Sunday, December 12, 2010



By Reginald Johnson

Dec. 12, 2010

Hooray for Bernie Sanders! Hooray to a man who finally stood up and said it’s time to stop caving in to the Republicans and it’s time to start really fighting on behalf of America’s working class.

Bernie Sanders of course is the Independent/Socialist Senator from Vermont, who on Friday waged nearly a one-man war against President Barack Obama’s sell-out tax bill. The measure gives the middle class a tax cut, but also doles out hundreds of billions in unneeded tax breaks to the rich and corporations, compounding the nation’s already high deficit. The bill also threatens to undermine future funding for Social Security.

Sanders took to the floor of the Senate and in an historic address talked for more than eight hours --- eight hours!--- blasting the tax bill, which Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had secretly negotiated with Senate Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“Whose brilliant idea was it that we drive up the national debt, ask our kids to pay higher taxes to pay off that debt, in order to give tax breaks to the rich?” Sanders asked.

The Vermont senator’s long speech captivated people not just in the U.S., but around the world. There were so many people watching the senate’s live video feed, that the chamber's computer server crashed at one point. Sander’s speech was the leading trend on Twitter nationally and the second leading trend worldwide.

Sanders read letters from constituents, who are struggling economically at the same time the government ponders more giveaways for the wealthy. According to an account in the newspaper the Bennington Banner, Sanders related a letter from a woman who described trying to save money by buying food from a “dented can store.”

“Does anybody in Congress know what a dented can store is?” Sanders asked.

Sanders also laid out quite a history lesson, detailing all the factors that have gone into the decline of the middle class over the past 30 years and how the country now has a gross disparity in incomes --- with an upper crust consisting of 5 percent of the population controlling more than 50 percent of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 20 percent have almost no wealth.

Sander’s marathon speech was not technically a filibuster, since no vote was being taken up. That won’t come until Monday. But Sanders wants to slow the process down, and force senate supporters of the bill to come up with a new measure that in his words “better reflects the needs of the middle class and working families of this country.”

And Sanders is getting some support. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and surprisingly, Louisiana’s conservative Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, both said they were against the bill and agreed to hold the floor for Sanders while he took brief breaks. More significantly, eight senate Democrats sent a letter Friday night to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying they had “grave misgivings” about the proposed bill and recommended changes before a vote.

They urged a plan which would restore tax rates on income over $1 million per year to the higher Clinton-era rates and to “dedicate the resulting revenues to shoring up the Social Security trust fund,” according to an article in The Nation by John Nichols.

Meanwhile dozens of Democrats in the House are refusing to back the Obama-McConnell plan and are also demanding changes.

Some Congressional Democrats and Social Security advocates are voicing concern over another aspect of the Obama measure, which calls for cutting the payroll tax by 2 percent to give employees a $1,000 tax break next year. It’s supposed to be a one-year tax cut on employees paying what is known as the “FICA” tax, as opposed to the income tax.

While the tax break seems to be nice on the face of it, and may act as an economic stimulus, the problem is the money is coming from a revenue stream that is supposed to be a dedicated fund only for the Social Security retirement fund.

The administration is pledging that Social Security won’t lose any money, that the Treasury Department will replenish the retirement program with other government funds. The lower tax is also supposed to end in one year.

But the fear is that in one year, a Congress more heavily dominated by Republicans will never approve a tax hike to restore the old rate, and money again will have to be borrowed from the general fund to make up the difference. In later years, the lower payroll tax rate may become permanent, putting Social Security in competition with other funding needs year to year.

With a tight general budget for the foreseeable future, and warnings about deficits, there inevitably will be calls for benefit cuts in Social Security.

“This 2 percent payroll tax cut is the beginning of the end of Social Security as we know it,” said the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, headed by former Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly, D-Conn. “Worker contributions have successfully funded the program for 75 years and that critical linkage between contributions and benefits is what keeps Social Security a self-funded program.”

Monday, November 29, 2010


Save Social Security

By Reginald Johnson

If you're upset over the proposed cuts to Social Security --- the most effective public service program in the history of this country --- Tuesday, Nov. 30, is the day to do something about it.

President Obama's deficit reduction commission recently recommended cuts to cost of living increases in Social Security as well as raising the retirement age to 69. These would be major blows to this vital program, which hundreds of millions of Americans have relied on for retirement income since it was first enacted in 1935.

Congress is now considering whether to adopt the recommendations.

At a time when the economy is weak, pensions and 401ks have either been wiped out or lost substantial value, it is critical to save and strengthen Social Security.

Tuesday is "National Call Congress Day" to let members of Congress know that the commission recommendations should not be followed, and you want Social Security left intact. If they want to reduce the deficit, then end the wars overseas, cut the bloated “defense” budget, stop giving trillions in welfare aid to private banks and end tax cuts for the rich.

To reach U.S. Senators, you can call a toll-free 800 number, 1-866-529-7630 and you will be connected.

In the southern Connecticut area, some numbers for members of Congress are: Rep. Jim Himes, 4th District, 202-225-5541 and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, 3rd District, 202-225-3661. If for some reason the 800 number is tied up, the direct numbers for the senators are: Senator Joe Lieberman, 202-224-4041; Senator Chris Dodd, 202-224-2823.

For more information, check


Out of Control

Reginald Johnson

People are right to protest the new airport screening procedures --- involving full-body x-ray scans and pat downs of passengers, including checking a person’s privates.

The fact is, these procedures --- set up supposedly to fight the holy war against terrorism --- are a complete outrage.

The scans and pat downs are a shocking invasion of people’s privacy and resemble police state tactics.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says the following: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated…”

What happened to that?

If the government can get away with these intrusive screening procedures at airports, what’s next, pat downs before you can get on a train or bus? How about requiring travel passes within the United States, passes which can be demanded at anytime by a police officer? Doesn’t that sound like South Africa in the apartheid era, or Germany under the Nazis (“Papers please!”) What about roadblocks with officials stopping anyone who looks “suspicious”?

Just where does all this stop?

Already Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano and Transportation Security Administration Director John Pistole have talked about pat downs for passengers boarding trains.

This entire “war on terrorism” thing has gotten way out of hand. There’s no question that terrorists are out there --- in good part because of resentment over America’s brutal resource wars in the Middle East --- but combating terrorism by curbing civil liberties at home is not the answer. Good human intelligence and law enforcement work, together with a more sane foreign policy, is.

We don’t need full-body pat downs and show-all x-ray photos (complete with unhealthy blasts of radiation) to catch terrorists.

Another point has to be made. Being in a democracy with a system of strong guarantees of civil liberties, you cannot have a complete airtight system of preventing every last possible terrorist from boarding a plane, riding a bus, checking a book out at the library, or writing something. If you want that, you have a police state. We have rights here --- freedom to travel in privacy, read what you want, say what you want.

You cannot reconcile police state surveillance with a democracy.

I certainly don’t want a police state.

Friday, November 12, 2010



By Reginald Johnson

Nov. 12, 2010

If ever there was a moment when progressives should rise up and say “no!” --- that time is now.

Within the space of 24 hours, from Wednesday into Thursday, President Obama and his group around him have shown what they really are: a bunch of conservative Democrats who are ready to betray the interests of the working people of this country at a moments notice in order to serve their paymasters --- Wall Street and the wealthy elite.

Consider what’s happened in this short period. First, leaders of the bi-partisan deficit reduction commission ---- which Obama set up --- detailed some of the panel’s preliminary recommendations. For the middle class and poor, they’re not pretty. Cut Social Security benefits; raise the retirement age; cut Medicare benefits; cut Medicaid benefits; hike gasoline taxes; and eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction.

The proposed cuts and tax hikes come at a time when working people are already struggling to pay the bills in a bad economy and retirees and near-retirees wonder if they can make ends meet because pensions and 401K plans have been wiped out.

On Thursday, it got worse. The White House announced that it was willing to compromise on extending the Bush tax cuts --- something that the Republicans wanted, but Obama said previously he was against. This would allow high earners (generally those over $250,000 a year) to continue to get a tax break. According to Robert Kuttner, an economist and co-editor of the American Prospect Magazine, continuing the tax cuts for the wealthy will add $1 trillion to the deficit.

Wait a minute. I thought everyone had to sacrifice to help deal with this national problem, the huge deficit. Well, I guess not everyone. Not the Wall Street guys and the rich.

What a disgrace.

By the way, one of those Wall Street guys, Erskine Bowles, is the co-chair of Obama’s deficit panel. He gets paid $300,000 a year for being on the board of the huge investment firm, Morgan Stanley.

One suggestion that’s been floated in the past to raise more money and ease the deficit is by enacting a stock transaction tax. This would raise hundreds of billions of dollars, even with a fractional tax. Investment houses don't like the concept. For some reason, the commission didn’t broach this idea.

Another major area the commission didn’t take up was the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. According to the National Priorities Project, they have cost over $1 trillion since 2001. While the deficit panel did recommend cuts to the military --- one thing they deserve credit for --- they didn’t call for ending the wars. These wars are a huge drain on the treasury.

It seems to me that if the wars were stopped, tax breaks for the rich were ended, and a stock transaction tax was put into place, the national deficit would not be an issue.

This approach would be a lot better than whacking the poor and the middle class.

Progressives ---- and labor in particular --- should let Obama know that their support is no longer a given --- that these outrageous recommendations and the Bush tax cuts have to go, or else.

Third party anyone?

One other thing. Jane Slaughter, the fine writer with Labor Notes, reports that a group of organizations is organizing a national Call-in Day to Congress on Nov. 30. That’s the day the deficit commission will release its final recommendations to Congress, including the provision on raising the retirement age. “They’re saying ‘Owe No You Don’t’ --- the goal is to create a groundswell of outrage that will make the recommendations dead on arrival,” she writes.

You can find out more at or

Sunday, November 7, 2010



By Reginald Johnson

Nov. 7, 2010

A strong grassroots effort has sprung up to fight the suspension of liberal commentator Keith Olbermann from MSNBC, as many worry that the cable news network may be heading in a more conservative direction.

The group Progressive Change Campaign Committee said Sunday it has gathered over 300,000 signatures on a petition demanding that MSNBC reinstate Olbermann to his show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced Friday that he was suspending the commentator “indefinitely” due to three campaign contributions Olbermann had made to Democratic candidates prior to the Nov. 2 election.

Griffin said NBC rules bar company employees from making political contributions.

But there may be a double standard at work here ---- since in the past MSNBC did nothing to penalize conservative commentators Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough from making donations to Republicans. The media advocacy group FAIR has also pointed out that the head of NBC, Robert Wright, has made political donations in the past as well.

There’s reports that NBC officials have been growing uneasy with the liberal face MSNBC is adopting, with the views of many of its hosts such as Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Ed Shultz. Is there a push going on now to create more “balance” by permanently removing Olbermann, and replacing him with someone more middle of the road?

The loss of Olbermann from one of the three major cable news operations (the others are FOX and CNN) would be a setback to progressives, who already struggle to get heard on the airwaves. FOX has long been a lost cause for liberals. Progressives rarely appear on FOX and if they do, they sit on panels of three or four speakers with all the others being conservative. The liberal gets shouted down. Evening hosts as well as some morning hosts on FOX are hopelessly right-wing and are running a blatant propaganda operation on behalf of the Republicans.

CNN, which tries to maintain an image of being centrist and non-partisan, has actually added a couple of right-wing commentators to its line-up in recent years – Erick Erickson and William Bennett.

So that leaves MSNBC, and why it’s important to bring Olbermann back. While far from being perfect (sometimes he can be too uncritical in analyzing different issues) Olbermann in general has been a big plus on the cable TV news scene. He frequently brings on progressive voices, and his commentaries over the years have been strong.

His “Special Comments” ripping the Bush administration for the lies concerning Iraq and the dismantling of civil liberties were particularly good.

To join the petition to reinstate Olbermann, go to

Friday, October 29, 2010


By Reginald Johnson

Oct. 29, 2010


The power of the right wing never ceases to amaze me.

I thought of this twice in recent days, first when I went into the Barnes and Noble bookstore to pick out a gift. I went to the history and current affairs section and as always, looked for Noam Chomsky, one of my favorites. In the past, you could always count on plenty Chomsky and other liberal writers in the same section at ‘B&N.’

This time was different. I did find Chomsky, but not before noticing what seemed like an avalanche of books authored by conservatives --- Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Dick Armey, Laura Ingraham, Sarah Palin, and others. They clearly outnumbered the left-of-center writers.

A lot of these right-wingers have disgracefully assumed the mantle of being “true patriots” just like the 18th century revolutionaries who threw boxes of tea into Boston Harbor to protest British taxation. Beck’s latest tome is entitled “Glenn Beck’s Common Sense,” with the subtitle, “The Case Against an Out of Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine.”

Thomas Paine, of course, was the Revolutionary-era writer whose book “Common Sense,” laid out the case against the repression of the English monarchs and really did inspire many colonists to take up arms against the Crown.

That Beck has the audacity to liken himself to a great humanist like Thomas Paine, while he spews venom nightly on his TV show, expressing hate against liberals and Muslims, is unbelievable. Yet people seem to lap it up --- his ratings are high, and his books dot the shelves of the bookstore chains.

Books by Sarah Palin and Dick Armey (“Give Us Liberty” --- “A Tea Party Manifesto --- Less Government and More Individual Liberty”) also appear to be popular. This, despite the utter hypocrisy of these right-wing and Tea Party leaders. (If these people are so opposed to big government and ‘tyranny,’ then why don’t they speak out against the government’s warrantless wiretapping and torture practices? They don’t. You can be sure if Thomas Paine were around today, he would.)

A day or so after visiting the bookstore, I saw a news piece flash on the Talking Points Memo website: Republican/Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle in Nevada had just raised $14 million in contributions in one-quarter in her Senate race to defeat incumbent Harry Reid, a Democrat.

I glanced at Angle’s contributions list. Money was pouring in from all around the country. This is amazing. Here is a candidate as unqualified as you can get, blurts out the dumbest comments, and she’s raking in the money. But she’s hard right-wing – dead against immigration, supports tax cuts for the rich, wants to abolish the department of education and loosen regulations on business. So the business class --- like the multi-billionaire Koch brothers --- love her. Doesn’t matter if she runs racist ads or says other outrageous things, she pledges to cut their taxes and keep government regulators off their backs. That’s good enough for them. Keep the dollars flowing.

The dreadful decision this year by the Supreme Court to allow corporations to give unlimited amounts of money to political candidates has made the right-wing political machine even more potent. While the Democrats get a lot of corporate money too, big business knows where their bread is really buttered --- with conservatives. So Republicans and Tea Party candidates are getting big bucks this year, often from corporate front groups that don’t have to disclose their donors.

With a wealth of funds to run political ads and promoted by right-wing radio and FOX “News” shows, conservatives may win big in next week’s elections.

Angle is running neck and neck with Reid. While Reid has been no great shakes as a senator, he’s light years better than Angle.

But in Nevada, where there’s high unemployment and foreclosures all over, many alienated voters are buying the empty-headed rhetoric of the right, that “government is the problem” and all liberals must go.

Sharron Angle may be the next U.S. Senator from Nevada.


Friday, August 27, 2010

By Reginald Johnson
Aug. 27, 2010

Bigger than 911

The backers of the mosque in lower Manhattan should stand their ground ---- and not submit to the hysterical demands of critics that they move their facility.

This issue has become much bigger than the sensitivities of those who lost loved ones at Ground Zero, when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

Those attacks were horrific, and we should never forget the people who lost their lives. Ground Zero is a special place.

But there is something at stake here that is much more important than honoring the feelings of those who think that a mosque near Ground Zero is somehow wrong, since it was Muslim fanatics who were flying the hijacked planes.

Freedom of religion, one of the cornerstones of the American constitutional system, is on the line. The framers who drew up the Constitution and Bill of Rights, knew all too well the injustice of a society where one could not practice the religion of one’s choice. Their parents and grandparents had come to the New World to escape religious persecution in England.

With the First Amendment’s provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the framers made clear that the United States would be a place where people would be free to practice the religion of their choice.

The backers of the mosque, which will be part of a larger Islamic community center called Cordoba House, purchased the property for their project and obtained all the needed land-use approvals from the city. They now have a right to build the facility the same way Christians might want to build a YMCA or Jews a community center.

To say the community center backers are somehow tainted because they share the same faith as the 911 attackers is grossly unfair and cruel. This smears all Muslims. There were 19 hijackers; there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.

While some of the people criticizing the plan for the mosque are local people who are having an emotional reaction because they lost loved ones on 911, it’s clear there are many opponents who live far from New York and just don’t like Muslims, period. They’re using the center controversy to whip up Islamophobia and spread hate.

In fact, there appears to be a campaign going on nationwide to smear and persecute Muslims.

There are cases all around the country where people are trying to block the construction of mosques or engaging in acts of harassment and even violence against Muslims. In two other locations in New York City, opposition has sprung up against proposed mosques. Protests against mosques have also arisen in Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin and California.

Right-wing politicians, including Republicans and Tea Party members, are jumping into the act, demagogically pandering to opponents. A candidate for governor in Tennessee said Islam was not a religion and Muslims shouldn’t have First Amendment rights.

In Florida, a Christian pastor denounced Islam and said he would hold a Koran book-burning at his church.

Right here in Bridgeport, a group of Christian zealots recently picketed a local mosque, shouting “Islam is a lie” and yelling verbal abuse at worshippers entering the building. Two children were called “murderers.”

And in New York this week, a cab driver was slashed with a knife by an enraged passenger after the driver told him he was a Muslim.

The wave of Islamophobia is an ominous development. It harkens back to the anti-Semitism whipped up by the Nazis in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

The hate directed at Muslims is part of a surge of Christian nationalism. The bigotry has to be denounced and stopped in its tracks. If the trend is not stopped, the First Amendment's protection of both religious freedom and freedom of expression will be destroyed.

We’ll be that much closer to a Christian fascist state in America.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


A Threat to New Journalism

By Reginald Johnson
August 22, 2010

Hopes for building a new, vibrant form of on-line journalism could be dealt a serious blow if big communications companies like Google and Verizon have their way.

The two firms recently agreed to a “policy framework” for how they think the Internet should be run. The changes they propose will pretty much end the current free state of the Web, where any person, non-profit or company can post anything they want, do so without interference, and without incurring more costs over and above what they pay their Internet Service Provider for basic service.

Today, everyone who posts on the Internet --- whether you’re CNN or Joe Smith the blogger in small-town USA --- gets treated equally. For the most part, there’s no weeding or filtering out of content.

This is known as net neutrality.

Under the Verizon-Google deal, net neutrality goes out the window.

With wireless connections to the Internet, such as over a cell phone, the companies want to reserve the right to prevent certain kinds of the content from being posted and block access to websites. It’s expected that in the coming years, more and more people will be accessing the Internet on a wireless application, so this potential censorship is very significant.

Also, the two firms want to set up a two-tiered system for Internet users --- one a fast “private” lane and the other a slow “public” lane. To be in the fast lane, where will be rapid connections on the best broadband, a blogger or producer of an audio or video show would have to pay an extra charge. It’ll be like paying more to your cable TV company to get premium channels. Everyone else will be on the public Internet, which over the years will become much slower than the private Internet, since the companies will invest all their development/infrastructure money in the more lucrative private side.

Should this deal get finalized, it will undermine the growth of the new journalism that has been mushrooming on the Web in recent years.

In the past 15 years, hundreds, if not thousands of websites have sprung up, offering free-wheeling commentary and in some cases original reporting about communities all across the United States. While some of the blogging falls short good, professional writing that you’ll find in newspapers and magazines, a good number of the sites are well-done and offer journalism that does a better job than the traditional publications.

As newspapers decline due to years of bad management, the recession and other factors, it was hoped that this new on-line journalism --- aided perhaps by foundation or government funding --- could really take off and fill the void left by papers.

But if the Google-Verizon deal becomes the framework for how much of the Web operates, then the growth of on-line journalism would be stunted. For one, the presence of a content block would be devastating for new websites trying to make their mark. Supposing reporters at some website had just put together a hard-hitting piece with new evidence of torture by U.S. authorities in military prisons. Will a censor at Verizon say, “this is a little too controversial,” and refuse to put it up? That kind of thing could well happen. It would have a chilling effect on all Internet writers.

And start-up news operations will certainly be hurt if a two-tiered, pay-to-play Internet emerges. They’ll be at a competitive disadvantage with the bigger, corporate news sites if they can’t pay to be on the private, fast lane. Given that many on-line news publications and news shows run on shoe-string budgets already, many small operations won’t get on the fast lane, and will see their written and audio reports relegated to the slower, public lane.

This ugly scenario on the Internet may not come about if the Federal Communications would step up and do their job. The Google-Verizon deal is not set in stone yet, and the FCC could move to prevent it from becoming reality, by taking on new regulatory power. That would mean going through a process called “reclassification” whereby the FCC would reclassify the Internet and put it in the same category as TV or radio and subject to the same kind of oversight regulations.

With that kind of authority, the FCC could tell Google and Verizon their plan will not work, it’s not in the public interest and the Internet has to stay open.

The FCC has been dithering on this issue, and time is wasting. Industry lobbyists are hard at work to have their concept of a privatized, pay-to-play Internet go through. They’re bending the ear of the FCC and Congress to get their way.

Fortunately, ever since the Google-Verizon plan was announced, there’s been an uproar from the public, and people have been pressuring the FCC to do the right thing. There’s also been protests outside Google headquarters, with people imporing the company to live up to its original motto, which is “Don’t be Evil.”

Let yourself be heard. Call or write the FCC and members of Congress, demanding that they not allow the Internet to be corporatized.

Go to the website, and sign a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, urging him to reject the Google-Verizon deal, set up regulatory control of the Internet, and insure net neutrality.

Only massive public pressure will force the government to do the right thing and keep the Internet open.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Living Dangerously

Reginald Johnson
July 27, 2010

The disastrous effects of global warming are becoming more and more evident.

As I write from my home in Bridgeport, a city in southern Connecticut, this area has been battered by a succession of violent rainstorms and tornadoes. A heavy storm last week knocked over trees throughout the region and left thousands without power.

In June, Bridgeport was hit without warning by a twister that tore the roofs off some buildings and toppled dozens of trees.

In March, a combined tornado and heavy rainstorm devastated the towns of New Canaan, Greenwich and Stamford --- with massive trees uprooted, power poles knocked over and homes flooded. Many residential areas were without power for over a week. Entire school districts were shut down for more than a week.

This is all very unnerving. In Connecticut, we’re used to a good amount of rainfall and the occasional nor'easter, but rainstorms seem to be getting more powerful and more frequent. And tornadoes? Forget it. I always thought twisters happened largely in the Midwest and South, not New England.

Well, things apparently are changing --- we have to be ready for tornadoes now.

Another thing we have to get used to: having lots of very hot, unpleasant days in the summer.

It looks like you can stop counting on many 75-degree days in June and days with low to mid-80s in July. We’ve had a spate of days in June and July with 90 degrees or better in the northeast. Washington, D.C., had the hottest June in history, with records going back to 1872. New York City is on course to have the hottest July on record.

Meanwhile, you hear reports from around the country of other harsh weather --- rain deluges in some areas and drought conditions in others.

Any debate over what causes this extreme weather is absurd at this point. It’s global warming. Yes, I know the experts point out that the high temperatures this year are in part due to the El Nino ocean currents. But when you look at the overall pattern, of increasingly hot weather over a number of years and more and more violent storms, that’s global warming caused by the greenhouse effect. Man-made emissions of carbon dioxide are settling in the atmosphere, capping the globe, and trapping the heat. And messing up the weather big-time.

What’s truly frustrating is that as the weather gets worse and worse, and it’s so obvious what the problem is, absolutely nothing is being done by our political leaders. This is a looming catastrophe, and the folks in Washington (or at least a majority of them) are sitting on their hands.

Just last week, the U.S. Senate shelved a bill that set up a modest program establishing carbon price controls and a cap and trade system aimed at limiting CO2 emissions. The bill was backed by the Obama administration. But Republicans lined up as usual against it, and some Democrats broke ranks, as well. Senate Democratic leaders saw they didn’t have the votes to overcome a filibuster and pulled the bill.

You can be sure that campaign contributions by the oil and coal companies ---- who don’t want carbon controls --- were a decisive factor behind the opposition.

It must be said at this point that the opponents of climate legislation are being grossly irresponsible. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists in the world say that global warming is a reality, it’s getting progressively worse, and it threatens the quality of life on the planet. Scientists are warning that unless the level of carbon in the atmosphere is brought down, whole areas of the globe will become so hot they will be uninhabitable.

But the political opponents of action on climate change don’t give a damn. They’re going to vote against something that is vital for the very survival of the planet, just to keep those contributions coming in and guarantee their continued political careers.

Other nations such as Britain and even China are taking steps to control their carbon emissions. But not the U.S. Our country, which should be in the lead on this issue, is holding up the bandwagon.

At this stage, the millions of Americans who care about the future of the earth and the yet unborn who will have to live on the planet (what about the rights of the unborn on this issue?) will have to work locally to do what they can to stop the deadly escalation of carbon in the atmosphere. Congress and even President Obama are not going to lead the way.

Fortunately, a strong grassroots movement is already underway within the states to get away from fossil fuel use (fossil fuels are the biggest source of carbon) and move towards renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

The campaign “,” developed by environmental author Bill McKibben, is leading the way in that movement. The name of the campaign is based on the goal of bringing the carbon in the atmosphere down to 350 parts per million.

Scientists say that 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide concentrations. Beyond that, there may be catastrophic consequences, they warn.

Right now the earth’s atmosphere is at a scary 392 parts per million of carbon. is working on all kinds of events in their campaign to pull us away from fossil fuel dependence and cut carbon emissions. One major event coming up is a “Global Work Party” on Oct. 10 of this year. That day will see people at the local level around the country and the world sponsoring carbon-fighting projects like fixing bikes, putting up solar panels and planting trees.

Get involved in this project, or any others to fight climate change. The health of future generations and the survival of the planet hangs in the balance.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Saving the news

By Reginald Johnson
June 23, 2010

Everywhere you turn, journalism seems to be dying.

Battered by a number of factors, including the recession and years of bad management, newspapers are going out of business. Once proud papers like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News, for instance, have shut their doors. The L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune have filed for bankruptcy. Others like the Boston Globe are teetering on the edge.

The papers that are still afloat are reducing staffs and cutting newsprint costs in a desperate bid to stay alive. In the process, there’s less stories being produced for readers about government, business and culture.

At the same time, the electronic media isn’t exactly jumping into the breach and offering a solid news alternative. TV and radio stations have slashed their news staffs in recent years, too, and offer almost nothing in the way of substantive reporting.

The Internet also doesn’t provide much fresh news from the many websites that have cropped up; most news on the Web comes originally from the newspapers that are still around.

So if newspapers go the way of the horse and buggy, who’s going to cover what's going on in your local and state governments? Who’s going to keep track of corporations and nonprofit organizations?

There’s no question that having an informed citizenry is absolutely critical to maintaining a healthy democracy. Without an informed populace, our system will collapse.

There’s a growing number of people out there who are trying to figure out how we save the news business or somehow create alternative vehicles for journalism.

Robert McChesney, a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois and John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, have spent a number of years studying this issue, and recently came out with a pathbreaking book, “The Death and Life of American Journalism --- The Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again.”

In it, McChesney and Nichols argue that the traditional model that has supported and allowed newspapers to thrive for decades no longer works. That model was based on papers devoting a large portion of their pages to commercial advertising, and in so doing bringing in solid revenue. That money in turn allowed publishers to set aside another healthy portion of the paper to news stories, which brought in circulation revenues, as well as provided a public service.

But in recent years, advertising and classified has been drifting to the Internet. Circulation has been lost in large part because big corporations --- which swallowed up papers in the 1980s and 1990s --- decided to cut costs to keep profits high and in so doing weakened their product and lost readers, particularly young readers.

McChesney and Nichols believe that there’s no way to revive the old commercial model for journalism (despite some of the brave predictions about a comeback by some newspaper owners). Instead, to really save journalism and make it grow, they say, the public sector has to step in and play a major, supporting role.

The authors maintain that journalism must be seen as a “public good” --- just like education and the military are seen as the public good. And they add that if Americans want good journalism to make our constitutional system work, “it means we need a massive public intervention to produce a public good.”

To keep good papers and magazines alive and spur the growth of new, independent and non-commercial on-line publications and programs, billions will have to be spent in public subsidies, they say.

Among the ideas McChesney and Nichols put forth are these:

· A tax credit for newspapers worth 50 percent of all the salaries paid to all journalistic employees, up to a maximum of $45,000. “This credit would result in papers hiring (and not firing) many more journalists.”
· Cut postal rates for magazines that have less than 25 percent of their space devoted to ads, to 5 cents. Many magazines, on both the left and the right, are floundering. A postal cut would help them stay alive, and cost the government $200 million a year, the authors write.
· Establish a “Journalism Division” in the AmeriCorps program, which already sees the government place people in community service programs. Young people would be paid to go work at a community radio station or other media, and go out and report on the community. “It strikes us as a win-win; we get more journalists covering our communities, and young journalists have a chance to gain valuable experience…” they write.
· While McChensey and Nichols see no commercial future for major dailies, they say it’s in the public interest to make sure at least one newspaper remain alive in every community that has traditionally had one. “To this end, the federal government must intervene to aid the transition to post-corporate ownership models for daily papers.” A federal office set up to oversee the transition of failing papers could buy the papers for a time, and then resell them to new owners, or provide low-interest loans to new ownership groups to make the deals themselves.
· Revitalize our pubic broadcasting systems, which have been woefully underfunded for years. Canada, Britain and other countries spend a lot more than the U.S. and have excellent news programs on their public systems. Right now, the U.S. spends only $409 million on PBS and NPR. If we spent as much per capita as Canada, the federal commitment would be $7.5 billion.

If all these proposals and others they mention were implemented, Nichols and McChesney write, the total tab would run around $35 billion.

The authors concede that “that’s darned near inconceivable in a nation that has battled over whether to spend a paltry $400 million on public broadcasting.”

But they also note that that $35 billion is close to what much smaller nations like Denmark and Finland spend per capita on public media.

They also point out quite aptly that the amount is just 3.5 percent of the $1 trillion America is spending on the military this year.

To many journalists (such as myself), the idea of public subsidies sends off alarm bells. Won’t there be government censorship?

McChesney and Nichols recognize this concern, and say emphatically, “Let’s be clear about this: the bedrock principle that government must not censor or interfere with the content or journalistic operations of news media is non-negotiable.”

They point out that while the First Amendment prohibits state censorship, it also does not prohibit or discourage the public from using the government to subsidize and spawn independent media.

In fact, the early press in this country, small newspapers and journals, got started in large part through postal and printing subsidies.

“It is not too much to say that without those huge subsidies, our nation would not have evolved as it did, indeed it might not have evolved at all,” they write.

(John Nichols spoke about his book recently at a pubic forum in New Haven. Audio CDs and DVDs of this event will be available in coming weeks at

Monday, June 7, 2010


Israel given a pass again by U.S. media

By Reginald Johnson
June 7, 2010

So ships carrying humanitarian aid to a country with desperately poor people are attacked in international waters by men firing automatic weapons. The assailants kill nine passengers and wound dozens of others.

The passengers were unarmed at the time and did nothing to provoke the violent assault.

It’s pretty clear the attackers acted in a totally illegal way, committing criminal acts. Right?

Wrong! The attackers were Israeli, so international law and accepted norms of behavior don’t apply --- at least in the eyes of the major U.S. media, not to mention American leaders.

The Israeli military can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. And no matter how outrageous their actions, the Israelis are always in the right, and they are always the victims.

Proof of this dictum has been laid out over the past few days with the pro-Israel coverage by U.S. media outlets, concerning the deadly attack on the flotilla the morning of May 31. The ships were bringing aid to the beleaguered land known as the Gaza Strip, part of Palestine.

The flotilla of six ships, carrying 10,000 tons of emergency food and building materials as well as 700 activists and representatives of 40 nations, was attempting to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. The siege by Israel has been underway for three years and barely any supplies are being allowed in.

The shortage of food and other necessities has been growing more and more acute in Gaza, particularly since the brutal invasion of the territory by Israel in January of 2009, an attack that gutted Gaza’s infrastructure and caused 1,400 mostly civilian deaths.

The flotilla had been warned by the Israelis not to try to enter Gaza. Israel had maintained that the ships could be Trojan horses, secretly carrying weapons to the Hamas leaders who govern Gaza, and who Israel considers terrorists. In response, the flotilla organizers offered to have a neutral third party check the boats to guarantee the absence of weapons. But Israel did not agree to this, and the flotilla proceeded.

Around 4 a.m. on May 31, the Israeli navy surrounded the flotilla, which was 70 miles off the Israeli coast. Helicopters hovered over the lead ship, a Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara. Soldiers rappelled down ropes onto the ship and began firing their guns at close range. This continued even after a white flag was raised. Some passengers did try to fight back, using sticks and metal bars.

The Israeli forces took control of all the passengers, forced the boats to an Israeli port and put them all in detention, prior to deportation.

Immediately, there was world-wide criticism of the Israeli action, and demands at the UN for an official condemnation.

President Barack Obama and U.S. officials simply expressed concern, but worked to block an official UN condemnation.

And mainstream U.S. news outlets, from the get-go, soft-pedalled the Israeli atrocity and took sides with Israel. The first report I heard was on News Radio 88 (CBS) in New York Monday afternoon. After describing the attack, the reporter quickly noted that there were “two sides” to the story, and then gave the Israeli view, that their soldiers shot only in self-defense at violent passengers.

Later Monday, NBC’s evening news with Katie Couric did not directly quote any eyewitnesses or officials of aid organizations, who had gotten reports back from passengers. Instead she gave direct audio clips from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and another high Israeli official, who both said the soldiers had acted in self-defense, since passengers had attacked them with clubs. They also alleged that there were pro-Hamas terrorists among the passengers.

The report was very-one sided and begging for a rebuttal. But since Couric apparently didn’t try to get the other side, none was given.

The Washington Post was outrageous with its knee-jerk defense of Israel, saying in a June 1 editorial: “We have no sympathy for the motives of the participants in the flotilla --- a motley collection that included European sympathizers with the Palestinian cause, Israeli Arab leaders and Turkish Islamic activists.”

Cable TV pundits, even those considered moderate, were also biased in their comments on the Israeli attack on the ship. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, apparently upset with the widespread criticism of Israel, said he felt that Israel was being hit with “a bad rap” or something to that effect.

It was also upsetting that liberal talk-show hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow did not deal with the Israeli ship attack on their shows last week, at least what I saw.

So there you have it. Even the liberals of mainstream journalism won’t touch the issue of Israeli conduct with respect to Palestine and its allies. It is the sine qua non of American mainstream journalism. Don’t go there. But in my view, if you don’t go there, you’re not being a journalist.

It was left to the alternative media on radio and on the Internet to pursue the truth. The same night that NBC and others were running their one sided reports, Scott Harris of the Between the Lines radio newsmagazine interviewed Ramzi Kysia, an organizer with the Free Gaza Movement, one of the groups that sponsored the flotilla.

Kysia said international journalists were on board the ship and they reported via a satellite feed at the time of the attack that Israeli soldiers had killed people by firing their guns as soon as they landed. There was no indication of provocations from the other side. He also said officials in different ports had checked the ships during the trip, and found no weapons, putting the lie to the claim that the ships were secretly carrying arms to Hamas.

Kysia said that the attack was “an attempt to frighten off future
humanitarian aid efforts for Gaza.”

Other shows like Democracy Now! and articles on sites like Common Dreams also presented viewpoints on the attack from people other than “the usual suspects” (Israeli and American officials) to get a fuller account of what happened to the flotilla.

The lack of courage by the mainstream media to report candidly on the brutal policies and actions of the Israeli government --- as well as the American policy of condoning the actions --- is a chief reason why there continues to be no resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and why the Palestinians, such as those who live in Gaza, remain oppressed and living in abject poverty.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


President Obama: Leadership Please!

By Reginald Johnson

Remember back in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina was leveling whole sections of New Orleans, and hundreds of people were being killed?

Remember the picture of former President George Bush, peering out the window of a plane, looking down at the devastation? We all criticized Bush for that, saying it was symbolic of Bush’s woeful and uncaring response to the tragedy that befell New Orleans.

The president should have headed straight down to where the flooding was and talked with the people of New Orleans face to face, showing his compassion. Don’t just sit in a plane and peer out the window, we said.

That lack of empathy and concern for what’s going on during a disaster is being repeated right now by President Barack Obama. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a catastrophic event, which in the long run may turn out more devastating and more costly than Katrina. Hundreds if not thousands of jobs are being wiped out, as Gulf-based industries such as fishing, boating and tourism are being ruined by the massive BP oil spill. Entire eco-systems along the Gulf coast, including shore birds, shellfish and plant life are being destroyed as the unending gusher of oil now seeps into tidal wetlands.

This environmental devastation will spread over to the Florida coast and then possibly up the Atlantic coast, as the oil is pushed by ocean currents.

It’s estimated more than 36 million gallons of oil have now spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

We’re talking hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars of shoreline and environmental damage that will eventually be caused by this disaster, by the time it is over (if the oil leak is ever stopped!). Countless numbers of people will have their lives ruined by the loss of jobs and property.

Yet while all this is going on, Barack Obama doesn’t seem particularly excited. He sits unruffled, as always, analyzing the situation ----- back at the White House. While he did fly to Louisiana earlier in the month to survey the situation, he didn’t stay long, and spent no time talking with residents along the coast. He should have spent a couple of days there, listening to people and showing understanding for their concerns.

Obama, an eloquent and at times passionate speaker, has shown little passion in condemning BP for this spill and demanding corrective action. Where’s the fire? Where’s the outrage?

Obama also hasn’t done a good job in getting his administration to develop a comprehensive response to the spill. He’s retained Ken Salazar has his Interior Secretary, despite Salazar’s chummy relationship with oil companies, and the secretary’s decision to give companies like BP a waiver on performing environmental reviews on drilling plans, as a precondition for obtaining drilling permits from the government. One of those waivers was for the Deep Horizon rig, which exploded April 20, triggering the massive spill.

Obama should have fired Salazar immediately and replaced him with a real environmentalist.

Also at this stage, the government should step in and take over the efforts to plug the leak and do the clean-up --- with BP performing much of the work and of course paying for it. BP has been in charge of the operation so far, and still the leak is going on. More experts need to be brought in, more countries need to be brought in, and only the government can facilitate this. Obama needs to show leadership and do this.

Apparently both Russia and China have expertise in deep water drilling operations and can help. Their assistance should be requested. Also, two Dutch companies have the know-how to “skim” the oil off the top of the sea and recover it. They need to be brought in. The EPA reportedly rejected the skimming idea, because of some possible pollution side effects. At this stage, given the enormity of the spill, EPA concerns have to be put aside. We’re talking about hundreds of miles of coastline that may be ruined if the oil slick isn’t contained.

Any legal constraints on preventing the government from stepping in and taking over after a corporate-generated oil spill also have to be lifted, pronto. Congress can do this. If the Patriot Act can be passed overnight, then this needed legislation can be passed quickly, too.

I hope, I certainly hope, that BP’s considerable financial help for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign isn’t a factor in Obama’s lack of outrage over this spill and his poor response.

For the sake of the people on the Gulf and for the sake of our precious national environment, we need more, a lot more, from this president.

Friday, May 7, 2010


ACORN: A Strong Legacy

By Reginald Johnson
May 7, 2010

The fall of the nation’s best community organization deserves some comment.

The Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) folded its tent recently, ending some 40 years of valiant work on behalf of the poor and less fortunate. At the time of its closure, it had 400,000 members nationwide.

Put simply, ACORN’s passing is blow for those who are trying to make this country a fairer, more equitable place, where everyone has a shot at a decent life.

ACORN and its band of young, idealistic organizers waged a myriad of successful campaigns in cities throughout the nation to gain better housing, improve wages, create stronger schools and gain voting rights for low and moderate income people.

The list of successes that ACORN wracked up over the years is an impressive one, and shows what can be done when people join together and fight in a determined way for change. Here’s a capsule of some of ACORN’s accomplishments:

· Led or played a key role in successful campaigns in 11 states to raise the minimum wage. Instrumental in drive for “living wages” throughout the country. Some 150 living wage ordinances are now in effect.
· Organized effective campaigns to curb predatory lending, long before the evils of predatory lending became widely known during the subprime mortgage meltdown. Won agreements from lenders to cap fees and points. Led a lawsuit against Household Finance to stop abuses. That case, joined by 50 state attorneys general, eventually landed a $484 million settlement, at the time the largest consumer rights award in U.S. history.
· Won controls on foreclosures in several states, including Connecticut, where ACORN got a bill passed giving homeowners the right to mediation with a bank.
· Won a number of battles in several states helping to preserve or create new affordable housing. In New York, the group won an agreement from promoters to include thousands of units of affordable housing in a major development project in Brooklyn. Also in New York City, ACORN led a successful fight to keep Starrett City --- with 6,000 units the largest rent-stabilized complex in the country --- from being sold to a developer who would have eliminated rent protections.
· Waged campaigns to collect millions of new voter registration applications, resulting in an estimated 2 million new people on the voter rolls.
· Helped clean up thousands of homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and helped spur new federal funding for storm-hit areas.

Wow. All those victories were achieved through the efforts of staff that was low-paid and usually swamped with work. But they were very dedicated staff, and together with legions of highly-motivated volunteers from their communities, they achieved so much.

ACORN was very active in Bridgeport, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s. Together with their organizers, ACORN members in the Park City helped win battles with landlords over housing issues, pressured local banks to expand home ownership opportunities for people of lesser means, made neighborhoods safer and cleaner and in general forced City Hall to be more responsive to people’s needs.

I’m glad to say I was a part of ACORN’s efforts for many years, working with staff to build a strong tenants organization at my apartment complex on Fairfield Avenue. We won several victories, including a successful rent strike to force needed clean-ups and repairs, and rescuing the jobs of some long-time maintenance workers abruptly fired by a new management firm. Those successes couldn’t have been achieved without ACORN’s help.

John Soltis is another Bridgeport resident who got heavily involved in ACORN after the group arrived in 1980. Soltis thinks that ACORN did a lot to improve the lives of people in Bridgeport, a struggling city hurt by years of factory closures.

Soltis said relentless pressure by ACORN members forced the city to create a Fair Rent Commission to put a brake on rent gouging; got the city council to allow more public input through a public speaking session prior to every meeting; and blocked the development of an environmentally-questionable waste recovery plant in a residential neighborhood.

ACORN in Bridgeport also was very adept politically, registering a slew of new voters and becoming a major player in the Democratic Party. Many of its members won office, including Soltis, who landed a seat on the Board of Education.

ACORN also forced the white political power structure in the city to finally open up and accept more black and Latino candidates. ACORN’s voter registration drives were a key reason behind the Democratic Party primary victories of Charles Tisdale, the first African-American to run for mayor in Bridgeport.

“I think ACORN made people feel, for the first time in their lives, they could bring about positive change,” Soltis said. “It empowered people.”


As important as it is to recognize the significant accomplishments of ACORN, it’s also important --- particularly for progressives --- to know how it fell.

The fact is that the right-wing --- together with an incompetent and often biased mainstream media --- killed off ACORN.

Republicans never liked ACORN with its consumer and labor-oriented agenda and confrontational tactics. But when ACORN’s voter registration drives swung into high gear during the Bush years, that was the last straw. Voters registered by ACORN generally meant Democratic voters, and GOP leaders like Karl Rove saw that as a mortal threat. Rove and others launched a campaign to discredit ACORN, raising questions about the validity of the voter registrations.

All across the country, complaints were filed against ACORN, with Republicans charging that illegal methods were used to gain new registrants, and that some registrations were bogus. The complaints sparked a flurry of investigations and frequently put ACORN in a bad light in the press. Many in the media placed a heavy focus on the splashy vote-related charges, while paying little attention to ACORN’s organizing successes.

As time went along, hardly any of the official investigations confirmed the numerous claims about phony registrations or illegal methods.

By early 2009, it looked like ACORN would weather the storm of Republican attacks. But then the right-wing pulled a stunt that finished off the organization. They had two imposters go to several ACORN offices and act as if they were a pimp and prostitute, looking for housing help. During the meetings, which the tricksters were secretly videotaping , they indicated they wanted to start some sort of prostitution scheme, possibly involving young girls. The ACORN people never went along with it. But the tape was later doctored, and made to look like ACORN staffers were somehow complicit.

The tape was then fed to the press, and outlets like FOX News began running it 24-7, with commentators expressing outrage over ACORN’s behavior. The New York Times also ran many unskeptical pieces about the case. Demands were made that ACORN be probed and their federal funding be dropped.

Political pressure mounted, and Congress moved to pull ACORN’s federal grants, which accounted for about 10 percent of the group’s budget. ACORN could have survived that hit, but they could not survive when foundations --- alarmed by the latest accusations --- began stopping further funding. That source of money was a much larger portion of ACORN’s financing.

In March, a prosecutor cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing in the prostitution-hoax case. A New York federal judge ruled that Congress had violated the Constitution by pulling ACORN’s funding. And The New York Times admitted they hadn’t done a very good job in checking out the veracity of the prostitution story, and issued a mild apology

But the good news came too late. ACORN was out of money. The leaders had a meeting, and decided the organization had to close down.

It will be difficult to fill the void left by the end of ACORN. Some new organizations similar to ACORN have been formed in New York and Chicago and those groups, most likely using former ACORN staffers, will try to fill some of the gap.

Soltis believes that while ACORN is gone as an organization, the struggle to carry on its mission of helping the poor will not die.

Referring to the legendary union group the Wobblies, which was destroyed by government attacks a century ago, Soltis said, “They killed the Wobblies, but the organizing went on. Wherever there's injustice, there's a need to organize."

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Save the Internet

By Reginald Johnson
April 8, 2010

We all know what corporations have done to the media business. They’ve given us trash programming on TV and radio and gutted their news divisions. In their relentless search for profits, corporations cut staffs at once-proud newspapers, reducing the quality of the product, and drove readers away.

Now corporations want to tear down the last bastion of media freedom and creativity, the Internet.

The big telecom companies like Comcast and ATT, which are Internet Service Providers, want to have the unbridled right to control the Internet, charging for use in some cases, blocking access to Web sites and monitoring content. We can only imagine what that would mean.

Up to now, the Internet has been largely free from interference. The Federal Communications Commission, which has regulated communications forms such as radio, TV and phone service, has recently been supportive of an open Internet and of the concept of “net neutrality” --- the idea that all Web content should be treated equally. A new national plan for broadband put forward by the FCC would enshrine the concept of an open and unfettered Internet.

But at the eleventh hour, along comes a major court ruling from the D.C. District Court of Appeals saying that, hold on FCC, you don’t have the authority to do that. The court says that the commission can’t enforce rules on the Internet because unlike phone firms and TV stations, the commission doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Web.

In making their ruling, the appeals court --- the same crowd that previously made some horrid rulings in civil liberties cases --- upheld a challenge by Comcast to an FCC ruling that the firm could not block a website from putting up certain content.

This ruling puts the FCC in a hole, and kills Internet freedom, if allowed to stand. Congress could reverse the thrust of the ruling by passing new law, broadening the power of the commission so it has full power over the Internet. But given the influence of the telecoms in Congress, this option might not work. The best move for the FCC, experts on the issue say, is to “reclassify” the Internet in their regulations and make the Web like a utility such as phone companies, subject to similar oversight.

But there’s politics on the FCC as well, and a move to reclassify will not be automatically approved. This is where the public comes in. If enough people let the FCC know the importance of keeping the Internet free and open, the commission is more likely to make the needed changes.

The vehicle for doing this is to send comments to the FCC on their new broadband plan, urging them to make sure net neutrality will be protected. Go to
and send comments. But hurry! The comment period for the plan ends at 5 p.m. TODAY, APRIL 8.

Also tell your Congress Member the importance of keeping the Internet open. Write a letter or call and demand that Congress passes a law guaranteeing net neutrality --- we don’t know for sure whether the FCC will do what’s needed, so Congress has key role here, too.

The folks at and are spearheading this campaign and doing a great job; check out their websites for more background.

No corporate control of the Internet! Keep the Internet free!

Monday, March 22, 2010


Historic Vote?

By Reginald Johnson
March 22, 2010

After what was said to be a momentous weekend in American history, all I can say is this: it wasn’t so momentous.

The backers of the health insurance reform bill passed by the House Sunday said the legislation was “historic” and a great step forward. Supporters like Speaker Nancy Pelosi likened the vote to approve the bill to the moment in 1965 when Medicare was passed or to the time in the 1930s when Social Security was approved.

Please, please. The measure OKed by the House is in no way nearly as strong or as sweeping as Medicare or Social Security. Those programs have stood the test of time for decades, and hundreds of millions of people have benefited.

I doubt seriously hundreds of millions of people will really benefit from this plan, if the bill is finally approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama. Some people on the lower end of the income scale, not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid and not wealthy enough to buy health insurance on their own, will benefit by getting government assistance to buy a plan. But there’s no option to buy a government plan, like Medicare. They’ll have to buy coverage from private health insurance companies, which offer, as we all know, weak policies.

Then for the bulk of the population --- loosely defined as the middle class --- the bill does nothing. No government aid, because you make too much to be eligible. No control on health insurance rates. It is a fact that a majority of the people who have filed for bankruptcy due to health care costs are people who had health insurance.

The new law will actually do harm, in the view of Dr. Margaret Flowers, a leader of the group Physicians for a National Health Care Plan, which has pushed for a single-payer program. Vast sums of government money will be turned over to private corporations to help them provide plans for those qualifying for assistance. This guarantees that high profits will continue to roll in for insurance carriers. There’s little, if any sacrifice demanded here from the Aetnas and Blue Crosses of the world.

“This bill further cements the privatization of health care, further enriches the industries that are the problem,” Flowers said in a statement Sunday.

Flowers said the action to approve the Obama plan actually pulls us further away from getting what we really need, a Medicare-for- all, single- payer plan. I think that’s right, and it’s very regrettable, because in the long-run, single payer is the only way to go.

One other thing about the weekend: the behavior by Tea Partiers was a disgrace. Tea Party members were at the Capitol to protest the health care bill, because they think it creates too much big government. Boy, have they got that wrong.

As inaccurate as that view is, they’re entitled to their opinion. But it is unacceptable for people to hurl racial and anti-gay insults at congressmembers as they walked into the Capitol to work on the bill. That’s what some Tea Party members did, directing their venom at the likes of civil rights hero John Lewis of Georgia and Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

If the Tea Party people want to vent about big government and the unfairness of the economic system, I don’t have a problem. I understand their frustration.

But if they want to act racist, homophobic, or hint at the need for violence, they’ve really lost me. This kind of thing has to be roundly condemned.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Where Will the Anger Lead?

By Reginald Johnson
March 6, 2006

You get the feeling these days something is going to pop.

Everywhere you look, whether it’s here or overseas, there seems to be so much stress on the part of regular people, so much anger building, that you just wonder when people have had enough. When they’ve hit that breaking point, things are going to blow.

I started thinking this way when I opened my computer one day this week, went on the Internet and began glancing at the day’s lead stories.

The first one I saw had the following headline: “Greece announces new $6.5 billion austerity plan.” The story said the Greek government was set to impose sweeping spending cuts, under pressure from the European Union. Greece has run up a huge deficit, due to the recession and some dubious financial advice from the American investment firm, Goldman Sachs.

The EU has told Greece, impose deep spending cuts to slash the deficit, or we won’t help you out with financial aid.

So the government has decided workers and regular people are going to take the hit. Pay and benefits will be cut. Pensions will be frozen and taxes raised.

Last month, when the government first indicated these measures were being considered, some 2 million people took to the streets to protest. That’s about 20 percent of the total population of Greece!

An official from the EU came to Greece recently and said there would be a lot of pain for Greeks for 20 years before things got better. That’s nice.

The government, pushed by the business-friendly European Union, is basically forcing these cuts on the people. Take it, or else. You wonder if the people will. Could the government fall if millions take to the streets again and say, no, they won’t take it?

Greece is not alone in this crisis. Italy, Portugal and Spain, among others, are also in dire financial straits. What does this portend for the governments of those countries and the European Union? For the globalized economy of the world?

When I finished the story on Greece, I spotted another article --- seemingly smaller in scope, but actually tied to a much larger and similar issue in the U.S. The headline read: “South Carolina to cut benefits for 30,000 disabled residents.”

The story said that “Children with autism, people with spine and brain injuries and the long-term disabled in job programs are among 30,000 people who would lose help under a $5.1 billion state spending plan” approved by a legislative committee.

So this is what it has come down to in South Carolina --- cutting aid for the disabled in order to make up a budget deficit. How cruel and insensitive can these legislators be?

The action in South Carolina is shocking, but sad to say, the state is not alone in its drive to reduce costs. From New York to California, services are being slashed so states can find the savings to make up for revenue shortfalls due to the recession/depression. Most states have balanced budget rules, so it’s either raise taxes or cut spending, or both, to square the budgets.

Health benefits, pensions, education funding and an array of social services are being slashed in many states. Aid to municipalities is also being cut, so many towns and cities are reducing services or laying off.

Medicaid, the health care program for the low-income, is being chopped in a number of states. New York alone is considering a $400 million cut in Medicaid reimbursements to providers, including doctors, nursing homes, hospitals and clinics. Those type of cuts will mean poor and disabled people will have a more difficult time finding health care services.

As all these cuts kick in, there is mounting resistance. The funding reductions in education are causing an uproar. Just as this piece was being written, hundreds of thousands of people around the country protested education cuts in a “National Day of Action.”

It’s clear that people are getting fed up with the picture they see in our society, just as folks are in Europe. The big banks, which in good part have been responsible for the global economic crisis with their reckless investment schemes, have gotten trillions of dollars in bailouts from the federal government. Reports now come in that huge bonuses are being handed out again on Wall Street. Yet ordinary people are being told their kids’ education is being cut back, their doctor won’t take Medicaid anymore, or their job with the city or state government is being eliminated.

This is a recipe for a political explosion.

Yet in the halls of the state legislatures and in Washington, D.C., there seems to be a disconnect. Except for a minority of progressive elected officials, not that many people in the political realm are speaking out about the contradiction that’s going on.

The disconnect goes right to the top with Barack Obama. Last month, the president, stressing the need to tackle the federal deficit, proposed a budget which would freeze spending on all social programs, including health care, education and job training. By executive order, he set up a commission which will study and then mandate spending reductions, particularly on entitlements like Social Security, in order to balance the budget. ( A hard-line conservative and Social Security opponent was appointed to head the panel.)

But at the very same time Obama proposed raising the military budget up to the record level of $750 billion dollars.

Obama has shown little leadership to try to get through serious financial reforms to curb the excesses of the banks. He made no effort to stop the Federal Reserve from shoveling over trillions to the banks last year to save them from their own self-created mess with “toxic assets.” These huge bailout packages, together with the massive sums lavished on the military – for weaponry that in many cases we don’t need and two disastrous wars --- has led to the sky-high government debt that Obama now says ordinary people are going to have to pay for.

The left needs to wake up and tap into the frustration among people about what the government is doing --- and not doing. Some of the “Tea Party” protests have been instigated by outsiders and manipulators, but some of this anger is borne from a genuine sense of disenfranchisement and alienation. I don’t agree with the tactics or things being said at these gatherings, but the left needs to seize on this situation, present positive solutions and try to channel the alienation into a real and productive movement to change national priorities.

People on the left also need to recognize at this stage Obama is not the answer. He’s little more than a Democratic conservative who’s not committed to progressive values. He lied about what he was and fooled a lot of people. Far from being the solution, he’s part of the problem.

As it always has been, it will take a real, broad-based social movement in this country to change things. It better get underway soon, or else the anger and frustration in our society could spin out of control and take a very negative turn.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Case Closed on 911? Not So Fast

By Reginald Johnson
March 2, 2010

More than 1,000 architects and engineers are demanding a new investigation of 911, in the wake of evidence that explosives may have been used to bring down the World Trade Center towers.

The group Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth say the evidence they’ve uncovered calls into question the official version of how the towers came down --- namely that fires sparked by the crashes of two hijacked planes damaged higher floors in the buildings to the point where they collapsed, setting off a chain reaction of floors falling on each other, in a “pancake effect.”

Richard Gage, a San Francisco architect and founder of the group, said that dust samples taken from the World Trade Center site after the destruction of the New York City buildings on Sept. 11, 2001, showed the presence of “advanced explosive nano-thermitic composite material.” The powerful explosive could explain why the buildings fell in a manner similar to controlled demolition, Gage believes.

Gage and many other critics of the official version of 911 maintain that fires set off by exploding jet fuel could not have burned hot enough to weaken the steel beams in the buildings to the point where they would have collapsed.

Other forensic evidence the group has brought forth also casts doubt on the official version:
· Complete destruction of both Twin Towers in just 10-14 seconds, in near free-fall acceleration;
· Over 100 first responder reports of explosions and flashes;
· A 1200-foot-diameter debris field: but “pancaked” floors not seen in the debris;
· Several tons of molten metal found in debris.

Gage and others in the group recently held press conferences around the country to announce their findings and state that they are sending petitions to Congress demanding a new inquiry to “uncover the full truth surrounding the events of 9/11/01 – specifically the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and Building 7.”

Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth are also calling for a grand jury investigation of officials of the National Institute of Standards and Technology which studied the collapse of the WTC twin towers, and Building 7, which was not hit by a plane.

“The official FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) and NIST reports provide insufficient, contradictory and fraudulent accounts of the towers’ destruction,” the group said in a press release.

None of the official investigations of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 --- including those by the 911 Commission, a U.S. Senate committee, FEMA and NIST --- examined the possibility that explosives were used to bring down the trade center buildings or that there might have been collusion between the hijackers and other parties to facilitate the attacks.

The government’s storyline holds that 19 al-Qaeda terrorists, acting alone, hijacked four U.S. commercial airliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon, and a fourth into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks.

Michael Donly, a member of Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth, said in an interview with “Russia Today” that some of the evidence that the group looked at was originally found by government investigators, but never adequately pursued.

Donly said FEMA scientists and engineers took dust samples at the World Trade Center site and found evidence of molten steel. That pointed to the possibility that other factors besides airplane crashes and fires could have been responsible for the building collapses, and the FEMA team recommended further investigation. But that was never done, and the information on the samples was put in an appendix in the FEMA report, Donly said.

Since authorities arrived at their final conclusions on what happened on 911, critics have charged that the government’s version of events had numerous flaws. Some have even charged that 911 was an “inside job,” with government involvement.

But people raising doubts about the official story have routinely been dismissed as “conspiracy nuts” or “kooks.” Critics have generally gotten little play in the mainstream press.

However, groups like Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth and others press on, demanding a new and more thorough investigation of 911.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


By Reginald Johnson
Feb. 10, 2010

It’s high time the American people put an end to the charade known as “defense spending.”

President Obama has just released his proposed budget, which calls for
$744 billion for the defense budget. That’s nearly THREE-QUARTERS OF A TRILLION dollars! It’s the highest Pentagon budget in history, and is the largest military budget since World War II.

The total translates into $2 billion a day for the military.

The U.S. will be spending nearly as much on weaponry as the rest of the world combined.

And why? Because of a menacing Soviet Union, with hundreds of nuclear missiles at the ready and divisions of troops massed in eastern Europe? No, the Soviet Union died nearly 20 years ago. Its successor state, the Russian Federation, has a sizeable military but it is smaller than what the Soviets had. And, despite some tension between Russia and the U.S., the Russians are not considered an enemy.

China? Even analysts at the Pentagon believe China will need several more years before they become strong enough to fight a mid-level military power, no less the United States.

What about terrorism? There is a threat from terrorists and extremists, but it’s not a threat that’s countered by nuclear submarines, ICBMs or even large numbers of soldiers. For the most part, this is an intelligence and law enforcement issue. Our massive military arsenal did nothing to stop the Christmas Day bomber; better intelligence work would have.

So why does the military budget remain so large? In part it’s because Pentagon planners --- who see a threat behind every bush, keep pushing weapon systems that aren’t needed. Those people, together with right-wingers in and out of government, also see a big military (complete with hundreds of bases around the globe) as a way for the U.S. to protect American commercial interests abroad and push aside other countries in the competition over vital resources. Despite the cover story about the battle against terrorism, both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are about controlling access to that precious and finite resource, oil.

The other reason behind the huge weapons budget is that defense spending has become a giant welfare program for military contractors and the politicians who support them. Members of Congress routinely lobby for more defense spending in their districts and states, whether the planes, tanks, missiles or submarines in question are needed or not. Ineffective, outdated or superfluous weapons programs are frequently perpetuated and billions are wasted.

But the companies that receive the largesse are happy, as are their workers.
And politicians are happy because they get rewarded with votes and campaign contributions.

This kind of cycle, of ‘you wash my back, I’ll wash yours’ --- which has nothing to do with making this country stronger --- has to stop. Also, the mentality of using billions of taxpayer dollars to undertake wars of intervention (which result in widespread death and suffering) to protect some corporate interests or lay claim to another country’s resources, is wholly unacceptable and must be ended.

It’s time for a more scrutinizing and skeptical approach to military spending.

Easily, without losing a beat, 30 percent of the Pentagon budget could be cut without having the slightest impact on national security. Billions more can be saved by cracking down on military contractor cost overruns. The General Accounting Office found there’s been $300 billion in cost overruns in recent years. Why are these firms being given a free ride?

In announcing his budget plan, President Obama said the U.S. deficit has to be reduced, so he wants to slap a freeze on social spending, despite the desperate need for more funding in areas like education and health care. The deficit was run up by the government improperly handing trillions of dollars to mismanaged Wall Street banks, paying for two misguided wars and giving a blank check to the military. Obama is now trying to cure the deficit off the backs of the American people. What a disgrace.

People have to vigorously oppose this budget and the mentality that goes with it.