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Undernews: November 17, 2012

Undernews: November 17, 2012

Since 1964, the news while there's still time to do something about it

THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW

Note: In the past month we've had more problems with links in our emails than at any time since our email service first went on line in 1994. We have no explanation, for example, as to why yesterday's edition contained links with double connections to our overall blog site. But we now know to look out for this and will try to avoid it. Sorry.

Israel destroys Gaza prime minister's office

BBC - Israel has targeted the headquarters of Hamas leaders and other key facilities in Gaza, on the fourth day of Israeli air strikes in the territory.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniya's office, which Egypt's PM had visited on Friday, was among the buildings destroyed.

At least 39 Palestinians and three Israelis have died since Israel killed Hamas's military chief on Wednesday.

Israel earlier put 75,000 reservists on stand-by amid speculation of an impending ground invasion.

Elmo update

TMZ - Kevin Clash -- the voice of Elmo -- agreed to pay his accuser $125,000, with one string attached -- that the accuser recant his story that Clash had sex with him when he was a minor ... TMZ has learned.

TMZ broke the story ... Sheldon Stephens alleged he was only 16 when Clash began a sexual affair with him. Clash has acknowledged an affair, but insists it started when Stephens -- now 23 -- was an adult.

Multiple sources tell TMZ ... hours before Stephens recanted his underage sex allegation, a settlement was struck between the two parties. Under the terms of the settlement, Clash agreed to pay Stephens 125k. But the settlement then provides the following:

"Stephens agrees that immediately upon execution of this Agreement, his counsel, Andreozzi & Associates, P.C., shall release the [following] statement ... 'He [Stephens] wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship.'"

The settlement document goes on to say if Stephens is asked by anyone about his relationship with Clash, he must only repeat the statement [above] in the settlement that recants his story.

We've learned although Stephens signed the document, he continues to insist Clash had sex with him when he was a minor and was pressured into signing the settlement.

One source privy to the negotiations tells TMZ ... Stephens was crying during final negotiations and repeatedly insisted he didn't want to sign.

We contacted Clash's lawyer, but he had no comment.

Hostess was Bained to death

Forbes - Hostess has been sold at least three times since the 1980s, racking up debt and shedding profitable assets along the way with each successive merger. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and again in 2011…

As if all this were not enough, Hostess Brands’ management gave themselves several raises, all the while complaining that the workers who actually produced the products that made the firm what money it did earn were grossly overpaid relative to the company’s increasingly dismal financial position.

How teachers help fund public education

Eleanor J Bader, Truthout - A 2010 survey by the National School Supply & Equipment Association found that 92 percent of teachers spend their own money on supplies and 85 percent buy instructional materials for the people they teach. Perhaps more surprising, the study concluded that, "Teachers' personal money is the most common source of funding for classroom projects. On average, teachers spent a total of $398 on school supplies in 2009-2010 and an additional $538 on educational materials." The total expended that year by the nation's 3.7 million teachers? A whopping $3.5 billion.

And it's not just teachers. According to the Summer 2012 issue of NEA Today, the news magazine of the National Education Association, 66 percent of education support professionals - a category that includes bus drivers, custodians, lunchroom staff, secretaries, security guards and skilled trades people - dig into their pockets to help kids in need. Their expenditures? An average of $216 per employee per year.

New design for wind power

ENN - A Tunisian invention that harvests wind energy through a design inspired by sailboats promises cheaper, more efficient wind energy.

The bladeless wind turbine, the Saphonian, named after the wind divinity that was worshiped by the ancient Carthaginians, also promises to be more environmentally friendly than existing wind turbines that produce noise and kill birds through their blade rotation.

Instead of rotating blades, the Saphonian's sail-shaped body collects the kinetic energy of the wind, Anis Aouini, the Saphonian's inventor, told SciDev.Net.

He explained that the resulting mechanical energy moves pistons which generate hydraulic pressure that can be stored in a hydraulic accumulator or converted into electricity.

"This is not the first bladeless wind turbine, but we thought outside the box: the initial idea came from sails the only human system that can capture and convert the bulk of the wind's power into mechanical energy," said Aouini.

An average wind turbine captures only 30 to 40 per cent of the wind's kinetic energy, while the Saphonian can capture up to 80 per cent, according to Aouini.

Brits only have a handful in solitary confinement, America has 80,000

Metro, UK - You can count the number of prisoners in England and Wales kept in solitary confinement on the fingers of one hand. In the US, campaigners put the number at 80,000 – men, women and even children.

Since the early 1990s, dozens of states across the US have built so-called ‘supermax’ (super-maximum security) jails - large complexes in remote areas specifically to hold prisoners in prolonged and strict solitary confinement.

The local: where the action is

From America Beyond Capitalism by Gar Alperovitz

Gar Alperovitz, Truth Out - Despite other problems associated with the larger trends, that more stable, locally oriented economic development is increasingly favored by sectoral changes even in an era of increasing globalization is documented in recent studies of the already high degree of localization of economic activity. "About 60 percent of U.S. economic activity is local and provides residents with the goods and services that make their lives comfortable," observes economist Thomas Michael Power. "This includes retail activities; personal, repair, medical, educational, and professional services; construction; public utilities; local transportation; financial institutions; real estate; and government services. Thus almost all local economies are dominated by residents taking in each other's wash."

Over the roughly two-decade period between 1969 and 1992 "the aggregates of retail and wholesale sales, services, financial and real estate, and state and local government" have been making up "a larger and larger percentage of total earnings, rising from 52 to 60 percent."

Paul Krugman offers a summary judgment: "Although we talk a lot these days about globalization, about a world grown small, when you look at the economies of modern cities what you see is a process of localization: A steadily rising share of the work force produces services that are sold only within that same metropolitan area." ...

In recent years numerous other policies have been developed to retain jobs, build greater local self-reliance, and increase local economic "multipliers" so that money spent in a community recirculates to produce additional jobs. In addition to tax, loan, training, and other traditional approaches:

• State governments now regularly target public procurement to boost local economies. Community-based small businesses, for instance, can receive a 5 percent preference on bids for state contracts in California, New Mexico, and Alaska. Louisiana allows a 7 percent preference for products "produced, manufactured, grown, harvested, or assembled" in the state.

• Many cities increasingly use public contracts to help neighborhood-anchored Community Development Corporations - and to simultaneously improve the delivery of government services (roughly half the municipalities in a recent survey).

• Publicly sponsored "buy local" programs are also widespread. The Rural Local Markets Demonstration in central North Carolina identifies products, services, parts, and raw materials that manufacturers would like to purchase locally - and then assists other local firms with the development of such products and/or helps establish new local firms to fill the supply gap.

• Pension funds now also regularly seek ways to enhance local economic health. More than half the states have established Economically Targeted Investment programs to target investment to help communities. Several independent labor-backed programs - for example, the Landmark Growth Capital Fund and the Pittsburgh Regional Heartland Fund - also involve geographically targeted investments...

Research by University of Chicago sociologist Robert K. Sampson offers a summary overview. Sampson finds that "calls for a return to community values" now appear "everywhere" - especially (and, he urges, significantly) among the parents of the new generation: "Whatever the source, there has emerged a widespread idea that something has been lost in American society and that a return to community is in order. . . . Seeking an alternative to mainstream institutions such as old-line churches, urban sprawl, and market-induced conspicuous consumption, the baby boom is driving unforeseen demand for the good that is deemed community."

The point is particularly important among those who will inevitably take over leadership of the nation - and of its communities - in coming decades. A recent survey found that two-thirds of young adults currently already do volunteer work in their own cities - and that a majority agree with the slogan "Think Globally, Act Locally." Two-thirds believe "the best way to make a difference is to get involved in your local community, because that's where you can best solve the problems that are really affecting people."

History's hints for third parties

Originally published in the Green Horizon Quarterly in 2004

Sam Smith - Added to all the other obstacles faced by third party activists is a paucity of analytical and historical guidebooks for their struggles. The media tends to be dismissive of third parties and lacking in understanding of their contributions to American politics. While some academics have done fine studies of individual movements and parties, scholars aren't particularly interested in the aggregated effect of third parties. Further, as with journalists, one finds on campus a deep and uncritical reverence for a 'two party system' that has, in fact, formed America's largest conspiracy for the restraint of trade - the trade in political ideas. Finally, activists themselves are usually so involved in what should be that they can forget to look closely at what is and how it works for and against their efforts.

This windshield appraisal of America's third party movements is not for the purpose of proving a thesis, arguing a point or suggesting reforms, but rather to help activists gain a better sense of the political environment in which they have to work. And to help them recognize both the potential and the limits that present themselves.

First, the good news: America's third parties have been immensely important to the country as catalysts of political and social progress. Their efforts lent weight to the anti-slavery movement, to the institution of an income tax, and to women's rights. While most of the power in 20th century politics was held by centrist or conservative white Protestants and Irish Catholics, the major reforms of that period stemmed from three third party movements: the Populists, the Progressives and the Socialists.

One reason journalists and historians tend to discount the impact of third parties is because of their obsession with apexes of power and those who inhabit them. In reality, however, change often comes not from the top or the center but from the edges. Ecologists and biologists appreciate the importance of edges as sources of life and change, whether they be the boundary of a forest, the shore of a bay or the earth's patina so essential to our being that we call the atmosphere. The political edge, at least metaphorically, has many of the same critical attributes.

Third parties have come in all sorts of shapes and colors. Some have aimed at a single issue such as slavery or drinking. Some have been driven by the popularity of an individual such as Teddy Roosevelt or Ross Perot. The ones with the deepest effect on the country's history have tended to be both parties and movements spreading like a virus throughout American culture, such as the Populists, Progressives and Socialists. To be any of these represented a commitment far beyond today's membership in one of the major parties. Finally, there have been statewide parties such as the Farmer Labor Party, New York's Liberal and Conservatives, and the DC Statehood Party that were far more successful within their constituency than many national third parties.

By far the most successful third party in history was the Republican Party which four years after its first run for the White House elected a president, Abraham Lincoln. But this is only part of the story, because two third parties helped lay the groundwork beginning 20 years earlier with the presidential campaigns of the anti-slavery Liberty Party and Free Soilers.

Two other 19th third parties served either as precursors of something bigger, with the Greenbacks, with its emphasis on monetary policy, a warm-up band for the Populists and the Prohibition Party, which got only 2% in its best presidential bid, but won a whole constitutional amendment 50 years after its founding.

In the 20th century, if you wanted to make a big splash in national third party politics, the best way to do it was with a major icon such as Roosevelt, Wallace or Perot. Here are the best numbers for various third party candidates:

Theodore Roosevelt 28%
Perot (1992): 19%
LaFolette: 17%
George Wallace: 14%
Debs (1912): 11%
Perot (1996): 9%
Anderson: 7%

All other 20th century third party candidates got 3% or less, including Debs in three additional runs and Thurmond and Henry Wallace in the hot 1948 race. It is useful to note that all the leading third party candidates - with the exception of George Wallace and Debs - drew heavily from mainstream constituencies rather than running as radical reformers.

Obviously the numbers don't tell the whole story. For example, the New Deal drew from Populist, Progressive and Socialist ideas despite low turnouts for their candidates. The Populists, despite topping out a 9% in a presidential race, influenced the politics of two Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin.

Still, if you want to affect national politics with a national third party presidential run, history suggests that getting over 5% - preferably closer to 10% - is a good way to start. Otherwise, you can probably expect a less direct impact for your efforts, perhaps decades in the future. And, in any case, you can expect your swing at presidential politics to be fairly short-lived.

That does not mean, however, that these parties - like certain insects - were merely born, had sex, and then died. In fact, some of the third parties had long, healthy lives, in large part because they were as concerned with local as with national results. The Socialist Party is the most dramatic recent example, with a history dating back over 100 years. The party's own history suggest that eclecticism didn't hurt:

'From the beginning the Socialist Party was the ecumenical organization for American radicals. Its membership included Marxists of various kinds, Christian socialists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish socialists, foreign-language speaking sections, single-taxers and virtually every variety of American radical. On the divisive issue of "reform vs. revolution," the Socialist Party from the beginning adopted a compromise formula, producing platforms calling for revolutionary change but also making "immediate demands" of a reformist nature. A perennially unresolved issue was whether revolutionary change could come about without violence; there were always pacifists and evolutionists in the Party as well as those opposed to both those views. The Socialist Party historically stressed cooperatives as much as labor unions, and included the concepts of revolution by education and of 'building the new society within the shell of the old.'"

By World War I it had elected 70 mayors, two members of Congress, and numerous state and local officials. Milwaukee alone had three Socialist mayors in the last century, including Frank Zeidler who held office for 12 years ending in 1960. And the party reports that Karen Kubby, Socialist councilwoman, won her re-election bid in 1992 with the highest vote total in Iowa City history.

Some highly successful third parties never ran anyone for president (except in fusion with one of the major parties). Albeit in a confused and weakened status at the moment, the Liberal Party of New York remains the longest lived third party next the to the Socialists. Founded in 1944 - in a break with the more radical American Labor Party - the Liberals benefited immensely from New York's fusion-friendly election laws, which allowed it to support Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and to claim credit for giving Kennedy enough votes for his presidential victory. Other nominees of the party have included Averill Harriman, Mario Cuomo, Jacob Javits, Robert Kennedy, Fiorello LaGuardia and John Lindsey. Swinging the gate of New York politics made it exceptionally important.

The Farmer Labor Party in Minnesota lasted 26 years before merging with the Democrats. During that time it elected a senator and a governor. And in DC, the Statehood Party held an elected position for 25 years and some years later merged with the DC Green Party.

As for the Greens, the recent near victory of Matt Gonzalez for San Francisco mayor is the latest sign of success in viral politics of a party that had already elected a score of mayors elsewhere. While SF mayoralty may not seem as important as a Green presidential run, I was shakened from that assumption a few days after election when it suddenly dawned that Gonzalez' race was not just local; for me it meant that there somewhere in America there was a city roughly the size of my own in which 47% of the voters agreed with me. It was a remarkably cheering revelation.

There is, it appears, no one right way to run a third party in the U.S. It always has to be a form of guerilla politics because the rules are so thoroughly stacked against those not Democrats or Republicans. Thus the judging the right tactics at the right time, as opposed to planning moves strictly on the basis of their presumed virtue, would seem to be the wisest course. To slow down traffic I might be morally justified in stepping into the Interstate, spreading my arms, and shouting, "stop," but it is probably not the most useful thing I could do for the cause. Besides, like some third party presidential candidates, I might not have another opportunity. My initial virtue might turn out to have been terminal.

For example, the question of fusion arises periodically. History clearly shows that there is no clear answer as to whether fusion is useful or not as a general principle because sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. The Liberal Party of New York used it magnificently (thanks in part to the laws of that state) while many feel fusion helped bring down the Populist Party. Beginning in the late 19th century state legislatures began taking action against fusion because, presumably, they thought it was working. And it can be argued that the moves against fusion were part of a broader counter-revolution that included the end of Reconstruction and giving corporations rights of the individual. In any case, today forty states and DC ban fusion.

One may oppose fusion on principal - for it certainly degrades the message of one's party - but how is it that unprincipled opponents of reform also see it as such a danger? These are the sort of questions that Greens need to answer pragmatically without tying themselves into all sorts of moral and ideological knots. The impact could be profound. For example, the ban on fusion is the only thing preventing a third party from running its own candidate for vice president along with, say, the Democratic candidate for president. If Nader had run for vice president in 2000, his vote total would have been much higher and might have revealed far more sympathy for Green politics than is apparent today. Instead of being blamed for 2000, the Greens might have been actively courted for 2004.

Similarly, the question of whether or how to run a presidential candidate needs to be subjected to the lens of history. Again, the lessons are multiple and far from clear. To me, they suggest that a good third party presidential run should be reserved for when the stars are aligned - a major party weak, an unusually popular voice for your own, and a social revolt in the making.

There is one other factor that is truly new in America: the destruction of constitutional government in the wake of September 11. Besides all its other horrors, the developments make it even more difficult for a third party national campaign. But the war or terror is in many ways a war to protect a tiny percentage of the American elite and their capitals of politics and business - much as only ten percent of those in Orwell's 1984 were actually members of the party; the rest lived in a countryside living relatively normal lives.

Oddly, however, this presents an opportunity for the Greens. As I wrote recently:
"At present the Green Party seems exceedingly concerned with whom it will run for president, if anyone. This is a time-consuming, agenda-skewing, image-monopolizing business. . . But what if the Green Party declared itself the party of the countryside, of free America, and set its sights on organizing not just the survival, resistance, and rebellion of the unoccupied homeland, but its revival, its discovery of self-reliance, and its energetic practice of democracy and decency? There is a wealth of electoral opportunity. For example, in 15 states more than half the state legislative seats are presently won without a contest.

"There is a logic to the Greens becoming the party of free America. After all Greens are the party most in the American tradition of decentralization, democracy, and cooperative communities. And they have ample precedent in the grassroots Populist Party which took on robber barons of startling similarity to those now served by the Bush regime."

The important thing, however, in discussing such matters is for Greens to remember that they are members of the same team, selecting the next play not to prove their virtue but to improve their position. The virtue they can take for granted; the position will be determined by each day's practical choices. If there is any virtue to be observed during these difficult decisions it is that of gentleness towards each other. And while there is much to be learned from the past, perhaps the most important is an appreciation for the magnificent uncertainty of the whole adventure.

*************

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