Wednesday, March 7, 2018

D. Koutsoumpas: the “interest” of the USA-NATO-EU in the Balkans is dangerous for the peoples


The working people of the Greek part of Macedonia declared their decision to escalate the struggle against the imperialist plans and dangers that they are bringing for the peoples of our country and the wider region, defying the rain and participating in mass and combative way in the large rally of the Central Macedonia Party Organization of the KKE in Thessalonica (6/3/2018). The central speaker at the rally was the GS of the CC of the KKE, Dimitris Koutsoumpas, who presented the positions of the party on the developments in the Balkans, the Middle East, Greco-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue, after the escalation of the aggressiveness of Turkey.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

GOP’s proposed Medicare voucher program would lead to demise of the system

The Hill
March 5, 2018
GOP’s proposed Medicare voucher program would lead to demise of the system
By Max Richtman

A request for public comment from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has caught the eye of a group of Democratic Senators, alarmed about its implications for the future of Medicare. 

In February, 15 Senators sent a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma expressing concern over a Fall, 2017 Request for Information (RFI) regarding a “new direction” for Medicare’s Innovation Center — and the agency’s subsequent failure to make public the more than 1,000 comments it received.

At the heart of the Senator’s concerns is ambiguous language in the RFI that suggests a shift toward converting Medicare into a voucher program, which would, “fundamentally restructure the guaranteed benefit traditional Medicare provides to older adults and people with disabilities.”  

The Senator’s concerns are well-founded, since Republicans in Congress (most prominently, Speaker Paul Ryan) have long-dreamed of privatizing Medicare by turning it into a voucher system — something that we and other senior organizations adamantly oppose. 

Under the GOP’s voucher system, private plans could tailor their benefits to attract the youngest and healthiest seniors, leaving traditional Medicare with older and sicker beneficiaries. 

Their higher health care costs would lead to higher premiums that seniors would be unable or unwilling to pay, resulting in a death spiral for traditional Medicare.  

This latest action is part of an ideological tilt to the right by CMS under Verma’s leadership — with subversion of traditional Medicare as one of the apparent aims. 

The agency has demonstrated a bias toward private Medicare Advantage plans over traditional Medicare.

In the case of the implicit shift toward privatizing Medicare, the 15 Senators suggest that CMS may be breaking the law. 

“We believe you are violating statutory requirements to safeguard older adults and people with disabilities from paying onerous out-of-pocket costs and going without needed health care,” says their letter to Verma.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare


Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: Innovation Center New Direction

Through this informal Request for Information (RFI) the CMS Innovation Center (Innovation Center) is seeking your feedback on a new direction to promote patient-centered care and test market-driven reforms that empower beneficiaries as consumers, provide price transparency, increase choices and competition to drive quality, reduce costs, and improve outcomes.

II. Provisions of this RFI

  B. Potential Models

    2. Consumer-Directed Care & Market-Based Innovation Models

      CMS believes beneficiaries should be empowered as consumers to drive change in the health system through their choices. Consumer-directed care models could empower Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP beneficiaries to make choices from among competitors in a market-driven healthcare system. To better inform consumers about the cost and quality implications of different choices, CMS may develop models to facilitate and encourage price and quality transparency, including the compilation, analysis, and release of cost data and quality metrics that inform beneficiaries about their choices. CMS will consider new options for beneficiaries to promote consumerism and transparency. For example, beneficiaries could choose to participate in arrangements that would allow them to keep some of the savings when they choose a lower-cost option, or that incentivize them to achieve better health. Models that we are considering testing include allowing Medicare beneficiaries to contract directly with healthcare providers, having providers propose prices to inform beneficiary choices and transparency, offering bundled payments for full episodes of care with groups of providers bidding on the payment amount, and launching preferred provider networks.

    5. Medicare Advantage (MA) Innovation Models

      CMS wants to work with Medicare Advantage (MA) plans to drive innovation, better quality and outcomes, and lower costs. CMS seeks to provide MA plans the flexibility to innovate and achieve better outcomes. CMS is currently implementing an MA plan model, the Medicare Advantage Value-Based Insurance Design (VBID) model, that provides benefit design flexibility to incentivize beneficiaries to choose high-value services; but this model could be modified to provide more flexibility to MA plans and potentially add additional states. More generally, CMS is interested in more models in the MA plan space and regulatory flexibility as necessary for purposes of testing such models. CMS is potentially interested in a demonstration in Medicare Advantage that incentivizes MA plans to compete for beneficiaries, including those beneficiaries currently in Medicare fee-for-service (FFS), based on quality and cost in a transparent manner. CMS is also interested in what additional flexibilities are needed regarding supplemental benefits that could be included to increase choice, improve care quality, and reduce cost. Additionally, CMS seeks comments on what options might exist beyond FFS and MA for paying for care delivery that incorporate price sensitivity and a consumer driven or directed focus and might be tested as alternatives to FFS and MA.


United States Senate
February 22, 2018
Letter to Ms. Seema Verma, Administrator, CMS


We are writing to express our continued opposition to the concepts unveiled and the process used in a Request for Information (RFI) regarding "a new direction" for Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (Innovation Center). ...we continue to urge you to provide clarity on the specific model types under consideration.

In the RFI, CMS appeared to seek input on a possible model to restructure Medicare through a premium support or voucher program. We interpreted the RFI to mean that CMS is considering models that would fundamentally restructure the guaranteed benefit traditional Medicare provides to older adults and people with disabilities. Other Members of Congress, select journalists as well as patient and consumer advocates have expressed a similar interpretation and voiced concerns about the Innovation Center's intentions.

While we understand that the RFI does not explicitly mention the terms 'premium support' or 'voucher,' the ambiguity of the proposal allows for a variety of interpretations... Absent further clarification, we do not believe Members of Congress, diverse stakeholders in the health community, and the public were provided a sufficient opportunity to comment on the model concepts outlined in the RFI.

Our concern is compounded by the fact that the proposals under consideration may not allow for Medicare beneficiaries to maintain choice and that beneficiaries may not have the ability to opt out of Innovation Center models.

Additionally, we remain troubled by the Innovation Center's plans to develop and implement the payment model described as "...allowing Medicare beneficiaries to contract directly with healthcare providers." We believe you are violating statutory requirements to safeguard older adults and people with disabilities from paying onerous out-of-pocket costs and going without needed care.

Again, we urge you to publicly post RFI comments instead of obfuscating regular process in order to withhold unfavorable comments from public view or decide against responding to certain comments.

Signed, Senators Casey, Nelson, Brown, Whitehouse, Gillibrand, Market, Donnelly, Shaheen, Reed, Warren, Blumenthal, King, Cardin, Menendez, and Smith


Comment by Don McCanne

Without waiting for Congress to act, the Trump administration is moving forward with policies to shift government health programs to the private sector. The conservatives have long desired to privatize Medicare through premium support (vouchers), and it appears that they have devised a deceptive means of sneaking it in through this Request for Information. We need to watch this process closely, even though it is taking place behind closed doors, lest we find that it is published in the Federal Register and becomes the regulatory law of the land by administrative fiat.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Protecting our communities means keeping our unions strong

The rights of working people to join together in strong unions have strengthened their voice for higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces and communities. Unfortunately, over the last few decades, big corporations and CEOs have conducted well-funded attacks, and the newest attempt is before the Supreme Court.
Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is a case designed to dramatically reduce union dues and starve the very entities that are representing workers at the bargaining table. If the lower court ruling against Mark Janus, a public-sector workerwho doesn’t want to pay fees to the labor union that represents him, were overturned, this would effectively mean all public employees have the so-called “right to work.”
This is a big problem, and here’s why.
Right now, the gap between rich and poor is larger than ever. Those pushing Janus are doing so because the freedom to form and join a union is one of the few tools workers have at their disposal to level the playing field with big corporations. As union membership has declined, the income gap has risen dramatically,with those at the top getting richer, while leaving the rest of us behind. Dramatically weakening labor unions will only make things worse.
The efforts to weaken and destroy unions ensure everyone loses. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that wages in those so-called “right-to-work” states are 3.1 percent lower than in states that don’t put those limitations on collective bargaining. EPI also found that, on average, a worker covered by a union contract earns 13.2 percent more in wages than a peer with similar education, occupation, and experience in a nonunionized workplace in the same sector.
Unions are also part of a broader movement to build a strong economy that works for all of us. Unions have allied themselves with other progressive organizations to protect Americans’ basic rights and to address the threat of climate change and other environmental challenges. Unions invest in training workers. Union workers can and do collectively bargain to make their workplaces, communities, and the environment safer and healthier. They have the ability to blow the whistle when they see dangers to themselves, their co-workers, the community around their workplace, and the environment because they know their union is in their corner to help protect them.
Finally, under this scenario, labor unions would represent workers even if they don’t pay dues into the union, which is unfair to the people that do pay union dues because workers are not just bargaining for their own wages — they are raising wages, improving benefits, and making workplaces safer and healthier for all workers in the marketplace. Collective bargaining by teachers in Philadelphia, for instance, ensured that school water systems are getting tested for lead, stopped class size increases for students, and ensured that each school has at least one nurse and counselor.
More people are realizing the danger we face and are speaking out against it. Working people and their allies will be joining together in 10 cities across the country Saturday, February 24, for Working People’s Day of Action to fight for the right to form strong unions, equal pay, affordable health care, quality schools, and a secure future for us all. Then, on Monday, February 26, union members from around the country will rally on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court and at 300 cities across the country as the court prepares to hear the case.
To protect our economy, environment, and communities, we need to keep unions strong. Together, we can help ensure workers have a voice on the job and an opportunity to make all of our lives better, as well.
Kim Glas is the executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, which unites labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that build a stronger, fairer economy. Glas previously held senior leadership positions in the Obama administration — as the deputy assistant secretary for Textiles, Consumer Goods, and Materials at the U.S. Department of Commerce — and the U.S. House of Representatives. Follow Glas and the BlueGreen Alliance on Twitter @BGAlliance.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Black lung disease on the rise: 5 questions answered

February 16, 2018 6.41am EST

Editor’s note: An article published Feb. 6, 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health had identified 416 cases of advanced black lung disease among coal miners in central Appalachia. New cases of black lung had been rare until recently, but this study suggests that the incidence is rising. Anna Allen and Carl Werntz, professors of occupational medicine at West Virginia University who treat miners with black lung, explain what causes this disabling disease.
What is black lung disease, and what causes it?
Underground mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Risks include inhaling toxic gases, such as methane, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide; being crushed by roof falls or mining equipment; drowning when tunnels fill with water; and injury in fires and explosions. Even if miners survive the workplace, they may suffocate to death years later.
Surface and underground mining is associated with two pneumoconioses, or dust diseases of the lung. Black lung disease, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, comes from inhaling coal mine dust. The other disease, silicosis, is caused by inhaling silica dust from crushed rocks. Black lung and silicosis often appear together because coal seams are found between rock layers that contain silica.
When miners inhale dust, it deposits along their airways. Their bodies try to remove the dust by sending in special white blood cells called macrophages to engulf and chemically digest it. But the cells are unable to break down the dust, so they die and release enzymes that damage lung tissue. This causes problems that include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and fibrosis (scarring). In progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe version of black lung, scarring causes lung volume to shrink, further damaging adjacent lung tissue and making air exchange even worse.
Miners typically work 10 to 12 hours a day and up to seven days a week. This increases their exposure time and decreases the recovery time their bodies need to heal damage from silica and coal dust particles. Traditionally, black lung was associated with miners who had been working for at least 20 years, with symptoms often appearing after retirement. The recent trend is that black lung, including progressive massive fibrosis, is occurring after a shorter time in mining – as little as five years mining underground.
Are you surprised by the large case cluster described in the JAMA article?
The “hot spot” described in the JAMA study is in parts of western Virginia, southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. This area includes three of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administrationenforcement districts – areas where the agency inspects coal mines and investigates accidents and complaints from miners.
We see patients in Morgantown in north-central West Virginia and Cabin Creek in south-central West Virginia. We have noticed increased severity of disease in patients in the southern part of the state. During our first year, from June 2016 to May 2017, working in Cabin Creek providing federally authorized black lung exams, the incidence was 16 percent for black lung and about 6 percent for progressive massive fibrosis. In contrast, the same exams in our Morgantown clinic found black lung in less than 3 percent of cases, and only a few progressive massive fibrosis cases in four years.
What do you think could be causing more cases of black lung disease?
The increase is likely the result of several factors. Much of the coal in the area of the JAMA study is so-called “low coal,” with seams that are only 20 to 36 inches high. This “low coal” is hard to mine but profitable because it is metallurgical coal, which has high value for steel production.
Manufacturers stopped producing shorter machines designed for mining “low coal” in about 1990 due to quality control problems. Now mines use taller machines designed for seams that are 32 to 36 inches high. As these machines cut coal from the seam, they must remove at least 12 to 16 inches of sandstone adjacent to the coal.
Cutting that much sandstone significantly increases miners’ exposure to silica dust from the crushed rock. Newer machines also cut through coal and rock much more quickly than older models, generating more dust. Generally, what we call black lung is primarily silicosis in a coal miner, so silica exposure is significant to the development and progression of disease.
Working in “low coal” also involves more physical effort than mining “high coal.” Crawling and stooping while carrying mining gear and operating equipment requires more physical effort. Miners breathe more heavily and frequently, which can increase dust exposure. And it is hard to keep air flowing smoothly through these smaller mines, so dust concentrations may be higher in some spots.
What does the coal industry do to prevent black lung?
Screening is available to current miners through the federal government’s Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program, which uses x-rays to detect early changes in the lungs. This information is shared with miners so they can decide whether to continue working in coal mining, but is kept private from their employers.
The main way to prevent black lung is to keep miners from inhaling dust. After 20 years of debate, recent changes in federal law decreased the allowed exposure from 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter of air to 1.5 milligrams. Continuous personal dust sampling has also been implemented so that miners can have real-time data on their exposures. This information is then used to determine whether a mine requires more frequent inspections.
To decrease dust exposure, mine operators can spray water to knock dust out of the air, increase air flow in tunnels to move dust out more quickly, or require miners to wear respirators.
What resources are available for miners who may have black lung?
Black lung diagnosis can be complicated. Some of the most common symptoms include shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, chronic cough, coughing up phlegm and inability to breathe lying flat. Other diseases can cause similar symptoms, so it is important for miners to talk to their primary care doctors.
Some states have workers compensation programs that offer benefits to workers diagnosed with black lung. The Federal Black Lung Program provides medical coverage for eligible miners with lung diseases related to pneumoconiosis, along with benefits for those who are totally disabled by it, and for families of miners who die of black lung disease.
There is no cure for black lung disease – we can only treat symptoms. Medications, such as inhaled steroids, can help patients breathe more easily. More severe cases can require oxygen and possibly lung transplants. One step patients can take is to stop smoking, which also destroys lung tissue. Smoking does not cause black lung, but it can make the symptoms more severe.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear

Photo by Richard Bromley | CC BY 2.0

FEBRUARY 21, 2018

“We are selling the greatest product on earth. Why shouldn’t we promote it as effectively as we promote a bar of soap?”
— Billy Graham, Saturday Evening Post, 1963
Billy Graham was a preacher man equally intent on saving souls and soliciting financial support for his ministry. His success at the former is not subject to proof and his success at the latter is unrivaled. He preached to millions on every ice-free continent and led many to his chosen messiah.
When Graham succumbed to various ailments this week at the age of 99 he left behind an organization that is said to have touched more people than any other Christian ministry in history, with property, assets and a name-brand worth hundreds of millions. The address lists of contributors alone comprise a mother lode for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, now headed by his son and namesake, William Franklin Graham, III.
Graham also left behind a United States government in which religion plays a far greater role than before he intruded into politics in the 1950s. The shift from secular governance to “In God We Trust” can be laid squarely at this minister’s feet.
Graham’s message was principally one of fear: fear of a wrathful god; fear of temptation; fear of communists and socialists; fear of unions; fear of Catholics; fear of homosexuals; fear of racial integration and above all, fear of death. But as a balm for such fears, he promised listeners eternal life, which he said was readily claimed through acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s savior.
Furthermore, he assured listeners that God loved us so much that He created governments, the most blessed form being  Western capitalist democracy. To make this point, he frequently quoted Romans 13, particularly the first two verses. In the New American Standard Version of the Bible, they read, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”
The question of whether this was actually the recorded word of God or a rider inserted into the bill by Roman senators with rather more worldly aims never dimmed Graham’s insistence that all governments are the work of the Almighty. Almost perversely, he even endorsed the arrest of a woman who lofted a Christian banner during his Reagan-era visit to Moscow, opting for the crack-down of “divine” authority over the civil disobedience of a believer.
Governments, he reminded his Moscow listeners, do God’s work.
Based on that Biblical mandate for all governments, Graham stood in solid opposition to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, all but addressed to Graham, King noted, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ … If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws. ”
Fear is the stock in trade of most evangelists, of course, comprising the necessary setup before the pitch. As historian William Martin explained in his 1991 account of Graham’s early sermons, “… even those whose personal lives seemed rich and fulfilling must live in a world filled with terror and threat. As a direct result of sinful humanity’s rebellion against God, our streets have become jungles of terror, mugging, rape, and death. Confusion reigns on campuses as never before. Political leaders live in constant fear of the assassin’s bullet. Racial tension seems certain to unleash titanic forces of hatred and violence. Communism threatens to eradicate freedom from the face of the earth. Small nations are getting the bomb, so that global war seems inevitable. High-speed objects, apparently guided by an unknown intelligence, are coming into our atmosphere for reasons no one understands. Clearly, all signs point to the end of the present world order.
“… Graham’s basic mode of preaching in these early years was assault. … Then, when he had his listeners mentally crouching in terror, aware that all the attractively labeled escape routes—alcohol, sexual indulgence, riches, psychiatry, education, social-welfare programs, increased military might, the United Nations—led ultimately to dead ends, he held out the only compass that pointed reliably to the straight and narrow path that leads to personal happiness and lasting peace.”
Columnist and former priest James Carroll had much the same take, noting that “Graham had his finger on the pulse of American fear, and in subsequent years, anti communism occupied the nation’s soul as an avowedly religious obsession. The Red scare at home, unabashed moves toward empire abroad, the phrase ‘under God’ inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance, the scapegoating of homosexuals as ‘security risks,’ an insane accumulation of nuclear weapons, suicidal wars against postcolonial insurgencies in Asia—a set of desperate choices indeed. Through it all, Billy Graham was the high priest of the American crusade, which is why U.S. presidents uniformly sought his blessing.”
While Carroll had most of that right, the record suggests that, over and over again, it was Graham who sought presidential blessing, rather than the other way around. Letters enshrined in the presidential and Graham libraries reveal a preacher endlessly seeking official audience. As Truman said, years after his presidency, “Well, I hadn’t ought to say this, but he’s one of those counterfeits I was telling you about. He claims he’s a friend of all the presidents, but he was never a friend of mine when I was president.”
Of course, politicians have often brandished fear as well, and the twin streams of fear-based politics and fear-based religion couldn’t have been more confluent. Communist infiltrators, missile gaps and the domino effect each took their turn, as did the Evil Empire and, more recently, Saddam, Osama bin Laden and an amorphous threat of global terrorism.
In light of the Biblical endorsement of rulers, Graham supported police repression of Vietnam war protesters and civil rights marchers, opposed Martin Luther King’s tactic of civil disobedience, supported South American despots, and publicly supported every war or intervention waged by the United States from Korea forward.
Born on a prosperous dairy farm and educated at Wheaton College, Graham first gained national attention in 1949 when the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, searching for a spiritual icon to spread his anti-communist sentiments, discovered the young preacher holding forth at a Los Angeles tent meeting. Hearst wired his editors across the nation, “puff Graham,” and he was an instant sensation.
Hearst next contacted his friend and fellow publisher Henry Luce. Their Wall Street ally, Bernard Baruch, arranged a meeting between Luce and Graham while the preacher was staying with the segregationist Governor Strom Thurmond in the official mansion in Columbia, S.Car. Luce concurred with Hearst about Graham’s marketability and Time and Life were enlisted in the job of selling the soap of salvation to the world. Time, alone, has run more than 600 stories about Graham.
The man who would become known as “the minister to presidents” offered his first military advice in 1950. On June 25, North Korean troops invaded South Korea and Graham sent Truman a telegram. “MILLIONS OF CHRISTIANS PRAYING GOD GIVE YOU WISDOM IN THIS CRISIS. STRONGLY URGE SHOWDOWN WITH COMMUNISM NOW. MORE CHRISTIANS IN SOUTHERN KOREA PER CAPITA THAN ANY PART OF WORLD. WE CANNOT LET THEM DOWN.”
It was the first time Graham encouraged a president to go to war, and with characteristic hyperbole: Korea has never topped the list of Christian-leaning nations. Subsequently, Graham gave his blessing to every conflict under every president from Truman to the second Bush, and most of the presidents, pleased to enjoy public assurance of God’s approval, made him welcome in the White House. Graham excoriated Truman for firing General Douglas MacArthur and supported the general’s plan to invade China. He went so far as to urge Nixon to bomb dikes in Vietnam—knowing that it would kill upward of a million civilians—and he claimed to have sat on the sofa next to G.H.W. Bush as the bombs began falling in the first Gulf War (though Bush’s diary version of the evening somehow excludes Graham, as does a White House video of Bush during the attack).
According to Bush’s account, in a phone call the preceding week, Graham quoted poetry that compared the President to a messiah destined to save the world, and in the next breath called Saddam the Antichrist. Bush wrote that Graham suggested it was his historical mission to destroy Saddam.
Through the years, Graham’s politics earned him some strange bedfellows. He praised Senator Joseph McCarthy and supported his assault on Constitutional rights, then scolded the Senate for censuring McCarthy for his excesses. He befriended oil men and arms manufacturers. He defended Nixon after Watergate, right up to the disgraced president’s resignation, and faced public scorn when tapes were aired that exposed the foul-mouthed President as a schemer and plotter. Nixon’s chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, reported on Graham’s denigration of Jews in his posthumously published diary—a claim Graham vehemently denied until released tapes undid him in 2002. Caught with his prejudicial pants down, Graham claimed ignorance of the hour-and-a-half long conversation in which he led the antisemite attack.
As reported by the Associated Press on March 2, 2002:
“Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon . . . some 30 years ago,” Graham said in a statement released by his Texas public relations firm. “They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks.”
Whether or not the comments reflect Graham’s views at the time or thirty years later, it is his defense that bears much closer scrutiny. What were we to make of a preacher who insisted that his words didn’t reflect his beliefs? Were we to believe him then or later, on other matters?
Graham was a political operative, reporting to Kennedy on purported communist insurgencies in Latin America, turning over lists of activist Christians to the Republican party, conferring regularly with J. Edgar Hoover and networking with the CIA in South America and Vietnam. He was even assigned by Nixon’s operatives to talk George Wallace out of a second run for the White House.
To accomplish the latter, he phoned Wallace as he was coming out of an anesthetic stupor after one of his numerous post-assassination-attempt surgeries. While the long suffering gunshot victim asked the minister to pray for him, the minister asked him not to make a third-party bid for the presidency. “I won’t do anything to help McGovern,” Wallace replied.
There are many who would argue that the good that Graham did outweighs whatever political intrigue he embraced, and even the several wars he enthusiastically endorsed. To the extent that bringing people to Christ is of benefit to them, an untestable hypothesis, he was successful with his calls to come forward. He accrued hundreds of millions of dollars which were used to extend his ministry and thereby bring more people to “be saved,” which is self-justifying but fails as evidence of goodness.
If Christian beliefs about the hereafter prove correct, we will all presumably discover what good he accomplished, or what chance for salvation we missed, in the sweet by and by.
In talking to one of his biographers, Graham recalled his mood during his fire and brimstone declamations, “I would feel as though I had a sword, a rapier, in my hand, and I would be slashing deeper and deeper into the consciences of the people before me, cutting away straight to their very souls.”
In that regard, Graham’s largest and most lasting monument is a highway cut through Beaucatcher Mountain, blasted through a majestic land form that once bisected Asheville, N.Car. He helped convince recalcitrant landowners to permit the excavation and construction through the cut of the short stretch of Interstate highway subsequently named the Billy Graham Freeway.
Downwind residents report that the weather has permanently shifted due to the gaping mountain maw and the future of the highway that transects the city continues to be one of the most divisive issues in that southern metropolis.
“Straight to their very souls,” indeed.
In every way, Graham was the spiritual father of today’s right-wing religious leaders who so inhabit the national conversation. If he cloaked his suasion in public neutrality it was the hallmark of an era in which such intrusion was deemed unseemly. If today’s practitioners are less abashed, it is in many ways reflective of the secure foundation Graham built within Republican and conservative circles.
Graham endorsed and courted Eisenhower and compared a militaristic State of the Union speech to the Sermon on the Mount, fanned anti-Catholic flames in the Nixon-Kennedy contest, backed Johnson and then Nixon in Vietnam, lobbied for arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan years, conveyed foreign threats and entreaties for Clinton and lent his imprimateur to G.W. Bush as he declared war on terrorism from the pulpit of the National Cathedral.
Billy Graham approved of warriors and war, weapons of mass destruction (in white, Christian hands) and covert operations. He publicly declaimed the righteousness of battle with enemies of American capitalism, abetted genocide in oil-rich Ecuador and surrounds and endorsed castration as punishment for rapists. A terrible swift sword for certain, and effective no doubt, but not much there in the way of turning the other cheek.
Graham will be cordially remembered by those who found solace in his golden promises and happy homilies, but the worldly blowback from his ministry is playing out in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chechnya and Korea, the Phillipines and Colombia—everywhere governments threaten human rights and pie in the sky is offered in lieu of daily bread.
In the words of  Graham’s ministerial and secular adversary, Dr. King, “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
Farewell Reverend Graham. Let justice roll.
Cecil Bothwell is author of The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Chrisitan Empire, (Brave Ulysses Books, 2007) and Whale Falls: An exploration of belief and its consequences (Brave Ulysses Books, 2010).

Monday, February 19, 2018

100 years after the Swiss General Strike of 1918

In the occasion of the anniversary of the event that had established workers protagonism in our national history, the Communist Party (Switzerland) decided to dedicate its 2018 member card to the General Strike which happened 100 years ago.

In November 1918 modern Switzerland, born on the Federal Constitution of 1848, has been shocked by the biggest political and social crisis of its history: the tensions which divided the bourgeois class from the working class exploded in the General Strike (Landesstreik) summoned by the «Olten Committee» - in the representation of trade unions and left-wing associations and parties - which mobilized for a week 250’000 workers.

Originally there were the sufferings the Great War also caused in Switzerland: terrible labor conditions, unsustainable work schedule, lack of democracy, and food inflation are only some of the problems that loaded the majority of the Swiss population, which is in the same time forced to observe the park of profit coming from the business world, weighted up by the war economy. In the "arm wrestling" swiss bourgeois didn’t hesitate to use violence to repress the strikers. In Grenchen three of them died by the swiss (leverage) army, which was lined up to defend the established order, and other three thousands people - in which there were the movement leaders - were subjected to the martial court judgement. 

The Swiss General Strike of 1918 reaches this year his hundredth anniversary in a Country that still struggle to recognize the importance of this event in the national history. On the side of the strong repression and communist which-hunt that caused the strike, many reform processes were born because of this event, which brang Switzerland to conquer lots of right still useful today, as a major involvement of the worker world in the decision process, a relevant reduction of the working time, the introduction of the "AVS" (retirement insurance) and "AI" (invalidity insurance), the sign of collective labor agreements and the adoption of the proportional system in the parliament elections.

The emblematic photography chosen for the Communist Party's Member Card 2018 was taken in novembre 1918 in Zurich: in the Paradeplatz (the swiss "Wall Street") the strikers faced the swiss army (composed by made up of leveraged recruits) and cavalry, which were lined up with the employers in order to defend their interests, symbolized by Swiss Bank Society building forerunner of the actual UBS.

If 2017 had been the year that permitted the communists of all the world to elaborate the fundamental role of the leninist-type Party able to accomplish a revolution, 2018 will be for us a moment to reflect on the hostile role of the swiss army to the social conflict, and also the system integration process of the social democratic forces, but above them all, on the need to renew our trade union praxis to give back the Unions to the workers and not to the corporate leaders.

Friday, February 16, 2018

NGO Action News- 16 February 2018

This week's NGO Action News has just been published. The newsletter summarizes activities undertaken or planned by civil society organisations across the globe as well as UN action on the question of Palestine over the week. Please feel free to inform us about your activities and publications by emailing us at and to forward this newsletter to your supporters. We welcome your organization's contributions, questions or comments.
Best wishes,

Division for Palestinian Rights
Department of Political Affairs
United Nations

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·         On 13 February, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)-Israel and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights released a joint press release, expressing great concern about negative trends regarding access to vital medical services for patients from Gaza.

·         On 12 February, the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), a coalition of over 70 international NGOs working in the OPT, published its new report “50 Years of Occupation: Dispossession, Deprivation and De-Development”.

·         On 12 February, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor drew attention to the humanitarian situation of Palestinian travellers stranded on both sides of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

·         Citing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides that children shall only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate time, Human Rights Watch expressed on 12 February concern at the pre-trial detention of 17-year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi.

Middle East
·         On 15 February, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights released a briefing paper highlighting the impact of aerial spraying by Israeli forces on farmlands and livelihoods in the Gaza Strip.

·         On 14 February, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported on Israeli plans to build a new religious settlement in East Jerusalem and called on the international community to ensure respect for the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the OPT including East Jerusalem.

·         On 13 February, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association informed that in the context of campaigns to defend their human rights, Palestinian administrative detainees had decided to boycott proceedings in Israeli military courts.

·         On 12 February, Peace Now criticized plans approved the same day by the Higher Planning Committee of the Israeli Civil Administration in the occupied West Bank as effectively leading to the establishment of new Israeli settlements, further undermining prospects for peace through a two-State solution.

·         On 11 February, the Geneva Initiative published its annual report, featuring educational activities implemented in 2017 by its two offices: the Palestinian Peace Coalition in Palestine and H.L. Education for Peace in Israel.

North America
·         On 10 March, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights is hosting in Cambridge, MA, Ilan Pappe, Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at Exeter University, for a talk on his 2017 book “The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories”.

·         On 1 March, American Friends of the Parents Circle – Families Forum is organizing a webinar on “Radicalization in Israel; Anti-normalization in Palestine – What’s a Peacemaker to Do?” Online registration is open.

·         On 23 February, the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University (NYU) is hosting a screening of the film “Take my Pictures for Me”, directed by Mohammed Al-Azza and Amahl Bishara. A discussion with Amahl Bishara and Zachary Lockman, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU, is planned after the screening.

·         On 21 February, the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) and the OneVoice Movement, is inviting to a discussion with Maya Berry, Arab American Institute; Khaled Elgindy, the Brookings Institution; Abdallah Hamarsheh, Zimam; and Obada Shtaya, OneVoice Movement, on “Envisioning Palestine: Strategies for Palestinian Self-Determination”.

·         On 20 February, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University is hosting Palestinian researcher Toufic Haddad for a talk on his book “Palestine Ltd: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory”.

·         Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) has launched the campaign “Lent 2018: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”, calling for a shared city for two peoples and the three Abrahamic faith traditions. The campaign has already featured several webinars with Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann, legal expert Moien Odeh and Lara Friedman, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP).

·         On 12 February, Dream Defenders released a statement in support of Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, signed by actors, athletes, artists and activists.

·         On 7 February, CMEP welcomed reports that over one hundred Members of the US Congress had added their names to a letter urging President Trump to reinstate funding to UNRWA.

·         On 21 February, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Essex University is hosting Akanksha Mehta, lecturer in International Relations and Gender at the University of Sussex, for a talk on “Negotiating Space on the Right: Everyday Politics of Israeli Zionist Settler Women in the Southern West Bank”.

·         On 2 February, Norwegian Member of Parliament Bjørnar Moxnes officially nominated the Palestinian-led global BDS movement for a Nobel Peace Prize. The UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have launched a petition seeking signatures to urge the Nobel Committee to grant the prize to the BDS movement.

United Nations
·         On 22 February, the Permanent Missions of Bolivia, France, Kuwait and Sweden to the United Nations are hosting at UNHQ in New York (CR 1, 10 a.m.) an Arria-formula meeting of the UN Security Council on “Prospects for the Two-State Solution for Peace”. Statements by former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, former UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd, and the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Jan Egeland will be delivered at the meeting.