Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Tue, 07 Jul 2015 22:21:42 -0400 en-gb Greece's Syriza: A Government With Tactics but No Strategy http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31761-greece-s-syriza-a-government-with-tactics-but-no-strategy http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31761-greece-s-syriza-a-government-with-tactics-but-no-strategy

After five months in power, Syriza remains staunchly pro-euro and has refused to deliberate the pros and cons of Greece remaining in the eurozone, which the nation cannot do without accepting European bailout funds and agreeing to austerity. The outcome of the referendum in no way implies that Greece will have it any easier in its negotiations with the euromasters.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at a press conference after a meeting with the German Chancellor in the Chancellery in Berlin, March 23.Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at a press conference after a meeting with the German Chancellor in the Chancellery in Berlin, March 23. (Photo: 360b / Shutterstock.com)

After five long years of brutal austerity measures that reduced Greece's GDP by more than 20 percent and caused official unemployment rates to reach stratospheric levels (over 25 percent), not to mention swelling debt and the stripping of public assets, the Greek people voted overwhelmingly in a national referendum on July 5 (though close to 40 percent of registered voters abstained from the ballot boxes) against the continuation of a bailout program worth billions of euros in exchange for more austerity and deeper structural adjustments.

At least this is how things seem on the surface.

To put it another way, if the referendum had included a question as to whether Greece should remain in the euro (perhaps even at any cost), it is beyond a doubt that the result would have been entirely different.

This is why Greece's leftist government rejected the Greek Communist Party's proposal that the referendum include a question about delinking Greece from the European Union (EU).

To read more articles by C. J. Polychroniou and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here

Indeed, the majority of Greeks continue to attach themselves to the euro straightjacket, and there are only two political parties represented in the Greek Parliament that call for an exit from the eurozone and the EU: the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn and the Greek Communist Party.

The Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), which has been in power since late January and came up with the idea of the referendum in an attempt to avoid the collapse of the government on account of being forced to accept an unpopular European proposal, has been staunchly pro-euro all along and has refused to embark on a political dialogue about the pros and cons of Greece remaining in the euro area.

So here is the crux of the matter. Can Greece remain in the eurozone without continuing to receive external financial aid that would be accompanied with demands on the part of its official creditors for more blood and tears?

If anyone says "yes," they need a reality check. And that includes Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, his former finance minister and the entire Syriza-led government. This is why the July 5 vote was a muddled referendum, a sham referendum with great implications.

To be sure, Syriza has already extracted the consent of Greece's pro-European parties (New Democracy, Pasok and To Potami) to strike a deal with the creditors as quickly as possible that would, hopefully, prevent the collapse of the Greek banking system and avoid Greece's exit from the eurozone, a so-called Grexit.

And Tsipras did not hesitate one moment following the outcome of the referendum to sacrifice his flamboyant and irritable finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, the architect of Syriza's disastrous "diplomacy as warfare" negotiation approach with Greece's creditors, in an attempt to make a conciliatory gesture to the euromasters.

What has Syriza accomplished after five months of being in power?

Mind you, all this is not to suggest that a disorderly exit from the euro is the preferred option for dealing with the sadistic stance of Greece's creditors and the economics of social disaster enforced in Greece by a neoliberal Europe and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In fact, it should not be an option at all, for such an outcome would have catastrophic effects on Greece beyond anything the country has experienced so far under the EU and IMF bailout programs. An exit from the euro requires having reached in advance an agreement with the European authorities, having plans in place for the transition from the euro to a national currency (which could take months to be fully completed), having made efforts to introduce a substitution policy, and having secured some important strategic alliances from major actors in the international system.

The Syriza-led coalition government, a peculiar alliance between the "radical" left and the nationalist, right-wing Independent Greeks (Anel) party, has no contingency plan whatsoever in the event of a sudden Grexit.

This is why the referendum was a sham referendum that makes the Syriza-led government not only highly opportunistic but also quite dangerous. It has tactics, but no strategy. And as Sun Tzu, the Chinese general and philosopher, said, "tactics without strategy is the noise of defeat."

Indeed, what has Syriza accomplished after five months of being in power aside from having toyed with people's emotions and having generated a great deal of temporary enthusiasm about giving the finger to Germany and the EU?

It has not made one inch of progress toward the realization of the Thessaloniki program (end austerity, secure a debt write-off, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, address the humanitarian crisis) but has managed, instead, to revert the economy back to a recession after a minor but promising 0.8 percent rate of growth at the end of 2014, bring the banking system to the verge of collapse (Greek banks have been closed for over a week now and may never open again if there is no agreement very soon) and impose capital controls, limiting withdrawals to 50 euros a day (it was originally 60 euros, but banks have run out of 20 euro notes!), force many businesses to lay off additional workers and risk a disorderly exit from the euro.

No one ever said that managing Greece's catastrophic, austerity-driven crisis would be a walk in the park. Regardless of the nature of the government in power, the Greek economy faces some enormous challenges that cannot be overcome in a matter of months or even a few years. But it requires facing reality head-on and having a strategy for a way out of the crisis.

Syriza has failed miserably on both of these tasks. It refuses to address the problem of the inefficiency of public sector institutions and continues to employ the same despicable cronyist habits of the previous governments by providing jobs to government family members. Its views on higher education (human capital remains Greece's most vital resource) are counterproductive and have already alienated the bulk of the academic community in Greece; it seems to have no idea how to boost the economy (apparently, the Syriza government has yet to decide whether it wants to run a capitalist or a socialist economy!); and its diplomacy and negotiation skills have proven not merely insufficient but outright incompetent.

It is very hard to predict what will happen next. The European Central Bank, as a true enforcer of austerity as I have argued elsewhere, made the decision yesterday to hike Greek Emergency Liquidity Assistance haircuts, thus bringing Greek banks a step closer to collapse and one step closer to being taken over by foreign banks in the event no deal is made by July 20, which is the date that the Greek government needs to make a 3.5 billion euro payment to the European Central Bank.

At this moment, the Greek government is getting ready to submit a proposal to the eurozone authorities (the first step will be some king of a bridging program) in order to avoid the catastrophic scenario of a disorderly exit from the euro and the return to a national currency. In all likelihood, the deal will revolve around the so-called Juncker proposal (named for the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker), which is a milder version of the extremely harsh proposal offered to Greece at the June 25 euro summit, but it will include a demand for debt restructuring, immediate financing for Greek banks and funds for the boosting of the Greek economy. The case for debt restructuring is enhanced by the IMF's debt sustainability analysis of late June, which describes Greece's debt as unsustainable. As for the rest, only the clause for immediate financing for Greek banks might fly.

In exchange, it is certain that the Tsipras government will make major concessions on reforms, including privatizations, otherwise it knows there will be no deal.

How Germany will react to the Greek proposal is anyone's guess. If past experience is any guide, Berlin will seek to humiliate the Greek government by forcing it to accept harsh bailout terms. It will be Germany's way of getting even for the outcome of the Greek referendum. At the same time, however, it appears that the eurozone masters are rather hesitant to let Greece go as they are afraid of the geopolitical repercussions of such a development much more so than the economic cost associated with Greece defaulting and crashing out of the euro.

Varoufakis' belief that there will be an Armageddon in the event of a Grexit couldn't have been more wrong, and it is the primary reason as to why the negotiation approach pursued by the Greek government produced nothing but dismal results. So, if the new Greek negotiation team plays its cards right, it may get away with some minor concessions on the part of the creditors.

In sum, the outcome of the Greek referendum in no way implies that Greece will have it any easier in its negotiations with the euromasters. The actors behind the EU's technocratic and anti-democratic institutions could not care any less what the outcome of the referendum was, as the wish of the Greek people takes a back seat to the interests they represent while European politicians need to justify to their own voters why they should continue bailing out Greece.

The Tsipras government may be opportunistic and incompetent, but it is hardly unaware of these realities. That's why it is ready to make a deal that would still be in line with the logic of the previous bailout terms. This is why Tsipras secured the consent of Greece's pro-European parties, i.e., in order to ensure that the Greek Parliament will approve a new bailout program.

With the referendum, Alexis Tsipras succeeded in making himself the unquestionable king on the Greek political stage (a development which led to the resignation of the leader of the conservative New Democracy party), but he remains at the mercy of the euromasters.

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Opinion Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Alaskan Wildfires Have Destroyed More Than 1 Million Acres of Land in 2015, and More http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31759-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-alaskan-wildfires-have-destroyed-more-than-1-million-acres-of-land-in-2015-and-more http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31759-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-alaskan-wildfires-have-destroyed-more-than-1-million-acres-of-land-in-2015-and-more

In today's On the News segment: Wildfires in Alaska have already consumed more than 1 million acres of land this year alone; the Dalai Lama publicly endorsed Pope Francis' recent encyclical on the climate; BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation will have to pay out billions of dollars in fines as a result of the 2010 oil disaster; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Science and Green News ...

You need to know this. The 2015 wildfire season is off to a blazing start. And, even though you may not be in the immediate area, that doesn't mean that you're safe from the impact of the fires. According to the ThinkProgress blog, there were 45 large, active wildfires burning in Western states as of June 30, and fires in Alaska - yes, Alaska - have already consumed more than one million acres of land this year alone. The lingering drought and above-average temperatures have created the perfect environment for wildfires to start, spread and intensify. But, the flames aren't the only reason that these fires are dangerous. Even for those who live miles away from any ongoing wildfire, smoke pollution can cause serious health concerns. Fine particles within the smoke can cause an increase in asthma attacks and allergies, and can even make conditions like heart disease worse as far as 100 miles away from a large fire. In addition, as fires burn and destroy forests and surface vegetation, they expose the soil to more erosion, which leads to more drought and a recipe for more wildfires. And that soil erosion causes more soil and farm runoff into local water ways, and lowers water quality for humans and animals alike. Although wildfires are a natural occurrence, the last century of pumping carbon in to the atmosphere has made them more likely, and harder to fight. These massive blazes threaten our homes and our communities, and they pose a serious risk to human life. We'll never stop all wildfires from happening, but we can stop creating the conditions that make them more likely. To help make the next wildfire seasons less dangerous, we need to do much more in the fight against climate change.

While Republican presidential hopefuls say that religious leaders should leave the climate talk to the scientists, more religious leaders are speaking out about global warming. Last week, the Dalai Lama publicly endorsed Pope Francis' recent encyclical on the climate. The Buddhist leader spoke to a crowd at Glastonbury festival in Somerset, England, where he praised the pope and called on more religious leaders to "speak out about current affairs which affect the future of mankind." In fact, the Dalai Lama said that we need to do more than talk in order to protect our species. He said, "It is not sufficient to just express views, we must set a timetable for change in the next two to four years." Like the Catholic leader, the Dalai Lama recognizes that the future of mankind is tied to how we treat our planet, and that the basic tenants of most religions center on how we treat each other. Whether you are an atheist or a Catholic or a Buddhist, hopefully you can see the value in that philosophy.

Despite what you've seen in their commercials, BP and their partners have not made everything better in the Gulf of Mexico. But, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, BP and their partner Anadarko Petroleum Corporation will have to pay out billions more in fines as a result of the 2010 oil disaster. Those companies previously filed an appeal to block the additional $15 billion in fines that the federal government is seeking. The Supreme Court recently rejected that appeal, and left the case in the hands of U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who may impose those fines any day. Judge Barbier previously ruled that BP was grossly negligent and subject to more severe fines under the Clean Water Act, so it's unlikely that judge will go easy when it comes to handing out penalties. The companies involved the Deepwater Horizon blowout have done everything they could to deny responsibility and limit their costs at every turn. And during that time, BP has had the audacity to say that they've cleaned up the Gulf. You can't put a price on the marine life killed in that spill, or on the devastation felt by the families who made their living off that body of water. As far as the people impacted are concerned, there is no fine large enough to pay for that damage, and it's great news that our Supreme Court agrees.

Republicans must be terrified of broccoli. The House of Representatives recently passed not one, but two bills to make it harder for scientists to tell you to eat healthy. And, at the same time, Republicans in a Senate subcommittee passed a bill that bars the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) from considering how our diet effects the environment or vice versa. Because they're terrified that anything may come between their party and their planet-destroying corporate donors. The recent DGAC guidelines issued the common-sense statement, "a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet." But, to Republicans, that equates to government overreach. It doesn't take a Masters degree in science to understand that vegetables are good for you and that industrial animal farms are bad for our planet. Thankfully we can all recognize this, even with Republicans' pathetic attempt to avoid the science.

And finally... Next time you listen to your favorite drum solo, you may want to take a second to consider the math. That's right, according to a recent analysis from physicist Holger Henning, professional drummers bang out patterns of timing and loudness that have a mathematical form. Specifically, these patterns of time and volume deviation take the form of a fractal – a mathematical pattern that looks "self-similar" on many different scales. That pattern repeats at specific intervals of volume and time, creating the fractal form, but to most of us it just sounds like a groovy drum beat. Previous papers have documented the mathematical patten in drum beats, but this new study found a similar pattern in the volume variations that drummers use throughout a song. Henning said, "It seems that the timekeeper in the brain not only produces fractal timing, but likely also fractal intensity or, in this case, loudness." And, it seems that science just proved that there is a little bit of math geek in every one of our favorite musicians.

And that's the way it is for the week of July 6, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science and Green News.

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News Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
A Socialist Surge in the US? Bernie Sanders Draws Record Crowds, Praises Greek Anti-Austerity Vote http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31758-a-socialist-surge-in-the-us-bernie-sanders-draws-record-crowds-praises-greek-anti-austerity-vote http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31758-a-socialist-surge-in-the-us-bernie-sanders-draws-record-crowds-praises-greek-anti-austerity-vote

The Greek election has also factored into the U.S. presidential race. On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders said, "I applaud the people of Greece for saying 'no' to more austerity for the poor, the children, the sick and the elderly. In a world of massive wealth and income inequality, Europe must support Greece's efforts to build an economy which creates more jobs and income, not more unemployment and suffering." Sanders' anti-austerity platform is resonating with voters. On Monday, Sanders spoke before 9,000 in Portland, Maine. Last week he drew more than 10,000 people in Madison, Wisconsin, in the largest crowd of any presidential candidate in the 2016 race. We speak to Richard Wolff about Bernie Sanders and what it means to be a socialist.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Last week, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, drew the largest crowd of any presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, so far this election season, when he spoke to 10,000 people in Madison, Wisconsin.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: We can. We can provide healthcare to every man, woman and child as a right. We can make certain that every person in this country can get all of the education he or she needs, regardless of the income. We can create millions of decent-paying jobs. We can have the best child care system in the world. In the last 30 years, there has been a huge redistribution of wealth from the middle class and working families to the top one-tenth of 1 percent. Our job is to reverse that, redistribute wealth back into the hands of working families.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement released on Sunday, Senator Sanders praised the Greek referendum. He said, quote, "I applaud the people of Greece for saying 'no' to more austerity for the poor, the children, the sick and the elderly. In a world of massive wealth and income inequality, Europe must support Greece’s efforts to build an economy which creates more jobs and income, not more unemployment and suffering." That’s Bernie Sanders’ comment. Yesterday at Portland, Maine, he drew something like 9,000 people. The country hasn’t seen this kind of crowds before. Front page of The New York Times today headlined "Sanders’ Momentum in Iowa Leaves Clinton Camp on Edge." Talk about how Sanders fits into this bigger picture, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFF: I think what Syriza shows in Greece is the potential of a mass popular resistance, not only to the austerity policies that came in after the crisis of 2008, but even to the very basic system of the countries of Europe that divide people into a tiny number of very wealthy and a mass of poor, that the system is producing outcomes that more and more people are hurt by, are critical of and want to change. But the conventional politics, the Republican and Democratic parties here and their equivalents all across Europe, don’t see it, don’t act on it, don’t even speak about it. So it becomes a kind of a vacuum, where there’s no political expression of what a growing mass of people feel, both about austerity and about capitalism as a system. And so it’s like a solution into which you drop that last little bit of hard material and everything crystallizes. Everybody is waiting for the new political voice to emerge that speaks to and represents what the traditional politics have failed to do.

Bernie Sanders is doing that in this country, and he’s doing it very well, exactly like Syriza surprised everybody. Indeed, in England, there’s a struggle going on right now inside the Labour Party, where a candidate like Bernie Sanders, named Corbyn, is surprising everybody by the support he’s getting inside the struggle for who will be the new leader of the Labour Party. So you see everywhere the signs of an emerging left wing, not because of some political maneuver, but because of the enormous vacuum that a left leadership can take advantage of, given what has happened in the last eight years of this capitalist global system.

AMY GOODMAN: How does Bernie Sanders compare to Hillary Clinton?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, she’s the old. She is the staid, do it by the books, the old rules, as Paul said so nicely. She is playing the game the way the game has been played now for decades. Bernie Sanders is saying the unthinkable, saying it out loud, saying it with passion, putting himself forward, even though the name "socialist," which was supposed to be a political death sentence—as if it weren’t there. And he’s showing that for the mass of the American people, it’s not the bad word it once was. It’s sort of a kind of position in which the conventional parties are so out of touch with how things have changed, that they make it easy for Mr. Sanders to have the kind of response he’s getting. And my hat’s off to him for doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what socialism means.

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, that’s a big one. Socialism has traditionally meant one thing, but it’s changing, as well. Traditionally, it meant that instead of private ownership of means of production, of factories and land and offices, you socialize it. The government takes it over. And instead of having bargaining in the market, buying and selling goods to one another, we work from a governmental plan. So it gives the government an enormous power. But the idea was, if the government owns and operates the businesses, and if the government plans how we distribute goods and services, it will all be done more democratically, more egalitarian, etc., etc., than capitalism. That was always the idea.

The problem was, socialists have to admit, that giving the government that much power raises a whole new set of problems, which the Soviet Union and China and so on illustrate. So the question is: Are there other ways of understanding socialism that gets us the benefits without the negatives? And I think the new direction is the whole focus at the enterprise level, of changing the way we organize enterprises, so they stop being top-down, hierarchical, board of directors makes all the decisions, and we move to this idea which is now catching on: cooperation, workers owning and operating collectively and democratically their economy and their enterprise.

AMY GOODMAN: When Senator Sanders talks about it, he talks about the example of Scandinavia.

RICHARD WOLFF: Scandinavia is one example. He also sometimes talks about co-ops. And I think there’s the hint of what he is hopefully going to say more about, that if we believe in democracy, as we claim to do, then we should have instituted democracy, from the beginning, in the workplace. It’s where, after all, most adults spend most of their lives, at work, five out of seven days, 9:00 to 5:00. If you believe in democracy, then why haven’t we made our workplaces democratic, or cooperative, just another way of saying it? I think the new direction that socialism is taking, and that will make it extremely powerful, both in the United States and in Europe, is a system in which, yes, the government is given a whole set of roles, but the base that will control the government are workers who now own and operate enterprises, and therefore will have the power to constrain that government. That’s a way of fixing and learning from socialism’s history.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernie Sanders is also talking about taxing the rich. Now, taxes in the U.S., the standard wisdom is you can’t talk about it. But we’re seeing a level of wealth going from the bottom to the top like we’ve never seen in history. Can you talk about what that would look like?

RICHARD WOLFF: Yes. In one way, it’s easy to talk about it, because it’s going back to something we in America once had. I often have to explain to people, because of our strange way of—I don’t know—amnesia about our economic history, what we once had. I’ll give you an example. At the end of World War II, for every dollar paid into the federal government by individuals in personal income tax, corporations paid $1.50. In other words, corporations as a whole paid 50 percent more than individuals as a whole. Today the relationship is, for every dollar that we as individuals pay, corporations pay 25 cents. In other words, there’s been a change in the taxes. I’ll give you another example. In the ’50s and ’60s, the richest people paid an income tax rate of 90 percent or above. Today they pay 39 percent, is the maximum.

So, what we’ve seen—and Bernie said it quite right—is a massive change in the tax structure, benefiting the richest and putting the burden on the middle and the bottom. And all we are asking—people like Bernie Sanders or, for that matter, me—is that we go back to what we had, especially when you remember that the '50s and ’60s, when we taxed the rich, we had rates of economic growth much faster than we've had now that we don’t tax them anymore. We have lower kinds of economic development, because we help the rich, which is bizarre, because the argument for helping the rich has always been that’s what you need to do to get economic growth, but the actual history of the United States is the reverse.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, Richard Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, visiting professor at New School University, has written a number of books. Among his latest is the book, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism. Also has a radio show that broadcasts on Pacifica radio stations and community radio stations around the country, called Economic Update.

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News Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Robert Solow in Conversation With Paul Krugman: "Inequality: What Can Be Done?" http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31757-robert-solow-in-conversation-with-paul-krugman-inequality-what-can-be-done http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31757-robert-solow-in-conversation-with-paul-krugman-inequality-what-can-be-done

On May 1, 2015, Robert Solow (Professor of Economics, Emeritus, MIT) and Paul Krugman (Distinguished Professor of Economics, The Graduate Center, beginning Fall 2015) discussed Anthony B. Atkinson’s new book, Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard University Press, 2015) at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City. 

Solow and Krugman's conversation was introduced and moderated by LIS Director Janet Gornick, professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center.

The British economist and renowned inequality scholar Tony Atkinson (Oxford and London School of Economics) argues that economic inequality has reached unacceptable levels in many countries. In this ambitious book, Atkinson lays out an agenda for reducing inequality. His policy proposals span five areas: technology, employment, the sharing of capital, taxation, and social security. 

Inequality: What Can Be Done? is a vigorous and powerful call to action, rich in theory, evidence, and practical experience. Solow and Krugman examine the desirability, viability, and feasibility of Atkinson's policy recommendations - with an eye toward translating his arguments into the United States context.

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News Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Economist Richard Wolff on Roots of Greek Crisis, Debt Relief and Rise of Anti-Capitalism in Europe http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31756-economist-richard-wolff-on-roots-of-greek-crisis-debt-relief-and-rise-of-anti-capitalism-in-europe http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31756-economist-richard-wolff-on-roots-of-greek-crisis-debt-relief-and-rise-of-anti-capitalism-in-europe

As Greek voters reject further budget cuts and tax hikes in exchange for a rescue package from European creditors, who is to blame for the debt crisis embroiling Greece? Is Germany trying to crush Greece to set an example? Will Greece leave the eurozone? What does this mean for the global economy? We speak to Richard Wolff, emeritus professor of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and visiting professor at New School University. He's the author of several books, including, most recently, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism. Still with us in Athens, Greece, is Paul Mason, economics editor at Channel 4 News.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Wolff, Germany clearly is controlling this situation, of any country. Why do they want to crush Greece? Or do they?

RICHARD WOLFF: I think the Germans face a choice. They’re worried that as the richest country, as the country that controls the situation, and as a country that historically has benefited from the very thing that Greece now wants, which they don’t want to give to the Greeks, that they face the risk that if they crush Greece, it will produce the reaction Paul has described. On the other hand, they will send a message to the Spanish, to the Italians, to the Portuguese and others, who are basically in a very similar situation, only they’re much larger, and the Germans are therefore afraid they’ll have to bail out all of Europe. They can’t afford it. They’re terrified. On the other hand, if they don’t cut a deal with Greece, then they face the possibility of left-wing governments in these other countries and a whole transformation, and they’re choosing between them.

The irony here, the historical irony, is something I think we need to understand. Back in 1953, the Germans, with a very crushed economy—in that case, because of the Great Depression and the fact that they lost World War II—went to the United States, France and Britain and said, "We can’t join you as a bulwark against the Soviet Union unless you relieve us of our enormous debts, which are hampering our ability to grow." Across 1953, they had meetings in London. When those meetings concluded, with the so-called London Agreement, here’s what Germany got from the United States, France and Britain: 50 percent of their outstanding debt, which was very high, was erased, and the other 50 percent of their debt was stretched out over 30 years. In effect, Germany got the relief of all of its basic indebtedness, based on two world wars that they were held accountable for, and that enabled them to have the so-called Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle that happened. They now refuse to give to Greece what they got. They refuse to allow Greece to have the chance to solve its economic problems just the way Germany asked for and got. And this discrepancy between these two countries is producing a stress inside Europe that is, what Paul Mason correctly points to, fundamentally dangerous to the whole project of a United States of Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Paul Mason, what about, for example, the people of Germany and other European countries versus their governments that are pressuring Greece right now? And also, in addition to your analysis of Germany’s role, Paul, people cannot take out more than what’s equivalent to $60, 67 euros, from the bank right now, the banks actually closed until Wednesday, if not beyond. And what does that mean? Is there a rift between younger people, who voted overwhelmingly no, and pensioners, who were more supportive of a "yes" vote?

PAUL MASON: No, no. I mean, let’s take that, to start with. Greek society is divided between left and right, between the grandchildren of people who fought in a civil war here in the late 1940s and indeed the Communist resistance movement that defeated the Nazis in 1944. So that goes back a long way. That’s the real division. And therefore, you know, one of the first sets of people on the streets when Tsipras even tried to make a compromise were 70 coachloads of Communist pensioners who tried to storm the street his office is in. So, don’t think it’s young v. old. Look, it is left v. right. And it is class—as Tsakalotos says there, it is a class issue, as well. The richest areas voted 80 percent yes, the poorest areas voted 80 percent no. But the Greek elite got a lesson that the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley taught the English elite in the aftermath of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre in the famous line from his poem: "Ye are many," to the working class—"they are few." You can’t win a referendum with only rich people. So, that’s the issue here.

On the question of the 60-euros-a-day withdrawal, again, it is, in a strange way, redistributive. Young people here earn, on average, 400 euros a month. That’s what you get for waiting tables. And you’ll find many graduates and Ph.D.s waiting tables. If you draw 60 euros a day out of your account, you’ll clear your 400 euros in a week. You’re not going to be drawing 60 euros a day out. Some people are walking around this city with five euros in their pocket. Now, that has been survivable for them, but not really survivable for businesses. And I’m finding, in the businesses I talk to, extreme pain. It’s the payments mechanism. It’s the supply chain. It is the ability to settle accounts. And, of course, I understand that large corporates, the big global corporates, are keeping supplies coming in, even while they’re not being paid. They’e been advised to do that to avoid reputational damage. But it’s the Greek corporates, it’s the Greek medium and large enterprises that don’t have that ability, where things are breaking down. So if the banks were to go on top of that, that would really be an awful situation.

And that is what—you know, to sum up here, because I do have to rush and do my day job, and indeed complete the documentary that we’ve been working on for six months here, is—the sum-up here is the Europeans cannot afford to let this country go. As Rick says, it’s about Europe. But we are one border here away from the Islamic State. So we have the Turkish border and then the Turkish border with the Kurdish areas, and that’s the Islamic State. Some Greek islands are five miles away—less than five miles away from Turkey, where Syrian refugees are pouring in at thousands a week. And then we are in the region of Vladimir Putin and the newly belligerent Russia. Do you really want a state that has the biggest spend per capita on military, in NATO, in Europe, to fail? That’s the issue. And it’s the issue, I know, that the American State Department is well aware of. The State Department are pressuring the Germans very heavily.

The problem is, as you suggested there, the German people. Don’t get your hopes up about a German mass revolt in favor of Greece. Yes, the left party, Die Linke, is a sister party of Syriza, and, yes, it rules a couple of regions. But the leader of the German Social Democrats has been saying to the Greeks, basically, "Get lost." And many German voters who vote for that party, this German socialist party, and the two right-wing parties that run Germany, the CDU/CSU, have kind of switched off their solidarity with southern Europe. They’ve begun to think very nationalistically in terms of their own economy. And, of course, if you’ve got the Greeks voting for their own bailout and the Germans voting against, democracy is beginning, in other words, to tear the euro apart. I’m afraid that is—if Merkel makes a deal tonight, she’ll probably do it against the wishes of her own party and her own people.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Mason, thanks for being with us, economics editor at Channel 4 News, producing the forthcoming documentary about Greece titled And Dreams Shall Take Revenge. Go to your day job. Speaking to us from Athens, Greece. And Richard Wolff is still with us. In our next segment, I want to talk to you about what’s happening here at home in the United States, and particularly the rise of the Democratic candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, who is a socialist himself, and what that means in this larger global context. But this whole issue that Paul Mason was just referring to, leaving the eurozone, what does that mean, actually? Especially for people in the United States, it’s hard to understand anything besides dollars as a currency.

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, basically, what the Greeks would achieve if they left the European Union is they would revert to their own currency. They could go back to the drachma, which was their currency before, or a new one. And once they control their own currency, they can also control the relative worth of that currency, relative to others. If that currency becomes much, much cheaper relative to the euro, which is what will happen, then everything priced in that local currency will appear very cheap to people with dollars or people with euros. And suddenly a Greek vacation will become much cheaper than a vacation anywhere else. Greek olive oil will outprice everybody else’s. And that has traditionally been the way that a country blocked into this dead end crawls its way out of that dead end. It’s painful, but they at least have the prospect that their goods will become very attractive around the world, what they have to sell, and they’ll begin to recoup.

The reason they want to go more and more in that direction is that the austerity imposed on them since 2010 has given them lots of suffering with no improvement, with no chance to get out of it, therefore they were choosing between a proven dead end and a difficult strategy, but one that has in the past worked and might in the end work again here, especially if leaving the euro meant they could also cancel their debts, with or without the approval of their creditors, the way the Germans arranged it. But if they had less debt and a cheaper drachma as their own currency, that’s a strategy that at least has a chance, whereas what they were in was endless promises that it will eventually work, that never came true.

AMY GOODMAN: What exactly is happening there, when you say the pain they are now feeling in Greece? What is the pain? And what do you see the future looking like if they do pull out of the eurozone? How will their economy be shaped?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, they’re being squeezed by 25 percent or more unemployment, by a cutback in public sector, which is the largest part of their economy, of about 40 percent since 2010, drop in their actual wage. Businesses are closing because they can’t solve the payments problem that Paul talked about. So you have a general disintegration that has been worse in Greece than in any other country. That’s why they keep saying, "We’ve been the ones who have borne the brunt of all of this. And don’t make us do more. That’s unjust and not solidarity with the rest of Europe." So, they’re struggling to keep their pensioners having enough to live, to prevent, for example, the continued exodus. They have lost tens of thousands of young Greek citizens, who were educated at the expense of the Greek economy and are now taking what they’ve learned to go to other countries and work and be productive over there. A country like Greece, which is small to begin with, can’t keep hemorrhaging its best and brightest young people at the same time that everybody else’s salary is collapsing. This is an economy that—where you have to look for a metaphor, go back to the depths of the Depression in the 1930s, when we had comparable kinds of situation of desperate people and rampant poverty. They want out of that, because, otherwise, they face an indefinite future of this kind of behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: What happens to the rich people in Greece? And what about the issue of taxes?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, you know, that’s the unspoken but real story behind all of this, because the more the Europeans squeeze the Greeks, with a left-wing government, that government, especially strengthened by that referendum now, has to sooner or later—and Paul referred to this—go after the wealth that’s there in order to solve some of these problems. They should have done that a long time ago, but they never had a leftist government with a mindset to do it. Now they do. And that’s the great danger, that you’re converting a problem of European disequilibrium and inequality into a real class struggle between the mass of the Greek people, on the one hand, and the one place where wealth exists inside Greece, among the rich and the corporations, to help them solve a problem. So you’ve converted a European problem into a class struggle. And if Syriza can pull that off, the message sent to the comparable groups in every other European country is a staggering reconception of what the future of Europe may look like, where the words "anti-capitalism" become a unifying slogan for people across that continent. Merkel’s great danger is that in pushing as hard as she has, she may reap a whirlwind of results.

AMY GOODMAN: Is she aware of this?

RICHARD WOLFF: I’m sure she must be, although they are so caught up. The Germans are victims of their own propaganda. They converted an economic crisis into a nationalist, we-versus-them mentality—we, Germans who work hard, against the Greeks, who don’t. Reminded me of nothing so much as Mr. Romney’s unfortunate remark in the last campaign where he divided Americans into the 47 percent moochers and the 53 percent who work hard, trying to get the 53 percent to believe they were carrying the other 47. That’s what the Germans have done. "We Germans work very hard, and we’re carrying these lazy Greeks." This—put aside the questionable issue of whether the Germans ought to play such a nationalist card, given their history, but this is a way of solidifying opposition to what’s going on, and this is a very, very dangerous track. But she may be trapped by it. She has done it now. So, as Paul said, her own people wouldn’t support making a deal. She’s made that impossible for herself.

AMY GOODMAN: A few months ago, we talked to Professor Noam Chomsky about what’s happening in Greece.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very significant. But notice the reaction. The reaction to Syriza was extremely savage. They made a little bit of progress in their negotiations, but not much. The Germans came down very hard on them.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean in dealing with the debt.

NOAM CHOMSKY: In the dealing with them, and sort of forced them to back off from almost all their proposals. What’s going on with the austerity is really class war. As an economic program, austerity, under recession, makes no sense. It just makes the situation worse. So the Greek debt, relative to GDP, has actually gone up during the period of—which is—well, the policies that are supposed to overcome the debt. In the case of Spain, the debt was not a public debt, it was private debt. It was the actions of the banks. And that means also the German banks. Remember, when a bank makes a dangerous, a risky borrowing, somebody is making a risky lending. And the policies that are designed by the troika, you know, are basically paying off the banks, the perpetrators, much like here. The population is suffering. But one of the things that’s happening is that the—you know, the social democratic policies, so-called welfare state, is being eroded. That’s class war. It’s not an economic policy that makes any sense as to end a serious recession. And there is a reaction to it—Greece, Spain and some in Ireland, growing elsewhere, France. But it’s a very dangerous situation, could lead to a right-wing response, very right-wing. The alternative to Syriza might be Golden Dawn, neo-Nazi party.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Noam Chomsky speaking in March. Are we in a very different or a very similar situation right now, Richard Wolff? You actually have just returned from France.

RICHARD WOLFF: Yes, in France, the very fear that Noam Chomsky referred to is a reality, that the anti-austerity position was taken by the far right, by Madame Le Pen, who has become an important political leader in France, who declared her solidarity with Syriza. That’s why the complicated politics of this. She sees the future of an anti-capitalism in France enabling her right wing to capture that kind of idea. But it’s a sign that the—below the surface, the anger about austerity, the resentment of the burdens of this crisis being shifted onto average people, is becoming a European problem. And the Germans may discover that they have isolated themselves yet again in European history by being the champion of something which is provoking a backlash larger than anything they had foreseen.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think President Obama could be pressuring them in a different way?

RICHARD WOLFF: There’s no question in my mind, from the evidence we have, that the American government is more interested with a stable Europe than with provoking this kind of a split inside Europe, partly because of the ramifications here in this country, where the same anti-austerity is building. That’s one of the causes for the support for Bernie Sanders, for example. But he’s also concerned that the Germans are making a classic political error, going way too far, and that this will disturb global markets. The economic recovery in this country is very weak and very fragile, and that doesn’t want disturbance to come from a powerhouse like Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about the United States after break. Richard Wolff, our guest, professor emeritus of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, visiting professor here in New York at The New School. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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News Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Teachers Say 17 Firings at Urban Prep Charter Schools Were Retaliation for Unionization http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31755-teachers-say-17-firings-at-urban-prep-charter-schools-were-retaliation-for-unionization http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31755-teachers-say-17-firings-at-urban-prep-charter-schools-were-retaliation-for-unionization

On June 19, during their biannual semester-end interviews, 17 teachers were informed by school staff that they would not be returning to Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy come fall. The terminations came just weeks after 61 percent of Urban Prep’s teachers voted to form a union; activists say the firings were a blatant act of anti-union retaliation.

Last month, around 100 teachers, students, parents and supporters attended Urban Prep’s board meeting to protest the firings and accuse the board of harming their community and hindering student progress. They also accused the board of resisting transparency and accountability, and creating a high teacher-turnover rate through firings and policies that push teachers out of the school.

This is only the latest case of such allegedly unjust firings, as more and more charter schools in Chicago and across the country are organizing to unionize despite the legal hurdles, backlash, and the common belief—at least among school management—that charter teachers don’t need unions.

Matthias Muschal told Catalyst Chicago he was fired after working as a lead English teacher at Urban Prep's Bronzeville campus for six years for “insubordination—specifically because he threw a pizza party for student-athletes and their families without notifying administration,” according to the administration. He says the real reason was his union activism—a huge disappointment because “I wouldn’t be able to teach my students anymore,” Muschal told In These Times.

Urban Prep CEO Evan Lewis wrote in a statement that "the suggestion that anyone was fired as a result of their organizing activity is both wrong and offensive. … “We respect and support the right of our teachers to choose a union as their exclusive representative. … Many of the teachers returning next year were active in the effort to organize, and we look forward to continuing our work with them."

At the board meeting, 26 people signed up to speak, although roughly half were allowed to address the board. Parents also delivered over 200 letters in support of the fired teachers in an effort to influence the board's decision. Not all board members, however, were present at Thursday's meeting—even though, according to Samuel Adams, a former Urban Prep English teacher, they all live in Chicago. Those who did not attend the meeting called in—a gesture seen by some union supporters as disrespectful.

Teachers, parents and students who attended the meeting praised Urban Prep’s mission and success, but said the recent firings go against the school's mission and will ultimately harm the students. Englewood Junior Lamar Strickland told the board he “would just like to ask that you guys bring back our teachers because ... they have all taught us something different that we can take in our life."

Students were especially upset about the firing of English teacher Natasha Robinson. Robert DuPont, a junior at the Englewood campus, said Ms. Robinson went above and beyond her responsibilities like calling students she knew were having trouble getting to school on time. Mr. Adams said that his former colleague had the highest freshmen test scores in the school and continued to teach even soon after her mother died.

Of the outpouring of student support over the past weeks, Robinson said, "It's nice to know I made an impact during my time at Urban Prep—to know that I was able to help these young men." (Urban Prep is an all-male school.)

At the meeting, James Thindwa of the American Federations of Teachers (who is also a member of the In These Times board of directors) also accused Urban Prep’s majority-black board of directors of harming the black community and instituting measures similar to anti-union, right-wing politicians like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“I can't believe that this institution, this publicly funded institution, ... anchored in the black neighborhood, that is itself reeling from economic disinvestment that in part has been caused by the attack on labor unions ... is participating in a vile attack on a legitimate institution that serves as a legitimate counterweight to what we're seeing as unchecked corporate power in the United States.”

In a press release, Thindwa wrote that because black Americans hold a disproportionate share of public-sector jobs, they have been hit especially hard by the decline of public-sector jobs and the attacks on their unions.

The audience highlighted the irony in these firings, as one of the main reasons teachers wanted to unionize was to change what they say are Urban Prep’s high teacher turnover rates. They say students don’t know if their favorite teachers will return the following year, which affects their learning environment.

“It's unfortunate that they would fire veteran teachers and that there will be so much uncertainty for these students going into the new school year,” said Robinson, who had taught at the school for seven years. Teachers say high turnover rates also mean devoting important time to train new teachers rather than to develop the skills of existing ones.

According to Brian Harris, a special education teacher at CICS Northtown Academy and Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ACTS) president, “across the network, only nine teachers have been at Urban Prep more than five years. Now, only about half of them are returning.”

"Students are calling for a stable learning environment, and their teachers know that unionization is the only way to get stability for these students and their communities," says Rob Heise, an educator and activist who says he was fired from an UNO Network charter high School earlier this month for his involvement in helping unionize his school last year. Heise filed his own unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB two weeks ago.

Chicago Teachers Union members made their way to the South Side school from their own union's contract negotiation meeting earlier that afternoon to show support for the fired Urban Prep teachers. Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, was among them. Chambers said that all the Urban Prep teachers who voted to unionize wanted was a voice for their students. Having played a major role in preparing her school for the historic 10-day CTU strike back in 2012, Chambers knows first hand the power of belonging to a union and added that teachers "know that if they don't have a union they don't have a voice."

"Urban Prep punished their staff for unionizing. They lied about what ACTS is and used teachers' professional development time to spread anti-union propaganda," said Brian Harris. "Their actions show a real disrespect for teachers and democracy and scream ‘we don't want to be accountable to anyone.’ ”

Chris Baehrend, Vice President of Chicago ACTS and English teacher at Latino Youth High School, said retaliation is the main reason why 39% of eligible voters chose not to join the Urban Prep union. "They're afraid. They're afraid of things like exactly what happened right here happening to them."

An unfair labor practice suit has been filed with the NLRB, and Chicago ACTS will be planning future demonstrations.

During the public comment period, Samuel Adams called on supporters to put pressure on Urban Prep by sending emails, and parent Shoneice Reynolds called for a local school council. Reynolds cited Urban Prep’s creed to make her point: "It states, we have a future for which we are accountable. I challenge you all to be accountable for our children's future."

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News Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Think California's Drought Is Bad? Try Palestine's http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31754-think-california-s-drought-is-bad-try-palestine-s http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31754-think-california-s-drought-is-bad-try-palestine-s

Palestinian water tanks vandalized by Israeli settlers in Hebron.Palestinian water tanks vandalized by Israeli settlers in Hebron. (Photo: ISM Palestine/Flickr)

California is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a water “state of emergency.”

Ordinary Californians are bearing the brunt of this disaster. While the governor has imposed restrictions to reduce residential water consumption, businesses in the fields of agriculture and hydraulic fracturing have been largely exempt. Brown’s unwillingness to take on these gargantuan corporate water-wasters lends a sharp political element to an otherwise natural disaster.

There’s another region in the world, however, where access to water isn’t just decided on the whims of politicians dealing with natural disasters. In fact, the very existence of water crises is official state policy for one country: Israel.

Dying of Thirst

Despite its location in a region thought to be perennially dry, the Holy Land actually has ample natural freshwater resources — namely in the form of underwater aquifers and the Jordan River. Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli settlers live in roughly equal proximity to these resources, which theoretically would allow for equal consumption.

Israeli water policy, however, has made this prospect virtually impossible. In fact, there’s a shocking disparity.

A report from the United Nations found that the average Israeli settler consumes 300 liters of water per day — a figure surpassing even the average Californian’s 290. But thanks to Israeli military action and legal restrictions on access, the average Palestinian in the occupied West Bank only gets about 70. And for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who live off the water grid altogether, daily consumption hovers at around 30. That’s just 10 percent of the Israeli figure.

Both figures are well below the minimum 100 liters per day recommended by the World Health Organization. While Israelis are watering their lawns and swimming in Olympic-sized pools, Palestinians a few kilometers away are literally dying of thirst.

Weaponizing Water

This inequality has deep roots — and it’s no accident.

Almost immediately after the creation of Israel in 1948, the fledgling country took comprehensive action to secure control of the region’s water. These policies were ramped up again following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when Israel first assumed control of the Palestinian territories.

That year, the Israeli armed forces issued Military Order 92 — an initiative that put Palestinian water resources under Israel’s military jurisdiction. This was shortly followed by Military Order 158, which required Palestinians to obtain permits from the military in order to build new water infrastructure. If they built new wells, springs, or even rain-collecting containers without Israeli permission, soldiers would confiscate or destroy them, often without prior notification.

These orders, among others, remain on the books to this day. They form the basis for the administration of water access for nearly 4.4 million Palestinians. Although control of water resources is now officially the domain of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, Israeli forces routinely perform operations with the explicit intent of destroying Palestinian water infrastructure.

A Veneer of Legality

Decades of peace negotiations have done little to grant Palestinians sovereign control over their resources.

Even after the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, which were supposed to grant the Palestinians some semblance of political agency in the territories, water access remains limited. In fact, the accords simply codified the unfair distribution of water in the region, imbuing these flagrantly harmful practices with a veneer of legality.

Even in Palestinian-administered portions of the West Bank, Israeli troops regularly demolish rain cisterns, pipelines, and agricultural water structures. The Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq has meticulously documented a number of these instances, compiling them in a report examining the extent of the hardship these operations cause to West Bank residents.

One case study detailed the destruction of a farmer’s well in a village east of Jenin. His well, along with five others in the area, was destroyed by the military under the pretext that it had been built without proper authorization by Israel — despite the fact that an Israeli permit is supposedly not needed in the Palestinian-administered Area B of the West Bank, where these villages are located.

These operations showcase the coordination between civil and military channels to restrict Palestinian access to water, a system that’s been startlingly effective in its goal.

Even when Palestinians attempt to go through the “proper” Israeli channels, they’re met with innumerable obstacles. Two regulatory organizations — the Joint Water Commission (JWC) and the Israeli Civil Administration — have created a bureaucratic nightmare for West Bank residents attempting to acquire permits to either build new instillations or repair the region’s floundering infrastructure. Both organizations are capable of vetoing petitions without explanation, creating a system that prevents Palestinians from maintaining consistent and comprehensive water access.

Meanwhile, access is severely curtailed even where Palestinians have permission to pump water. The most striking inequality lies in the division of the Mountain Aquifer, the only underground aquifer that Palestinians in the West Bank are allowed to access. Despite being the sole source for the territory, Palestinian extraction is limited to 20 percent of the aquifer’s total capacity. Israel, on the other hand, has access to 80 percent of the aquifer’s water — a stunningly unequal distribution, considering it also has unfettered access to the region’s remaining aquifers and the Jordan River.

A Worsening Crisis

California’s drought has captivated U.S. audiences, sparking concern and calls to action to prevent ecological disaster in the face of natural causes. On the subject of Israel’s deliberate drought, however, media attention has been virtually nonexistent.

This crisis has become the norm for Palestinians for decades now, though its severity continues to increase as water becomes more scarce. The UN estimates that due to Israel’s siege, the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by the year 2020. Though the West Bank is relatively well-off in comparison, the water crisis there has resulted in severe economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, a situation that’s not conducive to long-term stability in the region.

This water disparity is emblematic of the power disparity between Israel and Palestine — a gulf that seems wholly unrecognized during regional peace talks. In order to have a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question, both parties must enter negotiations on an equal playing field. This is only possible once Israel’s occupation in the West Bank is dismantled, and Palestinians are given access to the water resources they need in order to live their lives with dignity.

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Opinion Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Pennsylvania Residents Near Fracking Sites Report Health Problems http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31753-pennsylvania-residents-near-fracking-sites-report-health-problems http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31753-pennsylvania-residents-near-fracking-sites-report-health-problems

Last month, Food & Water Watch released the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s log of health complaints from communities living near fracking sites. The logs include many of the health complaints that critiques have linked to fracking for years – and the state’s inadequate response. 

People reported respiratory problems, hair loss, and headaches, and they attributed their symptoms to foul-smelling air and water.

Food & Water Watch obtained the health log through a public records request, following a news report that Department of Health officials are forbidden to talk about fracking with concerned residents. The log includes 87 reports received between March 30, 2011 and April 6, 2015. Many reports show multiple people were affected, sometimes entire families or clusters of patients.  

Roughly 20 percent of reports came from public health professionals and doctors concerned about patients. The other 80 percent came from concerned residents and other public officials. The most reports came from regions in Pennsylvania with the highest levels of drilling activity.    

Health Complaints, by Number of Persons Affected:

2015 0707ch

The most commonly reported health symptoms were respiratory issues, skin irritation, and abdominal issues. According to a 2011 study, over 75 percent of chemicals used in fracking cause these same symptoms. It is possible that contaminated drinking water and polluted air caused these residents’ health issues, but to be sure, state officials would have to test the air and drinking water sources near fracking sites for traces of fracking chemicals, then use modeling and other tools to document the connections between the drilling methods and residents' health problems. 

Health department employees were told not to talk to residents complaining of fracking-related symptoms.

When residents call the Pennsylvania Department of Health, employees usually talk with them about their concerns and refer them to agency services. But last summer, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported that health department employees were instructed not to talk to residents who reported fracking concerns. Employees were reportedly given a list of “buzzwords,” including “gas” and “fracking,” and were instructed to record the contact information of callers using these words and forward the information to their supervisors.

A retired health department worker said that she had never seen this protocol used for any other health issue. She worried that her supervisors were not following up with these callers, especially after receiving angry calls from residents whose concerns went unanswered.

According to StateImpact, the Department of Health denied this protocol and the existence of a list of “buzzwords.”

While it’s uncertain why the health department might be avoiding these residents, it’s clear that state agencies are ill-equipped to deal with fracking concerns.

A 2012 law created an “impact fee” on Pennsylvania fracking wells that has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in just three years. The funds are given to state agencies and local governments that regulate fracking – but none is shared with the Department of Health.

The Department of Health does not have the capacity to conduct air and water quality tests, so when residents voice concerns about drilling-related contamination, they are often referred to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. However, a July 2014 audit suggests that the agency is facing its own resource constraints, as fracking is expanding faster than the agency can keep up with it.

For instance, auditors examined 15 confirmed cases of water impacts from fracking; in only one case did the agency order the drilling company to restore or replace the water supply. The audit also found that the Department of Environmental Protection lags behind in communicating with residents who have reported concerns.

State agencies need more funding to respond to fracking concerns. They also need to communicate with the public in a timely manner and respond to complaints and health concerns regarding environmental pollution, regardless of the industry involved.

Additionally, drilling companies must be required to conduct baseline testing of water supplies and air near fracking sites – and continue to monitor them throughout drilling.

Without proper environmental monitoring – along with disclosure of fracking chemicals – it is impossible to link health symptoms to fracking operations.

After many years of delay, EPA has finally confirmed that fracking contaminates our drinking water; community monitoring shows that it also pollutes the air we breathe.  But since industry influence and federal law have limited the ability of federal agencies to comprehensively regulate fracking that occurs on private land, it is up to state agencies to protect the public’s health and to clean up Pennsylvania communities that have had to deal with the toxic outputs of fracking operations.

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News Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Dawning of the Obvious http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/31752-dawning-of-the-obvious http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/31752-dawning-of-the-obvious ]]> Art Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400 The Confederate Flag at War (but Not the Civil War) http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31751-the-confederate-flag-at-war-but-not-the-civil-war http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31751-the-confederate-flag-at-war-but-not-the-civil-war

The Pentagon just can’t let go. In the wake of the Charleston Massacre, Amazon and Walmart have announced that they will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise. Ebay says it will stop offering Confederate items for electronic auction. The Republican governor of Mississippi calls his state flag, which includes the Stars and Bars in the top left corner, “a point of offense that needs to be removed.” Even Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, agrees that a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in his state's capitol building belongs in a museum.

Yet the Department of Defense says it isn’t even “reviewing” the possibility of a ban on the flag, deciding instead to leave any such move to the various service branches, while military bases named after Confederate officers will remain so. One factor in this decision: the South provides more than 40% of all military recruits, many of them white; only 15% are from the Northeast.

Filling the ranks isn't, however, the only reason for the military’s refusal to act.

Over the last few weeks, there has been near unanimous agreement among liberal and mainstream commentators that the Confederate flag represents “hate, not heritage.” The flag’s current presence in American culture is ubiquitous. It adorns license plates, bumper stickers, mugs, bodies (via tattoos), and even baby diapers. The flag’s popularity is normally traced back to the post-World War II reaction of the Dixiecrat South to the Civil Rights Movement. South Carolina, for instance, raised the Stars and Bars over its state house in 1961 as part, columnist Eugene Robinson said on "Meet the Press," of its “massive resistance to racial desegregation."

All true. But like many discussions of American conservativism, this account misses the role endless war played in sustaining domestic racism. Starting around 1898, well before it became an icon of redneck backlash, the Confederate Battle Flag served for half a century as an important pennant in the expanding American empire and a symbol of national unification, not polarization.

It was a reconciled Army that moved out into the world after the Civil War, an unstoppable combination of Northern law (bureaucratic command and control, industrial might, and technology) and Southern spirit (an “exaltation of military ideals and virtues,” including valor, duty, and honor). Both law and spirit had their dark sides leading to horrors committed due either to the very nature of the American empire -- the genocide of Native Americans, for example, or the war in Southeast Asia -- or to the particular passions of some of its soldiers. And both law and spirit had their own flags.

Lost Cause Found

“Northerners and Southerners agreed on little” in the years after the Civil War, historians Boyd Cothran and Ari Kelman write, “except that the Army should pacify Western tribes.” Reconstruction -- Washington’s effort to set the terms for the South’s readmission to the Union and establish postwar political equality -- was being bitterly opposed by defeated white separatists. According to Cothran and Kelman, however, “Many Americans found rare common ground on the subject of Manifest Destiny.”

After the surrender at Appomattox, it was too soon to fly the Stars and Bars against Native Americans. And it was Union officers -- men like generals George Armstrong Custer and Philip Sheridan -- who committed most of the atrocities against indigenous peoples. But Confederate veterans and their sons used the pacification of the West as a readmission program into the U.S. Army. The career of Luther Hare, a Texas son of a Confederate captain, is illustrative. He barely survived Custer’s campaign against the Sioux. Cornered in a skirmish that preceded Little Big Horn, Hare “opened fire and let out a rebel yell” before escaping. He then went on to fight Native Americans in Montana, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and Arizona, where he put down the “last of the renegade Apaches,” before being sent to the Philippines as a colonel.  There, he led a detachment of Texans against the Spanish.

With Reconstruction over and Jim Crow segregation installed in every southern State, the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which the U.S. took Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific, was a key moment in the rehabilitation of the Confederacy. Earlier, when slavery was still a going concern, southerners had yearned to separate Cuba from Spain and turn it into a slave state.  Now, conquering the island served a different purpose: a chance to prove their patriotism and reconcile with the North.

Southern ports like New Orleans, Charleston, and Tampa were used as staging areas for the invasions of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Northern soldiers passing through New Orleans were glad to see that “grizzled old Confederates” were cheering them on, saluting the Union flag, and happy to send their sons “to fight and die under it.” Newspapers throughout the South, along with Dixie's largest veterans association, the United Confederate Veterans, saw war with Spain as a vindication of the “Old Cause” and reveled in the exploits of former Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee’s nephew, Fitzhugh Lee.

In June 1898, just weeks after U.S. troops landed in Cuba, two train-car loads of Confederate flags arrived in Atlanta for a coming reunion of southern veterans of the war. The Stars and Bars would soon festoon the city Union General William T. Sherman had burned to the ground. At the very center of the celebration’s main venue stood a 30-foot Confederate flag, flanked by a Cuban and a U.S. flag. Speech after speech extolled “sublime” war -- not just the Civil War but all the wars that made up the nineteenth century -- with Mexico, against Native Americans, and now versus Spain. “The gallantry and heroism of your sons as they teach the haughty Spaniard amid the carnage of Santiago to honor and respect the flag of our country, which shall float forever over an ‘indissoluble union of indestructible states,’” was how one southern veteran put it.

War with Spain allowed “our boys” to once more be “wrapped in the folds of the American flag,” said General John Gordon, commander of the United Confederate Veterans, in remarks opening the proceedings. Their heroism, he added, has led “to the complete and permanent obliteration of all sectional distrusts and to the establishment of the too long delayed brotherhood and unity of the American people.” In this sense, the War of 1898 was alchemic, transforming the “lost cause” of the Confederacy (that is, the preservation of slavery) into a crusade for world freedom. The South, Gordon said, was helping to bring “the light of American civilization and the boon of Republican liberty to the oppressed islands of both oceans.”

With Spain defeated, President William McKinley took a victory tour of the South, hailing the “the valor and the heroism [that] the men from the south and the men of the north have within the past three years... shown in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, in the Philippines, and in China.”

“When we are all on one side,” the president said, “we are unconquerable.” It was around this time that, after much delay, Congress finally authorized the return of Confederate flags captured by Union forces during the Civil War to the United Confederate Veterans.

To Serve Mankind

World War I brought more goodwill. In June 1916, as Woodrow Wilson began to push through Congress a remarkable set of laws militarizing the country, including the expansion of the Army and National Guard (and an authorization to place the former under federal authority), the construction of nitrate plants for munitions production, and the funding of military research and development, Confederate veterans descended on Washington, D.C., to show their support for the coming war in Europe.

“About 10,000 men wearing the gray, escorted by several thousand who wore the blue, marched along Pennsylvania Avenue and were reviewed by the President,” one observer reported. “In the line were many young soldiers now serving in the regular army, grandsons of those who fought for the Confederacy and of those who fought for the Union. The Stars and Bars of the Confederacy were proudly borne at the head of the procession... As the long line passed the reviewing stand the old men in gray offered their services in the present war. ‘We will go to France or anywhere you want to send us!’ they shouted to the president.”

Wilson won reelection in 1916, his campaign running on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” But he could then betray his anti-war supporters knowing that a rising political coalition -- made up, in part, of men looking to redeem a lost war by finding new wars to fight -- had his back.

Decades before President Richard Nixon bet his reelection on winning the Dixiecrat vote, Wilson worked out his own Southern Strategy. Even as he was moving the nation to war, Wilson re-segregated Washington and purged African Americans from federal jobs. And it was Wilson who started the presidential tradition of laying a Memorial Day wreath at Arlington Cemetery’s Confederate War Memorial. 

In 1916, he turned that event into a war rally. “America is roused,” Wilson said to a large gathering of Confederate veterans, “roused to a self-consciousness she has not had in a generation. And this spirit is going out conquering and to conquer until, it may be, in the Providence of God, a new light is lifted up in America which shall throw the rays of liberty and justice far abroad upon every sea, and even upon the lands which now wallow in darkness and refuse to see the light.”

What alchemy it was -- with Wilson conscripting the Confederate cause into his brand of arrogant, martial universalism. The conflict in Europe, Wilson said at the same wreath-laying event a year later (less then two months after the U.S. had declared war on Germany), offered a chance “to vindicate the things which we have professed” and to “show the world” that America “was born to serve mankind.”

American history was fast turning into an endless parade of war, and the sectional reconciliation that went with it meant that throughout the first half of the twentieth century the “conquered banner” could fly pretty much anywhere with little other than positive comment. In World War II, for instance, after a two-month battle for the island of Okinawa, the first flag Marines raised upon taking the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army was the Confederate one.  It had been carried into battle in the helmet of a captain from South Carolina.

With the Korean War, the NAACP’s journal, The Crisis, reported a staggering jump in sales of Confederate flags from 40,000 in 1949 to 1,600,000 in 1950.  Much of the demand, it reported, was coming from soldiers overseas in Germany and Korea. The Crisis hoped for the best, writing that the banner’s growing popularity had nothing to do with rising “reactionary Dixiecratism.” It was a “fad,” the magazine claimed, “like carrying foxtails on cars.”

As it happened, it wasn’t. As the Civil Rights Movement evolved and the Black Power movement emerged, as Korea gave way to Vietnam, the Confederate flag returned to its original meaning: the bunting of resentful white supremacy. Dixie found itself in Danang.

Dixie in Danang

“We are fighting and dying in a war that is not very popular in the first place,” Lieutenant Eddie Kitchen, a 33-year-old African-American stationed in Vietnam, wrote his mother in Chicago in late February 1968, “and we still have some people who are still fighting the Civil War.” Kitchen, who had been in the military since 1955, reported a rapid proliferation of Confederate flags, mounted on jeeps and flying over some bases. “The Negroes here are afraid and cannot do anything,” Kitchen added. Two weeks later he was dead, officially listed as “killed in action.” His mother believed that he had been murdered by white soldiers in retaliation for objecting to the flag.

Kitchen’s was one of many such complaints, as the polarization tearing through domestic politics in the United States, along with the symbols of White Supremacy -- not just the Confederate flag but the burning cross, the Klan robe and hood, and racist slurs -- spilled into Vietnam. As early as Christmas Day 1965, a number of white soldiers paraded in front of the audience of conservative comedian Bob Hope’s USO show at Bien Hoa Air Base. “After they were seated,” wrote an African-American soldier protesting the display, “several officers and NCOs [non-commissioned officers] were seen posing and taking pictures under the flag. I felt like an outsider.” An African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, reported that southern Whites were “infecting” Vietnamese with their racism. “The Confederate flags seem more popular in Vietnam than the flags of several countries,” the paper wrote, judging by the “display of flags for sale on a Saigon street corner.”

Black soldiers who pushed back against such Dixie-ism were subject to insult and abuse. Some were thrown in the stockade. When Private First Class Danny Frazier complained of the “damn flag” flown by Alabama soldiers in his barracks to his superior officers, he was ordered to do demeaning work and then demoted.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in early April 1968 and American military bases throughout South Vietnam lowered their flags to half-mast. In some places, such as the Cam Ranh Naval Base, however, white soldiers celebrated by raising the Confederate flag and burning crosses. Following King’s murder, the Department of Defense tried to ban the Confederate flag. “Race is our most serious international problem,” a Pentagon representative said. But Dixiecrat politicians, who controlled the votes President Lyndon Johnson needed to fund the war, objected and the Pentagon backpedaled. Instead of enforcing the ban, it turned to sensitivity training. The Confederate flag, a black military instructor told a class of black and white soldiers at Fort Dix, does not necessarily “mean a man belongs to the Ku Klux Klan.”

The Sum of All Lost Causes

Back home, a backlash against the antiwar movement helped nationalize the Confederate flag. The banner was increasingly seen not just at gatherings of the fringe KKK and the John Birch Society, but at “patriotic” rallies in areas of the country outside the old South: in Detroit, Chicago, California, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. For instance, on June 14, 1970 -- Flag Day -- pro-war demonstrators marched up Pittsburg’s Liberty Avenue with a large Confederate flag demanding that “Washington... get in there and win.”

For many, the Confederate flag remained an emblem of racist reaction to federal efforts to advance equal rights and integration. Yet as issues of race, militarism, and class resentment merged into a broader “cultural war,” some in the rising New Right rallied around the Stars and Bars to avenge not the South, but South Vietnam.

In 1973, shortly after the U.S. officially ended combat operations in South Vietnam, for instance, Bart Bonner, a conservative activist and Vietnam veteran from Waterbury, New York, met with South Vietnam’s military attaché in Washington and offered to raise “a private, volunteer force of 75,000 American veterans to fight in South Vietnam under the Confederate flag.” For Bonner, and many like him, that flag now stood not for the “lost cause” but all lost causes conservatives cared about, an icon of resistance to the liberal Establishment.

Bonner told Soldier of Fortune magazine that he had the financial support of Texas millionaire Ross Perot and 100 men, including former Green Berets, Air Force commandos, and Navy Seals, ready to “show the people of South Vietnam... that not all Americans are cowards.” He added: “The Stars and Bars -- the Confederate flag -- is a beautiful flag.”

Nothing came of Bonner’s plan. But the scheme did anticipate many of the strategies the New Right would use to circumvent all those cumbersome restrictions the post-Vietnam Congress placed on the ability of the executive branch to wage war and conduct covert operations, including the rise of mercenary groups that continue to play a significant role in fighting America’s wars and attempts to raise money from private, often southern rightwing sources. Ross Perot, for instance, would fund some of Oliver North’s effort to run a foreign policy independent of congressional oversight, a scandal that would become known as Iran-Contra.

Moonlight, Magnolia, and My Lai

Before Watergate brought him down, President Richard Nixon fused overseas militarism and domestic racism into one noxious whole as part of his strategy to win the South in 1972 and secure his reelection. In southern Africa, where Black-led national liberation movements were contesting white rule, this meant putting in place National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger’s “Tar-Baby Tilt,” strengthening ties with the white supremacist nations of South Africa and Rhodesia. Support for Pretoria and Salisbury was popular in Biloxi.

But the foreign-policy centerpiece of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was Vietnam. Senator George McGovern summed the situation up this way after being told by Kissinger that the U.S. couldn’t exit Vietnam because “the boss’s whole constituency would just fall apart”: “They were willing to continue killing Asians and sacrificing the lives of young Americans because of their interpretation of what would play in the United States.”

The infamous March 1968 massacre at My Lai would prove especially useful in helping Nixon win the Moonlight and Magnolia set. After it came to light that members of the 23rd Infantry Division, also known as the Americal, had slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese civilians, including women, children, and infants, Nixon made his support for Lieutenant William Calley, the only soldier convicted for taking part in the massacre, a key element in his reelection campaign. As historian Joseph Fry points out in his new book, The American South and the Vietnam War, Calley, who was from Florida, was extremely popular in the South. George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, flew to Fort Benning, where Calley was being held under house arrest, to speak at a rally, replete with Confederate flags. Mississippi Governor John Bell Williams told Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, that his state was "about ready to secede from the union" over Calley.

The campaign to depict Calley as an honorable warrior scapegoated by elites was but one more opportunity to generalize the historical experience of southern humiliation into an ongoing national sentiment. As after 1865, the solution to such humiliation has been more war, forever war. And with endless war comes an endless tolerance for atrocities. “Most people don’t give a shit whether he killed them or not,” Nixon said of Calley’s actions at My Lai. “The villagers got what they deserved,” commented Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender. You can draw a straight line from such hard-heartedness to today’s torture coalition, to men like Dick Cheney, who defend inflicting pain on innocent people “as long as we achieve our objective.”

The Confederate flag still flies overseas. It was carried into Iraq in 2003. In Afghanistan, at the infamous Bagram Theater Internment Facility, a platoon implicated in the torture of detainees, known as the “the Testosterone Gang,” hung a Confederate flag in their tent.

It is good to see the Confederate flag coming down in some places, but I suspect that reports of its final furling are premature. Endless wars will always have their atrocities. And atrocities will always find a flag.

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Opinion Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400