US health insurers seek huge rate increases for 2016

obamacare-hurt

By Kate Randall
6 July 2015

Health insurance companies across the US are seeking rate increases of 20 percent to 40 percent and more, according to filings by the insurers with state insurance commissions. Insurance companies cite a larger than expected pool of unhealthy enrollees, high drug prices, and diminishing profits as contributing factors requiring the premium hikes.

The rate increase requests are the latest demonstration of the pro-corporate character of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare. The news follows the US Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling June 25, which upheld government tax subsidies, a critical component of the law that provides tax credits to those purchasing insurance coverage on all the exchanges set up under the ACA.

Under Obamacare’s “individual mandate,” uninsured individuals and families must obtain insurance or face a tax penalty. The premiums for plans purchased on the ACA exchanges go directly into the coffers of the private insurers.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, one of the nation’s largest insurers, is seeking double-digit increases in many states, including a 23 percent hike in Illinois, 25 percent in North Carolina, 31 percent in Oklahoma, 36 percent in Tennessee, and 54 percent in Minnesota.

The ACA, signed into law in 2010, requires insurance companies to disclose large proposed increases in premiums, and increases of 10 percent or more must be made public and are subject to review under federal law. However, there is no mechanism to rein in the rate hikes if state insurance commissions approve them.

In cynical comments made last week in an appearance in Tennessee, Barack Obama said consumers should put pressure on state insurance regulators to examine the rate requests carefully. “My expectation,” he said, “is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested.”

In one example of the opposite result, Oregon Insurance Commissioner Laura N. Cali has just approved rate increases for companies that cover more than 220,000 people. Moda Health Plan, with the state’s largest enrollment, received a 25 percent increase; LifeWise, the second-largest Oregon plan, received a 33 percent hike.

In some cases, state insurance commissions have already granted insurance hikes in excess of those requested by the insurers. In Oregon, Health Net requested increases averaging 9 percent and was granted increases averaging 34.8 percent. Another insurer in the state, Health Co-op, requested a 5.3 percent increase and the state approved a 19.9 percent hike.

Insurers cite the fact that new customers enrolling in ACA plans have turned out to be sicker than expected, which leaves the insurers with a more unhealthy pool of insured customers, requiring them to increase premiums. This is hardly a shocking development, as significant numbers of younger, healthier people have chosen to remain uninsured and risk the cost of getting sick and needing medical care that would have to be paid out-of-pocket.

However, these young people are not simply paying Russian roulette with their health. The driving force behind the decision of many not to enroll in coverage—including the so-called young invincibles, and many workers—is the economic reality that they cannot afford the premiums. To add injury to insult, they face the prospect of being both uninsured and paying tax penalties under the Affordable Care act. For individuals, these penalties for the uninsured were $95 in 2014, rose to $325 in 2015, and will increase to $695 in 2016.

Another factor contributing to the increased pool of unhealthy customers is a policy adopted by the Obama administration in late 2013 that allowed people to keep insurance plans that did not meet new federal standards, including a set of required coverage, including wellness checks and some screenings. The exemption was a political move on the president’s part to make good on his earlier statements that “If you like your plan, you can keep it.”

Customers may also be required to switch plans in order to keep premium costs down. The Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed 2016 premium changes in 10 states and the District of Columbia where the group found complete data for all insurers for the lowest- and second-lowest cost “silver” plans.

For example, Kaiser found that in Seattle, Washington, an unsubsidized person enrolled in the second-lowest silver plan offered by BridgeSpan in 2015 would see a 12.6 percent premium increase if the individual stayed in the same plan, but would pay 10.1 percent less if the person switched to a similar plan offered by Ambetter.

Kaiser found that those switching plans to save money would potentially have to switch doctors and hospitals as well, and that staying with one’s plan also did not guarantee maintaining a provider network. The entire framework of the ACA is thus skewed to the whims of the insurers, and customers are required to scramble each year to determine their selection.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell told the Times, “You have a marketplace where there is competition and people can shop for the plan that best meets their needs in terms of quality and price.”

The HHS secretary did not mention that the most affordable “bronze” plans come with deductibles in excess of $5,000, which means that coverage for all but “essential” medical services do not kick in until the deductible is paid out-of-pocket. This means that despite being insured, many people will go without health care for themselves or their children, resulting in needless suffering and deaths.

Some of the premium increase requests by the private insurers are staggering. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico has requested rate hikes averaging 51 percent for its 33,000 enrollees. Scott & White Health Plan in Texas is seeking a 32 percent rate increase. In a ludicrous statement to the New York Times, Scott & White’s CEO Marinan R. Williams said that the rate hike requests show that “there was a real need for the Affordable Care Act.”

Arches Health Plan, which covers about a quarter of the people insured through Obamacare in Utah, says it collected premiums of $39.7 million in 2014, but had claims of $56.3 million in 2014. The insurer has requested rate increases averaging 45 percent for 2016.

The Obama administration has touted a provision of Obamacare that requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care and related activities. How this works out in reality, however, is that if the profit margins are not to the insurers’ liking, they request premium increases to generate the revenue to pay stockholder dividends and the bloated salaries of insurance company executives.

The CEOs of the top five for-profit health insurance companies—Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth—all took home at least $10 million in 2014, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Executive compensation ranged from $10.1 million for Humana CEO Bruce D. Broussard to more than $15 million for Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini.

In the latest round of mergers as a byproduct of Obamacare, Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc. announced last week they had reached a deal to merge, creating an insurance company valued at $37 billion. If approved by the government and carried through, the insurer would become the nation’s second largest, covering more than 10 percent of the US population.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/06/prem-j06.html

A landslide “no” to EU austerity in Greece

Supporters of the No vote in Thessaloniki celebrate the referendum results (AP)

Supporters of the No vote in Thessaloniki celebrate the referendum results (AP)

6 July 2015

The landslide “no” vote in yesterday’s referendum on austerity in Greece is an overwhelming popular repudiation of the European Union and the austerity agenda it has pursued across Europe since the 2008 economic crisis.

The vote is an extraordinary act of political courage, defying threats and intimidation from the European Union, the US government and the Greek ruling class. Together with last Friday’s massive anti-EU austerity demonstration in Athens, the overwhelming “no” vote on Sunday has once again revealed the social force that can put an end to austerity and political reaction—the working class.

Berlin led the campaign for a “yes” vote in support of the EU’s last set of austerity demands. German government officials made it clear that their intention was to use such a vote to push for the ouster of Greece’s Syriza-led government.

In advance of the referendum, Berlin warned that the EU would respond to a “no” vote by cutting off credit to Greece’s financial system and bankrupting the country. This would be followed by the expulsion of Greece from the euro zone.

The Greek media campaigned relentlessly for a “yes” vote. Retired Greek army officers intervened publicly on the eve of the referendum to attack Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and demand that the Greek people back the EU’s austerity demands. This was a blatant act of political intimidation, which, in a country still traumatized by the seven-year dictatorship of the Greek colonels, carried an implied threat of military coup.

Fully 61.3 percent of the Greek people, drawn largely from the working class and poorer layers of the population, responded by voting “no.” This landslide, coming after media polls had predicted a close vote, stunned the political establishment in Greece, Europe and the United States.

The “no” camp won decisively in all 13 of Greece’s administrative regions, according to Interior Ministry figures. Greek youth, over half of whom are unemployed due to the collapse of the economy under the impact of EU policies, voted “no” by fully two to one.

The “no” vote exposed the fact that the policies of the EU under the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel have no popular support or democratic legitimacy.

Since 2009, the major powers have sought to rescue European capitalism from the impact of the global economic crisis by effectively seizing hundreds of billions of euros from the European population—€65 billion in Greece alone, or over €17,000 for each of Greece’s 3.7 million households.

With Sunday’s vote, articulating the opposition to EU austerity of the working class throughout Europe, the Greek masses are demanding not minor modifications to the austerity agenda, but its overturn.

Disavowed not once but twice by the Greek people—once in January when Syriza was elected based on its pledges to end EU austerity, and again in yesterday’s referendum—the European Union stands exposed as a ruthless instrument of finance capital, working in league with Greece’s ruling elite to ride roughshod over the sentiments of the Greek people and impose a policy of economic devastation.

The “no” vote has further exposed the cowardice and bankruptcy of Syriza. Prime Minister Tsipras went on national television Sunday night to stress that Greek negotiators would return to austerity talks with the EU, insisting that “the mandate you give me is not one of rupture with Europe.”

No one was more terrified than Tsipras by the outpouring of popular opposition to EU austerity, seen first in Friday’s “no” demonstration in Athens and then in Sunday’s vote. Since coming to power last January, he and his government have sought to contain and dissipate social opposition to the European Union and tie the working class to austerity and capitalism.

The actions of the Syriza-led government during the referendum campaign were cowardly and two-faced. Top government officials, including Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, indicated that they would resign in response to a “yes” vote and help their successors impose EU austerity measures. As for their response to a “no” vote, Tsipras said last Wednesday that he would seek to negotiate a settlement with the EU based on a Greek offer that accepted virtually all the social cuts demanded by Brussels.

Syriza’s referendum maneuver, a barely disguised attempt to engineer a vote of no-confidence in its own government, exploded in its face. Tsipras and company were as stunned by the “no” vote as Merkel. Their negotiators headed as fast as they could for Brussels. Varoufakis and Syriza spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis predicted that a deal for a new financial aid package in exchange for further austerity measures could be reached in 24 to 48 hours.

In the aftermath of the referendum, the question facing the Greek working class is: what next? How is the fight against austerity to be carried forward? There should be no illusions that Syriza or the EU will modify their policies in response to the “no” vote.

Whatever divisions may emerge within the EU on how to respond to the setback it has suffered in the referendum—with some factions calling for crushing Greece and expelling it from the euro zone, others for working with Syriza to negotiate a deal—they will not change the class policy of ruthless austerity against the workers. EU Parliament head Martin Schulz indicated this weekend that the euro will no longer be available as a method of payment for Greece and that Greece should introduce a separate “parallel currency.”

It is critically important to draw the political lessons of this experience. There is enormous opposition in the working class in Greece and internationally to austerity. However, this opposition can be mobilized only if the working class breaks with Syriza and mounts a revolutionary struggle against the EU and the imperialist powers as well as their base of support within Greece itself—the Greek capitalist class.

As he addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Athens last Friday, a shaken Tsipras insisted that the mass demonstration was not a “protest.” He declared, “Regardless of Sunday’s decision, on Monday the Greek people will have absolutely nothing dividing them.”

This is a patent lie. The “no” vote itself has made clear the social chasm separating the working class from the ruling elites of Greece, Europe and America. The referendum result has brought to the fore the enormous class tensions within Europe and above all within Greece itself.

As Syriza repudiates the popular will and seeks to continue its talks with the EU, it will base itself ever more directly on the security forces to deal with internal opposition. Syriza Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis is overseeing planning, code-named Operation Nemesis, for the mass deployment of riot police and army units to crush social unrest.

Such preparations are the clearest warning that the fight against austerity in Greece is a fight against an entire social order. It requires a determined struggle to mobilize the international working class on a revolutionary, socialist perspective against both the imperialist powers and the local agents within Greece of international finance capital—the Greek bourgeoisie and all of its political representatives.

Alex Lantier

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/06/pers-j06.html

Twenty-one was “the perfect wolf”

He was a legend — he never lost a fight, and he never killed a vanquished rival

Twenty-one was like history’s highest-status human leaders: Not a ruthless strongman but a peaceful warrior

Twenty-one was "the perfect wolf": He was a legend -- he never lost a fight, and he never killed a vanquished rival
(Credit: andamanec via Shutterstock)

“Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?” Without looking at me, Rick McIntyre quizzes me like a Zen master during one of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had. He’s trying to lead me into a realization about the roots of mercy by talking about superheroes as we’re looking through telescopes in subfreezing weather while watching wolves eating an elk a mile away on a frozen, snowy slope. Rick, a ranger here in Yellowstone National Park, conducts the whole conversation without taking his eyes from his scope. Rick follows free-living wolves every day. I’ve never seen real wolves before, so my eyes are glued to my scope too.

“If ever there was a perfect wolf, it was Twenty-One,” says Rick, using the wolf’s research-collar number as his name. “He was like a fictional character.

“Twice, I saw Twenty-One take on six attacking wolves from a rival pack — and rout them all,” Rick recalls. “I’d think, ‘A wolf can’t do what I am watching this wolf do.’ Watching him felt like seeing Bruce Lee fighting.”

Wolf territorial fights resemble human tribal warfare. Wolves often target the rival pack’s alphas, seemingly understanding that if they can rout or kill the experienced leaders, victory will be theirs.

Twenty-One distinguished himself in two ways: He never lost a fight, and he never killed a vanquished rival. But why? A wolf letting vanquished enemies go free seems inexplicable. Rick’s question about Batman and the Joker is his koan-like way of trying to lead me to a big-picture explanation as to why. But I’m not getting it.

Rick is saying that history’s highest-status human leaders are not ruthless strongmen like Hitler, Stalin and Mao. They are Gandhi, King and Mandela. Peaceful warriors earn higher status. Muhammad Ali — who has been called the most famous man in the world — was a practitioner of ritualized combat who spoke of peace and refused to go to war. His refusal cost him millions of dollars and his heavyweight title, yet with his refusal to kill, his status rose to unprecedented height.

For humans and many other animals, status is a huge deal. For it, we risk much treasure and blood. Wolves do not understand why status and dominance are so important to them, and for the most part, we don’t either. In wolf and human alike, our brains produce hormones that compel us to strive for status and assert dominance. Dominance feels like an end in itself. We don’t need to understand why.

Here’s why: Status is a daily proxy for competition. Whenever mates or food are in short supply, the high-status individual has preferred access. What’s at stake is survival, and ultimately, reproduction — the chance to breed, to count. Our genes don’t need to let us understand why; they just need us to want it. One could hardly expect that wolves would understand, any better than we do, what drives us all. But I still don’t get what this has to do with Batman.

“So, Rick,” I ask, my eye still in the scope watching several ruddy-faced wolves bedding down in snow to sleep off a big meal they’ve just finished, “why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?”

“In admiring the hero who restrains himself” — Rick has clearly thought about this — “we are impressed with the hero’s power.” Rick elaborates that in what’s been called the greatest movie of all time, Humphrey Bogart has won the love he has sought. But he arranges things so that the other man does not lose his wife and is not hurt. We admire him for strength combined with restraint.”

But could wolves have such an ethic? If a human releases a vanquished opponent, the loser’s status suffers anyway and the victor seems more impressive. You’ve already won and you show tremendous added confidence. If you show mercy, you gain even more status. But could a wolf be merciful? A wolf might be a super-animal, but he ain’t no superhero.

In wolf Twenty-One’s life there was a particular male, a sort of roving Casanova, a continual annoyance. He was strikingly good-looking, had a big personality, always doing something interesting. “The best single word is ‘charisma,’” says Rick. “Female wolves were happy to mate with him. People absolutely loved him. Women would take one look at him — they didn’t want you to say anything bad about him. His irresponsibility and infidelity; it didn’t matter.”

One day, Twenty-One discovered Casanova among his daughters. Twenty-One caught him and was biting him. Various pack members piled in, beating him up. “Casanova was big,” Rick says, “but he was a bad fighter.” Now he was totally overwhelmed and the pack was finally killing him.

“Suddenly Twenty-One steps back. Everything stops. The others are looking at Twenty-One as if saying, ‘Why has Dad stopped?’” Casanova jumps up and — runs away.

Casanova kept causing problems for Twenty-One. So, why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker so he simply doesn’t have to keep dealing with him? It doesn’t make sense — until years later.

After Twenty-One’s death from age, Casanova became the model of a responsible alpha male. Though he’d been averse to fighting, Casanova died in a fight with a rival pack. But everyone in his own pack escaped — including grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Twenty-One.

Wolves can’t foresee such plot twists any more than can people. But evolution can. Anything that’s helped descendants survive will remain in the genetic heirloom, a driver in the behavioral toolkit.

So, say you’re a wolf; should you let a beaten rival go free? I think the answer in both wolves and in our own tribal human minds is: Yes — if you can afford to. Sometimes, your rival today becomes, tomorrow, a vehicle for your legacy. Perhaps that is the basis for magnanimity in wolves, and at the deep heart of mercy in men.

Excerpted from “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel” by Carl Safina, published by Henry Holt and Company LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Carl Safina.  All rights reserved. 

Carl Safina’s work has been recognized with MacArthur, Pew and Guggenheim fellowships, and his writing has won Orion, Lannan and National Academies literary awards and the John Burroughs, James Beard and George Raab medals. Safina is founding president of the not-for-profit Safina Center at Stony Brook University. He hosted the 10-part PBS series “Saving the Ocean With Carl Safina.” “Beyond Words” is his seventh book. He lives on Long Island, New York.

Europe never existed. It was a story made up to deal with the legacies of war  

Has Europe lost its hold on our collective imagination?

Is European unity an unsustainable myth?
Is European unity an unsustainable myth? Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

When I was a teenager in Dublin in the early 1970s, the phrase “We’re into Europe!” gained a peculiar currency. It was half-jokey but not really sardonic. You used it for good things that promised even better things – when a girl you fancied smiled at you or your team scored the first goal.

It came from what was (in retrospect quite amazingly) a popular TV show calledInto Europe that the state broadcaster put on to educate the populace of a peripheral nation that was going to join the European Economic Community in 1973. I remember documentaries about farm consolidation in Denmark or students sitting around some castle in Germany discussing “What does it mean to be European?” It seemed terribly exciting that we, too, would soon be able to discuss that question with the same earnest enthusiasm. We were into Europe.

But what did “Europe” mean in this sense? It was not a physical place. Ireland had, after all, always been part of Europe. And the EEC was not, in any case, Europe – it was a small fraction of the continent. But it wasn’t a mere set of trading and institutional arrangements either. It was a story, an imaginative fiction of the kind that Yuval Noah Harari evokes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He makes the point that the capacity to believe in fictional constructs is a defining element of what makes us human, because without it we cannot co-operate with people we do not know: “At the heart of our mass co-operation networks, you will always find fictional stories that exist only in people’s collective imagination… There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.”

One of these enabling fictions is “Europe”. It is a story that most of the central and western nations of the continent agreed to tell themselves and each other in order to deal with the legacies of the second world war and the cold war. And like all stories, it sustained itself, if not exactly with belief, then at least with a willing suspension of disbelief. The question now is whether it still exists at all, whether “Europe” has lost its hold on our collective imagination. All the evidence suggests that it has.

In a remarkable outburst reported last week by the Observer, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, denounced the failure of his fellow EU leaders to agree on more than a voluntary plan to deal with the thousands of refugees and migrants landing on his country’s shores: “If this is your idea of Europe, keep it for yourself… you do not deserve to call yourself Europe. Either we have solidarity or we waste our time!”

In recent weeks, too, the appeals by leaders of Syriza in Greece to “our shared European values” have come to seem not just desperate but naive. It is as if the Greeks were appealing to medieval codes of chivalry or expecting Premier League footballers to respect 19th-century Corinthian values. “Europe” and “European values” seem, even as rhetorical gestures, entirely hollow. They are evoked now only to underline their absence.

One by one, the elements of the Europe story have fallen away. Democracy? European leaders, especially the Germans, have been openly canvassing the idea of “regime change” in Athens. The free movement of people? Hungary is planning to build a fence along its border with Serbia and David Cameron is hoping to build a metaphorical fence around Britain. The welfare state? The recent elections in both Finland and Denmark suggest that even in its Nordic heartland, it is no longer seen as a European value but as a national, even an ethnic, possession, to be kept for “our people” alone.

Solidarity? Who now believes that the average person in Frankfurt or Helsinki sees the pensioner rummaging in a bin in Thessaloniki as a fellow citizen? Thresholds of decency? Formulaic expressions of sympathy aside, there is little sense that the European Union as a whole finds it intolerable that hundreds of thousands of Greeks are living without electricity or that millions have no access to public health care.

The “ever closer union” envisaged by the EU’s founders has been replaced in effect by a deeply incoherent mixture of one-size-fits-all thinking and double standards. On the one hand, there is the absolute insistence that there can be no challenge to the technocratic formula for solving the eurozone crisis: austerity plus massive bank bailouts plus privatisation and the dismantling of social and labour protections.

On the other, there is a sharp moral and political divide between the creditor states and the debtor states, with a supposedly virtuous, prudent and righteous core beset by a feckless, reckless periphery. Or, if viewed from that periphery, between victimised citizens and a European political elite bent on punishing them for sins they did not commit on their own.

There is no “collective imagination” of the crisis – in one Europe, it is respectable, hard-working people being exploited by chaotic layabouts from the hot south; in the other, it is hard-pressed and equally hard-working people being sucked dry to feed foreign banks. The stories Europeans are telling themselves about what’s going on around them are not just different but mutually exclusive and mutually antagonistic.

Nor is this collapse of the collective imagination just a product of the eurozone crisis. It has deeper roots. The idea of “Europe” that animated the EU depended on the conflicts that gave it birth. The Second World War, fascism and the Holocaust created a deep appreciation of the fragility of peace, democracy and human rights. The Cold War made it imperative for western democracies to compete with communism on its own terms by showing that market economies could deliver, not just prosperity, but social justice, equality and security.

But the Cold War ended, the rivalry with communism ceased, and the generation of leaders with memories of the Second World War – the likes of Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt, François Mitterand and Jacques Delors – passed on. With them has gone the urgency of imagining a European story, not as an abstract fable, but as a necessary alternative to the other European stories of Hitler and Stalin.

Their benign fiction also had a powerful subtext – the need to contain Germany. It is not accidental that it was Schmidt, who was 14 when Hitler came to power, who issued what he called “a serious and carefully considered warning” to his compatriots three years ago: “If we Germans allow ourselves to be seduced into claiming a political leading role in Europe or at least playing first among equals, based on our economic strength, an increasing majority of our neighbours will effectively resist this. The concern of the periphery about an all too powerful European centre would soon come racing back. The possible consequences of such a development would be crippling.”

Schmidt was right – and he was also ignored. No one watching the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in recent weeks can have picked up the slightest hint of anxiety about being “first among equals”. There is only the absolute certainty that, whatever the evidence to the contrary, Greece can and must be beaten until it learns to become more German.

In the technocratic mindset that has filled the vacuum where “Europe” used to be, the old story is just a sentimental romance. But there’s always a story – the old fable of democracy, solidarity and decency hasn’t been replaced by simple dull reality. What has taken its place is a narrative that poses as hard-headed realism but that is actually much more fantastical than the one that was constructed by the postwar generation. It has a wildly improbable plot in which years of austerity magically produce economic growth; mountains of public debt are paid off by shrinking economies; unaccountable experts know more about other countries than their own elected governments; and everyone lives happily ever after. The good are rewarded. The bad are punished but they repent in the end and return to the fold. There’s certainly a lot of imagination in this story. But its ability to sustain a collective enterprise among 28 stubbornly individual nations is negligible.

It is not entirely true, of course, that no one at all believes the old story of Europe. The last true believers are on rickety boats in the Mediterranean, trying to make their way to an imagined continent of compassion, solidarity and security. If they ever get to shore, they will find at best a grudging welcome. But those who purport to share their belief in what Europe means badly need some of their desperate optimism.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/05/europe-fictional-construct-legacies-of-war?CMP=fb_gu

 

Rumbles of military coup as Greek workers demand end to EU austerity

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On eve of referendum

4 July 2015

Just 24 hours before anti-austerity demonstrators flooded the streets of central Athens on Friday, a number of retired Greek military officers publicly called for a “yes” vote in Sunday’s referendum on the European Union’s demands, defying Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s call for a “no” vote.

The contrast between masses of workers denouncing EU austerity and the pronouncements of prominent military figures could not have been starker. Retired General Fragkoulis Fragkos, a former defense minister and one-time head of the Greek army general staff, called for a “loud yes on Sunday.” In 2011, Fragkos was cashiered by then-Prime Minister George Papandreou amid rumors of a coup.

Clearly referring to Tsipras, Fragkos said that “the moral values and principles that have always defined us Greeks are not under negotiation with any clueless and historically ignorant [politician] who is advancing his own party interest.”

A group of 65 retired high-ranking officers issued a statement citing their “oath to the Fatherland and the Flag” and warning, “By choosing isolation, we place the Fatherland and its future in danger.”

The statement continued: “The strength of our country is the most important thing we have, and this is being put in jeopardy. Our exit from Europe will make our country weaker. We will lose allies that have stood by our side. We will lose the strength we gain from associations and groupings to which we belong historically and culturally.”

These declarations constitute an enormous act of political intimidation. Just over 40 years since the CIA-backed colonels’ junta collapsed, well-connected officers are casting aside any pretense of neutrality and announcing their support for the positions of the EU and Washington in opposition to large sections of the population and the current government.

To grasp the significance of the Greek officers’ statements, one must recall the 1967 coup, which, in the midst of a political crisis, brought to power the brutal junta that ruled until 1974. Its goal was to suppress working-class protest and preempt any attempt to shift Greece’s foreign policy toward neutrality between NATO and the Soviet Union. The coup was led by Colonel George Papadopoulos, a top CIA liaison officer, who oversaw the roundup of at least 10,000 political opponents, many of whom were tortured or killed.

This week, senior German officials said that they intended to secure a “yes” vote in the Greek referendum so as to bring down the government led by Tsipras’s Syriza party. Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a warning shot Tsipras’s way by inviting bloodstained Egyptian dictator General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Berlin as Cairo held joint military exercises with the Greek armed forces. Berlin subsequently arrested Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour on trumped-up charges issued by Sisi’s regime.

The statements coming from the Greek military vindicate the warning made by the WSWS after Mansour’s arrest. The WSWS wrote: “It is a calculated signal sent by Berlin that it is ready to publicly collaborate with repressive measures by military dictatorships… One of the intended recipients of this message is doubtless the Greek premier, Alexis Tsipras.”

The EU is emerging ever more openly as a ruthless dictatorship of finance capital. There can be no doubt that the Greek officers intervened in the referendum with the support of Berlin and Brussels. They see the events in Greece as part of a war on the entire European working class, to be waged by means of state violence and repression if necessary. They are out to demonstrate in Greece that they will brook no challenge anywhere to the dictates of the banks and finance houses.

The policy of Berlin and the EU confirms the assessment of Lenin. “Finance capital strives for domination, not freedom,” he observed, adding, “Political reaction all along the line is a characteristic feature of imperialism.”

Imperialism seeks support within the reactionary classes of the targeted countries. So it is with the bourgeoisie and its allies in the upper echelons of the middle class in Greece. The events of the past few days—masses of workers and youth calling for a struggle against austerity and the EU on the one side, wealthy businessmen and professionals, joined by the military, backing the EU onslaught on the other—have laid bare the stark and irrevocable class divide in Greece.

These events expose the bankruptcy of the Tsipras government. Its entire policy has been based on the self-deluded notion that it is possible to reach a compromise with the EU, and that some respite from vicious cuts in jobs, wages, pensions and social services can be secured without a struggle against the social base of support for such policies within Greece itself.

Not only has Syriza refused to take any measures to challenge the economic interests of Greek capital, it has not taken a single step to protect the people against the conspiracies of the state. On the contrary, it has placed far-right forces such as the Independent Greeks (Anel) in key positions of power.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, an Anel leader, all but admitted yesterday that the government is preparing to use the army to crack down on domestic dissent and impose the army’s preferred foreign policy. “The country’s armed forces guarantee stability internally, the defense of national sovereignty, and the country’s territorial integrity and stability in relation to the country’s alliances,” he said during a joint visit with Tsipras to army units.

The Tsipras government doubtless conceived of its referendum as a means of providing political cover for its own retreat and accommodation to both the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie. A “yes” vote would be used to justify total capitulation, while a “no” vote, as Tsipras declared this week, would serve as a pretext to return to the negotiating table in yet another fruitless attempt to obtain a deal for slightly modified austerity measures.

As yesterday’s mass protests showed, however, the referendum call has produced an enormous radicalization of public opinion. Masses of workers who have come onto the street to call for a “no” vote see such a vote as the beginning of a struggle to end austerity policies and break the stranglehold of the EU.

The working class cannot be bound by the policies of Syriza, whose aim is to secure at most token modifications of the austerity program, the better to uphold the EU bankers’ dictatorship and Greek capitalism. It fears nothing so much as a mass movement of the working class, against which it is prepared to unleash the police and military.

What is required is a broad appeal for the active support of the European and international working class in opposition to the EU, combined with the most determined measures within Greece itself to break the power of the local allies of international finance capital.

It is necessary to carry out revolutionary measures in defense of the Greek masses: the nationalization of the banking system and major industries under the control of the working class, the repudiation of the national debt, the dismantling of the military, the arrest of officers involved in military conspiracies against the people, and the establishment of a workers’ government.

Alex Lantier

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/04/pers-j04.html

Greece needs a Plan C: for the commons and communality

By Jerome Roos On July 4, 2015

Post image for Greece needs a Plan C: for the commons and communalityWhatever the outcome of the referendum, tough times are ahead. To survive, Greek society will need to reinvigorate the commons and communal solidarity.

Image: A solidarity kitchen in Greece. The poster in the back reads “Free Food for All” (by Marko Djurika).

As the Greek debt crisis enters its dramatic apotheosis — with an unprecedented default on the IMF last Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity protesters taking to the streets on Friday, and a historic referendum scheduled for Sunday — concerns are growing over the state of the Greek economy.

The decision by the European creditors and the European Central Bank to basically cut off Greece’s banking system from continued emergency support has forced the government to close all private banks and impose far-reaching capital controls. As a result, Greek companies can no longer pay foreign suppliers and are already starting to run short on food, pharmaceuticals and other key imports. Some pensioners are struggling to obtain their much-needed cash.

Sunday’s referendum, for all its flaws and limitations, marks a triumph for democracy. Still, it won’t bring an immediate end to the turmoil. Whatever the outcome, tough times are ahead. After nearly six years of brutal austerity, the Greek economy is devastated while the “welfare state” remains anemic and dysfunctional. Unemployment and misery are rife. Needless to say, none of this will change overnight. Indeed, as the creditors intensify their vicious campaign of financial asphyxiation, things are likely to get significantly worse.

A rupture with endless austerity, debt servitude and the straitjacket of the single currency would certainly restore a degree of autonomy and improve Greece’s economic prospects in the long run. But it would also come at a very high immediate cost. Both the government and Greek society would need to be highly organized and well-prepared to weather the stormy transition it would entail.

It should therefore be emphasized that the referendum is not a panacea. A friend of a friend described it as a choice between “poverty with servitude” and “poverty with freedom.” Moreover, this choice has to be made under the intense pressure of the creditors’ financial blackmail and the media’s campaign of fear andoutright lies. It is hard to imagine more adverse circumstances for the NO camp.

The problems are further compounded by the lack of clarity about the consequences of either choice. What will happen in case YES wins? Will the government resign? Will we see a return to an unelected technocracy? And what in case of a NO vote? Will Tsipras really continue negotiating in good faith with the creditors? Will the creditors even trust him to reach an agreement and carry out further reforms? Or will they force Greece out of the euro? These are all monumental questions — none of which have been properly answered.

All we know is this: over the past couple of years, the debate within Syriza on how to resolve the crisis has essentially revolved around two poles: the government’s original plan A — to end austerity within the eurozone — and the more radical alternative originally proposed by the party’s left faction, whose Plan B envisions a unilateral default and Grexit as a way out of the misery. We also know that the latter plan has gained more and more support from Syriza cadres (even those close to Tsipras) as the negotiations with creditors stalled.

The two plans always appeared to be diametrically opposed to one another. In truth, the strong dichotomy between them obscures a shared premise. Ultimately, both Plan A and Plan B revolve around the belief that, if only the government can succeed in executing its chosen top-down program, recovery will be swift and things will quickly go back to the way they were before.

This is a dangerous illusion. With or without Grexit, for the majority of Greeks (as for the majority of Europeans and Americans) there will be no going back to the halcyon days of credit-fueled consumerism. Both Plan A and Plan B — however successful either may be — will still be accompanied by future hardship and deprivation. Plan A would result in endless austerity, forever, while Plan B would produce an extremely painful short-term shock to the economy.

In the medium-term, debt cancellation and currency devaluation would likely have a positive effect on economic recovery and social well-being. Still, neither Greece’s dysfunctional state apparatus nor its uncompetitive economy will be able to fully restore the status quo ante, or even meet the needs and desires of the millions of workers, pensioners and unemployed youth who have been dispossessed and immiserated over the course of the crisis. Besides facing a structural crisis of its own, Greek capitalism will always be inserted into the European and world economy under highly disadvantageous terms.

Clearly, if the government and society were well-prepared, Plan B would be superior to Plan A. But merely advocating a rupture is far from enough. In fact, it would be particularly irresponsible if done without the proper preparations — and right now it doesn’t really look like Syriza is properly prepared. Where, then, should we be looking for further options and alternatives?

Undoubtedly, grassroots movements and solidarity initiatives will have a critical role to play as both the crisis and the struggle intensify. Without a fresh upsurge in self-organized popular mobilization in the streets, workplaces and communities, the prospects of positive change will remain grim.

In this respect, it is remarkable how rapidly the radical horizon has shrunk in recent years. During the mass mobilizations of 2010-’12, especially theMovement of the Squares in 2011, the political imagination was still brimming over with original ideas, practices and organizational forms — many of them centered on an anti-capitalist conception of the commons, defined by Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis as:

… autonomous spaces from which to reclaim control over our life and the conditions of our reproduction, and to provide resources on the basis of sharing and equal access; but also bases from which to counter the processes of enclosure and increasingly disentangle our lives from the market and the state.

While we have since seen a remarkable proliferation of such commons — think of solidarity kitchens, social clinics, self-managed workplaces, mutual aid networks, alternative currencies, and so on — the urgency of the negotiations and the preoccupation with the “high politics” of Grexit and debt relief has largely overshadowed the deeper questions raised in these grassroots initiatives: What about the day after? What kind of country do we really want to build together? Can capitalism still fulfill our needs and desires?

These are the questions that would be addressed by an anti-capitalist Plan C: a reinvigorated project of the commons and communal solidarity. In contrast to both Plan A and Plan B, Plan C would be a bottom-up project organized by local communities that would situate itself directly on the terrain of everyday life. Its main contributions would be threefold. First, through solidarity networks and communal support systems, it would enhance popular resilience by securing the means of social reproduction under conditions of extreme precarity.

Second, by creating new and strengthening existing organs of popular power, the commons would collectively act as bases for continued grassroots resistance to further austerity and dispossession. History has shown that, without powerful grassroots movements exerting pressure from below, even left governments are easily led astray by the siren call of domestic and international capital. To prevent this, the still relatively small and dispersed movement of commoners will have to become an organized force of political opposition.

Third, a project of the commons has revolutionary potential insofar as its protagonists manage to reclaim the means of production and reproduction; democratize workplaces, communities and existing political institutions; and contribute to a fundamental transformation of social relations from below. All of this is clearly still a far way off, but Plan C is precisely about cultivating this sense of perspective and direction — taking the struggle far beyond the stale dichotomies of state and market, euro and drachma.

Needless to say, Sunday’s referendum will mark a historic moment for Greece and for Europe. Only a proud and dignified NO can begin to liberate Greek society from the endless suffocation, blackmail and humiliation at the hands of the country’s creditors. But whatever the outcome of the plebiscite may be, the left should not limit its political imagination to the terms of a new bailout agreement or the denomination of the national currency.

Deal or no deal, euro or no euro, one thing is clear: a long fight still lies ahead. As the creditors’ assault intensifies, only a reinvigoration of the struggle from below can save beleaguered Greece — and turn it, once again, into a proud beacon of democracy and solidarity for the rest of the world.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. He tweets about the Greek crisis at @JeromeRoos.

A slightly different version of this article (in Greek) appeared in this month’s issue of Unfollow Magazine. Credit for the original idea and inspiration behind the piece goes to Bue Rübner Hansen in Barcelona.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/greece-plan-c-commons-solidarity/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

The U.S. faces a major superpower conundrum

american-flag-and-eagle

America’s Got the #1 Military in the World — and It’s Increasingly Useless

The rise and fall of great powers and their imperial domains has been a central fact of history for centuries. It’s been a sensible, repeatedly validated framework for thinking about the fate of the planet.  So it’s hardly surprising, when faced with a country once regularly labeled the “sole superpower,” “the last superpower,” or even the global “hyperpower” and now, curiously, called nothing whatsoever, that the “decline” question should come up. Is the U.S. or isn’t it? Might it or might it not now be on the downhill side of imperial greatness?

Take a slow train — that is, any train — anywhere in America, as I did recently in the northeast, and then take a high-speed train anywhere else on Earth, as I also did recently, and it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. in decline. The greatest power in history, the “unipolar power,” can’t build a single mile of high-speed rail? Really? And its Congress is now mired in an argument about whether funds can even be raised to keep America’s highways more or less pothole-free.

Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to my long-dead parents because I know how such things would have astonished two people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and a can-do post-war era in which the staggering wealth and power of this country were indisputable.  What if I could tell them how the crucial infrastructure of such a still-wealthy nation — bridges, pipelines, roads, and the like — is now grossly underfunded, in an increasing state of disrepair, and beginning to crumble? That would definitely shock them.

And what would they think upon learning that, with the Soviet Union a quarter-century in the trash bin of history, the U.S., alone in triumph, has been incapable of applying its overwhelming military and economic power effectively? I’m sure they would be dumbstruck to discover that, since the moment the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been at war continuously with another country (three conflicts and endless strife); that I was talking about, of all places, Iraq; and that the mission there was never faintly accomplished.  How improbable is that? And what would they think if I mentioned that the other great conflicts of the post-Cold-War era were with Afghanistan (two wars with a decade off in-between) and the relatively small groups of non-state actors we now call terrorists? And how would they react on discovering that the results were: failure in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of terror groups across much of the Greater Middle East (including the establishment of an actual terror caliphate) and increasing parts of Africa?

They would, I think, conclude that the U.S. was over the hill and set on the sort of decline that, sooner or later, has been the fate of every great power. And what if I told them that, in this new century, not a single action of the military that U.S. presidents now call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” has, in the end, been anything but a dismal failure? Or that presidents, presidential candidates, and politicians in Washington are required to insist on something no one would have had to say in their day: that the United States is both an “exceptional” and an “indispensible” nation? Or that they would also have to endlessly thankour troops (as would the citizenry) for…well…never success, but just being there and getting maimed, physically or mentally, or dying while we went about our lives? Or that those soldiers must always be referred to as “heroes.”

In their day, when the obligation to serve in a citizens’ army was a given, none of this would have made much sense, while the endless defensive insistence on American greatness would have stood out like a sore thumb. Today, its repetitive presence marks the moment of doubt. Are we really so “exceptional”? Is this country truly “indispensible” to the rest of the planet and if so, in what way exactly? Are those troops genuinely our heroes and if so, just what was it they did that we’re so darn proud of?

Return my amazed parents to their graves, put all of this together, and you have the beginnings of a description of a uniquely great power in decline. It’s a classic vision, but one with a problem.

A God-Like Power to Destroy

Who today recalls the ads from my 1950s childhood for, if I remember correctly, drawing lessons, which always had a tagline that went something like: What’s wrong with this picture? (You were supposed to notice the five-legged cows floating through the clouds.) So what’s wrong with this picture of the obvious signs of decline: the greatest power in history, with hundreds of garrisons scattered across the planet, can’t seem to apply its power effectively no matter where it sends its military or bring countries like Iran or a weakened post-Soviet Russia to heel by a full range of threats, sanctions, and the like, or suppress a modestly armed terror-movement-cum-state in the Middle East?

For one thing, look around and tell me that the United States doesn’t still seem like a unipolar power. I mean, where exactly are its rivals? Since the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, when the first wooden ships mounted with cannons broke out of their European backwater and began to gobble up the globe, there have always been rival great powers — three, four, five, or more. And what of today? The other three candidates of the moment would assumedly be the European Union (EU), Russia, and China.

Economically, the EU is indeed a powerhouse, but in any other way it’s a second-rate conglomeration of states that still slavishly follow the U.S. and an entity threatening to come apart at the seams. Russia looms ever larger in Washington these days, but remains a rickety power in search of greatness in its former imperial borderlands.  It’s a country almost as dependent on its energy industry as Saudi Arabia and nothing like a potential future superpower. As for China, it’s obviously the rising power of the moment and now officially has the number one economy on Planet Earth.  Still, it remains in many ways a poor country whose leaders fear any kind of future economic implosion (which could happen). Like the Russians, like any aspiring great power, it wants to make its weight felt in its neighborhood — at the moment the East and South China Seas. And like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Chinese leadership is indeedupgrading its military. But the urge in both cases is to emerge as a regional power to contend with, not a superpower or a genuine rival of the U.S.

Whatever may be happening to American power, there really are no potential rivals to shoulder the blame. Yet, uniquely unrivaled, the U.S. has proven curiously incapable of translating its unipolar power and a military that, on paper, trumps every other one on the planet into its desires. This was not the normal experience of past reigning great powers. Or put another way, whether or not the U.S. is in decline, the rise-and-fall narrative seems, half-a-millennium later, to have reached some kind of largely uncommented upon and unexamined dead end.

In looking for an explanation, consider a related narrative involving military power. Why, in this new century, does the U.S. seem so incapable of achieving victory or transforming crucial regions into places that can at least be controlled?  Military power is by definition destructive, but in the past such force often cleared the ground for the building of local, regional, or even global structures, however grim or oppressive they might have been. If force always was meant to break things, it sometimes achieved other ends as well. Now, it seems as if breaking is all it can do, or how to explain the fact that, in this century, the planet’s sole superpower has specialized — see Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — in fracturing, not building nations.

Empires may have risen and fallen in those 500 years, but weaponry only rose. Over those centuries in which so many rivals engaged each other, carved out their imperial domains, fought their wars, and sooner or later fell, the destructive power of the weaponry they were wielding only ratcheted up exponentially: from the crossbow to the musket, the cannon, the Colt revolver, the repeating rifle, the Gatling gun, the machine gun, the dreadnaught, modern artillery, the tank, poison gas, the zeppelin, the plane, the bomb, the aircraft carrier, the missile, and at the end of the line, the “victory weapon” of World War II, the nuclear bomb that would turn the rulers of the greatest powers, and later even lesser powers, into the equivalent of gods.

For the first time, representatives of humanity had in their hands the power to destroy anything on the planet in a fashion once imagined possible only by some deity or set of deities. It was now possible to create our own end times. And yet here was the odd thing: the weaponry that brought the power of the gods down to Earth somehow offered no practical power at all to national leaders.  In the post-Hiroshima-Nagasaki world, those nuclear weapons would prove unusable.  Once they were loosed on the planet, there would be no more rises, no more falls. (Today, we know that even a limited nuclear exchange among lesser powers could, thanks to the nuclear-winter effect, devastate the planet.)

Weapons Development in an Era of Limited War

In a sense, World War II could be considered the ultimate moment for both the narratives of empire and the weapon. It would be the last “great” war in which major powers could bring all the weaponry available to them to bear in search of ultimate victory and the ultimate shaping of the globe. It resulted in unprecedented destruction across vast swathes of the planet, the killing of tens of millions, the turning of great cities into rubble and of countless people into refugees, the creation of an industrial structure for genocide, and finally the building of those weapons of ultimate destruction and of the first missiles that would someday be their crucial delivery systems.  And out of that war came the final rivals of the modern age — and then there were two — the “superpowers.”

That very word, superpower, had much of the end of the story embedded in it. Think of it as a marker for a new age, for the fact that the world of the “great powers” had been left for something almost inexpressible. Everyone sensed it. We were now in the realm of “great” squared or force raised in some exponential fashion, of “super” (as in, say, “superhuman”) power. What made those powers truly super was obvious enough: the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union — their potential ability, that is, to destroy in a fashion that had no precedent and from which there might be no coming back.  It wasn’t a happenstance that the scientists creating the H-bomb sometimes referred to it in awestruck terms as a “super bomb,” or simply “the super.”

The unimaginable had happened. It turned out that there was such a thing as too much power. What in World War II came to be called “total war,” the full application of the power of a great state to the destruction of others, was no longer conceivable. The Cold War gained its name for a reason. A hot war between the U.S. and the USSR could not be fought, nor could another global war, a reality driven home by the Cuban missile crisis.  Their power could only be expressed “in the shadows” or in localized conflicts on the “peripheries.”  Power now found itself unexpectedly bound hand and foot.

This would soon be reflected in the terminology of American warfare. In the wake of the frustrating stalemate that was Korea (1950-1953), a war in which the U.S. found itself unable to use its greatest weapon, Washington took a new language into Vietnam. The conflict there was to be a “limited war.” And that meant one thing: Nuclear power would be taken off the table.

For the first time, it seemed, the world was facing some kind of power glut. It’s at least reasonable to assume that, in the years after the Cold War standoff ended, that reality somehow seeped from the nuclear arena into the rest of warfare.  In the process, great power war would be limited in new ways, while somehow being reduced only to its destructive aspect and nothing more. It suddenly seemed to hold no other possibilities within it — or so the evidence of the sole superpower in these years suggests.

War and conflict are hardly at an end in the twenty-first century, but something has removed war’s normal efficacy. Weapons development has hardly ceased either, but the newest highest-tech weapons of our age are proving strangely ineffective as well. In this context, the urge in our time to produce “precision weaponry” — no longer the carpet-bombing of the B-52, but the “surgical” strike capacity of a joint direct attack munition, or JDAM — should be thought of as the arrival of “limited war” in the world of weapons development.

The drone, one of those precision weapons, is a striking example. Despite itspenchant for producing “collateral damage,” it is not a World War II-style weapon of indiscriminate slaughter. It has, in fact, been used relatively effectively to play whack-a-mole with the leadership of terrorist groups, killing off one leader or lieutenant after another.  And yet all of the movements it has been directed against have only proliferated, gaining strength (and brutality) in these same years. It has, in other words, proven an effective weapon of bloodlust and revenge, but not of policy.  If war is, in fact, politics by other means (as Carl von Clausewitz claimed), revenge is not. No one should then be surprised that the drone has produced not an effective war on terror, but a war that seems to promote terror.

One other factor should be added in here: that global power glut has grown exponentially in another fashion as well. In these years, the destructive power of the gods has descended on humanity a second time as well — via the seemingly most peaceable of activities, the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change now promises a slow-motion version of nuclear Armageddon, increasing both the pressure on and the fragmentation of societies, while introducing a new form of destruction to our lives.

Can I make sense of all this? Hardly. I’m just doing my best to report on the obvious: that military power no longer seems to act as it once did on Planet Earth.  Under distinctly apocalyptic pressures, something seems to be breaking down, something seems to be fragmenting, and with that the familiar stories, familiar frameworks, for thinking about how our world works are losing their efficacy.

Decline may be in the American future, but on a planet pushed to extremes, don’t count on it taking place within the usual tale of the rise and fall of great powers or even superpowers. Something else is happening on Planet Earth. Be prepared.