30 June 2009

Drone Attacks 'Violated International Humanitarian Law' in Gaza War

Israeli drones fly over the Gaza Strip in January 2009, as seen from Gaza City. According to the US-based Human Rights Watch, Israeli armed drones killed scores of Palestinian civilians during the Gaza war despite their cutting-edge targeting technology. Photo: AFP/File/Mahmud Hams.

When Drones Become Indiscriminate
By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler / June 30, 2009

JERUSALEM - The concerted effort of international human rights activists to rein in violations of laws of war was given a major impetus when Human Rights Watch researchers presented a report Tuesday on the unbridled use by the Israeli military of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCLAV), commonly known as drones, during Israel's 22-day assault on Hamas in Gaza at the beginning of the year.

Entitled 'Precisely Wrong', the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report focuses on six cases of Israeli drone-launched missile attacks in which 29 Palestinian civilians, eight of them children, were killed. Based on cross-referenced eyewitness accounts corroborated by doctors, as well as ballistics and forensic evidence collected on the attack sites, the report asserts that "in none of the cases did HRW find evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time.

"These attacks violated international humanitarian law," the report states in unequivocal terms, following a ten-day investigation.

Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at the emergencies programme of HRW, estimates that at least 87 civilians were killed in 42 drone attacks. "Israel's targeting choices are unacceptable and unlawful," he declared at a press conference in East Jerusalem, "especially (considering) that UCLAV provide the most precise platform in the military arsenal, and that Israel is the world leader in drone technology."

The report includes technical information about drones and drone-launched missiles. Israeli drones have advanced sensors, combining radars, electro- optical and infrared cameras, and lasers providing real time imaging by day and night. "Those sensors enable a drone operator to determine if a person on the ground is armed," stressed Garlasco.

In addition to these high-resolution cameras, a missile fired from a drone has its own cameras that allow the operator to observe the target from the moment of firing. "If a last-second doubt arises about a target, the operator can divert the fired missile with a joystick," the report notes.

Everything viewed by the drone operator is recorded. "There is no fog of war with such drones," Garlasco said. "Yet, the Israeli army failed to distinguish between military objectives and civilians."

According to Palestinian sources, 900 civilians were killed during the military operations, among a total of more than 1,400 killed. The HRW report says a third of the fatalities were from drone-launched missiles. Israeli sources put the civilian death toll at 300.

"HRW is not against the use of drone in warfare. Its accuracy and concentrated blast radius can indeed reduce civilian casualties," Garlasco conceded. But "drones, much like sniper rifles, are only as good at sparing civilians as the care taken by the people who operate them."

The Israeli army questions the credibility of the HRW investigation. "The report is based on anonymous Palestinian sources whose knowledge of military issues is doubtful, who are clearly not impartial observers, and who are part of the propaganda machine in Gaza," it said in a statement.

"We conducted interviews separate from Hamas activists," counters Garlasco. "If there were fighters, the interviews were stopped immediately; we just did not use them."

Garlasco acknowledges that the testimonies collected are limited. "Mistakes can happen, but here there is a clear pattern - many civilians were killed. It seems Israeli rules of engagement were very loose - keeping Israeli casualties to a minimum, valuing the lives of soldiers more than those of Palestinian civilians."

The report calls on Israel to conduct a "case-by-case investigation" into the use of drone-launched missiles. "Military or civilian personnel found responsible for committing or ordering unlawful drone attacks should be disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate."

"This report has a look to the future," says Garlasco. "It's a cautionary tale to the U.S. continued use of UCLAV in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Human rights activists have increasingly voiced their concern over U.S. reliance on a drone-launched missile attack policy. In a stinging report submitted earlier this month to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, UN special investigator Philip Alston charged that the U.S. has created "zones of impunity" by rarely investigating private contractors and civilian intelligence agents involved in the killing of civilians from drone attacks. Alston urged that an independent special prosecutor be charged with pursuing criminal allegations against government officials accused of wrongdoing.

"Even when you're attacking a legitimate military objective, you cannot cause civilian casualties that exceed the value of a legitimate military attack," says Garlasco. Still, the reliance on drone tactics - and the strategic cutting-edge drones increasingly provide - may surpass the power of human rights in international forums. Last week, Israel's Channel Two revealed that Israel had conditioned the sale to Russia of a dozen drones, on Moscow not selling Iran advanced anti-aircraft missile technology. Iran has sought to deploy the Russian S300 air defence missile system against a possible Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities.

Moscow became aware of a need for advanced drones during its war with Georgia last summer. Georgia operated Israeli-made spy drones, which proved highly effective. The Russians used a drone of their own without great success. Russian military officials have made no secret of their intention to use Israeli models to improve their drone development programme.

Source / IPS News

The Rag Blog

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Dick J. Reavis : Journalism Faces Full Court Press

Full Court Press

Until and unless the press understands that its mission is to be the champion of the people’s welfare, nobody can plan for its recovery.
By Dick J. Reavis / The Rag Blog / June 30, 2009

As almost everybody knows, the outlook for the mainstream press is bleak. Metro dailies like the Austin American-Statesman are likely to shutter within a decade. National newspapers like The New York Times may survive as ink-on-paper publications, but even the future of their electronic versions is uncertain because nobody has figured out how to “monetize” the web. Trembling before this scenario, friends of the press holler that “if the press dies, democracy dies!”

While nobody can dismiss any of the troubles facing the press, I think that the usual worriers have got the cart before the horse. Changes in technology will not bring about the downfall of the press. Buggy whip makers were sidelined, it is true, but the last buggy-chassis builders were the first auto chassis builders, and the last buggy upholstery workers were the first auto upholstery workers. The same is already true in the press: paper-newspaper editors have become web editors.

But civic life, which provided the content of the front-page sections of newspapers, is ailing, even moribund. If American democracy withers, newspapers that cover its life (usually with reverence and decorum) will wither, too -- and that notion is far more menacing to newspapers than anything about the web.

The idea that democracy might die is by no means new with me. I found it several years ago in Robert Putnam’s 2001 book, Bowling Alone, a catalog of the decline of unions, political clubs, PTAs, even bowling leagues -- of democratic institutions in the broadest sense of the term. (The book gets its title from the observation that during the 1950s, most bowlers played on teams; today, most bowl alone.) The problem with Putnam’s book isn’t that it isn’t seminal, but instead, that if Karl Marx wrote Capital today, it would be a sensation for six weeks. All of our media are now geared to the pace of talk-entertainment shows. Everything published is a fad.

When I first read Bowling Alone several years ago, my impression was, “Oh, so the U. S. is catching up with Mexico.” Our southern neighbor has long been a country where only 15 percent of households buy newspapers, and in which, as a consequence --as will soon be the case here -- carrier delivery is unknown. It is fair to say that at least until 2000 -- and things haven’t changed greatly since then -- Mexican democracy was an affair of those who had a financial stake in its doings, roughly, the 15 percent who read newspapers. Even today Mexican commoners neither believe that their nation is in good hands, nor that they can do anything about it. For them, the news might as well be a record of hurricanes and tornadoes, of natural forces, acts of God.

It isn’t that Mexicans can’t, or don’t read. They do. For decades, the nation’s leading newspaper has been a soccer daily. Feeling powerless as citizens, Mexicans turn their attention to sports, the music stage, the telenovelas and currently, to cop-and-narco jousts.

American democracy is not as far removed from the Mexican version as Americana buffs would like to think. Hollywood, Nashville and the NBA are the real plazas of our public life, Facebook, our most democratic periodical. Our villains come from the realm of pop culture, more than from public life: while millions clamored for O.J., Michael Jackson and Michael Vick to be brought to the bar, almost nobody clamors for the indictment of Yoo, Cheney or Bush, in part because they are minor-league celebrities, unworthy of spectacle or awe. Our heroes are mostly pop, too. If Obama was the presidential choice of collegians, that was largely because he was cool: had Biden headed the ticket, Salin Palin would be vice-president today.

American newspapers were failing long before the Internet was born. In 1952, the average American family read 1.3 newspapers per day. That figure has steadily declined to below .4. “Readers” of web publications, though more numerous with every count, spend about 20 minutes a week with online newspapers. Twenty minutes per day was the usual time in the heyday of print and public involvement. Older generations still read more than younger ones, but the most recent figures show a drop in all age categories. Joe Six Pack has quit reading and Joe College mainly reads headlines, probably about sports and entertainment stars.

People who consider themselves friends of the press are now spinning ideas to save it. But it may be too late. A new format, tax-supported subsidies or foundation grants won’t revive the press because those measures can’t revive democracy, which was never in the best of health, anyway.

Perhaps the problem is best explained, as everything today, by a sports analogy. Front-page news has essentially been a report on the fortunes of the home team -- our representatives in government. The news is as interesting as the scores. Not long ago, students at Sacramento State voted down a fee increase to support campus athletics. A New York Times story on their referendum quoted the student body president as explaining that “I just don’t think that students care too much about it, because they’re not winning the big games.” It’s a fair guess that students at Sacramento State don’t read about their Hornets, either.

It is the same with our government. The disasters that even the youngest of us have witnessed, including the Afghan and Iraq wars and the ongoing financial collapse, were in part the work of the players we put in office to catch special-interest fly balls and to hit home runs. Before Tet, did our press print even the facts about the war in Vietnam? Did it decry the outsourcing of our industrial base, the dismantling our unions? Did its business sections tell us that the housing boom was a looming bust? Reporters at the New York Times won Pulitzers for promoting the myths that justified the war in Iraq, and as Bill Moyers has pointed out in a documentary, Buying the War, most invasion shills are still at work as columnists, telling the nation what is wise.

Our government, the citizenry’s home team, has been failing its fans, and hasn’t hit a homer, by my estimate, since at least 1964, when Medicare was passed. Who wants to read about chronic losers? Who wants to read their apologists? Instead of using the colorful and partisan languages of the sports pages, the front-page press tried to report political affairs in a neutral, “objective” and detached way -- as if readers had no home team, nobody to bat for them, nobody who deserved a cheer. Of course, most politicians had been bought to throw the games they played for the people’s team -- but the newspapers weren’t leading the fans in any rounds of booing.

The survival of the mainstream press now depends upon the detachment and indifference that it took such pains to cultivate in its readership. It is improbable that readers will rise to save it, in which case, even to talk of its salvation is beside the point. Until and unless the press understands that its mission is to be the champion of the people’s welfare, nobody can plan for its recovery. When Mickey Mantle lay dying, when Barry Bonds was discredited, smart managers didn’t wring their hands and moan. They looked for replacements -- or transferred their talents to other teams.

[Dick J. Reavis is an award-winning journalist, educator and author. He wrote for Austin’s underground newspaper The Rag, and was a senior editor at Texas Monthly magazine. Dick Reavis’ book, The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation, about the siege and burning of the Branch Davidian compound, was published by Simon and Schuster and may be the definitive work on the subject.]

The Rag Blog

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Steve Russell on Native Hawaiians: Got Indigenous?

A sea of people of all ages embraced and honi'd, or touched noses, in early March at Lahaina while celebrating the end of a weeklong, 193-mile torch march around Maui to raise attention for Native Hawaiian issues. Photo from Hawaiian Independence Blog.

Got indigenous?
Most Native Hawaiians are living where they have lived from time immemorial... they struggle to preserve their language and customs but their language and customs are not 'foreign' -- they run with the land.
By Steve Russell / The Rag Blog / June 30, 2009

Legal arguments often revolve around competing analogies. The parties claim the case is more like known case A or known case B and whoever wins the war of analogy wins the lawsuit. If the Cherokee freedmen case is about the right of a tribe to determine citizenship, the racists win. If it is about the sanctity of treaties, the freedmen win. Framing the issue floats outside of “right and wrong” because it’s the law that tribes determine their own citizenship standards and that treaties should be honored.

If you are a Native Hawaiian, is your status more like American Indians or more like an ethnic minority? Addressing this question inevitably requires drawing conclusions about the legal status of American Indians, and this has not escaped the notice of people who oppose Hawaiian sovereignty. Indeed, they are often the same people who opposed Indian sovereignty on the ground that it is a racial special privilege that disadvantages white people.

Once more, the bill to recognize Native Hawaiians as having the same sovereign status as Indian nations is pending in Congress. In the world of right and wrong, the only opponents with a leg to stand on are the minority of Native Hawaiians who oppose the bill because they want their full sovereignty back. Should a majority of Native Hawaiians adopt that position, the bill should be opposed simply because the politics of the Hawaiian relationship with the United States is Hawaiian business.

As long as the argument of the status of Native Hawaiians persists in Congress or in the courts, Indians have a dog in the fight. If Native Hawaiians win, the legal sovereignty of American Indian tribes is more secure. David Yeagley, the rightwing Comanche activist, recognized this when he wrote an op-ed opposing the Hawaiians. Indians who think the current understanding of tribal sovereignty is not worth maintaining should oppose the Hawaiians just like the white people who consider tribal sovereignty to be “race privilege” that disadvantages them.

An Associated Press report on the Native Hawaiian bill quotes Gail Heriot, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as saying that granting sovereign status to Native Hawaiians would be like doing the same for Cajuns in Louisiana or Chicanos in the Southwest. This appears to be the Republican Party line. Sound familiar?

Nothing I am about to say should be construed as opposing civil rights for any ethnic group. I have nothing but respect for the mainstream civil rights movement by and for African-Americans, and the same for the civil rights of the people I am about to discuss. All I’m saying is that American Indians and Native Hawaiians (and Native Alaskans) are indigenous peoples, and that makes all the difference.

Cajuns, or Acadians, were predominantly French colonists who were in a fight with British colonists called, in this country, the French and Indian War and in Europe, the Seven Years War. They emigrated from Canada to Louisiana thinking that they were staying on French soil when, in fact, France had secretly ceded Louisiana to Spain.

All of this is quite tragic if you don’t take into account that at the time, Louisiana was and had been from time immemorial occupied by American Indians to whom the French and Spanish and British and -- in 1803, Americans -- were just different sets of colonizers, trespassers on Indian land.

Yes, the Cajuns did intermarry with Indians, but so did all the colonists. The Cajun culture is what it is, which is delightful, but it is not indigenous. Yes, the Cajuns were and sometimes are abused, but not because they originally owned Louisiana.

Chicanos in the Southwest are a little harder because their blood is primarily indigenous. How do we know this? Because the Spanish kept very good records and Mexican society was quite racist. A higher degree of indigenous blood meant lower social status. Having Spanish ancestors was very important, and the Spanish ruthlessly suppressed tribalism.

Chicanos have in the past and do to this day in some places suffer from outrageous discrimination. There were the “No Dogs or Mexicans” signs on restaurants in the ’50s. There was the attempt to “desegregate” the public schools in Corpus Christi by mixing brown kids and black kids so as not to contaminate the white kids.

Nowadays, there is a political tendency that infests both major political parties but practically runs the Republican Party that could be called, in shorthand, “hate the Mexicans.” Economy in the toilet? Hate the Mexicans! Lousy schools? Hate the Mexicans! Health care too expensive? Hate the Mexicans! The spokesmen for this movement are Tom Tancredo, who compared the National Council of La Raza to the KKK and Lou Dobbs, who warns of the Brown Peril nightly on CNN.

The policy prescriptions these bozos push are aimed at Hispanics but they almost always cause collateral damage among American Indians. They want to give local police authority to make brown people prove their citizenship, and that means Indians get rousted. They want to make the public use of any language but English illegal. They target Spanish but they hit tribal languages. When they attack bilingual education, they force tribal language preservation programs away from public funding. And if a public worker can’t be paid to interpret Spanish, she can’t be paid to interpret Navajo.

Sociologists call this politics “nativist,” which provides Indians a bit of comic relief, since all the people pushing it are descendants of colonists. The “nativists” want persons of Mexican descent to “go back where they came from.” Apparently, the nativist history books don’t teach about the Mexican War, because lots of those Mexican-Americans were in Mexico when the border moved and put them in the United States.

At the end of that war, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo said:
“Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico, and which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present treaty, shall be free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at any time to the Mexican Republic, retaining the property which they possess in the said territories…

“Those who shall prefer to remain in the said territories may either retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States.”
If this treaty means anything, Mexican-Americans living in the Southwest have the full civil rights of American citizens. Like in the case of the Cajuns, these people are abused because they are caught in a struggle between two colonial governments, in this case the U.S. and Mexico. Abusing them is wrong, but abuse does not make them indigenous and neither does intermarriage unless it is coupled with maintaining tribal relations.

Most Native Hawaiians are living where they have lived from time immemorial. Like us, they struggle to preserve their language and customs but their language and customs are not “foreign” -- they run with the land. Like us, they have been dispossessed by the colonists. They had an indigenous government that was overthrown by the U.S. government. Native Hawaiians have in common with us that the trespassers seek to treat them as trespassers. That practically defines indigenous, and that is the basis for claims that, like Indian claims, go far beyond equal treatment as citizens.

[Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and an associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University. He is a columnist for Indian Country Today, where this article also appeared. Steve wrote for Austin’s The Rag in the Sixties and seventies and is a regular contributor to The Rag Blog. He lives in Bloomington and can be reached at swrussel@indiana.edu.]

The Rag Blog

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Tom Hayden : Crisis in Honduras Forces Latin America Focus

Manuel Zelaya in Nicaragua. Zelaya is expected to attend meetins at the UN's General Assembly. Photo from AFP.

Honduras Crisis Forces Obama to Focus on Latin America
The Obama position is complicated by the history of US training of the Honduras armed forces, past involvement with shadowy death squads, and concern over Zelaya's alliance with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.
By Tom Hayden / June 30, 2009

The military coup against Honduran president Manuel Zelaya puts pressure on President Obama to break sharply with past American policies or risk massive defections in what remains of Latin America's goodwill.

Yesterday President Obama declared the coup was "not legal" and affirmed the Zelaya government's legitimacy, statements that were considered "very good" by Venezuelan diplomats interviewed by The Nation.

The Obama position is complicated by the history of US training of the Honduras armed forces, past involvement with shadowy death squads, and concern over Zelaya's alliance with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. In the background are memories of US complicity in the attempted coup against Venezuela's Hugo Chávez in 2002.

The issue will become paramount today as foreign ministers of the Organization of American States (OAS) meet in Washington, DC, to consider their response. The Venezuelans will be accompanied by the exiled Honduran foreign minister. Meanwhile, Zelaya is expected to be at the United Nations for meetings at the General Assembly. "This will be a turning point in the history of the OAS," observed the Venezuelan official.

Some Democratic insiders were expressing mixed feelings over the coup. Michael Tomasky's blog found it "complicated," before concluding that "a military coup is a military coup, I guess." Faith Smith, writing on the blog of Steve Clemons of the New American Foundation, found it "difficult to say which side is democratic." She noted approvingly that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while criticizing the coup, offered "no specific support for Zelaya."

The choice for Obama is whether to side with a democratically elected government that happens to be a Venezuelan ally, or be ostracized by the governments of Latin America. Obama's policies have indicated a desire for modest and gradual rapprochement after the Bush years, without rapid or concrete changes. That gradualism will be tested today.

[Tom Hayden is a former California state senator and author of Street Wars (Verso, 2005), as well as a founder of Sixties New Left group SDS, and of Progressives for Obama.]

Source / The Nation

Thanks to Carl Davidson / The Rag Blog

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James Retherford : Who Watches the Watchman? Attacks on 'Negroism' and CPUSA

Cartoon from The Progressive.

Part II
Who Watches the Watchman?

COINTELPRO and the Federal Government’s
Clandestine Attack on the U.S. Constitution

By James Retherford / The Rag Blog / June 30, 2009
The repression of dissident groups by shadowy government operatives is nothing new in America. In fact, starting with John Ashcroft, Bush administration attorneys general and their declared nostalgia for the good old days of COINTELPRO resonate with the ideology of another attorney general who left behind an authoritarian legacy more than eighty five years ago -- A. Mitchell Palmer.
[A version of this series was originally researched and written six years ago. It describes in chilling detail how the U.S. government surreptitiously conspired to maintain lockdown social control of American citizens in the period up to and including post-Watergate. Go here for the introduction to and Part I of “Who Watches the Watchman.”]

In 1920 the bureau, headed by a youthful and enthusiastic new director named J. Edgar Hoover, carried out the infamous “Palmer Raids” -- 10,000 persons were rounded up in thirty-three cities, resulting in “indiscriminate arrests of the innocent with the guilty, unlawful seizures by federal detectives…,” and other violations of constitutional rights.

The Church Committee quoted the conclusions of a group of distinguished legal scholars who investigated the Palmer raids and “found federal agents guilty of using third-degree tortures, making illegal searches and arrests, using agents provocateurs….” Attorney General Palmer justified his actions “to clean up the country almost unaided by any virile legislation” on grounds that Congress had failed to act “to stamp out these seditious societies in their open defiance of law by various forms of propaganda.” His avowed purpose was “to tear out the radical seeds that have entangled American ideas in their poisonous theories.”

An early FBI target -- and clear precedent for later COINTELPRO practice -- was Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Under his leadership, UNIA, which to this day remains the largest organization of African Americans ever assembled, devoted itself to “bootstrapping” strategies (i.e., undertaking business ventures as a means of attaining its goals of black pride and self-sufficiency).

Despite UNIA’s explicitly capitalist orientation -- or maybe because of it -- Hoover launched an inquiry into Garvey’s activities in August 1919. When this initial probe revealed no tangible evidence of wrongdoing, Hoover, still railing against Garvey's “pro-Negroism,” ordered that the investigation be not only continued but intensified. Still, it was another two years before the bureau was able to find a pretext -- Garvey’s technical violation of laws governing corporate stock offerings -- upon which to bring charges of mail fraud. Convicted in July 1923 by an all-white jury, the UNIA leader was first incarcerated in the federal prison at Atlanta, then deported as an undesirable alien in 1927. By then, his organization had disintegrated, and Hoover vowed to prevent anyone from ever again assuming the standing of what he called a “Negro Moses.”

World War II brought a return of the FBI to counterintelligence operations as President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a series of instructions establishing the basic domestic intelligence structure for the federal government. Roosevelt was advised by Hoover to proceed with the utmost degree of secrecy:
In considering the steps to be taken for the expansion of the present structure of Intelligence work, it is believed imperative that it proceed with the utmost degree of secrecy in order to avoid criticism or objections which might be raised to such an expansion by either ill-informed persons or individuals having some ulterior motive ... Consequently, it would seem undesirable to seek any special legislation which would draw attention to the fact that it was proposed to develop a special counterespionage drive of any great magnitude.
According to William C. Sullivan, Hoover’s assistant for many years:
Such a very great man as Franklin D. Roosevelt saw nothing wrong in asking the FBI to investigate those opposing his lend-lease policy -- a purely political request. He also had us look into the activities of others who opposed our entrance into World War II, just as later Administrations had the FBI look into those opposing the conflict in Vietnam. It was a political request also when he [Roosevelt] instructed us to put a telephone tap, a microphone, and a physical surveillance on an internationally known leader in his Administration. It was done. The results he wanted were secured and given to him. Certain records of this kind... were not then or later put into the regular FBI filing system. Rather, they were deliberately kept out of it.
The 1940 passage of the Smith Act made “sedition” a peacetime, as well as a wartime, offense. The doctrine was laid out by Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in his opinion upholding of the Smith Act on the grounds “that it was no violation of free speech to convict Communists for conspiring to teach or advocate the forcible overthrow of the government, even if no clear and present danger could be proved.” For if the clear and present danger test were applied, Jackson argued, “it means that Communist plotting is protected during its period of incubation; if preliminary stages of organization and preparation are immune from the law, the Government can move only after imminent action is manifest, when it would, of course, be too late.” Thus there must be “some legal formula that will secure an existing order against revolutionary radicalism.”

J. Edgar Hoover at 29, December 22, 1924.

Hoover claimed that by 1940 “advocates of foreign isms” had succeeded in burrowing into every phase of American life, masquerading behind various front organizations. In 1939, Hoover told the House Appropriations Committee that his General Intelligence Division had “compiled extensive indices of individuals, groups, and organizations engaged in subversive activities, in espionage activities, or any activities that are possibly detrimental to the internal security of the United States… Their backgrounds and activities are known to the Bureau. These indexes will be extremely important and valuable in a grave emergency.”

After World War II, the FBI’s attention turned from fascism to communism, marking the beginning of the Cold War. In March 1946, Hoover informed Attorney General Tom Clark that the FBI had
found it necessary to intensify its investigation of Communist party activities and Soviet espionage cases and it was taking steps to list all members of the Communist party and any others who might be dangerous in the event of a break with the Soviet Union, or other serious crisis involving the United States and the USSR. It might be necessary in a crisis to immediately detain a large number of American citizens.
As for the Communist party, “ordinary conspiracy principles” sufficed to charge any individual associated with it “with responsibility for and participation in all that makes up the Party’s program” and “even an individual,” acting alone and apart from any “conspiracy,” “cannot claim that the Constitution protects him in advocating or teaching overthrow of government by force or violence.”

In 1948, the Mundt-Nixon bill, calling for the registration of the Communist party, was reported out of Richard M. Nixon’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. Senate liberals objected. After Truman’s veto they proposed a substitute -- “the ultimate weapon of repression: concentration camps to intern potential troublemakers on the occasion of some loosely defined future ‘Internal Security Emergency.’”

This substitute was advocated by Senator Hubert Humphrey, then a freshman lawmaker. Humphrey later voted against the bill, though not because he had a chance to reconsider his concentration camp proposal but rather because he was concerned that the conference committee had brought back “a weaker bill, not a bill to strike stronger blows at the Communist menace, but weaker blows.” The problem with the new bill was that those interned in the detention centers would have “the right of habeas corpus so they can be released and go on to do their dirty business.”

Thus when the first formal COINTELPRO was launched against the U.S. Communist Party in 1956, it may have been the first instance in which an internal security agency was instructed to employ the full range of extralegal techniques developed by the bureau’s counterintelligence specialists against a domestic target in a centrally coordinated and programmatic way, but in reality the FBI had conducted such operations on an ad hoc basis against the CPUSA and to a lesser extent the Socialist Workers Party since at least 1941.

[James Retherford
knows firsthand what it was like to be targeted by COINTELPRO. A founder and editor of The Spectator in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1966, Retherford is a director of the New Journalism Project, the nonprofit organization that publishes The Rag Blog.]

Please see Also see James Retherford : Brandon Darby, The Texas 2, and the FBI's Runaway Informants by James Retherford / The Rag Blog / May 26, 2009

And for more background on the history of informants in Texas, read The Spies of Texas by Thorne Dreyer / The Texas Observer / Nov. 17, 2006.

The Rag Blog

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Iran, Cyber Warfare and the CIA : The World is Watching

Twitter and the new Iranian revolution. Cartoon by Ian D. Marsden / truthout.

Iran: The world is watching
[The media] give wall-to-wall coverage of the protesters, whose heroism is very real. But the TV cameras and front-page headlines completely ignore how hard Washington worked to stir up the protests...
By Steve Weissman / June 30, 2009

When President Barack Obama warned Iran's ayatollahs that the world was watching their brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, he touched a sacred chord for a whole generation of American activists. Back in 1968, as TV cameras broadcast dramatic images of Mayor Daley's police cracking heads at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, anti-war demonstrators famously chanted, "the whole world is watching."

In the eyes of the mass media, of course, not all protests or electile dysfunctions are equal. After 9/11, our free press largely ignored persuasive evidence that Al Gore had won the presidential elections in Florida, while TV cameras gave scant coverage to demonstrations against George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. But for those in Washington planning regime change in Tehran, the media problem was not how to convince CNN and the BBC to beat the drums for the "Green Revolution."

The problem was far trickier. How would Washington's media mavens help bring a protest to the streets? And how would they guarantee a continuing flow of powerful images and poignant words between the protesters and the watching world?

Their solution took many forms, from TV and radio broadcasting reminiscent of the cold war to the latest in Internet technology, including the widespread use of Twitter and Facebook. Since 2006, the State Department alone spent more than $200 million on the effort. The money went to its in-house Iran bashers and "democracy-promoters," the Voice of America's (VOA) Farsi language broadcasts, Radio Free Europe's round-the-clock Radio Farda and the secretive National Endowment for Democracy, which funded several other groups.

This $200 million came on top of the $400 million that Congress allocated in 2007 for regime change in Iran, some of which went for the CIA's state-supported terrorism inside Iranian borders.

Whether the overthrow of Ahmadinejad succeeds or fails, the Green Revolution will indeed have many fathers, and critics should avoid pointing the finger at only the CIA or its spin-off, the National Endowment for Democracy. Orange, Rose and Green Revolutions in other countries require coordinated US government intervention, aimed at creating what Rutgers journalism professor Jack Bratich has called "genetically modified" grassroots movements.

Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the widely reported use of Twitter, Facebook, and other of the new media's social networking tools. How did these tools come to play such a pivotal role in Iran's "Green Revolution"? In large part because Washington made a huge push to encourage their use as part of its strategy of democracy promotion, which in Iran became full-scale psychological warfare.

Meet Jared Cohen, the young State Department official who asked Twitter not to close down for maintenance during hours that Iran's protesters might need the service. He is not your everyday computer geek, who just happened to know the nice folks at Twitter.

Author of the widely acclaimed "Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East," Cohen had served as Condoleezza Rice's adviser on youth and technology, especially in the Muslim world. In that role, he worked with Twitter, Facebook, Howcast, Google, MTV, and others in an official campaign to promote online, mobile and digital networking "as a tool for youth empowerment against violence and oppression."

And not just in Iran. Speaking last December on a web chat to publicize the State Department's Alliance of Youth Movements Summit, Cohen talked the talk of the official democracy promoters. "Wherever civil society organizations exist or individuals have causes that promote non-violent youth causes, we want them to have the knowledge and information on how to develop an online component to what they are trying to achieve," he said.

With Cohen as the Alliance's international press contact, the State Department put out an online "field manual" that provided best practices, videos and steps for building these kinds of movements.

Promoting his book in 2007 to The New Yorker, Cohen gave a different impression. The State Department still had him traveling, he said. But now he was plugged into power.

"Basically, I do a safer version of what I used to do," he explained. "Now I'm in a place where I can take what young people are saying to me and work with my colleagues in Operations and in the embassies to do something that actually happens on the ground."

Cohen could not stop talking. "I always say that the largest party in every country -- the largest opposition group in every country -- is the youth party," he said.

Frankly, I was flabbergasted. Had the spirit of Abbie Hoffman and his Yippies, the Youth International Party, gone from anti-war demonstrations in Chicago to work in the very belly of the beast, all nonviolently, of course, and armed with the newest of new media? No wonder Cohen's boss Condi Rice sounded so ecstatic when she described the Internet as "possibly one of the greatest tools for democratization and individual freedom that we've ever seen."

As Rice well knew, the new media is especially great for meddling in another country, especially when Washington and its allies have so many other psywar tools at their disposal. Take, for example, The Washington Post's recent article "Persian News Network Finds New Life in Contested Iranian Election." The ayatollahs had cracked down on free speech, wrote the Post, and Voice of America was rushing to the rescue.

"What we're seeing is a new level of cyber warfare," said producer Gareth Conway, referring to the Iranian government's blocking of text-messaging services and Internet sites and Iranians' attempts to fight back. "We're trying to give viewers updates on technology, how they can continue to communicate with each other."

"As protests have erupted over the heavily disputed reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, VOA's Persian-language TV network and a similar BBC service have emerged as a critical way for Iranians to share information."

Yes, the whole world is watching, as President Obama suggests. But our supposedly free media show only half of the picture. They give wall-to-wall coverage of the protesters, whose heroism is very real. But the TV cameras and front-page headlines completely ignore how hard Washington worked to stir up the protests, and most of the supposedly progressive blogosphere wears the same political blinders. Old media or new, to a child of the cold war, the self-righteous dupery is déjà vu all over again.

[A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France. He is also a regular contributor to The Rag Blog.]

Source / truthout

For previous articles by Steve Weissman in this series on the aftermath of the Iranian elections, go here.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

29 June 2009

Fighting Back in Hard Times: The Power of Organized Labor Action

Laid-off Republic Windows and Doors factory worker Maria Gonzalez holds a picket sign outside the factory in December 2008 in Chicago, Ill. About 250 workers demanded severance and vacation pay owed to them.

The Legacy Lives On
By Kari Lydersen / June 28, 2009

Just months after laid-off workers occupied the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, their action inspired a similar revolt halfway across the country.

On December 5, 2008, 250 laid-off workers occupied Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors factory, refusing to leave until paid for accrued vacation time and two months of federally-mandated severance. These demands, which might have been ignored by media in more stable economic times, thrust the unionized workers onto the national stage as the country’s financial system and economy unraveled.

Five days later, bailed-out JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America—the latter of which had cut off a line of credit to the company—reached a settlement with the workers, and the occupation ended. But beyond their monetary demands, the predominately Latino workers were delivering a clear message to Washington: protect workers’ rights.

Workers in Rhode Island were listening, as In These Times Contributing Editor Kari Lydersen makes clear in the following excerpt from her new book, Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis. After the Colibri Group—which manufactures high-end lighters, pens and cigar-cutters—unexpectedly shuttered a factory outside of Providence in mid-January, some of the 250 workers laid-off there decided to fight for exactly what Republic workers had fought for.

* * * * *

The Colibri Group was formed in 1928 to make mechanical cigarette lighters—a novel invention at the time. The company became a leading manufacturer of high-end lighters, pens, cigar-cutters, cuff links, and other accessories engraved and encrusted with gems. Until recently, its headquarters and two factories in Rhode Island employed a diverse, largely immigrant workforce who spoke at least six languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hmong, Chinese, and Haitian Creole.

But gem-encrusted pens and $100 lighters are the kinds of luxuries most people cut down on during rough times, so it is no surprise that the economic crisis hit Colibri hard. The company suffered several waves of layoffs over the past year. On December 22, 2008, 52-year-old Alda Bonin and a number of other workers were laid off. “Merry Christmas,” she told her manager. She didn’t mean it sarcastically, but the ill-timed move couldn’t be ignored.

Bonin is a skilled jewelry mold-maker and kept her own tools at the factory, so she told the manager she needed to collect them. “Don’t worry about it,” she was told. “The layoff is only temporary, you’ll get your job back in early February.” Just two years earlier, Bonin had been laid off from another flailing jewelry company, so she was skeptical. She lives about a mile from the factory, and on January 15, when she happened to see her former co-workers walking by in tears, she feared the worst.

She quickly got on the phone and learned that her former colleagues had arrived at work to see a sign saying the plant was permanently closed. CEO Jim Fleet had sent an e-mail the previous night, but since many workers didn’t have internet connections at home, they had showed up in the morning none the wiser. About 280 workers had lost their jobs, in addition to the previous layoffs.

State of decline

As at Republic, it seemed Colibri officials had known the company was likely to close. They had desperately sought new investments or a merger over the past year, to no avail. The company had lost $10 million in both 2007 and 2008. But Bonin is furious that they still waited to tell workers until the last minute.

“They started laying off people a little bit at a time,” she remembers. “There was hardly anybody in the place. I just wish I was told the truth from the beginning. When they laid off my group, they already knew. So to be told that I was coming back to work, I was deceived.”

The Manhattan-based finance company Founders Equity was the majority owner of Colibri. Colibri declared bankruptcy, being $28 million in debt and owing $6 million to vendors. The workers’ healthcare was terminated immediately, and their chances of getting new jobs looked very grim.

Even before the economic crisis, the state’s historic jewelry industry had lost many jobs because of cheaper foreign labor. The crisis meant a severe downturn in demand for jewelry. And other local industries weren’t faring much better. The state’s unemployment rate for January 2009 was 10.3 percent, higher than the national rate of 7.6 percent that month.

The afternoon of the closing, employee Emilio Blanco, a Dominican immigrant, was at home feeling lost and dejected. He had worked at the company for 22 years, since he was 24 years old. He had done “everything” there, from welding to stone-setting, and he was raising two kids on his income. “I gave them so much, my whole life, and then they just closed the doors on us like we were animals,” he said. “I felt like my heart was on the floor.”

‘An amazing moment of solidarity’

The workers had no union to turn to, so Blanco called an advice program on a Spanish-language radio station. The DJ gave him the number for Fuerza Laboral (Workers’ Power), a grassroots advocacy organization with just two staff members. Director Greg Pearson asked if Blanco could get 10 workers together for a meeting. Twenty-one people showed up, and the Colibri Workers for Rights and Justice was born.

On February 3, they drew 250 people to a protest outside the factory, in a snowstorm. On February 6, the Republic workers came through Providence on their Resistance tour, with an event at the Open Table of Christ United Methodist Church. About 50 Colibri workers attended and then met with Robles and Meinster for three hours. The Colibri workers were game for a sit-in or similar direct-action tactic of their own.

“It was an amazing moment of solidarity and awareness,” said Pearson. “They took the workers through what the process is. Republic had a union, Colibri didn’t have any union. Republic got three days’ notice, these workers didn’t get any notice.”

Bonin was highly impressed with Robles and the Republic action. “I thought these people had a lot of strength and confidence in themselves, they were brave and powerful to do this,” she said. “When you stick together as a group, you do have more power, you do have more hope.”

While many of the Republic workers had experience and training in organizing and direct action thanks to the union and other Chicago campaigns, almost all the Colibri workers were new to the realm. But they dove right in.

A campaign is born

Since the Colibri factories were already vacated and shuttered, it was too late for an occupation. Instead, they decided to fight through public pressure for their WARN Act pay and accrued vacation time, plus severance pay based on seniority: one extra week for each year of service, a benefit that had been given to workers laid off earlier.

Since Colibri was in bankruptcy, as at Republic targeting the company itself would likely not be fruitful. So in a page taken from the Republic playbook, they designed a campaign to pressure Founders Equity and the two banks that were secured creditors: Sovereign Bank and HSBC, a bailout recipient.

During a court hearing, former Colibri toolmaker and Vietnam veteran Mike Masi told bank officials, “Banks have insurance. We don’t. Banks can wait to be repaid. We can’t. For some of us, both wage-earners in the household were working at Colibri and now we are left with zero income. Others of us struggle with health issues and greatly depended on our health insurance, which was cut off as well.”

Fuerza Laboral launched a national campaign. Seventy workers rallied at Founders’ Manhattan headquarters. They marched on the state capitol. They spearheaded a national letter-writing drive. On March 12, the Rhode Island House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution supporting the workers and calling for legislation to create a stronger version of the WARN Act on a state level.

The city council also passed a resolution of support; the workers brought flowers in thanks. And an attorney working pro bono filed lawsuits regarding WARN Act violations.

On March 19, an auction of Colibri’s assets was scheduled. A crowd of about 150 potential buyers was expected, and the auction would be held at Colibri’s former headquarters in Providence. The workers figured this was their moment.

They gathered at 9:30 a.m., and police were already lining the street. The workers marched and chanted, waving signs reading RISE TOGETHER, STAY TOGETHER. Teenagers came with musical instruments, and someone said they should dance. Bonin alone started dancing, but felt foolish that no one was joining her, so she grabbed another Colibri worker known as a comedian and the two twirled and dipped as the crowd cheered.

Police forced the workers to clear the way when cars drove in for the auction. The first few times the workers complied. Then a group of them sat down in the road and refused to budge. They were quickly arrested.

“Seeing the police pulling my friends off the ground, handcuffing them, making them lay down, it was upsetting and emotional at the same time,” said Bonin. “But I felt we needed to keep on going for them.” Groups of workers sat in the road and got arrested two or three more times over the next few hours.

In all, 14 people were brought to the station and charged with disorderly conduct, including Pearson and about 10 workers. The auction did go on but turnout was low. After the protest, Bonin headed to the station to check on her co-workers. She was relieved to see them coming out three hours later with smiles on their faces.

As Emilio Blanco left the station, his voice was hoarse from all the chanting and cheering, but he was in good spirits. “We’re fighting for our rights, we won’t stop until we get paid,” he said. “This is very important to set an example for other compañeros.”

His friend Yannary Sarit, 32, had worked at the company for almost five years and was ready to take their story to Washington, D.C., on the coming weekend for the National People’s Action (NPA) conference, an annual convergence of community and activist organizations. This was her first time taking part in activism, but her appetite was whetted.

“I thought this was the land of opportunity, but they closed the doors on us,” Sarit said. “The American Dream is a myth. We worked so hard for them, and then this. But if we keep fighting, things are going to change.”

Workers’ payback

Bonin was balancing between hope and cynicism about the likelihood of getting their jobs back, but she saw larger meaning in the struggle, regardless of the outcome. By the evening after the protest, she was exhausted and stretched out on the couch watching TV, but her adrenaline was still running. She was looking forward to the next day’s strategy meeting and an ongoing fight for justice.

Since the layoff she had sent out résumés, but she hadn’t heard a word back, not even a note to say her résumé had been received. The jewelry industry will not recover for a long time, she figures. After being laid off twice within a few years, she is ready for a career change. She wants to go back to school to become a medical assistant. The money Colibri owes her would be a big help in launching this dream.

“Even if we don’t get the money, I feel like I’ve accomplished something with that group of people,” she says. “What we’ve accomplished already is that another employer won’t end up doing what they did to us.”

This article is excerpted from Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis, published by Melville House Publishing, June 2009. For more information about the book, click here.

[Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist writing for publications including The Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island.]

Source / In These Times

Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Congress : Return Health Care to the People

Health care should be a profession, not a business.

By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / The Rag Blog / June 29, 2009

The American, if he has a spark of national feeling, will be humiliated by the very prospect of a foreigner's visit to Congress -- these, for the most part, illiterate hacks whose fancy vests are spotted with gravy, and whose speeches, hypocritical, unctuous, and slovenly are spotted with the gravy of political patronage, these persons are a reflection on the democratic process rather than of it; they expose it in its underwear.

-- Mary McCarthy
The “health care debate” has become more and more peripheral to the basic meaning of health care, i.e. caring for the ill and those suffering from chronic disease. The politicians confabulate, confuse, and deceive in their personal interests or in the interests of their financial patrons.

The entire matter is quite simple and would health care costs could be reduced by 30-40% if our elected representatives would adhere to a plan 30 years in developing, a plan not of "socialized medicine,” but a plan developed to be administered by physicians to their patient base. This is a plan far different from the frantic attempts to improvise while paying homage to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries currently being considered in the Congress.

The plan proposed by Physicians for a National Health Program is all inclusive, provides care without the dictates and maneuvers of the health insurance industry, and returns health care to the people and their physicians, as is common in the vast majority of nations of the civilized world. Here is a plan for universal care without government interference, and without rationing care for the profits of the large corporations as currently occurs in the United States.

In the July 2009 issue of Vanity Fair there is an excellent article by Dr. Joseph Stiglitz entitled “Wall Street's Toxic Message” in which the author points out that when the current crises is over, the reputation of American style capitalism will have taken a beating -- not least because of the gap between what Washington practices and what it preaches. The article is illustrated with a cartoon, pertaining to Wall Street, but also indicative of the current health insurance cartel. The cartoon updates the four horsemen of The Apocalypse: Mendacity, Greed, Arrogance, Stupidity.

Dean Baker, in a Truthout Perspective article titled “Spreading the Wealth Around to the Insurance Industry and Friends,” starts with a telling statement: "This is the time when the excrement starts hitting the fan. The lobbyists are in overdrive, rounding up members of Congress just like the cowboys of the Old West would bring in the herd."

Not only are the insurance companies morally corrupt in their dealings with our "representatives" but they are equally duplicitous in their dealings with their clients, the sick, and the dying. David S. Hilzenrath writes in the Washington Post that "Health insurers have forced consumers to pay billions of dollars in medical bills that the insurers themselves should have paid, according to a report released yesterday by the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee.” Yet the public hears little or nothing of this in the mainstream media.

One major problem of the current debate is the fact that the American public does not understand the issues involved. There is dismay about the lack of health care; however, the public at-large somehow does not get it. There was a demonstration this past week in Washington promoting health care for all which, as I understand, brought out 20,000 protesters. Considering the enormity of the problem one would have wished for at least 200,000.

Sara Robinson of Campaign for America's Future, in an article entitled "We've Been Trapped inside a Bad Health Care System So Long, We Don't Even Know How Much Were Missing" points out that "sometimes, when you're up to your chin in alligators, it's hard to focus on the fact that there's a big broad, alligator-free world waiting somewhere out there, beyond the edge of the swamp."

Perhaps I am overly obsessed with the corruption attendant to the present debate; however, nearly 88 years ago I was born into a household involved in local politics. My father was a totally honest man who attempted to face down the system, and ended up broken by the inherent evil of the political patronage game. He learned that, even on a local level, one either pays homage to those interests where money is power, or one best not play at all. Finally, my father bent and chose not to participate at all. Also see Amy Goodman’s "Congre$$, Heal Thyself.”

We tend to dwell on the profits made by the insurance, pharmaceutical, and health appliance industries; however, there is another facet to the overall high health costs in the United States and this is well illustrated in an article titled “Life is Expensive” in the May 30 Economist, in which the author cites the telling case of a middle-aged man. The man, who had good insurance, developed chest pains and went straight to a cardiologist who put him though a bunch of tests including a CT Scan amd an angiogram which caused serious complications and landed him in the hospital for a while.

He ran up a bill of $150,000, the studies were negative and the chest pains vanished. Some months later the pain reappeared and he talked to a physician trained in preventative medicine who asked about lifestyle changes. The patient mentioned that he had taken up gardening and had been weeding. The physician, on examination, established that the patient had strained a chest muscle while weed whacking and that was the cause of the pain.

Unfortunately episodes akin to this are much too common in the United States today. We over-utilize medical procedures rather than obtaining a careful history and examining a patient. Many doctors are overburdened with too many patients, while other physicians, unfortunately, do not take time with the patient, because, sadly, time is money. This is a culture developed in the past 30 years with the change, due to the influence of the insurance industry, that has turned a profession into a business.

There are other factors too, such as fear of medico-legal law suits, largely an unfounded fear, but used as a rationalization by physicians for doing any and all tests and X-rays, needed or not, for self protection. I practiced rheumatology for 40 years and spent time talking and communicating with my patients -- a largely foreign practice today -- and with rapport, honesty, and understanding I avoided all the legal complications I was warned about. When I started my practice an old wise physician pointed out to me that the way to avoid medico-legal problems is to establish an honest personal relationship with your patient. Personal communication, even by telephone, beats the patient being brushed aside only to talk to a nurse or PA, and might allay some fears for both patient and physician.

Another problem is the indoctrination of the public into believing that the utilization of “procedures” has something to do with “good medicine." The culture demands that every cough deserves an immediate chest X-ray. Every bump on a child's head requires a MRI or CT Scan ($2500). Every twisted knee needs a MRI and surgical intervention. (Try hard enough and there is always a willing orthopedist.) We in this country have twice as many births by caesarian section as in any other Western nation. Why? As a matter of convenience for the mother, or indeed, a greater fee for the obstetrician?

There is a great need for many more primary care physicians in the United States: internists, pediatricians, family physicians. These are in short supply because of the relatively low income and long hours involved, on top of the horrid expense of a medical education. On thhe other side of the coin are the "specialists" in cardiovascular surgery, ophthamology, orthopedics and urology, who make 10-20 times the income of the primary care doctors. I recently read a commentary by a cardiovascular surgeon who justified the income because "we save lives.” Perhaps this should be displayed on a flashing neon sign! “WE SAVE LIVES.” As I recall ALL physicians are trained to treat disease, alleviate suffering, give comfort, and in doing so save lives.

One would hope that Congress, while developing a health care plan, might spend some time talking to primary care physicians, largely represented by Physicians for a National Health Program, rather than talking to the CEOs and lobbyists of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and their hangers on such as the AMA and AARP.

Unfortunately, when I look at Congress I am reminded of Will Rogers comment: "The country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer."

[Dr. Stephen R. Keister, a retired physician who is active in health care reform, lives in Erie, PA. His previous articles on The Rag Blog can be found here.]


The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Greg Moses : Chinese Dragon in Aftershock?

Chinese dragon: still snorting through the global depression? Image from Scrape TV.

Still time to put jobs first?
In the chatter of Chinese ministers sounds a worry that the 'socialist market economy' could come out of the economic crisis fatter than it needs to be and therefore vulnerable to all the lean dogs that global capital is breeding as we speak.
By Greg Moses / The Rag Blog / June 29, 2009

From a distance the Chinese mainland appears to be snorting through the global depression like a fire-breathing dragon. But a closer look at internet discourse reveals a giant in the throes of aftershock. When we hear tones of irritation from Chinese officials regarding "dollar problems" we could on the one hand consider their pain.

On the other hand, whether you are listening to pro-dollar or anti-dollar partisans today, there is an eerie agreement between Marxist and Friedmanite alike that return on capital is the main thing. What we need to hear more often from both sides of the global mouth is how capital will only grow through labor.

With the help of Google translate, the average monolingual Yankee can cross the ocean and listen to the official pronouncements of ministers for the Communist Party of China (CPC) who have a thousand throats exhorting the masses to keep on the scientific path.

What the scientific path sounds like in China today is a lot like what you hear weekdays over the chatterbox at the Capitalism-Knows-Best Channel (CNBC). For instance, the Chinese "socialist market economy" is being redefined scientifically into a "modern market economy under rule of law," which is exactly the way they like it at CNBC.

From both sides of the Pacific you get pretty much the same news: double-digit downturns in profits across the board, dozens of gigantic projects suddenly scrapped and unplugged, trade routes collapsing, pages snatched from memories of capitalism past, the better to remind us how to survive.

Even on the question of climate change there is a convergence of policy conviction that "the construction of ecological civilization" will help our damaged economies to "cope with the international financial crisis" through the material re-production of green technologies.

Tuning into the thoroughly capitalized culture at CNBC -- coming at you "live from the financial capital of the world" -- bust is generally accepted as the price of boom. Mad Money man Jim Cramer said recently that if the stock market were to take another 150 point dive on the S&P 500 Index, investors from the boo-yah land of Cramerica could consider it a gift -- "A GIFT!!"

But over on the Chinese mainland, ministers seem to be talking to masses who haven't quite learned how to appreciate the opportunities of economic collapse. This is the time, say the ministers, to vigorously seek innovations in technology, reconfigure business models, bury dead capacities, and evolve the community through decisive calculations of "M&A."

In the chatter of Chinese ministers sounds a worry that the "socialist market economy" could come out of the economic crisis fatter than it needs to be and therefore vulnerable to all the lean dogs that global capital is breeding as we speak.

Of course every Wal-Mart shopper knows how much is owed to the enormous Chinese factories that punched out a dozen or so shopping seasons. But Chinese ministers know better how the tiny "Made in China" labels were not attached to Chinese-branded logos. And whereas the great logos of the global economy will likely recover on top of factories somewhere or anywhere (thank you Naomi Klein) there is no guarantee that the factories of China will be serving the logo powers next year.

There is enough worry to go around. In the USA we don't know if the unemployment numbers will stop in time to provide the baby boom a respectful retirement. In China, the ministers don't know if plants and projects will stop shutting down in time to prevent a more colossal sacrifice in capital spending.

Matching the positive image of the Chinese minister atop his nearly $2 trillion mountain of dollar reserves is the precise negative image of the average American consumer down in his valley of debt. And where the images should be joined at the middle term is across the rubbed glass surface of the Wal-Mart check-out counter, courtesy of MasterCard and Visa.

Of course, there was a time not too many months ago when the era of dollar-fed arrogance seemed to be stalking the world with unchecked power as "dollar hegemony" rolled around the globe with tsunami force. These days however the dollar gets pulled up off its knees by other currencies at the most curious times, exactly in moments when the whole flow of things seems to shudder with collapsing pipes.

What the dollar needs most right now is a national emergency declared in behalf of jobs. Enough diddling with yield curves and balance sheets already. Whatever it takes, we need folks back at work. Until we are busy creating value through labor, every dollar will stay busy shrinking.

Which brings us to the final correspondence between CNBC and the ministers of China. By and large all these voices fail to inflect the urgency of the single outcome that will count most toward economic health -- getting everybody back to work. If you are holding a pile of dollars the immediate question should be how to transform that cash into tools of productivity for workers of the world. Wealth today is paralyzed from not knowing how to become productive. This is the real problem.

So whether you grew up on one side of the Pacific listening to warnings about the Midas touch or you grew up on another side of the Pacific sneaking lessons from Mencius you should know. When you mistake the real value of human economy for dollars, gold, or profit, you shall kill the order of things.

Something about the discourse of crisis is chilling to the ear. Neither side of the ocean is talking early or often enough about how to forge wealth into tools that can be put to work. There is still time perhaps to put jobs first.

[Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Worker and a regular contributor to The Rag Blog. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com .]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Honduran Coup Leaders Reportedly Trained at U.S. Army School in Georgia

Reported Honduras coup leader General Romeo Vasquez trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Key leaders of Honduras military coup trained in U.S.
The Georgia-based U.S. military school is infamous for training over 60,000 Latin American soldiers, including infamous dictators, "death squad" leaders and others charged with torture and other human rights abuses.
By Chris Kromm / June 29, 2009

At least two leaders of the coup launched in Honduras on June 28 were apparently trained at a controversial Department of Defense school based at Fort Benning, Georgia infamous for producing graduates linked to torture, death squads and other human rights abuses.

Leftist President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped and transported to Costa Rica on Sunday morning after a growing controversy over a vote concerning term limits. Over the last week, Zelaya clashed with and eventually dismissed General Romeo Vasquez -- who is now reportedly in charge of the armed forces that abducted the Honduran president.

According to the watchdog group School of Americas Watch, Gen. Vasquez trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at least twice -- in 1976 and 1984 -- when it was still called School of Americas.

The Georgia-based U.S. military school is infamous for training over 60,000 Latin American soldiers, including infamous dictators, "death squad" leaders and others charged with torture and other human rights abuses. SOA Watch's annual protest to shut down the Fort Benning training site draws thousands.

According to SOA Watch, the U.S. Army school has a particularly checkered record in Honduras, with over 50 graduates who have been intimately involved in human rights abuses. In 1975, SOA Graduate General Juan Melgar Castro became the military dictator of Honduras. From 1980-1982 the dictatorial Honduran regime was headed by yet another SOA graduate, Policarpo Paz Garcia, who intensified repression and murder by Battalion 3-16, one of the most feared death squads in all of Latin America (founded by Honduran SOA graduates with the help of Argentine SOA graduates).

General Vasquez isn't the only leader in the Honduras coup linked to the U.S. training facility. As Source Kristin Bricker points out:
The head of the Air Force, Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996. The Air Force has been a central protagonist in the Honduran crisis. When the military refused to distribute the ballot boxes for the opinion poll, the ballot boxes were stored on an Air Force base until citizens accompanied by Zelaya rescued them. Zelaya reports that after soldiers kidnapped him, they took him to an Air Force base, where he was put on a plane and sent to Costa Rica.
For previous Facing South coverage of controversy surrounding the School of Americas/Western Hemisphere Center, see here.

Source / Facing South

Also see Military Coup : Resistance and Repression in Honduras by Kristin Bricker / The Rag Blog / June 29, 2009

Thanks to Victor Agosto / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Military Coup : Resistance and Repression in Honduras

Demonstrator outside the Presidential Palace following the kidnapping of President Zelaya of Honduras. (Top) Photo from Orlando Sierra / AFP / Getty. (Below) Photo from Reuters.

Resistance and Repression in Honduras
People are taking the streets in Honduras despite incredibly hostile conditions created by the military.
By Kristin Bricker / June 29, 2009

An unknown number of Hondurans have taken to the streets today (Sunday) in an effort to stop the coup that the military, in league with Congress and the Supreme Court, has carried out against democratically elected President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya.

Due to intermitant power outages and heavy rain, independent media within Honduras has had extreme difficulty transmitting news. This means that while there's been plenty of news in the mainstream media about the actions people with a lot of political power have been taking -- from Chavez and the ALBA nations to the Organization of American States to the United States -- there's been very little reported about what rank-and-file Hondurans have been doing to reverse the coup.

However, it is clear that Hondurans are resisting. People are taking to the streets in Honduras despite incredibly hostile conditions created by the military. Radio Es Lo De Menos reports that their colleagues on the ground have been fired at by snipers who are positioned in rooftops around the city. They stress that the gunfire at this point has only been in the form of "warning shots" and no one has been reported injured from gunfire.

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) wrote in a communique,"We tell everyone that the Honduran people are carrying out large demonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there are occupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence, among others. From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, we call on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of their rights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we say that they will NOT silence us, that this cowardly act will turn back on them, with great force."

Radio Es Lo De Menos reported that the military has set up roadblocks all over the country in an attempt to prevent Zelaya supporters from reaching the capital. The soldiers are also reportedly attempting to shut down public transportation.

Zelaya supporters took to the streets in an attempt to prevent military reinforcements from arriving at the Presidential Palace. There are protests all over Tegucigalpa, trying to impede military movements.

People cast symbolic votes in today's controversial public opinion polls. While soldiers seized ballot boxes in many locales, in some towns people managed to rescue the seized ballot boxes from the soldiers and cast their votes:

Photo by Oswaldo Rivas / Reuters.

The Washington Post reports:
"Soldiers try to prevent journalists from filming as they patrol the area around the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa, Sunday June 28, 2009. Soldiers arrested Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya and disarmed his security guards after surrounding his residence before dawn Sunday, his private secretary said. Protesters called it a coup and flocked to the presidential palace as local news media reported that Zelaya was sent into exile."
Photo by Esteban Felix / AP.
Union Leader Calls for National Strike in Honduras

Honduran labor leader Ángel Alvarado told TeleSUR that he has called a national strike for Monday in Honduras to protest the coup that has ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Cell phone service seems to have intermittently returned to Honduras, allowing Alvarado to communicate with TeleSUR via phone from outside the Presidential Palace. Alvarado told TeleSUR that there's about 15,000 protesters gathered outside the Presidential Palace demanding Zelaya's return.

Meanwhile, Radio Es Lo De Menos is repeatedly pleading with the international community that protests be organized outside Honduran embassies around the world.

-- Kristin Bricker
Source / The Narcosphere

Also see Honduran Coup Leaders Reportedly Trained at U.S. Army School in Georgia by Chris Kromm / The Rag Blog / June 29, 2009

Thanks to Col. Jeffrey Segal / The Rag Blog

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28 June 2009

Health Care in Venezuela

New Venezuelan clinic built by community with funds given from municipality. When communities build projects such as this, they provide some labor and serve as the contractor -- thus allowing a lot to be done at lower costs than usual.

Health Care and Democracy: A Look at the Venezuelan Healthcare System
By Caitlin McNulty / June 25, 2009

The right to health care is guaranteed in the Venezuelan Constitution, which was written and ratified by the people in 1999. Through implementing a state-funded social program called Barrio Adentro, or inside the barrio, free comprehensive health care is available to all Venezuelans. Beginning in June 2003 through a trade pact with Cuba, Venezuela began to bring Cuban doctors, medical technology, and medications into rural and urban communities free of charge in exchange for low-cost oil.

The 1.5 million dollar per year program expanded to provide a broad network of small neighborhood clinics, larger regional clinics, and hospitals which aim to serve the entire Venezuelan population. (1) Chavez has referred to this new health care system as the "democratization of health care" stating that "health care has become a fundamental social right and the state will assume the principal role in the construction of a participatory system for national public health." (2) In Venezuela, not only is health care a right; it is recognized as an essential for true participatory democracy.

Some of what characterizes this movement towards health care for all includes popular participation, preventative medicine, and evaluation of community health issues. Western medicine typically operates in a top-down fashion. Doctors treat symptoms, and often fail to evaluate the larger picture of community health issues or teach prevention. (3) In a private for-profit system, there is little incentive to prevent costly illnesses. In Venezuela, however, Barrio Adentro began constructing clinics within neighborhoods where many had never been to a doctor. Through this program, a community can organize to receive funding to build a clinic and bring in doctors. The community is responsible for creating health committees, the members of which go door to door to assess the specific health issues of their community. Doctors who live in the communities also make house calls. (4) People participate in the process of serving the health needs of the entire population.

The extensive health program is also being used to train a new generation of Venezuelan doctors. The training program takes place within the clinic system itself and relies heavily on experiential learning. The program seeks to build a new relationship between doctor and patient based on the values of service, solidarity and compassion. Doctors participating in the training program are coming from the communities they are learning in and serving, building on their intimate knowledge of the communities to provide truly compassionate and personalized care. Using popular forums, medical professionals are able to respond to the needs of the community and offer education, treatment and consultation addressing unique public health issues.(6)

Although the system began by focusing exclusively on preventative health, it has expanded to include emergency health services, mental health services, surgeries, cancer treatment, dental care, access to optometrists as well as free glasses and contact lenses, support systems for those with disabilities and their families, as well as access to a large variety of medical specialists. They have succeeded in taking an under funded, corrupt public health care system and changing not only the quality and accessibility but also the mentality of those working there. Instead of a for-profit industry systematically denying access to large sectors of the population, health care in Venezuela is seen as a basic human right. No one is turned away, and no one is denied care. In Venezuela, they treat whole person, not simply their illness, and money stays where it belongs- outside of the health care system.(7)

During my time in Venezuela, I developed a cough that went on for three weeks and progressively worsened. Finally, after I had become incredibly congested and developed a fever, I decided to attend a Barrio Adentro clinic. The closest one available was a Barrio Adentro II Centro de Diagonostico Integral (CDI) and I headed in without my medical records or calling to make an appointment. Immediately, I was ushered into a small room where Carmen, a friendly Cuban doctor, began questioning me about my symptoms. She listened to my lungs and walked me over to another examination room where, again without waiting, I had x-rays taken. Afterwards, the technician walked me to a chair and apologized profusely that I had to wait for the x-rays to be developed, promising that it would take no more than five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later he returned with both x-rays developed. Carmen studied the x-rays and informed me that I had pneumonia, showing me the telltale shadows. She sent me away with my x-rays, three medications to treat my pneumonia, congestion, and fever, and made me promise to come back if my conditioned failed to improve or worsened within three days.

I walked out of the clinic with a diagnosis and treatment within twenty-five minutes of entering, without paying a dime. There was no wait, no paperwork, and no questions about my ability to pay, my nationality, or whether, as a foreigner, I was entitled to free comprehensive health care. There was no monetary value connected with my physical well-being; the care I received was not contingent upon my ability to pay. I was treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, my illness was cured and I was able to continue with my journey in Venezuela.

This past year, a family friend was not so lucky. At the age of 56, she was going back to school and was uninsured. She came down with what she thought was a severe case of the flu, and as her condition worsened she decided not to see a doctor because of the cost. She died at home in bed, losing her life to a system that did not respect her basic human right to survive. Her death is not an isolated incident. Over 18,000 United States residents die every year because of their lack of prohibitively expensive health insurance. The United States has the distinct honor of being the "only wealthy industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage".(8) Instead, we have commodified the public health and well being of those live in the US, leaving them on their own to obtain insurance. Those whose jobs do not provide insurance, can’t get enough hours to qualify for health care coverage through their workplace, are unemployed, or have "previously existing conditions" that exclude them from coverage are forced to choose between the potentially fatal decision of refusing medical care and accumulating medical bills that trap them in an inescapable cycle of debt. And sometimes, that decision is made for them. Doctors often ask that dreaded question; "do you have insurance?" before scheduling critical tests, procedures, or treatments. When the answer is no, treatments that were deemed necessary before are suddenly canceled as the ability to pay becomes more important than the patient’s health.(9)

It is estimated that there are over fifty million United States residents currently living without health insurance, a number that will skyrocket as unemployment rates increase and people lose their work-based health care coverage in this time of international financial crisis.(10) Already this year, 7.5 million people have lost work-related coverage. Budget cuts for the state of Washington this year will remove over forty thousand people from Washington Basic Health, a subsidized program which already has a waiting list of seventeen thousand people.(11) As I returned to the US from Venezuela, I was faced with the realization that as a society, the United States places a monetary value on life. That we make life and death judgments based on an individual’s ability to pay. And that someone with the same condition I had recently recovered from had died because, according to our system, her life wasn’t insured.

Many in the United States fear that people would abuse a free health care system, causing overcrowding and a compromised level of care. Others claim that a single payer system would limit the freedoms of both doctor and patient. These claims, propagated by the corporate media in the United States, are a hollow attempt to keep those in the US from organizing to demand single payer health care. Primary care and preventative medicine are seen as the first steps towards sustainable universal health care, keeping people out of costly hospital stays, tests, and treatments down the road. Socializing the costs of medicine keeps costs low by preventing expensive treatments and health problems. It is difficult to understand how much quality, free health care means until you find yourself in a position of vulnerability and need. I felt a sense of security traveling in Venezuela that I do not feel in the United States; in Venezuela, there is a safety net ready to catch you when you fall. People in the US must ask themselves, as a country, where our values lie and how we have not only let people slip through the cracks but worked to systematically exclude them. Do we believe that insurance corporations and the medical industrial complex should be profiting from denying care and keeping sick people from receiving treatment? Or do we believe that care should be separate from an individual’s ability to pay? As a nation, we must embrace our humanity and value life over profits.


1 Wilpert, Gregory. Changing Venezuela The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. New York: Verso, 2006.

2 "Mision Barrio Adentro." Mision Barrio Adentro. 02 June 2009 .

3 Wilpert, Gregory. Changing Venezuela The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. New York: Verso, 2006.

4 "Mision Barrio Adentro." Mision Barrio Adentro. 02 June 2009 .

6 "Mision Barrio Adentro." Mision Barrio Adentro. 02 June 2009 .

7 ibid

8 "Insuring America's Health: Principles and Recommendations -." Institute of Medicine. 02 June 2009 .


10 "Census Revises Estimates of the Number of Uninsured People — Center on Budget and Policy Priorities." Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 02 June 2009 www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=245.

11 "PR-2000-43/ WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION : ASSESSES THE WORLD'S HEALTH SYSTEMS." 02 June 2009 www.who.int/inf-pr-2000/en/pr2000-44.html.

Source / Upside Down World

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / The Rag Blog

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