HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
email@example.com, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. IRREVERSIBLE CLIMATE CHANGE LOOMS
2. PIPELINE PROTEST ENCIRCLES WHITE HOUSE
3. SUCCESS FOR OAKLAND OCCUPIERS
4. OWS AND THE WAR AGAINST THE POOR
5. HOW THE 1% GOT RICHER
6. WILL CUOMO BREAK THE PUBLIC UNIONS?
7. U.S. NIGHT RAIDS KILLED 1,500 AFGHAN CIVILIANS
8. JAILED FOR SAILING TOWARD GAZA
9. POLITICALLY MOTIVATED PIETY
10. THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE
11. HUGE INCREASE IN GLOBAL WARMING GASES
12. "OVERPOPULATION" AND ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS
13. SAVE THE PLANET, REDUCE MEAT CONSUMPTION
14. CIA SAYS U.S. EXAGGERATED SOVIET WAR POWER
15. OBAMA'S ARC OF INSTABILITY
16. INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
17. DOMESTIC NEWS IN BRIEF
1. IRREVERSIBLE CLIMATE CHANGE LOOMS
By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter
The Obama Administration has largely remained passive about the critical imperative to reduce greenhouse gases to limit catastrophic global warming.
Washington continues to insist upon exercising world leadership in all key global endeavors, including the environment, but has failed dramatically in terms of climate change.
In fact, the White House is greatly expanding U.S. access to fossil fuel energy sources even as scientific and environmental organizations are intensifying their warnings about the need to immediately reduce greenhouse gas carbon emissions that are warming the planet.
Although the U.S. recently has ranked second to China in fossil fuel burning, it is by far the greatest polluter of the atmosphere in the last century and a half. Given the differences in population, America still uses three times more per capita than China.
White House policy is fixated on reducing dependence upon Middle Eastern oil and gas by greatly increasing the extraction of fossil fuels closer to home — mainly a vast increase in natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) throughout the United States, expanded drilling for offshore oil, and importing dirty tar sands oil from Canada.
While increasing the development and use of global warming fuels, President Obama is advancing no significant program to replace high carbon emitting fossil fuels with renewable non-carbon solar and wind power.
The U.S. government is subsidizing some major "green" corporations, providing them with nearly no-risk guarantees for developing solar and wind, but this remains a relatively minor enterprise. Progress made so far is being stalled by the unexpected abundance (and thus cheaper price) of domestic natural gas secreted in shale, more secure oil reserves than anticipated, and the probability of reduced federal and state subsidies.
In a major statement from London Nov. 9, the International Energy Agency (IEA) called for a "bold change of policy direction toward the use of low-carbon fuels within the next five years. If the major industrial states do not do so quickly, the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system," which is precisely what the Obama Administration is doing.
This recommendation seeks to prevent the rise in global temperatures in this century from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius, which is based upon keeping carbon emissions in the atmosphere below 450 parts per million (ppm). Anything above the target standards will cause irreparable damage to life on Earth.
According to many scientists and environmental groups these standards are inadequate, and that 350 ppm is the maximum amount that can be accommodated without causing a disaster. Atmospheric carbon, which occurs naturally, has reached dangerous levels due to industrialization. It has increased from 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial era to approximately 392 ppm today, which is why it is said warming is well underway and its effects are being felt throughout the world.
Introducing the new report, IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven declared, "Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades.... Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies."
The Environment News Service reports that the "agency's warning comes at a critical time in international climate change negotiations, as governments prepare for the annual UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, Nov. 28-Dec. 9. 'If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door will be closed forever,' IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned.'" (The main goal of the 17th climate summit is to agree on a resolution to replace the Kyoto Protocols, which will expire next year.)
The IEA describes itself as "an autonomous organization which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond." Its members represent the world's leading capitalist countries. Greenpeace and some other environmental groups are critical of the group's approval of tar sands oil, lower carbon fuels and nuclear energy. The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are not IEA members.
Reporting Oct. 26 on America's hunt for more carbon-emitting fuels, the New York Times quoted Daniel Lashof, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, as declaring: "Giving new life to fossil fuels is a devil’s bargain, probably making solutions to climate change, and the development of renewable energy, even more difficult. Not only are you extending the fossil fuels era, but you are moving into fossil fuels that are dirtier and release more carbon pollution in the process of extracting and using them."
The Obama Administration has been leaning toward approving a $7 billion investment in a pipeline to transport Canadian tar sands oil to Texas but encountered a fusillade of activist opposition from the environmental movement in recent months. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, has declared that "Tar sands oil is the dirtiest oil on Earth." Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s top climate scientist, says that fully developing the tar sands in Canada would mean “essentially game over” for the climate.
Environmental movement criticisms have been compounded by objections from residents of Nebraska with concerns that pipeline spills might pollute the irreplaceable Ogallala aquifer, which occupies 10,000 square miles north to south from South Dakota to Texas and is a major source of water for the High Plains.
In August and September 1,200 anti-tar sands activists were arrested for offering civil disobedience in front of the White House. On Nov. 6, 12,000 people surrounded the presidential mansion demanding an end to construction of the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas.
Four days later, President Obama announced that his final decision would now be postponed until months after next year's elections, implying that the pipeline route might have to circumnavigate the immense aquifer.
Some environmental groups have interpreted Obama's delay as a victory, suggesting that the project is being abandoned, but this view is too optimistic. The White House seeks abundant and stable supplies of oil for the next several decades from sources other than (or in addition to) the volatile Middle East, and tar sands oil from nearby friendly Canada is a most attractive alternative. Canadian oil has been entering the U.S. for many years in existing pipelines, and this is continuing. In all probability, some version of Keystone will greatly increase the supply.
Environmentally-concerned Americans have also launched campaigns against fracking, mainly because of the danger to water supplies inherent in an extraction method that requires the high pressure injection of deadly chemicals deep underground.
The Obama Administration is so intent upon vastly increasing natural gas production that it has been brushing objections aside, as have state governors — such as New York State's Andrew Cuomo — who argue that what really matters are the additional jobs and tax revenue from massive fracking operations.
Advocates of natural gas argue that burning gas for electricity emits 30% less carbon dioxide than oil, and about 45% less than coal. But recent studies have shown that the process of fracking releases sufficient stores of methane into the atmosphere to compensate for any reduction in carbon from natural gas. Methane creates a greenhouse heat trap about 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. The gas industry maintains that the reduction in emissions from natural gas "outweighs" the detrimental effects of methane.
The N.Y. Times article points out that "Temporary or permanent fracking bans have been put in place in New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Other states are toughening drilling regulations, and the industry is responding with tighter wastewater management, while the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to complete a study on fracking next year. Nevertheless, gas shale drilling appears likely to continue at a fast pace in the most important gas-producing states.
"The rest of the world is watching. Moratoriums have been put in place in parts of France, Germany, South Africa and the Canadian province of Quebec; Britain, Ukraine and other countries are moving cautiously forward. Still, the Energy Department projects that gas from shale could account for 14% of global supplies by 2030, with as many as 32 countries having production potential."
If world countries, led by the U.S., continue to disregard environmental objections to fracking, enhanced natural gas production combined with a major increase in oil production by the U.S., will further subvert incentives toward ending use of fossil fuels. So far, shale gas extraction in the U.S. has increased 500% in the last five years, and that's just the beginning.
Quoting Ivan Sandrea, president of the Energy Intelligence Group, the Times concluded its article with these words: "The fossil fuel age will be extended for decades. Unconventional oil and gas are at the beginning of a technological cycle that can last 60 years. They are really in their infancy."
It has been five months since Democratic former Vice President Al Gore stuck his neck out in an article he wrote for Rolling Stone by publicly criticizing Democrat Obama for inaction on reducing America's addiction to fossil fuels. So far, Obama has done nothing but live up to Gore's critique:
"President Obama," he declared, "has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.... The president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that 'drill, baby, drill' [a conservative slogan] is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil."
Washington's refusal to take more than token steps to alleviate global warming would be relatively inconsequential were the U.S. a much smaller player on the world stage. But American governments have insisted for decades — based on economic strength and unparalleled military power — on being recognized as the world's dominant and irreplaceable hegemonic state. Uncle Sam's leadership is enormously influential, especially in the industrialized world, and America's sluggish response toward global warming is a global disincentive toward taking speedy, responsible and united action.
U.S. financial institutions, corporations, and the wealthiest proportion of its population are "deeply invested in an energy sector dominated by fossil fuels, and actively hostile to alternatives," economist Paul Krugman noted recently. These powerful elements are not prepared to accept the economic and political rearrangements required to transform America into an environmentally sound society of minimal carbon usage and many other ecological safeguards.
Such a transformation involves greater government investments, potentially smaller profits for many years, strategic alterations in the country's disproportionate consumption of resources and products, and substantial changes beyond today's gridlocked and essentially conservative political process.
In effect — given its disinclination to interfere in the workings of America's neoliberal capitalist economy, even to protect all life on Earth — Washington's continuing unipolar leadership is guiding the world toward irreversible climate change.
The U.S. may change its ways, but economic and political realities suggest an alteration of this magnitude is hardly on the foreseeable agenda. Climate change, however, is taking place now. At issue are two necessities: (1) strengthening of the environmental and social change movements in the U.S., and (2) a dramatic initiative by other powerful countries and regional blocs to take significant concerted global action to save the Earth regardless of Washington's dithering.
2. PIPELINE PROTEST ENCIRCLES WHITE HOUSE
By Arnesa A. Howell, Grist
WASHINGTON: Up to 12,000 protesters converged on the nation's capital Nov. 6 to press President Obama to block construction of the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Four days later, President Obama announced he would delay a decision about the pipeline until after next year's election.
The rally, which culminated in a human ring encircling the White House, was a sequel to an August-September civil disobedience campaign outside the presidential mansion during which 1,252 protesters were arrested.
By 1 p.m., throngs of demonstrators — wearing bright orange vests emblazoned with the words "STOP the Pipeline" — were already congregating at Lafayette Square Park across from the White House. Protesters from across the country and Canada waved signs opposing Keystone XL and chanted: "Hey Obama, we don't want no climate drama!"
The rally unfolded with a bevy of environmental leaders, social activists, politicians, and citizen advocates: actress Gloria Reuben and actor Mark Ruffalo, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jody Williams [of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines], civil rights activist Dick Gregory, and others. Together, they voiced opposition to a pipeline that activists argued would have dire consequences: jeopardizing sources of fresh drinking water, damaging the ecosystem, and imperiling the climate.
"Worst of all about the pipeline is it will deepen our dependency on oil, contributing to ever-worsening climate chaos," said Peter Wilk, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "When we pull carbon out of the ground, it has to go somewhere. When we burn it in the form of fuel oil and gasoline, it winds up going into the atmosphere. The extreme weather events of the past year are not mere coincidence."
The rally drew supporters of all ages, ethnicities, and beliefs — and for some, proved to be a family affair. Luis Ramos Iukivuel of New York brought his 9-year-old daughter, Ananí Ramos, to the protest. "I raised her in the indigenous way to respect Mother Earth, her family, and her community," says the father, who is Taino [a native people of the Caribbean region].
At 3 p.m. protesters dispersed to form the symbolic circle around Obama's residence. Under the eyes of city police and the Secret Service, the crowd flooded the streets surrounding the White House while clapping and chanting. A caravan hauled a gigantic replica of a pipeline with the words "STOP the XL Pipeline" painted in bold white lettering on the side.
"It was a grand slam home run," Bill McKibben, a key organizer of the event, said as dusk approached and the rally ended. "This was an amazing day to be up there with every part of the progressive coalition. These are the people who put Barack Obama in office. If he can't hear this, then he can't hear anything."
Obama reportedly missed most of the protest because of a golf outing. Shortly after 5 p.m., McKibben announced from the podium that the presidential motorcade was passing Lafayette Square Park. The crowd responded with a cry of "Yes we can — stop the pipeline!"
From the Activist Newsletter:
The proposed 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.
The State Department was originally designated to make the decision on tar sands, and favored the pipeline. But the White House has been the target of increasing pressure to halt the project from environmentally concerned organizations and from Nebraskans fearing pipeline spills might pollute the irreplaceable Ogallala aquifer. By delaying a final decision for over a year, Obama sought to avoid criticism from environmentalists that might undermine his reelection campaign.
3. SUCCESS FOR OAKLAND OCCUPIERS
By Liberation News
Around 25,000 people participated in a general strike in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 2, called by the Occupy movement. The strike shut down the Port of Oakland, as well as many businesses throughout the city.
A week earlier, Oct. 25, the police attacked the Occupy Oakland encampment and nearly killed Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran, during a pro-occupy protest. Since that time, Occupy Oakland has increased in size and militancy. The Occupiers retook their camp.
Across the bay, the San Francisco police were forced to back down from a planned raid on Occupy San Francisco. Throughout Bay Area occupations in recent days a new chant became commonplace: “This system has got to die! Hella, Hella Occupy!” [Hella is originally a San Francisco word meaning "really," or "a lot of something" or "something good," according to the Urban Dictionary.]
When the Oakland occupation began on Oct. 10, it was composed of 10 tents. By the time of the raid, the size of the camp had grown to roughly 100 tents. Since the camp has been reclaimed, it has swelled to 175 tents.
The occupiers have enjoyed an increase in public support since retaking their camp, which was made clear by the many people from the city bringing donations, and residents hanging signs in their windows that read “We support Occupy Oakland!”
The idea started circulating inside the camp to invite the city’s residents to demonstrate their support by participting in a one-day, citywide general strike and marching to the Port of Oakland, the fifth busiest port in the United States, to shut down its night shift. The event was widely promoted on Facebook and Twitter.
By morning, thousands of people had gathered around City Hall and Oscar Grant Plaza, the site of the Occupy Oakland camp. Many businesses had to shut down for lack of staffing. Some 360 teachers from the Oakland school district attended the strike.
A multinational crowd gathered under huge banners overlooking major intersections that read “Occupy the banks,” “Death to Capitalism” and “Long live the Oakland Commune.”
In a sign that the Occupy movement might be beginning to address issues of gentrification, one of the many marches of the day protested the closings of five Oakland schools, all in oppressed neighborhoods. The march began from Laney Community College and ended at the Board of Education. Members of a primarily African American and Latino contingent spoke about how the school closings would negatively affect their communities.
Three banks in the vicinity of the occupation did not open for the day. A Citibank that did open had its entrance blocked by around 100 protesters.
At 2 p.m., 3,000 participants took off on a “March Against Capitalism” through the downtown area. Teachers, parents, children, college students and other workers of all ages took to the streets. Among those leading the march was an ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) contingent with a banner that read: “Stop the War on Working People!”
ANSWER activists led chants such as, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” and “We are the 99 percent!” The spirited protesters marched past several banks, including Wells Fargo and the Bank of America. When they passed by the banks, they yelled out, “Close it down!” Visibly absent were the police; yet marchers maintained order and safety as demonstrators were directed back to Oscar Grant Plaza.
Indeed, the police seemed surprisingly absent until the evening. It was later discovered, however, that several undercover police were disguised as “anarchists.” The mainstream press would later report that there were isolated cases of vandalism perpetrated by “anarchists.”
At 4 and 5 p.m., two different demonstrations, each of roughly 10,000 people, marched to the Port of Oakland. Protesters blocked the entrances with chain link fencing. A contingent of San Francisco State University students, led by Party for Socialism and Liberation member Omar Ali, raised a banner reading “In solidarity with Egypt!”
By 10 p.m., it was announced that the night shift at the port had been canceled. The day shift was not canceled, but had only been partially operational as so many port workers had participated in the strike.
Around 11 p.m., some protesters began occupying the now vacant Travelers Aid building close to the Occupy campsite. The building had previously housed the Travelers Aid Society, a charitable organization that provided shelter for homeless people and those traveling on a low budget and that had been foreclosed. The occupiers decided to restore the building to its original purpose and seize it as a shelter. Once inside, the occupiers erected barriers in front of the entrances.
The Oakland police attacked the building and retook it, arresting around 80 occupiers. The police also tear-gassed the camp late that night, severely injuring at least one protester. Occupy Oakland, however, was no smaller by sunrise.
4. OWS AND THE WAR AGAINST THE POOR
By Frances Fox Piven
We’ve been at war for decades now — not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but right here at home. Domestically, it’s been a war against the poor, but if you hadn’t noticed, that’s not surprising. You wouldn’t often have found the casualty figures from this particular conflict in your local newspaper or on the nightly TV news. Devastating as it’s been, the war against the poor has gone largely unnoticed — until now.
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has already made the concentration of wealth at the top of this society a central issue in American politics. Now, it promises to do something similar when it comes to the realities of poverty in this country.
By making Wall Street its symbolic target, and branding itself as a movement of the 99%, OWS has redirected public attention to the issue of extreme inequality, which it has recast as, essentially, a moral problem. Only a short time ago, the “morals” issue in politics meant the propriety of sexual preferences, reproductive behavior, or the personal behavior of presidents. Economic policy, including tax cuts for the rich, subsidies and government protection for insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and financial deregulation, was shrouded in clouds of propaganda or simply considered too complex for ordinary Americans to grasp.
Now, in what seems like no time at all, the fog has lifted and the topic on the table everywhere seems to be the morality of contemporary financial capitalism. The protestors have accomplished this mainly through the symbolic power of their actions: by naming Wall Street, the heartland of financial capitalism, as the enemy, and by welcoming the homeless and the down-and-out to their occupation sites. And of course, the slogan “We are the 99%” reiterated the message that almost all of us are suffering from the reckless profiteering of a tiny handful. (In fact, they aren’t far off: the increase in income of the top 1% over the past three decades about equals the losses of the bottom 80%.)
The movement’s moral call is reminiscent of earlier historical moments when popular uprisings invoked ideas of a “moral economy” to justify demands for bread or grain or wages — for, that is, a measure of economic justice. Historians usually attribute popular ideas of a moral economy to custom and tradition, as when the British historian E.P. Thompson traced the idea of a “just price” for basic foodstuffs invoked by eighteenth century English food rioters to then already centuries-old Elizabethan statutes. But the rebellious poor have never simply been traditionalists. In the face of violations of what they considered to be their customary rights, they did not wait for the magistrates to act, but often took it upon themselves to enforce what they considered to be the foundation of a just moral economy.
A moral economy for our own time would certainly take on the unbridled accumulation of wealth at the expense of the majority (and the planet). It would also single out for special condemnation the creation of an ever-larger stratum of people we call “the poor” who struggle to survive in the shadow of the overconsumption and waste of that top 1%.
Some facts: early in 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 14.3% of the population, or 47 million people — one in six Americans — were living below the official poverty threshold, currently set at $22,400 annually for a family of four. Some 19 million people are living in what is called extreme poverty, which means that their household income falls in the bottom half of those considered to be below the poverty line. More than a third of those extremely poor people are children. Indeed, more than half of all children younger than six living with a single mother are poor. Extrapolating from this data, Emily Monea and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution estimate that further sharp increases in both poverty and child poverty rates lie in our American future....
Poverty was on the rise before the Great Recession hit. Between 2001 and 2007, poverty actually increased for the first time on record during an economic recovery. It rose from 11.7% in 2001 to 12.5% in 2007. Poverty rates for single mothers in 2007 were 49% higher in the U.S. than in 15 other high-income countries. Similarly, black employment rates and income were declining before the recession struck.
In part, all of this was the inevitable fallout from a decades-long business mobilization to reduce labor costs by weakening unions and changing public policies that protected workers and those same unions. As a result, National Labor Board decisions became far less favorable to both workers and unions, workplace regulations were not enforced, and the minimum wage lagged far behind inflation.
Inevitably, the overall impact of the campaign to reduce labor’s share of national earnings meant that a growing number of Americans couldn’t earn even a poverty-level livelihood — and even that’s not the whole of it. The poor and the programs that assisted them were the objects of a full-bore campaign directed specifically at them.
This attack began even while the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960s was in full throttle. It was already evident in the failed 1964 presidential campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater, as well as in the recurrent campaigns of sometime Democrat and segregationist governor of Alabama George Wallace. Richard Nixon’s presidential bid in 1968 picked up on the theme.
As many commentators have pointed out, his triumphant campaign strategy tapped into the rising racial animosities not only of white southerners, but of a white working class in the north that suddenly found itself locked in competition with newly urbanized African-Americans for jobs, public services, and housing, as well as in campaigns for school desegregation. The racial theme quickly melded into political propaganda targeting the poor and contemporary poor-relief programs. Indeed, in American politics “poverty,” along with “welfare,” “unwed mothers,” and “crime,” became code words for blacks.
In the process, resurgent Republicans tried to defeat Democrats at the polls by associating them with blacks and with liberal policies meant to alleviate poverty. One result was the infamous “war on drugs” that largely ignored major traffickers in favor of the lowest level offenders in inner-city communities. Along with that came a massive program of prison building and incarceration, as well as the wholesale “reform” of the main means-tested cash assistance program, Aid to Families of Dependent Children. This politically driven attack on the poor proved just the opening drama in a decades-long campaign launched by business and the organized right against workers.
This was not only war against the poor, but the very “class war” that Republicans now use to brand just about any action they don’t like. In fact, class war was the overarching goal of the campaign, something that would soon enough become apparent in policies that led to a massive redistribution of the burden of taxation, the cannibalization of government services through privatization, wage cuts and enfeebled unions, and the deregulation of business, banks, and financial institutions.
The poor — and blacks — were an endlessly useful rhetorical foil, a propagandistic distraction used to win elections and make bigger gains. Still, the rhetoric was important. A host of new think tanks, political organizations, and lobbyists in Washington D.C. promoted the message that the country’s problems were caused by the poor whose shiftlessness, criminal inclinations, and sexual promiscuity were being indulged by a too-generous welfare system.
Genuine suffering followed quickly enough, along with big cuts in the means-tested programs that helped the poor. The staging of the cuts was itself enwreathed in clouds of propaganda, but cumulatively they frayed the safety net that protected both the poor and workers, especially low-wage ones, which meant women and minorities. When Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office in 1980, the path had been smoothed for huge cuts in programs for poor people, and by the 1990s the Democrats, looking for electoral strategies that would raise campaign dollars from big business and put them back in power, took up the banner. It was Bill Clinton, after all, who campaigned on the slogan “end welfare as we know it.”
The war against the poor at the federal level was soon matched in state capitols where organizations like the American Federation for Children, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Institute for Liberty, and the State Policy Network went to work. Their lobbying agenda was ambitious, including the large-scale privatization of public services, business tax cuts, the rollback of environmental regulations and consumer protections, crippling public sector unions, and measures (like requiring photo identification) that would restrict the access students and the poor had to the ballot. But the poor were their main public target and again, there were real life consequences — welfare cutbacks, particularly in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, and a law-and-order campaign that resulted in the massive incarceration of black men.
The Great Recession sharply worsened these trends. The Economic Policy Institute reports that the typical working-age household, which had already seen a decline of roughly $2,300 in income between 2000 and 2006, lost another $2,700 between 2007 and 2009. And when “recovery” arrived, however uncertainly, it was mainly in low-wage industries, which accounted for nearly half of what growth there was. Manufacturing continued to contract, while the labor market lost 6.1% of payroll employment. New investment, when it occurred at all, was more likely to be in machinery than in new workers, so unemployment levels remain alarmingly high. In other words, the recession accelerated ongoing market trends toward lower-wage and ever more insecure employment.
The recession also prompted further cutbacks in welfare programs. Because cash assistance has become so hard to get, thanks to so-called welfare reform, and fallback state-assistance programs have been crippled, the federal food stamp program has come to carry much of the weight in providing assistance to the poor. Renamed the “Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program,” it was boosted by funds provided in the Recovery Act, and benefits temporarily rose, as did participation. But Congress has repeatedly attempted to slash the program’s funds, and even to divert some of them into farm subsidies, while efforts, not yet successful, have been made to deny food stamps to any family that includes a worker on strike.
The organized right justifies its draconian policies toward the poor with moral arguments. Right-wing think tanks and blogs, for instance, ponder the damaging effect on disabled poor children of becoming “dependent” on government assistance, or they scrutinize government nutritional assistance for poor pregnant women and children in an effort to explain away positive outcomes for infants.
The willful ignorance and cruelty of it all can leave you gasping — and gasp was all we did for decades. This is why we so desperately needed a movement for a new kind of moral economy. Occupy Wall Street, which has already changed the national conversation, may well be its beginning.
— Frances Fox Piven, a long time fighter for economic and social justice, author and a left public intellectual is on the faculty of the Graduate School of the City University of New York. TomDispatch Nov. 6, 20113
5. HOW THE 1% GOT RICHER
By Richard Wolff
The just-released Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, "Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007," supports a basic claim of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement sweeping the country: that deep economic inequality is corrupting politics, culture and American society as a whole.
CBO reports are almost universally considered and relied upon as epitomes of non-partisan research. Simply put, the CBO report shows that over the last quarter century (1979 to 2007, to be exact), the top 1% of income earners enjoyed far, far bigger real income gains than the other 99%. As a result, the share of total income earned by the top 1% rose dramatically — doubling from 10% to 20% — at the expense of falling shares of income for all of the other 99% of the U.S. population.
No wonder the OWS movement showed genius in crafting and adopting the slogan "We are the 99%." No wonder polls already show a majority of Americans expressing sympathy with the OWS movement barely five weeks after it was born — a stunning achievement relative to comparable mass movements in U.S. history.
The CBO numbers teach some basic lessons. First, the last 30 years of ideological preaching about the superiority of private, deregulated, market-driven capitalism served to enable and mask one of the largest and fastest upward redistributions of income in modern history. The gap between the tiny rich minority and everyone else widened dramatically. The CBO report thus documents the actual class war over recent decades: the real winners and losers. The report thereby exposes the absurdity of the recent bleats from the 1% denouncing modest efforts to limit their huge gains as — horror of horrors — "class war."
Second, the CBO report shows that the U.S. government's transfer payments (social welfare supports for the poor, social security and Medicare spending, and so on) did not offset the upward redistribution of income to the richest 1%. Nor did the federal tax structure. The 1% used its growing wealth to make government taxing and spending policies aid, rather than constrain, the class war they pursued so systematically. The CBO report concludes that the top 1% was the only portion of the total income-earning U.S. population to experience a sharp rise in its share of the total U.S. income taking into account all federal transfers and taxes. Indeed, the top 1%'s share of income rose further after all transfers and taxes are taken into account than before taking them into account. Federal spending and taxing policies were thus complicit in furthering this last generation's sharp turn toward greater income inequality.
Third, the CBO report documents that alongside the staggering fact and impact of the current economic crisis – the second major collapse of capitalism in the last 75 years – there was the preceding and equally staggering fact of massive upward redistribution of income. How are these two facts related? The answer is not difficult to discern.
The 99% were falling ever further behind the top 1%. The latter's exploding luxury consumption shaped tastes and standards defining the "American dream." With real wages stagnant in the U.S. since the 1970s, the 99% tried to reach or keep the dream by sending more family members out to work more hours, and borrowing ever larger amounts, over the last 25 years. Eventually, their exhaustion and stress from increased work, coupled with unsustainable levels of accumulated household debt (for homes, college expenses, automobiles and credit cards), brought the economy to the brink of crisis.
Meanwhile, the speculative excesses of the 1% who were enjoying unprecedented income and wealth gains took the U.S. economy over the brink. Such consequences of a falling share of the national income for 99% of the U.S. population were key contributors to the current crisis – and are key contributors to its depth and duration. In sum, the last generation's upward redistribution of income helped to cause the current global capitalist meltdown.
To fully appreciate the social impact of the fast-deepening income inequality, it needs to be seen alongside the equally fast-deepening wealth inequality in the U.S.. If citizens here possess any appreciable wealth, it takes the form of their homes. U.S. housing prices have fallen through the crisis (since 2007). Over the same time, the rising use of home equity as collateral for loans has cut the portion of home values owned by occupiers, while raising the portion owed to banks. The combination of falling home prices and falling owners' equity in those homes yields another massive upward redistribution of wealth. That is because stock markets "recovered" – thanks to massive infusions of government money into financial institutions. Wealth in the form of stocks and bonds thus rose relative to wealth in the form of home ownership. Stock and bond ownership is highly concentrated in the U.S., much more so than home values. The result is deepening inequality of wealth distribution alongside greater income inequality.
The claims and promises of U.S. capitalism to be an engine that builds and sustains a vast "middle class" and that constantly "delivers the goods" seem more hollow today than ever. Questions, criticisms and opposition bubble up across the country. The CBO report reflects, as well as documents, the underlying economic realities. However inadvertently, it thereby supports the rising tide of protest.
— Richard Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, and is a visiting professor at the New School University, New York City. This article appeared Oct. 26 in Guardian (UK).
6. WILL CUOMO BREAK THE PUBLIC UNIONS?
By Andy Coates, Labor Notes
ALBANY, Nov. 3: While Midwest governors who attacked public workers last winter are seeing tremendous public opposition, New York’s Andrew Cuomo continues to be buoyed by high approval ratings.
The irony has not escaped members of the Public Employees Federation (PEF), the 55,000-member union of New York’s professional, scientific, and technical workers. They have worked under the threat of layoffs since the summer, when they rejected the Democratic governor’s concessionary contract. In re-vote Nov. 3, members ratified the contract by a vote of 27,718 to 11,645.
Cuomo ran for office on a deep austerity agenda, promising to downsize and consolidate state agencies by as much as 20%. Once installed, he asserted that New York’s public employees owed the state $450 million in annual givebacks. The legislature then wrote this anti-union “necessity” into the state budget.
At the same time, he refused to renew a millionaires’ tax that would have generated $5 billion next year, many times more than Cuomo was demanding from public employees. In other words, Cuomo’s own decisions helped deepen the fiscal crisis he now wants public employees to fix.
If the concessions weren’t ratified, Cuomo threatened up to 9,800 layoffs. As contract negotiations appeared to be going nowhere, PEF began to mobilize in June . While PEF rallied, the leadership of the 66,000-member Civil Service Employees Association quit the game, granting the state a five-year giveback contract in exchange for skimpy protection against immediate layoffs. CSEA represents clerical, health care, transportation, and court workers in the state.
Soon a contract along the same lines was thrust on PEF. The governor ordered layoffs of hundreds of PEF members, using them as hostages to heighten the tension.
“We will not be bullied or coerced into a contract that does not meet our members’ needs,” read the July 1 PEF headquarters statement. But PEF reached a tentative agreement extremely similar to CSEA’s. In exchange the laid-off PEF members were reinstated.
The agreement contained a three-year wage freeze, nine furlough days, higher health care costs, and a “no layoff” pledge similar to CSEA’s — which says layoffs due to “material or unanticipated changes” are allowed. (Layoffs resulting from Cuomo’s hand-picked austerity commission will also be permitted.)
The PEF membership originally rejected the deal in September, 54% to 46% in a 70% turnout. Both Cuomo and union headquarters were taken aback.
The governor noted that the PEF executive board had voted by a 3 to 1 margin to send the agreement to members. He immediately retaliated, targeting 3,496 PEF members for layoff in mid-October. Like Connecticut’s Democratic governor, whose public employees also turned down a concessions contract this summer, Cuomo demanded the union grant him a do-over.
The offer to withdraw layoffs in exchange for a successful re-vote brought PEF's leaders scrambling back to the bargaining table. The governor said they could “tweak” the deal, so long as it was “revenue neutral.”
A few days before layoffs were to begin, a second tentative agreement was reached. The governor proclaimed that givebacks were unchanged. This time the executive board voted 5 to 1 in favor.
The official PEF rallying cry was “Vote Yes to Save Jobs.” A campaign to convince the rank and file has employed automated calls, town hall conference calls, phonebanking, special division meetings, and flyers distributed by union officials and staff. Pressure on the rank and file had been stronger during the re-vote.
An opposition group, calling themselves PEF Proud, called for rejection of both tentative agreements. The group leafleted co-workers and maintains a blog, which has seen its vote-no flyers downloaded thousands of times. The group argued the union should fight to renew the millionaires’ tax instead.
Meanwhile, the number of layoffs seemed mostly to do with influencing the chances of ratification. Management settled scores, targeting PEF activists and leaders for layoff, whether they were for or against the contract. (Management gained either way.)
On top of all this stands the fact that the state workforce has been downsized steadily for two decades, while wages and benefits have remained flat at best.
Not only have public employees done more with less for a long time, their wages and benefits, when matched for age, gender, and education, remain significantly less than private sector wages and benefits.
Propaganda about "greedy state workers" has particularly rankled public employees who have sacrificed their careers to serve the public, often suffering disrespect from incompetent public agency leaders whose job credentials amount to political cronyism.
Cuomo put PEF members just where he wants them: damned if they do and damned if they don’t. State law prevents a strike by public sector workers, so his layoff threats forced PEF officials into classic concession bargaining, with the union negotiating against itself.
This is all according to plan. Cuomo aims to enlist public sector union officials in his campaign to downsize public services. If (or really when) Cuomo’s austerity commission follows through on his pledge to chop up to 20% of the workforce, unions will see mass layoffs, speed-ups, and privatization. Cuomo will insist union officials go along quietly.
To get there Cuomo aims to housebreak the unions one by one, first CSEA, now PEF, later the university professions, Transport Workers, and so on.
Whether the unions can buck the governor’s agenda remains to be seen. Thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Cuomo's assertion that public employees “owe” New York $450 million per year in givebacks appears increasingly ridiculous. Their health care and pensions certainly didn’t trash the economy.
Here in Albany protesters have renamed Cuomo “Governor 1 Percent” because he continues to refuse to tax New York’s millionaires. The opening has been created for PEF and the other public sector unions to join in the cry, “We Are the 99 Percent!” An increasingly restive rank and file is ready to answer.
—Andy Coates is a doctor at the state psychiatric hospital in Albany and a steward and council leader of Division 231 of the Public Employees Federation (AFL-CIO). This article appeared in Labor Notes Nov. 3 (http://labornotes.org)
7. U.S. NIGHT RAIDS KILLED 1,500 AFGHAN CIVILIANS
[Following is an excerpt of a longer article produced Nov. 4 by of Inter Press Service. A link to the full article is at the end.]
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON: United States Special Operations Forces (SOF) killed over 1,500 civilians in night raids in less than 10 months in 2010 and early 2011, analysis of official statistics on the raids released by the U.S.-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) command reveals.
That number would make U.S. night raids by far the largest cause of civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan.... Except for a relatively few women and children killed by accident, the civilians who died in the raids were all adult males who were counted as insurgents in press releases and official data released by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)....
A minimum of 1,588 people (2,844 total killed minus the 1,256 targets in the lethal raids) were killed in the raids even though they weren't targeted.
Not every one of the untargeted individuals killed in night raids was a non-combatant civilian. But the socio-cultural and physical setting of the raids guarantees that the percentage of civilians in that total is extremely high.
Within the Afghan compounds that are the physical targets of U.S. night raids live extended family households that normally include not only the male head of family and his wife, but his brothers, sons and cousins and their families.
In Afghanistan, every adult Pashtun male has a weapon in his home, and is obliged by the ancient code of conduct called "Pashtunwali" to defend his home, his family and his friends against armed intruders. In a typical extended family compound, several males have weapons.
As a result, the non-targeted civilians killed in night raids have invariably been either close relatives or neighbors who come out to assist against an armed assault.
SOF commanders and the command and staff of the ISAF have essentially denied all civilian deaths in night raids, except for women and children, by counting all adult males killed in raids as insurgents....
— full article, http://atimes.com/atimes/south_asia/mk04df02.html
8. JAILED FOR SAILING TOWARD GAZA
By Medea Benjamin and Robert Naiman
Two boats full of courageous passengers were on their way to Gaza when they were intercepted on Friday, Nov. 4, by the Israeli military in international waters. We call the passengers courageous because they sailed from Turkey on Nov. 2 with the knowledge that at any moment they might be boarded by Israeli commandos intent on stopping them — perhaps violently, as the Israeli military did in 2010 when they killed nine humanitarian aid workers on the Turkish boat named Mavi Marmara.
The boats — one from Canada and one from Ireland — were carrying 27 passengers, including press and peace activists from Ireland, Canada, the United States, Australia, and Palestine. They were unarmed, and the Israeli military knew that. They were simply peace activists wanting to connect with civilians in Gaza, and the Israeli military knew that. Yet naked aggression was used against them in international waters — something that is normally considered an act of piracy.
The passengers on the boats were sailing to Gaza to challenge the U.S.-supported Israeli blockade that is crippling the lives of 1.6 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They were sailing to stand up against the power of the Israeli government that has been violating the basic rights of the 5.5 million Palestinians that live inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders or in the Occupied Territories....
The blockade of Gaza’s civilians is an extreme example of unaccountable power. Palestinians in Gaza aren’t allowed to vote for Israeli or American politicians. But due to political decisions taken in Israel and the United States, Palestinians in Gaza are prevented from exporting their goods, traveling freely, farming their land, fishing their waters or importing construction materials to build their homes and factories.
We have been to Gaza before, where we have seen the devastation firsthand. We have also been to Israel and the West Bank, where we have seen how the Israeli government is detaining Palestinians at checkpoints, building walls that cut them off from their lands, demolishing their houses, arbitrarily imprisoning their relatives and imposing economic restrictions that prevent them from earning a living. We have seen how Palestinians, like people everywhere, are desperate to live normal and dignified lives.
A UN Report released in September found that “Israel’s oppressive policies [in Gaza] constitute a form of collective punishment of civilians,” that these policies violate both international humanitarian and human rights law, and that the illegal siege of Gaza should be lifted....
The Israeli military stopped these two small ships carrying peace activists to Gaza, but they won’t stop the Palestinians who are demanding freedom, and they won’t stop the solidarity movement. We won’t stop challenging the blockade on Gaza’s civilians — by land and by sea– until the blockade falls. And we won’t stop challenging the denial of Palestinian democratic aspirations until those aspirations are realized.
—Activist Medea Benjamin is a cofounder of both CODEPINK and the international human rights organization Global Exchange. Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.
9. POLITICALLY MOTIVATED PIETY
By Simon Brown, Americans United
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Nov. 1 to approve a resolution which reaffirms “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encourages the display of that motto in public schools and other government buildings.
The vote on H. Con. Res. 13, was one sided: 396 representatives voted in favor, 9 voted against, 2 voted “present” and 26 did not vote. The “no” votes came from Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.).
Nadler was the lone voice of dissent to speak on the House floor ahead of the vote.
“Today we are returning to irrelevant issues that do nothing to promote economic growth to put Americans back to work,” Nadler said. “We’ve seen this before. In the 107th Congress, we passed a bill to reaffirm the phrase ‘one nation under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance and reaffirm the national motto. We went so far as to reenact into law word for word the existing law making ‘In God We Trust’ the national motto, just to be sure. No one had threatened it. No one had said ‘it’s not the national motto.’
"This resolution today, which has no force of law, simply restates the national motto once again," Nadler noted. "Why have my Republican friends returned to an irrelevant agenda? Why are we debating non-binding resolutions about the national motto? The American people are demanding action on the president’s jobs legislation. And yet here we are back to irrelevant issue debates, the kind of thing people do when they have run out of ideas."
Following the vote, Scott issued a statement in which he condemned the resolution as both a misplaced priority and an affront to the Constitution.
"Today,” he said, “we face the highest deficit in U.S. history; an unemployment rate of 9.1% and a growing number of people losing access to unemployment insurance each day; schools that lack the resources to give our students a proper education; 17.2 million households that are food insecure; and children who by the very circumstances of their birth are injected onto a cradle to prison pipeline. Instead of facing these challenges and creating jobs to help the American people make sure they have a roof over their head and food on their table, we are debating whether or not to affirm and proliferate a motto that was adopted in 1956 and is under no threat of attack.
“In addition to diverting attention away from substantive issues, the resolution is unconstitutional,” Scott continued. “When we were sworn in as members of Congress, we took an oath to uphold the Constitution. This resolution is inconsistent with that oath and therefore I voted 'no' on the resolution."
As the lone Republican to break ranks, Amash’s vote was the most surprising. He explained his decision on his Facebook page:
“The fear that unless ‘In God We Trust’ is displayed throughout the government, Americans will somehow lose their faith in God, is a dim view of the profound religious convictions many citizens have,” Amash said. “The faith that inspired many of the Founders of this country – the faith I practice – is stronger than that. Trying to score political points with unnecessary resolutions should not be Congress's priority.”
As Scott said, “In God We Trust” did not become the “official” motto of the United States until 1956. When Congress chose to create that motto, it created confusion about other, much older mottos, such as E Pluribus Unum (“Out of Many, One”), which appears on the Great Seal of the United States, and Novus Ordo Seclorum (“A New Order of the Ages”), which is found on the dollar bill.
No country needs three mottos (or even one), and clarifying which of the three is the “true” motto seems petty right now. Beyond that, despite the intentions of the House, this vote settles nothing because the resolution is non-binding and it hasn’t been taken up by the U.S. Senate, President Obama or anyone else.
— From the Activist Newsletter: On a related matter, is the U.S. a "Christian nation"? Religious Right activists and right-wing television preachers often claim that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has published a brief historical article concluding the U.S. "was not founded to be an officially Christian nation or to espouse any official religion." The article is available at http://www.au.org/resources/publications/is-america-a-christian-nation.
10. THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE
By Taurean K. Brown
If we were all honest with ourselves, I am sure that we could recall a momentary lapse into delinquency at some point in our childhood, whether it was throwing a temper tantrum over a puzzle piece or being a smart alec to a teacher. These very same delinquencies today can now land a child in jail.
As a former educator in an inner-city school populated almost entirely by black students, I know too intimately the disheartening effects of this course of action on students. Children of color, particularly those with special needs, are disproportionately being funneled into detention centers and alternative schools — a practice known as the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”
I have witnessed first-hand my own student, in desperate need of social services, carted off in handcuffs for an offense that could have been avoided by a little care and concern from the administration. I have encountered ordinary teenagers whose lives were so consumed by the criminal justice system that they barely ever attended school and now boast reading levels so low that they are technically classified as mentally retarded. Once students are propelled down the pipeline, the effects are virtually irreversible — their contact with the criminal justice system brands them with a scarlet letter that creates barriers to re-entry into traditional schools, puts them behind their peers, and haunts them later in life as they may drop out, or be denied student loans, public housing, or occupational licenses.
Judge Steve Teske of Clayton County, GA, has been a vocal critic about the criminalization of children for minor school infractions, asserting that “[z]ero tolerance is zero intelligence.” While educators often feel impotent in the face of such a daunting struggle, it is refreshing and encouraging to see that the legal world, from litigators to the bench, has adopted the cause and is making strides to reform school discipline around the country. The Washington Post recently published a story about how Judge Steve Teske has used his influence to raise awareness of the “School-to-Prison-Pipeline.” In his days as a juvenile judge in Clayton County, Georgia, Judge Teske witnessed school-based offenses soar from 46 in 1995 to over 1,200 in 2003 — 95% of which were misdemeanors. This prompted him to meet with educators, law enforcement officers, social service and mental health counselors, parents, and students to encourage them to devise a new protocol for handling minor offenses. Between 2003 and 2010, Clayton County experienced a 70% decrease in school referrals to juvenile court.
The ACLU has also been instrumental in the School-to-Prison Pipeline reform efforts. Together, the ACLU and NYCLU are suing the City of New York on behalf of middle and high school students in NYC public schools, challenging the unconstitutional policies and practices of NYPD’s School Safety Division. Officers have been known to routinely and unlawfully arrest children for minor violations of school rules that do not amount to criminal activity, and to frequently detain these students off school grounds. Officers are also known to use excessive force against children — pushing, shoving, grabbing and striking them to the point that medical care or hospitalization is required.
Our country’s growing reliance on zero-tolerance has created a trend in public education to remove and exclude “difficult” children for single occurrences of what is often minor misconduct. This trend, however, really only detracts from the real, underlying issue, which is that many of these children are vulnerable or troubled and need help. School discipline should be about behavior modification and coping mechanisms. Arrest should be a last resort.
— The author is associated with the ACLU's Racial Justice Program.
11. HUGE INCREASE IN GLOBAL WARMING GASES
By the Associated Press, Nov. 3, 2011
The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has jumped by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy has calculated — a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing human-made global warming.
The world pumped about 564 million more tons (512 million metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009. That's an increase of 6%. This means that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case outlined by climate experts just four years ago. "The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing," said John Reilly, co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
It is a "monster" increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate Department of Energy figures in the past. Extra pollution in China and the U.S. account for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Marland said.
"Really dismaying," Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy department at Carnegie Mellon University, said of the new figures. "We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren."
"OVERPOPULATION" AND ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS
By Ian Angus and Simon Butler
The United Nations says that the world's population has just reached 7 billion people this month. The approach of that milestone has produced a wave of articles and opinion pieces blaming the world's environmental crises on overpopulation. In New York's Times Square, a huge and expensive video declares that "human overpopulation is driving species extinct." In London's busiest underground stations, electronic poster boards warn that 7 billion is ecologically unsustainable.
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich's bestseller The Population Bomb declared that as a result of overpopulation, "the battle to feed humanity is over," and the 1970s would be a time of global famines and ever-rising death rates. His predictions were all wrong, but four decades later his successors still use Ehrlich's phrase — too many people! — to explain environmental problems.
But most of the 7 billion are not endangering the earth. The majority of the world's people don't destroy forests, don't wipe out endangered species, don't pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.
Even in the rich countries of the Global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories, and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about humanity's survival.
No reduction in U.S. population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year.
Lower birthrates won't shut down Canada's tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.
Universal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right — but it would not have prevented Shell's massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.
Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protestors in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%, the handful of millionaires and billionaires who own more, consume more, control more, and destroy more than all the rest of us put together.
In the United States, the richest 1% own a majority of all stocks and corporate equity, giving them absolute control of the corporations that are directly responsible for most environmental destruction.
A recent report prepared by the British consulting firm Trucost for the United Nations found that just 3,000 corporations cause $2.15 trillion in environmental damage every year. Outrageous as that figure is -- only six countries have a GDP greater than $2.15 trillion -- it substantially understates the damage, because it excludes costs that would result from "potential high impact events such as fishery or ecosystem collapse," and "external costs caused by product use and disposal, as well as companies' use of other natural resources and release of further pollutants through their operations and suppliers."
So in the case of oil companies, the figure covers "normal operations," but not deaths and destruction caused by global warming, not damage caused by worldwide use of its products, and not the multi-billions of dollars in costs to clean up oil spills. The real damage those companies alone do is much greater than $2.15 trillion, every single year.
The 1% also control the governments that supposedly regulate those destructive corporations. The millionaires include 46% of members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 54 out of 100 senators, and every president since Eisenhower.
Through the government, the 1% control the U.S. military, the largest user of petroleum in the world, and thus one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Military operations produce more hazardous waste than the five largest chemical companies combined. More than 10% of all Superfund hazardous waste sites in the United States are on military bases.
Those who believe that slowing population growth will stop or slow environmental destruction are ignoring these real and immediate threats to life on our planet. Corporations and armies aren't polluting the world and destroying ecosystems because there are too many people, but because it is profitable to do so.
If the birthrate in Iraq or Afghanistan falls to zero, the U.S. military will not use one less gallon of oil.
If every African country adopts a one-child policy, energy companies in the U.S., China, and elsewhere will continue burning coal, bringing us ever closer to climate catastrophe.
Critics of the too many people argument are often accused of believing that there are no limits to growth. In our case, that simply isn't true. What we do say is that in an ecologically rational and socially just world, where large families aren't an economic necessity for hundreds of millions of people, population will stabilize. In Betsy Hartmann's words, "The best population policy is to concentrate on improving human welfare in all its many facets. Take care of the population and population growth will go down."
The world's multiple environmental crises demand rapid and decisive action, but we can't act effectively unless we understand why they are happening. If we misdiagnose the illness, at best we will waste precious time on ineffective cures; at worst, we will make the crises worse.
The "too many people" argument directs the attention and efforts of sincere activists to programs that will not have any substantial effect. At the same time, it weakens efforts to build an effective global movement against ecological destruction: It divides our forces, by blaming the principal victims of the crisis for problems they did not cause.
Above all, it ignores the massively destructive role of an irrational economic and social system that has gross waste and devastation built into its DNA. The capitalist system and the power of the 1%, not population size, are the root causes of today's ecological crisis.
As pioneering ecologist Barry Commoner once said, "Pollution begins not in the family bedroom, but in the corporate boardroom."
— Ian Angus and Simon Butler are the co-authors of "Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis." This article appeared in Grist Oct. 26.
13. SAVE THE PLANET, REDUCE MEAT CONSUMPTION
By Heather Moore
There are currently about 7 billion people on this planet, and experts predict that there will be at least 9 billion by 2050. Global meat consumption is projected to double by then too. The Earth simply cannot sustain so many meat-eaters.
A recent report by the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project shows that global meat production increased by 2.6% in 2010. Worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20% in the past 10 years. Much of the meat is produced in industrialized countries. The average American eats twice as much meat as the average person worldwide. According to Worldwatch President Robert Engelman, the "world's supersized appetite for meat" is one of the main reasons why greenhouse-gas emissions are still increasing rapidly.
If we want to halt climate change — as well as conserving fossil fuel, water, land and other resources — we must at least cut back on the amount of meat we eat. Pigs, chickens, cows, sheep and other animals raised for food produce approximately 130 times as much excrement as the entire U.S. human population. Just one cow can produce 140 pounds of manure a day. Animal waste releases powerful greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. The livestock sector is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide, greenhouses gasses that are 25 and 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, respectively.
These greenhouse gasses wreak havoc on the climate, ultimately causing coastal flooding, forest fires, volatile food prices, public health problems, and other environmental issues that, in turn, impact our economy as well....
But we can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions right now simply by eating more meatless meals. When the Environmental Working Group calculated the ecological impact of various conventionally grown foods, they found that if every American stopped eating meat and cheese for even just one day a week, it would be the same as if we collectively drove 91 billion fewer miles a year. Meat and dairy products require more resources and cause more greenhouse-gas emissions than do plant-based foods, according to a 2010 United Nations Environment Programme report. The report concludes that "a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."
This has been the consensus of many studies on the connection between diet and climate change. One study, conducted by German scientists from the Institute for Ecological Economy Research, even indicates that the volume of greenhouse gasses caused by a vegan's diet is seven times smaller than the volume of emissions caused by a meat-eater's diet.
The popular "Meatless Mondays" campaign, which was launched in the United States in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is now active in 21 countries. If we want to combat the harmful environmental and economic effects of rising global meat consumption, we must all observe "Meatless Mondays" on other days too. Many Americans have already cut back on meat—and that’s a great start—but imagine what a difference it would make for the environment, animals and our health if everyone went vegan.
A more extensive and broader article on this topic titled "Diet for an Endangered Planet" appeared in the Jan. 24, 2009, Activist Newsletter. (Go to blog index to the right, click on 2009, then on Jan. 24.)
— Heather Moore is on the staff of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
14. CIA SAYS U.S. EXAGGERATED SOVIET WAR POWER
By John Glaser
Declassified CIA documents reveal that the United States drastically overestimated the number of Soviet missiles in the beginning of the Cold War arms race in the 1950s and 1960s.
During the so-called Missile Gap period, American politicians and the public believed that the Soviet Union had hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), outmatching the U.S. in bombing capabilities. But over 189 documents were recently released which "showed the Soviets didn’t really have an advantage, " Chief of the CIA’s Historical Collections Division Bruce S. Barkan said.
John F. Kennedy showed himself stronger on defense by hyping this "gap" when debating Richard Nixon for the presidency, and continued to inflate the threat during his term. But one of the documents from Sept. 21, 1961, debunked this theory, providing evidence that the Soviets only had four ICBMs.
During the Eisenhower administration, there was a concern about a "bomber gap, " that the Soviets had more bomber aircraft than the U.S. The CIA discredited this and by 1957, the bomber gap concept turned into the missile gap.
The government has a record of inflating security threats and parallels can be drawn with today’s supposed threats. Iran is consistently hyped as a major threat, specifically a nuclear threat, despite leaked intelligence that there is no nuclear weapons program. Before the 2003 US invasion, the threat from Iraq too was inflated, to tragic effect. Similarly, terrorism is recognized by many experts as a much weaker threat than Washington makes it out to be.
Overestimating the Soviet threat during the Cold War not only led to an enormous and unnecessary build-up of arms, it served as the justification for various deadly wars abroad and the loss of civil liberties at home. Today’s threat inflation has similar consequences in both foreign and domestic policy.
— From Antiwar.com, Sept. 28.
15. OBAMA'S ARC OF INSTABILITY
By Nick Turse
It’s a story that should take your breath away: the destabilization of what, in the Bush years, used to be called "the arc of instability. " It involves at least 97 countries, across the bulk of the global south, much of it coinciding with the oil heartlands of the planet. A startling number of these nations are now in turmoil, and in every single one of them — from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zambia — Washington is militarily involved, overtly or covertly, in outright war or what passes for peace.
Garrisoning the planet is just part of it. The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services are also running covert special forces and spy operations, launching drone attacks, building bases and secret prisons, training, arming, and funding local security forces, and engaging in a host of other militarized activities right up to full-scale war. But while you consider this, keep one fact in mind: the odds are that there is no longer a single nation in the arc of instability in which the United States is in no way militarily involved.
"Freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East, " the president said in his speech. "The hope of liberty now reaches from Kabul to Baghdad to Beirut and beyond. Slowly but surely, we're helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom. "
An arc of freedom. You could be forgiven if you thought that this was an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s Arab Spring speech, where he said "[I]t will be the policy of the United States to… support transitions to democracy. " Those were, however, the words of his predecessor George W. Bush [on Feb. 24, 2006]. The giveaway is that phrase "arc of instability, " a core rhetorical concept of the former president’s global vision and that of his neoconservative supporters.
The dream of the Bush years was to militarily dominate that arc, which largely coincided with the area from North Africa to the Chinese border, also known as the Greater Middle East, but sometimes was said to stretch from Latin America to Southeast Asia. While the phrase has been dropped in the Obama years, when it comes to projecting military power President Obama is in the process of trumping his predecessor.
In addition to waging more wars in "arc " nations, Obama has overseen the deployment of greater numbers of special operations forces to the region, has transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons there, while continuing to build and expand military bases at a torrid rate, as well as training and supplying large numbers of indigenous forces. Pentagon documents and open source information indicate that there is not a single country in that arc in which U.S. military and intelligence agencies are not now active. This raises questions about just how crucial the American role has been in the region’s increasing volatility and destabilization.
Given the centrality of the arc of instability to Bush administration thinking, it was hardly surprising that it launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in three other arc states — Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Nor should anyone have been shocked that it also deployed elite military forces and special operators from the Central Intelligence Agency elsewhere within the arc.
In his book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the "Worldwide Attack Matrix, " for "detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries. " At about the same time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on "a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries. " By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world.
It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly. Last year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia. Recently, however, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America’s elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year’s end would be around 120. These forces are engaged in a host of missions, from Army Rangers involved in conventional combat in Afghanistan to the team of Navy SEALs who assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, to trainers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines within U.S. Special Operations Command working globally from the Dominican Republic to Yemen.
The United States is now involved in wars in six arc-of-instability nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen [and now Uganda]. It has military personnel deployed in other arc states, including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Of these countries, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all host U.S. military bases, while the CIA is reportedly building a secret base somewhere in the region for use in its expanded drone wars in Yemen and Somalia. It is also using already existing facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates for the same purposes, and operating a clandestine base in Somalia where it runs indigenous agents and carries out counterterrorism training for local partners.
In addition to its own military efforts, the Obama administration has also arranged for the sale of weaponry to regimes in arc states across the Middle East, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It has been indoctrinating and schooling indigenous military partners through the State Department’s and Pentagon’s International Military Education and Training program. Last year, it provided training to more than 7,000 students from 130 countries. "The emphasis is on the Middle East and Africa because we know that terrorism will grow, and we know that vulnerable countries are the most targeted, " Kay Judkins, the program’s policy manager, recently told the American Forces Press Service.
According to Pentagon documents released earlier this year, the U.S. has personnel — some in token numbers, some in more sizeable contingents — deployed in 76 other nations sometimes counted in the arc of instability: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Syria, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
While arrests of 30 members of an alleged CIA spy ring in Iran earlier this year may be, like earlier incarcerations of supposed American "spies ", pure theater for internal consumption or international bargaining, there is little doubt that the U.S. is conducting covert operations there, too. Last year, reports surfaced that U.S. black ops teams had been authorized to run missions inside that country, and spies and local proxies are almost certainly at work there as well. Just recently, the Wall Street Journal revealed a series of "secret operations on the Iran-Iraq border " by the U.S. military and a coming CIA campaign of covert operations aimed at halting the smuggling of Iranian arms into Iraq.
All of this suggests that there may, in fact, not be a single nation within the arc of instability, however defined, in which the United States is without a base or military or intelligence personnel, or where it is not running agents, sending weapons, conducting covert operations — or at war.
Just after President Obama came into office in 2009, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Drawing special attention to the arc of instability, he summed up the global situation this way: "The large region from the Middle East to South Asia is the locus for many of the challenges facing the United States in the twenty-first century." Since then, as with the Bush-identified phrase "global war on terror," the Obama administration and the U.S. military have largely avoided using "arc of instability," preferring to refer to it using far vaguer formulations.
During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, for example, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, then the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, pointed toward a composite satellite image of the world at night. Before September 11, 2001, said Olson, the lit portion of the planet — the industrialized nations of the global north — were considered the key areas. Since then, he told the audience, 51 countries, almost all of them in the arc of instability, have taken precedence. "Our strategic focus," he said, "has shifted largely to the south... certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren't."
More recently, in remarks at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., John O. Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, outlined the president’s new National Strategy for Counterterrorism, which highlighted carrying out missions in the "Pakistan-Afghanistan region " and "a focus on specific regions, including what we might call the periphery — places like Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and the Maghreb [northern Africa]. "
"This does not, " Brennan insisted, "require a ‘global’ war" — and indeed, despite the Bush-era terminology, it never has. While, for instance, planning for the 9/11 attacks took place in Germany and would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid hailed from the United Kingdom, advanced, majority-white Western nations have never been American targets. The "arc " has never arced out of the global south, whose countries are assumed to be fundamentally unstable by nature and their problems fixable through military intervention.
A decade’s evidence has made it clear that U.S. operations in the arc of instability are destabilizing. For years, to take one example, Washington has wielded military aid, military actions, and diplomatic pressure in such a way as to undermine the government of Pakistan, promote factionalism within its military and intelligence services, and stoke anti-American sentiment to remarkable levels among the country’s population. (According to a recent survey, just 12% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the United States.)
A semi-secret drone war in that nation’s tribal borderlands, involving hundreds of missile strikes and significant, if unknown levels, of civilian casualties, has been only the most polarizing of Washington’s many ham-handed efforts. When it comes to that CIA-run effort, a recent Pew survey of Pakistanis found that 97% of respondents viewed it negatively, a figure almost impossible to achieve in any sort of polling.
In Yemen, long-time support — in the form of aid, military training, and weapons, as well as periodic air or drone strikes — for dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh led to a special relationship between the U.S. and elite Yemeni forces led by Saleh’s relatives. This year, those units have been instrumental in cracking down on the freedom struggle there, killing protesters and arresting dissenting officers who refused orders to open fire on civilians. It’s hardly surprising that, even before Yemen slid into a leaderless void (after Saleh was wounded in an assassination attempt), a survey of Yemenis found — again a jaw-dropping polling figure — 99% of respondents viewed the U.S. government’s relations with the Islamic world unfavorably, while just 4% "somewhat " or "strongly approved" of Saleh’s cooperation with Washington.
Instead of pulling back from operations in Yemen, however, the U.S. has doubled down. The CIA, with support from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, has been running local agents as well as a lethal drone campaign aimed at Islamic militants. The U.S. military has been carrying out its own air strikes, as well as sending in more trainers to work with indigenous forces, while American black ops teams launch lethal missions, often alongside Yemeni allies.
These efforts have set the stage for further ill-will, political instability, and possible blowback. Just last year, a U.S. drone strike accidentally killed Jabr al-Shabwani, the son of strongman Sheikh Ali al-Shabwani. In an act of revenge, Ali repeatedly attacked one of Yemen's largest oil pipelines, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue for the Yemeni government, and demanded Saleh stop cooperating with the U.S. strikes.
Earlier this year, in Egypt and Tunisia, long-time U.S. efforts to promote what it liked to call "regional stability" — through military alliances, aid, training, and weaponry — collapsed in the face of popular movements against the U.S.-supported dictators ruling those nations. Similarly, in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, popular protests erupted against authoritarian regimes partnered with and armed courtesy of the U.S. military. It’s hardly surprising that, when asked in a recent survey whether President Obama had met the expectations created by his 2009 speech in Cairo, where he called for "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, " only 4% of Egyptians answered yes. (The same poll found only 6% of Jordanians thought so and just 1% of Lebanese.)
A recent Zogby poll of respondents in six Arab countries — Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — found that, taking over from a president who had propelled anti-Americanism in the Muslim world to an all-time high, Obama managed to drive such attitudes even higher. Substantial majorities of Arabs in every country now view the U.S. as not contributing "to peace and stability in the Arab World. "
U.S. interference in the arc of instability is certainly nothing new. Leaving aside current wars, over the last century, the United States has engaged in military interventions in the global south in Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other places. The CIA has waged covert campaigns in many of the same countries, as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, and Syria, to name just a few.
Like George W. Bush before him, Barack Obama evidently looks out on the "unlit world" and sees a source of global volatility and danger for the United States. His answer has been to deploy U.S. military might to blunt instability, shore up allies, and protect American lives.
Despite the salient lesson of 9/11— interventions abroad beget blowback at home — he has waged wars in response to blowback that have, in turn, generated more of the same. A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that most Americans differ with the president when it comes to his idea of how the U.S. should be involved abroad. Seventy-five percent of voters, for example, agreed with this proposition in a recent poll: "The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest." In addition, clear majorities of Americans are against defending Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other arc of instability countries, even if they are attacked by outside powers.
After decades of overt and covert U.S. interventions in arc states, including the last 10 years of constant warfare, most are still poor, underdeveloped, and seemingly even more unstable. This year, in their annual failed state index — a ranking of the most volatile nations on the planet — Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace placed the two arc nations that have seen the largest military interventions by the U.S. — Iraq and Afghanistan — in their top 10. Pakistan and Yemen ranked 12 and 13, respectively, while Somalia — the site of U.S. interventions under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, during the Bush presidency in the 2000s, and again under Obama — had the dubious honor of being number one.
For all the discussions here about (armed) "nation-building efforts" in the region, what we’ve clearly witnessed is a decade of nation unbuilding that ended only when the peoples of various Arab lands took their futures into their own hands and their bodies out into the streets. As recent polling in arc nations indicates, people of the global south see the United States as promoting or sustaining, not preventing, instability, and objective measures bear out their claims. The fact that numerous popular uprisings opposing authoritarian rulers allied with the U.S. have proliferated this year provides the strongest evidence yet of that.
With Americans balking at defending arc-of-instability nations, with clear indications that military interventions don’t promote stability, and with a budget crisis of epic proportions at home, it remains to be seen what pretexts the Obama administration will rely on to continue a failed policy — one that seems certain to make the world more volatile and put American citizens at greater risk.
— Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and a senior editor at AlterNet. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso). This article appeared Sept. 18 at http://www.alternet.org/story/152458
16. INTERNATIONAL NEWS IN BRIEF
By the Activist Newsletter
•• AN APOLOGY, NEARLY 60 YEARS TOO LATE: The Guatemalan government a has formally apologized to the family of former President Jacobo Arbenz — 57 years after the CIA-instigated the coup that ousted the democratically-elected leader from office. Arbenz's main "crime" was threatening to nationalize the powerful Rockefeller-owned United Fruit Company.
At a ceremony in late October, President Alvaro Colom asked Arbenz’s family for forgiveness. Speaking at the event, Arbenz’s son, Juan Jacobo, called on the United States to follow suit. After the coup, the people of Guatemala experienced 36 years of violent abuse and military atrocities by Washington-supported dictators and right wing death squads. Well over 100,000 civilians — mostly poor indigenous people — were slaughtered over the years.
Ironically, a former general during the years of rightist dictatorship — Otto Pérez Molina — was elected president Nov. 6. According to the New York Times Pérez Molina was selected in a low-turnout election in hopes "that he can defeat the forces now tearing this country apart — the interwoven threats of random crime, gangs, Mexican drug cartels and complicit government officials and companies." (Edited from Democracy Now and the NYT.)
•• CLIMATE CHANGE ENDANGERS GLOBAL SOUTH — Countries in the global south face the highest risks from rising sea levels, floods, dangerous heat and other climate change impacts, according to a world survey aimed at guiding city planners and investors. The study by the UK risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft, released on Oct. 25, listed the 10 most vulnerable countries in this order: Haiti, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Cambodia, Mozambique, D.R. Congo, Malawi, and the Philippines.
The survey also ranked the top-20 fastest-growing cities and megacities in terms of extreme climate change risk by 2020. Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, is the megacity most at risk with an "extreme" ranking. Other megacities at extreme or high risk include Manila (Philippines), Kolkata (formerly Calcutta, India), Jakarta (Indonesia), Kinshasa (D.R. Congo), Lagos (Nigeria), Delhi (India) and Guangzhou (China). Miami is judged at a high risk as is Singapore, while New York and Sydney were considered medium risk.
•• COLOMBIAN GUERRILLA LEADER KILLED —The killing of the top commander of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group dealt what might be the most severe blow yet to the four-decade-old insurgency, but security experts said Nov. 5 that the rebels still had the ability to regroup and carry on the fight.
Elite Colombian forces had been hunting the commander, Alfonso Cano, 63, since he took over the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) three years ago, before they killed him near a rebel camp in the remote southwest on Nov. 4....
The rebels have suffered numerous setbacks in recent years....[but they have] been able to carry out deadly attacks on Colombia’s security forces. In the space of a few days last month, one attack attributed to the group killed 10 soldiers in the province of Nariño and another killed 10 soldiers near the border with Venezuela. (New York Times.)
17. DOMESTIC NEWS IN BRIEF
By the Activist Newsletter
•• DROP 'BROOKLYN BRIDGE' ARREST CHARGES — Attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) requested in a letter Nov. 10 that New York City District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. dismiss all charges against the 700+ demonstrators who were subject to mass false arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1 be dismissed.
The letter states that the trap-and-arrest tactic used by police is unlawful and unconstitutional, and that the mass arrest was devoid of probable cause. Citing relevant constitutional law and cases dealing with similar illegal mass arrests, as well as entrapment and the legal requirements for "fair notice," the letter provides the legal basis for the complete dismissal of charges.
Announcing their action, the PCJF said: “Those who were arrested and handcuffed, had their free speech activities stopped, spent hours being held and processed by the NYPD, are now being required by the DA’s office to suffer the hardship of returning to court for appearances, to obtain defense counsel, and to go to trial should they opt to defend themselves, even though there is no lawful basis for the arrests."
•• MUMIA'S DEATH SENTENCE THROWN OUT — The Supreme Court has upheld a lower-court ruling throwing out the death sentence of former Black Panther and acclaimed author Mumia Abu-Jamal. The high court left in place lower-court rulings that would allow a new jury to determine if Mumia will face execution or serve life in prison. The Supreme Court’s Oct. 11 decision means that for the prosecutors to try to reimpose the death penalty against Mumia they would have to order a new sentencing trial. That poses a risk to the prosecutors, as a sentencing trial would give Mumia an opportunity to expose the illegal conduct of the state in the original trial.
It is recognized by millions of supporters around the world that Mumia was framed for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, who was shot during a traffic stop of Mumia's younger brother. Mumia was arrested at the scene and convicted of first-degree murder a year later.
Mumia has exhausted his appeals on that conviction, despite strong evidence of his innocence and grievous misconduct by the judge and prosecutor during the trial. Mumia’s death sentence was thrown out by federal district judge William Yohn in 2001 because the trial jury was given improper instructions in the sentencing phase. Yohn ordered a new sentencing trial, but Philadelphia prosecutors and politicians challenged his decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The prosecutors lost and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. (From LiberationNews.org.)
•• GAY MALES EXPERIENCE JOB DISCRIMINATION — A new study has found openly gay males are 40% less likely to be granted job interviews than their heterosexual counterparts. Published in the American Journal of Sociology, the study is said to be the first of its kind to investigate discrimination against gay males seeking jobs. Researchers conducted the study by sending two nearly identical resumes to more than 1,700 white-collar job openings across the United States, with the lone difference being that one mentioned the applicant’s membership in a gay organization while in college. (From Democracy Now.)
•• SOLDIER JUSTIFIES AFGHAN KILLINGS — An Army staff sergeant accused of masterminding the murders of three Afghan civilians for "sport" gave his first public comments about the case at his court martial Nov. 4. He denied involvement in any plot but acknowledged he sliced fingers off their corpses — "like keeping the antlers off a deer you'd shoot."
Wearing his green uniform decorated with service ribbons, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs of Billings, Mont., contradicted the accounts of co-defendants and fellow soldiers who portrayed him as an imposing, bloodthirsty sociopath. He told the judges at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., that each of the killings was legitimate.
Gibbs is the highest-ranking of five soldiers charged in the killings, which took place in January, February and May of last year. Prosecutors said Gibbs and his co-defendants slaughtered the victims with grenades and powerful machine guns during patrols in Kandahar province then dropped weapons near their bodies to make them appear to have been combatants. (AP, Nov. 5)