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UN rights chief calls on US to close Guantanamo

RT | April 5, 2013

Washington’s failure to close Guantanamo and release indefinitely held detainees is a “clear breach of international law,” UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement on Friday, as the “desperate” hunger strike nears two months.

Calling the ongoing Guantanamo Bay prison hunger strike a “desperate,” but “scarcely surprising” act, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her “deep disappointment” of the US government’s inability to keep to its four-year-old pledge to shut down the controversial prison.

“We must be clear about this, the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold,” Pillay said in a statement.

She condemned “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees,” saying it “amounts to arbitrary detention,” and thus violates international law.

Pillay also said it undermines the US’ stance of a human rights “upholder,” and reminded that when other countries breach human rights standards, the US is the first to strongly criticize them for it.

According to Pillay, about half of the 166 Guantanamo detainees have been cleared for transfer either to home countries or third countries for resettlement, but haven’t been released. The other half may be doomed to keep “festering” in detention for an indefinite period of time, she added.

Of the 166 detainees, which come from 23 different countries, only nine have been charged or convicted of crimes.

According to official reports, some forty inmates have joined the current hunger strike in protest against their indefinite detention, which has already been going on for 59 days. The prisoners claim the number of those taking part is close to 130.

Some of the hunger strike participants are being force fed with liquid nutrients by means of tubes inserted through their noses into their stomachs, to counteract alarming weight loss.

The US military has started the forced feeding- a process the UN has compared to torture- despite opposition from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) monitoring the prisoners’ condition. Military officials have also denied mistreating the prisoners, or breaking internationally recognized laws, saying that an “alternate narrative simply do not withstand intellectual rigor” as cited by Reuters.

President Obama “has not taken the necessary steps… when he had the power to” in connection with the release of Guantanamo detainees and prison closure, and is not using his “full powers” now that the process is blocked by a number of factors, Jonathon Hafetz, professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law told RT.

“You have the military continuing to press for holding detainees and use military commissions, rather than regular courts. Particularly, you have Congress, which has placed very onerous restrictions on transferring detainees to other countries, including detainees who the White House has cleared for transfer,” Hafetz said, speaking of the obstacles in the way of the infamous prison abolition.

There’s no doubt that international law is being broken in a number of respects in Guantanamo, Hafetz added.

The US has been violating international law by the “indefinite detention of individuals who don’t pose the risk of a threat,” and the prosecution in military tribunals have charged for offenses like “material support for terrorism or conspiracy,” which are not recognized as war crimes under international law, the lawyer said.

“The absence of accountability for the torture and the other abuses that occurred at Guantanamo is another violation of international law – the state has a duty to investigate and prosecute offences, and the US has not done that,” Hafetz added.

Follow RT’s day-by-day timeline on Gitmo hunger strike.

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Putin: No plans to close NGOs, public has right to know

RT | April 5, 2013

Recent checks in Russian NGOs are completely in line with the law and have the sole objective of informing the Russian public on these groups’ activities, according to President Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with the German broadcaster ARD, Putin said that the recently-approved law on foreign agents that caused the major NGO audit had parallels in international practice. He also noted the extremely disproportionate representation of non-governmental presence from foreign countries in Russia.

In the very beginning of the interview, the Russian President noted that it was not the objective of the NGO inspections to scare the public or the activists, adding that the mass media was performing that function.

Putin added that the real situation differed greatly from what was presented by the Western mass media. In particular, the fresh Russian law demanding that non-government organizations engaged in Russia’s internal political processes and sponsored from abroad must be registered as foreign agents was noting new. The United States has had a very similar law since 1938.

Putin noted that the US law is enforced by the Department of Justice. All groups operating in the US must regularly submit information about their activities and this information is then reviewed by the counterespionage section.

The German reporter admitted he was not aware of such practices in the United States.

Putin went on to point out that there were 654 foreign-funded groups operating in Russia, while Russia sponsored only two foreign NGOs – one in France and one in the United States.

He also disclosed that foreign diplomatic missions transferred $1 billion. Eight hundred and fifty-five million was to the accounts of Russian-based NGOs in just the four months that passed since the approval of the Foreign Agents Law.

Putin told the interviewer that in his view, Russian society had the full right to know about the extensive network of foreign-sponsored organizations operating in the country, as well as about the amount of funding these groups were getting from their foreign sponsors.

The Russian leader then again stressed that the Russian authorities did not intend to pressure or shut down any organizations.

We only ask them to admit: ‘Yes, we are engaged in political activities, and we are funded from abroad,’” Putin said. “The public has the right to know this.”

Putin also emphasized in his interview that the Russian authorities fully supported political competition, as without it the development of the country and the people is impossible. He said that the opposition had every right to protest, but even during these protests the rally-goers must abide by the law.

There must be order. It is a well-known rule. It is universal and applicable in any country,” he stated, noting that the recent events in North Africa were a vivid example of what might happen if this principle is neglected.

The president recalled the recent changes in the law on political parties that drastically simplified both the registration and the work of these organizations. He also spoke of as other moves to liberalize the political system, such as the return of the gubernatorial elections, saying that this was proof that he and his supporters encouraged political competition.

‘Feeling the Cyprus pinch’

When asked about the scope of Russian investment in Cyprus, Putin said it was “absurd” to view private Russian business interests operating in an EU country as having any connection with the activities of the Russian government itself.

He did, however, state that following the $13 billion bailout agreement with Cyprus, which included a one-time tax on deposits held in Cypriot banks, foreign investors feeling the pinch in the EU were more likely to “come to our financial institutions and keep their money in our banks.”

Reacting to claims that Cyprus was a safe haven for dirty money, Putin stressed that Russia neither created the offshore zone, nor had anyone provided evidence of financial misconduct on the Mediterranean island. But while no criminal wrongdoing has been proven, people who had merely deposited their money without breaking any laws now risk forfeiting 60 percent of their deposits as a result of the Cyprus bailout deal.

The Russian president continued that apart from Cyprus, other zones had been created by the European Union, and it was a red herring to place the blame for illicit activities on investors who benefited from them.

“If you consider such zones a bad thing, then close them. Why do you shift responsibility for all problems that have arisen in Cyprus to investors irrespective of their nationality (British, Russian, French or whatever else).”

When asked if he had felt snubbed by the EU when it opted not to turn to Russia for help despite the number of Russian nationals affected, Putin resolutely answered no.

“On the contrary I am even glad, to some extent, because the events have shown how risky and insecure investments in Western financial institutions can be.”

‘We trust the Euro’

Despite previous criticism of certain aspects of the European financial system, Putin stated emphatically that “we trust the euro.”  

Putin was unwilling to comment in depth on the internal workings of the EU that had no direct bearing on Russia, as it would be disrespectful to EU leaders.

He did say, however, that despite several points of contention between the EU and Russia, they “are fundamentally moving in the right direction” and Russia had made the right decision in keeping such a large share of its gold and currency reserves “in the European currency.”

Reiterating Russia’s trust in the economic policy of major European countries, Putin remains confident that Europe will overcome the difficulties it is currently facing.

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Report Details Government’s Ability to Analyze Massive Aerial Surveillance Video Streams

By Jay Stanley | ACLU | April 5, 2013

Yesterday I wrote about Dayton Ohio’s plan for an aerial surveillance system similar to the “nightmare scenario” ARGUS wide-area surveillance technology. Actually, ARGUS is just the most advanced of a number of such “persistent wide-area surveillance” systems in existence and development. They include Constant Hawk, Angel Fire, Kestrel (used on blimps in Afghanistan), and Gorgon Stare.

One of the problems created by these systems—which have heretofore been used primarily in war zones—is that they tend to generate a deluge of video footage. A 2010 article says that American UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan produced 24 years’ worth of video in 2009, and that that number was expected to increase 30-fold (which would be 720 years’ worth) in 2011. Who knows what that’s up to this year, or where it will be by, say, 2025. The human beings who operate these systems can’t possibly analyze all that footage.

In an attempt to solve this problem, Lawrence Livermore Labs has created a system for the military called “Persistics.” It can be used in conjunction with drone (or manned) camera systems such as ARGUS to help manage the vast oceans of video data that are now being generated. The system is

designed to help the Department of Defense and other agencies monitor tens of square kilometers of terrain from the skies, with sufficiently high resolution for tracking people and vehicles for many hours at a time.

That’s from a May 2011 report that I recently came across with the faintly ominous title “From Video to Knowledge.” Produced by Livermore Labs, it contains a lot of interesting detail about Persistics and the problems and solutions involved in massive aerial video surveillance.

The Persistics system consists of algorithms that “analyze the streaming video content to automatically extract items of interest.”

Its analysis algorithms permit surveillance systems to “stare” at key people, vehicles, locations, and events for hours and even days at a time while automatically searching with unsurpassed detail for anomalies or preselected targets.

With Persistics, the report boasts, “analysts can determine the relationships between vehicles, people, buildings, and events.” Among the capabilities touted in the report are:

  • “Seamless stitching” together of images from multiple cameras to create “a virtual large-format camera.”
  • Stabilizing video (“essential for accurate and high-resolution object identification and tracking”).
  • Eliminating parallax (the difference in how an object appears when viewed from slightly different angles).
  • Differentiating moving objects from the background.
  • The ability to automatically follow moving objects such as vehicles.
  • Creating a “heat map” representation of traffic density in order to “automatically discern if the traffic pattern changes.”
  • Comparing images taken at different times and automatically detecting any changes that have taken place.
  • Super-high “1,000-times” video compression.
  • The ability to provide all the locations a particular vehicle was spotted within a given time frame.
  • The ability to provide all the vehicles that were spotted at a particular location within a given time frame.

Technologically, according to the report, the Persistics program relies heavily on the explosion in the power of consumer Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) used in video games and the like.

The report also says that the system “is being further enhanced” to work with ARGUS, and includes new details about that system:

Persistics can simultaneously and continuously detect and track the motion of thousands of targets over the ARGUS-IS coverage area of 100 square kilometers. ARGUS-IS can generate several terabytes of data per minute, hundreds of times greater than previous-generation sensors.

Previous reports said that ARGUS could cover 15 square miles; here it reports 100 square kilometers, which is 38.6 square miles. (I suppose we should expect Moore’s Law-like expansion in the capabilities of these systems.)

Of course, the system is designed to store and retrieve all the records and data about everything that it surveils:

Persistics supports forensic analyses. Should an event such as a terrorist attack occur, the archival imagery of the public space could be reviewed to determine important details such as the moment a bomb was placed or when a suspect cased the targeted area. With sufficiently high-resolution imagery, a law-enforcement or military user could one day zoom in on an individual face in a heavily populated urban environment, thus identifying the attacker.

As with every privacy-invading technology designed and/or sold as helping foil terrorists, we have to wonder how long it will be before it’s applied to tracking peace activists.

Future work on Persistics is focused on the kind of behavioral analytics that have been discussed in the context of programs such as “Trapwire.” Livermore scientists, according to the report, are now working on automated methods for identifying “patterns of behavior” that could indicate “deviations from normal social and cultural patterns” and “networks of subversive activity.”

Also under development are efforts to allow the three-dimensional viewing of targets, as well as “methods to overlay multiple sensor inputs—including infrared, radar, and visual data—and then merge data to obtain a multilayered assessment.”

Of course, much of this is unobjectionable from a domestic civil liberties point of view when it’s used as originally intended: on foreign battlefields. The problem comes when the government brings the technology home and turns it inward upon the American people. In fact, at the close of the report, Livermore contemplates exactly that:

Unmanned aircraft have demonstrated their ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] value for years in Afghanistan and Iraq. As U.S. soldiers return home, the role of overhead video imagery aided by Persistics technology is expected to increase. Persistics could also support missions at home, such as monitoring security at U.S. borders or guarding ports and energy production facilities. Clearly, with Persistics, video means knowledge—and strengthened national security.

Among the federal agencies most interested in the technology, the report says, is DHS.

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

North Korea ‘Rattles Sabres’; Meanwhile, U.S. Pretends to Drop Nuclear Bombs on Them

By Peter Hart | FAIR | April 3, 2013

NBC's Brian Williams

It’s not easy to figure out what’s going on with North Korea. We hear that new leader Kim Jong-Un is making threats to attack the United States, South Korea or both–and that’s leading to some rather alarming, and alarmist, coverage.

As ABC World News reporter Martha Raddatz put it (3/31/13): “The threats have been coming almost every day, and each day become more menacing, the threat of missile strikes on the U.S., invading armies into South Korea and nuclear attacks.”

The dominant narrative would have you believe that the United States was basically minding its own business when North Korea began lashing out. On CBS Evening News (3/29/13), Major Garrett explained:

North Korean saber-rattling is common every spring when the United States and South Korea engage in military exercises.

So there are “exercises” right next door, conducted by the world’s most powerful military, which possesses thousands of nuclear weapons; and then there’s menacing saber-rattling.

While North Korea’s apparent threats are obviously troubling, one doesn’t have to be paranoid to take offense at those military drills. As Christine Hong and Hyun Lee wrote (Foreign Policy in Focus, 2/15/13):

The drama unfolding on the other side of the 38th parallel attests to an underreported escalation of military force on the part of the United States and South Korea. In fact, on the very day that Kim visited Mu Island, 80,000 U.S. and South Korean troops were gearing up for the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian. For the first time in its history, this war exercise included a simulation of a pre-emptive attack by South Korean artillery units in an all-out war scenario against North Korea. Ostensibly a defensive exercise in preparation for an attack by the north, the joint U.S./South Korea war games have taken on a decidedly offensive characteristic since Kim Jong Il’s death. What’s more, a South Korean military official discussing the exercise raised red flags by mentioning the possibility of responding to potential North Korean provocation with asymmetric retaliation, a direct violation of UN rules of engagement in warfare.

In other words, there are some real world events that might bother North Korea’s leadership–no matter what one might think about the level of North Korean paranoia. On much of the U.S. television coverage, the threats are virtually all coming from one side, without any explanation, and the United States is merely on the scene to bring down the level of tension.  As ABC‘s Raddatz (3/31/13) explained:

The U.S., which launched two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers last week to carry out a practice bombing run less than 50 miles from North Korea, says it will continue to respond to provocation.

The U.S. will not say specifically what those counter-provocation measures may be. But an indication of how serious they are, the Pentagon says they hope they never have to put them into effect.

Again, the standard is pretty clear: Statements by North Korea says are threatening provocations, while when the U.S. pretends to drop nuclear bombs just across your border, well, that’s just how you “respond to provocation.”

While it is certainly difficult to get a sense of what exactly the North Koreans are actually saying, one of the most interesting takes came from B.R. Myers, a professor at Dongseo University in South Korea. He was quoted by a New York Times blog (Lede, 3/29/13):

We need to keep in mind that North and South Korea are not so much trading outright threats as trading blustering vows of how they would retaliate if attacked. The North says, “If the U.S. or South Korea dare infringe on our territory, we will reduce their territory to ashes,” and Seoul responds by saying it will retaliate by bombing Kim Il-sung statues. And so it goes.

I think the international press is distorting the reality somewhat by simply publishing the second half of all these conditional sentences. And I have to say from watching North Korea’s evening news broadcasts for the past week or so, the North Korean media are not quite as wrapped up in this war mood as one might think. The announcers spend the first 10 minutes or so reporting on peaceful matters before they start ranting about the enemy.

That’s important context.

Meanwhile, NBC reporter Richard Engel (NBC Nightly News, 4/1/13) told viewers that “if you watch North Korean state TV, the country looks like it’s at war.” And he closed:

The world’s last Stalinist state talking war to stay in power. Pyongyang’s secrecy makes the old Soviet Kremlin look transparent. North Korea appears to want to pick a fight and the U.S. says if it comes to that, it is ready.

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Political Ritual at Herzl’s Tomb

By NICOLA PERUGINI | CounterPunch | April 5, 2013

A visit to a grave is often part of the political rituals that presidents and other political representatives include in their schedules during their State visits. In spite of the apparent mechanicity and automatism behind these gestures, they still constitute valid spaces from which we can expose the crucial political intentions they embody.

What is the meaning of Obama paying tribute to the founder of modern political Zionism in his last visit to Israel/Palestine? Which questions does this gesture raise on the latest US “broker of deceit”, to borrow the title of Rashid Khalidi’s recent book on the history of the relationship between the US administrations and the Palestinian question?

Well, a visit to Thedor Herzl’s tomb in one of the most unbalanced trips of a US president to Israel/Palestine can hardly be interpreted as an act of routine diplomacy. While expressing his unilateral support for Israel’s “dispossession in security”, perhaps Obama showed his will to support the foundational constitution of Israel in its most problematic guise.

As we know, Herzl is author of “The Jewish State” (1896), in which the author develops the organizational and ideological manifesto of modern political Zionism. The pamphlet contains the coordinates for transferring the discriminated Jewish population of Europe to Palestine or to another “empty land”. And this is also one of the first texts in which for the first time the solution to the “Jewish question” is articulated as a project of colonization and a civilizing mission:

“Should the Powers declare themselves willing to admit our sovereignty over a neutral piece of land, then the Society will enter into negotiations for the possession of this land. Here two territories come under consideration, Palestine and Argentine. In both countries important experiments in colonization have been made, though on the mistaken principle of a gradual infiltration of Jews. An infiltration is bound to end badly. It continues till the inevitable moment when the native population feels itself threatened, and forces the Government to stop a further influx of Jews. Immigration is consequently futile unless we have the sovereign right to continue such immigration”[1].

Manifesting his preference for a “Palestinian solution”, Herzl continues:

”Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home. The very name of Palestine would attract our people with a force of marvelous potency. If His Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism”[2].

Like an Orientalist of his time, Herzl theorizes the necessity of a Jewish state in a non-empty land using a military vocabulary of aggression: a rampart against Asia and anoutpost of civilization. Those who inhabit the land of the Jewish state to come are described as a barbarous population, the uncivilized to be redeemed.

Herzl’s settler-colonial vision –a military-like immigration protected by European powers that would have and has unavoidably resulted in depopulation, expulsion and ethnic cleansing– was inspired by a kind of Orientalism that is even more manifest and explicit in his 1902 novel “Altneuland” (“The Old New Land”): a novel in which the pioneer of political Zionism is even more explicitly Orientalist than in “The Jewish State”. In what is misleadingly considered his “utopian” novel –misleadingly because those were the years in which Zionism was precisely looking for a non-utopian solution– Herzl describes Palestine after the first Jewish immigrations as a “new society”, by that meaning more civilized than the indigenous population. Palestinians are depicted as the recalcitrant remnants of a despicable rural backwardness, and their children as “grown up like dumb beasts”. The novel contains the classical array of Orientalist stereotypes about Arabs.

Thus, we may ponder the meaning of visiting Herzl’s tomb while stating the un-discussable right of Israel to remain the kind of Jewish state that it is. Is the kind of idea of Jewish state that Obama has in mind founded on Herzl’s premises? Does Obama recognize himself in an outpost-rampart-state to be protected as a colonial frontier against barbarism? If Israel has been created and has developed and reproduced itself in a colonial framework like the one imagined by Herzl –the continuation of an experiment in colonization– is this the kind of Israel that Obama wants to support with millions of dollars? The political ritual on Herzl’s grave seems to suggest that the answer to all these questions is yes.

Nicola Perugini is an anthropologist who teaches at the Al Quds Bard Honors College in Jerusalem. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Notes.
[1] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, 1896
[2] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, 1896

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Racial discrimination’ against Pro-Palestinian costs Air France

Press TV – April 5, 2013

A court in France has fined French flag carrier Air France 10,000 euros ($12,800) for removing a pro-Palestine activist from a Tel Aviv-bound flight because the passenger was a ‘non-Jew.’

On Thursday, the court found Air France guilty of a ‘clear-cut case of racial discrimination’ against Horia Ankour, who had intended to travel to Israel in April 2012 to attend the Welcome to Palestine protest.

On the plane, an airline employee asked the 30-year-old nursing student whether she had an Israeli passport or was Jewish. After answering no to the questions she was escorted off the aircraft.

The court has also ruled that Air France pay Ankour some 3,000 euros in damages and to cover her legal fees.

Meanwhile, the French airline has stated that the activist’s name was on a list of ‘undesirables’ provided by the Israeli regime. Air France said it would appeal.

During the fly-in protest, which was called by the media the ‘flytilla’ campaign, hundreds of pro-Palestine activists from across the globe tried to fly to Israel in an effort to travel to the occupied West Bank.

However, several activists were prohibited from boarding Israel-bound flights because their names were on the blacklist that the Israeli regime had given to a number of European airlines.

The campaign was not the first ‘flytilla’ that planned a trip to the occupied Palestinian territories.

In July 2011, Israeli authorities made intense efforts to interrupt the first ‘flytilla’ and arrested a number of activists. About 120 people were also denied entry and deported. In addition, several European countries prevented activists from boarding their flights as the Tel Aviv regime had already blacklisted them.

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | Leave a comment

French court strikes down Georges Abdallah’s release

Al-Akhbar | April 4, 2013

France’s highest appeals court has struck down a decision to release Georges Abdallah, 62, jailed in French prisons for 29 years, calling the Lebanese prisoner’s request for parole “irreceivable” on legal grounds.

He was granted parole on 21 November 2012, but the prosecution appealed the decision, and France has come under mounting pressure from the US and Israel to block his release.

“We don’t think he should be released and we are continuing our consultations with the French government about it,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in January. “We have serious concerns that he could return to the battlefield.”

France’s interior minister Manuel Valls refused to sign Abdallah’s extradition order on the morning of his anticipated release in January, prompting protests and sit-ins at French centers across Lebanon.

Abdallah was sentenced to twenty years to life over his alleged involvement in the murder of two diplomats, an assistant to an American military and an Israeli in 1982. The court was not able to present concrete evidence against him, and he was imprisoned for passport fraud.

France’s court of cassation, its highest court of appeals, ruled against his release on grounds that Abdallah’s extradition would not allow for a one-year, electronically monitored parole period, compulsory for life-sentence convicts appealing for parole. His deportation from the country was ruled a necessary condition for his release.

The document detailing the court’s deliberations and ruling made no reference to the crime in question as justification for his continued imprisonment.

But Lebanese activists say there is still hope, and are holding out for an April 11 hearing at the Sentence Enforcement Tribunal (TAP), where they hope to challenge the appeal. It is unclear whether Thursday’s ruling can be contested, however.

“A case like this cannot be appealed based on the courts and France’s legal sources,” the prisoner’s brother, Joseph Abdallah, told Al-Akhbar.

Dozens of activists have gathered outside the French embassy to protest Thursday’s ruling, continuing months of regular demonstrations and sit-ins demanding Abdallah’s release.

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crashing the 2-Party System

The Way Forward is a Single-Issue Social Security Defense Party

By Dave Lindorff | This Can’t Be Happening | April 4, 2013

The history of third parties in America is pretty dismal. The system is rigged against them, for one thing. But equally problematic is the lack of focus that leads to infighting and splits whenever a third party is created.

A great answer to this would be to create a third party that has a laser-like focus on a single issue, where there is little or no room for debate over what the party stands for.

As it happens, there is such an issue, and it has the potential to decimate the two major parties by pulling support from both their bases.

I’m talking about Social Security and its more recent offspring, Medicare, both under threat by the Democratic/Republican duopoly in Washington.

Social Security is without a doubt the most popular program ever created in Washington. Virtually every American pays into it and expects to rely on it in old age, or if he or she becomes disabled. There are currently 54 million people who are receiving Social Security benefits ( 39 million are 65 or older, and 8 million are disabled). And there are some 74 million Baby Boomers — people born between the years of 1946 and 1964, representing one-in-four of all Americans — who will be receiving it over the next several decades. Add to that number the many younger people who are ardent advocates of the program, not just because they expect to also depend upon it, but because they know it is providing already for their parents and grandparents, and you have a bloc of voters and potential voters the likes of which this nation has never seen.

The key to getting them all together is establishing a political party whose raison d’être is preserving, improving and expanding Social Security benefits.

Medicare is also an important part of this concept. Everyone who receives Social Security in retirement is also eligible for Medicare, as are those 65 and older who choose to wait a bit to earn higher Social Security benefits. Again, the number currently depending on Medicare is 50 million, but this will rise dramatically as the Baby Boom generation reaches 65. The Medicare program is under even graver threat than Social Security at the moment as Democrats and Republicans in Washington, both beholden to huge medical industry and insurance industry campaign donors who want to undermine the program, do the bidding of their paymasters.

It’s time for progressives, advocacy organizations of the elderly and the disabled, labor activists and everyone who is worried about halting and reversing the decline of American society and democratic governance to rally around defending these two critical programs created, respectively, in the 1930s and 1960s.
The Social Security Defense Movement envisioned here would organize a single-issue party with the following simple platform:

Defend Social Security benefits and ensure that they are adequate to provide for a decent retirement for all Americans!

No increase in the Social Security payroll taxes for current payers!

Eliminate the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes! This would mean that all income would be subject to the tax and the wealthy would finally pay their share!

Add a tax on so-called unearned income from investment! This would mean that people who live on profits from investments, interest income, etc., would pay into the Social Security fund, too. (Note: income in retirement could be exempted, so people drawing on their tax-deferred IRA or 402(k) money would not have to pay a Social Security tax on it.)

Tax all short-term stock and bond trades at 0.25%, with the revenue generated to be designated for bolstering the Social Security and Medicare funds!

Eliminate Medicare Parts B, C and D! Roll doctor and drug coverage into Part A making it a single, simple program covering all medical costs, and just throw out Part C, which simply provides a huge profitable business to the private insurance industry to cherry pick healthier elderly people, luring them into subsidized private plans and leaving government-run Medicare to pay for the sicker, more costly beneficiaries.

Lower the age of eligibility for Medicare, gradually if necessary, but quickly, so that all Americans will be covered by one government insurance program, fully funded by taxes, and bar private insurance companies from providing health insurance, with the government negotiating reimbursement rates for hospitals, drug companies, doctors and medical device companies. (Explanation: Right now, the 10% of Medicare beneficiaries who are the oldest use 90% of Medicare’s funds. Younger Medicare users in their 60s use are much less costly. As people are younger, their health care costs are even less, so it is actually a bargain to bring them into Medicare. They would be paying in much more than they would be costing. This explains why Canada’s universal Medicare program is such a bargain. Canadians pay 11% of GDP for in total for Medicare that covers everyone, while Americans pay 18% of GDP for health care and many millions are simply left out and get none.)

Eliminate the Veterans Administration and make all veterans eligible for Medicare immediately.

* Eliminate the two-tiered health care system created by Medicaid, and enroll all Medicaid eligible people in Medicare, lifting that financial burden entirely from the states.

The pure focus of a Social Security Defense Party on the issues of Social Security and Medicare might at first appear narrow and parochial, but as one considers the implications, it becomes clear that can be the core of a whole new progressive movement.

Just a couple of examples:

Protecting, guaranteeing and improving Social Security provides long-term security to workers who then no longer have to stay in exploitative jobs simply to save for their old age. The same goes for lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 0. Nothing makes it more difficult for workers to adopt a militant stand in organizing a labor union or going on strike against intransigent management than the fear of losing a family’s health benefits. This is the whole reason that American companies have, seemingly against their own interests in reducing labor costs, consistently opposed a state-run health care system such as the one in Canada. Employers are happy to have the leverage they get by being able to withhold health benefits from strikers or union activists.

Making sure everyone has access to quality health care insures that the quality of that care stays high. Just check out the health care quality in countries like Sweden, Finland, Germany, Canada or France, where everyone has access to the same doctors and hospitals. The quality, and the outcomes, are higher than in the US, where the poor get shoddy, late and often criminally inadequate healthcare in crumbling facilities, while the wealthy get state-of-the-art care at absurdly high prices, with much of the money being wasted on marketing and amenities having nothing to do with actual care and treatment.

Besides getting millions of Americans to refocus on their common interests, such a single-issue party and movement would also inevitably lead to a mass collective rejection of the military industrial complex, with its $1.3-trillion annual expenditure on wars and war preparation. Any attempt to provide adequate funding for retirees, the disabled and for health care for all would inevitably have to confront, head-on, this massive waste of tax dollars and to see it for what it is: a vast transfer of national wealth to giant corporations and the people who own and run them, and away from human needs.

Easing the economic pressure on the elderly by strengthening Social Security and improving Medicare would also tend to make the elderly more politically progressive. People who are not scrimping in order to have enough money to pay the rent, buy enough to eat, and pay their health bills can afford to be more generous and altruistic about supporting funding for local schools, for example, whereas today, the elderly in many communities often become opponents of needed school funding because they see the local school taxes as making it impossible to pay for their prescriptions.

The best thing about a Social Security Defense Party is that it would draw heavily on the base of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties. Regardless of their political views on issues like prayer in schools, abortion, flag-burning, stem cell research, animal rights, climate change, gun ownership or the death penalty, polls show that the vast majority of Americans, left and right, support Social Security and Medicare. Most of them know that they are being betrayed on those two critical issues by their party leaders and elected representatives, Democratic and Republican. Independents, too, support both programs overwhelmingly. A party that speaks resolutely about defending and improving both programs, and that runs candidates who do the same, could potentially vacuum up supporters from both major parties, leaving them empty husks.

And that’s what they should be.

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment