Saturday, January 31, 2009



Obama, take away the pain in my stomach


TOMORROW (Saturday 1/31) AT 6 PM.

We hella mad. Mehserle's got bail and he could be released any moment. We just spent the afternoon getting teargassed, hassled, pushed around, beaten, and arrested in the streets. Just for exercising our right to march and speak.

Hell no! We aren't going to back down. Not until we have justice. Right now we have a corrupt-ass DA, hes looking to screw up this case on purpose, and we cannot stand by while he does it!

We gotta hit the streets in the hundreds and thousands, because this cannot stand. The DA and BART and the city and state need to know that we're not done with them yet. They are going to charge Tony Pirone, the cop who punched Oscar, the woman cop who stole peoples cellphones to cover the murder up, and ALL those other cops that were there, and you are going to investigate the whole damn BART police, and you are going to charge all those bastard cops who are covering shit up. And thats just for starters!

You need to come. Take some time now and CALL FOLKS. Tell at least 10 more people about this!


What's happening with immigration?
A discussion with Alex Gillis
Date: January 31st, 5:30 PM
Location: 522 Valencia St., 3rd floor. Cross with 16th St. San Francisco, CA
Sponsored by the Movement for Unconditional Amnesty, Phone: 415-374-6452

As the country welcomes a new president and the recession takes its toll on the US economy, the future of millions of undocumented immigrants remains unresolved. After the mass demonstrations in 2006, a wave of repression, in the form of ICE raids and deportations, and near criminalization of undocumented labor has devastated the immigrant community. Alex Gillis, general secretary of the Immigrant Workers Union, provides us with an analysis of the immigrant movement as well as perspectives for its future. Come and join us in this important discussion!

Alex is founder and general secretary of Union de Trabajadores Inmigrantes (Immigrant Workers Union), as well as columnist for "La Communidad" newspaper, radio host and community TV producer. As leader of the Immigrant Workers Union, Gillis has become a voice of immigrant worker rights activism in Wisconsin.


Help build March 21 PLANNING MEETING
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2009, 2:00 P.M.

Great news: VETRANS FOR PEACE HAS ENDORSED MARCH 21!and MIKE FERNER HAS BEEN ELECTED PRESIDENT OF VETERANS FOR PEACE (For anyone who may not know, Mike is a long time antiwar activist from Toledo. He has traveled twice to Iraq, has written a book about it, and has authored several articles. He is a member of the Administrative Body of the National Assembly; USLAW; Progressive Democrats of America have also endorsed!
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2009, 2:00 P.M.


Celebrate Black History Month
Come To the ILWU Rally!

Racism, Repression
and Rebellion:
The Lessons of Labor Defense

12 Noon,
Saturday, 14 February 2009
ILWU Local 10 Hall, 400 North Point (at Mason)
near Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco


ANGELA DAVIS UC Santa Cruz Professor,
former Black Panther, witch-hunted by FBI

MARTINA CORREIA Sister of Troy Davis on Georgia's death row

Rev Cecil Williams Glide Memorial Church

Robert R Bryan lead attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal,
on Pennsylvania death row

Gerald Smith former Black Panther,
Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

Pierre LaBossiere founding member, Haiti Action Committee

JR Prisoners of Conscience Committee, Minister of Information

Richard Brown former Black Panther, San Francisco 8

Cultural presentations:
Jack Hirschman, SF Poet Laureate;
Tayo Aluko, Nigerian actor portraying Paul Robeson: and
Upsurge! Jazz/Poetry Music

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was born out of the militant 1934 strike in which police killed two strikers in San Francisco, shooting them in the back. Still today police are banned from membership in Local 10. The union has a legacy of defending those under attack by the government, in particular reds and blacks, from Harry Bridges and Paul Robeson, to Angela Davis, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Troy Davis. For Black History Month, Local 10 is organizing this rally to teach the lessons of the need for unity of action to defend against government repression and racist profiling. These lessons are never more necessary than today, as evidenced by the brutal murder by BART police of Oscar Grant, who was lying face-down when shot.

Racism, Repression
and Rebellion:
The Lessons of Labor Defense

12 Noon, Saturday, 14 February 2009
ILWU Local 10 Hall, 400 North Point (at Mason)
near Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

MORE INFO: (510) 501-7080

- from Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
PO Box 16222 Oakland CA 94610


Jews in Solidarity with Palestine
Sign the Statement, view list of Signers, donate at:

Jews in Solidarity with Palestine

Stop the U.S.-backed genocidal Israeli war on Gaza

-More than 1300 women, men and children killed by U.S.-made Israeli bombs
-More than 5400 wounded
-1.5 million under siege for the past 18 months, without food, water, medicine, fuel
-Collective punishment for resisting occupation; emergency aid blocked
-Massive violations of international law
-Apartheid wall
-Racist oppression
-Homes and land stolen
-Forced into refugee camps
-60 years of occupation, from the river to the sea

We Say Enough!

We Are

Jews in Solidarity with Palestine

No to Israel! Yes To Self-Determination, Democracy & Freedom!

Stop U.S. Funding of the War on Palestine!

The whole world is horrified by the murderous Israeli assault against the suffering people of Gaza. From Seoul to Caracas, from Johannesburg to Amman to London, millions of people have poured into the streets to demand an end to this genocidal campaign, which is funded by the United States and carried out with U.S.-supplied weaponry.

There have also been protests in U.S. cities. While most of those marching are Arab-Americans, many African Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and whites have joined in. Many Jewish people, outraged at Israel's war crimes and anguished that they are carried out in their name, are speaking out.

It's good that Jewish people of conscience are disassociating themselves from the Gaza aggression. But it's not enough. This atrocity is only the latest, and it's no aberration. It reflects the program of the Israeli settler state -- which is based on the theft of Palestine, the ouster and suppression of the Palestinian people, and the racist ideology of Zionism -- and of its primary sponsor, the Pentagon and U.S. business establishment.

It's not enough to oppose the bombing. It's not enough to demand an end to the 41-year occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. We stand in complete and unconditional support for the self-determination of the Palestinian people. This includes the right to return to Palestine, from the river to the sea, and the right to democratically determine the form and the future of the Palestinian state.

Nothing less will undo the historic crime of al Nakba -- the 1948 catastrophe of the establishment of the state of Israel based on the ouster of the Palestinian people from their homeland, oppression and inequality.

That crime betrayed the whole history of the Jewish people. From helping topple the czar in Russia and build the unions in New York, to resisting pogroms and fighting to the last breath in the Warsaw Ghetto, opposition to persecution, oppression and racism was central to the Jewish heritage.

We call on Jewish people around the world, including those inside Israel, to join us in reclaiming that heritage. Reject racism and genocide. Reject the Zionist state, the very concept of which is racist to the core. Take the hand of our Palestinian sisters and brothers. Defend their righteous struggle to restore their stolen land and build a democratic Palestine.

This is not an impossible quest. Remember how mighty the settler state in South Africa seemed, only a little over two decades ago? The racist regime there was buttressed by U.S. -- and Israeli -- support. But it was battered by the unstoppable political and military struggle against apartheid, which gained worldwide support. Apartheid fell, replaced by a new state based on legal equality.

A future of equality for all is possible in Palestine too. Until this future is won, the Palestinian struggle will go on. We stand with that struggle.

We Are
Jews in Solidarity with Palestine

No to Israel! Yes To Self-Determination, Democracy & Freedom!
Stop U.S. Funding of the War on Palestine!


Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition


Fourth Al-Awda West Coast Regional Conference
Sunday February 8, 2009 at The University of California in San Diego (UCSD)
hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine

Save the Date! Mark Your Calendars! Plan to Attend!

The Palestine Right to Return Coalition's Al-Awda chapters in Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego thank all who took part in the Mass Rally and March in Los Angeles yesterday January 10 as part of the Let Gaza Live National Emergency Day of Mass Action and Protest that took place around the country. Thousands took to the streets demanding an immediate end to the carnage that is being carried out by the 'Israeli' military against our people in the Gaza Strip, and to demand an end to the political, economic and military support it has received from the US administration.

As announced at the protests, please take note that the Fourth Al-Awda West Coast Regional Conference, LET GAZA LIVE!, will take place Sunday February 8, 2009 at The University of California in San Diego (UCSD). This conference will be hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine. All members and supporters of the Right to Return movement on the West Coast are urged to participate in this important and timely one day conference.

Save the Date, Mark Your Calendars, and Plan to Attend.

Further details will be posted over the next few days and as soon as they become available.
Until Return,

Al-Awda Chapters in Southern California
The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
PO Box 131352
Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA
Tel: 760-918-9441
Fax: 760-918-9442

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC) is the largest network of grassroots activists and students dedicated to Palestinian human rights. We are a not for profit tax-exempt educational and charitable 501(c)(3) organization as defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States of America. Under IRS guidelines, your donations to PRRC are tax-deductible.


March on the Pentagon! March 21, 2009

The National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations is joining with other coalitions, organizations, and networks in a united MARCH 21 NATIONAL COALITION to organize the broadest mobilization of people across the United States to take part in a March on the Pentagon on the sixth year of the military invasion and occupation of the Iraq War: Saturday, March 21.

To endorse the March 21 March on the Pentagon, please click here.

To send a contribution to support the National Assembly's work, please click here.

For more information, please visit the National Assembly's website at or write or call 216-736-4704.



To endorse the March 21 March on the Pentagon, click here. To sign up to be a Transportation Organizing Center, click here.
To sign up to be a Transportation Organizing Center, click here.

P.S. You can make a difference. Please continue to support the ANSWER Coalition's crucial anti-war work by making your end-of-the-year tax-deductible donation online using our secure server by clicking here, where you can also find information on how to donate by check.

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
National Office in Washington DC: 202-544-3389
New York City: 212-694-8720
Los Angeles: 213-251-1025
San Francisco: 415-821-6545
Chicago: 773-463-0311


Stop the Bombing and Blockade of Gaza!
End all U.S. Aid to Israel!
Bring the Troops Home Now from Iraq and Afghanistan!

Read the Statement Issued by the National Assembly to
End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations at:

Join with the National Assembly and other coalitions, networks and organizations on March 21, 2009 for a national mass March on the Pentagon in D.C. (and actions in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities) to demand:

Stop the Wars Against Iraq and Afghanistan! -Bring the Troops Home Now!

End U.S. Support for the Occupation of Palestine!

No to U.S. Wars Against Iran and Pakistan!

Money for Jobs, Health Care, Housing, Pensions, and Education-Not for Wars and Corporate Bailouts!

For further information contact:

National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations,, 216-736-4704


Labor Boycott Of Israel Backed By Bay Area Trade Unionists
To Stop Invasion/Occupation Of Gaza/Palestine

On Junuary 10, 2009 thousands of people in the bay area protested the US supported attack by Israel on the people of Gaza at a rally and march in San Francisco. Trade unionists including leaders of the Oakland Education Association and ILWU Local 10 and a leader of the California Peace and Freedom party condemned the attack and supported a labor boycott of Israel by the world trade union movement. Labor Video Project P.O. Box 720027 San Francisco, CA 94172 (415)282-1908

Labor Video Project
P.O. Box 720027
San Francisco, CA 94172


Israelis Soldiers refuse to serve in Gaza
January 13, 2009


Open Letter to Israeli Soldiers

As you may know, American Jews for a Just Peace has written an Open Letter to Israeli soldiers calling on them to refuse to take part in war crimes and atrocities in Gaza. We are gathering signatures from Jews all over the world, and hope to raise enough money to publish the Open Letter as an ad in Ha'aretz in the coming days. The views of "World Jewry" still carry some weight in Israel, and we owe it to both the people of Gaza and to the Israeli soldiers to try to raise our voices in opposition to the horror we are watching unfold day by day.

If you haven't already done so, I invite you to read and sign the Open Letter. If you can contribute even a small amount, it will help us toward the total advertisement cost. Organizational signers are invited to email to authorize organizational participation.

A link to the Open Letter is on the front page of AJJP's website:

In these dark days, it is good to be able to do something -- anything. I hope you will join this effort.

Hannah Schwarzschild
for the Coordinating Committee


U.S. resisters' solidarity with Israeli "shministim" refusers
Courage to Resist

Statement signed by over two dozen U.S. military war resisters. Reprinted by AlterNet, Democracy Now, The Progressive, Common Dreams, Indymedia, and Daily Kos.

We are U.S. military servicemembers and veterans who have refused or are currently refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We stand in solidarity with the Israeli Shministim (Hebrew for "12th graders") who are also resisting military service. About 100 Israeli high school students have signed an open letter declaring their refusal to serve in the Israeli army and their opposition to "Israeli occupation and oppression policy in the occupied territories and the territories of Israel." In Israel, military service is mandatory for all graduating high school seniors, and resisters face the possibility of years in prison.
Read more at:




1) Suspected US Missile Strikes Kill 14 in Pakistan
January 23, 2009
Filed at 11:57 a.m. ET

2) Hamas to Start Paying Gaza Residents Compensation and Reconstruction Aid
January 23, 2009

3) Environment Blamed in Western Tree Deaths
January 23, 2009

4) State Jobless Rate Soars; Benefits Extension Seen
January 23, 2009

5) More Americans Skipping Necessary Prescriptions, Survey Finds
January 23, 2009

6) Winds of Change Blow Across Cuba
By Roger Burbach
New America Media

7) From Hospital, Afghans Rebut U.S. Account
NY Times, January 26, 2009,%20Afghans%20Rebut%20U.S.%20Account&st=cse

8) In Gaza, the Wait to Rebuild Lingers
January 26, 2009

9) Iceland’s Government Collapses
Filed at 10:27 a.m. ET
January 26, 2009

10) Sit-Down Strikes!
By Nat Weinstein
January/February 2009

11) Saving Jobs
By Bonnie Weinstein
January/February 2009

12) Letter from Gaza
Barbara Lubin
Gaza City, Gaza, Palestine
January 23, 2009

13) Michigan: Man Dies After Power Is Cut
National Briefing | Midwest
January 27, 2009

14) Emperor penguin 'marching to extinction by end of the century'
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Tuesday, 27 January 2009

15) At a Border Crossing, Drivers and Truckloads of Aid for Gaza Go Nowhere
January 28, 2009

16) Aides Say Obama’s Afghan Aims Elevate War
January 28, 2009

17) Cuba leads way in children rights
Cuba is the top-ranking developing country when it comes to protecting children’s rights, according to a new Child Development Index (CDI).
By: Tim Anderson


1) Suspected US Missile Strikes Kill 14 in Pakistan
January 23, 2009
Filed at 11:57 a.m. ET

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Two suspected U.S missile attacks killed 14 people Friday in Pakistan just east of the Afghan border, security officials said, the first such strikes since the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

At least five victims were identified as foreign militants, an intelligence officer said.

The strikes in two districts of the lawless region where al-Qaida militants are known to hide out are the latest in a barrage of more than 30 since the middle of last year.

Pakistan's pro-U.S. leaders had expressed hope Obama would halt the attacks, which have reportedly killed several top al-Qaida operatives but triggered anger at the government by nationalist and Muslim critics.

Islamabad routinely protests the strikes in the northwest as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but most observers speculate that it has an unwritten agreement allowing them to take place, noting it would be highly damaging to be seen as colluding with Washington in attacks on its people.

The missiles are normally fired from spy planes believed to be launched from across the border in Afghanistan.

The first attack Friday took place in the village of Zharki in North Waziristan, when a single drone fired three missiles in the space of 10 minutes, the security officials said.

The missiles destroyed two buildings, killing 10 people, at least five of whom were foreign militants, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Hours later, a second missile struck a house in South Waziristan, killing four people, they said, giving no more details.

The United States rarely acknowledges firing the missiles, but there is little doubt it is responsible.

Washington is pressing Pakistan to crackdown on militants in the border, which it blames for rising attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan as well as violence within Pakistan.

Earlier Friday, a suicide attack and a roadside bomb killed two soldiers and three civilians in the Swat Valley, a one-time tourist destination close to the border region, officials said.

Pakistan has launched military offensives in parts of the northwest, but insurgents are making inroads Swat, blowing up schools, killing police and soldiers and calling for the imposition of a hard-line interpretation of Islamic law.

Militancy in Swat is seen as especially dangerous for Pakistan because the valley lies away from the areas where al-Qaida and the Taliban have traditionally operated.

In an indication of the difficulties facing the government, more than 1,000 hard-liners demonstrated in the capital, saying there would only be peace in Swat and other frontier regions if the government severs its ties with the United States.

''The lawlessness cannot end until the end of the pro-America policy,'' one speaker told the crowd gathered close to the Parliament building in Islamabad.

Associated Press Writer Ishtiaq Mahsud contributed to this report from Dera Ismail Khan.


2) Hamas to Start Paying Gaza Residents Compensation and Reconstruction Aid
January 23, 2009

JERUSALEM - Hamas said Thursday that it would begin handing out compensation and reconstruction aid to residents of Gaza, in a sign of the challenges Israel faces as it tries to weaken the militant group's hold after the army's operation there.

Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said at a news conference that it would start to distribute the first installment of $35 million to $40 million in payments to Gazans on Sunday. Israel ended its three-week offensive against Hamas last Sunday, and withdrew its last troops from the area early Wednesday.

An adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Thursday that the "last thing" Israel wanted was for Hamas to get stronger after the military operation, which Israel has said was intended to reduce the threat of Hamas rocket fire against southern Israel.

The adviser, who requested anonymity in speaking to a small group of reporters because of the delicacy of the issues under discussion, said Israel was working "very extensively" with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and the international community to find ways to transfer money from "moderate forces" into Gaza for reconstruction. The aim, he said, would be to ensure that the rebuilding would not be credited to Hamas.

But Hamas, like Hezbollah in southern Lebanon after the 2006 war, is eager to bolster its standing. Hamas estimates that more than 4,000 homes were destroyed and 17,000 damaged during the campaign. About 1,300 people were killed, according to medical officials in Gaza (Israeli military officials have put the number at about 1,200), and more than 5,000 were reported injured.

Mr. Nunu said that each family who had lost a home would receive almost $5,200, while those with damaged homes would get half that. The families of the dead would receive almost $1,300, and those of the injured would get almost $650, he said.

Believing that it has established deterrence against Hamas, Israel says its next priority is to stop the smuggling of foreign-made rockets and other weapons into Gaza via Egypt, and to thwart Hamas's efforts to rearm.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Thursday about ways to stop the smuggling, Israeli officials said. Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, was in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the antismuggling effort with European officials.

Most of the smuggling, according to Israel, takes place through hundreds of tunnels that run beneath Egypt's border with Gaza. Israel says it bombed 80 percent of the tunnels from the air. But television crews have already captured images of smugglers back at work, underlining Israel's argument that international efforts have to be made to stop the weapons before they reach the border.

Egypt refuses to have international forces on its side of the border, and Israel says a foreign force on the Gaza side would be ineffective. Instead, Israel envisages solutions like more technical assistance on the Egyptian side, heavier policing in the Egyptian Sinai and international action to stop shipments of weapons en route to Egypt by sea.

With many of the tunnels used for the smuggling of goods, and weapons, out of commission, European and international pressure is mounting on Israel to open the official border crossings with Gaza for normal operations. Opening the crossings and ending an 18-month embargo on the area is a central Hamas demand for any lasting cease-fire deal.

Israel seeks to postpone discussion on the opening of the crossings, and it insists that Hamas will not play any role in its operation. At the same time, Israel is allowing increasing amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza to meet people's immediate needs, officials said.

Also on Thursday, Israeli leaders, including Mr. Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said conditions after the operation in Gaza might improve the chances that Hamas would agree to a prisoner exchange that could lead to the release of a captured Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit.

Corporal Shalit was seized in a cross-border raid by Hamas and other militant groups and taken into Gaza in 2006. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of its prisoners in Israeli jails, including many convicted of terrorism, for the soldier's return.

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Gaza.


3) Environment Blamed in Western Tree Deaths
January 23, 2009

Rising temperatures and the resulting drought are causing trees in the West to die at more than twice the pace they did a few decades ago, a new study has found.

The combination of temperature and drought has also reduced the ability of the forests to absorb carbon dioxide, which traps heat and thus contributes to global warming, the authors of the study said, and has made forests sparser and more susceptible to fires and pests.

The scientists, who analyzed tree census data collected in 1955 and in later years, found that the mortality of trees increased in 87 percent of the 76 forest plots studied. In some plots, the die-off rate doubled in as little as 17 years; in others, it doubled after 29 years, the study found.

"Summers are getting longer," said Nathan L. Stephenson, of the United States Geological Survey, a leader of the study with Phillip van Mantgem, also of the geological survey. "Trees are under more drought stress."

The study will appear in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The scientists analyzed the effects of higher temperatures on old-growth temperate forests in three regions: the Pacific Northwest (including southwestern British Columbia), California and inland Western states. The average temperature in those regions rose by more than one degree Fahrenheit from the mid-1970s to 2006.

Precipitation and snowpack runoff decreased over the same period.

The higher mortality rates held regardless of tree size or type or elevation at which it grew. The fact that birth rates remained unchanged among the nearly 60,000 pines, firs, hemlocks and other trees in the study indicates that forests are losing trees faster than they are replacing them, the authors noted.

It remains unclear how much of the regional warming is a result of a natural climate cycle and how much results from a global trend toward higher temperatures. But Jerry F. Franklin, a professor of ecosystem analysis at the University of Washington and an author of the study, blamed global warming. "We see the regional warming as part of a much larger shift globally," Mr. Franklin said.

The study focused on forests more than 200 years old where rapid changes in demographic rates would more likely be caused by environmental changes rather than by internal processes like self-thinning that are more common in young forests. The spike in mortality cannot be attributed to aging, fires and other events, the researchers said

Warmer weather makes trees more vulnerable to insects and pathogens that thrive in warmer conditions.

In a report last year, the Department of Agriculture said that climate change had "very likely" increased the size and number of fires, insect infestations and overall tree die-offs in forests in the West, the Southwest and Alaska, and that the damage would accelerate in the future.

The authors of the new study said in a teleconference that if tree mortality rates continued to rise, the average size of trees could fall because trees would die at younger ages. Smaller trees cannot store as much carbon dioxide as large ones.

In addition, areas could also become less suitable for some species and more welcoming for others, and existing species might begin to act in peculiar ways. "Novel behaviors on the part of pests and pathogens are the sort of thing we'll get surprised by," Mr. Franklin said.

But Steve Pyne, an environmental historian at the University of Texas who has studied fires in forests, said that how bad things became depended on what replaced the vegetation that was being lost.

"Part of the trick here is we don't know," Mr. Pyne said. "It's like the financial meltdown. It's the uncertainty. What's going to replace it?"

He added, "It may make no difference; it may make a huge difference."


4) State Jobless Rate Soars; Benefits Extension Seen
January 23, 2009

Unemployment in New York State rose last month at the fastest pace on record, as some companies laid off workers at a rapid clip while others refrained from their usual hiring around the holidays, the State Labor Department reported on Thursday.

The state's jobless rate, which is adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, was 7 percent in December, up from 6 percent in November, according to the report. That increase - the largest in any month in 32 years of state record-keeping - will set off another extension of benefits for many New Yorkers who have been looking for work for more than half a year, labor market experts said.

New York City's unemployment rate, after seasonal adjustments, rose even more, jumping to 7.4 percent from 6.3 percent, the Labor Department said. The city's count of private jobs declined by 8,500 in December, compared with a normal increase of almost 20,000 jobs in that month.

"We have a job market that has markedly deteriorated," said James P. Brown, who analyzes employment trends in the city for the State Labor Department. "Employers are nervous enough about the situation that they are pulling back from normal patterns of hiring. And that's beyond the industries, like banks and brokerage firms, that we know are downsizing."

The national unemployment rate, which, at 6.8 percent in November, was considerably higher than the state and city rates, rose to 7.2 percent in December.

"While New York State lagged the nation in entering the recession, we are catching up with a vengeance," said James Parrott, deputy director and chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal research group.

Across the state, more than 670,000 people were reported as unemployed in December, a record one-month increase of 89,800 from November. More than 500,000 New Yorkers are currently collecting unemployment benefits and about half of them have already exhausted the standard allotment of 26 weekly checks.

Those who failed to find work before their standard benefits ran out have been able to collect up to 20 weeks of additional benefits. Now that the state's unemployment rate has averaged more than 6 percent for the last three months, an additional extension of 13 weeks of benefits will become available on Feb. 22, according to Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for the unemployed.

That extension will help thousands of New Yorkers who have already used up 40 weeks of benefits, but it will also put additional strain on the state's insolvent unemployment insurance fund. The state has been borrowing about $90 million each week this year from a federal fund to cover the shortfall in the unemployment fund.

State officials project that the fund's deficit will grow to more than $2.5 billion by the end of 2010 unless changes are made to the relatively low payroll tax system that feeds the fund. On Thursday, labor unions and advocates for low-wage workers called for legislation to overhaul the system and increase unemployment benefits. New York's maximum weekly unemployment benefit of $405 is lower than those of all of its neighboring states.


5) More Americans Skipping Necessary Prescriptions, Survey Finds
January 23, 2009

One in seven Americans under age 65 went without prescribed medicines in 2007 as drug costs spiraled upward in the United States, a nonprofit research group said on Thursday.

That figure is up substantially since 2003, when one in 10 people under 65 went without a prescription drug because they couldn't afford it, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington, D.C.

The current figure may be even higher because of the recent economic downturn, said Laurie E. Felland, a senior health researcher at the center and lead author of the study.

"Our findings are particularly troublesome given the increased reliance on prescription drugs to treat chronic conditions," she added. "People who go without their prescriptions experience worsening health and complications."

The people who were least able to afford medicine were often those who needed it most, Ms. Felland said: uninsured, working-age adults suffering from at least one chronic medical condition. Almost two-thirds of them in the survey said they had gone without filling a prescription.

But even those with private health insurance provided by their employers were affected: one in 10 working-age Americans with employer-sponsored coverage went without a prescription medication in 2007, up from 8.7 percent in 2003, the study found.

Among low-income Americans, three in 10 said they had been unable to fill a prescription because of cost, and nearly one in four adults on Medicaid or state insurance programs said they'd had difficulty affording drugs.

Ms. Felland said a number of factors contributed to the trend, including rising drug prices, the tendency of physicians to prescribe drugs more frequently, the introduction of expensive new specialty medications, and skimpier drug coverage that shifts a greater share of costs onto patients.

"Insurance coverage offers less financial protection against out-of-pocket costs than it did in the past," she said.

The study was based on results from the 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey, a nationally representative telephone survey of 10,400 adults under age 65, many of whom also discussed affordability of medications for their 2,600 children. Participants were asked whether there was a time in the previous 12 months when "you needed prescription medicines but didn't get them because you couldn't afford it."

Overall, 5 percent of children didn't have prescriptions filled in 2007 because of cost, up from 3.1 percent in 2003, and 17.8 percent of working-age adults couldn't afford drugs in 2007, up from 13.8 percent in 2003, the survey found. That translates into about 36.1 million Americans under 65 who were affected, according to the study.

Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that researches health care issues, said the new study confirms previous Commonwealth studies. In 2007, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults, or an estimated 116 million people, struggled to pay medical bills, went without needed care because of cost, were uninsured for a time or were underinsured, according to the foundation.

"It has become a middle class problem," she added, noting that improving health coverage is an integral part of economic recovery.

"It's not enough just to help people have jobs," she said. "They need to have adequate coverage, so they can get care when they need it and pay the bills they incur when they do seek care."


6) Winds of Change Blow Across Cuba
By Roger Burbach
New America Media

Editor's Note: Cuba celebrated its 50th anniversary of the revolution as a new administration moved into Washington with the promise of change, and as the transition in Cuba's own government faces inevitable change, much of it percolating up from the people. Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

HAVANA, Cuba--The Cuban revolution is in a process of transition and transformation as it marks its 50th anniversary. I have visited the country every decade since the revolution’s triumph, and excepting the 60s, I have never experienced the Cuban people more open and discursive about their future. As Rafael Hernandez, the director of the widely read social and cultural journal Temas tells me, “We are rethinking the very nature of society and what socialism means. A discussion is opening up on many fronts over where we are headed, how property is to be defined, what is the role of the market, and how we can achieve greater political participation, particularly among the youth. Within the upper levels of the state and the Communist party there is real resistance to this, but the debate has been joined.”

To be sure there are many differences expressed over what the future of the revolution holds under Raul Castro who replaced his brother Fidel as president two and a half years ago. I watched Raul’s speech on the 50th anniversary on TV at a café in Old Havana with a couple I first met 16 years ago, both of whom work in the field of education. Adriana, at the end of the speech comments, “While Raul did not say much about the current moment, he presented a good summation of what have been the revolution’s advances and challenges.” She and her husband, Julio, take particular note of Raul’s words that “this is a revolution of the humble and for the humble:” The leadership “will never rob or betray this trust.”

Yaneli, the women who cooks at the house where I am staying, has a different take. As I am reading Raul’s discourse over breakfast the next morning in the official newspaper Granma, she glances over my shoulder, and I ask her what she thinks of Raul’s speech. She says “Nothing, its unimportant.” I nod, understanding how she could view Raul’s words as platitudes meaning little for her daily life. Then, as she is about to go back to the kitchen she notices a photo in the paper of a ballet performance presented before Raul’s speech that was dedicated to a political martyr of the revolution. “Ah,” she says, “one of the performers might be an instructor of my 12-year-old son who loves ballet. He has taken lessons at school since he was six and has placed first in several competitive events.”

In old Havana I am struck by the presence on the streets and cafes of gays and transvestites. They are not harassed by the police unless they sell their favors to foreigners, who tend to be Italians, according to Adriana and Julio. A toleration and discussion of sexual diversity became more wide spread in 2006 when Raul’s daughter, Mariela Castro Espin, published a special issue of the magazine she edits, “Sexology and Society.” On the inside of the cover page the very first words are: “To be homosexual, bisexual, transsexual or transvestite is not an illness or a perversity, nor does it constitute any type of offense.”

Much like the United States, many Cuban gays still feel oppressed by the mores of their society. At a book store several blocs from the Havana Libre Hotel, the old Havana Hilton of pre-revolutionary days, I meet Elieser, the 38-year-old owner of the stores’ impressive collection of new and used journals, magazines and books. I ask him what he has in the way of analytical or critical publications on the revolution. He goes to grab several boxes on the far side of the store, comes back, pushes close to me and says “You know we gays have been terribly abused and oppressed in Cuba.” I move back a bit, making it clear I am not gay, but query empathetically what he means. “We have been arrested by the scores at night and thrown in jail, even though no laws were broken.” When did this happen I ask. “In the 1970’s,” he says.

“What about now, what do you think of Raul?” He responds, “I like what he says and think he is good for Cuba.” But he then goes on to lament that in spite of the change in official attitudes a “couple of my gay friends who are teachers in schools are shunned and encounter discrimination in the classroom.”

Elieser then moves on to another point of contention in Cuba: “Most of the books I sell are in the convertible peso currency bought by foreigners like you, so I am able to get along, but I can’t change them into dollars and go to Miami. I will probably die with the United States always remaining a dream to me.” I turn and am about to leave and he says, “wait,” rushes into the back of the store and brings me out the first four issues of Temas published in 1995. He says “these are of historic importance, they were sharply attacked and criticized for being anti-revolutionary, but they paved the way for the vital political developments that are taking place now.”

The most widespread and heated discussions one hears in Havana are not over sexual rights or politics, but the economy, particularly agriculture and the availability of food stuffs in the state and public markets. I arrange an interview with Armando Nova, a leading agricultural economist at the Center of Cuban Economic Studies. As we sit outside his office on a warm sunny afternoon, he flat off declares, “Our agricultural system is in crisis. Sixty percent of the caloric intake and 62 percent of the protein consumed by the average Cuban are imported.” Cuba is a rich agricultural country, yet approximately half of its tillable agricultural land is in open pasture or lays idle.

Nova goes on to describe the agricultural reforms that were introduced in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed and cut off its food exports as well as agricultural inputs from fertilizers to tractors and irrigation systems. “We encouraged urban and rural gardens for family consumption, pushed cooperatives and allowed some free marketing that helped see us through the difficult times. But the current system is an inefficient mishmash.” It is comprised of state farms, state directed cooperatives, and more autonomous cooperatives usually formed by peasants with “no one knowing from one year to the next what to expect in terms of government policies or supplies,” he says.

Added to this is the lack of an agricultural work force, as most of the Cuban rural youth who have access to free education at all levels have no interest in the long hours and back breaking labor of the fields, be it even as independent farmers. The most shocking aspect of Cuban agriculture is the collapse of sugar production. The country that served as a “sugar bowl,” first to the United States and then to the Soviet Union, today imports the high caloric sweetener to meet the needs of its people.

In an effort to remedy the situation, new legislation was passed under Raul last year that permits anyone to solicit the government for 10 hectares of idle land that can be held and farmed in usufruct, i.e., for an indefinite period of time. The new farmers have the right to work the land independently and sell their produce on the open market. But the tendency is to join a cooperative because of the availability of regularized inputs, not because the state is trying to deny them access, but because the coops have more purchasing clout.

“As of October, says Nova, there have been 80,000 petitions submitted for 800,000 hectares of land.” He is hopeful, but says “we still need to set up an open market for the distribution of inputs, which at present are allocated by the state at fixed prices.” He does not believe that all lands should be thrown open to small scale farming; there are efficiencies in state farms and state directed coops in the production of crops like sugar cane, potatoes, and perhaps some areas of beef and poultry production.

Rafael Hernandez of Temas concurs with Nova’s perspective on the need to open up the market to smaller producers in agriculture as well as commerce and industry. When I ask him if this means Cuba is moving towards the Chinese model, he responds that “a group of technocrats are bent on narrowly following in the economist tracks of the Chinese. But there are others like me who argue that political reforms have to go hand in hand with economic changes. Workers and small farmers need to participate in the discussion of what political changes they would like to see from the bottom up in the economy and the society around them. If we don’t have reforms in both areas, our socialist future will be in jeopardy.”

Alvaro Alonso, a sociologist and the assistant director of the country’s internationally renowned publishing house, Casa de las Americas, traces the current opening to experimentation back to the “Special Period” of the early 1990s. “We had a dependency on the Soviet model, not unlike that which we had before the revolution with the United States. The severe economic hardship we experienced forced us to experiment in different forms of production, and there was a greater push for political as well as economic reforms from below.”

I ask Alonso if he thinks Cuba is more open under Raul then Fidel. “Yes, but not because Fidel imposed his views and ideology on others," he responds. "He was such a brilliant revolutionary leader and thinker that others deferred to him. They took as a starting point in their discussions or writings what he had to say. Raul is not the same commanding figure, he delegates authority, and does not dominate the political discussions. The ferment for change is widespread as our society enters a broad participatory dialogue over where we want to go.”


7) From Hospital, Afghans Rebut U.S. Account
NY Times, January 26, 2009,%20Afghans%20Rebut%20U.S.%20Account&st=cse

MEHTARLAM, Afghanistan — The American military declared the nighttime
raid this month a success, saying it killed 32 people, all Taliban
insurgents — the fruit of an emphasis on intelligence-driven use of
Special Operations forces.

But the two young men who lay wincing in a hospital ward here told a
different story a few days later, one backed up by the pro-American
provincial governor and a central government delegation.

They agreed that 13 civilians had been killed and 9 wounded when
American commandos broke down doors and unleashed dogs without warning
on Jan. 7 in the hunt for a known insurgent in Masamut, in Laghman
Province in eastern Afghanistan. The residents were so enraged that they
threatened to march on the American military base here.

The conflicting accounts underscore a dangerous rift that has grown
between Afghans and the United States forces trying to roll back
widening Taliban control of the countryside.

With every case of civilian casualties or mistaken killings, the anger
that Afghans feel toward the government and foreign forces deepens and
makes residents less likely to help American forces, Afghan officials
warn. Meanwhile, American forces are reluctant to share information
about future military raids with local officials, fearing that it will
be passed on to the Taliban.

Added to all that is a complication for American forces here: many
villagers are armed, in the absence of an effective local police force.

Into that increasingly complex environment, the Obama administration is
preparing to send as many as 30,000 more troops this year. As the plan
moves forward, Afghan officials and some Western coalition partners are
voicing concern that the additional troops will only increase the levels
of violence and civilian casualties, after a year in which as many as
4,000 Afghan civilians were killed.

The outrage over civilian deaths swelled again over the weekend.
Hundreds of angry villagers demonstrated here in Mehtarlam, the capital
of Laghman Province, on Sunday after an American raid on a village in
the province on Friday night. The raid killed at least 16 villagers,
including 2 women and 3 children, according to a statement from
President Hamid Karzai.

The president condemned the raid, saying it had not been coordinated
with Afghan officials, and called for such raids to stop. The United
States military said that 15 armed militants, including a woman, had
been killed.

In a sign of how serious the episode was, an American military
spokesman, Col. Greg Julian, said the military would send an
investigation team to the area, The Associated Press reported.

Raids like the ones in Laghman Province by United States Special
Operations forces, on Jan. 7 and on Friday, have been a special focus of
complaint for several years.

Provincial governors say the tactics used, and the lack of coordination
with Afghan and other American and NATO forces, alienate villagers and
cause unneeded casualties among civilians. The raids are undoing much of
the good work done by other American and international troops and
reconstruction teams, they say.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission warned that the lack
of accountability of those conducting such raids, and the lack of
redress for civilian victims, was stoking resentment. “The degree of
backlash and community outrage that they provoke suggests they may often
not be an advisable tactic within the Afghan context,” the commission
concluded in a report in December.

Mr. Karzai said in an address at the opening of Parliament on Tuesday
that he had once more sent written requests to United States forces and
to NATO to end civilian casualties.

Afghans would never complain about casualties among their security
forces, but they would never accept the suffering of civilians, he said,
to a great shout of support from the chamber. The speaker of the Senate,
Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, followed with a warning that if more care was
not taken, the nation could rise up against the foreign troop presence here.

A number of different American units, Special Forces and others, have
been conducting counterterrorism operations around the country for the
past seven years, operating out of the Bagram and Kandahar airfields,
and several small Special Forces bases. They do not operate under NATO
command and usually do not coordinate their operations with Afghan
forces, since they argue that the element of surprise is critical.

Military spokesmen often release results of raids but do not identify
the forces involved. Philip Alston, a United Nations special rapporteur,
or investigator, complained last year that despite high-level meetings
with the military, he had been unable to identify some of the groups
conducting the raids or to establish the chain of command under which
they operated.

Afghan officials and others suspect some of the raids may also be
carried out by the C.I.A.

The raid in Masamut on the night of Jan. 7 was typical of many conducted
in Afghanistan. United States Special Operations forces entered the
village under cover of darkness looking for a known Taliban insurgent,
Gul Pacha, who was killed in the raid, along with a visitor to his home,
another Taliban member, Bahadur Khan.

According to several villagers, the nighttime raid stirred alarm and
confusion as people were roused from their sleep.

One of the first to be shot and killed was a man called Qasem, a member
of the Afghan Border Police who was at home on leave. His brother,
Wazarat Khan, said Qasem was killed as soon as he looked out his front door.

“We did not think they were Americans; we thought they were thieves,” he
said. “They killed my brother right in the doorway.”

One of the men in the hospital, Abdul Manan, 25, who had a bullet wound
in the shoulder, said he woke up when he heard a female neighbor calling
for help and heard three shots.

He said he came out of his house and saw soldiers wearing headlamps. “I
thought they were smoking cigarettes,” he said. “They said something in
English that I did not understand, and then they shot me.”

Another man, Darwaish Muhammad, 18, hospitalized with shrapnel wounds,
said he was awakened by the mother of a neighbor, Shahpur Khan, calling
for help. He had been shot.

Mr. Muhammad said he and two others rushed to help carry the woman’s son
on a rope bed down a slope outside the village to get help. They were 10
minutes from the village when a helicopter fired a rocket at them,
killing the wounded man and two of the bearers. He and the mother were
badly wounded, he said.

A United States military spokesman, Col. Jerry O’Hara, confirmed that
United States air support forces had fired on a group of five carrying a
wounded person outside the village. He said all five had been killed and
all were militants. That some of the villagers survived may explain some
of the discrepancy of the death toll.

Colonel O’Hara added that care had been taken not to use air power
inside the village, to avoid civilian casualties. He dismissed the
villagers’ accounts that they had mistaken the soldiers for thieves. “I
am not buying that,” he said. “These people were acting as sentries.”

In a statement, Colonel O’Hara said, “Coalition forces exercised great
restraint and prevented any civilian casualties at the same time the
enemy placed the whole village in harm’s way by operating the way they do.”

In an interview, he also expressed frustration that four years after his
earlier tour in Afghanistan, people still were not coming forward with
information against Taliban members. “Until there is active involvement
amongst Afghan civilians to turn in or give a tip on people with
explosives, you are not going to get on the road to peace,” he said.

Yet, after seven years of war, Afghans say that villagers are less and
less inclined to side with a foreign army that still conducts house
searches and bombardments.

The villagers of Masamut readily acknowledged that Mr. Pacha had been a
member of the Taliban. They had even nicknamed him “Al Qaeda.” But they
criticized the United States forces for killing his elderly father and
two sons along with him, and for the shooting of the other villagers.

“The government should have informed us not to come outside while they
surrounded the house of Gul Pacha,” said Mawla Dad, 35, whose brother,
nephew and cousin, an off-duty policeman, were all killed.

The governor of Laghman Province, Lutfullah Mashal, acknowledged that
some of the villagers were armed. But he explained that because there
was no police force to speak of in rural areas, villages kept security
through a kind of neighborhood watch. “Whoever came out with a weapon,
he was shot because the American forces have night-vision devices,” the
governor said.

Villagers of Masamut, and local officials who visited the village
afterward, protested the tactics used in the raid to United States
military officials. The governor also complained that the raid had been
conducted without coordination with Afghan forces or even with other
American forces based in the province.

The raid undermined the government, Mr. Mashal said, and the tactics
violated Afghan customs and whipped up a religious hatred, which was
very damaging for both the government and the international forces.

“The people are angry with us,” he said. “Unless the international
community, and especially military forces, coordinate with us, we are
not going to win this war, because to win the war is to win the hearts
and minds of the people, and then you can beat the enemy.”


8) In Gaza, the Wait to Rebuild Lingers
January 26, 2009

GAZA — The skies have gone quiet, the cease-fire seems to be holding, and with thousands of homes destroyed in Israel’s war with Hamas, people here have a new concern: rebuilding.

But in Gaza, even cement is political, and plans for reconstruction are caught in a web of fraught relationships that could take months to untangle.

Aid agencies expect several hundred million dollars to be pledged at a conference next week for items like food, medicine and spare parts for electrical grids. But that does not touch the broader question of rebuilding, which will require large quantities of cement, metal and glass, all of which Gaza lacks.

The task is enormous: An estimated 4,000 homes were destroyed and 17,000 damaged in the three-week war that began Dec. 27, Palestinian authorities said.

Israel said that letting such supplies in freely would be risky. Hamas militants have built rockets from pipes imported for a sanitation plant last year, Israeli officials said, and while Israel is attending to humanitarian aid — the number of trucks with food and other urgent supplies that now pass through Israeli crossings into Gaza has tripled — the Israeli authorities have yet to decide what else they will permit into Gaza.

“We are studying it,” Isaac Herzog, the minister of welfare and social affairs, who runs Israel’s humanitarian effort in Gaza, said in a telephone interview. “The exact mechanism hasn’t been devised yet.” He added: “Israel helps fully on the humanitarian issue. Thereafter it’s a red line.”

But many here say their homes are what count, and though they are thankful for the small cash and food handouts they got from the United Nations when they left its shelters last week, their primary concern is not hunger, but homelessness.

“We don’t want money, we just want our house rebuilt,” said Ahmed el-Atar, a 39-year-old farmer, whose house was badly damaged during the war.

The issue of the border crossings is one of the most intractable and has been at the heart of Hamas’s cease-fire demands. On Sunday, a weeklong cease-fire technically ended, but a Hamas official in Egypt said Hamas had offered to extend it for a year, provided Israel opened the crossings, The Associated Press reported from Cairo. Israel, which does not talk to Hamas directly, said the Hamas offer was not new.

Ahmed el-Kurd, the minister of labor in the Hamas-run government in Gaza, stated Hamas’s view in an interview on Sunday: “The embargo is war.”

Gaza’s deficits began long before the war, with an economic embargo imposed by Israel after Hamas seized power from Fatah, a rival political party, in June 2007. Hamas is an Islamist group that is doctrinally committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel cut off relations, arguing that a blockade would weaken the group and possibly dislodge it.

The economy shrank, with the number of trucks crossing the Israeli border each day plummeting from 500 to fewer than 100.

The embargo has paralyzed businesses like that of Mohamad Maarouf, who owns one of the biggest cement factories in Gaza City. His warehouse was empty for so long that his children began to use it for bike riding.

“It’s sleeping,” he said on Sunday, standing near a tiny plastic rocking horse. He recalled the factory’s past bustle wistfully. “It was like a beehive,” he said.

Nearly all of Gaza’s imports come through Israel, except for what moves through smuggling tunnels from Egypt, which has kept its Gaza border closed since the Hamas takeover.

The United Nations, which is handling the early aid efforts, argues that the Israeli border restrictions must be eased in order for any serious reconstruction effort to succeed.

“The crossings are critical,” said Maxwell Gaylard, a United Nations humanitarian affairs coordinator. “The U.N. system would look for a more generous response from Israel to the people of Gaza now. They’ve gone through a hard time.”

But the war does not appear to have changed the fundamental Israeli attitude about how to treat Gaza. Peter Lerner, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry’s coordination office for Gaza, said that while Israel was facilitating all humanitarian work, including allowing in cable to fix the electrical grid, it would not consider reopening the crossings fully for commercial use, and any reconstruction projects would need to be approved individually.

“We are not interested in rebuilding Hamas at any stage,” he said in a telephone interview.

Representatives of aid groups, who visited Gaza this past week to assess needs, have expressed worry. Cassandra Nelson, a spokeswoman for the relief agency Mercy Corps, said a European Union grant last year to create jobs in light construction had to be modified, because the cement and steel rods could not be imported. The money was spent instead on sewing machines.

“Are we going to rebuild everybody’s houses with plastic sheeting and duct tape?” she said.

The issue is further complicated by the division in Palestinian politics. Israel and the West want aid to flow through the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank and is dominated by Hamas’s rival, Fatah. But after being ejected from Gaza, the Palestinian Authority does not have the presence to manage aid to Gaza, and forcing the issue would serve to exacerbate the violent rivalry between Hamas and Fatah.

“Will they work by remote control?” said Ibrahim Radwan, deputy minister for public works and housing, referring to the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas, meanwhile, is stepping in to fill the gap. This week, the government will hand out checks of as much as $5,000 for those whose homes were destroyed, Mr. Radwan said.

In Mr. Atar’s neighborhood, they already started. He pulled five crisp hundred-dollar bills out of an envelope from Hamas’s Public Affairs Department.

“Somebody wrote my name down,” he said, staring blankly, his small daughter at his side gnawing on a radish. “Somebody knows I am here.”

Nadim Audi contributed reporting.


9) Iceland’s Government Collapses
Filed at 10:27 a.m. ET
January 26, 2009

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) -- Iceland's coalition government collapsed Monday, leaving the island nation in political turmoil amid a financial crisis that has pummeled its economy and required an international bailout to keep the country afloat.

Prime Minister Geir Haarde said he was unwilling to meet demands from his coalition partners in the Social Democratic Alliance Party, which insisted upon the post of prime minister in order to keep the coalition intact.

Haarde, who has been prime minister since 2006, said he would officially inform the country's president later Monday that the government had collapsed.

Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Gisladottir, who heads the Social Democrats, is expected to start talks immediately with opposition parties in an attempt to form a new government. That government would sit until new elections are held, likely in May.

Haarde had previously said he wouldn't lead his Independence Party into new elections, because he has cancer.

He told reporters on Monday that he had proposed Education Minister Thorgerdur Katrin Gunnarsdottir, of Haarde's own party, be appointed Iceland's new prime minister -- but Gisladottir rejected that offer.

''It was an unreasonable demand for the smaller party to demand the premiership over the larger party,'' Haarde said.

Iceland has been mired in crisis since the collapse of the country's banks under the weight of debts amassed during years of rapid expansion. Inflation and unemployment have soared, and the krona currency has plummeted.

Haarde's government has nationalized banks and negotiated about $10 billion in loans from the IMF and individual countries. In addition, Iceland faces a bill likely to run to billions of dollars to repay thousands of Europeans who held accounts with subsidiaries of collapsed Icelandic banks.

The country's commerce minister, Bjorgvin Sigurdsson, quit on Sunday citing the pressures of the economic collapse. Sigurdsson, a member of Gisladottir's party, said Icelanders had lost trust in their political leadership.

Thousands have joined noisy daily protests in the last week over soaring unemployment and rising prices.


10) Sit-Down Strikes!
By Nat Weinstein
January/February 2009

“This never happens—to take a company from the inside. But I’m fighting for my family, and we’re not going anywhere.” —Lalo Muñoz—Chicago sit-down striker, Republic Windows and Doors, December 2008

History repeats itself, as the saying goes, but never the same way twice. After the 1929 crash, it took nearly three years of double-digit rates of unemployment and mass misery before a veritable explosion of strikes and other forms of mass resistance began. This time, as we shall see, the first small but highly significant indication of the act of mass resistance has begun sooner than the powers-that-be had expected in their worst nightmares. Not with just a strike victory, but via one of the most powerful weapons of resistance in the arsenal of a potentially revolutionary working-class uprising—when workers take possession of their factory.

Leaving aside the exceptionally provocative action by Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors bosses who suddenly fired their workforce without giving them the 60-day notice as required by Illinois state law; the bosses refused to pay them the $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay owed them.

Thus, what the country had not seen in the first few years after 1929 did happen at the end of 2008. The 250 fired workers, members of Local 1110, of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), held an ad hoc meeting, discussed, debated and voted to occupy the plant until their demands were met.

But even more important than their highly significant sit-down strike victory, was the example it sets for the entire working class. It proves that united and direct action under the right conditions, with a fighting and capable leadership, can get you a victory!

Making the power of direct action by any means necessary most convincing was the inspiring support their sit-down began to generate among the entire working class.

A report by Lee Sustar, shows why it was only a matter of days before the potential for winning mass enthusiastic support became evident. He writes:

Amid the forest of mobile TV satellite feed dishes, some 20 burly members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 installed giant inflatable rats on either side of the plant entrance and took up positions near the door. [A tactic that had proved useful in building-trades unions toward the end of the 20th century to mobilize popular support for scattered on-site strikes against non-union contractors .]

Local 150 Business Manager/President Jim Sweeney explained the motivation for this delegation in one word: “Solidarity.” Why the large delegation? “We heard they [management] were going to try to move them out,” he explained, adding that his locals’ members would be on hand for the duration of the occupation.

For Sweeney, the struggle “summarizes where we are as a movement,” he said. “We’ve come full circle. Seven percent of the workforce is unionized [in the private sector], and we’re back to sit-down strikes like in Flint, Michigan,” he said, referring to the famous factory occupation of 1936-37 that forced General Motors to recognize the United Auto Workers.

“We need a catalyst,” Sweeney said. “And this may be what starts it for the American worker again.” [Socialist Worker, December 9, 2008.]

Thus, for all practical purposes UE Local 1110’s sit-down strike has already inspired workers far beyond Chicago to rally to their support. And as noted by Local 150 President Sweeney, this could indeed be the “catalyst” that can put 1930s-style fighting tactics back into workers and their unions in the United States.

To be sure, the next time may not be as easy as it was for Chicago’s sit-down strikers when it involves thousands of workers as it did during the 1930s. Concessions won by workers then would cost the employers of today millions and even billions in 21st century dollars, depending on the numbers of workers involved. But it can also be easier when tens- and hundreds-of-thousands of workers decide: “We’ve taken all we can take and we won’t take it anymore!”

But labor history proves that it certainly can be done—providing the working class can construct a fighting leadership that knows how to fight
as effectively as those who came
before them.

To fully appreciate the significance of this seemingly modest event at Republic Windows and Doors involving a few hundred workers, we need to take a closer look at the state of the global economy. Today it is far worse than it was in 1929 or any other time before and since.

So let’s take a close look at why workers everywhere are being forced to fight as though they have nothing to lose and/or face losing whatever is left.

A ‘depression greater than the Great Depression’

George W. Bush reportedly said, in his closing remarks addressed to the mid-November 2008 meeting of G20 nations: “…[I]t’s conceivable that our country could go into a depression greater than the Great Depression.” This possibility, he later said, had come from a top-level policy meeting he had with Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who had convinced him that it was indeed a possibility if not a likelihood.

Then on December 1, 2008 U.S. government agencies responsible for making such decisions, belatedly reported that, starting in late 2007 and early 2008, the country was in recession—officially.

But most of the evidence upon which such judgments are made suggests that the economy had already changed from a recession to something far more serious as early as mid-October 2008—if not earlier. That was when the economy took a sudden lurch downward, effectively transforming an expected narrow victory for Barack Obama on Election Day into a landslide.

In any case, whether it’s called a recession or depression may mean little to the great majority of Americans who work for a living. What counts, however, is the big difference a deep and prolonged “recession” will have on their lives.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan capitalist government has been doing its best to soften the impact of the crisis on the rich and powerful, in the vain hope that by absorbing billions and trillions of dollar-losses by banking and industrial capitalists, and pumping a hoped-for, life-saving transfusion of trillions of taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars into their veins, their system can be saved.

Meanwhile, the failure of government to lift a finger to help the estimated 10-million homeowners losing or having lost their homes to foreclosure, and the millions of others losing or having lost their jobs has proved to be much more than enough to begin making the tens-of-millions of working people mad enough to be fighting mad.

How many unemployed
are too many?

We can get a handle on what workers can expect down the road by comparing the real rate of unemployment today with what it was at the end of 1929. Such a comparison will serve as a reasonably accurate gauge of the true state of the U.S. economy today compared to what it was before and after the stock-market crash of October 1929.

For instance, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in November an increase in joblessness from September 2007 to September 2008 from 6.1 percent to 6.5 percent, it’s no secret that the BLS does not count all those without jobs as officially jobless. For instance, in an article titled, “Grim Report on Jobs Not Showing Full Picture,” that appeared on the front page of the December 6, New York Times, reporters, David Leonhardt and Catherine Rampell reported the following:

The number of people out of the labor force—meaning that they were neither working nor looking for work and that the government did not consider them unemployed—jumped by 637,000 last month, the Labor Department said. The number of part-time workers who said they wanted full-time work—all counted as fully employed—rose by an additional 621,000.

In other words, there were at least three times as many newly unemployed or partly employed than were counted by the BLS at that time. Therefore, even if we were to take its statistics for good coin, it will show that today’s numbers are closely comparable with those at the end of 1929 when the Great Depression began. Moreover, if anything, they are worse, and already rising significantly each month.

Based on a report by the on-line encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the rate of unemployment during the Great Depression, stood at “3.2 percent at the end of 1929.” It rose to “8.7 percent in 1930, 15.9 percent in 1931, 23.6 percent in 1938 reaching its highest point of 24.9 percent in 1933.” And from there it seesawed up and down for the next few years until it rose again to 19 percent in 1938.

In fact, America and the rest of the capitalist world never really recovered from that first great global Depression. It took World War II, and the mass production of weapons of mass destruction to bring that Depression to an end.

The problem is compounded today by the rate of public and private indebtedness. The most conservative estimates cited are upwards from $60 trillions in total debt, public and private. Remember, however, private capital is the fuel that makes the capitalist engine go.

But let’s focus our attention on how the crisis has been affecting those who produce all of society’s wealth, and how it is likely to affect them tomorrow and the months and years immediately ahead. Let’s start with its impact on workers in just one of capitalism’s main industrial powerhouses, the auto industry, whose crisis of overproduction—that’s the real cause of recessions and depressions—typifies capitalism’s potentially fatal sickness today. And more, when it is known that it vitally affects virtually all of basic industry—and from there, everything else—from finance to commerce to health and service industries depends.

Auto bosses ask Congress for a taxpayer bailout

Detroit’s Big Three started losing their dominant position in production and sales of cars and trucks in the U.S. domestic market starting in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Consequently they are now faced with bankruptcy because of their steadily declining share of the American market.

Thus the Chief Executive Officers of Detroit’s Big Three, facing imminent bankruptcy, routinely applied for their share of the billions and trillions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailout money already handed out to the bankrupt financial institutions and held in reserve for ailing industrial behemoths. Then, after the lame-duck Congress began its final session on November 12, the Detroit Three’s CEOs were invited to make their case for a $25-billion bridge loan to tide them over the very crisis facilitated and deepened by the bailed-out lenders who now refuse to lend, even to credit-worthy borrowers.

But what are we to make of the sudden furor in Congress, loudly echoed in the mass media, over the relatively modest request by Detroit’s Big Three automakers for a $25-billion bailout? Modest, that is, in light of Congress’s bailout of the financial superstructure of the U.S. economy to the tune of billions and trillions of dollars in “loans” they know the banks mostly cannot, and will not, pay back.

But neither the bipartisan capitalist government nor Wall Street has any intention of letting the U.S. sector of the auto industry disappear without making every effort to keep it alive and well. They cannot afford to let their competitor’s take over this key sector of their own domestic market for cars and trucks, upon which U.S. control over its entire domestic market largely depends.

Without it, American capitalism cannot hope to come out on top in the never-ending struggle for an ever-larger share of the ever-shrinking global market place.

After all, the real problem didn’t begin in the nation’s financial superstructure. It began, as it has always done, in the industrial infrastructure of capitalist economy as indicated above; that is, it’s a classic crisis of overproduction.

In the final analysis every such crisis can be traced to the tendency built into the capitalist mode of production for the average rate of profit to fall. And at this point in time, the only way the profit rate can be raised is by forcing down the average cost of labor power by any means necessary.

To be sure, the individual capitalist’s rate of profit can be raised by the replacement of more workers with labor-saving machines, as well as by cutting labor costs the old-fashioned way, i.e., by cutting wages and increasing the workday and workweek. But either way, it also serves to reduce the average profit-rate enjoyed by all capitalists in a given country and eventually everywhere in the capitalist world as they play “catch-up and surpass” the other guy, in the never-ending race to cut labor costs.

That takes us to where we are today. The attack that was begun against the entire American working class was set into motion a lot faster when Congress turned down the Big Three’s request for a bridge loan. As we shall see, the “debate” that has since been covered in infinite detail in the mass media is really not a debate at all. It’s a charade designed to convince autoworkers that if they don’t “voluntarily” accept another drastic cut in their wage package and choose, instead, to fight for their jobs and living standards, bankruptcy judges will impose ever-worse conditions. But, neither the bosses, nor bureaucrats nor judges are as powerful as they want their victims to think.

Licking the toughest
kid on the block?

The question that needs an answer is, why are they still demanding that autoworkers and their union, who already suffered more than 50-percent reductions in hard-earned wages and benefits so recently, be asked to make even further drastic reductions and sacrifices? After all is said and done, next to the more than a million-member Teamsters Union, the UAW is still the second strongest union in the United States. Why not take on almost any other section of the workforce to spearhead the assault on overall labor costs?

We can think of at least three very good reasons for their plan of attack:

First, autoworkers and their union had played a major role in the great labor upsurge of the 1930s and serve as a powerful symbol of workers’ power.

Secondly, the UAW has played a pioneering role by winning wages and benefits better than any other sector of the American labor movement. The most significant benefit was originally called Supplementary Unemployment Benefits (SUB), which together with State-financed unemployment insurance amounted to full wages for a year of joblessness. The UAW was among the first to win the escalator clause, which pegs wages a little closer to rising prices periodically through the life of the union contract.

And third is a well-known tactic in all conflicts—military social, economic and political. When the war begins each side attacks the other where it is weakest, and continue targeting their enemy at the weakest point until one of them feels strong enough to pick on one of the enemy’s strongest battalions, which could take it more than halfway to victory.

In the neighborhoods where I grew up, we called it “licking the toughest kid on the block.” Thus, when autoworkers and their union licked General Motors in its Flint Michigan stronghold in 1937—the biggest and toughest kid on the block—the UAW took GM’s place to become the toughest kid on the block.

The analogy becomes more complete when we remember the latest phase of the assault by capital on labor began when Republican President Ronald Reagan, upon taking office in early 1981, launched his strike-breaking, union-busting attack on a small national union of airline controllers, PATCO, in a trap set by his predecessor, Democratic President Jimmy Carter, just before the 1980 election.

That historical episode, and many smaller local union-busting attacks by capital since then, helps explain why GM led the attack by the Detroit Three and the capitalist class-at-large—its government and all of its horses and all of its men—against autoworkers and their union from October 2005 through September 2007.

But while top UAW leaders are prepared as usual to go down for the count, there’s still a chance that the rank-and-file and its wisest and most class-conscious leaders are not ready for a knockout. Maybe they still believe they can make a comeback and gain some time or even set in motion an all-out fight to the finish by the American working class and its natural allies and all other victims of exploitation and oppression.

The first Black president and the key role he was chosen to play in the class war

This takes us to another big question. Unless you can believe that the most ruthlessly all-powerful American ruling class has found God and been born again as the champion of human rights, why did a decisive section of the capitalist class suddenly appear to have broken from their racist past by using their money and influence behind putting a Black President in the White House? Make no mistake; though he fooled people who could not be fooled before, he didn’t fool the rich and powerful. In fact, to hear the praise now being heaped on Barack Obama one might think Jesus Christ himself has come back to save American capitalism and all its rich and powerful as well as the tired and huddled masses.

And no less suddenly, but far less surprisingly, have they begun talking about Depression-era President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New-Deal policy which established the Democrats as the “workers’ friend” and the Republicans as the workers’ enemy.

In other words, for those of us who don’t believe in fairies and goblins, it’s an even more sophisticated version of the good-cop, bad-cop confidence-game played by Roosevelt which got him elected and reelected four times as the friend of the working class (but also the friend of the Dixiecrats-Jim Crow South as well as capitalism and its ruling class.)

But there’s a big difference between Obama and FDR. Obama is identified with the most oppressed sections of American society, while FDR was a white plutocrat with a long line of capitalist plutocrats as his heritage and behind him. But in this case, experience once again is proving that the first Black president’s racial origin is one of those differences that doesn’t make a difference.

As one of our contributors has

“Roosevelt was the worst strikebreaking president in U.S. history. Throughout the 1930s, hundreds of striking workers were killed, thousands wounded and tens of thousands thrown into jail. In 1934, Roosevelt’s first full year in office, 52 strikers were murdered, one every week.”

“Despite the hoopla about New Deal public works programs, the number of jobless Americans never fell below eight million. The Civil Works Administration lasted three months. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration lasted less than a year providing starvation wages to two million people. Even within these programs, workers were subject to draconian measures. In the spring of 1939, when conditions got so bad in the WPA [Works Progress Administration] that workers went on strike, Roosevelt immediately fired all 1.5 million of them! (See “New Deal, New New Deal, Old Deal, No Deal,” by Mike Alewitz, elsewhere in this edition.)

Obama is key to the success of the anti-labor offensive

The furor in Congress over whether or not to bailout the Detroit Three is indeed a charade. There can be little doubt, however, that there are those among the country’s power brokers in and out of Congress, who for one self-serving reason or another are truly opposed to a bailout of the still U.S.-dominated domestic market, which happens to be almost as big or bigger than the combined domestic markets of most of American capitalism’s main competitors. (Some simply because they are lobbyists and/or politicians elected, thanks to financial support received from Japanese, German and other foreign-owned automakers.)

But they aren’t necessarily as stupid as they sometimes appear. After all, good cops can’t do their part of the job without the bad cops, and vice versa. In any case, both good and bad cops don’t give a damn about what happens to autoworkers as long as it helps the auto bosses.

It’s pretty obvious, too, that their game plan does not exclude the likelihood that after Obama and his bipartisan capitalist gang do their hard-cop, soft-cop number on autoworkers they will demand still more! After all, there’s nothing stopping bosses from filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after they have sucked as much blood from autoworkers with the indispensable aid and assistance of the two-faced UAW bureaucrats. Chapter 11, by the way, should rightly be called “bankruptcy bargains only for capitalists” which gives a judge the power to break and remake all contracts, ensuring that “fallen companies have a reasonable shot at picking up the pieces”—at workers’ expense.

Nothing could be clearer about what the ruling class has in store for the American working class—which happens to be the only force capable of leading the great majority of capitalism’s exploited and oppressed from being driven down to the lower depths of pauperism and homelessness.

Class solidarity has more than one side

While there are more than a few occasions when one or another section of the working class can win some significant battles mostly through their own efforts, it is, nevertheless an exception to the rule. In any real conflict where the stakes are high, workers power depends, on the level of class solidarity achieved by the workers as a class.

But when we look at the entire spectrum of class relationships, it can be seen that even class solidarity is not enough to win when the stakes are at their highest. For instance, even during the 1930s when class-consciousness was at one of its historic highs, it wasn’t enough to realize its greatest potential gains.

One of the least appreciated contributions to the struggle for economic justice by working people during the Great Depression was the struggle for social and economic justice first initiated by rank-and-file working class leaders who instinctively came to understand the strategic importance of class and human solidarity.

One of the most important barriers to this solidarity was the policy of the leadership of the American Federation of Labor (AFL)—the only existing mass labor federation at the time—and their policy of supporting race-determined hiring and firing; and in the worst cases—insisting that their employers hire no Black workers. This had to be overcome decisively!

Capitalists as a rule try their best to defend their right to hire and fire whomever they damned please. They could readily see that the policy of last-hired and first-fired was entirely in their interests and diametrically opposed to the class-interests of the workers.

Capitalists also learned a long time ago that if you can’t stop workers from organizing a union, the best way to keep workers within manageable bounds is to tame its leaders. After all it’s far cheaper to buy off a few leaders than thousands of union members. And what could be better than dividing workers by the easiest and surest way. That is, according to race, nationality, religion or gender—and in any and every other conceivable way.

In a word, nothing is more destructive of class solidarity than the division of the working class based upon the myriad of identifiable differences between human beings while ignoring or playing down their common interests as working people. And we must be prepared to fight it by all necessary means.

Some of the mostly union and class-conscious readers of these pages may be wondering why I am making a federal case about something that they all know is the ABC of trade unionism and class consciousness. But I am confident that you will see why.

The role of race consciousness in the history of the 1930s

Let’s take another look at what we can learn from labor history that will help us better understand how we can most effectively defend and advance our class interests in the face of the most destructive attack on our living standards that the ruling class has mounted.

We look back to 1934, the year in which the first three great groundbreaking strike victories were won, that set the stage for the even bigger victories of the rest of that decade and the beginning of the next. While the miners union, the United Mine Workers, one of the largest industrial unions in the AFL, was well-known for organizing all workers in their union on an equal basis and with equal rights (because they already were fully integrated without regard for race, religion or national origin) there was no need for them to play a direct role other than by example—by supporting and establishing principles and policies, in the day-to-day struggle to organize all other industrial workers regardless of their race.

Thus, auto workers and their union in 1934 were among the first of the new industrial unions to put their force behind the struggle to end white-only unions and agitate and organize the working class irrespective of race, religion as well as any other social, or political differences that may arise. They went further still in that direction by also, at first implicitly and later explicitly, defending the rights of African Americans.

Consequently, by the mid-1930s, it had become unmistakably clear to Black Americans—as a people, not only as workers—that the struggles of all workers no matter their differences was also the struggle carried out by unions like the UAW, and, therefore, defense of these unions also became their struggle! In fact, it can be said that without this alliance forged by workers as a class and African Americans as a people—vigorously and enthusiastically reciprocated by the latter and their leaders, the great working-class rebellion of the 1930s would not have been nearly as massive and effective as it was.

Starting as early as 1935, it became increasingly harder for capitalists to draw on a vast pool of angry Black workers who could now easily distinguish between which part of white society, workers or bosses, was their main enemy. And as the saying goes: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. But when workers are showing what they can do and what they have done as a social and economic force—that’s what counts the most.

But there is yet another factor in the class vs. class equation that takes us to the role of the middle class in labor history. The middle class always sees its interests tied to one or the other of the two main contending classes in modern society—labor or capital.

In the class war now shaping up to be a fight to the finish, neither side—neither labor nor capital—can win without winning the support of those in the middle class.

Where we are and what needs to be done next

This takes us back to the single most significant sign that a new era of ever-sharpening class struggle may have begun with the victorious six-day sit-down strike victory by 250 fired members of UE Local 1110 in Chicago—the workers at Republic Windows and Doors.

In order to better understand the radical change in mass working-class consciousness taking place before our eyes, listen to how Armando Robles, a maintenance worker at the factory and president of UE Local 1110, responded to a question put to him and his coworkers by Times reporters: Why, they asked, had they taken such a bold step as to occupy and refuse to leave their workplace, unless their demands were met. Robles answered: “In the environment of this economic crisis, we felt we were obligated to fight for our money.” [Emphasis added.]

By pointing to the impact the crisis is having on the consciousness of the super-exploited and oppressed, as well as those workers who had for most of their lives enjoyed what they called their “middle-class” living standards, Robles is simply saying what millions of workers are thinking. And it’s only a matter of time before others also feel “obligated to fight for their money,” too.

The reporters, Michael Luo and Karen Ann Cullotta, who had interviewed many of President Robles’s coworkers at Republic, summarized what workers had told them:

The tale of how this small band of workers came to embody the welter of emotions in the country’s economic downturn is flecked with plot-turns from the deepening recession, growing anger over the Wall Street bailout and difficult business calculations.

This tells us much more than meets the eye, particularly when we take into account that the majority of the workers involved in this first sit-down strike victory since the 1930s were predominately Latino and African American workers.

No less importantly, it tells us that American capitalism’s radically changed immigration policy, which began slowly after the First World War and then more rapidly after World War II, was designed to create a new category of highly vulnerable immigrants. It was also designed to make it far easier to subject them to super-exploitation and hyper-repression. These so-called “illegal” workers are given the right to live and work in the U.S., not permanently as were 99 percent of immigrants that came before them, but only for a period of months for minimum wages.

The Smithfield strike

Now what would you do if you were such an immigrant with a family at home that you were now able to support somewhat better than you could have in your homeland—where jobs are even harder to get and wage rates are far lower than the average minimum wage-rate set by the States?

While the minimum wage in agriculture is somewhere between five and six dollars an hour, it’s perhaps twice that in industries like meatpacking. Providing, that is, if ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement—also called La Migra by immigrant workers) doesn’t grab you and deport you back from where you came from—mostly from south of the Mexican border. (But only after spending time in a federal prison first.)

However, the bipartisan capitalist government’s real intention is to allow many, if not most, highly vulnerable undocumented immigrants to work here illegally. La Migra’s function is to establish conditions that discourage protests while allowing the employers to continue to rob part or all of their wages. That’s why for the most part, ICE is assigned to hunt down, arrest and deport undocumented workers who have spoken up, and to keep one eye closed to those undocumented workers who keep silent.

It’s real purpose is to only enforce this law enough to put fear into undocumented immigrants to keep them from raising a fuss over how much they are paid, and whether or not they are paid at all. It has the effect of keeping these workers from joining a union, which weakens the bargaining power of all workers. And that keeps the average pay of workers down and therefore the average rate of profit higher. That’s what happened at the Smithfield meatpacking plant in North Carolina.

But the widespread cheating of undocumented workers out of their pay has begun to spread to include American citizens and fully legal residents as we have seen in the Chicago sit-down strike.

These strikes tells us something else about what the future holds in store for all workers—Black, white and Latino—in the immediate period ahead. African American workers account for more than 13 percent, and Latino’s more than 15 percent of the U.S. population. And because a higher proportion of oppressed peoples are working class, they constitute much more than 30 percent of the U.S. workforce—legal and “illegal.”

On December 13 the New York Times reported in an article entitled “Workers at Pork Plant in North Carolina Vote to Unionize After a 15-Year Fight”—about the Smithfield meatpacking plant where a union struggle involving a large number of immigrant workers was taking place—that although it was a fight with mostly militant rank-and-file Black and Latino union activists leading the way; and even though just a few short years ago the La Migra raids decimated the Latino pro-union activists at Smithfield by arresting and deporting them; the Black workers who took their place carried on the struggle, which has finally led to union representation—a modest but significant victory.

Adding to the potential force this section of the working class contributes to the worker’s movement is the fact that throughout American history, each wave of new immigrants tends to play the leading role in the never-ending class struggle. That’s the role now being played by the latest wave of Latino immigrants along with Black workers.

Besides, experience proves that both communities, Latino as well as Black, support the struggle of workers and their unions. That’s a mighty powerful potential alliance between workers—Black, white and brown—their unions and their community organizations. If it’s reinforced and kept as closely knit as possible, their combined power would become much greater than the mighty power demonstrated by workers in the 1930s and early ’40s.

One last word on autoworkers and the one-sided class war

The latest developments in the calm before the brewing storm strikes the autoworkers, their union and their natural allies, will heavily influence the course of the one-sided class war by capital, its mass media, and its government against the working class and its allies.

The December 19 New York Times ran a front-page story, titled “Car Bankruptcy Cited as Option by White House.” Here are the first four paragraphs that summarize the essential facts covered by David E. Sanger, Bill Vlasic and Micheline Maynard in this report:

The White House announced early on Friday that President Bush would make a statement at 9:00 A.M. Eastern time about efforts to negotiate a bailout for the domestic auto industry. On Thursday, his spokeswoman, Dana Perino, confirmed growing speculation within legal circles that the president and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. were considering the step.

“There’s an orderly way to do bankruptcies that provides for more of a soft landing,” Ms. Perino said. “I think that’s what we would be talking about. That would be one of the options.”

A senior administration official, however, later described that option as a last resort, to be used only if an agreement for a voluntary overhaul of the industry could not be reached. These officials said the preferred solution would be to force a restructuring of the industry outside of bankruptcy court, extracting concessions that would make the companies more cost-competitive with foreign automakers.

In return, the Treasury would tap the financial rescue fund, called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to make loans to the companies. (December 19, 2008.)

The main purpose of this latest report and subsequent reports will be to convince autoworkers that if they voluntarily cut their pay, they can prevent a Chaper 11 bankruptcy Judge, who has the legal power to cut their future wages and benefits, from doing so. As usual, in this case, Republican President Bush, playing his appointed role of “bad-cop” threatens to take everything from autoworkers so that “good-cop” President-elect Obama will take away less.

But one doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict that either way; they will take the Chapter II route, even if autoworkers make more concessions than they have already made.

In light of the last few decades of relations between the Detroit Three on one side and autoworkers and their union, on the other, common sense would suggest that autoworkers are highly likely to take whatever is thrown at them by bosses and bureaucrats without even trying to put up the kind of fight that can win. Besides, even if they did put up the best fight they can, they may, nevertheless lose—but no more than they will the other way.

First, if workers decide to fight, winning cannot be excluded. Second, there are things workers can do before negotiations have run their course to mobilize more support for their fight from their friends and allies—such as Chicago’s sit-down strikers gained and which resulted in their modest victory. And third, history proves its better to go down fighting than not to fight at all. Besides, most strike victories could not have happened against the world’s mightiest corporations without risking even greater losses had they not fought.

But common sense doesn’t necessarily lead one to the right course of action. Under ordinary circumstances it’s sometimes better to give up a little when the stakes are not as high as they are today, and wait until a more favorable opportunity arises to take back what was lost. And if you can do that, you can also take back more than what was lost in the next, new confrontation.

But these are not ordinary times, and the more ground workers give up without a fight the harder it gets to stop. And the way the world is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket, the consequences of not fighting will be nothing short of disastrous.

When the mood of workers keeps changing as fast as it is today, we may all be surprised at the fighting spirit that’s really out there and growing at an ever-faster pace.

I have been listening very carefully to what people are saying among my friends and acquaintances, and what I read in the papers and see and hear on television. I think a real fightback, bigger than the last one that began nearly 75 years ago will begin soon.

Perhaps some of those in the commanding heights of Wall Street and Washington know this too.


11) Saving Jobs
By Bonnie Weinstein
January/February 2009

A plethora of articles have advised that the solution to the crisis in the “Big Three” automakers and U.S. industry in general, is for the U.S. government to “bail out” failing industry and fund its retooling to produce “greener” products. They want the government to pay for these costs by providing single-payer healthcare to all workers and thereby reducing the costs of labor for industry.

But these articles ignore two important facts. First, the auto industry has had ample time to develop “green transportation,” and already knows how to do it. The second is that capitalism is incapable of making changes such as providing healthcare, or producing greener products without billing the working class for the total cost of the job. One way or the other, under capitalism, workers are going to pay so as not to cut into the bosses’ profits.

Saving the boss at all costs!

Management and government say there must be a “partnership” between the workers and the bosses to save industries and jobs. Of course, what they mean by partnership is that workers must foot the bill by agreeing to “voluntary” pay and benefit cuts (including healthcare and pensions) or some kind of job buyout offer (giving up their jobs forever for cash) to “reduce labor costs” so that the company can “stay in business.” But it was a partnership between big oil and the U.S. automakers that not only failed to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles when the knowledge was there, but in fact led to the production of the most fuel-inefficient vehicles ever built!

In other words, we workers must not only agree to drastic cuts in our living standards and social services, etc., and sacrifice our own jobs at the altar of Capitalist Big Business, but we must give up healthcare—or what’s left of it—and, instead, with hat in hand, beg the government to charge us for single-payer healthcare in the pitiful hope of saving our jobs. The rallying cry from Wall Street to the Labor Faker union leaders is “Save the boss at all costs!”

The mass media, politicians, and labor bosses all blame “extravagant labor costs” for the economic crisis that capitalist big business is currently facing. No one in government or the labor bureaucracy is questioning the profit-taking, swindling, and extravagant CEO salaries and bonuses equaling one-hundred-times their yearly salaries, being pocketed by the bosses of industry.

Decent pay that keeps up with inflation and comprehensive healthcare should be an equal right for all people. And these so-called costs are not the cause of the general crisis of capitalism or the particular crisis faced by the Big Three today.

Workers have always paid

The workers themselves have always paid for all their own labor costs. Even if contracts do provide healthcare and other benefits and don’t take employee deductions—or if the employer “matches” employee deductions—these costs are always figured into the bosses’ bottom line of labor expenses, plain and simple. The profits and bonuses come off the top and everything else is “expenses.”

None of it is paid for by the boss; it’s paid for by the value produced for the boss, in the form of a product produced for sale, or service-rendered, by the workers alone. And it’s valued to sell well above the cost of the labor to produce it—benefits included. Simply put, workers pay for both their own labor and benefit costs, as well as producing the profits accumulated over and above those costs by the employer. It’s a pretty good deal if you’re a capitalist.

Shrinking jobs, shrinking pay

The bureaucratic leadership of the United Auto Workers (UAW) has bought into this hook, line, and sinker—marching their own membership up to the sacrificial altar. The disastrous state of the auto industry today is testament to the resounding failure of their “program” of plant closures, layoffs, and job buyouts designed to “save” the industry. The Labor Fakers’ most recent sell-out offer, as outlined in an article by Nick Bunkley in the December 4, 2008, issue of The New York Times, “U.A.W. Says It Would Consider Modifying Contract,” stated that:

The United Automobile Workers union will suspend its jobs bank, which requires carmakers to keep paying laid-off employees, and consider changes to its labor contracts as a way to help the Detroit companies avoid a collapse, the union’s president, Ron Gettelfinger, said Wednesday.

The union also has agreed, Mr. Gettelfinger said, to delay the payments that the automakers must make to a new retiree health care fund called a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, or VEBA.

At a news conference, Mr. Gettelfinger said that the U.A.W. would be open to modifying the four-year contracts that it signed in 2007 but not to completely restarting negotiations. Changes could include cuts to wages, healthcare or other benefits, though he did not give details, and would require approval from union members, but the jobs bank suspension does not.

The VEBA, in the first place, was a big sellout for autoworkers in 2007. In an effort to “partner” with employers, the UAW agreed to form a VEBA for their workers (current and retired) at the Big Three. Part of the agreement was that the employers were supposed to make payments to that fund, now paid for by the workers themselves. But with this new agreement, payments by employers to this fund are, in effect, canceled; leaving workers high and dry as far as healthcare is concerned. And as for the bailout itself, the same article goes on to point out:

G.M. said it needed $4 billion this month merely to survive into 2009 and another $14 billion after that. The company plan calls for more plant closures and job cuts, along with the sale or elimination of four brands.

According to another article in The Times dated December 8, 2008, “Major Issue in Big 3 Aid Is Final Cost,” by Bill Vlasic:

A comprehensive bailout for General Motors, the Ford Motor Company and Chrysler could cost as much as $125 billion, and even the companies themselves are hard pressed to dispute that figure.

It seems there is no limit to what this bailout will ultimately cost; it gets more costly by the moment. And just what are the workers getting from this deal?

The bailout scheme recalls the days of kings, not so long ago, rounding up peasant children and sacrificing them at the altar to ensure a healthier crop for the year; but really so the children would not have to be fed and their parents would be broken of any resistance left in them. Clearly this is a bailout for the bosses of all big business, courtesy of the required sacrifice of workers and their families across the board.

What about single-payer healthcare?

Many people have faith in single-payer healthcare. The most popular version of this is H.R. 6761 put forward February 2, 2005, by Congressmen John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, Jim McDermott, and others. It promises to provide comprehensive health insurance coverage for all U.S. residents based on a sliding scale. It even promises to partially fund the program by raising personal income taxes on the top five percent of income earners, and by instituting a small tax on stock and bond transactions—tokens to “progressive taxation.”

In the section entitled “Eligibility and Registration” H.R. 676 guarantees that all individuals residing in the United States (including any territory of the United States) are covered under the U.S. National Health Insurance (USNHI) Program, supposedly entitling them to a universal, best-quality standard of care. Its benefits are pretty comprehensive and include primary care and prevention; inpatient, outpatient, emergency, and long-term care; prescription drugs; medical equipment; mental-health service; dental service (other than cosmetic); substance-abuse treatment; chiropractic service; and basic vision care and correction (other than cosmetic). Benefits are available through any licensed healthcare clinician anywhere in the United States, and there are no deductibles, co-payments, coinsurance, or other cost-sharing.

The plan does away with private insurance companies. Providers of healthcare must be public or nonprofit. Investor-owned providers of care opting to participate are required to convert to not-for-profit status, and the owners of such investor-owned providers will be compensated at the appraised value of converted care facilities. The bill would authorize the Treasury to compensate investor-owned providers and would allow the conversion to a not-for-profit healthcare system to take place over a 15-year period.

There are many advantages to this bill compared with no healthcare at all, or to the “Massachusetts Plan,” which maintains private insurance companies and fines workers for not buying the insurance the government tells them they can afford. But the bottom line is: workers are gonna pay!

And certainly history has proven that these costs will constantly rise and the benefits will constantly be reduced as the economy weakens—as it is destined to do.

But will this help save jobs?

First of all, H.R. 676 has been in the works for a very long time and it hasn’t passed yet. Obama himself is in favor of a Massachusetts-type plan. So, it doesn’t look like it will pass.

And no one is suggesting that the private insurance companies and drug manufacturing companies—earning trillions of dollars in profits off those fortunate enough to have healthcare coverage—should have to come up with a dime!

Certainly the government should develop a “healthcare for all” system, but it should be paid for by a progressive income tax, i.e., the more you earn, the more you pay. Those earning less than, say, $100,000 a year (and that figure should be determined democratically by working people themselves and revised as needed) should pay nothing at all.

But this has nothing to do with the current economic crisis. While even free, universal healthcare (and to a much more limited extent, “single-payer” healthcare) would tremendously alleviate the pain and suffering of those who have no healthcare coverage at all, it will do nothing to preserve jobs or create new ones with pay scales that can actually support human life.

Capitalism, a systems failure extraordinaire!

The bottom line is that capitalists can increase their profits in only three ways: by expanding markets for their products and services, by cutting labor costs, or by murdering a large portion of humanity they find “redundant” as they have done in the past through warfare—both military and economic.

What we have today is a glut of products on the market and an accelerating reduction in the number of consumers who can afford to buy those products. And capitalism can’t do anything about that because the problem is endemic to the capitalist system itself. It is, in computer terms, a systems failure extraordinaire.

The capitalist mode of production is based upon the need for a constantly increasing accumulation of private profits by any means necessary. Hence, we are not only thrust into a massive world-war cloaked in a never-ending “War on Terror” to preserve U.S. investments, but we are currently embroiled in an even more pervasive war on working people and the poor—across the globe and right here at home. The ruling class is slashing human services in our communities and slashing benefits, conditions, pay, and jobs across the board.

To simply call for the capitalists to retool their factories and provide some sort of healthcare is to mask what workers are really being asked to do. Workers are being asked to accept starvation, poverty, homelessness, and unemployment—even to sacrifice the welfare of their children through the adoption of two-, three-, many-tiered labor contracts—to “save industry” and, ultimately, to save capitalism!

Of course, the obvious solution is to nationalize U.S. industry—and industry the world over—put it into the hands of workers themselves, and run it democratically, for the satisfaction of human needs and wants, instead of private profit. But that is something capitalism can’t do! The capitalist economic system stands directly opposed to any such thing, and its commanders are willing to destroy the world rather than acquiesce to such a solution.

Now, there are many demands that we workers can raise that can expose this truth—that capitalism is based upon the private-profit motive and therefore must and will act in diametric opposition to the interests of the masses of workers in this world. To the bosses profit comes before human life—before progress, before the fulfillment of human needs and wants, and before the salvation of our planet.

An injury to one is an injury to all

But there is one great difference between the capitalist class and the working class. The capitalist class is a tiny, tiny minority of humanity and the working class makes up the vast majority. Included in this mass are workers, farmers, and our allies whose interests are in line with ours—and any capitalist who is willing to cross the class line and stand on the side of the majority of humanity, for a system based upon production for universal human need and want, and not profit.

This is important. The interests of capitalists as human beings are the same as anyone’s: to live happy and productive lives and reach their fullest potential. But their interest as members of the capitalist class is to secure their own happiness through private profit, at the expense of the rest of us—even at the expense of the planet itself. It is the system capitalists adhere to that must go.

Workers can expose this basic class division between the interests of the ruling capitalist class and the diametrically opposed interests of the working class by demanding a progressive tax structure to pay for all human needs, services, and infrastructure.

But we must also demand that the corporate books be opened, that the profits be traced and found, and that the cost of retooling industry and providing things like healthcare—all social services—come out of those funds and not out of the pockets of workers and out of the mouths of our children!

Stop the wars and close the bases! Bring all the troops home now!

And there is an elephant in the room: the entire Pentagon budget; the cost of the war on Iraq and Afghanistan; U.S. funding of Israel’s war on Palestine; the U.S. war on terror that crosses all borders, and costs trillions of dollars, just to keep U.S. capital’s stronghold over the world, its resources and its people.

Ending these wars and turning the Pentagon budget (greater than all the world’s military budgets combined) into a worldwide human-needs budget could end all human suffering and the reasons for war in the first place!

These are demands the capitalist system cannot live with. What it can live with is what is suggested by a “partnership” between labor and management to keep the company going, i.e., “Us workers are gonna be made to pay because that’s the capitalist way!”

But free, universal healthcare, the funding of social services, progressive taxation, opening the corporate books, reclaiming stolen profits and using them for the benefit of all are reasonable demands that are in the interests of the vast majority of all humanity.

Production for need and want instead of profits is in the best collective interests of all. This would mean retooling industry to run cleaner and produce more efficient products; investing in clean and efficient mass transportation; rebuilding our infrastructure, schools, homes, and hospitals; expanding human services; and ending war and destruction, for a start.

Capitalism is unhealthy for children and other living things

We could live with capitalism if it could afford these basic human rights and values and satisfy human needs on an equal basis. But it just can’t do that, and that’s all there is to it.

So what we have to do is to unite in our own defense, recognizing that, ultimately, only a socialist revolution that does away with the system of the private ownership of the means of production, and production based on profit, and replaces it with a system based on production for human needs, will we be able to realize our human rights and win basic human equality for all.

Socialism is a system that is owned and controlled by the working class and run in our own collective interests. Its ultimate goal is the development of each individual to his or her fullest. It is a system that can run in the most efficient manner, retooling to reduce labor and improve performance, so that work-hours for all can be progressively reduced—and this is key—without any reduction of reward for work performed!

In fact, under socialism, eventually there is a withering away of any connection between a person’s contributions to society, i.e., his or her work, and the reward for work performed. That’s what Marx meant by the phrase, “from each according to ability and to each according to need.” In this simple phrase, the connection between human labor and material reward is severed forever. It is a profound emancipation of all humanity!

What we workers need to realize is that this world is at our fingertips if we just reach for it in unity and solidarity with each other. If we fight for our collective common interests and goals, through unified, democratic and well-organized opposition to the despotic system of capitalism, its wars, its pollution, its racism and inequality—we can overthrow it and finally bring an end to the domination of the wealthy over the poor.

1 HR 676
1st Session
To provide for comprehensive health insurance coverage for all United States residents, and for other purposes:


12) Letter from Gaza
Barbara Lubin
Gaza City, Gaza, Palestine
January 23, 2009

Dear Rita,

I entered the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night with my friend and fellow activist Sharon Wallace after waiting ten hours at the Egypt/Gaza. The destruction and trauma is even greater than I expected.

In just two short days I met with families who were given minutes to evacuate their homes and are now living in overcrowded UN schools; I saw the ruins of bombed greenhouses; I looked out the window at fields and roads torn up by the tread of Israeli tanks; and I visited two universities where MECA supports students with scholarships-severely damaged by Israeli bombs.

Out of all the devastation I have seen so far, there is one story in particular that I think the world needs to hear. I met a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children to "give as a gift to Israel." As she screamed in horror they repeated the demand and told her she could choose or they would choose for her. Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her. The concept of "Jewish morality" is truly dead. We can be fascists, terrorists, and Nazis just like everybody else. -AN ECHO PERHAPS OF "SOPHIE'S CHOICE"? -Z.A.

I spent the first morning visiting Rafah then drove north to Nuseirat Refugee Camp where our partner organization Afaq Jadeeda Association is buying food a delivering cooked meal to displaced families with funds MECA provided. Then to Gaza City.

Today I visited Jabaliya Refugee Camp and the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City, two of the areas hardest hit by Israel's brutal attacks. Pharmacies, schools, and homes were indiscriminately hit in Jabaliya. Mohammed, one of our volunteers in Gaza, and his family were forced to evacuate their home because of intense bombing in their area.

In Zaytoun, I saw families gathering wood from charred trees. The almost two-year blockade of Gaza has deprived people cooking gas, so these terrified families build fires to keep warm and cook the little food they can get.

I talked to people on the street who told stories of wild dogs coming to eat their dead neighbors, relatives bleeding to death because Israel would not allow emergency workers into the area, and Israeli soldiers entering homes to beat and kill.

But despite the immense mourning and devastation, people are starting to put their lives back together. Sabreen, a young woman from Rafah, told me, "We are a strong people. No matter how many times Israel bombs us we are not leaving. We will keep trying to live as normal a life as possible."


Barbara Lubin

Gaza City, Gaza, Palestine




13) Michigan: Man Dies After Power Is Cut
National Briefing | Midwest
January 27, 2009

A 93-year-old Bay City man froze to death inside his home just days after the municipal power company restricted his electricity use because of unpaid bills, officials said. The man, Marvin E. Schur, died “a slow, painful death,” said Kanu Virani, Oakland County’s deputy chief medical examiner, who performed the autopsy. Neighbors discovered Mr. Schur’s body on Jan. 17 and said the indoor temperature was below 32 degrees, The Bay City Times reported. Mr. Schur owed Bay City Electric Light and Power more than $1,000, said Robert Belleman, the city manager. Mr. Belleman said that the utility’s policies would be reviewed, but that he did not believe the city had done anything wrong.


14) Emperor penguin 'marching to extinction by end of the century'
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Emperor penguins are expected to be too slow to adapt to climate change

The Emperor penguin is marching towards extinction because the Antarctic sea ice on which it depends for survival is shrinking at a faster rate than the bird is able evolve if it is to avoid disaster, a study has found.

By the end of the century there could be just 400 breeding pairs of Emperor penguins left standing, a dramatic decline from the population about about 6,000 breeding pairs that existed in the 1960s, scientists estimated.

The latest assessment of the future size of the Emperor penguin population is based on the projected increase in global temperatures and subsequent loss of sea ice due to the changes in the Antarctic climate that are expected in the 21st Century, the study found.

Scientists based their pessimistic outlook on the long-term changes to the number of Emperor penguins in a colony living in a part of the Antarctic Peninsula called Terre Adelie, which has been surveyed regularly since 1962 and has experienced regional warming over the past 50 years.

The study by Stephanie Jenouvrier and Hal Caswell of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts concluded that there is at least a 36 per cent probability of "quasi extinction" of the Emperor penguin -- when the population declines by at least 95 per cent -- by the year 2100.

"To avoid extinction, Emperor penguins will have to adapt, migrate or change the timing of their growth stages," the scientists report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"However, give the future projected increases in greenhouse gases and its effect on Antarctic climate, evolution or migration seem unlikely for such long-lived species at the remote southern end of the Earth," they say.

Emperor penguins are probably unique among birds in that they hardly ever set foot on land. They breed, raise their young and feed from floating platforms of sea ice that forms each Antarctic winter.

Fluctuations in sea ice during the 1970s, and the effect that it has on the penguin population, were used as a model of what could happen on a larger scale during the next 100 years or so of climate change.

"The key to the analysis was deciding to focus not on average climate conditions, but on fluctuations that occasionally reduce the amount of available sea ice," said Dr Caswell, an expert in mathematical ecology.

"This analysis focuses on a single population, that at Terre Adelie, because of the excellent data available for it. But patterns of climate change and sea ice in the Antarctic are an area of intense research interest now. It remains to be seen how these changes will affect the entire species throughout Antarctica," Dr Caswell said.

Dr Jenouvrier said that if future climate change happens as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the penguin population ion Terre Adelie will probably decline dramatically in the coming decades.

"Unlike some other Antarctic bird species that have altered their life cycles, penguins don't catch on so quickly," Dr Jenouvrier said.

"They are long-lived organisms, so they adapt slowly. This is a problem because the climate is changing very fast," she said.

Emperor penguins are renown for the way the males are left to incubate the eggs on the sea ice through the long Antarctic winter while the females return to the sea to feed.

In August, at the end of the Antarctic winter, the females return to feed the newly-hatched young as the males go to fatten up -- they lose 40 per cent of their body weight during the winter months.

In the next few weeks, both parents take it in turns to feed until the chick is old enough to join other chicks that huddle together in groups to keep warm. In December, with the winter sea ice breaking up, the entire family march together to the open sea to feed.


15) At a Border Crossing, Drivers and Truckloads of Aid for Gaza Go Nowhere
January 28, 2009

EL AUJA BORDER CROSSING, Egypt — France sent technical equipment to help Gazans draw water from the ground. The Swiss sent blankets and plastic tarps. Mercy Corps, a relief agency, sent 12 truckloads of food. And on Tuesday all of it, including dozens of other trucks carrying sugar, rice, flour, juice and baby formula, sat in the hot sun here going nowhere.

This normally quiet commercial crossing between Egypt and Israel has been turned into a parking lot of stalled, humanitarian aid, and in the city of El Arish there are even greater quantities of food, clothing and essential supplies, sitting, waiting and baking in the sun. Some supplies are loaded onto dozens of trucks parked on city streets, but much more is stored in the open areas of a local sports stadium, also waiting, also going nowhere. Only medical supplies seem to be getting through to Gaza.

Since the cease-fire, Israel has allowed some humanitarian supplies into Gaza, but the territory is still desperately short of the necessities. Israel closed all the crossings into Gaza on Tuesday after an Israeli soldier was killed in a bombing on the Israeli side of the border. But that changed nothing at this crossing, where the flow has been stalled for days.

Officials and volunteers in Egypt blame the Israelis, saying that even before the passage stalled Israel had allowed supplies to pass through for only 19 hours each week. Israeli officials said that Egypt had not done enough to coordinate the flood of aid coming to Gaza, and that they hoped a system would soon be in place to remedy the problem.

In the meantime, truckloads of humanitarian aid are sitting in Egypt. That includes 13 generators and Amir Abdullah’s trailer full of food.

“All our lunchmeat, it’s all going to go bad,” said Mr. Abdullah, whose tractor-trailer loaded with food and blankets sat in a line outside the stadium in El Arish for 24 hours without moving.

But he is a newcomer to the great humanitarian wait for Gaza.

“We are getting a lot of assistance, but they let very few trucks through,” said Hany Moustafa, who manages the stadium. “We have trucks we loaded up five days ago still sitting here, waiting.”

There has been an outpouring of support for Gazans, mostly from the Arab world, but also from Europe, Venezuela and nongovernmental organizations, officials here said. Medical supplies go straight into Gaza through Egypt’s crossing at Rafah.

But Egypt will not allow anything else to pass through Rafah, insisting that all other aid travel first into Israel and then into Gaza. That is where the bottleneck has occurred. Two of the main problems have been the short window for supplies to pass and Israel’s decision to let few trucks go through, officials and volunteers here said. But another problem has to do with Egypt’s being unprepared to meet strict Israeli packing requirements, which would allow the goods to be passed through security scanners and onto Israeli trucks for delivery to Gaza.

The Egyptians tried to send through trucks carrying bags of flour and sugar, for example, only to have the Israelis send them back. Much has been repacked and reshipped, but some of the returned items are spilled out over the sandy earth at the crossing.

“The trucks get to Auja and they sit,” said Ahmed Oraby, head of the Red Crescent office in El Arish. “Many trucks that left are now coming back. They don’t take anything.”

At the United Nations, John Holmes, an emergency relief coordinator, said the scale of the destruction meant that far more than the current movement of aid was needed urgently. “Enough will always be allowed in for people to exist, but not enough for the conditions for people to live,” Mr. Holmes told reporters.

In recent days, officials and drivers at the crossing said that the trickle of trucks passing through this month had all but stopped. None went on Thursday. Friday and Saturday are days off, so nothing passed. On Sunday, a few trucks went through, aid workers said. Monday, nothing. Tuesday, nothing.

“I have been sitting here for three days, and before that I was in Arish for four days,” said Sayed Ahmed Sorour, seated in the cab of a truck hauling clothing and blankets. “Nobody is telling us anything. Not Egypt. Not Israel. Nobody explains to us why we are stopping here.”

Mr. Sorour’s truck was about 10th in line in front of the gate to enter the border zone. About 30 trucks in all were parked outside the gate, their drivers tired, dirty and frustrated after days of waiting, sleeping in their cabs and killing time.

Inside the gate, parked in the sand near the border with Israel, there were an additional 30 truckloads of flour and sugar and, from the French, the technical gear and bottles of Evian. An Egyptian state security officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of his work, said there did not seem to be any rational explanation for how the crossing worked. He said he and the other officers simply waited for the Israelis to tell them how many trucks to let in, and they complied.

By 5 p.m., when it was clear that Yasir Hussein was not going to get to deliver his goods, again, he and some other drivers laid down a blanket, warmed some water on a small gas burner and shared small glasses of tea. Mr. Hussein said he was hauling a load of food donated by the Swiss and had been sitting at the gate since Thursday.

“We are not moving, and no one is saying anything,” he said. “We are just trying to help.”

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from El Arish, Egypt; Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem; and Neil MacFarquhar from the United Nations.


16) Aides Say Obama’s Afghan Aims Elevate War
January 28, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Obama intends to adopt a tougher line toward Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Karzai is now seen as a potential impediment to American goals in Afghanistan, the officials said, because corruption has become rampant in his government, contributing to a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban.

Among those pressing for Mr. Karzai to do more, the officials said, are Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The officials portrayed the approach as a departure from that of President Bush, who held videoconferences with Mr. Karzai every two weeks and sought to emphasize the American role in rebuilding Afghanistan and its civil institutions.

They said that the Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.

“If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who served under Mr. Bush and is staying on under Mr. Obama, told Congress on Tuesday. He said there was not enough “time, patience or money” to pursue overly ambitious goals in Afghanistan, and he called the war there “our greatest military challenge.”

Mr. Gates said last week that previous American goals for Afghanistan had been “too broad and too far into the future,” language that differed from Mr. Bush’s policies.

NATO has not met its pledges for combat troops, transport helicopters, military trainers and other support personnel in Afghanistan, and Mr. Gates has openly criticized the United States’ NATO allies for not fulfilling their promises.

Mr. Holbrooke is preparing to travel to the region, and administration officials said he would ask more of Mr. Karzai, particularly on fighting corruption, aides said, as part of what they described as a “more for more” approach.

Mr. Karzai is facing re-election this year, and it is not clear whether Mr. Obama and his aides intend to support his candidacy. The administration will be watching, aides said, to see if Mr. Karzai responds to demands from the United States and its NATO allies that he arrest associates, including his half-brother, whom Western officials have accused of smuggling drugs in Kandahar.

Shortly before taking office as vice president last week, Mr. Biden traveled to Afghanistan in his role as the departing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He met with Mr. Karzai and warned him that the Obama administration would expect more of him than Mr. Bush did, administration officials said. He told Mr. Karzai that Mr. Obama would be discontinuing the video calls that Mr. Karzai enjoyed with Mr. Bush, said a senior official, who added that Mr. Obama expected Mr. Karzai to do more to crack down on corruption.

After his return from Afghanistan, Mr. Biden, who has had a contentious relationship with Mr. Karzai, described the situation there as “a real mess.”

An election is scheduled to be held no later than the fall, under Afghanistan’s Constitution. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who is a former United States ambassador to the United Nations and is viewed as a possible challenger to Mr. Karzai, warned that the Obama administration must tread carefully as it recalibrated its Afghanistan policy.

“If it looks like we’re abandoning the central government and focusing just on the local areas, we will run afoul of Afghan politics,” Mr. Khalilzad said. “Some will regard it as an effort to break up the Afghan state, which would be regarded as hostile policy.”

Mr. Obama is preparing to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan over the next two years, perhaps to more than 60,000 from about 34,000 now. But Mr. Gates indicated Tuesday that the administration would move slowly, at least for now. He outlined plans for an increase of about 12,000 troops by midsummer but cautioned that any decision on more troops beyond that might have to wait until late 2009, given the need for barracks and other infrastructure.

With the forces of the Taliban and Al Qaeda mounting more aggressive operations in eastern and southern Afghanistan, administration officials said they saw little option but to focus on the military campaign. They said Europeans would be asked to pick up more of the work on reconstruction, police training and cooperation with the Afghan government. They also said much of the international effort might shift to helping local governments and institutions, and away from the government in Kabul.

“It’s not about dumping reconstruction at all,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic delicacy of the subject. “What we’re trying to do is to focus on the Al Qaeda problem. That has to be our first priority.”

Mr. Gates said Tuesday that under the redefined Afghan strategy, it would be vital for NATO allies to “provide more civilian support.” In particular, he said, the allies should be more responsible for building civil society institutions in Afghanistan, a task that had been falling to American forces. He also demanded that allies “step up to the plate” and defray costs of expanding the Afghan Army, an emerging power center, whose leaders could emerge as rivals to Mr. Karzai.

Mr. Gates added that the United States should focus on limited goals. “My own personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and our allies, and whatever else we need to do flows from that objective,” he said.


17) Cuba leads way in children rights
Cuba is the top-ranking developing country when it comes to protecting children’s rights, according to a new Child Development Index (CDI).
By: Tim Anderson

This ranking reflects Cuba’s progress since the 1990s in child health, nutrition and education, despite considerable difficulties,

Save the Children UK, an independent children’s rights organisation, says it is “outraged that millions of children are still denied proper healthcare, food, education and protection”.

It has developed the CDI as part of its strategy to “hold governments to account for children’s wellbeing”.

The index is constructed from three indicators: health (a scaled probability of death under the age of five), nutrition (the percentage of under fives who are moderately or severely underweight) and education (the percentage of primary-school aged children who are not enrolled in school).

A low score indicates low child deprivation. Cuba’s progress in recent years raised it from second place in Latin America (after Argentina) in the 1990s to first place in the period 2000-06.

Latin America was also the region with greatest improvement in recent years, mostly from reductions in child mortality and increased school enrolments. East Asia was the second most improved region.

Costa Rica and Argentina were second and third in both the Latin American and the developing country lists.

While wealthy OECD countries topped the list, the US, by contrast, went backwards. It now ranks 23rd in the world on children’s rights — after Cuba, Costa Rica and Argentina.

The poor US performance was largely due to deterioration in primary school enrolments.

Save the Children UK observes that, worldwide, more than 9 million children under five die every year, one quarter of all children are underweight and 75 million primary school-aged children are not enrolled in school.

The group says that the basic rights of children all around the world “continue to be violated and denied’ and proposes “dramatic action” to reverse the slowdown in progress on child malnutrition, efforts to convert economic growth into benefits for children and “a significant effort” to promote girls’ education.