November 12, 2013, Issue 196
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
1. Quotes Of The Month: Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967)
2. Statistics Of The Month
3. Cycling To Break Sexist Barriers In Egypt
4. Statement From Edward Snowden
5. Record Expansion For Greenhouse Gas
6. Disastrous Impact Of Climate Crisis
7. Adapting To Climate Change
8. Educating New York State’s Poor Children
9. Teen Pregnancy Rooted In Powerlessness
10. U.S. Military Abandoned Medical Ethics
11. The U.S. Anti-China Buildup Via Africa
12. China Outgunned By Japan?
13. Obama To Upgrade Nuclear Weapons
14. Less Food For More Hungry
15. Fifty-Four Walmart Workers Arrested
16. U.S. Wages, Labor Standards, Under Attack
17. Conjugal Visits In U.S. Prisons
18. Secrets Of The Trans-Pacific Partnership
19. Big Brother’s Loyal Sister
20. Explaining France's Protest Culture
21. Life In The USSR
22. You’re Safe From Gun Violence!
1. QUOTES OF THE MONTH: Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967)
Che was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion.” He was murdered in Bolivia in at the age of 39.
· “Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality.”
“I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”
“I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”
· “Let us sum up our hopes for victory: total destruction of imperialism by eliminating its firmest bulwark: the oppression exercised by the United States of America.”
· “Hasta la victoria siempè!” (Struggle until victory forever!)
· “I know you've come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you're only going to kill a man.” (Che’s last words before he was shot and murdered.)
2. STATISTICS OF THE MONTH
· Support for the death penalty in the U.S. last year (60%) is the lowest since 1972 (57%), according to Gallup. Opposition to the death penalty in 2012 was 35%. The lowest support for capital punishment since this poll was taken in the 1930s was in 1967 (47%) at the height of the political and cultural uprising in America. Opposition was highest that year (44%).
· According to an October report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities “Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty. Without Social Security, 22.2 million more Americans would be poor. Although most of those whom Social Security keeps out of poverty are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1 million children.”
· New research shows more than half of low-wage workers at fast-food restaurants rely on public assistance to survive — a rate double that of the overall workforce, reports Democracy Now. According to researchers at the University of California, low wages in the fast-food industry cost American taxpayers nearly $7 billion every year in government benefits which would be unnecessary if workers were paid a living wage. McDonald’s alone costs Americans $1.2 billion annually by paying its workers insufficient wages.
By Heba Helmy
CAIRO: “Girls’ Revolution,” an online initiative calling for Egyptian women’s voice to be heard, has begun a new campaign to free Egyptian women from the social limitations imposed on them.
This time, the group is going after the stigma in Egyptian society against women riding bicycles, as many deem it inappropriate and “unladylike.”
“Breaking the shackles of unjustified social taboos is our main objective,” explained 22-year-old Ghadeer Ahmed, one of the founders of the movement.
The new campaign entitled ‘We Will Ride Bicycles’ calls on girls and women to enjoy the breezy pleasure of cycling in the streets of Cairo and turn a blind eye on negative social judgments.
Bicycling can often seem unattainable dream for women in a country that uffers from a high rate of sexual harassment and is well-known for its severe traffic congestion.
“We want to encourage women to get the confidence to get on bikes and do whatever they want and wherever they need,” Michael Nazeh, another founder of the initiative, said.
“It is just a simple dream for many women and girls, but public criticism of female behavior or parents’ concerns to get harassed always prevent them.”
The movement has staged previous campaigns aiming to convey a message to Egyptian society that women should have the freedom of movement.
After the significant success of its first campaign named ‘We Will Wear Dresses’, the GR decided to repeat the experience differently while adopting the same vision.
After receiving many requests from its Facebook page’s fans to hold the cycling event, GR decided to team up with the Go Bike to provide bicycles, first aid tools, and security car to guarantee a safe and enjoyable experience.
On October, 100 participants headed out at 7 a.m. from 6th of October Panorama in Heliopolis, aiming to reach their first challenge of a 7-kilometer bike ride to al-Azhar park.
Despite the absence of bike lanes and some predictable, unwelcome comments from a handful passers-by, the event was generally met with great enthusiasm and positive feedbacks.
“We are planning to hold other events next month including bike riding, as there are plenty of other ideas still on the table,” Ahmed said.
— From Egypt Independent Nov. 6, 2013.
4. STATEMENT FROM EDWARD SNOWDEN
By Edward Snowden, Nov. 4, 2013, Der Spiegel
"In a very short period, the world has learned that some intelligence services operate unaccountable and occasionally criminal dragnet surveillance programs. While the NSA and GCHQ [UK Government Communications Headquarters] appear to be the worst offenders, we must remember that mass surveillance is a global problem and needs global solutions. Such programs are not just a threat to privacy, but to free expression and open societies. We must not allow the existence of spying technology to determine political policy; we have a moral duty to ensure our law and values constrain surveillance programs and protect basic human rights.
"Society can only understand and control these problems through robust, open, and informed debate. In the beginning, a few governments, embarrassed by the revelation of their mass surveillance systems, engaged in an unprecedented campaign of persecution to suppress that debate by intimidating journalists and criminalizing truth-telling. At that time, the public had no ability to measure the benefit of these revelations, and deferred to the judgment of government regarding the wisdom of this decision, but today it is clear that this was a mistake, and such action does not serve the public interest. The fruits of the debate they sought to avoid are now being enjoyed in countries around the world, and the beneficiary of this new public knowledge is society.
"Individuals have a civic responsibility to fight the suppression of information regarding matters of critical public importance. Telling the truth is not a crime."
[Former U.S. vice president Al Gore has described the activities of the National Security Agency as "outrageous" and "completely unacceptable" and said whistleblower Edward Snowden has "revealed evidence" of crimes against the U.S. Constitution. Speaking Nov. 5 at McGill University in Montreal, said he favored using surveillance to ensure national security, but Snowden's revelations showed that those measures had gone too far. Snowden faces criminal charges for leaking classified information.]
5. RECORD EXPANSION FOR GREENHOUSE GAS
GENEVA, Nov. 6 (Reuters) - Atmospheric volumes of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change hit a new record in 2012, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported Nov. 6.
"For all these major greenhouse gases the concentrations are reaching once again record levels," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud told a news conference in Geneva at which he presented the UN climate agency's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin .
Jarraud said the accelerating trend was driving climate change, making it harder to keep global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), a target agreed to at a Copenhagen summit in 2009.
"This year is worse than last year, 2011. 2011 was worse than 2010," he said. "Every passing year makes the situation somewhat more difficult to handle, it makes it more challenging to stay under this symbolic 2 degree global average."
Greenhouse gas emissions are set to be 8-12 billion tons higher in 2020 than the level needed to keep global warming below 3.6 Fahrenheit, the UN Environment Program said.
If the world pursues its "business as usual" trajectory, it will probably hit the 3.6 degree F mark in the middle of the century, Jarraud said, noting that this would also affect the water cycle, sea levels and extreme weather events.
"The more we wait for action, the more difficult it will be to stay under this limit and the more the impact will be for many countries, and therefore the more difficult it will be to adapt."
He said the climate system was dominated by the ocean rather than the atmosphere, and the time needed to warm the seas meant the full impact of current emissions would only be felt later.
"Even if we were able to stop today — we know it's not possible — the ocean would continue to warm and to expand and the sea level would continue to rise for hundreds of years."
Delegates from over 190 nations meet in Warsaw next week for a UN conference to work on emission cuts under a new climate pact to be signed by 2015, but to come into force only in 2020.
The WMO bulletin said the volume of carbon dioxide, or CO2, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, grew faster in 2012 than in the previous decade, reaching 393.1 parts per million (ppm), 41 percent above the pre-industrial level.
The amount of the gas in the atmosphere grew by 2.2 ppm, higher the average of 2.02 ppm over the past 10 years.
Carbon dioxide is very stable and is likely to remain in the atmosphere for a long time, Jarraud said. The concentrations were the highest for more than 800,000 years, he said.
"The increase in CO2 is mostly due to human activities," Jarraud said. "The actions we take now or don't take now will have consequences for a very, very long period."
The second most important greenhouse gas, methane, continued to grow at a similar rate to the last four years, reaching a global average of 1819 parts per billion (ppb) in 2012. [Methane mainly derives from natural gas, the production of which has zoomed since fracking began in the U.S.]
6. DISASTROUS IMPACT OF CLIMATE CRISIS
By the Associated Press
Many of the ills of the modern world — starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease — are likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change, a leaked draft of an international scientific report forecasts.
The report uses the word "exacerbate" repeatedly to describe warming's effect on poverty, lack of water, disease and even the causes of war.
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue a report next March on how global warming is already affecting the way people live and what will happen in the future, including a worldwide drop in income. A leaked copy of a draft of the summary of the report appeared online Nov. 1 on a climate skeptic's website.
"We've seen a lot of impacts and they've had consequences," Carnegie Institution climate scientist Chris Field, who heads the report, told The Associated Press on Nov. 2. "And we will see more in the future."
Cities, where most of the world now lives, have the highest vulnerability, as do the globe's poorest people.
"Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger," the report says. "Climate change will exacerbate poverty in low- and lower-middle income countries and create new poverty pockets in upper-middle to high-income countries with increasing inequality."
For people living in poverty, the report says, "climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden."
The report says scientists have high confidence especially in what it calls certain "key risks":
· People dying from warming and sea rise-related flooding, especially in big cities.
· Famine because of temperature and rain changes, especially for poorer nations.
· Farmers going broke because of lack of water.
· Infrastructure failures because of extreme weather.
· Dangerous and deadly heat waves worsening.
· Certain land and marine ecosystems failing….
If emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas continue at current trajectories, "the combination of high temperature and humidity in some areas for parts of the year will compromise normal human activities including growing food or working outdoors," the report says.
Scientists say the global economy may continue to grow, but once the global temperature hits about 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than now, it could lead to worldwide economic losses between 0.2 and 2.0 percent of income.
One [worrisome] section of the report involves climate change and war. "Climate change indirectly increases risks from violent conflict in the form of civil war, intergroup violence and violent protests by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks," the report says. [Other reports have specifically predicted that regional conflicts over scarce water rights, food, and livable space are entirely possible.]
Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, who wasn't part of the international study team, told the AP that the report's summary confirms what researchers have known for a long time: "Climate change threatens our health, land, food and water security."
The summary went through each continent detailing risks and possible ways that countries can adapt to them.
For North America, the highest risks over the long term are from wildfires, heat waves and flooding. Water — too much and too little — and heat are the biggest risks for Europe, South America and Asia, with South America and Asia having to deal with drought-related food shortages. Africa gets those risks and more: starvation, pests and disease. Australia and New Zealand get the unique risk of losing their coral reef ecosystems, and small island nations have to be worried about being inundated by rising seas.
7. ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE
From the Activist Newsletter:
The Obama Administration, despite a few trivial programs, has ignored serious efforts to substantially reduce greenhouse emissions to prevent an impending global climate change disaster. Instead, President Barack Obama signed an executive order Nov. 1 requiring government departments to adopt plans to prepare for "extreme weather" and other impacts of climate change.
The White House is not issuing an order to begin the conversion to renewable energy but to establish a task force for recommendations on how American states and cities can best cope with the environmental impacts of global warming. This amounts to a policy of adaptation — that is, treating the symptoms of climate change, not the causes that are becoming more dangerous every year as fossil fuels increase global temperatures.
"The impacts of climate change... are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies and public health across the nation," Obama said in the order. "These impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures."
Obama named symptoms of climate change as an increase in long periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, more wildfires and severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels.
According to news reports, “The task force includes seven Democratic state governors and the Republican governor of Guam, a U.S. territory that is vulnerable to rising sea levels in the Pacific Ocean. Also on the panel are the mayors of a group of major American cities. The order may be unpopular with some politicians in the Republican Party where skepticism of global warming runs high.”
Clearly adaptation has its place, but when not accompanied by a massive effort to reduce greenhouse gases it is simply an act of indifference to the gathering catastrophe that will face future generations.
8. EDUCATING NEW YORK STATE'S POOR CHILDREN
More than 80% of students in the Schenectady City School District are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a key poverty indicator. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
[The real crisis of education in America is poverty. The November issue of “NYSUT United,” the publication of New York State United Teachers (AFL-CIO), has devoted eight articles to poverty and low income among families of the state’s school children, discussing how this impacts the students — and what must be done about it. Following is a long excerpt from the article headlined “Living in Poverty’s Grip.” A link to the rest of the article and the other pieces is below.]
By Matt Smith
Nearly 55% of Syracuse children live in poverty. In Poughkeepsie, 86% of public school students qualify for a free or reduced-price school lunch. In rural Montgomery County, 30% of the children under age 18 live in poverty. Statewide, personal income for those living in rural upstate New York in 2012 was 57% lower than the personal income of the state's urban residents.
Almost 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty "to help replace despair with opportunity," too many Americans — especially too many children — continue to live on what Johnson called "the outskirts of hope." Little opportunity is in sight.
New U.S. Census Bureau figures released in September show 15% of Americans in 2012 lived at, or below, the poverty level — which for a family of four was an annual income of $23,283. While that percentage is unchanged from 2011, it remains notably higher than the nation's 1973 historical low of 11%.
"While politicians have consistently recognized the facts about poverty, they continue to ignore the everyday realities, choosing to speak about poverty instead of addressing the real impact," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi. "This must stop."
The scene is particularly bleak in the Empire State. While New York has the 25th highest rate of poverty in the United States, it ranks fourth nationwide in the actual number of people living at or below the poverty line — including 960,956 children age 17 or younger. Ten percent of those children are living in "extreme" poverty, which is defined as having an annual family income below $11,641 — less than half the amount of the federal poverty level.
At the same time, the wealth gap is widening across the state and the country to unprecedented levels. New York City has the largest gap of income inequality in the U.S., according to the most recent American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.
"New York State is the poster child for income inequality," Iannuzzi said. "The resulting impact on education, health care and public services is devastating. It is long past time for New York's Legislature and governor to address tax equity in a meaningful way."
Iannuzzi, who has led NYSUT in spearheading the battle to close the achievement gap between students in low-wealth and high-wealth school districts, noted that students who live in impoverished communities often come to school sick, tired and hungry and are more likely to have special needs — all of which puts them at a learning disadvantage at a time when they are expected to learn and progress at a standardized rate.
"The poverty that surrounds children in some of New York's poorest school districts simply overwhelms them," said Iannuzzi. "The lack of resources needed to support our poorest communities is appalling. We all know that children consistently succeed when the proper support is provided."
Despite a $950 million increase in education funding under the current state budget, spending on New York's public education system — which now totals $21 billion in state aid — remains $100 million lower than what the Legislature invested in the state's nearly 700 school districts in 2008-09. And based on the latest figures available from the State Education Department, state aid made up an estimated 34% of total public school expenditures in 2011-12 — the lowest percentage since 1948-49.
A recent study released by the Alliance for Quality Education shows a direct correlation between student test scores and funding.
Titled "Confronting the Opportunity Gap," the February AQE report found an $8,601 per-pupil spending gap between New York's wealthiest and poorest school districts. The funding disparity was reflected in student performance, as wealthier districts in 2011 had a graduation rate that averaged 92% compared to the 65% rate in low-income school districts.
Students in underfunded, high-needs districts also performed at lower levels on the most recent state assessments involving the new Common Core standards. While schools in the wealthier districts saw an expected 33% drop in student English language arts scores, schools in the highest-need districts saw an even larger drop — between 44% and 63%.
"The plunge in student test scores reveals, yet again, the growing opportunity gap in this state between the haves and have-nots," said AQE Executive Director Billy Easton. "The moral compass of this state has been clouded not only by the test obsession, but also by the complete neglect of some students in this state. Albany needs to stop spinning the tired mantra that money does not matter."
Frances Fox Piven, a professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a nationally renowned expert on poverty, said because children absorb what's around them on a daily basis, they learn not only while in the classroom but also from what's happening in their environment outside school — in their households, their neighborhoods and the streets.
And for children living in poverty, many are absorbing daily lessons in rejection and defeat.
That, Piven said, poses a significant challenge for teachers in schools with high rates of poverty.
"Teachers are being charged with rolling a very heavy boulder uphill," she said. Many poor children are learning in the streets, where respect is often earned in negative ways. "It's difficult to offset these other forms of learning that tell kids school isn't the way to succeed," she said.
Teachers, like students, are also negatively impacted when education funding is lacking, said Xu Zhang, assistant professor of economics at the State University of New York at Farmingdale on Long Island. "Without adequate resources, even good teachers cannot deliver an efficient teaching and learning experience," she said.
While America's poverty rate and growing income disparity continue to spur discussions, it seems little is being done to combat the problem that affects generations of people.
Over the past decade, trillions have been spent on two wars and tax breaks continue to be granted to wealthy corporations while assistance programs to the poor are slashed. Just recently, for instance, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to cut $40 billion from the nation's food stamp program….
— This article is continued at http://www.nysut.org/news/nysut-united/issues/2013/november-2013/living-in-povertys-grip.
—Here is the link to other articles:http://www.nysut.org/news/nysut-united/issues/2013/november-2013/poverty-the-real-crisis-in-education.
9. TEEN PREGNANCY ROOTED IN POWERLESSNESS
By Joan Erakit
UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 30, 2013 (IPS) - Before we begin, perhaps we can set aside the stereotypes: no, she didn’t “mess herself up by following boys around,” and no, it is not in fact her fault that she became pregnant.
Adolescents rarely have children because they want to. Yet, worldwide, 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 give birth every year, with two million of those births to girls under the age of 14.
“The powerlessness girls experience is often a symptom of human rights violations of one form or another,” Richard Kollodge, editor of a flagship report launched Oct. 30 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS.
“When a girl is married against her will before 18, her rights are violated. When a girl becomes pregnant and is forced to leave school, her right to an education is denied,” he said.
This powerlessness affects young women deeply, and many are faced with excruciating choices that can lead to illegal abortion, social exile and even death.
Titled “Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy,” UNFPA’s annual report looks at the most important factors driving adolescent pregnancy: poverty, lack of education, forced marriage and inequality.
In his forward to the report, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehim writes that, “A pregnancy-prevention intervention, whether an advertising campaign or a condom distribution program is irrelevant to a girl who has no power to make any consequential decisions.”
The report sheds light on a key problem when it comes to adolescent pregnancy: the lenses used to view young women are tainted. An unnecessary burden of being solely responsible for a pregnancy is put on the back of a young girl, and she is rarely looked at as a victim.
UNFPA is calling for a new perspective on adolescent pregnancy, one that includes not only the teen’s behavior as a cause of early pregnancy, but also at the actions of their families, communities and governments.
Using a diagram, UNFPA describes five determinants (national, community, school/peers, family and individual) that can determine a teen parent’s path. For example, when governments make laws limiting access to contraception, it contributes to negative views towards sexuality and women in the general community. This trickles down to the schools, where sex education and available resources for young women are limited because they are not seen as necessary.
Parents can then develop negative views about sexuality and even about their own daughters, investing very little in their education and reinforcing a gender inequality in a young girl before she is even given a chance.
All this carries a high cost to national development aspirations as well. In Kenya, if the more than 200,000 teen mothers had jobs instead of children, they would have added $3.4 billion to the economy – a sum equal to the value of Kenya’s entire construction sector.
If adolescent girls in Brazil and India had only waited to bear children until their early twenties, their nations would have greater economic productivity equal to over $3.5 billion and $7.7 billion dollars, respectively, the report says. Meanwhile, just two cents of every dollar directed toward international development is spent on adolescent girls.
“One of the points the report makes is that the conversation cannot start in only one place,” Kollodge said. “The conversation has to occur simultaneously at all levels — at the national and policy levels, at the community level, in schools, among parents, among men and boys, and among peers.
“Research shows that interventions aimed at girls, and especially at changing girls’ behavior, rarely have a positive impact,” he added. “No single intervention, or action by a single stakeholder, will make a real or lasting difference.”
Power is the most important aspect of a girl’s life — the power to stand up for herself, to protect herself and to choose when she is ready to have a family.
“The report makes the case that more often than not, pregnancy is not the result of a deliberate choice but rather, the result of an absence of choices and opportunities in life,” Kollodge said.
“When, for example, a 13-year-old girl is forced into marriage and is then expected by her husband, her parents, and her community to start having children right away, that girl clearly lacks power to decide whether, when and how often to have children.
Placing high emphasis on developing human capital of young girls, and giving them the opportunity to make sexual reproductive choices for themselves, not only promotes the health and protection of young girls, it also gives them a seat at the global development table.
— Joan Erakit is the UN correspondent for Inter Press Service (news agency)
10. U.S. MILITARY ABANDONED MEDICAL ETHICS
By Chantal Valery
Doctors and nurses tasked with monitoring the health of “terror suspects” were complicit in abuses committed at prisons run by the Pentagon and the CIA, an independent report said Nov. 4.
The Defense Department and the CIA demanded that the health care personnel "collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in U.S. custody," according to the two-year study by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession.
According to the study, titled “Ethics Abandoned — Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror — medical professionals helped design, enable and participated in "torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" of detainees, according to the report.
Collaboration at U.S. prisons in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the Central Intelligence Agency secret detention sites began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
"It's clear that in the name of national security, the military trumped (the Hippocratic Oath), and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice," said study co-author Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University. The oath is a commitment made by medical personnel to practice their profession in an honest and ethical manner.
The report, conducted by two dozen military, ethics, medical, public health and legal experts, calls on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to fully investigate medical practices at the detention sites.
Co-author Leonard Rubenstein of Johns Hopkins University focused on force-feeding on Guantanamo Bay's hunger strikers [which the UN calls torture], as well as CIA agents' use of harsh interrogation methods and simulated drowning known as waterboarding at secret sites.
The authors also urged the Pentagon and CIA to follow standards of conduct that would let medical personnel adhere to their ethical principles so they could later heal detainees they encounter.
Both the CIA and the Pentagon rejected the report's findings. The report "contains serious inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions," said CIA public affairs chief Dean Boyd.” It's important to underscore that the CIA does not have any detainees in its custody and President Obama terminated the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program by executive order in 2009," Boyd said.
|Military medical abuses took place in Guantanamo.|
Allegations of medical personnel complicit in abuses are not new: in 2009, the group Physicians for Human Rights said that doctors were directed to monitor the CIA's interrogation techniques in an effort to improve their effectiveness. The group said the practice amounted to "unlawful experimentation" on detainees treated as human subjects.
Obama vowed to close Guantanamo Bay in one of the first acts of his presidency in 2009. But partly due to obstruction by Congress and the failure to find nations willing to take repatriated prisoners, as well as security fears about sending Yemeni inmates back to their violence-torn country, he has failed to live up to his promise.
[It should be noted that 20 top physicians and health professionals took part in the report, including Albert J. Shimkus Jr. U.S. Naval War College; Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Stephen N. Xenakis MD, United States Army; and Hernán Reyes MD, International Committee of the Red Cross.]
— From Agence France-Presse, Nov. 4. A more thorough report is available from Medicine as a Profession at http://www.imapny.org/medicine_as_a_profession/interrogationtorture-and-dual-loyalty. That article also contains a link to the pdf copy of the 269-page document.
11. THE U.S. ANTI-CHINA BUILDUP VIA AFRICA
By the Activist Newsletter
In keeping with our periodic coverage of the U.S. military buildup against China, we turn to an article by John Pilger, the respected London-based Australian investigative journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker. His Oct. 10 piece is largely focused on the new scramble for Africa. We here reprint four paragraphs near the end:
The U.S. African Command (Africom) has deployed troops to 35 African countries, establishing a familiar network of authoritarian supplicants eager for bribes and armaments. In war games, a “soldier to soldier” doctrine embeds U.S. officers at every level of command from general to warrant officer. The British did the same in India. It is as if Africa’s proud history of liberation, from Patrice Lumumba to Nelson Mandela, is consigned to oblivion by a new master’s black colonial elite whose “historic mission,” warned Frantz Fanon half a century ago, is the subjugation of their own people in the cause of “a capitalism rampant though camouflaged.” The reference also fits the Son of Africa in the White House.
|Welcoming Chinese trade delegation.|
For Obama, there is a more pressing cause — China. Africa is China’s success story. Where the Americans bring drones, the Chinese build roads, bridges and dams. What the Chinese want is resources, especially fossil fuels. NATO’S bombing of Libya drove out 30,000 Chinese oil industry workers. More than jihadism or Iran, China is now Washington’s obsession in Africa and beyond. This is a “policy” known as the “pivot to Asia,” whose threat of world war may be as great as any in the modern era.
This week’s meeting in Tokyo of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel with their Japanese counterparts accelerated the prospect of war with the new imperial rival. Sixty percent of U.S. and naval forces are to be based in Asia by 2020, aimed at China. Japan is re-arming rapidly under the right-wing government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came to power in December with a pledge to build a “new, strong military” and circumvent the “peace constitution.” A U.S.-Japanese anti-ballistic missile system near Kyoto is directed at China. Using long-range Global Hawk drones, the U.S. has sharply increased its provocations in the East China and South China seas, where Japan and China dispute the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Advanced vertical takeoff aircraft are now deployed in Japan; their purpose is blitzkrieg.
On the Pacific island of Guam, from which B-52s attacked Vietnam, the biggest military buildup since the Indochina wars includes 9,000 U.S. Marines. In Australia this week, an arms fair and military jamboree that diverted much of Sydney, is in keeping with a government propaganda campaign to justify an unprecedented U.S. military build-up from Perth to Darwin, aimed at China. The vast U.S. base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs is, as Edward Snowden disclosed, a hub of US spying in the region and beyond; it also critical to Obama’s worldwide assassinations by drone….
12. CHINA OUTGUNNED BY JAPAN?
[Following is a very brief excerpt from a two-part article by Stanley J. Freedberg Jr. titled “China’s Dangerous Weakness,” which appeared at Breaking Defense Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, 2013:
Despite two decades of investment, China’s military is still outgunned by Japan, let alone by the U.S. “Japan has the strongest navy and air force in Asia except for the United States,” leading analyst Larry Wortzel said Wednesday at the Institute of World Politics, pointing at a map of northeast Asia.… They’re still restricted by Article 9 of the Constitution… which ‘forever renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation’ – but you don’t want to mess with them.”
And that’s just one U.S. ally. South Korea has a formidable military of its own. Then there’s America’s own military that, despite painful budget cuts, remains the largest and most high-tech in the world. The current U.S. concept for high-tech warfare, known as Air-Sea Battle, might escalate the conflict even further towards a “limited” nuclear war, says one of the top American experts on the Chinese military….
The Achilles’ Heel of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army): The secret to America’s battlefield success since 1990, despite all our geostrategic errors, is what we call “joint operations” — the ability to get air, land, sea, space and cyber forces to work together effectively. That takes decades of often painful practice that the PLA has only just begun….
By Mathieu Rabechault
The United States plans to spend billions to upgrade decades-old atomic bombs designed to stop a Soviet invasion of Europe, as part of a controversial project to modernize its nuclear arsenal. Some lawmakers and experts dismiss the effort as a colossal waste of money that could derail arms control talks with Russia.
But top commanders and government officials argue the B61 nuclear gravity bomb needs to be maintained so other weapons can be scrapped and to ensure America retains a “credible” force. “The B61 is the only weapon in the stockpile that fulfills both tactical and strategic missions,” Gen. Robert Kehler, head of Strategic Command, told a congressional hearing last week.
There are five versions of the bomb, which has an estimated variable yield of 0.3 to 360 kilotons, equivalent to 360,000 tons of TNT. Washington removed thousands of tactical atomic weapons from Europe after the Cold War ended. But 180 of the B61 bombs remain deployed at NATO bases in Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Under President Barack Obama’s planned upgrade, the various models of the bomb would be replaced by a modified version, the B61-12, which would have a smaller yield and more accuracy….
Some members of Congress are wary of the price tag, as the estimated cost for modernizing the B61 bomb keeps rising, from an initial $4 billion to $8.1 billion. And a Pentagon panel has projected the cost could reach $10 billion to $12 billion.“The case against the B61 life extension is simple: it is unaffordable, unworkable and unnecessary,” said Kingston Reif of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists….
In an editorial, the New York Times denounced the effort as a “Faustian bargain” Obama made with Senate Republicans in 2010, promising modernization of the nuclear arsenal to secure approval of the New Start arms reduction agreement with Russia.
— From Agence France-Presse, Nov. 6, 2013.
14. LESS FOOD FOR MORE HUNGRY
By Ramy Srour, Inter Press Service (IPS)
WASHINGTON — Deep cuts in food aid for poor people in the United States are poised to bring higher demands on charities and food pantries across the country that provide food to families in need — and which are already overstretched.
“How are people going to feed their families?” Earle Eldridge, a volunteer at St. Anthony Catholic Church’s food pantry in Washington, told IPS: “We’re becoming a country where the government cuts such essential things as food, and we don’t know how people are going to survive.”
The nearly 50 million U.S. citizens who currently rely on government food have experienced a substantial decrease in their assistance as part of a federal cut that came into effect on Nov. 1.
According to recent statistics, some 14% of U.S. households are currently dependent on food assistance, widely known as food stamps or formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The federal cuts come at an already difficult time for millions of people in the United States, many of whom are still struggling to recover from the recent economic crisis.
“Ever since the beginning of the recession, people have been coming to us because they’re not making the money they were supposed to be making,” Elaine Schaller, another volunteer at the church, told IPS. “But lower incomes also mean fewer donations, and that is quite problematic as we rely on donations for most of our distributions.”
Indeed, the depressed economic situation currently affecting the country exposes the larger and indirect implications of the cuts. As people have less money, they’re also less likely to make donations to distribution centres, which means food pantries are likely to be even tighter in the months to come, Schaller says.
The Nov. 1 cuts are happening as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – commonly known as the “stimulus package” – that aimed at boosting the national economy, including through a temporary expansion of the food stamp program.
Since then, the ARRA has provided over $45 billion food assistance funding. Further, while the cuts will take away as much as $5 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years, it is possible Congress may subtract another $39 billion over the same period. House Republicans have voted to eliminate that amount but the current Senate will not agree.
15. FIFTY-FOUR WALMART WORKERS ARRESTED
By Jodie Gummow, AlterNet
Los Angeles police arrested 54 people Nov. 7 in a massive civil disobedience involving more than 200 Walmart workers outside the newly opened Chinatown Walmart store, Fox News reported.
The group of workers, supporters and clergy halted traffic by sitting in a circle and refusing to move despite threats from law enforcement. The police then responded with force, deploying hundreds of officers with riot gear and a helicopter to break up the peaceful protest.
Organizers are calling the action -- which was a protest against the retail giant's "poverty wages" -- the largest single act of civil disobedience in Walmart’s 50-year history.
Since its opening in September, the Chinatown store has been subject to criticism and protests by labor groups demanding better employment practices. Leading up to the demonstration, workers in southern California went on strike Nov. 3, calling for an end to low wages, irregular work hours and reprisals for speaking out against the giant conglomerate.
The strike and protest were part of a mounting campaign of worker actions across the country organized by OUR Walmart, an advocacy organization linked to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The group is demanding that every full-time worker be paid at least $25,000 a year.
16. U.S. WAGES, LABOR STANDARDS, UNDER ATTACK
By Gordon Lafer, By Gordon Lafer, Economic Policy Institute
Over the past two years, state legislators across the country have launched an unprecedented series of initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards, weakening unions, and eroding workplace protections for both union and non-union workers. This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage.
This report provides a broad overview of the attack on wages, labor standards, and workplace protections as it has been advanced in state legislatures across the country. Specifically, the report seeks to illuminate the agenda to undermine wages and labor standards being advanced for non-union Americans in order to understand how this fits with the far better-publicized assaults on the rights of unionized employees. By documenting the similarities in how analogous bills have been advanced in multiple states, the report establishes the extent to which legislation emanates not from state officials responding to local economic conditions, but from an economic and policy agenda fueled by national corporate lobbies that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country.
In 2011 and 2012, state legislatures undertook numerous efforts to undermine wages and labor standards:
Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, four lifted restrictions on child labor, and 16 imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed.
States also passed laws stripping workers of overtime rights, repealing or restricting rights to sick leave, undermining workplace safety protections, and making it harder to sue one’s employer for race or sex discrimination.
Legislation has been pursued making it harder for employees to recover unpaid wages (i.e., wage theft) and banning local cities and counties from establishing minimum wages or rights to sick leave.
For the 93% of private-sector employees who have no union contract, laws on matters such as wages and sick time define employment standards and rights on the job. Thus, this agenda to undermine wages and working conditions is aimed primarily at non-union, private-sector employees.
These efforts provide important context for the much-better-publicized moves to undermine public employee unions. By far the most galvanizing and most widely reported legislative battle of the past two years was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill” that, in early 2011, largely eliminated collective bargaining rights for the state’s 175,000 public employees. Following this, in 2011 and 2012:
Fifteen states passed laws restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights or ability to collect “fair share” dues through payroll deductions.
Nineteen states introduced “right-to-work” bills, and “right-to-work” laws affecting private-sector collective bargaining agreements were enacted in Michigan and Indiana.
The champions of anti-union legislation often portrayed themselves as the defenders of non-union workers — whom they characterized as hard-working private-sector taxpayers being forced to pick up the tab for public employees’ lavish pay and pensions. Two years later, however, it is clear that the attack on public employee unions has been part of a broader agenda aiming to cut wages and benefits and erode working conditions and legal protections for all workers—whether union or non-union, in the public and private sectors alike.
This push to erode labor standards, undercut wages, and undermine unions has been advanced by policymakers pursuing a misguided economic agenda working in tandem with the major corporate lobbies. The report highlights legislation authored or supported by major corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and National Association of Manufacturers — and by corporate-funded lobbying organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Tax Reform, and Americans for Prosperity — in order to draw the clearest possible picture of the legislative and economic policy agenda of the country’s most powerful economic actors. To make the most clear-eyed decisions in charting future policy directions, it is critical to understand how the various parts of these organizations’ agenda fit together, and where they ultimately lead.
This report begins by examining the recent offensive aimed at public-sector unions in order to point out the tactics commonly employed by corporate lobbies such as ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce; it establishes that their agenda is driven by political strategies rather than fiscal necessities. The paper then examines the details of this agenda with respect to unionized public employees, non-unionized public employees, and unionized private-sector workers. Finally, the bulk of the report details the corporate-backed agenda for non-union, private-sector workers as concerns the minimum wage, wage theft, child labor, overtime, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, sick leave, workplace safety standards, meal breaks, employment discrimination, and unemployment insurance….
— This Oct. 31 Economic Policy Institute briefing paper is continued at http://www.epi.org/publication/attack-on-american-labor-standards/?utm_source=Economic+Policy+Institute&utm_campaign=6341302702-Lafer_Report_10_31_201310_31_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e7c5826c50-6341302702-55919529
17. CONJUGAL VISITS IN U.S. PRISONS
By the Activist Newsletter
At least 17 countries allow prison inmates conjugal and/or family and occasionally home visits. The United States does not, although six states do so on their own. Some other states permit family or other visits but not of a conjugal (sexual) character.
Countries known to allow such visits include Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Iran, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Turkey.
The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons does not allow conjugal visits for prisoners in federal custody. The states that allow prison conjugal visits within their prison systems are California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Washington. In 1993, 17 American states permitted conjugal visits but that number has since dropped to six. We cannot explain the decrease, though we suspect that factors include sexual prudery and a view of prisons as institutions of punishment without regard for rehabilitation.
According to The Economist Nov. 2, “State officials in Ohio feared that they would lead to more disease and pregnancies (which touches on another delicate issue: condoms in prisons). Dr. Chris Hensley, a criminologist who has advised American prisons, says even the phrase “conjugal visit” has a “deviant connotation.” Officials laugh when he mentions it. Cindy Struckman-Johnson, of America’s National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, says it shunned the issue in its researches for fear of stirring up controversy….
“Yet evidence does suggest that conjugal visits not only reduce prison violence but also reduce recidivism by preserving family ties. In Canada inmates are allowed every two months to spend up to 72 hours in a flat with their spouses, partners, children, parents or in-laws. “We get to cook together, play cards and bingo, and be a family...The children get to know their father,” remarks a female relative of an offender in Ontario. The visits, says an inmate, ‘let us know that someone still cares about us.’”
An article at Yoexpert.com points out. “Originally, prison conjugal visits were used as an incentive to motivate working prisoners to be more productive. They were scheduled visits that allowed the prison inmate to spend one-on-one time with his or her legal spouse. Prisoners were lured by the idea of having the opportunity to have sexual contact with their spouses. Today, the main purpose of these visits is to preserve the family unit. That is why they are now called Extended Family Visits. These visits can include the legal spouse, but are also open to other immediate family members, including the inmate's children.”
CriminalDefdenseLawyer.com reports: “California alone has extended the privilege to registered domestic partners of the same sex. In 2007, California followed the lead of several other countries and announced that the state would permit same sex domestic partner conjugal visits. Mexico, Brazil, Canada, and Belgium are among the countries that allow conjugal visits by same sex partners of prisoners.
“Visitation privilege is highly regulated. Most states that allow conjugal visits require that the prisoner seeking such visits have a clean prison record of good behavior and no violence; prohibit visitation for prisoners incarcerated for child abuse or domestic violence; and restrict visits to prisoners in low- or medium-security prisons; conjugal visits are not granted to prisoners in high security facilities or on death row.”
For prisoners in state custody, the availability of conjugal visits is governed by the law of the particular state. Where conjugal visits are allowed, inmates must meet certain requirements to qualify for this privilege.
“The visitor may be required to undergo a background check, and the inmate must also be free of any sexually transmitted diseases,” according to Wikipedia. “As a matter of procedure, both visitor and inmate are searched before and after the visit, to ensure that the visitor has not attempted to smuggle any items in or out of the facility.
“Over the last 40 years, most new prisons included special buildings specifically designed for ‘Sunday visits.’ Today, conjugal visitation programs are now known as the Extended Family Visits or Family Reunion Visits because mothers, fathers, and other family may attend these visits. The focus is on family ties and rehabilitation.”
This is not a laughing or deviant matter, or one of coddling prisoners. America’s federal and state prisons should adopt regulated, workable programs allowing intimate, family and home visitation. It would reduce widespread sexual violence and intimidation behind bars, and preserve family life in many cases, among other benefits.
18. SECRETS OF THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP
By Bill Moyers (video interview)
A US-led trade deal is currently being negotiated that could increase the price of prescription drugs, weaken financial regulations and even allow partner countries to challenge American laws. But few know its substance.
The pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is deliberately shrouded in secrecy, a trade deal powerful people, including President Obama, don’t want you to know about. More than 130 members of Congress have asked the White House for greater transparency about the negotiations and were essentially told to go fly a kite. While most of us are in the dark about the contents of the deal, which Obama aims to seal by year end, corporate lobbyists are in the know about what it contains.
And some vigilant independent watchdogs are tracking the negotiations with sources they trust, including Dean Baker and Yves Smith, who join in early November. Both have written extensively about the TPP and tell Bill the pact actually has very little to do with free trade.
Instead, says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “This really is a deal that’s being negotiated by corporations for corporations and any benefit it provides to the bulk of the population of this country will be purely incidental.” Yves Smith, an investment banking expert who runs the Naked Capitalism blog adds: “There would be no reason to keep it so secret if it was in the interest of the public.”
— The video of this important Bill Moyers interview is at http://billmoyers.com/segment/yves-smith-and-dean-baker-on-secrets-in-trade/
By Norman Solomon, Nov. 6
Ever since the first big revelations about the National Security Agency five months ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been in overdrive to defend the surveillance state. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she generates an abundance of fog, weasel words, anti-whistleblower slander and bogus notions of reform – while methodically stabbing civil liberties in the back.
Feinstein’s powerful service to Big Brother, reaching new heights in recent months, is just getting started. She’s hard at work to muddy all the waters of public discourse she can – striving to protect the NSA from real legislative remedies while serving as a key political enabler for President Obama’s shameless abuse of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
On CBS Nov. 3, when Feinstein told "Face the Nation" viewers that Edward Snowden has done "enormous disservice to our country," it was one of her more restrained smears. In June, when Snowden first went public as a whistleblower, Feinstein quickly declared that he had committed "an act of treason." Since then, she has refused to tone down the claim. "I stand by it," she told The Hill on Oct. 29.
Days ago, taking it from the top of the NSA’s main talking points, Feinstein led off a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece with 9/11 fear-mongering. "The Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States was highly organized and sophisticated and designed to strike at the heart of the American economy and government," she wrote, and quickly added: "We know that terrorists remain determined to kill Americans and our allies."
From there, Senator Feinstein praised the NSA’s "call-records program" and then insisted: "This is not a surveillance program." (Paging Mr. Orwell.)
Feinstein’s essay – touting her new bill, the "FISA Improvements Act," which she just pushed through the Senate Intelligence Committee – claimed that the legislation will "bridge the gap between preventing terrorism and protecting civil liberties." But as Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Trevor Timm writes, the bill actually "codifies some of the NSA’s worst practices, would be a huge setback for everyone’s privacy, and it would permanently entrench the NSA’s collection of every phone record held by U.S. telecoms."
California’s senior senator is good at tactical maneuvers that blow media smoke. In late October – while continuing to defend the NSA’s planetary dragnet on emails and phone calls – Feinstein voiced concern "that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t satisfactorily informed." Spinning the myth that congressional oversight of the NSA really exists, she added: "Therefore, our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased."
As usual, Feinstein’s verbal gymnastics were in sync with choreography from the Obama White House. The "certain surveillance activities" that she has begun to criticize are the NSA’s efforts targeting the phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other allied foreign leaders. Feinstein mildly chided Obama for ostensibly not being aware of the eavesdropping on Merkel’s cell phone ("That is a big problem"), but she was merely snipping at a few threads of the NSA’s vast global spying – while, like the administration as a whole, reaffirming support for the vast fabric of the agency’s surveillance programs.
The White House is now signaling policy changes in response to the uproar about monitoring Merkel’s phone, the New York Times reported on Nov. 5, but "President Obama and his top advisers have concluded that there is no workable alternative to the bulk collection of huge quantities of ‘metadata,’ including records of all telephone calls made inside the United States." Feinstein is on the same page: eager to fine tune and continue mass surveillance.
With fanfare that foreshadows a drawn-out onslaught of hype, Feinstein has announced that the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold hearings on NSA surveillance. "Her committee is now making preparations for a major investigative undertaking, which is expected to take at least several months," the Wall Street Journal reports. When the show is over, "The report that results from the probe will be classified."
With Dianne Feinstein’s hand on the gavel, you can expect plenty of fake inquiries to pantomime actual oversight. She has shown a clear commitment to deep-sixing vital information about the surveillance state, in a never-ending quest for the uninformed consent of the governed.
"From out of the gate, we know that her entire approach is to make those hearings into a tragic farce," I said during an interview on C-SPAN Radio last week. "Her entire approach to this issue has been to do damage control for the NSA…. She is an apologist and a flack for the surveillance state, she is aligned with the Obama White House with that agenda, and we at the grassroots must push back against that kind of a politics.
— Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.
20. EXPLAINING FRANCE'S PROTEST CULTURE
The French are angry again. President Francois Hollande's popularity is at a record low, and an opinion poll released Nov. 8 by BMFTV news channel indicates that two out of three people in France are actually willing to take to the streets to protest his government. The poll was released four days after 30,000 people, or 15,000 people according to police estimates, rallied against a tax on the transport of goods in Brittany.
While protests feature prominently in French politics, the current anti-government sentiment comes as the country continues to suffer from the European crisis. With prospects of rising unemployment and modest economic growth in 2014, social unrest will probably increase in France and many other European countries next year.
Geography partly explains this phenomenon. With the Pyrenees in the south, the Alps in the southeast, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and north, and the Rhine in the northeast, France has had relatively stable borders for roughly a millennium. Couple with few internal barriers, this enabled France to cohere socially and develop a strong sense of national identity.
Because of its location on the North European Plain, France has struggled to protect its northeastern border, the traditional route for foreign invasion. This has shaped France's identity and foreign policy, particularly in its tortuous relationship with its powerful eastern neighbor, Germany.
Its geographic position also enabled France to become one of the first modern nation-states to centralize political power. The strategic location of the capital, Paris, in the Beauce — one of France's most prosperous agricultural regions — and that city's connection with several rivers gave it administrative control of trading routes with the rest of France and Europe. France thus became a unified state early in its history, with a strong central government and relatively weak regions.
This makes France significantly different from Spain and Italy, where rugged geography begat social and political disunity and impeded the consolidation of a strong central power. While regionalism and local identities exist in France, they are not as strong as they are in other European countries, and France has never dealt with serious secessionist movements.
The existence of a strong central power and the relative weakness of intermediary bodies between the state and society helps us understand the French protest culture. During the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, institutional reforms allowed more people to participate in the democratic process and permitted greater labor representation. As a result, people began to protest more, and thus labor movements, student movements and several sectoral movements, such as regionalist or agricultural movements, were at the heart of the protest culture.
These groups retain their ability to influence politics to this day. Trade unions have become less powerful over the past three decades — trade union membership has declined steadily — but they still play a central role in organizing protests, particularly in the public sector. The agricultural sector is also influential for historic and economic reasons. First, France has traditionally been an agricultural country; massive urbanization came relatively late, so the agricultural sector is a key element in French identity. Second, while agriculture accounts for only about 2 percent of the French gross domestic product, France is the world's second-largest agricultural exporter and the world's sixth-largest agricultural producer. So as the protests of food producers in Brittany show, agriculture is a very sensitive political issue.
The presence of relatively strong unions in the public sector, the centrality of the agricultural sector in French politics and culture, and France's protest culture make it difficult for central governments to apply structural reforms. Since becoming president in 2011, Hollande has been accommodative, seeking compromises with relevant parties to avoid conflict. However, the strategy has also prevented the Elysee [presidential palace] from approving substantial reforms to address France's declining competitiveness and slow economic growth.
In the meantime, the French elite — and to a large extent, the European elite — will continue to be discredited. In most of the eurozone countries, unemployment will remain high for the foreseeable future even if some economies manage to achieve some modest economic growth. As people who have lost their jobs become more desperate, and people who are afraid of losing their jobs become more skeptical about the future, perceptions that decision-makers in France and Europe are unable to or incapable of solving the unemployment crisis will grow. Dealing with the consequences of this distrust in the ruling elites will be a key challenge for the political establishment in France and across Europe in the coming years.
21. LIFE IN THE USSR
By the Activist Newsletter
The prolific progressive author and columnist William Blum has written several interesting articles in the Nov. l7 issue of his Anti-Empire Report.
In one article he discusses the Cold War from a left point of view. Included in this piece is a letter he recently received from one of his readers, “a Russian woman, age 49, who moved to the United States eight years ago and now lives in northern Virginia.”
We are reprinting this letter — probably the first time younger readers of the Activist Newsletter, and many older ones as well, will be able to peruse a positive account of life in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics:
“I can’t imagine why anybody is surprised to hear when I say I miss life in the Soviet Union: what is bad about free healthcare and education, guaranteed employment, guaranteed free housing? No rent or mortgage of any kind, only utilities, but they were subsidized too, so it was really pennies. Now, to be honest, there was a waiting list to get those apartments, so some people got them quicker, some people had to wait for years, it all depended on where you worked. And there were no homeless people, and crime was way lower.
“As a first grader I was taking the public transportation to go to school, which was about one hour away by bus (it was a big city, about the size of Washington DC, we lived on the outskirts, and my school was downtown), and it was fine, all other kids were doing it. Can you even imagine this being done now? I am not saying everything was perfect, but overall, it is a more stable and socially just system, fair to everybody, nobody was left behind. This is what I miss: peace and stability, and not being afraid of the future.
“Problem is, nobody believes it, they will say that I am a brainwashed ‘tovarish’ [comrade]. I’ve tried to argue with Americans about this before, but just gave up now. They just refuse to believe anything that contradicts what CNN has been telling them for all their lives. One lady once told me: ‘You just don’t know what was going on there, because you did not have freedom of speech, but we, Americans, knew everything, because we could read about all of this in our media.’ I told her ‘I was right there! I did not need to read about this in the media, I lived that life!’, but she still was unconvinced! You will not believe what she said: ‘Yes, maybe, but we have more stuff!’ Seriously, having 50 kinds of cereal available in the store, and Walmarts full of plastic junk is more valuable to Americans than a stable and secure life, and social justice for everybody?
“Of course there are people who lived in the Soviet Union who disagree with me, and I talked to them too, but I find their reasons just as silly. I heard one Russian lady whose argument was that Stalin killed ‘30, no 40 million people.’ First of all it’s not true (I don’t in any way defend Stalin, but I do think that lying and exaggerating about him is as wrong), and second of all what does this have to do with the ‘70s, when I was a kid? By then life was completely different. I heard other arguments, like food shortages (again, not true, it’s not like there was no food at all, there were shortages of this or that specific product, like you wouldn’t find mayo or bologna in the store some days, but everything else was there!). So, you would come back next day, or in 2-3 days, and you would find them there. Really, this is such a big deal? Or you would have to stay in line to buy some other product, (ravioli for example). But how badly do you want that ravioli really that day, can’t you have anything else instead? Just buy something else, like potatoes, where there was no line.
“Was this annoying, yes, and at the time I was annoyed too, but only now I realized that I would much prefer this nuisance to my present life now, when I am constantly under stress for the fear that I can possibly lose my job (as my husband already did), and as a result, lose everything else – my house? You couldn’t possibly lose your house in Soviet Union, it was yours for life, mortgage free. Only now, living here in the US, I realized that all those soviet nuisances combined were not as important as the benefits we had – housing, education, healthcare, employment, safe streets, all sort of free after school activities (music, sports, arts, anything you want) for kids, so parents never had to worry about what we do all day till they come home in the evening.”
· A 2 ½ minute video about ordinary life in the USSR, made by an American couple on a 1961 visit to the country, is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExHCAjRsZhA
· A 2 minute video by the same couple in 1961— this one on women and children in the Soviet Union — is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDieMSVHkOI
— The Anti-Empire report, listing the latest and past issues, is at http://williamblum.org/aer. Blum’s website is at http://williamblum.org, where there is also a list of his books
22. YOU’RE SAFE FROM GUN VIOLENCE!
By Andy Brorowitz
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — A new study released Nov. 9 indicates that Americans are safe from the threat of gun violence except in schools, malls, airports, movie theatres, workplaces, streets, and their own homes.
Also: highways, turnpikes, libraries, places of worship, parks, universities, restaurants, post offices, and cars.
Plus: driveways, garages, gyms, stores, military bases—and a host of other buildings, structures, and sites.
National Rifle Association C.E.O. Wayne LaPierre applauded the study, saying that it reinforced his organization’s long-held position that the United States does not need additional gun laws. “This study makes it abundantly clear that Americans are in no danger of gun violence except in these isolated four hundred and thirteen places,” he said.
He added that he hoped that the study would spark a conversation “about the root cause of mass shootings: people who recklessly show up at places where they could be shot at.”
— Parody from the New Yorker blog, Nov. 6., http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/