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Statement: Canada-China Investment Agreement October 26, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Economic Crisis.
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Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada
House of Commons October 24, 2012

Mr. Speaker, here is your 60 second briefing on the Canada-China investment treaty, the most significant treaty of its kind since NAFTA.

I requested a technical briefing from the Minister of International Trade on September 27. I got it one hour ago, so I can update folks.

It confirms that Chinese state-owned enterprises would have the right to complain and charge for damages for decisions in Canada by municipal, provincial, territorial or federal governments. It confirms this treaty will apply till 2027 for a minimum, and potentially till 2042, and China can complain of anything it feels is arbitrary.

It will be of greater benefit to Chinese investors in Canada than to Canadian investors in China.

No province has been asked if it approved of this agreement.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister asked that members of this place should acquaint themselves with the treaty. I have. It threatens our security, our sovereignty and our democracy. Yet this 60 seconds will be the only briefing this House gets.

IN SEARCH OF ANTANAS MOKUS September 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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In Search of Antanas MokusPosted on September 9, 2010 by Gerard Coffey

http://lalineadefuego.wordpress.com/

The light is green but no-one is moving

Gerard Coffey. Quito 09 September 2010

I was recently in Colombia. I like Bogotá. It’s a big city that seems to have everything. Lots of places to drink good coffee, people who actually want to help you, a mass transit system that seems to function, most of the time. Besides, Colombia is the land of deserts. Heaven for the sweet toothed.  But apart from personal vices[i], the visit had other highlights. It was the country’s bicentenary (20th July) as well the period between the Presidential elections and the inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos as the country’s new head of state (August 9th). An interesting time. Not least because of the massive march held by the regime’s opponents the day after the official celebrations[ii] and the friction between Venezuela and Colombia resulting from still President Alvaro Uribe’s accusations that the neighbouring country was sheltering terrorists, more commonly known as the FARC.

Although the visit was not work related, I did have a goal: to interview Antanas Mokus, the Green Party Candidate who lost the Presidential election, but was supported by more than a quarter of Colombian voters, i.e. those that did actually vote[iii].  Despite the loss, there was a sense at the time that something important was happening. The Mokus Green Party campaign was different, a breath of clean air. It offered some sort of hope for a country plagued by the decades of internal violence, drugs and corruption.  It could make things happen.

But I was never able to find Sr. Mokus or, what seemed far more surprising, the Green Party.  I looked everywhere, I tried all the phone numbers and e-mail addresses I could find, I even found a man who gave me two telephone numbers he said would help, on the condition that I didn’t mention his name. That turned out to be less of a problem than I imagined: neither of the numbers was ever answered. I once even thought I had found the head office. Two people, a local vendor and a security guard assured me that it was close by, just around the corner. And I found it. They were right. It was the party headquarters, of the Polo Democrático.  A friend finally suggested that his brother, who apparently lived behind  Mokus’ house, was willing to go and knock on his door. But apart from the invasion of privacy issue, by then it was too late. It was time to go back to Quito. So I contented myself with a few books I had bought, and the experiences the stay had brought.

With hindsight

Two months later the whole episode seems more curious than anything else. The world has moved on. Santos has installed a massive majority in the Colombian Congress, appears to have reunited the Liberal Party, has been making comforting noises internationally, heads a government more technocratic than ideological, especially when compared to the previous regime, and has distanced himself from his predecessor. Santos is his own man. And Alvaro Uribe? Well, he appears to have disappeared.  Off the map. Into the special house/fortress designed for him in a military sector of the city.

With time the search for Antanas Mokus and the Green Party also seems less puzzling.   I’m no longer surprised that I couldn’t locate either. As I now realise, the Green Party  doesn’t exist. Never did exist. It was an electoral apparatus. That is not to say that the objectives of the people that participated in, ran, and supported the Mokus- Fajardo campaign were a sham. Far from it.  The movement embodied a great deal of sincerity and hope, as well as counting on heavy weight political backers such as Luis Garzón and Enrique  Peñalosa, both ex mayors of Bogotá and, of course, on the vice presidential candidate, Sergio Fajardo, himself a popular ex mayor of Medellin. But there was never any infrastructure. And I can’t help asking myself what would have happened if Mokus had won. Perhaps the voters asked themselves the same question.

Perhaps everything would have been taken in stride. After all neither Mokus nor Garzón is a political neophyte.  Perhaps if he had won, everything would have seemed normal enough.  Perhaps the worst thing, at least in institutional, party political terms, was to lose. If the head of foam that surrounded the campaign in the first round had gone flat by the second, the beer itself has now drained from the glass. The party, such as it is, appears to be in a state of paralysis. Fajardo has gone, dissociating himself from the group after complaining of being treated with a lack of seriousness. The campaign, he has said, lost momentum when he also lost it, after falling from his appropriately green bicycle and fracturing his hip. The statement has the taste of sour grapes, but it does seem evident that he and his group do not fit into whatever plans the party might have.

For the moment at least, those plans are a matter of guesswork. The papers are full reports painting Mokus as a mayoralty candidate for Bogotá in 2011, or on the other hand that, he is not a candidate, that his wife, Adriana Córdoba is a mayoralty candidate, or that she is not a candidate, that Gustavo Petro, the presidential candidate for the Polo Democrático, and one of the few losers that came out smelling of roses, has been invited to join the Greens now that the smell of flowers has become too rich for the other members of the Polo, or, that he has not signaled a desire to join, or that he supports the mayoralty candidature of Mokus’ wife, of course, should she actually be a candidate. In practice the only solid evidence of movement is the appointment of Garzón as Party President and spokesperson.

A lot of the sense of confusion and loss of direction could be press manipulation, not of the facts, but rather what is printed and what is not. The mainstream media in Colombia is heavily Santified and in large part falls under the influence of his family, and Juan Manuel is probably not too keen to see the Green Party and its people pick up an opposition mantle that is presently lying over a puddle in the road. It all seems such a shame, such a deception. Perhaps Mokus is right when he says that decisions must be timely but not hasty. Perhaps under Garzón the Party will be able to shake off the slightly Wizard of Ozzish image it has recently acquired.  Perhaps by the time of the municipal elections in 2011 the Greens will be able to take on the role that so many hoped they would. Perhaps I won’t have to write any more articles like this. That would be nice.

A final anecdote: one that in other circumstances might be considered hilarious, but in the present situation strikes a somewhat sadder, although quite telling, note. The writer cum political analyst Daniel Samper Pizano, brother of ex President Samper and columnist for El Tiempo, tells that Antanas Mokus was to have attended a recent international meeting of Green Parties in Europe, but unpacked his bags on learning that most of them were full of environmentalists and left wingers.[iv]


[i] And without wanting to ignore in any way the very serious problems of poverty and violence the city suffers from. 

[ii] Judging from the banners most of the marchers were from rural areas and while no literature or information was available about the organizers, or the demands, the mere size of the march, and its open hostility to Santos/Uribe was impressive. The march must have been at least ten thousand strong, but did not receive major coverage. El Tiempo mainly commented on accusations of damage created by the marchers, although this observer saw no violence. The march was in fact heavily patrolled by its own marshals.

[iii] The election was marked by extremely high levels abstention. In the first round only 42.9% voted, while in the second 44.41%. However, this is not a record. For example, when Ernesto Samper was elected in 1994 only 34% of the voting population found their way to the booth.

[iv] Daniel Samper Pizano Los verdes: biches y extraviados El Tiempo Jueves 04 de septiembre 2010

How the Corporations Broke Ralph Nader and America, Too April 6, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Media, Right Wing.
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Posted on Apr 5, 2010, www.truthdig.com
Ralph Nader
AP / Carolyn Kaster
 

By Chris Hedges

Ralph Nader’s descent from being one of the most respected and powerful men in the country to being a pariah illustrates the totality of the corporate coup. Nader’s marginalization was not accidental. It was orchestrated to thwart the legislation that Nader and his allies—who once consisted of many in the Democratic Party—enacted to prevent corporate abuse, fraud and control. He was targeted to be destroyed. And by the time he was shut out of the political process with the election of Ronald Reagan, the government was in the hands of corporations. Nader’s fate mirrors our own.

“The press discovered citizen investigators around the mid-1960s,” Nader told me when we spoke a few days ago. “I was one of them. I would go down with the press releases, the findings, the story suggestions and the internal documents and give it to a variety of reporters. I would go to Congress and generate hearings. Oftentimes I would be the lead witness. What was interesting was the novelty; the press gravitates to novelty. They achieved great things. There was collaboration. We provided the newsworthy material. They covered it. The legislation passed. Regulations were issued. Lives were saved. Other civic movements began to flower.”

Nader was singled out for destruction, as Henriette Mantel and Stephen Skrovan point out in their engaging documentary movie on Nader, “An Unreasonable Man.” General Motors had him followed in an attempt to blackmail him. It sent an attractive woman to his neighborhood Safeway supermarket in a bid to meet him while he was shopping and then seduce him; the attempt failed, and GM, when exposed, had to issue a public apology. 

But far from ending their effort to destroy Nader, corporations unleashed a much more sophisticated and well-funded attack. In 1971, the corporate lawyer and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote an eight-page memo, titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” in which he named Nader as the chief nemesis of corporations. It became the blueprint for corporate resurgence. Powell’s memo led to the establishment of the Business Roundtable, which amassed enough money and power to direct government policy and mold public opinion. The Powell memo outlined ways corporations could shut out those who, in “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals,” were hostile to corporate interests. Powell called for the establishment of lavishly funded think tanks and conservative institutes to churn out ideological tracts that attacked government regulation and environmental protection. His memo led to the successful effort to place corporate-friendly academics and economists in universities and on the airwaves, as well as drive out those in the public sphere who questioned the rise of unchecked corporate power and deregulation. It saw the establishment of organizations to monitor and pressure the media to report favorably on issues that furthered corporate interests. And it led to the building of legal organizations to promote corporate interests in the courts and appointment of sympathetic judges to the bench. 

“It was off to the races,” Nader said. “You could hardly keep count of the number of right-wing corporate-funded think tanks. These think tanks specialized, especially against the tort system. We struggled through the Nixon and early Ford years, when inflation was a big issue. Nixon did things that horrified conservatives. He signed into law OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency and air and water pollution acts because he was afraid of the people from the rumble that came out of the 1960s. He was the last Republican president to be afraid of liberals.”

The corporations carefully studied and emulated the tactics of the consumer advocate they wanted to destroy. “Ralph Nader came along and did serious journalism; that is what his early stuff was, such as ‘Unsafe at Any Speed,’ ” the investigative journalist David Cay Johnston told me. “The big books they [Nader and associates] put out were serious, first-rate journalism. Corporate America was terrified by this. They went to school on Nader. They said, ‘We see how you do this.’ You gather material, you get people who are articulate, you hone how you present this and the corporations copy-catted him with one big difference—they had no regard for the truth. Nader may have had a consumer ideology, but he was not trying to sell you a product. He is trying to tell the truth as best as he can determine it. It does not mean it is the truth. It means it is the truth as best as he and his people can determine the truth. And he told you where he was coming from.”

The Congress, between 1966 and 1973, passed 25 pieces of consumer legislation, nearly all of which Nader had a hand in authoring. The auto and highway safety laws, the meat and poultry inspection laws, the oil pipeline safety laws, the product safety laws, the update on flammable fabric laws, the air pollution control act, the water pollution control act, the EPA, OSHA and the Environmental Council in the White House transformed the political landscape. Nader by 1973 was named the fourth most influential person in the country after Richard Nixon, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and the labor leader George Meany.

“Then something very interesting happened,” Nader said. “The pressure of these meetings by the corporations like General Motors, the oil companies and the drug companies with the editorial people, and probably with the publishers, coincided with the emergence of the most destructive force to the citizen movement—Abe Rosenthal, the editor of The New York Times. Rosenthal was a right-winger from Canada who hated communism, came here and hated progressivism. The Times was not doing that well at the time. Rosenthal was commissioned to expand his suburban sections, which required a lot of advertising. He was very receptive to the entreaties of corporations, and he did not like me. I would give material to Jack Morris in the Washington bureau and it would not get in the paper.”

Rosenthal, who banned social critics such as Noam Chomsky from being quoted in the paper and met frequently for lunch with conservative icon William F. Buckley, demanded that no story built around Nader’s research could be published unless there was a corporate response. Corporations, informed of Rosenthal’s dictate, refused to comment on Nader’s research. This tactic meant the stories were never published. The authority of the Times set the agenda for national news coverage. Once Nader disappeared from the Times, other major papers and the networks did not feel compelled to report on his investigations. It was harder and harder to be heard.

“There was, before we were silenced, a brief, golden age of journalism,” Nader lamented. “We worked with the press to expose corporate abuse on behalf of the public. We saved lives. This is what journalism should be about; it should be about making the world a better and safer place for our families and our children, but then it ended and we were shut out.”

“We were thrown on the defensive, and once we were on the defensive it was difficult to recover,” Nader said. “The break came in 1979 when they deregulated natural gas. Our last national stand was for the Consumer Protection Agency. We put everything we had on that. We would pass it during the 1970s in the House on one year, then the Senate during the next session, then the House later on. It ping-ponged. Each time we would lose ground. We lost it because Carter, although he campaigned on it, did not lift a finger compared to what he did to deregulate natural gas. We lost it by 20 votes in the House, although we had a two-thirds majority in the Senate waiting for it. That was the real beginning of the decline. Then Reagan was elected. We tried to be the watchdog. We put out investigative reports. They would not be covered.” 

“The press in the 1980s would say ‘why should we cover you?’ ” Nader went on. “ ‘Who is your base in Congress?’ I used to be known as someone who could trigger a congressional hearing pretty fast in the House and Senate. They started looking towards the neoliberals and neocons and the deregulation mania. We put out two reports on the benefits of regulation and they too disappeared. They did not get covered at all. This was about the same the time that [former U.S. Rep.] Tony Coelho taught the Democrats, starting in 1979 when he was head of the House Campaign Finance Committee, to start raising big-time money from corporate interests. And they did. It had a magical influence. It is the best example I have of the impact of money. The more money they raised the less interested they were in any of these popular issues. They made more money when they screwed up the tax system. There were a few little gains here and there; we got the Freedom of Information law through in 1974. And even in the 1980s we would get some things done, GSA, buying air bag-equipped cars, the drive for standardized air bags. We would defeat some things here and there, block a tax loophole and defeat a deregulatory move. We were successful in staunching some of the deregulatory efforts.”

Nader, locked out of the legislative process, decided to send a message to the Democrats. He went to New Hampshire and Massachusetts during the 1992 primaries and ran as “none of the above.” In 1996 he allowed the Green Party to put his name on the ballot before running hard in 2000 in an effort that spooked the Democratic Party. The Democrats, fearful of his grass-roots campaign, blamed him for the election of George W. Bush, an absurdity that found fertile ground among those who had abandoned rational inquiry for the thought-terminating clichés of television.

Nader’s status as a pariah corresponded with an unchecked assault by corporations on the working class. The long-term unemployment rate, which in reality is close to 20 percent, the millions of foreclosures, the crippling personal debts that plague households, the personal bankruptcies, Wall Street’s looting of the U.S. Treasury, the evaporation of savings and retirement accounts and the crumbling of the country’s vital infrastructure are taking place as billions in taxpayer subsidies, obscene profits, bonuses and compensation are enjoyed by the corporate overlords. We will soon be forced to buy the defective products of the government-subsidized drug and health insurance companies, which will remain free to raise co-payments and premiums, especially if policyholders get seriously ill. The oil, gas, coal and nuclear power companies have made a mockery of Barack Obama’s promises to promote clean, renewal energy. And we are rapidly becoming a third-world country, cannibalized by corporations, with two-thirds of the population facing financial difficulty and poverty. 

The system is broken. And the consumer advocate who represented the best of our democracy was broken with it. As Nader pointed out after he published “Unsafe at Any Speed” in 1965, it took nine months to federally regulate the auto industry for safety and fuel efficiency. Two years after the collapse of Bear Stearns there is still no financial reform. The large hedge funds and banks are using billions in taxpayer subsidies to once again engage in the speculative games that triggered the first financial crisis and will almost certainly trigger a second. The corporate press, which abets our vast historical amnesia, does nothing to remind us how we got here. It speaks in the hollow and empty slogans handed to it by public relations firms, its corporate paymasters and the sound-bite society.

“If you organize 1 percent of the people in this country along progressive lines you can turn the country around, as long as you give them infrastructure,” Nader said. “They represent a large percentage of the population. Take all the conservatives who work in Wal-Mart: How many would be against a living wage? Take all the conservatives who have pre-existing conditions: How many would be for single-payer not-for-profit health insurance? When you get down to the concrete, when you have an active movement that is visible and media-savvy, when you have a community, a lot of people will join. And lots more will support it. The problem is that most liberals are estranged from the working class. They largely have the good jobs. They are not hurting.”

“The real tragedy is that citizens’ movements should not have to rely on the commercial media, and public television and radio are disgraceful—if anything they are worse,” Nader said. “In 30-some years [Bill] Moyers has had me on [only] twice. We can’t rely on the public media. We do what we can with Amy [Goodman] on “Democracy Now!” and Pacifica stations. When I go to local areas I get very good press, TV and newspapers, but that doesn’t have the impact, even locally. The national press has enormous impact on the issues. It is not pleasant having to say this. You don’t want to telegraph that you have been blacked out, but on the other hand you can’t keep it quiet. The right wing has won through intimidation.”

Health Care Activists Lament Single-Payer Snub May 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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Published on Saturday, May 30, 2009 by the San Francisco Chronicle by Victoria Colliver

Frustrated by the exclusion of government-financed medical care from the debate to revamp the nation’s troubled health system, advocates of a “single-payer” plan are increasingly turning to demonstrations and civil disobedience as a way to get their message across.

[Jim Cowan takes part in a protest in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco. (David Paul Morris / The Chronicle) ]Jim Cowan takes part in a protest in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco. (David Paul Morris / The Chronicle)

During Senate Finance Committee hearings May 5 and 12 on health reform, 13 doctors, nurses, lawyers and activists stood up to complain that no single-payer proponent had been invited to take part and were arrested for disrupting the proceedings.On Friday in San Francisco, about 200 single-payer proponents held a rally in front of the Federal Building and headed in small groups to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office to urge the speaker of the House, who was in China, to back single-payer legislation and give its supporters a seat at the table of the health reform debate. The public appeals were part of a series of demonstrations being held in more than 50 U.S. cities over the next few days to encourage lawmakers to enact a single-payer plan.

Some advocates of a nationalized health plan are calling for activists to become even more militant.

“It’s the only way – direct confrontation with the people who are blocking what the majority of the American people want,” said Russell Mokhiber, the founder of the newly formed Single Payer Action.

“It’s about getting in people’s faces and being serious about the fact that 60 Americans are dying every day because of lack of health insurance,” said Mokhiber, who was arrested at the May 5 hearing and arraigned earlier this week in Washington.
Single payer unlikely

Reforming health care has become a focus of the Obama administration, with the president urging Congress to get legislation to his desk by the end of the year that would cover most of the nation’s 47 million uninsured. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but whatever Congress passes is not likely to come in the form of a single-payer plan.

In a single-payer system, as envisioned by most advocates, the federal government would pay for basic medical care delivered by public and private health professionals. The money would come from taxes, and medical bills would go directly to a government insurance plan, similar to Medicare.

President Obama and lawmakers have proposed a form of “single-payer lite” – a government-administered plan people could buy into as an alternative to purchasing an individual policy offered by insurers. But single-payer supporters say this option doesn’t go far enough. They want private insurers completely out of the business of covering basic care, which they say could save nearly 30 percent in administrative costs.

That’s clearly not something the health insurance industry supports. Many of the nation’s largest insurers prefer a form of “universal” health care that would cover all Americans, while keeping them in business. They tend to avoid discussing the single-payer option largely because it hasn’t been included in the national debate.

Some statistics show the single-payer concept has grown in popularity as problems in the nation’s health care system have worsened. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in January found 59 percent of the 1,112 people surveyed said they supported government-provided national health insurance.
Physician support

Several groups, including the California Nurses Association and Physicians for a National Health Program, call for a single-payer option. While not supported by the American Medical Association, a nationalized health system got the backing of 59 percent of physicians in a poll published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The California Legislature has twice passed a state-level single-payer bill – in 2006 and 2008 – making it the first state to do so, but both times the effort was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The legislation, authored by former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, has been reintroduced as by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. Leno’s version is expected to meet the same fate as its predecessors.

Still, single payer has been largely dismissed from serious discussion on the national level as politically infeasible.

“It’s off the table in Washington because of the politics,” said Laurence Baker, associate professor of health research and policy at Stanford University.

Health insurers and drugmakers have contributed millions of dollars to members of Congress. One of the top recipients of that money, said Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group based in Santa Monica, was Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who was running the hearings when the arrests took place this month. He accepted $413,000 in drug and health insurance campaign contributions during that time.

Many single-payer supporters interpret the resistance to the single-payer idea to be simply the result of a formidable lobbying effort by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, but Stanford’s Baker said the hurdles are more nuanced.
Distrust for government

Americans are clearly frustrated by the health care system. While some polls indicate that a majority of Americans favor single payer, some polls show a distrust of government’s ability to take over health care, he said. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in April, just 35 percent of those surveyed expressed support for a government-run health system like Medicare.

As the debate continues, single-payer supporters have clearly ramped up their activity and tactics. The 50 demonstrations have been organized by a variety of groups including Healthcare-NOW!, Progressive Democrats of America and the Green Party.

But not all single-payer groups promote civil disobedience as a way to draw attention to the cause. Don Bechler, chairman and founder of Single Payer Now, a statewide advocacy group in San Francisco that helped organize the demonstrations, said he is more interested in drawing in more supporters than seeing people get arrested.

California nurse DeAnn McEwen didn’t set out to become one of the “Baucus 13,” the 13 arrested at the Senate Finance Committee hearings. She happened to be in Washington for a nurses’ union organizing committee meeting when she learned about the hearings.

McEwen, of Long Beach, a nurse for 35 years, said she felt compelled to speak out about the lack of a single-payer voice at the table.

“At that point, I felt I couldn’t be silent anymore because it was like I was seeing a gag, a hand covering the mouth of a victim,” McEwen said. “There’s therapy for the broken health care system, and any other reform that includes the insurance companies is not going to get us where we need to go in terms of providing equitable and fair coverage.”

Health care proposals

A number of health policy proposals are under consideration as lawmakers work to overhaul the nation’s health care system, but a proposal to have the government pay exclusively for basic health care has largely been left out of the discussions. Here are some of the ideas on the table:

Public plan: Create a government-financed purchasing pool or “exchange” – one that people could buy as an alternative to individual health policies offered by private insurers.

Individual mandate: Require individuals to get health insurance through an employer, the government or on their own. In exchange, insurers would have to stop discriminating against people with medical problems.

New taxes: Tax job-based health insurance benefits, a controversial option that proponents say could help pay for the overhaul estimated to cost some $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Other taxes would come from hikes on alcohol, tobacco and soda.

Reduce health costs: Improve efficiency in the delivery system by upgrading technologies, increasing the availability of generic medications, realigning provider payments to reward quality of care rather than just quantity, and funding efforts to figure out which medical treatments work best.

© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.

Bush, Rove Tied to Effort to Dismatle Sweden’s Social Welfare Program December 11, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Sweden.
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bush-rove1

Democracy Now! December 9, 2009

Amy Goodman

Sweden’s three main left-leaning opposition parties have just announced plans to build a coalition for next year’s parliamentary elections. The Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Left Party say collectively they’ll try to wrest power from the Moderate Party, which leads a coalition of center-right groups. We speak with social anthropology professor Brian Palmer.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re looking at the politics of Sweden. Its three main left-leaning opposition parties—the Left, the Green and the Social Democrats—have just announced plans to build a coalition for next year’s parliamentary elections. They say they’ll collectively try to wrest power from the Moderate Party, which leads a coalition of center-right groups. The Social Democrats were swept out of office two years ago, after dominating Swedish politics for most of the last seventy-five years.

 

Brian Palmer joins us now, professor of social anthropology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden and a former professor at Harvard University. He joins us here in Sweden.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

BRIAN PALMER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Palmer, talk about the shift that’s going on in politics here—you’ve written a biography of the current prime minister—and how this fits in with the story we just talked about, the story of Alfred Nobel, both the Peace Prizes and his founding of, really, the weapons industry in this country.

BRIAN PALMER: One can begin by saying that the reasons for Sweden’s reputation as a progressive paradise, the strongest labor movement in the world with 87 percent of workers unionized, creating over many decades the strongest welfare state, the one that on the UN Human Poverty Index has the least poverty in the world. And then, what we’ve seen over the last twenty years, but particularly since the 2006 election, is a move away from all of that.

We have a prime minister who in the 1990s wrote a book, The Sleeping People, where he said that the welfare state should only prevent starvation, nothing beyond that, no other standard should be guaranteed. After being elected, Fredrik Reinfeldt, one of his first major visits abroad was to George Bush in the White House, this in spite of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, a visit that many people thought shouldn’t have happened, his coalition then getting—bringing over Karl Rove for advice and support—Karl Rove, the architect of President Bush’s electoral victories.

AMY GOODMAN: They brought Karl Rove here?

BRIAN PALMER: This past summer.

AMY GOODMAN: Because?

BRIAN PALMER: Because he can offer good advice on how to win the 2010 election. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Is this unusual for Karl Rove to do this kind of international consulting?

BRIAN PALMER: According to his website, it’s his only foreign consulting, for the Moderate Party of Sweden.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t the current prime minister visiting Bush in the White House?

BRIAN PALMER: Yeah, and there was much—many people writing that this shouldn’t happen. He justified the visit, that he would persuade Bush to sign the Kyoto Accord, but people who were there say that he didn’t even really attempt that.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about his politics, the prime minister, and how, after seventy-five years of the Social Democrats ruling—fit it into US politics, how you’d categorize what we’re talking about here, the spectrum.

BRIAN PALMER: The first piece to notice is really in the electoral campaign, when he tried very hard to appeal to working-class voters, described his party as the new workers’ party. And after one speech, he was asked by a journalist if it wasn’t a speech inspired by Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” And he answered that it was, to some degree. Bush was so successful at winning the white working class, especially in 2004, where white working-class voters favored him by 23 percent. Reinfeldt brought over only a small percent of working-class voters to his coalition, but enough to tip the balance.

And then, we have a real kind of silent war on the labor movement, where it’s been made much more expensive to be part of a union, where the legal prerogatives of unions have been made much less. We have a rather dramatic change in the tax system, abolishing the inheritance tax and property tax—most property taxes, cutbacks in social welfare institutions, some changes that will be very hard for future regimes to undo.

AMY GOODMAN: Can talk more about the starvation index, the measure that the prime minister here has laid out?

BRIAN PALMER: That was in his book, The Sleeping People, from 1993, where he wrote—I quote—“We do not want to see a society where people starve, but beyond that, no particular standard should be guaranteed by tax money.” And then he was asked on television after the book’s publication what he meant by that, and he said the boundary for social support should be the starvation boundary. That’s, of course, not his policy now, but it shows the danger of electing someone who is a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher to the highest post in the land.

AMY GOODMAN: I’ve been very interested in the social welfare system here, as the United States deals with greater unemployment, the crisis of healthcare. You have a social welfare system where healthcare is free in Sweden. And yet, you’re seeing increasingly private hospitals and private insurance?

BRIAN PALMER: Yeah, many small changes to, in some way, make it harder for the general welfare state to function—for example, creating—allowing the creation of a private children’s hospital in Stockholm only for paying customers and people with—

AMY GOODMAN: “Paying,” as opposed to “pain,” customers?

BRIAN PALMER: “Paying,” yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Paying customers in pain.

BRIAN PALMER: Indeed, who will pay the full cost of their children’s care, or people who have private insurance to do that. What this will do is start to create this kind of thing, will start to create groups of middle-class people who no longer have such a stake in the general welfare system, because they feel, well, I’m buying it anyway privately, and that will gradually erode middle-class support for the general welfare system that up to now has had very high levels of support from the middle class.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the health insurance companies that are coming in?

BRIAN PALMER: They are very, very eager for this business. And it’s a tremendous irony that, just at a moment when Americans, some of them discussing Michael Moore’s film Sicko, see the very unethical behavior of different kinds of health insurance and health management companies, many of those same companies are getting the opportunity to buy pieces of Swedish healthcare clinics, parts of hospitals—according to a new law, even entire university hospitals can be sold out to private companies—so that as Americans have mostly become skeptical of these companies, they’re being invited to Sweden to do damage here.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Brian Palmer, the issue of the left parties, or at least the left-of-center parties, now challenging the right in this country, the current government, what is the significance of the Social Democrats, and what is the Left Party joining with the Green Party, in this?

BRIAN PALMER: The Social Democrats are the largest opposition party now. The Left Party’s smaller, an ecological-, feminist-oriented labor party, and they have been excluded from previous coalitions. They’ve tacitly supported them, but not allowed—not been allowed to have minister roles. Now, for the first time, as of two days ago, the Social Democrats have accepted that the Left Party and the Green Party would be part of their coalition government—

AMY GOODMAN: Ruling coalition.

BRIAN PALMER: —if they win in the 2010 election.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, as people can hear from your accent, you are an American, a citizen who is now a Swedish citizen. You taught at Harvard and have an interesting story to tell about someone who’s become a significant national figure now, Larry Summers, who is the former president of Harvard. In your class in 2004, you invited him to your class to address the class and to answer questions from the students. Tell us what class you taught. This was the most popular class at Harvard, elective class at Harvard. You had 600 students in the class. You won the—was it the Livingston Prize?

BRIAN PALMER: Levinson.

AMY GOODMAN: Levinson Prize for teaching. But you ended up having to leave in 2004, shortly after your encounter with Larry Summers—

BRIAN PALMER: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —who’s now going to become, if—the chief economic adviser to Barack Obama.

BRIAN PALMER: Larry Summers was then Harvard’s president, and the 600 students and I invited him to be interviewed by us. And I think that in the environments in which he traveled, he wasn’t—

AMY GOODMAN: The name of your class?

BRIAN PALMER: Personal choice and global transformation—that he wasn’t used to getting very probing questions. For example, one student asked President Summers, “As a champion of meritocracy, how can you defend Harvard’s policies of giving an edge in admissions to the children of alumni?” And he became so irritated by these questions that he really fell into quite a bad mood and began to declare to the class that my ideas were “silly,” as he put it. And this was the souring of our relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: Your contract was not renewed?

BRIAN PALMER: No, no.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite the fact that you had the most popular elective class at Harvard.

BRIAN PALMER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And had won the teaching prize.

BRIAN PALMER: But as a consolation, I got to move to Sweden, which has its plus sides.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Professor Brian Palmer—

BRIAN PALMER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —teaches at University of—how do you pronounce it?

BRIAN PALMER: Uppsala.

AMY GOODMAN: Uppsala, here in Sweden. He’s a professor of social anthropology.

Heroin Legalization Program Approved By Swiss Voters December 1, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Political Commentary.
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Alexander G. Higgins, Huffington Post

November 30, 2008

GENEVA — The world’s most comprehensive legalized heroin program became permanent Sunday with overwhelming approval from Swiss voters who simultaneously rejected the decriminalization of marijuana.

The heroin program, started in 1994, is offered in 23 centers across Switzerland. It has helped eliminate scenes of large groups of drug users shooting up openly in parks that marred Swiss cities in the 1980s and 1990s and is credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts.

The nearly 1,300 selected addicts, who have been unhelped by other therapies, visit one of the centers twice a day to receive the carefully measured dose of heroin produced by a government-approved laboratory.

They keep their paraphernalia in cups labeled with their names and use the equipment and clean needles to inject themselves _ four at a time _ under the supervision of a nurse, and also receive counseling from psychiatrists and social workers.

The aim is to help the addicts learn how to function in society.

The United States and the U.N. narcotics board have criticized the program as potentially fueling drug abuse, but it has attracted attention from governments as far away as Australia and Canada, which in recent years have started or are considering their own programs modeled on the system.

The Netherlands started a smaller program in 2006, and it serves nearly 600 patients. Britain has allowed individual doctors to prescribe heroin since the 1920s, but it has been running trials similar to the Swiss approach in recent years. Belgium, Germany, Spain and Canada have been running trial programs too.

Sixty-eight percent of the 2.26 million Swiss voters casting ballots approved making the heroin program permanent.

By contrast, around 63.2 percent of voters voted against the marijuana proposal, which was based on a separate citizens’ initiative to decriminalize the consumption of marijuana and growing the plant for personal use.

Olivier Borer, 35, a musician from the northern town of Solothurn, said he welcomed the outcome in part because state action was required to help heroin addicts, but he said legalizing marijuana was a bad idea.

“I think it’s very important to help these people, but not to facilitate the using of drugs,” Borer said. “You can just see in the Netherlands how it’s going. People just go there to smoke.”

Sabina Geissbuehler-Strupler of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which led the campaign against the heroin program, said she was disappointed in the vote.

“That is only damage limitation,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of the addicts are not healed from the addiction.”

Health insurance pays for the bulk of the program, which costs 26 million Swiss francs ($22 million) a year. All residents in Switzerland, which has a population of 7.5 million, are required to have health insurance, with the government paying insurance premiums for those who cannot afford it.

Parliament approved the heroin measure in a revision of Switzerland’s narcotics law in March, but conservatives challenged the decision and forced a national referendum under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.

Jo Lang, a Green Party member of parliament from the central city of Zug, said he was disappointed in the failure of the marijuana measure because it means 600,000 people in Switzerland will be treated as criminals because they use cannabis.

“People have died from alcohol and heroin, but not from cannabis,” Lang said.

The government, which opposed the marijuana proposal, said it feared that liberalizing cannabis could cause problems with neighboring countries.

On a separate issue, 52 percent of voters approved an initiative to eliminate the statute of limitations on pornographic crimes against children before the age of puberty.

The current Swiss statute of limitations on prosecuting pedophile pornography is 15 years. The initiative will result in a change in the constitution to remove that time limit.

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