October 23, 2011, Issue #171
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
email@example.com, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. GET A JOB! GET A JOB!
2. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, FOR SOME
3. PLANNED PARENTHOOD: 95 YEARS OF PUBLIC SERVICE
4. AFGHAN WAR REMAINS ENDLESS,
WHILE OBAMA'S IRAQ PLAN FAILS
5. AMERICA'S FOUR LONG IMPERIALIST WARS
6. CLIMATE ACTION RALLIES CIRCLE GLOBE
7. PROTESTS CONDEMN AFGHAN WAR
8. FRED SHUTTLESWORTH: FREEDOM FIGHTER
9. CANADIANS ARRESTED IN TAR SANDS PROTEST
10. INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
11. U.S. CONS POOR WORKERS, FAMILIES
12. CAN CAPITALISM HALT CLIMATE CHANGE?
13. CLIMATE CHANGE DRIVES ANIMAL MIGRATIONS
14. AMNESTY BLASTS CLERGY SEXUAL ABUSE
15. BEWARE OF ATTENDING 'WRONG SCHOOL'
1. GET A JOB! GET A JOB!
By the Activist Newsletter
Some students at the elite Wharton Business School in Philadelphia evidently are unaware that there is massive unemployment in the United States — or perhaps they simply don't care, to the point of derision.
This revelation became clear Oct. 21 when hundreds of "99 Percent" movement participants arrived at the school, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania, after Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) canceled his speech there, apparently to avoid encountering dissidents.
As the protesters entered the Wharton School and chanted about economic justice, a number of students appeared on a balcony above the hall. These students began chanting repeatedly and in unison, "Get a job! Get a job!"
The demonstrators came from groups including Occupy Philly, Americans United for Change, Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Fight for Philly, SEIU PA State Council, Protect Your Care, Keystone Progress, Moveon.org, NCPSSM, Progress Now, and AFSCME
According the reporter Zaid Jilian writing of the incident for Think Progress: "While the students who jeered the protesters certainly do not necessarily represent all Wharton students, it’s important to understand the context of the elite status they likely either come from or graduate into. Wharton graduates much of the nation’s corporate elite, with the median starting salary for an MBA graduate being $145,000 — six times the poverty level for a family of four.
"The school’s Board of Overseers is staffed with multiple Goldman Sachs executives and high-ranking employees of a wide variety of financial firms. Meanwhile, its Graduate Executive Board is staffed with senior employees of Bank of America, Blackstone Financial Management, and PMC Bank. Wharton’s endowment is $888 million, greater than that of many large public universities. Essentially, the students jeering the protesters represented the future financial elite."
Due to the stagnant economy, about 28 million American workers are either jobless or work part time but need full time work. For virtually all of them, getting a job is a constant preoccupation.
2. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, FOR SOME
By the Activist Newsletter
The U.S. economy may be stagnant following the Great Recession, and millions of American families are experiencing hardship, but Forbes magazine reported recently that the total wealth of the nation's richest 400 families — all billionaires — jumped 12% this year. The combined assets of the 400 amount to $1.53 trillion. This nearly equals the GDP of Canada.
According to the annual World Wealth Report from Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, the U.S. had 3.1 million millionaires in 2010, up from 2.86 million in 2009. The latest figure tops the pre-crisis peak of 3 million. About 35,400 Americans have wealth of over $50 million.
The Economic Policy Institute revealed recently that only the richest 5% of the American people are getting much richer. The progressive thinktank reported:
"Wealth is now lower for the typical household than it was a generation ago in 1983, while the wealth at the upper end expanded a great deal.... All of the gains in wealth accrued to the upper fifth, with 40.2% percent of the gains going to the upper 1% and 41.5% going to the next wealthiest 4% of households. This translated to gains of $4.5 million per household in the richest 1%, and a gain of roughly $1.2 million per household in the next richest 4%.
"In other words, the richest 5% of households obtained roughly 82% of all the nation’s gains in wealth between 1983 and 2009. The bottom 60% of households actually had less wealth in 2009 than in 1983, meaning they did not participate at all in the growth of wealth over this period."
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reported Sept. 12 that 2.6 million more Americans became poor last year, meaning 46.2 million people now live below the poverty line in the U.S. This is the highest number in the 52 years that such figures have been published.
The Wall St. Journal wealth blog reported Oct. 19 "that the millionaires and billionaires now control 38.5% of the world’s wealth." According to the latest Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse, the 29.7 million people in the world with household net worths of $1 million (representing less than 1% of the world’s population) control about $89 trillion of the world’s wealth. That’s up from a share of 35.6% in 2010."
At the same time, according to the UN, over 2.5 billion human beings survive on less than $2 a day. Of this number, about 1.4 billion exist in indescribable poverty on less than $1.25 a day.
The wealth of global millionaires grew 29% last year — about twice as fast as the wealth in the world as a whole. The U.S. has been the largest wealth generator over the past 18 months. There are now 84,700 people in the world worth $50 million or more, 29,000 people world-wide worth $100 million or more, and 2,700 worth $500 million or more.
The enormous disparity in wealth and poverty, and the subsequent misery of billions of people, is the direct product of the global capitalist economic system. Yet, to even identify this obvious cause (much less take political action to change the economic structure of society) is rarely mentioned in America lest it invite unpopularity, censure or state repression. This should provide pause to contemplate the limitations of democracy, as well as those of the capitalist system.
The Occupy Wall Street and 99 Percent movements are taking steps that to an extent challenge this system, and we support them, recognizing there's a long struggle ahead that will form and re-form the tactics and strategy of rebellion until victory.
3. PLANNED PARENTHOOD: 95 YEARS OF SERVICE
By the Activist Newsletter
Planned Parenthood reached the grand old age of 95 on Oct. 16 — having survived generations of abuse from backward social elements who either opposed sex education, contraception or the right of women to choose abortion, or all three.
To this day reactionary political elements in Congress, inspired by the votes and financing of the religious right, are still attempting to defund and cripple this crucially important organization, and continue to come too close to attaining their objectives. This is despite the fact that much of Planned Parenthood's services consist of routine health care.
On Oct. 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 358, an extreme anti-choice bill, by vote of 251-172. According to NARAL, "the bill would allow a hospital to refuse a woman life-saving, emergency abortion care even if she will die without it. On top of that, it effectively would ban insurance coverage of abortion in state health-insurance exchanges, denying abortion coverage to millions of women."
As the New York Times put it Oct. 15: "Unable to overturn Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion campaigners have worked in recent years within Congress and state legislatures, many of which have become increasingly conservative, to make gaining access to the procedure as difficult as possible. Around the country, state legislatures from Arizona to Kansas have passed sweeping measures this year intended to make it more onerous for Planned Parenthood clinics to stay open."
So we say "happy birthday and a long life" to Planned Parenthood, and a big thanks to Margaret Sanger (1883-1966) — a true hero of our times — who founded what became Planned Parenthood in 1916. This dedicated woman was jailed eight different times for distributing birth control information and for opening the first clinic for birth control (in Brooklyn).
Throughout these 95 years the strongest opponents of Planned Parenthood and its services remain the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and various fundamentalist Protestant denominations and some other religious sectors, which constitute the movement opposing family planning.
Margaret Sanger minced no words in identifying and castigating the regressive role of religion in attempting to suppress various aspects of birth control for women: "If Christianity turned the clock of general progress back a thousand years," she said, "it turned back the clock two thousand years for women."
— Of the six House members from Hudson Valley Congressional Districts 17 to 22, four opposed anti-choice H.R. 358 and two voted in support. The two are Republican Reps. Nan Hayworth (NY-19 CD) and Christopher Gibson (NY-20 CD).
4. AFGHAN WAR REMAINS ENDLESS,
WHILE OBAMA'S IRAQ PLAN FAILS
By Jack A. Smith, the Activist Newsletter
The 10th anniversary of Washington's invasion, occupation and seemingly endless war in Afghanistan was observed Oct. 7, but despite President Barack Obama's pledge to terminate the U.S. "combat mission" by the end of 2014, American military involvement will continue many years longer.
The Afghan war is expanding even further, not only with increasing drone attacks in neighboring Pakistani territory but because of U.S. threats to take far greater unilateral military action within Pakistan unless the Islamabad government roots out "extremists" and cracks down harder on cross-border fighters.
Washington's tone was so threatening that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to assure the Pakistani press Oct. 21 that the U.S. did not plan a ground offensive against Pakistan. The next day, Afghan President Hamid Karzai shocked Washington by declaring "God forbid, If ever there is a war between Pakistan and America, Afghanistan will side with Pakistan.... If Pakistan is attacked and if the people of Pakistan needs Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”
At the same time, Washington has just suffered a spectacular setback in Iraq, where the Obama Administration has been applying extraordinary pressure on the Baghdad government for over a year to permit many thousands of U.S. troops to remain indefinitely after all American forces are supposed to withdraw at the end of this year.
President Obama received the rejection from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki Oct. 21, and promptly issued a public statement intended to completely conceal the fact that a long-sought U.S. goal has just been obliterated, causing considerable disruption to U.S. plans. Obama made a virtue of necessity by stressing that "Today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year."
This article will first discuss the situation in Afghanistan after 10 years, then take up the Iraq question and what the U.S. may do to compensate for a humiliating and disruptive rebuff.
The United States is well aware it will never win a decisive victory in Afghanistan. At this point, the Obama Administration is anxious to convert the military stalemate into a form of permanent truce, if only the Taliban were willing to accept what amounts to a power sharing deal that would allow Washington to claim the semblance of success.
In addition President Obama seeks to retain a large post-"withdrawal" military presence throughout the country mainly for these reasons:
• To protect its client regime in Kabul led by President Karzai, as well as Washington's other political an commercial interests in the country, and to maintain a menacing military presence on Iran's eastern border, especially if U.S. troops cannot now remain in Iraq.
• To retain territory in Central Asia for U.S. and NATO military forces positioned close to what Washington perceives to be its two main (though never publicly identified) enemies — China and Russia — at a time when the American government is increasing its political pressure on both countries. Obama is intent upon transforming NATO from a regional into a global adjunct to Washington's quest for retaining and extending world hegemony. NATO's recent victory in Libya is a big advance for U.S. ambitions in Africa, even if the bulk of commercial spoils go to France and England. A permanent NATO presence in Central Asia is a logical next step. In essence, Washington's geopolitical focus is spreading from the Middle East to Central Asia and Africa in the quest for resources, military expansion and unassailable hegemony, especially from the political and economic challenge of rising nations of the global south, primarily China.
There has been an element of public deception about withdrawing U.S. "combat troops" from Iraq and Afghanistan dating from the first Obama election campaign in 2007-8. Combat troops belong to combat brigades. In a variant of bait-and-switch trickery, the White House reported that all combat brigades departed Iraq in August 2010. Technically this is true, because those that did not depart were simply renamed "advise and assist brigades." According to a 2009 Army field manual such brigades are entirely capable, "if necessary," of shifting from "security force assistance" back to combat duties.
In Afghanistan, after the theoretical pullout date, it is probable that many "advise and assist brigades" will remain along with a large complement of elite Joint Special Operations Forces strike teams (SEALs, Green Berets, etc.) and other officially "non-combat" units — from the CIA, drone operators, fighter pilots, government security employees plus "contractor security" personnel, including mercenaries. Thousands of other "non-combat" American soldiers will remain to train the Afghan army.
According to an Oct. 8 Associated Press dispatch, "Senior U.S. officials have spoken of keeping a mix of 10,000 such [special operations-type] forces in Afghanistan, and drawing down to between 20,000 and 30,000 conventional forces to provide logistics and support. But at this point, the figures are as fuzzy as the future strategy." Estimates of how long the Pentagon will remain in Afghanistan range from 2017 to 2024 to "indefinitely."
Obama marked the 10th anniversary with a public statement alleging that "Thanks to the extraordinary service of these [military] Americans, our citizens are safer and our nation is more secure"— the most recent of the continuous praise of war-fighters and the conduct of these unnecessary wars from the White House since the 2001 bombing, invasion and occupation.
Just two days earlier a surprising Pew Social Trend poll of post-9/11 veterans was made public casting doubt about such a characterization. Half the vets said the Afghanistan war wasn't worth fighting in terms of benefits and costs to the U.S. Only 44% thought the Iraq war was worth fighting. One-third opined that both wars were not worth waging. Opposition to the wars has been higher among the U.S. civilian population. But it's unusual in a non-conscript army for its veterans to emerge with such views about the wars they volunteered to fight.
The U.S. and its NATO allies issued an unusually optimistic assessment of the Afghan war on Oct. 15, but it immediately drew widespread skepticism. According to the New York Times the next day, "Despite a sharp increase in assassinations and a continuing flood of civilian casualties, NATO officials said that they had reversed the momentum of the Taliban insurgency as enemy attacks were falling for the first time in years.... [This verdict] runs counter to dimmer appraisals from some Afghan officials and other international agencies, including the United Nations. With the United States preparing to withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of this year and 23,000 more by next October, it raises questions about whether NATO’s claims of success can be sustained."
Less than two weeks earlier German Gen. Harald Kujat, who planned his country's military support mission in Afghanistan, declared that "the mission fulfilled the political aim of showing solidarity with the United States. But if you measure progress against the goal of stabilizing a country and a region, then the mission has failed."
According to Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is a critically important "long term commitment" and "we’re going to be there longer than 2014." He made the disclosure to the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 22, a week before he retired. In a statement Oct. 3, the Pentagon's new NATO commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, declared: "The plan is to win. The plan is to be successful. And so, while some folks might hear that we're departing in 2014... we're actually going to be here for a long time."
Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, departing head of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, told the AP Oct. 8: "We’re moving toward an increased special operations role...,whether it’s counterterrorism-centric, or counterterrorism blended with counterinsurgency." White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said in mid-September that by 2014 "the U.S. remaining force will be basically an enduring presence force focused on counterterrorism." Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta strongly supports President Obama's call for an "enduring presence" in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Former U.S. Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired last year for his unflattering remarks about Obama Administration officials, said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations Oct. 6 that after a decade of fighting in Afghanistan the U.S. was only "50% of the way" toward attaining its goals. "We didn’t know enough and we still don’t know enough," he said. "Most of us — me included — had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years."
Washington evidently had no idea that one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world — a society of 30 million people where the literacy rate is 28% and life expectancy is just 44 years — would fiercely fight to retain national sovereignty. The Bush Administration, which launched the Afghan war a few weeks after 9/11, evidently ignored the fact that the people of Afghanistan ousted every occupying army from that of Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn to the British Empire and the USSR.
The U.S. spends on average in excess of $2 billion a week in Afghanistan, not to mention the combined spending of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, but the critical needs of the Afghan people in terms of health, education, welfare and social services after a full decade of military involvement by the world's richest countries remain essentially untended.
For example, 220,000 Afghan children under five — one in five — die every year due to pneumonia, poor nutrition, diarrhea and other preventable diseases, according to the State of the World’s Children report released by the UN Children’s Fund. UNICEF also reports the maternal mortality rate with about 1,600 deaths per every 100,000 live births. Save the Children says this amounts to over 18,000 women a year. It is also reported by the UN that 70% of school-age girls do not attend school for various reasons — conservative parents, lack of security, or fear for their lives. All told, about 92% of the Afghan population does not have access to proper sanitation.
Even after a decade of U.S. combat, the overwhelming majority of the Afghan people still have no clear idea why Washington launched the war. According to the UK's Daily Mail Sept. 9, a new survey by the International Council on Security and Development showed that 92% of 1,000 Afghan men polled had never even heard of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — the U.S. pretext for the invasion — and did not know why foreign troops were in the country. (Only men were queried in the poll because many more of them are literate, 43.1% compared to 12.6% of women.)
In another survey, conducted by Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation and released Oct. 18, 56% of Afghans view U.S./NATO troops as an occupying force, not allies as Washington prefers. The survey results show that "there appears to be an increasing amount of anxiety and fear rather than hope."
Perhaps the most positive news about Afghanistan — and it is a thunderously mixed "blessing" — is that the agricultural economy boomed last year. But, reports the Oct. 11 Business Insider, it's because "rising opium prices have upped the ante in Afghanistan, and farmers have responded by posting a 61% increase in opium production." Afghani farmers produce 90% of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin. Half-hearted U.S.-NATO eradication efforts failed because insufficient attention was devoted to providing economic and agricultural substitutes for the cultivation of opium.
Another outcome of foreign intervention and U.S. training is the boundless brutality and corruption of the Afghan police toward civilians and especially Taliban "suspects." Writing in Antiwar.com John Glaser reported:
"Detainees in Afghan prisons are hung from the ceilings by their wrists, severely beaten with cables and wooden sticks, have their toenails torn off, are treated with electric shock, and even have their genitals twisted until they lose consciousness, according to a study released Oct. 10 by the United Nations. The study, which covered 47 facilities sites in 22 provinces, found 'a compelling pattern and practice of systematic torture and ill-treatment' during interrogation by U.S.-supported Afghan authorities. Both U.S. and NATO military trainers and counterparts have been working closely with these authorities, consistently supervising the detention facilities and funding their operations."
In mid-September Human Rights Watch documented that U.S.-supported anti-Taliban militias are responsible for many human rights abuses that are overlooked by their American overseers. At around the same time the American Open Society Foundations revealed that the Obama Administration has tripled the number of nighttime military raids on civilian homes, which terrorize many families. The report noted that "An estimated 12 to 20 raids now occur per night, resulting in thousands of detentions per year, many of whom are non-combatants." The U.S. military admits that half the arrests are "mistakes."
Meanwhile, it was reported in October that in the first nine months this year U.S.-NATO drones conducted nearly 23,000 surveillance missions in the Afghanistan sky. With nearly 85 flights a day, the Obama Administration has almost doubled the daily amount in the last two years. Hundreds of civilians, including nearly 170 children, have been killed in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas from drone attacks. Miniature killer/surveillance drones — small enough to be carried in backpacks— are soon expected to be distributed to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
So far the Afghanistan war has taken the lives of some 1,730 American troops and about a thousand from NATO. There are no reliable figures on the number Afghan civilians killed since the beginning of the war. The UN's Assistance Mission to Afghanistan did not start to count such casualties until 2007. According to the Voice of America Oct. 7, "Each year, the civilian death toll has risen, from more than 1,500 dead in 2007 to more than 2,700 in 2010. And in the first half of this year, the U.N. office reported there were 2,400 civilians killed in war-related incidents."
At minimum the war has cost American taxpayers about a half-trillion dollars since 2001. The U.S. will continue to spend billions in the country for many years to come and the final cost — including interest on war debts that will be carried for scores more years — will mount to multi-trillions that future generations will have to pay. At present there are 94,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan plus about 37,000 NATO troops. Another 45,000 well paid "contractors" perform military duties, and many are outright mercenaries.
Washington is presently organizing, arming, training and financing hundreds of thousands of Afghan troops and police forces, and is expected to continue paying some $5 billion a year for this purpose at least until 2025.
The U.S. government has articulated various different objectives for its engagement in Afghanistan over the years. Crushing al-Qaeda and defeating the Taliban have been most often mentioned, but as an Oct. 7 article from the Council on Foreign Relations points out: "The main U.S. goals in Afghanistan remain uncertain. They have meandered from marginalizing the Taliban to state-building, to counterinsurgency, to counterterrorism, to — most recently — reconciliation and negotiation with the Taliban. But the peace talks remain nascent and riddled with setbacks. Karzai suspended the talks after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the government's chief negotiator, which the Afghan officials blamed on the Pakistan-based Haqqani network. The group denies it."
There is another incentive for the U.S. to continue fighting in Afghanistan — to eventually convey the impression of victory, a domestic political necessity.
The most compelling reason for the Afghan war is geopolitical, as noted above — finally obtaining a secure military foothold for the U.S. and its NATO accessory in Central Asian backyards of China and Russia. In addition, a presence in Afghanistan places the U.S. in close military proximity to two volatile nuclear powers backed by the U.S. but not completely under its control by any means (Pakistan, India). Also, this fortuitous geography is flanking the extraordinary oil and natural gas wealth of the Caspian Basin and energy-endowed former Soviet Muslim republics such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
In Iraq, the Obama Administration's justification for retaining troops after the end of this year was ostensibly to train the Iraqi military and police forces, but there were other reasons:
• Washington seeks to remain in Iraq to keep an eye on Baghdad because it fears a mutually beneficial alliance may develop between Iraq and neighboring Iran, two Shi'ite societies, weakening American hegemony in the strategically important oil-rich Persian Gulf region and ultimately throughout the Middle East/North Africa.
• The U.S. also seeks to safeguard lucrative economic investments in Iraq, and the huge future profits expected by American corporations, especially in the denationalized petroleum sector. Further, Pentagon and CIA forces were stationed in close proximity to Iran's western border, a strategic position to invade or bring about regime change.
Under other conditions, the U.S. may simply have insisted on retaining its troops regardless of Iraqi misgivings, but the Status of Forces compact governing this matter can only be changed legally by mutual agreement between Washington and Baghdad. The concord was arranged in December 2008 between Prime Minister Maliki and President George W. Bush — not Obama, who now takes credit for ending the Iraq war despite attempting to extend the mission of a large number of U.S. troops.
At first Washington wanted to retain more than 30,000 troops plus a huge diplomatic and contractor presence in Iraq after "complete" withdrawal. Maliki — pushed by many of the country's political factions, including some influenced by Iran's opposition to long-term U.S. occupation — held out for a much smaller number.
Early in October Baghdad decided that 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops in a training-only capacity was the most that could be accommodated. In addition, the Iraqis in effect declared a degree of independence from Washington by insisting that remaining American soldiers must be kept on military bases and not be granted legal immunity when in the larger society. Washington, which has troops stationed in countries throughout the world, routinely insists upon legal exemption for its foreign legions as a matter of imperial hubris, and would not compromise.
The White House has indicated that an arrangement may yet be worked out to permit some American trainers and experts to remain, perhaps as civilians or contractors. Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a staunch opponent of the U.S. occupation, has suggested Iraq should employ trainers for its armed forces from other countries.
Regardless, the White House is increasing the number of State Department employees in Iraq from 8,000 to an almost unbelievable 16,000, mostly stationed at the elephantine new embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone quasi-military enclave, in new American consulates in other cities, and in top "advisory" positions in many of the of the regime's ministries, particularly the oil ministry. Half the State Department personnel, 8,000 people, will handle "security" duties, joined by some 5,000 new private "security contractors."
Thus, at minimum the U.S. will possess 13,000 of its own armed "security" forces, and there's still a possibility Baghdad and Washington will work out an arrangement for adding a limited number of "non-combat" military trainers, openly or by other means.
In his Oct. 21 remarks, Obama sought to transform the total withdrawal he sought to avoid into a simulacrum of triumph for the troops and himself: "The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops.... That is how America's military efforts in Iraq will end."
Heads held high, proud of success — for an unjust, illegal war based on lies that took over a million Iraqi lives and created over 4 million refugees! It has been estimated that the final costs of the Iraq war will be $5 trillion to $7 trillion when the debt and interest are finally paid off decades from now.
If President Obama is reelected— even should the Iraq war actually be over — he will be coordinating U.S. involvement in wars and occupations in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and now Uganda (where American 100 combat troops have just been inserted), plus various expanding drone campaigns, and such adventures as Washington's support for Israel against the Palestinians and for the Egyptian military regime against popular aspirations for full democracy, followed by the backing of dictatorial regimes in a half-dozen countries, and continual threats against Iran.
Washington's $1.4 trillion annual military and national security expenditures are a major factor behind America's monumental national debt and the cutbacks in social services for the people, but aside from White House rhetoric about reducing redundant Pentagon expenditures, overall war/security budgets are expected to increase over the next several years.
The Bush and Obama Administrations have manipulated realty to convince American public opinion that the Iraq and Afghan wars are ending in U.S. successes. Washington fears the resurrection of the "Vietnam Syndrome" that resulted after the April 1975 U.S. defeat in Indochina. The "syndrome" led to a 15-year disinclination by the American people to support aggressive, large-scale U.S. wars against small, poor countries in the developing third world until the January 1991 Gulf War, part one of the two-part Iraq war that continued in March 2003.
According to an article in the Oct. 9 New York Times titled "The Other War Haunting Obama," author, journalist and Harvard emeritus professor Marvin Kalb wrote: "Ten years after the start of the war in Afghanistan, an odd specter haunts the Obama White House — the specter of Vietnam, a war lost decades before. Like Banquo’s ghost, it hovers over the White House still, an unwelcome memory of where America went wrong, a warning of what may yet go wrong."
This fear of losing another war to a much smaller adversary — and perhaps suffering the one-term fate of President Lyndon Johnson who presided over the Vietnam debacle — evidently was a factor behind President Obama's decision to vastly expand the size of the U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan and why the White House is now planning a long-term troop presence beyond the original pullout date.
Today's combat directly touches the lives of only a small minority Americans — militarily members and families — and much of the majority remains uninformed or misinformed about many of the causes and effects of the Iraq/Afghan adventures. Obama may thus eventually be able to convey the illusion of military success, which will help pave the way for future imperial violence unless the people of the United States wise up and act en masse to prevent future aggressive wars.
5. AMERICA'S FOUR LONG IMPERIALIST WARS
By the Activist Newsletter
Among the many factors about the Bush-Obama wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that Washington and the commercial mass media tend to conceal is that that they have lasted far longer than the U.S. prefers to acknowledge, and are among America's four longest imperialist wars.
For instance, the Afghan war is said to be 10 years old but it's actually a 24-year conflict if you count the 14 years of phase one of this two-part involvement — 1978-92 — when the U.S. funded, equipped and trained reactionary mujahedeen and warlord forces that fought against a left wing government in Kabul and its Soviet protectors.
This U.S./Saudi Arabian-financed/Pakistan-backed war resulted in the defeat of the Afghan left regime in 1992, years after Soviet forces withdrew. It also led to the creation of al-Qaeda and in propelling the Taliban to power in 1995, leading to phase two when the Bush Administration invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center instead of relying on international police action to dismantle the small terror network.
In addition to destroying the left regime, the fundamentalist forces and their U.S./Saudi backers also crushed its extensive reforms to end extreme female subjugation in Afghanistan. One of the Bush Administration's justifications for bombing and invading the country in 2001 was to "liberate" Afghan women from male domination — but 10 years later the situation remains dreadful.
The concurrent Iraq war is considered to be eight years and seven months old but has been going on for almost 21 years. It began when the U.S. launched the Persian Gulf war in January 1991 to punish Iraqi President Saddam Hussain for invading Kuwait, a tiny, neighboring oil-rich monarchy. Kuwait was part of Iraq's Basra province until it after World War I when British imperialism turned it into a colony, now independent. Iraq never accepted the colonial maneuver, and in 2000 tried to get it back — a disastrous move based on Hussain's belief that Washington, which supported his earlier war against Iran, would at ignore Baghdad's Kuwait adventure.
The Gulf War lasted only 42 days, during which the U.S. Air Force conducted 110,000 bombing and strafing attacks. The bombers destroyed most of Iraq's civilian infrastructure — from water, electrical and gas lines, to housing, factories, schools, and hospitals. About 125,000 Iraqi troops and 100,000 civilians were killed. U.S. forces suffered 113 soldiers killed in action, plus 35 from "friendly fire."
But the war didn't end with Iraq's defeat. The U.S. and Britain enforced killer sanctions and a no-fly zone, backed up with frequent bombings, for over a dozen years until sanctions ended with the Bush Administration invasion of March 19, 2003. According to the UN over a million Iraqi's died from 1991 to 2003 — half of them young children — from hunger, disease and exposure due to the sanctions.
At least another million Iraqi's died as a result of the invasion and occupation from March 2003 to today, and over four million are refugees in Iraq or nearby countries, out of a population of 25 million. Washington to this day depicts the Iraqi people as pleased and even happy that the U.S. invaded and rid the country of President Hussein — after a 21-year toll of two million dead and terrible destruction.
Officially, the Vietnam war lasted almost nine years (1964-1973), but it continued for 21 years (1954-1975). The U.S. supported the restoration of French colonial control of Vietnam and all of Indochina after the defeat of Japanese imperialism in 1945 that had earlier displaced French rule. By 1954, Washington officially acknowledged there were 352 Americans in Vietnam in the Military Assistance Advisory group supporting the French against liberation forces led by the Vietnamese Communist Party. The liberators defeated the French army at the historic battle of Dien Bien Phu that same year. When Paris withdraw all remaining French troops in April 1956, according to John Prados in "Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable war, 1945-1975" (2009), "their departure made America South Vietnam's big brother," i.e., overlord and military protector against the popular forces in the U.S-dominated southern half of the country.
By June 1962, 9,700 U.S. "military advisers" plus a large number of CIA agents were training and fighting to support the corrupt U.S.-backed right wing South Vietnamese government, at which time President Kennedy's Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, announced that "every quantitative measure shows that we're wining the war." By April 1969, when the number of U.S. troops attained their apogee — 543,482 — Washington was obviously losing. American troops pulled out in 1973 — the alternative was crushing defeat and political catastrophe — although the CIA and military personnel remained in U.S.-South Vietnamese territory assisting the conservative government in Saigon until April 1975 when the entire country was liberated. The U.S. lost 58,000 soldiers. Millions of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers were killed.
American history books suggest the U.S. aggressive war against the Philippines (that is, the Philippine War of Independence from Spain and ultimately from the clutches of racist, imperial America) lasted three years (1899-1902) but it actually took Washington 14 years to smash the impendence movement and colonize the region, at a cost of a million Filipino lives. Washington "granted" independence to the Philippines after World War II. Thanks to the U.S. government/mass media miseducation system, most Americans today have no knowledge of this entire incident, any more than they truly comprehend most of Washington's imperialist wars, from the attack on Mexico in 1848 and resulting land-grab to the 2011 U.S./NATO war for regime change in Libya.
There are many paradoxes to America's 24-year engagement in Afghanistan aside from it having given rise to al-Qaeda and what ultimately metamorphosed into the self-defeating folly known as the Bush-Obama "war on terrorism." Perhaps the most interesting irony stemmed from President Jimmy Carter's decision to support the fundamentalist forces in the late 1970s after the left government in Kabul began implementing progressive reforms. The purpose of the secret U.S. support was to induce Moscow to send in troops to protect its neighboring friendly government.
Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, finally acknowledged Washington's deed 20 years later in a 1998 interview in the French periodical Le Nouvel Observateur. Questioned about Washington’s intervention. He declared:
"According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahidin [the collective name of the Muslim fighters] began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan.... But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 [nearly six months before the Soviet intervention], that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. On that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention....We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would."
Asked if he had any regrets about denying Moscow’s assertion that it had intervened to save the Kabul government against a U.S.-sponsored war, the former national security adviser responded: "Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap — and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: Now we have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war."
Had Washington not supported the fundamentalist forces for decades, the Kabul government may have been able to hold its own without requesting Soviet intervention. This could have meant no eventual Taliban takeover, and perhaps no al-Qaeda and no 9/11.
6. CLIMATE ACTION RALLIES CIRCLE GLOBE
By Environmental News Service
More than 2,000 "Moving Planet" clean-energy demonstrations took place today around the world last month — in all 50 U.S. states and in 175 countries.
"The planet has been stuck for too long with governments doing nothing about the biggest problem we've ever faced," said Bill McKibben, founder of the nonprofit 350.org, the international climate campaign coordinating the Sept. 24 demonstrations.
The campaign is named after the safe upper concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. Right now, the atmosphere contains 392 ppm of the greenhouse gas.
"This is the day when people will get the Earth moving, rolling towards the solutions we need," McKibben said.
In the United States, there are more than 700 events in all 50 states. Highlights include a 2,000 person bike ride from Boulder to Denver, Colorado; a 5,000 person rally in Seattle with Mayor Mike McGinn; a massive bicycle parade in San Francisco; and a rally at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
At the UN rally, speakers included Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan of the Maldives, a Pacific island nation at risk of becoming uninhabitable due to coastal erosion and sea level rise. Also on the podium at the UN's Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, Laura Flanders of GritTV, and a delegation of indigenous leaders from across the United States.
In Boston, 3,000 people marched and rally at Columbus Waterfront Park.
In Chicago, 500 people protested at a coal plant in Downtown Chicago with Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, who said: "Moving Planet, is a global expression of unity, urgency and purpose to show political and business leaders they need to move from rhetoric to action. Today, we're beginning to move in the right direction."
In Colorado, some 3,000 cyclists rode their bikes from Boulder to Denver, protesting coal plants along the way.
In Minneapolis, 2,000 people rode their bikes to Minneapolis State Capitol to call for clean-energy legislation.
In San Francisco, 5,000 people took to the streets to ride bikes and march to City Hall to hear from McKibben and from Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune.
"People in record numbers are waking up to the fact that since too few of our elected leaders in Congress are actually leading, we're going to have to," McKibben said. "The truth is, we've got lots of work to do to solve the climate crisis: big polluters are doing everything in their power to delay real climate action, and they are spending huge amounts of money to distort the truth and block progress. But this weekend's events can show the world that a vibrant movement is coming to life - and that people everywhere are ready to do whatever it takes to move the world beyond fossil fuels."
International events included a march through downtown Cairo, Egypt; a 500 person cycle rally in Delhi, India; the formation of a giant, human bicycle in London, and on the Pacific island of Tuvalu disaster drills and swimming lessons.
From Sydney, Australia, Blair Palese tweets, "More than 200 on Bondi Beach in Sydney flying kites that said "Yes Price Pollution!" As the nation waits for a Parliamentary vote on an emissions trading scheme, 43 events around Australia showed large-scale public support for action!"
Photos from the day's events were displayed on a giant screen outside the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, reminding leaders the world expects progress at climate negotiations in South Africa this November-December and the Rio+20 Earth Summit next June.
— To view some extraordinary photos from Sept. 24, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/350org/sets/72157627713917562/detail/. They give a real sense of the breadth of this movement.
7. PROTESTS CONDEMN AFGHAN WAR
By the Activist Newsletter
Demonstrations, "die-ins," marches and occupations took place across the U.S. Oct. 7 and 8 marking the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan war. Occupy Wall St. contingents participated in a number of the actions. The ANSWER Coalition initiated many of the events. Here are six brief reports:
In SAN FRANCISCO, 800 protesters gathered in a spirited opening rally at the Federal Building featuring speakers from several groups including Chito Cuellar, head of the Hotel Division of UNITE HERE! Local 2, and Steve Patt, National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. Demonstrators took to the streets with such chants as "Occupation is a crime from Iraq to Palestine! " and "Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation! " At Powell and Market Sts., protesters engaged in a "die-in" symbolizing the human cost of this needless war.
The march continued to the Grand Hyatt in solidarity with the picketing hotel workers who have been struggling for a contract, chanting, "We’re gonna boycott! We’re gonna shut it down! San Francisco is a union town! " A rally followed, then the marchers headed to the Financial District for a final rally that drew nearly 2,000 people, according to ANSWER organizers.
In WASHINGTON, D.C., Saturday, Oct. 8, a series of marches protested war and militarism through tourist-filled downtown areas. The nation's capital is the venue of the Stop the Machine coalition, which began a long-term occupation of Freedom Plaza Oct 6, and the Occupy DC encampment at McPherson Sq. Both groups participated in the demonstrations.
The largest march began at McPherson Sq., that included participants from the occupation the Wisconsin state capitol building earlier this year, and members of the antiwar veterans group March Forward!, among others, who hiked to Freedom Plaza to pick up other protesters.
The march of about 2,000 passed through a busy downtown to positive receptions from workers and tourists on its way to the National Air and Space Museum. They had planned to enter the museum to protest an exhibit about the unmanned aerial drone attack vehicles that currently terrorize the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.
Upon reaching the museum, security guards attacked the front of the march with pepper spray. This led to an impromptu occupation of the museum entrance, which forced its closure for two hours. A second march of combined Stop the Machine and Occupy DC members took a circular route to a brief really outside the White House in order to pass through busy neighborhoods, where they received further encouraging responses.
Albuquerque, Oct. 8: Over 300 protesters gathered in front of the University of New Mexico bookstore in Albuquerque for a march and rally to protest the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, and to demand an end to corporate greed and corruption. The protest was called by the Albuquerque Coalition Against the Wars, which included ANSWER, Stop the War Machine and Vets for Peace. The militant demonstration was also supported and attended by scores of participants of Occupy Albuquerque, part of the national movement.
Chicago, Oct. 8: Occupy Chicago protesters joined a mass march on the 10th anniversary of the Afghan war. In total, 2,000 people participated in a day of opposition to Wall Street’s wars. Among the popular chants were "People over Profits, Troops Out Now!" and "How Do We Get Our Jobs Back: Tax, Tax, Tax the Rich! " The march was popular with onlookers, especially on State St., a working-class shopping area. When marchers starting chanting "Off the sidewalk and into the streets, " more than a few people joined the march.
Los Angeles, Oct. 7: Some 400 people gathered to condemn the Afghan war, organized by the ANSWER Coalition. The crowd was multinational and young with some members of Occupy LA joining the action, connecting the wars abroad to Wall Street profits at home. Speakers included Jim Lafferty, director of the National Lawyers Guild, and Blase Bonpane from the Office of the Americas. Protesters held a "die-in" at the peak of the demonstration to symbolize the massive loss of life in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Syracuse, N.Y., Oct. 8: Over 100 people here solidarity with the local Occupy Wall Street movement calling for an end to economic inequality, corporate greed and U.S. occupations overseas. The protesters, including a ANSWER contingent, marched through downtown, passing towering bank buildings and boarded-up businesses. The group loudly proclaimed, "We are the 99 percent, " as many passing cars honked in support. The march ended with a rally at the Occupy Syracuse encampment at Perseverance Park.
8. FRED SHUTTLESWORTH: FREEDOM FIGHTER
By Eugene Puryear, Liberation News
Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, stalwart civil rights movement leader, died Oct. 5 at the age of 89. Shuttlesworth rose to prominence by continuing civil rights activity in Alabama following the 1956 banning of the NAACP by state officials.
Present at virtually every major event in Alabama civil rights history of the 1950s and 1960s, Shuttlesworth gained broad respect for his willingness to brave the gravest of consequences with no regard to his own life. Most noted for his role in Birmingham’s 1963 "Children’s Crusade," Shuttlesworth was an important supporter of the Freedom Rides. He also accompanied Autherine Lucy as she enrolled as the first Black student at the University of Alabama in 1956.
A two-time victim of bombings and numerous beatings, Shuttlesworth once survived a bomb attack in which six sticks of dynamite were used. When he attempted to enroll his daughters at an all-white school, he was beaten multiple times with chains and brass knuckles, and by his own account was "almost at death’s door. " On the militant, aggressive edge of the non-violent section of the movement, Rev. Shuttlesworth sought to inspire bold action, which also gave him a reputation as a sometime abrasive ally.
Rev. Shuttlesworth was born in the Alabama backwoods in 1922 to a family that made a living sharecropping and bootlegging. In 1940, he was convicted of running a still and received two years probation. Throughout the 1940s, he moved around the state working as a truck driver and cement worker. Towards the end of the decade, he settled into full-time preaching, got married and built his own home out of scrap. By 1953, Shuttlesworth was pastor at Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist church, and an active member of the state’s NAACP.
In 1956, however, the NAACP was effectively banned in Alabama and wound down operations. Already frustrated by organizational obstacles in the NAACP, Shuttlesworth seized the opportunity to fill the void in Alabama with a new civil rights organization, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Later in the decade, he was central to the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Stressing the need for mass action, Shuttlesworth fearlessly engaged in actions of small groups and sometimes of just himself, looking to inspire others..
Shuttlesworth was often at odds with the urban Black elites who had made their own accommodation with Jim Crow. He and other civil rights leaders devoted to mass action to smash segregation had to look to the broad mass of working-class and poor Blacks and grade-school youth, buoyed by college crusaders. The domestic workers, the sharecroppers and the high school students who filled jails — these were the backbone of the Alabama struggle in the early 1960s.
Shuttlesworth’s centrality to the Birmingham movement made him a crucial ally of the Freedom Riders in 1961. The Freedom Rides electrified the nation as groups of students braved threats and violence to test court rulings on desegregation in interstate travel. On Mothers Day, May 14, the Freedom Riders arrived in Birmingham. For weeks prior, Shuttlesworth had warned of a Klan ambush, the threat of which was an open secret in the city.
Birmingham was known at that time as a seat of Jim Crow terrorism, with one of the South’s most vicious law enforcement officials, Eugene "Bull" Connor. Connor had begun his career breaking strikes and hounding communists in 1930s Birmingham, and was a zealous opponent of civil rights activity. Connor and the Klan were determined to stop the Freedom Rides in Birmingham, so Connor promised the KKK 15 minutes of complete freedom to attack the Freedom Riders in the bus terminal.
Once the melee began, Shuttlesworth’s home became an impromptu mobilization center that people at the bus station called for help; it was where reinforcements were dispatched and where protesters who escaped the violence sought shelter. Organizers from Shuttlesworth’s ACMHR rescued Freedom Riders trapped in and near the bus terminal. Shuttlesworth went on helping coordinate logistics with student leaders in Nashville as well as getting arrested himself in a struggle that kept the Freedom Rides going.
Shuttlesworth is most associated with his role in the events around the "Children’s Crusade" of 1963. With his developed network in the city, Shuttlesworth joined with Martin Luther King Jr. to turn Birmingham into a watershed moment for the movement. In his words, "We were trying to launch a systematic, wholehearted battle against segregation, which would set the pace for the nation. "
However, the movement was slow to pick up momentum, with almost uniform opposition from the urban Black elites, optimistic that the triumph of white liberals in recent elections would usher in an era of slow and steady desegregation. Students from elementary to high school, not content to wait and skeptical of promises from politicians, became increasingly involved in the movement. They filled jails to their capacity and scandalized the world as pictures of dogs and fire hoses being unleashed on children filtered out through the media.
While leading one protest, Shuttlesworth was hit in the chest and taken away in an ambulance. Upon hearing that news, Bull Connor publicly remarked that he wished Shuttlesworth had been taken away in a hearse. It was Connor, however, who was carted off as the Birmingham movement broke down the wall of segregation and electrified the civil rights movement, injecting the issue into the center of the nation's consciousness.
Rev. Shuttlesworth remained involved in civil rights issues, including a failed attempt at reinvigorating the SCLC, basing himself out of Cincinnati. Unfortunately, in 2004 he lent his name to an effort to block a gay rights ordinance. He died in Birmingham, where he had relocated following a stroke in 2008, leaving behind a legacy with much to admire and emulate.
9. CANADIANS ARRESTED IN TAR SANDS PROTEST
By the Activist Newsletter
OTTAWA — About 200 people were arrested at Parliament Hill Sept. 26 as they attempted to stage a sit-in in the House of Commons to protest drilling for "dirty" oil in tar sands.
Protestors were blocked from entering by fenced barricades and over 50 RCMP officers.
Most were released with a trespassing violation. It was the largest climate-related civil disobedience action in Canadian history. It took place as hundreds of supporters participated in a solidarity rally that continued throughout the day.
The action was a follow up to two-weeks of protests outside the White House that resulted in the arrest of 1,252 people in late August/early September.
"Today’s protest was a turning point when people in Canada from coast to coast to coast stood together against the tar sands and for a clean energy future that promotes climate justice," said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada who was arrested on the Hill.
"The movement against the tar sands and [conservative Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s reckless agenda will continue to grow as long as our government ignores its responsibilities to protect our environment and our communities and continues to be the mouthpiece for the destructive tar sands industry."
"The action on parliament hill was a true blue and green event, " said Maude Barlow with the Council of Canadians. "Today, labor, environmental and Indigenous leaders stood together to push this government to turn away from the tar sands and towards a green energy future."
Those arrested included Barlow, David Coles (Energy and Paperworkers Union), Tony Clarke (Polaris Institute), Keith Stewart (Greenpeace) and George Poitras (former Chief of the Mikisew Cree).
"What we saw today is that concern about the impact the tar sands is having on land, air, water and communities spans generations, cultures and social backgrounds," said Clayton Thomas Mueller with the Indigenous Environmental Network. "Native communities should not be sacrifice zones. The people of Fort Chipewyan deserve justice and we deserve a future that prioritizes the health of our environment and all our communities."
The principal point of the rally and civil disobedience was to urge Harper to turn away from a destructive tar sands industry and start building a green energy future that promotes climate justice, respects Indigenous rights and prioritizes the health of the environment and communities.
Harper's Conservative Party government lashed out at the demonstrators and critics of its environment record as "extremists who want to kill Canadian jobs."
If approved this year by the Obama administration — and it appears to be headed in that direction — the multi-billion dollar Keystone XL project, proposed by Alberta-based TransCanada, would provide a new 1,860 mile route for about 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta's tar stands to 15 refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
The province of Alberta and Canadian government officials have touted the project for its economic benefits, including thousands of new jobs in both countries, but environmental groups have turned the project into a debate over expansion in the tar sands sector — which requires large amounts of water, land and energy to extract synthetic oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan's northern bitumen deposits.
—Information from Council of Canadians, Montreal Gazette, other sources.
10. INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
By the Activist Newsletter
•• MORE U.S. WEAPONS FOR DICTATORSHIP — The Obama Administration has finalized the sale of $53 million worth of weapons and military equipment to the dictatorship in Bahrain, despite months of widespread human rights abuses against peaceful protesters, it was reported Oct. 18. The package includes armored vehicles, high-tech TOW and bunker buster missiles, anti-tank rocket launchers, and tens of millions of dollars of spare parts and military communications equipment.
The Pentagon has long cut deals with Bahrain in weaponry, recently sending dozens of American tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships, thousands of .38 caliber pistols and millions of rounds of ammunition, from .50 caliber rounds used in sniper rifles and machine guns to bullets for handguns.
The Sunni monarchy in Bahrain has committed serious crimes against the majority Shi'ite population , including harsh violence on demonstrating civilians, mass detentions, torturing prisoners, targeting medical professionals for treating injured protesters, cracking down on freedom of the press, and more. Washington has supplied the dictatorship with over $92 million in aid since President Obama took office, with another $26.2 million slated for next year. (Information from Antiwar.com.)
•• AMERICAN TROOPS IN UGANDA — President Obama announced Oct. 14 he is sending about 100 U.S. combat troops to Africa to hunt down and fight the leaders of the Christian rebel militant group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in and around Uganda. He said the troops would "provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony [head of the LRA] from the battlefield.”
The president aside “I believe that deploying these U.S. armed forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa,” He did not explain why a rebel group in Uganda is a concern for U.S. national security.
Obama’s claim that the LRA is a legitimate national security concern is presumably supposed to simply be accepted without any evidence or explanation; truth by presidential decree. But it is also notable how quickly and easily, in disregard for the Constitutional requirements, the President can send American troops to far off places without Congressional approval. (From Antiwar.com.)
•• GUERRILLA ATTACK IN COLOMBIA — The leftist Colombian guerrilla organization FARC attacked a government military unit Oct. 21, killing 10 soldiers and wounding six near the Pacific port of Tumaco. According to AP, "Despite major security gains against rebels over the past decade, they retain the ability to mount hit-and-run attacks, in large part due to Colombia’s rugged mountains and thick jungles.... Several hundred security force members are killed annually" in the decades-long struggle waged by FARC, which stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
•• SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTE EASES — China and Vietnam have signed an agreement to manage a sometimes bitter dispute over the South China Sea. The deal outlines a series of measures, including a hotline to deal with emergencies and a provision for authorities from both countries to meet twice a year.
This agreement comes after months of tension over who has sovereignty over this contentious body of water. Ships from the two counties clashed a few months ago - and there were anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi.
The South China Sea potentially holds vast oil and gas reserves, and is an important shipping route. Any final agreement on maritime borders should be based on international law, the deal says - and be acceptable to both sides. (From BBC, Oct. 12.)
•• ARTCIC ICE IS MELTING FAST— There is probably less ice floating on the Arctic Ocean now than at any time since a particularly warm period 8,000 years ago, soon after the last ice age. The underlying cause is believed by all but a handful of climatologists to be global warming brought about by greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet the rate the ice is vanishing confounds these climatologists’ models. These predict that if the level of carbon dioxide, methane and so on in the atmosphere continues to rise, then the Arctic Ocean will be free of floating summer ice by the end of the century. At current rates of shrinkage, by contrast, this looks likely to happen some time between 2020 and 2050. (From The Economist, Sept. 23.)
11. U.S. CONS POOR WORKERS, FAMILIES
By the Activist Newsletter
Washington's methods of measuring both the minimum wage and the poverty line are way out of date in each case, to the detriment of tens of millions of American workers and poor families.
"The current value of the minimum wage is well below its historic peak in the late 1960s," according to the Economic Policy Institute on the basis of the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage since 1960: "When adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage was worth $8.54 per hour in 1968, compared to the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. (New York State's minimum wage is more than 21% below its peak value in 1970, which was $9.23 in today’s dollars.) Based on a typical, 2,000-hour work year, the 1968 inflation-adjusted minimum wage would equate to an annual salary of $17,080 per year, versus $14,500 for today’s minimum wage."
In reality the minimum wage is woefully substandard, and 67% of the American people — according to Public Religion Research Institute's respected American Values Survey last November — support an increase to $10 an hour. But an increase won't happen anytime soon, even though it would act as a substantial stimulus to the depressed U.S. economy. It took over 10 years achieve the last boost to $7.25. Many congressional Republicans oppose any increase and some such as the Tea Party's Rep. Michele Bachmann and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, both of whom seek the GOP presidential nomination, want to abolish the minimum wage altogether.
Washington probably skews poverty statistics even more than the minimum. Here's how it's done, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), a leading public policy center dedicated to promoting the well-being of low-income families and children:
"According to the federal poverty guidelines, the poverty level is $22,050 for a family of four, $18,310 for a family of three, $14,570 for two and $10,830 for one. The poverty guidelines are used to determine eligibility for public programs.
"The current poverty measure was established in the 1960s and is now widely acknowledged to be outdated. It was based on research indicating that families spent about one-third of their incomes on food — the official poverty level was set by multiplying food costs by three. Since then, the same figures have been updated annually for inflation but have otherwise remained unchanged.
"Yet food now comprises only one-seventh of an average family’s expenses, while the costs of housing, child care, health care, and transportation have grown disproportionately. Most analysts agree that today’s poverty thresholds are too low. And although there is no consensus about what constitutes a minimum but decent standard of living in the U.S., research consistently shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice the federal poverty level to meet their most basic needs.
"Failure to update the federal poverty level for changes in the cost of living means that people who are considered poor today by the official standard are worse off relative to everyone else than people considered poor when the poverty measure was established. The current federal poverty measure equals about 29% of median household income, whereas in the 1960s, the poverty level was nearly 50% of the median.
"The European Union and most advanced industrialized countries measure poverty quite differently from the U.S. Rather than setting minimum income thresholds below which individuals and families are considered to be poor, other countries measure economic disadvantage relative to the citizenry as a whole, for example, having income below 50%."
12. CAN CAPITALISM HALT CLIMATE CHANGE?
[John Bellamy Foster, the author of several important books and numerous articles on ecology and the editor of Monthly Review magazine, was interviewed recently by Peter Boyle for Australia's Green Left Weekly newspaper about the impact of the global financial crisis on capitalism’s response to climate change. Here are excerpts from his reply. See links below for his writings.]
By John Bellamy Foster
The global financial crisis has now turned into a global stagnation that is affecting the economies of the triad (the United States, Europe and Japan) and much of the rest of the world. Under these circumstances, the capitalist system is unlikely to respond to climate change at all. As in every economic crisis, there will be a tendency toward increased environmental deregulation, not environmental regulation.
The only good news from an environmental standpoint is that the slowdown in economic growth diminishes the rate of impact on the environment. Nevertheless, to the extent that public attention is diverted from climate change as an issue, necessary actions are not taken while the overall problem gets worse.
The truth is that the capitalist system is unable to respond to climate change: either in periods of prosperity or stagnation, and in the latter case everything but the latest stock quotes and profit figures recede into the background.
The deficit reduction drive [in the U.S.] will pull the economy down further. At the same time it means that the state cannot be a force for carrying out the kinds of changes that would help the environment.
For example, the budget deal reportedly slashed $1.5 billion dollars from Obama’s high speed train project (designed to reduce dependence on cars). Since this was the only really important positive climate change measure that the Obama Administration put through the slashing of it is quite symbolic....
In terms of the wider population in the United States, I would say that the primary issue in the country is jobs, and climate change is a political non-issue, so that while [climate] denialism is considered a political asset on the right, liberals see no percentages in pursuing the matter and are inclined to downplay it, except when directly addressing environmentalist audiences.
The Obama administration of course has no policy at all to speak of with respect to climate change and now seldom mentions it at all. More important for Obama is expanding energy sources: oil from deep sea drilling, coal, nuclear, shale oil, etc, as a means of leveraging economic growth, and, more immediately, gaining corporate backing.
In other words, the situation in the United States seems to confirm that there is no hope to be found at present anywhere in the system where climate change is concerned.
Environmentally, the entire planet is threatened on an ever increasing scale, while planetary systems have proven themselves to be vulnerable in ways that we previously failed to appreciate. At one time, we could afford to ignore what humanity could do to the Earth in a mere 12 months. Those days are now gone. Changes that previously defined geological history are now occurring on the level of decades.
The further we go down the path of "business as usual" the greater the social and ecological revolution we will need to pull the planet out of this impending disaster.
— Of Foster's multitude of writings on the question of capitalism and ecology, we found his two recent books the most useful: "The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet" and the just published "What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism." Information at http://monthlyreview.org/press/.
13. CLIMATE CHANGE DRIVES ANIMAL MIGRATIONS
By the Activist Newsletter from various sources
Global warming is causing animals and plants to migrate further up mountains and away from the equator in attempts to avoid the higher temperatures associated with climate change, scientists have found in an exhaustive survey of nearly 1,400 species.
Commenting editorially on the survey Sept. 27, the New York Times declared: "A rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is tragically unlikely. We are holding the future of every species on this planet — including ourselves — hostage."
The rate of movement is on average up to three times faster than previously expected for species migrating towards the poles and about twice as fast for organisms that are migrating further up the sides of mountains, according to I-Ching Chen, a researcher at Taiwan's Academia Sinica and the study's lead author.
A major review of the distribution of animals and plants, published in the journal Science in mid-August, found wide variations between individual species but taken as a group there appears to be unequivocal evidence that climate change is the cause of the mass movement, said Professor Chris Thomas of the University of York.
"Species of animals and plants have been moving their distributions away from the equator and towards the poles much faster than previously realized, he said. "In fact species are moving northward in the northern hemisphere and southward in the southern hemisphere on average at a rate of about 11 miles per decade.... This has been going on for the last 40 years and is set to continue for at least the rest of the century.
"It's just a phenomenal rate of movement of the whole of biological life away from the equator towards the poles. How do we know it's related to climate change? Well partly because there is no other reasonable explanation for why everything should be moving to higher elevations and to higher latitudes, but also because we find the rate of movement is greater in the regions that have experienced the most warming," Professor Thomas explained.
The migration isn't universal, said Chris Thomas, a biologist at Britain's University of York and the project's leader. About a quarter of the roughly 1,500 species examined in the study moved toward warmer latitudes, in some cases due to the loss of habitat or man-made obstacles such as belts of farmland that prevented them from following other animal life north.
One of the faster moving species is the British spider silometopus, Thomas said. In 25 years, the small spider has moved its home range more than 200 miles north, averaging 8 miles a year, he said.
Stanford University biologist Terry Root, who wasn't part of this study but praised it as clever and conservative, points to another species, the American pika, a rabbitlike creature that has been studied in Yellowstone National Park for more than a century. The pika didn't go higher than 7,800 feet in 1900, but in 2004 they were seen at 9,500 feet, she said.
— Information, from The Independent, AP, CNN and the New York Times.
14. AMNESTY BLASTS CLERGY SEXUAL ABUSE
By the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
NEW YORK — Amnesty International Ireland’s release Sept. 26 of a major human rights report on clergy sexual abuse marks another important step in the journey towards holding Vatican officials accountable for the systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world.
Indeed, as Amnesty makes clear in more than 400 pages of documentation, the abuse of children "included acts that amounted to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment." The Amnesty International report, titled "In Plain Sight: Responding to the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports," includes a summary of four previous investigations into abuse by clergy in Ireland.
These reports were included in the CCR’s Sept. 13 International Criminal Court filing against the Pope and top Vatican officials, seeking accountability for clergy sexual abuse. The CCR submitted 22,000 pages of evidence and says "the ICC filing is only a small fraction of the evidence already available."
According to Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, "The abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children is perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the state. Much of the abuse described in the Ryan Report meets the legal definition of torture under international human rights law."
The report makes clear what happens when governmental authorities cede their responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of vulnerable children and adults to a church that can’t be trusted with it, or with their children.
15. BEWARE OF ATTENDING 'WRONG SCHOOL'
By Rania Khalek
Kindergartener A.J. Paches was kicked out of Brookside Elementary School earlier this year because his homeless mother used a friend's address to register him in the wealthy district of Norwalk, Connecticut. After expelling A.J., Norwalk authorities charged his mother with first-degree larceny for enrolling her son under a false address, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Sadly, A.J.'s story is not unique. He is one of several low-income students whose parents use the residence of a relative or friend to provide their children with educational opportunities that are severely lacking in poor districts. In the recession era of budget deficits and cuts to public education, wealthy school districts are cracking down hard on these families, going to extreme lengths to identify the kids and prosecute the parents.
One popular method is to offer bounties to tipsters who report students who turn out to be illegally enrolled. As of 2008, the Bayonne Board of Education in New Jersey offers a $100 bounty for tips about students suspected of lying about their residency. In the middle-class suburban enclave of Clifton, New Jersey, the bounty is set at $300 for informants who correctly report a boundary hopper. According to the New York Times, the district immediately follows up with a visit by an "attendance officer " to the suspected students home.
In anticipation of the growing demand for residence verification, private companies like VerifyResidence.com and LiarCatchers.com are offering their investigative services aimed directly at public school districts. According to its Web site, VerifyResidence.com not only offers residence audits, but also surveillance stakeouts by investigators using "the latest in covert video technology and digital photographic equipment to photograph, videotape, and document subject activity when logistically possible. "
Perhaps more shocking than the invasive surveillance techniques schools are using to identify these students, are the punishments they dish out to parents.
Take the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, an African-American single mother living in the housing projects of Akron, Ohio. She made national headlines in January when she was convicted on two felony counts of tampering with court records and sentenced to 10 days in jail with three years probation for illegally enrolling her kids in the predominately white and higher-quality school district next door.
Fearing for the safety of her two daughters in the Akron school district, Williams-Bolar used her father’s address in the nearby suburban district of Copley-Fairlawn to enroll her children in what she believed was a better performing and safer school environment. In handing down what many considered a harsh sentence, Judge Patricia Cosgrove specifically noted that the court was making an example out of Williams-Bolar "so that others who think they might defraud the school system perhaps will think twice. "
Williams-Bolar had been working as a teacher’s aide in the Akron city school district while taking night classes to earn a teaching degree. Two felony convictions would likely have jeopardized a future teaching career. Fortunately, Ohio Governor John Kasich intervened by reducing her charges to misdemeanors, calling it "a second chance " rather than a pass. However, other parents facing similar circumstances haven’t been as lucky.
In April, the Stamford Advocate, a local Connecticut paper, reported that 33-year-old Tanya McDowell, a homeless single mother from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was arrested for registering her 5-year-old son for kindergarten in the affluent school district of Norwalk by using the address of her son’s after-school babysitter, Ana Rebecca Marquez. McDowell is currently facing up to 20 years in prison for first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny along with a $15,000 fine, which is supposedly to reimburse Norwalk for the cost of educating her son.
Regarding McDowell’s charges, Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said, "This now sends a message to other parents that may have been living in other towns and registering their kids with phony addresses," suggesting that the reason for the prosecution has more to do with making an example out of McDowell than seeking restitution or justice.
In the meantime, McDowell’s son, now 6, is staying with his grandmother while his mother is in jail awaiting trial. McDowell is receiving support from both the NAACP and the Connecticut Parents Union (CTPU), an education advocacy group.
Gwendolyn Samuel, founder of CTPU, told me that Ana Marquez, the babysitter who allowed McDowell to use her address, "got hit the hardest." After the Norwalk Housing Authority evicted Marquez for fraud, her two young children, ages 4 and 6, were removed from her custody by the Department of Children and Family Services for a week. The family was then left homeless, shuffling from shelter to shelter for months. Meanwhile, the housing authority seized Marquez’s household belongings, which it has yet to return.
Due to the trauma endured by Marquez and her small children, who are now living with relatives in Florida, the CTPU has filed a lawsuit against the Norwalk Housing Authority on their behalf. Samuel is adamant about assisting Marquez in seeking damages from the housing authority for their reckless handling of her case....
CTPU has also been working to pass a legislative amendment that would prohibit the arrest of parents who lie about where they live to provide their children with a better education.
The striking disparities in school quality between rich and poor neighborhoods aren’t exactly a secret. Any person who has stepped foot inside a wealthy suburban public school and an inner city public school would have to be blind not to recognize the differences in class and race. But for those who haven’t seen it for themselves, the willingness of parents to risk breaking the law to send their kids to better schools should serve as a window into the inequalities that permeate the American public school system. Hiring detectives to videotape kids at the bus stop and throwing parents in jail is not going to change that.
— Rania Khalek is an associate writer for AlterNet, where this article appeared Oct. 19.