February 18, 2015, Issue 214
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1. Photo of The Month: Helpless in Gaza
2. Stop the Horror — Theirs and Ours!
3. 4,000 African Americans Were Lynched
4. Public School Students in or Near Poverty
5. Coup Plot Foiled in Venezuela
6. Only Big Reforms can Cut Big Inequality
7. Divisions Remain Over Future Climate Talks
8. Republicans Accelerate Anti-Union Drive
9. The Ukrainian Denouement
10. Ideology Still Matters In China’s Intellectual Landscape
11. U.S. Cops Kill Every 8 Hours in 2015
12. U.S. Rejects Treaty on Children’s Rights
13. Sami Al-Arian Deported to Turkey
14. CIA Whistle Blower Freed from Prison
15. Hundreds Fight for Sacred Apache Land
16. Droughts will Hammer U.S. West
17. Gaza: Al-Qassam Training Camps Reopen
18. Obesity: A Global Economic Issue
19. Gardners: Save The Monarchs
20. Zoo Hosts Bilingual Chimpanzees
1. PHOTO OF THE MONTH
Helpless in Gaza
War in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents,
a war against children. War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times.
Howard Zinn, 2001
Palestinian girl and baby brother look out the “window” of what remains of their building after being shattered several months ago by Israeli rocket fire during the 50-day siege of Gaza. They are protected from cold rains and near-freezing winter temperatures by a curtain and sheet. What appears to be a hose protects them from falling out.
Reuters reported: “The main UN aid agency in the Gaza Strip announced Jan. 27 that a lack of international funding had forced it to suspend payments to tens of thousands of Palestinians for repairs to homes damaged in last summer's war. ‘People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble, children have died of hypothermia,’ said Robert Turner, Gaza director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. UNRWA received only $135 million of the $720 million pledged by donors to its cash assistance program for 96,000 refugee families whose homes were damaged or destroyed.”
2. STOP THE HORROR — THEIRS AND OURS!
|Image circulated by Islamic State showing its mass murder of captured Iraqi soldiers last year.|
The religio-fascist Islamic State’s penchant for beheading opponents and innocents, and its intentional burning to death of a Jordanian pilot captured after his jet was downed is horrific, as is its slaughter of prisoners, the torture and murder of fellow Muslims and others, and its abduction and violation of women. Most recently, IS released a video showing the beheadings by its militants of 21 Egyptian Christian immigrant workers in Libya.
“Over the past several months,” according to Stratfor Feb. 12, “the Islamic State has released videos documenting the executions of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi prisoners of war. In one of the videos, the group forced prisoners to dig their own graves and to kneel on the edge before shooting them. In another video, the group paraded hundreds of prisoners through the desert to a large mass grave dug by a bulldozer, ordered them to lie down and shot them. In yet another video, prisoners were marched one by one to the edge of a dock along the Tigris River, shot with a pistol in the back of the head and thrown into the river. In January, the Islamic State released photos and videos of the group throwing men accused of being homosexual from a tall building in Mosul....”
One shakes one’s head in disbelief at such Nazi-like practices, particularly when the Islamic State proudly broadcasts its outrages in videos that circulate around the world. How can they carry out such medieval torments and then brag about their deeds?
We cannot ever forgive IS’s crimes, but let me broaden the context, lest we judge this most recent U.S. war in Iraq-Syria principally upon the other side’s particular cruelty, and the fact that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands may die before the Islamic State falls apart.
There is, after all, the matter of history. It is important to remember that the Islamic State is a direct outcome of the unjust and illegal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference Feb. 8, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan acknowledged the correlation between the Iraq War and the growth of IS.
The Iraq war can be traced back to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and to the earlier U.S. involvement in that country (late 1970s-early1990s) when Washington delivered money, arms and political support to the jihadist forces attacking a left wing government in Kabul that was protected by Russian troops. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were created and emerged victorious from this U.S/Saudi/Pakistani-backed adventure.
U.S. imperialist intervention in the Middle East does not justify the Islamic State’s brutal methods, but we must never forget that this organization is an unintended consequence of Washington’s continual manipulation and aggression in the Middle East. For example, those Egyptian workers would be alive today had the U.S. and its allies not violently brought about regime-change in Libya, ushering in jihadist elements and now IS.
|Dresden, February, 1945.|
Later that same year in August the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that took the lives of 246,000 Japanese civilians, half immediately, half after painful lingering deaths, many suffering horrible burns. The U.S government and people cheered the nuclear bombings. (Over time it was revealed that Washington was aware Japan was preparing to surrender, possibly in a few weeks. A main reason for this massacre, thus, was to warn the Soviet Union, our essential ally throughout World War II, that Washington not only possessed such gruesome weapons but evidently would not think twice about using atomic bombs against them. Hiroshima Day is also the hidden day the Cold War started.)
Americans are appalled by the excesses of such terrorist groups as Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban. But Most of us were indifferent to the over two million North Koreans and more than four million Vietnamese and Cambodians slaughtered by U.S. carpet bombings and other methods, not to mention up to two million Iraqis killed from the 1991 Gulf war, a dozen years of killer sanctions, and the 2003-2011invasion of Iraq, recently resumed last August with a new enemy.
The terrible truth is that the U.S. has either been at war (overtly or covertly) or planning the next war without respite for 75 years. The continuing “War on Terrorism” in the Muslim Middle East led by George W. Bush and Barack Obama from September 2001 until a few more years from now, according to the White House, means that a child born when the war began may be entering college the year it ends — if it ends.
The terrible truth is that the U.S. has either been at war (overtly or covertly) or planning the next war without respite for 75 years. The continuing “War on Terrorism” in the Muslim Middle East led by George W. Bush and Barack Obama from September 2001 until a few more years from now, according to the White House, means that a child born when the war began may be entering college the year it ends — if it ends.
At home, hundreds of years of black slavery and segregation helped build this country economically, but our government has never compensated the black community for the unpaid labor, subjugation, torment and humiliation of those from whom today’s black Americans are descended. In our absurdly titled “post-racial” society many millions of African Americans are impacted not only by this history but by the imposed vicissitudes of everyday life: twice the unemployment of whites, half the assets of white families, frequent defacto housing segregation, inferior schooling, inadequate social services, and police violence. Nor have we ever compensated Native Americans for the near genocide and displacement of their peoples.
Watching the horror of the Islamic state on TV is sickening. It must be stopped. But we should never justify, devalue, ignore or forget the far greater horrors that continue to be perpetrated by our own country, for they, too, are sickening and must be stopped!
3. 4,000 AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE LYNCHED
[Conservative critics, especially from the Christian right, excoriated President Obama for speaking the truth at the National Prayer Breakfast. Feb. 5. about the misuse of religion to promote evil. Obama emphasized that Western Christians are not immune to using religion to justify violence and oppression: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” His last sentence brings us to the following story.]
By Cliff Weathers, Alternet, 2-10-15
Nearly 4,000 African Americans were victims of “racial terror lynchings” in the South between 1877 and 1950, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).
Jesse Washington, 18 year-old African-American, lynched
in Waco, Texas, on May 15, 1916. A large and evidently
joyous crowd gazed at his burned body hanging from a tree.
In all, EJI documented 3,959 lynchings of black people in 12 Southern states. More than half of the lynching victims were killed under accusation of committing murder or rape against white victims. The report says that racial hostility fed suspicion that the perpetrators of the crimes were black and the accusations were seldom scrutinized. "Of the hundreds of black people lynched under accusation of rape and murder, nearly all were killed without being legally convicted," says the report.
Some states and regions were particularly terrifying for African Americans, with dramatically higher rates of lynchings compared to the rest of the South. These areas included Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Especially fearsome counties included Hernando, Taylor, Lafayette, and Citrus counties in Florida; Early and Oconee counties in Georgia; Fulton County, Kentucky; and Moore County, Tennessee, which had the highest rates of lynchings. Phillips County, Arkansas, and Lafourche and Tensas parishes in Louisiana were regions of mass killings of African Americans that make them historically notorious. Georgia and Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings of all the Southern states.
In conversations with survivors of those who had been lynched, EJI found that lynching played an integral role in the migration of millions of African Americans away from Southern states.
|A Klan remnant remains today.|
Bryan Stevenson, EJI’s founder-director, told the Feb. 11 New York Times that his group wants to force people to reckon with the country’s violent and racist past by erecting the memorials. He said the EJI hopes to select some of the lynching sites and erect markers there. This will involve fundraising by the non-profit group. EJI is also bracing for controversies and objections as it tries to erect these markers.
“Lynching and the terror era shaped the geography, politics, economics and social characteristics of being black in America during the 20th century,” said Stevenson.
The report by EJI is part of a larger project that also involves the recognition of slave markets in the South and the erection of markers on those sites, particularly in Montgomery, AL. Stevenson said that regional and state governments have not been receptive to such markers although there are plenty of Civil War memorials in Montgomery, as well as some Civil Rights movement markers.
— Democracy Now interviewed Bryan Stevenson on its Feb. 11 broadcast. See the video: http://www.democracynow.org/2015/2/11/as_study_finds_4_000_lynchings
4. PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS IN OR NEAR POVERTY
By the Activist Newsletter
In this 2015 school year, a majority of public school students live in poor or low income families. A new report last month from the Southern Education Foundation found that on average 51% of students across the country were in this category.
This means half or more students in 21 states qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. A disproportionate number of these children are African American or Latino.
The states with the highest percentages of low-income students were concentrated in the South and the West. Mississippi had the highest percentage of low-income public school students, at 71%, while New Hampshire had the lowest percentage of low-income public school students, at 27%. In New York State it’s 48% and in Washington DC, 61%.
In the U.S., there are about 72 million children under age of 18, and 22% of them live in poor families, (defined as having an income of $23,624 or below in a family of four). To qualify for free lunch, students must come from families with a household income below 130% of the poverty line ($31,005 for a family of four. If students come from families with a household income below 185% of the poverty line ($44,122 for a family of four), they qualify for reduced-price lunches. More than 31 million children participated in the National School Lunch program, with the majority qualifying for free lunches.
5. COUP PLOT FOILED IN VENEZUELA
By Gloria La Riva
A coup plot against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution was thwarted this week as a retired Venezuelan Air Force general and 10 military and civilian opposition figures were arrested.
The bombing of the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly, Telesur TV network, the Defense Ministry and other Caracas sites was to take place Feb.12, the one-year anniversary of violent anti-government attacks known as “guarimbas,” which caused 43 deaths. A Tucano EMB 312 bomber would have been flown by renegade Air Force First Lieutenant José Antich Zapata to destroy the targeted sites.
U.S. spokesperson Jen Psaki and the Venezuelan far-right are dismissing the plot claim, but video evidence, a map of the bombing targets, and other key evidence have been unveiled on national television, with more details promised. Washington’s role in previous plots has been proven before.
According to President Maduro, detained coup leaders have confessed their role. He spoke on national television Feb. 14, to reveal more facts and accuse the U.S. government of conspiring with coup plotters.
Antich Zapata received U.S. visas for himself and other conspirators from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, for escape from Venezuela in case the plot failed.
Maduro also said that the script of an eight-minute video by the coup group – to air once the government was overthrown – was written with the help of a U.S. embassy advisor.
In obvious preparation for the failed coup, three of the most belligerent opposition figures – Maria Corina Machado, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma – issued a “Call for a National Transition Agreement,” on Feb. 11, the day before the overthrow was to take place. Lopez is currently awaiting trial for his role in the violent attacks last February
The “transition agreement” is a plan for overthrow of the Bolivarian Revolution socialist project, including a demand for felony trials of current government leaders after the “transition,” the privatization of nationalized industries, and the takeover of PDVSA, the state-owned oil industry that has been the source of great social developments in Venezuela since 1999.
As if aware of a pending coup, German embassy representative Jorg Polster issued a letter of warning on Feb. 5 to German citizens residing in Venezuela, to take unusual precautions such as in the event of “political unrest like that which began in the spring of 2014.” The letter suggests the German nationals obtain a two-week supply of food, water and emergency provisions of battery, radio and important documents. The letter also indicates a loss of electricity and Internet access could be a possibility.
National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello and Jorge Rodriguez, mayor of the Libertador municipality of Caracas – both leaders of Maduro’s political high command – also appeared on television, denouncing Julio Borges, leader of the right-wing group, Primero Justicia (“Justice First”), as drafting the list of the 20-plus targets to be bombed.
A series of actions was planned by the counterrevolutionaries to lead up to February 12.
First step was economic destabilization through major corporate hoarding of goods to create empty stores and mass discontent. That has been taking place for weeks, with the right-wing then accusing the socialist government of economic failure.
The government countered with “Operation Dignity,” confiscating the hoarded goods for redistribution at fair prices to the population, and arresting the corporate conspirators.
The second step was internationally-generated false accusations of a “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela by the U.S. and international allies of Washington.
It is thus no coincidence that on Jan. 24, three right-wing former presidents of Latin American countries, Andres Pastrana of Colombia, Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Sebastian Pinera of Chile came to Venezuela and tried to visit jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Afterwards, they demanded his freedom and held a press conference accusing Venezuela of human rights violations.
|President Maduro condemning planned plot.|
Via Telesur, he denounced U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden’s recent meetings with various Latin American leaders, in which he told them Maduro’s government would soon fall, and that the Petrocaribe program would be ended.” (Petrocaribe is the Venezuelan program that provides oil to Caribbean nations at a low price.) Biden advised them to “keep Venezuela isolated....
The smashing of this latest plot against Venezuela is a major blow to U.S. imperialism’s attempts to reverse the gains of the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela, the Cuban Revolution and all progress in Latin America.
Revolutionary mass organizations and the military high command are declaring their unity and defense of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.
Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Minister of Defense and Strategic Operational Commander of the FANB, stood with a large group of high-ranking military officers to denounce the military plot. “The Bolivarian Armed Forces reiterates its support and loyalty to President Nicolás Maduro Moros and reaffirms its commitment to the will of the people, with the Plan of the Homeland, in the building of Socialism.”
Progressive groups and leaders in Latin America are expressing their support for Maduro’s government. From March 5-7, organizations in several cities in the United States plan actions in solidarity with the Venezuelan Bolivarian government and its people in struggle.
— — From Liberation News, http://www.liberationnews.org/, Feb 15, 2015
6. ONLY BIG REFORMS CAN CUT BIG INEQUALITY
[As we wrote in the last Newsletter in relation to President Obama’s “liberal” State of the Union speech, U.S. economic inequality has reached so great an extent that the capitalist class is worried about retribution from the “have nots.” To avoid social dislocation, Big Money is advocating so-called “inclusive capitalism” for the masses — small reforms to keep the working class, lower middle and sectors of the middle class quiet. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is talking about inserting a dollop of “inclusive capitalism” into the rhetoric of the 2016 campaign. Following is an excerpt from an article by Lynn Parramore of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and Professor Lance Taylor of the New School for Social Research examining the economics of certain suggested reforms.]
In a new paper for the Institute For New Economic Thinking’s Working Group on the Political Economy of Distribution, economist Lance Taylor and his colleagues examine income inequality using new tools and models that give us a more nuanced — and frightening — picture than we’ve had before. Their simulation models show how so-called “reasonable” modifications like modest tax increases on the wealthy and boosting low wages are not going to be enough to stem the disproportionate tide of income rushing toward the rich. Taylor’s research challenges the approaches of American policy makers, the assumptions of traditional economists, and some of the conclusions drawn by Thomas Piketty and Larry Summers. Bottom line: We’re not yet talking about the kinds of major changes needed to keep us from becoming a Downton Abbey society....
Lynn Parramore: Let’s take a look at a couple of ideas that are popular right now, like raising the minimum wage and increasing taxes on the highest income brackets. How might these measures impact income inequality in America?
Lance Taylor: How much could the top 1% be “reasonably” taxed? If we wanted to tax them as much as rich European countries do, we’d have to double their tax burden. The Obama administration is now floating an increase of about 1% of the top group’s income. That’s not going to do a lot for income inequality given how much richer the rich have gotten since 1980. A marginal tax rate around 60%, the Scandinavian norm, could do the trick, but putting it into place here seems highly unlikely. The same observation applies to higher capital gains taxation and Piketty’s recommendation of a tax on wealth. It won’t be enough.
Of course taxes could also be raised on less affluent households, but the prospects are not much better. Our models show that unless the U.S. tax/transfer system is made dramatically more progressive, adjustments around the edges will not have much impact on income inequality.
On the wage front, we looked at what would happen if you raised the wages 10% for the poorest 20%, and 5% for the next 20%. That would sound like a pretty big proposal if an American politician floated it. But our models show that it hardly moves the Palma ratio. It does very little to change income inequality. (The “Palma ratio” draws a contrast between the rich and poor. It tells us “in the U.S., the income per household of the top 1% compared to the bottom 40% has more than doubled since the 1980s, while incomes at the bottom were virtually flat. Compared to other rich countries, the ratio here is very high.”)
Also, you have to keep in mind that the U.S. transfer system effectively “taxes” you at a steep rate if you’re low income and get a higher wage because your benefits, like Medicaid, will be reduced. When you factor in these kinds of mechanisms, you see that policy initiatives within the range now be being discussed will not strongly affect income inequality in the U.S. economy.
LP: Thomas Piketty’s work on inequality has generated enormous interest. How does your analysis of how the rich grow richer differ from his?
LT: To judge from his writing, Piketty is well aware that social relations and power strongly influence income inequality. But there are problems with the way he thinks economies work in the long run. He’s using the standard supply-driven growth model, assuming that there is always full employment and investment is determined by saving.
But there’s another way of looking at growth, with less than full employment and investment driving demand. From this view, economies grow when people spend their money on goods and services.
Luigi Pasinetti, a Cambridge economist, has looked at the economy in terms of two classes – “capitalists” who collect profits on the capital they own and “workers” who get the rest of income. Extending his work shows that when the wage share falls over time, workers will not only have less wealth, but economic growth will slow because people don’t have as much money to buy goods and services. In other words, wage repression (and excess capital gains, too) creates stagnation in the long run. You can think of the top 1% as Pasinetti’s capitalists and the middle class as his workers. (Poor households don’t figure into the story of wealth because they don’t have any, although they do have an impact on the economy when they spend money on goods and services).
Our preliminary simulations show that the top 1%’s share of wealth might stabilize in the range of 50% (half the total pie), and the growth rate might settle down at less than 2% per year, which would be a less vibrant economy than we’re used to. One bit of good news for middle class families is that in the long run, they do retain the power to save from wages, which to an extent protects their wealth. Piketty does not take this linkage into account. But overall, a falling wage share will hurt the entire economy and hold back everyone, even, eventually, those at the top.
LP: Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary and advisor to President Obama, is now co-chairing a commission on inequality sponsored by Center for American Progress (CAP). The commission has a new report that looks at how to increase wages and living standards for working families. Do you think their suggestions could work?
LT: Summers is the bellwether of mainstream macroeconomics. When he changes his mind others follow, so his recognition of the problem of income inequality is all to the good. But the mainstream’s basic supply-driven growth model is the same as Piketty’s, which is reflected in the CAP report. The report does mention the problem of deficient demand — how the economy suffers when regular people don’t have enough money to spend on goods and services, and it advocates policies to boost income. But the basic analysis looks at potential economic growth from the supply side. Its recommendations such as improved education (or more “human capital”), modest tax reform, and provision of public jobs, tailored to perceived political limitations, are mostly supply-oriented and of the same magnitude as the ones I’ve mentioned. I doubt that they would much impact on American inequality.
LP: In your view, is there anybody in the U.S. offering meaningful approaches to income inequality? LT: Not in the general political debate. LP: So what’s to stop us from becoming a Downton Abbey society?
LT: We’ve got to have a real social consensus that the way things are going is dangerous and unacceptable, and an understanding that it will take seriously progressive taxation to make a dent in the problem. But I am not optimistic about the prospects. Through various channels 10% of national income has been transferred to an über class. Without the political will, that sort of change is difficult to undo.
— From the Institute for New Economic Thinking. The full article is at
7. DIVISIONS REMAIN OVER FUTURE CLIMATE TALKS
|Young people demonstrated at the UN Climate meeting in Peru last December.|
The EU has criticized the glacial pace of UN negotiations on a global deal to combat climate change due to be signed in Paris this year, in a sign of the growing unease among some countries about the eventual outcome of the agreement.
“Time is of the essence here,” said Ilze Pruse, a senior EU delegate, as a week of talks ended in Geneva where representatives from more than 190 nations produced an official negotiating text for the Paris pact, due to be signed in December.
The draft document ballooned from fewer than 40 pages to 86 pages during the week and is full of what Pruse said were repetitive options that could have been easily trimmed before envoys knuckle down to the far harder task of deciding what may actually stay in the agreement at their next scheduled negotiating session in Bonn in June.
The Paris deal, if agreed, will be the first in more than 20 years of UN climate negotiations to require all countries, rich and poor, to do something to stem the rising greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the atmosphere, raising sea levels and fomenting more ferocious weather.
It would effectively replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, an international climate treaty that requires wealthy countries to cut their emissions but not nations then classed as developing, such as China, which is now the world’s biggest carbon polluter.
While the Geneva meeting was only supposed to come up with an official negotiating text for the Paris pact, informal talks during the week revealed that a vast array of differences remain between countries over what the final agreement should look like.
|400,000 marched for climate sanity in NYC last September.|
That week climate protests were held in 162 countries.
Small island states most at risk from rising sea levels are among those demanding the deal should include a firm date some time this century, perhaps as soon as 2050, for phasing out man-made emissions, the bulk of which come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia and many other countries that do not rely as heavily on fossil fuel exports for their national income say this date is completely unrealistic and even later deadlines could be difficult.
The EU and many middle-income countries insist that whatever emissions targets are eventually pledged by countries as part of the agreement, they should be made as legally binding as possible, a position other countries are uneasy about.
Meanwhile, the question of how much responsibility which developed versus developing countries should bear — and pay — for lowering emissions hangs over the whole agreement. The U.S. and many others say 20-year-old divisions between rich and poor nations enshrined in earlier UN agreements cannot be maintained in Paris.
|Indigenous delegates dance at UN climate change |
meeting in Peru last December.
French climate envoy, Laurence Tubiana, said this was why it was crucial for the Paris pact to produce a system of long-lasting and increasing global action on climate change.
While the EU was frustrated by the slow pace of progress in Geneva, Christiana Figueres, head of the Bonn-based UN secretariat that helps manage the talks, said the week had offered an invaluable opportunity for all delegates to meet and understand each other’s positions better before they start tougher negotiations in Bonn in June.
“Of course, the downside is that in June they do have 86 pages to deal with and that is an added challenge,” she said.
Climate campaigners, who often loudly criticize UN negotiations for being too slow and out of touch with the public’s desire for greater climate action, were unusually positive about the meeting. “Yes, the text has grown but it was always going to grow,” said Julie-Anne Richards of the Climate Action Network, adding it was much more important that countries had agreed relatively swiftly and harmoniously on what such a complicated document could look like.
Inside Climate News reported that “Even Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace conceded that the Geneva drafting session was ‘not a complete loss.’ At the same time, he said that unless there was further concrete progress, the Paris treaty was in danger of becoming an "empty shell.’"
Meanwhile, countries around the world are preparing to formally publish their emissions reduction targets ahead of the Paris meeting, with the EU, the U.S. and others expected to divulge them before the end of March.
8. REPUBLICANS ACCELERATE ANTI-UNION DRIVE
By Peter Moskowitz
Credit: Ben Wiseman New York Times 2-16-15
You could be forgiven for forgetting them, considering that union membership has been on the decline for decades from its high of about 35 percent in the 1950s. That makes it all the more strange that in 2015—when union membership in the U.S. has fallen to a measly 11.1% — Republicans have cast unions as the ultimate economic villain, responsible for job loss, stagnating wages, and increased foreign competition for labor. The less power unions have, the more Republicans seem to fight against them.
This week, newly elected Illinois governor Bruce Rauner signed an executive order that will prevent public-sector unions in the state from collecting mandatory dues from employees who choose to decline union membership. Those fees, often called “fair share” dues, are unions’ guarantee that the people who benefit from union contracts will kick in their fair share for the cost of organizing and running the union, regardless of whether or not they choose to participate in it.
Fair share dues have been a feature of union organizing since their beginning; the movement against those dues seems to date back over 100 years. But it wasn’t until the 1940s, when a racist oil lobbyist named Vance Muse pushed for right-to-work bills, which allow people to opt-out of paying union dues and membership, even if a workplace is unionized and every employee benefits from a union-negotiated contract. It was an attempt to stop unions from pushing for integration and for the economic power of the working class (especially African Americans); the practice began to catch on. Now, 25 states have some form of right-to-work legislation on the books.
Before becoming governor, Rauner was one of the heads of GTCR, a private equity firm that specialized in finding smaller companies in local markets, merging them with similar companies, and giving them a star CEO—a process which often involved layoffs of workers. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that, to hear Rauner tell it, the fair share fee is the only thing keeping the state’s unemployment rate above 6 percent.
“Forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers,” Rauner said. “An employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree. That is a clear violation of First Amendment rights—and something that, as governor, I am duty bound to correct.”
Rauner: Just one more everyday
extreme anti-working class governor.
“It’s bizarre—lawless and bizarre,” said Martin Malin, the director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at the Illinois Institute of Technology Kent College of Law. “But you need to view it in a broader context. It fits in with what’s going on nationally.”
In Kentucky, several counties passed their own right-to-work legislation, giving the state a patchwork of laws governing union dues. In Pennsylvania, Republican state legislators last year tried to stop unions from automatically deducting dues from people’s paychecks. In California, there’s a lawsuit headed to the Supreme Court, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which could turn it into a right-to-work state. This year, legislators in Wisconsin, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Missouri will all be considering right-to-work laws that would bar unions from charging fair share dues to non-members.
These pushes to quash unions could be seen as individual acts of anti-unionism. But with the 2016 elections looming, it’s worth considering what coordinated strategies might be at play: Attacking unions and the way they take in money isn’t just a great way to weaken them, but it also encourages corporate interests to donate money, which in turn might undermine the financial and political support of the Democratic Party. If Scott Walker’s successful 2011 push to gut collective bargaining in Wisconsin was any indication, rabid anti-unionism is a great way to gin up conservative anger and reel in cash....
— This Feb. 15 New Republic article continues at http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121051/bruce-rauner-wants-gut-unions-illinois
9. THE UKRAINIAN DENOUEMENT
A Donetsk People’s Republic soldier is photographed at the damaged Savur Mogila monument near the city of Snizhnee in eastern Ukraine. The monument honors Red Army troops who fell during the second world war. Credit: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty.
[At the moment the recent Minsk cease-fire agreement in the Ukraine is holding. Many doubt this will continue for long. A number of left annalists believe the U.S. prefers hostilities to continue to the point where sharply increased sanctions and international condemnation will definitively ostracize and weaken Russia. This article largely deals with the crucial financial stakes involved in the Ukraine affair.]
By Michael Hudson, 2-16-15
The fate of Ukraine is now shifting from the military battlefield back to the arena that counts most: that of international finance. Kiev is broke, having depleted its foreign reserves on waging war that has destroyed its industrial export and coal mining capacity in the Donbass (especially vis-à-vis Russia, which normally has bought 38% of Ukraine’s exports). Deeply in debt (with €3 billion falling due on Dec. 20 to Russia), Ukraine faces insolvency if the IMF and Europe do not release new loans next month to pay for new imports as well as Russian and foreign bondholders.
Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko announced on Friday that she hopes to see the money begin to flow in by early March. But Ukraine must meet conditions that seem almost impossible: It must implement an honest budget and start reforming its corrupt oligarchs (who dominate in the Rada [parliament] and control the bureaucracy), implement more austerity, abolish its environmental protection, and make its industry “attractive” to foreign investors to buy Ukraine’s land, natural resources, monopolies and other assets, presumably at distress prices in view of the country’s recent devastation.
Looming over the IMF loan is the military situation. On Jan. 28, Christine Lagarde said that the IMF would not release more money as long as Ukraine remains at war. Cessation of fighting was to begin Sunday morning. But Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh announced that his private army and that of the Azov Battalion [both neofascist], will ignore the Minsk agreement and fight against Russian-speakers. He remains a major force within the Rada.
How much of Ukraine’s budget will be spent on arms? Germany and France made it clear that they oppose further U.S. military adventurism in Ukraine, and also oppose NATO membership. But will Germany follow through on its threat to impose sanctions on Kiev in order to stop a renewal of the fighting? For the United States bringing Ukraine into NATO would be the coup de grace blocking creation of a Eurasian powerhouse integrating the Russian, German and other continental European economies [favored by Moscow].
The Obama administration is upping the ante and going for broke, hoping that Europe has no alternative but to keep acquiescing. But the strategy is threatening to backfire. Instead of making Russia “lose Europe,” the United States may have overplayed its hand so badly that one can now think about the opposite prospect. The Ukraine adventure turns out to be the first step in the United States losing Europe. It may end up splitting European economic interests away from NATO, if Russia can convince the world that the epoch of armed occupation of industrial nations is a thing of the past and hence no real military threat exists – except for Europe being caught in the middle of Cold War 2.0.
For the U.S. geopolitical strategy to succeed, it would be necessary for Europe, Ukraine and Russia to act against their own potential economic self-interest. How long can they be expected to acquiesce in this sacrifice? At what point will economic interests lead to reconsideration of old geo-military alliances and personal political loyalties?
This becoming urgent because it is the first time that [modern] continental Europe has been faced with such war on its own borders (if we except Yugoslavia). Where is the advantage for Europe supporting one of the world’s most corrupt oligarchies north of the Equator?
America’s Ukrainian adventure by [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton’s neocon appointee Victoria Nuland (kept on and applauded by John Kerry, as well as by NATO) is forcing Europe to commit itself to the U.S. or pursue an independent line. George Soros (whose aggressive voice is emerging as the Democratic Party’s version of Sheldon Adelson) recently urged (in the newly neocon New York Review of Books) that the West give Ukraine $50 billion to re-arm, and to think of this as a down payment on military containment of Russia. The aim is old [Zbigniew] Brzezinski strategy: to foreclose Russian economic integration with Europe. The assumption is that economic alliances are at least potentially military, so that any power center raises the threat of economic and hence political independence.
|Pro-Russia rebel soldiers took parts from wrecked Ukrainian tank Feb 16.|
First Confrontation: Will the IMF Loan Agreement try to stiff Russia?
The IMF has been drawn into U.S. confrontation with Russia in its role as coordinating Kiev foreign debt refinancing. It has stated that private-sector creditors must take a haircut, given that Kiev can’t pay the money its oligarchs have either stolen or spent on war. But what of the €3 billion that Russia’s sovereign wealth fund loaned Ukraine, under London rules that prevent such haircuts? Russia has complained that Ukraine’s budget makes no provision for payment. Will the IMF accept this budget as qualifying for a bailout, treating Russia as an odious creditor? If so, what kind of legal precedent would this set for sovereign debt negotiations in years to come?
International debt settlement rules were thrown into a turmoil last year when U.S. Judge Griesa gave a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of the pari passu clause [A Latin phrase meaning "equal footing"] with regard to Argentina’s sovereign debts. The clause states that all creditors must be treated equally. According to Griesa (uniquely), this means that if any creditor or vulture fund refuses to participate in a debt writedown, no such agreement can be reached and the sovereign government cannot pay any bondholders anywhere in the world, regardless of what foreign jurisdiction the bonds were issued under.
This bizarre interpretation of the “equal treatment” principle has never been strictly applied. Inter-governmental debts owed to the IMF, ECB and other international agencies have not been written down in keeping with private-sector debts. Russia’s loan was carefully framed in keeping with London rules. But U.S. diplomats have been openly – indeed, noisily and publicly – discussing how to “stiff” Russia. They even have thought about claiming that Russia’s Ukraine loans (to help it pay for gas to operate its factories and heat its homes) are an odious debt, or a form of foreign aid, or subject to anti-Russian sanctions. The aim is to make Russia “less equal,” transforming the concept of pari passu as it applies to sovereign debt.
Just as hedge funds jumped into the fray to complicate Argentina’s debt settlement, so speculators are trying to make a killing off Ukraine’s financial corpse, seeing this gray area opened up. The Financial Times reports that one American investor, Michael Hasenstab, has $7 billion of Ukraine debts, along with Templeton Global Bond Fund. New speculators may be buying Ukrainian debt at half its face value, hoping to collect in full if Russia is paid in full – or at least settle for a few points’ quick run-up.
The U.S.-sponsored confusion may tie up Russia’s financial claims in court for years, just as has been the case with Argentina’s debt. At stake is the IMF’s role as debt coordinator: Will it insist that Russia take the same haircut that it’s imposing on private hedge funds?
This financial conflict is becoming a new mode of warfare. Lending terms are falling subject to New Cold War geopolitics. This battlefield has been opened up by U.S. refusal in recent decades to endorse the creation of any international body empowered to judge the debt-paying capacity of countries. This makes every sovereign debt crisis a grab bag that the U.S. Treasury can step in to dominate. It endorses keeping countries in the U.S. diplomatic orbit afloat (although on a short leash), but not countries that maintain an independence from U.S. policies (e.g., Argentina and BRICS members Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
Looking forward, this position threatens to fracture global finance into a U.S. currency sphere and a BRICS sphere. The U.S. has opposed creation of any international venue to adjudicate the debt-paying capacity of debtor nations. Other countries are pressing for such a venue in order to save their economies from the present anarchy. U.S. diplomats see anarchy as offering an opportunity to bring U.S. diplomacy to bear to reward friends and punish non-friends and “independents.” The resulting financial anarchy is becoming untenable in the wake of Argentina, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other sovereign debtors whose obligations are unpayably high.
— CONTINUED AT: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/02/16/ukraine-denouement/
Michael Hudson’s book summarizing his economic theories, “The Bubble and Beyond,” is now available in a new edition with two bonus chapters on Amazon. His latest book is “Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. He can be reached at email@example.com
10. IDEOLOGY STILL MATTERS IN
CHINA’S INTELLECTUAL LANDSCAPE
In recent weeks, the ideological drumbeat has been growing ever louder across China. After the crackdown on social media that started in 2013, late 2014 saw the targeting of the academy. It started in November, with an open letter in Liaoning Daily, which accused academics of portraying China in overly disparaging terms. Professors, it was argued, did not pay sufficient respect to China’s history, to the specificity of its political system and to the Party.
In December, President Xi Jinping gave a speech at a conference on Party building in higher education, in which he called on universities to keep a tighter grip on ideological rectitude. Reports emerged of a secret missive, nicknamed Document No. 30, which demanded the eradication of Western ideas from campuses. Then, in one week, the Party Center released three documents outlining a comprehensive restructuring of China’s intellectual institutions. A first imposed new demands on ideological research and teaching in higher education, a second outlined plans to develop political think tanks, while a third – another Xi speech – stressed the importance of dialectical materialism [the philosophical basis of Marxism] as a methodology for addressing political questions.
One way of looking at this latest campaign is by framing it in the broader ideological rectification and discipline campaign that Xi has deployed since his accession in November 2012. When he took over as General Secretary, Xi found a Party and a state in chaos: corruption had become endemic, and the Party organization was still reeling from the Bo Xilai fallout. Social media and the Internet had severely challenged the Party’s ability to manage information. Observers both inside and outside China denounced former President Hu Jintao’s tenure (2002-2012) as a “lost decade”, and that democratization and openness had become an inevitable necessity for China’s further development.
Rather than catering to these demands, however, Xi has methodically neutralized opposition across the political spectrum. When liberal reformers called for “constitutional governance” at the end of 2012, the leadership countered with Document No. 9, another secret circular that identified seven crucial ideological dangers, including the promotion of Western constitutionalism, universal values, civil society, neoliberal economics, freedom of the press, historical nihilism and challenging Socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Internet and the academy were singled out as the two main venues where these ideological risks materialized.
The Internet was targeted first. In the second half of 2013, a protracted crackdown took down the online celebrities and opinion leaders that had become known as Big Vs. New regulations imposed jail sentences on the publication of harmful information, if it were retweeted more than 500 times. This vastly reduced the attraction of public communication forums such as Weibo, and hastened an exodus towards more private applications, most notably WeChat. The Internet governing order was consolidated in 2014 with the establishment of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs and the expansion of the Cyberspace Administration of China. Public WeChat accounts were put under stricter controls, real-name registration systems began to be more aggressively implemented across various areas, and online video and literature came under closer scrutiny. Concerns about foreign infiltration through computer software and hardware are currently being addressed through import substitution measures and security reviews.
said universities had to "shoulder |
the burden of learning and researching
the dissemination of Marxism."
There are quite a few reasons why the academy is targeted. First, it has internationalized more than any other professional group in China. Many well-regarded Chinese professors have either been educated abroad, or have spent considerable time outside China as visiting researchers. This time spent living in a different political environment has provided them with a more nuanced understanding of social and political organization in other countries than can be gained in short trips.
Second, they have considerable input into policymaking processes. China’s technocratic governance mode has often valued expert input more than public participation. This, therefore, provides academics with avenues to transform imported ideas into reality. Third, “patriotic worrying” is a part of Chinese intellectual tradition, which compels academics to relentlessly search out flaws in the China of the present in order to perfect the China of the future. Fourth, as educators, they are crucial in shaping the worldview of a new generation. However, the current generation of millennials is already seen as rebellious and hedonistic, and it seems the leadership has decided that they’d better not be further confused. Remember: political protests in China over the last century, from May Fourth to Tiananmen, have tended to originate from universities.
Previous administrations had tended to accommodate and tolerate intellectual gadflies. Perhaps they preferred critical voices inside the tent; perhaps it was recognized that open debate (albeit in closed circles) would enable the emergence of new ideas and suggestions for policy reform. Certainly, foreign academics attending Chinese conferences are often surprised by the vigor and the robustness of the debate. That debate has now been strictly circumscribed. Xi’s rhetorical push of the “Chinese Dream,” and his call for more self-confidence about China’s unique path, buttressed by “the theory and the system of Socialism with Chinese characteristics” have been oriented at making clear once and for all that the core elements of the Western liberal democratic order are utterly unsuited to the Chinese context, and that no illusions to the contrary should be harbored. Instead, Xi proposes a nativist-exceptionalist approach, which focuses on – a politically correct version of – Chinese history and politics.
In short, this ideological push is primarily aimed at curtailing the independence and autonomy of the Chinese academy, imposing ideology, and refocusing the task of universities toward teaching, rather than research. The latter task, as the second Central Committee document seems to suggest, will be shifted towards a batch of to-be-established think tanks. Specifically, this plan for their development seeks to enhance think tanks’ role in enhancing the Party’s governing capacity at home, and its soft power abroad. In particular, Party schools, scientific academies such as the Chinese Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Social Science and administrative academies are tasked with developing institutes providing policy recommendations and consultancy, to be operational by 2020.
In an interesting manner, this move not only reduces the importance of the higher education sector, it can also be interpreted as a move to centralize decision-making powers. Hitherto, the specialist knowledge needed to make policy decisions was mostly found within ministries. This gave them considerable power vis-à-vis the central leadership, as well as ample opportunities for obfuscation, to deflect demands from higher up and shirk responsibility. The successive new leading groups and commissions created in the wake of the 3rd Plenum took a considerable chunk of policy responsibilities away from the state bureaucracy, but therefore require comprehensive knowledge and information input. Furthermore, research by bodies whose primary allegiance is not their supervisory ministry can function as an additional layer of internal oversight and accountability, as these think tanks will be evaluated on the basis of the utility of their reports to the central leadership and their staff organizations, rather than individual departments.
Why, then, does Xi Jinping stress the importance of dialectical materialism? Does he actually believe in Marxist theory? Roderick MacFarquhar, the doyen of Chinese political scholarship, suggests Xi is mostly interested in Leninism: the organization of centralized power. Certainly, the way in which Xi has reorganized the central Party organization and seems to understand the importance of information in bureaucratic processes suggests he is a shrewd political operator. From that angle, invoking dialectical materialism allows Xi to do two things. First, it is a direct reference to the intellectual lineage of the Party. Dialectical materialism and its associated doctrine of contradictions were key elements of Mao Zedong Thought, and their revival demonstrates a further turn away from foreign models and approaches.
Not like the old days, but Xi says Marxist ideology still counts.
The renewed emphasis on Party theory can also be seen against a broader background of relegitimizing CCP rule. Earlier in this space, Tim Heath argued that a move away from revolutionary politics led the Party to seek legitimacy through the claim that it alone possesses the intellectual method that can ensure good governance and “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. It must therefore continually demonstrate its ability to define a discourse of proprietary terms, concepts and methods, as much as its capability to develop and implement sound policies. In many cases, this discourse is hollow, vapid or fails to stand up to rigorous evaluation – yet another reason to ensure that academics are muzzled.
What are the implications of these initiatives on Chinese governance, and how should outside observers respond? Certainly, Xi Jinping is playing for high stakes, and there is an army of critics who suggest we are witnessing the last throes of a waning regime. In his relentless pursuit of discipline, austerity and rectitude inside and outside of the Party, Xi has made life rather more difficult for a considerable number of people, and it is not impossible a day of reckoning might come sooner or later. Such events, if they were to happen, could well be catastrophic. The Party is so enmeshed in all aspects of social, economic and political life in China that it is nearly impossible to conceive of the country without it. In any case, it is difficult for any political system to keep up with the levels of stress we are seeing in China for a prolonged period of time. Sooner or later, Xi will need to preside over a return to some sort of normalcy.
Inevitable democratization has essentially been the mainstream scenario in Western China-watching circles since the Eighties. But what if this is wrong? What if Xi succeeds creating a model of non-democratic statecraft that is able to generate political stability, administrative efficiency and material well-being. To many, this is unimaginable. Yet prudence dictates that we imagine it. A political crisis in China would reverberate around the world because of its magnitude. But a successful China might, in the end, provide a more profound challenge to the outside world. At least, China watchers should attempt to take Xi’s ideological claims seriously, rather than dismiss them as mere political rhetoric. They may be around longer than many China watchers might hope or think.
— Oxford University’s Rogier Creemers is a Rubicon Scholar at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, an Associate at the China Centre and the editor the China Copyright and Media blog.
— From The Sinocism China Newsletter, 2-9-15.
11. U.S. COPS KILL EVERY 8 HOURS IN 2015
Blurred photo of police shooting to death an unarmed man in in Pasco, Washington, Feb. 10. Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, was killed after he allegedly hurled rocks at vehicles and Police officers. The family of the Mexican national has filed a $25 million claim against the city.
One could easily get the impression from watching the corporate mass media or listening to public officials like President Obama and FBI director James Comey that the police death toll is raising rapidly and policing is an especially deadly occupation. This does not appear to be true.
In his Jan. 20 State of the Union address, Obama drew an equal sign between the danger faced by police and those who are the victims of police brutality and murder: “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”
Speaking on Jan. 4 at the funeral of a New York City police officer who was shot and killed, Comey said he was “shocked and bewildered” by the number of police killed nationwide in 2014: 115, compared to 100 in 2013.
By comparison, as of Feb.15, U.S. police have killed at least 136 people so far in 2015, an average of three per day, the vast majority by gunfire. Last year, police killed more than 1,100 people according to the killedbypolice.net website, nearly three times the number reported by local and state police and sheriff’s departments to the FBI. The FBI reporting is voluntary, and many departments, large and small —including New York City — do not participate.
|Militarized Police SWAT teams are proliferating across the U.S.|
In the first 44 days of 2015, while 13 police died while on duty, no police were killed by hostile action, according to the pro-police website, “Officer Down Memorial Page.” All of the reported deaths have been attributed to illness or accidents.
The “Officer Down” site records every police, sheriff, prison guard, Border Patrol and other civilian agency and military police fatality, including those outside the country. Many federal, state, local government agencies as well as colleges and universities have their own police departments. There are railroad police, transit police, forestry police, park police, fish and game police, and many, many more.
“Officer Down” lists 122 police fatalities in 2014. Of those, 63 were due to illness or accident, 59 by hostile action. In 2013, the same source reported 112 police killed, 73 due to illness or accident, 39 by hostile action. In 2012, 130 were killed, 65 by hostile action. In 2011, 180 were reported killed, 87 due to attacks.
All together, there are well over 1.5 million police and prison guards in the U.S. According to the 2013 report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics on fatal injuries, “Police and sheriff’s patrol deputies” ranked as the 41st most dangerous occupation, with far lower death rates not only for such jobs as logging, mining, fishing, and farming, but also plane piloting, truck driving, recycling and more..
— From Liberation News, http://www.liberationnews.org/, Feb. 14, 2015
12. U.S. REJECTS TREATY ON CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
Within a matter of months, the U.S. government seems likely to become the only nation in the world still rejecting the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sometimes called “the most ratified human rights treaty in history,” the Convention has been ratified by 195 nations, leaving the United States and South Sudan as the only holdouts. South Sudan is expected to move forward with ratification later this year. But there is no indication that the United States will approve this children’s defense treaty.
In the words of Human Rights Watch, the Convention establishes “global standards to ensure the protection, survival, and development of all children, without discrimination. Countries that ratify the treaty pledge to protect children from economic and sexual exploitation, violence, and other forms of abuse, and to advance the rights of children to education, health care, and a decent standard of living.”
It is hard to imagine why the U.S. government, which often lectures other countries about their human rights violations, should object to these humane standards for the protection of children. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush played an important role in drafting the treaty, which was signed by the U.S. government in 1995. Although the U.S. Senate has never ratified (or even considered ratifying) the pact, U.S. ratification is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of University Women, the American Baptist Churches, the American Bar Association, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Child Welfare League of America, Church Women United, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Kiwanis, the National Education Association, the United Food & Commercial Workers, the United Methodist Church, and about a hundred other organizations.
|"One child, one book, one teacher and one |
pen can change the world." — Malala Yousafzai
A key allegation of conservatives is that the Convention “poses a serious threat to parental rights.” In fact, though, as Human Rights Watch observes, the treaty “refers repeatedly to the rights and responsibilities of parents to raise and provide guidance for their children.” Indeed, 19 articles of the treaty explicitly recognize the importance of parents and family in children’s lives.
In addition, conservatives argue that the Convention, as an international treaty, would override the Constitution of the United States, as well as federal and state legislation, thereby destroying American sovereignty. And, in fairness to the critics, it must be acknowledged that some current American laws do clash with the Convention’s child protection features. For example, in the United States, children under the age of 18 can be jailed for life, with no possibility of parole. Also, as Human Rights Watch notes, “exemptions in U.S. child labor laws allow children as young as 12 to be put to work in agriculture for long hours and under dangerous conditions.” Moreover, the treaty prohibits cruel and degrading punishment of children―a possible source of challenge to the one-third of U.S. states that still allow corporal punishment in their schools. But most U.S. laws are thoroughly in line with the Convention.
Perhaps the underlying objection of conservatives is that the Convention calls for government action to promote the health, education, and welfare of children. And conservatives oppose such action for everyone, including children, often quite effectively. Thus, despite America’s vast wealth, it ranks near the bottom of industrialized nations in child poverty (one out of six children), the gap between rich and poor, low birth weight, infant mortality, child victims of gun violence, and the number of children in jail.
Given the conservative opposition to the Convention, it is ironic that, even if it were ratified by the U.S. Senate, it would have little immediate impact upon the United States. As Amnesty International points out, “the Convention contains no controlling language or mandates,” and “no treaty can `override’ our Constitution.” Any changes in U.S. law would be implemented through federal and state legislation in a timeframe determined by the U.S. legislative process. Nor would any changes in American laws necessarily occur, for the U.S. government generally ratifies human rights treaties with the qualification that they not override existing American laws. In addition, “the United States can reject or attach clarifying language to any specific provision of the Convention.”
Even so, U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child would have an important effect on the treatment of children in the United States, just as the ratification of the Convention has affected behavior in other lands, for it would establish agreed-upon guidelines. Like other human rights treaties, the Convention would set humane standards that can be invoked in calling for appropriate government action. Kul Chandra Gautam, a former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, has termed it “a moral compass, a framework of accountability against which all societies can assess their treatment of the new generations.”
Praising the treaty, Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director and a former White House National Security Advisor, stated recently: “The central message of the Convention is that every child deserves a fair start in life. What can be more important than that?”
Unfortunately, some Americans don’t think giving children “a fair start in life” is important at all.
— The text of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, listing the rights, is at http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
—Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, "What’s Going On at UAardvark?” This article appears at the History News Network, 2-8-15.
13. SAMI AL-ARIAN DEPORTED TO TURKEY
By Answer Coalition, 2-5-15
Sami Al-Arian has been deported from the United States, ending over a decade of persecution at the hands of the U.S. government including years of imprisonment.
|Sami Al-Arian and his two children.|
(Photo credit: Muslimmatters.org)
After years of struggle by a wide range of progressive organizations and individuals, a grand jury dropped all charges last year. Washington immediately began deportation proceedings following his exoneration. He was deported to Turkey — but he won his freedom.
In a message to supporters upon being deported, Al-Arian noted that:
“[M]uch of the evidence the government presented to the jury during the six-month trial were speeches I delivered, lectures I presented, articles I wrote, magazines I edited, books I owned, conferences I convened, rallies I attended, interviews I gave, news I heard, and websites I never even accessed. But the most disturbing part of the trial was not that the government offered my speeches, opinions, books, writings, and dreams into evidence, but that an intimidated judicial system allowed them to be admitted into evidence.
“Despite all of the fear-mongering and scare tactics used by the authorities, the jury acted as free people, people of conscience, able to see through Big Brother’s tactics.... Our deep thanks go to the friends and supporters across the U.S., from university professors to grassroots activists, individuals and organizations, who have stood alongside us in the struggle for justice.”
— See excellent Democracy Now interview with Al-Arian from Turkey: http://www.democracynow.org/2015/2/6/exclusive_deported_palestinian_scholar_sami_al
14. CIA WHISTLE BLOWER LEAVES PRISON
By Andrea Germanos, staff writer, Common Dreams
Former CIA agent John Kiriakou said Feb. 9 that the Bush-era torture program "was approved by the president himself" and that the two years he spent behind bars for blowing the whistle on that program was worth it.
Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2013 after pleading guilty to releasing the name of an officer implicated in a CIA torture program to the media and violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. He was released from federal prison last week and is serving out the remainder of his sentence at home.
He is the only government employee who has gone to jail in connection with the torture program — a fact attorney Jesselyn Radack has called "a miscarriage of justice" and which Kiriakou said makes him feel like he's "in the Twilight Zone sometimes."
|John Kiriakou, a free man.|
He explained what led him to reveal in 2007 that "high-value detainee" Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded and tortured in numerous other ways. Kiriakou was part of the CIA team that captured Zubaydah in a house raid in Pakistan, but did not participate in his torture.
"I learned initially that he had been waterboarded in the summer of 2002, at the end of the summer of 2002. And as I said in the 2007 interview with Brian Ross, I believed what the CIA was telling us, that he was being waterboarded, it was working, and we were gathering important, actionable intelligence that was saving American lives," Kiriakou told host Amy Goodman.
"It wasn’t until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasn’t true — he wasn’t producing any information—and that these techniques were horrific. It was in 2007, Amy, that I decided to go public. President Bush said at the time, categorically, 'We do not torture prisoners. We are not waterboarding.' And I knew that that was a lie. And he made it seem as though this was a rogue CIA officer who decided to pour water on people’s faces. And that simply wasn’t true."
"Torture—the entire torture program was approved by the president himself, and it was a very carefully planned-out program. So to say that it was rogue, it was just a bald-faced lie to the American people," Kiriakou said.
He added that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture shows "how wrongheaded the CIA torture program was," and because of this, some prosecutions need to be made.
"What about case officers who took the law into their own hands or who flouted the law and raped prisoners with broomsticks or carried out rectal hydration with hummus? Those were not approved interrogation techniques. Why aren’t those officers being prosecuted? I think, at the very least, that’s where we should start the prosecutions."
That President Obama is not going to pursue prosecution of lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department or CIA heads was understandable, he said, "But what about the CIA officers who directly violated the law, who carried out interrogations that resulted in death?" "Those people should not be above the law." he said.
Despite the nearly two years in the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Penn., where he revealed people under medical care "die with terrifying frequency," he told Democracy Now:
"What has happened since that 2007 ABC News interview is that torture has been banned in the United States. It is no longer a part of U.S. government policy. And I’m proud to have played a role in that. If that cost me 23 months of my life, well, you know what? It was worth it," he concluded.
— Check out the Democracy Now interview: http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=7c55dbbfa32e541749065a92a&id=9cfd02d761&e=80f9acd259
15. HUNDREDS FIGHT FOR SACRED APACHE LAND
As the morning sun rose high enough to burn off the chilly overnight temperatures, mesquite fires scattered throughout the Oak Flat Campground offered a warm welcome to a special day for Arizona’s San Carlos Apache tribe.
Some 300 tribal members and supporters from across the country had gathered to protest the infringement of traditional Apache holy lands. There were Chippewa, Navajo, Lumbee, Paiute, Havasupai, and representatives of the National American Indian Movement and the National American Indian Veterans group, as well as non-indigenous supporters representing myriad concerns including those of environmentalists and other lovers of nature.
All were furious at Congress’s sneaky transfer of sacred Apache land to a mining company and vowing to do what they could to see that it didn’t happen.
“What was once a struggle to protect our most sacred site is now a battle,” said San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler, organizer of the grassroots movement aimed at stopping transfer of hundreds of acres of ceremonial land to those who would dig a mile-wide hole in the ground in a search for copper.
Arizona’s Apache Tribe represents a culturally rich society with heritage tied to Mother Earth. As a people, they extend a Hon Dah welcome greeting to all who wish to share their culture and history. But now they are fighting to keep their holy lands culturally sacrosanct.
“Our homelands continue to be taken away,” said former San Carlos Chairman Wendsler Nosie Sr., decrying what he termed the dirty way in which a land-swap rider had been attached to a must-pass bill that sailed through Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The amended legislation, with the support of Arizona Sen. John McCain, was “an action that constitutes a holy war, where tribes must stand in unity and fight to the very end,” according to Nosie.
The legislation that the former chairman termed “the greatest sin of the world” is the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, which gives a 2,400-acre tribally sacred site to a global mining entity, Resolution Copper, that wants to destroy its natural state with a massive mine intended to extract an ore body located 7,000 feet below ground level. That ground is hallowed to the Apache peoples whose reservation border is just east of the proposed mine at Oak Flat, home to Indigenous Peoples since prehistoric times, a place where acorns and medicinal herbs are gathered and coming-of-age ceremonies are held.
Kicked off by earlier protests in both Tucson and outside McCain’s Phoenix office, the multi-pronged awareness approach to mitigate the potential fate of Oak Flat picked up momentum via a two-day, 44-mile, march from the San Carlos tribal headquarters and culminated in a weekend-long Gathering of Nations Holy Ground Ceremony, at Oak Flat.
Following a holy ground blessing, the morning was filled with traditional, cultural and religious dances, with Rambler dancing and Wendsler joining the group of drummers. The weekend of solidarity was epitomized by guest speaker and activist preacher John Mendez.
“What the system doesn’t know, what Resolution Copper doesn’t know, is there is nothing that can break our spirit and keep us from moving forward to victory,” Mendez told the assembled. “This is a protracted struggle, but if we stay true to task, we will win. A single flame can start a large fire, and we’ve created a fire that cannot be extinguished.”
— From Indian County Today Media Network. Continued at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/09/hundreds-gather-oak-flat-fight-sacred-apache-land-159119
16. DROUGHTS WILL HAMMER U.S. WEST
|There was water here — once. Over time the western drought will get much, much worse.|
As harsh as the current long-running California drought has been, conditions in the American West will substantially worsen in coming years, according to new research.
Later this century, the American Southwest and Central Plains are likely to experience catastrophic drought worse than any in the last millennium, according to research published today by scientists from NASA, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Cornell University. The hotter and dryer conditions will be "driven primarily" by human-caused climate change and could be so severe that communities will struggle to adapt, the study finds.
Eugene Wahl, a paleoclimatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Co., called the results "stunning." "It is clear that they are seeing drought, especially in the Southwest, as being greater than any time in the past," Wahl said. "It is also clear that it is the higher temperatures in the future that are driving it."
Wide swaths of the Western U.S. have already been crippled by drought in the past decade — though controversy reigns about whether it results from human-caused global warming or a natural cycle. Water supplies are shrinking, stifling the region's agriculture and forcing communities to restrict water use. Last month was the driest January on record for California, and the Sierra Nevada snowpack is historically low, essentially ensuring that 2015 will be another drought year.
According to the new research, droughts in the Southwest and Central Plains will only worsen during the second half of this century. The closest comparison is to the 1930s Dust Bowl or 1950s drought, but lasting 35 years instead of just a few years.
"Our results point to a markedly drier future that falls far outside the contemporary experience of natural and human systems in Western North America, conditions that may present a substantial challenge to adaptation," the authors write.
The study was written by Ben Cook from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Toby Ault from Cornell University and Jason Smerdon from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. The findings build upon a body of scientific literature showing that the western half of the U.S. will face challenging drought conditions in decades to come, said Marty Hoerling, a research meteorologist at NOAA....
The results indicate the droughts likely to hit the U.S. in the second half of this century could be more extreme than the "megadroughts" that devastated the continent in the 12th and 13th centuries. These droughts are believed to have contributed to the decline of the Ancient Pueblos civilization on the Colorado Plateau.
One reason the late-21st century droughts will be so challenging to overcome, the authors said, is that humans are already mismanaging the region's water for electricity, industry and agriculture. Groundwater has already been depleted in many areas, as have aboveground reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The existing situation will only act to exacerbate the impacts of future drought, they found.
Ault of Cornell said that such a scenario demands that local, state and federal governments look at drought as a natural disaster, similar to hurricanes and earthquakes. Officials should create preparedness plans sooner rather than later.
— From Inside Climate News
17. GAZA: AL-QASSAM TRAINING CAMPS REOPEN
Palestinian youths hold weapons during a military-style graduation ceremony after being trained at one of the Hamas-run Liberation Camps, in Gaza City, Jan. 29, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Suhaib Salem)
By Hana Salah, Al-Monitor
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — On Jan. 20, less than six months after the end of the most recent Israeli war on Gaza, Hamas re-launched Vanguards of Liberation camps for youth ages 15-21. Some 17,000 young men graduated from this camp Jan. 29 to form, according to the movement, the nucleus of the next Liberation Army.
The Vanguards of Liberation camps, previously organized under the supervision of the Education and Interior Ministries in Hamas-run Gaza, are now under the control of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which some think might be using the camps to recruit young men as fighters. The Brigades are the military wing of Hamas.
Hamas leader Ismail Radwan told Al-Monitor, “The purpose behind the Vanguards of Liberation camps this year is to prepare the [young] generation to protect its dignity. It is a message to the entire world that the Palestinian people will not give up on its right to resistance and that nothing can break its resolve.” He further explained, “It is true that we are no longer in the government, but Hamas has the right to take these generations under its wing and train and raise them.”
18. OBESITY: A GLOBAL ECONOMIC ISSUE
Obesity is now a critical global issue. More than 2.1 billion people – nearly 30% of the global population – are overweight or obese today. That’s nearly two and a half times the number of adults and children who are undernourished. Obesity is responsible for about 5% of deaths worldwide. Simon Stevens, chief executive of the National Health Service England, warned in September, “we are sleepwalking into the worst public health emergency for at least three decades.”
This crisis is not just a pressing social and health issue, but an economic one, too. The global economic impact from obesity is roughly $2 trillion, or 2.8% of global GDP – roughly equivalent to the global impact from smoking or armed violence, war, and terrorism, according to new research by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI)).
Today, the toll of obesity on health systems alone is between 2% and 7% of all healthcare spending in developed economies. That does not include the large cost of treating associated diseases such a type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which takes the healthcare cost up to 20% by some estimates.
And the problem is escalating rapidly. Worldwide, if the prevalence of obesity continues on its current upward trajectory, almost half of the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030.
No country managed to reduce its obesity prevalence between 2000 and 2013. During this period, prevalence grew by 0.5% or more a year in 130 of the 196 countries for which the OECD documents obesity prevalence data (OECD 2014). This was once a problem of relatively prosperous developed economies but, as incomes rise in the emerging world, the problem is spreading. Today, around 60% of the world’s obese people are in developing countries.
There is growing evidence that, on top of the costs to healthcare systems, the productivity of employees is being undermined by obesity. MGI assessed the productivity lost to obesity using the standard measurement of disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs, which measure the number of years that are lost or rendered economically unproductive due to disease. The number of DALYs lost to obesity today is three times as high in developed economies as it is in emerging markets. However, that gap is narrowing. The rise in the number of DALYs per 100,000 people lost because of obesity slowed in developed economies between 1990 and 2010 but soared by 90% in emerging economies....
— From VOXEU, Continued at http://www.voxeu.org/article/obesity-global-economic-issue.
19. GARDNERS: SAVE THE MONARCHS
By the Activist Newsletter
The Monarch Butterfly, once of the best known of its species in the United States, is in deep trouble. Where once an estimated one billion of these splendid creatures migrated annually to Mexico and back, only 50 million did so last winter. Various environmental factors are the reason.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service( NFWS) has announced it is allocating an additional $2 million for monarch conservation to build upon the agency’s already commitment this year to work with others to restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs while also supporting over 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. The NFWS is also investing in the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund.
NFWS declared recently: “The state of Monarchs reflects the health of the American landscape and its pollinators. Monarch declines are symptomatic of environmental problems that also pose risks to food production, the spectacular natural places that help define our national identity, and our own health. Conserving and connecting habitat for monarchs will benefit many other plants and animals, including critical insect and avian pollinators, and future generations of Americans.”
Residents of New York’s Hudson Valley region can help by planting milkweed in our gardens this spring. Monarchs are in serious decline due to the loss of critical milkweed plants.
—For online sources of milkweed you can Google “common milkweed.” We’ve arbitrarily ordered from http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/ and were satisfied in the past.
— More info: http://www.onearth.org/earthwire/monarch-butterflies-milkweed-migration?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=linkmain&utm_campaign=email
— For tips on planting: http://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/MilkweedFactSheetFINAL.pdf
20. ZOO HOSTS BILINGUAL CHIMPANZEES
By Andy Coghlan
Apple's the word. Chimpanzees can learn to grunt "apple" in two chimp languages – a finding that questions how unique our own language abilities are.
Researchers have kept records of vocalizations of a group of adult chimps from the Netherlands before and after the move to Edinburgh zoo. Three years later, recordings show, the Dutch chimps had picked up the pronunciation of their Scottish hosts.
The finding challenges the prevailing theory that chimp words for objects are fixed because they result from excited, involuntary outbursts. Humans can easily learn foreign words that refer to a specific object, and it was assumed that chimps and other animals could not, perhaps owing to their different brain structure. This has long been argued to be one of the talents making humans unique.
The assumption has been that animals do not have control over the sounds they make, whereas we socially learn the labels for things – which is what separates us from animals, says Katie Slocombe of the University of York, UK.
But this may be wrong, it seems. "The important thing we've now shown is that with the food calls, they changed the structure to fit in with their new group members, so the Dutch calls for 'apple' changed to the Edinburgh ones," says Slocombe. "It's the first time call structure has been dissociated from emotional outbursts."
Slocombe's team recorded apple calls from six "local" and seven "immigrant" chimps in 2010, before they were united in 2012 and 2013. Then they analyzed the acoustics of the calls. They choose to analyze calls for "apple" because this was the most different call between the groups.
The Dutch calls gradually changed to match the local argot in the second year, when the two groups had completely intermingled and formed strong friendships with each other. This means that like us, chimps can learn foreign lingo to fit in with new neighbors.
"This is a very exciting discovery," says Andy Whiten of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, whose own work has shown that chimps can learn to use tools by copying others. "Different communities have different material cultures in the wild, but their vocal communication has always been thought to be more fixed," he says. "This new research suggests that can vary culturally too, as it does in humans."
—From, http://www.newscientist.com. Feb. 5, 2015.