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Human Rights at Wal-Mart

How appropriate, this May Day, that Human Rights Watch has just released "Discounting Human Rights: Wal-Mart's Violation of US Workers' Right to Freedom of Association," a detailed account of how Wal-Mart systematically violates its workers' right to organize. The right to freedom of association is, as the group notes, "well established under international human rights law," and the United States should be enforcing it. Our government has not been fulfilling this basic task, and as a result, our nation's largest private employer has also become a rogue union buster, whose practices are starkly at odds with any notion of workplace democracy.

Between 2004 and early 2007, Human Rights interviewed forty-one current and former Wal-Mart workers and managers (some of whom supported unionization, some were opposed and some ambivalent). The group also interviewed labor lawyers and union organizers, and analyzed the cases against Wal-Mart charging the company with violating US labor laws. Even adjusted for its size, the human rights group found, Wal-Mart stood out for the number of such violations. Between January 2000 and July 2005, fifteen National Labor Relations Board rulings against Wal-Mart are still standing and have not been overruled -- that is three times as many such rulings as Albertson's, Costco, Kmart, Kroger, Home Depot, Sears and Target combined. Put together, those companies have a workforce 26 percent bigger than Wal-Mart's.

The rights group found that the company begins to indoctrinate and intimidate workers with an anti-union message almost from the moment they are hired. In violation of international standards -- but not in violation of US law -- workers are encouraged to attend "captive audience" meetings in which they hear all the bad news about unions -- with little or no opportunity for union supporters and organizers to respond. In violation even of weak US laws, Wal-Mart spies on union supporters extensively, has fired workers for union organizing, and has told workers they would lose benefits if they supported a union.

The Human Rights Watch report correctly points out that the problems at Wal-Mart neither begin nor end with Wal-Mart. The retailer is, the authors explain, "a case study in what is wrong with US labor laws." Our laws don't meet international standards, and Wal-Mart doesn't even follow our pathetically minimal laws. US penalties are so light they provide no deterrent even for chronic violators. Human Rights Watch suggests some solid policy solutions. The report's authors don't suggest that Lee Scott and the rest of Wal-Mart's management spend some time breaking rocks on a Southern chain gang. That's what I'd call a proper deterrent! But they do, quite sensibly, rather than simply decrying the bad practices and calling on Wal-Mart to change its ways, suggest that Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would increase penalties for breaking labor laws and restore some democracy to the union election process by requiring employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers sign union cards. That bill passed the House in March, and is now under consideration in the Senate.

Israel's Winograd Commission blasts Olmert, Peretz, Halutz

The Winograd Commission, established by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to investigate Israel's notably unsuccessful performance in last summer's war against Lebanon, today issued a first "Partial Report" in Jerusalem. The report covered only the period leading up to the war and the first six days of what turned out to be a 33-day war. It attributed "primary responsibility" for what it described as "very serious failings" in Israeli decisionmaking in this period to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the defense minister Amir Peretz, and the then-Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.

Paragraph 10 of the report's Executive Summary detailed the main strategic failings thus:

    a. The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena...

b. Consequently, in making the decision to go to war, the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action -- so as to maintain for Israel the full range of responses to the abduction. This failure reflects weakness in strategic thinking, which derives the response to the event from a more comprehensive and encompassing picture.

c. The support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it. The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized to commence a military campaign without considering how to exit it.

d. Some of the declared goals of the war were not clear and could not be achieved, and in part were not achievable by the authorized modes of military action.

e. The IDF did not exhibit creativity in proposing alternative action possibilities, did not alert the political decision-makers to the discrepancy between its own scenarios and the authorized modes of action, and did not demand - as was necessary under its own plans - early mobilization of the reserves so they could be equipped and trained in case a ground operation would be required.

f. Even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground. On the contrary, declared goals were too ambitious, and it was publicly stated that fighting will continue till they are achieved. But the authorized military operations did not enable their achievement.

The report detailed four specific ways in which Olmert had failed and concluded that, "All of these add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence." Of Peretz, it said, "the Minister of Defense failed in fulfilling his functions. Therefore, his serving as Minister of Defense during the war impaired Israel's ability to respond well to its challenges." And of Halutz it concluded, "the Chief of Staff failed in his duties as commander in chief of the army and as a critical part of the political-military leadership, and exhibited flaws in professionalism, responsibility and judgment."

Of these three men who stood at the top of Israel's national command and decisionmaking apparatus during the war, only Halutz has so far resigned.

This evening, as widely predicted beforehand, Olmert once again vowed to hang on in office. In a brief televised statement he said, "It would not be correct to resign... and I have no intention of resigning." In a very non-committal way he admitted that "mistakes were made" and promised to start work this week on implementing some of the Commission's procedural recommendations.

The harsh judgments made by this will add significantly to the pressures that have been building up on Olmert. A police inquiry into the terms on which he transacted a profitable property deal some years ago intermittently threatens to bring him to the brink of resignation. But prior to running in last year's national elections Olmert (and his political mentor Ariel Sharon) had cleverly re-configured Israeli politics by establishing a new centrist party that split Labor down the middle. Now, the strongest opposition to him comes from his right-wing--former comrades in the Likud Party and their allies even further to the right.

But a large proportion of Israel's political elite has been in a funk since the unexpected defeat of last summer's war. Neither Olmert's Kadima Party nor any of the smaller parties in the present ruling coalition wants to risk forcing the country into a fresh general election by leaving the coalition.

Last July's decision to escalate very harshly indeed in response to Hizbullah's capture of two Israeli soldiers was taken by Olmert and Halutz according to the concept that Israel's use of massively destructive and lethal force against Lebanon would rapidly force Hizbullah to cry "uncle" and agree to the dismantling of its very experienced militia force. (For more details, see here.) That concept built on the alleged effectiveness of stand-off-- primarily airborne-- firepower, which some hawkish strategic thinkers had seen demonstrated by US military operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. But in none of those three other theaters did the "decisive" early records of the US war effort led to stable, and stably pro-western outcomes. And in Lebanon, the massive application of stand-off firepower for 33 days did not even succeed in its first-stage goal of either decapitating Hizbullah or forcing the organization to bow to Israel's demands.

For the advocates of stand-off firepower, the "promise" of this approach had always lain in the idea that using hi-tech gadgetry from high altitudes could enable the military to cut down, in particular, on the enormous burden that maintaining a ready ground-combat capability imposes on the manpower of a country. (This is the case even with a heavily reserves-reliant force, as Israel's is, since the reserves do have to be trained and retrained every year or so.)

Now, Jewish Israelis as a group are faced with the momentous choice of whether they want to continue to live as an embattled, isolated outpost within a predominantly Arab part of the world, and an outpost that is prepared to pay the heavy costs--particularly in terms of the conscription burden for young people-- associated with that... Or, are they prepared to look to other, more creative and potentially long-lasting ways to assure their security, primarily through building relationships of peace and cooperation with their neighbors in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon?

The peace initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002, and recently re-committed to by all the Arab states and parties, including the Palestinians, provides one very worthwhile route to explore. But with Washington's Arab-Israeli policy still firmly controlled by unreconstructed neocon Elliot Abrams it is very unlikely that the Bush administration-- which does, after all, also have quite a few woes of its own-- will do anything to help Israelis to decide to "Make love not war."

(Cross-posted to Just World News.)

Bad Guys

I hesitate to get into an inter-magazine pissing match, but I just couldn't let this post by The New Republic's James Kirchick go unanswered. Kirchick takes aim at the Nation's latest issue, which contains a symposium on Cuba, its future and the problems with US policy towards it. Kirchick's critique is two-fold. First, he finds the entire choice of topic and presentation musty, boring and predictable. "Leave it to the Nation," he writes, "that stalwart fount of 'unconventional wisdom since 1865,' to offer a platform to a dictatorship's toady." Well, let's remember that this comes on the website of a magazine that did everything in its power to push the US into a war that its own former editor now describes as a "disaster" and "tragic," and which has resulted in the deaths of tens, most likely hundreds, of thousands of innocent civilians. So Mr. Kirchick may want to check himself before calling out The Nation, a magazine that got the single most pressing foreign policy question of our times right. (And, it should be noted, has published numerous articles critical of the Castro regime in the fast few years alone, including in the very issue that Kirchick criticizes.)

As for his substantive critique, it is this: Because Cuba is ruled by a dictator, any representative of the government is by definition a "toady," spouting "disreputable opinions." His complaints, therefore, cannot have merit, and must be necessarily ignored by anyone who shares Mr. Kirchick's impeccable moral judgement. If this kind of logic seems familiar, it's because it is. It's the same logic that led the New Republic and the establishment to support a sanctions regime against Iraq that almost certainly killed more than a hundred thousand Iraqi children. You see, because Saddam was evil, his government's contention that the the sanctions were killing its civilians had to be wrong. And because Saddam was evil, his government's claim that it had, in fact, been disarmed, could not have been true, even after the UN weapons inspectors confirmed it.

F Scott Fitzgerald famously observed that the "the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time." The Nation published an issue that contained both the voice of the Castro regime and those critical of it. It can be the case that the Cuban regime is a bad regime, and that it has entirely legitimate complaints to offer towards the US. But this is precisely what Kirchick finds so odious. His moral cosmology is that of the Bush administration which says that there are good guys and bad guys in this world, and we just don't talk with or listen to the bad guys until they stop being bad.

Or, to put it more bluntly, it is the moral cosmology of a child.

The New Cold War

Doesn't it feel like a new cold war out there?

Condi Rice has taken off those dominatrix black boots and slipped into dark cold war terminology: "The idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe are going to threaten the Soviet strategic deterrent is purely ludicrous, and everybody knows it," she said speaking in Oslo last week at a gathering of diplomats from NATO countries.

The Russians don't see it quite the same way. And last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended his nation's compliance with a treaty on conventional weapons in Europe that was created at the end of the cold war. The decision, fueled by the Kremlin's anger at the US's proposal to build this new missile defense system in Europe, is just another sign of how much has been squandered since the Cold War was officially declared "kaput" in Malta in 1989 at the summit between George Bush I and Mikhail Gorbachev.

But don't pay too much attention to the news stories--few give you a sense of the history of where we're at...and how we got there. For an understanding of what you're reading in the headlines--for the clearest, earliest history of how this new Cold War erupted--read Stephen F. Cohen's cover story in The Nation last summer.

And for a sense of how, once again, the US is ignoring the popular will of smaller nations--in this case, the two countries at the center of this new insanity--Poland and the Czech Republic--read my blog of earlier this month

The mind boggles at the layers of nuttiness involved in this deployment, starting with the fact that Iran--supposed source of missiles--has no nuclear bombs--and that interceptors couldn't stop them if it did.

How Not to Withdraw from Iraq: The Democrats' Plan

Before you imagine that the Democrats' plan, just passed by Congress, would actually get U.S. troops out of Iraq, read the fine print.

Let's be clear about what it is -- when it comes to "withdrawal" from Iraq -- that the President will veto this Wednesday. Section 1904(b) of the supplemental appropriations bill for the Pentagon, H.R. 1591, passed by the House and Senate, mandates that the Secretary of Defense "commence the redeployment of the Armed Forces from Iraq not later than October 1, 2007, with a goal of completing such redeployment within 180 days." If you've been listening to network TV news shows or reading your local newspaper with less than an eagle eye, you might well be under the impression that -- just as the phrasing above seems to indicate -- a Democratic-controlled Congress has just passed a bill that mandates a full-scale American withdrawal from Iraq. (Reporters and commentators regularly speak of the Democrats' insistence that "American troops be withdrawn from Iraq.") But that's only until you start reading the exceptions embedded in the bill.

Here are the main ones. According to H.R. 1591, the Secretary of Defense is allowed to keep U.S. forces in Iraq for the following purposes:

1. "Protecting American diplomatic facilities and American citizens, including members of the United States Armed Forces": This doesn't sound like much, but don't be fooled. As a start, of course, there would have to be forces guarding the new American embassy in Baghdad (known to Iraqis as "George W's Palace"). When completed, it will be the largest embassy in the known universe with untold thousands of employees; then there would need to be forces to protect the heavily fortified citadel of the Green Zone (aka "the International Zone") which protects the embassy and other key U.S. facilities. Add to these troops to guard the network of gigantic, multibillion dollar U.S. bases in Iraq like Balad Air Base (with air traffic volume that rivals Chicago's O'Hare) and whatever smaller outposts might be maintained. We're talking about a sizable force here.

2. "Training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces": By later this year, U.S. advisors and trainers for the Iraqi military, part of a program the Pentagon is now ramping up, should reach the 10,000-20,000 range (many of whom -- see above -- would undoubtedly need "guarding").

3. "Engaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach": This is a loophole of loopholes that could add up to almost anything as, in a pinch, all sorts of Sunni oppositional forces could be labeled "al-Qaeda."

An Institute for Policy Studies analysis suggests that the "protection forces" and advisors alone could add up to 40,000-60,000 troops. None of this, of course, includes U.S. Navy or Air Force units stationed outside Iraq but engaged in actions in, or support for actions in, that country.

Another way of thinking about the Democratic withdrawal proposals (to be vetoed this week by the President) is that they represent a program to remove only U.S. "combat brigades," adding up to perhaps half of all U.S. forces, with a giant al-Qaeda loophole for their return. None of this would deal with the heavily armed and fortified U.S. permanent bases in Iraq or the air war that would almost certainly escalate if only part of the American expeditionary forces were withdrawn (and the rest potentially left more vulnerable).

No less strikingly, in an era in which the "privatizing" of state functions is the rage, the enormous mercenary forces of private "security" companies like Blackwater USA, now fighting a shadow war alongside U.S. troops in Iraq, would be untouched. On this point, Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, has much to say in a recent post at Tomdispatch.com. He writes: "Even if the President didn't veto their legislation, the Democrats' plan does almost nothing to address the second largest force in Iraq -- and it's not the British military. It's the estimated 126,000 private military ‘contractors' who will stay put there as long as Congress continues funding the war."

Spell It Out: "I-M-P-E-A-C-H!"

In January, Brooklyn's Jacob Park made an audacious proposal to the loose coalition of groups that has been campaigning to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

They should pick a date, say April 28, and encourage activists across the country to spell out the word "I-M-P-E-A-C-H" on beaches, highway overpasses, the sides of buildings, downtown street corners and anywhere else where Americans might get the message they can and should be about business of applying the Constitutional remedy to a lawless administration.

"George Bush and Dick Cheney have lied the nation into a war of aggression, are spying in open violation of the law, and have sanctioned the use of torture," declares Park's ambitious A28.org website. "These are high crimes and misdemeanors that demand accountability. Since Congress doesn't seem to get it, on April 28 Americans from Miami, Florida to North Pole, Alaska, are going to spell it out for them: IMPEACH!"

Park's vision is coming to fruition this weekend, with the "A28" movement flexing its muscles at a moment when impeachment is suddenly very much "on the table" from which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to remove it. Vermont's state Senate and dozens of local city councils and commissions across the country have endorsed impeachment. Democratic and Green party groups across the country have added their voices. The peace movement, including the umbrella group United for Peace and Justice, has declared impeachment a priority. Polls by Newsweek and other media outlets show that a majority of Americans see impeachment as a legitimate response to accusations that Bush and Co. faked up a "case" for war with Iraq. And Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has introduced articles of impeachment against Cheney that focus on the manipulation of intelligence before the war and attempts to maintain the lie since its beginning.

Kucinich said in announcing those articles that, "I do not stand alone. Millions of Americans are standing up for the Constitution and the rule of law."

The A28 movement is confirming the truth of that statement.

From the Caribbean to the Arctic Circle, activists will spread the word by banner, boat, automobile and plane.

Two thousand people are expected to form a "human mural" on Ocean Beach in San Francisco to spell out "I-M-P-E-A-C-H!" with their bodies. Then they'll march to Pelosi's home for an impeachment rally.

Down the coast in San Diego, where the state Democratic convention is being held, another human mural will be formed on a local beach as activists from across California rally in favor of a party resolution calling for articles of impeachment to be advanced in Congress.

There will be more human murals in New York, Washington and dozens of cities nationwide.

Planes pulling pro-impeachment banners will fly over the Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans – a city that nurtures a particular gripe against the president -- and public events in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and other cities.

An impeachment caravan will cross the state of Iowa.

And when George Bush arrives in Miami to deliver the commencement address at Miami Dade College, he will be greeted by a crowd of Floridians calling for his impeachment and removal from office.

The A28 movement is pegged to one day. But it started before April 28, with an April 26 banner drop from the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington. Code Pink and Hip Hop Caucus activists unfurled a two-story long banner that called the Congress back to the roots of the Republic.

It quoted the Constitution: "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Fourteen of the impeachment activists were arrested for daring to so quote the founding document in George Bush's Washington. But in the America that lies beyond the beltway, the Constitution is making a comeback – especially the six separate sections in which it spells out the word "I-M-P-E-A-C-H!"

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Twelve Steps to Cutting Poverty in Half

Last Wednesday, at the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, the CAP Task Force on Poverty released the results of fourteen months of work in its report, From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half.

The report offers twelve concrete recommendations to reduce over the next ten years, creating a stronger middle class and setting our country on a course to end American poverty in a generation.

Sen. Edward Kennedy and Ways and Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, were both on hand to pledge their leadership on what Task Force co-chair Peter B. Edelman, professor of Law at Georgetown University, called "a national shame…. There should be no one [in this country] who's poor."

This is one of the great scandals of our times. In the richest industrialized nation in the world, 37 million Americans--one in eight citizens--live below the official poverty line (just $19,971 income for a family of four); in 2005, more than 90 million Americans had incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold (less than $40,000 for a family of four); the United States ranks 24th out of 25 developed nations in the share of the population with an income below 50 percent of the national median income--and the US is dead last among 24 rich nations when the same measurement is used to assess child poverty. Nearly 20 percent of American children are poor, and it's estimated that allowing children to grow up in persistent poverty costs our economy $500 billion per year. Lastly, income inequality has reached record highs and is getting worse.

"From 1947 to 1973, we saw every economic quintile growing together, and those at the lowest level were growing the fastest," Kennedy said. "In 1980, with President Reagan, you see the beginning of growing apart...And now, those at the lowest end of the ladder are not even keeping up while there is an explosion at the highest level."

In fact, the post-tax income of the top 1 percent rose $145,500 between 2003 and 2004; it rose just $200 for the bottom fifth during that same period.

"The goal to cut poverty in half over the next [ten] years is not an overly ambitious task when you look at what other industrialized countries are doing," Kennedy said. He noted that Great Britain has raised its minimum wage to $9.78 an hour and brought 900,000 children and 2.5 million workers out of poverty in the last three years. Ireland has reduced childhood poverty by 40 percent with a minimum wage of $9.60.

"No single measure is going to answer the problem," Kennedy said. "But nonetheless we can see how important it is that we put [actions] together... [The Task Force] summary of what we can do to move a whole group of our fellow citizens forward makes enormous sense."

"With the exception of getting the hell out of the Middle East," Rangel said, "I can't think of anything more patriotic that we can do than eliminate poverty."

Edelman said that the Task Force worked hard to pull out some key points from the extensive list of what needs to be done to address poverty. It was not a top-down process, he said, but rather a response to what people in diverse communities feel is needed.

"The focus here is not just what we technically call ‘poverty' in this country," said Edelman. "That's a concept that's deeply flawed. Thirty-seven million people is bad enough. But when you take the idea that an income of a little bit over $15,000 gets a family of three out of poverty, an income of $20,000 gets a family of four out of poverty, it's a really bad joke. It's not true. In vast, vast, vast parts of this country, when you get a dollar over those numbers, you're not out of poverty. And so this report is really about everybody in this country who's having a difficult time... who has trouble making ends meet, who has trouble paying the bills at the end of the month...Who has to make a decision whether or not to go see a physician for something quite important because they're not sure that they're going to [be able to] pay for it. And so really this report is about roughly 90 million people whose incomes are up to twice the poverty line… all the way down to the bottom--those nearly 16 million people who have incomes below half the poverty line--below $7,500 for a family of three--astonishing! And that's gone up by over 3 million people under the current administration. Our focus is on full inclusion in this country for everybody who has a tough time."

The twelve recommendations revolve around four core principles: promote decent work that pays enough to avoid poverty, meet basic needs, and save for the future; provide opportunity for all--maximizing people's opportunities for success from childhood through adulthood; ensure economic security so that no American falls into poverty when work is unavailable, unstable, or doesn't pay enough to make ends meet; and help people build wealth so that they can weather periods of flux and have the resources that may be essential to upward mobility.

Here are key excerpts from the twelve recommendations:

1. Over a 10-year period, raise and index the minimum wage to half the average hourly wage--that would presently be $8.40 an hour. The report notes that for most of the 1960's and 1970's a worker with a full-time minimum wage job could lift a family of three above the poverty line. Now it's at its lowest level in real terms since 1959.

2. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. The EITC is an earnings supplement that raises incomes and helps low-income working families build assets. The Task Force recommends tripling the EITC for childless workers and expanding help to larger working families. The Child Tax Credit provides a tax credit of up to $1,000 per child but provides no help to the poorest families. It should be made fully refundable so that it's available to all low- and moderate-income families. (Currently people with incomes below $10,000 do not receive this credit. "Totally absurd," Edelman said. "This is a powerful anti-poverty step…. It will get over 3 million people out of poverty just from that one, single public policy step alone.") Doing all of the above would move as many as 5 million people out of poverty.

3. Promote unionization by enacting the Employee Free Choice Act. This would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers signs cards authorizing union representation. "It's very important that we get this legislation enacted this year," Edelman said. "Unions are absolutely a backbone of getting fair labor standards and fair wages in our country."

4. Guarantee child care assistance to low-income families and promote early education for all. Federal and state governments should guarantee child care help to families with incomes below about $40,000 a year. "We're not going to achieve this unless communities take the initiative with civic leadership to pull that together," Edelman said. "We would have an Innovation Fund as part of that effort." The funding would be about twice the level of current federal funding for quality state initiatives. This childcare expansion would raise employment among low-income parents and help nearly 3 million parents and children escape poverty.

5. Create 2 million new "opportunity" housing vouchers, and promote equitable development in and around central cities. Nearly 8 million Americans live in neighborhoods where at least 40 percent of residents are poor. We should seek to end such concentrated poverty. Over the next ten years, the federal government should fund 2 million new "opportunity vouchers" designed to help people live in opportunity-rich areas. "The housing vouchers that we currently have reach only a quarter of the people who are eligible," Edelman said. "People should also be able to choose where they live, they should be able to live near the jobs and get to the jobs." Any new affordable housing should be in communities with employment opportunities and high-quality public services, or in gentrifying communities.

6. Connect disadvantaged and disconnected youth with school and work.About 1.7 million poor youth ages 16 to 24 were out of school and out of work in 2005. The federal government should restore Youth Opportunity Grants to help the most disadvantaged communities and expand funding for effective and promising youth programs--with the goal of reaching 600,000 disadvantaged youth through these efforts. A new Upward Pathway program would offer low-income young people opportunities to train in fields that are in high-demand and provide needed public services.

7. Simplify and expand Pell Grants and make higher education accessible to residents of each state. Low-income youth are much less likely to attend college than their higher income peers, even among those of comparable abilities. Pell Grants play a crucial role for lower-income students. The Pell grant application process should be simplified, and the grants gradually raised to reach 70 percent of the average costs of a four-year public institution. States should develop strategies to make post-secondary education affordable for all residents, following promising models already underway in a number of states.

8) Help former prisoners find stable employment and reintegrate into their communities. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world--600,000 prisoners are released to their communities each year. Most are low-income, minority men returning to high-poverty communities. Two-thirds are rearrested within three years and about half return to prison. States should not bar former prisoners from receiving public benefits like food stamps or deny them the right to vote. All states should develop comprehensive reentry services aimed at reintegrating former prisoners with full-time, consistent employment.

9. Ensure equity for low-wage workers in the Unemployment Insurance system.Approximately 35 percent of the unemployed, and a smaller share of unemployed low-wage workers, receive unemployment insurance benefits. States should reform eligibility rules that screen out low-wage workers, broaden eligibility for part-time workers and workers who have lost employment as a result of compelling family circumstances, and allow benefits to continue when workers are in programs that upgrade their skills and qualifications.

10. Modernize means-tested benefits programs to develop a coordinated system that helps workers and families.A functional safety net should help people get into or return to work and ensure a decent level of living for those who cannot work or are temporarily between jobs. Our current system fails to do so. The government should simplify and improve benefits access for working families and improve services to individuals with disabilities. The Food Stamp Program should be strengthened to improve benefits, eligibility, and access. And the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program should be reformed to shift its focus from cutting caseloads to helping needy families find sustainable employment.

11. Reduce the high costs of being poor and increase access to financial services.Lower-income families often pay more than middle and high-income families for the same consumer products. Federal and state governments should address the foreclosure crisis through expanded mortgage assistance programs and by new federal legislation to curb unscrupulous practices. The federal government should also establish a $50 million Financial Fairness Innovation Fund to support state efforts to broaden access to mainstream goods and financial services in predominantly low-income communities.

12. Expand and simplify the Saver's Credit to encourage saving for education, homeownership and retirement. For many families, saving for purposes such as education, a home, or a small business is key to making economic progress. The federal "Saver's Credit" (a relatively new tax provision which matches voluntary contributions to retirement savings accounts with a tax credit) should be reformed to make it fully refundable. This Credit should also be broadened to apply to other savings vehicles such as individual development accounts, children's saving accounts, and college savings plans.

The Urban Institute studied the impact of just four of the Task Force recommendations--the minimum wage, EITC, child tax credit, and child care assistance expansion--and found that together they would reduce poverty by 26 percent, more than halfway toward the ten year goal.

The combined cost of the twelve recommendations is approximately $90 billion a year. The current annual costs of the Bush tax cuts (skewed for the wealthy) enacted in 2001 and 2003 are approximately $400 billion. In 2008, the value of tax cuts solely for households exceeding an annual income of $200,000 is projected to be $100 billion.

"Making a commitment to cut poverty in half in a ten year period is a bold goal," said Angela Glover Blackwell, Task Force co-chair and Founder and CEO of PolicyLink. "This isn't just about lamenting the fact that we have so much poverty, this is about doing something about it, and doing something in a time period that people can measure and hold us to…. Also, this report comes at a time when the mayors, when the faith institutions, the civic organizations, are all looking at what we're going to do about poverty… [So it] comes into an atmosphere in which Americans are saying ‘we can do something about this'."

"What we need here is a massive effort to reach out both through every communications method and the grassroots," Edelman said. "Maude Hurd, National President of ACORN is a member of the Task Force--they work with millions of people around the country who are struggling for economic justice. [We are] working with the unions--Linda Chavez-Thompson [(Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO)], was on the Task Force...with faith-based groups...This has got to reach all around the country and people need to own it, and bring it back, and say this is what we have to do...We know what to do, we know what it will accomplish. The question is the political will. Are we as a nation going to do what we should be doing?"

In New Book, Tenet Bashes Cheney Belatedly

This was first posted at www.davidcorn.com...

Should Americans have to pay to get the truth about how their government failed them?

Former CIA director George Tenet's new book has hit the bookstores. For $30 a reader can find out what really happened in that December 2002 meeting at the White House when Tenet used the phrase "slam dunk." Or what really happened with the prewar WMD intelligence and how it was used--or abused--by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others.

The usual promotional theatrics are underway. Tenet appeared on 60 Minutes on Sunday, and CBS had already released some choice tidbits of that interview. Meanwhile, The New York Times last week obtained a copy of the under-wraps book and reported some of its disclosures. (News flash: Cheney pushed the nation to war without ever seriously examining the threat posed by Iraq.)

All of this is making Tenet, the man who was in charge of an intelligence establishment that failed the country before 9/11 and that then produced an intelligence estimate that vastly overstated the WMD threat posed by Iraq, a rich fellow. He reportedly bagged millions of dollars for writing this book.

But here's an out-of-the-box question: Don't the citizens of the United States deserve to know what happened in the run-up to the war (and to 9/11) for free? Tenet may feel--as he claims--damn lousy about the screwed-up National Intelligence Estimate that helped pave the way to war in Iraq. But he did not feel bad enough to resign--or to disclose earlier what had gone wrong. He sat on the story and now is peddling it for personal profit.

Tenet should have long ago been questioned openly by a congressional committee about all this--though no Republican committee chair would have dared--or he should have spilled all to 60 Minutes and other media, as a public service, not as an advertisement for his book. On Friday, Representative Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House oversight and government reform committee, sent Tenet a letter asking him to testify before his committee on May 10 regarding "one of the claims used to justify the war in Iraq--the assertion that Iraq sought to import uranium from Niger--and related issues." Let's hope Tenet can take time from the book tour to appear.

Tenet's a smart guy who saw much. And he was screwed by the White House, even though he did fail to make sure the intelligence on Iraq was properly vetted and responsibly used. But if Tenet indeed believed before the invasion of Iraq that Bush and Cheney were pushing the nation to war without adequately assessing the threat or assessing options other than full-scale war, he had an obligation at the time to make that known--at least to members of Congress, if not the public at large. He did not do so. Consequently, he owes the public a full accounting and an apology--not a sales campaign.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Reality Check

Want a reality check on the implications of the Supreme Court verdict in Gonzales v. Carhart? Throwing out thirty years of legal precedent, the court declared that Congress has an interest in preserving fetal life over and above any implications for women's health. (No wonder Katha Pollitt's "upset." Her latest column Regrets Only is dead-right.) Which women will feel the impact? All women who ever become pregnant and want to make decisions for themselves. As Lynn Paltrow, of National Pregnant Women's Advocates told RadioNation 4/21/07, this is a decision that has potential to affect every woman who chooses to give birth at home, employ a midwife, have -- or not have -- a c-section. The implications for women's rights are devastating, not only for women who choose to abort but also for those who want to have choices as they carry their pregnancies to term.

Then there is the doctor's perspective. During the radio program, one ob-gyn called in from Seattle. She dared not use her name. Here's the transcript of that call:

RadioNation: How will this decision affect you?
Ob-gyn: The decision to perform 2nd term abortions was not easy for me. It's not an easy procedure to do, but I do it out of compassion for fellow human beings. How this will affect me is I will have to watch women who are in dire need of this procedure go without or go with much riskier procedures which include inducing labor in someone their 2nd trimester, or actual abdominal surgery.

RN: Who is your typical patient for this kind of procedure?
Ob-gyn: Many of the women I've treated in the past with this sort of surgery are women who are of limited means, or limited understanding and that most often causes delays. Those are most of the kind of women who need these kind of procedures and they are the very same [kind of] women who cannot afford to raise a child or to carry a fetus to term. [In addition,] many are women who have very severe disabilities...

RN: Is there one client who sticks in your mind tonight, who, if she came to tonight you'd have to turn away or would you take the risk of prosecution?

Ob-gyn: I would not. Unfortunately, I'm not that brave. As to who stands out in my mind, there was a 14 year-old girl who was born with a severe physical handicap. She was born with very brittle bones and had suffered many fractures (in utero and throughout her life.) She was in a wheel chair. Her body was very malformed and the pregnancy itself was a risk for her having fractures. Also, hers was a disease that was very easily inherited by her child -- the fetus was already diagnosed with it. It makes for a very difficult life with many, many, many medical complications. Being a 14 year old girl who was very, very physically handicapped. It makes you wonder how she got pregnant in the first place – whether it was in fact consensual.

RN: That's the kind of person Justice Kennedy claims to be protecting from self-harm, by banning access to a legal abortion?

Ob-gyn: When I heard the decision, my head almost exploded.

LF: Thanks for calling.

Ob-gyn: Thanks for talking about it. No body else seems to be talking about it.

LF: The decision is huge and we'll keep talking about it.

For more on Paltrow's work and analysis of activism in the states to defend abortion rights, check out Laura Flanders's new book, Blue Grit:True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (The Penguin Press, April, 2007.)