Monday, December 8, 2008

Higher education costs soar

Higher education costs soar

By Ed Hightower

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A recently released study on the costs of higher education in the US reveals an explosion in college costs and a severe decline in American families’ ability to pay for it. The National Report Card from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education graded the 50 US states on various facets of higher education, giving 49 of them an F in affordability.

California, with its relatively accessible community colleges, received a C-. It should be noted that California’s grade does not take into account newly proposed budget cuts, which would see $132 million slashed from the University of California and state colleges systems. (See “California budget in free-fall as new round of cuts is proposed” )

The Report Card offers many revealing statistics that give lie to the notion of equal educational opportunity in the US. The cost of a higher education has increased by a staggering 439 percent since 1982, rising more than medical care (251 percent) and far more than the Consumer Price Index (106 percent). The authors note that the stagnation and decline of real income for much of the workforce has exacerbated the increased college costs, with middle and lower income families affected much more than wealthier ones.

A chart in the study displays US household income, separated into quintiles, from lowest to highest. For each quintile, average college costs as a percentage of income are compared from 1999-2000 and 2007-2008. For the lowest income quintile, the percentage of household income represented by average college costs leaped from 39 percent in 1999-2000 to 55 percent in 2007-2008, essentially putting college education out of reach for these families. For the second lowest income quintile, the figure increased from 23 percent to 33 percent of household income. In the fourth and fifth quintiles, the percentage increase was only 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. The latter figures underscore the tremendous growth of inequality over the last decade.

The Report Card also notes a substantial rise in the number of students taking on debt to finance their educations. This number has risen from just over 4 million in 1997-1998 to just over 6 million in 2006-2007. (See “Declining social conditions of students and youth in the US” )

Highlighting another aspect of the affordability crisis, the study notes that financial aid granted by colleges and universities tends to go to those who can already afford an education. The educational institutions use their financial aid funds largely to attract the most qualified students to improve their rankings, rather than to help those most in need of financial assistance.

In 2003-2004, for instance, four-year institutions gave financial aid to only 36 percent of students, whose parents earned under $20,000 yearly, with an average award of $4,700. Meanwhile, 29 percent of students whose parents made over $100,000 received financial aid. While this percentage was slightly lower, the average award was significantly more, $6,200.

By all indications, the deepening recession will force educational institutions to raise tuition even higher. Other factors contributing to the rise are state budget shortfalls and the decline of university endowments.

A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislators found that only 12 of the 50 US states do not currently face a budget deficit. At least 10 states have slashed their budgets by 7 percent, reducing basic services—from fire fighting, to road maintenance, to elementary education. Depressed economic activity, including the dramatic decrease in consumer spending, has reduced most forms of state revenue, including income, corporate and sales taxes.

President-elect Barack Obama recently told a meeting of the National Governors Association that states needed to be prepared to make “hard choices” on spending. (See “Obama warns US governors of ‘hard choices’” ) State budgets, which have already slashed funds for social spending, will inevitably target state colleges and universities. These cuts will be passed on to students in the form of increased tuition, forcing some students to abandon their college educations altogether.

Revenues for institutions of higher learning are also generated from the investment of endowments. With the steep fall in the stock market, endowment values are plummeting. The Wall Street Journal reported that Harvard University’s endowment, the nation’s largest, has lost 22 percent of its value in the last four months alone. That amounts to more than $8 billion, more than the value of most other schools’ entire endowments. Harvard expects these losses to reach 30 percent by July 2009.

The University of Virginia’s endowment lost 18 percent of its value over the same period, while Middlebury College in Vermont saw a 14.4 percent decline. Endowment values dropped 25 percent for both Grinnell College in Iowa and Amherst College in Massachusetts.

Obama calls for “shared burdens” in US economic crisis

Obama calls for “shared burdens” in US economic crisis

By Patrick Martin

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In a radio address Saturday and a television interview broadcast Sunday morning, President-elect Barack Obama said that the US economy was declining rapidly and warned that conditions would continue to worsen in the first months of his administration. Clearly concerned about the growing mood of anger in the working class over attacks on jobs and living standards, he acknowledged the “rising unease and frustration that so many of you are feeling during this holiday season.”

Obama used his radio speech Saturday to propose a public works program directed at renovating public buildings to make them more energy-efficient, rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools, and expanding broadband Internet access and the use of electronic medical records in healthcare.

The scale of this initiative, despite media headlines comparing it to Roosevelt’s New Deal, is quite modest. Even if carried out to Obama’s specifications, the plan would create only enough new jobs in 2009 and 2010 to make up for those already destroyed since the recession began one year ago.

Obama conceded as much in his radio address. “We need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least two-and-a-half million jobs,” he said, “so that the nearly two million Americans who’ve lost them know that they have a future.”

At the present pace of job destruction—more than one million in the past three months—Obama’s hypothetical 2.5 million new jobs would be wiped out in eight months.

Perhaps more significant, however, is what Obama did not say in the speech. He made no reference to the rebuilding of New Orleans, virtually destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as the Bush administration stood by and did nothing. He said nothing about combating poverty or reversing the industrial decline that has devastated cities like Detroit and Cleveland for decades.

He sought to downplay expectations about his economic plan by comparing it, not to the New Deal, but to the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s. “We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s,” Obama said.

In that period, the interstate highway system was backed by both Democrats and Republicans, not as a jobs or infrastructure program, but as a military necessity for the Cold War with the Soviet Union. According to its advocates, the highway network would speed the mobilization of American military forces against a foreign invader, as well as the evacuation of cities in the event of a thermonuclear World War III. It also served as a massive government boondoggle for the US auto industry, then at the peak of its profitability and world dominance.

In his interview on the NBC television program Meet the Press, conducted Saturday and broadcast Sunday morning, Obama repeated his warnings about the dire state of the US economy, declaring,

“If you think about the fragility of the financial system and the fact that it is now a global financial system, so that what happens in Thailand or Russia can have an impact here, and, obviously, what happens on Wall Street has an impact worldwide, when you think about the structural problems that we already had in the economy before the financial crisis, this is a big problem and it’s going to get worse.”

Claiming that he was “constantly mindful” of the conditions facing working people, he claimed, “That’s why my number one priority coming in is making sure that we’ve got an economic recovery plan that is equal to the task.” Neither Obama nor his interviewer, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, took note of the obvious fact that the stimulus plan proposed by the president-elect is, by his own description, completely unequal to the task.

Instead, Brokaw asked questions that suggested the Obama was going too far in his economic and tax policies and that he should be tougher on the victims of the economic crisis—those losing their jobs and their homes—and more amenable to the concerns of the wealthy, particularly on taxes. Obama continued to distance himself from his campaign promise to repeal the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, telling Brokaw that his economic advisers were still debating whether to repeal the windfall for the rich or merely let the tax cuts expire as scheduled by law at the end of 2010.

The president-elect also addressed the imminent collapse of the auto industry. In his most explicit comments on the subject, Obama maintained that auto workers as well as executives, stockholders and dealers would have to make sacrifices.

He reiterated his position that the Democratic-controlled Congress had done “the exact right thing” by rejecting initial appeals for a bailout and instead demanding a plan that “holds the auto industry’s feet to the fire.” He told Brokaw, “The last thing I want to see happen is for the auto industry to disappear, but I’m also concerned that we don’t put $10 billion or $20 billion or $30 billion or whatever billion dollars into an industry, and then, six months to a year later, they come back hat in hand and say, ‘Give me more.’”

Obama continued, “What we have to do is to provide them with assistance, but that assistance is conditioned on them making significant adjustments. They’re going to have to restructure, and all their stakeholders are going to have to restructure. Labor, management, shareholders, creditors—everybody’s going to recognize that they have—they do not have a sustainable business model right now.”

Obama rejected the suggestion that the auto companies should go through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, saying that this might have been possible in other circumstances, but not under the conditions of the current financial crisis. He called for “a new ethic of responsibility where we say that if you’re laying off workers, the least you can do, when you’re making $25 million a year, is give up some of your compensation and some of your bonuses. Figure out ways in which workers maybe have to take a haircut, but they can still keep their jobs, they can still keep their health care and they can still stay in their homes. That kind of notion of shared benefits and burdens is something that I think has been lost for too long, and it’s something that I’d like to see restored.”

If one examines his language carefully, and thinks through the implications, Obama has spelled out a program that is tailored to serve the class interests of the US financial aristocracy at the expense of working people. Talk of “shared benefits and burdens” is a sham and a delusion when applied to the capitalist system, in which the surplus value generated by the labor of millions of workers is appropriated for the exclusive benefit of a relative handful of capitalists and bankers.

The auto executives who have run the industry into the ground, and who are widely described even in the corporate-controlled media as incompetent, short-sighted and selfish, will have their multi-million-dollar compensation trimmed a little. The workers who actually produce the cars will suffer tens of thousands of layoffs, and those who keep their jobs will be paid at the bare minimum required for survival—Obama suggests that they should be able to “keep their health care and … still stay in their homes.” The workers in the largest US industry should not be made homeless—what generosity!

This combination of defense of the profit system and lip service to the interests of working people was on display again Sunday afternoon, when Obama held a press conference in Chicago to announce the appointment of retired General Eric A. Shinseki as secretary of veterans affairs. This appointment is another olive branch to the military brass, following the selection of retired General James A. Jones as national security adviser and the retention of Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates.

The final question at the press conference came from a Chicago reporter who asked Obama about the actions of workers at a local factory who have begun an occupation to demand payment of vacation and severance pay following the sudden closure of the plant. Obama declared that the workers “were absolutely right,” and sought to portray himself as their advocate.

Another such gesture came from Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, who Friday appointed a liberal economist, Jared Bernstein, to the newly created position of chief economic adviser to the vice president. Bernstein is an expert in the field of income inequality and has long been associated with the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank financed by the AFL-CIO.

This appointment is another fig leaf, coming after complaints that Obama had filled the White House and cabinet with Wall Street figures like New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner, the incoming treasury secretary, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, head of Obama’s National Economic Council, and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who will be Obama’s top adviser in formulating an economic recovery plan.

Unemployed and Hungry in the US

Unemployed and Hungry in the US


Jobless numbers highest in 15 years, food stamp users hit record 31.6 million or 1 in 10 Americans

6 Minute Video Report

More than half a million jobs were lost in the US in November, the largest loss in a single month since 1974. Though initially the announcement had a negative effect on the markets, by the end of the day Wall Street again forgot about the little guy, the Dow closed up 260 points. The more than 1.2 million jobs lost over the past 3 months, and the 11th straight month of job losses, bring the unemployment rate to 6.7 per cent, the highest in 15 years. Also this week the Department of Agriculture released figures that show food stamp beneficiaries increased by 17 percent in the past year. That’s more than 31.6 million or 1 out of every 10 people in the US receiving food stamps or taking part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. TRNN spoke Dedrick Muhammad of the Institute for Policy Studies. Muhammad says that 6.7 percent is not the true unemployment number because it does not include the underemployed and those who have stopped looking for work. Muhammad also says that the bailout is a "trickle down" bailout, that by giving money to the wealthiest institutions somehow this is supposed to help the middle class and working class.

Unemployed and Hungry in the US Jobless numbers highest in 15 years, food stamp users hit record 31.6 million or 1 in 10 Americans

Unemployed and Hungry in the US


Jobless numbers highest in 15 years, food stamp users hit record 31.6 million or 1 in 10 Americans

6 Minute Video Report

More than half a million jobs were lost in the US in November, the largest loss in a single month since 1974. Though initially the announcement had a negative effect on the markets, by the end of the day Wall Street again forgot about the little guy, the Dow closed up 260 points. The more than 1.2 million jobs lost over the past 3 months, and the 11th straight month of job losses, bring the unemployment rate to 6.7 per cent, the highest in 15 years. Also this week the Department of Agriculture released figures that show food stamp beneficiaries increased by 17 percent in the past year. That’s more than 31.6 million or 1 out of every 10 people in the US receiving food stamps or taking part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. TRNN spoke Dedrick Muhammad of the Institute for Policy Studies. Muhammad says that 6.7 percent is not the true unemployment number because it does not include the underemployed and those who have stopped looking for work. Muhammad also says that the bailout is a "trickle down" bailout, that by giving money to the wealthiest institutions somehow this is supposed to help the middle class and working class.

Company Crashes Set to Hit Record Next Year

Company Crashes Set to Hit Record Next Year

By Richard Milne and Anousha Sakoui in London

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Record numbers of companies will go bankrupt next year with 200,000 insolvencies in Europe alone and "an explosion" of failed businesses in the US, according to the world's largest credit insurer.

The US will see 62,000 companies go bust next year, compared with 42,000 this year and 28,000 last year, says a report by Euler Hermes, part of German insurer Allianz.

The absolute numbers, however, pale in comparison with the figures from western Europe, where the larger number of small companies mean insolvencies are expected to rise by a third from 149,000 last year to

"The financial crisis will increase the risk of bankruptcy dramatically, particularly next year," said Romeo Grill, chief economist at Euler Hermes. "There will be an explosion in the US but also big rises in Europe and especially the UK."

Mr Grill said he expected most company failures in Europe to be focused around the struggling car, retail and textile sectors as well as logistics.

The country with the highest number of insolvencies expected for next year is France with 63,000. But in Europe, Spain, Ireland and the UK are forecast to see the most dramatic rises.

Nearly four times as many Spanish companies will go bust next year as in 2007 while it will be nearly double in Ireland and the UK with 640 and 38,000 businesses respectively.

Japan, the only Asian country in the survey, will also be hit with the number of bankruptcies rising from 14,000 last year to 17,000 next. All countries except Japan will see more insolvencies than in the previous downturn of 2001-02.

The Euler Hermes report comes after Moody's, the ratings agency, forecast last month that defaults among companies with junk ratings below investment grade will rise from last year's 1 per cent to 10 per cent next year. But the Euler Hermes survey is more comprehensive as relatively few companies have any kind of credit rating.

Companies around the world have complained about getting credit. The volume of new loans arranged for companies globally has fallen off a cliff this year and deteriorated even faster during the past two months. Syndicated lending to investment-grade and junk-rated borrowers has roughly halved in both Europe and the US compared with last year but remained stable in Asia, according to data providers Dealogic.

One difference in this downturn is that larger companies appear to be suffering as much as their smaller counterparts.

One Thriving Sector: The Business Of War

One Thriving Sector: The Business Of War

Pentagon's contractors are looking for help

By Robert Weisman

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Across the nation, companies are lopping off hundreds of thousands of jobs, retailers are shuttering stores, and automakers are tottering on the edge of bankruptcy.

But here in the Merrimack River Valley, and over the state line at several industrial sites around Massachusetts, defense contractor BAE Systems is hoisting "Help Wanted" signs.

BAE develops technology in fields like electronic warfare and cybersecurity, sophisticated systems that are key to combating a new wave of threats around the globe. At a time when 1.7 million jobs have been lost in the United States this year, the company is hiring 200 engineers and manufacturing workers in Nashua, Hudson, and Merrimack, N.H., and Burlington, Lexington, and Marlborough, Mass.

Other defense electronics contractors, such as Waltham's Raytheon Co. and General Dynamics Corp.'s communications systems center in Taunton, also continue to ramp up. Such companies remain awash in orders from the Pentagon and American allies increasingly worried about terrorism and missile proliferation. They are also facing the pending retirement of many baby boomers in their labor force, a factor lending greater urgency to their hiring efforts.

"We're acting very aggressively when we find a good match," said Christopher Sherman, engineering manager at BAE's Electronics & Integrated Solutions division here.

The company has already hired 475 people in New Hampshire and Massachusetts this year, mostly to meet growing demand, but in some cases, to replace departing workers.

Back-to-back BAE job fairs Tuesday and Wednesday drew 1,462 candidates, including recent college graduates in pressed suits, Cold War-era defense industry veterans with salt-and-pepper hair, and commercial engineers who had previously worked at computer software or telecommunications companies. All hoped to land jobs at BAE's electronics programs, some of which are highly classified.

"I've challenged my team to hire 70 people out of this crowd tonight," said Amanda Arria, the company's Northeast regional talent acquisition manager, pointing to lines of applicants waiting to meet with hiring managers in the BAE cafeteria Tuesday night.

Patricia Heckley, 50, a software engineer from nearby Tyngsborough, Mass., stood in one of the lines. Heckley said she had never worked in the defense industry, but was confident her skills were transferable in a period when high-tech companies are scaling back. "It's a jump, but I think it's a reachable jump," she said.

Hunting for his first job was Curtis Jerry, 22, of Sanbornton, N.H., who graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute earlier this year. "I love defense in general, because that's where all the interesting technology is now," Jerry said. "I'd really like to work testing guidance and navigation systems, but I'd do just about anything."

BAE and other military contractors have become islands of growth in a national job market that is underwater.

The growth in defense may not continue for long. Industry analysts are projecting budget cuts in major US weapons programs as the war in Iraq winds down and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama wrestles with other priorities. Defense spending has climbed steadily during the Bush administration, reaching $671.7 billion in the 2008 fiscal year, including emergency supplemental appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That represents a 72 percent increase from fiscal 2000, after adjusting for inflation.

But the budget reductions are not likely to start until next fall, when President Obama's national security team will be in place and the next federal budget year begins, suggested Loren B. Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank.

"There will be breathing space because of the rhythm of the budget cycle," Thompson said.

"And even when the cuts come, some companies, because of what they do or because of emerging threats, will fare pretty well. Companies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire will weather the downturn better than others are likely to."

One reason is that, rather than building entire jets, ships, tanks, or ground installations, many of the region's defense firms develop the electronics, combat, and communications systems they use. Even when a massive weapons program is cut back, as the Navy's $20 billion DDG 1000 destroyer program was last summer, contractors like Raytheon can market their combat systems for use in other new ships or in older vessels in the Navy fleet.

Area contractors, for instance, work on electronic eavesdropping, signal processing for radar systems, and equipment used to integrate intelligence from different sources, technologies critical to helping the US military and allies battle terrorists in multiple countries. General Dynamics, at its Taunton site, is developing a new generation of command, control, and communications systems that enable the Army to coordinate simultaneous operations at far-flung locations.

The economic downturn has given defense contractors a boost by expanding the pool of potential employees, since workers from civilian industries have lost jobs due to cutbacks.

But the ongoing housing slump has made it difficult for workers from other states to sell their homes and move to New England, forcing contractors here to compete with one another for local talent.

"To move people right now is problematic," said Keith J. Peden, senior vice president of human resources at Raytheon headquarters. "That makes the universe we recruit from smaller."
Raytheon, which is sitting on a $37 billion order backlog, has added more than 200 jobs so far this year at more than a dozen sites in Massachusetts, from Tewksbury to Marlborough. The company projects that it could add another 400 jobs in 2009, in programs ranging from border security and training systems to radar and Patriot missiles.

Over the past year, US allies such as Kuwait, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, jittery over the missile threat from Iran and North Korea, have placed orders for Raytheon's antimissile Patriot weapon systems.

Peace By Cindy Sheehan

Peace

By Cindy Sheehan

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Today is the 67th anniversary of the "day that will live in infamy." Likely, if you were alive 67 years ago, you were a very young person. I know a few people who can still remember when the Japanese attacked a US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, but I remember the stories that my parents told me about that day.


My mom was sitting at the kitchen table eating biscuits when she heard the news on the radio: she was 10 years old. My dad lived in Oklahoma, but my mom lived in Hawthorne, California so her family was terrified that California would be struck soon. I can imagine that in years to come, my children will be telling their children about what they were doing when they heard that the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were attacked on 9-11-01.

There was already a terrible world war raging on December 7th, 1941, but that was the symbolic day that the US entered WWII. The event led to Congress formally declaring war against Japan four days after the attack. Even though the US has been embroiled in many wars, police actions and covert wars since then, this was the last time that a war was constitutionally declared. Not that it makes violence correct, but the "manual" was followed. Millions of people perished in World War II and weapons of mass destruction were unleashed by the US on innocent civilians.

The US and the USSR emerged from WWII as the world's "Super-Powers." The "Super" powers of the US appear to be violent intimidation and gross militarism. The USSR Empire has already crumbled under the weight of its military machine and it looks like the US won't be far behind, especially with President-Elect Obama wanting to foolishly increase the mistake in Afghanistan. Will someone please tell him that Afghanistan has been the burial ground of many Empires----or don't tell him, it is time for the US military Empire to crumble, too.

If the USA had a national Peace Movement, Obama would not be our President-Elect right now. Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh) would have been the nominee for the Democrats and Ron Paul (R-Tx) would have been nominated from the GOP and Cynthia McKinney (G) and Ralph Nader (I) would have had seats at debates. What we have here in the US is an "anti-war" movement that is selective in its opposition to war. It seems that for many of the national organizations, Democratic Wars are okay, while Republican Wars are bad. That's why we need a movement with integrity and vision that doesn't exist to shill for the Democrats, but exists to be the clarion call that ALL violence is wrong and solving problems using violence or the threat of violence is a crime against humanity and always criminally prosecutable---whether George Bush or Barack Obama is the one making these threats or promising escalation of violence. The use of violence is inherently wrong in an individual and millions of times worse coming from a state.

Last year, on the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, I called for a mass mobilization in Washington, DC, but the leaders of some national organizations did not want to "embarrass the Democrats." What is going to happen now that we will have a Democrat as President in 2009, on the 6th anniversary of the invasion? Obama is a President who is clearly not only not a "Peace President" (is there such a thing?) or even "anti-war." He never promised an immediate and complete withdrawal from Iraq and has promised to escalate the violence in Afghanistan. These were his campaign promises, folks. Obama has betrayed the base that got him elected by exploiting this mis-perception of himself to win and then appointing people to his Cabinet that are causing the neocon hawks to swoon with joy.

The tiny Peace Movement that we do have in the US has always said that the US invasions and occupations of BOTH Iraq and Afghanistan are illegal and immoral and our troops should be brought home immediately and the US Empire should be reduced to a size that can be drowned in a bath tub. The "anti-war" movement was always very careful to make a distinction between Iraq (bad) and Afghanistan (justified) which to me was always a failure and bad reasoning that would eventually harm the integrity of the movement.

You know the US Peace Movement.You have seen it at work. The members ride their bikes or take public transportation to protests, or drive ancient vehicles seemingly held together by bumper stickers. They are the ones that stand outside of prisons holding candles protesting the state-sanctioned murder of even one individual. They are the ones that kneel in front of the White House in orange jumpsuits protesting torture. They are the ones that gather in the thousands every year to demand the closing of the School of the Americas (WINSEC). The Peace Movement knows that violence is self-perpetuating and creates more violence. The Peace Movement does the hard work of confronting Empire and does it in a peaceful, yet righteously strident, way.

The Anti-Republican-War movement are the ones that hold marches on the weekends where the status-quo won't be inconvenienced, pat themselves on the back, and then go to their national meetings to plan how more Democrats can be elected.

Working for Peace is not monetarily rewarding, but the lined faces of the people I know who have worked for Peace for decades glow with the satisfaction of the work and are faces that can be looked at in a mirror without shame.

The Anti-Republican-War Movement will stand down during the Obama regime and "give him a chance." The Peace movement is still working and will continue to work no matter whom is President.

Peace is not for cowards. Peace takes a lot of work, resources and energy. Most people do not have the will or stamina for peace.

The Peace Movement demanded from Bush and will demand from Obama a complete and immediate withdrawal of US Forces and independent contractors from Iraq and Afghanistan and a declared end to the USA's War of Terror.

We demand that ALLl torture prisons, in Guantanamo Cuba and around the world be closed and that the humans incarcerated in those prisons be released, or tried with full protection of commonly held law (that used to exist in the US) and that the Military Commission's Act be repealed.

We demand that the US take a more balanced approach to Israel's occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people and work with the international community to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

We demand that the USA PATRIOT ACT be repealed. (Obama voted to renew it).

We demand that the FISA Modernization Act be repealed. (Obama voted to take away our 4th amendment rights).

We demand that most of the 800+ US bases around the world be closed and our troops brought back to their home bases and attrition be used to reduce the size of our "standing Army" that is un-Constitutional, anyway.

We demand that the US military be reduced to a size that can be used for defensive purposes, natural disasters and international emergencies only---not be built up with another 100,000 troops. (Another Obama campaign promise).

We demand that the budget for the Pentagon be reduced dramatically and the money be used for education, jobs and health care here in the US. If everyone (not just the wealthy) had easy access to these basic human rights, then why would there become a part of the US military Empire?

We demand that the Posse Comitatus Act be fully restored so US forces and weapons CANNOT be used against we citizens.

Not only do we demand these things, but if you look carefully, you will see us out in the streets working for these things. Working for Peace puts one at odds against a corrupt two party system that always works for war.

I can't imagine a better place to be or a better thing to be doing.

The Obama administration will definitely separate the "wheat from the chaff" and we will see who really want true peace and those who will accept Democratic violence.

War Made Easy

War Made Easy

Must Watch Video

War Made Easy reaches into the Orwellian memory hole to expose a 50-year pattern of government deception and media spin that has dragged the United States into one war after another from Vietnam to Iraq.

Narrated by actor and activist Sean Penn, the film exhumes remarkable archival footage of official distortion and exaggeration from LBJ to George W. Bush, revealing in stunning detail how the American news media have uncritically disseminated the pro-war messages of successive presidential administration

U.S. Collective Dictatorship Enlarges

U.S. Collective Dictatorship Enlarges

By Michael S. Rozeff

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Dictatorship is unlimited rule. Collective dictatorship is unlimited rule by an assembly. National government in the U.S. has tended toward collective dictatorship over its entire history.

No new alarm bell is rung when I say that the U.S. collective dictatorship is now enlarging, for that is its usual tendency. We recognize this tendency at the grass-roots level by the increasing control that government has over our personal lives. There is almost nothing that we do that is not touched by government rules and power. We cannot work, play, invest, obtain medical care, drive a car, eat, smoke, speak, gesture, wash, have a baby, buy or sell a good, or even have a bowel movement without encountering the government.

Yet the alarm bell needs now more than ever to be rung loudly and vigorously, for the most recent enlargement is coming in the area of financial control over the banking system and thus the economy. What is left of liberty in America faces an extremely dangerous threat. It is all the more serious because it is not widely recognized as a threat.

To understand what is happening now in the U.S., it is useful to compare the parallel developments that occurred in Nazi Germany. The German central bank, the Reichsbank, was far more restricted by law (before 1939) than our central bank, the Federal Reserve (Fed) in the kinds and amounts of loans it could make. The Fed, in this sense, is far more powerful than the Reichsbank was before 1939. The Reichsbank was, like the Fed, independent of the government. The German government could not order it to make loans to the government, for example. This situation changed in 1939 when the Nazi government needed more funds to finance its armament build-up. At that point, the government basically absorbed the Reichsbank.

It helps to read the words of Hjalmar Schacht, who headed the Reichsbank between 1933 and the time of his dismissal in early 1939. Schacht is something of a controversial figure in history. In 1946 he was tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg where he testified. Dr. Schacht, who was acquitted, had ended up in a concentration camp. An extended discussion of Schacht’s activities that brings out the negatives is contained here. A less critical account is here.

Here is some of what Schacht testified that is germane today:

"Consequently, when it became clear that Hitler was working toward a further increase in rearmament – and I spoke about that yesterday in connection with the conversation of the 2nd of January, 1939 – when we became aware of that, we wrote the memorandum which has been quoted here and is in the hands of this Tribunal as an exhibit. It indicates clearly that we opposed every further increase of State expenditure and would not assume responsibility for it. From that, Hitler gathered that he would in no event be able to use the Reichsbank with its present directorate and president for any future financial purposes. Therefore, there remained only one alternative; to change the directorate, because without the Reichsbank he could not go on. And he had to take a second step; he had to change the Reichsbank Law. That is to say, an end had to be put to the independence of the Reichsbank from governmental decrees. At first he did that in a secret law – we had such things – of 19th or 20th January, 1939. That law was published only about six months later. That law abolished the independence of the Reichsbank, and the president of the Reichsbank became a mere bank teller for the credit demands of the Reich or, that is to say, of Hitler."

Schacht makes crystal clear that the central bank was essential for the government to be able to arm the country and make war. Without the bank, Hitler "could not go on." He would not be able to use the bank "for any future financial purpose" such as paying for armaments. Furthermore, if the bank would not cooperate, then "an end had to be put to the independence of the Reichsbank from governmental decrees." That having been done by Hitler, the president of the bank "became a mere bank teller for the credit demands of the Reich or, that is to say, of Hitler."

These observations about the role and necessity of the central bank in supporting the government, usually in its war efforts, and of the threat to the bank’s independence are as true of the United States as they were of Nazi Germany. As bad as the Fed is, our liberty declines even more when, as, and if the Fed becomes a direct arm of the government. This has happened before. The Fed supported the U.S. government bond market during World War II, which laid the foundation for the resulting inflation:

"The Federal Reserve System formally committed to maintaining a low interest rate peg on government bonds in 1942 after the United States entered World War II. It did so at the request of the Treasury to allow the federal government to engage in cheaper debt financing of the war. To maintain the pegged rate, the Fed was forced to give up control of the size of its portfolio as well as the money stock."

Central banks are brought into being and allowed extraordinary powers with the overriding aim of supporting government borrowing, often for purposes of making war, and with inflation being the accompanying method by which this support is rendered. I quote: "Many on the Board of Governors, including Marriner Eccles, understood that the forced obligation to maintain the low peg on interest rates produced an excessive monetary expansion that caused the inflation." Similarly, we are told concerning Schacht: "Schacht had always feared an inflation in Germany. As early as 8 May 1936, he emphatically stated that he would ‘never be party to an inflation’ (1301-PS). In January 1939, Schacht was convinced that ruinous inflation was, in fact, imminent (EC-369). There was, it appears, ample basis for his fear. The Finance Minister, von Krosigk, had already recognized the situation in September 1938, and had written to Hitler warning that we are steering towards a serious financial crisis..."

Because Schacht’s official central banking powers were not as great as the Fed’s, he hid what he did to get around the law and help finance Hitler. In the U.S., the Fed has so much power that it can do openly what Schacht did secretly. In that sense, we are further along the path of collective dictatorship than Germany in the 1930s. Schacht set up a dummy corporation, called MEFO for short, that "bought" arms from the arms manufacturers. It accepted the (mefo) bills of these manufacturers who then were able to discount them at banks and get paid. The banks then discounted them with the Reichsbank. Lo and behold, inflationary finance paid for the arms production in huge amounts, circumventing the law’s prohibitions.

Bernanke makes Schacht look like a piker. In the U.S., the Fed has no statutory limits on its finance! It is openly financing whatever institutions it pleases. It has extended $56 billion to AIG company, another $298 billion for the commercial paper of various companies, and $407 billion to banks using its own holdings of Treasury securities. The critics of these loans are vastly outnumbered by those applauding the Fed’s inflation as the means of saving America. The sycophants eagerly await the Fed’s next moves. The Fed is preparing the way by leaking to the press hints of "unconventional steps." These will involve interventions in markets such as mortgage markets. Bernanke and Company seem to have none of the fear that Schacht had of inflation or being held responsible for inflation.

When the dictatorship, embodied in one person or in a collective, obtains the unlimited ability to finance its purposes, there is no stopping it except by restraining its powers; and that takes a revolution or, at a bare minimum, the deposition of persons from the government and replacement by those willing to abridge the government’s powers, if such a thing is possible.

Hitler ended the independence of the Reichsbank by secret decree. Such matters are handled slightly differently in the U.S. Secrecy does not seem to be necessary, inasmuch as the mainstream media do not understand what is going on and, in any event, promote the party line, that is, the official interpretation of official acts. If the Treasury absorbed the Federal Reserve, it would no doubt be treated as a welcome event rather than an enlargement of the collective dictatorship.

The President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Timothy Geithner, has been appointed as the new Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner is a government man through and through. He believes in intervention and bailouts. His name comes up again and again in accounts of the various programs. There could not be much more of an incestuous relation between Treasury and Fed than this one, short of Bernanke becoming chief teller of the Fed for the Government, which he already appears to be.

The Treasury has taken preferred stock positions in the largest banks in America. This is part and parcel of Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which is openly dictatorial.

We are entering upon a sequence of events that will, in the end, transform the American economy even more than now into a slow-growth, no-growth, inflationary, regulated, stalled, and inefficient economy. It will be a miracle if the Fed’s expansion is brought under control and reduced. The Fed will maintain its lending and even expand it. This can only atrophy both the banking system and the capital markets. Inflationary pressures are bound to build up, and that will lead to economic controls. The Treasury will look for ways to regulate capital markets still further, and this will undermine them. There is no worse signal than the Treasury’s intrusion into maintaining zombie institutions that should fail and be re-organized. This has already happened in the cases of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

This all means that efficient institutions, companies, and persons will be penalized at the expense of the inefficient ones or the deadbeats. More and more will buy tickets to Washington to beg for relief. The end of the road is government control of the means of production. When companies can no longer finance themselves through the standard private means of capital markets and banks, they turn to government. When government can no longer handle the bankruptcies, it seizes the means of production.

Bush Regime Declares Itself Above the Law

Bush Regime Declares Itself Above the Law

By Paul Craig Roberts

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The US government does not have a monopoly on hypocrisy, but no other government can match the hypocrisy of the US government.

It is now well documented and known all over the world that the US government tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and that the US government has had people kidnaped and “rendentioned,” that is, transported to third world countries, such as Egypt, to be tortured.

Also documented and well known is the fact that the US Department of Justice provided written memos justifying the torture of detainees. One torture advocate who wrote the DOJ memos that gave the green light to the Bush regime’s use of torture is John Yoo, a Vietnamese immigrant who somehow secured a US Justice Department appointment and a tenured professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law. John Yoo is the best case against immigration that I know.

Members of Berkeley’s city council believe that Yoo should be charged with war crimes. The US government has charged lesser offenders than Yoo with war crimes. Yoo helped the DOJ achieve the Bush regime’s goal of finding a way around the torture prohibitions of both US statutory law and the Geneva Conventions.

The way around the law that Yoo provided for the sadistic Bush regime was closed down by the US Supreme Court, which voided Yoo’s arguments, and Yoo’s torture memo was rescinded by the Department of Justice. Nevertheless, Yoo’s obvious constitutional incompetence, which in Yoo’s case is total, has not affected his position as professor of constitutional law at Berkeley. Can you imagine the harm Yoo is doing by teaching future cadres of lawyers and government officials that torture is consistent with the Constitution and the law of the land? How many of us will suffer from this ignorant man’s teachings?

But I digress. Even as the US government was torturing people, the US government was prosecuting the son of Charles Taylor, the former ruler of Liberia, for torturing political opponents of his father’s government. The US government did not employ the Yoo torture memo to justify Liberia’s use of torture against those who wished to overthrow the Liberian government or commit terror against it. The US government’s position is that Liberia’s government had no right to use torture to defend itself. Only an “indispensable nation” such as the US has the right to torture people who are imagined to threaten it.

I use the word “imagined” because approximately 99 percent of the detainees tortured by America were totally innocent people picked up at random or sold to the stupid Americans by warlords as “terrorists.” (The US government offered rewards for terrorists, like the bounty offered for outlaws in the “wild west.” The result was that warlords in Afghanistan and Pakistan grabbed whoever was not one of them and sold their captives to Americans as “terrorists.”)

According to Carrie Johnson, a Washington Post staff writer, on October 30, 2008, a federal jury in Miami convicted Charles Taylor’s son, Chuckie, of torture. Chuckie will be sentenced by the indispensable Americans in January for torture, conspiracy and firearms violations. He may spend the rest of his life in an American prison.

While Chuckie’s trial was underway, the Bush regime was torturing people.

The Washington Post writes that Chuckie’s conviction is “the first test of an American law that gives prosecutors the power to bring charges for acts of torture committed in foreign lands.” In other words, US law against torture applies to the entire world, to every other country except the United States. The hubris is unimaginable--no country can torture except the US.

Anyone else who tortures gets life, or in the case of Saddam Hussein gets hung by the neck until dead.

Isn’t it great to be an American. Our laws don’t apply to us, only to every other nation. This is what it means to be the moral light of the world, the unipower, the salt of the earth.

Neither poor Carrie Johnson nor her editors at the Washington post see the irony or the paradox. Johnson writes in the Washington Post that the US prosecutors “accused Taylor of taking part in atrocities and directing subordinates to torture victims using . . . electrical devices from 1999 to 2002.” That charge practically overlaps in time with Bush’s, or Cheney’s, or Yoo’s, or the DOJ’s, or Rumfeld’s, or whoever’s direction to subordinates to torture people detained by Americans at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and in various CIA rendition sites. By now everyone in the world has seen the photograph of the hooded Iraqi with electrical wires attached standing on that box in Abu Ghraib.

If only American laws applied to the American government. Then the criminals who have been in charge for 8 years could be prosecuted for their extreme violation of United States laws. But, of course, the great moral American government is far above the law. American law only applies to dispensable nations. America is not answerable to law, not to its own law and not to international law. US attorney general Michael Mukasey affirmed that the US government is above all law when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that there would be no investigation or prosecution of those Bush regime officials who authorized torture and those who carried out the sadistic acts.

The American government, the government of the great indispensable nation, has a free pass. The strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must.

Toxic Toy Guide Lists Chemicals Found in Hundreds of Toys

Toxic Toy Guide Lists Chemicals Found in Hundreds of Toys

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One in every three of the more than 1,500 children's toys tested in time for the holiday shopping season have been found to contain "medium" or "high" levels of chemicals of concern such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic.

[Lead, bromine and chlorine were found in this piece of low-cost jewelry. ] Lead, bromine and chlorine were found in this piece of low-cost jewelry.Researchers with the Michigan-based nonprofit Ecology Center tested for chemicals that have been associated with reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, hormone problems and cancer; and for those identified by regulatory agencies as problematic.

The testing was conducted with a screening technology - the portable X-Ray Fluorescence analyzer - that identifies the elemental composition of materials on or near the surface of products.

The Ecology Center and partners across the country today released their second annual consumer guide to toxic chemicals in toys, which can be found online at www.HealthyToys.org.

Environmental health groups are holding toy testing events nationwide and urging manufacturers and the federal government to phase out the most harmful chemicals at once.

"There is simply no place for toxic chemicals in children's toys," said Ecology Center's Jeff Gearhart, who led the research.

"Our hope is that by empowering consumers with this information, manufacturers and lawmakers will feel the pressure to start phasing out the most harmful substances immediately, and to change the nation's laws to protect children from highly toxic chemicals," he said.

Lead was detected in 20 percent of the toys tested this year. Lead levels in 54 products were well above the 600 parts per million federal recall standard used for lead paint, and will exceed the U.S. legal limit in February, according to the new Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations.

If the new regulations were in effect today, some of the toys on the shelf this holiday season would be illegal to sell. When children are exposed to lead, the developmental and nervous system consequences are irreversible.

Levels of lead in many of the toys tested were above the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended ceiling of 40 ppm of lead in children's products.

Children's jewelry remains the most contaminated product category, maintaining its spot at the top of HealthyToys.org's "worst" list for a second year.

Overall, jewelry is twice as likely to contain detectable levels of lead as other products, the researchers found.

Numerous Hannah Montana brand jewelry items tested high for lead. HealthyToys.org recommends that consumers avoid low cost children's jewelry.

The website allows searches by product name, brand, or toy type to see if certain toys have toxic chemicals. The newly-redesigned site also lets visitors create a personalized holiday wish list that can be sent to family and friends, and a blog-friendly widget to quickly search the toy ratings.

With millions of toys on the market, HealthyToys.org could not test them all, but visitors to the website can nominate other products to be tested. The most commonly requested items will be tested each week leading up to the holidays.

Through its testing, HealthyToys.org found toys made in China are not the only ones that contain toxic chemicals. Tests show that 21 percent of toys from China and 16 percent of those from all other countries had detectable levels of lead in 2008.

About one-third of the 17 toys tested that were manufactured in the United States showed detectable levels of lead. Two toys had levels above 600 ppm. Among the highest lead levels detected was in a Halloween Pumpkin Pin made in the USA, which showed 190,943 ppm of lead.

Lead is not the only toxic found in the toys. Researchers also found toys containing cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and bromine. Forty-five products tested showed bromine at concentrations of 1,000 ppm or higher, indicating the use of brominated flame retardants - chemicals that may pose hazards to children's health.

Arsenic was detected at levels greater than 100 ppm in 22 products, while 289 products contained detectable levels of arsenic.

Cadmium, a heavy metal, was found above 100 ppm in 30 products, while 38 of products contained detectable levels of cadmium.

Mercury was found above 100 ppm in 14 products, while 62 of products contained detectable levels of mercury.

HealthyToys.org identified products made with polyvinyl chloride, PVC, plastic by measuring their chlorine content.

"PVC is a problematic plastic because it creates major environmental health hazards in its manufacture and disposal and may contain additives, including phthalates, that may pose hazards," the Ecology Center said. Twenty-seven percent of the toys tested this year by HealthyToys.org, excluding jewelry, were made with PVC.

"The good news is that 62 percent (954) of the products tested contain low levels of chemicals of concern, and 21 percent (324) of all products contain no chemicals of concern. These products look and feel no different than other children's products on the shelf," said the Ecology Center. "These findings show that manufacturers can and should make toys free of unnecessary toxic chemicals."

Spying on pacifists, environmentalists and nuns

Spying on pacifists, environmentalists and nuns

An undercover Maryland State Police trooper infiltrated
nonviolent groups and labeled dozens of people as terrorists.

By Bob
Drogin

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To friends in the protest movement, Lucy was an eager 20-something who attended their events and sent encouraging e-mails to support their causes.

Only one thing seemed strange.

"At one demonstration, I remember her showing up with a laptop computer and typing away," said Mike Stark, who helped lead the anti-death-penalty march in Baltimore that day. "We all thought that was odd."

Not really. The woman was an undercover Maryland State Police trooper who between 2005 and 2007 infiltrated more than two dozen rallies and meetings of nonviolent groups.

Maryland officials now concede that, based on information gathered by "Lucy" and others, state police wrongly listed at least 53 Americans as terrorists in a criminal intelligence database -- and shared some information about them with half a dozen state and federal agencies, including the National Security Agency.

Among those labeled as terrorists: two Catholic nuns, a former Democratic congressional candidate, a lifelong pacifist and a registered lobbyist. One suspect's file warned that she was "involved in puppet making and allows anarchists to utilize her property for meetings."

"There wasn't a scintilla of illegal activity" going on, said David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit and in July obtained the first surveillance files. State police have released other heavily redacted documents.

Investigators, the files show, targeted groups that advocated against abortion, global warming, nuclear arms, military recruiting in high schools and biodefense research, among other issues.

"It was unconscionable conduct," said Democratic state Sen. Brian Frosh, who is backing legislation to ban similar spying in Maryland unless the police superintendent can document a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" of criminal activity.

The case is the latest to emerge since the Sept. 11 attacks spurred a sharp increase in state and federal surveillance of Americans. Critics say such investigations violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly, and serve to inhibit lawful dissent.

In the largest known effort, the Pentagon monitored at least 186 lawful protests and meetings -- including church services and silent vigils -- in California and other states.

The military also compiled more than 2,800 reports on Americans in a database of supposed terrorist threats. That program, known as TALON, was ordered closed in 2007 after it was exposed in news reports.

The Maryland operation also has ended, but critics still question why police spent hundreds of hours spying on Quakers and other peace groups in a state that reported more than 36,000 violent crimes last year.

Stephen Sachs, a former state attorney general, investigated the scandal for Gov. Martin O'Malley -- a Democrat elected in 2006. He concluded that state police had violated federal regulations and "significantly overreached."

According to Sachs' 93-page report and other documents, state police launched the operation in March 2005 out of concern that the planned execution of a convicted murderer might lead to violent protests.

They sent Lucy to join local activists at Takoma Park's Electrik Maid, a funky community center popular with punk rockers and slam poets. Ten people attended the gathering, including a local representative from Amnesty International.

"The meeting was primarily concerned with getting people to put up fliers and getting information out to local businesses and churches about the upcoming events," the undercover officer reported later. "No other pertinent intelligence information was obtained."

That proved true for all 29 meetings, rallies and protests that Lucy ultimately attended. Most drew only a handful of people, and none involved illegal or disruptive actions.

Using the aliases Lucy Shoup and Lucy McDonald, she befriended activists. "I want to get involved in different causes," she wrote in an e-mail, citing her interest in "anti-death penalty, antiwar and pro-animal actions!!!"

Max Obuszewski, a Baltimore pacifist who leads antiwar protests, said Lucy asked about civil disobedience, but didn't instigate any. "She never volunteered to do anything, not even hand out leaflets," he said. "She was not an agent provocateur."

Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said that no one in the department had been disciplined in connection with the spying program. Lucy, who has not been publicly identified, would not consent to an interview, he said.

The surveillance, Shipley said, was inappropriate. And the listing of lawful activity as terrorism "shouldn't have happened, and has been corrected."

Most of the files list terrorism as a "primary crime" and a "secondary crime," then add subgroups for designations such as antiwar protester.

Some contain errors and inconsistencies that are almost comical.

Nancy Kricorian, 48, a novelist on the terrorist list, is coordinator for the New York City chapter of CodePink, an antiwar group. She serves as liaison with local police for group protests, and has never been arrested.

"I have no idea why I made the list," she said. "I've never been to the state of Maryland, except maybe to stop for gas on the way to Washington."

Josh Tulkin, 27, a registered lobbyist with the Virginia state Legislature, is cited under "terrorism -- environmental extremists." Tulkin was deputy director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an environmental group that claims 15,000 members and regularly meets with governors and members of Congress.

"If asking your elected officials a question about public policy is a crime, then I'm guilty," he said.

Barry Kissin, 57, a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006, heads the Frederick Progressive Action Coalition, a group that works "for social, economic and environmental justice," according to his police file. Their protests "are always peaceful," it added.

He was labeled "Terrorism -- Anti-Government."

Nadine Bloch, 47, runs workshops for protest groups that seek corporate responsibility and builds huge papier-mache puppets often used in street marches. Her terrorism file indicates she participated in a Taking Action for Animals conference in Washington on July 16-18, 2005.

Animal rights, Bloch said, is one of the few causes she doesn't actively embrace. Besides, she was attending an educators conference in Hawaii that week as a contractor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This whole thing," she said, "is so absurd."

Don't Let Them Destroy Our Union

Don't Let Them Destroy Our Union

by Frank Hammer

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As the fate of the Detroit auto industry is being debated, the arguments and positions are becoming crystal clear. There is now a chorus of right wing ideologues who are pushing to let GM go into bankruptcy. No argument here about "too big to fail." No regard for consequences like we heard when the Congress approved the $700 billion stash for the banking and financial industries. The Detroit Three are accused of mismanagement at a crescendo much louder than the financial giants we had to save. Why the double standard?

The reluctance to bail out GM and the other Detroit automakers has everything to do with the UAW, as if the impending collapse is the fault of the workers at the bottom of the heap. The "free market" types want to use the current auto industry crisis to force a "restructuring" of the companies' "relationships" � principally with the UAW. We hear a chorus about "bloated UAW contracts", contract terms that "GM can't live with," or references to "overpaid" autoworkers, etc. Never mind that just one year ago UAW autoworkers agreed to huge concessions in what President Ron Gettelfinger describes as a "transformative agreement" (for which, in the Detroit media, he was heralded "man of the year."). That agreement, according to Gettelfinger, was designed to make the UAW labor force cheaper than their non-union brethren at Honda, Toyota, etc. This from a once proud union which set the industry standard.

Before the 2007 agreements were negotiated, the average total UAW labor cost per vehicle was $2,400, or a little over 8% of the price of a vehicle. UAW workers then were among the most productive in the world, producing value added worth $206 per worker per hour. This is far more than he or she was earning in wages, even when benefits, statutory contributions and other costs are included. The margin of difference in labor costs with non-union Toyota before the transformative agreement was already then just $250-$300!

Autoworker Healthcare

The free marketers also complain about the "lavish" costs of autoworker healthcare, obscuring the fact that the UAW accepted all the risk for their retirees' health care when it agreed - to a "Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association," or VEBA at the Big Three's behest. To the forces which have conspired for many years to establish a "union-free" domestic auto industry, none of these concessions matter.

One of the reasons the free marketers love the non-union auto companies in the Sunbelt is that they have no retiree pensions and healthcare obligations to speak of. They ascribe this to the fact that they are "union-free." Unlike the mature domestics, the newer plants erected in the South don't have many retirees � at least not yet. The advocates of pure capitalism wish that the domestics would cut free their retirees who, in their eyes, don't add value to the corporate bottom line. Never mind that we retirees are now being swindled of the companies' part of the bargain. The Detroit 3 got the value they wanted from our decades of labor, but now the health care coverage that we got in return�well, that's now another story.

The UAW in the Bullseye

Here are two quotes from the free marketers which make the real target of the crisis very clear:

It is a mistake to use part of the $700-billion rescue package to reward high-tax, non-right-to-work states such as Michigan, says Peter Flaherty, President of the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC). The automaker bailout is actually a UAW bailout. The union will not allow companies to deploy capital in ways that the market would dictate, such as closing plants and layoffs."

The facts demonstrate how preposterous the last line is, considering the absence of any protest by the UAW over the past twenty years of plant closures! Here's what Colorado's "Grand Junction Sentinel" had to say:

"But the GM jalopy needs a complete overhaul, and putting taxpayer funds into the company as it now operates would do little but bump the problems down the road while keeping destructive United Auto Workers union contracts in place."

"

"Destructive" UAW contracts, indeed!!! The deregulators are not satisfied to dismantle government regulations so the financial market can run wild. They must rid industries of contractual obligations negotiated by that other democratic institution: workers' unions. The "destructive" contracts of which they speak have protected many lives in the factories, enabled workers to enjoy a good standard of living, and retire with dignity and security. Now this has been made out to be un-American, even un-patriotic. "Joe Six-pack" is back to being the villain. If these capitalists had their way, workers in Detroit will be making the same wages paid in Mexico. That way, the remaining work could stay here.

"Union Busting"

The financial catastrophe unfolding before our eyes is the means to thrusting a dagger in what's left of the UAW's heart, long sought by American capital. From the moment that autoworkers forced GM to sign an agreement in the midst of the last "Great Depression," the union has been vilified as the interloper in the company's prerogatives. Except today we in the UAW are now described as interfering with the real wages that the "free market" would and should deliver - as if the "free market" were ordained and ordered by God Himself.

Each time the de-regulators have insisted on more de-regulation, it's been like a crazy man pouring more gasoline on the already raging fire. It's only making the financial crisis worse. Credit may flow again, but how many of the working poor will be taking out loans for, say, a new car or a house? What will trashing the UAW contracts get us? Fewer people to purchase the cars we produce? More citizens confronted with foreclosures and being kicked out of their homes? Even fewer sales at the local Mall? We are heading for a second New Orleans (without the flood water) in the place once known as the "Arsenal of Democracy?" This is the same mentality that governed the USVietnam: "destroying villages in order to save them." military's conduct in

UAW Must do More

The union must stand up for itself, or we will all face millions more of so-called "low wage" earners as part of the growing class of the "working poor." The UAW has done very well by the rest of US workers, even if they don't know it. The media has pounded the UAW, taking advantage of flaws in its organization and errors by its leadership. Not surprisingly, there's less sympathy for the UAW than there once was. But it would be a tragic error if working people turned their backs on the UAW now. Even the non-union workers in Kentucky and Tennessee are benefiting from the wage and benefit standards set in Detroit by the UAW. With a UAW diminished � whether by (a) the fine print in a bailout agreement or (b) because GM is allowed to file for bankruptcy � the devastating consequences will serve to even further undermine the standards enjoyed by all working people.

This week UAW President Ron Gettelfinger is testifying in Congress to beg the case of the auto companies and the UAW before unsympathetic Republican Senators representing so-called "right-to-work" states. Apparently Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and his friends think it's quite patriotic to have the foreign brands produce, and make the profits, from the transportation that the USA needs. There is a political subtext to all this, too. President-elect Obama's victory was due in large part to the crescent of blue states stretching from Minnesota through Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania right up to the tip of Maine. Don't forget Michigan, where autoworkers rejected McCain/Palin and sent their campaign scurrying. Why would Republicans now reward a hostile constituency, when their remaining political base weaves itself through non-union workplaces in America's "Sunbelt?"

With their younger workforces, the foreign brands manufactured here admittedly enjoy a distinct advantage. The UAW agreed in the '07 negotiations to help the Detroit automakers be "competitive" by freeing them of the responsibility of the "legacy costs" of retiree healthcare with the VEBA in 2010. It's not been a year, and it's already clear that it is a non-starter, as the automakers have yet to pay into the trust fund as had been agreed. Besides, the value of the Detroit Three's payments into the trust are tied to the value of their stocks. GM's has plummeted from $42 to $5 in the year since the agreement was made. A $25 billion "bridge loan" for all three companies can't shore up both the VEBA commitments and the companies' need for liquidity. It is politically untenable for the union to ask taxpayers to bolster the VEBA when so many workers are doing without health care at all. If we are looking for real, lasting solutions that will also help our economy, the parties must demand that Congress pass HR 676, the single-payer national health insurance bill that would cover not just UAW retirees, but the 45 million Americans who are doing without. GM and the UAW agreed in principle to this approach back in 2005 modeled on the health care system in Canada . Making it happen here and now would level the playing field for the Detroit Three.

This is a defining moment for the UAW, and the entire labor movement. 25 years ago PATCO was crushed by the deregulators' champion in the White House, Ronald Reagan. Today we are faced with a much larger devastation at the hands of the outgoing George W. Bush and his Republican friends. Testimony by the UAW's chief along with emails a by members and retirees to their representatives is fine, but it is not enough. We need to put a human face to the devastation facing UAW members. There should be an immediate "media day" at each of the UAW's regional offices to give workers and retirees a platform to speak out in defense of their own jobs, pensions and health care. Other unions, dealers, salaried personnel � you name it - should be invited as well. There' never been a time when the saying "we're all in this boat together" has been truer. The leadership should organize a car caravan around the headquarters of the Detroit 3 or, with the help of the AFL-CIO, organize a caravan to Washington, D.C. or even Wall St. There's no guarantee to what we could achieve, but we should nevertheless proclaim, "Not without a fight!" We are running out of time. Wouldn't having UAW members out in the streets be a good way to let everybody know that we re not dead?