Friday, July 13, 2012

07-14-12 Activist Newsletter


July 14, 2012, Issue #180


1.  QUOTES OF THE MONTH — Cree Indian Proverb, Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, Friedrich Engels, James Hansen.

Given the evident failure of the major UN meeting on climate change in Rio last month (see articles below) here are relevant quotes on the environmental crisis:

A Cree Indian Proverb:
"Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then you will find that money cannot be eaten."

Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, Monthly review (May 1996):
All this talk about growth as good and faster growth as better, leaves out the truly important questions: Do we need growth? If so, what kind of growth? And, how about at least beginning to talk about an economy/society that rejects permanent growth as the oxymoron it obviously is and focuses on the really important issues of human and planetary existence?

Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), Marx's collaborator:
"At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst.

James Hansen, head the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (2008):
"Our home planet is dangerously near a tipping point at which human-made greenhouse gases reach the level where major climate changes can proceed mostly under their own momentum. Warming will shift climate zones by intensifying the hydrologic cycle, affecting freshwater availability and human health. We will see repeated coastal tragedies associated with storms and continuously rising sea levels. The implications are profound, and the only resolution is for humans to move to a fundamentally different energy pathway within a decade. Otherwise, it will be too late for one-third of the world's animal and plant species and millions of the most vulnerable members of our own species."


[The following poem by progressive poet, feminist and social activist Marge Piercy is included in a new collection published last year — The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2010.]

The poor are no longer with us

No one’s poor any longer. Listen
to politicians. They mourn the middle
class which is shrinking as we watch
in the mirror. The poor have been

discarded already into the oblivion
pail of not to be spoken words.
They are as lepers were treated once,
to be shipped off to fortified islands

of the mind to rot quietly. If
poverty is a disease, quarantine
its victims. If it’s a social problem
imprison them behind high walls.

Maybe its genetic: how often they
catch easily preventable diseases.
Feed them fast garbage and they’ll
die before their care can cost you,

of heart attacks, stroke. Provide
cheap guns and they’ll kill each
other well out of your sight.
Ghettos are such dangerous places.

Give them schools that teach
them how stupid they are. But
always pretend they don’t exist
because they don’t buy enough,

spend enough, give you bribes
or contributions. No ads target
their feeble credit. They are not
real people like corporations.

By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter editor

This year's presidential campaign is taking place within an extremely conservative era in American political history that will substantially influence the domestic and foreign priorities of the next administration, regardless of whether it's headed by Democrat Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney.

Romney and his party, of course, embrace rigid right wing politics influenced by Tea Party extremism, while Obama and the Democrats — campaign rhetoric aside — basically echo the now extinct "moderate Republicans" of a quarter-century ago in a number of particulars.

A case in point about our decades-long conservative era is the Obama Administration's major "progressive" achievement — the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance plan, which was upheld by the Supreme Court two weeks ago.

The ACA, which congressional Republicans fought furiously to oppose when put forward by President Obama, was devised nearly 20 years ago by the conservative Heritage Foundation and implemented in Massachusetts by Romney when governor in 2006.

In his column in the New York Times June 29, the liberal Keynesian economist Paul Krugman pointed out that the act, which he supports, is "not perfect, by a long shot — it is, after all, originally a Republican plan, devised long ago as a way to forestall the obvious alternative of extending Medicare to cover everyone."

A page one news analysis in the Times has referred to the measure as "the most significant piece of social legislation since the New Deal," ignoring Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and the civil rights achievements of the 1960s in order to embellish its significance.

Doubtless, the new health measure contains several important new benefits, as well as several key shortcomings. (For details and analysis of the ACA by Physicians for a National Health Program, see article below.)

Many liberals are now suggesting the ACA — which will still leave over 25 million people without insurance and may deprive millions more poor families of Medicaid as well (thanks to a ruling by arch-conservative Chief Justice John Roberts allowing states to reject enlarging the program) — is a first step toward the development of a truly inclusive national healthcare system. The second step, however, may be decades in coming, if ever, given probable conservative attempts to repeatedly weaken the ACA, much less allow an expansion.

Another of President Obama's major first term "progressive" initiatives was taken from the conservatives as well. This was his proposal for a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, where they contribute to global warming. This flexible market-based program allowed high  greenhouse gas emitters to buy the right to continue polluting the atmosphere from companies with low emissions. Cap-and-trade was a less stringent alternative to tougher regulations sought by environmentalists and it was supported by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush (who adopted a similar measure in the early 1990s to curb acid rain), and by George W. Bush.

By the time Obama took office, the Republicans had lurched further to the right and corporate interests, led by Big Oil and Dirty Coal, were campaigning passionately against cap and trade. Conservatives scuttled the legislation in the Senate.

In both instances progressive legislation far more appropriate to healthcare and environmental needs was waiting in the wings but Obama — a champion of bipartisanship despite continual humiliating rebuffs — opted for the moderate Republican plans. When cap and trade failed, Obama in effect abandoned the fight against global warming rather than introduce progressive alternatives and fighting for them.

[One of America's best known environmentalists and outspoken climate scientist, James Hansen, head the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been leading a campaign against cap-and-trade for several years, charging it "does little to slow global warming or reduce our dependence on fossil fuels." Some groups fighting climate change support the measure as a first step.]

The White House didn't even allow the labor movement's most important legislative request — the Employee Free Choice Act that would have removed roadblocks to union organizing — to come to a vote in the first term when the Democrats controlled both congressional chambers. A probable reason is that Blue Dog conservative Democrats would have voted with the minority to quash the measure.

Today's conservative era is the product of an unrelenting drive for strategic ideological dominance by the right wing and its big business and financial sector allies for almost four decades. It is a reaction to the liberal reforms of the post-World War II era and social advances from the mass popular struggles of the 1960s-early '70s period. As the Republicans moved ever further to the right in the intervening years, so too did the Democrats, now situated in the center right of the political spectrum. This leaves the U.S. as the world's only rich capitalist state without a mass party left of center to at least offer some protection to working families.

The conservative assault accelerated with the implosion of the USSR and the dismantling of most socialist societies two decades ago. The existence of extensive social welfare programs, first in the Soviet Union and then in various socialist countries after World War II, obliged  the capitalist "West" to implement reforms lest its own working classes be attracted to "the communist menace." The ending of the Cold War also ended the adoption of significant social programs in America, and the weakening of existing benefits.

Many conservative goals have already been attained since the mid-'70s, and a number of them have taken place with partial or complete support of the Democratic party. They include:

The severe weakening of the labor union movement; the redistribution of massive wealth to the already rich through individual and corporate tax cuts while the standard of living for most Americans is in decline; off-shoring of manufacturing to enhance corporate profits; increased wage exploitation; deregulation of the financial economy, enhancing its casino configuration; privatization of government services; the elimination of social programs for the multitudes; threatened cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are now "on the table," says Obama; the fact that about half the American people receive low wages or live in poverty; inaction on needed tax increases for the wealthy; undermining the U.S. educational system; setbacks for civil liberties; and a massive increase in the prison population.

The conservatives made considerable progress during the presidencies of Reagan (1981-89), Bush I (1989-93) and Bush II (2001-2009). But rightist policies also spread during the Democratic administrations of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and incumbent Obama from 2009.

Clinton's two principal domestic achievements during eight years in office weakened two key Democratic reforms, much to the delight of the Republicans. In 1996 he conspired with conservatives to dismantle "welfare as we know it"  by passing the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act." In 1999, Clinton joined forces with the congressional right wing to repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act — a decision that in large part was responsible for the Great Recession and several more years of economic stagnation, unemployment and some six million home foreclosures.

Obama's first term in office is most noteworthy for his continual concessions to the right wing and refusal to fight for progressive goals, leading his wavering centrist party to the right of center in the process. He demobilized his enthusiastic and massive 2008 constituency upon taking office, evidently because he didn't want a large activist organization in the streets pushing toward the liberalism many Democratic voters incorrectly believed he embodied.

The conservative campaign for even more control of the political system was signaled by the emergence of the activist right wing populist Tea Party soon after Obama took power. The political impact of this nationwide organization of older white conservatives, libertarians, and the religious right — bankrolled in part by billionaires — has been considerable, not least because no mass activist liberal movement was available to challenge Tea Party activism or put forward a progressive counter-agenda. The liberal rank and file has been isolated by the party leadership, as have liberals in Congress. The few remaining center-left politicians have been objects of criticism from the White House and Democratic big wigs.

The Tea Party added a new element to the decades-long conservative campaign for dominant power in the U.S. Now the GOP isn't just ideologically driven right wing politicians, their business backers and the wealthy 1% who finance their campaigns, but grass roots activists with their own selfish axes to grind. Some are fuming because their taxes help the "undeserving" poor. Some think immigrants are "freeloaders." Some are racists who do not accept a black president in the White House. Some will not abide gays and lesbians. Some reject separation of church and state. Some want to subvert the hard-earned rights of American women.

The conservatives rage against "big government" and "wasteful spending," but this is demagogic rhetoric convincing or confusing a sector of the electorate largely ignorant of history and the details of current events. Both the Reagan and Bush II administrations —  vocal proponents of a smaller state and lower spending — increased the size of government and created huge deficits.

The real Republican objective isn't a "smaller" government per se but a government driven by free market laissez-faire capitalism and entirely controlled by monopoly corporations, Wall Street financiers and the 1% ruling class. In the process, most government regulation of the economy and financial system will be eliminated, social programs will wither along with collective bargaining and the trade union movement, and key services will be transferred to profit-driven corporations.

Since the Affordable Care Act or cap-and-trade are conservative initiatives to begin with, why did congressional Republicans and the entire right wing, including arch opportunist Romney, fight against them?

The conservative movement has gravitated further to the right than it was five years ago, and the Democrats have moved in tandem, perhaps a dozen steps behind and two or three to the left, but quite distant from the domestic liberalism of the 1960s and the 1930s. The last significant social programs took place during conservative Republican President Richard M. Nixon's first term (1969-72) — a product of the still popular though fading liberal era of social reform that he could not ignore. The conservative era began soon afterward.

Experience has taught the Republicans that the modern Democratic Party — particularly during the centrist Clinton and center right Obama incarnations — hastily retreats and offers remarkably big concessions when confronted with obdurate opposition from the right. This is one reason why Republicans have adopted a policy of non-cooperation with Obama and Democrats in Congress. Even when the right wing political resistance doesn't get everything it seeks, it always seems to get something.

For instance, to gain big business and conservative backing for the healthcare act, Obama first rejected the progressive option of a less expensive and far more inclusive universal Medicare (single payer) covering all Americans, then dropped the liberal halfway notion of a "public option" in favor of the Republican plan. He then privately reached agreements with the major pharmaceutical and health insurance companies and hospitals, assuring them of huge profits for many years to come. Lastly he made further concessions to Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats.

The Republican leaders who demonize "Obamacare" are well aware of its limited nature but the absurdly characterized "socialist" ACA will remain a useful conservative target for years to come as long as the opposition party would rather compromise than fight for genuine progressive objectives.

Had President Obama initiated a hard-fought populist educational campaign for single payer, he may have lost the vote but he could have won many additional supporters and tried again and again until victory. Medicare for all has important advantages in addition to covering everyone. Overhead is only 3% compared to about 30% for the profit making insurance companies. Single-payer type health coverage exists in virtually all the leading industrialized capitalist countries of the world but will remain ridiculously overdue in the U.S. until a mass progressive movement or party takes up the challenge. By not daring to struggle, the Democrats don't dare to win.

One of the major conservative strengths, despite various internal factions, is that the Republicans entertain several concrete long range political and ideological goals and are willing to fight for them over the years. And their dishonest, obstructionist politics during Obama's tenure have paid conservative dividends, even at the expense of deepening the nation's economic crisis and further burdening workers and the unemployed by refusing to finance recovery.

The Democrats have no such long range progressive goals — or any serious progressive goals, for that matter — and the party seems to have forgotten how to fight.

Even the staunchly pro-Democratic liberal magazine The Nation noted June 25 that aside from populist campaign speeches, Obama "will offer no transformational agenda, no new foundation for an economy that works for working people, no plan for reviving the middle class. And no matter who wins, only sustained popular pressure will forestall a debilitating 'grand bargain' that will further undermine the middle class and the poor....

"Americans understand that the system is broken — and rigged against them. They increasingly see both parties as compromised, and they have little sense of an alternative and even less of a sense that anyone is prepared to fight for them. Progressives must therefore be willing to expose the corruption and compromises of both parties. This requires not only detailing the threat posed by the right but honestly about the limits of the current choice."

These are extremely sharp words from a publication that virtually worshiped Obama during the last campaign and has often offered excuses for him since then.

It is clear today that as a result of conservative gains in recent decades the United States has become much more of a plutocracy than a democracy, the electoral system is now utterly corrupted by big money, gross inequality is our capitalist system's norm, and civil liberties are being shredded.

Public consciousness of this reality has been expanding in recent years, particularly since the onset of the Great Recession — an unusually severe periodic economic failing that "officially" ended three years ago but remains a disaster for the over 60%  of the U.S. labor segment who constitute the working class. But  the two mass ruling parties, each rejecting or ignoring progressive  goals in favor of Republican "heavy" or Democratic "lite" conservative politics, cannot fight the plutocrats or urgently reconstruct what is left of American democracy.

Only a left of center contending party or a truly mass and activist movement that puts forward a fighting progressive program has a chance of dumping the conservative era. The Democrats may be several political degrees better than the Republicans, but they have been gradually tilting toward the right without respite since the demise of the party's final center-left manifestation 44 years ago. They now appear to be hopelessly stagnant and ideologically ill-equipped to transform the conservative era they helped create, even if Obama is reelected in November.

By Physicians for a National Health Program (PHNP)

PNHP leaders released the following statement June 28:

Although the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the unfortunate reality is that the law, despite its modest benefits, is not a remedy to our health care crisis: (1) it will not achieve universal coverage, as it leaves at least 26 million uninsured, (2) it will not make health care affordable to Americans with insurance, because of high co-pays and gaps in coverage that leave patients vulnerable to financial ruin in the event of serious illness, and (3) it will not control costs.

Why is this so? Because the ACA perpetuates a dominant role for the private insurance industry. Each year, that industry siphons off hundreds of billions of health care dollars for overhead, profit and the paperwork it demands from doctors and hospitals; it denies care in order to increase insurers’ bottom line; and it obstructs any serious effort to control costs.

In contrast, a single-payer, improved-Medicare-for-all system would provide truly universal, comprehensive coverage; health security for our patients and their families; and cost control. It would do so by replacing private insurers with a single, nonprofit agency like Medicare that pays all medical bills, streamlines administration, and reins in costs for medications and other supplies through its bargaining clout.

Research shows the savings in administrative costs alone under a single-payer plan would amount to $400 billion annually, enough to provide quality coverage to everyone with no overall increase in U.S. health spending.

The major provisions of the ACA do not go into effect until 2014. Although we will be counseled to “wait and see” how this reform plays out, we’ve seen how comparable plans have worked in Massachusetts and other states. Those “reforms” have invariably failed our patients, foundering on the shoals of skyrocketing costs, even as the private insurers have continued to amass vast fortunes.

Our patients, our people and our national economy cannot wait any longer for an effective remedy to our health care woes. The stakes are too high.

Contrary to the claims of those who say we are “unrealistic,” a single-payer system is within practical reach. The most rapid way to achieve universal coverage would be to improve upon the existing Medicare program and expand it to cover people of all ages. There is legislation before Congress, notably H.R. 676, the “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” which would do precisely that.

What is truly unrealistic is believing that we can provide universal and affordable health care in a system dominated by private insurers and Big Pharma.

The American people desperately need a universal health system that delivers comprehensive, equitable, compassionate and high-quality care, with free choice of provider and no financial barriers to access. Polls have repeatedly shown an improved Medicare for all, which meets these criteria, is the remedy preferred by two-thirds of the population. A solid majority of the medical profession now favors such an approach, as well.

We pledge to step up our work for the only equitable, financially responsible and humane cure for our health care ills: single-payer national health insurance, an expanded and improved Medicare for all.

— Physicians for a National Health Program ( is an organization of more than 18,000 doctors who advocate for single-payer national health insurance. To speak with a physician/spokesperson in your area, visit or call (312) 782-6006.

By Paul Buchheit

Studying inequality in America reveals some facts that are truly hard to believe. Amidst all the absurdity a few stand out.

1. U.S. companies in total pay a smaller percentage of taxes than the lowest-income 20% of Americans.

Total corporate profits for 2011 were $1.97 trillion. Corporations paid $181 billion in federal taxes (9%) and $40 billion in state taxes (2%), for a total tax burden of 11%. The poorest 20% of American citizens pay 17.4% in federal, state, and local taxes.

2. The high-profit, tax-avoiding tech industry was built on publicly-funded research.

The technology sector has been more dependent on government research and development than any other industry. The U.S. government provided about half of the funding for basic research in technology and communications well into the 1980s. Even today, federal grants support about 60% of research performed at universities.

IBM was founded in 1911, Hewlett-Packard in 1947, Intel in 1968, Microsoft in 1975, Apple and Oracle in 1977, Cisco in 1984. All relied on government and military innovations. The more recently incorporated Google, which started in 1996, grew out of the Defense Department’s ARPANET system and the National Science Foundation’s Digital Library Initiative.

The combined 2011 federal tax payment for the eight companies was just 10.6%.

3. The sales tax on a quadrillion dollars of financial sales is ZERO.

The Bank for International Settlements reported in 2008 that total annual derivatives trades were $1.14 quadrillion. The same year, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a trading volume of $1.2 quadrillion.

A quadrillion dollars is the entire world economy, 12 times over. It’s enough to give 3 million dollars to every person in the United States. But in a sense it’s not real money. Most of it is high-volume nanosecond computer trading, the type that almost crashed our economy. So it’s a good candidate for a tiny sales tax. But there is no sales tax.

Go out and buy shoes or an iPhone and you pay up to a 10% sales tax. But walk over to Wall Street and buy a million dollar high-risk credit default swap and pay 0%.

4. Many Americans get just a penny on the dollar.

– For every dollar of NON-HOME wealth owned by white families, people of color have only one cent.

– For every dollar the richest .1% earned in 1980, they’ve added three more dollars. The poorest 90% have added one cent.

– For every dollar of financial securities (e.g., bonds) in the U.S., the bottom 90% of Americans have a penny and a half’s worth.

– For every dollar of 2008-2010 profits from Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, General Electric, and Dow Chemicals, the American public got a penny in taxes.

5. Our society allows one man or one family to possess enough money to feed every hungry person on earth.

The United Nations estimates that $30 billion is needed to eradicate hunger. Several individuals have more than this amount in personal wealth.

There are 925 million people in the world with insufficient food. According to the World Food Program, it takes about $100 a year to feed a human being. That’s $92 billion, about equal to the fortune of the six Wal-Mart heirs.

One Final Outrage…

In 2007 a hedge fund manager (John Paulson) conspired with a financial company (Goldman Sachs) to create packages of risky subprime mortgages, so that in anticipation of a housing crash he could use other people’s money to bet against his personally designed sure-to-fail financial instruments. His successful gamble paid him $3.7 billion. Three years later he made another $5 billion, which in the real world would have been enough to pay the salaries of 100,000 health care workers.

As an added insult to middle-class taxpayers, the tax rate on most of Paulson’s income was just 15%. As a double insult, he may have paid no tax at all, since hedge fund profits can be deferred indefinitely. As a triple insult, some of his payoff came from the middle-class taxpayers themselves, who bailed out the company (AIG) that had to pay off his bets.

And the people we elect to protect our interests are unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

— Reprinted from CounterPunch. Paul Buchheit teaches Economic Inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at


[Despite proof of climate change and the developing worldwide ecological disaster, another substandard international conference on the environment has taken place. The United States — world history's largest emitter of global warming greenhouse gases — did not play a constructive role. Washington appears to be in hiding from the entire issue.]

From Inter Press Service plus other reports

When the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ended in Brazil June 22 after three days, there were some winners and many losers.

The United Nations and the host country Brazil along, with big business, put a positive spin on the outcome of the conference, a follow-up to the historic 1992 Earth Summit, also hosted in Rio de Janeiro. Over nine days (June 13-22), thousands of events were held in the lead-up to and during Rio+20, including more than 500 official and side events at the Riocentro Convention Center, where the conference was held. Rio+20 was the biggest UN conference ever held, with broad participation of leaders from Government, business and civil society.

The Conference produced a document, titled "The Future We Want," that was approved by the 125 world leaders in attendance but was sharply criticized  by most non-governmental organizations (NGOs), environmental groups and activists. Women in particular seemed outraged by the meeting's lack of progress.

The 55-page final statement declared: "We stress the importance of access by all countries to environmentally sound technologies, new knowledge, know-how and expertise. We further stress the importance of cooperative action on technology innovation, research and development. We agree to explore modalities in the relevant forums for enhanced access to environmentally sound technologies by developing countries."

The document, with respect to a "green economy" in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, said it should be consistent with international law, and respect each country's national sovereignty over their natural resources, while strengthening international cooperation, the provision of financial resources, and technology transfer to developing countries.

But Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime minister of Norway and chair of the Brundtland Commission which brought the concept of sustainable development to global attention 25 years ago, said: "The Rio+20 declaration does not do enough to set humanity on a sustainable path, decades after it was agreed that this is essential for both people and the planet. I understand the frustration in Rio today."

The reactions from groups at the grassroots level were mostly negative. Anil Naidoo of the Council of Canadians, the largest progressive citizens' organization in Canada with over 70 local chapters, lashed out at the concept of the green economy advocated at Rio+20.

"I haven't seen this much fake green covering since last St Patrick's Day. The document does not come close to the future we really want and that's because it was written with the interests of the few rather than the many in mind."

Noelene Nabulivou, from Women's Action for Change in Fiji, told IPS: "As an activist from the Pacific I see clearly the catastrophic impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss and sea level rise. Rio+20 does not do justice to the immediacy and severity of this global problem."

Nicole Bidegain of GEO-ICAE, Uruguay, said, "The green economy simply reinforces the current model of development, based on overconsumption and production. The same financial mechanisms that caused multiple crises since 2008 are being promoted, but this time to commodify nature. There is enough evidence on the negative impacts of the financialization of nature on women's rights and livelihoods. "

She said the private sector as a source of finance is prioritized over public financing. "This is ironic as the private sector is concerned with maximizing profit in the short term, not with long-term investments needed to transition to genuine people-centered sustainable development."

Monica Novillo, of Coordinadora de la Mujer, Bolivia, said, "I came to Rio+20 with high expectations that governments would build on the landmark resolution on sexual and reproductive health and rights for youth and adolescents adopted at the 45th Commission on Population Development." She said Brazil played a key role in creating this outcome, "so I expected that they would strongly defend these fundamental rights at Rio+20 against a minority of conservative governments.... It is high time that these agreements are fully implemented, she added...."

The Women’s Major Group (WMG) at Rio+20, representing 200 civil society women’s organizations from all around the world, issued a statement declaring it was "greatly disappointed and seriously outraged by the results of the 'official' deliberations at the Conference. We believe that the governments of the world have failed women, future generations and our beautiful but fragile planet earth."

Sascha Gabizon, executive director of Women in Europe for a Common Future, (WECF), a key coordinating group of Rio+20 Women, said “Two years of negotiations have culminated in an outcome that makes almost no progress for women’s rights and rights of future generations in sustainable development."

Anita Nayar, executive committee member of Development Alternatives with Women for A New Era (DAWN) — a second major coordinating organization of Rio+20 Women — said: “The lack of recognition of reproductive rights as essential to sustainable development was especially disappointing. Women worldwide are outraged that governments failed to recognize women’s reproductive rights as a central aspect of gender equality and sustainable development in the Rio+20 Outcome Document. Reproductive rights are universally recognized as human rights.”


[Speech by Raúl Castro Ruz, President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers at the Rio+20 Summit.]

Twenty years ago, on June 12, 1992, in this same conference hall, the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz stated, and I quote, “An important biological species is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive liquidation of its natural living conditions: humanity.” End of quote.

What could have been considered alarmist, today constitutes an irrefutable reality. The inability to transform unsustainable models of production and consumption is threatening the balance and regeneration of natural mechanisms which sustain life forms on the planet.

The effects cannot be hidden. Species are becoming extinct at a speed one hundred times faster than those indicated in fossil records; more than five million hectares of forests are lost every year; and close to 60% of ecosystems are degraded.

In spite of the landmark signified by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 38% from 1990 to 2009. We are now moving toward a global increase in temperature which will place at risk, in the first place, the integrity and physical existence of numerous developing island states and will produce serious consequences in the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A profound and detailed study undertaken during the last five years by our scientific institutions is in basic agreement with reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and confirms that, during this century, if current trends are maintained, a gradual and considerable rise in average sea levels will take place in the Cuban archipelago. This forecast includes the intensification of extreme meteorological events, such as tropical hurricanes, and an increase in the salinity of underground water sources. All of this will have serious consequences, especially for our coastal areas, so we have initiated the adoption of appropriate measures.

Equally, this phenomenon will have serious geographic, demographic and economic implications for the Caribbean islands which, moreover, must confront the inequalities of an international economic system which excludes the smallest and most vulnerable.

The paralysis of negotiations and the lack of an agreement which could make it possible to halt global climate change are a clear reflection of a lack of political will and the inability of developed countries to act in accordance with obligations concomitant with their historical responsibility and current position. This has been demonstrated in this meeting, despite the extraordinary effort made by Brazil, for which we are grateful.

Poverty is increasing, hunger and malnutrition are growing and inequality is expanding, aggravated in recent decades as a consequence of neoliberalism.

During these 20 years, wars of a new kind have been launched, focused on the conquest of energy resources, as was the case in 2003, on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction which never existed, and the recent war in North Africa. Acts of aggression against Middle Eastern countries which can now be discerned will be compounded by others, with the objective of controlling access to water and other resources in the process of being exhausted. It must be made clear that attempting a new division of the world will unleash a spiral of conflicts of incalculable consequences for the planet.

In the last two decades, military spending has grown to the astronomical sum of $1.74 trillion, almost double that of 1992, which is leading to an arms race in other states which feel threatened. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, against whom will these arms be used?

Let us stop the justifications and egoisms and seek solutions. This time, everyone, absolutely everyone, will pay for the consequences of climate change. Governments of industrialized countries which are acting in this manner should not commit the serious error of believing that they can survive a little longer at our cost. The waves of millions of hungry and desperate people from the South toward the North will be uncontainable, as will the rebellion of the peoples in the face of such indolence and injustice. No hegemonism will be possible then. End the plunder, end war, let us advance toward disarmament and destroy the nuclear arsenals.

We are required to make a transcendental change. The only alternative is to build more just societies; to establish a more equitable international order based on respect for the rights of all; to ensure the sustainable development of nations, especially those of the South; and place advances in science and technology at the service of the salvation of the planet and human dignity. Cuba aspires to good sense and human intelligence prevailing over irrationality and barbarity.

By Frances Beinecke, President,
Natural Resources Defense Council

When I was at the UN Earth Summit in Rio that ended June 22, I felt profoundly frustrated with world leaders’ paralysis on climate change. But when I returned home and learned that Americans had filed more than 2.25 million comments in support of standards limiting carbon pollution, my sense of hope was renewed.

Heads of state may be lagging, but ordinary citizens are pushing ahead. We are throwing our support behind the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever standard to reduce carbon pollution from new power plants. And we are doing it with record force: This is the most responses the EPA has received on any issue ever, and they were all sent within about ten weeks.

Americans are mobilizing because we know carbon pollution threatens the health and well-being of our families.

We just have to look at the weather report to see why. The Northeast was blanketed by yet another heat wave last week. Here in New York, residents flocked to roof tops, water fountains, and crowded beaches in an effort to stay cool. But even if people managed to find relief from the heat, it wasn’t so easy to escape its companion hazard: dirty air.

Warmer days mean more smog in the air. More smog means more people will suffer asthma symptoms, respiratory problems, heart attacks and even cancer.

Carbon pollution will increase these dangers. Carbon pollution causes climate change, and rising temperatures make smog worse.  The American Thoracic Society—the professional association of lung doctors—recently said climate change is especially dangerous for children and senior citizens because their lungs are more vulnerable to the respiratory diseases caused by smog.

The first half of 2012 has already shattered 1175 records for heat here in America. If we don’t act now to reduce carbon pollution, this rising heat will exact a heavy toll. NRDC recently released a report concluding that an additional 33,000 heat-related deaths could occur by 2050 as a result of climate change. [Scientists expect average temperatures in North America will rise by another 4°F -11°F this century.]

We don’t have to sit back and watch as more intense heat threatens the health of our parents and children. We can act now to reduce the pollution that fuels this extreme weather.

The EPA has begun this process. A new court victory — one NRDC helped secure — confirmed yet again that the agency has the legal authority to limit carbon pollution because it endangers human health and well-being. [Congressional Republicans are continuing the fight to overturn the new carbon standards.]

The standards to reduce carbon pollution from new power plants are a good first step toward reducing this danger. Now the EPA must take the next step and reduce carbon pollution from existing plants. With millions of Americans having already stood up for cutting carbon, the EPA will have plenty of support.

— The new NRDC report is at

By Cindy Cohn and Trevor Timm, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Cellphone carriers publicly reported this month that U.S. law enforcement made an astounding 1.3 million demands for customer text messages, caller locations, and other information last year. The disclosure has sparked a flood of press coverage and consumer outrage, given much of the information was obtained without a warrant.

But this is only one way that communications and communications records are being monitored by the government. Since 2006, Americans have known that the National Security Agency (NSA), in league with telecommunications carriers like AT&T, has been engaging in mass warrantless surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. And since shortly thereafter, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been suing to stop it.

Despite the fact that the mass wiretapping was first exposed by the New York Times in 2005, and subsequently reported on by dozens of news organizations, the government continues to maintain that the "state secrets" privilege should prevent the courts from even the basic determination of whether the NSA's actions are legal or constitutional.

This position isn't correct legally, since, in 1978, Congress created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance law specifically requiring the courts to determine the legality of electronic surveillance. But it also isn't the right answer for a country founded on the supremacy of law and the constitutional protections against untargeted searches and seizures.

Now, three longtime NSA employees — William E. Binney, Thomas A. Drake, and J. Kirk Wiebe — have come forward and offered additional inside evidence to support the lawsuit, all of which confirms what an increasing mountain of evidence shows: that the U.S. government is engaging in mass dragnet surveillance of innocent, untargeted American people, as well as foreigners whose messages are routed through the U.S. As Binney states, "the NSA is storing all personal electronic communications."

The lawsuits — first, against the telecommunications carriers, and now, against the government directly — also included other undisputed evidence from a former AT&T technician named Mark Klein. He provided blueprints and photographs showing an NSA-installed "secret room" in an AT&T facility less than a mile from EFF's San Francisco office, which experts say siphons massive amounts of internet usage data, phone calls and records flowing through the facility directly to the NSA.

The surveillance has not stopped, either. In 2009, after President George W. Bush left office, the New York Times reported that the NSA was still collecting purely domestic communications of Americans' in a "significant and systemic" way. In 2010, the Washington Post reported: "Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications."

And a Wired investigation published in March revealed the NSA is currently constructing a huge data center in Utah, meant to store and analyze "vast swaths of the world's communications" from foreign and domestic networks.

The government's response? A preposterous claim that no court can consider the legality of this surveillance unless the government formally admits it. In fact, the government maintains that even if all the allegations are true, the case should be thrown out under the state secret privilege.

The courts should not participate in this charade, nor should the American people or Congress. We are currently asking the court to rule that the 1978 FISA law supersedes the government's claim of state secrets and requires the court to rule on the legality of the surveillance.

And in Congress, two Senators, Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Mark Udall (Colorado), have been asking the NSA for a year simply for a ballpark figure of how many Americans have had their communications surveilled by the spy agency. The NSA finally responded two weeks ago, claiming it did not have the capacity to find such number. Apparently unaware of the irony, the NSA argued that releasing an estimate of how many people's emails they read would violate Americans' privacy.

Sadly, the UK government seems to be following suit, proposing its own mass surveillance plan, asking Parliament to pass a law allowing the government to monitor every email, text and phone call in the country. But at least in the UK, the plan is now public — after an earlier secret one was inadvertently revealed.

Whether the threat comes from the warrantless surveillance of our cell phone location data by the local police, or the wholesale collection of our emails and phone calls by the NSA, all citizens deserve reasonable privacy in our communications. And we assert the right to hold the government accountable for violating that privacy.

— From the Guardian, (UK) 7-10-12. Cindy Cohn is legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Trevor Timm is an activist and blogger at the (EFF), specializing in government secrecy and surveillance.

By Mark Weisbrot

It was three years ago June 28  that the Honduran military launched an assault on the home of President Mel Zelaya, kidnapped him, and flew him out of the country. The Obama administration, according to its own conversations with the press, knew about the coup in advance. But the first statement from the White House – unlike those from the rest of the world – did not condemn the coup.

That sent a message to the Honduran dictatorship, and to the diplomatic community: the U.S. government supported this coup and would do what it could to make sure it succeeded. And that is exactly what ensued. Unlike Washington and its few remaining rightwing allies in the hemisphere, most of Latin America saw the coup as a threat to democracy in the region and, indeed, to their own governments.

"It would be enough for someone to stage a civilian coup, backed by the armed forces, or simply a civilian one and later justify it by convoking elections," Argentine President Cristina Fernández told South American leaders. "And then democratic guarantees would truly be fiction."

For that reason, South America refused to recognize the Honduran "elections" held six months later under the dictatorship. But Washington wanted the coup regime legitimized. The Obama administration blocked the Organization of American States (OAS) from taking action to restore democracy before "elections" were held.

"We have intelligence reports that say that after Zelaya, I'm next," said President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, after the Honduran coup. This turned out to be correct: in September of 2010, a rebellion by police held Correa hostage in a hospital until he was freed, after a prolonged shootout between the police and loyal troops of the armed forces. It was another attempted coup against a social-democratic president in Latin America.

Last week, Argentine President Cristina Fernández' warning against a "civilian coup" proved prescient in Paraguay. The country's left president, Fernando Lugo, was ousted by the Congress in an "impeachment trial" in which he was given less than 24 hours notice and two hours to defend himself. All 12 foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations, including Brazil and Argentina, traveled to Paraguay on Thursday to tell the rightwing opposition that this clear violation of due process was also a violation of UNASUR's democracy clause. Brazil's president Dilma Rouseff suggested that the coup government should be kicked out of UNASUR and MERCOSUR, the southern cone regional trading bloc.

But the Paraguayan right, which had one-party rule for 61 years until Lugo's election, was determined to return to their ignominious past. And they knew that they had one ally in the hemisphere they could count on.

"As a general matter, we haven't called this a coup because the processes were followed," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on June 26. And, as if to remind the world of Washington's strategy with the Honduran coup, she added:

"You know that they're supposed to have elections in 2013, which need to go forward. So I think we will refrain from further comment until we see how we come out of the OAS meeting."

Of course, she knew that the OAS meeting would not resolve anything, because the U.S. and its allies can kill anything there – as they did earlier this week. The conclusion is obvious: any rightwing faction, military or civilian, that can overthrow a democratically elected, left-of-center government, will get support from the United States government. Since the U.S. government is the richest and most powerful country in the hemisphere and the world, this counts for a lot.

Meanwhile, Honduras since the 2009 coup has turned into a nightmare, with the highest homicide rate in the world. Political repression is among the worst in the hemisphere: journalists, opposition activists, campesinos fighting for land reform, and LGBT activists have been murdered with impunity. This week, 84 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging U.S. action against murders of LGBT activists and community members in Honduras. In March, 94 member of Congress asked her "to suspend U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces".

The Obama administration has so far ignored these pleas from Congress, and the international media has given them scant attention. Ironically, this is not so much because Honduras is unimportant, but because it is important: the U.S. has a military base there and would like to keep the country as its property.

But the hemisphere and the world have changed. The U.S. has lost most of its influence in the vast majority of the Americas over the past decade. It is only a matter of time before even poor countries like Honduras and Paraguay gain their rights to democracy and self-determination.

— This article appeared June 29 at Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.


The Oscar-nominated director of Gasland, Josh Fox, has just released "an emergency short video" titled "The Sky is Pink" that takes his critics to task and issues a call to action on fracking. The video packs a ton of information into 18 minutes, debunking industry lies such as those promoted by former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, now a gas industry lobbyist.

Fox details the "wholesale industrialization" of communities that occurs with fracking and the many risks, not just from polluted water. The film also reveals leaked industry documents that show that industry does in fact know just how risky their business really is. And if this all sounds very reminiscent of Big Tobacco swearing their product is safe even when they know it's not —that may be because the fracking industry has hired the same PR firm.

Check out the video:

By the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

Social Security remains the most important source of income for most Americans in their retirement. Nonetheless, there are many proposals for cutting benefits that are getting serious attention in Washington.

A new report from CEPR examines the impact of raising the Social Security retirement age and its effect on the distribution of wealth from loss of future benefits.

“The full retirement age for Social Security is already scheduled to increase to 67 over the next 10 years,” said Dean Baker, a co-director of CEPR and an author of the report. “Despite the fact that each year of increase in the normal retirement age is equal to a cut in benefits of 6% to 7%, some policy makers are calling for raising the retirement age as high as 70.”

The report, “The Impact on Inequality of Raising the Social Security Retirement Age,” projects the impact of a gradual increase of the normal retirement age on various demographic groups, looking at each quintile of the wealth distribution, as well as the richest 1%. The paper also contains separate projections for homeowners and non-homeowners, single individuals and couples in several age cohorts. These projections demonstrate that Social Security wealth is a much larger share of wealth for the bottom four of the five groups. As a result, an increase in the retirement age would cause an increase in inequality.

Proponents of making immediate changes to Social Security often justify calls for reform by saying that the program faces a looming shortfall. However, the Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security can pay all scheduled benefits through 2038. Even with no changes whatsoever to the program, Social Security will still be able to pay more than 80% of benefits until 2070 and only slightly less than that for decades afterward.

And while some might argue that we are living longer and should retire later, this justification makes little sense for workers in physically demanding jobs who would find it difficult to work into their late 60s. Also, most of the gains in life expectancy have gone to high-income workers. As this report demonstrates, proposals to raise the retirement age would lead to a substantial upward redistribution of wealth.

— For the PDF of the report: