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Then and Now: US Policy Towards Central American Fuels Child Refugee Crisis August 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Guatemala, Immigration, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: This article speaks of the US support for Guatemalan genocide.  We should not forget that the US government in Central America trained death squads in El Salvador (in support of a repressive ultra right government) and Nicaragua (in support of the fascist Contras) and enabled the 2009 coup in Honduras that replaced a democratically elected mildly progressive government with one that has turned the country into one of the most violent and corrupt nations on the face of the earth.  Your American tax dollar at work.

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Decades of failed US policies in Central America have a direct link to the dire conditions that cause young children to abandon their homes and flee north. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

For once the Republicans got it right. But not in the way they think. Indeed, President Obama carries the representative blame for the debacle (including reports of sadistic abuseby U.S. Border Patrol) of largely Central American migrant children long overwhelming shelters at the border. But the guilt is much broader, ranging from successive administrations all the way down to us, as American taxpayers.

Decades of U.S. policy in Guatemala alone have turned the country into a land of wreck and ruin. This is the ultimate reason migrants have been crossing into the United States in increasing numbers in recent months. Harsh immigration enforcement policies, such as the ones the Obama administration has been championing, add insult to injury as the U.S. punishes migrants when they arrive when it should be paying people like those of Guatemala massive reparations.

“They owe it to us.”

It is indisputable that the U.S. shares significant responsibility for the genocide of tens of thousands of Guatemalans—mainly indigenous Mayans who comprised a majority of the (at least) 150,000 killed in the 1980s alone. A 1999 UN Truth Commission blamed Guatemalan state forces for 93 percent of the atrocities. That same year, former President Bill Clinton admitted the wrongness of U.S. support support for Guatemalan state violence.

U.S. culpability for Guatemala’s plight endures to this day. The problem is—then and now—the United States is in denial as a nation over what to do about its complicity.

Just ask Clinton. The day of his apology in Guatemala City, he looked genocide survivors in the face, voiced regret for the U.S. enabling their suffering, and then rejected their impassioned pleas for U.S. immigration reform because, he said, “we must enforce our laws.” Today, many continue to call on the U.S. for reform measures like temporary protected status. And still, U.S. officials meet them with silence or dismissal.

Some Guatemalans, particularly the young generation living unauthorized in the U.S., know who’s responsible for the origins of their current troubles and aren’t confused by what to do about it. Erika Perez, an indigenous Mayan student in New England, told me: “My role in the U.S. is to tell [fellow Guatemalans], ‘Take advantage of all the opportunities around us.'” After all, “They owe it to us.”

Perez says the Guatemalan economy for most of the population hasn’t recovered from the genocidal wreckage of the 1980s and continues to be subjugated by U.S.-led neoliberal economic reforms like NAFTA and CAFTA. The desperate situation keeps sending Guatemalans like her migrating as a necessary means of decent survival.

Erika crossed the Arizona/Mexico desert, the deadliest area for migrants along the border, when she was eighteen in 2002. An indigenous Mayan who then spoke Spanish but no English, she faced sexual violence and dehydration along the way—but survived. So many other Guatemalans, a majority of them from the Mayan highland areas hit hardest by the genocide, remain missing while trying to cross the same part of border, according to data acquired from the Pima County medical examiner’s Missing Migrants Project (now theColibrí Center for Human Rights).

Escaping a “Silent Holocaust”

“Opportunity,” the young Antonio Albizures-Lopez recalls, was the purpose of his family’s unauthorized migration to the United States, as well as “to escape the violence that was influenced directly by U.S. intervention”—including the murders of four of Antonio’s aunts. Albizures-Lopez grew up in Providence, RI since he was 1 year old in 1992, shortly after his mother crossed the Rio Grande River with Antonio strapped to her back.

International legal experts describe the social climate in the U.S. at the time of the genocide as a “Silent Holocaust”. In Antonio’s case, the term couldn’t be more appropriate. He was born in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, where one of the military bases set up with U.S. support “maintained its own crematorium and ‘processed’ abductees by chopping off limbs, singeing flesh and administering electric shocks,” according to veteran journalist Allan Nairn who interviewed a former agent of the G-2 secret intelligence service—the notorious Guatemalan agency long on the payroll of the U.S. State Department.

Meaningful forms of justice and accountability would have a long reach. They would provide restitution following the stories of Guatemalan youth like Antonio and Erika, two of many who are carrying the burden of genocide from their parents’ generation. True accountability would also address, among other cases, the 16,472 DREAM-ers who have listed Guatemala as their country of origin when they registered for President Obama’s 2012 deferred action program (DACA). Justice and accountability would lead to fundamental changes in U.S. policies toward the Guatemalan state.

Instead, Washington offers programs such as the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), a $496 million endeavor since 2008 to train and assist local security forces to counter, among other perceived threats, “border security deficiencies.” Along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the US Southern and Northern Commands, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have all expanded activities in the regionunder the auspices of the war on drugs, gangs, and other criminal activity.

The U.S. formally cut off military aid to Guatemala in 1977, though U.S. funding flowed atnormal levels through the early 1980s and Guatemala enjoyed enormous military support, by proxy, through U.S. client states such as Israel, Taiwan, and South Africa.

All in all, U.S. militarization in Guatemala has altered only in wording, shifting predominantly from anti-communist to currently anti-drug and counter-terror rhetoric. The policy trend continues through the present day, spanning across the Guatemalan boundary with Mexico as the “new southern border” of the United States, in the words of Chief Diplomatic Officer for DHS Alan Bersin.

The official U.S. position on supporting Guatemalan military activities is that it “was wrong” in the past, and is no longer permissible to support Guatemalan militarization except in relation to “homeland security.” In other words, Washington exercises the “doublethink” practice of “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them,” to quote George Orwell.

Some Guatemalans won’t wait for U.S. immigration reform

Meanwhile, as we’ve seen here lately in Arizona, Guatemalans are still fleeing a constant renewal of U.S.-caused duress. Reviewing the most visible case, the plight of migrant children at the border has relentlessly gripped the nation. “Many of the parents of these children are in the United States,” explained Guatemalan ambassador to the U.S., Julio Ligorria, “and the children go to find them.” The children also are reportedly suffering the same sorts of Border Patrol abuses long familiar to their parents’ generation, whose mistreatment often goes unnoticed.

So what next? Recognizing guilt is a crucial first step. Even more important is what comes after that recognition. Relevant here, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the function of a “guilt complex” in the American conscience regarding past and ongoing abuses. In a 1957 interview with NBC, King remarked: “Psychologists would say that a guilt complex can lead to two reactions. One is acceptance and the desire to change. The other reaction is to indulge in more of the very thing that you have the sense of guilt about.”

Recognition of U.S. guilt over the Guatemalan genocide should translate into concrete forms of remedial action which, to the degree possible, corresponds with the scope of the crime.

But Guatemalans like Erika aren’t waiting. She’s teaching Guatemalans in her community crucial skills like English, advocating to cancel deportation orders against fellow migrants, putting herself through college. She says her philosophy of “empowering people in my community is: ‘Don’t be afraid anymore.'”

 

“The More Effective Evil” Curtain Call and the Prospect of Hilary 2016 June 2, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Imperialism.
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Roger’s note: “While the Obama Administration was busy militarizing Africa, propping up the prison state, privatizing education, slashing entitlements, waging NATO-led wars all over Eurasia, dropping drones, eroding civil liberties, and bailing out Wall Street, white liberals and Black misleaders spent much of their time defending Obama’s actions and seeking Democratic Party approval.”

No Republican president could get away with what Obama has wreaked without massive left/liberal opposition in the streets.  That is what the lesser of evils gets you.

 

Hillary_War_Wall_Street-300x231

by Danny Haiphong

Obama’s exit will conclude a period of history where the even harsher tasting ‘Satan Sandwich’ of austerity, imperialist adventure, and state repression was swallowed with little resistance by the most progressive forces residing in the American empire.”

The corporate media has been preparing the Obama Administration’s curtain call for the 2016 election cycle. Obama’s diligent service for corporate empire stabilized the political rule of imperialism at a high cost for oppressed people everywhere. Now, with the Obama Administration’s popularity at an all time low from the US to South Africa to the Asia Pacific, corporate media syndicates have set their sights on Hilary Clinton’s possible 2016 candidacy. During her tenure as Obama’s first Secretary of State (2009-2013), Hillary performed the role of top lapdog for the Obama Administration’s imperialist ventures. It is important for the radical left to begin preparing for what’s to come while continuing to struggle against prevailing conditions, as the Obama Administration is far from finished with its task of managing the affairs of corporate empire at the people’s expense.

The few of us who have spent nearly six years fighting Obama-mania are glad to see him go. The Obama Administration consolidated the rule of corporate imperialism far more effectively than the Bush Jr. Administration. This is why Black Agenda Report has called Barack Obama “the more effective evil” from the minute he began making policy decisions. Obama’s mere presence in the White House built a dangerous white liberal and Black American consensus that terribly confused the actions and positions of the US left. While the Obama Administration was busy militarizing Africa, propping up the prison state, privatizing education, slashing entitlements, waging NATO-led wars all over Eurasia, dropping drones, eroding civil liberties, and bailing out Wall Street, white liberals and Black misleaders spent much of their time defending Obama’s actions and seeking Democratic Party approval. This balance of forces stifled radical political resistance, as best evidenced by the deterioration of the US anti-imperialist movement and the rapid dissolution of Occupy Wall Street.

The left will need to carry out an offensive against materialized fascism or decide, as it has for the last six years, to continue attaching itself to the interests of the corporate ruling class.”

The end of the Obama era and the prospect of Hillary present an interesting challenge to grassroots left forces in the years to come. The Obama presidency’s affect on the consciousness of exploited and oppressed people allowed the ruling circle to institutionalize police-state laws like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and imperialist projects such as “humanitarian intervention” with little organized resistance. Race to the Top and the Affordable Care Act institutionalized privatization at the national level. Thus, state repression, capitalist austerity, and imperialist intervention will find strong consensus within both parties of the US establishment come 2016. Starting from this point, the left will need to carry out an offensive against materialized fascism or decide, as it has for the last six years, to continue attaching itself to the interests of the corporate ruling class. Hillary Clinton appears ready to carry on what Obama has wrought. Her prospects for success are bright if the US left decides to deem her the “lesser-evil” like it did with Obama.

Hillary Clinton is a rabid Democratic Party imperialist whose record as Secretary of State makes her a welcome addition to the Oval Office of capitalist-imperialist treachery. In 2011, following the extrajudicial murder of Muammar Gaddafi by US-NATO bandits, Clinton reported to the media “We came, we saw, he died.” This demonstration of Western imperial arrogance capped off the successful US-NATO overthrow of independent Libya by way of “humanitarian intervention.” During this same period, Clinton staunchly advocated for the escalation of US-NATO involvement in Syria and continued pressuring Iran to open its economy to Western capitalist ruin with starvation sanctions and military threats. These moves made Obama’s first Secretary of State a darling to US imperialism despite the loss of political points suffered from the embarrassing “blowback” experienced in Benghazi on Sept. 11th 2012.

Hilary’s imperialist policy positions represent a further move to the right for the Democratic Party in its attempt to escape accountability for the disasters of Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine.”

Since being relieved of her duties as Secretary of State, Hillary has been setting her still unofficial campaign trail ablaze with foreign policy positions that veer to the right of Obama. Last March, the Wall Street Journal covered Hilary’s speech at the American Jewish Congress in New York. In it, she stated bluntly that a military option was “on the table” for Iran if the nation didn’t capitulate to US demands of halting uranium development. Earlier in the same month, Hillary spoke to a crowd in California comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler for his responses to the US engineered illegal coup in Ukraine that put US-NATO supported fascists in power. As the Wall Street Journal article reports, Hilary’s imperialist policy positions represent a further move to the right for the Democratic Party in its attempt to escape accountability for the disasters of Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine. For these positions, Hillary is guaranteed plenty of support from the Zionist Israeli settler state and imperialists all over if and when she announces Presidential candidacy. However, imperialism according to Hillary Clinton brings the world closer to a World War III scenario and further exposes the collaboration between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to economic and foreign policy endeavors.

Many people in the US were shocked when the Obama Administration abandoned each and every progressive campaign promise made in 2008. In denial, the white liberal and Black misleadership opportunists cried out Republican “obstructionism” and “lesser evil” dogmas to avoid the fact that the Obama Administration was a natural outgrowth of US imperialism. It should not be forgotten that the last Democratic Party President and Hilary’s husband, Bill Clinton, worked hard to collaborate with the much-vaunted right-wing of imperialism. Clinton eliminated welfare, passed the “three strikes” Omnibus Crime Bill that greatly expanded the prison-state, bombed a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, instituted NAFTA’s job killing proposals, and provided financial and logistical support for the Rwanda and Congolese genocides. Obama’s exit will conclude a period of history where the even harsher tasting “Satan Sandwich” of austerity, imperialist adventure, and state repression was swallowed with little resistance by the most progressive forces residing in the American empire. It remains to be seen whether working class Black America will break with neo-colonialism or whether working class leadership will break with their masters in Washington. Our task, no matter who takes the reigns from the “More Effective Evil,” is do everything we can to facilitate both.

Danny Haiphong is an activist and case manager in the Greater Boston area. You can contact Danny at: wakeupriseup1990@gmail.com.

Obama mimics Bush on the border fence May 14, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration, Racism.
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Roger’s comment: the “Berlin Wall” constructed along the US/Mexican border is a perfect metaphor for the capitalist economic model, where capital rules and human labor is its servant.  Under the NAFTA (free trade) agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada, the free movement of capital across international borders was facilitated.  This allowed capital to make use of cheaper unorganized and unprotected labor in Mexico and to evade environmental restrictions.  One of the major consequences for Mexican farming was that thousands of small farmers were wiped out by the influx of US agribusiness.  These are the very same campesinos who are desperate to cross the border into the US in search of economic salvation.  The Wall is the other side of the coin of the free trade agreement, designed to keep them out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011 11:01 ET

War Room
By Justin Elliott
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Reuters/Tomas Bravo
U.S. workers build a section of the Mexico-U.S. border wall near the Jeronimo-Santa Teresa border crossing in Chihuahua.

President Obama traveled to El Paso, Texas, this week and delivered an immigration speech that was widely viewed as an appeal to Hispanic voters.

While there’s virtually no prospect of comprehensive immigration reform getting through the current Congress, the Obama administration has been emphasizing enforcement and border security. One under-examined aspect of the administration’s policy is the continuation of Clinton- and Bush-era efforts to build a physical — and virtual — fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. In El Paso, Obama actually touted the fact that his administration had completed the fence. So we thought it was a good time to check in on the status of the fence, whether it’s working, and what’s planned for the future.

Billions of dollars have been spent in recent years on a physical wall and the so-called virtual fence, and the efforts have been criticized by some who live on the border on human rights and environmental grounds.

Lee Maril, professor of sociology at East Carolina University, recently published “The Fence,” a study of U.S. policy on the border going back to the Clinton administration. Obama, Maril told me in an interview this week, has largely followed the policy conceptions of the Bush administration when it comes to the border fence. The administration is poised to plunk down hundreds of millions of dollars on high-tech sensors and the like, in the latest costly iteration of the virtual fence. What follows is a transcript of our conversation edited for length and clarity.

 

I think a lot of people assume there already is a fence or wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. What actually exists on the border right now?

Most people who haven’t been to the border imagine it as sort of a straight line. But it’s 2,000 miles, much of which is very rough terrain, including high-elevation areas, the Rio Grande River delta, and canyons. There are two kinds of fences that have been built. One is nuts-and-bolts, concrete and rebar. It’s in pieces and covers about 650 miles of the border. The rest of the border is not covered by any fence that would stop anyone. Geography does the stopping. In places it’s barbed wire, and in places there is no fence at all.

The virtual fence is the second kind of fence that is sometimes discussed. That began with ISIS ["Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System"] in 1998 and ended with a project by Boeing that was recently killed. The virtual fence is an attempt to use high technology to interdict drug loads, catch alleged terrorists, and catch undocumented immigrants. The virtual fence never worked. It didn’t work when it was started in 1998 under the Clinton administration, and the company that originally worked on it, L-3 Communications, wasted about $250 million. It didn’t work under Boeing either. They walked away with about $1 billion.

How was the virtual fence supposed to work?

It started under the Clinton administration as an attempt to build a sophisticated system of towers that would be linked with computers, satellite up-links, surface radar, and all kinds of fancy cameras. That ran from 1998 to 2000, and it didn’t work. Then the program changed names several times and wound up in 2005 being called SBInet, or Security Border Initiative network. That’s when Boeing was invited on as the so-called systems integrator. They were supposed to come up with a total solution to plan, design and build the virtual fence for the entire border. They built only about ten sensor towers and fifteen communications towers, but according to the Government Accountability Office reports none of them ever worked. In my opinion they wasted more than $1 billion of taxpayer money.

Where has Obama been on this?

The original policy was clearly defined by the Bush administration and by Congress. It was formed immediately after the immigration field hearings in the summer of 2006. The virtual and physical fences had three justifications under the Bush administration, which were then carried on into the Obama administration. The goals were to decrease the number of undocumented workers, to increase the drug interdictions, and to stop alleged terrorists. They were never refuted by Obama. That plan was wholeheartedly accepted by the Obama administration. Under Obama we saw the completion of the project to build about 650 miles of physical wall that had been funded by Congress. When I heard Obama’s speech in El Paso, what I saw missing was any kind of admittance that the virtual fence was a miserable failure and the taxpayers had lost all this money.

You spent a lot of time on the border, looking at the fence and interviewing residents and border agents. What did you hear?

They tell you a variety of things depending on who you talk to. I can tell you that the concrete fence is not consistent. I went to Cameron County, Texas, where Brownsville is, and there the fence is 20 feet tall with a 5-foot base that goes 8 feet into the ground, with spaced steel bars at the top. Then I went to the University of Texas at Brownsville, and because they litigated against the Department of Homeland Security, they have a fence that is about 9 feet tall, chain link, painted green, and surrounded by shrubbery. That runs for half a mile. What that tells me is that regardless of what DHS wanted to do, it was always buffered by the local political situation.

So after Obama’s speech, are you expecting an extension of the fence?

They just let out bids for $750 million, just for Arizona, to basically do what they said they were going to do with the last virtual wall — for the same kinds of equipment, including sensors, scope trucks, plus some newer hardware. It’s called the Alternative Southwest Border Technology Plan. I wouldn’t call it a “Plan,” I’d call it an approach. What I’ve heard unofficially is that one of the primary contractors who is very interested is Raytheon. So even more money, another $750 million, has now been put into it and already been bid out and the public has not yet been notified of who is getting the bid. It’s very unclear if this equipment is going to be used as part of a virtual wall, or as extra equipment to supplement the concrete wall. This is just for Arizona. What DHS is really saying is that after eleven years, they still haven’t gotten it right.

Has the fence worked?

There are three points. The first is that it has not in any way I can clearly see — based on the border patrol’s own statistics — limited the amount of drugs coming into this country. Obama is correct when he cites the statistic that there have been a third more drugs caught this year than last. But the drug cartels are just taking that as overhead. They’re still bringing in and getting across the same amount of drugs. My informants in law enforcement tell me the best way to assess the volume of drugs is the price on the street. The price on the street suggests there has been no change with respect to cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. The traffickers have become very innovative in finding ways to cross the wall which at first looks impenetrable. That includes catapults, tunnels and metal ramps that they assemble and disassemble very quickly.

Second, the fence certainly has seemed to affect the number of undocumented workers. It’s much harder to cross the border than it used to be because of the fence, and the increase in border agents. There is no question in that. That said, we’re in the middle of a recession, so it’s very difficult to see what will happen when we come out of the recession when it comes to the economic “pull” factors. We still have a very large number of people in Mexico and south of Mexico who can directly benefit by coming across illegally because they don’t have a lot of other options.

The third part — which Obama didn’t mention in El Paso and has been forgotten in this whole discussion — is terrorism. I can find no known public record of any terrorist ever being stopped since 2005-06 when construction of the wall began. That was one of the three major reasons that the wall was built. What my law enforcement informants tell me is that a terrorist group would be foolish to risk bringing someone in from Mexico when they can come in from so many other places with false documents.

  • Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

 

 

Colombia Free Trade Deal Could Boost Cocaine Exports May 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Drugs, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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There’s only one Colombian industry that can potentially employ workers who would lose their job in the wake of a free trade deal.

Jess Hunter-Bowman By Jess Hunter-Bowman

Manuel Esteban Tejada was a teacher in the Colombian province of Cordoba, near the Panamanian border. Unfortunately for him, he was also a union member. On January 10, paramilitary gunmen broke into his house at 6 a.m. and shot him multiple times, killing him.

Tejada was the first trade unionist killed in Colombia in 2011, but not the last. At least five more have already been killed this year. Colombian and international labor officials report that 51 unionized workers in Colombia were killed in 2010–25 of them teachers. More union members were killed in Colombia last year than in the rest of the world combined.

The fact that Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to belong to a union hasn’t kept President Barack Obama from backing a free-trade deal with the South American nation that would further erode labor rights and wages.

Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced a labor rights “action plan” as a ploy to gain congressional votes in favor of the controversial deal. The Obama administration hopes this effort, which would do virtually nothing to deal with the violence targeting labor leaders, will convince some Democrats to hold their noses and vote for the trade deal, despite Colombia’s deadly labor track record.

Just days before the two leaders made their announcement, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia–farm workers who belonged to a union–were murdered. Business as usual in Colombia.

It’s no surprise that Washington would sacrifice labor rights in the rush to secure this free trade deal. But Colombia isn’t only the world’s leader in union murders–it’s also the world’s leading cocaine producer. Although efforts to stamp out drug trafficking have dominated the U.S.-Colombia relationship for decades, this trade deal would likely boost cocaine production.

Free trade deals scrap tariffs and quotas on imports. Countries that enter such agreements can no longer protect strategic industries and sectors to ensure they are competitive. And no one in Latin America can compete with U.S. grain farmers. The technology, mechanization, and subsidies at U.S. famers’ disposal make grain production in the United States extremely cheap relative to Latin America.

For example, once Mexico eliminated corn tariffs and quotas under NAFTA guidelines, an estimated 2 million Mexican corn farmers went bankrupt. They simply couldn’t compete with U.S. corn prices.

Research has shown that 1.8 million Colombian farmers will see their net income fall 17 percent if the U.S.-Colombia trade deal is enacted. An estimated 400,000 will see their net incomes fall by between 48 percent and 70 percent.

Meanwhile, Caterpillar (which wants to sell bulldozers to Colombia), Walmart (which wants to resume tariff-free purchases of Colombian flowers), and other large U.S. corporations stand to profit handsomely from the U.S.-Colombia free trade deal.

Free traders in Congress and the corporate lobbyists who are pressuring them insist that the trade deal will create new jobs, absorbing people from sectors without a “comparative advantage.” That’s a boldface lie. Since the early 1990s, nearly all Colombian exports have entered the U.S. tariff-free under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Any jobs created in Colombia by gaining unfettered access to U.S. markets were created years ago.

But there is one Colombian export market that can always absorb new workers: the cocaine trade. When Colombian farmers are pushed out of grain farming due to cheap U.S. imports, expect them to face a terrible choice. They’ll either lose their farm, join the vast ranks of Colombia’s unemployed, and watch their children drop out of school and become malnourished–or switch to farming coca crops to stay on their farm, keep their kids in school, and put food on their tables.

Colombian farmers want out of coca farming because it doesn’t pay very well and violence often dogs coca production. But the U.S.-Colombia trade deal will leave them with virtually no other choice.

By pushing it forward, Washington is catering to corporate interests instead of heeding Colombia’s human rights crisis and seriously considering its impact on illegal drug trafficking. We can only hope that there are enough lawmakers willing to recognize that this deal isn’t worth the costs to us or to Colombians.

Jess Hunter-Bowman is the Associate Director of Witness for Peace, a nonprofit organization with a 30-year history monitoring U.S. policy in Latin America. http://witnessforpeace.org

Reagan’s Refugees: Why Undocumented Migrants Have a Right to Work Here May 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Guatemala, Immigration, Mexico.
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1 comment so far
Posted by Tikkun Daily at 2:41 pm
April 30, 2010

By David A. Sylvester. Cross-posted on Tikkun Daily.

Undocumented migrants have a right to work here because they deserve economic reparations for failed U.S. economic policies and disastrous military interventions.

Hundreds of thousands march for immigration rights in Chicago, May 1, 2006. Credit: Alana Price. Hundreds of thousands march for immigration rights in Chicago, May 1, 2006. Credit: Alana Price. 

We hardly need another symptom of the spiritual and social bankruptcy of the system, but this new Arizona law targeting and criminalizing undocumented migrants is a good example. You might know that Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week a new law that broadens police power to stop anyone at anytime for virtually any reason simply for looking suspiciously like an undocumented immigrant. It is supposed to take effect in August, but this is unlikely since it is probably unconstitutional and will face a barrage of court challenges.

This Saturday, May Day, the traditional day for workers rights, more than 70 cities are planning protests against the law, and boycotts against Arizona are spontaneously spreading — as they should. Mexican taxi cab drivers are apparently refusing to pick up anyone from Arizona, and the Mexican government has issued a travel advisory warning Mexicans of the danger of traveling through Arizona. In California, pressure is growing to join the boycott.

In the midst of this uproar, few are asking one simple question: Why? Why do so many Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans enter the U.S. by the most dangerous and expensive route possible? Just imagine yourself in their shoes: You leave your family and neighborhood to make a dangerous trip, including a difficult trek for three nights across barren deserts, pay as much as $7,000 person to put yourself in the hands of an unofficial guide of questionable character. On the way, you are prey to exploitation, robbery and especially if you are a woman, to rape. Then you arrive to live in crowded apartments, hopefully with some family members or people you know, but under constant fear of arrest and deportation. If you’re lucky, you get the brass ring you’ve been reaching for: casual work cleaning homes, gardening or working odd jobs in construction for $8 to $10 an hour. If you’re unlucky, you might stand on street corners for hours waiting without work, vulnerable to the temptations of drugs and alcohol to numb despair.

Sound like a bargain? Now, consider that, in spite of this, you decide scrape together another $7,000 to bring the next family member. How can this make any sense? It does if you take a close look at what has happened to the economies and social fabric of the countries below the U.S. border. Most U.S. citizens have little idea of the devastation wrought by NAFTA in Mexico and by the murderous civil wars that Reagan Administration funded and supported during the 1980s has done to El Salvador and Guatemala.

This is the reality that none of the opponents of this “illegal” immigration want to face. And it is a reality that even the advocates of change have not fully articulated. In essence, the neoliberal economic policies of the so-called Washington consensus, including NAFTA, have plunged Mexico into an economic crisis in the countryside. More than 2 million agricultural workers have been forced off their land and have moved into urban areas that can’t absorb them. The undocumented workers from El Salvador and Guatemala, the two other main sources of migration into the U.S., are fleeing dysfunctional and oppressive social and economic systems maintained by U.S. military power and funding since Ronald Reagan and CIA director William Casey turned these small countries into demonstration projects for Cold War power. As a result of these interventions, the U.S. has blocked democratic social change in these countries, sustained the exploitative legacy of the conquista and kept the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of rich, uncontrolled oligarchies.

In other words, Arizona is facing “blowback,” the natural consequences of failed U.S. policies trumpeted by the Arizona-style conservatives. These undocumented workers are economic refugees fleeing from broken economic systems — and they have every right to work here to earn the living that they cannot earn in their home countries. It’s a form of economic reparations. And the situation would be considered ironic if it wasn’t so tragic: The more the economic policies fail, the more the poor of these countries are impoverished and the more they seek to survive in el Norte, the more the supposedly anti-government, free-market fundamentalists want to put the government squarely on the backs of and into the lives of individuals through increasingly repressive measures.

It isn’t just some kooky left-wing thinking to blame Washington’s policies for a large part of the problem. This is widely known among the academic researchers. I spoke with Marc Rosenblum and Miryam Hazan, two staff policy analysts at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. who have studied the issues. “NAFTA has supported a low-wage development model, and with Mexico’s implementation, you haven’t seen integrated development,” Rosenblum said. “Almost everybody will agree it has increased migration.”

The basic problem is that Mexican tariffs were lowered under NAFTA so that inexpensive corn and other agricultural products from U.S. agribusiness flooded Mexico and drove out up to 2.3 million small and medium-sized farmers. The idea was that they would move to the cities and provide the labor for new, more advanced industries to export. As Hazan describes it, the idea was to “modernize” the Mexican countryside.

The only problem is that such a plan depended on Mexico’s GDP growing at 6 percent to 7 percent — almost two-thirds of the rate of China’s growth. In fact, Mexico’s growth has stagnated under NAFTA at half the expected rate. Besides, it isn’t clear what these “new advanced industries” were supposed to be, except for the sweatshops and maquilladora along the U.S. border. Cheap labor is not what economists would call “a competitive advantage,” because there’s always another country with even cheaper labor to exploit.

Hazan has found that each year, Mexico adds 1 million new workers to its labor force — but only creates half a million jobs. This means that every year, half a million Mexicans must either enter what she calls “the informal economy” of low-wage work without benefits, the criminal and black market economy, or leave the country.

In fact, the criminal economy of the drug cartels, estimated at 2 percent of Mexico’s GDP, has become the new export-oriented industry. Again, for all the complaining about the Mexican drug traffickers, few people are wondering what kind of society has developed we’ve developed in the U.S. that generates such an incessant and growing demand for narcotics. Without the U.S. demand, the narcotraffickers would be largely out of business.

In El Salvador, there’s a separate problem stemming from the violence of the Reagan wars of the 1980s — and now compounded by the recent deportation of U.S. gang members back to El Salvador. Originally, they entered the U.S. as children with their undocumented parents, learned their gang skills in the U.S. and then once arrested, were deported back to El Salvador. As a result there’s been an explosion of gang violence in El Salvador.

Every week, I hear of new reports from Salvadoran friends: Six bodies showed up on the streets overnight in one small town, a man with an expensive car is kidnapped and killed, a schoolteacher threatened with a gun by a disgruntled parent of one of his students. During a visit three years ago, the student leader of the National University suddenly disappeared without explanation, and the newspapers were reporting a wave of killings of poor drug dealers in the slums as “social cleansing.” In addition, the phenomenon of femicide, the rape and murder of women, is not just a problem in Juarez or the border towns but has become a new problem throughout the countries. At one point, gang members had apparently infiltrated the telephone companies in El Salvador, found out who had been making calls to the U.S., then called those U.S. cell phone numbers with a simple message: Send us $500 within 24 hours or we’ll kill your family.

Guatemala is hardly any safer. A friend of mine who was a journalist in Guatemala City had to leave with his family after a government official took him aside and played for him tape recordings of his cell phone conversations with his sources — when he was inside his own home! Assassinations of the community leaders opposing destructive mining operations are common. At another point, a well-known TV reporter was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital.

From my experience, when I asked about this violence, many people there said it was difficult to know exactly what to blame: the economic crisis, the unresolved conflicts of the civil wars, the habit of violence from the wars or the lure of fast money in the drug trade, the unraveling of families as the more and more parents head north into the U.S. to work. All of it is connected to U.S. policies and actions, particularly the 1980s wars.

“There’s no question that the civil wars were a big source of initial migration of Central America into the U.S.” Rosenblum told me. The problem has become worse in El Salvador, he said, because besides the violence, it has embraced the neoliberal economic policies of corporate development that has led to highly unequal growth among the rich and poor.

These economic and social problems are precisely why the U.S. will never solve the problem by enforcement, no matter what kind of walls we build or border patrol we fund. The “push” out of these countries has become much greater than the “pull” of a better economy and growing social networks of migrants now living in the U.S.

The Arizona law shows how much enforcement alone sacrifices basic moral values. The law itself is chilling to read. In the tradition of the double-standard legal system pioneered during the war on terror under Bush, it broadens police powers and makes enforcement much more stringent for non-citizens than for citizens. It requires all immigrants to carry documents, such as driver’s license, to prove their immigration status whenever asked by police with a “reasonable suspicion” about their status. If you are undocumented, you can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined (between $500 on the first offense up to $2,500) jailed for six months under mandatory sentencing. Courts are prohibited from suspending or reducing sentences. It also turns citizens into vigilantes: anyone can sue a government for failing to enforce this law. It prohibits picking up day laborers on streets to hire, transporting anyone in your car without documents if you do so “recklessly disregarding” their immigration status. And it expands the powers of police to pose as workers when they investigate employers who might be hiring the undocumented workers.

Where’s the Tea Party when you need it? Isn’t there supposed to be a revolt brewing in this country in favor of a “constitutionally limited government”? And isn’t this the free market at work, with workers responding to the market signals of wages to meet the demand for labor where there is a lack of supply? Oh, I forgot: Free markets and limited government are good — unless they interfere with U.S. dominance and privilege.

It’s easy to slip into bitter rhetoric, but the hypocrisy of the debate has its own spiritual significance. The U.S. seems to be afflicted by a strange blindness that prevents it from understanding the full dimensions of the problem it has created. I think this blindness is a natural spiritual consequence of the idolization of power and wealth. In my opinion, one of the best analyses of this was in the Nobel Prize speech of British playwright Harold Pinter. He spoke about the relationship of truth and lies in art, and then connected this to the relationship of truth and lies to political power.

To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

Then he focused how lies played a part in the brutality of the U.S. government’s treatment of Central America:

I spoke earlier about ‘a tapestry of lies’ which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a ‘totalitarian dungeon’. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

Pinter pointed out that at the time the U.S. maintained 702 military bases in 132 countries and said:

The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

This hypnosis isn’t just of the rest of the world; we’ve hypnotized ourselves so that we fail to understand the consequences of our actions. We’ve become like the violent drunk who trashes a motel room at night, then wakes up in the morning and demands to know who made such a mess.

In my brief search of the Web this week, I found only one person who had the courage to say aloud an obvious truth. Seth Minkoff of Somerville, Mass., a lone letter-writer to The Boston Globe of Somerville explained eloquently why the immigrants have a moral right to be here:

What goes unmentioned, however, is that some of us also feel that the fundamental aim of this law — enforcement of federal immigration regulations — is immoral.

A great many undocumented immigrants come here from countries that the United States has systematically devastated for generations by overthrowing democracy (as in Guatemala), sponsoring dictatorship and state terror (Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti), and invading and annexing territory (Mexico). Actions such as these have helped the United States to control a grossly outsized share of world resources.

Until the US share of world resources is proportional to its population, so-called illegal immigrants will have a moral claim second to none on the rights of US citizenship. Arizona’s new law, like the federal laws it seeks to enforce, is an assault on people’s basic right to feed and clothe their families – in other words, on their right to access their fair share of the planet’s wealth, the patrimony of humanity.

The readers of The Boston Globe, profiled for advertisers as highly educated and high-income, responded with such comments as:

What a complete F$%KING MORON. Does that moral right include stealing, bank robbery, perhaps rape and why not murder too.

And:

Shame on you Minkoff, go take your nonsense to Cuba or talk to Chavez and see how you make out.

And:

This letter sounds like it was written from some fatuous far left wing Chomskyan elitist nutty northeast college professor.

Seth, Harold Pinter’s got your back.

It would be helpful if more people had his back as well. But some of the opposition to the Arizona law is disappointing. For instance, U.S. Catholic bishops couched their opposition entirely in terms of pragmatics. Salt Lake City Bishop John Wester called the law “draconian,” as if problem is only its severity, not its inherent nature. He worried that the law could “possibly” lead to racial profiling when racial profiling is almost unavoidable in spite of hypocritical language to the contrary in the law. He worried about how immigrants might be “perceived and treated” and the impact on U.S. citizens who are unfairly targeted.

This statement should have been much stronger in the light of Roman Catholic tradition. Basic Catholic teachings evaluate the moral value of actions and distinguish between morally good and evil choices. Actions are “intrinsically evil” if they are “hostile to life itself.” The examples of these actions include the obvious, such as homicide and genocide but also include:

whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit;

whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit and not as free responsible persons;

all these and the like are a disgrace and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator (Encyclical Letter of John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor IV, italics mine).

By this Catholic standard, the Arizona law is not only badly designed and unconstitutional but quite possibly an intrinsic evil. One can argue that the law is also an attempt to stop human smuggling and trafficking in women and children, but if this was its aim, it would have been designed differently. As written, it subjects immigrants to the torture of insecurity and offends their human dignity with arbitrary imprisonment and deportation.

In the end, the crisis can be solved until we face the spiritual roots of the lies, the violence and the self-righteous myths we tell ourselves. We need to understand and address the real nature of the problem if we want to solve it. I’ve always remembered the words of a friend of mine as we participated in a memorial service for Monseñor Oscar Romero in San Salvador: “We have to start telling ourselves the truth.”

Get Ready for the Obama/GOP Alliance November 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Iraq and Afghanistan, Right Wing.
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Published on Wednesday, November 25, 2009 by CommonDreams.orgby Jeff Cohen

With Obama pushing a huge troop escalation in Afghanistan, history may well repeat itself with a vengeance. And it’s not just the apt comparison to LBJ, who destroyed his presidency on the battlefields of Vietnam with an escalation that delivered power to Nixon and the GOP.

There’s another frightening parallel: Obama seems to be following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, who accomplished perhaps his single biggest legislative “triumph” – NAFTA – thanks to an alliance with Republicans that overcame strong Democratic and grassroots opposition.

It was 16 years ago this month when Clinton assembled his coalition with the GOP to bulldoze public skepticism about the trade treaty and overpower a stop-NAFTA movement led by unions, environmentalists and consumer rights groups. How did Clinton win his majority in Congress? With the votes of almost 80 percent of GOP senators and nearly 70 percent of House Republicans. Democrats in the House voted against NAFTA by more than 3 to 2, with fierce opponents including the Democratic majority leader and majority whip.

To get a majority today in Congress on Afghanistan, the Obama White House is apparently bent on a strategy replicating the tragic farce that Clinton pulled off: Ignore the informed doubts of your own party while making common cause with extremist Republicans who never accepted your presidency in the first place.

“Deather” conspiracists are not new to the Grand Old Party. Clinton engendered a similar loathing on the right despite his centrist, corporate-friendly policies. When conservative Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey delivered to Clinton (and corporate elites) the NAFTA victory, it didn’t slow down rightwing operatives who circulated wacky videos accusing Clinton death squads of murdering reporters and others.

For those who elected Obama, it’s important to remember the downward spiral that was accelerated by Clinton’s GOP alliance to pass NAFTA. It should set off alarm bells for us today on Afghanistan.

NAFTA was quickly followed by the debacle of Clinton healthcare “reform” largely drafted by giant insurance companies, which was followed by a stunning election defeat for Congressional Democrats in November 1994, as progressive and labor activists were lethargic while rightwing activists in overdrive put Gingrich into the Speaker’s chair.

A year later, advised by his chief political strategist Dick Morris (yes, the Obama-basher now at Fox), Clinton declared: “The era of big government is over.” In the coming years, Clinton proved that the era of big business was far from over – working with Republican leaders to grant corporate welfare to media conglomerates (1996 Telecom Act) and investment banks (1999 abolition of the Glass-Steagall Act).

Today, it’s crucial to ask where Obama is heading. From the stimulus to healthcare, he’s shown a Clinton-like willingness to roll over progressives in Congress on his way to corrupt legislation and frantic efforts to compromise for the votes of corporate Democrats or “moderate” Republicans. Meanwhile, the incredible shrinking “public option” has become a sick joke.

As he glides from retreats on civil liberties to health reform that appeases corporate interests to his Bush-like pledge this week to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, an Obama reliance on Congressional Republicans to fund his troop escalation could be the final straw in disorienting and demobilizing the progressive activists who elected him a year ago.

Throughout the centuries, no foreign power has been able to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, but President Obama thinks he’s a tough enough Commander-in-Chief to do it. Too bad he hasn’t demonstrated such toughness in the face of obstructionist Republicans and corporate lobbyists. For them, it’s been more like “compromiser-in-chief.”

When you start in the center (on, say, healthcare or Afghanistan) and readily move rightward several steps to appease rightwing politicians or lobbyists or Generals, by definition you are governing as a conservative.

It’s been a gradual descent from the elation and hope for real change many Americans felt on election night, November 2008. For some of us who’d scrutinized the Clinton White House in the early 1990s, the buzz was killed days after Obama’s election when he chose his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a top Clinton strategist and architect of the alliance that pushed NAFTA through Congress.

If Obama stands tough on more troops to Afghanistan (as Clinton fought ferociously for NAFTA), only an unprecedented mobilization of progressives – including many who worked tirelessly to elect Obama – will be able to stop him. Trust me: The Republicans who yell and scream about Obama budget deficits when they’re obstructing public healthcare will become deficit doves in spending the estimated $1 million per year per new soldier (not to mention private contractors) headed off to Asia.

The only good news I can see: Maybe it will take a White House/GOP alliance over Afghanistan to wake up the base of liberal groups (like MoveOn) to take a closer and more critical look at President Obama’s policies.

Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). His latest book is Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.

Obama a Very Smooth Liar June 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Labor, War.
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(Roger’s note: this article only begins to touch on some of the major aspects of Obama’s phony “change” presidency.  What should be added are: the torture cover-up, the support for the Israeli massacre in Gaza, the broken promises to the Gay community, the regressive education policy, the tepid at best support for pro-choice, etc. etc.)
 
Published on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 by The Providence Journal

by John R. MacArthur

It isn’t quite fair to call Barack Obama a liar. During the campaign he carefully avoided committing to much of anything important that he might have to take back later. For now, I won’t quibble with The St. Petersburg Times’s Obamameter, which so far has the president keeping 30 promises and breaking only six.

And yet, broadly speaking, Obama has been lying on a pretty impressive scale. You just have to get past his grandiloquent rhetoric — usually empty of substance — to get a handle on it. I offer a short, incomplete list, which I’m sure others could easily enlarge.

  • Obama portrayed himself as the peace candidate, or at least the anti-war candidate. He is not a peace president, nor is he stopping any wars. True, he promised military escalation in Afghanistan (to blunt John McCain’s accusations of wimpishness), but well-meaning folks believed their new hero would genuinely move to end the occupation of Iraq and seriously try to negotiate with the Taliban. Instead, he has not only increased the number of troops and attacks against the Afghan insurgency, he has also expanded on George Bush’s cross-border raids into Pakistan, which have killed many civilians. The way things are going, Pakistan could become the new Cambodia and Obama the new Nixon.In Iraq, Obama has promised to withdraw all the troops . . . unless, which means that we’re not leaving. Whether it’s 50,000 troops remaining at the “invitation” of the so-called government of Iraq, or just enough to man the 14 permanent military bases, or some combination of U.S. military personnel and private mercenaries that exceeds 50,000 soldiers, our army will almost certainly stay in Iraq past the stated deadline of Jan. 1, 2012.
  • Obama said he wanted to reform Washington and “fix” its “broken” system of corrupt lobbying. But Obama is neither a reformer nor a skilled legislative mechanic. Hatched from the Daley Machine in one-party Chicago, Obama wouldn’t be president today if he rocked boats. Witness the appointment of Roland Burris by the corrupt former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill Obama’s Senate seat: not a word of public protest from the new administration because Burris is a made man in the Chicago Democratic organization. So what if “Tombstone Roland” can be heard on the U.S. attorney’s wiretaps of Blagojevich, dancing around the delicate question of how to raise money for Blago without appearing to be buying his seat.As for pork-barrel politics, Obama named one of its greatest champions, Chicago’s own Rahm Emanuel, as his chief of staff, and the new budget (as well as the “stimulus” package) is loaded with pork. Meanwhile, have you heard anything serious about campaign-finance reform from Obama? Not very likely from someone who refused public financing and still has about $10 million left over from record receipts of $745.7 million. It’s just a detail, I know, but Obama’s naming of former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn III as deputy secretary of defense seems to be at odds with the president’s alleged crusade against special interests and the “revolving door” between private business and government. He has also “sold” ambassadorships to campaign donors. The biggest plum, London, is slated for Lou Susman, a Chicagoan and former Citigroup executive who bundled $239,000. Paris has been reserved for Charles Rivkin, who raised about $500,000 for Obama.
  • Obama, with his Arabic middle name and his big Cairo speech, wants people to think that he is the Muslim world’s new best friend. Well, the photograph of a cheery Obama with Saudi King Abdullah and a smiling Emanuel with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, proves the contrary. The Saudi royal family hates the idea of representative government for ordinary Muslims and is cruelly indifferent to the fate of the Palestinians. A democratic, independent, partly secular Palestine could only make the Saudi oligarchy look bad. Thus, the House of Saud is perfectly happy with the status quo, and so, evidently, is Obama.Without Saudi pressure, there will be no resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since Saudi oil is the only lever that would cause America to press Israel into making real concessions. Indeed, the president doesn’t mean for one minute to force Israel into anything more than symbolic withdrawals of its illegal settlements on the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Saudi elite continues to play its double game, paying protection money to extremist Islam and granting pensions to the relatives of suicide bombers. It’s just politics, say Barack and Rahm, grinning ear-to-ear with their sleazy new friends from Riyahd. Just keep the oil pumping around election time and all will be well.
  • Obama makes like he’s a friend of organized labor, at least he did during the Ohio primary when he needed to beat Hillary Clinton. At the time, he put out a flier headlined “Only Barack Obama fought NAFTA and other bad trade deals” and charged that “a little more than a year ago, Hillary Clinton thought NAFTA was a ‘boon’ to the economy.” In a debate with Clinton on Feb. 26, 2008, he said, “I will make sure that we renegotiate [NAFTA] in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about” and “use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage” to get “labor and environmental standards that are enforced.”But two months ago, U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk said such a blunt instrument was no longer necessary and that the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico were now “of the mind that we should be looking for opportunities to strengthen [the North American Free Trade Agreement].” And, of course, there is no discussion at all about renegotiating Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, a “bad trade deal” that has done even greater harm to American workers and unions than has NAFTA.

Meanwhile, as I noted in my April 15 column, “Wall Street sharks circle the UAW,” Obama and his banker friend Steven Rattner are liquidating the United Auto Workers even as they liquidate the American auto industry. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s pseudo-secretary of labor, said as much. “The only practical purpose I can imagine for the bailout is to slow the decline of GM to create enough time for its workers, suppliers, dealers and communities to adjust to its eventual demise,” he wrote last month in the Financial Times — no surprise, considering that Obama’s chief economic adviser remains Lawrence Summers, a champion of deregulation and “free-market” economics in the Clinton administration and very much the enemy of labor unions.

Yes, of course it’s nice to have a president who speaks in complete sentences. But that they’re coherent doesn’t make them honest. 

© 2009 The Providence Journal

John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine. Among other books, he is the author of Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War

Obama Doesn’t Plan to Reopen Nafta Talks April 26, 2009

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www.nytimes.com, Published: April 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — The administration has no present plans to reopen negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement to add labor and environmental protections, as President Obama vowed to do during his campaign, the top trade official said on Monday.

“The president has said we will look at all of our options, but I think they can be addressed without having to reopen the agreement,” said the official, Ronald Kirk, the United States trade representative. It was perhaps the clearest indication yet of the administration’s thinking on whether to reopen the core agreement to add labor and environmental rules.

Mr. Kirk spoke in a conference call with reporters after returning from a regional summit meeting that Mr. Obama attended over the weekend in Trinidad. He said that Mr. Obama had conferred with the leaders of Mexico and Canada — the other parties to the trade agreement — and that “they are all of the mind we should look for opportunities to strengthen Nafta.”

But while he said that a formal review of the 1992 pact had yet to be completed, Mr. Kirk noted that both Mr. Obama and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico had said that “they don’t believe we have to reopen the agreement now.”

Mexico in particular, whose exports have exploded under Nafta, has little interest in such a renegotiation.

Not only Mr. Obama but also one of his rivals for the presidency, Hillary Rodham Clinton, had promised during their campaigns to renegotiate the accord — a politically popular position in some electorally important Midwestern states that have lost thousands of manufacturing jobs.

Thea Lee, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. policy director, said that the workers federation would have preferred “more definitive” language on addressing key labor concerns, but that it was understandable for a new administration to start its review with a less confrontational approach.

“We were obviously very encouraged by what Obama the candidate was saying on the campaign trail in terms of needing to recognize the deficiencies of Nafta and to strengthen it,” said Margrete Strand Rangnes, a labor and trade specialist with the Sierra Club.

Her group opposed Nafta from the start as lacking adequate environmental provisions, and contends that the side agreements added later have proved inadequate. “You have an environmental side agreement that doesn’t have as many teeth as the commercial provisions of the agreement,” she said. “You have an investment chapter that allows companies to basically file suit against common-sense environmental and public health measures.”

But she said the Sierra Club recognized that change would not come easily, and added, “We’re eager to work with the administration in having that conversation.”

Since the election, neither the president nor Mrs. Clinton, now secretary of state, has said much about trying to move side agreements on labor and the environment — which are subject to limited enforcement — into the main part of the trade pact, a potentially tangled and protracted process. As candidates in the Democratic presidential primaries last year, both said they would renegotiate or even opt out of Nafta, citing flaws in its labor and environmental provisions, while trading accusations over past support for the agreement.

Mr. Kirk, who as mayor of Dallas was known as a strong advocate of free trade, also said the administration planned expeditious reviews of pending trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

He said that Colombia had made “remarkable progress” in reducing violence — attacks against labor activists have been a key sticking point — but that other issues remained, and he vowed intensive consultation with Congress on the matter.

The Bush administration signed the agreement with Colombia in November 2006. But Congressional Democrats and United States labor groups have said the Uribe government must do more to stop the antilabor violence and hold perpetrators accountable, a position Mr. Obama supported during his campaign.

Regarding Panama, Mr. Kirk said that differences on labor standards, and the question of the country “possibly being a tax haven,” needed resolution.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Kirk met with leaders of both countries during the Trinidad meeting.

Anti-Immigrant Fervor Translates to Terror for Women December 11, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Immigration, Women.
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immigrant-woman-juana-villegas1

Juana Villegas was stopped for a routine traffic violation and jailed for six days for violating US immigration law. While imprisoned, she went into labor and was handcuffed to her bed during the birthing process. (Photo: Josh Anderson / The New York Times)

www.truthout.org

Melissa Nalani Ross, On the Issues Magazine, Fall 2008 Issue

In my work on civil and human rights, especially with immigrant populations, I was contacted recently about a woman without documentation who worked at a fruit stand in the northeast. A male customer approached her and asked if she had any waitressing experience, as he needed servers at his restaurant. Seeing this as an opportunity to make a little more money to support herself and her family, the woman agreed to stop by the establishment for an interview. When she arrived, instead of sitting down and discussing a job opportunity, the woman was met by a group of men who took turns raping her. They then told her that if she went to the authorities, they would have her deported.

    Too afraid to go to the police out of fear of being separated from her family and livelihood, she will be left in isolation, with no recourse, no justice and no security. Her tale will not be covered by the mainstream media. The men who raped her will never be brought to justice.

    In July, The New York Times published an article about Juana Villegas, a woman stopped for a routine traffic violation by a police officer. Villegas was jailed for six days for violating U.S. immigration laws. An undocumented immigrant, she was nine months pregnant, and, while imprisoned, went into labor. She was handcuffed to the bed during the birthing process, then was separated from her newborn baby and sent back to jail. Authorities would not allow Villegas to bring a breast pump into her cell, leading to a breast infection.

    The experiences of these women are frighteningly emblematic of the challenges immigrant women face across the country from immigration enforcement policies gone awry. Villegas and countless other women experience fear, anxiety, degradation and harm on a daily basis. Few of their stories reach the public, but as someone who works with the immigrant community, I hear them regularly.

    Anti-immigrant fervor in the United States makes injustice for immigrant women tolerated – even encouraged. As a result, immigrant women are living in situations of sheer terror.

    Change in Tactics Targets Women

    Both of these women’s stories are the byproduct of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement – widely known as “ICE” – and its 287(g) program. Under 287(g), police forces enter into Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with ICE. Officers are trained and then authorized to enforce federal immigration law. This partnership hands local and state officers “necessary resources and latitude to pursue investigations relating to violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual-related offenses, narcotics smuggling and money laundering,” according to ICE.

    This, however, is not how the program plays out on the ground. Typically, women, whose only real violation of the law is being in the country without documentation, have become, because of their vulnerability, some of the program’s main targets.

    Anti-immigrant groups have been pushing this brand of immigration enforcement for years, without care for the human and civil rights violations that follow. Groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which calls itself by the acronym “FAIR,” the nation’s largest and most powerful anti-immigrant organization, travel the country, advocating for the expansion of the 287(g) program and asking for more police forces to buy-in. FAIR is now listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, alongside the KKK. According to ICE, “more than 60 municipal, county, and state agencies nationwide have requested 287(g) MOUs … and more than 400 local and state officers have been trained under the program.”

    Now FAIR is also advocating for increased ICE raids in factories and meatpacking plants. While this might not seem like an extreme or unjust measure on its face, the impact it has on local communities is destructive, separating mothers from their children. Some of the largest and most inhumane raids have occurred in the last year in the United States, with little public attention or concern. In May of 2008, ICE conducted the biggest raid up to that time in U.S. history in Postville, Iowa. The small town of 2,300 residents, in one solemn sweep, lost 10% of its population, leaving the community in shock.

    Subsequent raids have surpassed – in number of agents, community upheaval and arrests of workers – the one in Postville.

    Family members were separated from each other and children were left to fend for themselves. The Postville raid did not just negatively affect those without documentation, described in eyewitness accounts, it also disrupted and devastated the lives of the U.S.-born residents in the community. Principals, teachers and parents reported school children having nightmares and drawing pictures of their families and friends being taken away.

    Wrong Policy

    Despite the community outrage and the utter terror it brought to the immigrant population, FAIR rallied “in support of ICE’s stepped-up enforcement activities.” Susan Tully, FAIR’s National Field Organizer, said,

“The American public has waited far too long for ICE to finally begin taking worksite enforcement seriously and, by our presence in Postville, we hope to demonstrate that we want to see such efforts increased, not ended.”

    This type of enforcement serves no public good. It does not deter immigration, nor does it solve – or even address – the reasons behind increased migration to the United States. The only real purpose it serves is to create an environment so toxic that immigrant women are forced into the shadows and live in a constant state of fear and anxiety.

    FAIR and the anti-immigrant movement are guiding the United States down a path strewn with civil and human rights violations, dehumanization and suffering, especially by women and children. Instead of actually paying any mind to the real causes of migration to the U.S. – such as the North and Central American trade agreements, NAFTA and CAFTA – the focus has largely been on its consequences. The root issues of immigration, for this reason, will never actually be dealt with, creating a situation where there are no humane or real solutions. By only pushing for enforcement, more raids and more 287(g) buy-in, more women will be subjugated and live in terror.

    Immigration Is a Women’s Issue

    The violence and abuse immigrant women face on a daily basis in the United States are challenged, mostly in solitude, by the immigrant rights movement. By and large, the women’s movement has failed to stand in solidarity with the women who suffer under anti-immigrant activity. Why haven’t more women leaders and women’s organizations added their voices to the national dialogue and opposed the push for stricter immigration enforcement practices and the dehumanization they portend?

    Part of the problem is that the gender aspects of harmful immigration policies go unrecognized and unacknowledged. The women’s rights movement over the last several decades has largely been about equal rights and equal treatment But women, always on the frontline, are the most deeply and intimately impacted by systems and institutions wrought with injustice. The tragedies suffered by Juana Villegas and other immigrant women are intolerable in a just society, yet without women of conscience taking a stand, these violent practices will undoubtedly continue.

    Efforts around the country are beginning to address the problems caused by both enforcement tactics and policies that are guided by groups like FAIR. The Campaign for a United America is a collaborative effort by anti-racism, religious, labor, immigrant-rights and grassroots groups to promote a fair, values-based discussion around immigration, free of bigotry and sexism.

    As evidenced by the terror that immigrant women face in the United States, the struggle for women’s rights is not over. It will take the efforts of women throughout the country to ensure that all women, whatever their “status,” live in a safe and just environment.

    ——-

    Melissa Nalani Ross is the Director of the Campaign for a United America, a national initiative of the Center for New Community in Chicago to push back against the racism of the anti-immigrant movement with organizing, strategic research, investigation and analysis. Melissa previously worked at the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based social justice company, focusing on police brutality and violence against women, and served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law

Health-Care Reform Could Kill the GOP December 6, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Political Commentary.
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“…for most of my lifetime, prominent Democratic leaders have been chucking liberalism itself for the sake of immediate tactical gain.”

This is a quote from the article posted below that appeared in the Huffington Post.  Although the article focuses on the issue of universal health care, it raises much wider issues.  After one reads the article, one cannot help but asking the question: Why is this the case?  (Why does the right tend to implement its agenda when elected to government, while the left has a marked tendency to waffle and back track?)

My comments continue after the article.

 

Huffington Post, December 3, 2008

 Thomas Frank

 Can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan? Ask any Republican worth his salt and the answer will be an unequivocal yes. Ask a Democrat of the respectable Beltway variety and he will twist himself into a pretzel denying it.

For decades Republicans have made policy with a higher purpose in mind: to solidify the GOP base or to damage the institutions and movements aligned with the other side. One of their fondest slogans is “Defund the Left,” and under that banner they have attacked labor unions and trial lawyers and tried to sever the links between the lobbying industry and the Democratic Party. Consider as well their long-cherished dreams of privatizing Social Security, which would make Wall Street, instead of Washington, the protector of our beloved seniors. Or their larger effort to demonstrate, by means of egregious misrule, that government is incapable of delivering the most basic services.

That these were all disastrous policies made no difference: The goal was to use state power to achieve lasting victory for the ideas of the right.

On the other side of the political fence, strategic moves of this kind are fairly rare. Instead, for most of my lifetime, prominent Democratic leaders have been chucking liberalism itself for the sake of immediate tactical gain.

Former President Bill Clinton, who is widely regarded as a political mastermind, may have sounded like a traditional liberal at the beginning of his term in office. But what ultimately defined his presidency was his amazing pliability on matters of principle. His most memorable innovation was “triangulating” between his own party and the right, his most famous speech declared and end to “the era of big government,” his most consequential policy move was to cement the consensus on deregulation and free trade, and many of his boldest stands were taken against his own party.

The results were not pretty, either for the Democrats or for the nation.

Still, conservatives have always dreaded the day that Democrats discover (or rediscover) that there is a happy political synergy between delivering liberal economic reforms and building the liberal movement. The classic statement of this fear is a famous memo that Bill Kristol wrote in 1993, when he had just started out as a political strategist and the Clinton administration was preparing to propose some version of national health care.

“The plan should not be amended; it should be erased,” Mr. Kristol advised the GOP. And not merely because Mr. Clinton’s scheme was (in Mr. Kristol’s view) bad policy, but because “it will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.”

Historian Rick Perlstein suggests that this memo is “the skeleton key to understanding modern American politics” because it opens up a fundamental conservative anxiety: “If the Democrats succeed in redistributing economic power, we’re screwed.”

In the Clinton years, of course, it was the Republicans who succeeded. And the Democrats’ failure — the failure to deliver national health care that is, not the act of proposing national health care — was a crucial element, in Mr. Perlstein’s view, in the Republican Revolution of 1994. Assessing the accomplishments of the “party of the people” after those first months of Clintonism, middle-class Americans were left with what? A big helping of Nafta. Mmm-mmm.

Fourteen years later, we find ourselves at the same point in the political debate, with a Democratic president-elect promising to deliver some variety of health-care reform. And, like a cuckoo emerging from a clock, Mr. Kristol’s old refrain is promptly taken up by a new chorus. “Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival,” proclaims the headline of a November blog post by Michael F. Cannon, the libertarian Cato Institute’s director of Health Policy Studies. His argument, stitched together from other blog posts, is pretty much the same as Mr. Kristol’s in 1993. Any kind of national medical program would be so powerfully attractive to working-class voters that it would shift the tectonic plates of the nation’s politics. Therefore, such a program must be stopped.

Liberal that I am, I support health-care reform on its merits alone. My liberal blood boils, for example, when I read that half of the personal bankruptcies in this country are brought on, in part, by medical expenses. And my liberal soul is soothed to find that an enormous majority of my fellow citizens agree, in general terms, with my views on this subject.

But it pleases me even more to think that the conservatives’ nightmare of permanent defeat might come true simply if Democrats do the right thing. No, health-care reform isn’t as strategically diabolical as, say, the K Street Project. It involves only the most straightforward politics: good government stepping in to heal an ancient, festering wound. But if by doing this Barack Obama also happens to nullify decades of conservative propaganda, so much the better for all of us.

Thomas Frank’s column, The Tilting Yard, appears every Wednesday at OpinionJournal.com

Continuation of remarks by Roger Hollander:

 The answer to this question (Can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan?) I believe, is both simple and complex.  Complex in its detail with respect to the myriads of forms in which decisions are made in a capitalist democracy; but not that hard to understand in its broadest terms.

Follow the money.

The Republican agenda, again broadly speaking, is very much in tune with the objectives of corporate America, the military-industrial complex, the financial industry, etc; in other words, with capital.  If it goes to extremes, as with the current Cheney/Bush administration, some Republicans may take a longer perspective and believe that it needs to be reined in.  Nevertheless, no one could seriously argue that the Republican Party is much more than a front for organized capital.

Is the Democratic Party then, the opposite, its foil?  Dream on.  Because even in a capitalist democracy the power structure must at times respond to popular demands, the Democrats have taken the advantage of this by being the repository for such phenomena.  But within strictly defined limits.

Bob Dylan wrote, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”  Now I have nothing against money per se, I use it all the time.  It’s one of my best friends.  But what we are talking about here is enormous concentrations of money that exert an influence through campaign contributions and lobbying that cannot possibly be matched by any one or ones who represent the general interest. 

To go back to the original question, “can policy be both wise and aggressively partisan,” if we assume by “wise” that we mean the general interest, than from that perspective the answer in no.  Lobbyists have been referred to as the fourth branch of government.  The metaphor is useful to the extent that it demonstrates the colossal power of corporate and military lobbyists; but in effect the influence of lobbyist permeates all branches of government.  My favourite example of the effective lobbying is the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which tightened the restrictions regarding doing business with Cuba, and was apparently actually written by staff at Bacardi and passed on the legislators who introduced it.

Of course the most obvious example of the Democratic Party’s winning representation in support of popular sentiment only to renege on its promise is the Iraq War (or, rather, the invasion and occupation of Iraq).  In the 2006 mid-term elections, the Democrats were able to gain control of both Houses of Congress based upon their support of enormous public sentiment for an immediate or prompt withdrawal.  With that power and authority under its Beltway belt, the Democratic Congress proceeded to approve every budget request for the war and went so far as to allow for its escalation, which was thinly disguised by the Orwellian use of the word “surge.”

Thomas Frank, the author of the posted article on which I am commenting, identifies himself as a Liberal.  We all know that the past two decades have been dominated for the most part by Conservative ideas and policies: anti-labor, anti-welfare, anti-environmental protection; pro-war, pro-corporate, pro-rich, etc.  But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the results of polling American voters, which consistently support universal health care, environmental protection, more equitable taxation, etc.; that is, the Liberal agenda!  But the Democratic Party (Clinton 1992-2000; Congress 2006-2008; Obama 2008?????) for a variety of reasons is neither willing nor able to give Americans what we want.

Two factors, not entirely unrelated to “money,” should be mentioned as means by which the general will and interest are thwarted in our capitalist democracy: manipulation through massive spending on public relations and influence bordering on control of the mass media; and manufactured crises or the appropriation of actual crises (this well documented in Naomi Klein’s blockbuster, “The Shock Doctrine”) to scare us into accepting unpleasant medicine.  The current economic crisis is being used, for example, to give Wall Street and its supporters in BOTH parties the opportunity to maintain its advantages while millions of Americans lose their homes and/or their jobs).

In effect the United States is a one party democracy with two branches: the Democrats and the Republicans.  Wikipedia lists 210,000 entries for the word “Republicrat.”  The notion is not original with me.  Look at the political spectrum.  The Republican Party pretty much represents every interest almost to the extreme end on the right side.  On the left side, the distance between the left wing of the Democratic Party (with the exception of a tiny handful such as Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Boxer) and say Ralph Nader (whose policies on the environment, the war, corporate taxation, regulation of the financial industry are virtually congruent with public opinion) and Noam Chomsky – both of whom are no where near to being criminally mendacious or as irresponsibly and ludicrously extremist as the Bill O’Reillys and Rush Limbaughs – is gaping.

Going back to the money, Barack Obama has tried to create the illusion that his massive campaign contributions came largely from ordinary Americans making relatively small donations.  While it is true that much of the Obama movement has been fuelled by the enthusiasm of American youth and liberals, and small contributions have been considerable; nevertheless, the bulk of the nearly trillion dollars in his war chest came from similar sources as were traditional for both parties.  Once the band wagon gets rolling, the big boys know when to jump on.

And going back to health care, Canada provides an excellent example of the thesis stated by Thomas Frank.  In 1942, Tommy Douglas was elected Premier of the Province of Saskatchewan, and introduced the first democratic socialist government in North America.  In 1962 Saskatchewan, after a “fight to the death” with the North American medical establishment and the provinces’ physicians, introduced universal health care, another first for the western hemisphere.

In that same year, a Conservative (!) Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker, established a Royal Commission to study health care in the country, and that Commission, headed by a former Supreme Court Judge, Emmett Hall, recommended nationwide adoption of Saskatchewan’s model of public health insurance, which led to the introduction and passage of the Canada Health Act in 1966 under a minority Liberal government, headed by Lester B. Pearson.  Thus Canada became the only country in the Americas, apart from Cuba, to offer its citizens universal health care.  And it did so under the political pressures that were a consequence of Saskatchewan’s successful and enormously popular and socially beneficial initiative.

It is also interesting to compare the results of leftist governments coming to power via democratic election versus those coming to power via revolution.  I have not made a comprehensive study of this, but will just name some examples.  In Europe, in the second half of the last century, two avowedly socialist governments came to power in France (under François Mitterrand) and Greece (under Andreas Papandreou).  Neither of the two governments were able (or willing) to deliver on their promises from the standpoint of either domestic or foreign policy.

On the other side of the ledger, during roughly the same time period two socialist governments came to power in the Americas though armed revolution: the July 26 Movement (under Fidel Castro) in Cuba, and the Sandinistas (under Daniel Ortega) in Nicaragua.  In the early years of both revolutions, their governments made huge inroads in eliminating illiteracy and in introducing free education (in Cuba up to and including university level studies) and universal health care, along with other progressive social programs.  Although the Cuban government has ossified into a Stalinist style dictatorship (though not nearly as brutal) and had to withstand the hardships imposed by the US blockade, it has been able to maintain these social programs.  In Nicaragua, the Sandinista government was seriously disabled by the US supported Contras.  The major targets of their terrorist attacks incidentally, were schools and clinics.  It lost power in a democratic election and recently has regained it.

I’m not saying that these examples necessarily prove anything, they are anecdotal , but I think it is worth pondering.

The example with which I am personally most familiar has to do with the Province of Ontario in Canada, where I resided for many years and where I served on the Municipal Council of Metropolitan Toronto as a elected Councillor for seven years.  In 1990 the New Democratic Party (NDP), which originally considered it socialist, but over the years evolved into a non-socialist leftist social democratic opposition, won a large majority in the provincial parliament and its leader, Bob Rae, became Premier of Ontario.  

The very first thing that Rae did upon being inaugurated was to travel to New York and speak on Wall Street to assure that they had no fears from his government.  Although his government was mildly progressive in some areas (a large percentage of women in the cabinet, some environmental protection), on the whole it could not be distinguished from traditional Liberal or Conservative governments when it came to protecting corporate interests and other instruments of capitalist control (policing, for example, where the Rae government failed to implement effective civilian oversight). It’s most notorious legislation was blatantly anti-labor.  It introduced what it called the “social contract” for government workers, a measure whereby they could accept voluntary roll backs or the government would do it for them.

Ironically, the Rae government was attacked viciously by the right and the corporate media as if it had in fact introduced a democratic socialist progressive policy agenda.  It was soundly defeated after a single term in office despite its efforts to appease capital.  It may as well have implemented its “radical” platform and left the province with a progressive legacy.  Instead,the Rae government was replaced by the government of Conservative Mike Harris, who did not hesitate to keep his promises to deregulate, privatize, and drastically reduce social and environmental programs.  He left office in disgrace, but his legacy remains.  Not only that, his major advisors and cabinet members are now effectively in charge of the Conservative government of Canada under Stephen Harper, another rightist who more or less “keeps his word” when it comes to his regressive policies on labor, social programs, taxes, environmental protection, etc.

A final and unpleasant irony.  One of the major arguments coming from the right when progressive measures are on the table is that such things as taxing business or increasing government spending on social programs (which involves more taxation) have the effect of driving business out of the jurisdiction.  If we increase corporate taxes or increase costly benefits and wages in X state or Y province, business will abandon them and move elsewhere.

When the Woodrow Lloyd (successor to Tommy Douglas) government introduced universal health care before the Saskatchewan parliament in 1962, the right and the medical establishment went ballistic.  Saskatchewan doctors went on strike and threatened to leave the province.  The opposition used this to play on latent racism by raising the specter of having to be attended to by “foreign” doctors, who would be brought to the province to replace the good White Saskatchewan docs.

Of course, as we have seen, exactly the opposite occurred.  When the general public in one jurisdiction can see that progressive social programs can actually work in another, it puts enormous pressure on their governments to act in a similar way.  No political party, no matter how far to the right, would dare suggest that the Canada Health Act be repealed (although they do their best to hack away at it whenever they get the chance).

Those of us from the Vietnam era remember the phrase “domino effect.”  It was used to frighten Americans into believing that if Vietnam remained a Communist state, all of Asia (if not the entire world) would follow.  In this case it was a bogus argument, but as the Republicans seem to be well aware, the Democrats actually being able to achieve a workable universal health care plan for the country could cause other dominos to fall (Kyoto, disarmament, affordable higher education, etc.) and undermine what the Republicans have so laboriously built up in the way of firewalls against progressive domestic and foreign policy. This “Chicken Little” strategy along with the enormous lobbying influence on both parties of the AMA and the private health insurance industry (of whom Hillary Clinton had become the major beneficiary in the Senate) is what Barack Obama and his Democratic Congress has to face if they are serious about universal single payer health care.  Place you bets.

A final word about universal health care.  Plans that involve the Byzantine network of private health insurance are probably doomed to failure once in operation for a variety of reasons not the least of which is cost and unworkable bureaucracy.  The weakness of existing single payer health plans such as that of Canada is that, while the coverage is “socialized,” the costs remain private.  In Canada the government negotiates with the Medical Association on a schedule of fees, but cost containment remains a serious problem.  In Canada drugs and dental care are not covered.  In the US, when the drug benefit was introduced to Medicare, it specifically prohibited the government from negotiation with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prices.  In Great Britain, where the National Health Service represents genuine “socialized” medicine in that it is government “owned and operated,” pressures to limit services in order to contain costs persist, of course, because costs are directly related to taxation. 

This takes us to the question of the role of the state in a capitalist society and what might things be like if and when capitalism were replaced with genuine democratic socialism, a minor issue but one which I will leave for future discussion.

 

 

 

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