effort as far as it went, but it hardly went far enough to produce the amount of jobs required to make big inroads against unemployment. The bill itself was the product of one compromise after the other just to gain a couple of GOP Senate votes.
The only legislative action the Democratic majority took about America's wars was to support them. The great majority of Democrats joined arm in arm with their fellow pro-war Republicans to support the widening Afghan war and the most expensive Pentagon budget in history.
On March 10, 189 Democrats and 167 Republicans united to oppose a motion to end the Afghan war introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). The opposition consisted of 60 Democrats, which is excellent under present conditions, and five Republicans. It took guts and adherence to principle for those Democrats to buck the party leadership, and they deserve the thanks of all who oppose the Bush-Obama wars.
The two other items of major legislation introduced by the Obama Administration since January 2009 were the Employee Free Choice Act, and the healthcare bill (the House's Affordable Health Care for America Act, and the Senate's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).
The Democrats owed the Free Choice Act to organized labor, which devoted a huge amount of volunteer time and hundreds of millions in dollars to the Obama campaign. Labor also suffered a number of setbacks during two terms of anti-union Republican misrule. But the measure has been stalled in committee for a year and may never come to a vote. The Republicans oppose anything that helps the unions and workers, but so do many conservative Democrats. So much for a big majority.
What happened to the healthcare bill is a classic case of the middle moving right. First, President Obama compromised with Big Insurance and Big Pharma behind closed doors before the bill was introduced. Single payer was given away in the process. Then he compromised with his Blue Dogs, which probably is where public option bit the dust. Then he compromised with the Republicans (several humiliating times) — the result being the enrichment of the two big "health" industries beyond their imaginings.
Appearing on PBS's Bill Moyers Journal March 5, Dr. Marcia Angell, a physician and author on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, was asked, "has President Obama been fighting as hard as you wished?" to which she responded:
"Fighting for the wrong things and too little, too late. He gave away the store at the very beginning by compromising. Not just compromising, but caving in to the commercial insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry. And then he stood back for months while the thing just fell apart. Now he's fighting, but he's fighting for something that shouldn't pass. Won't pass and shouldn't pass."
But if it is passed, she continued, "it will begin to unravel almost immediately. And then what will people do? Well, they'll say, 'We tried health reform, and it didn't work. Better not try that anymore.'" Her advice was to withdraw the bill and come back in the next session with single-payer legislation and fight hard to get it passed.
The Obama Administration realizes that despite a thundering majority and willingness to make concessions, the healthcare bill might not get passed this year, leaving the Democrats without a major legislative victory in an election year.
In early March Obama began to fight publicly for the bill, indicating that the Democrats might invoke the complicated "reconciliation process" for budget resolution, where a simple majority prevails instead of the 60 vote anti-filibuster rule.
On March 8, after nearly 14 months of not calling on his popular base for anything, the president showed up at a mass meeting in Philadelphia sounding for the first time like a populist and demanding public support for his thoroughly weakened healthcare bill. Would that he fought as hard for single payer.
Wrote the Times the next day: "In a high-octane appearance that harked back to his “yes we can” campaign days, Mr. Obama jettisoned the professorial demeanor that has cloaked many of his public pronouncements on the issue, instead making an emotional pitch for public support as he tries to push the legislation through a final series of votes in Congress in the next several weeks."
Populism does not come easily to Obama, but he seems willing to evoke the image out of desperation, as he did again in Ohio March 15. "Obama Makes a Working-Class Appeal for Health Care Votes," is how the N.Y. Times headlined the event.
Populism could pay off for Obama this critical election year if he simultaneously introduces progressive legislation. The shameless Republicans in Congress already call him a "socialist," the Tea Party rightists suggest he is "Hitler" incarnate, and the "birthers" insist he's not even an American citizen, so he doesn't have much to lose being identified as a progressive populist.
Populism also depends on overcoming Obama's reluctance to mobilize the party's mass base to take public action in support of his objectives. Why not a big Fifth Avenue March for Single Payer? The "danger," of course, is that progressives and their politics might gravitate to the leadership of a prolonged national mobilization of Democratic activism across the country during a recession. Who knows what would come out of that! So any "mobilization" probably will consist of getting people to attend rallies where Obama is speaking, and little more.
(Continued in Part 3)
5. THE DEMOCRATS IN POWER
Part 3: The Broader Political Context
The parameters of the American political system, as evidenced by the positions put forward by the two ruling parties, have shifted significantly to the right during the last decades.
The Republican Party, which during these decades eliminated its own center-right wing and is now situated on the right/far-right, accuses the Democratic Party under President Barack Obama of having moved to the far-left and to socialism.
This is reactionary nonsense, an indication of how far to the right the GOP has degenerated. The fact is that both parties have marched further to the right, with the Democrats gravitating to the center/center-right after marginalizing their own center-left wing.
In his March 5 column in the New York Times, liberal Paul Krugman noted that Congressional "Republicans have moved hard to the right, furiously rejecting ideas they used to support. Indeed, the Obama health care plan strongly resembles past GOP plans." That's an important point. In the past, both parties were to the left of where they are today on some key issues.
In 1948, Democratic President Harry S. Truman proposed a form of universal single-payer (similar to the plan in Canada today), but it was defeated in Congress by a combination of Republicans — who loudly condemned it as "socialized medicine" and a communist plot — and Democratic conservatives, the racist "Dixiecrat" progenitors of today's Blue Dogs.
Republican President Richard Nixon declared in his January 1974 State of the Union message that "The time is at hand this year to bring comprehensive, high quality healthcare within the reach of every American." Liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy teamed up with the right wing Nixon to fight for such a measure, which was to the left of what President Obama is offering today, but the Watergate scandal brought Nixon down, and the project ended.
But when some liberal Democrats, including MoveOn, were critical last summer of the conservative Blue Dogs in Congress for diluting the healthcare bill — as conservative Democrats have done since 1948 in step with Republicans — Obama publicly admonished "left wing groups attacking fellow Democrats." (We don't think of MoveOn as being of the left, but from the center-right that's how it looks.)
These are concrete examples of how far to the right both ruling parties have moved since the late 1940s but particularly since the mid-1970s. There are dozens of other examples relating to the present government's center/center-right stance that curiously have elicited little public criticism from many of the administration's progressive backers. They extend from the wars to civil liberties failures, to the Wall St./banking bailouts and so on, but we'll just point to two recent instances from the New York Times pertaining to the Democrats.
• The $15 billion jobs bill that the Democrats pushed through Congress March 4 is primarily based not on creating jobs for our huge army of the unemployed but on providing massive tax cuts to businesses that hire workers out of jobs for two months or more.
The Times noted that "opinion is divided on whether the approach is effective or simply gives businesses a break on workers they would have hired anyway," which in our view is largely the case. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a true progressive and therefore marginalized within her party, said of the measure: "We should stop calling it a jobs bill, and instead acknowledge this is about business tax cuts." She voted against the bill.
• The second example from the Times was a brief AP report: "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Obama Administration would resume aid to Honduras that was suspended after a coup last year and urged Latin American nations to recognize the new Honduran government."
To respond in such fashion to a violent right wing military coup against a democratically elected head of state — particularly as supporters of the deposed leader are still being harassed, beaten, and killed — is a political travesty. It all passed seemingly unnoticed by many progressives who would have howled had Condoleezza Rice made that statement on behalf of President Bush.
This brings us to the Democratic Party's foreign/military policy. President Obama has continued many of the Bush Administration's initiatives — primarily his predecessor's "global war on terrorism," but in many other international endeavors as well, often concealed in deceptive packaging, such as White House overtures last year to Latin America and the Muslim countries.
As we wrote in the Jan. 18 Activist Newsletter: "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.... 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 weakening 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."
We are not suggesting by these similarities that equivalence exists between the two ruling parties. Obviously, it's better to have the center/center-right Democrats control the White House and Congress than the ultra-reactionary Republicans, just like it's better to live in a run-down apartment with leaky plumbing than to be homeless.
But shouldn't we aspire to a lot more for the working people and poor of our society, and the world? Progressives have fought to reconstitute the Democratic Party's left wing for many years and have gotten nowhere. Centrist Obama, who actually strongly opposes the party's left wing, was their greatest hope to lead it, and now that's fast fading.
Obama has many positive attributes that place him head and shoulders above his predecessor or his Republican opponent in the election. But a center/center-right White House backed by a politically compatible majority in Congress does not constitute the vehicle for advancing a progressive agenda domestically or in foreign policy. The Obama administration has been in power on its own long enough to be evaluated objectively, and not merely in comparison to the calamitous Bush Administration.
The United States remains the only industrialized capitalist state in the world with a mass party of the right and of the center, but not of the left. That's a good part of the reason that our country faces enormous economic and social contradictions at home and constantly projects military might abroad.
A competitive mass progressive third party of the left would not be a panacea for all America's problems by any means. That takes a far greater political effort. But there would be many fewer wars and a smaller "defense" budget, more restrictions on Wall St., the banking sector, and corporations, higher taxes on the rich, a big reduction in poverty, rough equality in living standards between whites, African Americans and Latinos, much less of a gap between low and high incomes in general, and far more social benefits for the working and middle classes.
Isn't this close to what many liberals and progressives want for our society? Such a political party is possible in our country. There is no serious motion in this direction visible today, but that does not rule out the future.
We bring this up because most of our readers by far are liberals and progressives, and from many conversations and emails it seems a large number are disappointed about the performance of the Democratic Party in power. Our notation about the rightward shift and a third party at this point is mainly to clarify aspects of contemporary politics and to offer a political idea that may be worth thinking about.
Right now there's a more immediate task: We know that many progressives are hesitant to take a public stand against the endless wars and some of President Obama's too moderate domestic programs because he is under fire from the GOP politicians, Tea Party conservatives, and racists.
Our own view about either saying nothing or openly criticizing President Obama's policies is as follows: 1. Aim the main blow at the right wing, its conservative ideology, and the Republican Party. 2. Openly support the positive aspects of the Obama Administration's policies. 3. Openly oppose and demand change regarding the negative aspects of these policies. We believe this is an honest and effective standpoint.
It is essential for progressive Democratic voters to sharply increase their visible political pressure on the Obama Administration in order to counter the propensity of the present White House and Congress to cave in daily to the right wing in both their domestic agenda and in foreign/military affairs.
6. PENTAGON LIED ABOUT AFGHAN CITY
By Gareth Porter
For weeks, the United States public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan war against what it was told was a "city of 80,000 people" as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marjah was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centers in Helmand.
It turns out, however, that the picture of Marjah presented by military officials and reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as an historic turning point in the conflict.
Marjah is not a city or even a real town, but a few clusters of farmers' homes amid a large agricultural area that covers much of the southern Helmand River Valley.
"It's not urban at all," an official of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who asked not to be identified, admitted to Inter Press Service (IPS) on Sunday. He called Marjah a "rural community."
"It's a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds," said the official, adding that the homes were reasonably prosperous by Afghan standards.
Richard B Scott, who worked in Marjah as an adviser on irrigation for the U.S. Agency for International Development as recently as 2005, agrees that Marjah has nothing that could be mistaken as being urban. It is an "agricultural district" with a "scattered series of farmers' markets," Scott told IPS in a telephone interview.
The ISAF official said the only population numbering tens of thousands associated with Marjah is spread across many villages and almost about 125 square miles.... The very limited area of Marjah itself was the apparent objective of "Operation Moshtarak," to which 7,500 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops were committed amid the most intense publicity given any battle since the beginning of the war.
So how did the fiction that Marjah is a city of 80,000 people get started? The idea was passed onto news media by the U.S. Marines in southern Helmand. The earliest references in news stories to Marjah as a city with a large population have a common origin in a briefing given on Feb. 2 by officials at Camp Leatherneck, the Marine base there.
The Associated Press published an article the same day quoting "Marine commanders" as saying that they expected 400 to 1,000 insurgents to be "holed up" in the "southern Afghan town of 80,000 people." That language evoked an image of house-to-house urban street fighting.
The same story said Marjah was "the biggest town under Taliban control" and called it the "linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network." It gave the figure of 125,000 for the population living in "the town and surrounding villages."
ABC news followed with a story the next day referring to the "city of Marjah," claiming that the city and the surrounding area "are more heavily populated, urban and dense than other places the marines have so far been able to clear and hold". The rest of the news media followed with that image of a bustling, urbanized Marjah in subsequent stories, often using "town" and "city" interchangeably.
As "Operation Moshtarak" ("Together") began, U.S. military spokesmen were portraying Marjah as an urbanized population center. On Feb. 14, on the second day of the offensive, US Marine spokesman Lieutenant Josh Diddams said the marines were "in the majority of the city at this point." He also used language that conjured images of urban fighting, referring to the insurgents holding some "neighborhoods."
....The decision to hype up Marjah as the objective of "Operation Moshtarak" by planting the false impression that it is a good-sized city would not have been made independently by the Marines at Camp Leatherneck. A central task of "information operations" in counter-insurgency wars is "establishing the COIN [counter-insurgency] narrative," according to the Army Counter-insurgency Field Manual as revised in 2006 under General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command.
That task is usually done by "higher headquarters" rather than in the field, as the manual notes.
The COIN manual asserts that news media "directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counter-insurgents, their operations and the opposing insurgency." The manual refers to "a war of perceptions, conducted continuously using the news media."
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the ISAF, was clearly preparing to wage such a war in advance of the Marjah operation. In remarks made just before the offensive began, McChrystal invoked the language of the counter-insurgency manual, saying, "This is all a war of perceptions."
The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the offensive against Marjah was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion with the effectiveness of the American military in Afghanistan by showing that it could achieve a "large and loud victory."
The false impression that Marjah was a significant city was an essential part of that message.
— Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006. He wrote this article for IPS from Washington March 8. IPS is at http://www.ipsnews.net/.
7. MEDIAN WEALTH FOR SINGLE BLACK WOMEN: $5
By Tim Grant
Women of all races bring home less income and own fewer assets, on average, than men of the same race, but for single black women the disparities are so overwhelmingly great that even in their prime working years their median wealth amounts to only $5.
In a groundbreaking report released March 8 by a leading economic research group, social scientists turned a spotlight on the grave financial challenges facing an often overlooked group of women, many of whom could not take an unpaid sick day or repair a major appliance without going into debt.
"It's rather shocking," said Meizhu Lui, director of the Closing the Gap Initiative based in Oakland, Calif., who contributed to the report "Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America's Future."
Among the most startling revelations in the wealth data is that while single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61% of their single white male counterparts), the median wealth for single black women is only $5.
"Even for those of us who have been looking at the wealth gap for a while were shocked and amazed at how little women of color have," Ms. Lui said.
Researchers at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, based in Oakland analyzed data from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, a voluminous report the Federal Reserve Board issues every three years that examines household finances in this country.
Wealth, or net worth, measures the total of one's assets — cash in the bank, stocks, bonds and real estate minus debts — home mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans. The most recent financial data was collected before the economic downturn, so the current numbers are worse now than at the time of the study.
Black women were more likely to have participated in the subprime loan crisis, with upper-income black women being five times more likely to have received a high-cost mortgage than upper-income white men.
"The popular image is they spend too much, which is the reason they are running up credit card and consumer debt, but the cost of living has risen faster than income, and they need to go into debt for basic daily necessities," Lui said. "It's compounded because unemployment is twice as high in the black community than it is in the white community."
For all working-age black women 18 to 64, the financial picture is bleak. Their median household wealth is only $100. Hispanic women in that age group have a median wealth of $120.
"That means half of [black women] have a net worth of more than $100 and half have a net worth of less than $100," Lui said. "So that gives you an idea of how far in debt some women of color are."
Married or cohabitating white women have a median wealth of $167,500. Married or cohabitating black women have a median net worth of $31,500.
The reasons behind the daunting financial challenges black women face are numerous and complex.
"There are excuses and circumstances that have evolved in society, which put black women where they are," said Esther Bush, executive director of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, who said in Pittsburgh more than 70 percent of African-American families are headed by single women.
The recession has hit single mothers especially hard.
According to a recent report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research and the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, more than four out of 10 families headed by single mothers in Pittsburgh and more than one in three in Pennsylvania, live in poverty.
In Pittsburgh and across the country, the financial burdens of single parenthood fall mostly on women, but black women are more likely to endure the work and responsibility of raising children on their own. They are more likely to be the backbone of their families and communities, with greater responsibilities to support struggling friends and families.
In a 2008 study of black women and their money, the ING Foundation found that black women — who frequently manage the assets of their households — financially support friends, family and their houses of worship to a much greater degree than the general population.
They also are more likely to be employed in jobs and industries -- such as service occupations -- with lower pay and less access to health insurance. And when their working days are done, they rely most heavily on Social Security because they are less likely to have personal savings, retirement accounts or company pensions. Their Social Security benefits are likely to be lower, too, because of their low earnings....
"If wealth was based on hard work," Lui says, "African-Americans would be the wealthiest people in our nation," she said. "It's not about behavior. It's about government policies. Who does the government help and who is it not helping?
— This article appeared in the March 9 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
8. THE ENTHUSIASM GAP
[Liberal Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton, is now Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, and a prolific author. He published this article last week on RobertReich.org.]
By Robert Reich
I had dinner the other night with a Democratic pollster who told me Dems are heading toward next fall’s mid-term elections with a serious enthusiasm gap:
The Republican base is fired up. The Dem base is packing up. The Dem base is lethargic because congressional Democrats continue to compromise on everything the Dem base cares about. For a year now it’s been nothing but compromises, watered-down ideas, weakened provisions, wider loopholes, softened regulations.
Health care went from what the Dem base wanted - single payer - to a public option, to no public option, to a bunch of ideas that the President tried to explain last week, and it now hangs by a string as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid try to round up conservative Dems and a 51-vote reconciliation package in the Senate.
The jobs bill went from what the base wanted - a second stimulus - to $165 billion of extended unemployment benefits and aid to states and locales, then to $15 billion of tax breaks for businesses that make new hires.
Financial regulation went from tough new capital requirements, sharp constraints on derivate trading, a consumer protection agency, and a resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act - all popular with the Dem base - to some limits on derivatives and a consumer-protection agency inside the Treasury Department and a rearrangement of oversight boxes, and it’s now looking like even less.
The environment went from the base’s desire for a carbon tax to a cap-and-trade carbon auction then to a cap-and-trade with all sorts of exemptions and offsets for the biggest polluters, and now Senate Dems are talking about trying to do it industry-by-industry.
These waffles and wiggle rooms have drained the Democratic base of all passion. “Why should I care?” are words I hear over and over again from stalwart Democrats who worked their hearts out in the last election. The Republican base, meanwhile, is on a rampage. It’s more and more energized by its mad-as-hell populists. Tea partiers, libertarians, Birchers, birthers, and Dick Armey astro-turfers are channeling the economic anxieties of millions of Americans against “big government.”
Technically, the Dems have the majority in Congress and could still make major reforms. But conservative, “Blue-Dog” Dems won’t go along. They say the public has grown wary of government. But they must know the public hasn’t grown even more wary of big business and Wall Street, on which effective government is the only constraint.
[Editor: There are 54 right wing Democratic Blue Dogs in the House. When New York Blue Dog Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (20th CD) was appointed the state's senator to replace center-right Hillary Clinton last year, her successor — Rep. Scott Murphy — also joined the Blue Dog caucus. The other New York Blue Dog is Rep. Mike Arcuri (24th CD).]
Anyone with an ounce of sanity understands government is the only effective countervailing force against the forces that got us into this mess: Against Goldman Sachs and the rest of the big banks that plunged the economy into crisis, got our bailout money, and are now back at their old games, dispensing huge bonuses to themselves. Against WellPoint and the rest of the giant health insurers who are at this moment robbing us of the care we need by raising their rates by double digits. Against giant corporations that are showing big profits by continuing to lay off millions of Americans and cutting the wages of millions of more, by shifting jobs abroad and substituting software. Against big oil and big utilities that are raising prices and rates, and continue to ravage the atmosphere.
If there was ever a time to connect the dots and make the case for government as the singular means of protecting the public from these forces it is now. Yet the White House and the congressional Dem’s ongoing refusal to blame big business and Wall Street has created the biggest irony in modern political history. A growing portion of the public, fed by the right, blames our problems on “big government.”
Much of the reason for the Democrats’ astonishing reluctance to place blame where it belongs rests with big business’s and Wall Street’s generous flows of campaign donations to Dems, coupled with their implicit promise of high-paying jobs once Democratic officials retire from government. This is the rot at the center of the system. And unless or until it’s remedied, it will be difficult for the President to achieve any “change you can believe in.”
To his credit, Obama himself has not scaled back his health-care ambitions all that much, and he appears, intermittently, to want to push conservative blue-dog Dems to join him on a bigger jobs bill, tougher financial reform, and a more effective approach to global warming. (His overtures to Republicans seem ever more transparently designed to give blue-dog Dems cover to vote with him.)
But our President is not comfortable wielding blame. He will not give the public the larger narrative of private-sector greed, its nefarious effect on the American public at this dangerous juncture, and the private sector’s corruption of the democratic process. He has so far eschewed any major plan to get corporate and Wall Street money out of politics. He can be indignant- as when he lashed out at the “fat cats” on Wall Street - but his indignation is fleeting, and it is no match for the faux indignation of the right that blames government for all that ails us.
9. NANCY RICE (1915-2010) — PRESENTE!
By the Activist Newsletter
One of the Mid-Hudson region's foremost and longest-lived left activists, Nancy Rice of Highland, N.Y., died Feb. 24 at the age of 94, two years after illness and old age sidelined her to nursing homes, then hospice care.
Although her final months were difficult and her memory lapsed, she was alert and listened carefully when news was brought to her periodically about the peace movement and the various national and international struggles for independence, equality and justice.
[A memorial meeting for Nancy will take place Sunday, April 25, from 2:30-5:30 p.m. at the New Paltz Community Center, located north of Main St. behind Town Hall on Rt. 32 (Chestnut St.) and Veterans Dr. The memorial is being organized by the Caribbean and Latin America Support Project (CLASP), the group Nancy led for a quarter-century until her illness.
[CLASP says: "Come with remembrances to share of Nancy’s life and work, or send them if unable to attend. Bring finger foods and cold drinks if you wish for the gathering, which starts at 2:30 p.m. The ceremony begins at 3 p.m. For more information, call (845) 255-0113. Statements from those unable to attend may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be made to CLASP in Nancy’s memory at P.O. Box 7, New Paltz, NY 12561."]
Nancy Rice, originally Ann Corbin Armstrong, was born at Danskammer Farm in Newburgh in 1915. She graduated from Vassar College in 1937. She joined the Communist Party for some years as a young women. She recalled to Donna Goodman, just months before she died, that as a farmer she delivered fresh eggs and the Daily Worker with the eggs, "sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both."
Another memory in her last months was of the right-wing riots in Hudson Valley town of Peekskill in the summer of 1949. On Aug. 27 mobs of anti-communists, racists and anti-Semites viciously attacked a concert benefit for the Civil Rights Congress that was to include the great singer and freedom fighter Paul Robeson. Some 13 people sustained serious injuries when they were beaten with clubs. The event was re-scheduled for Sept. 4, and an estimated 20,000 union members, anti-fascists, leftists and others turned out to hear Robeson, who sang, as did Nancy's friend Pete Seeger. But the concert attendees encountered trouble as they left the event, she recalled, and cars and people were brutally attacked. Some 140 concert people were injured leaving the concert. Nancy was shaken up but not hurt. The police generally stood by, not interfering with the rabid crowd.
Nancy eventually married Les Rice and they worked an apple farm together, while he also helped organize the regional Farmers Union. Les was talented in many ways, also as a people's songwriter. His most famous words and music being the well known "Banks of Marble." (See below.)
Nancy left the party and in 1968 she and Les moved to Cuba eight years after the revolution and for the next six years used their faming knowledge to contribute toward developing the country's agriculture. Both Les and Nancy thought these were among the best years of their lives.
Les died in 1982. Not long after — as the Reagan Administration sought to destroy the Nicaraguan revolution, and suppress other popular uprisings for independence from U.S. domination — a movement that become CLASP was formed in the Mid-Hudson Valley. It's task was to defend the right of Latin American and Caribbean nations to self-determination and freedom from Uncle Sam's stultifying embrace. For a number of years it was the region's only anti-imperialist organization — and Nancy Rice was recognized as CLASP's heart and soul of until she was beset by illnesses two years before she died.
CLASP has held monthly public meetings, mostly on topics pertaining to the region it champions, since the mid-1980s. These days the meetings are on the first Sunday of every month at New Paltz Village Hall, with the exception of January, July and August. The Activist Calendar, which goes to Hudson Valley readers only, lists these events and encourages people to attend.
Nancy was a supporter of the Activist Newsletter and its various demonstrations, public meetings, and long-distance bus trips to out-of-town peace and justice rallies such as the March 20 antiwar demonstration in Washington, now organized by it's action group Peace and Social Progress Now.
Nancy Rice's special project was defending Cuban independence and socialism. Up to two weeks before her death she wanted to hear what was happening in that country, Goodman said, adding that the elderly woman — with her agricultural background — could name all the various plants and flowers in the nursing home patio even though it was difficult to recall recent happenings.
She frequently told us the nursing home was extremely boring. There was no one to really talk to. She had no patience for TV and found it difficult to read, so she positioned her wheelchair next to the two overweight caged rabbits in the activities room virtually every day, sometimes sleeping, sometimes just remembering, sometimes enjoying her animal friends. She loved them, and felt for them in their captivity. She knew their names and personalities, and spoke of the rabbits she had as a girl growing up on the farm so long ago.
We shall always miss her. Nancy Rice — presente!
10. IN MEMORY OF NANCY RICE
The Banks are Made of Marble
By Les Rice, © Stormking Music 1950
I've traveled round this country
From shore to shining shore
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw.
I saw the weary farmer
Plowing sod and loam
l heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home
But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the farmer sweated for
l saw the seaman standing
Idly by the shore
l heard the bosses saying
Got no work for you no more
But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the seaman sweated for
I saw the weary miner
Scrubbing coal dust from his back
I heard his children cryin'
Got no coal to heat the shack
But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for
I've seen my brothers working
Throughout this mighty land
l prayed we'd get together
And together make a stand
Then we'd own those banks of marble
With a guard at every door
And we'd share those vaults of silver
That we have sweated for.
— A brief video of Pete Seeger singing Banks of Marble is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-o3CJytIPE
11. STATE BUDGETS: DON'T CUT THIS, CUT THAT
By the Activist Newsletter
States throughout America are cutting their budgets sharply, causing hardships to all but the wealthy. The cutbacks are mainly in scores of social services for the people, in education and state parks, the arts, and transportation.
The recession is a major factor, resulting in what the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) terms "the steepest decline in state tax receipts on record."
But that is only part of the cause. Washington's astronomical military and "security" spending, increasing year after year, is the other part. Much of this money would be better spent on construction and human needs, not unnecessary wars and obsessive security precautions.
The amount the 50 states will slash in 2010 is about $200 billion, and the 2011 fiscal budget reductions will be about the same. They have little choice because with the exception of Vermont all are legally obliged to balance their budgets.
Difficult times, according to the CBPP, have caused "at least 45 states to reduce services to their residents, including some of their most vulnerable families and individuals. Over 30 states have raised taxes to at least some degree, in some cases quite significantly. If revenue declines persist as expected in many states, additional spending and service cuts are likely."
In New York State, Gov. David Paterson anticipates slashing the next fiscal budget by $9 billion, resulting in cutbacks in social services, recreation and education. Some 55 state parks and historical sites will be closed, with reduced services in 24 others. The State University of New York faces cutbacks of $152 million. The City University of N.Y. system will lose $84.4 million.
The Bush-Obama wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen are costing the U.S. about $200 billion this year when all costs are counted, and the same next year — enough to eliminate the painful budget cutbacks in all 50 states.
Total spending for both wars since October 2001, when the Bush Administration attacked Afghanistan, is about $1.1 trillion.
It's difficult to conceive of a trillion. Perhaps if it were easy more people would begin to demand cuts in America's annual "security" expenditures. A trillion is a billion multiplied a thousand times. A billion is a million multiplied a thousand times. A stack of $1,000 bills equaling $1 trillion would be 74.9 miles high. If the stack were of $1 bills it would be 74,900 miles high.
The wars actually represent only a small fraction of annual defense spending. Officially, President Obama has asked for $708 billion for the Pentagon in fiscal 2011, but Washington's total "security" spending, as we explained in the Feb. 12 Activist Newsletter, "is over twice that acknowledged in the annual Pentagon budget. Omitted are many expenses from veteran's benefits, homeland security, and interest on past military debts, to nuclear weapons, the cost of America's 16 intelligence agencies, and war-related spending absorbed by other government departments."
Security spending amounts to roughly $1.4 trillion a year. Cut it in half — and the U.S. would still be the most powerful state in world history. Imagine what could be done were this annual "saved" $700 billion invested in peaceful pursuits. Immediately Uncle Sam could take care of the $200 billion state budget deficits, and have $500 billion for infrastructure, environment, transportation, and healthcare.
When the recession ends the states won't need bailouts and the entire $700 billion would be available for construction and human needs in the U.S. and in the world.
It's not only the states but local governments that are cutting back to the bone, and people are hurting, not least because about half our federal tax money goes to "defense."
This is a perfect time, in discussions and public meetings about local or state budget issues, to begin introducing the very practical notion of cutting the bloated defense and security budgets in order not to cut needed state and local expenditures.
12. WHAT HAPPENED TO CANDIDATE OBAMA?
By Katha Pollitt
How disappointed are the Obama warriors of 2008? "May your love for me not fade as quickly as your love for Obama," read one pale pink e-card making the rounds on Valentine's Day. Obama himself addressed the topic of a one-term presidency in a recent interview with Diane Sawyer, albeit in a noble, idealistic, theoretical way ("I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president"). Well, OK, who wouldn't rather be really good for four years than mediocre for eight; but how many really good one-term presidents have there been? (Only one--James K. Polk--according to a New York Times op-ed by Robert W. Merry, publisher of Stratfor and author of a biography of, well, James K. Polk.)
I'm still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something--whatever!--men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place. Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan--which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness--for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can't blame this on a woman.
I'm not even sure how much of it you can blame on Obama. We've had ample evidence of how little power he has over the Democratic barons of the Senate--so little that he had to bribe Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu with great big haunches of pork to get their votes on a healthcare bill that would benefit millions of their constituents. He is trying to bring some of the Guantánamo prisoners to trial on the US mainland, and Democrats like Jim Webb have sold him out. The Republicans have made clear their intention to obstruct his every move, and thanks to antidemocratic customs like the filibuster and the Senate hold, they've done a pretty good job so far. These are basic features of the landscape.
But let's not go overboard. The real-world constraints on what Obama can do are considerable. (Thank you, founding fathers, for setting up the Senate so that white, rural, conservative states with the population of Staten Island get the same two senators each as multiethnic urban powerhouses like California and New York....) But he is, after all, the president. He can propose, he can set forth an agenda, he can demand. He can ask for more than he knows he can get, he can push the boundaries. He doesn't have to do the Republicans' work for them--by asking for a smaller stimulus than necessary, by having the bulk of healthcare reform not kick in until 2014 to keep costs down, by praising obscenely rich bankers as "very savvy businessmen" to a nation with a 9.7 percent official unemployment rate. It's as if the Blue Dogs have gotten into his head, and instead of thinking how to push the possibilities to the max, he's thinking how he can placate his opponents in advance. Right now, the story of healthcare reform suggests that this is not possible--it simply enables a fresh set of even more egregious demands.
It's true that Obama was elected with the votes of many independents and some Republicans, and he has to respect that or end up building houses with Jimmy Carter. Lots of people were inspired by his promise to transcend party differences and take what was best from both Democrats and Republicans — I never understood it, because from my perspective Republicans have nothing to offer; but he did say it, and people took it seriously. A year later, though, those independents are leaving his side in droves, and with the possible exception of ordinary people of color, the base—pro=choice women, labor, civil rights activists, opponents of war, progressives, leftists, civil libertarians--is demoralized. His poll numbers may be above 50 percent (although as I write a CNN poll shows a majority opposing a second term). But passable polls don't measure enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is what gets people to write checks they can't really afford, give up their vacations to knock on doors, spend their evenings phone-banking and push their friends to vote. It's easy to dismiss progressives as insignificant and dreamy or, as Rahm Emanuel put it, "fucking retarded." But Obama won't get re-elected without them. They are the troops.
During the campaign Obama was often attacked as being all airy speeches and noble rhetoric. Maybe he took that criticism too much to heart and made the mistake of trying to rack up accomplishments quickly through wonkery and compromise and deal-making, the normal things politicians do--only unfortunately the Republicans aren't interested in governing, and the Blue Dogs are mostly interested in themselves. We'll never know what would have happened if he'd continued to call on the better angels of our nature--if, for example, he'd presented healthcare reform as social solidarity, if he'd made people really feel the suffering of others and called upon them to right this terrible wrong. Maybe people--including progressives--wouldn't have been so easily discouraged and disillusioned by the inevitable complications and imperfections of the plan itself.
What is the point of Obama being conciliatory and careful if his opponents are reckless and don't want to conciliate? Why not use this awful moment when so many are losing their jobs and houses, and states are cutting services to the bone, to remind people why they voted for him?
— This article appeared in the March 8 issue of The Nation magazine, which is probably the most respected liberal weekly in America. Katha Pollitt is a well known author an social critic.
13. CUBA AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
[Alone among world nations, only our island neighbor, Cuba, has attained sustainable environmental balance. The following article, which was published in the January/February 2010) issue of the British magazine Resurgence, discusses some of the measures Cuba has taken to achieve this distinction.]
By Helen Yaffe
Cuba marked the 50th anniversary of its revolution last year. The Cuban people have withstood five decades of hostility from the United States and its international allies. However, Cuba’s best form of resistance has been not just the assertion of national sovereignty, but the creation of an alternative model of development which places ecology and humanity at its core.
Applying the yardsticks of conventional economics to assess Cuban society, for example focusing on disposable income, GDP or levels of consumption, commentators often conclude that the revolution has failed to pull the Cuban people out of poverty, but such criticism omits the fact that the Cuban state guarantees every citizen a basic food supply (“ration”); most incomes are not taxed; most people own their own homes or pay very little rent; utility bills, transport and medicine costs are symbolic; the opera, cinema, ballet are cheap for all. High-quality education and healthcare are free.
These provisions are part of the material wealth of Cuba and cannot be dismissed – as if individual consumption of DVDs and digital cameras were the only measure of economic growth.
The challenge is to disentangle our understanding of development from the notion of economic growth. Against great odds, Cuba has transformed itself from an underdeveloped “neo-colony” into an independent state, boasting world-leading human development indicators, internationalist education, healthcare programs and sustainable development.
It is no mere coincidence that Cuba is the only country in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund's’s 2006 Living Planet report, to have achieved sustainable development: improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of its ecosystem.
The collapse of the socialist bloc between 1989 and 1991 led to a collapse in Cuba’s foreign trade. GDP plummeted 35% by 1993 and there were critical scarcities of hydrocarbon energy resources, fertilizers, food imports, medicines, cement, equipment and resources in every sector. Cuba was compelled to search for domestic solutions.
In agriculture, organic fertilizers and pesticides, crop-rotation techniques and organic urban gardens called organoponicos were developed, while tractors were replaced with human and animal labour. Bikes were imported from China and car-pooling was established. As the economy improved, Cuba extended these measures, introducing ecotourism and solar energy.
While economic reforms were introduced, including concessions to the ‘free market,’ free universal welfare provision, state planning and the predominance of state property were maintained. Incredibly, given the severity of the crisis, between 1990 and 2003, the number of Cuban doctors increased by 76%, dentists by 46% and nurses by 16%. The number of maternity homes rose by 86%, daycare centers for older people by 107% and homes for people with disabilities by 47%. Infant mortality fell and life expectancy rose.
Internationalist links also increased, as thousands of Cuban specialists, including healthcare professionals and educators, volunteered to work in poor communities around the world. By November 2008, Cuba had nearly 30,000 doctors and other health professionals working in 75 countries, providing healthcare and training locals. Its literacy programme has taught over 3,600,000 people from 23 countries to read and write. Several hundred Cuban medical personnel were in Haiti before any other country and played a major role in treating earthquake victims, although the U.S. media largely ignored its major role.
The year 2006 dawned as the Year of the Energy Revolution in Cuba, a major state initiative to save and rationalize the use of energy resources: install efficient new power generators, experiment with renewable energy and replace old durable goods (refrigerators, televisions and cookers) with new energy-saving equipment. Ten million energy-saving light bulbs and over six million electric rice cookers and pressure cookers were distributed free of charge. The aim was to raise the island’s capacity for electricity generation and save the government millions of pesos formerly spent on subsidized fuel. State subsidies mean that energy consumption is not rationed through the market, so energy efficiency, not price hikes, is the principal means of reducing consumption.
Building on the campaign for energy efficiency, in 2008 Cuba launched a campaign to increase food production. Following the closure of many sugar mills, up to 50% of Cuba’s arable land lay fallow in 2007, while over 80% of the food ration was imported. The international rise in food and fuel prices saw the cost of Cuba’s imports increase by $1 billion from 2007 to 2008. Now, idle land is being distributed in usufruct (rent-free loan) to those who want to produce organic food.
Already organoponicos in Havana supply 100% of the city’s consumption needs in fruit and vegetables. They are supplemented by urban patios, of which there are over 60,000 in Havana alone. According to Sinan Koont of the Department of Latin American Studies at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, “It is not just about economics, producing food and creating employment. It is also about community development and preserving and improving the environment, bringing a healthier way of life to the cities.”
Central to understanding these achievements is the role of the state in Cuba. State ownership and central planning allow a rational allocation of resources, balancing environmental concerns and human welfare alongside economic objectives. Critics who point to the absence of multiparty elections and ‘civil society’ in Cuba fail to appreciate how the island’s alternative grassroots system of participative democracy ensures that the state is representative of its population and acts in their collective interests.
Under capitalism, private businesses regard the Earth’s natural resources as a “free gift” to capital. Western-style parliamentarianism dissuades short-term elected governments from calculating the human or ecological cost of their policies on the future, while economic growth wins corporate backing and public votes. The need for sustainable development creates an irreconcilable contradiction under capitalism because it implies obstruction of the profit motive which drives production.
In December 2004, Cuba and Venezuela formalized their alliance with the formation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Between 2006 and 2009, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Honduras [until last year when President José Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a right wing military coup], Ecuador, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda joined ALBA, turning it into a political and trading bloc of significance. Members are engaged in projects of humanitarian, economic and social cooperation through non-market, non-profit-based exchanges.
The Bank of ALBA was inaugurated in December 2008 with $2 billion capital, operating without loan conditions and functioning on the basis of members’ consensus. It contributes to freeing countries from the dictates of the World Bank and the IMF. In January 2010, a new “virtual” currency for exchanges within ALBA will be introduced, undermining the leverage of the U.S. dollar.
ALBA is the fruit of Cuba’s internationalist welfare-based development model. It is also the expression of pan-Latin American integrationist movements and the ascendancy of social movements representing the interests of the indigenous and poor communities. These sectors demand rational development strategies which respect their traditions and environment. The April 2009 ALBA declaration, “Capitalism Threatens Life on the Planet,” reflects this:
“The global economic crisis, climate change, the food crisis and the energy crisis are the result of the decay of capitalism, which threatens to end life and the planet. To avert this outcome, it is necessary to develop and model an alternative to the capitalist system. A system based on solidarity not competition; a system in harmony with Mother Earth and not plundering of human resources.”
The 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution should be celebrated, not as a historical event, but as a living example, with increasing relevance, that it is possible to live with dignity, and sustainably, outside of the capitalist profit motive, with human welfare and the environment at the centre of development. It is a lesson we must learn urgently because, in the words of former Cuban President Fidel Castro at his speech at the Earth Summit in 1992, “Tomorrow will be too late.”
— Helen Yaffe is the author of "Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution."
14. WAR AND HIGHER EDUCATION
By the Activist Newsletter
One of the enduring mythologies about the Vietnam war, which ended 35 years ago next month, is that the U.S. working class — often people with a high school education or less — strongly supported the war until its end, while the college-educated adults from more privileged strata tended to gravitate into opposition years earlier.
This is simply not true, as James Loewen and other authors have pointed out. In fact, highly educated people from the upper middle-class and above not only led the U.S. into the war and directed it from their bunkers in Washington, but in civil life supported the terrible conflict in numbers disproportionate to working people with less education.
We were reminded of this situation a few days ago listening to Noam Chomsky on the Democracy Now program discussing how the educated elite, fairly late in the war, was beginning to believe Washington's aggression in Vietnam was a "mistake," mainly because the U.S. was losing. At the same time, Chomsky said, public opinion polls were reporting that 70% of average people — the largest segment being those with high school educations or less — didn't think of it as a "mistake" but viewed the conflict as wrong and immoral.
After hearing Chomsky we went back into our files and found some evidence. According to a Gallup Poll in January 1971, more than four years before the conflict ended, 73% of American adults wanted U.S. troops to withdraw from Vietnam. The breakdown is as follows: College educated, 60% for withdrawal; high school educated, 75% for withdrawal; grade school educated, 80% for withdrawal.
The incorrect assumption equating higher education with antiwar views was mainly because youthful college students and some progressive intellectuals actively opposed the Vietnam war in great number beginning in April 1965 with the big SDS demonstration in Washington. A far lower proportion of today's college students have become antiwar activists, in part because they are not subject to military conscription. If the draft were revived a huge student antiwar movement would swiftly materialize.
Another source for misunderstanding the views of people without a higher education during the Vietnam war period was that the pro-war AFL-CIO leadership, in its extreme anti-communist phase at the time, projected a skewed view of American workers as consistently patriotic Cold War hyper-nationalists supporting the war under any circumstances.
Opposition by the masses of the American people to long aggressive wars against small developing countries became known in Washington as the “Vietnam Syndrome”— a phenomenon that ultimately convinced the Pentagon to spend 15 years developing a new approach to waging its frequent wars against small nations.
The conscript army was replaced by a volunteer force in order to shrink future student protest movements and avoid a demoralized and unreliable U.S. Army filled with antiwar GIs, as happened in Vietnam by the early 1970s. Strangulation by sanctions became a frequent method of engaging in war “by other means,” as was the CIA’s penchant for supporting right-wing subversion of left-wing governments in the third world, and deploying puppet armies and death squads in place of direct American attacks. The White House imposed tight restrictions on war information while initiating Madison Ave.-type public relations campaigns to “sell” wars to the people through the pliant corporate media.
Most important of all since Vietnam, U.S. governments between 1975 and 2001 consistently launched wars of very short duration, deploying overwhelming military superiority against small, weak countries such as Grenada, Panama, Iraq (1991) and Yugoslavia, resulting in quick victories and insignificant casualties for the American side in order to limit the development of mass antiwar movements. (And to think, as we wrote about a few weeks ago, that a number of Americans still believe the antiwar movement has no impact on Washington.)
This technique was perfected to the point that not one GI returned home in a body bag during President Bill Clinton's illegal and unjust 78-day war against Yugoslavia 11 years ago, though thousands of Yugoslavs were killed and large swaths of the civil infrastructure were virtually demolished. The entire U.S./NATO onslaught (23,000 bombs and missiles, mostly aimed at civilian areas) was conducted from an altitude of 30,000 feet, out of the range of anti-aircraft fire, or launched from sea. Most Americans have no understanding of the real issues behind the conflict with Yugoslavia due to flagrant government obfuscation and the practice of many liberals to don the colors of war patriotism when the Democrats drop the bombs, as some do today.
The Bush-Obama wars are hardly of short duration, being seven and nearly nine years old and counting. The neoconservative Bush Administration was under the impression that its aggression against destitute Afghanistan and sanctions-crippled Iraq would be victorious in matter of two or three months — and had it been so, Iran was the logical next target in the U.S. drive to control the enormous oil reserves throughout the Middle East.
The problem was that while the U.S. military juggernaut could easily invade and defeat small, poor countries without serious military defenses, the neocons didn't anticipate prolonged guerrilla wars of attrition.
The short war became a long war because the U.S. could not afford the international humiliation of being obviously bested or fought to a stalemate by small, decentralized guerrilla forces armed with rifles and homemade explosives. The Iraq/Afghan wars have lasted this long in order to avoid that fate. President Obama is escalating the Afghan war and widening it into Pakistan and Yemen in order to convey the eventual impression of a U.S. victory.
President Obama views the Iraq war as a "mistake," much as did his predecessors in power during the Vietnam era. He never characterized it as unjust and illegal, as it certainly is by international standards and the theory of just war.
The president labels Bush's Afghan adventure a good war and promises to win it. But the Afghan war, too, is unjust. Afghanistan never presented an imminent danger to the United States, much less ever attacked it. America's enemy is al-Qaeda, a small decentralized terror group located in several countries. Al-Qaeda left Afghanistan soon after Bush started the war.
Today, the U.S. acknowledges there are less than 100 al-Qaeda members remaining in the country, confronted by about 100,000 U.S. troops and as many Pentagon "contractors" and some mercenaries, plus about 40,000 NATO troops. In addition, Uncle Sam is spending billions of dollars building a huge puppet Afghan Army and a national police force. Clearly there are longer range ambitions afoot than crushing 100 irregulars.
To finally return to the topic that launched this article, it is certain that the entire post-9/11 militarist folly from the Bush days to now emerged from the minds of some of the best educated people in America. Many of the neoconservative imperialists behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq hold PhDs.
The present top tier of government in the White House and Pentagon, from the president on down, is loaded with PhDs and masters of this and this. Yet all say the U.S. criminal war in Iraq was a "mistake," pure and simple, not a failed act of aggression by the U.S. None will acknowledge that according to the UN and numerous articles of international law that it was illegal and did not meet the requirements of just war theory. And all say the war in Afghanistan is a "good war."
We have nothing against higher education. It's quite positive, unless it is used to side with the oppressor, as it too often is in Washington.
Two thoughts come to mind. One is that a higher education in an elite institution is not necessarily a guarantee against perpetrating and justifying aggressive, violent and unjust imperial wars against weak countries. It's often the permission slip for doing so. And that the absence of a higher education or even a high school diploma is not necessarily a barrier to intelligence, common sense and a positive attitude toward humanitarian moral standards.