Tuesday, February 19, 2013

02-20-13 Activist Newsletter

Feb. 19, 2013, Issue #188
jacdon@earthlink.net, P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561



By the Activist Newsletter

“Women’s Rights Are Under Attack/What Can We Do?/Stand Up, Fight Back!

That’s the slogan of a Mid-Hudson, N.Y., public regional meeting to commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD). The event will be held in New Paltz Thursday, March 7, on the SUNY campus in spacious Lecture Center 100 at 6:30 p.m. 

“We urge all Valley residents who have been angered by incessant right wing attacks on women’s rights throughout America to join us March 7,” said Donna Goodman, an editor of the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter, the sponsor of the rally. “We say, ‘Stop Violence Against Women, Stop the War on Women’s Rights, Defend Reproductive Justice, Full Equality for all Women Workers!”

Goodman urged men to attend the event in solidarity with the women’s struggle against rape and domestic violence in the U.S. and throughout the world, as well as to defend women’s rights.

A full list of speakers and endorsers will be available shortly. Among the major speakers so far are Rickie Solinger, Beth Soto and Goodman.

Solinger, a historian and writer, is the author of four books about reproductive rights: “Pregnancy and Power,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Abortion Wars,“ and “The Abortionist.” Logically, her topic will be “Reproductive Justice.” 

Soto is the Executive Director of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation (AFL-CIO), which represents 113,000 union families across seven Valley counties. She will discuss various aspects of women in the work force.

Goodman, the main organizer, is an elected delegate from the New Paltz chapter of United University Professions, a SUNY system union.  She will talk about the “war on women” and developments in the women’s movement.

Another main speaker (we’re awaiting confirmation) will focus on the key topic of violence against women. There will be several briefer talks, plus singers, poets and videos.

Early endorsers include the American Association of University Women (Kingston), Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation AFL-CIO, United University Professions AFL-CIO (SUNY NP), New Paltz Women in Black, Amnesty International (local branch), Bard College Student Labor Dialogue, Washbourne House (women and children's shelter), Orange County Democratic Women, Ulster County Democratic Women, New York Civil Liberties Union, Sociology Dept. (SUNY NP), Progressive Academic Network (SUNY NP), EnvironmntaLl Task Force (community/campus), NP Climate Action Coalition, NYPIRG and OXFAM (SUNY NP chapters), Students for a Free Palestine (SUNY NP), Move to Amend of Ulster County, Peace and Social Progress Now, Mid-Hudson ANSWER, Haitian People’s Support Project, Middle East Crisis Response, Hudson Valley Progressives, MoveOn (Ulster County) and other groups in the process of offering endorsements of the meeting.

International Women’s Day is a day of solidarity for working women that is celebrated all over the world. It was originally inspired by strikes staged by women garment workers, many of them immigrants, in New York City more than 100 years ago.

This year, women and their allies will gather in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, New Haven, Syracuse, Sacramento, and other cities across the country to honor International Women's Day by demanding an end to violence against women. These actions are being held in response to a call by Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD,  defendwomensrights.org), a national organization that is dedicated to building the struggle for women’s rights and equality for all.

The Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter has organized almost 200 demonstrations and meetings on peace, justice and equality issues over the years — the last being a “Stop the Right Wing War on Women” march and rally that drew 300 participants to New Paltz last Aug. 26 on Women’s Equality Day. Our next event will be in opposition to drone warfare in April.

You can help build the March 7 rally by sending this notice to your email lists, urging your friends to attend, and volunteering for any of several tasks — from leaflet distribution and postering to helping us organize, from staffing during part of the rally to getting your organization to join the endorsers. To participate contact Donna Goodman at donna0726@earthlink.net or jacdon@earthlink.net. We can email you a copy of the leaflet at your request. We hope you join us in defense of women’s rights. This might be useful:

By the Activist Newsletter

Here is a brief but extraordinary and moving music video about climate change we highly recommend after having watched it innumereable times for the sheer joy of it. “Sing for the Planet” is a major environmental singing manifestation that took place on September 22-23, 2012. The goal was to sing the same song with as many people as possible.

More than 80,000 people in over 180 Belgian cities and communities sang the song "Do it Now" — a call to action against climate change based on the tune of the Italian Partisan song "Bella Ciao." Participants in this huge singout urged politicians to take more ambitious climate measures on local and national levels. In all these cities and communities a video was made of the local event, of which the well-known Belgian film director Nic Balthazar made one final climate clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XGgBtHoIO4g

Another somewhat longer video shows the inhabitants of one of the Belgian towns, Merelbeke, doing their part in the nationwide singout. They also sing an extra verse. It’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64Py3TGwstg.  And, if you’re hooked as we are, check out the contribution from the city of Brugge, with its lovely opening of a young girl seated on a park bench, holding a small ball painted as the Earth. As she skips away, others follow her to a town square where the festivities begin: http://citizenactionmonitor.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/sing-for-the-climate-join-the-joyous-singalong-videos-for-the-planet/


We need to wake up

We need to wise up

We need to open our eyes

And do it now now now

We need to build a better future
And we need to start right now

We’re on a planet

That has a problem

We’ve got to solve it, get involved

And do it now now now

We need to build a better future

And we need to start right now
Make it greener

Make it cleaner

Make it last, make it fast

and do it now now now

We need to build a better future

And we need to start right now

No point in waiting

Or hesitating

We must get wise, take no more lies

And do it now now now

We need to build a better future

And we need to start right now

By Wendy Koch

WASHINGTON — In what was billed as the largest climate rally in U.S. history, thousands of people marched past the White House on Sunday to urge President Obama to reject a controversial pipeline and take other steps to fight climate change.

Organizers, including the Sierra Club, estimated that more than 35,000 people from 30-plus states endured frigid temperatures to join the "Forward on Climate" rally, although the crowd size could not be confirmed. [Estimates of up to 50,000 have come in.] Their immediate target is Obama's final decision, expected soon, on the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada through several U.S. states.

"This movement's been building a long time. One of the things that's built it is everybody's desire to give the president the support he needs to block this Keystone pipeline," Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental activist group, 350.org, said as protesters gathered on the National Mall.

"It's time for the president to stand up," he said, describing the 1,000-plus mile pipeline as "one of the largest carbon bombs in history." Some climate scientists say the production of tar sands emits more greenhouse gases than that of conventional crude oil. Supporters, including the oil industry, say it would reduce U.S. dependence on unstable foreign sources of oil.

Among the protesters were senior citizens in wheelchairs, a dad from Indiana carrying a toddler, women from a Unitarian church in Corvallis, Ore., and college students, including Florida's Molly Kampmann who was holding a picture of a pipeline with the caption: "This is why I'm hot." Others held placards saying, "Read my lips: no new carbons," and "We're in a climate hole: stop digging." Another, referring to a method for extracting natural gas, said: "Don't be frackin' crazy."

"We're right in the path of sea level rise," said Mark Geduldig-Yactrosky of Portsmouth, Va., explaining his concern about climate change. "We're a low-lying area. We have rising oceans and subsiding lands. So that personalizes it for us."

Burlington, Vt., resident Michael Ware, holding a "Stop Vermont Yankee [nuclear plants]" banner, said last year's extreme weather convinced many Americans that climate change is serious. "What will Vermont, what will any state, look like in 20 years?" he asked.

"I have six grandchildren, and I want them to have a habitable planet," said Linda Britt, who came from Ann Arbor, Mich., with other grandparents.

Obama has pledged repeatedly to tackle climate change. In his State of the Union Address, he gave Congress an ultimatum: if lawmakers don't act, he will. Protesters say they are holding him to his word. They want him to not only reject the pipeline but also set limits on carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants. Last year, the EPA proposed limits only on new plants.

In January 2012, Obama rejected the initial 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Port Arthur, Texas, saying he needed more time for environmental review. Since the project crosses a U.S. border, it needs a permit from the State Department, but Obama has said he'll make the final call.

The project's developer, Calgary-based TransCanada, has since broken the project into two parts. It received approval last year from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction of the 485-mile, $2.3 billion southern leg of the project from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast. Obama's pending decision involves the 1,179-mile, $5.3 billion northern leg, from Alberta to Steele City, Neb.

The pressure on Keystone has intensified since Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who like Obama had rejected the initial route, notified the president last month that he'd approved the revised route through his state. Heineman, a Republican, said it would avoid environmentally sensitive areas and bring jobs and other economic benefits. TransCanada President Russ Girling, who hailed Heineman's reversal, traveled to Washington earlier this month to lobby personally for the billion-dollar project.
In a message distributed immediately after the rally, 350.org’s McKibben declared:

“Today was the day. Finally, powerfully, decisively — the movement to stop climate change has come together. This was the biggest climate change rally in U.S history. By our count, 50,000 people gathered by the Washington Monument and then marched past the White House, demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action.

“There were many high points: Van Jones declaring that Keystone is the only presidential decision anyone will care about in 20 years; Native Canadian Chief Jackie Thomas explaining the toll that the tar sands are taking on her neighbors, and promising that they would never allow a tar sands pipeline west to the Pacific.

“But the real highlight was you [the demonstrators]. Movements aren’t about leaders (though without Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, or Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, this day would not have come off). Movements are about people — about all of us who put aside the things we have to do because we understand that the future is at stake.

We are making plans to put the momentum of this historic day to use, and you'll hear about them very soon— but for now, I just want to say thank you to everyone who came to DC, everyone who gathered in the solidarity rallies around the country, and everyone who sent their good wishes and prayers.
You are the movement, and the movement is our best chance at making a difference on climate change.

— From , USA Today, Feb. 18
— Excerpts from some of the speeches are at Democracy Now for Feb. 18 at http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/18/tens_of_thousands_rally_to_stop

By Medea Benjamin

President Obama spent his Sunday playing golf at an exclusive Florida gated community while up to 50,000 Americans poured into Washington, calling on the absent president to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline and stand up to Big Oil.

Addressing President Obama, speakers said that his decision to accept or reject the 2,000-mile pipeline connecting Canada’s tar sands to Houston’s refineries was the most monumental decision he would make in his presidency. But whether by design or by coincidence, the President had chosen to spend this very same day swinging at little balls in the warm Floridian sun—with an oil man.

Obama and Tiger Woods were joined on the golf course by a very wealthy fellow named Jim Crane. We all know who Tiger Woods is, but who is Jim Crane? The Texas businessman who hosted the president at his exclusive golf resort is owner of the major league baseball team Houston Astros. But Crane is also mucked up with the very “Big Oil” the activists were railing against. His extensive business deals include a partnership in Western Gas Holdings, a company engaged in gathering, processing, compressing and transporting natural gas and crude oil for Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, one of the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas exploration and production companies.

And let’s not forget that golfing itself is one of the most environmentally destructive sports around. Golf courses suck up a huge amount of water, pesticides and fertilizers. They destroy wetlands, introduce non-native grasses, impede corridors for migrating animals and damage sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife.

So while President Obama was relaxing with one of the nation’s elite who makes millions from destroying the planet, activists — most of whom voted for Obama — were circling the empty White House with their pleas to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. At one point, a small group of demonstrators stood in front of the White House fence and chanted, “Hey Obama get off the golf course, hey Obama get on the right course.”

There are the moments in history when leaders are remembered for the decisions they make. This is a moment of truth for both President Obama and for the future of the planet. The Canadian tar sands represent the dirtiest, most carbon-polluting oil on earth and many experts claim they will push global warming over the tipping point where it would be impossible to prevent a catastrophic collapse. So the president’s decision will have enormous consequences for the future of this planet.

Will he side with the indigenous women, clear air, clear water, cultural heritage and ecosystems or will he side with wealthy oil men?

— Medea Benjamin is the founder of CodePink and an activist extraordinaire. Her article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org

By the Activist Newsletter

A new national poll finds growing public support for regulating greenhouse gas emissions and requiring utilities to switch to lower-carbon fuel sources. The percentage of Americans who think climate change is occurring has rebounded, according to the Duke University national online survey, and is at its highest level since 2006.

Sixty-four percent of Americans strongly or somewhat favor regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and cars and requiring utilities to generate more power from "clean" low-carbon sources.

The study also found that while Americans support regulating emissions, only 29% favor market-based approaches such as cap-and-trade or a carbon tax. A scientist associated with the study said, “respondents appear to have little or no knowledge about the possible use of a cap-and-trade system to address climate change.”

So-called “clean” coal and natural gas are defined as “lower-carbon” fuel sources but they also produce considerable greenhouse gas emissions.

The technology for producing “clean” coal with lower emissions has not been perfected and may take several decades — if ever — to produce on a large scale.

According to industry sources, “About 16% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are related to natural gas…. Natural gas emits almost 30% less carbon dioxide than oil, and just under 45% less carbon dioxide than coal.” Many scientists point out that far greater reductions must be achieved in the near future to prevent an impending climate catastrophe.

The U.S. government is behind a major effort to extract natural gas through dangerous hydraulic fracturing. This is a major ingredient in the Obama Administration’s environmental plan, along with importing dirty Tar Sands oil from Canada and greatly increasing oil production by opening up heretofore protected U.S. natural sites on land and in offshore coastal deposits.

Despite pledges from the White House last month to finally take steps to reduce usage of fossil fuels, there is no indication Washington will invest more than token resources into creating renewable fuel sources such as wind, solar, and water power that are essential for protecting the world and its inhabitants from climate change.

The Duke Internet survey, conducted Jan. 16-22, 2013, involved emails to randomly selected households throughout the U.S. The margin of error for 1,089 respondents was 3%.

By the Activist Newsletter

The most important nonfiction book of 2013, not just as of February but probably all year, is “Kill Everything That Moves —The Real American War in Vietnam” by Nick Turse. It tells the shocking truth in voluminous detail based on U.S. Army documents and interviews with veterans, about the atrocious conduct of the American military during the unjust Vietnam war. Some left and progressive publications reported on segments of these horrible truths during and after the war, as did antiwar GIs, but nothing can compare to Turse’s substantiated revelations.
·      Bill Moyers interviewed Turse this month. See it at http://billmoyers.com/segment/nick-turse-describes-the-real-vietnam-war/
·      For a transcript of the TV episode: http://billmoyers.com/segment/nick-turse-describes-the-real-vietnam-war/
·      For the text of the book’s introduction: http://billmoyers.com/2013/02/08/excerpt-kill-anything-that-moves/

By the Activist Newsletter

Unless Washington’s drone warfare and domestic drone surveillance become objects of mass opposition in America soon, these deadly and intrusive pilotless aircraft will get entirely out of hand in a few years — if they are not already.

In response, anti-drone activism is escalating in the U.S. Demonstrations against the unmanned killer drones will take place in many American cities and towns throughout April. The Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter will be holding an action Saturday April 13 in the Mid-Hudson region. The ANSWER Coalition will conduct a march and rally in Washington on the same day starting at 12 noon in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.

Drones are clearly becoming the Obama Administration’s weapon of choice in undeclared wars abroad and will inevitably enhance government spying at home to the detriment of civil liberties. President Obama has already demonstrated his penchant for the former and indifference to the latter.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that as drones become cheaper and more reliable, it is possible law enforcement agencies may carry out persistent surveillance of U.S. citizens. More than 1,000 companies, large and small, are now in the drone business, sniffing out profits with their usual apathy toward social responsibility.

Asked recently if he expected increased use of drones in the future, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said: “I think that's reality. We've done that in Pakistan. We're doing it in Yemen and elsewhere. And I think the reality is it's going to be a continuing tool of national defense in the future.” What they have also done in western Pakistan is kill nearly 200 children — and this is just in the early years of the Obama Age of Drone Warfare.

So far, more than 4,000 people, including many civilians, have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. Every Tuesday, President Obama and two dozen advisors secretly meet and review names, and then the chief executive selects a “kill list” of those who will be assassinated. This practice violates and makes a mockery of international and U.S. law. The federal government’s death squad operations have expanded to allow for the assassinations of U.S. citizens, too.

In an article titled “Unmanned Flight: The Drones Come Home,” National Geographic online declared: “Unmanned aircraft have proved their prowess against al-Qaeda. Now they’re poised to take off on the home front. Possible missions: patrolling borders, tracking perps, dusting crops. And maybe watching us all?” The article also pointed out:

“The U.S. has deployed more than 11,000 military drones, up from fewer than 200 in 2002…. At least 50 other countries have drones, and some, notably China, Israel, and Iran, have their own manufacturers. Aviation firms — as well as university and government researchers — are designing a flock of next-generation aircraft, ranging in size from robotic moths and hummingbirds to Boeing’s Phantom Eye, a hydrogen-fueled behemoth with a 150-foot wingspan that can cruise at 65,000 feet for up to four days.

Liberal Bill Moyers, on his weekly TV program Feb. 8, excoriated Obama’s drone program with these words: “Our blind faith in technology combined with a sense of infallible righteousness continues unabated. It brought us to grief in Vietnam and Iraq and may do so again with President Obama's cold-blooded use of drones and his indifference to so-called ‘collateral damage,’ otherwise known as innocent bystanders.”

The hawkish right wing admires and applauds Obama’s program. In an interview with CBS News's Charlie Rose broadcast Feb. 12, former Bush Administration Warlord-in-Chief Dick Cheney, praised the drone program. He also supported the assassination of American citizens in foreign countries, such as Anwar al-Awlaki, an American imam who was liquidated in Yemen as a suspected member of al-Qaeda. A few days later his son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin, were killed in another U.S. drone strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen. The teen boys evidently were collateral damage.

By the Activist Newsletter

Nine anti-drone activists were arrested Feb. 13 for blocking the main entrance to Hancock Air Base in the town of DeWitt, N.Y., near Syracuse. Hancock is the regional hub for the hunter/killer Reaper pilotless drones deployed over Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.

This nonviolent civil resistance is the most recent in a series of protests at Hancock meant to expose and deter the Reaper war crimes originating from the base. Dozens have been arrested in the last two years, according to Upstate Drone Action.

Ironically, at a facility bristling with lethal weaponry, base Mission Support Group Commander, Col. Earl A. Evans, once again obtained a court order of protection against the peaceful demonstrators.

According to Upstate Drone Action member Jim Clune: “The Reaper strikes and the United States’ killer drone policies have taken the lives of thousands in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. These strikes are illegal and immoral. Under international agreements, which the U.S. has signed, the killing of civilians, extra-judicial murder, violation of national sovereignty, and violation of due process are all illegal acts.”

— Based on information from Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

By Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report

U.S. drone bases are multiplying on the African continent. Niger has just “given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil”; neighboring Burkina Faso already has one; two new drone facilities are opening in Ethiopia and the Seychelles; and UN peacekeepers in Congo want U.S. drones. Drones have terrorized Somalia from AFRICOM’s base in Djibouti for the past seven years.

With the U.S. and European military offensive in Africa in full swing, the drone wars are set to enter a new phase. Therefore, it is appropriate that U.S. antiwar activists will descend on the White House, on April 13 to demand “Drones Out of Africa and Everywhere!” The activists, including former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and the ANSWER Coalition, say the real target is Africa’s vast natural resources. Drone warfare, say the organizers, has become central to the modern U.S. version of gunboat diplomacy, to “force exploitative terms of trade and political accommodations.”

The West African nation of Niger has been very accommodating to the Americans, as it has been to the French, the former colonial master. According to a high Niger official quoted by Reuters news service, Niger has “given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements.” However, there is no reason to believe that the U.S. drones will be restricted to unarmed surveillance. Sources in Washington say “there are no constraints to military-to-military co-operation within the agreement" with Niger, which presumably means the U.S. can use the drones as it likes. The U.S. base in northern Niger puts the robotic planes within easy reach of Mali, Algeria and Libya.
The U.S. already has a drone base in neighboring Burkina Faso, which also borders on Benin, Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast.

In East Africa, the U.S. has been terrorizing Somalia with drones since 2006, when it instigated the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. The U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM, sends out drones from its large, permanent base in neighboring Djibouti, from which it can watch — or attack — most of the Horn of Africa, including Eritrea, right next door, one of the few countries in Africa that has no relationship with AFRICOM. Eritrea is under constant threat from Ethiopia, from which it won independence after a 30-year war.

Ethiopia is now home to a new U.S. drone base as are the Seychelles Islands, offshore in the Indian Ocean and within easy drone range of most of the East African coast: Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

In the very heart of the African continent, the 17,000-man United Nations peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo wants to use U.S. drones to monitor armed groups in the region, where U.S. Special Forces are also operating. Those drones would be deployed under much the same UN Security Council language that NATO used to launch its war against Libya, in 2011, allowing “all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.”

At the same time, another section of the United Nations is about to launch an investigation into the legality of U.S. drone warfare in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan.

— BlackAgendaReport.com — Feb. 6, 2013

By M. K. Bhadrakumar

It was an extraordinary week in the politics of the Middle East and it ended appropriately by being rounded off with a reality check lest imaginations ran riot.

Three major happenings within one week in February would have to be taken as the inevitable confluence of a flow of developments and processes: the offer by the Syrian opposition of a bilateral dialogue with the Bashar al-Assad regime; the historic visit of an Iranian president to Egypt; and the public, unconditional offer by the United States of direct talks with Iran and the latter's initial acceptance of it until Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a rejection days later.

Yet, they are interconnected. First, the Syrian kaleidoscope is dramatically shifting despite the continuing bloodbath. Unless the European countries drop their arms embargo on Syria (which expires on March 1 anyway) and decide to arm the rebels, the stalemate will continue.

The mood in Western capitals has shifted in the direction of caution and circumspection, given the specter that al-Qaeda affiliates are taking advantage. If anything, the hurricane of militant Islamism blowing through Mali only reinforces that concern and reluctance.

Suffice to say, what prompted the Islamist leader of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, last weekend to show willingness to take part in direct talks with representatives of the Syrian regime — and pushed him into meeting with Russian and Iranian foreign ministers — was as much the disarray within the Syrian opposition and his failure to form a credible "government-in-exile" as his acute awareness that the Western mood is now cautious about Syria.

To be sure, Iran played a signal role in the grim battle of nerves over Syria through the recent months. Strangely, it is Iran today, which is on the "right side of history," by urging dialogue and negotiations and democratic elections as holding the key to reform and change in Syria - or, for that matter, in Bahrain.

The shift in Syria has actually enabled Iran to cross over the Sunni-Shi'ite barriers that were tenaciously put up to isolate it. Thus, President Mahmud Ahmedinejad's historic visit to Egypt this week has a much bigger regional dimension to it than the restoration of the Iran-Egypt bilateral relationship. The trilateral meeting held between Ahmedinejad and his Egyptian and Turkish counterparts Mohammed Morsi and Abdullah Gül signified Iran's compelling relevance as an interlocutor rather than as an implacable adversary for the two major Sunni countries.

Interestingly, Morsi added, "Egypt's revolution is now experiencing conditions similar to those of Iran's Revolution and because Egypt does not have an opportunity for rapid progress like Iran, we believe that expansion of cooperation and ties with Iran is crucially important and necessary."

Needless to say, Iranian diplomacy has been optimal with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood-led regime in Cairo - neither fawning nor patronizing, or pushing and pressuring, but leaving things to the Brothers to decide the pace. Basic to this approach is the confidence in Tehran that the surge of Islamism in the Middle East through democratic process, no matter "Sunni Islamism," will ultimately work in favor of Iran's interests.

The cordial welcome extended by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, head of Egypt's Al-Azhar university, to Ahmedinejad and the strong likelihood of his visit to Tehran in a very near future also underscores the common desire to strengthen the affinities.

Simply put, the Syrian crisis has virtually receded from the Iran-Egypt field of play as a serious issue of discord. True, the Turkey-based Syrian National Council (SNC) continues to reject any negotiation with the Syrian regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood dominates the SNC. But this may also provide the window of opportunity for Turkey, Egypt and Iran to knock their heads together.

Besides, the SNC has no real influence over the rebel fighters, and Ankara feels exasperated at the overall drift of the Syrian crisis.

Thus, it was against a complex backdrop that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in Munich last weekend that Washington is ready to hold direct talks with Iran over the country's nuclear energy program. Iran's immediate response was one of cautious optimism. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi reacted: "I am optimistic. I feel this new [US] administration is really this time seeking to at least divert from its previous traditional approach vis-a-vis my country."

However, by the next day, he had begun tempering the enthusiasm: "We looked at it positively. I think this is a good overture... But we will have to wait a little bit longer to see if their gesture is this time a real gesture... so that we will be making our decisions likewise."

Salehi subsequently explained, "A look at the past shows that whenever we have had talks with the Americans, including efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, unfortunately the other side has failed to fulfill its obligations. You cannot use a threatening tone and say all options are on the table, on the one hand, [because] this is an apparent contradiction... Exerting pressure and [invitation to] talks are not compatible. If you have honest intentions, we can place serious negotiations on the agenda."

Obviously, Salehi spoke in two voices, and his retraction finally proved to be the "authentic" voice of Tehran. When the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei broke his silence Feb. 7, he rejected the possibility of direct talks with the U.S. He said, "You [Americans] are pointing the gun at Iran and say either negotiate or we will shoot. The Iranian nation will not be frightened by the threats.... Some naive people like the idea of negotiating with America [but] negotiations will not solve the problems. If some people want American rule to be established again in Iran, the nation will rise up to them."

One way of looking at Khamenei's rejection is to put it in the immediate context of the announcement of further sanctions against Iran by Washington the previous day, which the U.S. administration has explained as "a significant turning of the screw" that will "significantly increase the economic pressure on Iran."

But it does not fully explain the manifest harshness and the comprehensive rejection by Khamenei. Meanwhile, three factors are to be taken into account. First, Iran's domestic politics is hotting up and the dramatic eruption of public acrimony between Ahmadinejad and the Speaker of the Majlis (parliament) Ali Larijani last weekend testifies to a rough period when Khamenei will have his hands full as the great helmsman.

Indeed, a lot of jockeying is going on as the presidential election slated for May draws closer. Khamenei could factor in that the talks with the US are best held after the elections. (By the way, this may also be Obama's preference.) Second, Khamenei has flagged by implication that Tehran expects some serious goodwill gesture on the part of the US before any talks take place. He has recalled that the US did not act in good faith in the past - such as when Iran helped out in the US's overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

A third factor is that Khamenei genuinely sees that Iran is on the "right side of history" as regards the regional upheaval in the Middle East, whereas the Washington’s regional strategies are getting nowhere. In sum, whereas the U.S. declares the Iran sanctions are "biting" and the regime is in Iran feels besieged, it is in actuality a bizarre situation of Washington believing its own propaganda while the ground realities are vastly different.

If the propaganda has us believe that the regime in Tehran is living in fear of a Tahrir-like revolution erupting in Iran, Khamenei's words show no such traces of fear or timidity. On the other hand, Khamenei would have carefully weighed Obama's capacity (or the limits to it) to bulldoze the Israeli lobby and to initiate a genuine normalization process with Iran.

When Richard Nixon worked on China in the early 1970s, he had the benefit of a broad consensus of opinion within the U.S. political establishment. On the contrary, when it comes to Iran, pride and prejudice influence still rule the roost for most consequential Americans.

Khamenei's message to Obama is to get serious and think through what he really wants instead of lobbing a vague offer through Biden with no strings attached and no commitments underlying it. The Iranian leader who has continuously dealt with successive U.S. administrations through the past 22 years simply threw the ball into Obama's court and will now wait and see how the latter kicks it around when he is in Israel next month.

— From Asia Times 2-8-13. Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

By Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD)

On Jan. 24, the Pentagon announced that the ban on women in combat arms Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), such as infantry and artillery personnel, scouts, tankers, cavalry and more, will be lifted. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that now all "talented and qualified people [will] be able to serve this country in uniform."

WORD recognizes the importance of eliminating gender-based barriers in all professions and work places. The extreme male-dominated, chauvinist and sexist culture in the military makes a change of this magnitude quite significant. However, it is often overlooked that the past decade of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan has already blurred the traditional notion of combat versus non-combat positions in the U.S. military.

Even though the traditional combat arms MOSs have, until now, been open only to men, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have put women in the U.S. military in combat as never before. Because of the guerrilla insurgency in those countries (which created a severe lack of U.S. combat troops and redefined roles) women in non-combat arms MOSs such as military police, truck drivers, civil affairs, military intelligence and more have found themselves in heavy fighting — being ambushed on convoys, attacked on bases, and even directly participating in military offensives alongside combat arms troops.

The Marines have all-female teams known as “the lionesses” which are embedded with infantry troops to enter homes where Afghan women refuse to speak to male troops on patrols and raids. Female helicopter pilots also enter combat on a daily basis. Women have served in combat settings for many other reasons as well which accounts for the fact that, according to the military, more than 150 women service members have been killed and more than 800 wounded out of the 280,000 women that have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. This new policy recognizes the reality that women have been serving in combat positions for some time, and will further open the door to female participation in those MOSs where their official role is killing and dying on the front lines.

The reaction from the right wing, like former U.S. Army officer and Arkansas Congressman Tom Cotton, is that women are “biologically unfit for combat;” that they are incapable of performing to the standard of their male counterparts; that it “goes against their nature.”

The irony of the response from these bigots in the military leadership is that military history shows quite the opposite — including crushing defeats of the U.S. military at the hands of resistance groups that give women equal combat roles.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military was decisively defeated by an insurgent force that had women on the front lines of combat.

In World War II, more than 2,000 women became snipers in the Soviet Red Army, because women on average out-perform men in the ironically named “marksmanship.” The most famous Soviet sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko officially killed 309 Nazi soldiers, including 39 enemy (male) snipers.

During the Cuban revolution, where peasants and poor workers overthrew a brutal military dictatorship, the first women’s platoon was created. When male soldiers complained that women soldiers had been given rifles instead of them due to a weapons shortage, Fidel Castro famously responded, “They are better soldiers than you are.” One of those women soldiers reported: "We were never behind. We were always beside or ahead of them [the men]. There was no difference.”

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), waging a long guerrilla war against a dictatorship, boast of one-third of their fighters being women. Women have distinguished themselves as skilled and dedicated fighters in combat all across the world, from Latin America, to Africa, to the Middle East, to Asia. The difference between the examples cited and the situation of women in the U.S. military is that those women were fighting wars against the interests of big banks and corporations, completely the opposite of the role of women now serving in the U.S. military.

The arguments from the right wing against women in combat boil down to insecurity and chauvinism on the part of military men, disregarding the illustrious history of women on the front lines of battle.

Will women in combat reduce the military rape problem? There is an expectation that along with women’s bodies being pushed to the forefront, so too will their concerns and issues in the military. The New York Times’ Gail Collins suggests that having more women rise in the ranks might, “make things better because it will mean more women at the top of the military, and that, inevitably, will mean more attention to women’s issues.”

One of the most pressing issues facing women in the military is sexual assault. One in three women in the military reports being sexually assaulted. Sexual assault in the military has increased 30% in just the last year. While women make up 14% of the military, they comprise 95% of the victims. These assaults happen in both training facilities and during deployment. Sexism, like racism, is endemic in society at large, but is magnified in the military and is part of the indoctrination process that enables working class rank and file soldiers to learn to hate and kill poor and working people in other countries.

Eighty percent of these attacks go unreported due to threats and intimidation. The military culture of silence around sexual assault facilitates rape and fails to hold the rapists accountable. Even when these crimes are reported, the woman is often punished instead of the perpetrator.

While the U.S. military publicly pats itself on the back for breaking a sexist ban on combat MOSs, they ignore and cover-up the biggest crisis facing women in the military today. 

Not-so-coincidentally, combat arms MOSs traditionally absorb the poorest recruits with the lowest level of education. New recruits who did not graduate from high school, or who scored low on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) due to inadequate educational opportunities growing up, are funneled directly into combat jobs that carry the highest risk of death and injury.

The numbers of women joining the military reflect the economic reality that many women face every day. Not only are we faced with the persisting wage gap but also an economic system plagued with job disparity and sky-rocketing tuition hikes. The hardest hit communities of economic hardship are those of poor and working people of color. Women of color make up 47% of women in the military

That gender-based barriers have been lifted in the military may increase the recruitment and deployment of women. In reality though, like many of their male counterparts, 82% of women joined the military after 9/11 to receive education benefits, and 67% joined to gain job skills. As civilians, women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar and African American women make 69.6 cents, while Latinas make only 59.8 cents to the dollar earned by a man. In the military there is no such wage gap — all soldiers of the same rank receive the same wages and benefits, making it attractive to women.

While women should have access to any profession without facing sexist barriers, the U.S. military is not a force for progress. It cares little for the real issues facing women in the U.S. and directly harm and kill our sisters around the world. The wars waged on our sisters abroad are not for liberation, but for the rape of another country for its resources.

Some claim these wars are helping women in places like Afghanistan, but in reality women in Afghanistan and in the United States share the same oppressor. While U.S. imperialism destroys the lives of women and children abroad it is simultaneously denying women in the U.S. of the basic rights they deserve.

Women in the military deserve full equality, to be treated with dignity and respect. Women service members also have the right to refuse to participate in immoral, unjust wars that perpetuate women’s oppression globally.

Sisters, fight against imperialism, not for it!
From WORD: If you are a service member and want to learn more about how you can refuse deployment or fight for your rights against sexual abuse, contact our brothers and sisters in March Forward! an organization of veterans and active duty service members against the war. http://www.answercoalition.org/march-forward/.

By Marc Becker   

President Rafael Correa’s re-election in Ecuador’s Feb. 17 was a foregone conclusion, but his margin of victory was unexpected. Correa won 57% of the vote, a notable increase over the 52% he won in 2009. Conservative banker Guillermo Lasso came in second place with 23% of the vote.

Correa won on the power of redirecting state resources to marginalized communities, which resulted in dramatically reducing poverty rates. Improvements in tax collection have increased the government coffers. He also promises to grow the economy through increased oil production and the launching of large-scale mining of gold and copper reserves.

Inaccurate expectations of a close election were fueled by a May 2011 constitutional referendum that barely passed despite opinion and exit polls that pointed to an easy victory. In addition, some Correa supporters had indicated that they would vote against the president in an attempt to slow the growth of presidential power.

Surprising was how poorly Ecuador’s left fared in the election. Former close Correa ally Alberto Acosta running at the head of a leftist coalition that opposes the government’s neo-extractivist policies won just 3% of the vote, barely above the 2% that the Indigenous leader Luis Macas polled in the 2006 election.

[From the Activist Newsletter: Extractivism, according to the America’s Program, is an expression “meaning the centering of economies around the export of raw materials, such as minerals, fossil fuels and agricultural commodities. Numerous critiques came from the environmental movement and the left to the effect that extractivism is ecologically destructive and keeps the countries of the global South in misery, dependence and underdevelopment.”

[Many in Latin America and the world consider Correa to be a leftist and even a mild socialist because of his criticism of Yankee imperialism, his alliances with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and other left regimes, for his progressive domestic social and economic programs and his protection of Wikileaks whistleblower Julian Assange in Ecuador’s London embassy. In Ecuador as in Bolivia, there are strong environmental movements with indigenous overtones that view extractivist development policies with passionate distain. Ecuador’s indiginous people are 25% of the population.] 

Acosta ran on an economic platform similar to that of Correa, but with the support of Ecuador’s historically strong social movements that have become estranged from the president over his repression of those who oppose his extractivist development policies. Earlier polls had indicated that Acosta had much higher levels of support, and might even push Correa into a runoff race.

A second leftist candidate Norman Wray, running on a platform of social issues including opposition to Correa’s rejection of gay marriage and reproductive rights, fared even worse that Acosta.

The fragmented right-wing vote was spread across five candidates, and together gained about a third of the votes. Even if they had managed to unify across their deeply entrenched divisions, they would not have come close to unseating Correa.

As Correa made clear during the campaign, a more important issue was control over the 137-member National Assembly. Preliminary results indicate that Correa’s ruling Alianza País [Country Partnership] coalition will win a slim majority in the chamber.

Leftist parties won about 10% of the congressional vote, with the balance spread across Ecuador’s fragmented right wing. The largest vote, less than 15%, went to Guillermo Lasso’s new political party CREO. Ecuador’s previously strong oligarchical parties have all but disappeared.

Correa will be re-inaugurated on May 24, Ecuador’s independence day, for his third term in office. His re-election will give him a mandate until 2017, for a full 10 years in office. The current constitution does not allow for subsequent re-election, and no moves have been made to alter that provision.

— From http://upsidedownworld.org/, Feb. 18.

By Paul Harris

President Barack Obama is facing a liberal backlash over his hardline national security policy, which critics say is more extreme and conservative than that pursued by George W Bush.

The outrage comes after a week in which Obama's nominee to be the next head of the CIA, current White House adviser John Brennan, faced a grilling from the Senate intelligence committee over his enthusiastic support of using unmanned drones to strike suspected Islamic militants all over the globe.

It also comes after a court hearing in New York in which numerous liberal activists and journalists argued that a new Obamßa law – the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) – has dealt a serious blow to civil liberties by allowing American citizens to be detained indefinitely without trial

Both developments also add to liberal frustration with an Obama administration that has ruthlessly cracked down on whistleblowers, especially on matters of national security, and failed to implement a promise to close down the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
"If Bush had done the same things as Obama, then more people would have been upset about it. He is a Democrat though, and to an extent can get away with it," said Daniel Ellsberg, who as a government official leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and helped to expose the truth about the Vietnam war. Ellsberg is now one of the plaintiffs in the case against the NDAA and insists that the administration has used the law to give itself widespread and unconstitutional new powers: "We have been losing our guaranteed freedoms one by one."

The government denies that the NDAA represents any sort of threat to ordinary citizens and has appealed against a judge's ruling that it is unconstitutional, saying that the White House needs such powers to fight terrorism. However, critics say its use of broad language to define what constitutes a terrorist or what actions make up support for terrorist groups could drag in journalists, activists and academics. The case, which is currently on appeal in New York, could go all the way to the supreme court. Liberal film-maker Michael Moore has attacked the Obama Administration for backing the NDAA. "In order to protect us from terrorism, the government is taking away our constitutional rights," said Moore.

But much of the real focus of liberal ire has been the administration's huge expansion of its use of drones. Brennan has been at the forefront of that program and its "kill list," maintained by the White House, which targets specific Islamist militants in countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. The program is backed by military and intelligence chiefs but independent groups that track the attacks say it has caused hundreds of civilian casualties. It has also been criticized for killing radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, who were American citizens.

The administration is facing intense pressure to make public secret documents that lay out its legal rationale for the killings. But it has so far resisted, prompting many groups to compare Obama's national security policy to Bush's drawing-up of secret legal memos justifying torture techniques such as waterboarding. "The parallels to the Bush administration torture memos are chilling," said Vincent Warren, executive director for the Centre for Constitutional Rights. "Those were unchecked legal justifications drawn up to justify torture; these are unchecked justifications drawn up to justify extrajudicial killing."

Obama's policy has put him in political alliance with some strange bedfellows. Three hawkish Republican senators, including 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, filed a brief in support of the NDAA law during the court hearing. They defended Obama's stance on national security grounds.

Another source of anti-Obama anger for liberal groups has been the administration's attitude to whistleblowers. Obama has used an arcane piece of World War I legislation — the 1917 Espionage Act — six times to pursue cases, more than all his predecessors combined. One case involved former CIA agent John Kiriakou, who was prosecuted for leaks after he went public with allegations of torture of suspects. He has now been jailed, which critics point out means that, while no one has been prosecuted for torture, a man who sought to end the practice is behind bars. Jesselyn Radack, a director of the Government Accountability Project, which helps to defend whistleblowers, said using the Espionage Act was a strategy designed to intimidate those exposing government wrongdoing. "They are being labelled enemies of the state," she said.
One of those is Thomas Drake, a National Security Agency worker who has been prosecuted after leaking details of waste and overspending at the organization. The case against him collapsed in 2011 after he agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and the government dropped more serious charges that could have jailed him for 35 years.

But the experience has left Drake a strident critic of the administration. At a meeting in Manhattan last week where numerous civil rights activists including Ellsberg and Moore gathered to discuss the NDAA case, Drake said that first Bush and then Obama had increasingly used secret powers to carry out national security policy since the World Trade Centre terrorism attacks of 2001.

"Everything that has happened since 9/11 has simply increased the power of that secret government. The constitution for them is just a piece of paper. It is an inconvenient truth," he said.
—From The Observer (UK) Feb. 9, 2013]

By Jon Queally

Philosophy professor, social critic and activist Cornel West says that like Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, there is no way to avoid the conclusion that President Obama — due to his execution of foreign wars and direction of clandestine military operations overseas resulting in the direct and foreseeable death of innocent people — should be called out for what he is: a “war criminal.”

Appearing on Tavis Smiley's radio program on Feb. 14 the well known African American progressive who teaches at Princeton and Union Theological Seminary said: "We’ve been talking about this for a good while, the immorality of drones, dropping bombs on innocent people. It’s been over 200 children so far. These are war crimes…. I think we have to be very honest."

A once ardent supporter of the president — campaigning strongly for Obama during his presidential run in 2008 — West has been critical of a number of aspects of the president's policies since taking office, including his refusal to adequately address poverty in the United States even as his administration acted mightily to save large financial institutions and Wall Street banks.

West's comments on U.S. foreign policy came as Smiley spoke about the ongoing confirmation process of John Brennan, Obama's nomination to run the CIA and chief architect of the ongoing drone assassination program and what the radio host termed the president's "license to kill".

"Let us not be deceived: Nixon, Bush, Obama, they're war criminals," West said. "They have killed innocent people in the name of the struggle for freedom, but they're suspending the law, very much like Wall Street criminals. The law is suspended for them, but the law applies for the rest of us."

Just last week in Afghanistan, five children were killed and five more wounded when a suspected missile from a U.S. drone exploded in Kunar province. Four adult women were also reported killed in the attack along with a number of adult males who may or may not have been the intended targets.
— From Common Dreams, Feb. 14, 2013.

By David Cooper

Raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, as President Obama pledged in his State of the Union address, would be a good step toward reversing some of the huge decline in the purchasing power of the minimum wage that has occurred over the past 45 years….

In his speech, Obama noted that a parent who is a minimum wage worker and works full time, year round, does not make enough money to be above the federal poverty line. Until the 1980s, earning the minimum wage was enough for a single parent to not live in poverty. A minimum-wage income in 1968 was higher than the poverty line for a family of three.  But today’s minimum is not enough for single parents to reach even the most basic threshold of adequate living standards. …. $9 per hour would bring the minimum wage back to a more reasonable level, although it would still fall short of the 1968 peak.

Moreover, the gap between the minimum wage and the average wage of production and non-supervisory workers used to be much smaller…. Through the 1960s, minimum-wage workers earned about 50% of what the average American production worker earned…. Today, a minimum-wage worker earns only 37% of what the typical worker earns. 

Over the last 40 years, minimum-wage workers have not seen the benefits of a growing economy.  As productivity has increased and the economy has expanded, the minimum wage has been left to stagnate…. If the minimum wage had kept pace with average wages —i.e., if minimum wage workers saw their paychecks expand at the same rate as the average worker— it would be about $10.50 today. If the minimum wage had kept pace with total economy productivity it would be almost $18.75 today…. If the minimum wage had gone up at the same rate as wages for the top 1%, it would be over $28 per hour.

— Excerpted from Feb. 15 Institute for Policy Studies article.

By The National Women’s Law Center

Hundreds of thousands of workers in New York – mostly women and people of color – struggle to make ends meet on minimum wage earnings. A measure proposed in Governor Cuomo’s budget would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75 per hour and increase the tipped minimum cash wage for food service workers (the largest group of tipped workers nationally from $5 per hour to $6.03 per hour in 2013, but would not index these wages for inflation. Increasing the minimum wage and tipped minimum wage are key steps toward fair pay for women and people of color in New York.

Women made up about two-thirds of all New York workers who were paid minimum wage or less in 2011. They provided care for children and elders, cleaned homes and offices, and waited tables.

Women of color are disproportionately represented among female minimum wage workers. Nationally, black and Hispanic women were each just over 12% of all employed women in 2011; among women who made minimum wage, nearly 15% were black and more than 16% were Hispanic.

Overall, people of color are disproportionately represented among minimum wage workers. Nationally, black and Hispanic workers were about 11% and 14% of all workers in 2011, respectively; among minimum wage earners, just over 15% were black and nearly 19% were Hispanic.

A woman working full time, year round in New York at the current minimum wage of $7.25 will earn just $14,500 annually. That’s more than $3,600 below the federal poverty line for a mother with two children. If New York’s minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since it reached its peak purchasing power in 1970, it would now be $11.15 per hour.http://www.nwlc.org/ - _edn10

The minimum cash wage for tipped employees in New York varies by occupation; for food service workers, including restaurant servers, it is $5.00 per hour – just $10,000 a year. While employers are responsible for ensuring that their tipped employees are paid the minimum wage, many workers are paid less due to wage theft and other illegal practices. Nationally, about 70% of restaurant servers are women.

New York families are struggling in this tough economy. In 2011, 28% of black families with children were in poverty, 32% of Hispanic families with children were in poverty, and 39% of single-mother families were in poverty.

Increasing the minimum wage to $8.75 per hour would raise annual earnings to $17,500, an increase of $3,000 per year – a significant boost, though still about $600 short of lifting a family of three out of poverty. Raising the tipped minimum cash wage to $6.03 per hour would increase earnings for many restaurant servers and other food service workers by $2,060 per year. These higher wages would make a real difference for many New Yorkers and their families, but because Governor Cuomo’s proposal does not index the minimum wage or the tipped minimum wage for inflation, the wages’ value would erode over time relative to the cost of living. 

The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimate that if New York’s minimum wage were increased to $8.75 per hour, more than 1.5 million workers would get a raise, over 54% of them women. Over 860,000 children in New York have a parent who would benefit from a minimum wage increase.

Increasing the minimum wage would mean higher pay for thousands of New York women and help close the wage gap. In 2011, New York women working full time, year round were paid only 84 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.1] Black women working full time, year round made only 67 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts.

Increasing the wages paid to low-wage workers results in lower turnover, boosts worker efforts, and encourages employers to invest in their workers. Raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss, even during periods of recession.

Most minimum wage workers need this income to make ends meet and spend it quickly, boosting the economy. Research indicates that for every $1 added to the minimum wage, low-wage worker households spent an additional $2,800 the following year.

FPI and NELP estimate that raising New York’s minimum hourly wage to $8.75 would generate about $840 million in additional economic activity and 7,300 jobs.

By Isaiah J. Poole

A majority of House Democrats has signed a House Progressive Caucus letter to President Obama opposing benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

[A total of 107 signed, leaviing  93 democrats who would not sign. There are 232 Republicans and all but a handful approve of cuts in social services and  and “entitlement” programs.]

“We write to affirm our vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits in any final bill to replace sequestration,” the letter, signed by 107 members, says. Sequestration is a set of automatic federal spending cuts, totaling $85 billion, that will take effect on March 1 unless Congress and President Obama agree on actions to avoid them.

Though these cuts will have severe consequences, conservatives have indicated their willingness to allow them to take place unless Democrats agree to cuts in so-called “entitlement” programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The letter — led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Keith Ellison, (D-Minn.) and Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) — singles out the “chained CPI,” which many in Congress and the Obama administration are considering imposing as a way to restrain increases in Social Security benefits. Using this alternate measure of calculating cost-of-living increases would lock recipients into a declining standard of living over time, as their benefits would not keep up with rising costs of such items as health care that take up a disproportionate share of their spending. The letter continues:

“Earned Social Security and Medicare benefits provide the financial and health protections necessary to keep individuals and families out of poverty. Medicaid is not only a lifeline for low-income children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and families, it is the primary source of long-term care services and supports for 3.6 million individuals. We cannot overstate their importance for our constituents and our country. That is why we remain deeply opposed to proposals to reduce Social Security benefits through use of the chained CPI to calculate cost-of-living adjustments.

“We remain committed to making the changes that will extend solvency for 75 years, but Social Security has not contributed to our current fiscal problems and it should not be on the bargaining table. Similarly, we oppose proposals to increase Medicare cost-sharing requirements or to raise the age of eligibility. Half of all Medicare recipients live on less than $22,000 a year – yet they spend, on average, three times as much of those limited incomes on health care as other Americans. Raising their already heavy cost-sharing burden or increasing the age of eligibility doesn’t lower health care costs, it just shifts them to those who can least afford more financial burdens – seniors, people with disabilities and their families. A commitment to keeping the middle-class strong and reducing poverty requires a commitment to keeping Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid strong. We urge you to reject any proposals to cut benefits, and we look forward to working with you to enact approaches that instead rely on economic growth and more fair revenue-raising policies to solve our fiscal problems.”

— From Campaign for America’s future (blog.ourfuture.org) Feb. 15.

By Think Progress

Even without the spending cuts included in the so-called “sequester,” America’s domestic spending levels are scheduled to hit historic lows in the coming years. That’s because the Budget Control Act, signed into law as part of the plan to raise the debt ceiling in August 2011, capped future spending levels.

Those caps will ultimately reduce spending to its lowest level as a% of the economy since the 1970s, according to a report from Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee Already, many programs on which Americans depend have faced significant cuts. Here are eight examples from the report:

Education: 44 federal education programs have been totally eliminated, saving $1.1 billion, since 2010. Title I, which funds schools in low-income areas, has not faced cuts, but it has not received scheduled funding increases. As a result, it has absorbed 1.2 million more students with no additional funds, meaning districts now have $140 less per student in those schools. The capped spending levels will also result in a significant shortfall in the Pell Grants program.

Food safety: The Food and Drug Administration nearly doubled its inspection of food imports between 2007 and 2011, but such inspections would be reduced by 24% under scheduled spending caps. Food imports are skyrocketing, but the FDA inspects only 2.3% of them. In addition, budget cuts have jeopardized implementation of major food safety reforms.

Women, Infants, and Children programs: The WIC program helps low-income women who are pregnant or have infant children up to age five. “If the same rate of growth that the discretionary budget caps permit through 2022 had been used to determine WIC funding over the last eight years, some 970,000 women, infants, and children would not have been able to receive much-needed supplemental foods this year,” according to the report.

Housing: A program to help house low-income seniors was cut in half from 2010 to 2012, resulting in the construction of no new housing, even as there are 10 seniors on waiting lists for each existing unit. Another program to build low-income housing was cut from $1.8 billion in 2010 to just $1 billion in 2012, resulting in the construction of fewer homes and the creation of 8,000 fewer jobs. And a program that helps heat low-income homes in the winter was cut by a third, resulting in assistance for a million fewer homes last year and cuts for those who still receive assistance, even as energy prices have risen by 31% in that time.

Social Security: A rising number of senior citizens and disability claims has put a strain on the Social Security Administration’s operating budget, which has not increased in two years. SSA has cut 6,500 workers and closed 23 offices, with plans to close 11 more. There were more than 800,000 claims made to SSA last year, an increase of 100,000 from the previous year.

Child Care: Federal funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant, which helps low-income families access subsidies for child care, has declined by 13% since 2002. Only one in six children who are eligible for that assistance now receive it.

Aviation Safety: The Federal Aviation Administraton has faced $205 million in cuts to programs meant to help update its infrastructure, even as the department is switching its monitoring system to a safer one based on satellites.

Community Investment: Community Development Block Grants help localities fund economic development, housing, and public services. The program has been cut by a quarter, a total of $1 billion, in the last two years. The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development estimates that the $1 billion reduction resulted in 21,000 fewer jobs being created last year.

This is just a sampling of the cuts that have taken place, and again, they do not reflect the impact of the automatic cuts that will begin on March 1 if Congress does not avert them. The sequester would cut discretionary spending by 8.2% across-the-board, further jeopardizing these programs and others. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the sequester’s budget cuts would result the loss of one million jobs .

— From Think Progress, Feb. 8, 2013. 

By Maude Barlow

Can democracy in crisis deal with the global warming crisis? Yes! But only by addressing the crises of democracy and climate together. I see four steps.

REIGN IN THE POWER OF BIG OIL: The crisis of democracy is largely fueled by the unprecedented power of transnational corporations, and the richest, most powerful industry sector in the world is big oil. Not only does it influence elections, in many countries, it often sets domestic and international policy.

In my country (Canada), the energy industry wrote Prime Minster Stephen Harper and outlined the six environmental protections it wanted gutted so that it could build new pipelines—east, west, and south—unimpeded. In two recent budgets, our government fully complied, leaving our land, water, and air unprotected by law.

Big oil companies, like other industry giants, are protected by bilateral, regional, and global trade and investment agreements that allow them to sue governments at will. US-based Occidental Petroleum successfully sued Ecuador under the US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty for $2.4 billion in compensation when that country terminated its contract after Occidental broke its terms.

The power of these corporations to influence politics and policies as well as the trade deals that insulate them from the rule of law must be ended if we are ever to move to alternative and sustainable forms of energy. Ending corporate rule would go a long way to restoring democracy.

REJECT CARBON MARKETS: Many environmentalists promote a market model to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Governments set a cap on greenhouse emissions and then sell emission permits that can be traded, bought, and sold in the market in the belief that putting a price on emissions will encourage reductions. But this market model is part of the problem.

Carbon trading in effect privatizes the atmosphere by creating a new form of property rights over natural resources and is predicated less on reducing emissions than on the desire to make carbon cuts as cheap as possible for large corporations. Carbon trading very narrowly measures success simply in terms of cost effectiveness and ignores issues of power, social justice, inequality, and community control over local ecosystems.

Most important, carbon trading maintains the essence of the current growth model that has led us—and the planet—to the current crisis.

Carbon offsets are another “created commodity” that lets consumers and corporations trade alleged good behavior such as investing in a tree plantation far away—on the open market in order to offset their right to continue to pollute. The carbon offset market is a multi-billion dollar unregulated industry that permits the growth in trade of all kinds and lulls the public into thinking something real has been done for the planet.

Saying no to carbon trading will take the “solution” to the climate crisis out of the market, where it is not open to public scrutiny, and pave the way for legislation that is transparent and accountable to the public, thereby addressing the current democratic deficit.

PROMOTE CLIMATE JUSTICE: Climate justice is a worldview that sees the climate crisis as an ethical issue as well as an environmental one. It recognizes that those most impacted by the climate crisis are often the least responsible for it and places greater onus on the countries of the industrialized North to curb their emissions.

Climate justice is critical of the consumption and growth patterns of the wealthy. It exposes how the causes and effects of a consumer lifestyle perpetuate endless energy demands and relate to poverty, human rights abuses, inequality, and structural economic exploitation around the world. Climate justice recognizes the unequal burdens created by climate change and the resulting struggle over land, water, culture, food sovereignty, and human rights.

It is also highly critical of the false solutions put forward by governments and the energy industry, such as mega-dams, agro fuels, tree plantations, and carbon markets. Hence the slogan, “Change the System, Not the Climate.”

Defending the social and environmental rights of communities around the world, particularly those of indigenous peoples, is central to finding the solution to the climate crisis. So is recognizing that local communities know best how to care for their land, water, and air. Climate justice requires addressing four key themes, says Mobilization for Climate Justice: root causes, rights, reparations, and participatory democracy.

PROTECT WATER: When most people think of the climate crisis, they think only in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. If they think about water at all, it is as a victim of the climate crisis, not as part of the cause. However, human demand for water is escalating out of control, and we are quickly destroying our supplies of accessible water. This, in turn, is creating deserts that contribute to warming.

We are now mining the groundwater far faster than it can be replaced by nature. Water is moved—from where nature has put it in watersheds and aquifers—either for flood irrigation for food production, or to supply the voracious thirst of mega cities, where it is usually dumped as waste into the ocean.

A recent study by Marc Bierkens of the International Groundwater Resource Assessment Center at Utrecht University says that a full quarter of the rising of the oceans is linked to the displacement of land-based water. Water is also lost to ecosystems in the form of virtual trade—water used in the production of crops or manufactured goods that are then exported. And urbanization, deforestation, and wetland destruction greatly destroy water-retentive landscapes and lead to the loss of precipitation over the affected area.

One huge part of the solution to the climate crisis is the restoration of watersheds and the protection of surrounding wetlands and forests. Replenishing lakes, rivers, and groundwater will allow water to return to the atmosphere to regulate temperatures and renew the hydrologic cycle. This requires tough new laws to protect water, and that, in turn, protects the health and livelihoods of everyone who lives on that watershed.

A healthy planet can only thrive in a healthy democracy. Any solution to one crisis must be a solution for both.

— From Center for Humans and Nature. Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch. She is a board member of the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization and a Councilor with the Hamburg-based World Future Council.

By Science Daily, Feb. 8

A new book, "Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change," predicts a grim future for billions of people in this century. It is a factual account of a staggering human toll, based on hard data. Author Andrew Guzman, an authority on international law and economics, is a professor and associate dean at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Guzman has studied intractable economic problems, such as poverty, recessions, and trade wars. But, in recent years, one problem loomed larger than all the rest: climate change. It became impossible to fathom the economic impact of state actions without including global warming in the equation.

"Climate change is the most important problem facing the international community in the 21st century," Guzman said. "It's a problem that no country alone can solve, but a solution is imperative."

Countless books exist on the scientific aspects of climate change, but not one on why people should care, said Guzman. So he decided to write for a popular audience, to engage them, to capture their imaginations in a way that would communicate the depth of the problem.

Guzman adopted the predictions of scientists who expect a minimum warming of 2 degrees Celcius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit]. But even such a modest calculation will mean unprecedented migrations, flooding, famine, and war. It will decimate infrastructures we take for granted, crippling roadways, sewers, and irrigation systems. Social services we rely on (sanitation, transportation, heath care) will cease working normally, and humans will find themselves competing for ever more scarce resources. [According to a recent World Bank report the globe is “barreling down a path to heat up by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century if the global community fails to act on climate change.”]

"Climate change is going to damage the very foundations upon which we've built our civilization. I don't think people understand how pervasive this problem is," Guzman said.  Examples of the impact of climate change include:

• Flooding and forced migration will push citizens to crowded cities or refugee camps, creating ripe conditions for the spread of infectious diseases. It could lead to a global pandemic similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed 3% of the world's population. In the U.S. today, that would mean up to 10 million deaths.

• California's Sierra Snowpack, its most important water source, will have shrunk by a third by 2050. No plan exists for how the state will find enough water for its projected 50 million residents.

• Rising seas will displace populations, ruin farmland, and destroy infrastructure. Bangladesh alone will lose 17% of its land mass, the equivalent of the U.S. losing Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and every inch of land to the East.

• Rainfall-dependent crop production in Nigeria may fall by 50%. Social chaos and the fight over dwindling oil resources could lead to the creation of a terrorist breeding ground.

• Water flow to the Indus River could drop off by 35%, as glaciers melt. India and Pakistan, which have had 4 wars since the 1940s, will have to share this shrinking resource. At issue is life and death for tens of millions on both sides of the border -- and both countries have nuclear weapons….

As an economist, Guzman suggests a simple policy solution for the United States: a carbon tax. Taxing carbon up the supply chain as far as possible would raise the price of fossil fuels — and encourage the development of alternative energy….

By Lester R. Brown

The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.

This new era is one of rising food prices and spreading hunger. On the demand side of the food equation, population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars are combining to raise consumption by record amounts.

On the supply side, extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth’s rising temperature [caused by global warming] are making it more difficult to expand production. Unless we can reverse such trends, food prices will continue to rise and hunger will continue to spread, eventually bringing down our social system.

Can we reverse these trends in time? Or is food the weak link in our early 21st century civilization, much as it was in so many of the earlier civilizations whose archeological sites we now study?

This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the 20th century, when the dominant issues in agriculture were overproduction, huge grain surpluses, and access to markets by grain exporters. During that time, the world in effect had two reserves: large carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) and a large area of cropland idled under U.S. farm programs to avoid overproduction.

When the world harvest was good, the United States would idle more land. When the harvest was subpar, it would return land to production. The excess production capacity was used to maintain stability in world grain markets. The large stocks of grain cushioned world crop shortfalls.

When India’s monsoon failed in 1965, for example, the United States shipped a fifth of its wheat harvest to India to avert a potentially massive famine. And because of abundant stocks, this had little effect on the world grain price.

When this period of food abundance began, the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has seven billion.
From 1950 to 2000 there were occasional grain price spikes as a result of weather-induced events, such as a severe drought in Russia or an intense heat wave in the U.S. Midwest. But their effects on price were short-lived. Within a year or so things were back to normal. The combination of abundant stocks and idled cropland made this period one of the most food-secure in world history.

But it was not to last. By 1986, steadily rising world demand for grain and unacceptably high budgetary costs led to a phasing out of the U.S. cropland set-aside program.

Today the United States has some land idled in its Conservation Reserve Program, but it targets land that is highly susceptible to erosion. The days of productive land ready to be quickly brought into production when needed are over.

Ever since agriculture began, carryover stocks of grain have been the most basic indicator of food security. The goal of farmers everywhere is to produce enough grain not just to make it to the next harvest but to do so with a comfortable margin. From 1986, when we lost the idled cropland buffer, through 2001, the annual world carryover stocks of grain averaged a comfortable 107 days of consumption.

This safety cushion was not to last either. After 2001, the carryover stocks of grain dropped sharply as world consumption exceeded production. From 2002 through 2011, they averaged only 74 days of consumption, a drop of one third. An unprecedented period of world food security has come to an end. Within two decades, the world had lost both of its safety cushions.

In recent years, world carryover stocks of grain have been only slightly above the 70 days that was considered a desirable minimum during the late twentieth century. Now stock levels must take into account the effect on harvests of higher temperatures, more extensive drought, and more intense heat waves.

Although there is no easy way to precisely quantify the harvest effects of any of these climate-related threats, it is clear that any of them can shrink harvests, potentially creating chaos in the world grain market. To mitigate this risk, a stock reserve equal to 110 days of consumption would produce a much safer level of food security.

The world is now living from one year to the next, hoping always to produce enough to cover the growth in demand. Farmers everywhere are making an all-out effort to keep pace with the accelerated growth in demand, but they are having difficulty doing so.

Food shortages undermined earlier civilizations. The Sumerians and Mayans are just two of the many early civilizations that declined apparently because they moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable.

For the Sumerians, rising salt levels in the soil as a result of a defect in their otherwise well-engineered irrigation system eventually brought down their food system and thus their civilization. For the Mayans, soil erosion was one of the keys to their downfall, as it was for so many other early civilizations.

We, too, are on such a path. While the Sumerians suffered from rising salt levels in the soil, our modern-day agriculture is suffering from rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And like the Mayans, we too are mismanaging our land and generating record losses of soil from erosion.

While the decline of early civilizations can be traced to one or possibly two environmental trends such as deforestation and soil erosion that undermined their food supply, we are now dealing with several. In addition to some of the most severe soil erosion in human history, we are also facing newer trends such as the depletion of aquifers, the plateauing of grain yields in the more agriculturally advanced countries, and rising temperature.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the United Nations reports that food prices are now double what they were in 2002-04. For most U.S. citizens, who spend on average nine percent of their income on food, this is not a big deal. But for consumers who spend 50-70 percent of their income on food, a doubling of food prices is a serious matter. There is little latitude for them to offset the price rise simply by spending more.

Closely associated with the decline in stocks of grain and the rise in food prices is the spread of hunger. During the closing decades of the last century, the number of hungry people in the world was falling, dropping to a low of 792 million in 1997. After that it began to rise, climbing toward one billion. Unfortunately, if we continue with business as usual, the ranks of the hungry will continue to expand.

The bottom line is that it is becoming much more difficult for the world’s farmers to keep up with the world’s rapidly growing demand for grain. World grain stocks were drawn down a decade ago and we have not been able to rebuild them. If we cannot do so, we can expect that with the next poor harvest, food prices will soar, hunger will intensify, and food unrest will spread.

We are entering a time of chronic food scarcity, one that is leading to intense competition for control of land and water resources – in short, a new geopolitics of food.

—This article was distributed by Inter Press Service. Lester Brown is the president of Earth Policy Institute. For further reading see Brown’s new book, “Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity”  (W.W. Norton: October 2012).