Sunday, May 31, 2009

US Muslims urge Obama to take concrete steps toward peace

U.S. Muslims Seek Policy Initiatives in President’s Cairo Address
CAIR: ‘This decisive moment in history requires clarity of purpose and a commitment to practical action’

WASHINGTON - May 29 - A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy organization today released an open letter to President Obama and to the Muslim world offering specific policy recommendations for the president's historic address in Cairo on June 4th.

In the open letter, Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wrote in part: (For an Arabic translation of the open letter, click here.)
"As you prepare for your historic address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4th, I would like to offer an American Muslim perspective on what governments, leaders and individuals can do to improve the prospects for international peace and prosperity.

"As an American, I will first focus on what you can do to help repair relations with the Muslim world that have suffered such damage in recent years. Your statements since the inauguration have raised the level of hope for real change in our nation's foreign and domestic policies.

"It is imperative that your positive statements now be backed up with concrete policy initiatives that will help move us all toward a more peaceful and prosperous future. Otherwise, we as a nation risk wasting the good will that has been garnered by your ongoing outreach to Muslims.


Cuba and US to open new talks?

Cuba Offers Additional Direct Talks with U.S.
Published: May 31, 2009

WASHINGTON — Cuba has notified the United States that it is willing to resume talks on migration issues and to negotiate direct postal services between the countries, a senior American official said on Sunday.

Cuba also agreed to cooperate with the United States on counterterrorism, drug interdiction and disaster relief efforts.

The decisions, conveyed Saturday in diplomatic notes, represent another step in the unlocking of relations between Cuba and the United States under the Obama administration, after a half-century of chilly ties and an economic embargo that many in the hemisphere, and in Europe, say has outlived its usefulness.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday left for El Salvador and then a meeting on Tuesday in Honduras of the Organization of American States. Members of the group want the United States to mark an even clearer break with the past by moving to readmit Cuba. The organization expelled Cuba in 1962, citing what it said was Cuba’s disruptive alliance with “the Communist bloc.”


Obama addresses Judge Sotomayor's qualifications for SCOTUS


Communists protests N. Korea nuke test

JCP Chair Shii protests North Korea's nuclear test
From Akahata

Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo on May 25 published the following statement in protest against North Korea's nuclear test that was announced through its KCNA news agency:

North Korea conducted a nuclear test on May 25 in disregard of world opinion. It is a flagrant violation of both United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 of October 14, 2006, demanding that "the DPRK not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile," and the joint statement adopted at the Six Party Talks on September 19, 2005, stating that the DPRK "committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs." It is unacceptable that North Korea unilaterally broke its promise to the world because of its disagreement with the April statement of the UNSC president condemning North Korea's rocket launch.

In the present-day world, new moves are arising toward abolishing nuclear weapons. The nuclear test that has just been conducted is in open defiance of such efforts and goes against the goal to achieve peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

The Japanese Communist Party strongly protests against the North Korean move and demands that North Korea strictly refrain from conducting further nuclear tests, give up its nuclear weapons and nuclear development programs, and unconditionally return to the Six Party talks.

- Akahata, May 26, 2009

DPR Korean nuclear test
The Guardian (Australia)

“The North Korean nuclear test is a result of existing tensions on the Korean peninsula, and the fact that the DPRK feels itself to be under threat,” Communist Party of Australia General Secretary Dr Hannnah Middleton said.

“The danger from Monday’s nuclear test is that it may lead those who were never really committed to nuclear disarmament to use it as an excuse not to proceed down a path that is essential for the physical survival of civilisation and human beings. This must not be allowed to happen.

“The test increases tensions in the region and could derail the current moves towards nuclear disarmament, possibly initiating further nuclear weapons proliferation.”

The war in Korea has never officially ended; the US has refused to sign a peace treaty with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), more than 50 years after military conflict ceased.

The US still maintains military bases in South Korea and has not abandoned its hostile and aggressive stand towards the DPRK. Each year, the US and South Korea practice war games which to the DPRK look like plans for invasion – one such invasion war game was held earlier this year. There is also the very threatening US military build-up in Asia.

The DPRK has repeatedly called for the normalisation of relations and lifting of sanctions. The US has failed to meet past commitments, coming from the six-party and other talks for the delivery of food and development of non-nuclear energy.

“The dynamics of this must be fundamentally changed,” said Dr Middleton. “The US must take measures such as the signing of a peace agreement and cast iron assurances that it will not attack or interfere with North Korea.

“The North Korean nuclear tests are not the way forward. Nuclear weapons are not the way forward. They provide no defence but create appalling danger for the survival of human civilisation and the planet.”

Viet Nam ‘gravely concerned’ by North Korean nuclear test

News Desk
Viet Nam News
Publication Date: 27-05-2009

Viet Nam has been gravely concerned with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s announcement of a nuclear test, stated Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung Monday.

This action, he added, would complicate the current global situation and did not serve in the interest of peace and stability in the region.

Dung was responding to mediamen’s querry about Viet Nam’s response to the DPRK’s announcement of a nuclear test the same day.

He reiterated Viet Nam’s consistent policy to support a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing, non-proliferati0on of nuclear weapons and movement toward completely eliminating this type of weapon.

"Viet Nam supports peace, stability and de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and stands ready to contribute to the common efforts of the international community to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region," the FM spokesman stressed.

He called on concerned parties to exercise utmost restraint and resolve complicated issues that might arise through peaceful means, including early resumption of the six-party talks.

Chinese gov't "resolutely opposes" DPRK's nuclear test

·China was resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the DPRK, Foreign Ministry said Monday.
·DPRK announced it successfully conducted an underground nuclear test on Monday.
·The statement demanded DPRK live up to its commitment to non-nuclearization on Korean Peninsula.

BEIJING, May 25 (Xinhua) -- China was resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Foreign Ministry said here in a statement Monday.

According to a report by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the DPRK announced it successfully conducted an underground nuclear test on Monday.

"The DPRK ignored universal opposition of the international community and once more conducted the nuclear test. The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to it," the statement said.

It has been the firm and consistent stance of the Chinese government to achieve non-nuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and oppose proliferation of nuclear weapons in an effort to maintain peace and stability in northeast Asia, the statement stressed.

The statement voiced a strong demand that the DPRK live up to its commitment to non-nuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, stop any activity that might worsen the situation and return to the track of the six-party talks.

The statement noted that maintaining peace and stability in northeast Asia region conformed to the common interests of all parties concerned, called for a calm response from all parties concerned and urged them to pursue peaceful resolution of the issue through consultation and dialogue.

China would continue its unremitting efforts to this end, the statement added.

According to a statement released by the KCNA, the DPRK government said the test was "part of [its] measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way, as requested by its scientists and technicians."

The brief statement gave no details about the test, including its location.

Officials in the Republic of Korea said earlier Monday that an "artificial earthquake" was detected near the northeastern town of Kilju, about 10 km from the site where the DPRK staged its first nuclear test in October 2006.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sotomayor, North Korea, and All the News that the New York Times Deems Fit to Print

by Norman Markowitz

I read the New York Times, the newspaper of historical record in the U.S. even though I was red-baited by one of its real ancien regime "critics" (the comical Hilton Kramer, long gone from the paper,) in the 1970s.

I also had in the pre Internet era wrote many letters to the editor which were never publish (except for an anti-horse racing pro animal right response that I once wrote to the Jersey section). But these comments really aren't personal.

The Times has a reputation as a "liberal"newspaper and it has since 1960 endorsed every Democratic candidate for President (before that it endorsed Eisenhower, Thomas E. Dewey against Truman, and FDR, as I remember twice. A very long time ago a Communist with a sense of humor called its editorial policy "democracy without profit sharing." While it has had truly outstanding progressive journalist like Tom Wicker and Bob Herbert and, today, the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman (who Obama would be wise to appoint to a high position in the government to advance a policy of "change we can believe in" its "liberalism" is on most issues closer to Nelson Rockefeller than Franklin Roosevelt, and it always has one foot in the past while pretending to offer practical solutions to the problems of the present.

Over the last few days the Times has published a number of news stories about Sonia Sotomayor and the North Korean missile tests. One story about Sotomayor contended that her appointment would not change the "philosophical balance" on the Supreme Court(in terms of the five to four vote, that is true, but not in terms of philosophy since Sotomayor is no David Souter, the center-right Republican she is replacing who moved to much more to the center on the court in opposition to the ulta-right). She is also more not less likely to defend the rights of labor and support the regulation of business than Souter was or for that matter Clinton appointee Stephen Breyer is. Another story criticized her lack of a "judicial temperament," quoting lawyers to the effect that she often interrupted them from the bench with sharp and pointed questions and comments.

I got a whiff of old fashioned sexism in that, i.e, Sotomayor as an "uppity woman." That Antonin Scalia, the most upfront of the the present right-wing majority on the court has always done that without any style criticism seems to be lost on the Times reporters, who, as they write about Sotomayor's intelligence and achievements, in their usual "schizo" way say that she will not be a militant voice against Scalia and his comrades in robes and warn that she will too militant, at least for a woman.

Reading between the lines, which I learned to do a long time ago with all capitalist media, I would conclude from this that Sotomayor is the kind of Justice that progressives should want but the NYT doesn't (although they will give her a pro forma endorsement) someone who will stand up and fight back intellectually against Scalia and also someone who won't be snowed by the slick country club right-wing Chief Justice, Roberts, into moderating her opinions. In short, a Justice who will be a harbinger of a progressive majority in the court's future, one in which Breyer and even Ginsberg will probably, if they are still around, become centrists or relatively even conservatives in the way that Nixon appointees Powell and Blackmun became centrists or relatively even liberals in response to the Reagan appointees. (I am not saying history will repeat itself exactly, but as real progressives are added to the court, that is a very likely development).

But the Times coverage of events in North Korea is more sinister. Stories about "Gates re-assuring allies" and most of all an account of the "devastating effects" of a North Korean land attack read straight out of 1950, as if a second Korean War can break out and President Obama may have to play the role of Harry Truman (who, once he was out of office, criticized civil rights campaigns as Communist inspired and would I am sure turn over in his grave if he saw Obama sitting in the Oval office) in defense of the "free world" and the UN.

Without endorsing North Korean policies, (which I don't) responsible journalistic analysis should make it clear that 2009 is not 1950, that China, which has criticized North Korea's test, is not an ally of North Korea ready to defend it and the Chinese revolution itself from invasion which it was and did in 1950 against what it saw as the machinations of U.S. imperialism against all revolutionary and national liberation movements.

Nor is the Soviet Union in existence to either aid North Korea or influence its policies. Finally, responsible journalistic analysis might mention that what is happening today in Korea is the result of nearly sixty years of U.S. led policies, the bloody war, the armed truce, the militarization of the South as a U.S. base and frontline state in Asia, and, more recently both the provocative policies of the Bush administration and the deterioration of South Korean-North Korean relations, which were the hopeful development of recent years, which the Bush administration directly opposed. All of this is much more relevant to an understand of what is happening in Korea than guns and bombs along the 38th parallel.

As he reads the Times, President Obama should take this into account, moving forward confidently with the Sotomayor nomination and also responding cautiously to the events in Korea, seeking to find ways to improve North Korean-South Korean relations and de-emphasize back to the future cold war posturing and military interventionism.

He might also remember that however cold war policy makers and their journalistic and academic allies made Harry Truman into a "great president," his cold war policies at home and abroad destroyed his attempt to expand the New Deal through his Fair Deal program, consolidated the power of the military industrial complex, and was the direct cause of the rise of Joe McCarthy, which, against the background of the Korean War, intensified quantitatively and qualitatively the anti-CPUSA, anti-left policies his administration inaugurated, transforming them into national hysteria.

Harry Truman left the White House in 1953 deeply discredited across the political spectrum, whatever would be said about him later in establishment circles. Franklin Roosevelt, while despised by all reactionary forces, was genuinely loved by working class people, progressive people and all who made up the majority New Deal coalition, because of his administration's accomplishments when he died in 1945.

The American people need President Obama to emulate Franklin Roosevelt in the midst of this global crisis of the capitalist system, not to emulate Harry Truman in Korea or Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam in a new Korean war that could only discredit his administration and strengthen its enemies on the right.

Rosa Luxemburg's body found?

Mysterious Berlin corpse probably Rosa Luxemburg
Fri May 29, 2009
By Jacob Comenetz

BERLIN, May 29 (Reuters) - The corpse of Marxist activist Rosa Luxemburg has almost certainly been found in Berlin 90 years after her death, a forensic expert said on Friday.

Michael Tsokos, the head of forensic medicine at Berlin's Charite hospital, told Reuters he was "90 percent certain" that a body of a woman found in the hospital is Luxemburg.

"Everything points to that," Tsokos told Reuters. "The only thing missing is the DNA proof."

He said they were hoping to obtain a personal item of Luxemburg in order to be able to compare to determine if the DNA from the corpse matches.

The body was only found by chance as he was working on putting together an exhibit, Tsokos said.

Born in Poland in 1871, the Jewish Marxist Luxemburg became a German citizen in 1898.

Read the story here..

Video: Who is behind anti-healthcare reform attacks

Friday, May 29, 2009

Podcast #100: Can Capitalism Last?

Subscribe to this podcast in iTunes

Political Affairs #100 - Can Capitalism Last?

Interview with author Daniel Rubin about his new book "Can Capitalism Last?". Discussion of the economic crisis, Marxism, socialism and other hot topics.

North Korea: No way to act

EDITORIAL No way to act
PWW Editorial Board
People's Weekly World Newspaper

North Korea's recent nuclear test, as well as its subsequent test firing of two missiles, represents a grave threat to peace and stability in the region, the fight to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world and, more generally, the fight for peace and social progress.

We condemn these reckless and provocative acts.

North Korea has claimed that it has been the victim of imperialist aggression, specifically from the United States. The United States has refused to sign a peace treaty with North Korea, has hedged on agreements made in the six-party talks aimed at solving the nuclear issue, and, over the decades, worked to isolate North Korea.

And it was the U.S. that fought in the war which divided the country into two -- a war that has never officially ended. The border between North and South Korea is one of the most militarized in the world.

Nonetheless, building nuclear weapons, which endanger the very existence of humanity itself, can never be justified.

Recent changes in the world make the test all the more irresponsible. Today, Barack Obama is the U.S. president and as such pledged to reduce nuclear arsenals, to sign a treaty that would ban all nations, including the U.S. itself, from any nuclear tests. Unprecedented vows from any U.S. president, and one that has been welcomed around the world.

The current fight for progressive forces is to make sure that such a nuclear policy is implemented. North Korea's tests do exactly the opposite. They play into the hands of those in the U.S. who want to derail the Obama presidency, as well as into the hands of those in Japan who would like to destroy the nation's “peace constitution” and turn Japan itself into an aggressive power.

The North Korean news agency said, “The test will contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism and ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula and the region." However the world sees it differently, including North Korea's socialist neighbors, China and Vietnam, which have condemned the tests.

What's Not Being Said About the Obama-Netanyahu Talks

By Carl Bloice
Left Margin Editorial Board
Black Commentator May 28, 2009

The day after the White House talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the news agency AFP (Agence France-Presse) sent out an unusual story. It seems to have noticed what some of the rest of us did, that the story was being downplayed. The talks, it said, had "earned only modest coverage in US newspapers."

"While deep differences exposed during the talks between Obama and Netanyahu earned blanket coverage in Israeli media and stoked fears in Israel of cooling ties with its main ally, the story failed to make the front pages of The New York Times, Washington Post or Wall Street Journal," the story said, adding that, "Each of the papers ran brief teasers of the meeting on page one but the stories themselves ran well inside, including on page 10 of the Journal as well as the Post, and page 12 of the Times.

"But squeezing Netanyahu off the newspapers' front pages were other global headlines, primarily the climactic end to war in Sri Lanka, and a US envoy positioning himself for a new job in Afghanistan. Domestic issues including Obama's toughening of auto emissions and mileage rules and New York City's efforts to battle swine flu also edged out the Israeli premier." The story said. "The Post chose to go further afield, printing a four-column-wide photograph of astronauts repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. It was left to the US capital's second daily, The Washington Times, to carry a page-one piece on the efforts to secure peace in the Middle East."

Of course, the talks between the U.S. and Israeli leaders were private and we aren't privy to what the two had to say to each other, however, they emerged to hold a joint press conference which was covered by the major cable news networks. Still, AFP was quite right about one thing: the contrast between the newspaper coverage here and in Israel was glaring. And it has been that way ever since.

What is most unfortunate here from the U.S. public's point of view is the failure of the U.S. media to adequately reflect the nature of the attention the Israeli media has afforded Netanyahu's visit to Washington. This is especially important in light of three of the issues at the center of the Washington talks: the continued expansion of Israeli settlements on the occupied territory of the West Bank, the continued military hold on the Golan Heights area of neighboring Syria, and the conflict over dealing with Iran's nuclear energy activity. From all published accounts, serious differences remain on all three issues, but none so glaring, and perhaps consequential, as the fate of the territories captured in the 1967 war, the continued occupation of those parts of Palestine, and the possibility of a "two-state solution" to the conflict.

President Obama is scheduled to go to Egypt June 5 where he is slated to deliver an address focusing on U.S. relations with the Islamic world. Before that he is to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He conferred with King Abdullah of Jordan in Washington in April.

On May 22, journalist Herb Keinon wrote that while President Obama is "not expected to unveil a full-blown plan," when he speaks in Cairo "he is likely to raise, along with the need for a Palestinian state, the issue of the need for the Islamic world to begin making gestures toward Israel."

"Both those elements - a Palestinian state and a determined effort to get the Arab world to begin developing ties with Israel at the beginning of the diplomatic process, not only at the end - have emerged as central pillars of the White House's Mideast plan," wrote Keinon, "But the details of this plan - and, more interestingly, the details of Netanyahu's diplomatic plan - still remain enigmatic, even after the latter's visit to Washington this week. Something rather odd happened when Netanyahu met Obama, after weeks of buildup and speculation, and after much talk of a vaunted "policy review" in Jerusalem: The public is no wiser now about Netanyahu's end-game, of where he is headed, than it was before he set out for DC."

But there are some important clues.

No sooner than he arrived back in Israel, Netanyahu declared that the Israelis would never agree to a divided Jerusalem and would continue to rule the city. "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, a city reunified so as never again to be divided," Netanyahu told a crowd at the annual "Jerusalem Day" observance.

Here's the observation the newspaper Haaretz made last Friday:

"Ever since East Jerusalem was annexed to the State of Israel, Jerusalem Day, which is celebrated today, has turned into a festival of cliched slogans - such as `the united capital of Israel for all eternity.'' From year to year, the gap between the flowery words of the politicians and the sad reality in the divided city widens. The day after the festival, officials return to supporting discrimination against the Palestinian minority, who make up a third of the city's population. Forty-two years after Israel declared that Jerusalem had been reunited, it is simple to draw a clear line between the two peoples who have been compelled to live under one national and municipal roof. According to data gathered by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, two-thirds of the Palestinians in the city live below the poverty line; more than one-third of their lands have been expropriated since 1967; since there are no approved plans, 160,000 of them are living in homes that were built without permits, and can expect demolition and eviction orders; tens of thousands live without proper sewage systems or regular water supplies; their sanitation conditions are inferior; and there are too few social workers to care for them and too many Border Policemen."

"Half of the Palestinian children of school-going age do not have a place in the state educational system, and some 9,000 of them do not receive any education at all. At the same time the separation fence pushes the Palestinians out of the city limits, the Israeli establishment is abetting the extreme right-wing organizations that take up residence in the Arab neighborhoods, sow discord and bring about the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes."

"It is not conceivable that there will be a peace agreement that will leave Israel with total sovereignty over Muslim holy places," the editorial continued. "Without a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the countries of the world will not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and they will continue to keep their embassies elsewhere. Unless the Muslim world is made a partner to sovereignty on the Temple Mount, there is no point in discussing normal relations between Israel and its neighbors.

"Now, as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to launch his peace plan, it would be wise for Israel's leaders to exchange their empty slogans for practical plans for a logical and just arrangement for Jerusalem."

The day after Netanyahu's declaration French Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said, "The declaration made by the Israeli prime minister yesterday in Jerusalem prejudices the final status agreement." "In France's eyes, Jerusalem should, within the framework of a negotiated peace deal, become the capital of two states," he said. Adding, "Actions such as the destruction of Palestinian homes or the transformation of Arab districts risk provoking an escalation in violence. They are unacceptable and contrary to international law."

"In broad terms, France condemns the ongoing settlement, including in East Jerusalem. We reiterate the need for a freeze on colonization activities, including those linked to natural population growth," Desagneaux said.

"While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington getting an earful from US lawmakers about the need to stop Jewish settlements and establish a Palestinian state, back in Jerusalem the new mayor is implementing a very different policy," wrote Ilene R. Prusher in the Christian Science Monitor May 19. "Since taking office in January on promises to develop the city equitably, Mayor Nir Barkat has stepped up demolition orders of Arab homes in East Jerusalem, charged an Israeli human rights organization on Tuesday. In addition, he is moving forward with a $100 million development plan that would further diminish the city's Arab population and thus thwart Palestinian efforts to establish a contiguous state with a capital in Jerusalem.

"According to the report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), 1,052 demolition orders have been issued since the beginning of the year, 34 of them signed by Mr. Barkat himself. So far, 23 have been carried out."

"The many demolition orders issued in 2009 suggest that this number will rise dramatically by year's end," the report stated.

The mayor has denied the charge.

The report comes in the midst of Mr. Netanyahu's first official visit with President Barack Obama in the US since becoming prime minister," wrote Prusher. "Underscoring their differences, Mr. Obama emphasized the necessity of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while Netanyahu conspicuously avoided an endorsement of that formula, saying that Palestinians should be able to `govern themselves' and that he favors increased economic cooperation."

A clue to just what that might mean can perhaps be found in a report by Jonathan Cook carried by ZNet May 22 about Uzi Arad, a top advisor to Netanyahu and head of Israel's National Security Council. Cook wrote:

"In an indication of his implacable opposition to a Palestinian state, Mr. Arad recently told an interviewer: `We want to relieve ourselves of the burden of Palestinian populations, not the territories.'

"He has suggested that the Palestinians be required to become economically self-reliant, in the hope that their leaders will be forced to promote family planning methods to reduce the population. His motto is that the Palestinians need `one man, one job' before they need `one man, one vote'."

On Saturday, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Israeli television, "We will not follow American dictates. We will not halt construction in the settlements."

"If Israel continues not to accept solving the Palestinian issue on the basis of a two-state solution, then the other option before us is one democratic state in which Muslims, Christians and Jews live side by side enjoying the same rights," Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa said last week. He went on, "The situation in this region is unstable and dangerous and
US President [Barack] Obama should properly address the Arab-Israeli conflict and, in particular, the Palestinian issue. There must be a viable Palestinian state and a comprehensive peace that should involve Syria and Lebanon."

Much has been made in the major media of a confluence of interest between Israel and the governments of Sunni Arab governments in opposition to Iran. This, however, is overblown and misleading. No one can doubt that a military attack - a constant Israeli threat - would enflame the entire Islamic world.

"But as we talk about a world free of nuclear weapons, the US should bear in mind that there is a country already possessing nuclear weapons," said Musa. "We need a fair and positive deal in this question by the US. Do not talk about Iran while leaving Israel outside the talks."

Dahabi concurred, adding "everybody has to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."

"Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward," Robert Naiman, National Coordinator of Just Foreign Policy, wrote last week. "In calling for an end to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, President Obama is restating longstanding U.S. policy. However, under the Bush Administration, U.S. officials tended to use weak formulations like referring to the settlements as `an obstacle to peace' rather saying explicitly that they should stop. And the statements tended to come from folks like Secretary of State Rice, rather than from the president himself. By making the statement in his press conference with Netanyahu, President Obama underscored the policy.

"However, what really matters is giving teeth to the policy. There can scarcely be any reasonable doubt that if the Obama Administration really wants to, it can stop Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. The U.S. has a great deal of leverage over the Israeli government. The question is whether the Obama Administration will use that leverage.

"For example, earlier this month, President Obama sent his FY2010 budget request to Congress and, as expected, included in it $2.775 billion in military aid for Israel, an increase of $225 million from this year's budget.

"This presents the perfect opportunity for the Obama Administration to `put its money where its mouth is.' The Obama Administration could, for example, support conditioning the increase in U.S. military aid on Israeli compliance with a settlement freeze. No-one could plausibly claim that conditioning the increase on compliance with a settlement freeze would "endanger Israel" in any way -- even if Israel did not comply with the settlement freeze, and did not receive the increase in military aid as a result, that would leave Israel receiving exactly as much U.S. military aid as it receives now.

"But such a move would make clear that the Obama Administration is serious."

Jordan's King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein recently conferred in Damascus with President Bashar al-Assad. The two are said to have discussed a Saudi-inspired Arab peace initiative which proposes full diplomatic recognition to Israel if it returns the occupied territories to Palestinian control and works out a settlement of the problem of Palestinian refugees. Last week Abdullah issued an ominous warning: "If we delay our peace negotiations, then there is going to be another conflict between Arabs or Muslims and Israel in the next 12-18 months." His father, the late King Hussein bin Talal conveyed a similar message to the White House once - on the eve of the 1967 war. Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What is the Fetishism of Commodities?

Thomas Riggins

Towards the end of the first chapter of Das Kapital, after having established the validity of the labor theory of value, Marx has a section on the Fetishism of Commodities. To understand this section is to understand the whole first chapter and also to see why socialism is necessary. This article is an attempt to explain the meaning of this section and to apply its lessons to our times.

A commodity looks simple enough says the bourgeois economist. Most bourgeois economists say it is any object with a use value that somebody wants and is willing to pay for and its value is determined by supply and demand. Nothing drives such a common sense economist more to distraction than reading Karl Marx who says a commodity is "a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties." What can Marx mean? Economics is a science, even a mathematical science, what has it got to do with metaphysics and theology?

Take a wooden table, says Marx. It is just wood that human labor has turned into a table and taken to market. Wood + Labor = Table. Where is the mystery? When it gets to the market the table finds itself in the company of the stool and the chair. All three have use values, are made of the same wood, and may be in equal supply and equal demand-- yet each has its own different price.

Why these different prices? Same wood, same demand, same supply. They are all the products of human labor. What is the difference between them that justifies different prices? The prices are reflections of the underlying values of the products. Could the values be different? What does Marx say determines value? It is the different quantities of socially necessary labor time embodied in the commodities.

The table, the stool, and the chair three "things" that are related to each other as the embodiment of the social relations and necessary labor of human beings that created them. Human social relations have been objectified as the relations between non human things. The chair is more valuable than the table but the reason is now hidden away from the perception of people.

"A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing," Marx writes, "simply because in it the social character of men's labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relations of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour."

To find an analogy Marx tells us we have to turn to the "mist-enveloped regions of the religious world." In that world the inventions of the human mind take on an independent existence and humans begin to interact with their own fantastical creations as if they were really independently existing objective things. This is similar to the Fetishism of Commodities. All the commodities we see about us are part of the sum total of all the socially produced objects and services created by human labor in our society. People all over the world are making things which are traded, shipped, sold, resold, etc. But their use values cannot be realized until they are sold--i.e., exchanged, especially exchanged for money. But why are some more expensive than others? Why do some have more value than others? Supply and demand has a role to play in setting PRICE but it merely causes price to fluctuate around VALUE.

The fact that we know that value results from the socially necessary labor time spent in making commodities "by no means," Marx says, "dissipates the mist through which the social character of labour appears to us to be an objective character of the products themselves."

This is because we are so use to how the market operates under capitalism, how prices fluctuate, commodities rise and fall in prices, the working people naturally just think the values (which they don't differentiate from prices) are products of the natural world, that is, are functions of the things for sale or barter themselves. This is why "supply and demand" seems to be the basis of the value of things. They don't see it's all really the result of the socially necessary labor time expended in the labor process that is the determining factor in value

This leads Marx to say , "The determination of the magnitude of value by labor time therefore is a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities."

We are reminded, that to understand the real nature of a social formation we have to reverse our knowledge of its historical development. We begin with the full fledged capitalist system and we try to figure why the prices of things are the way they are. Looking at the mature system we don't really see its primitive origins. In the same way a religious person looking at a human being fails to see an ape in the background.

This leads Marx to say of his own theory, "When I state that coats and boots stand in a relation to linen, because it is the universal incarnation of abstract human labor, the absurdity of the statement is self evident." This has been remarked upon both by the most astute of thinkers (Bertrand Russell) and the most pedestrian (Ayn Rand).

The problem is that the bourgeoisie looks upon an HISTORICALLY TRANSIENT economic formation, its own, as an eternally existing social order. Of course prices are set by supply and demand. What is that crazy Marx talking about? As the economist Brad Delong said, he had NEVER known anyone who thought that way.

Well, lets look at something other than the full blown capitalist system at work. Marx says, "The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labor as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore, so soon as we come to other forms of production."

Marx gives the example of Robinson Crusoe. He chooses Robinson because he was a popular example used in the texts of the day. Robinson has to make everything for himself, obtain his own food, and provide his own shelter. It is pretty obvious that the things that are most important for his survival are those he expends most of his labor time upon and are consequently the most valuable to him.

Marx then says we should consider a community of free people working together cooperatively to make all things necessary for their society. Whereas Robinson was just making use values for himself, in this community a social product is being created. The people have to set aside part of the product for future production, but the rest they can consume. How would they divide it in a fair manner? They would divide the product in proportion to the labor time each individual had contributed to the joint production of the social product.

This is how barter went on in the Middle Ages. Peasants knew very well how much labor time was involved in making cheese, for example, and in making a pair of shoes . If it took twice as long to make a pound cheese that to make a pair of shoes, you can be sure that no one was going to trade more than a half pound of cheese for his shoes. It is only in the complicated processes of commodity production, especially in capitalism, that the Fetichism of Commodities begins to manifest itself and the true nature of the source of value is lost.

People have confused consciousness in our world. Our alienation from our own social product, the effects of commodity fetichism, and the continuing influence of religion all work together to keep us confused and off guard. But seeing what our condition is with respect to such mental blights also tells how far along the road to liberation we are (not far) and how far we have to go (quite a distance I fear).

The world, though in a distorted way, is reflected in these distorted forms of consciousness. "The religious world," Marx tells us, "is but the reflex of the real world." And, for our capitalist society where all human relations, and relations of humans with the things they create, are reducible to commodification based on the value of "homogeneous human labor" the best form of religion is CHRISTIANITY and especially PROTESTANTISM (or alternatively, DEISM [and maybe for our day we can toss in SECULAR HUMANISM]).

Why is this? Marx says it is because the idea of "abstract man" is the basis of the the religious outlook of these systems. A religion based on an abstract view of "human nature" is just the ticket for an economic system that the bourgeoisie says is also based on "human nature." The religion reinforces the basic presuppositions of the capitalist view of abstract man and since CATHOLICISM represents a pre-bourgeois human abstraction more suitable to feudalism it is the Protestant form that is more congruent with bourgeois conceptions.

As long as humans are confused and alienated, and ignorant of how capitalism works and are mystified by their relation to the objects of their labor they will never be free, or free from the spell of religion, according to Marx. "The religious reflex of the real world," he writes, can only vanish "when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature."

The next two sentences from Marx are extremely important as they explain, in very general terms, the failure of the Russian Revolution and the downfall of the socialist world system. The first sentence describes what the Bolsheviks set out to do in 1917. "The life processes of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan."

This is certainly what was attempted-- first by war communism, then the NEP, and then by the five year plans, forced collectivization and industrialization. But why the failure? Where were the "freely associated men?"

To pull off this great transformation, the goal of communism, Marx wrote "demands for society a certain material ground-work or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development."

In other words, the seizure of power was premature. The material ground-work had not been sufficiently developed. If Lenin represented the negation of the ancien regime, Gorbachev and Yeltsin represented the negation of the negation-- brought about by the failure of that long and painful process of development to properly develop production by freely associated human beings. For all its efforts the socialist world still belonged to that world in which the processes of production had the mastery over human beings and not the other way around. So we must still put up with the Fetichism of Commodities for a while longer.

The present crisis gives us an opportunity to educate working people about this Fetichism and how to free themselves from it. GM is about to be 70% owned by the government and the UAW will have a stake of about 17.5%. This leaves 12.5% in the hands of the capitalists. The commodities the workers make (cars) don't have a life of their own. Their value is determined by the socially necessary labor time it takes workers to make them. They are extensions of the being of the working people not the capitalists who have proved themselves totally incompetent.

The working people of this country far out number the number of monopoly capitalists-- both industrial and financial. The UAW and the AFL-CIO as well other Unions must demand that the government represent the interests of the working class majority. The 87.5% joint Government-worker control of GM must not be used to put the private interests back in control, but to rationalize the auto industry by means of worker control, eliminate the capitalists and the Fetichism that keeps people thinking private interests have a role to play in production, and lay the ground work for further nationalizations in the future.

What do you think?

Hugo Chávez: the most popular leader in the Middle East

Results of new survey of Arab countries from 21st Century Socialism:

The results of the new survey of 'Arab opinion' conducted by Zogby International show that Barack Obama has a much more favourable rating than did his predecessor as US president. But when asked to name the world leaders whom they most admire, the participants put the President of Venezuela at the top of the poll.

The survey, which was conducted in April and May 2009, sampled the views of 4,087 people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. According to the respected Zogby polling organisation, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6%. One of the questions put to the participants was "which two world leaders (outside your own country) do you admire most?" The most frequently named leader is Hugo Chavez, at 36%. Following Chavez in order of admiration are Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and former President of France Jacques Chirac (both at 18%), Osama bin Laden (16%), Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (15%) and the current French president Nicolas Sarkozy (14%).

Read the whole story here

Light at the End of the Unemployment Line? (May 28th)

Light at the End of the Unemployment Line?

March 27th marked the 100th day since the passage of President Obama's economic recovery act. To observe the occasion, the administration released a report on the progress of the stimulus package and the economic recovery since.

The report provided anecdotal evidence of the impact the recovery act has had in different parts of the country. So far $112 billion from the recovery act have been obligated for various projects like infrastructure construction to job training, environmental clean-up, small business loans, expanded unemployment benefits, public education, science research grants, public safety, and green technology.

At the release of the report, Vice President Joe Biden said, "We’ve done a lot in 100 days. But we know there is still much to do... You know, as we do, that the road to full recovery will be long and not always smooth. But we also know that, working together, there is no doubt that we will reach the end of that road. When we do, America will be better and stronger than ever."

Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, explained to reporters, "We have a long way to go, but today we have more hope for an economic turnaround than we did 101 days ago."

"We are starting to turn a corner," Nabors added.

Read the whole story here...

Gerard Jean-Juste, Haitian leader, dies

Gerard Jean-Juste, spiritual leader of Haitian Americans, dies
May 27, 2009
Miami Herald

The spiritual and political leader of the Haitian community in South Florida died in Miami after suffering a stroke. He was 62.

The Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, the Roman Catholic priest whose passionate, relentless, 30-year human-rights crusade on behalf of his fellow Haitians cast him as their spiritual and political leader in South Florida, has died.

Jean-Juste was a liberation theologist, controversial in both the United States and his homeland, who battled the unequal treatment of Haitian refugees in the federal courts, in Miami's streets and in the media.

He suffered a stroke recently, according to Ira Kurzban, the Miami attorney who represented Jean-Juste's Haitian Refugee Center in several lawsuits against the U.S. government, and died Wednesday evening at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He was 62.

His death apparently was unrelated to the leukemia that Jackson doctors treated three years ago.

''The Haitian-American community has lost a visionary and a central figu re who helped to establish the Haitian community in South Florida,'' Kurzban said. ``They lost a. . .friend whose arms and heart were always open.''

Read the whole story here...

Great historian, Ronald Takaki, passes away

Prof. Ronald Takaki authored numerous excellent histories of the immigrant working class experience, including A Different Mirror, Strangers from a Different Shore, and Iron Cages.

Asian Week
by Beleza Chan
March 26, 2009

It is with great sadness to announce that Professor Emeritus Ronald Takaki passed away on the evening of May 26th, 2009. He is survived by his wife, Carol Takaki, his three children Dana, Troy, and Todd Takaki, and his grandchildren.

Ron Takaki was one of the most preeminent scholars of our nation’s diversity, and considered “the father” of multicultural studies. As an academic, historian, ethnographer and author, his work helped dispel stereotypes of Asian Americans. In his study of multicultural people’s history in America, Takaki seeked to unite Americans, today and in the future, with each other and with the rest of the world.

He was a professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught over 20,000 students during 34 years of teaching.

Born in 1939, Professor Takaki was the grandson of immigrant Japanese plantation workers in Hawaii. He graduated from the College of Wooster, Ohio, in 1961. Six years later, after receiving his Ph.D. in American history from UC Berkeley, Takaki went to UCLA to teach its first Black history course.

As a Professor, Takaki hoped that his students would learn that skills of critical thinking and effective writing could be used in a revolutionary way. Epistemology, critical thinking, or in Takaki’s words “how do you know, you know, what you know about the America and the world you live in?” was a question Takaki posed to his students to challenge the way they looked at history, current policies, and even life.

In 1972, Professor Takaki returned to Berkeley to teach in the newly instituted Department of Ethnic Studies. His comparative approach to the study of race and ethnicity provided the conceptual framework for the B.A. program and the Ph.D. program in Comparative Ethnic Studies as well as for the university’s multicultural requirement for graduation, known as the American Cultures Requirement.

The Berkeley faculty has honored Professor Takaki with a Distinguished Teaching Award.

Takaki has lectured in Japan, Russia, Armenia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Austria, and South Africa.

He has debated Nathan Glazer and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. on issues such as affirmative action and multicultural education.

Takaki is a fellow of the Society of American Historians; its executive secretary, Mark Carnes stated that Takaki “has re-shaped American history.”

In 1997, Professor Takaki helped President Bill Clinton write his major speech on race, “One America in the 21st Century.”

Professor Takaki was the author of 12 books. Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th Century America has been critically acclaimed. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans has been selected by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the best 100 non-fiction books of the 20th century, and A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America is read on college campuses across the country and has over half a million copies in print.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

UN Session: World Financial Crisis, Gen Assembly Pres. d' Escoto in charge

UN General Assembly Confronts Economic Crisis:
Developing Countries Taking The Lead

by Mike Tolochko

The United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development has been postponed to the 24th-26th of June 2009.

«We have an historic opportunity —and a collective responsibility— to bring new stability and sustainability to the international economic financial order.»

Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann
President, 63rd Session
of the General Assembly

UN-backed public symposium calls for 'deep and lasting' financial reforms
In face of crises, states must 'act together' now, or risk cycle of poverty, despair says Secretary-General at Sustainable Development Commission's high-level segment
Upcoming UN economic summit 'timely and historic' – Assembly President

The United Nations is convening a three-day summit of world leaders from 24 to 26 June 2009 at its New York Headquarters to assess the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression. The aim is to identify emergency and long-term responses to mitigate the impact of the crisis, especially on vulnerable populations, and initiate a needed dialogue on the transformation of the international financial architecture, taking into account the needs and concerns of all Member States.

The United Nations summit of world leaders in June was mandated at the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development, held in December 2008 in Doha, Qatar. Member States requested the General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann to organize the meeting "at the highest level".

The June 1-3 UN Conference on the Economic Crisis has been postponed to June 24-26, 2009.

A few months following the election of Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann as President of the General Assembly, mid year 2008, it became clear that this one-year term position would not be a figurehead term. He quickly appointed an expert panel, headed by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz to study how the crisis would affect all UN nations. By this time, Stiglitz had turned away from his World Bank and IMF days and had become a strong critique of neo-liberalism and its method of globalization.

D' Escoto's did not wait until the following Spring, 2009, which is what similar presidents have done, that is, to have his major meeting to discuss the issues that were weighing on his mind. He acted immediately. The upcoming Conference coincided with another call by UN nations, as indicated at the start of this Blog.

In October of 2008 d'Escoto called a special session of the General Assembly to allow the expert panel to report on their research and put forward a path for the next period of time. That special General Assembly session was attended by all 192 nations. And, in fact, d'Escoto coined the phrase: G-192 to indicate his preference in terms of nation groupings. He made it clear for a real recovery from the worldwide economic crisis the countries involved must not just be the G-8 or the G-20 or the G 66 plus China. The expert panel's report and recommendations were very stark and revealing. The anti-neoliberal and globalization policies of the rich nations had to be confronted. [See PA Blog October 30, 2008 for a description of that historic meeting.] Every country must be involved.

There is clearly a growing rage among the many countries, which had nothing to do with the creating the financial crisis, but are now facing the worst aspects. The expert panel confirmed this assessment. D'Escoto represents the aspirations of those nations.

June 1-3, 2009/ Now, June 24-26, 2009

Fast-forward to June 1-3, 2009, now June 24-26: Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development.

This is the conference; a yearly conference held by the President of the General Assembly, that most of the G-192 has been looking forward to.

Don't think that this meeting is not being studied by the most right wing and neo-liberal forces who openly oppose the direction that d'Escoto is leading. But, first it must be kept in mind; he was elected by the General Assembly to this position. Everyone knew full well his direction. But, many probably hoped he would mellow his viewpoints once in office. He seems be have gotten more steadfast in protecting and fighting for the developing countries. The NY Times news article describes the struggle. It reads more like an editorial from the Heritage Foundation than an honest discussion of the UN upcoming meeting.

The postponement of the meeting was necessary given the sharp resistance to the direction of the General Assembly President. The preparatory documents were not incoming with the mandate, coming from the expert panel and the widening crisis, which he envisioned for the General Assembly

There are three documents that need to be studied as we more toward the Conference. I am including these full documents for readers to make their own judgments. Paraphrasing or editing of the Times article and the d'Escoto statement would be a mistake:

1. The New York Times article that attacked, quite aggressively, with a strong anti-communist feel, the direction of the General Assembly President;

2. Statement by President d'Escoto on the purpose of the Conference;

3. A background statement on the purpose of the Conference.



May 25, 2009

At U.N., a Sandinista's Plan for Recovery

UNITED NATIONS — The route out of the financial crisis — at least in the view of Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a ranking Sandinista and the fractious president of the United Nations General Assembly — should be lined with all manner of new global institutions, authorities and advisory boards.

How many? Nine, to be exact and they are (take a deep breath) the Global Stimulus Fund, the Global Public Goods Authority, the Global Tax Authority, the Global Financial Products Safety Commission, the Global Financial Regulatory Authority, the Global Competition Authority, the Global Council of Financial and Economic Advisers, the Global Economic Coordination Council, and the World Monetary Board.

Their formation was included in the agenda Mr. d'Escoto unveiled this month for a pending United Nations summit meeting on the economic crisis. But member countries were having a hard time reshaping his proposals into something workable. By the start of the weekend, the extended haggling had been reduced to whether the summit meeting, originally scheduled for next Monday through Wednesday, should be postponed until the end of June because no compromise agenda was in sight.

The problem boils down to competing visions of what role the United Nations should play in the global financial crisis.

Everyone basically agreed that the United Nations should serve as the voice of the poorest nations, and that its many tentacles provided an excellent source for collecting data on the impact of the meltdown. While most General Assembly members seek attention from existing global institutions for their economic distress, however, they are not agitating for a reversal of the institutions' market-economy bent.

To Mr. d'Escoto, a priest and former Nicaraguan foreign minister, the world financial crisis demonstrates the need for something closer to a revolution, both to mend the deep wounds opened by capitalist excess and to prevent future calamity.

He wants the General Assembly to be anointed the leader in reformulating the world's economic institutions. (The draft document suggested an open-ended process, steered by Mr. d'Escoto.)

"If the new financial system and architecture is going to be put together, and these rules of the game are going to affect everyone, as the crisis has affected everyone, the proposed solution and new rules of the game should be legitimate for everyone," said Paul Oquist, Mr. d'Escoto's senior adviser for the conference, and a Nicaraguan official. "It is the General Assembly that offers that in a universal vein."

Sitting beneath portraits of Fidel Castro of Cuba, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, among others, Mr. Oquist also said that the meltdown of 2008 proved that no state or states had a monopoly on financial wisdom. That statement, at least, attracts a consensus here.

But Mr. d'Escoto's critics, and they are legion, accuse him of trying to Sandanista-ize the world or having serious delusions of grandeur. They say that proposals like levying an international tax on all financial transactions or replacing the dollar as the international reserve currency are well beyond the role of the United Nations.

A compromise document that eliminated many of the most radical changes is now under consideration, with few of the proposed global institutions surviving.

The diplomatic standoff started with a breach of etiquette: traditionally, before any conference, the General Assembly president appoints a couple of ambassadors as "facilitators" who consult widely and then propose a working document.

But this time, the plan, envisioning the United Nations in a supporting role, proved insufficiently sweeping for Mr. d'Escoto, so he tossed aside the entire draft and supplanted it with one of his own. To lend it an aura of respectability, his aides point out repeatedly that the president got many of his ideas from a distinguished panel of experts led by an American economist and Nobel laureate, Joseph E. Stiglitz.

Star-studded panels of experts clog the corridors around here, so nobody faults Mr. d'Escoto for that defense. But many ambassadors noted dryly that member countries were usually given the chance to discuss such recommendations before their insertion into official documents.

United Nations members had expected the conference to provide a role for not-so-rich nations in proposing solutions to the crisis, but several ambassadors said they had searched in vain for that amid the starring role for Mr. d'Escoto and his team. "The idea is to involve everyone in dealing with the problem," said Maged A. Abdelaziz, the Egyptian ambassador. "Too much is being asked of the Secretariat, and nothing from the member states."

2. STATEMENT BY UN General Assembly President d'ESCOTO

On Preparations for the United Nations High-Level Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development

UN Headquarters , New York, 8 May 2009

Friends All,

I am very pleased to brief you all today on the preparations for the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development, scheduled for the first three days of June, and to present to you the first draft of the outcome document. The eve of the Conference is already upon us – 24 days away to be precise. We have been preparing for this historic event with remarkable intensity.

I wish to explain briefly what has been accomplished to date and appeal for your support and involvement in the few short weeks that we have ahead of us. Let us be united in our efforts to negotiate a powerful outcome document for the summit. And let us be proactive in urging our Heads of State and Government to become personally involved and turn this opportunity into the transformative moment it is meant to be in the history of the United Nations. The participation of all Member States at the highest level is indispensable for the transcendental gathering to achieve its full potential. I earnestly believe that this is an opportunity the world cannot afford NOT to take advantage of.

This United Nations conference – a global summit of world leaders – is highly unusual for a number of reasons. It is both timely and historic.

Unlike other UN conferences, we are organizing this gathering in record time, reflecting the need for a timely response to the financial and economic crisis that continues to unfold around us.

I understand that this has put a great deal of pressure on Member States, our UN colleagues and many other partners who are working overtime to ensure the success of the conference. But these are not normal times and the world expects us to respond with speed and decisiveness.

As you remember, at the beginning of this session of the Assembly last September, Member States emphasized the confluence of crises that now challenge the world – the perfect storm of climate change, food, water and energy crises, as well as the unfolding economic downturn.

Meanwhile, economic turmoil was darkening the world horizon. By the time of the Doha conference, the dimensions of the economic meltdown had become so alarming that Member States resolved to convene a conference at the highest level to address the crisis.

This was a historic decision that committed us to initiating a global conversation on the crisis, mitigating the impact on the developing countries, and addressing the reform of the international economic and financial architecture.

Since then we have worked hard to ensure that the scope of this conference allows for a full understanding of the various dimensions of the crisis and let us begin a serious discussion about revamping the international financial and monetary architecture.

In the search for solutions, many Members of the General Assembly welcomed my decision to establish a Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System. Twenty experienced economists and central bankers from all regions of the world, under the very able chairmanship of Professor Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate, have gathered five times since then to recommend very specific ways to address the immediate and long-term needs of a failing system.

When the Commission's recommendations were presented to the General Assembly in a three-day interactive thematic dialogue at the end of March, many Member States confirmed the value of the Commission's work by stating that they found it a useful as a comprehensive review of the many issues to be taken up in June and thereafter.

Although extremely important, the Commission's recommendations are, of course, not the only inputs received. In the past several weeks we have heard eloquent testimony and received numerous reports from Member States, from the President of the Economic and Social Council, from other UN funds and programmes, from the specialized agencies, and from civil society organizations and the private sector.

Organizing and synthesizing these many inputs has been a major challenge. Capturing the spirit of the moment is an even greater challenge, but one that we cannot escape.

The outcome document that leaders will adopt on June 3rd must reflect the aspirations, and not just the work agenda, of the Member States. In particular, it must speak to the hundreds of millions across the globe who have no other forum in which they can express their unique and often divergent perspectives.

It must reflect the call of many nations for new paradigms for building a sustainable economic life, one that integrates the values and the ethical imperatives that should guide our development. It must reflect the call for greater justice and inclusiveness in our global economic life, and it must reflect the passionate call for promoting the common good over the obsessive impulse to consume more and more, and to dominate others at any cost.

On Wednesday morning, I received the first complete version of a draft outcome document from the facilitators, Ambassador Frank Majoor of the Netherlands and Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. I want to express my deep appreciation for the work they have done so far. It is immediately evident that, while not having immediate access to all the inputs, particularly those provided by heads of state and government, they have been extraordinarily diligent in their efforts to prepare a document that fairly and accurately reflects the broad range of views of the membership. Theirs is, therefore, one of the most important inputs into the draft document that I am giving you today.

I believe that this conference needs to be seen not as an event in itself, but as an inflection point in a long-standing and continuous movement to strengthen the role of the United Nations in global governance. Thus far in the planning for June, we have agreed to eliminate the restrictions imposed under previous economic initiatives to limit the scope of our deliberations. That is a significant achievement in itself. But it will mean almost nothing unless we are able to organize an effective mechanism for carrying this agenda forward.

The business of this conference will not end on June 3rd because the commitments made, both here and elsewhere, will not have been completed on June 3rd. So it is vitally important that we define a follow-up mechanism that allows Member States to participate in the ongoing work.

A second consideration relates to the level of participation in the conference. I am certain that every Member State believes that the United Nations is and must be the place where the developing countries can speak in their own voice. But too often the United Nations itself speaks with the voice of the least common denominator consensus. Unfortunately, such a voice says little to the urgent needs of developing nations. If we can begin only with what is already agreed, it is difficult to see how this conference or any process that accepts such restrictions, can ever be appealing to people who clamor for change, or be conducive to real progress.

In recent weeks, I have been traveling extensively to meet with Heads of State and Government and other high-level officials. I can tell you in all honesty that I have tried my best in this draft outcome document to reflect the concerns and expectations that I have received in all these meetings. Now I am quite conscious of the fact that the first version of the document presented to the Member States will be the one that most world leaders will see.

I therefore think that it is fair to say that the draft outcome document that I am giving you today will be the basis on which heads of state and government will be deciding whether to take the June Conference seriously or to regard it as yet another international charade.

For the many, many nations who have so far been excluded from the multiple on-going forums and processes in which leading countries are crafting and negotiating their responses to the global crisis, language that sounds like business as usual can only confirm their exclusion. If the leaders of these nations do not recognize their concerns and perspectives in this first draft, knowing it will be subject to many compromises going forward, there will be little interest in participating in our meeting.

This is no way, in my judgment, to start a global conversation. I have accordingly introduced language that seeks to send an unmistakable signal that this conference truly is dedicated to understanding and responding to the perspective of the many "excluded nations." The only way to do that is to begin with language that truly reflects their concerns and aspirations. Because I come from such a nation, because I have dedicated my entire adult life to overcoming the exclusions of nations and peoples from their rightful participation in our common global life, I have felt responsible for doing all that I can to give expression to these views – which, of course, are also my own views.

I trust that Member States will understand that in the exercise of my judgment and role, I do not depreciate the very valuable work of the facilitators. I have taken on most of the structure they have proposed and I have also taken on board nearly all of their substantive points. I am personally grateful for the intensive efforts they have made.

If I have erred in my judgment in what is required to make this conference successful, then I accept this responsibility. But time and goodwill will determine the ultimate success of our common efforts. I pray that for the sake of all the world's peoples that we continue to work hard over the few weeks that remain to find our way forward.

Thank you.

3. BACKGROUND PAPER ON JUNE 1-3, 2009 [Now June 24-26]

UN Conference at the Highest Level on the World
Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development, 1-3 June 2009 [Now June 24-26]


The United Nations is convening a three-day summit of world leaders from 1 to 3 June 2009, now June 24-26, at its New York Headquarters to assess the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression. The aim is to identify emergency and long-term responses to mitigate the impact of the crisis, especially on vulnerable populations, and initiate a needed dialogue on the transformation of the international financial architecture, taking into account the needs and concerns of all Member States. The UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development will provide a uniquely inclusive forum to address issues of urgent concern to all nations.

Recent assessments of the impact of the ongoing economic crisis increasingly highlight the deteriorating social and political fallout in the least developed countries and middle-income countries as well. Prospects for an early recovery have faded, forcing countries to prepare for a prolonged downturn in trade, investment and employment.

In 2009 global economic growth has entered negative territory. Credit flows have dried up and major investment firms and lending institutions have been wiped off the map. Jobs are disappearing by more than a million a month, according to the International Labour Organization, and trade has dropped at the steepest rate since the Great Depression, the World Trade Organization observed.

A development emergency

The situation in the world's developing countries – which contributed least to the crisis and are most severely affected – has led some economists to warn of "lost decades for development" which could have catastrophic consequences for rich and poor countries alike.

After struggling with high prices for food, fuel and fertilizers as well as the effects of climate change, these countries face rapidly shrinking trade and export-import credits. Private capital flows to emerging economies this year are projected to be down by 82 per cent from the boom year of 2007, the Institute of International Finance says. The World Bank, which has described the crisis as a "development emergency", projects a finance gap of up to $700 billion in these countries, and the possibility of a "lost generation," with added deaths of 1.5 to 2.8 million infants by 2015. Over 100 million people are expected to be tipped into extreme poverty each year for the duration of the crisis.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently warned that the international community, "should not lose sight of the challenges and plight of hundreds and hundreds of million of the poorest people of the developing countries who have been impacted by this crisis." Middle income countries are increasingly affected by the downturn as well.

Conference at the highest level

The United Nations summit of world leaders in June was mandated at the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development, held in December 2008 in Doha, Qatar. Member States requested the General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann to organize the meeting "at the highest level". The conference will consist of plenary sessions and four interactive roundtable exchanges among world leaders and representatives of the United Nations system, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as civil society organizations and the private sector. The summit will produce an outcome document, a draft of which can be found on the Conference website.
The four Roundtables for examining and overcoming the world financial and economic crisis and its impact on development will address the issues of: 1) the impact on the crisis on employment, trade, investment and development, including the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals and the Millennium Development Goals; 2) actions and appropriate measures to mitigate the impact of the crisis on development; 3) the role of the United Nations and its Member States in the ongoing international discussions on reforming and strengthening the international financial and economic system and architecture; 4) contributions of the United Nations development system in response to the crisis.

The Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development brings to bear the full authority of the General Assembly, the only universal body of sovereign states. It is not a counter-measure or alternative channel to existing international fora on economic cooperation and financial regulations. Rather, it opens up a complementary and supporting process that brings with it the voice, and ultimately the buy-in, of all 192 UN Member States.

"We have an historic opportunity – and a collective responsibility --to bring new stability and sustainability to the international economic financial order," Assembly President d'Escoto declared recently. "This transformation – which could begin to narrow the North/South divide -- requires the involvement of all nations of the world. This is the meeting of the G-192."

To amplify the voices of all countries, rich, poor and middle income, and to clarify global thinking on the most far-reaching 21st century challenge to date, the General Assembly has held a number of timely interactive debates and consultations on the issues to provide inputs into the conference. These have served to develop a shared view of the scale, scope and impact of the crisis; to assess resource requirements and mobilization; and to review institutional roles and relationships among world bodies, especially within the UN system itself.

Inputs for Final Outcome Document

A commission of experts established by the President also submitted a score of preliminary recommendations on immediate and longer-term measures vis-à-vis the workings of the global financial system in March. Comprised of economists and finance officials from all regions and chaired by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System highlighted a range of practical proposals for improving the international financial architecture in March. These and other inputs serve as the basis for the drafting of a conference outcome document, a draft of which can be found on the Conference website.

Sotomayor, Baseball Players and EFCA

Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor:A Sports Fan Who Puts her Decisions Where it Counts


by Mike Tolochko

New York City sports pages are aglow [May 27th, 2009] with the 1994-95 decision by federal judge Sonia Sotomayor to impose an injunction on the Baseball Owners, which stopped them from imposing their own work rules as the Players strike was taking place. Every decent sports columnist has heralded that move as saving the players work rules and benefits against a ruthless employers association. The baseball owners wanted to break the players union so that they would have the ruthless, anti-player power the football owners achieved. They almost got their wish.

Sotomayor imposed that injunction, according to reports, to save collective bargaining. Now, that is a justice who puts her sports fan status at the front her decision-making. She is reported to be a major baseball Yankees fan. Being from the South Bronx, the Yankees are her hometown team. How many politicians run to the ballparks to get fan support and then turnaround and do anti-worker, anti-player actions? Far too many.

Let's hope she gets confirmed in time for the playoffs. If the Yankees make it to the playoffs, they will have one fan in the stands, who having had the opportunity, that did the right thing.

Now, What About EFCA?

Too many Democrats, and even some labor policy wonks, are going along with the erroneous conclusion that organized labor leaders and lobbyists have given up on the Employee Free Choice Act [EFCA]. Clearly, the White House hasn't.

You hear more and more that the struggle to pass EFCA might take too much time. For, when even if it is passed, as the story goes, the Supreme Court will knock it down. That is deflating some of the early support for EFCA. Some are even offering half-baked adjustment to the NLRB rather than EFCA. A balanced playing field between labor and management is clearly on the minds of the White House, many other politicians and labor leaders.

An unintended consequence, or maybe unintended consequence, of the Barak Obama nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court bench will be to make sure that all workers get their rights.

The president has shown himself on more than one occasion that he supports workers and their unions in regard to their right to a level playing field against employers. Sotomayor may not just be the one judge on the SC, assuming confirmation, who has more experience as a sitting judge, as the President has said; she will be the first who has sided with workers and their unions. Once passing confirmation hearings and sitting on the Court, let's hope that she will be part of the Supreme Court to decide on EFCA's constitutionality.


Unemployment picture worst since 1981

New analysis from the Economic Policy Institute shows that the unemployment situation today is the worst since the 1981 recession and no relief until late in 2010 at the earliest.

This presentation examines the labor market characteristics of the current recession and the expected landscape for 2010. Unfortunately, the economy has deteriorated so much since October/November 2008 that our fears last November—that unemployment would exceed 10% in mid-2010 if there were no stimulus—will likely be realized even with the substantial, smart stimulus package in place. Consequently, there will be unacceptably high unemployment and associated income losses and poverty rates next year and beyond. For instance, some one-third of the workforce will be unemployed or underemployed at some point in 2010. Higher unemployment will drive child poverty to 27%—up from 18% in 2007—and black child poverty will exceed 50%. The analysis has led him to predict, for example, that black unemployment will reach 27.8% in Michigan and over 22% in California and Mississippi.

See a slideshow of this data here...

Cheney's Iraq-Torture Scandal


In 2002 and 2003, Dick Cheney ordered the torture of key prisoners captured in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Cheney says he ordered torture to stop another terrorist attack, but the evidence is now clear: Cheney wanted false "confessions" to justify the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Those "confessions" were featured in key pre-war speeches by Cheney, George Bush, and Colin Powell that betrayed Congress, the American people, and the world.

Thus the "Torture" scandal and the "Iraq" scandal are not two separate scandals, but one massive and historically disastrous scandal: the Iraq-Torture Scandal.

Cheney claims his torture "saved hundreds of thousands of lives." In reality, it cost hundreds of thousands of lives - innocent Iraqi lives. It also killed over 4,300 U.S. soldiers, maimed hundreds of thousands more, cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion dollars, and profoundly damaged U.S. credibility and security.

Dick Cheney understands the enormity of his crimes and launched a public relations war to protect himself, including carefully-chosen TV interviews and speeches. His daughter (and chief defender) Liz Cheney admitted her father's greatest fear is prosecution.

It's time for Congress to investigate the massive Iraq-Torture Scandal - and for the Department of Justice to prosecute Dick Cheney for creating it.

Please sign our new petition to Congress and Attorney General Holder:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review: Crazy for God

Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back by Frank Schaefer
[Blessed are those spared all this in the first place--TR]

Reviewed By Jim Forest (Alkmaar Netherlands) [from]

Frank Schaeffer doesn't really fit into a brief description. An American, he grew up in rural Switzerland. His parents were fervent Calvinist missionaries living in a Catholic culture which they regarded as barely Christian. Their chalet, known as L'Abri, became a house of hospitality in which a never-ending seminar on culture and Christianity was the main event. Though an Evangelical, a strain of Protestantism usually hostile to the arts, Frank's father was an avid lover of art done in earlier centuries by, in most cases, Catholic artists -- an enthusiasm that in time inspired his son to become an artist. Later Frank gave up the easel to makes films, first documentaries in which his father was the central figure, then more general evangelical films, and finally several unsuccessful non-religious films aimed at a general audience. Eventually -- profoundly disenchanted with the form of Christianity his parents had embraced, and still more alienated from the shrill varieties of right wing Evangelical Christianity that both he and his parents had helped create, Frank joned the Orthodox Church, where he still remains, though no longer in what he refers to as the stage of "convert zeal." After his son, John, became a Marine, Frank became something of a missionary for the Marine Corps, and the military in general, at the same time avidly supporting the war in Iraq in which his son was a participant. A statement I helped to write that urged George Bush not to attack Iraq was the target of a widely-published column Schaeffer wrote in the early days of that war. Now he regards the Iraq War as a disaster and has become an outspoken critic of George Bush.

"Crazy for God" is a gripping read, both candid and engaging. More than anything else, I was touched by Schaeffer's unrelenting honesty. There are pages in which you feel as if you are overhearing a confession. Yet it's a very freeing confession to overhear, in the sense that it allows the reader to make deeper contact with painful or embarrassed areas of his own wounded memory. The book also serves as an admonition not to create a self for public display which is hardly connected to one's actual self.

Being raised in a hothouse of Calvinist missionary zeal, in which Schaeffer and his three sisters became Exhibit A (especially whenever their mother wrote or spoke about Christian Family Life) is not something I would wish on any child. I expect Frank Schaeffer will always be in recovery from that aspect of his childhood.

Those -- and they are many -- who still revere his parents (or for that matter Schaeffer's earlier self, in the period of his life when he was a hot voice packing in the evangelical/Christian Right crowds) are furious at this lifting of the curtain.

Yet I found Schaeffer much harder on himself than on his parents, whom he sees as having been damaged, in some ways made crazy, by the burden of a harsh Calvinist theology. Nonetheless his parents emerge as real Christians whose loving care for others, including people whom many Christians would cross the street to avoid, was absolutely genuine. (I was impressed by the book's account of his parents' response to homosexuals who came to visit L'Abri. They were as warmly received as any other guest.)

While objecting to his parents' theology and the distortions that it created in their lives and in the lives of many influenced by them, clearly he loves them passionately and deeply respects the actual Christian content of their lives -- their "grace, generosity, love and unconditional support."

Schaeffer's book also reminds me that it's one of the recurring tragedies of US history that, from time to time, various movements of self-righteous, ideology-driven Christians decide it's time to try to impose their ideas on society at large. Schaeffer has to live with the painful memory of having been one of the key figures helping to create one of the constituencies that did the most to put George Bush in the White House in their one-issue hope that he would find ways to make abortion, if not illegal, at least less frequent. After eight years in the Oval Office, in fact abortion is no less deeply embedded in American life than it was before Bush's election. Little if anything was done by his administration to help women who felt they had no option but abortion find alternatives.

I was touched by Schaeffer's comments about the powerful influence children can have on their parents, far more than the children usually realize. As Schaeffer has come to understand, in reflecting on his relationship with his father, that influence is sometimes far from positive.

Schaeffer -- now far more caring about the quandaries others face than he was earlier in his life -- has in the process become aware that self-righteousness is often the hallmark of each and every "movement," whether religious or secular, and whether for the unborn, for peace, for those on death row, for animal welfare, for the environment, etc., etc.

In putting the book down, I find myself profoundly grateful for where Frank Schaeffer's journey has taken him so far, yet hope for further evolution in his views in regard to the military and how those in the armed forces are used. I take it as a given that he is aware there are men and women who died or live crippled lives in part because of the impact on their lives of several of Schaeffer's earlier books which viewed the military uncritically and seemed unaware of how often those sent into battle -- because of accidents, misinformation, panic, bad orders, or even the passion for vengeance -- kill innocent people. Nor does he seem aware of the damage, often unhealable, done to those who bear responsibility for such deaths. I hope Schaeffer will give more thought to why the early Church took such a radical stand in regard to warfare and other forms of killing, accidental or intentional, and what that might mean for any Christian in our own day.

Also I would have been glad to hear more about what drew him to the Orthodox Church and what keeps him there, now that he is past what he calls the "zealous convert" stage. In his autobiography, being Orthodox is a minor topic.

As "Crazy for God" bears witness, life is mainly shaped by one's parents and family, peer group pressure, and -- not least -- the white water of ambition. Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. I was reminded several times of one of Kurt Vonnegut's insights: "Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be." It's something of a miracle that Frank Schaeffer escaped from the highly profitable world of the Television Church.

"Crazy for God" also reminds me of what a dangerous vocation it is, more perilous than mountain climbing, when one becomes a professional Christian, writing or speaking about the Gospel, Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God, making some or all of your living doing this. It's a danger I live with too.