Saturday, July 31, 2004

"My Partner Had an Abortion"

I've found a very good suggestion in some of the comments on my blog entry "I Had an Abortion" (July 30, 2004) at Portland IMC: "Wearing a tee-shirt would be a coragous [sic] act to break that stigma. I would wear one, altough [sic] I am male, because I have confronted that decision and it was a very difficult choice. When shame is a tool to suppress discussion of very important matters then it must be confronted directly. Declaring it boldly might open the conversation" ("Personal Choice," July 30, 2004, 22:18); and "I wouldn't mind seeing guys wearing t-shirts at all (although it might also be good to have 'my partner had an abortion' shirts)" ("I Wouldn't Mind Seeing Guys Wearing the T-shirts," July 30, 2004, 23:26).

If "at least 30 million American women have had abortions since the procedure was legalized" (Barbara Ehrenreich, "Owning Up to Abortion," New York Times, July 22, 2004), there must have been roughly 30 million American men whose errant sperms led to unwanted pregnancies. Yes -- men, too, ought to own up to abortions.

Enterprising feminist men -- and lesbians who have not had abortions themselves but whose partners have -- may employ to make their very own "My Partner Had an Abortion" T-shirts. That will open up a new political conversation.

BTW, has several related products on sale for feminist men. Here is one example:
No Sperm Zone White T-Shirt
Product Number: 8435140
The merchant Addicted To Beads says that the shirt is a "[g]reat gift for the guy who just had a vasectomy."

Friday, July 30, 2004

I Had an Abortion

"The freedoms that we exercise but do not acknowledge are easily taken away," Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us in her New York Times column ("Owning Up to Abortion," July 22, 2004). "At least 30 million American women have had abortions since the procedure was legalized, mostly for the kind of reasons that anti-abortion people dismiss as 'convenience' -- a number that amounts to about 40 percent of American women," according to Ehrenreich, and yet, if you look at only the corporate media, you would think that few women would even consider abortions and that rare women who chose them only did so burdened with "terrible guilt" (Ehrenreich, July 22, 2004). Ehrenreich argues that women should own up to abortions and practices what she preaches in her column: "Honesty begins at home, so I should acknowledge that I had two abortions during my all-too-fertile years. You can call me a bad woman, but not a bad mother. I was a dollar-a-word freelancer and my husband a warehouse worker, so it was all we could do to support the existing children at a grubby lower-middle-class level" (July 22, 2004).

I, too, had an abortion -- simply because I did not want a child. I was young and poor, living single in a foreign country, but, unlike Ehrenreich, I do not wish to suggest that economics was my explanation. My parents are very liberal and wish nothing but happiness for me, so if I had wanted to have and raise a child, my parents -- who are working-class but are hardly abjectly poor -- would have given me all the loving support that a young single mother and her baby would need. Indeed, had I been as rich as Teresa Heinz Kerry, I still would have made exactly the same choice.

There are tens of millions of women in America who made the same decision as I did, and they, too, need to not only speak up and defend the legal right to abortion and moral freedom to exercise it but also demand universal health care that covers abortion, free child care, jobs with living wages, and the guaranteed minimum income, so other women who become unexpectedly pregnant, too, can make their own decisions -- to have or not to have children -- based only on what they want to do with their lives.

How can women begin owning up to our abortions, which is to say, our freedom and responsibility?

Planned Parenthood has made beautiful "I Had an Abortion" T-shirts available:

Buy one for yourself, wear it, and let other women know about it. We can help make our experiences of abortion visible while financially supporting the good pro-choice organization. If you don't want to shell out $15 for a T-shirt, make your original "I Had an Abortion" T-shirt yourself.

According to Alice Thomas of The Columbus Dispatch, the "I Had an Abortion" T-shirt has been denounced by such anti-abortion groups as the National Right to Life Committee ("Promotion of 'I Had an Abortion' T-Shirts Not Wearing Well," July 29, 2004, A1). Jennifer Baumgardner, who designed the T-shirt, says, "It's meant to be part of a bigger, political and serious conversation" (Thomas, July 29, 2004). The conversation has already started:
Pat Siekkinen, 56, of Ashtabula, likes the idea of the shirts. She was in Columbus [Ohio] for a business meeting today.

"What's wrong with it?" Siekkinen said. "I'm pro-choice, and if you choose to tell someone this, it's your choice." (Thomas, July 29, 2004)
Baumgardner is also "making a documentary called I Had an Abortion that features women who don't regret having abortions. The movie, which comes out in January, aims at countering abortion horror stories circulated by the Victims of Abortion group, she said. 'Abortion is a safe, legal and very common procedure; 1.2 million women a year have one. It doesn't serve us to demonize it,' Baumgardner added" (Thomas, July 29, 2004). My fellow feminists -- let's make sure that her documentary will be as popular and profitable as Fahrenheit 9/11!

Visit, also, I'm Not, a website that celebrates the right to choose, "where women can share their positive experiences with abortion."


What about men owning up to abortions? How about "My Partner Had an Abortion" T-shirts for them?

Leon Golub's Disasters of War

"Disappear You" (2001) by Leon Golub

Maureen Clare Murphy writes in The Electronic Intifada:
When I saw the images of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated by U.S. troops in Abu Ghraib, I felt as though I had already visually experienced it in the visceral work of American artist Leon Golub. In the brutal imagery of Golub’s paintings, all too familiar figures appear: gun-toting mercenaries delight in the misery of those they torture; dogs snarl and threaten boxed-in prisoners. The painting “The Black Does Not Stop the Killing,” in which a pistol-wielding military man grabbing the arm of an unseen figure is partially blocked out by black paint, reminds us that media blackouts and ignorance of international affairs don’t mean that such violence ceases to exist. ("Pictures of War: Conflicts and Dates May Change, But the Imagery and Inhumanity Stay the Same," 20 May 2004)

"Interrogation" (1981) by Leon Golub

"The Black Does Not Interrupt The Killing" (2002) by Leon Golub
"I'm not going to change our country. . . . I'm not trying to influence people as much as trying to make a record. I like the notion of reportage. I hope that in 50 or 100 years from now my work will still be telling a record of what Americans were doing in terms of force, domination, world interest. It's not a large part of history, but it's a crucial part." -- Leon Golub, qtd. in Edward J. Sozanski, "The Killing Feel," The Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 June 2004

Thursday, July 29, 2004

A Stem Cell's Worth of Difference

The most eloquent speaker at the Democratic Party convention turns out to be Ron Reagan, who urged all to "cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research." It is not that Reagan possessed more charisma than others, nor were his voice more mellifluous and his delivery, more skillful than other speakers'. What lent his speech its power is the fact that it alone was based on truth and nothing but truth, unlike all other speeches at the convention:
The embryonic stem-cell debate was centre-stage last night at the US Democratic National Convention, in Boston, Massachusetts. It seems that presidential candidate John Kerry and his supporters are eager to focus on the issue.

Ron Reagan, son of former US president Ronald Reagan, spoke about the importance of stem-cell research, calling it, "what may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our, or any, lifetime". He decried partisanship on the issue, and ended his speech with an exhortation for Americans to choose between "reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology" and to "cast a vote for embryonic stem-cell research". . . .

Interest in the issue has been spurred by the elder Reagan's death from Alzheimer's disease. His widow, Nancy Reagan, openly supports expansion of the scope of stem-cell research in the United States. The current president, George W. Bush, confined research to a limited number of pre-existing cell lines in 2001. According to Ron Reagan, Kerry has told him that his first act as president would be to overturn Bush's stem-cell restrictions. . . .

Kerry has been positioning himself as a pro-science candidate throughout his campaign, visiting NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday and speaking out on embryonic stem cells. "We need a president who believes in science, and who is prepared to invest America's efforts to cure Parkinson's and AIDS and diabetes and Alzheimer's and do stem-cell research," he said.

Many Republican politicians also support embryonic stem-cell research, including dozens of senators and congressmen who signed letters to the president last month urging him to change his policies. But Bush has not budged, because he sees the practice as morally troublesome.

The Kerry campaign may see the issue as a way to appeal to moderate voters, according to Matthew Nisbet of Ohio State University, who tracks public opinion on stem-cell research. "This is one of the clear areas where the Democrats can say that their platform is substantially different from the Republicans," he says. "They can draw a distinction, making the Republicans look narrow-minded and dogmatic." (emphasis added, Emma Marris, "US Democrats Embrace Stem-cell Issues,", July 28, 2004)
So, let's be fair to the Democrats: there is a stem cell's worth of difference between John Kerry and George W. Bush.

However, if only by focusing on the stem-cell debate can the Democrats clearly distinguish Kerry from Bush, in the midst of wars at home and abroad, the difference between the two parties is indeed microscopic.

Strong, Stronger, Strongest!!!

Doug Henwood, the publisher of the Left Business Observer, detects "penis envy" in the Democratic Party convention and platform:
  • The daily themes for the Dem Convention

    Tuesday: A Lifetime of Strength & Service
    Wednesday: A Stronger More Secure America
    Thursday: Stronger at Home, Respected in the World

    ("Strong, Stronger, Strongest!!!: A Party with Penis Envy?" LBO-talk, July 29, 2004)

  • The 2004 Dem platform -- a 41-page document called "Strong at Home, Respected in the World" -- includes 66 uses of the string "strong" (including "stronger" and "strongest"), and 41 uses of "strength." ("Strong, Stronger, Strongest!!!: A Party with Penis Envy?" LBO-talk, July 29, 2004)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Adnan Abbas's "Call to Humanity"

Adnan Abbas, 27, an Iraqi artist, created the sculpture "Call to Humanity," above, after witnessing a car bombing. (Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

Constantly short on supplies, Adnan Abbas, like other students at the Baghdad Academy of Fine Arts, paints over a picture discarded by another artist to create a canvas for himself. Explaining the bleak mood of many of his works, he said, "Misery is part of humanity, especially here." (Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

Cf. Jeffrey Gettleman, "Art Imitates Iraqi Life in All Its Chaos and Misery" (New York Times, July 25, 2004).


While conservatives pretend that they are fearless challengers to the dominance of the liberal media, liberals wax indignant about what they see as Fox News' hegemony over American culture, even producing a documentary dedicated to examining "how media empires, led by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, have been running a 'race to the bottom' in television news": Outfoxed.
If conservatives exaggerate liberalism of the corporate media beyond recognition, liberals, too, are hyping the power of the Fox News Channel far more than its actual total viewership warrants. According to FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), Fox's total viewership is far smaller than CNN's, CNN makes much more money than Fox does, and Fox's best-rated show The O'Reilly Factor gets only one quarter to one fifth of the audience of CBS Evening News, "the least-watched broadcast network evening news show":
Reporting on the ratings rivalry between the Fox News Channel (FNC) and CNN is often misleading--and almost always over-hyped.

"Fox Tops CNN as Choice for Cable News," declared one typical headline (Chicago Tribune, 3/24/03). "Fox News Channel Continues to Crush CNN," reported Knight Ridder (Dallas Morning News, 2/3/04) in a column comparing the rivalry to a party primary: "Fox News Channel is winning the Nielsen caucuses." Last summer (8/17/03), the New York Times Magazine declared, looking back at the period of the Iraq invasion, "Fox was -- and still is -- trouncing CNN in the ratings."

After exposure to countless similar stories published since January 2002, when Fox was reported to have surpassed CNN in the Nielsen ratings, one might naturally conclude that Fox has more viewers than CNN.

But it's not true. On any given day, more people typically tune to CNN than to Fox.

So what are the media reports talking about? With few exceptions, stories about the media business report a single number for ratings (often expressed two different ways -- as "points" or "share"). This number is often presented as if it were the result of a popularity contest or a democratic vote. But it is actually the average number of viewers watching a station or a show in a typical minute, based on Nielsen Media Research's monitoring of thousands of households.

The average is arrived at by counting viewers every minute. Heavy viewers -- those who tune in to a station and linger there -- have a greater impact, as they can be counted multiple times as they watch throughout the day.

When an outlet reports that CNN is trailing Fox, they are almost invariably using this average tally, which Fox has been winning for the past two years. For the year 2003, Nielsen's average daily ratings show Fox beating CNN 1.02 million viewers to 665,000.

But there is another important number collected by Nielsen (though only made available to the firm's clients) that tells another story. This is the "cume," the cumulative total number of viewers who watch a channel for at least six minutes during a given day. Unlike the average ratings number the media usually report, this number gives the same weight to the light viewer, who tunes in for a brief time, as it does to the heavy viewer.

How can CNN have more total viewers when Fox has such a commanding lead in average viewers? Conventional industry wisdom is that CNN viewers tune in briefly to catch up on news and headlines, while Fox viewers watch longer for the opinion and personality-driven programming. Because the smaller total number of Fox viewers are watching more hours, they show up in the ratings as a higher average number of viewers.

CNN regularly claims a cume about 20 percent higher than Fox's (Deseret Morning News, 1/12/04). For instance, in April 2003, during the height of the fighting in Iraq, CNN's cume was significantly higher than Fox's: 105 million viewers tuned into CNN compared to 86 million for Fox (Cablefax, 4/30/03). But in the same period, the ratings reported by most media outlets had Fox in the lead, with an average of 3.5 million viewers to CNN's 2.2 million.

Even among Fox's core audience of conservatives, CNN has an edge in total viewership. A study by the ad agency Carat USA (Hollywood Reporter, 8/13/03) found that 37 percent of viewers calling themselves "very conservative" watch CNN in the course of a week, while only 32 percent tune to Fox. . . .

. . . [I]n the race between these two for-profit ventures, the bottom line is the bottom line: From their capitalistic perspective, the channel that gets more ad revenue is winning the real ratings war. Earnings for the two channels are a contentious subject -- since neither network reports its revenues separate from its corporate parent, and each claims to earn more income than its rival. But many industry analysts say CNN still makes more money. Stock analyst Michael Gallant told the Chicago Tribune (11/28/03) that while Fox is growing faster, CNN is still earning about $200 million more per year than Fox (Television Week, 10/20/03).

Furthermore, CNN apparently continues to command higher ad rates, or CPM. CPM stands for "cost per thousand" (using the Roman numeral), the price a television outlet charges advertisers per thousand television households reached by a commercial. Though Fox began claiming to have reached CPM parity with CNN last summer, CNN chair Jim Walton insisted that CNN's rate was still 40 percent higher (Television Week, 7/14/03).

In interviews with Extra!, ad buyers for three different firms (all of whom declined to be named) confirmed that CNN continues to command a higher CPM, though their estimates of the gap in prices was less than half that quoted by Walton.

One of the reasons for CNN's lead in CPM, according to the buyers, is the advertiser preference for lighter viewers. Such viewers tend to come from the most desirable demographics -- younger, busier, more free-spending -- and because they're harder to reach with ads, the law of supply and demand drives their cost up.

One media buyer we interviewed analyzed the contrast between Fox and CNN in terms of programming and viewing habits, telling Extra!: "CNN is like news radio where people drop in for the news; Fox is like talk radio, where they stay longer for the opinion shows." . . .

But even in the limited sense of average hourly watchers, Fox is only No. 1 among 24-hour cable news channels. Fox, like CNN, now reaches about 4 of every 5 television households, so comparisons with broadcast news shows are increasingly valid. And among all television news sources, Fox's performance is nothing to brag about.

The O'Reilly Factor is the best-rated show on Fox, with about 2 million viewers a night (Daily Variety, 12/5/03). CBS Evening News, the least-watched broadcast network evening news show, routinely gets four or five times as big an audience, and that's seen as a ratings disaster. Fox's flagship news show, Special Report with Brit Hume, gets a million viewers on a good night -- a few thousand more than the local newscast of New York City's WNBC (Hollywood Reporter, 10/1/03; Nielsen). (emphasis added, Steve Rendall, "The Ratings Mirage: Why Fox Has Higher Ratings -- When CNN Has More Viewers," Extra! April 2004)
Liberals who are media junkies are indeed being outfoxed, but not by the Fox News Channel, but by their own self-defeating hype.

Then again, the liberal hype is not so self-defeating after all. If the main problem of the broadcast media were Fox in particular, rather than corporate ownership and control in general, liberal voters wouldn't have to feel embarrassed about voting for John Kerry, "a strong supporter of the Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996":
Kerry was a strong supporter of the Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which by some accounts was the most lobbied piece of legislation in history. The result of these laws was a massive consolidation of media companies, particularly in the radio industry, where over 4,000 radio stations have been sold since 1996. Clear Channel alone went from 40 stations to approximately 1,200 stations. The legislation also gave away the digital spectrum to the broadcasting companies free of charge (rather than having it auctioned off). The spectrum is valued at about $70 billion. Keep in mind, this is the same John Kerry who likes to brag about how he boldly shafted the poor by supporting welfare reform. Apparently, giving a $70 billion Christmas gift for the telecom industry is a more laudable goal than providing temporary subsistence living for America's poor. (Justin Felux, "John Kerry: Media Darling," Dissident Voice, February 12, 2004)

"Security Fences": Palestine and Kashmir

All leftists in the world have by now heard of the "security fence" that Tel Aviv has been building in the West Bank, less a fence than a wall actually, which the International Court of Justice ruled (on July 9, 2004) is illegal.
Beneath the radar of leftist attention, another fence has been going up -- in Kashmir:
India has been building the fence for about a year, and it is largely completed. It follows the construction of a less politically delicate fence along the India-Pakistan border. It has the symbolic potential, in some eyes, to make the cease-fire line more like an international border, as India desires. . . .

The fence, which breaks only in deference to unconquerable terrain, stands about 12 feet high and is about 12 feet wide. Coils of concertina wire are layered between rows of pickets. Sharp-edged metal tape and, in places, electrification make crossing even harder. So do the soldiers standing guard. "No obstacle in history, whether the China wall or the Maginot line in France, can prevent movement unless there is surveillance," said the governor of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, S. K. Sinha, a former army vice chief of staff.

The fence is part of a larger effort by India to buttress its defenses and uses equipment acquired from Israel, France and the United States, including motion sensors, thermal imaging devices and night-vision equipment. It also has allowed the parceling of the cease-fire zone into a grid system so that officers can be held accountable for movement in designated areas.

In places, the fence has created divisions within a division. Some farmers have been separated from their grazing lands, and a few houses and hamlets that have been in Indian-held Kashmir since 1947 are now outside it because the fence could not be built around them without crossing into Pakistani territory. There are gates for cattle and people, with proper identification, to cross back into India. (Amy Waldman, "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors," New York Times, July 4, 2004)

This July 8, 2004 file photo shows barbed wire fencing constructed by Indian army along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jabri 240 km north of Srinagar. Reuters/Danish Ismail
Though the Indian fence, too, divides villages and creates hardships for farmers separated from their land, and it is likely to make the unfortunate division of Kashmir more or less a fixed fact (at least for the foreseeable future), it must be said that it is built on the Indian side of Kashmir, unlike the Israeli apartheid wall that expropriates even more land and water from Palestinians than before.
Unlike the Israeli barrier, which eats into Palestinian land, the Indian fence runs along the border. In fact, it does not run on the border but well inside Indian territory. In some parts of Poonch (in Jammu) the fence is almost on the LoC, at other points the fence is about 75m from the LoC inside Indian territory. There are areas where the Indian fence runs three kilometers inside Indian territory. (Sudha Ramachandran, "India and Israel Build Barriers to Peace," Asia Times, July 23, 2004)
Regardless of differences between the Israeli wall and the Indian fence, some pro-Tel Aviv writers have already begun accusing India (as well as Turkey and Saudi Arabia) of hypocrisy:
India is completing a 460-mile barrier in the contested area of Kashmir to halt infiltrations supported by Pakistan. Within the last two years, Saudi Arabia built a 60-mile barrier along an undefined border zone with Yemen to halt smuggling of weaponry. Turkey built a barrier in an area that Syria claims as its own.

Of the three countries, Saudi Arabia submitted a written statement to the International Court of Justice directly, while the other two did not. The Arab League and Organization of Islamic States submitted statements to the court condemning Israel's barrier but did not condemn the Saudi barrier when it was being built. Why has the court not been involved in any of the other barrier disputes? . . .

Until the terrorism stops, Israel, like any other country, should not be told by an international court how to protect its own citizens. It is ironic that three countries -- India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- condemned Israel at the U.N. General Assembly and voted to refer the Israeli fence to the international court for an advisory opinion, even though they had themselves built barriers in areas contested by their neighbors. (Marsha F. Hurwitz, President and CEO, Columbus Jewish Federation, Letter to the Editor, "Why Is Israel Alone Getting Criticism for Building Wall?" Columbus Dispatch, July 24, 2004, p. A9)
The Indian fence in Kashmir is sure to become one of the popular Zionist talking points for the purpose of fending off any criticism of the Israeli apartheid wall. Palestinian solidarity activists ought to think about how to respond to comparison.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

"It's a Hollow Party"

Remember the New York Times op-ed which said that one of the significant indicators of electoral fortunes is "the candidate-to-opponent ratio" in a party platform?
Another platform indicator is the candidate-to-opponent ratio. In 1984, the Democrats, in their hulking platform, found it almost impossible to spell out their policies without reference to the Republicans. Ronald Reagan, for example, was mentioned 213 times, while Walter Mondale, the nominee, didn't come up once —- and he lost in a rout. Republicans tried the same tactic in 1996, singling out Bill Clinton 153 times —- and giving Bob Dole a paltry 45 mentions. If the strategy was to rally the base, it fell flat with the voters —- an important lesson for members of the "anybody but Bush" crowd, who trust hatred of the president, and not support for John Kerry, to ensure a Democratic victory this year. (Peter Buttigieg, Peter V. Emerson, and Ganesh Sitaraman, "Winning Between the Lines," July 10, 2004)
Now that the 2004 Democratic Party Platform "Strong at Home, Respected in the World" is available online, let's count how many times it actually mentions John Kerry and George W. Bush respectively:
Kerry: 22 times
Bush: 39 times
While Kerry's fighting chance is better than Dole's and Mondale's, that's not saying much about the virtue of the candidate this year or the party that chose him. As the platform index suggests, the strength of support for Kerry is barely half that of opposition to Bush.

Though few Democrats dare voice what they really think about Kerry in public in the midst of the party's national convention, it would not be surprising if the majority of the staunchest supporters of the Democratic Party on the left shared SEIU President Andy Stern's discontent:
Breaking sharply with the enforced harmony of the Democratic National Convention, the president of the largest AFL-CIO union said Monday that both organized labor and the Democratic Party might be better off in the long run if Sen. John F. Kerry loses the election.

Andrew L. Stern, the head of the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said in an interview with The Washington Post that both the party and its longtime ally, the labor movement, are "in deep crisis," devoid of new ideas and working with archaic structures.

Stern argued that Kerry's election might stifle needed reform within the party and the labor movement. He said he still believes that Kerry overall would make a better president than President Bush, and his union has poured huge resources into that effort. But he contends that Kerry's election would have the effect of slowing the "evolution" of the dialogue within the party.

Asked whether if Kerry became president it would help or hurt those internal party deliberations, Stern said, "I think it hurts."

Stern's dissatisfaction with the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party is not new, but his decision to voice his frustration on the opening day of a carefully scripted convention was an unwelcome surprise to Kerry's convention managers, who had been proclaiming their delight at the absence of any internal conflicts.

Speaking of the effort to create new political and union organizations, Stern said, "I don't know if it would survive with a Democratic president," because Kerry, like former president Bill Clinton, would use the party for his own political benefit and labor leaders would become partners of the new establishment.

"It is a hollow party," Stern said, adding that "if John Kerry becomes president, it hurts" chances of reforming the Democrats and organized labor.

Stern is perhaps the most outspoken of the leaders of four or five unions that have been talking about breaking away from the AFL-CIO to form some kind of new workers movement. In the struggle for the Democratic nomination last winter, Stern's union, along with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), delivered an early endorsement to former Vermont governor Howard H. Dean -- a step that solidified Dean's status as the early favorite for the nomination. . . .

Stern made it clear that his complaints long preceded Kerry's nomination. He said that when Clinton was president, he demonstrated how little he cared for the Democratic Party. Calling the former president "the greatest fundraiser of his time," Stern asked: "If you think the Democratic Party is valuable, why would you leave it bankrupt?" Other elected officials are equally indifferent to the party, he said, adding that if Kerry is elected "he would smother" any effort to give it more intellectual heft and organizational muscle.

The SEIU, representing health care and nursing home workers, state and local employees and janitors among its 1.6 million members, is part of a coalition of liberal, feminist and environmental organizations working in an alliance called Americans Coming Together. ACT has raised more than $85 million, according to fundraiser Harold Ickes, and hopes to reach $130 million by November. Most of the money is being spent in targeted areas to register and turn out the vote of people believed to be likely to support Kerry.

Stern said the SEIU has put about $65 million in union resources into efforts to elect Kerry and other worker-friendly Democrats, the bulk of it directly aimed at labor efforts in behalf of the senator from Massachusetts.

But Stern complained that motivating blue-collar families who have not voted in the past is being impeded because Kerry and the Democrats have declined to address what he calls "the Wal-Mart economy," a system in which he says employers deliberately keep wages so low and hours so short that workers are forced to turn to state Medicaid programs for their families' health care.

He also criticized what he called the vagueness of the Democratic platform on trade issues. . . .

Stern also said he is not interested in trying to succeed Sweeney as the head of the AFL-CIO but left the door open to leading a breakaway effort.

He said he is convinced from his experience in the civil rights movement that "pressure is needed" to bring about real change. "It was not enough to have Martin Luther King Jr.," Stern said. "You needed Stokely Carmichael" to raise the threat of disruption unless demands were met. Carmichael was the flamboyant civil rights activist known for coining the term "black power."

Stern is perhaps the most outspoken member of the New Unity Partnership, an alliance of the SEIU, the Laborers' International Union of North America, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, UNITE, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. All but the carpenters union are part of the AFL-CIO. The partnership has repeatedly warned that declining union membership threatens the viability of organized labor, especially in the private sector, which has seen a steady decline in union workers.

On June 21, during the SEIU's convention in San Francisco, Stern caused a stir throughout organized labor by declaring: "Our employers have changed, our industries have changed, and the world has certainly changed, but the labor movement's structure and culture have sadly stayed the same."

Union activists must "either transform the AFL-CIO or build something stronger that can really change workers' lives," he said. (David S. Broder, "SEIU Chief Says the Democrats Lack Fresh Ideas: Stern Asserts That a Kerry Win Could Set Back Efforts to Reform the Party," Washington Post, July 27, 2004, p. A13)
On his blog entry today, however, Stern backpedals furiously: Andy Stern, "100% Behind Kerry" (Blog for the Future, July 27, 2004). That is to be expected, especially if Stern's own "fresh ideas" have yet to go beyond supporting Howard Dean, teaming up with George Soros, et al. to create America Coming Together ("Soros's and [Peter] Lewis's donations made it possible for longtime leaders of Democratic interest groups to do something they had never done in the modern era: work together. . . . The founders of ACT included Ellen Malcolm and Carl Pope, the heads of Emily's List and the Sierra Club respectively, Andy Stern from the service employees' union and Steve Rosenthal, the former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O." [Matt Bai, "Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy," New York Times, July 25, 2004]), and organizing the New Unity Partnership.

Stern says that SEIU "will spend $65 million and are sending over 2,004 workers to work full time in battleground states" (July 27, 2004), all for John Kerry, whose victory, Stern admits, may weaken the bargaining position of the activist base of the Democratic Party and the labor movement vis-a-vis the inner circle of the Democratic Party elite. What if the union, instead, committed the same sum of money and the same number of full-time organizers, for instance, to an all-out effort to campaign for ballot initiatives for universal health care in all 24 states that permit them? $65 million is enough to collect roughly 18-9 million signatures of registered voters (currently, it costs about $3.50 per name in California). According to Caroline J. Tolbert, John A. Grummel, and Daniel A. Smith's research, "the presence and usage of the initiative process is associated with higher voter turnout in both presidential and midterm elections. The disparity in turnout rates between initiative and noninitiative states has been increasing over time, estimated at 7% to 9% higher in midterm and 3% to 4.5% higher in presidential elections in the 1990s" ("The Effects of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout in the American States," American Politics Research 29.6, November 2001). Putting universal health care at the top of the political agenda in 24 states at the same time as registering voters and raising voter turnouts -- especially in such swing states as Ohio -- sounds like money better spent than funding endless anti-Bush advertising and registering voters only "to vote for John Kerry and Democrats in federal, state and local elections" ("ACT's Plan for Victory"). New and old voters who support such initiatives will vote for candidates on the left, whether they are Democrats, Greens, members of other third parties, or independents, but they won't necessarily become loyal to the Democratic Party, so the initiatives will serve as incentives for it to try to earn left-wing votes.

If Stern really thinks that it takes not just "internal forces" but "external pressures" -- like Stokely Carmichael advocating Black Power and saying "Burn, Baby, Burn" -- to create social changes, as he says he does in his Washington Post interview (July 26, 2004), he has to come up with a strategy to build working-class bases of power independent of the Democratic Party and mobilize resources to put it into practice, rather than wasting $65 million on what he calls "a party of stale ideas."

Presbyterians Divest from the Israeli Occupation

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to divest from multinational corporations operating in Israel/Palestine, the first US church to employ divestment to end the Israeli occupation:
The 216th General Assembly approved several measures opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestine Friday, including a call for the corporate witness office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine.

Divestment is one of the strategies that U.S. churches used in the 1970s and '80s in a successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

The vote was 431 to 62 to have the church's Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) study the matter and make recommendations to the General Assembly Council (GAC).

When a handful of commissioners expressed reservations about the action, the Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem, an ecumenical guest at the Assembly, said divestment is important because it is a way for the churches to take direct action. For too long, he said, the churches have simply issued statements -- and that is not enough.

"We have to send strong messages to such companies," Raheb said, referring specifically to Caterpillar Inc., the American builder of the armored tractors and bulldozers the Israeli army uses to demolish Palestinian homes.

"Sisters and brothers, this is a moment of truth," Raheb said.

The Rev. Victor Makari, the PC(USA)'s liaison to the Middle East, supported the divestment strategy, saying, "I think the issue of divestment is a very sensitive one with Israel. . . . If nothing else seems to have changed the policy of Israel toward Palestinians, we need to send a clear and strong message."

The divestment action also calls for the United States to be an "honest, even-handed broker for peace" and calls for "more meaningful participation" in peace negotiations by Russia, German, France and others. It also encourages the U.S., Israeli and Palestinian governments to "lay aside arrogant political posturing and get on with forging negotiated compromises that open a path to peace."

In other actions related to Israel, the Assembly voted by large margins to condemn Israel's construction of a "security wall" across the West Bank; disavow Christian Zionism as a legitimate theological stance and direct the denomination's Middle East and Interfaith Relations offices to develop resources on differences between fundamental Zionism and Reformed theology; and study the feasibility of sponsoring economic-development projects in Palestine and putting an action plan in place by 2005.

The actions on Israel were forwarded to the Assembly by the Peacemaking Committee. (Alexa Smith, "GA04121: Assembly Endorses Israel Divestment: Palestinian Says Merely Issuing Another Statement Is Not Enough," July 2, 2004)

According to the church's website, "The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has approximately 2.5 million members, 11,200 congregations and 21,000 ordained ministers" ("Who We Are"), so it also is the largest membership organization so far to embark upon divestment to pressure Tel Aviv.

Click on the link to read the PCUSA's momentous decision: "Item 12-01 -- Overture 04-32 : On Supporting the Geneva Accord, Urging Israel and Palestine to Implement the Accord."

See, also, Nathan Guttman, "Presbyterians Divest Themselves from Israel " (Haaretz, July 21, 2004); and Ahmed Nassef and Jawad Ali, "Viva Presbyterians! Church Divests from Israel" (MWU! Blog, July 23, 2004).

Monday, July 26, 2004

In Venezuela, Failure Is Not an Option

Since rank-and-file Greens got prevented by a slim majority of Green Party delegates from putting Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo on the party's ballot lines, we may say that the most politically significant election for leftists in the world this year is the August 15 referendum in Venezuela.

As Roland Denis argues, failure is not an option for Hugo Chávez Frías:
Dos sorpresas inmensas muchos de nosotros nos llevamos con el viaje del Presidente Hugo Chávez al encuentro de MERCOSUR. Primero la grata noticia de nuestra entrada en MERCOSUR y la formación de una alianza energética con Argentina encaminada hacia la formación de PETROSUR. Se trata, dentro de los límites insalvables del capitalismo, de una integración que, vista desde el subsuelo de los explotados de los pueblos excluidos, pueda convertirse en el piso para el desarrollo de una vasta zona social, cultural y territorial liberada de las relaciones capitalistas de producción. Pero ésta ya es tarea de pueblos no de gobiernos, no está en el acta firmada sino en la potencia que abre.

Esa noticia de nuestra entrada en MERCOSUR en efecto fue muy grata además de sacarnos del aislamiento político y económico al cual nos querían someter. Pero hay otra noticia que nos trajo una sensación totalmente distinta y ajena a toda gratitud. En medio de la reunión ampliada de mandatarios del sur y a propósito de la serena intervención del presidente Lagos alabando la salida refrendaria en Venezuela, el presidente Chávez entre otras cosas reitera lo ya dicho: que si pierde el referéndum pues se retira de la presidencia. Como argumento apegado a la lógica de ley no hay ningún problema. El problema viene con lo que agrega: “y dos meses después me lanzo nuevamente como candidato”. Esto ya no entra en ninguna lógica de ley ni se apega a su necesidad formal, esto es un argumento político que describe una estrategia política frente a un eventual escenario de pérdida ante los comicios refrendarios. ¿Tiene esto sentido?, ¿esto, fuera de todo formalismo de ley, tiene algún sentido incluirlo dentro de las dimensiones reales de lo posible?, pero además, ¿cuál sería el proyecto políticamente posible de ese candidato que se presentará dos meses después?, ¿puede ser el mismo Chávez que ha sido hasta hoy una palanca extraordinaria para la apertura de esperanzas, libertades, transformaciones sustanciales? Después de “perder” y tener que reconocer que el pueblo bolivariano no somos mayoría (algo vital y central en la justificación de esta “revolución democrática y pacífica”), pues obviamente que no, tendrá que proponerse como buen administrador de los intereses de un orden dominante y mayoritario: el orden del capital, el imperio y la oligarquía. ¿Está el presidente Chávez dispuesto a eso? (Roland Denis/Proyecto Nuestra América, Movimiento 13 de Abril, "Disculpe Señor Presidente, pero en eso no estamos de acuerdo con usted," July 19, 2004)
Chávez isn't, I trust, and he must know that, for the Venezuelan masses, "el único Chávez que nos interesa es el que usted es hoy en día" (Denis, July 19, 2004). But . . . has he learned enough from the negative example of Daniel Ortega, so he can protect himself and Venezuelan masses (cf. Alejandro Bendaña, "The Rise and Fall of the FSLN," NACLA Report on the Americas 37.6, May/June 2004)?

Cyber One Korea

As soon as I mentioned a report on online gambling in North Korea in my previous entry "North Korea Goes Commercial Online" (July 26, 2004), skeptical readers asked whether it wasn't another myth about North Korea: e.g., "I have gone all over the site and can not find any gambling" (Macdonald Stainsby, Rad-Green, July 26, 2004). The report, however, did not say that online gambling is available at the Naenara ("My Country") site at

The gambling site in question is, reportedly "wildly popular with South Korean Internet users," who wanted not so much to gamble as to chat with North Koreans on its bulletin board:
The online bulletin board of an inter-Korean venture based in North Korea has become wildly popular with South Korean Internet users.

The site in question is a free board open to all users at, a gambling site operated by North Koreans using South Korean technology and capital.

More than 14,000 messages have been posted on the bulletin board since May 2002, two months after the launch of the main site.

Most of them are written by South Koreans, excited by the fact that they can communicate with North Koreans online.

"Can you please tell us your MSN messenger address? I want to chat with a North Korean," wrote one user identified as Hanmoonki.

A site administrator replied offering their address and wishing the user a nice day.

These kind[s] of replies from administrators, who work in shifts 24 hours a day to answer questions even unrelated to their business, are another reason for the site’s popularity.

"Do you think China is justified in claiming Koguryo as part of their history?" a user identified as Diadol asked.

"Of course not. For your reference on our position on the issue, look up at this past article at," an administrator answered.

Some 10 North Korean women, recent college graduates, manage the bulletin board from their office in Pyongyang, according to Kim Bum-hoon, president of Hoonnet, the South Korean company which set up the site jointly with the North.

"When we first proposed to North Koreans to set up an anonymous bulletin board open to non-members, the North said it was impossible. We convinced them by stressing the need to build up confidence," he said in an interview with Mediaonul, a weekly specializing in media news.

However, the site faces closure with South Korea’s Unification Ministry set to revoke Hoonnet’s license to do business in North Korea.

Ministry officials said this is because the company never got the approval from the government to run a gambling site, with its original plan confined to developing computer software.

Hoonnet maintains that the Unification Ministry knew of its plans to open the gambling site beforehand, and is petitioning to keep the site open for the sake of inter-Korean relations.

Articles by Internet users hoping to keep the communication channel with North Koreans are flooding the site.

In addition to salvaging the site, an Internet newspaper specializing in IT,, has kicked off a campaign to legalize inter-Korean communications on the Internet, called "Cyber One Korea."

The anti-communist National Security Law makes all contact with North Koreans illegal unless there is prior approval from the Unification Ministry, but that law has been lost in reality as Internet users have been surfing North Korean sites en masse.

"We know it’s impossible to investigate all of those who logged on the site," a police official said in an interview with, a news portal. (Seo Soo-min, "NK Online Gambling Site Sparks Interest," The Korea Times, January 19, 2004)
It is encouraging to hear so many South Koreans wishing to have conversations with North Koreans, despite the legacy of draconian anticommunist repression in South Korea. Unfortunately, the South Korean government "cancel[led] [Hoonnet's] legal rights for the inter-Korean business altogether," as "the company did not abide by a government order to close down the website," and it "also decided to block access to the gambling site and take legal action against South Koreans using it and sending money to the North," according to an article on (January 10, 2004).

I tried to log onto today, but "the operation [got] timed out" each time. Has it gone belly up, deprived of South Korean customers?

North Korea Goes Commercial Online

According to Reuters, there is a new North Korean website -- the Naenara ("My Country") site at -- the third North Korean website, whose novelty is its emphasis on commercial opportunities in North Korea:
KCNA has been available on the Internet for about five years on the Japan-based site Another North Korean site,, publishes Pyongyang views from China.

The new portal provides the North Korean telephone numbers of state trading companies that offer products raging from "stylish dresses of fine workmanship" to ferrous and nonferrous metals. ("N.Korea Opens Pilot Web Portal, Glitches Remain," July 14, 2004)
From the same Reuters article, the reader also learns that "[t]he launch follows the start of online gambling [!] run by the North two years ago and an online shopping mall in the South that sells goods imported from the North" (emphasis added, "N.Korea Opens Pilot Web Portal, Glitches Remain," July 14, 2004).

It is a German company KCC (Korea Computer Center)-Europe that created and maintains, which may compound translation troubles all too common in communication between East Asia and English-speaking regions of the world, if the company is translating documents from Korean to German to English. The owner of KCC-Europe is Jan Holtermann, an adventurous and optimistic entrepreneur:
A German, Jan Holtermann owner of the computer firm KCC Europe, is putting North Korea online.

He hopes that by being there first he will be able to eventually tap into North Korean computer talent.

The country's small number of internet users currently dial-up to Chinese providers, a costly process at about £1 a minute.

Mr Holtermann's customers, who he hopes will number 2,000 by the end of the year, will have unlimited access for £400 a month.

As only a few North Koreans are permitted to have telephones, and as the internet service is costly, Mr Holtermann expects his customers to be government ministries, news agencies and aid organisations.

He has invested £530,000 in the venture, intending to get first pick when North Korean software programmers come onto the market.

"They are very talented," he says.

"It's this capacity we want to sell in Europe." (Lucy Jones, "Foreign Investors Brave North Korea," April 13, 2004)
According to Netcraft, is run on Linux. Take that, Microsoft!

Pyongyang's net venture is merely one aspect of the slow but certain transformation of North Korea into a capitalist economy.

There is now advertising in North Korea (BBC)
The Washington Post reports on "the bustling site of North Korea's first capitalist industrial park," which it hails as "a new symbol of progress" -- the "progress" that creates winners and losers:
[T]he $180 million project just across the three-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas marks the most profound example of a 22-month-old experiment to bring the free market to one of communism's last frontiers.

Abuzz with activity as earthmovers clear land near the North Korean town of Kaesong for the first phase of five to 10 factories, the plants at Kaesong, to be owned and operated by South Korean companies, will employ up to 1,000 North Korean workers paid in U.S. dollars and receiving raises -- or dismissal slips -- based on performance. The long-term development plan calls for apartment complexes, hotels, restaurants -- even an amusement park by 2020.

"For North Korea, this is a first," said Jang Whan Bin, senior vice president of Seoul-based Hyundai Asan Corp., financed in part by the South Korean government. "The market system in this industrial zone will be more flexible than anything now existing in North Korea. It is more than symbolic. The North Koreans are eager to understand the free market, and now we're bringing it across the border for them to take part."

The Kaesong Industrial Park underscores mounting evidence that North Korea is undergoing its boldest attempt at economic reform since Kim Il Sung founded the Stalinist nation more than half a century ago.

With the end of the Cold War, North Korea lost hefty aid from Moscow and Beijing. The funds had propped up the economy, as did trade with other communist countries, and the loss of revenue sparked a financial collapse and bouts of starvation during the 1990s estimated to have killed as many as 2 million people. Bankrupt and desperate, the secretive Pyongyang government launched an experiment with the free market in July 2002, deregulating prices and hiking salaries.

No one expects the kind of societal transformation -- or foreign investment -- seen in China or even Vietnam while North Korea remains on its current path as a renegade nuclear power. But almost two years into its experiment, the reforms have spread far more deeply and quickly than many had anticipated, according to interviews with Asian and Western diplomats, business executives, aid groups and analysts, including a series of recent visitors there.

In addition to the industrial park, they noted new steps to phase out the state's food rationing system, the rapid proliferation of deregulated markets, attempts to reform state-run factories into profit-based operations, even the launch of a Web site selling "Made In North Korea" products over the Internet.

Since reforms went into place, North Korean trade with China jumped 38 percent to $1.02 billion in 2003; trade with South Korea spiked 12 percent to $724 million. In Pyongyang, the capital, eyewitness reports suggest a consumer culture is on the rise, with a proliferation of new markets selling oranges from Spain and electronics from China without state-set or subsidized prices. Many of these enterprises deal in dollars or euros. Smaller, independently run kiosks also dot the urban landscapes, selling cigarettes and soda pop.

Capitalist advertising -- roadside billboards peddling the Whistle, a type of Fiat assembled in North Korea -- has gone up along highways peppered with more and more late-model cars. The number of cell phones in the capital has reportedly soared from 3,000 in 2002 to an estimated 20,000 today.

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il -- who succeeded Kim Il Sung, his father, following the latter's death in 1994 -- has dispatched special emissaries to China and Vietnam to further analyze the economic openings there, according to Ban Ki Moon, South Korea's foreign minister. During a surprise summit with Chinese leaders last month, Kim spent an entire morning touring a village outside Beijing touted by the Chinese as a model for introducing private enterprise and extending ownership rights. . . .

. . . [B]y most accounts, those who thrived under the communist system had connections to the government, the military or black market. These officials have capitalized on the new system with increased access to imported goods and new ways to use their connections to benefit from the legalization of open commerce -- particularly in markets and trading on the Chinese border. Mid-level government officials, for instance, have become notorious for stripping abandoned factories of scrap metal and selling it to the Chinese, South Korean intelligence sources said.

By contrast, those at the lower rungs of society -- especially in rural regions far from the relatively prosperous capital -- face even greater challenges now, battling soaring inflation as government-set prices and state rations steadily disappear.

The U.N. World Food Program now calculates that 6.5 million of North Korea's 22 million people are facing food shortages this year. Those figures include a "new underclass" generated by the experiment with market reforms, according to Tony Branbury, the WFP's Asia director.

"When there are broad economic reforms in any society, there are going to be winners and losers, and clearly, in the case of North Korea, the reforms have created a new class of losers," said Branbury, who last month concluded an extensive fact-finding mission in North Korea.

On a rare tour through five North Korean cities including Pyongyang, Branbury and his team observed the polarizing power of the economic changes. In Pyongyang, he witnessed a proliferation of cars and cell phones -- which, according to South Korean government officials, are available almost exclusively to Communist Party members, the only North Koreans who can afford the approximately $1,000 registration fee.

At the same time, WFP officials noted the rise of urban slums populated by those living in increasingly desperate conditions. Although North Korea has raised workers' salaries approximately sixfold, prices for staples including rice have gone up ninefold or more.

North Korea once paid even idled factory workers, but many have now been reassigned to menial jobs with lower pay. "I could see workers, who we were told once worked in factories, sweeping up dirt on the sides of rural roads in the middle of nowhere," Branbury said. "The government is redistributing jobs as it can, but the North Korean authorities told us they recognize there is a problem with a new group of vulnerable people excluded from the so-called economic reforms." . . .

Nevertheless, the North Koreans appear to be forging ahead. Most of the factories still functioning in North Korea, for instance, must now meet payrolls based on their own profitability. Managers, rather than Communist Party officials, have been vested with more power to make independent business decisions. A central bank in Pyongyang is offering loans, rather than government subsidies, to state-run factories. (Anthony Faiola, "A Capitalist Sprout In N. Korea's Dust: Industrial Park to Broach Free Market," Washington Post, May 23, 2004, p. A18 )

Friday, July 23, 2004

Suicides, Military and Economic

An increase in suicides among US soldiers has been widely reported in the US media: e.g.,
There were at least 24 suicides among U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait last year, according to the Army's count. That number may increase because the circumstances of some other deaths are still in doubt.

That equates to a suicide rate of 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers, compared with a rate of 12.8 for the entire Army in 2003 and an average rate of 11.9 for the Army during the 1995-2002 period, according to officials familiar with the mental health study. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

The 24 suicides do not include soldiers who killed themselves after returning to the United States. (The Associated Press, "Soldier Suicide Rate In Iraq Jumps,", March 26, 2004)
An article in The New Yorker includes a poignant anecdote that brings impersonal statistics home: "'I haven’t killed anybody here and I hope I never have to kill anybody,' one soldier, a father of two, wrote to his mother from Baghdad before killing himself" (Dan Baum, "The Price of Valor," July 12, 2004, posted online on July 5, 2004).

Apparently, Israeli soldiers suffer from the same trauma, though the fact has received no attention in the US corporate media:
Citing statistics from the Israeli army’s rehabilitation division, the Hebrew daily Maariv said last week that for the first time, suicide has become the leading cause of death in the Israeli armed forces.

A total of 43 soldiers killed themselves last year, compared to 30 soldiers killed in incidents related to the Palestinian uprising. Maariv said this was a 30 percent increase over the 2002 figure of 31 suicides. Additionally last year, 32 Israeli soldiers died of illnesses or accidents.

While the Israeli Defense Ministry says there is no correlation, it is generally believed that many of the suicides are related to soldiers’ traumatic experiences in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. ("Israel: Suicide Top Killer of Soldiers," People's Weekly World, July 22, 2004)
In the rates of suicides as well as in many other respects, however, quiet desperation bred by a one-sided class war can be even more hazardous to people's health than literal warfare:
  • The number of suicides in Japan rose seven percent to a record of almost 35,000 last year, as a growing number of people took their own lives because of financial troubles, the National Police Agency says.

    Health problems were the most common motivation, accounting for almost 45 percent of the 34,427 suicides in 2003.

    But those committing suicide to escape debt or other economic woes totalled more than a quarter of the cases, according to an agency report carried by Japanese media on Friday. . . .

    The upsurge takes Japan's suicide ratio to 27 per 100,000 -- one of the highest in the world.

    In one disturbing development, suicides among primary and middle school pupils soared almost 60 percent to 93 while cases among high school students jumped almost 30 percent to 225.

    "Children are very easily influenced by their surroundings," Saito said. "If adult suicides rise, child suicides will also increase." . . .

    Sharp rises were also seen among adults who had failed to find jobs. More than 70 percent of suicide victims were male.

    People in their sixties or over emerged as the most suicide-prone group with 33.5 percent of cases, followed by those in their fifties. (Natasha Brereton/Reuters, "Japan Suicides Hit Record on Cash Worries," July 23, 2004)

  • According to statistics provided by the Cotton Growers Association of Maharashtra, 330 farmers in the cotton and soya bean-growing region of Vidarbha committed suicide in the last three years.

    Its general secretary, Prakash Pohare, who has documented each of these suicide cases, insists all of them were heavily in debt and were being harassed by banks and village money lenders to pay their dues back. . . .

    The region abuts Andhra Pradesh, where more than 3,000 farmers have taken their lives in the last few years because of crippling debt.

    Maharashtra's farmers suffer the same problems as Andhra Pradesh, which is drought, debt and official apathy, the activists say. (Zubair Ahmed, "Drought Fuels India Farmer Fears," BBC, July 22, 2004)

  • Their crops ravaged by a drought that hit the state early this year, at least 40 bankrupt farmers in Kerala have committed suicide, according to official figures.

    Though suicides by bankrupt farmers in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh are common with over 3,000 farmers there taking their lives in recent years, the phenomenon is relatively new in Kerala.

    Farmer A. Ananathan, 60, committed suicide Thursday in the hilly district of Wayanad in north Kerala. Government figures show 40 suicides by farmers have been recorded since the drought hit the state, devastating cash crops.

    But unofficial reports say 80 farmers have committed suicide in Wayanad district alone in the last 10 months.

    To invite attention to the plight of farmers, a novel protest was staged at Kalpetta, the district headquarters of Wayanad Thursday, with thousands of people joining a "March of the Dead" -- a symbolic act to remember the farmers who committed suicide. (Thiruvananthapuram/Indo-Asian News Service, "Suicides by Farmers Continue in Kerala,", July 23, 2004)

Preaching to the Choir

According to a Los Angeles Times poll, Fahrenheit 9/11 is preaching to the choir:
The survey found that "Fahrenheit" is drawing an overwhelmingly Democratic audience, and of the Republicans who have ventured to see it, few appear to be swayed. . . .

Of the 1,529 registered voters surveyed in the poll, conducted nationwide July 17-21, 9% had seen Moore's film, which has taken in more than $97 million since it opened last month and established itself as the highest-grossing feature-length documentary ever. Of those who have seen the movie, 78% identified themselves as Democrats, 9% as independents and 6% as Republicans.

Predictably, the vast majority of those who had seen the film -- 92% -- said they were planning to vote for Sen. John F. Kerry and Sen. John Edwards for president. Only 3% planned to vote for Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Seventy-nine percent of those who had seen "Fahrenheit" said the film would not change their November votes; 18% said it made them more likely to vote against Bush; and 3% said it bolstered their resolve to vote for him. (John Horn, "Public Keeping Its Cool Over Election Effect of 'Fahrenheit,'" July 23, 2004)
The poll's findings are in keeping with the "sharp geographical divide" between the audiences of Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ: "Two Americas of Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ" (July 14, 2004).

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Be All You Can Be

Karen Schaler's article in the latest issue of The New Yorker gives a whole new meaning to the US Army's old recruiting pitch -- "Be All You Can Be":
For years, the military has offered its recruits free tuition, specialized training, and a host of other benefits to compensate for the tremendous sacrifices they are called upon to make. Lately, many of them have been taking advantage of another perk: free cosmetic surgery.

"Anyone wearing a uniform is eligible," Dr. Bob Lyons, the chief of plastic surgery at Brooke Army Medical Center, said recently, in his office in San Antonio. It is true: personnel in all four branches of the military and members of their immediate families can get face-lifts, nose jobs, breast enlargements, liposuction, or any other kind of elective cosmetic alteration, at taxpayer expense. (For breast enlargements, patients must supply their own implants.) There is no limit on the number of cosmetic surgeries one soldier can have, although, Lyons said, "we don't do extreme makeovers in the military." The commanding officer has to approve the time off for any soldier who is having surgery. For most procedures, there's at least a ten-day recovery period, and while soldiers are recuperating they’re on paid medical leave rather than vacation.

A Defense Department spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the plastic-surgery benefit. According to the Army, between 2000 and 2003 its doctors performed four hundred and ninety-six breast enlargements and a thousand three hundred and sixty-one liposuction surgeries on soldiers and their dependents. In the first three months of 2004, it performed sixty breast enhancements and two hundred and thirty-one liposuctions.

Mario Moncada, an Army private who was recently treated for losing the vision in one eye in Iraq, said that he knows several female soldiers who have received free breast enlargements: "We're out there risking our lives. We deserve benefits like that."

Janis Garcia, a former lieutenant commander and jag attorney in the Navy, who is married to a retired Navy fighter pilot, says she grew up hating the way she looked. "I wouldn't even smile in my own wedding pictures." She checked in to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego for a nose job, a chin realignment, and a jaw reconstruction, free of charge. She also had her teeth straightened. "It changed my appearance drastically, and I became a more confident person," she said. "It literally changed the direction of my life." The doctors told her the work she had done would have cost her nearly a hundred thousand dollars. ("Chest Out, Stomach In: All That You Can Be," The New Yorker, July 26, 2004, posted online on July 19, 2004)
Notwithstanding the benefit of free cosmetic surgery -- perhaps because it is little known, as "there is no mention of it in any of the recruiting literature" (Schaler, July 26, 2004) -- the Army has had trouble keeping up recruitment and retention to fulfill its increased missions due to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq:
[T]he Army has been forced to bring more new recruits immediately into the ranks to meet recruiting goals for 2004, instead of allowing them to defer entry until the next accounting year, which starts in October.

As a result, recruiters will enter the new year without the usual cushion of incoming soldiers, making it that much harder to make their quotas for 2005. Instead of knowing the names of nearly half the coming year's expected arrivals in October, as the Army did last year, or even the names of around one in three, as is the normal goal, this October the recruiting command will have identified only about one of five of the boot camp class of 2005 in advance.

Army officials say that they have been unable to defer as many enlistments as in the past because 4,500 more recruits were needed at midyear to help meet a temporary increase of 30,000 soldiers in the active duty force, which is to grow to 512,000 by 2006. The increases are largely driven by the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . .

In recent weeks, the Army has said it will recruit thousands of sailors and airmen who are otherwise scheduled to leave the Navy and Air Force because of cutbacks. Starting this month, the Army may delay the retirements of soldiers with at least 20 years' experience if they are in jobs that face critical staffing shortages. The Army's top training forces at Fort Polk, La., and Fort Irwin, Calif., are being deployed for the first time, to Iraq, raising concerns among some officers that troops will not be given the most strenuous preparation possible before they leave the United States. . . .

Once soldiers initially enlist, they usually wait one month to one year before they formally enlist and are shipped to basic training. As of June 30, there were 2,260 recruits in the delayed entry program, down from 12,236 recruits a year ago.

By dipping into this personnel bank, some recruiting officials said, the Army is eating its seed corn. "They are stealing from the future to accomplish their current accession mission," said one Army recruiting official, referring to the enlisted recruits sent to basic training. (Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, "Army to Call Up Recruits Earlier," New York Times, July 22, 2004)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Wages of Election-Year Rituals

Max Sawicky, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, observes that the Democrats refuse to fight for indexing the minimum wage to inflation: "In my 14 years at EPI, I've just never seen any push for indexing on the Hill from the Dems" (LBO-talk, July 16, 2004). Why? Because, if the minimum wage got indexed to inflation like "Social Security, Veterans benefits, union contracts, and health insurance," both the Democrats and Republicans will lose a vital election year ritual:
All sorts of wages and benefits are indexed to inflation: Social Security, Veterans benefits, union contracts, health insurance. So why not the minimum wage as well? . . .

So why not put an end to all the fighting and lobbying, and just index it to begin with? Here's where the dirty little secret of Washington comes in. Politicians don't want the minimum wage to be indexed because they like to fight over it. Democrats want to show their traditional constituents, like labor, how hard they fight to raise the minimum wage. Republicans want to show their constituents, like small business, how hard they fight to prevent it from rising too much.

These ritualized fights always occur during election years, when Democratic and Republican constituents are paying attention. (emphasis added, Robert B. Reich, "A Better Way to Raise the Minimum Wage," Los Angeles Times, February 24, 1998)
If ritual fights over the minimum wage benefit both the Democrats and Republicans, equally ritualized battles of the Culture War also serve the interests of both parties. Take the Federal Marriage Amendment, for instance:
For three days this week the nation was transfixed by the spectacle of the United States Senate, in all its august majesty, doing precisely the opposite of statesmanlike deliberation. Instead, it was debating the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would not only have discriminated against a large group of citizens, but also was doomed to defeat from the get-go. Everyone knew this harebrained notion would never draw the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment, and yet here were all these conservatives lining up to speak for it, wasting day after day with their meandering remarks about culture while more important business went unattended. What explains this folly? . . .

For more than three decades, the Republican Party has relied on the "culture war" to rescue their chances every four years, from Richard Nixon's campaign against the liberal news media to George H. W. Bush's campaign against the liberal flag-burners. In this culture war, the real divide is between "regular people" and an endlessly scheming "liberal elite." This strategy allows them to depict themselves as friends of the common people even as they gut workplace safety rules and lay plans to turn Social Security over to Wall Street. Most important, it has allowed Republicans to speak the language of populism.

The amendment may have failed as law, but as pseudopopulist theater it was a masterpiece. Each important element of the culture-war narrative was there. Consider first its choice of targets: while the Senate's culture warriors denied feeling any hostility to gay people, they made no secret of their disgust with liberal judges, a tiny, arrogant group that believes it knows best in all things and harbors an unfathomable determination to run down American culture and thus made this measure necessary.

Sam Brownback, senator from my home state, Kansas, may have put it best: "Most Americans believe homosexuals have a right to live as they choose. They do not believe a small group of activists or a tiny judicial elite have a right to redefine marriage and impose a radical social experiment on our entire society." . . .

Of course, as everyone pointed out, the whole enterprise was doomed to failure from the start. It didn't have to be that way; conservatives could have chosen any number of more promising avenues to challenge or limit the Massachusetts ruling. Instead they went with a constitutional amendment, the one method where failure was absolutely guaranteed -- along with front-page coverage.

Then again, what culture war offensive isn't doomed to failure from the start? Indeed, the inevitability of defeat seems to be a critical element of the melodrama, on issues from school prayer to evolution and even abortion.

Failure on the cultural front serves to magnify the outrage felt by conservative true believers; it mobilizes the base. Failure sharpens the distinctions between conservatives and liberals. Failure allows for endless grandstanding without any real-world consequences that might upset more moderate Republicans or the party's all-important corporate wing. You might even say that grand and garish defeat —- especially if accompanied by the ridicule of the sophisticated —- is the culture warrior's very object.

The issue is all-important; the issue is incapable of being won. Only when the battle is defined this way can it achieve the desired results, have its magical polarizing effect. Only with a proposed constitutional amendment could the legalistic, cavilling Democrats be counted on to vote "no," and only with an offensive so blunt and so sweeping could the universal hostility of the press be secured.

Losing is prima facie evidence that the basic conservative claim is true: that the country is run by liberals; that the world is unfair; that the majority is persecuted by a sinister elite. And that therefore you, my red-state friend, had better get out there and vote as if your civilization depended on it. (Thomas Frank, "Failure Is Not an Option, It's Mandatory," New York Times, July 16, 2004)
Such are the wages of election-year rituals, which the working class of the United States are compelled to pay, every four years.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Peter Camejo Speaks

Click on the link to listen to Peter Camejo's speech in San Francisco on July 16, 2004.

Killing the Future of Iraq

According to a new study by the union of university lecturers in Iraq, "Some 250 university professors have been killed since the fall of Baghdad in April, 2003," and "more than 1,000 professors have left the country in the same period" ("250 University Professors Killed in One Year," The Iraq Press Online, July 10, 2004). Baghdad Burning relates an anecdote that highlights the despair of Iraq's best and brightest:
My mother's cousin is renting out his house, selling his car and heading out to Amman with his three kids where, he hopes, he will be able to find work. He is a university professor who has had enough of the current situation. He claims that he's tired of worrying about his family and the varying political and security crises every minute of the day. It's a common story these days. It feels like anyone who can, is trying to find a way out before June 30. ("Excuses, Excuses . . . ," June 18, 2004)
Not surprisingly, the most coveted possession in Iraq today is a passport:

Iraqi policemen fighting to stem the crush at a newly reopened passport office in Baghdad, beating back people with hands, feet and batons. Photo by Joao Silva for the New York Times.

There is one thing the sovereign [sic] state of Iraq can offer its citizens today, and Iraqis are banging down the doors to get their hands on it: a passport out of the country.

On a recent morning in front of the newly reopened passport office, bodies pressed on bodies for a chance to get inside. Pink and yellow files, each containing a precious passport application, waved in the air, as a young man tried to climb onto a rust-orange gate to get the attention of the bureaucrats inside. In the chaos, a sign that hung above the front door toppled to the floor.

At one point, Iraqi policemen charged at the crowd, wielding batons. A couple of shots were fired in the air. The line, if it can be called that, disintegrated and the crowd retreated toward a barbed wire fence before lunging forward again.

Jobless, rattled, fed up, Iraqis are dreaming of getting out.

"Escape from Iraq" is how Muhammad Kadhum, 26, a college student, described his intentions. "I cannot live here in Iraq. I cannot feel like a man."

Zeinab Heart, 24, waiting in black in the already wilting midmorning heat for a chance to move to her husband's native Lebanon, lamented: "I want to get out. I want my children to live in a peaceful place."

Wesam Mohammed, 22, who arrived at 4:30 a.m. to claim a choice spot in the passport line, only to lose it when the police struck, said: "There is no comfort here. No stability. Explosions everywhere. This is impossible." He wiped his forehead and said he hoped to go to the United Arab Emirates to join a relative.

In Saddam Hussein's day, getting a passport and permission to leave the country was arduous and for most Iraqis prohibitively expensive. During 15 months of American occupation, there was no Iraqi government to issue one. Only after the Iraqi interim government took control on June 28 did the passport office reopen for business. It has been swamped ever since: over 500 applications every day, according to the office director, Sabbar Atia. "Some people don't even need it," he snapped.

This morning, trying to get into his car and leave, he was swamped himself by a beseeching, demanding crowd. His guards seemed unafraid to use their sharp elbows.

Someone told him there were people in his office charging a little extra to process applications quickly. "There are thieves outside this building, not inside," he said testily. "Please organize yourselves. Stay in line. We are giving out passports."

The waiting turned out to be good for vendors, at least. A man sold tamarind juice from a sack strapped to his back. Two small boys pushed a cart piled high with orange soda.

Today, the fervor with which Iraqis crave a passport, and with it a chance to escape, speaks volumes about their frustration with the existing order. At this passport line, one of five in the capital, patience wears thin, and melts again to frustration. It is a grim portrait of this fledgling government coming face to face with its constituents.

"It's a disaster," muttered Mr. Kadhum. "An Iraqi disaster." He watched the chaos from the sidelines and decided to come back another day. He said he wanted to go to Germany. He admitted it was a dream.

Certainly, not everyone here was applying for a passport in order to emigrate. Three Iraqi traders were angry at not being able to get to Syria, where their goods were sitting in a warehouse. A photographer wanted to visit his brother in Romania. A schoolteacher wanted to renew her passport to see the holy shrines in Iran. Her husband, a professor of accounting, said simply, "I want to see the world."

But it was the young men who stood here in the unforgiving, shadeless sidewalk who were among the most impatient to leave, and it is their impatience and ennui that presents an urgent challenge to this government and its backers in Washington.

The unemployment rate here is impossible to gauge correctly, but even conservative American government estimates put it at around 24 percent. Reconstruction projects, dogged by sabotage, have so far created 30,000 jobs for Iraqis -- far fewer than Iraq's American overseers had originally hoped.

Today, in an odd riposte to the trickle of young men who come to Iraq from as far away as the Philippines to cook, clean and drive for American soldiers here, a new crop of employment brokers are promising young Iraqi men a chance to work overseas.

That promise brought three friends, all trained in Iraqi universities to teach Arabic, to the passport line this morning. One of them, Sami Jabbar, 29, was almost certain he would receive a two-year contract on a timber plantation in Malaysia. It would be his first trip out of Iraq.

"I am really looking forward to it," he said. "I want to make something of my future."

Standing at his side were two friends, also praying for jobs in Malaysia. Fifteen of his neighbors, Mr. Jabbar said, are applying for passports, just to be able to go abroad to work.

The company making the arrangements for Mr. Jabbar has already arranged to send 750 men from Nasariya, its chief, Abdul Rasoul Hussein, said in an interview in his office. In August, an additional 700 Baghdadis, all men in their 20's, are scheduled to be shipped off to Malaysia. Most are to be hired as loggers and drivers.

"If we found work here, we wouldn't be leaving," said Mr. Jabbar's friend, Sabah Abdul Hussein. (emphasis added, Somini Sengupta, "In Iraq, the Most Coveted Item Now Is a Passport," New York Times, July 16, 2004)
While the New York Times reports only the most conservative and unreliable estimate of Iraqi unemployment, more credible sources say that the unemployment rate runs at least at 50% -- and as high as 70% for young men:
Iraqi joblessness doubled from 30% before the invasion to 60% by the middle of 2003. Before it was transformed into the US embassy on June 28, the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) claimed that unemployment was down to 25-30%. However, a report released on June 23 by the US-based Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), estimated the combined rate of unemployment and underemployment in Iraq at 50% of the labour force. The unemployment rate among young Iraqi men is running at an estimated 70%.

The catastrophically high levels of unemployment estimated by the EPIC report are supported by a May 26 UN humanitarian information unit (IRIN) report that “60% percent of Iraqi families depend completely on the monthly food ration” distributed by the UN’s World Food Program. “Markets are full of food products”, the IRIN report noted, “but unemployment currently stands at an estimated 50% or more, and most families say they cannot afford to buy even the most basic items.”

According to the IRIN report, even with the food ration, “a million children under the age of five are estimated to be chronically malnourished”.

A major cause of continuing high unemployment has been the CPA's refusal to award reconstruction contracts to the largely state-owned infrastructure firms in Iraq. Before it dissolved, the CPA reported that only 15,000 Iraqis, out of a potential workforce of 7 million, were employed on reconstruction projects.

The CPA's refusal to provide work to Iraq's state-run companies was part of a privatisation strategy — economic “shock therapy” as the EPIC report calls it — imposed by CPA head Paul Bremer. (emphasis added, Doug Lorimer, "Iraqis Worse Off since US Invasion," Green Left Weekly, July 21, 2004)
Murder of university professors. Exodus of intellectuals. Unemployment of youths. Malnourishment of children. The invasion has already destroyed Iraq's priceless and irreplaceable historical treasures. The occupation is now killing the future of Iraq.

Your Government at War

The ruling class has already dumped George W. Bush, but let's not rejoice yet. If we allow Bush to safely retreat into comfortable retirement and let the next POTUS John Kerry continue the occupation of Iraq, we, too, are complicit in war crimes like this:
Young male prisoners were filmed being sodomised by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, according to the journalist who first revealed the abuses there.

Seymour Hersh, who reported on the torture of the prisoners in New Yorker magazine in May, told an audience in San Francisco that "it's worse". But he added that he would reveal the extent of the abuses: "I'm not done reporting on all this," he told a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He said: "The boys were sodomised with the cameras rolling, and the worst part is the soundtrack, of the boys shrieking. And this is your government at war." (Charles Arthur, "Secret Film Shows Iraq Prisoners Sodomised," Independent, July 16, 2004)

Monday, July 19, 2004

Democrats Put Bush on the Ballot While Fighting to Keep Nader off It

The Democrats change the election law to put George W. Bush on the ballot in Illinois, in addition to eight other states, but fight hard to keep Ralph Nader off it in the same state, as well as in all other states:
  • Illinois fixed a glitch in its election law on Thursday to ensure President Bush appears on the state's Nov. 2 ballots.

    The relatively late dates of this year's Republican Party convention, running Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, meant that Bush would not be the official nominee until after an Aug. 30 deadline set in state law.

    The ballot qualification issue arose in nine states, with Illinois the last to take care of it. The amendment allows candidates onto the ballot who are nominated after the deadline.

    "Illinois citizens should be able to vote for the sitting president if they choose, and this technical change will make sure that they have that option in November," said Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat. (Reuters, "Illinois Fixes Glitch to Keep Bush's Spot on Ballot," July 8, 2004)

  • "[Gov. Rod Blagojevich] thinks President Bush should be on the ballot. He should be a choice," said Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for the governor. (Scott Miller, "Bush Will Appear on Ballot," Bloomington Pantagraph, June 29, 2004)

  • [Jeff] Trigg [the executive director of the Libertarian Party of Illinois] related how the Democrats had recently made a deal with the Republicans to allow George Bush to be placed on the Illinois ballot after the official deadline to certify candidates in the state expired. Michael Madigan offered the Republicans a deal: ‘If you forgive $1 million in campaign fines against Democrats, we’ll change the deadline for President Bush.’

    “The Democrats cooperated with the Republicans to put them on the ballot. Doesn’t that tell you who their real enemy is? They had a perfect opportunity to keep the person who they say is their worst enemy off the ballot, but they didn’t do it. They willfully went along with it so President Bush could take advantage of the 9/11 anniversary in New York. Yet they are challenging Ralph Nader, the Green Party and Tom Mackaman. That tells you their real enemy is voter choice.” ("Green Party, Libertarians Join SEP to Denounce Attack on Third Party Campaigns,", July 17, 2004)

  • The Illinois Nader for President campaign says that fulltime employees for House Speaker Mike Madigan's office were involved in challenging petition signatures during the last few weeks of June, working to disqualify Nader from the General Election ballot.

    Christina Tobin, local coordinator for the Ralph Nader for President, said that while the challenge was in process. . . she noticed a several people challenging signatures at the Chicago Board of Elections and Cook County Clerk's office were the Speaker's employees, and others were interns. obtained the payroll for the Speaker’s Office for June and compared it with the late June sign-in sheets for the Chicago Board of Elections and the Cook County Clerk’s Office. The following 12 full-time employees were found doing political work:

    • Michael Cassidy

    • Shaw Decremer

    • Jill Edelblute

    • Kimberly Hegarty

    • Elizabeth Moe

    • Kirk Mottram

    • Rebecca Novak

    • Martin Quinn

    • Dorothy Randle

    • Peter Senechalle

    • Jon Valadez

    • Ronald Wos

    Eight other petition challengers were not fulltime employees, but on contract with the state:

    • Tom Foley, Jr.

    • Joe Garcia

    • Angela Gargano

    • Tom Hildreth

    • Kevin McCarthy

    • Teri Negovan

    • Kristy Nice

    • David O’Farrell

    Some worked one day, while others like Shaw Decremer and Rebecca Novak signed in and worked multiple days. All but Kimberly Hegarty were paid the same amount for the first half of June as for the last half. filed a freedom of information request to see House Speaker's office time sheets for the staffers during the days they were seen at the Chicago Board of Elections, but it has not yet been fulfilled.

    Steve Brown spokeman for Speaker Madigan's office said today if any of the Speaker's employees were at the Board of Elections doing work, they were not there on state time.

    "They were either on vacation, time off, but it was not 'comp' time," Brown said today. "We've never used comp time for that."

    If Madigan followed his previous state policy of not using taxpayer dollars to finance political work, the time sheets should show that the employees in question took personal days, vacation time when they were checking voter registration records against the Nader petitions.

    The fulltime employees were paid at least $9.20 per hour, and others were salaried, according to the information obtained from the Comptroller's office. Assuming each worked the entire month, one would expect their paycheck to be less for the second half of the month than for the first half.

    That was usually, but not always, the case according to the payroll information provided. Tom Foley, paid $12.50 per hour, was paid $975 for both the first and the second two weeks of June.

    Joe Garcia, paid the same hourly rate, actually earned more for the second half of June than he did in its first two weeks: $1,000 versus $1056.25. Kristy Nice, paid $9.20 per hour, earned $515.20 the first two weeks and $644 the later half of the month. Her base pay was listed as $515.20.

    Kevin McCarthy’s paycheck, on the other hand, went from $915.63 to $793.95. He checked petitions three days, according to the Board of Elections sign-in sheets. At his $12.50 hourly rate of pay, that seems to mean that he got paid for about 10 hours less work during the petition-checking time than during the first half of the month.

    Christina Tobin said one sixteen-year-old was asked by a Nader volunteer why he was at the Board of Elections, working with the House staffers.

    “Because I have to be here,” Tobin reports the staffer said. ". . . I work for the Speaker of the House Mike Madigan. I have no choice but to be here.”

    A Downstate challenger in a state representative race said the same tactic was used to challenge his petitions last month.

    Champaign County Socialist Worker Party candidate Tom Mackaman believes that Madigan employees Liz Brown and Brendan Hostetler worked on state time preparing the Democrats challenge to his petitions.

    “Apparently, these two state employees, during normal working hours and at taxpayer expense, engaged in overtly partisan political activity in pursuance of the Democrats’ objection to my petitions,” Mackaman said today.

    Brown was paid $1,875 both the first and the last half of June. Hostetler got $1,750 in each pay check. (The Leader-Chicago Bureau, "Nader Campaign Says Madigan Staffers Used to Challenge Petitions," The Illinois Reader, July 19, 2004)