Headlines: Marine Acquitted for Killing Iraqi Despite Confession; Poll Shows Declining Support for Capitalism

Democracy Now Headlines: Marine Acquitted for Killing Iraqi Despite Confession; Poll Shows Declining Support for Capitalism

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

US Attack Kills 5 Afghan Civilians, Wounds Pregnant Mother

The US military has admitted to killing five Afghan civilians and wounding several others in an attack it initially said targeted militants. The shootings took place in the southeastern Khost province earlier this week. The dead included an infant boy. A nine-month pregnant woman was wounded and lost her baby.

Obama to Request $84.3B for War

President Obama is asking Congress for $83.4 billion in funding for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The request marks a complete reversal for Obama from two years ago, when he voted against war funding as a senator under former President George W. Bush. The request would bring the budgetary cost of the two occupations to nearly $1 trillion so far. Obama is also asking for $350 million for operations along the US-Mexico border and $400 million in counterinsurgency aid to Pakistan. Although the Democratic-led Congress is expected to approve the funding, some antiwar lawmakers are voicing opposition. Congress member Lynn Woolsey of California said, “Instead of attempting to find military solutions…President Obama must fundamentally change the mission in both countries to focus on promoting reconciliation, economic development, humanitarian aid, and regional diplomatic efforts.”

Iraqis Stage Massive Anti-US Protest

On the same day Obama requested millions more for war, tens of thousands of Iraqis rallied against the US occupation at a protest marking the six-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. Hazem al-Araji of the Sadr movement said opposition to the occupation unites differing Iraqi factions.

Hazem al-Araji: “Those million people came from Iraq to express just one opinion that is calling for the US troops to withdraw from Iraq. They are Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis and Shia. They came after the call of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr to say ‘No! No to America.'”

CIA Head: Overseas Prisons Closed, Contractors Barred from Interrogations

The CIA says it’s complied with President Obama’s order to cease operating secret prisons overseas. On Thursday, CIA director Leon Panetta said the prisons and black sites are no longer in use and remaining sites will be decommissioned. Obama ordered the prisons’ closure in one of his first moves after taking office. Panetta says the CIA hasn’t detained anyone since he took over in February but reiterated the Obama administration still maintains the authority to do so. Panetta, meanwhile, also announced the CIA will no longer allow private contractors to interrogate prisoners. And he said the CIA has followed Obama’s orders to impose interrogation rules adhering to the Army Field Manual.

Marine Acquitted Despite Confessing to Killing Unarmed Iraqi

A military jury has acquitted a Marine sergeant of murdering an unarmed Iraqi prisoner, even though he confessed to the crime. Sergeant Ryan Weemer was accused of killing the prisoner during the US attack on Fallujah in November 2004. In a recorded interview with interrogators in 2006, Weemer said, “I grabbed a gun and took him to the back of the house. I shot him twice in the chest.” Weemer also said he was ordered to carry out the killing and was tormented by his actions. His attorneys argued he was coerced into making the confession.

Court OKs Apartheid Victims’ Suit Against US Companies

A US court has cleared the way for victims of the South African apartheid to sue major corporations for supporting human rights abuses. This week, a federal judge in New York said the foreign-based joint action can proceed in a US court. The suit accuses car makers General Motors, Ford and Daimler of knowingly supplying vehicles that were used to violently suppress protests. The suit also names IBM and Fujitsu for selling computer technology to the apartheid government.

Morales Stages Hunger Strike for Electoral Reform

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has launched a hunger strike to pressure lawmakers to approve a law on electoral reform. The measure would increase representation for low-income rural areas. Morales urged support for the law on Thursday in La Paz.

Bolivian President President Evo Morales: “The people come first. The country comes first. Later come the interests of the regions and sectors. I send a true greeting to those comrades who are defending democracy, the people’s vote, the people’s vote from outside the country, and other demands of a structural nature through this effort they make, through this hunger strike.”

Thousands Protest Georgian President

In Georgia, tens of thousands of people marched the streets of the capital Tbilisi Thursday calling for the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, a key US ally. Critics say Saakashvili has exerted increased authoritarian control and mistakenly led the country into war with Russia last summer.

Protesters Tell Summers “We Want Our Money Back”

Back in the United States, White House economic adviser Larry Summers was greeted with a hostile protest during a speaking appearance on Thursday. Earlier this week, the White House disclosed Summers received nearly $2.7 million in speaking fees last year from several of the financial companies that have received government bailouts. In addition, Summers earned over $5 million working one day a week at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund. As Summers addressed an audience at the Economic Club, two protesters stormed the stage with a sign saying “We want our money back.”

Larry Summers: “You know it’s hard enough to focus on the policy–focus on the policy choices that we have now without focusing–without focusing on–”

Protester #1: “Larry Summers is part of the problem. He’s a toxic mess.”

Protester #2: “And I’m out of work.”

Protester #1: “$135,000 from government bailed-out companies for one day? Your former companies paid you for that? We the people say no!”

Protester #2: “$5.2 million. $5.2 million this man made working one day a week in 2008 working for a hedge fund. We want our money back.”

Protester #1: “You’re part of the problem. You’re part of the problem.”

Protester #2: “Can we have our money back? Can we have our money back, please? Can I have some TARP to go with my stimulus?”

Protester #1: “I need a bailout for the peacekeepers. That’s right, Larry. You should resign. I am the people’s voice, sir. You should resign. Obama deserves a leader.”

Palestinian Doctor Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

A Palestinian doctor who lost three daughters to an Israeli bombing of his home during the attack on Gaza has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish’s voice was heard around the world after he recounted the killing of his daughters on live Israeli television moments after the attack. A well-known Gazan gynecologist, Aish has been a longtime advocate for peace between Israel and Palestinians.

Failed Nuclear Funding Measure Reinserted into Senate Budget Bill

On Capitol Hill, a controversial provision to fund nuclear power has re-emerged following its removal from the economic stimulus bill earlier this year. The so-called “low-carbon” energy provision would provide $50 billion over five years. Critics say the measure could lead to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants. It was quietly accepted as an amendment to the Senate’s budget blueprint introduced last week. The same measure was removed from February’s economic stimulus bill following public protest.

Terrorism Charges Dropped Against RNC 8

In Minnesota, state prosecutors have dropped terrorism charges against eight activists involved in protests at the Republican National Convention last September. The RNC 8 were believed to be the first people ever charged under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal PATRIOT Act. On Thursday, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said the terrorism charges were removed because they had become a “distraction.” But her office had faced widespread criticism following the disclosure the RNC 8 weren’t accused of committing the alleged offenses themselves, but were charged for actions carried out by others. The RNC 8 will still face conspiracy charges on rioting and damaging property.

Poll Shows Declining Support for Capitalism

A new poll has found more Americans are looking more favorably on the idea of socialism, while support for capitalism declines. According to Rasmussen Reports, just 53 percent of Americans believe capitalism is the best political-economic system. Twenty percent say they prefer the idea of “socialism.” A Rasmussen poll in December found 70 percent support the idea of a free market economy. The differing results could indicate many Americans don’t associate the state-reliant US financial system with one adhering to “free markets.”

CDC: US Food Safety Efforts Fail to Improve

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says efforts to improve food safety have stalled in the United States. On Thursday, the CDC called for speedier reforms to the nation’s food safety system to prevent a growing number of food-related illnesses.

Massive Cutbacks Proposed at Detroit Schools

And in Michigan, state officials have proposed massive cuts at the city of Detroit’s public schools. The plan would close twenty-three schools and lay off more than 600 teachers. Detroit is under a district-wide financial emergency with a projected $303 million deficit.

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Headlines: British Troops Begin Iraq Withdrawal; Global Economy in Worst Recession Since 1930s

Democracy Now Headlines: British Troops Begin Iraq Withdrawal; Global Economy in Worst Recession Since 1930s

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Thousands to Protest as G20 Summit Begins

Tens of thousands of protesters are gathering in London around the meeting of world leaders at the G20 summit. Thousands of British police have been deployed since demonstrations began over the weekend. Several large protests are expected today. President Obama arrived in London on Tuesday and held talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier today.

12 Killed in U.S. Strike on Pakistan

In Pakistan, at least twelve people have been killed in a suspected U.S. missile attack near the Afghan border. The strike comes one day after Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for killing at least twelve people in an attack on a police academy in Lahore. Mehsud called the bombing a response to the U.S. attacks. More than 340 people have been killed in U.S. strikes inside Pakistan since last August.

Netanyahu Sworn-In as Israeli PM

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been sworn in following his formal approval by the Israeli parliament. On Tuesday, Netanyahu vowed to seek peace with Palestinians, but effectively ruled out negotiating the borders of a future Palestinian state. Israel seeks to retain control of vast swaths of the occupied West Bank for Jewish-only settlements.

7 Killed as British Troops Begin Iraq Withdrawal

In Iraq, at least seven people were killed and 38 wounded in a suicide bombing in the city of Mosul. The attack came as British forces formally began their withdrawal from Iraq and handed formal control of Basra province to the United States. Most of Britain’s 4,100 troops are expected to withdraw by the end of May.

U.S., Iran Officials Hold Informal Exchange

At the Hague, a summit on Afghanistan has yielded the first contact between the Obama administration and the Iranian government. On Tuesday, the U.S. envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, had a brief, unplanned meeting with Iran’s deputy foreign minister. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the exchange.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial, it was unplanned and they agreed to stay in touch. Separately at my direction a letter was delivered to the Iranians focusing on three U.S. citizens currently unable to return to the United States from Iran. The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation.”

Iranian leaders have called on the U.S. to apologize for previous actions including the 1953 overthrow of the democratically-elected Iranian government.

Clinton: Truce With Low-Level Taliban Possible

Also at the Hague conference, Clinton expressed willingness to reach a truce with low-level Taliban fighters, saying those who abandon the Taliban should be granted an “honorable form of reconciliation.”

Afghan Law Legalizes Rape Within Marriage

The Afghan government meanwhile is coming under international pressure to drop a law that effectively legalizes rape within marriage and further restricts women’s rights. According to the Guardian of London, the law bans women from refusing to have sex with their husbands and says they can only seek work, education or medical care with their husbands’ permission. Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the measure into law last month.

Chavez: Indict Bush, Israeli Leaders

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is calling for the indictment of President Bush and Israeli leaders on charges of war crimes. Addressing the Arab League summit in Doha, Chavez criticized the International Criminal Court indictment of Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir in light of U.S.-Israeli actions.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “The genocide that was governed by the United States for eight years after Bush ordered the bombing of Iraq, where thousands and thousands of children were killed and entire families, innocent men and women. Why don’t they go after Bush? He truly committed genocide. Or the Israeli government which also commits genocide.”

Bashir is currently in Saudi Arabia in defiance of an international warrant for his arrest. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the former Jordanian Queen, Queen Noor, criticized Sudan’s actions in Darfur but said the U.S. is guilty of double standards in supporting Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Queen Noor: “Were there not so many cases where western pressure has been brought to bear on Arabs, but Israel, for example, disproportionate killing of civilians in Gaza during the recent and also in Lebanon in 2006 during the crisis there. If those cases had not taken place with relatively little western outcry, you’ll find a different attitude with what’s taken place in Sudan.”

Obama Ends U.S. Boycott of UN Human Rights Council

The Obama administration has reversed the Bush administration policy of boycotting the U.N. Human Rights Council. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. will seek a seat on the council when three become available next month.

OECD: Global Economy in Worst Recession Since 1930s

A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation says the global economy is in a worse decline than previously thought. The OECD says world trade will drop thirteen percent this year. Chief Economist Klaus Schmidt-Hibbel called the current crisis the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Klaus Schmidt-Hibbel: “The world economy is in the midst of its deepest and most synchronized recession in our lifetimes, certainly since the 1930s, caused by a global financial crisis and deepened by a collapse of world trade.”

Ex-Khmer Rouge Official Apologizes for Atrocities

A top official in Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime has apologized for his role in the mass killings that killed some 1.7 million people. Kaing Guek Eav ran a prison where an estimated 17,000 people were tortured and murdered. On Tuesday, Eav told a war crimes tribunal he apologizes for his crimes and said he’s full of “shame and regret.”

U.S., Russia to Discuss Nuke Deal

The Obama administration is set to open talks today on a new arms control deal with Russia. The New York Times reports U.S. and Russian negotiators will propose reducing their stockpiles down to around 1,500 warheads apiece, down from the 2200 agreed to under President George W. Bush. U.S. officials say they will resist efforts to include the warheads that will be used if the Obama administration goes ahead with Bush’s so-called missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Rather than defending against missiles, the plan is widely seen as a first-strike weapon against Iran.

Report: Bailout Cost at $12.8T

A new estimate from Bloomberg news says the cost of the financial bailout through direct spending, loans, and aid guarantees has reached $12.8 trillion dollars. The figure amounts to more than $42,000 for every person in the U.S. and approaches the nation’s entire economic output last year.

Dems Introduce Emissions Cut Bill

On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressmembers Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have introduced a measure to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gas. The measure exceeds President Obama’s proposals for emissions cuts, seeking a 20% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020, compared Obama’s fourteen percent. It would also impose stricter efficiency standards and require that the U.S. draw a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Franken Wins Key Court Challenge

In Minnesota, the Democratic challenger Al Franken has won a key court victory in the ongoing legal wrangling over his 2008 Senate race against Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled that only 400 absentee ballots are eligible for a review and recount. Coleman was seeking a far greater number to overcome Franken’s 225-vote lead. Coleman’s attorney says he’ll appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Rejects Philip Morris Appeal

The Supreme Court has rejected the tobacco giant Philip Morris’ challenge to a $150 million dollar judgment won by the widow of a long-time smoker. Mayola Williams of Oregon was awarded $80 million dollars in 1999. The sum has nearly doubled because of the interest accrued as Philip Morris, now known as Altria, challenged the ruling over the last decade.

Sun-Times Media Group Files for Bankruptcy

In media news, the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times and fifty-eight other newspapers has filed for bankruptcy protection. The Sun-Times Media Group cited the current economic downturn and hundreds of millions in back taxes stemming from when it was controlled by the jailed media tycoon Conrad Black. The move makes Chicago the first U.S. city to have both major newspapers file for bankruptcy.

Report: Sharpton Received Donation After Backing Charter Schools

And here in New York, Democracy Now co-host Juan Gonzalez has revealed the Reverend Al Sharpton received a half-million dollar private donation last year at the same time as he launched a campaign to support charter schools. Writing in today’s New York Daily News, Gonzalez reports the money came from a private hedge fund managed by former New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy. Sharpton launched the charter school initiative with the current chancellor, Joel Klein. He received the money in-indirectly at the same time as he began paying some $1 million dollars in back taxes.

Michigan to be Lead Plaintiff in Lawsuit against AIG

Michigan AIG Lawsuit

Late last week, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced that the State of Michigan will be the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against AIG. The company–which is now largely owned by the government–lost considerable value after it was revealed that it was conducting risky financial transactions whose true value was disguised.

Michigan’s pension system was invested in AIG and the Attorney General is hoping to recover lost value.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, the Michigan Attorney General’s office wrote:

“AIG is one of the world’s largest insurance and financial service companies. The class action suit alleges that between November 10, 2006 and June 6, 2008, AIG mislead investors of the true value of Credit Default Swaps, which were securities tied to sub-prime mortgages. When the true value was revealed in 2008, AIG’s stock plummeted from more than $70 per share in 2007 to about $1 per share today.

As lead plaintiff, Michigan will manage the litigation on behalf of a class of AIG stock and bond holders, negotiate potential settlement terms, and seek to maximize the recovery for the class. If the case goes to trial, the lead plaintiff will lead all strategy decisions.”

Michigan is also the lead plaintiff in a similar lawsuit against Bear Stearns.

False Solutions to Climate Change: From “Cap and Trade” to Plastic Coating the Desert

False Solutions to Climate Change

Over the past few years, “global warming” and “climate change” have become buzzwords in mainstream political discussion. Everywhere we turn, politicians, corporations, and even some environmental groups are offering “solutions” to these very serious problems.

However, in many cases, the solutions are false ones. Many of them require no fundamental change in our lifestyles and no real sacrifice, instead allowing those of us to who live in the global north to county our living our lives as we always have through an economic model that promotes inequality and the destruction of the natural earth. We’re told not to worry and that new technology will save us. As such, these new technologies dominate the policy debate.

To counter this, Rising Tide North America–a direct action group working on climate change and climate justice-has released a new pamphlet titled “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change” that provides a critical and highly readable look at the “false solutions” that the group says are “merely dangerous detours on the road to a just, livable planet, distracting us from the root causes of the crisis.”

An Array of False Solutions

In the pamphlet, Rising Tide North America critiques a number of “false solutions” including “clean coal,” carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, and biofuels. Along with these sections, it also criticizes a number of other technological solutions that have been proposed in recent years ranging from plastic coating deserts to genetically engineering trees.

A particularly useful section in light of the current global warming debate is its examination of so-called “cap and trade” systems. Under these systems:

“governments create a market commodity out of carbon pollution by issuing a finite amount of tradable pollution permits each year. As the theory goes, the amount of permits issued would decrease year to year and carbon emissions would be reduced. Because the permits are tradable, and emissions cuts are easier and cheaper for some businesses to make than others, the ‘invisible hand’ of the market will cut overall lowest possible cost to the economy.”

However, Rising Tide argues that this approach has not worked in Europe, calling the “European Emissions Trading Scheme” an “unmitigated failure, beset by fraud and market manipulation.” They point out that companies have over-estimated their emissions, received permits for free, and raised prices-all leading to windfall profits while doing little to address carbon emissions.

A worldwide system would allow the wealthy countries to purchase credits from the Global South to delay action, while offering no incentive to move towards a post-carbon society. At the same time, it would setup yet another poorly understood, experimental market-much like the complex trading schemes that led to the current financial crisis.

Real Solutions to Climate Change

The group argues that there needs to be a fundamental shift in U.S. policy that has for centuries degraded and exploited the natural world:

“Our Southern allies believe we should respond to climate change through commitments to reduced consumption and by payment of the ecological debt from the Global North to the Global South owed from decades of resource extraction. Investment in community-led renewable energy initiatives and sustainable, small-scale agriculture infrastructure geared to meeting the right of all people to healthy food are supported, corporate development is rejected.

The climate crisis demands that we, as residents of the Global North, ask what kind of world we want to live in, and recognize that the answer is as much a social issue as it is an environmental one. Climate Justice is more than a theoretical goal–it is a practice in the movement against climate chaos. No effort to create a livable climate future will succeed without the empowerment of marginalized communities. No justice will be found without an end to policies long-pursued by the wealthy countries which treat communities–from Iraq’s oil fields to Indonesia’s palm oil plantations to Appalachia’s coal fields–merely as resource colonies.”

To that end, the group argues that we must replace the concept of unlimited “growth” with one that prioritizes meeting human needs and sustainability.

Headlines: Questions about when Obama Administration Knew of AIG Bonuses; New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

Democracy Now Headlines: Questions about when Obama Administration Knew of AIG Bonuses; New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Fed to Buy Up $1.2T in Bonds, Securities

The Federal Reserve has announced a massive new government intervention in the U.S. economy. The Fed says it will buy up $1.2 trillion dollars in government bonds and mortgage-linked securities to free up the frozen credit market. The purchases will increase the Fed’s holdings in financial markets to $3 trillion dollars–an increase of fifty percent. The new mortgage securities purchase will account for more than half of the new spending, at $750 billion dollars. That’s on top of the $500 billion in securities previously bought. According to analysts at Wachovia bank, the federal government could end up funding up to seventy percent of mortgages issued this year.

Uncertainty Grows on When Admin Knew of AIG Bonuses

The Obama administration is facing questions on when it knew of AIG’s plans to hand out $165 million dollars in bonuses after receiving its $170 billion taxpayer bailout. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says he didn’t know until last week, and only told White House officials two days after finding out. But testifying on Capital Hill Wednesday, AIG CEO Edward Liddy said government officials were informed three months ago. The Washington Post reports the Treasury was told at least one month ago.

AIG Exec: Employees to Give Back Half of Bonuses

Liddy meanwhile also defended the bonuses, saying they were essential to retaining top employees.

AIG CEO Edward Liddy: “Make no mistake. Had I been CEO at the time, I would never have approved the retention contracts that were put in place over a year ago. It was distasteful to have to make these payments. But we concluded that the risks to the company, and therefore the financial system and the economy, were unacceptably high.”

Liddy says he’s asked a few hundred AIG executives and employees to give back at least half of the extra pay but refused to give details on who is keeping their bonuses. AIG is also facing questions on the billions of dollars in taxpayer money it used to repay other financial firms.

Dodd: Bonus Protections Added to Stimulus Bill at Admin’s Request

Questions meanwhile are also surrounding treasury officials and lawmakers for political maneuvering that effectively authorized the executive bonuses with the passage of the stimulus bill last month. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden says he introduced a provision that would have forced bailout recipients to cap bonuses at $100,000 and tax those exceeding it at thirty-five percent. The measure passed through the Senate but was inexplicably removed during talks with the House. Meanwhile the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Christopher Dodd, is claiming he inserted a provision protecting contractually-promised bonuses at the request of the Obama administration. Dodd didn’t name the administration officials who told him to insert the provision. He says he wouldn’t have done so had he known it would have allowed the bonuses at AIG.

Fannie Mae to Hand Million Dollar Bonuses

As the controversy over payments grows, the government-backed mortgage giant Fannie Mae has announced plans to give four top executives at least one million dollars in what it calls “retention bonuses.” The bonuses are being handed out amidst Fannie’s request for some $15 billion dollars in government aid.

Judge Orders Disclosure of Merrill Lynch Bonuses

Meanwhile a New York judge has ordered the disclosure of employee bonuses paid out at Merrill Lynch just before Bank of America bought out the firm in a government-backed deal. The ruling came in New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to subpoena several top Merrill Lynch executives who were each paid more than $10 million dollars in cash and stock. Overall, Merrill Lynch handed out over $3 billion dollars in bonuses just before the Bank of America deal. For its part Bank of America has received $45 billion dollars in government aid.

Obama: No More “Business As Usual” for Wall Street

Meanwhile at the White House, President Obama invoked the controversy surrounding AIG to call for changes to the financial system.

President Obama: “As we get out of this crisis, as we work towards getting ourselves out of recession, I hope that Wall Street and the marketplace don’t think that we can return to business as usual. The business models that created a lot of paper wealth but not real wealth in the country and have now resulted in crisis can’t be the model for economic growth going forward.”

Obama later traveled to California for a tour to promote his economic stimulus plan. Speaking at a town hall-style event in Costa Mesa, Obama said he takes responsibility for the AIG controversy.

President Obama: “I know Washington is all in a tizzy pointing fingers at each other and saying its the democrat’s fault and the republican’s fault. Listen, I will take responsibility, ‘I’m the President.'”

Military to Phase Out Forced Extensions by 2011

The Pentagon has announced it will all but end the controversial “stop loss” policy forcing soldiers to serve extended tours of duty. More than 13,000 troops are currently involuntarily serving in the military under a policy imposed in 2004. Some have described the ‘stop-loss’ practice as a backdoor draft. On Wednesday, Gates admitted the military has forced soldiers to serve “against their will.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “As of the end of January there were 13,200 soldiers in stop loss. I am pleased to announce that I have approved a plan to eliminate the use of stop loss for deploying soldiers… When somebody’s end date of service comes up, to hold them against their will, if you will, is just not the right thing to do.”

Gates says the Pentagon intends to end “stop/loss” across the entire armed forces by March of 2011. But he left open the right to continue it under what he called “extraordinary circumstances.” Soldiers under “stop loss” will also now be paid an additional $500 per month, retroactive to last October.

Czech Government Forced to Drop Vote on U.S. Missile System

In the Czech Republic, overwhelming opposition has forced the Czech government to drop attempts for parliamentary approval of a U.S. missile radar site. The Czech government had agreed with the Bush administration on hosting part of the so-called “missile defense” system along with a missile site in Poland. But on Wednesday, the government withdrew a planned vote fearing it would be defeated. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek vowed to seek another vote.

Czech Prime Minister: “The government decided in tonight’s negotiations that it will take back the treaty instruments, both of the treaties from the United States about the placement of radar units in the territory of the Czech Republic. That doesn’t mean that we’ve entirely resigned from the process of missile defence because we can return this back to parliament at any time.”

According to the anti-radar group Campaign for Peace and Democracy, two thirds of Czechs have consistently opposed the radar plans. Czech peace activists have led calls for a national referendum and have been credited with pressuring lawmakers to oppose the U.S. missile program.

Minister: Iraq Considers Increased Stake for Oil Companies

The Iraqi government has hinted at further concessions for international oil corporations operating in Iraq. On Wednesday, Iraq’s oil minister told an OPEC gathering in Vienna that Iraq will consider granting foreign companies a share in oil production profits, rather than the current system of receiving fixed fees. Earlier this year Iraq raised the amount foreign companies can recoup from oil projects from 49 percent to 75 percent.

Judge Orders Continued Marri Jailing

A federal judge has ordered the continued imprisonment of Ali al-Marri, who has been the only so-called ‘enemy combatant’ jailed in the United States. Marri has been held in isolation at a naval brig in South Carolina for more than five years. He has never stood trial or been convicted of any crime. The Obama administration charged him last month to avoid a Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite jailing. Marri will be transferred to Peoria, Illinois for an arraignment hearing on Monday.

Senators Back Increased IMF Aid

Back on Capital Hill, a bi-partisan group of Senators is voicing support for an Obama administration plan to increase U.S. contributions to the International Monetary Fund. Obama has asked Congress to grant the IMF $100 billion dollars to aid struggling nations hurt by the economic crisis. Senator John Kerry backed the proposal after meeting IMF and World Bank officials.

Senator John Kerry: “We are convinced that the IMF needs to have additional funding. Secretary Geithner has made a proposal for additional funding. I speak for myself and say that I support that. I think it is an essential ingredient of our ability to send a message regarding stability and regarding our preparedness to help countries face the banking challenges and the consumer and food challenges that we face across the globe.”

It’s unclear what kind of conditions recipient nations would face for accepting the new IMF aid.

African Leaders: Economic Crisis Could Reignite Regional Conflicts

African leaders are warning of renewed conflict on their continent if they’re not aided during the global economic meltdown. Meeting ahead of next month’s G20 summit, several African officials issued stark warnings on the consequences of price drops in African goods, loss of tourists and a sharp reduction in foreign remittances. The head of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, said the potential fallout from the global economic crisis is an “emergency” in Africa.

U.S. to End Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

The Justice Department has confirmed plans to end the Bush administration’s policy of raiding distributors of medical marijuana. On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said drug law enforcement would be restricted to traffickers falsely posing as medical dispensaries. Under Bush, medical dispensaries accused of violating federal law were raided even if they complied with state law.

Rep. Waters Introduces Bill to End Minimum Drug Sentencing

Meanwhile, Democratic Congressmember Maxine Waters has introduced a bill to end mandatory minimum sentencing in drug-related cases. The Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act would repeal mandatory minimum sentences and grant judges discretion to determine sentences.

New Mexico Abolishes Death Penalty

New Mexico has become the fifteenth state to outlaw the death penalty. On Wednesday, Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill barring capital punishment following its approval in the state legislature. New Mexico is the second state to end the death penalty since the Supreme Court restored it in 1976.

Study: Latinos Largest Ethnic Group in U.S. Prisons

A new study says Latinos now constitute the largest ethnic group in federal prisons. Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center says Latinos account for forty percent of prisoners nationwide.

Hugo Lopez: “Between 1981 and 2007, the share of all federal offenders who are Hispanic has risen from about 24 percent in 1991 to 40 percent in 2007. So they have really almost doubled their share of all sentenced federal offenders. Also, Hispanics represent the single largest group of sentenced federal offenders. The 40 percent share Hispanic is larger than the white share at 27 percent and the black share at 23 percent in 2007.”

Nearly half of the Latin prison population has been jailed on immigration charges, followed closely by drug charges.

Reparations, Israel Dropped from UN Racism Text

Negotiators drafting the declaration for next month’s UN Conference Against Racism have acceded to U.S. and European Union demands and dropped references to Israel and reparations for slavery. The Obama administration has vowed to boycott the conference unless the two issues are dropped from conference text.

Actress Natasha Richardson Dies at 45

And the Tony-award winning stage and film actor Natasha Richardson has died at the age of forty-five. She suffered a brain injury in a ski accident in Canada and was taken off life support yesterday. Richardson was the daughter of the British actor and activist Vanessa Redgrave. The two were said to be in talks to appear together in a stage production of “A Little Night Music.” Our condolences to Vanessa, as well as Natasha Richardson’s husband, the actor Liam Neeson, her aunt and uncle Corin and Lynn Redgrave, her sister Jolie Richardson and her two sons.

Headlines: Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation; U.S. Considers Widening Attacks in Pakistan

Democracy Now Headlines: Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation; U.S. Considers Widening Attacks in Pakistan

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Congress to Propose Tax on AIG Bonuses

Lawmakers are vowing action following a massive public outcry around bonuses at the bailed-out insurance giant AIG. On Tuesday, Senate leaders said they would introduce a measure imposing a special surtax to recoup taxpayer money. House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank said Congress should remember that the US government now owns 80 percent of AIG.

Rep. Barney Frank: “But I think we can look at it from the standpoint of us as the owner. We’re the owner of that company, in fact. Now, there are some covenants that have kept us from doing that. I think the time has come to exercise our ownership rights–we own most of the company–and then say, as owner, ‘No, I’m not paying you the bonus. You didn’t perform. You didn’t live up to this contract.’ Presumably, the bonuses had some merit stuff in it.”

The Treasury Department, meanwhile, said it would deduct the $165 million in AIG bonuses from the government’s next infusion of $30 billion in bailout funds.

Bailout Firms Plot to Shield Bonuses from Regulation

As the AIG controversy grows, other bailed-out firms are reportedly secretly discussing how to shield future bonuses from public scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reports executives at Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are mulling ways to keep their bonuses without violating anticipated new government rules. The options include increasing base salaries for top employees. Citigroup has received $45 billion in taxpayer money, while Morgan Stanley has received $10 billion. Last week, Wells Fargo said it had increased the base salaries of its CEO and two other top executives. Wells Fargo has received $25 billion under the Wall Street bailout.

Obama Pushes for Budget Approval

President Obama continues to lobby for congressional approval of his $3.5 trillion budget. Speaking at the White House, Obama criticized Republican opponents.

President Obama: “‘Just say no’ is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs; it is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party. The American people sent us here to get things done. And in this moment of enormous challenge, they are watching and waiting for us to lead. Let’s show them that we’re equal to this task before us. Let’s pass a budget that puts this nation on the road to lasting prosperity.”

US Mulls Widening Pakistan Strikes

The Obama administration is reportedly considering widening US attacks inside Pakistan. According to the New York Times, the strikes would extend to the province of Baluchistan beyond the currently targeted tribal areas. Hundreds of people have been killed in the US attacks on Pakistani soil.

Obama to Appoint Darfur Envoy

President Obama is set to appoint a special envoy on the crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur. The New York Times reports Obama will name Major General J. Scott Gration later today. The move comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intensified criticism of Sudan on Tuesday at the State Department.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The real question is what kind of pressure can be brought to bear on President Bashir and the government in Khartoum to understand that they will be held responsible for every single death that occurs in those camps, because by their expulsion of the aid workers who came from all over the world to assist with the health and the sanitation and the security and the education of the refugees, they are putting those 1.4 million lives at risk.”

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled thirteen aid groups from Darfur after the International Criminal Court indicted him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

D’Escoto Criticizes Bashir Indictment

Also on Tuesday, UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann criticized the indictment, saying it has tinges of racism and could undermine peace talks.

UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann: “It was unfortunate, unfortunate, and I think it does a disservice to the people’s perception of international justice. It helps to deepen a perception that international justice is racist, because this is the third time that you have something from the ICC [International Criminal Court], and for the third time it has to do with Africa.”

Talks Fail on Israel-Hamas Prisoner Exchange

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, talks on a prisoner exchange between the Israeli government and Hamas have broken down after Israel rejected a deal. Hamas is seeking the return of hundreds of prisoners in return for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The talks reportedly collapsed around an Israeli demand that Palestinians detain or deport most of the prisoners once they’re released.

Tutu Campaigns for Gaza War Crimes Probe

The South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among a group of sixteen leading war crimes investigators and judges calling for a UN inquiry into war crimes committed during Israel’s attack on Gaza. The group has written a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Arbishop Desmond Tutu: “It isn’t that we want to sensationalize. It’s just that some very serious things have happened, and if we are hoping to have a world that is stable, a world that abides by the rule of law, then it has to apply to everybody.”

Other signatories joining Tutu include former Irish President Mary Robinson and Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

US Keeps Blackwater in Iraq Despite Iraqi Ban

The State Department has quietly signed a deal that keeps the company formerly known as Blackwater in Iraq despite an Iraqi government ban. The Washington Times reports the US signed a new contract with Blackwater in February, just days after the Iraqi government said it wouldn’t renew Blackwater’s operating license. The $22 million contract extension runs through September of this year. In 2007, Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked massacre in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The company recently changed its to name to Xe as part of a rebranding campaign.

Reversing Bush Stance, Obama to Endorse UN Gay Rights Statement

The Obama administration is set to endorse a UN gay rights declaration that the Bush administration refused to sign. Approved last December, the declaration calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality and guaranteeing equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgendered people. The US was the only Western country to oppose, joining Russia, China, the Vatican and several Arab states. The Associated Press reports the White House made the move after an emergency review of the US stance.

Hundreds Protest Bush in Calgary

In Canada, hundreds of protesters gathered in Calgary Tuesday outside President Bush’s first foreign trip since leaving office. Bush was speaking before an invite-only crowd at a private event. At least four people were arrested. Activists constructed a giant shoe cannon in a symbolic tribute to the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at Bush last year. Bush entered Canada without any apparent trouble after the Canadian government ignored a request from a group of Canadian lawyers for his arrest or deportation as a war criminal.

Dismissed Mayor Becomes Madagascar President

In Madagascar, an opposition leader has declared himself interim president after former president Marc Ravalomanana stepped down. The new president, Andry Rajoelina, says he will hold elections within two years. Rajoelina is a former disc jockey who was dismissed by Ravalomanana as the mayor of the capital last month.

Groups Call for End to Ban on Foreign Scholars

Back in the United States, a coalition of academic and civil liberties groups is calling on the Obama administration to reverse Bush administration policies of banning foreign scholars under anti-terror laws. In a letter released today, the coalition says the policy of “ideological exclusion… compromises the vitality of academic and political debate in the United States at a time when that debate is exceptionally important.” The call comes ahead of a federal appeals court hearing next week on the case of one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in Europe who was barred from a teaching job in the United States. The scholar, Tariq Ramadan, was offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in Ohio in 2004. The Bush administration initially barred his entry without explanation and then said it was because he once gave money to a French-based Palestinian charity. The charity is legal in France.

Military Sexual Assault Up 8%

And in military news, the Pentagon says reports of sexual assault in the armed forces rose eight percent last year. The reports were up 25 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Headlines: Outrage over AIG Bonuses; Banks Decreased Lending After Government Bailout

Democracy Now Headlines: Outrage over AIG Bonuses; Banks Decreased Lending After Government Bailout

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Outrage Grows over AIG Bonuses

Facing increasing public outcry, the Obama administration pledged Monday to try to block the bailed-out insurance giant AIG from paying out as much as $450 million in bonuses to top executives and other workers. AIG is attempting to hand out the bonuses despite the company’s central role in the meltdown of the global economy. AIG has already received $173 billion in government bailouts. During the last quarter of 2008, AIG lost a record $62 billion–that amounts to over $460,000 per minute. On Sunday, Lawrence Summers, one of the President’s top economic advisers, said the government cannot just abrogate contracts, but yesterday President Barack Obama asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to pursue every legal avenue to block the bonuses.

President Obama: “This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?”

Andrew Cuomo Subpoenas AIG over Bonuses

AIG has so far refused to publicly reveal who is set to receive the money. On Monday, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued a subpoena to uncover this information and to determine if the bonuses are legal. Cuomo said if a company enters into contracts in which it agrees to pay funds it effectively doesn’t have, it’s akin to a looting of a company. While Cuomo is issuing subpoenas, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has suggested the top executives at AIG should consider taking their own lives. Grassley said, “The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them, if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.”

Treasury Report: Banks Decrease Lending After Bailout

A new Treasury report has found the nation’s largest banks are continuing to reduce the flow of credit to new homeowners and consumers despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts. In December, the nation’s twenty-one largest banks lent out $162 billion for first mortgages. Less than half that amount was lent out in January. New home equity credit lines decreased from $15 billion to just $5 billion.

Tristan Anderson Remains in Critical Condition in Israeli Hospital

Hospital officials in Israel say the American activist Tristan Anderson is now semi-conscious after days under full anesthesia. Anderson was critically injured Friday when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head during a weekly nonviolent protest against the separation wall in the West Bank village of N’alin. Anderson underwent brain surgery in an Israeli hospital near Tel Aviv on Saturday. Parts of his right frontal lobe were removed. Anderson is now able to lift fingers on one hand in response to a voice command.

Protesters Condemn Israeli Military for Shooting US Activist

Friends and supporters of Tristan Anderson held a series of protests on Monday. In San Francisco, hundreds of people marched to the the Israeli consulate. Police arrested five activists at the scene. Three protesters were arrested at a demonstration outside the Israeli consulate in Miami, Florida.

UN Urged to Investigate War Crimes Committed in Gaza

A group of sixteen of the world’s leading war crimes investigators and judges have sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for the United Nations to launch a full inquiry into war crimes committed during Israel’s attack on Gaza. The letter’s signatories include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 1,434 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli assault, including 960 civilians. Thirteen Israelis died in the war, including three civilians killed by Hamas rockets.

Netanyahu Offers Foreign Ministry Post to Far-Right Politician

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has formed a pact with far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman in an attempt to a forge a right-wing government in which Lieberman would become Israel’s foreign minister. Lieberman has called for laws to require Palestinians living in Israel to swear loyalty to the Jewish state or lose their citizenship. Lieberman has been condemned by many moderate Israeli and Jewish leaders. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, recently described Lieberman’s run for president as an “outrageous, abominable, hate-filled campaign, brimming with incitement that, if left unchecked, could lead Israel to the gates of hell.”

Ahmed Tibi, one of the few Palestinians in the Israeli Knesset: “This is the compatible of Le Pen and Joerg Haider. When those were elected, the Austrian government was isolated and boycotted mainly by Israel. It is time to call for boycotting the government and mainly boycotting Lieberman himself.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Becomes Web-Only Newspaper

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is printing its final edition today and becoming an online-only news site known as SeattlePI.com. The 146-year-old newspaper will become the largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product. The paper’s owner, the Hearst Corporation, made the official announcement Monday. The vast majority of the paper’s 167 employees are losing their jobs in the transition. The closing of the Post-Intelligencer comes just days after Gannett announced the closing of the Tucson Citizen. Last month, Scripps closed the Rocky Mountain News. Many media analysts say the San Francisco Chronicle may be the next paper to cease publication. On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged the Justice Department to consider giving Bay Area papers more leeway to merge or consolidate business operations to stay afloat.

Report: 3% Of Washington, D.C. Population Has HIV or AIDS

Health officials in Washington, D.C. say three percent of the city’s population now has HIV or AIDS. Shannon Hader, director of the District’s HIV/AIDS Administration, said, “Our rates are higher than West Africa. They’re on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya.” Hader said the HIV rates in Washington are twice as high as New York City and five times as high as Detroit.

Legal Group Campaigns to Have Attorney Linked to Torture Memos Disbarred

A campaign has been launched to disbar former Pentagon attorney William Haynes for his role in approving the Bush administration’s torture policies. The National Lawyers Guild has filed a complaint with the California State Bar against Haynes. The complaint states that Haynes “breached his duty as a lawyer and advocated for harsh tactics amounting to torture in violation of U.S. and international law.” Unlike several other top Bush administration attorneys, Haynes was able to find a job after leaving office. He is now chief corporate counsel at the oil giant Chevron. The New York Times recently reported former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington are both still looking for work.

Khatami Withdraws from Iranian Presidential Race

In Iran, former president Mohammad Khatami has withdrawn his candidacy from the country’s June presidential election. Khatami said he didn’t want to split the reformist vote. Khatami made the announcement days after another pro-reform candidate, former Iranian Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, announced his candidacy. The BBC reports Khatami’s withdrawal leaves Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a stronger position to win re-election.

Iranian Drone Shot Down in Iraq

The US military has revealed US jets shot down an Iranian unmanned surveillance aircraft last month. The incident took place in Iraq about sixty miles northeast of Baghdad.

Sudan Calls For All Foreign Aid Groups To Leave Within A Year

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir said Monday he wants all foreign aid groups to leave Sudan within a year. Al-Bashir accused the aid groups of providing false testimony against him and his government. The moves comes less than two weeks after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region. John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the aid groups need to stay in Sudan.

John Holmes: “If all the agencies were required to leave and not be able to operate that would, we believe, have enormous ramifications for the welfare of the people of Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. The government of South Sudan for example have made clear that they welcome international NGOs continuing to work in the South and indeed in the border areas. So it would have a very significant impact if it was carried out in quite the way in which that statement appears to suggest. As I say, we’ve only seen media reports of that and we’ve had no clarification about what it’s supposed to mean.”

Record Number of Immigrants Being Held In U.S.

The U.S. government is now holding a record number of immigrants in jail. A new report by the Associated Press found that 32,000 immigrants were being held as of January – nearly five times the number held in 1994. According to the AP, 58 percent of the immigration detainees do not have an attorney.

Obama Vows To Overhaul Food Safety System

President Obama has vowed to fundamentally change how the nation handles food safety issues, saying the current system is a “hazard to public health.” On Saturday Obama announced the creation of a Food Safety Working Group to advise him on which laws and regulations need to be changed.

President Obama: “This Working Group will bring together cabinet secretaries and senior officials to advise me on how we can upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century; foster coordination throughout government; and ensure that we are not just designing laws that will keep the American people safe, but enforcing them.”

President Obama has also nominated Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City health commissioner, to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Michelle Obama Endorses Local Food & Community Gardens

Meanwhile First Lady Michelle Obama has been touting the benefits of locally grown food and community gardens. In a speech last month the First Lady described herself as “a big believer” in community gardens. In a separate interview she said: “When you grow something yourself and it’s close and it’s local, oftentimes it tastes really good.” In an attempt to support local farmers, the White House has begun buying fresh fruits and vegetables from farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Sara Jane Olson To Be Released From Jail

Sara Jane Olson is set to be released today from a California prison. She was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s. She was arrested in 1999 after living for twenty-five years. She pleaded guilty to taking part in two attempts to bomb the Los Angeles Police Department in 1975, but later proclaimed her innocence.

Richard Aoki, Former Black Panther, 1938-2009

And the civil rights activist Richard Aoki has died at the age of 71. He was an early member of the Black Panther Party and later served as a Field Marshal for the Panthers. He was the only Asian-American to hold a leadership role in the group. Aoki was born in 1938 in California and spent part of his childhood living in an internment camp during World War II.

Socialism: Worth Another Look in Light of Economic Crisis?

The Nation is Hosting an Ongoing Debate About the Relevance of Socialism in Light of Capitalism's Failings

The March 23 edition of The Nation introduces a four-issue series entitled “Reinventing Capitalism, Reimagining Socialism.” The series is of note because it boldly proclaims socialism’s pertinence in the midst of our collapsing capitalist economy. This discussion has not taken place in the United States for quite some time–progressives should seize the moment and engage in society-wide anti-capitalist conversation.

The cover features two articles: “A Bank Bailout That Works” by Joseph Stiglitz, former head of the World Bank and leading critic of globalization, and “Rising to the Occasion” by Barbara Ehrenreich, journalist and prolific author, and Bill Fletcher, executive editor of The Black Commentator. In response to Ehrenreich and Fletcher, prominent leftist figures Immanuel Wallerstein, Tariq Ali, Bill McKibben, and Rebecca Solnit discuss their feelings on socialism’s relevancy for the current financial crisis.

While Stiglitz is somewhat more centrist than many of the writers on this blog, his piece does a solid job explaining some of the finer points of how our economic system ended up in such freefall. In addition, he argues against bailing out the bankers, those whose greed got us into this mess in the first place, and forcefully condemns the old neoliberal dogma that the market can be relied on to distribute goods efficiently to citizens (although any rational being, even those who haven’t won the Nobel Prize for Economics, can surely come to this conclusion after taking a cursory glance at our what’s left of our economy).

Of more interest, however, are Ehrenreich and Fletcher’s and Wallerstein’s articles, if for no other reason than their attempt to reclaim the rich legacy of socialist thought in remaking our country and world into a more just and equitable place.

Socialism became a dirty word thrown at Barack Obama by right-wing pundits and politicians alike in a sad attempt to squeeze a few last drops of milk from a cow that has given so abundantly to them in the past, the Red Scare. The sliming attempts have continued (although in my opinion they simply make the Republicans appear more irrelevant and out of touch than ever), but there seems to be a noticeable shift in the dialogue–seen most clearly in Newsweek’s February 16 cover story “We Are All Socialists Now.” The story’s analysis is shallow, to be sure–as Naomi Klein has argued, throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at banks without giving the citizens who are keeping them afloat any democratic control is not socialism–but it seems to represent a shift in the larger discourse of US society about how to get out of our current financial mess.

Ehrenreich and Fletcher’s article is a call for socialists and like-minded progressives to step forward and show that they have an alternative to the way business has been done under American hypercapitalism. The neoliberal insistence on the infallibility and inherent logic of the market has been proven terribly, terribly wrong; we have to step up and point out that we socialists (and anarchists and other anti-capitalists) have been right all along.

“The great promise of capitalism, as first suggested by Adam Smith and recently enshrined in “market fundamentalism,” was that we didn’t have to figure anything out, because the market would take care of everything for us. Instead of promoting self-reliance, this version of free enterprise fostered passivity in the face of that inscrutable deity, the Market. Deregulate, let wages fall to their “natural” level, turn what remains of government into an endless source of bounty for contractors–whee! Well, that hasn’t worked, and the core idea of socialism still stands: that people can get together and figure out how to solve their problems, or at least a lot of their problems, collectively. That we–not the market or the capitalists or some elite group of über-planners–have to control our own destiny.”

Though Ehrenreich and Fletcher’s piece begins The Nation’s series on Reimagining Socialism, it is Immanuel Wallerstein’s article that is most impressive. The article is particularly helpful for the millions of progressives (myself included) who find ourselves unsure of how to think about Barack Obama and organizing for social change while his administration is in power.

Wallerstein argues that there are “two occasions which require to plans for the world left”: the short run and the middle run. The short run has to do with the immediate conditions of misery faced by the market’s collapse: homelessness, unemployment, lack of health care, loss of life savings, and the like. The middle run is about dismantling the undemocratic, inequality-laden, environmentally destructive system of capitalism that causes these problems. Obama can deliver on the former, but not the latter:

“What we want from Obama is not social transformation. He neither wishes to, nor is able to, offer us that. We want from him measures that will minimize the pain and suffering of most people right now. That he can do, and that is where pressure on him may make a difference.”

When compared with our two options in the last election, Obama and McCain, Obama is certainly the one who is more likely to respond to grassroots pressure to address the most visibly painful results of capitalism. We should be thankful that we do not have as callous of a president in the Oval Office as John McCain. But Wallerstein makes clear that when it comes to long-term structural change, Obama is no different from McCain or any other politician. We need to distinguish between where he is our enemy and where he is our friend, because he is not solely one or the other.

“The middle run is quite different. And here Obama is irrelevant, as are all the other left-of-center governments. What is going on is the disintegration of capitalism as a world system, not because it can’t guarantee welfare for the vast majority (it never could do that) but because it can no longer ensure that capitalists will have the endless accumulation of capital that is their raison d’être. We have arrived at a moment in which neither farsighted capitalists nor their opponents (us) are trying to preserve the system. We are both trying to establish a new system, but of course we have very different, indeed radically opposed, ideas about the nature of such a system.”

The Nation’s inclusion of these pieces will hopefully be a part of a larger shift in society that brings anti-capitalist ideas to the forefront. It is tragic that a global financial meltdown has been required to achieve this–although it should be remembered that for the vast majority of the world, capitalism has never entailed anything but disaster–but we have to seize the opportunity.

Check The Nation’s web site in the next few weeks for the ongoing discussion.

Empowered Women’s Health Workshop Explores Alternatives to Traditional Healthcare

An Empowered Women's Health Workshop Hosted by The Bloom Collective Provided Alternatives to Corporate Dominated Healthcare

On Saturday, about 25 people of various ages gathered at the Tanglefoot building for the Empowered Women’s Health Workshop, hosted by The Bloom Collective.

The workshops were varied in topic and in style:

Birthing and Pregnancy

The first workshop, about a woman-sense approaching to birthing and pregnancy, was facilitated by Yolanda Visser, a local lay midwife who has been practicing for 20 years. Visser talked about how giving birth has become “medicalized,” but that there are other aspects to the process. For example, Visser focuses on a spiritual component as well, noting that birth is inherently spiritual as the miracle of life. She also makes sure to care for the mother as well as the child during the birthing process.

Some of the challenges of home birthing were also discussed. For example, in Michigan home births are legal, but in nearby states they are not.

Media and Marketing – “Pink” Products

Following this was a workshop about media and marketing targeting women for profit, facilitated by Julia Mason, asst. professor of Women and Gender Studies at GVSU and Mindy Holohan, a member of Kent County Friends of Coalition for a Commercial Free Childhood.

Mason began the discussion by talking about recent campaigns for breast cancer awareness. She stated her opinion that the issue of breast cancer needs to be focused on as a societal issue, rather than individual. On the subject of “pink” consumer products, she noted that it is important to be educated on whether or not the company you buy from will actually do anything concrete with the profits – Mason recommended www.thinkbeforeyoupink.com as a resource to educate yourself on which products are legitimate. She pointed out the contradiction of many of these “pink ribbon” products, noting that many women’s pharmaceuticals contain cancer causing chemicals, but then convince consumers to buy their products in order to fight cancer. The discussion was then led to the problems of a consumerism viewed as a fix for societal problems – most people present were critical of the current cultures which dictates that we all need more stuff to be happy.

Marketing Toward Young Children

Mindy Holohan focused on marketing toward young children – she read off some disturbing statistics (the average male sees his first pornographic image at age 11.5, a life size Barbie would have a 16 inch waist), saying “we are a culture in crisis.” To further illustrate her point, she passed around disturbing advertising images of dolls distributed in Happy Meals dressed provocatively and caked with make up, of 4 year old human models dressed in the same manner, and advertising for young males which shows unrealistically muscular men and promotes stereotypes. Holohan called on society’s fathers to step up and learn to be supportive for their young daughters as they navigate through this sea of advertising – “There is no time a girl needs her Dad more than early adolescence, but that’s when they’re pulling away.”

Menstrual Health

The next workshop, “De-Sanitizing Our Menstrual Health,” facilitated by GVSU student Rachel Hamilton and Lori Day, utilized a more hands-on approach. Materials and instructions for everyone present (whether or not they themselves menstruate) were shared to sew their own reusable menstrual pad. While everyone sewed, the facilitators talked about how our culture has made menstruation a taboo topic, and they encouraged everyone to get rid of that stigma and share their own experiences.

During discussion, it came up that many young women are confused when their first cycle occurs, because so little information about menstruation was given to them prior. Discussion continued to the problems of the most commonly used products – disposable pads and tampons. As with any disposable product, these are harmful to the environment, both in their manufacturing process and after being thrown out. They also contain toxins which are harmful to the body, most of which are added during the bleaching process (contradictorily, the only reason these products are bleached is give the illusion of cleanliness.)

Many alternatives were shared: reusable pads, menstrual cups (the Diva Cup and the Keeper were two brands mentioned), sponges and disposable cups, all of which are better for women’s bodies and the environment.

Meditation

The final workshop of the day, facilitated by Kathy Reider of Intuitive Services, began with an explanation of the benefits of meditation: meditation gives one’s body the chance to everything down, and helps the body heal more quickly. Meditation connects you to the fullness of who you are, allowing you to have better relationships. Reider said, “being grounded is your natural state. Thinking is not.” The group was then led through a meditation technique, which some found beneficial, and others struggled to relax.

For the final twenty minutes, everyone participated in a go-around in which we shared what we do for our own health. Exercise, a healthy diet, using a menstrual cup, and many other ideas were mentioned.

Overall, the workshops represented a variety of opinions and encouraged productive discussion among everyone present.

Taxes on Wealthy Could Generate Revenue, Help Prevent Future Economic Crisis

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In the United States, the wealthiest citizens pay relatively little in taxes compared to the rest of us.

According to a recent article by the Institute for Policy Studies:

“As recent IRS data show, these elites are paying less in taxes – much less – than their deep-pocket counterparts used to pay. In 2006, the 400 highest-income Americans together reported $105 billion in income, an average of $263 million each.

Having trouble visualizing that? To pocket $263 million a year, you would have to take home over $60,000 an hour – and work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for an entire 12 months. Sounds tiring, doesn’t it? But most of the top 400 make their fortunes buying and selling assets, everything from stocks and bonds to the exotic paper that helped inflate the housing bubble.

Uncle Sam taxes income from those assets – whether that income be capital gains or dividends – at a much lower rate than income from work.

The current top tax rate on “ordinary” work income sits at 35 percent. But dividends and capital gains from the buying and selling of most assets face only a 15 percent top rate. That’s why in 2006, America’s top 400 paid just 17.2 percent of their $263 million average incomes in federal tax.

Millions of middle-class American families, once you tally income and payroll taxes, pay far more of their incomes in tax. One particularly striking example from billionaire investor Warren Buffett: In 2006, he paid 17.7 percent of his income in total taxes. His secretary, who made $60,000, paid 30 percent of hers.

How did we end up with this sorry state of affairs? Lawmakers in Congress have spent the past several decades systematically slicing the tax rates on America’s top income brackets. Their rationale? Lower taxes on the top, free up capital for investment, and boost productivity.

In actual economic practice, those lower taxes have served instead to fuel speculation and increase budget deficits. For the ultrarich themselves, the tax savings have been nothing short of breathtaking. Back in 1955, America’s top 400 paid more than 50 percent of their incomes in federal tax, almost triple the rate of today’s top 400.”

A Solution to Revenue Problems: Increase Taxes on the Wealthiest

Late last month, the Institute for Policy Studies released a report that argues that taxes should be raised for the wealthiest Americans in order to fuel the economic recovery and address major national crisis like health care and global warming. Unlike what is frequently reported in the media and in Washington, the think-tank argues that this would make the U.S. economy stronger:

“Higher taxes on the wealthy, in our current economic situation, would actually have a positive impact. Appropriately targeted, these taxes would dampen the speculative frenzy of the last several decades. Over these years, grand concentrations of private wealth have been the engines behind the high-risk, high-return speculation that fueled economic bubbles in technology, housing, and commodities. Reducing these grand concentrations of wealth will help discourage future economic bubbles.

By the same token, carefully targeting higher taxes on U.S. corporations that have hidden dollars overseas to game the tax system would also raise federal revenues and, at the same time, help strengthen our basic economic foundation.”

Moreover, the report argues that increasing taxes would not impact consumption, which it says drives employment, thus refuting common arguments that raising taxes would result in lost jobs.

Specific Tax Changes Proposed

The report recommends seven specific tax proposals that it says would raise $500 billion a year in revenue and $3 trillion over five years.

These proposals include:

  1. Repeal tax breaks for households with annual incomes over $250,000: $43 billion per year.
  2. Tax speculative financial transactions: $100 2. billion per year. A modest tax on every transaction that involves the buying and selling of stock and other financial products — a penny, for instance, on every $4 traded — would both generate substantial revenue and, if calibrated to impose a stiffer burden on rapidly flipped investments, discourage economically reckless speculation. Several European countries already tax stock trans- actions.
  3. Eliminate the high-income tax preference for capital gains and dividends: $95 billion per year. Current law subjects most dividend and capital gains income — the income that flows overwhelmingly to wealthier Americans — to a 15 percent tax rate. The tax on wage and salary income, by contrast, can run up to 35 percent.
  4. Levy a significant estate tax on grand fortunes: $60 billion per year.
  5. Establish a recovery emergency tax rate on extremely high incomes: $60-105 billion per year. High-income Americans currently face a top tax rate that runs less than half the top rate in effect over the half-century before 1981. Restoring a higher tax rate on high incomes could help finance our economic recovery.
  6. End overseas tax havens: $100 billion per year. Individual American taxpayers are now annually evading between $40 and $70 billion in U.S. taxes through offshore tax dodges. U.S. corporations use similar offshore schemes to evade another $30 billion.
  7. Eliminate subsidies for excessive executive compensation: $18 billion per year. As taxpayers, we subsidize over-the-top management pay through a host of tax loopholes. Congress should close these loopholes, starting with immediate action to deny all corporations, not just companies getting bailout dollars, tax deductions on any executive compensation that runs over $500,000, or 25 times, the pay of a company’s lowest-paid workers.