Friday, December 21, 2012

12-21-12 Activist Newsletter

December 21, 2012, Issue #187


By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter editor

There is more than the act of one individual involved in the mass gun killings that take place in America— the most recent being the massacre of 20 young children and six school workers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14.

The main culprit, of course, is the late killer, Adam Lanza, 20, who hours earlier shot his own mother  (victim 27) with one of her four legal guns, who then used the weapons to kill the children. He appears to be mentally disturbed though the police so far are saying little.

But such events occur within a broader context of shared responsibility for the unparalleled number of mass and individual shooting deaths that occur in the United States every year. The political system and politicians are part of the problem, as is the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun lobbies, federal, state and local governments, and America’s long history of violence. Each has played an indirect role in Newtown’s heartbreaking events.

The American political system traditionally has refused to strengthen absurdly deficient federal and state restrictions on the possession of various types of arms. The country’s plethora of irresponsible politicians have made it possible for criminals, the mentally ill, and those who are unfit to possess weapons for other reasons to legally accumulate private arsenals.

In recent decades— despite the fact that last year there were over 11,000 murders by firearms in the U.S. and another 20,000 gun deaths from suicide and accidents, not to mention many more wounded and self-injured — a majority of American politicians exhibited little interest in toughening gun ownership regulations.

Over 40,000 Americans died from gun violence during the four years of President Obama’s first term and he hasn’t taken action.  This year alone there were mass murders in a movie theater in Colorado July 20, another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin Aug. 5, and another at a manufacturer in Minneapolis on Sept. 27, and the White House and Congress did nothing but wring their hands.

Neither the risk averse Obama nor his Democratic Party — particularly during this election year —were willing to tangle with the gun lobbies and that portion of the electorate opposed to virtually any restrictions on gun ownership.

This seems to have changed, at least temporarily, in the aftermath of the brutality at the Connecticut elementary school. President Obama was moved to tears in announcing the deaths of 6- and 7- year old children in Newtown, and said, finally, he would take swift but as yet undefined action to tighten gun laws. He assigned Vice President Biden the task of gathering specific legislative suggestions and reporting back in a month.

The New York Times, long an advocate of gun control, noted that Biden was given “a month to complete a job that he could have finished that afternoon…. The ways to do this are well known because the nation has grappled with gun massacres many times before. It is Congress that hasn’t…. If Mr. Obama is serious, he already knows what to do.”

Given the intense national sorrow following the slaughter of children it seems certain some legislation will pass, though it may be relatively weak. Most Democratic politicians tend to support stronger gun laws and favored Obama’s turnabout, but conservative Democrats in Congress are often opposed. While some Republican politicians indicated they might now entertain certain reforms, the great majority opposes any new laws that might “infringe” on gun rights, including a possible ban on assault weapons and large size magazines for cartridges.

Right wing legislators oppose compulsory gun licenses for all buyers and owners and reject requiring background checks on all buyers. At present state laws vary on licenses, and gun purchases at trade shows and private sales (about 40% of buys) are not subject to background inquiries or licenses.

Interestingly 80% of the American people want gun owners to secure police permits, and nearly 90% would require background checks on all gun sales — and that was before the Newtown tragedy, which clearly has won converts to the cause of greater safeguards — but such bills may not pass Congress.

The first important gun act in modern history was the 1934 National Firearms Act when Franklyn D. Roosevelt was president. The issue of gun ownership restrictions became a major issue again in the 1960s after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (1963), and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (1968), and the urban uprisings and oppositional movements of the era.  Lyndon B. Johnson was president at the time and he was a staunch advocate of gun control.

Johnson introduced several measures that did not pass. In 1968, he told Congress: “In the name of sanity... in the name of safety and in the name of an aroused nation, give America the gun-control law it needs." It soon passed the Gun Control Act in October 1968, but heavy opposition from conservatives and the NRA eliminated several of Johnson’s stronger proposals such as registering guns and licensing owners. (LBJ was the last center-left Democratic president, but his positive accomplishments were obscured by the unjust war against Vietnam.)

The next period of reform was in the 1990s after a mass shooting. President Bill Clinton fought for and won two important but watered down gun control laws. Nothing worth mention in this regard took place during George W. Bush’s eight years and Obama’s four years.

In addition to the political system those indirectly responsible for the murders include the National Rifle Association (4 million members) and other gun owner or industry lobbies such as the Gun Owners of America (300,000 members), which sports an executive director, Larry Pratt, who commented hours after the school killings: “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones.”

The NRA didn’t go so far as to publicly suggest teachers should carry guns but on Dec. 21 it recommend that all American schools should be protected by armed guards. Two days earlier it was reported that the NRA “has registered an average of 8,000 new members a day since the tragedy, an NRA source told Fox News. While this broadly aligns with trends seen after similar incidents in the past, the surge in membership this time is said to dwarf past trends.” At the same time gun sales are reported surging after the school killings because of the prospect of more stringent laws in future.

In an editorial Dec. 21, titled “National Rifle (Selling) Association,” the New York Times pointed out: “The association presents itself as a grass-roots organization, but it has become increasingly clear in recent years that it represents gun makers. Its chief aim has been to help their businesses by increasing the spread of firearms throughout American society.” In return, the newspaper continued, the gun industry makes hefty contributions to the NRA.

Well-funded and supported gun lobbies greatly influence the politicians through lobbying and the threat of uncompromising electoral opposition. In order to fulfill its function as the propaganda instrument of the firearms owners and industry, the NRA argues disingenuously that the slightest regulation will eventually lead to banning of all guns for civilians, including those for home defense, hunting and target shooting.

A large percentage of the population appears to believe the dire forecasts of the NRA and others and opposed efforts strengthen gun laws. They will fight against substantial reforms, believing a Constitutional amendment provides them the right to convert society into a modern version of the Wild West, where we can “stand our ground” with bullets when we feel “threatened,” even by an unarmed individual. Such was the case last February when Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American, was accosted and slain by George Zimmerman in Sanford, FL.

In regard to the Constitution, Zack Beauchamp wrote Dec. 14 in AlterNet: “The Second Amendment prohibits strict gun control. While the Supreme Court ruled in D.C. v. Heller that bans on handgun ownership were unconstitutional, the ruling gives the state and federal governments a great deal of latitude to regulate that gun ownership as they choose. As the U.S. Second Court of Appeals put it in a recent ruling upholding a New York regulation, ‘The state’s ability to regulate firearms and, for that matter, conduct, is qualitatively different in public than in the home. Heller reinforces this view. In striking D.C.’s handgun ban, the Court stressed that banning usable handguns in the home is a ‘policy choice‘ that is ‘off the table,’ but that a variety of other regulatory options remain available, including categorical bans on firearm possession in certain public locations.”

The federal government, too, must assume responsibility for creating a national culture of guns and violence that leads to continuing mass murders and individual killings. Gun murders averaged over 30 a day last year. For every 100,000 residents, the U.S. averages five murders. In England it’s 1.2 murders; in Japan it’s 0.5. In the U.S. during the last 30 years, Mother Jones magazine informed its readers July 30, there “have been at least 62 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii.”

The U.S., working with the arms industry, is the biggest seller of weapons worldwide, mostly to foreign militaries. It also entertains the greatest military arms budget in global history. And by its glorification of the military and of war Washington has contributed mightily to the sense that we are a gun-slinging people, at home as well as abroad, on Main St. USA as well as al Rasheed St. Baghdad. Americans are by far the best armed civilians in the world.

The U.S. is the most violent country of all the advanced industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. From hundreds of years of slavery, to the displacement and annihilation of the original peoples in order to seize the entire continent, to modern day aggressive wars, regime changes, and occupations overseas, “violence is as American as cherry pie,” as H. Rap Brown once reminded us.

State and local governments must assume responsibility as well for contributing toward a violent and gun-surfeited society. Considerable moves toward militarizing the police have taken place in recent decades as a result of the exaggerated drug wars and hyped-up terrorism wars. In the 20 years leading up to 2007 (the latest figures), special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams have increased 1,500 percent.  Police brutality is a frequent reality, particularly for people of color — mostly, but not exclusively, in urban areas, and at political, worker and popular protests.

We’ve handed our police departments a huge array of violent instruments that are, to say the least, disproportionate to most situations. Here is some of their equipment:

For elite SWAT teams in their Darth Vader uniforms: submachine guns, automatic carbines or rifles, semiautomatic combat shotguns, sniper rifles, gas, smoke and flashbang grenades. For regular police: handguns, concealable off-duty handguns, shotguns and/or semiautomatic rifles, tactical batons, nightsticks, electroshock guns (Tasers), mace pepper spray, tear-gas. beanbag shotgun rounds, body armor, and loud noise devices. Beginning to arrive: aerial surveillance drones, soon to be widespread and weaponized.

In combination — weak gun laws and a compliant political system fearful of powerful lobbies; a national history of violence, militarism, and frequent aggressive wars against smaller nations; and the gradual militarization of police— these are factors that have significantly helped create the gun culture in the United States. 

Secondarily, a great many mentally ill Americans who are not rich do not receive proper psychiatric treatment.  Our prisons are repositories for large numbers of such people because there are so few residential treatment centers. In a number of states, disturbed people may enter gun shops or trade shows and purchase weapons.

Other social factors include the widespread violence of movies, television programs, and murderous computer “games,” especially for the young.  Our profit-hungry mass media even make money glorifying the “walking dead,” and vampires.

It’s time to change all of this, of course, but it’s not on the immediate horizon. Some gun control reforms, however, have a chance to be enacted in the next few years.

Obviously, every gun owner should have a license; every buyer should be subject to a fair background check; every weapon should be registered; assault weapons and large magazines need to be banned and there should be a buy-back of all existing military-style guns, as was done successfully in Australia. In general, carrying loaded, concealed handguns on the streets, much less efforts to allow them in schools, sporting events, and bars, should be prohibited in most cases.

The American people are not seeking to place impossible obstacles in the way of gun ownership. They want tighter regulation and licensing, not banning all guns except for those possessed by the military and the police.

There’s another factor as well, though usually not discussed. Political systems can go bad in conditions of economic and social crisis, and when a wealthy ruling class senses a threat to its privileges, a form of police state neofascism becomes a possibility. In such a case an armed citizenry is positioned to defend democracy and change the government — a right contained in the Declaration of Independence.

There are a number of good gun control groups in the U.S., such as the well-known Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, but they are small with not much clout. It’s time for those who seek gun control to unify in action on this issue and organize mass political and electoral activism for as long as it takes to reduce gun violence in America.

By the Activist Newsletter

The murder of 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School has provoked a national outcry, as well it should. Virtually all of us will agree with these lines from an editorial in the New York Times the day after the shooting in Newtown: “There is no crime greater than violence against children, no sorrow greater than that of a parent who has lost a child, especially in this horrible way.”

Of course, it is good to remember this in terms of all children, not just our own or those of our nationality or ethnicity, which brings to mind so many such tragedies for so many children throughout the world:

According to the UN, a half-million children, many even younger than the child victims of Newtown, died as a result of Washington’s 1990-2003 sanctions against Iraq. They mostly expired from hunger and disease. We don’t have the child death figures from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but we do have some about the Vietnam War from various online sources:

1. Ten percent of the child population of North Vietnam was killed, mainly by U.S. bombers. Another 400,000 to 500,000 suffered birth defects because of the U.S. Agent Orange defoliation campaign, which was really a form of chemical warfare. Untold thousands of kids continue to die to this day from accidentally detonating unexploded American land mines.

2. According to U.S. estimates (the Pepper Report) there have been 250,000 children killed, 750,000 wounded and invalided for life in a South Vietnam of 14,000,000 inhabitants. The great majority was killed by U.S. bombers, which decimated (allied) South Vietnam in efforts to destroy the liberation army and its millions of southern supporters. More than 10,000 sorties by Strategic Air Command B-52s were carried out over South and North Vietnam, each plane capable of dropping over 30 tons of bombs

3. On Sept. 27, 1967, at 7:30 a.m., the day after classes reopened following the summer recess, while the children were happily bent over their first lessons, four U.S. jets, swooping in from the sea, fired rockets and dropped four CBUS (about 2,400 pellet bombs) on the elementary schools of Ha Fu (Thanh Hoa province, North Vietnam) killing 33 pupils from eight to 12 years old and wounding 30 more, including two teachers.

As we mourn the deaths of the innocent children of Newtown, it would be a humane gesture to save a tear for all the other children whose lives were cut short by acts of mass murder.

By Steven Sloan and Seung Min Kim

(Salon, Dec. 18) — After weeks of gleefully watching Republicans struggle to find their footing in fiscal cliff talks it’s time for the Democrats to do some painful soul-searching of their own.

President Barack Obama’s latest offer to congressional Republicans crosses lines that Democrats have long portrayed as untouchable. The provision causing the most heartburn for Democrats on Capitol Hill is one that would change the way inflation is measured to ultimately reduce payments to Social Security beneficiaries.

Obama floated the so-called “chained consumer price index” idea to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last year during their failed negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. But by including it in his fiscal cliff offer, Obama is guaranteeing that if and when a deal comes together, it’s almost certain to include the provision. [At these same earlier talks Obama put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid “on the table” for negotiation and the offer still stands — Activist Newsletter.]

It would force Democrats — who have spent decades building their reputation as the protectors of Social Security and entitlement programs — into a difficult vote. And their support for a fiscal cliff package will be crucial to offset Republicans who might oppose any deal that raises tax rates, an area where Boehner has moved closer to Obama in recent days.

[From the Activist Newsletter: As of Dec. 20 the two party deficit talks broke down due to ruthless intransigence by far right members of the House — but they will resume. In any event the fear of the American economy falling off a “fiscal cliff,” propagated by both parties, is a gross exaggeration. In the end, the middle class, working class and the poor will pay the greatest price in social service cutbacks and other measures and the rich and superrich will suffer the equivalent of a one-hour delay on the expressway enroute to their next bank deposit.]

The White House dispatched Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors to Capitol Hill Dec. 18 to explain the proposal to House and Senate Democrats and try to assuage their concerns. Still, multiple lawmakers expressed deep concern about the direction of negotiations with less than two weeks left before Washington plunges off the fiscal cliff.

“This should be off the table,” a visibly frustrated Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told reporters. “I hope that offer … will be reconsidered.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) was more blunt, calling the chained CPI proposal “terrible.” He said the existing inflation calculation was already insufficient. “I don’t think the CPI now captures health care costs of retirees,” Brown said. “It’s more connected to people in their work lives with a different set of needs.”

New York Rep. Charles Rangel, a senior Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, called the chained CPI measure a “very, very bad idea.” “It doesn’t save us much money, and it’s going to cause financial heartbreak,” he told POLITICO.

The White House estimates that the new inflation calculation would save $130 billion over 10 years. Most of those savings would probably occur in later years.

AARP, the nation’s largest lobbying organization on behalf of seniors, also urged Congress and the White House to nix the CPI change. “This dramatic benefit cut would push thousands more into poverty and result in increased economic hardship for those trying desperately to keep up with rising prices,” Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of AARP’s State and National Group, said in a statement.

According to a Reuters dispatch Dec. 18: As a way to appease Democrats who have argued that chained-CPI will hurt those who rely on the retirement benefits the most, the White House has proposed protecting "vulnerable populations," such as the oldest beneficiaries.

Those protections appeared to satisfy House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who said she could sell Obama's plan to Democrats in the House. "Democrats will stay with the president, maybe not every single one of them," she told MSNBC television.

But other groups - including liberal lawmakers, the powerful lobby group for seniors AARP and the AFL-CIO labor federation — were upset. "The last thing you want to do is cut Social Security benefits," said Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent socialist who votes with Democrats.

By Stephen Leahy

DOHA, Qatar (IPS) – The two-week United Nations climate talks in Doha ended Dec. 9 without increased cuts in fossil fuel emissions and without financial commitments between 2013 and 2015.

“This an incredibly weak deal,” said Samantha Smith representing the Climate Action Network, a coalition of more than 700 civil society organizations worldwide.

“Governments came here with no mandate for action,” Smith said in a press conference  moments after the meeting known as COP 18 was over. The 195 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) did approve a complex package called “The Doha Climate Gateway.”

The Doha Gateway creates a second phase of the expiring Kyoto Protocol to cut fossil fuel emissions by industrialized nations from 2013 to 2020 but does not set new targets. There is also no financial support to help poor countries adapt to impacts of climate change — only agreement for more meetings in 2013. Talks will also begin next year to create a mechanism to assess damages and costs for countries suffering losses from climate change.

Finally, the Doha Climate Gateway has an agreed outline for two years of negotiations on a new global climate treaty that would go into legal force in 2020. This will replace the Kyoto treaty adopted 15 years ago (and which the U.S. refused to join).

Rich countries came to the climate talks intent on delaying needed action on climate change for another three years and on details of the anticipated new global treaty. This delay will be extraordinarily expensive and risky. Every year that fossil fuel emissions fail to decline adds to the cost and reduces the odds that a global temperature rise can be kept below two degrees Centigrade — the maximum increase acceptable, says the UN.

Summing up the conference, Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said what was lacking is a real commitment to reduce global emissions. “What needs to change most is political will,” Figueres told IPS.

The Nov. 26-Dec. 9 conference did nothing to cut emissions that have the potential of generating  a world temperature increase of 4 degrees Celsius [7.2 degrees Fahrenheit] by the  end of the century — an estimate put forward just before the conference by the World Bank. The meeting also offered little in terms of finance to help poor countries cope with climate change, Smith said.

Smith singled out the U.S. and Canada for blocking progress on keys issues. Canada was one of the worst, she said. While profiting from its massive oil sands operations, it was “super-obstructive on finance.”

“The fossil fuel industry won,” said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of strategy and policy, who has attended nearly every one of these climate negotiations over the past 18 years. “The science is clear that four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground but we continue to burn them like there is no tomorrow.” He also suggested that “Doha became more of a trade fair…. Negotiators protected the interests of corporations and not the needs of people.”

Meyer, along with representatives from many of the civil society organizations, blamed the U.S. for blocking proposals for greater emissions cuts. Washington negotiators did acknowledge poor countries were suffering costly damages and losses due to climate change, but refused to commit money to assist them.

“Science says emissions need to peak in 2015,” said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, at the final plenary. “Doha is a betrayal of people living with impacts now. And it is a sellout of our children and grandchildren’s future.”

Industrialized countries promised to put $100 billion a year into a Green Climate Fund by 2020. To bridge the gap till then, developing nations asked for $60 billion in total by 2015. Britain, Germany and few other countries promised to contribute six billion dollars but this is not binding. Under the Doha Climate Gateway, countries agreed to further talks on finance in 2013.

The loss and damage debate was among the most intense during closed meetings, featuring the U.S pitted against island states like the Philippines that are badly impacted by stronger cyclones and sea level rise. The U.S. delegates blocked all references that implied compensation or liability, admitting they feared a political backlash at home, according to an anonymous source.

“Loss and damage is huge issue for Central America. We are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Mónica López Baltodano, of Centro Humboldt Nicaragua, an environmental NGO. “Honduras and Nicaragua are the number one and number three most vulnerable countries in the world according to the Climate Risk Index,” Baltodano told Tierramérica here in Doha.

Developing countries wanted a new institution and framework to deal with loss and damage, but the U.S. was opposed. The compromise was for a “new mechanism” to be created next year.

A new second phase of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to run from 2013 to 2020. Getting this second phase is considered very important by developing countries because it has hard-won legal terms that commit countries to making cuts as well as methods for measuring and verifying emission levels.

However, only the European Union, Australia and a few other countries are involved, representing just 12% of global emissions. The U.S. has never participated, while Canada and Japan have opted out of the second phase.

None of those in the second Kyoto phase increased their emission cuts pledges. They did agree to a mandatory review of their reduction targets in 2014. Rich countries outside of Kyoto promised to make comparable cuts but offered nothing new here in Doha.

“The COP process is very disappointing,” said Baltodano, who has attended two previous ones. “It’s very clear that countries’ economic interests dominate the negotiations. Countries are mainly influenced by the corporate sector and civil society has very little interaction or influence there, she said. “There is a huge space we don’t reach.”

By the World Bank

The world is barreling down a path to heat up by 4 degrees Celsius [7.2 degrees Fahrenheit] by the end of the century if the global community fails to act on climate change. Inaction will trigger a cascade of cataclysmic changes that include extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people, according to a new scientific report released Nov. 18 that was commissioned by the World Bank.

All regions of the world would suffer – some more than others – but the report finds that the poor will suffer the most.

“Turn Down the Heat,” a snapshot of the latest climate science prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Climate Analytics, says that the world is on a path to a 4 degree Celsius warmer world by end of this century and current greenhouse gas emissions pledges will not reduce this by much.

“A 4 degree Celsius warmer world can, and must be, avoided,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “We need to hold warming below 2 degrees…. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.” [Many environmentalists maintain that  a 2°C increase will cause considerable damage and call for much lower targets.]

The report says that the 4°C scenarios are potentially devastating: the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher hunger and malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased intensity of tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.

"The Earth system's responses to climate change appear to be non-linear," points out PIK Director, John Schellnhuber. "If we venture far beyond the 2 degrees guardrail, towards the 4 degrees line, the risk of crossing tipping points rises sharply. The only way to avoid this is to break the business-as-usual pattern of production and consumption."

The report notes, however, that a 4°C world is not inevitable and that with sustained policy action warming can still be held below 2°C, which is the goal adopted by the international community and one that already brings some serious damages and risks to the environment and human populations. “The world must tackle the problem of climate change more aggressively,” Kim said. “Greater adaptation and mitigation efforts are essential and solutions exist. We need a global response equal to the scale of the climate problem, a response that puts us on a new path of climate smart development and shared prosperity.  But time is very short.”

“Turn Down The Heat” summarizes a range of the direct and indirect climatic consequences under the current global path for greenhouse gas emissions. Key findings include:

•Extreme heat waves, that without global warming would be expected to occur once in several hundred years, will be experienced during almost all summer months in many regions.  The effects would not be evenly distributed.  The largest warming  would be expected to occur over land and range from 4° C to 10° C.  Increases of 6° C or more in average monthly summer temperatures would be expected in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Middle East and parts of the United States.

•Sea level-rise by 0.5 to 1 meter [a meter is 39.4 inches] by 2100 is likely, with higher levels also possible. Some of the most highly vulnerable cities are located in Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

•The most vulnerable regions are in the tropics, sub-tropics and towards the poles, where multiple impacts are likely to come together.

•Agriculture, water resources, human health, biodiversity and ecosystem services are likely to be severely impacted.  This could lead to large-scale displacement of populations and consequences for human security and economic and trade systems.

•Many small islands may not be able to sustain their populations. 

The report states that the science is unequivocal that humans are the cause of global warming, and major changes are already being observed. The global mean temperature has continued to increase and is now about 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels.

While a global warming of 0.8°C may not seem large, the report notes that many climate change impacts have already started to emerge, and the shift from 0.8°C to 2.0°C warming or beyond will pose much larger challenges.  But a global mean temperature increase of 4°C approaches the known historic level of change for the planet, which harks back to the last ice age when much of central Europe and the northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice and global mean temperatures were about 4.5°C  to 7°C lower. And this contemporary human-induced climate change, the report notes, is occurring over a century, not millennia.

By Susie Cagle

Some of our most fertile land for growing food also happens to be fertile land for blasting out tons of shale gas. You might guess who’s already winning this battle.

The Dec. 17 Nation magazine reports on the effects of fracking pollution on America’s farms, focusing on North Dakota cattle farmer Jackie Schilke, who farms atop Bakken Shale.

After fracking began at 32 sites within a couple miles of her ranch, Schilke’s cattle started dropping dead and Schilke herself started suffering from poor health. Ambient air testing found high levels of a bunch of nasty chemical compounds associated with fracking, and with cancer and birth defects.

“State health and agriculture officials acknowledged Schilke’s air and water tests but told her she had nothing to worry about. Her doctors, however, diagnosed her with neurotoxic damage and constricted airways. “I realized that this place is killing me and my cattle,” Schilke says. She began using inhalers and a nebulizer, switched to bottled water, and quit eating her own beef and the vegetables from her garden. (Schilke sells her cattle only to buyers who will finish raising them outside the shale area, where she presumes that any chemical contamination will clear after a few months.) “My health improved,” Schilke says, “but I thought, ‘Oh my God, what are we doing to this land?’”

Around the country, farmland near fracking sites is being contaminated and livestock are getting sick and dying.

“In Louisiana, seventeen cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid. (Most likely cause of death: respiratory failure.) In north central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately 70 cows died; the remainder produced eleven calves, of which only three survived. In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing waste pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: half their calves were born dead. The following year’s animal births were sexually skewed, with ten females and two males, instead of the usual 50-50 or 60-40 split.

As natural-gas drilling operations move into the Northeast, where there’s a high concentration of organic farms and local-focused eaters, expect to see more conflicts between farmers and frackers. Big questions lie behind those sad images of dead baby cows: How “cheap” is natural gas that costs lives? And is energy independence more important to us than food independence?

—Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist, where this was published Nov. 29.

By the Activist Newsletter

The UN General Assembly has delivered two major defeats to Israel in recent weeks. The governments of the U.S. and Israel are furious.

On Nov. 29, UN member states voted 138-9 with 41 abstentions to advance Palestine’s status from a non-member “observer entity” to non-member “observer state.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas brought the statehood issue to the world body arguing that a “yes” vote was the “last chance to save the two-state solution.”

On Dec. 3 the General Assembly voted 174-6 with 6 abstentions to insist nuclear-armed Israel join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. To do so would oblige the right wing Netanyahu regime to permit the International Atomic Energy Agency  to periodically inspect Israel’s nuclear arsenal to determine if it is in compliance with treaty obligations. (The six “no” voters were the  U.S., Israel, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.)

Had these votes been taken in the more powerful Security Council they would have failed due to a veto by the Obama Administration. So far Washington has vetoed over 40 resolutions critical of Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians and its neighbors. At other times the simple threat of an American veto was sufficient to quash efforts to condemn Israel for what amounted to war crimes.

In presenting his resolution Abbas adopted a moderate tone: “We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel. Rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of a state that must now achieve its independence and that is Palestine.” He also declared that  “the moment has come for the world to say clearly: enough of aggression, enough of settlements and occupation.”

The General Assembly recognizes Palestine as a UN observer state, which is an important accomplishment, but it is not a state in fact. Netanyahu and his ultra-right coalition partners are determined to torpedo the possibility of conducting honest negotiations leading to two separate states. At the moment there is one Jewish State (as it describes itself) with a generally unequal minority of Palestinian citizens, and two attached Palestinian colonies or reservations — the West Bank and Gaza.

The designation “UN non-member observer state” left Washington fuming and Tel Aviv apoplectic and vengeful.

“Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path for peace,” commented American Ambassador Susan Rice. Netanyahu charged: “This is a meaningless resolution that won’t change anything on the ground.” He then repeated the excuse that a Palestinian state is impossible until Israel’s security is ensured — a circumstance that may never materialize as long as the country is controlled by far right, right and center right governments devoted to exacerbating the insecurities of the people.

Although the matter wasn’t publicly addressed, perhaps the main U.S.-Israeli objection to the ruling is that as an “observer state” the Palestinians will have standing with the International Criminal Court. As such it will be possible to launch legal proceedings against Israel for various infractions including war crimes under international law.

As usual after any affront (such as the UN vote), the Israeli government retaliated. Just after the observer state vote, the New York Times reported:

“Israel is moving forward with development of Jewish settlements in a contentious area east of Jerusalem, defying the United States by advancing a project that has long been condemned by Washington as effectively dooming any prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The action would limit access to the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem

Secretary of State Clinton, in a Washington speech after Israel’s settlement announcement, declared that “These activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace.” At the same time she criticized the UN vote on Palestine’s observer state status and said: “America has Israel’s back, and this month we proved it again.”

The Palestinian state in question represents 22% of the original Palestinian land in 1948. It consists of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Israel occupied these lands during the 1967 war and continues to do so in grave violation of international law. Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza several years ago but through violence and various control mechanisms the tiny territory is a virtual prison. Continual building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and now practically separating this land from East Jerusalem makes a mockery of the two-state “solution” to which the Israeli government theoretically subscribes.

The General Assembly’s chastisement of Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons and delivery systems came a few days later. It is an open secret that Israel possesses about 200 such weapons, but does not admit to having any. Backed by the U.S. it has refused to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and brushed aside the UN new vote.

The nuclear resolution also included support for a conference to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East. According to the Associated Press: “All the Arab nations and Iran had planned to attend the conference in mid-December in Helsinki, Finland, but the United States announced on Nov. 23 that it wouldn’t take place, citing political turmoil in the region and Iran’s defiant stance on nonproliferation. Iran and some Arab nations countered that the real reason for the cancellation was Israel’s refusal to attend.”

The U.S. opposes the call for a nuclear–free Middle East because it wants Israel to continue functioning as its nuclear surrogate in the Middle East. Possession of the ultimate weapon also  makes Israel the military superpower of the entire region, a designation at thundering odds with its continual pose as an insecure, vulnerable state.

President Obama, backed forcefully by Netanyahu, has imposed ever-increasing economic and trade sanctions on Iran because it allegedly seeks to build a nuclear weapon — a charge refuted by U.S intelligence agencies which state Iran gave up any nuclear ambitions several years ago. The Tehran government denies it is making a bomb and there is no proof to substantiate the U.S.-Israeli claims.

Ironically, Iran is a member of the NPT, allows periodic inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency,  and has been calling for a ban on nuclear weapons in the Middle East for years.

Washington could eliminate the “danger” of an Iranian weapon by supporting a regional ban — which is backed by the entire Arab League as well as Iran. But the real point is regime change in Iran. The nuclear issue provides a justification for killer sanctions and threats of war — actions intended to create sufficient economic and social crises to topple the government and perhaps create such havoc a pro-American or neutral regime might take over.

All of this could end — the plight of the Palestinian people, the harmful sanctions against Iran and its people, nuclear weapons in the Middle East, the invasions and forced changes in regime— if the American people finally bring to power a peace-minded and non-imperialist progressive or left president and party. Until then, what you see (and what is concealed or fabricated for public consumption) is what you get.


By Reuters

The UN General Assembly urged the U.S. to lift its five-decade-old trade embargo against Cuba on Dec.11 — for the 21st time. The vote was overwhelming, with 188 nations including most of Washington's closest allies supporting the embargo resolution, a result virtually unchanged from last year.

Israel, heavily dependent on Washington’s subsidies and UN vetoes of resolutions critical of its treatment of the Palestinians, and the tiny Pacific state of Palau, were the only two countries that supported the United States in opposing the non-binding resolution in the 193-nation assembly. The Pacific states of the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained.

Havana's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told the assembly that Cuba had high hopes for President Obama when he was first elected in 2008 and welcomed his calls for change. But he said the result had been disappointing.

"The reality is that the last four years have been characterized by the persistent tightening of the embargo," he said. "There is no legitimate or moral reason to maintain this embargo that is anchored in the Cold War.

By John Glaser

Despite more than a decade of war and at least four years of the current administration’s strategies in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda militants continue to make inroads in the war-torn country, according to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

“Although we clearly have had an impact on [al-Qaeda's] presence in Afghanistan, the fact is that they continue to show up,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon Nov. 29.

In response to this admitted failure of U.S. military policy, the Washington is aiming to continue implementing all of the failed policies that have so far led to the disastrous quagmire in Afghanistan.

The same day Panetta spoke, the Senate voted 62-33 in favor of an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Eleven Republicans joined the majority. The amendment —which still retained the Dec. 31, 2014, deadline —was non-binding and doesn’t specify what schedule troops should follow.

Despite claims from the Obama Administration that the U.S. would be ending the war and withdrawing in 2014, the State Department is now in intensified talks with Kabul to set an agreement that will govern the presence of at least 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, perhaps until 2024.

Fighting a core group of al-Qaeda militants is “going to be the fundamental thrust of the (counter-terrorism) effort” beyond 2014, Panetta said, in order to prevent them from re-establishing a safe haven in Afghanistan.

But Afghanistan was always useless to al-Qaeda, except insofar as it drew America into a long and costly war, in an attempt to repeat the defeat of the Soviets. Geographical safe-havens are less and less useful for non-state actors to actually carry out attacks.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, estimated there were still only about 100 al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan. Why 100 al-Qaeda militants require an ongoing occupation and nation-building project with over 10,000 troops is baffling to most.

So long as U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, a costly insurgency will continue to be waged by militant groups. Pulling out of the failed war, as well as the many other countries the U.S. empire currently occupies, will do more to eliminate the relatively puny terrorist threat than any reduction in troops presence.

The New York Times recently published a remarkable article [1] talking openly about some basic facts that it typically ignores completely: • al-Qaeda is primarily motivated by America’s “unqualified support for Israel and the rulers of the Persian Gulf states,” as well as U.S. militarism in the region; • al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist threats are not nearly as big a danger as Washington would have us believe.

While “jihadists of various kinds,” the article says, “are flourishing in Africa and the Middle East,” Americans are notably misled regarding the actual threat they pose.

“Most of the newer jihadist groups have local agendas, and very few aspire to strike directly at the United States as Osama bin Laden’s core network did. They may interfere with American interests around the world — as in Syria, where the presence of militant Islamists among the rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad has inhibited American efforts to support the uprising. But that is a far cry from terrorist plots aimed at the United States itself.”

Importantly, the article says that unfortunately, “most of the political realities that inspired Bin Laden’s organization are still in place,” like unqualified support for Israel, propping up Arab dictatorships, and bombing various countries in the region on a near daily basis.

— From, Nov. 27

By The Pew Forum

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to 19.6% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics News Weekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones. A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.

In a related global study by the Pew Research Center released Dec. 18 the results showed that one of every six people worldwide — 16% — profess no religious affiliation.
The full 60-page pdf text of the earlier America-only study, released in October, is at

By Julianne Hing

Domestic workers in the U.S. are low paid and have few rights. As in the rest of the world, a domestic worker’s race and immigration status influence her pay scale and working conditions.

Undocumented domestic workers are paid roughly 20%  less than their U.S.-citizen counterparts, according to a groundbreaking new report offering the first national look at domestic workers’ world—one where unforgiving work, a high incidence of abuse and differential pay depending on race is the standard. More than 2,000 nannies, house cleaners and caregivers in 14 U.S. cities were surveyed for the study, released Nov. 27 by the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Domestic work is treated as women’s work—94% are women. Domestic workers earn 23%  less than their state’s minimum wage. But within the industry, U.S.-born and U.S.-citizen nannies, caregivers and housecleaners make roughly a dollar more an hour than their counterparts who have legal status, and around two dollars more an hour than undocumented domestic workers. The median hourly wage for U.S.-citizen domestic workers is $12 an hour, but is $10 an hour for those who are undocumented.

According to Democracy now, “nearly a quarter of U.S. domestic workers are paid less than the state minimum wage. The survey found particularly dire rates for live-in workers, who make a median hourly wage of $6.15. Domestic workers receive almost no benefits, with only 4% getting employer-provided insurance. Many also reported being forced to silently endure verbal and even physical abuse out of fear of being fired or reported to immigration authorities if they complained.”

Undocumented domestic workers are more likely than workers with legal status or citizenship to report being assigned work beyond their job descriptions. They’re also more likely to be required to do “heavy, strenuous” work, get injured on the job, and then have to work while injured. Some 77%  of undocumented domestic workers reported working while sick, injured or in pain, compared to 66%  of all domestic workers surveyed, and just 56 of U.S.-born domestic workers. Those who are foreign-born make up 46%  of the domestic worker workforce.

The study found that white domestic workers tend to make more than workers color, who make up 54% of the domestic workers workforce. The median wage for white caregivers is $12 an hour, compared with the $10 an hour that black and Latino caregivers make, and the $8.33 an hour that Asian caregivers earn. In one exception, black nannies tend to out earn white nannies, making $12.71 an hour, compared with the $12.55 that white nannies earn.

The women in charge of caring for a family’s most precious members are uniquely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse themselves. “In the context of the absence of labor and employment protections, and the radically decentralized and intimate nature of the work, these combined demographic characteristics render the workforce vulnerable to the low wages, absence of benefits, hazardous environments, and abuses of power that too often typify domestic work,” the report says.

Federal and most states’ minimum wage laws don’t cover domestic workers, who are also generally uncovered by workers’ compensation laws, unemployment insurance or federal protection from discrimination. Precisely because of the unregulated, individualized and isolated nature of domestic work, public policy plays an important role in protecting these workers’ rights. The report calls for basic protections—state policy that includes domestic workers in minimum wage laws; domestic workers’ access to state and federal overtime pay; and a right to meal breaks, rest days, and at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep for live-in domestic workers.

— From 11-27-12

By Edward-Isaac Dovere,  Emily Schultheis, and Juana Summers

Gay activists are preparing to quickly use the momentum from this year’s election to try to legalize marriage in at least seven new states and force Congress and the president to make major changes in discrimination laws.

Advocates have identified Oregon, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Colorado, Hawaii and New Jersey as states where they believe that as early as 2014 they’ll see gay marriage legalized through ballot measures, court decisions or state legislative action.

And the U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide soon whether to consider legalizing gay marriage.

The Court will decide which cases they’ll hear in what’s expected to be a landmark decision. There are several options: five separate Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) challenges that could be rolled together, the constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8 and the case challenging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s attempt to stop gay couples from receiving domestic partnership benefits.

Meanwhile, activists are aiming to quickly use the momentum from this year’s election to boost marriage legalization efforts in at least seven new states and force Congress and the president to make major changes in discrimination laws.

They sense a major change from this year’s election victories — which included successful gay marriage referendums in Maine, Maryland and Washington state, the defeat of a Minnesota ban, the first successful retention of an Iowa Supreme Court judge who favors gay marriage, the election of Tammy Baldwin as the first openly gay senator, the election of two new gay House members and the reelection of the president widely praised by advocates as the most pro-gay rights ever.

Together, there’s clear proof that opponents to gay marriage and gay rights have lost support, said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin.

“Now that they’re on the defensive on all fronts and we’re on the offensive on all fronts, we’ve got to take this momentum and turn it into our next victories,” said Griffin, whose organization has already prepared a four-page “post-election agenda” memo detailing an administrative, legislative and personnel agenda. “At times like this, you can’t slow down. You’ve got to double down.”

Inspired by post-election conversations in Congress on immigration reform, gay leaders believe there’s hope on passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as succeeding in getting President Obama’s signature on a long-sought executive order to ban discrimination among government contractors. Changes in military benefits, tax measures and health care provisions are also in their sights.

Leaders see the election results as a sign of quickly impending symbolic victories like increased judicial appointments, as well as the first openly gay Cabinet secretary and ambassador to a G-8 nation. They’re hoping as well for substantive changes on taxes and workplace protections, but those issues are more arcane and change the government’s relationship to the private sector….

Meanwhile, advocates are looking at putting a gay marriage referendum on the ballot in Oregon in 2014. But given the cost involved in any referendum effort, they’d prefer to go either the route of state-level court decisions in Rhode Island, Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii, where they’re optimistic about judicial opinions. Some have their eyes on Nevada as well.

They believe there’s a path paved for legalizing marriage in Colorado given state election results in 2012, where there’s a legislative civil union ban in place but Democrats just won the House, and in Minnesota, where voters both defeated a gay marriage ban and took control of both chambers of the legislature.

Then there’s the bigger reach: gathering enough legislators’ votes to overturn Gov. Chris Christie’s February veto of the gay marriage bill in New Jersey.

They’re continuing to organize and fundraise, and to convince private companies to file amicus briefs under the thinking that they should favor a single national standard for what’s recognized as marriage and what isn’t.

They’ve carefully managed their relationship with the White House — while they’re always pushing for more action, they’ve done so while still heaping praise on the pro-gay rights record of a president who’s often proven prickly when interest groups have attacked him for falling short. Even after all the money and support the gay community put toward Obama’s reelection, they’re not pushing for immediate payback….

— This article was excerpted from the Nov. 20 issue of Politico


[Following is an excerpt from the executive summary of a new study on “how the looming budget battle threatens the American Dream” for young adults titled: “A Fight for the Future:  Education, Job Training, and the Fiscal Showdown.” It is the product of the Young Invincibles and the National Priorities Project.]

Over the last decade, funding for education in the U.S. fell as a share of total public spending. Meanwhile, rising tuition pushes college out of reach for millions  of young people. Education is  fundamentally connected to jobs, which is currently the top priority for most Americans. Yet, the federal government has also cut major  training programs for disadvantaged youth at the same time that the Great Recession wiped out an estimated 2.7 million jobs held by young adults. Together these factors have created a perfect storm of reduced opportunity for America’s young people.

Young Invincibles and National Priorities Project compared major federal investments in young adults to the economic challenges facing the next generation. Researchers have analyzed investments in children under age 18, but very few have studied programs targeted at young adults. We focus on education and training because, more than any other category, they shape individual economic opportunity and our country’s future economic competitiveness. Our findings are disturbing:

• The federal government currently spends more annually on the war in Afghanistan ($109 billion) than on education $67.6 billion. As states made deep cuts to education funding in recent years, federal education funding barely held steady, and the  nation’s young adults fell from 1st to 12th globally in  educational attainment.

• The federal government cut $1 billion from job training for disadvantaged youth over the past decade. Currently, underfunded training programs reach fewer than 5% of the 6.7 million disconnected youth, i.e., those not connected to work or school who are most in  need of help.

• Reduced investment in job training for young adults affects young people of color disproportionately, as they are more likely to be eligible for assistance. While the unemployment rate for Americans ages 16 to 24 is 16 %— more than twice the national average — the unemployment rate is 17 %for Latino youth and 26.7 % for African American youth.

• Looming automatic budget cuts, known as “sequestration,” will cost thousands of youth jobs in 2013. AmeriCorps, which has already sustained cuts in recent years, creates 80,000 youth jobs a year — though in 2011 it received a record 582,000 applications. Cuts from sequestration could  pull nearly $40 million dollars from the program in 2013, in addition to reducing funding for nearly every other education and training program.

These facts make it clear: further cuts to youth services would be disastrous for young adults and hinder  economic growth. Though we face fiscal challenges,  cutting investment in our nation’s future will not bring this country prosperity. In fact, we already invest far too little  in higher education, training, and job experience for the  next generation. It is no surprise that nearly half of young adults fear that they will end up less well off than their parents. Investment in young people should be expanded, while continued disinvestment will push the American Dream further from reach.

— This important 12-page report pdf is at:

Tova Wang, Demos

The right to vote is just that — a fundamental right which is the cornerstone of American democracy. In the 2012 election, that sacred value was challenged in a way we have not seen in a couple of generations, perhaps since the civil and voting rights movements of the 1960s. Some powerful people tried to deny this right; legislatures in many states decided that the freedom to vote should be restricted, and they erected many unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to registration and voting. 

The measures taken were so blatant and widespread that they served to energize coalitions of citizens to fight for voting rights harder than ever, and made many voters more determined to vote and have their vote count. The U.S. Department of Justice was compelled to intervene through its powers under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, because the laws enacted in several covered states were clearly discriminatory in purpose and/or effect. State and federal courts also struck down or delayed many of the worst of these laws. And where identification laws did come into effect, some were made more flexible and less of a burden on voters after having gone through Department of Justice and court review….

As will be discussed below, the measures to make voting harder for eligible Americans took many forms. Most of them were instigated by Republican dominated state legislatures which in 2010 and 2011 passed laws that would disproportionately exclude certain groups from the voting process, particularly African Americans, youth and Latinos. It was for obvious reasons: African Americans, Latinos and young people tend to vote for Democrats. And in 2008 these three groups came out in record numbers. So the vote suppression efforts were, unfortunately, focused on demographic groups that historically have been targeted in efforts to restrict voting rights.

The new laws and procedures included strict photo identification and proof of citizenship laws; rules making it harder for former felons to regain their voting rights; laws making voter registration more difficult; pre-election purges of eligible voters; cutbacks on early voting which predictably resulted in unacceptably long lines at the polls; and misuse and manipulation of rules around provisional ballots. Other problems that arose included challenges to voters’ right to vote by organizations connected to or empowered by True the Vote; disregard by state election officials of legal requirements to provide language assistance at the polls; and efforts by groups and individuals to intimidate and mislead voters about voting procedures. There were also new, unanticipated challenges on the East Coast as a result of the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

In the end, however, many of the attempts at voter exclusion went just too far, and backfired on those who would seek to make disenfranchisement an election strategy. Given the strong turnout of the very groups that were targeted, it seems that the American voters were ready to take on this challenge. African Americans matched their record turnout of 2008 and were 13 percent of the electorate. Latinos raised their share -- they were 10 percent of the electorate this year, up from 9 percent in 2008. For all the talk of youth disengagement, the proportion of the electorate under 30 went from 18 to 19 percent. Indeed, just as significant a sign that the tide has turned is the fact that a ballot amendment that would have made photo identification a requirement to vote went down to defeat in Minnesota. At one time the polls showed 80 percent support for the measure.  But a strong grassroots campaign to educate the public about the measure turned the tide. As noted in one press report, “volunteers made contact with more than 1.5 million voters over the past four months to explain the costs, complications and consequences of the amendment.” The success of this campaign may be the strongest indicator yet of public opinion turning against these efforts to put up unnecessary red tape around the voting process. 

The pushback against vote suppression laws was facilitated by the efforts before Election Day of a coalition of pro-voter organizations and citizens who came together and fought back on efforts to exclude Americans from voting. Restrictive photo ID requirements were blocked by the Department of Justice and/or the courts in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, and vetoed by governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. Extreme restrictions on voter registration drives were permanently blocked by the courts in Florida. Cutbacks to early voting were reversed in Ohio.  Finally, an Arizona law that required documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote was blocked by the courts.

Moreover, the threats made by True the Vote and its allied organizations to challenge peoples’ rights at the polls turned out to be more bark than bite. Demos and other groups worked to put a spotlight on their misguided and possibly illegal intentions, and relatively few of these threats materialized.

Nonetheless, there was plenty of disenfranchisement and possible exclusion in the 2012 election that will help point us in a new direction going forward: enacting election reforms that expand access to the ballot and create a more inclusive democracy. These measures include Same Day Registration and other reforms to modernize our voter registration system; expansion of early voting to avoid long lines on Election Day; laws to prevent unfounded challenges and other forms of voter harassment and intimidation and greater efforts to ensure Americans who are not proficient in English can exercise their right to vote….

—Tova Andrea Wang is the author of the 2012 book “The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding Americans’ Right to Vote” (Cornell University Press).