As Cuban Flag Rises in U.S. Capital, ‘Antiquated Policies’ Still in Place

The ‘removal of the economic, commercial and financial blockade… the return of occupied territory in Guantánamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba,’ must come next, said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez

by: Nadia Prupis

The Cuban embassy on Monday officially opened in Washington, D.C., exciting the many who support restoring diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation for the first time in 54 years.

But another raised flag in the U.S. capitol should not signify the end of the American effort to reestablish official ties with the country, Cuban officials and human rights activists said.

Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, who visited the U.S. capital for the first time on Monday for the flag-raising ceremony, said the U.S. must now lift its comprehensive trade embargo against the Caribbean nation and return the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay to the Cuban people.

“The historic events we are living today will only make sense with the removal of the economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes so much deprivation and damage to our people, the return of occupied territory in Guantánamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba,” Rodriguez said.

For its part, the peace activist group CodePink on Monday is hosting a party outside of the Cuban embassy during its opening ceremony, both to celebrate the normalizing of relations—announced in December by U.S. President Barack Obama—and to call attention to the important steps that must follow.

“[D]espite this encouraging act of diplomacy, more work needs to be done, including lifting the travel ban and the embargo, and returning the Guantánamo Naval Base to the Cuban people,” the organization said in a statement.

“Congress should ignore the few representatives who are opposed to normalization, and immediately pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act to allow Americans to travel to Cuba just as they are allowed to travel anywhere else in the world. This should be followed by the passage of the bill to lift the embargo, finally putting to rest the Helms Burton Act that codified the failed American policy of isolation and hostilities,” CodePink continued.

The U.S. broke off relations with Cuba in 1961 following two years of crumbling diplomacy in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, which saw the overthrowing of the U.S.-backed authoritarian government of President Fulgencio Batista.

Netfa Freeman, an organizer with the Campaign for a Just Policy Towards Cuba for the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote in an op-ed published at Common Dreams that Obama’s announcement in December recycled much of the same language that has been used by previous U.S. officials to justify ignoring Cuba’s right to self-governance.

Freeman wrote:

One need only listen closely to the announcement made by U.S. President Barack Obama — which was couched in language about “promoting change” on the island — to realize that while the strategy of undermining Cuba’s sovereign right to national self-determination has changed, the goal remains the same: regime change.

While the Obama administration insists that it’s just changing a U.S. policy that was “not working,” it remains an essentially disrespectful position against Cuba.

Better relations between Washington and Havana are a good thing, but they have to come from a place of respect. Both the Cuban and the American people have to see past the hypocritical rhetoric of the U.S. government to realistically determine their best interests in this new and unprecedented rapprochement.

CodePink’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, cautioned that the “opening [of] the embassies in Havana and Washington is a great and historic step, but everything that President Obama has done can be undone by the next president. Congress must now step up and pass the needed legislation to finally put an end to the antiquated policies towards Cuba that have failed for 54 years.”

Those ideas were also discussed in an interview with Democracy Now! on Monday. Benjamin and actor and activist Danny Glover reiterated the need to lift the sanctions.

“Viva la Cuba,” Glover said. “It is an important day for the Cuban revolution, it is an important day for the Cuban people, an important day for the American people, and for the world as well…. But it’s just the beginning, because the embargo is still in place.”

Responding to a growing concern over granting U.S. corporations free rein to establish businesses and trade in Cuba, Benjamin noted that the decision to enter into those relationships would be “up to the Cubans.”

“We can be very critical of the companies that are going to Cuba… but Cuba’s had 50 years to be worried about this,” Benjamin said. “I think we should trust that they’re going to make the decisions that they feel are best for them, and I think we can do things like support the co-ops, support the very small businesses, do things that kind of shape the economy that our friends in Cuba would like to see.”

In addition to the economic climate, Benjamin spoke briefly about the growing call for the U.S. to close Guantánamo Bay and return the land it sits on to Cuba. CodePink will travel to the U.S. military prison in November to stage actions on the ground of the naval base.

Source: As Cuban Flag Rises in U.S. Capital, ‘Antiquated Policies’ Still in Place | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Shocking and Ominous Statistics on Economic Inequality

© Josh Sager – July 2015

This week, Alternet released an amazing compilation of 35 inequality statistics that paint a truly dire picture about the future for a majority of the world population. It illustrates just how extreme income and wealth inequality have become in recent decades and points to several of the mechanisms that could help explain this inequality.

wealthgapmap

Here are a few key facts about income and wealth inequality paraphrased from the Alternet article:

  • World Wealth: The wealthiest 1% of the human race controls 46% of the total wealth, while the bottom 50% controls only 1% of the wealth—within the top 1%, the 85 richest individuals (0.000001% of the population) have more wealth than the poorest 3,500,000,000 (47.8% of the population)
  • Stagnating Wages: In the last 25 years, American workers have been more productive than ever, the economy has grown by 83% and corporate profits have doubled—conversely, the inflation-adjusted value of average wages have actually dropped during this time period, indicating that the money is being syphoned off at the top.
  • The US Income Disparity: The top 1% of American earners capture 20% of wages/compensation—within this top income demographic, the top .01% of earners capture 6% of total wages.
  • The US Wealth Disparity: The bottom 50% of the US population owns 2.5% of the country’s wealth while the top 1% owns 35% of wealth.
  • Recovery for the Rich Only: After the crash of 2008, the top 1% of Americans lost 16% of their wealth, while the bottom 99% lost 47% of their wealth—since the crash, the rich have taken more than 100% of total recovery gains, as their wealth has grown by over 28% while the average family has lost over 4% of its wealth.
  • The Increasing Racial Wealth Gap: The wage gap is particularly extreme when it is looked at in terms of race. An average white family has a net wealth of $113,000, while the average Hispanic family has an average wealth of only $6,300 and an black family has a net wealth of a mere $5,600.

Put simply, this type of inequality is unsustainable in the long-term and a wide-range of consequences will be unavoidable if it keeps increasing.

First and foremost, excessive inequality destabilizes the economy by reducing the total demand for goods (and thus jobs), forcing ever larger-numbers of people onto public welfare programs while reducing the tax base, and eroding the economic stability of a large majority of households. Excessive inequality is strongly correlated with economic crashes and there is no reason to believe that our economy has developed some new method of stabilizing itself that will allow it to survive the current levels of inequality.

Today, our society is the most unequal it has been since the year before the Great Depression, making our current level of inequality the economic equivalent of looking over the edge of a cliff and trying to decide whether to jump or walk away from the edge.

If you look at the above graph (from a study by Thomas Pikitty), you will notice how spikes in our nation’s income inequality occur shortly before the Great Depression in 1929, Black Monday in 1987, the 2000 recession and the Great Recession of 2008, illustrating this pattern. With inequality still on the rise (this graph only goes up to 2012), the danger of a crash will only get worse until something is done to fix the situation or our economy implodes like it did in 1929 or 2008.

In addition to harming the economy as a whole, inequality harms individuals and families. Over the last several decades, the rich have established a system that allows them to reap most of the rewards from private production while opting out of paying for the social safety net (tax cuts)—conversely, the poor and middle classes are forced to compete for a shrinking portion of the pie while taking out even more debt. This means that the rich are able to build their mansions in gated communities, while everybody else works until their late 60s (if not later) at jobs that never translate productivity to fair compensation.

In particular, the next generation bears the brunt of this inequality. Students today are taking out thousands of dollars in debt to go to school, only to graduate and face crushing competition for jobs with low wages, benefits and security—gone are the days when recent graduates can easily get well-paying jobs and quickly pay back the costs of their education.

Many of these students have become the indentured serfs of the modern era. They go into debt so that they can work in a chose field (like how serfs would rent equipment) and they will be scraping to pay back this debt for the bulk of their lives. This constant need to service their debt will force them to live in fear of losing their job (giving their employers greater leverage over them for wages) while putting off buying a house or raising a family in comfort.

Solutions

While the problems of income and wealth inequality are massive and political difficult to address, they are actually not that hard to solve from a purely policy perspective. We know exactly what must be done to address inequality, but are largely unable to do so because the wealthy have been allowed to literally buy power over our political system.

First, we need to implement massive tax reform: Increase the marginal tax rates on the rich, force corporations to stop offshoring and start paying their share, equalize taxation on investment and labor income (capital gains and income taxes), and remove the bulk of the high-income loopholes.

Second, we need to enforce stronger worker protections: Promote unionization and force corporations to pay a living wage rather than offloading the costs of employing Americans onto social safety net programs (ex. Walmart relying on food stamps for employees to eat)

Third, we need to repurpose money that our government is currently wasting to more efficient purposes: Significantly cut our military and end corporate welfare (ex. oil/gas/corn subsidies) in order to pass for massive infrastructure investments, establish universal and free public higher education, start a single-payer healthcare system, and properly fund programs that primarily benefit the middle class.

Kayaktivists Across the Country Paddle in Protest of Arctic Drilling

Shell oil exploration could begin any day now, activists warn

by: Lauren McCauley

Environmentalists furious with President Barack Obama’s continued support for Arctic drilling on Saturday descended on the White House and paddled onto waterways across the United States united in a call to end this dangerous expansion of our fossil fuel energy system.

In a display of solidarity with Seattle’s ‘kayaktivists’—who through repeated direct actionshave tried to thwart Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling plans—activists in Minnesota, Florida, Boston, Detroit, and elsewhere launched floating protests to denounce what theysay is a “fool’s journey” to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea in the Alaskan Arctic.

Meanwhile, in Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Park, protesters donned polar bear and walrus suits and held signs calling on the president to suspend Shell’s permit. The oil giant’s drilling fleet is currently making its way from the Port of Seattle to the Alaskan coast, where it could begin exploratory drilling as soon as next week, activists warn.

Environmentalists have repeatedly criticized Arctic drilling as one of the most dangerous and extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction, as it threatens one of the world’s most pristine ecosystems while concurrently ensuring even greater carbon emissions.

“The fossil-fuel industry wants us to believe we’re stuck with oil and all the damage, danger, and destruction it brings,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote this week. “That we have no choice but to accept that 30 years from now we might need Arctic oil — based on demand assumptions, which the International Energy Agency says would result in an average global temperature increase of at least six degrees Celsius — three times what science states the planet can sustain.”

“Well, we’re not stuck with oil,” Suh continued. “We can do better than assume climate failure.”

The Day of Action was organized by citizen activists with support from national environmental groups including 350.org, Alaska Wilderness League, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club.

Those who couldn’t paddle out were encouraged to take to social media to share their disapproval over the drilling plan. Images of the actions were shared online with the hashtag #ShellNo.

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

Source: Kayaktivists Across the Country Paddle in Protest of Arctic Drilling | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community