Katrina: a somewhere else disaster

The federal government is slowly providing aid to the victims of the four day old tragedy in New Orleans, as if it was something in another country. Click2Houston.com carried a powerful piece on the desperation of New Orleans residents, combined with a scathing indictment of the feds by the city’s mayor:

Ray Nagin went on WWL Radio Thursday night to say the feds “don’t have a clue what’s going on.” He added, “Excuse my French — everybody in America — but I am pissed.” …Nagin…wants people to flood the offices of the president and the governor with letters calling for help. He thinks not enough is being done to help the evacuees. He said that federal officials “don’t have a clue what’s going on.” “Get off your ass and let’s do something and let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country [expletives restored],” Nagin said. “People are dying. They don’t have homes, they don’t have jobs. The city of New Orleans will never be the same. And it’s time.”

The mayor said he needs troops and hundreds of buses to get evacuees out. He said that it was laughable that some officials had mentioned possibly having school bus drivers brought to New Orleans to help with the evacuation. “I’m like, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ This is a national disaster, get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses to New Orleans,” he said. “This is a major, major, major deal.”

Nagin accused state and federal officials of “playing games” and “spinning for the cameras.” He said he keeps hearing that help is coming, but “there’s no beef.” He called for a moratorium on press conferences. He said he doesn’t want any more press conferences there until there is actual manpower on the ground helping his city. He said that he is tired of hearing that thousands of troops are on their way because they are just not there.

Since I can’t really add much to what’s already been written about this disaster, I’d like to point out some links to short pieces that bring out the important issues not being discussed enough in the mainstream. Lee Sustar wrote on the racism underlying the lukewarm relief effort and the tendency of poor people of color to suffer the worst. Glen Ford asked about how Black the “new New Orleans” will be. The New Standard had a nice piece on the complicity of the federal government in the lack of preparation for the disaster. Rahul Mahajan wrote about the Bush lukewarm response and linked to eyewitness interviews of the over 10,000 people trapped inside the New Orleans convention center. (One evacuee called it “genocide”.[1] ) Zeynep Toufe wrote about Bush’s skewed priorities towards insurance fraud.

Finally, people interested in supporting relief efforts can contribute to the Red Cross or Operation USA. As residents pick up the pieces and the inevitable push to get rid of the low-income stratum of the city takes hold, we should think about how to rally against this trend. The housing rights organization Acorn has set up a Hurricane Recovery Fund that intends to:

  1. Establish a temporary Headquarters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
  2. Reopen our New Orleans offices as soon as possible;
  3. As we reopen and rebuild, we will unite community members to face the challenges at hand:
    • Servicing the housing and credit needs of our communities;
    • Organizing to see that low income neighborhoods and families get the help the need.

Thanks to Jonathan Tasini for this link.

Warmongering North of the Border

Canadians are supposed to be peace-loving and nonviolent. At least that is the stereotype, promulgated in films like Bowling for Columbine, in which Michael Moore demonstrated lack of violent tendencies via unlocked doors and low handgun death rates. I wouldn’t be too quick to accept a few Moore-ian anecdotes as proof of the stereotype’s veracity, but it is certainly true that the Canadian government, being a lesser power compared to the United States, has not had quite as many imperial adventures. (Tho’, like the US, of course, Canada was founded on an imperialistic land theft.)

According to Canadian activist Justin Podur[1] , the Canadian military is beginning to emulate our own:

Canada has atrocious foreign policy, hate, fear, crime, punishment, and a beaten up social welfare system with socialized health care. Look south and look at the future. More atrocious foreign policy, more hate, more fear (terror, even), more crime, more punishment, and no health care.

Justin relays General Hillier’s comments on anti-US fighters in Afghanistan, referred to as “detestable murderers and scumbags.” I just read excerpts from a speech by Major General Andrew Leslie,[2] who makes the following points:

  1. Canada will be in Afghanistan militarily for a long time: “Afghanistan is a 20-year venture.”
  2. Canada will use military force to somehow help Afghanistan “break out of the cycle of warlords and tribalism.”
  3. A lot of people will be killed. “There are things worth fighting for. There are things worth dying for. There are things worth killing for…Your soldiers have done all three of those activities in the last 50 years. More of that activity is about to take place.”
  4. The anti-Canadian elements will be worth killing, since they are “predators … who wish to kill those whom we are charged to protect.”
  5. Canada will be the cause of more terrorism: “Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you’re creating 15 more who will come after you. You have to be prepared for the consequences.”

This bellicose buildup to a long-term Canadian military presence in Afghanistan is, I suspect, rhetorical preparation for the eventual takeover of US “security operations” in Afghanistan by NATO in 2006.[3] The handover of power is as yet vaguely defined. What is certain, current US operations in Afghanistan are not bringing security, and, judging by Canadian rhetoric, neither will future NATO operations.

Linknotes:

  1. The Killing Train – Justin Podur’s Blog
  2. Toronto Star
  3. Agence France-Presse

Wait a Minute, Man

The Minuteman Project (Wikipedia) has been dealt a couple of blows in recent weeks. For example, anti-racist demonstrations in opposition to the group have been building up steam. A protest in New Mexico (Associated Press) drew hundreds. (For more on the movement against the MM, see SouthWest Action to Resist the Minutemen). In addition, local and national officials have distanced themselves from the project, if not from its intentions. The chairman of the Democratic Party in Hidalgo County, Texas (KGBT Television) announced his party’s opposition to the Minutemen operating in the state. The head of the Texas branch of the Minutemen quit (Houston Chronicle – unavailable without subscription) (Alternate link), claiming that the group was even more racist than he expected and he doesn’t want his “name and my reputation associated with a group of people who are racist like that.” I don’t doubt for a second that the man who invited the group into his state in the first place must have been highly supportive of the project’s racist objectives. He probably realized that the Minutemen are not good enough at covering up their racism. I think this is the reason why the Homeland Security Dept backed away (Washington Post) from earlier statements of a Border Patrol official that “we welcome the eyes and ears of citizens who help us gain control of our borders”, implying that the Minutemen were a good model for a volunteer corps of Border Patrol (Los Angeles Times – registration required).

The primary goal of the Minuteman project is keeping the borders secure from “illegal immigrants,” the same as US Border Patrol. The racism and hypocrisy of such a project is much more obvious in the Minutemen, allowing us to shine a light on the unsavory aspects of US immigration policy.

Reading the Minuteman offical web site (http://www.minutemanhq.com), the group’s racist underpinnings are smothered in misappropriated leftist language (“You are reading this because you believe that you can actively participate in one of the most important, socially responsible, and peaceful movements for justice since the civil rights movement of the 1960s”) and admonitions to follow the law (“we will display the highest level of restraint, thus proving we are responsible citizens and that our character is consistent with our ability to stay within the boundaries of the law”). But let’s face it. The boundaries of current law are not too kind to people who cross the US border unannounced.

Like US Border Patrol, the Minutemen are not interested in analyzing or fixing the conditions that lead to criminalized border crossings, which would be the case if they were truly building a “movement for justice.” Truth be told, the Minutemen and others of their ilk don’t really care about justice. At its core, the project plays on the fear of loss of white privilege to the brown non-English speakers to the south. Uncontrolled immigration is synonymous with “invasion” in the group’s tracts. The racist logic is declaimed in passages like the following from the US Border Control website (not a govt department, like US Border Patrol):

At the current rate of invasion the United States will be completely over run with ILLEGAL aliens by the year 2025…only 21 years away. ILLEGAL aliens and their offspring will be the dominant population in the U.S. and will have made such inroads into the political and social systems that “they” will have more influence than our Constitution over how the U.S. is governed. The ugly consequence of an ignored U.S. Constitution is already taking place.

Future generations will inherit this mutated form of the United States of America, consisting of 100 different sub-nations, speaking 100 different languages, and promoting 100 different cultural agendas. That will certainly guarantee the death of this nation as a “melting pot”. Instead, it will be tantamount to a sack of marbles…with each marble colliding with the other marbles, as each culture scrambles for dominance of its culture over all others.

The final result: political and social mayhem.

Historians will write about how a lax America let its unique and coveted form of government and society sink into a quagmire of mutual acrimony among the various sub-nations that will comprise the new self-destructing America.

Compare this with the writings of a certain German chancellor:

For hundreds of years Germany was good enough to receive these elements [Jews], although they possessed nothing except infectious political and physical diseases. What they possess today, they have by a very large extent gained at the cost of the less astute German nation by the most reprehensible manipulations…

We are resolved to prevent the settlement in our country of a strange people which was capable of snatching for itself all the leading positions in the land, and to oust it…German culture, as its name alone shows, is German and not Jewish, and therefore its management and care will be entrusted to members of our own nation.

-Adolf Hitler, speech 1939

***

…there lives amongst us a non­ German, alien race which neither wishes nor is able to sacrifice its racial character or to deny its feeling, thinking, and striving. Nevertheless, it possesses all the political rights we do…

-Adolf Hitler, Letter to Adolf Gemlich, 1919

The “About Us” web page of the Official Minuteman Civil Defense Corps says:

You are considering joining the Minuteman… because you feel your government owes the citizens of the United States protection from people who wish to take advantage of a free society.

Compare this to Adolf Hitler’s response to the League of Nations High Commissioner for German refugees about the expulsions of Jews:

As to the Jews, why should there be such a fuss when they are thrown out of places, when hundreds of thousands of Aryan Germans are out on the streets?

Then of course, there is the name. The original 1700s Minutemen were the civil defense corps in the breakaway British colonies of the early United States. Most of them would have been termed illegal immigrants or the children of them if such an expression existed in Native American culture. Clearly, a “unique and coveted form of government and society” under the American Indians was destroyed to accomodate the settlement of different “sub-nations” (states) by Europeans. What is more, most of the current white residents of the border states California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, including the membership of the Minuteman Project, are even more newly-arrived descendants of “illegals.”

The way in which the Mexican border states became part of the United States is particularly instructive and ironic in the light of the Minuteman fear of “invasion” by Mexicans. Texas, for example, became part of the United States when Anglo-Saxon slaveowners migrated in droves in the early 1800s and revolted against the Mexican government, which owned the land at the time and had outlawed slavery. This gave slaveowners more weight in the US government, and was criticized violently by non-slaveowners. An 1845 pamphlet published by the Anti-Texass Legion makes it pretty clear why Texas was settled by whites:

It is susceptible of the clearest demonstration, that the immediate cause, and the leading object of this contest [the war with Mexico], originated in a settled design, among the slaveholders of this country, (with land speculators and slave-traders,) to wrest the large and valuable territory of Texas from the Mexican republic, in order to re-establish the SYSTEM OF SLAVERY; to open a vast and profitable SLAVE MARKET therein; and ultimately to annex it to the United States. And further, it is evident–nay, it is very generally acknowledged–that the insurrectionists are principally citizens of the United states, who have proceeded thither for the purpose of revolutionizing the country…[emphasis in original]

A piece by Theodore Sedgwick described the type of person that migrated to Mexican Texas from the United States, sounding like a Minuteman Project demagogue:

[Texas] received, commencing in 1821, the period of Moses Austin’s grant, a very considerable American or Anglo-Saxon population. That population was at the outset of a very desperate character. In August 1817, Mr. Chew, Collector of New Orleans, writes to Mr. Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury, of “the most shameful violations of the slave act, as well as of our revenue laws, practiced by a motely mixture of freebooters and smugglers established at Galveston.”

(Check out “Debates and Documents Relating to the Annexation of Texas” for more info.)

The Minuteman Project is obviously crude and crass and intellectually easy to dismiss. But the project really only wants the government to “do its job.” The group is more honest about its reasons for controlling immigration than is the government, hence the fear that the US Border Patrol has of associating with them. The Minutemen should really be seen as a manifestation of the true racist, nationalist, and proto-fascist heart of US immigration policy.

Overthrowing Uzbekistan?

We may be seeing the seeds of another “revolution” in a post-Soviet state, courtesy of the US State Department.

In what the Boston Globe calls walking the “diplomatic tightrope,” US officials have agreed to consider asylum requests for refugees from Uzbekistan fleeing after the violent crackdown in Andijan in May. Uzbekistan has been an important ally of the US because it allows the use of one of the first US airbases in Central Asia, and because the US renders its terrorist “suspects” to the country’s torturers for interrogation and detention (New York Times). If it decides to validate asylum cases, Washington would be openly working against the govermnent of president Islam Karimov, not to mention publicly admitting that the crackdown contained human rights violations and political persecution.

While the State Department’s human rights reports have been relatively truthful on the atrocious record of Karimov, the US government in general was rather kind to the despot awarding him military aid and apologist rhetoric for his services. Until recently, the State Department’s Background Notes on Uzbekistan called the country “a strong supporter of US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and of the global war against terror….[The US] values Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region.” (Reference to the earlier version of the notes can be found in Asia Times.) Now, the notes (updated July) assert:

U.S.-Uzbek relations have flourished in recent years but have become strained over the Uzbek’s actions in Andijan in 2005…The tumultuous events in Andijan in 2005 and the subsequent U.S. condemnation of President Karimov’s actions render the future relationship between the nations uncertain. In June 2005, Karimov refused U.S. demands for a formal investigation of the Andijan massacre, exacerbating the divide between the two nations. To maintain strong relations, the United States urges greater reform in Uzbekistan to promote long-term stability and prosperity. Registration of independent political parties and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) would be an important step.

The State Department calling US-Uzbek relations “strained” is more than just an attempt to assuage human rights and congressional critics of Bush’s cozy relationship with Karimov. The revised State Department language reflects a new reality. Karimov has recently said he might “evict” the US from its base at Karshi-Khanabad (ISN Security Watch), and has been showing unusual closeness with regional powers Russia and China (see earlier post). Russia is most openly offering its unconditional support to the Karimov regime, saying that outsiders should avoid “any one-sided assessment [of the Andijan events] which has only political considerations” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). Russian president Vladimir Putin furthermore agreed with Karimov that the Andijan uprisings were staged from “specially prepared bases in Afghanistan.” Karimov asserted that the demonstrations were “prepared in headquarters and centers where there are people who have carried out operations like this before on the territory of both CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] and other states.” In other words, the US fomented the demonstrations, like it did in the Ukraine (the Guardian) and Kyrgyzstan (Wikinews).

There is more than just alarmist talk in these accusations. It may not be the case that the US fomented the demonstrations in Andijan, but the State Department has made it clear that “long term stability and prosperity” can only be maintained in the country if “Registration of independent political parties and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” takes place. It’s not obvious if this is a threat, or just an assessment, but it looks like a little of both. According to the Washington Post,

The administration hopes to reach out to Karimov by month’s end to stress the importance of the U.S.-Uzbek strategic partnership — which has blossomed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — while urging the authoritarian government to make a stark political choice so it does not meet the fate of the three other former Soviet republics [Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia], U.S. officials say.

“We hope one last push will get Karimov to see that repression leads to instability and the only way out is to embrace freedom. Otherwise, he’s on a descending spiral,” said a senior U.S. official involved with Central Asian policy who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy.

This echoes an analysis in Jane’s Intelligence Review (RFE/RL) that “Uzbekistan is now spiraling irretrievably towards violent regime change.”

It is quite possible that the US government is seriously considering supporting the anti-government movement in Uzbekistan, or has done so already, and is using this as a bargaining chip with Karimov. Washington is certainly warning Karimov that unless he does as he is told, the US will do nothing to stop an inevitable regime change.

“Change to Win” May Do Just That

In my earlier post I expressed the fear that the formation of the new Change to Win labor coalition might split the labor movement so much that in its already weak state it would fragment. It’s impossible to predict one way or the other, but I’m slowly coming around to a more hopeful view and I’ll give my reasons below. First of all, I should re-emphasize that I am somewhat naive and untutored on the US labor movement. But I do believe that an anti-corporate, internationalist domestic polity based on solidarity is a necessary condition for a world order that respects human rights and true democracy, not to mention produces a just and equitable society. The Change to Win coalition promotes this kind of polity, in an institutional setting in which millions of US workers are engaged. That alone should garner the support (or at least the interest) of US progressives.

But of course the real question is: While the coalition works towards building “a movement for working people that can confront and restrain corporate power in both the workplace and the community,” (from the coalition’s Constitution) and ensuring “that global corporations respect [international] workers’ freedom to form unions and negotiate agreements that raise living standards toward their highest level”; and while the coalition works towards ending “Wal-Martization” (“a global phenomenon” for which “a global approach is required,” according to the group’s manifesto)– will the coalition be contributing to the breakup of the already weak US labor movement?

Some say yes, and I focused on that side of things in my previous post. My particular fear came from the statement by Business Week that “a split in the labor movement would be a boon to corporate America.” Clearly, this is a true statement. But I allowed myself to see through corporate eyes, which perceived that trying something different will lead to a split in the movement. This might not be the case at all.

Jonathan Tasini, who operates the Working Life website says that the media are interpreting the formation of the new coalition as a “split” perhaps prematurely and in general are not asking the right questions.

[N]ot a single reporter asked about any of the organizing plans the new coalition has afoot. The answer might have been–we’re still working on that. But, heck, ask the question. Because the media rarely spends this much energy on labor issues, consumers of the information have no context in which to understand the complexities of how the labor movement operates (or doesn’t operate).

Those making the most of the potential split are “16th Street [AFL-CIO headquarters]…, …a small circle of labor leaders and activists, and…the press.” Tasini proposes the following scenario:

[What if] the Change To Win Coalition actually is able to try some interesting campaigns or projects. Maybe one or more unions leaves the AFL-CIO and the coalition evolves into a new umbrella. It should, then, be judged on its success or failure. If it succeeds, workers have more power. If it fails, it goes away or becomes irrelevant. End of story.

Sound worth a try to me.

And it’s not so clear to me that the business community is rubbing its hands with glee at the new coalition’s founding. Tasini published a memo by union-busting law firm Morgan Lewis that warns its clients

It is now likely that next month’s [AFL-CIO] convention will be a watershed event. The Change To Win Coalition unions say they are planning to submit a series of resolutions and constitutional amendments designed to create a labor movement of “real power and true strength” for employees…

What happens next will begin to define the future of the labor movement, and could significantly impact employers. If the Coalition’s members follow through on their threats to disaffiliate from the Federation later this year, employers can expect an increased interest in union organizing. This could be especially true for the nation’s largest non-union employers [read: Walmart]. For employers with existing unionized workforces, this means increased pressure to execute some form of neutrality and card-check recognition agreement. For employers with unions from both competing factions at their facilities, competition for better wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment is likely… The last several years also have seen a significant increase in the amount of collaboration between U.S.-based unions and their international counterparts. That collaboration could increase significantly. Finally, more union mergers should be forthcoming.

This is encouraging. What is also encouraging is that this movement to reform or leave AFL-CIO is being led by the SEIU, a union which has had incredible success in recent years, particularly in my home state of California. While overall US union membership has decreased from 35% of the workforce in the 1950s to about 10% today, the SEIU has tripled its membership in the past 25 years. Monday’s LA Times, gave a brief overview of some of the SEIU’s successes. For example, the well-known Justice for Janitors grassroots organizing and solidarity campaign which brought together thousands of poor workers to fight for their rights.

Since taking to the streets of Los Angeles with massive protests in the mid-1990s, …Local 1877 has grown to represent 28,000 janitors throughout the state [of California]. Most have won substantial raises and fully paid family health insurance under new contracts.

Similar campaigns have been waged for workers in hospitals, nursing homes, building security, commercial laundries and tourism — all areas that are likely to expand in the service economy.

Each one started with a carefully considered game plan that examined the strengths and weaknesses of entire industries and the major players in them. The unions then looked for ways to help cooperative employers while pressuring those who resisted in every way they could — working with political and community allies behind the scenes, staging attention-getting public protests, contacting customers and suppliers of targeted employers, running boycotts and sometimes launching well-financed strikes.

The goal typically was to win an agreement from employers to not fight the union’s attempt to sign up members.

Not all efforts have panned out. Faced with rising healthcare costs and intense competitive pressures, and convinced that a union would only add to their burdens, many employers are determined to keep organizers out.

But the campaigns that have succeeded prove that organized labor can grow even in a tough political and economic environment…

It’s possible that the new coalition may succeed where the ponderous AFL-CIO has failed. Rather than splintering unionized employees into two increasingly powerless and adversarial camps, maybe the formation of the new coalition will force the AFL-CIO to change to stay afloat. Regardless, the SEIU has already shown that it can increase the quantity of union members, improve the democratic and grassroots quality of union activism, and build solidarity across borders. These elements of the Change to Win manifesto are prerequisites for a better society at home and a dismantling of the US corporate-imperial juggernaut abroad.

The “Invisible Hand” of the Market

The Financial Times was recently caught purveying a new kind of advertisement on its web site — invisible ads! (New York Times, Alternate Link) The ads consisted of links to other commercial sites, printed in white on a white background. Harmless you might think, but think again. The ads aren’t for human visitors to the sites, but for web search engine programs like Google that travel the web and rank some pages by (among other things) the number of external links to them by “trusted sites” like the FT.

Ken McGaffin, in an article on how he discovered the FT’s hidden links, explained:

Google will regard a site such as FT.com as a trusted authority and any site that FT.com links to will get a significant boost to its ranking. The site will move towards the top of search engine results, bringing more visitors and more lucrative business as a result.

So the FT was servicing its advertisers by building up the likelihood that web searches would pull up their sites, which violates Google’s “quality guidelines.” The Financial Times pleaded ignorance. A spokesperson for the newspaper said (New York Times):

the invisibility had been a matter of aesthetics. “They just didn’t want to clog up the real estate with an overt link,” she said. “As soon as we figured out it was something we weren’t supposed to do, we took it right down immediately.”

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether or not to believe this.

McGaffin runs a “link building and online marketing service,” LinkingMatters.com, which helps companies make money off of links. The company’s web site holds that

Link building should be at the heart of any online marketing campaign. Here’s why:

  1. Links drive qualified traffic to your site.
  2. Links improve your search engine rankings.
  3. Links establish your market position.

Apparently the Financial Times took this advice to heart, but in a way that the company McGaffin was consulting for decried as “unfair competition.” Consider it the “invisible hand” of the market…

Thanks to Angsuman Chakraborty for bringing my attention to this.

Khalilzad Targeted

Yesterday’s averted plot to kill US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (Washington Post) shows that anti-US forces in Afghanistan (and in Pakistan, the alleged base of the assassins) are getting smarter. No longer are they targeting the puppet, Afghan president Hamid Karzai, but the man who holds the strings.

Still in confirmation hearings in the Senate for the post of Ambassador to Iraq, Khalilzad leaves behind a legacy of dirty dealings and democracy thwarting in Afghanistan. The New Standard has a nice profile of his career. In my April article I argued that a Khalilzad move to Iraq might be an attempt by Bush et al. to bring the country under control using uncharacteristic subtlety and diplomacy. If Khalilzad uses the same tactics that proved so useful to US power in Afghanistan, the country’s politics may look a lot more like those of Afghanistan when he’s done. A possible scenario, I wrote, is that he might “with one hand build up the Islamists until they are seen as more of a threat to the Iraqi people than the US military; with the other strengthen the US position with more moderate elements and justify its continued occupation.” Iraq doesn’t have entrenched fundamentalist warlords like Afghanistan yet, but it isn’t so unrealistic a thought anymore.

At the same time, in terms of public reaction to the US presence, Afghanistan is beginning to look a lot more like Iraq. Anti-US violence and demonstrations in Afghanistan have been increasing steadily in the run-up to the Parliamentary elections scheduled this October. Parts of the country look a lot like they did pre-9/11, with pieces of land being conquered by the Taliban, only to have it taken back by the US and the Afghan army (Reuters). Added to this are attacks on Afghans working with foreign agencies and on election workers. These elections are much more contentious than the presidential elections, since most warlords consoled themselves with the thought that they could form a nice legitimate “opposition party” (like the one run by second-place presidential candidate Yunus Qanooni) and strong-arm their way into parliament using local clout and threats. For more on the situation of political parties in Afghanistan, see “Political Parties in Afghanistan” by the International Crisis Group.

This reported in the Associated Press:

On Monday, U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said foreign militants backed by networks channeling them money and arms had come into Afghanistan to try to subvert the elections. He said that for “operational security reasons” he could not identify the networks or who was backing them.

“Through our intelligence, working with the government of Afghanistan, we have identified outside influences coming in here to Afghanistan and trying to instill fear in this country,” he said at a news conference.

This reported by Voice of America:

U.S. military spokesman Colonel James Yonts, speaking in Kabul Monday, said foreign groups have been responsible for recent attacks in Afghanistan.

“There does exist proof of outside influences here in Afghanistan trying to establish a base…,” he said.

Obviously the Americans and the would-be Khalilzad assassins are on the same page – both are fighting “outside influence” in Afghanistan. As is usually the case, both seem to have forgotten the Afghan people.

Divided they Stand…or Fall

The formation of a new coalition of 5 unions within the AFL-CIO looks like it may have serious consequences for the US labor movement. I admit to being out of my league when it comes to the politics of labor, but from what I’ve been reading, if the “Change to Win coalition” follows through with its threat to leave the AFL-CIO, it is probably not going to benefit US workers in the long run. Labor in the US is already so fragmented (unions represent about 12% of all workers, and 8% of those in the private sector) that a split of this size (the coalition represents about 35% of AFL-CIO membership) might precipitate further collapse.

In Los Angeles, labor would become extremely divided, according to the Los Angeles Times:

If a split indeed goes forward, the implications for local labor are huge. The dissident unions represent more than half the members of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, including thousands of militant, recently organized immigrant workers. The county federation, a local body of the AFL-CIO, would be financially crushed if it lost dues from those unions.

I still don’t feel I know enough about this to predict the implications for US progressive/antiwar/left movements. My first reaction was, this will shake up the stodgy AFL-CIO, whose national has been extremely compliant with Bush administration policy regarding the war in Iraq (although local branches, such as Philadelphia, have condemned it). One critic in the International Labor Communications Association noted that, during the election campaign last year, the union

had nothing to say to the millions of union voters who were deeply concerned about national security and had disturbing questions about what the Bush administration was doing in Iraq.

Some 5,000 union staff people were deployed to work full-time in the major battleground states, with instructions to stick to domestic issues. The unions distributed 32 million leaflets, but they contained not a word about the war or the problems of homeland security.

This is in marked contrast to the behavior of the SEIU, the largest union inside the AFL-CIO, and one of the members of the new Change to Win coalition. Last year, the SEIU called for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Unfortunately, the platform of the new coalition, like the AFL-CIO it is meant to influence, is also silent on Iraq. It does make some sensible points about lack of union membership being the key impediment to labor power in the US, and the need to put more resources into expanding the number of members. It also recommends that the AFL-CIO should work harder to coordinate between unions in the same sector “to deter the ‘race to the bottom’ caused by employers seeking to use one affiliate as a means of protection from another.” This includes ensuring “that global corporations respect workers’ freedom to form unions and negotiate agreements that raise living standards toward their highest level” and building “global labor unity to fight for trade agreements that improve labor, worker rights, and environmental standards.” The SEIU’s internationalist approach is at least evident in one respect.

A thorough analysis of the potential changes caused by a possible labor split would include an examination from the perspective of the owners and managers. Business Week paints a not-so-pleasant picture of the possible outcome:

A splintered labor movement would be a boon to Corporate America and the GOP. While unions continue to shrink as a share of the U.S. workforce, they still sign up hundreds of thousands of new members every year. Warring camps could undercut those efforts if unions raid each other for members, as officials on both sides threaten to do.

A breakup would also undermine labor’s vaunted political machine. Its ability to bring millions of union voters to the polls in recent elections has been one of Sweeney’s chief successes. Already the unhappy unions have demanded that the AFL-CIO remove their members from its master list of names, which has been crucial to labor’s mammoth get-out-the-vote election drives. Since labor typically swings Democratic, a division of the house would probably weaken opposition to President George W. Bush and other Republicans.

In refusing to mention Iraq in its last election drive, the AFL-CIO may already have “weakened opposition” to Bush et al. It is not clear that the new coalition will be any better in that regard.

Debt Relief – Should We be Relieved?

The late breaking announcement that the US and UK have agreed on the cancellation of the debt for 18 mostly African countries should be seen as the successful culmination of years of activism. At the same time, it would be foolhardy not to see this as only a small piece of a larger struggle fought by democratic forces against the corporate imperialism of the United States and its allies.

The British government-sponsored Commission for Africa Report blames Africans for most of their problems: “internal factors have been the primary culprit for Africa’s economic stagnation or decline over the past three decades.” Then the report mentions that “external forces have been an important influence too,” including the debt “incurred by dictators…who were supported during the Cold War by the very countries now receiving debt repayment.”

The decision to cancel the debt should be publicized as an admission that the loans were never legitimate, but were given under “odious” circumstances. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Since the United States has already persuaded other countries to forgive loans made to Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the logic goes, then debts made under other former dictatorships, from Nigeria to the Philippines, deserve similar treatment.”

“We are looking for 100 percent debt cancellation without conditions,” said Marie Clarke, national coordinator of Jubilee USA Network. When the rich aid the poor, however, it is never a case of “no conditions.” In a June 7 press conference with George W. Bush, Tony Blair made it clear that the debt relief package “is a two-way commitment” between “the African leadership” and its benefactors. “What we’re not going to do is waste our country’s money,” he said. Associated Press quotes him as adding, “It’s not a something-for-nothing deal.” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, “We believe that it’s very important that in return for getting this kind of assistance, this debt relief, that those countries need to be moving forward on good governance and transparency and rule of law, and promoting economic growth, free market policies.”

The main instrument that the US uses to enforce “free market policies” in Africa is the so-called “African Growth and Opportunity Act.” Any debt relief for African countries should be seen in the context of this piece of legislation. Among other things, the AGOA is a subtle push to weaken the African textile and apparel industries and force African countries to produce items which do not compete with those made in the US. The AGOA allows unlimited exports of textiles from Africa, provided they are made from fabrics and threads produced in the US, but the Act limits the amount of exports made from fabrics produced in Africa or elsewhere. African-made fabrics will not be allowed at all after 2008. And just in case the African industries get too successful, a “tariff snapback” allows the US to impose tariffs on African textiles “in the event that a surge in imports…causes serious damage or threat …to domestic [US] industry.”

AGOA came online under the Clinton administration, about 8 years before the 2005 expiration on WTO quotas on textile trade. This end of quotas makes it harder for African producers to compete with the mass production abilities of more advanced industries in China, India, and other Asian countries. The US Trade Representative’s 2005 report on AGOA insists that “AGOA-eligible countries must move beyond apparel and diversify their exports to maximize AGOA benefits by producing any of the over 6,000 products eligible for duty-free treatment.” The US is not only dictating economic policy for African nations, but what industries they should shift to.

Meanwhile, apparel manufacturers are cutting wages and firing workers in an effort to stay competitive . In the case of Kenya, according to the East African Standard, “relatively high wages coupled with high-energy costs, …have fast edged out Kenya from the lucrative US market.” This business perspective on Kenyan wages contrasts with the fact that, in the poorly-regulated “Export Processing Zones” set up under AGOA, workers earn as little as $2 a day. The Nation (Nairobi) noted in 2003 that “strikes by Export Processing Zones employees have raised questions about the Government’s stand on labour interests against the need to attract foreign investment.”

If current events are anything to go on, foreign investment is a much higher priority for the Kenyan government than labor interests. The following is from a press release of the Kenyan Association of Manufacturers (KAM):

“Now that the quota is no more, it is important to take steps to reduce the cost of doing business in Kenya by 20% to ensure that there are enough firms located in Kenya to attract buyers from the US,” asserts KAM chief executive, Ms. Betty Maina.

Singling out labour as the highest production cost, the sector is asking the government to freeze ceremonial wage increases announced on Labour Day and be allowed to introduce performance-based piece-rate wages…

The apparel manufacturers add that labour productivity is affected by unprogressive attitude of trade unions that promotes withholding of labour, under-performance and a tendency to seek increased payments through over-times without commensurate productivity.

The Kenyan government recently complied with KAM’s demand and rescinded its annual minimum wage increase:

the [apparel] sector received respite when the finance minister revealed the government has applied the brakes on the annual wage increment, which had threatened to drag the firms to their deathbed. [East African Standard]

In addition the Kenyan apparel sector recently cut 2000 jobs. If I were optimistic, I would hope that the debt relief would free up government money to restore the wage increase and the lost jobs. More realistically the money will probably be used to “reduce the cost of doing business in Kenya by 20%” and accomplish other “free market reforms.”

Class Warfare: Rich versus Hyper-Rich

Guess who’s upset about the widening income gap…

The New York Times had a good analysis yesterday of the incomes of Americans and their relationship to Bush administration tax cuts. The piece includes a nice set of graphics showing the growing category of “hyper-rich” (the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers by income) that are leaving even the “merely rich” (top 10 percent) behind in terms of their share of the national income and the lower fraction of the tax burden they pay, both of which are at levels not seen since the 1920s.

The Times revised a Treasury Department computer model that did not “look in detail fine enough to differentiate among those within the top 1 percent,” something considered important to the Times’ editors. You see, the top 10 percent who receive 44 percent of the national income were getting a bad name. The real problem-people, it appears, are the 145,000 millionaires in the top 0.1 percent (the top 1000th). According to the article,

The share of the nation’s income earned by those in this uppermost category [0.1 percent] has more than doubled since 1980, to 7.4 percent in 2002. The share of income earned by the rest of the top 10 percent rose far less, and the share earned by the bottom 90 percent fell.

This is very important information, and the fact that the Times finds it important suggests a growing resentment on the part of the “merely rich,” (which I would guess would be the primary readership of the newspaper) to the growing wealth and power of the “hyper-rich” that benefit the most from the Bush administration’s policies. The Times sounds downright bitter:

The Bush administration tax cuts stand to widen the gap between the hyper-rich and the rest of America. The merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, will shoulder a disproportionate share of the tax burden. [Emphasis added]

Though it’s right to see the hyper-rich as despicable cutthroats catered to by Bush, the author David Cay Johnston appears to forget that the merely rich also benefit from the current system that allows concentrated ownership and rewards privilege and wealth. The only argument he gives for the possible problems with having a hyper-rich upper class is that of “some of the wealthiest Americans,” who

have warned that such a concentration of wealth can turn a meritocracy into an aristocracy and ultimately stifle economic growth by putting too much of the nation’s capital in the hands of inheritors rather than strivers and innovators.

The piece is part of a 9-day series of articles in the New York Times on class, but only a few of the articles (those on education and immigration, in particular) really say anything about the pain and suffering felt by the poorest Americans, caused by the obscene concentration of wealth. For example, the 2004 Hunger and Homelessness survey of the US Conference of Mayors, which found that in the 27 cities surveyed, (1) requests for emergency food assistance increased 14 percent from 2003; and (2) requests for housing assistance went up by about 7 percent.

The article, and most of the series, treats mainly the top 50 percent of income holders. The bottom half is ignored, unless lumped together with the rest of “the bottom 90 percent.” For example,

From 1950 to 1970, …for every additional dollar earned by the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162…From 1990 to 2002, for every extra dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, each taxpayer at the top brought in an extra $18,000.

I applaud the newspaper for doing the series. This much of the truth is rarely seen in the mainstream media. And it exposes the elitism behind Bush tax policy. The problem is, it feels like the authors want us to identify with the so-called “strivers and innovators” in the second 9.9 percent, the owners, who ultimately came about their wealth by investments, i.e., much the same means as the hyper-rich. None of these people have any problem with the current system per-se, they just don’t want to be shouldering more of the tax burden than the hyper-rich.

If the merely rich engage in a class struggle with the hyper-rich, can we hope to see the passage of New Deal type social programs, reversing the losses of the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s? Will this extremely constrained class struggle open the door to a more egalitarian politics, and ultimately lead to a more equitable distribution of wealth and ownership? The answers to those questions will probably depend on whether or not there is an organized popular movement supporting these, and more radical goals.