May 31, 2011, Issue #167
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
firstname.lastname@example.org, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. THE RETURN OF 'SINGLE PAYER' — Welcome back to the Congressional agenda. Let's save $400 billion annually by eliminating unnecessary insurance industry paperwork.
2. MAD SCIENTISTS OR MAD POLITICIANS? — The race is on! Who will be first to destroy our Mother Earth?
3. OBAMA'S FOREIGN POLICY OBJECTIVES — Today's headlines, from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Arab uprisings and Israel/Palestine, are part of a much larger mosaic that constitutes the Middle East/North Africa and Central Asia component of U.S. foreign policy.
4. UNPRECEDENTED NAKBA ACTIONS — Thousands of Palestinian refugees and their supporters stormed the borders of the Israeli state from Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.
5. THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION CLUB — The kingdoms of the Persian Gulf, led by America's close ally Saudi Arabia, are working to subvert the Arab world's democratic uprisings.
6. THE DEMOCRATS AND 'LESSER EVIL' POLITICS — It's been nearly impossible to obtain progressive reforms out of Washington for decades, not least because the two parties in our two-party system are both right of center.
7. TEN REASONS TO AVOID GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS — "We must begin by insisting that all foods with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) be labeled so we can avoid them," writes Barbara Upton.
8. ZELAYA RETURN TO HONDURAS — The former president's reappearance suggests a partial reversal of a coup d'etat that enjoyed Washington's tacit support, says Mark Weisbrot.
9. WORLD FOOD FEARS RETURN — UN official discusses why so many people are hungry despite the existence of sufficient food supplies.
10. 'AIPAC DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME' — Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein explains her opposition to the main U.S. lobbying group for Israel.
11. PROTESTER INTERRUPTS NETANYAHU — A CodePink activist was arrested after being assaulted in the House Gallery when she protested the Israeli Prime Minister's address.
12. NEW EVIDENCE SUPPORTS CUBAN FIVE — It seems the U.S. government paid for negative articles in the Miami media during their trial.
13. LONG LIVE OUR AMERICAN GERONIMO! — How dare the Pentagon select the name of a great Native American leader as the codeword for Osama bin Laden!
14. INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
15. NATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
1. THE RETURN OF 'SINGLE PAYER'
By the Activist Newsletter
Single payer healthcare is back on the Congressional agenda. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) recently introduced the American Health Security Act, S915 and HR1200.
Both bills envision a national health plan under a single-payer social insurance model that would be administered by the states. They have the support of the AFL-CIO and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) among many other progressive and liberal organizations, such as Progressive Democrats of America.
According to a May 11 statement by Dr. Garrett Adams, president of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), "At a time when the airwaves are filled with talk about cutting or even ending Medicare, Sen. Sanders [and Rep. McDermott] boldly stepped forward with the seemingly paradoxical proposition that the best way to financially strengthen the Medicare program is to upgrade it and expand it to cover everyone."
In contrast the Obama health law passed last year, which gives the for-profit insurance industry responsibility for American healthcare, said Adams, the proposed legislation "would cover nearly all 51 million people who currently lack coverage and improve benefits for everyone by eliminating co-pays and deductibles and restoring free choice of physician. In addition, government-run Medicare has administrative costs of between 2% and 6% while the top five insurers average 18% overhead.
"By slashing private insurance overhead and bureaucracy in doctors' offices and hospitals [the bills] would recapture about $400 billion annually that is currently wasted on unnecessary paperwork," Dr. Adams pointed out. "That money, in turn, would be channeled back into high-quality clinical care. Further, by using a single-payer system's bargaining power, we would be able to negotiate lower prices for pharmaceuticals and other goods and services, allowing U.S. to rein in rising health care costs."
National Nurses United/California Nurses Association worked with their allies in both the Labor Caucus for Single Payer and the Labor Campaign for Single Payer to secure the support of the 13-million member national AFL-CIO for these bills.
At a May 10 press conference in Washington, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker declared: "Two months ago, our executive council pledged to ‘continue working with Rep. McDermott and Sen. Sanders to introduce legislation that provides a social insurance model for health care reform that is progressively financed and provides a single high standard of comprehensive care for all.'
"Now that they have introduced their companion bills, I want to reiterate something else our convention resolution said loud and clear: The single payer approach is one that the AFL-CIO supports and that deserves dedicated congressional support and enactment. And I want once again to renew the AFL-CIO's longstanding call for congressional leaders to unite behind such a plan."
— Compiled from news reports, California Nurses Association, Reader Supported News.
— For a brief explanation of "single payer," see http://singlepayernewyork.org/what-is-single-payer.php
2. MAD SCIENTISTS OR MAD POLITICIANS?
By the Activist Newsletter
Over the last century or two there have been a number of science fiction books and short stories about people who sought to destroy the planet Earth — mostly they are "mad scientists" with lusts for power or revenge.
But of course it's all fiction — right? Well, the mad scientist part is certainly fiction, and of course the world hasn't been destroyed yet.
But if we take a distinctly non-fiction approach, and consider the warnings of nearly all environmental and climate scientists, the world is in the process of being destroyed. This is not due to its old age — there are many billions of years to go before our faithful Sun begins to dim — but to the increasing destruction of the natural environment and to the swiftly-increasing ravages of global warming.
If the danger confronting Mother Earth and its inhabitants isn't from mad scientists, where does it come from? If comes principally from the inaction of those who govern the societies that burn the most fossil fuels. Over the last 200 or so years, the period during which the use of such fuels has been taking place, the main polluting culprit has been our own country.
But the United States has been doing the least to counteract global warming or to produce a meaningful international agreement. Indeed, President Obama is calling for more use of oil, natural gas, nuclear power and "clean" coal in future years.
Here's what Noam Chomsky, our country's most influential progressive social critic, had to say about the matter in a recent speech:
The destruction of our environment "is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don't, someone else will.
"This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the U.S., propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers; for example, the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood.
"If such things were happening in some small and remote country, we might laugh. Not when they are happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world." In this connection, the House recently defeated a resolution stating that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare” by a vote of 240 to 184.
Those who disparage the science behind warnings of climate change, aided by those politicians not willing to fight, have prevented the U.S. government from taking action, but some major cities, such as Chicago, are acting on their own to prevent disaster. The New York Times reported May 23 "climate scientists have told city planners ... Chicago will feel more like Baton Rough than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century" — much hotter and wetter. City officials are planting hot weather trees, putting air conditioning in all schools and taking other measures now to protect the inhabitants since the transformation is already beginning.
But this is a national and international crisis that cannot be resolved only by cities, towns and individuals, no matter how well intentioned and helpful.
When the formal political apparatus in our society is dysfunctional on a matter of such supreme importance, what else can we do — give up in frustration? Hardly. We already have a growing environmental movement. On many campuses it's the main movement. There are small pro-environmental/anti-climate change groups all over the country. There are many larger groups such as 350.org and others, and there is a lively media devoted to the environment.
The only way we are going to get the United States really moving and moving fast to halt climate change and environmental destruction is to double, triple, quadruple the size of our movements and engage in whatever action is necessary on the local and national level to obligate our government to take action. Mad scientists we can brush aside. Mad politicians and bureaucrats must be forced to act in the name of humankind.
3. OBAMA'S. FOREIGN POLICY OBJECTIVES
By Jack A. Smith, the Activist Newsletter
If you follow global news, you’ve seen the headlines in the last weeks and days:
The Arab uprisings, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Washington's efforts to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq beyond pullout schedules, Egypt's reopening of the border with Gaza, Pakistan's role in the Afghan war, President Barack Obama's speeches on the Middle East and Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intransigence, the Fatah-Hamas unity moves and plans to gain UN recognition of Palestinian statehood — and that's not the half of it.
Each event looms large in the mass media and in political discourse, but each is only part of a much larger mosaic that constitutes the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) and Central Asia component of the Obama Administration's foreign and military strategy.
This component is Washington's top priority because any significant deterioration of U.S. domination in MENA, and the frustration of its ambitions in Central Asia — especially in combination with weakening economic and political influence in the world — could hasten America's decline as the unipolar global "leader," i.e., hegemon.
The U.S. inherited this position two decades ago upon the implosion of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp and is hardly prepared to step aside. The policy Washington adopted at that time, and which remains in force today, is to prevent the emergence of any powerful rival or military force potentially able to undermine American dominion.
No other country is grabbing for the global supremacy, but a number of states with advanced and developing economies think it's time for a new international construct with multipolar leadership.
The Obama Administration's sacrosanct mission, as with earlier Washington governments, is to keep the political and geographic ground gained by the U.S. in the 66 years since the end of World War II, when it became leader of the capitalist world's Cold War contention with communism.
This ground was extended in the post-Cold War period mainly through U.S. control of global economic institutions, the political absorption of the states of Eastern Europe that had been in the Soviet orbit, unequaled military power, and for the last decade the "war on terrorism" launched by former President George W. Bush.
President Barack Obama took over from Bush in Iraq, greatly enlarged the Afghan war and extended fighting to western Pakistan, Yemen and now Libya. In addition, Obama seeks to retain smaller but substantial U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan years beyond their anticipated pullout dates at a time when public opinion backs a total withdrawal.
Washington has had its eye on dominating MENA for its energy resources for over 70 years and attracted several key regional nations such as Saudi Arabia to its orbit many decades ago. In more recent years, U.S. hegemony has been extended throughout the entire region with the exception of Iran, the acquisition of which was postponed because of the military-political debacle caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In the decade since 9/11 Washington lengthened its imperial reach into Central Asia by projecting its formidable military power into Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on Earth. The ostensible purpose was to capture bin Laden and defeat al Qaeda, the organization he founded in the 1980s with support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. during the civil war against a progressive government in Kabul and its Soviet military protectors.
Washington's $10-billion-a-month Afghan foray has become a military stalemate, but the adventure also allowed the U.S. to plant its flag for the first time in Central Asia — a major geopolitical advance, as we will explain. The Bush Administration was hardly unaware of this fact when it chose to wage war in Afghanistan instead of mounting an international police effort to apprehend bin Laden.
It is within this context of MENA/Central Asia strategy that the May 2 slaying of bin Laden by a Navy SEALS killer-team in Pakistan fits into the broader picture, as do the Iraq and Afghan wars, settling the Israel-Palestine conflict, the U.S. attitude toward the Arab uprisings and the other recent headlines regarding this region.
In domestic U.S. politics, the eradication of bin Laden has generated a brief renewal of national self-confidence, and the strengthening of Obama's "national security" credentials, leading to elevated opinion poll ratings which the White House hopes will contribute to his reelection victory next year.
Internationally, the removal of bin Laden will only touch lightly upon most of the Obama Administration's immediate foreign/military objectives. We will discuss some of these objectives under these subheadings: The Arab Uprisings, Keeping the Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and The Importance of Palestine.
••• THE ARAB UPRISINGS: First and foremost, the White House is dedicated to co-opting, neutralizing or ending the progressive uprisings taking place these last months against dictatorships and oppressive monarchies throughout the Arab world.
Washington has extended its support to nearly all these reactionary regimes for many decades, in return for which they contentedly spin in America's hegemonic orbit. President Obama has extended his belated rhetorical blessings upon the democratic trend, but in actual practice all the White House has done is lead NATO into an unjust war for regime change in Libya. 
The U.S. government supports democracy except when it produces a government not to its liking or when a subject country renounces Uncle Sam's jurisdiction or expresses opposition to America's policies. President Obama does not want another Venezuela or Bolivia or Brazil to take root in MENA and is working to insure that does not happen, even though all were the products of democratic elections.
The Obama Administration seems no longer worried about the successful popular Egyptian uprising because it brought about a regime change that may only produce the form of democracy but not its full content. The U.S. government, which supported and helped finance the Mubarak dictatorship for over 30 years, is breathing easily because its continuing relations with the powerful armed forces and the ruling elite evidently insures that a democratic Egypt will remain within the imperial fold. Tunisia, which initiated the popular struggle against tyrants, also seems to have remained in Washington's camp even though the long-term dictator they sent packing to Saudi Arabia was backed by the U.S. to the end.
••• KEEPING TROOPS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: The Obama Administration is anxious to retain military bases and thousands of troops in Iraq, which it is supposed to leave entirely at the end of this year, and in Afghanistan as well, when the U.S. is scheduled to depart at the end of 2014. President Obama is applying heavy pressure to Baghdad and Kabul to "request" the long-term presence of U.S. troops and "contractors" after the bulk of the occupation force withdraws.
Why keep troops in Iraq? The neoconservative Bush White House invaded Iraq, which was considered a pushover after 12 years of U.S.-British-UN killer sanctions, not only to control its oil but as a prelude to bringing about regime change in neighboring Iran, thus providing Washington with total control of the immense resources of the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi guerrilla resistance destroyed the plan, for now.
Thus, the upshot of the war — in addition to costing American taxpayers several trillion dollars over the next few decades in principal and interest — is that Shi'ite Iran's main enemy, which was the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad until 2003, has been replaced by the Shi'ite government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a politician who usually bends the knee to Washington but is quite friendly to Tehran, as are many Iraqi politicians. (The Shia are nearly 65% of the population; the Sunnis, nearly 35%.)
On May 16 Maliki declared that "Security, military and political cooperation between Iran and Iraq is essential, and we will certainly see the expansion of relations in these areas in the future." Washington's big fear is that Maliki may eventually thumb his nose at Uncle Sam, and that in time Iraq and Iran will draw much closer together — a prospect deeply opposed by the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia.
According to Stratfor, the private intelligence resource, on April 26: "[T]he U.S. has reportedly offered to leave as many as 20,000 troops in the country" after its "pullout" at the end of this year. In addition, a large but undetermined number of "contractors" — often paramilitary hirelings — are to remain.
Further, according to an Inter Press Service report May 9, the State Department "intends to double its staff in Iraq to nearly 16,000 and rely entirely on private contractors for security." So large a staff is almost unbelievable, but so is the immense size of the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone — the largest such facility in the world.
Perhaps the most important obstacle to retaining troops isn't Maliki , who may cave in to domestic or American pressure, but the fighting cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, which once fought U.S. troops but has been quiet in recent years. Sadr threatens to unleash the army to fight any occupation forces left behind. In making his decision Maliki must keep in mind that it was the votes of the Sadr forces that assured his election victory. The U.S. suggests Sadr is doing Iran's bidding.
Washington has told Maliki he must make his decision by August. There's lots of maneuvering going on, and which way he will decide is unknown.
Why keep troops in Afghanistan? The Obama Administration has several different reasons for seeking to retain a reduced fighting force in Afghanistan, and it is applying increasing pressure on its errant factotum in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, to sign a post-2014 Strategic Partnership Declaration that includes U.S. troops and bases.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made oblique reference to this "long-term framework for our bilateral cooperation" in a Feb. 18 speech to the Asia Society: "In no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America and our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people. We do not seek any permanent military bases in their country."
In translation: Clinton indicted the U.S. was first going to seek approval from the Afghan government, and that its need for troops and bases would not last forever.
Washington is not without resources in this matter. It's going to take up to $10 billion a year — which Kabul simply cannot afford — to pay for the nearly 400,000 Afghan troops and police that the Pentagon plans to have ready by the end of 2014. The money can only come from Uncle Sam, and the possible price may be accepting America's "enduring commitment."
According to a Reuters dispatch May 24, a "senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity," told the British news agency: "Our goal is to end the war in Afghanistan, bring our troops home, leave behind enough capability to conduct CT [counter-terrorism] operations and to sustain necessary support to the local forces and Afghan state.... It remains a major, long-term U.S. commitment." Here are some reasons why:
(1) The U.S. has been holding "secret talks" with the conservative Islamic Taliban for months with the objective of reaching an agreement that will bring the Taliban into the Kabul government and perhaps in some provinces as well, under the authority of President Karzai. The purpose is to end the 10-year stalemated war against the Taliban and several fighting groups opposed to the American invasion, and to convey the impression that it has achieved victory. But the White House doesn't trust the Taliban, or Karzai for that matter, and wants its own "boots on the ground" after the main force departs.
According to an April 18 article in the Financial Times, the Obama Administration was so intent upon negotiating an agreement with the Taliban that it "quietly dropped its precondition that the Taliban sever links with al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution before holding face-to-face talks." These conditions now have to be met "at the end of talks." The U.S. acknowledges there are only about 50 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan these days.
(2) Neighboring Pakistan, which is essential to keep the Taliban under control in Afghanistan and as a transmission line for war supplies, is deeply distrusted by Washington, but Pakistan's assistance in the region is required to bring about a peace agreement. Since Islamabad likewise distrusts the U.S. but appreciates its cash subsidies and needs a superpower friend as protection against its perhaps exaggerated fear of Indian enmity, the relationship remains viable — but the Obama government wants American troops to guide the process on the ground and for possible incursions into western Pakistan.
There have been reports that the U.S. was aggrieved to discover bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan for years. But cooperation will continue and the full details may not be revealed for years by either side, though each probably knows everything about the other's role in this affair. As they cooperate, both countries have been spying upon and keeping secrets from each other, and their findings may best remain among themselves.
(3) Most importantly the U.S. has no desire to completely withdraw from its only foothold in Central Asia, militarily positioned close to what are perceived to be its two main enemies with nuclear weapons (China, Russia), and two volatile nuclear powers backed by the U.S. but not completely under its control by any means (Pakistan, India). Also, this fortuitous geography is flanking the extraordinary oil and natural gas wealth of the Caspian Basin and energy-endowed former Soviet Muslim republics such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Lastly, Iran — a possible future imperial prize — is situated between Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east. The U.S. wants to keep troops nearby for any contingency.
Washington's foothold in Central Asia is a potential geopolitical treasure, particularly as Obama, like Bush before him, seeks to prevent Beijing and Moscow from extending their influence in what is actually their own back yard, not America's.
Both former Cold War adversaries are acutely aware of Washington's intentions and are trying to block U.S. maneuvers through the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other means, such as Beijing's recent warm and supportive gestures toward an appreciative Islamabad. While China and Russia have supported the U.S. war in Afghanistan, they both — and no doubt Pakistan and India as well — strongly oppose the prospect of a long term U.S./NATO military presence in the region.
The White House has been twisting the Kabul government's arm to sign a "status of forces" agreement allowing a relatively large American contingent of troops, special forces, CIA operatives, paramilitary contractors, military trainers, etc. — perhaps between 10,000-20,000 occupying up to six military bases — to remain in Afghanistan after the end of the 2014 pullout date. President Obama might then claim that the Afghans requested the forces for their own security. So far the Karzai government is holding out, but eventual agreement is probable.
The closest Obama has come to publicly acknowledging the partial withdrawal effort was on 60 Minutes May 8 with the obscure comment that "we don't need to have a perpetual footprint of the size we have now."
The main problem in keeping a smaller "perpetual footprint" is that the Taliban insists on a total withdrawal and abandonment of all U.S. bases as well as troops. Otherwise they won't agree to the truce that is necessary to justify Obama's "honorable" withdrawal. The U.S. seems intent upon pounding the Taliban militarily until it agrees. Eventually, Washington may prevail by offering the Taliban more money and more political and administrative power in the new arrangement. Perhaps the troops might be renamed "contractors" and the U.S. could transfer the bases to Kabul, which would lease them back to the Americans.
•••THE IMPORTANCE OF PALESTINE: Before mentioning the Obama/Netanyahu brouhaha in late May, we'll touch upon why the Israel-Palestine situation is central to America's MENA/Central Asia policy, and note why the U.S. seeks a two-state solution to the Palestinian question and why the present Israeli government won't go along.
The U.S. and most of its European allies view Israel as an important "Western" political, military and intelligence outpost in a resource-strategic, volatile and now "unstable" region of the world populated almost entirely by Arab Muslims. It will not allow Israel to go under.
Washington's superpower influence has convinced most Arab governments to mute their criticisms of Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinians, (Syria and Libya have been exceptions), but the Arab masses have always supported the cause of the Palestinian people and denounce both Israel and its American enabler. Now that these masses are beginning to speak for themselves the Palestine question is more important than ever.
The oppression of the Palestinian people is the main cause of anti-American attitudes throughout the Islamic world of about 1.4 billion people, mostly in 47 countries with majority Muslim populations. This number will grow to 2 billion by 2030.
At this time the U.S. is fighting in five Muslim countries, and seeking to seduce several resource-rich Central Asian Muslim countries while retaining its Arab satellites in MENA. Meanwhile, Washington is presiding over a debt-ridden ailing economy, its world leadership is declining, and several developing countries, led by China, are rising and seeking a more equitable world order than that put into place at the end of World War II when half the globe was subjugated to the big colonialist and imperialist powers.
Obviously, something has to give — and "resolving" the Palestinian crisis with two states seems to be the quickest and least expensive way for Washington to win the good graces of a fifth of the world population at a time when U.S. "leadership" is losing clout.
A fairly broad section of Israeli opinion also sees two states as a way out of the Palestinian dilemma — but the country is presently in the hands of a right/far right government led by Netanyahu's Likud Party, the anti-democratic and racist Yisrael Beiteinu extremists led by Avigdor Lieberman, and the ultra-orthodox religious party Shas. Most of these right wing extremists will do everything possible to stall an agreement with the Palestinians in hopes that in time something — anything — will happen that will allow the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to be annexed to Israel proper.
The ultra-orthodox community (10% but growing fast), backed by many other religious citizens, adhere to the superstition that the deity "gave" Israel to the Jews, and that the Arabs are interlopers who should emigrate elsewhere. Many in Yisrael Beiteinu also want the Arabs to leave, but for ultra-nationalist reasons. Likud seems less fanatical but depends on the far right to retain power.
Since the U.S. government has made it clear for decades that it will defend, support and subsidize the State of Israel under all conditions, what's behind the headlines in recent days about a sharp disagreement between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama?
Frankly, during his visit to the U.S. — where he met with Obama, addressed Congress and delivered a speech to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC — Netanyahu made a mountain out of a molehill to divert attention from his government's refusal to take the basic steps required to resume negotiations with the Palestinians leading toward creation of two states.
The "molehill" was Obama's call for the resumption of talks between both sides based on the boundaries that existed before the June war 1967 with "mutually agreed land swaps."(Israel still occupies and is building settlements upon the land it seized in contravention of international law.
Actually, this has been the basic U.S. position for nearly two decades in discussions with Israel and talks between both sides. The Clinton and Bush 2 Administrations were in general agreement. The Palestinian Authority agrees with it, and now Hamas as well, as did previous Israeli governments. They understood — as Obama made sure to articulate to the Israeli leader — that the "mutually agreed swaps" of land would be part of a final boundary agreement.
This means that a method would be found for Israelis to obtain much of the Palestinian land where it has illegally settled 500,000 of its citizens in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in exchange for swapping some of its own land and other concessions. Naturally, land would be exchanged to make it possible for the two parts of Palestine to be connected, even if just a narrow corridor.
The "mountain" was Netanyahu's intentional misunderstanding that as a result of talks Israel was being told to return to the 1967 borders, which he charged were now "indefensible." All that was missing from his distortion was the allegation that Obama was now adding one more "existential" menace to the plethora of dangers facing Israel, but it was implied. Both AIPAC and Congress focused on protecting Israel and genuflecting to Netanyahu. Obama's cautious and weak call for talks was brushed aside, as Netanyahu had planned.
The House and Senate — Democrats and Republicans, in a rare display of bipartisanship — gave the Israeli leader a tremendous welcome replete with a score of standing ovations. Congress has been even more pro-Israel than the White House over the last decades. Part of the reason is the remarkable effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobbies on election campaigns. Some politicians owe their careers to AIPAC, and some have lost their careers when they publicly questioned Israel's sanctity.
Another part stems from the political power of tens of millions of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists who not only accept the supernatural theory that a divine being "gave" Israel to the Jews but believe the Christian superstition that the Jews must be in full possession of Israel (Palestine) before Jesus Christ will return to Earth for the "Rapture."
Aside from Obama's 1967 borders remark, all his comments just before and during Netanyahu's self-serving visit were paeans to Israel and pledges of America's support. He also displayed a dismaying inability to recognize a difference between oppressed and oppressor.
Obama (1) refused to call on Israel to stop building settlements in Palestinian territory; (2) omitted mention of Israel's illegal demand to annex all Jerusalem; (3) did not refer to the Palestinian refugee situation; (4) insisted that the PA withdraw its application for statehood set to be debated at the UN in September, with a good chance of General Assembly approval (though an inevitable U.S. Security Council veto will obviate the vote); (5) opposed the unity moves between Fatah/PA in West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.
In addition Obama argued that the Palestinians must not only recognize the existence of Israel but should acknowledge "Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people." In normal diplomatic exchanges mutual recognition is sufficient, without all the bending over backward expected of the Palestinians.
As far as state and homeland are concerned, there are more than a million Palestinians who have been living in what is now Israel since 1948 and for many generations earlier, in addition to refugees whose demand for a "right to return" has not been addressed. This is a matter for the negotiations, not dismissal beforehand by defining Israel in such fashion.
Many demands on both sides will be negotiated — but any commitments take place after, not before, negotiations. One more point on recognition. Much is made out of the fact that Hamas (and Fatah as well, but this usually is not mentioned) does not "recognize" Israel. But according to international law, recognition is between two states, not between a political party and a state.
Even when the right/far right coalition led by Netanyahu is defeated in a couple of years by the center right Kadima Party, it will be somewhat easier but still very rough going for the Palestinians. The political left is very small. There is no powerful center or center left party (though the weakened center-right Labor Party, which would join the new ruling coalition, sometimes thinks of itself as center left), and Kadima would have to make concessions to its coalition partners, then to the powerful right/far right in parliament, and then to the settlers and the die-hards.
Kadima, an offshoot of Likud, is led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who calls for negotiations with the PA, including land swaps, leading to a Palestinian state. But both Obama and Livni have made it clear in the past that the state they envisage for the Palestinians would be extremely weak, dependent on conservative Arab countries and the U.S., and probably not even allowed to have its own defense forces.
Right now, even that hurdle seems to be a long distance down a road that resembles an obstacle course, but the Palestinian people have shown themselves to be extremely persistent in the face of great odds, and whatever their final objective in the struggles to come they just might get there.
 For our three-part article on "The U.S.-NATO War Against Libya," see the April 9, 2011, Activist Newsletter at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com/
4. UNPRECEDENTED NAKBA ACTIONS
By Richard Becker
In a stunning display of courage and determination May 15 (Nakba Day) thousands of Palestinian refugees and their supporters stormed the borders of the Israeli state from Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. [Nakba means Day of Catastrophe in Arabic, marking the displacement of the Palestinian people.] Troops of the Israeli occupation forces responded by opening fire, killing at least 16 people and wounding hundreds.
In their scope and boldness, these challenges to Israel’s denial of the Palestinian people’s right of return were unprecedented in the 63 years since Israel expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland. As has been irrefutably documented by many Palestinian and Israeli historians, the 1948 expulsions were accomplished by means of massacres and terror.
As of the end of 2008, there were 6.6 million Palestinian refugees and 427,000 internally displaced persons, comprising two-thirds of all Palestinians in the world. (Badil-“Survey of Palestinian Refugees and IDPs, 2008-9). Despite numerous UN resolutions demanding their right to return, none have ever been allowed back by the Israeli government. Today, millions of Palestinians continue to live in miserable conditions in refugee camps in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank.
The Israeli Knesset (parliament) recently passed legislation outlawing the commemoration of al-Nakba, an Arabic term meaning “the catastrophe” — a reference to the displacement of most Palestinians when Israel was created. But instead of suppressing the marking of the day, this May 15 saw the largest, most widespread and militant protests ever on the occasion.
In addition to the border demonstrations, there were militant protests by thousands of people all over the occupied West Bank, the Galilee region inside the 1948 borders of the Israeli state, and in many other countries, including the United States.
Large marches in Cairo and Alexandria were met with heavy repression as they attempted to reach the Israeli consulates in Egypt’s two largest cities, with 350 people reported injured and 137 arrested. A demonstration at El Arish in the northern Sinai region attempted to reach the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Demonstrators chanted for the opening of the border and the kicking out of the Israeli ambassador.
Jordanian security forces prevented Palestinian demonstrators from reaching the border with Israel. The demonstrators fought back, with reports of 14 demonstrators and three police injured.
Marching across hills and fields, thousands of unarmed protesters tore down parts of the barbed wire-covered security fence between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Golan Heights were seized by Israel in the 1967 war at the same time it occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. In 1980, Israel illegally annexed the Golan, a move that has never been recognized by any country in the world.
Many of the Palestinian demonstrators came from the big Yarmouk refugee camp, which adjoins the Syrian capital of Damascus. Hundreds of protesters made it through the fence where they were embraced by residents of the Syrian Druze village of Majdal Shams. The Israeli occupying forces were initially taken off-guard, but soon responded, killing at least four and wounding many more.
Thousands of Palestinian refugees from all 11 camps in Lebanon came by bus and car to the border town of Maroun al-Ras, which was the site of heavy fighting between Israeli and Lebanese resistance forces during Israel’s 2006 invasion. There, the Hezbollah–led forces repulsed the much better-armed Israelis in the town, making Maroun al-Ras a lasting symbol of resistance.
The Lebanese army sought to prevent the refugees and their Lebanese supporters from reaching the border, but some did. When they placed Palestinian flags on the border fence, Israeli troops opened fire, again with live ammunition. Ten protesters were reported killed and more than 100 wounded.
Why now? The crucial context for this year’s Nakba Day is the wave of rebellions sweeping the Arab world, which have already brought down the governments of Tunisia and Egypt.
For some weeks before May 15, a call was circulated on social media and other means calling for the day to be the start of the “Third Intifada” (uprising). Reportedly, more than 300,000 Palestinians and supporters have signed on to the call.
The recently signed Palestinian National Reconciliation Agreement (between Fatah and Hamas) is another factor encouraging a new upsurge in the popular resistance. A historic parallel was the April 1987 reunification of the Palestine Liberation Organization, widely considered to have been a contributing factor to the Intifada that began that December and lasted for several years.
The inhumane blockade of Gaza, the relentless seizing of Palestinian land for new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and successive Israeli government’s subverting of any and all negotiations are other key factors. Israel’s intransigence was clearly a key factor in the resignation last week of the Obama administration’s leading Middle East envoy, George Mitchell.
Whether or not May 15 signals a new Intifada in time remains to be seen. But there can be no question that the events of that historic day have been a blow to both the U.S. and Israeli establishments.
— From Liberation newspaper, May 18, 2011
5. THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION CLUB
[Following is an excerpt from an article about the role of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies during the Arab uprisings written by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times Online May 28.]
By Pepe Escobar
They are a shish kebab of hereditary monarchies, emirates and outright theocracies. Most sit on oceans of oil (45% of the world's reserves). They are addicted to the West's glitter and glamour — from London to Monte Carlo, from the delicacies of Paris to the weaponized delicacies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). They abhor democracy like they abhor poverty. Some would be glad to topple their own people — as indeed they do. And they view Shi'ite Iran as worse than the anti-Christ.
Welcome to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), formed in 1981 by top dog Saudi Arabia plus the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. A more appropriate denomination would be Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Council or club; a Gulf club to end all golf clubs. As far as the GCC is concerned, the great 2011 Arab revolt will triumph over their (wealthy) dead bodies.
How can they be so sure? Republican dynasties as in Tunisia or Egypt may be toppled; Libya may be bombed to the Stone Age; Syria may be threatened. But nothing will happen to the GCC because the enlightened West — not Allah — is their supreme guardian.
It's instructive to note that those 3,000-plus bombing raids on Libya since NATO took over the war on March 31 were conducted mostly by monarchies (Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar and the UAE), apart from republican France, and before that, via Africom, the United States.
Only a few hours before United States President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron were enjoying a special relationship barbecue this week, NATO was turning 19 Libyan civilians into, well, barbecue, and slightly roasting at least 130 others. The GCC merrily applauded.
The European Union (EU) and the GCC have issued a joint declaration forcing Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to go, not before handing over power to the Libyan Transitional National Council — which happens to be financed and armed exactly by NATO and the GCC.
Now the GCC has declared it would love the idea of Jordan joining the club — and the same applies to Morocco. As for Yemen — which has yearned to be a member since 1999 — forget it; it's not a monarchy, and "unstable" to boot, with all those unruly people protesting. The best the GCC can do is to allegedly "mediate" into what is in effect regime change — fully supported by the U.S. and the EU.
Apart from tiny Oman, whose Sultan Qabus follows the Ibadi school, all GCC members are hardcore Sunnis. There are plenty of Jordanian "advisers" among the Bahraini/Saudi repression machine.
Jordan and Morocco may get to become GCC members not only because they're monarchies — but most of all because they hate Iran like the plague (even though they are not exactly located in the Persian Gulf.)
Jordan's King Playstation, sorry, Abdullah II, invented the murky concept of the "Shi'ite crescent" way back in 2004, a conspiracy according to which Shi'ites from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon and Syria would violently take over the Middle East. Morocco's King Muhammad VI for his part cut off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2009.
The GCC's top moment of counter-revolutionary glory, so far, happened less than two days after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates left Bahrain — when Saudi Arabia, with a minor contribution from the UAE, invaded Bahrain in support of their cousins, the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty, and against the overwhelming majority of the peaceful, protesting Bahraini population. The GCC's secretary general, Abdullatif al-Zayani, happens to be an al-Khalifa-aligned Bahraini.
There were no U.S., United Nations or EU sanctions, much less a NATO bombing spree to "celebrate" this invasion. Instead, earlier this week, EU foreign ministers slapped even more sanctions against Belarus, Iran, Libya and Syria. Not by accident all of them have been Washington targets for regime change, since the time of the neoconservatives.
Neocolonial NATO and monarchic/theocratic GCC is a match made in weapons contractor heaven. The GCC will be incorporated into the global U.S. missile shield system. Soon, there'll be that juicy $60 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia — the largest in American history.
Western idolatry practitioners that they are, GCC members also wanna have fun and be part of the real post-modern action — neocolonial war. After all, NATO itself can be interpreted as a professional mercenary neocolonial army, ready to intervene anywhere from Central Asia to Northern Africa.
Take Qatar. Qatar was the first country to recognize that dodgy bunch, the Libyan "rebels"; the first GCC member to supply NATO with French Mirage fighter jets and American C-17 Globemasters; it set up satellite Ahrar TV for the Transitional Council; showered them with MILAN missile launchers; and most of all immediately started to "supervise" oil exports from Cyrenaica.
The reward was inevitable; on April 14, Obama hosted the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, at the White House, and lavishly praised him for his "leadership" in promoting "democracy in the Middle East" — a reference to Qatar's role in Libya.
As for Salman al-Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, on May 19 he glowingly posed for a photo-op on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London with Prime Minister Cameron, proving that slaughtering civilian, unarmed protesters and giving a green light for the House of Saud to invade his country was definitely good for business.
But no one beats the UAE in the deadly toy realm. President Nicolas Sarkozy opened France's first military base in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi. The UAE has sent fighter jets to NATO in Libya. They are a "troop-contributing nation" for NATO in Afghanistan. And they will be the first GCC and Arab nation to send an ambassador to NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Along with Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, the UAE is a member of one of NATO's myriad "partnerships" — the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative military partnership. Translation: NATO encroaching on the Persian Gulf, positioning itself to raise any amount of hell against Iran....
— For the full article, including the last portion omitted here — about the training of mercenaries by "former Blackwater supremo Erik Prince" in Abu Dhabi — http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/ME28Ak01.html
6. THE DEMOCRATS AND 'LESSER EVIL' POLITICS
By the Activist Newsletter
Why is it that people in the United States enjoy far fewer social benefits than the working class, middle class and the poor who live in many other industrialized capitalist countries?
Why is it that the major social benefits Americans do have — such as Medicare, Social Security and food stamps — are constantly in danger from right wing Republicans and conservative Democrats? And why is it that the modern Democratic Party always seems to compromise and retreat, even when it is the stronger of the political duopoly?
These and many other questions have been coming to the fore since the Democrats gained the White House and both houses of Congress in the 2008 elections but did not mobilize their majority to fight for social gains or pass important social and labor legislation. Now, following the Republican domination of the House since last year's midterm election, the entire edifice of social advances won over the decades seems up for grabs.
Further, though the majority of Democratic voters opposed the Bush era wars, they are being continued by Democratic President Barack Obama, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but spreading to Pakistan, Yemen and now Libya, where the White House, while trying to hide in the background, is leading the U.S./NATO campaign for regime change by bombing the residence of Col. Gaddafi and his family. Had George W. Bush done that when Democrats used to be in the peace movement they would have protested in droves.
We're going to discuss such matters in the following article on the basis of a number of questions raised by liberal and progressive readers of the Activist Newsletter in recent months.
A key to all of this, which many Americans often do not recognize, is that America is a class society. The capitalist social-democratic countries of Europe are also class societies, but some of them enjoy far greater benefits from their governments because their left mass parties fought hard to gain and retain those benefits.
The political, educational and communication systems that mold popular thinking in the U.S. work overtime to conceal the class nature of our society. The notion of a "classless" America is largely believed even though it is contradicted by the cold statistics of wealth, income, poverty, power, powerlessness, housing, education, jobs, healthcare, the biggest prison population in the world and an aggressive hegemonic and militarist foreign policy.
The facts also show that many millions of Americans are further oppressed by racial as well as class stratification, although the generality of white people seem to believe that racism and the barriers to racial equality are no longer serious problems. Why else is African American unemployment double that of jobless whites, and black family assets are less than half that of white families? Why else the cash-starved inner-city schools, or the de facto residential segregation?
The nature of the American political system vitiates against social reforms for the masses of people. There are two ruling political parties in the United States — the Republicans and the Democrats — and both these parties are positioned right of political center, the Republicans to the farther right.
It is hardly controversial to suggest that these ruling parties primarily serve the interests of wealth, the corporations and Wall St., and that they exercise dominant influence over the Republican and Democratic leadership and a large majority of political office holders. To our knowledge there is not one decisive indicator to demonstrate this assumption is false.
For example, the two parties combined neoliberalism and globalization to benefit the big corporations at the expense the American working people and the society in which they live. Both supported the financialization of the economy and then deregulated the financial markets. Both presided over the deindustrialization of the United States. Both facilitated the greed and gambling that led to the Great Recession. Both do little to seriously alleviate unemployment. Both refused to take effective steps to prevent millions of home foreclosures or to fight for programs to rebuild America's neglected infrastructure
The Democrats gesture politically toward the middle class, working class, minorities, unions and the poor — their principal voting blocs — though in the last 40 years this broad constituency has received nil-to-negligible benefits from the arrangement. In fact many of the gains won in struggles of earlier years are in deep jeopardy today, with little more than a rhetorical fight-back from the Democratic Party. It is true that the Democrats are fighting back on Medicare — one of the most popular programs in America which the Republicans foolishly attacked — but only a small minority stand up for new proposals serving the mass of working people.
This is the "genius" of the American political system. The class of wealth and power has devised a structure where only two fairly similar mass political alternatives are available on Election Day, as opposed to the three and four viable mass parties, including those of the left, in other rich capitalist countries, especially in the social democratic societies.
As we have noted before, the U.S. is the only such country without a mass left party — and every effort to form one over the decades has been weakened by red-baiting, repression, the opposition of a formidable commercial and governmental propaganda apparatus, and the reluctance of the progressive left and labor to turn away from the Democratic Party and work with others on the left to build a mass third political party to challenge the hegemony of the two parties of big business.
The American people are told that the only way to bring about a good government that really cares about the people is in the voting booth. But at the booth the choice for the upper classes usually consists of "good" and "lesser good" political candidates, with "evil" and "lesser evil" candidates for everybody else.
Many Democrats in 2008 thought President Obama was a "good" candidate who would govern from the liberal or progressive "left," but in practice this was shown to be fictitious. They will now vote for him again in 2012 as a lesser evil candidate because he is the only available viable alternative is some god-awful reactionary who will strip them of their Social Security. This tends to bedevil the liberal/progressive voting bloc every four years. (Note: We say "viable" in the sense of being able to win; there are left candidates from small parties who are better and deserve a vote, but the system is stacked against them.)
At this point, because many of the Democratic House members who lost last November were center-rightists and Blue Dogs defeated by far-right Republicans backed by the reactionary Tea Party, there are more liberals and progressives among the Democratic ranks than usual. A total of 83 out of 193 Democrats belong to the Congressional Progressives Caucus — and they are rendered virtually powerless by President Obama, House leaders, and the bigwigs and money people behind the Democratic Party. In April the caucus introduced a liberal People's Budget to challenge Obama's center-right offering and the GOP's ultra-conservative proposal, but as The Nation noted May 9, it was simply "ignored by establishment Democrats."
The Republican Party has moved considerably farther to the right in recent decades. Just look at its antics in Congress and in the state legislatures today. They are trying to break the unions and destroy all the social advances of the last 75 years. It's not that the GOP is so powerful, but the Democrats are compromising and weak, partially because they are moving to the right themselves behind a leadership hell-bent on compromise with the right wing.
It hasn't always been this way. The old Democratic Party, going back nearly eight decades, harbored a vibrant center-left wing for several years during the 1930s and a few more during the 1960s.
Now, the Democratic Party is positioned on the center-right (similar to the old "moderate" Republican tendency that was drummed out of the GOP decades ago), though it continues to harbor a minority center left faction of remnant liberalism and a smattering of social democrats. This worthy but sidelined vestige, which defends the old victories and remains guided by the ideals of modern liberalism, inadvertently provides the backsliding party with an undeserved liberal patina.
In the 1930s the Democratic Party moved partially to the left in order to save capitalism during the Great Depression by inaugurating a number of social-democratic reforms that pumped money into the economy and kept the working class away from socialist revolution. (Remember, there was a swiftly developing Soviet Union at the time and it was essentially the only country in the world untouched by the Depression.) This was the period of President Franklyn D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which began dissipating with the approach to World War 2 (1941-45).
Though largely unwarranted, the party's center left reputation lingered for years afterwards, because of its continuing defense of the Depression-era programs (such as Social Security), and due to the phenomenal post-war growth of the union movement. At the same time, it was the Democrats who ruled Dixie and were the prime supporters of racial segregation, as they were of the Cold War.
In the mid-1960s the Democratic Party again moved to the center left, partially because the '60s were more radical times. There were two main reasons.
• One was in response to the extraordinary struggle against racial segregation and injustice led by the African American people's movement (and white supporters) since the mid-1950s that had become acute by the mid-1960s. Had the economic/political elite that governs America continued to ignore the battle for racial equality and withhold democratic reforms, there was a possibility of a mass social upheaval. (The social struggle — not the ballot box — principally obtained these civil rights reforms, as it has virtually every significant social advance in American history.)
• The other reason was the mass rebellion — initially led by youth and the left and ultimately extending to much of the middle class and other sectors of America — against conservative social/cultural strictures and right wing ideology, the Vietnam war, the anti-left political repression continuing from the 1950s, de facto racial injustice, male supremacy, overt female oppression, sexual hypocrisy, homophobia, and various other backward ills.
During this period, despite his vast expansion of the unjust Vietnam war, Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society social-democratic reforms — racial integration laws such as voting rights, and important social programs such as Medicare/Medicaid, food stamps, etc. — constituted a worthy continuation of the New Deal reforms of a generation earlier.
The Democratic Party lost the 1968 election to Republican Richard Nixon, mainly due to Johnson's foolhardy imperialist war. Ironically, due to continuing radical momentum for a few years, the last of America's social-democratic reforms took place during the right-wing Nixon Administration in the late 1960s-early 1970s. He approved two important new departments — the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. Among the legislation he backed was the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The great right wing backlash against the social and integration reforms of the '60s, accompanied by big business attacks on the unions and working class incomes, began in earnest during the mid-'70s. This right wing counterattack is continuing to this day and accounts for the present widespread conservative context of American politics.
There have not been any important social programs fostered by the Democrats since Johnson left office. By the mid-1970s the Democratic Party had abandoned its center left leanings and was simply a Cold War centrist party that occasionally exuded liberal rhetoric without practical results for another dozen years.
The economic assault on working families beginning in the mid-'70s was perhaps the fiercest aspect of the backlash. According to statistics gathered by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, during "the 30 years following the Second World War [1946-1976]... income for the bottom 90% of American households roughly kept pace with economic growth. Now [1976-2007], the bottom 90% have seen their income rise only by a tiny fraction of total growth, while income for the richest 1% has exploded by upwards of 275%."
During these years, as unions were weakened by pro-business legislation and other barriers to labor organizing, and as working class incomes stagnated, the Democratic Party hardly did anything to protect the workers despite labor's near-total support for Democratic candidates.
Aside from a small minority of Democratic politicians, liberal rhetoric virtually disappeared from the party's vocabulary by the end of the reactionary 1980s, when the "L" word became unfashionable. This set the stage for the assumption to power for eight years (1993-2001) of Democratic President Bill Clinton, a self-proclaimed centrist with no use for what remained of the center left or its grand victories of yesteryear. Clinton's greatest social accomplishment was getting rid of "welfare as we know it." The "L" word seems to be slowly returning (to no political avail, however) but the "W" word? — forget about it. The welfare of the American people had gone out of style, and welfare programs followed.
Eight years of Clinton centrism and compromise with conservatives were followed by eight more years (2001-2009) of Bush neoconservative/ultra conservative governance during which time the Democratic Party gravitated from the center toward the center/center right, always seeking the "center" by shifting to the right.
And then, of a sudden, the Democratic leadership discovered what it viewed as a political deus ex machina — the African American freshman Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, an extremely intelligent, attractive family man with a disarming smile and persuasive, golden-voiced oratorical skills. He was without serious political experience or accomplishments but he had opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and articulated an abundance of glittering generalities on the campaign trail sufficient for the hopeful to interpret as liberalism, and for the excessively hopeful to identify as a progressive in the tradition of FDR.
Party insiders well understood that Obama was the corporate candidate backed by Wall St. and would finally put the Democrats back into power after eight dreadful Republican years. When he took office, as liberals were bursting with anticipation, he proceeded to govern not from the center, as did Clinton, or from the center/center right to which most of the party leadership had gravitated during the Bush years, but directly from the center right, with no intermediary to bar the passage to a "Grand Compromise" between the right/far right Republicans and the center right Democrats.
Today's raunchy, virtually dysfunctional political situation in the U.S. is in part the product of Obama's misunderstood campaign pledge to form a government, and a relationship between the White House and Congress, not of Democrats and Republicans but of "Americans" — sans party labels — working together toward a unified goal.
The Republicans responded by slandering Obama and calling him a socialist and a foreigner, and by virtually wilding in the streets and fighting the Democrats 27/7. Of course, that's how center rightist Obama's ruinously naïve pledge is carried out in reality.
Keep in mind, however, that (1) each time the Republican's unfairly and in a racist manner attack Obama, or go far, far to the right, attacking pensions and Medicare, they probably do more harm to themselves than the Democrats. Republican excesses and Obama's bending-over-backward-for-unity characteristic will probably get him more votes in 2012. (2) And recall, each time there's been a big fight there's a big compromise, toward the right, even during the two years when the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House. That's how Obama and the majority of today's Democrats govern. Look at the record:
Remember what happened to single payer/public option health care. Remember deficit reduction, Wall St., financial reform, foreclosure protection, bank bailouts, and jobs-jobs-jobs. Remember Guantanamo, the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Remember the environment, global warming, offshore drilling, clean coal, and nuclear energy. Remember immigration reform, the Pentagon budget, repair of the infrastructure, military commissions, the suppressed torture photos, education reform, the U.S.-enabled coup in Honduras, the continuing Cold War sanctions on Cuba, the Palestinian situation and the Obama wars, wars, wars. Remember restrictions on abortion, the Employee Free Choice Act, the Bush-Obama millionaire tax cuts.
Add them all together — there's a lot more to come — and that's the meaning of the "Grand Compromise" between right/far right and the center right.
Comes 2012, virtually all the Democrats — from the "betrayed" progressives, the "disillusioned" liberals, and the "disheartened" labor movement will join together with center and center right rank and file against the right wing menace. Many will do so because they share Obama's politics. Many will do so, as they have done in election after election, because he's the current "lesser evil."
But in case all this remains unnoticed, it must be pointed out that while "lesser evil" politics may elect Democrats to the highest office from time to time, the long-term consequences have been a quite substantial shift to the right in American politics over the last 40 years. For instance Obama's touted healthcare plan is considerably to the right of the plan championed by Nixon in the early '70s (or the single-payer plan advocated by Democratic President Truman in 1948).
So far, there's no end to this in sight, and continuing to wait for the Democrats to execute a political U-turn is like waiting for Godot. The alternative is to think the unthinkable, and all the progressives and many of the liberals know precisely what that is — to join with the left, win over as much of labor and the movements for social change as possible, raise the money and start to build a left third party. This will be the beginning of change, not the end, but the process must begin somewhere.
It will be said: But this is risky. It will take many years. It's been tried and failed in the early '20s and late '40s. The left will get nowhere in America. The right wing will make advances while we try get our act together.
There's some truth in all of this, but today is a new day with different circumstances and problems. It should be obvious to many by now that the two party system has become a fetter upon progressive change, and that the United States is a superpower in serious decline. We have climate change now, and an infrastructure crisis; a militarist and imperialist foreign policy with faltering pretensions to empire that eventually may lead to a world war; a political system fast growing dysfunctional as the capitalist economy weakens, the educational system founders, and the right wing itches for more power.
The labor movement — which is key to any progressive independent third-party manifestation — shovels hundreds of millions of dollars every two years into the maw of the ineffective "lesser evil" center right party. A relatively small percentage of those dollars could begin to fund a strong third party of the left.
Labor is clearly disturbed by the lack of basic reciprocity from the Democrats. AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka declared May 20 that the federation might withhold funding from conservative Congressional Democrats who vote against the interests of labor, as it did to anti-union Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who lost last November. But clipping the wings of some Democratic Blue Dogs is as far as labor will go under its present leadership.
At what point, we wonder, will it be "prudent" to break with the prevailing system and power structure to take a political risk to bring about true progressive change in America, to end the needless wars, to create a society of genuine equality, and to solve the many problems confronting our country and world today? Frankly, we passed that point some time ago, and time's running out. The necessity to act is palpable.
Meanwhile, the distance between the rich and the working class and middle class is huge and growing, while the poor, of course, get poorer. Corporations and Wall Street are taking over what remains of our democracy, and national politics moves ever further to the right, year by year.
7. TEN REASONS TO AVOID GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
By Barbara Upton
Never in human history have we taken the DNA from one species and artificially forced it into the DNA of a different species. Arctic fish genes have been forced into tomatoes, jellyfish genes have made pigs' noses glow in the dark and cow genes have turned pigskin into cowhide. But the real danger lurks in the eight GM foods on the market in the U.S. today: corn, soy, cotton, canola oil, sugar beets, zucchini, crookneck squash and Hawaiian papaya.
The more we learn about the unpredictability of this infant radical technology, the government collusion with the biotech industry and the fraudulent, industry-funded "science" behind GM crops, the more we realize we must go the way of most of Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and other countries and demand to know what we are eating and feeding our families. We must begin by insisting that all foods with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) be labeled so we can avoid them. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. GM foods are not safe! The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) says GM foods "pose serious health risks". Nineteen GM animal feeding studies show damage to the immune system, infertility, organ damage, insulin deregulation, increased mortality, accelerated aging, and potential precancerous cell growth. In one study, 50% of baby rats born of mothers fed a GM diet were dead in three weeks (five times higher than normal). The babies who survived were much smaller and preliminary evidence indicated they were not able to conceive.
AAEM calls for an immediate moratorium on GMOs and recommends that doctors prescribe a non GMO diet for all their patients. In the only human feeding study (yes, there has been only one) GMOs survived and continued to function in the stomachs of people who had eaten GM food. No follow-up studies were done.
2. The FDA approved GM crops despite protests of the agency's own scientists. An overwhelming consensus of FDA scientists warned that GM foods could create allergens, toxins, nutritional problems and even "new diseases." However, the first Bush administration — intent on promoting GMOs — appointed a former Monsanto lawyer, Michael Taylor, who developed the policy on GM foods, saying they were no different from conventional varieties. The policy was called "a political document" and "very pro-industry" by a microbiologist at the FDA. It was not based on peer-reviewed science. Taylor went on to become vice-president of Monsanto and is now back in government as our food safety czar! If a biotechnology company declares a GM crop is safe, that is good enough for the FDA.
3. GM crops are contaminating our entire food supply. At a conference in 1999, Monsanto said their goal was to ensure that 100% of seeds were genetically modified and patented (by them, of course) in 15 to 20 years. One way to achieve this is to contaminate naturally growing crops.
One Monsanto executive put it this way, “The hope of the industry is that over time, the market is so flooded that there’s nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender.”
Once contamination occurs there is virtually no way to recall it. In a 2004 government study, GM bentgrass cross pollinated with natural bentgrass 13 miles downwind. The industry thought the pollen could only travel 1000'! The Forest Service says this one example "has the potential to adversely impact all 175 national forests and grasslands." A 2010 study showed that 80% of wild canola in North Dakota had been contaminated with GM genes.
Even more worrisome, the USDA has approved hundreds of open-air field trials of pharmaceutical crops — crops genetically engineered to produce drugs, like blood thinners, vaccines and powerful growth hormones, as well as industrial enzymes. In 2002, corn genetically engineered to produce a pig vaccine contaminated a half million bushels of soybeans.
In addition to contamination, Monsanto has spent billions buying up conventional seed companies toward their goal of a world in which natural seeds are virtually extinct. Monsanto provides 90% of GM seed sown globally.
4. GM crops increase pesticide use. In the first 13 years of growing GM crops in the U.S., herbicide use increased by 383 million pounds and 48% of that increase has been in the last two years, contrary to industry claims that herbicide use would decline. Seventy percent of GM crops are engineered to be resistant to Monsanto's herbicide, Round Up (glyphosate is its main ingredient). Such crops can cross pollinate with weedy relatives creating "superweeds" that require more toxic herbicide, like 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange that has seen an increase in use of 237% in two years. Some superweed infestations have been so dramatic that farmers have had to abandon cropland.
Besides rendering soils infertile, decreasing nutrients in plants and contributing to 40 plant diseases where it is used, glyphosate is also linked to sterility, hormone disruption, miscarriages, birth defects and cancer. From farms to lawns, our country is drenched in it.
5. GM crops do not increase yields. In 2009, the Union of Concerned Scientists debunked Monsanto's claim that GM crops would increase yields. “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.” states the report. This was further corroborated by a UN/World Bank report of 400 scientists in 58 countries that concluded that organic farming is the only sustainable way forward. In ten years, many African countries doubled yield using organic practices.
6. The biotechnology industry hurts small farmers. You may have heard of Monsanto's "Seed Police" spying on and harassing farmers across America's heartland. When farmers buy the more expensive GM seeds they are prohibited from using them the next year. If GM seeds find their way onto farms, through contamination by wind or insect pollination, the farmer is sued by Monsanto. As a North Dakota farmer said, "Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell." Monsanto also encourages farmers to turn one another in and they have been brutal in their dealings with small farmers, suing hundreds and going after their homes and farms.
Additionally, farmers of GM crops have lost money due to a decrease in export sales because of lack of trust in GM crops by other countries. Monsanto wanted to create GM wheat, but wheat farmers fought them fearing loss of markets (U.S. corn lost 99.4% of the European corn market after being genetically modified).
7. The biotechnology industry uses bad science to justify their claims. Monsanto once did a study to ally farmers' fears that their genetically modified bovine growth hormone (rBGH) caused increased infertility in cows. Monsanto secretly added pregnant cows to the study to show there was no decrease in fertility! Monsanto also declared rBGH dairy safe for humans, although it dramatically increases the level of the hormone IGF-1 which is the number one risk factor for breast cancer and is linked to prostate and colon cancer. The company rigged the testing (pasteurizing milk 120 times longer than normal) to claim rBGH is destroyed by pasteurization.
Monsanto falsified research studies to hide the cancer causing nature of dioxin in its Agent Orange and a former manager of Monsanto India said Monsanto "faked scientific data" given to government regulators to get their GM products approved. In 2005, a German court ordered Monsanto to make a study public that they had been suppressing that showed changes in blood, livers and kidneys of rats given GM food. Are these the guys you want to trust with the food you eat?
8. Many animals avoid GM foods when given a choice. What do they know that we don't? One farmer decided to try an experiment with a bag of GM corn and regular corn. He put both bags in his woodshed to conduct the experiment in the winter. But later he found the mice had done the experiment for him. All the conventional corn was eaten, the GM corn had not been touched! Cows, elk, geese, pigs, buffalo, raccoons, squirrels, rats, mice and other animals all try to avoid eating GM food!
9. Since GM foods have been introduced into the American diet, there have been increases in chronic diseases and allergies. We don't know exactly what is tied to GM food consumption, because so few studies are done, but consider this: since the mid-1990s when GM foods were introduced in the U.S., the number of Americans with three or more chronic diseases doubled from 1994 to 2001. Food-related illnesses in the U.S. also doubled from 1997 to 2002, as did trips to the ER for allergic reactions. There has also been a surge in obesity, autism, Alzheimer's, ADD, gastrointestinal problems, certain cancers and more.
We do know that a genetically modified supplement, called L-Tryptophan killed 100 and permanently disabled and sickened thousands of Americans in the 1980s. It created unique symptoms that came on quickly which helped researchers trace the illness. So what if GM foods today are creating proliferative cell growth in our stomach lining as as they do in rats, and what if that turns cancerous in ten or twenty years? How long would it be before links to a GM diet could be made? And if links are found, how do you recall millions of acres of GM crops?
10. We are all guinea pigs in this unprecedented, unregulated GM experiment. The biotech industry would have you believe that inserting genes from bacteria, or viruses into the DNA of a corn or soy plant is a neat, orderly and safe process, like inserting a new page into a book. What they do not tell you is the process of genetic modification itself causes massive collateral damage to the finely controlled, intricate web of DNA. The transgenes are shot into DNA with a 22 caliber gene gun. Where they are inserted can cause hundreds or thousands of mutations throughout the genome, can destroy natural genes, permanently turn genes on or off and create unpredictable and potentially dangerous side effects. As Dr. Suzanne Wuerthele, a toxicologist with the EPA said, “We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.”
— Barbara Upton is a long time peace and justice activist in New York's Ulster County. She may be reached at ClearStreamMedia@gmail.com. Upton was recently trained by Jeffrey Smith, executive director of The Institute for Responsible Technology and author of the best seller on the health dangers of GM foods, “Seeds of Deception.” She is a member of the Institute’s Speakers Bureau and is available to give presentations on this topic.
8. ZELAYA RETURN TO HONDURAS
By Mark Weisbrot
Former Honduran President Zelaya's return home May 28 has important implications for the Western Hemisphere that, we can predict, will be widely overlooked. Zelaya was ousted from the presidency when he was kidnapped at gunpoint by the military on June 28, 2009. Although no hard evidence has yet emerged that the U.S. government was directly involved in his overthrow, the Obama administration did everything it could to help the coup government to survive and then legitimate itself through elections that most of the rest of the hemisphere, and the world, rejected as neither free nor fair.
Zelaya's return represents a partial reversal of that coup d'etat and Washington's efforts to consolidate it, just as President Aristide's return to Haiti after seven years in exile, on March 18 — despite furious efforts by the Obama Administration, and even President Obama himself, to prevent it — is a partial reversal of the 2004 U.S.-organised coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Haiti. And it is another demonstration of how the Western Hemisphere has changed: the agreement for Zelaya's return was mediated through the governments of Venezuela and Colombia, with no U.S. involvement or even lip-service support until it was over.
Instead, the mediation process had the unanimous support of Latin America and the Caribbean, which endorsed it through their new organisation, CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). CELAC contains all the countries of the Organisation of American States (OAS) except the U.S. and Canada. It was formed in February 2010, partly as a response to Washington's manipulation of the OAS in the aftermath of the Honduran coup.
The Obama administration lost a lot of trust throughout the hemisphere as a result of its support for the Honduran coup government, and so it was not surprising that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was smart enough to endorse the Cartagena (Colombia) agreement for Zelaya's return after it was signed. She had been lobbying, without success for the past year and a half, to get Honduras admitted back into the OAS, from which it was kicked out after the coup. It is assumed that this new accord will pave the way for Honduras' readmission, so she can spin it as a victory for Washington. But it clearly is not.
The agreement met some of the demands of President Zelaya and his allies, but not others. It allows for the participation of the National Front for Popular Resistance, which struggled against the coup and subsequent repression, as a legal political party. It also states that people can organize plebiscites of the kind that Zelaya was overthrown for organizing. And it has guarantees for the safety and security not only of Zelaya, but also of others who fled after the coup and remain in exile; it also contains certain non-enforceable human rights guarantees.
And that is the big problem: human rights. Less than a year ago, Human Rights Watch noted that "Honduras has made little progress toward addressing the serious human rights abuses since the 2009 coup." It cited the cases of eight journalists and 10 members of the National Front for Popular Resistance who had been murdered since President Porfirio Lobo took office, as well as the impunity for human rights abuses committed by the coup government. If anything, the repression has become worse since then.
Three Honduran journalists have been shot since 11 May; two of them, TV station owner Luis Mendoza and television reporter Francisco Medina, were killed. Paramilitary groups have killed over 40 campesinos [farm workers] since Lobo has been in office. Trade unionists have also been killed, including Ilse Ivania Velásquez Rodríguez, a striking teacher whom Honduran police shot in the face, at close range, with a tear gas canister in March.
The OAS will likely vote on June 1 to readmit Honduras, but there will be a struggle inside the organisation to attach some conditions. It goes without saying that Washington will push for unconditional readmission. President Correa of Ecuador, himself the victim of a coup attempt in September, has publicly stated his opposition to the readmission of Honduras altogether, partly on the grounds of the impunity granted the people who carried out the coup and post coup repression. Dozens of Honduras' human rights organizations and social movements have similar views.
But it is better to have Zelaya back in the country than outside of it. He will have a voice that can possibly break through the rightwing media monopoly, and if he uses that to oppose the repression there, it can have a positive impact. As elsewhere in the hemisphere, the media — controlled largely by wealthy elites — are a major obstacle to progress. In Honduras, most media organizations supported the coup and promoted the falsehood that Zelaya and his supporters were foreign agents (much like the propaganda of the Arab dictators facing demands for democracy in the Middle East). These themes spilled over to the international media, where they remain visible to this day.
On the positive side, it is good to see Latin American countries taking control of the mediation, with Washington relegated to the sidelines. The biggest mistake they made after the coup was to allow Hillary Clinton, along with Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, to hijack the mediation process. Clinton's goal was the exact opposite of restoring democracy in Honduras, and she succeeded. There will be many struggles ahead for the Honduran pro-democracy movement, and they will need a great deal of solidarity and help from outside, especially in opposing the repression. But this accord is, at least, a step in the right direction.
— Guardian UK, 5-28-11
9. WORLD FOOD FEARS RETURN
[Editor's Note: The author, a Malaysian economist, is currently serving as United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development.]
By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
Lack of food is rarely the reason that people go hungry. The world today produces enough food to feed everyone. The problem is that more and more people simply cannot afford to buy the food they need. Even before the recent food-price increases, a billion people were suffering from chronic hunger, while another two billion were experiencing malnutrition, bringing the total number of food-insecure people to around three billion, or almost half the world’s population.
Global food prices are at the highest level since the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) started monitoring them in 1990. The World Bank estimates that recent food-price increases have driven an additional 44 million people in developing countries into poverty.
The rapid rise in world prices for all basic food crops – corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice – along with other foods like cooking oils, has been devastating for poor households all over the world. But almost everybody’s standard of living has been reduced. Middle-class people are increasingly careful about their food purchases; the near-poor are losing headway and falling below, rather than staying above, the poverty line; and the poor and vulnerable, not surprisingly, are suffering even more.
Food production increased greatly with the quest for food security and the Green Revolution from the 1960s to the 1980s [when technological advances increased agricultural yields], owing to considerable government and international not-for-profit support. But agricultural experts have warned of the risks of the flagging efforts to boost food output since the 1980s.
As food-supply growth has slowed, demand has continued to rise, owing not only to population increase, but also for reasons such as growing use of food crops to sustain livestock. The problem is exacerbated by the significant drop in official development assistance for agricultural development in developing countries. Aid for agriculture fell by more than half in the quarter-century after 1980, as the World Bank cut agricultural lending from $7.7 billion in 1980 to $2 billion in 2004.
With cuts continuing, agricultural research and development – needed to improve crop productivity – has fallen for all crops in all developing countries. Meanwhile, in the private sector, agribusinesses spend much more on research than all public agricultural research institutes together.
Developing-country governments also stopped subsidizing farmers or being involved in food marketing, storage, transportation, or credit provision. Meanwhile, rich countries continue to subsidize and protect their farmers, thereby undermining food production in developing countries.
The World Bank and the World Trade Organization still insist that further agricultural trade liberalization is the best medium-term solution. Since the 1980s, governments have been pressed to promote exports to earn foreign exchange and import food. As a result, many poor countries have turned to the world market to buy cheap rice and wheat, instead of growing their own. Some countries and regions that were previously self-sufficient in food now import large quantities of it. This drives up food prices, causing even more anguish for the world’s poorest people.
Other factors have contributed to the food crisis. Climate changes resulting from greenhouse-gas emissions exacerbate water-supply problems, accelerate desertification and water stress, and worsen the unpredictability and severity of weather events, all of which adversely affect agriculture in much of the world. Deforestation, growing population pressure, urbanization, soil erosion, over-fishing, and the impact of foreign domination over marketing, inputs, processing, and even farming also play a role.
Increased oil prices are also affecting the price of food. Commercial agriculture uses petroleum, oil, and gas to operate machinery, transport goods, and produce agro-chemicals needed for fertilizers and pesticides.
Moreover, food crops are being grown to produce bio-fuels, reducing their availability for human consumption. Rich countries have provided generous subsidies and other incentives for increased bio-fuel production, while poorer countries encouraging bio-fuel production have provided far fewer market-distorting incentives to farmers.
Certainly, some bio-fuels are far more cost-effective and energy-efficient than others, while different bio-fuel stocks have very different opportunity costs (for example, sugar has not experienced any significant price increase). Hence, the debate over bio-fuels needs to be far more nuanced.
Speculation and hoarding have also been contributing to food-price spikes. More securitization, easier online trading, and other financial-market developments in recent years have facilitated greater speculative investments, especially in commodity futures and options markets.
As the financial crisis deepened and spread from late 2007, speculators began investing in commodities, and the dollar’s decline relative to other currencies has also induced such investments. Indeed, this may explain recent food-price surges better than the factors underlying longer-term gradual upward price trends.
In that case, the problem that many people around the world are facing today is one of food security, not a lack of food. Of course, if you are hungry or undernourished today as a result of food-price increases, that is a distinction without a difference.
10. 'AIPAC DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME'
[Editor's Note: Important protests were held in Washington D.C. May 21-24, 2011, to "expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East." (See article below.) AIPAC is the acronym for the U.S. lobbying group for Israel. President Obama addressed the conference as did Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who also spoke to Congress. The name of the action, and the coalition behind the protest, was Move Over AIPAC. The coalition consists of CodePink: Women for Peace, Global Exchange, Interfaith Peace-builders, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, together with over 100 peace and justice groups. The author of the following article is a Holocaust survivor and activist on behalf of justice for the Palestinians who endorses and spoke at the event because "AIPAC does not speak for me."]
By Hedy Epstein
At the end of one of my first journeys to the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 2004, I endured a shocking experience at Ben-Gurion Airport. I never imagined that Israeli security forces would abuse a 86-year-old Holocaust survivor, but they held me for five hours, and strip-searched and cavity-searched every part of my naked body. The only shame these security officials expressed was to turn their badges around so that their names were invisible.
The only conceivable purpose for this gross violation of my bodily integrity was to humiliate and terrify me. But it had just the opposite effect. It made me more determined to speak out against abuses by the Israeli government and military.
Yet my own experience, unpleasant as it was, is nothing compared to the indignities and abuses heaped on Palestinians year after year. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is based not on equal rights and fair play, but on what Human Rights Watch has termed a “two-tier” legal system – in other words, apartheid, with one set of laws for Jews and a harsh, oppressive set of laws for Palestinians.
This, however, is the legal system and security state AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) will defend from May 22-24 at its annual conference. And, despite this grim reality, members of Congress will converge to hail AIPAC and Israel . The Palestinians’ lack of freedom is bound to be obscured at the AIPAC conference with its obsessive focus on security and shunting aside of anything to do with upholding fundamental Palestinian rights.
Several years ago near Der Beilut in the West Bank, I saw the Israeli police turn a water cannon on our nonviolent protest. As it happened, I recalled Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and wondered why an ostensibly democratic society responded to peaceable assembly by trying, literally, to drown out the voice of our protest.
In Mas'ha, also in the occupied West Bank , I joined a demonstration against the wall Israel has built, usually inside the West Bank and occasionally towering to 25 feet in height. I saw a red sign warning ominously of “mortal danger” to any who dared to cross in an area where it ran as a fence. I saw Israeli soldiers aiming at unarmed Israelis, Palestinians and international protesters. I also saw blood pouring out of Gil Na'amati, a young Israeli whose first public act after completing his mandatory military service was to protest against the wall. I saw shrapnel lodged in the leg of Anne Farina, one of my traveling companions from St. Louis . And I thought of Kent State and Jackson State, where National Guardsmen opened fire in 1970 on protesters against the Vietnam War.
So as AIPAC meets and members of Congress cheer, I hold these images of Israel in my mind and fear AIPAC’s ability to move U.S. policy in dangerous directions. AIPAC does a disservice to the Palestinians, the Israelis and the American people. It helps to keep the Middle East in a perpetual state of war and this year will be no different from last year as it keeps up a steady drumbeat calling for war against Iran .
AIPAC pretends to speak for all Jews, but it certainly does not speak for me or other members of the Jewish community in this country who are committed to equal rights for all and are aware that American interventionism is likely to bring further disaster and chaos to the Middle East .
Israel, of course, would not be able to carry out its war crimes against civilians in Lebanon and Gaza without the United States – and our $3 billion in military aid – permitting it to do so. At 86 years old, I use every ounce of my energy to educate the American public about the need to stop supporting the abuses committed by the Israeli government and military against the Palestinian people. Sometimes there are people who try to shout me down and scream that I am a self-hating Jew, but most of the time the audience is receptive to hear from someone who survived the Holocaust and now works to free the Palestinians from Israeli oppression.
The vicious discrimination brought to bear against Palestinians in the occupied territories deserves no applause this week from members of Congress attending the AIPAC conference. Instead, they should raise basic questions with Israeli officials about decades of inferior rights endured by Palestinians both inside Israel and the occupied territories.
— The website Move Over AIPAC is http://www.moveoveraipac.org/.
11. PROTESTER INTERRUPTS NETANYAHU
From Move Over AIPAC
Police arrested CodePink peace activist Rae Abileah at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington May 24. Abileah was taken to the hospital after having been assaulted and tackled to the ground by AIPAC members of the audience in the House Gallery during Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.
Abileah interrupted Netanyahu with a banner that said “Occupying Land Is Indefensible” and shouting, “No more occupation, stop Israel war crimes, equal rights for Palestinians, occupation is indefensible.” She rose up to speak out just after the Prime Minister talked about the youth around the world rising up for more democracy.
As this 28-year-old Jewish American woman spoke out for the human rights of Palestinians, other members of the audience — wearing badges from the conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee — brutally attacked her. The police then dragged her out of the Gallery and took her to the George Washington University Hospital, where she was being treating for neck and shoulder injuries.
“I am in great pain, but this is nothing compared to the pain and suffering that Palestinians go through on a regular basis,” said Abileah from her hospital bed. “I have been to Gaza and the West Bank, I have seen Palestinians homes bombed and bulldozed, I have talked to mothers whose children have been killed during the invasion of Gaza, I have seen the Jewish-only roads leading to ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank. This kind of colonial occupation cannot continue. As a Jew and a U.S. citizen, I feel obligated to rise up and speak out against stop these crimes being committed in my name and with my tax dollars.”
12. NEW EVIDENCE SUPPORTS CUBAN FIVE
By Liberation newspaper
In 1998, five Cuban men were arrested by the U.S. government and tried in Miami on charges of conspiring to commit espionage on the United States. They were convicted and are still in prison today, but new information adds to the belief by many that the men were framed and belong back home in Cuba with their families.
The mission of the five men was to stop terrorism by keeping watch on Miami’s ultra-right extremists to prevent their violent attacks against Cuba. When the men informed the Cuban government about a possible terrorist attack, Havana contacted Washington under the assumption that the U.S. would intervene.
Instead “The Cuban Five,” as they are now known, were convicted after repeated denials by the judge to move the trial venue out of Miami — the virtual capital of anti-Cuban government sentiment in the U.S.
What the Cuban Five and their attorneys did not know during trial was that the Broadcasting Board of Governors—an official U.S. government agency — was funneling money through its Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami that eventually wound up in the pockets of prominent journalists who were saturating the Miami media with reports that were prejudicial to the five defendants. This took place while the government conducted its prosecution.
The Congressional Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 prohibits the U.S. government from funding activities to influence and propagandize domestic public opinion.
The presence of Miami journalists on the U.S. government payroll, who purported to report as “independent” press, goes to the heart of the unjust conviction of the Five. The Five were not only victims of a politically-motivated prosecution, but a government-funded propaganda operation as well.
A multi-year effort by the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, the civil rights legal organization the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and, most recently, Liberation newspaper, has uncovered thousands of pages of previously unreleased materials exposing this government operation.
More than 2,200 pages of contracts between Miami journalists and Radio and TV Martí (the government's propaganda outlets — released thus far to Liberation newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) petition—expose the fallacy of an independent press in Miami.
—For information about these five innocent men, http://www.freethefive.org/
13. LONG LIVE OUR AMERICAN GERONIMO!
By the Activist Newsletter
"We’ve ID'd Geronimo,” said the special operations Navy Seal during the attack in Pakistan that was beamed in real time to the White House, and at that point President Obama knew that Osama bin Laden was dead.
Geronimo? Why in the world would the Pentagon select as a code name for America's most wanted criminal — the head of the al-Qaeda terrorist faction — the name of the great leader of the Apache Wars against American expansionism and Washington's policy of near genocide toward the Native Americans.
That's not difficult to figure out, is it? Despite some cosmetic revisions in the history books, the American military still glorifies the Indian Wars, and covert or overt racism from whites is hardly unknown to today's indigenous people.
Many in the Native American community were outraged by the Pentagon's inappropriate designation for bin Laden. Among a number of critical commentaries, New York State's Onondaga Nation issued this statement:
"This is a sad commentary on the attitude of leaders of the U.S. military forces that continue to personify the original peoples of North America as enemies and savages. The use of the name Geronimo as a code name for Osama bin Laden is reprehensible. Think of the outcry if they had used any other ethnic group’s hero. Geronimo bravely and heroically defended his homeland and his people, eventually surrendering and living out the rest of his days peacefully, if in captivity, passing away at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 1909. To compare him to Osama Bin Laden is illogical and insulting. The name Geronimo is arguably the most recognized Native American name in the world, and this comparison only serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes about our peoples. The U.S. military leadership should have known better...."
Freshman Democrat Rep. Albert Hale of Arizona, a member of the Navajo Nation, wrote a message to President Obama that declared:
"It is with heavy heart and shock that I send this letter. To use the name Geronimo and attach it to the world’s most notorious terrorist Osama bin Laden is an outrage. Geronimo was an American patriot. He was a man of courage who defended his people against the annihilation of the Apache Nation and its people. He fought to protect his family, relatives and his people. He fought to protect his land and a way of life. He fought for freedom; freedom and liberty. Your willingness to allow and endorse the use of Geronimo’s name is appalling. It demonstrates a complete disrespect for the first Americans. The use of Geronimo’s name in this context is unacceptable...."
Long live our American Geronimo, the brave warrior against imperial expansionism!
14. INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
•• A SECOND 'MAVI MARMARA' CRISIS? — The Turkish-Israeli relationship has been in limbo since the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara incident in late May last year, and various efforts to bridge the differences have failed. The recent anniversary of the flotilla incident — when nine crew members were slain by Israeli commandoes — has reignited the debate on the future of Turkish-Israeli relations.
Representatives of international advocacy groups, including the Turkey-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), are planning to hold the Freedom Flotilla II to shed light on Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Around 15 ships from various nations are expected to take part in the flotilla, to which thousands have volunteered to join.
There has been rising concern in Washington over how the “second Mavi Marmara crisis” might unfold. Thirty six members of Congress sent a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan requesting that he prevent the second convoy. Turkey evidently will take no action and flotilla organizers reiterated their determination to debark sometime after the June 12 Turkish elections. (Edited from Eurasia Daily Monitor, May 19.)
•• LEFT COALITION FORMED IN EGYPT –– Several Egyptian left political parties have united to form the Coalition of Socialist Forces, it was announced May 10. Coalition members include the Socialist Party of Egypt, the Democratic Labor Party, the Popular Socialist Coalition Party, Egyptian Communist Party and the Revolutionary Socialists. It aims to include other socialist groups.
Many such organizations were banned or weakened during the decades of the Mubarak dictatorship. The coalition is an outgrowth of the uprising in Egypt in January and February. The political left is small in Egypt and no one socialist group has come to the fore, but the ability to form a united front in a heretofore repressive society and a factional left environment is a step forward.
In other Egyptian political news, authorities have arrested the head of the official Federation of Egyptian workers, which was affiliated with the Mubarak regime for many years. He is accused of being involved in the suppression of the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square and of corruption. This year the Egyptian workers –– whose official union lined up against them and took the side of their employers for years –– celebrated International Workers Day in Tahrir Square as they waved the flags of the new independent union. [Edited from Ahram Online, May 11-12, and Challenge May 11, via Links.]
•• LEGAL RIGHTS FOR MOTHER EARTH? — An international coalition of academics and environmental activists has launched a global campaign for the creation of a new UN convention to protect "Mother Earth."
"It will not be an easy struggle to have the rights of nature understood and adopted. But it will happen one day," Maude Barlow predicted. With the UN fighting battles against water pollution, loss of biodiversity, desertification, deforestation, climate change and a depleted ozone layer, the campaign for a "Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth" has taken added significance.
Barlow, a lead campaigner for the UN convention and chairperson of the Council of Canadians, a progressive citizen's advocacy organization, said: "We hope that one day a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth will stand as the companion to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of the guiding covenants of our time." (From Inter Press Service, May 24.)
•• ONE-THIRD OF WORLD'S FOOD UNUSED — One-third of the food produced for human consumption in the world each year is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion metric tons, according to new research commissioned by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. At the same time, 925 million people are hungry, and poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year, according to FAO estimates from 2010.
Every year, the researchers learned, consumers in rich countries waste about 222 million metric tons of food, almost as much as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa. Fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any foods. Food loss and waste amount to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labor and capital and needlessly produce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change.
The report distinguishes between food loss and food waste. Food losses occur most often in developing countries, due to poor infrastructure, low levels of technology and low investment in the food production systems. Food waste is more a problem in industrialized countries, where it is most often caused by retailers and consumers throwing edible foodstuffs into the trash. Per capita waste by consumers is 209, and 253 pounds a year in Europe and North America, respectively, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6,13, and 24 pounds a year respectively. (Edited from ENS, May 16.)
•• CLIMATE CHANGE CUTS GLOBAL CROPS — Climate change has caused staple crop yields around the globe to decrease significantly since 1980 according to a new study published in Science Magazine. The research showed an association between weather trends and a 3.8 and 5.5% decline in global corn and wheat yields, respectively.
Using UN Food and Agriculture Organization data going back to 1980 for crop yields in all major crop-growing regions of the world, and pairing that with temperature and precipitation data for their growing seasons, researchers found that warming temperatures were reducing yields—although changes in precipitation did not yet appear to be having an effect.
Although single digit percentages might not seem significant to the average consumer, chances are they've already noticed the consequences of this slight shift in a significant way — food prices. The study estimates that the global drop-off in production may have caused a 6% hike in consumer food prices since 1980, some $60 billion per year. (From Care2, May.)
15. NATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
•• ACTIVIST ARRESTS SOAR IN U.S. — Since President Obama was inaugurated, there have been over 2,600 arrests of activists protesting in the U.S. Research shows over 670 people have been arrested in protests inside the U.S. already in 2011, over 1290 were arrested in 2010, and 665 arrested in 2009. These figures are certainly underestimate the number actually arrested as arrests in U.S. protests are rarely covered by the mainstream media outlets which focus so intently on arrests of protestors in other countries.
Arrests at protests have been increasing each year since 2009. Those arrested include people protesting U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo, strip mining, home foreclosures, nuclear weapons, immigration policies, police brutality, mistreatment of hotel workers, budget cutbacks, Blackwater, the mistreatment of Bradley Manning, and right wing efforts to cut back collective bargaining.
These arrests illustrate that resistance to the injustices in and committed by the U.S. is alive and well. Certainly there could and should be more, but it is important to recognize that people are fighting back against injustice. (The rest of this May 24 article by Bill Quigley is at http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/05/over-two-thousand-six-hundred-activists-arrested-in-U.S.-protests/.)
•• RECESSION HITS WOMEN HARDEST — Women are bearing the brunt of today’s economic crisis, says a major national poll, the complete findings of which were released May 6 by the Ms. Foundation for Women. The recent 2011 Community Voices for the Economy survey of 1,515 adults nationwide was conducted from March 15-24.
In a key indicator of economic security, the percentage of Americans who report living paycheck to paycheck all or most of the time was up five points over 2010 to 49%. But the increase among low-income women is especially staggering: 77% percent report living paycheck to paycheck, a 17-point jump from last year. Other highlights include:
•Seventy-one percent of women and 65% of men say the economic downturn had some or a great deal of impact on their families. •Low-income women continue to feel the greatest impact from the downturn, with 80% saying it has had some or a great deal of impact compared with 73% of low-income men. Other groups experiencing a particularly strong impact are: Latinas (74%); single mothers (73%) and women without a college degree (74%). (From Minority News.)
•• CLIMATE ACTIVISTS TAKE TO THE COURTS — Legal actions on behalf of children and young adults are being filed in every state and the District of Columbia beginning in May in an effort to force the federal government and the states to take serious measures to halt climate change.
The goal, according to the Associated Press, "is to have the atmosphere declared for the first time as a 'public trust' deserving special protection. That's a concept previously used to clean up polluted rivers and coastlines, although legal experts said they were uncertain it could be applied successfully to climate change."
The Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children's Trust — using "common law" theories, not state and federal laws — was filing suits in 11 states. In all other states, regulatory petitions were filed or pending to ask state environmental agencies to tighten restrictions on vehicle and industrial plant emissions. The action is being taken because the states and federal government, by their inaction, have failed to protect the Earth's atmosphere as a public trust. The chosen plaintiffs are all students in order to emphasize that the younger generation is being harmed by official indifference to climate change. (Information from AP and NYT.)
•• CLIMATE MOVEMENT STRENGTHENED — Two strong groups opposing climate change — 350.org and 1Sky — announced recently that they will combine together under the 350.org banner and plan to vastly expand their work.
Pointing to Congressional efforts to destroy the Clean Air Act, 1Sky Campaign Director Liz Butler said "it is more important than ever to unite and train a bigger, more powerful grassroots movement capable of attacking our corporate polluter opponents and fighting for a real clean energy future." Said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve, who will head the newly merged group: "This is a critical moment for the environmental movement, for the American people as a whole. The new 350.org is a huge opportunity to grow the people power needed to counteract corporate influence in politics and reverse the climate crisis."
Common Dreams reports that "Leading up to the 2010-midterm elections, dirty energy industries spent over $500 million on lobbying and campaign expenditures. That number is likely to be dwarfed in 2012, and the new organization believes it requires swift, decisive, and powerful response."
•• MILLIONS OF U.S. JOBS SHIPPED OVERSEAS — In the last decade, American multinational corporations, which together employ one-fifth of all U.S. workers, decreased domestic employment by 2.9 million workers while adding 2.4 million jobs overseas, the Commerce Department reported recently.
In 2009, a devastating year for the global economy, U.S. multinational companies' worldwide employment shrunk by 4.1% to 31.3 million workers. But the cuts were much sharper at home than abroad. Domestic employment by the same companies shrunk by 5.3%, leaving 21.1 million with jobs, while their overseas counterparts lost 1.5% of their workforce, with 10.3 million still employed. For large American multinationals, the geographical calculus is simple: Follow the money.
As Robert Scheer pointed out on truthdig.com, "the debate over Republicans’ insistence on continued tax breaks for the superrich and the corporations they run should come to a screeching halt" with this report. "Those tax breaks over the past decade, leaving some corporations such as General Electric to pay no taxes at all, were supposed to lead to job creation, but just the opposite has occurred.” (From Wall St. Journal and Truthdig.)
•• TAX RATE FELL FOR RICH — Newly released tax data shows the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans has been effectively cut in half since the mid-1990s. In 1995, the richest 400 Americans paid on average 30% percent of their income in federal taxes. In 2007, the richest Americans paid less than 17%. During that same period, the combined annual income of the richest 400 Americans soared from $6 billion to $23 billion.