Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Did the Supreme Court Just Elect John McCain?


The US Supreme Court has just dealt a serious blow to voters' rights that could help put John McCain in the White House by eliminating tens of thousands of voters who generally vote Democratic.

By 6-3 the Court has upheld an Indiana law that requires citizens to present a photo identification card in order to vote. Florida, Michigan, Louisiana, Georgia, Hawaii and South Dakota have similar laws. Though it's unlikely, as many as two dozen other states could add them by election day. Other states, like Ohio, have less stringent ID requirements than Indiana's, but still have certain restrictions that are strongly opposed by voter rights advocates.

The decision turns back two centuries of jurisprudence that has accepted a registered voter's signature as sufficient identification for casting a ballot. By matching that signature against one given at registration, and with harsh penalties for ballot stuffing, the Justices confirmed in their lead opinion that there is "no evidence" for the kind of widespread voter fraud Republican partisans have used to justify the demand for photo ID.

Voting rights activists have long argued that since photo ID can cost money, or may demand expensive trips to government agencies, the requirement constitutes a "poll tax." Taxes on the right to vote were used for a century to prevent blacks and others from voting in the south and elsewhere. They were specifically banned by the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1964.

But the Court's lead opinion, written by Justice Stevens, normally a liberal, said that though rare, the "risk of voter fraud" was nonetheless "real" and that there was "no question about the legitimacy or importance of the state's interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters." The burden of obtaining a voter ID, said the court, was not so difficult as to be deemed unconstitutional. Ohio election protection attorney Cliff Arnebeck believes Stevens joined the decision to divide the Court's conservative majority, and to leave the door open for further litigation.

But there is no indication the corporate media or Democratic Party will be pursuing significant action on this issue any time soon. Though the Kerry Campaign solicited millions of dollars to "protect the vote" in 2004, it has not supported independent research into that election's irregularities. In the King-Lincoln Civil Rights lawsuit, in which we are attorney and plaintiff, 56 of Ohio's 88 counties destroyed ballot materials, in direct violation of federal law. There has been no official legal follow-up on this case, no major media investigation, and no support from the Democratic Party either to investigate what happened in Ohio 2004, or to make sure it doesn't happen again in 2008. The issue has yet to be seriously raised by the major Democratic candidates despite the fact that it could render their campaigns moot.

This latest Supreme Court decision is yet another blow to voting rights advocates -- and probably to the Democratic nominees for President and other offices. It will clearly make it far more difficult for poor, minority, elderly and young citizens to vote. Tens of thousands of normally Democratic voters in key states -- especially Florida, Michigan, Georgia and Louisiana---will simply be prevented from getting a ballot.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law in its "Friend of the Court" brief noted that between 10 per cent and 13 per cent of eligible voters lack the identification now required in Indiana. People without an official photo ID tend to be disproportionately minorities and poor, ushering a new Jim Crow era based on race and class apartheid. One Indiana study, according to Inter Press Service reporter Jim Lobe, found that 13.3 per cent of registered Indiana voters lacked the now-required ID, but the numbers were significantly higher for black voters at 18 per cent and young voters age 18-34 at more than 20 per cent.

Kathryn Kolbert, President of People for the American Way, put the number at "millions of eligible voters who don't have the ID these laws require."

Photo ID has long been a lynchpin of a concerted GOP strategy to eliminate Democratic voters. In the wake of the theft of the 2004 election in Ohio, Republican activists produced heavily publicized allegations of massive voter fraud, virtually all of which proved to be false.

Nonetheless, the drumbeat for restrictive ID requirements has been steadily rising from GOP strongholds. Other such laws are now virtually certain to follow in states with Republican-controlled legislatures, though it's unclear how many more can be put into law by November.

Nor has the GOP let up in its other campaigns to restrict access to the polls. Extremely harsh limitations on voter registration campaigns in Florida have severely restricted attempts by the League of Women Voters and others to sign up new voters. GOP election officials also have made it clear they will severely restrict the franchise of those who have minor irregularities in the registration forms, such as an errant middle initial or changed address.

It is also unclear how many electronic voting machines will still be in place, come November. Despite a wide range of high-level studies showing them easily hackable, the elimination of touch screen voting machines has proceeded at a glacial pace. No significant federal legislation has been passed to eliminate electronic voting machines or even to make them more secure. With a few exceptions, most notably Florida, progress at the state level has been minimal.

Thus the GOP hope that millions of Americans will be voting on hackable computers this November, and that millions more may be eliminated from the rolls altogether, seems very close to fruition. Whether this will swing the election to John McCain remains to be seen. But this Supreme Court decision allowing the demand for photo ID makes it much more likely.

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of How the GOP stole America's 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008 ( and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of What Happened in Ohio? (the New Press). Bob is publisher of, where Harvey is senior editor.

Monday, April 28, 2008

McCain Gets 80% Discount; Free Inmate Labor for Fundraiser

By Kathy, Pam's House Blend
Posted on April 26, 2008

(Oh my, free inmate labor! They really know how to show hospitality down there, Kathy. - promoted by pam)

Homewood AL Mayor Barry McCulley (R-obviously) has stepped in it with this one. He's supposed to bring requests for discounts to the City Council, but for some reason he decided to rent the McCain people a room at Rosewood Hall for $250, substantially less than the going rate of $1,200 for a weeknight event. He also provided free inmate labor to set up the tables and chairs, waiving the usual $100 set-up fee.

Homewood Mayor Barry McCulley said the rental rate was discounted because the event was on Monday, a slow day for business. City Council members say they always vote on such discounts but didn't get a say in this deal. They're upset, as are local Democrats.

"I think it's outrageous," said Robert Yarbrough, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party and a Homewood resident.

"I was charged full book rate. I was never offered any free inmate services to set up for my event. Mayor McCulley owes an apology to every citizen in Homewood as to why he arbitrarily changed the fee for this out-of-state senator from Arizona."

Yarbrough rented the entire hall, three rooms, on Thursday nights in September 2006 and September 2007 for the Democratic Blue Dot Ball fundraiser. The weekday fee is $1,700 for all three rooms, according to the official rates. Yarbrough said the Democrats paid more than $2,500 for all charges each year.

McCulley claims Council President Ginger Busby agreed to the discount, but she says different.

"The mayor asked me if the hall could be free for the McCain event, and I said absolutely not," Busby said. "He then asked if it was appropriate to charge a lesser fee for Mondays. I said as long as it didn't cost the city money, it could be considered."

That's right. The Mayor had no problem charging one of his own tax-paying citizens full freight, but he wanted to give away the store for John McCain. Does anyone else think party affiliation might have played a tiny part in his decision?

City Council member David Hooks is also concerned about the legal ramifications of the city making what amounts to an in-kind donation to a political campaign. Perhaps the Mayor just assumed that every taxpayer in Homewood is a McCain supporter. Robbie Yarbrough won't be the only person telling him he's wrong.

© 2008 Pam's House Blend All rights reserved.

On Queen's Boulevard, the Night Sean Bell's Killers Got Off

By JoAnn Wypijewski

"Fifty Shots! That's Murder!"

Friday dusk in Queens, the first march after the verdict in the police killing of Sean Bell started among the cherry blossoms. In front of the cool stone courthouse, where that morning Judge Arthur Cooperman announced that essentially his decision had pivoted on believing that police feared for their life, or on taking the word of a bunch of thugs with rap sheets and an interest in milking the city for cash. He had decided the victims brought it on themselves.

"Fifty shots!"

"That's murder!"

The protesters flowed from the little park in front of the courthouse across the street crying "Murder!" The judge hadn't thought so. He didn't entertain manslaughter, or felony assault, or reckless endangerment either. Maybe carelessness, but that would be for the Police Department to decide. Sean Bell was dead at 23, too bad. He and a friend had had heated words with another man outside Club Kalua, an exotic dance club, after his bachelor party there. Did anyone really say he had a gun or say he was going for a gun? The testimony was inconsistent, but the judge wasn't bothered by that inconsistency. Police "perceived" that Bell and his crew might have had a gun in their car, he stated. They no more had a gun than Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But they were Angry Black Men, the defense had argued. They were drunk. And when they saw yet another dark-skinned man in plain clothes pointing a gun at them, they didn't wave a white flag and sit still. It was just past 4 in the morning. They were drunk, and they tried to get away. The man pointing the gun at their car may or may not have said, "Police." He and the two other shooters on trial said they had identified themselves, but their own lieutenant on the scene testified that he had not heard it. The judge was not bothered by that inconsistency. The cops may or may not have shown their badges, another inconsistency that did not concern him.

"One, we are the people!"

"Two, a little bit louder"

"Three, we want justice for all people ... "

The protest massed down Queens Boulevard and onto Jamaica Avenue, past the nail shops and the beauty shops, past fast food parking lots where tattooed young men and sedate-looking older couples joined in the chants, past intersections where people stuck waiting in their cars didn't seem to mind, past tenements where pretty girls hung out the windows smiling and waving, past idling buses whose black passengers nodded or gave a thumbs up. The emotion of plain, unarmed people in the early hours of November 25, 2006 -- confusion, disorientation, fear in the night -- did not matter to the judge in deciding the facts of the case. They might have mattered to a jury, but once a court refused to allow a change of venue out of the city, the cops put their fate in the judge's hands.

"That was good," I overheard a couple of white guys at a Manhattan diner say later. The papers quoted legal experts saying the case was so complicated plain people never could have decided it, and a mistrial would have been the most likely outcome. Judge Cooperman took eleven days before rendering his decision, but in delivering it he expressed only steely purpose. The baby son of one of the victims started crying while Cooperman was reading his verdict. "I'm not going to continue unless the child is removed," the judge snapped, and the boy's mother hurried him out of the courtroom. What the victims felt or thought at the time of the shooting was irrelevant, the judge lectured; it's what they did that mattered. They had tried to get away; Sean Bell's Nissan Altima hit the man who was pointing a gun at him and hit an unmarked police van. Then it hit the van again. That was enough for a pre-emptive execution. What the cops thought and felt, not what they did, is what concerned the judge, and they thought Bell and his friends were going to kill them. Fifty shots. Within seconds Liverpool Street was a scene of carnage. Two years later the survivors took the witness stand, and their inconsistencies counted for everything. Their anger under cross-examination, their background with the law, their shifting memory of what happened in a few horror-filled seconds after a long night of drinking that ended with their friend drenched in blood and themselves ripped with bullets, counted for everything, as did the background of other prosecution witnesses, some of them strippers and drug dealers. "These factors played a significant part in ... eviscerating the credibility of those prosecution witnesses," Judge Cooperman declared.

"1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 ... 48 - 49 - 50."

"Fifty shots!"

"That's murder!"

We have done these countdowns before. Up to forty-one after Amadou Diallo was killed by four plain clothes cops in the Bronx in 1999. Those cops got off, too, after a jury in Albany, New York, decided they feared for their life. They were all big men with guns, but the little immigrant's wallet looked like a gun. Who knew?

Fifty shots is a new high, but among the placards in the march there were creased and dog-eared signs, relics of many an earlier outing, listing the names of the dead at police hands. There were signs, now updated, with pictures of some of the better-known victims, Anthony Baez, Timothy Stansbury, Diallo, Abner Louima, who wasn't killed, merely sodomized with a broomstick in a police station... Most of us don't know the other names unless we look them up or they died down the street from where we live. Most were killed by only a few shots or, like Baez, by a chokehold or a beating. A crazed old woman with a steak knife -- what was her name, again? -- was pumped full of lead by a SWAT team in her kitchen. Some were killed in custody; some have been killed since Bell but without the enticing detail: the bikini clad pole dancers, the wedding day in ruins, the unfulfilled redemption of a man about to "turn his life around". It doesn't matter; the story is always the same. The police are always scared. Their training is always irrelevant. "What would you do in their shoes?" someone, some many ones, in the newspapers always ask insistently. As if we can know. We, the untrained, are just scared. Bell and his friends were just scared. It doesn't matter. If police training could go out the window, the victims' conjured training could not. As thugs, they should have been ready. The trial was theirs, really, and the judge found them guilty.

"No justice!"

"No peace!"

"And fuck the police!"

The police are trained not to mind the abuse and behave accordingly. The evening of the protest they were out in windbreakers and baseball caps rather than riot gear. "Oink, oink, oink!" They didn't flinch. No protester said, "Off the pigs!" but it probably wouldn't have mattered this night, the first night, where everyone from the mayor on down had decided that a little repressive tolerance couldn't hurt. And there were children in strollers in the march. A nice black dog in the march. Some old people and a lot of teenagers. Not many of the protesters were white. Not one of the cheering spectators was white, at least not that I noticed. Along the route three buxom Latinas in the doorway of their nail shop swayed their hips and arms as if at a parade of heroes.

The killing of Bell and wounding of his friends was an advertisement for multicultural law and order in action. Of the three defendants, Marc Cooper is black; Gescard Isnora is black Hispanic; Michael Oliver is Arab-American. The defense team was a rainbow coalition, black, Latino and white, with the most dogged cross-examiner in the bunch a black man. After the verdict he made a point of telling the press that his client, Isnora, the man who pointed his gun at Bell first, was a dark-skinned man who decided not to sell drugs, not to get involved in the life of the streets. As offensive as the broader implications of that assertion, the opposite is true. Isnora and his partners have made careers juicing the life of the streets. They were in Club Kalua that night trying to trap someone into buying drugs or agreeing to sex for hire. They had been forced to drink a couple of beers so as to fit in. (The NYPD will eventually decide if that was going overboard.) Four hours in that seedy joint, and they couldn't snag a soul. After the place closed and just before the shooting, one of the cops tried one last time to lure one of the dancers into prostitution. No luck. The night had been one fat zero for the cops until they imagined the crime-about-to-happen and killed Bell. In a play-out of the grim cliche that these killings have become, the only thing separating the cops from gangsters is the badge, the blue and the benefit of the doubt.

After the judge delivered his verdict, Trent Benefield, who was injured in the shooting and excoriated by the judge as a liar, wept among his friends and said, "If I did it, I'd be doing twenty-five to life." This verdict had been preceded, a few weeks before, by another one, the sentencing verdict of John White, a 54-year-old black homeowner in Long Island who shot and killed an unarmed drunken white teenager who came to his house shouting "Nigger" and, White thought, threatening his family. White wept too, on the witness stand, telling the jury of his fear, the whirl of historical memories, of real and imagined terrors that combined in some mad vortex that ended in a killing that night. He called it an accident. The essential facts of White's case were as clear as those of the three cops. He was armed; his victim was not. He was afraid a gun or guns might appear from somewhere in the dark, some lynch mob on the way; they did not, but he killed a 16-year-old. A jury convicted White of manslaughter. His fear or the drunken, repulsive behavior of the victim did not figure in the conviction; they were matters for mitigation, and at sentencing White was given two to four years in prison. Supporters of Bell's killers have taken to railing against protesters for having no respect for presumption of innocence, reasonable doubt and other noble features of the trial system that seem almost quaint until they're written in bright capital letters when cops kill someone. Like the three cops only with more justification -- he had not gone out looking for a confrontation with his victim -- John White said he had feared for his life. No doubt that fear was real, but killing an unarmed teenager was not an act of self-defense, and it didn't look like an accident. A jury was able to make the distinctions that Judge Cooperman and his august champions in the legal profession suggested were beyond anyone's capability in the killing of Sean Bell.

"We are all Sean Bell!"

"We are all Sean Bell!"

Our words bounced off the walls and the underside of the bridge at the Jamaica station of the Long Island Railroad, amplified, thunderous. We all meant them. But there were no pictures of white women on that whiskered sign of police victims, and no white men either. Leftists who have worried that an electoral victory for Barack Obama will somehow remove the oppression of blacks as a subject in American politics need not fret. Whatever Obama's fortunes, it's a good bet that another black family's loved one will be shot dead in the streets by police somewhere in America, and another court will decide that the trained killers had every reason to be afraid. Again they'll walk, and protesters will march, and editorialists will say we must honor the rule of law and take steps so it never happens again. "Unfortunately, sometimes people die", as Michael Oliver, who got off thirty-one shots, said after acquittal. "I have to live with that for the rest of my life." If the pattern follows, he'll get a desk job, and the police union will say how unfair it all is.

JoAnn Wypijewski is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. She lives in New York and can be reacged at

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Obliterate Them!


There is a Persian proverb that says, “Esfah'n nesf-e jah'n ast” or "Esfahan is half the world.”

And there is the American zeitgeist that says, “Obliterate them.”

Esfahan is a modern Iranian metropolis of three and half million people. Situated at an ancient crossroads, Esfahan has embraced the great ebb and flow of human existence for more than ten centuries. Once one of the largest cities in the world, and more than once the capital of Persia, it is renowned for its Islamic architecture, with beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets.

Esfahan is also home to Iran’s largest nuclear reactor. Its university houses the country’s nuclear research program. Enough said.

“U.S. Weighing Readiness for Military Action Against Iran,” the Washington Post headline read on Friday. At a Pentagon news conference Friday afternoon, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair, Admiral Michael Mullen, said that the United States was considering "potential military courses of action" against Iran, and pointing to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force said, "it would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability.”

* * * *

“A few days after the raid the sirens screamed again. The listless and heartsick survivors were showered this time with leaflets. I lost my copy of the epic,” writes Kurt Vonnegut, “but remember that it ran something like this: ‘To the people of Dresden: We were forced to bomb your city because of the heavy military traffic your railroad facilities have been carrying. We realize that we haven’t always hit our objectives. Destruction of anything other than military objectives was unintentional, unavoidable fortunes of war.’”

“The leaflet should have said, ‘We have hit every blessed church, hospital, school, museum, theater, your university, the zoo, and every apartment building in town, but we honestly weren’t trying hard to do it. C’est la guerre. So sorry.’”

Totally obliterate them. “That's a terrible thing to say, but those people who run Iran need to understand that,” says presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Candidate Obama assures us that he “will take no options off the table,” while candidate McCain sings, “Bomb, bomb, bomb. Bomb, bomb, Iran.” C’est la guerre. So sorry.

* * * *

Sixty years ago, as Europe lay in the ruins of war, Albert Camus was invited to the Dominican monastery in Latour-Maubourg. “What does the world expect of Christians?” the friars wanted to know. “What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.”

German theologian and political activist Dorothee Soelle put it simply, “The truth is concrete.”

In 1948 at Latour-Maubourg, the Dominicans told Camus that the Catholic church had in fact spoken out, but that the arcane language of papal encyclicals had obscured the message. The Vatican had indeed signaled its condemnations, but by necessity through diplomatic indirection.

Last week, Josef Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, eschewed the oblique and chose to come to the United States in person. Traveling under the banner “Christ Our Hope,” his message took the form of a skillfully crafted literary inclusio, bracketed by the Willkommen of George Bush and the vaya con Dios of Dick Cheney. Into the vortex of an exquisite choreography vanished the wars of aggression, torture of innocents, destruction of civilizations, and desecration of law.

Camus told the Dominican friars, “When a Spanish bishop blesses political executions, he ceases to be a bishop or a Christian or even a man; he is a dog just like one who, backed by an ideology, orders that execution without doing the dirty work himself.”

* * * *

“It is with some regret,” Vonnegut writes, “that I here besmirch the nobility of our airmen, but boys, you killed an appalling lot of women and children. The shelter I have described and innumerable others like it were filled with them. We had to exhume their bodies and carry them to mass funeral pyres in the parks—so I know. The funeral pyre technique was abandoned when it became apparent how great was the toll. There was not enough labor to do it nicely, so a man with a flame thrower was sent down instead, and he cremated them where they lay. Buried alive, suffocated, crushed—men, women, and children indiscriminately killed. The method was impersonal, but the result was equally cruel and heartless. That, I am afraid, is a sickening truth.”

In December Boeing completed work on a project that was conceived here in St. Louis and put on the fast track by the Pentagon. Tested in the New Mexico desert last spring, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator or MOP is a 30,000-pound conventional weapon designed to penetrate 200 feet before exploding. The Senate approved $83 million to retrofit the B-2 Stealth bombers to make the delivery.

The line separating conventional and nuclear weapons has been systematically eroded. The Nuclear Posture Review of 2001 says "nuclear weapons... provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force ...U.S. military forces themselves, including nuclear forces will now be used to dissuade adversaries from undertaking military programs or operations that could threaten U.S. interests or those of allies and friends...” The National Security Strategy of 2006 adds that "the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively... using all elements of national power...Safe, credible and reliable nuclear forces continue to play a critical role..."

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a “limited” nuclear attack on the main Iranian underground site in Esfahan would result in three million people killed by radiation within two weeks and 35 million people exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

“The occupying Russians, when they discovered that we were Americans,” writes Vonnegut, “embraced us and congratulated us on the complete desolation our planes had wrought. We accepted their congratulations with good grace and proper modesty, but I felt then as I feel now, that I would have given my life to save Dresden for the World’s generations to come. That is how everyone should feel about every city on Earth.”

* * * *

“We are still waiting, and I am waiting,” said Camus, “for a grouping of all those who refuse to be dogs and are resolved to pay the price that must be paid so that a human can be something more than a dog.”

Last Sunday a small group of us stood in front of the Catholic cathedral in St. Louis for a few hours with a model of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. While the pope was preaching at Yankee Stadium, we held a banner calling for him to go to Esfahan to begin the creation of an Iran Peace Shield. It was a small beginning. Conversations were opened. One young man disdainfully reminded us that we were in front of church, while an older women making her way slowly up the steps with a cane looked up at the MOP and said, “What? Attack Iran? We can’t do that!”

“How can you excoriate the pope and make an appeal to him at the same time,” we’ve been asked. As human beings, how can we not? As the humanist Vonnegut said, “If Christ hadn't delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn't want to be a human being. I'd just as soon be a rattlesnake.”

The crude reality is that our weapons of mass destruction, both nuclear and conventional, are prepared for an assault on Iran. Our warships are in the gulf. Our planes are on standby. And all of this is consummate human folly.

Some who are knowledgeable say that nothing save pure dumb luck can change the course upon which the United States government and its military have embarked. We can’t live with that. We are taking steps to escalate the appeal, not only to the pope but to anyone of a stature who’s presence in Esfahan would serve as a real deterrent to the launching of an assault by the United States. To put it simply, Dick Cheney would not drop an MOP on Josef Ratzinger’s head. To whom else can we make our appeal? We are going to make the appeal as noisily and with as much public disruption as we can muster. And we urge everyone else reading these words to do the same. Make your own appeal to those you with whom you have connections wherever and however you can. Disrupt things. We believe that we can create an effective shield with people in Esfahan and with noise everywhere.

Will we give our lives for Esfahan?

Andrew Wimmer is a member of the Center for Theology and Social Analysis in St. Louis. The Iran Peace Shield is an action coming to birth. Will you join us? The website is skeletal at the moment but will be taking shape over the coming days at We invite your comments via email to

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Protests over high food prices go global

People are rising up in much of the world to vehemently protest rising food prices.

Furious at seeing their children go hungry, and enraged at the inequities of it all, working and poor people all over the globe are militantly protesting. In Mexico, Haiti, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Uzbekistan, the Philippines and Indonesia—as well as in several African nations, including Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia—anger is boiling over at the exorbitant prices of basic foods.

Rice, a staple for nearly half the world’s peoples, costs twice what it did at the start of the year. Corn and wheat costs are sky-high.

The World Bank and capitalist governments are worried that growing mass protests against rising food prices will grow into rebellions and threaten the stability of their profit system.

The World Bank has reported that worldwide food prices grew by 83 percent over the last three years. Its president, Robert Zoellick, warned that 33 nations are at risk of social unrest due to rising food prices.

When 10,000 Bangladeshi textile workers marched in Dhaka on April 12 for higher wages to pay for increased food prices, they were attacked by police. Dozens were hurt. These workers, along with the rest of the population, are outraged at the 30 percent hike in the price of rice over the last year in a country one-half of whose 150 million people live on under $1 a day.

In Pakistan and Thailand, soldiers were dispatched to fields and warehouses to prevent food seizures by the many who are hungry. (Agence France-Presse, April 13)

In countries across the globe where imperialism has caused enormous income inequality, the majority spend most of their income on food. Nigerians, for example, spend 73 percent of their earnings on food; Indonesians spend half.

Soaring food prices have put millions of people at risk of starvation.

Many factors but one main cause

What has fueled these high costs?

Modern food production relies on petroleum. It is used for fertilizers, farm equipment and transportation.

War is also a factor impacting on food prices. Militaries use a lot of oil, whose price has climbed to $100 a barrel since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began.

In Haiti and Egypt, food is on sale, but the prices are out of reach for the masses. In other countries, such as the Philippines, food shortages are partially due to less domestic food cultivation.

Restricted food exports in some countries and lower global food production and inventories increase demand, which also drives prices high. Farmers who grew rice and other food staples are switching to more profitable cash crops. Another trend is to sell off agricultural land for other money-making uses.

Global warming and climate change, as a result of imperialist plunder of the earth’s resources, have caused damage to food cultivation.

Then there’s the enormous impact of corporate farms converting cropland from food production to growing raw materials, mostly corn, for ethanol production. These biofuels are in great demand and highly profitable, but they take arable land away from food production and drive up food prices. It means there’s less corn to feed people.

Cultivation zeroes in where the profits are greatest, a given in capitalist economies even though food is vitally needed worldwide. Agribusiness is even cutting down trees in rainforests, causing more deforestation, in the rush to make money.

As regards the environment, Eric Holt-Gimenez, director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, explains that biofuel production, instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adds even more “from deforestation, burning, peat drainage, cultivation and soil-carbon losses.” (International Herald Tribune, July 10, 2007)

Native food production is even further harmed by globalized biofuel farming as Indigenous farmers are pushed out, along with their crops.

Biofuel cultivation is big business. Highly industrialized countries are demanding ethanol. The European Union is exempting biofuel from some gas taxes.

Holt-Gimenez said of the concentration of wealth and market power in the biofuels industry, “Venture capital investment in biofuels grew by 800 percent in the last three years.”

Agribusiness giants Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill control most of the U.S. ethanol production and are its biggest profiteers. The U.S. government gives them billions of dollars in agricultural subsidies, tax credits and much more.

Lester R. Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, says, “One of the consequences of this enormous shift of grain [to biofuels] is that hunger and malnutrition, which were supposed to be declining during this period, haven’t.” Predictions are there will be 1.2 billion hungry people by 2025. (Associated Press, Jan. 29)

Right now, nearly one billion people are hungry worldwide. Every day 24,000 children die from hunger and malnutrition.

The United Nations says it would cost $195 billion annually to end world hunger and related diseases. This is less than what the U.S. spends each year on the Iraq war.

But there is no long-term solution for world hunger as long as the almighty dollar reigns over humanity’s needs. The capitalist market and its drive for profits will always take precedence, no matter what is needed.

Productive forces worldwide can potentially produce food for all. But it takes a planned socialist economy based on human need rather than the profit motive.

The goal of capitalist production is to sell food for profit, even when people are starving. Food is a commodity like everything else. High prices and large warehouses of grain can exist side by side with starvation when people are too poor to buy food.

This is one more reason why socialism is superior to capitalism, especially for the masses of people worldwide. Socialist centralized planning of production for what people need and equitable global distribution of food to all who need it are vital to solve this growing catastrophe.

Articles copyright 1995-2008 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Scary to fly? Here's why

Published Apr 18, 2008

The country was in shock in early April as 3,000 flights were cancelled abruptly. Some 300,000 people found themselves stranded in airports, unable to reach their destinations due to this sudden action by the Federal Aviation Administration. The flights were grounded when “the culture of complacency” that existed between the FAA and the airlines was revealed.

The FAA is assigned the duty of making sure airplanes are safe for those who fly in them. Bobby Boutris, a North Texan, became one of the 46,000 FAA employees hoping to do just that. But he soon learned otherwise. He began to see that the job of FAA inspectors was not to keep the public safe but to do what the airlines wanted.

Boutris finally decided to blow the whistle. He described before Congress how he faced retaliation and punishment by the FAA bureaucracy for refusing to let unsafe airplanes reach the sky.

Due in part to his testimony, it was revealed that at least 1,457 recent flights have taken off without fulfilling safety precautions. Over 200,000 innocent passengers risked their lives flying in airplanes with cracked windshields, broken landing gear and damaged wings. (, April 1)

In some cases FAA inspectors never even viewed the planes. It was employees of the airlines who actually inspected them. FAA inspectors just looked over their paperwork. (, April 8)

After Boutris’s testimony, his wife received a threatening letter in the mail. It contained an article about widows dealing with grief over the death of their husbands. The package also contained a note telling Mrs. Boutris the information could be “useful” to her soon. (Dallas Morning News, April 5)

More is coming out in the media about how unsafe the flights that millions of people fly are and how a bureaucracy known as the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t want to hear it.

Airlines, like all enterprises in capitalist society, are not driven by how well they serve the public or human needs. They are driven by how much profit can be pumped into the hands of those who own the business. It became clear that, to the airline industry’s wealthy owners, profits trumped safety by a whole lot.

The government is supposed to counterbalance the pressure of the employers for profits at the expense of safety. But when huge amounts of money are at stake, even “watchdogs” can turn out to be lapdogs of the companies.

The U.S. populace is overwhelmingly grateful for Boutris’s revelations, which he gave at great risk to himself. Perhaps this will educate all of us about the realities of the capitalist profit-driven system.

Articles copyright 1995-2008 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One in three Michigan state employees work for the corections department


Michigan runs one of the nation's largest and most costly prison systems, a $2 billion-a-year expense that is crowding out other spending priorities at a rate many officials fear the state can no longer afford. . . The problem is reaching a crisis. . . It could exceed capacity within two months, said Chief Deputy Corrections Director Dennis Schrantz, unless lawmakers approve stop-gap measures, such as doubling the number of inmates in the state boot camp program. . . The Corrections Department already devours 20 cents of every tax dollar in the state's general fund and employs nearly one in every three state government workers, compared with 9 percent of the work force 25 years ago.

Live With The Elite, Die With The Elite

Sam Smith, The Progressive Review

Sure, Obama is an elitist. I thought it the first time I saw him. The tone, the dress, the moves, the constant pretense of being in deep thought, the patronizing explanation replacing impassioned argument. Another smart-ass from an Ivy League law school. The ones that talk grandly and carry a little feather. We've got a lot of them in Washington.

That's why many white liberals went for him. He was comfortably familiar in all but hue. They treat him like a prophet but in fact he's just another of the black ivies who are riding the political waves these days. For Obama and Patrick Deval it was Harvard, for Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia it was the Wharton School at Penn, for DC's Mayor Fenty is was Oberlin and for Newark's Cory Book it was Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Not bad if you can't have a mother who was Irish or latino.

But it's not as politically wonderful as it seems to some. St. Barack still can't get comfortably past one of the sleaziest politicians in his party's modern history and shows up weakly in matches against a guy who hasn't done anything worth remembering since Vietnam. His purported magnificence somehow fails to make the same impression at the polls as it does at the rallies and fundraisers of the well committed.

That's not surprising but it's worth noting and suggests a bit more humility in the Obama camp wouldn't hurt.
Of course, humility is not highly valued there. After all, it takes something beyond ordinary self-confidence to move from state senator to presidential candidate without even finishing your freshman term in the Senate.

On the other hand, Obama's not a corrupt and conniving cad nor a decrepit warrior looking for another dogfight, so it looks like he's the best we're going to get.

And it's not totally his fault that he sees himself as God's gift to his party and his country. His elitism is not really the problem; it is the elitism of those who convinced him of this: the white liberals.

These are the people who couldn't stand John Edwards, the candidate who came closest to the New Deal and Great Society values of any Democratic leader in decades. But his policies didn't move them, only his accent and haircut.

This is not a new problem. I wrote about it almost two decades ago:

Today's liberals seem to lack a sense of politics as war, in which one constantly rearranges the order of battle to win one's ultimate objective. They see politics more as a secular form of religion in which success is judged not by societal change but by the rigor with which the faith is maintained. They are political fundamentalists and, like religious fundamentalists, as far removed from their liberal heritage as Pat Robertson is from Jesus.

As with the religious fundamentalists, the liberal true believers often miss the point. The canon becomes particularized and heavily a matter of style and form. They know how to speak like liberals to other liberals but not how to talk to the rest of the world.

The result is a strange distortion of liberal priorities. Gut issues of immense potential popularity such as health, housing, job creation and education are left by the wayside in favor of issues that, no matter how worthy they may be, are most likely to alienate liberalism from the largest number of Americans.

This then is Obama's problem now: not so much that he's an elitist but that he's surrounded by them, funded by them, guided by them - and for too long has been trying to imitate them. If Ed Rendell was not so foolishly infatuated with the latest pretender to the Bush-Clinton duopoly, he might take Obama aside and give him a few lessons in talking like a real person again. Look at what a good job Rendell is doing making Clinton sound like one.

But Obama doesn't seemed blessed by that sort of advice. Both his white liberal and black constituencies love him too much for getting this far and wouldn't think of suggesting that he dismount his great stallion and reach out beyond the Ebenezer Baptist - Harvard Law axis to people who are seeking something more.

It wouldn't be hard. He could join a majority of doctors in this country and support single payer health insurance. He could go after usurious interest rates. He could propose a housing policy in which the government become equity partners with less wealthy homebuyers and recovered its share at sale.

Hell, he could take just one position without a dozen conditions and it would probably help.

But instead, it looks like he will continue to be the man his fans adore and the rest can't quite figure out.

That's not the best way to win an election.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Retailing Chains Caught in a Wave of Bankruptcies

The end is near for corporate capitalism, or will the chieftains invent a new re-animation formula?--Pete


The consumer spending slump and tightening credit markets are unleashing a widening wave of bankruptcies in American retailing, prompting thousands of store closings that are expected to remake suburban malls and downtown shopping districts across the country.

Since last fall, eight mostly midsize chains — as diverse as the furniture store Levitz and the electronics seller Sharper Image — have filed for bankruptcy protection as they staggered under mounting debt and declining sales.

But the troubles are quickly spreading to bigger national companies, like Linens ‘n Things, the bedding and furniture retailer with 500 stores in 47 states. It may file for bankruptcy as early as this week, according to people briefed on the matter.

Even retailers that can avoid bankruptcy are shutting down stores to preserve cash through what could be a long economic downturn. Over the next year, Foot Locker said it would close 140 stores, Ann Taylor will start to shutter 117, and the jeweler Zales will close 100.

The surging cost of necessities has led to a national belt-tightening among consumers. Figures released on Monday showed that spending on food and gasoline is crowding out other purchases, leaving people with less to spend on furniture, clothing and electronics. Consequently, chains specializing in those goods are proving vulnerable.

Retailing is a business with big ups and downs during the year, and retailers rely heavily on borrowed money to finance their purchases of merchandise and even to meet payrolls during slow periods. Yet the nation’s banks, struggling with the growing mortgage crisis, have started to balk at extending new loans, effectively cutting up the retail industry’s collective credit cards.

“You have the makings of a wave of significant bankruptcies,” said Al Koch, who helped bring Kmart out of bankruptcy in 2003 as the company’s interim chief financial officer and works at a corporate turnaround firm called AlixPartners.

“For years, no deal was too ugly to finance,” he said. “But now, nobody will throw money at these companies.”

Because retailers rely on a broad network of suppliers, their bankruptcies are rippling across the economy. The cash-short chains are leaving behind tens of millions of dollars in unpaid bills to shipping companies, furniture manufacturers, mall owners and advertising agencies. Many are unlikely to be paid in full, spreading the economic pain.

When it filed for bankruptcy, Sharper Image owed $6.6 million to United Parcel Service. The furniture chain Levitz owed Sealy $1.4 million.

And it is not just large companies that are absorbing the losses. When Domain, the furniture retailer, filed for bankruptcy, it owed On Time Express, a 90-employee transportation and logistics company in Tempe, Ariz., about $30,000.

“We’ll be lucky to see pennies on the dollar, if we see anything,” said Ross Musil, the chief financial officer of On Time Express. “It’s a big loss.”

Most of the ailing companies have filed for reorganization, not liquidation, under the bankruptcy laws, including the furniture chain Wickes, the housewares seller Fortunoff, Harvey Electronics and the catalog retailer Lillian Vernon. But, in a contrast with previous recessions, many are unlikely to emerge from bankruptcy, lawyers and industry experts said.

Changes in the federal bankruptcy code in 2005 significantly tightened deadlines for ailing companies to restructure their businesses, offering them less leeway.

And the changes may force companies to pay suppliers before paying wages or honoring obligations to customers, like redeeming gift cards, said Sally Henry, a partner in the bankruptcy law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and the author of several books on bankruptcy.

As a result, she said, “it’s no longer reorganization or even liquidation for these companies. In many cases, it’s evaporation.”

Several of the retailers that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection over the last eight months, like the furniture sellers Bombay, Levitz and Domain, have begun to wind down — closing stores, laying off workers and liquidating merchandise.

In most cases, the collapses stemmed from a combination of factors: flawed business strategies, a souring economy and banks’ unwillingness to issue cheap loans.

Bombay, a chain with 360 stores, was considered a success in the furniture world, after its sales surged from $393 million in 1999 to $596 million in 2003.

Then the chain decided to move most of its stores out of enclosed malls into open-air shopping centers. It started a children’s furniture business, called BombayKids. And it started carrying bigger items, like beds and upholstered couches, with higher prices than its regular furniture.

Consumers balked at the changes, hurting Bombay’s sales and profits at the same time that its expenses for the ambitious new strategies began to grow. The timing was unenviable: By early 2007, the housing market began to falter, so purchases of furniture slowed to a trickle.

The company was running out of money, but banks refused to lend more. “They did not want to take the chance that we might not repay the loans,” Elaine D. Crowley, the chief financial officer, said in an interview.

In September 2007, Bombay filed for bankruptcy protection. The highest bid for the company came from liquidation firms, who quickly dismembered the 33-year-old chain. Bombay, which once employed 3,608, now has 20 employees left. “It is very difficult and sad,” Ms. Crowley said.

The bankruptcies are putting a spotlight on a little-discussed facet of retailing: heavy debt.

Stores may appear to mint money by paying $2 for a T-shirt and charging $10 for it. But because shopping is based on weather patterns and fashion trends, retailers must pay for merchandise that may sit, unsold, on shelves for long periods.

So chains regularly borrow large sums to cover routine expenses, like wages and electricity bills. When sales are strong, as they typically are during the holiday season, the debts are repaid.

Fortunoff, a jewelry and home furnishing chain in the Northeast, relied on $90 million in loans to help operate its 23 stores, using merchandise as collateral.

But by early 2008, as the housing market struggled, the chain’s profits dropped, meaning its collateral was losing value and the amount it could borrow fell.

In better economic times, the banks might have granted Fortunoff a reprieve. But with a recession looming, they refused, forcing it to file for bankruptcy in February. In filings, the chain said it was “facing a liquidity crisis.” (Fortunoff was later sold to the owner of Lord & Taylor.)

Plenty of retailers remain on strong footing. Arnold H. Aronson, the former chief executive of Saks Fifth Avenue and a managing director at Kurt Salmon Associates, a retail consulting firm, said the credit tightness and consumer spending slowdown have only wiped out the “bottom tier” companies in retailing.

“This recession dealt the final blow to these chains,” he said. But several big-name chains are looking vulnerable. Linens ’n Things, which is owned by Apollo Management, a private equity firm, is considering a bankruptcy filing after years of poor performance and mounting debts, though it has additional options, people involved in the discussions said Monday.

Whether more chains file for bankruptcy or not, it will be hard to miss the impact of the industry’s troubles in the nation’s malls.

J. C. Penney, Lowe’s and Office Depot are scaling back or delaying expansion. Office Depot had planned to open 150 stores this year; now it will open 75.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, estimates there will be 5,770 store closings in 2008, up 25 percent from 2007, when there were 4,603.

Charming Shoppes, which owns the women’s clothing retailers Lane Bryant and Fashion Bug, is closing at least 150 stores. Wilsons the Leather Experts will close 158. And Pacific Sunwear is shutting a 153-store chain called Demo.

Those decisions were made months ago, when it was unclear how long the downturn in consumer spending might last. If March was any indication, it is nowhere near over. Sales at stores open at least a year fell 0.5 percent, the worst performance in 13 years, according to the shopping council.

Monday, April 14, 2008



For 40 years, Meredith and Luther Ricks did everything the right way. They worked hard, saved carefully and raised a family in their modest Lima home. They were poised to enjoy their retirement years in peace. Despite their four decades of hard work, however, an absurdly unjust law has turned their hope for the American Dream into an outrageous nightmare at the hands of the Cleveland FBI.

Both of the Ricks spent their careers at the Ohio Steel Foundry, eschewing lavish spending to save for a comfortable retirement. Not trusting banks, Meredith and Luther kept their life savings in a safe inside the house.

Last summer, two violent intruders broke into the Rickses' house. Luther and his son fought with the burglars. After his son was stabbed, Luther broke free, got his gun and saved the family by shooting one of the intruders and scaring the other off.

When Lima police arrived, the Ricks' nightmare should have been over - but it was just beginning.

The police entered the house and discovered the family safe. Because a small amount of marijuana was inside the home - used by Luther to ease his painful arthritis, hip replacement and shingles - the officers decided to confiscate Meredith and Luther's entire life savings, more than $400,000.

Shortly afterward, the FBI got involved - not to help the stricken family, but to claim the money for the federal government.

Such is the result of civil forfeiture laws, which represent one of the most profound assaults on our rights today.

Costa Rican Clean Energy Use Approaches 99%!


Costa Rica is a country rich with renewable energy. In fact, it gets about 99% of all its electrical energy from clean sources, and it’s aiming to be the first country to become carbon neutral. Some of Costa Rica’s energy sources include geothermal energy, the burning of sugarcane waste and other biomass, solar and wind energy. However, the largest source of energy is hydroelectricity - its hydroelectric dams provide more than 82% of the country’s electricity.

But the electric needs of Costa Rica are increasing, and the government now wants to build new dams that would displace indigenous villages and flood valuable habitats. Local environmental groups are opposing the construction of new hydroelectric dams.

Also, Costa Rica’s efforts to minimize its own contributions to global warming have made it especially vulnerable to climate changes caused by other countries. The reason is rain. Even a tiny shift in rainfall patterns could leave the country without enough water to meet its growing demand for electricity. And scientists say climate change is likely to have a significant effect on rainfall.

One Week In Gaza

Palestinian Centre For Human Rights

Weekly Report on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory 03 - 09 Apr 2008:

- 8 Palestinians, including a child and a farmer, were killed by IOF in the Gaza Strip.

- 5 of the victims, including a child and his uncle, were killed in a series of attacks launched by IOF against the east of Gaza City in less than 5 hours.

- A Palestinian child was run down to death by an Israeli settler.

- 25 Palestinian, including 5 children, were wounded by IOF in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

- IOF conducted 30 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and 7 ones into the Gaza Strip.

- IOF arrested 65 Palestinian civilians, including 7 children and a girl, in the West Bank and 10 others, including 3 children, in the Gaza Strip.

- IOF razed at least 125 donums [31 acres] of agricultural land.

- IOF damaged a number of civilian facilities in the northeast of Gaza City.

- IOF raided a number of charities and NGOs in Ramallah and al-Bireh.

- IOF raided and searched a number of charities, mosques and shops in Qalqilya, and closed 4 charities.

- The fuel crisis in the Gaza Strip has escalated.

- 6 Palestinian civilian were arrested by IOF at military checkpoints in the West Bank.

- 2 Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian family near Nablus.

Summary: Israeli violations of international law and humanitarian law seriously escalated in the OPT, especially in the Gaza Strip, during the reporting period (3 – 9 April 2008):

Courts that solve problems instead of just punishing them...

Helen W. Gunnarsson, Illinois Bar Journal

"The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world," said the Pew Center on the States, in a report released February 28. . . Even more disturbing than these numbers is the report's conclusion: all that money, and all of those nonproductive person-hours in jail cells, are doing nothing to reduce the crime rate. Instead, the authors say, throwing people in jail is simply "saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime."

Given this dismal conclusion, interest in alternatives to traditional prosecutions and incarceration is understandably increasing. The Pew Center report cites diversion programs for nonviolent offenders with drug addictions or mental illnesses, also known as specialty courts, therapeutic courts, or problem-solving courts, as among the promising alternatives to jail time for Treating the underlying cause. . .

in 1993, [Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation] said, a community court was created in Manhattan to address quality of life crimes such as prostitution, drug possession, and vandalism. Instead of jailing nonviolent offenders, the court worked with community organizations to require restitution of the offenders.

Simultaneously, Berman said, the court used its resources to link the offenders with services such as drug treatment, mental health treatment, job training, and counseling in the hopes that in addressing offenders' underlying problems, they would curb recidivism. Statistics showed that these problem-solving courts were highly successful in achieving compliance with their orders, improving local perceptions of the justice system, and reducing recidivism, Berman said.

Today, there are thousands of problem-solving courts in the country. Most, if not all, are part of state criminal court systems, including community courts, drug courts, mental health courts, and domestic violence courts. . .

The Illinois Association for Drug Court Professionals lists 26 counties in Illinois with drug courts. Cook County has multiple sites with drug courts. . . Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons reports that he is participating in the planning stages for a mental health court in his county, which also boasts a domestic violence court. And Tazewell County began a pretrial diversion program through its state's attorney's office in 1974, long before the term "therapeutic jurisprudence" was coined. . .

Lake County's drug court and one-year-old mental health court, officially known as Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring court, provide a good illustration of how specialty courts work. . .

Team members meet every week to review the files of the TIM or drug court subjects, and all share information and ideas to craft appropriate, individualized treatment plans for each subject. Additionally, participants receive the benefit of services from outside professionals who may include the county jail doctor, a private therapist or counselor, a psychiatrist or psychologist, a job placement counselor, and/or a linkage worker who helps subjects find and participate in other community programs to meet their needs. . .

Offenders must . . . be amenable to treatment in order to be accepted into TIM or drug court. "Someone who denies a need for treatment, says she won't take her meds, or doesn't want to be labeled" won't want to be in TIM court - nor would she be accepted into the program, says Bishop. "Acceptance of responsibility is an element of participation in the program. Denial won't work.". . .

TIM or drug court subjects spend far more time in court than do offenders in traditional criminal courts. Initially, they're required to appear every week in court. As they show that they can comply with the specialty court team's requirements, the time between court appearances lengthens, first to every other week, then once a month. . .

Participants who violate the specialty court's orders or restrictions suffer consequences that are agreed on by the court team. Says Fabbri, "Violations are usually addressed incrementally." Someone may spend a weekend in jail, for example, he says. "Consequences will be a lot swifter and more severe than regular probation violations. These people are on our radar screen more and see the judge more.". . .

Mark Kammerer, a psychotherapist by training who's director of treatment programs for the Narcotics Prosecutions Bureau of the Cook County State's Attorney, confirms . . . hopes for specialty court graduates. In a memo . . . Kammerer cites encouraging statistics for Cook County's drug court graduates.

Kammerer first compared the criminal activity of the 443 drug court graduates . . . in the year prior to entering drug court to the year following graduation and found that felony arrests decreased by 92 percent, total arrests decreased by 83 percent, and 87 percent had no felony arrests at all. Further, felony convictions decreased by 86 percent, total convictions decreased by 80 percent, and 91 percent had no felony convictions at all. 91 percent of the graduates had no drug crime convictions and 93 percent had no felony drug crime convictions. . .

Kammerer comments on a similarity between the drug and mental health court populations: "If these people could have gotten their problems under control - could have broken the vicious cycle - by themselves, they would have by now. With the support and coercion of the court, people who couldn't do it on their own can do it." Specialty courts, he says, "are addressing specific issues that the criminal justice system has not been able to address."

Ralph Nader the Only Candidate to Stand Up in Support of James Earl Carter's Talks With Hamas

Remember, campers, Clinton, Obama and McCain make us all wanna Ralph! Nader in '08, consequences be damned!--Pete

Ralph Nader

Once again, former President Jimmy Carter is to be commended for taking the initiative toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The announcement that he will meet next week in Damascus with Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, is consonant with a poll by the leading Israeli newspaper - Haaretz - that found 64 percent of Israelis favor direct talks with Hamas. Only 28 percent were opposed.

Both United Nations and European Union officials have demanded that the Israeli government lift the siege or blockade which is severely depriving Palestinian civilian families of needed medicine, food, electricity, clean water, fuel and other critical life-saving supplies and materials. Gaza has become the world's largest prison with 1.5 million inmates - many sick or dying - making that tiny enclave a major humanitarian crisis that invites moral and political denunciation by world leaders.

In addition, during the hostilities over the past year, Palestinians have suffered at least 300 civilian casualties to every Israeli civilian casualty.

The major party Presidential candidates - McCain, most offensively for one who says he stands against individual and collective torture - and Clinton and Obama - distanced themselves from Carter's forthcoming initiative.

McCain, renewing his fealty to Washington's Puppet Show, condemned Carter's move, while Clinton and Obama declared they disagreed with Carter.

In Praise of Hippies and the Counter-Culture

By Bill Hatch, Counterpunch

These thoughts are provoked by Gerald de Groot's Reflections on The Sixties Unplugged, an arrogant volume by an ignorant historian which argues that the '60s counterculture achieved nothing of lasting importance.

There are two kinds of hypocrisy about sexual and political matters in our generation: the left hypocrisy and the right hypocrisy. Between the two, one ought to prefer the traditional approach of the right -- mis-, mal- and nonfeasance in office and in bed. The left invented the dialectics of "relationship," and while no less promiscuous than Republicans, they have proved themselves far more self-righteous about it. The left, in general, also runs the American bureaucracy and has invented an entire alternative form of English to explain what they are doing to individuals and why. Only the well-to-do escape this aberrant form of our language.

One of the great achievements of the hippies is that they have never been a part of either faction in terms of ideology, sexual or otherwise. Although they are capable of a social cohesion at times, under certain specific circumstances (from a good party to a political action), hippies are firm believers in the individual's right to private property and will fight any timber corporation to prevent encroachment on it. I didn't even understand Peter Coyote's statement, quoted reverently by De Groot, "Any structure is mutable, but once you've chosen it, you have to accept it -- if you're ever going to get any depth. Because depth only comes in the struggle with limits." But, I have no doubt whatsover that Ringolevio, by Diggers founder Emmett Grogan and Coyote's leader, was the best book ever written on the Haight Ashbury, generally considered to be the fountainhead of lamentable "anarchist excesses." A second take always worth rereading, is the series of articles written by Nick Von Hoffman and illustrated by the great photography of Elaine Mayes, on the anarchic market in marijuana in the Haight. It could not be organized even by organized crime, which tried.

What de Groot, no doubt irrigated by the rouge corncob placed somewhere on his person where the sun never shines, fails to see is that the hippies were and remain the only genuine working-class movement that came out of the Sixties. The other thing he fails to notice is that the hippies, as opposed to their "leaders," transcended hippydom, in fact and later fiction on the period. At Berkeley, a friend who would definitely be classed as a former hippie, told me years ago, "You watched the anti-war speakers. When they left the podium, you left the crowd because the cops were coming." Basic working-class wisdom as old as the Haymarket Massacre.

My finest tidbit of revolutionary romanticism from the era comes not from the hippies but from the new left, a friend announcing in a frenzy of ambition that Cesar Chavez was starting a revolution. He meant one that would bring down the state. Any movement based on people not gringos was grasped fervently by the new left to be used as a club against the hippies, those messy Americans (white, black, brown, red or yellow -- whatever) having fun. And for those of us who had actually done farm work in the San Joaquin Valley, oh well, how could our opinion count? It is essential to the misappropriation of the complexities of Marx's critique that anyone with any empirical experience with any memory of actual hard farm labor should be silenced by the terribly articulate suburban pink diaper set.

Although the hippies preferred to make love, not war, when attacked by police they exhibited excellent abilities to defend themselves. My favorite scene from the chaos of late 1968 was, during yet another SWAT invasion of the neighborhood, a fellow with a molotov cocktail alight in his hand, who streaked through several cops, threw it under a squad car and escaped as the car blew up. In the context of that and other riots of that time, it was not fundamentally an attack on the federal, state or local government; it was a statement: Get the fuck out of my neighborhood, quit beating my neighbors and scaring our women and kids. One did not have to be an admirer of either Dylan or Marx to appreciate the magnificently courageous gesture of our neighbor with the flaming cocktail that night.

As for the hippies' contribution to the election of Nixon in 1968 and the general breakdown of the Roosevelt coalition in the Democratic Party, oh well, whatever, as the hippies would say. De Groot revises the history of the Sixties anti-war movement from the standpoint of the anti-Iraq War movement? Our academic neo-Reds are on the prowl again. The latest credit crisis provides the excuse and once again we get secondary causes as reasons to do what? Man which barricade, where? These clowns haven't learned anything since the last depression. Socialism is the answer, right? And the question is: what government produces the happiness of its people? The three anti-war demonstrations in which I marched down Market Street, San Francisco, were as far as I could tell, organized by Palestinians. Willie controlled the cops, the Palestinians controlled the peaceful crowd, and it all worked except for the inevitable bullshit provocateurs. The press called them "anarchists," yet an Asian hippie woman I know and met in the crowd on one march handed me a broadside of a beautiful poem written by a real anarchist postman from Mendocino County. Your basic theoretical anarchist ain't got no experience in what he preaches.

At least from the vantage point of having worked that summer of 1968 for the US Senate candidate with the most unambiguous stand against the war, while living in the Haight, I have another analysis for the Nixon election: Larry O'Brien was the only Irishman in America who did not indulge himself in a four-month wake after the assassination of Bobby. When the Kennedy faction woke up from the hangover, it was too late. If they had been able to really mourn the man instead of the power they lost that night, they might have realized more important things were at stake than their collective self pity. One need not even mention Lyndon Johnson's incredible legislative achievements on behalf of the American working class, the huge backlash among racists, or the totalitarian excesses of the Chicago convention to indicate that it remains a bit difficult to blame Nixon on the hippies, who took the brunt of the Daley Machine beating. By that year, out on the west coast, they were already leaving San Francisco in droves to make their amusing, profitable contributions to rural life on the north coast of California.

The greatest achievement of the hippies was and remains humor -- comedy asserted in the face of tragedies, including their own. Speaking personally, an unavoidably literate hippie will inevitably find his way to Don Quixote, even if led there as a result of writing articles for hippies about anti-NAFTA politics in Mexico. The only other source books that provides the necessary philosophical scope to understand hippies is Aristotle's Politics and, of course, Leopold Kohr's Breakdown of Nations.

Absurd drug laws and the whole mature, corrupt system of prohibition are a hippie comedic specialty, providing endless amusement around hippie winter fires to this day, along with the occasional tragedy of busts, murders, and other misfortunes common to the entire history of the American working class. Also, once out of the compression of the city, hippies turned out to make excellent parents. The happiness and intelligence of "hippie kids" alone gives the lie to almost everything De Groot is saying. Teachers on the north coast who do not suffer from authoritarian complexes prefer these fine children to all others. They exhibit independent thinking early and have shown themselves to be creative in a number of academic fields already, to my knowledge, from medicine to computers. Five hippie teenagers in the alternative high school of a town I once lived in, created a virtual reality machine on a few computers made of parts cobbled together by one father, an electrician. Their patron was a blameless horticulturalist who in his youth had been a denizen of Socialist youth camps.

So, yo, De Groot, don't tell me that you know anything significant about hippies. I brought my son as often as possible to stay with me in what Thomas Pynchon called Vineland, because of the sweet, good people there, whom Pynchon neglected to describe. My first house, a converted chicken shack, was called "Heartbreak Hotel," because hippie men repaired there after they lost their loves, to smoke, drink and play poker. The poker games in that establishment of which I became the host, were the only poker games I have ever been in where a winning hand was applauded by losers. There was one rule: if you fall off your chair you lose it. This is the joy of life itself and we reinvented it right here in America out of pure hell, but the puritans of the left like De Groot absolutely cannot abide it. Nor can they abide that after the wounds healed, the old husband and the new husband collaborated with the wife to raise the children well, supported by the wisdom, love and affection of their community. Ex-husbands fell off those chairs in despair, and their poker-playing buddies picked them up, let them cry and put them back together to face the next day.

The De Groot tribe of academic hypocrites cannot abide the care of the elderly that hippies generously provide their parents and their friends' parents. De Groot and his cannot abide the creation of real, organic communities that endure for love and affection. De Groot is totally ignorant of how love grows beyond the couple to the group, of how the "stupidity" of a man and woman in love can transcend themselves into the community. De Groot and his have no idea of friendship on their idiotic march to get us to their imagined barricade just in time to get mowed down by, really, quite overpowering police armament. De Groot and his hate happiness, period. They hate the gesture to the homeless or the alley cat or any gesture of human solidarity. They are all Commissars without an ounce of Wobbly in them. On the other side, we have the Republicans, many of them fascists. But, tell me the difference among the swine that would lead us now.

Historically literate? Not particularly, but the hippies have a good grasp of the history they've made for themselves, which is better than the books De Groot is reading and writing. And they don't watch much TV but their villages contain the most interesting video rental shops in the state. They also have lively community radio and alternative press.

In the miniscule world of American poetry, starting about 30 years ago, the best nature poetry in the country in these environmentally conscious times has come out of the northwest coast, roughly equivalent to the redwood belt -- from Santa Rosa CA to Seattle. You will hear the best American poetry about the natural world in places like Mendocino, Arcata, Portland, Walla Walla and Seattle.

De Groot's preference for the Beats is as nostalgic as is the nostalgia of which he accuses America for its love of the Sixties. If you want Greenwich Village 1955, Anywhere USA, but specifically in North Beach in San Francisco, the Beats (the few still alive and not yet on walkers and oxygen) are good. If you dig heroin, even better. If you want to live in a neighborhood where no one who is anyone can speak for more than 10 minutes without mentioning New York City, that's cool. It is also what Wallace Stegner spent his entire career resisting. Bierce, Miller, Norris, Sinclair, Steinbeck and Kesey were fine writers, ahead of the New York orthodoxy most of the time. The western US matters.

Finally, one imagines that the neo-Red set, aghast at those "anarchist excesses" of the hippies, obsessed in hierarchical fantasies on leaders of the "movement" that nobody in those days regarded as leaders anyway (not that hippies are not entertained by good rhetoric), is envious of the fun we had and still do have. A cultural sidebar to end this is that empirical observation indicates that people with rigid ideologies of either right or left, when under the influence of marijuana or LSD or even good red wine from north coast vineyards, develop symptoms of serious paranoia as their minds unwittingly wander to the authoritarian roots of their social existence. So, like dude, they can't get stoned and play guitar and drums as the women boogaloo outside the cabin under a full moon in the woods. People like these are unable to imagine people who, in the midst of mourning a beloved neighbor lying dead in his bedroom, bring his corpse out from his cabin and prop him in a chair, because "he always liked a good party." They are unable to conceive of a conga drum and burial society. They got no friends worth the name.

In short, these tedious pedants don't know shit about love or mourning, comedy or tragedy, or life. They reflect the sickness of our society and call it "criticism," and hate those who worked to heal it in their communities. "Un-fuck 'em," said the sexy wife of a candidate for state Assembly from the deep San Joaquin Valley in 1966.

Bill Hatch lives in California. He can be reached at:

Petraeus sets up Iran

By Paul Craig Roberts, Counterpunch

Last week's congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Green Zone administrator Ryan Crocker set the propaganda stage for a Bush regime attack on Iran. On April 10 Robert H. Reid of AP News reported: "The top US commander has shifted the focus from al-Qaida to Iranian-backed 'special groups' as the main threat . . . The shift was articulated by Gen. Petraeus who told Congress that 'unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.'"

According to the neocon propaganda, the "special groups" (have you ever heard of them before?) are breakaway elements of al Sadr's militia.

Nonsensical on its face, the Petraeus/Crocker testimony is just another ploy in the macabre theatre of lies that the Bush regime has told in order to justify its wars of naked aggression against Muslims.

Fact #1: Al Sadr is not allied with Iran. He speaks with an Iraqi voice and has his militia under orders to stand down from conflict. The Badr militia is the Shi'ite militia that is allied with Iran. Why did the US and its Iraqi puppet Maliki attack al Sadr's militia and not the Badr militia or the breakaway elements of Sadr's militia that allegedly now operate as gangs?

Fact #2: The Shi'ite militias and the Sunni insurgents are armed with weapons available from the unsecured weapon stockpiles of Saddam Hussein's army. If Iran were arming Iraqis, the Iraqi insurgents and militias would have armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missiles. These two weapons would neutralize the US advantage by enabling Iraqis to destroy US helicopter gunships, aircraft and tanks. The Iraqis cannot mass their forces as they have no weapons against US air power. To destroy US tanks, Iraqis have to guess the roads US vehicles will travel and bury bombs constructed from artillery shells. The inability to directly attack armor and to defend against air attack denies offensive capability to Iraqis.

If the Iranians desired to arm Iraqis, they obviously would provide these two weapons that would change the course of the war.

Just as the Bush regime lied to Americans and the UN about why Iraq was attacked, hiding the real agenda behind false claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and connections to al Qaeda, the Bush regime is now lying about why it needs to attack Iran. Could anyone possibly believe that Iran is so desirous of having its beautiful country bombed and its nuclear energy program destroyed that Iran would invite an attack by fighting a "proxy war" against the US in Iraq?

That the Bush regime would tell such a blatant lie shows that the regime has no respect for the intelligence of the American public and no respect for the integrity of the US media.

And why should it? The public and media have fallen for every lie the Bush regime has told.

The moral hypocrisy of US politicians is unrivaled. McCain says that if he were president he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics because China has killed and injured 100 Tibetans who protested Tibet's occupation by China. Meanwhile the Iraqi toll of the American occupation is one million dead and four million displaced. That comes to 20 per cent of the Iraqi population. At what point does the US occupation of Iraq graduate from a war crime to genocide?

Not to be outdone by McCain's hypocrisy, Bush declared: "The message to the Iranians is: we will bring you to justice if you continue to try to infiltrate, send your agents or send surrogates to bring harm to our troops and/or the Iraqi citizens."

Consider our "Christian" president's position: It is perfectly appropriate for the US to bomb and to invade countries and to send its agents and surrogates to harm Iraqis, Afghans, Somalians, Serbians and whomever, but resistance to American aggression is the mark of terrorism, and any country that aids America's victims is at war with America.

The three-week "cakewalk" war that would be paid for by Iraqi oil revenues is now into its sixth year. According to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, the cost of the war to Americans is between three and five trillion dollars. Five trillion dollars equals the entire US personal and corporate income tax revenues for two years.

Of what benefit is this enormous expenditure to America? The price of oil and gasoline in US dollars has tripled, the price of gold has quadrupled, and the dollar has declined sharply against other currencies. The national debt has rapidly mounted. America's reputation is in tatters.

The Bush regime's possible attack on Iran would widen the war dramatically and escalate the costs.

Not content with war with Iran, Republican presidential candidate John McCain in a speech written for him by neocon warmonger Robert Kagan promises to confront both Russia and China.

Three questions present themselves:

(1) Will our foreign creditors--principally China, Japan and Saudi Arabia--finance a third monstrous Bush regime war crime?

(2) Will Iran sit on its hands and wait on the American bombs to fall?

(3) Will Russia and China passively wait to be confronted by the warmonger McCain?

Should a country that is over-extended in Iraq and Afghanistan be preparing to attack yet a third country, while threatening to interfere in the affairs of two large nuclear powers? What sort of political leadership seeks to initiate conflict in so many unpromising directions?

With Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea threatened by American belligerence, it is not difficult to imagine a scenario that would terminate all pretense of American power: For example, instead of waiting to be attacked, Iran uses its Chinese and Russian anti-ship missiles, against which the US reportedly has poor means of defense, and sinks every ship in the American carrier strike forces that have been foolishly massed in the Persian Gulf, simultaneously taking out the Saudi oil fields and the Green Zone in Baghdad, the headquarters of the US occupation. Shi'ite militias break the US supply lines from Kuwait, and Iranian troops destroy the dispersed US forces in Iraq before they can be concentrated to battle strength.

Simultaneously, North Korea crosses the demilitarized zone and takes South Korea, China seizes Taiwan and dumps a trillion dollars of US Treasury bonds on the market. Russia goes on full nuclear alert and cuts off all natural gas to Europe.

What would the Bush regime do? Wet its pants? Push the button and end the world?

If America really had dangerous enemies, surely the enemies would collude to take advantage of a dramatically over-extended delusional regime that, blinded by its own arrogance and hubris, issues gratuitous threats and lives by Mao's doctrine that power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

There are other less dramatic scenarios. Why does the US assume that only it can initiate aggression, boycotts, freezes on financial assets of other countries and bans on foreign banks from participation in the international banking system? If the rest of the world were to tire of American aggression or to develop a moral conscience, it would be easy to organize a boycott of America and to ban US banks from participating in the international banking system. Such a boycott would be especially effective at the present time with the balance sheets of US banks impaired by subprime derivatives and the US government dependent on foreign loans in order to finance its day-to-day activities.

Sooner or later it will occur to other countries that putting up with America is a habit that they don't need to continue.

Does America really need more political leadership that leads in such unpromising directions?

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: