Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gloom, perplexity, divisions dominate World Economic Forum in Davos

31 January 2009

Some 2,500 representatives of the world's business and political elite, including 41 heads of government and scores of cabinet ministers, are attending the annual World Economic Forum, which opened Wednesday in the Swiss alpine resort of Davos. This year's forum, taking place in the midst of a global financial meltdown and economic slump that have shattered the complacent verities about the superiority of the "free enterprise system," presents a picture of deep crisis and disarray among the leaders of world capitalism.

The mood that prevails, according to all accounts, is one of gloom and foreboding. While it is generally acknowledged by the participants that they confront the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, the speeches and discussions have underscored the lack of any agreement on the basic causes of the crisis or any unified conception as to how it should be addressed.

The Washington Post quoted media baron Rupert Murdoch as saying the participants were "depressed and traumatized," adding that "$50 trillion of personal wealth" had vanished since the crisis worsened last September with the collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers.

The Post went on to quote the billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros, who said, "The size of the problem confronting us today is larger than in the 1930s."

The World Economic Forum was first launched by its founder and still-president, the Swiss economist and businessman, Klaus Schwab, in 1971 in the midst of a mounting financial crisis that led in August of that year to the collapse of the Bretton Woods System, the international monetary framework, based on US dollar-gold convertibility, that had undergirded the post-war economic expansion. In the ensuing years, the forum developed into a semi-official gathering of business chiefs and government officials that discussed and debated both international economic and political issues.

In the more recent period, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has become a venue to affirm the supposed triumph of the "free enterprise system," with American investment bankers holding court, surrounded by a small army of economists and media, complemented by film stars and other celebrities.

One year ago, after the initial collapse of the US housing market and eruption of the credit crisis, concern at the forum over these worrisome developments, which had been almost universally unanticipated, was tempered by assurances from American bankers and politicians that the disorder would be quickly resolved and that, in the worst case scenario, a US recession would be mild and brief. Most of the discussion centered on the widely held notion that the problems in US financial markets would not spread to Europe or Asia, due to the phenomenon of "decoupling."

Robert Greenhill, the forum's chief business officer, set the tone for this year's forum by declaring, "The meeting was founded at a time of division and uncertainty in the 1970s and this year is a return to its roots. People are coming to compare notes on what they need to do to emerge from a serious crisis."

Just how serious and universal a crisis was underscored on the opening day of the forum by the International Monetary Fund's downwardly revised estimate of world economic growth for 2009 of a mere 0.5 percent, including major contractions in the US, Britain, France, Germany and Japan. That followed the previous week's IMF forecast that world trade volumes would shrink 2.8 percent in 2009. Also on Wednesday, the International Labour Organization warned that some 51 million jobs could be lost worldwide this year.

The two dominant and interrelated features of this year's forum are a general sense of shock and near-panic over the inexorable and rapid manner in which the crisis has overtaken the efforts of central banks and governments to shore up the banks and revive economic activity—amounting to trillions of dollars in loans, guarantees and cash infusions—and the devastating loss of American prestige and credibility.

The Financial Times on Wednesday wrote: "Most notably, faith that a mix of globalization, financial innovation and free-market competition would build a better financial system has withered away, as bank losses have piled up. Thus the critical question that now hangs over this year's meeting at Davos is: ‘What, if anything, can replace this creed?' "

Along similar lines, the New York Times on Friday quoted James Rosenfeld, a co-founder or Cambridge Energy Research Associates, as saying, "We've all been building this big, integrated financial system. We didn't consider what would happen when it disintegrated."

As for the position of the United States, the opening day of the forum was given over to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, both of whom lambasted the US, without directly naming the target of their attacks, for precipitating the world crisis, and called for measures to lessen US dominance on world financial markets.

Wen urged an expansion of regulatory "coverage of the international financial system, with particular emphasis on strengthening the supervision on major reserve currencies." He said the financial crisis was "attributable to inappropriate macroeconomic policies of some economies and their unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption, excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit." He also denounced "the failure of financial supervision."

Putin was, if anything, more blunt. He attacked the concept of a "unipolar world," called for an end to the privileged position of the US dollar as the world's major reserve currency, and noted that "just a year ago, American delegates speaking from this rostrum emphasized the US economy's fundamental stability and its cloudless prospects." He continued, "Today, investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist. In just 12 months, they have posted losses exceeding the profits they made in the last 25 years."

Alan Blinder, the Princeton economist and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, responded, "The sad thing is that we might have scoffed at this a while ago. But we really dragged the world down."

The Obama administration, for its part, signaled its disinterest in any serious international coordination or financial regulation by failing to send a single high-ranking official to the forum. While an array of government leaders from around the world were in attendance, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, none of the top US delegates who had been advertised—chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Security Adviser General James Jones and chief of the US Central Command General David Petraeus—showed up.

The virtual official boycott by the United States underscores the bitter tensions and divisions simmering beneath the diplomatic decorum of the forum. While general statements are being issued at Davos abjuring protectionism, and warnings are being made about the disastrous implications for the world economy of such policies, the reality is a growth of economic nationalism. Less than a week before the opening of the forum, US Treasury Secretary Geithner issued a provocative threat of possible trade sanctions against China, accusing the Chinese of "manipulating" their currency to obtain a trade advantage over the US.

Steven Roach of Morgan Stanley Asia spoke at Davos of a "rising tide of economic nationalism." And delegates from so-called developing countries complained that the massive US deficits resulting from Obama's stimulus program and bank bailouts would suck up the bulk of available private credit on world markets.

"Large economies are accessing international capital markets for themselves," said Trevor Manuel, the finance minister of South Africa. Ernesto Zedillo, the former Mexican president who was in power during that country's financial meltdown in 1994, said, "The US needs to show some proof they have a plan to get out of the fiscal problem. We, as developing countries, need to know we won't be crowded out of the capital markets, which is already happening."

The New York Times cited Lord Adair Turner, the chairman of Britain's Financial Services Authority, as voicing similar concerns, speaking of "the risk of a new mercantilism" centered on credit availability rather than trade.

These tensions erupted into the open on Thursday, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed off the stage after an angry exchange with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, during a panel discussion on the Gaza crisis. Erdogan, whose government maintains close political and military ties with Israel, told Peres, "When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill."

The Davos forum underscores the impossibility of developing a rational and coordinated international policy to resolve the economic crisis within the capitalist framework of private ownership of the means of production and finance and the division of the world between rival nation states. Putin, speaking as a defender of capitalism, referred to the financial parasitism that fueled the massive fortunes of the financial aristocracy over the past three decades as a "pyramid of expectations [that] would have collapsed sooner or later," and indicated who is to pay the price for its collapse: "This amounted to unearned wealth, a loan that will have to be repaid by future generations."

Within the existing economic and political system, the only future is one of increasing poverty and repression and the growth of national antagonisms leading inevitably, as in the last great depression, to the horrors of global war.

The specter haunting Davos is the emergence of an independent movement of the working class fighting to put an end to capitalism and build a socialist society based on the satisfaction of human needs, not private profit. The disintegration of the world economy poses with the greatest urgency the development of a unified struggle by the working class on the basis of an international socialist program.

Barry Grey

Are unions getting the backseat?

Republicans and big business are going all out to stop the Employee Free Choice Act. How will labor respond?

LABOR UNIONS spent more than $450 million and hundreds of thousands of hours to elect President Obama and a Democratic Congress last November.

They hoped that the Democrats' sweep would allow them to win the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a proposal to change labor law so a workplace can be unionized if a majority of its workers sign cards supporting a union.

Labor hopes that this reform will transform the current climate for union organizing, making it easier for unions to recruit workers. Under current labor law as interpreted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employers have multiple ways to derail, delay or ignore workers' decisions to choose unionization through NLRB-overseen elections.

Throughout the campaign, Obama backed EFCA. He even told union audiences that he, as president, would walk picket lines with them.

In contrast, organized business hates EFCA along with any other measure that would make it easier to unionize. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has pledged $10 million to defeat the legislation. It is joining with other business organizations to run a deceptive ad campaign that couches its opposition to EFCA in terms of defending workers' rights to privacy and to vote in secret-ballot elections.

Unfortunately, business has succeeded in sowing enough confusion on the issues that it has even gotten liberal Democrats like Rev. Al Sharpton and former Sen. George McGovern to sign on to the campaign to defeat EFCA.

At the beginning of Obama's term, the Republicans and the right are flailing, unsure of how to confront the new era. Leading the opposition to the EFCA has two benefits.

First, it puts the Republicans back in touch with their main constituency--big business, which has been noticeably generous toward Obama and the Democrats during the 2008 election campaign.

Second, the Republicans are preserving their own position. They realize that organized labor still provides much of the electoral infrastructure for the Democratic Party. A larger union sector means more money and person power for Democratic campaigns, and more Democratic voters.

Numerous public opinion studies show that unionized workers tend to define their priorities and interests as being about secure jobs, health care and retirement security. Non-unionized workers (calling Joe the Plumber) are much more open to the conservative cultural values (opposition to abortion, gay rights, etc.) that the Republicans trot out as their appeal to average Americans.

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THE REPUBLICANS and their business allies have been road-testing their approach on EFCA in a series of skirmishes before the big battle. One of these was the GOP's campaign in December, led by smarmy Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, to make the United Autoworkers union the fall guy for the near-bankruptcy of the Detroit Three auto companies.

During the negotiations over the release of federal bailout funds to GM and Chrysler, Corker and other GOPers hogged a lot of media time labeling UAW members' wages and benefits as the source of the U.S. auto industry's problems.

To the Republicans, it didn't matter that the Congress ended up releasing the bailout money to the automakers. They had succeeded at establishing a narrative, largely accepted in the media, that unionized workers were to blame for economic problems.

A December 10, 2008, internal GOP memo, obtained by MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, established this. The memo read, in part: "This [the auto bailout] is the Democrats' first opportunity to pay off organized labor after the election. This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it."

More recently, Republican senators delayed the confirmation of Rep. Hilda Solis, Obama's choice for labor secretary, because of concerns that she would help pass EFCA.

So business and the Republicans have defined EFCA as a life-or-death matter. And the unions have similarly staked their future on it. EFCA is one issue where all of Obama's gauzy talk of "bipartisanship" and "working across the aisle" won't get him anywhere.

When this opposition arises, it will put Obama and the Democrats to the test. Will they take advantage of the expectations their election raised to marginalize the Republicans? Or will they retreat.

Recognizing worries that he's already decided to de-emphasize EFCA, Obama himself tried to reassure supporters during an interview with the Washington Post:

I think the basic principle of making it easier and fairer for workers who want to join a union is important. And the basic outline of the Employee Fair Choice Act are ones that I agree with.

Now if the business community's argument against the Employee Free Choice Act is simply that it will make it easier for people to join unions, and we think that is damaging to the economy, then they probably won't get too far with me. If their arguments are we think there are more elegant ways of doing this, or here are some modifications or tweaks to the general concept that we would like to see...

But in terms of timetable, if we are losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize. So my focus first is on those key economic priority items that I just mentioned.

Artful politician that he is, Obama tried to reassure labor, to tell business he's willing to listen to their concerns and to say that he's planning to delay EFCA (or at least not speed it along), all at the same time.

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WHERE HAS this left EFCA's supporters? There are some not-so-encouraging signs.

For one thing, Solis has taken to telling senators that she's not really sure where she stands on EFCA--despite her long record of support for it. If she (and the administration) thinks this will grease her confirmation the way that Supreme Court appointees who refuse to answer questions about Roe v. Wade win approval, she should think again.

Why not publicly defend the right of workers to join a union (what a thought for a labor secretary!), instead of trying to placate labor haters who, it should be remembered, were overwhelmingly defeated last November.

Organized labor has promised a multimillion-dollar effort to press for EFCA. But aside from some clever television commercials, labor's campaign is not much in evidence.

In fact, labor seems to be taking a back seat in the new administration, perhaps following advice laid out in an internal memo UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm wrote last September. According to excerpts leaked to, Wilhelm wrote:

I disagree with the notion that we should flood a new Obama administration with all sorts of proposals for regulatory changes, executive orders, appointments, etc. To the contrary, I believe that we should have only one demand of an Obama administration: that the President of the United States publicly, repeatedly and strenuously advocate that workers have unions because unions are necessary to build a good America; that he apply that advocacy to specific worker fights and not just general statements; and that he put people on the [National Labor Relations Board] and in his cabinet those who share that view and are committed to implementing it.

Wilhelm added that he doesn't think the unions should launch a "massive campaign" for EFCA because it isn't, in his words, a "magic wand."

Wilhelm may be right about EFCA's ultimate impact. It will only spur organizing if unions and nonunion workers take advantage of it.

But isn't this treading too lightly? If labor defers to the Democrats' delaying of EFCA, it runs the risk of giving its enemies more time to organize against the measure.

If Obama introduced EFCA as part of his initial "economic recovery" plan, he could tie the right to organize to the need to reactivate the economy for the benefit of working people. If EFCA is introduced later, there's a better chance its opponents will be able to label it as "special interest" legislation--a payoff to a Democratic interest group--as a means to kill it.

So labor's deference to Obama could hurt its chances to win the reforms it wants. If labor believes that the EFCA is essential to help rebuild the labor movement, it should demand that it be passed now--and not be put off to some future that may never come.

One of the truisms of American politics is that the biggest changes to government policy happen when presidents are at the height of their popularity during their initial honeymoon. That's precisely the time when we should be demanding and organizing for change, not sitting on our hands and biting our tongues.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Columnist: Lance Selfa

Lance Selfa Lance Selfa is the author of The Democrats: A Critical History [2], a socialist analysis of the Democratic Party, and editor of The Struggle for Palestine [3], a collection of essays by leading solidarity activists. He is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review [4].

The Key to Happiness That No One -- Not Even the Happiness Gurus -- Are Discussing

By Frances Moore Lappe, YES! Magazine
Posted on January 31, 2009, Printed on January 31, 2009

"What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome."

So wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in 1895.

I'm guessing that many of you would feel uncomfortable embracing this definition of happiness, especially coming from one of history's most famous curmudgeons. If so, maybe in part it's because too often we've nodded in agreement with Lord Acton's catchy caveat, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And who would want to risk corruption?

But what if we were to dig to the root, Latin meaning of power, "to be able"? Suddenly, the word's hard edge dissolves; power simply means efficacy -- our capacity, as philosopher Erich Fromm put it, to "make a dent."

Over the last decade, the happiness quest has spawned best-selling books, college courses, retreats and even a "happiness conference." Most seem to offer similar advice: Once our basic physical needs are covered, more stuff does little to boost our happiness. Friendships, family, self-acceptance and meaning in our lives are the core determinants of our happiness.

I'm happy we're talking about happiness, but disturbed, too, because I've noticed that most happiness gurus fail to mention power. And why is that a big mistake? Because most human beings are not couch potatoes and whiners. We are doers and creators.

In fact, the human need to "make a dent" is so great that Fromm argued we should toss out René Descartes' "I think therefore I am" and replace it with "I am, because I effect."

Even much of what we call "materialism" is, I think, not about "things" at all. It is a distorted, ultimately unsatisfying attempt to feel powerful, with status through possessions forced to stand in for power. If true, then addressing powerlessness is a direct way both to foster happiness and to overcome planet-destroying materialism.

There's just one pathway to happiness in which this deep, human need for power is given pride of place: democracy. By this I mean democracy as a living practice that enables us to have a real say in every dimension of our public lives, from school to workplace and beyond.

Such power is expanding in part through a growing number of largely unseen citizen organizations. Among them is Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), whose 5,000-plus members address concerns ranging from toxic dumping to open government.

Jean True, a leader in KFTC in the 1990s, told me, "I was home raising kids for 10 years. I didn't know anything about politics. I thought my only job was to vote."

When I asked Jean to tell me why she joined KFTC, she responded, "It's just the fun! That you can get together some regular people, go to the capital, and make changes in state policy. … We have a great time doing what we do, going toe to toe and head to head with state legislators. We sometimes know more than they do! It's the fun of power -- the ant knocking over the buffalo."

On the other side of the world, in 2000, I danced with women in a Kenyan village, feeling their exuberant happiness in their newfound power as village tree planters and organizers of women's groups tackling problems from alcoholism to hunger.

That same year, I stood on a railroad platform in rural India with desperately poor people lying only a few steps away on grimy concrete. I turned to Jafri, the young Indian researcher traveling with us -- he was helping some of his country's poorest farmers escape the debt-and-toxins trap of chemical agriculture -- and I asked: "How do you keep going?”

"I have to feel I am doing something to address the roots of suffering," he replied, "or I couldn't be happy."

Including power in our definition of happiness changes everything.

If happiness lies in covering basic needs, plus satisfying personal ties and finding meaning, society's role is limited. It need only ensure that essential needs are met and provide opportunities to pursue personal relationships and meaning. Even a largely totalitarian government could do that.

But, if we add power to the happiness equation, our agenda shifts. Maximizing happiness then requires engaging citizens in changing the rules and norms so that more and more of us are empowered participants.

And, of course, joining with others in this exhilarating pursuit, we achieve a double whammy: Such activity furthers the widely appreciated relational and meaning aspects of the happiness puzzle.

If, from our nation's founding onward, we Americans have treated freedom and happiness as virtually synonymous, my point is a really old one. We might do well to replace the maxims of Acton, and even Nietzsche, with one uttered by Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero 2,000 years ago:

"Freedom is participation in power."

© 2009 YES! Magazine All rights reserved.
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Octuplets mom obsessed with having kids

[I am of the opinion that the absolute worst thing people can do is father or bear more than 2 children. The planet is dying and the reason we have global warming is mainly because we have 2-3 times as many people as the planet can reasonably sustain.

China's one child policy should be made a world wide policy until the global population levels off at 2 billion.

We rightly condemn the HumVee/Hummer driver as a major source of pollution and a causer of global warming yet this woman as well as all the Xian Quiver full mothers are a thousand times worse. They are like cock roaches breeding so many children.

I think we should not give tax deductions to parents who have more than two children. Indeed we should tax those who have more than two extra for each child beyond those two to pay for the harm they are doing.

We should also reward people who selflessly remain child free with extra money and a lower tax burden.]

By RAQUEL MARIA DILLON – 59 minutes ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The woman who gave birth to octuplets this week conceived all 14 of her children through in vitro fertilization, is not married and has been obsessed with having children since she was a teenager, her mother said.

Angela Suleman told The Associated Press she was not supportive when her daughter, Nadya Suleman, decided to have more embryos implanted last year.

"It can't go on any longer," she said in a phone interview Friday. "She's got six children and no husband. I was brought up the traditional way. I firmly believe in marriage. But she didn't want to get married."

Nadya Suleman, 33, gave birth Monday in nearby Bellflower. She was expected to remain in the hospital for at least a few more days, and her newborns for at least a month.

A spokeswoman at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center said the babies were doing well and seven were breathing unassisted.

While her daughter recovers, Angela Suleman is taking care of the other six children, ages 2 through 7, at the family home in Whittier, about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

She said she warned her daughter that when she gets home from the hospital, "I'm going to be gone."

Angela Suleman said her daughter always had trouble conceiving and underwent in vitro fertilization treatments because her fallopian tubes are "plugged up."

There were frozen embryos left over after her previous pregnancies and her daughter didn't want them destroyed, so she decided to have more children.

Her mother and doctors have said the woman was told she had the option to abort some of the embryos and, later, the fetuses. She refused.

Her mother said she does not believe her daughter will have any more children.

"She doesn't have any more (frozen embryos), so it's over now," she said. "It has to be."

Nadya Suleman wanted to have children since she was a teenager, "but luckily she couldn't," her mother said.

"Instead of becoming a kindergarten teacher or something, she started having them, but not the normal way," he mother said.

Her daughter's obsession with children caused Angela Suleman considerable stress, so she sought help from a psychologist, who told her to order her daughter out of the house.

"Maybe she wouldn't have had so many kids then, but she is a grown woman," Angela Suleman said. "I feel responsible and I didn't want to throw her out."

Yolanda Garcia, 49, of Whittier, said she helped care for Nadya Suleman's autistic son three years ago.

"From what I could tell back then, she was pretty happy with herself, saying she liked having kids and she wanted 12 kids in all," Garcia told the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

"She told me that all of her kids were through in vitro, and I said 'Gosh, how can you afford that and go to school at the same time?"' she added. "And she said it's because she got paid for it."

Garcia said she did not ask for details.

Nadya Suleman holds a 2006 degree in child and adolescent development from California State University, Fullerton, and as late as last spring she was studying for a master's degree in counseling, college spokeswoman Paula Selleck told the Press-Telegram.

Her fertility doctor has not been identified. Her mother told the Los Angeles Times all the children came from the same sperm donor but she declined to identify him.

Birth certificates reviewed by The Associated Press identify a David Solomon as the father for the four oldest children. Certificates for the other children were not immediately available.

The news that the octuplets' mother already had six children sparked an ethical debate. Some medical experts were disturbed to hear that she was offered fertility treatment, and troubled by the possibility that she was implanted with so many embryos.

Others worried that she would be overwhelmed trying to raise so many children and would end up relying on public support.

The eight babies — six boys and two girls — were delivered by Cesarean section weighing between 1 pound, 8 ounces and 3 pounds, 4 ounces. Forty-six physicians and staff assisted in the deliveries.

Go, Claire McCaskill: Cap the pay of Wall Street's 'idiots'

Claire McCaskill
By Yael T. Abouhalkah, Kansas City Star Editorial Page columnist

Go, Claire, go.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill today got national attention for ripping into Wall Street executives and their excessive bonuses.

"We have a bunch of idiots on Wall Street that are kicking sand in the face of the American taxpayer. They don't get it... You can't use taxpayer money to pay out $18 billion in bonuses."

Then she backed up her tough talk with a proposed law.

She wants to limit compensation given out by any companies that accept U.S. bailout funds.

The limit would be the president's current salary; Barack Obama makes $400,000 a year.

Great idea, Claire. Now good luck getting it into law, after the furor has died down, and the GOP revs up the "you-can't-tell-private-businesses-what-do-do" machine.

Of course, McCaskill would have a better chance of passing this law if Obama maintains his strong stance -- taken Thursday -- in opposition to the bonuses handed out last year.

Working together, McCaskill and Obama may have a chance to make a difference on this issue.
Submitted by Yael T. Abouhalkah on January 30, 2009 - 5:57pm.

Friday, January 30, 2009

French strikes: Violence erupts as thousands gather to protest on 'Black Thursday'

Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through French cities, with violence erupting in some places, as part of a day of national strikes demanding pay rises and better protection for jobs.

The streets filled with flag-waving protesters and in Paris protesters clashed with police, throwing bottles, overturning cars and starting a fire in the street.

Labour leaders hailed the strikes and rallies, which marked the first time France's eight union federations had joined forces against the government since Sarkozy took office in 2007.

"This is one of the biggest days of worker action in the past 20 years," said Francois Chereque, head of the large, moderate CFDT group.

Unions said 2.5 million people took part in dozens of rallies across France, including 300,000 in Paris. Police put the figure at just over a million nationwide.

Full-blooded chants echoed out across the Place de la Bastille in Paris, with the symbol of the French Revolution at the centre of a day of anti-government demonstrations.

Although the interior ministry said that the protesters numbered just over one million, they were the biggest since Mr Sarkozy came to power in 2007 and on a par with the last huge demonstration, in March 2006, which hastened the exit of the prime minister of the time, Dominique de Villepin.

In the Place de la Bastille, booming megaphones mingled with French rock music and barbecue smoke as an ocean of protesters from the public and private sector marched to call on President Sarkozy to do more to protect jobs and wages, and change tack in fighting the economic crisis.

"Sarkozy gives money to the people who created this crisis, but what about the man in the street?" shouted Antoine Laurent, 20, a history student at the Sorbonne University.

Behind him a group chanted: "Stop the sackings, it's not up to workers to pay for bankers."

One banner read: "360 billion euros for banks, and we are keeling over."

Another read: "Hey Sarkozy, now can you see the strike!" This was an allusion to the French president's famous claim last year: "Now when people go on strike, nobody notices."

After a day of peaceful protests, violence erupted on the fringes of the Paris protest. Dozens of young men wearing scarves across their face were charged down by riot police after throwing stones and bottles, tearing up manhole covers and lighting fires in the Opera district.

Lula shuns Davos, opting to stay in Brazil

Thursday, January 29, 2009

RIO DE JANEIRO: President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil is shunning the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week and the chance to hobnob with business leaders and heads of state. Instead, he will join more than 100,000 people from around the world at an anti-capitalist jamboree in the Amazon.

Lula's government is spending 78 million reals, or $34 million, to bring groups from 59 countries to the 8th World Social Forum. They include a sex-workers' union from India and Belgians seeking to abolish the World Bank.

Lula was scheduled to appear on a panel Thursday to discuss the global financial crisis with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a critic of the United States, and Chávez's allies from Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay.

Lula has "picked sides," said Oded Grajew, a former businessman who organized the first Social Forum as a counterpoint to Davos in 2001 and has been a friend of Lula's for 20 years. "Lula doesn't want go to Davos and hear the same ideas that led the world into bankruptcy."

Lula's spokesman, Marcelo Bumbach, said that although the president felt Davos was important, it was a "natural choice" for him to attend the Social Forum being held in Brazil.

Still, Lula's decision to skip Davos this year can be considered a slap at the bankers whose "casino" mentality he cites almost weekly as bringing about a crisis in capitalism. It also helps shore up support among his leftist base, who heckled him at his last appearance at the forum in 2005 for allegedly governing on behalf of the elite in Brazil.

In 2003, Lula, a former trade union leader, used his first trip to Davos as president to assure investors that he had no intention of defaulting on the country's foreign debt. Returning for the third time in 2007, he was praised by Klaus Schwab, founder and president of the forum, for creating a model of "globalization with a human face."

Opposing globalization was one of the organizing themes of the first Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Lula's Workers' Party, which helped fund the event, has backed it ever since. In 2002, Lula, 63, announced his presidential candidacy at the second gathering, telling red-flag-waving crowds that Brazil was "too poor" to pay foreigners what it owed.

This year's forum, titled "Another World Is Possible," takes place in Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon River.

"These days, any suggestion Brazil's credit standing depends on whether its president sprints to a Swiss ski resort and eats oysters and champagne with bankers is preposterous," said James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas who was scheduled to meet Lula in March in Brasilia and who advised President Barack Obama during the U.S. campaign. "Davos needs Lula. Lula doesn't need Davos."

Still, for the leader of the world's 10th-largest economy, the so-called Tropical Woodstock makes for offbeat company. In contrast to Davos, which is attended by Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, hundreds of Amazonian Indians in traditional garb danced this week to the beat of samba drums in Belém to publicize land claims. About 20,000 activists slept in tents at a "youth campground."

"I don't see any reason for him to be in Davos and many for him to be at the World Social Forum," Marco Aurélio Garcia, Lula's top foreign policy adviser and the former head of the Workers' Party, said by telephone. "Maybe Davos should be just a meeting of bankers so they can do a self-critique."

Lula will be joined by a dozen cabinet ministers, including his preferred successor as president, the cabinet chief, Dilma Rousseff. The intrusion of presidential politics is stirring fears among some that the Social Forum is evolving into a genteel debate forum like the one it set out to counter.

In 2001, the French anti-globalization leader José Bové, infamous for destroying a McDonald's restaurant, was arrested with members of Brazil's Landless Workers Movement after raiding a farm run by Monsanto. By contrast, this year's 1,900 activities include a workshop on how to hold banks accountable to society and a session on ways to protect the rain forest that engulfs steamy Belém.

"There's always dissent among activists, but I have no doubt Lula will be well received," said his friend, Grajew.

Lula has a standing invitation to Davos, where a record 41 heads of state, up from 27 last year, make it "the place to be" for mapping strategies to end the global economic crisis, said Mark Adams, a spokesman for the forum.

Nick Chamie, head of emerging-markets research at RBC Capital Markets, said he saw Lula decision to skip Davos as a "missed opportunity" to raise the profile of Brazil and its companies, which need to refinance $64 billion in maturing foreign debt. "This may play well with the local electorate but it certainly doesn't help Brazil internationally," Chamie said by phone from Toronto.

Obama blasts 'shameful' Wall Street bonuses

01/29/2009 @ 4:20 pm

Filed by RAW STORY

WASHINGTON (AFP) — President Barack Obama furiously slammed Wall Street titans who took multi-billion dollar bonuses while taxpayers bailed out their industry as "shameful" and guilty of acute "irresponsibility."

Obama, anger rippling his usually calm countenance, said bosses of big finance firms must sacrifice along with other Americans, as the country tries to dig itself out of a deep economic hole.

The president's ire was sparked when he read a newspaper article detailing the 18.4 billion dollars in bonuses racked up by Wall Street firms last year, even as stock markets plunged and the economy slumped towards a recession.

"That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful, and part of what we are going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.

"The American people understand that we have got a big hole we have got to dig ourselves out of but they don't like the idea that people are digging a bigger hole as they are being asked to fill it up."

Obama, speaking after meeting Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, said he would clearly spell out to Wall Street executives they have to act in a more responsible fashion.

There would be time for them to rake in profits and bonuses later in the economic cycle, he said. "But now is not that time."

"We're going to be having conversations as this process moves forward, directly with these folks on Wall Street," Obama said.

The president, who is piloting an 800 billion dollar plus economic bailout plan through Congress, pledged to make clear that the Wall Street fat cats must "start acting in a more responsible fashion, if we are to together get this economy rolling again."

He also brought up the case of Citibank, which has taken funds under a separate 700 billion dollar Wall Street bailout, and reportedly nixed plans to buy a 42 million dollar corporate jet after the Treasury Department complained.

"Secretary Geithner already had to pull back one institution that had gone forward with a multimillion dollar jet plane purchase at the same time as they're receiving TARP money," Obama said.

White House aides said the massive bonus figures, divulged in a report Wednesday by the New York state comptroller's office, undercut Obama's appeal for all Americans to share in a new spirit of responsibility.

Total bonuses in the securities industry fell from 32.9 billion dollars to 18.4 billion dollars in 2008, the largest percentage drop in more than three decades, Wednesday's report said.

"But the size of the bonus pool is still the sixth largest on record," the comptroller's office said.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs seized on that statistic to compare the largesse of Wall Street with the shrinking stock market-linked pension funds of many ordinary people.

"No American examining their retirement account thinks "it was the sixth best year for Wall Street" in terms of financial performance, Gibbs said.

"The president shares the American people's outrage on this."

Mass strikes and protests in France against joblessness and austerity measures

By Antoine Lerougetel
30 January 2009

Thursday’s day of action throughout France in defence of jobs, the purchasing power of wages and social services, called by the eight major trade union federations, brought an estimated 2.5 million workers and youth onto the streets of some 200 cities and towns. Some small towns reported the largest demonstrations in many years. Workers went on strike in great numbers, as did high school and university students.

Opinion polls indicate that up to three quarters of the French population support or sympathise with the strike.

The trade unions that called the day of action have given no indication of plans to continue or extend the mobilisation and merely state they intend to meet on Monday, but are waiting to see what right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy will do.

The mass popular movement is driven by the rapidly deteriorating economic situation. A wave of sackings and plant closures in the private sector has led to the destruction of 100,000 jobs in the last three months. This has been aggravated by partial closures and short-time working, particularly in the steel and motor industries. Meanwhile, the Sarkozy government has launched an offensive in the public services (health, education, social welfare) targeting jobs and conditions of work.

Thursday’s mobilization expressed the feelings of millions of workers and young people. The French working class will not accept impoverishment as the price of an economic crisis, for which it bears no responsibility, to maintain the profits and privileges of those who are responsible.

Many placards and homemade banners at the various protests expressed anger and resentment at the €360 billion bailout plan for the banks and the €26 billion in aid for private enterprise.

A group of primary school teachers in Amiens, for example, held a 30-metre banner that read, “Millions for the bankers, asphyxiation of education from the nurseries to the universities.”

The biggest demonstration took place in Paris in the afternoon, estimated at 65,000 by the police and 300,000 by the organisers. WSWS correspondents report a massive gathering representing all age groups, largely dominated by workers from the public services.

The day started with morning demonstrations in Marseille (24,000, according to the police, and 200,000-300,000 according to the CGT (General Confederation of Labour, close to the Communist Party); 20,000-53,000 in Lyon; 34,000-80,000 in Bordeaux; 25,000-50,000 in Rennes.

In Bordeaux there were 60,000 protesters (by CGT estimates), many of them from small firms, and also supermarket workers from Carrefour and Auchan, marching behind a banner reading: “The crisis is them, we are the solution.”

In eastern France, over 20,000 marched in Nancy and 7,000 to 20,000 in Strasbourg.

Over 30 percent of the 5 million workers in the public services (education, public health, local government) were on strike. Also on strike were nearly 40 percent of rail workers, 48 percent of Paris metro drivers, 30 percent of the EDF electric utility staff, 28 percent of postal workers, nearly half of primary teachers and a third of secondary teachers, 30 percent of France Télécom workers, 32 percent of urban transport workers in France’s major cities, 16 percent at the Crédit Lyonnais bank and 10 percent at the Renault car plants.

Radio France and France Télévision services were disrupted and rail traffic was reduced, in some cases by 50 percent. Air traffic was disrupted.

The comments of the various leading trade union officials expressed their complacency and lack of perspective.

Jean-Claude Mailly of Force Ouvrière (Workers Power), France’s third-largest union confederation, declared: “We are not considering the hypothesis that we are going to demonstrate every week, that’s not it—but it’s necessary too for the government to respond.”

Bernard Thibault, leader of the CGT, said that the day’s mobilisations equalled those at the height of the movement against the CPE (first job contract) in 2006, but was pleased to note that this time “there are far fewer young people and many more workers from the private sector.” He said there would be further action, but did not specify what or when it would be.

The comments of François Chérèque of the CFDT (French Democratic Confederation of Labour, oriented to the Socialist Party) expressed the general desire of the union bureaucracies to reach a deal with Sarkozy. “Now it’s up to the government to bring answers” in regard to a “stimulus package with concrete measures for workers, and after that we will decide on further plans for the movement.”

WSWS supporters in Paris, Marseille, Nancy and Amiens handed out thousands of copies of the WSWS Editorial Board statement, “Workers need a socialist perspective to fight the economic crisis,” which called for “the industrial and political mobilization of the entire working class for the purpose of converting the banks and other major industries into public utilities—democratically managed and overseen by the workers—in France and internationally.”

The statement also argued that “The most basic requirement of this struggle is a political break with the trade union bureaucracy and the French political establishment, which are promoting unviable, nationally-based responses to the crisis, and the building of a new political leadership in the working class on the basis of a revolutionary socialist program that places the economy under the democratic control of the working class.”

The Audacity of Empire, by Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan for Congress

Cindy Sheehan

by Cindy Sheehan
featured writer
Dandelion Salad
Cindy Sheehan for Congress
January 29, 2009

Webster’s Dictionary defines empire as: a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority; especially: one having an emperor as chief of state.

Even though most of us do not call our “chief of state” Emperor, the USA is most certainly an empire. We have all the trappings of empire (military parades, glorious coronation balls, an elite few ruling the empire) but the Oligarchs (rule by the few) call it a “democracy” so the plebes must buy into the myth that our nation is in any way democratic. Our military is used for spreading colonial capitalism all over the world. Even in the heyday of the Roman Empire, most conquered local governments retained some autonomy, unless, of course, the will of the people conflicted with the will of the Emperor.

Is there any bigger bureaucracy than the US government…that contains the US Military Industrial Complex? At this point, it is hard to distinguish the two behemoths…does the MIC control the government or is it the other way around? Does the government support the MIC, or has the MIC overtaken the government to insure that the bloody empire continues? Is there an evil synergistic relationship between the two that will destroy the planet before The Empire® collapses under its own gluttonous weight?

There are already indications of The Empire® beginning to fray around the edges. The latest being the US/Israeli assault on Gaza, that although very destructive, was not able to fully suppress Hamas and achieve its aims. In Iraq, the MIC has not been victorious in subduing that population and there are indications that what might rise out of the ashes will be a more religious and anti-American regime: (once the Iraqi people vanquish the US pro-consul, Maliki) no matter how many bases or how large the embassy we leave in Iraq.

Many people looked at Obama as a “peace candidate” where he is no such thing. In the first week of office, he demonstrated that the Bush regime’s illegal CIA drone bombings in the tribal regions of Pakistan would continue.

Recently the US military took $40,000.00 to a village where 15 civilians were killed (less than three grand per person) with the imperialistic hubris that a few thousand lousy American dollars will pay for the life of a loved one.

The Pakistani government is getting quite a bit of pressure from the civil society there about the illegal US strikes against its sovereign territories, but like all empires, the US could not care less about the people it’s killing, or protests against its policies.

Doing the Imperial Shuffle

Many anti-war activists are concentrated on insuring that Obama fulfills his campaign promises to withdraw “combat” troops from Iraq without having the integrity to demand complete withdrawal of all troops and a return to total sovereignty of the country to the people of Iraq and not questioning Obama’s determination to double troop strength to Afghanistan.

I think the US MIC empire needs to be destroyed, but I would prefer that we incorporate a voluntary reduction of empire, before the weight of The Empire® collapses like a house of cards on us; or the innocents of Afghanistan.

Testifying to a Congressional committee, Bushian, Defense Secretary, Robert Gates (in service to the Emperor, whomever he is), stated that the US needed another “five years” to undo the damage that years of neglect to the occupation of Afghanistan created and the “distraction” of the “dumb war” in Iraq. Five years more!? That would put the imperial occupation at Vietnam length and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen has already guaranteed that the carnage in Afghanistan will double when the troop strength doubles.

The Empire® knows full well that occupations are never successful and that the occupied peoples just need to wage guerilla wars of resistance and wait out the imperial forces and the occupations will eventually end with The Empire® being greatly weakened as was our case after Vietnam. Being quagmired in Afghanistan is what destroyed the USSR. The Empire® will lie and use patriotic, religious and hopeful rhetoric to justify these occupations when The Empire® is neither patriotic nor religious.

The Empire® knows only one god, and that’s Profit and the religion of The Empire® is State Sanctioned Violence. A little known fact is that when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the “Military Industrial Complex,” he wanted to insert “Congressional” (indicating the essential role that the US Congress plays in the care and feeding of the military industry) after “Military” but he took it out in his final draft.

So while Obama may remove a token number of troops from Iraq, he is shuffling them into Afghanistan so his fealty to The Empire® will be confirmed. Many so-called anti-war organizations are crazily doing the Imperial Shuffle with Obama and have no integrity unless they resist his carnage as they resisted the carnage of the Bush regime.

Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA)

The Obama regime is only adhering to the Bush-Maliki SOFA in Iraq—that was eventually ratified by the Iraqi parliament after some changes, but never ratified by our Congress. SOFA’s are just what they appear, bilateral (sometimes multi-lateral) agreements between The Empire® and mostly puppet governments of The Empire®. Rarely does the majority of the country’s civil society approve a SOFA where a US military presence is forced upon the country. SOFA’s are always signed under the gun with the threat (implied or explicit) of violence.

SOFA’s usually immunize US personnel from prosecution for breaking the host country’s laws. Wherever there is a US military base, there is crime upon the civilians (sometimes as wicked as rape and murder), a strain on the area’s social services and infrastructure, and of course, also contamination of the ecology of the planet.

Many countries that I have visited have SOFA’s in place and US military bases on their soil. I have never been to a country where the majority of civilians support the US military presence: Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Ireland, Cuba, Turkey, Australia, South Korea, the indigenous population of Hawaii, etc. The foreign bases are a blight on the communities where they are planted and constitute over 800 mini-empires all over the world.

The Domestic Ravages of Empire

Besides the millions of innocent civilians (EmpireSpeak®: collateral damage) that The Empire® has killed, oppressed, displaced or injured around the globe, the reliance on the business of killing to fuel our economy is now having a deleterious affect on everyone here except the Oligarchy.

The US spends over one trillion dollars per year (more that the next 10 country’s combined) on the two occupations in the Middle East, the aforementioned permanent bases around the world, foreign military aid, nuclear programs (both for “peaceful” and aggressive usages), “detention” centers, black-op sites (funding is estimated, only), military hardware and the bloated Pentagon bureaucratic budget. To service this empire, in the past eight years, the US has borrowed heavily, and increased the printing of currency (combined with manipulating interest rates, etc) to finance the MIC Empire and keep a certain segment of the population’s income flowing. Over 50% of our tax dollar goes towards the military budget, or servicing the debt from old wars like Vietnam.

We know that millions of people have already lost their homes or are in danger of imminent foreclosure. Many people lost their homes due to the slimy sub-prime mortgage Ponzi schemes, but certainly others have due to financial crises like job loss (the real unemployment figure is over 15%) or medical bills. With nearly fifty millions of us uninsured or underinsured and with the medical complex profiting off of this misery, medical financial crises are unfortunately becoming more common.

Recently two horrible incidences caught my attention, and while they are getting some media attention, one must never think that they are isolated incidents.

In one incident, a man in Los Angeles killed his five children, his wife and then himself because he didn’t have a job and his family was extremely income-insecure.

In another, a 93 year-old man in Bay City, Michigan, froze to death in his apartment because his utilities got shut off for non-payment (appropriate punishment for not being able to stretch ones Social Security check?). These two incidents should shock you into action even if you weren’t personally affected. As the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) says: An injury to one is an injury to all.

In my own anecdotal experience, two long time Sheehan family friends are very reluctantly joining the military because they see no viable alternative in today’s economy and with the invincibility of the young, refuse to take what happened to my son, Casey, as a warning or model…but instead are enticed by $40,000.00 dollar signing bonuses which will never fully be realized, anyway. I fear that military recruiters will see an increase in enlistment in all demographics, but will particularly and vigorously re-target poor and colored communities to fulfill Obama’s goal of increasing the military by 92,000 troops.

The Audacity of Hope

To me, the “Audacity of Hope” is just EmpireSpeak® for, yet again, the American public desperately hoping that someone has finally achieved the office of Emperor without being tainted by the evil of that empire. It’s not possible. We had several candidates who were true peace candidates running for that office, in ‘08, but they never had a chance. Our Media Industrial Complex is also in service to The Empire® and will never allow an alternative to The Empire® to be presented. Every large media conglomeration has ties to the MIC and a vested interest in keeping it going.

Every four years, we are given the illusion of hope. In the 20th and 21st Century, we have had 10 Republican administrations (Ford was not given an extension of his regime after attaining the office by Constitutional default) and 8 Democratic administrations. We flow seamlessly between Democratic and Republican empires without much relevant reform happening from the top-down. It seems like we come to reject the prior administration with regularity.

If any candidate was a rejection of a prior Administration, it is Obama. At the time of the election, Bush’s unpopularity was at an all time personal and historic high. Bush is reviled almost completely around the world, but in the US, he left office with a 22% approval rating. In my humble opinion, just about any ticket could have beaten the McCain/Palin ticket. And was the addition of incomprehensible Sarah Palin, just assurance that the Empire could maintain the illusion of hope and choice? The relative closeness of the election despite the incredible weakness of the (R) ticket, is testament to the nature of The Empire®, in any other country, I believe that the Bush regime would have been forced from office long before it left peacefully.

All Obama had to do was run a very careful campaign and publicly denounce anyone/thing that would taint him in the eyes of the Oligarchy: he betrayed his pastor and long time friend, Jeremiah Wright, for only telling the truth. He voted to give Telco’s immunity from being prosecuted under the FISA laws; he advocated for a Bankster bailout; voted to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT ACT; pledged his undying allegiance and support to Israel and sold-out our LGBTQ community before he was even inaugurated.

During Obama’s inaugural speech (which was a master-piece of touchy-feely, yet hostile rhetoric) he demonstrated his fluency in EmpireSpeak®, god-talk: and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

I am not even sure what that means, except to me, a student of American history, it reflects President Polk’s, “Manifest Destiny” that was the impetus and rationale for slaughtering our indigenous peoples almost to extinction and stealing their lands and the lands of Mexico. Obama has co-opted the exploitative EmpireSpeak® that God has graced the US with the destiny to conquer the world, so everything the US does is the will of God and, therefore, good. Personally, I don’t want a “freedom” delivered to my “future generations” that is dripping in innocent blood and diminished because Obama is carrying on The Empire’®s War on Terror®.”

The US has been an empire for a long time. American humorist and early peacenik, Mark Twain, was VP of the US Anti-Imperialism league in the late 19th-early 20th century when the quest for empire was fervent and hundreds of thousands of people were killed in imperial conquests (supported by media of the time).

The only good that I saw coming from the Bush regime is something that I am sure it did not intend: putting a stupidly evil, but at the same time, blatant face on The Empire®. Although Obama was the first president in a long time to be elected with over 50% of the vote that is only 50% of the people who voted. He does not have a clear mandate to put a kinder-gentler face on The Empire® and many people on the left-left and the right-right do not support him (although many neo-cons of both parties do).

What is so audacious about “hope” is that it disarms our intellect and our energy for true change. Our willingness to confront The Empire® at every turn thaws into only opposing what the new Emperor decrees are “dumb wars.”

This is the Audacity of Empire and this is what we must still resist.

Author’s note: I do not have a registered trademark for the phrases “The Empire” or “EmpireSpeak” but I accidentally found out how to make the ® mark and thought it was a great way to emphasize the corporate nature of the US empire.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Equal-Marriage Push Intensifies in New England

By Melinda Tuhus
Women's eNews correspondent

After winning a legal victory for equal marriage rights in Connecticut, lawyers at GLAD are pursuing a 6-by-12 strategy, meaning all six New England states by 2012. Vermont and New Hampshire currently have bills in their legislatures.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WOMENSENEWS)--Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the Boston-based legal team known as GLAD, has two marriage-equality victories behind it in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Now it is pursuing a "6 by 12" strategy, meaning it hopes to win equal marriage rights in all six New England states by 2012.

Carissa Cunningham, the group's director of public affairs, says it chose 2012 because it seemed the soonest realistic date based on political realities in the four remaining states: Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. In Rhode Island, for instance, the current governor opposes same-sex marriage and a new governor will come into office that year.

Cunningham says GLAD, a nonprofit law firm, will continue its multi-pronged approach of offering legal expertise to legislators and policymakers and working through its partner organizations in each state to educate candidates, voters and legislators about marriage equality.

On Jan. 13 Dennis S. Damon, a state senator in Maine, announced that he will draft a bill to repeal Maine's Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage to a man and woman. Cunningham says her group is organizing support for that bill, along with a coalition of Maine groups.

GLAD is also supporting marriage bills in the legislatures of Vermont and New Hampshire--the New England states it considers most receptive to equal marriage rights--while working on public education campaigns in other states.

GLAD's work is particularly significant for lesbians, who are more likely than gay men to marry and register domestic partnerships to secure legal rights. They are also more likely to have children.

Connecting to California

Cunningham thinks the push in New England could help activists in California who are trying to regroup after voters passed Proposition 8 in November. That initiative declared marriage only as between a man and a woman and nullified the California Supreme Court's decision in May 2008 in favor of same-sex marriage rights.

"There are hopeful developments that inspire people and then there are really bad things that happen, like Proposition 8, that also inspire people and get them activated," Cunningham said. "Both of these things are going on simultaneously in our country right now, and I think they engage people in different ways and bring people to the table."

In October Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders scored a major victory when the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Kerrigan v. Connecticut Department of Public Health that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

Connecticut and Massachusetts are now the only two states where same-sex marriage is legal. Civil unions are legal in Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey and California, and technically still remain on the books in Connecticut. New York recognizes same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriages performed in other states.

After the Connecticut General Assembly passed a civil union law in 2005, same-sex marriage advocates continued to push for full marriage rights.

Civil unions restrict couples from filing joint federal taxes or taking family leave under federal law, and activists often argue that marriage is a more respectful description of same-sex partnerships.

Lawsuits Started in 2004

In 2004 six lesbian couples and two gay male couples filed a lawsuit after they were denied marriage licenses in Connecticut. They were represented by GLAD, which the year before had also won the court victory in Massachusetts, which has so far issued 11,000 same-sex marriage licenses.

One of the Connecticut plaintiffs is Barb Levine-Ritterman, who had a civil union ceremony back in 2005 with Robin Levine-Ritterman, her domestic partner of 20 years.

Barb Levine-Ritterman says she suffered the limits of her civil union after undergoing cancer treatments a few years earlier. When she went to the hospital for follow-up care, an intake worker asked her marital status. When she answered "civil union" the woman said, "There's no place for that in the computer. I'll put you down as single."

The couple hasn't set a wedding date, but she says it's an important milestone for the entire family, including their 11-year-old son. "For Joshua, civil union did not compute. If someone said to him, 'Two moms can't get married,' he couldn't say, 'What? They've been civilized? Unionized? Civilly united?' Now he's going to be able to say, 'My moms are married.'"

In Connecticut supporters not only pressed a legal case while pursuing legislation, they also opposed a constitutional convention that could open the possibility of putting a same-sex marriage ban before the voters.

The court acted first, issuing its ruling on Oct. 10, 2008.

Election Day Detour

But before the court ruling could go into effect on Nov. 12 advocates faced a threat on Election Day the week before.

Every 20 years, voters in Connecticut must decide whether the Legislature should convene a constitutional convention and the matter was already on the state ballot. Groups such as the Connecticut Catholic Conference and the Family Institute of Connecticut, both based in Hartford, were promoting a "yes" vote as a route to placing a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot.

Love Makes a Family, an equal marriage advocacy group based in Hartford, Conn., called for a "no" vote to protect equal marriage.

The question was defeated by 20 percentage points.

Love Makes a Family had also been working for eight years to build support at the grassroots level and in the Connecticut General Assembly, says Anne Stanback, its founding executive director. Once the equal-marriage lawsuit was filed, her group began working closely with GLAD.

Stanback says the road to marriage equality in the state was paved with creative approaches.

Activists invited almost all the state legislators to house meetings with same-sex couples along with their straight allies. It was important, she says, for straight people to insist that granting equal rights to lesbians and gays would not diminish their own civil rights or threaten them in any way. Other key players were progressive members of the clergy, who showed elected officials that people of faith were not just on the opposing side.

Neither the Family Institute of Connecticut nor the Connecticut Catholic Conference returned phone calls seeking comment. A statement on the Catholic Conference's Web site criticizes the state Supreme Court decision. "The real battle in this court case was not about rights, since civil unions provide a vast number of legal rights to same-sex couples, but about conferring and enforcing social acceptance of a particular lifestyle; a lifestyle many people of faith and advocates of the natural law refuse to accept."

Stanback said she's confident activists will be able to protect same-sex marriage from any attempts to undo it in the 2009 legislative session, since they now have enough lawmakers on their side.

Melinda Tuhus is a freelance writer based in New Haven, Conn. She reports on gender issues, the environment and other social concerns.

Protesting the anti-abortion bigots

SAN FRANCISCO--On January 24, 200 pro-choice activists and allies turned out to counter-protest the so-called "March for Life."

For the past five years, thousands of anti-choice activists have gathered in San Francisco near the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1972 Supreme Court decision granting women the right to abortion, to assert their anti-choice agenda. This year, 15,000 anti-choice protesters descended on the city.

In response, the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights, called for a counter protest. Demands included support for free abortion on demand, no forced sterilization, a defense of immigrant rights, a call to stop the racist Minutemen, civil rights for LGBT people and a repeal of the anti-same-sex marriage Proposition 8.

As activists noted, it will take a united fightback against all types of bigotry to defeat the right-wing agenda. As Anastasia, an immigrant rights activist, said, "Millions of people are living in the shadows and we will not do so anymore. From immigrants to women's oppression, we must not fight separate battles, but unite them and fight back together."

Despite anti-choice forces significantly outnumbering counter protesters, pro-choice forces kept their spirits and voices up. Chanting, "Bigots, we got your global gag rule," activists celebrated Obama's recent overturning of the Bush administration "gag rule" that denied funding to international agencies which provided women with abortion services or information.

Notably, the right wing's numbers on the march decreased from 25,000 last year to 15,000 this year. These dwindling numbers suggest that at least some on the right are feeling demoralized.

Pro-choice activists must take advantage of this opening by uniting and fighting back against bigotry and, maybe next time, the right-wing bigots will think twice before coming back to San Francisco.

Right Wing Squawking Heads

I'm so tired of the right wing Squawking Heads. You know who I mean. Glen Beck, Michael Savage (pseudonym) Rush "The Junkie" Limbaugh, Bill "The Loofah Queen" O'Reilly, not to mention the shrieking shrill voiced ugly harpies from Hades Ann "The Alleged Transgender" Coulter and Michelle "The Rabid Shihtzu Malkin.

I'm tired of listening to them do their Lord HaHa act. I'm tired of their Nazi lying hate America propaganda.

I'm tired of their misogyny and racism. I'm tired of their hatred towards LGBT/T people. I'm tired of their extolling the fucked up crap from the illiterate scribbler Ayn Rand.

If they actually extolled any "family Values thhose values are purely Confederate Family values and not real American values.

The represent the rich white elite. The billionaires who have destroyed this country.

Now you might think I want to silence them. But I do not. See I am a real American unlike the Squawking Heads and I want people to have a chance to compare messages and decide for themselves who has the better ideas. Just as they did last year when they ignored the hysteria of the Squawking Heads and elected Barack Obama.

Oh no. I do not believe in censorship regarding free speech but I do believe it is time to level the playing field by restoring the Fairness Doctrine.

Spreading Fast

From When Giants Fail

Slowly but surely, the social mood is souring and instability is spreading across Europe. What started out as a spontaneous protest in response to a police shooting in Greece of a 15-year old boy has morphed into an expanding array of marches, strikes, protests, and riots. While widespread media (and internet) coverage and subversive elements have no doubt played a role in stoking the fever, it's hard to ignore the fact that this suddenly burgeoning unrest is occuring against a backdrop of faltering growth around the world. Regardless, I wonder how long it will be before the events described in the following Telegraph report, "Europe's Winter of Discontent," are being seen on many other continents.

Continue reading at: When Giants Fail

IMF expects global economy to come to “virtual halt” in 2009

By Patrick O’Connor
29 January 2009

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said yesterday that it expects world economic growth this year to be the lowest since World War II. The Fund's latest update to its 2009 World Economic Outlook forecasts global gross domestic product (GDP) growth of just 0.5 percent—sharply lower than the 2.2 percent annual growth it expected last November.

IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard declared: "We now expect the global economy to come to a virtual halt."

The global slump is being led by the advanced economies, almost all of which will experience major economic contractions. The US economy is expected to decline by 1.6 percent, the eurozone by 2 percent, Japan by 2.6 percent and Britain by 2.8 percent. On average, output in the advanced economies will fall by 2 percent—the first such collective contraction since the 1930s.

IMFCredit: IMF World Economic Outlook Update Jan 2009

Economies classified as "emerging and developing" will grow by an average of 3.3 percent this year, down from 6.3 percent in 2008. Countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia are expected to experience the sharpest slowdowns. China and India remain the fastest growing, with expected 2009 growth of 6.7 and 5.1 percent respectively. In neither case, however, is the projected growth rate sufficient to generate enough jobs for the rapidly growing Chinese and Indian urban populations.

The IMF's extraordinary world forecast underscores the inability of world governments to mitigate the economic crisis.

The Fund's revised outlook takes into account the various stimulus packages enacted internationally. It warns: "Given that the current projections are predicated on strong and coordinated policy actions, any delays will likely worsen growth prospects... Downside risks continue to dominate, as the scale and scope of the current financial crisis have taken the global economy into uncharted waters. The main risk is that unless stronger financial strains and uncertainties are forcefully addressed, the pernicious feedback loop between real activity and financial markets will intensify, leading to even more toxic effects on global growth."

While advocating aggressive monetary and fiscal policies to try to stimulate global demand, the IMF warned that stimulus spending threatened to blow out governments' budget deficits. In advanced economies, these deficits are forecast to reach 7 percent of GDP this year, nearly double the 2008 level.

"The sharp increase in the issuance of public debt could prompt an adverse market reaction, unless governments clarify their strategy to ensure long-term sustainability," the IMF report stated. In other words, while stimulus packages are now required to prevent a deflationary spiral of declining economic activity, in the longer term pressure will build for austerity programs involving deep cuts to social programs to cover government debts.

The world crisis is plunging hundreds of millions of working people deeper into poverty.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) released its annual Global Employment Trends report yesterday. It forecast that as many as 51 million workers could be laid off this year, potentially pushing the global unemployment rate to 7.1 percent (up from 5.7 percent in 2007).

The ILO's report modeled the employment impact of three different world economic growth forecasts. The most optimistic projection—which forecast an additional 18 million unemployed—was based on the IMF's November forecast of 2.2 percent growth. The revised 0.5 percent growth figure, issued the same day as the ILO report, immediately voided this scenario.

The ILO's other two projections were based on complex statistical calculations. The middle scenario rested on the historical relationship between economic growth and unemployment in times of economic crisis. By this calculation, an additional 30 million people will be laid off. It seems likely, however, that this scenario underestimates the real impact. The current breakdown of the capitalist system is not equivalent to the downturns experienced in the post-war period, making problematic any attempt to correlate current increases in unemployment with those seen during the recessions of the 1970s and early 1980s.

The third scenario, projecting 51 million more unemployed, may prove the most accurate. According to this projection, unemployment in the developed economies would average 7.9 percent, while the ILO concluded that "in some of the developing economies the unemployment rate would reach unprecedented levels."

Mass unemployment is but one aspect of the growing social hardship being experienced internationally.

The ILO forecast that the number of "working poor"—or more accurately, the working destitute, given that the category's criteria is earnings of less than $2 a day—may rise to a total of 1.4 billion people, or 45 percent of the world's employed. Up to 20 percent of those now living marginally above the poverty line may fall back into extreme poverty.

"The ILO message is realistic, not alarmist," Director-General Juan Somavia said. "We are now facing a global jobs crisis. Many governments are aware and acting, but more decisive and coordinated international action is needed to avert a global social recession. Progress in poverty reduction is unraveling and middle classes worldwide are weakening. The political and security implications are daunting."

Major layoffs are continuing on a daily basis in the US. The Labor Department yesterday reported there were 21,137 mass layoff occurrences—defined as 50 or more job cuts by a single employer—in 2008, up from 15,493 the previous year. More than 2.1 million workers lost their jobs through the mass retrenchments. The Labor Department reported that the construction, mining, manufacturing, transportation services and financial services industries were especially hard hit.

The situation is getting worse, with US and international corporations this week announcing as many as 100,000 layoffs. According to a Bloomberg article yesterday, US companies have announced 520,000 job cuts since November 1.

Further layoff announcements include:

* Multinational coffee firm Starbucks said it will cut as many as 6,000 jobs at the store level as well as another 700 administrative positions. A total of 977 stores are now to be closed in response to plummeting sales and profits.

* Aircraft manufacturer Boeing revealed it will cut 10,000 jobs, or more than 6 percent of its workforce. Nearly half of these layoffs were previously announced; the additional layoffs were prompted by lower orders. According to UBS Investment Research, one-third of the world's airline companies are now likely to defer deliveries this year, up from 8 percent three months ago.

* Electrical products and tools manufacturer Cooper Industries announced Tuesday it was slashing more than 2,200 jobs (8 percent of its salaried workforce). This was significantly more than the 1,000 positions which analysts had predicted would go.

* Time Warner Inc.'s AOL online unit is to cut about 10 percent of its workforce, affecting 700 employees. The layoffs were driven by plunging advertising revenues. AOL's ad sales fell by 18 percent last quarter on an annualized basis.

American workers' retirement savings are being severely eroded by the economic crisis. Fidelity Investments, which covers 401(k) plans for more than 11 million workers at 17,000 companies, yesterday revealed that the average individual balance declined from $69,200 in 2007 to $50,200 last year. The 27 percent decline would have been much larger if not for the fact that most workers continued to invest additional money in the accounts, despite the protracted decline on Wall Street. US stock mutual funds fell by an average of 36 percent last year while the average foreign stock fund lost 44 percent.

Spain's economy enters recession

Spain's economy is in recession for the first time since 1993, according to figures from the Spanish central bank.

The Bank of Spain said gross domestic product (GDP) fell 1.1% in the final quarter of 2008, following a 0.2% decline in the third quarter.

The Spanish government has already forecast that the country's GDP will shrink by 1.6% during 2009.

Spain has the worst unemployment rate in the EU, with 13.9% of the workforce out of a job.

The latest labour figures from the Bank of Spain showed that unemployment rose by 3% in the quarter.

The eurozone as a whole entered recession in November.

Real estate bubble

Spain's economy has in recent years been one of the healthiest in Europe, but the global financial crisis and rising unemployment have hit it hard.

The country's reliance on construction means it has also suffered from the collapse of the real estate bubble.

Mortgage lending was down 51% in November, marking the biggest fall in 10 straight months of decline.

"Spain is going through a very sharp correction having grown very rapidly for a decade," said Dr James Nixon, European economist at Societe Generale. "That growth is now being very sharply reversed.

"Although that is very painful now, the fact that the adjustment is so brutal is a reason to be optimistic for the longer term."

Separate data from the car manufacturers' association, Anfac, showed car sales fell 28% in 2008, the largest-ever yearly decline.