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

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

New Map Reveals Average Penis Size in Every Country

August 21, 2016

Ed Cara
When it comes to top honors though, the U.S. and its neighbors are decidedly in the middle of the pack.

For the men out there who can’t help but wonder how they stack up in the size department down under, wonder no more — thanks to a nifty interactive graphic recently released by Target Map. The map, appearing to use data taken from earlier studies, shows how long the average erected penis is on a country by country scale. If you move the mouse over North America, for instance, you’ll find the average men there has an erect penis size of 14.2 centimeters (5.59 inches).

When it comes to top honors though,  the U.S. and its neighbors are decidedly in the middle of the pack. It’s actually men in Western African countries like Ghana who are the biological winners, with the average length upwards of 16 centimeters. On the flip side, men in Asian countries have the smallest lengths, with the average size ranging from 9.3 centimeters (3.6 inches) to 10.5 centimeters (4.1 inches).

Of course, penis size is hardly the be-all and end-all of a perfectly happy sex life for both men and women. Each gender tends to overestimate how long the average penis is and how important penis size is when evaluating how satisfying a potential relationship could be. When you look in on real-life straight couples, though, the penis size of men rarely accounts for their overall happiness and functioning. Elsewhere, other research has shown that women may prefer longer penises when looking for casual partners but pay much less mind to length when sizing up potential boyfriend material.

None of this is to say penis size is meaningless and not worth caring about, only that it’s probably a lot less important than we think it is. For those of us who remain understandably curious, though, you can check out the map here.

Read More:

Does Penis Size Matter? Why Bigger Male Genitalia Isn’t Always Better In Bed. Read here

The Evolution Of Penis Size: Humans Have Large Penises Due To Upright Posture, Body Temperature. Read here.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/new-map-reveals-what-average-penis-size-every-country?akid=14559.265072.Tk1POW&rd=1&src=newsletter1062375&t=24

The Obamacare counterrevolution six years on

obamacare

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

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.

Government indifference in the midst of historic Louisiana flooding

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By Tom Hall
20 August 2016

As floodwaters continue to recede, the historic scale of the destruction in south Louisiana is becoming more apparent. The Red Cross calls the floods, caused by unprecedented rainfalls which began last weekend, the worst US natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which devastated much of the East Coast.

The figures for the humanitarian crisis are being constantly revised upward. At least 13 people have been killed and 40,000 homes damaged, many beyond repair. Some 30,000 people have had to be rescued from the rising waters, either trapped in their homes or stranded in their cars on the highway while trying to evacuate. More than 7,000 people remain in emergency shelters, set up at the last minute by government agencies.

A broad area encompassing 20 of the state’s 64 parishes (counties) has been declared a disaster area by the federal government, spanning from the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, considered part of the New Orleans metropolitan area, westward towards Lake Charles, near the border with Texas. Many places are still flooded, almost a full week after the initial rainstorms.

Entire parishes have been almost wiped out by the floods. A spokeswoman for the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s office estimated that three quarters of the parish’s homes were a “total loss.” Livingston Parish, comprising eastern suburbs of Baton Rouge, the state capital and second largest city in the state, is home to 138,000 people. More than 15,000 people were rescued in this one parish alone, which received more than 31 inches of rain in 15 hours on Friday. In nearby Ascension Parish, to the south of Baton Rouge, which is home to 114,000 people, more than 30 percent of the homes in the parish were flooded.

While the worst of the flooding has passed in most areas, the situation is far from over. With yet more rain in the forecast for the area over the weekend, many areas where water levels had been subsiding are faced with the prospect of renewed flooding. “The problem is there is nowhere for the water to run off” in the flat terrain of south Louisiana, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service told NBC News. “In the last couple of days, we’ve had to reissue flash flood warnings in areas that had been showing improvement.”

The federal response to the disaster is a mixture of stinginess and outright indifference.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) caps its financial assistance to flood victims, according to previously set guidelines, at a paltry $33,000 per family, far less than the costs faced by those whose homes were wiped out. However, most victims will likely see only a tiny fraction of even this inadequate sum; the average payout in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,000 people and flooded 80 percent of the city of New Orleans, was a paltry $7,114, according to figures published by the Advocate newspaper.

This is all the more significant because the vast majority of the flood victims have no flood insurance, meaning they will be compelled to rely entirely on their own savings, if they have any, and upon government aid to rebuild their lives. Many areas affected by flooding lie outside of federally designated flood zones, where residents assumed that they would not need flood insurance. However, less than half of homeowners in even high-risk areas throughout the state lack flood insurance, according to FEMA.

Summing up official indifference to the plight of people whose lives have been destroyed by the floods, FEMA spokeswoman Robin Smith told the Wall Street Journal, “we’re like a life vest, not a lifeboat,” and told the newspaper that victims must look to private nonprofit groups, not the federal agency charged with responding to natural disasters, to be made whole. Some 86,000 people have already applied for help from FEMA, which has approved payouts of only $3.7 million so far, the paper noted.

The miserly aid to flood victims contrasts sharply with the virtually unlimited sums of money laid out by the federal government for the military. The Journal estimated that the total property damage from the floods could surpass $1 billion. By comparison, the Obama administration spent $80 billion to bail out General Motors and Chrysler. The net cost of the bailout of the auto bosses, $9 billion, is four times the total in disaster grants awarded by FEMA.

The $33,000 maximum FEMA grant “is not even going to cover repairs to the structure, not to mention the entire contents of the house stacked up by the street soaking wet,” Gene Broussard, whose brother was killed in the floods, told the Wall Street Journal. “The government bails out a company or another country, and you’ve got a good section of the state of Louisiana in total loss, and you’re going to offer us $33,000 to fix up our home and replace everything?”

To make matters worse, the destruction of much of the area’s housing stock by the floods will render essentially moot FEMA’s principal form of financial aid to homeowners, temporary rental assistance designed to provide some form of housing while their homes are rebuilt. The flooding of more than 40,000 homes will likely produce the most severe housing crisis in the state since Hurricane Katrina, which forced hundreds of thousands to seek shelter in hotels or shoddily built “FEMA trailers,” or to leave the state altogether in search of housing. FEMA “can’t rely on [rental assistance],” National Public Radio noted, because “there simply aren’t habitable homes available for rent.”

The political establishment has responded to the disaster with cold indifference. Hillary Clinton announced on Facebook that she would not be traveling to Louisiana, using the lame excuse that relief efforts couldn’t “afford any distractions” created by such a visit. Her Republican opponent Donald Trump made a photo-op appearance for a few hours in the Baton Rouge area on Friday afternoon before boarding a plane for a rally in Michigan.

But the most callous response so far has come from President Barack Obama, who has refused calls to end his two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard early to travel to Louisiana. Only on Friday afternoon did the administration finally announce that Obama would visit the state next Tuesday, after he ends his vacation and returns to the White House Sunday night.

While large portions of Louisiana remained under water, Obama spent his days “letting loose, staying out til 1 at night with friends and hitting the golf course by day at the beautiful island destination,” Time magazine reported, adding that vacation cottages in the area carry a rental charge from $2,900 to $20,000 a week. Obama did, however, take an afternoon off from his vacation to attend a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, also held in Martha’s Vineyard, where a well-heeled group of 60 people paid $10,000 to $33,400 apiece.

Obama’s decision recalls the actions of George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina. Bush initially refused to cut short his vacation at his ranch in Texas, later engaging in the infamous “fly-over” of Air Force One over New Orleans on his way back to Washington DC.

The comparison was not lost on the local media in Louisiana, where the Baton Rouge-based Advocate, concerned by the poor “optics” of this repeat performance, wrote an editorial criticizing Obama for passing his time in “a playground for the posh and well-connected,” while “Louisiana residents [languish] in flood waters.”

Obama’s evident indifference to the plight of the people of southern Louisiana is itself a political statement. It demonstrates that the response to Katrina was not motivated merely by Bush’s personal callousness or racism, but was rather an expression of the class position of the entire capitalist political establishment towards the devastating social conditions facing working people.

WSWS

How the War on Drugs Makes People Eat Other People’s Faces After Stabbing Them to Death

If we don’t want people using bizarre new synthetic drugs, maybe we should rethink drug prohibition.

Photo Credit: Brian A Jackson/shutterstock.com

The news that 19-year-old Florida State University student Austin Harrouff stabbed two strangers to death, and then proceeded to bite chunks of a deceased victim’s face off, seems too bizarre to believe – unless you’ve heard of the drug flakka.

When police arrived, “It was an impossible task to get him off of the victim.” A Taser had no effect, nor did a police dog. It took multiple cops and several minutes of fighting with “every bit of strength” to pry Harrouff, who was a football player and wrestler, from the face-eating bear hug he had on the dead man.

Harrouff was making “animal-like” noises when he was transported to the hospital, and could die of “sustained trauma” from officers or a drug overdose. Toxicology reports will confirm whether flakka was in his system, but Martin County Sheriff William Snyder says he would not be surprised.

“When you see a case like this where someone is biting off pieces of somebody’s face, could it be flakka?” Snyder said. “The answer is it absolutely could be a flakka case.”

Flakka, a synthetic drug similar to bath salts, has taken off in popularity in South Florida over the past few years. It causes delirium and the feeling of superhuman strength, and is known to cause extremely bizarre behavior – including a 17-year-old girl “running down a street naked, covered in blood and screaming, “I am God! I am Satan!”

YouTube videos abound showing people in the midst of dangerous, erratic flakka-induced behavior, and headlines appear regularly of bizarre crimes being committed on flakka.

Homeland Security Investigations in Miami said the area is “ground central” for flakka shipments, which often come from China. There is no known legitimate use for the substance. The DEA has put a temporary ban on flakka, but drug makers can just stick a “not for human consumption” label on it to get around the ban.

There are at least three flakka hospitalizations a day in Broward County, and the rate of overdose deaths and suicides continues to rise. It’s extremely difficult to know how much one is ingesting, and the synthetic drug can have devastating, permanent effects on the body.

Why the hell would anyone want to come near this stuff?

The War on Drugs.

Because psychoactive drugs that humans have used for centuries have been banned by most modern governments, people turn to synthetic attempts at mimicking the high. Just as Spice (synthetic marijuana) has emerged to supposedly mimic cannabis, flakka is sought after to mimic cocaine.

But the difference is, Spice and flakka cause psychotic symptoms, bodily damage and death, whereas cannabis has never caused an overdose and has well-recognized medicinal value. Cocaine sourced from the black market, which is laced with other unknown chemicals, can cause overdose death – but people aren’t stabbing and eating the faces of other people while on cocaine.

Flakka is far more dangerous than cocaine.

Much of the dangers associated with cocaine would diminish if the drug were legalized and people had the freedom to put what they want into their own bodies. In a legal market, this extract of the coca leaf – which has been used for thousands of years by South Americans – would be produced in exact dosages known to the consumer, free from harmful synthetic chemicals.

If people could go to the store and buy a bit of cocaine, as they can buy alcohol, we could expect the demand for flakka to be non-existent.

Prohibition does nothing to curb the supply or the demand of drugs, but it enriches the corporatocracy and gives the State immense power over our personal freedom. It creates void in the demands for drugs and those voids are filled with even more dangerous substances such as flakka.

We should have learned the lesson that prohibition only causes greater harm during the miserable attempt at alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933. When government attempted to ban alcohol, its production and distribution shifted to the black market, and people suffered and died.

Reports of blindness and death were common as people attempted to make their own alcohol but failed to realize the dangerous by-products that can be produced. Bootleg alcohol fueled violent criminal gangs exploiting prohibition for financial gain. We are seeing the exact same scenario play out today.

There will always be demand for psychoactive drugs, and there will always be supply to meet this demand. If government attempts to ban substances, making it a little harder for some people to get things like cocaine, they will synthesize some other, more dangerous substance.

So now we have flakka, which emerged as a replacement for bath salts, which had emerged (now banned) as something you could buy at the store for a cocaine-like high.

The government keeps banning things, and people keep getting worse off. Synthetic drugs are killing people, especially our kids.

But government has a novel approach this time – it’s working on banning flakka, and they’re trying to get China to ban certain chemicals and stop their export. As the DEA admits, when they manage to ban one substance, producers will slightly alter the compound to make it a new substance free from the “controlled substances” ban.

There’s a saying about doing something over and over again and expecting different results being the mark of insanity. Prohibition is the perfect demonstration of this, and we are witnessing the physical manifestations in the crazed, murderous behaviors caused by flakka.

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/how-war-drugs-makes-people-eat-other-peoples-faces-stabbing-them-death?akid=14548.265072.0RgUC7&rd=1&src=newsletter1062183&t=20