Saturday, March 7, 2009

Obama Set to Reverse Bush’s Stem-Cell Restrictions

By DAVID STOUT and GARDINER HARRIS
The New York Times
Published: March 6, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Obama will announce Monday that he is reversing Bush administration limits on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research as part of a pledge to separate science and politics, White House officials said Friday.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama spoke out in favor of stem cell research, so his intention to undo the curbs put in place by President George W. Bush is not surprising. But the decision is nonetheless of great interest, involving a long-controversial intersection of science and personal moral beliefs.

The officials said that advocates of unfettered stem cell research, as well as about 30 Democratic and Republican lawmakers who support it, had been invited to a White House ceremony scheduled for 11:45 a.m. Eastern time, when Mr. Obama is expected to make an announcement.

One person familiar with planning for the event said the president would also speak about a general return to “sound science” in his administration, as a fulfillment of his campaign promise to draw a demarcation line between politics and science. The Bush administration was often accused of trying to shade, or even suppress, the findings of government scientists on climate change, sex education, contraceptives and other issues, as well as stem cells.

Mr. Obama’s announcement is not likely to lead to any immediate change in government policy, since it may take many months for the National Institutes of Health to develop new guidelines for research.

Still, research advocates are expected to push for the process to go as quickly as possible to ensure that universities have time to submit grant proposals that can be reviewed and accepted before September 2010, when the health institutes must commit the last of the $10.4 billion given to the N.I.H. as part of the economic stimulus program.

Because embryonic stem cells are capable of developing into any type of cell in the body, many scientists believe that they may one day be able to provide tissues to replace worn-out organs or non-functioning cells and, thus, offer powerful new treatments for diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and other ailments. Some researchers say the stem cells may even be used someday to treat catastrophic injuries like damage to the spinal cord.

But many people have a moral problem with embryonic stem cell research because creation of the cells entails destruction of human embryos. For that reason, Mr. Bush ordered in August 2001 that federal research be limited to lines of cells that were already in existence, since the embryo destruction for those had already taken place.

The main suspense about what Mr. Obama would do centered on whether he would seek to undo the Bush-era restrictions through legislation or by executive order. The event set for Monday indicates that he might have decided on the latter course, although one person expected to attend the announcement said he understood that the president might also seek to involve Congress.

Advocates of stem cell research have been hoping for an order lifting all restrictions and allowing scientists and ethicists at the N.I.H., not the White House, to make decisions related to stem cell research.

One prominent advocate of stem cell research is Larry Soler, executive vice president for government relations and operations at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Mr. Soler said in a telephone interview Friday that he was sure that Mr. Obama would indeed signal a return to an era of “scientists making scientific decisions.”

Discussions about stem cell research have often been deeply personal as well as scientific. Advocates of unrestricted research note that the cells are typically obtained from embryos that have been abandoned by couples seeking in-vitro fertilization and that the embryos would be discarded anyway.

But many of those opposed to the research say the embryos are nothing less than tiny human beings, with souls, and that destroying them is akin to murder. They argue that research on embryos that would be thrown out is a slippery moral slope to be avoided by a decent society.

Critics of embryonic stem cell research also argue that scientists can use different types of stem cells, like those found in amniotic fluid or the placenta. But supporters of using embryonic cells say those are by far the most promising.

No matter what is announced Monday, the debate over embryonic stem cell research will not subside. That was clear from the reaction unleashed Friday.

“It must be Friday night because word leaks of yet another deadly executive order by President Obama,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, calling Mr. Obama’s intention “a slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human life.”

But the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation praised the president’s plan.

“By removing politics from science,” said Peter T. Wilderotter, the organization’s president and chief executive, “President Obama has freed researchers to explore these remarkable stem cells, learn from them and possibly develop effective therapies using them.”

The actor Christopher Reeve died in 2004, nine years after being injured in a horseback riding accident. His wife died in 2006. “The Reeves’ belief in the promise of stem cell research is a part of their lasting legacy,” Mr. Wilderotter said.

Among the lawmakers reportedly invited to the White House on Monday are Senators Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Representative Michael N. Castle of Delaware, all Republicans; Senators Dianne Feinstein of California, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, all Democrats.

NOTE:

Two glaring problems inherent in the human embryonic stem cell debate are made evident in the above article. First, is the question of what moral philosophy should be operative/normative in considering the ethical question involved (Utilitarianism vs: Traditional Aristotelian/Thomistic moral philosophy) and second whether it is morally licit to destroy (kill) human embryos for any purpose.

Currently, the procuring of human embryonic stem cells (ESC's) requires the destruction of human embryos. Human embryos are in fact biologically/ontologically entirely human from the moment of conception/fertilization at which time DNA from paternal and maternal gametes are combined and reshuffled. Once in existence, these entities are in every relevant sense--nascent human beings--irrespective of how they came into being or where they are located. They are completely innocent from a moral perspective.

In traditional moral philosophy it is always and everywhere wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being (as is done routinely in "harvesting" embryonic stem cells from human embryos). All such embryonic human beings are killed in the process of removing the highly sought-after embryonic stem cells. Therefore, as presently performed--yet from a traditional (golden-rule ethic) moral philosophical perspective, embryonic stem cell research is immoral as is all human destructive embryo research (DER). As such, only if the stem cells could be removed without harm to the embryo and if doing so directly benefited the embryo itself would such manipulations be morally licit.

Since in the United States and Western culture in general, rank Utilitarianism is the reigning (unethical) moral construct, embryonic stem cell research has been embraced by most scientists involved and many interested advocates. President Obama has embraced Utilitarianism as his operative (immoral/amoral) philosophy and thus is prepared to federally fund embryonic stem cell research. It is unclear whether this will involve utilizing (killing embryos in order to obtain their embryonic stem cells) only those embryos already in existence (e.g. those currently cryopreserved in fertility clinics) or whether he also envisions federally funding the wholesale creation of embryos from which embryonic stem cells will be liberally "harvested." This practice is currently legal albeit completely privately financed. The change which President Obama may be advocating is to make federal funds available for this purpose as well. We must wait to see what the details of his policy will be. Only time will tell.

Just as it is immoral (from a traditional moral perspective) to kill human embryos in order to obtain their embryonic stem cells, it is also immoral to artificially create human embryos for that purpose (in fact it is immoral to create them for any purpose such as in IVF although that involves a different moral calculus). Not only should there be a ban on human destructive embryo research (DER) from the perspective of federal funding but it should be made illegal entirely meaning that private entities would also be prohibited from doing so. As a society we must either always and everywhere protect innocent human life or admit that in the United States, some human beings--the most innocent among us--lack the right to life and can be sacrificed for the sake of expediency--a rank utilitarian calculus that. To do otherwise is to be intellectually inconsistent and morally bankrupt.

As I have demonstrated elsewhere, Utilitarianism is a completely inadequate (and often immoral) construct by which to analyze complex ethical problems. It is frequently productive of an ad-hoc/self-serving result which is incompatible with the common good. It is not surprising that those who embrace a Utilitarian ethic would support destructive embryo research (DER).

Many who support DER (such as the referenced individuals quoted in the above article including spokespersons for the White House) engage in sophistry by which they attempt to eliminate all ethical considerations from scientific research by incorrectly conflating the "political" with the ethical. While it is admirable in some circumstances to remove political considerations from scientific investigation, it is never morally licit to eliminate ethical considerations from scientific research. History is replete (e.g. Nuremberg tribunals on human experimentation and US military experiments on syphilitic black males) with examples of what occurs when that is allowed to happen.

--Dr. J. P. Hubert

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It's Time For The Madness To Stop

By Sheila Samples

March 03, 2009 "Information Clearing House" --- Sometimes it's hard to come to grips with the truth -- especially if that truth is about our own country, and is in direct opposition to everything we've been taught since childhood. Patriotism is in our genes, and through the years it has been a national conviction that, if our country needed us, serving in the military to protect our freedom was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do. We still believe that. We still leap to our feet at the first beat of a drum at a military parade, clutch our hearts at the sight of the Stars and Stripes, weep at the refrain of the National Anthem. However, far too many of us succumb to the pomp and pageantry of war -- of mission accomplished -- with little concern for the human beings who made that possible -- what they went through, what they're still going through -- so we can maintain our arrogant national pride.

From the beginning, those in the military have served their country with unswerving loyalty. They continued to march even after Henry Kissinger belched out the truth that Duty--Honor--Country is a one-way street because "Military men are dumb, stupid animals to be used" as pawns for foreign policy. And, it has long been a dead-end street for those captured or left behind on foreign soil -- for those who return from battlefields maimed both mentally and physically, and for those who are innocent victims of malicious life-destroying experiments who have no chance of the extent of their injuries being recognized and are refused the necessary health care.

The most ghastly experiment the military ever conducted was Operation Crossroads, a series of "Manhattan Project" tests requested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1946 to study the effects of nuclear weapons on ships and equipment. After bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki the year before, US officials knew the effect of massive radiation on human beings and animals. They had to know. So what else were the thousands of navy personnel positioned on ships from five to eight miles from the Bikini Atoll bomb site in the central Pacific if not guinea pigs?

One young sailor stationed at the Bikini Atoll in 1946 was Anthony Guarisco who, like thousands of others, has suffered horribly for the last 63 years as a result of radiation poisoning and like those others, has been denied the proper health care. Guarisco is the founder of both the National and International Alliance of Atomic Veterans. In 1994, Academy Award-winning team Vivienne Verdon-Roe and Michael Porter produced a documentary, "Experimental Animals," featuring Guarisco who, very calmly, describes the horrors of that 1946 July. (Note: Ecological Options Network has just re-released "Experimental Animals" on-line and as a DVD, because EON filmmaker/activist Jim Heddle says, "we think it's as relevant today as it was when it was produced.")

The first bomb -- Able -- was dropped from a B-29 on July 1. As a health precaution, military personnel in the area were told to "cover their eyes." Guarisco said it was awesome. He said it immediately "came home to me what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I could see how 55-65 thousand people could die in one-and-a-half seconds."

But the second one -- Baker -- was beyond awesome. Guarisco said it was detonated beneath the ocean from a depth of 90 feet, and "sucked a target array of approximately 100 ships into the air like little toys. I saw the U.S. Arkansas soar into the air about 200 feet and come down in two pieces. I saw aircraft carriers just flinging around as if they were toys."

According to the Navy's historical report, "The inability to complete inspections on much of the target fleet threatened the success of the operation after BAKER. A program of target vessel decontamination was begun in earnest about 1 August. This involved washing the ships' exteriors using work crews drawn from the target ships' companies under radiological supervision of monitors equipped with radiation detection and measurement devices. Initially, decontamination was slow as the safe time aboard the target ships was measured only in minutes. As time progressed, the support fleet itself had become contaminated by the low-level radioactivity in marine growth on the ships' hulls and seawater piping systems."

Ironically, although the ships were towed out of the area just 10 days after the blast where the work could be done in uncontaminated water, no warning was given to the human experimental animals, who were allowed to swim in contaminated water, walk barefoot on beaches and breathe poisonous air.

Guarisco said, "We went back into the ground zero area immediately after each of the detonations, and I spent a total of 67 days in the Bikini lagoon within one mile of the epicenter. And I became ill after the second detonation, approximately four or five days after that...I had symptoms similar to having a bad case of influenza. I had welts on my body -- I broke out with welts -- and it was scary for me. I was urinating blood, I was very sick."

And Guarisco wasn't the only one who became ill. In a 1998 National Radio Project interview with Michael O'Rourke, who monitors veterans health issues for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Guarisco said, "Other people on my ship were also feeling very sick. And for many, many years I thought that, well, certainly if there was anything wrong surely they would let me know. But," he said, "I found out many years later that’s not how it is. You know, the government and the U.S. military are not about to say anything about anybody who’s exposed to high levels or low levels of radiation. It was hard for me to come out of denial, to understand that I was dealing with people who really were not interested in anything else but waiting for me to die."

Guarisco says that, in one -- two -- blinding flashes, "we saw what World War III will look like. We have seen the firestorm, we have been witness to the sacrilegious devastation that nuclear weapons put forth, and we have seen our brother and our sister veterans die from being exposed to this terribleness." He says the bottom line of nuclear weapons is the bottom line of the profit margin -- that "deterrent" or "first strike" are fear code words used to keep the population at bay and to pave the way for the nuclear industry to keep building more expensive (profitable) weapons.

In his March 2008 tribute to both of his parents, Guarisco's son, Vincent, goes into greater detail about his father's lifelong battle, not only with the effects of radiation but with the nuclear industry and government itself. For more than 60 years, both Anthony and Mary Guarisco were out there, militant activists armed with the truth, relentlessly attempting to derail the nuclear train before it goes over the cliff, taking human survival with it.

The United States has more nuclear weapons than any other nation. Although we have avoided the instant, negative repercussions of another Nagasaki or Hiroshima, we have nevertheless managed to contaminate most of the world with Depleted Uranium.

In 2006, Japanese professor Dr. K. Yagasaki, by using the known amount of uranium used in the Hiroshima bomb -- about the size of a two-litre milk container -- calculated that a ton of DU used on the battlefield results in the equivalent of 100 Hiroshima bombs worth of radiation released into the atmosphere. So, when it was reported that 2,000 tons of DU were dropped on Iraq from 2003 to 2006, we need to understand that what was released in the Iraqi atmosphere, and then spreading worldwide, was the equivalent of 200,000 Hiroshima bombs.

The total amount of DU the US has used since 1991 is approximately 4,600 tons (1,000 in the first Gulf War, 800 in Kosovo, 800 in Afghanistan and a further 2,000 tons in the second Iraq war.) This amounts to approximately 460,000 Hiroshima bombs, ten times the amount of radiation released into the atmosphere from all previous nuclear testing worldwide. And, it's important to note this calculation was three years ago. Since that time, we've had three more years of non-stop DU bombing...

Throughout the '60s, the US conducted numerous toxic and chemical weapons tests on its military personnel. In July 2008, Nic Maclellan, journalist, researcher and development worker in the Pacific, wrote...

"Under Project SHAD, the US Navy conducted six tests in the Marshall Islands and off the coast of Hawai’i between 1964-68. Pentagon documents released in 2002 show the US Defense Department sprayed live nerve and biological agents on ships and sailors, and sprayed a germ toxin on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

"These Cold War-era experiments to test the Navy's vulnerability to toxic warfare involved about 4,300 US military personnel, mostly from the Navy. Most were never informed that the tests were being conducted, breaching all ethical principles about informed consent for test subjects."

It's time that we, as a nation, not only face the truth -- but come to grips with it. Those who serve with such trust and loyalty cannot imagine that they are, at best, "experimental animals" to be used and cast aside by ruthless corporate thugs.

How many generations of Anthony Guariscos must we lose before we realize that "support the troops" means protect the troops? Like Guarisco said, we must stand up, stand together and demand the abolition of all nuclear weapons if human beings on this planet are to survive.

It's time for the madness to stop. Before we are all atomic veterans.

Too Many Overseas Bases

By David Vine
Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco

March 03, 2009 "Foreign Policy In Focus" -- In the midst of an economic crisis that’s getting scarier by the day, it’s time to ask whether the nation can really afford some 1,000 military bases overseas. For those unfamiliar with the issue, you read that number correctly. One thousand. One thousand U.S. military bases outside the 50 states and Washington, DC, representing the largest collection of bases in world history.

Officially the Pentagon counts 865 base sites, but this notoriously unreliable number omits all our bases in Iraq (likely over 100) and Afghanistan (80 and counting), among many other well-known and secretive bases. More than half a century after World War II and the Korean War, we still have 268 bases in Germany, 124 in Japan, and 87 in South Korea. Others are scattered around the globe in places like Aruba and Australia, Bulgaria and Bahrain, Colombia and Greece, Djibouti, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, and of course, Guant√°namo Bay, Cuba — just to name a few. Among the installations considered critical to our national security are a ski center in the Bavarian Alps, resorts in Seoul and Tokyo, and 234 golf courses the Pentagon runs worldwide.

Unlike domestic bases, which set off local alarms when threatened by closure, our collection of overseas bases is particularly galling because almost all our taxpayer money leaves the United States (much goes to enriching private base contractors like corruption-plagued former Halliburton subsidiary KBR). One part of the massive Ramstein airbase near Landstuhl, Germany, has an estimated value of $3.3 billion. Just think how local communities could use that kind of money to make investments in schools, hospitals, jobs, and infrastructure.

Even the Bush administration saw the wastefulness of our overseas basing network. In 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced plans to close more than one-third of the nation’s overseas installations, moving 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members and civilians back to the United States. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, then commander of U.S. forces in Europe, called for closing 20% of our bases in Europe. According to Rumsfeld’s estimates, we could save at least $12 billion by closing 200 to 300 bases alone. While the closures were derailed by claims that closing bases could cost us in the short term, even if this is true, it’s no reason to continue our profligate ways in the longer term.

Costs Far Exceeding Dollars and Cents


Unfortunately, the financial costs of our overseas bases are only part of the problem. Other costs to people at home and abroad are just as devastating. Military families suffer painful dislocations as troops stationed overseas separate from loved ones or uproot their families through frequent moves around the world. While some foreign governments like U.S. bases for their perceived economic benefits, many locals living near the bases suffer environmental and health damage from military toxins and pollution, disrupted economic, social, and cultural systems, military accidents, and increased prostitution and crime.

In undemocratic nations like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Saudi Arabia, our bases support governments responsible for repression and human rights abuses. In too many recurring cases, soldiers have raped, assaulted, or killed locals, most prominently of late in South Korea, Okinawa, and Italy. The forced expulsion of the entire Chagossian people to create our secretive base on British Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is another extreme but not so aberrant example.

Bases abroad have become a major and unacknowledged “face” of the United States, frequently damaging the nation’s reputation, engendering grievances and anger, and generally creating antagonistic rather than cooperative relationships between the United States and others. Most dangerously, as we have seen in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and as we are seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign bases create breeding grounds for radicalism, anti-Americanism, and attacks on the United States, reducing, rather than improving, our national security.

Proponents of maintaining the overseas base status quo will argue, however, that our foreign bases are critical to national and global security. A closer examination shows that overseas bases have often heightened military tensions and discouraged diplomatic solutions to international conflicts. Rather than stabilizing dangerous regions, our overseas bases have often increased global militarization, enlarging security threats faced by other nations who respond by boosting military spending (and in cases like China and Russia, foreign base acquisition) in an escalating spiral. Overseas bases actually make war more likely, not less.

The Benefits of Fewer Bases


This isn’t a call for isolationism or a protectionism that would prevent us from spending money overseas. As the Obama administration and others have recognized, we must recommit to cooperative forms of engagement with the rest of the world that rely on diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties rather than military means. In addition to freeing money to meet critical human needs at home and abroad, fewer overseas bases would help rebuild our military into a less overstretched, defensive force committed to defending the nation’s territory from attack.

In these difficult economic times, the Obama administration and Congress should initiate a major reassessment of our 1,000 overseas bases. Now is the time to ask if, as a nation and a world, we can really afford the 1,000 bases (Editor's emphasis throughout) that are pushing the nation deeper into debt and making the United States and the planet less secure? With so many needs facing our nation, it’s unconscionable to have 1,000 overseas bases. It’s time to begin closing them.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fearing a One-State Solution, Israel’s President Serves Pabulum to Washington

By Franklin Lamb

Whatever will happen in the future, we shall not repeat the mistakes we made in leaving Gaza.

– Shimon Peres to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations 2/18/09

You take my water. Burn my Olive Trees. Destroy my house. Take my job. Steal my Land. Imprison my Mother. Bomb my country. Starve us all. Humiliate us all. But I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.

– Sign carried near Hyde Park Corner during a demonstration in London on 2/15/09 by a Member of the British Parliament

February 20, 2009 "Dissident Voice" -- Ain el Helwe Palestinian Refugee Camp, Sidon, Lebanon — Israeli President Shimon Peres has participated in shaping the policies of Israel for most of its existence. His Washington Post op-ed last week billed as “a peacepartners prod” to the Obama administration, evidences a major disconnect within the government of Israel concerning what is urgently required for that country’s increasingly unlikely long-term survival.

According to a CIA Study currently being shown to selected staff members on the US Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Israel’s survival in its present form beyond the next 20 years is doubtful.

The Report predicts “an inexorable movement away from a two-state to a one-state solution, as the most viable model based on democratic principles of full equality that sheds the looming specter of colonial Apartheid while allowing for the return of the 1947/1948 and 1967 refugees. The latter being the precondition for sustainable peace in the region.”

To President Peres’ chagrin, the Executive Summary states that “during the next fifteen years more than two million Israelis, including some 500,000 Israeli citizens who currently hold US green cards or passports, will move to the United States. Most Israelis not in possession of these documents will receive ‘expedited waivers.’ The Report claims that, “Alongside a decline in Jewish births and a rise in Palestinian fertility, approximately 1.6 million Israelis are likely to return to their forefather’s lands in Russia and Eastern and Western Europe with scores of thousands electing to stay, depending on the nature of the transition.”

In his Washington Post piece President Peres desperately attempts to salvage a two-state solution from a one, a three- or even a four-state arrangement. He appears to realize that a two-state solution is seriously jeopardized unless Israel dramatically and quickly changes course. With the tacking to the right in Israel and the likely make up of the next government once Peres selects Livni or Netanyahu in the next few days, and given the swelling mood among the occupied in favor of another Intifada, Peres plaintively asserts to the Obama administration that “two states is the only realistic solution.”

Peres instructed the American people and their government three times in his op-ed brief for a two-state solution, and that Israel is “the land of my forefathers.” He laments that the CIA-predicted one-state solution would, “Undermine Israel’s legitimacy and the internationally recognized right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state in the land of my forefathers.”

Peres knows that his forefathers had no connection whatsoever to Palestine, as is the case with more than 95% of the Zionists who swept into the area over the past century and demolished close to 600 villages while expelling a majority of the native population. Historians have established that most arriving Jews were in fact Slavic converts to Judaism without any historical or genealogical nexus to Palestine or Hebrew tribes in the area.

Against the historical backdrop of the past century of nearly global rejection of colonialism, his claim of settled international acceptance of “Israel’s legitimacy” is a major stretch. “Legitimacy” is what the conflict continues to be about — whether a 19th Century colonial enterprise can violently uproot and massacre an indigenous population taking over a land declaring God promised it to them, as they terrorize and expel the local inhabitants. Contrary to Peres’ claim of Israel as a “legitimate State,” there is no internationally recognized right for Israel to exist on stolen land without the consent of the dispossessed. Peres assures his American benefactors that Israel’s legitimacy is based “in international law or morality.” In point of fact, both International law and morality require the right of return of those whose lands were taken and lifting the brutal occupation. Surely Peres is aware, as the CIA Report asserts, that a majority of the 192 countries which make up the membership of the United Nations would vote this evening to establish one State of Palestine if given the chance.

The Report concludes that what went wrong will be debated for many years. In essence the problem was the premise that a “chosen people” with no link or rights to a land could impose a state by force. Many Middle East observers believe that the two-state solution is essentially over, but for the packing, finger-pointing and assuredly more violence.

Increasingly repelled by Israeli crimes, the international community is moving toward the majority position of Palestinians, and is coming to believe that the realistic solution to the Middle East conflict is one state — secular, multicultural, democratic, and based on one person one vote.

Peres is loath to accept one state and claims, in promoting a two-state solution, that he has “personally witnessed the remarkable progress we have made with the Palestinian Authority in recent years.”

Does he have in mind the increasing bantustanization (what Noam Chomsky calls “unviable fragments”), the ever-snaking apartheid wall and other barriers, the illegal outposts which increased yet again last year? The blockade of and depraved slaughter in Gaza?

Or does President Peres have in mind this week’s announcement by outgoing Prime Minister Olmert that Israel has the right to keep building in large West Bank settlement blocs, including Efrat, by adding 423 acres so that 21,000 more residents can join the current 9,000, according to Efrat mayor Oded Revivi? Olmert claims its part of the annexation that will be considered in a future final peace deal with the Palestinians.

President Peres has passed nearly a lifetime devoted to undermining prospects for a viable Palestinian state and offering a wink and nod to the building of more than 430 colonies while offering lip service to the “peace process.” His “Message to the American People” fails to communicate what the Israeli and Palestinian public knows well about the real nature of the two-state option he has in mind and which he considers to be “the best resolution to this age-old conflict.” Both populations know that the two-state option that long time politician Peres has consistently run on, is the Yigal Allon Plan.

The Allon scheme to expel the Arab population from Palestine has been Peres’ electoral platform during his campaigns in 1974, 1977, 1981, 1984, and 1987 and it shaped Israel’s settlement policies from 1967-1977. Peres worked to make the Allon Plan part of the 1978 Camp David agreement and 1993 Oslo Accords.

As the American public begins to stir from its long slumber on the Question of Palestine and hopefully dramatically changes American Middle East policy, it should consider that the Peres favored “moderate” Allon Plan continues to be Israeli policy. As formulated by its author and adhered to by successive Israel governments, it contains the following “moderate” elements:

* Seeking “maximum land with minimum Arabs”

* Annexes approximately 40% of the West Bank and Gaza, taking the choicest parts

* Dispossess Palestinians from land Israel wants for Jews

After Israel’s attack in 1967, Yigal Allon presented to the cabinet a solution to the Arab problem. The Allon Plan called for annexing the following areas: “a strip of land ten to fifteen kilometers wide along the Jordan River; most of the Judean desert along the Dead Sea; and a substantial area around Greater Jerusalem, including the Latrun salient.” The plan was crafted to include as few Arabs as possible in the area claimed for Israel and included building permanent colonies and army bases in these areas.

The two-state solution that Peres is trying to sell the American public and administration is a Palestinian “state” in 76.6% of the West Bank, carved up into sealed enclaves, with the largest of the 430 plus settlements/colonies remaining in place under Israeli sovereignty. Israel would take another 13.3% outright and continue to occupy the remaining 10.1% for a period of up to thirty years. During this period Israel would continue building new and expanding current settlement/colonies. The above percentages do not include the subtracted East Jerusalem and the territorial waters of the Dead Sea. In point of fact the 76% offer is based not on 100% of the occupied territories, but merely those parts that Israel was willing to discuss. Consequently, the “just and moral solution” President Peres favors would amount to slightly less than 16% of historic Palestine being given to those driven from their homes and land.

Peres claims Israel has worked tirelessly for peace. Yet the record is clear that Israel has only worked tirelessly for expansion at the expense of the indigenous Arab population while obstructing more than two-dozen “peace initiatives” over six decades, while targeting the Palestinian people, culture, and economy.

Peres claims in his op-ed that Libyan leader Muammar Qadaffi agrees that Israel deserves Palestine and that “this is salient in his fundamental and central premise that the Jewish people want and deserve their homeland.” Peres takes Qadaffi’s words out of context and misrepresents his thesis, which in fact calls for one state shared by both peoples. Qadaffi insists that the Middle East welcomes Judaism but not racist Zionism. It is the latter which underpins the founding of Israel and which has led to history’s condemnation.

As the President of Israel seeks yet more indulgence and largesse from the American taxpayers and the Obama administration, there is something he can do to shore up waning trust and waxing disillusionment with the two-state option. He can announce immediately that he fully accepts UN Security Council Resolution 242 and advocates the removal of all settlements and the total withdrawal of the Israeli military from the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel’s President urges the American people and government to, “commit our most concerted effort to allow two states to flourish.” Unless he and his fellow leaders of Israel are prepared, without further delay, to commit to a complete withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 armistice line, in a serious effort at peace, Israel will continue to lose American and international support and one state is the likely future for Palestine.

Israeli President Peres can avert his eyes from reality, but the Obama administration and the American people cannot afford this fatal delusion.

A Banana Republic By 2012?

Change for the Worse

By Paul Craig Roberts

March 02, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- -President Obama has presented the most irresponsible budget in US history. His fiscal year 2010 budget projects federal spending of $3.5 trillion and a federal deficit of $1.75 trillion. In other words, 50 percent of the government’s budget consists of red ink.

And Americans are angry that sub-prime borrowers took mortgages they couldn’t afford.

The bald fact is that the US government is going to have to borrow--or print--half of the money it intends to spend in Obama’s first budget. This fact has fallen through the cracks as New York Times headlines proclaim “A Bold Plan Sweeps Away Reagan Ideas.” It certainly does sweep away Reagan ideas. No Reagan budget ever presumed that the federal government could borrow half of its annual expenditures. Indeed, Obama’s budget deficit for 2010 alone exceeds the totality of “Reagan Deficits” for Reagan’s two terms of office.

As presidential budgets are marketing devices rather than financial statements, they are imbued with optimistic assumptions. Obama’s budget is based on optimistic assumptions about the extent of decline in GDP. A more realistic projection of GDP decline would reveal that Obama’s budget is the first since World War II in which more than half of the government’s expenditures must be financed by red ink. I suspect that the red ink component of the FY 2010 budget will surpass World War II budgets.

To whom can the US government turn for $1.75 trillion for FY 2010, on top of $1.2 trillion for FY 2009?

Not to taxpayers. Obama’s net tax increase comes to $170 billion over 10 years, or $17 billion a year, a drop in the bucket. A supply-side economist could have told him that not even these paltry revenues will be realized.

Not to private savers. Americans are over their heads in debts.

Not to foreigners. Thanks to Clinton/Bush financial deregulation and Wall Street and bankster greed, the rest of the world is in financial turmoil and hasn’t $1.75 trillion in savings to lend. Possibly, the stock market will collapse further, and whatever remaining wealth Americans have will flow into “safe” US Treasuries.

The only other alternative is the printing press. Printing press finance would destroy the dollar as reserve currency and ignite high inflation. The US would be unable to pay for its imports, and Americans whose incomes do not rise with the rate of inflation would be plowed under.

This prospect is not a “war on terror” scare tactic like “anthrax,” “weapons of mass destruction,” “al Qaeda connections,” and “Iranian nukes.”

The economic catastrophe that the US faces is very real. But there is no awareness of this reality in Obama’s budget. The crux of Obamanomics is the assumption that the economy can run forever on consumer loans, if we can just get the banks to lend, and the federal government can run forever on loans from China, Japan,and Saudi Arabia.

Obama is requesting $130 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during 2010 plus a $75 billion supplemental request for the wars during 2009. This $205 billion is on top of $534 billion for the Pentagon in 2010, for total military spending of $739 billion.

The Chinese government’s budget shows China’s military spending at $59 billion in 2008. (The Pentagon claims Chinese military spending is between $97 billion and $139 billion.) Russia’s military spending in 2009 is projected to be about $50 billion.

In the midst of the greatest economic crisis in US history when trillions of dollars are being added to US national debt, Obama’s budget spends more on two pointless wars than the total military spending of China and Russia combined. Obama’s wars serve only the profits of the military/security complex and the promotion rate of military officers. The longer the wars continue, the larger the number of officers who can retire at higher ranks, thus further swelling future annual deficits and the national debt.

Moreover, as is becoming apparent, the Bush/Obama war in Afghanistan cannot be fought without fighting a war in Pakistan.

As if this isn’t enough war, Obama parrots Dick Cheney’s charge, totally unsupported by any evidence, that Iran is making nuclear weapons. The chances are high that the new White House Moron will have us at war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. As Obama’s wars expand, the $205 billion for war in Iraq and Afghanistan will become $400 billion annually and then $600 billion annually.

Obama’s “troop withdrawal” from Iraq has proved to be just another con job. Obama has announced that the withdrawal doesn’t include the 50,000 US soldiers who will remain in Iraq indefinitely--like the US troops that have been kept in Japan and Germany for 64 years and in Korea since the early 1950s,

Meanwhile Medicare is on the ropes. The latest Medicare trustees report says that Medicare’s funds for hospital payments will be exhausted in 10 years. To make ends meet, Obama proposes cutting payments to Medicare providers.

Obama’s plan is to make doctors and patients pay for Medicare. One way to get National Health is to make it uneconomic for private health care to service Medicare patients. Already many doctors will not accept Medicare patients because of the low payments, endless paperwork, and risk of prosecution for “over-billing.” Looking at one recent Medicare patient medical bill, Medicare and supplemental insurance paid 29 percent of the billed amount, requiring the doctor to eat 58.5 percent of his charges and the patient to pay 12.5 percent. The doctor was paid $93.16 on a $320.89 bill. And Obama wants to reduce payments to providers?

What is Obama thinking? A country that can’t afford Medicare can’t afford National Health. Medicare provides only for the elderly, and it provides very little. A person pays the Medicare tax as long as he earns and on the totality of earnings. For the rich the Medicare tax can exceed the cost of a gold-plated private insurance policy.

Basic Medicare leaves a person unprotected. To provide better coverage, it is necessary to enroll in Medicare Part B for which the premium is $308.30 per month or $3,699.60 per year. On top of this, a person needs a privately supplied supplemental policy to complete Medicare coverage. AARP’s policy, which, after deductibles are met, covers half of drug costs, cost the “Medicare protected” elderly $ 273.50 per month or $3,282 per year. The drug prescription plan passed by Congress costs the individual yet more.

The two supplements to Medicare cost the Medicare patient $6,981.60 per year. In addition, if the Medicare patient has much retirement income besides Social Security, he pays income tax on 85% of the $3,699.60 Medicare Part B premium as it is part of taxable Social Security, which for someone in the 25% bracket is another $925 dollars.

In the late 1970s, Democratic Senator Russell Long, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told me that as Social Security was collected as a tax on wages and salaries, the US government had promised never to tax the benefits. So much for any commitment that the US government makes to the American people.

A top Social Security income, net of Medicare Part B premium, is $23,220 per year. Deduct the AARP policy, and the elderly who have paid in maximum Social Security taxes, get $20,000 per year. Of course, few Social Security retirees receive the maximum payment. AARP’s Public Policy Institute reports that in 2006 the average annual Social Security benefit for a retired worker was $12,372. Such a worker would have little left after paying the Medicare Part B premium and an additional premium for a supplement.

Offshoring and “free trade” have destroyed employer-provided health coverage for millions of employees. Private health care coverage can cost as much as one-third and even one-half of a person’s earned income, and some people are not insurable. National Health seems to be in the cards--only there is no money for it. All the money is being spent in pointless wars and on bailouts of financial fraud. The Obama budget puts bankster bailouts and pointless wars ahead of the health of the American people.

National Health advocates emphasize that a single-payer system is less expensive because it eliminates layers of profits. It is also less expensive for a less promising reason. Unless there is a parallel private health care system, National Health systems limit health spending to what is provided in the government budget. Over time, health care has to compete with everything else in the budget. Every part of the budget has its partisans and special interests. It is fantasy to assume that National Health will always be well funded. Just look at the state of the National Health Service in the UK.

Obama’s plan to tax the rich is another con job. Obama’s budget defines the rich as a person with a $250,000 before tax income. This is a rotten joke. The rich are the banksters, such as Hank Paulson with his $160 million annual bonus, and heads of hedge funds with their $1,000 million annual incomes. To confuse the struggling middle class with the real rich is criminal. A person with a $250,000 income before tax does not come close to being rich. Obama’s “tax the rich” scheme will devastate the upper middle class and leave the super rich undamaged.

The only change we have from Obama and the Democrats is for the worse. Bush’s FY 2008 budget deficit was $450 billion. The FY 2009 deficit is projected at $1.2 trillion. The budget deficit in Obama’s first budget is $1.75 trillion, a fourfold increase in two years.

Obama’s projected budget deficits are an understatement. For example, Obama’s budget assumes a less steep economic decline than the economy is experiencing, and it projects that war costs will drop to $50 billion annually beginning in 2011--this despite Obama sending more troops to Afghanistan and recent congressional testimony of Lt. General David Barno, former head of US forces in Afghanistan, who said the war in Afghanistan could last until 2025.

The “war on terror” will never end, because the moronic US government has defined everyone who resists US hegemony as a “terrorist.” The great danger to American civil liberty is that the US government regards as terrorists American citizens who realize that the neoconservative dream of American hegemony is a fantasy. As the Obama regime has not repealed the Bush regime rule-- “you are with us or against us”--Americans who oppose hegemonic war are lumped into the “against us” category.

There seems little chance that civil liberties will be restored. Obama and his “liberal” Justice (sic) Department have sided with Bush/Cheney on every important civil liberties issue. Yet, the ACLU sees “hope” in Obama’s rhetoric!

On February 21 Yahoo News reported: “President Barack Obama's administration has sided with predecessor George W. Bush on the rights of detainees at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, saying they cannot challenge their detention in US courts. In a two-sentence court filing Friday, the US Justice Department said "the government adheres to its previously articulated position" of denying habeas corpus rights to Bagram detainees, backing a similar decision by the Bush administration.”

“Earlier this month,” Yahoo News reports, “the Obama administration backed another Bush anti-terror policy when it urged a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Boeing Company of helping fly suspects to secret CIA detention centers overseas. The Justice Department said the case should be thrown out to protect state secrets.”

Do you remember the illegal spying? The US telecom industry succumbed to Bush regime pressure and broke the law together with President Bush. The illegal act made the US telecom industry subject to lawsuits, but the Bush regime placed its co-conspirators above the law.

Now Obama has sided with the Bush regime. On February 26, therawstory.com reported: “The Obama Justice Department continues to stand behind a Bush era law meant to prevent lawsuits against telecommunications companies accused of illegally sharing private customer information with intelligence agencies. In a brief filed late Wednesday obtained by Raw Story, the Department of Justice provided its views to Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, after the San Francisco federal judge questioned the constitutionality of the wide-sweeping law and whether it gives the U.S. Attorney General too much power in deciding whether a company is immune from lawsuits after it has shared information with federal agents.”

On February 26 antiwar.com reported that the “new CIA director (Leon Panetta) declares nothing has changed, nothing will change.” Panetta declared that the US policy of conducting war on Pakistan’s sovereign territory “would continue.” The attacks, Panetta claimed, “have been successful.” For the CIA, claims of success equal legality. Did the Bush regime ever express greater arrogance and hubris?

With Rahm Israel Emanuel, an Israeli dual citizen, in charge of the White House and Obama’s schedule, Obama will have an even less independent foreign policy in the Middle East than Bush. Somehow someone among the Obamacons managed to put forward an appointment that could challenge the Israel Lobby’s stranglehold. Charles Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, former top Pentagon official, and president of the Middle East Policy Council, was chosen by Admiral Denis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, to head the National Intelligence Council.

The neocons went berserk. Steve Rosen, formerly of AIPAC, currently indicted as an Israeli spy, Gabriel Schoenfeld, who wants the New York Times indicted for allegedly violating the Espionage Act for reporting the Bush regime’s illegal spying, Daniel Pipes, who sees Muslim terrorists under every bed, Michael Rubin of the warmonger American Enterprise Institute, and Frank Gaffney, possibly the goofiest person in America, damned Freeman’s appointment as “deeply troubling,” because Freeman has an open mind on the Middle East situation.

In other words, if you are not on Israel’s side, you are disqualified. (Editor's emphasis throughout)

There is no more certain indication of continuing war in the Middle East on Israel’s behalf than for Freeman’s appointment to be blocked.

Pay close attention to this one. If Obama succumbs to the Israel Lobby and nixes Blair’s appointment of Freeman, the US will have to finance interminable wars on top of trillion dollar bailouts and massive unemployment.

The US might not even make it to 2012 before it is a banana republic.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A struggle for the soul of capitalism

A Revolution in Spirit

By Benjamin R. Barber

February 24, 2009 "The Nation" -- As America, recession mired, enters the hope-inspired age of Barack Obama, a silent but fateful struggle for the soul of capitalism is being waged. Can the market system finally be made to serve us? Or will we continue to serve it? George W. Bush argued that the crisis is "not a failure of the free-market system, and the answer is not to try to reinvent that system." But while it is going too far to declare that capitalism is dead, George Soros is right when he says that "there is something fundamentally wrong" with the market theory that stands behind the global economy, a "defect" that is "inherent in the system."

The issue is not the death of capitalism but what kind of capitalism--standing in which relationship to culture, to democracy and to life? President Obama's Rubinite economic team seems designed to reassure rather than innovate, its members set to fix what they broke. But even if they succeed, will they do more than merely restore capitalism to the status quo ante, resurrecting all the defects that led to the current debacle?

Being economists, even the progressive critics missing from the Obama economic team continue to think inside the economic box. Yes, bankers and politicians agree that there must be more regulatory oversight, a greater government equity stake in bailouts and some considerable warming of the frozen credit pump. A very large stimulus package with a welcome focus on the environment, alternative energy, infrastructure and job creation is in the offing--a good thing indeed.

But it is hard to discern any movement toward a wholesale rethinking of the dominant role of the market in our society. No one is questioning the impulse to rehabilitate the consumer market as the driver of American commerce. Or to keep commerce as the foundation of American public and private life, even at the cost of rendering other cherished American values--like pluralism, the life of the spirit and the pursuit of (non-material) happiness--subordinate to it.

Economists and politicians across the spectrum continue to insist that the challenge lies in revving up inert demand. For in an economy that has become dependent on consumerism to the tune of 70 percent of GDP, shoppers who won't shop and consumers who don't consume spell disaster. Yet it is precisely in confronting the paradox of consumerism that the struggle for capitalism's soul needs to be waged.

The crisis in global capitalism demands a revolution in spirit--fundamental change in attitudes and behavior. Reform cannot merely rush parents and kids back into the mall; it must encourage them to shop less, to save rather than spend. If there's to be a federal lottery, the Obama administration should use it as an incentive for saving, a free ticket, say, for every ten bucks banked. Penalize carbon use by taxing gas so that it's $4 a gallon regardless of market price, curbing gas guzzlers and promoting efficient public transportation. And how about policies that give producers incentives to target real needs, even where the needy are short of cash, rather than to manufacture faux needs for the wealthy just because they've got the cash?

Or better yet, take in earnest that insincere MasterCard ad, and consider all the things money can't buy (most things!). Change some habits and restore the balance between body and spirit. Refashion the cultural ethos by taking culture seriously. The arts play a large role in fostering the noncommercial aspects of society. It's time, finally, for a cabinet-level arts and humanities post to foster creative thinking within government as well as throughout the country. Time for serious federal arts education money to teach the young the joys and powers of imagination, creativity and culture, as doers and spectators rather than consumers.

Recreation and physical activity are also public goods not dependent on private purchase. They call for parks and biking paths rather than multiplexes and malls. Speaking of the multiplex, why has the new communications technology been left almost entirely to commerce? Its architecture is democratic, and its networking potential is deeply social. Yet for the most part, it has been put to private and commercial rather than educational and cultural uses. Its democratic and artistic possibilities need to be elaborated, even subsidized.

Of course, much of what is required cannot be leveraged by government policy alone, or by a stimulus package and new regulations over the securities and banking markets. A cultural ethos is at stake. For far too long our primary institutions--from education and advertising to politics and entertainment--have prized consumerism above everything else, even at the price of infantilizing society. If spirit is to have a chance, they must join the revolution.

The costs of such a transformation will undoubtedly be steep, since they are likely to prolong the recession. Capitalists may be required to take risks they prefer to socialize (i.e., make taxpayers shoulder them). They will be asked to create new markets rather than exploit and abuse old ones; to simultaneously jump-start investments and inventions that create jobs and help generate those new consumers who will buy the useful and necessary things capitalists make once they start addressing real needs (try purifying tainted water in the Third World rather than bottling tap water in the First!).

The good news is, people are already spending less, earning before buying (using those old-fashioned layaway plans) and feeling relieved at the shopping quasi-moratorium. Suddenly debit cards are the preferred plastic. Parental "gatekeepers" are rebelling against marketers who treat their 4-year-olds as consumers-to-be. Adults are questioning brand identities and the infantilization of their tastes. They are out in front of the politicians, who still seem addicted to credit as a cure-all for the economic crisis.

And Barack Obama? We elected a president committed in principle to deep change. Rather than try to back out of the mess we are in, why not find a way forward? What if Obama committed the United States to reducing consumer spending from 70 percent of GDP to 50 percent over the next ten years, bringing it to roughly where Germany's GDP is today? The Germans have a commensurate standard of living and considerably greater equality. Imagine all the things we could do without having to shop: play and pray, create and relate, read and walk, listen and procreate--make art, make friends, make homes, make love.

Sound too soft? Too idealistic? If we are to survive the collapse of the unsustainable consumer capitalism that has possessed our body politic over the past three decades, idealism must become the new realism. For if the contest is between the material body defined by solipsistic acquisitiveness and the human spirit defined by imagination and compassion, then a purely technical economic response is what will be too soft, promising little more than a restoration of that shopaholic hell of hyper-consumerism that occasioned the current disaster.

There are epic moments in history, often catalyzed by catastrophe, that permit fundamental cultural change. The Civil War not only brought an end to slavery but knit together a wounded country, opened the West and spurred capitalist investment in ways that created the modern American nation. The Great Depression legitimized a radical expansion of democratic interventionism; but more important, it made Americans aware of how crucial equality and social justice (buried in capitalism's first century) were to America's survival as a democracy.

Today we find ourselves in another such seminal moment. Will we use it to rethink the meaning of capitalism and the relationship between our material bodies and the spirited psyches they are meant to serve? Between the commodity fetishism and single-minded commercialism that we have allowed to dominate us, and the pluralism, heterogeneity and spiritedness that constitute our professed national character?

President Obama certainly inspired many young people to think beyond themselves--beyond careerism and mindless consumerism. But our tendency is to leave the "higher" things to high-minded rhetoric and devote policy to the material. Getting people to understand that happiness cannot be bought, and that consumerism wears out not only the sole and the wallet but the will and the soul--that capitalism cannot survive long-term on credit and consumerism--demands programs and people, not just talk.

The convergence of Obama's election and the collapse of the global credit economy marks a moment when radical change is possible. But we will need the new president's leadership to turn the economic disaster into a cultural and democratic opportunity: to make service as important as selfishness (what about a national service program, universal and mandatory, linked to education?); to render community no less valid than individualism (lost social capital can be re-created through support for civil society); to make the needs of the spirit as worthy of respect as those of the body (assist the arts and don't chase religion out of the public square just because we want it out of City Hall); to make equality as important as individual opportunity ("equal opportunity" talk has become a way to avoid confronting deep structural inequality); to make prudence and modesty values no less commendable than speculation and hubris (saving is not just good economic policy; it's a beneficent frame of mind). Such values are neither conservative nor liberal but are at once cosmopolitan and deeply American. Their restoration could inaugurate a quiet revolution.

The struggle for the soul of capitalism is, then, a struggle between the nation's economic body and its civic soul: a struggle to put capitalism in its proper place, where it serves our nature and needs rather than manipulating and fabricating whims and wants. (Editor's emphasis throughout) Saving capitalism means bringing it into harmony with spirit--with prudence, pluralism and those "things of the public" (res publica) that define our civic souls. A revolution of the spirit.

Is the new president up to it? Are we?

NOTE:

Interestingly, this author has provided--albeit in a secular way--a reasonable description of Roman Catholic Church teaching with respect to Social Justice specifically from the perspective of economics--the need to insure a properly managed type of free market Capitalism--eschewing as it does both unbridled Capitalism and atheistic Communism/Socialism. The current economic disaster in the US is in large part the result of excessive de-regulation of the Banking industry and a failure to properly regulate markets.

--Dr. J. P. Hubert