31 May 2009

Chavez: 'When the Working Class Roars, the Capitalists Tremble'

Photo: AFP/Getty Images.

Venezuela: ‘When the working class roars, capitalists tremble’
By Federico Fuentes / May 30, 2009

Addressing the 400-strong May 21 workshop with workers from the industrial heartland of Guayana, dedicated to the “socialist transformation of basic industry”, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez noted with satisfaction the outcomes of discussions: “I can see, sense and feel the roar of the working class.”

“When the working class roars, the capitalists tremble”, he said.

Chavez announced plans to implement a series of radical measures, largely drawn from proposals coming from the workers’ discussion that day.

The workers greeted each of Chavez’s announcements with roars of approval, chanting “This is how you govern!”

Chavez said: “The proposals made have emerged from the depths of the working class. I did not come here to tell you what to do! It is you who are proposing this.”

Nationalisation and workers’ control

To the cheers of the workers, Chavez announced the nationalisation of six iron briquette, ceramics and steel companies, one after the other.

He said this started “a process of nationalisations” aimed at creating an integrated basic industry complex as part of building socialism.

Chavez also said it was necessary for there to be workers’ control along “the entire productive chain”. Plans for the industrial complex had to be “nourished with the ideas of the working class”.

Throughout the day, workers from local steel, aluminum and iron companies raised demands for greater worker participation in managing production, more nationalisations, and the need to sack corrupt and counterrevolutionary managers.

The workers were affiliated to the Socialist Workers’ Force (FST), which organises unionists in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV — the mass revolutionary party led by Chavez).

Saying this new phase would have to be “assumed with responsibility”, Chavez called on the workers to wage an all-out struggle against the “mafias” rife in the management of state companies.

Chavez said he would approve a new law to allow workers to elect state company managers.

“Every factory should be a school, in order, as Che said, to create not only briquettes and sheets and steel and aluminium, but also, above all, new men and women, a new society, a socialist society”, he said.

Chavez also called for workers to organise an armed militia. Worker battalions in each factory should be equipped with weapons “in case anyone makes the mistake of messing with us”.

Post-referendum offensive

These moves are part of a push to deepen the Venezuelan revolution after the February 15 referendum that voted to remove restrictions on the number of terms public officials could stand for election.

At stake was the future of the revolution. Its central leader, Chavez, was unable to stand for re-election in 2012 under pre-existing regulation limiting a president to two terms.

The referendum initiative followed the November regional elections, in which the PSUV won a majority of governorships and mayoralties, yet lost some key states to the right-wing opposition.

The opposition used newly won offices to launch an assault on grassroots organisations and the government’s pro-poor social programs.

The referendum was part of a counter-offensive to strengthen the organisation of the revolutionary forces and win another mandate for the revolution’s radical program.

As part of the campaign, around 100,000 “Yes committees” were organised in factories and communities across the country. The “Yes” campaign, which won nearly 55% or 6.3 million votes, was a decisive mandate to deepen the revolution.

The campaign raised the level of organisation among the revolution’s base — workers, students, peasants, the urban poor and other sectors.

After the referendum, Chavez called for the restructuring of the PSUV. The Yes committees were to be converted into “socialist committees” as grassroots units of the party.

Special emphasis was put on strengthening the social fronts.

In early May, Chavez reshuffled the PSUV regional vice-presidents, appointing those seen as his closest collaborators.

Attacks on capital

With this momentum, the government gave clear signals of how it intended to fight the global economic crisis and falling oil prices.

Rather than a pact with the capitalist class, as some within the revolutionary movement had called for, Chavez launched an offensive — with state intervention into, and in some cases expropriation of, capitalist firms.

This followed previous nationalisations in oil, steel, telecommunications, electricity, and other industries. This is part of ensuring state ownership over strategic sectors of the economy, to direct such sectors towards social needs.

Rice-producing factories owned by Polar, Venezuela’s largest company, were temporarily taken over by the military in February after it was found the company was deliberately evading government-imposed price controls.

Under Venezuelan law, food companies are obliged to direct 70% of production towards selected products at a set price. This is to ensure enough affordable food is available to the poor.

Venezuelanalysis.com said on March 11: “During a recent surge in land reform measures, Venezuela’s National Institute of Lands (INTI) [took] public ownership of more than 5000 hectares of land claimed by wealthy families and multi-national corporations.”

INTI said it would review tens of thousands more hectares as part of its drive to ensure fertile land is directed towards food production for social needs, rather than corporate profits.

On May 7, the National Assembly passed a law ensuring state control over a range of activities connected to the oil industry, previously run by multinationals.

The next day, “the government expropriated 300 boats, 30 barges, 39 terminals and docks, 5 dams and 13 workshops on Lake Maracaibo, where there are large crude oil reserves”, a May 9 Venezuelanalysis.com article said.

On May 20, it nationalised a gas compression plant in the eastern state of Monagas under the same law.

Five days before, the government took over a pasta processing plant owned by US multinational Cargill after government inspectors found it was not producing price-regulated pasta as required.

Food vice minister Rafael Coronado said that after the 90-day intervention period, inspectors “together with the workers, the communal councils” would decide what to do with the company.

Revitalised working class

On April 30, announcing plans to expropriate the La Gaviota sardine processing plant, Chavez told a gathering of workers that “wherever you see a private company, a capitalist company that is exploiting the workers and is not complying with the laws, that is hoarding, denounce it, because the government is willing to intervene”.

La Gaviota had been shut for two and a half months by workers’ protests demanding the boss comply with the collective contract.

The same day, the government and workers took over the Cariaco sugar processing plant, the scene of similar protests.

Some of the companies Chavez said would be nationalised on May 21 have also faced industrial disputes.

Chavez had previously threatened to nationalise Ceramicas Carabobo if the bosses refused to come to an agreement with the workforce. Workers at Matesi had called for the company be nationalised due to the unwillingness of management to sign a fair collective contract.

Matesi and Tavsa were part of the previously state-owned steel production complex, Sidor, before being sold off separately in the 1990s to Techint, an Argentine company.

After a 15-month dispute over the signing of a collective contract, the government nationalised Sidor, which was majority owned by Techint, decrying the “colonialist mentality” of the bosses overseeing super-exploitative conditions.

However, in Matesi and Tavsa, negotiations over collective contracts continued. Inspired by the Sidor example, where a collective contract was signed after nationalisation, Matesi workers demanded their factory also be nationalised.

This increase in industrial militancy has resulted in a number of factory occupations. This includes the Tachira-based coffee processing plant Cafea, which was closed by its bosses.

Its workforce, together with unions and the local community, have occupied the plant and are demanding it be nationalised.

Source / Green Left Online

The Rag Blog

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Obama, the Anti-War Movement and the Neo-Cons: Turning the Ship Around

"Warship 53." Photo from sailsarana.com
Obama's agenda of 'turning the battleship' is not our agenda of disarming it altogether: ending U.S. interventionism and bullying of all sorts, initiating an era of peaceful global cooperation to tackle poverty, disease, global warming and other threats to all humanity.
By Max Elbaum / May 29, 2009

Turning the ship -- toward what?

Responding to a questioner saying that there seemed to be little change in Washington policies, President Obama replied: "The ship of state is an ocean liner, it's not a speedboat... if we can move this big battleship a few degrees in a different direction, we may not see all the consequences a week from now or three months from now, but 10 years from now, or 20 years from now."

Obama is right that the "big battleship" of U.S. imperial militarism can't be easily turned, much less quickly stopped altogether. But Obama's remark also impels us to examine the nature of the turn he is trying to make, and to analyze where it does and doesn't overlap with, or open doors for, an antiwar agenda.

Bush's unilateralism and total reliance on military force over-stretched the empire and ended up undermining U.S. global power. Obama's team, representing the now-dominant anti-Neo-Con wing of the U.S. elite, aims to change that. Like their predecessors, Obama's team wants to maximize U.S. clout in the world. But unlike Bush and the Neo-Cons, Obama's team believes that doing so requires adapting skillfully to, rather than trying to bludgeon away, new realities of global power.

This means a different mix of diplomacy and military force, and includes willingness to the degree they are pressed to make concessions to other countries and movements. Every such accommodation is fiercely resisted by powerful forces within the national security state and the racist right-wing populists now leading the Republican opposition. Sharp fights over whether or not a particular concession is necessary are ongoing within the administration itself.

The significance of Obama's shift has been noted by popular movements worldwide. They know that this readjustment was forced on Washington through hard struggle and many sacrifices. They believe it offers better terrain on which to struggle further. Simultaneously, antiwar and progressive movements are clear (or should be) that Obama's agenda of "turning the battleship" is not our agenda of disarming it altogether: ending U.S. interventionism and bullying of all sorts, initiating an era of peaceful global cooperation to tackle poverty, disease, global warming and other threats to all humanity.

The inter-play of these contending strategies unfolds differently on different battlefronts, with dynamics determined mainly by the real-world balance of forces. It is that balance that a clear-eyed, long-haul peace movement must fight to change.

'Responsible' withdrawal from Iraq

Start with Iraq, central site of the Middle East defeat which has driven Washington's foreign policy retrenchment. (Antiwar activism and the economic crisis have been contributing factors, but U.S. failure to subdue the Iraqi people is the main reason unilateral militarism is no longer in vogue.) The Obama team, reality-based, believes that extricating the U.S. from this Bush-created "quagmire" offers better prospects for preserving U.S. regional influence than staying a lost course. But they also think a "responsible" (that is, drawn-out) process gives Washington the most leverage.

Even this is not enough for most U.S. generals, including Iraq Commander Ray Odierno. They still fantasize about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat if only they can stay McCain's 100 years. Hence the running battle - visible in media leaks from infighting behind closed doors - about whether "conditions will allow the U.S. to get out" by the 2011 target date.

It's instructive to see how Obama is working that one. As is his pattern, he relies on rhetorical skills and capacity to "change the discourse" in key constituencies. So he made a surprise visit to Iraq and gave a speech to U.S. troops praising them and promising they would be coming home. The response was wild applause. This limited Odierno's maneuvering room, squeezing him between let's-go-home sentiment among the soldiers below him and pronouncements about withdrawal from his Commander-in-Chief above. So when asked after Obama's visit what the chances were that U.S. withdrawal would actually occur on December 31, 2011, this hard-line opponent of getting out gritted his teeth and replied: "On a scale of one to ten, ten."

Good as far as it goes. Compared to the Neo-Con stay-forever agenda, that's far indeed. But compared to the antiwar agenda? Not so much. Every day the U.S. occupies Iraq means more death, destruction and violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Every day leaves the door open for a Neo-Con/Odierno comeback, and for the kind of blackmail that drove Obama's torture photo flip-flop, "Well, Mr. President, if you release those photos we probably won't be able to leave Iraq on your timetable, so..."

What's especially sobering is that Iraq is the battlefront most favorable for the antiwar side. It is here that U.S. defeat has been clearest and where U.S. public opinion has shifted most strongly to the "gotta get out" position.

Bigger danger in Afghanistan

That's why, though similar dynamics are at work, we face even greater dangers and difficulties regarding Afghanistan. U.S. defeat there is not yet as thorough, and U.S. public opinion is not yet as antiwar. So the administration's actions are worse, and the logic of escalation means they threaten to get even more so.

Obama's "adapt to reality" approach here has so far yielded only a few glimmers of change. The goals of intervention have been defined down to defeating Al-Qaeda rather than building a stable U.S. client state. There is the beginning of a serious diplomatic effort to involve all countries in the region - crucially, Iran is included - in seeking some kind of negotiated settlement. Negotiations of a sort are underway with leaders of the Taliban, and it at least gets reported in the U.S. press that "the enemy" has put forward a peace plan of its own (hinging on U.S. commitment to get out).

But the administration has not yet been forced to accept the basic point that the U.S. military presence is part of the problem in ending the war (and isolating Al-Qaeda), not part of the solution. So instead of any kind of timetable or even vague promise of withdrawal, Washington is sending more troops, expanding the use of drone bombings, and putting a hawk with a record of war crimes and cover-ups, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in charge of the theater.

This is a "big muddy" path, as former CIA Station Chief in Kabul Graham Fuller stresses: "Military force will not win the day in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; crises have only grown worse under the U.S. military footprint." Not only does escalation, with its day-in, day-out killing of Afghan civilians, block reconciliation between different sectors of the Afghan population. It inflames tensions in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where the population - in its vast majority opposed to theocratic reactionaries like the Taliban - is simultaneously opposed to doing the bidding of a foreign power which for decades has supported corrupt military dictators against Pakistani democratic aspirations.

The challenges are formidable in reversing this disastrous course. Every regional actor (except the Pakistani secret service) and the majority of Afghans are opposed to a return to Taliban rule. This leads to vacillation in opposing the U.S. military presence. Matters are especially tough in terms of U.S. public opinion, which has been fed decades of demonization of all (non-Israeli) peoples in the region and is only beginning to hear any kind of non-hate-filled rhetoric coming from a President's bully pulpit.

The strongest factor in the antiwar movement's favor here is growing public recognition that military action in the Middle East/West Asia produces no good results while bleeding precious lives and scarce resources. Turning that sentiment into a loud, active, won't-take-no-for-an-answer antiwar surge will be no easy task. There are no shortcuts, and multi-leveled tactics, including cooperation with forces who oppose escalation but are not yet for total withdrawal, will have to be part of the mix.

Israeli settlements; 'Halting Iran'

We face a similarly difficult challenge when it comes to the new administration's stance toward the Israel/Palestine conflict. Observers across the spectrum parsed every word uttered by Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu following their meeting May 19. The analysts who focused mainly on words and language mostly shared Middle East expert Juan Cole's view that "the talks were pretty clearly a train wreck for Israel's far rightwing Likud Party... [Obama and Netanyahu] clearly did not agree on virtually anything important. Both finessed the disagreement by appealing to vague generalities and invoking the long term."

That assessment is based on a number of Obama statements that contrast with the kind of fawning rhetoric that characterized George Bush's comments during or after meeting with Israeli leaders. Talking about the "peace process" Obama said that "[Israeli] Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward." Directly challenging Netanyahu's insistence that Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program had to be ended before Israel could address Palestinian demands, Obama bluntly said that any linkage between Iran and Israel-Palestine "actually runs the other way."

Netanyahu kept insisting that he and Obama "saw eye-to-eye" on "halting Iran" but Obama conspicuously refused to agree and, pointedly, did not repeat the "all options are on the table" phrase that is U.S. code for the threat of an attack on Iran that Israeli leaders so desperately desire. Obama's comments on Israeli settlements were underscored a few days later by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "He wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly."

Those are the kinds of signals that have set off big alarm bells in the Israel Lobby and within the Israeli right. Keith Weissman, Iran expert formerly at AIPAC (espionage charges against him were dropped earlier this month) now tells the Jerusalem Post that "there is no viable military option for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat." The Post accompanied its report with an analytic article under the headline "Has Obama given up on halting Iran?" Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery reports that Obama "has warned the Israeli government unequivocally [against launching such an attack}. Just to make sure, he sent the CIA chief to Israel to deliver the message personally to every Israeli leader."

Bottom line: Obama believes a deal with Iran is necessary if Washington is going to manage its Iraq and Afghanistan crises in ways the minimize the damage Bush has done to U.S. regional influence; and he is not going to let Israeli bombast set the agenda on what he deems a matter vital to U.S. interests.

Again, good as far as it goes, and in terms of reducing the danger of a military attack on Iran, that's pretty far. But for winning Palestinian freedom and even a minimally just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is not yet far at all. Presidential words on that one have to be matched by some deeds if Israeli policies of grinding colonization are going to be halted or reversed. Phyllis Bennis of IPS makes the key point here:

"This first Obama-Netanyahu meeting included no public acknowledgement of any U.S. pressure brought to bear to insure real implementation of Israel's existing treaties or other international (or U.S.) law obligations.... What happens next, privately and publicly, will be determined largely by the level of pressure that is brought to bear on Obama. We know the capacity of Israel's U.S. supporters to raise that pressure. The question for us is how to challenge it, for diplomacy instead of threats towards Iran, and an end to U.S. support for Israeli occupation and apartheid... There's a lot of work ahead." Full text here.

Torture and civil liberties

We face a similarly complicated landscape on the torture/civil liberties front. Dick Cheney's "we tortured and we're proud of it" speech May 21 was a wake-up-call for those who have gotten complacent about the far right. There's a permanent war/executive-power-uber-alles crowd that still has an audience of millions and is banking on fear-mongering to make a comeback. But Obama's speech the same day was hardly a total repudiation of Cheney-like policies. Constitutional law expert Glenn Greenwald points out:

"The speech was fairly representative of what Obama typically does: effectively defend some important ideals in a uniquely persuasive way and advocating some policies that promote those ideals (closing Guantanamo, banning torture tactics, limiting the state secrets privilege) while committing to many which plainly violate them (indefinite preventive detention schemes, military commissions, denial of habeas rights to Bagram abductees, concealing torture evidence, blocking judicial review on secrecy grounds)."

Here again the public has not yet been won to the kind of outrage about torture and human rights violations that would force Obama to match his phrases with deeds.

While critiquing Obama's backward actions, Greenwald also wrote: "his well-crafted speech can have a positive impact on our debate and contained some welcome and rare arguments from a high-level political leader - changes in the terms of the debate are prerequisites to changes in policy and the value of rhetoric shouldn't be understated."

So Obama's words open a door. But in action his administration both conciliates and contains forces who want to keep that opening as narrow as possible. Only a movement that fights -- and fights smart -- while digging in for a long haul, can catalyze the power required to push it wide open. That means finding the mix of patient, respectful persuasion and make-trouble urgent action that it takes to win the support of millions without compromising away the principle that "power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will."

Source / War Times/Tiempo de Guerras / Progressives for Obama

Thanks to Carl Davidson / The Rag Blog

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Singin' on Sunday - Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White - Rainy Night In Georgia

Source / De Laaste Show TV1

Thanks to Deva Wood / The Rag Blog

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Medea Benjamin Calls on Obama to Visit Gaza

Smoke billowed from Israeli artillery shells exploding over northern Gaza in December 2008. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse Getty Images.

During His Trip to Egypt, Obama Should Visit Gaza
By Medea Benjamin / May 29, 2009

Obama will give a major policy talk at Cairo University on June 4, intended to start mending the rift between the United States and the Arab world. During the Bush years, many Arabs turned against the United States because of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Graib. But the issue that is really at the crux of the tensions with the United States is the intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine, and what many perceive as a one-sided U.S. policy in support of Israel.

The Obama administration has taken a positive stand on the Israeli settlements, calling for a complete freeze. “[Obama] wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told reporters.

But the administration has said almost nothing about the devastating Israeli invasion of Gaza that left over 1,300 dead, including some 400 children. To many in the Middle East, this is an unfortunate continuation of past policies that condemn the loss of innocent Israeli lives, but refuse to speak out against the disproportionately greater loss of Palestinian lives at the hands of the Israeli military.

The Israeli invasion of Gaza began on December 27, 2008, when Obama had just won the election but had not yet taken office. While he spoke out against the November 26 Mumbai terrorism attack, he refused to even call for a ceasefire in Gaza, saying coldly, “When it comes to foreign affairs it is particularly important to adhere to the principle of one president at a time."

Once inaugurated, Obama appointed George Mitchell as a special peace envoy and immediately sent him on a “listening tour” to key places in the Middle East—except Gaza. Mitchell returned for a second trip to the region in late February, visiting Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Israel and the West Bank but once again bypassing Gaza. The same thing happened on his third trip in April.

Hillary Clinton has never visited war-torn Gaza. She promised $300 million for rebuilding, but the aid won’t get to Gaza as long as the administration insists on dealing only with Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in the West Bank while shunning Hamas, which controls Gaza and was democratically elected.

Obama won great support from the American people during the presidential campaign when he said that America must talk to its adversaries, without preconditions. But his administration now puts ridiculous conditions on talking to Hamas: It must recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous international agreements. Israel, on the other hand, does not have to recognize Palestine, renounce violence or abide by past agreements. Putting preconditions on just one side of the conflict makes it impossible to move a peace process forward.

While Obama prepares for his trip to the Middle East, more than 150 people—mostly Americans—are trying to enter war-torn Gaza through both the Egyptian and Israeli borders. Organized under the umbrella of the peace group CODEPINK, this is the largest group of Americans to travel to Gaza since the siege began.

The delegations, invited by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), are bringing medicines, toys, school supplies and playground building materials. An estimated 1,346 Gazan children were left without one or more of their parents as a result of the Israeli assault and the majority were left traumatized and depressed.

That’s why the peace group CODEPINK has launched an international petition (see www.codepinkalert.org) calling on Obama to visit Gaza and see for himself the devastation and deprivation that continues to plague the region’s 1.5 million people almost 6 months after the invasion. Just this week, Obama just tacked a new stop to his upcoming Middle Eastern visit: Saudi Arabia. If he can make room for a private dinner with the King, then surely he can find the time to go to Gaza. Isn't it more important for Obama to visit a region where 1,300 people have recently been killed and thousands of homes, schools and mosques destroyed? Isn't it more important for him to see how the Israelis are using the yearly $3 billion in military aid from U.S taxpayers?

Obama should take the opportunity, during this visit to Egypt next week, to visit Gaza. He should express his condolences for the loss of so many innocent lives, call for a lifting of the inhumane siege that continues to imprison an entire population, and support an investigation of how U.S. military funds to Israel are being spent.

Those actions, more than any fine words he may speak during his talk at Cairo University, will do wonders to repairs our relations with the Arab world that were so tattered during the Bush years.

[Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepinkalert.org).]

Source / Common Dreams

The Rag Blog

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow : 'The Mormons are Coming, the Jews are Coming'

"The Mormons are Coming" / Californians Against Hate.
As Martin Buber said, 'I do not even know what it means to say that "The ends justify the means," but I can tell you this: The means that you actually use will become the ends that you actually achieve.'
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / May 31, 2009

"The Mormons are Coming, the Jews are coming!"

Suppose you read that opponents of same-sex marriage had taken ads in newspapers shouting, "The Jews are Coming, the Jews are Coming!” to warn people against the nefarious influence of Jewish organizers who were (disproportionately to their numbers) involved in supporting same-sex marriage?

I would think it was disgusting bigotry.

Now imagine that supporters of same-sex marriage take ads in newspapers shouting, "The Mormons are Coming, the Mormons are coming!" to warn people against the nefarious influence of Mormon organizers who were (disproportionately to their numbers) involved in opposing same-sex marriage?

I would think it was disgusting bigotry.

The former has not happened; the latter has.

The Shalom Center and I strongly support the legalization of same-sex marriage by society as a whole and the practice of it by Jewish communities (and have done so since long before it was a salient public issue). AND -- that does not prevent us from thinking this way of winning support for it is disgusting.

Mormonism -- like Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, evangelical Protestantism -- is a mixed bag. (I'm sure there are many people, including me, who think "renewal Judaism," let alone Judaism in general, is a mixed bag.) And therefore, "the Mormons" must not be condemned any more than "the Jews."

We support same-sex marriage for the sake of love and justice. For the same reasons, we oppose such unjust and hateful means of supporting it.

The ironies are astounding. The bigoted ads were placed on newspaper Web sites in three Eastern states last month -- by "Californians Against Hate"!!

The ad was rejected by the Kennebec Journal in Maine, which said that the copy "borders on insulting and denigrating a whole set of people based on their religion." Right on, Kennebec Journal!

This incident reminds us of the wisdom of the biblical teaching, "Justice, justice, shall you pursue!" Why is "justice" mentioned twice? To remind us that just ends must be pursued by just means. People who claim to be "against hate" should not mobilize hatred in support of their goals.

This teaching was ignored or subverted this past week by the FBI itself – an institution presumably committed to pursue justice.

In Riverdale, New York, four Muslim men were accused by the police of plotting to blow up two synagogues and actually buying what they thought were bombs to do it. On the surface of most of the news stories, this seemed like a simple abomination. Hatred of Jews, sparked by fury at various behaviors of some Jewish institutions, had turned into terrorism. Period. Scared me. Could have been my synagogue.

But when I read past the first four paragraphs of the New York Times story, the story became much more complex. Turns out the four alleged miscreants had been recruited by an FBI agent who came to their mosque, talked big about blowing up enemies, had money to spend on supporting these attacks and paying those who would join up. He found and organized the group of four. He arranged for them to buy fake bombs. All this with the knowledge and cooperation of the FBI.

It seems likely that if it had not been for this FBI agent., the four would never have lifted a finger against the synagogues. The news stories portray them as incoherent, small-time criminals who had served small-time prison terms. It seems likely that if no one had organized and paid them, the synagogues never would have been in danger at all.

Was justice served and were people protected by their arrest? Sort of. They had – assuming always that the news reports were accurate – actually taken what they thought were steps to blow up the synagogues.

But was the goal of justice served by just means?

What is to be done? Assuming the truth of the allegations, the four men did violate the law and endanger lives. They violated the standards of personal ethical responsibility.

But what about the standards of social ethical responsibility – society embodied in the FBI? If the FBI invented the crime, what to do?

The conventional answer is that if the four men were "entrapped," they are entitled to be acquitted -- just as a confession beaten out of a suspect, even if it turns out to be true, is nullified. (The courts have concluded that is the best way of deterring the police from beating suspects.)

But this means releasing men who, when the opportunity to commit mass murder was laid before them, went for it instead of going to the police and scotching the plot.

The analogy that occurs to me is what ought to happen when high officials plan torture and lowly grunts carry it out. "Obeying orders" is no defense. Neither is "high office." Both the planners and the perpetrators ought to be punished.

(That is precisely why I think the Obama Doctrine of "Even if they tell, don't ask!" and "Don't look back" is a bad mistake.)

So in the Riverdale case, maybe the FBI agent ought to be charged as a co-conspirator, and if he is proved to have invented the crime and organized the criminals, he too should be punished -- along with them.

Progressives and conservatives, the government and its critics, all need to affirm and act on the teaching -- "Justice, justice shall you pursue."

As Martin Buber said, "I do not even know what it means to say that 'The ends justify the means,' but I can tell you this: The means that you actually use will become the ends that you actually achieve."

He was talking to early Bolsheviks who were trying to protect the Russian Revolution by using the "Red Terror" against its opponents. The result, as decade by decade the "means" became the "ends," was Stalinism and the gulag.

Buber was right. Remember. Do not forget.

With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace,


[Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, is director of The Shalom Center. Rabbi Waskow is co-author of The Tent of Abraham, author of Godwrestling -- Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism, and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and practice, as well as books on U.S. public policy.]

The Rag Blog

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Jonah Raskin : Class of '09 Speaks Out on New Media

For four months, from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. every Wednesday, freedom of speech seemed to be alive and well in an old fashioned classroom where students asked questions, talked in small groups and wrote with pens and pencils on lined-paper.
By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / May 31, 2009

Ben is a newly minted college graduate in California. He’s in his early twenties, energetic and hopeful, and he has recently created and published his own flashy magazine. In many ways, though he belongs to the current generation that supposedly thrives on Facebook and Twitter, he is still very much caught up in old print media.

Readers can actually touch and hold his magazine. They can turn its pages. “The latest technology has freed us from the four walls of our bedrooms,” Ben says. “But it has also restricted us. Social network sites supposedly allow us to ‘express ourselves.’ And yet they also limit our ability to express ourselves. Moreover, the proper way to write and communicate has been lost in the transition to new media.”

Kent belongs to the same generation as Ben; he, too, is a recent college graduate. During his senior year he worked as an intern at one of the radio stations in the Pacifica network of non-commercial stations. Like Ben, Kent has apprehensions about the brave new technological world he and his contemporaries have entered. He also wants very much to be a part of it. “The convergence of media is a fearful thing,” he said. “It can be used for all the wrong reasons. Big Brother can use it to watch us and control us. But I want to be a part of the revolution that is taking place and that is changing the ways that people receive news and information.”

Ben and Kent were students in a class that I taught in the spring 2009 semester. They and 63 other college seniors sat in a large lecture hall where I taught communication law. For four months -- from January through May -- all of us thought long and hard about the ways that new media is changing old laws about privacy, libel, copyright and the First Amendment. We talked, argued, debated, discussed the use of the “F” word,’ the “N” word, the “C” word and more. The only rule in the class was this -- “it is forbidden to forbid.” No fights broke out, and no one personally attacked any one else. For four months, from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. every Wednesday, freedom of speech seemed to be alive and well in an old fashioned classroom where students asked questions, talked in small groups and wrote with pens and pencils on lined-paper.

Karen was another senior in the class, and while she was happy to finish four years of college she was also apprehensive about entering the job market knowing full well that a job would be difficult to find given the high levels of unemployment. “Now that I’m graduating it all seems so surreal,” she said. Like Ben and Kent, Karen was aware of the speed with which changes are happening in the media. “It’s not the same as it used to be 50 years ago, or even 50 minutes ago,” she said. “Media is constantly changing and to be involved with it as I hope to be, I know I must change in order to stay current.”

Most of the students in the class feel ambivalent about the changes that are taking place. They don’t see any way to stop them, or even slow them down. And, though they have grown up their entire lives with computers, and have always used them, they also look back with a sense of nostalgia to a world before computers, the Internet, and the Web took hold. Some of the students, especially those from other countries, came of age in worlds without modern technology. Maria was born and raised in Brazil, in a town in which no one had a telephone at home. Everyone who wanted to make a call had to go to a phone in the street.

“The moment I put my feet down in the United States in 2001, I literally thought that I had stepped into a spaceship,” she said. “I felt I was reborn. Now that I’ve been in this new environment for the past eight years, and now that everything seems to be available literally in the palm of my hand, I notice that I am no longer satisfied with what I have. I am continually reaching for the next new thing, the next new Apple phone. I want the first flying car, and I want to be able to go to the moon in a few hours.”

Jenny was born in the United States -- in the green, rolling hills of Kentucky before moving to California -- and like Maria she also grew up without much technology. “My parents were young, carefree hippies,” she said. “I never had a Barbie, a boob tube, a video game, or a computer, though I do remember my mother listening to National Public Radio.” Jenny doesn’t feel deprived by her hippie parents, and she hopes to raise children as she was raised -- without a TV or a computer. She’ll probably have a harder time with her children than her parents had with her.

Patrick had a different story to tell, perhaps because his father was a graphic designer who wanted the latest technology. Born in 1986, and raised in what he called a “conservative” family, Patrick remembered the day in 1992 when his dad came home with a “mysterious object in a large cardboard box with the icon of an apple on the outside.” He added, “My dad fed this machine a plastic disk and it seemed to come to life, blipping and clicking, whirling and ticking.”

From then on Patrick felt at home with computers. They seemed almost human to him. In college he quickly created a space for himself at MySpace, and made a home for himself on the campus radio station where he learned -- as he put it -- “to say and do anything I wanted.” It was a new experience for him. At home he had been “censored” by his parents. He feels that he will never again have the freedom to express himself that he has had on the college radio station, but now that he has had a taste of that freedom it will be difficult to give up. “I understand that in order to find a job I might have to clean up a bit my MySpace and Facebook pages,” he said. “But I also don’t want to compromise who I am.”

Tom echoes that idea. A car lover, and an outdoorsman, as well as a videographer, he has strong feelings about media freedom. “I believe that the Internet ought to be the one place that needs to be unregulated and where we can transfer information freely across the globe,” he said. “If you think Obama is a communist you ought to be able to say it.”

His classmate Ralph comes from a small town in rural California. He plans to become a schoolteacher and a football coach at a high school. “I love my generation,” he says. “I think we’re great. But we also ought to realize that the media pushes a lot of crap on us and we hungrily eat it up, even when we know its crap.”

The students in the class were all proud of themselves and their peers, and proud of their generation, too. But they were also critical of their generation. In fact, no one is more critical of this generation than the members of the generation themselves. They all feel that in the rush to embrace new media much that is valuable had been lost, and much of it might be irretrievable.

“Text messaging has taken away the mystery of the first date, the mystery of a conversation,” Janet said. Like many others in the class she had clear expectations of what she hoped for after she graduated from college and went to work. “I want to dress like I want (no uniforms),” she said. “I don’t want to be censored by any company I work for. I want to know the truth about everything, and I want to know what is happening at the company, too. There will be no holding me back, and not any of us, either I suspect. We’ve known freedoms through the new media and no one will be able to take them from us – at least not without a fight.”

Karen – who noted that the world seem to be changing every 50 minutes -- had drawn up a list of rules for herself -- and for anyone else who was looking for rules for themselves. Her list sounded new and fresh, and yet it might have been written fifty years ago, as well: “be kind and gracious; work hard and don’t half-ass things; be honest -- lying only hurts you, especially within the media; and stay true to yourself in a world of fakes and liars.”

[Jonah Raskin is a prominent author, poet, educator and political activist. His most recent book is The Radical Jack London: Writings on War and Revolution. He contributes regularly to The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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Unions: The 'Risk' of Secret Ballot Elections

Randel K. Johnson of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Betting Against the American Middle Class
By Leo Gerard / May 26, 2009

Randel K. Johnson, vice president of that esteemed group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently revealed a corporate-squelched truth in a slip of the tongue.

During a debate on May 15 with Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO about the Employee Free Choice Act, Johnson admitted – finally – that the act preserves secret ballot elections for unions. The act would allow workers – rather than employers – to decide whether to form a union by conducting a secret ballot election or by collecting signed membership cards from a majority of workers.

Incredibly, for as much as unearned-bonus-grubbing-CEOs have lied about secret ballots in their relentless campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act, that was not Johnson’s revelation.

No, here’s what he disclosed: If the act passes, he said, “It would be a rare union that would decide to risk a normal secret ballot election.

Risk. Interesting word, Mr. Johnson.

The Chamber of Commerce knows there’s a huge risk to secret ballot elections. And the Chamber likes it that way. Employers stack the deck against workers in secret ballot elections. They don’t publicly admit it though. That’s why Johnson’s use of the word “risk” was so surprising.

The Chamber and big corporations like Wal-Mart are intent on defeating the act because it would remove from employers the power to force workers to conduct secret ballot elections. It would strip from employers that ability to generate risk, to defeat unions, and thus to further shrink wages and the American middle class.

A Cornell University professor, Kate Bronfenbrenner, who has researched labor issues for a quarter century, issued a new study last week that clearly illustrates the risk of secret ballot elections and how employers have labored long and hard to increase that risk in recent years. It’s called, “No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organization.”

Among the tactics she documents employers using in the weeks before the “secret ballot” election to thwart unionization are firing of union organizers, threats to close the plant or cut wages and benefits, and forcing workers to meet one-on-one with supervisors who intimidate and interrogate them to determine whether they support the union.

Bronfenbrenner concluded, “This combination of threats, interrogation, surveillance, and harassment has ensured that there is no such thing as a democratic ‘secret ballot’ in the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) certification election process. The progression of actions the employer has taken can ensure that the employer knows exactly which way every worker plans to vote long before the election takes place.”

Her study showed employers implementing these tactics more frequently than in the past. When she compared organizing campaigns in this five-year period to those in the studies over the previous 20 years, she discovered two disconcerting facts: the cases in which employers used 10 of these threatening techniques in the run-up to elections more than doubled. And employers focused much more on coercive and punitive methods rather than positive procedures such as unscheduled raises and promotions.

Not surprisingly, she also found that as employers exploited harsher tactics and intensified their attacks in the weeks before “secret balloting,” the union was more likely to lose. And, conversely, she found that in campaigns where public sector workers tried organizing and government agencies refrained from coercive and illegal tactics, the union was significantly more likely to win.

If it weren’t so easy for employers to create risk for workers, millions more could get the union protection they want. Surveys show an increasing number of American workers desire a union. In the mid 1990s, it was 40 percent. Now it’s 53 percent. Yet only 12.4 percent of American workers have that protection – and the better wages and benefits that go with it.

Bronfenbrenner addressed this issue in her report: “Our findings suggest that the aspirations for representation are being thwarted by a coercive and punitive climate for organizing that goes unrestrained due to a fundamentally flawed regulatory regime that neither protects their rights nor provides any disincentive for employers to continue disregarding the law.”

She continues: “Unless serious labor law reform with real penalties is enacted, only a fraction of the workers who seek representation under the National Labor Relations Act will be successful.”

That reform is the Employee Free Choice Act, and there’s the point of Johnson’s use of the word risk. The Chamber of Commerce intends to kill the act and leave risk fully on the shoulders of workers. As Bronfenbrenner showed, that would mean fewer will be unionized. Middle class wages and benefits would continue to decline.

It is time for American workers to stop bearing all of the risk. They’re working for less and bailing out the very people who are obstructing their ability to fairly bargain for more.

In October, Bank of America, which has received more than $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money, hosted a conference call with conservatives and business officials, including a representative of AIG, which has received more than $100 billion in taxpayer bailout money, to organize opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. Then in March, just days after the act was introduced, Citigroup Inc., which got $50 billion in bailout money, hosted a similar conference call, this one led by Glenn Spencer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

During the October call, Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, said he should be on a 350-foot boat in the Mediterranean, but he thought fighting the Employee Free Choice Act was more important because, “This is the demise of a civilization. . . This is how a civilization disappears.”

Yes, the Employee Free Choice Act could contribute ever so slightly to dissipation of a decadent class. Unionization is how the middle class re-emerges. America could do without a few filthy-rich boys lolling on yachts in the Mediterranean. At the heart of America, however, must be a strong and broad middle class.

Source / Blog for Our Future

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / The Rag Blog

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30 May 2009

Report : Americans Now Support Progressive Ideas

"Public Opinion," mixed media by Andrey Benyei.

The results are in: Americans are now more closely aligned with progressive ideas than at any time in memory

By Joshua Holland / May 30, 2009.

On issue after substantive issue, significant majorities of Americans favor progressive solutions to the nation's problems and reject the right's worldview. That's true whether the issue at hand is taxes, war and peace, the role of government in the economy, health care, and on and on.

Yet the idea that America is a "center-right" nation persists; Republican and conservative activists repeat the assertion ad nauseum -- as it's in their interest to do -- and most of the political press corps swallows it whole.

The idea is like a zombie -- you can bludgeon it, burn it or get Dick Cheney to shoot it in the face, but it keeps coming -- it will not die.

The persistence of the center-right narrative, even in the face of piles of evidence suggesting it's little more than a myth, has very real consequences on our political discourse.

Aside from coloring the way the media covers -- and the public views -- the vital issues of the day, it impacts progressive activists, who even when they have the wind at their backs often feel the need to move slowly, cautiously and in ways that will minimize direct confrontation with the conservative movement.

Progressives have long begun the legislative process in the middle and then moved to the center-right, when the reality is that the country is looking for bold changes, not incremental tinkering.

This week, a new report released by the Campaign for America's Future and the media watchdog group MediaMatters attempts to finally bury the idea that the U.S. leans rightward. It takes a comprehensive look at the political landscape in which we live and a look forward at America's shifting demographic profile -- all of which reveal a citizenry that is anything but center-right and will only continue to trend in a more progressive direction, leaving modern conservatism increasingly isolated in its ideas.

The study gathered public-opinion data from a number of respected, nonpartisan polling outfits, findings from the (huge) National Election Study series and official statistics on ethnicity and gender to make the case. Among the findings:
  • On what may be the key difference between liberals and conservatives today -- the role of government -- more than twice as many people agree with the statement, "there are more things government should be doing" than believe the Reaganite adage, "the less government, the better."

  • In 1994, more than half of Americans said, "government regulation of business usually does more harm than good" and fewer than 4 out of 10 thought "government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest." That's been flipped on its head during the 15 years since -- today, fewer than 4 in 10 believe regulation causes more harm than good.

  • A majority (55-70 percent, depending on how the question is worded) believes it's the government's responsibility to provide health care to all Americans; fewer than a third of those responding to a CBS/New York Times poll thought health insurance should be "left only to private enterprise."

  • Almost 2 out of 3 Americans believe the taxes they pay are fair, and that the very wealthy pay too little in taxes; almost 7 in 10 believe corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes.
During a conference call with reporters, Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America's future, acknowledged that until 15 to 20 years ago, a center-right coalition of conservatives and political moderates did represent a majority of the electorate, but noted that the views of moderates and independents have grown much more closely aligned with those of more progressive voters, and the result is a center-left mandate for the new administration and Democratic-controlled Congress.

What's more, the country's changing demographics suggest that America will continue to be a center-left country in the coming decades. The most progressive (or at least solidly Democratic-leaning) constituencies in the country -- single women, African Americans and other minority groups, young people -- are growing as a share of the electorate, while the "Reagan Democrats" -- older, working-class whites -- who were the backbone of the conservative movement are declining as a share of the population.

Page Gardner, founder of Women's Voices/Women Vote, said of the new coalition, "if you look at their views across the board, they're incredibly progressive."

More Americans are also living in high-density urban environments than ever before, which political scientists have long held creates more tolerance for diversity and in general a more receptive attitude toward the role of government in one's daily life.

Finally, the report notes that the social issues that used to inspire not only the right but also many in the center are rapidly losing traction -- in part because of the demographic trends described above.

Most Americans remain pro-choice (despite one oddly-worded Gallup poll to the contrary), and while a slim majority opposes full marriage equality for gays and lesbians, the general level of acceptance of gays and lesbians is growing ever greater.

That a sea-change is happening in America's political culture should be apparent by the results of the last election, a race that the Republican party explicitly framed as a question of ideology, accusing Barack Obama of being very far to the left -- even deriding him as a cryptosocialist.

But the authors of the report point out, "for the press, Democratic victories are explained away as candidates having moved to the right, while Republican victories are confirmed as a true expression of America's conservative pulse."

And it's not just returns from the election -- the report notes:

Conservative commentators, particularly those on Fox News, have portrayed Obama as so liberal that his activist agenda bordered on socialist or even Marxist. Yet according to Gallup polling, Obama's approval ratings for this first 100 days in office were higher than those of any president since Ronald Reagan and higher than seven of the last eight presidents at the 100-day mark. It doesn't seem likely that an entrenched center-right nation would reward such a liberal president with historically high job approval.

But as MediaMatters Director Eric Burns outlined, by and large, the media have not only failed to fully acknowledge the ideological outlook of the American electorate, the months since the election has been marked by the "mainstreaming of incredibly conservative views" within America's pundit class, with "sometimes violent" rhetoric being debated as if it were comfortably within the mainstream.

Burns suggested that part of the reason the center-right meme persists is that many political reporters today cut their teeth in the era of the "Reagan Revolution" and during the "Clinton wars" of the 1990s -- an era in which conservatives were ascendant.

Another factor is that there hasn't been a significant shift in Americans' self-described ideology, as a much-discussed Pew poll taken just after the election found.

Pew's research showed, "Only about 1 in 5 Americans currently call themselves liberal (21 percent), while 38 percent say they are conservative and 36 percent describe themselves as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George W. Bush was first elected president, 18 percent of Americans said they were liberal, 36 percent were conservative and 38 percent considered themselves moderate."

The problem with self-identification, however, is that it hinges on how one defines those labels -- an individual may say he or she is conservative for a variety of reasons, but that same person may favor the progressive position on every issue down the line. According to the most recent (1997) Household Survey of Adult Civic Participation, only around half of Americans could say "which party is more conservative at the national level."

It's ultimately issues that get decided in Washington, and the report issued this week adds to an already-large body of data suggesting that Americans are highly receptive to progressive arguments on issue after issue, regardless of with which label they may identify themselves.

Source / AlterNet

Thanks to Harry Targ / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

The Jindal Way : Get Rid of a Good Thing

Residents at the John J. Hainkel Jr. Home and Rehabilitation Center in New Orleans.

Louisiana Catastrophe Redux
The administration of Governor Bobby Jindal announced its intentions to introduce legislation to sell the Hainkel Home through a press release without seeking any input from residents, patients, family relations, or community stakeholders.
By Will H. Rogers / The Rag Blog / May 30, 2009

NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s administration figured a state-run nursing facility housed people who couldn't speak up, was located in a city presumed to have lost any voice, was likely to be of poor quality, and probably cost Louisiana a lot to run. The facts don’t jive with the Jindal agenda, but align perfectly with a Republican strategy of shrinking government and outsourcing to cronies.

The John J. Hainkel Jr. Home and Rehabilitation Center, located at 612 Henry Clay Avenue in New Orleans, serves those who suffer from serious illness or disability, the elderly, and Adult Day Health Care clients. Over a century old, the Home was founded as the New Orleans Home for the Incurables by a group of community-minded women who witnessed a need and responded with a mission to serve the indigent and handicapped.

The John J. Hainkel Jr. Home and Rehabilitation Center has operated as a Louisiana State facility since the 1970's with support from a non-profit charitable organization (The New Orleans Home for the Incurables) still committed to its original values. Volunteer groups donate time and resources to grounds maintenance, patient care and resident activities to enhance services.

The administration of Governor Bobby Jindal announced its intentions to introduce legislation to sell the Hainkel Home through a press release without seeking any input from residents, patients, family relations, or community stakeholders. After much opposition, the Jindal administration altered course with a re-written bill (HB 783) to lease the Home. Residents, patients, and clients in the Adult Day Health Care oppose both the sale and/or lease of the Hainkel Home.

The Hainkel Home provides needed services to the disabled and elderly in an area with a shortage of providers, in a brutal post-Katrina environment, services that are sorely needed.

The Hainkel Home maintains one of the highest national quality ratings in the State of Louisiana. It is a bright spot for New Orleans and a state that so often ranks 49th or 50th in health and human services rankings.

The Hainkel Home is a teaching facility where LSU, Delgado, Nunez, and Loyola physician, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and dental hygiene students can learn in a geriatric and rehabilitation setting.

But, perhaps most damaging to the Jindal agenda, the Hainkel Home is cost effective. A payer mixture of 85% Medicaid clientele, and other Veterans Administration, Medicare, and private insurance covered patients and residents has enabled the Hainkel Home to cover operational costs and return funds to the Louisiana State Treasury for six years running.

As more facts came to light, the Jindal Administration has backtracked and amended legislation. The fiscal projections provided to legislators on the House Health and Welfare Committee had to be swapped out as hearings began in order to reflect reality. Amendments were even added while the hearing was under way. A sloppy bill passed the Committee by the narrowest of 9-7 margins.

The full House votes on Monday, June 1, 2009. Those wishing to help have been urged to contact Representative Neil Abramson at abramson@legis.state.la.us to express support for his efforts in opposing House Bill 783. Or to contact New Orleans Home for the Incurables Board Director Mary Rodrigue at (817) 372-4616 to express support for efforts to save the Hainkel Home and not allow its sale or lease.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Socialized Medicine? Canadian Health Care Saved my Father's Life

The following anecdote about Canadian health care, about which we here in the South hear much negativity, came to me from a friend whose reliability I respect. Due to the intimate nature of the report, identifying information was removed to protect the author's privacy.

Nonetheless, it presents a picture very different from that seen in U.S. mainstream media, and definitely more encouraging about the quality of "socialized medicine." and the details are quite convincing. We've chosen to credit the author as "A Canadian Friend."

Mariann G. Wizard
/ The Rag Blog / May 30, 2009
My father was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. After quality treatment and an emergency operation, he was completely cured. The tab: $113 for a rental tv.

By A Canadian Friend / The Rag Blog / May 30, 2009

Due to the confusion and inconsistencies I have seen (especially lately) concerning the Canadian health care system, I feel I must convey my experience this last year with everyone…

My father was a healthy man. Mid-sixties, about 30-40 lbs overweight, but in general overall good health. Non-smoker (except the odd stogie), recreational drinker. In December 2008 he went in for his annual physical and was given a clean bill of health. In fact the doctor said he was extremely healthy –- everything was good.

Fast forward to February 2009. One week-end we noticed his eyes and the area around his eyes were turning yellow. The coming Monday my mother took him to the emergency room as it gradually worsened over the next day or so. Dad was taken in immediately –- no waiting whatsoever. They quickly determined he had a blockage in his lower intestine that was affecting his liver –- he was turning jaundiced and his blood was slowly poisoning him. This quickly turned into a serious situation.

He was immediately given an appointment to see a specialist in London, Ontario, two days later, the Wednesday. They did a scope and determined that there was a blockage coming from the head of his Pancreas –- no need to say anything further –- we all knew what that meant...

The initial diagnosis was pancreatic cancer –- he had approximately 2-3 months to live. Needless to say, this was quite a shock considering the results from his recent physical and just the fact that he has always been very healthy. The cancer was likely going to spread to his liver, lungs, etc and the prognosis was terminal. The doctors stressed this was just an initial diagnosis and more tests would be done to see if anything could be done, i.e. surgery, chemo, etc.

This is when a certain surgeon entered our lives, and literally saved my father’s life. He decided that there was only one option: a surgery called the “Whipple Procedure." Basically this is one of the harshest surgeriess, save for an organ transplant, the body can handle. Per Wikipedia:
It consists of removal of the distal half of the stomach (antrectomy), the gall bladder (cholecystectomy), the distal portion of the common bile duct (choledochectomy), the head of the pancreas, duodenum, proximal jejunum, and regional lymph nodes. Reconstruction consists of attaching the pancreas to the jejunum (pancreaticojejunostomy) and attaching the common bile duct to the jejunum (choledochojejunostomy) to allow digestive juices and bile to flow into the gastrointestinal tract and attaching the stomach to the jejunum (gastrojejunostomy) to allow food to pass through.
Yeah –- we couldn’t believe an operation like this was possible either... it is an eight and a half hour surgery.

Fast forward three weeks. This was the earliest they could do the operation due to the fact that dad needed to prepare his body, get stronger and flush a lot of toxins out. They took him at the first available spot they could. He went in on a Monday morning, 7:00 a.m. with the operation scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m. The surgeon came to us before he began and stated the following, “This is an eight to nine hour surgery. If you see me before six hours is up, it’s bad news. Either he expired or we found too much cancer and it would not be feasible to operate." I was astounded by honesty and compassion. He stated he HAD to tell us this so we knew all the risks associated. This was an amazing man and I felt lucky dad had him doing the operation.

After staring at the clock for six hours, you could feel the anxiety lift as the clock slowly turned past 2:00 p.m. then 3:00 p.m. and then finally around 5:00 p.m. the good surgeon came out and gave us the good news. He got all the cancer and the operation was a complete success. Unbelievably, we were able to see dad that night around 8:00 p.m. when he woke up –- in surprisingly good spirits. We were not out of the woods yet though…

He had numerous internal stitches that needed to heal. He had an incision from his hips to his chest that took 52 staples to close. The next few days were critical. He was put in a semi-private room called a step down room. This is where they send patients who just went through something as major as this procedure, with the purpose of "round the clock" observation.

For the first two days, the nurses NEVER left his side. He constantly had a nurse at his bedside, taking care of his every need and whim. That blew me away. The care and concern these nurses showed was unbelievable. I consider them to be lifesavers as well. Also the good surgeon checked on him many times per day and even the day of the operation he came and checked on him at 10:30 p.m. that night. Think about that –- he had to be up before 6:00 a.m. to get ready –- worked on dad from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and still was at the hospital at 10:30 p.m. to check on my dad. This was an amazing man.

We’re going on three weeks post-op. Dad came home 11 days after the surgery with 15 days being the average stay. He is starting to gain weight and his colour has returned. As an atheist, I hate the word, "miracle" but I have no problem stating that the surgeon and nurse who looked after my dad were and are "miracle workers." They can never be compensated or thanked enough for what they did for our family. These are the true heroes in society.

How much did this cost my family? $113.00. And that was to rent a TV for dad’s room for a week. That is it. What would this have cost in the U.S.? Since my parents are of meager means, it was an absolute lifesaver that they did not need to worry about being financially ruined over this. Here’s a kicker as well... the cost of all the trips my parents and I had to make to go the hospital for appointments, etc. is tax deductible. So we will see most of that TV rental money back anyway. You gotta love it.

In closing this is just one story that illustrates what I believe to be the average experience that we lucky Canadians are privileged enough to enjoy with our health care system. Is it perfect? No, it is not. I would like to see more preventive procedures being free, such as routine eye appointments, but that was just recently taken away by our provincial government –- I can see that coming back in the future. And yes, before the freepers start to chime in, it isn’t technically "free," as we pay very high taxes, but I’d rather see that money go to health care than world domination and endless oil wars.

Canadians are known as passive and very docile and the perception exists that we will just roll over and take whatever is pushed on us. But I know one thing for sure –- take away our healthcare system or try to "Americanize" it and you will see blood pouring in the streets. Revolution. This is one issue I believe all Canadians can agree on. It is a fundamental human right to have access to the best health care possible –- how anyone can see it different than this is mind-boggling.

Source /

The Rag Blog

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Gaza: Still in Misery Following the War

Four months after Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, Suad Khadir and her family are still living in a tent. To escape the heat, they often seek refuge under the rubble. Photo: Ashraf Amra/New York Times.

Misery Hangs Over Gaza Despite Pledges of Help
By Ethan Bronner / May 28, 2009

GAZA — Dozens of families still live in tents amid collapsed buildings and rusting pipes. With construction materials barred, a few are building mud-brick homes. Everything but food and medicine has to be smuggled through desert tunnels from Egypt. Among the items that people seek is an addictive pain reliever used to fight depression.

Four months after Israel waged a war here to stop Hamas rocket fire and two years after Hamas took full control of this coastal strip, Gaza is like an island adrift. Squeezed from without by an Israeli and Egyptian boycott and from within by their Islamist rulers, the 1.5 million people here are cut off from any productivity or hope.

“Right after the war, everybody came — journalists, foreign governments and charities promising to help,” said Hashem Dardona, 47, who is unemployed. “Now, nobody comes.”

But with the Obama administration pressing Israel to allow in reconstruction materials, and with attention increasingly focused on internal Palestinian divisions, Gaza will soon be back at the center of Middle East peace negotiations. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, met with President Obama on Thursday in Washington.

For many Israelis, Gaza is a symbol of all that is wrong with Palestinian sovereignty, which they view increasingly as an opportunity for anti-Israeli forces, notably Iran, to get within rocket range.

The ruins of the parliament building in Gaza City, which was destroyed by Israel during the war four months ago. Photo: Ashraf Amra/New York Times.

That leaves Gaza suspended in a state of misery that defies easy categorization. It is, of course, crowded and poor, but it is better off than nearly all of Africa as well as parts of Asia. There is no acute malnutrition, and infant mortality rates compare with those in Egypt and Jordan, according to Mahmoud Daher of the World Health Organization here.

This is because although Israel and Egypt have shut the borders for the past three years in an effort to squeeze Hamas, Israel rations aid daily, allowing in about 100 trucks of food and medicine. Military officers in Tel Aviv count the calories to avoid a disaster. And the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees runs schools and medical clinics that are clean and efficient.

But there are many levels of deprivation short of catastrophe, and Gaza inhabits most of them. It has almost nothing of a functioning economy apart from basic commerce and farming. Education has declined terribly; medical care is declining.

There are tens of thousands of educated and ambitious people here, teachers, engineers, translators, business managers, who have nothing to do but grow frustrated. They cannot practice their professions and they cannot leave. They collect welfare and smoke in cafes. A United Nations survey shows a spike in domestic violence.

Some people say they have started to take a small capsule known as Tramal, the commercial name for an opiate-like painkiller that increases sexual desire and a sense of control. Hamas has recently warned of imprisonment for those who traffic in and take the drug.

Yet the pills arrive, along with clothing, furniture and cigarettes, through the hundreds of tunnels punched into the desert at the southern border town of Rafah by rough-edged entrepreneurs who pay the Hamas authorities a tax on the goods.

A smuggler digging a tunnel at the border of Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Everything but food and medicine has to be smuggled in. Photo: Ashraf Amra for The New York Times.

Similar tunnels also serve as conduits for arms. Israel periodically bombs those in hopes of weakening Hamas, which says it will never recognize Israel and will reserve the right to use violence against it until it leaves all the land it won in the 1967 war. After that, there would be a 10-year truce while the next steps were contemplated, although the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel in any borders.

Israel began the siege after Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. It was tightened after Hamas pushed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in June 2007. Iranian backing for Hamas has added to Israel’s conviction that the siege is the right path.

The aim is to keep Gaza at subsistence and offer a contrast with the West Bank, which in theory benefits from foreign aid and economic and political development. Hamas supporters will then realize their mistake. The plan has not gone well, however, partly because the West Bank under Israeli occupation remains no one’s idea of paradise and partly because Hamas seems more in control here every year, with cleaner streets and lower crime, although its popularity is hard to gauge.

“Hamas is learning from its mistakes and getting stronger and stronger,” said Sharhabeel al-Zaeem, a prominent lawyer here. He and others have been urging international officials to get construction materials and other goods into Gaza through the closed crossings.

They argue that the current system serves only Hamas, since it taxes the illicit tunnel goods and limited currency exchanges and is not blamed by the people for the outside siege. If glass and cement were allowed in through the crossings with Israel, they say, Hamas would not get the credit and the Palestinian Authority could collect the taxes.

“The people of Gaza are depressed, and depressed people turn to myth and fantasy, meaning religion and drugs,” said Jawdat Khoudary, a building contractor. “This kind of a prison feeds extremism. Let people see out to see a different version of reality.”

Israeli officials remain skeptical of opening the borders. Many believe that their war served as deterrence and note the drastic reduction in rocket fire as evidence. They fear that steel or cement will be siphoned off by Hamas for arms. But they are feeling pressure from the Americans and United Nations, and they are discussing a pilot project.

Meanwhile, Gaza feels more and more like a Hamas state and less linked to the West Bank. Men are increasingly bearded, women are more covered. Hamas is the main employer. Schools and courts, once run by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, are all Hamas. The government is collecting information on companies and nonprofit groups and seeking control over them.

Many here are especially worried about the young. At a program aimed at helping those traumatized by the January war, teenagers are offered colored markers to draw anything they like, says Farah Abu Qasem, 20, a student of English translation who volunteers at the program.

“They seem only to choose black and to draw things like tanks,” she said. “And when we ask them to draw something that represents the future, they leave the paper blank.”

[Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting.]

Source / New York Times

The Rag Blog

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'Pedro' Tancredo : GOP Mad Buffoon du Jour

Pedro Tancredo in full battle array. Graphic by Larry Ray / The Rag Blog.

Republican attack dog Tom Tancredo calls Sonia Sotomayor a racist
This is just the tip of the iceberg of a long list of hateful, insane acts and statements by Tancredo.
By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / May 30, 2009

Like a buzzard to fresh roadkill, disgraced former GOP congressman, Tom Tancredo could not pass up the lights and cameras. Dusting off his career xenophobic Latino bashing, he attacked Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor calling her a "racist."

In case you don't immediately place Uncle Tom Tancredo, he is the grandson of Italian immigrants and ran for congress from Colorado's 6th Congressional District promising to only serve three terms. Tancredo stumped with unforgettable magniloquence, "We want to reinvigorate the electoral process by introducing people into the system who think of government service as a temporary endeavor, not as a career."

He etched in stone his three term limit promise saying, "For me, the issue of giving one's word and promising to do something like this is more important than the rest of it ... I took the pledge. I will live up to the pledge. That's it. That's the overriding issue."

Tancredo broke his pledge and ran for a fourth term in Congress in 2004.

Then on April 2, 2007, Tancredo announced that he would run for President in the 2008 election. His singular platform issue, his signature fixation, was illegal immigrants and immigration reform.

In the May 3, 2007 debate among the ten candidates for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, Tancredo was one of three who raised their hands when asked if anyone did not believe in the theory of evolution. Starting to place him now?

A month before he dropped out of the race, he ran a TV ad with a voice of death warning, "There are consequences to open borders beyond the 20 million aliens who have come to take our jobs ... the price we pay for spineless politicians who refuse to defend our borders against those who come to kill." Mercifully, he ended his candidacy on his 62nd birthday.

During his time as a US Congressman, he was a strident anti-abortionist, and had hawkish pronouncements on the Iraq war, even though when he was eligible for the Vietnam war draft, in June 1969 he went for his physical, telling doctors he had been treated for depression, and eventually got a "1-Y" deferment.

Though he was raised a Roman Catholic, he attacked Pope Benedict XVI for "encouraging illegal immigration to the USA to boost membership in the Catholic Church." Tancredo now attends a Christian evangelical church.

But illegal immigration is his constant one-note samba. Whenever Lou Dobbs hears it he dances gleefully.

Tancredo was persona non grata at the White House after getting into a shouting match with Karl Rove, ranting at him, "if the nation suffered another attack at the hands of terrorists able to skirt immigration laws, the blood of the people killed would be on Bush's and Congress’ hands." Rove had him blacklisted from entering the White House, calling Tancredo a "traitor to the Party."

Tancredo said if we have another terrorist attack on the USA we should bomb Mecca.

He suggested that state legislators and 'sanctuary city' mayors should be imprisoned for passing laws contrary to federal immigration law.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of a long list of hateful, insane acts and statements by Tancredo who, incidentally, was given an A+ for his opposition to amnesty for illegal aliens by "Americans for Better Immigration." The average Congressmen was given a C+.

Last Thursday, May 28th, Tancredo appeared on CNN to voice his opposition to Judge Sotomayor as nominee for appointment to the Supreme Court. CNN host, Rick Sanchez asked him if he thought Sonia Sotomayor is a racist, Tancredo replied “certainly her words would indicate that that is the truth” and he then compared the Hispanic-American advocacy group. "La Raza" to the KKK.

And Tancredo would know about the KKK. On September 11, 2006 in Colombia, South Carolina he was guest speaker before a group he helped form, the "Americans Have Had Enough Coalition." The room in which he spoke was reportedly decked out with large portraits of Robert E. Lee and lots of Confederate battle flags. After Tancredo spoke, men dressed in Confederate uniforms are said to have broken into a rousing chorus of "Dixie."

Tancredo panders to racists. He thunders about "racial multiculturalism" being the ruin of America. He called Miami a "Third World Country." Governor Jeb Bush called his remarks "naive" and countless organizations and political leaders have denounced Tancredo's blatant racism.

I will stop here, but I just wanted to paint a clear picture of this loud, mistaken dogmatist who now is the latest spokesperson du jour for the leaderless Republican Party, whether they like it or not.

Today some Republican Congressmen started breaking ranks with their sour conservative party core calling Tancredo's rant disgraceful and not representative of the Grand Old Party. Even GOP Party Chairman, Michael Steele, has completely disavowed Tancredo.

Judge Sotomayor's early comment, taken out of context by both Tancredo and Rush Limbaugh, who compared Sotomayor to KKK leader David Duke, will certainly be thoroughly reviewed in her upcoming confirmation hearing. Hopefully Republicans in the hearing will not take the low road.

Too bad Tancredo and Limbaugh are both opponents of same-sex marriage, because theirs would be a marriage made in hypocrites' heaven.

[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]

The Rag Blog

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29 May 2009

Labor Justice : 'Last Vestige of Slavery and Segregation'

“Brothers of the Sun” by Luana Boutilier / Farmworker Movement
...two groups of our most highly exploited workers have been denied the law's protections -- farm workers, and housekeepers, nannies, and other domestic workers.
By Dick Meister / May 28, 2009

It's been three-quarters of a century since enactment of the National Labor Relations Act that grants U.S. workers the basic legal right of unionization -- the right to bargain with employers on setting their wages, hours and working conditions.

But for all that time, two groups of our most highly exploited workers have been denied the law's protections -- farm workers, and housekeepers, nannies, and other domestic workers.

Congress should remedy the situation by amending the law to include the excluded workers. Which is the goal of a campaign - "Labor Justice" -- that's been launched by two veterans of United Farm Worker union campaigns, longtime UFW activist LeRoy Chatfield and former UFW attorney Jerry Cohen. They've already won the backing of labor, political, civil rights, academic, religious and community leaders and organizations in more than 30 states.

Chatfield and Cohen played key roles in passing the 1975 law that granted union rights to California's farm workers. There have been drives to enact similar laws in other states, but none have even come close to passing. Neither have drives for state laws to grant union rights to domestic workers.

The need to extend the legal protections is obvious. Most farm workers' pay is at or near the poverty level. They typically have few fringe benefits and very little legal protection from employer mistreatment.

Domestic workers, some of them self-employed, some of them employees of companies that hire them out, also generally earn little more than poverty-level pay and have few benefits. Most are women, who often are subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Some have formed union-like organizations to seek better treatment, but need the force of law behind them.

The "Labor Justice" campaign leaders call the exclusion of farm workers and domestics from the protections of the Labor Relations Act "one of our nation's last vestiges of slavery and segregation."

Certainly the exclusion is at the least racist, since the vast majority of U.S. farm and domestic workers are Latino immigrants. In a letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis urging the Obama administration to back the proposed expansion of the law, Cohen compared the exclusion of farm workers and domestics to the situation in racist South Africa under Apartheid. "Blacks," Cohen noted, were specifically excluded from the protections of South Africa's equivalent of the National Labor Relations Act.

It was racism, in fact, that kept farm workers and domestics from being granted the protection of the U,S. law originally, although it was a more subtle racism - a "sleight of hand," as Cohen said.

At the time of the law's introduction in 1935 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, most farm workers and domestics were African-American. The segregationist Southern Democrats in Congress, an important part of FDR's political base, absolutely refused to vote for a law that would grant African-American workers the same rights as white workers.

So, as presented to Congress by Roosevelt and as passed, the Labor Relations Act, the basic labor law of the land, specifically excluded from its legal protections "agricultural laborers" and anyone "in the domestic service of any family or person."

But now, 74 years later, we finally have the opportunity to correct that shameful exclusion. Finally, we have the chance to provide every worker - every one of them - the vital right of unionization.

[Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based journalist, has covered labor and political issues for a half-century as a print, broadcast and online reporter, editor and commentator. Contact him through his website.]

Source / Portside

Also see Key Leaders Endorse National Labor Justice Campaign by Randy Shaw / Beyond Chron / LA Progressive / April 14, 2009

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / The Rag Blog

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