Friday, September 04, 2009



U.S. Out Now! From Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all U.S. bases around the world; End all U.S. Aid to Israel; Get the military out of our schools and our communities; Demand Equal Rights and Justice for ALL!


Bay Area United Against War Newsletter
Table of Contents:




LABOR DAY Rally and March for a Fair Contract
One Union! One Contract!

Date: September. 7, Monday
Time: 11:00 am
Meeting Place: Justin Herman Plaza, SF*

On August 14, the contract of 9,000 SF hotel workers expired. Bargaining is
underway, and the bosses are trying to undercut our health care benefits but
we will stand up to protect the standards we have fought for. Health care is
a fundamental human right, and we will take to the streets to defend it.

Join us and community supporters in demanding a fair contract and affordable
quality health care. Flyer for this event is attached.

For more information please contact
Rev. Israel Alvaran, or call 415.863.1142


Eyewitness Gaza:
Breaking the Siege
ANSWER Educational Forum

San Jose:
Tuesday, September 8, 6:30 p.m.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
150 E. San Fernando Street (at S. 4th St.)
ANSWER South Bay

San Francisco:
Thursday, September 10, 7:00 p.m.
Centro del Pueblo
474 Valencia Street (Between 16th and 15th Streets)
ANSWER Coalition, Bay Area



Sunday, September 13, 2:00 PM
Unitarian Church (Chapel)
1187 Franklin at Geary, SF (wheelchair accessible).

Let's make a collective effort to build the heck out of the meeting, that is, get out the word to the broadest forces we can and resume the hard work and collective process that is required to make October 17 a success.

We should have well-prepared reports from our established committees:

a) Logistics
b Program/Speakers (Colonel Ann Wright has confirmed if we want her)
c) Leaflets
d) Fundraising
e) Media/publicity
f) Outreach

2,500 leaflets have already been distributed. As per the sense of the body last Saturday, the back side of all future leaflets will be for educational material on issues that relate to the theme, "Money for Human Needs Not War." A top notch piece on the healthcare debate seems like a great way to start.

Let's have some volunteers to cover this Wednesday's 4:30 pm SF City Hall Single Payer Healthcare Rally. Call Kathy Lipscomb for leaflets if you need them, but call before 10 am.

We will also have tables to distribute thousands of leaflets at the three Bay Area Noan Chomsky meetings as follows:

Oakland (Middle East Children's Alliance sponsored) Saturday, October 3, Paramount Theater, Oakland 7:30 pm
Sunday, October 4, 2 pm, Unitarian Church, San Francisco, Franklin and Geary
Sunday, October 4, 7:30 pm, Spangenberg Theater at Gunn High School, Palo Alto 780 Arastradero Road. Sponsor: Peninsula Peace and Justice Center

Brief announcements (1-2 minutes) on our October 17 rally will be made at all three Chomsky events due to the good graces of all the sponsors. We will have an opportunity to distribute thousands of leaflets. We need your help!

Please call Jeff (510-268-9428) or Kathy (415-387-0873) to volunteer at one of these great opportunities to get out the word.

In solidarity,

Kathy Lipscomb and Jeff Mackler
Temporary Coordinators
National Call For Action And Endorsements at the
G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, PA
Sept. 19 - 25, 2009

Endorsers (list in formation): Iraq Veterans Against the War Chapter 61, Pittsburgh; PA State Senator Jim Ferlo; Veterans for Peace Chapter 047, Pittsburgh; National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations; Thomas Merton Center Pittsburgh; Codepink Pittsburgh Women for Peace; Bail Out The People; Green Party of Allegheny County; World Can't Wait; ISO (International Socialist Organization); WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) Pittsburgh; Socialist Action; Ohio Valley Peace

Activists from Pittsburgh, the U.S., and across the globe will converge to protest the destructive policies of the G-20 - meeting in Pittsburgh this September 24-25.

The Group of Twenty (G-20) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors represents the world's economic leaders, intimately connected to the most powerful multi-national corporations that dominate the global economy. Their neo-liberal policies have squandered billions on war, plunged economies into deep recessions, worsened social, economic and political inequality, and polluted the earth.

We believe a better world is possible. We anticipate involvement and support from like-minded people and organizations across the country for projected actions from September 19-25:

People's Summit - Sept. 19, 21-22 (Saturday, Monday, Tuesday)

A partnership of educators and social justice groups is organizing a People's Summit to discuss global problems and seek solutions that are informed by the basic principles of genuine democracy and human dignity. This will bring together informed speakers and panels to discuss problems we face and possible solutions, also providing interactive workshop discussions.

Mass March on the G-20 - Friday, Sept. 25:
Money for human needs, not for war!
Gather at 12 noon, march to the City County Building downtown

A peaceful, legal march is being sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, an umbrella organization that supports a wide variety of peace and justice member projects in Pittsburgh. We will hold a mass march to demand "Money for human needs, not for war!"


To endorse, E-mail:
Or contact: Thomas Merton Center AWC, 5125 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Several other events are being planned by a wide variety of community and social justice groups in Pittsburgh.

For more information and updates please visit:


The Human Face of Death Row

Join us October 2nd at 7pm for the opening reception for an exhibition of paintings from three men - Kevin Cooper, James Anderson and Eddie Vargas. Two of them are condemned - on death row; the third has a life sentence - the other death penalty.
These three men use art to express themselves. We hope you will see their work, hear their stories, and take away an understanding of their humanity from viewing it.


October 1 - October 31, 2009

JUSTICE FOR OSCAR GRANT: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16TH - 7 TO 9 PM - a memorial movie of Oscar Grant, with Uncle Cephus Bobby Johnson, other members of Oscar's family and Jack Bryson. Come for update: Meserlhe's trial starts October 13th, unless continued again.

STAN TOOKIE WILLIAMS LEGACY NETWORK: SATURDAY, OCTOBER 17TH - 4 TO 6 PM - with Barbara Becnel and Stan Tookie Williams' books for children.

LIVE FROM DEATH ROW: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23RD - 7 TO 9 PM - with Kevin Cooper, an innocent man on San Quentin's death row calling (at 7:30 sharp). Q&A with Kevin Cooper and members of the Kevin Cooper Defense Committee.


2278 Telegraph Ave., Ca 94612(click here for a map)

Presented by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, a grassroots organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment in the United States.

Also by Art for a Democratic Society, an Oakland based art and activism group specializing in participatory grassroots interventionist art.
website: email:


On the 8th Anniversary of the War on Afghanistan

End colonial occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Haiti...

Healthcare, jobs, housing, education for all--Not War!

San Francisco Protest:

Wednesday, October 7, 5:00 p.m.
New Federal Building
7th and Mission Streets, Near Civic Center BART

Initiated by the ANSWER Coalition--Act Now to Stop War and End Racism
Volunteers needed: 415-821-6545



Sign up here and spread the word:

On October 10-11, 2009, we will gather in Washington DC from all across
America to let our elected leaders know that *now is the time for full equal
rights for LGBT people.* We will gather. We will march. And we will leave
energized and empowered to do the work that needs to be done in every
community across the nation.

This site will be updated as more information is available. We will organize
grassroots, from the bottom-up, and details will be shared on this website.

Our single demand:

Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.

Our philosophy:

As members of every race, class, faith, and community, we see the struggle
for LGBT equality as part of a larger movement for peace and social justice.

Our strategy:

Decentralized organizing for this march in every one of the 435
Congressional districts will build a network to continue organizing beyond



Commemorating the eighth anniversary of the war on Afghanistan and the 40th anniversary of the massive October 17, 1969 Vietnam Moratorium.

Money for Human Needs Not War!

Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops, military personnel, bases, contractors, and mercenaries from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Colombia.

End U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine! End the Seige of Gaza!

U.S. Hands Off Iran and North Korea!

Self-determination for All Oppressed Nations and Peoples!

End War Crimes Including Torture and Prosecute the War Criminals!

See historical images of the Vietnam Moratorium at:

Image of San Francisco Vietnam Moratorium, Golden Gate Park, October 17, 1969 (I was

This is an initial announcement. Contact information, endorsers and further details to be announced.


Please forward widely. Contact us if you or your organization would like to endorse this call.



Oscar Grant. Brownie Polk. Parnell Smith. And dozens more Oakland alone. Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo in New York City. Adolph Grimes in New Orleans. Robbie Tolan in Houston. Julian Alexander in Anaheim. Jonathan Pinkerton in Chicago. And thousands more nationwide.
All shot down, murdered by law enforcement, their lives stolen, victims of a nationwide epidemic of police brutality and murder.

The racist arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates this summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts - right in his own home - showed that any Black man or woman, no matter their stature, no matter their education, no matter their accomplishments can be targeted for brutality - even murder - at any moment.

Meanwhile, a whole generation of youth is treated as guilty until proved innocent, and hundreds of thousands are criminalized, and locked away in U.S. prisons with no hope for the future. And immigrants are subject to brutal raids, with families cruelly split up in an instant.

We refuse to suffer these outrages in silence. We need to put a stop to this and drag the truth about the nationwide epidemic of police violence and repression into the light of day for all so see. We say no more! Enough is Enough!

Oct 22nd 2009 is the 14th annual national day of protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of Generation---bringing together those under the gun and those not under the gun as a powerful voice to expose the epidemic of police brutality. On that day in cities across the country many different people will take to the streets against police brutality and murder, against the criminalization of youth, and against the targeting of immigrants.

We call for a powerful demonstration in Oakland on October 22 demanding:

* Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation!

* October 22....No To Police Brutality

* No to ICE raids and round-ups of immigrants!

* Enough Is Enough! No More Stolen Lives!

* Justice for Oscar Grant and all victims of police murder!

* Wear Black, Fight Back

Contact the National Office of October 22nd at: or 1-888-NOBRUTALITY

October 22nd Coalition
P.O. Box 2627
New York, N.Y. 10009





For a donation of only $18.95, we can put a copy of the book "10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military" into a public or high school library of your choice. [Reason number 1: You may be killed]

A letter and bookplate will let readers know that your donation helped make this possible.

Putting a book in either a public or school library ensures that students, parents, and members of the community will have this valuable information when they need it.

Don't have a library you would like us to put it in? We'll find one for you!


TRAILER: Michael Moore's 'Capitalism: A Love Story'


Take Action: Stop Rite Aid's abuses: Pass the Employee Free Choice Act!
Stop Rite Aid's abuses: Pass the Employee Free Choice Act!

For years Rite Aid workers have faced unfair firings, campaigns of misinformation, and intimidation for trying to form a union. But Rite Aid would never have been able to get away with any of this if Congress had passed the Employee Free Choice Act.

You can help us fight mounting anti-union opposition to the bill that would have protected Rite Aid's workers. Tell Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act today!


From: Labor Cmte. for Peace & Justice
Sent: Fri, Aug 21, 2009 2:46 am
Subject: [BayArea LC4PJ] Why boycott Whole Foods?

Does John Mackey live in this country, or even on this planet? Reading his recent op-ed article on health-care reform in the Wall Street Journal raises that question. And it's prompted quite a few people to swear off shopping at Whole Foods, of which he is co-founder and CEO.

He wrote in part: "With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people's money. These deficits are simply not sustainable. They are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation, or they will bankrupt us.

"While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead , we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction-toward less government control and more individual empowerment."

He touts his company's own coverage model, notwithstanding that, by his own admission, it carries a high deductible and leaves 11 percent of its employees uncovered.

What prompt my question about his place of residence are the "reform" proposals he makes in the article. You can read it (and weep, or scream, or tear your hair out, or whatever) at

Richard Knee


Scraping By
Opinion | Op-Ed
In the first of a series by the filmmaker Stewart Thorndike on life during the economic crisis, a tent city in Redmond, Wash., is filling up with the newly homeless who are forming a makeshift community.

06/26/1787 James Madison Statement: "The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe, - when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability."

As quoted in Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787 by Robert Yates.



This video is a very compelling story of a man who spent 14 years on Death Row for murders he did not commit. He was finally released upon evidence of his innocence and of racial prejudice at his trial. The whole criminal "In-Justice" system in this country is racist to the core and corrupt. That's why the death penalty and life w/o possibility of parole must be overturned and all inmates should be awarded new chances for exoneration...Bonnie Weinstein

Death Penalty Focus
870 Market St. Ste. 859 San Francisco, CA 94102
Tel. 415.243.0143 - Fax 415.243.0994 -


This is a must-see video about the life of Oscar Grant, a young man who loved his family and was loved by his family. It's important to watch to understand the tremendous loss felt by his whole family as a result of his cold-blooded murder by BART police officers--Johannes Mehserle being the shooter while the others held Oscar down and handcuffed him to aid Mehserle in the murder of Oscar Grant January 1, 2009.

The family wants to share this video here with you who support justice for Oscar Grant.



Urgent: Ahmad Sa'adat transferred to isolation in Ramon prison!

Imprisoned Palestinian national leader Ahmad Sa'adat, the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was transferred on August 11, 2009 to Ramon prison in the Naqab desert from Asqelan prison, where he had been held for a number of months. He remains in isolation; prior to his transfer from Asqelan, he had been held since August 1 in a tiny isolation cell of 140 cm x 240 cm after being penalized for communicating with another prisoner in the isolation unit.

Attorney Buthaina Duqmaq, president of the Mandela Association for prisoners' and detainees' rights, reported that this transfer is yet another continuation of the policy of repression and isolation directed at Sa'adat by the Israeli prison administration, aimed at undermining his steadfastness and weakening his health and his leadership in the prisoners' movement. Sa'adat has been moved repeatedly from prison to prison and subject to fines, harsh conditions, isolation and solitary confinement, and medical neglect. Further reports have indicated that he is being denied attorney visits upon his transfer to Ramon.

Ahmad Sa'adat undertook a nine-day hunger strike in June in order to protest the increasing use of isolation against Palestinian prisoners and the denial of prisoners' rights, won through long and hard struggle. The isolation unit at Ramon prison is reported to be one of the worst isolation units in terms of conditions and repeated violations of prisoners' rights in the Israeli prison system.

Sa'adat is serving a 30 year sentence in Israeli military prisons. He was sentenced on December 25, 2008 after a long and illegitimate military trial on political charges, which he boycotted. He was kidnapped by force in a military siege on the Palestinian Authority prison in Jericho, where he had been held since 2002 under U.S., British and PA guard.

Sa'adat is suffering from back injuries that require medical assistance and treatment. Instead of receiving the medical care he needs, the Israeli prison officials are refusing him access to specialists and engaging in medical neglect and maltreatment.

The Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa'adat demands an end to this isolation and calls upon all to protest at local Israeli embassies and consulates (the list is available at: About+the+Ministry/Diplomatic+mission/Web+Sites+of+Israeli+ Missions+Abroad.htm) and to write to the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights organizations to exercise their responsibilities and act swiftly to demand that the Israelis ensure that Ahmad Sa'adat and all Palestinian prisoners receive needed medical care and that this punitive isolation be ended. Email the ICRC, whose humanitarian mission includes monitoring the conditions of prisoners, at, and inform them about the urgent situation of Ahmad Sa'adat!

Ahmad Sa'adat has been repeatedly moved in an attempt to punish him for his steadfastness and leadership and to undermine his leadership in the prisoners' movement. Of course, these tactics have done nothing of the sort. The Palestinian prisoners are daily on the front lines, confronting Israeli oppression and crimes. Today, it is urgent that we stand with Ahmad Sa'adat and all Palestinian prisoners against these abuses, and for freedom for all Palestinian prisoners and for all of Palestine!

The Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa'adat


Troy Anthony Davis is an African American man who has spent the last 18 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. There is no physical evidence tying him to the crime and seven out of nine witnesses have recanted. New evidence and new testimony have been presented to the Georgia courts, but the justice system refuses to consider this evidence, which would prove Troy Davis' innocence once and for all.

Sign the petition and join the NAACP, Amnesty International USA, and other partners in demanding justice for Troy Davis!

For Now, High Court Punts on Troy Davis, on Death Row for 18 Years
By Ashby Jones
Wall Street Journal Law Blog
June 30, 2009

Take action now:


Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
New York, NY 10159-2012

New videos from April 24 Oakland Mumia event

Donations for Mumia's Legal Defense in the U.S. Our legal effort is the front line of the battle for Mumia's freedom and life. His legal defense needs help. The costs are substantial for our litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and at the state level. To help, please make your checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation (indicate "Mumia" on the bottom left). All donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Code, section 501(c)(3), and should be mailed to:

It is outrageous and a violation of human rights that Mumia remains in prison and on death row. His life hangs in the balance. My career has been marked by successfully representing people facing death in murder cases. I will not rest until we win Mumia's case. Justice requires no less.

With best wishes,

Robert R. Bryan
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal


Short Video About Al-Awda's Work
The following link is to a short video which provides an overview of Al-Awda's work since the founding of our organization in 2000. This video was first shown on Saturday May 23, 2009 at the fundraising banquet of the 7th Annual Int'l Al-Awda Convention in Anaheim California. It was produced from footage collected over the past nine years.
Support Al-Awda, a Great Organization and Cause!

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, depends on your financial support to carry out its work.

To submit your tax-deductible donation to support our work, go to and follow the simple instructions.

Thank you for your generosity!


FLASHPOINTS Interview with Innocent San Quentin Death Row Inmate
Kevin Cooper -- Aired Monday, May 18,2009
To learn more about Kevin Cooper go to:
San Francisco Chronicle article on the recent ruling:
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and dissent:


Support the troops who refuse to fight!




1) Afghan War Is Serious but Winnable, Top General Says
September 1, 2009

2) Wolves Are Set to Become Fair Game in the West
[Here's a thought, get the livestock off their land, or put up better fences. It's the access to all that fresh and helpless meat that boosts the wolf population in the first place! Keep the slaughter of wolves OFF the agenda. It's not the wolves fault the only concern of U.S. agribusiness is how much of a profit they can turn...Bonnie Weinstein]
August 31, 2009

3) A 'Little Judge' Who Rejects Foreclosures, Brooklyn Style
August 31, 2009

4) Innocent but Dead
Op-Ed Columnist
September 1, 2009

5) Family Court Gives Soldier Visitation in Custody Case
September 2, 2009

6) Groundwork Is Laid for New Troops in Afghanistan
September 1, 2009

7) Massachusetts Cuts Back Immigrants' Health Care
September 1, 2009

8) Newark Begins Cutting Water Service Over Late Bills
September 1, 2009

9) A Drug Maker's Playbook Reveals a Marketing Strategy
[It's time we take healthcare out of the hands of the real gangbangers. Single payer NOW!]
September 2, 2009

10) A New Heart, Tangled in Red Tape
September 1, 2009

11) The Sermilik fjord in Greenland: a chilling view of a warming world
'We all live on the Greenland ice sheet now. Its fate is our fate'
By Patrick Barkham
September 1, 2009

12) 'Young Workers: A Lost Decade'
Posted By Tula Connell
On September 1, 2009 @ 11:15 am In Economy

13) Katrina's Legacy: Poor Blacks Have No Right to 'Be'
By Glen Ford
September 2, 2009

14) Contractors Outnumber U.S. Troops in Afghanistan
September 2, 2009

15) Low-Wage Workers Are Often Cheated, Study Says
September 2, 2009

16) Witness to '91 Killing Says Wrong Man Is in Prison
September 2, 2009

17) Constitutional question
Reconsidered plight of a 'condemned man'
By Bob Barr
Thursday, September 3, 2009

18) Deeper Into the Tunnel
September 4-6, 2009


1) Afghan War Is Serious but Winnable, Top General Says
September 1, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan - The top commander in Afghanistan said Monday that conditions on the ground were "serious" but that the war here is still winnable, part of a long-awaited assessment of the American-led war.

The report, prepared by General Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of American and NATO forces here, does not call for additional American soldiers and Marines. That request, if it comes, is expected to be made in the coming weeks.

General McChrystal's assessment, delivered to senior officials, could form the basis on which President Obama could make such a decision. In recent weeks, senior American officers here have said that they do not have enough troops to succeed.

The question of sending more combat troops is potentially divisive. Possibly for this reason, American commanders and officials in Kabul were ordered to neither reveal the details of General McChrystal's assessment nor talk about them.General McChrystal assumed command here in June with an explicit charge to reverse the course of the war. Though it is still only August, 179 American soldiers have already been killed this year, making it the deadliest yet since the war began nearly eight years ago. Still, the general said that the war can still be won.

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," General McChrystal said in a statement.

As the overall commander here, General McChrystal oversees about 68,000 American soldiers and marines, and about 40,000 from NATO and other countries.

American commanders say that General McChrystal's assessment does call for a large expansion of Afghan security forces, and an acceleration of their training. There are currently about 134,000 Afghan police, and about 82,000 Afghan soldiers. Many of these units are inadequately equipped and have little logistical capability to sustain themselves.

Just how many more Afghan police and soldiers Gen. McChrystal wants is unclear. In Iraq, where conditions have stabilized markedly over the past two years, the American-trained Iraqi security forces number about 600,000. Some 29 million people live in Iraq; the population of Afghanistan is over 33 million.

The main thrust of Gen. McChrystal's strategy has been illuminated by him and other commanders in recent weeks. The overriding goal of American and NATO forces is not so much to kill Taliban insurgents as it is to make ordinary Afghans feel secure, and by so doing, isolate the insurgents. That means using force less and focusing on economic development and good governance.

General McChrystal also intends to try to unify the effort of America's allies, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and France, all of which have troops deployed here. He may also ask those allies to contribute more troops, money and training.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Monday that while he had not yet seen the report, he expected that it would highlight some bright spots about the Afghan military mission, along with some conclusions that he described as "gloom and doom." Speaking in Fort Worth, Tex., he also said Afghan forces may have to grow beyond the planned level of 230,000 personnel to make headway, news services reported.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he wouldn't rule out the necessity of more international troops in Afghanistan, but like Mr. Gates, he focused on the need for additional Afghan forces.

"I would not exclude the possibility that we need more combat troops, but first and foremost I would say that we need to increase significantly the number of Afghan soldiers," Mr. Rasmussen said in an interview at NATO headquarters in Brussels today, Bloomberg reported.

As the deadliest month yet of the war for American forces came to an end, the United States military announced Monday that two American soldiers had died in separate incidents involving improvised explosive devices. The British Ministry of Defense announced separately that two British soldiers had been killed Monday in an explosion in southern Afghanistan.

Sharon Otterman contributed reporting from New York.


2) Wolves Are Set to Become Fair Game in the West
August 31, 2009

A wolf hunt is set to begin in Idaho on Tuesday if a federal judge does not stop it. It would be the first time in decades that hunters have been allowed to pursue the gray wolf, an animal that has come to symbolize tensions over how people interact with wilderness in the West.

On Monday, the judge, Donald W. Molloy of Federal District Court, will hold a hearing to determine whether to issue an injunction sought by wildlife advocates against the hunt and reopen the question of returning the wolf to the endangered list.

Gray wolves were taken off the list five months ago, after being protected under federal law for more than 30 years. More than 6,000 hunters in Idaho have bought licenses for the chance to participate in the hunt, in which wildlife officials will allow 220 wolves to be killed. In 2008, the population stood at about 850. Montana will allow 75 animals to be killed, starting Sept. 15.

The states' hunts will be over when the limit is reached or when the season ends, which is Dec. 31 in most areas.

"The first day is the best day when it comes to an animal as smart as a wolf," said Nate Helm, president of Idaho Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

The resurgence of the wolf population, rooted in a federal effort to reintroduce the animals to the Northern Rockies in the mid-1990s, has long angered deer and elk hunters and cattle and sheep ranchers who say the wolves are depleting game and killing livestock. Federal wildlife officials said that in 2008 a record 264 wolves were killed in the region for the legal reason of protecting livestock.

The clash illustrates a persistent divide in the West, where environmentalists and wildlife conservationists have long gone to court to fight laws they say favor powerful groups like hunters, ranchers and others. Wolves have been one of the most tangled issues of late, including in front of Judge Molloy.

In March, the Obama administration announced it would remove wolves from the endangered list. The Bush administration made a similar decision the year before, but Judge Molloy, in a lawsuit by plaintiffs including Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, ordered wolves returned to the list last fall.

In the years since they were reintroduced to parts of the Northern Rockies, including Yellowstone National Park, the wolf population had risen to more than 1,640 in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming as of 2008. Federal officials say the population has recovered and no longer needs protection as if it were endangered.

Idaho and Montana game officials say their hunts will keep the population from growing and eventually reduce it, while the limits will make sure enough animals endure to keep them from becoming endangered. Idaho game officials say they would like to have a little more than 500 wolves in the state, though the official plan calls for at least 150.

Wildlife advocates cite several reasons for wanting to stop the hunt. They say that the state plans do not have enough protections, that hunting will prevent the wolves from roaming the Northern Rockies freely enough to preserve genetic diversity and maintain access to the proper habitat.

Part of the claim is rooted in the federal government's continuing effort to protect wolves in Wyoming because it has not come to terms with that state on a management plan.

"It's a matter of whether we're going to have a healthy recovered population or isolated animals that are always struggling to survive," said Suzanne Stone, the Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the parties seeking the injunction.

Doug Honnold, the lead lawyer for the environmentalists in the case, said, "Our vision of recovery is 2,000 to 5,000 wolves in a connected population and with a legal safety net to keep them there."

State and federal wildlife officials overseeing the wolf population say the number of wolves is more than enough and that multiple studies, including those on genetic diversity, have established that the animals are roaming widely and intermingling with others elsewhere.

"Clearly, wolves are restored in the Rocky Mountains," said Ed Bangs, the wolf recovery coordinator for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena, Mont. "They're always going to be here, and nobody is talking about getting rid of all the wolves. That's never going to happen. The population is doing great. There are not genetic problems. There are not connectivity problems."

Mr. Bangs added, "But they're starting to cause a lot of problems, and the question is what's the best tool for the future management of wolves."

He said the wolves had caused about $1 million in livestock losses and other damage.


3) A 'Little Judge' Who Rejects Foreclosures, Brooklyn Style
August 31, 2009

The judge waves you into his chambers in the State Supreme Court building in Brooklyn, past the caveat taped to his wall - "Be sure brain in gear before engaging mouth" - and into his inner office, where foreclosure motions are piled high enough to form a minor Alpine chain.

Every week, the nation's mightiest banks come to his court seeking to take the homes of New Yorkers who cannot pay their mortgages. And nearly as often, the judge says, they file foreclosure papers speckled with errors.

He plucks out one motion and leafs through: a Deutsche Bank representative signed an affidavit claiming to be the vice president of two different banks. His office was in Kansas City, Mo., but the signature was notarized in Texas. And the bank did not even own the mortgage when it began to foreclose on the homeowner.

The judge's lips pucker as if he had inhaled a pickle; he rejected this one.

"I'm a little guy in Brooklyn who doesn't belong to their country clubs, what can I tell you?" he says, adding a shrug for punctuation. "I won't accept their comedy of errors."

The judge, Arthur M. Schack, 64, fashions himself a judicial Don Quixote, tilting at the phalanxes of bankers, foreclosure facilitators and lawyers who file motions by the bale. While national debate focuses on bank bailouts and federal aid for homeowners that has been slow in coming, the hard reckonings of the foreclosure crisis are being made in courts like his, and Justice Schack's sympathies are clear.

He has tossed out 46 of the 102 foreclosure motions that have come before him in the last two years. And his often scathing decisions, peppered with allusions to the Croesus-like wealth of bank presidents, have attracted the respectful attention of judges and lawyers from Florida to Ohio to California. At recent judicial conferences in Chicago and Arizona, several panelists praised his rulings as a possible national model.

His opinions, too, have been greeted by a cry of affront from a bank official or two, who say this judge stands in the way of what is rightfully theirs. HSBC bank appealed a recent ruling, saying he had set a "dangerous precedent" by acting as "both judge and jury," throwing out cases even when homeowners had not responded to foreclosure motions.

Justice Schack, like a handful of state and federal judges, has taken a magnifying glass to the mortgage industry. In the gilded haste of the past decade, bankers handed out millions of mortgages - with terms good, bad and exotically ugly - then repackaged those loans for sale to investors from Connecticut to Singapore. Sloppiness reigned. So many papers have been lost, signatures misplaced and documents dated inaccurately that it is often not clear which bank owns the mortgage.

Justice Schack's take is straightforward, and sends a tremor through some bank suites: If a bank cannot prove ownership, it cannot foreclose.

"If you are going to take away someone's house, everything should be legal and correct," he said. "I'm a strange guy - I don't want to put a family on the street unless it's legitimate."

Justice Schack has small jowls and big black glasses, a thin mustache and not so many hairs combed across his scalp. He has the impish eyes of the high school social studies teacher he once was, aware that something untoward is probably going on at the back of his classroom.

He is Brooklyn born and bred, with a master's degree in history and an office loaded with autographed baseballs and photographs of the Brooklyn Dodgers. His written decisions are a free-associative trip through popular, legal and literary culture, with a sideways glance at the business pages.

Confronted with a case in which Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs passed a defaulted mortgage back and forth and lost track of the documents, the judge made reference to the film classic "It's a Wonderful Life" and the evil banker played by Lionel Barrymore.

"Lenders should not lose sight," Justice Schack wrote in that 2007 case, "that they are dealing with humanity, not with Mr. Potter's 'rabble' and 'cattle.' Multibillion-dollar corporations must follow the same rules in the foreclosure actions as the local banks, savings and loan associations or credit unions, or else they have become the Mr. Potters of the 21st century."

Last year, he chastised Wells Fargo for filing error-filled papers. "The court," the judge wrote, "reminds Wells Fargo of Cassius's advice to Brutus in Act 1, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar': 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.' "

Then there is a Deutsche Bank case from 2008, the juicy part of which he reads aloud:

"The court wonders if the instant foreclosure action is a corporate 'Kansas City Shuffle,' a complex confidence game," he reads. "In the 2006 film 'Lucky Number Slevin,' Mr. Goodkat, a hit man played by Bruce Willis, explains: 'A Kansas City Shuffle is when everybody looks right, you go left.' "

The banks' reaction? Justice Schack shrugs. "They probably curse at me," he says, "but no one is interested in some little judge."

Little drama attends the release of his decisions. Beaten-down homeowners rarely show up to contest foreclosure actions, and the judge scrutinizes the banks' papers in his chambers. But at legal conferences, judges and lawyers have wondered aloud why more judges do not hold banks to tougher standards.

"To the extent that judges examine these papers, they find exactly the same errors that Judge Schack does," said Katherine M. Porter, a visiting professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a national expert in consumer credit law. "His rulings are hardly revolutionary; it's unusual only because we so rarely hold large corporations to the rules."

Banks and the cottage industry of mortgage service companies and foreclosure lawyers also pay rather close attention.

A spokeswoman for OneWest Bank acknowledged that an official, confronted with a ream of foreclosure papers, had mistakenly signed for two different banks - just as the Deutsche Bank official did. Deutsche Bank, which declined to let an attorney speak on the record about any of its cases before Justice Schack, e-mailed a PDF of a three-page pamphlet in which it claimed little responsibility for foreclosures, even though the bank's name is affixed to tens of thousands of such motions. The bank described itself as simply a trustee for investors.

Justice Schack came to his recent prominence by a circuitous path, having worked for 14 years as public school teacher in Brooklyn. He was a union representative and once walked a picket line with his wife, Dilia, who was a teacher, too. All was well until the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.

"Why'd I go to law school?" he said. "Thank Mayor Abe Beame, who froze teacher salaries."

He was counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association in the 1980s and '90s, when it was on a long winning streak against team owners. "It was the millionaires versus the billionaires," he says. "After a while, I'm sitting there thinking, 'He's making $4 million, he's making $5 million, and I'm worth about $1.98.' "

So he dived into a judicial race. He was elected to the Civil Court in 1998 and to the Supreme Court for Brooklyn and Staten Island in 2003. His wife is a Democratic district leader; their daughter, Elaine, is a lawyer and their son, Douglas, a police officer.

Justice Schack's duels with the banks started in 2007 as foreclosures spiked sharply. He saw a plague falling on Brooklyn, particularly its working-class black precincts. "Banks had given out loans structured to fail," he said.

The judge burrowed into property record databases. He found banks without clear title, and a giant foreclosure law firm, Steven J. Baum, representing two sides in a dispute. He noted that Wells Fargo's chief executive, John G. Stumpf, made more than $11 million in 2007 while the company's total returns fell 12 percent.

"Maybe," he advised the bank, "counsel should wonder, like the court, if Mr. Stumpf was unjustly enriched at the expense of W.F.'s stockholders."

He was, how to say it, mildly appalled.

"I'm a guy from the streets of Brooklyn who happens to become a judge," he said. "I see a bank giving a $500,000 mortgage on a building worth $300,000 and the interest rate is 20 percent and I ask questions, what can I tell you?"


4) Innocent but Dead
Op-Ed Columnist
September 1, 2009

There is a long and remarkable article in the current New Yorker about a man who was executed in Texas in 2004 for deliberately setting a fire that killed his three small children. Rigorous scientific analysis has since shown that there was no evidence that the fire in a one-story, wood frame house in Corsicana was the result of arson, as the authorities had alleged.

In other words, it was an accident. No crime had occurred.

Cameron Todd Willingham, who refused to accept a guilty plea that would have spared his life, and who insisted until his last painful breath that he was innocent, had in fact been telling the truth all along.

It was inevitable that some case in which a clearly innocent person had been put to death would come to light. It was far from inevitable that this case would be the one. "I was extremely skeptical in the beginning," said the New Yorker reporter, David Grann, who began investigating the case last December.

The fire broke out on the morning of Dec. 23, 1991. Willingham was awakened by the cries of his 2-year-old daughter, Amber. Also in the house were his year-old twin girls, Karmon and Kameron. The family was poor, and Willingham's wife, Stacy, had gone out to pick up a Christmas present for the children from the Salvation Army.

Willingham said he tried to rescue the kids but was driven back by smoke and flames. At one point his hair caught fire. As the heat intensified, the windows of the children's room exploded and flames leapt out. Willingham, who was 23 at the time, had to be restrained and eventually handcuffed as he tried again to get into the room.

There was no reason to believe at first that the fire was anything other than a horrible accident. But fire investigators, moving slowly through the ruined house, began seeing things (not unlike someone viewing a Rorschach pattern) that they interpreted as evidence of arson.

They noticed deep charring at the base of some of the walls and patterns of soot that made them suspicious. They noticed what they felt were ominous fracture patterns in pieces of broken window glass. They had no motive, but they were convinced the fire had been set. And if it had been set, who else but Willingham would have set it?

With no real motive in sight, the local district attorney, Pat Batchelor, was quoted as saying, "The children were interfering with his beer drinking and dart throwing."

Willingham was arrested and charged with capital murder.

When official suspicion fell on Willingham, eyewitness testimony began to change. Whereas initially he was described by neighbors as screaming and hysterical - "My babies are burning up!" - and desperate to have the children saved, he now was described as behaving oddly, and not having made enough of an effort to get to the girls.

And you could almost have guaranteed that a jailhouse snitch would emerge. They almost always do. This time his name was Johnny Webb, a jumpy individual with a lengthy arrest record who would later admit to being "mentally impaired" and on medication, and who had started taking illegal drugs at the age of 9.

The jury took barely an hour to return a guilty verdict, and Willingham was sentenced to death.

He remained on death row for 12 years, but it was only in the weeks leading up to his execution that convincing scientific evidence of his innocence began to emerge. A renowned scientist and arson investigator, Gerald Hurst, educated at Cambridge and widely recognized as a brilliant chemist, reviewed the evidence in the Willingham case and began systematically knocking down every indication of arson.

The authorities were unmoved. Willingham was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004.

Now comes a report on the case from another noted scientist, Craig Beyler, who was hired by a special commission, established by the state of Texas to investigate errors and misconduct in the handling of forensic evidence.

The report is devastating, the kind of disclosure that should send a tremor through one's conscience. There was absolutely no scientific basis for determining that the fire was arson, said Beyler. No basis at all. He added that the state fire marshal who investigated the case and testified against Willingham "seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires." He said the marshal's approach seemed to lack "rational reasoning" and he likened it to the practices "of mystics or psychics."

Grann told me on Monday that when he recently informed the jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, that new scientific evidence would show that the fire wasn't arson and that an innocent man had been killed, Webb seemed taken aback. "Nothing can save me now," he said.


5) Family Court Gives Soldier Visitation in Custody Case
September 2, 2009

PATERSON, N.J. - After 10 months in Iraq and three months fighting with her former boyfriend over access to their daughter, a National Guard specialist was granted daily visitation and weekly sleepovers with the 2-year-old girl by a judge in Family Court on Tuesday.

The specialist, Leydi Mendoza, 22, said after the hearing that she was delighted by the judge's temporary order and already knew how she would spend the time with her daughter, Elizabeth. "I'm going to eat with her," Specialist Mendoza said, laughing, "and finally potty-train her."

Elizabeth's father, Daniel Llares, who had prevented Specialist Mendoza from spending more than a few hours with their child for fear of disrupting her routine, said through his lawyer that he was satisfied with the ruling. Mr. Llares will retain residential custody of Elizabeth under the order, but Specialist Mendoza will be allowed to see her every day and take the girl home on Friday nights.

"This has never been about keeping the baby from her mother," said the father's lawyer, Amy Lefkowitz. "It's about making a transition that will be appropriate for a child of this age."

The Pentagon does not keep statistics on such custody disputes, but military family counselors said they knew of at least five recent situations around the country like the struggle over Elizabeth, in which a mother who served overseas is fighting for more access to her child. Some advocates say an unspoken bias against mothers who leave their young children has heightened both legal barriers and social stigma when these women try to resume their role as active parents.

After Elizabeth was born in June 2007, Specialist Mendoza and Mr. Llares lived with the baby at his parents' home in Wayne, N.J. When it became clear that Ms. Mendoza would be sent overseas, she agonized over whether to leave her daughter.

"I wanted Elizabeth to grow up and be proud that her mother had served her country," Specialist Mendoza, who is attending Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J., said before Tuesday's decision. "And we needed the health care and the military benefits and the help paying for my school."

Specialist Mendoza, whose family lives out of state, said she ended her relationship with Mr. Llares before she and other members of the 3rd Battalion of the 112th Field Artillery unit left for Texas in July 2008, bound for Iraq. Despite the breakup, the couple agreed that she would help Mr. Llares and his parents pay for Elizabeth's needs while overseas and assume joint custody once she returned home.

But when she returned from the war, things quickly fell apart. The first time Elizabeth was reunited with her mother, she burst into tears. Specialist Mendoza cried, too.

Mr. Llares, also 22, declined to be interviewed, but his lawyer has acknowledged that he restricted Specialist Mendoza's visits with Elizabeth because he was concerned that the abrupt change would frighten and confuse her.

Specialist Mendoza tried to get more time with their daughter, and when she threatened to have him fired from his job at a Y.M.C.A., he filed a temporary restraining order, which a judge later dropped.

Ms. Lefkowitz, the lawyer, has contended that Mr. Llares should be granted primary custody, citing his devotion to Elizabeth while her mother was overseas. She also said that Mr. Llares worried that Specialist Mendoza could be deployed overseas again during the final two years of her National Guard duty.

But Specialist Mendoza said that if the military once again asked her to choose between her daughter and her country, she would not go abroad.


6) Groundwork Is Laid for New Troops in Afghanistan
September 1, 2009

WASHINGTON - A new report by the top commander in Afghanistan detailing the deteriorating situation there confronts President Obama with the politically perilous decision of whether to deepen American involvement in the eight-year-old war amid shrinking public support at home.

The classified assessment submitted Monday by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took over American and NATO forces in Afghanistan in June, did not request additional American troops, American officials said, but they added that it effectively laid the groundwork for such a request in coming weeks.

While details of the report remained secret, the revised strategy articulated by General McChrystal in recent public comments would invest the United States more extensively in Afghanistan than it has been since American forces helped topple the Taliban government following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Taking a page from the 2007 strategy shift in Iraq, he has emphasized protecting civilians over just engaging insurgents.

For Mr. Obama, who already ordered an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan this year, the prospect of a still larger deployment would test his commitment to a war he did not launch even as it grows more violent by the month.

He already faces growing discontent among his liberal base, not only over the war but also over national security policy, health care, gay rights and other issues.

An expanded American footprint would also increase Mr. Obama's entanglement with an Afghan government widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate. Multiplying allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election have left Washington with little hope for a credible partner in the war once the results are final.

The latest tally, with nearly half of the polling stations counted, showed President Hamid Karzai leading with 45.9 percent against 33.3 percent for his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, Reuters reported.

But the White House left open the possibility that Mr. Obama would send more troops. "There's broad agreement that for many years, our effort in Afghanistan has been under-resourced politically, militarily and economically," Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Monday. He went on to use the words "under-resourced" and "under-resource" six more times during his daily briefing.

The report comes after a sharp escalation of violence in Afghanistan, where more American troops died in August than in any month since the beginning of the war.

The military announced Monday that two American soldiers died in separate attacks involving homemade bombs, bringing the total killed last month to 51, according to the Web site The number of such attacks has nearly quadrupled since 2007, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," General McChrystal said in a statement after sending his report to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of all Middle East forces.

A military official said General Petraeus immediately endorsed its findings and forwarded it on Monday to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will review it before sending it to the White House.

The report coincides with an effort by the Obama administration to develop a series of benchmarks, or metrics, to measure progress in Afghanistan, much as was done in Iraq. Congress has insisted on evidence of improvement to justify the additional troops, financial investment and civilian reconstruction teams already committed by Mr. Obama.

Mr. Gates said Monday that despite the "gloom and doom" that has characterized recent discussion, Afghanistan today is a "mixed picture."

He said he would consider any troop requests in the coming weeks, but told Bloomberg News that he was concerned about "the implications of significant additional forces in terms of the foreign footprint in Afghanistan, whether the Afghans will see this as us becoming more of an occupier or their partner, and how do you differentiate those."

Shortly after taking office Mr. Obama ordered 17,000 more combat troops and 4,000 more trainers to Afghanistan, and once they all arrive the American force there will number 68,000. As the NATO commander, General McChrystal also has 40,000 additional foreign forces available to him, but some of their home governments have placed restrictions on how they can be used.

General McChrystal wants a large expansion of Afghan security forces and an acceleration of their training, according to American commanders. The Afghan government currently has about 134,000 police officers and 82,000 soldiers, although many of them are poorly equipped and have little logistical support.

Under the strategy described by General McChrystal and other commanders in recent weeks, the overriding goal of American and NATO forces would not be so much to kill Taliban insurgents as to make ordinary Afghans feel secure, and thus isolate the insurgents. That means using force less and focusing on economic development and good governance.

General McChrystal also intends to try to unify the effort of American allies like Britain, Canada, Germany and France, and possibly to ask them to contribute more troops, money and training.

With polls showing falling support for the Afghan war, critics in Congress have grown increasingly vocal in calling for withdrawal.

Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, returned from Afghanistan last week and said that despite the capable Americans now there, he was pessimistic about the chances of success and did not even know how to define it.

"I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that we're getting sucked into an endless war here," he said in an interview.

Some Afghanistan specialists said Mr. Obama might have to swallow his own doubts and defy his base. "I think he's going to have to tough it out," said James Dobbins, a former American envoy to Afghanistan. "The downside of a policy of disengagement and what would happen for now would be more severe both for the president and for the country." Mr. Obama has said that deciding to send the additional troops was the hardest decision he has made during his young presidency. On Sunday, just before ending his vacation in Martha's Vineyard, he visited briefly at the Cape Cod Air Station with the family of a 21-year-old Marine who was killed in Afghanistan in July.

Mr. Obama had met the Marine, Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos, who was born in Hyannis, Mass., in February when he visited Camp Lejeune, N.C., to announce his plan to withdraw combat forces from Iraq. He told a story then of two Marines who stood in the path of a suicide bomber's truck and stopped it from entering a Marine outpost in Ramadi, Iraq, losing their own lives but saving dozens of their colleagues.

One of those saved was Corporal Xiarhos. He later shipped out to Afghanistan, where he was killed in action in July.

Peter Baker reported from Washington, and Dexter Filkins from Kabul, Afghanistan. Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.


7) Massachusetts Cuts Back Immigrants' Health Care
September 1, 2009

BOSTON - State-subsidized health insurance for 31,000 legal immigrants here will no longer cover dental, hospice or skilled-nursing care under a scaled-back plan that Gov. Deval Patrick announced Monday.

Mr. Patrick said his administration had struggled to find a solution "that preserves the promise of health care reform" after the state legislature cut most of the $130 million it had previously allotted immigrants, to help close a budget deficit. Although their health benefits will be sharply curtailed in some cases, Mr. Patrick portrayed the new program as a victory, saying the services that the affected group tends to use the most will still be covered.

"It's an extraordinary accomplishment," he said in a conference call with reporters, "to offer virtually full coverage for the entire population that's been impacted in the face of really extraordinary budget constraints."

The new plan, which will cover permanent residents who have had green cards for less than five years, will cost the state $40 million a year. Some of the affected immigrants will be charged higher co-payments and will have to find new doctors, said Leslie A. Kirwan, Mr. Patrick's finance director.

Still, Mr. Patrick described the new coverage as comprehensive and said it could be a model for less expensive state-subsidized benefits as health care costs continue to rise. Under the 1996 federal law that overhauled the nation's welfare system, the 31,000 affected immigrants do not qualify for Medicaid or other federal aid. Massachusetts is one of the few states - others are California, New York and Pennsylvania - that provide at least some health coverage for such immigrants.

Because of its three-year-old law requiring universal health coverage, Massachusetts has the country's lowest percentage of uninsured residents: 2.6 percent, compared with a national average of 15 percent. The law requires that almost every resident have insurance, and to meet that goal, the state subsidizes coverage for those earning up to three times the federal poverty level, or $66,150 for a family of four.

All of the affected immigrants will be covered under the new plan by Dec. 1, Mr. Patrick said; in the meantime they will have to rely on hospitals that provide free emergency care to the poor.

CeltiCare Health Plan of Massachusetts, a subsidiary of the Centene Corporation, based in Missouri, won a yearlong state contract to provide the new coverage.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said she was worried about immigrants' having to find new primary care doctors at a time when the state is suffering from a shortage of such providers. She also said that the new coverage would in some cases require a much higher co-payment - $50 instead of between $1 and $3 - for non-generic prescription drugs, and that enrollment would be capped at the 31,000 current enrollees.

"We see this as a temporary solution," Ms. Millona said, "and we are still working to get full restoration for this population that deserves the same level of coverage as all other taxpaying residents of the state."


8) Newark Begins Cutting Water Service Over Late Bills
September 1, 2009

Newark began shutting off water service on Monday to dozens of customers who were overdue on their bills, sending hapless property owners, bills in hand, to City Hall in hopes of paying at least enough to keep their taps flowing.

All afternoon, they climbed to the building's mezzanine level and filed through a round room with a stained-glass cupola and marble benches. The line led to Room 117, the offices of the Department of Water and Sewer Utilities, where that genteel ambience gave way to fluorescent lights and a gray linoleum floor, then to the equally dreary Room 104, home to the Department of Finance, to complete their transactions.

Some people walked back and forth between the rooms with paperwork or to double-check details. Occasionally, city workers emerged to shout, "Is anybody paying in full?"

Few were. Most were like Sam Gonzalez, 55, of Bloomfield, N.J., who owns a building in Newark with a bodega on the ground floor and apartments above. He is behind $5,112 on the water bill.

"I only have half," said Mr. Gonzalez, who added that he hoped it would be enough to keep water service in his building. He had brought $2,500 in cash and a cashier's check. "I don't have any more than that."

On Friday, the city announced that it was cracking down on delinquent accounts, beginning with 1,600 of the worst offenders in a first wave on Monday. They are among about 5,000 property owners who, the city says, owe more than $1,000 each. All have been sent warning letters, city officials said.

The mayor's office would not identify any people or businesses who owed money, and would not provide any details about accounts that were in arrears. The city wanted to be "sensitive to their privacy," said Esmeralda Diaz Cameron, a spokeswoman for Mayor Cory A. Booker.

Desiree Peterkin Bell, the mayor's director of communications, said about 125 property owners had their service cut off by day's end. But she said service would be restored by Monday night for those who had paid their bills.

Mr. Gonzalez blamed the recession and the effects it has had on his tenants for his failure to pay the bill.

"Times are bad, nobody's working, business is slow," he said. "Some of my tenants are not working. They've been laid off. They're paying when they can."

He acknowledged that he had put off paying the bill. "They've been lenient," he said of the city.

April Virhuez-Collins, 54, who said she owed $1,200, said city workers told her to come up with $250.99 by Tuesday to prevent an interruption of her water service.

"If not, they cut it off," she said. Ms. Virhuez-Collins said she fell behind because she had not earned any income since May, when she left a job with New Jersey Transit after 13 years to take an early-retirement plan.

"I worked all my life for 40 years," she said. "I never thought I'd have to go through this."

Fatima Cabrera, 40, was among the final people to make arrangements on their delinquent accounts at the end of the day, paying her bill in full. She said a city worker had driven up to her home earlier and told her, "We're here to take care of the water."

Ms. Cabrera, who lives with a son, 16, and daughter, 10, said she pleaded with the worker to give her a break. The worker said he would return Tuesday and expect to see her receipt for the paid water bill, she said.

She added that she planned to stay home from work on Tuesday to show the worker the receipt. She said she fell behind because she had been out of work for a year and had recently started working as a property manager at a building in Newark.

Not everyone was able to keep the water running.

Roshe Dousuah, 27, a fashion designer who moved to Newark from Philadelphia two months ago, stood in front of her building on Governor Street, just a few blocks from City Hall.

"I went to turn the water on and there was no water," said Ms. Dousuah, who recalled seeing a warning about a week ago on the door. It was addressed to the landlord, who does not live there.

Ms. Dousuah said she hoped that her roommate would know how to locate the landlord. Meanwhile, she planned to look for a place to shower. "I'm really upset. He might not get his rent this month."


9) A Drug Maker's Playbook Reveals a Marketing Strategy
[It's time we take healthcare out of the hands of the real gangbangers. Single payer NOW!]
September 2, 2009

The pharmaceutical industry has developed thousands of medicines that have saved millions of lives, but it has also used its marketing muscle to successfully peddle expensive pills that are no more effective than older drugs sold at a fraction of the cost.

No drug better demonstrates the industry's salesmanship than Lexapro, an antidepressant sold by Forest Laboratories. And a document quietly made public recently by the Senate's Special Committee on Aging demonstrates just how Forest managed to turn a medicinal afterthought into a best seller.

The document, "Lexapro Fiscal 2004 Marketing Plan," is an outline of the many steps Forest used to make Lexapro a success. Because of concerns from Forest, the Senate committee released only 88 pages of the document, which may have originally run longer than 270 pages. "Confidential" is stamped on every page.

But those 88 pages make clear that one of the principal means by which Forest hoped to persuade psychiatrists, primary care doctors and other medical specialists to prescribe Lexapro was by finding many ways to put money into doctors' pockets and food into their mouths.

Frank Murdolo, a Forest spokesman, said the company was "aware" that its marketing plan was circulating around the Senate.

"We're aware of it but I can't give you any other comment on it," he said.

In February, federal prosecutors in Boston announced a civil lawsuit against Forest claiming that the company illegally marketed both Lexapro and a closely related antidepressant, Celexa, for use in children and paid kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe the medicines to children.

It is illegal to pay doctors to prescribe certain medicines to their patients. It is not illegal to pay doctors to educate their colleagues about a medicine. In recent years, federal prosecutors have accused many drug makers of deliberately crossing that line.

Lexapro was the sixth drug in a class of medicines that includes Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Luvox and Celexa. Forest licensed Celexa from Lundbeck of Denmark and introduced the medicine into the United States in 1998. But because Celexa's patent life was relatively short, the company quickly developed a new version of Celexa by tinkering with the molecule in a way that is standard in the industry. The company called the new medicine Lexapro and introduced it into the United States in 2002.

Forest's executives and paid consultants have long implied that Lexapro is superior to Celexa and other antidepressants. But the Food and Drug Administration did not require Forest to test this theory in any statistically valid way. The F.D.A. views the two medicines as so interchangeable that the agency recently approved Lexapro's use in depressed adolescents based in part on the results of a study Forest conducted using Celexa.

Lexapro had $2.3 billion in sales in 2008 even though generic versions of Celexa and every other drug in the class sell for a fraction of Lexapro's price. For example, a month's supply of 5-milligram tablets of Lexapro costs $87.99 at, compared to $14.99 for a month's supply of a generic version of Prozac. Forest has recently been raising the price of Lexapro to make up for a decline in its use.

Many doctors say they believe that Lexapro is the best antidepressant, so they prescribe the drug despite its relatively high cost.

It is impossible to unpack all of the reasons for these prescriptions, but some industry critics say one reason could be the money doctors make from Forest. Psychiatrists make more money from drug makers than any other medical specialty, according to analyses of payment data. And Forest gives more money and food to doctors than many of its far larger rivals. Vermont officials found that Forest's payments to doctors in 2008 were surpassed only by those of Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Novartis and Merck - companies with annual sales that are five to 10 times larger than Forest's.

Forest's 2004 plan for marketing Lexapro offers detailed information about how the company planned to direct this money to doctors.

Under "Rep Promotional Programs," the document said the company planned to spend $34.7 million to pay 2,000 psychiatrists and primary care doctors to deliver 15,000 marketing lectures to their peers over the course of one year.

"These meetings may be large-scale dinner programs with a slide presentation, small roundtable discussions or one-on-one advocate lunches," the document states.

Under "Lunch and Learns," the company intended to spend $36 million providing lunch to doctors in their offices. "Providing lunch for a physician creates an extended amount of selling time for representatives," the document states.

An entire section of the marketing plan, titled "Continuing Medical Education," outlines how the company intended to use educational seminars for doctors to teach them about Lexapro. The Senate's Special Committee on Aging held a hearing in July on whether industry funding of medical education classes leads to tainted talks.

"At our recent hearing we asked the question, 'Is the line between medical education and marketing blurred?' " said Senator Herb Kohl, a Democrat from Wisconsin who is chairman of the committee on aging. His panel was given the Lexapro document by the Senate Finance Committee, which has long been investigating drug maker marketing efforts. "These documents show that for these companies, there is no line," Mr. Kohl said.


10) A New Heart, Tangled in Red Tape
September 1, 2009

In the debate about health care overhaul, there are countless stories of families saddled with hospital bills and unemployed workers who have lost their insurance.

But the story of Eric De La Cruz, of Las Vegas, stands out as a striking example of both the best and the worst that the American health care system has to offer - extraordinary medical prowess that is too often out of reach for all but the luckiest and best insured.

In his early 20s, Mr. De La Cruz was told he had a disorder called severe dilated cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscle becomes enlarged and weak. The symptoms include breathlessness, exhaustion and fluid buildup in the arms, legs and abdomen.

He was a student who had worked part time as a graphic designer and a disc jockey, but none of his employers offered health insurance. Once his condition was diagnosed, his family says, he was unable to buy private insurance because he had a pre-existing condition.

He twice applied for Social Security disability benefits, which would have entitled him to health coverage under Medicare. The applications were denied. He did eventually qualify for Nevada's Medicaid program, which bases eligibility on financial need rather than age or disability.

As his condition worsened, it became clear he would need a heart transplant. In some states and the District of Columbia, the transplant would have been covered by Medicaid - but not in Nevada, where the program covers heart transplants only up to age 20.

Ben Kieckhefer, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, defended that policy. "All insurance plans decide what things they are going to cover and what things they are not going to cover," he said. "Everyone in the state Medicaid program recognized the difficult situation the family was in, but we can't just start covering something for one individual case."

This spring, Mr. De La Cruz's sister, Veronica De La Cruz, a former anchor for CNN, began a two-pronged effort to save her brother. Her first hope was to win disability benefits so he could qualify for Medicare, which would cover a heart transplant. A hearing had been scheduled for spring 2010, far too late to save him. She appealed to state legislators to pressure a federal panel to expedite the disability hearing.

"How can a sick person navigate the system?" she said in an interview. "I am healthy and can barely do it on my own. The system is designed for people to get frustrated and give up."

Ms. De La Cruz also began contacting heart transplant centers to determine whether she could pay for the operation with donated money. Because Nevada has no heart transplant center, she contacted several medical centers in California and was told that without insurance, her brother would need to post a deposit of at least $150,000 to be evaluated and placed on a waiting list. The total cost for the transplant and subsequent hospital care, as well as antirejection drugs, would be nearly $1 million, payable in advance.

To exert public pressure and raise money, Ms. De La Cruz began sending out messages on Twitter, with daily tweets about her brother's health, his dog, Chance, and the red tape she was trying to cut. She gained a following of more than 6,300 people, whom she began calling Eric's Twitter Army.

The troops included Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails, which said it would award donors backstage passes and time with the band; the famed Tony Hawk auctioned autographed skateboards. Supporters bombarded Nevada legislators with calls, faxes and e-mail. The Medicare hearing was rescheduled, and by June, Mr. De La Cruz had won his long-awaited coverage, opening the door to a heart transplant center.

Elated, Ms. De La Cruz contacted U.C.L.A. Medical Center's heart transplant program, but now the hospital insisted that her brother get a secondary insurance policy - even though Mr. Reznor told me the band raised nearly $1 million in less than two weeks. A hospital spokeswoman declined to comment on the case, citing patient privacy, but said the hospital "had been working with" the family.

Eventually, Ms. De La Cruz arranged for her brother to be seen by doctors at the University of Southern California Medical Center. There, he spent a week on the "high-priority transplant" list.

But his condition had deteriorated so much that he soon became too sick for the procedure. On July 4, Eric De La Cruz died, at age 31.

Ms. De La Cruz says a surgeon told her he could have helped her brother, but he arrived "two years too late." If not for all the delays and denials, she says, her brother would be alive today.

She is still crusading, sharing the story with lawmakers in Washington and at rallies, including one in Times Square this past weekend. At the very least, she says, insurance companies should not be allowed to turn down patients with pre-existing conditions.

"If my brother had been able to buy health insurance, he would never have been in this situation," she said. "No one should ever have to go through what we've been through. Eric should still be alive."

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11) The Sermilik fjord in Greenland: a chilling view of a warming world
'We all live on the Greenland ice sheet now. Its fate is our fate'
By Patrick Barkham
September 1, 2009

It is calving season in the Arctic. A flotilla of icebergs, some as jagged as fairytale castles and others as smooth as dinosaur eggs, calve from the ice sheet that smothers Greenland and sail down the fjords. The journey of these sculptures of ice from glaciers to ocean is eerily beautiful and utterly terrifying.

The wall of ice that rises behind Sermilik fjord stretches for 1,500 miles (2,400km) from north to south and smothers 80% of this country. It has been frozen for 3m years. Now it is melting, far faster than the climate models predicted and far more decisively than any political action to combat our changing climate. If the Greenland ice sheet disappeared sea levels around the world would rise by seven metres, as 10% of the world's fresh water is currently frozen here.

This is also the season for science in Greenland. Glaciologists, seismologists and climatologists from around the world are landing on the ice sheet in helicopters, taking ice-breakers up its inaccessible coastline and measuring glaciers in a race against time to discover why the ice in Greenland is vanishing so much faster than expected.

Gordon Hamilton, a Scottish-born glaciologist from the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute, is packing up equipment at his base camp in Tasiilaq, a tiny, remote east coast settlement only accessible by helicopter and where huskies howl all night.

With his spiky hair and ripped T-shirt, Hamilton could be a rugged glaciologist straight from central casting. Four years ago he hit upon the daring idea of landing on a moving glacier in a helicopter to measure its speed.

The glaciers of Greenland are the fat, restless fingers of its vast ice sheet, constantly moving, stretching down into fjords and pushing ice from the sheet into the ocean, in the form of melt water and icebergs.

Before their first expedition, Hamilton and his colleague Leigh Stearns, from the University of Kansas, used satellite data to plan exactly where they would land on a glacier.

"When we arrived there was no glacier to be seen. It was way up the fjord," he says. "We thought we'd made some stupid goof with the co-ordinates, but we were where we were supposed to be." It was the glacier that was in the wrong place. A vast expanse had melted away.

When Hamilton and Stearns processed their first measurements of the glacier's speed, they thought they had made another mistake. They found it was marching forwards at a greater pace than a glacier had ever been observed to flow before. "We were blown away because we realised that the glaciers had accelerated not just by a little bit but by a lot," he says. The three glaciers they studied had abruptly increased the speed by which they were transmitting ice from the ice sheet into the ocean.

Raw power

Standing before a glacier in Greenland as it calves icebergs into the dark waters of a cavernous fjord is to witness the raw power of a natural process we have accelerated but will now struggle to control.

Greenland's glaciers make those in the Alps look like toys. Grubby white and blue crystal towers, cliffs and crevasses soar up from the water, dispatching millenniums of compacted snow in the shape of seals, water lilies and bishops' mitres.

I take a small boat to see the calving with Dines Mikaelsen, an Inuit guide, who in the winter will cross the ice sheet in his five-metre sled pulled by 16 huskies.

It is not freezing but even in summer the wind is bitingly cold and we can smell the bad breath of a humpback whale as it groans past our bows on Sermilik Fjord. Above its heavy breathing, all you can hear in this wilderness is the drip-drip of melting ice and a crash as icebergs cleave into even smaller lumps, called growlers.

Mikaelsen stops his boat beside Hann glacier and points out how it was twice as wide and stretched 300 metres further into the fjord just 10 years ago. He also shows off a spectacular electric blue iceberg.

Locals have nicknamed it "blue diamond"; its colour comes from being cleaved from centuries-old compressed ice at the ancient heart of the glacier. Bobbing in warming waters, this ancient ice fossil will be gone in a couple of weeks.

The blue diamond is one vivid pointer to the antiquity of the Greenland ice sheet. A relic of the last Ice Age, this is one of three great ice sheets in the world. Up to two miles thick, the other two lie in Antarctica.

While similar melting effects are being measured in the southern hemisphere, the Greenland sheet may be uniquely vulnerable, lying much further from the chill of the pole than Antarctica's sheets. The southern end of the Greenland sheet is almost on the same latitude as the Shetlands and stroked by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

Driven by the loss of ice, Arctic temperatures are warming more quickly than other parts of the world: last autumn air temperatures in the Arctic stood at a record 5C above normal. For centuries, the ice sheets maintained an equilibrium: glaciers calved off icebergs and sent melt water into the oceans every summer; in winter, the ice sheet was then replenished with more frozen snow. Scientists believe the world's great ice sheets will not completely disappear for many more centuries, but the Greenland ice sheet is now shedding more ice than it is accumulating.

The melting has been recorded since 1979; scientists put the annual net loss of ice and water from the ice sheet at 300-400 gigatonnes, which could hasten a sea level rise of catastrophic proportions.

As Hamilton has found, Greenland's glaciers have increased the speed at which they shift ice from the sheet into the ocean. Helheim, an enormous tower of ice that calves into Sermilik Fjord, used to move at 7km (4.4 miles) a year. In 2005, in less than a year, it speeded up to nearly 12km a year. Kangerdlugssuaq, another glacier that Hamilton measured, tripled its speed between 1988 and 2005. Its movement - an inch every minute - could be seen with the naked eye.

The three glaciers that Hamilton and Stearns measured account for about a fifth of the discharge from the entire Greenland ice sheet. The implications of their acceleration are profound: "If they all start to speed up, you could have quite a large rise in sea level in the near term, much larger than the official estimate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would project," says Hamilton.

The scientific labours in the chill winds and high seas of the Arctic summer seem wrapped in an unusual sense of urgency this year. The scientists working in Greenland are keen to communicate their new, emerging understanding of the dynamics of the declining ice sheet to the wider world. Several point out that any international agreement forged at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December will be based on the IPCC's fourth assessment report from 2007. Its estimates of climate change and sea-level rise were based on scientific research submitted up to 2005; the scientists say this is already significantly out of date.

The 2007 report predicted a sea level rise of 30cm-60cm by 2100, but did not account for the impact of glaciers breaking into the sea from areas such as the Greenland ice sheet. Most scientists working at the poles predict a one metre rise by 2100. The US Geological Survey has predicted a 1.5 metre rise. As Hamilton points out: "It is only the first metre that matters".

Record temperatures

A one metre rise - with the risk of higher storm surges - would require new defences for New York, London, Mumbai and Shanghai, and imperil swaths of low-lying land from Bangladesh to Florida. Vulnerable areas accommodate 10%of the world's population - 600 million.

The Greenland ice sheet is not merely being melted from above by warmer air temperatures. As the oceans of the Arctic waters reach record high temperatures, the role of warmer water lapping against these great glaciers is one of several factors shaping the loss of the ice sheet that has been overlooked until recently.

Fiamma Straneo, an Italian-born oceanographer, is laboriously winding recording equipment the size of a fire extinguisher from the deck of a small Greenpeace icebreaker caught in huge swells at the mouth of Sermilik fjord.

In previous decades the Arctic Sunrise has been used in taking direct action against whalers; now it offers itself as a floating research station for independent scientists to reach remote parts of the ice sheet. It is tough work for the multinational crew of 30 in this rough-and-ready little boat, prettified below deck with posters of orang-utans and sunflowers painted in the toilets.

Before I succumb to vomiting below deck - another journalist is so seasick they are airlifted off the boat - I examine the navigational charts used by the captain, Pete Willcox, a survivor of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. He shows how they are dotted with measurements showing the depth of the ocean but here, close to the east coast of Greenland, the map is blank: this part of the North Atlantic was once covered by sea ice for so much of the year that its waters are still uncharted.

Earlier in the expedition, the crew believe, they became the first boat to travel through the Nares Strait west of Greenland to the Arctic Ocean in June, once impassable because of sea ice at that time of year. The predicted year when summers in the Arctic would be free of sea ice has fallen from 2100 to 2050 to 2030 in a couple of years.

Jay Zwally, a Nasa scientist, recently suggested it could be virtually ice-free by late summer 2012. Between 2004 and 2008 the area of "multiyear" Arctic sea ice (ice that has formed over more than one winter and survived the summer melt) shrank by 595,000 sq miles, an area larger than France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

Undaunted by the sickening swell of the ocean and wrapped up against the chilly wind, Straneo, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of the world's leading oceanographic research centres, continues to take measurements from the waters as the long Arctic dusk falls.

According to Straneo, the rapid changes to the ice sheet have taken glaciologists by surprise. "One of the possible mechanisms which we think may have triggered these changes is melting driven by changing ocean temperatures and currents at the margins of the ice sheet."

She has been surprised by early results measuring sea water close to the melting glaciers: one probe recovered from last year recorded a relatively balmy 2C at 60 metres in the fjord in the middle of winter. Straneo said: "This warm and salty water is of subtropical origin - it's carried by the Gulf Stream. In recent years a lot more of this warm water has been found around the coastal region of Greenland. We think this is one of the mechanisms that has caused these glaciers to accelerate and shed more ice."

Straneo's research is looking at what scientists call the "dynamic effects" of the Greenland ice sheet. It is not simply that the ice sheet is melting steadily as global temperatures rise. Rather, the melting triggers dynamic new effects, which in turn accelerate the melt.

"It's quite likely that these dynamic effects are more important in generating a near-term rapid rise in sea level than the traditional melt," says Hamilton. Another example of these dynamic effects is when the ice sheet melts to expose dirty layers of old snow laced with black carbon from forest fires and even cosmic dust. These dark particles absorb more heat and so further speed up the melt.

After Straneo gathers her final measurements, the Arctic Sunrise heads for the tranquillity of the sole berth at Tasiilaq, which has a population of fewer than 3,000 but is still the largest settlement on Greenland's vast east coast. Here another scientist is gathering her final provisions before taking her team camping on a remote glacier.

Invisible earthquakes

Several years ago Meredith Nettles, a seismologist from Colombia University, and two colleagues made a remarkable discovery: they identified a new kind of earthquake. These quakes were substantial - measuring magnitude five - but had been invisible because they did not show up on seismographs. (While orthodox tremors registered for a couple of seconds, these occurred rather more slowly, over a minute.)

The new earthquakes were traced almost exclusively to Greenland, where they were found to be specifically associated with large, fast-flowing outlet glaciers. There have been 200 of them in the last dozen years; in 2005 there were six times as many as in 1993.

Nettles nimbly explains the science as she heaves bags of equipment on to a helicopter, which will fly her to study Kangerdlugssuaq glacier. "It's quite a dramatic increase, and that increase happened at the same time as we were seeing dramatic retreats in the location of the calving fronts of the glaciers, and an increase in their flow speed," she says. "The earthquakes are very closely associated with large-scale ice loss events."

In other words, the huge chunks of ice breaking off from the glaciers and entering the oceans are large enough to generate a seismic signal that is sent through the Earth. They are happening more regularly and, when they occur, it appears that the glacier speeds up even more.

The scientists rightly wrap their latest observations in caution. Their studies are still in their infancy. Some of the effects they are observing may be short-term.

The Greenland ice sheet has survived natural warmer periods in history, the last about 120,000 years ago, although it was much smaller then than it is now. Those still sceptical of the scientific consensus over climate change should perhaps listen to the voices of those who could not be accused of having anything to gain from talking up climate change.

Inuit warnings

Arne Sorensen, a specialist ice navigator on Arctic Sunrise, began sailing the Arctic in the 1970s. Journeys around Greenland's coast that would take three weeks in the 1970s because of sea ice now take a day. He pays heed to the observations of the Inuit. "If you talk to people who live close to nature and they tell you this is unusual and this is not something they have noticed before, then I really put emphasis on that," he says. Paakkanna Ignatiussen, 52, has been hunting seals since he was 13. His grandparents travelled less than a mile to hunt; he must go more than 60 miles because the sea ice disappears earlier - and with it the seals. "It's hard to see the ice go back. In the old days when we got ice it was only ice. Today it is more like slush," he says. "In 10 years there will be no traditional hunting. The weather is the reason."

The stench of rotting seal flesh wafts from a bag in the porch of his house in Tasiilaq as Ignatiussen's wife, Ane, remarks that, "the seasons are upside down".

Local people are acutely aware of how the weather is changing animal behaviour. Browsing the guns for sale in the supermarket in Tasiilaq (you don't need a licence for a gun here), Axel Hansen says more hungry polar bears prowl around the town these days. Like the hunters, the bears can't find seals when there is so little sea ice. And the fjords are filled with so many icebergs that local people find it hard to hunt whales there.

Westerners may shrug at the decline of traditional hunting but, in a sense, we all live on the Greenland ice sheet now. Its fate is our fate. The scientists swarming over this ancient mass of ice, trying to understand how it will be transformed in a warming world, and how it will transform us, are wary of making political comments about how our leaders should plan for one metre of sea level rise, and what drastic steps must be taken to cut carbon emissions. But some scientists are so astounded by the changes they are recording that they are moved to speak out.

What, I ask Hamilton, would he say to Barack Obama if he could spend 10 minutes with the US president standing on Helheim glacier?

"Without knowing anything about what is going on, you just have to look at the glacier to know something huge is happening here," says the glaciologist. "We can't as a scientific community keep up with the pace of changes, let alone explain why they are happening.

"If I was, God forbid, the leader of the free world, I would implement some changes to deal with the maximum risk that we might reasonably expect to encounter, rather than always planning for the minimum. We won't know the consequences of not doing that until it's way too late. Even as a politician on a four-year elected cycle, you can't morally leave someone with that problem."


12) 'Young Workers: A Lost Decade'
Posted By Tula Connell
On September 1, 2009 @ 11:15 am In Economy

Something bad happened in the past 10 years to young workers in this country: Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many-younger than 35-still live at home with their parents because they can't afford to be on their own.

These are the findings of a new report, "[1] Young Workers: A Lost Decade." Conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and our community affiliate [2] Working America, the nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999. The deterioration of young workers' economic situation in those 10 years is alarming.

Nate Scherer, 31, is among today's young workers. Scherer lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he shares a home with his wife, his parents, brother and his partner. He spoke at a media conference at the AFL-CIO today to discuss the report.

After getting married, my wife and I decided to move in with my parents to pay off our bills. We could afford to live on our own but we'd never be able to get out of debt. We have school loans to pay off, too. We'd like to have children, but we just can't manage the expense of it right we're putting it off till we're in a better place. My [work] position is on the edge, and I feel like if my company were to cut back, my position would be one of the first to go.

During today's press briefing, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer [3] Richard Trumka summed up the report's findings this way:

We're calling the report "A Lost Decade" because we're seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They've put off adulthood-put off having kids, put off education-and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.

Just last week we learned that about 1.7 million fewer teenagers and young adults were employed in July than a year before, hitting a record low of 51.4 percent.

As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said:

Young workers in particular must be given the tools to lead the next generation to prosperity. The national survey we're releasing today shows just how broken our economy is for our young people...and what's at stake if we don't fix it.

Some of the report's key findings include:

* 31 percent of young workers report being uninsured, up from 24 percent 10 years ago, and 79 percent of the uninsured say they don't have coverage because they can't afford it or their employer does not offer it.
* Strikingly, one in three young workers are currently living at home with their parents.
* Only 31 percent say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside-22 percentage points fewer than in 1999-while 24 percent cannot even pay their monthly bills.
* A third cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.
* 37 percent have put off education or professional development because they can't afford it.
* When asked who is most responsible for the country's economic woes, close to 50 percent of young workers place the blame on Wall Street and banks or corporate CEOs. And young workers say greed by corporations and CEOs is the factor most to blame for in the current financial downturn.
* By a 22-point margin, young workers favor expanding public investment over reducing the budget deficit. Young workers rank conservative economic approaches such as reducing taxes, government spending and regulation on business among the five lowest of 16 long-term priorities for Congress and the president.
* Thirty-five percent say they voted for the first time in 2008, and nearly three-quarters now keep tabs on government and public affairs, even when there's not an election going on.
* The majority of young workers and nearly 70 percent of first-time voters are confident that Obama will take the country in the right direction.

Trumka, who is running for AFL-CIO president without announced opposition at our convention later this month, is making union outreach to young people a top priority. He said one of the report's conclusions is especially striking:

Young people want to be involved but they're rarely asked. Their priorities are even more progressive than the priorities of the older generation of working people, yet they aren't engaged by co-workers or friends to get involved in the economic debate.

Currently, 18-to-35-year-olds make up a quarter of union membership. And at the AFL-CIO Convention, we will ask Convention delegates to approve plans for broad recruitment of young workers, as well as plans for training and leadership of young workers who are currently union members. And that's just the beginning of a broad push towards talking and mobilizing young workers in the coming months and years.

According to the report, more than half of young workers say employees are more successful getting problems resolved as a group rather than as individuals, and employees who have a union are better off than employees in similar jobs who do not.

Read the full report [1] here. [If you go to the url for this article there is a link here that will download a pdf of the whole]

Article printed from AFL-CIO NOW BLOG:

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[2] Working America:
[3] Richard Trumka:


13) Katrina's Legacy: Poor Blacks Have No Right to 'Be'
By Glen Ford
September 2, 2009

On the anniversary Hurricane Katrina, President Obama used his Saturday radio address to sum up his understanding of the lesson to be derived from the disaster inflicted on predominantly Black New Orleans. "No more turf wars," he said. What a bloodless analysis of the forced and-it is becoming clearer by the year-permanent exile of much of the population of a quintessentially Black American city!

No question, there were (and remain) Katrina turf wars aplenty, but none of the official entities battling over funds for New Orleans ever fought for the interests of the African American poor and utterly dispossessed. Hundreds of thousands were hastily scattered to the four winds by common agreement among competing agencies, all of whom regarded the Black exodus as a godsend to be perfected, not corrected. First the "turf" must be cleared of the unwanted human presence; then, the battles could begin in earnest over who would next inherit the land and cash the "reconstruction" checks.

Black people's perceived right to "place" was snuffed out, along with more than 1,000 lives. Katrina meant that, not only do poor Blacks have no "right to return," they have no right to "be." Certainly, if such a right did not exist in New Orleans, where the entire world had witnessed the mass displacement of African Americans by nature and their own government, then it exists nowhere.

Through myriad actions ranging from the petty to the draconian, the various governmental structures of the United States have collectively set in stone the nullification of Black people's right to place-the true and awful legacy of Katrina. The disaster served to crystallize as national policy the longstanding practice of ethnic cleansing, once called "Negro Removal," that is sweeping out urban America at an ever-quickening pace. New Orleans' weather-triggered but government-engineered purge of the Black poor was simply a fast-forwarded version of the hyper-gentrification at work everywhere that capital asserts its right to "place." It is a right that often appears to augment traditional white folks' rights to occupy the choicest locations, but which follows its own dynamic and can be claimed by economically mobile Black folks, as well. From some Black angles, this hardening of geo-economic boundaries looks like freedom: the freedom to become as distant as possible from the poor of your own race.

And so we find that the Black "Mecca," Atlanta, is at least as relentless as New Orleans in demolishing the last of its public housing stock, without need of flooding as an excuse. Meanwhile, the Black misleaders of Atlanta, who have done all in their power to purge the city of the Black poor, worry that white newcomers will vote them out of office. They have met the contradiction, and it is themselves.

President Obama is constitutionally incapable of recognizing the central crime of Katrina-the corralling and subsequent dispersal of the poor to who-cares-where-because he is bent on perpetuating the crime. Thus, in his radio address, Obama cited New Orleans' status as the nation's fastest growing city, sounding for all the world like a mayor who has just bulldozed the last "blighted" neighborhood adjacent to downtown. Then, with awesome banality, the president reminded listeners that "with every tragedy comes the chance of renewal."

Renewal for whom? Turf wars over what? The Black poor have been displaced from this conversation, exiled beyond the pale of national policy consideration.

Glen Ford is Black Agenda Report executive editor., September 2, 2009


14) Contractors Outnumber U.S. Troops in Afghanistan
September 2, 2009

Civilian contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan not only outnumber the uniformed troops, according to a report by a Congressional research group, but also form the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel recorded in any war in the history of the United States.

On a superficial level, the shift means that most of those representing the United States in the war will be wearing the scruffy cargo pants, polo shirts, baseball caps and other casual accouterments favored by overseas contractors rather than the fatigues and flight suits of the military.

More fundamentally, the contractors who are a majority of the force in what has become the most important American enterprise abroad are subject to lines of authority that are less clear-cut than they are for their military colleagues.

What is clear, the report says, is that when contractors for the Pentagon or other agencies are not properly managed - as when civilian interrogators committed abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq or members of the security firm Blackwater shot and killed 17 Iraqi citizens in Baghdad - the American effort can be severely undermined.

As of March this year, contractors made up 57 percent of the Pentagon's force in Afghanistan, and if the figure is averaged over the past two years, it is 65 percent, according to the report by the Congressional Research Service.

The contractors - many of them Afghans - handle a variety of jobs, including cooking for the troops, serving as interpreters and even providing security, the report says.

The report says the reliance on contractors has grown steadily, with just a small percentage of contractors serving the Pentagon in World War I, but then growing to nearly a third of the total force in the Korean War and about half in the Balkans and Iraq. The change, the report says, has gradually forced the American military to adapt to a far less regimented and, in many ways, less accountable force.

The growing dependence on contractors is partly because the military has lost some of its logistics and support capacity, especially since the end of the cold war, according to the report. Some of the contractors have skills in critical areas like languages and digital technologies that the military needs.

The issue of the role of contractors in war has been a subject of renewed debate in Washington in recent weeks with disclosures that the Central Intelligence Agency used the company formerly known as Blackwater to help with a covert program, now canceled, to assassinate leaders of Al Qaeda. Lawmakers have demanded to know why such work was outsourced.

The State Department also uses contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, although both the department and the C.I.A. have said they want to reduce their dependence on outside workers.

Responding to the Congressional research report, Frederick D. Barton, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it was highly questionable whether contractors brought the same commitment and willingness to take risks as the men and women of the military or the diplomatic services.

He also questioned whether using contractors was cost effective, saying that no one really knew whether having a force made up mainly of contractors whose salaries were often triple or quadruple those of a corresponding soldier or Marine was cheaper or more expensive for the American taxpayer.

With contractors focused on preserving profits and filing paperwork with government auditors, he said, "you grow the part of government that, probably, the taxpayers appreciate least."

Congress appropriated at least $106 billion for Pentagon contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 through the first half of the 2008 fiscal year, the report says.

The report said the combined forces in Iraq and Afghanistan still had more uniformed military personnel than contractors over all: 242,657 contractors and about 282,000 troops as of March 31.


15) Low-Wage Workers Are Often Cheated, Study Says
September 2, 2009

Low-wage workers are routinely denied proper overtime pay and are often paid less than the minimum wage, according to a new study based on a survey of workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The study, the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations in a decade, also found that 68 percent of the workers interviewed had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week.

"We were all surprised by the high prevalence rate," said Ruth Milkman, one of the study's authors and a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the City University of New York. The study, to be released on Wednesday, was financed by the Ford, Joyce, Haynes and Russell Sage Foundations.

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.

The researchers said one of the most surprising findings was how successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file for workers' compensation. Only 8 percent of those who suffered serious injuries on the job filed for compensation to pay for medical care and missed days at work stemming from those injuries.

"The conventional wisdom has been that to the extent there were violations, it was confined to a few rogue employers or to especially disadvantaged workers, like undocumented immigrants," said Nik Theodore, an author of the study and a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. "What our study shows is that this is a widespread phenomenon across the low-wage labor market in the United States."

According to the study, 39 percent of those surveyed were illegal immigrants, 31 percent legal immigrants and 30 percent native-born Americans.

The study found that 26 percent of the workers had been paid less than the minimum wage the week before being surveyed and that one in seven had worked off the clock the previous week. In addition, 76 percent of those who had worked overtime the week before were not paid their proper overtime, the researchers found.

The new study, "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers," was conducted in the first half of 2008, before the brunt of the recession hit. The median wage of the workers surveyed was $8.02 an hour - supervisors were not surveyed - with more than three-quarters of those interviewed earning less than $10 an hour. When the survey was conducted, the minimum wage was $7.15 in New York State, $7.50 in Illinois and $8 in California.

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis responded to the report with an e-mail statement, saying, "There is no excuse for the disregard of federal labor standards - especially those designed to protect the neediest among us." Ms. Solis said she was in the process of hiring 250 more wage-and-hour investigators. "Today's report clearly shows we still have a major task before us," she said.

The study's authors noted that many low-wage employers comply with wage and labor laws. The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small-business owners, said it encouraged members "to stay in compliance with state and federal labor laws."

But many small businesses say they are forced to violate wage laws to remain competitive.

The study found that women were far more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than men, with the highest prevalence among women who were illegal immigrants. Among American-born workers, African-Americans had a violation rate nearly triple that for whites.

"These practices are not just morally reprehensible, but they're bad for the economy," said Annette Bernhardt, an author of the study and policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project. "When unscrupulous employers break the law, they're robbing families of money to put food on the table, they're robbing communities of spending power and they're robbing governments of vital tax revenues."

When the Russell Sage Foundation announced a grant to help finance the survey, it said that low-wage workers were "hard to find" for interviews and that "government compliance surveys shy away from the difficult task of measuring workplace practices beyond the standard wage, benefits and hours questions."

The report found that 57 percent of workers sampled had not received mandatory pay documents the previous week, which are intended to help make sure pay is legal and accurate. Of workers who receive tips, 12 percent said their employer had stolen some of the tips.

One in five workers reported having lodged a complaint about wages to their employer or trying to form a union in the previous year, and 43 percent of them said they had experienced some form of illegal retaliation, like firing or suspension, the study said.

In instances when workers' compensation should have been used, the study found, one third of workers injured on the job paid the bills for treatment out of their own pocket and 22 percent used their health insurance. Workers' compensation insurance paid medical expenses for only 6 percent of the injured workers surveyed, the researchers found.


16) Witness to '91 Killing Says Wrong Man Is in Prison
September 2, 2009

A witness to a murder of a young man on a Greenwich Village street corner in 1991 told a state court on Tuesday that the man serving a 23-year prison sentence for the murder was not the killer.

The convicted man, Fernando Bermudez, now 40, was found guilty of the fatal shooting of Raymond Blount on the corner of University Place and 13th Street on Aug. 4, 1991.

The witness, Lawrence Darden, was testifying on the first day of a hearing to find whether evidence in the case had been collected improperly and to determine, in effect, whether Mr. Bermudez should be given a new trial.

"Why are we still going through this?" Mr. Darden asked, shaking his head. Motioning to Mr. Bermudez, who was sitting quietly in the courtroom, he added, "He is not the individual."

"I don't mean to be disrespectful," Mr. Darden said during questioning by Mr. Bermudez's lawyer, Barry J. Pollack. But for the past 18 years, Mr. Darden went on, he has known that Mr. Bermudez was the wrong man.

Mr. Darden, who was a friend of Mr. Blount's, was one of six people at the scene of the shooting who were called as witnesses on Tuesday.

After Mr. Bermudez's conviction, five witnesses who had testified at the trial signed sworn affidavits recanting their testimony and saying they were coerced or manipulated by the police, in a year with an extraordinary number of murders, to identify Mr. Bermudez as the killer.

Justice John Cataldo of State Supreme Court in Manhattan ordered the hearing last month, after defense lawyers presented evidence suggesting that the police had allowed prosecution witnesses to view Mr. Bermudez's mug shot as a group and to discuss his resemblance to the killer.

If Justice Cataldo finds that the police allowed witnesses to choose Mr. Bermudez's photo by consensus, state law would require that he be given a new trial, he said in a ruling last month. In 2004, a federal magistrate determined that the witnesses had, indeed, openly discussed the mug shot, but that that transgression was not great enough, under federal law, to warrant a new trial.

Defense lawyers said that the hearing, which will continue through most of the week, was perhaps Mr. Bermudez's best chance at persuading the judge to grant a new trial, a ruling that would effectively exonerate him.

Prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney's office have said publicly that the only witness to the shooting who testified at the trial had lied. In light of that and the recanted testimony, they said, there was no longer any evidence with which to prosecute Mr. Bermudez.

The five other witnesses who testified Tuesday each said, under questions from a defense lawyer, that in the hours after the killing they had picked out mug shots as a group, under loose or sometimes no supervision, at a police precinct station house.

But, pressed by a prosecutor, some of the witnesses were not able to recall details they had described in the 2004 federal hearing.


17) Constitutional question
Reconsidered plight of a 'condemned man'
By Bob Barr
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Strange as it might seem, the Supreme Court of the United States has never directly and explicitly held that it is unconstitutional for a state to execute a person about whom substantial evidence of innocence has been presented.

However, in a rare exercise of the high court's power to directly order a lower federal court to consider evidence of actual innocence concerning a man already found sentenced to death, at least three justices have declared a willingness to hold that "actual innocence" is constitutionally based.

The historic ruling came in the case of Anthony Troy Davis, who was convicted 20 years ago of the late-night shooting death of Savannah, Ga., police officer Mark MacPhail. Davis' conviction was based not on direct physical evidence or DNA test results, but entirely on so-called eye-witness accounts.

The conviction was subsequently upheld on appeals. However, the fact that seven of nine of those eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony, coupled with the fact that none of the state or federal courts have yet heard directly from any of those witnesses, presented to the Supreme Court a strong argument that Davis should at least be allowed to make such a case.

The unusual ruling came by way of an original habeas corpus petition directly by the Supreme Court to a lower federal court. The last time the court had so acted was nearly half a century ago.

The Aug. 17 ruling cemented Justice Antonin Scalia's reputation as the high court curmudgeon. In his scathing dissent, Justice Scalia said that a close reading of a federal law -- the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) -- precluded a federal court from even considering a petition from a state death sentence including evidence of "actual innocence."

Sarcastically labeling the action ordered by the majority justices a "fool's errand," Justice Scalia concluded there is simply no way the evidence of innocence Davis would present would sway a court, and that even if it did, the federal district court would be powerless to do anything about it based on his reading of AEDPA.

Specifically, Justice Scalia said that AEDPA barred a habeas corpus writ regarding any state court claim unless based on "... a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law." Justice Scalia surmised that, since the Supreme Court "has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who ... is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent ... ," Davis is simply out of luck.

The Constitution of the United States was adopted in 1787; the Bill of Rights four years later in 1791. Apparently for Justice Scalia, these past 218 years have not sufficed to "clearly establish" that federal law is based on the premise that only the guilty are to be executed.

Justice Scalia correctly noted that lower courts had already considered the transcripts of witness testimony presented by Davis' attorneys establishing his innocence. What Justice Scalia fails to mention is the important fact that no court had yet heard from the live witnesses who had recanted, and who, for example, presented evidence of police pressure to secure their testimony.

Even though Scalia Justice opines that the majority opinion leaves the district court unable to decipher what is expected of it, in fact it is very clear. The court is to conduct a full hearing at which the witnesses Davis believes will show his actual innocence are allowed to testify. And the state of Georgia will have full opportunity to rebut that testimony. This seems to me to be a pretty straightforward directive; and not one that imposes a major burden on the state of Georgia.

If the lower court conducts the hearing as directed by our nation's top court and still concludes Davis was the shooter, so be it. Not having been there, I am not in a position to judge.

However, I was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in 1996 when we debated and voted on AEDPA. I can state unequivocally that this legislation was not intended to preclude a claim of actual innocence based on post-sentence evidence from being considered in a habeas petition. Employing such a pinched and erroneous reading of the law to deny a condemned man the opportunity to present substantial evidence of innocence would constitute a major travesty of justice in America.

Bob Barr was the United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 as a member of the Judiciary Committee.


18) Deeper Into the Tunnel
September 4-6, 2009

CounterPunch Diary
As General Stan McChrystal plans his march on Washington to demand more troops in Afghanistan the antiwar movement lies on the sidewalk, as inert and forlorn as a homeless person in the rain at a street corner, too dejected even to hold up a sign. This is at a time that as Mark Ames has just pointed out, “Obama is doubling down in Afghanistan with more troops deployed now than the Soviets ever had.” Yes, add up US troops and contractors and you get a US invasion of Afghanistan bigger than the Soviet force at its peak.

Is there any sign of life in a movement that marshaled hundreds of thousands to march in protest against war in Iraq? Ah, but those were the Bush years. Now we have a Democrat in the White House.

One person hasn’t tossed aside her peace sign. Cindy Sheehan sees war as war, whether the battle standard is being waved by a white moron from Midland, Texas or an eloquent black man from Chicago. But when she called for protesters to join her on Martha’s Vineyard to stand outside Obama’s holiday roost for four days at the end of August there was a marked contrast to the response she got when she rallied thousands to stand outside Bush’s Crawford lair.

As John Walsh described it here last week, “the silence was, as Cindy put it in an email to this writer, ‘crashingly deafening.’ Where are the email appeals to join Cindy from The Nation or from AFSC or Peace Action or “Progressive” Democrats of America (PDA) or even Code Pink? Or United for Peace and Justice. And what about MoveOn although it was long ago thoroughly discredited as principled opponents of war or principled in any way shape or form except slavish loyalty to the ‘other’ War Party. And of course sundry ‘socialist’ organizations are also missing in action since their particular dogma will not be front and center. These worthies and many others have vanished into the fog of Obama’s wars.”

Before he joined Sheehan on Martha’s Vineyard, Walsh says he contacted several of the leaders of the “official” peace movement in the Boston area – AFSC, Peace Action, Green Party of MA (aka Green Rainbow Party) and some others. Not so much as the courtesy of a reply resulted from this effort - although the GRP at least posted a notice of the action.

Click through the leftish or progressive websites these days and you’ll find endless alarums about the renascent right, the brownshirt threat, the massed stormtroopers of Glenn Beck. You won’t find too much practical organizing against Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan.

Take the craven behavior of the leadership of the October 17 anti-war protest in San Francisco, the first scheduled to be held in the Obama era. In the nuts-and-bolts details of organizing and endorsements, the saga tells us much about the spavined state of the antiwar movement.

On August 29, the October 17 Coalition voted to endorse a protest at the Westin-St. Francis, one of the city’s flashier hotels, the following Friday where San Francisco Congresswoman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was to be honored with a $100 a plate breakfast. But by the end of the day the October 17 coalition leadership got cold feet when it learned that the host of the breakfast was none other than the San Francisco Labor Council.

Now, in the Bay Area, the bleak truth is that organized labor’s participation in marches and demonstrations has been minimal since the first Gulf War. But rather than challenging the Labor Council about its apathy on the war questions and about its choice of Pelosi, a war supporter, as its breakfast honoree, the coalition – replete with supposedly fiery socialists - promptly tried to cancel the protest.

There’s nothing new here. Genuflections to the Labor Council has long characterized San Francisco’s anti-war movement leadership when it comes to determining its public agenda.

Unsurprisingly, panic at anything to do with Israel’s conduct has characterized many of these more odious chapters in this history, as was forcefully demonstrated by the refusal of what was then called the Spring Mobilization for Peace, Jobs and Justice to planks to its major marches against US intervention in Central America and apartheid in South Africa in 1985 and 1988 that demanded, “No US Intervention in the Middle East,” and “End US Support for Israeli Occupation,” respectively.

In the spring of 1985, Israel was in its fourth year of occupation of Lebanon after an invasion that had been publicly supported by the AFL-CIO with no dissent from San Francisco’s labor bureaucracy. The main organizer of both of those marches was Socialist Action. In its newspaper this group regularly boasted of its anti-Zionism and solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Nonetheless, in this instance Socialist Action promptly turned into Socialist Inaction. The group was adamant about not allowing any demand that referred to the Middle East to be added to the Mobilization’s program. The limp excuse: “labor will walk.” So determined was it, in fact, to keep the issue from being raised at the Mobe’s general meeting that Socialist Action had two of its members stand at the end of the aisle where she was sitting to keep Lebanese-born Tina Naccache, a well known radio host from Berkeley’s KPFA, from trying to approach a microphone and
addressing the packed union meeting hall.

It was considerably more difficult for Socialist Action and its allies to ignore the Palestinian intifada in 1988 but again they rose to the challenge, managing to appease the Labor Council by doing so. This required Socialist Action to cancel a general meeting of anti-war activists that quite likely would have led to the addition of a demand for an end to Israeli occupation.

Today we find the very same Socialist Action leader, Jeff Mackler, longer of tooth but no closer to socialism, taking unilateral action to prevent the picketing of the Labor Council breakfast for Pelosi.

In an email to the October 17 steering committee, Mackler described in rather comically elevated terms the proposed picket of the breakfast as a

“time bomb [that] was ticking…. I based my decision [to cancel the meeting] on a higher principle. We made a decision [to approve the picket] based on false information. No one knew that we voted to hold a demonstration at the Labor Council breakfast! No one knew that our coalition was going to be the ONLY initiator and sponsor of the demonstration!

“After I consulted with several of the leading forces present, it was clear that we had made a grave mistake that needed immediate correction.. The demonstration we had approved was essentially 3 days away and we had to assume that it was being built in our name, with our leaflet and with our approval. It is now clear that no one approved such a demonstration, with perhaps one exception, the maker of the motion who neglected to inform us of what we were voting for.”

The maker of the motion was Steve Zeltzer, a long time labor activist who may be remembered, along with Jeffrey Blankfort and anti-apartheid campaigner, Anne Poirier, for having successfully sued the Anti-Defamation League for spying on them and thousands other activists in the late Eighties.
“We could have done ourselves great harm had we waited,” Mackler quavered. “Had we not acted as we did, we might have lost the coalition or a good portion of it. We definitely would have lost the ability to ask in good faith for Labor Council support. And no one doubts that labor's support is critical in these days of terrible encroachments on the lives, health and stability of working people, not to mention the masses who are daily slaughtered in the course of the U.S. wars that we so strongly oppose.”

Opposition to the war and the slaughter of the masses apparently stops and flees at the hideous possibility of causing embarassment to the San Francisco Labor Council. There is not a hint in Mackler’s lengthy email suggesting that the Labor Council might owe anti-war forces an explanation for having invited Pelosi in the first place.

So Pelosi and the Council were spared embarrassment. “As it stands now the event remains cancelled,” wrote Mackler contentedly, “now agreed to by most everyone, and hopefully with the least amount of damage done.”

The Executive Director of the Labor Council, Tim Paulson, who also happens to head the state Democratic Party’s labor caucus, was quick to show his appreciation to both Pelosi and to the October 17th Coalition while attacking Zeltzer.

“We are…honored to be visited by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has been fighting tirelessly for real health care reform and is taking time out of her busy schedule to break bread with her friends in the labor movement before she heads back to Washington, D.C..” wrote Paulson in a letter to union members.

“I have recently received an email put out by Steve Zeltzer and was saddened to learn that Zeltzer is trying to organize and smear our event by protesting the Speaker at our celebration of Labor Day.

“Our partners in the anti-war movement have been calling me to say they are condemning this protest as irresponsible and divisive. U.S. Labor Against the War has written an email condemning this action. The A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition is also not supporting Zeltzer, and many progressive anti-war activists are emailing and calling the Labor Council to distance themselves from Zeltzer’s misguided efforts.

“This missive is just to let our friends know that you might be met outside the hotel by some protesters, but that almost unilaterally the labor and anti-war movements condemn these efforts.”

“What labor and anti-war movements?” San Franciscans might legitimately ask.

For the historical record, and for illustrations of the political effectiveness of causing embarrassment and rocking the boat, the last picket of a San Francisco Labor Council event took place at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on October 15, 1987. It was the annual dinner that the Labor Council hosted for the Israeli Labor Federation, the Histadrut, which had an office at a San Francisco union hall and whose close business ties with apartheid South Africa had been exposed in the Israeli press. It was also the first public event of the Labor Committee on the Middle East which had been co-founded by Steve Zeltzer and Blankfort earlier that August.

The featured speaker was to be Mayor Willie Brown and Zeltzer and Blankfort wrote him requesting that, as an opponent of apartheid, he cancel the speaking invitation and make a public statement condemning the Histadrut. Needless to say, Brown refused and along with Walter Johnson, the executive director of the Labor Council at the time, and many of the guests, were forced to enter the hotel by a side entrance to avoid crossing our picket line. As a result of the protest, which garnered considerable publicity, there were no more Labor Council dinners honoring the Histadrut and shortly thereafter, it closed its office and left the city.

How Obama Can Save His Presidency

Here we are in September, and what have Obama’s liberal supporters got to cling to by way of evidence that positive change is on the way?

Economically, we seem to be heading—well ahead of schedule—into 1937, the year the New Deal crashed onto the rocks. The energy bill, driven by junk science and junk nostrums, has been a detour into disaster. Health reform is levitating toward the graveyard, borne along by Blue Dog Democrats, nerveless salesmanship by the White House and as ripe an eruption of insanity by the know-nothing legions as I’ve ever witnessed.

Many Obama dreamers hoped that their man would introduce some minimal shift for the better in America’s relationship with the rest of the world. Now, as noted above, all they have to look forward to is Gen. Stanley McChrystal marching up to Capitol Hill and into the Oval Office to demand more troops for Afghanistan. In relations with Russia Obama and Vice President Biden have remained substantively committed to NATO expansionism. In Latin America, the handling of the coup in Honduras and warm relations with Colombia’s Uribe suggest a sinister larger strategy of counterattack on the leftist trends of the past few years.

It’s a dark vista overall. Some big opportunities—like a frontal assault on the power of the banks and of Wall Street—will never return. What can Obama do to regain the initiative?

There are two men capable of uniting large numbers of Ameri-cans in detestation: Dick Cheney and George Bush, in that order. Typically, Obama has hopped from foot to foot on his administration’s posture toward our Home Team Torturers. Now Attorney General Eric Holder has gingerly inclined to the view that maybe, perhaps, the US government should inch toward the legal stand-ard on prosecution of torturers required of it by a law signed by Ronald Reagan, not to mention the Geneva Conventions.

With their drive for impeachment, the Republicans dominated the headlines and all but paralyzed the Clinton White House for two years. Now it should be payback time. Obama’s pledge to the American people: Cheney and Bush behind bars by 2012, plus Gonzales, Yoo, Addington and the rest of the pack. We crave drama. From Obama we’re not getting it, except in the form of racist rallies. This is his last, best chance.