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Archive for February, 2011

“Shock Doctrine” in Wisconsin

Monday, February 28th, 2011

First, a few notes about Wisconsin:

•  Speaking with Rachel Maddow, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett observes that when Gov. Scott Walker spoke last week with the “fake David Koch,” he made no mention of a “fiscal crisis” that he claims compels him to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights, but spoke only of union-busting strategy and tactics.

•  Also on Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson points out that the “fiscal crisis” argument for revoking collective bargaining rights falls apart when you look at Texas. The Lone Star State has no collective bargaining rights for workers, practically no unions, and a $27 billion deficit. Why would revoking collective bargaining help Wisconsin if it doesn’t help the Lone Star State?

•  See below: video of American Federation of Teachers’ Local 212 marches in Milwaukee and Madison on Feb. 24, 26.

Disaster Capitalism in the Heartland

Leave it to Paul Krugman to notice that what Gov. Scott Walker is trying to do in Wisconsin is precisely what Naomi Klein described in her best-selling book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Briefly, the shock doctrine is the use of crises and public disorientation (as by a natural disaster, political upheaval, or economic crisis) to push through free-market economic shock therapy disguised as “reforms.” The traumatized public is too concerned with basic survival to notice what “the authorities” are doing. (The book is Excellent, Highly Recommended.)

Naomi Klein opens with the (Iraq) Coalition Provisional Authority’s opportunistic attempts to “corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises” and “wean [Iraqis] from the idea the state supports everything” (in American viceroy L. Paul Bremer’s words) in Baghdad in 2003. She then explains that the shock doctrine has been used, very deliberately, after the U.S.-supported coup that overthrew Argentina’s Salvador Allende in 1973 up to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with the privatization of formerly public institutions of housing and health care in New Orleans (shutting down public housing projects, Charity Hospital), etc.

Since Chile in the 1970s, Krugman writes, “right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.”

Now, he says, the same methods are being used in Wisconsin:

What’s happening in Wisconsin is . . . a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.

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Taxing the Rich: Still a Good and Fair Idea

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Budget cutting is all the rage; a recent attempt to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire was defeated by Obama’s deal with the Republican congressional leadership. (See our reaction to that regrettable deal here and here.) In this time of (unnecessary) revenue shortfalls and budget crises, who speaks for raising taxes? We do. And we’re not alone. (For example, Bill Gates Sr., a wealthy man, believes the rich should pay more.)

Recent letters to the New York Times in response to a superficially reasonable column by David Brooks spoke well about the need to raise revenues by taxing the wealthy, reducing tax breaks for the rich and for corporations, and, when cutting the budget, to include defense spending. (As is often the case, the best part of the paper is the Letters to the Editor.) The writers convey their views well, so we’ll say no more except to commend their good sense.

 

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If you feel the same way, please write letters to the editors of your own local papers, and phone your local news stations and the news networks listed here (lower page) and say so. Demand that producers present the views of proponents of fair taxation of upper-income Americans—such as the Citizens for Tax Justice and the National Priorities Project—rather than only presenting the arguments of “fiscally conservative” budget-slashers. Thank you.

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In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like”

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

“Dr. King’s last act on earth, marching in Memphis, Tenn., was about workers’ rights to collective bargaining and rights to dues checkoff. You cannot remove the roof for the wealthy and remove the floor for the poor.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. (shown at right holding first-grader Emily Anne)

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We spoke today with Kevin, a teacher and union member in Milwaukee, about his up-close-and-personal view of the protests in Madison against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s bill to take away union members’ right to collective bargaining. (Kevin is a cousin of one of our writers; see his YouTube video below.)

Scott Walker, a former Milwaukee County Executive who took office Jan. 3, has given the state legislature a “budget repair” bill that would force most public employees to pay higher portions of health care and retirement benefits and eliminate their right to collective bargaining, a right that Wisconsin state workers won in 1959. (This after giving corporations in Wisconsin a tax break that reduced state revenues by $100+ million.) Walker insists he is trying to balance the state budget; union members see the bill as union-busting plain and simple. Union members have generally agreed to significant financial concessions but refuse to surrender the hard-won right to collective bargaining. Walker insists there will be no negotiating: it’s all or nothing.

(Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received contributions from the billionaire right-wing activist Koch brothers. The Kochs also gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which gave substantially to Walker’s campaign.)

As many as 80,000 protesters marched in the state capitol of Madison on Saturday—cheerfully, peacefully, and determinedly—to stop Walker’s bill. Many signs reflect the recent struggles for freedom in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Kevin says that Walker’s bill is clearly seen by the public as a partisan issue. Democrats and union members are pretty much unanimous against the bill, and even moderate Republicans in Wisconsin see Walker’s all-or-nothing push as extreme, with potentially disastrous consequences. “This is not about money at all; this is about our basic right to have a voice in our workplace, a right we’ve had in Wisconsin since 1959” with the passage of a law guaranteeing public workers’ right to collective bargaining. (See Rachel Maddow’s great summary of how Wisconsin has been at the forefront of workers’ rights for many decades.) Teachers are back at work this week, he says. He is teaching his class—“the students come first”—but then he’ shuttling back to Madison to join in the protests.

It’s a family affair—Kevin and his wife Kelly and their children Joe and Emily are part of the movement—and people of all backgrounds are joining in to defend their rights and their fellow citizens’ rights to bargain collectively, to have a say in the conditions of their workplace. They go first to the capitol to get charged up, then walk around outside to join in the chanting. It’s a festive, positive atmosphere. He writes:

There are some very cool videos of the protests at defendwisconsin.org . . .  I’m making another starring Emily titled “This is What Democracy Looks Like.” Emily picked out the music and knows all the protest shouts: “Walker is a weasel not a badger,” “Union busting, that’s disgusting,” “Forward, not backward” . . . and of course, “Tell me what democracy looks like—This is what democracy looks like!”

Joe thinks it’s cool people are really nice and hand out free food. My union had a ton of stuff left over from a campus event so I put 7 platters of bakery into my van and we all passed it out to hungry protesters. People from all over the world are calling the pizza shop that’s 100 yds from the capitol [Ian’s Pizza on State Street] and ordering pizzas to be taken up to the kids occupying the capitol each night. It’s wonderful. Now dem legislators in Indiana have fled to Illinois as well. The showdown is ON!

This is a national fight that Wisconsin is at the very front of—we will not be silenced!

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Who in America Remembers Afghanistan?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

How will we ever see the end of a war that everyone seems to have forgotten—everyone except the families and friends of the wounded and the dead?

“We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. . . . If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other non-combatants will be caught in the crossfire. . . . Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.” —Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the lone vote against the war in Afghanistan, Sept. 15, 2001 (video)

Guardian columnist Gary Younge, who writes on American politics and society, penned a sensitive and saddening piece last week titled “Forgotten War Is Everyone’s Orphan” (print edition). The subtitle reads, “Admiration for soldiers may be widespread and deep in America, but interest in what they are doing is shallow and fleeting.” Younge opens with the funeral of a 23-year-old soldier in Bordentown, New Jersey, then comments:

There is a reverence for the military in the US on a scale rarely seen anywhere else in the west that transcends political affiliation and pervades popular culture. On aeroplanes the flight attendant will announce if there are soldiers on board to great applause. When I attended a recording of The Daily Show, John [sic] Stewart made a special point before the show of thanking the servicemen in the audience.

But while the admiration for those who serve and die may be deep and widespread, interest in what they are doing and why they are doing it is shallow and fleeting. During November’s midterm elections it barely came up. In September just 3% thought Afghanistan was one of the most important problems facing the country. When Pew surveyed public interest in the war over an 18-week period last year, fewer than one in 10 said it was the top news story they were following in any given week, including the week Stanley McChrystal—the four-star general commanding troops in Afghanistan, was fired. The country, it seems has moved on. The trouble is the troops are still there.

100,000+ U.S. troops in Afghanistan
Since 2001, 2,255 coalition deaths (1,402 Americans)

Although the Afghan War is unpopular—a poll in December 2010 found 63% opposed, 56% thinking it’s going badly (very badly say 21%), and 60% believing it’s not worth fighting—it was bipartisan, almost unanimous: “a war of necessity,” as the phrase went after the 9/11 attacks, and so it has not been a partisan electoral issue the way the Iraq War was. Younge notes that the war in Afghanistan was “supported by Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Susan Sontag.” In the U.S. Congress, only Barbara Lee of California, quoted above, voted against authorizing force. Perhaps she foresaw complications we are only belatedly recognizing. (She also received death threats.)

. . . as the principal retaliatory response to the terror attacks of 9/11, [the Afghan War] has failed. It hasn’t brought liberty, democracy or stability. It has killed untold thousands of civilians: untold because they are regarded as expendable. And not only has it not captured the perpetrators of the terror attack, there are far more acts of terrorism globally today than there were in 2001, in no small part because of the chaos wrought by the war on terror.

To really engage with what has gone wrong with the war in Afghanistan, Younge says,

would demand a sharp reckoning with why so many thought it would was right to begin with. The country would have to interrogate its militaristic reflexes and proclivities, and face the fact that while there were few good or certain options after 9/11 (ranging from the diplomatic to containment) this was one of the worst—and the others were never seriously considered.

The United States has never seriously examined why the nation was attacked by al Qaeda. The grievances of Osama bin Laden have been blocked from view—for example, by the direct intervention with network news outlets by former national security advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2001. We have been told that the atrocities of September 11 were launched because “they hate our freedoms,” among other simplistic explanations and warnings that helped set the groundwork for a follow-on invasion of Iraq.

Among other things, bin Laden was outraged by the presence of U.S. military forces in Saudi Arabia, his native land but more importantly the site of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina; by U.S. support of Israel and indifference to the suffering of the Palestinians; and by the West’s (mainly America’s) getting for cheap the oil wealth of the Muslim lands—again, mainly from Saudi Arabia. (Bin Laden’s aims are explained in some detail in Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America [2002] by Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit.) To be sure, the royal family of Saudi Arabia benefits from the arrangements as well (though most U.S. troops have been removed), but these are among bin Laden’s objectives that get little airing in the American media. We obviously do not condone the hyper-violent means that al Qaeda (“the base”) has taken to avenge these conditions, but what bin Laden has articulated are legitimate political grievances. Ignoring the widespread sense of injustice in the Arab and Muslim world only increases the likelihood of further radicalization and retribution. Especially after the revolution in Egypt, you can believe the Saudi royal family is nervous. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

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Praying for Change in Egypt

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

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This photograph of Egyptian Christians joining hands to protect their Muslim fellow citizens bowing in prayer in Cairo is both heartening to see and conveys the support we feel for the democracy movement in Egypt. (Christians in Egypt, known as Copts, are some 10 to 20 percent of the country’s population; Alexandria, of course, was an early center of Christianity.) Some of our friends are from Cairo and tell us the poverty, suffering, and hopelessness under 30+ years of Hosni Mubarak are intolerable—and this is what has driven Egyptians of all ages and backgrounds into the streets to demand an end to his rule. Please join us in supporting and praying for the success of the democratic revolution in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.

How can you show support? You can contribute to Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International (for political prisoners) and designate “for Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrators,” or to the Egyptian Red Crescent, equivalent of Red Cross. (We note, however, that the president of the Egyptian Red Crescent is Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, wife of the dictator. Is this a good place to donate? We’re not sure. Let us know if it’s not a safe place for pro-democracy contributions.) We invite other suggestions, too.

Good coverage can be found through Al Jazeera (English), Middle East specialist Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog, solid coverage through The Rachel Maddow Show and the Maddow Blog, and a news and commentary roundup at the AtlanticWire. See also Steve Coll’s fine piece in The New Yorker on the revolution in Tunisia that inspired reform movements in Egypt and other neighboring states:

The objections to pushing democratic reform in the Arab world are by now familiar: it may create instability; it may empower Islamist parties; it may open more space for Iranian mischief by empowering Shiite minorities; it can undermine a legitimate opposition group by making its members appear beholden to Western ideas; and it may deprive the United States and Europe of reliable partners in counterterrorism. Yet the corrosive effects of political and economic exclusion in the region cannot be sustained—among them the legions of pent-up, angry young men, Islamist and otherwise. . . .

The practical rewards for promoting democracy in Arab societies may be uncertain and slow, if they come at all. There are significant risks, particularly if Egypt’s government were to fall to leaders who would abandon any alliance with Washington. But it is the right strategy—in principle and in pursuit of America’s national interests. Tunisians showed that the status quo in Arab politics is not stable. Sometimes, common sense is ample guidance in foreign policy: the United States must invest in populations, not in dictators.

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From Times Square to Tahrir Square

Tens of thousands of Egyptians and friends marched from Times Square to the United Nations building in New York City on Friday, Feb. 4, in solidarity with the struggle for freedom in Egypt.

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See also “Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America” (LNW 8/10)

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