Wednesday, October 2, 2013

10-03-13 Activist Newsletter

October 3, 2013, Issue 194



We dedicate the following two quotes to Edward Snowden, Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, Julian Assange, other American whistleblowers, the civilly disobedient, conscientious objectors to imperialist wars, and those who have justly bucked the unjust actions of the U.S. government.

1. The Nuremberg Trials (1945-46), that convicted leading Nazis of war crimes:
"Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”

2. Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900, from the Irish writer-poet’s 1891 essay, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”:
“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is humanity’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”


1. This year’s Forbes magazine listing of the richest 400 Americans, released this month, has broken a new record in combined wealth — a record $2 trillion, compared to only 1.7 trillion last year. Image how hard these 400 “job creators” had to work for a combined wealth greater than that possessed by half of all Americans. And they sure show up many other countries. For instance, their $2 billion is more than the annual GDP of Italy, Mexico or Canada. Who can doubt America is number one! The 400 and the rest of the 1% are doing very well these days, bless ‘em. From 2009 to 2012 their income jumped 31%. The bottom 40% should learn from these folks. During the same time their income dropped 6%. Are they shirkers — or what?

2. Fast food workers usually earn between $8 and $9 an hour with few benefits under difficult working conditions. This statistic isn’t new. It’s been like this forever. The new statistic is from the AFL-CIO. It’s about how much CEOs in the fast food industry earn in one hour, based on a 50-hour workweek. Wendy’s CEO “earns” $2,226 an hour. The CEO of Yum Brands (KFC, Tacco Bell, PizzaHut) “earns” $5,449 an hour. The corporate CEO of McDonald’s “earns” $10,669 an hour. In a just society, this level of wage inequality would earn such exploiters a long term in prison, flipping burgers for the inmates.

By John Queally, Common Dreams

Amid rumors that the Obama administration might try to cut an emissions deal with Canada in order to justify approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, leaders from 25 US environmental groups — backed by millions of members and at least 75,000 individuals willing to engage in civil disobedience —warned the president on Sept. 24 that such a deal would be considered nothing less than a bitter betrayal.

In a tersely-worded letter signed by, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, Sierra Club, and 20 other well-known green groups, the signers welcomed the idea of Canada finding new ways to reduce its growing rate of carbon pollution, but were direct in saying that making promises of future reductions the basis of a deal on Keystone would ignite a serious backlash.

"On behalf of our millions of members and supporters nationwide," reads the letter, "we oppose any deal-making in return for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Our rationale is simple. Building Keystone XL will expand production in the tar sands, and that reality is not compatible with serious efforts to battle climate change."

In an interview with the Washington Post, president of the League of Conservation Voters Gene Karpinski — whose group is not often associated with the more activist-oriented groups like Greenpeace or Rainforest Action Network—said that his organization's members are among the tens of thousands who have expressed their willingness to engage in civil disobedience if Obama approves the pipeline.

"The intensity out there has not diminished one bit," he said. "If anything, the willingness of people to go to jail over this is expanding."

Karpinski's reference is to an online pledge of resistance hosted by Credo Action, and supported by many of the groups who signed Tuesday's letter, that asks people who are willing to pledge to "engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline." As of Tuesday, 75,709 people had signed the pledge.


                                                                                                                                                          KAL, The Economist

By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter

In the last month, the U. S. government has reversed course on its intention to attack Syria, and conveyed the impression that it wants to mitigate Washington’s long-term hostility toward Iran. Is a new era of peace and friendship emanating from the Obama Administration? Or is it, perhaps, a move to both spare President Obama a rejection of his war plans by Congress and to further U.S. global interests?

A few weeks ago, President Obama was determined to attack Syria over President Assad’s alleged order to his army to use outlawed chemical weapons against civilians in a suburb of Damascus. Both Syria and its Russian ally deny the regime ordered the attack, and, despite the UN report, there is no direct evidence that it did so. There certainly hasn’t been an explanation of why Assad — an individual who certainly clings to power — would undertake the one action that would provoke the U.S. to attack.

Obama was so eager to send his cruise missiles into Syria he said he was “comfortable” not having approval from the UN, even though it would be illegal under international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory. He said he had a right to commit an act of war against Syria without congressional approval. Secretary of State John Kerry, who actually seemed to be ranting at times, evidently provided the maximum evidence for attacking when he said President Assad “is like Hitler,” so bombs away — but it didn’t happen.

The unexpected occurred, removing the immediate threat of war when the Damascus regime agreed to give up its chemical weapons. (See part 2.) Opposition forces were furious. They were counting on a U.S. bombardment to advance their struggle. Instead, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal.

Until recent days, the Obama Administration was regularly increasing its draconian economic sanctions on Iran unless the Teheran government ended its attempt to build nuclear weapons.

Now, Obama is trying to cultivate a less hostile, working relationship with newly elected President Hassan Rouhani that may in time lead to a reduction in tensions that have continued without interruption since the hostage crisis of 1979. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is obviously supporting Rouhani’s efforts.

In his first UN speech Rouhani said Iran was ready to enter talks regarding the nuclear question and emphasized Iran desired a reduction in tensions with the United States. He stated that Iran had a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. He strongly repeated what Tehran has declared for years — that his country is not in the process of building a nuclear bomb.

The Oval Office sought to arrange a “chance” first meeting at the UN between the two presidents leading to a public handshake. Rouhani demurred; it was too early for that. Instead, Obama called the Iranian leader by arrangement Sept. 27 and conversed for 15 minutes about an improvement in relations and resolving to the nuclear imbroglio.

Some Iranians reportedly do not approve of the new president’s willingness to compromise with the U.S., not least because there hasn’t been a hint the sanctions will be removed. On Sept. 30, Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari, a commander of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, said that Rouhani took a "firm and appropriate" position at the UN General Assembly, but should have refused the telephone call. Two days later, he received substantial support from  parliament, when 230 members signed a statement of support for his  efforts to improve relations with the U.S. and only 60 did not.

It is doubtful that the Obama Administration planned either of these big changes, especially the Syrian outcome. The White House may have intended an overture to the “moderate” Rouhani at some point but to do so while bombing or preparing to bomb Tehran’s principal Arab ally was impractical. The abrupt decision not to bomb Syria made a talk possible.

It is extremely doubtful the steps taken by the U.S. in the last few weeks have anything to do with a new era of peace and friendship. President Obama was intent on bombing Syria as a show of U.S. power. As we discuss below, he completely misjudged the views of the American people regarding a new war and found himself on the precipice of a humiliating defeat. He grasped an unexpected way out.

Although he has long advocated and still desires regime change in Syria, Obama did not intend to topple the Assad regime. This wasn’t for peaceful reasons. Over the last year he has come to recognize that his efforts to form a “moderate” front following U.S. orders have failed so far, and that the jihadist sector of the armed opposition has made huge advances in the last several months. If Assad fell now there’s no telling who would end up in power controlling the regime’s chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Toward Iran, the sanctions remain in place along with the threats. In a Sept. 30 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama declared: “We take no options off the table, including military options.” This, of course, is a threat to use force, which the UN Charter prohibits as well as “uses” of force, not that the Charter seems to matter any more.

Netanyahu’s speech was that of man who has learned nothing and forgotten nothing throughout his political career: “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons,” he said. “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.” Standing alone, lest we forget, with 200 nuclear weapons, a huge chemical war inventory and Washington inevitably coming to the rescue. The usually staid Inter-Press Service described Netanyahu’s diatribe as being “like the proverbial skunk at the garden party.” Incidentally, Israel belongs to neither the nuclear nor the chemical weapons treaties.

Obama has been seeking to bankrupt Iran over the question of nuclear weapons when he knows full well that a 2007 assessment by the Director of National Intelligence on behalf of all U.S. spy agencies reported that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier — a finding reiterated in 2010 and applicable today. Actually Iran has several times sought reasonable solutions to the nuclear issue and improving relations but has been spurned. At the same time the Obama Administration has and continues to insist upon regime change in Damascus — without the jihadists —mainly because the Assad government is Iran’s main Arab ally.

The United States exercises virtual hegemony over nearly the entire Middle East. It does not want oil-rich Iran to remain an independent major power in the region that won’t bend its knee to Washington, especially if closer unity with neighboring Iraq is in its cards. America has sought regime change in Iran since its puppet, the vicious Shah of Iran, was overthrown in 1979. But it doesn’t want a war because much of the Middle East would blow up. Now it is attempting to increase its influence by taking advantage of what it considers a more suitable government in Tehran.

Washington’s long-range goals, of course, have not changed. Nor have Iran’s.

Obama’s only strategic contribution to U.S. foreign/military policy — the “pivot,” or “rebalancing” to Asia, announced with considerable fanfare a couple of years ago and reiterated last May — envisages toning down Washington’s obsession with the “global war on terrorism” and reducing America’s military commitment to the Middle East.

Containing China remains Washington’s most important geostrategic objective. This includes strengthening the military encirclement of China, developing stronger ties with nations in the region which would rather ally with Washington than Beijing, and forming a free trade association of nations in the Asia/Pacific sector known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that the U.S., naturally, would dominate.

The White House, however, is more unbalanced than ever in the Middle East/North Africa theater. The administration’s hegemonic foreign/military policy is attempting to simultaneously manipulate events in Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, western Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, the recent fighting in Mali and the terror bombing in Kenya, not to mention the unexpected growth of al-Qaeda affiliates in the region.

During his uncommonly long address to the UN Sept. 24 — which focused almost entirely on justifying all aspects of U.S. foreign and military policy in the Middle East — Obama stressed:  “We will be engaged in the region for the long haul” because “the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.”

“The United States,” he continued, “is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.” They included (1) “external aggression against our allies and partners;” to (2) “ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world;” to (3) “dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people;” and to (4) prevent “the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.”

By “partners” (1) Obama means Israel and Arab countries that serve U.S. interests. “Free flow of energy” (2) evidently means Washington can cut Tehran’s flow by 50% through the use of sanctions, and by grossly limiting Iraq’s capacity to sell oil between 1991-2003, then obliging Baghdad to denationalize Iraq’s petroleum resources. By dismantling terrorist networks (3) — as in Afghanistan for the last 12 years, or in Syria against al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra fighting against the Assad government, or against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which is fighting Shia and Shia-related regimes in Iraq and Syria. Preventing nuclear weapons (4) evidently means concealing that Israel is a major nuclear power and opposing the idea — put forward by Iraq — of making the Middle East a nuclear free zone.

[Next — Putin’s intervention changes the  game; jihadist forces quickly expand]

                                                                                                                                                         KAL, The Economist

By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter

Everything is still in flux, but it is possible to trace the incredible course of events that have transpired so far since mid-August, beginning with Syria, then going on to growth of jihadism and other matters.

Just as Obama was reaching to pull the trigger of war, two things occurred to stay his hand:

1. Obama was demanding to attack Syria because he had publicly established a so-called “red line” against the use of chemical warfare by Assad. The president and his more hawkish advisors evidently believed the U.S. would appear weak if it did not retaliate with violence. As soon as attack plans were made public, the criticism began — at first mostly from the peace movement, which staged many protests across the country, but soon became a popular crescendo throughout the nation.

The White House tried to turn the tide by arranging for Obama to speak to Congress Sept. 10 when it returned from vacation but the opposition mounted. Eventually Kerry — Obama’s passionate public advocate for war — toned down his inflammatory rhetoric to the point of promising “an unbelievably small” act of retaliation.

But the majority of the American people intervened with a loud “No! Another war in the Middle East was not acceptable, at least now. And for the first time in decades of America’s wars of choice, Democrats and Republicans in Congress acted on behalf of the people and let Obama know he may well fail to obtain congressional approval.

Evidently with no way out, Obama decided to face Congress anyway in the vague hope that he could win enough votes from loyalist Democrats and Republican war hawks to engage in a quick war against Syria. It was an enormous political risk.

2. At precisely that moment there materialized a deus ex machina in unlikely personage to extricate the American leader from a serious dilemma of his own making. In the words of the New York Times: “President Obama awoke up Monday (Sept. 9) facing a Congressional defeat that many in both parties believed could hobble his presidency. And by the end of the day, he found himself in the odd position of relying on his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, of all people, to bail him out.”

A month earlier Obama aborted a planned summit with Putin "given our lack of progress” on many issues and "Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum.” Bloomberg news reported: “From the Russian perspective, it's a bit of a joke. One freshly minted Russian witticism, portrayed the U.S. president as a jilted suitor: ‘Obama won't see Putin because Putin is already seeing Snowden.’” Humor aside, Putin can now mark “paid” to this debt, whether or not Obama agrees.

The president grabbed Putin’s offering of the Damascus government’s willingness to transfer its entire chemical war arsenal to international control and ran with it. Obama’s biggest worry wasn’t that Assad may use such weapons (which the Syrian leader kept to ward off a possible Israeli attack) but that they may fall into the hands of the ever larger jihadist element of the resistance. 

Putin devised a plan based on an offhand non-binding comment from Kerry that Assad could avoid war if he destroyed his chemical weapons. Then Putin ran with it — evidently first consulting with Obama at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg on September 5-6, and then dealing with the Syrians. 

According to journalist Robert Fisk in a Sept. 22 article in the Independent (UK), Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem received an urgent summons to Moscow Sept 7. He and his delegation met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the morning of Sept. 9, evidently not knowing what was up the Kremlin’s sleeve but hoping it was a reprieve from bombing. Assad appears nonchalant now, but he was worried about an attack until Obama himself began to minimize the size of the effort to gain public approval.

Bashar al-Assad (L) and Russian FM Sergei Lavrov.
During the discussion, Muallem stated Syria's position:  “If the real reason for the proposed aggression against Syria was the chemicals, then diplomatic means have not been exhausted.” Then according to Fisk: “Lavrov broke off the conversation by telling Muallem that he was going at once to see President Putin at the Kremlin. ‘I will get back to you,’ he peremptorily told the Syrians…. At 5 p.m. Lavrov called Muallem. They should meet in an hour. There was to be a press conference.”

“Now Lavrov told Muallem of Putin’s deal: all Syria’s chemical weapons to be monitored, details handed over within days, all stocks to be under international control within a year. And the Russians would be most grateful if Muallem – at a press conference that evening – would be good enough to agree. Muallem called Damascus. He talked to Assad. He agreed. And so a long-faced, exhausted Muallem appeared in front of the world’s television cameras – apparently almost overwhelmed with exhaustion – to “say yes….

“Afterwards,” Fisk wrote, “Muallem told Lavrov that the agreement took from Syria its ‘No 1’ weapon. And Lavrov replied: ‘Your best weapon is us.’”

Obama welcomed the last minute news and changed the text of his speech to Congress the next day from justifying a bombing campaign to explaining the agreement Putin had contrived. The last time Obama had spoken to Putin was at the G20 meeting, according to Asia Times correspondent M. K. Bhadrakumar, who suggested Obama’s “understanding of the resolution probably needed a clarification by Lavrov on Russian state television the next day.”

The upshot is that both Obama and Assad got reprieves, thanks to Putin’s extraordinarily adept deadline diplomacy. He ran the entire show. 

Commenting on Putin’s role, George Friedman of Stratfor Global Intelligence wrote Sept.17: “The most important outcome globally is that the Russians sat with the Americans as equals for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the Russians sat as mentors, positioning themselves as appearing to instruct the immature Americans in crisis management. To that end, Putin's op-ed in The NewYork Times was brilliant.” (1)

On Sept. 27, the Security Council voted to approve a resolution requiring Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons. All 15 members of the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to approve the measure, which will impose binding obligations on the Syrian government to destroy its chemical weapons, but at Russian insistence it does not threaten military action should anything go wrong. That would require a separate resolution.

China usually joins Russia in the UN Security Council on issues pertaining to Syria, as it does regarding Iran, much to Washington’s chagrin. “China has been intensely critical of proposed U.S. military action in Syria,” writes David Cohn in China Brief Sept. 23. “Unlike Russia, China does not appear to believe that it has any direct interests in the issue, and seems more concerned with upholding the principle of unlimited sovereignty in internal affairs.”

Meanwhile, of course, the slaughter goes on in Syria. So far over 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced. The media and many opponents of the Syrian government often accuse Assad of killing 100,000 of his own civilians, but the situation is bad enough without such exaggerations. According to an article by Micah Zenko in Foreign Policy Sept. 17, based on figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the breakdown for deaths is: Civilians, 40,146; Rebels 21,850; Pro-regime army and government militia, 45,469; Hezbollah members 171; unidentified, 2,726. Total 110,371.

The Obama Administration has been calling for the removal of President Assad’s regime almost from the beginning of the conflict. Regime change in Syria was a serious consideration for the Bush Administration. It was one of several countries in the region on President Bush’s hit list after an anticipated quick victory quick victory in Iraq.

The U.S. has always objected to the fact that Syria has been close to Russia and the USSR since the 1950s though Damascus and Moscow have had sharp differences at times. The two countries cooperate in military, trade and economic matters. (Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean is in Syria’s port city of Tartus.) Both countries have long been critics of U.S. hegemony and Israel’s maltreatment of the Palestinians. As if this weren’t enough, the Syrian government enjoys warm relations with Iran — a coupling some Israeli leaders identify as an “Axis of Terror.”

Obama may want Assad out, but more than that he doesn’t want the jihadists in, which helps explain Washington’s reluctance to seriously intervene until it can create a united Syrian front subordinate to U.S. interests that can handle the political and military aspects of regime change in Damascus, including a successor to Assad.

The White House has spent the last two years molding the Syrian National Council (SNC) and “moderate” elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to lead the revolt. But the SNC, mainly composed of Syrian exiles, is frequently squabbling and has lost considerable support within the country. The FSA is said to be entirely composed of Sunni Muslims who are fighting against the largely Alawite government leadership in Damascus. The Alawites are an offshoot of the Shia branch of Islam. The jihadists are far less interested in democracy than in removing the “ungodly” Shi’ites from power.

In the face of reports that jihadist groups were increasing their strength within the oppositionist armed forces, Secretary of State Kerry asserted recently that moderate Syrian opposition groups are growing in influence. Responding to a comment made at a Senate Foreign Relations committee meeting Sept. 6 Kerry declared: “I just don't agree that a majority [of opposition forces] are al Qaeda and the bad guys. That's not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists... Maybe 15% to 25% might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.”
Nearly a thousand armed groups, most relatively small, are engaged in fighting against the Syrian government, but not all follow the designated FSA leadership. The fighters fall roughly into three groups — nationalist secularists (including many former Syrian soldiers who joined the opposition and who are backed by the U.S.), nationalist jihadists (primarily the Muslim Brotherhood) and international jihadists. “International” pertains to (largely Salifist and Wahhabist) groups such as al-Qaeda that extend the fight for Sunni Islamic supremacy to all Muslem countries, not in just a single state.
Martin Chulov (Guardian UK May 30) reported: “The al-Qaeda-aligned groups that started mustering in Syria from July 2012 onwards have been consolidating in large swaths of the north and east and spreading out…. Black flags now fly above many mosques and civic buildings in towns across Syria's north…. and in Iraq's border towns.”

Various reports now indicate that jihadist elements are large and swiftly growing. The conservative Economist declared Sept. 28: “The prospect of overthrowing Bashar Assad is catnip to jihadists; his Alawite regime is an heretical abomination to the hyper-orthodox Salafism from which al-Qaeda draws its support. Western intelligence thinks most of Syria’s effective rebel militias may now be jihadist, with thousands of fighters from other Muslim countries and hundreds from Europe, especially Britain, France and the Netherlands…. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), related to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), has recently pushed into eastern Syria from Iraq, following a resurgence there.” (Regarding ISIS and the connection to Iraq, see article below, “Iraq’s Undeclared War.”)

On Sept. 25 Reuters reported:  “A group of powerful rebel units have rejected the authority of the Western-backed Syrian opposition leadership abroad and called for it to be reorganized under an Islamic framework, according to a video statement posted on the internet. At least 13 rebel factions were said to have endorsed the statement, including the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front} and the powerful Islamist battalions Ahrar Asham and the Tawheed Brigade.” ISIS was not among them because of hostility and rivalry between that organization and the al-Nusra.

Masked fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham. REX/ZUMA  

These groups represent tens of thousands of fighters. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty speculated that "if the coalition holds, it could mean Western powers would have no influence over what happens on the ground over a large part of the north as well as parts of Homs and Damascus."

The Wall Street Journal Reported Sept. 18: “In recent months, ISIS has become a magnet for foreign jihadists who view the war in Syria not primarily as a means to overthrow the Assad regime but rather as a historic battleground for a larger Sunni holy war. According to centuries-old Islamic prophecy they espouse, they must establish an Islamic state in Syria as a step to achieving a global one…. The proliferation of the Sunni jihadists and extremists has brought a new type of terror to the lives of many Syrians who have endured civil war in the north. Summary executions of Alawites and Shiites, who are seen as apostates, attacks on Shiite shrines, and kidnappings and assassinations of pro-Western rebels are on the rise.”

The Daily Telegraph (UK) reported Sept. 12: “A new study by IHS Jane's, a defense consultancy, estimates there are around 10,000 jihadists [in Syria] — who would include foreign fighters — fighting for powerful factions linked to al-Qaeda. Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists, but are focused purely on the Syrian war rather than a wider international struggle. There are also at least a further 30,000 moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character, meaning only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely nationalist groups.”

The Syrian rebels have considerable material support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and lesser from Turkey and the U.S. Much of NATO, Israel and many of Washington’s allies back the rebels as well. Russia and China back Syria in the UN. Russia also supports the Assad government with weapons. Iran also offers support, as does Hezbollah, the Shia self-defense organization in Lebanon that has sent fighters to Syria.

Secularists in the FSA are obviously worried about the rise in jihadist strength.The Damascus regime is said to welcome negotiations to end the war, which appears to have become stalemated. The opposition has rejected negotiations before, demanding that Assad first step down.

Assad has let it be known that he intends to remain in office and that he has the right to decide whether to run for reelection next year.

Stratfor’s Friedman argues: “The United States and Russia both want the Assad regime in place to block the Sunnis. They both want the civil war to end, the Americans to reduce the pressure on themselves to aid the Sunnis, the Russians to reduce the chances of the Assad regime collapsing.”

Robert Fisk reported Sept. 30 that “Six weeks ago, a two-civilian delegation from Aleppo, representing elements of the Free Syrian Army… met (secretly), so I am told, a senior official on the staff of President Assad. And they carried with them an extraordinary initiative – that there might be talks between the government and FSA officers who ‘believed in a Syrian solution’ to the war…. There was no demand – at least at this stage – for Assad’s departure.” There was a commitment “that all must work for a democratic Syria.” Fisk said Damascus agreed.

The Sunni jihadist/Islamist groups will have something to say about possible negotiations, which they have opposed in the past. No one knows how all this will turn out but it will come to a head sooner than later.


Protests took place throughout the U.S.  (Above) ANSWER  action at the White House.

By Bill Moyers

Let us now praise common sense. Once again a president was about to plunge us into the darkest waters of foreign policy where the ruling principle becomes: “When in doubt, bomb someone.”

Strategists in the White House, militarists in the think tanks, the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, and arm-chair warriors of all stripes — neo-conservatives and liberal humanitarians alike — were all telling Barack Obama to strike Syria, no matter the absence of any law or treaty to justify it, no matter the chaos to follow. Do it, they said, to show you can, or what’s a superpower for?

But they hadn’t reckoned on public opinion. The people said no! Not this time. Not after more than 10 years of soldiers coming home broken in body, screaming nightmares in their brains, their families devastated. Not when our politics is an egregious fraud, unable to accomplish anything except enable the rich, while everyday people struggle to make ends meet.

Jeannette Baskin, who lives on Staten Island not far from the Statue of Liberty, who describes herself as neither Republican nor Democrat, told the New York Times: “We invest all this money in foreign countries and fixing their problems, and this country is falling apart.”

Don’t think these people callous — those pictures of children gassed in Syria sicken them. But there are limits to military power when religious rivalries and secular passions come armed with blowtorches.

A retired educator named Alice Ridinger in Hanover, Pennsylvania, spoke for multitudes when she also told the Times that while she finds the use of chemical weapons “terrible.” She fears the deeper involvement that could follow a military strike. “I don’t think that would be the end of it,” she said.

Truth is, no one knows what would happen once the missiles fly. Not the White House or Pentagon; not the CIA or NSA; not even the all-seeing oracles of cable television, the editorial writers of The Wall Street Journal, or the seers of such influential publications as The Economist – hawkish now on Syria despite having been wrong on Iraq.

In time, the White House, Congress, and the punditry could all be grateful to a suddenly attentive and stubborn public. They may have been spared a folly, thanks to this collective common sense that became so palpable it was a force in its own right.

Now politics and diplomacy have a chance. Perhaps only a slight chance — the Washington Post reports that the CIA has just begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria — deepening America's stake in the civil war. But we can’t know if politics and diplomacy work unless we give them a try. Meanwhile, give a cheer for common sense.

— Moyers and Company, weekly public TV broadcast, 9/13/13.

By Gretchen Purser

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Inside the gates of the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, crowds ogled the butter sculpture and drank from the 25-cent-per-cup milk bar.

Fair organizers had promoted the August 26 “Dairy Day” as “a way of saying thank you to all the dairy farmers that provide us with the state’s official beverage, milk.”

But outside, activists shook rattles made of empty milk gallons, played cowbells, and chanted, “Milk cows, not workers!”

New York’s $8.9 billion dairy industry relies on an invisible and exploited workforce: an estimated 2,600 undocumented Latino workers, concentrated in western, central, and northern New York.

“I’m not sure people understand the situation we live in,” said Enrique Pereida, a dairy worker on an Onondaga County farm.

Pereida could not attend the rally — because, as is typical for dairy workers, he works seven days a week. “With our pay, we hardly cover our needs,” he said.

Like all farmworkers, dairy workers are excluded from national labor law’s guarantees of collective bargaining rights and the right to overtime pay.

And like many other farmworkers, a majority are undocumented. Under persistent threat of arrest and deportation, and lacking transportation, many rarely leave the confines of the farms, where they live and work under awful conditions. Besides isolation, they experience employer intimidation and wage theft.


By Steve Early

As AFL-CIO leaders packed up to leave their Los Angeles convention Sept. 11, they basked in the glow of favorable media coverage. A union president told the New York Times that the federation had finally “put some movement back in the labor movement.”

Writers Guild of America-East President Michael Winship claimed he had just witnessed the “the most radical restructuring of labor since the AFL and CIO merged nearly 60 years ago.” Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson agreed that the AFL-CIO had made a “strategic shift.”

Growing movement of Low Wage workers demanding $15 an hour.
Feedback was also quite positive from the hundreds of invited guests from worker centers, labor support coalitions, public policy groups, student, feminist, and community organizations, and “social change” foundations — present in larger numbers than ever before.

These enthusiastic “solidarity partners” — from constituencies younger and more diverse than the delegate body — got to make “action session” presentations, hold press conferences and side rallies, and network with unions and foundation funders. Sometimes, rank-and-filers from “alt-labor” groups like worker centers even got airtime on the main stage, for moving celebrations of their difficult organizing work among fellow immigrants.

Who wouldn’t like to believe that a more exciting convention format prefigures a turning point for labor? Unfortunately, greater inclusiveness, closer ties with non-labor allies, and the adoption of pleasingly progressive resolutions only begin to address the real organizing challenges facing labor, whether “alt” or traditional.

Missing from the festivities were strategies for defending and re-energizing labor’s existing members. Given the extreme attacks both union and non-union workers are suffering, the convention’s heavy emphasis on conventional political strategies and growth through diluted forms of membership was not “transformative” enough to meet the challenges of the day.

The proceedings did have a progressive buzz and grassroots sheen not seen since “New Voice” candidate John Sweeney won the federation’s first contested presidential election in a century, in 1995. Sweeney’s team, which included now AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, pledged to promote new organizing and political initiatives, community-labor alliances, and anti-globalization efforts, while expanding the role of women, immigrants, and people of color.

Yet, as former AFL headquarters insider Bill Fletcher reported in his book, Solidarity Divided, these reform efforts ran out of steam as early as 1998. For the next decade or more, AFL-CIO restructuring was more rhetorical than real.

Last week, with two younger-generation staffers (both in their 40s) on Trumka’s new leadership team, the convention re-adopted New Voice ideas from 20 years ago. Delegates again embraced the need for community-labor coalitions, greater independence in politics, and, of course, more members — preferably in the millions.

It was taken as given that these additional working Americans can’t be recruited into traditional bargaining units. The new thinking is that labor can boost its membership  — and political clout — through closer structural ties to the Sierra Club, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, or Moms Rising, among others. This would enable the house of labor to count as members people on those groups’ mailing lists, too.

The other method is to count as new members anyone ever solicited on their doorstep by a canvasser from the AFL-CIO’s own, soon-to-be-expanded alt-labor vehicle, Working America.

This outfit, set up originally for political action purposes, now claims 3.2 million “members.” Almost none pay dues or have any workplace connection to each other. The federation spends more than $10 million a year on Working America, which is also subsidized by national and local union donations.

To keep convention messaging on track, AFL headquarters prepared helpful “talking points.” The most frequently heard refrain was, “This convention will be the most innovative and diverse in history. It’s an exciting time as we open our doors and engage with allies and the non-union community as never before.”

Unfortunately for federation spin-doctors, some avatars of the AFL’s more traditional labor organizations didn’t stay on message, and their political influence was still much felt behind the scenes.

For example, Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger warned, in an interview with The Nation, about the AFL becoming “the American Federation of Progressive and Liberal Organizations.” Schaitberger didn’t want a labor movement that’s “an extension of one ideological part of our society.”

Terence O’Sullivan of the Laborers ranted at length about the Sierra Club’s betrayal of labor, because it opposes the Keystone XL pipeline favored by the building trades and the Teamsters.

But O’Sullivan did make one constructive suggestion: “We came here to talk about a new movement,” he said. “But let’s not forget about the old movement.”

Trumka has made his questionable new focus quite explicit. “The labor movement needs to be not where we’ve been but where workers are most in need,” he told a conference of labor academics in June.

The federation’s de-emphasis on union members’ workplace problems was reflected in what proposed workshops were scheduled (or rejected) at the convention. Judging by the content of the “action sessions,” dealing with employers in traditional workplaces is barely on labor’s to-do list at all.

You could learn much about the health and safety needs of workers in Bangladesh, but there was no brainstorming about strengthening local safety committees here. Fighting givebacks and speed-up, organizing strikes, mobilizing members on the job, creating a “stewards’ army” face to face (as opposed to online) were all given little play.

Labor’s most important public sector struggle since the 2011 “Wisconsin Uprising” was allotted a single presenter on the one panel (out of 50) that dealt with contract campaigns. Chicago Teachers Union organizer Matt Luskin recounted how reformers won office, rebuilt their local, and worked with the community as a precursor to last fall’s successful nine-day strike against Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his school board.

As dissident academic Stanley Aronowitz noted several months ago, “Organized labor is still more than 15 million strong…. Why not seek reform of the existing unions?” Encouraging this course of action is, of course, not part of the AFL-CIO agenda, this year or any year.

One thing is certain. U.S. unions aren’t going to meet the challenges they face by further abandoning the workplace terrain still occupied by their own members or by workers strategic to the future of important industries like telecom.

Generic “associate member” programs, like Working America, may be useful for building political mailing lists, conducting voter registration, and doing voter education and turnout. Maybe next, promoting labor-endorsed insurance plans in the state insurance exchanges?

But dumbing down the concept of membership, in the process, is not a “strategic shift” so much as a shell game. It has little in common with existing serious, long-term efforts to build workplace organization in the absence of employer recognition and bargaining rights….

Trumka had hoped to avoid an embarrassing convention outbreak of public criticism of Obamacare. But irate labor leaders, mainly from unions with multi-employer (Taft-Hartley) health plans, insisted on having their say. Delegates passed a compromise resolution detailing the “fixes” needed in the Affordable Care Act. Without these changes, union-negotiated health coverage will be “regressed to the mean,” as one congressional staffer predicted in a meeting with D. Taylor, president of UNITE-HERE.

Two days later at the White House, though, Trumka, Taylor, and other labor officials received an embarrassing post-convention rebuff. The administration still intends to deny union members in multi-employer plans the access to income-based subsidies that will be offered to other lower-income workers through state insurance exchanges.

The same AFL-CIO media operation that was going full-blast for five days in Los Angeles — and for six months before that—suddenly fell silent on Friday. The AFL-CIO had “no comment” on the White House dismissal of labor’s concerns.

— From Labor Notes, Sept. 16. As a longtime staffer of the Communications Workers, author Steve Early assisted CWA-backed alt-labor experiments like the Massachusetts High Tech Workers Network, the Alliance @ IBM, and WAGE at General Electric. His new book, Save Our Unions, forthcoming from Monthly Review Press in November, contains an account of CWA’s ongoing “minority union” campaign at T-Mobile.

By the Activist Newsletter

A spirited rally and march in Defense of Women’s Rights took place in New Paltz, N.Y., Sept. 7, organized by Mid-Hudson WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend) in recognition of Women’s Equality Day.

A total of 135 people attended at some point during the rally in Peace Park before marching with signs and chanting “fight-back” slogans through the village’s business district, returning to the park for informal discussions among attendees and speakers.

Speaker Karina Garcia.
Five of the eight speakers were in their upper teens or twenties, to the delight of local WORD organizer Donna Goodman, who viewed youth participation at that level as a positive sign for the future of the women’s movement. Goodman, who is also an a editor of the Activist Newsletter and a delegate of UUP/SUNY (AFL-CIO), spoke about “the political system’s failure do more for women’s rights.”

Other speakers included: Andrea Callan, NY Civil Liberties Union, Statewide Advocacy Coordinator. Julia Vogt, student member of NP High School Pride organization. Cait O’Connor, SUNY New Paltz Feminist Collective. Karina Garcia, New York State WORD organizer, and staff of National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Joanne Myers, Marist professor, head of Women's Studies dept., VP  H.V. LGBTQ Center, member Ulster Democratic Women. Suzanne Kelly, former SUNY NP Adjunct Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. Pat Lamanna, Dutchess peace and justice activist, who sang.

Organized by WORD and Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter. It was endorsed by New York Civil Liberties Union, Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation, Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley, Upper Hudson Central Labor Council, Ulster County Democratic Women, Orange County Democratic Women, Orange County Democratic Alliance, Orange County Peace and Justice, New Paltz Feminist Collective, N.P. Women in Black, N.P. Statewide United University Professions (AFL-CIO), Occupy New Paltz, Dutchess Greens, Dutchess Peace, Latinos Unidos of the Hudson Valley, H.V. LGBTQ Center, H.V. Progressives, IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Mid-Hudson ANSWER, Middle East Crisis Response, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Real Majority Project, Ulster MoveOn Council, WESPAC, Women Against War, Hudson River Playback Theatre.



[The following talk opened the Sept. 7, 2013, Defend Women’s Rights rally in New Paltz, N.Y. The speaker is Mid-Hudson organizer for WORD.]

By Donna Goodman

I see the faces of some women and men who attended our outdoor rally here last August and our indoor rally at SUNY this March. Welcome back friends — and welcome to all whom we are meeting the first time.

Today’s gathering in Defense of Women’s Rights will discuss such matters as abortion rights, violence against women, building the women’s movement, low-wage women workers, and the rights of young women and their struggles.

I think all of us here today realize women still have important obstacles to overcome before attaining social equality in America. We mus7 not only stand up and fight back against the Republican war on women, but the women’s movement must take the offensive and struggle to attain new victories. That’s why WORD — Women Organized to Resist and Defend — was formed.

I’m going to talk today about a subject not frequently discussed in our movement but it is an important women’s issue just the same. Why do Washington and the states not do more for women’s rights?

For example, I’ll refer to one of the biggest issues confronting all women in America — the shattering incidence of rape and male violence that many millions have experienced. Our lives are at stake. Why has so little been done to sharply reduce the frequency of these crimes?  There’s talk but not much preventive action on the state and federal level.

This is a serious social crisis that the political system, not simply the Republican Party, is failing to adequately address.

Another example of political system failure is the issue of pay inequity. Compared to the wages or salary of white men in America, white women earn 79 cents to the dollar, African American women 69 cents and Latinas 60 cents. Can’t a way be found for the federal government to come up with a plan to equalize this situation?

True, business opposes gender wage equality, but why must profit prevail over women workers? The disproportionately low minimum wage of $7.25 is an important women’s issue because females constitute 64% of the minimum wage workforce and 59% of low wage workers generally. This too is a women’s issue.

Perhaps the most flagrant indicator of political system failure is the paucity of adequate social services in areas of deep concern to American women. There has hardly been any significant progress in social legislation since President Johnson left office over four decades ago.

The U.S. is the richest country in the world but compared to other developed capitalist countries in the 35-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) it’s near the bottom in terms of taking care of working people and single working mothers raising our next generation.

The money is there for social programs. It’s just hidden away in the bank vaults of the rich one percent; it’s being given away to the recipients of corporate welfare; it’s invested in the Pentagon so we can win the next war, and the next, and the next.

About half the U.S. population lives in poverty or near poverty. What’s that got to do with women? Just this: 35% of American women are more likely to be poor than men. Last July the Associated Press reported that “Four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives.” Apply our 35% disadvantage to this 80% figure and you can understand why government social programs are so important to women. Poverty, too, is a women’s issue.

Poverty exists to one degree or another in all the OECD states. But generous government support programs go some way toward alleviating the more onerous conditions. The U.S. provides the least support of all advanced nations — giving 9% of average household incomes, compared to average OECD allotments of 22%.

Children represent 24% of the U.S. population, but they comprise 34% of all people in poverty. Among all children under 18 years of age, 45% live in low-income families and just over one in every five live in poor families. More than half the children in the United States today will spend all or part of their childhood in a single-parent family mainly headed by the mother.

According to recent report titled, “Worst Off – Single-Parent Families In The United States,” such families have a higher poverty rate than 16 other high-income countries. They have the highest percentage without health care coverage. They face the stingiest income support system. They lack the paid-time-off-from-work entitlements that make it easier for single parents to balance caregiving and jobholding. They must wait longer than in the other countries for early childhood education to begin. They receive lower child support benefits.”

The Democratic Clinton administration and a Republican Congress scrapped “welfare as we know it” in the mid-1990s, ultimately replacing it with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – a program that is now clearly inadequate to the needs of single parent families.  It is underfunded, ungenerous and a disgrace compared to the other OECD countries.

The plight of single-mother American families is so distressing that the OECD criticized the U.S. because of its paltry spending and reluctance to provide a national paid parental leave policy.

A family leave study by researchers from Harvard and McGill Universities, titled the “Work, Family and Equity Index,” pointed out the U.S. is far behind most countries in terms of workplace policies that promote family life and well-being. Out of 173 countries, only four do not provide some form of government-guaranteed leave with income to women in connection with childbirth: Liberia, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and the United States.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act in the U.S. provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave for the mother if she is employed by a company with 50 or more employees. This is a travesty compared to other countries. The Harvard McGill study declared that “66 countries ensure that fathers either receive paid paternity leave or have a right to paid parental leave; 31 of these countries offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave to women.“ This is unheard of in America. The study also noted that “At least 107 countries protect working women’s right to breastfeed.”

It is the law in 145 nations that workers must be paid for a certain number of sick days. America’s Fair Labor Standards Act does not require sick pay.  Among food service workers, the great majority of whom are women, 86% receive no sick pay.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act does not require bosses to pay workers for vacations and holidays. Consequently, the U.S. has the lowest amount of vacations and holiday time of the 20 top capitalist economies.

Virtually everything I’ve mentioned —some specifically, like maternity leave and equal pay, some generally, like sick days and vacations —are women’s issues. Like Bread and Roses don’t we need wage equality and vacations too?

Stand up, fight back!


If we’re ever going to fix our problems accommodating both work and family in our lives, we have to stop thinking that the dilemmas we face today stem from the collapse of the traditional male-breadwinner family. There is no such thing as the traditional male-breadwinner family. It was a late-arriving, short-lived aberration in the history of the world, and it’s over. We need to move on.

For thousands of years, any family that needed to work understood that everyone in that family needed to work. There was no such term as “male breadwinner.” Throughout the colonial America era, wives were called “yokemates” or “deputy husbands.” When men married, they didn’t do it because they had fallen helplessly in love. They did it because they needed to expand their labor force or their land holdings, or they needed to make a political or military or business alliance, or they needed a good infusion of cash, which was why they were often more interested in the dowry than the daughter. Male breadwinner was a contradiction in terms — there was no such thing. Males were the bosses of the family workforce, and women and children were the unpaid employees.

The male breadwinner —a declining breed.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that a bare majority of American children came to live in a family where the husband earned the income, the wife was not working beside him in a small business or on a farm or earning income herself, and the children were either at home or in school and not working in a factory or in the fields. That family form then grew less common during the Great Depression and World War II, but it reappeared in the 1950s thanks to an unusual economic and political situation in which real wages were rising steadily and a government flush with cash was paying veterans benefits to 44% of young men starting families. This was a period when your average 30-year-old man could buy a home on 15% to 18% of his own salary, not needing his wife’s. That era is gone — for good. And yet the U.S. formulated its work policies, school hours and social-support programs on the assumption that this kind of family would last forever, that there would always be someone at home to take care of the children and manage the household.

Today in a sense we’ve gone back to the future. We’ve gone back to the two-earner family but forward to a world where men and women now earn separate incomes and have equal legal rights. Increasingly, they want equal access to the rewards and challenges of both paid work and family. Yet many policymakers and business leaders are still stuck in that blip in time when women were only marginal members of the workforce and men were only marginal members of the family. The only major change we’ve made since the 1950s is passing the Work Family Leave Act, which offers unpaid leave that lasts only 12 weeks and is available to only half the workers who need it. Our policies are so inadequate and so far behind the rest of the world that the best claim we can make is that we’re 181st in the world; 180 other countries have better work-family policies than we do.

We have to get rid of the embarrassing disconnect between our outdated policies and the realities of our family lives, where 70% of American children grow up in homes where all the adults work outside the home. We are now 13 years into the 21st century. Isn’t it time to stop acting like it’s still the 1950s?

— Stephanie Coontz is Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families and teaches History and Family Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. This article was adapted from a talk Coontz gave as part of a work-life video series produced by the Families and Work Institute. It appears in the Sept. 23, 2013, Time magazine.


Walmart workers and their allies marched, rallied, danced, blew horns, and took arrests in a coordinated day of action in 15 cities Sept. 5. They were protesting the company’s recent crackdown on worker activists.

Walmart fired 20 members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) — and disciplined 50 others — for taking part in a weeklong strike in June. The company claimed the workers were “no-call, no-shows,” though they made it clear they were striking. “We don’t recognize strikers,” one supervisor told a fired employee in Baker, Louisiana.

Thousands of people participated in the new protests, according to OUR Walmart, and 100 were arrested — including in Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, Maryland, Orlando, Los Angeles, and New York. The L.A. action featured breakdancing. Meanwhile in St. Paul, Minnesota, a band of union musicians — performers in the local orchestra, which is locked out — played for a crowd of 50 workers and allies. “

In Raleigh, North Carolina, an extraordinary in-store demonstration materialized just after workers and community allies solemnly presented store managers with a huge binder containing 170,000 signatures — a petition to reinstate the fired and disciplined workers.

As the managers give their canned response (they can’t accept the binder, they’ll talk with “associates” but non-employees have to leave), shouts begin to echo through the store. A flash mob in yellow “UFCW Local 1208 Steppin’ 4 Justice” bursts forth to perform an energetic synchronized routine. (For a fantastic video of the Raleigh flash mob, see final article, “We Recommend…”)

Last year Walmart made $16 billion in profit. The majority owners of the company, the Waltons, are the richest family in the world. Yet many Walmart workers continue to earn poverty wages of an average $8.81 an hour.

OUR Walmart formed in 2011 with the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Its goals are $13 an hour, adequate hours, respect on the job, affordable health care, and a way to redress grievances.


Iraq, 2013. Murder and mayhem virtually every day in Iraq as Sunni jihadists attack Shi'ites.
By the Activist Newsletter

An undeclared war is taking place in Iraq, primarily against the Shia-led government and population. For the first nine months of this year, 7,000 Iraqis — overwhelmingly civilians — have been slaughtered in the violence. The great majority of the dead are Shia. Sunnis have been slain in far fewer number, evidently in retaliation.

The conflict is one more bloody outcome of Washington’s 2003-2011 invasion and occupation of Iraq. As part of Washington’s divide and conquer tactics the two communities fought each other for a period during the long occupation. 

The New York Times reported Sept. 28: “The Shiite-dominated central government, led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, is battling an increasingly deadly Sunni insurgency that is morphing into a bloody sectarian fight reminiscent of the country’s civil war of several years ago.”

Almost every day there is terrible news from Iraq about bombings and shootings that kill dozens, scores, and hundreds of innocent civilians. We tallied the deaths for several days at random this month and here are the figures: On Sept. 22, a suicide bomber slaughtered 16 people and wounded 35 at a funeral in Baghdad. On Sept. 21, at least 109 people were killed and 173 more were wounded in two suicide attacks. On Sept. 20, 30 Iraqis were killed. On the 19th, 27 were murdered across the country. On the 18th, eight were slain, and 53 were wounded. On the Sept. 17, 59 were killed and 151 were wounded.

The main anti-Shia/anti-government fighting force consists of jihadists associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). This group is connected to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), one of the strongest rebel groups in neighboring Syria and which is led by Iraqis. (“Sham” is Arabic for greater Syria, including the Levant.) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is said to help direct the AQI and ISIS insurgencies in both countries.

Both groups seek an Islamic state governed by strict Sharia law. (The ruling Alawites in Damascus are an offshoot of the Shia branch of Islam and the state is virtually secular in its treatments of various minorities.)

According to a report in the Guardian (UK) May 30 by Martin Chulov: “In towns and villages on the flat lands south towards Baghdad and in the communities that dot the sprawling desert west towards the border with Syria, militant groups are imposing their influence with brutal efficiency. Random, savage and relentless violence is once more a reality in this part of Iraq, with almost daily bombings and killings stirring ghosts of a time, not long ago, when Anbar province was almost lost to al-Qaida and when hopes for a civil and stable country seemed futile.”

The Shia represent 60-65% of the population of Iraq, and the Sunnis 33-40%. The non-Arab semi-autonomous Kurds are 17% and most are Sunni, some are Shia and others have different faiths. The Sunnis traditionally exercised state power through the Ba’athist Party until it was banned. Elections following the invasion brought the Shia to power for the first time.

Despite Bush Administration allegations in 2002-2003 that the Iraqi regime of President Saddam Hussein collaborated with al-Qaeda in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in Washington and New York, it is doubtful that even one member of the terror organization had been allowed to set foot in Iraq before the invasion.

President Saddam Hussein, a secular Sunni, despised al-Qaeda, and Osama bin-Laden and his organization hated the Baghdad regime, and hoped it would fall. The ruling Iraqi Ba’athist Party was staunchly dedicated to secularism while Bin Laden sought a Sunni religious state. Iraqi women, for instance, had the most legal rights and freedoms in the Middle East, though their status has fallen since the U.S. invasion.

Washington expected a quick victory in Iraq, and then intended to use this momentum and its “shock and awe” firepower to pave the way for regime change in Iran and Syria. But opposition, largely Sunni-led, but joined by Shia fighting groups turned Washington’s neo-conservative fantasy of a quick victory into a drawn out stalemate. Al-Qaeda began infiltrating the country in the chaos of the occupation and joined the battle against US. forces, usually operated independently, as it does now.

One of Washington’s efforts to secure victory included setting the country’s three populations — Shia, Sunni and Kurd — against each other. For the pro-U.S. Kurds this led to virtual autonomy and safety in the north. But for the other two it led to a virtual civil war. The religious conflict between Iraqis eventually subsided, but the al-Qaeda element continued the fighting, which has increased considerably in recent months.

The U.S. has been mainly involved in Syria to weaken Iran geopolitically by removing the Assad government in Damascus —Tehran’s principal Arab ally. By so doing the U.S. also sought to weaken any serious Iraq-Iran alliance, since Baghdad’s attention would be diverted by both an internal war and possible trouble on its western border should the rebels win in Syria. In the recent period, however, the growth of jihadists in the Syrian rebel ranks has dampened U.S. enthusiasm for dumping Assad at this point.

The U.S. first generated a living hell for the people of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War when the U.S. destroyed much of the civilian infrastructure, and then followed with a dozen years of killer sanctions that resulted in some million deaths, according to UN sources. The U.S. then invaded this nearly prostrate country, directly or indirectly causing nearly a million more Iraqi deaths over the years. Now it’s the jihadists who are disrupting the country.

Progressive Americans, at least, recognize the enormous debt the U.S. owes Iraq, a fact made all the more obvious by the continuing strife afflicting the Iraqi people as a result of Washington’s long years of imperial intervention in that hapless society.

The best way to pay that debt is for the U.S. government to stop intervening and withdraw all its weapons of war from the region; to pay reparations to Iraq; to make peace with Iran; to support a Middle East nuclear ban; and to genuinely back the independence and needs of the Palestinian people.
— J.A.S.

By Democracy Now

Four senators have unveiled a measure to rein in the surveillance powers of the National Security Agency. The bill from Democratic Senators Ron Wyden (OR), Mark Udall (CO), and Richard Blumenthal (CN), as well as Republican Sen. Rand Paul (KY), is the most sweeping congressional response to date since Edward Snowden exposed widespread NSA spying in June. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT) is not one of the bill’s co-sponsors, but has backed calls for similar reforms.

At a news conference Sept. 24, Sen. Wyden cited what he called a "sea change" in public opinion as a result of Snowden’s leaks. Sen. Udall, meanwhile, said the measures in the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act would protect Americans from unjustified intrusion into their private lives, in part by ending the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

According to Sen. Udall: "This package includes ending the bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records, prohibiting the backdoor searches of Americans’ communications, and making the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court more transparent and accountable. Under this bill the federal government will still be able to get a hold of terrorists and spies’ phone records, but only where the government can demonstrate a suspected link to terrorism or espionage. And although I strongly believe that some surveillance programs have made us safer, Americans with no link to terrorism or espionage should not have to worry that the NSA is vacuuming up their private information."

The Senate Intelligence Committee began hearings Sept. 26 on proposed NSA reforms. NSA chief Keith Alexander dodged questions from Wyden about whether the NSA had used cell phone signals to collect data on the location of U.S. citizens. During the hearing, Wyden said "the leadership of NSA built an intelligence collection system that repeatedly deceived the American people."

Alexander also faced questions from Udall, who asked. "Is it the goal of the NSA to collect the phone records of all Americans?” The general responded: "I believe it is in the nation’s best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we can search when the nation needs to do it, yes.”


Excerpts from longer reports by Common Dreams, Democracy Now,
Mother Jones, Associated Press,, Reuters and the Guardian (UK)

1. Stung by public unease about new details of NSA spying, President Barack Obama selected a panel of advisers he described as “independent experts” to scrutinize the NSA's surveillance programs to be sure they weren't violating civil liberties and to restore Americans trust. But with just weeks remaining before its first deadline to report back to the White House, the review panel has effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA and all other U.S. spy efforts. The panel's advisers work in offices on loan from the DNI. Interview requests and press statements from the review panel are carefully coordinated through the DNI's press office. James Clapper, the intelligence director, exempted the panel from U.S. rules that require federal committees to conduct their business and their meetings in ways the public can observe. Its final report, when it's issued, will be submitted for White House approval before the public can read it.

2. The New York Times revealed Sept. 29 that the NSA has for the past three years been using its wholesale data collection from American citizens to construct elaborate maps of “social connections.” The agency uses metadata, GPS locations and voter records from ordinary Americans to figure out who is friends with who, and connecting people indirectly to others of “intelligence interest.”

3. A federal audit last week revealed the FBI has been operating drones inside the United States since 2006. The general public, at least, has known nothing about this example of probable government eavesdropping. In total, the Justice Department has spent nearly $5 million on drones, according to the report that was issued by the agency’s inspector general. The report urged officials to develop new guidelines to protect privacy saying drones raise "unique concerns about privacy." Drones currently operate under the same rules as manned surveillance planes.

4. Amid ongoing controversy over NSA warrantless spying programs, another legal battle exposes the Obama Administration's willingness to steamroll civil liberties in the name of "security." The Obama administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a precedent-setting ruling that the 4th Amendment — which prohibits unreasonable and warrantless searches and seizures — somehow allows for warrantless searches of personal cell phones, the Washington Post reports. The ACLU responded: "Our mobile devices hold our emails, text messages, social media accounts, and information about our health, finances, and intimate matters of our lives. That's sensitive information that police shouldn't be able to get without a warrant…. The Constitution gives us the right to speak freely and know that police won't have access to private communications in our cell phones unless there is a good reason."

5. Despite claims by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that they are barred from publicly exposing dragnet surveillance practices at the National Security Agency, a closer look at Senate rules shows that the group actually has it in their power to actively push for greater transparency. They have just opted not to use that power. According to a new report by McClatchy, "buried in the pages" of the founding document of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Resolution 400, is a provision that allows the committee to "seek the declassification of information that he or she thinks is of public interest, even if the executive branch labels the material top secret," by way of a majority committee vote. According to the rule, if a majority vote is reached and the executive branch still refuses to allow the declassification of materials for public knowledge, the issue can be taken to the Senate floor for another vote.

6. The NSA routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about U.S. citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals. Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the U.S. government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis. The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process "minimization," but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

7. Since last June, when Edward Snowden tore the veil off the National Security Agency's vast data dragnet, Americans have been flocking to ultra-secure email services in the hopes of keeping the government out of their private business. But even these services may not be able to protect your email from government prying. That fact came into stark relief a few weeks ago when Lavabit, the secure email service used by Snowden, abruptly shut down because it did not want to be "complicit in crimes against the American people." Several similar outfits have shut down because they cannot protect their clients against the surveillance state.

8. At least a dozen U.S. NSA employees have been caught using secret government surveillance tools to spy on the emails or phone calls of their current or former spouses and lovers in the past decade, according to the intelligence agency's internal watchdog, it was revealed Sept. 27. The practice is known in intelligence world shorthand as "LOVEINT" and was disclosed by the NSA Office of the Inspector General in response to a request by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Just imagine how many weren’t caught.


How do you justify criminally charging a government contractor for revealing an alarming truth that the public has every right to know? That is the contradiction raised by President Obama now that he has, in effect, acknowledged that Edward Snowden was an indispensable whistle-blower who significantly raised public awareness about a government threat to our freedom. 

Unfortunately, the president didn’t have the grace and courage to concede that precise point and remains committed to imprisoning Snowden instead of thanking him for serving the public interest. But Julian Assange, no stranger to unrequited integrity, nailed it. “Today, the president of the United States validated Edward Snowden’s role as a whistleblower by announcing plans to reform America’s global surveillance program,” the WikiLeaks founder said in a statement posted Saturday, the day after Obama’s remarks.

While boasting, “I called for a review of our surveillance programs,” Obama avoided the obvious fact that this review was compelled not by a sudden burst of respect for the safeguards demanded by our Constitution but rather Snowden’s action in making the public cognizant of the astounding breadth and depth of the National Security Agency’s spying program. 

Once again, Obama managed to blame not those responsible for government malfeasance, himself included, but instead the rare insiders driven to do their duty to inform the American people. “Unfortunately, rather than an orderly and lawful process to debate these issues and come up with appropriate reforms, repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate in a very passionate but not always fully informed way,” he said.

How disingenuous, to put it mildly. Without the leaks, there would be no reforms. We, the voters, couldn’t initiate a debate about the wisdom of this extensive spying because the government officials who authorized it, from the president on down, kept us in the dark. 

Those elected officials who were briefed on these nefarious programs never shared that information with the public, and most of them, led by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have branded Snowden a traitor for exposing their own failure to protect our freedoms.

“I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower,” Feinstein said of Snowden in June. “I think it is an act of treason.” The senator added, “He took an oath—that oath is important. He violated the oath, he violated the law. It’s an act of treason in my view.”

What about Feinstein betraying her oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and its Fourth Amendment prohibiting “unreasonable searches and seizures”? If she judged the NSA program to be constitutional, why didn’t she reveal the scope of the operation to the spied-upon American public to let the voters decide? Instead, last year, Feinstein joined with the Obama administration in defeating amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would have compelled the NSA to reveal the extent of its spying.

A decent Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, explained why the public needed the information that Feinstein would deny them. “Citizens generally assume our government is not spying on them,” he told U.S. News & World Report in December. “If they had any inkling of how this system really works, the details of which I cannot discuss, they would be profoundly appalled.”

But Feinstein’s contempt for the public’s right to know sustained people’s ignorance until Snowden took the courageous step of letting us in on the alarming details of this assault on our rights. The president was forced to reverse course, conceding for the first time that there is a problem, and advanced initiatives he claimed would better shield our liberties. Suddenly, defending those freedoms is our patriotic duty, as Obama acknowledged Friday, “because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation. It’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.”

Why did it require the shocking Snowden revelations to get this president to recognize the danger to that democratic process resulting from the secret hearings of the FISC in which, as Obama put it, “One of the concerns that people raise is that a judge reviewing a request from the government to conduct programmatic surveillance only hears one side of the story, may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty.”

No kidding? But maybe the president now gets the point that the authors of our Constitution intended, a notion this Harvard-educated constitutional law professor claimed to understand when he was a senator attempting to rein in the unbridled power of the NSA. That Obama has been forced by public opinion to come to his senses on this issue, even in a limited way, is a tribute to the courage of Snowden, who should be honored as the poster boy for the right of the citizen to protest government injustice rather than be hunted as a fugitive. 

Absurd as it sounds in this era of fear mongering, a presidential pardon for Snowden would bring honor to our country.

— Robert Scheer is editor of, where this article was published 8-13-13.

By the Activist Newsletter

The conservative House voted 217-210 to pass legislation reducing food stamp spending by $39 billion over the next decade.

The measure would eliminate about 3.8 million recipients currently receiving the stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Approximately 47.7 million Americans now depend on the program for a minimally nutritious diet. “No program does more than SNAP to protect children from the effects of deep poverty,” says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

The House legislation isn't expected to pass the Senate. But if it does, the bill would spend $725 billion on food stamps over the next 10 years, compared to the Senate’s $760 billion.

According to the CBPP, those who would be eliminated from SNAP include to:

·      1.7 million unemployed, childless adults in 2014 who live in areas of high unemployment — a group that has average income of only 22% of the poverty line (about $2,500 a year for a single individual) and for whom SNAP is, in most cases, the only government assistance they receive (this number will average 1 million a year over the coming decade);
·      2.1 million people in 2014, mostly low-income working families and low-income seniors, who have gross incomes or assets modestly above the federal SNAP limits but disposable income — the income that a family actually has available to spend on food and other needs — below the poverty line in most cases often because of high rent or child care costs.  (This number will average 1.8 million a year over the coming decade.)  In addition, 210,000 children in these families would also lose free school meals;
·      Other poor, unemployed parents who want to work but cannot find a job or an opening in a training program — along with their children, other than infants.

A total of 15 Republicans joined 195 democrats to come within a few votes of quashing the legislation. No Democrats voted with the right wing, but five did not vote. According to the Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database, 10 of the conservative House members who voted to cut subsidies from low-income recipients themselves received subsidies from other aspects of agricultural legislation.

Tea Party and far right members of Congress virtually accuse hungry Americans of being slackers. They think cutting the food allowance will force them to go to work, as though there is work to do. Liberal economist Paul Krugman took a swipe at this bedraggled thesis in his N.Y. Times column Sept. 23:

“As Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, puts it, [the SNAP program is] an example of turning the safety net into 'a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.’ One answer is, some hammock: last year, average food stamp benefits were $4.45 a day. Also, about those ‘able-bodied people’: almost two-thirds of SNAP beneficiaries are children, the elderly or the disabled, and most of the rest are adults with children.”

The Agriculture Dept. reported this month that 17.6 million U.S. households had difficulty feeding their families, and 7 million of these are suffering from "very low food security" that forced them to go hungry in 2012. Almost 15% of all U.S. households (49 million people) suffered food insecurity last year — with poor households, "households with children headed by single women or single men," and African American and Hispanic households hardest hit.
— J.A.S.
— A thorough analysis of the farm bill is at

By Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams, Sept. 23, 2013

The world needs to "wake up before it is too late" and usher in a paradigm shift in agriculture that moves away from industrial agriculture in favor of “mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems" that favor small-scale farmers and local food production, a new report from a UN body states.

However, the call from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) flies in the face of the goals laid out by trade deals now being negotiated including the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership.

The report— “Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate” — was written with contributions from over 60 experts, and finds that "urgent and far-reaching action" is needed to address the "collective crisis" of "rural poverty, persistent hunger around the world, growing populations, and mounting environmental concerns."
The UNCTAD report was welcomed by groups who have long advocated for agroecological approaches, including GRAIN, La Via Campesina and the ETC Group.

“Long before the release of this report, small farmers around the world were already convinced that we absolutely need a diversified agriculture to guarantee a balanced local food production, the protection of people's livelihoods and the respect of nature,” Elizabeth Mpofu, general coordinator of La Via Campesina, said in a statement.

However, as the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) points out, the approaches the report advocates are incompatible with the free trade agreements like the TPP.

[From the Activist Newsletter: The U.S.-dominated TPP is focused on the Asia/Pacific region. Critics charge the TPP “is being written by 600 corporate ‘advisors,’ but Congress and the American public are being kept in the dark. It would allow corporations to sue nations for anticipated loss of profits, voiding environmental and labor laws; offshore millions of American jobs; bring unsafe food and products into the U.S.; increase cost of medicines; strangle internet privacy and free speech, and much more.” Another objective of the trade pact is to strengthen the U.S. in the region to “contain” China’s influence.]

In its contribution to the report, IATP “focused on the effects of trade liberalization on agriculture systems. We argued that trade liberalization both at the WTO [World Trade Organization] and in regional deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had increased volatility and corporate concentration in agriculture markets, while undermining the development of locally based, agroecological systems that better support farmers.

“The report’s findings are in stark contrast to the accelerated push for new free trade agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which expand a long discredited model of economic development designed primarily to strengthen the hold of multinational corporate and financial firms on the global economy. Neither global climate talks nor other global food security forums reflect the urgency expressed in the UNCTAD report to transform agriculture.”….


By Tariq Ali

Ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring there has been much talk of revolutions. Not from me. I’ve argued against the position that mass uprisings on their own constitute a revolution, i.e., a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change. The actual size of the crowd is not a determinant — members of a crowd become a revolution only when they have, in their majority, a clear set of social and political aims. If they do not, they will always be outflanked by those who do, or by the state that will recapture lost ground very rapidly.

Egypt is the clearest example in recent years. No organs of autonomous power ever emerged. The Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative social force, one that belatedly joined the struggle to overthrow Mubarak, emerged as the strongest political player in the conflict and, as such, won the elections that followed. The Brotherhood’s factionalism, stupidity, and a desire to reassure both Washington and the local security apparatuses that it would be business as usual led it to make several strategic and tactical errors from its own point of view. New mass mobilizations erupted, even larger than those that had led to the toppling of Mubarak. Once again they were devoid of politics, seeing the army as their savior and, in many cases, applauding the military’s brutality against the Muslim Brothers. The result was obvious. The ancient régime is back in charge with mass support. If the original was not a revolution, the latter is hardly a counter-revolution. Simply, the military reasserting its role in politics. It was they who decided to dump Mubarak and Morsi. Who will dump them? Another mass mobilization? I doubt it very much. Social movements incapable of developing an independent politics are fated to disappear.

In Libya, the old state was destroyed by NATO after a six-month bombing spree. Nearly two years later, armed tribal gangs of one sort or another still roam the country, demanding their share of the loot. Hardly a revolution according to any criteria.

What of Syria? Here, too, the mass uprising was genuine and reflected a desire for political change. Had Assad agreed to negotiations during the first six months and even later, there might have been a constitutional settlement. Instead, he embarked on a path of repression and the tragically familiar Sunni-Shia battle-lines were drawn (this divide was a real triumph for the United States following the occupation of Iraq). Turkey, Qatar and the Saudis poured in weaponry and volunteers to their side in Syria, and the Iranians and Russians backed the other with weaponry.

The notion that the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is the carrier of a Syrian revolution is as risible as the idea that the Brotherhood was doing the same in Egypt. A brutal civil war with atrocities by both sides is currently being fought. Did the regime use gas or other chemical weapons? We do not know with certainty. The strikes envisaged by the United States are designed to prevent Assad’s military advances from defeating the opposition and re-taking the country. That is what is at stake in Syria.

Outside the country, the Saudis are desperate for a Sunni takeover to further isolate Iran, strengthened by the semi-clerical Shia regime in Iraq created by the U.S. occupation. Israel’s interests are hardly a secret. They want Hezbollah crushed.

Fidel and Che.They knew the meaning of revolution.
Hasta La Victoria Siempre!

Whatever else may or may not be happening in Syria, it is far removed from a revolution. Only the most blinkered sectarian fantasist could imagine this to be the case. The idea that the Saudis, Qatar, Turkey backed by NATO are going to create a revolutionary democracy or even a democratic set-up is challenged by what is happening elsewhere in the Arab world: the democrat [French President] Hollande defends and justifies the Moroccan autocracy; the Saudis prevent Yemen from moving forward and occupy Bahrain; [Turkey’s Prime Minister] Erdogan has been busy with repression at home; Israel is not satisfied with a PLO on its knees and is pushing for Hamas to do the same so it can have another go at Hezbollah

Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are only too well aware that U.S. strikes will not make their country better. Many of the courageous citizens of Syria who started the uprising are in refugee camps. Those at home fear both sides, and who can blame them? Meanwhile, back at home, Obama is promising Republicans that he will facilitate regime change.

[A few days after this report President Obama pulled back from the precipice of a war with Syria, at least temporarily.]

— From Guernica, Sept. 4. Tariq Ali has been a leading figure of the international left since the 1960s. He is a long-standing editor of the New Left Review and a political commentator published on every continent. His books include The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, and The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad.


[The Pentagon has been gradually encircling China with U.S. military bases for several decades, but the pace has accelerated since the Obama Administration’s “pivot” to Asia over two years ago. Here is a recent AP report on the very latest additions to Washington’s military buildup.]

By John Reed, the Associated Press

The U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. The latest link: a small airstrip on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan. The U.S. Air Force is planning to lease 33 acres of land on the island for the next 50 years to build a "divert airfield" on an old World War II airbase there. But the residents don't want it. And the Chinese are in no mood to be surrounded by Americans.

The Pentagon's big, new strategy for the 21st century is something called Air-Sea Battle, a concept that's nominally about combining air and naval forces to punch through the increasingly formidable defenses of nations like China or Iran. It may sound like an amorphous strategy — and truth be told, a lot of Air-Sea Battle is still in the conceptual phase. But a very concrete part of this concept is being put into place in the Pacific. An important but oft-overlooked part of Air-Sea Battle calls for the military to operate from small, bare bones bases in the Pacific that its forces can disperse to in case their main bases are targeted by Chinese ballistic missiles.
Saipan would be used by American jets in case access to the U.S. superbase at Guam "or other Western Pacific airfields is limited or denied," reads this Air Force document discussing the impact building such fields on Saipan and nearby Tinian would have on the environment there. (Residents of Saipan actually want the Air Force to use the historic airbases on Tinian that the U.S. Marines are already refurbishing and flying F/A-18 Hornet fighters out of on an occasional basis.)

Specifically, the Air Force wants to expand the existing Saipan International Airport — built on the skeleton of a World War II base used by Japan, and later the United States — to accommodate cargo, fighter and tanker aircraft along with up to 700 support personnel for "periodic divert landings, joint military exercises, and joint and combined humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts," according to Air Force documents on the project.

This means the service plans to build additional aircraft parking space, hangars, fuel storage tanks and ammunition storage facilities, in addition to other improvements to the historic airfield. And it's not the only facility getting an upgrade.

In addition to the site on Saipan, the Air Force plans to send aircraft on regular deployments to bases ranging from Australia to India as part of its bulked up force in the Pacific. These plans include regular deployments to Royal Australian Air Force bases at Darwin and Tindal, Changi East air base in Singapore, Korat air base in Thailand, Trivandrum in India, and possibly bases at Cubi Point and Puerto Princesa in the Philippines and airfields in Indonesia and Malaysia, a top U.S. Air Force general revealed last month.

[From the Activist Newsletter — Since the end of World War II China has been increasingly
surrounded by U.S. naval, air and troop bases through the region from small islands dotting the western Pacific to Japan and South Korea in the northeast to the Philippines in the southeast, to major facilities in Afghanistan, Singapore and the Indian Ocean in the west. This does not include air power, long-range missiles, satellite and communications surveillance, and short, medium and long-range nuclear weapons at the ready. More recently Obama opened a new Marine base in western Australia and ordered the majority of the U.S. fleet, from aircraft carriers to nuclear submarines, to move from the Atlantic to the Pacific. 

[Why does the Obama Administration flaunt the flag and its martial trappings in Beijing’s face? It is part of Washington’s effort to deny China substantial authority in its own regional sphere of influence, lest it ever contemplate undercutting U.S. global hegemony.]

By Amy Traub

We probably don’t need to be reminded that the economy is a critical problem. Yet the nation’s political conversation still founders on the question of what it is about the nation’s economic performance that is holding back the middle class and people trying to work their way into it.

Into the fray steps the Economic Policy Institute, with straight-forward, clarifying data in a new study released recently titled “A Decade of Flat Wages.”

In reality it’s not budget deficits or economic uncertainty or a lack of innovation and productivity advances that are slowing our economic recovery and undermining the middle class. It’s the stagnant wages. EPI economists Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz offer this summary:

According to every major data source, the vast majority of U.S. workers — including white-collar and blue-collar workers and those with and without a college degree —have endured more than a decade of wage stagnation. Wage growth has significantly underperformed productivity growth regardless of occupation, gender, race/ethnicity, or education level.

During the Great Recession and its aftermath (i.e., between 2007 and 2012), wages fell for the entire bottom 70% of the wage distribution, despite productivity growth of 7.7%.

Weak wage growth predates the Great Recession. Between 2000 and 2007, the median worker saw wage growth of just 2.6%, despite productivity growth of 16.0%, while the 20th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 1.0% and the 80th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 4.6%.

According to the report:  “[T]he vast majority of wage earners have already experienced a lost decade, one where real wages were either flat or in decline.” And that lost decade itself was hardly following on a golden age of broad prosperity. Instead:

This lost decade for wages follows decades of inadequate wage growth. For virtually the entire period since 1979 (with the one exception being the strong wage growth of the late 1990s), wage growth for most workers has been weak. The median worker saw an increase of just 5.0% between 1979 and 2012, despite productivity growth of 74.5% — while the 20th percentile worker saw wage erosion of 0.4% and the 80th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 17.5

Focusing on stagnant wages as a primary obstacle to growing the nation’s middle class enables us to think clearly about the policy choices that contributed to a lost decade for wages as well as the policy decisions that could reverse the trend. Rather than austerity, we need “large-scale ongoing public investments and the reestablishment of state and local public services that were cut in the Great Recession and its aftermath” in order to lower unemployment so that wages can rise

We also need to raise the minimum wage and take other steps to give low- and middle-wage workers more power in the workplace — including labor law reform, immigration reform that empowers working people, and “taking executive action to ensure that federal dollars are not spent employing people in jobs with poverty-level wages.”

In addition to EPI’s analysis, I would add that we need to be thinking about the recent strikes of  Walmart employees, fast food workers, and other Americans earning   As my colleague Catherine Ruetschlin pointed out, the $15 an hour fast food strikers are calling for sounds like a far less radical demand when you remember that the minimum wage would be $21.72 an hour if it had kept pace with productivity increases since 1968.

Wage stagnation for low- and middle-income workers is holding the entire economy back. The time to focus and take action is past due.

[On Aug. 29, workers in nearly 60 cities walked off their fast food restaurant jobs to protest for better wages and the right to organize unions, the largest number of such strikes in a day. Organizers and workers hope the strikes marked a tipping point in a campaign that kicked off last November in New York City. The strikes have spread rapidly throughout the country: first to northern cities, then to the Midwest and the south. Fast food workers represent both a huge potential opportunity to organize workers, with millions of people who feed tens of millions of Americans every day, and a compelling economic cause, as their wages have stagnated despite constantly accelerating profits for fast food companies.]

— From Demos, 8-21-13. The text and charts of “A Decadec of Flat Wages” are at

By Heidi Moore

The president's economic initiatives – food stamps, manufacturing, infrastructure, raising the debt ceiling, appointing a new chairman of the Federal Reserve – have mostly ended in either neglect or shambles. After five years, the Obama Administration's stated intentions to improve the fortunes of the middle class, boost manufacturing, reduce income inequality, and promote the recovery of the economy have come up severely short.

Despite this, the president believes he is negotiating his economic agenda with Congress from a position of strength, and almost every speech includes some self-congratulatory note about how far the economy has come.

Most recently, when answering the withdrawal letter of Larry Summers the former Treasury Secretary and Harvard president who was an unofficially named candidate for chairman of the Federal Reserve, the president claimed that Summers was instrumental to turning the current economy into a land of milk and honey.

“Larry was a critical member of my team as we faced down the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it was in no small part because of his expertise, wisdom, and leadership that we wrestled the economy back to growth and made the kind of progress we are seeing today.”

The kind of progress we are seeing today? The mind boggles: what progress is that?

Here's the litany of failure: the president has not pushed through any major stimulus bill since 2009, and most of that was pork-barrel junk. Manufacturing is weak and weakening; the employment gap between the rich and the poor is the widest on record; the economic recovery is actually more like an extended stagnation with 12 million people unemployed; the housing "recovery" will be stalled as long as incomes are low and house prices are high; and quantitative easing as a stimulus, while a heroic independent effort by the Federal Reserve, is past its due date and is no longer improving the country's fortunes beyond the stock market .

Shall we continue? We don't have a food stamp bill even though 49 million Americans lack regular access to food. Goldman Sachs analysts have said the sequester is taking a toll on stubbornly growing unemployment: "since sequestration took effect in March, federal job losses have been somewhat more pronounced," they wrote last week; and another debt ceiling controversy – the third of Obama's presidency – looms in only a few weeks with the potential to hurt what meager economic growth we can still cling to.

The president could not be more wrong or misleading in the way in which he presents our economic progress. It's time to end the delusion that this White House has accomplished even a fraction of what it should be doing to help the economy. It should have been focusing all its efforts on employment, perhaps by boosting job-retraining programs, providing tax incentives for employers or supporting a comprehensive infrastructure effort. Instead, the administration is falling victim to political distractions and lack of follow-through and wasting its meager political capital on the wrong fights.

The latest example is the debacle around Larry Summers. The week leading up to his exit was a rough one, as no fewer than three important Democratic senators – Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown and Jon Tester – openly stated that they would not vote for Summers when his name came in front of the Senate Banking Committee. Another Democratic  member of the committee, Elizabeth Warren, was opposed to Summers as well, as were Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin who signed a letter begging Obama to choose someone else.

Given the ferocity of the opposition, the main surprise today is not why Summers is pulling his name from consideration, but how his candidacy ever got this far. The usually genteel (or at least passive-aggressive) profession of economics is not one given to activism. Yet, when Summers' name came up, the White House was inundated with petitions: 20 senators opposing his nomination this summer, 300 economists uniting against him. Wherever the president turned, it would have been abundantly clear to him that tying his fortunes to Summers would have been akin to tying two rocks together to see if they float. Instead, Obama listened to his "trusted economic advisers," who have again, as they have for years, failed to read the room correctly.

— From The Guardian (UK), 9-16-13

By Lauren Coodley

When he was just 25 years old in 1904, Upton Sinclair went undercover into a meatpacking factory in Chicago. He wrote: “I sat at night in the homes of the workers, foreign born and native, and they told me their stories, one after one, and I made notes.” Sinclair went to the stockyards in the daytime where the workers risked their jobs to show him around. He found that by carrying a dinner pail, he could go anywhere.

When Sinclair wrote “The Jungle” in 1905, his goal was to educate Americans on the brutal treatment of workers in the stockyards. Instead he almost singlehandedly brought about the creation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the regulation of food safety. Sinclair later wrote “I aimed for their hearts but I hit their stomachs.” His passionate wish that readers would recognize the brutality that the workers endured was not realized. Americans responded to the book instead with outrage about the quality of their food. “The Jungle” was reprinted 67 times over the next 26 years, and 17 translations appeared within months of its American publication.

Sinclair continued to press the government for sweeping reforms in the industry. Upton Sinclair sent his book to President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been getting a hundred letters a day about it already. Sinclair remembered that Roosevelt wrote “that he was having the Department of Agriculture investigate the matter, and I replied that was like asking a burglar to determine his own guilt.”

Sen. Albert Beveridge introduced a bill on May 22 to begin regulation of the meat industry. Sinclair worried that it would be killed in the House, so he met with the editor of the New York Times and explained that by publicizing the essence of the investigators’ report, he hoped to force Roosevelt to release the entire report. The story appeared on the front page of the paper, with descriptions even more shocking than those in “The Jungle.” Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act along with the Meat Inspection Amendment, on June 30, 1906 -- a law which Sen. Beveridge hailed proudly as “the most pronounced extension of federal power in every direction ever enacted.”

I would hate for Upton Sinclair to learn further that right now the USDA is about to slash regulations for poultry plants. Instead of trained USDA inspectors, companies will police themselves. Meanwhile, plants will be allowed to speed up production dramatically. Chickens will spend more time soaking in contaminants (including pus and feces), and poultry plants are compensating by washing them in with chlorine.

Upton Sinclair,as a young man.
Ron Nixon of the New York Times notes that “many of the agency’s inspectors said the proposal puts consumers at risk for diseases like those caused by salmonella. In affidavits given to the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit legal-assistance group for government whistle-blowers, several inspectors who work at plants where the pilot program is in place said the main problem is that they are removed from positions on the assembly line and put at the end of the line, which makes it impossible for them to spot diseased birds.”

“The inspectors, whose names were redacted, said they had observed numerous instances of poultry plant employees allowing birds contaminated with fecal matter or other substances to pass. And even when the employees try to remove diseased birds, they face reprimands, the inspectors said. The Agriculture Department proposal allows poultry plants to speed up their assembly lines to about 200 birds per minute from 140, hampering any effort to examine birds for defects. ‘It’s tough enough when you are trying to examine 140 birds per minute with professional inspectors,’ said Stan Painter, a federal inspector in Alabama. ‘This proposal makes it impossible.’” The USDA estimates that the poultry industry stands to make more than $250 million a year from the new rules.

Of all the problems that Upton Sinclair battled in his 90 years of life — corruption in the media, worker rights, free speech, the oil industry and more — meat and poultry inspection would not be the one he would expect to persist into the 21st century.

The only person who can stop the new regulations is President Obama. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he holds the fate of the nation’s food in his pen. Here is a petition you can sign to demand regulation for the poultry industry, Upton Sinclair, if he were here, would be urging us to do at least that.

— Lauren Coodley is the author of “Upton Sinclair: California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual,” published by University of Nebraska Press in September 2013. From HNN, 9-20-13
By Bill Quigley

While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and 20 states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to 20 years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, about half an ounce, of marijuana.

Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced Sept. 4 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.”

Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner.  A recent report of the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the “staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans.”

Nationwide, the latest numbers from the FBI report that over 762,000 arrests per year are for marijuana, almost exactly half of all drug arrests.

Even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white people.

For example, Louisiana arrests about 13,000 people per year for marijuana, 60% of them African Americans.  Over 84 percent were for possession only.   While Louisiana’s population is 32% black, 60% of arrests for marijuana are African American making it the 9th most discriminatory state nationwide.  In Tangipahoa Parish, blacks are 11.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and in St. Landry Parish the rate of black arrests for marijuana is 10.7 times as likely as whites, landing both parishes in the worst 15 in the country.

In Louisiana, a person can get up to six months in jail for first marijuana conviction, up to five years in prison for the second conviction and up to 20 years in prison for the third. In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned a sentence of five years as too lenient for a fourth possession of marijuana and ordered the person sentenced to at least 13 years.

Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) argues that “the “war on drugs” has been, is, and forever will be, a total and abject failure.  This is not a war on drugs, this is a war on people, our own people, our children, our parents, ourselves.” LEAP, which is made up of thousands of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities, has been advocating for the de-criminalization of drugs and replacing it with regulation and control since 2002.

Arrests and jail sentences continue even though public opinion has moved against it.  National polling by the Pew Research Center show a majority of people support legalizing the use of marijuana.   Even in Louisiana, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found more than half support legalization and regulation of marijuana.

Karen O’Keefe, who lived in New Orleans for years and now works as Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said “A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice.  Limited prison space and prosecutors’ time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used.”

Defense lawyers are appealing the 20-year sentence for Mr. Ladd, but the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests continue each year.   This insanity must be stopped.

— From AlterNet Sept. 24.Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. He is also a member of the legal collective of School of Americas Watch.


1. Here’s a great video of Pete Seeger, 94, performing the long version of "This Land is Your Land" with John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews and Neil Young live at the Farm Aid concert in Saratoga Springs, NY, Sept. 21, 2013. Pete outdoes himself. He adds an anti-fracking verse near the end. It’s at

2. Here’s a fascinating video of the confrontation that took place in the Raleigh, NC. It’s an extraordinary in-store demonstration that materialized just after workers and community allies solemnly presented store managers with a huge binder containing 170,000 signatures on a petition to reinstate the fired and disciplined workers. As the managers give their canned response (they can’t accept the binder, they’ll talk with “associates” but non-employees have to leave), shouts begin to echo through the store. A flash mob in yellow “UFCW Local 1208 Steppin’ 4 Justice” bursts forth to perform an energetic synchronized routine. Go to

3. Tens of thousands of Americans have sent messages or signed one of several petitions thanking whistle-blower Edward Snowden for disclosing information about the U.S government’s global secret surveillance apparatus. The Partnership for Civil Justice in Washington is one of the groups with a petition. You can sign their “Thank You Edward” petition at

4. If you have not seen the Sunday, Sept. 29, New York Times cartoon strip “Meet Your Health Insurance Exchange,” it’s at