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ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER (english)
by Jack A. Smith
Email: jacdon (nospam) earthlink.net
Address: New Paltz, NY
10 Oct 2003
Modified: 11:25:43 AM
Articles include: Bush's Problems Mount, TV News Built Support for War, War Budget vs. Human Needs, Class War in the U.S., Venezuela's 'Bolivarian' Revolution, the Oct. 25 rally, etc.
MID-HUDSON ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
Oct. 8, 2003, Issue #89
The newsletter/calendar usually appears twice a month (around the 1st and 15th, give or take). It is published by the Mid-Hudson National People's Campaign/IAC in New Paltz, N.Y. Send information about upcoming events to jacdon (at) earthlink.net. All articles are written and edited by Jack A. Smith, unless otherwise indicated. If you know someone who might benefit from this newsletter, ask them to subscribe at jacdon (at) earthlink.net. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at same address.
1. OCT. 25 : RALLY AGAINST WAR AND OCCUPATION - The Oct. 25 peace protest in Washington is happening at just the right time.
2. BUSH'S POLITICAL PROBLEMS MOUNT - Bush is in trouble as public opinion turns against the Iraq occupation.
3. TV NEWS BUILT SUPPORT FOR WAR - A new analysis shows how the mass media distorted public thinking.
4. THE WAR BUDGET VS. HUMAN NEEDS - There are far better uses for the additional $87 billion Bush wants for war.
5. BACKING FOR U.S. DWINDLES - International sympathy for the U.S. after 9/11 has turned into criticism.
6. CLASS WAR IN THE U.S. - The latest figures on poverty and wealth in America lead to but one conclusion.
7. BUSH/CHENEY '04 SLOGANS - Ideas for bumper stickers.
8. VENEZUELA'S "BOLIVARIAN" REVOLUTION - An extraordinary social experiment is taking place, if Uncle Sam doesn't step in.
9. ACTIVIST CALENDAR (NOT INCLUDED IN THIS MESSAGE)
1. OCT. 25 : RALLY AGAINST WAR AND OCCUPATION
The Oct. 25 antiwar rally and march in Washington may turn out to be the most decisive of the multitude of protests held throughout the U.S. since President Bush launched his "war on terrorism." We call on all peace activists in the Hudson Valley to join this major demonstration, which is timed to take maximum advantage of the Bush administration's dissipating popularity and public disillusion with the war in Iraq. Special buses are leaving from several Hudson Valley locations to bring activists to the nation's capital.
The event, which begins at 11 a.m. at the Washington Monument, is co-sponsored by the two major antiwar coalitions -- ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice -- plus hundreds of other coalitions and groups. ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) reported this week that so far over 120 organizing centers are working to bring people to Washington from around the country. Hudson Valley residents are traveling by chartered buses from Kingston and New Paltz, as well as Warwick in Orange county, Callicoon in Sullivan county, White Plains in Westchester, and in the Albany Capital District, among other locations. For reservations, email us at jacdon (at) earthlink.net or call (845) 255-5779.
2. BUSH'S POLITICAL PROBLEMS MOUNT
The White House is in deep trouble with the American people for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. President George Bush's galloping high horse is beginning to resemble a hobbled hobby horse.
With the invasion and occupation in Iraq in fiasco mode, opinion polls are finally beginning to turn against the government's conduct of the war. As this happens, Bush's management of foreign and economic policy and overall job performance are also receiving negative scrutiny. There are still 13 months to go before the elections and nothing is certain about how this development will play out, however.
One consequence of the more favorable turn in public opinion is that the peace movement is being reinvigorated. The major national demonstration set for Washington Oct. 25 - calling for an end to the occupation and for the troops to return home - is assuming greater importance now that the public is seriously questioning the war. The mass march and rally are planned to show the newly disaffected sectors of the population that the peace forces remain strong and are reaching out to them with an organized mechanism for expressing their discontent.
Another result is that some additional congressional Democrats have become newly emboldened to speak out against the war to one extent or another after two years of uncritically supporting the Bush administration's jingoist excesses. Until now, aside from a handful of antiwar Democratic politicians, the "opposition" party has done nothing to turn public attitudes against the war but is now cautiously seeking to benefit politically from the transformation.
The first major change in public opinion became evident in June when resistance fighters launched a guerrilla insurgency against the military occupation and the utter chaos that accompanied U.S. troops into Iraq. This was followed in rapid succession by revelations that President Bush deceived the public about weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's alleged ties to Al Qaeda. Then came the unexpectedly high toll of GI dead and wounded and the realization that the economic cost of the adventure was much higher than the American people were led to believe.
One of the most important of the recent opinion surveys was the New York Times/CBS News Poll, released Oct. 3. Introducing its findings, the newspaper stated that "a solid majority of Americans say the country is seriously on the wrong track, a classic danger sign for incumbents, and only about half of Americans approve of Bush's overall job performance."
Only 51% of the respondents were satisfied about Bush's handling of his job as president, according to the poll. This is the lowest number since before 9/11, representing an extraordinary drop in confidence in the last four months. Some 42% disapproved, and the trend is for this number to become higher. A majority, 50%, expressed "unease" about Bush's "ability to deal wisely with an international crisis," while 45% retained confidence. (In April, 66% were confident and 31% were uneasy.) Asked about the president's decisions about the economy, 56% were uneasy and only 40% were confident. Regarding Bush's "handling of foreign policy," 45% approved and 44% disapproved.
All the other major polls showed similar declines in the president's ratings, though the numbers and some of the questions differed. The Sept. 29 ABC News Poll, asking whether people approved or disapproved of Bush's "handling the situation in Iraq," found that 50% approved and 47% disapproved, compared to last April when 75% approved and only 22% disapproved. The poll showed that Americans were clearly disturbed by the financial costs of the war, with 62% opposing Bush's $87 billion supplemental appropriation while only 36% supported it.
The Newsweek Poll Sept. 26 showed that 47% supported how Bush was "handling the situation in Iraq," against 46% who did not approve. In general, 56% thought the U.S. was spending too much money in Iraq; 31% thought spending was "about right." A fairly high 49% wanted to reduce the number of GIs in Iraq and begin bringing troops home, while 29% preferred to retain the forces already there.
The Sept. 21 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll asked whether "the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over." Only 50% responded "yes," and a startling 48% said "no." As recently as Aug. 26, 63% were in the "yes" column. Asked whether they thought President Saddam Hussein "was personally involved" in 9/11, a shockingly high 43% incorrectly answered "yes," as opposed to 50% who were aware of the facts. The Sept. 19 Newsweek Poll asked a similar question and 47% responded affirmatively. (See the following article, "TV News Built Support for War," for a possible reason they made this error. ).
The CBS News Poll Sept. 16 reported majorities against Bush on three questions. By 47%-46% respondents disapproved of Bush's handling of "the situation with Iraq." By 47%-43%, a majority reported the war was "not worth" the "loss of American life and other costs." And by 66%-26%" those queried opposed Bush's request for an extra $87 billion.
The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll Sept. 23, directed at New York State residents exclusively, found that "Bush's approval rating is currently 44% among registered voters, and 55% do not rate his job performance positively. In terms of Bush's performance in Iraq, only 45% approved and 52% disapproved. The spread was even greater regarding the economy, with 61% disapproving and 36% approving. On the "war on terrorism" in general, however, 56% approved of the presidential performance and 42% disapproved.
3. TV NEWS BUILT SUPPORT FOR WAR
Just as you may always have suspected, a major new study released Oct. 2 shows that corporate network TV news programs played a big role in obfuscating the truth behind President Bush's unjust war against Iraq, in the build-up, the invasion and now the occupation.
Analyzing a series of seven nationwide polls it conducted from this January through September, the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland concluded that much of the public support for the war was based on "significant misperceptions" fostered by TV news programs. Some 80% of the large survey sample, closely reflecting national preferences, turned to the broadcast media for most of their news; only 19% named print media.
According to the study, titled Misperceptions, The Media And The War, "the frequency of these misperceptions varies significantly according to individuals' primary source of news. Those who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely to have misperceptions, while those who primarily listen to NPR or watch PBS are significantly less likely."
[In this connection, USA Today reported Sept. 15, that "CNN's top war correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, says that the press muzzled itself during the Iraq war. And, she says, CNN 'was intimidated' by the Bush administration and Fox News, which created 'a climate of fear and self-censorship.' As criticism of the war and its aftermath intensifies, Amanpour joins a chorus of journalists and pundits who charge that the media largely toed the Bush administration line in covering the war and, by doing so, failed to aggressively question the motives behind the invasion."]
The PIPA analysis of public opinion polls found that(1) 48% of the public "incorrectly believed that evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda have been found," (2) 22% believed weapons of mass destruction were actually "found in Iraq," and (3) 25% thought world opinion "favored the U.S. going to war with Iraq." Overall, PIPA continued, "60% had at least one of these three misperceptions."
Such misunderstandings had a great influence on whether a person decided to support or oppose the war, the survey reported. "Among those with none of the misperceptions," PIPA found, "only 23% support the war. Among those with one of these misperceptions, 53% support the war, rising to 78% for those who have two of the misperceptions, and to 86% for those with all three misperceptions."
PIPA, which said that the erroneous conclusions did not stem from the nature of the audience but from the way in which the information was presented, gave the following breakdown of wrong thinking by viewers, listeners or readers of six nationwide TV news programs, one public radio news program and combined print media:
The percentage of TV viewers with one or more of these misperceptions was as follows: FOX, 80%; CBS 71%; ABC, 61%; NBC, 55%; CNN, 55%; PBS, 23%. The rate for listeners to NPR radio news was also 23%. For the general print media, it was 47%. Fox was clearly the worst of the bunch - 45% believed in all three falsehoods.
Republicans, as expected, believed in more of the misperceptions than Democrats. Nearly 70% of Bush supporters, for example, were of the opinion that "the U.S. found clear evidence Saddam Hussein was working closely with Al Qaeda," a fabrication that was shared by less than half as many Democrats.
The news presented on PBS or NPR is far superior to the generality of commercial broadcasting and we support our local public outlets. But their programming has serious shortcomings as well. While more informative and balanced than grossly biased mass market media coverage, these public news offerings usually tilt compromisingly close to official Washington's governing pronouncements and are hardly distinguished by a progressive analysis of the key economic, social and political issues of the day.
The U.S. mass media - from TV, newspapers, magazines, and books, to billboards, music , entertainment, and beyond - are essentially dominated by a half-dozen conglomerates with a vested interest in furthering the acquisition of U.S. global hegemony and in extending corporate control and conservative ideology over every facet of American economic and political life. As such, these powerful media corporations which shape the thinking of hundreds of millions of people are hardly going to undermine their own interests and goals by providing seriously objective and probing accounts of what is actually happening in the world.
4. THE WAR BUDGET VS. HUMAN NEEDS
Pentagon military spending is escalating explosively despite the absence of any credible enemy to threaten the United States. In the process it is depleting funds required to serve desperate human needs at home and abroad.
On Sept. 24, the House of Representatives passed the $368 billion 2004 military budget by a vote of 407-15, but this is only a portion of the new monies aimed at waging wars against nebulous foes. All Mid-Hudson House members, including liberal Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-Hurley), voted in favor of the measure.
The military budget figure does not include some $20 billion for nuclear weapons, $2.4 billion for the Coast Guard, and many billions more for various intelligence operations and other war purposes, bringing real war expenses to over $400 billion.
Nor does the budget reflect the $87 billion President Bush recently requested to pay current expenses for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars or the $79 billion Congress funded for this purpose in April. Such supplemental expenditures - which do not undergo the scrutiny accorded the annual budget - may well continue at this level in subsequent years, according to hints from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Thus, a dozen years after the Cold War ended, leaving the United States as the world's only superpower and the most mighty military state in world history, Washington's total outlays for war and militarism next year could reach well over $500 billion. And this does not count many multi-billions more in interest on the national debt (which is largely the result of past and present wars), or veterans benefits.
In addition to huge increases in the traditionally bloated war budget, Congress passed a nearly $30 billion dollar "Homeland Security" allotment last week - a new budget item concocted in the aftermath of 9/11. Criticizing President Bush from the right, as has been their wont, the Democrats demanded a billion dollar increase in this domestic funding to underscore their accusation that the White House is "neglecting the security" of the American people.
The new military and domestic security budgets are making a big contribution toward increasing the federal deficit, which is breaking the half-trillion dollar mark just three years after substantial surpluses. The Bush administration, however, remains adamant in resisting calls for a rollback in plans for massive tax giveaways to the rich amounting to hundreds of billions in the coming years. Some Democrats seek to cancel the giveback, but many - including several presidential candidates - entertain reductions but oppose eliminating the tax cuts completely, thus planting their feet solidly on both sides of the issue.
About 80% of Bush's unexpectedly huge request for $87 billion for the "occupation and rebuilding" of Iraq and Afghanistan will actually go to the military. Some $66 billion is earmarked for war purposes, mainly in Iraq. Of the $20 billion requested for "reconstructing Iraq," $5 billion will finance the Pentagon's puppet Iraqi army and police, leaving the remainder for reviving the civilian infrastructure - a pittance compared to what is required to repair the damage the U.S. inflicted in two wars and 13 years of killer sanctions. Less than a billion dollars is intended to "rebuild" crippled Afghanistan, and most of it will end up in the pockets of those anointed as leaders by Washington - the warlords and corrupt officials.
Congress is expected to pass the government's new request for war money as Democrats once again join Republicans in financing George W. Bush's preemptive wars. Some have introduced a bill in the House that could delay approval until the White House clarifies its intentions in Iraq, but the result will be approval just the same.
Only two of the 10 Democratic presidential aspirants at the Sept. 29 debate said they oppose the supplemental appropriation. They are Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio (who was one of the 15 votes against the 2004 military budget) and Rev. Al Sharpton. The rest muttered the mantra of "supporting the troops" to justify their intentions, although two said they were awaiting the administration's statement of future intentions.
According to the Washington Post Sept. 29, a number of "opposition" Democratic legislators think the $87 billion appropriation is too small: "Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) will try to add $300 million... for additional heavily armored Humvees and $409 million to enlarge the Army by 10,000 troops. Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) is likely to seek $467 million to extend the Pentagon's health insurance program to activated National Guardsmen, reservists and their families. In the House, lawmakers hope to add money for bulletproof blankets that could protect Humvees in Iraq and for jamming equipment to block signals to the remote-controlled bombs that have bedeviled U.S. patrols." House Democrats also seek more funding for repair of military equipment in Iraq and for training new bomb squads.
The main objection to the new funding request from congressional politicians seems to focus on the $15 billion requested for repairing Iraq's infrastructure - its twisted electrical power grid, destroyed water and sewage systems, and wrecked housing, public buildings, roads and bridges - the total cost of which is less than half what is spent in the U.S. annually on weight-loss products.
The "rebuilding" on the Bush administration's immediate agenda is minimal and almost all the lucrative contracts will go to U.S. corporations, mainly those closely associated with the Republican Party and leading administration figures. Both the UN and World Bank calculate that at least another $55 billion needs to be spent in future years. Rumsfeld declared Sept. 10 that "I don't believe it's our job to reconstruct that country after 30 years of centralized, Stalinist-like economic controls in that country." What Rumsfeld concealed was that Iraq possessed a functioning civil infrastructure and economy until the devastating U.S. bombardments in 1991, followed by sanctions that did not permit the government to engage in rebuilding, culminating in this year's knockout punch. Baghdad's fairly centralized, but hardly "Stalinist," economy had little to do with it.
Even though the Baghdad government did not possess weapons of mass destruction, had no connection to 9/11, and was incapable of inflicting harm on the U.S., President Bush rationalized his demand for new funding Sept. 7 by ludicrously identifying Iraq as the "central front" in the so-called war on terrorism. "We will spend what is necessary to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror," he insisted.
The full costs of the unjust invasion of Iraq, which the Bush administration concealed from the American people until demanding payment, will be financed by U.S. working people at a time when they are experiencing the hardship of high unemployment, wage stagnation, underfunded state governments, and cutbacks in social services. The wealthy won't pay at proportionate levels as a result of tax cuts and war profiteering.
The $87 billion Bush seeks for war and hegemony amounts to less than 10% of the monies involved in the tax cuts, but it could accomplish wonders if it was spent on human needs. For example:
In the world today, some 10 million children die each year from diseases that are preventable at very low cost. Six million children annually from hunger. Four million babies in the poor countries die yearly in their first week of life due to lack of pre- and post-natal care. A half-million women die in the third world every year due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth that have been virtually eliminated in industrialized countries. About 120 million children do not attended any school at all while many times that number do not receive what the UN would define as a basic education. Over a billion people, according to a UN report Oct. 5, reside in wretched, overcrowded urban slums. Nearly a billion more are severely hungry and in 90-95% of the cases poverty is the reason. Over a billion are deprived of access to clean water. Some 2.6 billion are without access to proper sanitation. Over 880 million are without any health services.
According to the UN's Human Development Report (1998), "the total additional yearly investment required to achieve universal access to basic social services [for the world's 3 billion or so people of very low income] would be roughly $40 billion" - less than half Bush's supplemental budget request. This breaks down to $6 billion for a basic education for all; $9 billion for adequate water and sanitation; $12 billion for reproductive health for all women; $13 billion for basic health and nutrition. Outlays such as this would save tens of millions of lives a year.
Millions more people would not only live but could lead materially adequate lives if the entire $87 billion was invested in human services and not in destruction and death. According to the World Health Organization, if $27 billion was invested in the third world to eradicate malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases and in correcting nutritional deficiencies, at least 8 million lives would be spared each year.
In terms of domestic needs, an investment of $87 billion would double what the federal government presently spends on social needs, education, and training and employment services, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. An infusion of $6 billion would pay for health insurance for nearly 9 million uninsured children in the U.S. Another $6 billion would solve the serious maintenance problems afflicting the National Park system. About $8 billion could extend the shrinking Head Start and Early Head Start programs to all children with modest or low family incomes.
State governments in the U.S. are plunging ever deeper into debt, forcing severe reductions in social services, postponement of crucial infrastructural needs, cutbacks in educational funding, and so on. Bush's $87 billion would eliminate every state deficit in the country, including California's. Or it could be used to fund the first three years of the Medicare Prescription Drug Proposal. An investment of $8 billion would double the funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which is sharply reducing services. About $11 billion would double the Pell Grants to college students, saving millions of young people from accumulating large debts before they graduate.
This is just a quick look at what $87 billion might finance instead of wars for oil and empire. Just imagine what could be done if the $79 billion from the April supplemental funds were also devoted to peaceful purposes. And how about the $400 billion Congress just approved for military purposes in the next budget? The money is there. Lacking on the part of those who actually rule the United States and their minions in Washington is the will to use it for human needs instead of corporate profits and world domination.
5. BACKING FOR U.S. DWINDLES
International public sympathy for the United States flourished in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but in the intervening two years the Bush administration's aggressive policies have transformed this good will into its opposite, according to recent surveys of public attitudes around the world.
In general, the New York Times reported last month, "The view of the United States as a victim of terrorism that deserved the world's sympathy and support has given way to a widespread vision of America as an imperial power that has defied world opinion through unjustified and unilateral use of military force."
Worldwide opposition to the U.S. preemptive war against Iraq is obviously the principal cause of international criticism, judging by the huge peace movement that developed internationally last winter and spring. Public opinion throughout the world opposed the war, even in nations with governments that supported the invasion, such as Great Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland.
In a broad survey of 14 countries, the Pew global Attitudes Project found that the majority of public opinion in nine of them now viewed the U.S. with considerable disfavor. Here are the countries where only a minority said they viewed the United States favorably (followed by the percentage of those who held this view): Brazil 34%, France 43%, Germany 45%, Indonesia 15%, Morocco 27%, Pakistan 13%, Russia 36%, South Korea, 46%, Turkey 15%. Here are the five favorable countries: Britain 70%, Canada 63%, Israel 79%, Italy 60%, Nigeria 61%.
Another study, by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Compagnia di San Paolo of Italy, revealed last month that that the percentage of Europeans who "favored a strong American presence in the world" went down in 12 months from 64% to 45% today. About 50% of Germans and Italians considered "American global leadership" to be "undesirable," a sharp drop from earlier years. In France, 70% disapproved of U.S. leadership.
Majorities in the U.S. favor using military force to prevent Iran or North Korea from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, but majorities in Europe oppose such a move.
6. CLASS WAR IN THE U.S.
Judging by long-term trends and statistical studies that have become available in the last few weeks, an intense class war is being waged in the United States by the representatives of wealth in the political system against working people.
The mass media don't mention this simple truth, even as the newspapers and TV distribute the latest data regarding the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. It is not a conventional topic of discussion in school classrooms or houses of worship, even as students and parishioners have greater difficulty paying tuitions or finding affordable housing or a secure job. The Bush administration feigns disbelief that a campaign against workers is taking place, even as they cut taxes for the rich and ignore the needs of the masses of people.
Many people in the United States - reflecting what they have been taught since childhood by the media, the educational system, most organized religions, and the government - question the very existence of classes in conflict in American society or that there is a class nature to the incessant conservative attacks on programs benefiting average families. But they understand joblessness and job insecurity, stagnant wages, cutbacks in benefits, the lack of decent affordable housing, adequate healthcare, and the fear of falling into poverty - and the fact that President Bush serves the rich.
In a CBS/New York Times opinion poll Oct. 1, asking whether President Bush's policies "favored the rich, the middle class, the poor or treated all groups equally," 60% said the White House favored the rich, 10% said the middle class, 1% said the poor, and 26% thought all groups were treated equally.
The term "working class" (which embraces sectors presently called the middle class and the poor), is rarely mentioned in the U.S. these days because it evokes a remembrance of class struggles past led by the left, but a class struggle is precisely what Bush is waging today from the right. Look at it this way:
• When the most extensive jobs and housing programs launched by the U.S. government in decades amount to little more for low-income people than the option to join the Armed Forces or go to prison - particularly for Afro-Americans and Latinos - that's an aspect of class war.
• When the nearly 44 million Americans entirely within the working class cannot afford health insurance and must delay needed medical treatment for months and in desperation wait many hours and days for inadequate care in hospital emergency rooms, that's an aspect of class war.
• When an additional 2.2 million jobless workers lost all unemployment benefits last year before locating work; or when millions of low income families - often single mothers with children - are deprived of welfare benefits; or when working-class youth must drop out of school because it is no longer affordable; or when working families must pay 50% of their income for overpriced housing or become homeless for nonpayment of rent or mortgage; or when 1% of the population owns 40% of the nation's assets and the top 10% owns most of what remains outside of the relatively insignificant personal holdings of the rest of us - that's class war no matter how skillfully a government of, by and for the rich tries to conceal the fact.
(Incidentally, millionaires essentially run the U.S. government. The president, of course, is a millionaire, born and bred. All but one member of the Cabinet are millionaires. Over 40% of the U.S. Senate are millionaires, and most of the rest are well off. There are many millionaires and near millionaires in the House, but the specific figure is not known. Among them is the Democratic House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, who has assets of $90 million.)
Nearly every economic indicator and social study made public in September pointed to increasing setbacks for working people and the accumulation of more riches for the wealthy.
Research published by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) revealed that the rich-poor gap has reached its widest point since just before the great economic crash of 1929. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the top 1% of people in the United States earned more money than the bottom 40%. (In terms of assets, the rich are even more disproportionately privileged.)
All told it is estimated that 40% of the American people qualified as poor for at least two months between 1996 and 2002, and many were poor the entire time.
The trend toward the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few was illustrated by Census Bureau figures released Sept. 26 when it was revealed that 1.7 million more Americans (including 400,000 children) were kicked below the poverty line last year, increasing the total number to 34.6 million or 12.1% of the population. This figure is 3 million more than in 2000. African-Americans and Latinos were the hardest hit, as usual. While the white poverty rate climbed to 10.2% last year, black poverty increased to 24.1% and that of Latinos rose to 21.8%. The poverty line is $18,302 for a family of four and $9,183 for individuals.
U.S. average median household income fell 1.1% ($500) in 2002, nearly all of it resulting from losses in minority communities. Median income for African-American families fell by 3% ($913); for Latino families the decrease was 2.9% ($996). The CBPP reports that "the number of people living in severe poverty - those with incomes below half of the poverty line - increased by 600,000, to 14.1 million.... In 2002, the average poor person's income was farther below the poverty line [by $2,813] than in any other years since 1979, the first year such data are available."
Progressive critics of the Census Bureau's calculations maintain that its methodology for defining poverty, which is based on the outdated consumption patterns and needs of the 1950s and '60s, results in undercounting the number of people below the poverty line today. For example, food is now less expensive, but rent is much higher, as are health costs and a number of other expenses, while other costs - such at high daycare payments - were inconsequential when the norms defining poverty were established in the 1960s. According to a Sept. 26 article in the New York Times by Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, even the Census Bureau functionary who devised the poverty standards said recently that they are no longer appropriate. He also noted that the National Academy of Sciences maintains the threshold for defining poverty could be increased "as much as 45% higher," meaning there are considerably more poor people than the census figures indicate.
According to recent calculations, the total distribution of annual after-tax income in 2001 was as follows: the bottom 20% of the U.S. population sweated to retrieve 4.9% of the national income; the second 20% coaxed out 9.7% of income; the third (middle) 20% received 14.6%; the fourth 20% enjoyed 20.2%; and the top 20% grabbed 51.3%. The top 1% alone accounted for 15.5% of the national income. All told, in this cruelest of class competitions, the wealthiest fifth beat out the remaining four-fifths 51.3 to 48.7. This year's totals favor wealth even more after the Bush administration's two big tax cuts are combined with the (jobless) economic recovery.
On Sept. 29, the Census Bureau released another disturbing report - an additional 2.4 million people joined the ranks of those without health insurance coverage last year, bringing the total to 43.6 million individuals or 15.2% of the population. Once again, minorities suffer the most from the lack of affordable healthcare insurance. At the end of 2002, 10.7% of whites were uninsured, compared to 20.2% of blacks and 32.4% of Latinos.
Continuing high unemployment was a major reason for the large increase in the uninsured. Another reason is that non-unionized businesses are cutting back on insurance coverage for their workers. A decade ago nearly 65% of working people obtained insurance through their place of work, a figure that has dropped about 45% today. And many workers who still receive company coverage are finding that their premiums and co-payments are higher for less satisfactory health plans. Company dental coverage has fallen from 39% in 1992 to 32% last year.
Another major problem confronting working families, particularly in the lower 50% of the income scale, is the lack of affordable housing, according to recent statistics. Various sources from the AARP to the Green Party contend the shortage of adequate shelter is the greatest since the end of World War II. The reason is obvious: (1) Federal and state governments have essentially given up sponsoring public housing for the working-class; and (2) the escalating cost of rental or mortgage payments is increasingly out of reach for low and moderate income working families.
The AFL-CIO issued a report about housing in the Hudson Valley Sept. 25 that showed: "Affordable housing is a problem for thousands of hardworking middle-income residents" of our region. Reporting on the study, the New York Times stated, "Housing prices in the suburbs north of New York City [in the Lower- and Mid-Hudson region] have grown so far out of reach for many residents that 79% of households there would not have been able to qualify for a conventional 90% mortgage if they tried to buy a medium-priced home in their own community in the spring of 2002." The report emphasized that renters in the region with full-time jobs are confronting the same problem - rents that exceed available income.
For many years the rule of thumb for housing was that a family should not pay more than 25% of its income on shelter. Now, it is not unusual for people to pay $30-50%. A recent study by affordable housing activists shows that over half the working families with low-to-moderate incomes paid 50% or more for housing, often forcing them to go without needed medical care or food to pay the bills. As a consequence of the housing crisis, millions of people are living in overcrowded, inadequate dwellings. Nationally, it is estimated that 3.5 million people were homeless all or part of last year.
A major factor contributing to the miseries of low-to-moderate income workers and increasing sectors of the middle class is the paucity of federal and state programs designed to provide for human needs - an area where history's wealthiest society lags far behind all other industrialized capitalist countries. This situation is growing far worse as taxpayer dollars are poured down the insatiable maw of militarism while budget deficits are mounting and revenues decrease due to continuous concessions to the richest minority of the population. It seems the only benefits Bush has yet to provide the rich are bus passes and subsidized breakfasts.
The Bush administration's pro-corporation/pro-wealthy and anti-worker economic policies are a major reason why state governments are going broke, thus forcing massive cutbacks in state social programs and essential services, from public education for children of the working class to healthcare to housing to even the semblance of daycare for working families. State colleges are sharply increasing tuition while reducing services. Nationally in the last 30 years, the cost of a four-year public college education (in constant 2002 dollars and not including housing) has risen from about $1,600 to over $4,000. In New York State, the cost of a two-year community college has jumped to over $3,000, compared to about $700 in 1972.
In the current climate of high unemployment, the expansion of minimum wage jobs without benefits, shrinking social services, a severe shortage of housing for low-income workers, and the continuing blight of racism, the only social alternatives offered to millions of low-income working class youth are military service or jail, where there is at least a "job," meals, medical care and a roof.
The volunteer U.S. military actually operates on the basis of economic conscription. Quoting senior Army officials, the New York Times reported Sept. 16 that "The slumping American economy has proved to be a huge boon to the Army's efforts to recruit the 100,000 enlisted soldiers it says it needs this year to fill its active-duty and reserve ranks." The head of the Army Recruiting Command, Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, told the newspaper that poor job and income prospects are the driving forces behind recruitment successes. Interestingly, the traditionally high proportion of African-American recruits has dropped from 23% to 16% in recent years, partly because the military is now receiving applications from a more highly educated pool of jobless young people who are picked first. The number of recruits with some college has doubled in five years to about 25%.
Without the American criminal "justice" system, nearly 2.2 million more poor and jobless people would be walking the streets, according to new statistics. That's how many inmates are locked up in the country's prisons and jails at any one time - four times more prisoners than 30 years ago, and by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, despite the fact that crime has been dropping sharply in the U.S. in recent decades. Well over 60% of these inmates are African-Americans and Latinos of low income and education who committed nonviolent crimes, mostly drug offenses. It costs $22,000 a year to keep them behind bars and hardly a penny goes to teaching them real skills or providing adequate employment.
The trend toward jailing people for infractions that would have drawn lesser punishment and far shorter sentences not many years ago is responsible for America's overflowing prison population - giving rise simultaneously to the profitable and job-creating prison-industrial complex. Prisons are a major industry in the Hudson Valley and other regions of New York State. One can only speculate that the tougher official attitude toward nonviolent and relatively petty crime may serve 21st century capitalism's sociological needs as well as those of the "justice" system. After all, were it not for the prisons, plus economic conscription, well over four million more disgruntled members of the working class would be looking for scarce jobs and trying to make ends meet in a high unemployment/low-wage economy and a class and race driven social system that offers them scant prospects for success in their "pursuit of happiness."
At this stage, the right wing class war against working people in the U.S. has been making considerable progress in recent years. But President Bush's efforts on behalf of corporate greed, the far right and neoconservative ideology in particular may stumble on the trip wire of the Iraq war, exposure of his administration's repeated deception and lies, a stagnant economy and the possibility - remote now but a goal worth fighting for - that American workers will come to recognize who is really threatening their individual livelihoods and collective interests, and take appropriate action.
7. BUSH/CHENEY '04 SLOGANS
Getcha red hot "Elect Bush/Cheney" bumper stickers right here, thanks to the unnamed internet wit who first thought up and circulated the following exciting selections to replace the worn out call for "Four More Years."
Bush/Cheney '04: Four More Wars!
Bush/Cheney '04: Compassionate Colonialism.
Bush/Cheney '04: Because the truth just isn't good enough.
Bush/Cheney '04: Deja-voodoo all over again.
Bush/Cheney '04: Leave no billionaire behind.
Bush/Cheney '04: Making the world a better place, one country at a time.
Bush/Cheney '04: Over a billion Whoppers served.
Bush/Cheney '04: Putting the "con" in conservatism.
Bush/Cheney '04: Thanks for not paying attention.
Bush/Cheney '04: The last vote you'll ever have to cast.
Bush/Cheney '04: This time, elect us!
Bush/Cheney '04: Assimilate. Resistance is Futile.
Bush/Cheney '04: In your heart, you know they're technically correct.
Bush/Cheney '04: Or else
Bush/Cheney '04: Thanks for not paying attention.
8. VENEZUELA'S "BOLIVARIAN" REVOLUTION
A capacity crowd attended a public meeting in Highland in September to hear Latin America activist Berta Jourbert-Ceci discuss "the passionate support" poor and working class Venezuelans extend to the government of President Hugo Chavez.
They also learned of the tricks the oligarchy is using to depose Chavez, who is leading a peaceful "Bolivarian" revolution during his democratically elected six-year term of office on behalf of the working people of this oil-rich country of some 25 million people, where about 80% of the population qualifies as poor. The Bolivarian revolution is named after Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), considered El Libertador (The Liberator) of Latin America from foreign domination.
The objective of the Chavez presidency, Jourbert-Ceci told the meeting (which was organized by the Caribbean and Latin America Support Project - CLASP), is to renegotiate the implicit social contract between the government and the working people of the country, gradually shifting a segment of power and wealth from the rich to the masses of people.
Chavez, a former paratrooper officer in Venezuela's army, was the object of a failed coup attempt last year which the Bush administration clearly supported. It was brought out at the meeting that "for over 100 years the U.S. has consistently undermined any progressive government in the region in order to extend its hegemony and pile up profits for the multinational corporations to which it is in liege."
The U.S. has many reasons for desiring the removal of Chavez from power. His government is pursuing a policy at odds with Washington on many accounts, particularly its program of social reforms. Further, the Caracas government, while condemning the 9/11 attacks, strongly opposed the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Jourbert-Ceci noted that enthusiastic mass demonstrations took place throughout Venezuela in solidarity with the Iraqi people. Further, Chavez opposes U.S. intervention in Colombia, backs OPEC oil production quotas, is critical of the U.S.-sponsored formation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), has extended the hand of friendship to Cuba and President Fidel Castro, and is cool toward corporate globalization and Washington's policy of free-market neoliberalism and privatization. [Venezuela refused to recognize the puppet Iraqi delegation at the late September OPEC meeting in Vienna.]
Venezuela's upper class and its supporters in the middle strata, backed 100% by the corporate mass media, have been using legal and illegal means to depose Chavez since he won an overwhelming electoral mandate in 1998. In the years after the elections the colorful president has legally dissolved the old congress, rewritten the constitution, installed some allies in the moribund, conservative-controlled judiciary, and won enhanced new executive powers, all with strong majority support.
Jourbet-Ceci, a native of Puerto Rico now resident in Philadelphia, visited Venezuela last April on behalf of the International Action Center and People's Video Network as a delegate (and videographer) at a large international conference in solidarity with the country's social reforms and "Bolivarian" experiment.
She told the audience that the progressive nature of the new constitution has caused apoplexy within the old ruling class, which controls an immense proportion of national wealth, because it guarantees many rights never before enjoyed by the working class and peasantry, the indigenous people, women, youth, gays and lesbians.
Despite its oil wealth, the Venezuelan masses are still poor, the speaker said, but under the Chavez government they are no longer uneducated, in poor health, without legal equal rights and condemned to lives of continual poverty. This, she indicated, is the main reason the oligarchy is so anxious to get rid of this progressive government by any means possible.
It was made clear at the meeting that the Bolivarian revolution is peaceful and legal. So far, Chavez does not describe Bolivarianism as either capitalist or socialist, insisting that its main purpose is to create a broad and deep democracy responsive to the needs of the working people and the poor.
According to a recent statement by Alvaro Guzman, the national director of the Bolivarian Student Front (Frente Bolivariano Estudiantil), "Bolivarianism is an inclusive democracy - a democracy that recognizes the human rights of the indigenous people who have been isolated and oppressed for over 500 years in Latin America; a democracy that recognizes the political right of working people to actively participate and be part of the economic model. People should have the right to participate in the strategic decisions that have to be made in national economic production."
Organizationally, the Chavez movement has encouraged the establishment of "Bolivarian circles," groups formed by local people throughout the country which are intended to provide a sense of social empowerment to the majority of Venezuelans heretofore excluded from the decision-making process. Some two million people have joined the circles.
Guzman said the circles "are a response to the need to solve community problems. The aims of the Bolivarian circles are varied. They could form in all areas of the community such as among students, street kids, sports people, artists, etc. The reason is that there are no other forms of social organization. The only thing that exists is people's willingness to structurally begin to organize specific tasks in support of the revolutionary process that is unfolding in Venezuela."
Last year's abortive coup was modeled upon the U.S.-backed right wing coup in Chile that overthrew the elected left-wing government of Salvador Allende 30 years ago last month. A major difference is that millions of Venezuelans immediately took to the streets of Caracas and other cities to demand the release and restoration to office of the briefly imprisoned Chavez - and the section of the military that supported the coup was not prepared to instantly murder thousands of people to put an unpopular conservative businessman in power. But, as Jourbert-Ceci expressed in her talk, efforts to depose the progressive Chavez government remain on the agenda of the oligarchy and its friends in Washington.
Accurate, progressive political information about Venezuela is difficult to obtain in the U.S., but the website http://www.vheadline.com/ does a good job.
Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War (english)
BostonRiot (nospam) Yahoo.com (unverified)
10 Oct 2003
#3 on this list includes a description of the "Misperceptions" poll. It's fascinating!!! Analysis of the success of the modern Propaganda machine.
The actual report that it is referring to is located here: http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/Media_10_02_03_Report.pdf