Feb 13, 2012, Issue #175
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
email@example.com, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. MAKE TOYS, NOT WAR
2. MORE DANGER TO THE ENVIRONMENT
3. THE LABOR MOVEMENT AND THE DEMOCRATS
4. CONGRESS OKAYS DOMESTIC SPY DRONES
5. IS SYRIA THE NEW LIBYA?
6. THE PERIL OF IDOLIZING OUR MILITARY
7. POLL: AMERICANS OPPOSE CUBA EMBARGO
8. THE DEAL THAT 'SAVED' DETROIT
9. HOW DO U.S. VOTERS VIEW THE ISSUES?
10. WHAT'S BEHIND THE PAYROLL TAX CUT?
11. OBAMA'S FAVORITE WALL STREETERS
12. 'NO WAR ON IRAN' PROTESTS ACROSS U.S.
13. 'MORE DANGEROUS THAN A THOUSAND RIOTERS'
14. CLIMATE SCIENTISTS STAND UP TO ANGRY 'DENIERS'
15. ACLU SUES U.S. FOR ASSASSINATION RECORDS
16. THREATS TO CHURCH-STATE SEPARATION
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
Adam Smith (1723-1790), the Scottish economist revered — though occasionally in the breach — by today’s defenders of the free-market capitalist economy, is best known for his 1776 opus, “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” Tucked away in “Wealth of Nations,” which was written at the dawn of the industrial era before the word "capitalism" was invented, is the following insight: "Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is, in reality, instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have property against those who have none at all."
1. MAKE TOYS, NOT WAR
By the Activist Newsletter
The U.S. has yet to respond to a report from Iran that the American drone the Teheran government captured in December was being returned to Washington. The entire gesture has been ignored by the Obama Administration, including the fact that Iranians dramatically altered the appearance of the multi-million dollar pilotless surveillance drone.
Iranian TV broadcast footage of the drone draped in anti-American banners after it was captured near the Afghan border. Iran's Foreign Ministry complained to the UN Security Council and demanded an apology from the U.S. for illegally intruding on Iranian air space on a spying mission.
According to Reuters, the drone was being returned with a small makeover: "Mocking requests to return the drone, a local toy company is sending back a miniature model of the RQ-170 Sentinel to President Barack Obama." It was sent to him via the Swiss embassy on Feb. 1.
The news agency quoted a toy company spokesman as saying: "We wanted for Mr. Obama himself to have these toys and know that Iranians don't leave anyone's requests unanswered.... We decided to show that we can deal with this issue in a very friendly and peaceful manner and put it in the playful hands of the children of Iran to pursue a 'soft war' with Mr. Obama and the U.S. This was the aim of producing this aircraft." Toy models were supposed to go on sale in Iran in early February, priced at 70,000 rials ($4) each.
Iran's Fars News Agency reported that the aerospace unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps built a full scale model of the downed RQ-170 and that it went on display at rallies Feb. 11, marking the 33rd anniversary of the country's Islamic Revolution.
2. MORE DANGER TO THE ENVIRONMENT
By Donna Goodman, of the Activist Newsletter
President Obama's State of the Union speech Jan. 25 contained distressing news for opponents of global warming who recognize the need to begin substantially reducing reliance upon carbon based fossil fuels.
"Over the last three years," Obama said, "we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration. And tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources." The next day, CNN reported, Washington announced "plans to sell off oil and gas leases on 38 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico seafloor in a new domestic energy push."
The extraction of natural gas in the enormous volume sought by the Obama Administration depends primarily on a vast nationwide increase in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract this energy resource from shale rock. Fracking is the process of pumping chemicals at high pressure into the ground to crack the rock and release the gas within.
Obama announced that with the relatively recent development of fracking technology the country now "has a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years" — and he made it clear every drop of that resource should be exploited.
The growing popular movement against fracking argues that it is a serious danger to water supplies, among other unwelcome attributes. Obama sought to refute this concern in his speech: "I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use."
None of the millions of New York State acres slated for fracking is on "public lands," not that merely disclosing the chemicals would do any good. Activist opposition has delayed fracking so far, but key politicians such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and powerful business interests are applying their own high pressure to legalize the process soon.
As noted in a recent Activist Newsletter, the Obama Administration justifies the increased production of global warming natural gas because it emits a lower percentage of carbon dioxide when used, but that's deceptive. 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.
President Obama spoke of developing renewable, non-fossil energy resources, declaring "I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany." But the U.S. is far behind and will remain so given its fixation of oil and gas. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs Online, S. Julio Friedmann, head of the Carbon Management Program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, wrote: "China has become a global hub for energy innovation....The scale of its [clean energy] effort simply dwarfs every other on earth.... China's clean energy investment and deployment will dominate climate and trade trajectories for decades."
According to the authoritative Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Jan. 10: "The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth's atmosphere.... Since fossil-fuel burning power plants and infrastructure built in 2012-2020 will produce energy — and emissions — for 40 to 50 years, the actions taken in the next few years will set us on a path that will be impossible to redirect. Even if policy leaders decide in the future to reduce reliance on carbon-emitting technologies, it will be too late."
Obama warned about global warming and articulated support for solar and wind power when he campaigned for the presidency in 2008, but his principal environmental commitment in reality is obviously to oil, gas and — harmful in a different way — nuclear power.
The only time during his annual address that he mentioned the words "climate change" was in justifying his quest to develop ever more greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels by blaming the obstructive Republicans: "The differences in this chamber [Congress] may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change."
The Obama Administration has made no serious attempt to galvanize the American people behind a campaign to halt global warming. Nor has it played a constructive role in the yearly UN conferences of 191 nations and the European Union to halt climate change.
Assessing the failure of the last UN conference two months ago in Durban, South Africa, Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, declared: “Developed countries, led by the United States, accelerated the demolition of the world’s international framework for fair and urgent climate action. And developing countries have been bullied and forced into accepting an agreement that could be a suicide pill for the world.”
President Obama received praise from much of the environmental community after he announced Jan. 18 that that he was rejecting a proposal by TransCanada Corp. to construct the $7 billion, 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline from Canada's Tar Sands in Alberta to U.S. oil refineries in Texas. But that's only a part of the story. The odds are that the pipeline will indeed be constructed.
By late last year the Obama Administration was besieged with protests from the environmental movement to reject the pipeline because it signified the government's increased intention to rely on fossil fuels. In addition, residents of several Midwestern states objected because the pipeline was designed to pass over the huge Ogallala Aquifer, upon which the region depends.
Obama's solution was to delay a decision until after the election, and to request that TransCanada reconfigure the pipeline route.
Sensing an opportunity to embarrass the administration, pro-fossil fuel Republican leaders in Congress, who deny human activity affects the climate, demanded Obama make his decision public by Feb. 21. Obama then decided to reject the proposal on the grounds that Washington needed more time to study the matter, earning applause from the environmental movement. TransCanada is already developing an alternative route in the full expectation that it will be accepted several months after the election.
Opposition to Tar Sands isn't mainly because it's a dirty oil that generates 6% more carbon emissions than petroleum from other regions. The expensive Tar Sands project is part of an expanding parcel of greenhouse fuels that Washington champions and subsidizes while paying token attention to alternative renewable energy resources, and makes no attempt whatever to educate the public about the dangers of global warming.
By greatly increasing oil and gas drilling and calling for construction of new nuclear power facilities, the Obama Administration has just upped the ante in a big way. It seems logical that those who perceive the dangers of climate change and reliance on fracking and fossil fuels will respond by building even stronger the local and national movements for ecological sanity.
3. THE LABOR MOVEMENT AND THE DEMOCRATS
By Jack A. Smith, the Activist Newsletter
New anti-union legislation was passed by Congress earlier this month despite a Democratic majority in the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House.
It's one more indication that America's unions are over a barrel. The leadership of the Democratic Party — which is dependent on union support and money, especially this presidential election year — knows of labor's plight, says it sympathizes, and goes off whistling an idle tune.
President Obama and the Democratic House and Senate leadership nod with compassion but do virtually nothing when the unions seek support or the removal decades of anti-union legislation.
This has been going on for a long time. It is the main reason why the rich United States has the weakest protections for working people of all the wealthy democracies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and of many developing countries as well.
It is bad enough when the party known as "labor's friend" ignores past injustices, or even refuses to act on a labor priority (such as the Employee Free Choice Act). It's another matter when Democratic votes make it possible to perpetrate new anti-labor injuries, as took place Feb. 6 when the Senate passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill over union objections.
The worst part of the new legislation weakened bargaining rights for workers in the aviation and rail industries by increasing from 35% to 50% the number of worker signatures required to allow an election for union recognition. It was strongly backed by the airline industry.
Senate Democrats called the final version of the bill the best "compromise" possible with the reactionary House measure. "That’s a step back, not a compromise,” commented International Association of Machinists president Tom Buffenbarger, a sentiment shared by many unions.
The Senate vote was 70-20. Only 15 Democrats voted against the measure, as did five republicans. Three of the Democrats voting "no" were from the Northeast: Blumenthal (CT), Gillibrand (NY), and Leahy (VT).
The bill allocates $63.3 billion to the agency through September 2015, but it wasn't even necessary to pass the present measure at all. FAA reauthorization has been extended for the last four years by temporary funding, and this could have been continued until the labor restrictions were excised.
The "do-nothing" Tea Party-infused House passed the bill Feb. 3, 248-169. A respectable 157 Democrats voted against the anti-labor law, joined by 12 Republicans. Some two dozen Blue Dog (conservative) Democrats voted in favor.
[NOTE: Attached to the FAA bill is a rider that will permit flying surveillance drones to spy on Americans throughout the country. An article is directly below.]
After the Senate vote, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA declared: "We will not forget, and we will continue to build a movement of the 99% to stand up and fight back." The union praised the Democrats who stood up for collective bargaining, saying they "should be lauded as heroes." But they said nothing about the majority of Senate Democrats who made the legislation possible.
The labor movement was either quiet or moderately critical of the bill after the vote, even though the expectation was that President Obama would sign the measure into law.
The reason? This is an election year, and a union movement that has tethered itself to the Democratic Party since the mid-1930s won't be directly critical because it doesn't know where else to go. So it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a party that does all the taking and hardly any giving.
Labor sees it the way most liberals, progressives, Latinos, African Americans and average Democratic voters see it: The Republicans are much worse in terms of the interests of all working families. There are only two plausible parties, both entirely devoted to the ruling elite, but one is the relatively lesser "evil" to the other. That's how the American political system is rigged by the 1%.
What this means is that the Democrats need be only half-heartedly supportive of the union movement at best, in between periods of indifference, to enjoy labor's abundant campaign contributions and other forms of electoral support. Here's an example:
The draconian anti-labor Taft-Hartley law, passed by Congress 65 years ago, gravely weakened union rights by eviscerating aspects of the New Deal's National Labor Relations Act. There were several occasions over the decades when the Democrats enjoyed control of the White House, Senate and House (such as in the first two years of the Obama government, 2009-10), but the law remains on the books. The unions no longer bring up the issue, knowing that a substantial number of Democratic politicians would rather handle snakes than take on Taft-Hartley.
Given the history of the U.S. labor movement, it's remarkable that it finds itself in this situation, and doesn't at least demand adequate compensation for its generous, unstinting support.
American unions heroically led intensive struggles against oppressive corporate and government policies for many decades starting in the 1880s. They managed to obtain important rights for the workers, from the eight-hour day and paid vacations, to healthcare, pensions, and much more.
Often socialists and communists were in the front ranks of the union struggles and were the most reliable fighters, even as the top leadership of the labor movement gravitated to the right. Left participation was virtually crushed in the late 1940s when the internal purges began, and in the 1950s when the government-backed red hunts erupted throughout the country.
All the left militants were kicked out, except in a few progressive independent unions, and the commanding leadership of the union movement consisted of Cold Warriors and supporters of the Vietnam War who performed services abroad on behalf of Washington's anti-communist crusade. The leaders discouraged any talk of class struggle and even seemed to ban the use of the term "working class." Even today it's usually "working families" at best, and that all-isnclusive egalitarian community known as the "middle class," which seems to include everyone earning between $25 thousand and $250 thousand a year. (Brother can you spare a hundred grand?)
For many decades the labor movement was controlled at the very top by leaders who seemed to work more closely with big business and the government than with the rank and file. The labor movement finally began to break with the flagrant "business unionism" symbolized by the successive leaderships of Samuel Gompers, George Meany and Lane Kirkland when the AFL-CIO elected decent John Sweeney as president of the largest labor federation in 1995. He brought about a few reforms. Sweeney was succeeded by current president John Trumka — a Democratic loyalist, of course, but who from time to time seems interested in a certain degree of "union independence."
The AFL-CIO, Change to Win and independent unions worked hard for Obama in 2008, and were ecstatic when he was elected. But by 2011 — following repeated failures to stick up for working people and the unions — Trumka began mentioning "independence" more frequently, even hinting that future support might be based on the Democratic Party's actual performance, not its mere lesser "evil" existence. This year it probably only means withholding funds from a few of the worst Blue Dogs seeking reelection, and perhaps opposing a couple of conservative Democrats in primaries.
But at least it's a limited start, although unions are expected to be entirely silent about Obama's abundant shortcomings toward the workers and oppressed during the campaign. One example among many are the large teacher unions, who oppose the White House education plan but will work hard to get him reelected, as will the entire labor movement.
So far, for all their hundreds of millions of dollars and at least a memory of labor's brave militancy, dramatic strikes and sit-downs, and the righteousness of class struggle, there's not a peep out of the unions about ever launching a serious labor party to represent the interests of the working class, middle class, oppressed minorities and the poorest sector.
Until something much better comes along — and if it's not a labor party what is it? — the union movement seems ready to stick with the middling Democrats for fear of the greater "evil," thus indefinitely prolonging the uncompromised domination of American society by the top 1% and its minions.
This also means that in addition to the long-time wrongs done to the workers' movement that will not be righted, and the pro-worker legislation that will not be fought for by the Democrats, the union movement will be the occasional object of anti-labor shenanigans by its "friends" in Washington as happened this month in the FAA fiasco.
The labor movement is weak these days compared to some earlier periods. But who's to say this will always be the case?
The great labor leader Eugene V. Debs thoroughly understood the extreme problems and serious shortcomings of the union movement, perhaps better than anyone else, and elaborated them all in a 1894 declaration that ends with these words: "Not withstanding all of this, it is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission of emancipating the workers of the world from the thralldom of the ages is as certain of ultimate realization as the setting of the sun."
4. CONGRESS OKAYS DOMESTIC SPY DRONES
By Shaun Waterman, Washington Times
Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's ... a drone, and it's watching you. That's what privacy advocates fear from a bill Congress passed Feb. 6 to make it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.
The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015.
Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.
"There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities," said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
[According to the ACLU, "Unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life.... Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a 'surveillance society' in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the authorities."]
According to some estimates, the commercial drone market in the United States could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars once the FAA clears their use.
The agency projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation's skies by 2020.
The legislation would order the FAA, before the end of the year, to expedite the process through which it authorizes the use of drones by federal, state and local police and other agencies. The FAA currently issues certificates, which can cover multiple flights by more than one aircraft in a particular area, on a case-by-case basis.
The Department of Homeland Security is the only federal agency to discuss openly its use of drones in domestic airspace.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the department, operates nine drones, variants of the CIA's feared Predator. The aircraft, which are flown remotely by a team of 80 fully qualified pilots, are used principally for border and counter-narcotics surveillance under four long-term FAA certificates.
Officials say they can be used on a short-term basis for a variety of other public-safety and emergency-management missions if a separate certificate is issued for that mission....
The FAA has issued hundreds of certificates to police and other government agencies and a handful to research institutions, so far, to allow them to fly drones of various kinds over the United States for particular missions.
The agency said it issued 313 certificates in 2011 and 295 of them were still active at the end of the year, but the FAA refuses to disclose which agencies have the certificates and what their purposes are.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is "concerned about the implications for surveillance by government agencies," said attorney Jennifer Lynch. The provision in the legislation is the fruit of "a huge push by lawmakers and the defense sector to expand the use of drones" in American airspace, she added. The group is suing the FAA to obtain records of the certifications. "We need a list so we can ask [each agency], 'What are your policies on drone use? How do you protect privacy? How do you ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment?'" Lynch said.
According to Amie Stepanovich, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, "Currently, the only barrier to the routine use of drones for persistent surveillance are the procedural requirements imposed by the FAA for the issuance of certificates."
The Department of Transportation, the parent agency of the FAA, has announced plans to streamline the certification process for government drone flights this year, Stepanovich said. "We are looking at our options" to oppose that, she added....
The ACLU recently issued a report titled, "Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft. " It is available at http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/report-protecting-privacy-aerial-surveillance-recommendations-government-use.]
5. IS SYRIA THE NEW LIBYA?
[What's happening in Syria? Al-Qaeda has now joined the uprising. CNN reports the Pentagon is reviewing U.S military options. Russia has just accused Western states of secretly sending arms and advising the Syrian rebel factions. Republicans are calling for the U.S. to send arms to the fighters. The following report sheds light on some of these developments. It was written by Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar and appeared Feb. 13.]
By Pepe Escobar
A Kalashnikov in Iraq, until recently, sold for $100. Now it's at least $1,000, and most probably $1,500. Destination of choice: Syria. Auspices: al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI (al-Qaeda Iraq). Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing Feb. 10 in Aleppo.
Who would have thought that what Saudi Arabia's House of Saud wants in Syria — an Islamist regime — is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?
Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number one, in an eight-minute video titled "Onwards, Lions of Syria," has just called for the support of Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to topple Bashar al-Assad's "pernicious, cancerous regime." They had been responding, in kind, even before al-Zawahiri came into the picture. Not only those, but especially transplanted Libyan "freedom fighters," formerly known as "rebels."
Who would have thought that what NATOGCC (North Atlantic Treaty Organization-Gulf Cooperation Council) wants for Syria is exactly what al-Qaeda wants for Syria?
So when the Assad regime, for all its ghastly military offensives that essentially victimize civilians caught in cross fire, says it's fighting "terrorists," it's not exactly bending the truth. Even that ubiquitous, proverbial entity, the unnamed "U.S. official," is blaming AQI for the recent bombings. Same for Iraq's Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi; "We have intelligence information that a number of Iraqi jihadists went to Syria."
So if Syria could not be the new Libya in the sense of a UN resolution authorizing NATO humanitarian bombing — vetoed by Russia and China — Syria is a new Libya in the sense of unsavory ties between the "rebels" and hardcore Salafi-jihadis.
And as the West absolutely loves a win-win situation, no matter how prefabricated, that could also turn into the perfect Pentagon casus belli to intervene — as in freeing Syria from an "al-Qaeda" which was never there in the first place. Remember — for all the hype about the Pentagon/Obama Administration's "pivoting" from the Middle East to East Asia, the global war on terror (GWOT), rebranded by Obama as "overseas contingency operations" (OCO), is still alive and kicking.
[In an article in The Independent UK Feb. 12, Patrick Cockburn wrote: "Short of a serious split in the Syrian army, the opposition forces' best chance of success is to lure outside powers into such a venture. They want a repeat performance of what happened in Libya. The rag-tag militiamen who finally captured Tripoli would have been beaten in a few days without close air support from NATO. But Syria is not Libya, its powerful armed forces have not yet disintegrated, and, most importantly, it is not isolated internationally to anything like the same degree as Gaddafi was.]
Last year, Asia Times Online extensively reported that "liberated" Libya — "liberated" by the so-called NATO rebels — would descend into militia hell. That's exactly what's happening; at least 250 different militias in Misurata alone, according to Human Rights Watch, acting as cops on the beat, judges and exterminators all rolled into one. There's no Ministry of Justice to speak of in "liberated" Libya. If you go to jail, you end up dead; and if you are a sub-Saharan African, you get a bonus of extensive torture at a liberated resort before meeting the same fate.
Just as in Libya, as a matter of strategy, for the House of Saud/Qatar Sunni axis, any possibility of a real dialogue between the (armed) insurrection and the Assad regime has been thwarted. After all; the key objective is regime change. Thus crude propaganda — in an Arab media largely controlled either by Saudis or Qataris — rules.
Example; the much-lauded Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, which disgorges unending, unsubstantiated statistics on government "massacres" — and even "genocide" — gets its funds from a Dubai entity financed by shady Western and GCC donors.
As a bonus, the non-stop "opposition" spin totally laser-guides Western corporate media coverage. CNN attributed the Aleppo bombing to "terrorists" — in quotation marks. The BBC actually believed the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood spin according to which the Syrian government bombed itself. As for Arab media, it has totally ignored the AQI connection.
The Arab League — after renouncing its own report on Syria because it didn't fit the prefabricated narrative of an "evil" regime unilaterally bombing its people — is now peddling a supposedly humanitarian plan B: a joint Arab/UN peacekeeping mission to "supervise the execution of a cease-fire." But no one should be fooled; the agenda remains regime change....
6. THE PERIL OF IDOLIZING OUR MILITARY
By William Astore
Do you believe with President Obama that our military today constitutes a "generation of heroes" and that their teamwork and courage in battle show us the proper path forward in civilian life? Do you believe that the deadly effectiveness of the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden should inspire us to put aside differences in politics and to work together as a people?
As a retired veteran, such pro-military rhetoric in the president's state of the union address resonates with me, but as a student of history it makes me more than uncomfortable. In democratic societies, armed forces are funded and fielded to preserve liberties, not to provide templates for personal and societal behavior.
When civil aspirations are guided by and defined within military matrices, one gets the Iraq war of yesterday, the Afghan war of today, and the Iran (or Syria or insert-new-terrorist-nation here) war of tomorrow. Forever war is indeed the price for a nation that glorifies its military as the very best of its people and their ideals.
The kinetic (killing) competency of our military is certainly impressive, yet it's a competency that we must use judiciously and with restraint. When we elevate it as an example of "I've got your back" teamwork that all should be emulating, we tend to devalue diplomacy and the level of patience and perspective our country needs to display in an increasingly turbulent world.
Our dedicated military and its matchless strength should afford us the luxury of being patient and of keeping threats in perspective. But our unbridled extolment of the military -- our deeply personal investment in its power and methods as pointing the way forward in all walks of life -- encourages us instead to deploy our armed forces time and time again. We act impatiently, injudiciously, against threats we often exaggerate.
Iran is the latest such threat that has the drums of war beating. Iran is supposedly an incipient nuclear terrorist; defined as such, the preferred solution for our nation of military enthusiasts is decapitation by kinetic action.
But is the solution really that simple? Past events suggest otherwise. Military enthusiasts like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld believed they could torture and kill their way out of the war on terror. They embarked on a deadly game of "Whac-A-Mole" with results as frustrating as that game. After criticizing them for this, the Obama Administration joined them. Like Michael Corleone in the Godfather saga, we keep whacking our enemies, yet a state of war and terror drags on, insidiously warping our nation's core beliefs and freedoms.
If we continue to focus on whacking terrorists (or terroristic nations), we suppress any chance of charting a less violent, less terrifying, course. Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, just when we think we're out of the war on terror, they'll pull us back in.
What we won't recognize is that the "they" doing the pulling will be us. We won't recognize it because we've invested so much of our national hopes and dreams into the killing abilities of our armed forces.
Yet however much we admire their competence in war, we must not allow that competence to inform our attitudes and aspirations for civil society. For when warriors become the civil elite, the role models par excellence, democracy is imperiled.
— William J. Astore writes for many liberal publications and websites and is a TomDispatch regular. He is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He is the author of "Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism" (Potomac Press, 2005), among other works.
7. POLL: AMERICANS OPPOSE CUBA EMBARGO
By the Activist Newsletter
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba signed by President John F. Kennedy Feb. 3, 1962. Subsequent punishments include the longstanding travel ban, the CIA's failed 1961 counterrevolutionary invasion, and thousands of acts of subversion and attempted assassinations.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower actually launched some smaller anti-Cuba sanctions in 1960, a year after the Cuban Revolution of Jan. 1, 1959, led by Fidel Castro, head of the July 26 Movement at the time. The revolution ended the reign of U.S. puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista, as well as 60 years of Yankee domination. Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations Jan. 2, 1961, just before Kennedy took office.
Running for office in 2008, Barack Obama declared that he planned to open a new and improved era of U.S.-Cuban relations if he was elected president, but he has done virtually nothing — even though the American people want an end to the embargo and travel ban, and the restoration of diplomatic relations.
According to a poll of Americans published Feb. 6 by Angus Reid Public Opinion organization:
• 62% of respondents agree with re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba (23% disagree); Those who agree with re-instituting bilateral ties include 64% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans.
• 57% of respondents feel it is time to lift the travel ban to the island.
• More than half of Americans, 51%, would lift the trade embargo (29% disagree).
• Only 35% of respondents agree with the policy of the U.S. to support non-governmental groups in Cuba "in order to foster protests against the current regime."
America has continued its anachronistic Cold War antagonism toward Cuba and its communist society long after the dispute with the Soviet Union ended, despite cordial relations with countries such as China and Vietnam.
Last October, for the 20th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly called for an end to Washington's economic blockade. The resolution was adopted 186-2 (the U.S. and Israel).
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla introduced the anti-blockade motion in the General Assembly. He said the embargo has caused nearly a trillion dollars in economic damage over the last half century — a huge sum for a small country of 11 million people. He also noted what was obvious to most of the world's nations: the objective of the embargo is to overthrow the Havana government.
“What the U.S. government wants to see changed will not change,” he stated. "Our elections shall not be auction sales. There shall not be billion dollar electoral campaigns nor a parliament supported by 13% of voters,” he added.
The Obama Administration's Ronald Godard told the General Assembly that the purpose of the sanctions was to support "freedom," and that the economic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is a "bilateral issue" and not the UN's concern. With two exceptions, the world evidently thinks differently.
8. THE DEAL THAT 'SAVED' DETROIT
[Editor's Note: In recent speeches, President Obama suggests he is developing policies to resuscitate U.S. manufacturing and bring jobs back to the U.S. A major element in his thinking is predicated on the current reality that wages are rising in developing countries (such as China) and are falling in the U.S. An example of Obama's intention is the revival of the auto industry in Detroit. As this article shows, lower wages and union givebacks are a big factor in the auto comeback.]
By Laura Flanders
President Obama is, as AP puts it, “wearing his decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler three years ago as a badge of honor” on his re-election campaign. It saved jobs and working communities, brought the US auto industry back from the brink. In January, US auto sales were up 11 percent over a year ago, and a proud president was cooing to the college students of Ann Arbor, Michigan:
“The American auto industry was on the verge of collapse and some politicians were willing to let it just die. We said no.… We believe in the workers of this state.”
You’re going to be hearing a lot about the deal that saved Detroit in the next few months, not least because likely opponent Mitt Romney was against it. Then Governor Romney wrote in the fall of 2008 that if the big three auto companies received a bailout, “we can kiss the American auto industry goodbye.” Romney bad; Obama good; Big Three back. The Deal with Detroit is gold dust for Democrats. Reality is a bit more complicated.
For one thing, it was Republican President Bush, not the Democrats’ Barack Obama, who originally decided not to stand by as the auto makers died. The deal saved an industry — US cars are still being made in the US — but it came at such a high price that in many ways it’s a whole new industry. The American auto industry that built middle-class lives as well as cars — that one we kissed good-bye, and it may be a while before we see it back again.
To review: in the fall of 2008, President George W. Bush announced a $17 billion loan, split into $13.4 billion at once and another $4 billion in February. The billions for Detroit were tied tight with all the string that had not been attached to the trillions simply given away to Wall Street. The Treasury never forced the financial industry to hand over majority shareholder control in exchange for access to the Troubled Asset Relief Program. No CEO of AIG or Bank of America or Wells Fargo had to shrink a wage or skimp on a pension. (Far from it, the Government Accountability Office found that the “standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments.”)
Big bucks for the Big Three, by contrast, came with all sorts of ties — mostly around the neck of the United Auto Workers and their members. When the deal was finally worked out, under Obama’s “Car Tsar” (a man with zero manufacturing experience but oodles of admiration from N.Y. developer Steve Rattner and Lawrence Summers), the workers' concessions amounted to a slash in labor costs from around $76 per worker-hour in 2006 to just over $50. Abandoning decades of principle, the UAW approved a two-tier wage structure in which new hires start at $14 per hour—roughly half the pay and benefits of more senior line workers. To top things off, Treasury demanded—just one more teeny thing—a strike ban. The pièce de no résistance! Under the government’s agreement with the companies, any strike by workers is grounds for forfeiting the loan.
The timing couldn’t be more poignant. Seventy-five years ago, in the winter of 1936–37, it was a strike at General Motors that won the first victory for the 1-year-old UAW, and won for organized labor the respect that made it possible to negotiate for those middle-class automakers’ lives. Late on December 30, 1936, autoworkers in Flint occupied a General Motors plant, launching a strike that, within less than a month, involved 135,000 workers in thirty-five cities across the country. When the union called for support in early January, 150,000 people showed up at Detroit’s Cadillac Square in a show of solidarity.
The Sit-Down Strike, as it came to be known, ended on February 11, 1937, with a defeat for GM, but for 44 days the company used every tactic to end the occupation. (Take courage, Occupy Wall Street!) In the dead of winter, owners turned off the heat to the occupied plants. Knowing the strikers depended on “solidarity kitchens,” they cut off food delivery. When police moved in on one of the plants in Flint in January, workers pelted officers with engine parts and police fired back tear gas and bullets, sending twenty-eight injured workers to the hospital. Women formed an Emergency Women’s Brigade. The next time police threatened to storm the plant gates, they found their way blocked by women locking arms—the indominatble “Rolling Pin Army.”
The battles of seventy-five years ago forced GM negotiators to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for the workers, and for a while at least, factory owners across the country negotiated in fear of a sit-down. Seventy-five years later Obama and the Democrats are cheerleading the deal that saved Detroit — and did away with the right to strike, at least temporarily. Now U.S. auto sales are on the rise and with unemployment what it is, the companies say there’s a line around the block for those $14-per-hour entry-level jobs.
“On the plus side we still have U.S.-based auto production,” says Ed Ott, former chair of the New York Central Labor Council. What are union rights going to be like going forward? “The unions say we’ll build back up. Let’s hope they’re right.”
A more likely scenario is $14-per-hour auto jobs are here to stay. If wages in the United States get low enough, they may even draw jobs back from where they’ve gone. As long as no one is looking to raise their taxes employers will see that offshore wages right here save them the trouble and cost of offshoring. What’s it mean for those workers’ families? Unless their low-wage lives are subsidized by more taxpayer dollars in the form of free or low-cost public services, they’re in for pretty lean years. UAW President Bob King (praised for his “flexibility”) is hopeful union strength will return. Heaven knows how.
Lucky us. We missed it the first time. Now, it looks as if we get to experience the Gilded Age all over again—and in another half century or so, some fed up autoworker may decide to sit down and occupy a factory.
— From The Nation online, http://www.thenation.com/blog/
9. HOW DO U.S. VOTERS VIEW THE ISSUES?
By the Activist Newsletter
A revealing portrayal of U.S. public opinion on key domestic and foreign issues was published Jan. 23 by the Pew Research Center for the People and The Press. There were a number of surprises.
A total of 1,502 Americans were asked, among other questions, to indicate their top priorities for the White House and Congress in 2012 based on 22 specific issues (with an error ratio of 3.5%).
It was expected that "strengthening the nation's economy" (86%) and "improving the job situation" (82%) would come in first and second, as they did. But it was unexpectedly disappointing — at least for those left of center — that "reforming campaign finance" (28%) and "dealing with global warming" (25%) ended up last (#21 and #22).
Contrary to right wing ranting and gratuitous White House suggestions of bipartisan compromise, 68% regarded "securing Social Security" to be a high priority (#5), and 61% thought the same of "securing Medicare" (#7).
"Improving education was a priority for 65% (#6); 61% agreed with "making the tax system more fair" (#8); 60% backed "reducing healthcare costs" (#9); 52% said "dealing with the problems of the poor and needy" was a priority (#11).
Only 43% considered "protecting the environment" a priority (#14), compared to 63% in 2001, a reflection of increasing conservatism in the U.S. Another minority, 40%, thought it important to "reduce the influence of lobbyists" (#15). Of interest, considering the brouhaha in some quarters about undocumented immigrants, "dealing with immigration" attracted only 38% (#16) compared to 55% five years ago.
Given increasing public awareness of the noxious influence of big money on the electoral process, especially after the Supreme Court's 2008 "Citizens United" decision allowing virtually unlimited campaign contributions, it was astonishing that campaign finance reform dropped from 37% in 2001 to 28% 11 years later.
Just as shocking was the last-place finish of global warming, since a considerably higher percentage believed halting climate change was a policy priority just five years ago before some of the most worrisome warnings were issued. According to the Pew analysis:
"Since it was first tested on the annual policy priorities list in 2007, the share of Americans who view dealing with global warming as a top priority has slipped from 38% to 25%. [This year] Democrats (38%) are far more likely than Republicans (11%) to rate this as a top priority. But the decline has occurred across party lines: In 2007, 48% of Democrats rated dealing with global warming as a top priority, as did 23% of Republicans."
As we noted in the last Activist Newsletter, "In 2002, 75% of the American people correctly believed human activity to be mainly responsible for global warming, but today, the number of Americans who do so has dropped to 44%. This is mainly because of duplicitous propaganda from Big Business, the Republican Party, and the escalation of right wing activism. But the lackadaisical attitude of the Obama Administration is a factor as well. President Obama has never utilized the White House 'bully pulpit' to galvanize the American people into action on this issue in the face of continual conservative climate change denial."
As expected, on most of the priority issues the Republicans were far more right wing in their views. But 71% of GOP voters backed "securing" Social Security as a priority, as did 56% regarding Medicare, compared respectively to 73% and 71% for Democrats. Independents usually .assume a middle position between the two ruling parties, but on these issues they were somewhat more conservative than the Republicans with 66% prioritizing Social Security and 55% doing the same for Medicare.
In terms of the "Top danger to the U.S." (as opposed to policy priorities), those who answered pointed to Iran (28%), up from 12% just one year ago, a product of intensified half truths from Washington and its amplified echo in the mass media. China was second with 22% (20% last year). This will increase, perhaps perilously, unless the White House and Congress modify their intensifying effort to depict the Beijing government as a potential economic and military "threat" to America.
10. WHAT'S BEHIND THE PAYROLL TAX CUT?
By the Activist Newsletter
“If Congress refuses to act," President Obama declared Feb. 11 in his weekly radio address, "middle class taxes will go up — it's that simple.”
He was speaking about a 10-month renewal of the temporary payroll tax reduction for 160 million working people that is due to expire at the end of February. But it's not "that simple."
The chances are that right/far right Republicans in Congress will finally agree to the extension before the deadline since they are aware that their obstructive antics and pro-1% policies may cost them House seats in November. At this stage they are still demanding great concessions from the Democrats before giving up.
However, there is another side to the entire matter of reducing the payroll tax.
Many millions of Americans cheered when House Republicans capitulated Dec. 23 and joined the Senate in approving the Obama Administration's two-month payroll tax cut extension eight days before its scheduled expiration. Obama had sought a one-year renewal of the tax cut that went into effect at the beginning of 2011, hence the fight for 10 more months.
There was something to cheer about in the defeat of far right politicians in the House, but in another sense, dipping into the payroll tax is potentially injurious to the Social Security system.
The payroll tax finances Social Security, which nearly all Republican politicians are seeking to dismantle despite its popularity. Their main accusation is that the Social Security fund will run out of money in future decades, necessitating immediate drastic revisions, including privatization.
Last December, before the payroll tax vote, the group Strengthen Social Security (SSS) urged Congress to oppose the measure. This is a coalition of over 300 largely liberal groups representing 50 million members, including the AFL-CIO, and "many of the nation’s leading aging, labor, disability, women’s, children, consumer, civil rights and equality organizations." In addition, 61 House Democrats urged President Obama last July not to extend the payroll tax relief for a second year.
The coalition seems quieter three months later in a year when Obama's seeking reelection, but its critique still holds, as does the recommendation that "A targeted lump-sum tax credit like the 2008 stimulus payment has a variety of advantages over the extension of the payroll tax cut," particularly "for families with low and modest incomes."
Obama obtained the first one-year payroll tax "holiday," along with an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, in December 2010 negotiations with Congressional Republicans. The GOP price was a two-year extension of former President Bush's decade-long tax cuts, which largely benefited millionaires and have so far reduced government revenues by over $1.35 trillion.
The payroll measure reduces the amount taken out of paychecks from 6.2% to 4.2% for 160 million workers, providing them on average with about $900 extra dollars in a year. The 6.2% employers pay into the fund for each employee does not change. The approximately $115 billion not collected in taxes during 2011 are supposed to be restored to the Social Security fund through Treasury credits or interest on its bonds. Another $20 billion wasn't collected in January-February.
In addition to the payroll measure, Congress continued unemployment benefits and postponed cuts in Medicare payments for doctors — which are associated with the bill — until the end of this month. They, too, are up for renewal in the same package. Republicans have added several right wing riders to the bill, which may or may not remain in the final settlement.
Congressional conferees are running out of time. Democrats seek a deal by Feb. 17 because Congress is supposed to adjourn the week of Feb. 20 for the President's Day recess. Here's where both sides stand on a couple of the key issues, according to a recent article in Politico.com:
"Democrats want to tack on a surtax for millionaire earners, which would pay for the temporary 2% payroll tax cut, and they don’t want unemployment insurance offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. Republicans are opposed to higher taxes and instead want the package paid for by freezing pay for federal workers, imposing higher premiums for upper-income Medicare beneficiaries and banning millionaires from receiving jobless benefits and food stamps, among other options."
Strengthen Social Security maintains that withdrawing funds from Social Security is a dangerous precedent, given the conservative political climate. They maintain that equal funding could have been obtained elsewhere. Many liberal economists say the payroll cut is far from the amount required to adequately stimulate the lagging American economy and won't make a big dent in unemployment.
Obama says he supports Social Security but during last summer's dismal squabble about the deficit and taxes he voluntarily offered to "put everything on the table" for the budget cutters, including Social Security as well as Medicare and Medicaid. The Congressional Progressive Caucus howled but was ignored. Mass public pressure forced Obama to hedge his bets.. He left the matter for the congressional "super committee" to decide. The committee failed miserably in almost everything it did, so America's three key social programs remain intact — for now.
Given that the Strengthen Social Security coalition is pro-Democratic, its appeal to Congress last fall to reject Obama's payroll tax cut was polite but quite firm:
"We strongly support the President’s efforts to stimulate the economy and to extend tax cuts, tax credits and unemployment protections to low- and middle-income Americans, but a payroll tax 'holiday' is the wrong way to do it. The proposal could significantly jeopardize the broad protections that Social Security provides to America’s working families. Other approaches, which would not affect Social Security, are more stimulative, targeted, and equitable, place no administrative burdens on employers, and don’t require the transfer of $120 billion from general revenues to Social Security.
"Using Treasury funds to pay for a payroll tax 'holiday' is unprecedented in Social Security’s 75-year history — and dangerous. Social Security is very popular with the public because workers pay dedicated contributions and count on the promise of Social Security to be there when they retire, become disabled or die, thereby leaving their benefits to their survivors.
"The current debate over the Bush tax cuts illustrates how difficult it is to return taxes to original levels once tax cuts have been enacted, even when the law includes an expiration date.... A far better approach that would not jeopardize Social Security is to provide a more targeted stimulus, without new administrative costs for employers, such as a tax credit, similar to the “Making Work Pay Tax Credit” included in the last stimulus package. If such a proposal is not possible, we urge you, at a minimum to ensure that there is a clear phase-out of the tax break and a 'hold harmless provision' to ensure the Social Security Trust Fund retains its current solvency. We also urge that you not describe this policy change as a 'holiday,' and instead make clear that this is a one-time transfer from general revenues."
The main point for those who have worries about the payroll cut is the precedent. A Dec. 22 Salon article by Josh Bivens noted that it "provides a political hammer to opponents of Social Security who can claim that the cut has depleted the program’s Trust Fund ahead of schedule, requiring cuts in benefits. These opponents are wrong, of course: the legislation that cut the payroll tax also instructed Treasury to credit the fund for the lost revenue — but since when has being factually wrong defanged a political argument? And who’s to say that the next year of payroll tax cuts will maintain this commitment to hold the fund whole?"
According to Jai Lynn Yang writing in the Washington Post Dec. 30: "The prospect of policymakers continually turning to the payroll tax as a way of providing economic stimulus troubles experts, some lawmakers and both public trustees of the Social Security trust fund. Their concern: that Social Security will lose its status as a protected benefit owed to every working American and instead become politically vulnerable, just like any other government program."
— The Website for Strengthen Social Security, http://strengthensocialsecurity.org/.
11. OBAMA'S FAVORITE WALL STREETERS
By Bill Moyers
We’ve already made our choice for the best headline of the year, so far: “Citigroup Replaces JPMorgan as White House Chief of Staff.”
When we saw it on the website Gawker.com we had to smile — but the smile didn’t last long. There’s simply too much truth in that headline; it says a lot about how Wall Street and Washington have colluded to create the winner-take-all economy that rewards the very few at the expense of everyone else.
The story behind it is that Jack Lew is President Obama’s new chief of staff — arguably the most powerful office in the White House that isn’t shaped like an oval. He used to work for the giant banking conglomerate Citigroup. His predecessor as chief of staff is Bill Daley, who used to work at the giant banking conglomerate JPMorgan Chase, where he was maestro of the bank’s global lobbying and chief liaison to the White House. Daley replaced Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who once worked as a rainmaker for the investment bank now known as Wasserstein & Company, where in less than three years he was paid a reported eighteen and a half million dollars.
The new guy, Jack Lew – said by those who know to be a skilled and principled public servant – ran hedge funds and private equity at Citigroup, which means he’s a member of the Wall Street gang, too. His last job was as head of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget, where he replaced Peter Orzag, who now works as vice chairman for global banking at – hold on to your deposit slip — Citigroup.
Still with us? It’s startling the number of high-ranking Obama officials who have spun through the revolving door between the White House and the sacred halls of investment banking. Sure, you can argue that it makes sense that the chief executive of the nation would look to other executives for the expertise you need to build back from the disastrous collapse of the banks in the final year of the Bush Administration. Remember — it was Bush and Cheney with their cronies in big business who helped walk us right into the blast furnace of financial meltdown, then rushed to save the banks with taxpayer money. That little fact seems to have been overlooked in the current primaries.
All this brings back memories of Hank Paulson, doesn’t it? Hank Paulson, the $700 million man who became secretary of the treasury for President Bush. Paulson had been head of Goldman Sachs, the rich investment bank. As his successor at Goldman Sachs, Paulson chose Lloyd Blankfein. Several times, according to Bloomberg News, Rolling Stone, and Paulson’s own memoir, the treasury secretary made sure Blankfein and Goldman got privileged inside information.
But Bush and Cheney aren’t the only ones to have a soft spot for financiers. President Obama may call bankers “fat cats” and stir the rabble against them with populist rhetoric when it serves his interest, but after the fiscal fiasco, he allowed the culprits to escape virtually scot-free. When he’s in New York he dines with them frequently and eagerly accepts their big contributions. Like his predecessors, his administration also has provided them with billions of taxpayer dollars – low-cost money that they used for high-yielding investments to make big profits. The largest banks are bigger than they were when he took office and earned more in the first two-and-a-half years of his term than they did during the entire eight years of the Bush administration. That’s confirmed by industry data.
And get this. It turns out, according to The New York Times, that as President Obama’s inner circle has been shrinking, his “rare new best friend” is Robert Wolf. They play basketball, golf, and talk economics when Wolf is not raising money for the president’s campaign.
Robert Wolf runs the U.S. branch of the giant Swiss bank UBS, which participated in schemes to help rich Americans evade their taxes. During hearings in 2009, Michigan’s Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the permanent subcommittee on investigations, described some of the tricks used by UBS: “Swiss bankers aided and abetted violations of U.S. tax law by traveling to this country with client code names, encrypted computers, counter- surveillance training, and all the rest of it, to enable U.S. residents to hide assets and money in Swiss accounts.
“The bankers then returned to Switzerland and treated their conduct as blameless since Swiss law says tax evasion is no crime. The Swiss bank before us deliberately entered the United States, actively sought U.S. clients and secretly helped those U.S. clients defraud the United States of America.”
And so it goes, the revolving door between government service and big money in the private sector spinning so fast it becomes an irresistible force hurling politics and high finance together so completely it’s impossible to tell one from the other.
This Jan. 22 article is nearly the same as the text that opened the Jan. 20 “Moyers & Company,” an hour-long TV program hosted by journalist Bill Moyers and distributed by American Public Television. The weekly program is being carried by some — though not all — PBS stations. Repeats of these programs may be viewed at the website, http://www.billmoyers.com.
12. 'NO WAR ON IRAN' PROTESTS ACROSS U.S.
By the Activist Newsletter
Nationwide demonstrations in opposition to threats against Iran by the U.S. and Israel took place in dozens of cities and towns Feb. 4. The slogan of the day was “No War On Iran: No intervention, no sanctions, no assassination.” The events were sponsored by scores of peace and left groups.
Most of the actions were relatively small, a reflection of the reduced size of the peace movement since the Obama Administration took power, although the wars are continuing and the possibility of an attack on Iran is mounting. It is at such moments, when talk of war resounds in belligerent capitals, that antiwar action is essential, whether people come out in the thousands, the hundreds or the tens.
Following is an alphabetical partial list of some of the protests compiled by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which we shortened for publication. There are many more about which we do not have information.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Protesters joined a militant picket line initiated by ANSWER to protest U.S. war threats against Iran. It drew over 65 people who joined in solidarity with the National Day of Action. Taking part were activists from Veterans for Peace, Stop the War Machine, the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Students for Justice in Palestine.
CHICAGO — Over 150 people came out to support the call for a National Day of Action against a war on Iran. There was a short rally at Federal Plaza with all speakers denouncing sanctions and U.S. threats against the Iranian people. After the rally, there was a march up State Street in downtown Chicago to bring the antiwar message to the people. The protest was endorsed by groups from across the city of Chicago including the American Muslim Alliance, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Chicago Area Peace Action, Chicago World Can’t Wait, Code Pink, Committee Against Political Repression, Gay Liberation Network, Midwest Anti-War Mobilization and ANSWER.
NEW HAVEN, CONN. — Some 60 people gathered for a rally organized by ANSWER at the steps of the Federal Building in New Haven, demanding “No War on Iran.” Speakers came from regional groups including Occupy New Haven, UNAC, Middle East Crisis Committee, the Peace Council and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
NEW YORK — Up to 500 antiwar and Occupy Wall Street activists gathered in Times Square in a show of unity against a war on Iran. Because of the urgent nature and speed in which the demonstration was put together there was no permit; therefore, protesters used the "people's mic" to amplify the message of the dozens of organizations who gave solidarity statements to the crowd before the march began. Debra Sweet from World Can't Wait chaired the event and many organizations showed their militant and steadfast defense of the right of the Islamic Republic of Iran to live free from the influence of Wall Street and the U.S. government's never-ending quest for markets and profits. After the rally, protesters marched loudly and without a permit to another rally in front of the United Nations.
NEW YORK STATE — Demonstrations also took place Feb. 4 in ALBANY, BUFFALO, ROCHESTER and SARATOGA.
LOS ANGELES — Close to 300 people attended a rally on the busy street corner of Wilshire and Western. Students, workers, Occupy LA protesters and veterans came out, chanting "No new war in Iran" and "Troops out of Afghanistan." Sha Azedi, an organizer with ANSWER, spoke at the rally, defending Iran’s right to sovereignty and condemning the demonization of the country as propaganda for U.S. imperialism. Other speakers represented the National Lawyers Guild, veterans from March Forward! and organizers from Code Pink.
PHOENIX, ARIZ. — About 50 activists gathered at Cesar Chavez Plaza for a demonstration called by ANSWER and endorsed by a wide variety of progressive organizations. An opening rally was held where speakers condemned the campaign of demonization against the people of Iran carried out by the corporate media. After the rally concluded, a march proceeded toward central Phoenix, near stores, convention centers and surrounding financial buildings.
RICHMOND, VA.— Long-time antiwar activists and new people alike gathered in front of the Federal Courthouse on East Broad St. for a 12 noon demonstration to demand an end to U.S. aggression against Iran. Numbering around 30 people, the protesters held signs saying “No war on Iran,” and “We need jobs and schools—Not war.”
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — Dozens of activists demonstrated their opposition to the threat of aggression against Iran at the Memorial Auditorium in down town Sacramento.
SAN FRANCISCO — About 600 protesters gathered at Powell and Market Streets to express their opposition to the escalated U.S. and Israeli aggression toward Iran and to counter the demonization campaign against the country. An enormous hand-made banner reading “No War on Iran” was visible from blocks away and dramatically conveyed the essential message of the demonstration to passersby. The crowd was diverse and made up of different political forces. Occupy San Francisco endorsed and promoted the action, and many Occupy protesters took part.
SEATTLE — Over 100 people gathered in the downtown area for a street rally to demand “No War on Iran!” Jane Cutter of ANSWER and Emma Kaplan from World Can't Wait co-chaired the rally. Other speakers represented Courage To Resist, March Forward and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Participants included many veterans, Iranian-Americans and Occupy Seattle activists. Following the rally, demonstrators took to the streets in a spirited march.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As part of the National Day of Action to oppose a new war on Iran, ANSWER initiated a protest in front of the White House. A huge picket line was formed by the antiwar activists, Iranian-Americans and others who joined. A featured speaker was William Blum, author of "Killing Hope" and "Rogue State," who has written extensively about Iran.
13. 'MORE DANGEROUS THAN A THOUSAND RIOTERS'
[Following is Liberation newspaper's Black History Month profile of Lucy Parsons — labor activist, writer and revolutionary — which appeared on its website Feb. 7.]
By Caneisha Mills
Women of every oppressed nationality are often at the helm of revolutionary movements. Unfortunately, the contributions of women are frequently dismissed or forgotten.
The legacy and revolutionary spirit of Lucy Parsons is a constant reminder of the sacrifice, dedication and leadership provided by female activists. The Chicago Police Department described her as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.”
Lucy Gonzalez was born in 1853 in Texas. In 1871, she married Albert Parsons, a writer and fellow radical. Her African-American/Indian/Mexican heritage endangered their lives as an interracial couple in the South. In 1873, they moved to Chicago.
Upon their arrival, the couple became deeply involved in the fight against injustice. Working with the Social Democratic Party and the Workingmen’s Party of the United States, Lucy wrote for the WPUSA’s paper and became a lecturer and activist in her own right.
Due to their heavy political involvement, Albert Parsons was blacklisted. In response, Lucy became the primary financial provider for the family by opening a dress shop.
Lucy and Albert were leaders of a strike in Chicago on May 1, 1886, in support of the eight-hour workday. However, Lucy believed: “[T]he eight-hour day is antiquated. … Today we should be agitating for a five-hour workday.” A few days later, a bomb exploded as police dispersed a rally in Chicago's Haymarket Square. Police blamed Albert, Lucy and other leaders for the ensuing violent confrontation in which seven police officers were killed and many others present were killed or wounded; activists were arrested and charged for the incident.
Lucy rose to fame in the labor movement for her defense of the eight arrested activists. Albert Parsons, and four other activists were executed in 1887 on charges they had conspired in the 1886 Haymarket Riot, which ultimately led to the international celebration of May Day in subsequent years .
Widowed with two children, Parsons remained in the struggle. In 1892, she founded the paper Freedom, and continued to advocate, write and organize against the oppression of working people.
In 1905, she helped form the Industrial Workers of the World. She was a founding member of the Chicago chapter and wrote for the organization’s paper. Drafted as a speaker at the IWW founding convention, Lucy used this opportunity to speak to the tactics required to end oppression and for success in strikes and outlined her vision:
"Now, what do we mean when we say revolutionary Socialist?
"We mean that the land shall belong to the landless, the tools to the toiler, and the products to the producers.... I believe that if every man and every woman who works, or who toils in the mines, mills, the workshops, the fields, the factories and the farms of our broad America should decide in their minds that they shall have that which of right belongs to them, and that no idler shall live upon their toil.... Then there is no army that is large enough to overcome you, for you yourselves constitute the army."
Lucy continued to fight for the rights of all up until her death in 1942. Her focus was always on the eradication of oppression of all working people through the defeat of capitalism.
14. CLIMATE SCIENTISTS STAND UP TO ANGRY 'DENIERS'
By Toni Feder, Physics Today
Receiving an email with a statement like “You should resign, and if you don’t, I’ll work to see that you are fired” or “I know where your kids go to school” would be unsettling enough. But they “pale compared to what other climate scientists are getting,” says Raymond Orbach, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, at whom the first threat above was aimed.
Now climate scientists — in atmospheric physics and chemistry, geophysics, meteorology, hydrology, and oceanography, among other disciplines — have begun to fight back. “I think the community is finding a voice,” says Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, whose work has largely focused on identifying the human influence on global climate, and who once answered a late-night knock to find a dead rat on his doorstep.
Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is happening, although details of how it will play out are uncertain. Every few years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a report prepared by hundreds of scientists and government officials from around the world; the next is due out in 2014. The latest, published in 2007, says that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, that most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid 20th century is due to human activities, and that past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will contribute to warming and sea-level rise for more than a millennium.
Yet deniers have hampered efforts to tackle climate change, and their actions, especially in North America, the UK, and Australia, have led to climate researchers being investigated by their governments, suffering nervous breakdowns, and spending time and money defending their rights and reputations.
Harassment of climate scientists by climate-change deniers goes back at least to 1995, after the IPCC published its Second Assessment Report. Santer was the lead author of chapter 8, which looked at the causes of climate change. “The single sentence ‘The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate’ changed my life,” he says. “I was the guy who was associated with this sentence. Those who did not like that finding did everything not only to undermine the finding but also to undermine my scientific reputation.”
The harassment has ramped up in recent years, says Michael Mann of the Pennsylvania State University, whose book "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines," due to be published by Columbia University Press in early March, includes a retelling of his own ongoing experiences with harassment. “Political intimidation, character attacks, what appear to be orchestrated phone and email campaigns, nasty and thinly veiled threats, not just to us but to our families, are what it means in modern American life to be a climate scientist,” says Mann.
Even this magazine, after publishing last October articles on the science of climate change — about its being under fire and about communicating that science to the public — received an abundance of letters with the tenor, “How could Physics Today print such a one-sided portrayal of climate science when many reputable scientists disagree?”
Fossil-fuel interests, says Gavin Schmidt, a climate researcher at NASA, “have adopted a shoot-the-messenger approach. It’s been a very successful strategy. They have created a chilling effect, so other [scientists] won’t say what they think and the conversation in public stays bereft of anyone who knows what they are talking about.” Schmidt co-founded RealClimate.org, a forum for climate scientists to “provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary.” Meanwhile, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a vocal opponent to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, is suing NASA for the release of Schmidt’s personal emails.
Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research says he has seen young scientists get a surge of nasty emails when they publish on climate change. “They are flabbergasted. A lot of the community is unaware this is happening.” And, he notes, the people who send the emails have “gotten off scot-free.”
Although direct correlation is difficult to prove, climate scientists point to governmental inaction to exemplify deniers’ successes. The U.S. never signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and in December Canada became the first country to withdraw from the agreement. Public concern about climate change is volatile, and the U.S. and many other governments have dragged their feet on requiring emissions reductions. “Burning fossil fuels has consequences for air quality, acid rain, climate change,” says Trenberth. “The biggest problem is that [the U.S.] has not put a price on carbon. There ought to be a cost attached [to emissions] to compensate future generations for all the environmental and health damages, especially those damages yet to come.”
“We as a society have suffered lost opportunities due to the climate change denial movement,” says Mann. “If their goal has been to mortgage the lives of their children and grandchildren, then the campaign has been successful. It has certainly set back efforts to curtail emissions.” It hasn’t helped, he says, that the media have often been one-sided or inaccurate in their coverage of deniers’ attacks on climate change.
Still, climate scientists say they don’t think the denier movement has discouraged people from doing climate-related research. “I hope not,” says Santer. “It would be a sad outcome if it deterred people from working on these critically important issues.”
Santer’s approach to false claims is to set the record straight. For example, when some scientists claimed that global warming has stopped and that computer models cannot simulate decade-long periods with little or no warming, Santer and colleagues showed that simulations can indeed produce such hiatus periods.
“I have tried to do the science necessary to address extraordinary and incorrect claims of no warming or no human influence," Santer says. "I don’t think we have the luxury of letting such false claims go unchallenged. If our elected representatives are to take wise decisions on how to address climate change, they need access to the best scientific information, not to wishful thinking and misinformation."....
Climate scientists have gotten some good publicity. Most prominent was the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, which was shared by Al Gore and the IPCC “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”
New annual prizes for climate change communication were created last year by the American Geophysical Union and Climate One, a radio and TV program from the Commonwealth Club of California. And the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in June issued a rare statement saying they were “deeply concerned” by the attacks on climate scientists.
The “hostile environment” created by the attacks, the statement continued, “both impedes the progress of science and interferes with the applications of science to the solution of global problems.” The AAAS statement was a way to “fight back,” says Orbach, who is on the board of directors.
One new development is the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, which features more than 140 climate scientists plus a few historians and economists on call to provide information to journalists and lawmakers. Trenberth, a member of the team, says, “[We] provide rebuttal, response, and clarification” to misleading reports in the media.
This past September, rapid response team cofounder Scott Mandia and others launched the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. The nonprofit group raises money for climate scientists embroiled in legal battles. As of December, it had raised more than $20 000 for Mann, who is fighting Freedom of Information Act demands by the American Tradition Institute think tank for 5,000 pages of his email correspondence. The fund also offers informal counseling to harassed climate scientists and plans to hire a staff attorney to offer quick and experienced help.
“Many scientists think they can win by blocking punches. You have to throw them,” says Mandia, who teaches physical sciences at New York’s Suffolk County Community College. “The main thing is that the world understands there is a group that will defend climate scientists who are being harassed."
— Physics Today is at http://www.physicstoday.org/
15. ACLU SUES U.S. FOR ASSASSINATION RECORDS
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit Feb. 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, complaining that the Obama Administration failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests relating to the assassinations of three U.S. citizens in Yemen.
The ACLU condemned “the government’s self-serving attitude toward transparency,” arguing that the administration publicly and loudly releases bits of information related to the assassinations but declines to provide the full story, claiming the killings were “secret.”
The requests centered around the Sept. 30 assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born Muslim cleric that the administration regularly claimed was a “terrorist,” as well as his teenage son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and U.S. citizen Samir Khan. The ACLU sought information on the process through which the Obama Administration decides who lives and who dies, as well as on the legal rationale for “kill lists.”
The administration appears not to have responded to the requests, even to claim that the data was classified. The ACLU is preemptively arguing that the “secrecy” claim is not reasonable given the many relevant public comments made by President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta.
16. THREATS TO CHURCH-STATE SEPARATION
[The January issue of Church & State magazine, the publication of Americans United, contains an article on the "top 10 threats" to church-state separation facing the U.S. in 2012. Following are substantial excerpts.]
By Simon Brown
You don’t have to look far or wide to see signs that the Religious Right was resurgent in 2011.
From the halls of Congress, where the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly urged public schools to post “In God We Trust” displays in classrooms, to the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., that was attended by 3,000 fundamentalist Christian activists, the Religious Right’s influence loomed large.
Since 2012 is an election year, we expect the Religious Right to use this growing influence to wage an all-out war to shape the U.S. government into a body that will do its bidding.
With that in mind, here are 10 of the biggest challenges, issues and concerns that Americans United expects to confront in the coming twelve months.
1. Improper Involvement of Religion in the 2012 Elections
Religion has infiltrated the run-up to the 2012 elections on an unprecedented level. Virtually all of the Republican presidential candidates have spent considerable time courting votes from the Religious Right. Nearly all of the major contenders spoke at the Values Voter Summit, and most of those candidates also appeared at a forum in November focusing on “questions of the soul” that was held at a fundamentalist church in Iowa.
The Religious Right is also making a serious push to pick the Republican candidate for president. The Alliance Defense Fund held its annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in October, an event designed to encourage churches to engage in illegal campaign intervention....
Religious Right strategists dream of forging fundamentalist and evangelical churches into a disciplined voting bloc to effectively dominate the democratic process....
2. School Voucher Onslaught in the States and Congress
The Associated Press reported that 30 states explored voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in 2011, and that number is expected to grow this year. These efforts have been driven by wealthy right-wing organizations, such as the Alliance for School Choice, which advocates for vouchers nationwide and is run by right-wing activist Betsy DeVos. Her organization and its allies provide vast resources and public relations expertise to push for school vouchers in many states.
DeVos has lots of help from the Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy because parochial schools and fundamentalist academies would be the primary beneficiary of “school choice” programs....
3. The Catholic Bishops’ Crusade for ‘Religious Liberty’
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a formidable new lobbying unit known as the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. The committee claims to be defending religious liberty, but critics say it actually seeks to preserve taxpayer funding for church-affiliated agencies while maintaining overly broad exemptions from various laws....
The Pew Research Center found that Catholic lobbying organizations are the most powerful among Washington religious lobbies as they comprise 19 percent of all faith lobbying. As a result, the Ad Hoc Committee will certainly be one to watch in 2012.
4. Improper Religious Proselytizing in Public Schools
Some elements of the Religious Right hate the public school system because it doesn’t allow them to indoctrinate students with their version of Christianity. As a result, they look to add prayer or other religious activities to the school schedule whenever they can.
In Missouri, for example, voters will face a religion amendment on the 2012 ballot that, if passed, would open the door for religious activities on any and all public property, including schools. The proposal is so open-ended that school children might have the right to refuse to do homework on religious grounds.
In Florida, a bill is advancing through the state legislature that would let local school boards allow students to offer prayers at school events. Originally the measure stated that the prayers must be non-sectarian but that language was removed....
5. ‘Faith-Based’ Funding and Hiring Bias
Despite pleas from Americans United and allies, President Obama has yet to act on his campaign promise to make major civil rights and civil liberties improvements to the Bush “faith-based” initiative. Speaking in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2008, he said, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion.”
6. Government Promotion of Religious Symbols
In an election year, politicians often look for easy ways to show their religiosity and that has already begun at both the state and federal levels. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution in November that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encouraged its display in public schools and other public buildings. The action came even though, as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) pointed out, no one had suggested that this is not already the motto of the United States....
Another religious display issue has arisen in Montana, where a large statue of Jesus erected by the Knights of Columbus sits on national forest land. The U.S. Forest Service had planned to remove the statue, but is facing resistance not only from the Knights but also from U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who wants to save it....
7. Attacks on Religious Minorities
The Religious Right says frequently that America is a Christian nation (despite ample evidence to the contrary), so anyone who doesn’t share that movement’s belief in its special brand of Christianity is often marginalized.
The best example of attempts by the Religious Right to marginalize minorities is anti-sharia legislation. In 2010, Oklahoma passed the so-called “Save Our State Amendment,” which bars enforcement of Islamic law. It received 70% of the vote. Church-state experts note that the U.S. Constitution already bars government support for religion in most cases, so such legislation is unnecessary.
8. The Marriage War
The Religious Right, along with the Catholic hierarchy and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), are out to fashion state marriage policy so it reflects their doctrinal teachings. They are firmly committed to the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman only, and they are fighting in the courts, in the statehouses and in Congress to make sure the law continues to define marriage according to their theology.
The highest profile case is the challenge to California’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage that is working its way through the federal court system. More than 40 states have already banned same-sex marriage, but the outcome of this case could set a precedent for reversing that trend. The Supreme Court may take up the issue in 2012....
9. ‘Personhood’ Amendments
Multiple states have faced attacks from groups seeking to pass “personhood” amendments, and that trend looks to continue in 2012. The latest state to consider one of these amendments is Mississippi, which voted it down in November. Had the measure passed, it would have declared fertilized eggs to be people, made abortion illegal in virtually all instances, including cases of rape and incest, and it would have banned some forms of birth control. So broad was the language of the amendment that women who miscarried could have been subjected to criminal investigations.
Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA, which is a sponsor of these amendments, has said that his organization may attempt another shot at a Mississippi ballot initiative and that his organization is pushing for “personhood” amendments on the 2012 ballots in Ohio, Florida, Montana, Oregon, California and Nevada.
10. Religiously Based Censorship
The Religious Right is always on the lookout for books, movies, artwork and other aspects of culture to ban based on their religious convictions. In late 2010, Speaker John Boehner and his allies called for the removal of an exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery after they learned that it contains a short video of a crucifix with ants crawling on it, as well as works of art with sexual themes. The museum bent to Boehner’s pressure and removed the video.
In Missouri last summer, a school district banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Oeckler’s Twenty Boy Summer because a local professor complained that the books advocate principles that are contrary to the Bible.
— The American's United website is at http://www.au.org/.