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

Thursday, July 30, 2009

God in Me 

Reverend Ike, dead at 74. I remember seeing his videotaped sermons on television in the 1970s.

UPDATE: Branded a Heretic: Reverend Ike reflects upon his popularization of the Prosperity Gospel in the African American community. He is, in my view, a figure who deserves greater attention for shaping the social values of the world in which we live today. He masterfully exploited radio, television, and even direct mail to reach a mass audience. His emphasis upon self-empowerment was praiseworthy, his unwillingness to place it within a collective context a grave defect. All in all, he will probably be remembered as someone who spiritually legitimized the aspirations of the African American middle class in the post-civil rights era. In this respect, he is probably equal to, and perhaps, even more significant than, the much more highly publicized Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. Without question, he was one of the most charismatic figures that I have ever encountered through the media.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Sub-Proletarianization of America: An Overview 

I was perusing the articles posted over at Counterpunch, and came across one written by a kindred spirit, Carl Ginsberg:

"Crisis” is in the eye of the beholder. The Obama administration thinks in terms of years. Others are on a shorter leash. While millions are being marginalized right now, our president, and a supportive press, prepares us for consumer credit relief in the form of enhanced notice … in a law to be decreed a year from now, in the summer of 2010; he proposes new regulations for stockholder input on executive compensation (don’t the big stockholders already elect the board which pays the managers?); and his economists predict a return to positive economic growth in Q3. Overall, Treasury Secretary Geithner sees “important signs of recovery.” Abby Joseph Cohen of Goldman Sachs puts it this way: “We do see profit margins picking up.” Hang in there everybody. And save.

You wouldn’t know from these sources –in particular the millionaires that make up Obama’s West Wing as well as the wealthy reporters who chronicle it - that multitudes of Americans are getting slammed hard and it’s getting worse everyday, every single day. Crisis is everywhere. Wages and salaries have fallen at an annual rate of 3.1 per cent. Half of that decline is attributed to plummeting manufacturing, where most jobs are unlikely to return soon, if ever. Economist Mark Zandi believes that the US will have negative wage growth this year. According to Money magazine, 30 per cent of workers employed now, or about 42 million people, are independent contractors, part-timers, temporary staffers or self-employed—a contingent workforce expected to grow to 40 per cent in ten years. Crisis as a way of life. “There’s no use trying to avoid the inevitable,” says Money. Obama would say avoiding the inevitable is irresponsible.

For some, joblessness is the antithesis of crisis. It is opportunity. People without work equates to competition for employment which means low wages which means enhanced profits. In case you haven’t noticed, the stock market is up. Bond sales by businesses were $570 billion in Q1, a record…. Net financial investment in Q1 was $340 billion, also a record. Go Go.

I started posting about what I considered to be the essential socioeconomic characteristics of the bursting of the housing bubble in July 2007. At that time, the global economy was still growing, but the dark storm clouds of recession were clearly visible over the horizon, like a squall line in the Panhandle on a late July afternoon. I grasped that the signature feature of the coming crisis would be the increasing vulnerability of the populace as lenders curtailed access to credit. During the final weeks of the presidential campaign, as Congress passed the bailout over massive opposition, I observed, along with others, that the recession, and the governmental response to it, were being exploited to oligopolize the economy. Meanwhile, I warned that workers faced a bleak, insecure future despite the election of Barack Obama.

In short, as described by Ginsberg, I anticipated that corporate interests would seek to recover their lost, outsized profitability by a permanent transformation of the economy, a transformation centered around increased subsidy while workers paid the price through shortened work hours, increased taxes and unemployment. Several important sectors of the economy have experienced enormous job losses and many of them will never return, or, if they do, as noted by Ginsberg, most of them will be temporary ones. It is, as you might imagine, a sensitive subject that the mainstream media addresses with great care.

Back in the summer of 2007, the sub-proletarianization of America was an abstract concept, a tentative generalization of the social consequences of the global collapse of neoliberal economics. Neoliberalism, as it emerged and matured over the last 30 to 40 years, empowered global capital at the expense of workers, especially semi-skilled and unskilled ones, lesser developed countries and poor people overall because its central tenets, privatization of public resources, free movement of capital, deregulation and fiscal austerity, all operated to transfer wealth from laborers to investors, while further concentrating power in transnational corporations and international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Meanwhile, governments were deprived of the funds necessary to provide essential social services, such as health, education, housing and welfare, as these were considered prime investment opportunities.

Contrary to a some liberal to progressive idealist thought of the previous decade, I never believed that neoliberalism carried within it the seeds of it own destruction and substitution by a more humane social order. Of course, I perceive a dialetical process in most socioeconomic matters, neoliberalism included, but not necessarily always for the better. So, when the housing bubble burst in 2007, I understood that it meant the end of an era of neoliberal economics as we had known it, but I did not believe that it was a harbinger of a new socially progressive era, as do a lot of my progressive friends who continue to embrace Barack Obama, warts and all.

Instead, I perceived that the bursting of the housing bubble, and the collapse of the numerous pyramid schemes associated with the extension of debt around the world, announced a new historical period in which both people and governments would be forced to prostrate themselves even more before the gods of capital. Demoralized by the recession, people would have even less of an ability to organize themselves effectively in a collective fashion, leaving the way clear for capital to assert even more control over governmental policy. Existing institutions, such as labor unions, for example, would be incapable of facilitating such organization after their enervating record of performance in recent years.

Hence, a nihilism stalks the land, and it is this nihilism that constitutes the primary feature of the sub-proletarianization of America as it has evolved from being an abstract conception of the future into a sinister description of the present. And, what are the other features of this new social order that has almost been completely constructed? Here's a cursory summary:

(1) the subsidization of transnational finance by the federal government without limitation and without preconditions;

(2) the degradation, and, in some instances, the elimination, of essential social services as states are required to brutally slash budgets in response to market pressure as communicated by declining tax revenue, despite the fact that the states, and the people dependent upon their services, had no responsibility for the decisions that caused the collapse of neoliberal finance;

(3) the subjection of people to the ruthlessness of the market, declining wages, job losses and home foreclosures, even as they pay taxes to a federal government that subsidizes the continued operation of financial institutions;

(4) planned benefit reductions in essential social programs for people, such as Medicare and Social Security, programs pejoratively described as entitlements, so as to impose fiscal austerity upon the populace in order to pay for open-ended subsidization of capital;

(5) an increasing tendency to target undocumented immigrants and people of color for the economic collapse, so as to distract attention away from the class warfare currently conducted by the elite;

(6) a fracturing of social movements dependent upon liberal and progressive support along a subterranean fault line separating those who survive, and even thrive, under current economic conditions, and those who do not;

(7) an entrenchment of a form of identity politics, wherein elites in communities of color celebrate their own successes, and ascribe them to neo-Social Darwinist doctrines of personal responsibility even as many of their brethren drown as the last remaining life lines of support in their communities in the form of jobs, government assistance and charitable organizations are pulled away.

Certainly, this is a contentious list, because we are dealing with the characterization of something as it emerges and evolves, and beyond that, there is the recognition that any attempt to characterize anything is inescapably imperfect. For us, the challenge before us is not an academic one of study and characterization, but, rather, what can we do to reverse what looks more and more like the consolidation of a harsh, inflexile system of social control and expropriation that will be with us for many years to come?

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Ishmael Reed Calls Out Henry Louis Gates 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Sub-Proletarianization of America (Part 6) 

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Maria DeLourdes Oregel hasn't found work since her harvesting job petered out last year, her husband's hours at the local chicken farm have been cut by a third, and even though she feeds her children meat only once a week, she runs out of cash before the end of each month.

In one dreadful year, this dusty city in the heart of the most productive agricultural region in the nation has become a desperate place where mothers wash disposable diapers for reuse, children are sleeping in cars, and the unemployed trudge door to door to beg for food.

The fact that the unemployment rate in Mendota, 38.5 percent, is the highest in California doesn't even raise an eyebrow here. The anguish, frustration and hunger are visible in every corner and on every face of this town of 7,800 people 35 miles west of Fresno - and nobody sees any relief in sight.

Of course, places like Mendota in the San Joaquin Valley have always had higher rates of unemployment and lower levels of income than the rest of California, and, for that matter, the rest of the nation. It faces the same challenges that cities and towns in other agricultural regions of Texas and the rest of the Southwest confront. But that doesn't mean that we should dismiss what is now happening there.

As the rest of the article indicates, the people of Mendota temporarily prospered during the expansion of the real estate bubble. The only hopeful path for economic advancement offered the people there was one dependent upon the most extreme manifestation of financial speculation in human history. Now, with drought shutting down the agricultural sector, the shock absorber that has always provided work, the economy of Mendota has collapsed in spectacular fashion, akin to what has happened in lesser developed countries.

Meanwhile, there is worse to come. With the recent California budget deal, a deal that will result in dramatic cuts in spending on social services, the people of Mendota will discover that they are being abandoned and forced to survive through their own preserverence. As Wall Street financial institutions prepare to return to the good old days of lucrative bonuses, after receiving trillions in funds from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, Mendotas beg for food and wash out disposable diapers for reuse.

I can only wonder, how many Mendotas are there arouund this country? How many more Mendotas will be created in the manufacturing sector through the restructurings of GM and Chrysler? Just as the need is greatest, state governments are cutting back urgently needed programs of social assistance, as has happened in California. And don't be deceived into thinking that California is an anomaly, a special case. It is not the only state with a large budget deficit. In fact, on a percentage basis, it is only the 6th worst. Florida and New York have even more severe ones.

In retrospect, we may discover that the worst failing of the Obama presidency domestically was its unwillingness to provide financial assistance to the states while providing trillions for financial institutions. State governments are being subject to the mercies of a speculative marketplace that wiped out tax revenue, and forced to shrink in size, while the institutions that created the crisis are rebuilt with federal funds. Neoliberalism in action. Trickle down economics failed Mendotans during the boom, and, now, trickle down economics, in the repackaged form of Obamanomics, is failing them again. Millions like them face the prospect of struggling with poverty for the indefinite future.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Reckless 

Any doubt where the Obama administration stands in relation to the coup in Honduras? If so, this will clarify things:

Mr. Zelaya approached the commanding officer, who stood on the Honduran side of a chain link fence, shook the officer’s hand and then crossed into Honduras. The crowds cheered, and the officers backed away.

Mr. Zelaya labeled the move a triumphant return. The police, however, said he had not officially entered Honduran territory.

“I am exercising my right as the president and as commander in chief of the armed forces,” Mr. Zelaya said. “The people will no longer permit a president imposed by force.”

Mr. Zelaya’s excursion — which, with its caravan of news reporters, continual interviews and symbolic steps over the line, seemed aimed more at media attention than political restoration — was quickly condemned as “reckless” by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At a news conference in Washington, she said the United States had urged Mr. Zelaya and the de facto government that replaced him to avoid “any provocative action that could lead to violence.”

Strange, isn't it? Clinton doesn't consider the coup itself to be a provocative action that could lead to violence, only efforts to reverse the coup carry this stigma. Meanwhile, during the negotiations that she prefers as a way of resolving the situation, the purported mediation conducted by Oscar Arias, the perpetrators of the coup have adamantly refused to permit the return of Zelaya. Only in the peculiar world of Narco News is this considered a positive development.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Then He Was Arrested in His Own Home 

And don't neglect to read the comments, and the articles linked there.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

War Feminism (Part 1) 

Sadly, it's not very shocking to discover that The Feminist Majority has supported the invasion of Afghanistan and currently supports the ongoing US occupation. For them, the American Empire is a modernist project whereby women of color around the world can be liberated from the predations of the men of their allegedly excessively violent, antiquated societies, and the cultural constraints imposed upon them.

Like most such projects, it masks the use of violence and coercion with the rhetoric of personal liberation and the enshrinement of individual rights. Unlike the US, Europe and East Asia, countries like Afghanistan, as well as the tribal regions of Pakistan, must be subjected to military force in order to protect women. Indeed, in the case of Afghanistan, the US must invade, and subject the people of the country to indiscriminate raids, air strikes and drone attacks to elevate the status of women even if the women there object.

Because, you see, American women know best, as observed back in 2002:

It is easy to condemn the barbaric men of Afghanistan and pity the helpless women of Afghanistan. It is this very logic that drives the Feminist Majority's Gender Apartheid campaign for Afghan women. Far more interested in portraying Afghan women as mute creatures covered from head to toe, the Feminist Majority aggressively promotes itself and it's campaign by selling small squares of mesh cloth, similar to the mesh through which Afghan women can look outside when wearing the traditional Afghan burqa. The post card on which the swatch of mesh is sold says, Wear a symbol of remembrance for Afghan women, as if they are already extinct. An alternative could have been Celebrate the Resistance of Afghan Women with a pin of a hand folded into a fist, to acknowledge the very real struggle that Afghan women wage every day, particularly the women of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), who are at the forefront of that struggle.

Of course, it doesn't take much to recognize the absurdity of embracing the US military as an instrument for women's liberation. After all, are we to believe that air strikes only kill oppressive men? Unfortunately, they don't. Most of us understand that women, and, for that matter, most people, male or female, young or old, aren't going to fare very well in a place in which indiscriminate violence is pervasive.

There is also a more subtle point of great importance. By aligning feminism with the occupation, groups like The Feminist Majority are making it more likely that Afghanistan, post-occupation, will be even more inhospitable to women than before the invasion. Why? Because it persuades Afghans that the occupation and feminism are inseparable, thus making it more difficult for the women of Afghanistan to empower themselves.

By then, though, The Feminist Majority will have probably moved on to more favorable opportunities for fundraising and media attention. If only it would follow the example of Doug Ireland, a man who exposes violence against gays in Iraq and Iran, among other places, but never allows his commitment to mislead him into support for US military action there. In fact, he recognizes that our allies are involved in the violence as well. Unlike The Feminist Majority, Ireland understands that the US military has objectives other than the protection of women and gay people.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Narco News on Honduras: Very Good and Very Bad 

You have to give the devil his due. Al Giordano nails it regard to what is currently happening in Honduras, revealing why the US is so fearful of it:

Strip away all the sensationalism, distortion, simulation, ideological axe-grinding, flotsam and jetsam of media coverage of events in Honduras over the past month and it still boils down to one central conflict:

The coup regime fears, and was imposed as a last line of defense against, Citizen Power.

Citizen PowerPoder Ciudadano, in Spanish, which was the credo on the posters and ads of Manuel Zelaya’s victorious 2005 presidential campaign – manifested itself this year in popular demands for a referendum on whether to write a new Honduran Constitution via democratically elected representatives to a constitutional convention.

It’s that simple, and the coup regime’s fear of authentic democracy is exactly why the failed talks in Costa Rica between the two sides have now ended without agreement on anything at all, as foreseen here and elsewhere.

Typically, though, Giordano concludes with his new line of defense to exonerate Obama from the deficiencies of US policy:

The analyses that assign all the responsibility for the coup’s success or failure to Washington are, in reality, quite dismissive of – and insulting to the people who organized - those victories from below and their consequences.

Immanuel Wallerstein, however, hits the nail on the head with this point:

What about the United States? When the coup occurred, some of the raucous left commentators in the blogosphere called it Obama's coup. That misses the point of what happened. Neither Zelaya nor his supporters on the street, nor indeed Chavez or Fidel Castro, have such a simplistic view. They all note the difference between Obama and the U.S. right (political leaders or military figures) and have expressed repeatedly a far more nuanced analysis.

“It seems quite clear that the last thing the Obama administration wanted was this coup. The coup has been an attempt to force Obama's hand.

That’s not to say that efforts to unforce that hand in Washington aren’t worthy. We’ve done plenty of that, too. But to obsess upon a weakened empire that no longer has the absolute power to determine history in Latin American lands while also largely ignoring the struggle from below inside Honduras – a faux pas that most of the Washington-centric leftish analysis has committed – is to dismiss and disrespect the strides already made by organized peoples throughout this hemisphere.

Sigh. Giordano at his ludicrous, irrational best, utilizing his favorite rhetorical technique, the invocation of false binary oppositions. Please, someone tell him that the left and its intellectual advocates have moved beyond structuralism.

To state the obvious, we do not dismiss and disrepect the efforts of the Hondurans and their supporters in Central America to reverse the coup by observing that the Obama administration is perfectly willing to harvest the rewards of it, the disempowerment of Zelaya and the social movements associated with him, through the work of its mediator, Oscar Arias. Instead, it is complimentary, because it encourages people here in the US to pressure the Obama adminstration to take more forceful action on behalf of the coup resistance on the ground.

So far, regardless of whether the Obama administration knowingly assisted the coup plotters, or greenlighted their plan, it is evident that they have become his adoptive children, a means by which he believes that he can achieve his aspiration of rendering Central Americans as deferential to elites as Americans. In this respect, I disagree with one of the primary themes of the Wallerstein piece linked by Giordano. Wallerstein maintains that Obama has been wiggling ever since the coup.

Well, maybe he is, after all, isn't that usually the case these days? But Secretary of State Clinton hasn't been, and neither has Oscar Arias, and Obama is allowing them to speak and act on his behalf. Both have acted in a calculated, deliberate way to force Zelaya to return to Honduras under terms that legitimize the coup (the Arias coaliton government proposal, now dead, required that the coup pepetrators be granted political amnesty and permitted to serve in the government). There has not been anything erratic or confused about what they have done.

Meanwhile, US and European media now describe Zelaya and Micheletti as rivals, and the current government of Honduras as an interim one. One suspects that Lanny Davis has passed this public relations strategy along to appropriate State Department personnel for use in off the record, background briefings. Fortunately, it hasn't deterred the people of Honduras from taking to the streets to demand the return of their president.

For Giordano to suggest that Obama could not bring this coup down today (even if it might take several days to play out) by observing that the US no longer has the absolute power to determine history in Latin American lands is disingenous in the extreme. Of course, no country has the absolute power to do anything (yes, we are dealing with one of those calculated, manipulative word choices by Giordano), but there are clearly measures that Obama could undertake to bring this situation to a conclusion, such as cutting off all military and economic assistance. Of course, Obama has no interest in them, because it would empower the people of Honduras to pursue an alternative to the neoliberalism imposed by the US.

And, finally, we are treated to the factionalism that so characterizes Giordano these days: But to obsess upon a weakened empire that no longer has the absolute power to determine history in Latin American lands while also largely ignoring the struggle from below inside Honduras – a faux pas that most of the Washington-centric leftish analysis has committed – is to dismiss and disrespect the strides already made by organized peoples throughout this hemisphere.

Where to begin? First, there is no Washington-centric leftist analysis, merely one that recognizes the existing power relationships between the coup perpetrators in Honduras and their historic allies in the US government. Second, as already noted, to expose these relationships, something that, rather contradictory, Narco News also does, and urge Americans to confront them, are acts of solidarity with the people of Honduras, not an attempt to push them to the margins.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Honduran Coup Never Happened (Part 3) 

To her credit, Laura Carlsen now recognizes that the US is actively preventing the reinstatement of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya:

The official mediator of the Honduras conflict, President Oscar Arias, further alienated Honduran anti-coup groups by saying he will propose a coalition government and try to disuade elected President Manuel Zelaya from returning to his country. Arias also mentioned offering “amnesties”, although he did not specify for whom or on what terms. With talks scheduled to begin tomorrow, conflicting statements regarding Zelaya’s return, the terms of talks and the positions coup leaders will take make for an uncertain, and unpromising, scenario.

For leaders of the grassroots movements risking their lives to break the coup’s grip on power in their country, the news comes as proof that the mediation holds little prospect of solutions for reinstating the democratically elected president, ousted by the military on June 28.

Meanwhile, the Hondurans are continuing to take things into their own hands, having recognized, as noted here on Tuesday, that the mediation process only serves to legitimize the coup. According to the Honduras Resists blog:

The Central American unions announced that they will block passage at the Honduran borders in protest against the coup.

International Federation of Dock Workers of the Wold has agreed not to unload merchandise coming from Honduras.

The National Front Against the Coup d'Etat has taken the highway between Choloma, San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortés.

Nine military commands attack protesters is Juticalpa, Olancho. They are detaining cars driving towards Tegucigalpa.

The main institutions of the country are paralyzed. Access to the National Autonomous University of Honduras has been taken over by students.

The European Union has re-affirmed that the only solution to the crisis is the restitution of President Zelaya and has cut off all economic aid.

The coup media is announcing repression and death against the protests taking place around the country.

Two are reported killed by a military command in Catacamas, Olancho. Repression is strongest in rural areas of the country.

In strategic points around the country the national paralization has started. Thousands are in the streets.

Predictably, US media coverage of these events, in marked contrast to the eruption in Iran, is non-existent. But Narco News confirms much of the Honduras Resists report:

Union organizations in Nicaragua and El Salvador have announced that they will close the border routes with Honduras in solidarity with the Honduran blockades.

If you study the map, above, of the few highways in Honduras that connect its commercial centers, the confirmed reports indicate that the popular protests have already shut down the veins and arteries of country's economy. It is highly likely that other roads and highways are also now under blockade, but we are taking great pains to report only those ones upon which we have been able to confirm. Readers unfamiliar with the condition of secondary roads in Honduras may not be aware that once one of these main highways is shut down, there are no alternate routes.

This is the strategy that, from 2003 to 2005, toppled three repressive presidents in the nation of Bolivia, one after the other.

These current blockades in Honduras have been called, initially, for 48 hours, beginning this morning. Check back here for around-the-clock updates.

This is a major news story. It doesn't matter that the rest of the English language international media is slow to report it. Maybe their correspondents are caught in traffic? Honduras under the coup has now ground to a halt.

Evaluated in this context, the Arias proposal for mediation comes across as desperation, an attempt to impose a solution that disempowers Zelaya and the social movements so as to prevent them from organizing a permanent, effective resistance. Especially when you consider that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now making public statements that implicitly oppose the mobilizations against the coup. If the US is going to successfully impose a purported democratic solution from above, then it must act quickly to terminate the risk of a real one from below.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Iran: The Short Course 

I got this via e-mail about 10 days, and, overall, I thought that it was quite good:

Question & Answer on the Iran Crisis

By Stephen R. Shalom, Thomas Harrison, Joanne Landy and Jesse Lemisch
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
July 7, 2009

Right after the June 12 elections in Iran, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy issued a statement expressing our strong support for the masses of Iranians protesting electoral fraud and our horror at the ferocious response of the government. Our statement concluded: "We express our deep concern for their well-being in the face of brutal repression and our fervent wishes for the strengthening and deepening of the movement for justice and democracy in Iran." Since the elections, some on the left, and others as well, have questioned the legitimacy of and the need for solidarity with the anti-Ahmadinejad movement. The Campaign's position of solidarity with the Iranian protesters has not changed, but we think those questions need to be squarely addressed.

1. Was the June 12, 2009 election fair?

Even if every vote was counted fairly, this was not a fair election. 475 people wished to run for president, but the un-elected Guardian Council, which vets all candidates for supposed conformity to Islamic principles, rejected all but 4.

Free elections also require free press, free expression, and freedom to organize, all of which have been severely curtailed.

2. You call the Guardian Council un-elected, but isn't it true that it is indirectly elected by the Iranian people?

Every eight years the Assembly of Experts is popularly elected. Candidates must be clerics and must be approved by the Guardian Council. The Assembly of Experts then chooses a supreme leader, who rules for life (though he can be removed by the Assembly of Experts for un-Islamic behavior). The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The supreme leader chooses half of the 12 members of the Guardian Council and the judiciary nominates the other six, to be ratified by the Parliament. The Guardian Council then vets all future candidates for president, parliament, and the Assembly of Experts.

Thus, once this system was in place the possibilities of fundamentally changing it have been essentially nil. If 98 percent of the Iranian people decided tomorrow that they opposed an Islamic state, the rules would still enable the theocracy to continue in power forever -- because the only people who could change things have themselves to be vetted by the theocratic rulers. Even amending the constitution requires the approval of the supreme leader.

Iran is not a dictatorship of the Saudi Arabian sort, where there are no elections and where people have zero input. But the basic prerequisite of a democratic system -- that the people can change their government -- is missing.

3. OK, but was there fraud? And was it on a scale to alter the outcome?

There was certainly fraud: The Iranian government acknowledges that in 50 cities there were more votes cast than registered voters. (In Iran, voters can cast their ballots in districts other than those in which they reside, but "many districts where the excess votes were recorded are small, remote places rarely visited by business travelers or tourists.") Moreover, the vote total also exceeded the number of registered voters in two provinces. (Province-wide excess is more significant than city-wide, because people would be less likely to vote in another province than another city.) Perhaps the most damning indication of fraud was the fact that Mousavi's observers, as well as those of the other opposition candidates, were frequently not allowed to be present when ballots were counted and the ballot boxes sealed -- a flagrant violation of Iranian law. Moreover, supporters of opposition candidates had planned to independently monitor the results by text messaging local vote tallies to a central location, but the government suddenly shut down text messaging, making this impossible.

The question, though, is whether the extent of fraud was sufficient to change the results of the election. We can't be fully sure. But there is very powerful evidence that either no one emerged with a majority, which would have required a run-off election, or that Mousavi won outright.

According to an analysis by researchers at Chatham House, a British think tank, and the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews:

"In a third of all provinces, the official results would require that Ahmadinejad took not only all former conservative voters, and all former centrist voters, and all new voters, but also up to 44% of former Reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups."

Since Ahmadinejad's victory in 2005, when many reformists boycotted the elections and questions of fraud were raised, the hardliners lost their control of local councils in 2007. So an Ahmadinejad sweep in 2009 -- when reformist leaders, responding to a growing wave of discontent with the regime, were newly energized to challenge the President -- is hard to credit.

Ahmadinejad allegedly won in areas where other candidates had strong ties and support, including their home provinces. Some have suggested that this was a result of people not wanting to "waste" their votes on candidates unlikely to win. But in Iran, elections are in two stages: if no candidate gets a majority in round one, then there is a run-off. So there was no reason for anyone to refrain from voting for her preferred candidate in the first round.

4. Didn't a poll conducted by U.S.-based organizations conclude that Ahmadinejad won the election?

The poll, conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow and the New America Foundation, found that Ahmadinejad was favored over Mousavi by two to one. But the poll was conducted between May 11 and May 20, 2009, before the official beginning of the three-week election campaign, and before the (first-ever) televised presidential debates. These debates were a turning point: millions of Iranians saw displayed the deep divisions in the leadership of the Islamic Republic. They sensed that there was now an opportunity for real change.

More importantly, however, Ahmadinejad received the support of only a third of the poll respondents, with almost half either refusing to answer or saying they hadn't yet made up their minds:

"At the stage of the campaign for President when our poll was taken, 34 percent of Iranians surveyed said they will vote for incumbent President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad's closest rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi, was the choice of 14 percent, with 27 percent stating that they still do not know who they will vote for. President Ahmadinejad's other rivals, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, were the choice of 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

"A close examination of our survey results reveals that the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate. More than 60 percent of those who state they don't know who they will vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favor political reform and change in the current system."

When a government acts in secret, conducts an election lacking in transparency, and bars and restricts foreign journalists and the free flow of information, it makes sense not to accept its claims.

5. But didn't Ahmadinejad get lots of votes from conservative religious Iranians among the rural population and the urban poor? Might not these votes have been enough to overwhelm his opponents?

Ahmadinejad's support from ultraconservative voters was certainly not insignificant. In addition, his social welfare programs, funded from oil revenues, have undoubtedly induced many among the poor to give him their allegiance (see below). And then there are the members of the security apparatus -- the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, the pro-government religious paramilitary force -- who, together with their families, number in the millions. But there is no evidence that these were enough to give him the huge majorities he claims. As for peasants and villagers, only 35 percent of Iranian voters live in rural areas. And in any event, there is good reason to believe that rural voters are not strongly pro-Ahmadinejad. As Chatham House noted, "In 2005, as in 2001 and 1997, conservative candidates, and Ahmadinejad in particular, were markedly unpopular in rural areas. That the countryside always votes conservative is a myth. The claim that this year Ahmadinejad swept the board in more rural provinces flies in the face of these trends."

6. Hasn't the U.S. (and Israel) been interfering in Iran and promoting regime change, including by means of supporting all sorts of "pro-democracy" groups?

In the 1950s and 60s, rightwingers charged that the U.S. civil rights movement was actually controlled by the Soviet Union, through the U.S. Communist Party. Of course Communists were involved in the civil rights movement and no doubt Moscow approved. But that's a far cry from indicating that the Soviet Union was a decisive force in the civil rights movement, let alone that it controlled the movement.

There is no doubt that U.S. agents, as well as those of other countries, are hard at work in Iran, as elsewhere. It is well known that Washington has meddled in the politics of Venezuela and Bolivia, as well as Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon, to take only the most recent examples. Congress has even set up a special fund for "democracy promotion" in Iran. But foreign meddling does not prove foreign control. And foreign meddling does not automatically discredit mass movements or their goals; it depends on who is calling the shots. In any event, there is no evidence that the CIA or any other arm of U.S. intelligence -- or Mossad -- had anything to do with initiating or leading the protests in Iran. And it is absurd to see a parallel between the rightwing elements in Venezuela and Bolivia -- who are not fighting for greater popular control over their governments -- and the millions of protesters who have demanded democracy in Iran.

In 1953 U.S. and British intelligence engineered a coup to oust the democratically-elected Mossadeq government in Iran. But that coup involved bribing street gangs and a treasonous military. There was nothing like the mass upsurge that we've recently seen in Iran, and there has been not a scrap of credible evidence that the millions of people in the streets these past few weeks were brought out by CIA money.

On the contrary, for years now leading Iranian human rights activists, feminists, trade unionists -- people like Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji -- have taken the position that Iranian dissidents should not accept U.S. financial support. They have a consistent record of opposing U.S. bullying, sanctions and threats of war, and they know that any hint of links to Washington would be the kiss of death in Iran.

Recently, Iranian state television has broadcast footage of alleged rioters stating "We were under the influence of Voice of America Persia and the BBC" and some detainees -- politicians, journalists, and others -- are said to have confessed to all sorts of Western plots. Surely, though, no one should take such claims, elicited under torture or duress, seriously.

7. Has the Western media been biased against the Iranian government?

Mainstream Western media have clearly been more interested in pointing out electoral fraud and repression in Iran than in states that are closely allied with Washington. But this doesn't mean that there has been no fraud or repression in Iran.

For example, a video of the killing of Neda Agha Soltan spread widely on the internet and the media was quick to turn her death into a icon of the brutality of the Iranian government. We never saw a similar response to the many victims of government atrocities in Haiti or Egypt or Colombia. Nevertheless, the claim by some Iranian officials that she was killed by the CIA or by other demonstrators just to make the regime look bad is totally lacking in credibility.

Western media have always selectively publicized and often exaggerated the crimes of official enemies. But we shouldn't conclude from this that crimes have not been committed. And in the case of Iran, there is no good evidence so far that Western news reports on the government's electoral fraud and violent repression of dissent have been fundamentally inaccurate.

8. Is Mousavi a leftist? A neoliberal?

What is the relation between Mousavi and the demonstrators in the streets?

Mousavi's politics and economic program are not very clear. He is in many ways a pillar of the Establishment -- approved as a candidate by the Guardian Council and a former prime minister who served under Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s. He had a reputation for being one of the leaders more sympathetic to welfare state programs. Under his prime ministership many such programs were enacted, but also leftists were brutally repressed. With Washington's assistance: using U.S. intelligence information, the Iranian government rounded up members of the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party and conducted mass executions, virtually eliminating the Tudeh in Iran and killing many other leftists as well. It has been argued that the repression was carried out by the ministry of intelligence and the judiciary, and that these institutions were not in fact under his control even though he was prime minister. Whether or not this is the case, at a minimum Mousavi neither resigned nor publicly protested the violent repression that took place when he was prime minister, and thus he cannot be absolved of responsibility.

More recently, he has been an ally of the powerful billionaire cleric and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is close to major private business interests. Mousavi supports turning over many of the publicly-owned sectors of the Iranian economy to private hands, but so does Ahmadinejad, who boasts that he has privatized more public assets than his predecessors, and in fact privatization has been going on for several years and is mandated by recently passed legislation. In his campaign for the presidency, Mousavi called for loosening some of the Islamic Republic's restrictions on personal liberties, especially as concern women's rights. But Mousavi came to embody the aspirations of millions of Iranians for more than this -- for an end to the terrorism of the Basijis and the Revolutionary Guards and for an even broader democratization of the Islamic Republic. Undoubtedly, some of them hoped -- as do we -- that the protests would be a first step towards dismantling the fundamentally anti-democratic system of clerical rule itself.

During the weeks that followed the election, demonstrators protested voting fraud, but also called increasingly for equality and freedom -- "down with dictatorship!" The marches may have been started mainly by students and liberal-minded middle class people, but they were quickly joined by growing numbers of workers, elderly people and women in conservative chadors.

It seems that Mousavi's electoral organization did not anticipate the massive outpouring of protest after the election and was unable (and perhaps unwilling, given Mousavi's Establishment ties) to provide any organization or real leadership. The ferocious violence of the security forces has left the protesters, and the general public in Iran, stunned and understandably intimidated. However, their outrage is deep, and it will not go away. Protest may soon return to the streets and rooftops. And many are looking for other forms of protest. Mousavi, Khatami and Rafsanjani have not made their peace with Ahmadinejad, and the split in Iran's clerical establishment deepens.

The millions who have gone into the streets have already shown themselves capable of acting independently of Mousavi, and, as has often been the case in democratic struggles historically around the world, there is good reason to believe that the masses of protesters who have entered into the fight for limited demands can transcend the political, social and economic program of the movement's initial leaders. In Iran, this is especially the case if trade unions are able to use the opening created by today's challenges to Ahmadinejad to assert the interests of the poor and lend their organized strength to the movement.

9. Is Ahmadinejad good for world anti-imperialism?

There is a foolish argument in some sectors of the left that holds that any state that is opposed by the U.S. government is therefore automatically playing a progressive, anti-imperialist role and should be supported. On these grounds, many such "leftists" have acted as apologists for murderous dictators like Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. The Campaign for Peace and Democracy has always argued that we can oppose U.S. imperial policy without thereby having necessarily to back the states against which it is directed.

Ironically, despite their current rhetoric, some U.S. neoconservatives favored an Ahmadinejad victory. They knew that on the main issues dividing the U.S. and Iran -- Tehran's pursuit of nuclear energy, its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and its insistence on forcing Israel to withdraw completely from the Occupied Territories -- Ahmadinejad's position was no different from that of Mousavi or that of Iranian public opinion. But Ahmadinejad, with his confrontational style and his outrageous "questioning" of the Holocaust, is a much easier leader to hate and fear; his continuing grip on power therefore serves the goals of neoconservative hawks and Israeli hardliners. And they know that Iranian public opinion solidly supports the cause of Palestinian rights; and that Ahmadinejad's anti-Jewish rhetoric has harmed, not helped, the Palestinians.

Some of these "leftists" say that whatever Ahmadinejad's faults, the mass upsurge in Iran plays into the hands of U.S. imperialism. On the contrary, a people's pro-democracy movement is the worst fear of the many authoritarian regimes on which Washington relies to maintain its hegemony; such as the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan and elsewhere. And not just among U.S. clients. It is significant that news of the demonstrations was heavily censored in China and Myanmar, and that the Russian government was one of the first to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his "victory."

Hugo Chavez too congratulated Ahmadinejad. As Reese Erlich, author of The Iran Agenda, who frequently appears on Democracy Now!, has commented,

"On a diplomatic level, Venezuela and Iran share some things in common. Both are under attack from the U.S., including past efforts at 'regime change.' Venezuela and other governments around the world will have to deal with Ahmadinejad as the de facto president, so questioning the election could cause diplomatic problems.
"But that's no excuse."

10. Is Ahmadinejad more progressive than his opponents in terms of social and economic policy? Is he a champion of the Iranian poor?

As leftists we are very familiar with rightwing politicians disingenuously claiming to care about the poor and the working class. The Islamic Republic has long included a social welfare component to help it maintain support. Ahmadinejad has undertaken some populist programs, utilizing some of the revenues generated by the sharply higher price of oil. But, even ignoring the fact that basic democratic rights and women's rights are hardly the exclusive concern of the well-to-do, the Islamic Republic, and especially Ahmadinejad's presidency, have not been good for the workers and the poor of Iran.

Anyone purporting to support the working class has to back independent unions so that workers can defend their own interests both in the work place and in the society at large. However, Iran has still not ratified international labor conventions guaranteeing freedom of association and collective bargaining and abolishing child labor, and unions in Iran have been subjected to horrendous repression. As the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has reported:

"Iranian workers are still unable to form independent trade unions, a right denied both within Iran's labor code and de facto repressed by the government in action. The government routinely arrests and prosecutes workers demanding their most basic rights, such as demands for wages unpaid, sometimes for periods as long as 36 months. Security forces often attack peaceful gatherings by workers, harass their families, and even kill them, as happened during a gathering by copper miners in Shahr Babak, near the city of Kerman, in 2004."

Under Ahmadinejad's presidency, the situation has been especially grim:

"Two leading trade unionists, Mansour Osanloo and Mahmoud Salehi, are currently in prison. Another one, Majid Hamidi, recently the target of an assassination attempt, is hospitalized. In addition to being imprisoned and fined, eleven other workers were flogged in February 2008 for the crime of participating in a peaceful gathering to commemorate International Labor Day, May 1st.

"In January 2006, security forces arrested nearly a thousand members of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, attacked some of their homes, beat their families, and even detained the wives and children of the leading members, to prevent a planned strike. Since then, most members of the Syndicate's central council have been targets of prosecution and imprisonment. The Syndicate's leader, Mansour Osanloo, is currently serving a five- year sentence, while he suffers from eye injuries due to earlier beatings, and is in danger of going blind. Fifty-four members of the Syndicate have been fired from their jobs and are prosecuted in courts for their peaceful activities."

Teachers' attempts to organize and collectively bargain have also met violent repression.

Just this past May Day, the government beat participants in a peaceful labor event and arrested the leaders. And in June, a committee of the International Labour Organization cited Iran for the "grave situation relating to freedom of association in the country.

What makes the need for unions in Iran so important is that large numbers of workers are forced to work under temporary contracts that permit even more exploitation of labor than usual. One common practice is for workers to be fired and then rehired every three months as a way to deny them pensions and other benefits.

11. What do we want the U.S. government to do about the current situation in Iran?

There is a great deal that the Administration can do. Obama should promise that the U.S. will never launch a military attack on Iran or support an Israeli attack. He should commit the United States not to support terrorism or sabotage operations in Iran, and immediately order the cessation of any such activities that may still be occurring. He should lift sanctions against Iran -- certainly not as a reward to Ahmadinejad for stealing the election, but because the sanctions have a negative impact on the Iranian people and provide one of the main justifications for Ahmadinejad's iron rule. He should take major initiatives toward disarmament of U.S. nuclear and conventional weapons, and he should withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan. And he should work to promote a nuclear-free Middle East, which includes Israel. By reducing these threats, Obama would thereby be removing one of the main rationalizations for Iranian repression (as well as for its nuclear program).

12. What should we do about the current situation in Iran?

We need to make it clear to the Iranian people that there is "another America," one that is independent of the government and opposed to its oppressive and anti-democratic foreign policy. Our support comes with no strings attached and no hidden agenda. Iranians should be made aware that it is American progressives -- not the U.S. government or the hypocrites of the right -- who offer genuine solidarity.

13. Is it right to advocate a different form of government in Iran?

As leftists, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy supports radical change everywhere that people do not have full control over their political and economic lives. We advocate such change in the United States, in France, in Russia, in China. And we support it in Iran too. But we do not support the United States government -- or Britain or Israel or any other country -- imposing "regime change" outside its borders by force. What was wrong with Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not that the regime of Saddam Hussein was overthrown -- his was a hideous regime and anyone concerned with human decency wanted it ended -- but that Bush asserted that the United States had the right to invade. Political change imposed by a foreign army, or brought about by the covert operations of foreign intelligence agencies, is unacceptable, and it is especially unacceptable when the foreign power concerned has a long history of interventions for its own sordid motives: to impose its domination, to control oil resources, to establish military bases.

But do we support the Iranian people if they act to end autocratic rule in Iran? Of course! This is a government that, in addition to its just-completed election fraud and vicious attacks on its own citizens, imprisons, tortures, publicly flogs and hangs political opponents, labor activists, gays, and "apostates," and still prescribes execution by stoning as the penalty for adultery. The Head of the Judiciary declared a moratorium on executions by stoning in 2002, but at least five people are known to have been stoned to death since then, two of them on December 26, 2008. Workers have no right to strike. A woman's testimony is worth half that of a man's and women have limited rights to divorce and child custody. The regime imposes gender apartheid, segregating women in many public places. Veiling is compulsory and enforced by threats, fines and imprisonment. We should support Iranians' efforts to end these barbaric practices.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Film Notes: Lola 

I have always said that I have been more influenced by filmmakers like Oshima Nagisa and Rainer Werner Fassbinder than I have been by political theorists. This is primarily because I respond more to the human experience as related artistically, especially in film, and, secondarily literature, than through social and political theory. Not surprisingly, I find sociological works that interpret the world around us more subjectively through oral interviews quite compelling as well. Some of you may have encountered my comments on the indybay site under the pseudonym RWF.

A couple of weeks ago, I encountered a Counterpunch article about the death of the left academic Giovanni Arrighi, and this passage caused me to recall Oshima and Fassbinder:

He was a very, very good teacher. I recall that some classmate or other had presented a criticism of some reading, a fairly convincing one I think we all thought after hearing it. Arrighi commented, “You have only criticized that theory for its weaknesses. You can’t defeat an argument by attacking its weaknesses, you have to attack its strengths. And if you can identify the weaknesses it only means that you yourself could construct a better version of the same argument, so you have a responsibility to first construct that better version and then attack that one.”

Both Oshima and Fassbinder subjected the world around them to this sort of evaluation and exposure. In particular, the passage reminded me of one of Fassbinder's last films, Lola. The film is properly understood as a garish, extravagant, high contrast color remake of Sternberg's masterpiece, The Blue Angel. But whereas The Blue Angel remains one of the most disturbing and depressing examinations of the submission of people to authoritarian social constraints, Lola, transposed to the German economic miracle of the 1950s, celebrates the joys of capitalism even as it displays the transitory inadequacy of them.

The plot is fairly straightforward. A building commissioner, von Bohm, arrives in a moderate sized German city after being released from a Russian POW camp. He proceeds to apply technocratic socialist principles of planned development to the projects under his supervision. Not surprisingly, he immediately runs afoul of a corrupt developer, Schukert, and his political supporters. He also falls in love with Lola, a cabaret singer/prostitute who conceals her true vocation. As you might have guessed, one of her most important clients is Schukert.

As is typical, Fassbinder utilizes this triangle to explore the social and economic relationships in which the characters find themselves enmeshed instead of highlighting their emotional conflict. Most importantly, he reveals why the Germans found it so difficult to resist the allure of capitalism after World War II. Put simply, the money, the power, the sex, the prestige, even the competition . . . it was just all too much fun. Schukert, portrayed in larger than life style by Mario Adorf, gives expression to it through his engaging personality and the delight that he takes in giving free rein to his appetites. Schukert is yet another of Fassbinder's appealing capitalists, one who gets his way as much through the force of his likeable personality as through his money and influence.

By contrast, von Bohm, performed with a sympathetic, naive rectitude by Armin Mueller-Stahl, and his subordinate, the anarchist Esslin, presented as an inflexible moralist, infected with the autocratic values of the past, simply cannot motivate others to withstand the inducements of Schukert. All three find themselves vying for the attention of Lola, soft hearted, yet harshly practical as required. Barbara Sukowa brings out these qualities in a skillfully modulated peformance. At the end of the day, Esslin is completely marginalized and von Bohm, despite his sober Social Democracy, succumbs. If you are familiar with Fassbinder's personal life, you will recognize that the ending references his marriage to Ingrid Caven. The film is available on DVD.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Honduran Coup Never Happened (Part 2) 

I perused the Internet sites of the The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian today. None of them had any new articles related to the coup in Honduras and the effort of the deposed President, Manuel Zelaya, to return to the country to serve out his term. After meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, and then attending a brief, purported mediation conducted by former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, Zelaya is now encountering American indifference.

Some of us anticipated these developments. From the beginning, the US reaction to the coup has been one of wanting to appear as if it supported the return of Zelaya, the elected President, while doing as little as possible to make it possible. Confirmation of this strategy emerged last Friday, when, as noted here, The New York Times, in a headline for an article about the failed mediation effort, described Zelaya, along with the person installed as President by coup, Robert Micheletti, as rivals:

Prospects for a quick resolution of the political crisis in Honduras were thrown into doubt Thursday, as the two men claiming their nation’s presidency left negotiations only hours after they had begun and showed no signs of budging from the positions that have divided the country.

At the risk of coming across as a conspiracy theorist, the erasure of the coup from public consciousness by the Times was telegraphed by the State Department a couple of days before:

While Secretary Clinton reiterated the United States’ condemnation of Mr. Zelaya’s ouster, she stopped short of calling for his reinstatement, a departure from statements by President Obama earlier Tuesday and from the position taken by much of the international community.

When asked whether the United States viewed Mr. Zelaya’s return as central to the restoration of democratic order, she said that she did not want to “prejudge” the talks before they began.

“There are many different issues that will have to be discussed and resolved,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But I think it’s fair to let the parties themselves, with President Arias’s assistance, sort out all of these issues.”

Perhaps, because they perceive no alternative, some supporters of Zelaya, and the social movements associated with him, continue to hope that the Obama administration will take action to bring about his return. On Friday, I had the opportunity to interview Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy, about the situation in Honduras. She, quite correctly, insisted that the condemnations of the coup by the Obama administration were a departure from previous Bush administration practice, and held out the hope that the US would follow through with cuts in military and economic assistance.

There is no question that Carlsen is far more knowledgeable about the people and institutions of the Americas than myself, and I recommend her blog highly, but, even so, I am not optimistic. Indeed, she revealed why the US is so ambivalent about the return of Zelaya later during the course of the interview. She observed that the social movements of Honduras, composed of peasants, indigenous people and labor activists, are insistent that the return of Zelaya must take place without preconditions, especially as it relates to efforts to amend the Honduran constitution. In their view, the constitution, implemented by the military in 1982, is far too favorable to the oligarchy.

As explained by Carlos Reyes, a Honduran labor leader and National Coordinator of the Popular Resistance:

When the current Constitution was drafted in 1981, both the country and the region were under a low intensity war sponsored by the United States and its ambassador to Honduras, John Dimitri Negroponte.

Honduras was officially governed by civilians, but it was the military that effectively ruled the country, under the command of General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, a murderer who ordered the death of countless civilians. In that context, the business sector, following instructions from the United States embassy, set out to achieve two goals: the sale of Honduras, and the reduction of the State with the purported aim of eliminating poverty. These two principles permeated the Constitution, with the ensuing effect of advancing a neoliberal agenda and everything that such a model entails.

In 2005, the country reached its most critical moment with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States (DR-CAFTA), which unleashed an intense wave of protests led by our social movements. The DR-CAFTA delivered a final blow to the Constitution, and we saw that it was time to form a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution and recover our sovereignty.

Carlsen is no doubt correct, and it is precisely for this reason that the US will obstruct the return of Zelaya as anything other than a figurehead to serve out the remaining months of his term. If Zelaya resists, the US is willing to give the coup leaders all the time they need to shatter the power of the social movements that so threaten its economic interests there. Expect any future aid cutoffs to be carefully calibrated so as to enable the dictatorship to stay in power until elections that the US can then embrace.

As Keegan Keegan observed last Friday:

The ball is back in the court of Zelaya and the social movements. Do they wait for the next opportunity to discuss the situation or for the international community to take more concrete measures or do they reject dialogue as a strategy of the oligarchy to maintain power for long enough to shift public and international opinion?

My opinion is that the need for concrete actions is immediate and that every day which passes under this dictatorship is a day lost by the Honduran people. The advances of the ALBA (Allianza Bolivariana Para Los Pueblos de America Latina, Bolivarian Alliance for the peoples of America) and its many programs have been stolen from the Honduran people. President Zelaya decided to join the ALBA after the oligarchy refused to support his plans to create a more just Honduras. Today it was announced that in the face of the aggressions of the coup government around 80 of the 120 Cuban staff providing services to the Honduran people have left the country.

Programs which have been delivered over the last year as a result of the ALBA which are no under threat include "Yes I can" (Yo si puedo) the Cuban literacy program which has helped more than 150 000 Honduran's become literate, support for food sovereignty and agricultural development which includes 100 tractors provided by Venezuela, 70 scholarships for Honduran students to go and study in Venezuelan Universities, Mission Miracle (mission Milagro) which has restored the site of around 5000 in Venezuela with the help of Cuban medical staff. Cuba has also supported, the construction and staffing of medical clinics in regions previously denied the right to health services and sports coaches. These are the actions that the Honduran oligarchy is rebelling against. The possibility of an educated population which is guaranteed its basic rights rather than having them determined by their place in the capitalist hierarchy is not acceptable to those who want low wages and a controllable society desperate to buy.

In the next two or three days I think we will know the path of the struggle in Honduras. Either the social movements and Zelaya will take strong action and risk the violence that could be brought upon them by the oligarchy or they will continue with passive actions and the process of a drawn out "dialogue" which will leave the oligarchy in power leading up to the November elections. Neither path is ideal nor do they have definite outcomes but a choice will soon be made.

Yes, the two or three days mentioned by Keegan have just passed, but, generally, he is correct, a decision must be made by the social movements, or one will be forced upon them. . . every day which passes under this dictatorship is a day lost by the Honduran people. Unfortunately, the US, and the Obama administration, knows this better than anyone. Just because the Honduran people find themselves struggling in darkness does not eliminate the possibility of being successful.

UPDATE:

11th Communiqué of the National Front Against the Coup d'etat

The National Front Against the Coup d'etat in Honduras made up of the different organized expressions in the country united in the face of the situation provoked by the coup d'etat, communicates:

1. We energetically condemn the killing of Roger Bados, militant of the Democratic Unity Party and member of the Popular Block. This happened in his house and his house-mate and sister were also wounded. Roger was an active member of the Honduran popular movement and actively participated in the actions against the coup d'etat. We demand punishment for those who thought up and carried out this crime.

2. We reiterate our demand to unconditionally retore the institutional order in the country, at the same time we re-affirm our willingness to continue with a process that leads us to the installation of a National Constitutional Assembly that allows the re-founding of Honduras.

3. With respect to the mediation meetings taking place in San José Costa Rica, we denounce that it has been clearly demonstrated that all of this has been a delay tactic to keep President Zelaya outside of the country. It is not true that the discussions have stayed open, as when the Commission of the Government of President Zelaya asked for this mediation to take place in Honduras they did not respond and the Commission of the coup-makers clearly said that they would not allow this process to take place in our territory.

4. We repudiate the persecution and capture of the reporters from the Telesur Network. Sunday morning they were detained by the national police, taken out of the hotel they were staying at, taken to the embassy of their country, all this under the argument that they don't have anything more to do in. We condemn the repression against the media that tells what is really happening in the country.

5. We make it known amongst the rest of the Honduran population that during the radio programs of the Center for Women's Studies and the Center for Women's Rights transmitted by Radio Cadena Voces, on Saturday July 11th, they cut the signal at the hour they broadcast. In these programs they read news about the actions taking place against the coup d'etat.

6. We communicate that last weekend protests and take-overs against the coup-detat took place all over the country. In San Pedro Sula, Santa Barbará, Sava, Sonaguera, Trujillo, Tocoa, Copan and Tegucigalpa, where on Saturday there was a political cultural act in the place where the Armed Forces killed the young man Isis Obed Murillo. The tribute included protest music from well-known artists, messages from different people, amongst whom were family members of the young man, and there was also a Garífuna ceremony.

7. We put out a call to the whole population for us to continue the struggle and demand the restitution of individual guarantees, for now they have suspended the curfew but they continue violating the rights of the population by keeping our rights suspended. The intimidation of people with militarization of offices, organizations, highways and other places also affects all people.

One can only respect the bravery of the Hondurans and the clarity of their insight, as some American progressives run to catch up with them.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

The Honduran Coup Never Happened (Part 1) 

I usually leave this sort of thing to Eli Stephens over at Left I on the News, but I couldn't resist this one, a New York Times on-line description of an article written by Ginger Thompson:

Honduran RIVALS Leave Negotiations Without Meeting Face to Face
By GINGER THOMPSON

The two men claiming the presidency gathered to begin talks aimed at resolving the political standoff that has divided their country.

Wouldn't want to be too explicit about what actually happened, now, would we? Haven't had time to read the article itself. It will be interesting to see if it surpasses my low expectations.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Narco News and The Field: No Longer Open for Debate 

I present this post today with some sadness. There are few people who have taken advantage of the Internet to bring attention to marginalized people and social movements as Al Giordano. Through the creation of Narco News, he has extensively covered the political turbulence of Central and South America. Later, through The Field, he provided innovative coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign, and continues to post on US politics, from an avowedly pro-Obama stance.

Despite being raucous, and sometimes personally insulting, Giordano posts articles that reveal what the commercial media conceals. For example, his articles about Mexico over the years have provided us with a priceless alternative perspective about the social turmoil there. Unfortunately, his recourse to villification has escalated in the aftermath of the Honduran coup on June 29th. Even worse, he no longer permits the targets of his abusive posts the courtesy of responding to them. Nor does he permit anyone else to come to their defense or merely object to his obnoxious, holier than thou, character attacks.

In other words, Giordano has become a bully, one who manipulates the moderation of comments on his sites to manufacture an adoring audience. He is now mirroring the behavior of the right that he finds so contemptuous. Perhaps, it has been this way for quite awhile, and I was unaware. I had the misfortune to discover it this week, when I had the temerity to post a comment at Narco News that George Cicarriello-Maher had correctly characterized the public pronouncements of the Obama administration in response to the coup as evasive, displaying an unwillingness to take any concrete action to reverse it. I posted an excerpt from that article here last Friday. By doing so, I was challenging the Giordano narrative that Obama has been against the coup, and will, eventually, take the necessary measures to drive the perpetrators from power. I was sticking my hand into a hornet's nest.

Giordano hates the Ciccariello-Maher article because it also criticizes him for dismissing the possibility that the US was actively involved in the coup, as asserted by Eva Golinger, and calls him to task for an implicitly misogynistic attack upon her screeching about such a prospect. Both Ciccariello-Maher and Golinger are cautioning us, quite rightly in my view, that it is far too early to make such a determination, even if we can conclude that the US is only willing to support the return of Zelaya to Honduras upon condition that he become a figure head serving out the remaining days of his term.

As noted by Ciccariello-Maher, Giordano dispatches Golinger with characteristic drama: In this hour, those that adhere strictly to the documented facts are those that are showing character worth trusting, today and into the future. It is a rather odd statement for many reasons, such as, for example, our knowledge that the documented facts are manufactured by those in the positions of power to do so, as cinematically explained to compelling effect in Kobayashi's samurai masterpiece, Harakiri, among other places. It is also odd, because, Giordano has made a name for himself, and justifiably so, by going beyond the documented facts to get the real story, over and over again. And, of course, it is very odd, because Giordano doesn't believe that our appreciation for the facts is enhanced by permitting people to comment openly, without censorship, on his sites. Because, you see, Giordano, and only Giordano, decides who has character and who does not.

As you might have guessed, Giordano only gave me one bite of the apple. He responded to my comment by saying that Cicarriello-Maher's article was an exercise in political masturbation. The moderator blocked my response that he should engage Ciccariello-Maher more substantively, although Giordano did publish a post that does so today over at The Field, one with a tiresome introduction rife with more personal insults. His primary complaint appears to be that Ciccariello-Maher failed to acknowledge the hard work of Giordano and Narco News in exposing the association of the US with the 2002 coup in Venezuela by (oh, the horror!) giving all the credit to Golinger. Apparently, Cicarriello-Maher, or one of his defenders, tried to post a reply in the comments section, but it was either removed or never cleared. If the posted comments are any indication, his audience of DailyKos liberals cheered Giordano's character attacks upon Ciccariello-Maher and his refusal to allow Cicarriello-Maher a chance to defend himself. I submitted a comment to the effect that I found the entire episode very sad because of what it reveals about Giordano and Narco News. Of course, it never got past the moderator.

Apparently, the sites are now ploughing new ground in parody as well, because, after several people posted how great it was that Giordano won't permit Ciccariello-Maher to respond, Anthony Schofield, a reporter associated with The Narcosphere, sounded the alarm about an anti-Al piece on Z-Net, and gave a short rebuttal there, not recognizing the obvious, embarrassing contradiction between a site like Z-Net that permits engaged debate and Narco News which does not. If I find the time, I may return and engage the substance of their dispute in more detail, but, for now, today's post is an exercise in consumer protection. The Field and Narco News are sites that you should visit at your own risk, with the recognition that the purported discourse in the comments section is strictly controlled. You should read any content there with the understanding that Giordano permits limited critical engagement with it. Narco News remains an essential portal for information about events in Central and South America, but, unfortunately, we must exercise caution in how we utilize it. And, of course, here, unlike at Narco News and The Field, Giordano is free to comment and say whatever he wants.

UPDATE: If you find that you have wandered into the comment section of either The Field or Narco News, click on the links under the names of those who have posted comments. You may be surprised at how many of them have been posted by reporters associated with The Narcosphere. It seems to be rather difficult for anyone outside the scene to actually post comments there. As a consequence, the comment sections take on the tone of an echo chamber.

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McNamara: May He Rest in Darkness 

As Voltaire said: We owe respect to the living. To the dead we owe only truth. There are few people of the last 50 years whose lives were tainted with as many brutal excesses of American foreign and economic policy as Robert McNamara. For him, the lives of Japanese civilians, Vietnamese peasants, and the citizens of Third World countries were just numbers on a spreadsheet.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

The Time is Not Right 

Pity poor Manuel Zelaya. He wants to return to Honduras to assume his powers as President, but Canada, speaking for both itself and the US within the Organization of American States, believes that he should wait awhile. After all, it's only been nine days since he was seized by the military and forcibly removed from the country.

Yesterday, Zelaya, against the wishes of Canada and the US, tried to return to Honduras by plane despite being threatened with arrest. He rallied his supporters from abroad, encouraging them to come to greet him at the airport. He even had the temerity to speak to the throngs gathered outside the Tegulcigapa airport that responded to his call from his plane as it unsuccessfully attempted to land, earning the condescending disdain of the New York Times. By the standards of the Grey Lady, that's just not how its done, going over the heads of the US State Department and the Pentagon, so as independently organize your return to power.

Both the coverage of the NYT and the public comments of the Obama administration echoed the line of the coup supporters in Honduras: the situation in the country is too volatile, and the return of Zelaya could incite violence. Most tellingly, no one in the Obama administration stated that Zelaya had the right, and, indeed, the obligation, to reassume his position as President. Equally disturbing, no one stated that the coup leaders should allow him to land in Tegulcigapa, and turn over control of the Honduran state to him. Nor did they make it plain that, if any violence erupted, as it did briefly yesterday, resulting in two deaths, that the US government would hold the coup leaders and the Honduran military responsible.

So, the fence straddling continues, a fence straddling designed to reduce Zelaya to an Aristide, one either permanently deposed, or one, if allowed to return to Honduras, sufficiently disempowered that the US accomplishes the goal of preserving the hegemony of the oligarchy and the military over Honduran society. It is reported that Zelaya is going to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tomorrow. Off the record sources have made the administration's objective quite clear:

One option under consideration is trying to forge a compromise between Zelaya, Micheletti and the Honduran military under which the ousted president would be allowed to return and serve out his remaining six months in office with limited and clearly defined powers, according to a senior U.S. official.

In exchange, Zelaya would pledge to drop aspirations for a possible constitutional change that could allow him to run for another term, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic exchanges.

Leaving aside the factual error that Zelaya's proposed constitutional measure would have allowed him to run for another term as President, something that, in the case of Colombia and Uribe, the US is willing to accept, the source candidly acknowledges that the Obama administration wants to typically have its cake and eat it, too. As noted here last Friday, it wants to burnish its credentials supporting democracy by overturning the coup in Honduras, while facilitating a transfer of power to the people responsible for it. Here, we have a classic instance of the mastery of the Obama team in regards to understanding distinctions between symbolism and substance as they seek to fashion a win-win scenario that pleases both domestic progressives and those with vested material interests in Honduras.

If this sounds familiar, it should, as correctly anticipated by Greg Grandin last week:

It seems like what the United States might be angling for in Honduras could be the "Haiti Option." In 1994 Bill Clinton worked to restore Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide after he was deposed in a coup, but only on the condition that Aristide would support IMF and World Bank policies. The result was a disaster, leading to deepening poverty, escalating polarization and, in 2004, a second coup against Aristide, this one fully backed by the Bush White House.

There is only one problem with such expedient, self-serving policy. The people of Honduras are becoming dissatisfied with the coup leadership, as explained by Al Giordano yesterday over at Narco News, with Zelaya having shown himself as willing to put his life on the line. By all accounts, Honduras is far removed from the conditions that prevailed in Venezuela just prior to the 2002 coup, where Chavez had substantial support among the populace and the military.

Even so, Hondurans are still willing to take action to reverse the coup, even if they are not yet willing to embrace a radical program of social change. Perhaps, that is the best that they can hope to achieve at this time, leaving the prospect of a transformed Honduras, liberated from neoliberal exploitation, to another day. There is a, however, a glimmer of hope in the fact that the US and coup leadership are so insistent that Zelaya abandon any hope of serving a second term as President, because it tends to suggest that he is not nearly so unpopular as we are repeatedly told.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Regime Change with a Human Face 

I have been too busy to post for the last week or so, because of work and family commitments, but, now, I am back with this brief one. While I was away in Monterey County last weekend, there was a coup in Honduras. And, preliminary indications suggested that the Obama administration, unlike the previous Bush one, was on the side of the good guys.

Think again, in light of this withering analysis by George Ciccariello-Maher:

Previously resigned Obamaphiles, desperate to grasp at any shred of proof suggesting that they were right to get high on hope and expect imminent change, are closing ranks around their government and insisting that the U.S. government’s response to the Honduran coup is proof positive of such change. Some even go so far as to claim that the Obama administration’s support for Zelaya has been “unambiguous,” adding that “complaints that Washington hasn’t acted fast enough to denounce the Honduran coup are silly and ignorant on the face of them.”

Let’s be clear: no one is saying that U.S. foreign policy is the same under Obama as under Bush, but nor did we expect them to be. Rather, we expected things to look very different while maintaining an underlying continuity. And for anyone who looks closely, Washington’s response to the Honduran coup has been the definition of ambiguity, and such knee-jerk reactions to criticism simply fail to explain the subtle progression of this response, and moreover willfully neglect the subtleties and nuances that State Department officials and Obama himself have deployed.

Let’s lay this out briefly: On Sunday, at a meeting with narco-terrorist Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, Obama issued the following carefully-worded statement: “I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

Such a purposefully-vague statement was meant to communicate a wait-and-see approach: yes, we are “deeply concerned,” but what’s done is done and we must now work toward the reestablishment of “democratic norms.” The implication is clear: fascistic coup leaders are quite capable of leading a transition back toward the very same democracy they attacked, and the United States is still hoping to avoid Zelaya’s return.

Some commentators were understandably perplexed when the text of a conference call with unnamed “Senior State Department Officials” was released later Sunday, claiming that the United States recognizes only Zelaya as the legitimate leader of Honduras, while implying that the State Department would be calling for his return via an OAS resolution. But the sharp disconnect between this statement and Obama’s vagaries would only deepen when Secretary of State Clinton stepped into the fray, contradicting claims by both the president and the unnamed senior officials by insisting that the U.S. is not currently classifying events in Honduras as a coup and is not yet demanding Zelaya’s return, but only a vague return to democratic normalcy.

This, of course was another hedge, allowing the State Department leeway both to negotiate with and carry on business as usual with the coup regime were it to remain and to pressure Zelaya for a conditional return. As to the former, the U.S. seems unwilling to take the risk of cutting direct aid to Honduras, a legal requirement if a “coup” is declared. The latter is arguably more important: the State Department under Clinton most certainly did not support Zelaya’s efforts to radically challenge entrenched elites through a constitutional reform, and will likely pressure him to return humbled and defanged, with no such transformative aspirations.

John Negroponte, for one, sees things this way, arguing that Clinton “wants to preserve some leverage to try and get Zelaya to back down from his insistence on a referendum.” And when it comes to containing and undermining Central American leftists, few know the playbook by heart like Negroponte, who as U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the Contra wars personally oversaw both death squads and the drug trade. Indeed, against all the left-liberal defenders of the Obama administration, it was probably Mara Liason who was closest to the truth when, speaking as one of three panelists on Fox News (all of whom, incidentally, support the coup), argued that:

“I think they are perfectly happy with the outcome… Now, I think it’s the correct public diplomacy and policy to say, of course we’re for the democratically elected president and we don’t like coups in Latin America, but when all the dust settles, they will be perfectly happy to work with this new guy. They are not working to get Zelaya back into power… This is the outcome the United States would have preferred, this is not the method they would want to publicly condone.”

This is the iron fist with a velvet glove: while it may feel softer, it’s as “interventionist” as ever.

But all this aside, what is truly shocking is that the government is being taken at its word in the first place. Here, the White House and State Department functions as a stand-in for the U.S. state as a whole, obscuring an entire history of underhanded interventionism, especially from the CIA. Few have sought more insistently to reveal this dark underside of U.S. interventionism in Latin America than Eva Golinger, whose legal efforts to demand the release of government documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) revealed the true extent of the Bush administration’s role in the 2002 coup against Chávez (published in The Chávez Code). Golinger, who has been liveblogging the coup as it has progressed, describes a situation in which it would be utterly implausible to assume the United States government was not at least passively involved:

“The United States maintains a military base in Soto Cano, Honduras, that houses approximately 500 soldiers and special forces. The U.S. military group in Honduras is one of the largest in U.S. Embassies in the region. The leaders of the coup today are graduates of the U.S. School of the Americas, a training camp for dictators and repressive forces in Latin America…The US Military Group in Honduras trains around 300 Honduran soldiers every year, provides more than $500,000 annually to the Honduran Armed Forces and additionally provides $1.4 million for a military education and exchange program for around 300 more Honduran soldiers every year.”

As Greg Grandin described the situation on Democracy Now!: “The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government… if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States, it’s Honduras… So if the U.S. is opposed to this coup going forward, it won’t go forward.” To which we could add Jeremy Scahill’s response: “Obama and the US military could likely have halted this coup with a simple series of phone calls,” or, we might add, by threatening to pull funding (which now, even after the coup, they seem unwilling to do). When we consider the leverage the U.S. enjoys in Honduras, claims by the Obama administration that they attempted to prevent the coup border on the absurd. Even more absurd, however, are efforts to defend the continued funding of a coup regime as “progress.”

Ciccariello-Maher's evaluation of the US response raises a lot of interesting questions: Did the Obama administration order the Honduran oligarchy to take action? Probably not. Did the Obama administration know in advance that it was going to happen? Probably, for the reason put forth by Grandin, although we cannot dismiss the possibility that people within the US military and intelligence community held back their knowledge just long enough for it to go forward.

There are other questions that we can answer more confidently. Is the Obama administration willing to take action to compel the perpetrators of the coup to relinquish power. Not yet, and possibly not ever. Indeed, consistent with Obama's trademark caution, he is having it both ways as long as he can, giving the perpetrators of the coup time to legitimize their rule while distancing himself from their actions. Some time soon, he will be compelled to take a clearer stance, and there is no reason to believe that he will act contrary to the wishes of the military industrial complex and order it to sever its historic ties the Honduran oligarchy.

At the risk of looking very silly, I don't see Zelaya ever returning to power, and, several months from now, after the military junta has conducted a farcical election to create a democratic veneer for itself, the US will urge the rest of Central and South America to acquiesce to reality. For, while Obama may not be willing to sully his hands with the dirty work of regime change in the Americas, he will be perfectly willing to enjoy the fruit of the labors of those who do.

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