'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Katrina's Children 

Hurricane Katrina made landfall four years ago, resulting in one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in American history. Sadly, the horrific ripples seem to just spread wider and wider with the passage of time, as reported by Newsweek last fall:

Even before the storm, they were some of the country's neediest kids. Now, the children of Katrina who stayed longest in ramshackle government trailer parks in Baton Rouge are the sickest I have ever seen in the U.S., says Irwin Redlener, president of the Children's Health Fund and a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. According to a new report by CHF and Mailman focusing on 261 displaced children, the well-being of the poorest Katrina kids has declined to an alarming level since the hurricane. Forty-one percent are anemic—twice the rate found in children in New York City homeless shelters, and more than twice the CDC's record rate for high-risk minorities. More than half the kids have mental-health problems. And 42 percent have respiratory infections and disorders that may be linked to formaldehyde and crowding in the trailers, the last of which FEMA finally closed in May. The unending bureaucratic haggling at federal and state levels over how to provide services and rebuild health centers for the Gulf's poor has made a bad situation much worse, says Redlener: As awful as the initial response to Katrina looked on television, it's been dwarfed by the ineptitude and disorganization of the recovery.

The low income victims of Katrina remain an internally displaced people, expelled, ostracized, abandoned.

Hat tips to Teddy Partridge and Peterr.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Iran and the Left: Some Random Observations 

Iran, like Honduras, is no longer newsworthy. The protests have abated as the government has apparently successfully suppressed popular opposition to Ahmadinejad'a reelection as President. Dissatisfaction instead makes itself known through factional disputes within the governing elite.

As explained here in late June, many on the left were surprised by the eruption of public protest in the wake of Ahmadinejad's announced landslide victory, resulting in a contentious, and frequently acrimonious, debate. Now is a good time to revisit the subject as the intensity of feeling has subsided.

With the benefit of contemplative reflection, several important themes come into view. First, despite their alignment in the anti-globalization movement, as well as their opposition to the US imperialism in the Middle East, the schism between anarchists and Marxists remains. By and large, anarchists were uniformly in support of the protesters. Conversely, some Marxists supported the protesters and others did not. There were even Marxists who initially condemned the protesters while defending the election returns in Ahmadinejad's favor as legitimate. Old lines of division reemerged: anarchist hostility to the state and religion, and its embrace of spontaneous protest, counterposed by Marxist pragmatism and the attempted application of class and anti-imperialist analysis to perceived facts on the ground.

Second, the left response revealed some enduring sources of confusion. While both anarchists and Marxists generally had the right line (foreign non-intervention, deference to the decisions of the Iranian working class, such as it is), some Marxists, as already noted, attempted to justify it by reference to what they described as the credible results of the Iranian presidential election. Of course, this lead to a vigorous, and, to this day, unresolved argument over the credibility of the vote count. Rarely did anyone mention the incongruity of this perspective, given the historic Marxist contempt for the electoral processes of liberal democracy, as given concrete form by the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917.

Given their rejection of the state generally, anarchists had little interest in the election results as they related to the protests, and, by extension, identified with the protesters because of the threat that they posed to the institutional structures of Islamic social control. As'ad Abukhalil was, quite rightly, hostile to elite efforts to limit the protests to liberal demands for fair elections and legitimate political representation within an Islamic society, even as he implicitly celebrated the attempt to dismantle this system under the banner of such protest. Both anarchists and Marxists feared the potential for neoliberal exploitation of unrest.

The initial willingness of some Marxists to accept the election result is connected to another doctrinal dilemma: what is the composition of the Iranian working class, and how can anyone purport to know what it is, much less purport to ascribe a political posture to it? Naturally, Marxists on both sides of the Iranian divide emphasized the importance of acting in the best interests of the Iranian working class. Marxists that accepted the election result therefore contended that much of the Iranian working class voted for Ahmanijedad, while those who rejected it asserted the opposite. But, after 35 years of the Shah, and another 30 years of Islamic rule, how does one define the Iranian working class, especially given the decimation of the left that occurred after the 1979 revolution?

Of course, this raises a question that has bedeviled the left for decades: what, in the wake of the restructuring of the global economy as a result of neoliberalism, is the proletariat, and what are its defining characteristics? Clearly, the industrial proletariat as envisioned by Marx and Engels exists in places like China, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Taiwan and India, if it can be said to exist anywhere at all anymore. In other words, in the export platforms facilitated by neoliberal policy, as well as the remnants of industrial production within the US and Europe. Certainly, there is such production in Iran and economic sectors associated with it, like transport, but can we say that it exists as an independent subject capable of projecting an ideologically coherent vision of society?

To be fair, Marxists did implicitly recognize the problem, but had little to say about it, other than that the Iranian working class might, at best, exploit developments to gain more freedom to organize and increase its influence. The opportunity to address the more profound dilemma was missed. Anarchists, not being as class conscious, recognized an affinity with socially marginalized groups, such as unemployed and underemployed people, young people and women, valuing their rejection of the governmental instruments of religious oppression, and did not, as Yoshie of the MRZine did, deny their historical agency. Yet, paradoxically, the anarchists (and here, I include myself) and their Marxist allies, like Richard Seymour of Lenin's Tomb, face the prospect that their perspective can be expropriated by neoliberals because of the Marxist failure to give ideological coherence to the class nature of the conflict. After all, secular democracies in Europe and the Americas were part of a process by which capitalism replaced feudalism and the religious controls associated with it.

Finally, the economic development aspect of socialism was completely ignored in relation to the Iranian developments. It is fair to say that the urgency of anti-imperialism has nearly eradicated this essential strand of socialist thought. One gets the sense that people on the left have forgotten that socialism, whether anarchist, Marxist-Leninist, or Social Democratic, was promoted by their advocates as economically more rational, more efficient and more just, than capitalism, with all of its excesses and brutalities. Yet, I do not recall anyone making the effort to develop an analysis that would clarify the nature of the Iranian working class while also explaining how they could empower themselves through the economic development of Iran.

Admittedly, there have been some enlightening efforts to explain how the Islamic Revolution has brought about a more equitable distribution of resources within the country, but socialism is more than Keynesianism, it is an ideology of economic development and worker empowerment, an ideology whereby workers take control of the state and the means of production (communism, Social Democracy) or, alternatively, dismantle the state while transforming the means of production into a collective form of social organization (anarchism), and the larger question as to whether Political Islam, such as the example on display on Tehran, can facilitate such radical social change remains to be engaged.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Someone Please Answer My Internet 9-1-1 Call 

I was casually cruising the Internet today, and came across this:

Brittney Gilbert has been blogging personally since 1999 and professionally since 2005.

What in the world does this mean? Blogging is now a profession? One that involves recourse to an acquired expertise? Or, should I just translate this to mean that Gilbert wasn't paid for her blog from 1999 to 2005, but has been since then?

And, if so, what, if anything, should I conclude from that? That a blog has been recognized as superior in content and quality because someone else discovered the blog and paid the blogger to continue to do it? Otherwise, why distinguish between the time that you blogged without pay and the time that you did? In any event, my experience has been that most personal blogs are far superior to the so-called professional ones.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Plausible Deniability 

From today's New York Times:

The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terror suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but will monitor their treatment to insure they are not tortured, administration officials said on Monday.

The administration officials, who announced the changes on condition that they not be identified, said that unlike the Bush administration, they would give the State Department a larger role in assuring that transferred detainees would not be abused.

“The emphasis will be on insuring that individuals will not face torture if they are sent over overseas,” said one administration official, adding that no detainees will be sent to countries that are known to conduct abusive interrogations.

But human rights advocates condemned the decision, saying it would permit the transfer of prisoners to countries with a history of torture and that promises of humane treatment, called “diplomatic assurances,” were no protection against abuse.

Of course, there is only one reason to ship detainees to other countries for interrogation: to subject them, in the sanitized language of NPR, to extreme interrogation practices. Otherwise, why send them elsewhere at all?

So, the real purpose of these purported policies changes is something different, as I said in February:

Obama is smarter than Bush, and doesn't want to undertake travels abroad with his family under a cloud of war crimes charges after leaving the White House, so he's creating a paper trail to create a defense of plausible deniability. After all, you wouldn't want them to be afraid to enjoy themselves in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris or London, would you? A few weeks after he leaves office, the media will then feel free to expose the horrors of what he permitted on his watch.

And, naturally, this goes all the way down the chain of command, to the military and intelligence officers in the field who order renditions. They need a documentary record to conceal what they are really doing, so as to eliminate any possible legal exposure, such as, for example, the exposure that remains for some CIA interrogators and contractors.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Death of Health Care Reform in Real Time (Part 3) 

For those of you out there who are rightly suspicious that the public option will be nothing more than a rhetorical device to facilitate the passage of a bill dictated by industry participants, consider this:

The people who brought us the public option began their campaign promising one thing but now promote something entirely different. To make matters worse, they have not told the public they have backpedalled. The campaign for the public option resembles the classic bait-and-switch scam: tell your customers you’ve got one thing for sale when in fact you’re selling something very different.

When the public option campaign began, its leaders promoted a huge Medicare-like program that would enroll about 130 million people. Such a program would dwarf even Medicare, which, with its 45 million enrollees, is the nation’s largest health insurer, public or private. But today public option advocates sing the praises of tiny “public options” contained in congressional legislation sponsored by leading Democrats that bear no resemblance to the original model.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the public options described in the Democrats’ legislation might enroll 10 million people and will have virtually no effect on health care costs, which means the public options cannot, by themselves, have any effect on the number of uninsured. But the leaders of the public option movement haven’t told the public they have abandoned their original vision. It’s high time they did.

After this blunt introduction, Kip Sullivan, a member of the steering committee of the Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, then proceeds to lay it all out for us: the original concept of a public option that would cover as much as half of the non-elderly population, the cost savings that could result, and then, as one could have predicted, the evisceration of it through the legislative process. It is well worth reading in its entirety as a touchstone for evaluating the ultimate outcome.

Sullivan's article also points toward a question that emerged in relation to the bailout, namely, the passivity of the other sectors of the American economy that will suffer as a consequence of a policy dictated by the rapacious interests directly affected. In the case of the bailout, the real estate, manufacturing and service sectors remained mute as trillions of dollars that could have reinvigorated consumption instead went to buttress the balance sheets of transnational financial firms. Whatever one thinks about the environmental merit of the program, Cash for Clunkers reveals the explosive benefit of even minor amounts of effectively targeted stimulus that captures the public imagination.

Imagine if the federal government had adopted some aggressive, targeted proposals designed to provide financial relief to the struggling middle and lower classes, such as, for example, the ones I suggested in February:

. . . . the federal government would deficit spend primarily for the purpose of providing a safety net for those facing severe hardship as a result of unemployment and the loss of the homes. Along these lines, unemployment insurance funds, now within the jurisdiction of individual states, and, in many instances, bordering on insolvency, would be completely federalized for a specified period of time, say two or three years. The federal government would then pour billions into these funds so as to guarantee a much more generous minimum benefit, say 60% of one's salary prior to discharge, with a maximum yearly benefit amount of around $50,000. Of course, these benefits would be untaxed at both the state and federal level.

Such a program would be matched by a loan modification program whereby the banks would be required to refinance the mortgages of people facing foreclosure at existing market rates for those properties. They are already begrudgingly moving in this direction, as they are going to have to eat the losses, anyway. After all, why foreclose on the mortgages when they can instead create a new stream of income by substituting new ones, especially as they are desperate for new transaction fees and revenues going forward.

Clearly, there were many ways to skin the cat, as they used to say back in the North Georgia hill country, so there were, no doubt, other policies that could have achieved equally good, or even better results. But the urgent question here is why did the sectors of the US economy outside of finance acquiesce in the adoption of a policy that was cleary ruinous to them?

And, now in relation to health care, why are they doing it again? In their current forms, the health care reform proposals circulating through Congress will, if adopted, do nothing to arrest the enormous, ongoing transfer of wealth from non-health related sectors of the economy to pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies and health care providers. Indeed, they will worsen the situation by making it mandatory that Americans purchase health insurance coverage. A combination of a lack of cost containment, with a government imposed requirement that people purchase coverage despite inadequate subsidization, will be yet another constraint, along with the long term consequences of the bailout, upon the rest of the US economy. Expect the offshoring of US jobs to accelerate if Obama succeeds in his effort to reform health care or health insurance or whatever they call it these days.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Death of Health Care Reform in Real Time (Part 2) 

The blog has been quiescent because of my brief family vacation and pressing work demands, but now, I am back in action. Last Saturday, I discovered, yet again, that the Davis Farmers Market is one of those places where important political transformations first make themselves known.

As I walked through the market with my son, I passed by a table in the community activity section beyond the produce area. There were people sitting in chairs under an awning that announced www.barackobama.com and urged support for health insurance reform. Upon my return passage back through the market towards my car, I looked at the awning again, and recognized its significance. Obama had abandoned the more audacious goal of health care reform and replaced it with a more subdued one, health insurance reform.

In other words, the urgency of providing competitive, cost-efficient health coverage to almost everyone had been replaced by the more prosaic aspiration of humanizing the means by which insurers provide health insurance coverage. My suspicion was confirmed an hour or so later when one of my friends told me that he had actually read the petition at the table and recognized that there was no reference to a public option for health care. He told the people at the table that he would sign a petition that demanded a public option to contain costs, and was curtly told that he could start his own petition.

As you might have guessed from this exchange, the people at the table displayed none of the warmth and enthusiasm of the grassroots effort associated with the Obama presidential campaign. Instead, they looked like Young Democrats from UC Davis just down the street, you know, college student careerists working to curry favor with local Democratic elected officials in the hope that they will be hired for positions as administrative assistants. Clearly, this was an effort coordinated by the White House, through the perverse remains of the Obama Internet campaign apparatus, for outreach into communities across the country.

On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathryn Sibelius formally announced the shift in policy when she declared that Obama did not consider the public option as an essential, non-negotiable component of a health care reform proposal. Of course, no one should be surprised. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has not concealed his hostility to the public option and its proponents, and the President has observed a strict silence on the subject. Liberals, however, were outraged. There are supposedly as many as 100 House Democrats that will refuse to vote out a health care bill that does not include a public option. I'll believe it when I see it. At the end of the day, we will probably see the inclusion of a public option into the bill that will benefit few, if any, people. One of those chimerical exercises reminscent of the rights enumerated in Stalinist constitutions.

Such a depressing state of affairs raises the question: how did we get to a point where a health care proposal with substantial public support degenerated into yet another corporate windfall? To confront this question, we call upon our powers of random observation. First, it is quite striking that the opponents of health care reform have undermined public confidence by projecting the gross deficiencies of the current system upon the reforms proposed in Congress, most particularly, the public option. The extent of public denial about this is frankly quite shocking. I have pondered why this strategy has been so effective in the face of the known inadequacies of the current health care system.

I have only one, rather elliptical answer. Several years ago, I recall speaking briefly with a friend about investment strategies. One of the things he told me was that Vanguard, the mutual fund company, had a fund that invested exclusively in health care stocks, and that the returns were incredible. Hence, I have a hypothesis that people within the middle and upper middle class that rely upon investment returns only want a health care proposal that enhances the profitability of pharmaceutical companies and providers of health insurance and health care.

Accordingly, they are ecstatic about provisions that require everyone to purchase health insurance, or face the prospect of being fined, while they are hostile to the notion of cost containment through a public option. The essential principle here is that, behind the evil trinity of pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies and health care providers, are millions of well educated, politically involved people who invest in them. They share the economic perspective of these companies, and advocate in support of them.

Second, the strident protests against health care reform that have taken place at congressional town hall meetings around the country are not well understood. Naturally, they have been financed by industry lobbyists, but this misses their more profound importance. For Obama, they have been a godsend, because they actually enhance the prospects of a corporate friendly reform package being passed. How? Through their excesses, the protesters discredit the opposition against any reform being passed, even as they drown out progressive voices for reforms that actually address the compelling health needs of the populace.

Lastly, we should consider how this episode confirms my evaluation of Obama from last summer:

Obama has been moving towards what some call the center in US politics, if he wasn't there already. And that is actually a little deceptive. He hasn't been moving towards the political center, because that is a dubious form of analysis based upon the acceptance of an unsubstantiated linear, horizontal spectrum that classifies the political values of the US electorate. Instead, as I said here about a month ago, he has been signalling his acceptability to the corporate media, the media that frames the presentation of political subjects to the general public, by adopting conventional narratives on an array of issues, ranging from the war in Iraq to faith based initiatives to the purported failure of black men to fulfill their responsibilities to their families.

Cultural leftists might find a peculiar reassurance in all this, because, if one perceives his actions in this way, Obama is revealing a sophisticated sociological recognition of the power of the media to manufacture consent. In other words, like many cultural leftists, he understands that the US is not an actual, functioning republic where an informed populace selects representatives to implement their preferred policies, and must navigate his way through this system of social control. Implicit in this analysis is a subjective belief that, once elected, he will put this insight to use to reform US politics at home and abroad.

Or, to clarify the concept, Obama understands that the United States is not a functioning democracy, but one dominated by powerful international capital interests that must be assauged if one is to retain power. Therefore, health care reform can only be implemented in a form that meets with their approval, much as the response to the global recession did.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

The Death of Health Care Reform in Real Time (Part 1) 

Perhaps, it is a good idea to turn down the temperature after the last post. Every now and then, I think about the debased state of liberalism, as reflected by the liberal abandonment of the progressive features of the social welfare state, the embrace of the so-called war on terror and continued support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Liberalism, as I have said here before, is now nothing more than a marketing strategy, a message for persuading voters to put its proponents in positions of power.

But there are exceptions. Jane Hamsher and the gang at firedoglake don't just put out a liberal line on issues like the wars in the Middle East and health care reform, they urge their allies to lobby and protest in support of those issues. Now, mind you, as a leftist, I have some significant disagreements with the people who post at firedoglake. After all, I'm a leftist, and they are liberals. However, I respect the fact that they are actively challenging the Democratic Party, as represented in the White House and Congress, to adopt their perspective. They don't play the game of talking liberal and then letting elected Democrats vote moderate to conservative. For example, they call out people who try to create the appearance of supporting progressive health care reform, while facilitating the opposite.

As you might have guessed, the people at firedoglake have selected health care reform as the make or break issue for the Obama presidency. They have organized a focused effort to pressure Democrats in the House to demand a strong public option as an essential component of any health care proposal that goes to the President. Now, they are encouraging people to attend town hall meetings this month to counteract the presence of right wing protesters. This is a critical issue, because a strong public option, one that gives people the opportunity to select a government operated plan instead of ones provided by the insurance industry, is necessary to pressure insurers and health care providers to keep costs down. Even opponents of the public option acknowledge it. Indeed, they believe that the government option would be so efficient as to result in the de facto creation of a single payer system.

Unfortunately, it's not going to happen, because the President doesn't want it to happen. Nor does his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The consequences of this failure, as noted by Hamsher last Monday, are serious:

According to the North Carolina Institute of Medicine, there are 52 million Americans currently without health insurance. We are a country in crisis. If the government cannot respond by delivering a public plan with a President who campaigned on creating one, a 60 vote Democratic majority in the Senate, a Speaker of the House who has committed to doing so and majority support in both parties among the public, then we do not live in a representative democracy any more. The country is ungovernable.

With the passage of a health care reform proposal that operates primarily at the level of forcing Americans to buy health insurance at rates established by the insurance industry, with funds diverted from Medicare to help subsidize it, we will experience the end of the Obama presidency in regard to any prospect of progressive social change. It is more important to exploit the urgent need for health care reform to provide another subsidization of financial institutions than to address the compelling need itself.

For some reason, I see Obama signing the bill in the Rose Garden right around the time that he orders 20,000 to 45,000 more troops into Afghanistan. While not a liberal myself, an old school liberal victory on health care reform would help a lot of people who need it desperately. And that, it seems, is the problem. The provision of affordable health care would contribute to the liberation of people from the control of finance capital. It would give them a little extra money, a little extra personal independence. It would free them to think and act for themselves with less of the fear associated with economic dependence. It might even create momentum to push the country even farther left across a spectrum of domestic and international issues. Sadly, it's not going to happen.

UPDATE: An excellent summary of the importance of the health care reform struggle. Of course, as is typical with a lot of liberal analysis, the author overpersonalizes the nature of the conflict. But, overall, the bottom line is correct. If congressional Democrats return and promptly abandon the public option, there is nothing preventing them from subsequently abandoning other important consumer protection measures as well, leaving us with nothing more than an unadulterated industry subsidy.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ellsberg Remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki 

From truthdig:

For a great many Americans still, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs are regarded above all with gratitude, for having saved their own lives or the lives of their husbands, brothers, fathers or grandfathers, which would otherwise have been at risk in the invasion of Japan. For these Americans and many others, the Bomb was not so much an instrument of massacre as a kind of savior, a protector of precious lives.

Most Americans ever since have seen the destruction of the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as necessary and effective—as constituting just means, in effect just terrorism, under the supposed circumstances—thus legitimating, in their eyes, the second and third largest single-day massacres in history. (The largest, also by the U.S. Army Air Corps, was the firebombing of Tokyo five months before on the night of March 9, which burned alive or suffocated 80,000 to 120,000 civilians. Most of the very few Americans who are aware of this event at all accept it, too, as appropriate in wartime.

To regard those acts as definitely other than criminal and immoral—as most Americans do—is to believe that anything—anything—can be legitimate means: at worst, a necessary, lesser, evil. At least, if done by Americans, on the order of a president, during wartime. Indeed, we are the only country in the world that believes it won a war by bombing—specifically by bombing cities with weapons of mass destruction—and believes that it was fully rightful in doing so. It is a dangerous state of mind.

Even if the premises of these justifications had been realistic (after years of study I’m convinced, along with many scholars, that they were not; but I’m not addressing that here), the consequences of such beliefs for subsequent policymaking were bound to be fateful. They underlie the American government and public’s ready acceptance ever since of basing our security on readiness to carry out threats of mass annihilation by nuclear weapons, and the belief by many officials and elites still today that abolition of these weapons is not only infeasible but undesirable.

By contrast, given a few days’ reflection in the summer of 1945 before a presidential fait accompli was framed in that fashion, you didn’t have to be a moral prodigy to arrive at the sense of foreboding we all had in Mr. Patterson’s class. It was as easily available to 13-year-old ninth-graders as it was to many Manhattan Project scientists, who also had the opportunity to form their judgments before the Bomb was used.

It is a piece well worth reading in its entirety. Along with Israel, and possibly, Great Britain, the US believes that it can indiscriminately kill large numbers of people to achieve its geopolitical ends. Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US has subjected the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Iraqis, the Afghans, now, increasingly, the Pakistanis, to this sort of violence. By contrast, 9/11 is a mere footnote.

Consistent with this, it is important to recognize that US military policy has evolved towards inflicting severe hardship upon civilians, as was done in both Iraq invasions, for example, instead of confronting the military capacity of the opponent directly. Admittedly, all the major powers involved in World War II moved in this direction as the conflict was fought, but the US took the principle to the most horrific extreme through the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and its military doctrine is centered around this principle to this day.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Boycott the Honduran Oligarchy 

From Honduras Resists:

June 28th of this year when the Honduran population was preparing to participate in a popular opinion poll about the installation of a fourth ballog box in which it would decide whether or not to convoke a Constitutional Assembly, thousands of military soldiers kidnapped the Constitutional President of the Republic, Manuel Zelaya Rosales and they expelled him to the neighboring country of Costa Rica; they occupied the Presidential House, they violently closed all of the independent radio and television stations, they persecuted all the functionaries of the government and they implanted a State of Siege in the whole country.

In that way a coup d'etat took place, which hours later was "legalized" by the National Congress (legislative assembly), putting in the presidency Roberto Micheletti Bain, leader of President Zelaya's own political party, through ridiculous arguments that the deposed president has "resigned." That version was denied by President Zelaya himself, in addition to the fact that the National Congress does not have the constitutional authority to separate him from his role. At the same time, it was argued that there was an order of arrest without the President having faced a judge where he could defend himself from the accusations made towards him.

Behind the coup is the business leadership, the four political parties of the bourgeoisie, (Liberal Party, National Party, Christian Democratic Party and Party of Social Democratic Innovation and Unity), the leadership of the Catholic and Evangelical churches, as well as the main owners of the media. All of them made a counter-revolutionary alliance for fear that the popular poll of the 28th of June would give power to the people and especially to the working class and poor peasantry to start the construction of a new society, where the privileges of the bourgeois class and the landowners would be eliminated.

It is also necessary to say that behind this coup d'etat is the hand of North American imperialism and the Latin American ultra-right, who are seeing it as an opportunity to stop the advance of the left in the Central American region and the influence of the Venezuelan revolution, after the recent electoral triumphs of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador and the Sandinista Front in Nicaragua.

Nonetheless, the answer of the Honduran people did not wait even the first hour of the coup. The popular masses flooded into the streets to take over the public plazas and protest in the Presidential House (headquarter building of the government) against thousands of military troops, armed with tanks, helicopters, planes and heavy artillery. Ever since, the popular masses have come out EVERY DAY to the streets for a month, to protest, to carry out pressure to defeat the usurper government, carrying out massive mobilizations, highway takeovers, takeovers of public buildings, etc. making use of Article 3 of our Political Constitution that gives the right to Popular Insurrection in the case of the imposition of a government by armed force. Although this struggle has cost the lives of various Hondurans, assassinated by the military, thanks to this resistance the usurper government has not been able to control the situation, nor to defeat the masses and hence has not been able to consolidate itself as a government.

The maximum organized expression of the popular resistance is the "National Front against the Coup d'Etat" which unites all of the social and political expressions of the popular movement and is driving the national movement towards the defeat of the dictatorship. This front is made up of worker, peasant and other peoples organizations, as well as by the left and center parties and movements who have declared themselves against the coup d'etat.

The international reaction was forceful from a diplomatic point of view: Except for the Zionist regime of Israel, no other country in the world dared to recognize the military-business dictatorship imposed in Honduras. Both the Organization of American States, the United Nations General Assembly, the Río Group, the countries associated with the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, among others, condemned the coup d'etat, because they correctly recognize that it is about the first coup against the limited bourgeois democracies that exist in Latin America and that, if it consolidates, would set a disastrous precedent to allow the un-doing of the social and democratic liberties that have been achieved by the peoples and workers and would probably be imitated by the most reactionary forces in other countries of the region and world.

Nonetheless, this reaction has not yet gone past the point of diplomatic declarations which, if useful, are not sufficient to hurt the dictatorship economically or militarily.

The only government that always had an ambiguous policy towards the usurping government was the North American government led by Barack Obama. While it declared recognition of the Government of President Manuel Zelaya as the only president, it gave visas to the emissaries of the coup-makers so that they could come into North American territory to lobby in favor of the coup; it has not suspended the main programs of economic and military aid to Honduras, it has not applied a commercial boycott like it has done against Cuba , and it refuses to declare that this is a coup d'etat. Instead it has promoted a negotiation between the legitimate President of the Hondurans, Manuel Zelaya, with the dictator Micheletti, through a mediator: Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

For the National Front Against the Coup d'Etat, the mediation of President Arias is a strategy of the U.S. State Department to achieve some level of international recognition for the dictator Micheletti, delaying the time for the end of the conflict so that the resistance movement is worn out and to submit President Zelaya to unacceptable conditions before his inevitable re-installation in power, with the goal of making him abandon the political demands that have motivated the popular mobilization, such as the struggle for a Constitutional Assembly and for the punishment of those responsible for the coup. Consequently, the National Front Against the Coup d'Etat only accepts the immediate, safe and unconditional reinstalement Por consiguiente, el Frente Nacional contra el Golpe de Estado, solo acepta una reinstalación inmediata, of President Zelaya to his post.

The Honduran working class, which since the beginning actively responded to the popular resistance, organized in the third week a unified mobilization through its own methods of struggle: la general strike and the takeover of work centers, starting with a 48 hour stoppage by the three central unions of the country (CUTH, CGT and CTH) this past 23rd and 24th of July, which was repeated again the 30th and 31st of the same month. In solidarity with them friends from the popular organizations of El Salvador and Nicaragua cut of the customs to stop the entrance of exit of merchandise from Honduras. Immediately the business associations of Honduras and Central America, who are in solidarity with the usurpers, screamed to the sky because that boycott implied losses of millions for their companies. This means that the strike and the commercial boycott are effective weapons to wear out the economic base of the coup-makers, more than formal declarations.

Because of all of this, the National Front Against the Coup d'Etat makes a call to working class organizations world wide to organize and carry out militant solidarity with the working class and the people of Honduras, carrying out boycott actions of all products that enter or come out of Honduran ports, with the goal of economically asphyxiating the dictatorship; do protests in repudiation of the dictatorship in front of the U.S. and Honduran embassys, do political and cultural actions in solidarity with the struggle of the Honduran people, and in general carry out action that strengthens the struggle of the Honduran people and its working class to get us out of this oppressive regime and reach a new society.


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Monday, August 03, 2009

The Sub-Proletarianization of America: A California Case Study 

Last Friday, there was an excellent article in the Sacramento Bee that exposed how government policy at the state level accelerates the sub-proletarianization of America, complimenting federal policies towards the same end. In that article, Judge Marilyn Gilliard of the Sacramento Superior Court complained that the closure of the superior courts of the state one day per week, upon order of the administrative office of the courts, would impose great hardship. She was publicly joined in her opinion by another local judge, Loren McMaster, in a column that the Bee published on Sunday.

An overwhelming number of the court's judges had already signed a petition that Gilliard had originated in objection to the court closure being adopted as part of budget deal. On Friday, she was at her sanctimonious best: Let's talk about abused and neglected children whose cases are going to be delayed. Let's talk about crime victims. Let's talk about those accused of crimes. Let's talk about jurors who could be very well in the midst of deliberations on a murder trial being told they have to go home.

Here, in a nutshell, we have the let them eat cake mentality, disguised in the form of social concern, that is so pervasive upon elite figures, such as, in this instance, a member of the state judiciary, while so many Americans are being impoverished by this recession. Gilliard is apparently unaware that child abuse and crime victims are already suffering from a severe elimination of social services at the city and county level. This is happening for two reasons: (1) severe cutbacks in state funding; and (2) more generally, the seizure of county revenue sources to pay for the state budget deficit.

Furthermore, schools, K-12, community colleges and four year universities, are facing substantial losses in funding that can only result in declining educational opportunities for these victims as well as many others. In other words, these people, like millions of other middle income, lower middle income and poor people in California, are suffering severely because of the way that the Governor and the Legislature decided to address the budget deficit. But Gilliard, McMaster, and her other colleagues that signed the petition, have only begun to perceive the problem when it washes up upon the shores of the courthouse building on 9th and H Street.

Amazingly, this situation is also an illustration of the old adage, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Gilliard and her colleagues make approximately $180,000 a year. They have received an approximately 16% increase in pay in recent years. None are currently being required to accept a cut in pay during the current budget crisis, as the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Ronald George, has only requested that judges take a voluntary 4.6% reduction in salarly. Given that judges are only required to voluntarily request it, this not only means that some judges will refuse to do so, but also that we will never know which ones did and which ones did not, unless they tell us, because, after all, one's salary is a private, personnel matter. And, as you might have guessed, the Sacramento Superior Court judges have imposed a reduction in salary upon much lesser paid court employees while refusing to collectively accept one themselves.

Hence, we have a classic example of how the sub-proletarianization of America plays out at the local level. California judges continue to receive their full salary and benefits, unless they voluntarily decide otherwise. Rank and file court employees have accepted a 5% pay cut, with 4 hours of bankable furlough time. Middle income state workers are furloughed three days a month, losing 15% of their salary, based upon executive orders upheld by, of course, a judge of the Sacramento Superior Court. Thousands of working poor people dependent upon the Healthy Families program are going to lose health care coverage for their children. 17,000 children in Sacramento County alone could lose coverage, with an additional 11,000 children denied coverage.

Meanwhile, people with serious health conditions and disabilities dependent upon in home health services face either reductions or elimination of care. According to the Bee, a $226 million dollar cut eliminates services for those deemed in lowest need and reduces services for those who require some form of assistance to perform functions. Unlike judges, in home health service providers had their salaries cut from $12.10 an hour to $10.10 an hour, starting July 1st, but, fortunately, a federal district court judge has issued an injunction, preventing it from taking effect. One has little doubt that Gilliard and her colleagues would have reached a different conclusion.

No doubt, you've figured it out by now, but please bear with my summarization. If you are a judge in California, you get to decide if you are going to take a 4.6% pay cut. If you are a state worker, one of these same judges empowered the Governor to cut your pay 15%. If you are a lower middle income worker with a family, you face the prospect of losing heath coverage for your children, while others lose the opportunity to qualify for it. If you are an in home health services provider, the Governor and the Legislature decided to try to cut your already meagre salary by approximately 17%, while reducing the number of people entitled to receive such assistance.

Combined with the Darwinian consequences of the housing crisis, and the millions of foreclosures associated with it, this is a textbook example of the sub-proletarianization of America in action, as the privileged preserve their power and economic status, complaining, as Gilliard and her colleagues do, about making even the slightest, symbolic sacrifices, while millions of other Californians are forced to subsidize their privilege through salary cuts and an extreme reduction in social services.

Furthermore, it is essential to understand that California is far from the only state experiencing such dire budget problems. It is fair to assume that similar solutions are being adopted in other states, but I leave it to others to investigate more fully and report. Of course, President Obama could have decided to soften the blow by directing funds to the states as he did for the transnational financial institutions responsible for the creation of the crisis. But that would have prevented these same institutions, and the investors connected to them, from further consolidating their control over the domestic and global economy.

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