PROGRESSIVE NEWS OF INTEREST 6/29/01, Part I

Jack A. Smith jacdon at SPAMearthlink.net
Thu Jun 28 15:51:33 MDT 2001


[ Part I ]

PROGRESSIVE NEWS OF INTEREST

Following are some progressive news items of interest which were
included the current issue of the biweekly Mid-Hudson (N.Y.)  Action
Calendar of June 29, 2001--number 46.  We have eliminated all the
calendar items and other material. The calendar lists upcoming left
events from Albany to New York City and often major national
demonstrations in distant cities. It is published in the town of New
Paltz, N.Y., by the Mid-Hudson National People's Campaign and the
local branch of the International Action Center.  If you are in the
Hudson Valley area (or elsewhere) you may subscribe free to the entire
calendar at jacdon at earthlink.net.  All articles written by Jack A.
Smith.

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HAVES AND HAVE NOTS

The national mythology dictates that America essentially is a
"classless" society, but study after study lately demonstrates that
the U.S.  has stratified into a country of "haves" and "have
nots"--categories that can only be defined in terms of rigid social
class.

The Congressional Budget Office reported at the end of May that the
difference in income between the middle class and poor on the one
hand, and the rich on the other, reached a record high in 1997 (the
latest year with the most reliable statistics) and indicated the gap
has continued to widen in the few years since.

The average after-tax annual income for the wealthiest 1% of the
American people jumped 157% in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1979
and 1997, from $263,700 to $677,900--a whopping increase of $414,200 a
year.  This same group ended up paying 48% more in federal taxes, far
less a proportion than the income hike. (Taxes on the top 1% have just
dropped from 39.6% to 35% and estate taxes are being phased out,
courtesy of the new tax cuts.)  The next highest 4% enjoyed an
increase of $46%.  During the same period, the poorest 20% of the
population experienced a 1% decline in annual income--a loss of $100 a
year for those who can least afford it.  Income for the second fifth
of the population rose 6%, the third fifth 10%.

In increasing numbers, the American people are becoming aware that
their society is dividing into two quite separate camps.  In a survey
of 1,200 adults June 13-17, the Pew Research Center ascertained that
44% of the population believe the U.S. is now "a have/have not
society," compared to 38% in 1999 and 26% in 1988.  The poll also
revealed 27% of the people did not have enough money in the past year
for healthcare. Some 21% couldn't buy clothes and 16% didn't have
sufficient cash to purchase food.

"Today," the report revealed, "fully 26% of Americans cite not having
enough money to make ends meet as the biggest problem facing them and
their families."  Meanwhile, "55% say they are in only fair or poor
[economic] shape." Of families with incomes under $30,000 a year, Pew
disclosed, "47% recalled a time in the past 12 months when they did
not have enough money for gasoline."  For those with family incomes
less than $50,000 a year, 33% "reported occasions when they could not
pay their utility bills this year." Based on estimates reported in the
Poughkeepsie Journal last year, a family consisting of a single parent
and two children requires an income in the low 40,000s to meet all
basic needs.  About half the families in our Mid-Hudson, N.Y.,
counties of Ulster and Dutchess earn less than $35,000, some
considerably less.

This survey also disclosed that 43% of the population believes that
President Bush is helping the "haves," 4% say the "have nots," and 42%
think he treats both groups the same.  At the same time, 52% of the
people said they were dissatisfied "with the way things are going in
this country," a jump of 11 points since last January.

According to new figures from Inequality.Org, the top 1% possessed
38.1% of the country's net worth in 1998, compared to 0.2% by the
bottom 40% or 16.6% by the bottom 80%.  (Net worth is everything of
value, from income to real estate, possessed by a family or
individual, less taxes, depreciation, etc.)  Between 1983 and 1998,
the average household net worth of the top 1% climbed 42.2%, while the
bottom 40% lost 76.3% of its minuscule net worth, even though a family
may have multiple working members who are working longer hours. The
average net wealth of the top 1% was $10,204,000 in 1998.  The bottom
40%, who survive from week to week, averaged a net worth of $1,900.
The top 1% average family thus scrapes by on $5,370 in net worth for
every $1 enjoyed by the bottom 40% family.

Inequality.Org also notes that African-Americans and Latinos
constitute the bottom of the bottom. The median net worth of whites is
$81,700, African-Americans $10,000, Latinos $3000.  In terms of
financial wealth, the median for whites is $37,600, African-Americans
$1,200 and Latinos, 0%.

Despite inescapable evidence of the existence of class stratification
in the United States, the corporate media and the educational
institutions which shape mass consciousness still maintain that while
they recognize a low income group, a middle income group (the middle
class) and a high income group, such categories are fluid, with
individuals freely gravitating "upward" whenever they possess skills
and the ability to work hard.  Just how many members of the bottom
40%, no matter how ambitious, are going to escape to economic
security?  How many of the bottom 80% with 16.6% of the nation's
assets (who largely constitute the unmentionable "working" class),
compared to those in the top 5% with 60% of the assets (dare anyone
suggest they amount to a "ruling" class?), will be catapulted to
positions of decisive influence in the affairs of big business or
government?  Some relatively few individuals will do so, of course
(though often by obligating themselves to the wealthy elite in the
process), but judging by the income and net worth statistics of recent
decades, the trend is obviously in the other direction.

A number of components are involved in the designation of classes.
The English classical economist David Ricardo implicitly pointed to
one of the most important when he wrote in 1820 in words all the more
instructive for their simplicity, "There is no way of keeping profits
up but by keeping wages down."  And "keeping profits up" is next to
godliness in the U.S. economic textbook.  Following Ricardo's analogy,
there is no way of keeping a relative handful of people in conditions
of unspeakable wealth but by simultaneously keeping many times their
number in poverty or middling insecurity, which is, of course, the
reason why the U.S. is ever more becoming a society divided into those
splendid euphemisms, "haves" and "have nots."

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STEALING FROM THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH: The one-sided nature of
international trade policies practiced by the U.S. and other rich
nations toward the world's poorest countries was exposed last month in
a devastating report by Oxfam, the British-based international human
rights organization.

The report identified the U.S.  and Canada as the "worst offenders."
For example, for every $1 that poor Bangladesh receives in aid from
the U.S., it loses $7 due to unconscionably high tariffs and quota
restrictions on its exports, combined with miserly debt relief.  The
ratio for Canada is $1 in aid, $5 lost to one-sided trade
arrangements.  "Loses associated with U.S. trade barriers," the report
specified, "are roughly equivalent to total U.S. aid to the less
developed countries (LDCs)." Some 43 countries qualify as LDCs,
meaning their average per capita income is below $900.  Actually,
according to Oxfam, the average is $287 a year for the LDCs, which
constitute the poorest of the "developing" countries.

The poorest nations lose "a staggering $2.5 billion a year in foreign
exchange earnings due to injurious trade restrictions" imposed by the
northern countries, Oxfam revealed in a 27-page report titled, "Rigged
Trade and Not Much Aid: How Rich Countries Help to Keep the Least
Developed Countries Poor."  Clearly, the report indicated, offers of
aid, trade and debt relief by the wealthy countries amounts to little
more than "empty promises."  Just as clearly, unfair trade is a
primary cause of the critically increasing poverty for much of the
Third World in general and particularly among the LDC countries.

In presenting the report to UN bodies, Oxfam's Kevin Watkins pointed
out that "on trade, the industrialized countries have operated a
policy of highway robbery, masquerading as market access preferences."

Oxfam notes that the "industrialized countries make much of the trade
preferences provided to the LDCs under various schemes," but that "the
advantages of these preferences are wildly exaggerated."  In practice,
the "preferences" about which the rich countries brag are on products
that are rarely exported by the poor nations.  The fact is that the
industrial countries impose high tariffs on the products the LDCs
actually export--especially on such principal exports as agricultural
products, textiles and footware.  High tariffs cause the greatest
hardships for the LDCs.  For example, the U.S. imposes a 100% tariff
markup on peanuts, an important export product for some poor
countries.  At the same time, the wealthy governments extensively
subsidize their own agricultural products for export.  For example,
NAFTA has allowed subsidized U.S. corn to gravely undermine the
corn-based agricultural economy of southern Mexico while unsubsidized
Mexican corn has no market in El Norte.  The Zapatistas knew this
would happen, which is why they launched their rebellion the day after
NAFTA was implemented.

The kind of trade restrictions the wealthy capitalist countries impose
on Third World societies--especially those LDCs where people live on
less than $1 a day--is one of the great moral scandals in contemporary
history.  When was the last time we read about this in our local
newspapers?  What have the educators told our children about this in
school today?  The institutions of our society have rendered some
billion people--the $1-a-day human beings Franz Fanon termed, "the
wretched of the earth"--into literal nonentities.  Michael Harrington
summed it up in "The Other America"--"That the poor are invisible is
one of the most important things about them. They are not simply
neglected and forgotten as in the old rhetoric of reform; what is much
worse, they are not seen."  Or rather, the reason for their sad plight
is purposely concealed by those who pocket the profits.

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WHY IS MILOSOVIC BEING EXTRADITED?  The U.S.-backed Yugoslavian
government of President Vojislav Kostunica decided last week that it
would extradite former President Slobodon Milosevic to the
International War Crimes Tribunal in the Netherlands because doing so
was "the lesser of two evils."  What, precisely, are those two evils
and why did the government chose the one it did?

Kostunica, who replaced Milosevic last October after an election
campaign that was heavily financed and manipulated from Washington,
told a delegation from Milosevic's Socialist Party June 25 that
extradition was a "lesser evil than what would happen to the country
if we did not do it."

Here's one of the evils--extraditing Milosevic: A constitutional
lawyer who for several months resisted U.S.-NATO pressure to extradite
Milosevic, Kostunica is well aware that handing over the former leader
to stand trial is probably unconstitutional as well as highly
unpopular in Yugoslavia.  Even many of Milosevic's opponents realize
he correctly sought to arouse the population and defend the country
against the vicious 78-day bombardment by the same forces who now
demand the former president's extradition.  Further, neither the new
government nor the majority of the people actually believe Milosevic
is a war criminal.

Here's the other evil--not extraditing Milosevic: After several years
of tight sanctions, initiated by the U.S., followed by a massive
bombing campaign in 1999 that was principally focused on destroying
the country's civilian and industrial infrastructure, Yugoslavia's
economy and civil standards are in ruins, the country is gravely in
debt, and the masses of people are experiencing considerable
suffering.  For example, Zoran Djindjic, the prime minister of the
Serbian part of Yugoslavia, explained June 14 why he wanted to
cooperate with U.S.-NATO demands: "The sky will fall on our heads if
we fail to write off at least 65% of our foreign debt."  The countries
which attacked Yugoslavia, led by the U.S., are offering billions of
dollars as well as other aid to help the nation get back on its
feet--but only if Milosovic is extradited to stand trial as a war
criminal before the Hague Tribunal.

Thus, the Kostunica government, will some reluctance, would rather
commit the "evil" of sending Milosevic to the a foreign trial where
his conviction and sentencing are assured, than to be responsible for
the "evil" of the complete collapse of Yugoslav society should the
U.S. and NATO not only refuse to help the country recover but probably
impose further hardships.

The U.S.-NATO countries charge the former leader with alleged crimes
against humanity and war crimes for the deaths of 340 Albanians and
the deportations of a section of the ethnic Albanian population from
the province of Kosovo, now under allied occupation.  He has not been
charged with the large-scale massacres that were alleged to have taken
place in Kosovo.  Why?  At first, the U.S. claimed well over 100,000
Kosovo Albanians had been massacred and hidden in mass graves.  When
the bombardment ended, the number dropped to 10,000.  After two years
of searching throughout Kosovo, however, a UN investigations only
turned up a couple of thousands bodies, which may or may not have been
those of slain Albanians.  The original "massacre" in the town of
Racak, where civilians were said to have been thrown into "mass
graves"--and which served as one of the pretexts to initiate the
bombing campaign--turned out to have been a fabrication.

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RAMSEY CLARK DENIED VISA FOR YUGOSLAVIA: Former Attorney General
Ramsey Clark, a co-chair of the International Committee to Defend
Slobodan Milosevic, was denied a visa to enter Yugoslavia by the
Belgrade government's embassy in Washington June 27. The well known
human rights attorney had sought to confer with defense lawyers. Also
denied was Gloria LaRiva, the videographer and a leader of the
International Action Center (IAC), of which Clark is chairman.  Clark
and LaRiva, as an act of solidarity with the besieged population, led
two IAC fact-finding delegations to Yugoslavia during the bombardment.
According to Clark, who initiated the Inquiry to Investigate U.S./NATO
War Crimes in Yugoslavia, said "the real aim of the U.S.-led campaign
to force the Yugoslav government to deport Slobodon Milosevic, along
with 10 years of war, blockade and demonization directed against
Yugoslavia, is to reduce all of the former Yugoslavia to the status of
a U.S./NATO colony." He said they would "still attempt to find a way
into Belgrade."  The IAC urges supporters to Email Yugoslav Ambassador
Milan Propic in Washington to insist that Clark and LaRiva be granted
visas.  The address is yuembusa at aol.com.

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CUBA TO FIGHT WORLD AIDS: Cuba announced at the UN General Assembly
special session on AIDS in New York June 25 that it will supply poor
countries with 4,000 doctors and healthcare workers plus sufficient
antiretroviral drugs for 30,000 patients, as well as equipment for
education and prevention programs.  At the meeting, Cuban Vice
President Carlos Lage questioned why wealthy nations are hesitating to
provide the $7 billion to $10 billion that UN Secretary-General Kofi
Annan said was required to fight the pandemic.  The U.S. offered to
contribute $200 million, just days after the Bush administration
announced it seeks an additional $18.4 billion for the $325 billion
defense budget for 2002.  The only way to win the AIDS battle, Lage
said, is "to place all of the planet's infinite resources at the
service of humanity, without petty commercial interests or national
egotism."  Noting that Cuba's prevention and treatment programs have
resulted in "the lowest rate of infection in the Americas and one of
the lowest in the world," Lage said that despite the U.S. blockade,
the country's 2,565 HIV-positive citizens receive excellent treatment
and "we have contained the epidemic." The Cuban official also argued
for the rich countries to cancel the foreign debts of the poorest
countries, to slash their military budgets to provide needed services
to the world, and to end patent protection for the pharmaceutical
corporations "who enrich themselves on the AIDS epidemic."

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EUROPE HITS U.S. DEATH PENALTY: The 48-nation Council of Europe
sponsored a three-day World Congress Against the Death Penalty
starting June 22 in Brussels. Council Secretary-General Walter
Schwimmer focused his criticism on the United States.  "Do you know
how many people in the U.S. are on death row?" he asked the audience.
"No less than 3,700.  Would anyone really believe that the death
penalty is a tool to fight crime?  If that were true, the United
States would be a country without crime and without violence."  Noting
that Europe has "become a de facto death penalty free zone," Schwimmer
declared that "Together we have to fight for the total abolition of
the death penalty. Death can never be justice."

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U.S. FOUND GUILTY OF KOREA WAR CRIMES: It took over a half century,
but Washington has finally been taken to serious task for its
machinations on the Korean Peninsula between 1945 and 2001, a period
that includes the 1950-53 Korean War.

As could be anticipated, the corporate mass media and local papers
ignored news about the International Tribunal on U.S. War Crimes in
Korea that took place in New York June 23, two days before the 51st
anniversary of the Korean War.  Some 4.6 million Koreans died in the
three-year conflict, including 3 million civilians in the north and
500,000 civilians in the south.

The two chief prosecutors at the Tribunal, which took place all day
before an audience of over 500 people at the Interchurch Center, were
former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Korea Supreme Court
Justice Byun Jung Soo.  The meeting was sponsored by the International
Action Center, Veterans for Peace, and the Korea Truth Commission and
endorsed by about 60 organizations from around the world.  All told,
five prosecutors presented evidence to an international array of some
30 jurors.  Other evidence was given during a series of workshops.

Concluding a full day of testimony, based on months and years of
research and on expert and eye-witness accounts, the jurors found that
the United States government was guilty of "19 separate war crimes,
crimes against peace and crimes against humanity in violation of the
UN Charter, the Nuremberg Tribunal, the Hague Regulations, the Geneva
Protocol, Geneva Conventions, the Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, and other international
agreements and customary international law...."

According to the official "findings" of the Tribunal, "The evidence of
U.S. crimes during the Korean War included eyewitness testimony and
documentary accounts of massacres of thousands of civilians in
southern Korea by American military forces. Abundant evidence was also
presented concerning criminal and even genocidal U.S. conduct in
northern Korea, including the systematic leveling of most buildings
and dwellings by U.S. artillery and aerial bombardment; widespread
atrocities committed by U.S. and Republic of Korea forces against
civilians and prisoners of war; the deliberate destruction of
facilities essential to civilian life and economic production; and the
use of illegal weapons and biological and chemical warfare by the
U.S. against the people and the environment of northern
Korea. Documentary and eyewitness evidence was also presented showing
gross and systematic violence committed against women in northern and
southern Korea, characterized by mass rapes, sexual assaults and
murders."

The jurors' recommendations at the end of the hearing included "the
immediate end of U.S. occupation of all Korean territory, removal of
all U.S. bases, forces [there are 40,000 U.S. troops in southern Korea
to this day] and materiel....Immediate revocation of all sanctions
against northern Korea.....Emergency aid to the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea to feed the hungry and care for the sick, whose
suffering is a direct result of U.S. policies....and an end to all
interference by the U.S. aimed at preventing the people from
reunifying as they choose."

The full text of the Final Judgment of the Tribunal may be obtained at
www.iacenter.org.

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WHAT HAPPENED TO CALIFORNIA'S ENERGY CRISIS?: Do you remember way back
several weeks ago when there was an energy crisis in California with
rolling blackouts and deep fears for the future? Remember when
President Bush said the only way to alleviate such crises was give the
petroleum companies the right to drill for more oil in such places as
the pristine Alaskan wildlife sanctuary?  In recent weeks California's
problem seems to have virtually disappeared.  What really happened?
Here's an answer provided by columnist Paul Krugman in the June 27 New
York Times. "Many economists now accept the uncomfortable answer:
Generators [i.e., power supply corporations] deliberately withheld
electricity from the market in order to drive high prices even higher.
Until recently the evidence for this market manipulation was purely
circumstantial; but it has now been reinforced by direct testimony by
former employees of one generator.  So why did the market manipulation
stop?  Generators now sell much of their output under long-term
contractors with the state, which reduces the incentive to drive up
prices in the spot market.  But the main answer is probably that
intense public scrutiny, culminating in the recent decision by federal
regulators to impose price caps, has convinced generators that they
had better behave themselves."







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