Jan. 14, 2011, Issue #164
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
firstname.lastname@example.org, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. A REVOLUTION OF VALUES — The birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. is Jan. 15. Here's a good quote to remember him with.
2. CLIMATE CHANGE: SOONER THAN THOUGHT — New report says temperatures could rise by more than a devastating 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.
3. BRIC BECOMES BRICS:
CHANGES ON THE GEOPOLITICAL CHESSBOARD — The BRICS countries are positioning themselves to speed up the transition from unipolar world leadership by the U.S. alone to a multipolar leadership that includes several emerging countries as well as some developed industrialized powers. Washington is doing its best to retain the dominant role.
4. CHARGES DROPPED IN WHITE HOUSE PROTEST — The government released remaining defendants without charges in Dec. 16 civil resistance demonstration where 131 were arrested.
5. DELAY IN U.S. TROOP WITHDRAWAL? — Maybe, in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
6. DOMESTIC SPYING NETWORK IN U.S. — Washington is creating a vast network to collect information about Americans.
7. DOES FRACKING CAUSE EARTHQUAKES? — Plenty of relatively small ones, says this article.
8. THE RIGHT WING AND THE GIFFORDS TRAGEDY — Conservative "lock and load rhetoric," and the ranting of cable TV reactionaries helped create the climate for the Tucson shootings.
9. U.S. POVERTY NUMBER MAY BE MILLIONS HIGHER — Census bureau changes recent estimate of 43.6 million in poverty to 47.8 million, using improved methods.
10. DEFEND PUBLIC UNIONS AND WORKERS — Conservative politicians — mostly Republicans but some Democrats as well — are intensifying their campaign to cut pay and benefits.
11. BUDGET CUTBACKS TARGET PUBLIC WORKERS — State budgets have been driven near bankruptcy largely by the Wall Street-led crash. Now the workers must pay for it.
12. PUBLIC EMPLOYEES: MYTHS AND REALITIES — This article from Labor Notes debunks five specific anti-worker claims with the real facts.
13. CANCER-CAUSING CHROMIUM IN OUR WATER — Tap water from 31 of 35 U.S. cities tested contains chromium-6, a carcinogen.
14. ONE MORE DEATH IN PALESTINE — It happened on New Years Day: one more Palestinian dead at the hands of the authorities, and many more will follow. But repression breeds resistance in Palestine, and the worldwide solidarity movement is growing.
15. SHARIA CHARADE — Oklahoma's anti-Muslim ballot initiative approved last November is having trouble in court.
16. DOMESTIC NEWS BRIEFS
17. INTERNATIONAL NEWS BRIEFS
18. MISERY WITH PLENTY OF COMPANY — New York Times columnist Bob Herbert outdoes himself in this article. We had to reprint it.
19. "PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE" — A documentary film has just been released about Ochs, one of America's greatest topical and protest songwriter-singers. Here's a link to a good left review, and we reprint one of his songs.
20. GROUPS CAUTION U.S. ON WIKILEAKES REPRISALS — A coalition of 30 free speech organizations sent an open letter to public officials cautioning against prosecuting "third party publishers."
Editor's Note: Many Americans do not believe that human intervention is the cause of contemporary global warming, or that it's even a problem — despite the article below revealing that it's approaching feaster than anticipated. According to Gallup polls, 48% of U.S. adults think the "seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated." A decade ago it was only 30%. In Congress, a big majority of Republicans deny that human use of fossil fuels negatively influences the climate — a point of view refuted by 97% of climate experts.
Worldwide there is a virtual cottage industry of climate-change skeptics who are quite influential. Readers who are concerned about climate change but need to strengthen their argument, will benefit from a 15-page illustrated pamphlet that can be downloaded from the Internet in PDF format. It's titled "The Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism," and refutes all the key arguments against climate change. The website is at http://www.skepticalscience.com/.
1. A REVOLUTION OF VALUES
January 15 is the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — the principal leader of the civil rights struggle to destroy Jim Crow segregation in America — born in 1929, slain by racists in 1968. With each passing year our respect for this man deepens. His achievements stand out sharply in today's conservative political environment. Here are three paragraphs from his historic Riverside Church speech of April 4th, 1967, where he came out fully against the unjust war in Vietnam:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay a hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.
2. CLIMATE CHANGE: SOONER THAN THOUGHT
By Louise Gray
If human society continues burning fossil fuels at the current rate, according to a study released Jan. 13 by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide could rise from the current level of 390 parts per million (ppm) to 1,000 ppm by the end of this century. Many climate scientists say 350 ppm is the best level for stopping climate change.
The last time the world had such high levels of carbon dioxide temperatures were on average 29 degrees Fahrenheit (29F) above pre-industrial levels (before 1750). Evidence has been found of crocodiles and palm trees at the Poles and only small mammals were able to survive.
Jeffrey Kiehl, who carried out the NCAR study, said the Earth could return to such temperatures over hundreds or even thousands of years. But unlike last time, when it happened over millions of years, temperatures will rise too fast for species to adapt and change.
In the short term he said temperatures could rise by more than 10.8F by the end of the century, which will also wipe out species. “This is happening at such a rate how will species, including humans, respond? The implications for the biosphere are of great concern.”
Dr Kiehl not only looked at geological records but also computer models to predict what will happen if carbon dioxide levels rise at such a rate. He included "feed back factors," such as melting sea ice, methane released from thawing permafrost and Amazon die-back. This showed that temperatures will increase much faster than previously thought as a result of rising carbon dioxide.
"If we don't start seriously working toward a reduction of carbon emissions, we are putting our planet on a trajectory that the human species has never experienced," he said. "We will have committed human civilization to living in a different world for multiple generations."
Dr Kiehl hit back at critics who claim that acting on climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels will upset the world order. “A truly conservative position is to conserve what we have, to not radically change things and if we do not want to radically change the environment then the conservative approach is to conserve the Earth."
The Telegraph (UK), Jan. 13, 2011. An extensive article appears in the Jan. 14 Science magazine, http://www.sciencemag.org/magazine.
Further information from NCAR, http://www2.ucar.edu/news/3628/earth-s-hot-past-could-be-prologue-future-climate
3. BRIC BECOMES BRICS:
CHANGES ON THE GEOPOLITICAL CHESSBOARD
By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter
The world's four main emerging economic powers, known by the acronym BRIC — standing for Brazil, Russia, India and China — now refer to themselves as BRICS.
The capital "S" in BRICS stands for South Africa, which formally joined the four on Dec. 24, bringing Africa into this important organization of rising global powers from Asia, Latin America and Europe. President Jacob Zuma is expected to attend the BRICS April meeting in Beijing as a full member.
This is a development of geopolitical significance, and it has doubtless intensified frustrations in Washington. The U.S. has been concerned about the growing economic and political strength of the BRIC countries for several years. In 2008, for instance, the National Intelligence Council produced a document titled "Global Trends 2025" that predicted:
"The whole international system — as constructed following WW II — will be revolutionized. Not only will new players — Brazil, Russia, India and China — have a seat at the international high table, they will bring new stakes and rules of the game."
More recently, the U.S. edition of the conservative British weekly The Economist noted in its Jan. 1 issue that "America's influence has dwindled everywhere with the financial crisis and the rise of emerging powers."
The U.S. is still the dominating global hegemon, but a swiftly changing world situation is taking place as Washington's economic and political influence is declining, even as it remains the unmatched military superpower.
America suffers from low growth, extreme indebtedness, imperial overreach, and virtual political paralysis at home while spending a trillion dollars a year on wars of choice, maintaining the Pentagon military machine, and on various other "national security" projects.
The BRICS countries, by their very existence, their rapid economic growth and degree of independence from Washington, are contributing to the transformation of today's unipolar world order — still led exclusively by the United States — into a multipolar system where several countries and blocs will share global leadership. This is a major aim of BRICS, which recognizes it’s a rocky, long road ahead because those who cling to empire are very difficult to dislodge before they swiftly disintegrate.
Looking down that road the next few decades, it is imperative to contemplate two potentially game-changing events that will heavily impact global politics, and the future of world leadership.
1. The rate of petroleum extraction will soon reach the beginning of terminal decline, known as peak oil. This means more than half the world's petroleum reserves will have been depleted, leading inevitably to much higher oil prices and severe shortages. Under prevailing global conditions, this will greatly exacerbate tensions between major oil consuming countries leading to wars for energy resources
One resource war already has taken place — the Bush Administration's bungled invasion of Iraq, which possesses the world's fourth largest reserves of petroleum and tenth largest of natural gas. Since the U.S. with less than 5% of world population absorbs nearly 30% of the planet's crude oil, who's Washington's next target — Iran? Behind the U.S.-Israeli smokescreen of alleged Iranian aggression and supposed nefarious nuclear ambitions, reposes the world's third-largest proven oil reserves and second-largest natural gas reserves.
In 2009, the U.S. with a population of 300 million consumed 18.7 million barrels of oil day, the world's highest percentage. The second highest — the European Union with a population of 500 million — consumed 13.7 barrels a day. China with a population of 1.4 billion people was third, consuming 8.2 million barrels. BRICS, incidentally, includes the country with the world's first largest natural gas reserves, Russia (which is also eighth in petroleum reserves).
2. Equally dangerous, and perhaps much more so, is the probability of disastrous climate change in the next few decades, the initial effects of which have already arrived and are causing havoc with weather patterns. This situation will get much worse since the industrialized world, following slothful U.S. leadership, has done hardly anything to reduce its use of coal, oil and natural gas fossil fuels that are mainly responsible for climate change.
Another climate question is whether the capitalist system itself is capable of taking the steps necessary to dramatically reduce dependence on greenhouse gas emissions, as the socialists maintain. Eventually, under far better global leadership, some serious action must be taken, but the damage done until that point may not be rectified for centuries, if not longer. The question of better global leadership depends to a large degree on the outcome of the unipolar-multipolar debate.
Returning to the immediate problem, Washington not only opposes BRICS' preference for multipolarity, but is disgruntled by some of its political views. For instance, the group does not share America's antagonism toward Iran — President Barack Obama's whipping boy of the moment. BRICS also lacks enthusiasm for America's wars in Central Asia and the Middle East and maintains friendly relations with the oppressed Palestinians. The five nation emerging group further leans toward replacing the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency with a basket of currencies not preferential to any one country, as is the present system toward the U.S., or perhaps even a non-national global reserve legal tender.
For a small group —though it is symbolic of a large trend in world affairs — BRICS will have considerable clout this year as members of the UN Security Council occupying five of 15 seats — temporarily for Brazil (until the end of 2011), India and South Africa (ending after 2012), and permanently of course for China and Russia.
BRICS as an organization had a most unusual birthing. The group was brought into the world, so to speak, without the knowledge of its members. The event took place in 2001 when an economist with the investment powerhouse Goldman Sachs created the BRIC acronym and identified the four countries together as a lucrative investment opportunity for the company's clients based on the enormity of their combined Gross Domestic Products and the probability of increasing growth.
Neither Brazil, Russia, India nor China played a role in this process, but they took note of their enhanced status as the BRICs and recognized that they shared many similarities in outlook as well as significant differences in their types of government and economic specialties.
The main similarity was that they were emerging societies with growing economies and influence, and they viewed Washington's unilateral world leadership as a temporary condition brought about by accident two decades earlier due to the implosion of the Soviet Union and most of the socialist world. They all seek a broader, more equitable world leadership arrangement within which they and others will play a role.
At the initiative of Russia's then-President Vladimir Putin in 2006, BRIC began what became regular meetings at the ministerial level that evolved a couple of years later into what is in effect a political organization. There are some differences and rivalries within its ranks that have been kept within bounds, such as between China and India (which is also close to the U.S.), and to a lesser extent between Russia and China. Brazil and South Africa are everyone's friends.
All five BRICS states — three of whom possess nuclear arsenals — maintain essentially cordial relations with the U.S. and try to avoid antagonizing the world superpower.
Dispite productive working relations between the U.S. and Russia, Moscow justly perceives Washington to be an implicit threat that seeks to neutralize — if it cannot dominate — it's now-reviving former Cold War opponent. The Russian leadership seems to view the U.S. as a strategically declining imperialist power, perhaps all the more dangerous for its predicament.
The Chinese government, while standing up for its rights when challenged by the U.S., is especially cautious because America's military power at this point is overwhelmingly superior to its own in all respects. It's trying to catch up in terms of defense, but it will take many years.
The Chinese Communist Party and government are primarily focused, as they have been for decades, on the creation of a modern, advanced, educated and 70% urban society of some 1.4 billion people. The national plan is to achieve this goal by 2030, based on economic growth (China is now the world's second largest economy, heading toward first within 15-35 years), political stability at home (which will soon require substantial social reforms to facilitate), and a foreign policy of nonintervention and friendship between nations.
The Beijing leadership is evidently uncertain whether the U.S. decline is temporary or long term and does not officially comment on such matters in line with its foreign policy perspective.
Just before the start of 3-day talks in Beijing regarding U.S.-China military relations, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the New York Times Jan. 8 that the Obama Administration was so concerned about Beijing's "military buildup in the Pacific" that the Pentagon was now increasing spending on such weapons as an advanced "long range nuclear-capable bomber aircraft," among other measures.
Responding to Gates' comment two days later at a joint press conference, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie said the U.S. "was overreacting" to an effort to modernize. "We can by no means call ourselves an advanced military force," Liang said. "The gap between us and that of advanced countries is at least two to three decades." This cannot be honestly disputed.
The newspaper also paraphrased Gates as saying during his visit that "if Chinese leaders considered the United States a declining power... they were wrong." He was then directly quoted: "My general line for those both at home and around the world who think the U.S. is in decline is that history’s dustbins are filled with countries that underestimated the resilience of the United States.” Last August, it should be noted, two-thirds of the America people queried told an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll they think the U.S. is in a state of decline.
While Gates dwells upon Beijing's "buildup," the U.S. virtually encircles China with military bases, submarines, fleets at sea, spy satellites, long-range nuclear and conventional missiles, offensive weapons many years in advance of Chinese defenses, overwhelming airpower, plus alliances with Japan and South Korea in Beijing's vulnerable northeast, Taiwan, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and India. The U.S. spends over 10 times more on the military than China. It operates up to 1,000 large and small military bases around the world, while China has no foreign bases.
The Obama Administration is presently fishing in the troubled waters of the South China Sea, intervening in territorial disputes between China and neighboring countries, including Vietnam, much to Beijing's chagrin.
It is precisely this kind of "leadership" that BRICS and a number of emerging nations want to change.
The addition of South Africa was a deft political move that further enhances BRICS' power and status. The new member possesses Africa's largest economy, but as number 31 in global GDP economies it is far behind its new partners, nearly by 20-1 in China's case. It's also behind such other emerging countries as Turkey, Mexico, and South Korea, for example — but African credentials are important geopolitically, giving BRICS a four-continent breadth, influence and trade opportunities. China is South Africa's largest trading partner, and India wants to increase commercial ties to Africa.
Johannesburg sought BRIC membership over the last year, and as early as August the process of admission was underway, but now as a member it must take serious steps to substantially hasten its economic development to keep pace with other BRICS members. This will not be easy, but it is assumed the partners will help out.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson declared: "We believe that South Africa's accession will promote the development of BRICS and enhance cooperation between emerging economies." Russia's Foreign Ministry statement said South Africa "will not only increase the total economic weight of our association but also will help build up opportunities for mutually beneficial practical cooperation within BRICS."
Brazil's Foreign Ministry, in addition to the conventional welcoming, interjected a sharp political note into this economic club by suggesting that "on the international level" BRICS would work "to reform the financial system and increase democratization of global governance." The reference was to Washington's dominant authority over global finance and its unipolar leadership. This is bound to further irritate Washington.
India, like South Africa a former British colony and now a swiftly developing country, cannot conceivably oppose Johannesburg's admission for obvious reasons, but has so far remained publicly silent since the Dec. 24 announcement. India's unexpected quietude is of interest because last August Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta commented that “India of course remains extremely supportive of South Africa joining BRIC." The Indian foreign office is too sophisticated to have forgotten the expected routine welcoming.
Maintaining good ties with Washington, which is disturbed by South Africa's membership, is one of New Delhi's main considerations. The United States has been courting India for some time, offering various rewards — from help with its nuclear program (and silence about its violation of the nonproliferation treaty) to supporting India's quest for a future Security Council seat (which China opposes and Russia supports). The purpose is to attract India more deeply into Washington's orbit, undercutting Beijing's increasing global influence, and perhaps setting the two against each other.
Global Trends 2025 even envisioned possible "great power rivalries and increasing energy insecurity" between India and China that may lead to a serious confrontation "though great power war is averted." In the process, "United States power is greatly enhanced. "
Regardless of BRICS and other emerging economies, President Obama's principal foreign policy objective since assuming office has been to reassert American global leadership after the Bush Administration's neoconservative imperialist wars and unilateralism weakened Washington's alliances and compromised its hegemony. This is what Obama was elected to do — not by rank-and-file Democrats cocooned in "change we can believe in," but by the representatives of great wealth, great corporations and great financial power.
The Obama Administration's first National Security Strategy report, released in May 2010, makes it clear that "Our national security strategy is... focused on renewing American leadership so that we can more effectively advance our interests in the 21st century." In discussing world economies, which correlate to global leadership in Washington's view, President Obama declared in his State of the Union Speech last year that "I do not accept second place for the United States of America."
As part of this policy the U.S. seeks to forestall the development of a genuine multipolar system by making limited concessions to the emerging nations that will that leave Washington in charge for many years.
Washington's latest scheme, introduced a year and a half ago by Secretary of State Clinton, is the so-called, "multi-partner," not "multipolar," world — suggesting the Obama Administration's intention is to serve as "senior" partner of a global leadership "coalition of the willing," as it were, that will in effect strengthen Washington's singular role.
"We will lead," Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations, "by inducing greater cooperation among a greater number of actors and reducing competition, tilting the balance away from a multipolar world and toward a multi-partner world. Now, we know this approach is not a panacea. We will remain clear-eyed about our purpose. Not everybody in the world wishes us well or shares our values and interests. And some will actively seek to undermine our efforts. In those cases, our partnerships can become power coalitions to constrain or deter those negative actions."
The U.S. also gives verbal support to an eventual expansion of the Security Council, and has cooperated in extending the powers of emerging countries within the Group of 20 leading industrialized economies, in the World Bank and IMF. In addition the State Department seeks one-to-one arrangements advantageous to certain countries to keep them well within the U.S. sphere of influence.
Washington intends to function as the principal world power for as long as it can. After all it is still an enormously wealthy, militarized state with powerful and obedient industrialized allies including the European Union countries (and NATO), the UK-Australia-Canada-New Zealand nexus, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and others.
However, the ongoing global diversification of economic and political resources toward the emerging countries appears to be leading inevitably to multipolarity. To quote "Global Trends 2025" once again:
"The unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from West to East now under way will continue for the foreseeable future.... Growth projections for Brazil, Russia, India, and China indicate they will collectively match the original G-7’s share of global GDP by 2040-2050. China is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country. If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power." Actually China became the second largest global economy last August, 15 years before 2025.
Under such conditions, how many newly empowered emerging countries will remain content simply to play follow-the-leader behind a faltering and militarist Uncle Sam?
The time of decision about the architecture of future world leadership draws nearer. At some point in 10 or 20 years a reluctant Washington may have to settle for a prominent position in a multipolar world construct.
But of course there remains another possibility.
Given the volatile global situation — peak oil, climate change, continued U.S. imperial wars, grave poverty that will increase as world population grows from 6.8 billion today to over 9 billion in 2050, and many emerging countries seeking a rightful share of world leadership — the Unites States may resort in time to global military aggression to sustain its dominant status, possibly even World War III.
Considering the U.S. political system's decades-long move toward the right, the enormity of the Pentagon's arsenal, the militarism in our society, and the ability of Washington and the corporate mass media to collaborate in "selling" wars to a misinformed public, this cannot be ruled out.
It is impossible to predict how all this will turn out. What is known is that the American people still have the power to make their own history. This not so much a question of voting — for whom, in this case? — but of taking action to galvanize the masses of people to oppose the political structure's penchant for wars and global domination, for inexcusable foot-dragging on climate change and indifference to gross economic inequality.
4. CHARGES DROPPED IN WHITE HOUSE PROTEST
By Activist Newsletter
All charges were dropped in Washington Jan. 4 against 42 out of 131 protestors arrested Dec. 16 for engaging in civil resistance in front of the White House. The remainder had earlier paid $100 fines and walked.
Many of those arrested during the freezing snowstorm that struck the nation's capital that day were members of Veterans for Peace and another veterans group, March Forward!
Veterans for Peace initiated the demonstration, which began with a rally of over 400 people across from the White House in Lafayette Park, according to Tarak Kauff of Woodstock, N.Y. The ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) helped organize the demonstration.
The arrests took place when the protesters refused to move from in front of the White House fence where they were demanding an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were charged with "failure to obey a lawful order."
It took the police over four hours to clear the area of protesters. Supporters kept up lively chants until the last demonstrator was dragged away.
Among those arrested were: Mike Ferner, president of Veterans for Peace; Brian Becker, ANSWER's national coordinator; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War; former senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern; Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program; Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times journalist; Medea Benjamin, co-founder, CODEPINK; Joe Lombardo of the United National Antiwar Committee; Mike Prysner and Ryan Endicott, both Iraq war veterans and organizers for March Forward!; and Debra Sweet, World Can’t Wait national director.
Those arrested from the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York State included five members of Veterans for Peace — local activists Jay Wenk, Joel Kovel, Fred Nagel, Tarak Kauff and Nic Abramson.
According to the DC Attorney General's office the government "declined to file charges due to missing or incomplete police paperwork." It could also be that the government decided save the cost of court trials for 42 people, including veterans and movement leaders, that would have brought more publicity to their cause.
Those who participated in this action issued the following statement: "This is clearly a victory for opposition to undeclared wars which are illegal under international law, have led to the destruction of societies in Iraq and Afghanistan, bled the U.S. Treasury in a time of recession, and caused human rights violations against civilians and combatants."
March Forward! co-founder Mike Prysner spoke at the rally at Lafayette Park, joined on stage by nearly a dozen March Forward! veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, including active-duty troops.
Prysner said: “This government isn’t going to end these wars, because it’s not our government. It’s the government of the rich, of Wall Street, of the oil giants and defense contractors. It’s their government. And the only language they understand is shutting down business as usual. That’s what we’re doing today, and what we will continue to do in the days ahead until we end these wars.”
Summing up the action, the ANSWER Coalition declared: "In the spirit of a long, rich history of using civil resistance to advance the struggle for progress, this act of defiance marked a significant step in the reinvigoration of the antiwar movement, in this era of perpetual war that will rage on until halted in its tracks by the people themselves."
Veterans for Peace: http://www.veteransforpeace.org/
March Forward: http://www.marchforward.org/
5. DELAY IN U.S. TROOP WITHDRAWAL?
By the Activist Newsletter
The Obama Administration, which since taking office has vastly expanded the Afghan war by more than doubling the number of U.S. troops to about 100,000, with another 1,000 more Marines now on the way, implied Jan. 12 that it may keep the troops fighting beyond the 2014 target date for complete withdrawal.
And there's a chance that "privatized" American troops will remain in Iraq beyond that country's withdrawal date as well.
During a visit to Kabul for a meeting with President Hamid Karzai Jan. 12, Vice President Joe Biden noted that U.S. battlefield "gains... are fragile and reversible.... If the Afghan people want it, we won't leave in 2014."
Since the U.S. previously promised to provide Afghanistan with financial aid long after 2014, it seems clear Biden was talking about retaining a fighting force in the country "if asked."
Meanwhile, the plight of the Afghan people declines every day. The International Committee of the Red Cross warned last week that the conditions in Afghanistan are at their worst point in 30 years (and that includes the 1995-2001 Taliban period). In a rare public appeal, the Red Cross said the situation has worsened on each of the key measures of civilian casualties, internal displacement and access to medical care.
The Bush Administration, which arranged for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, also inserted an "if asked" proviso that would allow the troops to stay longer if requested by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi leader recently said he will not ask U.S. troops to remain, but here's what the Washington Post reported Jan. 12:
"Planning is underway to turn over to the State Department some of the most prominent symbols of the U.S. role in the war — including several major bases and a significant portion of the Green Zone. The department would use the bases to house a force of private security contractors and support staff [of] between 7,000 and 8,000" mercenaries. And if these aren't enough, the Iraqi government can always request the return of regular American troops.
But this may not work out. The U.S. invasion that toppled the secular Ba'ath government of Sunni President Saddam Hussein not only brought the Shi'ites to power in Baghdad but eliminated neighboring Iran's greatest enemy. Shi'ite Iran, which did not oppose the U.S. invasion because it played into Tehran's hands, has considerable influence in now-friendly Iraq. Washington wants to weaken that influence by working out an agreement to keep troops in Iraq.
The recent return of popular Shi'ite religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr to his base in Baghdad, after spending the last four years in Iran, helped Maliki win the recent election. Sadr's price, and seemingly Iran's as well, is no more U.S. troops. The mercenaries may or may not be an acceptable substitute.
6. DOMESTIC SPYING NETWORK IN U.S.
The U.S. government is creating a vast domestic spying network to collect information about Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and subsequent terror plots, The Washington Post reported Dec. 20.
The database contains over 160,000 "suspicious activity" files. Despite the sweeping size of the database, few of the U.S. citizens and residents spied upon have been accused of any wrongdoing. The FBI says it has resulted in only five arrests and no convictions. The Post also revealed that the FBI is storing 96 million fingerprints in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
In addition to the FBI, the Obama Administration is using local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators for this purpose. The government’s goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, noted the paper, which has conducted its own investigation of the matter.
According to the report, the network includes 3,984 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counter-terrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 935 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks, the Post said. The probe has revealed that technologies and techniques developed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in the United States.
The newspaper further revealed that In a bid to counter what is seen as a "threat from radical Islam," some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers people whose "extremist" views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by U.S. intelligence agencies.
The cost of the network is difficult to measure, the paper said. But the Department of Homeland Security has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, The Post said. In 2010, it gave $3.8 billion to local law enforcement agencies.
— Information from Agence France Presse, Washington Post, and Democracy Now.
7. DOES FRACKING CAUSE EARTHQUAKES?
By Rady Ananda
During the last four months of 2010, nearly 500 earthquakes rattled Guy, Arkansas.  The entire state experienced 38 quakes in 2009.  The spike in quake frequency precedes and coincides with the 100,000 dead fish on a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River that included Roseville Township on December 30. The next night, 5,000 red-winged blackbirds and starlings dropped dead out of the sky in Beebe.  Hydraulic fracturing is the most likely culprit for all three events, as it causes earthquakes with a resultant release of toxins into the environment. 
A close look at Arkansas’ history of earthquakes and drilling reveals a shocking surge in quake frequency following advanced drilling. The number of quakes in 2010 nearly equals all of Arkansas’ quakes for the entire 20th century. The oil and gas industry denies any correlation, but the advent of hydrofracking followed by earthquakes is a story repeated across the nation. It isn’t going to stop any time soon, either. Fracking has gone global.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) pumps water and chemicals into the ground at a pressurized rate exceeding what the bedrock can withstand, resulting in a microquake that produces rock fractures. Though initiated in 1947, technological advances now allow horizontal fracturing, vastly increasing oil and gas collection.  In 1996, shale-gas production in the U.S. accounted for 2 percent of all domestic natural gas production, reports Christopher Bateman in Vanity Fair. “Some industry analysts predict shale gas will represent a full half of total domestic gas production within 10 years.”  In 2000, U.S. gas reserve estimates stood at 177 trillion cubic feet, but ramped up to 245 tcf in 2008. These new technologies prompt experts to increase global gas reserve estimates ninefold. 
[The rest of this article, with many footnotes and a helpful map, is on the Global Research website at http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=22667.]
8. THE RIGHT WING AND THE GIFFORDS TRAGEDY
By Michael Winship
The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov had a rule: if you show a gun in the first act, by the time the curtain falls, it has to go off. For weeks and months, that gun, the weapon of angry rhetoric and intemperate rabblerousing, has been cocked and loaded in plain view on the American stage; Saturday morning outside a shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona, it went off again and again and again.
The target, Gabrielle Giffords, a member of the United States Congress, lays critically wounded, one of 13 shot and still alive. Six others are dead, including a respected Federal judge who happened to be there but who previously had received death threats from anti-immigration extremists, a member of Congresswoman Giffords' staff and a nine-year old girl, Christina Taylor Green. Just elected to her school's student council, she had been brought by a neighbor to Congresswoman Gifford's constituent event so she could see how grown-ups put democracy into action.
Instead, this child — born on 9/11 — became just one of the latest victims of more political violence in America, violence fueled by an incoherent rage against government and elected officials who cannot instantly bring back prosperity and the jobs lost overseas or restore in a blink some idealized vision of a nation that might once have been but is no more. And all of it egged on by right wing leaders and their cronies lurking in the swampier reaches of the Internet, hate radio and television. We now see the deadly effect.
The root causes are many and less distinct: fear of the future and what it may or may not hold, hostility inflamed by the economic injustice and uncertainty that force too many to live from paycheck to paycheck without anything saved or the slightest guarantee of security -- a gnashing of teeth and sharpening of claws because others may have what you have not. Or this: the simple fact that there are just too many damned guns in this country. One in four Americans owns at least one. The NRA would order gun racks in the cradles of newborn infants if they could. Too many weapons are used not for hunting or target shooting or legitimate protection, but for combating feelings of inadequacy and weakness with fantasies of firepower — fantasies that crazed gunmen too often try to make reality.
That someone like Jared Lee Loughner [Ed., who may have schizophrenia] evidently can walk into a store and buy a weapon that fires 30 rounds a clip is probably not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they talked about "a well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State."
No one can prove that the vitriolic talk from the right was in the killer's mind as he carried out his attack, but no one can prove it wasn't, either. So in the absence of evidence to support either side, why doesn't the right just volunteer to put an end to all the ballistic language and images it's been employing for many years now? Why not cease and desist if there's any doubt about the impact on lunatics of provocative violent-saturated words and images? Sarah Palin must have suddenly felt queasy about those crosshairs over Giffords' congressional district that were still up on her website, because the mama grizzly, half-term governor took them down soon after the violence (although as of this writing they were still on her Facebook page). But then she sent an aide to do a radio show in which she agreed with the sympathetic interviewer that the crosshairs were more like "surveyors' symbols"! Why prolong that kind of stuff? Why not just knock it off and apologize or simply shut up?
The fact is, it has been the right's goal to poison our political discourse for years. Remember the notorious "GOPAC Memo" back in the 1990's, created for the Republicans' leadership training institute and endorsed by Newt Gingrich? Titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control," in it, candidates are instructed in what words to use when defining their opponents (i.e., liberals). "These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contract," the memo said. "Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals, and their party" (in other words, demonize them).
Among them: intolerant, lie, pathetic, radical, sick, steal, traitors. Gingrich and his allies deliberately set out to employ toxic language against their opponents, and are still doing it. They will say anything to get a vote, especially now that the angriest and most irrational so often make up a majority of those who bother to go to the polls. This kind of talk is part and parcel of their strategy, and no matter what motivated the Tucson killings, it needs to stop.
Their lock and load rhetoric is reinforced by the rambling ranks of those who go on the Internet to spout any conspiracy theory, distortion of history or outright lie that helps them make it through the night. Add, too, the men and women of radio and television, the Limbaughs, Becks, and their ilk who use the airwaves as a cudgel, battering viewers and listeners with the certainty of their illogic, their thinly veiled messages of bigotry and meretricious embrace of Constitution, religion, flag and family.
All of them will huff and puff that this is an isolated incident by a madman that cannot be blamed on their bombast and bluster. But let's call it out for what it is, let's debate what in our gut we know to be true: even if it was not their intent, it's likely the words of the right on radio and TV and in the books they publish spurred on the man who killed two and wounded six in a Knoxville, Kentucky, church in July 2008, and the murderer of George Tiller, one of the few doctors in America who still performed late-term abortions for women with problem pregnancies whose health was at stake from life-threatening complications, or whose infants would be born dead or dying. Their invective, whether inadvertently or not, has encouraged the vandalism and threats faced by so many of our candidates and elected officials, including the now desperately wounded Congresswoman Giffords. Her shooting, and the death and wounding of so many who came to meet with her are just the latest example of ideologically-motivated bloodshed.
"Let me say one thing," said Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County, Arizona, where the shootings took place, "because people tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences."
He singled out radio and TV and said, "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous." An elected Democrat, he was immediately attacked by Republicans and the right, his statements dismissed as partisan and inappropriate. "The facts weren't even out there, Rep. Giffords had been carted away in a stretcher, we didn't even know her condition, but the war had already started. The folks on the hard left were already out there blaming the tea party." So complained Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation. He told The Washington Post, "If we ever needed an official political obituary to political civility in this country, we've seen it."
Mr. Phillips, that obituary was written long ago, thanks to you and your friends.
— From AlterNet Jan. 10, 2011. Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.
9. U.S. POVERTY NUMBER MAY BE MILLIONS HIGHER
By the Associated Press
The number of poor people in the U.S. is millions higher than previously known, with 1 in 6 Americans — many of them 65 and older — struggling in poverty due to rising medical care and other costs, according to preliminary census figures released Jan. 5.
Under a new revised census formula, overall poverty in 2009 stood at 15.7%, or 47.8 million people. That's compared to the official 2009 rate of 14.3%, or 43.6 million, that was reported by the Census Bureau four months ago.
Across all demographic groups, Americans 65 and older sustained the largest increases in poverty under the revised formula — nearly doubling to 16.1%. As a whole, working-age adults 18-64 also saw increases in poverty, as well as whites and Hispanics. Children, blacks and unmarried couples were less likely to be considered poor under the new measure.
The new measure will not replace the official poverty rate but will be published alongside the traditional figure this fall as a "supplement" for federal agencies and state governments to determine anti-poverty policies. Economists have long criticized the official poverty measure, based on a 1955 cost of an emergency food diet and does not factor in other living costs. It only includes pretax cash income, does not account for medical, transportation and work expenses or even non-cash government aid.
Out-of-pocket medical expenses had a significant impact in affecting the number of poor — without those costs, poverty would have dropped from 15.7% to 12.4%. The effect was seen most notably among older Americans. Under the official poverty rate, about 8.9% lived in poverty, mostly because they benefit from Social Security cash payments. But when taking into account out-of-pocket medical expenses and other factors, that number rises to 16.1% .
Among other findings:
Transportation, commuting and child care costs weigh on working-age Americans. The official poverty rate for those ages 18 to 64 is currently 12.9, the highest since 1960s levels that launched the war on poverty. Under the revised formula, working-age poverty increases even higher, to 14.8%.
Without the earned income tax credit, the poverty rate under the revised formula would jump from 15.7% to 17.7%. The absence of food stamps separately would increase the poverty rate to 17.2% .
Taking into account millions of uninsured people in the U.S. had little effect in increasing poverty, mostly because those without insurance tend to forgo medical care rather than find ways to pay for it. Those with government-sponsored insurance generally saw decreases in poverty under the new formula, while those with employer-provided coverage saw increases. Still overall poverty for those with public insurance vs. employer insurance was higher, 31.1% compared to 7.2% .
Under the revised formula, the West had the most people in poverty at 19.2% . It was followed by the South (16.1% ), the Northeast (14.3% ) and the Midwest (12.5% ).
The supplemental figures could take on added significance at a time when many in the government point to an overhaul of Medicare and Social Security as the best hope for reducing the ballooning federal debt. With the potential to add more older Americans to the ranks of the poor, the numbers may underscore a need for continued -- if not expanded — old-age benefits as a government safety net.
10. DEFEND PUBLIC UNIONS AND WORKERS
By the Activist Newsletter
Conservative politicians — mostly Republicans but some Democrats as well — are intensifying their assault on the labor movement, joined as usual by big business and the right wing in general.
This time the public employee unions are being attacked in an attempt to make unionized federal, state and municipal workers pay for the recession caused by the banks and Wall St. by forcing them to accept cuts in pay and benefits, including pensions, often accompanied by layoffs and reductions in public services. It is in the interest of all working people to defend the union movement.
Throughout history, the higher the rate of unionization, the better off are the wage and salary workers who make up the American working class and broad middle class. When unions are weak, the workers suffer and the big bosses rake in billions more.
The two articles directly below examine this latest anti-union campaign. First, Art Levine writing for In These Times discusses the campaign. Second, Mark Brenner in Labor Notes probes the "myths and realities" of the charges against public worker unions.
Attacks on the U.S. labor movement by business owners and the wealthy go back to the 1800s when unions were formed. By the 1950s, however, the movement had grown to the point where 35% of American workers were union members. There were no public service unions at the time so all these workers were in the private sector. Today, union membership is down to about 12.3% — mainly the product of corporation propaganda and lobbyists, and anti-union legislation by the politicians in the executive and legislative branches of Federal and State government working in league with the representatives of corporate and financial wealth.
About 15.3 million workers in the U.S. are union members — 12.2 million of whom belong to unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
According to the Bureau's of Labor Statistics, last year "7.9 million public sector employees belonged to a union, compared with 7.4 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public sector workers (37.4%) was substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (7.2%). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 43.3%. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. Private sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (22.2%), telecommunications (16%), and construction (14.5%)."
In this connection, although the right wing and the Republicans are by far the biggest union haters, the Democrats, frankly, have done very little to pay back the great support shown by the union movement over the years. And this includes the years when the Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, such as in 2009-10 when they didn't even bring the labor movement's Employee Free Choice Act up for a vote, not least because many of their own conservative Blue Dogs would have voted against it.
11. BUDGET CUTBACKS TARGET PUBLIC WORKERS
By Art Levine
Years of demonizing public employee unions as part of a right-wing assault against the labor movement now seems about to pay off. That's due in part to state budgets that have been driven near bankruptcy largely by the Wall Street-led crash, and the political cover provided by otherwise liberal Democrats such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He is seeking a reasonable-sounding one-year pay freeze that adds a bipartisan patina to the growing union-bashing. [Cuomo will also cut Medicaid services for the poor.]
As the New York Times reported on Jan. 4, "Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics."
To some observers, this attack against public employee unions — abetted by right-wing misinformation campaigns that unions and their allies are just starting to counter — so profoundly threatens the labor movement that it poses a broader danger to the economy while strengthening the "Winner-Takes-All" politics that has dominated public policy for decades.
Veteran labor activist Stewart Acuff, the chief of staff for the 50,000-member Utility Workers Union of America and co-author of Getting America Back to Work, says, "This is a very serious effort by the radical right wing to cripple the American labor movement and remove it as a serious force in American life. They want unfettered, unrestricted corporate power, and the only thing standing in the way of absolute corporate domination of our society and what's left of our democracy is the American labor movement."
Sound like hyperbole? Take a look at the far-reaching goals of some governors in mostly Republican-led states, as the Times reported:
"In some cases — mostly in states with Republican governors and Republican statehouse majorities — officials are seeking more far-reaching, structural changes that would weaken the bargaining power and political influence of unions, including private sector ones.
"For example, Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and seven other states plan to introduce legislation that would bar private sector unions from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees, reducing the flow of funds into union treasuries. In Ohio, the new Republican governor, following the precedent of many other states, wants to ban strikes by public school teachers.
"Some new governors, most notably Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are even threatening to take away government workers’ right to form unions and bargain contracts....
"Union leaders particularly dread the spread of right-to-work laws, which prevail in 22 states, almost all in the South or West. Under such laws, unions and employers cannot require workers to join a union or pay any dues or fees to unions to represent them."
With organized labor now having more public employee workers than private sector workers, taking away pension gains, cutting off funds, and weakening organizing rights for public employees — who are protected by state laws, not federal labor law — could lower wages and benefits across the economy and undermine the union movement itself, union advocates say.
The challenge is convincing the broader progressive movement — and the public — to stand up for public employee unions that have been caricatured and smeared as generally overpaid, inept and lazy. A start at making the case for public employees unions has begun with AFSCME's "Stop the Lies" campaign, but its credibility will only be enhanced when those outside the union movement echo these same concerns and challenge anti-union myths. (For instance, it's not widely known that public employee workers with the same level of education and experience as private sector workers earn about the same or less as those in the private workforce.)
In a little-noticed fact sheet on union pensions, AFSCME also points out:
"Nationally, the average AFSCME member earns less than $45,000 per year and receives a pension of approximately $19,000 per year after a career of public service. AFSCME members typically contribute towards the cost of their pension. While government employers have often failed to faithfully contribute to their employees’ plans, public workers have contributed year in and year out. In fact, taxpayers shouldered just 14.3% of all pension funding in the 11-year period ending in 2007.
Some confidential but preliminary union public opinion research shows that the broader public has heard relatively little positive news about public employee unions, but they are open to messages excoriating GOP leaders for engaging in political payback against unions and advancing a corporate agenda. Whether the public will actually get to hear those messages in an effective, highly visible way is still very much an open question.
At a AFSCME-sponsored meeting of union activists in mid-December, union leaders referred to successful campaigns to beat back the anti-tax measures in California, Colorado and Massachusetts on the ballot; those right-wing efforts were fueled in part by bashing public employees and their unions. These local leaders talked about taking their case to the media and, in some cases, forming broader coalitions.... But, in reality, it's a steep uphill climb that's made even harder by hundreds of millions in corporate spending and the power of Fox News.
—FROM In These Times Jan. 6, 2011, http://inthesetimes.com/
12. PUBLIC EMPLOYEES: MYTHS AND REALITIES
By Mark Brenner
With all the venom directed at public employees these days, it’s hard to separate the facts from the attacks. Here’s a guide to common claims made about government spending, taxes, and public employees.
The Claim: Government employees are overpaid.
The Facts: The Economic Policy Institute measured state and local public workers against their private sector counterparts with the same age, experience, and education. They found that public workers earn about 11% less.
Public workers had better benefits on average, but even when health care and retirement were included, public workers were still 4% behind private sector counterparts.
Claims that state and local government workers are overpaid often fail to account for their education and experience. Fifty-four percent have at least a four-year college degree, compared to 35% in the private sector.
The Claim: The federal deficit is out of control.
The Facts: It’s true that this year’s budget deficit — projected to be 10.3% of U.S. economic activity — is the highest since World War II. Whether it’s a problem depends on your time frame and how we address it.
Short-term government spending was the only thing that kept the economy from cratering in 2008. It staved off a second Great Depression.
With no private sector investment in sight, public spending will be the only engine for job creation in the foreseeable future. Aside from the pain created by high unemployment, no jobs means no recovery for tax collections and therefore a widening deficit.
The deficit is a long-term problem if we do nothing, but before doing something we have to look at spending and revenues. The bulk of federal spending is on the military (22%) and health care, including Medicare, Medicaid, and children’s health programs (21%).
The obvious place to start trimming is today’s military budget, which is two and a half times what it was 10 years ago. Health care costs are also skyrocketing, because they are driven by for-profit health care. A single-payer system like “Medicare for all” would correct that.
The Claim: Taxes are too high.
The Facts: Depends whose taxes you mean. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, overall taxes in the U.S. are the third lowest among industrialized countries (only Turkey and Mexico are lower). Corporate taxes are also lower than in most other industrial nations.
But there are inequities — and they favor the rich. People at the bottom of the income ladder, the lowest 20%, pay almost twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as the top 1%. The poor pay 11%, the rich just 6%.
At the end of World War II corporations paid more than a third of all taxes collected by the federal government. Today they pay only 10%. The burden was shifted to individuals, and as taxes on the wealthy were cut over the last 30 years, the liability has been transferred to working people.
The Claim: The private sector is more efficient than government.
The Facts: Advocates claim outsourcing will save money. But after more than two decades of experience, reality isn’t so clear-cut.
Cost overruns combined with the cost of contract monitoring and administration often makes privatization more expensive than in-house services. According to a 2007 survey by the International City/County Management Association, more than one in five local governments had brought previously outsourced services back in house.
In most cases insufficient cost savings were cited as a primary reason. And where contracting out does produce savings, they typically come from lower wages and benefits for workers — not some supposed inherent superiority of business.
The Claim: Government waste, fraud and abuse are rampant.
The Facts: Government-bashers love to talk about overpaid, do-nothing bureaucrats, but if you’re looking for misused tax dollars your best bet is to scour the Chamber of Commerce’s membership list. Defense contracts and construction projects like the “Big Dig” in Boston hold taxpayers hostage with wildly inaccurate, often fraudulent cost estimates.
According to the Project on Government Oversight’s database of federal contractor misconduct, the top five defense contractors have racked up 156 instances of misconduct since 1995, totaling $3.57 billion in fraud and waste.
—From Labor Notes, Dec. 20, http://labornotes.org
13. CANCER-CAUSING CHROMIUM IN OUR WATER
By Environmental News Service
Tap water from 31 of 35 U.S. cities tested contains hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, according to laboratory tests commissioned by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and revealed in a report Saturday. The highest levels were detected in Norman, Oklahoma; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, California.
The cancer-causing chemical is best known to the general public from the 2000 movie "Erin Brockovich," starring Julia Roberts. The film dramatized the plight of the cancer-stricken residents of Hinkley, Calif., who in 1996 won a $333 million settlement from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for contaminating their tap water with hexavalent chromium.
The Environmental Working Group says, "Despite mounting evidence of the contaminant's toxic effects, including a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft toxicological review that classifies it as 'likely to be carcinogenic to humans' when consumed in drinking water, the agency has not set a legal limit for chromium-6 in tap water and does not require water utilities to test for it."
Hexavalent chromium is discharged from steel and pulp mills as well as metal-plating and leather-tanning facilities. It can pollute water through erosion of soil and rock, the EWG report shows.
The National Toxicology Program has found that hexavalent chromium in drinking water shows clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in laboratory animals, increasing the risk of otherwise rare gastrointestinal tumors.
In response to this study and others, California officials last year proposed setting a public health goal for chromium-6 in drinking water of 0.06 parts per billion. This is the first step toward establishing a statewide enforceable limit.
Levels of the carcinogen in 25 cities tested by Environmental Working Group were higher than California's proposed public health goal.
Tap water from Norman, Oklahoma, with a population of 90,000, contained more than 200 times California's proposed safe limit. Norman is home to the University of Oklahoma.
"At least 74 million Americans in 42 states drink chromium-polluted tap water, much of it likely in the form of cancer-causing hexavalent chromium," the Environmental Working Group says in its report. "Given the scope of exposure and the magnitude of the potential risk, the EPA should move expeditiously to establish a legal limit for the chemical in tap water and require water utilities to test for it."
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with 10 U.S. Senators Dec. 21 to brief them on the issue of chromium-6 in drinking water as reported by the Environmental Working Group.
Jackson described EPA's current chromium-6 risk assessment, a review the agency started in 2008 in response to new science showing a link between chromium-6 ingestion and cancer.
This risk assessment, which would be the first step to updating the drinking water regulations, will be finalized after an independent scientific peer review in 2011.
Jackson told the senators that based on the draft risk assessment, "EPA will likely revise drinking water regulations to account for this new science." Revisions would only take place after an independent science panel has verified the underlying science, she said.
14. ONE MORE DEATH IN PALESTINE
By Nathan Rosenblum, Activist Newsletter
On New Year's Day, a 36-year old Palestinian woman, Jawaher Abu Ramah, died after protesting the Separation Wall in the West Bank town of Bil’in. The cause was asphyxiation from inhalation of tear gas the day before. She evidently was the first Israeli Defense Force (IDF) victim of the year. There will be more.
Her family has paid a high price for opposing the Israeli occupation. Two of her brothers were killed by the IDF — one in 2008 after being handcuffed and then shot, the other in 2009 after being intentionally hit in the head by a tear gas canister. One of the four surviving brothers was quoted as saying “My entire family is ruined…. The whole house feels a sense of catastrophe.”
This tragedy is neither isolated nor unique. It is symbolic of how Palestinians are treated as a matter of Israeli government policy in the occupied territories or in Gaza, a virtual prison still suffering from a relaxed but continued embargo of many goods.
The town of Bil’in is directly in the path of the 450-mile Separation Wall, and has been a major site for protests for the past six years. A rally is held in the village each week in which protestors march to the wall. In the march that took the life of Jawaher Abu Ramah the IDF fired tear gas shells as soon as the protestors approached. The type of tear gas used, known as CS, is considered to be particularly toxic. Over the years Bil’in activists have frequently reported injuries to the respiratory system, eyes, and skin from contact with the gas.
The local response following the killing was summed up by Mohammed Katib, a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee: “We are shocked and furious for Israel’s brutality, which once again cost the life of a peaceful demonstrator. Israel’s lethal and inhumane response to our struggle will not pass. In the dawn of a new decade, it is time for the world to ask Israel for accountability and to bring about an end to the occupation.”
In the last 10 years, it is estimated that at least 6,430 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF or Israeli civilians — and this is widely considered a conservative estimate. It also does not include those killed in IDF attacks on Lebanon or Syria which took many lives. Of the acknowledged deaths 1,452 were children. As of this writing (Jan. 11), five more Palestinians were killed so far this year in addition to Abu Ramah.
The number of Palestinian prisoners held by the Zionist regime is also very substantial. It is reported that 4,168 Palestinians were arrested in 2010. Overall, about 6,700 Palestinians are currently imprisoned, 192 of whom are under “administrative detention” and are therefore being held without charge. Nine of the prisoners are lawmakers. There are 35 women and 283 children among the prisoners.
House demolitions continued last year with the destruction of the entire Bedouin village of al-Araqib in August in which 45 buildings were destroyed, leaving 300 Palestinians homeless, 200 whom were children. This is the third time that the IDF has destroyed the village.
Raids on other Bedouin villages in the Jordan Valley destroyed more buildings and killed or maimed many livestock, upon which the Bedouin depend. In the town of Lod, seven families were left homeless after their houses were destroyed in order to construct houses for Jewish residents. Altogether, it is estimated that 396 Palestinian structures were demolished in 2010.
Israeli repression breeds resistance by the Palestinians. They engaged in many protests last year. Repression also generates more support for the Palestinians by people throughout the world, including increasing numbers of Americans in recent years.
Massive opposition was the response in many countries last spring to the IDF's illegal interdiction of the six ships and nearly 700 people in the humanitarian Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing nine supporters of Palestinian national rights and wounding another 50. In Israel itself, an estimated 15,000 demonstrators marched and rallied in Tel Aviv to protest the attacks.
The BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions) Campaign also enjoyed increased success last year, including among U.S. solidarity originations. In 2010, main locations for BDS activity included Norway (a national ban on Israeli goods is supported by 40% of the population of the country), Ireland and numerous other European countries as well as throughout the Muslim world. The people of South Africa expressed particular support, having experienced the positive effect of the world boycott against the Apartheid regime.
Israeli oppression continues, but the growth of the fight-back movement continues as well.
The Mid-Hudson Valley's Palestine support organization is Middle East Crisis Response. Their website is http://www.mideastcrisis.org/.
15. SHARIA CHARADE
By Sandhya Bathija
Noreen Ahmad proudly calls herself an Oklahoma Muslim. She loves her home state; it’s part of who she is. And until recently, she has never felt discriminated against by fellow Oklahomans.
“I wore a hijab all through college,” said Ahmad, who attended the University of Central Oklahoma in her hometown of Edmond and studied information technology. “I never felt I was stared upon or looked at strangely. People were open-minded. They asked me questions. They wanted to learn about my faith.”
That’s why Ahmad was shocked when she heard about a ballot initiative that would add an amendment to the Oklahoma constitution prohibiting courts from considering “Sharia” – Islamic law – when deciding cases.
“I felt it was a slap to my constitutional rights and my freedom of religion,” Ahmad told Church & State. “I had never had my Muslim beliefs questioned. It just made me realize how much people don’t understand Islam and that they are afraid of it.
“It never occurred to me that this would be a concern,” she said. “Islam says that you must abide by the law of the land that you live in. As an American Muslim, I have to obey American law. To be a good Muslim, I have to follow American law.”
The Oklahoma ballot initiative — known as State Question 755 — passed on Election Day with 70% of the vote. The so-called “Save Our State” amendment revises the constitution so that “courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law.”
Supporters of the measure claim it’s the only way to protect the state from a takeover by Islamic extremists. Critics and constitutional scholars, however, insist that the measure fans the flames of religious discrimination and adds to anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
“Our Constitution already separates religion from government,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “This proposal had no legitimate purpose. Its only purpose was to create fear and get voters to the polls.”
Marc Stern, an attorney at the American Jewish Committee, told NPR the measure is unnecessary because there is no reason to believe fundamentalist Islamic law will be imposed on the United States. “Just as the Catholic Church didn’t take over law when large numbers of Catholics [came] to the U.S., and Jewish law doesn’t govern Jewish citizens, Sharia law is not going to govern, except voluntarily, the rights and responsibilities of Muslim citizens of the United States,” Stern said.
But despite this logic, right-wing groups and politicians were able to convince voters that they need to “save” their state from Sharia law. Many of these leaders achieved this by using shrill and alarmist language. For example, Brigitte Gabriel, founder of “Act! For America,” claims “a huge pocket of terrorist organizations” operates out of Oklahoma.
“I know this because I work with members of the FBI who are in counter-terrorism and who are paying attention to what’s happening in Oklahoma,” she said. “What we are seeing right now, not only in Oklahoma, but nationwide [is] where there is a large concentration of Muslim population, [there are] more demands and more push for Sharia law.”
Critics say Gabriel’s concerns are absurd. Terrorists, if they actually are plotting in Oklahoma, are unlikely to cease operations because of a constitutional amendment. And with only 20,000 to 30,000 Muslims in Oklahoma – out of 3.7 million people – Islamic groups are most unlikely to seize political power.
Yet many state politicians backing the measure echoed the paranoid sentiments. House Joint Resolution 1056 — which mandated the ballot initiative — passed the House 82-10 and the Senate by 41-2.
State Rep. Rex Duncan (R-Sand Springs), the primary author of the measure, said “Oklahomans recognize that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.” His proposal, he asserted, “is a pre-emptive strike to make sure that liberal judges” don’t ignore those principles and consider Sharia or international law in their decisions.
Duncan boasted that Oklahoma is the first state to pass such legislation and he hopes other states will follow. That seems like a strong possibility. In recent months, Religious Right leaders have exploited fear of Islam to get their base to the polls, and right-wing politicians have warned about a dire threat of Sharia law taking over the United States.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, stirred up a group of Religious Right activists by calling for a federal anti-Sharia law in September. “We should have a federal law that says under no circumstances in any jurisdiction in the United States will Sharia [law] be used in any court to apply to any judgment made about American law,” Gingrich said at the Values Voter Summit. Gingrich received thunderous applause from the audience.
According to Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), “Muslims are being targeted as political punching bags."....
Since the ballot initiative passed, Awad has filed a lawsuit to stop it from going into effect. His complaint alleges that the Oklahoma measure would violate the First Amendment’s promise of church-state separation and religious liberty. He won a preliminary victory Nov. 8 when U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange granted a temporary restraining order blocking certification of the ballot measure.
[On Nov. 29, Miles-LaGrange barred the implementation of the ballot initiative with an injunction. "This order addresses issues that go to the very foundation of our country, our Constitution, and particularly, the Bill of Rights," she wrote.
["Throughout the course of our country's history, the will of the 'majority' has on occasion conflicted with the constitutional rights of individuals.... The Court finds that plaintiff has shown that he will suffer an injury in fact, specifically, an invasion of his First Amendment rights which is concrete, particularized and imminent.... The actual language of the amendment reasonably... may be viewed as specifically singling out Sharia Law, conveying a message of disapproval of plaintiff's faith."
[A final judicial decision may be months away, and a subsequent Supreme Court ruling is possible.]
—Excerpted from the December issue of Church & State.
16. DOMESTIC NEWS BRIEFS
By the Activist Newsletter
•• "DON'T REPEAL HEALTH LAW, GO BEYOND IT" — A nationwide organization of doctors who favor a single-payer health care system on Jan. 7 rejected the Republican demand to repeal the new health law, noting that the law contains modest benefits for patients that should not be spurned.
"We reject the call by Republican leaders to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), even as we recognize the new law is incapable of resolving our health care morass," said Dr. Garrett Adams, president of the 18,000-member Physicians for a National Health Program. At the same time, the doctors said that the enactment of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all program is the only way to assure high quality, comprehensive care to all Americans and the only way to rein in skyrocketing health care costs. (Information: CommonDreams.)
•• U.S. COMPANIES CREAT MORE JOBS... OVERSEAS! — A new study by the Economic Policy Institute has found that U.S.-based companies created more jobs overseas this year than they did inside the United States. Overseas, 1.4 million jobs were created, versus less than one million within the United States. At the firm DuPont, the number of U.S. employees has shrunk by 9% since 2005, while its work force grew by 54% in Asia-Pacific countries. At Caterpillar, more than half of the 15,000 people hired this year were outside the United States. (Information: Democracy Now.)
•• POLL: CUT DEFICIT BY TAXING RICH — A survey from CBS News and Vanity Fair magazine released Jan. 3 shows that most Americans, given a set of limited choices for balancing the national budget, would prefer to see taxes increased for the wealthy. Some 61% said they supported increasing taxes on the rich over three other options: cutting defense spending, cutting Medicare or cutting Social Security. Another 20% chose cutting defense spending as the best option. Just 4% said they would cut Medicare, and 3% percent would cut Social Security.
Fewer rich Americans favored increasing taxes on the wealthy, but 46% (making more than $100,000 a year) said it was the best option — 26 points higher than their second option, cutting defense spending. The poll comes as Congress considers a future vote to raise the national debt ceiling. Republicans are hoping to use the debt ceiling vote as leverage to pass spending cuts on social programs instead of tax increases on the wealthy. A majority in early December told CBS that Congress should let the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire, but President Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend them. (Information: CBS News.)
•• GOP SEEKS TO HALT ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE — Republicans wasted no time in using their new majority in Congress to try to block the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act on climate change just after EPA began the process of regulating greenhouse gas emissions under new rules for major power plants and oil refineries that went into effect this month.
In their first full day in the new Congress, Republicans outlined three different bills — encapsulating three different strategies — aimed at limiting the powers of the EPA. The first bill, introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, would declare that greenhouse gas emissions are not subject to the Clean Air Act — even though Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that they are. The second, introduced by Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, would block funding to any government agency associated with cap-and-trade. The third, introduced by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, is relatively modest, seeking a two-year delay in EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and methane emissions. In the Senate, a Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia, Jay Rockefeller, has been calling for a bill to delay EPA action on climate change. (Information: Guardian UK.)
•• 40% OF AMERICANS ARE STRICT CREATIONISTS — Here are the results of a mid-December Gallup Poll on evolution: Four in 10 Americans believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Another 38% believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms. Finally, 16% believe humans developed over millions of years without involvement of God.
The "secular evolution" view of evolution without God has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% today. The "strict creationists" who think humans were created 10,000 years ago dropped from 47% in 1999 to 40%. There has been little change over the years in the percentage holding the "theistic evolution" view that humans evolved under God's guidance. Americans' views on human origins vary significantly by level of education and religiosity. Those who are less educated are more likely to hold a creationist view. Those with college degrees and postgraduate education are more likely to hold one of the two viewpoints involving evolution. (Information: Gallup.)
•• DEATH PENALTY DECLINES NATIONWIDE — The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) released its annual year-end report finding a 12% decrease in executions in 2010 compared to 2009: 46 people were executed during the year, compared to 52 the year before. Over 50% fewer death sentences were issued in recent years compared to the 1990s.
Several factors have led to less reliance on the death penalty. • Opinion polls show a majority of Americans prefer alternative sentences over the death penalty. • The exorbitant cost of the death penalty cases plays a major role in changing public opinion. • Problems continue to plague the lethal injection system. • The public remains concerned that innocent people may be sentenced to death, or worse, have already been executed. (Information: DPIC and the ACLU.)
•• STATES PREPARE ANTI-IMMIGRANT BILLS — In an effort to divide the working class as the economic crisis drags on, many state legislatures are set to consider draconian anti-immigrant laws as they reconvene in January. Efforts to emulate Arizona’s infamous "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" are expected in at least six states. Among this bill's features is a provision requiring aliens to register with the U.S. government and to have registration documents in their possession at all times.
In addition to laws that encourage racial profiling, many states are considering revoking the citizenship rights of the children of undocumented workers. Daryl Metcalfe, the pre-eminent racist in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, stated that this would eliminate “anchor baby status, in which an illegal alien invader comes into our country and has a child on our soil.” Such measures blatantly violate basic civil rights and Article 14 of the U.S. Constitution.
In another racist move Jan. 1, the Arizona state government declared a progressive Mexican-American program of the Tucson school district to be illegal because "it's propagandizing and brainwashing" immigrant children by discussing inequality and the need to struggle for civil rights. (Information: Party for Socialism and Liberation, and N.Y. Times, Jan. 7.)
•• WILD LAND PROTECTION RESUMED — The Obama Administration Dec. 23 restored protections for the wild public lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by creating a new classification known as "Wild Lands."
The BLM, which manages 245 million acres — more land than any other federal agency — has not had a comprehensive national wilderness policy since 2003. This resulted from a controversial out-of-court settlement between then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the State of Utah, and other parties. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has now directed the BLM to designate areas with wilderness characteristics as "Wild Lands" and to manage them to protect their wilderness values. (Information: Environmental News Service.)
•• RICH COUNTRY, POOR KIDS — More than one in five American children under age 18, and almost one in four children under age six, were living in poverty in 2009, according to the latest government figures. Widespread job loss during the recession, along with reduced hours and slow wage growth, have all contributed to higher rates of poverty. The U.S. child-poverty rate is by far the highest among comparable advanced, industrialized capitalist democracies.
Individuals are officially considered poor when their family income falls below the poverty threshold. The 2009 threshold throughout most of the United States was an annual income of $14,570 for a family of two and $22,050 for a family of four (thresholds are higher in Alaska and Hawaii). While 14.3% of all Americans were living in poverty in 2009, a record 6.3% were in so-called deep poverty, earning less than half the official poverty threshold, or subsistence rate. The comparatively low poverty rate among the over-65 population is largely attributable to Social Security, which lifts millions of seniors out of poverty. (Information: Census and Economic Policy Institute.)
17. INTERNATIONAL NEWS BRIEFS
By the Activist Newsletter
•• LATIN AMERICAN STATES RECOGNIZE PALESTINE — In a setback to the U.S. influence in Latin America, six South American countries in the last five weeks have recognized Palestine as a sovereign state with the borders established just prior to the Israeli invasion and occupation of June 1967. Washington has been discouraging such moves since talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in October when the Israeli government refused to halt building of illegal settlements in the occupied territories.
Beginning with Brazil in early December, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Uruguay have recognized the occupied country. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the move and thanked these countries for their support. Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela acted years earlier. With the latest additions, 109 countries have diplomatically embraced Palestine since 1988, including eight of the nine most populous countries (except the U.S.). Countries representing about 85% of the world population now recognize Palestine.
Both the U.S. and Israel condemned the new recognitions. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said: "We do not favor that course of action. As we've said many times ... any unilateral action, we believe, is counterproductive."
•• NORTH KOREA OKAYS NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS — Encouraged by neighboring China, North Korea announced Dec. 21 that it would allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to resume their visits to the nuclear facility in Yongbyon. The IAEA personnel were expelled in 2009 after six-party nuclear-disarmament-for-aid talks broke down.
The Pyongyang government released the news through New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was conducting an unofficial fact-finding mission to North Korea, his seventh visit in 14 years. "I believe that's an important gesture on their part," said Richardson. "My sense is that the North Koreans realize that they had moved too negatively against negotiations, they'd taken some very bad steps, and they wanted to move in the right direction." The governor, who left office Jan. 1, also revealed that "the North is willing to negotiate with South Korea to sell close to 12,000 spent fuel rods and ship them out of the country."
According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, "The DPRK has also agreed to consider Richardson's proposal for a military commission between the United States, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [the North's official name] and South Korea as well as a hotline for militaries between the two sides on the peninsula." In New Year messages, both North and South Korean officials called for renewed dialogue and reducing tensions. (Information, Xinhua, CNN, Reuters.)
•• WHAT'S REALLY HAPPENING IN KOREA? — After a hectic year of mutual recriminations between the two Koreas, North Korea launched a constructive diplomatic offensive earlier in January, seeking peace talks between the two sides, and has hinted it would return to six-nation talks about nuclear disarmament and related matters. South Korea rejected the peace overture but as conditions ripen the two sides may eventually open a new dialogue.
Objective observers of corporate mass media and U.S. government reports about North Korea have long been aware that most are one-sided at best. This includes recent allegations about the North Korean artillery attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island in November and the alleged North Korean torpedo attack on the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan in March, according to a Dec. 31 article by Professor Martin Hart-Landsberg at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.
Basing his argument on current and historic facts and an informative map of both incidents, Hart-Landsberg concludes: "Many unanswered questions remain about the Cheonan sinking and the Yeonpyeong attack. However, what does appear clear is that there are many complexities surrounding these events that are never made public here in the U.S., and that these omissions end up reinforcing a view of North Korean motivations and actions that is counterproductive to what should be our goal: achieving peace on the Korean peninsula." (Check out this full article and map at http://media.lclark.edu/content/hart-landsberg/2010/12/31/whats-happening-on-the-korean-peninsula/.)
•• CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS "IGNORANT ABOUT CHINA" — Washington: Fewer than five out of the more than 500 members of Congress have a "really good understanding" about China, according to a leading expert on Sino-U.S. ties. Said Chi Wang, the 78-year-old co-chairman of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation (USCPF), most of them rely on aides when formulating policy on China. And many of those young staffers are also ignorant about China, Wang told China Daily in his office near the Library of Congress, where he retired as the head of Chinese Section in 2004. "There is an urgent need to better inform the policymakers about China," he said.
Since the foundation was set up in 1995, it has been holding seminars and arranging trips to China for members of Congress. But Wang, a professor of U.S.-China relations and modern China at Georgetown University who emigrated to the U.S. in 1949 at the age of 17, said that because of different political and cultural histories, misunderstanding and misconception toward each other still exist and will cause more disputes and conflicts when the two nations witness a new era of the bilateral relations. (By China Daily, Dec. 12, 2010.)
18. MISERY WITH PLENTY OF COMPANY
By Bob Herbert, New York Times Jan. 8, 2011
Consider the extremes. President Obama is redesigning his administration to make it even friendlier toward big business and the megabanks, which is to say the rich, who flourish no matter what is going on with the economy in this country. (They flourish even when they’re hard at work destroying the economy.) Meanwhile, we hear not a word — not so much as a peep — about the poor, whose ranks are spreading like a wildfire in a drought.
The politicians and the media behave as if the poor don’t exist. But with jobs still absurdly scarce and the bottom falling out of the middle class, the poor are becoming an ever more significant and increasingly desperate segment of the population.
How do you imagine a family of four would live if its annual income was $11,000 or less?
During a conversation I had this week with Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a longtime expert on issues related to poverty, he pointed out that the number of people in that tragically dismal category has grown to more than 17 million. These are the folks trying to make it on incomes below half of the official poverty line, which is $22,000 annually for a family of four.
No one talks about these families and individuals living in extreme poverty. Certainly not the Republicans who were having a dandy time this week deliberately misreading the Constitution and promising budget cuts and other initiatives that will hurt the poor even more.
If you’re still having trouble deciding whose side the Republicans are on, just keep in mind that the House G.O.P. bigwig Darrell Issa sent a letter to 150 businesses, trade groups and think tanks asking them to spell out which federal regulations they dislike the most. These are lifeguards on the side of the sharks.
Scared to death of being outdone, President Obama and his sidekicks climbed into their spiffy new G.O.P. costumes and promised in humiliatingly abject tones to shower the business world with whatever government largess they could lay their hands on. The first order of business (pun intended) was the announcement that William Daley, the Chicago wheeler-dealer and former Clinton administration official who landed a fat gig at JPMorgan Chase, would become the president’s chief of staff. Mr. Daley was a loud critic of recent financial regulatory reforms and has been obsessed with getting Democrats to be more subservient to business.
The poor, who have been hurt more than anyone else in this recession, don’t stand a heartbeat’s chance in this political environment. The movers and shakers in government don’t even give a thought to being on the side of the angels anymore — they’re on the side of the millionaires and billionaires.
Nearly 44 million people were living in poverty in 2009, which was more than 14 percent of the American population and a jump of four million from the previous year. Anyone who thinks things are much better now is delirious. More than 15 million children are poor — one of every five kids in the United States. More than a quarter of all blacks and a similar percentage of Hispanics are poor.
Are we doing anything about this? No. Our government officials, from the president on down, are too busy kissing the bejeweled fingers of the megarich.
Professor Edelman broke the poor into two categories: the new poor, who have lost jobs and homes and otherwise been clobbered by the recession; and the old poor, who in many cases had previously been working, sometimes sporadically or part time, at jobs that didn’t pay much. Many of those low-paying jobs have since vanished and the old poor have just been crushed.
“There is this astonishing number of people all the way down there at the bottom that we just don’t talk about,” Mr. Edelman said, “and they’re in very big trouble.”
Welfare, even for the poorest of the poor, is not much help. More than 17 million people may be living in extreme poverty, but welfare, for most of the people who need it, was “reformed” right out of existence [by Bill Clinton — Ed.]. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which is what welfare is called now, helps far fewer people than welfare used to, even though the poor have been laid low by the worst economy since the Depression.
Hardly anyone cares. Hardly anyone even notices.
With the tax cuts for the rich saved and William Daley coming on board, the atmosphere is being readied for Obama & Co. to tap the fat cats for the zillions necessary for next year’s re-election run. And that, of course, is the only thing that really matters.
19. "PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE"
By the Activist Newsletter
Editor's Note: I have always considered Phil Ochs to be one of America's greatest topical and protest songwriter-singers. He died in 1976 at the age of 35 — tragically by his own hand. What a loss! I interviewed him for the Guardian (U.S.) around the time he wrote "I Ain't Marching Any More" in 1964, one of many of his songs that helped build the antiwar movement. The song text is below.
A documentary film about Phil's life, which was shown briefly at last summer's Woodstock Film Festival, premiered this month in New York City, and will open in nine other cities in the next two months. It's titled "Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune" (the name of one of his most popular songs). I haven't seen the film yet, but musician, singer and activist John Pietaro, who has performed at many peace rallies in the Hudson Valley, has written a review which we recommend. It is at http://theculturalworker.blogspot.com/2011/01/film-review-phil-ochs-there-but-for.html. Check out the website as well. Scroll down and you'll find a display of old photos and posters that amounts to an introduction to the history of the U.S. cultural left.
In memory of Phil Ochs, who would be 70 had he lived a full life, here's "I Ain't Marching Anymore." The song's on YouTube in several versions. The best sound quality is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLnEbVTjwCw
I AIN'T MARCHING ANYMORE
By Phil Ochs
Oh I marched to the battle of New Orleans
At the end of the early British war
The young land started growing
The young blood started flowing
But I ain't marchin' anymore
For I've killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying I saw many more dying
But I ain't marchin' anymore
(CHORUS) It's always the old to lead us to the war
It's always the young to fall
Now look at all we've won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all
For I stole California from the Mexican land
Fought in the bloody Civil War
Yes I even killed my brothers
And so many others
But I ain't marchin' anymore
For I marched to the battles of the German trench
In a war that was bound to end all wars
Oh I must have killed a million men
And now they want me back again
But I ain't marchin' anymore
For I flew the final mission in the Japanese sky
Set off the mighty mushroom roar
When I saw the cities burning
I knew that I was learning
That I ain't marchin' anymore
Now the labor leader's screamin'
when they close the missile plants,
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore,
Call it "Peace" or call it "Treason,"
Call it "Love" or call it "Reason,"
But I ain't marchin' any more,
No I ain't marchin' any more
20. GROUPS CAUTION U.S. ON WIKILEAKES REPRISALS
By the Activist Newsletter
As Washington prepares a case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange because his organization released a virtual truckload of sensitive government documents to the press, fears are rising that the Obama Administration may seek to prosecute "third party publishers" for promulgating the documents and even limit the rights of individuals to view the material.
A coalition of 30 free speech organizations sent an open letter to public officials Dec. 22 cautioning against the government of taking any such actions. The groups included the American Civil Liberties Union, American Library Association, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Center for Constitutional Rights, First Amendment Coalition, National Coalition Against Censorship, New America Foundation, and Progressive Librarians Guild.
The letter is in response to statements by some government officials who have questioned the right of newspapers to report on leaked documents and the right of government employees and others to read or even discuss them, as well as proposed legislation that would limit the free speech of legitimate news reporting agencies. WikiLeaks, itself as part of the media, shared the documents it obtained with other media outlets and should receive the same protections, for instance, as the New York Times.
According to the letter: "These actions have created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among the general public." The ACLU's Michael W. Macleod-Ball declared: "The First Amendment clearly protects third parties who publish leaked information from prosecution. The government should not be expanding old laws or creating new ones with the express purpose of skirting the Constitution. It is in controversial situations that our adherence to the principle of free speech is most important. Government censorship and prosecution of third parties for publishing truthful information are not the answer."
The full text of the letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech-national-security/open-letter-public-officials-about-wikileaks
The ACLU recently submitted testimony for a congressional hearing on the constitutional issues surrounding the proposed prosecution of WikiLeaks for its publication of government documents and a proposal to expand the Espionage Act. That testimony is available online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech/aclu-statement-house-judiciary-committee-hearing-wikileaks-and-espionage-act.