Tuesday, June 21, 2011

06-21-11 Activist Events

June 21, 2011, Issue #667
Send event announcements to jacdon@earthlink.net
Dedicated to Helping Build  Activist
Movements  in  the  Hudson  Valley
TONIGHT: Tuesday, June 21, SAUGERTIES: A free showing of the film "Fragments of a Lost Palestine" will take place at the Saugerties Library, 91 Washington Ave., at 7:30 p.m. In this 75-minute 2010 documentary, filmmaker Norma Marcos returns home to Palestine to show her friend Stefan how people try to live normal lives despite the occupation. Through a series of conversations with friends, family and strangers, she shows that despite the tense political environment, "life goes on." The event is sponsored by the Middle East Crisis Response, as part of its free educational film series. Information, (518) 678-2076, jane.toby7@gmail.com, http://mideastcrisis.org.

Saturday, June 25, NEW YORK STATE: Various statewide and local environmental groups will conducting actions from vigils to picnics, public meetings and rallies today in opposition to the dangerous practice of hydraulic fracking for natural gas. The state's moratorium on fracking ends July 1 and a growing anti-fracking movement is proliferating throughout the region. All are welcome to show their support for this movement — so join in. We have information on 13 such events taking place on Saturday in Afton, Ancram, Andes, Albany, Buffalo, High Falls, Hudson River Park (NYC), Huntington, Ithaca, New Paltz, New York City (Foley Sq.), Sidney, and Upper Nyack. Below is information on Albany, High Falls, New Paltz and Upper Nyack. The website http://gasmain.org/weblog has information about all 13 events.

Saturday, June 25, ALBANY: "Beyond Fossil Fuel — New York Against Fracking" is the title given this 12 noon-5 p.m. "day of information and movement-building, addressing the issues of hydraulic fracturing, climate change, peak oil/gas/uranium/water, and economic instability." There will be a march, speakers, a poetry reading, live music, and tables available for local groups. Food will be provided by Gatherer's Granola and Food Not Bombs. "Attendees are invited to bring a sign expressing support for renewable energy, opposition to fossil fuel." This event takes place at Wallenburg Park, across from 677 Broadway, between Broadway and N. Pearl St., near the Palace Theater. Sponsored by Capital District Against Fracking. Information, (617) 894-5041.

CORRECTED: Saturday, June 25, HIGH FALLS: The anti-fracking event here begins with music at 2 p.m. with Harvey Kaiser and The Kansas City Sound. At 5 p.m. the public will be invited to join in a Global Water Dance ceremony on the Village Green, near the 5 Locks Walk entrance to the  Delaware and Hudson Canal. The danger of hydrofracking to the state's water supply is of particular poignancy to residents of High Falls. The tiny hamlet — declared an EPA Superfund site in the 21st century because its ground water and residential wells were contaminated with industrial VOCs -- now has its own water district and shares its tap water with New York City. Information and directions, http://www.nywater.org, aboutvision@gmail.com.

Saturday, June 25, NEW PALTZ: Anti-fracking demonstrators will gather 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in front of Elting Library, 93 Main St., across from Starbucks. Sponsored by New Paltz Climate Action Coalition  to “slay the Dragon of Fracking" that is threatening New York, the group says: "This action is to prevent  the devastating effects of industrial hydro-fracking for natural gas on our fresh water resources, the economy (especially tourism and agriculture), our communities and the environment." Signs will be provided. The weekly Women in Black peace vigil will take place right after the fracking event — come for both! Information, (845) 255-9297.

Saturday, June 25, UPPER NYACK: This Rockland County anti-fracking picnic/rally takes place along the Hudson River in the upper meadow at Hook Mountain (technically Nyack Beach State Park), north of Upper Nyack, from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Speakers include Jim Walsh of Food and Water Watch, activist Judith Karpova of Kerhonkson, and South Nyack Mayor Patricia DuBow. The event is free but it's $6 for the park parking lot, although free parking may be available on the road leading to park. Information, http://letstalkaboutfracking.com/county-wide-solstice-picnic/.

Sunday, June 26, SYRACUSE (Syracuse University campus): Former Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney recently returned from Libya and will discuss what it's like living in Tripoli while U.S./NATO bombs are falling to bring about regime change. Other speakers at the meeting include Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, and Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. This antiwar event begins at 5 p.m. at St. Thomas More Campus Ministry, Alibrandi Center, 110 Walnut Place. McKinney, who was the Green Party candidate for president in 2008, is on a nationwide speaking tour organized by the ANSWER Coalition. Her Syracuse appearance is co-sponsored by Pan African Community of Central New York.  Information, (315) 491-6987.

Monday, June 27, ALBANY
: Protest the unjust U.S.-NATO war for regime change against Libya. Join Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace to protest the continued bombing of Libya at 12:30 p.m. at the Leo W. O'Brien Federal Building, 1 Clinton Ave. The United National Antiwar Committee has called for emergency nationally coordinated local actions on this day. Bring your own signs if possible. Information, (518) 439-1968.

Wednesday, June 29, SCOHARIE: The well known progressive journalist Chris Hedges will discuss the "Death of the Liberal Class" at a free public meeting beginning at 7 p.m. at the United Presbyterian Church, 248 Main St., sponsored by Peacemakers of Schoharie County. Refreshments, and Hedges' books will be on sale. Information, (518) 287-1771, kchawk@midtel.net.

06-21-11 The Greek Protests

By Mark Weisbrot

Imagine that in the worst year of our recent recession, the United States government decided to reduce its federal budget deficit by more than $800 billion dollars – cutting spending and raising taxes to meet this goal.  Imagine that, as a result of these measures, the economy worsened and unemployment soared to more than 16 percent, and then the president pledged another $400 billion in spending cuts and tax increases this year. What do you think would be the public reaction?

It would probably be similar to what we are seeing in Greece today, including mass demonstrations and riots, because that is what the Greek government has done.  The above numbers are simply adjusted for the relative size of the two economies. Of course the U.S. government would never dare to do what the Greek government has done – recall that the budget battle in April that had House Republicans threatening to shut down the government resulted in spending cuts of just $38 billion.

What makes the Greek public even angrier is that their collective punishment is being meted out by foreign powers – the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This highlights perhaps the biggest problem of unaccountable, right-wing, supra-national institutions. Greece would not be going through this if it were not a member of a currency union. If it had leaders that were stupid enough to massively cut spending and raise taxes during a recession, those government officials would be replaced. And then a new government would do what the vast majority of governments in the world did during the world recession of 2009 – the opposite, i.e. deploy an economic stimulus, or what economists call counter-cyclical policies.

And if that required a renegotiation of the public debt, that is what the country would do. This is going to happen even under the European authorities, but first they are putting the country through years of unnecessary suffering, and taking advantage of the situation to privatize public assets at fire sale prices and restructure the Greek state and economy so that it is more to their liking.

I have maintained for some time that the Greek government has had more bargaining power than it has used, and the past week’s events seem to confirm this. Because of the massive opposition to further economic self-destruction – the latest polls show that 80% of Greeks are opposed to making any more concessions to the European authorities – the Greek government has so far been unable to reach an agreement with the IMF for the release of their latest loan tranche on June 29. So what happened? The IMF is going to hand over the money anyway, while the European authorities (who are in control of IMF decision-making on matters of Greek economic policy) continue to quarrel over how long they will postpone Greece’s inevitable debt restructuring, roll-over, or whatever they choose to call it.

That’s because the prospect of a disorderly default – as would be triggered by the IMF simply sticking to its program and not lending Greece the money – is too scary for the European authorities to contemplate. For this reason the many news articles about the possibility of a financial collapse comparable to what happened after Lehman Brothers went under in 2008 are somewhat exaggerated. The European authorities are not going to let that happen over a measly $17 billion loan installment. The events of the past week were all a game of brinkmanship, and the European authorities had to blink because the Greek government, as much as it wanted to, couldn’t get approval for the deal.

A democratically accountable Greek government would take a much harder line with the European authorities. For example, they could start with a moratorium on interest payments, which are currently running at 6.6% of GDP. (This is a huge interest rate burden, and the IMF projects it to increase to 8.6% by 2014. For comparison, despite all the noise about the U.S. debt burden, net interest on the U.S. public debt is currently at 1.4% of GDP.) That would release enough funds for a serious stimulus program, while they negotiate with the authorities for the inevitable debt write-down. Of course the European authorities – who are looking at this from the point of view of their big banks and creditors’ interests generally -- would be enraged, but at least this would be a reasonable opening bargaining position.

The IMF’s latest review of its agreement with Greece suggests that the Euro, for the Greek economy, is still 20-34% overvalued. This makes a recovery through “internal devaluation” – i.e., keeping unemployment so high and therefore lowering wages to make the economy more internationally competitive – an even more remote possibility than it would otherwise be. But the big problem is that the country’s fiscal policy is going in the wrong direction, and of course they cannot use monetary policy because that is controlled by the ECB.

The European authorities have more than enough money to finance a recovery program in Greece, and to bail out their banks if they don’t want them to take the inevitable losses on their loans. There is no excuse for this never-ending punishment of the Greek people.

— This article first appeared in the Guardian (UK) June 17, 2011. Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

06-21-11 Increase Social Security!

By Thomas Geoghegan

Chicago —  As a labor lawyer I cringe when Democrats talk of “saving” Social Security. We should not “save” it but raise it. Right now Social Security pays out 39 percent of the average worker’s pre-retirement earnings. While jaws may drop inside the Beltway, we could raise that to 50 percent. We’d still be near the bottom of the league of the world’s richest countries — but at least it would be a basement with some food and air. We have elderly people living on less than $10,000 a year. Is that what Democrats want to “save”?

“But we can’t afford it!” Oh, come on: We have a federal tax rate equal to nearly 15 percent of our G.D.P. — far below the take in most wealthy countries. Let’s wake up: the biggest crisis we face is that most of us have nothing meaningful saved for retirement. I know. I started my career wanting to be a pension lawyer. In the 1970s, lawyers like me expected there to be big pots of private pensions for hourly workers. By the 1980s, as factories closed, I was filing hopeless lawsuits to claw back bits and pieces of benefits. Now there are even fewer bits and pieces to get.

A recent Harris poll found that 34 percent of Americans have nothing saved for retirement — not even a hundred bucks. In this lost decade, that percentage is sure to go up. At retirement the lucky few with a 401(k) typically have $98,000. As an annuity that’s about $600 a month — not exactly an upper-middle-class lifestyle. It’s too late for Congress to come up with some new savings plan — a new I.R.A. that grows hair, or something. There’s no time. We have to improve the one public pension program in place. Should we means-test it? No. I don’t care if they go out and buy bottles of Jim Beam: let our elderly have an occasional night out at a restaurant.

The most paralyzing half-truth in this country is that people hate taxes. People are willing to pay taxes that they spend on themselves. Two-thirds of those surveyed in a CBS/New York Times poll in January were willing to pay more taxes to save Social Security at its modest level. To “save” it, most of us don’t need to pay. We could lift the cap on high earners, the 6 percent of workers who make over $106,800 a year. If earnings above the cap were subject to the payroll tax with no increase in benefits to high earners, there would be no deficit in the Social Security trust fund in 2037, as projected.

If people are willing to pay more just to “save” Social Security, they should be glad to pay more to raise it.

What does it take to get Social Security up to half the average worker’s earnings? According to the National Academy of Social Insurance, to close the deficit and raise benefits to nearly half of average worker earnings, we would need to find an additional 5 percent of taxable payroll, or find the money elsewhere. If we lift the cap on the payroll tax without paying more benefits to those above it, that gets us 2.32 percent (or a bit less if we slightly increase benefits to the rich). Dedicating revenues from the estate tax at its 2009 levels to Social Security gets another half percent. A few other tweaks, like covering new public employees, add another 0.42 percent. The remainder can be found by raising the payroll tax by roughly 1 percentage point for both employees and employers.

I can hear the argument: It will discourage jobs, blah, blah. While I sympathize with the health costs employers pay (I am an employer, at our tiny law firm), they have had a windfall on pensions. In 1975, when I left law school, around two-fifths of American workers were in defined-benefit plans. Now it’s just a fifth, and dropping. For employers, that’s not the real bonanza.

Retirees today are shortchanged on Social Security because they have been shortchanged on wages for their entire working lives. The labor economist Richard B. Freeman points out that the hourly earnings of workers dropped by 8 percent from 1973 to 2005 while productivity shot up 55 percent or more. The United States is one of the few developed countries where workers are routinely cheated of a share in higher productivity.

And where has the money from the extra productivity gone? It’s gone right to the top, to the top few percent. If wages had been paid fairly based on productivity, there would have been enough money subject to the payroll tax to avoid even a modest shortfall.

As I write, the Democrats are proposing to cut payroll taxes — supposedly to create jobs. But the last cut in the payroll tax, a few months back, led to little or no hiring. And did I mention the Paul Ryan plan? Just wait until the Democrats accept some “reasonable” version of this Republican document.

A bigger pension — a raise in Social Security benefits — is the stimulus this demoralized country needs. Come on, Democrats: think of F.D.R., Robert Wagner, or heck, even Lyndon B. Johnson. Let’s ask ourselves: Who are we for?

— This article appeared in the New York Times June 20. Thomas Geoghegan is the author of “Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back.”

Sunday, June 5, 2011

06-05-11 Activist Calendar

June 5, 2011, Issue #666
Send event announcements to jacdon@earthlink.net
Dedicated to Helping Build  Activist
Movements  in  the  Hudson  Valley

Monday, June 6, POUGHKEEPSIE: Help develop strategy for antiwar and anti-recruitment activities at the 7 p.m. meeting of Dutchess Peace to be held at Unitarian Fellowship, 67 S. Randolph Ave. Information, (845) 876-7906, http://www.dutchesspeace.org.

Monday, June 6, OLD CHATHAM
: The film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" will be screened at the Powell House Quaker Conference and Retreat Center, 524 Pitt Hall Rd., off County Rt. 13, 7 p.m. The film portrays how Liberian women came together to end a civil war. Moderated discussion to follow. Free and public, refreshments. Sponsored by Old Chatham Quaker Meeting. Information, (518) 766-2992. Directions, http://www.oldchathamquakers.org.

Tuesday, June 7, POUGHKEEPSIE: Rally for Marriage Equality in front of State Sen. Steven Saland's office at 3 Neptune Rd. (just off Rt. 9, north of Red Lobster) at 4 p.m.  Demand that this issue be brought to a vote in this session of the State Legislature. Information, (845) 444-0599, (845) 876-2488, http://www.dutchessdemocracy.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, June 8, POUGHKEEPSIE
: Nora Gallardo and Allison Bodine will present a slide show and discussion about Organic Gardens in Cuba at the Adriance Memorial Library, 93 Market St. at 7 p.m. Free. Cuba is a world leader in organic agriculture.

Thursday, June 9, WOODSTOCK: The Middle East Crisis Response group of Hudson Valley residents opposed to Israeli and U.S. policies toward the Palestinians meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month 7-8:30 p.m. at the Library, 5 Library Lane, just off Tinker St. All welcome. Information, (845) 876-7906, http://www.mideastcrisis.org, gale@mideastcrisis.org.

Friday, June 10, MILLBROOK: Dr. Rob Jackson of Duke University will discuss "The Environmental Footprint of Marcellus Shale Gas" at The Cary Institute auditorium, 2801 Sharon Tpk. (Rt. 44) at 7 p.m. (Space is limited, doors open at 6:30 p.m.) Jackson and his research team set out to understand how hydraulic fracturing — a natural gas drilling method that involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals deep underground at high pressure — impacts drinking water resources. They monitored private wells in Pennsylvania and New York and found elevated methane in wells near drilling sites.  Methane is flammable and potentially explosive. There has been little research on its health effects in drinking water, and the federal government doesn't regulate it as a contaminant in public water systems. Information, (845) 677-7600, ext. 121, freemanp@caryinstitute.org.

Sunday, June 12, BEACON: The ecologically-minded Beacon Sloop Club will hold it's annual Strawberry Festival at Riverfront Park 12 noon-5 p.m. Fresh strawberry shortcake made with local berries, fresh whipped cream, and hot biscuits augment this annual event.  Solar powered music performed by Dan Einbender and the Grammy Award winning Rivertown Kids, Pete Seeger, and others.  Environmental tent with speakers and displays, food and craft vendors. A free family-friendly festival. Information,  (845) 831-6962, (845) 463-4660, http://www.beaconsloopclub.org.

Wednesday, June 15, NEW PALTZ: The New Paltz chapter of Amnesty International will screen the film "War Dance" at 8 p.m. at the Elting Library, 93 Main St. (across from Starbucks).This free documentary follows students from war-torn northern Uganda to the National Music Festival in the nation's capital, Kampala. It addresses human rights issues endemic to the conflict, from internally displaced persons to child soldiers, while highlighting the role of music and dance in these children's lives. (Parking lot behind library.)  Information, ilgu_ozler@yahoo.com, http://www.amnestyusa.org.

Thursday, June 16, BEACON: Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries and IBM will host a Centennial Keynote entitled "Smarter Rivers for a Smarter Planet," featuring IBM engineer Dr. Harry Kolar.  Register online at http://www.bire.org/events.

Wednesday and Thursday, June 15 and 16, KINGSTON: The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Catskills will be holding a film festival on the subject of Hydrofracking at 320 Sawkill Rd. from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Information, joannesteele5@gmail.com.

Friday, June 17, TROY: As part of the James Connolly Forum, anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman will give a lecture entitled, "From Fukushima to Solartopia: Winning a Green-Powered Earth," at 7 p.m. at the Oakwood Community Center, 313 10th St. Sponsored by, Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, The Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, Troy Area Labor Council AFL-CIO. Information, (518) 505-0948, http://www.bethlehemforpeace.org.

Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and 19, CROTON-ON-HUDSON: The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater presents its 34th annual Great Hudson River Revival at Croton Point Park, 11 a.m.-dusk. Performers include Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, David Amram, Billy Bragg, Janis Ian, David Bromberg, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, as well as many other stellar performers on seven stages. This year's theme is, "Clearwater Generations," inspired by Pete Seeger's vision and Clearwater's mission to educate and activate the next generation of environmental activists and leaders. There will be diverse music and dance, a green living expo, juried handmade crafts, fair-trade marketplace, farm market, food court, working waterfront, and activist area. Tickets are available at http://clearwaterfestival.org, (845) 418-3596. Senior, student, and disabled discounts available. This is a fully accessible festival for mobility, hearing and visually impaired persons. Clearwater strives to make this a zero waste festival by recycling and/or composting as much as possible. Volunteer opportunities remain available. For information, schedules, tickets, volunteer applications, visit above website. Sponsored by Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Optimum Online, Chronogram, The Journal News, WFUV, WDST, WKZE, MTA, Westchester County and others.

Tuesday, June 21, SAUGERTIES
: A free showing of the film "Fragments of a Lost Palestine" will take place at the Saugerties Library, 91 Washington Ave., at 7:30 p.m. In this 75-minute 2010 documentary, filmmaker Norma Marcos returns home to Palestine to show her friend Stefan how people try to live normal lives despite the occupation. Through a series of conversations with friends, family and strangers, she shows that despite the tense political environment, "life goes on." The event is sponsored by the Middle East Crisis Response, as part of its free educational film series. Information, (518) 678-2076, jane.toby7@gmail.com, http://mideastcrisis.org.