HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTERjacdon@earthlink.net, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. WARM ENOUGH YET? GOOD! (Here comes the sun)
2. THE "EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER" OF THE U.S. MILITARY
3. MOTIVES OF THE AFGHAN SHOOTER
4. MOST AMERICANS BACK AFGHAN PULLOUT NOW
5. WAR, RACISM AND AFGHANISTAN
6. ANOTHER ANTI-PEOPLE WEAPON (Heat, this time)
7. KEY SOCIAL PROGRAMS STAY ON CHOPPING BLOCK (Guess which)
8. HIATUS (Movement poem)
9. WOMEN ATTACK LOW PAY AND JOB BIAS (Pay gap, respect, etc.)
10. THE CHANGING STATUS OF U.S. WOMEN (female economic prowess)
11. THE LATEST WASHINGTON RUMORS (Chiropractors & bunker bombs)
12. IS THIS REALLY THE "CHANGE"WE WANT? (Or "believe" in?)
13. HARSH DISCIPLINE FOR MINORITY STUDENTS
14. THE CAUSES OF TEACHER DISSATISFACTION
15. OCEANS OF ACID (Unprecedented acidification)
16. MORE DOMESTIC SPYING EXPOSED
17. ALL RED MEAT IS BAD FOR YOU (Cut down, friends)
18. BO'S OUT — WHAT'S HAPPENING IN CHINA?
19. ARE U.S. SPECIAL FORCES IN SYRIA? (Probably)
20. PLEASE STOP APOLOGIZING (Bill Maher on De Niro's joke)
21. EDITOR'S ENDNOTES
QUOTE OF THE MONTH – Rick Santorum
Alas, there comes a time when the Activist Newsletter must rush to the aid of the thoroughly despicable Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum. First, here's what he said last month in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club:
“I’m not about equality of result when it comes to income inequality. There is income inequality in America. There always has been and, hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be.”
Liberals in the blogosphere were exploding with righteous condemnation because of Santorum's indelicate words. But actually he was only telling the truth about the capitalist economic system that he was defending.
Income inequality is an inevitable and necessary product of capitalism itself, without which its theoretical construct would collapse, along, perhaps, with much of the system. A probable majority of those angry at Santorum's tactless comments also defend the capitalist system. Many express criticism of inequality and correctly demand reforms, but rarely mention its real cause. Inequality will remain until we begin to attack the cause as well as the symptoms.
1. WARM ENOUGH YET? GOOD!
By the Activist Newsletter
This has been such a wonderfully warm winter and even a hot late winter and early spring throughout America! Most of us in New York's Hudson Valley haven't had to shovel more than a few inches of snow all winter, and in some northern places nary a snowplow has scraped the highways in over a year. Our whole great country is benefiting.
There are so many people to thank for this, primarily the folks in charge of the governments in rich industrialized societies. Guess being rich makes you smart. Thank you guys. Maybe there's something good about government after all (just kidding!).
First and foremost we owe a big shout out to our own government, which has contributed so mightily to this comforting change in climate. It's about time for ol' Uncle Sam to take a well deserved bow for holding the record as history's greatest producer of atmospheric carbon dioxide — the main reason we kept our mackinaws in the closet for the last several months.
No appreciation is complete without showing our heartfelt gratitude to the Bush and Obama Administrations for ignoring the leftists who keep yammering about reducing greenhouse gases to stop the world from warming up. If God wants it to be warmer, so be it — and enjoy.
It's true that the Obama Administration, unlike the Bush boys, doesn't deny that industrialization by the rich countries is causing changes in the climate— but there's a big but, and don't you forget it.
In actual practice, and not in throwaway rhetoric to keep the liberals and commies from grousing, President Obama's record is really no different from President Bush's. He keeps the greenhouse gas emitters in tip-top shape by generating ever more fossil fuel for the big corporations and small businesses that make sure the whole damn economic system's running — and he hasn't fallen for hippy-style "alternatives" like (ha-ha) wind and solar power.
So let's hear it for global warming, and keep the carbon coming. God bless America — and don't forget to vote in November so America can stay warm, and snug and, you know, exceptional.
2. THE 'EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER' OF THE U.S. MILITARY
By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter
Few American chief executives have lavished as much praise upon the U.S. military as President Barack Obama. Yet day after day reports appear in the mass media about war crimes, atrocities, and abuses attributed to that same armed forces and its leadership — mostly on foreign battlefields but also back home.
"Good morning, everybody," the president intoned cheerily during a Jan. 5 visit to the Pentagon to explain Washington's latest war policy. "The United States of America is the greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known. And in no small measure, that’s because we’ve built the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in history — and as Commander-in-Chief, I’m going to keep it that way."
Obama was even more effusive during his State of the Union Address Jan. 25, declaring of the military that "this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world....
"These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness, and teamwork of America’s armed forces. At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations. They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example."
Yes, just imagine! Within days and weeks of these tributes this took place:
• A video of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban suspects became public, obliging the American secretaries of Defense and State to issue apologies to the Afghan government and people.
• The Pentagon reported the rate of violent sexual crime within the armed forces increased 64% since 2006, noting that “rape, sexual assault, and forcible sodomy were the most frequent violent sex crimes committed in 2011.” There were 3,191 reports of sexual assault throughout the military last year but Secretary of Defense Panetta acknowledged in January that a more realistic estimate for such assaults “actually is closer to 19,000.” Active-duty female soldiers ages 18 to 21 account for more than half of the victims. Women are 14% of the military ranks but account for 95% of sex crime victims.
• A just discovered photograph emerged in February of another group of Marines posing with the exact replica of the Nazi SS flag. Outrage over the photo, the press reported, "threatened to snowball into the latest war-zone scandal for the Marine Corps." The Marine commander declared, most improbably, that they didn't know what the flag stood for. The murderous black uniformed Waffen-SS was a military wing of the Nazi Party.
• The retired commander of Special Operations forces, Lt. Gen William G. Boykin, known for his harshly anti-Muslim remarks, withdrew from speaking at West Point’s Feb. 8 National Prayer Breakfast after protests. Following the 9/11 attacks, the general "described the fight against terrorism as a Christian battle against Satan," reports the New York Times. "Since his retirement in 2007 and a new career as a popular conservative Christian speaker, Boykin has described Islam as 'a totalitarian way of life' and said that Islam should not be protected under the First Amendment."
• The last and most responsible of the Marines charged in the 2005 Haditha massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, received no jail time after he pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty in order to avoid charges of involuntary manslaughter, Democracy Now! reported. "Under his sentencing, Wuterich now faces a maximum penalty of a demotion to the rank of private."
• USA Today reported Jan. 26 that "The Justice Department is funding an unusual national training program to help police deal with an increasing number of volatile confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans. Developers of the pilot program, to be launched at 15 U.S. sites this year, said there is an 'urgent need' to de-escalate crises in which even SWAT teams may be facing tactical disadvantages against mentally ill suspects who also happen to be trained in modern warfare."
• Lance Cpl. Jacob Jacoby, 21, a Hawaii-based Marine accused of viciously hazing a Chinese American fellow Marine in Afghanistan — who later killed himself — pleaded guilty Jan. 30 to assault and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. He had repeatedly punched, kicked and publicly humiliated Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, also 21, who committed suicide with a machine gun April 3 shortly after the abuse. Two other Marines accused of hazing Lew will have separate courts-martial later.
• A retired Navy SEAL sniper, Chris Kyle, has just published a book titled "American Sniper — The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History." He racked up 160 officially confirmed “kills” in the Iraq War from 2003 to 2009. "The number [of kills] is not important to me," he writes. "I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives."
• The military pre-trial of Bradley Manning at Fort Meade, Md., adjourned March 16 and will resume in late April. Manning is the 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst and whistle blower accused of leaking documents known as the Afghan War Diary and the Iraq War Logs, as well as embarrassing U.S. diplomatic cables, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. His "crime" includes circulating a video showing the avoidable killing of Afghan civilians and two Reuters journalists by a U.S. Apache helicopter crew in Iraq.
• President Obama had little choice but to apologize to President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people Feb. 22, after Army troops , following orders, were observed burning of copies of the Muslim holy book the Koran on a U.S. base in Afghanistan. The incident, following the earlier desecration of corpses, touched off a number of protest demonstrations resulting in the deaths of about 40 civilians and several U.S. soldiers. Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, March 20, Gen. John Allen declared that since January 1, "the coalition has lost 60 brave troops in action, from six different nations. Thirteen of them were killed at the hands of what appear to have been Afghan security forces, some of whom were motivated, we believe, in part by the mishandling of religious materials."
• President Obama was obliged to once again apologize for the actions of a U.S. Army soldier, or several soldiers as eyewitnesses insist, who on March 11 murdered 16 Afghan men, women, and nine children, aged two to 12. The incident took place in two small, poor nearby villages, in the darkness of late night when the military usually makes it raids in search of alleged opponents of the 10-year American war and occupation.
In his statement deploring the murders as "tragic and shocking" President Obama also said he "will bring the full weight of the law down upon anyone involved." Several commentators have noted that those also "involved" included the White House and Congress that have been conducting and funding this cruel war for a decade at a terrible cost to the Afghan people.
The Bush and Obama governments have invested nearly $500 billion in the war, but two-thirds of Afghanistan's 30 million people are living below the poverty line, and unemployment is over 50%. Afghan children, according to a World Bank report this month, suffer one of the highest levels of chronic malnutrition in the world. Over 50% under the age of five are chronically malnourished. Hundreds of small kids die daily from hunger.
The U.S. government has never apologized or assumed any responsibility for the wretched conditions it has imposed upon the people — and be assured that the reported instances of war crimes, atrocities, and abuses attributed to the Pentagon's foreign legion are but a small portion of the horrors that take place repeatedly but are never observed, or photographed or written about.
It is worth remarking upon the fact that when President Obama had to apologize a second time in March for the reprehensible conduct of the "best-trained, best-led" military in history he made sure in his statement to declare that the mass murder "does not represent the exceptional character of our military."
Exceptional indeed. As the president said, "Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example."
3. MOTIVES OF THE AFGHAN SHOOTER
By Glenn Greenwald
Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivated U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to allegedly kill 16 Afghans, including 9 children: he was drunk, he was experiencing financial stress, he was passed over for a promotion, he had a traumatic brain injury, he had marital problems, he suffered from the stresses of four tours of duty, he “saw his buddy’s leg blown off the day before the massacre,” etc.
Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivates Muslims to kill Americans: they are primitive, fanatically religious, hateful Terrorists.
Even when Muslims who engage in such acts toward Americans clearly and repeatedly explain that they did it in response to American acts of domination, aggression, violence and civilian-killing in their countries, and even when the violence is confined to soldiers who are part of a foreign army that has invaded and occupied their country, the only cognizable motive is one of primitive, hateful evil. It is an act of Evil Terrorism, and that is all there is to say about it.
Note, too, that in the case of Sgt. Bales (or any other cases of American violence against Muslims), people have little difficulty understanding the distinction between (a) discussing and trying to understand the underlying motives of the act (causation) and (b) defending the act (justification). But that same distinction completely evaporates when it comes to Muslim violence against Americans. Those who attempt to understand or explain the act — they’re responding to American violence in their country; they are traumatized and angry at the continuous deaths of Muslim children and innocent adults; they’ve calculated that striking at Americans is the only way to deter further American aggression in their part of the world — are immediately accused of mitigating, justifying or even defending Terrorism.
There is, quite obviously, a desperate need to believe that when an American engages in acts of violence of this type (meaning: as a deviation from formal American policy), there must be some underlying mental or emotional cause that makes it sensible, something other than an act of pure hatred or Evil. When a Muslim engages in acts of violence against Americans, there is an equally desperate need to believe the opposite: that this is yet another manifestation of inscrutable hatred and Evil, and any discussion of any other causes must be prohibited and ignored.
From Salon, March 19, 2012
4. MOST AMERICANS BACK AFGHAN PULLOUT NOW
By the Activist Newsletter
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey released March 19 finds that 53% of likely voters support the immediate and complete pullout of U.S. forces from the Afghanistan war. Just 31% are opposed, while 16% are not sure.
Only three weeks earlier, before the latest appalling report of another U.S. atrocity, a similar Rasmussen survey found that 67% of likely voters favor ending the Afghan combat military mission by the middle of 2013. (The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters nationwide was conducted on March 15-16 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.)
President Obama began expanding U.S. battle strength in Afghanistan from some 34,000 U.S. troops when he took office to over 100,000, plus more than 40,000 NATO troops. The White House plans to withdraw the bulk of American ground forces by the end of 2014, but is applying great pressure on the Afghan government to allow a substantial number of Special Operations troops plus CIA and allied contingents.
The White House has refused to hasten the U.S. departure from its stalemated 10-year war despite mounting opposition from public opinion, and the shameful acts discovered to have been perpetrated recently by American troops.
According to Stratfor, the private intelligence organization: "The United States is drawing down in Afghanistan, but since the war has not attracted the domestic ire that Vietnam or Iraq did, the pace and pressure for ending the war are not the same.
"Washington is working toward an exit that, if necessary, would entail a more enduring special operations presence than both the Taliban and Pakistan would like. Since the Taliban cannot eject the United States and its allies by force, they have some incentive to reach an understanding with Washington. But the Taliban have survived the worst of the surge's counteroffensive and are deeply entrenched in both Afghanistan and restive, isolated areas of Pakistan, so time is on their side. Meanwhile, Pakistan must deal with whatever remains in Afghanistan — Islamabad has both fundamental interests in these talks as well as enormous influence in Afghanistan. The Karzai regime has some leverage but is principally concerned with its own survival."
Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the elite Council on Foreign Relations and one time Pentagon and State Department official who backs the Obama Administration, explained the White House position with these words March 19:
"Forget about President Obama expediting U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this year. It matters not that some American soldiers are coming apart at the seams, killing innocent Afghans, and burning Korans, or that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan screams to restrict U.S. operations.
"Nor will polls showing increasing numbers of Americans fed up with the war induce Obama to press the pullout button. Mr. Obama is not going to take the slightest risk that a faster exit might trigger a collapse of the Kabul government and a Taliban takeover after 10 years of sacrificing American blood and treasure.
"He’s not going to give warhawk Republicans a campaign issue. Besides, Obama’s aides keep insisting that he still believes in his Afghan goals and strategy. From the day he took office three years ago, Afghanistan became Obama’s war. While this reality may not have dawned on most Americans, the president himself knows it all too well."
It certainly is Obama's war — he calls it a humanitarian endeavor to protect Afghan and American civilians from terrorism — and the strong Bush era antiwar movement has been gravely weakened by the defection of so many Democrats who won't protest against their president's policies. After all, who wants to give warhawk Republicans a campaign issue?
5. WAR, RACISM AND AFGHANISTAN
By the Activist Newsletter
There is no way to effectively challenge war abroad without challenging the racism that often serves as the open or covert core of pro-war propaganda and ideology.
Racism is an obvious factor in the recent revelations of despicable acts by members of the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan — and these are just a few examples of a widespread sense of national and racial superiority that accompanies American military engagements with non-European peoples.
Throughout the long history of U.S. military expansion, racism was one of Washington's principle means of seeking to degrade "inferior" nations consisting of peoples of color.
Racism was a factor in the wars to trample the Native Americans, the aggressive wars to seize Mexican land, to subjugate the peoples Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Haiti, and the numerous countries in Central America, all the way to the modern wars against Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
This omnipresence of race hatred in America's foreign conquests is why the first coalition to fight the Bush Administration's post-9/11 aggression was titled Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER). This coalition still continues to emphasize the need to include an antiracist message in its antiwar, anti-imperialist activities.
This is not to say that racism is the source of imperialist war; financial and political goals always reign supreme, and the U.S. has no qualms about attacking and demonizing the European peoples who get in their way, too. But racism is almost invariably employed as a means to demean the most numerous objects of Washington's aggression — the peoples of the third world.
Military officers pound racist messages into the heads of rank-and-file soldiers to psychologically prepare them for unspeakable acts of brutality against “the enemy.” This is made clear by the racist terminology often expressed in the U.S. armed forces when the "enemy" is of Asian, or Arab, or African, or Latin American descent.
By exposing racism, the antiwar movement can cut to the heart of the war-makers’ propaganda. It also provides a path for us to bring down, once and for all, this system that is addicted to war. The fight against racist oppression in the United States has historically been decisive in unleashing movements that have the potential to truly transform society, and it remains so today.
For the antiwar movement to become a real threat to the Pentagon — it must also fight economic inequality, mass incarceration and police brutality. By organizing among those communities most under the gun in the United States, we can build a steadfast movement that targets the twin evils of racism and war.
— This is based on an article appearing in Liberation newspaper online March 16, containing several of its paragraphs.
6. ANOTHER ANTI-PEOPLE WEAPON
By the Activist Newsletter
The Pentagon has developed a "heat ray" weapon to direct "non-lethal" electromagnetic waves at civilian crowds it wishes to disperse, and for military uses.
“You’re not gonna see it, you’re not gonna hear it, you’re not gonna smell it: you’re gonna feel it,” explained U.S. Marine Colonel Tracy Taffola, director the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, near Washington, at a demonstration in mid-March for members of the media.
The so-called "Active Denial System" is mounted on a vehicle and shoots a high-frequency intense blast of "unbearable" heat at its human targets. "The effect is so repellant, the immediate instinct is to flee — and quickly," wrote an Agence France-Presse reporter who experienced a trial blast at the presentation. The beam can be felt up to 3/5th of a mile away but is said not to cause lasting harm.
Active Denial now joins a large number of supposedly non-lethal anti-people weapons possessed by the military and some police agencies including those that produce excruciating sounds, hideous smells, blinding lights, disorienting devices, and smoke fog, as well as the usual tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, truncheons and, lately, surveillance drones.
But as long as it's keeping the peace....
7. KEY SOCIAL PROGRAMS STAY ON CHOPPING BLOCK
By the Activist Newsletter
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid constitute the historic apex of the Democratic Party's social achievements.
No matter how hard the right wing fought to dismantle these programs the Democrats always held firm. Social Security resulted from F. D. Roosevelt's New Deal during the Great Depression, while Medicare/Medicaid derived from Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program during the radical '60s.
The reactionary Republicans have been trying unceasingly for decades to scuttle these great social programs.
The last big effort was mounted by George W. Bush in his second term, charging in his January 2005 State of the Union that Social Security was "headed for bankruptcy." He demanded partial privatization of the system, which critics understood was just a first step toward ending the government program.
Congressional Democrats were unanimously opposed, as were many Republican lawmakers. In the end, Bush suffered a humiliating defeat.
But that was then. Now, it’s the Democratic Party that has voluntarily put its own biggest achievements on the chopping block — an indication of how much further it has drifted to the center right in just a couple of years. Some top Democratic politicians in the Senate and House were reluctant, but went along. A few publicly demurred.
According to an article in the March 17 Washington Post, recounting the deficit reduction talks between the Obama Administration and the Republicans last summer, President Obama not only offered "cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," but the offer still stands.
The paper said the original deal — the purpose being to achieve a bipartisan agreement to raise the limit on government borrowing — was for there to be reduced "cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients [and] nearly $250 billion in Medicare savings achieved in part by raising the eligibility age" and other cuts.
After a seeming bipartisan agreement was reached July 18, the near concord dissolved in acrimony over additional disagreements July 24.
Then, the Post article said, "Two days later, July 24, one week after the Sunday morning meeting that sparked such optimism, the president found himself trying to turn back the clock.
"Working late into the evening, Obama asked someone to get [Republican House Speaker John] Boehner on the phone. His message: I’ll take your last offer.
"Boehner answered, 'we don’t have time to reopen these negotiations.'"
A stopgap deal a few days after talks collapsed raised the debt limit to keep the government in business until 2013. The cuts in Social Security, et al, were left for a bipartisan Congressional “super committee” to take care of in a second round of deficit reductions. The committee reached a stalemate in November and nothing transpired.
This is not the end of the matter, however, since Obama will probably spend another four years in office — which means many more compromises with the right wing. According to the Post article, "White House officials said this week that the offer remains on the table."
— The text of the long Post article, headlined "Obama’s evolution: Behind the failed ‘grand bargain’ on the debt," is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obamas-evolution-behind-the-failed-grand-bargain-on-the-debt/2012/03/15/gIQAHyyfJS_story.html.
[The following new poem by Mariann G. Wizard was just published by The Rag Blog.]
The plazas are empty, swept clean of debris,
smug analyses already written.
Elections are coming, everyone run to see:
is it Newton? or El Ron? or Mittens?
But out of the glare of the media stare,
the knowledge unerringly spreads:
the old ways are broken, the people have spoken,
and a new generation now treads
lightly as snowflakes, deeper than earthquakes,
firmly they step to the fore;
unafraid of each other, knowing Earth as their mother,
occupying tomorrow's far shore.
As spring comes around, let us welcome the sound
of our children all rising as one!
Step away from the past! Find a way that can last!
Our survival demands that we yearn
not for privileged wealth, but for happiness, health,
and a sense of creation and worth.
If no one is greedy, no one must be needy --
let a new age bring forth peace on earth!
The plazas are empty, swept clean of debris,
but the rising continues to roll.
When the people come out, and again raise a shout,
trust your kids, not some fake Fox News poll!
— Mariann G. Wizard, a Sixties radical activist and contributor to The Rag, Austin's underground newspaper from the 60s and 70s, is a poet, a professional science writer specializing in natural health therapies, and a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, http://theragblog.blogspot.com/.
9. WOMEN ATTACK LOW PAY AND JOB BIAS
By Jenny Brown, Labor Notes
Women workers are attacking low pay and bias from many angles, assailing wage laws that exclude them, suing over outright discrimination, and trying to organize unions. And they’ve been confronting the disrespect that accompanies smaller paychecks.
The pay gap between men and women actually shrank in 2011. Women now average 82.2% of men’s earnings — but the numbers don’t indicate progress because all workers lost buying power.
The gap decreased only because women’s pay didn’t drop as far as men’s, losing 0.9% while men lost 2.1%, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Black women earned 69.5% of white men’s earnings, and Latina women 60.5%.
The pay gap amounts to an average lifetime loss of $379,000, according to the Department of Labor. Or, looked at from the perspective of a Hyatt or a Wal-Mart, every three women workers means another million dollars in executive pockets.
Discrimination is sometimes encoded in law, by mandating lower pay for jobs held mostly by women. Restaurant waitstaff and other tipped workers — nearly three-quarters of them women — used to receive more than half the federal minimum wage as their base pay.
But a furious lobbying effort by the National Restaurant Association changed that, shortly before the federal minimum wage was raised in 1996. The “tipped minimum” has languished at 1991 levels ever since.
That means that in most states, tipped restaurant workers can legally be paid $2.13 an hour, as long as their tips bring them up to the federal or state minimum wage. If the tips don’t add up, the employer is supposed to make up the difference.
But restaurant workers say this is largely fiction in an industry known for many flavors of wage theft. Claudia Muñoz, a server in Texas, said she was forced to report more tips than she had received so her bosses at a pancake restaurant wouldn’t have to make up the difference. Now she’s an activist with the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) in Houston.
In another effort, coordinated by ROC United nationally, workers in five cities are suing their employer, Capital Grille, for making them work off the clock and paying them the tipped minimum when they weren’t doing tipped work. The suit also alleges that Capital Grille, part of Darden Restaurants, fired black servers because corporate leaders wanted a whiter waitstaff.
ROC United is cranking up a campaign to eliminate the lower minimum for tipped workers in more states and on the federal level.
In mid-February the group released a study, “Tipped over the Edge,” focusing on gender inequality in the restaurant industry. States that have eliminated the lower wage for tipped workers, including California, Washington, and Minnesota, have lower poverty rates among restaurant servers, despite having similar overall poverty rates, according to the study.
Gender bias is notorious in retail, too. Women workers suing for discrimination at Wal-Mart were dealt a setback last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court said their record-breaking suit was too big. Now they’ve returned to court in California and Texas, suing on behalf of 140,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees who they say experienced sex discrimination in pay and promotions in those states.
Management at the Hyatt hotel in Santa Clara, California, celebrated “housekeepers appreciation week” last September by grafting photographs of housekeepers’ faces onto bikini-clad bodies riding surfboards.
Martha Reyes saw the photos after she heard managers laughing by the bulletin board. “I felt humiliated, my reaction was to be angry,” she said. “I tore down my picture and my sister’s picture.”
Three weeks later she and her sister, Lorena, were fired. Lorena had worked for the hotel more than 20 years.
The two, both supporters of a union drive at the hotel, marched with 200 others in front of the hotel on March 8, International Women’s Day.
The marchers surrounded the hotel with clotheslines and pinned up hand-painted T-shirts with slogans like “My name is not Sweetie Pie,” and “I’m done being pushed around.”
Low pay goes along with the disrespect, said Lorena Reyes. Raises have been miniscule or nonexistent in her career there. She hasn’t been able to afford the health insurance, since premiums are up to $400 a month.
Management is resisting unionization at hotels in Santa Clara, Indianapolis, and San Antonio, while contracts at most union Hyatts expired more than two years ago. The union has been escalating its efforts, with week-long strikes and a widening boycott that the union says has cost the chain at least $25 million.
UNITE HERE seeks an agreement that allows workers to launch boycotts or strikes on behalf of other Hyatt workers. “We all work for the same company,” said Antonia Cortez, a San Francisco Hyatt housekeeper who participated in a week-long strike. “We should have the right to stand up for each other.”
The Reyes sisters have received considerable support, and not just from UNITE HERE. The National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and women’s studies professors have all voiced solidarity and pledged to boycott the hotel.
Management’s response: to plaster posters of Rosie the Riveter on bulletin boards, with a voice bubble: “Hyatt Celebrates Women at Work.”
Hyatt’s owners might well celebrate women at work, because they’ve gotten rich on housekeepers’ hard work and low pay. The 450-hotel corporation is controlled by the billionaire Pritzkers, Chicago’s wealthiest family.
The housekeepers are going up against what Chicago UNITE HERE President Henry Tamarin calls “the 1% of the 1%.” Hyatt heir Penny Pritzker sits on President Obama’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness, and is once again serving on his campaign fundraising committee.
The union recently pointed out that Pritzker family members, along with Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian, have appealed their personal property tax assessments 70 times since 2003, reducing taxes on their Chicago mansions by $344, 000.
In Will County, Illinois, warehouse workers are making a public issue of the sexual harassment they say is endemic there. A county board member and a city council member heard testimony at a March 8 hearing that drew 100 people.
In the most egregious case, Latina immigrants at the Partners Warehouse complained to management about sexual harassment and sexual assault by supervisor Brian Swaw, the son of the vice president.
When nothing happened they went to the police in Elwood, a small town where the warehouses are the biggest source of revenue. But instead of investigating, cops filed criminal charges against the assault victim, 19-year-old Priscilla Marshall, for “filing a false police report.” She spent 16 days in jail and faces felony charges; two of her fellow workers were in jail for a week.
Marshall, her mother, and other witnesses were fired and some are being charged with forgery and theft of food from the warehouse.
Partners hired an investigator — a policeman and friend of the alleged abuser — to look into the sexual harassment charges. One worker says the investigator threatened him physically and suggested he could be deported.
The workers have filed suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Warehouse Workers for Justice has started a legal defense fund. WWJ is signing up churches, unions, and politicians on a letter calling on the state’s attorney to drop charges.
The women are demanding that Partners be held accountable. They want Swaw fired and the workers made whole.
For women in hotels, warehouses, and restaurants, winning equitable pay will not be enough. Lorena Reyes said the union drive at her hotel is as much about claiming power on the job as boosting wages. “We want to teach these managers how to respect women,” she said.
Labor Notes, which originally printed this article March 14, is a magazine that seeks to "Put the movement back into the labor movement." It's website is at http://labornotes.org/. The site features a song of struggle every month along with the lyrics and a link to the live performance.
10. THE CHANGING STATUS OF U.S. WOMEN
[The March 26 issue of Time magazine contained an article headlined "Women, Money and Power" by Liza Mundy, noting that female economic prowess is changing the relationship between the sexes. It's an interesting piece, though not the whole story, and we print a section below.]
Assuming present trends continue, by the next generation, more families will be supported by women than by men. Not since women entered the workforce by the millions after World War II has America witnessed economic change on this scale. Some of this is driven by the dramatic rise in single-parent families, but it is increasingly true in two-earner families as well. In 2009, the most recent year for which U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures are available, nearly 4 in 10 working wives outearned their husbands--an increase of more than 50% from 20 years before. There was a jump in the first decade of the 21st century, even before the Great Recession began in 2007, suggesting it's not a blip in the economic cycle.
Think about what this portends. The primary role men have played since they departed the cave in pursuit of bison and woolly mammoths and marched forth in flannel suits to earn paychecks in the Mad Men era will be passed to women. The impact will be felt everywhere, from the classroom to the boardroom to the bedroom, in how men and women work, play, shop, vote, save and share and court and even love each other.
While the change is rarely in the headlines, it is often behind them: much of what liberals are calling the Republicans' war on women centers on the Pill, whose arrival 50 years ago fostered the rise of female sexual freedom and economic power. Women could delay marriage and invest in education without worrying that an unplanned pregnancy would derail their pursuit of professional goals. As jobs have moved to the low and high ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, it is women who are better equipped for the higher ground: women today make up almost 60% of U.S. college students and earn the majority of doctorates and master's degrees. Some experts predict that in 25 years, law and medicine will be female-dominated professions. Already, according to Census Bureau data crunched by Reach Advisors, a market-research firm, single childless women ages 22 to 30 in the majority of large U.S. cities now have a higher median income than their male peers.
Before women — or men — start celebrating, some cautionary notes: some academics and women's-rights advocates talk about a stalled revolution and warn that a premature declaration of victory will reduce pressure on workplaces to improve pay and working conditions. Although the portion of wives outearning their husbands has risen, the wage gap persists: women working full time earn a median wage that is 81% of what men make. This suggests that many women are supporting households on less than what a man might command. The glass ceiling remains solid; according to Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, the percentage of managers who are women has risen from 35% to only 38% in the past 20 years. It is still possible for a judge to reject a sex-discrimination suit by a woman who claimed she was fired for asking if she could pump breast milk at work and to say the claim would hold up if the woman had been fired for being pregnant. In this economy, millions of women as well as men are too worried about falling out of the middle class to dream of rising above it.
But over the long term, the outlook is brighter — especially if a growing, global information economy favors an educated woman's skill set. Which raises the inevitable question, If women in the next generation are poised to do better, does it mean that men are going to do worse? Or is there a chance, if people come to think differently about money and power and gender roles, that everyone could come out ahead?
Money isn't everything, but when it comes to how society is organized, it's a lot. Until the mid--19th century, women's property — their very identity — was subsumed into that of their husbands, a tradition so important that in 1868, when England was considering giving property rights to married women, the London Times warned that such a move would destroy marriage as society knew it, which consisted of "authority on the one side and subordination on the other." Were a wife to become financially empowered, the paper editorialized, she would be "practically emancipated" from control by her husband. "What is to prevent her from going where she likes and doing what she pleases?"
Well, plenty, actually. Even after property laws changed, women's dependence was ensured for another century by factors including gender segregation in the workplace, a lower wage scale for women, restraints on the employment of married women and obstacles to advancement in jobs--all seen as necessary to ensure men's breadwinning ability and guarantee that women would remain loyal helpmeets. Feminists like Simone de Beauvoir saw economic independence as central to women's liberation and even humanity, arguing that for centuries — millennia, even — men had used economic power to purchase women's domestic services and ensure their sexual fidelity. De Beauvoir called this "the deal" and argued that women were poorer in every sense for accepting it. Evolutionary psychologists, meanwhile, argued that dependence was women's desired condition — that women were genetically driven to seek providers who could support their offspring. You could call it a contest between Marx and Darwin: the Marxist camp saw the economic superiority of men as oppressive and wrong, while the Darwinists saw it as natural and beneficial to women.
Either way, the deal is off....
— Full article: http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,2109140,00.html
11. THE LATEST WASHINGTON RUMORS
By the Activist Newsletter
There are rumors in Washington that President Obama was secretly treated for severe back pain after his March 5 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
It is said he evidently required the emergency services of a top chiropractor after bending over backward and then contorting himself overmuch in supplication to discourage Netanyahu from attacking Iran until after the U.S. election in November.
The rumor is dubious but not entirely without reason. The last thing Commander-in-Chief Obama wants is a pre-election attack by Israel which could induce Romney or Santorum to announce that as president each would be "man enough," should Israel strike, to lead the bayonet charge into Tehran.
Rather than face so hazardous a campaign challenge, which would oblige him to compromise once again with the right wing — this time by personally leading the charge at least half-way — it is conceivable Obama may have assumed a physically stressful posture while conveying entreaties for delay to his esteemed Israeli comrade-in-arms.
But rumors like this can no more be trusted than the bizarre allegation that the Israeli government would even contemplate committing an illegal, unjust and immoral act such as launching a "preemptive" attack on another country.
After all, hasn't Defense Minister Ehud Barak — a man known to be innocent of devious intent — publicly stated that Israel's army is the "most moral" in the world? How could such an army act unjustly?
Yet, there's no end to the wild rumors in the nation's capital. No sooner had the "chiropractor" chatter dissipated than the more believable "bunker buster" bomb buzz began booming.
According to reports that first surfaced in the Israeli newspaper Maariv, during the time Netanyahu was in Washington the U.S. offered Israel advanced deep-penetrating bunker-busters and refueling planes, presumably with which to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, if there was no attack until next year.
The Obama Administration is said to fear that a war on big oil-exporter Iran during the months before the elections would cause already high U.S. gasoline prices to go through the roof, possibly compromising Obama's reelection chances.
In addition, from the White House perspective, a pre-election attack is much too risky. It is impossible to predict the immediate military and political consequences of an unprovoked bombing. The New York Times reported March 20 that a Pentagon war simulation this month determined that an Israeli attack would engender a wider regional war, that would oblige the U.S. to jump in, probably over its head.
Several years ago the far right Bush Administration reportedly denied a similar request from Israel because it couldn't handle another war in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. Would our center right Democratic president dare tread upon so perilous a path that even Bush sidestepped?
Judging by his aggressive foreign and military policies, nothing is "off the table," as Obama daily reminds us about war with Iran, but he seems to think sanctions, spying and subversion leading to regime change are more effective than a new war, at least in terms of gas prices and Democratic Party politics.
During a White House briefing March 8, press secretary Jay Carney bent over backwards — though fortunately not as far as his boss a couple of days earlier — to deny the latest rumor: "In meetings the president had [with Netanyahu] there was no such agreement proposed or reached."
Carney is paid to shelter the president. Since he carefully confined his denial only to what transpired during the two-hour Oval Office confab March 5, it's reasonable to inquire if the offer was made at some other point during the Israeli leader's several days in Washington?
On March 6, for instance, the Israeli liberal daily Haaretz quoted a U.S. official as indicating that "Netanyahu had asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for the GBU-28 bunker busting bombs as well as for advanced refueling aircraft. The source added that Obama then instructed Panetta to start work on a request to work directly with Defense Minister Barak on the matter, indicating that the U.S. administration was inclined to look favorably upon the request as soon as possible."
There has not been another peep out of the Obama Administration since Carney's performance, and the bunker-buster babble remains a supposition until it becomes a known fact. Unlike our fabricated chiropractor story, however, there is a very good chance an agreement was made to supply advanced deep penetration weaponry for possible later use by Israel.
And so go Washington rumors: Some are silly, some are deadly serious.
12. IS THIS REALLY THE 'CHANGE' WE WANT?
By the Activist Newsletter
You may have noticed that a phrase never uttered by President Obama at reelection rallies is "change we can believe in." This is a sensible omission since he never delivered on the vague but emphatically deliberate promise of "change" that got him elected in 2008.
But taking time out from campaigning, conducting wars and apologizing for the excesses of U.S. troops, President Obama addressed a fundraising party in New York March 1, explaining why so little change has transpired since assuming office.
He obviously owed the money people an explanation for what there's no need to mention to voters:
“The change we fought for in 2008 hasn’t always happened as fast as we would have liked. After all that’s happened in Washington, sometimes you look and see the mess and it’s tempting, I think, to sometimes say, ‘You know what, maybe change isn’t possible'.... I know it’s tempting to believe that. But... real change, big change is always hard."
Obama then equated his difficulties to those rather more perplexing obstacles confronted by Mahatma Gandhi in India and Nelson Mandela in South Africa to explain why he should continue occupying the White House and why wealthy people must give him money:
"Around the world — Gandhi, Nelson Mandela — what they did was hard. It takes time. It takes more than a single term." But if "ordinary citizens keep believing" and "you're willing to work with me.... I promise you change will come."
Comparing himself to Gandhi and Mandela and their task of liberating masses of people from oppressive colonialism and apartheid, is, to be charitable, a big stretch.
Obama entered the White House when Democrats controlled House and Senate and still run the Senate and the executive apparatus. Much of the time has been spent compromising half way with the far right Republicans and proving he's no slouch when it comes to undermining civil liberties and expanding foreign wars.
This wasn't the change Democrats "believed in," but it's what we got.
13. HARSH DISCIPLINE FOR MINORITY STUDENTS
By the ACLU
Every day, students in public schools across the country are facing harsh disciplinary measures that may have dire consequences for the rest of their lives.
That was confirmed March 5 when the Department of Education released Part Two of its 2009-2010 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which showed minority students face much harsher punishments and penalties in our nation’s public schools than others.
African-American students are 3 ½ times more likely than their white peers to be suspended. Though African-American students made up only 18% of enrolled students, they accounted for 39% of those expelled, and were subject to zero tolerance policies at disproportionate rates. A shocking 70% of students arrested or referred to law enforcement were Latino or African-American.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted: “The sad fact is that minority students across American face march harsher discipline than non-minorities — even within the same school.” Past research indicates that African-American students are punished more harshly for the same infractions.
The data also illustrates how students with disabilities are treated. Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions. They make up only 12% of the overall student body, but 70% of those subject to physical restraints. And while we continue to advocate for more detailed data relating to corporal punishment in future CRDCs, this CRDC will also provide an updated snapshot of the draconian use of corporal punishment in states where it is still legal.
These figures paint a troubling picture of educational inequity that is failing our kids and fueling the school-to-prison-pipeline.
The CRDC, which began in 1968, was discontinued under the Bush administration in 2006. The ACLU and other civil rights groups successfully appealed to the Obama administration to reinstate the data collection and to expand it to include new categories of data on harsh discipline measures, such as referrals to law enforcement, school-based arrests and expulsion under zero-tolerance policies.
The new CRDC release is a great step forward in learning what we need to know to work with local, state and federal authorities to reduce these troubling disparities. But there is much more to be done, including:
• Encouraging the Department of Education to collect data annually from all schools, including all schools that receive federal funding.
• Urging Congress to codify this type of data collection and ensure that the information we learn from the CRDC is used to increase federal funding to improve school climate and discipline practices.
• Encouraging the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, an interagency effort between the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to issue guidance to states and school districts to help them implement less discriminatory alternatives to exclusionary practices.
• Supporting H.R. 3165, the Positive Behavior for Safe and Effective Schools Act, which gives schools the ability to fund evidence-based programs, such as peer mediation, counseling and other preventive disciplinary approaches as alternatives to overly punitive school discipline;
• Supporting H.R. 3027, the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act, which would ban the practice of school personnel striking or beating students in public schools and private schools that serve students who receive federal services.
• Urging the Department of Education to collect data on the incidents of corporal punishment in our schools, not just the number of students subjected to the practice.
Maintaining a healthy school environment is a critical responsibility of schools. Yet, studies show relying on exclusionary discipline does not make schools safer or more productive. Rather, reliance on practices like suspensions, expulsions and arrests decrease academic achievement and increase the likelihood that students will be pushed out of school, oftentimes into the criminal justice system.
At bottom, the improper use of school discipline undermines the mission of our nation’s schools. Millions of students are counting on us to use this new data to make lasting change.
According to Education Week March 6. the Eduction Department report also reveals there are "stark racial and ethnic disparities in students who must repeat a grade, with black and Hispanic students far more likely than white students to retained, especially in elementary and middle school.
"The contrast is especially strong for African-Americans. In the most extreme case, more than half of all 4th graders retained at the end of the 2009-10 academic year — 56% — were black, according to the data, which account for about 85% of the nation's public school population. In 3rd grade, 49% of those held back were black.
"Those findings come even though African-American students represented less than one-fifth of the entire universe of students in the K-12 data set collected from districts. In all, nearly 1 million students, or 2.3% of those enrolled, were retained across K-12, the data show. Black students were nearly three times as likely as white students to be retained, when combining all grade levels. Hispanic students were twice as likely to be held back."
14. THE CAUSES OF TEACHER DISSATISFACTION
By Common Dreams
Teachers are more dissatisfied with their jobs than they have been in decades, according to MetLife's latest Survey of the American Teacher report.
Based on a survey of public school teachers, parents and students, the report is the first large-scale national attempt to fully account for the impact that a recessionary economy and a vicious public campaign against public school teachers and their unions has had on the profession.
In the report, teachers describe a situation where "cuts to school budgets have lead to diminished programs and services" at a time when "students and their families are demonstrating increased needs.... Nearly three in ten (28%) teachers indicate that there have been reductions or eliminations of health or social service programs in their schools in the past year. In addition, 64% of teachers report an increase in the number of students and families requiring health and social support services and 35% say the number of students coming to school hungry has increased."
The New York Times reports that "Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Washington, said the push for evaluations, punctuated by a national movement to curb the power of unions, had fostered an unsettling cultural shift. 'It’s easy to see why teachers feel put upon, when you consider the rhetoric around the need to measure their effectiveness — just as it’s easy to see why they would internalize it as a perception that teachers are generally ineffective, even if it’s not what the debate is about at all,' Ms. Jacobs said.
"More than 75% of the teachers surveyed said the schools where they teach had undergone budget cuts last year, and about as many of them said the cuts included layoffs — of teachers and others, like school aides and counselors. Roughly one in three teachers said their schools lost arts, music and foreign language programs. A similar proportion noted that technology and materials used in the schools had not been kept up to date to meet students’ needs."
Commenting on the report, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten declared: "Often, we hear how important teachers are. But this survey tells us what teachers themselves are thinking, and it’s very sobering. Teachers are telling us they have the lowest level of job satisfaction in more than two decades and that a growing number are planning to leave the profession.”
“U.S. teachers are frustrated with unrelenting cuts in budgets, elimination of arts and after-school programs, larger class sizes, and accountability systems that over-rely on student test scores,” she said. “This should call into question the obsession with cutting funding for public education and health and family services children and parents rely on.
National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel called the results “shocking,” and attributed the results “in part, to the unconscionable cuts" to school budgets in recent years, including cuts to early childhood education, books and technology, and elimination of key programs and classes, such as history, art, physical education and music.
“Policy makers’ actions have real consequences, and those are being felt in classrooms across the country," Van Roekel said in a press statement. "We encourage parents and community leaders to join us and speak up against the devastating impact of budget cuts and instead demand that students have the resources they need to succeed.”
— The entire MetLife report is 130 pages but the Executive Summary and Major Findings are contained in pages 5-10. Go to http://www.metlife.com/about/corporate-profile/citizenship/metlife-foundation/metlife-survey-of-the-american-teacher.html?WT.mc_id=vu1101, and click under New Survey for the pdf.
15. OCEANS OF ACID
By the National Science Foundation
The oceans may be acidifying faster today than they did in the last 300 million years, according to scientists publishing a paper March 1 in the journal Science.
"What we're doing today really stands out in the geologic record," says lead author Bärbel Hönisch, a a paleoceanographic at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "We know that life during past ocean acidification events was not wiped out — new species evolved to replace those that died off. But if industrial carbon emissions continue at the current pace, we may lose organisms we care about — coral reefs, oysters, salmon."
The oceans act like a sponge to draw down excess carbon dioxide from the air. The gas reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid, which over time is neutralized by fossil carbonate shells on the seafloor. If too much carbon dioxide enters the ocean too quickly, it can deplete the carbonate ions that corals, mollusks and some plankton need for reef and shell-building.
In a review of hundreds of paleoceanographic studies, the researchers found evidence for only one period in the last 300 million years when the oceans changed as fast as today: the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM. In ocean sediment cores, the PETM appears as a brown mud layer flanked by thick deposits of white plankton fossils.
About 56 million years ago, a mysterious surge of carbon into the atmosphere warmed the planet and turned the oceans corrosive. In about 5,000 years, atmospheric carbon doubled to 1,800 parts per million (ppm), and average global temperatures rose by about 6 degrees Celsius. The carbonate plankton shells littering the seafloor dissolved, leaving the brown clay layer that scientists see in sediment cores today....
According to Candace Major, program officer in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences: "The ocean acidification we're seeing today is unprecedented, even when viewed through the lens of the past 300 million years, a result of the very fast rates at which we're changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans."
In the last hundred years, rising carbon dioxide from human activities has lowered ocean pH by 0.1 unit, an acidification rate at least 10 times faster than 56 million years ago, says Hönisch.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that pH will fall another 0.2 units by 2100, raising the possibility that we may soon see ocean changes similar to those observed during the PETM. More catastrophic events have happened on Earth before, but perhaps not as quickly.
16. MORE DOMESTIC SPYING EXPOSED
By Democracy Now!, March 21
A new exposé in Wired Magazine reveals details about how the National Security Agency is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah (outside of Salt Lake City), as part of a secret NSA surveillance program codenamed "Stellar Wind." It’s going to be a million square feet in size, built on a military base at a cost $2 billion.
Investigative reporter James Bamford writes that the NSA has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas.
The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency. This includes the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases and other digital "pocket litter."
"The NSA has constantly denied that they’re doing things, and then it turns out they are doing these things," Bamford says in response to NSA Director General Keith Alexander’s denial March 20 that U.S. citizens’ phone calls and emails are being intercepted.
"A few years ago, President Bush said before camera that the United States is not eavesdropping on anybody without a warrant, and then it turns out that we had this exposure to all the warrantless eavesdropping in the New York Times article. And so, you have this constant denial and parsing of words."
—Journalist Bamford's article is at http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1
—For DN's interview with Bamfoprd http://www.democracynow.org/2012/3/21/exposed_inside_the_nsas_largest_and
17. ALL RED MEAT IS BAD FOR YOU
By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
Eating red meat — any amount and any type — appears to significantly increase the risk of premature death, according to a long-range study that examined the eating habits and health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years.
For instance, adding just one 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat — picture a piece of steak no bigger than a deck of cards — to one's daily diet was associated with a 13% greater chance of dying during the course of the study.
Even worse, adding an extra daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, was linked to a 20% higher risk of death during the study.
"Any red meat you eat contributes to the risk," said An Pan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and lead author of the study, published online March 12 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Crunching data from thousands of questionnaires that asked people how frequently they ate a variety of foods, the researchers also discovered that replacing red meat with other foods seemed to reduce mortality risk for study participants.
Eating a serving of nuts instead of beef or pork was associated with a 19% lower risk of dying during the study. The team said choosing poultry or whole grains as a substitute was linked with a 14% reduction in mortality risk; low-fat dairy or legumes, 10%; and fish, 7%.
Previous studies had associated red meat consumption with diabetes, heart disease and cancer, all of which can be fatal. Scientists aren't sure exactly what makes red meat so dangerous, but the suspects include the iron and saturated fat in beef, pork and lamb, the nitrates used to preserve them, and the chemicals created by high-temperature cooking.
The Harvard researchers hypothesized that eating red meat would also be linked to an overall risk of death from any cause, Pan said. And the results suggest they were right: Among the 37,698 men and 83,644 women who were tracked, as meat consumption increased, so did mortality risk....
Pan said the bottom line was that there was no amount of red meat that's good for you. "If you want to eat red meat, eat the unprocessed products, and reduce it to two or three servings a week," he said. "That would have a huge impact on public health."
A majority of people in the study reported that they ate an average of at least one serving of meat per day. Pan said that he eats one or two servings of red meat per week, and that he doesn't eat bacon or other processed meats....
UC San Francisco researcher and vegetarian diet advocate Dr. Dean Ornish said he gleaned a hopeful message from the study. "Something as simple as a meatless Monday can help," he said. "Even small changes can make a difference."
In an editorial that accompanied the study, Ornish wrote that a plant-based diet could help cut annual healthcare costs from chronic diseases in the U.S., which exceed $1 trillion. Shrinking the livestock industry could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt the destruction of forests to create pastures, so "What's good for you is also good for the planet."
• For the report: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/archinternmed.2011.2287.
• If you are interested in vegetarian cuisine, two of the best cookbooks we recommend are "Vegetarian Cooking for Everybody" by Deborah Madison, and "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by" by Mark Bittman.
• For our article on how a meat diet is a major contributor to global warming, see DIET FOR AN ENDANGERED PLANET in the Jan. 24, 2009, issue of the newsletter in the blog archive to the right.
18. BO'S OUT — WHAT'S HAPPENING IN CHINA?
[Why did the Chinese Communist Party demote Bo Xilai? He was a rising star who was expected to be named to the powerful Politburo that oversees party affairs in the fall when Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Li Keqiang are promoted to top leadership. No one outside the CCP hierarchy knows for sure. Leftists in China and elsewhere were hoping Bo's influence would grow, possibly at least slightly diverting Beijing's accelerated travels down what revolutionaries used to call the "capitalist road." The following article, by a noncommunist Western business consultant with links to emerging economies, was published March 22 in Asia Times under the headline "Bo exit shows China's true colors." It is not the final analysis, but clarifies some confusions. At the end we link to several other related articles.]
By Benjamin A Shobert
Bo Xilai's exit as the Secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has left everyone with an interest in China's ongoing development scratching their heads over what to make of his sudden and forced departure. Confusion inside and outside of China has continued up until today as various China-watchers eager to fit Bo's departure into their pre-existing views on China have offered their own interpretations.
The basic facts are not in dispute: during the March 15 National People's Congress, Bo's removal was made public. As a personality, few dispute that Bo was one of China's most visible and well-known politicians. Bo's popularity owed much to the success of what has been called the Chongqing Model. This pushed for stronger state-involvement in the economy while also making social services and broader questions about social inequalities a more central part of the local government's initiatives.
Bo also touched on a sensitive part of China's political legacy when he elevated the spirit of Mao [Zedong, the leader of the long communist struggle for revolution and founder of the People's Republic of China, who died 35 years ago] ,by encouraging and leading the public singing of so-called "Red Songs." Most recently, he had been put in a compromised position by the defection and subsequent arrest of his top lieutenant Wang Lijun after Wang's attempt to take refuge in the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province bordering with Chongqing.
Taken together, three interpretations about what to make of Bo's departure appear to be most common.
• The first is that he was too charismatic a political figure who raised the specter of a personality cult that China's leadership was in no position to deal with. Threatened by Bo, they took him out of the national limelight. • Second, that Bo's sacking was made necessary because the CCP power center wants to send a message both inside and outside the country about its view of the Chongqing Model. • Third, that Bo's purge of Wang Lijun was an attempt to stifle a corruption case that would have implicated Bo's family. Caught in the middle of this scheme, Bo was sacked. Most long-time China watchers are quick to point out that the real truth may well be a combination of each of these factors, as well as matters not yet made public.
What is perhaps equally interesting is to reflect on what American and European interest in Bo Xilai's ousting has to say about the questions, concerns and insecurities the West harbors towards China. Amidst an American election pregnant with personality and bombastic rhetoric, the more hidden nature of China's politics leaves many Westerners confused on what to make of this situation, yet eager to understand more.
In this respect, much of what is driving American interpretations on the Bo Xilai story is an attempt to better understand which direction China's political and economic reform are going. Largely due to America's current economic insecurity, U.S.-Sino relations have entered a rocky state not seen since the Clinton Administration renewed China's Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. Hidden behind almost every current debate over China's role in the American economy is a deeper question related to uncertainty by American policy-makers about where China's political and economic reforms are going to take it.
Consequently, Beijing's decision in the midst of its [economic] stimulus plan to codify long-standing domestic sourcing practices through its Indigenous Innovation policy and to make an effort to apply these specifically to high-profile industries in the clean-tech and life sciences sectors left many in Washington certain that China's economic reforms had come to a halt.
Yet, when Beijing presented its most recent Foreign Direct Investment catalog at the end of 2011, the overwhelming direction signaled by those industries the central government would now allow FDI into was one of openness, not closure. The net of these confusing signals has meant that many in Washington are quick to leap on events like Bo's exit as proof that one or another form of economic reform is the genuine intention of China's leadership. Because Washington has linked economic reforms with China becoming more of a democratic form of government, the trajectory of Beijing's economic reforms are deemed essential to understand.
The politics behind Bo Xilai's departure may be entirely personality driven; however, within the United States, many are also eager to believe that his being sacked points towards China's signal to those outside its borders that the country is going away from the Chongqing Model towards what has been commonly referred to as to Guangdong Model.
The latter emphasizes even more expansive economic and — in what many believe is far more important — much bigger political reforms through greater transparency and openness in government. Patrick Chovanec, a highly thought of Western China-watcher who teaches at [Beijing's famed] Tsinghua University, wrote in the aftermath of Bo's departure, "The temptation is to say it's a victory for the liberal reform camp (as we've frequently heard say) Bo's end spells the end of the [more leftist] Chongqing Model. I'm not sure."
If outsiders should not interpret Bo Xilai's exit as a sign of which direction the country's economic and political reforms are going to take, then perhaps it is worth absorbing what this all has to say about the broader discontinuities within CCP.
It is common - in particular among those on Capital Hill — to hear the CCP referred to as if it is one monolithic entity. The collectivism found at the core of socialist and communist political philosophy is projected onto China's ruling body, a simple extrapolation that overlooks the many fractures and dissenting voices that do exist within the party itself. Simply because U.S.-Sino relations are at such a crucial and sensitive juncture, it is worth taking away from Bo's forced departure the realization that many voices within the party are pushing for different policies than those Beijing ultimately settles on. Smart American policy-makers will want to manage Western engagement with China so voices of dissent and more reform-minded politicians are not easily ostracized from the country's political process.
Perhaps more than anything else, interpreting what the Bo Xilai incident has to say about the insecurity of China's ruling party is critical for Western policy-makers and politicians to understand. Amid America's own collective insecurities over China's rise, it has become common to view the country's leadership as being unable to do wrong. Whatever issues Western minds may have with Beijing's policies, the results they have been able to create for their country are difficult to argue with; however, beneath the surface lies a much deeper set of discontinuities, problems and ticking time bombs that China must properly manage.
What China's leadership has been able to accomplish over the past 20 years is amazing. If someone were to take the economic results Beijing has delivered and transplant these outcomes into Western Africa, the developed West would hail the results as transformative in the best of ways. Yet, because China today now appears to present a strategic, ideological and political challenge to long-held and deeply cherished Western ideas, the results it has achieved are viewed with more cynicism and suspicion than is merited.
Even with these amazing achievements firmly in hand, Beijing knows that much of the country remains stuck in agrarian poverty, that access to basic social services like healthcare remains incomplete and of widely varying quality, and that complaints over government policies is an always percolating problem that could easily derail the progress Beijing has achieved thus far. These realizations, coupled to broader uncertainty over whether China can accumulate enough social and material capital to make it through its upcoming aging demographic storm, have left the country's leaders deeply committed to stability and additional economic growth.
With this in mind, outsiders eager to interpret Bo's exit should recognize that his departure casts additional light on how, even in the midst of Beijing's amazing economic growth, the country's leaders remain deeply aware of how easily one of the many other parts of the country could spiral out of control. Yes, Bo chose to touch one of those live wires when he turned the Chinese people's attention to collectivist anthems that harkened back to Mao and raised the specter of China's always-present populist past. Yes, by doing so he intentionally elevated his public and political personality in ways that undermine the country's political norms. Yes, his particular brand of reform may not be the direction that the central government wants to take.
But, perhaps more than anything else, what Western eyes need to see when they look at Bo's forced departure is the deep and unresolved insecurities, even after decades of successful economic results, that colors the fabric of the country's politics. This realization should be front and center when American policy makers and politicians craft strategies for engaging China. She is a mighty and powerful nation, but China is also nowhere near ready to play the role as leader or villain that too many in Washington seem to want to force upon the country and its leaders.
America's more fractious and divisive political culture may make compromise and progress more difficult to attain than in China, but it also makes differences easier to spot and dissent easier to incorporate. In this way, China's model remains fundamentally more fragile and insecure than America's, a realization that Bo Xilai's exit again reminds us.
— — Benjamin A Shobert is managing director of Rubicon Strategy Group, a consulting firm specialized in strategy analysis for companies looking to enter emerging economies. He is the author of the upcoming book "Blame China."
— From the Activist Newsletter: Here are three articles with background on the Bo Xilai affair:
• New York Times, March 20, 2012, "Report on Ousted China Official Shows Effort at Damage Control," http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/world/asia/bo-xilai-accused-of-interfering-with-corruption-case.html?pagewanted=all.
• Asia Times, June 4, 2011, "Mao's army on the attack" by By Kent Ewing, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/MF04Ad01.html.
• Asia Times, April 20, 2011, "Bo Xilai focuses multiparty vision," by Francesco Sisci, Asia editor of the influential Italian daily La Stampa. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/MD20Ad02.html.
19. ARE U.S. SPECIAL FORCES IN SYRIA?
[The following article appeared in the March 9 issue of Military.com, an organization devoted to the interests of Armed Forces members and veterans. It is based on one of millions of emails recently hacked from Stratfor (the private U.S. "global intelligence" agency) by persons unknown and sent to WikiLeaks, which published them.]
By Bryant Jordan
U.S. Special Operation Forces reportedly have been in Syria since December training groups to conduct guerrilla attacks and assassinations to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a leaked Stratfor memo published by WikiLeaks.
But Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. James Gregory suggested the memo warranted being read skeptically. "I would say that the [Stratfor] email -- and I cannot comment on its authenticity due to the method in which [it was received] -- seems to be pure conjecture," Gregory said.
The claim of American Spec Ops Forces operating in Syria is made in an internal email dated Dec. 7, 2011, from an official at Stratfor, a Texas-based private intelligence-gathering company with some good sources in the Pentagon.
The writer -- whose email reportedly belongs to the company’s director of analysis, Reva Bhalla — recounts a Pentagon meeting where officials “said without saying that SOF teams (presumably from US, UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce [reconnaissance] missions and training opposition forces.”
An Air Force intelligence officer told him that there isn’t a viable “Free Syrian Army” to actually train right now, but that steps are being taken out of “prudence.”
“They have been told to prepare contingencies and be ready to act within 2-3 months, but they still stress that this is all being done as contingency planning, not as a move toward escalation,” the writer states.
“I kept pressing on the question of what these SOF teams would be working toward, and whether this would lead to an eventual air campaign to give a Syrian rebel group cover. They pretty quickly distanced themselves from that idea, saying that the idea 'hypothetically' is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within. There wouldn't be a need for air cover, and they wouldn't expect these Syrian rebels to be marching in columns anyway.” (Alawite is a minority branch of Shia Islam to which the Syrian ruling Assad family belongs.)
Last year, a U.S. Army two-star general said that special operators have been in the Middle East since the “Arab Spring” started, but their mission was to keep volatile situations from getting worse. “We also keep a close eye on and can’t ignore the other unstable regions in the world, and you’ve seen them in the mix here recently, too — Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan,” Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, said during a breakfast meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Land Warfare Institute. “And if we don’t address those now, we’ll have to deal with it later and probably have to commit a larger effort to that.
“So I can tell you that just about any place you see things happening on the news we’ve got Army Special Operations forces there, and they’re doing a variety of different things to hopefully prevent and deter these things from getting worse.”
Fuller declined to provide copies of the briefing slides he showed the group at the breakfast or further elaborate on the missions when questioned by Military.com.
“I’m not going to tell you exactly where our people are or aren’t,” he said. “I’ll say that if it’s important to this nation we’ve probably got guys there. They may not be there now but they’ve been there or they’re going.”
Lt. Col. Gregory told Military.com that he could not respond to Fuller's remarks because he does not have the full context surrounding them. He also said that DoD does not provide information on Special Operations deployments.
— The text of the purloined email is at http://wikileaks.org/gifiles/docs/1671459_insight-military-intervention-in-syria-post-withdrawal.html
20. PLEASE STOP APOLOGIZING
[Once every long while the Activist Newsletter prints something just because it's politically funny. Here it is from is the host of “Real Time With Bill Maher” on HBO, via this morning's New York Times.]
By Bill Maher
This week, Robert De Niro made a joke about first ladies, and Newt Gingrich said it was “inexcusable and the president should apologize for him.” Of course, if something is “inexcusable,” an apology doesn’t make any difference, but then again, neither does Newt Gingrich.
Mr. De Niro was speaking at a fund-raiser with the first lady, Michelle Obama. Here’s the joke: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”
The first lady’s press secretary declared the joke “inappropriate,” and Mr. De Niro said his remarks were “not meant to offend.” So, as these things go, even if the terrible damage can never be undone, at least the healing can begin. And we can move on to the next time we choose sides and pretend to be outraged about nothing.
When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like? In the last year, we’ve been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried, the Super Bowl halftime show and the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliché for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others. Who can keep up?
This week, President Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, described Mitt Romney’s constant advertising barrage in Illinois as a “Mittzkrieg,” and instantly the Republican Jewish Coalition was outraged and called out Mr. Axelrod’s “Holocaust and Nazi imagery” as “disturbing.” Because the message of “Mittzkrieg” was clear: Kill all the Jews. Then the coalition demanded not only that Mr. Axelrod apologize immediately but also that Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz “publicly rebuke” him. For a pun! For punning against humanity!
The right side of America is mad at President Obama because he hugged the late Derrick Bell, a law professor who believed we live in a racist country, 22 years ago; the left side of America is mad at Rush Limbaugh for seemingly proving him right.
If it weren’t for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn’t get any exercise at all.
I have a better idea. Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.
If that doesn’t work, what about this: If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial or pick up your roll of quarters and leave the booth.
The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.
When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don’t like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don’t declare a holy war on ham.
I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That’s why we have Canada. That’s not us. If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we’ll get Mitt Romney.
21. EDITOR'S ENDNOTES
• By now you know about the murder of African American Trayvon Martin, 17, as he walked to a family member's home from a convenience store where he had just bought some candy. Here is where you can sign a petition calling on Norman Wolfinger, Florida's 18th District State's Attorney, to investigate Trayvon's death and prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting and killing, allowing a jury to decide, not just the police. http://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-our-son-17-year-old-trayvon-martin.
—The best coverage we've located is the 45 minutes Amy Goodman devoted to the case on Democracy Now March 20. To read, listen or watch this program click http://www.democracynow.org/shows/2012/3/20.
—For the article "20 Things You Need to Know About the Tragic Killing of Trayvon Martin" click http://www.alternet.org/story/154624/20_things_you_need_to_know_about_the_tragic_killing_of_trayvon_martin?akid=8441.4652.Fs6V67&rd=1&t=8.
• The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the Senate needs your support. NOW asks that you take action by calling and emailing your senators, urging them to co-sponsor if they are not already on the bill (S. 1925), and to support a "clean" VAWA, with no harmful amendments. Republican senators who have joined as co-sponsors also need positive reinforcement. Here is the website for contacting your senator. It also contains a detailed explanation of the legislation and why it is needed. http://action.now.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=5704.
• On March 8 President Obama signed another law eroding civil liberties — H.R. 347, “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011.” Much that has been written about the repressive nature of this bill was exaggerated, sometimes greatly so. An examination of what this new law does and does not do is explained in an analysis by the Partnership for Civil Justice, an important organization in the struggle to protect civil liberties. It is titled "Get the Truth on the New Protest Law," and is available at http://www.justiceonline.org/commentary/hr-347-get-the-truth.html.