HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTERjacdon@earthlink.net, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. AMERICAN TROOPS TO REMAIN IN IRAQ
2. MASS ARRESTS AT PIPELINE PROTEST
3. THE STRANGE POLITICS OF THE U.S. 2012 ELECTION
— Part 1, What Both Parties Are Up To
4. THE STRANGE POLITICS OF THE U.S. 2012 ELECTION
— Part 2, The Problems Ahead for Obama?
5. THE TOP 1% RULES
6. ECONOMY WALLOPS BLACK, LATINOS
7. TEN YEARS AFTER 9/11
8. 9/11: HOW IT SEEMED AT THE TIME
9. TEAR DOWN THE FREEDOM TOWER
10 HAMAS AND SOCIAL SERVICES
11. DARE WE QUESTION CAPITALISM?
12. THE 'SECRET'S' OUT: MARX KNEW!
13 POST 9/11 CIVIL LIBERTY ABUSES CONTINUE
14. PROPAGANDA FROM CHENEY, RUMSFELD
15. "GOV. PERRY, EVOLUTION IS A FACT"
16. SHAPING A NEW WORLD ORDER
17. RECOLLECTIONS OF INJUSTICE
18. LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN
19. INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
20. DOMESTIC NEWS BRIEFS
1. AMERICAN TROOPS TO REMAIN IN IRAQ
By John Glaser
The Obama administration has endorsed a plan that would keep 3,000-4,000 American troops in Iraq past the Dec. 31 deadline to withdraw, although the full remaining presence there will be much larger. Just how large isn’t yet certain, but the numerous agencies and jobs planned for the future of Iraq could mean many thousands more armed men that will not be classified as “troops.”
After months of jostling the Iraqi government into allowing a large U.S. military force to remain after the full withdrawal date specified under the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement between President Bush and the Baghdad government, the Obama administration publicly voiced support for this plan without having received the permission of the Iraqi Prime Minister or Parliament. Some elements of the Obama administration and the Pentagon pushed for tens of thousands more troops to remain.
The few thousand troops would reportedly be left to provide training and support to Iraqi Security Forces as well as “filling in gaps” in Iraqi defense capabilities. An additional force of private military contractors, numbering somewhere between 5,000-7,000, would also remain in order to provide security for an expanded diplomatic and contractor presence.
The reduced level of troops is possible in tandem with the expanded diplomatic mission because the U.S. has been largely successful in its intentions in Iraq, setting in place the intended political, military, and economic elements for Iraq to become a long-term client state instead of a warfront. As the New York Times reported this week, the debate over specific numbers and figures is to some extent unimportant. “The administration has already drawn up plans for an extensive expansion of the American Embassy and its operations, bolstered by thousands of paramilitary security contractors.”
Iraq may rival long-time client, Egypt. “An Office of Security Cooperation,” reported the Times, ”like similar ones in countries like Egypt, would be staffed by civilians and military personnel overseeing the training and equipping of Iraq’s security forces” for an indefinite period.
The State Department is expected to have up to 17,000 employees and contractors for this ongoing diplomatic presence, which has been described as necessary to provide “situational awareness around the country, manage political crises in potential hotspots such as Kirkuk, and provide a platform for delivering economic, development and security assistance.” Cutting through the bureaucratese, this means essentially to maintain Iraq’s client-state status.
Providing housing, workspace, medical facilities, and security for a legion of civilian workers this large requires exorbitant funds, expansive land use, and construction not yet finalized in most areas.
According to the most recent Quarterly Report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq, the Department of State “will assume primary responsibility for a planned $6.8 billion operation” carried out “from 11 locations around Iraq, including three consulates and the world’s largest embassy.” Responsibilities also include carrying out “two of the largest Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs in the world and to spend the $2.55 billion in Iraq Security Forces Fund (ISFF).”
As detailed in a declassified, partially redacted State Department document, a “fleet of 46 aircraft” will be “based and maintained in Baghdad, Basra, and Erbil” and will include 20 medium lift S-61 helicopters, 18 light lift UH-1N helicopters, three light observation MD-530 helicopters, and five Dash 8 fixed wing aircraft. Flight and landing zones, maintenance hangars, operation buildings, and air traffic control towers, along with maintenance and refueling will all be a part of the contracted construction operations.
Agreements will be negotiated with Iraq, Kuwait, and Jordan to secure authorization for continuous Embassy flight plans between the three countries, which all contain a massive presence of U.S. military, diplomatic, and contractor personnel.
The State Department’s $3.7 billion request for Iraq in FY 2012 includes funding for integrated programs of economic management as part of this so-called withdrawal plan. The United States Agency for International Development, alongside the United States Department of Agriculture, will continue to oversee sectors of Iraq’s economy, especially its natural resources, as agreed upon in the secretive Strategic Framework Agreement.
Signs are that the Iraqi government will conform to U.S. wishes on the size, scope, and nature of the continuing American presence in Iraq. Given the political, military, and economic infrastructure set to be implemented by Washington post-2011, it is also likely that Iraq may soon become another prosaic Middle Eastern state under the U.S. domain of influence.
— John Glaser writes for Antiwar.com, where this article appeared Sept. 7.
2. MASS ARRESTS AT PIPELINE PROTEST
By Tar Sands Action
The largest environmental civil disobedience in decades — over a thousand activists were arrested —concluded at the White House Sept. 3 with organizers pledging to escalate a nationwide campaign to push President Obama to deny the permit for a new tar sands oil pipeline.
A petition with 617,428 names opposing the pipeline was delivered to the White House the same day.
“Given yesterday’s baffling cave on ozone standards (see below), the need for a fighting environmental movement has never been more clear,” said Bill McKibben, who spearheaded the protest. “That movement is being born right here in front of the White House and reverberating around the country.”
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has become the most important environmental decision facing President Obama before the 2012 election and sparked nationwide opposition, from Nebraska ranchers to former Obama campaigners.
Over the course of the two-week sit-in 1,252 people were arrested, including top climate scientists, landowners from Texas and Nebraska, former Obama for America staffers, First Nations leaders from Canada, and notable individuals including Bill McKibben, former White House official Gus Speth, NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, actor Daryl Hannah, filmmaker Josh Fox, and author Naomi Klein.
“Back home we are fighting to protect our land and water. This week, we decided to bring that fight to the President’s doorstep,” said Jane Kleeb, Director of BOLD Nebraska, who led a delegation of Nebraskans who were arrested this morning. “We are acting on our values and expect our President to act as well.”
Protest organizers are already planning ways to capitalize on the surge of energy the sit-in has created. In a number of cities, people have already begun to visit Obama for America offices to tell the campaign they will volunteer and donate only after President Obama stands up to Big Oil and denies the Keystone XL permit. Along the pipeline route, groups are preparing to drive turnout to State Department hearings later this month. Thousands are expected to descend on Washington for the final hearing on Oct. 7.
In late August, nearly every major environmental group in the country signed on to a letter demanding President Obama deny the pipeline permit. “There is not an inch of daylight between our policy position on the Keystone XL pipeline, and those of the protesters being arrested daily outside the White House,” wrote the groups in their letter.
Vice President Al Gore also added his support to the protest, writing, “the leaders of the top environmental groups in the country, the Republican Governor of Nebraska, and millions of people around the country—including hundreds of people who have bravely participated in civil disobedience at the White House—all agree on one thing: President Obama should block a planned pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The tar sands are the dirtiest source of fuel on the planet.”
....The White House is receiving pressure from citizens north of the border, as well. Activists in Ottawa are planning a civil-disobedience protest on Parliament Hill this September 26.
“The Canadian government is acting as the global advertising agency of the tar sands oil industry,” said author and activist Naomi Klein, who was arrested Friday. “Canadians have come to appeal directly to President Obama, to demand that he stop this pipeline and make good on his 2008 election promises.”
The proposed 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline would carry dirty tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. A rupture in the pipeline could cause a BP style oil spill in America’s heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 20 million people. NASA’s top climate scientist says that fully developing the tar sands in Canada would mean “essentially game over” for the climate.
— New actions of various sorts are going to take place. Get involved with Tar Sands Action at www.tarsandsaction.org/next-steps.
3. THE STRANGE POLITICS OF THE U.S. 2012 ELECTION
Part 1, What Both Parties Are Up To
By Jack S. Smith, Activist Newsletter
When was it that the most extremely disturbed inmates seized control of the madhouse known as the American political system? We know they are wielding decisive influence within the two-party structure by their destructive antics in Washington and various state capitals, but when and how did this happen?
Some contend that the takeover was accomplished last January, when the new Republican House majority assumed office. Granted that the intransigent buffoonery of the right/far right party is a substantial factor, but it by no means is the only factor, as the Democrats suggest.
The Tea Party (TP) phenomenon is a symptom of one of the more bizarre political moments in American history between the odd couple that constitutes the two-party system, not the principal causative agent. It is a new formation but composed of the old hard core right wing and religious right reinvigorated with conservative populism, anti-government libertarianism, garnished with an element of racism in response to a non-white chief executive, and performing the political equivalent of wilding in the streets.
The larger Republican Party and its leadership may not be as fanatical but is going along with the far right because it's producing positive practical gains for conservative ideology and programs, and seems to have tied the bewildered and misled Democrats into impotent knots. The big danger for the GOP is going so far to the right that it gets trounced in the 2012 elections, which is what the White House is counting on.
Others maintain seizing the asylum was facilitated when President Barack Obama took office in January 2009 — the argument being that he is a weak pushover who doesn't understand how to fight for his beliefs.
Obama, however, is a tough, exceptionally ambitious politician who knows what he wants and goes after it with cool precision. How else could have migrated to the U.S. Senate and the presidency of the United States in five years after an unremarkable dozen years in academia and the obscurity of the Illinois state senate? With virtually no record of accomplishments he whipped the formidable Hillary Clinton electoral machine, then the McCain/Palin opposition, and then his own party's left wing in the process.
The president does indeed fight for his convictions, much to the dismay of the liberals and progressives — a prominent sector of his own party constituency whom he mocked as the "professional left," then rendered powerless by furling his brows. The problem isn't the president's "weakness" but his now only partially disguised moderate conservative convictions that allow him to pull his party to the right in the name of bipartisanship, even if it takes humiliating his most fervent supporters.
It wasn't Obama's fear and trembling but self-confident chutzpah during the deficit debates when he gratuitously consigned the greatest achievements of the New Deal and Great Society to the future chopping block, and in House Speaker John Boehner's opinion gave the Republican leadership 98% of what it actually sought.
In fact there was no real debt crisis or probability of default. Raising the debt limit is as American as Thanksgiving dinner, and it's an economic necessity in a recession. Obama had a perfect right to avoid default unilaterally by invoking his 14th Amendment obligation to pay the country's bills. He chose to allow the charade to fester. Wall Street was well aware there would be a last minute agreement to cut programs and not raise taxes, although the mass media converted the farce into a potential national calamity until the end.
Liberal critics and the trade union movement were appalled by Obama's primary focus on reducing the deficit during a severe economic crisis as opposed to recognizing that the first priority should be heavy government investment in creating jobs. The Aug. 1 headline over economist Paul Krugman's New York Times column told it all: "The President Surrenders."
Continuing high unemployment is one of the main reasons working class/middle class families may experience a painful double-dip recession, extending the crisis many years. Officially, 9.1% or 14 million American workers are jobless. Black unemployment 16.7%. When the total includes "discouraged workers" who have given up constant job seeking for lack of success, along with part-time workers who cannot obtain needed full-time employment, the pool expands to nearly 30 million workers or 16.2% of the labor force.
Obama responded to intense criticism and dismay about his inattention to unemployment from various quarters by putting forward a jobs program in a major speech to a joint session of Congress Sept. 8. The proposal, titled the American Jobs Act, appeared to offer considerably more breaks and financial incentives to businesses to hire more employees than to the jobless workers.
The chief executive stressed the bipartisan the nature of his proposal, maintaining that virtually all of its aspects were supported by conservatives as well as Democrats, and assuring Republicans fixated upon deficit reduction that "everything in this bill will be paid for" through a scheme to increase the amount of money to be sliced from future spending. Part of such reductions will derive from cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, just as the liberals and unions feared. Much of the $447 billion pricetag will go to tax breaks for business and a reduction in payroll taxes to employees and companies.
The initial reaction to the plan by liberal economists was that it will create jobs but hardly cause a serious reduction in the jobless rate, assuming that it passes Congress without big cuts. The plan envisioned many jobs would derive from a campaign to rebuild a portion of America's decaying infrastructure, but it is extremely doubtful this will get off the ground. More details are expected next week.
There was also no compelling necessity for Obama to decide "you have to put everything on the table" for the budget cutters including Social Security as well as Medicare and Medicaid. That was the administration's political preference, regardless of bitter howling from the 83-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN). The House Democratic Blue Dog coalition of fiscal conservatives has only 26 members but patently enjoys considerably more influence in the White House than the marginalized progressives. The GOP controls the House, but the hyperactive Tea Party Caucus, chaired by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), has 23 fewer members than the Progressive Caucus, seems more effective than when the Democrts held the 2007 House or 2009-10 House and Senate.
The Progressive Caucus has been sharply critical of what the White House and the Democratic political and funding powers are giving away to the conservatives, but few dare speak as frankly as Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) — the best and boldest of the remaining center-left House members — during an interview with Truthdig Aug. 4 in discussing the deficit agreement with the Republicans:
"I think that this idea that somehow the White House was forced into a bad deal is politically naive. When we saw the White House signal early on that it was ready for cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by actually setting aside bedrock principles that the Democratic Party has stood on for generations, that signal indicated that they were ready for a deal that would involve massive cutting of social spending, and increasing or locking in increases for war, and helping further the ambitions of the Defense Department, not touching the Bush tax cuts. And that’s exactly what happened."
During his June 8 speech, Obama justified cutting two of the three historic Democratic Party achievements in these words: "I realize there are some in my party who don’t think we should make any changes at all to Medicare and Medicaid.... But with an aging population and rising health care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program. And if we don’t gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won’t be there when future retirees need it."
This is doubletalk, based on catering to conservatism by refusing to consider a number of available alternatives to program reduction. But the case appeared closed, according to an analysis of Obama's speech in the Sept. 9 New York Times: "Republicans and Democrats are no longer fighting over whether to tackle the popular entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — but over how to do it."
It should be noted that the Obama White House routinely shifts to the right on issues that do not necessarily depend on House votes, undercutting the argument that the Republicans always tie the president's hands. The administration's dreadful environmental record, for instance, is largely independent of the antediluvian climate change deniers in Congress. The White House decision to abandon the Environmental Protection Agency's tough new air pollution regulations Sept. 2 was a concession to big business, which could have lost some excess profits due to reduced emissions of smog-causing chemicals, not the result of a filibuster or lack of votes.
This "betrayal," as it has been termed by environmental leaders, follows recent Oval Office decrees to allow more oil drilling in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, approval of the tar sands Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, calls for more nuclear power plants, and increased drilling for polluting natural gas as well as utter passivity toward climate change. None of these decisions were "forced" upon the Obama Administration.
What all this suggests to us is that the White House is dedicating its principal efforts to imposing a more conservative economic and political agenda on the American people, and that part of the process is bending over backward to create an informal but virtual government of national unity between the center right and right/far right ruling parties.
The Obama Administration evidences a breezy willingness to give away the Democratic Party's tattered remnants of liberalism, to weaken some past attainments achieved after years of struggle, and forego fighting for new social programs. The result has been two or three steps to the right, by commission or omission, for every nebulous step to the "left," such as the administration's health care plan, which was based on the moderate Republican effort in Massachusetts.
Much closer political unity with the right wing was the meaning of the continuing mantra during the 2008 Obama campaign about extending his hand "across the aisle," governing "as Americans not as Republicans or Democrats" and insisting that "There is not a liberal America, or a conservative America, but a United States of America."
As we declared in this newsletter a few days before Obama was elected almost three years ago: "Does this mean there is no need for political struggle — that lion and lamb are about to bed down together, solving the problems of the country and world with some pillow talk among all us Americans finally freed from the stressful complications of politics? This notion is preposterous, of course."
Why would President Obama put forward such a policy? There are several factors, but in our view the main one is an effort to address America's declining superpower status globally and domestically, economically and politically. The erosion of U.S. power was hastened during eight years of Bush Administration mismanagement and imperialism, two lost wars, record military spending, tax cuts for the rich, enormous debts and finally the Great Recession.
In his jobs speech Obama emphasized the need to "show the world once again why the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth." Retaining world "leadership," i.e., geopolitical economic and military supremacy, has been a constant refrain from Obama since at least two years before winning the presidency, and is obviously a factor in the support he receives from a large sector of those who rule America.
Domestically, the White House seeks to strengthen the capitalist sector, reorganize the economy to confer even greater powers upon the corporations, banks, Wall St. and the wealthy; renegotiate downward the social contract with the working class and middle class by further limiting popular spending, entitlements, and government programs to help the people; and reduce union power even further while mumbling pro-labor sentiments. In addition, there has been an effort to reassert the unifying spirit of national chauvinism, militarism, and warrior worship.
Internationally, the White House policy is to reinvigorate American global domination; refurbish Washington's dilapidated international reputation; retain U.S. hegemonic interests in the Arab world by intervening in the regional uprisings; restore a more subtle form of U.S. dominion in Latin America; and reverse recent history by finally winning some wars for the $1.4 trillion Washington forks out annually for the Pentagon and national security (i.e., the Afghan "surge" to forestall yet another defeat, extending the war to western Pakistan, crushing tiny Libya and keeping U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan long past the deadline for complete withdrawal).
But if the Democrats are right of center these days and making concessions for functional unity with the right/far right party why are the Republicans creating dysfunction and saying "no" to everything and creating political havoc? Because they want a lot more and think they can grab it. The GOP is obtaining a good political deal at bargain basement prices. For its part, the White House is selling out cheaply to clear the shelves of old liberal merchandize to make room for new more conservative product of its own. Since Republican antics usefully convey the public impression of "forcing" Obama to make concessions against his will, the Democrats won't get too much blame for the even more corporate and unequal, even less generous and forgiving, America to come.
Conservatives have wanted to destroy the progressive gains of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Great Depression era New Deal since their inception in the 1930s, including Social Security. And the right wing backlash against the activism of the 1960s, focused on hard fought social and cultural advances as well as the abundant liberal legislation of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society — including Medicare and Medicaid — has been never ending since the 1970s.
The result is a blanket of conservatism that gradually began to cover much of the U.S., along with stagnant wages, the dwindling of the American Dream and the end of significant new government social programs for the people. Now, in the midst of a devastating economic breakdown and cutbacks in essential federal and state government services, the once center left Democratic Party is offering the to put the three crown jewels of the Roosevelt-Johnson period "on the table" to be examined by the new bipartisan Joint Selective Committee for Deficit Reduction, which is due to make decisions before the new year.
One thing is certain about the 2008 election. The American people wanted change, big change from their next government. Candidate Obama promised change they could "believe in." The people were encouraged to respond in unison by chanting "Yes we can," entertaining hopes of fewer wars, more secure incomes, greater attention to health, education, job creation and the environment, some help for the poor, and perhaps more equality with an African American in the White House. The Democratic platform was filled with empty generalities, but the campaign remained intentionally vague about what its "change" was all about. This was the tip-off to an impending deception that became obvious after the election, when the changes they hoped for were not what Obama had in mind.
Now, following several grave concessions to conservatism before, during and after the early summer deficit fiasco with more to come, President Obama has began to indulge in populist rhetoric about jobs and infrastructure to galvanize the faithful into providing campaign dollars and innumerable volunteer hours to defeat the "evil doers" in 2012.
Part 2 below will focus on liberal and labor misgivings about Obama's policies and on what these forces will end up doing, among other election points.
3. THE STRANGE POLITICS OF THE U.S. 2012 ELECTION
Part 2, Problems Ahead for Obama?
By Jack A. Smith
The New Yorker magazine published a memorable front cover a year after President Barack Obama assumed office. It was a four panel cartoon-like drawing by artist Barry Blitt of a man walking on water, a reference to the Apostle Paul. In panel one, the walking figure, illuminated by a heavenly shaft of light, shows a small unidentifiable figure in the background. By panel two the tall, thin man is clearly Obama. By number three, a still walking confident, serious president dominates the panel, looking sternly at the viewer. And in panel four he sinks.
He is still sinking today. According to the Pew Research Center poll released Aug. 25: "For the first time in his presidency, significantly more disapprove than approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president (49% vs. 43%), and.... 38% strongly disapprove of Obama's job performance while 26% strongly approve." The poll shows that 22% approve of the job performance of Republican congressional leaders while the figure is 29% for Democratic leaders. At 43%, the Democratic Party is viewed more favorably than the GOP at 34%.
At issue now is what the important and very disappointed liberal, progressive and labor union sector of the Democratic constituency is going to do during the 2012 election campaign, which already seems well under way 14 months before the voting.
Many Democratic Party supporters, especially those of the center-left, virtually venerated their candidate during the 2008 campaign. Liberals and unionists not only chanted slogans on cue at rallies but volunteered and donated money to elect him. The union movement invested a few hundred million dollars. Obama was not only viewed as the anti-Bush redeemer but the rescuer who would bring the party left wing back to relevance after being exiled to the sidelines when the leadership began its nearly four decade trek to end up right of center.
During the earlier campaign in Des Moines, Oprah Winfrey — who is arguably the most influential woman in the world — declared to a crowd of 15,000 enthusiasts, "I am here to tell you, Iowa, he is the one. He is the one!" But in her New York Times column Sept. 3 titled "One and Done?," Maureen Dowd devilishly observed, "The One is dancing on the edge of one term."
Even though Obama will occasionally pretend to liberal populism to mesmerize selected audiences during this campaign, his first term record of concrete concessions to conservative ideology cannot be camouflaged. As viewed from the party center left, and even from the center, the Obama Administration's record is lamentable when matched against reasonable Democratic voter expectations in 2008.
Most Democratic voters, liberal or not, expected a reduction in U.S. military violence, not the increase Obama produced. They preferred a strengthening of civil liberties, not a continuation of the Bush Administration's Patriot Act and additional erosions of rights. They sought progress on reducing environmental despoliation and global warming, not policies that produce opposite results. Many anticipated at least moderate efforts to mitigate the appalling increases in economic inequality, and to alleviate the hyper-inequality afflicting some national minorities, but nothing has been forthcoming.
So far, it is premature to anticipate how many defections are expected from the Obama camp due to increasing malaise and anger from much of the liberal sector and its further left cohorts who usually end up on the Democratic Party treadmill every four years. They are caught once again — although by surprise this time for many — in the familiar lobster-like pincers of the lesser evil/greater evil dilemma.
Most fear that voting for existing small third party progressive alternatives will help elect the "greater evil" right/far right half of the ruling duopoly, so they will vote for the center right Obama, who occupies political territory once claimed by the now extinct "moderate" wing of the Republican Party. The White House inner circle, Democratic Party bigwigs and the main sector of the ruling class are counting on it, and seek to raise a record-setting $1 billion dollars to keep their man in the Oval Office.
The Democratic Party strategy for gaining a second term in the White House seems based on two main assumptions about the Republicans, as well as blaming the GOP for everything except Hurricane Irene, and putting forward a popular program that after the elections may never see the light of day.
(1) The first assumption is that the GOP will be perceived by much of the electorate as having moved too far to the right, alienating independent voters who will now vote for Obama in greater number, and keeping the dissident Democrats in line. There is also the possibility of splits between the Tea Party stalwarts and the less doctrinaire parent party as a whole and possibly within the TP itself.
(2) The second assumption is that the GOP simply does not have a broadly attractive presidential candidate if the field remains narrowed to Tea Party favorites such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, or flagrantly opportunist conservative former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, backed up by secondary candidates including libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul and longshot mainstream Republican former Utah Gov. John M. Huntsman. At this point Perry (an aggressive climate change and evolution denier, who thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme) and Romney (who probably was the last of the "moderate Republicans" until raw ambition and hypocrisy drove this multimillionaire to the farther right) have the inside track. Palin hasn't announced yet.
For his part, President Obama will strive to convince the American people that the Republicans are entirely responsible for the political gridlock in Washington. He will charge the GOP with putting petty party interests ahead of "American," not merely Democratic, interests, intentionally conflating the two to imply the Republicans are lacking patriotism. The White House will propagate the notion that Tea Party extremists left Obama with "no choice" but to cut social programs to lower the deficit instead of fighting harder for taxing the rich, and "no option" but to put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid up for grabs — concessions that were in fact entirely voluntary. It is highly doubtful for obvious reasons that the Democratic candidate will repeat his most stirring crowd pleaser from the 2008 campaign — "Our time has come, our movement is real, and change is coming to America."
The Democratic domestic platform will be a glistening cornucopia of promises and good intentions for every sector — the right, center, and even a trifle for the left. In essence, however, it will tilt toward conservatism. There will be elevating talk about needed programs, but it is highly doubtful a viable social agenda that serves the needs of an increasingly desperate American people will emerge from an Obama triumph, including anything more than token gestures toward rebuilding infrastructure or protecting the environment. Foreign policy will remain the same, as will military/national security strategy and its ruinous price tag. Full spectrum power and global domination remain the name of the imperial game.
This may keep the bulk of Democrats content and attract independents. Most rank-and-filers have followed their party into the center right over the years, consciously or often not even aware of the political shift, and remain comfortable with Obama even though the blush has departed the rose. Most liberals are no longer sanguine and some will fight back within the party and may be able to wrest small favors.
Obama will be traveling on a bumpy campaign road, however, and there will be some potential Democratic voters who stay at home, probably including younger and first time voters who played a big role in 2008, and Latino voters dismayed by the Obama Administration's George Bush-like immigration policies, among others.
Several score liberal, progressive and labor organizations are complaining loudly, from Move-On, Campaign for America's Future, and Progressive Democrats of America to the AFL-CIO federation of 56 unions. It is expected that a developing coalition of such forces will exert considerable pressure on the Democratic Party leadership to include at least a few key liberal programs in the platform, although most campaign priorities are ignored or delayed indefinitely after the election.
Nearly 70 groups that describe themselves as progressive sent a communication to President Obama Aug. 30 insisting that he fight for a jobs program "that does not just tinker around the edges." Similar groups are pushing for a legislative drive to "Restore the American Dream."
Some groups are threatening to withhold campaign contributions should Obama ultimately agree to making cuts in federal entitlement programs. A grassroots group called the Progressive Change Campaign Committee composed of liberals who raised money for the Democrats in 2008 brought 200,000 signed pledges to Obama's national campaign headquarters in Chicago in July with precisely that message.
The most important critic is the 10.5 million-member AFL-CIO and its new community affiliate, the 2 million members of Working America. Total U.S. union membership may have suffered a precipitous decline since its apogee in 1954, when it constituted 33% of the workforce, compared to 11.9% this year — but the unions are key to the Democrats' existence, although the party has given very little in return.
Criticism of the Democrats of any kind is a fairly new attitude for the AFL-CIO, after many decades of conservative, pro-war, Cold War, pro-business leadership from former AFL and AFL-CIO presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland from 1952 to 1995. The more militant John Sweeney, federation president 1995-2009, broke with many of the earlier right wing practices while remaining close to the Democratic leadership.
Former United Mine Workers leader Richard Trumka, who was part of the now-retired Sweeney's winning New Voices reform team, succeeded to the presidency. He has been remarkably vocal this year about the failure of the Obama Administration to fight the right and to support progressive programs for jobs, the Employee Free Choice Act, a public option for healthcare, and raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour as Obama promised in 2008. Free Choice was the labor movement's key legislative priority. It would have removed several barriers to increasing union membership — but the White House didn't even bring the bill to a vote, knowing conservative Democrats would join anti-union Republicans to defeat the measure, not that Obama twisted any arms on behalf of labor.
In addition to public criticisms, Trumka has been suggesting that the AFL-CIO intended to declare a certain independence from the Democratic Party. In early June he told union nurses meeting in Washington that “We want an independent labor movement strong enough to return balance to our economy, fairness to our tax system, security to our families and moral and economic standing to our nation....We can’t simply build the power of any political party or any candidate. For too long we’ve been left after the election holding a canceled check and asking someone to pay attention to us. No more!"
In the equivalent of aiming a hefty whiff of grapeshot across the White House lawn, Trumka declared Aug. 25: "This is a moment that working people and quite frankly history will judge President Obama on his presidency. Will he commit all his energy and focus on bold solutions on the job crisis or will he continue to work with the Tea Party to offer cuts to middle class programs like Social Security all the while pretending the deficit is where our economic problems really lie?"
Some other indications of the labor movement's more active stand include the recent federation announcement that it is organizing a nationwide week of demonstrations for jobs in 450 locations in October. On Sept. 4 it was reported that union donations to federal candidates at the beginning of this year were down about 40% compared with the same period in 2009. In August, a dozen trade unions, including the 2.5 million member AFL-CIO building trades division, said they would boycott next year's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., because of "broad frustration with the [Democratic] Party" and to protest the event's location in an anti-union right-to-work state.
Despite some unprecedented criticism, and positive evidence of a tilt toward labor independence, a break with the Democratic Party is not in cards for the 2012 election. But it is a long delayed warning that has a powerful potential should it be ignored. A token of opposition may transpire next year by union refusal to back selected Blue Dog Democrats; perhaps labor candidates will run against some conservative Democrats in primaries or in some cases stand as third party election entries against anti-union candidates of the two ruling parties. Some money may be withheld and there may be fewer volunteers.
When President Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, the news media often compared him favorably to Dr. Martin Luther King, suggesting, in effect, he was the fulfillment of King's "Dream," a reference to the great civil rights leader's "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington. On the anniversary of the march Aug. 28, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was a civil rights fighter in his youth and who at spoke at the historic event, speculated on what King would say to Obama were he alive today, in a public statement that was both a plea and a sad censure:
"Dr. King," Lewis wrote, would tell President Obama "that it is his moral obligation to use his
power and influence to help those who have been left out and left behind. He would encourage him to get out of Washington, to break away from handlers and advisers and go visit the people where they live.... He would urge Obama to feel the hurt and pain of those without work, of mothers and their children who go to bed hungry at night, of the families living in shelters after losing their homes, and of the elderly who chose between buying medicine and paying the rent....
"[He would tell him] to do what he can to end discrimination based on race, color, religious faith and sexual orientation.... There is no need to put a finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. There is no need to match each step to the latest opinion poll. The people of this country recognize when a leader is trying to do what is right.... Let the people of this country see that you are fighting for them and they will have your back."
This is no doubt true, but fighting for the people is simply not among Barack Obama's chief priorities.
5. THE TOP 1% RULES
[As the former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, Columbia University Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz knows a few things about money, and who possesses it — a subject he discussed in a recent issue of Vanity Fair. Here is an excerpt.]
By Joseph E. Stiglitz
The upper 1% of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1% control 40%. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12% and 33%....
While the top 1% have seen their incomes rise 18% over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12% in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades — and more — has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in... Europe....
The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security — they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government — one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1% may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.
Economists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role — for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12%.
But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1% want it that way.
The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride.
Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power — from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1%. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself — one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0% interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest....
During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s — a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint — the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. Senators, and most of the Representatives in the House, are members of the top 1% when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1%, and know that if they serve the top 1% well they will be rewarded by the top 1% when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1%....
In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit.... As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places....
The top 1% have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99% live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1% eventually do learn. Too late.
The full article:
6. ECONOMY WALLOPS BLACK, LATINOS
By the Activist Newsletter
The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Latino households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis based on newly available government data from 2009, the year the Great Recession is said to have ended despite continuing high unemployment, extensive home foreclosures and hardship for millions of American families.
Pew reported that "These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the latest recession."
Underscoring the exceptionally drastic economic crisis afflicting the African American and Latino communities, the Labor Department's August Jobs Report, released Sept. 2, revealed black unemployment jumped to 16.7% last month while the rate for whites dropped slightly to 8%. Latino unemployment remained at 11.3%.
Overall, nationwide joblessness remained at 9.1% last month, dashing Obama Administration anticipations that it would go down. Black men are experiencing the highest unemployment rate of all — 19.1%. For black women it is 14.5%. Commenting on the African American plight in particular, the Economic Policy Institute declared: "The fact of racial discrimination in the labor market continues to play a role.... Even when you compare black and white workers, same age range, same education, you still see pretty significant gaps in unemployment rates."
The Pew Research analysis finds that, in percentage terms, the bursting of the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed from late 2007 to mid-2009 took a far greater toll on the wealth of minorities than whites. From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households.
As a result of these declines, the typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth (assets minus debts) in 2009; the typical Hispanic household had $6,325 in wealth; and the typical white household had $113,149.
Moreover, about a third of black (35%) and Hispanic (31%) households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15% of white households. In 2005, the comparable shares had been 29% for blacks, 23% for Latinos and 11% for whites.
Latinos and African Americans are the nation’s two largest minority groups, making up 16% and 12% of the U.S. population respectively.
These findings, released July 26, are based on the analysis of data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), an economic questionnaire distributed periodically to tens of thousands of households by the U.S. Census Bureau. It is considered the most comprehensive source of data about household wealth in the United States by race and ethnicity.
Plummeting house values were the principal cause of the recent erosion in household wealth among all groups, with Latinos hit hardest by the meltdown in the housing market.
From 2005 to 2009, the median level of home equity held by Hispanic homeowners declined by half—from $99,983 to $49,145—while the homeownership rate among Latinos was also falling, from 51% to 47%. A geographic analysis suggests the reason: A disproportionate share of Latinos live in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which were in the vanguard of the housing real estate market bubble of the 1990s and early 2000s but that have since been among the states experiencing the steepest declines in housing values.
Just as the gap in median household wealth among racial and ethnic groups rose from 2005 to 2009, so too did the gap in mean household wealth. However, the mean differences are not as dramatic as the median differences. (A median is the midpoint that separates the upper half from the lower half of a given group; a mean is an average, and, in this case, the average is driven upward by households with high net worth). In 2005, mean white household wealth was 2.3 times that of Latinos and 3 times that of blacks. By 2009, it was 3.7 times that of both Latinos and blacks.
During the period under study, wealth disparities increased not only between racial and ethnic groups, they also rose within each group. As in general throughout the society, those in the top 10% of the wealth ladder were relatively less impacted by the economic downturn than those in the remaining 90%.
— The full text of the 39-page report is at http://pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-Latinos/#executive-summary/.
7. TEN YEARS AFTER 9/11
By the Editor, Activist Newsletter
I imagine everyone reading the newsletter today remembers where they were 10 years ago Sept. 11, 2001, when they learned about the collapse of the Twin Towers, just as those of us from an earlier generation remember many details about the day in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated. Such events burn themselves into our memories forever.
Ten years ago just before 9 a.m. I was on the campus of the State University of New York in New Paltz posting leaflets encouraging students to take our charter buses to a March on Washington and rally outside the White House set for Sept. 29. The International Action Center (IAC) planned the event as a rally primarily against President Bush’s foreign and domestic policies during a week of scheduled protests by scores of groups, largely in opposition to the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
After about an hour and 15 minutes I decided to get coffee at the Jacobson Faculty building café on campus. The place was unexpectedly jammed shoulder to shoulder with students, teachers and staff, largely silent except for gasps and muffled undertones, watching the TV screen. I soon understood the South Tower had collapsed at 9:59 a.m., less than an hour after being hit by the hijacked airliner. At 10:38 a.m. we all watched and groaned, and some cried or prayed when the North Tower collapsed. A number of students with family in New York City had been calling home frantically on their cell phones.
After pulling myself together it was clear the next step was to take down the 60 posters I had just put up — not to discourage going to the rally but because the big headline about Bush's reactionary program was now inappropriate and open to misinterpretation: "Beat Back The Bush Attack." It looked like a reference to the towers.
I put up new posters a few days later after the IAC quickly formed the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) with about a dozen other groups and decided to go ahead with the Sept. 29 rally but to change it into a protest demanding that Bush not launch a war against Afghanistan in revenge. Most of the other organizations involved in the IMF/WB protests on other days dropped their plans to protest. Indeed most of the existing antiwar movement virtually ceased to exist for months after 9/11 due to political uncertainty about the new war and unease over the extreme hyper-patriotism and vengeful anger that swept the country in response to Washington's incessant pro-war propaganda.
The ANWER demonstration, however, was a big success. Some 20,000 people showed up in D.C. from the East Coast, including two buses from our Mid-Hudson region. A sizable contingent also came from nearby Bard College, which had a strong activist movement at the time. A couple of weeks later when the U.S. was bombing and invading Afghanistan our newsletter organized a local antiwar protest in Kingston, N.Y., that drew a few hundred people, which was larger than expected. Some passersby in cars several times shouted at us to "Go back to Afghanistan!," evoking recollections of past demands to return to Vietnam or Moscow or to "get a job."
The political environment was extremely hostile for a number of months toward those who publicly called for peace. Yellow ribbons were everywhere and jingoism flourished. In the Hudson Valley, U.S. flags seemed to decorate every other car. Two-flag pickup trucks were the most "patriotic." Since our phone number was on the protest leaflets we received over a dozen telephone death threats at home in the days after 9/11, but the worst that happened was that someone deposited the moldy severed head of a deer in our driveway.
ANSWER has gone on to organize scores of the largest national peace protests in relation to the Afghan and Iraq wars in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities, including a half million people in DC in January 2003 just before the invasion of Iraq. Over the last 10 years the Activist Newsletter has organized over 20 local peace actions and public meetings and two dozen bus trips to out of town antiwar protests. The peace movement decreased in size after the Iraq war started eight years ago but remained substantial for many years. It virtually fell apart following the 2008 elections when the base of the movement consisting of liberal Democrats decided not to publicly protest what had then become Obama's war. Most still tell pollsters they oppose the wars, but won't show up as they did when it was Bush's war.
The hard core is still involved, of course, though at fewer continuing weekly vigils and at smaller, less frequent public antiwar meetings and rallies. The anti-imperialist sector of the movement is still fighting, as are many pacifists and antiwar vets from the Afghan, Iraq and previous wars. Historically, the peace movement has its ups and downs.
It will grow again in time, as it has in the past, though 'tis pity if the liberals, et al, wait until a Republican is restored to the White House before showing up to condemn militarist Washington's endless addiction to wars of aggression. This is especially the case now that President Obama has just successfully pressured (see article above) the Baghdad government to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq long past the official withdrawal date at the end of this year, and is now coercing Kabul to do the same after all American troops are allegedly supposed to pull out at the end of 2014.
8. 9/11: HOW IT SEEMED AT THE TIME
[This article is 10 years old. It was printed in the Sept. 15, 2001 (Issue #49), Activist Newsletter, days after 9/11, under the headline "After the World Trade Center." We're reprinting because it reflects the U.S. left/anti-imperialist view of the terror attack while the dust was still settling and much of the peace and progressive movement was in a quandary for weeks, months and sometimes longer about how to interpret what had happened. The Bush Administration began a relentless pro-war propaganda drive within hours of the tragedy, backed by a bipartisan Congress and the corporate mass media, resulting a decade later in the ongoing Bush-Obama wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, western Pakistan, and now bombing and drone attacks in Libya, Yemen and elsewhere. We think the anti-imperialist view has held up consistently throughout these long years and wish it had been embraced immediately by a much larger constituency that may have been able to blunt the drive toward seemingly endless war.]
By the Activist Newsletter
All progressive people grieve for the dead and injured in this week’s terrible terror attacks and sympathize with their families and loved ones. And we all strongly oppose the use of terror methods against innocent civilians anywhere in the world, whether in the form of small-group terrorism experienced in New York City and Washington, or state terrorism against civilians as practiced with appalling frequency in recent years.
At the same time, we totally oppose President Bush’s plans to exploit this moment of national trauma by launching, in his words Sept. 14, “the first war of the 21st century.” On the same day, the Defense Department prepared the American people to accept a massive military retaliation in coming days or weeks against targets not yet revealed. “We will use all our resources,” emphasized Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. “It’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, [and] ending states who sponsor terrorism.” In other words, all-out war against a variety of targets, probably including the blameless — a tragedy that will without question provoke further episodes in the U.S. similar to those of Sept. 11.
In addition to the pain and suffering of the victims and their families, a reprehensible byproduct of this week’s events is the eruption of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hostility in our country, too frequently leading to verbal and physical abuse. We expect that all progressive people will strongly denounce this form of vicious racism. We must stand with our Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters in this moment of travail, just as we stand with innocent civilians victimized in New York and Washington. At this writing, several incidents have taken place where authorities have generated headlines by arresting innocent Arab or Muslim people, then releasing them after hours of grilling. We must also demand an end to such arbitrary arrests.
Although some organizations have canceled their scheduled protest events in Washington later this month because of the World Trade Center catastrophe, the International Action Center — and its newly formed ANSWER Coalition — is not only intent upon demonstrating against the Bush Administration in the nation’s capital Saturday, Sept. 29, as planned, but it has refocused its protest to concentrate on the dangers of massive retaliation and racism. We urge all progressives in the Mid-Hudson region to join this most timely protest. (See information about buses to the Washington demonstration we are organizing from Kingston and New Paltz.)
It was a travesty for the government and media to define the attacks in Washington and New York as “another Pearl Harbor,” in order to convince the American people to support a war. Pearl Harbor symbolizes an attack by a strong imperialist power, supported by an axis of powerful cohorts, with the intention of destroying the U.S. in a world war. This week’s terrorism, despite the loss of thousands of lives, was not an act of war by any rational interpretation of the term. Evidently, George Bush is out to start a war if an enemy can be located. From such a contrived perspective will issue clarion calls to increase our already bloated defense budget, a drumbeat of demands to expand and further project U.S. military prowess, commands to swiftly construct a provocative anti-missile network, myriad justifications for vastly increasing domestic surveillance, and legislative proposals for “anti-terrorist” laws that will significantly compromise our democratic freedoms and civil rights. The result of such maneuvers may well be an endless spiral of terror and counter-terror, abroad and at home.
Tuesday’s deplorable terror attacks did not occur in a political vacuum, despite the mass media’s effort to depict the events as simply the product of Middle Eastern “madmen” with “no regard for human life” driven by fundamentalist religious beliefs to hate the United States. In reality, Washington’s role in the Middle East, which it has dominated since the end of World War II to control the region’s vast petroleum resources, must be carefully examined to determine the roots of our present situation.
The award-winning British journalist and filmmaker John Pilger wrote an article for Znet Sept. 14 that summed up U.S.-Middle East relations. Arguing that the terror attacks took place only after a long history of grievances, he wrote in part: “An estimated 200,000 Iraqis... died during and in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter known as the Gulf War [where the U.S. lost a handful of soldiers]. This was never news that touched public consciousness in the West. At least a million civilians, half of them children, have since died in Iraq [1991-2001] as a result of a medieval embargo imposed by the United States and Britain.
"In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Mujahedeen, which gave birth to the fanatical Taliban, was largely the creation of the CIA [which used them against the USSR]. The terrorist training camps where Osama bin Laden, now ‘America's most wanted man,’ allegedly planned his attacks, were built with American money and backing. In Palestine, the enduring illegal occupation by Israel would have collapsed long ago were it not for U.S. backing. Far from being the terrorists of the world, the Islamic peoples have been its victims.... It is only a few years ago that the Islamic fundamentalist groups, willing to blow themselves up in Israel and New York, were formed, and only after Israel and the U.S. had rejected outright the hope of a Palestinian state, and justice for a people scarred by imperialism."
Commenting in a similar vein, Professor Steve Breyman of New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, wrote Sept. 13 that "The best way to prevent similarly motivated future terrorist attacks on the U.S. is to rapidly reevaluate and strongly modify U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East.... The most urgent, intelligent, economical, and humane measure to prevent terrorism is adoption of a just, fair, and balanced policy toward Israel and Palestine. This has been the right thing to do for many years. It is needed now more than ever."
Another important part of the motivation for the attack stemmed from economic, social and political frustrations that exist throughout much of Asia, Africa and Latin America as a result of Washington’s international policies. The U.S. is the most powerful national security state in history, and dominates the globe militarily (with troops in over 700 foreign bases), economically, politically and, in many places, culturally as well. Its enemies, especially since the implosion of the Soviet Union, are routinely crushed. Is Yugoslavia acting up? Let’s bomb ‘em for 78 days and then fix their elections till they get rid of Milosevic. Is Iraq’s Saddam Hussein acting up? Let’s starve the population and deprive them of medicine, clean drinking water and everything necessary for survival until they kick him out. Almost 1.5 million deaths later, an American secretary of state says, 'it’s worth the price.' Is Cuba remaining socialist? Let’s blockade and subvert them for four decades. Is Nicaragua a problem? Or Guatemala or El Salvador or Grenada or Panama or Chile or Vietnam or Korea or Iran or Angola or, or....
The U.S., together with its subordinate allies from the industrialized nations, are masters of all they survey. But more than 80% of the people of the world are not members of this exclusive club. They are, for the most part, the powerless former colonized peoples whose labor and resources have been exploited for generations by this rich man’s club. In recent years, the globalization of capital — which has created spectacular wealth for the relative few — has desperately impoverished billions of people. And then Washington is shocked, shocked to be informed of manifestations of antagonism toward its humanitarian, democratic presence in the world.
What should progressive people do about the current situation after paying their respects to this week’s victims of terrorism?
It seems to us that every effort must be made to stop the Bush Administration from exacting bloody vengeance in a war or near-war with missile attacks, bombardments and possibly even invasions resulting in widespread casualties. Those responsible for the terror attacks should be tracked down, arrested, tried as criminals, and sentenced — but not used as pretexts for engaging in a violent muscle-flexing catharsis intended to demonstrate the futility of threatening the lion in his lair.
Suicide bombers by definition will not be impressed by massive retaliation; it will in fact be an invitation to try again. It is also important to oppose providing the Pentagon and assorted policing authorities with billions of additional dollars for new weapons systems and the like. And we should be especially vigilant against proposals to exchange democratic rights for enhanced “anti-terrorist” security measures, keeping in mind Benjamin Franklin’s 1759 warning that, “They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Lastly, genuine national security and freedom from terror depend primarily on a reevaluation of America's role in the world; on taking sincere steps to end global poverty and inequality; and on constructing a foreign policy based on generosity, respect and fairness toward all peoples. This won’t happen anytime soon, but it is worth fighting for all the same because it not only would genuinely protect our country against terrorism, but also serve as a splendid humanitarian memorial to the victims of Sept. 11, who will forever remain in our hearts.
9. TEAR DOWN THE FREEDOM TOWER
By Tom Engelhardt
Let’s bag it.
I’m talking about the tenth anniversary ceremonies for 9/11, and everything that goes with them: the solemn reading of the names of the dead, the tolling of bells, the honoring of first responders, the gathering of presidents, the dedication of the new memorial, the moments of silence. The works.
Let’s just can it all. Shut down Ground Zero. Lock out the tourists. Close “Reflecting Absence,” the memorial built in the “footprints” of the former towers with its grove of trees, giant pools, and multiple waterfalls before it can be unveiled this Sunday. Discontinue work on the underground National September 11 Museum due to open in 2012. Tear down the Freedom Tower (redubbed 1 World Trade Center after our “freedom” wars went awry), 102 stories of “the most expensive skyscraper ever constructed in the United States.” (Estimated price tag: $3.3 billion.) Eliminate that still-being-constructed, hubris-filled 1,776 feet of building, planned in the heyday of George W. Bush and soaring into the Manhattan sky like a nyaah-nyaah invitation to future terrorists. Dismantle the other three office towers being built there as part of an $11 billion government-sponsored construction program. Let’s get rid of it all. If we had wanted a memorial to 9/11, it would have been more appropriate to leave one of the giant shards of broken tower there untouched.
Ask yourself this: ten years into the post-9/11 era, haven't we had enough of ourselves? If we have any respect for history or humanity or decency left, isn’t it time to rip the Band-Aid off the wound, to remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness? No more invocations of those attacks to explain otherwise inexplicable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our oh-so-global war on terror. No more invocations of 9/11 to keep the Pentagon and the national security state flooded with money. No more invocations of 9/11 to justify every encroachment on liberty, every new step in the surveillance of Americans, every advance in pat-downs and wand-downs and strip downs that keeps fear high and the homeland security state afloat.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 were in every sense abusive, horrific acts. And the saddest thing is that the victims of those suicidal monstrosities have been misused here ever since under the guise of pious remembrance. This country has become dependent on the dead of 9/11 -- who have no way of defending themselves against how they have been used -- as an all-purpose explanation for our own goodness and the horrors we’ve visited on others, for the many towers-worth of dead in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere whose blood is on our hands.
Isn’t it finally time to go cold turkey? To let go of the dead? Why keep repeating our 9/11 mantra as if it were some kind of old-time religion, when we’ve proven that we, as a nation, can’t handle it -- and worse yet, that we don’t deserve it?
We would have been better off consigning our memories of 9/11 to oblivion, forgetting it all if only we could. We can’t, of course. But we could stop the anniversary remembrances. We could stop invoking 9/11 in every imaginable way so many years later. We could stop using it to make ourselves feel like a far better country than we are. We could, in short, leave the dead in peace and take a good, hard look at ourselves, the living, in the nearest mirror....
To read the full article:
Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute where he is a Fellow. He is the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the "Cold War, The End of Victory Culture."
10. HAMAS AND SOCIAL SERVICES
By The Economist magazine, Sept. 2
BOOK REVIEW:" Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector." By Sara Roy. Princeton University Press; 319 pages; $35.
Few would expect an Islamic charity to offer workshops on sexuality and ways for disabled people to improve their sex lives. But the al-Wafa hospital in Gaza has been providing this service for years, and it is hardly atypical. Many assume that Islamic charities are “merely a guise for promoting terrorism”, writes Sara Roy, a Middle East scholar at Harvard. In her new book about social services in Gaza, based on trips to the strip over the past 15 years, she argues that the reality is more complex.
Palestinians are pragmatic when it comes to social care. Many go from one organization to the next — both Islamic and secular — to scavenge as much support as they can, regardless of politics or ideology. Parents often choose religious schools and hospitals because the services are better there than those provided by secular NGOs or the feeble Palestinian state. Palestinians of all social classes, including the secular and the wealthy, send their children to Islamic schools, just like many agnostic London parents send their children to church schools renowned for their discipline and education.
Some employees of Islamic NGOs sound equally sanguine about the role of religion. One director of an organisation that distributes money, clothing and food to the poor tells Roy that beyond appropriate dress and “respectful behavior” (admittedly a worryingly vague term), he was not concerned with the religious purity of those he served. He is happy to help anyone in need: “if we discriminate we become fanatics.”
The social work that Hamas does has certainly empowered the organization. But Roy argues that this indirect appeal for votes “is very different from mobilizing people into collective action in support of an activist Islamist agenda”. It is not as if Hamas uses its social institutions to launch political or military activities, she adds.
When Roy began conducting research in Gaza 25 years ago, she found little popular support for a political agenda built on Islam. A determined secular streak runs through Palestinian society, she maintains. Rather than Palestinians becoming more Islamist, “Hamas has had to broaden its definition of Islam and ‘Muslimness’ in order to claim and maintain as large a number of adherents as possible.” As a movement that is political at heart, not religious, Hamas has been forced to “de-ideologize” Islam and appeal to more practical needs to ensure its political survival.
But Hamas’s hegemony is now under threat. Gaza’s radical Muslim Salafists accuse the group of political and religious treason, claiming that by engaging in elections and in governing Gaza, Hamas has undermined both its nationalist and Islamic credentials. Desperate to contain the Salafists and remain the sole agent of political and social Islam in Palestine, Hamas “has encouraged, albeit carefully and cautiously, the greater Islamization of Gazan society.” This is done largely through its social arm, by enforcing conservative dress codes in schools, banning alcohol and warning against dating.
Roy strives not to speak for Palestinians, but to let their voices reverberate. One woman tells her, “This is what you must teach others. That we are no different than you.” These are the book’s most powerful moments, and one of its great strengths. Palestinians appear not simply as victims but as ordinary human beings with typical needs and concerns amid extraordinary circumstances. Roy’s work is one of academic scholarship, rigorous and precise, and not designed for the speedy turn of pages. But this is an important book, which challenges lazy views about the Palestinians and highlights how they go about securing basic services.
11. DARE WE QUESTION CAPITALISM?
By the Activist Newsletter
Between 1900 and 2011 there have been 24 recessions in the United States (including the Great Depression), about once every 4.6 years — some decades more, some less — largely from inevitable overproduction and greed.
Yes, capitalism's highly productive and has made many Americans rich and facilitated Washington's global rule. It's also an unstable system responsible for extreme inequality, poverty and stagnant wages at home and aggression abroad to advance U.S. economic interests. And yet, how frequently in the mass media, government or in progressive or liberal circles is the system itself criticized, even given the mess that it is creating today for a majority of Americans?
Until recent years, practically never, but a bit more now. The June 27 issue of The Nation was devoted to articles "Reimagining Capitalism," all about reforming the existing system not replacing it, but a step forward. Also in June, the Dalai Lama told 150 Chinese students studying at the University of Minnesota that "I consider myself a Marxist.... But not a Leninist." The current Time magazine reports "Marxism has been trending high on Google." And the next article below is about a leading economist for a multinational capitalist wealth management firm suggests that those trying to save capitalism should read Marx for insights into the system.
What has made capitalism so sacrosanct in our society? It wasn't always that way. For about 65 years to the start of the Cold War following World War II in 1945 there had been lot of talk about socialism in the U.S. and criticism of capitalism among immigrant and native workers. A number of labor leaders and unions identified as socialist. The great union leader Eugene V. Debs (1855-1920) obtained almost a million write-in votes as the 1920 Socialist Party presidential candidate while in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for having opposed World War I. The Communist Party is said to have had 100,000 members around 1940.
The major factor in the virtual silence today about the shortcomings of capitalism as a system is that five generations of Americans, starting in the late 1800s and accelerating wildly since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, have been trained by their rulers and institutions throughout their entire lives that socialism is an existential danger to the "American way of life" and to democracy and freedom.
This was accompanied by several periods of red hunts, mass jailing, deportations and severe political repression, culminating in 1945-1960 with the purge of socialists and communists from the trade union movement and political witch hunts, the imprisoning of communist leaders, and firings of teachers, writers, actors, directors, and ordinary workers from tens of thousands of jobs. Workers in millions of occupations had to sign loyalty oaths. (As a 15-year-old student, the editor of this newsletter had to sign swear a formal oath of loyalty to the U.S. to obtain a summer job mopping floors at a New York City swimming pool.)
Anti-communism became the watchword throughout America but the actual target always was and remains much wider, including all the many varieties of socialism from Marxism-Leninism to mild democratic socialism, extending even to non-socialist social democracy, and implicitly to everyday progressivism and liberalism when reforms are contemplated.
The word "progressive" practically dropped out of the language in the 1950s for a couple of decades since it was suggested by Cold War liberals as well as run-of-the-mill reactionaries, politicians and bosses that those so designated were "soft on communism." The word "liberal" itself began to disappear for about a decade around the 1990s (remember the "L" word?), mainly because of Republican taunting and right wing name calling.
Both words are back for now, mainly because of the implosion of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. Of course there are small communist and socialist organizations and left publications in the U.S., but criticism of America's laissez-faire form of capitalism or capitalism as a system is considered out of bounds in the rest of our society. If this doesn't change, nothing much is going to change in terms of gross economic inequality and distortions of democracy because anticommunism, in essence, has come to means pro-capitalism-no-questions-asked.
We think Joel Kovel made a good point, at the very end his important 1994 book "Red Hunting in the Promised Land," when he wrote: "The capitalist order, with all its brilliant accomplishments, had not succeeded; it has only won [the Cold War]. There can be no future worthy of human beings unless the existing system is challenged. For this, the overcoming of anticommunism is indispensable."
Americans may live in the richest country in the world, but it is in a society where abouy10% of the population possesses nearly 90% of the nation's assets. In a ountry of 315 million people the entire ruling class can fit comfortably into Yankee Stadium, with room left over to generously pass out free tickets to a whole bunch of poor kids.
Democracy can never fulfill its potential under such circumstances, and the vaunted "American dream" is fast fading as the U.S. economic system seems headed into a second recession while China is preparing years earlier than expected to assume the role of number one economic power. Isn't it time for the American people to directly question what's wrong with capitalism, or at least inquire, in the words of an old saying: "Where are we going and what are we doing in this hand basket?"
12. THE 'SECRET'S' OUT: MARX KNEW!
By the Activist Newsletter
When the senior economic adviser at UBS, the huge Swiss international wealth management and investment bank, writes an article that favorably quotes Karl Marx (1818-1883), and it is circulated by the Bloomberg business and financial news agency, that's an unusual development.
The article by George Magnus, the author of the recent book “Uprising: Will Emerging Markets Shape or Shake the World Economy?” is headlined "Give Karl Marx a Chance to Save the World Economy" and was circulated by the agency Aug. 29. Magnus is particularly influential because in March 2008, while the Bush Administration was insisting that the U.S. economy was doing just fine, he predicted that the sub-prime mortgage crisis would trigger a global recession, which it did several months later.
Noting that "today’s global economy bears some uncanny resemblances to the conditions he [Marx] foresaw," Magnus writes:
"Policy makers struggling to understand the barrage of financial panics, protests and other ills afflicting the world would do well to study the works of a long-dead economist: Karl Marx. The sooner they recognize we’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime crisis of capitalism, the better equipped they will be to manage a way out of it.
"Consider, for example, Marx’s prediction of how the inherent conflict between capital and labor would manifest itself. As he wrote in 'Das Kapital,' companies’ pursuit of profits and productivity would naturally lead them to need fewer and fewer workers, creating an 'industrial reserve army' of the poor and unemployed: 'Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery.'
"The process he describes is visible throughout the developed world, particularly in the U.S. Companies’ efforts to cut costs and avoid hiring have boosted U.S. corporate profits as a share of total economic output to the highest level in more than six decades, while the unemployment rate stands at 9.1% and real wages are stagnant.
"U.S. income inequality, meanwhile, is by some measures close to its highest level since the 1920s. Before 2008, the income disparity was obscured by factors such as easy credit, which allowed poor households to enjoy a more affluent lifestyle. Now the problem is coming home to roost.
"Marx also pointed out the paradox of over-production and under-consumption: The more people are relegated to poverty, the less they will be able to consume all the goods and services companies produce. When one company cuts costs to boost earnings, it’s smart, but when they all do, they undermine the income formation and effective demand on which they rely for revenues and profits.
"This problem, too, is evident in today’s developed world. We have a substantial capacity to produce, but in the middle- and lower-income cohorts, we find widespread financial insecurity and low consumption rates. The result is visible in the U.S., where new housing construction and automobile sales remain about 75% and 30% below their 2006 peaks, respectively.
"As Marx put it in 'Kapital': 'The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses.'"
At that point Magnus devotes the rest of his article to making proposals about how to save the capitalist system.
Many American economists recognize that the great socialist revolutionary philosopher, along with his collaborator Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), possessed an extraordinary comprehension of the inner workings and defects of capitalism and also made major contributions to the science of economics, sociology, the analysis of history, political theory and anthropology, but they are virtually pledged to silence in order to deprive the Marxists of credibility.
By speaking out as he did, Magnus is suggesting that to understand all the ingredients of the present capitalist crisis those charged with saving the system should become familiar with key aspects Marx's analysis and take heed. Of course, those who wish to advance beyond capitalism must do so as well since socialism is the only viable alternative to capitalism.
Overproduction, as Magnus mentions, has been a factor in all U.S. recessions/depressions, and it keeps happening repeatedly despite its terrible toll on average workers. Overproduction during the housing bubble led to shady business practices, such offering temporarily inexpensive mortgage payments to unwitting sub-prime buyers, coupled with the dishonestly of banks in re-selling packaged loans to buyers unaware of their vulnerability. Time magazine reported Sept. 5 that banks, cities, states and the Obama Administration are thinking of bulldozing some of the millions of vacant foreclosed homes in America order to reinvigorate the housing market — this in a country where millions of people live in substandard housing or on the streets.
Marx and Engels have written voluminously about overproduction, the following paragraph from their early efforts is from the Communist Manifesto (1848):
"In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.
"The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented."
13. POST 9/11 CIVIL LIBERTY ABUSES CONTINUE
By the ACLU
A decade after the Sept. 11th attacks, the United States is at risk of enshrining a permanent state of emergency in which the nation's core values are subordinated to ever-expanding claims of national security, the American Civil Liberties Union warns in a new report released Sept. 7.
"A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties Ten Years After 9/11," shows how sacrificing America's values — including justice, individual liberty and the rule of law — ultimately undermines the country's safety. "It is our fundamental values that are the very foundation of our strength and security," the report says.
The report challenges the contention that the U.S. is engaged in a "war on terror" that takes place everywhere and will last forever, and that therefore counterterrorism measures cannot be balanced against any other considerations such as maintaining civil liberties. America has become an international legal outlier in invoking the right to use lethal force and indefinite military detention outside battle zones, the report says, and these policies have hampered the international fight against terrorism by straining relations with allies and handing a propaganda tool to enemies.
Taking on the legacy of the Bush Administration's torture policy, the report warns that the lack of accountability leaves the door open to future abuses. "Our nation's official record of this era will show numerous honors to those who authorized torture — including a Presidential Medal of Freedom — and no recognition for those, like the Abu Ghraib whistleblower, who rejected and exposed it," it notes.
The report details how profiling based on race and religion has become commonplace nationwide, with the results of such approaches showing just how wrong and ineffective those practices are. "Targeting the American Muslim community for counterterrorism investigation is counterproductive because it diverts attention and resources that ought to be spent on individuals and violent groups that actually pose a threat," the report says. "By allowing — and in some cases actively encouraging — the fear of terrorism to divide Americans by religion, race, and belief, our political leaders are fracturing this nation’s greatest strength: its ability to integrate diverse strands into a unified whole on the basis of shared, pluralistic, democratic values."
Concluding with the massive expansion of surveillance since 9/11, the report delves into the many ways the government now spies on Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing, from warrantless wiretapping to cell phone location tracking — but with little to show for it. "The reality is that as governmental surveillance has become easier and less constrained, security agencies are flooded with junk data, generating thousands of false leads that distract from real threats," the report says.
The report points out that many controversial policies have been shrouded in secrecy under the rubric of national security, preventing oversight and examination by the public. "We look to our leaders and our institutions, our courts and our Congress, to guide us towards a better way, and it is now up to the American people to demand that our leaders respond to national security challenges with our values, our unity — and yes, our courage — intact."
— The report is available at http://www.aclu.org/calltocourage
14. PROPAGANDA FROM CHENEY, RUMSFELD
By Amy Goodman
“When one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it,” wrote Joseph Goebbels, Germany’s Reich minister of propaganda, in 1941. Former Vice President Dick Cheney seems to have taken the famous Nazi’s advice in his new book, “In My Time.” Cheney remains staunch in his convictions on issues from the invasion of Iraq to the use of torture. Telling NBC News in an interview that “there are gonna be heads exploding all over Washington” as a result of the revelations in the book, Cheney’s memoir follows one by his colleague and friend Donald Rumsfeld. As each promotes his own version of history, there are people challenging and confronting them.
Rumsfeld’s book title, “Known and Unknown,” is drawn from a notorious response he gave in one of his Pentagon press briefings as secretary of defense. In Feb. 12, 2002, attempting to explain the lack of evidence linking Iraq to weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld said: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Rumsfeld’s cryptic statement gained fame, emblematic of his disdain for reporters. It stands as a symbol of the lies and manipulations that propelled the U.S. into the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq....
In his NBC interview, Cheney claimed to have played a role in the January 2005 resignation of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell’s former chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, called the claim “utter nonsense.” More important, though, is Wilkerson’s unflinching call for accountability for those involved in leading the nation to war in Iraq—including punishment for himself. A central pillar of the invasion of Iraq was Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003, speech before the United Nations, which laid out the case of weapons of mass destruction. Wilkerson, who takes full responsibility for coordinating Powell’s address, told me: “It was probably the biggest mistake of my life. I regret it to this day. I regret not having resigned over it.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights and lawyer/blogger Glenn Greenwald are among those who have long called for criminal prosecution of Cheney, Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials. Said Wilkerson, “I’d be willing to testify, and I’d be willing to take any punishment I’m due.”
Wilkerson says Cheney’s book is “written out of fear, fear that one day someone will ‘Pinochet’ Dick Cheney,” referring to the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested in Britain and held for a year before being released. A Spanish judge had wanted him extradited to be tried for crimes against humanity.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and the casualties mount on all sides, the books by Rumsfeld and Cheney remind us once again of war’s first casualty: truth.
— Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. The website to obtain the program in print, video or radio is http://www.democracynow.org/. Her weekly column is distributed by King Features Syndicate.
15. "GOV. PERRY, EVOLUTION IS A FACT"
[British evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins was asked to comment by the Washington Post on the recent declaration by Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Here's the question Dawkins was asked: "According to a 2009 Gallup study, only 38% of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere 'theory'? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?" Following is an excerpt from his reply Aug. 25.]
By Richard Dawkins
There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office....
A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy.
This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science.... It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.
Darwin’s idea is arguably the most powerful ever to occur to a human mind. The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining. A theory that assumes most of what it is trying to explain is a bad theory. That is why the creationist or ‘intelligent design’ theory is such a rotten theory.
What any theory of life needs to explain is functional complexity. Complexity can be measured as statistical improbability, and living things are statistically improbable in a very particular direction: the direction of functional efficiency. The body of a bird is not just a prodigiously complicated machine, with its trillions of cells — each one in itself a marvel of miniaturized complexity - all conspiring together to make muscle or bone, kidney or brain. Its interlocking parts also conspire to make it good for something — in the case of most birds, good for flying. An aero-engineer is struck dumb with admiration for the bird as flying machine: its feathered flight-surfaces and ailerons sensitively adjusted in real time by the on-board computer which is the brain; the breast muscles, which are the engines, the ligaments, tendons and lightweight bony struts all exactly suited to the task.
And the whole machine is immensely improbable in the sense that, if you randomly shook up the parts over and over again, never in a million years would they fall into the right shape to fly like a swallow, soar like a vulture, or ride the oceanic up-draughts like a wandering albatross. Any theory of life has to explain how the laws of physics can give rise to a complex flying machine like a bird or a bat or a pterosaur, a complex swimming machine like a tarpon or a dolphin, a complex burrowing machine like a mole, a complex climbing machine like a monkey, or a complex thinking machine like a person.
Darwin explained all of this with one brilliantly simple idea — natural selection, driving gradual evolution over immensities of geological time. His is a good theory because of the huge ratio of what it explains (all the complexity of life) divided by what it needs to assume (simply the nonrandom survival of hereditary information through many generations). The rival theory to explain the functional complexity of life — creationism — is about as bad a theory as has ever been proposed. What it postulates (an intelligent designer) is even more complex, even more statistically improbable than what it explains. In fact it is such a bad theory it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory at all, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
The simplicity of Darwin’s idea, then, is a virtue for three reasons. First, and most important, it is the signature of its immense power as a theory, when compared with the mass of disparate facts that it explains — everything about life including our own existence. Second, it makes it easy for children to understand (in addition to the obvious virtue of being true!), which means that it could be taught in the early years of school. And finally, it makes it extremely beautiful, one of the most beautiful ideas anyone ever had as well as arguably the most powerful. To die in ignorance of its elegance, and power to explain our own existence, is a tragic loss, comparable to dying without ever having experienced great music, great literature, or a beautiful sunset....
16. SHAPING A NEW WORLD ORDER
[Former Army colonel and now Boston University Professor Andrew J. Bacevich is a distinguished critic of U.S. militarism and Washington's aggressive foreign policy. Following is an excerpt of a longer op-ed article he wrote Aug. 17 in the Los Angeles Times about the decline of America's standing in the world.]
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Chief among the problems facing the United States today is this: too many obligations piled high without the wherewithal to meet them. Among those obligations are the varied and sundry commitments implied by the phrase "American global leadership." If ever there were an opportune moment for reassessing the assumptions embedded in that phrase, it's now.
With too few Americans taking notice, history has entered a new era. The "unipolar moment" created by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has passed. To refer to the United States today as the world's "sole superpower" makes about as much sense as General Motors bragging that it's the world's No.1 car company: Nostalgia ill-befits an enterprise beset with competitors breathing down its neck. Similarly, to call Barack Obama the "most powerful man in the world" is akin to curtsying before Elizabeth II as "Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and British Dominions beyond the Seas": Although a nice title, it confers little by way of actual authority.
A new global order is rapidly emerging. In that order, the United States will no doubt remain a very important player. Yet alongside the U.S. will be several others: China preeminently among them, but with Russia, India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Brazil also demanding to be reckoned with. (Whether Europe, currently wallowing in disarray, can muster the will and wallet to play in this company qualifies as an unknown.)
Nothing Washington can do will prevent this geopolitical transformation. Politicians may insist that the United States still stands apart — always and forever a "triple-A nation" — but their declarations will have as much effect as King Canute ordering the waves to stop. Indeed, to indulge further in the fiction of American omnipotence — persisting in our penchant for fighting distant wars of dubious purpose, for example — will accelerate the process, with relative decline becoming absolute decline....
17. RECOLLECTIONS OF INJUSTICE
[The formal opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington in late August was the occasion for many personal and political reflections among African Americans in particular. Emily Tynes, the Communications Director for the American Civil Liberties Union, disclosed these thoughts.]
By Emily Tynes
When I was seven, or perhaps eight years old, my mother sent me to the shopping district of my hometown, Newport News, Va., to pick up a few items for my infant brother. He was only a few days old, and my mother was still confined to her bed. The trip was my first solo sojourn out of the “colored” part of town to the white “downtown” community. This may seem like an awesome burden for a young girl, but it was quite normal at the time.
I suppose my mother thought I had learned “the rules” of how to comport myself when leaving the safety of our all-black community. I had not. I boarded the segregated city bus and took the first available seat, which happened to be in the front. The bus driver pointed to the rear and told me to go sit there. That was the moment I realized my mother did not sit on the back of the bus because she preferred to, but because she had no choice.
After this experience the whispered conversations I overheard between by parents and my friends about sit-ins at the F.W. Woolworth five-and-dime, police dogs being let loose on children and a rousing preacher “way down south” named Martin Luther King Jr., made sense to me.
Struggle brings change. Within a year or two, segregated public transportation was ruled unconstitutional in Newport News. Days later, I begged my mother take me on that bus so I could sit in the front. (Well, we cautiously tested the waters by taking a seat near the front.)
Yesterday, a breathtaking and deeply moving monument to “the preacher down in the Deep South” opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Millions who visit it will reflect on the impact Martin Luther King, Jr. had on their lives. From him, I learned that being born black and poor was not the true measure of my worth. I learned that we all have an obligation to root out injustice wherever we find it. For, as Dr. King often said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
18. LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN
[Langston Hughes (1902-67) was one of the leading left-wing African-American poets of the Great Depression era, as this 1935 classic will attest. We think of this poem again during today's Great Recession in allegedly "post-racial" America when contemplating that black unemployment is double that of white, and that black income, assets and living standards are far lower than white. There may be an African American in the White House, but the struggle against racism must continue, as must the quest for genuine equality and democracy against those who, as Hughes puts it, "live like leeches on the people's lives."]
Let America Be America Again
By Langston Hughes (1935)
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
—From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
19. INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
••AMERICAN MEDIA DISREGARDS AFRICA — Africa has a population of 680 million people, but The U.S. corporate mass media largely ignores the entire continent except for the few countries that are considered developed or resource rich, or the North African Arab states where important American geopolitical interests are centered.
In the Horn of Africa, for example, 12 million people are facing a hunger crisis and nearly a half million children are at risk of dying from malnutrition and disease due to a raging famine. But according to Sept. 1 report by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, the mainstream media have devoted just 0.2% of its news coverage to the crisis so far this year. Imagine the coverage were this tragedy to unfold elsewhere in the world.
The ethnic conflict in Sudan and the secession of Southern Sudan from the north has accounted for just 0.1% of coverage this year, as did the civil war in the Ivory Coast and the arrest of President Laurant Gbagbo, the ethnic violence following the 2011 election in Nigeria, and the violence in Somalia by al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab. In general, the good news was ignored as well.
•• EUROPE COUNCIL HITS U.S. RENDITIONS — Europe’s human rights chief made a blistering attack Sept. 1 on the 'counterterrorism' actions of European governments, accusing them of helping the United States commit what he called “countless” crimes in the past 10 years. The Council of Europe’s rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, said the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks was an occasion to analyze whether the official responses have been proper and effective.
“In attempting to combat crimes attributed to terrorists, countless further crimes have been committed in the course of the U.S.-led ‘global war on terror,’ ” he said in a statement. “Many of those crimes have been carefully and deliberately covered up.” The 47-nation Council believes that more than a dozen European nations colluded in the CIA’s rendition program, which involved capturing suspects and sending them to third-party countries for questioning in secret prisons. The council, which was set up to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe, says that in some cases the nations participated by allowing the CIA and other United States government agencies to use their airspace and airports while transporting terrorism suspects. (From Associated Press, Sept. 2.)
20. DOMESTIC NEWS BRIEFS
•• NURSES PROTEST: MAKE WALL ST. PAY — Thousands of nurses and supporters descended on their local Congressional offices nationwide Sept. 1, demanding that Wall Street pay for the economic crisis it created. The 60 protests in 21 states targeted both Democrats and Republicans, with Tea Party rightists Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) singled out for special attention. A blockade outside Cantor’s office forced his staffers to meet with a delegation, a request they had repeatedly refused.
National Nurses United led the demonstrations, the latest leg of the union’s campaign for a “Main Street Contract.” The nurses are calling on politicians to enact the contract in order to stimulate the economy and get people back to work. Its centerpiece is a half-percent federal tax on Wall Street transactions, which the union says could generate up to $350 billion a year. “This is a sales tax on the business Wall Street does,” said NNU co-president Jean Ross. “It would disincentivize the extreme gambling they do.”
•• MORE DEADLY HEAT WAVES — California will be subject to more frequent and more dangerous heat waves that will kill thousands of elderly people each year, according to a new climate-modeling study commissioned by the California Air Resources Board. Another factor is that the state's older population is increasing, allowing more to be affected. As a result of global climate change, researchers using a new, more comprehensive weather-modeling method found that hot spells lasting 10 or more days could rise 10-fold by the 2090s.
Currently, an average of 500 elderly people die from excessive heat each year in the nine major urban areas studied: Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Ana, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. By the 2090s, the death toll within this population group could rise to a range of roughly 4,700 to 8,800, depending on the climate scenario, according to the study. A warmer climate plays a role, but so does the fact that the vulnerable elderly population is expected to continue growing at unprecedented rates. (Environmental News Service, Aug. 28.)
•• NOW BLASTS STRAUSS-KAHN DECISION —The National Organization for Women criticized the verdict by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to drop hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo's charges of sexual assault against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund. In an Aug. 23 statement NOW said: "This miscarriage of justice exhibits all the hallmarks of a society that tolerates sexual violence by blaming and shaming the survivors — but the real shame belongs with the perpetrators and the prosecutors who allow them to walk off scot-free.
"NOW applauds Ms. Diallo for bravely coming forward to tell her story. Despite attempts to bully her into silence, Ms. Diallo did not back down, and she stands as an example to all women that we can, with dignity, demand justice for ourselves — that women who are sexually assaulted need not be 'perfect' in order to be believed.
"The prosecutors, Strauss-Kahn's lawyers and the media all deserve to be condemned for their shameful conduct in this case. Sexist, racist, classist and ethnic stereotypes were all called into play in order to discredit Diallo. These attacks not only helped ensure that Strauss-Kahn would escape criminal prosecution, but they also help foster a climate where women victims of sexual violence fear being re-victimized by law enforcement and the press."
•• BILL MOYERS TO RETURN — According to a report in the New York Times progressive commentator Bill Moyers will be back on the public airwaves next year -- but not on PBS. The new show, Moyers & Company, will be distributed to stations for free by American Public Television. The Times reports that "PBS told Moyers it couldn't find an appropriate timeslot."
The Times adds that the show "will focus on one-on-one interviews with people not often heard on television." Showcasing viewpoints not often heard on commercial media is precisely the point of public broadcasting. But few of the shows distributed by PBS aspire to that goal, as FAIR's numerous studies of public broadcasting have shown. (From FAIR — Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Aug. 23.)