Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nov. 30, 2008, Issue #141

This newsletter/calendar, published in New Paltz, N.Y., appears once a month, supplemented by additional listings of new activist events, usually sent to Valley readers only. Editor, Jack A. Smith (who writes all the articles that appear without a byline or credit to other publications). Copy Editor, Donna Goodman. Calendar Editor, Rocco Rizzo. If you know someone who may benefit from this newsletter, ask them to subscribe at If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address. The current and back issues of the newsletter/calendar are available at



1. With this issue we are referring you to our website in order to access the Activist Newsletter instead of sending our entire long report to you via email. Our newsletter runs between 10,000 and 15,000 words and it is sent to about 3,500 people. The combination of large list and long report creates email problems, including when type gets garbled in transmission. It's an experiment we'd like to make permanent. So after you check out our index, log on to http://activistnewsletter.

2. So far we have received over a dozen messages and phone calls from readers asking if we were organizing buses for Hudson Valley people desiring to attend President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration ceremonies in Washington Jan. 20. We informed them that we only organize transportation to peace and justice events.

We understand buses will be organized by others. Since we've sponsored over 20 such trips averaging four buses each since 9/11, we are quite willing to share our knowledge with those who may be organizing buses for the first time. Just let us know. The Activist Calendar, which we send to Hudson Valley residents only, will list all inaugural buses from our region when the information becomes available. FYI, we do plan to organize buses to Washington March 21 for the big peace protest on the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War.

3. We have two special reports in this issue: First is our article "What To Expect From President Obama." It's long, critical and we think fairly comprehensive. Let us know what you think. Second is a package of three relatively brief articles on climate change, starting with a U.S. intelligence report pointing out the great danger to America and the world from climate change, followed by a report on what Congress is doing about global warming. Last is a report about a local meeting where the speaker, Joel Kovel, questioned whether capitalism is capable of taking the steps required to avoid an ecological disaster.
Note: Spam filters on mass mailings are getting more sophisticated. Add our email address, above, to your address book to avoid the chance of having the newsletter blocked.



1. SUPPORT THE G.W. BUSH LIBRARY — It's unusual to observe a fairly progressive newsletter which has spent the last nearly eight years excoriating George W. Bush to suddenly suggest that you contribute to his post-presidency library — all the modern presidents have them, you know, even the dullards and miscreants — but we are urging you to give unstintingly. To understand why, read on….

2. GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER — Bush and Cheney are about to make their getaway after pulling off the crime of the decade, if not the century. Halt, Halt in the name of the people! But it looks like they are going to get away with it.

3 WHAT TO EXPECT FROM PRESIDENT OBAMA — "Considering the Democratic candidate's known political views and his nominations for the Cabinet and government offices so far, it is obvious that President-elect Obama will…." Take a guess.

4. U.S. REPORT: CLIMATE CHANGE DANGER — After years of obfuscation and denial by the Bush Administration, the National Intelligence Council — the government body that includes all America's intelligence agencies — socks it to us at last. Ouch.

5. CONGRESS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE — The Democratic Congress, no longer fearing a Bush veto, is contemplating serious action, but there is skepticism among some progressives about whether they will meet the challenge.

6. CAN CAPITALISM AVOID CLIMATE CRISIS? — Bard College Professor Joel Kovel, one of the leading leftist figures in the international environmental movement, thinks not, and explains why at a local meeting.

7. HUNGER GROWS IN THE U.S. — "Even before the current economic downturn, some 13 million American households, containing 36.2 million people, lacked access to adequate food at some point in 2007."

8. THE NEWS IN BRIEF — College debt, secret U.S. military engagement, doctors advocate for single payer, racist murder in New York State, a female majority in a state senate (a historic first), and 104 retired generals and admirals say "end Don't ask, Don't tell."

9. CHECK IT OUT — A few articles and videos worth looking in to.



[Editor's Note: The following unsolicited fund appeal was sent to us over the internet the other day signed it is said by the co-chair of the G.W. Bush Library Board of Directors. Now that President Bush is leaving the White House we think it's time to modify our perhaps overly harsh view of this man and let bygones by bygones. He has made mistakes, but honestly, who hasn't?

[President-elect Barack Obama recently told us that "There is not a liberal America, or a conservative America, but a United States of America." He said we are all one people and should put our political differences behind us. He said he will reach out to fellow American politicians "across the aisle" and work together as a team during his four years in office.

[So we say, let's bury our differences in this Age of Obama and unite to work as Americans on the simple task of building a library for a former president of our great country. If we could do it for Clinton, darn it, we can do it for Bush, now that we're all in this together. In a spirit of reconciliation we urge you to read the following appeal from the Bush Library and to give generously.]

Dear Fellow Constituent:

The George W. Bush Presidential Library is now in the planning stages and
accepting donations. The Library will include:

The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.

The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won't be able to remember anything.

The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't even have to show up.

The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.

The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has been able to find.

The National Debt Room, which is huge and has no ceiling.

The Tax Cut Room, with entry only to the wealthy.

The Economy Room, which is in the toilet.

The Iraq War Room. (After you complete your first visit, you'll want to return for a second, third, fourth, fifth and, next March, a sixth visit.)

The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.

The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.

The Supreme Court Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.

The Decider Room, complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.

Note: The library will feature an electron microscope to help you locate and view President Bush's accomplishments.

As a special attraction you will want to visit the Great Quotation Room with its marble walls, upon which are chiseled many of President Bush famous sayings, including such favorites as :

'The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.' 'If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure.' 'Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.' 'No senior citizen should ever have to choose between prescription drugs and medicine.' 'I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy — but that could change.'

And don't forget these: 'Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.' 'I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future.' 'The future will be better tomorrow.' 'We're going to have the best educated American people in the world.' One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.' 'Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.' 'We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.' 'It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.' 'I stand by all the misstatements that I've made.'

Jack Abramoff, Co-Chair
G.W. Bush Library Board of Directors



George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are receding into history at long last, dragging their unsavory legacy behind them like a reeking sack of nightsoil. But they are getting away with murder and mayhem in the process.

And those who have been principally responsible for crippling the U.S. economy — the greedy banks, real estate profiteers, stock market speculators, and neoliberal government officials who presided over the deregulation of the financial markets — are getting bailouts, not FBI investigations and summonses to appear in court.

Bush and Cheney should be tried and punished under international law as war criminals. They launched an illegal, unjust war of aggression that has taken more than a million Iraqi lives. They have repeatedly lied to the American people. They have undermined civil liberties and the Constitution of the United States. They have legalized torture.

Neither of these criminals will pay any penalty whatsoever. The incoming Obama Administration will not say a word. President-elect Barack Obama himself, in recent years, has only spoken of the war as "a mistake," "rash" and "dumb," but never as illegal (according to the UN) or unjust (according to accepted ethical theories of war). The incoming Democratic Congress will not launch any serious investigations into the many crimes of the Bush Administration. The entire Democratic leadership opposed impeachment, including Obama.

When will the nefarious Patriot Act be overturned? When will Obama speak against it? When will the intrusive, illegal surveillance of American citizens without judicial warrants be outlawed for good? When will the officials who justified torture get their comeuppance?

No action will be taken because too many officials are implicated, by commission or omission. It was a bipartisan vote that gave a green light for the immoral invasion of Iraq in 2003, and bipartisan votes that finance the war to this day. By not punishing these and other heinous acts, the new government will, in effect, condone them — and this will be a precedent for any future U.S. government, allowing it to follow suit.

It is extremely doubtful that the government officials and private sector financial swindlers will ever pay for their selfish, or stupid, misdeeds. American taxpayers have already spent $1.4 trillion to bail out the banks and big financial firms.

"In the last year," according to the Nov. 28 New York Times, "the government has assumed about $7.8 trillion in direct and indirect financial obligations [loans, investments and guarantees]. That is equal to about half the size of the nation’s entire economy and far eclipses the $700 billion that Congress authorized for the Treasury’s financial rescue plan." It will be a long time before the final cost to taxpayers will be tallied but it is going to be huge.

Recessions are frequent and inevitable in capitalist economies, due at bottom to overproduction. They happen every five to 10 years, crushing working families far more than those in the upper income brackets. But the current recession is far worse than usual and will cause extreme hardship for the poor, the working class and the lower middle class majority in our country. The reason is that the government allowed the fast-buck financial community to run wild on Wall Street.

That same Bush Administration is now bailing them out, while the incoming Obama Administration is hiring some of the same officials who contributed over the years to creating the present economic contretemps, such as Timothy Geithner, the incoming Treasury Secretary, and Lawrence Summers, named director of the National Economic Council, among others. In a speech in Boston last week, left scholar Noam Chomsky declared that they "shouldn't be giving advice about the economy. They should be given subpoenas."

In the end it seems only the working people of America will pay — with their taxes and their lowered standard of living — for the crimes of those who hoard the wealth and wield the power. And that is how the system works, until it is changed.



The majority of the American people — and evidently the peoples of the world — are anxiously counting the days until Jan. 20 when Barack Obama, the first African American elected to this highest office, becomes the 44th president of the United States.

They have great expectations about the promised transformative changes to come from an Obama Administration, which made "change" its principal argument for election.

After the last eight years of the Bush Administration's military aggression, erosion of civil liberties, and contempt for working families and the poor, some 52% of the American people voted for change. The change they sought wasn't just a change in administrations. They sought peace, less poverty, more equality and justice, new social programs for the people, and rebuilding America, making it a better place.

The first responsibility of the new administration is to extricate the country from a deep recession that may last two or more years, causing suffering for a large portion of the population. In the process, the majority of Americans expect the Obama government to take care of the needs of the people during this crisis, while imposing much tighter regulations on the financial markets and banking system.

Undoubtedly, an Obama Administration will be superior to that of right-wing Sen. John McCain who won 46% of the vote by offering a continuation of George W. Bush's Republican regime which leaves America a virtual shambles. Obama's political program is better for all working people, as will be his Supreme Court appointments. His election is a historic setback for racism.

But being superior to a neoconservative rival does not a progressive make. Considering the Democratic candidate's known political views and his nominations for the Cabinet and government offices so far, it is obvious that President-elect Obama will govern from the center/center-right of the political spectrum.
This is hardly a unique observation. Reporting in the New York Times Nov. 23, reporter David Sanger wrote that nominations for key jobs "suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues."

Not just Obama but the great majority of Democratic Party leadership and members of Congress have confined themselves to the political center/center-right. According to Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, "the country must be governed from the middle." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insists, oddly, that the election victory "was not a mandate for a party or ideology." It was simply a "mandate to stop fighting over the things that divide us and start working on the things we can get done."

Objective conditions — decades of stagnant wages and reduced social benefits, gratuitous wars and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s — are ripe for a period of extensive progressive social reform in the United States for the first time in 40 years. But is it possible for such a flaccid political party to seize this opportunity? We think not.

We suspect the Obama government's domestic program will resemble that of the Clinton administration with an extra spurt of energy and ambition in the first two years because of the recession and the threatening environmental disaster. In foreign affairs, the new administration suggests to us a combination of the Clinton years (1993-2001) and that of "realist" Republican George H.W. Bush (1989-1993). In this connection it is time to drop any remaining misunderstandings that Obama is an "antiwar" president or that his foreign policy will differ substantially from that of mainstream American governments since the end of World War II in 1945.
We have no doubt that Obama will introduce an impressive number of anti-recession initiatives during his first 100 days after entering the White House, including some important measures that have been blocked for years by Republican-controlled Congresses (1995-2007) and President Bush's vetoes.

During the campaign, then-Sen. Obama advocated a $175 billion economic program to beat back the recession — a figure that may double or quadruple after he takes office. This is on top of the $1.4 trillion the Bush Administration is spending to date, not counting trillions more in loans, investments and guarantees, nearly all of which are intended to bail out business and the stock market. Obama supported these bailouts and evidently approves of the actions taken by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke.
The new administration's expressed intentions go beyond the banks and financial institutions. Obama and his transition team say they also will help state governments that are running out of money, provide tax credits for working families, launch infrastructure improvements, create new jobs, and take steps to impede global warming.
It has been suggested by some progressives that these emergency and catch-up programs will transcend the objective of short-term problem-solving and progress into a long-term period of extensive economic and social reform. This is highly improbable, given the narrow political limitations of the Democratic Party.
We cannot agree with the left Democrats and social-democrats, such as a well-known '60s activist and long-time Democrat Tom Hayden of Progressives for Obama, who perceive a possible similarity between the president-elect and Franklin D. Roosevelt, a remarkable reformer for several years during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In his first 100 days alone FDR introduced, fought for and obtained an extraordinary amount of legislation, including such historic triumphs as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. In subsequent years he battled for and won the Social Security Act, Works Progress Administration, National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act and many other bills until World War II ended the depression.
Unless the forthcoming Obama Administration undergoes a spectacular and unlikely renovation, it cannot come close to FDR's record. Like Obama, Roosevelt was not a leftist when he came to power. Far from it. He was a wealthy representative of the ruling class. But as opposed to Obama he was not an ideological centrist committed to generating middle-of-the-road outcomes through bipartisan consensus between the center (Democrats) and the right (Republicans), without the benefit of any input from the left, which is essentially excluded from today's U.S. politics.
Roosevelt was a hard fighter against a right wing that sought (as it does today) to dilute or destroy the progressive programs he felt necessary to get the country back on its feet. He was a pragmatist without tethering himself to the middle of the road, and occasionally introduced programs considerably left of center.
We also disagree with Hayden's suggestion that the many thousands of dedicated young supporters who worked on behalf of Obama's election constitute "a new New Left" — presumably a contemporary resurrection of the fairly radical New Left of the Vietnam era. Would that it were true, but today's Obama "movement," confined within the strongbox of Democratic Party ideology, is not a continuation of yesterday's, or today's, political left.

There are two main reasons for anticipating that the Obama regime will stick close to the center, and when it veers it will gravitate toward the center-right: (1) Some of his expressed political positions, and (2) the caliber of the people he is naming to high government office.

POLITICAL POSITIONS: Many of President-elect Obama's political views and policies are easily acceptable to progressives and the left. But some are questionable in the extreme. Here are a few dozen examples of what we mean, and more such evidence will follow as the article continues:

Obama will escalate the Afghanistan war, sending 20,000 and probably more additional troops; he rejects single-payer healthcare; he has accepted additional offshore drilling for oil; he voted to support the civil-liberties shredding USA Patriot Act; he voted for the snooping Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and for granting immunity to cooperating telephone companies; he supports the death penalty; he backs Bush's endless "War on Terrorism," which has become an excuse for invading other countries; he has voted to finance the Iraq war since he entered the Senate four years ago; he has repeatedly genuflected to right-wing regime-change Cubans in southern Florida, and to AIPAC, an organization that describes itself as America's Pro-Israel Lobby; he has reversed his earlier stand of supporting justice for the Palestinian people in order to secure more votes.

Our incoming president supports the Bush Administration's bailout of the banking and financial sector; he has distanced himself from affirmative action and the issue of police brutality, issues of importance to the black community; he departed from pro-choice to back a ban on late-term abortions unless the mother's health was threatened; he has good words for "clean" coal and nuclear power plants; he has bad words for democratically-elected presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and president Evo Morales of Bolivia; he opposes keeping military recruiters out of schools, and has specifically criticized Columbia University's decision to ban them from campus; he will increase the bloated military budget and expand the size of the Armed Forces; he views "military service as an obligation not just of some, but of many"; he does not seem to understand why it is of the greatest importance for the U.S. to maintain cordial relations with Russia, an equivalent nuclear power.
By blaming Russia and supporting the right wing Georgian president he either backs Georgia's first-strike attack against South Osettia or is confused about who attacked whom; he supports the National Endowment for Democracy, the entity created by Ronald Reagan to subvert governments Washington dislikes; he advocates U.S. attacks in Pakistan even if the Islamabad government says no; he chose a vice president who had been a flaming warhawk who voted to provide Bush with the go-ahead for attacking Iraq, and who, before being selected as a running mate, advocated that Iraq be split into three different countries; he opposed the movement to impeach President Bush; he agreed with the Supreme Court decision reversing the District of Columbia's ban on hand guns; his early opposition to the Iraq war was not based on the fact that it was an unjust and illegal, but a foolish misallocation of military resources.
Obama agrees with the notion that the U.S. deserves to be the world's principal leader, and there is nothing in his foreign policy suggesting that military-backed unipolar global power should be ended; he advocates defining Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, which could subject Iran, which has not started a war in almost 200 years, to anti-terrorist sanctions; most of his foreign policy team, led by Hillary Clinton, supported the Iraq war, as did his national security team; his top economic policy makers previously supported neoliberal deregulation of the financial and banking sector, which helped bring about the recession; his Iraq "withdrawal" plan includes leaving 50,000 or more U.S. troops in the country after the "combat troops" depart, though Bush's new U.S.-Iraq pact may change things; he seems to be giving the progressive, antiwar, and labor movements — which were responsible for his election — hardly any high government positions; if a labor advocate is named labor secretary, as expected, that person will not be part of the administration's economic team.

OBAMA'S APPOINTMENTS: For all the endless talk of change and distancing the new administration from "Washington as usual," virtually all the president-elect's designees for the Cabinet and high government office were Washington insiders of centrist bent, and most at one time reported to arch-centrist Bill Clinton, the once and forever darling of the influential center-right Democratic Leadership Council.

As the New York Times noted about Obama in a news article Nov. 23: "Even after vowing to turn the page on the polarized politics of the baby boom generation, he's made clear that service in the Beltway wars of the last 20 years is not only acceptable, but in some cases necessary for his purposes."

Two of Obama's top domestic selections were Rahm Emanuel as Obama's chief of staff, and Eric Holder at Attorney general:

Rahm Emanuel served as an Illinois congressman and was one of the Democratic house leaders until he was selected to be the president-elect's right hand man in the White House. He is a center-rightist who is close to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and serves as co-chair of a DLC subcommittee. In Congress he was a member of the 58-person center-right New Democrat Coalition, a DLC spin-off slightly to the left of the highly conservative Democratic House members known as the Blue Dog Coalition.

Emanuel, a staunch Zionist, was a senior advisor at the Clinton White House for five years. He played an important role in gaining approval for the North American Free Trade Agreement over the vociferous objections of organized labor. Another of his dubious accomplishments was a major role in terminating the progressive Aid for Dependent Children program. He supported the Iraq war with enthusiasm and is a militarist, pushing for ever higher Pentagon budgets. Obama's selection of warhawk Emanuel to be White House chief of staff is the equivalent of kicking his liberal and antiwar supporters in the teeth.

Eric Holder, a political centrist who is said to enjoy a law-and-order reputation, will be the first African American to become the Attorney General. He was a Justice Department official during the Clinton years, and at one time he functioned as a legal adviser to the Democratic Party. He supported the Patriot Act when it came up for reauthorization in 2005.

In more recent years Holder was a partner in the Washington lobbying firm that handles big tobacco. The firm chose him to defend the Chiquita Brands International conglomerate, which has huge holdings in Latin America and the Caribbean region, which is where Chiquita bananas come from. Chiquita's bosses were charged with supporting right wing death squads in Colombia with millions of dollars.

According to Mario A. Murillo, writing in CounterPunch, "In 2003, an Organization of American States report showed that Chiquita's subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, had helped divert weapons and ammunition, including thousands of AK-47s, from Nicaraguan government stocks to the AUC [a right wing paramilitary group]. The AUC… is responsible for hundreds of massacres, primarily peasants, throughout the Colombian countryside." The was considerable evidence against the Chiquita executives, but the attorney general-designate worked out an arrangement whereby the billion dollar corporation paid an insignificant fine.

The top position in foreign policy will go to Hillary Clinton, a center-right warhawk until she announced her candidacy for president, after which she moved somewhat to the left, and Obama to the right, to the point that they differed little by election day. Both of course support increased U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, and a tough line toward Russia and China. They agree on the direction and continuity of a "muscular" U.S. foreign policy, including the retention of U.S. unipolar global leadership and military bases around the world, total support for Israel, and total opposition to Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and other of Washington's usual whipping boys. They are hardly going to become supporters of the antiwar movement or metamorphose into anti-imperialists. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush should both be pleased by the Obama Administration's foreign policy.
The Obama Defense Department will rest in the hands of Bush Administration Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, another center-rightist and old Washington hand who served for 26 years in the CIA and National Security Council. He was George the First's CIA director. He was named defense secretary by the current President Bush two years ago, replacing the ineffable Donald Rumsfeld, whose hubris and incompetence made his continued command of the Pentagon a massive political liability for the White House.

Gates and Obama will work well together. They agree on practically everything, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and the "realist" school of foreign affairs. They also agree about Gates' old boss, Brent Scowcroft, a former Air Force General who served as National Security Advisor to both Presidents Gerald Ford and the elder Bush. Scowcroft hired Gates to be his deputy in 1989 during the first Bush Administration. Obama recently acknowledged that he had met with Scowcroft for advice several times this year, a signal to moderate Republicans that they had nothing to fear from an Obama State Department. The younger Bush despised Scowcroft because he authored an article in the New York Times and other outlets opposing a war with Iraq, evidently with the elder Bush's approval, several months before the attack. He became politically isolated in Bush's Washington until his sudden connection with Obama.

Another military figure and centrist, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO commander, is headed to a high position in Obama's government — national security adviser. He is a long time friend of Sen. John McCain. They first met in 1979 when he was the Marine Corps Liaison Officer to the Senate and it is alleged by some that he supported the Republican candidate for president this year. Jones was critical of the Iraq war because it obliged the U.S. to "take its eyes off the ball" in Afghanistan. The national security adviser is an extremely influential post because of its proximity to the president. They will meet several times a day and the adviser is often the last voice before presidential decisions.

Given the deep recession, Obama's economic team enjoys more prominence than is usual. It principals, however, have been sharply criticized in left and certain centrist quarters. Drawing most of the fire was the nomination of Timothy Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, as Treasury secretary, and Lawrence Summers, former Clinton Administration Treasury secretary, as director of the National Economic Council. Geithner, another Clinton functionary, had served as Summers' top aid.
Even the centrist New York Times, in a Nov. 25 editorial, commented that Geithner and Summers "have played central roles in policies that helped provoke today’s financial crisis. Mr. Geithner… also has helped shape the Bush administration’s erratic and often inscrutable responses to the current financial meltdown, up to and including this past weekend’s multibillion-dollar bailout of Citigroup….

"As Treasury secretary in 2000, Mr. Summers championed the law that deregulated derivatives, the financial instruments — aka toxic assets — that have spread the financial losses from reckless lending around the globe. He refused to heed the critics who warned of dangers to come. That law, still on the books, reinforced the false belief that markets would self-regulate. And it gave the Bush administration cover to ignore the ever-spiraling risks posed by derivatives and inadequate supervision."

Both men now appear to have turned against deregulation of derivatives and related neoliberal enthusiasms they once held dear, but who wouldn't do so, except President Bush, since such policies have contributed mightily to the near ruination of the U.S. economy? Neither Geithner nor Summers, to our knowledge, has issued a public self-criticism for past shortcomings before or after being so handsomely rewarded with power and prestige by the President-elect.

Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who this year won the Nobel Prize in economics, was one of a number of economists who warned for years against the deregulation of financial markets, the potential danger of stock market derivatives, and the inevitable bursting of the housing bubble. In his column Nov. 29 he delivered implicit criticism of Summers in particular and went on to suggest that the Obama Administration should make financial reform one of its first orders of business because once the economy recovers "the wheeler-dealers will be making easy money again and will lobby hard against anyone who tries to limit their bottom lines."

Commenting on these appointments in a longer article on hunger and poverty in America Nov. 27, Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges stated: "If Barack Obama continues to turn to the elites who created the mess, if he does not radically redirect the nation’s resources to assist the working class and the poor, we will become a third-world country. We will waste gargantuan amounts of money we cannot afford on our military, our national security state and bloated corporations while we damn the middle and working class to the whims, idiocy and greed of an entrenched, corporate oligarchy. Obama’s appointments of [Geithner and Summers] are ominous signals that these elites remain entrenched." (See Check It Out column below to access this important article.)

Politico's Ben Smith also noted that "Obama’s team of treasury secretary and four top economic advisers, introduced as the hands that will steer America’s economy, had no particular ties to the labor movement. And Obama’s secretary of labor [not yet selected] was not introduced as part of that team — a suggestion that that post will retain its second-tier status and quiet voice in matters central to economic policy." The labor post may be the only Cabinet position filled by a center-left nominee, though there could still be surprises.

One of the most important of the articles that suggest Obama does not intend to bring about major changes in U.S. domestic and foreign policies appeared Nov. 24 from George Friedman, CEO of Strategic Forecasting (, who declared:

"Everything Obama is doing with his appointments is signaling continuity in U.S. policy…. "This does not surprise us…. [W]hen Obama’s precise statements and position papers were examined with care, the distance between his policies and John McCain’s actually was minimal…. Obama supporters believed that Obama’s position on Iraq was profoundly at odds with the Bush administration’s. We could never clearly locate the difference. The brilliance of Obama’s presidential campaign was that he convinced his hard-core supporters that he intended to make a radical shift in policies across the board, without ever specifying what policies he was planning to shift, and never locking out the possibility of a flexible interpretation of his commitments. His supporters heard what they wanted to hear….

"His selection of Hillary Clinton is meant to nail down the rightward wing of his supporters in general, and Clinton supporters in particular. His appointment of Geithner at the Treasury and the rumored re-appointment of Gates as secretary of defense are designed to reassure the leftward wing of McCain supporters that he is not going off on a radical tear. Obama’s gamble is that (to select some arbitrary numbers), for every alienated ideological liberal, he will win over two lukewarm McCain supporters….

"To those who celebrate Obama as a conciliator, these appointments will resonate. For those supporters who saw him as a fellow [liberal] ideologue, he can point to position papers far more moderate and nuanced than what those supporters believed they were hearing (and were meant to hear). One of the political uses of rhetoric is to persuade followers that you believe what they do without locking yourself down."
Incidentally, a tip-off that Obama is not going to be harsh toward Wall Street, the financial community and the wealthy was that his campaign received considerably more money from these sources than McCain. The Democratic candidate also won the vote of taxpayers earning more than $200,000 a year by six points, despite his intention to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire and his notice that he planned tax reductions of his own for those earning under $200,000.
Realistically, what are the actual changes that may be expected from the new U.S. government in addition to the immediate programs already mentioned? First it must be recalled that Obama put forward a compelling but absolutely undefined concept of "change you can believe in," to which the great mass of his passionate supporters responded, "Yes we can!" At issue for progressives and opponents of unjust wars, gross inequality and diminished civil liberties is whether President-elect Obama will live up to the high expectations with which his campaign quite methodically captivated the hearts and minds of the multitude.
It seems to us that popular enthusiasm, bordering in some cased on adoration, was partly based on finally getting rid of the neoconservatives, and partly on political hopes and assumptions for transformative change far exceeding the sum total of the Democratic Party's campaign platform and intentions.
There were a couple of interesting bait-and-switches in the Obama campaign since it began in early 2007. Immediately after defeating Sen. Hillary Clinton for the nomination, Obama began moving from centrism with a liberal patina to the center/center-right. And following the Nov. 4 Democratic victory, which owed much to the popular belief that major "changes" were impending, the extent of those changes were further diluted. As the New York Times reported two days later: "President-elect Barack Obama has begun an effort to tamp down what his aides fear are unusually high expectations among his supporters."
After the election and the nomination of centrists, conservatives and Clinton regime veterans to important administration posts, a number of liberal Democrats evidenced surprise and distaste, despite the fact that the signs were there from the very beginning. In any event the Democratic Party's electoral constituency seems to remain firm and enthusiastic. Many voters believe major change will be coming. Some perennial lesser-evil voters never thought there would be that much of a change to begin with, but simply wanted the least conservative candidate to win.
Asking "what happened to transformative change?" and addressing herself to "Obama hyperpartisans," New York Times columnist Gail Collins put it this way Nov. 15: "We have been through all this before. Candidates who promise to bring everybody together are talking about meeting in the middle. The only people who think Barack Obama is a radical are you and Joe the Plumber."

The possibility for any major center-left programmatic outcomes from the upcoming Democratic government depends in large measure upon the insistence, intensity and duration of the left demands made upon the new government principally by the progressive sector of Obama's electoral majority. If the progressives fight hard enough they may, or may not, get something in return.

But these liberal and progressive forces — whether from within the Democratic Party, where they have been ignored for over 30 years, or from the external pro-Obama social democrats — are not that numerous, disciplined, or far-reaching in their demands. They may get more attention by working closer with the broader activist left, but most of them eschew any formation left of the Democratic Party.

Another Obama constituency, the labor movement, is very large, highly organized and disciplined, and has backed the Democrats since the Great Depression when they provided foot soldiers and muscle for Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal reforms. But the labor movement as a whole is much weakened and fairly conservative since the political purges against left unionists, several decades of anti-labor legislation and a successful offensive against the unions by big business since the mid-1970s.

The Obama Administration and Congress will deliver on certain populist issues, in addition to sits expected big economic package early next year. We can anticipate an improved healthcare system of some kind — an idea whose time my finally arrive 60-plus years after being placed on the congressional agenda, and is now even supported by much of big and small business. But it won't be the single-payer system or universal Medicare that bypasses the big insurance corporations that gobble up so much healthcare money.

The Bush Administration's tax cuts for the wealthy will expire at the end of 2010 and Congress won't renew them. During the campaign Obama pledged to overturn these cuts soon after taking office but now seems to be hedging. Important steps will be taken to reduce global warming and promote alternatives to fossil fuels, but not, in our view, with the breadth and urgency required. Some anti-labor legislation will be eliminated and hopefully the Employee Free Choice Act will be passed quickly, making it easier for workers to obtain union recognition — but this is not yet absolutely assured.
In addition, Obama has pledged to halt the torture of suspects allegedly connected to terrorism but never brought to trial, and to close down the U.S. concentration camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, where prisoners have been held for years without issue. We hope they get justice when brought to the U.S. for trial, which is not at all guaranteed. (Further, it would be appropriate for the U.S. government to return this misused territory to Cuba, from whence it was stolen in a shamefully unequal gun-to-the-head treaty 107 years ago — but this is hardly on the new administration's agenda.)
In general, these are good measures, repairing some of the damage done by Bush-Cheney neoconservatism. But what progressive-thinking American could deny the immediate need for much more just to catch up with the social welfare programs of the mid-ranking capitalist states in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), much less with the leading countries such as Sweden or Germany? American laissez-faire capitalism is perhaps the least generous of all such mature systems to its own working people.
Our wealthy country is many decades behind these comparable societies in reducing poverty and the rich-poor gap, in worker protections and family benefits, in time off and adequate vacations, in unemployment insurance and job creation, and in health care provisions in advance of any that may emerge from the Obama Administration.
One program that is not near the top of the incoming administration's priority list is a significant attack on poverty, a situation growing worse by the day.
The percentage of Americans living below the poverty level — already the highest in the industrialized world's OECD — is expected to reach new heights as a result of the recession. Assuming, as does the financial house of Goldman Sachs, that unemployment will rise to 9% by the end of 2009, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities predicts the following:
The number of American's living in poverty will jump by up to 10.3 million people, increasing total "official" poverty to about 47 million. Within this figure, the number of people experiencing what is termed "deep poverty" is expected to increase by up to 6.3 million, bring that total to some 22 million. (The poverty level, which is obviously too low, is $22,200 for a family of four. Deep poverty means an income at or below half the poverty line.)
Another missing program is one that would address the fact that white unemployment is about half that of black, while white median income is about double that of black. Another matter not addressed is the pay gap between male and female workers.
And what about labor? The two labor federations, most individual unions, and rank and file members went all-out for Obama. We estimate that their overall contribution to the Obama campaign was up to $200 million, if not more. Union member volunteers worked an enormous number of hours throughout the country to elect the Democratic candidate. They do this every election, and what they get in return is a pittance from the Democratic Party. The Democrats owe it to the union movement to at least fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and there are dozens of anti-labor laws that should be wiped off the books.

We won't even mention (as we are about to mention) the mother-of-all anti-union legislation — the onerous Taft-Hartley bill of 1947 that has survived several Democratic presidencies with Democratic congresses for 61 years, and counting. The union movement hardly brings up Taft-Hartley any more because the Democrats have so many conservative congresspeople within their own ranks. But perhaps an ideological centrist like Obama can bring the party together to finally do the right thing for the unions and the working class because the Democrats owe the unions big time.
Obama is keen on American leadership, and one of his principal objectives seems to be convincing Washington's major allies to once again bend the knee to U.S. management of world affairs after the insults of the Bush-Cheney years. In an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs in the July/August 2007 issue — the effort being to win over the foreign policy "realists" — he mentioned the need for American world leadership 15 times and the fact that America must lead seven times.

The President-elect, and the political system for which he stands, doesn't seem to be aware of, or agreeable to, the obvious fact that the rest of the world is not demanding Washington's leadership. Several months after Obama's article, even Foreign Affairs — the voice of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most powerful presence in the U.S. foreign policy establishment — pronounced those days to be over, suggesting the need to share leadership with other countries and blocs.

America's international role in the 21st Century is the most important and urgent geopolitical question facing today's world, and there hasn't been the slightest recognition of this fact throughout the entire election period. It was all about American leadership and military victories. Is Washington ignorant of the change that is already taking place? Or does it believe its unparalleled military might will forestall change?

The United States in this new century is not the country it was when it emerged from the intra-capitalist World War II in 1945 as the only powerful state left standing to assume global leadership. The USSR was nearly crippled at the time, having lost over 25 million people leading the war against the Nazis and fascism, when our "great Soviet ally," as heretofore known, was yanked into a Cold War by the American right wing and liberal anticommunism a couple of years after the death of Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Today, though the richest country, the U.S. is the world's major debtor by far, a largely de-industrialized capitalist state with a compromised democracy, and which has just led the rest of the globe into a mighty recession because of its fast and loose financial policies.

The European Union, Russia, China, Japan, India and Brazil, among others, are justly expecting more say in directing world affairs. The days of unipolar leadership are giving way to multipolarity. Within a few years the leadership of the United Nations will expand, reducing Washington's dominant role. American direction of the world economy, based on the postwar Bretton Woods agreements, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and probably the World Trade Organization, will be reorganized to suit world needs, not primarily, as now, the needs of the United States.

Barack Obama may become a better-than-average president, given the caliber of nearly all of them in modern times, and a serious improvement over his disgraceful predecessor. But he has situated himself politically as an unmovable man of the middle at a time requiring substantial domestic reforms, a reorganization of the economy, a diminution of militarism, an end to imperialism, and a new foreign policy based on international cooperation, shared world leadership, and above all a dedication to lasting peace.

There is a chance that intense pressure from progressives and the left — especially if propelled by massive protest movements — may be able to move the new president toward more serious long-range reforms. But reform of this nature may have to await a swing of the national political pendulum from center to at least to the center-left and hopefully beyond, which could take some time and intensive organizing between now and then. So if we really seek progressive change, it's time to get moving left.



Climate change is a major danger facing the U.S. and the world, according to an authoritative report recently released by the National Intelligence Council — the government body that includes all America's intelligence agencies — titled “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.”

According to the Washington Post, "The report predicts that climate change will cause drought and food shortages and exacerbate [the decline of] freshwater supplies around the globe; it will also likely cause dustbowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest making the area hostile to agriculture. For developing countries, climate change 'could be the straw that breaks the camel's back,' leading to political and humanitarian crises and spurring mass migrations. The new report's climate conclusions are in line with three other climate-change security assessments also released this year from the U.S., Britain, and the European Union."

The NIC report, which was made public Nov. 24, stated:

"Climate change is expected to exacerbate resource scarcities. Although the impact of climate change will vary by region, a number of regions will begin to suffer harmful effects, particularly water scarcity and loss of agricultural production. Regional differences in agricultural production are likely to become more pronounced over time with declines disproportionately concentrated in developing countries, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa. Agricultural losses are expected to mount with substantial impacts forecast by most economists by late this century. For many developing countries, decreased agricultural output will be devastating because agriculture accounts for a large share of their economies and many of their citizens live close to subsistence levels.

"New technologies could again provide solutions, such as viable alternatives to fossil fuels or means to overcome food and water constraints. However, all current technologies are inadequate for replacing the traditional energy architecture on the scale needed, and new energy technologies probably will not be commercially viable and widespread by 2025. The pace of technological innovation will be key. Even with a favorable policy and funding environment for biofuels, clean coal, or hydrogen, the transition to new fuels will be slow. Major technologies historically have had an “adoption lag.” In the energy sector, a recent study found that it takes an average of 25 years for a new production technology to become widely adopted."

The NIC report estimates that the earliest global effects of climate change will begin to occur in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. It then will spread. The report noted that 200 million people may be forced to migrate to more temperate zones.

Hardly a day goes by without ever more dire warnings about climate change from scientists stationed around the world. On Nov. 25, for instance, the World Meteorological Organization reported from Geneva that last year registered the highest levels ever recorded of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. On Nov. 28, scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research announced that governments around the world must take swift action to significantly reduce greenhouse gases or climate change will devastate the world's forests.

Unless a massive international effort — many times more demanding than the Kyoto Protocol — is launched immediately, the world may reach a tipping point around 2050 when the destruction from global warming may become irreversible. World governments, even the sluggard United States, are becoming alert to the danger and are launching programs to lower carbon emissions. But so far their combined programs and future plans are woefully distant from adequately meeting the challenge.



Climate change legislation will be a prominent feature of the new Congress that convenes Jan. 6.

President-elect Barack Obama recently said: "Few challenges facing America — and the world — are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We've seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season."

Obama proposes to reduce U.S. greenhouse gases that cause global warming by up to 80% by 2050 — the minimum amount of reduction required to avoid a disastrous increase in global warming, according most scientists. Some scientists, however, maintain that only a 95% reduction will attain that objective.

The president-elect also indicates he will support the soon-to-be-upgraded Kyoto Protocol and expects the Democratic Congress to ratify the new document. This is a reversal of Bush Administration and previous Democratic Party opposition to the treaty reducing global warming. Some critics maintain that the new treaty will fall far short of what is required to stop an environmental breakdown (see article directly below).

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who will continue to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced Nov. 18 that she will introduce two pieces of climate legislation in January. "The first bill will establish a grant program to reduce global warming emissions under the Clean Air Act with up to $15 billion a year available to spur innovations in clean energy, including advanced biofuels," Boxer said. She will also propose a bill amending the Clean Air Act that directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set up a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases that meets Obama's goals.

Boxer also announced her committee's first hearing in the 111th Congress. "The hearing will take place as soon as possible after we convene in January, and will be entitled "How Fighting Global Warming is Good for the Economy and Will Create Jobs," she said.

One favorable factor for environmental reform took place Nov. 20 in the House of Representatives when the Democratic Caucus elected Rep. Henry Waxman of California as chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. He replaces Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, who presided as chair and ranking member of the committee for nearly 30 years. Environmentalists say Waxman's tenure will sharply reduce the obstructive influence of the Detroit auto industry, and help clear the way for clean energy and emissions control legislation.

It's not just Congress and the White House that are concerned about climate change. Says the Washington Times Nov. 14: "Defense officials are laying plans to address the national security implications of a warmer planet…. In recent months, U.S. military planners have discussed the impact on personnel, equipment and installations of extreme weather events, rising ocean temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns and stresses on natural resources. Among the concerns: 63 U.S. coastal military facilities and several nuclear reactors are in danger of flooding from storm surges…." The Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), a Pentagon-funded think tank, issued a report last year that called climate change a "serious national security threat."

Despite a commitment from the new administration to address climate change and the need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, there is considerable skepticism among many progressive environmentalists and others about the effectiveness of the actions contemplated by Congress and the new administration.

There is a growing sense among these critics that the incoming Obama government must spend far more money and quickly develop an enhanced legislative program in order to avoid the possibility of an ecological catastrophe in this century.



One of the leading leftist figures in the international environmental movement, Bard College Professor Joel Kovel, addressed a public meeting in New Paltz, N.Y., in early November. He pulled no punches.

"If the carbon emissions from fossil fuels that cause climate change are reduced by 95% by 2050," he said, "we have a fighting chance of preventing an ecological catastrophe. If not, the world and its over 9 billion people by that time are in very deepest trouble."

At this stage it is highly doubtful such a goal will be reached. A spokesperson for the EU's European Commission, which has set a goal of a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020, indicates the process is being slowed by the economic downturn. The New York Times reported on its front page Nov. 25:

"Just as the world seemed poised to combat global warming more aggressively, the economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel. From Italy to China, the threat to jobs, profits and government tax revenues posed by the financial crisis has cast doubt on commitments to cap emissions or phase out polluting factories."

Kovel referred to the effects of climate change as "the most serious problem facing our species," and suggested it would take a political administration in Washington led by the likes of an Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt to guide the United States just part way through the gathering crisis.

The real problem, he continued, isn't simply the burning of oil, coal and natural gas but the very nature of world capitalism because it absolutely requires expansion and the accumulation of ever greater profits to keep going. And this takes energy resources, nearly all of which continue to derive from fossil fuels.

"Modern industry depends on the consumption of fossil fuels," Kovel pointed out. "Our economy, and that of all the industrialized capitalist countries, is driven by an insatiable demand for carbon resources." Reducing carbon emissions — the chemical constituent of such fuels — by the amount required by mid-century would mean "a sustained contraction of capitalist production."

Kovel, a Hudson Valley resident, has been a long time member of the Green Party and was its candidate for senator from New York in the 2000 election. He is the author of a dozen books, including a 2002 analysis of the ecological crisis titled "The Enemy of Nature — The End of Capitalism or the End of the World," the second and updated edition of which has just been published by Zed Books. He is also a leading exponent of what is termed "ecosocialism" — a socialist thrust combining a variant of Marxism with a strong ecological emphasis.

In the Ecosocialist Manifesto essay, which Kovel co-authored in 2001, it is written that "capitalism requires continual growth of the economic product and since this growth is for the sake of [accumulating] capital and not real human need, the result is the continual destabilization of an integral relationship to nature. The essential reason for this lies in capitalism’s distinctive difference from all other modes of production, that is, that it is organized around the production of capital itself — a purely abstract, numerical entity with no internal limit. Hence it drags the material natural world, which very definitely has limits, along with it on its mad quest for value and surplus value, and can do nothing else."

At the meeting, which was organized by the Caribbean and Latin America Support Project, Kovel emphasized that "capitalism must contract or we will go under," but held out hope based on the fact that "capitalism is a human arrangement and human beings can change it." He implied, however, that it may well not be changed in time to prevent serious destruction to the Earth's ecology. Ironically, he noted, the world recession has a positive aspect: "The rate of ecological destruction has temporarily slowed down" due to less consumption of carbon-based fuels by industry and individuals.

Kovel dismissed nuclear power as a substitute for oil, gas, and coal because of its "indisposable toxic wastes," among other reasons, as he wrote in "The Enemy of Nature." He was also highly critical of the Kyoto Protocol, the UN climate change initiative that was formally adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and subsequently signed and ratified by 183 countries, with the U.S. being the outstanding holdout. Congress refused to ratify the treaty. The measure will soon be revised and updated and there's a good chance the U.S. will ratify.

Kovel argues that the treaty, overall, will remain "an unbelievable disaster and cannot work" because it contains such major capitalist market-driven elements as "emissions trading" and "clean development mechanisms" which he believes will benefit the big capitalist corporations while only slightly chipping away at global warming. He does support investing in renewable energy and taxes on corporate profits from fossil fuels. He also believes capitalist governments should nationalize their energy sectors to force real cutbacks.

Instead of Kyoto, "we must educate the people of the world about what really must be done," he says, "and build an international oppositional movement" that will demand an end to the extreme danger of continued global warming." Although a Green, Kovel is critical of much of the worldwide Green Party movement for not directly taking a stand against capitalism as the agent of proliferation and expansion of greenhouse gases that will continue under the revised Kyoto document. The real solution, he concluded, is the replacement of capitalism with socialism.

— The July-August 2008 issue of Monthly Review contains some of the best articles available on the ecological crisis from a left point of view. They are extremely enlightening. We particularly recommend the article on climate change by Minqi Li, who teaches economics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The issue is online at


By Stacy Dean

Even before the current economic downturn, some 13 million American households, containing 36.2 million people, lacked access to adequate food at some point in 2007 because they didn’t have enough money for groceries, according to a Nov. 17 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These figures are a slight increase over the findings for 2006, but given the dramatic weakening of the economy in recent months, the number of “food insecure” households has likely grown considerably in 2008. [Such figures are not yet available.]

Food stamp caseloads — an indicator of those struggling to afford a basic diet — grew by nearly 2 million people between January and August 2008 (the most recent month for which we have data). The economic downturn also has coincided with a sharp increase in food prices, both of which have undoubtedly exacerbated hardship for many low-income families.

The report included three noteworthy findings.

• About 4.7 million of the 13 million food insecure households in 2007 had very low food security, with household members skipping meals or taking other steps to reduce the amount they ate because of a lack of resources. The size of this group and its share of the overall population have risen steadily over the past decade.

• The number of children with very low food security rose by over 60%, to 691,000.

• The number of food insecure seniors living alone rose by 26%, to 783,000.

Over the 2005-2007 period, food insecurity was greatest in Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, and Maine. In addition, the new data likely understate food insecurity because they don’t include homeless individuals or families.

Congress can take action to help struggling families by increasing food stamp benefits temporarily as part of a new round of economic stimulus. Not only would this help hard-pressed families put nutritious food on the table, it would also boost the overall economy by providing added business for food retailers and their suppliers. Each $1 spent on food stamps generates $1.84 in economic activity, according to USDA.

More broadly, the next President and Congress should consider setting a national goal to reduce poverty and acting upon it, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair did in the United Kingdom. That would significantly shrink the number of households that can’t afford a decent diet. A number of charitable organizations and poverty experts have called for a national effort to cut poverty in half over the coming decade. At the same time, steps could be taken to enhance the federal food assistance programs to address hunger.

The author is the director of food assistance policy at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization and policy institute in Washington.


By Nathan Rosenblum

STUDENTS SWAMPED BY COLLEGE DEBT: Debt is causing hardship for large numbers of college students. About 60% of U.S. students have college debt. Average inflation-adjusted debt increased 6% between 2006 and 2007. According to a recent Pew Charitable Trusts report, the total debt for students at public institutions last year averaged $18,482. At private institutions it is $23,065. These are low estimates. According to the report, the true averages are 4-5% higher. Graduate work can add substantial additional debt. Tuition at public universities has been rising much faster than at private colleges, at a time when the recession is causing more students to apply to public institutions.

SECRET U.S. MILITARY ASSAULTS DISCLOSED: The Bush Administration issued a secret war order four years ago that just came to light, according to the Nov. 10 New York Times. The order gave authority to the Pentagon to conduct small-scale military actions largely with Special Forces troops, occasionally including CIA members, in the Middle East, Central Asia, and East Africa. The order was signed by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and approved by George Bush. The 15 or 20 countries included Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, among others. About a dozen attacks are reported to have occurred. It was under this order that U.S. soldiers attacked the Islamic Courts government in Somalia. Attacks also have been carried out in Syria and Pakistan. Aborted missions included an assassination attempt in Pakistan. Assassinations and preemptive attacks not in cases of immediate self defense are illegal under international law and thus also under the Constitution.

DOCTORS CALL FOR SINGLE-PAYER HEALTHCARE: Over 15,000 American doctors have called on Congress and President-elect Barack Obama to create a single-payer health program for the United States. Obama's campaign plan involved a hybrid system, similar to that of Massachusetts, where citizens are required to buy health care. Insurance companies would still remain involved. According to Physicians for a National Health Program, 59% of doctors and two-thirds of the public support a single-payer plan. Such a system would save an estimated $350 billion. Rep. John Conyers and over 90 co-sponsors have submitted a single-payer bill that is pending in Congress, H.R.H 676.

FEMALE MAJORITY IN NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE: For the first time in American history, women have obtained a majority membership in a state legislature. It happened in New Hampshire, where 13 of 24 state senators are female, three of whom have just been elected. One of the women is senate president. New Hampshire is known for the large number of women who have held elected office in the state. This includes a former Governor (Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who defeated the longtime Republican incumbent John Sununu to become U.S. senator) and the speaker of the state House of Representatives..

RACIST MURDER IN NEW YORK STATE: Marcelo Luchero, an immigrant from Ecuador, was brutally murdered on Nov. 8, in the Long Island town of Patchogue in Suffolk County. The accused, seven teenage whites, taunted, beat and stabbed their victim. Prosecutors have referred to the murder as a racist hate crime. One of the young men apparently indicated to his friends the desire to attack "a Mexican," a "sport" they carried out before. The county is well known for the racist attitudes held by some of its residents toward Latino workers. In 2001, two Mexican workers were beaten nearly to death, while in 2003, a Mexican family’s house was burned. Other members of the immigrant community report frequent threats and attacks on the street. They also told of having their car windows broken, and report that their children have been victims of bullies. The mayor of the town has long campaigned against "undocumented" Latinos, and this is thought to have promoted hatred towards the immigrants. The town is planning to establish a "sensitivity task force" to address this bigotry. A large number of the immigrant workers in the area are from Ecuador. According to Joselo Lucero, the brother of the victim, the two had come to the U.S. from the small town of Gualaceo in order to support their family, particularly their mother, who is a cancer survivor.

A total of 104 retired U.S. generals and admirals have called for the repeal of the anti-gay/lesbian "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy instituted by the Clinton administration, it was reported Nov. 18. Last year only 28 generals and admirals signed a similar petition. Between the years 1994 and 2007, 12,340 people were discharged from the military under this policy, 627 of them in 2007. It is estimated that there are about 65,000 gays and lesbians in the military and about a million gay and lesbian veterans. Many other nations already allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. In September, President-Elect Obama indicated that he is in favor of ending the ban, but he is not expected to act soon.



HUNGER, POVERTY, OBAMA: Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges has merged human interest interviews with poor Americans in Trenton, N.J., with hard facts about the economic crisis and comments about President-elect Obama to create an important article that progressives should read. It's titled, "While Some of Us Are Hoping for Change, Others Are Literally Starving for It." It is at

IGNORANCE IN AMERICA: Here's another piece by Chris Hedges (see above), who has been rather productive this month, titled "Forget Red vs. Blue – It's the Educated vs. People Easily Fooled by Propaganda," wherein he notes that 42 million American adults cannot read, and nearly 50 million others read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. It may be accessed at

WORTHWHILE LOCAL PETITION: The Peace Action Network in Ulster County is circulating a petition encouraging the "Woodstock, N.Y., Town Board and all parties in our community to work together to convert its military production to peaceful, sustainable products." It turns out that Woodstock's largest employer, Ametek Rotron Military and Aerospace Products, makes components for many of the Pentagon's major weapons systems. Residents, neighbors and friends of Woodstock may call on the Town Board to convert its military manufacturing to peaceful, sustainable products by signing the petition at

THE EAST IS RED: President Hu Jintao of China was in Cuba mid-November for two days of talks with Cuban leaders that resulted in further strengthening of bilateral ties. The Chinese leader visited former President Fidel Castro in his hospital room followed by formal discussions with President Raul Castro and government leaders. Fidel published an account of his meeting with Hu on Nov. 20. At a ceremonial meeting to honor president Hu, Raul mounted the stage and looking at his guest proceeded to sing, in Chinese, "The East is Red," which brought down the house. This song was exceptionally popular during the Cultural Revolution period from the mid-1960s-mid-70s, but has not been heard too frequently in China since the CCP began adapting itself to capitalism. MRZine has published Fidel's account of his meeting with Hu and at the bottom is a link to a brief video of the singing Raul. It's at If you'd like to hear the stirring Chinese version with full orchestra, go to

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nov. 5, 2008 — After Obama's Great Victory

From the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter, Nov. 5, 2008


After eight years of reactionary George W. Bush, what progressive American does not feel a sense of relief with the election of Barack Obama instead of right wing John McCain?

After hundreds of years of vicious white racism and second-class citizenship for blacks, what progressive American does not feel proud of Barack Obama's great achievement?

There is tremendous joy today in most of America, and pride, too. The turnout was high, particularly among young voters who supported Obama by a large margin. The African American community is ecstatic for obvious reasons.

And there is no better time to ask, "Now what?" After the tumult and shouting of the election, America remains a country enveloped in daunting difficulties:

•A serious economic recession with millions of families losing their homes, jobs, and standard of living.

• A stalemated unjust war in Iraq and an expanding war in Afghanistan, with recent illegal U.S. attacks on Pakistan and Syria, and the continuing possibility of a serious attack on Iran.

• A foreign policy dedicated to maintaining world hegemony and unipolar dominance, through overwhelming military might if necessary.

• A society where a small minority essentially rules by virtue of its enormous wealth, where wages for the working class and much of the middle class have been stagnant for decades, where the disproportion between riches and poverty grows ever wider, and where millions of families — African American, Latino, and Native American — suffer additional discrimination in income, jobs, and housing.

• A system with an increasingly regressive tax structure, a huge and costly military budget, giveaway welfare policies for its powerful corporations, and inadequate social programs to care for its citizens.

• A government unprepared for the crises of the relatively near future, including the impending environmental catastrophe and the crumbling of the national infrastructure.

We have estimated that 90% of those who read the Activist Newsletter voted for Obama, and 10% voted for candidates to his left. Virtually all of them, we have reason to believe, seek at minimum the end to the Bush wars, a less warlike foreign policy, a more economically equal society, and improved welfare for the masses of people, including universal healthcare.

There are further reforms that many readers support, such as higher taxes on the rich and the big corporations, greater public control of the banking and financial systems, and a crash program to create jobs through rebuilding America's infrastructure, partly financed by big reductions in the Pentagon war budget. Others go further by opposing imperialism and its handmaiden, militarism, in our country; by demanding extensive social democratic reforms, and more.

Objectively, as we wrote in the Nov. 1 newsletter, the conditions exist at this juncture in the United States for another period of progressive social reform. The opportunity to seize the moment is of limited duration, perhaps a couple of years, before conditions change, further delaying needed substantial reforms in our country.

Barack Obama and his party have made a number of political compromises to win this election, adding a center-right component to their centrist orientation — hardly a harbinger of pronounced social progress.

Today's Democratic Party is not the center/center-left party of Franklyn D. Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson. The center-left was buried along with the New Deal and the Great Society. Conservatism is still a major influence within the entire political system and society. It will take much more than the electoral defeat of a thoroughly disgraced Republican government to transform the next four or eight years into a period of progressive reform.

But some important advances can be made, particularly if the millions of progressives who voted for Obama commit themselves to exercising organized and unrelenting pressure on the new political administration in Washington to fight for significant reforms.

That's the hard part — and without a maximum mobilization by those forces it could be the failed part — after the relief, pride and joy of Barack Obama's fantastic victory.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Activist Newsletter Nov.1, 208

Nov. 1, 2008, Issue #140

This newsletter/calendar, published in New Paltz, N.Y., appears once a month, supplemented by additional listings of new activist events, usually sent to Valley readers only. Editor, Jack A. Smith (who writes all the articles that appear without a byline or credit to other publications). Copy Editor, Donna Goodman. Calendar Editor, Rocco Rizzo. If you know someone who may benefit from this newsletter, ask them to subscribe at If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address. The current and back issues of the newsletter/calendar are available at



1. Our prediction about Nov. 4: Obama will win. We will express our views on the election in the first three articles below. If you're in the Mid-Hudson's 19th CD, don't forget to vote for Rep. Maurice Hinchey so he can win big. He opposes the war and voted both times against the $700 billion bailout, for the correct reasons. Hinchey is not without shortcomings, but he generally takes a progressive stance and deserves support.

2. Despite the recession and all the talk about the economy, the corporate media have been mute about the possibility of penalizing the devious financiers and stock market manipulators whose actions contributed to the financial fiasco. However, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd made up for the lapse Oct. 19, and we nominate the following paragraph from her column as our Quote of the Month. Making reference to fictional French anti-aristocrat Thérèse Defarge in Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Dowd wrote: "I’m feeling as vengeful and bloodthirsty as Madame Defarge sharpening her knitting needles at the guillotine…. I can’t wait to see the tumbrels rumble up and down Wall Street picking up the heedless and greedy financial aristocracy…. Heads must roll."

3. Here's a modest proposal: The huge $700 billion financial bailout package for Wall St. and the banks — an amount that will be paid with interest by future generations of American workers — could be absorbed in full from the combined assets of just the 54 wealthiest citizens of the United States. Yes, we know, it would be unfair to demand that this handful pay the entire bill. Here's a workable compromise: Let's have Washington instruct the 400 wealthiest Americans to donate somewhat less than half their fortunes to cover the total cost of the bailout package. This would be a marvelous gesture on their part and they'd still have about $800 billion to share among themselves or save to donate again in the next recession five or 10 years from now.

Notes: 1. The activist Calendar was sent to Hudson Valley readers a few days ago. 2. Spam filters on mass mailings are getting more sophisticated. Add our email address, above, to your address book to avoid the chance having the newsletter blocked.



1. Editorial: OBAMA THE SOCIALIST! — The McCain/Palin red-baiting and ultra-nationalism is a last refuge for these two scoundrels. And Obama is no more a socialist than McCain.

2. Editorial: OBAMA AND THE ELECTION — Most of the progressive and left forces will vote for Obama but the are dreaming if they expect centrism to really address the problems besetting our society and the world.

3. Editorial: OUR CHOICE FOR PRESIDENT — Obama's obviously better than McCain and we hope he wins, but there are interesting alternatives on the left.

4. RECESSION AND CHANGE IN AMERICA — This article attempts to tell the whole story of the capitalist contretemps from a left perspective, and there's even a semi-hopeful conclusion.

5. THE NEWS IN BRIEF —Marijuana arrests; Many mammals face extinction; Inequality kills; Mumia's appeal is rejected; Combat force deployed back home for civil strife.

6. THE UN BACKS CUBA ONCE AGAIN — Imperial hubris gets trounced for the 17th time.

7. THE COST OF BOOTS ON THE GROUND — It takes half a million dollars per year to maintain each U.S. Army sergeant in combat in Iraq

8. CHECK IT OUT — Three short videos including Jackson Browne's new song about Cuba.



In the last weeks of the election campaign Republicans Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin have descended deeply into the sewer of scandalous innuendo against Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama. This is a measure of their fear that Obama is going to trounce them on Nov. 4, as we believe he will, and an exposure of the depths to which the right wing will sink in order to retain power.

Of course we strongly object to their suggestions that Obama lacks patriotism, or that he associates with domestic terrorists at home and Islamic terrorists abroad, or ludicrously enough that he is pro-Palestinian despite his continual genuflection to Israel, among other such attacks. And this doesn't even mention the subterranean right wing efforts to exploit racist sentiment against the first African American to approach the White House.

One of the most absurd of the conservative allegations is that Obama is a socialist, about which we will make a few points:

1. When McCain declares that Obama's tax proposal sounds "a lot like socialism," and Palin calls the proposal an "experiment with socialism" — all with approval, of course, of the nation's leading Republican, Joe the Plumber — this is an indication of the extreme conservative political atmosphere pervading the United States at this juncture. The Democratic leadership long ago jettisoned the party's center-left wing and doesn't even acknowledge the lingering remnant of liberalism within its ranks — and yet Obama is supposed to be a socialist! The McCain/Palin red-baiting and ultra-nationalism is a last refuge for these two scoundrels — the one a neoconservative imperialist, the other a far right political and religious fanatic.

2. Obama is about as close to socialism as McCain and Palin are to truly supporting the economic and social interests of the majority of American workers. His views are identical to those of the center/center-right Democratic Party leadership, which is why the Democrats in this election are supported by a large sector of Wall St. and big wealth. According to media critic Jeff Cohen, speaking to a packed meeting at SUNY New Paltz Oct. 30 on the subject of Money in Politics, "the amount of money from Wall St. to Obama is record-breaking in this election."

The Democratic candidate is backed by the majority of the American people because his program — despite shortcomings from our perspective — is to the left of the Republican candidates and their continual mocking disparagement of "spreading the wealth," as though doing so was an expression of "un-Americanism," as the right wing used to call it, instead of the purest democracy. Without relative economic democracy, which would come from truly spreading the wealth far beyond Obama's dreams, the concept of political democracy is seriously compromised.

3. Socialism has been introduced in the campaign as a pejorative, similar to the derogatory intent of the reactionary forces behind the McCain/Palin odd-couple in emphasizing Obama's biracial background, middle name, or the fact that his father was a Muslim. It's an outright appeal to the most base instincts of sector of the electorate, and in these conservative times it seems acceptable to do so.

In our view, it would be much better for America if the leading presidential candidate indeed was a socialist, or at least a committed social-democrat, at this disastrous moment in U.S. economic and political affairs with our recession and poverty, wars, militarism, imperialism, gross inequality and our paltry program of social welfare.

In time, perhaps sooner than later, there will be a progressive backlash against all this, as there was a conservative backlash decades ago against the reforms and leftism of the Sixties, and it is still going on but evidently losing steam. We think the next progressive upsurge and era of reform — given America's mounting problems, which are only getting worse — will in part include a new respectability for certain socialist solutions, and for socialism itself.



We estimate that 90% of our readers will vote next week for Democratic Sen. Barack Obama to become president of the U.S. rather than Republican Sen. John McCain, and that 10%, (about 350 readers) will vote for a left third party candidate.

We want Obama and Sen. Joe Biden, his running mate, to win this election. They are head and shoulders above neoconservative McCain and his astonishing choice of a running mate, ultra-conservative Gov. Sarah Palin. It would also be good for the country for an African American to be elected president of the United States, given our country's long history of racism.

There are many things to like about Barack Obama, the most important politically being the fact that he is not George W. Bush or Bush's clones disguised in maverick's motley, McCain and Palin.

Obama is obviously intelligent, extremely disciplined and deliberative, organized and evidently in possession of management and legal skills, ambitious, energetic, a good speaker and charming. His experience as a community organizer in Chicago will serve him in good stead because this has given him some feel for the problems of the people, particularly the poor, the working class and lower middle class majority in our country.

That said, our own views are to the left of the center/center-right politics of Obama and the Democratic Party, and we will raise a few issues that we hope our readers will kept in mind when, and if, they vote for the junior senator from Illinois.

Centrism is completely inadequate to the task of resolving the multitude of complex economic, political and social problems confronting our people, our country and — considering that the U.S. is the dominant global power — our world. America needs a political leadership equal to the immense changes that must be brought about in our society, even as it remains capitalist, such as:

Adjusting economic policy to eliminate the grave gap between great wealth and the rest of the people; imposing sharp regulations and continual oversight over the banks, Wall Street and the giant corporations; creating jobs with adequate pay and benefits for every worker; removing anti-labor laws and encouraging the growth of unions; providing housing for all; vastly improving our system of public education; removing the barriers to equality that hamper most African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans; guaranteeing single-payer medical care; rebuilding our nation's infrastructure; launching a massive program to halt environmental degradation — and so much else.

Can a centrist Obama government and the Democratic Party as it now stands take on a domestic program such as this? Will it really significantly reduce the Pentagon budget and hike taxes on the corporations and the wealthy to obtain the funding required for such a program?

And how will a Democratic government and Congress deal with international affairs? Will they quickly terminate the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while also making sure they won't spread to Iran, Syria and Pakistan? Will they see to it, since the U.S. has the power to do so, that the interests and needs of the Palestinian people, as well as the Israeli people, are satisfied? Will such a government put the U.S. in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty by sharply reducing its nuclear stockpile? Will Obama make certain that Washington will henceforth participate in a multipolar world leadership as opposed to an America-only unipolar arrangement as now exists. Will Obama sharply cut back the number of U.S. military bases abroad? Will the U.S. join the rest of the world in adding its significant weight to ending global warming? And much else.

Accomplishing such difficult tasks is entirely possible. But a centrist government that tilts to the right, and constantly compromises with its conservative opposition, as Bill Clinton did and Barack Obama will do, is not capable of making any of these necessary changes.

"Change" is Obama's constant mantra. He recently brought down the house with these emotionally stirring words: "Our time has come, our movement is real, and change is coming to America." His principal slogan is "Change we can believe in." What disturbs us about these absolute centerpieces of the Democratic campaign is that the change being offered is quite intentionally and deviously concealed. The only ones who can "believe in" this kind of change are multimillions of Americans so desperate for a different kind of society that they will follow the Democratic Pied Piper without knowing where he is taking them, if in fact he is taking them anywhere. It's such an effective ploy that McCain latched onto it almost immediately.

As far as we can see the biggest change will be that the extraordinary unpopular present occupant of the White House will vacate the premises in a couple of months. Yes, there are lots of programmatic promises in Obama's platform but by far the most will be discarded as were those of President Clinton. Actually, Obama and Clinton are quite alike in terms of program, their aversion to their party's remnant center-left, and willingness to triangulate the middle way and compromise with the right wing opposition. The big difference between the two is that Clinton was comfortably situated upon a huge economic bubble for most of his eight years, and Obama will enter the White House with the task of cleaning up the enormous damage after the bursting of the Bush administration housing bubble.

For us, one of the tip-offs to trouble ahead was another Obama slogan that seems to inspire multitudes of voters, which is truly alarming: "There is not a liberal America, or a conservative America, but a United States of America." What does that mean? That there is no need for political struggle? That lion and lamb are about to bed down together, solving the problems of the country and world with some pillow talk among all us Americans finally freed from the stressful complications of politics? This is preposterous, of course.

But Obama is better than McCain, and most progressives and even much of the left will vote for him as the lesser evil, which unfortunately seems to be a permanent feature of American style democracy, contrived as it is to eliminate the left from political influence.

As we said in the beginning, about 10% of this newsletter's readers will vote for one progressive third party or another. It could be more. Given that most of us reside in New York State, where an Obama victory is certain, we think that progressive and left voters with qualms about the center/center-right orientation of Obama and the Democratic Party should explore third-party options, as shall we discuss below.



Progressive voters agree that Democrat Barack Obama would be a much better president than Republican John McCain, a "maverick" clone of the failed Bush Administration. They are correct in the sense that the center trumps the right as far as the left is concerned.

Some on the left, however, question whether the political centrism and timidity of the national Democratic Party and presidential ticket is an adequate response to the extraordinary problems confronting our country today — from the recession to the widening war in Afghanistan, from the impending environmental crisis to the need for a rational, peaceful foreign policy.

New York is a safe state for Obama. So those progressives with serious qualms about the efficacy of a centrist solution for a deeply troubled America can cast a vote for a left program and solution without fearing McCain will take our state.

There are good third-party candidates, including Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader. But to make a stronger statement, progressives might consider a socialist candidate for president — West Coast union leader and left activist Gloria La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) — and her running mate, Eugene Puryear. They are on the ballot in 12 states including New York, where their ticket secured 30,000 signatures to qualify.

La Riva and Puryear say: "End the rule of the billionaires, bankers and militarists — fight for real democracy for working people." They demand an immediate moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and rent hikes; single-payer healthcare for all; a jobs creation program for full employment and a $15 minimum wage; extended and increased jobless benefits; an end to the unjust wars and cutting the Pentagon budget, investing instead to fully fund human needs at home; higher taxes on the rich and greater government supervision of the corporate and banking systems and the financial and stock markets.

The United States is the only advanced industrialized democracy in the world where the political possibilities are limited to centrism or the right wing by the nature of the two-party system. Every other such country has a viable "third" alternative, either a mass socialist or social-democratic party. That's one reason virtually all of them are miles ahead of our country in terms of benefits for working people — from lower levels of poverty to more years of life, from universal healthcare to longer vacations.

You want change? Think of voting for the socialists for a change. They won't come even close to winning, but they will come close to what the country needs.

— Information about the La Riva/Puryear campaign:



The United States economy has entered into a recession, though not yet officially acknowledged. It is said to be the worst financial breakdown in the last 25 to 40 years if not longer, and may last about 24 months. But "if confidence and credit dry up," wrote The Economist in an editorial Oct. 18, "a near-certain recession will become a depression."

The recession will cause hardship, to one extent or another, for billions of people around the world because it is a capitalist phenomenon, and capitalism rules the global economy. It will adversely impact the great majority of the American people. Many U.S. businesses are in a tailspin as consumers — who account for nearly 70% of the GDP — sharply reduce spending. It's been estimated such spending may drop by $300 billion within the next two years.

The main immediate causes are the collapse of the U.S. housing market leading to crises in banking and finance, a crash in stock prices, and the freezing of credits and loans. This development, while hardly alien to capitalism, was exacerbated by decades of Washington's indulgence in extreme laissez faire economic policies, especially the deregulation of banking and the financial markets. There is a possibility, as we shall discuss later, that this crisis may provoke a progressive backlash leading to certain economic reforms.

A key factor in the collapse was a high rate of default on subprime mortgages which are offered at higher interest rates to low income buyers. But an even larger number of prime and adjustable rate mortgages for buyers with higher credit ratings went into default. Homeowners from low to middle income found it difficult to finance monthly mortgage payments at a time of higher commodity prices, zooming medical expenses, increasing unemployment, and stagnant wages and salaries. As foreclosures mount while incomes weaken, housing prices will continue to fall, wiping out trillions of dollars in homeowner assets.

There were other important causes as well, not least being the Bush Administration's willingness to encourage the expansion of an $8 trillion housing bubble in order to create the impression of economic well being in the United States. An economic bubble occurs when stock market speculators and traders in quest of ever-greater profits drive up the price of a particular commodity far beyond its actual value. This was reflected in higher housing prices and a building boom, until the bust. Bubbles such as this frequently terminate with a stock crash.

Writing in Financial Times Oct. 28, columnist Martin Wolf described the elements that compose the "near-disintegration of the Western world’s banking system," as "the flight to safe assets, the tightening of credit to the real economy, collapsing equity prices, turmoil on currency markets, continued steep declines in house prices, rapid withdrawal of funds from hedge funds and ongoing collapses of the so-called shadow banking system." He earlier said that "America's economy risks the mother of all meltdowns.

In a statement Oct. 10, the Center for Economic and Policy Research declared: "The current economic crisis is the result of an extraordinary period of extreme economic mismanagement. The world's central banks, most importantly the Federal Reserve Board in the United States, made the decision to ignore, if not actively cultivate, the growth of asset bubbles. This was the case with stock market bubbles in the '90s and housing bubbles in the current decade. They compounded this mistake by ignoring the explosive growth of credit and new complex derivative instruments. They allowed financial institutions to become hugely over-leveraged [indebted], ensuring that the collapse of the bubble would lead to major financial disruptions."

Although a crash had been predicted for the last few years, the Bush Administration and Congress waited far too long to intervene. New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini, who forecast the collapse over two years ago, suggested this past February that the coming economic meltdown would be "catastrophic." When the government finally moved decisively seven months later in September, it was too little, too late, despite the sky-is-falling urgency portrayed by President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

So far, the advanced industrialized economies of the world have been infected the most by the U.S. downturn, but the quickly spreading contagion may result in a worldwide recession or worse. The developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America are beginning to experience considerable hardship as investments, credits and exports shrivel.

Periods of economic crisis, or "corrections" as they are termed in financial circles, have been recurrent and endemic to capitalism throughout its over 500-year history beginning in Europe. The first general capitalist collapses began in the early 1800s at the dawning of the Industrial Revolution. They usually result from overproduction, assisted by stock market manipulation and government deregulation of financial operations, among other causes.

During the century just past, the American economy experienced recessions or depressions for 28 years out of 100. In recent times there was the 1987 Wall Street crash, followed a couple of years later by the Savings and Loan collapse, and then the disintegration of the "" technology bubble in 2001. The impact of the fairly mild recession at the beginning of the 21st Century lasted almost two years, but the recovery was unusually weak. The present malaise, which had been brewing at least two years, will be considerably more severe, paving the way for future recessions at various levels of magnitude every five or 10 years as long as the capitalism exists.

The main casualties from these episodic crises are not those responsible for bringing them about — the financiers, investors, big business owners, corporate officials and key politicians and bureaucrats in government. In the U.S., the main victims comprise about 80% of the population and are largely situated in the working class — with its lowest income component suffering the most — and in large sectors of the middle class. The upper middle and the wealthiest classes take hits, but usually have economic cushions to fall back upon until their investment portfolios and businesses revive or their golden parachutes make a soft landing in one playground or another.

Unemployment in America totaled 6.1% in October, signifying that 800,000 workers have lost their jobs so far this year. About 10 million workers who seek jobs are "officially" unemployed. This does not include millions of "discouraged" jobless workers not counted in government statistics. There are also, at minimum, about 8 million part-time workers searching for full-time jobs but unable to find them. This situation will further deteriorate until the economy bottoms out. Before that happens, the jobless rate may reach 9%.

Some 3.2 million American families — consisting of at least 10 million people and probably more — will lose their homes to foreclosure in 2008-9 as a result of the bursting housing bubble. The rate is about 10,000 lost homes a day. This painful process accelerated in 2006 when foreclosure filings jumped to 1.2 million, 42% higher than 2005. Last year, new foreclosure filings climbed to 2.2 million, 75% above 2006. Foreclosure of homes and dispossession from rental units are among the most traumatic events that can befall a family, causing disruption and worse for many years.

In addition, the wages of the U.S. working class and lower middle class have been stagnant since the mid-1970s, while new government social programs to benefit working people virtually ended around the same time. According to recent data from MetLife, 44% of American workers live from paycheck to paycheck with negligible, if any, savings, and most often with mounting debts. The recession will sharply increase the number of the nearly 40 million Americans already condemned to poverty, the additional 90 million or more people living in low-income households, and the nearly 50 million without medical insurance.

For African Americans the official jobless total is now 11.4%, and it's going up. "As is often the case in a recession," the Economic Policy Institute commented Oct. 3, "black joblessness is rising more quickly than that of the overall work force." From unemployment to median income status and family assets, most black families are far behind whites — a tragic legacy of racism that has been assiduously ignored in this year's presidential contest.

Meanwhile, the top 5% of wealthy families in the U.S. now possess 58.9% of all assets and wealth, while the bottom 80% possess of 15.3% — a reminder that gross economic inequality is another endemic feature of capitalism. In terms of "net worth" (assets minus debts), according to New York University economist Edward Wolff, the “top” 1% of the American people enjoy 34.4% of the nation’s assets, which is more than that possessed by the "bottom" 90% of the people, who share 28.7%. The remaining "top" 9% have harvested the rest.

The U.S. still remains the world's strongest economy, but it is sinking ever deeper into national indebtedness. In recent years this is mainly a consequence of the enormous expenditures for the Bush Administration's two unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bloated militarist budget, the millionaire tax cuts, and now allocations to avoid a total economic collapse.

The annual deficit attained a record high this year of $437 billion, and it doubtless will be higher in 2009 no matter who is president. At this writing the national debt is roughly $10.5 trillion — about $34,500 for every citizen of the United States. This debt has continued to increase an average of $3.45 billion per day during the last year. In mid-October Congress raised the debt limit to $11.315 trillion. (A thousand million is a billion; a thousand billion is a trillion.) Foreign nations have been loaning Uncle Sam the money to keep the U.S. going, principally China and Japan.

What's behind the current U.S. economic crisis? First it must be recognized that there are two economies, and they interact. One is the real economy with its production of goods and services which are exchanged for money and other value. Then there is the financial shadow economy based on paper value exchanged in the gambling casino known as the stock market. In recent years, the casino introduced a new and complex gaming opportunity — derivatives — that few investors understood but avariciously partook, and it nearly broke the bank, not in Monte Carlo but Washington, London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Bonn and other advanced industrialized capitals.

The bursting of the housing bubble and rampant foreclosures leading to the credit crises was serious enough. But it became far worse and spread throughout world financial system because these mortgage debts had been sold and resold around the world as debt-backed securities, often converted into speculative bets on derivatives such as "collateralized debt obligations," "credit default swaps," and "structured finance products."

Derivatives "derive" from a particular stock but become abstract instruments of massive unregulated trading, far more costly by many trillions of dollars than the defaulted mortgages. "The derivatives market," reported the New York Times Oct. 9, "is $531 trillion, up from $106 trillion in 2002 and a relative pittance just two decades ago. Theoretically intended to limit risk and ward off financial problems, the contracts instead have stoked uncertainty and actually spread risk amid doubts about how companies value them."

Warren Buffet, the second richest man in the world with a net worth of $50 billion and one of America's top capitalists, who also happens to be fairly liberal, wrote in his diversified Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual report six years ago that "I view derivatives as time bombs, both for the parties that deal in them and the economic system…. In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal." And so they became, thanks in good part to former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, who championed derivatives and forbade their regulation.

In addition to the collapse of housing and credit, other causes of the recession include deregulation, legal and illegal fast-buck practices that might profit some individuals but cause havoc in the real economy, and as always in capitalism's periodic setbacks, overproduction — of housing in this case.

Housing and its directly associated commodities amount to more than 17% of America's gross domestic product of some $14 trillion, so this market is of great importance to the nation's economy. A few years ago, in order to sell a burgeoning supply of new houses to a thinning number of new buyers with sufficient resources, millions of Americans were induced to assume a huge housing debt burden, ultimately above their ability to pay, in order to absorb surplus production and increase profits for construction-related businesses, realtors and investors.

Many subprime home buyers were convinced to purchase beyond their means by the waiving of down payments, low "teaser" monthly mortgage obligations for the first two years, and assurances from mortgage lenders that in hard times they could always refinance at a profit "since housing values always increase."

But when monthly payments jumped after two years, the value of those homes had decreased. Homeowners couldn’t any longer pay the mortgage. They were evicted, as are renters, without recompense by the banks and other mortgage lenders for past repairs and upgrading, although some made substantial improvements in what they thought was their "American Dream," their God's Little Acre gone horribly wrong.

Millions of Americans have doubled up with relatives or friends or ended up in emergency shelters. Some families are living in their cars or in tent cities. In Florida, for example, according to an article in the July 26, 2008, USA Today, after losing their homes, 29% moved in with family or friends, 25% went to emergency shelters, 12% entered a transitional shelter, 13% obtained a rental home and 16% ended up homeless on the streets.

How is it possible for housing to be "overproduced" in a country where tens of millions of people live in dilapidated homes or overpriced apartments. How is it possible that in any given year millions of Americans are homeless for a few days, weeks, months or the entire period when there are several million vacant homes or apartments? This is because decent housing in our society, along with healthcare, is simply not a human right but a commodity sold to the highest bidders.

Some of the roots of today's recession go back over three decades to when powerful financial and business leaders made two strategic decisions.

One was to introduce a neoliberal economic regime based on gradually eliminating government regulations on finance and banking, some of which went back to the Great Depression, so the "magic of the marketplace" could work its profitable wonders without Washington's interference. Here are two relatively recent examples:

In 1999 President Bill Clinton signed legislation greatly modifying the Depression-era Glass-Steagall legislation that sought to regulate an out-of-control banking industry. A key proviso of the bill — which prohibited banks from offering combined commercial banking, investment, and insurance services — was overturned. This permitted big banks to set up investment and insurance departments, greatly enhancing the power of these institutions to act as they pleased — a factor in the current recession.

Another deregulation, this time in 2004 during the Bush Administration, gravely aggravated the subprime fiasco a couple of years later. It was granted by the Security and Exchange Administration after five of America's major investment banks — Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns — argued for exemption from a regulation limiting the amount of debt such banks could accumulate. By the beginning of this year, four of the firms were in debt for about $31 for every $1 of stockholder investment. The fifth company, Goldman Sachs, had a ratio — or leverage , as it is called — of about $24 to 1$. The bailout was engineered by Treasury Secretary Paulson who in 2004, as chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, argued for lifting the debt ceiling.

The second strategic decision was intended to destroy three decades of a post-war social compact between capital and labor engineered at the end of the liberal Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal. In the thinking of America's leading capitalists and their minions in the political system, the labor movement had gained too much power, and working people had become, in effect, fat and sassy.

The upshot was that the corporations, banks and other business sectors came to an informal understanding about the need for a new social reality vis-à-vis working people. This meant, in effect, trade unions were to be crippled by additional anti-labor laws, business was to cut job benefits and wages (severing the correlation between compensation and rising productivity in the process), and Congress was to avoid passing important new social programs benefiting the people.

This program has been quite successful, assisted by the atrophy of the center-left in the Democratic Party, leaving a lopsided political spectrum in the U.S. that extends from center to right, without an influential left to challenge the anti-worker social compact and runaway businesses.

The labor movement was hit hard by these circumstances, declining in size and clout, and now playing little role on the national level except as a liberal support vehicle for the Democrats. Until the unions regain their strength and show willingness to flex muscle in the struggle with capital it will remain difficult to wage a serious fightback on behalf of the nation's working people or to take political advantage of the contradictions presently besetting the economy and society.

Since lower wages mean less consumer spending, the business and financial class encouraged the accumulation of consumer debt, facilitating spending through the proliferation of credit cards, additional family wage earners, and other measures. In the early 1990s, American household debt was a quite high 80% of disposable income. Today it is more than 130% — another reason why the American people are so vulnerable to the painful vicissitudes of the system's inevitable periodic "corrections."

And "now comes the credit card crisis," reported the New York Times in a front page article Oct. 29. "After years of flooding Americans with credit card offers and sky-high credit lines, lenders are sharply curtailing both, just as an eroding economy squeezes consumers. The pullback … threatens an already beleaguered banking industry with another wave of heavy losses after an era in which it reaped near record gains from the business of easy credit that it helped create." The reason? "Lenders wrote off an estimated $21 billion in bad credit card loans in the first half of 2008… [and] the industry stands to lose at least another $55 billion over the next year and a half."

The recession will worsen, perhaps significantly so, and it probably will take years for the U.S. to recover, during which time Washington and the 50 state governments will impose severe budget cutbacks in all programs that service the needs of the people.

New York Democratic Gov. David Paterson said Oct. 28 that the state budget deficit will reach $47 billion over three years. Big program cuts are coming, and significant cutbacks are expected. Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee in Washington the next day, Paterson asked for state aid in these terms: "Just like the financial services industry, we need a partner in the federal government in order to help stave off an impending financial calamity and stabilize our fiscal condition."

Unemployment throughout the country will increase markedly. New York State will lose 160,000 private sector jobs in the next 14 months. The nation's pensions will further degrade ($2 trillion in pension savings has been lost in the past 15 months), poverty will rise, and spreading hunger will haunt the poor.

According to an Oct. 28 speech in Augusta, Maine, by Maura Daly, a vice president of the nonprofit Feeding America (formally Second Harvest), "poverty is a disease and hunger is a chronic symptom. One in eight Americans are at risk for going hungry." The demand upon the nation's system of food banks recently increased by 15%, she said, "and 80% of them are not able to adequately serve their communities."

Confronted with this crisis, the first order of business for the White House, Congress and the political structure — which primarily function as an executive committee overseeing the good health and success of the economic apparatus and its main beneficiaries — is to rescue the capitalist system, and to bail out the bankers, financial gamblers and corporate giants.

That's where the Bush Administration and Congress is investing the $700 billion it has just extracted from the pockets of American working families, who will get very little if anything in return — proof extraordinaire of the inherent inequality of the U.S. socio-economic system.

Paulson and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, went public with the bailout plan in late September, based on using most of the $700 billion to buy nearly worthless mortgage-backed securities — a faulty scheme that has been largely dropped after the money was appropriated. The original three-page proposal contained few details to support their contention that, in effect, the U.S. was simply going to keel over unless funds were immediately injected into the credit market to alleviate what is now called "Wall Street’s biggest crisis since the Great Depression." The plan quickly gained the approval of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.

The House voted against the measure the first time, partly because it violated the laissez faire ethos so dear to a certain sector of the congressional right wing (they called it "socialism"), but principally because of massive constituent opposition to bailing out greedy banks and investors. Congress insisted on changing the measure to mollify public antipathy, ultimately adding another 400-plus pages with several big modifications but leaving intact the $700 billion to repair the damage caused by the very system that was being saved. The proposal was approved by the Senate 74-25 Oct. 1, and by the House 263-171 two days later. Commenting on the fact that the appropriation was intended to benefit the bankers and financiers to the exclusion of those who will suffer most — the working class and middle class — Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a consistent center-leftist, excoriated the measure as "the largest single act of class warfare in the modern history of this country."

Announcing his second vote against this historic subsidy for big business, et al, on Oct. 3, Hudson Valley liberal Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) declared: "The $700 billion plan brought to the House floor for a vote today is far too big and ignores the pressing need to directly help working and middle class Americans make ends meet and survive these tumultuous times. The measure also fails to reinstate any real regulatory authority over the financial markets to prevent Wall Street from abusing the system again and creating a similar crisis in the future."

Instead of an immediate turnaround upon passage of this huge bailout, share prices on the domestic and international stock markets continued to fall after a nanosecond-brief rise. In a concerted action Oct. 8, six central banks, including the Federal Reserve, reduced interest rates by a half point — but the markets continued to fall, as they are still doing at this writing.

In an important step Oct. 13, Paulson and Bernanke executed a significant course correction by putting aside the plan to purchase toxic mortgages. Instead, they decided to follow the example of British and other European governments by investing the first bailout allotment of $250 billion directly into the banking industry to encourage bankers to resume providing credit, mainly to other banks — a necessity for the smooth running of American business. Half the investment went to the nation's nine largest banks, in return for preferred stock; the rest will be directed where necessary among a number of smaller banks.

Actually, a number of these banks already had sufficient cash to resume major lending, but were disinclined to service other banks, fearing they would lie about their ability to repay the loan. They evidently didn't trust their own banking system. The infusion of government money was supposed to provide banks with the confidence to lend to other banks. So far the lending has been extremely slow, and it is suspected that many banks had other uses for the money.

The financial press suggests that another, unexpressed, reason the Treasury invested in the banks was to encourage some of them to merge and to acquire other healthy banks to consolidate the entire banking system in fewer hands. "The bailout was sold as a way to spur loans," an angry N.Y. Times editorial noted Oct. 29. "If that never was — or no longer is — the primary aim, Congress and the public need to know that. Lawmakers should not release the second installment — $350 billion — until they have answers and guarantees that the bailout money will be spent in ways that put the public interest first."

While strengthening the banks received general support from politicians and the mass media since it contains an eventual payback from the equities, it contains important shortcomings, the main one being that the government will not have a seat on the board of directors and will hold only non-voting shares in the banks. According to an editorial in the Oct. 14 N.Y. Times, "This means the banks' current boards and current management — the same people who got the country into this mess — will still be making all the decisions. The Treasury also seems far too sympathetic to the banks' pleas for leniency when it comes to restrictions on the pay of bonuses of executives at banks that are bailed out…. The Treasury should also insist on stepped up government supervision to ensure that sound lending resumes and that reckless lending does not."

Another major failing is that the government, in making its investment, did not instruct the banking sector and all mortgage lenders to take steps to reduce foreclosures by modifying loan payback terms, including the reduction in interest rates. Nor did Paulson insist, as he could have, that the banks not use bailout money to pay dividends to stockholders, among the largest of whom are bank officials. At this stage, about 20% of the cash infusion may go for this purpose.

Allegations from sectors of the right wing that Washington's so-called "nationalizations" amount to "socialism" are absurd. As Otto Spengler wrote in Asia Times Sept. 23, " If America is to adopt socialism, why not have socialism for the poor, rather than for the rich? Why should American households that earn $50,000 a year subsidize Goldman Sachs partners who earn $5 million a year?"

John Bellamy Forster, the Marxist editor of Monthly Review, also dismissed the nationalization-equals-socialism argument. In an article Oct. 15 in he described the Treasury Department's investment in banks as "just another desperate stop-gap measure aimed at preventing a full-scale debt deflation. But as a sign of the total collapse of the 'U.S. model' of 'free market' finance capitalism, the moral and political consequences are vast."

In an article in Znet the same day, left intellectual Noam Chomsky argued that the roots of the present crisis go far deeper than to the collapse of the housing bubble. "In part," he said, "they lie in the triumph of financial liberalization [deregulation and so on] in the past 30 years — that is, freeing the markets as much as possible from government regulation…. Financial liberalization has effects well beyond the economy. It has long been understood that it is a powerful weapon against democracy. Free capital movement creates what some have called a 'virtual parliament' of investors and lenders, who closely monitor government programs and 'vote' against them if they are considered irrational: [i.e.] for the benefit of people, rather than concentrated private power. Investors and lenders can 'vote' by capital flight, attacks on currencies and other devices offered by financial liberalization."

The New York Times noted that representatives of the nine banks were at first dubious about Paulson's proposal, but "as they heard more, some of the bankers began to realize how attractive the program was for them."

Paulson has come under considerable criticism from a number of influential bankers and investors for his initial handling of the crisis. His decision to bail out some investment firms but to allow the global giant Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt was condemned by many because the fall of Lehman was a factor in triggering the crash. He also came under fire for wasting valuable time by first proposing to buy out the bad mortgage debts — a measure that did nothing to regain Wall Street's lost confidence — before deciding to invest directly into the banking system.

Despite the Bush Administration's infusion of money into the economy, the stock market remains volatile and very cautious. As a New York Times economic analyst wrote recently: "The malaise on Wall Street simply will not lift."

President Bush will host what is termed an emergency summit meeting with a score of foreign leaders in Washington Nov. 15 to discuss means of coping with present and future economic downturns. Also attending will be the heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other international institutions. The ANSWER Coalition and other groups will mount a protest outside the White House the evening of Friday, Nov. 14, during a posh presidential dinner for the delegates, and throughout Saturday, Nov. 15, near the meeting venue, which is to be announced.

So far in all the government's calculations, the needs of the masses of people are distinctly secondary to those of the banks, the stock market and business. The people in their many millions are suffering as a result of the economic crisis, from losing homes or jobs, to going without healthcare or medicine, to sinking into deeper poverty, to foregoing a higher education or cutting back on food and other needs. It's rumored an administration program is on the way to meet some of these needs. The Democrats are reportedly putting together a second economic stimulus package following Bush's initiative earlier this year. The Fed's Bernanke said Oct. 20 that he supports a second stimulus effort.

Presidential candidates Obama and McCain have both put forward proposals for dealing with the foreclosure crisis that are more extensive than the Bush Administration has offered. Obama's plan is better than McCain's, as is his entire domestic program, but that will have to await his entry into the White House in January. However, neither center/center-right Democrat Obama nor neoconservative rightist Republican McCain has evidenced the slightest inclination to seriously bail out not only the immediate victims of this growing recession but the majority of the American people who have seen their living standards erode for decades while a privileged minority with great wealth and political power rules the land.

"American workers need a financial bailout" is the title of an article in New York's daily Newsday Oct. 7 by leftist economics Professor Michael Zweig at Stony Brook University on Long Island. He wrote: "It's time to turn immediate attention to the expanding crisis on Main Street by adopting an economic stimulus package that will help to reverse the recession we are slipping into and restore the jobs we have lost through most of this year. Congress should take $220 billion of the $700 billion it has set aside for the current crisis and apply it to those who need it most: the millions of economically distressed workers across the country who have gotten absolutely nothing from the 'rescue package' so far….

"Economic stimulus should also come from infrastructure projects. New and repaired bridges, roads, ports and rail lines will provide long-term support for private-sector economic growth once they've been completed, as well as offer short-term stimulus from the jobs and income they generate as they are built. But infrastructure projects take a year or more to begin, so other stimulus measures must come first."

There undoubtedly will be efforts in the coming year to ameliorate some of the unsavory and obviously failed aspects of the free-market, neoliberal economic project, as happened in response to the Great Depression and earlier crises. New regulations in the banking and financial systems will be forthcoming, particularly now that right wing libertarian Alan Greenspan finally acknowledged one of his main mistakes during questioning before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Oct. 23. He declared:

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief…. I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms." In other words the notion of self-regulating financial markets is a myth.

As chairman of the Federal Reserve for 18 years under Presidents Bush I, Bill Clinton, and Bush II, retiring in 2006, Greenspan fought consistently for deregulation and opposed any effort by Congress to put restraints on derivatives, arguing that "derivatives markets … have been a major contributor to our economy's ability to respond to the stresses and challenges of the last two years. This [congressional] proposal would limit this contribution, thereby increasing the vulnerability of our economy to potential future stresses."

New and tougher regulations are desirable, of course. The problem, as in the past, is that as soon as a recession or depression is over, free-market conservatives start chipping away at them and the deregulation cycle starts anew because there is no strong left political force to block therm.

When he took office in 1981, far-rightist President Ronald Reagan — a firm believer in the "magic of the marketplace" who often spoke of the "invisible hand of the market" as though it was attached to the wrist of God — famously declared that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

This conservative mantra continues to echo in the gated mansions of wealth, corporate boardrooms, marbled banks, gilded markets, the White House and much of Congress, but with an interesting variation during times of trouble: As the bailout demonstrates, government miraculously becomes their "solution" when the inevitable contradictions of capital begin to sharply cut profit margins and threaten the goose that produces their golden egg.

Now the automotive industry, and insurance as well, are clamoring for part of the bailout money, and they probably will get it. Both Chrysler and General Motors face great losses, have opened merger talks, and seek government aid. In a statement Oct. 27, G.M. spokesman Greg Martin declared: "We believe the federal government should consider using all the tools available to it, including some recently enacted, to support industries that are in distress and that are essential to the U.S. economy." Ford, too, is losing money. The motor industry has been set back by the recession, but its unwillingness over the years to produce smaller, more fuel-efficient models to compete against foreign carmakers in the American market was a major factor as well.

In an Oct. 26 article in MRZine, University of Massachusetts at Amherst economics Professor Rick Wolff wrote that "The next president will arrive at an historic moment when most of the business leadership will be looking to (if not also begging) Washington for massive intervention to save the private capitalist economy. These conditions may then ripen a major realignment within U.S. politics."

In our view — accepting Reagan's cadence but changing his words — we think that the current economic disaster shows that "capitalism is not the solution to our problem; capitalism is the problem." And we suspect that many more people these days in the U.S. and around the world are beginning to contemplate this particular heresy, whether as progressive reformists, social-democrats or socialists of one kind or another.

Real change is in the air, and we don't mean the basically empty rhetoric of "change" so prominent this election season. The dreadful, failed Bush era is ending with a bang — the recession — after eight years that seemed to last as long as the hundreds of years it took the Roman Empire to decline and finally fall.

People want change for many reasons, not just because of the recession and the subsequent discrediting of conservative economic nostrums. For many it's also about the continual unjust wars for hegemony, and the preposterous military budget; for others it may be stagnant wages and the ever widening gap between rich and poor, or the pitiful response from our ruling parties to the impending environmental catastrophe, and the government's indifference to America's crumbling infrastructure. For yet others it's regressive taxation, the end of welfare "as we know it," the paucity of programs benefiting working people, the anti-labor laws, the weakening of affirmative action, and the absence of a mass left party to contest with the two parties of the right and center.

According to University of Massachusetts economics Professor Robert Pollin during an interview by journalist Mike Whitney in CounterPunch Oct. 16, "Whether or not this crisis will mean the end of the neoliberal era will depend on political mobilization — specifically, how successful the left will be in building coalitions behind an agenda that combines egalitarianism with a stable financial system…. Wall Street has now been discredited to a degree unprecedented since the 1930s. That should give the left serious political leverage….. [W]e are in the midst of a major historic turning point, equivalent to the 1930s New Deal, or the emergence in 1979/80 of full-tilt neoliberalism under Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the U.S."

One of the main disputes between conservative capitalism and socialism is the concept of national economic planning. The right wing shuns such planning, leaving to the free market, and the left considers it an imperative for the rational organization of the economy. But liberal capitalist economist James K. Galbraith, writing in the November Harper's, easily crossed over and seems to suggest others should as well: "Planning has been a dirty word in America for decades…. But without public planning, who is in charge? Lobbyists who represent the private planning of the great corporations. The public interest ceases to exist, and the public sector becomes nothing more than a trough at which private interests come to feed."

The positive aspect of these distressing and conservative times is that objective conditions — i.e., the situation in our country based on a realistic assessment of economic, social and political factors — appear favorable for a new period of significant social reform. Today's iniquities and excesses of capital bring to mind the conditions that led to the reforms of the Gilded Age (late 1800s), the Progressive Era (early 1900s) and the New Deal reforms of the Great Depression (1930s).

However, subjective conditions for the needed change — i.e., the status of the progressive and left movements (including the unions) and their collective level of consciousness and willingness to unify and struggle — are not yet sufficiently mature to take maximum advantage of the objective opportunities for social transformation in the near future. This could improve if currently powerless center-left progressives either mount a sharp showdown struggle within their centrist Democratic Party or decamp to a third political entity of the left, and if the fractured left were to unify around certain specific interim reforms while simultaneously pursuing their longer range goals.

The important thing for those who seek a better, more equal society and a world at peace — which is probably the perspective of almost all of our readers — is to keep up the struggle for positive, far-reaching social change, even when it appears little progress is being made, as now. History has a way of taking a long time to change, then doing so with seeming abruptness when objective and subjective conditions are aligned. And a good part of the change is because many disparate and unnoticed people and movements were constantly at work the entire time, each contributing to what ultimately becomes social transformation in a matter of years or generations.



[Editor's Note: Nathan Rosenblum will be writing this column of short news items in future issues of the Activist Newsletter. He is a senior at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh.]

MARIJUANA ARRESTS UP: The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report indicated 872,721 people were arrested last year on charges related to marijuana, almost 90% of which were for nothing more than possession. According to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), this is the largest annual number of arrests for marijuana in history. Arrests have doubled since 1993. There are currently over 40,000 people in state or federal prison in the United States for offenses relating to marijuana. In mid-October, the number of marijuana arrests in U.S. history reached 20 million. A NORML study three years ago determined that nearly 75% of those arrested were under 30 years of age. Some 25% were 18 or younger. The organization notes that marijuana — unlike alcohol and tobacco — is comparatively safe and that component compounds such as cannabinol have been found to have numerous beneficial properties in treating illnesses including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease, and diabetes. The racist nature of the government's “anti-drug” campaign is well known with African Americans being among the most targeted sector of the population.

MAMMALS FACE DANGER OF EXTINCTION: A new report recently released from the International Union for Conservation of Nature indicates that one in four mammals may be at risk of extinction, predominantly due to hunting and destruction of habitat, although global warming and collisions with ships and fishing nets have a substantial effect as well . Of the 4,651 known species of mammals, 1,139 are under threat. Since the beginning of the 16th century, it is estimated that 76 species of mammal have become extinct demonstrating the dangerous rate at which this current crisis is progressing. New mammals have been discovered in increasing numbers in recent years and there is a major concern among scientists that it may not be possible to study these in great detail should they begin to decline rapidly. Only about 5% of mammals are believed to be increasing in number.

INEQUALITY KILLS: A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) states that social injustice and income inequality lead to health inequality that "really is a matter of life and death." This applies, according to the report, to inequality between countries and within the same country. In the United States, for example, the report concluded that "886,202 deaths would have been averted between 1991 and 2000 if mortality rates between white and African Americans were equalized." Only a few poor countries and regions were noted as providing good and equitable care for their populations, including Cuba with its renowned, and free, medical care, and in the Indian southwest state of state of Kerala, with a population of about 32 million, which has for decades been governed by the Indian Communist Party (Marxist). The vast majority of the world's poor, which includes billions of people, live without adequate shelter and clean drinking water, according to the report, and this leads to early deaths. The report and background material is located at

MUMIA'S APPEAL IS REJECTED: The U.S. Supreme Court this month rejected a petition for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, 53, perhaps America's best known political prisoner. The former journalist, once a youthful member of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, has long been a voice for social justice from his death row cell in Pennsylvania. Mumia, as he is known to many millions of supporters in the U.S. and around the world (Parisians even named a street after him), was sentenced to death 27 years ago, after being convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner. He steadfastly denies participation in the crime, and some witnesses have recanted their original testimony — a factor behind the 2001 reversal of his death sentence, but he remains on death row awaiting a new state resentencing hearing. The courts could reimpose the death penalty or keep Mumia behind bars for life. The Philadelphia police department has a long history of racism, and the judge at his first trial made overtly racist remarks. While in prison, Mumia has written books, created his own radio program, and has published many articles on domestic and world affairs for left and progressive publications. Mumia's radio broadcasts are available at Other websites with background are at, and

COMBAT FORCE DEPLOYED BACK HOME.: Beginning in October, and for the first time, a U.S. Army combat unit is being stationed within the U.S. to prevent “civil unrest” as part of "homeland defense." While it is being touted that these soldiers will be used to respond to disasters and assist in search and rescue, inside sources paint a more ominous picture. According to an article in Army Times, a Brigade Combat Team of the Army's Third Division “may be called to help with civil unrest and crowd control.” The Army claims the soldiers are being supplied with non-lethal weapons. They are, however, equipped with electric stun guns called tasers, which are extremely painful and have caused deaths. Deploying active duty soldiers for action in the United States violates the Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1778.



The word "hubris," according to Webster's New World Dictionary, means "wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride." In other references it means "an act of transgression evidently based on overbearing pride."

What word, especially if it's imperial hubris, could more aptly define a country that repeatedly — for 17 consecutive years — refused to heed the criticism of virtually the entire rest of the world? This criticism was hurled at Washington once again Oct. 29 by 98.4% of the member nations in United Nations General Assembly.

The U.S. was one of three countries that voted "No" against 185 countries that voted "yes" on a measure demanding that America discontinue its nearly half-century economic embargo of Cuba.

Joining the U.S. was Israel, which has voted against Cuba every year since the first UN vote on the matter in 1993, and Palau, a 177-square mile island in the Pacific that's a virtual U.S. dependency. The combined population of the three allies is about 310 million people, thumbing their collective nose at the remaining world population of more than 6.3 billion people.

To us this seems the very definition of hubris, particularly since the small country on the receiving end of Washington's antagonism never threatened or harmed the U.S. or other countries in any way. Havana's armed forces are relatively small and purely defensive. Cuba doesn't reveal its annual military budget but the highest estimate we've seen from U.S. sources (and its likely too high) is about what the U.S. spends in just two days in Iraq — $1.4 billion. The White House calls Cuba a "terrorist" country, but we know of no act of terrorism committed by the Havana government.

It's the other way around. Since the victory of the Cuban Revolution on Jan. 1, 1959, the U.S. has organized a failed invasion of the island, hundreds of assassination attempts against Cuban government leaders, and subversion of all kinds including crop destruction. Washington also winked at the 1976 terror bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in which all 73 people on board were killed, and gave protection in America to some of those responsible.

Perhaps the worst harm done Cuba by the neighboring colossus to the north has been the political and economic embargo initiated in 1960 by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and broadened in 1962 by Democratic President John F. Kennedy. In 1992, Congress passed the "Cuban Democracy Act," introduced by New Jersey Democrat Robert Torricelli, that extended the blockade to bar subsidies of U.S. firms abroad from trading with Cuba. In 1996, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed into law the vindictive "Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act," otherwise known as the Helms-Burton bill, which in effect bars foreign companies from trading with Cuba.

According to Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, the embargo has cost Cuba over the years about $224 billion in today's dollars, a huge amount for a developing country with a population of 11.4 million people. Pope John Paul strongly backed ending the embargo when he visited Cuba in 1998, encouraging the people of the world to "take practical steps to bring about changes."

The U. S. has long barred most American citizens from traveling to Cuba. President Bush has toughened the restrictions by preventing some two million Cuban-Americans from traveling to Cuba for visits to family more than once every three years. Bush has also increased funding to anti-Cuban groups in the U.S. and to anti-government elements within Cuba.

At this stage, White House policy remains fixated on regime-change in Cuba, replacing the communist government with an administration subordinate to Yankee domination, as existed some 60 years from 1898 when the U.S. seized Cuba from Spain until popular forces led by Fidel Castro ousted the Washington-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and liberated the island from America's embrace.

The U.S. election won't bring much change in Washington's Cuba policy, which is also known as the South Florida policy because of the way national politicians cater to the desires of the Cuban-American community quartered there. A victory by Republican John McCain will be a continuation of the Bush Administration's subversion and enmity. A victory for Democrat Barack Obama will essentially be a continuation of the Clinton policy of somewhat less heavy-handed subversion and enmity. Obama is slightly more forthcoming than McCain, but he pledges to keep the embargo and travel restrictions on American citizens until the Cuban government, in effect, renounces socialism.

One of Obama's sharpest and continually repeated criticisms of the Havana government is the plight of Cuba's political prisoners. "The road to freedom for all Cubans," Obama says, "must begin with justice for Cuba's political prisoners." A couple of months ago he said he would maintain sanctions against Cuba until it makes substantial changes, "beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners."

After nearly 50 years of anti-Cuban propaganda, the American people probably believe Cuba is one huge prison. Obama must know better, since he is sure to have heard of Amnesty International. According to Amnesty, which is no friend of the Havana government, there are approximately 58 prisoners of conscience in Cuba today, and thirteen others who are serving their sentences outside prison because of health concerns.

Much of what the U.S. government reports about Cuba is gravely distorted, from allegations about "terrorism" to the implication that the island is sinking under the weight of its prisoners of conscience. Most of the rest of the world sees through this, and is also aware of Washington's imperial hubris, which is why it never misses the opportunity to tweak the nose of Uncle Sam in the annual lopsided UN sanctions vote.
Note that Jackson Browne has just recorded an unusual new song about Cuba. Go to the "Check It Out" column below to access the music.


By Jon Basil Utley
Foreign Policy in Focus (Oct. 9)

It takes half a million dollars per year to maintain each sergeant in combat in Iraq. Thanks to a Senate committee inquiry, an authoritative government study finally details the costs of keeping boots on the ground. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in its report Contractors' Support of U.S. Operations in Iraq, compared the costs of maintaining a Blackwater professional armed guard versus the U.S. military providing such services itself. Both came in at about $500,000 per person per year.

News reports of the study have largely focused on the total cost of U.S. contractors. The 190,000 contractors in Iraq and neighboring countries, from cooks to truck drivers, have cost U.S. taxpayers $100 billion from the start of the war through the end of 2008. Overlooked in this media coverage has been the sheer cost per soldier of keeping the army in Iraq. This per-soldier cost is more comprehensible and alarming than the rather abstract aggregate figure.

Whether in maintaining U.S. soldiers or private-sector contractors, the costs of occupation are enormous. With no end in sight, unending foreign wars do have one clear consequence: the eventual bankruptcy of the United States.

The cost of a sergeant is complicated to calculate. His or her actual cash pay is $51,000-$69,000 per year, which puts sergeant pay in the middle of the pay grade, according to another CBO report, Evaluating Military Compensation. Non-cash benefits – pensions, medical care, child care, housing, commissaries – likely double this amount, even during peacetime. Pensions are the biggest ticket item. The average retirement benefit for a soldier or sailor who stays in for 20 years equals $2.6 million, if he or she lives to the age of 77 (though most soldiers don't stay in the service long enough to get this benefit).

A major portion of the $500,000 figure comes from the "support staff" and rotation system that allows for recuperation, training, and accumulated vacations after each year in combat. It's allocated on the basis of one or two sergeants in the United States backing up each one overseas. The CBO report does not, however, factor in bonuses for re-enlistment, which offers tens of thousands of dollars for soldiers with special skills. Nor does the report calculate operating or equipment costs per soldier. The $500,000 figure applies to personnel costs alone.

"Support staff" refers to headquarters management and specialized skills supervising the enlisted men. To make the comparison the CBO identified a hypothetical Army unit that could deliver roughly the same caliber of men as the Blackwater guards. This "would require about one-third of an Army light infantry battalion – a rifle company plus one-third of the battalion's headquarters company." This support staff would "include not only command elements, but also medics, scouts, snipers, and others who functionally correspond to some of Blackwater's supervisory and specialized personnel."

Contractors, meanwhile, are increasingly filling the roles once played by U.S. Army personnel. In terms of total costs, the CBO points out that there are about an equal number of contractors as soldiers, the highest proportion for any war in American history. However, only 20% are U.S. citizens. And most contractors, for example kitchen personnel, are paid much less than the guards who earn $1,222 per day. The report also notes that their contracts allow for much more flexibility and shorter assignments than what regular Army soldiers cost the government.

The studies are only for personnel. They don't include the long-term costs of care for disabled and handicapped veterans. They don't include the costs of replacing or maintaining equipment. Nor do they factor in the costs for allies' supplies and training or the cost of interest on all the borrowed billions used to fight the war. That's how Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes reached the astronomical cost estimate approaching $3 trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan. That study estimated actual yearly cost per soldier in the field at $400,000, a number comparable to the CBO estimate for sergeants.

Perhaps the accountants who did the CBO study were themselves surprised at the costs of fielding an American army. Their objective was only to analyze the costs of hiring guards at $500,000 a year, compared to fielding soldiers. The study only incidentally shows the individual costs of American occupation forces facing resistance.

Given these costs, which are only part of a military budget and other defense expenditures that approach a trillion dollars, it's easy to see how the wars are bankrupting America. Washington has borrowed the money, and the impact can already be felt in the dollar's declining value and America's deteriorating infrastructure. The national debt, since the war started, has increased from six to nine trillion dollars. Ancient Rome simply taxed its citizens into ruin and clipped the coinage to pay for its armies. Higher taxes, a lower standard of living, and unending wars will drive us to the same end.



GOING DOWN TO CUBA: Here's a fine new song on video by Jackson Browne expressing opposition to the U.S.. economic blockade of Cuba, entitled "Going Down to Cuba" and first performed about a month ago:

SEVEN DEADLY PLASTICS: Goods made of plastic are a daily part of human life, but plastic can also be a danger to human life. Have you ever wondered about those little numbers from 1 through 7 on the bottoms of your plastic food and drink containers? Here is your chance to find out what they stand for through a quite entertaining but disturbing four-minute music video featuring The Princes of Serendip, a Mid-Hudson singing group including T.G. Vinini who wrote the song "Seven Deadly Plastics." It's at, and at the group's website,

McCAIN'S RAGE: We've always known the Republican candidate was a hothead, but this four minute video, titled "McCain's Rage is a National Security Concern," depicts him as an individual with an extreme anger problem who shouldn't be allowed near the nuclear trigger: