Friday, July 31, 2009

Shorties: Laura Flanders: Beer at the White House, Marie Coco: Happy Birthday, Medicare

Here are brief but cogent articles, by two wise women. -Ed,_but_equal_protection_is_better/?page=1

Patching Things Up Over a Beer at the White House Is Nice, But Equal
Protection Is Better

While the media covers Obama, Crowley and Gates making up, sipping beer, the
real issue is: Police who abuse power need to be reined in.

By Laura Flanders,
AlterNet. Posted July 30, 2009.

The National Council of La Raza, a top Latino civil rights group, is taking
a shot at RNC chair Michael Steele and several prominent GOP figures for
skipping its ongoing annual conference while Democrats are basking in the
contrast. Having nominated the first Latina to the Supreme Court and sending
no end of speakers to the La Raza conference, they're in like Flynn with
Latino voters, they hope.

But things are not so simple. The day after the La Raza affair there was
another gathering in NY, to which Latinos came out. That was to protest at
the Council on Foreign Relations -- where Homeland Security Secretary
Napolitano was talking up the Administration's anti-terror policy.

A slew of human rights and immigrant-rights organizations, including many
Latinos, called the protest because -- for all the nice talk -- the
administration's immigration policy has actually put more, not less power in
the hands of law enforcement and done little so far to stop abusive raids
and deadly detention practices.

Armed federal immigration agents are still illegally pushing and shoving
their way into homes and taking people away, breaking up families, on
suspicion and Latinos are getting the lion's share of the grief. The Cardozo
school of law reports there have been hundreds of predawn raids in just two
states (New York and New Jersey) in violation of agency rules as well as the
Constitution. And that's not just happening under the big bad Bush
crackers-down. It's happening under Napolitano and Obama.

The demonstration by the immigration groups outside the Council in New York
is a wake up call. Obama allies and voters, like many of those gathered
outside Wednesday, aren't happy.

A Latina on the Supreme Court's great. And a love fest at La Raza's lovely.
But just as in the case of the wrongful-arrest of Harvard Professor Skip
Gates, a beer in the White House is no fix for what ails us.

There's still a problem of inequality and discrimination in America and it
isn't solvable by improving our personal (or political) relations. At the
end of the day policy -- like policy governing policing and immigration --
is where the action needs to be. If Obama and the Dems are going to applaud
themselves for "being on the right side of history" they need to back up
their words with real work.

Again, beer and a chat is nice. But ensuring equal protection is better.
ICE and police who abuse power need to be reined in.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv
which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech
TV) on cable, and online at and Follow GRITtv or
GritLaura on


Happy Birthday, Medicare
By Marie Cocco

Truthdig: Jul 29, 2009

It's a fine time-perfect, in fact-to celebrate the government-run,
taxpayer-supported colossus in the American health care system that turns 44
this week. Medicare has done all it was supposed to do, and more.

It thrives despite apocalyptic warnings from its original opponents that
"socialized medicine" would hamper doctors, hospitals, patients-perhaps even
doom the entire American health care system. Medicare is exceedingly popular
and remarkably well-functioning despite its current critics' claims that it
is singularly wasteful, out of control in some never-specified way or, at
the very least, holds the potential to bankrupt us all in the next

Medicare is where political posturing runs headlong into historical
truth: It is, along with Social Security, the most successful government
program-other than its unrivaled military-that the United States has ever

And it has delivered for elderly people what President Barack Obama and
at least some Democrats say they want to deliver for the rest of us:
universal coverage ensuring that people with medical problems will not
become impoverished by their illness, with patients offered a guaranteed set
of services and a choice of private doctors, hospitals and other
practitioners when they need treatment.

"Medicare was a comprehensive-and comprehensible-program, available
throughout the country and with a core set of benefits," says Judith Stein,
director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

In other words, it delivers the opposite of what the private insurance
industry has been providing. And it is doing so with a better track record
of controlling costs. Beginning in 1997, the growth in Medicare's cost per
beneficiary has been slower than the cost escalation in coverage delivered
by private insurers. Between 2002 and 2006, for example, Medicare's cost per
beneficiary rose 5.4 percent, while per capita costs in private insurance
rose 7.7 percent, according to MedPAC, an independent agency charged with
advising Congress on Medicare issues.

So why would Congress create a new health insurance system that doesn't
have a Medicare-like public plan for consumers to purchase?

Because conservatives, Democrats among them, never let the facts get in
the way of their ideology. The Senate, in particular, seems intent on
creating a new private health insurance "cooperative" that has never been
tested, has no track record of delivering quality coverage at an affordable
price, and which consumers would have to learn to navigate.

Forty-four years ago, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed
the law creating Medicare. In its way, Medicare was a testament to our
failure to create a national health insurance system that would cover
everyone. With former President Harry Truman looking on, Johnson said the
need was great, and urgent. "There are more than 18 million Americans over
the age of 65. Most of them have low incomes. Most of them are threatened by
illness and medical expenses that they cannot afford."

At the time, about half of the elderly had no health insurance-they were
too old and too likely to get sick, so the private market simply wouldn't
insure them. The elderly were the demographic group most likely to live in
poverty, and about one in three older Americans were poor. Blacks and other
minorities could not receive treatment in whites-only medical facilities,
discrimination that was barred by Medicare.

Now the elderly are among the best-insured Americans, with upward of 95
percent covered by Medicare. The rate of poverty among those 65 and older is
under 10 percent. The decline in elderly poverty began with the creation of
Social Security-but it accelerated, according to Census Bureau data, only
after Medicare coverage began.

"The need for this action is plain," Johnson said in signing the law in
Truman's hometown of Independence, Mo. "And it is so clear indeed that we
marvel not simply at the passage of this bill, but what we marvel at is that
it took so many years to pass it."

Now we marvel again at the long and contentious legislative path that
health care revision is taking. We hear the same arguments against a
national health insurance plan that were made nearly half a century ago.

But now we have Medicare, and its demonstrated history of delivering
exactly what Johnson said it would. And the marvel of our own time is that
we ignore this success, while promoting untried alternatives that may well

Marie Cocco's e-mail address is <mariecocco(at)>.

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

California's Budget Fiasco, Rally TODAY Against the Budget Cuts!

California's Budget Fiasco

by: Sasha Abramsky
The Guardian UK: 27 July 2009

California's new budget ends months of political gridlock, but the cuts
to state services are hardly cause for celebration.

Now, nearly a year after the fiscal collapse, get ready for structural

California, the richest state in America, finally passed an emergency
budget revision on Friday that bears shocking similarities to the budgets
foisted on third world countries by the World Bank and IMF in decades past.

Seeking to close a $26bn budget gap, legislators dithered for months, as
California's credit rating collapsed, as its finances sunk so low that it
had to start issuing IOUs to vendors, as its school funding withered. They
seemed to be waiting for a miracle (read: a Washington bailout), and when
the miracle didn't materialise, they seemed to hope they could run the clock
down with endless debates and little action. The Republican minority blocked
all tax increases, and the Democratic majority stood in the way of all
meaningful service cuts. As revenues collapsed, Sacramento's political
leadership gave new meaning to "gridlock".

Finally, they've had to act. And, as everyone knew it would be, it's
horribly ugly. The new budget, overwhelmingly, is about cuts rather than tax
and revenue increases, and, not surprisingly, an awful lot of vulnerable
people will be battered.

The highlights: billions of dollars in spending cuts to already
cash-strapped schools. A sharp contraction in welfare, healthcare and
in-home services to the poor and sick, with an estimated 40,000 Californians
immediately losing in-home aid. A wave of closures of state parks. A forced
borrowing of billions of dollars from cities and counties. An indefinite
three-day a month furlough (equivalent to a 14% pay cut) for all state
employees. And a huge, and likely irreversible, reduction in the state's
commitment to its once-vaunted public university and community college
system. Already, California State University faculty has voted to accept
furloughs. And, soon, pay cuts will be implemented throughout the University
of California system that range from 4% to 10% salary reductions.

Prisons, too, have been cut, but by less than other agencies. The
Republicans, with the backing of crime victims' groups, threatened to
torpedo the entire budget deal unless some of the deeper prison funding cuts
were withdrawn.

The only good news: the assembly prevented the state from raiding $1bn
in transportation funds controlled by local governments, and they also
blocked oil drilling off the beautiful Santa Barbara coast - a plan
Republicans argued would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in leasing

Exhausted state politicians, who had been working around the clock to
pass this budget, congratulated each other Friday afternoon as the last of
the many bills cleared the assembly. But, truth be told, this is a budget to
weep about rather than one to toast. While the cuts were unavoidable given
the utterly blinkered failure of Republicans to countenance tax increases,
it represents a catastrophic and shameful failure of governance.

It's a failure that has been expanding in fairly open view like an
infected boil for years now.

The ingredients of the failure: too many special interests feeding off
the public trough, at least in part through pushing spending proposals via
the initiative process. A public willing to mandate a generous array of
programmes into existence but unwilling to cough up tax revenues to fund it.
A political culture that follows public opinion rather than seeking to lead.
An initiative process that almost guarantees political incoherence. A
tax-and-budget process that guarantees annual political stalemate. And a
term-limits system, passed in the heyday of anti-government rhetoric in the
1990s, that discourages expertise and too often discourages high-calibre
personnel from seeking public office.

The past couple year's economic turmoil brought all of these crises to a
head. 24 July 2009 marks the day that the boil was lanced.

Will things get better now? Or will the lanced boil grow infected,
creating an evermore toxic political climate and an evermore brutal fight
for diminished spoils?

Already, cities are muttering about suing the state to prevent it from
forcibly "borrowing" their money. Already, the public service employees'
union, representing nearly 100,000 of the state's nearly quarter-million
workers, is talking about a strike ballot. Morale at every level of the
public sector in California has collapsed.

It reminds me of that old curse: "May you live in interesting times."
The Golden State's imploding. But, hell, the stock market's soaring, and the
big banks are posting profits again, so things must be going in the correct
direction again, right?


From: John Johnson

Community Rally Against California Budget Cuts
Protest Gov. Schwarzenegger!
Restore All Funding for People's Needs!

Today, Friday, July 31, 5-7pm (Press Conference at 6pm)
At the Governor's L.A. Office
300 S. Spring St., Los Angeles 90012

Join an ad-hoc coalition of community and service organizations at a
rally and speak out to denounce California's recently announced cuts
to social services and demand the full restoration to programs that
help people in need. The $15 billion in cuts will severely impact
much-needed programs, like health care for the poor, public
education, child welfare, HIV/AIDS services and so many more. Gov.
Schwarzenegger, a multi-millionaire, along with state lawmakers,
approved the cuts after refusing to increase taxes on the richest
banks, corporations and individuals in the state. This week,
Schwarzenegger announced another $500 million in cuts that will
affect the most vulnerable people in society:

-$80 million that pays for workers who help abused and neglected children;
-$50 million from Healthy Families, which provides healthcare to
children in low-income families;
-$50 million from services for developmentally delayed children under age 3;
-$16 million from domestic-violence programs;
-$6.3 million from services for the elderly; and
-$6.2 million more from parks, which could result in the closure of
100 California state parks.

It's time to fight back! Affected families, teachers, HIV/AIDS
services advocates, community organizers, attorneys and others will
protest the budget cuts this Friday. Be a part of this struggle to
win back what we need to survive!

Initiated by the ad-hoc coalition, Communities United for Justice.
Initial members include Latino Movement USA, Justice First, ANSWER
Coalition, Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition, Echo Park Community
Coalition, Students Against HIV Service Cuts and other non-profit
service organizations.

For more info call 213-251-1025 or email

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Breaking the Siege on Gaza, The Fatah-Hamas Split

International Movements Breaking the Siege on Gaza

:"While the world's most powerful and influential states stand back and
watch the complete collapse of Gaza's economy and livelihood of its
population, citizens around the world are joining Palestinians in various
forms to break the siege on Gaza."

by Suzanne Morrison July 28, 2009

Since June 2007 the Israeli government has imposed almost complete closure
over the Gaza Strip. The siege prevents nearly all movement of people or
goods to and from the coastal region with only minimal amounts of
humanitarian provisions inconsistently allowed in. With the exception of a
small amount of carnations allowed out earlier this year, there has been a
virtual ban on all exports from Gaza since 2007. [1] A quick socio-economic
glimpse of Gaza includes agricultural losses totaling US $30 million and
more than 40,000 jobs for the 2007/2008 season, the suspension of 98% of
industrial operations, and more than 80% of Gaza's population is now
dependent on humanitarian aid from international aid providing agencies. [2]

Closure of Gaza and the West Bank has intermittently been imposed since
1991. While Israel prevents movement and access in the name of temporary
security measures, the regularity and extent of these mechanisms,
particularly since the Oslo process, represents an institutionalized policy
of closure. Israel's current siege on Gaza reflects an unprecedented and
severe application of the closure policy. In the past year internationals
have tried to break the siege on Gaza by bringing critical medical supplies
and other humanitarian goods into Gaza.
While the world's most powerful and influential states stand back and watch
the complete collapse of Gaza's economy and livelihood of its population,
citizens around the world are joining Palestinians in various forms to break
the siege on Gaza.

In August 2008 the Free Gaza Movement sent the first boat into the Gaza port
in 41 years. Since the first boat set sail, the Free Gaza Movement has sent
seven more boats to Gaza with vital supplies, medical staff, journalists,
and prominent individuals such as Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of Tony Blair,
1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan, Palestinian Legislative
Council member Mustafa Barghouti, and Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire. The
Free Gaza Movement plans to send more boats to Gaza in the future.

For over 30 days the International Movement to Open the Rafah Border has
maintained a persistent presence on the border of Egypt and Gaza to demand
an opening of the border and end to the siege. They call on any person or
group to join them "until the definitive opening of the border between Gaza
and Egypt."

Viva Palestina is an aid convoy initiated by UK Member of Parliament George
Galloway. In March of this year Viva Palestina took over 100 vehicles filled
with humanitarian supplies from the UK to Gaza. Galloway and Vietnam veteran
and peace campaigner Ron Kovic recently organized a US-led Viva Palestina
convoy. The convoy entered Gaza through Rafah Crossing with 200 Americans
including former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and New York Councilmember
Charles Barron. Viva Palestina is planning another convoy from the UK in
October 2009.

After a successful delegation in March that coincided with International
Women's day, Code Pink organized two delegations to Gaza earlier this
summer - one through Rafah Crossing in the south and one through Erez
Crossing in the north that brought vital supplies to the people of Gaza.

The Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza, coordinated by Norman
Finklestein and other leading academics/activists, is organizing a March on
Gaza for January 1, 2010. According to a website promoting the march, "when
nations fail to enforce the law, when the world's leaders break the law, the
people must act!"

In addition to the larger acts of international popular resistance against
the Israeli siege on Gaza, there are a host of smaller initiatives lead by
Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals that work in tandem to these

Total success of any one group has been difficult, given the immense amount
of opposition from the Israeli and Egyptian governments (and the powerful
states that support them). Members of each group have suffered in various
ways from bureaucratic hurdles, arrest, detention, deportation, etc. as the
Egyptian and Israeli states hope to suppress and otherwise intimidate
peoples of conscious. While breaking the siege on Gaza requires more than
delivering humanitarian aid, collectively the international popular
movements represent a very real threat to Israel's closure policy.

The longer the siege lasts, the larger the popular resistance to it appears
to become. Over two years after its implementation, the movements to end the
siege are larger and stronger than ever before. What is clear by all these
acts of popular resistance is that people of the world are prepared to do
what states are either unwilling or too inept to do - break the siege on

1. PALTRADE, "Gaza Strip Crossings Monitoring Report," Monthly Report (June

2. World Bank, "Moving Beyond the 'Movement and Access' Approach" West Bank
and Gaza Update (October 2008), 15 and OCHA Special Focus, "The Closure of
the Gaza Strip: The Economic and Humanitarian Consequences" (December 2007).

Suzanne Morrison lived in Gaza in 2005-2006 and is currently a master's
candidate at the American University in Cairo. She is completing her thesis
on the role of international institutions in Palestinian state formation.
She can be reached at:


The West Widens the Fatah-Hamas Split

Palestinian unity is essential for any peace deal - but the US,
Britain and the EU are playing a central role in preventing it

By Seumas Milne
The GuardianUK: July 28, 2009

It should be obvious that no settlement of the Israel-Palestine
conflict is going to stick unless it commands broad support or acceptance on
both sides. That is especially true of the Palestinians, who have shown time
and again that they will never accept the denial of their national and human
rights. The necessity of dealing with all representative Palestinian leaders
was recognised by Britain's parliamentary foreign affairs committee
yesterday, which called on the government to end its ban on contacts with

But despite the parade of top American officials visiting Israel and
the Palestinian territories this week to drum up business for a new peace
conference, the US, Britain and European Union continue to play a central
role in preventing the Palestinian national unity that is essential if any
deal is going to have a chance of succeeding. Far from helping to overcome
the split between Fatah and Hamas, the US, Israel and their allies in
practice do everything they can to promote and widen it.

In his speech last month in Cairo, Barack Obama acknowledged
Palestinian support for Hamas - who won the Palestinian elections three
years ago - but insisted that only by accepting conditions he knows it will
not accept can the Palestinians' elected representatives "play a role". The
only settlement scenarios now envisaged by the US administration are based
on a deal with the unpopular Mahmoud Abbas, which cannot command Palestinian
national support.

Not only that, but the US, Britain and EU continue to require, fund
and facilitate a security crackdown against Hamas activists in the West
Bank, which makes the necessary reconciliation between the two Palestinian
parties increasingly far-fetched.

A new report (pdf) for the London-based Middle East Monitor highlights
the scale of detention without trial in the West Bank - more than 1,000
political prisoners are reportedly held in Palestinian Authority jails - and
extrajudicial killings, torture and raids on Hamas-linked social
institutions by security forces trained, funded and organised by the US with
Israel's blessing.

The repression is justified by reference to the commitment to "end
terrorism" in the 2003 road map. And the central role played in building up
the security forces to carry it out (at a cost so far of $161m from
congress) is played by Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton, US security
co-ordinator for the Palestinian Authority, a man increasingly regarded as
the real power in the West Bank, whose slogan is "peace through security"

Dayton is advised by a team of British officials, as well as a British
private security firm, Libra, closely tied to the Foreign Office. Libra has
also been busy working for the occupation forces and interior ministry in
Iraq, where sectarianism and human rights abuses have been rife.

Naturally, all the governments and security firms concerned say they
abhor torture and human rights violations and focus their training on
overcoming them. But, as Dayton himself makes clear, the priority is "to
allay Israeli fears about the nature and capabilities of the Palestinian
security forces".

Privately, official sources have tried to rubbish the Middle East
Monitor dossier, partly on the basis of the involvment of the Muslim Council
of Britain leader Daud Abdullah. But a survey compiled last month by the
independent Palestinian human rights group al-Haq, as well as earlier
reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, tell a similar

The Hamas-led administration in Gaza is also held responsible for
significant human rights abuses, if on a smaller scale. But as the dispute
over attendance at next week's long-awaited Fatah conference in Bethlehem
has shown, the Islamist movement is prepared to release its Fatah prisoners
if the PA frees Hamas detainees in the West Bank. And that needs an American
and Israeli green light.

Which only underlines the fact that until the US and its followers
stop trying to divide-and-rule the Palestinians, allow them to choose their
own leaders and negotiate their own differences, hopes of serious progress
in the Middle East under Obama are bound to be unfulfilled.

Katha Pollitt: Muslim Women's Rights, Helen Thomas: Obama Ignores Torture

Muslim Women's Rights, Continued

By Katha Pollitt
This article appeared in the July 13, 2009 edition of The Nation.

I thought President Obama's Cairo speech was basically fine: begin anew,
extend the hand, reject "crude stereotypes" all around, turn the page on the
Christian triumphalism of the Bush years. But there's no denying that the
section on women's rights was rather minimal, just three paragraphs,
compared with his long discourse on Israel and Palestine; and to my American
ears its priorities were a bit odd. You would think the biggest issue for
Muslim women is that someone is preventing them from wearing a headscarf:
"The US government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls
to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it," he said. "I reject
the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is
somehow less equal."

Fair enough, but that woman is choosing. What about Saudi or Iranian women,
who are forced by law to cover? Obama noted that countries where women are
well educated tend to be more prosperous and promised American aid for
women's literacy and microloans. These are both good things, especially in
desperately poor and underdeveloped countries like Afghanistan; but face it,
to become full participants in modern societies women need more than a grade
school education and a sewing machine. They need their rights. In fact, some
Muslim countries, like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, already have
large numbers of highly educated women--in Iran, as in America, more young
women go to college than men. But those women are prevented from working to
their capacity, or even at all, by religiously motivated sex discrimination.
In Saudi Arabia, women can't even work in lingerie stores. By a quirk of the
gender-apartheid regulations, only men can sell ladies' underwear. So much
for "modesty": when there's money to be made from women, you can be sure the
theocrats will figure out a reason that God wants it to go into men's

I can see why Obama didn't issue a ringing call for full civil rights for
Muslim women: an end to stoning and lashings and female genital mutilation,
to forced marriage and child marriage, to family law that enshrines male
privilege, the valuing of women's testimony in court as half that of a man's
and the scandalous laws that punish as unchaste those rape victims who lack
four witnesses--male witnesses, of course--to the crime. Such a statement
would have backfired; it would have allowed traditionalists and theocrats to
pose as anti-imperialists, defenders of culture and religion against the
impious West. Moreover, as he properly noted, women struggle for their
rights all over the world, not just under Islam. But I can also see why some
feminists were disappointed not to get more of a shout-out. "It seems that
Mr. Obama is attempting to build political bridges by taking a more socially
conservative stance, a common--but mistaken--tack in the struggle against
fundamentalism and terrorism," writes Algerian-American human rights lawyer
Karima Bennoune on the blog Europe: Solidaire Sans Frontières. "This may
also be the reason that the President felt compelled to stress his respect
for 'women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles,' rather
than, say, referencing the critical struggles of the Egyptian women's
movement. Welcome to the new cultural relativism. We're not going to deal
with human rights problems in your part of the world, because we want your
extremists to stop blowing us up."

The title of Bennoune's article, "The Religionizing of Politics," points to
another problem: the tendency in the West to treat majority-Muslim countries
as a single cohesive entity--"the Muslim world"--rather than as Asian,
African and Middle Eastern nations that are as different from one another as
the majority-Christian lands of Britain and Mexico. The term itself promotes
the view that Islam tout court is what these countries are all about, thus
marginalizing other ways of understanding them and rendering invisible the
non-Muslims and seculars who live there.

The current election struggle in Iran came as a big surprise to those who
take the simplistic view of Muslim nations as our antagonists in a clash of
civilizations. Who knew that our arch-enemy, member in good standing of the
Axis of Evil, had all these hip young people, these tech-savvy Tweeters,
these ordinary citizens eager to go into the streets day after day and risk
beatings, arrests and death at the hands of the feared Basij? Who knew it
had so many women who, however devout they may or may not be, don't want to
be denied ordinary human freedoms in the name of religion, thank you very
much? The energetic and massive participation of women in the street
demonstrations has received much comment in the Western media, but it's only
surprising if you think Muslim women really are as weak and passive as the
mullahs imagine.

That impression of Muslim women appears to be shared by Nicolas Sarkozy, who
has thrown his support behind a proposal to ban in France the all-enveloping
burqa and the niqab, calling it a "question of women's liberty and dignity."
The most vocal French feminists support the ban, as does the French Muslim
women's group Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Doormats), for whom
it's a necessary counterweight to family and community pressures on women.
While it may well be true that some of the small number of French women who
wear burqas and niqabs are forced into them, it's hard to see how a ban will
help liberate them. Instead, it will permit the French to publicly humiliate
them and feel good about it, ratify the Islamists' claim that the West is
out to get Islam and give more proof that Muslims are unwelcome in France.

* * *

Just so you know, The Mind-Body Problem, my new collection of poems, is now
out from Random House.

About Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt's writing has appeared in many publications, including The New
Yorker, The London Review of Books, the Washington Post and the New York
Times. Her new book of poems, The Mind-Body Problem, has just been published
by Random House. Her previous books include Learning to Drive: and Other
Life Stories (Random House), a collection of personal essays. more...


Obama Ignores Torture

By Helen Thomas

July 28, 2009 "Times Union" -- - Secrecy is endemic in all governments. It
goes with the turf, especially if their leaders hope to hide illegal or
immoral behavior, such as torture of foreign prisoners.

Many Americans heaved a sigh of relief last January when President Barack
Obama banned the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It made the administration look more humane than the Bush-Cheney team. But
that is not the whole story.

Obama left unaddressed the possibility of torture in secret foreign prisons
under our control as in Abu Ghraib in Iraq or Bagram in Afghanistan, not to
mention the 'black sites" sponsored by our foreign clients in Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Thailand and other countries.

"The United States will not torture," Obama said in his directive. But he
has been silent on the question of whether the U.S. would help others do the

Members of Congress knew a lot about U.S. torture practices. But Republicans
loyal to the Bush administration and Democrats, too, played along and kept
silent at the horror of it all.

Why did no bells ring for the U.S. lawmakers -- particularly those privy to
the brutality -- when briefed on the abusive treatment of the captives. Did
they owe more allegiance to the CIA than to the honor of our country?

There are hair-raising reports of methods that Americans -- including
private contractors -- have used to coerce information from our prisoners.

They include slamming a prisoner against a wall; denying him sleep and food;
waterboarding him under so-called enhanced interrogation; and keeping him in
a crate filled with insects.

I remember when President Ronald Reagan, marveling at the courage of
American soldiers, used to say: "Where do we get such men?" And I have to
ask: "Where did we get such people who would inflict so much pain and
ruthlessness on others?"

William Rivers Pitt, a best-selling author who wrote "The Greatest Sedition
is Silence," recently raised the emotional question of whether U.S. adoption
of torture has debased the international standards for treatment of
prisoners and that our enemies may now feel that they can torture Americans.
Pitt specifically expressed concern about Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was
captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan last month.

American military leaders had warned President Bush over and over that U.S.
torture of prisoners could boomerang against our troops. But he would not

Obama has blocked publication of pictures of the harsh treatment of
prisoners from our two ongoing wars -- in Iraq and Afghanistan -- but the
word still gets around.

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Myerson: The Can't-Do Blue Dogs, Reich: Obamacare at War With Itself

The Can't-Do Blue Dogs

By Harold Meyerson
The Washington Post: July 22, 2009

Watching the centrist Democrats in Congress create more and more reasons why
health care can't be fixed, I've been struck by a disquieting thought:
Suppose our collective lack of response to Hurricane Katrina wasn't
exceptional but, rather, the new normal in America. Suppose we can no longer
address the major challenges confronting the nation. Suppose America is now
the world's leading can't-do country.

Every other nation with an advanced economy long ago secured universal
health care for its citizens -- an achievement that the United States alone
finds beyond the capacities of mortal man. It wasn't ever thus. Time was
when Democratic Congresses enacted Social Security and Medicare over the
opposition of powerful interests and Republican ideologues. In fact, our
government used to actually pave roads, build bridges and allow for secure
retirements by levying taxes on those who could afford to pay them.

To today's centrist Democrats, this has become a distant memory, a history
lesson they cannot grasp. The notion that actual individuals might have to
pay to secure the national interest appalls them. In the House, the Blue
Dogs doggedly oppose proposals to fund universal coverage by taxing the
wealthiest 1 percent of the nation's households. Their deference to
wealth -- whether the consequence of our system of funding elections or a
byproduct of the Internet generation's experience of free access to
information and entertainment -- is not to be trifled with.

Centrist Democrats' opposition to health reform verges on the incoherent. A
caucus (the Blue Dogs) formed ostensibly to promote balanced budgets now
disapproves of the proposed taxes that would cover the expenses of the new
programs. The congressional centrists say, commendably, that they want to
squeeze more economies out of the system, but they oppose giving more power
to an agency that would set the payment scales for physicians.

Congressional incoherence grows even worse on other issues. How to explain,
for instance, the widespread congressional support for a bill that would
require General Motors and Chrysler to keep all their dealerships open? This
legislation is co-sponsored by numerous Republican conservatives who
actually opposed the administration's efforts to keep General Motors and
Chrysler in business. "Distribution, sí; production, no!" is by any standard
a loony battle cry.

The Republican opposition to President Obama's push for health-care reform,
on the other hand, makes clear political sense. If they can stop Obama on
health care, as South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint recently noted, it
"will be his Waterloo." Why Democrats of any ideology want to cripple their
own president in his first year in office, and for seeking an objective that
has been a stated goal of their party since the Truman administration, is a
more mysterious matter.

Is the additional tax burden on small businesses their concern? If so, good
news: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that only the top
4 percent of those businesses would be affected by the surcharge that House
Democratic leaders proposed, and that's based on the original proposal,
before Speaker Nancy Pelosi altered it to include just the wealthiest
fraction of the top 1 percent of Americans. Would such a tax impede an
economic recovery? In downturns this severe, it's been broad-based consumer
spending and public-sector investment that have revived the economy. Private
investment doesn't jump-start a revival of purchasing; it follows it.

But the big picture here, of which the resistance to reforming health care
is just one element, is our growing inability to meet our national
challenges. Almost all of the major nations with which we trade, for
instance, have quasi-mercantilist policies that lead them to champion their
own higher-wage growth industries, often in manufacturing. In America alone
are such policies considered anathema. In consequence, as the Alliance for
American Manufacturing reports in a new book, we shuttered 40,000 factories
from 2001 through 2007 -- the years, ostensibly of prosperity, between the
past two downturns. The diminution of manufacturing, which employs just 11
percent of the U.S. workforce, may please Wall Street, which looks with
disfavor on decent-wage domestic production, and Wal-Mart, which tripled its
purchases from China (from $9 billion to $27 billion annually) during
roughly the same years those American factories closed, but it poses a clear
threat to the nation's economic, and even military, power.

But act on behalf of the nation as a whole, even if it means goring Wall
Street's or Wal-Mart's oxen? Perish the thought. Pass a health-reform bill
that will cover 45 million uninsured Americans and slow the ruinous growth
of health-care spending? Not if somebody, somewhere, actually has to pay
higher taxes. Hey, we're America -- the can't-do nation.

As our former president might put it, Heckuva job, Brownies.


Obamacare Is at War With Itself Over Future Costs

by: Robert Reich
Robert Reich's Blog: 19 July 2009

Right now, Obamacare is at war with itself. Political efforts to buy off
Big Pharma, private insurers, and the AMA are all pushing up long-term
costs - one reason why Douglas Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget
Office, told Congress late last week that "the cost curve is being raised."
But this is setting off alarms among Blue Dog Democrats worried about future
deficits - and their votes are critical.

Big Pharma, for example, is in line to get just what it wants. The
Senate health panel's bill protects biotech companies from generic
competition for 12 years after their drugs go to market, which is guaranteed
to keep prices sky high. Meanwhile, legislation expected from the Senate

Finance committee won't allow cheaper drugs to be imported from Canada and
won't give the federal government the right to negotiate Medicare drug
prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. Last month Big Pharma agreed
to what the White House touted as $80 billion in givebacks to help pay for
expanded health insurance, but so far there's been no mechanism to force the
industry to keep its promise. No wonder Big Pharma is now running "Harry and
Louise" ads - the same couple who fifteen years ago scared Americans into
thinking the Clinton plan would take away their choice of doctor - now
supportive of Obamacare.

Private insurers, for their part, have become convinced they'll make
more money with a universal mandate accompanied by generous subsidies for
families with earnings up to 400 percent of poverty (in excess of $80,000 of
income) than they might stand to lose. Although still strongly opposed to a
public option, the insurance industry is lining up behind much of the
legislation. The biggest surprise is the AMA, which has also now come out in
favor - but only after being assured that Medicare reimbursements won't be
cut nearly as much as doctors first feared.

But all these industry giveaways are obviously causing the healthcare
tab to grow. And as these long-term costs rise, the locus of opposition to
universal health care is shifting away from industry and toward Blue Dog and
moderate Democrats who are increasingly worried about future deficits. My
sources on the Hill tell me there aren't enough votes in the House to get
either major bill through, even with a provision that would pay for it with
a surcharge on the richest 1 percent of taxpayers. House members don't want
to vote for a tax increase before their Senate counterparts commit to one.
Yet the Senate continues to be in suspended animation because Max Baucus and
his Senate Finance Committee still haven't come up with a credible way of
paying for health care. In his testimony last week, Elmendorf favored
limiting tax-free employer-provided health benefits, but organized labor
remains strongly opposed.

Obama has less than three weeks before August recess. Chances are
dimming that he can get some form of universal health care passed in both
Houses before the clock runs out. The Democratic National Committee is
running ads favoring passage in Blue Dog states and districts, but that
won't be enough. Now is the time for the President to begin twisting arms
and knocking heads. To control long-term costs, he'll also have to take away
some of the goodies that have been promised to the health-industrial
complex, and maybe even cross Big Labor. He also needs to come out clearly
and forcefully in favor of a way to pay for the whole thing - ideally, in my
view, a surtax on the top.

Malalai Joya: The Big Lie of Afghanistan, Trillions to Banks as Taxpayers Left in the Dark

The Big Lie of Afghanistan

By Malalai Joya
The GuardianUL: July 26, 2009

In 2005, I was the youngest person elected to the new Afghan parliament.
Women like me, running for office, were held up as an example of how the
war in Afghanistan had liberated women. But this democracy was a facade,
and the so-called liberation a big lie.

On behalf of the long-suffering people of my country, I offer my heartfelt
condolences to all in the UK who have lost their loved ones on the soil of
Afghanistan. We share the grief of the mothers, fathers, wives, sons and
daughters of the fallen. It is my view that these British casualties, like
the many thousands of Afghan civilian dead, are victims of the unjust
policies that the Nato countries have pursued under the leadership of the US

Almost eight years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a
truly democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the
continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that
ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.

You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of
warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of
these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the
civil war of the 1990s.

For expressing my views I have been expelled from my seat in parliament, and
I have survived numerous assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked
out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for
their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the "democracy"
backed by Nato troops.

In the constitution it forbids those guilty of war crimes from running for
high office. Yet Karzai has named two notorious warlords, Fahim and Khalili,
as his running mates for the upcoming presidential election. Under the
shadow of warlordism, corruption and occupation, this vote will have no
legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind
closed doors in the White House. As we say in Afghanistan, "the same donkey
with a new saddle".

So far, Obama has pursued the same policy as Bush in Afghanistan. Sending
more troops and expanding the war into Pakistan will only add fuel to the
fire. Like many other Afghans, I risked my life during the dark years of
Taliban rule to teach at underground schools for girls. Today the situation
of women is as bad as ever. Victims of abuse and rape find no justice
because the judiciary is dominated by fundamentalists. A growing number of
women, seeing no way out of the suffering in their lives, have taken to
suicide by self-immolation.

This week, US vice-president Joe Biden asserted that "more loss of life [is]
inevitable" in Afghanistan, and that the ongoing occupation is in the
"national interests" of both the US and the UK.

I have a different message to the people of Britain. I don't believe it is
in your interests to see more young people sent off to war, and to have more
of your taxpayers' money going to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of
corrupt warlords and drug lords in power in Kabul.

What's more, I don't believe it is inevitable that this bloodshed continues
forever. Some say that if foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into
civil war. But what about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer
this occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be.

The Afghan people want peace, and history teaches that we always reject
occupation and foreign domination. We want a helping hand through
international solidarity, but we know that values like human rights must be
fought for and won by Afghans themselves.

I know there are millions of British people who want to see an end to this
conflict as soon as possible. Together we can raise our voice for peace and


Trillions to Banks as Taxpayers Left in the Dark

by Adrianne Appel
Inter Press Service: July 25, 2009

BOSTON - The U.S. Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury have doled out
trillions in taxpayer dollars to banks and corporations and now the boom may
be falling on what lawmakers say is a shroud of secrecy that surrounds their

In separate hearings on Capitol Hill this week, lawmakers expressed support
for a bill to make the Fed's decisions more transparent, and for the
findings of a special inspector general report that calls for greater
transparency in the Treasury's bailout of banks, called the Troubled Asset
Relief Programme (TARP).

"Although Treasury has taken some steps towards improving transparency in
TARP programmes, it has repeatedly failed to adopt recommendations that [the
special inspector general] believes are essential to providing basic
transparency and fulfill Treasury's stated commitment to implement TARP with
the highest degree of accountability and transparency possible," says the
report of Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky.

"If Treasury doesn't put this information up on its website, this committee
will. And if Treasury doesn't turn over this information voluntarily,
Secretary [Timothy] Geithner will be brought before the committee to
explain," said Democrat Edolphus Towns of New York, chair of the House
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

In yet another sign of change to the institutions, President Barack Obama
has fielded a proposal to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency,
which would rearrange and strip some powers now held by the Fed. The
proposal seems to have wide support among leading lawmakers.

"I don't see why there shouldn't be 100 percent, crystal clear transparency
of the actions taken at the Fed," said Republican Rep. Bill Posey of
Florida. "The public has a right to know."

Posey made his comments directly to Fed chairman Ben Bernanke as he
presented his semi-annual report on the economy to a House Committee

Bernanke argued that actions taken by the Fed in the previous 12 months
helped prevent a wholesale collapse of the global financial system.

"The financial shocks that hit the global economy in September and October
were the worst since the 1930s, and they helped push the global economy into
the deepest recession since World War II," Bernanke said.

At the end of 2008, the Fed had 1.5 trillion dollars in short-term loans
outstanding to the nation's biggest banks and financial institutions,
compared to 600 billion dollars today, Bernanke said.

The attention of the Fed has worked and credit is flowing again among the
largest banks and corporations, and the nation's gross domestic product will
nudge up to two percent and maybe a near-normal three percent in 2010, he

The rest of the economy is not fairing as well, he conceded. The Fed
predicts that unemployment will reach 10 percent by the end of 2009, and
foreclosures will continue to rise.

"Financial conditions remain stressed and many households and businesses are
finding credit difficult to obtain," Bernanke said. It is likely that the
nation will soon see many foreclosures in commercial real estate, he said.

The Fed expects to raise the interest rate it pays to banks with accounts
held by the Fed, when the economy improves. That interest rate is now at
0.25 percent.

This and other decisions, like the short-term loans it makes to banks
through its discount window, should continue to be made in secret, he said.

"We are taking all the steps necessary to protect taxpayer money. One
sensitive area is to have Congress second-guessing monetary policy,"
Bernanke said.

Bernanke was directing his comments at a bill supported by many lawmakers
that would require more auditing of the Fed's actions. It proposes
conducting audits of decisions made by the Fed, including setting interest
rates, six months after the decision is made.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Ron Paul, the Texan known for his
outspoken opposition to the deficit and his maverick run for president.

The Fed "doesn't want Congress to know what it is doing", Paul said.

Such an audit could welcome "political interference" in The Fed's decisions,
Bernanke warned.

"If we raise interest rates at a [Fed meeting] and someone in Congress
didn't like the decision and ordered an audit, isn't that interference?" he

Elsewhere in Congress, the Treasury's actions were under scrutiny, as
Special Inspector General Barofsky detailed the shortcomings of that
institution's bank bailout programme.

Twelve separate programmes recently created at the Treasury have handed out
nearly three trillion dollars to banks, financial companies, auto companies
and insurers, Barofsky said.

The eventual, total price tag for all the government's bailout programmes
could reach 27.3 trillion dollars, if the economy continues to flag,
Barofsky said.

The Treasury has refused to audit the money loaned to the banks to see how
they are spending it. The Treasury has called such audits "meaningless",
Barofsky said.

So Barofsky's office went ahead and pursued the information.

The office surveyed 360 banks that received Treasury bailout funds and found
that almost all were using the money in ways other than to lend - which was
the intent of the programme. The banks used some of the funds to lend, but
also to purchase other banks, to pay off debts and to simply hold in reserve
should they need the funds in the future.

"TARP has become a programme in which taxpayers are not being told what most
of the TARP recipients are doing with their money, have still not been told
how much their substantial investments are worth, and will not be told the
full details of how their money is being invested," Barofsky said.

"The taxpayers now have a 700-billion-dollar spending programme that's being
run under the philosophy of "Don't ask, don't tell," Towns said.

Sociologist Saskia Sassen of Columbia University said from her London office
that it is important to step back and look at the big economic picture. The
bailout is not going to ease unemployment or foreclosures, she said.

"The fundamental problem with the bailout is that it is a financial solution
to a non- financial crisis. The bailout works for the financial sector.
Along with that relative success is growing unemployment among workers and
growing foreclosures that are forecast to reach 10-12 million over next four
years," she told IPS.

© 2009 Inter Press Service

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Coup, a Damning Indictment of Capitalism, Stimulous Meets the New Deal

From: Sid Shniad

Honduran Coup: Damning Indictment of Capitalism

by Dennis Rahkonen
Dissident Voice: July 10, 2009

Since he's spending his summer vacation at our home, I recently washed my
11-year-old grandson's dirty clothes.

As I later folded them, small tags told me they were manufactured in the
Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Not one item bore a "Made in USA" label, which is very sad, considering that
the unionized needle trades were once a bastion of our country's labor
movement, and that finding attire produced overseas was a rarity just a few
decades ago.

All this relates closely to the despicable coup that deposed Honduras'
democratically elected president, Manuel Zaleya.

Although the coup's initiators say they were motivated by other factors,
what really spurred their reactionary ire was Zaleya promoting better pay
and conditions for Honduran workers in general, but particularly for the
virtual sweatshop slaves whose cruel exploitation by mostly U.S. garment
firms has been an utterly obscene profit generator for shameless owners
residing in luxury in the North.

It would be extremely naive to think those "foreign" companies, along with
others involved in banana and fruit growing, did not facilitate the coup in
more than minor ways. It goes without saying, also, that U.S. political
conservatives, with operative ties to covert Central American intrigues
dating back to the Reagan years, are now malevolently present in

Our nation's anti-democratic, imperialist role in Central America is nothing

Countless religious activists, teachers, clinic workers, union organizers,
and ordinary campesinos were brutalized by sordid contras secretly armed and
trained by the U.S. under illegal Reagan administration aegis during the '80s.

Much earlier, however, Yankee pillage of Latin America (as well as other
world locales) was already standard operating procedure, as starkly exposed
by former Marine Corps Commandant Smedley Butler:
I spent 33 years (in the Marines)…most of my time being a high-class muscle
man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a
racketeer, a gangster for capitalism…

I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown
Brothers in 1909-1912. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for
American oil interests in 1914. I brought light to the Dominican Republic
for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a
decent place for the National City (Bank) boys to collect revenues in. I
helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the
benefit of Wall Street…

In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way
unmolested. I had a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals,
promotions. I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do
was operate in three city districts. The Marines operated on three
Progressives familiar with people's history know about the titanic struggle
it took to unionize U.S. labor, lifting largely immigrant masses out of deep
poverty, winning them the pay, benefits, and conditions that would shape the
contours of our storied "good life".

They know, too, that the most militant unions were purged and broken during
the McCarthyite Red Scare, allowing class-collaborationist tendencies to
rise, making the decimation of American labor in the aftermath of Reagan's
firing of the air traffic controllers essentially a cake walk, much to the
profitable delight of corporate parasites.

Now our working class — the backbone of society and the creator of all
productive wealth — is losing its jobs, homes, health care, pensions, and
collective temper on an unprecedented scale.

The savagely exploitative, intensely destructive Walmart labor relations
model dominates U.S. life, and everything we buy is produced abroad in
oppressive settings where women and children toil long hours for mere
pennies. We (and certainly they) are being ground into the dust as a tiny
minority of private "entrepreneurs" live high on the hog, via stolen wealth
that properly should be used to improve everyone's living standards.

But capitalism can't do that.

It's unable to function in anything but an increasingly rapacious way,
shafting majority wage earners ever more painfully, whether through the
acute injustice that leaves evicted families on the street in U.S. cities,
or Hondurans fearfully facing military repression and a drastic
deterioration of their already desperate existence.

As its growing resort to super-exploitation, dictatorial harshness, violence
and war clearly proves, capitalism is the intrinsic enemy — not the
ballyhooed champion — of fair play, democracy, simple decency, and peace.

Humanity will have no future worth aspiring to if it stays tied to
capitalism's irreparable flaws and fiercely down-pulling restraints. The
rest of this pivotal century clearly must be devoted to building truly
democratic, broadly uplifting socialism on a global scale.

It's the great moral imperative of our era.

Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive
commentary with a Heartland perspective for various outlets since the '60s.
Read other articles by Dennis, or visit Dennis's website.


In Tennessee Corner, Stimulus Meets New Deal

NY Times: July 27, 2009

LINDEN, Tenn. - Critics elsewhere may be questioning how many jobs the
stimulus program has created, but here in central Tennessee, hundreds of
workers are again drawing paychecks after many months out of work, thanks to
a novel use of federal stimulus money by state officials.

Here in one of Tennessee's hardest-hit areas, some workers were cutting down
pine trees with chainsaws and clearing undergrowth on a recent morning, just
past the auto parts factory that laid them off last year when it moved to
Mexico. Others were taking applications for unemployment benefits at the
very center where they themselves had applied not long ago. A few were
making turnovers at the Armstrong Pie Company ("The South's Finest Since

The state decided to spend some of its money to try to reduce unemployment
by up to 40 percent here in Perry County, a rural county of 7,600 people, 90
miles southwest of Nashville where the unemployment rate had risen to above
25 percent after its biggest plant, the auto parts factory, closed.

Rather than waiting for big projects to be planned and awarded to
construction companies, or for tax cuts to trickle through the economy,
state officials hit upon a New Deal model of trying to put people directly
to work as quickly as possible.

They are using welfare money from the stimulus package to subsidize 300 new
jobs across Perry County, with employers ranging from the state
Transportation Department to the milkshake place near the high school.

As a result, the June unemployment rate, which does not yet include all the
new jobs, dropped to 22.1 percent.

"If I could have done a W.P.A. out there, I would have done a W.P.A. out
there," said Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, referring to the
Works Progress Administration, which employed millions during the Great

"I really think the president is trying to do the right thing with the
stimulus," Mr. Bredesen said, "but so much of that stuff is kind of
stratospheric. When you've got 27 percent unemployment, that is a
full-fledged depression down in Perry County, and let's just see if we can't
figure out how to do something that's just much more on the ground and
direct, that actually gets people jobs."

Tennessee is planning to pay for most of the new jobs, which it expects will
cost $3 million to $5 million, with part of its share of $5 billion that was
included in the stimulus for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
program, the main cash welfare program for families with children. The state
did not wait for the federal paperwork to clear before putting residents of
Perry County back to work.

Other states are still drawing up plans for spending the welfare money,
which is typically used for items like cash grants for families and job
training. Some are likely to use part of it to subsidize employment, as
Tennessee is doing, but it is hard to imagine many other places where the
creation of so few jobs could have such an immediate and outsize impact as
it did in this bucolic county.

A stimulus job came just in time for Frank Smith, 41, whose family was
facing eviction after he lost his job as a long-haul truck driver. Then he
landed a job with the Transportation Department.

"The day I came from my interview here, I was sitting in the court up here
where I was being evicted," Mr. Smith said after a sweaty morning clearing
trees under a hot sun to make room for new electric poles. "Luckily I'm
still in the same place. There's a lot of people that were totally

Scott and Allison Kimble married after meeting on the assembly line at the
Fisher & Company auto parts plant. When the factory closed last year and
relocated to Mexico, the Kimbles, along with many of their friends and
neighbors, found themselves out of work. Now Mr. Kimble has a stimulus job
working for the Transportation Department, and Ms. Kimble has one in what
has become a growth industry, taking telephone applications for unemployment

"I know what they feel like," she said between calls. "I've been in their

Michael B. Smith, 53, who drove a forklift at the plant for 31 years, now
drives a Caterpillar to clear land for a developer. Robert Mackin, 55, who
lost his job, his health insurance and his home, now has a job with the
Transportation Department, a rental home, health insurance and an added
benefit: the state employee discount when his daughter goes to a state

"With a degree, she can always go somewhere," Mr. Mackin said.

The impact has been enormous, all across the county. Even the look of the
place is changing, following the old W.P.A. model. In addition to the jobs
for adults, there are 150 summer jobs for young people, some of whom have
been working with resident artists to paint murals depicting local history
on the buildings along Main Street in Linden, the county seat.

Over all, two-thirds of the new jobs are in private sector businesses, which
are reimbursed by the state for the salaries of eligible stimulus workers.
Some, in retail, might be hard to sustain when the stimulus money runs out
in September 2010. Other businesses say the free labor will help them
expand, hopefully enough to keep a bigger work force.

The Commodore Hotel Linden, a newly restored 1939 hotel that has brought new
life to downtown, has seen an increase in its bookings since it has expanded
its staff thanks to the stimulus. And the Armstrong Pie Company expects to
be able to keep on the new bakery assistants and drivers it hired with
stimulus money, saying the new workers have helped the company triple its
pie production and expand its reach through central Tennessee.

The county mayor, John Carroll, has been working to lure new industry to the
area. Walking through the cavernous, empty Fisher plant, Mr. Carroll pointed
to a forgotten display case filled with dozens of awards for safety and
manufacturing excellence. "What we can offer," he said, "is a great work

Mr. Kimble said the new jobs had given him and his wife paychecks, health
insurance and a reason to get up each morning. But he said he hoped that a
big, long-term employer would move in soon.

"This job here is not a permanent fix," he said. "We still need some kind of
industry to look and come into Perry County. But for right now we've got
hope, and when you've got hope, you've got a way."

From John Nichols--Single-Payer Advocates Must Seize this Opening

Forward this newsletter to a friend

Take Action: Tell Congress "Medicare for All Is the Solution."

John Nichols of The Nation urges us not to miss this opportunity to push the House on single payer:

Hope for Health Reform? Push Single-Payer Now
By John Nichols
Published by The Nation

It is unsettling to listen as President Obama and House Speaker Pelosi talk up a health-care reform "plan" that has yet to take shape in any realistic form.

The vagueness on the part of the president and the speaker is, of course, intentional.

Obama and Pelosi are still pushing the notion that they can get some version of their public-private stew cooked up before the year is done—although not, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, before the president and the Congress take the extended summer vacations that will kill whatever sense of official urgency might have existed.

Reid has taken some hits for suggesting that it would be a good idea to try and get health-care reform right, rather than just rush through a plan that fails to cover all Americans or control costs.

But that requires details. And neither Obama nor Pelosi is dealing in details right now because that's where the devil resides.

Here is the truth they tend to avoid mentioning: A robust public plan, with the quality and flexibility that is required to make it appealing to all Americans, would wipe out its insurance-industry competitors in short order. Why would anyone opt for more of the profiteering, restrictions and actual denials of needed treatment—especially for people with pre-existing conditions—that the insurance industry uses to make money rather than provide Americans with the medical care they require? And why would any employer choose to subsidize the stock value of health-care conglomerates when it is possible to opt for the better care and controlled costs of a public plan?

Unfortunately, the creation of a robust public plan, one that can compete on the basis of quality and affordability, will require a significant federal expenditure in the form of start-up money as well as regulatory protection for the program. That's where the devil comes in.

The powerful insurance and private health-care lobbies, which fear honest competition as the vampire does the stake, are going to do everything in their power to accomplish three things:

  1. Scare Americans with hypocritical talk about the hefty price-tag for getting a robust public plan off the ground.
  2. Undermine the structural supports for a public plan so that it cannot compete—effectively turning it into a sub-standard "alternative" that will appeal only to those who have no other options.
  3. Fiddle with the overall "reform" so that most of the taxpayer money that is expended streams into the accounts of private firms.

In the state of confusion created the industry's lobbying and advertising campaigns, chances are that the scaremongers and the profiteers will come out ahead.

They usually do.

And their task is being made easier by in-the-pocket "Democrats" like Montana Senator Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chair who is collecting huge contributions from hospitals, insurers and medical interest groups in return for doing their dirty work. If it was just Baucus, that would be a problem.

But it's not just Baucus. The monied Montanan has all too many Democratic allies—especially among the Democratic Leadership Council-allied "New Democrats." The "New Dems" are far greedier and more troubling players than the small cadre of southern and rural Blue Dog Democrats. Of particular concern is the determination of so many of the "New Dems" to follow Baucus' lead and grab up what Jerry Flanagan, a health-care analyst with the group Consumer Watchdog describes as the "huge down payment" of campaign contributions from corporations that want any health care "reform" warped to favor their interests.

The corporate special interests and their willing accomplices within the ranks of the Democratic party are capitalizing on the confusion about the scope and character of proposed reforms. In so doing, they are creating a circumstance where the push for real reform can and will be thwarted unless there is a major pushback from real reformers.

That pushback can and should take the form of a renewed effort to promote the right repair: a single-payer program.

There has already been some progress in this regard. The recent 25-19 vote by the House Committee on Education and Labor for an amendment allowing states to create single-payer health care systems if they so choose was an example of this.

A bigger test could come this week, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee considers Congressman Anthony Weiner's proposal to replace the convoluted public-private scheme that is outlined in the Obama/House leadership bill with the easily-understood and efficient single-payer plan contained in HR 676 that has been endorsed by 86 members of Congress.

Were the committee to endorse the Weiner amendment, single-payer would be on the table—as it should be.

Even if the committee fails to do the right thing, a strong vote for single-payer would send an essential signal about the need for a robust public option.

The stalwart single-payer backers at Progressive Democrats of America are organizing on behalf of the Weiner amendment, urging targeted calls to members of the committee.

The website is maintaining a whip count, which includes phone numbers of members who are being targeted. Heading the list of those expected to cast "yes" votes for single-payer is Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, who has long been in the forefront of the real reformers in the House.

Baldwin and Schakowsky are staying steady.

And rightly so.

This is not the time to waver is our commitment to real reform.

Indeed, it is the time to press those who know the right reform to stop wavering.

Physicians for a National Health Care Plan has launched a smart—and necessary—new campaign to get President Obama to abandon experiments that are likely to fail in favor of the reform he supported before he became president: a single-payer plan.

"Like most of our colleagues and the majority of the general public, we believe that single-payer reform is the standard against which other health reforms should be measured. Sound single-payer proposals have been introduced in both the House of Representatives (H.R. 676, The U.S National Health Care Act) and the Senate (S. 703, The American Health Security Act of 2009)," the physicians write. "Single payer reform, as embodied in these bills, would eliminate the bewildering patchwork of private insurance plans with their exorbitant overhead and profits, as well as the costly paperwork burdens they impose on providers. These savings on bureaucracy—nearly $400 billion annually—are sufficient to cover all of the uninsured and to provide first dollar coverage for all Americans. No other approach can provide comparable coverage at a cost our nation can afford."

That's the proper prescription. Obama and Pelosi should listen to the doctors and follow it. But that will only happen if those who favor real reform seize on this uncertain but not unforgiving moment to make the case for single-payer.

Yours in the movement,

Tim Carpenter, National Director
Laura Bonham, Deputy Director
Conor Boylan, Field Coordinator
Roberta McNair, Healthcare for All IOT Coordinator

Progressive Democrats of America is a grassroots PAC that works both inside the Democratic Party and outside in movements for peace and justice. Our goalin 2009: Work with and increase the progressive majority in Congress as we build on our 2008 electoral successes. PDA's advisory board includes seven members of Congress and activist leaders such as Tom Hayden, Medea Benjamin, Thom Hartmann, Jim Hightower, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

General strike in Honduras, Workers Rally in LA, Bill Maher: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit

Posted by: "Walter Lippmann" walterlx

Second day of general strike in Honduras

GRANMA INTERNATIONAL: Havana. July 24, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA (PL).-The three principal labor unions in Honduras are
maintaining a general strike in the state sector for the second day this
Friday, supported by road blocks put in place by the popular forces
repudiating the coup d'état.

Second day of general strike in HondurasThe country remained paralyzed
yesterday for several hours due to the closing of several strategic routes
by demonstrators, workers leader Juan Barahona informed Prensa Latina.

Barahona, president of the United Workers Federation, described the first
day of the strike as a success, taking into account the road blocks and
occupation of various state institutions by workers.

The popular actions cut off the country's principal ports on both the
Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as highways connecting the capital with
the northern part of the country.

Meanwhile, thousands of people began to move toward the Nicaraguan border.
Constitutional President Manuel Zelaya affirmed yesterday that he is to
return to his homeland overland from Nicaragua.

Many people called Radio Globo, a radio station that is keeping its
microphones open for the people, to report that they had been victims of
repression by the army forces who attempted to halt their movement.

In addition, a new problem has presented itself to the de facto government
headed by the entrepreneur Roberto Micheletti: police discontent over delays
in paying their wages, which has provoked a strike by some agents from a
station in the capital.

Daniel Molina, an official police spokesman, tried to downplay the issue,
assuring the press that it was merely related to administrative problems.

Nevertheless, officers interviewed by TV Channel 36 - the only station with
a critical stance toward the June 28 coup - said that they will not attend
to their duties until their complaints are resolved.

The problems arising in this repressive body, which includes the special
Cobras squadron, comes in addition to the regime's international isolation
and the wave of popular condemnation that will completes its 27th day this

The leaders of the National Front against the Coup stated last night that
the popular struggle will continue until the coup leaders are defeated and
constitutional order and Zelaya are restored.

During the blocking of the northern exit of the Panamericana Highway in the
capital yesterday, the crowd was urged over loudspeakers to leave in convoys
for the border with Nicaragua to await Zelaya.

Translated by Granma International


----- Original Message -----
From: Eric Ahlberg


Date: Saturday, July 25, 2009, 2:58 AM

Dear LULAC and friends of LULAC: Today we received a letter from a group of
workers, many of whom are undocumented, appealing to us for help. Many have
already been fired, and many are very close to being let go at several food
processing plants. These workers will be participating in orderly Union
organized pickets on various days over the next few months. They have
families, and many have been employed for 10, 15 and even 20 years with
these companies. I am asking that Long Beach LULAC assist by making the
picket signs for the marchers who will begin to picket in Vernon. To do this
we will need funds to pay for the supplies, such as ink and paper and
cardboard. If you think we should use our resources to assist these
families, please send me an e-mail with your answer, and any funds you can
spare to my home. I will deliver the signs to the organizers of the march.
We will not be officially joining the pickets as Long Beach LULAC, but will
as individuals who support their cause. Sincerely, Tomas

Tomas Gonzales
6327 Lewis Avenue
Long Beach, 90805


we make a public appeal to all immigrants' rights coalitions, unions,
churches, community organizations, and worker/human rights activists to join
us in organizing marches and rallies at this most distressing moment of mass
terminations due to the Obama Administration's policy of unprecedented
enforcement of employer sanctions through I-9 audits of profiled companies
that hire immigrants; and the broad use of e-Verify, the federal system of
employment verification of legal status. We demand unity between all the
organizations and coalitions that represent that they work on behalf of
immigrants and in favor of fair and humane immigration reform.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 March and Rally from American Apparel (7th and
Alameda) to the Federal Building (Temple and Los Angeles Street, Los
Angeles) - 4:00 p.m.

Saturday, August 1, 2009 Rally at the Placita Olvera (Alameda and Cesar
Chavez) - 1:00 p.m.
We are not activists but the very workers that you all refer to in your
press communications, articles, advocacy, research and conferences. We are
taking the lead in this struggle and will not wait for others to act.


From: bigraccoon

New Rule: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit

Bill Maher
July 23, 2009

How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a
profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so
vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things
we just didn't do for money. The United States always defined capitalism,
but it didn't used to define us. But now it's becoming all that we are.

Did you know, for example, that there was a time when being called a "war
profiteer" was a bad thing? But now our war zones are dominated by private
contractors and mercenaries who work for corporations. There are more
private contractors in Iraq than American troops, and we pay them generous
salaries to do jobs the troops used to do for themselves ­-- like laundry.
War is not supposed to turn a profit, but our wars have become boondoggles
for weapons manufacturers and connected civilian contractors.

Prisons used to be a non-profit business, too. And for good reason --­ who
the hell wants to own a prison? By definition you're going to have trouble
with the tenants. But now prisons are big business. A company called the
Corrections Corporation of America is on the New York Stock Exchange, which
is convenient since that's where all the real crime is happening anyway. The
CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing
laws so they can lock more people up and make more money. That's why America
has the world;s largest prison population ­-- because actually
rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Television news is another area that used to be roped off from the profit
motive. When Walter Cronkite died last week, it was odd to see news anchor
after news anchor talking about how much better the news coverage was back
in Cronkite's day. I thought, "Gee, if only you were in a position to do
something about it."

But maybe they aren't. Because unlike in Cronkite's day, today's news has to
make a profit like all the other divisions in a media conglomerate. That's
why it wasn't surprising to see the CBS Evening News broadcast live from the
Staples Center for two nights this month, just in case Michael Jackson came
back to life and sold Iran nuclear weapons. In Uncle Walter's time, the news
division was a loss leader. Making money was the job of The Beverly
Hillbillies. And now that we have reporters moving to Alaska to hang out
with the Palin family, the news is The Beverly Hillbillies.

And finally, there's health care. It wasn't that long ago that when a kid
broke his leg playing stickball, his parents took him to the local Catholic
hospital, the nun put a thermometer in his mouth, the doctor slapped some
plaster on his ankle and you were done. The bill was $1.50, plus you got to
keep the thermometer.

But like everything else that's good and noble in life, some Wall Street
wizard decided that hospitals could be big business, so now they're run by
some bean counters in a corporate plaza in Charlotte. In the U.S. today,
three giant for-profit conglomerates own close to 600 hospitals and other
health care facilities. They're not hospitals anymore; they're Jiffy Lubes
with bedpans. America's largest hospital chain, HCA, was founded by the
family of Bill Frist, who perfectly represents the Republican attitude
toward health care: it's not a right, it's a racket. The more people who get
sick and need medicine, the higher their profit margins. Which is why
they're always pushing the Jell-O.

Because medicine is now for-profit we have things like "recision," where
insurance companies hire people to figure out ways to deny you coverage when
you get sick, even though you've been paying into your plan for years.

When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did
that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country,
ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

If conservatives get to call universal health care "socialized medicine," I
get to call private health care "soulless vampires making money off human
pain." The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism,
it's capitalism.

And if medicine is for profit, and war, and the news, and the penal system,
my question is: what's wrong with firemen? Why don't they charge? They must
be commies. Oh my God! That explains the red trucks!