Friday, February 29, 2008

Quaker Teacher Fired For Refusing to Take an Oath of Violence

by Nanette Asimov
San Francisco Chronicle
February 29, 2008

California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word "nonviolently" in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

"I don't think it was fair at all," said Kearney-Brown. "All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don't care if I meant it, and it didn't seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn't matter. Nothing."

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before - but had modified it each time.

She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high schools.

Each time, when asked to "swear (or affirm)" that she would "support and defend" the U.S. and state Constitutions "against all enemies, foreign and domestic," Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote "nonviolently" in front of the word "support," crossed out "swear," and circled "affirm." All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said.

The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.

But Cal State East Bay wouldn't, and she was fired on Thursday.

Modifying the oath "is very clearly not permissible," the university's attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. "It's an unfortunate situation. If she'd just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment."

Modifying oaths is open to different legal interpretations. Without commenting on the specific situation, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown said that "as a general matter, oaths may be modified to conform with individual values." For example, court oaths may be modified so that atheists don't have to refer to a deity, said spokesman Gareth Lacy.

Kearney-Brown said she could not sign an oath that, to her, suggested she was agreeing to take up arms in defense of the country.

"I honor the Constitution, and I support the Constitution," she said. "But I want it on record that I defend it nonviolently."

The trouble began Jan. 17, a little more than a week after she started teaching at the Hayward campus. Filling out her paperwork, she drew an asterisk on the oath next to the word "defend." She wrote: "As long as it doesn't require violence."

The secretary showed the amended oath to a supervisor, who said it was unacceptable, Kearney-Brown recalled.

Shortly after receiving her first paycheck, Kearney-Brown was told to come back and sign the oath.

This time, Kearney-Brown inserted "nonviolently," crossed out "swear," and circled "affirm."

That's when the university sought legal advice.

"Based on the advice of counsel, we cannot permit attachments or addenda that are incompatible and inconsistent with the oath," the campus' human resources manager, JoAnne Hill, wrote to Kearney-Brown.

She cited a 1968 case called Smith vs. County Engineer of San Diego. In that suit, a state appellate court ruled that a man being considered for public employment could not amend the oath to declare: his "supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ Whom Almighty God has appointed ruler of Nations, and expressing my dissent from the failure of the Constitution to recognize Christ and to acknowledge the Divine institution of civil government."

The court called it "a gratuitous injection of the applicant's religious beliefs into the governmental process."

But Hill said Kearney-Brown could sign the oath and add a separate note to her personal file that expressed her views.

Kearney-Brown declined. "To me it just wasn't the same. I take the oath seriously, and if I'm going to sign it, I'm going to do it nonviolently."

Then came the warning.

"Please understand that this issue needs to be resolved no later than Friday, Feb. 22, 2008, or you will not be allowed to continue to work for the university," Hill wrote.

The deadline was then extended to Wednesday and she was fired on Thursday.

"I was kind of stunned," said Kearney-Brown, who is pursuing her master's degree in math to earn the credentials to do exactly the job she is being fired from.

"I was born to do this," she said. "I teach developmental math, the lowest level. The kids who are conditionally accepted to the university. Give me the kids who hate math - that's what I want."

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.

Ducking Donald: US Forest Service Officials Avoid Jail

by Grist Magazine
February 28, 2008

The U.S. Forest Service turned in a court-ordered environmental analysis of a fish-killing flame retardant 2 1/2 years late, and only after the agency's top official was threatened with incarceration for contempt of court. But the USFS did ultimately conduct the environmental review of ammonium phosphate -- which was dropped on an Oregon fire in 2002 and subsequently killed 20,000 fish -- so U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy elected Wednesday not to send Agriculture Undersecretary and USFS overseer Mark Rey to the slammer. Nonetheless, said Molloy, the agency's lack of action was "shameful," "unreasonable," and showed a "systematic disregard of the rule of law." Ah, just another day in the Bush administration.

sources: Missoulian, Associated Press

©2008 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why We Pay So Much In Taxes But Have No Money For Public Works

by Kevin G. Hall
McClatchy Newspapers
February 27, 2008

When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, the Bush administration predicted that the war would be self-financing and that rebuilding the nation would cost less than $2 billion.

Coming up on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, a Nobel laureate now estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing America more than $3 trillion.

That estimate from Noble Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz also serves as the title of his new book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War," which hits store shelves Friday.

The book, co-authored with Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes, builds on previous research that was published in January 2006. The two argued then and now that the cost to America of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is wildly underestimated.

When other factors are added — such as interest on debt, future borrowing for war expenses, the cost of a continued military presence in Iraq and lifetime health-care and counseling for veterans — they think that the wars' costs range from $5 trillion to $7 trillion.

"I think we really have learned that the long-term costs of taking care of the wounded and injured in this war and the long-term costs of rebuilding the military to its previous strength is going to far eclipse the cost of waging this war," Bilmes said in an interview.

The book and its estimates are the subject of a hearing Thursday by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.

The White House doesn't care for the estimates by Stiglitz, a former chief economist of the World Bank who's now a professor at Columbia University.

"People like Joe Stiglitz lack the courage to consider the cost of doing nothing and the cost of failure. One can't even begin to put a price tag on the cost to this nation of the attacks of 9-11," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto, conceding that the costs of the war on terrorism are high while questioning the premise of Stiglitz's research.

"It is also an investment in the future safety and security of Americans and our vital national interests. $3 trillion? What price does Joe Stiglitz put on attacks on the homeland that have already been prevented? Or doesn't his slide rule work that way?"

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine Corp colonel and Vietnam veteran, welcomed the effort by Stiglitz and Bilmes to quantify how much the wars will cost taxpayers.

"It's astounding that here we are about to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and this administration still refuses to acknowledge the long-term costs of the war in Iraq," he said.

By any estimate, the Bush administration's predictions in March 2003 of a self-financing war have proved to be wildly inaccurate. Stiglitz cites operational spending to date of $646 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, working off estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, presumes that spending on these wars over the next decade probably will amount to another $913 billion.

Pentagon officials had no immediate comment on Stiglitz's book or his estimates.

Stiglitz and Bilmes first estimated war costs of $1 trillion in January 2006. Their research proved controversial and sparked debate about the costs of replacing equipment used by the regular armed forces and National Guard. In the new book, they offer a figure of $404 billion for replacing equipment, planes and tanks and bringing military hardware back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an interview, Stiglitz said that too much of the public debate had been over the wars' operational costs while the real budget strains would show up only years from now.

"The peak expenditures are way out," he said, noting that the peak expenditures for World War II vets came in 1993.

The pair estimated that future medical, disability and Social Security costs for veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan range from a best-case $422 billion to what they call a more probable long-term expense of $717 billion.

It's why the two call in the book for creating a Veterans Benefits Trust Fund to set aside money in a "lock box" to pay for future health-care needs of Iraq and Afghanistan vets. Although veterans' health care amounts to a future promise, they said, it isn't an entitlement and instead is funded through discretionary spending. In the future, funding for vets will compete with other government programs.

"We should not have an unfunded entitlement program like this," Stiglitz said. "This is more like deferred compensation. . . . We require corporations to put money away but we don't require the government to put money away, and we should be doing that . . . so when the focus turns away to some other problem, veterans aren't given the shaft."

The book divides war costs into two main categories: budgetary and social. The budgetary costs are the more quantifiable spending on operations, equipment, future benefits paid to veterans and the like. In a best-case scenario they total about $1.7 trillion; in a more probable scenario almost $2.7 trillion.

The social costs that Stiglitz and Bilmes offer are more theoretical, and represent the thought-provoking part of their war-cost argument.

When a soldier is killed in combat, they said, the U.S. armed forces pay a $100,000 death gratuity and make a $400,000 payment to his or her survivors in the equivalent of insurance for an unexpected death.

If these men and women had died in private-sector employment or in some kind of disaster, compensation to family members generally would be settled in court after determining what economists and lawyers call "the value of statistical life." This measures the economic contribution that a person would have made over the rest of his or her life if they hadn't died.

Stiglitz and Bilmes settled on a statistical value of life that they say the Environmental Protection Agency uses when people are killed in environmental disasters: $7.2 million.

There have been 4,456 U.S. military fatalities in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to Feb. 26, 2008. The direct cost to the Pentagon from these deaths has been $2.2 billion, but if lives are valued as they are outside the armed forces, the researchers conclude, the hypothetical economic cost rises to more than $30 billion. Include contractors killed while working for U.S. operations and the number rises to more than $50 billion.

In a best-case outlook, the social and societal costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would be $295 billion; $415 billion in a moderate-realistic case scenario.

© Copyright McClatchy Newspapers 2008

Cement Plants Spew Huge Amounts of Mercury Unregulated

by Brian Nearing
Albany Times Union
February 28, 2008

For the third year in a row, the towering smokestack at the Lafarge cement plant sent more toxic mercury into the air than any other place in the state.

The plant on Route 9W north of Ravena released 400 pounds of mercury, according to 2006 figures released last week in the federal Toxic Release Inventory.

That was nearly one-third of all the mercury pollution in the state -- equivalent to four of the state's largest coal-fired power plants, according to a Times Union analysis of TRI and state records. The inventory contains pollution levels reported by businesses to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Emissions of mercury, which ultimately drift back to earth, are known to cause developmental problems in developing fetuses and children. Prevailing westerly winds in the region would carry stack emissions from Lafarge across the Hudson toward Columbia County.

The body is slow to release mercury, so toxic levels can accumulate and lead to brain damage and other neurological problems.

A mere one-seventieth of a teaspoon of mercury will contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point at which fish are unsafe to eat, according to a 1991 study published in Science News. Nationally, about 6 percent of women of childbearing age had mercury levels in their blood above what is considered safe, according to a study by the EPA.

Environmentalists are urging the state to expand rules that already limit mercury from power plants to include cement plants -- something the Bush administration refused to do nationally in 2006, prompting a lawsuit from several environmental groups.

State officials are negotiating renewals of air pollution permits for both Lafarge and another mercury polluter, the St. Lawrence cement plant in Catskill, said Maureen Wren, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"Mercury is an issue involved in the renewals," she said. Lafarge's permit expired in April 2006, while St. Lawrence's expired in 2002; both plants are operating under the expired permits.

Wren said state officials are considering rules to limit mercury from cement plants. New York has required coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions 90 percent by 2015.

Much of the mercury escaping from the two local cement plants comes from the burning for fuel of mercury-tainted coal waste -- called fly ash -- obtained from power plants. Mercury also comes from the processing of limestone used in making cement.

Pollution controls for power plants have made fly ash much more toxic, according to a 2007 report from the EPA, with mercury levels rising by an average of 850 percent. It is legal for cement plants to burn fly ash.

Read more here.

Copyright 2008 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Reality of US Success in Iraq

by Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail
Inter Press Service
February 22, 2008

What the U.S. has been calling the success of a "surge", many Iraqis see as evidence of catastrophe. Where U.S. forces point to peace and calm, local Iraqis find an eerie silence.

And when U.S. forces speak of a reduction in violence, many Iraqis simply do not know what they are talking about.

Hundreds died in a series of explosions in Baghdad last month. This was despite the strongest ever security measures taken by the U.S. military, riding the "surge" in security forces and their activities.

The death toll is high, according to the website, which provides reliable numbers of Iraqi civilian and security deaths.

In January this year 485 civilians were killed, according to the website. It says the number is based on news reports, and that "actual totals for Iraqi deaths are higher than the numbers recorded on this site."

The average month in 2005, before the "surge" was launched, saw 568 civilian deaths. In January 2006, the month before the "surge" began, 590 civilians died.

Many of the killings have taken place in the most well guarded areas of Baghdad. And they have continued this month.

"Two car bombs exploded in Jadriya, killing so many people, the day the American Secretary of Defence (Robert Gates) was visiting Baghdad last week," a captain from the Karrada district police in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS.

"Another car bomb killed eight people and injured 20 Thursday (last week) in the Muraidy market of Sadr City, east of Baghdad, although the Mehdi army (the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr) provides strict protection to the city," the officer said. "There is no security in this country any more."

Unidentified bodies of Iraqis killed by militias continue to appear in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. The Iraqi government has issued instructions to all security and health offices not to give out the body count to the media. Dozens of bodies are found every day across Baghdad, residents say. Morgue officials confirm this.

"We are not authorised to issue any numbers, but I can tell you that we are still receiving human bodies every day; the men have no identity on them," a doctor at the Baghdad morgue told IPS. "The bodies that have signs of torture are the Sunnis killed by Shia militias; those with a bullet in the head are usually policemen, translators or contractors who worked for the Americans."

The "surge" of 30,000 additional troops came to Iraq, mostly Baghdad, in February of last year. The total current number of U.S. troops in Iraq is approximately 157,000. They were sent to end violence, and with a declared aim of helping political reconciliation.

But where peace of sorts has descended in Baghdad, Iraq's capital city of six million (in a population of 25 million), it comes from a partitioning of people along sectarian lines. The Iraqi Red Crescent reports that one in four residents has been driven out of their homes by death squads, or by the "surge".

According to an Iraqi Red Crescent report titled 'The Internally Displaced People in Iraq' released Jan. 27, 1,364,978 residents of Baghdad have been displaced.

The Environment News Service reported Jan. 7 that "many of the capital's once mixed areas have become either purely Sunni or Shia after militias forced families out for belonging to the other religious branch of Islam."

Some of the eerie calm in areas of Baghdad comes because togetherness has ended. Sunnis and Shias who lived together for generations are now partitioned. This is not the peace many Iraqis were looking for, surge or no surge.

On Jan. 8, UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond announced that there were at least 2.2 million Iraqis internally displaced within the country, and that at least another two million had fled the country altogether. This, no doubt, would make many areas quieter.

The U.S. military has erected three to four metre high concrete walls around several neighbourhoods, forcing residents to choose either Sunni or Shia areas in which to live. Such separation has brought large-scale displacement, and protests.

Sunni Muslims seem to have the worst of it. Many Iraqis are outraged by the number of Sunni detainees the "surge" has taken.

Residents of Amiriya district of western Baghdad demonstrated Feb. 11 against mistreatment by U.S. and Iraqi forces involved in the "surge". The "surge" aims to eradicate al-Qaeda from Iraq, but this has meant that most military operations have been carried out in Sunni areas like Amiriya.

"We are here to protest against the unfair arrests and raids conducted against the innocent people of Amiriya," Salih al-Mutlag, chief of the Arab Dialogue Council in the Iraqi government told IPS at the demonstration. "This has gone too far under the flag of fighting terror."

Al-Mutlag said they were also demonstrating against arrests in the western parts of Baghdad, despite an apparently peaceful situation there as a result of residents' cooperation with Iraqi army units. Large numbers of residents came out in the Dora region of southwest Baghdad to protest against the U.S. military for arresting 18 people, including an 80-year-old man.

"We are the ones who improved the situation in western parts of Baghdad without any interference from the Americans and their puppet Iraqi government," former Iraqi Army Major Abu Wussam told IPS in Amiriya. "We negotiated with our brothers in the Iraqi national resistance who agreed to conduct their activities in a different way from the traditional way they used to work.

"It seems Americans did not like it, and so they are punishing us for it, instead of releasing our detainees as they promised."

Some of the apparent peace on the street is a consequence of rising detentions. In November last year Karl Matley, head of the Iraqi branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross, declared that more than 60,000 prisoners and detainees are held in prisons and other detention centres. A large number of these were taken during the "surge".

By August 2007, half a year into the "surge", the number of detainees held by the U.S.-led military forces in Iraq had swelled by 50 percent, with the inmate population growing to 24,500, from 16,000 in February, according to U.S. military officers in Iraq.

The officers reported that nearly 85 percent of the detainees in custody were Sunni Arabs.

Given that the majority of the detained are Sunnis, the "surge", rather than bridging political differences and aiding reconciliation between Sunni and Shia groups, appears to have had the opposite effect.

And yet, there could be more dangerous reasons to doubt such success of the "surge" that is claimed.

Among the recent arrests in Baghdad, the U.S. military counted six members of the Sahwa (Awakening) forces. This is a force of resistance fighters now ostensibly working with the U.S. military. The U.S. pays each member 300 dollars monthly. More than 80 percent of about 70,000 Sahwa members are Sunni.

The arrest of some Sahwa members is indication of U.S. military doubts about the loyalties of some of these Sahwa fighters. Shia political parties and militias already accuse them of being resistance fighters in disguise. Many believe that large numbers of Sahwa forces are resistance fighters simply riding the "surge".

"How come Sunni parts of Baghdad became so quiet all of a sudden," says Jawad Salman, a former resident of Amiriya who fled his house in 2006 after Iraqi resistance members accused him of being a government spy. "It is a game well played by terrorists to divert the fight against Shia groups. I lived there and I know that all residents fully support what the U.S. calls the terrorists."

The Sahwa strategy has brought down the number of U.S. casualties – for now. But the U.S. strategy seems to have done less for Iraq than for its own forces.

Copyright © 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service

Monday, February 25, 2008

A More Ethical & Effective Alternative to War

by Randy Schutt
The PeaceWorker
December 2007/January 2008 issue

War is hell — both for the soldiers who fight it and the civilians who live where it is fought. The Iraq war is a perfect example of the mess that military force can make of a country: directly killing thousands of innocent civilians, injuring tens of thousands more, and displacing and traumatizing millions, while destroying critical infrastructure — such as roads, bridges, and electricity generation, water purification, and sewage treatment plants — that makes civilized life possible. Creating a civilized, democratic society out of the chaotic disaster that Iraq has become will be extremely difficult and take a very long time, even under the best circumstances.

But what is the alternative? In the last three decades, nonviolent action has demonstrated that it is very effective in overthrowing horribly repressive regimes. For example, nonviolent action toppled the apartheid regime in South Africa, deposed the dictatorships of Slobodan Milosevich in Yugoslavia, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and brought down the former Soviet Union and its communist satellite states (including Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania). Overthrowing those regimes incurred relatively few casualties and wrought relatively little destruction. The nonviolent overthrow of these vicious regimes has mostly left these countries stronger, more civilized, and much more free and democratic.

Nonviolent action relies on an empowered populace that refuses to carry out the desires of the ruling leaders. Without the consent of the governed, these leaders have little power. If consent is completely withheld, they have only their own personal individual power and can easily be ignored and removed from governance.

Nonviolent action involves ordinary people working together to overcome their oppression. Like war, nonviolent action inspires people to selfless service on behalf of others. Unlike war — which is usually monstrously destructive and leaves people horribly traumatized and resentful, often leading directly to future wars — the carrying out of nonviolent action actually builds community and understanding and empowers people to act more civilly. In practicing nonviolent action, people work together as a civic body, learning to practice freedom, democracy, and justice.

A 2005 study by Freedom House found that in the 67 cases since 1972 in which dictatorial systems fell or new states arose from the disintegration of multinational states, civic resistance was a key factor in driving 50 of those transitions — over 70%. In 32 of the 67 countries (nearly 48%), strong, broad-based nonviolent civic coalitions were highly active, and in many cases central to steering the process of change. Only one transition to freedom was brought about by an outside military force.

Of course, nonviolent action cannot win every struggle, just as war cannot. Clearly nonviolent action has demonstrated that it is a viable alternative to war, and one that is a credit to humanity, not a destroyer of it.

If we are sincere about spreading democracy around the world, then it makes sense to use the most effective means available, especially means that are consistent with moral values of freedom, justice, compassion, and community. If there is a viable alternative to war, it makes sense to stop using weapons that kill and maim innocent people and destroy their cities, businesses, and homes.

Each year the United States spends close to $500 billion on its military forces. The amount spent on diplomacy and nonviolent action by all countries in the world is a minuscule fraction of this amount. Even with little money or research, nonviolent action has achieved tremendous results. Isn’t it time to explore this ethical and effective alternative to war?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why the Serbs Hate Us

If you look more deeply into how the United States (and NATO) have treated Serbia and Kosovo since Bill Clinton's little war of 1999, it should be no wonder why there is so much animosity toward the United States within Serbia. The following three articles provide some perspective on Serbia and Kosovo; the first was written once Clinton's 3-month-long bombing campaign began; the second is from last year describing the continuing horrors resulting from the bombing campaign; the third is a report just released about the lack of justice within Kosovo since the bombing started. This tragedy is just another illustration, among an endless supply of examples, of how war does not bring peace or justice. To once again quote Bobby Kennedy, "violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul."


Bombing Serbia To Prevent A Wider War Is Not Only Hypocritical But Also Insane
by Robert M. Hayden
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
March 28, 1999

On March 24, the United States led NATO into the first campaign of military aggression against a sovereign state in Europe since World War II. It did so against the principles of international law and of the United Nations charter. It also did so against the rulings of the Nuremberg trials, which declared that "to initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime."

That NATO is an aggressor is not in doubt. While hardly a "republic" under the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is clearly a state with internationally recognized borders. NATO is attacking that state militarily, brazenly, although Yugoslavia has not attacked or even threatened any NATO country.

To be sure, Serbian forces have attacked ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province that has been part of Serbia since 1913. While Kosovo had a very mixed population in the past, during the years of its "autonomy" under ethnic Albanian rule (1974-1989), it became almost 90 percent Albanian. The Serbian police have been brutal in response to an armed uprising by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which began to attack Serb police and to murder Serb civilians in 1997.

The resulting conflict has been horrible and tragic. It is hardly unique in the world, however, nor even particularly noteworthy in terms of victims. For example, the Turkish campaigns against the Kurds in Turkey and in Iraq have killed far more people and destroyed far more villages than the Serb campaigns in Kosovo. Yet NATO is not bombing Turkey (which is, of course, a NATO member).

Perhaps the niceties of international law may be forgotten if the cause is right. But what is the cause?

President Clinton has said that we are attacking Yugoslavia to protect the Albanians there from a Serb offensive, to prevent a wider war, to uphold our values, to protect our interests and to advance the cause of peace. Yet few actions could be less likely to produce these results than the massive assaults now being conducted on Serbia.

Protect the Albanians? It was clear before NATO's aggression that the most likely result of air attacks would be an increase in fighting in Kosovo, and this has happened. The Serbs, committed to holding onto their territory, have increased their attacks on the KLA. The KLA, having gained NATO as its air force, has increased its attacks on the Serbs. Caught in the middle are the people of Kosovo, who are now fleeing the increased fighting. Thus NATO has caused a new wave of refugees.

Prevent a wider war? As the increasing flows of refugees reach Albania and Macedonia, they threaten to disrupt those fragile states. Macedonia is particularly vulnerable, since relations between the Slav Macedonian majority and ethnic Albanian minority there are already uneasy. On the second day of NATO attacks on Serbia, thousands of demonstrators, waving Macedonian flags, attacked the American Embassy, and the Macedonian government stated that anti-NATO sentiment was increasing.

So much for, to use Bill Clinton's words, "defusing the Balkans powder keg." Uphold our values? Which values? Isn't international law one of our values?

Here, the relevant comparison is with Iraq, where the United States conducted the Gulf war because Saddam Hussein had invaded a neighboring state, thus changing borders by force. In Kosovo, the United States has led NATO into attacking a sovereign state, thus threatening to change borders by force.

Or perhaps the "values" are the need to protect civilians from military attack. In that case, the United States will need to put Turkey on its target list, not to mention Israel, which has attacked civilians in Lebanon (part of which it also occupies) with some frequency for many years now.

Of course, Bill Clinton referred to "genocide" in his speech justifying the attacks on Yugoslavia. Yet in Kosovo, about 2,000 people have died in two years, in the course of the brutal repression of an armed insurrection. This is a condition usually called "civil war." Tragic, yes. Incidents of war crimes, almost certainly. But "genocide," no. This is an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Do our values include terrorizing the innocent populations of Belgrade, Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Nis and other Serbian cities? Do they include damaging the power and water supplies of these people? Do they include destroying the livelihood of these people? Are our values, in fact, the same as those we condemned during the siege of Sarajevo by the Serbs (and failed to notice during the siege of Mostar by the Croats)?

Advance the cause of peace? Increasing conflict, and radically increasing the risk of even greater war, seems an odd way to achieve this goal.

Advance our interests? Perhaps. But what are our interests in this case? Bill Clinton has not said. And when we know what they are, will they justify the violations of international law and the betrayal of our supposed values that are manifested by NATO's massive aggression against Yugoslavia? In a transparent display of hypocrisy, President Clinton has said that NATO is not waging war against the people of Yugoslavia, but against their government. Can anyone believe that people under attack will hate anyone other than the attackers?

NATO's aggression has betrayed those who oppose Milosevic's dictatorship, thus strengthening the rule of the man whom Bill Clinton accurately described as "a dictator who has done nothing since the cold war ended but start new wars and pour gasoline on the flames of ethnic and religious division."

There is now a new arsonist in the volatile Balkans: NATO

Copyright © 1999 Pittsburg Post-Gazette Publishing.

Nato comes clean on cluster bombs
Eight years on, Serbia is finally told where munitions fell
by Brian Brady
The Independent
September 16, 2007

Nato chiefs will this week finally tell the Serbian government where they drop-ped thousands of cluster bombs during the Kosovo campaign, more than eight years after the bombardment finished.

Allied commanders have bowed to mounting pressure from foreign governments and pressure groups and will hand over full coordinates for the hundreds of bombing sorties. Belgrade hopes this could pinpoint thousands of unexploded munitions still littering parts of the country.

The pledge from Nato's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Shape) will end a delay condemned by human rights groups and described as "shameful" by one British minister.

The US, Britain and Holland are believed to have dropped more than 2,000 cluster bombs – containing 380,000 sub-munitions – during Operation Allied Force, the three-month campaign to end Serb oppression in Kosovo in 1999. The RAF dropped 531 RBL755 cluster bombs, designed principally to destroy tanks and other armoured vehicles.

But furious condemnation erupted after at least 23 Serb civilians were killed by cluster munitions during the campaign. Since the operation, the Allied forces have admitted the bombs had a failure rate of at least 5 per cent, meaning up to 20,000 unexploded bomb-lets may be strewn across Serbia and Kosovo.

The sub-munitions are designed to explode immediately or burst to deposit anti-personnel devices over an area the size of several football pitches.

A conference this year heard that at least six Serbs – including three children – had been killed by exploding cluster munitions since 1999, and 12 people, six of them children, wounded. In the most notorious incident, five ethnic Albanian children were killed during the campaign, when seven youngsters picked up one of the "yellow killers", thinking it was a toy.

Serbian officials report that up to 23 square kilometres in six areas suffer "cluster contamination". Agriculture and development are banned in several rural areas.

But British ministers confessed this summer that, despite Serb requests, the co-ordinates of RAF bombing raids had not been given to Belgrade. Baroness Royall of Blaisdon said Britain had given the information to Nato, but it had not been passed on. She added: "I do think it is rather shameful."

Tory peer Lord Elton, a leading campaigner against the bombs, said ministers had confirmed in mid-May that the co-ordinates had been supplied to Nato and Nato "would in due course hand them to Serbia". He added: "That's eight years for children to blow their feet off. Why can't we send our co-ordinates direct and get others to do the same?".

Now critics claim it may be too late recover thousands of ageing, unstable munitions. The UK has contributed £86,000 to the Serbian Mine Action Centre for equipment; in Lebanon, Britain gave £2.7m to help the clean-up after the Israeli attack last summer.

A Foreign Office spokes-man said: "Nato now have everything they need and intend to share it with the Serbs in the next week."


Kosovo (Serbia): Lessons to be learned
Amnesty International
January 29, 2008

As the European Union (EU) prepares to make a decision over its responsibilities with regard to Kosovo, Amnesty International warns that war crimes and crimes against humanity from the conflict in the late 1990s must not be left unpunished.

The organization calls on the international and Kosovo authorities to conclude and make public the results of a review of the work of the international and local judiciary in bringing those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and inter-ethnic crimes to justice and to make public all judgments and court documents concerning such crimes.

"Hundreds of cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity (including rapes and enforced disappearances), as well as other inter-ethnic crimes remain unresolved seven years after the UN began its efforts to rebuild the Kosovo judicial system. Hundreds of cases have been closed, for want of evidence that was neither promptly nor effectively gathered. Relatives of missing people report that they have been interviewed too many times by international police and prosecutors new to their case, yet no progress is ever made," said Sian Jones, Amnesty International's researcher on Kosovo.

Amnesty International delegates visited Kosovo in between November and December 2007 and talked with members of the EU Planning Team, officials from the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo -- including those responsible for the police and judiciary -- and with local and international non-governmental organizations monitoring the international prosecutors and judiciary. The delegates ascertained that trials continue to be delayed due to the lack of international judges and prosecutors, a massive backlog of prosecutions, and the failure to protect witnesses effectively and to provide the necessary support to victims of rape and other crimes of sexual violence which continues to prevent prosecutions coming before the courts.

After the 1999 conflict in the Kosovo province of what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the criminal and civil justice system collapsed. Although the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had jurisdiction over Kosovo, it was clear that it would only be able to try a very limited number of cases. Therefore, the UN established the International Judges and Prosecutors Programme to incorporate a limited number of foreign judges and prosecutors into the local criminal justice system.

Amnesty International's report, Kosovo (Serbia): The challenge to fix a failed UN justice mission, examines and compares the performance of the programme with international law and standards concerning the right to fair trial and the rights of victims to justice and full reparations. It draws lessons to be learned when developing and implementing future initiatives, including recommending the incorporation of an international component into collapsed national judicial systems.

"Regrettably, the performance over more than seven years of the International Judges and Prosecutors Programme has failed to meet expectations. Local prosecutors and judges are still not prepared for cases involving crimes under international law. Legal reforms essential for such cases still have not been enacted into law. No date has been set for completing the rebuilding of the justice system so that it can operate without a continuing international component," said Sian Jones.

Amnesty International said that the model of internationalizing national courts by importing, on a temporary basis, experienced international staff to work alongside national staff in all parts of the collapsed or damaged national justice system is still one that could prove effective in the long-term to investigate and prosecute large numbers of crimes under international law, provide reparations to victims and re-establish the rule of law through a reconstituted judicial system.

Sadly however, the structure and operation of the International Judges and Prosecutors Programme have been so flawed from its inception that the example in Kosovo cannot serve as a model for internationalizing national judicial systems without major changes.

Amnesty International's report makes a series of comprehensive recommendations for immediately pressing essential reforms which aim to assist both the EU, in their planning to ensure international judges and prosecutors deliver the benefits they promised to bring to the Kosovo justice system, and the UN, in planning any future transitional justice assistance.

Unless these recommendations are implemented as expeditiously as possible, the prospects for a durable peace in Kosovo in which the human rights of all are fully respected will be seriously endangered.

Why Hillary Clinton’s Iraq Vote Matters

by Stephen Zunes
Common Dreams News Center
February 23, 2008

In response to a series of articles in recent months regarding the foreign policy positions of Senator Hillary Clinton - in which, among other things, I have emphasized her October 2002 vote authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq - I have received comments such as the following:

“The only mistake Hillary made was to believe what the President told her and that Dubya would not lie about such a national matter involving the military. She chose to believe what he said and the intel presented to her -as did so many others on both sides of the political aisle…. GET OVER IT! It is water under the bridge…”

In reality, however, Hillary Clinton’s decision to vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq in fact is of critical importance and should disqualify her - along with Senator John McCain, who also voted in favor of the war resolution - from ever becoming president.

There have been many tragic consequences of the war for which Senator Clinton and others who made it possible should be held accountable: the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and the tens of thousands permanently wounded; the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed; the hundreds of billions of dollars drained from our national treasury; the social, economic and environmental damage inflicted upon Iraq; the misallocation of human and material resources away from real strategic threats; and, the resulting growth in Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism which will threaten our national security for decades to come .

More importantly, however, is what the decision says about Hillary Clinton’s world view:

Contempt for International Law...

Contempt for the Truth...

Contempt for Good Judgment...

[read more here]

The 2002 vote authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not like the vote on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution on the use of force against North Vietnam, for which Congress had no time for hearings or debate and for which most of those supporting it (mistakenly) thought they were simply authorizing limited short-term retaliatory strikes in response to a specific series of alleged incidents. By contrast, prior to her vote in support of the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Senator Clinton had many months to investigate the administration’s claims that Iraq was a threat as well as the likely implications of a U.S. invasion. She also surely recognized that the resolution authorized a full-scale invasion of a sovereign nation and a subsequent military occupation of an indefinite period.

In voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, then, Senator Clinton has offered a clear demonstration of how she would approach international affairs and security policy:

* the United States need not abide by its international legal obligations, including those prohibiting wars of aggression;

* claims by right-wing Republican officials and unreliable foreign exiles regarding a foreign government’s military capabilities are a more legitimate basis for analyzing possible security threats than are empirical studies by independent arms control analysts and United Nations inspectors;

*concerns expressed by scholars and others knowledgeable of the likely reaction by the subjected population to a foreign conquest and the likely complications that would result should be ignored and faith should instead be placed on the occupation policies forcibly imposed upon that population by a corrupt right-wing Republican administration.

There are also a number of reasons to suspect that, if elected president, Senator Clinton could lead the United States into yet another disastrous war:

* she has refused to apologize for her vote to authorize the invasion, indicating her willingness to support another aggressive war in the future

* she has repeatedly threatened the use of military force against Iran and voted in favor the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which many fear the administration could use as justification for launching military action against that country

* just as she falsely claimed Iraq had a nuclear weapons program back in 2002, she also falsely claimed just last year that Iran had a nuclear weapons program, even though International Atomic Energy Agency and independent arms control specialists at that time, as well as a subsequent NIE report, indicated that this was untrue

As a result, Senator Clinton’s October 2002 vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq is not simply “water under the bridge.” It is very relevant and says a lot about what kind of president she would be.

© Copyrighted 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

High-Speed Rail Comes to Argentina, Not US

by Jay Walljasper
The Ecopolitan
February 20, 2008

High-speed rail is finally coming to the Western Hemisphere now that Argentina recently signed a deal with the French company Alstom to build a 21st century train line between Buenos Aires and Cordoba, the country's second biggest city. Nine trains a day will whoosh passengers at speeds reaching almost 200 miles per hour. Modeled on France's famed TGV service, the 441-mile ride will take 3 hours compared to the present 14.

It may come as a surprise that Argentina, not the U.S. or Canada, is premiering fast train technology in the New World. (The top speed on Amtrak's highly touted Acela service between Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington is just 150 miles per hour.) Especially since high-speed rail is transforming life in Japan and Europe, where many passengers are shifting from plane to train not just for environmental reasons but also because it is easier, cheaper, more convenient, more comfortable and faster. Korea, Taiwan and China are also developing ambitious networks of speedy trains.

The reasons why North America lags behind are hard to explain, especially now that we understand air and car travel contribute so heavily to global climate disruption. Anti-rail forces have long contended that U.S. and Canadian cities are spread too far apart to be efficiently served by trains. Yet both countries have numerous highly populated corridors that are perfect for high-speed service. Besides Boston-to-Washington, other prime routes include:

  • Windsor-Toronto-Montreal-Quebec City
  • San Diego-Los Angeles-San Jose-San Francisco-Sacramento
  • Chicago-Milwaukee-Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • Houston-Dallas
  • Calgary-Edmonton
  • Miami-Orlando

Fast trains are good for the environment in many ways beyond just reducing global climate change. Because they arrive and depart in the center of town rather than at a distant airport, they discourage sprawl and auto use. They use far less energy per passenger mile, produce less noise, and don't eat up nearly as much land as airports or highways.

With a U.S. election coming, I hope the presidential candidates will make good on their promises of reducing global warming, declaring energy independence, and protecting the environment by laying out plans for a 21st century network of high speed trains. If Argentina, a country much poorer than either the U.S. or Canada, can enjoy the benefits of modern trains, so should we.

© The Green Guide 2007

Friday, February 22, 2008

Obama Promises to End Iraq War in 2009

by Tom Hayden
The Nation
February 20, 2008

In his victory speech in Texas Tuesday, Barack Obama promised to end the Iraq war in 2009, a new commitment that parallels recent opinion pieces in The Nation.

Prior to his Houston remarks, Obama's previous position favored an American combat troop withdrawal over a sixteen-to-eighteen-month timeframe. He has been less specific on the number and mission of any advisers he would leave behind.

Ending the war in the first year of his potential presidency, therefore, is the strongest stand Obama has taken thus far, and one he will be questioned on sharply by the Republicans and the media. As Juan Cole noted last year, the Bush-Cheney team is preparing a "poison pill" of disorder and blame for any future President contemplating an Iraq troop withdrawal.

Did Obama mean it? Was it only rhetoric? Perhaps, but as Obama has said over and over lately, words make a difference. He may be asked to square his 2009 goal with his previous eighteen-month timetable. To avoid inconsistencies or missteps, he might claim that he will publicly declare in 2009 that he is ending the occupation but bringing the troops home on his longer timetable. Who knows? But these were words worth holding the candidate to. The astonishing thing is that antiwar sentiment among Obama's base is running strongly enough to push the candidate forward to a stronger commitment. By comparison, in The Audacity of Hope (2006), Obama wrote that "how quickly a complete withdrawal can be accomplished is a matter of imperfect judgment based on a series of best guesses."

The Iraq war, and the so-called war on terrorism, are now guaranteed to loom large in the likely battle between Obama and John McCain. The American experience, first with Vietnam and now with Iraq, provides a strong reservoir of support for Obama's skeptical position from 2002 until the present time. But McCain's personal experience as a tough Navy pilot and prisoner of war makes him much more formidable than Hillary Clinton as a "national security" advocate against Obama. McCain's remarks last night were focused entirely on Obama's lack of experience in foreign affairs, and should be a wake-up call to the peace movement to become more engaged in the presidential election.

Obama faces two immediate tests aside from the primary contests ahead. First, sometime in April, General David Petraeus will be testifying in Washington that the conditions are improving in Iraq and that the United States must "stay the course." Petraeus will be acting as a de facto surrogate for McCain in domestic politics. Obama will have to respond to the general's serious claims without retreating from the commitment he has given to early withdrawal.

Second, the questions of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan could intensify as a symbol of America's current policies towards terrorism. McCain has already absorbed both neoconservative doctrines and the neoconservatives themselves in his campaign against "Islamo-fascism" as the greatest threat in American history.

First, the neoconservatives will push for Obama's (and the Democrats') acceptance of their terminology to control the debate, or berate their opponents as weak for not recognizing "Islamo-fascism" as the new equivalent of the Communist threat during the cold war.

Next, they will attack Obama for proposing to pull the plug on Iraq just when the tide is turning.

Finally, they will question Obama's experience in pushing for diplomacy towards Iran, and draw him out on why he favors more troops in Afghanistan and a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan if there is "actionable intelligence." They will probe, too, into Obama's commitment to Israel.

It will be messy and ugly, with right-wingnuts calling Obama by his middle name as often as possible.

Weeks before Obama became the front-runner, the New York Times hired William Kristol as another in-house neoconservative, as Kristol was blasting the Democratic Party for becoming "the puppet of the antiwar groups." The Times's own "objective" news commentary adopted the right-wing frame that the Democrats would "seem unpatriotic" by cutting funds for American troops while "under intense pressure from the antiwar faction [read: majority] of their party." Wedge politics virtually dictates that splintering the Obama campaign, the Democrats and the antiwar movement, while uniting the right and center around "experience," will be the strategic agenda for Republicans through November. If he is not the vice-presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman will be employed as the primary ally of the Republicans in trying to make inroads into the American Jewish community as well.

But there are Republican weaknesses to expose too, beginning with their attempt to perpetuate an endless trillion-dollar war in Iraq. MoveOn and others will strike hard at that Republican vulnerability. According to counterinsurgency doctrine, the current Iraq war is expected to last throughout the next presidential term, longer than most Americans can imagine supporting it. On Iran, the recent National Intelligence Estimate has dampened any White House plans for an American strike, though the Israelis may act as a dangerous surrogate before December.

Then there is the quagmire of Afghanistan, where no military solution is in sight. And finally, in Pakistan, $11 billion invested in the Musharraf regime was swept away by the voters yesterday. The Pakistanis do not want to be pawns in the American war on terrorism. They know that a military fight with the Taliban or Al Qaeda is also a bottomless battle against Pashtun nationalism with implications for Pakistan's stability as a whole.

The danger for Obama lies in being challenged by McCain, the neoconservatives and the right-wing conservatives to prove his credentials as a militarist or face being painted as another Democrat too weak to be Commander-in-Chief.

The opportunity for the peace movement is to engage in open political and intellectual battle, from precincts to public forums, against the neoconservative agenda for a permanent war against Muslim radicals and on behalf of American access to oil with dire consequences at home.

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

London Continues on a Bicycle Road to the Future

by Matthew Taylor
The Guardian
February 9, 2008

London is likely to become one of the most cycle-friendly places in the world, with a series of two-wheeler superhighways cutting a swath through traffic and congestion. Plans for the super-cycleways will be unveiled next week as part of an initiative to stimulate a 400% increase in the number of people pedalling round the capital by 2025.

At a cost of £400m, the 12 routes are intended to be the motorways of cycling and are likely to be emulated by other cities across the UK. Londoners without bikes will be able to use one of the city's free bicycles.

"We want nothing short of a cycling transformation in London," said the mayor, Ken Livingstone. "We are announcing the biggest investment in cycling in London's history, which will mean that thousands more Londoners can cycle in confidence, on routes that take them quickly and safely to where they want to go."

The cycle scheme is one of several environmental announcements expected in the capital over the coming weeks, including a decision on plans for a £25-a-day congestion charge on the highest-polluting vehicles and a proposal to re-fit 900 civic buildings across the capital to make them more energy-efficient.

The superhighways will link popular residential areas such as Hackney, Clapham and Kilburn to the city centre. The routes are based on a 12-month study of the most popular roads already used by cyclists and will have continuous, wide cycle lanes, dedicated junctions and clear signs.

Planners hope the changes will encourage a "critical mass" of cyclists to use the routes, creating a safe and accessible environment as well as cutting congestion and pollution across London. "We are aiming to make cycling part of public transport and if we can get even 5% of people out of their cars, off the tubes and buses and on to bikes it will mean 1.7m cycle trips in London every day," said Mark Watts, transport adviser to the mayor.

In the city centre there will be a bike hire scheme based on a similar initiative in Paris which has helped transform cycling in the French capital. It is understood the hire bikes will be based at various stations in the centre of London and will be free to use for short journeys once people have signed up to the scheme .

The third plank of the proposals, which are expected to cost a total of around £400m over 10 years, will see special cycle networks set up around 15 suburban town centres such as Richmond or Croydon in an attempt to transform the way people make local journeys. The networks will link residential areas to schools, train and bus stations, parks and shops.

As part of the plans the mayor's office hopes to persuade local authorities in these areas to introduce 20mph speed limits and remove all road humps so motorists and cyclists are travelling at roughly the same speed.

Another proposal will see a riverside route from Rainham Marsh to the east of the city to the site of the 2012 Olympics in the Lee valley.

The London initiative is based on a successful scheme in Aylesbury, one of Cycling England's six demonstration towns where more people have taken to their bikes.

It is hoped the first of the cycleways and suburban networks will be complete by 2010, with another five ready for the start of the Olympics in 2012.

Last night the proposals were given a cautious welcome by motoring organisations. Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "The current system of haphazard provision for cyclists is not good for them or for other road users.

"I think separating out cyclists can only be good for everyone and the only provision I would raise is that we still need to have roads for the movement of trucks, cars and buses - so we need to make sure we get the balance right."

Geoff Dossetter, from the Freight Transport Association, also welcomed the scheme but he warned against giving too much space to cyclists.

He added: "The other concern we have had in the past is the behaviour of cyclists. If this is to go ahead I think part of it should be an education campaign for cyclists so that they obey the rules of the road." Cycling groups said the plans mark a watershed in the UK's attitude to cycling.

"This is about thinking what kind of city we want London to be and what we want it to look like," said Koy Thomson, from the London Cycling Campaign. "This proposals will transform London, making cycling more visible, and the really interesting thing is that cycling is now associated with a modern cosmopolitan city that is in control and at ease with itself."

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

Poverty Is Poison

by Paul Krugman
The New York Times
February 18, 2008

“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery.

Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain.

America’s failure to make progress in reducing poverty, especially among children, should provoke a lot of soul-searching. Unfortunately, what it often seems to provoke instead is great creativity in making excuses.

Some of these excuses take the form of assertions that America’s poor really aren’t all that poor — a claim that always has me wondering whether those making it watched any TV during Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter have ever looked around them while visiting a major American city.

Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.

But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents’ poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there — and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.

That’s not surprising. Growing up in poverty puts you at a disadvantage at every step.

I’d bracket those new studies on brain development in early childhood with a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked a group of students who were in eighth grade in 1988. The study found, roughly speaking, that in modern America parental status trumps ability: students who did very well on a standardized test but came from low-status families were slightly less likely to get through college than students who tested poorly but had well-off parents.

None of this is inevitable.

Poverty rates are much lower in most European countries than in the United States, mainly because of government programs that help the poor and unlucky.

And governments that set their minds to it can reduce poverty. In Britain, the Labor government that came into office in 1997 made reducing poverty a priority — and despite some setbacks, its program of income subsidies and other aid has achieved a great deal. Child poverty, in particular, has been cut in half by the measure that corresponds most closely to the U.S. definition.

At the moment it’s hard to imagine anything comparable happening in this country. To their credit — and to the credit of John Edwards, who goaded them into it — both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are proposing new initiatives against poverty. But their proposals are modest in scope and far from central to their campaigns.

I’m not blaming them for that; if a progressive wins this election, it will be by promising to ease the anxiety of the middle class rather than aiding the poor. And for a variety of reasons, health care, not poverty, should be the first priority of a Democratic administration.

But ultimately, let’s hope that the nation turns back to the task it abandoned — that of ending the poverty that still poisons so many American lives.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Friday, February 15, 2008

Americans Are Still Addicted to Guns With Devastating Results

Yesterday's latest slaughter of American college students forces me to take time out to respond. My response is not as a grad student but as an American who has witnessed the news of American slaughters for the past 45 years. Will the United States ever wake up from the violence that is displayed daily in media headlines? Will Americans ever overcome their mass addiction to weapons of mass destruction?

At least five students are dead in Illinois from another random shooting attack on a college campus, the fourth at a U.S. school just this week. In 1970, four shooting deaths at Kent State University in Ohio changed the nation and were memorialized in the national consciousness. Today, we are so far from consciousness as a nation. The death toll from shootings in the United States is so overwhelming that no comparison can be made with other "civilized" nations.

Michael Moore attempted to raise the consciousness of Americans with his 2002 film Bowling for Columbine, which was the first documentary film accepted into competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 46 years. The Cannes jury unanimously awarded it the 55th Anniversary Prize. From
"Bowling for Columbine is an alternately humourous and horrifying film about the United States. It is a film about the state of the Union, about the violent soul of America. Why do 11,000 people die in America each year at the hands of gun violence? The talking heads yelling from every TV camera blame everything from Satan to video games. But are we that much different from many other countries? What sets us apart? How have we become both the master and victim of such enormous amounts of violence? This is not a film about gun control. It is a film about the fearful heart and soul of the United States, and the 280 million Americans lucky enough to have the right to a constitutionally protected Uzi."

I believe that Michael Moore did raise consciousness and progress will be made. Yes, it is true that Americans are addicted to violence. As Robert Kennedy said:
"We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire... Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul."

Also in Bobby Kennedy's statement is the recognition of the ease with which Americans can commit mass murder. A new consciousness is begging to take hold in this nation and I believe that those who have weathered the storm are at long last ready to embrace a new breed of politician who will stand up for basic human rights. We collectively hold out hope for a redemption of democratic principles, integrity in government officials, a peaceful resolution of differences, and a return to the long-abandoned ideal of justice for all.

We owe it to people like Bobby Kennedy to continue where they left off. But most of all we owe it to the children who grow up in a violent society. Let us relearn life's lessons through our children, protect them from indefensible weapons, and allow them to live without fear. It is time to stand up to the cowardly politicians who will protect only the rich and powerful and not the mass majority. It is time to use our voting power to elect new leaders.

Barack Obama appears to be the breed of politician that we have been waiting for. Let us pray that he can lead us to salvation as a nation before we cross a threshold of violence from which we can not return.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Big Step Toward Accountability: Congress Issues Contempt Citations Against Bush Staff

by Philip Shenon
The New York Times
February 14, 2008

The House voted Thursday to issue contempt citations against the White House chief of staff and a former White House counsel for refusing to cooperate in an investigation into the mass firings of federal prosecutors.

The vote to hold Joshua B. Bolten, the chief of staff, and Harriet E. Miers, the former counsel, in contempt of Congress followed bitter partisan wrangling on the House floor, including a Republican walkout from the chamber, and moved House Democrats closer to a constitutional showdown with President Bush.

The 223-to-32 vote to issue the contempt citations, the first approved by Congress against the executive branch since the Reagan administration, is likely to move the dispute to a federal courtroom, with House lawyers calling on a judge to enforce subpoenas against Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers. The Senate is weighing similar contempt charges against Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s former political adviser.

Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers were subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee for information about their part in the dismissal of several United States attorneys last year for what appear to have been political reasons. The uproar over the firings led to bipartisan calls in Congress for the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who stepped down last summer.

As House Republicans protested the vote with an angry walkout from the House floor, the White House joined in expressions of outrage over the contempt citations.

Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said that the White House had tried to compromise with House Democrats to help lawmakers obtain information from Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers short of public testimony. “Many of the things that they asked for, we were willing to give,” Ms. Perino said. “But instead, they’re going to waste time on this partisan, futile act.”

A Congressional subpoena would normally be enforced by the Justice Department. But the White House and Mr. Gonzales’s successor, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, have said they would not pursue contempt charges against current and former White House officials who, they believe, are shielded from testimony by executive privilege.

That appeared to leave two options for the House — seek the help of the federal judiciary to try to enforce the contempt citations or, less likely, hold its own trial on Capitol Hill for Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers, similar to an impeachment trial. The House measure passed Thursday gave explicit authority to House lawyers to “initiate or intervene in judicial proceedings” in federal court to enforce the subpoenas.

In a statement responding to the House vote, the Justice Department suggested that Mr. Mukasey had not made a final decision to rebuff the House request but noted that “he did not expect that he would act in contravention of longstanding department precedent” against enforcing subpoenas against executive branch officials.

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, said Thursday on the House floor that he had no choice but to pursue the contempt citations.

“The resolutions we are considering today are not steps that I as chairman take easily or lightly, but they are necessary to protect our constitutional prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government,” Mr. Conyers said.

House Republican leaders described the contempt vote as a political ploy that drew time away from what they described as a more important debate over extending a federal law to allow eavesdropping on domestic telephone calls and e-mail in pursuit of terrorists.

“We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition but not space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican House leader.

Mr. Boehner then instructed other Republicans to exit the chamber in protest. “Let’s just get up and leave,” Mr. Boehner said before walking out with scores of his party’s members.

The Senate has not scheduled a vote on the floor on the contempt citation that was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in December against Mr. Bolten and Mr. Rove, also over demands for information about the firing of the United States attorneys.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Biofuels Are Major Global Warming Threat

by Elisabeth Rosenthal
The New York Times
February 8, 2008

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”

These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels causes its own emissions — for refining and transport, for example.

The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “So for the next 93 years you’re making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions.”

The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change has said that the world has to reverse the increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to avert disastrous environment consequences.

In the wake of the new studies, a group of 10 of the United States’s most eminent ecologists and environmental biologists today sent a letter to President Bush and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, urging a reform of biofuels policies. “We write to call your attention to recent research indicating that many anticipated biofuels will actually exacerbate global warming,” the letter said.

The European Union and a number of European countries have recently tried to address the land use issue with proposals stipulating that imported biofuels cannot come from land that was previously rain forest.

But even with such restrictions in place, Dr. Searchinger’s study shows, the purchase of biofuels in Europe and the United States leads indirectly to the destruction of natural habitats far afield.

For instance, if vegetable oil prices go up globally, as they have because of increased demand for biofuel crops, more new land is inevitably cleared as farmers in developing countries try to get in on the profits. So crops from old plantations go to Europe for biofuels, while new fields are cleared to feed people at home.

Likewise, Dr. Fargione said that the dedication of so much cropland in the United States to growing corn for bioethanol had caused indirect land use changes far away. Previously, Midwestern farmers had alternated corn with soy in their fields, one year to the next. Now many grow only corn, meaning that soy has to be grown elsewhere.

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Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tasers (Torture) Used by Police to Avoid Discussion

by Robyn Doolittle
Toronto Star
February 7, 2008

Tasers are not a replacement for guns; they're a replacement for talking, said author Naomi Klein at a town-hall meeting last night.

"If it happened in a cell, we would call it torture and if it happens on the street we should not be afraid to call it torture," said Klein, who is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

The discussion on the police use of shock and stun guns was held at the University of Toronto in response to Toronto police Chief Bill Blair's request that 3,000 officers be armed with electroshock guns.

When RCMP officers used a Taser on Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver International Airport last October, they did so within 25 seconds of their arrival on the scene, Klein said. Dziekanski died shortly after.

"Why talk when you can shock?" she said. "Tasers are not a replacement for guns. They're a replacement for everything else ...they're a replacement for talking; for negotiating."

As many as 20 people in Canada and 290 in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser, said the chair of Toronto's Amnesty International chapter, Andy Buxton, who also sat on the panel.

Taser International has said the weapon it manufactures is safe.

But during clinical trials, people who are zapped are in a calm, healthy state.

"That's not how it is in real life," Buxton said.

Of the 310 people in North American who died after being shocked with a Taser, people were often intoxicated or high on some kind of drug, such as cocaine.

The majority had been in an altercation with police, had had force used on them and many were tied up in some way.

"Something in that whole witches' brew all together (is unsafe) and we don't know what," Buxton said.

"And until all the facts are on the table, (Amnesty International) is asking police in Canada and the United States to put a moratorium on the use of Tasers until we know whether or not they're safe," he said.

Buxton also cited statistics that show officers can become addicted to using Tasers. He used the example of the Edmonton police force, where Taser use increased from an average of once a week to once a day.

© Copyright Toronto Star 2008

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Hoax of Eco-Friendly Nuclear Energy

by Karl Grossman
FAIR Extra!
January/February 2008 issue

Nuclear advocates in government and the nuclear industry are engaged in a massive, heavily financed drive to revive atomic power in the United States—with most of the mainstream media either not questioning or actually assisting in the promotion.

“With a very few notable exceptions, such as the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. media have turned the same sort of blind, uncritical eye on the nuclear industry’s claims that led an earlier generation of Americans to believe atomic energy would be too cheap to meter,” comments Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The nuclear industry’s public relations effort has improved over the past 50 years, while the natural skepticism of reporters toward corporate claims seems to have disappeared.”

The New York Times continues to be, as it was a half-century ago when nuclear technology was first advanced, a media leader in pushing the technology, which collapsed in the U.S. with the 1979 Three Mile Island and 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant accidents. The Times has showered readers with a variety of pieces advocating a nuclear revival, all marbled with omissions and untruths. A lead editorial headlined “The Greening of Nuclear Power” (5/13/06) opened:
Not so many years ago, nuclear energy was a hobgoblin to environmentalists, who feared the potential for catastrophic accidents and long-term radiation contamination. . . . But this is a new era, dominated by fears of tight energy supplies and global warming. Suddenly nuclear power is looking better.
Parroting a central atomic industry theme these days, the Times editors declared, “Nuclear energy can replace fossil-fuel power plants for generating electricity, reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute heavily to global warming.” As a TV commercial frequently aired by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuclear industry trade group, states: “Nuclear power plants don’t emit greenhouses gases, so they protect our environment.”

What is left unmentioned by the NEI, the Times and other mainstream media making this claim is that the overall “nuclear cycle”—which includes uranium mining and milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication and disposal of radioactive waste—has significant greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

As Michel Lee, chair of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy, wrote in an (unpublished) letter to the Times, the
dirty secret is that nuclear power makes a substantial contribution to global warming. Nuclear power is actually a chain of highly energy-intensive industrial processes. These include uranium mining, conversion, enrichment and fabrication of nuclear fuel; construction and deconstruction of the massive nuclear facility structures; and the disposition of high-level nuclear waste.
She included information on “independent studies that document in detail the extent to which the entire nuclear cycle generates greenhouse emissions.”

Separately, Lee wrote to a Times journalist stating that the “fiction” that nuclear power does not contribute to global warming “has been a prime feature of the nuclear industry’s and Bush administration’s PR campaign” that “unfortunately . . . has been swallowed by a number of New York Times reporters, op-ed columnists and editors.”

Click here to read the rest of the story.

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Media on Healthcare: Saying What They Don’t Mean

by Janine Jackson
FAIR Extra!
January/February 2008 issue

At the end of an unusually long editorial headlined “The High Cost of Healthcare,” the November 25 New York Times dismissed the idea of publicly funded universal healthcare, which all other industrialized countries use to provide medical treatment to all of their citizens while spending much less per capita than the U.S.

Framing a public health insurance system as a sentimental lefty dream, the paper’s editorialists wrote that “deep in their hearts, many liberals yearn for a single-payer system.” But single-payer, the paper assures us, is “no panacea for the cost problem” and has “limited political support.”

Knocking down the straw man that single-payer would solve all healthcare problems isn’t much of an achievement; while advocates point out that single-payer systems in other countries cost far less than the U.S.’s profit-dominated healthcare industry, the main benefit they point to of universal health coverage is that it would provide everyone with healthcare.

But the idea of “limited political support” is worth examining, because readers might be misled into thinking that means that single-payer is unpopular. To the contrary. On the rare occasions when they’re questioned about it, the public seems to like it; asked in a September 2007 CBS poll, 55 percent of Americans preferred a single-payer system that would be administered by the government, with taxpayers footing the bill. Just 29 percent would keep things the way they are. So when the Times says single-payer lacks “political support,” they actually mean it lacks “elite support”—too bad they don’t say what they mean.

Actually, on healthcare, corporate media often say what they don’t mean. When Massachusetts announced a plan to mandate health insurance for its citizens, this was widely described as a “universal” program (Washington Post, 5/7/06; Houston Chronicle, 4/13/06; Baltimore Sun, 4/20/07). But the Massachusetts plan enacted by then-Gov. Mitt Romney was a requirement that all citizens (with some exemptions) obtain health insurance or face penalties, based on “the false assumption that uninsured people will be able to find affordable health plans,” as critics Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmel-stein noted (Atlanta Journal & Constitution, 4/7/06). “A typical group policy in Massachusetts costs about $4,500 annually for an individual and more than $11,000 for family coverage. A wealthy uninsured person could afford that—but few of the uninsured are wealthy.”

That requiring coverage is not the same as providing it ought to be obvious. But media have so muddied the conversation with indiscriminate use of the term “universal” that such basic facts are obscured. Thus a December 5 New York Times article, which commendably explained that “mandates rarely achieve 100 percent compliance,” could still refer to Massachusetts having “enacted universal coverage,” before noting, in the next sentence, that a substantial portion of the public remains uninsured. If a plan that leaves many without healthcare can be described as “universal,” perhaps the Times believes the country already has one?

Advocates of publicly funded healthcare, despite their numbers, have always faced an uphill fight in elite media where obeisance to the for-profit insurance industry is an unspoken given. (See “Healthcare Reform: Not Journalistically Viable?” Extra!, 7–8/93.) The resulting “debate” resembles the old joke about the man who looks for his keys under the lamppost—not because he dropped them there, but because that’s where the light’s better. Pundits and editorialists bemoan healthcare’s “high costs” (economic and human), but the most direct route to bringing costs down is studiously ignored, while media (and politicians) discuss more or less minor tweaks to the current system.

On at least one occasion, the New York Times did acknowledge the elephant in the living room. An April 12, 2006 article by David Leonhardt began promisingly:

To a lot of thoughtful people, the only way to fix the health insurance crisis is to get the federal government to cover everyone. Britain, Canada, Japan and a number of other rich countries do so, and they each spend less money on healthcare than this country does. They also don’t have major companies, like General Motors, flirting with bankruptcy in large part because of the cost of health benefits.

Leonhardt said such advocates have a “pretty good argument,” but with the “undeniable flaw” that they have no chance of success. Why? “Health insurers made $100 billion in profits last year, and industries of that size are just not legislated out of business.”

Were the lines always drawn so starkly, Americans would have a better chance to decide which side they’re on.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

A New Journey

by Joan Baez
San Francisco Chronicle
February 3, 2008

I have attempted throughout my life to give a voice to the voiceless, hope to the hopeless, encouragement to the discouraged, and options to the cynical and complacent. From Northern Ireland to Sarajevo to Latin America, I have sung and marched, engaged in civil disobedience, visited war zones, and broken bread with those who had little bread to break.

Through all those years, I chose not to engage in party politics. Though I was asked many times to endorse candidates at every level, I was never comfortable doing so. At this time, however, changing that posture feels like the responsible thing to do. If anyone can navigate the contaminated waters of Washington, lift up the poor, and appeal to the rich to share their wealth, it is Sen. Barack Obama. If anyone can bring light to the darkened corners of this nation and restore our positive influence in world affairs, it is Barack Obama. If anyone can begin the process of healing and bring unity to a country that has been divided for too long, it is Barack Obama. It is time to begin a new journey.

© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.