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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Report: Israel Kills 16 Gaza Aid Flotilla Activists 

UPDATE 2: An appeal for political action by Caoimhe Butterly:

And, here in Northern California, Code Pink has announced a protest at the Israeli consulate in San Francisco later today:

Gaza Flotilla Emergency Response: San Francisco

Emergency Protest at 12noon. Israeli Consulate and march to Union Square, Memorial Day. Please be there! Bring your own sign!

Israeli Consulate
456 Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94104

Six ships with the Free Gaza Flotilla en route to Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid were attacked by IDF commandos, killing at least 10 people and injuring 50. The Flotilla carries 700 passengers from 50 different countries along with reconstruction, medical and school supplies. Protests are planned in Istanbul, New York, Cairo, Toronto, Belfast, Houston, Chicago and Dublin.

For more info:
http://www.freegaza.org/
http://gazafreedommarch.org/cms/en/Solidarity.aspx

UPDATE 1: Richard Seymour of Lenin's Tomb:

By the logic of Israel, any abridgment of its right to murder Palestinians constitutes an act of antisemitism, an existential attack on the Jewish people, whom they represent by proxy. Its job, then, is to do whatever it deems fit in discouraging and punishing said 'antisemites' while aggressively retailing whatever they do to an increasingly hostile world which, at any rate, they insist is driven by exterminationist antisemitism anyway. If the two ends - the violent preservation of Israeli supremacy in the Middle East, and the global PR - increasingly come into conflict, this is only because of a 'new antisemitism', not because of anything Israel actually does.

INITIAL POST: As reported by aljazeera. Meanwhile, Haaretz and the Times of London report 10 dead. Other reports say only 2 dead. By tomorrow morning here on the west coast, we will surely know more. But people in Turkey, the country from which the flotilla originated, aren't waiting before taking action. Meanwhile, we can be certain that the US will continue to focus on North Korea.

Max Ajl of Jewbonics, who is currently living in Gaza, has provided some background on the flotilla and the hysteria that it provoked within Israel here and here. Apparently, Israel believed that if the flotilla successfully broke the blockade, Turkey would have permanently broken the siege of Gaza.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chomsky the Closet Liberal 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Tokenism of Barack Obama? 

It has long been clear that we need to extend the concept of tokenism to take account of the fact that often these 'exceptional' women and minorities are not just included in positions of power but come to represent the worst aspects of it.

--Nina Power, One Dimensional Woman

It is a difficult and painful subject. To what extent has neoliberal society expropriated the aspirations of feminism and the civil rights movement in order to accelerate the the deconstruction of the social welfare state? Mainstream feminism, with its emphasis upon social and economic acknowledgement, promptly sidelined its more radical activists, reducing much of the issue of gender to questions of personal security, pay equity and reproductive rights. Important issues to be sure, but also ones compatible with the emergence of a more conservative economic order with increasing inequality.

Of course, the left, both new and old, bore its share of responsibility as well because of a doctrinal tendency to describe gender as a secondary contradiction, subordinate to the primary one of class conflict, something that a 1970s and 1980s radical like Diana Block unsuccessfully resisted. Or, to put in it plain English, Marxist-Leninist women had to keep quiet for the good of the cause when they encountered abusive, sexist proletarian men. As a consequence, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Benazir Bhutto, among others, stormed the stage and asserted identities as feminist political icons. All, to varying degrees, neoliberal, and all unabashed advocates of militarism.

Similarly, albeit more slowly, we have experienced a succession of African American mayors and governors who, on the whole, have done little to challenge the perogatives of the police in communities of color, and forged coalitions with developers and financial interests to gentrify their communities. Tom Bradley, the first African American mayor of Los Angeles, and Maynard Jackson, the first African American mayor of Atlanta, showed the way for numerous others, including Willie Brown (in San Francisco) and, currently, Kevin Johnson (in Sacramento). A similar trajectory seems to be happening in regard to the emergence of Latino executives, such as Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles.

In one of the most extreme instances of this phenomenon, Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode authorized the assault upon the MOVE residence that resulted in a fire that razed almost an entire city block, killing 11 people and rendering 240 others homeless. Perhaps suggesting that elected women and people of color find themselves incapable of opposing even the most dangerous schemes of law enforcement, Attorney General Janet Reno approved the 1993 attack upon a Waco compound of religious fanatics that 76 people. Relying upon claims of alleged child molestation, she literally killed the children in order to save them. To be fair, until recently, women and people of color have fared better in the legislative realm, at least, that is, until they began acquiescing to the program of corporate subsidy and expanded military operations pursued by President Obama.

Ah yes, President Obama. If there is anyone who could be said to personally epitomize Power's statement, it is him. Quite literally, he is representing the worst aspects of American exceptionalism and global capitalism. He has intensified the war in Afghanistan, expanded US military operations into Pakistan, and, if recent media reports are accurate, into other states in the region, both adversaries and allies, as well. Domestically, he has directed trillions of dollars towards the preservation of the financial sector in its existing, predatory form, while failing to take any action that would stop the ongoing wave of foreclosures or address unemployment. As the response to the BP oil spill shows, he is quite comfortable with administering the federal government in a partnership with transnational corporations, granting them the power to veto any action that consider injudicious. His indifference to the experiences of African Americans easily surpasses that displayed by African American mayors of past decades, as manifested by his selection of Elana Kagan for a position on the Supreme Court, a woman known for advising President Clinton to approve dramatically increased sentences for possession and sale of rock cocaine as opposed to crack cocaine, resulting in exponentially increased sentences for people of color.

Here, in Obama's selection of Kagan, we have the intersection of feminism and multiculturalism as a force for the preservation of the established order. But, does Power make too much of it? On Saturday, I addressed the subject of the left and its failure to fully mobilize its potential by adopting sexist forms of social organization and action. Should we therefore be surprised that capitalism has seized upon this deficiency, and symbolically appropriated feminism and multiculturalism to its advantage? While, as described by Block, the 1970s left prevaricated on the subjects of feminism and gay rights, capitalists seized the opportunity to commodify the experiences of women, lesbians and gays through consumption, and even devised marketing practices to exploit this cache with others as well.

Accordingly, the fact that there were people, like the Obamas, willing to advance themselves by reference to these developments should not be especially shocking either. One of my friends, a Japanese American woman, exclaimed, Why do we have to be perfect? during a conversation with an Asian American colleague about the purported workplace deficiencies of another Asian American coworker. She was alluding to the fact there were plenty of other white male employees with similar or worse defects. Likewise, in this instance, there are plenty of white males who have been willing to start wars, bust unions, defund social programs and subsidize corporations. No one calls them tokens.

Clearly, Power is trying to reinvigorate the concept of tokenism, and give it a contemporary radical resonance, but the term itself has a reactionary, bigoted context, and cannot, in my view, be separated from it. There is also, I think, an implicit assumption that women and people of color possess a potential anti-capitalist solidarity because of the sexism and racism that they have historically experienced. While there is some potential here, to the extent that both often express greater skepticism about capitalism than white men, it is easily exaggerated.

First, as a matter of socioeconomics, there is always the liberal solution of creating a multicultural elite, which has happened on a rather haphazard basis over the last forty years. Second, it subjects women and people of color to a higher standard than white males. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are criticized as tokens, while the Bushes are merely playing out the predictable behaviours of privileged white males. It suggests that women and people of color must deny themselves opportunities for advancement in order to bring about a revolutionary transformation of society. While women and people of color have been horrifically abused by global capitalism, the notion that one can devise a compelling revolutionary doctrine by characterizing them as contemporary noble savages, possessive of an inherent goodness lacking in others, is not very plausible, and a discourse centered around tokenism reinforces such a flawed perspective.

Instead, there should be an egalitarian emphasis upon acknowledging the importance of civil rights and economic justice within society as part of broader collective movement. Political figures, athletes and entertainers have an allure throughout society that is exploited to buttress hierarchical structures of violence and exploitation. Celebrity is a far more insidious phenomenon than tokenism, however defined, and an effective left discourse should focus more upon it than searching for sexual and racial traitors who betrayed the cause.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Peruvian Judge Orders Release of Lori Berenson 

To be released within 24 hours?

Her statement from 2005, on the 10th anniversary of her imprisonment:

My name is Lori Berenson. I am a New York born and raised political prisoner in Perú. I have spent many years in Central and South America, trying to contribute to the efforts of those who seek social justice for all. I continue this work from prison.

On November 30, 1995, I was pulled off of a public bus in Lima. Like thousands of Peruvians, I was detained by the anti-terrorist police, tried for treason by a hooded military tribunal under draconian anti-terrorism laws and condemned to life in prison.

This all occurred in the context of an internal conflict in Perú that began in the early 1980s with the armed insurgence of the Shining Path, and later the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.

When I was arrested, Peruvian President Fujimori made me a symbol for his anti-terrorist campaign. His ability to use the media for his own publicity purposes led to my case being very high profile.

Because of the tireless efforts of my family, friends and many others, the Fujimori regime was forced to retry me in a civilian court. In 2001, I was sentenced to 20 years for collaboration. In 2004, in light of the international anti-terrorism campaign in our post-9/11 world and under extreme pressure from Perú’s political class, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ratified my sentence.

The details of what happened to me are irrelevant in the broader picture of the thousands of Peruvians who have been killed, disappeared, tortured and detained during this internal conflict. Since history has always been re-written by those who have the upper-hand, the issue of subversion became the scapegoat for all of Perú’s problems.

In all parts of the world, symbolic culprits are used to obscure the root causes of social discontent, to distract attention and distort realities when any group of people question the existing order. The world order, especially in this era of globalized capitalism, is designed to benefit a powerful few at the expense of the majority of our world’s peoples. This system is unjust, immoral, terrifying and just plain insane. We must change it.

People all over the world are imprisoned today and suffering tremendous injustices for challenging this order. I express my solidarity with all of those prisoners, and in particular my admiration for those whose courage we can hear in the voice of Mumia Abu-Jamal, in the writings about Leonard Peltier, in the struggle for the liberation of Puerto Rico, and many others.

For prisoners, the struggle for basic dignity is a daily plight. Prisons are just a smaller version of the general system that operates in this world, and that is what is wrong. The desire to change it is why many of us are here in the first place. It is a worthy cause to be behind bars for.

Let us hope that she is quickly released as ordered.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Anarchism and the City 

In Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Barcelona, 1898-1937, Chris Ealham subjects the anarchist experience in Barcelona to a contemporary urban studies analysis, with striking results. Much of it has a strong, contemporary resonance in light of events in Greece. Ealham emphasizes the interrelationship of two features of the early 20th Century development of Barcelona, the emergence of a manufacturing economy incapable of generating sufficient profit to finance the provision of social welfare to the populace, and, as a consequence of the ensuing unrest invariably associated with such economic development, a perpetual contestation between proletarians, the bourgeoisie and capitalists over public space.

Barcelona aspired to be a world city, a Paris of the south, but the low profit margins of its small scale manufacturing activity, and a poorly funded absentee state, rendered such an aspiration implausible from the inception. Catalonia, unlike the rest of Spain, embraced industrialization, but Barcelona, the center of the region's transformation, lacked the resources to provide even the most rudimentary services to the people drawn there to work. For example, housing was grossly inadequate in every respect, there was never enough of it, and it was frequently expensive and dilapidated. Flats originally built for a single family were converted into beehives, accomodating as many as eight families, while casual workers and the homeless rented cheap rooms with beds available at hourly rates, and even paid to sleep on foot in a communal room. As for education and medical care, people found themselves compelled to accept whatever was provided by an autocratic Catholic Church. Anger over the abusive treatment accorded them by the Church in their condition of dependency contributed to church arsons in 1909, 1931 and 1936, and, perhaps other times as well.

Accordingly, the location of the working class within a growing Barcelona, and their use of public space became a permanent preoccupation of the middle and upper classes. Ealham traces a thread of continuity between the monarchy, Primo de Rivera's dictatorship, and, more controversially, the Republic, in regard to policies of social control. Each, in their own way, sought to criminalize various forms of working class resistance and fragment the communities in which the workers lived. Interestingly, Ealham describes much of the byzantine maneuvering among the political factions of the middle and upper classes during this period as being partially explainable by concerns over the ability of the government to preserve public order, by which they meant the preservation of a quiescent workforce. Hence, they abandoned the monarchy for the dictatorship and compelled the liberals of the Republic to resort to more and more expansive police powers prior to the Civil War, while abandoning their promises of social assistance.

Workers, whether formally or informally employed, sought to shape their communities collectively to enable as many people as possible to survive the conditions of extreme deprivation in which they lived, an endeavor that the elites perpetually sought to suppress. They appropriated public spaces in order to gather and protest; they congregated in cafes to plan organizing campaigns; they used the sidewalks to sell goods as street vendors when formal employment, as was often the case, was unavailable. All of these activities were either criminalized or disrupted by police action. Ealham explains how the elites exploited panics over morals and vice to justify these measures. Workers also created their own secular educational and cultural venues outside the control of the state and the Church. Of course, these, too, were subjected to repression during times of class conflict on the streets.

Through such conflict throughout Spain, the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo, the CNT, the legendary anarcho-syndicalist organization, was born. Ealham asserts that it was most successful when it was interwoven into the communities of the workers and their collective struggles, and supported evolving forms of historic direct action protest, such as forced requisitioning of foodstuffs, raucous street protest, rent strikes, and coerced hiring of unemployed people, but went astray when militants adopted unilateral, individualistic methods such as assassinating employers and other political enemies and expropriating funds through bank robberies. Of course, this is an old debate within anarchism, but Ealham marshals some impressive evidence for his perspective, namely, the precipitous decline in CNT membership between 1931 and 1936 because of police repression of what Ealham describes as militarized anarchism. Between June 1931 and May 1936, CNT membership in Catalonia dropped 291,240 to 122,812, while in Barcelona, it dropped from 186,152 to 98,292.

Hence, on the verge of the coup that everyone anticipated in response to the Popular Front victory, the CNT was, according to Ealham, in a weakened state. While praising the effective armed resistance to the military assault on July 19th, he suggests that the inability of the CNT to follow through upon its success and revolutionize Catalan society was the result of a diminished influence within proletarian communities, as well as a sectarianism that left it vulnerable to the reinvigorated power of the middle and upper classes, this time as manifested, chameleonlike as usual, through the emergence of the heretofore politically marginal Communist Party. A massive influx of new members after the coup concealed this vulnerability.

But could it have been different? Ealham suggests some possibilities. He highlights the empowering dimension of collective action undertaken in challenging circumstances, such as the rent strike launched just before the beginning of the Republic and subsequent ongoing protests by the unemployed and street vendors against efforts to drive them from the streets. Both created opportunities for organizing broad based support within proletarian neighborhoods centered issues of daily subsistence and hostility towards the police. Such support bent in the face of government repression, but the implication is that such actions created an enduring relationship that could not be permanently severed, whereas the small group campaign of assassinations and bank robberies did not. Even so, Ealham displays an ambivalence, as he does acknowledge public support for them as the Depression became more and more acute. Sectarianism also played a role as CNT militants fought with others on the left during these efforts, preventing them from realizing the reward of community based direct action activism.

Furthermore, women were an essential feature of community direct action efforts like rent strikes and efforts to combat inflation in food prices, while only being involved in expropriations, if at all, in an auxiliary role. If women were rarely involved in bank robberies, it can also be assumed that they were similarly infrequently associated violent attacks upon employers. Militarized anarchism therefore had the predictable consequence of sidelining a major portion of the proletariat and lumpen proletariat from anarcho-syndicalist activity. It constituted a marginalization of the already limited role of working women within anarchism, where women, even those within unions, provided support primarily within the domestic sphere. As noted by Ealham, unions were essentially masculine spaces. Clearly, the anarchists were not alone in this, Ealham relates how, during the Civil War itself, the Trotskyite POUMistas sexually segregated their meetings, with male party members mocking female ones. But the result was still the same, the failure of a revolutionary movement to mobilize all of its participants to their fullest potential.

Is it possible that women might have suggested community direct action and mass mobilization alternatives to the small group violence that became such a publicly prominent feature of anarchism in Barcelona in the years before the coup? One does not have to accept gender stereotypes to pose such a question. As Iulia, a Greek anarchist, said in an interview published in We Are An Image of the Future: The Greek Revolt of December 2008:

If we suppose that Greek anarchists are sexist I would say that it has to do with their relationship to violence in a way that excludes other activities that are more feminine in quotation marks. They have to be heroic and if they're not they're not important in the movement. It's this structure of small faction each with their own leader or face, a persona, and I don't like that. It's a patriarchal structure. Greek society is quite patriarchal and we carry these structures into our own groups as well.

As for valuing masculine labor over female labor, we lack the organization in which the importance of female labor becomes obvious. The heroic acts are most important; that's the only narrative we have, and so feminine labor is not valued. I think that's why we don't have many squats in Greece, because it requires organization. But we're getting more and more squats.

In this, the gender relations of Catalonian anarchism provide an echo that can still be heard in the present day.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 8) 

Obama's catfood commission relies upon investment banker Pete Peterson to provide staff support. On Fridays, I co-host a public affairs program on KDVS 90.3 FM. I've been thinking about referring to Obama with a new name: Reagan. As in Reagan ordered more drone strikes in Pakistan, Reagan is allowing BP to run the federal government response to the oil spill in the Gulf, Reagan is . . . well, you get the idea.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Elvis Costello Cancels Concert Appearances in Israel 

As reported by Jews sans frontieres. If you want to show public support for Costello's decision as I did, please consider going to this Arts Beat post at the New York Times.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Like a Bad Penny 

From today's New York Times:

NATO must be willing to fight and operate far from its borders to defend its members in a new world of terrorism, piracy and cyberattacks, according to a proposed strategy for the alliance released Monday.

The proposal, NATO 2020, also urges the alliance to restore credibility to its pledge of collective security, which it said was a prerequisite for efforts further afield.

NATO must be versatile and efficient enough to operate far from home, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who led a team of experts in writing the report, said at a news conference in Brussels. In order to sustain the political will for operations outside its area, NATO must see that all its members are reassured about the security of their home territories.

War without end, with the usual suspects:

In a post-1999 world of terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the spread of missiles to more aggressive countries and even non-state actors, like Hezbollah and Hamas, and threats to the security of energy supplies and the Internet, NATO must reform to remain relevant, the report said, adding: Although NATO is busier than it has ever been, its value is less obvious to many than in the past.

Yes, that's a rather mild way of putting it, almost a kind of dry humor. After all, if you are French, German, Italian or another resident of the EU, the prospect of going off to fight in faraway places like Afghanistan looks less and less appealing. But there are two important things that should be mentioned.

First, the report is an implicit acknowledgement that the US military is stretched too thin to continue to perform the role of imperial, capitalist police unilaterally, and requires more assistance than the window dressing provided by the coalitions of the willing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, the participants involved in the drafting of the report are frightened by the fear that dare not speak its name, the decline of the nation state itself as a form of social organization. Hence, the emphasis upon non-state actors and the Internet as particular perils.

One can easily understand why they are concerned. Nation states emerged for many reasons, and were often consolidated through military violence, but they have persisted because of shared identities, invariably mythologically manufactured, and the belief that the citizens of them could assert control over their lives through them. Unfortunately, the institutions of these states were never able to assert the degree of social control that they presumed to impose (with the collapse of real, existing socialism exposing the limits of the state in regard to asserting authority over its peoples and boundaries), and, to the extent that such controls were successfully implemented by means of economic regulation, public education and social welfare programs, neoliberal trends have been eviscerating them, leaving only the bones behind.

It is no surprise, then, that people like Albright find themselves desperately looking towards transcontinental military alliances like NATO as a means of preserving the existing global order. Accordingly, this is a subject that deserves more attention on the left, equal to the efforts that have been expended towards understanding the roles of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in facilitating the expansion of global capitalism. For anarchists, who reject the necessity of organizing life through nation states, this may be an opportunity to advocate for a more benign social vision.

From a perspective based upon world systems theory, Immaneul Wallerstein places the situation within a grand context:

The conjunction of the three elements—the magnitude of the normal crash, the rise in costs of production, and the extra pressure on the system of Chinese (and Asian) growth—means that we have entered a structural crisis. The system is very far from equilibrium, and the fluctuations are enormous. From now on, we will be living amidst a bifurcation of the systemic process. The question is no longer, how will the capitalist system mend itself, and renew its forward thrust?, but rather, what will replace this system? What order will emerge from this chaos?

We may think of this period of systemic crisis as an arena of struggle for the successor system. The outcome may be inherently unpredictable, but the nature of the struggle is clear. We are faced with alternative choices, which cannot be spelled out in institutional detail, but may be suggested in broad outline. We can choose collectively a new system that essentially resembles the present one: hierarchical, exploitative and polarizing. There are many forms this could take, and some could be harsher than the capitalist world-system in which we have been living. Alternatively we can choose a radically different system, one that has never previously existed—a system that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian. I have been calling the two alternatives the spirit of Davos and the spirit of Porto Alegre, but the names are unimportant. What is important is to see the possible organizational strategies on each side, in a struggle that has been going on in some form since 1968 and may not be resolved before circa 2050.

Along these lines, Albright and her NATO associates are working hard to refashion it as an instrument for global domination, socially, territorially and cybernetically. Meanwhile, in the UK, the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition has promised a broad review of New Labour measures that restricted civil liberties, with the promised repeal of a plan to require national ID cards, the reiteration of the historic protections through the defense of trial by jury and the restoration of the rights of non-violent protest, but my suspicion is that many of these measures will go by the wayside as conflict over austerity within the UK and the EU intensifies. It goes against the grain of more centralized governmental control over potentially restive populations.

NOTE: The Wallerstein article is only accessible to those who have a New Left Review subscription. For those of you who do, go here.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

USAID Funds the Apartheid Road 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Sub-Proletarianization of Europe (Part 2) 

An interesting article for what it reveals about the increasing economic stress now being experienced by the EU and the eurozone:

Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to abandon the euro unless Angela Merkel dropped her hostility to the EU's €750bn safety net for the single currency, sources in Brussels and European capitals said yesterday.

In a confrontation between Europe's two most powerful politicians, the French president said he would walk out of the talks and warned of lasting damage to the Franco-German relationship unless the German chancellor backed the plans.

It was a standup argument. He was shouting and bawling, said one official in Brussels. It was Sarkozy on steroids, said a European diplomat. He's always very energetic. This time he was very emotional, too. The French leader banged his fist on the table, according to yesterday's El País newspaper in Spain.

DeGaulle's departure from NATO in the 1960s made Sarkozy's threat a credible one.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 7) 

As advocated by David Leonhardt of the New York Times:

Democrats have more of a strategy — raising taxes on the rich and using health reform to reduce the growth of Medicare spending — but it is not nearly sufficient.

What would be? A plan that included a little bit of everything, and then some: say, raising the retirement age; reducing the huge deductions for mortgage interest and health insurance; closing corporate tax loopholes; cutting pensions of some public workers, as Republican governors favor; scrapping wasteful military and space projects; doing more to hold down Medicare spending growth.

Much of this may be unpleasant. But by no means will it doom us to reduced living standards or even slow economic growth. We can still afford to spend more on Medicare — even more per person — than we do today, and more on education, the military and other areas, too. We just can’t afford the unrealistic promises that the government has made. We need to make choices.

But, there is something missing here, what is it? Something has been, as they are now saying in the UK about the National Health Service, ring-fenced, meaning that it will relieved from the necessity of budget cuts. Let's look carefully, ah, yes, here's a clue: scrapping wasteful military and space projects.

Figured it out yet? Yes, you've got it. The purported war on terror, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond. Trillions more for that, with only wasteful projects cut, while trillions are taken away from public sector workers, Medicare, middle income homeowners and pensioners. In the UK, a Tory-Liberal Democrat government ring-fences health care, whereas in the US, we ring-fence the military-industrial complex.

After all, someone has to pay for those drone strikes, and it can't be the people who profit most from them. For Leonhardt, unlike the effort to assist in the provision of the necessities of daily living, US militarism is not one of the unrealistic promises that government has made. Left unanswered is the extent to which consumer demand can survive such austerity and prevent a even greater decline in economic activity and government revenue.

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The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 6) 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Vote or Die (Part 9) 

Yikes! Even a revered, internationalist Trotskyite like Tariq Ali has joined the abstentionist movement:

When asked if the experience of being a storyteller has softened the rigidity of his stance on the relationship between art and politics, he begins to talk again about his move "sideways" into films and Channel 4. Is he ever troubled by self-doubt? Yes I am. To be fair to myself . . . we had doubts even at the time. I never had any illusions about Stalinism or that style of society. What we hoped was that it would be replaced by something much better, instead of being a total regression. But that didn't happen.

His early non-fiction is stamped with the mark of total self-belief, and faith in the ideology for which he was fighting, which can lead to moments of unintended humour now. In Street Fighting Years, Ali describes how he asked Jagger to write out the words of Street Fighting Man, to be printed in facsimile in the Black Dwarf. He agreed immediately. We photographed the sheet of paper and I threw the original into the wastepaper basket. No one in the office thought this was sacrilegious. The cult of the individual is always a substitute for collective action.

Ali's intention on Thursday was not to vote – for the first time. I can't vote for New Labour, and of course the question of voting Conservative doesn't arise. I'll probably go and spoil my ballot, just so as not to be passive.

In the article, James Campbell describes Ali's decision to write fiction, especially the Islam Quintet, in light of the recent publication of the final novel in the series, Night of the Golden Butterfly:

He has not forsaken his opposition to neoliberal economic policies (capitalism, in a word) but is resigned to the fact that the predicted disintegration of the system has not occurred. It's a problem people have had to come to terms with at different times in history: what do you do in a period of defeat? In his case, the realignment took an unexpected form: he turned to writing fiction. The second act of the drama of Tariq Ali opened after the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989.

I had already begun to shift my priorities, which were totally political until the early 1980s, by forming Bandung Films. Jeremy Isaacs, who was then head of Channel 4, asked me to make some programmes. Time to move off the streets and be on the other side, in terms of looking at people and not being one of them. But writing fiction, which involves months of solitary endeavour, was a new sort of commitment. Ali's first novel, Redemption, a roman à clef about feuding Trotskyites in London, was published in 1990. The next year he worked on an entirely different sort of story, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, which entered an imaginative realm no less important to him, the historical world of Islam. It depicts the conflict between Christians and Muslims at the end of the 15th century, during the Spanish inquisition, and was to be the first of a five-part series called the Islam Quintet. It is concluded with the publication this month of Night of the Golden Butterfly.

Having read the previous installments of the Quintet, I recommend them, and hope that Night of the Butterfly is up to the standard of its predecessors. Ali deserves credit for reinvigorating the tired genre of historical fiction with his own subjective vision of the past. All four are excellent, but I found the poignancy of the The Stone Woman, a novel set during final years of the Ottoman Empire, wherein the collapse of the old world is about to unleash the genocidal demons of a new one, particularly compelling. If there can be said to be a dominant theme that runs through all the novels, it is the horrible consequences that invariably ensue from religious intolerance.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

A Bad Little Red Girl 

Prometheus 6 said it best: I guess it's time to get over my childhood crush. From the Guardian:

A handful of decades ago the roles for black performers in Hollywood movies were deliberately kept peripheral to the plots, so that their appearances could easily be edited out for screenings in the American south. Black singers and musicians were barred from taking rooms in the same hotels in which they were performing. Partners in an interracial marriage might decide to leave the US and move to more hospitable locations, such as Paris, to avoid hate mail and threats. All this and more happened to the singer and actor Lena Horne, who has died aged 92.

Horne not only rose above it all, but also significantly contributed to changing the situation. The velvet-voiced, multi-talented Horne first negotiated, and then resisted, the worst that a racist entertainment industry could throw at her. She rose to its summit as an original creative artist and a free woman whose style, beauty, eloquence and independence made her a role model for millions.

Horne shared stages with Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Billy Eckstine, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and many other legends of American music during her long and varied career.

She became one of the first African Americans to cross the music-business colour divide and tour with an all-white band, singing for the successful Charlie Barnet swing orchestra in 1940 and sometimes sleeping in the band bus when hotels would not let her enter with her colleagues. She became a favourite pin-up among black servicemen, but would nonetheless refuse to perform on wartime tours in which black GIs were either excluded from the audience, or on occasion placed behind the German PoWs in the seating arrangements.

Indeed, it seemed that just about every aspect of her life was a provocation:

. . . She had been singing at the Manhattan nightclub Café Society when the impresario Felix Young chose her to star at the Trocadero, a nightclub he was planning to open in Hollywood in the fall of 1941. In 1990, Ms. Horne reminisced: My only friends were the group of New Yorkers who sort of stuck with their own group — like Vincente, Gene Kelly, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, and Richard Whorf — the sort of hip New Yorkers who allowed Paul Robeson and me in their houses.

Since blacks were not allowed to live in Hollywood, Felix Young, a white man, signed for the house as if he was going to rent it, Ms. Horne said. When the neighbors found out, Humphrey Bogart, who lived right across the street from me, raised hell with them for passing around a petition to get rid of me. Bogart, she said, sent word over to the house that if anybody bothered me, please let him know. . .

In 1945 the critic and screenwriter Frank Nugent wrote in Liberty magazine that Ms. Horne was “the nation’s top Negro entertainer.” In addition to her MGM salary of $1,000 a week, she was earning $1,500 for every radio appearance and $6,500 a week when she played nightclubs. She was also popular with servicemen, white and black, during World War II, appearing more than a dozen times on the Army radio program Command Performance.

The whole thing that made me a star was the war, Ms. Horne said in the 1990 interview. Of course the black guys couldn’t put Betty Grable’s picture in their footlockers. But they could put mine.

Touring Army camps for the U.S.O., Ms. Horne was outspoken in her criticism of the way black soldiers were treated. So the U.S.O. got mad, she recalled. And they said, ‘You’re not going to be allowed to go anyplace anymore under our auspices.’ So from then on I was labeled a bad little Red girl. . .

And in 1947, when Ms. Horne herself married a white man — the prominent arranger, conductor and pianist Lennie Hayton, who was for many years both her musical director and MGM’s — the marriage took place in France and was kept secret for three years.

And, there was this:

Horne's long-suppressed anger over the treatment of blacks in white society erupted in 1960 when she overheard a drunk white man at the Luau restaurant in Beverly Hills refer to her using a racial epithet.

Jumping up, she threw an ashtray, a table lamp and several glasses at him, cutting the man's forehead.

When reports of her outburst appeared in newspapers across the country, Horne was surprised at the positive response, mostly from African Americans.

Phone calls and telegrams came in from all over, she told the Christian Science Monitor in 1984. It was the first time it struck me that black people related to each other in bigger ways than I realized.

Not surprisingly, Horne was one of the strongest, most publicly visible voices for civil rights in the 1960s.

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

What Do We Honesty Have To Say About Wednesday's Events? 

From Occupied London:

What do the events of Wednesday (5/5) honestly mean for the anarchist/anti-authoritarian movement? How do we stand in the face of the deaths of these three people – regardless of who caused them? Where do we stand as humans and as people in struggle? Us, who do not accept that there are such things as “isolated incidents” (of police or state brutality) and who point the finger, on a daily basis, at the violence exercised by the state and the capitalist system. Us, who have the courage to call things by their name; us who expose those who torture migrants in police stations or those who play around with our lives from inside glamorous offices and TV studios. So, what do we have to say now?

We could hide behind the statement issued by the Union of Bank Workers (OTOE) or the accusations by employees of the bank branch; or we could keep it at the fact that the deceased had been forced to stay in a building with no fire protection – and locked up, even. We could keep it at what a scum-bag is Vgenopoulos, the owner of the bank; or at how this tragic incident will be used to leash out some unprecedented repression. Whoever (dared to) pass through Exarcheia on Wednesday night already has a clear picture of this. But this is not where the issue lies.

The issue is for us to see what share of the responsibilities falls on us, on all of us. We are all jointly responsible. Yes, we are right to fight with all our powers against the unjust measures imposed upon us; we are right to dedicate all our strength and our creativity toward a better world. But as political beings, we are equally responsible for every single one of our political choices, for the means we have impropriated and for our silence every time that we did not admit to our weaknesses and our mistakes. Us, who do not suck up to the people in order to gain in votes, us who have no interest in exploiting anyone, have the capacity, under these tragic circumstances, to be honest with ourselves and with those around us.

What the greek anarchist movement is experiencing at the moment is some total numbness. Because there are pressurising conditions for some tough self-criticism that is going to hurt. Beyond the horror of the fact that people have died who were on “our side”, the side of the workers – workers under extremely difficult conditions who would have quite possibly chosen to march by our side if things were different in their workplace – beyond this, were are hereby also confronted with demonstrator/s who put the lives of people in danger. Even if (and this goes without question) there was no intention to kill, this is a matter of essence that can hold much discussion – some discussion regarding the aims that we set and the means that we chose.

The incident did not happen at night, at some sabotage action. It happened during the largest demonstration in contemporary greek history. And here is where a series of painful questions emerge: Overall, in a demonstration of 150-200,000, unprecedented in the last few years, is there really a need for some “upgraded” violence? When you see thousands shouting “burn, burn Parliament” and swear at the cops, does another burnt bank really have anything more to offer to the movement?

When the movement itself turns massive – say like in December 2008 – what can an action offer, if this action exceeds the limits of what a society can take (at least at a present moment), or if this action puts human lives at danger?

When we take to the streets we are one with the people around us; we are next to them, by their side, with them – this is, at the end of the day, why we work our arses off writing texts and posters – and our own clauses are a single parameter in the many that converge. The time has come for us to talk frankly about violence and to critically examine a specific culture of violence that has been developing in Greece in the past few years. Our movement has not been strengthened because of the dynamic means it sometimes uses but rather, because of its political articulation. December 2008 did not turn historical only because thousands picked up and threw stones and molotovs, but mainly because of its political and social characteristics – and its rich legacies at this level. Of course we respond to the violence exercised upon us, and yet we are called in turn to talk about our political choices as well as the means we have impropriated, recognising our -and their – limits.

When we speak of freedom, it means that at every single moment we doubt what yesterday we took for granted. That we dare to go all the way and, avoiding some cliché political wordings, to look at things straight into the eye, as they are. It is clear that since we do not consider violence to be an end to itself, we should not allow it to cast shadows to the political dimension of our actions. We are neither murderers nor saints. We are part of a social movement, with our weaknesses and our mistakes. Today, instead of feeling stronger after such an enormous demonstration we feel numb, to say the least. This in itself speaks volumes. We must turn this tragic experience into soul-searching and inspire one another since at the end of the day, we all act based on our consciousness. And the cultivation of such a collective consciousness is what is at stake.

Hat tip to Louis Proyect.

And, consider this excerpt from a statement from one of the employees of the Marfin Egnafia bank:

I feel an obligation toward my co-workers who have so unjustly died today to speak out and to say some objective truths. I am sending this message to all media outlets. Anyone who still bares some consciousness should publish it. The rest can continue to play the government’s game.

The fire brigade had never issued an operating license to the building in question. The agreement for it to operate was under the table, as it practically happens with all businesses and companies in Greece.

The building in question has no fire safety mechanisms in place, neither planned nor installed ones – that is, it has no ceiling sprinklers, fire exits or fire hoses. There are only some portable fire extinguishers which, of course, cannot help in dealing with extensive fire in a building that is built with long-outdated security standards.

No branch of Marfin bank has had any member of staff trained in dealing with fire, not even in the use of the few fire extinguishers. The management also uses the high costs of such training as a pretext and will not take even the most basic measures to protect its staff.

There has never been a single evacuation exercise in any building by staff members, nor have there been any training sessions by the fire-brigade, to give instructions for situations like this. The only training sessions that have taken place at Marfin Bank concern terrorist action scenarios and specifically planning the escape of the banks’ “big heads” from their offices in such a situation.

The building in question had no special accommodation for the case of fire, even though its construction is very sensitive under such circumstances and even though it was filled with materials from floor to ceiling. Materials which are very inflammable, such as paper, plastics, wires, furniture. The building is objectively unsuitable for use as a bank due to its construction.

No member of security has any knowledge of first aid or fire extinguishing, even though they are every time practically charged with securing the building. The bank employees have to turn into firemen or security staff according to the appetite of Mr Vgenopoulos [owner of Marfin Bank].

The management of the bank strictly bared the employees from leaving today, even though they had persistently asked so themselves from very early this morning – while they also forced the employees to lock up the doors and repeatedly confirmed that the building remained locked up throughout the day, over the phone. They even blocked off their internet access so as to prevent the employees from communicating with the outside world.

For many days now there has been some complete terrorisation of the bank’s employees in regard to the mobilisations of these days, with the verbal “offer”: you either work, or you get fired.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Black Goats 

The severity of the crisis within in the European Union can no longer be concealed. There is no way to dismiss it as a creation of a vocal minority within Greece, or, even a restive majority there, any longer, It is an economic catastrophe that threatens to engulf much of the EU. Investors made it official today, requiring newspapers of record like the New York Times to acknowledge it when they sold off billions of dollars of equities. Spain is next, and, then, after that, the UK, and then, after that . . . well, who knows?

Moody's summarized the situation today:

The banking systems of Portugal, Spain, but also Ireland, the UK and Italy are increasingly moving into the focus of the markets. Although the challenges in these six countries are different, the potential for contagion from their sovereign [credit profile] as observed in Greece is also spreading to some other countries and to the extent this affects these countries it could dilute some of the inherent differences in the banking systems and impose a common threat, Moody's said. Moody's said the concerns over Greece could spread to Portugal – which is at the forefront of investor concerns – but also Spain, Italy, Ireland, Greece and the UK. A key factor ... will be the market's view of likely success or otherwise of the recently agreed IMF and European Union support package.

Success in this context is most definitely a relative term. All of the countries involved will, even in the best case scenario as defined by financial markets and transnational economic institutions, have to substantially reduce public sector spending during one of the worst economic downturns in recent memory. For example, in the UK, the Institute of Fiscal Studies describes the cuts proposed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats as the most severe since the 1970s, while the ones proposed by the Conservatives will be worse than any since the World War II. Predictably, there is an expectation that some of the work performed by sacked civil service workers will be outsourced. And, of course, from the standpoint of both investors and workers, there is the fear that such austerity measures will cause the decline in demand to spiral out of control, as they did in Eastern Europe and the former republics of the USSR in the 1990s.

Is it any wonder then, that the streets of Athens erupted yesterday, as the Greek Parliament was about to vote upon austerity measures imposed by the IMF and the EU? On a percentage basis, the approximate number of protesters in Greece was equivalent to 3 million ones in the US. People around the world were shocked at the massive turnout, the attacks upon institutions of authority and the death of 3 workers trapped in a bank set afire with Molotov cocktails, but they shouldn't have been. Greece has been socially turbulent since the time of the military dictatorship, and appears to be heading in either one of two directions. First, there is possibility that it will follow a trajectory similar to the one experienced in Argentina in late 2001, a default upon its debt, and a dissolution of the existing political system, subject to a subsequent reformulation of electoral democracy. It has a surface plausibility because Greece, like Argentina, has a well developed anti-authoritarian resistance potentially capable of rendering governance in conformity with the demands of the EU and the IMF impossible. Given the economic and monetary integration of the EU, all of which serve capital, in contrast to the more collaborative ties within South America, and the willingness of left leaning regimes there to support one another during times of crisis, it is hard to comprehend how this could be accomodated by anything other than the expulsion of Greece from the eurozone.

Second, there is the more sinister alternative of martial law, justified as purportedly necessary for the preservation of Greek democracy. One already gets the sense from much of the coverage in American and British media that such a move would be welcomed. There is a clear subtext to these articles to the effect that there is a silent majority in Greece that is being terrorized by a violent, out of control minority. But a crackdown presents a lot of problems. Within Greece, there would be massive resistance, and possibly even a refusal by many in the military to follow orders. Others within the civil service would either actively or passive resist, rendering the country ungovernable. After all, the EU and the IMF are requiring cuts in public sector salaries and benefits as a condition for receiving assistance, something that makes about as much sense as a means of preserving social order as the US discharge of Baathists from the Iraqi military after the 2003 invasion. Within Europe, the imposition of martial law for the purpose of collecting debts for German and French banks would probably ignite continental resistance as well. Accordingly, a more likely prospect is a sotto vocce increase in financial assistance for the Greek police and military so as to enhance their ability to suppress protest, a process that will be blandly described as a modernization.

For the left, the events in Greece present new challenges. While it is too soon to know who is responsible for the 3 deaths at the Marfin Egnafia bank, and one can never fully dismiss the prospect of agent provacateurs, the overwhelming likelihood is that people who identify themselves as part of the more violent anti-authoritarian movement in Greece are responsible. Even if we subsequently learn to the contrary, it is a good time for reflection, something beyond the informed Marxist critique presented by Louis Proyect. Proyect makes a number of good points, especially in regard to the likelihood that the anarchist movement in Greece (and, perhaps, now, Europe, as well?) will experience even more aggressive law enforcement attempts at infiltration and provocation. His reference to statements made by Stathis Gourgouris at the 2009 Left Forum to the effect that there was a growing nihilism among young Greeks, a sense that even left politics had been corrupted, such that acts of pure rage and violence were being celebrated, is worrisome.

Anarchists should not allow an understandable distaste for Proyect's hostility towards spontaneous action to avoid confronting the tragedy at the bank. Anarchism, in its most popular manifestations, forged bonds with workers, and interacted with them in their communities, participating in the forging of new, proletarian cultures of lifestyle and resistance. Each creatively influenced the other, to the extent that, in many instances, it became difficult to distinguish between the community and anarchism. Most importantly, anarchists prized the importance of education, believing that they could reach people and persuade them to embrace a future without wage labour and hierarchy. Property destruction can, in appropriate circumstances, facilitate this educational process by exposing the absurdity of property and commodity relations. In marked contrast to Christians and Marxist-Leninists, with their emphasis upon vanguardist forms of organization, anarchists believed that people possess within themselves the capacity of creating a compassionate, egalitarian society, and, moreover, that there is no other way to do so.

If the people who attacked the bank identify as anarchists, they became estranged from these essential aspects of anarchism. No doubt, there are moments when violent resistance to the predations of the state are necessary, but, in this instance, they didn't attack the state, they firebombed a bank with the employees still inside. Anarchists of the past would have considered them their allies, and sought to engage them. Undoubtedly, there are many contemporary anarchists within and without Greece who did as well. Already, the individuality of the victims is being erased, as there is a rush by the Greek state and the transnational media to exploit them for their own purposes, much as the 9/11 victims were exploited to justify the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sadly, it seems that some anarchists expect this depersonalization to relieve them of the need to respond to questions of accountability. For example, there is the rationalization that the bank should have been closed, as they apparently often are during protests. Or, similarly, denunciations of the owner of the bank as the murderer of the victims. In the linked report, we encounter the expropriation of the lives of the victims in the service of the anarchist cause, even though they were apparently killed by anti-authoritarian, possibly anarchist, protesters. Beyond the offensiveness, it comes across as credible as claims of the Chicago police that the Black Panthers were responsible for the death of Mark Clark. One of the reasons why anarchism has been ascendant in recent decades has been the unwillingness of its adherents to reduce the populace to fungibility, as Marxist-Leninists, such as Stalin and Mao, did. Now, we see some anarchists, dismayed by what happened, and yet, incapable of responding coherently, participating in the same process.

Proyect analogizes the Greek anti-authoritarians to the Argentinian piqueteros, the mass movement of the unemployed that emerged in the late 1990s, asserting that both display a fetish against politics. A better example might be what transpired in Barcelona in Spain in the early to mid-1930s, when, according to Chris Ealham, in his just released book, Anarchism and the City, CNT and FAI anarchist militants initiated a cycle of insurrections that sapped much of the strength of anarcho-syndicalism in the city prior to the 1936 coup. The CNT lost so much support as a result of the repression that it increasingly relied upon bank robberies to finance itself prior to the Popular Front victory. Ealham implies that the failure of the CNT to carry out a revolution in the city after the coup was partially attributable to this loss of strength as well as the sectarianism of many militants.

It is understandably difficult for many anti-authoritarians to address this while still under assault from the police. But is there any choice? One Greek said that the Germans considered Greece a black goat, meaning that they didn't believe that it was necessary for Greece to remain in the EU. But if you take a look, there are quite a number of black goats around these days, people and institutions transforming themselves into pariahs through their response to the Greek crisis, Merkel, the EU, the IMF, PASOK . . . . and the anarchists could become another one in the herd. And, that's one of the worst things that could happen, because that really would open the way to a nihilistic response to the crisis, not just in Greece, but throughout Europe.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Fourth Reich 

Over 100,000 people on the streets of Greece today, with protesters rioting in central Athens, resulting in the deaths of 3 bank workers, and Merkel, the German chancellor, is threatening the country, and by extension, Spain and Portugal, with additional punitive measures. The previous Christian Democrat Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, helped push the Balkans into a vicious cycle of ethnic conflict when he unilaterally recognized Croatia in 1991. Now, Merkel, displaying a similar ethnocentric blindness, persists in intensifying conflict within the eurozone, increasing the prospects of a chaotic dissolution of both the eurozone and the EU.

Meanwhile, the Guardian captures the intensity of what is happening in Greece:

At 2.03pm today, on the third floor of a neoclassical building in the heart of Athens, three people died – and Greece changed. As the bank employees tried to beat back the flames, ignited by a firebomb tossed into the building by protesters, the economic crisis enveloping the debt-stricken country not only claimed its first lives: it shifted from bewilderment and disappointment into violence carried on an unpredictable current of rage.

The young bank employees, a man and two women, one of them four months pregnant, died in the fire which came within an hour of irate protesters laying siege to the Greek parliament.

All of us are angry, very, very angry, bellowed Stella Stamou, a civil servant standing on a street corner, screaming herself hoarse, a block away from where the bank had been set alight.

You write that – angry, angry, angry, angry, she said, after participating in one of the biggest ever rallies to rock the capital since the return of democracy in 1974. Angry with our own politicians, angry with the IMF, angry with the EU, angry that we have lost income, angry that we have never been told the truth.

Across Athens today the signs of that anger were everywhere: in the central boulevards and squares that resembled a war zone, the burning cars, the burning hotels, the burning government buildings and rubbish bins and shattered windows and pavements.

How many more cities does Merkel want to go up in flames? If her statements yesterday are any indication, there is no limit, as long as they remain outside the boundaries of the Federal Republic.

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Vote or Die (Part 8.5) 

(snip)

Rahm Emanuel worked in the Clinton White House as well, serving as a senior advisor until 1998. He then took a position as an investment banker, earning 16.2 million dollars in bonuses between 1998 and 2002. In 2000 and 2001, he served on the board on Freddie Mac, another government sponsored enterprise that serves a market maker for mortgages, earning $320,000 in bonuses. Financial and accounting irregularities at Freddie Mac, and Gorelick's old employer, Fannie Mae, subsequently played a prominent role in the meltdown in global financial markets in 2007 and 2008, necessitating an enormous bailout, a bailout that is ongoing and without limitation.

(snip)

The amendment to Audit the Fed comes up for a vote later today. The WSJ reports that Rahm Emanuel is whipping against it, and Bernie Sanders office says that it may need 60 votes to pass.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the kind of person you end up relying upon to look out for you as a consequence of your participation in the US electoral system.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Welcome to Arizona, Have a Nice Day 

Monday, May 03, 2010

Stop the Racist Attack on Immigrants 

Crossposted from The Spanish Prisoner:

Recently I was asked to give a talk on immigration. It’s been a long time since I’ve been asked to give a talk on any topic, and the first time I’ve been asked to talk about immigration. Below is the talk I gave at the University of Oregon campus on April 29th:

During the past decade, more than 3,000 people have died crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. These are people coming to look for work. They come here because the economies of Mexico and Central America have been devastated by NAFTA and other “free trade” agreements. These agreements are meant to under-develop these nations so they can serve as sources of raw materials and cheap labor. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has called these immigrants “criminal aliens”.

The state of Arizona recently passed a law making it a state crime for immigrants to not carry authorization papers. The bill also requires the police to ask anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant for papers, a sure-fire invitation to racial profiling. The bill makes it possible for people to sue police who refuse to do racial profiling. Meanwhile, in Maricopa County Arizona, Sheriff Arpaio keeps arrested undocumented immigrants in tents 110-degree heat. In 20009, thousands of workers at American Apparel, American Building Maintenance and Overhill Farms lost their jobs because they purportedly lacked proof that they were legally eligible to work in the U.S. When Obama was running for president, he promised to reform the country’s immigration system and offer undocumented workers a path to citizenship. (67 percent of Latino voters voted for Obama.) Instead, the Obama Administration has expanded the 287(g) program. This is part of the 1986 Immigration and Control Act (IRCA) that was passed under the Reagan Administration. This bill enabled three million undocumented immigrants to acquire legal residency. However, it also contained a clause, 287(g), which enabled the U.S. government to deputize local and state law enforcement officials to enforce immigration laws (something that previously only the federal government could do). As a result of this expansion, police have been able throw immigrants into jail after traffic stops. In 2009, immigration prosecutions were up 20 percent over the previous years.(1) A third of all filings in U.S. district courts are immigration cases.(2) Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), has said:

We’ve seen racial profiling practices that we haven’t seen in a generation, perhaps since Jim Crow. Obama ran on an agenda of inclusion… He wants equality. He said that we have to promote understanding. Well, guess what – the 287(g) program is not promoting that kind of understanding. It’s promoting division. It’s giving ammunition to all those anti-immigrant organizations, to all those groups with strong white supremacist ties. Day laborers all over the country have experienced it… the men and women who every day defy the odds to find a day of work – they’ve seen what hatred looks like.(3)

The Obama Administration has also announced that it will only award federal contracts to companies that use E-Verify to check employee work authorization. E-Verify is a program started by the Bush administration. It is on-line system by the government that allows companies to verify whether employees have work authorization. Journalist David Bacon has described the effect of this policy:

Workplace immigration enforcement is filled with examples of employers who use audits and discrepancies as pretexts to discharge union militants or discourage worker organization… Overhill Farms has a union. American Apparel pays better than most garment factories. In Minneapolis, the 1,200 fired janitors at ABM get a higher wage than non-union workers–and they had to strike to win it… If anything, ICE seems intent on punishing undocumented workers who earn too much, or who become too visible by demanding higher wages and organizing unions.

And despite Obama’s notion that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, at American Apparel and ABM the employers were rewarded for cooperation by being immunized from prosecution… No one in the Obama or Bush administrations, or the Clinton administration before them, wants to stop migration to the U.S. or imagines that this could be done without catastrophic consequences…Instead [e]nforcement is a means for managing the flow of migrants, and making their labor available to employers at a price they want to pay. (4)

Bacon touches upon a point that is often misunderstood by both the Right and the Left. The government does not want to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S., rather it wants to manage it. This is because the exploitation of undocumented workers is an essential element of how the U.S. economy works. Undocumented workers can be paid lower wages and forced to work longer hours than other workers, and forced to work in dangerous conditions, and they don’t have recourse to any labor laws in the U.S. What’s more, it’s difficult for undocumented workers to form unions, because organizers can be easily targeted and fired by companies. Let me use the case of Overhill Farms as an example. Overhill makes processed foods that are served on airlines and in other places. The workers at Overhill are unionized. Overhill has used the firing of workers as a way to weaken the union. Last year, the company fired 254 unionized workers, claiming there were discrepancies in the Social Security numbers. They then replaced the workers with “part-time” workers who receive no benefits, even though they sometimes work up to thirteen hours a day.(5)

Currently the Democrats in Congress are considering legislation that would create a guest worker program here in the U.S. This is not a solution to the immigration problem. Such a program would merely allow employers to do legally what they have so far been doing illegally, that is, exploiting immigrant workers. Workers who complain or try to organize can be fired, and they would have to leave the country under the terms of the guest worker program. The real purpose of this legislation is to provide U.S. companies with cheap labor. It has nothing to do with helping immigrant or native-born workers. The best way to protect the rights of both of these groups is give legal status to undocumented workers. According to Phil Gasper:

A UCLA study conducted a few years ago concluded that if undocumented workers were given legal status, wages for all workers would immediately increase by approximately 5 percent in agriculture, 2.75 percent in services, and 2.5 percent in manufacturing.(6)

The legislation being considered by the Democrats would also call for stricter law enforcement along the border including the erecting of a fence. This would merely make things more dangerous for immigrants, forcing them to cross in more isolated areas in the desert and mountains, resulting in more deaths and suffering. The only real solution to the immigration problem is an open border policy that would allow the free flow of people across borders. The outrageous anti-immigrant bill passed in Arizona has provoked an angry backlash among Latinos and other groups. In the days following the bill’s passage, thousands marched through the streets of the state capitol angrily calling for repeal of this bill. Some protestors plastered swastikas made of refried beans on the windows of the state capitol building. Since the politicians are intent on only serving the interests of the capitalist class, only a movement of the people can bring any real change. Last month, 200,000 people marched through the streets of Washington, D.C. to demand an end to raids and deportations and a better immigration system. This Saturday, May Day, people will be marching in Portland and in Salem. We should stand with those people.

1. Orlando Sepulveda, “Is the Gutierrez Bill Good for Immigrants?” Socialist Worker, http://socialistworker.org/2010/01/21/gutierrez-bill-and- immigrants, p. 3.

2. Ibid.

3. Quoted by Brian Tierney, “Standing Up to Immgration Police”, Socialist Worker, September 20, 2009, Issue 706.

4. David Bacon, “The Brutal Dark Side of Obama’s “Softer” Immigration Enforcement”, Znet, http://www.zcommunications.org/the-brutal-dark-side-of-obamas-softer-immigrationenforcement- by-david-bacon.

5. “Standing Up to Overhill Farms”, Socialist Worker, http://socialistworker.org/2009/07/27/standing-up-to-overhill.

6. Phil Gasper, “Scapegoating immigrants”, International Socialist Review, Issue 50, November– December 2006, http://www.isreview.org/issues/50/gasper2.shtml.

NOTE 1: Overhill Farms disputes the assertion that it replaced full time, undocumented workers with part-time ones with lesser benefits, stating that it promoted the initially part-time replacement workers to full-time status. Left unmentioned is whether Overhill Farms did this after the organizing campaign described in Socialist Worker last July.

NOTE 2: For further elaboration on this subject, please see the statement of Alexander Auerbach, a spokespeson for Overhill Farms and a member of its Board of Directors, in the comments section. According to Auerbach, Overhill Farms hired replacement workers and compensated them pursuant to the terms of its collective bargaining agreement, and is proud to be a union shop. Long time labor activist and author David Bacon provides an overview of the situation at Overhill Farms within the context of immigration law enforcement in this article published last spring.

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

No to the IMF Junta 

For thirty years, with the exception of the United Kingdom in 1976, structural adjustment was only for lesser development nations. The United States, Japan and the European Union preserved more generous salaries and benefits for workers, as well as social welfare programs. But that division is now coming to an end:

Prime Minister George Papandreou said Sunday that Greece had reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union on a long-delayed rescue package that is expected to be worth as much as €120 billion. The deal aims to help the country avoid debt default and prevent economic contagion from spreading throughout the region.

Greece’s finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, at a news conference in Athens on Sunday.

In a televised statement to the nation, Mr. Papandreou urged Greeks to accept “great sacrifices” to avoid “catastrophe.”

“I have done and will do everything not to let the country go bankrupt,” he said, appearing sober and resolved in front of his cabinet and appealing to Greeks to show patriotism at a moment of deep crisis. “I want to tell Greeks very honestly that we have a big trial ahead of us.”

He signaled that public-sector employees would see their salaries further reduced, while pensions for retired civil servants would be scaled back. He said members of Parliament would do without their bonuses. He added that in tough negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank, the government had succeeded in avoiding cuts to private-sector salaries.

Public reaction was predictable:

Athens erupted into violence as traditional May Day festivities turned into a bitter protest against draconian austerity measures aimed at tackling Europe's worst debt crisis in decades.

For the tens of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets in rallies that quickly descended into clashes with riot police, the show of force was just the beginning – a prelude of the storm that will rock Greece if its Socialist government "caves in" to the dictates of the IMF and enforces policies that have been likened to "the coming of Armageddon".

To make the point, scores of stone-throwing youths chanted "people don't bow down, it's time again for revolution" as a petrol bomb set fire to a police officer in the heart of Athens.

"They say the only way of salvaging our economy is more austerity, but that's a total lie," said Nicolaos Danizis, a 60-year-old shipyard worker participating in a Communist-led demonstration outside parliament. "These latest measures have been cooked up by outsiders and are totally outrageous. They are aimed not at the rich but at the poor. What we are saying here today is that they will pass only over our dead bodies."

As one protester explained:

"The IMF deals with injustice. It never targets the rich, who have deposits abroad and luxury cars and are buying properties in London. It always targets the poor," said Maria Koumoundourou, a retired bank employee as she joined the marchers. "Its involvement in our affairs is truly offensive and very worrying. It has made us very angry."

It is hard to imagine how these measures can be put into effect without forcing Greece out of the EU. For a photo gallery of the protests in Athens, go here.

It is easy to blame the Greeks, after all, bankers are very good at blaming their borrowers for their own excesses, but there is more to it:

It is tempting to view the Greek debt crisis as an isolated example of national profligacy and financial ineptitude from a country that should never have been allowed to join the euro. With a record of economic mismanagement and political instability – not to mention a propensity to "cook its books", if you believe the country's most vocal critics – it is hardly surprising that Greece has been forced to seek an international bailout.

But that analysis is probably unfair to Greece, whose excesses are only a few notches higher than other developed nations. And it misses the wider issue of a sovereign debt time bomb that stems from the credit boom of 2003-7.

After all, it was French, German, Dutch, British and Swiss banks that happily bankrolled Greece's debt-fuelled binge, one that has landed the country with the highest debt-to-GDP ratio on the continent and which lies at the heart of the country's woes today. Of course, Greece's own banks have played a big role in all this as well.

And where does it stop? Spain? The United Kingdom? The United States?

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