Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Coalition plans to take back WBAI

From Workers World

http://www.workers.org/2009/us/wbai_0702/

Published Jun 29, 2009 7:03 AM

Some 100 people, many of them movement activists, gathered for a rally called by the Coalition to Take Back WBAI outside the station’s Wall Street offices on June 17 to protest the ongoing purge of some of the station’s most progressive voices. “Wake Up Call” newscaster Don Debar and labor specialist Mimi Rosenberg, who had just been excised by the new management, joined the protest. Both were associated with the morning show that has already been cut by one hour, and now airs only from 6 to 8 a.m., Monday to Friday.

For decades, New Yorkers have relied on WBAI 99.5 FM, part of the Pacifica Radio Network, for radio broadcasting that provides real news and perspectives not filtered by corporate media. Now, the station has been seized by the Pacifica Corp., along with the WBAI Local Station Board majority, who are attempting to impose their own brand of programming by removing some of the staff and programming most closely connected with New York’s oppressed and marginalized communities.

Not only have WBAI’s progressive Black general manager Tony Riddle and program director Bernard White been fired, but other progressive staff have been let go in New York as well as in California. Pacifica Corp.’s interim executive director Grace Aaron has imposed a gag rule threatening to fire any programmer who discusses these matters on the air.

Coalition spokespeople said the rally is a starting point and that they will continue activities aimed at reversing what they call a “coup.” Their goals include reinstatement of the removed WBAI programmers, lifting the gag rule and returning genuine autonomy to the station. There is also a recall campaign to remove from office two of the Local Station Board members whom the Coalition considers most harmful to local autonomy, board chair Mitchel Cohen and board member and multimillionaire marketing executive Steve Brown. For more information visit justiceunity.org.


Articles copyright 1995-2009 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Monday, June 29, 2009

MPs condemn police tactics at G20 protest

From the Guardian

Keep untrained officers off frontline at demos, says highly critical Commons committee report

G20 April Fools Day Protest

Protesters and police clash outside the Bank of England during G20 demonstrations. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA

Untrained officers must never again be put in the frontline of policing public protests, according to a highly critical MPs' report on the G20 protests published today.

The conclusion from the Commons home affairs select committee inquiry into the G20 protests of April 1 follows admissions from senior Metropolitan police officers that some inexperienced officers, who were clearly quite scared, used "inappropriate force".

The report by the cross-party group of MPs says they "cannot condone the use of untrained, inexperienced officers on the frontline of a public protest under any circumstances".

Their inquiry also calls for the police to seriously consider whether they can continue with the use of tactics such as kettling – containing protesters behind cordons for a sustained period of time – and the controlled use of force against those who appear hostile without first holding a public debate over the future of policing public protests.

During the G20 protests the Met repeatedly attempted to "kettle" thousands of mainly peaceful demonstrators .

The technique is widely believed to have sparked angry confrontations with protesters, who complained that they were penned in for hours and subjected to baton charges.

Officers in charge of the Met's public order operations have been lobbying hard to retain the kettling tactic, which they regard as an effective method of preventing unruly protests from spreading through large areas of a city.

The select committee stops short of commenting on the death of the newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson or the case of Nicola Fisher, who was struck across the face by a police sergeant. But the MPs say that the images and film footage of those incidents shocked the public and have the potential to undermine trust in the police. They hoped the incidents would mark the start of a widespread debate on the use of force by the police.

"The basic principle that the police must remember is that protesters are not criminals – the police's doctrine must remain focused on allowing protest to happen peacefully," said Keith Vaz, the committee chairman.

"In many ways this was a large protest which passed off remarkably well. But it is clear that concerns about the policing of the G20 protests have damaged the public's confidence in the police and that is a great shame."

He said the ability of the public and the media to monitor every single action of the police through CCTV, mobile phones and video equipment means they have to take even greater care to ensure that all their actions are justifiable.

"There must not be a repetition of this – never again must untrained officers be placed on the frontline of public protest."

The report describes the policing of the G20 protests as a "remarkably successful operation" in which more than 35,000 demonstrated in the centre of London yet with the minimum of disruption to the City: "Aside from a few high-profile incidents, the policing of the G20 protests passed without drama," say the MPs before adding that an element of luck played a part in that success.

The MPs repeat their belief that there are no circumstances in which it is acceptable for police officers not to wear their identification numbers and urge those who consciously remove them to face the strongest disciplinary action.

During the Commons inquiry, Commander Bob Broadhurst, the "gold commander" in charge of the G20 policing operation, told the MPs that there had not been any large-scale disorder in London for a number of years of the kind seen summer after summer in the 1980s and 1990s: "That means I now have a workforce of relatively young people that we draw on who are policing Sutton High Street one day and the next day called into central London."

He said there were 2,500 officers who had only two days of public order training a year and the vast majority of whom had never faced a situation as violent as the G20 protest before.

"That may also be why one or two of them, as you have seen on television, may have used inappropriate force at times ... I would probably say that was probably more fear and lack of control, whereas our experience in the past is the more we experience these things, the less quick officers are to go to the use of force because they understand more the dynamics," he said.

The MPs say the risk of relying so heavily on untrained, inexperienced officers in such a highly combustible atmosphere must never be taken again.

Their report also confirms criticisms of police communications with the media and with the protesters and question why it took the personal intervention of Broadhurst to relay the message that the press should be let out of the cordons.

The MPs' findings are published ahead of a report by Denis O'Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, in which senior police officers will be told they must use "reasonable discretion" when containing large numbers of protesters. O'Connor was asked to carry out a national review of public order policing by the Metropolitan police commissioner in April. He is due to publish his findings this week.

O'Connor is considering whether to endorse a "human rights-based" approach to policing advocated by Sir Hugh Orde, the incoming chief of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Orde is promoting a model of policing protest developed in Northern Ireland that sees greater emphasis placed on communicating with protesters and facilitating their right to protest.

However, Orde's position, which gives protesters more freedom to roam, is considered soft by some senior Met officers.

Honduran military ousts president in coup

From World Socialist Web Site
By Joe Kishore
29 June 2009

The Honduran military ousted President Maunel Zelaya on Sunday morning, just before a planned national referendum. It was the first coup in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. As the World Socialist Web Site goes to press, the situation in Honduras remains fluid and the outcome uncertain.

After arresting Zelaya at his home, the military transferred him to Costa Rica. The Honduran Congress quickly installed its speaker, Roberto Micheletti, as “interim president.”

Zelaya had scheduled a national non-binding referendum on Sunday on whether a ballot should be held in November on the holding of a constitutional convention. Zelaya’s opponents claimed that the president was seeking to find a way to stay in power by changing a constitutional provision that limits the president to one four-year term. However, the referendum that had been slated for Sunday proposed that a ballot on a constitutional convention be held at the same time as the November election to choose Zelaya’s successor.

The Honduran Supreme Court declared that the referendum was unconstitutional, and the military refused to take measures to hold it, setting off a political crisis. Last week, Zelaya dismissed the army chief, General Romeo Vasquez, but the Supreme Court intervened to declare the move unconstitutional. The military stepped in and ousted Zelaya after the president sought to go ahead with the poll.

On Sunday, Zelaya called the intervention of the military a “coup d’etat.” He said he was awakened by soldiers who arrested him in his pajamas Sunday morning.

Manuel Zelaya came to office in January 2006, following a highly contested election in November 2005. He is a long-time member of the Liberal Party, one of the main establishment parties of Honduras. He ran on the basis of a law-and-order program, narrowly defeating the equally right-wing candidate of the National Party of Honduras, Porfirio Pepe Lobo.

After coming to power, however, Zelaya initiated populist measures and developed a close relationship with Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez. This policy alienated the country’s wealthy elite and political establishment, including leading figures in Zelaya’s own party. Since he was elected, Zelaya has come into periodic conflict with the corporate elite, which is the principal social force behind the military.

In January, Zelaya increased the country’s minimum wage from 157 to 280 dollars, excluding special export zones. Corporations responded angrily and initiated mass layoffs. Honduras is an impoverished country, with a poverty rate of about 70 percent.

The United States, the European Union, the Organization of American States and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared their opposition to the coup. President Barack Obama said the US government did not recognize Micheletti and called for Zelaya to be returned to Honduras.

The United States has a long history of involvement in Central and South America, including support for a series of military coups. The US has traditionally had close ties with Honduras, but these ties have become strained under Zelaya.

Venezuelan president Chavez has called for an investigation into possible US involvement in the coup. Chavez put the Venezuelan military on alert and warned that if the new military-dominated government of Honduras entered the Venezuelan embassy, the action would constitute “a de facto state of war.”

Chavez said that the Honduran military had arrested the Cuban ambassador to Honduras and had beaten up the Venezuelan ambassador, leaving him by a road in the capital of the country, Tegucigalpa. Chavez called a special summit Sunday of the “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas”—an economic and political bloc that includes Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and Honduras—to discuss the crisis in Honduras.

There are reports of pro-Zelaya forces setting up barricades in the Honduran capital.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Zimbabwe army 'runs diamond mine'

Lobby group Human Rights Watch has accused Zimbabwe's army of using forced labour, including children, to mine diamonds in the east of the country.

Local villagers who do not co-operate with the military are beaten and tortured, the US-based group says.

Their report also details an alleged massacre of diamond diggers last year, after the disputed elections.

It urges the unity government to take control of the mines and use the revenue to help rebuild the country.

"Zimbabwe's new government should get the army out of the fields, put a stop to the abuse," Human Rights Watch's Africa director Georgette Gagnon said.

"The police and army have turned this peaceful area into a nightmare of lawlessness and horrific violence," she said.

'Buying off the military'

The report is based on interviews done in February in Marange district.

Its researchers say that as far as they are aware, the situation has not changed since the former opposition joined the government four months ago.

Millions of dollars in potential government revenue are being siphoned off through illegal diamond mining,
Human Rights Watch statement

Human Rights Watch claims control of the mines is part of a systematic attempt by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party to buy support from the military.

The diamond fields in Marange were seized just one month after the power-sharing deal was first agreed in September 2008.

On the face of it, the military takeover was an attempt to seize control from unlicensed miners, the lobby group says.

But in reality it was a systematic attempt to enable key army units, whose support President Mugabe needed following June's elections, to have access to riches, Human Rights Watch says.

"Documents that we reviewed that we got from the military and the police clearly indicate that this was a clearly designed system to benefit the army," researcher Dewa Mavhinga said.

Witnesses say it involved a brutal military operation that saw some 200 people killed in three weeks.

It says army brigades are still in control forcing hundreds of children and adults endure forced labour for mining syndicates.

While the new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is touring the West lobbying for aid, "millions of dollars in potential government revenue are being siphoned off through illegal diamond mining, smuggling of gemstones… and corruption", the rights organisation says.

If the diamond industry was legally regulated, Human Rights Watch estimates it could amount to $200m a month for the country.

It is calling for diamond exports from Zimbabwe to be banned and for the country to be suspended from the Kimberly Process - the certification scheme for diamonds - until the demilitarisation of the mines is achieved.

On Wednesday, Global Witness reported that the Kimberly process was failing - partly because of the situation in Zimbabwe.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/africa/8120931.stm

Published: 2009/06/26 13:06:24 GMT

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ex-insurance exec confesses health insurers dump sick people

By John Byrne

Published: June 25, 2009
Updated 2 hours ago

A retired health insurance executive — in a shocking but not terribly surprising admission — confessed Wednesday that insurance companies deliberately confuse policyholders and attempt to dump sick patients to plump their profit margins.

“[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors,” former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter told senators at a hearing on health insurance Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

“Potter, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public relations for insurance companies Cigna and Humana, said companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet “Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations,’” Potter told the hearing, according to ABC News.

“They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment,” Potter added. “(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line.”

Rite Aid Workers Fight for a Union

Ahead of congressional debates on the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, we take a look at a long struggle of over 600 Rite Aid workers in California to form a union. The workers are based in Lancaster, California, at the Southwest distribution center for the nation's third largest drugstore. After a two-year struggle, a majority of Rite Aid workers at the site voted to join the International Longshore Workers Local 26. The story has gained national attention and focused attention in the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act. We speak with a Rite Aid worker and with Ken Silverstein about his article in Harper's Magazine, "Labor's Last Stand: The Corporate Campaign to Kill the Employee Free Choice Act."

Listen/Watch/Read
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/6/25/rite_aid_workers_fight_for_a

Baharestan Square protest turns violent in Tehran

Tweets translated from Persian from reliable Twitterers in Iran paint a vivid picture of developments at Baharestan Square in Tehran today, outside the Parliament building.

Iranian security forces and members of the Basij launched tear gas onto protesters and beat them severely with batons and clubs. They also shot and killed a woman, and scores of others are believed critically injured or killed. One Twitterer said a journalist she knew went missing.

Another confirmed Twitterer from Iran said that protesters were “beaten like animals,” the strongest language of protest clashes since a Saturday demonstration turned deadly. The protesters were said to be defenseless.

Trusted Twitterers in Iran had said leading up to the protest that it would be peaceful and consist of a “sea of green” to honor lives lost, especially Neda, the young woman whose death was captured on video.

A report is also being circulated between Iran Twitterers at this hour that Mir Houssein Mousavi has been arrested. If it is true, some have already stated they will go on a national strike beginning tomorrow. However, there is not yet any confirmation about this.

This video surfaced on YouTube of protesting and the aftermath of clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters at Baharestan Square.

WARNING: Parts of this video are very graphic, showing victims covered in blood.

Mousavi defies crackdown and accuses opponents of an 'evil conspiracy'

Defeated candidate makes clear in most defiant message yet that he will not withdraw challenge to result of Iran's disputed election

Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been absent from public view in recent days, says he will not bow out. Photograph: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated Iranian presidential candidate, today accused his opponents of an "evil conspiracy" and insisted that he will continue to challenge the result of the disputed election.

In his most defiant message yet, Mousavi – who has largely been absent from public view over the last few days – made clear that he will not bow out quietly in a battle of wills at the heart of Iran's political elite.

"I am ready to show how the electoral wrongdoers, standing beside the main agitators that have caused the present disturbances, have spilled people's blood," he said. "I would not, for the sake of personal expediency and fear in the face of threats, withdraw for one moment my demands for the return of the rights of the Iranian people, whose blood is being unjustly spilled today."

He added: "[The people's] problem is with millions of votes whose fate is unknown." Calling for people to keep calm while resisting, he continued: "It is a must for us to neutralise this evil conspiracy through our behaviour and expressions."

Mousavi – backed by the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatist who favours a less confrontational foreign policy – warned that the government will face a "crisis of legitimacy" if the current impasse is unresolved. He openly criticised the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for siding with the winner and incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"The recent pressure on me is aimed at making me withdraw from my stance of annulling the election," Mousavi was quoted as saying on his website, Kalemeh, in Farsi. "Given the current situation, the government will face a crisis of political legitimacy."

Referring to Khamenei, he said: "The supreme leader's support for the government in normal conditions would be useful, but the impression of his identification with the president is not for the benefit of the country."

Mousavi complained about the shutdown of his newspaper, Kalemeh Sabz, and the clampdown on other independent media outlets, which he said had the effect of cutting him off from his supporters. This was driving people to use foreign media sources, thus increasing the influence of outsiders on events in Iran, he said.

Mousavi's call for an annulment has been ruled out by Iran's top legislative body, the guardian council.

The authorities yesterday detained 70 professors – members of an Islamic committee of university lecturers – immediately after they met Mousavi yesterday. The professors are believed to be from a group pushing for a more liberal form of government. All but four were released today.

In another sign of division within Iran's political class, 105 MPs snubbed Ahmadinejad's victory party. They included Ali Larijani, the parliament's speaker; his predecessor, Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, whose daughter is married to Khamenei's son; and Mohammad Reza Bohonar, the deputy speaker, who was once a key ally of Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad won the election by a landslide, according to official results.

In clashes yesterday near Iran's parliament, thousands of police beat back hundreds of Mousavi supporters with teargas and clubs. Khamenei has said the election of Ahmadinejad will not be reversed and the government will never yield to demands from the streets.

Mousavi supporters said they would release thousands of balloons tomorrow printed with the message "Neda you will always remain in our hearts" – a reference to Neda Agha Soltan, who was shot dead last week and has become a symbol of the protest movement.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad has warned Barack Obama not to interfere in Iran's internal affairs after the US president condemned the brutal treatment of protesters.

Ahmadinejad, responding to Obama's remarks that he was "appalled and outraged" by post-election violence, said: "Mr Obama made a mistake to say those things ... our question is why he fell into this trap and said things that previously [George] Bush used to say."

In a speech in the port town of Assaluyeh he said: "Do you want to speak [with Iran] with this tone? If that is your stance then what is left to talk about? I hope you avoid interfering in Iran's affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it."

Obama has been trying to woo Iran and has sought a careful line over Iran's post-election violence to maximise the chance of successful negotiation over Tehran's nuclear programme. But this week he turned up the rhetoric after coming under pressure to speak more forcefully following vivid images of violent crackdowns on demonstrators by militias.

Conservative Web radio host arrested for inciting violence - again

The white supremacist radio host and blogger who was arrested earlier this month on charges of inciting violence against lawmakers has now been arrested yet again for attempting to incite violence against Chicago judges following a recent ruling they made upholding handgun bans.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, postings on Turner's web site included photos of the judges and addresses for them, with statements such as: "Let me be the first to say this plainly; These judges deserve to be killed."

The three judges have long served on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals: Frank Easterbrook, the current chief judge; and Richard Posner and William Bauer.

Turner, 47, was charged with threatening to assault and murder the three judges with intent to retaliate against them for performing their official duties. He is to appear in court tomorrow in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., but the charges were brought in Chicago, where the judges work.

Turner, known for his white supremacist views, has been on the radar of federal authorities before. In the wake of the murder of the husband and mother of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow in 2005, Turner's web site carried the courthouse addresses of appeals court judges who had ruled against white supremacist Matthew Hale in a civil case.

His prosecutor? Patrick Fitzgerald -- the man who went after and secured convictions against Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff in the CIA leak trial.

Internet postings on June 2 and 3 proclaimed "outrage" over the June 2, 2009, handgun decision by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judges Richard Posner and William Bauer, of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, further stating, among other things: "Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed." The postings included photographs, phone numbers, work address and room numbers of these judges, along with a photo of the building in which they work and a map of its location.

Turner, 47, of North Bergen, N.J., was arrested this morning after FBI agents went to his residence to execute a search warrant. He was charged with threatening to assault and murder three federal judges with intent to retaliate against them for performing official duties in a criminal complaint filed today in U.S. District Court in Chicago. He is scheduled to have an initial court appearance at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael A. Shipp in U.S. District Court in Newark.

"We take threats to federal judges very seriously. Period," said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, who announced the charges with Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The United States Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey and the FBI Office in Newark are providing local assistance.

The official filing against Hal Turner is available in PDF here.

Ex-insurance exec confesses health insurers dump sick people

By John Byrne


Published: June 25, 2009
Updated 5 hours ago

A retired health insurance executive — in a shocking but not terribly surprising admission — confessed Wednesday that insurance companies deliberately confuse policyholders and attempt to dump sick patients to plump their profit margins.

“[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors,” former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter told senators at a hearing on health insurance Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

“Potter, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public relations for insurance companies Cigna and Humana, said companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet “Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations,’” Potter told the hearing, according to ABC News.

“They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment,” Potter added. “(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line.”

Continue reading at:

http://rawstory.com/08/news/2009/06/25/nsurance-exec-confesses-industry-attempts-to-dump-sick/

Record bonuses at bailed-out US banks

We just got Shock Doctrined last year to the tune of a Trillion do;llars so these low life pukes wouldn't go under. Wall Street executives should be hanging from lamp posts or have their heads on pikes for their Capitalist Pig crimes not be receiving bonuses;
From World Socialist Web Site
By Andre Damon
25 June 2009

Executives at Goldman Sachs were told last week that they could expect to receive their highest ever bonuses this year, according to an article published Sunday in London's Observer newspaper. The first half of this year has seen a spectacular rebound for Goldman, and the company's London staff were told they would receive corresponding end-of-year bonuses if, as expected, the bank sets a new profit record.

These bonuses will be paid for by the American people. Besides receiving over $10 billion in cash from the US government last year, Goldman Sachs was the largest beneficiary of the government bailout of American International Group (AIG), receiving $12.9 billion to cover funds owed to it by the failed insurance giant.

Goldman Sachs is by no means alone. The Financial Times reported Monday that other banks, including Merrill Lynch, UBS and Citigroup, have sharply increased compensation for top traders. The article noted that the typical salary for managing directors has jumped from $250,000 to $400,000 in just the past few months. This does not count bonuses.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Citigroup, which has received $45 billion in government cash and guarantees on over $300 billion of its assets, is increasing base salaries by up to 50 percent and plans to award millions of new stock options. The Times said that Bank of America, another beneficiary of multiple taxpayer handouts, and Morgan Stanley were also raising salaries.

There is an element of provocation in the brazen manner in which the Wall Street elite, whose manic pursuit of personal wealth played a major role in precipitating the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, uses taxpayer subsidies to further enrich itself. Like the aristocracies of old, the American financial oligarchy insists on flaunting its power and prerogatives. Mere mortals must “tighten their belts” and accept layoffs and wage cuts, but the “free market” entitles the bankers to use the crisis to make themselves richer than ever.

Nothing could more clearly expose the reality of class relations in America, as well as the role of the Obama administration. Obama has systematically worked to defend the wealth of the financial aristocracy. He has opened up the Treasury to pay off the gambling debts of Wall Street, dollar for dollar.

Last month, Goldman announced that it will pay half of its $1.2 billion first-quarter profit to its staff, mostly in the form of bonuses. In 2008, amid the economic meltdown, the firm paid nearly a thousand top bankers over $1 million each in compensation. Stockholders have also done very well. Warren Buffet, who invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs six months ago, has already reaped $1 billion in profits.

Goldman repaid its $10 billion TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) cash to the US government last week, along with several other large banks. All of the banks, however, continue to benefit from trillions of dollars in government aid in one form or another. Having paid back the TARP loans, the banks are now exempt from the token restrictions on compensation and speculative practices that came with the government handouts.

Goldman and other mega-banks are getting a further boost from the government’s policy of encouraging a further consolidation of the banking industry. The disappearance of independent firms such as Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and other banks has given Goldman, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citigroup a bigger share of the market than ever.

The strongest of these, such as Goldman and JPMorgan, are making a fortune in the bond markets from the massive increase in government borrowing, most of which is due to the government rescue of Wall Street. The banks are charging lucrative fees on government handouts to themselves.

David Williams, an investment banking analyst at Fox Pitt Kelton, told the Observer, "This year is shaping up to be the best year ever for investment banks, or at least those that have emerged relatively unscathed from the credit crisis.... These banks are intermediaries in the bond markets where governments and companies are raising billions of pounds of new money. There is also a lack of competition that means they can charge huge sums for doing business."

Record bank bonuses are the inevitable and desired outcome of Obama's policy. The administration has repeatedly rejected caps on executive pay and has done everything in its power to ensure that the major banks are made “whole.” Coming one week after Obama unveiled his new bank regulation plan, the promise of bigger-than-ever bonuses reveals the reality behind the administration’s rhetoric: nothing will be done to rein in the financial elite.

Of all the banking giants, Goldman Sachs is perhaps the most closely tied to the White House and federal regulators. The list of former Goldman Sachs employees holding top positions in the Obama administration includes:

• Mark Patterson, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, who is the chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (himself the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York).

• Reuben Jeffery III, former managing partner at Goldman Sachs, who holds the post of undersecretary of state for economic, business, and agricultural affairs.

• Neel Kashkari, former Goldman Sachs vice president, who is the assistant secretary of the treasury for financial stability, responsible for administering the TARP funds.

• Dianna Farrell, former financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, who serves as deputy director of the National Economic Council.

Henry Paulson, the Bush administration’s treasury secretary, who authored the TARP program and oversaw the AIG bailout, was the CEO of Goldman before taking the Treasury post. Between Paulson and Robert Rubin, who served under Clinton, the office of treasury secretary has been occupied by a former Goldman Sachs executive more than half the time since 1995.

The record bonuses come at a time when conditions of life for ordinary people are worse than at any time since the Great Depression. The official unemployment rate hit 9.4 percent last month, and the real unemployment rate—including those involuntarily working part-time and those who have given up looking for a job—is 16.4 percent. The number of mass layoffs in May was the highest on record.

Those who remain employed have seen their wages fall precipitously. One survey of company executives found that half planned to cut or freeze workers’ pay. USA Today reported June 12 that pay cuts, reduced hours, furloughs and involuntary part-time work have driven the working class back to conditions not seen since the 1930s.

These two policies are linked: The money gained by impoverishing the working class helps swell the fortunes of the Wall Street bankers.

There can be no solution to the social crisis confronting millions of people in the US and internationally that does not begin with the transformation of the banking giants into democratically-controlled public utilities. The massive resources controlled by the financial oligarchy for individual gain must be recovered and directed toward the satisfaction of social needs.

This program can be carried out only through a complete political break with the Democratic and Republican parties and the development of an independent, socialist movement of the working class.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Between revolt and repression in Iran

From Socialist Worker

Lee Sustar looks at the balance of forces in Iran's political crisis.

BLOODY REPRESSION in the streets, political maneuvering at the top, and continued popular organizing from below signal a new stage in Iran's post-election crisis as the country's ruling class is increasingly haunted by the specter of revolution.

The crackdown intensified five days after the June 16 demonstration of up to 2 million people in Tehran protesting the disputed re-election claim of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Offices were shut down as large numbers of workers stayed away from their jobs.

This great outpouring recalled the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran, the hated U.S.-backed dictator. Many protesters revived the anti-Shah chant, "Down with the dictator." Video and photos of the great mobilization inspired people around the world who support democracy and social justice--and set off alarm bells for despots in the Middle East. While the Iranian protests began over a stolen presidential election, their increasing size and intensity raises the possibility of revolutionary change in Iran and beyond.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared during Friday prayers June 19 that there would be "bloodshed and chaos" if the protests continued. "Street challenge is not acceptable," he declared.

The basij militias--paramilitary groups that patrol the streets for supposedly un-Islamic behavior, such as immodest dress by women--made good on Khamanei's threats, attacking supporters of reformist presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi the following day.

One killing captured on video--the shooting of 21-year-old Neda Agha Soltan on June 20--quickly came to symbolize the human toll of the vicious crackdown. But as with previous attacks, protesters fought back--even though their numbers were smaller than previous protests.

As a university professor wrote of his decision to demonstrate that day, along with students:

After the Supreme Leader's fierce speech at the Friday prayers, we knew that today we would be different. We feel so vulnerable, more than ever, but at the same time are aware of our power. No matter how strong it is collectively, it will do little to protect us today. We could only take our bones and flesh to the streets and expose them to batons and bullets. Two different feelings fight inside me without mixing with one another. To live or to just be alive, that's the question.

He added:

Here's a true battleground. And this time, it's huge. Columns of smoke rise to the sky. You can hardly see the asphalt. Only bricks and stones. Here, people have the upper hand. Three lanes, the middle one separated by opaque fences, under construction for the metro.

The workers have climbed up the fences and show the V [for victory] sign. They start throwing stone and timber to the street to supply the armament. I tell myself, "Look at the poor, the ones Ahmadinejad always speaks of." But the president's name is no longer in fashion. This time, the slogans address the leader, something unheard of in the past three decades. It's a beautiful sunset, with rays of light penetrating evening clouds. We feel safe among people moving back forth with the anti-riot police attacks.

That day, using batons, chains, knives and occasionally bullets, the basij injured and arrested hundreds of people. Security personnel also added to the death toll among protesters, which official reports put at 19 as of June 22.

The overwhelming security presence on the street, along with violent attacks on university dormitories and arrests of prominent opposition figures, has made protest increasingly difficult the following days--police even prevented a funeral service for Neda Agha Soltan.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

DESPITE THE repression, the mass movement that took shape around Mousavi's election campaign has already been transformed into a broader fight for democracy. It will not dissipate anytime soon, whatever the intention of the candidate and his handlers.

In Tehran, protesters unable to mount street protests have taken to literally shouting from the rooftops at night to show their continued defiance. The mass demonstrations may have subsided owing to the crackdown, but the movement has not been crushed. The movement may be regrouping, but it has not disappeared.

This pressure has pushed Mousavi--a moderate former prime minister--into the unlikely role of champion for democratic reform.

A Facebook page attributed to Mousavi stated that he is "ready for martyrdom" and called on his supporters to carry out a general strike if he is arrested. And in an open letter to supporters issued June 21, Mousavi declared that, if allowed to stand, Iran's election fraud would validate criticisms that Islam and democracy were incompatible:

If the high volume of cheating and vote manipulation that has put a fire to the foundations of people's trust is itself introduced as the proof and evidence of the lack of fraud, the republicanism of the regime will be slaughtered and the idea of incompatibility of Islam and republicanism would be practically proven.

Such statements reflect the enormous pressure that the mass movement has put on the reformist leader. "Poor Mousavi, we took the easel away from his hands and gave him a gun," one supporter joked to the Financial Times, in a reference to the candidate's turn to painting while he was out of the public eye for most of the last two decades.

Yet it is far from clear that Mousavi is willing to use the "gun" of wider mobilizations and general strikes to force a recount of the stolen election or a rerun vote, let alone thoroughgoing democratic reforms. As an establishment politician and an integral member of the Iranian ruling class, he will be extremely reluctant to call forth the semi-underground labor movement that has waged intermittent strikes and protests since 2004.

Iranian reformers--like, for example, former President Mahmoud Khatami--have always oriented to educated and upper-class liberals while pursuing economic policies detrimental to workers and the poor. As a result, Ahmadinejad was able to strike a populist pose to win the 2005 presidential elections--with the help of vote fraud to get into a runoff election, which he won handily against Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful cleric, former president and one of the richest men in Iran.

In office, Ahmadinejad was anything but a friend to the working class. He pursued policies of privatization to enrich his coterie around the national security apparatus and ruthlessly suppressed efforts at organizing independent unions. He tried to maintain popularity through a nationalist stance, defending Iran's nuclear energy program against pressure from the West.

And in the run-up to the June 12 vote, Ahmadinejad made much-publicized handouts to the poor and bonuses for government employees to boost turnout for the election. He apparently assumed that middle-class liberals, disillusioned by Khatami's failure to stand up to attacks on pro-democracy activists, would stay home, as they had in 2005.

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BY 2009, Ahmadinejad faced a challenge from both Mousavi and Rafsanjani. These former rivals--Rafsanjani had ousted Mousavi by abolishing the post of prime minister in 1989--made common cause to stop Ahmadinejad from consolidating power.

The Iranian president, with the backing of Khamenei, had systematically installed figures from the basij and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) into key positions in government and the national oil company, displacing or squeezing the big capitalists around Rafsanjani, who jealously guard that turf. Beyond personnel questions, however, Iranian capitalists are leery of Ahmadinejad's half-baked "development" projects that used state oil revenues to consolidate his base among the poor, rather than spending the money on strategic investments.

For his part, Mousavi was seen as an ideal candidate for the power brokers around Rafsanjani as well as the reformists. Having stressed the social justice side of Islam while prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war, he can appeal to workers and the poor in a way that Rafsanjani never could. He also has credentials as a hard-liner: as prime minister, he presided over the execution of as many as 5,000 political prisoners.

Nowadays, though, Mousavi portrays himself as a liberal by championing the rights of women and national minorities--an effort that helped revived an interest in politics among Khatami's voters.

Mousavi's support, which surged into the streets of Tehran and other cities in the days before the election, forced Ahmadinejad to resort to massive vote fraud to claim victory.

According to a study by the British think tank Chatham House, the number of votes cast in the provinces of Mazandaran and Yazd exceed the total number of eligible voters. The authors estimate that if Ahmadinejad really won 62 percent of the vote claimed by the authorities, he would have had to won the votes of all new voters, all the votes of his last centrist rival, plus 44 percent of those who voted for reformist candidates in 2005. This is so unlikely as to be absurd.

As the speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, said on television June 20, "A majority of people are of the opinion that the actual election results are different from what was officially announced," adding, "Although the Guardian Council is made up of religious individuals, I wish certain members would not side with a certain presidential candidate."

As popular pressure mounted, the head of the 12-member Guardian Council, the body of clerics that approves election candidates, issued a surprising report June 22 that votes supposedly cast in more than 50 Iranian cities were actually higher than the number of eligible voters.

The Guardian Council's announcement contradicts the earlier claim by Khamanei that Ahmadinejad had won a "definitive victory," and marks a retreat from the council's earlier position that it would only review 10 percent of the ballots.

Now there are even doubts that the council will uphold the election results when it makes its final ruling in the coming days. This vacillation partly reflects the influence of Rafsanjani, one of the most powerful members of the Guardian Council. But if the council reverses course and annuls the election or orders a recall, it will be because the clerics fear a revolutionary upsurge. Having hijacked a workers' revolution to take power 30 years ago, the clerics understand full well the risks they face.

At the same time, Rafsanjani is rumored to be trying to assemble an emergency meeting of the 86-member Council of Experts, which chooses the Iran's supreme leader. The apparent aim is to remove Khamenei from power, which would decisively weaken Ahmadinejad as well.

Adding fuel to the fire is Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, the country's senior cleric, who endorsed protests to "claim rights." According to religious criteria, Montazeri should have been the successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founding leader of the Islamic Republic in 1979, but was shoved aside and later placed under house arrest for several years.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN SHORT, the competing factions of the Iranian ruling class are hesitating before they make irrevocable choices that could shatter the Islamist regime.

For Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, the question is whether a crackdown would succeed in drowning resistance in blood--or provoke a wider revolutionary challenge to their rule. For Mousavi and Rafsanjani, the choice is whether to accept a humiliating deal that would greatly diminish their power, or encourage the rebellion, and try to ride it to victory.

Meanwhile, the potential for far broader struggle for democracy is apparent. The Tehran bus drivers' union, which has fought to improve wages and conditions, despite the beatings and arrests of union leaders, issued this statement June 20:

The fact that the demands of the vast majority of Iranian society go far beyond those of unions is obvious to all, and in the previous years, we have emphasized that until the principle of the freedom to organize and to elect is not materialized, any talk of social freedom and labor union rights will be a farce.

Given these facts, the Autobus Workers Union places itself alongside all those who are offering themselves in the struggle to build a free and independent civic society. The union condemns any kind of suppression and threats.

To recognize labor union and social rights in Iran, the international labor organizations have declared the Fifth of Tir (June 26) the international day of support for imprisoned Iranian workers as well as for the institution of unions in Iran. We want that this day be viewed as more than a day for the demands of labor unions to make it a day for human rights in Iran and to ask all our fellow workers to struggle for the trampled rights of the majority of the people of Iran.

With hope for the spread of justice and freedom,
Autobus Workers Union

It's impossible to predict the next turn of events in Iran. But what is clear is that the struggles of the Iranian working class--not the maneuvers at the top of society--are the key to taking the movement forward.

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

Featured at Socialism 2009

Hear Lee Sustar at Socialism 2009 [1] in Chicago and San Francisco, speaking on "The Economic Crisis and the New Imperialism." Check out the Socialism 2009 [2] Web site for more details. See you at Socialism!

  1. [1] http://socialismconference.org/
  2. [2] http://socialismconference.org/
  3. [3] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0

Take the profit out of health care

World Socialist Web Site
23 June 2009

Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the state of the nation’s health care system. A New York Times/CBS news poll released over the weekend showed that 85 percent of respondents said that the health care system needed to be fundamentally changed or rebuilt.

The survey also found that 72 percent would support a government-administered insurance plan, and that half of those questioned thought the government would do a better job than private insurers at providing medical coverage.

The reality, however, is that health care reform being promoted by the Obama administration, and being drafted and debated in the House and Senate, will not address the burning health care needs of millions of adults and children. The entire debate in the White House and Congress is framed from the standpoint of cutting costs, rationing care and defending the profits of the giant health care conglomerates.

Close to 50 million people in the US have no health insurance. According to a study in March by Families USA, 86.7 million individuals found themselves in this category at some point over the previous two years. The recession has pushed 4 million people into the ranks of the uninsured—either through job loss or the inability to pay for personal coverage, a Center of American Progress study reported in February.

An additional 25 million Americans are “underinsured,” a 60 percent increase over 2003. This means a staggering 42 percent of people in the US under the age of 65 have no insurance or inadequate coverage. Unpaid medical bills are also a contributing factor in more than 60 percent of personal bankruptcies.

But in the face of these truly scandalous statistics, Obama administration officials and Congressional Democrats have been straining to prove that the driving force of their visions of health care reform is not the medical—let alone financial—well-being of the vast majority of the population, but rather “fiscal responsibility.”

Assessments by the Congressional Budget Office of two Democratic Senate proposals showed projected costs of $1 trillion and $1.6 trillion respectively over 10 years for the plans. Both proposals also included a “public option” component—evoking calls of “socialized medicine” from Congressional Republicans and a cowed response by the proposals’ authors, who are scurrying to draft alternatives.

Three House panels are holding hearings this week to debate the matter. Two key issues are under discussion: the overall cost of any proposed legislation, and the form any “public option” would take (or whether such an option should be included at all).

Various versions of the “public option” are being advanced. None of these options bear any resemblance to socialized medicine, and they would in no way challenge the private, for-profit operation of the healthcare system.

One would be based on a Medicare-style model, competing with private alternatives in a national insurance “exchange,” open to people without workplace coverage. Another is a “weak public option,” which would be organized at the state level, and would operate somewhat like self-insured state employee plans. Yet another would allow for government-chartered but privately run insurance “cooperatives.”

Most Republicans and some Democrats oppose these various versions of the “public option” because they would compete with private insurers and drive down costs.

This underscores the main opposition of the political establishment to any new government-run program: that it would cut into the profits of the insurance companies, health-care corporations and pharmaceutical companies.

The Obama administration’s defense of its healthcare reform is based foremost on pledges to trim costs and curtail medical services. The administration has launched a media campaign in an effort to convince the insurance corporations and medical establishment that his administration is committed, above all, to “fiscal responsibility” in any reform of the healthcare system.

Appearing on “Good Morning America” on Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the cost of health care is “crushing families and businesses.” She then went on to explain that the solution is to cut back on health care services—and argued that these cutbacks would actually be good for patients!

While insisting that “nobody’s going to tell your doctor he or she can’t do a procedure,” she said, “There’ll be a set of protocols that we know, at the end of the day, actually produce a better result for you.”

Asked whether people could expect to be healthier with fewer tests, Sebelius quipped, “You bet.”

On the same program, Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, estimated that “as much as 30 percent” of medical tests in the US were unnecessary, intimating that such tests would be targeted for elimination.

The most sober and chilling outline of the Obama health care reform was given in a comment by budget director Peter Orszag last week in the Financial Times. In an opinion piece titled, “A plan to boost America’s fiscal health,” he wrote, “Reducing the number of tests, procedures and other medical costs that do not improve health presents an enormous opportunity.”

Orszag then elaborated how the Obama administration would be taking advantage of this “opportunity,” through Medicare and Medicaid “efficiencies,” with proposals to slash more than $600 billion from the programs.

He added that these health care cuts would not be the end to “our commitment to fiscal responsibility.” “Once health care reform is in place,” the budget director wrote, “the US can then focus on other aspects of fiscal sustainability, including Social Security reform.”

These comments are revealing, in that they highlight that any privately controlled, for-profit organization of the health care industry is antithetical to a system that would provide high-quality, affordable health care to the broad mass of the American people.

The outcome of Obama’s reforms will be, in the end, that the majority of Americans will have less health care than they do at present. Indeed, the state government of California, with the full support of the Obama administration, is already planning the elimination of key social programs, including subsidized health care to hundreds of thousands of children.

In a society ever more polarized and dominated by a financial aristocracy—and with a president who functions as its instrument—no expense is to be spared to bail out the banks and financial institutions, while a “reform” of the health care system is to be accompanied by healthcare rationing and massive spending cuts.

The alternative is a fully state-run healthcare system, run by a government controlled by working people, providing health care and other vital social services as a basic human right. This can only be accomplished within the framework of the socialist reorganization of the economy as a whole, in which the banks and large corporations—including the medical, insurance and pharmaceutical giants—are transformed into democratically controlled public utilities.

Kate Randall

Monday, June 22, 2009

Unemployment crisis grips US states

From World Socialist Web Site
By Tom Eley
22 June 2009

The unemployment rate increased in 48 of 50 states and Washington, DC, in May, according to US Department of Labor statistics. For the year as a whole, the jobless rate has increased in every state, and in eight states it is now at its highest level since 1976, when monthly state-level statistics were first issued by the federal government. The national jobless rate in May rose to 9.4 percent.

The state of Michigan again had both the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 14.1 percent, and its biggest monthly increase, up 1.3 percentage points from 12.9 percent in April. Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio have been devastated by the shutdown of auto plants and their suppliers, orchestrated by President Barack Obama's Auto Task Force. In Ohio, unemployment increased to 10.8 percent, and in Indiana it rose to 10.6 percent. The Midwest as a whole had an unemployment rate of 9.8 percent. Kentucky, whose economy is also tied to the auto industry, saw its unemployment rate increase to 10.6 percent.

California, the nation's most populous state with about 37 million residents, lost the largest number of jobs, and its unemployment rate rose to 11.5 percent, the highest level on record and an enormous increase over May 2008, when the rate stood at 6.8 percent. There are now 2.1 million officially unemployed in the state, 885,000 more than last May. California has been hammered by a near-bankruptcy of the state government (14,000 public sector jobs were lost in May), the housing crisis (10,000 construction jobs lost) and a sharp fall-off in manufacturing (10,000 factory jobs lost.)

Among the regions, the West Coast had the highest jobless rate at 10.1 percent. Oregon, the state with the second highest unemployment rate, saw an increase to 12.4 percent from 12 percent in April. The state's wood products industry has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the past year. Washington state's unemployment rate rose to 9.4 percent in May. In Nevada, unemployment rose to its highest recorded level ever, at 11.3 percent.

The rapid increase in unemployment in the Southeast took economists by surprise. South Carolina's unemployment rate surged to 12.1 percent. The state has been hard-hit by layoffs in manufacturing, purging about 30,000 jobs since last May. In one South Carolina county, Allendale, unemployment is over 22 percent. In neighboring North Carolina, the jobless rate rose to 11.1 percent, nearly double the level of a year ago, largely owing to layoffs in banking, furniture manufacture, and metal fabrication industries. In Georgia the unemployment rate climbed to a record high of 9.7 percent. Georgia has been particularly hard hit by the financial crisis, with several regional banks collapsing so far this year. In Alabama, the unemployment rate increased rapidly from 9 percent to 9.8 percent in one month.

In Florida, the fourth most populous American state, the jobless rate vaulted to 10.2 percent, its highest level in 34 years. Florida lost 61,000 jobs in May, only slightly fewer than California. Arizona joined Florida as the states with the most rapid increase in unemployment. In Texas, the second most populous state, the unemployment rate increased for the seventh consecutive month and now stands at 7.4 percent.

Of the regions, the Northeast had the lowest unemployment rate, at 8.3 percent. Rhode Island paced the area in joblessness, with its rate increasing a full percentage point from April to 12.1 percent in May.

Major metropolitan areas are experiencing drastic increases in unemployment, as well. Metro Los Angeles now has an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent. In New York City there were about 360,000 officially unemployed in May, or nine percent of the workforce. In Washington, DC, unemployment rose to 10.7 percent, and in Chicago it climbed to 9.9 percent. The Detroit metropolitan area had the highest unemployment rate of any major US city, increasing to 15.4 percent. It is much higher—close to 25 percent—in the city proper.

Only in the sparsely populated states of Nebraska and Vermont did the unemployment rate hold steady. The agricultural states of Nebraska and nearby North Dakota share the lowest unemployment rate, both at 4.4 percent. This may reverse itself as the decline in agricultural commodity prices ripples through the plains states' economies.

As always, the official rate belies the true scope of unemployment by removing from the workforce count a large number of workers who are inactive or “discouraged” in seeking work, and by counting as employed those who are only able to get part-time hours. While state-by-state statistics for this expanded definition of unemployment are not available, it is very likely that the real unemployment rate in Michigan is now approaching 25 percent, and that in a number of states, including California, it is around 20 percent. On a national level, this broader rate of unemployment and underemployment stood at 16.4 percent in May. These are near-depression-level figures.

Layoff announcements continue. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. on June 16 announced that it would cut the workforce of its social networking division, MySpace, by 30 percent, dismissing 420 workers. On June 12, Textron announced it would lay off 1,300 workers from its Cessna Aircraft plants in Kansas. Lockheed Martin will lay off 750 workers from its Owego, New York, factory. The Broward County public school system in South Florida is going forward with plans to lay off 400 teachers. Metalcraft, a machine fabricating plant located in the town of Mayville, Wisconsin, said it would indefinitely extend the layoffs of 375 workers who have been out of work since April. This will devastate the small town, which has fewer than 5,000 residents.

In one revealing layoff announcement, Hartford County, Maryland, carried forward plans to lay off over 35 employees from its public libraries. It will also likely close a branch, reduce library hours and services, even as patron use reaches an all-time high. “I am distressed that the library, which is seeing increased usage due to the economy, will have to limit its hours, services and maybe locations just when the community needs those services the most,” local resident Patricia H. Fisher told the Baltimore Sun.

The first quarter of 2009 has also witnessed a fall-off in personal income. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), personal income fell 0.5 percent nationally. In California and Michigan, it tumbled by 0.8 percent. Meanwhile, private sector earnings fell in the first quarter by 1.4 percent nationally, and dropped in all 50 states.

The declines in private sector earnings and personal income spell disaster for state and local budgets, already in dire straits in much of the country due to the twin economic and financial crises. According to a recently-released analysis by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, state-level income tax collections fell a staggering 26 percent in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the previous year.

The fall-off was most pronounced in the states that have been hardest hit by the collapse in real estate and manufacturing. In Arizona, first quarter personal income tax revenue fell by 55 percent from the previous year; in South Carolina the decline was 38.6 percent; in Michigan, 34.4 percent. California, which is already teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, saw a decline of 33.8 percent in personal income tax receipts. The data bodes ill for the largest US state, which collects nearly half of its state revenues from income taxes, one of the highest proportions in the nation.

The drop in personal income tax revenue results from layoffs, wage cuts, and reductions in hours worked. The budget crisis in the states will be aggravated by declining revenue from real estate and sales taxes. The Rockefeller Institute predicted declining revenue will require a new round of austerity measures. It “will punch still deeper holes in the budgets of many states [and] increases the risk that state budget agreements for 2009-10 will not close budget gaps completely, and that states will need to make midyear budget cuts,” the report notes.

Some analysts tried to find a silver lining in the latest spate of dismal economic data, latching on to a Labor Department report that found that the total number of unemployed workers collecting benefits fell last week for the first time since January, by 148,000. Now, a total of 6.69 million workers are receiving unemployment benefits. However, as Forbes pointed out, the drop came after 21 consecutive weeks of increases, and about “half of the unemployed have been reaching the end of their 26 weeks of unemployment payments without finding jobs—so they disappear from that unemployment statistic without actually being employed.” The number of US workers filing for new jobless benefits claims also rose last week by 3,000 to 608,000.

Obama's economic advisers predicted in January that with passage of the economic stimulus package, the US unemployment rate this year would not exceed 8 percent in 2009. It has already hit 9.4 percent, rendering meaningless the stimulus package's modest promises of job creation. Most economists now believe that the US unemployment rate will top 10 percent by year’s end, and that it could rise to 11 percent at some point in 2011.

There is general agreement, moreover, that employment levels and conditions of labor will not return to those that prevailed prior to the financial crisis. This is no accident. The ruling elite, led by the Obama administration, has seized on the crisis as a long-awaited chance to restructure class relations to its advantage for decades to come.

The not-so-antiwar Democrats

From Socialist Worker

The failure of "antiwar" Democrats to keep their promises to block war funding is particularly shameful, writes independent journalist Jeremy Scahill.

Barney Frank was one of the liberal Democrats who voted to fund the occupation of AfghanistanBarney Frank was one of the liberal Democrats who voted to fund the occupation of Afghanistan

IN A vote that should go down in recent histories as a day of shame for the Democrats, on June 16 the House voted to approve another $106 billion dollars for the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and increasingly Pakistan). To put a fine point on the interconnection of the iron fist of U.S. militarism and the hidden hand of free market neoliberal economics, the bill included a massive initiative to give the International Monetary Fund billions more in U.S. taxpayer funds.

What once Democrats could argue was "Bush's war," they now officially own. In fact, only five Republicans voted for the supplemental (though overwhelmingly not on the issue of the war funding). Ron Paul, who made clear he was voting against the war, was a notable exception.

This vote has revealed a sobering statistic for the antiwar movement in this country and brought to the surface a broader issue that should give die-hard partisan Democrats who purport to be antiwar reason for serious pause about the actual state of their party. Only 30 Democrats voted against the war funding when it mattered. And these 30 did so in the face of significant threats to their political future from the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That means that only 30 out of 256 Democrats are willing to stand up to the war and the current president presiding over it. Their names are listed below; I would encourage people to call them and thank them for standing up and voting no when it counted.

Two other Democrats, not expected to vote against the war funding, joined the antiwar Democrats. Brad Sherman and Pete Stark brought the total number of Democratic votes against the supplemental to 32.

Now, there are many Democrats who consistently vote for war funding, including Nancy Pelosi, but not many of them have such little shame that they dare characterize themselves as antiwar. Remember, 221 voted Tuesday in favor of the war funding. But for those who campaign as antiwar and signed pledges not to continue funding war and then vote for billions more for wars they claim to oppose, Tuesday should be remembered as a day of shame and cowardice. Here are the Democrats who voted against war funding when it didn't count and yes (on Tuesday) when it did--and when refusing to do so might have affected them personally: Yvette Clarke, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, Jerry Costello, Barney Frank, Luis Gutierrez, Jay Inslee, Steve Kagen, Edward Markey, Doris Matsui, Jim McDermott, George Miller, Grace Napolitano, Richard Neal (MA), James Oberstar, Jan Schakowsky, Mike Thompson, Edolphus Towns, Nydia Velázquez and Anthony Weiner. These legislators should be called and asked why they voted for war funding they claimed to oppose last month.

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TUESDAY'S VOTE came after an intense campaign by progressive bloggers, activists and antiwar Congressmembers Dennis Kucinich, Lynn Woolsey and Jim McGovern to get the 39 Democrats needed to block war funding to vote against it. This was made possible due to a roller-coaster-like series of events in the weeks and days preceding the vote.

The White House and the Democratic Congressional Leadership played a very dirty game in their effort to ram through the funding. In the crosshairs of the big guns at the White House and on Capitol Hill were antiwar legislators (particularly freshmen), and the movement to hold those responsible for torture accountable.

In funding the wars post-Bush, the Obama White House has been able to rely on strong GOP support to marginalize the antiwar Democrats who pledged back in 2007 to vote against continued funding (as 51 Democrats did in May when the supplemental was first voted on). But the White House ran into trouble on this bill because of Republican opposition to some of the provisions added to the bill (primarily the IMF funding) and one removed (the Graham-Lieberman amendment that would have blocked the release of prisoner abuse photos). This created a situation where the White House and pro-war Democrats actually need a fair number of antiwar Democrats (whose votes seldom matter this much) to switch sides and vote with them. That is why this battle was so important for the antiwar movement.

Many Democrats (who may not have necessarily been against the supplemental) were up in arms when the Graham-Lieberman provision (which the White House "actively" supported) was on the table. Facing warnings that it could derail the funding package, the White House stepped in, deploying Rahm Emanuel to the Hill to convince legislators to drop the amendment, while at the same time pledging that Obama would use his authority to continue to fight the release of more photos:

Emanuel "rushed" to Capitol Hill and prevailed upon Senate Democrats to remove the torture photo measure in exchange for an explicit White House promise that it would use all means at its disposal to block the photos' release. Obama also issued a letter to Congress assuring it he would support separate legislation to suppress the photos, if necessary, and imploring it to speed passage of the war-spending bill. The rider would "unnecessarily complicate the essential objective of supporting the troops," Obama wrote.

In other words, Obama took a position that amounted to providing political cover to Democrats to support the war funding, while pledging to implement, through other means, the very policy they supposedly found objectionable.

From the jump, the White House and Democratic Leadership had the gloves off in the fight. Consider this report from last week:

Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House is threatening to withdraw support from freshmen who oppose the bill, saying "you'll never hear from us again."

She said the House leadership also is targeting the freshmen.

It's really hard for the freshmen," she said. "Nancy's pretty powerful."

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JANE HAMSHER, meanwhile, reported on Monday that it appeared Emanuel was "cutting deals with Republicans to go easy on them in the 2010 elections in exchange for votes." In the end, the White House got five Republicans to vote for the funding, including New York Republican John McHugh, the man President Obama nominated two weeks ago to be Army secretary. A "senior Republican source" according to FOX News "suggested McHugh could be creating a conflict of interest by voting on military-related legislation while his Army secretary nomination is pending before the Senate."

What repelled the Republicans from a vote to fund the war was hardly a sudden conversion to pacifism (in fact, their position was hypocritical). It was largely when the White House and Congressional Democratic leadership added a provision to the bill that will extend up to $100 billion in credits to the International Monetary Fund. This sent many Republicans to the microphones to denounce the funding as a "global bailout" and will undoubtedly be used as a campaign issue in 2010 to attack the Democrats who voted for the spending bill. For its part, the Democratic leadership, in trying to win Democratic support, portrayed the IMF funding as a progressive policy:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is trying to paint the IMF provision as a "very important national security initiative." The IMF, she said, "can be a force for alleviating the fury of despair among people, poor people throughout the world."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office put out a position paper that declared the IMF funding "is key to making us more secure," adding that the money will ensure that the "IMF has the ability to play its central role in resolving and preventing the spread of international economic and financial crises." The paper also provided a litany of comments from prominent Republicans praising the IMF, including from the Bretton Woods Committee (Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, James A. Baker, Nicholas F. Brady, Colin Powell, Paul A. Volcker, Paul H. O'Neill, etc.). Also, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Newt Gingrich and, of course, George W. Bush.

If there was a real opposition party in Congress, all of this would have provided yet more reasons to vote against the bill.

It is a pathetic symbol of just how bankrupt the Congressional Democratic leadership is when it comes to U.S. foreign policy that Pelosi, Hoyer et al are trying to use funding for the IMF to convince other Democrats to support war funding. The IMF has been a destabilizing force in many countries across the globe through its austerity measures and structural adjustment schemes. Remember, it was the policies of the IMF and its cohorts at the World Bank and World Trade Organizations that sparked global uprisings in the 1990s.

To support the IMF funding scam, the Center for American Progress, which has passionately supported Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan, released a position paper this week called, "Bailing Out the Bailer-Outer: Five Reasons Congress Should Agree to Fund the IMF."

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THANKFULLY, AT least a handful of Democrats seemed to understand the atrocious role the IMF has played and tried (unsuccessfully) to impose rules on the funding that would have confronted the IMF's austerity measures by requiring that "the funds allocated by Congress for global stimulus are used for stimulatory, and not contractionary, purposes."

In urging their colleagues to oppose the war funding and the IMF funding, Kucinich and California's Bob Filner sent a Dear Colleague letter, which stated: "The IMF has a long history of placing economic conditions on countries receiving loans that have actually damaged, rather than stimulated, those economies, and its policies have not changed enough to warrant support." They charged that the IMF funding "would be used to bail out private European banks with U.S. taxpayer money." In addition to the military and IMF funding, the bill also provides $10.4 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $7.7 billion for "Pandemic Flu Response."

Under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Democratic-controlled Congress has been a house of war. Unfortunately, it is not a house where the war is one of noble Democrats fighting for peace, freedom and democracy against the evil, belligerent Republicans as they advocate and implement policies of preemptive war, torture and the violation of civil liberties. Instead, it is a house void of substantive opposition to the ever-expanding war begun under Bush and escalating under Obama.

Tuesday's vote was another one of those moments in Congress where heroes are made, like the day when Sen. Russ Feingold stood alone as the sole Senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act. To paraphrase Bush, it was one of those days when we truly discover who is for war and who is against it.

Below are the Democrats who stood against Obama's expanding war the day their votes mattered (See where your Representative stood here):

Tammy Baldwin, Michael Capuano, John Conyers, Lloyd Doggett, Donna Edwards, Keith Ellison, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, Alan Grayson, Raul Grijalva, Michael Honda, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Eric Massa, Jim McGovern, Michael Michaud, Donald Payne, Chellie Pingree, Jared Polis, Jose Serrano, Carol Shea-Porter, Jackie Speier, John Tierney, Nikki Tsongas, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson, Peter Welch and Lynn Woolsey.

First published at Alternet.

Suspects set free in dragging case

From Workers World

Protests erupt after
Published Jun 21, 2009 11:20 PM

“A Black man’s life is still not worth a white man’s life in Paris, Texas,” said activist Anthony Bond. “I am 55 years old and I know racism when I see it. Paris, Texas, is eaten up with racism.”

Bond was among 300 people who protested June 8 at the courthouse in Paris after the special prosecutor suddenly dropped murder charges against two white men accused of murdering a Black youth last September.

victim, speaks to rally. She is surrounded by
members of the New Black Panther Party,
Nation of Islam, Tarrant County Local
Organizing Committee and the NAACP. " border="0">

Jacqueline McClelland, mother of the dragging
victim, speaks to rally. She is surrounded by
members of the New Black Panther Party,
Nation of Islam, Tarrant County Local
Organizing Committee and the NAACP.
Photo: Bobby Hatton

The New Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam and Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality organized the rally.

Brandon McClelland’s mangled body was found on Sept. 16, 2008, on a country road. Authorities estimated that it had been dragged more than 70 feet.

McClelland’s family and members of the Black community who attended the protest stressed that the dismissals were the real injustice, and another example of racial inequality in Paris, a town with a long history of violent racism.

Shannon Finley and Charles Crostley, the two white men who had been arrested for McClelland’s murder, walked out of jail on June 4 with no restrictions.

At the courthouse rally, where a monument to the Confederacy dominates the lawn, McClelland’s mother and father spoke to the crowd through tears. Jackie McClelland said the dropped charges show that the justice system treats Blacks and whites in Paris unequally.

“I said from the start they were going to sweep this

Greenpeace activists board coal ship bound for Kingsnorth power station

Police arrest six as four others make it aboard ship, saying they have enough supplies to last several days

Six people were arrested today after climate change campaigners boarded a coal freighter and tried to stop it unloading its cargo at a power station. Four protesters are still on board.

Greenpeace said nine activists climbed on board just after midnight as the ship travelled along the river Medway to the Kingsnorth power station in Kent, using rigid inflatable speedboats to pull up alongside and attaching climbing ladders to scale the 15-metre hull.

Some of the group managed to scale the ship's funnel and foremast, while others were hanging off the side, a spokesman said, adding that the group had enough food and water to allow them to remain on the vessel for several days.

There were reports of three protesters swimming in the river in front of the vessel to try to prevent it docking outside the power station.

A Greenpeace spokesman said the protesters on board would try to hold their position for as long as possible to try to prevent the coal from being unloaded.

Continue at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jun/22/greenpeace-kingsnorth-coal-protests