Thursday, June 12, 2014


June 12, 2014, Issue 203

1A. Editorial: The Tragedy in Iraq and Syria
1.   Quotes Of The Month — Albert Einstein
2.   Foreign Policy Bait And Switch
3.   The American Way Of War
4.   Abortion Doctors Restrictions Take Root In South
5.   New Global Focus On Anti-Woman Violence
6.   Ending Child Marriage In Africa Cannot Wait
7.   The People’s Communes Of Venezuela
8.   What Really Happened In Tiananmen Square?
9.   The Future Visible In St. Petersburg
10.  How The U.S. Started And Lost The Afghan War
11.  Short Guide To Capital In The 21st Century
12.  Supreme Court: Church Beats State
13.  The Feds’ Push For Big Data
14.  Books: Water, Peace, And War
15.  Books: E.E. Cummings
16.  The Facts About Climate Change
17.  13 Arrested Protesting Police Killings
18.  Still Flying After 34 Million Years


1 . Summer Reading: There are so many books out there to read this summer — but I’m only going to recommend one of them. It’s long, 600 and some odd pages and another over 100 pages of notes and index, but you can finish it if you dip in from time to time over the summer. It’s also a recorded book on disc in some libraries.

The title is “The Untold History of the United States” by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick (now in paperback). It came out two years ago and is the text from which the Showtime TV documentary series was based. I’ve read scores of U.S. political history books but this one — covering the entire 20th century and the next, up to the Obama years — is by far the best. It covers every president from FDR, and tells some surprising tales. It’s honest and dares to tell the real truth about U.S. foreign policy and domestic politics. I wish every American would read this.

2. Vacation: Both editors are taking off for lean-tos in Vermont and biking in Canada. The next Newsletter will be in later August. Have a good summer.

ISIS, on the road to Tikrit after taking Mosul.
An Activist Newsletter Editorial

What’s happening to the people of Iraq today is a crying shame — and much of it can be traced back to nearly 25 years of U.S. of intervention in this ancient society.

On June 10, the al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked and occupied the city of Mosul. Reports indicate that so far up to 500,000 of its 2 million residents are fleeing.

On June 11, ISIS captured Tikrit, the home of late President Saddam Hussein who was executed after the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation. The religious fanatics announced, "We will march toward Baghdad because we have an account to settle there," but the capital will be much harder to penetrate.

In both Mosul and Tikrit, U.S.-trained Iraqi government forces fled at the approach of the rebel forces. Each city — as was Fallujah and other parts of Anbar Province that months earlier fell to the fundamentalist rebels — was overwhelmingly populated by Sunnis.

It is estimated that ISIS has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of mainly Shi’ites over the last two years, primarily through bombings in the capital Baghdad, where the democratically elected Shi’ite-led government is situated. Up to 65% of Iraq is Shi’ite, most of the rest are Sunni, but Sunnis dominated the political structure dating back throughthe Ottoman Empire until the American invasion.

We Americans have a responsibility for the plight of Iraq and its people. In 1991 the U.S. bombed the country for over a month, killing hundreds of thousands and destroying much of the civilian infrastructure. A total of 118 American soldiers died from “enemy” action. Washington followed up with over 12 years of killer sanctions that resulted in at least a million deaths, half of them children. In 2003 the U.S. launched an unjust, illegal and immoral invasion and occupation for over eight years that caused another million lives and forced four million people to flee their homes.

Jihadist forces entered Iraq just after the U.S. invasion. There were none before that. The jihadist uprising in Iraq today is connected to the jihadists who are the main fighters against the Syrian government. They feed off each other. ISIS is dedicated to constructing an Islamic emirate in Iraq and Syria, where it also fights. Several other Syrian fundamentalist fighting forces, independent of ISIS, seek gradations of a similar goal.

The U.S. government has supported the effort to overthrow the Syrian government of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad during the three years since the fighting started. In the last year the White House began to worry seriously about the overwhelming presence of al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist fighters, and only provides supplies to the much smaller mostly secular Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Washington's closest Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, has been financing the worst of the jihadists. This is reminiscent of the first Afghan war (1978-1995) when the Saudis and Americans paid and trained the jihadist forces in that country who were waging war against the left wing revolutionary government and Russian forces sent to protect the regime. This earlier event not only produced al-Qaeda and the Taliban but also sparked many of the fundamentalist struggles in the Middle East and Africa today.

Two weeks ago President Obama reiterated his decision to continue supporting the FSA, which is distinctly secondary to the fundamentalists as a fighting force. Washington’s support is largely symbolic. The White House wants the war to continue rather than the possibility of the jihadists taking power in Damascus, and it won’t admit it was mistaken to demand the overthrow of Assad.

The people of Iraq and Syria have suffered long enough. Of course, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Assad have both exhibited important shortcomings. But given their possible replacement by ISIS and similar fanatical groups, at this stage, the U.S. must end its support for the overthrow of Assad and help the government get back on its feet. At the same time — without sending in one member of the military — Washington should offer generous aid to Baghdad to fight against the advances being made by ISIS.

1.   QUOTES OF THE MONTH — Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Young Einstein.
The Great German-born theoretical physicist developed the general theory of relativity (E = mc²) among other scientific achievements. Lesser known were his strong antiwar, antiracist, and socialist views.  He deeply regretted his role in helping create the atomic bomb, as you will see in the first quote.

·      "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking.... The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."

·      "The most aggravating thing about the younger generation is that I no longer belong to it."

·      "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

·      The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.... Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society.

·      I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.

·      Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.

·      "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."


The pivot to Asia includes a U.S. ring of firepower surrounding China on land, sea and air.

By Jack A. Smith, editor, Activist Newsletter 

President Obama chose to ignore the most important strategic aspect of U.S. foreign policy in his major address May 28 at West Point graduation ceremonies. It was perhaps thought politically wise to emphasize current events rather than military preparations for a possible major future confrontation with China.

Instead Obama mainly focused on defending his policies against mounting criticism from warhawks in both parties variously demanding that the U.S. attack Syria, or Iran or Venezuela, and adopt more provocative measures toward Russia. He was even criticized for not being tougher toward China, which is preposterous, as we shall discuss in this article when deeds, not words, are examined.

Obama swings back and forth on toughness (he’ll bomb, not bomb, Syria) but he was correct to spend time explaining why he opposed the hawks this time around. Why get bogged down in Syria and Iran or into immediate clashes with Beijing and Moscow when there is a far more important long-range objective for the White House and those who rule America. At the same time, on his trip to Poland in early June, Obama rattled sabers to the delight of European allies, sending jets and military equipment and encouraging them to increase defense spending against the nonexistent “threat” from Russia.

Oddly, the president identified “terrorism” as the main direct threat to America “for the foreseeable future,” but just a year ago he suggested the war on terrorism was ending. He also wants several African countries to join the war on terrorism in place of the U.S. in most cases and is spending $5 billion to pay them off. He further pledged to continue supplying the non-jihadist sector of the war against the Syrian government when everyone knows the jihadists, particularly al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, are responsible for the large bulk of the fighting.

Entirely omitted from his speech was the “pivot” to Asia and the principal thrust of foreign/military policy — maintaining unilateral (or unipolar) U.S. global hegemony when time appears to be running out on this endeavor. Washington attained solo world leadership, which it has transformed into world domination, by default, when the Soviet Union unexpectedly imploded more than 20 years ago, leaving but one superpower on top. That superpower has no intention of abdicating the global throne.

During this same period, however, other nations — such as China, Russia, India and Brazil, for example — have arisen to demand a more representative and collegial multilateral world order in place of one-nation world leadership. They think the U.S. throws its weight around more than it should; that it is too violent toward other countries and peoples; and that its main goal as leader is to further its own interests first, not those of the world.  These states are getting stronger as America becomes weaker
economically and politically incapacitated in internal affairs. Washington’s ability to order other nations around, which goes back in some cases to the mid-1800s, is declining, but this probably will continue for many years.

Much of Latin America, as an example of this change in world affairs, has broken away from its former
overlord. And look how these other key countries have changed: Russia from 1991 to 2001 was prostrate and subservient to the United States. China until the mid-1990s was not considered a major industrial society. India, until somewhat later was in the same category. Brazil’s rise was even more recent. At the same time it appears that the U.S. economy has become stagnant, boosted by periodic financial bubbles that eventually burst in the face of the deteriorating working class, lower middle and portions of the middle class.

It is worth stressing at this point that (1) elements of multilateral leadership have already appeared on the world stage and that (2) Beijing has not evidenced a scintilla of interest in itself becoming world hegemon, replacing the U.S.

For these and other reasons the number one strategic foreign/military objective of the present and future U.S. government is to block or greatly delay the inevitable development of multilateral leadership, though it is never acknowledged openly. (Should the U.S. ever consent to sharing leadership in future, it probably would demand the status of first among equals.)

Obama hinted at his long-range goal in the West Point speech, camouflaged in nationalist jingoism, hubris and braggadocio:

“The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century past, and it will be true for the century to come.... Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership.... I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”

In the first sentence substitute for the words “indispensable nation” the words “global hegemon” and you get the point. And while it is true that in time China may far exceed the U.S. economically and develop several major allies in the process, the U.S. military will insure American supremacy continues through this century — or so Obama slyly suggests.

Obama not only neglected to mention retaining hegemony, he avoided touching on Washington’s program to preserve its exalted status — the three-year-old reorientation of foreign policy primacy from the Middle East to Asia.

A light moment at 2013 summit.
The transition has been slower than expected because the White House and State Department have been preoccupied by Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Israel/Palestine, the Afghan war, drone wars in several other countries, and the Ukrainian imbroglio — this latter an entanglement of White House creation by supporting the ouster of the democratically elected president in Kiev. Political paralysis at home is another reason. The budget crisis forced Obama to cancel attending an important weeklong journey to four Asian countries in October to attend two regional summit meetings. Also the resignation of prime pivot advocate Hillary Clinton slowed the pivot  process.

The delay in focusing on Asia provoked Richard N. Haass, who heads the establishment’s Council on Foreign Relations, to write April 22: “U.S. foreign policy is in troubling disarray.... The change [to Asia] is warranted by the fact that the United States has enormous interests in the Asia-Pacific region, which is home to many of the countries likely to dominate the current century.... A Secretary of State [John Kerry] can only do so much; time spent in Jerusalem and Geneva is time not spent in Tokyo and Beijing.”

The pivot has moved somewhat forward with Obama’s recent (April 22-27) trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The Asia policy has two main goals:  (1) To politically constrain the international rise of China even within its own logical sphere of interest in East Asia. (2) To interject Washington deeply into Asia’s economic milieu, and for American corporations to become more profitably involved with the region’s extraordinary economic growth, especially since it now is the most advantageous location for direct investment, both to and from the United States.

Like the “Devil’s Pitchfork,” the pivot has three prongs:

1. Political: The best way to undermine China regionally is to surround the country with U.S. allies, a process that is nearly complete. Washington has been engaged in this effort since the success of the Communist revolution in 1949. To quote from an article in the May-June Foreign Affairs:The United States has five defense treaty allies in the region (Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand), as well as strategically important partnerships with Brunei, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan and evolving ties with Myanmar” and Vietnam. In East/Southeast Asia this leaves Beijing with friendly Russia, troubled North Korea, essentially allied Cambodia, and Laos with one foot in China and the other in Vietnam.

Since the pivot was announced, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam have become embroiled with China over territorial claims in the vast East and South China Sea as never before. These are long standing differences but were largely low-key disputes until the U.S. interjected itself on behalf of its allies.

Says China: Japan's Shinzo  Abe brought a friend to meet
 with Obama — the ghost of Japanese militarism.
It was reported May 25 in Chinatopix that Washington is constructing a new “security alliance [consisting] of the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia and Japan, according to unnamed official sources in the Philippine government. Press reports from Manila said Washington also wants to include Singapore and Thailand in the alliance while encouraging Malaysia to become its strategic partner.”

Last month, Obama announced the U.S. would abide by the terms of its defense treaty with Japan if its dispute with China about dominion over the Diaoyu islands (called Senkaku by Japan) became a serious confrontation. The U.S. hasn’t said what it would do in that event. At worst is the surreal possibility of a war over possession of several uninhabited mostly barren islands that are little more than rocks, the largest being 1.7 miles square. The irony is that the Obama Administration does not have a position on which country actually has the right to possession —
Taiwan also claims the islands — but it will defend Japan in event of a confrontation.

“In the Chinese perception,” according to J.M. Norton in The Diplomat April 21: “Washington is the principal driver of Japan’s transformation. Over time it has helped transform [‘pacifist’] Japan’s self-defense force into a national military. And it has assisted the Japanese side in acquiring and manufacturing through joint cooperation technologically advanced weapon systems, some of which have offensive capabilities. Right now the Chinese leadership sees the U.S. as the main driver of Japan’s resurgence and as lacking the political will to restrain an increasingly assertive Japan. Further, the current Japanese leadership’s increasing assertiveness takes place in the context of growing nationalism with an imperial twist. In short, from the Chinese viewpoint, U.S. leaderships have spurred the ‘revival and outward expansion of Japanese militarism,’ which represents a violation of Chinese concerns articulated in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué establishing Sino-U.S. relations.”

2. Economic: Washington’s hoped for economic power in the Far East is the vast expansion of the relatively small Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was formed by the Bush Administration in 2006. The Obama Administration seeks to transform the TPP into the most important free trade organization in the East Asia/Pacific region with participating countries from the Americas, the main Pacific island nations, and as many states on the Asian mainland as possible. Ideally, from the White House perspective, such an entity would surpass all other East and South Asian regional trade groupings. China, which has been excluded from the TPP, supports development of an inter-Asian trade organization similar to a 2012 proposal by the Association of South East Asian Nations. According to a June 9 article in Global Times by Lancaster University (UK) Professor Du Ming, “Both ASEAN and China share concerns that the TPP may be a centrifugal force arising to rip asunder the economic integration of East Asia.”

An important purpose of the TPP is to position the U.S. as a major economic actor in Asia, reinforcing its global dominance and extending its sphere of influence into China’s front and back yards. The trade deal, however, has encountered many problems in the U.S. as well as Asia. Among some countries, including many people and politicians in the U.S., there is a fear that the still mostly secret deal allows capitalism to run riot against the interests of the people. Congress has rejected Obama’s demand for fast-track approval of TTP, indicating continued delay as changes are made. Supporters of environmental sanity, labor rights and full disclosure are among the most vociferous opponents.

Despite satisfying the U.S. by apparent willingness to return toward militarism, Japan’s right wing nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refused Obama his main reason for visiting Tokyo in April. He did not agree to become a TPP member, despite the American president’s extreme entreaties. Japan — the intended Asian keystone of the project — demands concessions on agricultural tariffs and automobiles.

It must be understood that the United States has no desire to weaken China economically, just politically so that it cannot erode Washington’s unilateral world leadership. Indeed, as Indian correspondent M. K. Bhadrakumar wrote in Asia Times May 9: “China's growth is integral to the recovery and rejuvenation of the American economy. China is potentially the principal source of investment in the American economy. China's proposed reforms in the direction of opening up the financial system and domestic market are hugely attractive for the American business.”

Okinawans frequently protest U.S. military bases.
3. Military: This is where all Washington’s continual pledges that it isn’t out to “contain” China fall apart. The U.S. has surrounded China with an ever-increasing ring of military fire, from NSA surveillance and spy satellites, to Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force bases; from nuclear-armed submarines and a majority of America’s 11 mammoth aircraft carriers to warships, bombers and fighters in dozens of varieties; from short-, medium- and long-range missiles to thousands of nuclear weapons that can be fired from the U.S. and demolish hundreds of major Chinese cities. This does not include firepower from America’s ally, Japan, which amazingly possesses a larger and stronger navy and air force than China.

While it is true China is far behind the U.S. in military technology, weapons development and a contemporary arsenal it is trying to catch up. The U.S. continually complains about the size of Beijing’s war budget, but it is at most a tenth that of the U.S. budget. Indeed, the 2012 combined military spending of China, Russia, the UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil are close but cannot match the Pentagon’s yearly spending about $650 billion — and this doesn’t count an almost equal sum for national security outlay, including Homeland Defense, enormous interest payments on past war debts, building and maintaining nuclear weapons, fielding 17 government spy agencies and costs related to security and war by other government departments.

But isn’t the U.S. cutting defense spending while China is increasing? In answer we’ll quote from President Obama’s November 2011 speech to the Australian parliament when he announced the U.S. was expanding its role in the Asia/Pacific region:

“I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not, I repeat, will not, come at the expense of the Asia Pacific. Indeed, we are already modernizing America's defense posture across the Asia Pacific. It will be more broadly distributed, maintaining our strong presence in Japan and the Korean peninsula, while enhancing our presence in South-East Asia.”

Two things must be kept in mind:

(1) Militarily, China is at least 20 years behind the U.S., but it is swiftly improving its weapons technology, development and manufacturing. The U.S., however, is doing the same and it plans to retain a huge lead well into the future. (2) Beijing has sought no military bases abroad  (compared to 800 for the Pentagon) because its main interest by far is developing, enriching and protecting its own territory. Don’t touch Tibet. Breakaway Taiwan does not deny it is part of China, so its apostasy is accepted. Hong Kong is what the Chinese Communist Party used to call a bourgeois democracy, but it remains part of China so hands off. China has some sharp squabbles with its neighbors, which is unfortunate, but it is about China Sea territories Beijing has long assumed were part of China. The present system is too confrontational and it is not all because of China by any means, despite contrary White House allegations.

Since the pivot was announced, the number of U.S. bases in Asia/Pacific has been expanding rapidly, from Australia to the Philippines. According to Agence France Presse April 28: “The Pentagon has been scouring the western Pacific for alternative airfields for its aircraft, harbors for its ships and bases for its troops.... The plan to spread the U.S. military’s presence across the region accelerated in late April as President Barack Obama visited the Philippines. Although Manila asked the U.S. to vacate its longstanding bases in the country [in 1991 after mass protests], Chinese assertiveness has generated a change of heart: the U.S. and the Philippines signed a new agreement today that will allow more visits by U.S. aircraft and ships and a rotating presence of marines....

“The U.S. military has been quietly putting in place arrangements that will give it a much broader geographic presence in the Asia-Pacific region to deal with the growing challenge from China.... One part of that new approach has been to boost [military] co-operation with longstanding allies.... The other approach has been to revamp older facilities on the many small islands further out into the Pacific, most of which are at the outer edge of China’s missile range.”

Incidentally, the U.S. and Japan have both agreed not to respect China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea that includes the Diaoyu islands. Beijing’s zone overlaps that of Tokyo (which has existed since 1969), reflecting differences over territorial rights. Beijing’s zone extends 81 miles from China, exactly the length of Tokyo’s zone from Japan. The ADIZ, in accordance with international rules, requires aircraft to be identified when entering the zone.  The day after China’s move last November, a U.S. plane entered the zone intentionally not identifying itself, a practice that has continued without any Chinese retaliation. Should an airplane enter the U.S. ADIZ refusing to identify itself, warplanes would force the offending aircraft to the ground one way or another.

It could fill a book to list and describe all the military preparations the U.S. is taking vis-à-vis China. If Beijing just took one similar step, such as sending a surveillance ship into the Caribbean, as the U.S. does routinely in the China Sea, there would be a threatening outcry from Washington to desist or face military action.

The point is that while aspects of the pivot may have slowed down somewhat, the military part is developing rapidly. Reports about the buildup appear in the press from time to time, but the great majority of the American people have no idea what’s happening, and many who do are misled.

It’s probably understandable why President Obama refused to mention the pivot, much less the details, in his speech. But if he did it would only be in superficial generalities about America’s good intentions. As yet there has not been an honest national discussion of the purpose behind the military buildup, the defense treaties, the TPP, the effort to contain China and the dedication to continue American leadership (global hegemony) for the rest of the century. To do so, in a nationwide speech no less, would make it appear that a serious future confrontation may be on the horizon. And that, of course, is impossible — isn’t it?

By Tom Engelhardt

The United States has been at war — major boots-on-the-ground conflicts and minor interventions, firefights, air strikes, drone assassination campaigns, occupations, special ops raids, proxy conflicts, and covert actions -- nearly nonstop since the Vietnam War began. That’s more than half a century of experience with war, American-style, and yet few in our world bother to draw the obvious conclusions.

Given the historical record, those conclusions should be staring us in the face.  They are, however, the
words that can’t be said in a country committed to a military-first approach to the world, a continual build-up of its forces, an emphasis on pioneering work in the development and deployment of the latest destructive technology, and a repetitious cycling through styles of war from full-scale invasions and occupations to counterinsurgency, proxy wars, and back again.

So here are five straightforward lessons — none acceptable in what passes for discussion and debate in this country — that could be drawn from that last half century of every kind of American warfare:

1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn’t work. Ever.
2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn’t solve them. Never.
3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to “stabilize” or “protect” or “liberate” countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.
4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its “warriors,” the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.
5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in history,” the evidence is in: it isn’t.

And here’s a bonus lesson: if as a polity we were to take these five no-brainers to heart and stop fighting endless wars, which drain us of national treasure, we would also have a long-term solution to the Veterans Administration health-care crisis.  It’s not the sort of thing said in our world, but the VA is in a crisis of financing and caregiving that, in the present context, cannot be solved, no matter whom you hire or fire.  The only long-term solution would be to stop fighting losing wars that the American people will pay for decades into the future, as the cost in broken bodies and broken lives is translated into medical care and dumped on the VA.

One caveat.  Think whatever you want about war and American war-making, but keep in mind that we are inside an enormous propaganda machine of militarism, even if we barely acknowledge the space in our lives that it fills. Inside it, only certain opinions, certain thoughts, are acceptable, or even in some sense possible.

Continued (from TomDispatch June 10) at


By Emily Wagster Pettus

JACKSON, Miss. (AP, May 28) -- From Texas to Alabama, laws are being enacted that would greatly restrict access to abortion, forcing many women to travel hundreds of miles to find a clinic. The laws, requiring abortion doctors to have privileges to admit patients to local hospitals, could have a profound impact on women in poor and rural sections of the Bible Belt.

In many places in the South, clinic doctors come from out of state to perform abortions and don't have ties to a local hospital. Critics say the laws mean hospitals, leery of attracting anti-abortion protesters, could get veto power over whether the already-scarce clinics remain in business. They say the real aim is to outlaw abortions while supporters say they are protecting women's health.

The laws are the latest among dozens of restrictions on abortions that states have enacted in the past two decades, including 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent and ultrasound requirements.

"You're looking at huge swaths of the country where women's options are becoming severely limited," said Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

The requirements are already in effect in Texas and Tennessee. Laws in Mississippi and Alabama are on hold during court challenges. Louisiana and Oklahoma are about to enact their laws, which would bring the total to 10 states. If the law there is upheld, Mississippi's lone abortion clinic would have to close, meaning women in some parts of the state would have to travel at least three hours to an out-of-state clinic.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant bluntly gave one reason for signing that law in 2012: "...we're going to try to end abortion in Mississippi."

The Center for Reproductive Rights says besides the South, other states with the laws are in the Midwest or the West - Kansas, North Dakota, Utah and in Wisconsin, where it is being challenged in court this week.   
After judges allowed Texas' privileges law to take effect earlier this year, 19 of 33 abortion clinics closed.

If Mississippi's lone clinic would shut its doors, one option would be to drive about three hours from Jackson to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or about three and a half hours from Jackson to Bossier City, Louisiana. A less likely option for a small number of women would be to find a Mississippi doctor who performs 10 or fewer abortions a month. If the doctor performs more, the practice is considered an abortion clinic under the law.

Supporters say admitting privileges protect women in case they hemorrhage, have cervical injuries or infection or other problems during an abortion.

Denise Burke is vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life, one of the main anti-abortion groups lobbying state legislatures to enact such laws.
"An admitting privileges requirement is an obvious and medically appropriate regulation of the abortion providers," Burke said.

Allen counters that the privileges are "absolutely not medically necessary" and that they are aimed at shutting down clinics and to severely restrict access to a legal medical procedure.

The Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion, in a February report said first-trimester abortions carry "minimal risk," with less than 0.05 percent - 1 in every 2,000 cases - involving "major complications that might need hospital care." The report also said 89 percent of abortions in the U.S. are done within those first 12 weeks of pregnancy. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.

And if there were complications, hospitals would still accept and treat a patient even if her doctor can't sign her in, opponents of the law say.

In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalizes abortions nationwide. It gave states the option to regulate abortions before fetuses are viable. But it came with the caveat that states may not place undue burdens on or create substantial obstacles to women seeking abortions.

Court challenges are arguing that admitting privileges laws create just such burdens.

Religious-affiliated hospitals might ignore or reject applications from abortion providers, and some won't grant privileges to out-of-state physicians. Both obstacles were encountered by the traveling doctors who work at Mississippi's clinic.

Right-on Sisters!.
In Alabama, operators of three of five abortion clinics testified last week during a trial challenging the law that they use out-of-town doctors who wouldn't be able to admit patients to local hospitals. They said they'd have to close. That would leave clinics in two cities, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville, which use local doctors, according to the state attorney general's office.

In Louisiana, opponents said the Louisiana law would close three of the state's five abortion clinics, leaving two in the northwest corner of the state - one in Shreveport and one in Bossier City. That creates a five-hour, one-way drive for women who live in the southeastern end of the state.
At Mississippi's clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, protesters on several days a month stand outside to pray, sing hymns and hold posters with photos of aborted fetuses. Escorts in fluorescent yellow vests walk patients from the parking lot to the clinic, often as music blares from a boom box to drown out the protesters' voices.
Laurie Bertram Roberts has volunteered as an escort and said if facilities close, women would likely try to end their own pregnancies in potentially dangerous ways.  

"Desperate people do desperate things," said Roberts, president of the Mississippi chapter of National Organization for Women.
Ashley Sigrest is at the clinic every few weeks to persuade women not to end their pregnancies because she regrets the abortion she had in August 1998. Sigrest said she supports admitting privileges laws because she believes they protect women's health.  

"The abortion doctors are flying from out of state and so they're not being held responsible for harming these women," Sigrest said.


By David Crary, Associated Press 

Pakistan: Aftermath of stoning of pregnant women.
Nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria. A pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death by her family
for marrying the man she loved. Widespread rape in many war zones. And in California, a murderous rampage by a disturbed young man who had depicted sorority members as a prime target.

From across the world, startling reports of violence against women surface week after week. The World Health Organization has declared the problem an epidemic, calculating that one in three women worldwide will experience sexual or physical violence — most often from their husband or male partner.

Yet even as they decry the violence and the abundance of misogynistic rhetoric, women's rights activists see reasons for hope.

"The violence has been happening forever. It's not anything new," said Serra Sippel, president of the Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity. "What's new is that people in the United States and globally are coming around to say ‘enough is enough,’ and starting to hold governments and institutional leaders accountable."

India: Cousins raped and hung. Crowd awaits police. 
In India in late May — where two teenage cousins were raped and killed by attackers who hung their bodies from a mango tree — there are signs of change. Public outrage over the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student led the government to expedite legislation increasing prison terms for rapists. In April, a court sentenced three men to death for raping a photojournalist in Mumbai.

In the United States, the military says it's stepping up efforts to combat increasing sexual assault in the ranks and President Obama's administration has recently begun a campaign against sexual violence at colleges and universities. A month ago, for the first time, the Department of Education revealed its list of schools under investigation for how they have responded to the problem.
On May 8, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and several of her colleagues introduced the International Violence Against Women Act, a bill intended to make anti-women violence a higher diplomatic priority for the United States. And in London June 10-13 British Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie co-chaired the first-ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

"It's absolutely essential that we shed a light on how pervasive this problem is," said Julia Drost, policy advocate for Amnesty International USA's women's human rights program. "From the top on down, from world leaders to family members, people need to take responsibility."

In some important respects, the May 23 rampage in California was different from the systemic violence against women that abounds in much of the world. The assailant, Elliot Rodger, had been plagued by mental health problems for years, and four men were among the six University of California, Santa Barbara students that he killed.

Nonetheless, accounts of Rodger's hostility to women, and his bitterness over sexual rejection, led to an outpouring of commentary and online debate over the extent of misogyny and male entitlement. On Twitter, using hashtags such as YesAllWomen, many women worldwide shared their experiences with everyday harassment and sexism.

"People are beginning to make the connection between the violence and how women are treated on a day-to-day basis," said Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

She welcomed the ever-expanding ability of women around the world — and their male allies — to show solidarity and voice anger via social media. "It's an issue that's being taken seriously in a way that it wasn't before," she said. "Governments are acknowledging there's a responsibility of the state to prevent violence against women — even in the home — and bring perpetrators to justice."

The next crucial step, according to Gerntholtz and other activists, is to engage more men and boys in efforts to break down gender stereotypes and condemn anti-women violence.

By Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad

 JOHANNESBURG, May 28 2014 (IPS) - Just 17 years old, Clarisse is already a mother of two, who lives with her husband and his four other wives in rural southern Chad. Three years earlier, she had watched her mom and sisters preparing food for a party one day. At first she celebrated along with everyone else, not realising it was her own wedding ceremony. When she discovered this, she was frantic.

“I tried to escape but I was caught. I found myself with a husband three times older than me… School was over, just like that. Ten months later, I found myself with a baby in my arms,” she says.

The African continent has tolerated child marriage for too long, based on a host of ill-conceived justifications and arguments... Child marriage should not be allowed to continue. Not one day longer.
Debritu, 14, seven months pregnant, escaped from her
husband after months of abuse. She is now homeless
and uncertain of the 
future. (UNFPA photo)

Clarisse is one of millions of girls around the world, and especially in Africa, who are married off each year. Many of them become wives as early as eight years old, often to much older men.
Globally, one in three girls from low and middle income countries is married before the age of 18, and one in nine by age 15. It is estimated that every year, over 15.1 million girls will become brides, if this trend continues.

Of the 41 countries worldwide with a child marriage prevalence rate of 30 percent or more, 30 countries are located in Africa. The practice is most severe in West Africa, where two women out of five are married before age 18; and one woman out of six is married by the  time she turns 15.

Several social, cultural, religious and traditional beliefs and norms are known to fuel the continuation of child marriage in Africa.

In addition, the economic dimension is a driving force of the practice. To many families living in poverty, child marriage is a source of income and therefore an economic survival strategy.

Regardless of the contributing factors and justifications cited for the practice, child marriage has a severe and harmful impact on our girls, and on society at large. It compromises the girl child’s health, education and opportunities to realise her potential.

Many ‘child wives’ are exposed to repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically and psychologically ready.

In Sudan, Awatif, now 24, was married off at age 14 while still in school. Against her will, she dropped out of school in the fifth grade and immediately became pregnant. “I went through days of obstructed labor at home; it was painful and I thought I would die. My family took me to the hospital for assistance. I survived but my son didn’t and I contracted obstetric fistula,” she says. As a consequence, her husband abandoned and divorced her.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin says that “no society can afford the lost opportunity, waste of talent or personal exploitation that child marriage causes.”

Child marriage is a human rights and public health issue, which cannot be left unchallenged. First and foremost, it is a violation of  human rights instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

It is therefore an obligation of policy makers on the continent to protect the rights of the girl child that their governments have committed themselves to uphold. This includes putting an end to child marriage.
If the practice of child marriage is to be halted, action is needed at all levels to change harmful social norms and to empower girls. Specifically, governments, civil society, community leaders and families that are serious about ending child marriage should consider promulgating, enforcing and building community support for laws on the minimum age of marriage.

Ending child marriage would not only help protect girls’ rights but would go a long way towards reducing the prevalence of adolescent pregnancy. Zero tolerance of child marriage should be our goal. Enacting laws that ban child marriage is a good first step – but unless laws are enforced and communities support these laws, there will be little impact.

Great efforts yielding promising results are being undertaken across the continent to challenge the status quo of this harmful practice. We have witnessed good practices such as the Schools of Husbands in Niger and the Adolescent Girls Initiatives in many African countries.

In Mozambique, the initiative known as “Girls’ Forum” has provided a platform for girls to improve their decision-making powers; to increase their sense of empowerment; and to build their understanding regarding questions of marriage and sexual and reproductive health.

Education is not only the key to unlocking girls’ potential; but it also contributes to girls delaying marriage across the continent. Studies have established that girls with low levels of education are more likely to be married early, while those with secondary education are up to six times less likely to marry as children.
Compulsory education for all, especially girls, is therefore a key intervention for policy makers to put into practice.

The continent has witnessed renewed political commitment to addressing the problem of child marriage by African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. “We must do away with child marriage,” she says. “Girls who end up as brides at a tender age are coerced into having children while they are children themselves.” This commitment is being taken into practice through the launch of a new campaign to end child marriage in Africa. The overall aims of the campaign are to:

1.     End child marriage by supporting policy and action in the protection and promotion of human rights,
2.     mobilize continental awareness of child marriage, remove barriers to and bottlenecks in law enforcement,
3.     determine the socio-economic impact of child marriage, and
4.     increase the capacity of non-state actors to undertake evidence-based policy dialogue  and advocacy.

UNFPA believes the AU campaign to end child marriage represents a turning point in the fight to end child marriage in Africa. It is time that we no longer tolerate children becoming brides. The time has come to commit to ensuring our girls are able to achieve their full potential.

The African continent has tolerated child marriage for too long, based on a host of ill-conceived justifications and arguments. But our young girls, who have borne the brunt of this detrimental practice to date, cannot wait to see it banished forever. Child marriage should not be allowed to continue. Not one day longer.

— From Inter Press Service. Authors: Dr. Julitta Onabanjo is regional director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) East and Southern Africa Region. Benoit Kalasa is regional director of UNFPA West and Central Africa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad is the regional director of UNFPA North Africa and Arab States.


On May 24-25 May, over 600 commune activists representing dozens on communes 
in the state of Mérida in the Venezuelan Andes met to build greater links between themselves
 and to advance “people’s self government.
[The story told in the following article is one reason among others why Washington is intent upon disparaging and subverting the government of Venezuela, and why the international left is a big supporter of the ongoing communal project.]

By Ewan Robertson

MÉRIDA, Venezuela, June 1 — The Venezuelan government and the commune movement are taking steps to move towards the creation of what is referred to as a “communal state,” which involves community groups assuming collective control of local production and decision making.

Communes in Venezuela are formed out of groups of community councils, which are small neighborhood groups representing 250 to 400 families. In communal councils, local residents organize to develop their local community and run community affairs. They can also receive public funds to undertake social projects in their area.

Communes are created when an election of local residents is held to select spokespeople from each community council to form a “communal parliament”. These have different subcommittees and cover community affairs over a larger territorial zone.

The commune can then take on larger tasks and responsibilities than individual community councils. They can also register with the Ministry of Communes, which makes them eligible to apply for public funding for productive, educational, cultural, infrastructure or other development projects.

There are now about 40,000 communal councils and 600 communes registered in the country, with more communes in the process of formation.

Over the past year-and-a-half, the Bolivarian government has stepped up efforts to encourage citizens to organize themselves into communes. [Bolivarian refers to Simón Bolívar, the early 19th-century Venezuelan and Latin American revolutionary leader.] This coincided with a speech that late former president Hugo Chavez made in October 2012, when he criticized the lack of progress in establishing communes. Reinaldo Iturriza was appointed minister of communes by President Nicolas Maduro.
Traditional dances took place at the gathering.

Some of the main ideas behind the creation of communes are for local communities to take on local decision-making and administration.

Last month, Maduro created the Presidential Council of Communal Governance to act as a direct link between the government and communes, and to receive proposals from communes on how government policy can better support communal development.

Maduro said to 10,000 communards (commune members) in Caracas: “You make the proposals, I’ll articulate them with policies, and you send me the criticisms about the shortcomings of the Bolivarian government.... Long live grassroots criticism, let’s learn to grow from criticism, let’s not fear the truth, that’s Hugo Chavez’s method.”

Maduro announced that authorities would distribute 980 cargo trucks to communes to support their productive and agricultural activities. This will help local farmers transport their goods to markets without expensive private sector intermediaries charging speculative rates for the service, which drives up food prices and cuts farmers’ income.

Maduro agreed to a meeting with communards to examine difficulties for communal enterprises in issues such as investments and sales, and to resolve these issues with presidential law-making powers.
Meanwhile, communards have been meeting around the country on an independent basis to better organize their movement and present the government with their proposals for development.

[On May 28 Venezuelan authorities publicized correspondences between opposition leaders and U.S. diplomats that they say constitute a plan to assassinate President Maduro and overthrow his administration. Opposition spokespersons deny the allegations.]

In the Andean town of Mesa Bolivar, Merida state, about 600 communards representing more than 50 communes in the region gathered in May to discuss how communes can combat the ongoing “economic war” against the country’s Bolivarian revolution.

Alonso Rua, a member of the Communard Council of Merida, told “The aim of this meeting is to reflect, debate and design actions against the economic war, in the areas of supply and revolutionary auditing [of distribution and sales], and in the area of production and socio economic projects.”

The activists, from a range of ages and backgrounds, many of them rural workers, met for an open air assembly in the town center. They held working groups on security, the economy, communication, and political education. Youth activists met in a separate meeting to discuss issues specific to them.

A representative from the India Caribay commune
in Mérida state, Neris Mendez, holds up the commune’s
 new land title awarded by the National Land Institute. 
The general aim of the meeting, the seventh of its kind over the past year, was to tighten links between commune activists and strengthen the organization of their movement toward goals of local self-management and production.

Luis Pimental, a high school teacher and member of a commune near Lake Maracaibo, told “What do we want with all this? First, self-government, so that we are our own governors. That is to say, truly realize what the constitution says, which is a true democracy.

“When talk began about communes, I was skeptical, and I asked myself, 'Are we really prepared for this?' Yet with what I’ve seen, I’ve realized that yes, there are a lot of people [in the commune movement] with a lot of knowledge, who have been making a valuable contribution.”

However, some communards warn that beyond the presidency and ministry of communes, many public institutions and figures have been resistant to recognizing the growth and potential of the country’s commune movement.

Betty Vargas, from a commune in the city of Merida, said: “We continue coming up against a bureaucracy that is present within state institutions, that on many occasions doesn’t allow the community’s proposals to be attended to.”

Her commune is currently planning to establish a new community-run higher education center in a semi-rural zone near the city.

Nonetheless, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) governor of Merida state, two local mayors, and representatives of the national government and state institutions were present at the meeting in Mesa Bolivar.

During the open air assembly, the National Land Institute handed over to three communes new land titles as part of a policy of transferring land to communal groups to develop productive and agricultural projects.

One of the communes, India Caribay, plans to plant crops, fruit, and build a fruit processing plant with public financing.

Liskeila Gonzalez, a youth member of the commune, told of the importance of such projects for the community: “I want the commune to achieve the creation of the farm and fruit processor. In the commune we all take part in decision-making. There aren’t bosses, a president, anything like that. We’re all equal and we all work the same.”

— From Venezuela Analysis, abridged by the Green Left Weekly. The photos were taken by author Ewan Robertson.


Civilians hold rocks as they stand on a government armored vehicle near Chang'an 
Boulevard in Beijing, early June 4, 1989. Violence escalated between pro-democracy
 protesters and Chinese troops, leaving hundreds dead overnight.
[Year after year Washington tells and retells the tale of alleged Chinese government barbarism in breaking up mass protests in Tiananmen Square a quarter century ago this month.  But is the tale entirely true? The author, a leading member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, suggests
that it is distorted. Near the end he expresses his views on the Chinese Communist Party, noting
that it is “divided into pro-U.S. and pro-socialist factions and tendencies.”]

By Brian Becker

Twenty-five years ago June 3-4, every U.S. media outlet, along with then President George H.W. Bush and the U.S. Congress were whipping up a full scale frenzied hysteria and attack against the Chinese government for what was described as the cold-blooded massacre of many thousands of nonviolent "pro-democracy" students who had occupied Tiananmen Square for seven weeks.

The hysteria generated about the Tiananmen Square "massacre" was based on a fictitious narrative about what actually happened when the Chinese government finally cleared the square of protestors on June 4, 1989.

The demonization of China was highly effective. Nearly all sectors of U.S. society, including most of the "left," accepted the imperialist presentation of what happened.

At the time the Chinese government's official account of the events was immediately dismissed out of hand as false propaganda. China reported that about 300 people had died in clashes on June 4 and that many of the dead were soldiers of the Peoples Liberation Army. China insisted that there was no massacre of students in Tiananmen Square and in fact the soldiers cleared Tiananmen Square of demonstrators without any shooting.

The Chinese government also asserted that unarmed soldiers who had entered Tiananmen Square in the two days prior to June 4 were set on fire and lynched with their corpses hung from buses. Other soldiers were incinerated when army vehicles were torched with soldiers unable to evacuate and many other were badly beaten by violent mob attacks.

These accounts were true and well documented. It would not be difficult to imagine how violently the Pentagon and U.S. law enforcement agencies would have reacted if the Occupy movement, for instance, had similarly set soldiers and police on fire, taken their weapons and lynched them when the government was attempting to clear them from public spaces.

In an article on June 5, 1989, the Washington Post described how anti-government fighters had been organized into formations of 100-150 people. They were armed with Molotov cocktails and iron clubs, to meet the PLA who were still unarmed in the days prior to June 4.

Huge crowd in Tiananmen days before confrontation.
What happened in China, what took the lives of government opponents and of soldiers on June 4, was
not a massacre of peaceful students but a battle between PLA soldiers and armed detachments from the so-called pro-democracy movement.

"On one avenue in western Beijing, demonstrators torched an entire military convoy of more than 100 trucks and armored vehicles. Aerial pictures of conflagration and columns of smoke have powerfully bolstered the [Chinese] government's arguments that the troops were victims, not executioners. Other scenes show soldiers' corpses and demonstrators stripping automatic rifles off unresisting soldiers," admitted the Washington Post in a story that was favorable to anti-government opposition on June 12, 1989.

The Wall Street Journal, the leading voice of anti-communism, served as a vociferous cheerleader for the "pro-democracy" movement. Yet, their coverage right after June 4 acknowledged that many "radicalized protesters, some now armed with guns and vehicles commandeered in clashes with the military" were preparing for larger armed struggles. The Wall Street Journal report on the events of June 4 portrays a vivid picture:

"As columns of tanks and tens of thousands soldiers approached Tiananmen many troops were set on by angry mobs ... [D]ozens of soldiers were pulled from trucks, severely beaten and left for dead. At an intersection west of the square, the body of a young soldier, who had beaten to death, was stripped naked and hung from the side of a bus. Another's soldier corpse was strung at an intersection east of the square."

In the days immediately after June 4, 1989, the New York Times headlines, articles and editorials used the figure that "thousands" of peaceful activists had been massacred when the army sent tanks and soldiers into the Square. The number that the Times was using as an estimate of dead was 2,600. That figure was used as the go-to number of student activists who were mowed down in Tiananmen. Almost every U.S. media reported "many thousands" killed. Many media outlets said as many 8,000 had been slaughtered.
Injured tank driver taken away by students.

Tim Russert, NBC's Washington Bureau Chief, appearing later on Meet the Press said "tens of thousands" died in Tiananmen Square.

The fictionalized version of the "massacre" was later corrected in some very small measure by Western reporters who had participated in the fabrications and who were keen to touch up the record so that they could say they made "corrections." But by then it was too late and they knew that too. Public consciousness had been shaped. The false narrative became the dominant narrative. They had successfully massacred the facts to fit the political needs of the U.S. government.

"Most of the hundreds of foreign journalists that night, including me, were in other parts of the city or were removed from the square so that they could not witness the final chapter of the student story. Those who tried to remain close filed dramatic accounts that, in some cases, buttressed the myth of a student massacre," wrote Jay Mathews, the Washington Post's first Bureau Chief in Beijing, in a 1998 article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Mathews' article, which includes his own admissions to using the terminology of the Tiananmen Square massacre, came nine years after the fact and he acknowledged that corrections later had little impact. "The facts of Tiananmen have been known for a long time. When Clinton visited the square this June, both The Washington Post and The New York Times explained that no one died there [in Tiananmen Square] during the 1989 crackdown. But these were short explanations at the end of long articles. I doubt that they did much to kill the myth."

At the time all of the reports about the massacre of the students said basically the same thing and thus it seemed that they must be true. But these reports were not based on eyewitness testimony.

What really happened:

For seven weeks leading up to June 4, the Chinese government was extraordinarily restrained in not confronting those who paralyzed the center of China's central capital area. The Prime Minister met directly with protest leaders and the meeting was broadcast on national television. This did not defuse the situation but rather emboldened the protest leaders who knew that they had the full backing of the United States.

The protest leaders erected a huge statue that resembled the Statue of Liberty in the middle of Tiananmen Square. They were signaling to the entire world that their political sympathies were with the capitalist countries and the United States in particular. They proclaimed that they would continue the protests until the government was ousted.

With no end in sight the Chinese leadership decided to end the protests by clearing Tiananmen Square. Troops came into the Square without weapons on June 2 and many soldiers were beaten, some were killed and army vehicles were torched.

On June 4, the PLA re-entered the Square with weapons. According to the U.S. media accounts of the time that is when machine gun toting PLA soldiers mowed down peaceful student protests in a massacre of thousands.

China said that reports of the "massacre" in Tiananmen Square were a fabrication created both by Western media and by the protest leaders who used a willing Western media as a platform for an international propaganda campaign in their interests.

On June 12, 1989, eight days after the confrontation, the New York Times published an "exhaustive" but in fact fully fabricated eyewitness report of the Tiananmen Massacre by a student, Wen Wei Po. It was full of detailed accounts of brutality, mass murder, and heroic street battles. It recounted PLA machine gunners on the roof of Revolutionary Museum overlooking the Square and students being mowed down in the Square. This report was picked up by media throughout the U.S.

Although treated as gospel and irrefutable proof that China was lying, the June 12 "eyewitness" report by Wen Wei Po was so over the top and would so likely discredit the New York Times in China that the Times correspondent in Beijing, Nicholas Kristoff, who had served as a mouthpiece for the protestors, took exception to the main points in the article.

Kristoff wrote in a June 13 article, "The question of where the shootings occurred has significance because of the Government's claim that no one was shot on Tiananmen Square. State television has even shown film of students marching peacefully away from the square shortly after dawn as proof that they were not slaughtered." "The central scene in the [eyewitness] article is of troops beating and machine-gunning unarmed students clustered around the Monument to the People's Heroes in the middle of Tiananmen Square. Several other witnesses, both Chinese and foreign, say this did not happen," Kristoff wrote.

Unarmed Soldiers guarding Communist Party headquarters
 in Tiananmen Square, June 1, 1989, days before strife.
"There is also no evidence of machine-gun emplacements on the roof of the history museum that were reported in the Wen Wei Po article. This reporter was directly north of the museum and saw no machine guns there. Other reporters and witnesses in the vicinity also failed to see them.

"The central theme of the Wen Wei Po article was that troops subsequently beat and machine-gunned students in the area around the monument and that a line of armored vehicles cut off their retreat. But the witnesses say that armored vehicles did not surround the monument - they stayed at the north end of the square - and that troops did not attack students clustered around the monument. Several other foreign journalists were near the monument that night as well and none are known to have reported that students were attacked around the monument," Kristoff wrote in the June 13, 1989 article.

The Chinese government's account acknowledges that street fighting and armed clashes occurred in nearby neighborhoods. They say that approximately three hundred died that night including many soldiers who died from gunfire, Molotov cocktails and beatings. But they have insisted that there was no massacre.

Kristoff too says that there were clashes on several streets but refutes the "eyewitness" report about a massacre of students in Tiananmen Square, "... Instead, the students and a pop singer, Hou Dejian, were negotiating with the troops and decided to leave at dawn, between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. The students all filed out together. Chinese television has shown scenes of the students leaving and of the apparently empty square as troops moved in as the students left."

In fact, the U.S. government was actively involved in promoting the "pro-democracy" protests through an extensive, well-funded, internationally coordinated propaganda machine that pumped out rumors, half-truths and lies from the moment the protests started in mid-April 1989.

The goal of the U.S. government was to carry out regime change in China and overthrow the Communist Party of China that had been the ruling party since the 1949 revolution. Since many activists in today's progressive movement were not alive or were young children at the time of the Tiananmen incident in 1989, the best recent example of how such an imperialist destabilization/regime change operation works is revealed in the recent overthrow of the Ukrainian government. Peaceful protests in the downtown square receive international backing, financing and media support from the United States and Western powers; they eventually come under the leadership of armed groups who are hailed as freedom fighters by the Wall Street Journal, FOX News and other media; and finally the government targeted for overthrow by the CIA is fully demonized if it uses police or military forces.

In the case of the "pro-democracy" protests in China in 1989 the U.S. government was attempting to create a civil war. The Voice of America increased its Chinese language broadcasts to 11 hours each day and targeted the broadcast "directly to 2,000 satellite dishes in China operated mostly by the Peoples Liberation Army." (New York Times June 9, 1989)

The Voice of America broadcasts to PLA units were filled with reports that some PLA units were firing on others and different units were loyal to the protestors and others with the government.

 The then Chinese leader 
Deng Xiaoping
The Voice of America and U.S. media outlets tried to create confusion and panic among government supporters. Just prior to June 4 they reported that China's Prime Minister Li Peng had been shot and that Deng Xiaoping was near death.

Most in the U.S. government and in the media expected the Chinese government to be toppled by pro-Western political forces as was starting to happening with the overthrow of socialist governments throughout Eastern and Central Europe at the time (1988-1991) following the introduction of pro-capitalist reforms by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union in 1991.

In China, the "pro-democracy" protest movement was led by privileged, well-connected students from elite universities who were explicitly calling for the replacement of socialism with capitalism. The leaders were particularly connected to the United States. Of course, thousands of other students who participated in the protests were in the Square because they had grievances against the government.

But the imperialist-connected leadership of the movement had an explicit plan to topple the government. Chai Ling, who was recognized as the top leader of the students, gave an interview to Western reporters on the eve of June 4 in which she acknowledged that the goal of the leadership was to lead the population in a struggle to topple the Communist Party of China, which she explained would only be possible if they could successfully provoke the government into violently attacking the demonstrations. That interview was aired in the film the "Gate of Heavenly Peace." Chai Ling also explained why they couldn't tell the rank and file student protestors about the leaders' real plans.

"The pursuit of wealth is part of the impetus for democracy," explained another top student leader Wang Dan, in an interview with the Washington Post in 1993, on the fourth anniversary of the incident. Wang Dan was in all the U.S. media before and after the Tiananmen incident. He was famous for explaining why the elitist student leaders didn't want Chinese workers joining their movement. He stated "the movement is not ready for worker participation because democracy must first be absorbed by the students and intellectuals before they can spread it to others."

Twenty-five years later the U.S. still seeks regime change and counter-revolution in China

The action by the Chinese government to disperse the so-called pro-democracy movement in 1989 was met with bitter frustration within the United States political establishment.

The U.S. imposed economic sanctions on China at first, but their impact was minimal and both the Washington political establishment and the Wall Street banks realized that U.S. corporations and banks would be the big losers in the 1990s if they tried to completely isolate China when China was further opening its vast domestic labor and commodities market to the direct investment from Western corporations. The biggest banks and corporations put their own profit margins first and the Washington politicians took their cue from the billionaire class on this question.

But the issue of counter-revolution in China will rear its head again. The economic reforms that were inaugurated after the death of Communist Party leader Mao Zedong (1893-1976) opened the country to foreign investment. This development strategy was designed to rapidly overcome the legacy of poverty and under-development by the import of foreign technology. In exchange the Western corporations received mega profits. The post-Mao leadership in the Communist Party calculated that the strategy would benefit China by virtue of a rapid technology transfer from the imperialist world to China. And indeed China has made great economic strides. But in addition to economic development there has also developed a larger capitalist class inside of China and a significant portion of that class and their children are being wooed by all types of institutions financed by the U.S. government, U.S. financial institutions and U.S. academic centers.

The Communist Party of China is also divided into pro-U.S. and pro-socialist factions and tendencies.

Today, the United States government is applying ever greater military pressure on China. It is accelerating the struggle against China's rise by cementing new military and strategic alliances with other Asian countries. It is also hoping that with enough pressure some in the Chinese leadership who favor abandoning North Korea will get the upper hand.

If counter-revolution were to succeed in China the consequences would be catastrophic for the Chinese people and for China. China would in all likelihood splinter as a nation as happened to the Soviet Union when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was toppled. The same fate befell the former Yugoslavia. Counter-revolution and dismemberment would hurtle China backwards. It would put the brakes on China's spectacular peaceful rise out of under-development. For decades there has been a serious discussion within the U.S. foreign policy establishment about the dismemberment of China that would weaken China as a nation and allow the United States and Western powers to seize its most lucrative parts. This is precisely the scenario that cast China into its century of humiliation when Western capitalist powers (joined later by Japan) dominated the country from 1839 until 1949, when the Communist Party took power after a 25-year struggle for national liberation and socialism.

The Chinese Revolution has gone through many stages, victories, retreats and setbacks. Its contradictions are innumerable. But still it stands. In the confrontation between world imperialism and the Peoples Republic of China, progressive people should know where they stand. It is not on the sidelines.


By Pepe Escobar, May 29, 2014

“The unipolar model of the world order has failed.”
— Vladimir Putin, St Petersburg, May 22

In more ways than one, last week heralded the birth of a Eurasian century. Of course, the $400 billion
Russia-China gas deal was clinched only at the last minute in Shanghai, on May 21 (in addition to the June 2013, 25-year, $270 billion oil deal between Rosneft and China's CNPC.)

President Putin at forum with German's Angela Merkel.
Then, on May 22, most of the main players were at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum — the Russian answer to Davos. And on May 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin, fresh from his Shanghai triumph, addressed the participants and brought the house down.

It will take time to appraise last week's whirlwind in all its complex implications. Here are some of the St Petersburg highlights in some detail. Were there fewer Western CEOs in town because the Obama administration pressured them — as part of the "isolate Russia" policy? Not many less; Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley may have snubbed it, but Europeans who matter came, saw, talked and pledged to keep doing business.

And most of all, Asians were ubiquitous. Consider this as yet another chapter of China's counterpunch to U.S. President Barack Obama's Asian tour in April, which was widely described as the "China containment tour."

On the first day at the St Petersburg forum I attended this crucial session on Russia-China strategic economic partnership. Pay close attention: the roadmap is all there. As Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao describes it: "We plan to combine the program for the development of Russia's Far East and the strategy for the development of Northeast China into an integrated concept."

That was just one instance of the fast-emerging Eurasia coalition bound to challenge the "indispensable" exceptionalists to the core. Comparisons to the old Sino-Soviet pact are infantile. The putsch in Ukraine — part of Washington's pivot to "contain" Russia — just served to accelerate Russia's pivot to Asia, which sooner or late would become inevitable.

In St Petersburg, from session to session and in selected conversations, what I saw were some crucial building blocks of the Chinese New Silk Road(s), whose ultimate aim is to unite, via trade and commerce, no less than China, Russia and Germany.

For Washington, this is beyond anathema. The response has been to peddle a couple of deals which, in thesis, would guarantee American monopoly of two-thirds of global commerce; the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — which was essentially rebuked by key Asians such as Japan and Malaysia during Obama's trip — and the even more problematic Trans-Atlantic Partnership with the EU, which average Europeans absolutely abhor. Both deals are being negotiated in secret and are profitable essentially for U.S. multinational corporations.

For Asia, China instead proposes a Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific; after all, it is already the largest trading partner of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

And for Europe, Beijing proposes an extension of the railway that in only 12 days links Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, to Lodz in Poland, crossing Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. The total deal is the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe network, with a final stop in Duisburg, Germany. No wonder this is bound to become the most important commercial route in the world.

There's more. One day before the clinching of the Russia-China gas deal, President Xi Jinping called for no less than a new Asian security cooperation architecture, including of course Russia and Iran and excluding the US. Somehow echoing Putin, Xi described NATO as a Cold War relic.

And guess who was at the announcement in Shanghai, apart from the Central Asian "stans": Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and crucially, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

The facts on the ground speak for themselves. China is buying at least half of Iraq's oil production — and is investing heavily in its energy infrastructure. China has invested heavily in Afghanistan's mining industry —  especially lithium and cobalt. And obviously both China and Russia keep doing business in Iran.

So this is what Washington gets for over a decade of wars, incessant bullying, nasty sanctions and trillions of misspent dollars.

No wonder the most fascinating session I attended in St Petersburg was on the commercial and economic possibilities around the expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), whose guest of honor was none other than Li Yuanchao. I was arguably the only Westerner in the room, surrounded by a sea of Chinese and Central Asians.

The SCO is gearing up to become something way beyond a sort of counterpart to NATO, focusing mostly on terrorism and fighting drug trafficking. It wants to do major business. Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mongolia are observers, and sooner rather than later will be accepted as full members.

Once again that's Eurasian integration in action. The branching out of the New Silk Road(s) is inevitable; and that spells out, in practice, closer integration with Afghanistan (minerals) and Iran (energy).

St Petersburg also made it clear how China wants to finance an array of projects in Crimea, whose waters, by the way, boasting untold, still unexplored, energy wealth, are now Russian property. Projects include a crucial bridge across the Kerch Strait to connect Crimea to mainland Russia; expansion of Crimean ports; solar power plants; and even manufacturing special economic zones (SEZs). Moscow could not but interpret it as Beijing's endorsement of the annexation of Crimea [though China has not clearly said so].

As for Ukraine, it might as well, as Putin remarked in St Petersburg, pay its bills. And as for the European Union, at least outgoing president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso understood the obvious: antagonizing Russia is not exactly a winning strategy.

Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has been one of those informed few advising the West about it, to no avail: "Russia and China are likely to cooperate even more closely.... Such an outcome would certainly benefit China, but it will give Russia a chance to withstand U.S. geopolitical pressure, compensate for the EU's coming energy re-orientation, develop Siberia and the Far East, and link itself to the Asia-Pacific region."

The now symbiotic China-Russia strategic alliance — with the possibility of extending towards Iran — is the fundamental fact on the ground in the young 21st century. It will extrapolate across the BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Of course the usual shills will keep peddling that the only possible future is one led by a "benign" empire [the U.S.]. As if billions of people across the real world — even informed Atlanticists — would be gullible enough to buy it. Still, unipolarity may be dead, but the world is encumbered with its ghost — the new Obama doctrine, now "empowering partners" to resurrect itself.

— From Asia Times, May 29. Pepe Escobar is the author of “Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War” (Nimble Books, 2007), “Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge” (Nimble Books, 2007), and “Obama does Globalistan.


Taliban troops: "Why did the battle against the Afghan Taliabn went so wrong for so long?"
[Following is an article by the author of a stunning new book on the Afghanistan war — “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes.” The New York Times says it “is essential reading for anyone concerned about how America got Afghanistan so wrong.”

By Anand Gopal

It was a typical Kabul morning. Malik Ashgar Square was already bumper-to-bumper with Corolla taxis, green police jeeps, honking minivans, and angry motorcyclists. There were boys selling phone cards and men waving wads of cash for exchange, all weaving their way around the vehicles amid exhaust fumes. At the gate of the Lycée Esteqial, one of the country’s most prestigious schools, students were kicking around a soccer ball. At the Ministry of Education, a weathered old Soviet-style building opposite the school, a line of employees spilled out onto the street. I was crossing the square, heading for the ministry, when I saw the suicide attacker.

He had Scandinavian features. Dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, and carrying a large backpack, he began firing indiscriminately at the ministry. From my vantage point, about 50 meters away, I couldn’t quite see his expression, but he did not seem hurried or panicked. I took cover behind a parked taxi. It wasn’t long before the traffic police had fled and the square had emptied of vehicles.

Twenty-eight people, mostly civilians, died in attacks at the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, and elsewhere across the city that day in 2009. Afterward, U.S. authorities implicated the Haqqani Network, a shadowy outfit operating from Pakistan that had pioneered the use of multiple suicide bombers in headline-grabbing urban assaults. Unlike other Taliban groups, the Haqqanis’ approach to mayhem was worldly and sophisticated: they recruited Arabs, Pakistanis, even Europeans, and they were influenced by the latest in radical Islamist thought. Their leader, the septuagenarian warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, was something like Osama bin Laden and Al Capone rolled into one, as fiercely ideological as he was ruthlessly pragmatic.

And so many years later, his followers are still fighting.  Even with the U.S. withdrawing the bulk of its troops this year, up to 10,000 Special Operations forces, CIA paramilitaries, and their proxies will likely stay behind to battle the Haqqanis, the Taliban, and similar outfits in a war that seemingly has no end. With such entrenched enemies, the conflict today has an air of inevitability -- but it could all have gone so differently.

Though it’s now difficult to imagine, by mid-2002 there was no insurgency in Afghanistan: al-Qaeda had fled the country and the Taliban had ceased to exist as a military movement. Jalaluddin Haqqani and other top Taliban figures were reaching out to the other side in an attempt to cut a deal and lay down their arms. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces, however, had arrived on Afghan soil, post-9/11, with one objective: to wage a war on terror.

As I report in my new book, “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes,” the U.S. would prosecute that war even though there was no enemy to fight. To understand how America’s battle in Afghanistan went so wrong for so long, a (hidden) history lesson is in order. In those early years after 2001, driven by the idée fixe that the world was rigidly divided into terrorist and non-terrorist camps, Washington allied with Afghan warlords and strongmen. Their enemies became ours, and through faulty intelligence, their feuds became repackaged as “counterterrorism.” The story of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who turned from America’s potential ally into its greatest foe, is the paradigmatic case of how the war on terror created the very enemies it sought to eradicate.

Continued at


By Matthew Yglesias, April 8, 2014

Thomas Piketty's “Capital in the 21st Century” is the most important economics book of the year, if not
the decade. It's also 696 pages long, translated from French, filled with methodological asides and in-depth looks at unique data, packed with allusions to 19th century novels, and generally a bit of a slog.

The good news is that there's no advanced math, and anyone who puts in the time can read the book. But if you just want the bottom line, we have you covered.

Can you give me Piketty's argument in four bullet points?
·      The ratio of wealth to income is rising in all developed countries.
·      Absent extraordinary interventions, we should expect that trend to continue.
·      If it continues, the future will look like the 19th century, where economic elites have predominantly inherited their wealth rather than working for it.
·      The best solution would be a globally coordinated effort to tax wealth.

Who is Thomas Piketty?
Thomas Piketty is a French economist who rose to prominence over the past decade thanks to his collaborations with Emmanuel Saez on income inequality. The duo was the first to carefully exploit American income tax data to show how highly concentrated income was in the hands not just of the top 10 or 20 percent of households but the top 1, 0.1, or even 0.01 percent. The vast majority of the contemporary debate on inequality is focused on the agenda set by that work. In his new book, Piketty largely leaves that research agenda behind in favor of an inquiry focused on wealth inequality.

What does Capital in the 21st Century argue?
The provocative argument of Capital in the 21st Century is that market capitalism, including the kind of welfare state capitalism practiced in continental Europe, will eventually lead to an economy dominated by those lucky enough to be born into a position of inherited wealth. Piketty argues that this is how the economy of early 20th century Europe worked, that the tyranny of inherited wealth was destroyed only by the devastation of two world wars, and that in the 21st Century the United States and Canada will suffer from the same affliction.

What is capital?
There are different concepts of capital floating around in the economics literature. But Piketty uses an expansive definition of capital so that it is the same as wealth. All the shares of stock and houses and cash assets that people own constitute capital, or wealth. And wealth is much more unequally distributed than income, so while a division of society into those who own things and those who work for a living is overly simplistic it's not totally off-base. In the United States, for example, 5 percent of households own a majority of the wealth while the bottom 40 percent have negative wealth due to debts.

Does this have anything to do with Karl Marx's Das Kapital?
Quite a bit, actually. Piketty's analysis of the economy is different from Karl Marx's,
During the Cold War years it appeared that Marx was simply wrong to assert that market societies would be dominated by owners of capital. Wages for ordinary workers were high and rising. Economic elites were largely business executives or skilled tradespeople (lawyers and surgeons, say) rather than owners of enterprises. And iconic "capitalist" figures were entrepreneurs who built businesses rather than heirs to old fortunes. Political debate focused largely on the question of a welfare state or social safety net for the poor, not the fundamental architecture of capitalism.

Piketty says that this was essentially a happy coincidence reflecting the unique circumstances of the post-war era. The fortunes of the wealthy were destroyed by two world wars, the Great Depression, and extreme wartime finance measures. Then a few decades of rapid economic growth created a situation in which newly earned income was a much bigger deal than old wealth. In the contemporary environment of slow economic growth, Piketty says this process is over. Unless drastic measures are taken, the future belongs to people who simply own stuff they inherited from their parents.

What are Piketty's key concepts?
The main concepts Piketty introduces are the wealth-to-income ratio and the comparison of the rate of return on capital (r in his book) to the rate of nominal economic growth (g). A country's wealth:income ratio is simply the value of all the financial assets owned by its citizens against the country's gross domestic product. Piketty's big empirical achievement is constructing time series data about wealth:income ratios for different countries over the long term.

The rate of return on capital, r, is a more abstract idea. If you invest $100 in some enterprise and it returns you $7 a year in income then your rate of return is 7%. Piketty's r is the rate of return on all outstanding investments. A key contention of the book is that r is about 5 percent on average at all times. The growth rate (g) that matters is the overall rate of economic growth. That means that if g is less than 5 percent, the wealth of the already-wealthy will grow faster than the economy as a whole. In practice, g has been below 5 percent in recent decades and Piketty expects that trend to continue. Because r > g, the rich will get richer

What is Piketty's main finding?
The bulk of the book is dedicated to an exhaustive look at wealth in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany with some additional looks at other major economies including Italy, Canada, and Japan. What Piketty finds is that in all developed countries the wealth:income ratio is high and rising. He also finds that in the Old World countries, it exhibits a very marked U-shaped pattern-extremely high in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, very low at midcentury, then rising strongly since 1980. New World wealth:income ratios were not as high as in the old world (slaves were so valuable that how you treat this form of "capital" makes a difference here), so it's a bit of an uneven U with the wealth:income ratio reaching an unprecedented level in the contemporary United States.

But Piketty also finds that the increase in wealth:income ratio is not unique to the inequality-friendly Anglo-Saxon economies of the United States and Canada. In fact, the accumulation of wealth is most clearly seen in places like France and especially Italy where economic growth has been very slow. Piketty also finds that the rate of return on capital is about 5 percent on average across different countries. That's part of why he argues that the dynamic towards wealth inequality is built into capitalism rather than any one country's economic policies.

[On May 29, the New York Times reported: “Six days after The Financial Times launched an attack on the data behind Thomas Piketty’s much-debated tome on inequality, ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century,’ Mr. Piketty has offered his first detailed response to the newspaper’s criticism. The short version: He doesn’t give an inch.”]

How does Piketty explain this?
Piketty's theoretical contribution is to argue that we should take these empirical findings at face value. The way capitalism works, says Piketty, is that existing wealth earns a 5 percent rate of return, r. The total pool of labor income, meanwhile, grows at the rate of overall GDP, g. When r is larger than g the pool of wealth owned by wealth-owners grows faster than the pool of labor income earned by workers.

Since r is usually larger than g, the wealthy get wealthier. The poor don't necessarily get poorer, but the gap between the earnings power of people who own lots of buildings and shares and the earnings power of people working for a living will grow and grow.

If it's that simple, how come nobody noticed before? Piketty makes two claims about this. One is that in Victorian and Edwardian times, people certainly did notice. His many references to 19th century novels (in Jane Austen books a man's "income" is the rent received by the estate he inherited, not his salary) are designed to establish that something like his account of the central importance of inherited wealth was conventional wisdom in pre-war Europe, and not just among radicals. And of course there was a lot of political radicalism in pre-war Europe.

His second point is is to concede that the life experience of the non-Millenials alive today contradicted this narrative. World War I directly destroyed some wealth, and also led to very high levels of taxation and inflation as wartime finance measures. Then came the Great Depression in which many fortunes were wiped out. Then came World War II which directly destroyed even more wealth (as in cities were literally burned to the ground) and was associated with even more extreme wartime finance measures. Then came a fast period of postwar growth associated with European reconstruction and the unleashing of long-suppressed consumption impulses. It's only over the past 20 or 30 years that the underlying dynamic has reasserted itself.

Why does this matter?
Capital in the 21st Century essentially takes the existing debate on income inequality and supercharges it. It does so by asserting that in the long run the economic inequality that matters won't be the gap between people who earn high salaries and those who earn low ones, it will be the gap between people who inherit large sums of money and those who don't.
Piketty's vision of a class-ridden, neo-Victorian society dominated by the unearned wealth of a hereditary elite cuts sharply against both liberal notions of a just society andconservative ideas about what a dynamic market economy is supposed to look like. Market-oriented thinkers valorize the idea of entrepreneurial capitalism, but Piketty says we are headed for a world of patrimonial capitalism where the Forbes 400 list will be dominated not by the founders of new companies but by the grandchildren of today's super-elite.

What is to be done?
Piketty wants the major world economies to band together to assess a modest global wealth tax. Global
cooperation is desirable to prevent the wealthy from simply shifting assets into other jurisdictions. But short of intense global cooperation, he thinks larger economic units-the United States, say, or the European Union-should move ahead with wealth taxes, estate taxes, and other efforts to curb the power of wealth.

The kind of international cooperation Piketty calls for is difficult to imagine happening in practice. And his enthusiasm for wealth taxes runs against decades of conventional wisdom in the economics profession holding that people should be encouraged to save and invest. Many people who find Piketty's positive analysis to be important and at least partially persuasive are going to disagree with his prescription here.

What are the main weaknesses of Piketty's book?
It's a big book containing a lot of ideas and there are many nits one could pick. The biggest weak points, however, relate to Piketty's theoretical analysis of r (the rate of return on capital) and g (the rate of economic growth).

Piketty says that r = 5 percent regardless of the rate of growth and provides fairly convincing empirical evidence that this has been the case in the past. But the theoretical basis for this pattern is unclear so it might not hold up. In principle, a permanent slowdown in growth could lead to a concurrent slowdown in the rate of return on capital leading to a stabilization in the wealth-income ratio. In that case, either everything would be fine or else if things weren't fine it would be because the growth rate is too low not because the wealth-income ratio is rising.

A related issue is Piketty's treatment of the growth rate. Boosting economic growth is something politicians are always promising to do. And according to Piketty, growth-boosting policies would forestall the growth of patrimonial capitalism. Piketty believes that economic growth is driven by deep structural factors related to demographics and technology rather than policy changes. This isn't a unique view of his by any means (Northwestern University Professor Robert Gordon has been arguing something quite similar recently in a different context) but it manages to be central to the book's conclusion without being extensively defended in the text.

What are some other possible solutions to the problem Piketty diagnoses?
The politically easiest way to avert Piketty's prophesy of doom would be to increase the economic growth rate. Everyone has their favorite ideas about how to do this, but the simplest ones involve mechanically increasing the population growth rate. The pre-war United States was less wealth-dominated than pre-war Europe largely because the population was growing much faster. Pro-fertility measures or more liberal immigration rules might do the trick.

We also might consider wealth-destruction methods that are a little more narrowly tailored than a broad wealth tax (or a world war). For example, much of modern-day wealth appears to take the form of urban land (Silicon Valley houses are much more expensive than houses in the Houston suburbs, not because the houses are bigger but because the land is more expensive), control over oil and other fossil fuel resources, and the value associated with various patents, copyrights, trademarks, and other forms of intellectual property. Land and resources differ from traditional capital in that even a very high rate of taxation on them won't cause the land to go away or the oil to vanish. Intellectual property is deliberately created by the government. Stiff land taxes, and major intellectual property reform could achieve many of Piketty's goals without disincentivizing saving and wealth creation.

What else should I read about this?
See our own collection of charts based on Piketty's data for the key empirical findings. Beyond that, everyone who's anyone is reviewing this book. If you want a discussion more thorough than a normal article but still shorter than Piketty's opus, then Branko Milanovic's 20-page review in the Journal of Economic Literature is for you. Ryan Avent in The Economist offered an excellent treatment of Piketty's economic ideasand Jacob Hacker in the The American Prospect tries to locate Piketty's insights in a political economy framework.
From the right, Ryan Decker argues that Piketty's work is more about accounting than economics and James Pethokoukis argues that his assumptions about the future are unfounded.

— From Vox Media, May 6, 2014

By the ACLU and the Activist Newsletter

Plaintiffs Susan Galloway (left) and Linda Stephens.
The Supreme Court on May 5 issued a disappointing and troubling 5-4 decision upholding a New York
State town board's practice of opening its meetings with Christian prayers.

For more than a decade, the five-member town board of Greece, located in Monroe County near Rochester, has started meetings with prayers delivered by local clergy, all of whom, with a few brief exceptions, have been Christian.

The court's decision allows the town to continue these official prayers despite the fact that they exclude local citizens of minority faiths and divide the community along religious lines. [The non-religious, too, are excluded. Since 37% of the state’s population does not declare a religion this is probably reflected as well among the 96,095 citizens of Greece.]

“The Supreme Court just relegated millions of Americans – both believers and nonbelievers – to second-class citizenship,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Government should not be in the business of forcing faith on anyone, and now all who attend meetings of their local boards could be subjected to the religion of the majority,” he said in a statement.

Among others who expressed disapproval of the Supreme Court decision were: Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance; The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and The Secular Coalition for America, and more.

The news is not all bad, however. While the outcome in this case was disheartening, the court did make clear that there are limits on legislative prayers. They may not "denigrate non-believers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion," and they must remain consistent with the purported purpose of such invocations — to solemnize and lend gravity to the occasion.

Still, as Justice Kagan points out in her powerful dissent, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, the ruling reflects "two kinds of blindness," to wit:

1.     First, the court's opinion focuses heavily on prayers delivered in Congress and state legislatures, but it fails to recognize that an intimate meeting of a town board or county council is much different. Ordinary citizens regularly attend these meetings for a variety of reasons — e.g., to keep abreast of local affairs, to seek zoning permits, and to receive awards. In the town of Greece, they were confronted directly and repeatedly with official, Christian prayers and called on to join in those prayers.

2.     Second, the Court dismisses the content of the prayers as "ceremonial" in nature, notes Kagan, disregarding the fact that Greece's predominantly Christian invocations profess "profound belief and deep meaning, subscribed to by many, denied by some." When the government forces such prayer on its people in this manner, she explained, it violates the "norm of religious equality" and the right of every citizen to "participate in the business of government not as Christians, Jews, Muslims (and more), but only as Americans."

And the decision reflects a third kind of blindness that Justice Kagan did not identify: Historical practice should never be used to justify violating core constitutional principles like the separation of church and state, which reserves religious practice and worship for the individual and faith communities, not the government.

Two residents of Greece, Linda Stephens and Susan Galloway filed the suit opposing invocations in 2008. Stephens is an atheist and objected to any prayer at the town meetings. Galloway also objected to the prayers, but she also argued that if prayers were to be offered they should not be overtly sectarian. A federal judge ruled in favor of the town, but a panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the complaining town residents.

At issue before the court was whether the Establishment Clause prohibits legislative bodies from opening their meetings with sectarian prayer. Thirty years ago the Supreme Court upheld the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening its sessions with nonsectarian prayers delivered by a chaplain. The issue in this case is whether a town board in upstate New York may open it’s meeting with sectarian prayers that have been overwhelmingly Christian in practice.

In its amicus brief, the ACLU urged the Court to rule that any official governmental prayer violates the separation of church and state. If the Court is unwilling to go that far, the ACLU argued that official sectarian prayers should be prohibited under the Establishment Clause to preserve the core constitutional principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another.

The Activist Newsletter notes: All the existing Supreme Court justices consider themselves religious. Six are Roman Catholic (five of whom constituted the majority opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway). Three are Jewish.  It’s odd that there are no Protestants on the court at this time. There are twice as many adult Protestants in the U.S. than adult Roman Catholics.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an atheist to enter the U.S. Supreme Court.  Not one has ever been named in the 235 years since the high court was founded.

To this day, we learn from the Internet, “There have been no declared atheists or non-theists on the U.S. Supreme Court, and only one — Justice David Davis III, who served from 1862-1877 — claimed to be non-denominational.

Some historians do make a case for Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., one of 10 Unitarians who have served on the bench. Some justices have been noted as declining to engage in any manner of religious activity. As an adult, Benjamin Cardozo no longer practiced his faith and identified himself as an agnostic, though he remained proud of his Jewish heritage.

The New Yorker blog’s regular satirical brief called “The Borowitz Report” offered more truth than poetry May 5 in commenting upon the decision:

“What legal experts are calling a landmark decision, on the United States Supreme Court struck down what many believe to be the main reason the country was started. By a five-to-four vote, the Court eliminated what grade school children have traditionally been taught was one of the key rationales for founding the United States in the first place.

“The separation of church and state has been a cornerstone of American democracy for over 200 years,” said Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority. “Getting rid of it was long overdue.” Calling the decision ‘historic,’ Justice Antonin Scalia was guarded in predicting what the Court might accomplish next. ‘Last year, we gutted the Voting Rights Act, and today we did the First Amendment,’ he said. ‘We’ll just have to see what’s left.’”


By Stephanie Simon, Politico, May 14

Far from cracking down on the monitoring of consumer information, the Obama administration has often sought to leverage the power of big data — sometimes running afoul of privacy advocates.

“Big data technology stands to improve nearly all the services the public sector delivers,” the recent White House report on big data concluded. Among the administration’s initiatives:

Model of zones for facial recognition.
The FBI is building a huge facial recognition database — which will also include palm prints and iris it will hold as many as 52 million facial images by the end of next year, including pictures of people who have never been arrested. Electronic Frontier Foundation reports
scans — to augment its fingerprint collection. 

The Treasury Department has launched a program to scan several government databases — and, in the future, perhaps commercial databases as well — for information about individuals due to receive federal payments. The aim: To identify anyone who might be ineligible to receive the payment, or might be suspected of committing fraud, before the check goes in the mail.

The Defense Department is considering mining commercial databases as well, to scan for worrisome information about employees and contractors who hold classified clearance. Most are officially vetted only every five to 10 years; the Pentagon is eager for more frequent checks that could disclose drug arrests, domestic violence charges, financial troubles or other red flags.

The Education Department has also been a major proponent of big data. It has used policy and financial incentives, including more than $500 million in direct grants, to prod states to build longitudinal databases that will track students’ progress from pre-K through high school and in some cases, into college and the workforce. States will mine the data to spot patterns; they might, for instance, be able to identify behaviors in 6-year-olds that indicate the child has an elevated risk of dropping out of high school a decade later.

The department has also relaxed privacy rules to make it easier for school districts to share student records with state and federal officials, as well as with private companies, without parental consent. Privacy advocates sued to block some of those changes, but lost in court.

However, privacy activists have won a few other tussles with the administration.

In February, the Department of Homeland Security floated a proposal to hire a private contractor to create a national database of license plate photos to track vehicle movements. DHS officials hoped the database would make it easier to arrest “absconders and criminal aliens,” but after the Washington Post published details — and privacy advocates reacted with anger — the plans were scrapped.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which regulates securities brokers, also had to back off a big data proposal it laid out late last year. The plan was to require brokers to submit information on their customers’ transactions so FINRA could scan the accounts for red flags. The ACLU objected, saying the system would “leave Americans vulnerable to invasive and unwarranted monitoring.” By March, FINRA had backed off, promising that brokers would not need to identify account owners by name when submitting transaction records.

While the administration’s big data task force, led by White House counselor John Podesta, noted the potential benefits of government data mining, it also laid out a clear warning. “Once information about citizens is compiled for a defined purpose, the temptation to use it for other purposes can be considerable….” the report warned. “If unchecked, big data could be a tool that substantially expands government power over citizens.”


Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis, by Brahma Chellaney, 424 page, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Chellaney sketches a bleak picture of water scarcity in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, regions also struggling with unstable governments and rapidly growing populations. What Chellaney calls “water stressed conditions” are also appearing in developed countries, such as Australia, Spain, and South Korea. Even the deep-water aquifers that support modern agriculture in North America are dwindling.

But will the social and environmental stresses of water shortage lead to conflict and armed violence? On that question, Chellaney’s book is more speculative. Conflicts over water have already embroiled states along the Nile basin, in Africa, and along the Tigris-Euphrates basin, in the Middle East, and the war in Darfur has at least partly been driven by clashes over access to water in Sudan’s far west.

Chellaney makes it clear that such conflicts will become more common as water begins to be “used as a weapon,” as a recent U.S. intelligence assessment predicted, at least in a metaphoric sense, as upstream countries deny water to downstream ones. But water scarcity seems less likely to spark resource wars than to more broadly contribute to the general deterioration of social and environmental life on the planet.

— From Foreign Affairs, December 2013, reviewed by G. John Ikenberry

From the Economist

“e.e. cummings: A life,” by Susan Cheever. Pantheon, 240 pages, hardcover.

Most people were puzzled by E.E. Cummings. Having written poetry from the age of eight, he was lauded after his death in 1962 at the age of 68 as one of America’s great modernist writers. He was, after Robert Frost, the most widely read poet in the United States.

The poet's own sef-portrait.
Yet his poems were unlike any others seen before. Often short and occasionally scurrilous, they used lower-case letters and lacked punctuation. “may i feel said he/(i’ll squeal said she” is how one famous poem begins. Many seemed more like nursery rhymes or nonsense verse than serious work. “What is wrong with a man who writes like this?” asked one exasperated critic.

Susan Cheever’s fine new biography of Cummings sheds some light. The daughter of John Cheever, the American author, she is an astute observer of the inner life of writers and how they work. The charge most often laid against Cummings — that he was a “kid’s poet” who did not need to be taken seriously — is countered by meticulous research showing the classical influences on his writing.

Cummings was born in 1894, the son of an academic, and grew up around Harvard University. His poetry was influenced by the men he encountered: the chairman of the department of philosophy inspired his love of the sonnet form, while William James, the philosopher and brother of novelist Henry, spurred Cummings on to write.

Yet his verse also grew out of a rebellion against this world: “the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls/are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds,” he wrote dismissively in one popular early poem. It was only in New York that he felt free. Surrounded by writers such as Marianne Moore and Edmund Wilson, and photographers such as Walker Evans, he spent over 40 years in Greenwich Village, living in the same apartment.

Most of Cummings’s life was focused on his work. He wrote nearly 3,000 poems, two novels and four plays, as well as painting portraits. He was briefly married twice and spent the rest of his life with Marion Morehouse, a photographer and model, travelling between Europe and America. Certain events shaped his life: having enlisted during the first world war, he was imprisoned in a French camp on suspicion of treason, and a visit to Russia in the 1920s made him a staunch anti-communist. As he put it in one poem, “every kumrad is a bit/of quite unmitigated hate.”

His life was mostly an inward-looking one, though, which makes him a hard subject for a biographer. Cheever mostly gets round this problem, even in such a short book. Alongside descriptions of Cummings’s life she provides examples of his poetry, and she often combines her analysis of events with literary criticism. External events are sketched in lightly whereas personal encounters are given more depth. Cummings’s anti-Semitism is analyzed extensively. Cheever also makes much of the reunion between Cummings and his daughter Nancy, who did not know he was her father until she was in her 30s and a poet herself. Such details ensure this biography succeeds where other works have failed, by making this tricky poet understandable.



Climate change probably contributed to a monster dust storm that hit Phoenix, Arizona.
By the Environmental News Service, May 6, 2024

This information has been extracted from the third U.S. National Climate Assessment:
“Climate Trends in America.”

• Temperature: “U.S. average temperature has increased by 1.3°F to 1.9°F since record keeping began in 1895; most of this increase has occurred since about 1970. The most recent decade was the Nation’s warmest on record. Temperatures in the United States are expected to continue to rise. Because human-induced warming is superimposed on a naturally varying climate, the temperature rise has not been, and will not be, uniform or smooth across the country or over time.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

• Extreme Weather: “There have been changes in some types of extreme weather events over the last several decades. Heat waves have become more frequent and intense, especially in the West. Cold waves have become less frequent and intense across the Nation. There have been regional trends in floods and droughts. Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves everywhere are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense everywhere.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

• Hurricanes: “The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. The relative contributions of human and natural causes to these increases are still uncertain. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)
Before and after photos of Joplin,Mo., after monster tornado.

• Severe Storms: “Winter storms have increased in frequency and intensity since the 1950s, and their
tracks have shifted northward over the United States. Other trends in severe storms, including the intensity and frequency of tornadoes, hail, and damaging thunderstorm winds, are uncertain and are being studied intensively.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

• Precipitation: “Average U.S. precipitation has increased since 1900, but some areas have had
increases greater than the national average, and some areas have had decreases. More winter and spring precipitation is projected for the northern United States, and less for the Southwest, over this century.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

• Heavy Downpours: “Heavy downpours are increasing nationally, especially over the last three to five decades. Largest increases are in the Midwest and Northeast. Increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events are projected for all U.S. regions.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

• Frost-free Season: “The length of the frost-free season (and the corresponding growing season) has been increasing nationally since the 1980s, with the largest increases occurring in the western United States, affecting ecosystems and agriculture. Across the United States, the growing season is projected to continue to lengthen.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

• Ice Melt: “Rising temperatures are reducing ice volume and surface extent on land, lakes, and sea. This loss of ice is expected to continue. The Arctic Ocean is expected to become essentially ice free in summer before mid-century.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

• Sea Level: “Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

• Ocean Acidification: “The oceans are currently absorbing about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere annually and are becoming more acidic as a result, leading to concerns about intensifying impacts on marine ecosystems.” (NCA Highlights: Climate Trends)

Climate-Change Impacts in Regions across America:

• Northeast – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and District of Columbia: “Sixty-four million people are concentrated in the Northeast. The high-density urban coastal corridor from Washington, DC, north to Boston is one of the most developed environments in the world, containing a massive, complex, and long-standing network of supporting infrastructure. The Northeast also has a vital rural component.” Communities in the Northeast “are affected by heat waves, more extreme precipitation events, and coastal flooding due to sea level rise and storm surge.”....

• Coasts: “More than 50% of Americans – 164 million people – live in coastal counties, with 1.2 million added each year… Humans have heavily altered the coastal environment through development, changes in land use, and overexploitation of resources. Now, the changing climate is imposing additional stresses…” “Coastal lifelines, such as water supply infrastructure and evacuation routes are increasingly vulnerable to higher sea levels and storm surges, inland flooding, and other climate-related changes.”....

Climate-Change Impacts on Key Sectors of Society and the U.S. Economy

• Health: “Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including through impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks. Some of these health impacts are already underway in the United States. Climate change will, absent other changes, amplify some of the existing health threats the Nation now faces. Certain people and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and some communities of color. Public health actions, especially preparedness and prevention, can do much to protect people from some of the impacts of climate change. Early action provides the largest health benefits.” (NCA Highlights: Human Health)

An American road to nowhere, due to flooding.
• Transportation: “The impacts from sea level rise and storm surge, extreme weather events, higher temperatures and heat waves, precipitation changes, Arctic warming, and other climatic conditions are affecting the reliability and capacity of the U.S. transportation system in many ways. Sea level rise, coupled with storm surge, will continue to increase the risk of major coastal impacts on transportation infrastructure, including both temporary and permanent flooding of airports, ports and harbors, roads, rail lines, tunnels, and bridges. Extreme weather events currently disrupt transportation networks in all areas of the country; projections indicate that such disruptions will increase. Climate change impacts will increase the total costs to the Nation’s transportation systems and their users, but these impacts can be reduced through rerouting, mode change, and a wide range of adaptive actions.” (NCA Highlights: Transportation)

• Energy: “Extreme weather events are affecting energy production and delivery facilities, causing supply disruptions of varying lengths and magnitudes and affecting other infrastructure that depends on energy supply. The frequency and intensity of certain types of extreme weather events are expected to change. Higher summer temperatures will increase electricity use, causing higher summer peak loads, while warmer winters will decrease energy demands for heating. Net electricity use is projected to increase. Changes in water availability, both episodic and long-lasting, will constrain different forms of energy production. In the longer term, sea level rise, extreme storm surge events, and high tides will affect coastal facilities and infrastructure on which many energy systems, markets, and consumers depend. As new investments in energy technologies occur, future energy systems will differ from today’s in uncertain ways. Depending on the character of changes in the energy mix, climate change will introduce new risks as well as new opportunities.” (NCA Highlights: Energy Supply and Use)

• Water: “Climate change affects water demand and the ways water is used within and across regions and economic sectors. The Southwest, Great Plains, and Southeast are particularly vulnerable to changes in water supply and demand. Changes in precipitation and runoff, combined with changes in consumption and withdrawal, have reduced surface and groundwater supplies in many areas. These trends are expected to continue, increasing the likelihood of water shortages for many uses. Increasing flooding risk affects human safety and health, property, infrastructure, economies, and ecology in many basins across the United States… Increasing resilience and enhancing adaptive capacity provide opportunities to strengthen water resources management and plan for climate-change impacts.” (NCA Highlights: Water)

• Agriculture: “Climate disruptions to agriculture have been increasing and are projected to become more severe over this century. Some areas are already experiencing climate-related disruptions, particularly due to extreme weather events. While some U.S. regions and some types of agricultural production will be relatively resilient to climate change over the next 25 years or so, others will increasingly suffer from stresses due to extreme heat, drought, disease, and heavy downpours. From mid-century on, climate change is projected to have more negative impacts on crops and livestock across the country – a trend that could diminish the security of our food supply… Climate change effects on agriculture will have consequences for food security, both in the U.S. and globally, through changes in crop yields and food prices and effects on food processing, storage, transportation, and retailing. Adaptation measures can help delay and reduce some of these impacts.” ....

• Oceans: “Ocean waters are becoming warmer and more acidic, broadly affecting ocean circulation, chemistry, ecosystems, and marine life. More acidic waters inhibit the formation of shells, skeletons, and coral reefs. Warmer waters harm coral reefs and alter the distribution, abundance, and productivity of many marine species. The rising temperature and changing chemistry of ocean water combine with other stresses, such as overfishing and coastal and marine pollution, to alter marine-based food production and harm fishing communities… In response to observed and projected climate impacts, some existing ocean policies, practices, and management efforts are incorporating climate change impacts. These initiatives can serve as models for other efforts and ultimately enable people and communities to adapt to changing ocean conditions.”

By the Answer Coalition, June 2

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Three weeks after the take-over of Albuquerque’s City Council chambers to protest police violence, community members and families of victims staged a near two hour sit-in at the Mayor’s office to protest Mayor Barry’s failure to use the authority of his office to take meaningful action against rampant several suspicious killings, violence and abuse by police.

Around 20 people walked into the Mayor’s office, put up yellow “crime scene” tape and sat on the floor chanting for officers involved in killings and incidents of brutality to be fired, arrested and jailed. Immediately after the sit-in began a press conference was called by the organizers, which took place 30 minutes later outside the building.

Sit-in protest in the mayor's office in Albuquerque.
Organizers and participants included several family members of victims killed by APD, the ANSWER Coalition, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center Task Force on Public Safety and more.

The non-violent sit-in triggered an excessive, massive martial response. City Hall was immediately locked down. Police swarmed a perimeter that spanned several city blocks. The Albuquerque SWAT team then stormed into the building carrying assault rifles.

The sit-in ended with thirteen arrests. Most were charged with criminal trespassing, unlawful assembly and interfering with a public official or staff. One protester, Professor David Correia, was unjustly charged with felony battery of an officer after a plainclothes officer attempted to shove him out of the Mayor’s suite.

The office of the ANSWER Coalition, which played a central role in planning and carrying-out the action, has been open all night providing support to those that were arrested, and will be a collection point for those that are able to donate bail money.

The sit-in comes just four days after an autopsy report confirmed what video evidence already proved; that Albuquerque police shot James Boyd, a homeless man who struggled with mental illness, in the back. Boyd’s killing sparked a tthree-month wave of action and organizing against the epidemic of abuse by APD and refusal of the politicians and courts to take action.


Sandhill Crane, part of the Great Migration to Nebraska.

[There are about 10,000 species of birds on Earth, and scientists suggest one-eighth of them will become extinct during this century, largely due to human intervention. So far, the glorious sandhill crane seems to be doing well, although a couple of subspecies in the U.S. are endangered. Following is a brief excerpt from an article on sandhill cranes the March issue of Smithsonian magazine written by Alex Shoumatoff with photos by Mellssa Groo.]

Nature got it right with the cranes. They have been around since the Eocene, which ended 34 million years ago. They are among the world’s oldest living birds and one of the planet’s most successful life-forms, having outlasted millions of species (99%of species that ever existed are now extinct).

Every year 400,000 to 600,000 sandhill cranes — 80% of all the cranes on the planet—congregate along an 80-mile stretch of the central Platte River in Nebraska, to fatten up on waste grain in the empty cornfields in preparation for the journey to their Arctic and subarctic nesting grounds.

This staging is one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles, on a par with the epic migrations of the wildebeest and the caribou. It takes place in three waves of four to five weeks each, beginning in mid-February and ending in mid-April, during which birds that arrive emaciated from wintering grounds in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Chihuahua, Mexico, gain 20% of their body weight. Their numbers usually peak in the last week of March.

The particularly successful sandhill crane of North America has not changed appreciably in 10 million years. There are 15 Gruidae [crane] species, and in all the human cultures that experience the birds, they are revered. [Sandhills are about 3-4 feet tall. The wingspan can be over 5 feet wide. They can live 20 years or more but in the wild they tend to die younger.]

The sandhill cranes are the most abundant crane species. Migrating sandhills come in three basic sizes—greater, lesser and the mid-size Canadian. The Eastern population has rebounded dramatically from near extinction in the 1930s and is now up to more than 80,000.

— The full article is at