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The Meaning of Labor Day

Posted on 01 September 2014 by Change-Links

By Gabe Gabrielsky

ChangeLinks_septCoverThe meaning of Labor Day has been lost to most Americans, just as is the case with many other holidays such as Independence Day, Memorial Day or Christmas. For most people today Labor Day signifies a great day for bargain sales at retail stores, the beginning of a new school year and most of all the end of summer.

In contrast, Labor Day was originally intended to be a celebration for working people in general and by organized labor in particular, was dedicated to the social and economic achievements of working people and constitutes (theoretically, at least) a yearly national tribute to the contributions working people have made to the well being of the nation.

In the past, it was celebrated in cities throughout the nation by street parades to show the strength and esprit de corps of the labor organizations of the community accompanied by a festival and picnic for the recreation and amusement of workers and their families and speeches by prominent men and women. Wilmington is unique in continuing a tradition that is no longer observed in most of the nation.

The first Labor Day was held by the New York Central Labor Union in 1882. By 1885 it had become a national event, celebrated by Central Labor Unions in virtually every industrial center of the nation on the first Monday in September, though not yet a statutory holiday. The next year, 1886 a national one-day general strike was called to demand an 8-hour workday. Half a million workers took part nationally but the center of the movement was in Chicago, where a number of other strikes were underway immediately before and after May 1. On May 3 a striking worker was killed by police while picketing outside the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company factory. As a consequence a group of anarchists called for a protest demonstration the next night in Haymarket Square. As that demonstration broke up a bomb was thrown into the police who surrounded the demo, killing a police officer. The police then charged into the crowd firing. While some shots were fired from the crowd, most of the shots were from the police an in the darkness they ended up shooting at each other. In all, seven policemen and at least four workers were killed. About 60 policemen were wounded in the incident and as many as 70 civilians, though it is unclear how many civilians were wounded since many, fearing arrest, chose not to seek professional medical attention.

There was an immediate police crackdown supported by the press and business interests on labor unions, but especially on anarchists and German immigrants. Ultimately 8 German and German-American anarchists were arrested. Only two of the defendants had been present at Haymarket at the time the bomb was thrown, and they were on the speakers’ podium urging the crowd to cooperate with police and disperse. One was sentenced to 15 years and the other 7 to be hanged. Of the seven, two had their sentences commuted to life in prison. One committed suicide the night before the executions and four were executed. The incident got considerable press coverage in the rest of the world and there was considerable support for the Haymarket martyrs outside of the United States.

In the years following the Haymarket incident organized labor in America continued to celebrate both the first Monday in September and the first of May as labor holidays, though May 1 was more a continued struggle for the eight hour day which did not become law until 1937 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed. In addition to the continuing struggle for the eight-hour day, May 1 also became an international labor holiday celebrating labor militancy in general and commemorating the Haymarket martyrs.

Following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike in 1894 Congress, seeking to mute labor militancy with a carrot as well as a stick, rushed through legislation unanimously approving legislation that made Labor Day, the first Monday in September, a national holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. Thus, the September date that had originally been chosen by the New York Central Labor Union and which had already been observed by labor unions throughout the nation for several years was selected rather than the more widespread May Day date in order especially to disassociate Labor Day from a commemoration of the Haymarket martyrs. Nevertheless, in most of the world, “Labor Day” is synonymous with May 1 in commemoration of the eight-hour day movement, which began in 1886 in Chicago.

©2014 [Robert Paul Gabrielsky] any or all of this document may be reprinted, with attribution, by anyone, anywhere and at any time.

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Richest 1% Take Almost Half of World’s Wealth

Posted on 18 August 2014 by Change-Links

(Editorial note: The following are excerpts from a recent report “Working for the Few” by Oxfam, an international organization working to end poverty, written by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva and Nicholas Galasso. Oxfam began in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief to stop famine in Greece due to the Nazi military occupation. Oxfam works in 94 countries today.)


Economic inequality is rapidly increasing in most countries. World wealth is divided in two: almost half going to the richest 1%; the other half to the remaining 99%. The World Economic Forum identified this as a major risk to human progress. Extreme economic inequality and capture of political institutions are interdependent. Unchecked, democratic institutions are undermined and governments serve economic elites to the detriment of ordinary people. Extreme inequality is not inevitable; it can and must be reversed quickly.

In Nov. 2013, the World Economic Forum released its ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014.’ It ranked widening income disparity as the #2 risk in the coming year. Its survey showed inequality is ‘impacting social stability and threatening security on a global scale.

Oxfam shares its analysis, and wants to see the Forum commit to countering growing inequality. Extreme economic inequality is morally questionable; has negative impacts on economic growth and poverty; and can multiply social problems. It compounds other inequalities, such as those between women and men.

Wealth concentrations have a pernicious impact on equal political representation. Wealth captures policy-making, and bend the rules to favor the rich. Consequences include erosion of democratic governance, pulling apart social cohesion, and disappearance of equal opportunities. Unless bold solutions are instituted to curb the influence of wealth on politics, governments will work for the interests of the rich, further increasing economic and political inequality. As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis said, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’

For instance:

• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just 1% of the population.

The wealth of the richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion, 65 times the wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population. 85 super-rich people own as much as the bottom half of the world’s people.

• 70% of all people live in countries where economic inequality has increased for 30 years.

• The richest 1% increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data since 1980.

• The wealthiest 1% in the US got 95% of post- crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90% got poorer.

Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.

Oxfam’s polling in six countries (Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the UK and the US) showed a majority believe laws are skewed in favor of the rich – in Spain 80% agreed with this statement. A recent Oxfam poll of low-wage earners in the US reveals that 65% believe Congress passes laws that predominantly benefit the wealthy. These beliefs are grounded in fact. Financial deregulation, skewed tax systems and rules facilitating evasion, austerity economics, and policies that disproportionately harm women, affect both rich and poor countries.

This dangerous trend can be reversed. The US and Europe in the decades after World War II reduced inequality while growing prosperous. Latin America

has significantly reduced inequality in the last decade through progressive taxation, public services, social protection and decent work. Central to this has been popular politics that represent the majority, instead of being captured by a tiny minority.

The particular combination of policies required to reverse rising economic inequalities should be tailored to each national context. But developing and developed countries that have successfully reduced economic inequality provide some suggested starting points, notably:

• Crack down on financial secrecy and tax dodging;

• Progressive taxes and programs that redistribute wealth and strengthen social protection;

• Invest in universal access to health care and education;

• Strengthen wage floors and worker rights;

• Remove barriers to equal rights and opportunities for women.

In the past year, 210 people have become billionaires, joining1, 426 other individuals with a combined net worth of $5.4 trillion. Corporate profits, chief executive officer (CEO) salaries, and stock exchanges are breaking new records daily. The Dow Jones industrial average recently hit the highest mark in its 117-year history.

This trend may seem surprising in light of the recent global financial crisis. The crisis caused a momentary dip in the share of global wealth held by the rich, but they’ve gained it back, and more. The Great Recession didn’t change the trend in income concentration. Had the share of income going to the richest 1% stayed the same as in 1980, the rest of the US would each have had an extra $6,000 dollars a year in 2012.

Global elites are getting richer, but the vast majority of people have been excluded from this prosperity. For instance, while stocks and corporate profits soar to new heights, wages as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) have sunk. The wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people exceeds the total cost of all stimulus measures across the European Union (EU) between 2008 and 2010.

Post-crisis austerity policies hit poor people hard, while making the rich even richer. Austerity is also having an unprecedented impact on the middle classes.


Image: Public Domain



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85 Billionaires and the Better Half

Posted on 04 March 2014 by John Johnson

by Michael Parenti

An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam. (Photo: Flickr / United Nations / Creative Commons)The world’s 85 richest individuals possess as much wealth as the 3.5 billion souls who compose the poorer half of the world’s population, or so it was announced in a report by Oxfam International. The assertion sounds implausible to me.  I think the 85 richest individuals, who together are worth many hundreds of billions of dollars, must have far more wealth than the poorest half of our global population.

How could these two cohorts, the 85 richest and 3.5 billion poorest, have the same amount of wealth? The great majority of the 3.5 billion have no net wealth at all. Hundreds of millions of them have jobs that hardly pay enough to feed their families. Millions of them rely on supplements from private charity and public assistance when they can. Hundreds of millions are undernourished, suffer food insecurity, or go hungry each month, including many among the very poorest in the United States.

“The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. So poverty is spreading even as wealth accumulates. It is not enough to bemoan this enormous inequality, we must also explain why it is happening.”

Most of the 3.5 billion earn an average of $2.50 a day. The poorest 40 percent of the world population accounts for just 5 percent of all global income. About 80 percent of all humanity live on less than $10 a day. And the poorest 50 percent  maintain only 7.2 percent of the world’s private consumption. How exactly could they have accumulated an amount of surplus wealth comparable to the 85 filthy richest?

Hundreds of millions live in debt even in “affluent” countries like the United States. They face health care debts, credit card debts, college tuition debts, and so on. Many, probably most who own homes—and don’t live in shacks or under bridges or in old vans—are still straddled with mortgages. This means their net family wealth is negative, minus-zero. They have no  propertied wealth; they live in debt.

Millions among the poorest 50 percent in the world may have cars but most of them also have car payments. They are driving in debt.  In countries like Indonesia, for the millions without private vehicles, there are the overloaded, battered buses, poorly maintained vehicles that specialize in breakdowns and ravine plunges. Among the lowest rungs of the 50 percent are the many who pick thru garbage dumps and send their kids off to work in grim, soul-destroying sweatshops.

The 85 richest in the world probably include the four members of the Walton family (owners of Wal-Mart, among the top ten superrich in the USA) who together are worth over $100 billion. Rich families like the DuPonts have controlling interests in giant corporations like General Motors, Coca-Cola, and United Brands. They own about forty manorial estates and private museums in Delaware alone and have set up 31 tax-exempt foundations. The superrich in America and in many other countries find ways, legal and illegal, to shelter much of their wealth in secret accounts. We don’t really know how very rich the very rich really are.

Regarding the poorest portion of the world population—whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest  individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.—can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down?  Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities, especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc? We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are.

Millions of children who number in the lower 50 percent never see the inside of a school. Instead they labor in mills, mines and on farms, under conditions of peonage.  Nearly a billion people are unable to read or write. The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. So poverty is spreading even as wealth accumulates. It is not enough to bemoan this enormous inequality, we must also explain why it is happening.

But for now, let me repeat: the world’s richest 85 individuals do not have the same amount of accumulated wealth as the world’s poorest 50 percent. They have vastly more. The multitude on the lower rungs—even taken as a totality—have next to nothing.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Michael Parenti

Michael Parenti’s recent books include: God and His Demons (Prometheus), Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); Democracy for the Few, 9th ed. (Wadsworth); The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For further information, visit his website:

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America The Most Inhumane

Posted on 03 January 2014 by John Johnson

America Is the Most Inhumane Developed Country on the Planet — Are We Going to Let It Stay That Way?

This week marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What would it be like if people in the U.S. knew they had these rights?

Photo Credit:

December 14, 2013  |

This week marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It was drafted by a commission of the United Nations that was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. The Convention became effective in 1951, the United States finally ratified it in 1988 and it was signed by President George H.W. Bush.

What would it be like if people in the United States knew they had these rights and demanded to have them realized? We believe it would be a very different world – the economy would be a more equitable with full employment, healthcare for all, no people without housing and more humane on every front. Instead, this week an annual report of Credit Suisse ranked the US as the most unequal of all advanced countries.

As a general guide for understanding human rights there are five principles that should be applied to every policy:  universality, equity, transparency, accountability and participation. In a nutshell, universality means that policies apply to all people. Equity means that people have what they need in order to be at the same level as others. Participation means that people have input into the policies that affect their lives.

Harriet Tubman once said, “I freed a thousand slaves; I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Similarly, we have human rights and our rights are being violated every day, yet many are not aware of this.

Economic Inequality and Austerity

Wealth inequality has worsened under the Obama Presidency. This is remarkable because historically after an economic collapse, the wealth divide closes during the recovery phase. According to the 2013 report, “In the U.S., the bottom 90% of the population own only 24.6% of all the privately held wealth, whereas in most of the developed world, the bottom 90% own around 40%; so, the degree of wealth-concentration in the U.S. is extraordinary…”

There hasn’t been any recovery for the bottom 90%. Public policies have continued to funnel wealth to the top while cutting the social infrastructure. Ellen Brown explains that the Federal Reserve Act prevents the Quantitative Easing (QE), the $85 billion created each month, from being used to invest in businesses and create jobs. She describes the Act as being “drafted by bankers to create a banker’s bank that would serve their interests. It is their own private club, and its legal structure keeps all non-members out.” So, instead of assisting Main Street, the QE has gone to Wall Street and has been used for financial trading that places our entire economy at risk of collapse. Activists will begin a yearlong campaign to change the Fed on Dec. 23rd at all 12 Federal Reserve Buildings.  Taxpayers need to take back the power to create money in a transparent way; the government should be spending debt free money on urgent necessities and providing people with the money they need to survive and create full employment.

Since early 2010, the Obama administration with Congress has pursued austerity with the federal budget, which is the opposite of what is needed in order to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment. Working closely with deficit hawks such as Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and the Peterson Foundation, whose mission is to end social insurances, necessary programs such as unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicare and Head Start have been cut.

Pascal Robert writes that this year alone, the Sequester forced “$9.9 billion in cuts to Medicare, $840 million in cuts to special education programs, and $400 million in cuts to Head Start, in addition to the nearly $2 billion slashed from housing aid.” He calls this “Obama’s war on the poor.” Economist Robert Reich calls the new budget “dumb” because itdoesn’t close tax loopholes for wealthy, restore food stamps to poor, or extend unemployment benefits for jobless.” He calls for investment in repairing our failing infrastructure which would solve critical safety concerns and create jobs.

The economic trends look bad for most of us. College students are graduating with higher levels of debt each year into an employment environment in which they are forced to delay their desired career path and work for poverty wages. While the official unemployment rate for college graduates has dropped, that doesn’t consider the 1.7 million who have stopped looking for work.

The combination of poverty wages, the foreclosure crisis and the buying up of distressed homes by investors has caused the percentage of renters to rise dramatically to 35% of households, the highest in ten years. And more than half of renters are paying over 30% of their incomes on rent alone. It is a landlord’s market and some renters are wondering if it is time to revolt.

And there is no end in sight to this economic situation. The Guardian writes that the State Policy Network, funded by the Koch brothers and Kraft, is gearing up to push legislation in a number of states that will undermine public employee pay and pensions, further privatize education, oppose Medicaid and even try to stop efforts to mitigate climate change. They are even pushing to get rid of income tax in certain areas, a move that will appeal to some but will force more cuts to important social programs.

The simultaneous transfer of wealth to the top and austerity measures for the rest looks like certain social suicide, but it seems that those in power are sick with greed and cannot help themselves. Chris Hedges describes the problem to Paul Jay of The Real News this week in an interview called The Pathology of the Rich, saying “They will extract more and more and more, because they have no self-imposed limits, without understanding the economic, political, and social consequences of what they’re doing.”

Trade Agreements and the Federal Budget

The wealth divide is created by policy choices made by those in power. We can see how they rig the economy for their wealthy donors and big business interests, at the expense of local businesses, entrepreneurs, workers and the poor. Right now this economic rigging is playing out in the secret negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

We are witnessing the acceleration of a global neoliberal economic agenda through the TPP and the Atlantic version, TAFTA. In Europe a document was leaked that described the strategy of lying to the people of Europe of the “management of stakeholders, social media and transparency” to give a false appearance of listening to them and silencing them. At the same time their TAFTA communications strategy will promise jobs and economic growth – when we know from past corporate trade agreements those are false promises.  The approach in Europe is taken from the playbook of the Obama administration in the United States: mislead the public, hide the truth and keep the contents secret.

Stan Sorscher writes that these trade agreements are about more than trade. They are “political, social, cultural and moral documents, which set political and social standards for countries and communities.” They create a legal system that overrules the ability to pass laws that protect the public and environment if that protection interferes with corporate profits.

Fortunately, because of public protests and exposure that the US is pushing polices that violate international norms, the TPP negotiations this week in Singapore broke down. Wikileaks revealed that the US remains inflexible pushing extreme pro-corporate policies as other negotiating countries try to represent the interests of their people.

The World Trade Organization concluded its meetings this week in Bali. Hundreds of people from civil society groups protested both inside and outside of the meetings. An agreement was reached but still has to go to each country for ratification before it takes effect. The reaction of civil society showed great concern about the contents of the agreement in particular because of the expansion of corporate rights and the threats to food sovereignty. They write, “No country should have to beg for the right to guarantee the right to food.”

In the US, a coalition of civil society groups also responded to the budget passed this week in Congress with their own People-Peace-Planet Budget announced on December 10, Human Rights Day, which contained up to a 50% reduction in military spending and investment in domestic needs. They said “One of every two Americans in now in poverty or low income. We’re not just hungry for food. We’re hungry for jobs, homes, for schools, for the basic necessities of life. We are hungry for justice!” A small delegation brought the budget to Congress and presented it to the offices of Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray unannounced. Dennis Trainor, Jr. of the Resistance Report covered their response.

A few hours later, Democrats and Republicans, the bipartisan corporate parties in Congress (the only parties allowed in our faux democracy), reached a budget deal that will restore full military spending while allowing food stamp and unemployment cuts to move forward. The agreement has been described as “awesomely destructive” because it continues austerity, does not extend unemployment or restore cuts to food stamp. It cuts pensions, cuts Medicaid and taxes Medicare but restores military spending. It is a job-killing, economy-weakening budget. “This deal asks essentially nothing of the richest Americans while placing terrible burdens on the unemployed as well as new federal employees, and continuing the fiscal policy drag on our still-unfinished recovery,” said Lawrence Mishel, executive director of the Economic Policy Institute.

Fighting For Our Human Rights

Many in civil society are beginning to understand that human rights are not being respected. Our rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and illustrated in this graphic, such as the right to healthcare and other basic necessities, privacy and unrestricted travel, are being violated. It is up to us to organize and mobilize to demand that these rights are honored.

In fact, one of those rights according to international covenants is the right to resist, which US founders called Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Petition Government for Redress of Grievances. Maciej Bartkowki and Annyssa Bellal write that the international community must support nonviolent civil resistance so that “a ‘people polity’ may represent a decisive force for a final push away from traditional state-driven discourse and practice … towards people-oriented, popular sovereignty based on the rights and responsibility to uphold them.”

On December 10, we participated in a meeting at the office of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) in New York City. NESRI facilitates organizing by groups around the country that use a human rights framework. The first step is for activists and their communities to understand that they have certain rights. The dominant culture in the United States tells us that we have rights to abstract concepts such as freedom but not to the tangible basic necessities of education, housing, health care, jobs and more. And the second step is to identify where these rights are being violated and organize to restore and protect them.

When the human rights framework is applied to any issue, the solution becomes evident.  For example on healthcare, it would not  treated as a commodity that is a profit center for wealthy investors, but a public good provided as a public service to all. For employment, it would mean a full employment economy where workers were paid a livable, not a poverty, wage. These are two examples of many.

One area where there is an aggressive fight for human rights is the campaign for $15 an hour minimum wage.  We examined the breadth of this class war conflict in a recent weekly review: the 1,500 Walmart protests and the 100 cities where low-wage workers walked out being two recent examples. People are realizing this is not just a struggle for a fair wage but for a different kind of country that respects human rights. And people realize that our tax dollars are subsidizing the unethical practices of Walmart, McDonalds, Starbucks and others who pay poverty wages while taxpayers subsidize their employees’ food, healthcare, housing and CEO income.

In SeaTac, the town where the Seattle-Takoma airport is located, people voted to raise the minimum wage to $15.  This is an incredible victory. Not only do workers get $15 an hour (about $31,000 annual wage) but they get paid sick days.  Of course, the people who profiteer from low-wage workers do not want to give up their virtual slave labor. Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association have challenged the new law in court. This is often part of the battle for fairness.

In another victory Schneider Logistics, a company that runs warehouses for Walmart has agreed to pay $4.7 million to as many as 568 workers after they sued over stolen wages, i.e. failing to pay overtime and deducting wages from their paychecks among other things.  Walmart, well known for forcing contractors and suppliers to reduce their prices, tried to escape public blame by saying the workers did not work directly for them. This does not pass the straight face test because we know this is part of the Walmartization of the economy.

In another remarkable story , Flor Molina, who came to the United States so she could feed her family in Mexico, was promised a job because of her sewing skills. When she got here she found out that she had become a slave, locked into a room with other slaves in Los Angeles and forced to work.  After 40 days she escaped and found a group, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). The group helped her to deal with the abuse she suffered and she is now a pioneering member of CAST’s Survivor’s Caucus, a group of women from 13 countries who escaped slavery in the United States. They work to craft policies that meet the needs of trafficking victims on issues like health care and visa protections. “Now that I’m a grandmother, I want a world free of slavery,” Molina says. “Now that I survived, I want to change something.”

Others who stand up and fight back need our support. We urge everyone to boycott Dominos Pizza because of their mistreatment of workers. In one case, Dominos workers who complained about being paid less than the minimum wage were fired. Wage theft is very common. In New York, one survey found 84% of workers reported forms of wage theft. The Dominos in Washington Heights on 181st street practices a type of wage theft. Let @Dominos know that you will not buy their products until this injustice is corrected. Solidarity is critical to defeating these human rights abuses.

Starbucks, which is in the top ten companies with poverty wages, has a contractor that provides them with their paper coffee cups. The union is fighting for a fair contract but the owner is trying to force them to accept cuts to the salaries and benefits, including losing a paid lunch hour. Recently the workers took their fight public with the help of the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU), a small grassroots network of baristas and shift supervisors. They organized an international Week of Action in 15 major cities to call attention to the injustices they’re facing. They want Starbucks to step in and join their call.  Tweet @Starbucks and tell them – respect their workers, support the workers at their Paciv Stockton paper cup company.

Another major area of human rights is the right to education. The Universal Declaration says “Everyone has a right to education” and that “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” These rights are being violated in the United State as austerity and corporatization undermine education.

People are standing up to fight for their right to education – this includes students, parents and teachers.  We especially need to support the efforts of students who stand up for their rights like the inspiring Algebra Project youth. This week, there was a day of actions across the country to take back public schools.

One more area where human rights are violated in the United States is housing.  Not only are economic policies making housing unaffordable, but people who can no longer afford housing are being widely criminalized, as are those who provide food to the hungry. This week in San Francisco, housing activists blocked a google bus to protest the evictions resulting from tech-driven gentrification that makes housing too expensive for many.

These are just a few examples. We can look to almost every issue and find the violation of human rights. And, we can also see that if the five principles of human rights were applied, the policies would be very different and we would see a country that met the necessities of people and protected the planet from ecological destruction.

Time for Outrage

In 2010 Stephane Hessel (here’s a website inspired by his work) who fought in the French Resistance and was the youngest member of the staff of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wrote a short book “Time for Outrage” (Indignez-vous!).  He was 95 when he died in 2013. His book is credited with being one of the catalysts of the Indignado movement, the forerunner of the Occupy Movement. It has sold millions of copies and been translated into 17 languages.

Hessel begins by piercing the false rhetoric of the type we hear from the bi-partisans in Washington and neoliberals around the world:

“We are told, shamelessly, that the state cannot bear the cost of certain civil measures any longer. But how can we lack the funds when our nations enjoy greater wealth than any time since Liberation, when Europe lay in ruins? How else to explain this but for the corrupt power of money … which is now greater, more insolent, and more selfish than ever.

“The wealthy have installed their slaves in the highest spheres of state. The banks are privately owned. They are concerned solely with profits. They have no interest in the common good. The gap between rich and poor is the widest it’s ever been, the pursuit of riches and the spirit of competition are encouraged and celebrated.”

Hessel final chapter calls for a “Peaceful Insurrection” and concludes by putting forward a charge for all of us today, one we should take seriously as we work for a better world built on the foundation of universally recognized human rights. In his final paragraphs he writes:

“How can I conclude this call for indignation?

“By reiterating that on the sixtieth anniversary of the Program of the National Council of the Resistance – March 8, 2004 – we, veterans of the Resistance who fought for Free France between 1940 and 1945, said the following: ‘Yes, Nazism was defeated, thanks to our brothers and sisters of the Resistance who sacrificed their lives, and thanks to the nations united in their opposition to fascist barbarity. But the threat persists; we are not entirely rid of it. And against injustice, our anger remains intact.

“Indeed, the threat persists. We therefore maintain our call for ‘a rebellion – peaceful and resolute – against the instruments of mass media that offer our young people a worldview defined by the temptations of mass consumption, a historical amnesia, and relentless competition of all against all.

“To the men and women who will make the twenty-first century, we say with affection:



Every day, rights guaranteed by US laws as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are violated against the people of the United States and around the world.  Let us recognize that these rights are our inalienable rights and that only we can ensure that we have them. They will not be given to us; we must take them and be indignant in our constant demand that they be respected.

Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance, here.

This article is produced by in conjunction with AlterNet.  It is based on’s weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.

Kevin Zeese, JD and Margaret Flowers, MD are participants;they co-direct  It’s Our Economy  and co-host  Clearing the FOG . Their twitters are @KBZeese and MFlowers8.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are participants in They also co-direct It’s Our Economy and are co-hosts of Clearing the FOG, shown on UStream TV and heard on radio. They tweet at @KBZeese and MFlowers8.


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US Drone Attack on Religious School Spurs Outrage in Pakistan

Posted on 03 December 2013 by John Johnson

‘Now no place is safe’: Missile strike outside of tribal region likely to cause renewed protest across Pakistan

- Common Dreams staff

People gather at a seminary destroyed in a US drone strike in Hangu, Pakistan (Basit Gilani/EPA)For the first time in over five years, a U.S. drone attack has occured outside Pakistan’s remote tribal regions, hitting one of the more populated provinces and stoking widespread anger over the continued U.S. drone war in the country.

“Now no place is safe. The drones are now firing missiles outside the tribal areas.” Shaukat Yousufzai, Pakistan provincial health minister

The missile strike hit an Islamic seminary in the area and according to local intelligence officials killed four adult students and two teachers.

The targets were likely members of the militant Haqqani network, but the building that was struck by the drone is reported as a popular and crowded facility for both Afghan refugees and religious students.

As the Associated Press notes: “Maulvi Noorullah, a teacher at the seminary, said there were nearly 100 students present when the attack occurred. Sixteen students were in the room next to the one that was targeted, but they all survived, he said.”

And The Washington Post reports:

U.S. officials had no immediate comment Thursday on the missile attack on the seminary. But the incident is likely to further complicate relations between the United States and some Pakistani leaders.

Although the United States has carried out dozens of drone strikes in tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, provincial officials said Thursday’s attack was the first inside a Pakistani province in more than five years. It comes at a time of already heightened tension between the United States and officials and residents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Shireen Mazari, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Movement for Justice party, which is headed by the popular politician and former cricket star Imran Khan—who has been a loud voice in the movement calling for an end to U.S. attacks—said the latest strike was “a declaration of war against the people of Pakistan.”

“The time has come for the Pakistan government to demonstrate through actions that there is zero tolerance for drone attacks,” Mazari said.

“Now no place is safe. The drones are now firing missiles outside the tribal areas,” Shaukat Yousufzai, health minister for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, told The Associated Press.

“It is Hangu today. Tomorrow it can be Karachi, Lahore or any other place,” Yousufzai told Pakistan’s Dunya TV.


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The Business of America Is War

Posted on 06 November 2013 by John Johnson

By William J. Astore

No wonder our leaders tell us not to worry our little heads about our wars — just support those troops, go shopping, and keep waving that flag.

There is a new normal in America: our government may shut down, but our wars continue.  Congress may not be able to pass a budget, but the U.S. military can still launch commando raids in Libya and Somalia, the Afghan War can still be  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” prosecuted, Italy can be  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” garrisoned by American troops (putting the “empire” back in Rome), Africa can be used as an  HYPERLINK “″ \t “_blank” imperial playground (as in the late nineteenth century “ HYPERLINK “″ \t “_blank” scramble for Africa,” but with the U.S. and China doing the scrambling this time around), and the military-industrial complex can still  HYPERLINK “″ \t “_blank” dominate the world’s arms trade.
In the halls of Congress and the Pentagon, it’s business as usual, if your definition of “business” is the power and profits you get from constantly preparing for and prosecuting wars around the world.  “War is a racket,” General Smedley Butler  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” famously declared in 1935, and even now it’s hard to disagree with a man who had two Congressional Medals of Honor to his credit and was intimately familiar with American imperialism.

War Is Politics, Right?

Once upon a time, as a serving officer in the U.S. Air Force, I was taught that Carl von Clausewitz had defined war as a continuation of politics by other means.  This definition is, in fact, a simplification of his classic and complex book, On War, written after his experiences fighting Napoleon in the early nineteenth century.

The idea of war as a continuation of politics is both moderately interesting and dangerously misleading: interesting because it connects war to political processes and suggests that they should be fought for political goals; misleading because it suggests that war is essentially rational and so controllable.  The fault here is not Clausewitz’s, but the American military’s for  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” misreading and oversimplifying him.
Perhaps another “Carl”  might lend a hand when it comes to helping Americans understand what war is really all about.  I’m referring to Karl Marx, who admired Clausewitz, notably for his idea that combat is to war what a cash payment is to commerce.  However seldom combat (or such payments) may happen, they are the culmination and so the ultimate arbiters of the process.

War, in other words, is settled by killing, a bloody transaction that echoes the exploitative exchanges of capitalism.  Marx found this idea to be both suggestive and pregnant with meaning. So should we all.
Following Marx, Americans ought to think about war not just as an extreme exercise of politics, but also as a continuation of exploitative commerce by other means.  Combat as commerce: there’s more in that than simple alliteration.

In the history of war, such commercial transactions took many forms, whether as territory conquered, spoils carted away, raw materials appropriated, or market share gained.  Consider American wars.  The War of 1812 is sometimes portrayed as a minor dust-up with Britain, involving the temporary occupation and burning of our capital, but it really was about crushing Indians on the frontier and grabbing their land.  The Mexican-American War was another land grab, this time for the benefit of slaveholders.  The Spanish-American War was a land grab for those seeking an American empire overseas, while World War I was for making the world “safe for democracy” — and for American business interests globally.
Even World War II, a war necessary to stop Hitler and Imperial Japan, witnessed the emergence of the U.S. as the arsenal of democracy, the world’s dominant power, and the new imperial stand-in for a bankrupt British Empire.

Korea?  Vietnam?  Lots of profit for the military-industrial complex and plenty of power for the Pentagon establishment.  Iraq, the Middle East, current adventures in Africa?  Oil, markets, natural resources, global dominance.
In societal calamities like war, there will always be winners and losers.  But the clearest winners are often companies like Boeing and Dow Chemical, which provided B-52 bombers and Agent Orange, respectively, to the U.S. military in Vietnam.  Such “arms merchants” — an older, more honest term than today’s “defense contractor” — don’t have to pursue the hard sell, not when war and preparations for it have become so permanently, inseparably intertwined with the American economy, foreign policy, and our nation’s identity as a rugged land of “warriors” and “heroes” (more on that in a moment).
War as Disaster Capitalism
Consider one more definition of war: not as politics or even as commerce, but as societal catastrophe.  Thinking this way, we can apply Naomi Klein’s concepts of the ” HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” shock doctrine” and “disaster capitalism” to it.  When such disasters occur, there are always those who seek to turn a profit.
Most Americans are, however, discouraged from thinking about war this way thanks to the power of what we call “patriotism” or, at an extreme, “superpatriotism”  when it applies to us, and the significantly more negative “nationalism”  or “ultra-nationalism” when it appears in other countries.  During wars, we’re told to “ HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” support our troops,” to wave the flag, to put country first, to respect the patriotic ideal of selfless service and redemptive sacrifice (even if all but 1% of us are never expected to serve or sacrifice).

We’re discouraged from reflecting on the uncomfortable fact that, as “our” troops sacrifice and suffer, others in society are profiting big time.  Such thoughts are considered unseemly and unpatriotic.  Pay no attention to the war profiteers, who pass as perfectly respectable companies.  After all, any price is worth paying (or profits worth offering up) to contain the enemy — not so long ago, the red menace, but in the twenty-first century, the murderous terrorist.

Forever war is forever profitable.  Think of the  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” Lockheed Martins of the world.  In their commerce with the Pentagon, as well as the militaries of other nations, they ultimately seek cash payment for their weapons and a world in which such weaponry will be eternally needed.  In the pursuit of security or victory, political leaders willingly pay their price.
Call it a Clausewitzian/Marxian feedback loop or the dialectic of Carl and Karl.  It also represents the eternal marriage of combat and commerce.  If it doesn’t catch all of what war is about, it should at least remind us of the degree to which war as disaster capitalism is driven by profit and power.
For a synthesis, we need only turn from Carl or Karl to Cal — President Calvin Coolidge, that is.  “The business of America is business,” he declared in the Roaring Twenties.  Almost a century later, the business of America is war, even if today’s presidents are too polite to mention that the business is booming.

America’s War Heroes as Commodities
Many young people today are, in fact, looking for a release from consumerism.  In seeking new identities, quite a few turn to the military.  And it provides.  Recruits are hailed as  HYPERLINK “″ \t “_blank” warriors and warfighters, as  HYPERLINK “″ \t “_blank” heroes, and not just within the military either, but by  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” society at large.
Yet in joining the military and being celebrated for that act, our troops paradoxically become yet another commodity, another consumable of the state.  Indeed, they become consumed by war and its violence.  Their compensation?  To be packaged and marketed as the heroes of our militarized moment. Steven Gardiner, a cultural anthropologist and U.S. Army veteran, has written eloquently about what he calls the “ HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” heroic masochism” of militarized settings and their allure for America’s youth.  Put succinctly, in seeking to escape a consumerism that has lost its meaning and find a release from dead-end jobs, many volunteers are transformed into celebrants of violence, seekers and givers of pain, a harsh reality Americans ignore as long as that violence is acted out overseas against our enemies and local populations.
Such “heroic” identities, tied so closely to violence in war, often prove poorly suited to peacetime settings.  Frustration and demoralization devolve into  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” domestic violence and  HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” suicide.  In an American society with ever fewer meaningful peacetime jobs, exhibiting greater and greater polarization of wealth and opportunity, the decisions of some veterans to turn to or return to mind-numbing drugs of various sorts and soul-stirring violence is tragically predictable.  That it stems from their exploitative commodification as so many heroic inflictors of violence in our name is a reality most Americans are content to forget.

You May Not Be Interested in War, but War Is Interested in You
As Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky pithily observed, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”  If war is combat and commerce, calamity and commodity, it cannot be left to our political leaders alone — and certainly not to our generals.  When it comes to war, however far from it we may seem to be, we’re all in our own ways customers and consumers.  Some pay a high price.  Many pay a little.  A few gain a lot.  Keep an eye on those few and you’ll end up with a keener appreciation of what war is actually all about.

No wonder our leaders tell us not to worry our little heads about our wars — just support those troops, go shopping, and keep waving that flag.  If patriotism is famously the last refuge of the scoundrel, it’s also the first recourse of those seeking to mobilize customers for the latest bloodletting exercise in combat as commerce.
Just remember: in the grand bargain that is war, it’s their product and their profit.  And that’s no bargain for America, or for that matter for the world.
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), now teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. His books and articles focus primarily on military history and include  Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism (Potomac Press, 2005). He may be reached at  HYPERLINK “”

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