Sunday, April 30, 2006

we only protest when noone will take it the wrong way

How pathetic is the political ethos in the US when labor unions and other supposedly progressive groups are withdrawling support for a May Day work stoppage just because some might cast participants as "anti-American and anti-business"?

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"Socialist presidents of Latin America unite"

Is that a BBC caption or a Che call to arms?

It's the former, in an article describing how Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela are uniting not only for trade, but to "to work towards the eradication of illiteracy and the expansion of employment."

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Friday, April 28, 2006

tiene tremendo....culo

Needless to say, I was caught a bit off guard when, while searching for songs by Colombian hip-shaking superestrella Shakira (known more for her ass than her social commentary), I found a song called "Timor." Yes, that Timor - the land which saw upwards of an entire fourth of its population wiped out by Jimmy Carter's good ole pal General Suharto.

Not often the topic of any music, pop or otherwise.

A few excerpts:
It's alright, it's alright
'Cause the system never fails
The good guys are in power
And the bad guys are in jail

It's alright, it's alright
Just as long as we can vote
We live in democracy
And that's what we promote

Isn't it? Isn't it?

How about the people who don't matter anymore?

It's alright, it's alright
For a flag we die or kill
As long as we don't know it
Do it just to pay the bills

The Democratic Party Parasite

History shows social movements are the decisive factor in spawning change, not the party affiliation of those in office. Consider some of the major achievements in our country's history and how they have been won: the end of slavery (fought for a prolonged period of time by the abolitionist movement; against this backdrop, a series of events compelled Lincoln to free the slaves against his preference), the 8-hour day (vibrant labor organizing), the institution of a modest welfare state (fear of radical discontent arising from the Great Depression), the attainment of black rights (civil rights movement), the end of the Vietnam war, the legalization of abortion, the women's rights and environmental movements (all fruits of the widespread discontent of the era). Why is Nixon often referred to as the last liberal president? Not because he was an enlightened fellow but because the social movements of the time period compelled government concessions. I can't think of a contrary instance in which major change occurred not because of a large scale grassroots movement but rather because a Democrat was elected (if a Democrat is elected in the course of events or is already in office, all to the better, but the key to past change is the movements not the parties).

Seeking to improve the Democratic Party machine from within (the inside/outside strategy, etc) is (with only slight exaggeration) like seeking to turn Archer Daniels Midland into Oxfam. There's a reason the Democratic Party leadership and elected representatives are far more conservative than registered Democrats as a whole (that is, ordinary people) - the Party is irreconcilably tied to elite influence. Moreover, there's never been an instance in our country's history when the ruling parties haven't been tied to the elite. The reasons are structural so it's not a matter of entering the Party machine and changing people's minds as if they just don't see the errors of their ways.

Take for example the argument offered by some that it is important to actively support Democratic candidates to further the impeachment of Bush. The most obvious problem with this reasoning is that almost all the elected Democrats on the federal level oppose impeachment proceedings (contrary to their own constituency; polls show registered Democrats largely in favor) or even the mild censure resolution put forth by Senator Feingold.

True, it's obvious that, all other things being equal, it's better to have a Democrat than a Republican in office. Hence, in many circumstances it makes sense to vote for a Democratic candidate. I voted for Kerry in the "battleground state" of Pennsylvania in '04 despite the fact that I despised him. But it's quite another matter to devote one's limited time and resources as an activist to promoting a Democratic candidate. If indeed, social change comes from movements, not parties, than that is where one should put one's efforts. As a general rule, supporting Democrats should be limited to the 5 minutes it takes to vote for them when circumstances dictate and nothing else.

The Democratic Party is little more than a parasite on the Left. It absorbs the discontent of the population and directs it towards harmless ends. Again, history is instructive. Take the justly famous book, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." These lessons are illustrated quite explicitly time and again in this book and in many other sources.

The issue is of course subjective but nonetheless rather straightforward I think. I'd be very interested to learn of any instances in which significant change in this country has come from activists devoting their energies to electing Democrats rather than (or even, in addition) to building independent movements.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dick Cheney is long gone, but the evilness lives on

Halliburton recently won itself a $385 million contract to build immigrant detention centers in the US. I don't know - oil refineries, chemical plants, air traffic control support - now immigrant detention centers? Is there anything they won't take a contract to do?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Weekly Roundup

I attended the New England Anarchist Bookfair this past weekend in Boston and what I saw of it was inspiring. The best t-shirt for sale: "Don't rock the boat. Sink the fucker."

In an unrelated note, I was scanning the shelves at my local library and came across a book entitled "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun" - no lie. The dust jacket made it plain that the book was written for business leaders and featured praise from Ross Perot, William Coors, the vice pres of GM, and the president of American Airlines. It was published in, you guessed it, the 1980s. You just can't make this stuff up.

Some of the news and analysis of note we've come across in the past week:
Kevin Mattson, "What The Jungle Tells Us Today,", April 19, 2006
What’s surprising is how upset Sinclair was with the limited nature of reform The Jungle helped win. Sinclair was a socialist and an admirer of the municipal slaughterhouse system that had grown up in Europe. He grew so disgruntled with the shortcomings of Roosevelt’s support for federal oversight (Sinclair worried about bribery of inspectors, among other things) that he seemed to give up on reform for a period of time and turned instead to exploring numerous dietary fads – including fasting and an array of vegetarian regiments (one he learned at the Kellogg Sanitarium) and even an odd beefsteak diet.

It’s this detail that troubles me. Because I realize that Sinclair’s hibernation from politics and his search for "perfect health," as he called it, symbolized a broader change in American history. Today, Sinclair’s experimentation in lifestyle change has replaced the more public solutions captured in the Meat Inspection Act and Sinclair’s dream for socialized slaughterhouses. This displacement suggests a wider transformation in the American conscience. We seem to have a hard time talking about public solutions for the many problems we face.

Ken Silverstein, "Our Friend Teodoro," Harper's Magazine, April 19, 2006
An article on the cozy relationship of the Bush Administration with the dictator of the oil exporting Equatorial Guinea.
"Thank you very much for your presence here," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said to Obiang at a press conference last week. "You are a good friend and we welcome you." Rice didn't mention that her own department's 2006 human rights report on Equatorial Guinea, released 35 days before the press conference, laid out a laundry list of abuses that included torture, arbitrary arrest, judicial corruption, child labor, forced labor, and "severe restrictions" on freedoms of speech and press.
I happened to read the Mother Jones article on Obiang when it came out over a year ago and it's worth reading and is available online surprisingly enough (backup link).

Scott Shane, "National Archives Pact Let C.I.A. Withdraw Public Documents," New York Times, April 18, 2006"
In the latest example of the Bush Administration's exceptional mania for government secrecy, it has come to light that two government agencies with much to hide have been reclassifying huge numbers of government documents that were previously available to researchers.
The National Archives signed a secret agreement in 2001 with the Central Intelligence Agency permitting the spy agency to withdraw from public access records it considered to have been improperly declassified, the head of the archives, Allen Weinstein, disclosed on Monday.
The revelation drew a comparison with "a similar 2002 agreement with the Air Force that was made public last week."
"Thomas S. Blanton, director of the private National Security Archive at George Washington University," stated that "The National Archives aided and abetted a covert operation to lie to researchers and white-out history." The article reports that since 1999 more than 55,000 pages of historical documents (dating as far back as the 1950s) have been removed from accessibility at the archives. It appears the CIA and Air Force made the agreements with an assistant archivist at the Archives without the knowledge of the directors of the Archives - an underhanded tactic in a thoroughly underhanded agreement.

"Study: Health Insurers Are Near-Monopolies," Associated Press, April 18, 2006
"Consolidation among health insurers is creating near-monopolies in virtually all reaches of the United States," according to a recent study by the American Medical Association (in the words of the article). The study shows "that in each of 43 states, a handful of top insurers have gained such a stronghold that their markets are considered "highly concentrated" under U.S. Department of Justice guidelines, often far exceeding the thresholds that trigger antitrust concerns."
"The AMA says there have been more than 400 mergers among health-care insurers in the past decade. As they've consolidated and presumably eliminated duplicative functions, they're not passing the savings in personnel and administrative costs on to consumers. Rate increases, though slowing, are higher than ever and growing at a near double-digit pace."
"The AMA says it has taken up this antitrust issue with the Department of Justice, but says it has run into roadblocks with regulators. AMA officials say regulators seem uninterested, even though government officials are more than willing to target doctors' groups and hospitals on antitrust matters."

Stephen R. Shalom, "In Search of Economic Justice: A Review Essay," New Politics, April 19, 2006
One problem with many of the existing sects is that they employ "democratic centralism," a principle that says once the party or organization has reached a democratic decision, all members are bound to accept and follow it. In practice, in many such organizations the decisions are not reached democratically, but even when they are, democratic centralism will often be experienced negatively by those who are not members of the party or organization. It is extremely alienating to have a discussion with someone only to discover that no matter how persuasive your arguments, no matter how much effort you make to find some middle ground, your interlocutor is bound by democratic centralism to maintaining the party line.
I would only add that members are bound to not only accept but also to promote to non-members the line decided upon by the group. So no matter what one's personal opinions are, the member is supposed to publicly favor the decision taken by the group as a whole. The potentially alienating and demoralising impact of such a policy on the membership should be obvious.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Shoot first....

One of the victims of a shooting by US military forces in Afghanistan had this to say about the recent incident when this individual, and five others, were wounded:
"We were on our way back home from the clinic. The American patrol was driving and as they stopped, we stopped. They started driving, we did the same.

As we got close to our house they stopped, and we started driving towards our house. They opened fire on us. Minutes later a translator came to us and asked who we were."

Such is the rigorous world of identity verification in the US armed forces, where AFTER wounding six civilians - including a newborn baby, and a woman who was left with gunshot wounds in her mouth - the crack squad of heroic liberators decided to actually find out at whom they were so valiantly shooting.

Monday, April 17, 2006

"Yes, We Are Racist Motherfuckers," Announces Milwaukee Jury

...well, in effect at least. The photo at right (from the Feb. 6, 2005 MJS article mentioned below) depicts Frank Jude shortly after an encounter with a gang of off-duty white policemen at a party. His crime was to arrive at the event with white women (obviously his alleged theft is almost certainly manufactured, though it would be only marginally relevant even if true). An all-white jury deliberated for 26 hours before determining that white is indeed the color of innocence.

The following two articles from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal provide an overview of the case: [JOHN DIEDRICH, "Police suspected in man's beating," Feb. 6, 2005]; [MEG JONES, "Leaders call for calm, change in aftermath of Jude verdict," April 16, 2006]. A quick search on Google turns up remarkably little coverage of the incident outside of Milwaukee. Performing a direct search of the New York Times and Washington Post websites reveals that both carried short pieces from the Associated Press. I wouldn't have learned of the case at all were it not for the brief mention on today's Democracy Now!

About a dozen police dragged him out of a truck and assaulted him before on-duty police arrived in response to a 911 call and proceeded to join in the fun (according to the telephone transcript with the eye-witness, who was still on her cell with 911).
He suffered a concussion, a broken nose and fractured sinus cavity, cuts in both ears, cuts and swelling to his left eye, neck, head, face, legs and back, and a severely sprained left hand, his attorney said. His left eye was swollen shut and continued to bleed for 10 days, he said. [Feb. 6, 2005 MJS article]

Many of the police officers on the force with the assailants are, of course, refusing to cooperate with the investigation. In other news, the city announced it intends to replace its entire staff with Nazi stormtroopers in an effort to employ a more tolerant and professional officer corps.

The Federal Government is reportedly considering whether to get involved - it will be of some interest to see if this case gains wider attention from the media and the government or vanishes before most in this country ever even heard of it.
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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Keeping Venezuela off the Security Council

One of Latin America's two, veto-less (and thus, largely symbolic) seats on the United Nations Security Council will be vacant as of January 1. Given that one of the two countries in the running is Venezuela, Washington is throwing its weight around in support of the candidacy of the other - Guatemala.

"Throwing its weight around," of course, is a euphemism for applying "great pressure on South American governments" to ensure that Venezuela's nomination fails.

Not like the US would listen to the UN even if Venezuela were able to accomplish anything as a Security Council member.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Colombia's Indigenous Communities Face Extinction

A United Nations news brief (April 4, 2006) is warning that "Colombia's indigenous communities face extinction." The document is worth quoting nearly in full:
A humanitarian emergency is looming among Colombia's indigenous communities, with some threatened with extinction in the South American country's decades-long civil conflict, as irregular armed groups encroach upon their land, even torturing and killing their leaders, the United Nations refugee agency warned today.

In the north-western region of Choco, more than 1,700 Wounaan indigenous people are fleeing their traditional territory following the murder last week of two of their leaders, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in the latest of a long series of warnings it has issued over the past two years.

"We have repeatedly warned that some of the world's oldest and smallest indigenous groups are at high risk not only of displacement, but even of extinction because of the Colombian conflict," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a news briefing in Geneva. "All indigenous communities have close links to their ancestral land, on which their cultural survival depends."

More than 40 years of fighting between Government forces, leftist rebels and rightist paramilitaries, as well as other violence, has already displaced 2 million Colombians, with the country's 1 million indigenous people particularly affected.

Panic spread among the Wounaan after an irregular armed group killed two of their leaders in the space of 24 hours last week. Last Thursday, armed men burst into a classroom in Union Wounaan and left with the school's 37-year-old teacher. He was found dead a few hours later, his body showing signs of torture.

The following day, the leader of the Wounaan community was also found dead after being taken away by members of the same irregular armed group. He too was a schoolteacher. There are fears that more assassinations could follow as other leaders have received threats.

On the other side of the country in the south-eastern department of Guaviare, 77 Nukak indigenous people arrived last week in the town of San Jose del Guaviare, having walked for four months after being forced to leave their ancestral territory.

The Nukak are an indigenous group of very limited numbers that until 1988 was unknown to the outside world and lived a nomadic existence of hunting and gathering. In recent years, they have become targets for irregular armed groups who have taken over large parts of their territory. They appeared to be in poor health and clearly malnourished. However, their long-term future remains uncertain. It is crucial to find a solution that will allow them to resume their way of life and preserve their culture.

"Armed groups" in Colombia come in two flavors: pro-government (the paramilitaries and military) and anti-government ("leftist" guerrillas such as the FARC and ELN). All of them treat human rights with contempt. The pro-government forces are aided substantially by the U.S. government and have a long history of attacking indigenous communities. While the UN report is too polite to implicate the world's only superpower and a major source of its funding, it's clear that Uncle Sam is one of the guiding hands behind the looming extinction of entire peoples by force of arms.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Military Promotes Zarqawi to U.S. Public

Glancing through this morning's Boston Globe, I found this explosive tidbit:
For the past two years, US military leaders have been using Iraqi media and other outlets in Baghdad to publicize Zarqawi's role in the insurgency. The documents explicitly list the "US Home Audience" as a target of a broader propaganda campaign.

This can hardly come as a great surprise to anyone following the course of the occupation. However, this is the first solid evidence of the US's strategy that I'm aware of. Journalists like Robert Fisk and Dahr Jamail have been questioning whether Zarqawi is even alive for quite some time. Casting a murderous lunatic like Zarqawi in the role of villain is a well-worn strategy of the US government when it's looking to justify some military adventure. It's important that the American public identify the Iraqi resistance forces with sectarian violence and bombings of civilians rather than a struggle against foreign occupying forces that might inevitably lead to comparisons with our own revolutionary war.
[Thomas E. Ricks, "US seen boosting Zarqawi's profile," Washington Post, April 10, 2006]
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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Who says Latin America is swinging to the left?

President Tony Saca's El Salvador - which, in a pathetic, banana republic attempt to curry favor with Washington, has a convoy of troops in Iraq - is now bringing a part of Southwest Asia (incorrectly labelled the "Middle East" in mainstream discourse) back home: training by the Israel Defense Forces.

According to YNet News, the IDF is being sought to help "in building a modern and efficient army" for El Salvador.

No word on whether the IDF will also provide counsel on colonial dispossession and how to bulldoze homes with people inside of them.

And for the irony record, Mr. Saca is the descendant of Palestinian immigrants.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

A town looking beyond the immigration debate

While the children of privilege sit in their Washington chambers discussing varied plans to address the "problem" of "illegal" immigration, Maywood, California, a Los Angeles suburb with a population that is 97 percent Latino, is singing its own tune:
In the midst of an intense national debate about immigration the city council has officially declared Maywood a safe haven for illegal immigrants.

At a weekly immigrants' support group meeting there is a sense of purpose in the air.

It is chaired by the driving force behind the controversial decision, Maywood's deputy mayor Felipe Aguirre.

"We don't think that people are breaking the law if they simply don't have documents, so we decided to turn this place into a sanctuary city," he said.


When he is not preaching to his flock, Pastor David Velasquez is speaking in revolutionary tones.

"The people felt that they were being persecuted, but now they have the power over the police. They can't tell us what to do."


Felipe Aguirre says he has had threatening phone messages and other council members have received physical threats. But he remains defiant.

"We don't consider these immigration laws to be just. It's not right that if I'm talking to someone who doesn't have the correct papers, I could be considered a felon. No, we answer to a higher law."

And other communities are beginning to follow Maywood's lead.

[Latino suburb welcomes illegals, BBC, 1 April 2006]

One can only wonder when the higher law will be struck by the cruel baton of those seeking to "secure the border."