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When America Interfered in a Russian Election March 22, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History, Russia, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: those of us who love irony will appreciate the fact that the Russian regime that is accused of influencing the 2016 U.S. election is the direct heir of the Yeltsin government which in turn came to power largely as a result of Clinton administration interference.  What goes around …

Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness on Russia, backed by much of her party, the Republicans and the lap dog corporate media, was cause for great concern to some of during the election campaign and created the illusion that a Trump presidency might in fact be less likely to bring on World War III.  This remains to be seen.  It is of no comfort that the Democrats and the media continue to demonize Russia (which is not to say that Putin is any thing less than an oligarch who rules with an iron fist in his homeland).

Ever since the fall of the former Soviet Union, I have been fascinated by process of the transition of the so-called socialist Russia (it was functionally not socialist, rather state capitalist) to free market capitalism.  The monumental change in the world’s second largest country did not happen “automatically” or in a single moment.  Since all major production was owned by the State, ending this monopoly meant that all billions upon billions of capital had to go somewhere.  

In an article I wrote a few years ago (https://www.opednews.com/populum/page.php?f=Putin-it-to-Putin-the-Ru-by-roger-hollander-Capital_Capitalism_Capitalism-Failures_Class-140503-466.html) I posited the notion that the destruction of Soviet State Capitalism provided the opportunity to democratize production and thereby create the kind of genuine socialism envisioned by Karl Marx.  We know, of course, that this didn’t happen, that, rather all Russian enterprise was stolen by former Soviety high level bureaucrats (Putin himself was head of  the Soviet KGB at the time); and Russia lost most of its social programs as it sank into a pure capitalist swamp.


by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

The U.S. is the unchallenged champion of hijacking, fixing and subverting elections around the world. On every inhabitable continent – from Italy to Iran to Accra to Tegucigalpa — Washington has stolen people’s rights to elected leaders of their choice. Only two decades ago, Bill Clinton and his operatives were busy stealing Russia’s first post-Soviet elections. But, U.S. corporate media seem to have forgotten such inconvenient facts.

All of the news is fake when corporate media connive with the powerful to produce their desired ends.”

There is still no evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election. What substitutes for proof is nothing but an endless loop of corporate media repetition. The Democratic Party has plenty of reason to whip up hysteria in an effort to divert attention from its endless electoral debacles.

What no one mentions is that the United States government has a very long history of interfering in elections around the world. Since World War II American presidents have used electoral dirty tricks, fraud and violence to upend the will of people in Italy, Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam and Honduras to name but a few nations. If possible brute force and murder are used to depose elected leaders as in Haiti and Chile.

Amid all the hoopla about Russia’s supposed influence in the election or with Donald Trump directly, there is little mention of a successful American effort to intervene in that country. In 1996 American political consultants and the Bill Clinton administration made certain that Boris Yeltsin remained in the Russian presidency.

There is no need for conjecture in this case. The story was discussed quite openly at the time and included a Time magazine cover story with the guilty parties going on record about their role in subverting democracy.

“In 1996 American political consultants and the Bill Clinton administration made certain that Boris Yeltsin remained in the Russian presidency.”

Polls showed that Yeltsin was in danger of losing to the Communist Party candidate Gennadi Zhuganov. The collapse of the Soviet Union had created an economic and political catastrophe for the Russian people. Oligarchs openly stole public funds while government workers went without pay. Russians lost the safety net they had enjoyed and the disaster resulted in a precipitous decline in life expectancy and birth rates.

The United States didn’t care about the suffering of ordinary Russians. Its only concern was making sure that the once socialist country never turned in that direction again. When Yeltsin looked like a loser the Clinton administration pressed the International Monetary Fund to send quick cash and bolster Yeltsin’s government with a $10 billion loan.

Clinton had an even more direct involvement. Led by a team connected to his adviser Dick Morris, a group of political consultants went to work in Moscow, but kept their existence a secret. One of the conspirators put the case succinctly. “Everyone realized that if the Communists knew about this before the election, they would attack Yeltsin as an American tool.” Of course Yeltsin was an American tool, and that was precisely the desired outcome.

The Time magazine article wasn’t the only corporate media expose of the American power grab. The story was also made into a film called “Spinning Boris.” One would think that this well known and documented account would be brought to attention now, but just the opposite has happened. The tale of Clinton administration conniving has instead been disappeared down the memory hole as if it never took place.

When Yeltsin looked like a loser the Clinton administration pressed the International Monetary Fund to send quick cash and bolster Yeltsin’s government with a $10 billion loan.”

The supposedly free media in this country march in lock step with presidents. After Obama and his secretary of state Hillary Clinton made Russia bashing a national pastime the media followed suit. The reason for the hostility is very simple. Russia is an enormous country spanning Europe and Asia and has huge amounts of energy resources which European countries depend on. Its gas and oil reserves make it a player and therefore a target for sanctions and war by other means.

The American impulse to control or crush the rest of the world is thwarted by an independent Russia. While Americans are fed an endless diet of xenophobia Russia and China continue their New Silk Road economic partnership. Of course this alliance is born of the necessity to protect against American threats but no one reading the New York Times or Washington Post knows anything about it. Nor do they know that Vladimir Putin’s mentor stayed in power because of Bill Clinton’s meddling.

All of the news is fake when corporate media connive with the powerful to produce their desired ends. If they want to make Yeltsin a hero, they make him a hero. If they want his successor to be cast as the villain then he becomes the villain. If the United States wants to play the victim it is turned into the hapless target of Russian espionage. If its history of thwarting the sovereignty of other countries becomes an inconvenient truth, then the truth is disappeared.

It is difficult to know what is true and what is not. But it usually a safe bet to assume that this government and its media hand maidens are covering up criminality of various kinds. The story of the 1996 manipulation of Russian voters is but one example.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as athttp://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

Helen Keller: Socialist, Pacifist, Women’s & Workers’ Rights Advocate July 1, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Socialism, Uncategorized, War, Women.
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Roger’s note: last week we celebrated Helen Keller Day, celebrating the 136th anniversary of her birth.  Like Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest mind of the 20th century, Keller’s disavowal of capitalist economic relations and her commitment to socialism and pacifism are virtually absent when her life and achievements are discussed.  These are inconvenient truths that corporate media and educational establishments love to ignore.  It is a phenomenon similar to the expunging of Martin Luther King’s biting anti-war and economic justice critiques and the beatification of Muhammad Ali absent any analysis of his anti-Vietnam war heroism as relative to today’s permanent wars and military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the globe.

Virtually all my adult life it has been evident to me that capitalist economic relations are unsustainable and responsible for massive economic and social injustice, immeasurable suffering and murderous warfare; and that the survival of the human race and the planet we inhabit depends upon nothing less than the creation of a New Society based upon communal values, once cancerous and voracious world capitalism is uprooted.

These are not new ideas, and it is comforting to know that they were held by some of our greatest humanitarians.



Keller was celebrated as a miracle, but her intelligent and articulate views and opinions were denounced as irrational, misguided thinking that came as the result of her afflictions. Keller railed against these charges. Responding to one attack in the Brooklyn Eagle, she wrote:

“At [one] time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him. … Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.”

Keller was highly adept at connecting the dots between the issues, understanding the relationship of war and militarism to economic injustice and the abuse of women, workers, children, and others. She also understood the power of nonviolent struggle, noncooperation, and organized direct action.

In her famous 1916 “Strike Against War” speech, Keller said to the workers of the nation, “It is in your power to refuse to carry the artillery and the dread-noughts and to shake off some of the burdens, too, such as limousines, steam yachts, and country estates. You do not need to make a great noise about it. With the silence and dignity of creators you can end wars and the system of selfishness and exploitation that causes wars. All you need to do to bring about this stupendous revolution is to straighten up and fold your arms.”

Helen Keller Day commemorates her birth on June 27,1880. On this day, one way to honor her life and legacy is to share the story of her commitment to pacifism, ending war, equality, women’s rights, labor and workers’ rights, suffrage, and more. Remember her as a woman who understood the relationship between systems of injustice, and the challenges of being deaf, blind, or mute. Keller clearly saw that while she had lost sight and hearing through illness, many people were becoming deaf or blind through workplace injuries, poverty-related sicknesses, and lack of access to affordable healthcare. To honor and commemorate her life, find a way to work for social justice in your community, and tell her story wherever you go.

Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.

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Nelson Mandela, Free Market Capitalism and the South African Crisis December 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, South Africa.
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Roger’s note:

“Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor.

Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.”

If you want more than that feel-good notion of Nelson Mandela as a champion of non-violent (i.e non. revolutionary) change, then read the article below.  Although I believe the author mistakes nationalization  for socialism, the article does give a credible analysis of why the South African masses, post-Apartheid, still live in miserable poverty.  Nationalization may be a necessary step towards socialism, but it is not sufficient.  Genuine socialism is not where the government rather than private interests are the owners of production.  Such as that exists in Vietnam and China and is functionally speaking nothing more than state capitalism.  Single party vanguards such as existed in the former Soviet Union and in China and Vietnam today by nature devolve into state tyranny over labor in order to maximize profit.  Genuine democratic socialism demands direct worker control over production, but that is another and much longer story.


by Anthony Monteiro

The veil must be lifted from the deliberations and machinations that led Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to discard the people’s Freedom Charter in favor of an accommodation with white capital, in the early Nineties. Why, at South Africa’s most critical juncture, did the ANC make a pact with the Devil? And why did they keep it?


“The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994.”Why and when did Mandela change his mind about nationalization of the wealth of South Africa? And what have been the results? I find the mainstream media’s accounts, citing Mandela’s claim that he changed his mind at Davos, Switzerland, in 1992 implausible. More troubling is why when Mandela and the ANC led government saw things going so badly for the people they didn’t change course? These questions arise as we try to make sense of Mandela’s legacy. This is especially important in light of the catastrophic crisis of poverty, hunger, unemployment, education and health care besetting the South African people. The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994. White economic privilege remains the same, and their wealth exponentially increased, a tiny, rich and mostly parasitic black bourgeoisie and a black middle class have been created. For 90 percent of the African population things have not improved.

The New York Times reported on December 10 that Nelson Mandela’s change of thinking occurred at Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum (the annual meeting of the major bankers, capitalist, entrepreneurs, celebrities, politicians and intellectuals tied to the neo liberal globalist model of the world economy) in January 1992. Tito Mboweni, a former governor of the South African Reserve Bank (that nation’s Central Bank), who accompanied Mandela to Davos, says when Mandela and the ANC delegation arrived Mandela had a speech written by the ANC that focused on nationalization. Mboweni says “we discussed this at some length and decided that its content was inappropriate for a Davos audience.” Mboweni drafts another speech that was friendly to the Davos crowd. The speech was vague and filled with clichés and platitudes and assured the audience that they had nothing to fear from Mandela or the ANC.

In a letter to the Sunday Independent last January Mboweni says it was meetings with representatives of the Communist parties of China and Vietnam that changed Madiba’s mind completely. According to Mboweni the Chinese and Vietnamese told Mandela “We are currently striving to privatize state enterprises and invite private enterprise into our economies. We are Communists Party governments, and you are a leader of a national liberation movement. Why are you talking about nationalization?” According to Anthony Sampson, the author of Mandela: The Authorized Biography, Mandela told him “They changed my views altogether. I came home to say: ‘Chaps we have to choose. We either keep nationalization and get no investment, or we modify our own attitude and get investment.’”

”The path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.”

It is obvious that the ANC, the South African national liberation struggle and the nation as a whole were at a critical juncture. They were faced with problems of consolidating political power and moving the nation towards economic emancipation. On the other side, the white regime and its backers in the West were concerned with making concessions to black South Africans that would not disturb western corporate control of this mineral rich and strategically located economy. However I find the accounts of Mr. Sampson and Mr. Mboweni implausible. In other words, the path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.

The first question is about the representatives of China and Vietnam. Both nations in 1992 were at different levels of economic development. Vietnam was still in the social and economic reconstruction phase after 25 years of war against foreign aggression. China was a socialist economy that twelve years earlier had entered upon a path of reform within its socialist economy. China at that time had about 80 to 90% of the strategic parts of its economy under state control. Vietnam was similar with the state controlling economic reconstruction. Even today close to 70% of China’s economy is under state control. The most technologically dynamic and profitable sector of the Chinese economy is the state, or nationalized sector. The facts are that China and Vietnam are heavily state dominated economies and each says the objective of their economic planning is to build advanced socialism. Even if we accept that the Chinese and Vietnamese representatives at Davos said what Mboweni says, the next question is who were they and did they represent the official positions of their governments? If we accept the mainstream media’s accounts, they must have been saying, “do as we say, not as we do.” Of course this would have been an instance of unbelievable bad faith, even cynicism. But on this matter, rather than looking to the Chinese and Vietnamese delegates, I think we should question Mr. Mboweni ‘s and Mr. Sampson’s account.

The second point is that when Mandela emerges from prison two of his and the ANC’s most important allies were Cuba and Libya, two nations whose economies were heavily nationalized. Why did Mandela not consult Fidel Castro and Muammar Gadaffi among others to get a more complete view on how well nationalization was working or not working in their nations?

”The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact.”

The third point, any nation emerging from a long period of civil war and national liberation, experiencing a radical transfer of power, necessarily goes through a period of transition. It is ludicrous to think that sober minds, especially those with the training of most of the ANC, could underestimate a transition where something like a New Deal for the people, including a jobs and infrastructure programs, an anti-poverty crusade, health care, housing and political education, would not be considered necessary. No clear thinking person could have imagined an overnight great leap forward from a ravaged apartheid economy to an advanced socialist one. There would be a transition period of at least a decade where the groundwork would be laid for a new democratic and socialist economy. The forms of this transition would have many layers, even ambiguities, but its direction would be firmly established and based on the Freedom Charter and its call for nationalization. The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact and thereby recklessly undermined the future of South Africa.

The more plausible scenario, from my perspective, is that Mandela and a small circle around him, long before Davos, perhaps in the last year or so of Mandela’s imprisonment, cut a deal. As we know Mandela entered into secret talks with the white regime before being released. These talks were kept secret from the ANC leadership. There were others in and outside of the ANC who were involved in secret talks about the economy well before 1990. By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization. The question for Mandela and those in the ANC who supported him, was to get an appropriate time and place for Mandela to announce his change of position. There had to also be a plausible explanation of why such a drastic change. The Davos story fulfills both requirements, an appropriate place and a plausible story.

The fact that Mr. Mboweni, a free market capitalist, accompanied Mandela to Davos and had such power that he was allowed to trash the ANC speech and substitute for it his own, should raise further troubling questions about the behind scenes operations among the ANC elite. Why weren’t other views present in the ANC delegation at Davos? Or were they dismissed as “too radical” even before Davos?

”By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization.”

Not long after the Davos announcement the ANC (or the free market and neo liberal elements within the ANC) announced that the first black government would assume the entire debt of the white regime. A sum of close to $25 billion. The ANC took an IMF loan to pay the debt, which came with severe strings attached that protected white control of the post apartheid economy. (see my article in BAR Dec 11 2013 for a further discussion of this). Mandela’s claim that he was turned around at Davos is questionable and his turn against the Freedom Charter and the aspirations of the masses of South Africa (who cherished the Freedom Charter as their manifesto of freedom and reflective of their freedom aspirations) is problematic.

Winnie Mandela has said repeatedly that when Mandela emerged from prison he was not the same man. She says his revolutionary resolve was different. What she probably meant is his change of heart on economic policy and his willingness to, as she saw it, make unnecessary compromises with white South Africans and Western interests. Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor. Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.

In my BAR article “Nelson Mandela, The Contradictions of his Life and Legacies” I argue there are four stages in Mandela’s life. The fourth is 1990 to 2013. This is the most contradictory in terms of his previous revolutionary activity. However, it is as significant to understanding his legacy and life as the previous ones are. The burning question is in power what did he and his ANC colleagues do to liberate the nation from economic apartheid and foreign corporate control. At this point the answer is in power the ANC failed. The problem is not important only to South Africans or Africans, but for how humanity, especially its impoverished and destitute majority, imagines the future world and how we fight for it.

Anthony Monteiro is a professor of African American Studies at Temple University. He can be contacted at tmon@comcast.net.

If Nelson Mandela Really Had Won, He Wouldn’t Be Seen as a Universal Hero December 10, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Revolution, Socialism, South Africa.
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Roger’s note: I have already posted a few articles of this nature, and this should be the last, but I think it says it the best.  I don’t know that Nelson Mandela died a bitter man, I think the author is speculating or using the notion metaphorically, but with cause.  Also, I am not too crazy about the way he used the Ayn Rand quote, but nevertheless I think overall he hit the nail on the head.



Mandela must have died a bitter man. To honor his legacy, we should focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to



‘It is all too simple to criticize Mandela for abandoning the socialist perspective after the end of apartheid: did he really have a choice? Was the move towards socialism a real option?’ (Photograph: Media24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

In the last two decades of his life, Nelson Mandela was celebrated as a model of how to liberate a country from the colonial yoke without succumbing to the temptation of dictatorial power and anti-capitalist posturing. In short, Mandela was not Robert Mugabe, and South Africa remained a multiparty democracy with a free press and a vibrant economy well-integrated into the global market and immune to hasty socialist experiments. Now, with his death, his stature as a saintly wise man seems confirmed for eternity: there are Hollywood movies about him – he was impersonated by Morgan Freeman, who also, by the way, played the role of God in another film; rock stars and religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification.

Is this, however, the whole story? Two key facts remain obliterated by this celebratory vision. In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence and crime. The main change is that the old white ruling class is joined by the new black elite. Second, people remember the old African National Congress that promised not only the end of apartheid, but also more social justice, even a kind of socialism. This much more radical ANC past is gradually obliterated from our memory. No wonder that anger is growing among poor, black South Africans.

South Africa in this respect is just one version of the recurrent story of the contemporary left. A leader or party is elected with universal enthusiasm, promising a “new world” – but, then, sooner or later, they stumble upon the key dilemma: does one dare to touch the capitalist mechanisms, or does one decide to “play the game”? If one disturbs these mechanisms, one is very swiftly “punished” by market perturbations, economic chaos and the rest. This is why it is all too simple to criticize Mandela for abandoning the socialist perspective after the end of apartheid: did he really have a choice? Was the move towards socialism a real option?

It is easy to ridicule Ayn Rand, but there is a grain of truth in the famous “hymn to money” from her novel Atlas Shrugged: “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other.” Did Marx not say something similar in his well-known formula of how, in the universe of commodities, “relations between people assume the guise of relations among things”?

In the market economy, relations between people can appear as relations of mutually recognized freedom and equality: domination is no longer directly enacted and visible as such. What is problematic is Rand’s underlying premise: that the only choice is between direct and indirect relations of domination and exploitation, with any alternative dismissed as utopian. However, one should nonetheless bear in mind the moment of truth in Rand’s otherwise ridiculously ideological claim: the great lesson of state socialism was effectively that a direct abolition of private property and market-regulated exchange, lacking concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination. If we merely abolish the market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation.

The general rule is that when a revolt begins against an oppressive half-democratic regime, as was the case in the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilize large crowds with slogans that one cannot but characterize as crowd pleasers – for democracy, against corruption, for instance. But then we gradually approach more difficult choices, when our revolt succeeds in its direct goal, we come to realize that what really bothered us (our un-freedom, humiliation, social corruption, lack of prospect of a decent life) goes on in a new guise. The ruling ideology mobilizes here its entire arsenal to prevent us from reaching this radical conclusion. They start to tell us that democratic freedom brings its own responsibility, that it comes at a price, that we are not yet mature if we expect too much from democracy. In this way, they blame us for our failure: in a free society, so we are told, we are all capitalist investing in our lives, deciding to put more into our education than into having fun if we want to succeed.

At a more directly political level, United States foreign policy elaborated a detailed strategy of how to exert damage control by way of rechanneling a popular uprising into acceptable parliamentary-capitalist constraints – as was done successfully in South Africa after the fall of apartheid regime, in Philippines after the fall of Marcos, in Indonesia after the fall of Suharto and elsewhere. At this precise conjuncture, radical emancipatory politics faces its greatest challenge: how to push things further after the first enthusiastic stage is over, how to make the next step without succumbing to the catastrophe of the “totalitarian” temptation – in short, how to move further from Mandela without becoming Mugabe.

If we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should thus forget about celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to. We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is also a sign that he really didn’t disturb the global order of power.

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

How Inequality is Killing Us September 3, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Health, Poverty.
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Mon, Sep 2, 2013

How Inequality is Killing Usby Susan Rosenthal

BOOK REVIEW: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by R. Wilkinson & K. Pickett (2009/2011)

If a book’s value can be measured by its ability to antagonize right-wing ‘think-tanks,’ then this book is priceless.

The Spirit Level challenges everything we’ve been told about why people get sick and what it takes to be healthy.

While public campaigns lecture us to eat right, stop smoking, exercise more, etc., in fact, our well-being has very little to do with our individual choices and everything to do with how society is structured. Put simply, inequality is extremely bad for our health.

The United States ranks as the world’s most unequal nation, far outstripping all other nations. The top one percent of Americans have a combined net worth that is more than triple the net worth of the other 99 percent combined. And the bottom 40 percent of Americans own less than nothing, because they are sinking in debt.(1) (See the two charts below)

The high cost of inequality

Wilkinson and Pickett compare income inequality within 23 of the world’s richest nations and all fifty US states. They found that, at every income level, people living in more unequal nations and states suffer:

• lower life expectancy

• higher infant mortality

• more homicides

• more anxiety

• more mental illness

• more drug and alcohol addiction

• more obesity

• higher rates of imprisonment

• less social mobility

• more teen pregnancies

• more high-school dropouts

• poorer school performance

• more school-age bullying

And the extent to which people at every income level suffer these problems is directly related to how unequal is the society in which they live.

In contrast, people living in more equal societies and states enjoy better mental, physical and social health – at every income level. And the more equal their societies, the more they enjoy these benefits.

Once everyone has the basic necessities of life, your health and social well-being is determined less by how rich you are than how unequal is the society in which you live. In other words, poorer people in more equal societies are healthier and happier than richer people in more unequal societies.

The difference is significant. A 1990s study of 282 metropolitan areas in the United States found that the greater the difference in income, the more the death rate rose for all income levels, not just for the poor.(2)

Researchers calculated that reducing income inequality to the lowest level found in those areas would save as many lives as would be saved by eradicating heart disease or by preventing all deaths from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infection, suicide and homicide combined.

Inequality divides us

Why would inequality, in and of itself, have such a profound impact? The answer lies in our mammalian biology. As the most social animals on the planet, we are hard-wired to function best in an embracing community.

More than 95 percent of human existence has been spent in egalitarian societies. Because the survival of the group depends on collaboration, all primitive societies developed rules and customs to prevent anyone from rising too high or sinking too low.

However, for the past 10,000 years, most people have lived in class-divided, hierarchical societies. We have adapted to social inequality, but we pay a terrible price.

Consider this statement, “Most people can be trusted.” Would you agree or disagree?

The probability that you would disagree is directly related to the level of income inequality in your society. Wilkinson and Pickett show that people in the most equal nations, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, are six times more likely to trust each other than those in the most unequal nations – Portugal, Singapore and the United States. In short, inequality makes people distrustful.

When society does not take care of us, when we are abandoned to struggle individually, then we distrust others and fear for our safety. As a result, more unequal societies are characterized by more inter-personal competition, more emphasis on individual status and success, less social security, more envy of those above and more disdain for those below.

Fearful distrust compelled George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin. Fearful distrust prompts us to warn our children about strangers, suspect those who are different, install security systems, view the poor and unemployed as ‘cheaters,’ applaud more spending on police and prisons, and support harsher penalties.

Fearful distrust provides a mass audience for TV shows and movies about traitors, torturers, rapists, sadists, and serial killers. When I asked one person why she followed a particularly gruesome TV serial about psychopathic murderers, she replied, “I want to know what’s out there.” Fearful distrust keeps us isolated and unable to recognize our common interests.

The Spirit Level is rich in information about the benefits of greater equality – enough to convince anyone who cares about human welfare. For that reason, I recommend it most highly. (The book’s facts, charts, and more resources can be found at The Equality Trust).

Unfortunately, the book falls short when it comes to solutions.

Could inequality be legislated away?

The book’s primary weakness is revealed in Robert Reich’s Foreword,

“By and large, ‘the market’ is generating these outlandish results. But the market is a creation of public policies. And public policies, as the authors make clear, can reorganize the market to reverse these trends.” (p.xii)

In reality, capitalism is based on a fundamental inequality: the capitalist class owns the means of production and all that is produced, so it has the power to shape society. The rest of us, who do the actual work of producing, get virtually no say in how society is run. This two-class system cannot be legislated away, any more than the systems of slavery or feudalism could be legislated away.

Most important, the capitalist system is based on the accumulation of capital which, by its very nature, increases inequality.

Every capitalist is committed to raising productivity – increasing the amount of capital that can be squeezed from each worker and confiscated by the employer. As more wealth is extracted from the working class and concentrated in the hands of the one percent, society becomes increasingly unequal. Counter-measures can slow the twin process of capital accumulation and growing inequality, but it can be stopped only by eliminating capitalism.

Could we all live in Sweden?

As Wilkinson and Pickett explain, there are two ways that countries offset rising inequality: by capping higher incomes; and by imposing higher taxes on the rich to pay for social programs. In other words, by holding the very rich down and by elevating everyone else. So it might seem that the solution to inequality could lie in redistributive public policies. However, wanting and needing such policies has never been enough – it’s always required a fight. As the authors point out,

“Sweden’s greater equality originated in the Social Democratic Party’s electoral victory in 1932 which had been preceded by violent labor disputes in which troops had opened fire on sawmill workers.” (p.242)

The book offers more examples of governments that implemented social programs for fear of revolution if they didn’t: the New Deal in the 1930s, the revolutionary wave that struck Europe in the 1840s, the post-war ‘social contract’ in England, the radicalism of the 1960s, etc.

Wilkinson and Pickett recount how income inequality in the United States reached a peak before the Great Crash of 1929. Beginning in the later 1930s, income inequality decreased as workers organized and fought to divert more social wealth to the people who produced it.

Beginning in the 1970s, income inequality began to rise again. This change was marked by an employers’ offensive against unions. As the proportion of workers in unions fell, income inequality rose until it is now similar to the level of inequality that preceded the 1929 crash.

The authors explain that the American example is not unique,

“A study which analysed trends in inequality during the 1980s and 1990s in Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States found that the most important single factor was trade union membership…[D]eclines in trade union membership were most closely associated with widening income differences.” (p.244)

The lesson from these examples is clear: when the working class is ascendant, inequality decreases and society becomes more fair; when the capitalist class is ascendant, inequality increases and society becomes less fair.

Despite their own evidence, the authors do not call for a working-class uprising to reduce, if not eliminate, class inequality. Instead, they state that,

“The transformation of our society is a project in which we all have a shared interest.” (p.237)

This is a fundamental error, because we do not all have a shared interest. Greater equality would require the capitalist class to give up a substantial amount of its wealth and power. History shows that they never do this willingly.

Individual capitalists might see the value of a fairer society, but any who chose to slow the rate of capital accumulation would be replaced by others with no such concern. Moreover, those who accumulate the most capital can ‘buy’ as many politicians as necessary to shape public policies.

Instead of challenging the two-class capitalist system, the authors want to make it more humane by building a network of worker-co-operatives.

“The key is to map out ways in which the new society can begin to grow within and alongside the institutions it may gradually marginalise and replace. That is what making change is really about…What we need is not one big revolution but a continuous stream of small changes in a consistent direction.” (p.236)

Mondragon Corporation in Spain is offered as an example. Mondragon encompasses 120 employee-owned co-ops, 40,000 worker-owners and sales of $4.8 billion US dollars. However, despite being home to one of the world’s largest co-op networks, Spain ranks midway between the most equal and the most unequal nations. And it has recently implemented severe austerity policies that dramatically increase inequality.

Despite their many benefits, worker-owned co-operatives cannot transform society. As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out more than 100 years ago,

“Producers’ co-operatives are excluded from the most important branches of capital production — the textile, mining, metallurgical and petroleum industries, machine construction, locomotive and shipbuilding. For this reason alone, co-operatives in the field of production cannot be seriously considered as the instrument of a general social transformation…Within the framework of present society, producers’ co-operatives are limited to the role of simple annexes to consumers’ co-operatives.” (3)

And one cannot imagine the global military-industrial complex becoming a worker-owned co-op.

To their credit, the authors acknowledge,

“The truth is that modern inequality exists because democracy is excluded from the economic sphere. It needs therefore to be dealt with by an extension of democracy into the workplace.” (p.264)

Realistically, there’s only one way to achieve workplace democracy across the whole of society – a global working-class revolution that takes collective control of production and eliminates the two-class system of capitalism. Then we could build a truly cooperative society in which everyone is equally worthy to share life’s work and life’s rewards.


1. Wolff, E.N., “The asset price meltdown and the wealth of the middle class” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 18559 (2012)

2. Lynch, J.W. et. al. (1998). Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States. Am J Public Health. Vol. 88, pp.1074-1080.

3. Luxemburg, R. (1900/1908). Reform or revolution. London: Bookmarks, p.66.

See also Inequality: The Root Source of Sickness




Jesus lives: April Fool! April 1, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in About Religion, Democracy, Religion, Socialism.
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Roger Hollander, April 1, 2012, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com

If capital G God exists (capital I if),  He/She/It has given us a little ironic treat in having Palm Sunday fall on April Fools day this year.

When I think of Palm Sunday and the monstrosity known at the Roman Catholic Church and the other world religions, with the possible few exceptions of the Asian  religions, I think of the phrase “cross my palm with silver.”

The air-tight relationship between accumulated wealth (in our era, capital) and organized religion is a historic reality.  There is in fact good reason to believe that the first division of labor creating a privileged class in previously classless tribal society, was that of the first shamans or priests converting their credibility into political and economic power, which they used to control and manipulate.

The young 26-year-old Karl Marx, in his 1844 Manuscripts wrote about religion in a handful of paragraphs that include his famous and taken out of context “opiate of the masses.”

Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, the embryonic criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain, not in order that man shall bear the chain without caprice or consolation but so that he shall cast off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man so that he will think, act and fashion his reality as a man who has lost his illusions and regained his reason; so that he will revolve about himself as his own true sun. Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve about himself.

… thus the criticism of heaven is transformed into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.

From: “Contributions to the  Critique  of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,”  in   “Karl Marx: Early Writings,” translated and edited by T. B. Bottomore, McGraw Hill, 1964, pages 43, 44.

This I consider to be a manifesto for secular humanism, of which I am a proud advocate.  Who can deny that the very existence of our biosphere is in danger from escalating warfare and environmental catastrophe.  Those who advocate looking outside of humankind to some sort of God to take us out of this mess are the very same religious institutions that promote and indoctrinate obeisance to the vast accumulations of wealth that capitalist economic relations generate.

Shakespeare via Cassius:“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves …”

Today it is more evident than ever that political democracy is little more than a farce in a capitalist world.  Vast accumulated wealth (which is what capital is)  plus the military and political power it purchases with that very wealth is what rules in every nation on earth, not the “demos” (people) of democracy.  In a word, political democracy without economic democracy is not genuine democracy.

The destruction of capitalist economic relations and replacement with economic democracy (genuine socialism, not state capitalism calling itself socialist as in China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.) where those of us who create wealth share in it equally, is a Monmouth and daunting task (given especially enormous state power and means of repression).  But it is the only long-term solution to the world crisis in which we live.  In the light of this reality, a vote for Obama or a prayer to whatever god, can do no more than any other opiate, that is, create illusory and useless hope.

To show that I am not a blind hater of Christianity, let me cite one of my favorite biblical quotes, that of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, where he states that: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  My belief is that in the individual human dimension, love is the highest notion; and at the communal/social level, love is no more or less than social, political and economic justice, that is, socialism.




What sick socialist bastard would want to provide free healthcare to the poor! January 30, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: I am no fan of the Obama health care legislation, which gave away the store to the health insurance industry and by no means provides free healthcare to the poor; but this image is a perfect antidote to the mean spirited and  hypocritical “Christian” Republicans, to Ron Paul and the other Ayn Rand worshipers.

Political spectacles cannot hide reality of deranged September 30, 2011

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Verizon workers all across the
U.S. went out on strike for 15 days to force the company to bargain in good
faith. Represented by the Communications Workers of America and the
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, they agreed not to strike again
for 30 days. Verizon called for draconian measures that would have destroyed the
union. The workers are ready to resume their strike when

by Ron Kelch

www.newsandletters.org, Sept – Oct 2011

At the end of a months-long political spectacle in Washington–manufactured
over irrelevancies concerning what should have been a routine raising of the
national debt limit before the Aug. 2 deadline–reality struck with a bombshell:
the anemic “jobless” recovery in the U.S. has stalled. The economy is getting
worse and there is no solution under capitalism. Revised data revealed that the
economy grew at less than 1% in the first half of the year. The 9.1%
unemployment rate is really over 16% when you consider that at 63.9% the level
of labor participation in the economy is the lowest since the Great Recession
started in 2007.

Economists worry that the global economy is poised for a double dip
recession. Most agree that, for the foreseeable future, at best there will be
low or no growth–namely, a prolonged depression in employment.
The government spared no expense in immediately rescuing the finance sector in
the face of a total meltdown in 2008. A completely inadequate stimulus package,
which is about to run out, barely made a dent in mass unemployment. Now, in the
face of a new downturn, there is the highest long-term unemployment since the
Great Depression.


Republican Tea Party fanatics, who control the U.S. House of Representatives,
were willing to risk a default on the national debt by refusing to raise the
debt limit. A default would have triggered a “financial Armageddon” and pushed
the already weak U.S. and world economies into an abyss. The
mass misery this would have generated was of no consequence to the Tea Party,
for whom nothing mattered except gutting spending on all social programs and
stopping any tax increases for the wealthy.

The tax structure in the U.S. is so outrageous that billionaire Warren
Buffett pleaded with the politicians to stop “coddling” the rich like him whose
tax burden, at 17.4%, is less than half of the average 36% paid by the other 20
employees in his office. Inequality in the U.S., where the top fifth has 84% of
the national wealth while the bottom two fifths have a mere 0.3%, is one of the
most extreme in the world. One fifth of children in this richest country on
earth grow up in poverty. Thus, as the Aug. 2 deadline approached, without a
care to these facts or the consequences of their actions, the Republicans got
what they wanted. Standard & Poors (S&P) promptly lowered the U.S.
credit rating from AAA to AA+, not because of a U.S. inability to pay its debts,
but because such a deranged political system can no longer be counted on to do

The religious fanatics who control the Republican Party like Michele Bachmann
and Texas governor Rick Perry adhere to “Dominionism,” which holds that certain
Christians should not let anything get in the way of fulfilling their destiny:
to run the government according to their strictures and in turn impose them
throughout society. Dominionist views are totally divorced from reality–whether
on evolution, global warming or the nature of homosexuality–but, when they
include ruining the economy, then many capitalists get scared.
Such a deranged single-minded reach for power on the part of these ideologues
can’t be dismissed, however, precisely because capitalists are still so willing
to use them to force cuts on workers’ pensions, healthcare and education to pay
for deficits from wars, tax cuts for the rich, and speculative excesses that
caused the downturn.



The capitalist dilemma is that austerity has also revealed itself as a
deranged policy that makes the deficits worse because it drives down economic
growth. In Europe, an austerity-induced downward spiral in employment and living
conditions has been met with mass strikes, riots and “Take the Square” movements
inspired by the Arab Spring and demands for “Real Democracy.” Nationalism is
tearing apart Europe’s economic union as countries like Germany, with financial
prowess due to an export-driven economy, have dictated harsh conditions for
bailouts of other countries. Bailouts became necessary after bond dealers, who
were rescued from their own speculative bubble, forced one country after another
to face exorbitant interest rates on their debt. The contagion spread from
marginal countries like Ireland, Portugal and Greece to Spain and even Italy.
Now economic growth in Germany itself has collapsed to almost nothing.
Economists fear not just another global recession but another financial meltdown
like 2008.

After S&P’s downgrade, far from fleeing from U.S. debt, investors
demanded more of it, making it even cheaper for the government to borrow. The
interest rate on ten-year Treasuries fell to historic lows of under 2%. U.S.
capitalists have a huge cash hoard of nearly $2 trillion that is not being
invested in the real economy. It gets lent to the government for almost nothing.
The near religious faith that capital creates jobs has met the reality
of stalled capital accumulation creating permanent mass

As economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich keep saying, Keynesian
economics arose in the 1930s to deal with a similar deranged moment when
capitalism kept digging itself into a deeper hole. Today is said to be akin to
1937, when President Roosevelt listened to those who wanted to cut the deficit
and the Depression returned with a vengeance.

Only when Roosevelt turned to several years of what would in today’s dollars
be $3 trillion deficits in the buildup and execution of World War II did the
U.S. exit the Depression. Krugman claims the economic impact of the war–the
massive physical destruction of capital, which left the U.S. as the lone
economic superpower–wasn’t necessary for ending the Depression and restarting
capital accumulation.

But total war was not separate from the Depression. War was preceded by the
monstrosity of Nazism arising in an advanced capitalist country. A more
thoughtful evaluation came from another renowned academic economist, Simon
Kuznets, who also saw only “transient difficulties” in the collapse in the rate
of capital accumulation, but nevertheless questioned the capitalist basis of
economic growth if it is “susceptible to such a barbaric deformation”
(Postwar Economic Growth, Harvard University Press, 1964).


Karl Marx showed that the collapse in capitalist growth is no “transient
difficulty,” but is rather a reflection, despite many countervailing tendencies,
of an overall tendency for the rate of profit to decline. (See “Deep recession, rate of profit and the supreme
commodity, labor power
“.) A financial meltdown reveals a dramatically lower
rate of profit in the real economy where capitalists balk at investment and
produce not jobs but a growing army of unemployed and mass pauperization.

Profit can only come from surplus value extracted from living labor, and the
rate of profit falls when there is relatively less living labor in proportion to
dead labor or capital. Capital’s self-contradictory motivation is to diminish
living labor as much as possible–this goose that lays their golden eggs–by
constantly revolutionizing production with new dead labor or machines. With a
given level of technological development and ratio of capital to living labor,
the only way to boost profit is to lower the cost of labor through a class war
on labor rights, wages, benefits and pensions.

The capitalist system will not collapse on its own, but will continue as long
as it can in a protracted painful decline. There are persistent new revolts on
the ground searching for a new path as when mass demonstrations and sit-ins in
Wisconsin confronted Governor Walker–not only because of his huge take-backs
but because of the repeal of public workers’ basic labor rights. The opposition
to Walker also came within one vote of taking control of the State Senate in
recall elections and effectively ended his majority for the most extreme of his
agenda items. The political arena of elections, however, is where capitalists
have infinite cash to spin facts in the media according to their inverted

President Obama, who was elected on a promise of change that inspired masses
of new people to work for his election, behaves as if he also believes fervently
in the political process that operates on a different plane than the conditions
of life and labor of those who elected him. Obama kept exclaiming that high
unemployment is unacceptable and a prime concern, but the political process,
divorced from the aspirations of those who elected him, revolved around deficit
cuts that undermined employment. His new promise to introduce a jobs program has
little credibility.

Workers experience the process of accumulating capital as an alien one, where
the object, capital in the form of a machine, dominates the subject, the living
laborer. The capitalist begins from total costs and views labor not as the
source of value but only as an expense. In this way, says Marx, “the extortion
of surplus-value loses its specific character.” For the capitalists it
always appears as though an increase in value results from technology.

New technology lowers socially necessary labor-time and makes those commodities
issuing from it temporarily sell above their value, which is determined by the
average socially necessary labor-time. The “crisis” hits when all capitalists
get the same technology (or are driven out of business) and all commodities sell
for their now lower value, the amount of labor-time “in” them. What pervades the
totally dysfunctional political system is the capitalist’s fantasy thinking that
treats capital as the generator not only of jobs but of value itself.

The appearance of creating value from nothing through speculative finance
capital is twice removed from the “specific character” of creating value in
production and greatly amplifies the hallucinatory thinking of capitalists and
their political allies. Production is the source of both profit and the
illusions of finance capital.
Under finance capital, as Marx put it,
“the way that surplus-value is transformed into the form of profit…is only
further extension of that inversion of subject and object which already occurs
in the course of the production process itself. We saw in that case how all the
subjective forces of labor present themselves as productive forces of capital”
(Capital, Vol. 3, Fernbach trans, p. 136).


Ideologues never tire of projecting anew this disordered consciousness in
which humans begin from reality not as our own creative powers in metabolism
with nature, but bow to technology as capital. In Foreign Affairs
(July/August, 2011), Michael Spence warns of “structural underpinnings” driving
a divergence between “growth and employment,” which means “the United States
should brace itself for a long period of high unemployment” because of the
impending loss of even “high-value-added” jobs that revolutionize technology.
“Value-added” fantastically becomes “capital and labor that turn the inputs into
outputs.” Capital produces no new value. Only living labor, whose proportion
diminishes relative to dead labor, creates new value even as it transfers the
value of the machine over its lifetime in production.

Apple Corp. came to be the iconic center of high-tech jobs and briefly the
company with the largest market capitalization in the world based on an
abundance of alienated, sweated labor. Foxconn, which employs a million workers
in China manufacturing high-tech gadgets for Apple and others, has an
ignominious reputation for workplace injuries and a rash of suicides from long
hours and high production quotas. Workers, who make at most $200 a month, must
sign a promise to not commit suicide. Safety nets have been placed outside
factory windows. Foxconn chairman Terry Gou wants to deal with these erratic
humans by replacing as many as possible with a million robots by 2013. This is
in the name of wanting his employees to move “higher up the value chain” (“Cheap
Robots vs. Cheap Labor”, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2011) in a country
which still has 300 million peasants. Nothing will stop China, rife with worker
revolts, from a reckoning, not only with speculative excesses in finance, but
with its own internal barriers to accumulation.

New revolts, emerging outside the familiar players like political parties and
labor unions–including the mass demonstrations that forced the shutdown of an
ecologically disastrous chemical plant in Dalian, China, or the new people’s
assemblies that have filled the public squares in Europe–reveal masses of
people searching for a way out of capitalism’s upside-down thinking. It’s time
to stop digging ourselves into not only deeper economic stagnation but also the
stagnation of the mental hole that just reproduces capitalist illusions. For
Marx, the only way to wipe away those illusions is when production is run by
freely associated laborers, a conceptual guide-rail for all the new spontaneous
and self-organized revolts.

From Poll Taxes to Voter ID Laws: A Short History of Conservative Voter Suppression March 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Socialism.
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(Roger’s note: it is a simple phrase, but it says just about everything: “without economic democracy, political democracy is a sham.”  With a Supreme Court giving carte blanche to corporations to fund campaigns, with billionaire-funded “grass roots” organizations such as the Tea Party disenfranchising  masses of voters as discussed in the article below, with massive powerful lobbies such as Big Pharma and the private health insurance industry virtually writing legislation to protect their selfish interests – who can argue that political democracy in the United States, or anywhere in the world for that matter, is genuine democracy?  Democratic socialism is nothing more or less than economic democracy, and it can only come about through the destruction of the capitalist form of production, a mode of production that inherently exploits and alienates living human labour, a mode that is by its very nature undemocratic and which replicates itself in the world of social and political relations.)

Sunday 27 March 2011

by: Kevin Donohoe  |  Think Progress | Report

Thursday, ThinkProgress reported that the Ohio House had approved the most restrictive voter id law in the nation — a bill that would exclude 890,000 Ohioans from voting. Earlier this week Texas lawmakers passed a similar bill, and voter id legislation — which would make it significantly more difficult for seniors, students and minorities to vote — is now under consideration in more than 22 states across the country

Conservatives have said voter id laws are necessary to combat mass voter fraud. Yet according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Americans are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than commit voter fraud. And the Bush administration’s five-year national “war on voter fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions of illegal voting out of more than 196 million votes cast. Instead conservatives are employing an old tactic: using the specter of false voting to restrict the voting rights of minorities and the poor.

Below, ThinkProgress examines the history of conservatives anti-voter agenda:

Jim Crow South: In the Jim Crow South, historian Leon Litwack writes, “respectable” Southern whites justified their support for measures to disenfranchise African-Americans “as a way to reform and purify the electoral process, to root out fraud and bribery.” In North Carolina for example, conservatives insisted that literacy tests and poll taxes — which disenfranchised tens of thousands of African-Americans — were necessary to prevent “voter fraud.”

1981 RNC Voter Caging Scandal: According to Project Vote, in 1981 the Republican National Committee mailed non-forwardable postcards to majority Hispanic and African-American districts in New Jersey in an effort to accuse those voters of false voting. The 45,000 returned cards were rncthen used to create a list of voters whose residency the GOP could challenge at the polls. The Democratic National Committee sued, winning a consent decree in which the RNC agreed not to engage in practices “where the purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Similar initiatives were undertaken by the Arizona GOP in 1958, the RNC in 1962 and again, despite the decree, in Louisiana in 1986.

Recent Voter Caging Efforts: During the 2004 election GOP state parties, along with dozens of unidentified groups, launched similar “voter caging” efforts designed to challenge the eligibility of thousands of minority voters by accusing them of voter fraud. And in 2008, the Obama campaign sued the Michigan Republican Committee for collecting a list of foreclosures in an effort to challenge the residency, and eligibility, of voters who had lost their home in the housing crisis.

US Attorney David Iglesias Firing Scandal: In an unprecedented politicization of the Justice Department, in 2006 the Bush White House fired US Attorney David Iglesias for refusing to prosecute voting fraud cases where little evidence existed. The New Mexico political establishment asked for Iglesias’ dismissal after he refused to cooperate with the party’s efforts to make voter id laws “the single greatest wedge issue ever.”

US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger Dismissal: In Minnesota, US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger lost his position when he ran afoul of GOP activists for “expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots.”

Wisconsin, The Kochs and the 2010 Election: Last fall ThinkProgress reported that a coalition of Wisconsin Tea Party and Koch-funded groups, in an effort to stop “voter fraud” and prevent “stolen elections,” was planning a sophisticated voter caging effort that would use GOP lawyers and Tea Party volunteers to challenge the eligibility of voters at polls in the state. Earlier that year, the same groups were instrumental in defeating a voter protection law that would have criminalized any attempt to use force or coercion to “compel any person to refrain from voting.” One prominent Tea Party member behind the voter caging effort that “since the voter law did not get passed this year… we can still do this.”

As statehouses across the country move forward on voter identification bills, ThinkProgress will continue to track conservatives latest efforts to advance their century-old anti-voter agenda.

Getting to the Root of a Sick System August 24, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in About Health, Health, Socialism.
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by Roger Hollander

Review of Sick and Sicker: Essays on Class, Health and Health Care by Susan Rosenthal (2010) 


for the Amazon kindle edition: http://www.amazon.com/SICK-SICKER-Essays-Health-ebook/dp/B003PPDHSE/

It is one of the great tragedies of contemporary human existence that the massive suffering that results from world-wide poverty and sickness is entirely unnecessary.  Through past and present collective human productive creativity there exists sufficient wealth that the entire population of the planet should be able to live securely, free of economic deprivation and its derivatives (e.g. hunger, sickness, war, environmental degradation, etc.).  But, as we know, the reality is otherwise.

The small but elite community who benefit from the profoundly unequal status quo (the tiny percentage who own and control massive accumulated wealth – i.e. capital) and the sycophantic community that follows in its wake (political pundits, organized religions, the corporate mass media, bought-and-paid-for academics, well-paid professionals, professional cynics, etc.) argue that world suffering is an unfortunate but inevitable product of unchangeable human nature and a scarcity of resources.

In Dr. Susan Rosenthal’s new book, Sick and Sicker: Essays on Class, Health and Health Care,  a chapter entitled “The Myth of Scarcity” provides evidence that collectively-working human beings produce more than enough for everyone to live in relative comfort.  “If the total wealth produced by American workers in 2003,” she points out, for example, “had been shared [equally], every US … family of four would have received $152,000 in that year alone … [and a] much larger [share] if it included a share of the wealth produced in the past.” 

Rosenthal goes on to show the unconscionable disparity in the distribution of our collective wealth: “The top five percent of individuals in the world receive about one-third of total world income.  The top 10 percent get one-half of world income, and the bottom 10 percent only 0.7 percent of it. Within 48 hours, the richest people acquire more than the poorest people earn in a year.” 

“Capitalism,” she concludes, “is not about sharing.”

Critical thinkers contend that the fundamental cause of social and economic inequality is not found in  “human nature,” God’s will, or scarce resources but resides in the concrete reality of historically-determined unequal social relations, that is, the unequal relation between those whose labor creates wealth and that small minority of capitalists who own it.  This is a social structure created by human beings, and therefore subject to change by human action.  They argue that a new society based upon human values rather than economic profit is not just a Utopian dream but rather the only alternative to the destruction of our species and the biosphere we inhabit.

While Rosenthal is clearly among this tradition of critical thinkers, there is something I find in her approach that sets her apart from many others.  Her insight stems from a wealth of personal experience, and she writes with a passion that is palpable. One senses righteous anger in her words.  The very first sentence in Sick and Sicker reads, “What does it mean to strive for health in a sick society run by psychopaths?” 

Rosenthal explains that she entered the medical profession in order to help people, but after decades of immersing herself in the “details of people’s miseries,” she saw “a pattern emerge – an exploitive and heartless system was making people sick, the medical system was blaming them for being sick, and funding agencies were moaning about the cost of caring for the sick.  I had wanted to be an agent of health, but I had become an agent of damage control for an utterly damaging social system.”

At first blush, one might accuse Rosenthal of hyperbole (“a sick society run by psychopaths”!) and dismiss her as someone whose anger has clouded her objectivity.  But the reader who takes the trouble to go further will discover a passion that is grounded firmly in reason.  Sick and Sicker is a work of carefully structured logical arguments buttressed by extensive and meticulous documentation to support her central thesis, which is that “social inequality affects the health of populations more than any other factor,” and that such inequality is a product of a profit-driven capitalist economic system.

In her first book, POWER and Powerlessness (2006), Rosenthal referred to a class of social critics who produce marvelous studies characterized by biting criticisms of the status quo, studies that document social inequality and its effects, but then go on to offer vague and generalized “solutions” that call for more study, education, the changing of attitudes, etc. –  that is, anything but go to the heart of the problem because that is the greatest taboo in the academic world.  Rosenthal’s work shatters that taboo.  A radical thinker is one whose task is not finished until she gets to the root of the problem.

For in order to understand a reality with the objective of changing it (for the better!), one must go beyond analytic description of that reality to ascertain what is the cause.  Having said this however, let me assure you that the reader whose primary interest is understanding our health-care system and how it  functions will not be disappointed by this book. 

Rosenthal addresses questions of how health care is delivered (assembly-line medicine), how it is financed, the roles of private and state sponsored health insurance, different models of rationing health-care resources, a comparison of health care in the U.S and Canada, and how the notion of mental health “disorders” and psychiatry relate to the  pharmaceutical industry. She includes a “dialogue” between the author and Frederick Engels, who “was the first to connect a broad number of medical and social problems to the way capitalism is organized” and ends by recounting  democratizing health-care reforms in Chile under the Allende government and how and why they were reversed by the Pinochet dictatorship.

The chapter in Sick and Sicker that compares medical systems in the United States and Canada goes a long way towards putting in perspective the recent farce of Obama’s so-called health care reform in the U.S. At the same time it helps us to understand that Canada’s (deteriorating) system of universal health insurance is another way of rationing health care and why it falls far short of achieving the goal of free and accessible comprehensive health care for all.

Mental-health professionals will find challenges and psychiatric survivors will find resonance in the chapter on mental illness.  Rosenthal shows how the mental-health structure serves as a mechanism of social control under the false guise of scientific medicine. She describes psychiatry as “a pseudoscience – ideology disguised as science” where “mental disorders” are defined by whatever behavioral criteria the psychiatric profession chooses, as opposed to the biological markers that form the basis of scientific medicine. She shows how separating the brain from the mind, the body, and – most importantly – the social context, results in casting the blame for mental illness on those who suffer rather than on the stresses of life in a society characterized by ever deepening social and economic crises.  “Mental distress becomes the problem to be treated, not the social conditions that create distress … To serve a sick system, psychiatry extracts the individual from society, splits the brain from the body, severs the mind from the brain and drugs the brain.”

Sick and Sicker is nothing less than a scathing indictment of our medical systems and the social and economic structures of the society that they serve. Apologists for the status quo and reformists who dismiss calls for fundamental structural change will always find ways to rationalize, discredit or simply ignore such penetrating analysis.  However, for the millions in North America and the billions around the world who face the reality of inadequate health care on a daily basis , Dr. Rosenthal has performed a valiant and worthy service.