Obama offers pittance to flood victims in Louisiana

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By David Brown
24 August 2016

President Obama made a perfunctory visit to flooded areas in Louisiana Tuesday, after facing sharp criticism for refusing to cut short his two-week vacation in Martha’s Vineyard to respond to the worst natural disaster in the US since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In public comments, which together with questions lasted merely 13 minutes, the president praised the miserly federal response and suggested that flood victims should chiefly rely on private donations because “volunteer help actually helps the state because it can offset some of its costs.”

The flooding, which began in earnest on August 12, killed 13 people and resulted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declaring 20 parishes (counties) natural disaster areas. The amount of rain unleashed by this unnamed storm was immense. Over 7.1 trillion gallons of water, more than three times that dropped by Hurricane Katrina, fell in the course of a week. Some areas received over two feet of rain within just a few days.

The impacts are far reaching. Within the state capital of Baton Rouge an estimated 146,000 homes have been damaged. At least a quarter of the state’s students saw the start of school delayed as districts shut down and many school facilities were flooded. Since floodwaters carry sewage, chemicals and heavy metals, crops exposed to the flood waters are considered unfit for human consumption. The agricultural impact of the flood is at least $110 million, according to the Louisiana State University AgCenter.

Most private insurers do not cover flood damage and many working class families cannot afford the flood insurance underwritten by FEMA. Only 42 percent of homes in high-risk areas of the state have flood insurance, according to FEMA, while 12.5 percent of homeowners in low and moderate-risk zones are covered. Many of the areas hit by flooding, including Baton Rouge and Lafayette, were not considered high-risk.

The full economic impact statewide is still unknown, but the FEMA response fails to address the immediate needs of those affected. So far over 100,000 people have filed for federal assistance and have received a total of $127 million, averaging a little less than $1,300 per application. According to theWall Street Journal FEMA is currently paying for just 700 families to stay in hotels and motels while they find housing. The maximum FEMA award for a family that has just lost its home and personal possessions is just $33,000.

In a callous decision reminiscent of President Bush during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Obama remained on vacation in the Massachusetts resort town, playing golf with the rich and famous, until this past Sunday. In the aftermath of Katrina, Bush was roundly criticized for his indifference to the crisis. Then as now, federal aid remained wholly inadequate and masses of poor people were left to effectively fend for themselves. After Katrina, those applying for assistance got an average of just over $7,000 from FEMA.

In his remarks Obama cited favorably the current condition of New Orleans as proof of the resilience of the state, saying, “I know that you will rebuild again.” In the eleven years since Katrina, however, the people of New Orleans have not recovered. The population of the city sits around 60,000 below its pre-Katrina level of 455,000. Public assets were privatized under the guise of “rebuilding,” and the public school system was dismantled and replaced with charter schools.

Obama’s remarks in Baton Rouge recall his similarly indifferent comments in Flint, Michigan whose residents have been poisoned with lead. After thousands of small children were exposed to the toxic chemical Obama insisted there was nothing to worry about. Unwilling and unable to outline an effective federal response or propose an infrastructure program to prevent the next disaster, Obama told Flint residents to rely on charities and philanthropists.

In comparison to the mere $127 million that FEMA has found so far for Louisiana, Obama and the rest of the political establishment can find unlimited amounts of money to bail out banks and drop bombs. In the current presidential race, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has already spent $256 million, more than double the FEMA flood relief. While Obama was not interested in cutting his vacation short for the flooding, he did find time to host a fund-raising dinner for Clinton on August 15, with 60 people paying between $10,000 and $33,400 apiece.

FEMA relief so far would only amount to less than 0.02 percent of the 2017 US military budget. It would not even cover eight of the Reaper drones used in Obama’s assassination program. The military has budgeted $4.61 billion on drones over the coming year.

Obama’s enthusiasm for the military and indifference to social crises in America is no accident. His political program of wars abroad and austerity at home demands it.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/08/24/loui-a24.html

Liberal, Moderate or Conservative? See How Facebook Labels You

You may think you are discreet about your political views. But Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, has come up with its own determination of your political leanings, based on your activity on the site.

And now, it is easy to find out how Facebook has categorized you — as very liberal or very conservative, or somewhere in between.

Try this (it works best on your desktop computer):

Go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser. (You may have to log in to Facebook first.)

That will bring you to a page with your ad preferences. Under the “Interests” header, click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab.

Then look for a box titled “US Politics.” In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative.

(If the “US Politics” box does not show up, click the “See more” button under the grid of boxes.)

Facebook makes a deduction about your political views based on the pages that you like — or on your political preference, if you stated one, on your profile page. If you like the page for Hillary Clinton, Facebook might categorize you as a liberal.

Even if you do not like any candidates’ pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too.

Facebook has long been collecting information on its users, but it recently revamped the ad preferences page, making it easier to view.

The information is valuable. Advertisers, including many political campaigns, pay Facebook to show their ads to specific demographic groups. The labels Facebook assigns to its users help campaigns more precisely target a particular audience.

For instance, Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign has paid for its ads to be shown to those who Facebook has labeled politically moderate.

Campaigns can also use the groupings to show different messages to different supporters. They may want to show an ad to their hard-core supporters, for example, that is unlike an ad targeted at people just tuning in to the election.

It is not clear how aggressively Facebook is gathering political information on users outside the United States. The social network has 1.7 billion active users, including about 204 million in the United States.

Political outlook is just one of the attributes Facebook compiles on its users. Many of the others are directly commercial: whether you like television comedy shows, video games or Nascar.

To learn more about how political campaigns are targeting voters on social media, The New York Times is collecting Facebook ads from our readers with a project called AdTrack. You can take part by visiting nytimes.com and searching for “Send us the political ads.”

Twenty years since Clinton’s welfare “reform”

NASHVILLE, :  US President Bill Clinton clinches his fist during a 27 October speech on welfare reform at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The US general election is two weeks away on 05 Novemeber.  (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

23 August 2016

Twenty years ago yesterday, on August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed bipartisan legislation that ended the federal guarantee of welfare assistance to the poor.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was the first repeal of a major provision of the 1935 Social Security Act, which made relief to the old, the disabled, the jobless, single mothers and poor children a federally funded and guaranteed “entitlement.” Eligibility for what would become Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was expanded in 1962.

Instead of providing a safety net of minimal benefits, the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), which replaced AFDC, imposed a lifetime limit of five years, plus mandatory work and school requirements. The federal government sent a fixed amount of money, in the form of block grants, to the states, which were free to impose even harsher eligibility restrictions and cut off benefits once the money ran out, no matter how many people were left destitute.

As a result, millions of poor people lost all cash assistance and were bereft of any income. While AFDC benefits were always woefully inadequate, TANF assistance in all states currently provides less than half the income deemed necessary by the government to avoid poverty. In one-third of the states, the benefits are less than 20 percent of the official poverty level.

The 1996 law also cut food assistance to the poor. The tightening of eligibility for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has had devastating consequences. As a result of the lowering of maximum benefits enacted at that time, a working household of three people today receives nearly $400 less a year—or $33 a month—than it would have received had the “reform” not been enacted.

So draconian were Clinton’s measures, they were denounced by Senator Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat who had been reviled for joining the Nixon administration and initiating the first efforts to cut back on social programs. Moynihan denounced both parties for “making cruelty to children an instrument of social policy.”

In announcing that he was “ending welfare as we know it,” Clinton cynically claimed that his bill would help welfare recipients find work and attain economic self-sufficiency. That was a lie. The measure freed up billions for corporate tax cuts and military programs, while forcing millions of workers into low-wage, part-time jobs. The funneling of the desperately poor into the labor market contributed to the suppression of wages that continues to this day.

The corporate-controlled media has marked the anniversary by hailing its “success” and fondly recalling the bipartisan support for the measure. Media commentators suggest that the cross-party cooperation that succeeded in destroying welfare should be a model for laying siege to even more basic entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

A series of recent reports has detailed the human impact of Clinton’s cuts:

  • The number of US children living in families with monthly incomes below $2 per person per day doubled from 1996 to 2011, according to a 2013 analysis published by the National Poverty Center.
  • While 76 families received cash assistance through AFDC for every 100 poor families with children in 1995, by 2014, only 23 percent received TANF cash assistance. Because fixed benefit levels lost value due to inflation, cash payments for a family of three in July 2015 were at least 20 percent below their 1996 level in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
  • A 2015 review of the law by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that “declines in welfare benefits arising from leaving welfare often cancel out the earning increases, leaving income relatively unchanged.” In addition, “a significant number of single-mother families appear to have been worse off and to have higher deep poverty rates,” defined as living below half the federal poverty line.
  • During the first decade of welfare “reform,” incomes fell by 18 percent for the poorest tenth of children of single mothers, and the share of children living in deep poverty rose from 2.1 percent to 3.0 percent—from 1.5 million to 2.2 million—according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. While the percentage of children in deep poverty was reduced to 2.6 percent in the following decade, this was largely due to the temporary extension of unemployment benefits and food stamps after the Great Recession, which has largely dried up.
  • The cancellation of welfare payments to legal immigrants through the imposition of long-term residency requirements led to a fall in high school graduation rates by as much as 17 percent, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

In destroying welfare, President Clinton had the enthusiastic backing of his wife, Hillary Clinton, who is now the Democratic candidate for US president. The ex-president emphasized her role in a 2006 op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “How We Ended Welfare, Together.” In the article, Clinton boasted that welfare rolls had been reduced from 12.2 million to 4.5 million in the first decade of his “reform.”

The destruction of the federal welfare system was part of a social counterrevolution by the American ruling class initiated in the last years of the Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s and escalated during the Reagan years of the 1980s. It marked the complete abandonment of the policy of liberal reform associated with Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s and Johnson’s War on Poverty in the mid-1960s.

The Clintons were leading figures in the Democratic Leadership Council, which renounced such reforms and helped transform the Democratic Party into the leading party of Wall Street.

Following the debacle of Hillary Clinton’s pro-corporate health care “reform,” the Democrats suffered a rout in the 1994 mid-term elections, which gave the Republicans, under the leadership of arch reactionary Newt Gingrich, control of both houses of Congress. The response of the Clintons was to shift further to the right.

The tossing of millions of welfare recipients into destitution was a calculated effort to curry favor from the ruling elite and reactionary sections of the upper middle class. In the current presidential campaign, Clinton’s wife has adopted a similar strategy, except even more reactionary.

The war on the poor, with its denunciations of “generations of dependency” and demands for “personal responsibility,” coincided with a bipartisan program of unlimited government welfare for corporate America and the super-rich. These were the days of “irrational exuberance” on Wall Street, the Clinton administration’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and other Depression-era banking regulations, the destruction of millions of better-paying manufacturing jobs, the growth of financialization, and the rise of a new financial aristocracy to the pinnacle of the American economy.

Over the last seven-and-a-half years, the Obama administration has intensified this social counterrevolution, slashing the wages of autoworkers, shifting the burden of health care and pensions onto the backs of workers, and funneling trillions to Wall Street and trillions more to the Pentagon to wage nonstop war.

Various pseudo-left and Democratic Party advocates of identity politics characterize Clinton’s welfare “reform” as a racist measure. Typical is a recent piece in the New Republic titled “The Racist Roots of Welfare Reform.”

This only serves to conceal the class character of the Democratic Party-led attack—whose victims include all races and nationalities, the majority being poor whites. In opposition to all such reactionary attempts to divide the working class, the Socialist Equality Party and our presidential and vice presidential candidates, Jerry White and Niles Niemuth, fight for the unity of the working class in a struggle against the capitalist system, the source of war, poverty and repression.

Jerry White

WSWS

The Obamacare counterrevolution six years on

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By Kate Randall
22 August 2016

More than six years after it was signed into law, and nearly four years after it began operation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is increasingly acknowledged to be a disaster. The viability of the scheme it authorized is openly being called into question, even by its proponents. The Obama administration’s signature domestic “achievement” stands exposed as a plan concocted by and for the insurance companies and corporate America to slash their costs and increase their profits.

As the WSWS explained as early as 2009, the health care “reform” that is popularly known as Obamacare establishes a framework for the insurers, the corporations and the government to drastically reduce the health benefits available to low- and middle-income individuals and families.

This was always the aim of the legislation. The gutting of benefits and increase in costs for working people are not the unfortunate outcomes of a well-meaning but misguided effort to provide “near-universal, quality health care,” as President Obama claimed at its inception. As the New York Times, an early, fervent and continuing supporter of Obamacare, recently acknowledged, referring to the barebones government health program for the poor, “[T]he reality is that a typical Obamacare plan looks more like Medicaid, only with a high deductible.”

Under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” anyone without employer-sponsored coverage who is not covered by Medicare or Medicaid is required under threat of a significant tax penalty to purchase private insurance. Today, large numbers of people are struggling or unable to pay the exorbitant premiums demanded by the private insurers for their shoddy plans, while those who do are forced to self-ration care for their families under the weight of sky-high out-of-pocket costs.

The least expensive plans come with deductibles in excess of $5,000. Networks are increasingly shrinking, forcing enrollees to choose between a dwindling range of doctors and hospitals. Drug formularies are denying access to life-saving drugs. Insurers are requesting and receiving approval for double-digit premium hikes for their wretchedly inadequate insurance policies.

The recent exit of No. 3 health insurer Aetna from a majority of the private Obamacare exchanges across the country where it previously offered plans is certain to exacerbate this trend. Coming on the heels of the pullback of insurers UnitedHealth and Humana from the Obamacare market, conditions have been created where 17 percent of those eligible for an ACA plan next year will have only one insurer from which to choose. This will be the case in five entire states.

In a recent opinion piece in the Times, economist Paul Krugman bemoaned the fact that insurers are “finding themselves losing money, because previously uninsured Americans who are signing up turn out to have been sicker and more in need of costly care than we realized.” He advocated a “reinforced effort to ensure that healthy Americans buy insurance, as the law requires, rather than them waiting until they get sick”—i.e., hiking the already hefty tax penalties for those who fail to buy policies.

The “magic” of the Obamacare market has demonstrated the degree to which the ACA is subordinated to the profit interests of the multibillion-dollar insurance companies—to the detriment of the lives and well being of the vast majority of the population. They are the ones calling the shots. There is no meaningful oversight on what they can charge for their plans, so they jack up the premiums. If they are still not making what they consider an adequate profit on the ACA exchanges, they simply pull out.

While there is a legal requirement for individual workers, students, etc., to fork over money to the insurance firms, the corporate CEOs and their bankers are free to do as they please.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton unequivocally defends Obamacare and pledges to “build on its success to bring the promise of affordable health care to more people.” Her cynical claims that she “will not stand for unjustified premium increases” and will “limit excessive out-of-pocket costs for families” are as believable as her lies about her emails.

The entire edifice of Obama’s health care overhaul is built on the for-profit health system in America, which includes not only the insurers, but also the giant hospitals, health care chains and pharmaceutical companies. To the extent that Trump and the Republicans oppose the ACA, they propose to junk the Obamacare charade in favor of more open support for the free-market, for-profit health care industry.

In the end, these are tactical differences between the two big business parties. Whichever candidate occupies the White House comes January, he or she will be committed to an intensified attack on health care for ordinary Americans. This sweeping assault on the quality of life for working people will continue as part of the ruling class offensive against all basic social rights, including the right to a decent-paying job, education and housing.

As the WSWS wrote in July 2009, more than six months before the ACA became law, Obama’s “drive for an overhaul of the health care system, far from representing a reform designed to provide universal coverage and increased access to quality care, marks an unprecedented attack on health care for the working population. It is an effort to roll back social gains associated with the enactment of Medicare in 1965.

“It is a counterrevolution in health care, being carried out in the profit interests of the giant pharmaceutical companies, insurance conglomerates and hospital chains, as well as the corporations, which will be encouraged to terminate health care for their employees and force them to buy insurance plans providing less coverage at greater-out-of-pocket expense.”

Fast forward seven years and we can draw a balance sheet proving the correctness of these assertions.

Taking their cue from Obamacare, growing numbers of employers are increasing co-pays and deductibles. Some are shifting their employees to individual markets modeled on the ACA marketplace, while others, including some employing public workers, are dumping them onto the Obamacare exchanges.

A study in 2014 predicted that the ACA would save US businesses $3.5 trillion through 2025, largely by ending employer-sponsored coverage and shifting health insurance costs to employees.

In January 2015, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services announced that payments to hospitals and doctors for a large percentage of health care provided under Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for the elderly, would be shifted from the traditional “fee for service” model to methods that reward health care providers for cutting costs and rationing care.

Half of direct payments to Medicare providers are to be moved to this model by 2018. The sacrifices being demanded of Medicare recipients—supposedly in the interest “quality” and “value”—will translate into the withholding of medical treatments and procedures, resulting in untold suffering and untimely deaths of seniors.

Moreover, the ACA essentially establishes a voucher system, whereby minimal government subsidies are given to individuals to purchase private health insurance. It thereby serves as a model for the future privatization of the key government programs, Medicare and Medicaid, wrenched from the ruling class through bitter working class struggles in the last century.

As we correctly noted in 2009, “Obama’s health care counterrevolution is of a piece with his entire domestic agenda. It parallels the multitrillion-dollar bailout of the banks, the imposition of mass layoffs and wage and benefits cuts in the auto industry, and a stepped-up attack on public education and on teachers. … All that remains of the social reforms from the 1930s and 1960s, and the gains won by previous generations of workers in bitter struggle, is to be wiped out.”

The claims by pseudo-left and nominally liberal forces that Obamacare contained at least some kernel of progressive content have been exposed as apologias for these reactionary policies. A progressive and democratic overhaul of the health care system in America must take as its starting point an end to privately owned health care corporations and medicine-for-profit and the establishment of socialized medicine, democratically administered by a workers’ government, to provide free, high-quality health care for all.

WSWS

Hillary and the War Party

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You haven’t heard much from the Democrats lately about foreign policy or global agendas – indeed virtually nothing at the Philadelphia convention and little worthy of mention along the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton’s many liberal (and sadly, progressive) supporters routinely steer away from anything related to foreign policy, talk, talk, talking instead about the candidate’s “experience”, with obligatory nods toward her enlightened social programs.   There is only the ritual demonization of that fearsome dictator, Vladimir Putin, reputedly on the verge of invading some hapless European country.   Even Bernie Sanders’ sorry endorsement of his erstwhile enemy, not long ago denounced as a tool of Wall Street, had nothing to say about global issues.   But no one should be fooled: a Clinton presidency, which seems more likely by the day, can be expected to stoke a resurgent U.S. imperialism, bringing new cycles of militarism and war. The silence is illusory: Clintonites, now as before, are truly obsessed with international politics.

A triumphant Hillary, more “rational” and “savvy” than the looney and unpredictable Donald Trump, could well have a freer path to emboldened superpower moves not only in Europe but the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Pacific. While the candidate has not revealed much lately, she is on record as vowing to “stand up” to Russia and China, face off against Russian “aggression”, escalate the war on terror, and militarily annihilate Iran the moment it steps out of line (or is determined by “U.S. intelligence” to have stepped out of line) in its nuclear agreement with global powers.   Under Clinton, the Democrats might well be better positioned to recharge their historical legacy as War Party. One of the great political myths (and there are many) is that American liberals are inclined toward a less belligerent foreign policy than Republicans, are less militaristic and more favorable toward “diplomacy”. References to Woodrow Wilson in World War I and Mexico, Harry Truman in Korea, JFK and LBJ in Indochina, Bill Clinton in the Balkans, and of course Barack Obama in Afghanistan (eight years of futile warfare), Libya (also “Hillary’s War”), and scattered operations across the Middle East and North Africa should be enough to dispel such nonsense. (As for FDR and World War II, I have written extensively that the Pearl Harbor attacks were deliberately provoked by U.S. actions in the Pacific – but that is a more complicated story.)

In something of a political twist, the “deranged” Trump candidacy – with its almost daily flow of bizarre utterances and proposals – actually serves Clinton’s neoliberal/neocon mission nicely, providing a foil to her outwardly more sane persona. Trump, of course, is far too irrational, too narcissistic, too unstable to assume the role of Commander-in-Chief. Who knows what might happen once his shaky hands get near the “nuclear trigger”? Worse yet, here is a bona fide challenger for the White House who has reportedly cozied up to that imperialist dictator, that great enemy of national sovereignty, Putin!   No need for any discussion or debate here. It follows that Hillary will be more reliable (even if more “untrustworthy”), more in command – clearly the best option to manage imperial affairs. Why else would all those neocons and Republican super-hawks be so happy to sign on to the Clintonite project.   The alliance of Hillary and foreign-policy hard-liners has, however, scarcely dampened the enthusiasm of her phalanx of liberal and progressive boosters, who endlessly talk, talk, talk about her amazing “pragmatism”, her ability to “get things done”. (That she can “get things done” in the realm of foreign policy is beyond question.)

A new Clinton presidency can be expected to further boost the U.S./NATO drive to strangle and isolate Russia, which means aggravated “crises” in Ukraine and worrisome encounters with a rival military power in a region saturated with (tactical, “usable”) nuclear weapons.   Regime change in Syria?   Hillary has indeed strongly pushed for that self-defeating act of war, combined with an illegal and provocative no-fly zone — having learned nothing from the extreme chaos and violence she did so much to unleash in Libya as Secretary of State. There are currently no visible signs she would exit the protracted and criminal war in Afghanistan, a rich source of blowback (alongside Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Israel). Increased aerial bombardments against ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere? More deployments of American troops on the ground?   Such ventures, with potentially others on the horizon, amount to elaborate recipes for more blowback, followed by more anti-terror hysteria, followed by more interventions. Uncompromising economic, diplomatic, and military support of Israeli atrocities in Palestine?   Aggressive pursuit of the seriously mistaken “Asian Pivot”, strategy, a revitalized effort to subvert Chinese economic and military power – one of Clinton’s own special crusades? No wonder the Paul Wolfowitzes and Robert Kagans are delighted to join the Hillary camp.

No wonder, too, that billionaire super-hawk Haim Saban has pledged to spend whatever is needed to get the Clintons back into the White House, convinced her presidency will do anything to maintain Palestinian colonial subjugation. Meeting with Saban in July, Hillary again promised to “oppose any effort to delegitimate Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.” She backs legislative efforts begun in several states to silence and blacklist people working on behalf of Palestinian rights. For this her celebrated “pragmatism” could work quite effectively.

Democratic elites say little publicly about these and other imperial priorities, preferring familiar homilies such as “bringing jobs back” (not going to happen) and “healing the country” (not going to happen).   Silence appears to function exquisitely in a political culture where open and vigorous debate on foreign-policy is largely taboo and elite discourse rarely surpasses the level of banal platitudes.   And Hillary’s worshipful liberal and progressive backers routinely follow the script (or non-script) while fear-mongering about how a Trump presidency will destroy the country (now that the Sanders threat has vanished).

Amidst the turmoil Trump has oddly surfaced to the left of Clinton on several key global issues: cooperating instead of fighting with the Russians, keeping alive a sharp criticism of the Iraq war and the sustained regional chaos and blowback it generated, ramping down enthusiasm for more wars in the Middle East, junking “free trade” agreements, willingness to rethink the outmoded NATO alliance. If Trump, however haphazardly, manages to grasp the historical dynamics of blowback, the Clinton camp remains either indifferent or clueless, still ready for new armed ventures – cynically marketed, as in the Balkans, Iraq, and Libya, on the moral imperative of defeating some unspeakable evil, usually a “new Hitler” waging a “new genocide”. Who needs to be reminded that Hillary’s domestic promises, such as they are, will become null and void once urgent global “crises” take precedence?   The Pentagon, after all, always comes first.

Trump is of course no great bargain, a combative warrior looking to slay dragons lurking about in a dark, menacing world – something of a high-level Rambo figure – and this he happily and repeatedly advertises. Like the mythic Rambo, he is also an uncontrollable maverick, eccentric, prone to hare-brained “solutions” — much to the dismay of even Republican officialdom. And he is emphatically and unapologetically Islamophobic.   At the other extreme, Clinton emerges in the media as the most “rational” and “even-tempered” of candidates, ideally suited to carry out the necessary imperial agendas. A tiresome mainstream narrative is that Hillary is “one of the best prepared and most knowledgeable candidates ever to seek the presidency.” And she is smart, very smart – whatever her flaws.   All the better to follow in the long history of Democrats proficient at showing the world who is boss.  The media, for its part, adores these Democrats, another reason Trump appears to have diminished chances of winning. Further, the well-funded and tightly-organized Clinton machine can count on somewhat large majorities of women, blacks, and Hispanics, not only for the march to the White House but, more ominously, to go along with the War Party’s imperial spectacle of the day. Most anything – war, regime change, bombing raids, drone strikes, treaty violations, JFK-style “standoffs” – can escape political scrutiny if carried out by “humanitarian”, peace-loving Democrats.  Bill Clinton’s war to fight “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans, cover for just another U.S./NATO geopolitical maneuver, constitutes the perfect template here.

There is a special logic to the Clintonites’ explosive mixture of neoliberalism and militarism. They, like all corporate Democrats, are fully aligned with some of the most powerful interests in the world: Wall Street, the war economy, fossil fuels, Big Pharma, the Israel Lobby. They also have intimate ties to reactionary global forces – the neofascist regime in Ukraine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states. Against this corporatist and imperialist backdrop, the “deluded” and “unhinged” Trump becomes far too unreliable for entrance to the Oval Office; he could too easily bungle the job of managing U.S. global supremacy. In March 121 members of the Republican “national security community”, including the warmongers Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, and Brent Scowcroft, signed a public letter condemning Trump for not being sufficiently dedicated to American (also Israeli?) interests. Trump compounded his predicament by stubbornly refusing to pay homage to the “experts” – the same foreign-policy geniuses who helped orchestrate the Iraq debacle. A more recent (and more urgent) letter with roughly the same message has made its way into the public sphere.   Predictably, Trump’s “unreliability” to oversee American global objectives has been an ongoing motif at CNN, theNew York Times, the Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.

Returning to the political carneval that was the Democratic convention, amidst all the non-stop flag-waving and shouts of “USA!” Hillary made what she thought would be an inspiring reference to Jackie Kennedy, speaking on the eve of her husband’s (1961) ascent to the White House. Jackie was reported as saying “that what worried President Kennedy during that very dangerous time was that a war might be started – not by men with self-control and restraint, but by little men, the ones moved by fear and pride.”   We can surmise that JFK was one of those “big men” governed by “restraint”.   History shows, however, that Jackie’s esteemed husband was architect of probably the worst episode of international barbarism in U.S. history – the Vietnam War, with its unfathomable death and destruction – coming at a time of the Big Man’s botched CIA-led invasion of Cuba and followed closely by the Cuban Missile Crisis, where the Big Man’s “restraint” brought the world frighteningly close to nuclear catastrophe. As for “fear” and “pride” – nothing permeates JFK’s biography of that period more than those two psychological obsessions.

Could it be that Hillary Clinton, however unwittingly, was at this epic moment – her breakthrough nomination – revealing nothing so much as her own deeply-imperialist mind-set?

Carl Boggs is the author of The Hollywood War Machine, with Tom Pollard (second edition, forthcoming), and Drugs, Power, and Politics, both published by Paradigm.   

Hillary and the War Party

Mexico’s Zapatista Movement May Offer Solutions to Neoliberal Threats to Global Food Security

Posted on Aug 21, 2016

By Levi Gahman / The Solutions Journal

    Zapatista women meeting in 1996. (Julian Stallabrass / CC BY 2.0)

The battle for humanity and against neoliberalism was and is ours,

And also that of many others from below.

Against death––We demand life.

Subcomandante Galeano/Marcos

One of the biggest threats to food security the world currently faces is neoliberalism. It’s logic, which has become status quo over the past 70 years and valorizes global ‘free market’ capitalism, is made manifest through economic policies that facilitate privatization, deregulation, and cuts to social spending, as well as a discourse that promotes competition, individualism, and self-commodification. Despite rarely being criticized, or even mentioned, by state officials and mainstream media, neoliberal programs and practices continue to give rise to unprecedented levels of poverty, hunger, and suffering. The consequences of neoliberalism are so acutely visceral that the Zapatistas called the 21st century’s most highly lauded free-trade policy, NAFTA, a ‘death certificate’ for Indigenous people.1 This is because economic liberalization meant that imported commodities (e.g., subsidized corn from the U.S.) would flood Mexican markets, devalue the products of peasant farmers, and lead to widespread food insecurity. As a response, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), primarily Indigenous peasants themselves, led an armed insurrection in Chiapas, Mexico on January 1, 1994—the day NAFTA went into effect.

The Zapatistas, primarily Indigenous Ch’ol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolobal, Mam, and Zoque rebels, were rising up against 500 years of colonial oppression. For this piece, I draw from my experiences learning from them, not ‘researching’ them. Importantly, I neither speak for the Zapatistas nor do my words do them justice. In a sense, then, this piece is nothing other than a modest ‘suggestion’ that the Zapatistas may offer us some ideas about solutions to the problems of the food systems we find ourselves in.

The emergence of the EZLN dates back to November 17, 1983, when a small group of politicized university militants arrived in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas to form a guerrilla army. Their efforts, which were being supported by an intricate network of solidarity organizations with links to Marxist revolutionaries and Catholic liberation theologists in the region, were subsequently transformed by the Indigenous communities they encountered upon arriving. The success of the Zapatista uprising was thus the culmination of nearly 10 years of covert organizing that unfolded under the guidance of Indigenous people within the jungles and highlands of southeastern Mexico. And during the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 1994, thousands of masked insurgents from the EZLN stepped out of the darkness to say ‘¡Ya Basta! ‘ (Enough!) to the repression and misery that colonialism and capitalism had thrust upon them.

The stunning manner in which the Zapatistas presented themselves to the Mexican government, as well as the world, saw them descend upon several towns, cities, prisons, and wealthy landowners. During the revolt, EZLN guerillas liberated political prisoners, stormed military barracks, occupied government offices, set fire to trumped-up files that unfairly criminalized Indigenous people, and announced Zapatista ‘Women’s Revolutionary Law.’ In the rural countryside, Zapatista soldiers also reclaimed dispossessed land by kicking affluent property-owning bosses off plantation-likeencomiendas that had been historically expropriated from impoverished Indigenous farmers. The skirmishes and exchange of bullets between the EZLN and federal army lasted a total of only 12 days, after which a ceasefire was negotiated.

Since that time, and despite an ongoing counter-insurgency being spearheaded by the Mexican government, the Zapatista’s ‘solution’ to the problem of neoliberalism, including the food insecurity and poverty it exacerbates, has been resistance. And for the Zapatistas, resistance is comprised of revitalizing their Indigenous (predominantly Maya) worldviews, recuperating stolen land, emancipating themselves from dependency upon multinational industrial agribusiness, and peacefully living in open defiance of global capitalism. This ‘solution’ has subsequently enabled them to build an autonomous, locally focused food system, which is a direct product of their efforts in participatory democracy, gender equity, and food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty (an intensely debated concept) loosely described means that people are able to exercise autonomy over their food systems while concurrently ensuring that the production/distribution of food is carried out in socially just, culturally safe, and ecologically sustainable ways. For the Zapatistas, food sovereignty involves agro-ecological farming, place-based teaching and learning, developing local cooperatives, and engaging in collective work.

These practices, which are simultaneously informed by their Indigenous customs, struggles for gender justice, and systems of nonhierarchical governance and education, have thereby radically transformed social relations within their communities. And it is these aspects of the Zapatista Insurgency that illustrate how collective (anti-capitalist) resistance offers novel alternatives to the world’s corporate food regime.

Autonomous Education and Decolonization

Here you can buy or sell anything—­except Indigenous dignity.

Subcomandante Marcos/Galeano

The relationship and obligation the Zapatistas have to the land is rooted in their Indigenous perspectives and traditions. And because exercising autonomy over their land, work, education, and food is crucial to the Zapatistas, their methods of teaching and learning are situated in the environmental systems and cultural practices of where they, and their histories, are living. This is evident in the grassroots focus they maintain in their approach to education, as well as how they consider their immediate ecological settings a ‘classroom.’2

Local knowledge of land and growing food is so central among their autonomous municipalities that each Zapatista school often sees promotores de educación (‘education promoters’) and promotores de agro-ecología (‘agro-ecology promoters’) coming from the same community as their students. Zapatista education is therefore emplaced within the geographies where people live. This holistic ‘place-based’ focus results in both children and adults viewing themselves as active participants in, and essential parts of, local food systems.

In order to understand food security, Zapatista students are frequently taught hands-on agro-ecological techniques outside the classroom. This means they learn how to apply sustainable farming techniques while participating in the planting/harvesting of organic crops. This area of experiential and localized education stresses the importance of working the land in order to attain the skills needed to achieve food sovereignty for future generations. It also provides an overview of how transgenic modifications and privatizations of seeds/plants/life are deemed to be overt threats to, and blatant attacks upon, their culture.

This perspective is held because the Zapatistas are ‘People of the Corn,’ a reality passed down from their Maya origin stories.3 And given that their autonomous education is anchored in defending, protecting, and preserving their Indigenous histories, languages, and ancestral territories, the Zapatistas effectively practice decolonization—the re-establishment and repatriation of Indigenous land, life, and realities—in every aspect of their teaching and learning.

In practical terms, the Zapatistas are decolonizing their food system through applied/experiential learning, communal subsistence farming, collectivizing harvests, refusing chemicals, and equitably distributing labor. This approach thereby provides communities the ability to eschew the profit-motives promoted by capitalist conceptions of ‘productivity,’ in favor of foregrounding their local Indigenous notions of knowledge and nature.4

Through their refusal to participate in the commodification and privatization of learning and land, the Zapatistas have created an integrated system of education and food security that functions as a solidarity economy. This means their efforts in both food and knowledge production/distribution are guided by an ethical imperative that takes into consideration the health and well-being of individuals, communities, and ecologies alike.

Given what the Zapatistas have created in rural Chiapas, one is left to wonder how local food systems might look if Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and (anti-capitalist) placed-based education were implemented into our own communities.

Womens Struggle and Gender Equity

Cuando Una Mujer Avanza, No Hay Hombre Que Retrocede

(‘When a Woman Advances, No Man is Left Behind’)

Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, produce roughly 70 percent of its food, and are responsible for over 80 percent of its domestic (socially reproductive) labor. Despite this, they earn only about 10 percent of the world’s income, control less than 10 percent of all its land, own less than one percent of the means of production, and comprise nearly two-thirds of all its part-time and temporary worker positions.5 In disaggregate, the vast majority of these statistics apply to women who are rural, working class/poor, racialized/Indigenous, not ‘formally educated,’ and living in the Global South.6 It thus appears that capitalist exploitation has both a pattern and preferred target. Interestingly, all of these descriptors directly apply to Zapatista women, yet, it seems someone has forgotten to tell them…because they do not seem to care.

One of the most groundbreaking aspects of the Zapatista insurgency has been the strides it has made in destabilizing patriarchy. This social transformation has largely been born out of the indefatigable work ethic and iron will of the Zapatista women. Given their recognition that any struggle against colonialism and capitalism necessitates a struggle against patriarchy, Zapatista women implemented what is known as ‘Women’s Revolutionary Law’ within their communities. The conviction they maintain regarding equality was poignantly captured in a communiqué written by Subcomandante Marcos (now Galeano) released shortly after the 1994 rebellion, which states: “The first EZLN uprising occurred in March of 1993 and was led by the Zapatista women. There were no casualties—and they won.”7

Broadly speaking, Women’s Revolutionary Law solidifies the recognition of women’s rights to self-determination, dignity, and having their voices heard. More specifically, the laws mandate that women be equitably represented in the guerrilla army (i.e., the EZLN), the Juntas de Buen Gobierno (‘Councils of Good Government’), efforts in land recuperation (agro-ecological projects/work outside of the home), and the development of food/artisan/craft cooperatives.8 These laws have restructured everyday life throughout Zapatista territory, as it is now not uncommon to see women involved in the public sphere (work outside the home), in addition to seeing men participate in socially reproductive labor (i.e., ‘women’s work’).

Women’s Revolutionary Law has also merged with the way in which the land and local environment is viewed and tended to. As a result of up-ending rigid patriarchal notions of what type of work women ‘should do’ and ‘could not do,’ as well as undermining regressive ideas that men are less capable of performing emotional labor, household chores, and nurturing children, Zapatista communities now have women exercising more influence over decisions being made surrounding food security and agro-ecological projects.9

In recently attesting to the gender equity the Zapatistas are advancing towards, Peter Rosset, a food justice activist and rural agro-ecological specialist, commented on the impact of Women’s Revolutionary Law by stating:

Yesterday a Zapatista agro-ecology promoter was in my office and he was talking about how the young Indigenous women in Zapatista territory are different from before…

…he said they no longer look at the floor when you talk to them—they look you directly in the eye.10

In light of the emphasis the Zapatistas place on justice via both recognizing women’s struggle, as well as men’s responsibility to perform socially reproductive/emotional labor, one cannot help but further wonder what agricultural production would look like if gender equity was promoted within the global food system.

Final Thoughts

When viewed in its geopolitical context, the Zapatista insurgency has opened up space for a wide range of alternative ways of re-organizing societies, economies, and food systems. Consequently, what the Zapatistas prove through their resistance (i.e., efforts in autonomous education, decolonization, and gender equity) is that a recognition of Indigenous people’s right to self-determination, in conjunction with anti-capitalist collective work and movements toward food sovereignty, can indeed provide viable alternatives to the world’s neoliberal food regime as well as revolutionize the struggle for food security.

 

Acknowledgements

I offer my gratitude to the Zapatistas for accepting me into their school as well as the Mexico Solidarity Network for enabling it. I also thank Schools for Chiapas and the Dorset Chiapas Solidarity for sharing photos, as well as The University of the West Indies Campus Research and Publication Committee (Trinidad and Tobago) for their support.

References

  1. Marcos, S & de Leon, JP. Our Word is Our Weapon (Seven Stories Press, New York, 2002).
  2. Anonymous Zapatista. Personal communication, Fall 2013.
  3. Ross, J. ¡Zapatistas!: Making Another World Possible: Chronicles of Resistance, 2000–2006 (Nation Books, New York, 2006).
  4. Lorenzano, L. Zapatismo: recomposition of labour, radical democracy and revolutionary project in Zapatista! Reinventing Revolution in Mexico (eds Holloway, J & Pelaez, E), Ch. 7, 126-128 (Pluto Press, London, 1998).
  5. Robbins, RH. Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism (Allyn & Bacon, Boston, 2007).
  6. Benería, L, Berik, G & Floro, M. Gender, Development and Globalization: Economics as if All People Mattered (Routledge, Abingdon, 2015).
  7. Marcos, S. The First Uprising: March 1993. La Jornada (January 30, 1994).
  8. Klein, H. Compañeras: Zapatista Womens Stories (Seven Stories Press, New York, 2015).
  9. Marcos, S. Zapatista Women’s Revolutionary Law as it is lived today. Open Democracy [online] (July 2014).https://www.opendemocracy.net/sylvia-marcos/zapatista-women%E2%80%99s-re….

10.  Rosset, P. Zapatista Uprising 20 Years Later. Democracy Now! [online] (January 2014).http://www.democracynow.org/2014/1/3/zapatista_uprising_20_years_later_how.

Russian Threat Is Good for Business, U.S. Defense Contractors Tell Investors

Posted on Aug 19, 2016

As the media and politicians work to cast Russia as a great threat to Americans, the arms industry is pressuring NATO member states to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic products on weapons and defense systems.

Lee Fang reports at The Intercept:

Retired Army Gen. Richard Cody, a vice president at L-3 Communications, the seventh largest U.S. defense contractor, explained to shareholders in December that the industry was faced with a historic opportunity. Following the end of the Cold War, Cody said, peace had “pretty much broken out all over the world,” with Russia in decline and NATO nations celebrating. “The Wall came down,” he said, and “all defense budgets went south.”

Now, Cody argued, Russia “is resurgent” around the world, putting pressure on U.S. allies. “Nations that belong to NATO are supposed to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “We know that uptick is coming and so we postured ourselves for it.”

Speaking to investors at a conference hosted by Credit Suisse in June, Stuart Bradie, the chief executive of KBR, a military contractor, discussed “opportunities in Europe,” highlighting the increase in defense spending by NATO countries in response to “what’s happening with Russia and the Ukraine.”

The National Defense Industrial Association, a lobby group for the industry, has called on Congress to make it easier for U.S. contractors to sell arms abroad to allies in response to the threat from Russia. Recent articles in National Defense, NDIA’s magazine, discuss the need for NATO allies to boost maritime military spending, spending on Arctic systems, and missile defense, to counter Russia.

Many experts are unconvinced that Russia poses a direct military threat. The Soviet Union’s military once stood at over 4 million soldiers, but today Russia has less than 1 million. NATO’s combined military budget vastly outranks Russia’s — with the U.S. alone outspending Russia on its military by $609 billion to less than $85 billion.

And yet,  the Aerospace Industries Association, a lobby group for Lockheed Martin, Textron, Raytheon, and other defense contractors, argued in February that the Pentagon is not spending enough to counter “Russian aggression on NATO’s doorstep.”

Continue reading.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/us_defense_contractors_tell_investors_russian_threat_is_good_for_20160819