Support the struggle of prisoners in Georgia

Recent years have seen repeated protests and hunger strikes in US penitentiaries, as prisoners in the world’s largest and most brutal system of incarceration desperately attempt to highlight the consistent use of solitary confinement as a form of torture, together with a sea of other abuses which, had they taken place anywhere else on the planet, would have resulted in an international outcry. The persistence of protesters in California has succeeded in galvanising some national and international attention; however similar actions in Georgia have been largely ignored. In December 2010 tens of thousands of Georgia prisoners participated in the biggest work strike in US prison history, alongside a hunger strike (see ‘Georgia prison strike’ in FRFI 219). There were further protests in 2011 and earlier this year. FRFI has received a letter from Tamarkus Wright, setting out the background to the February/ March 2014 protest in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison/Special Management Unit (GDCP/SMU).

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United States: Low-paid workers rebel /FRFI! 239 Jun/Jul 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

According to official census statistics, in 2012, the official US poverty rate was 15 per cent, with some 46.5 million people living in poverty. Most of the adults counted in these figures are ‘working poor’ – employed, but paid a very low wage. Official inflation figures do not represent real changes in the cost of living, and the cost of living index has been manipulated for political reasons. Independent statisticians calculate that the real inflation rate is about three percentage points higher than the official rate. It is therefore no surprise that low-paid workers are fighting back. Our US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.

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Review: Shackled and Chained – Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America

Eugene Puryear, PSL Publications, 2013

A great deal has been written in recent years about the US prison and criminal justice system. Much simply graphically describes the absolute horror of torture and death which exists at the heart of the world’s largest ‘democracy’, exposing death row, solitary confinement, mandatory minimum sentencing, juvenile detention and so on, while some commentators try to explain how US society got to the point where a staggering 7.1 million people are either in prison or being monitored by the criminal justice system (on probation, parole etc).

Eugene Puryear writes from an overt Marxist perspective and Shackled and Chained locates mass incarceration squarely in the framework of the development of US capitalism, as well as exposing the key role of ‘liberals’ and the Democratic Party in making mass imprisonment the norm in late 20th and 21st century USA. Writing in a non-academic and accessible style, the author also seeks to debunk a range of right-wing ‘theories of crime’ and critiques some popular liberal view on mass incarceration, in particular the prevalent idea of the ‘prison industrial complex’.

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Obama’s immigration dragnet/ FRFI 238 Apr/May 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014

Family members of those detained inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., rallied outside the facility on Monday in solidarity with detainees on hunger strike.

On 7 March, 1,200 immigration detainees at the North West Detention Centre in Tacoma, Washington State, began a hunger strike, demanding an end to deportations and the separation of families, better food, medical care and wages for work inside the prison, where they currently receive just $1 a day for their labour. STEVE PALMER reports from the US on the struggle against Obama’s repressive immigration policies.

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The phoney US recovery

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

According to the people who decide these things, the US economy has been recovering since June 2009. At first glance the economy does seem to be improving. Unemployment is down from 10% in October 2009 to 6.7% in December 2013. GDP rose at a 4.1% annual rate during the third quarter of last year. Housing starts in 2013 were some 18.3% up on 2012 and house prices increased by over 7%. The S&P 500 stock index closed the year at its highest ever level of 1846.87, up 31.8% over the year. Yet something is not quite right with this rosy picture. STEVE PALMER reports.

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Obamacare debacle / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

‘Capitalist apologists are always trumpeting the supposed efficiencies of “competitive capitalism” compared to the supposedly “inefficient”, “bureaucratic” practices of socialism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of $2.5 trillion of US health spending in 2009, a staggering 31% ($765bn) was wasted.’

In mid-October, following a bitter battle over fiscal issues and a Republican-led government shutdown, polls showed that 50% of registered voters would vote Democrat, and 42% Republican. Democrats were smugly discussing taking back the House of Representatives in next year’s elections. Now, a month later, polls show 47% voting for Democrats and 49% for Republicans – a huge 10% swing. What happened? Steve Palmer reports from the United States.

What happened was that healthcare.gov, the internet portal for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – also known as ‘Obamacare’ – went live, or at least attempted to, on 1 October. In the first four days, 8.1 million Americans visited the site to obtain information about health insurance or to sign up. The administration had expected 50,000-60,000; testing the day before the launch showed that the site would grind to a halt with just 1,100 users. Users had great difficulty simply registering, and even more when they attempted to sign up for an insurance option.

It eventually emerged that just 26,794 had enrolled for insurance in the first month of operation. The total number expected to enrol by the original deadline of 15 February 2014 – 12 million people – would, at this rate, be able to complete enrolment by March 2050. The administration is putting on a brave face and attempting to present the website problems as just a temporary technical glitch, which will soon be solved.

In fact the problems with the website are just one part of the problems which Obamacare is creating. These problems go much deeper, to the very impossibility of ever being able to create a capitalist healthcare system which provides decent care to the entire population throughout their whole life. None of the national health systems which operate in the other imperialist countries are fully privatised. They were established in the years immediately following the Second World War, when the Soviet Union, which had universal healthcare, enjoyed enormous popular prestige; when the working class movement was immeasurably stronger than it is today, and capitalism was still recovering from the devastation of war. Just as the achievement of the 10-hour day in the 19th century was a progressive reform, so with the establishment of the national health systems, as Marx put it, ‘the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class’.

To a limited extent, capitalists do have an interest in the welfare of their workers: they want them to be fit enough to do the work required. However, capital has no interest in the welfare of the unemployed, the disabled or those who are retired. It is the provision of universal healthcare, even in its distorted capitalist form, that represented this victory of the ‘political economy of the working class’. Since this expenditure is unproductive, financed out of capitalist profits, the capitalist state organises the system in a way that minimises costs and strives to reduce the scope of services. The service is financed by a combination of social insurance, taxation and fees. Social insurance originated in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, but was only fully universal after the Second World War. The existence of such large-scale financing enables the state to control costs as a result of its market power, reducing the cost of drugs and equipment.

The history and situation of the United States is radically different. The system of insurance that grew up was employer-based, essentially a risk-based insurance scheme to minimise absence from work for medical reasons. During the Second World War, there was a huge shortage of labour and, while wages were strictly controlled, employers competed for workers by the provision of benefits. The post-war anti-communist hysteria, prevented any possibility of true social insurance. As a consequence, there was an established system of private health insurance. In addition, the physicians, organized in the American Medical Association, fought hard to prevent any ‘government interference’ in healthcare, and capitalism was given free rein.

A completely capitalist healthcare system is inevitably more expensive – profits have to be made; huge amounts have to be spent on sales, marketing and accounting that are unnecessary in a socialist system; medically unnecessary treatments are carried out because they make money. Overall, it is highly inefficient: primary and preventive care is much less profitable than other activities, but the absence of such care increases the demand for more expensive treatments later to ameliorate the consequences. Finance capital gets its cut through issuing insurance policies. The priority is selling a commodity, healthcare, at a profit – not on keeping everyone healthy. Like any other commodity, if you can’t afford it, you go without: 48 million people in the US, some 15.4% of the population, are uninsured; it is estimated that this results in 45,000-48,000 unnecessary deaths each year.

Spending on US healthcare in 2011 was 17.7% of GDP, compared to an average of 9.3% in OECD countries – almost double. Yet the US is not getting twice the results: the number of doctors per 1,000 people was 2.5 compared to an OECD average of 3.2. Basic health indicators for the richest country in the world show below average results. The average infant mortality rate was 4.1, while for the US it was 6.1 per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy at birth was 78.7 years in the US compared to an average of 80.1 years. In addition, the United States has the highest or near-highest prevalence amongst the 17 richest countries of heart and lung disease, obesity and diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, adolescent pregnancies, injuries, homicides, and disability.

Capitalist apologists are always trumpeting the supposed ‘efficiencies’ of ‘competitive capitalism’ compared to the supposedly ‘inefficient’, ‘bureaucratic’ practices of socialism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of $2.5 trillion of US health spending in 2009, a staggering 31% ($765bn) was wasted. This waste was attributable to unnecessary services ($210bn), excess administrative costs ($190bn), inefficiently delivered care ($130bn), excessively high prices ($105bn), fraud ($75bn) and missed prevention opportunities ($55bn). Productivity in US healthcare has steadily declined at a rate of about 0.6% per year. For every doctor there are six clinical workers (nurses, physiotherapists etc) and ten administrative workers. Private insurance creates unnecessary waste. There are about 50 significant different private insurers, each of which negotiates different plans with various employers and providers, each of which have different billing requirements, clinical care guidelines and covered benefits. These contracts are renegotiated annually, further complicating administration.

The alternative to private insurance to fund healthcare is what in the US

is called the ‘single-payer system’. Whether health services are provided privately (like Canada) or through the state (Britain), the government pays for, and hence negotiates, all healthcare costs. This allows it to negotiate lower rates with suppliers (such as drugs from pharmaceutical companies), standardize procedures and have uniform rules, cutting costs dramatically. It might be expected that US corporations would welcome this sort of cutting of their overhead costs, but corporate support for single-payer is lukewarm amongst capitalists. There are two main reasons: finance capital, which operates private insurance, is deeply intertwined with other industries; and US corporations want the entire funding of workers’ healthcare to be borne by the workers themselves, through a voucher scheme.

This is where Obamacare comes in: far from being the radical surgery needed to reform the bloated, sclerotic healthcare system, it is a grab bag of sticking plasters and bandages to patch over all the major problems. It not only leaves private insurance intact, it actually helps broaden the market by providing subsidies to those who would not otherwise be able to afford insurance. Extraordinarily, the Act requires everyone to purchase private insurance: failure to do so will result in a fine! Insurance is to be purchased through a ‘health insurance marketplace’, which dovetails with employers’ plans to move to a voucher scheme. These insurance exchanges offer a range of plans – Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Catastrophic – those with lower premiums have much higher excess rates (called the ‘deductible’ in the US). Corporations are dropping their insurance plans and giving workers a stipend, enough to purchase the cheapest plans. The excesses in these plans are massive, perhaps $5,000, which workers must pay from their own pockets before insurance coverage begins. Charges for visits to the doctor, for prescriptions and hospitalisation have all been increased.

This is hardly surprising. The original Bill which emerged from Senator Max Baucus’s office was designed by his senior aide, Liz Fowler. Fowler was formerly Vice President for Public Policy and External Affairs at Wellpoint, the largest health insurer in the US. She helped ensure that the so-called ‘public option’, a government-run insurance option, was dropped from the Bill. In July of 2010 the administration hired her to work in the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the implementation of the Act. In November 2012 she then left to become Vice President of Global Health Policy at Johnson & Johnson, a $67.2bn health product conglomerate.

The final Act is huge – more than 900 pages long – and impossible to describe here in any but the broadest outlines. The Act became law in March 2010, and different parts of the law have been rolled out ever since. However, only now have we come to the real core of the Act: attempting to ‘fix’ the inevitable deficiencies of private insurance. While the failure of the website was not inevitable, it was predictable. Software development is still done using craft, artisanal techniques which cannot be managed using the ‘despotic’ (Marx) methods of capitalist control. Combined with the enormous complexity of the system and the continually shifting requirements, it became impossible to deliver the anticipated result. The ‘fix’ was then rashly promised by 30 November. This is highly unlikely to work correctly, and already the part of the system which enables small business to sign up is being postponed for a year.

Obama said that those already enrolled in individual, non-employer plans would not have to change them. However many of these did not meet requirements imposed by the Act and millions have had their plans cancelled, and been offered much more expensive replacements. The administration has scrambled to try and patch this problem.

In the longer term, for the working class, Obamacare is helping implement ‘disguised austerity’ by aiding corporations such as IBM, Time Warner and Caterpillar to cut costs by dismantling the employer-based system of healthcare. It is estimated that nearly a quarter of the 170 million people enrolled in these plans will be pushed to the private exchanges within the next five years. This is going to reduce the range of services and quality of care available, while drastically increasing the cost to workers.

Far from being a progressive reform bringing universal healthcare, Obamacare is an attack on the working class. It is racist, excluding illegal immigrants from any coverage. It is an attack on women: it won’t pay for abortion at all and there are no guarantees that contraception will be covered for all. It won’t even achieve its own explicit objective of ameliorating the burden of healthcare costs on US capitalism. The one sure winner is the insurance industry and the big conglomerate healthcare providers. Any genuinely progressive healthcare reform in the US must begin by getting rid of private insurance.

 

Herman Wallace released!

UPDATE - Herman Wallace died, shortly after this article was published, on 4 October 2013. He was 71 years old. Surrounded by friends and family, his last words were "I am free, I am free". 

[ORIGINAL ARTICLE 4.10.2013] Herman Wallace, one of the Angola 3 held in solitary confinement for 40 years following a corrupt, racist trial, and who is in the late stages of liver cancer, has been freed. To the surprise of both his defence campaign and the US ‘justice’ system, a judge ordered his release after finding that the exclusion of women from his original jury breached his constitutional rights.

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Free Herman Wallace!

Herman Wallace, one of the Angola 3, who were unjustly jailed in the United States following the death of a guard in a prison riot, has announced that he is in the final stages of cancer. Following 40 years in solitary confinement, Wallace has been transferred to a hospice for his final few weeks of life.

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Officer Dorner hits the reset button

Former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and ex US Navy Reservist, Officer Christopher Dorner died, apparently by his own hand on February 12 2013, in a blazing mountain cabin set on fire by surrounding police after a gun battle lasting several hours. Variously described by the media as ‘rogue’, ‘insane’ and ‘revenge-seeking’, Dorner had allegedly killed two police officers, two civilians with a police connection and wounded two more officers. Thousands of police officers spent days searching for the ex-cop in an unprecedented manhunt extending through California, surrounding states and Mexico, with a reward of $1 million.

Early on, it became clear that LAPD wanted Dorner dead rather than alive. On February 7, in Torrance, LAPD officers shot-up a blue Toyota Tacoma, which they believed to belong to Dorner, wounding 71 year old Emma Hernandez in the back and showering 47 year old Margie Carranza with shrapnel and flying glass. Dorner’s truck was grey; the two women were working, delivering newspapers. Vehicles belonging to nearby residents were left with bullet holes and some even penetrated surrounding houses, forcing occupants to seek cover – when they called the emergency number 911, they were reassured that police were already on the scene! A block away, a white surfer (Donner was black) had his truck rammed by police cars and shot up, leaving him with a concussion and shoulder injuries. A number of other innocent civilians were shot at, and some 400 warrantless searches carried out.

If Dorner was insane, then the LAPD drove him to insanity: ‘I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed me, slandered and libeled me’, he wrote in an online manifesto he left behind. Dorner had reported his training officer, Teresa Evans, for kicking a mentally ill homeless man. A subsequent hearing, with a panel composed of people with links to Evans, exonerated her and terminated Dorner for lying. After exhausting subsequent appeals Dorner announced to the world that he was taking matters into his own hands: ‘You’re going to see what a whistleblower can do when you take everything from him … Self preservation is no longer important to me … I was told by my mother that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I refuse to accept that. … I am here to correct and calibrate your morale [sic] compasses to true north.… The attacks will stop when the department states the truth about my innocence … Let the balance of loss of life take place. Sometimes a reset needs to occur. … I have nothing to lose. … I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty.’

However, Dorner’s motivation was not purely selfish: ‘From 2/05 to 1/09 I saw some of the most vile things humans can inflict on others as a police officer in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the streets of LA. It was in the confounds [sic] of LAPD police stations and shops (cruisers) [cars - SP]. The enemy combatants in LA are not the citizens and suspects, it’s the police officers.’ Dorner lifted the lid a little and gave us a glimpse inside the racist terrorizing LAPD where officers cheerfully engage in racist abuse and brutality without sanction. In fact, as Dorner shows in his manifesto, it is the innocent who get punished and the guilty who are promoted. The vicious videotaped beating of Rodney King in 1991 triggered massive rioting and Federal prosecutions of officers involved. The subsequent Christopher Commission Report revealed major management failures in the handling of complaints of brutality. The Ramparts investigation in 1999-2000 exposed unprovoked beatings and shootings, planting of false evidence, framing of suspects, narcotics stealing and dealing, bank robbery and perjury by officers in the LAPD. Yet ‘those officers involved in the Rampart scandal and Rodney King incidents have since [been] promoted to supervisor, commanders, and command staff, and executive positions.’ Dorner adds details of his own personal experiences of racism and brutality within the department. If Dorner was insane, then the conduct of LAPD drove him mad.

When Dorner’s manifesto surfaced, it hit a raw nerve within the Los Angeles community – Angelenos, especially black and Latino, but of all colours, have widespread experience of LAPD’s true behaviour. Signs appeared on vehicles: ‘Run Dorner, Run’. T-shirts with the slogan ‘Don’t shoot – I’m not Chris Dorner’ went on sale. Social media erupted, with many posting their videos of police brutality under Dorner’s Twitter hashtag. Dorner’s fight against injustice had become politicised, threatening the ‘rogue cop’ narrative. Dorner had to go, to protect the department from renewed inspection, to preserve individual reputations and to deter any thought by other officers of going public with the true nature of the LAPD and to criminalize a political issue.

Yet, however noble Dorner’s personal motivation might have been, his fight was inevitably quixotic because he tried to solve the problem individually. As Dorner’s manifesto shows, the issues he faced personally were not the fault of a few individuals, but part of a much larger problem of endemic police brutality, corruption and racism: a social problem which needs a social and political solution. This kind of police behaviour is not simply an organizational problem, but is essential to imperialism which needs to terrorize and criminalize the poor and oppressed in order to maintain its domination. The fight against it needs a movement which starts from the fight against imperialism.

Steve Palmer

Trayvon Martin: racist justice /FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013

Every so often, something happens to remind us how racist the United States really is. One such incident is the murder trial of George Zimmerman. The agreed facts of the case are well known: at 7.09pm, 26 February 2012, Zimmerman, a Neighbourhood Watch volunteer, called his local police department and reported ‘a real suspicious guy ... looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something’. When the emergency services dispatcher asked him if he was following the man, he replied ‘Yeah’ and the dispatcher said ‘We don’t need you to do that’. Zimmerman ignored the dispatcher and continued to follow the man, who, minutes later was dead, shot to death by Zimmerman. The ‘real suspicious guy’ was Trayvon Martin, a black youth aged 17, who was returning home after visiting a local convenience store to pick up some snacks. There were no reliable witnesses to what happened between the two. Zimmerman alleged that Martin attacked him, so he shot him in self-defence. Martin, of course, is dead, so we don’t have his side of the story.

The police initially accepted Zimmerman’s story and released him. After country-wide demonstrations, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, together with a lesser charge of manslaughter. The trial began on 24 June 2013 and culminated in Zimmerman’s acquittal on both charges on 13 July. The defence tried to ridicule the evidence of a young working class woman, Rachel Jeantel, 19, a friend of Trayvon’s who had been on the phone with him while Zimmerman was following him. They played up the discovery of minute traces of marijuana in Trayvon’s body. They produced a parade of witnesses who swore that Zimmerman was an angel and the victim in the fight.

The basic and inescapable point, however, is that if Zimmerman had not followed Martin, if he had not profiled him due to race, Martin would still be alive. Overlooked has been Trayvon Martin’s right to defend himself from the strange man stalking him. The effective outcome of the trial is that open season has been declared on black youth in America and that anyone black who resists an aggressor can be killed at will.

Contrast this with the case of Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three. Alexander shot a gun into a wall when threatened by her abusive husband, Rico Gray. Gray admitted: ‘I told her … I ain’t going nowhere, and so I started walking toward her … I was cursing and all that … and she shot in the air ... If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her. Probably hit her ... She did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn’t get hurt, you know. You know, she did what she had to do. The gun was never actually pointed at me … The fact is, you know .?.?. she never been violent toward me. I was always the one starting it.’ Nobody was hurt, nobody died. A jury took 12 minutes to find Alexander guilty of aggravated assault. She is now serving a 20-year jail sentence. Alexander is black.

The injustices are glaringly obvious. Behind both lie the ideas both that black people are inherently violent and that they have no right to self-defence.

The outcome of the Zimmerman trial has catalysed the black community into protesting. All over the United States, huge protests have been held. Black people and their allies are not prepared to accept that there are different kinds of justice depending on whether or not you are black.

Steve Palmer

 

Snoopers exposed /FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013

The recent revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA) have really put the cat among the pigeons. It is difficult to think of peaceful actions by any other single individual which have ever created such an international stir. US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.

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Guantanamo hunger strike: dying for justice

‘Let them kill us, as we have nothing left to lose. We died when Obama indefinitely detained us. Respect us – or kill us. It’s your choice.’ (Hunger striker Faiz Al Kandari)

16 May marked 100 days since the start of a hunger strike amongst detainees at the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. By 20 May, 103 out of the 166 men detained at the facility had joined the action, with 30 of them now being force fed. Force-feeding, in which the hunger strikers are strapped down while a plastic tube is painfully forced down through the nasal passage to the stomach, is considered torture by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

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US budget crisis drags on and on /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

Marx wrote that ‘all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice... the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce’ (Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852). He was fortunate enough not to have to sit through the endlessly repeated episodes of ‘the budget crisis’, as staged by the US Congress. What he would have said about them is difficult to imagine, but would probably be unprintable: ‘farce’ is far too feeble a description. The latest episode in the world’s most expensive and overlong soap opera has been playing itself out as we go to press.

The inability of US capitalism to stand on its own two feet is evident from the massive cushion of federal debt propping it up – a staggering $16.7 trillion and rising, about $145,000 per household. At the end of 2007 federal debt equalled just 36% of GDP; by the end of this fiscal year it will reach 76% of GDP: federal spending on interest payments on the debt, currently at record low levels, will rise from 1.4% of GDP to some 3.4% of GDP by 2020. This interest is a large and growing diversion of the surplus-value pumped out of the workers away from the profits of industrial capitalists and into the hands of bondholders and other financial parasites.

This debt is unsustainable: the ruling class has to cut it dramatically yet is having difficulty with the consequences and has been dithering about what to do about it for the last two years. Its Congressional lackeys need to cut spending, but cannot yet bring themselves to adopt the only option workable for profit-driven capitalism: the reduction and abolition of programmes essential to the health and welfare of constituents. They will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, so they run back and forth like headless chickens, flapping their wings, not sure what to do until the very last minute.

The previous episode of this tragi-comedy, described in the last issue of FRFI, left us with three looming deadlines: 1 March when ‘sequestration’ – $85bn in budget cuts – was due to kick in; 27 March, the renewal date for spending by government agencies; and 19 May when the ‘debt ceiling’ – a cap on federal borrowing – comes into effect.

Dire consequences were predicted if sequestration went ahead: planes would collide with one another as air traffic controllers went on short time; lengthy queues and delays would build up at airports because of cuts in security personnel; the White House Easter egg hunt would be cancelled leaving children in trauma; 700,000 jobs would disappear. But, thanks to an interim funding Act, 1 March came and went without anything apparently happening.

In fact, the cuts don’t take effect at once but take place over several months, so the consequences won’t be felt for a while. This gave our clowns some time to try to cobble together yet another of their last-minute compromises, to be enacted before funding expired on 27 March. With barely bated breath we watched the ridiculous drama unfold, which formed the ‘debate’ on what to do before said date. As we have come to expect, after weeks of grandstanding and finger-pointing our heroes managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at the very last moment by passing continuing funding bills. They promptly departed for two weeks of ill-earned Easter vacation, much to the relief of a weary and exhausted audience. The legislation allows $984bn in spending, but leaves in place, slightly trimmed, the $85bn of sequestration cuts. It funds all the main departments and science agencies, but not the new healthcare and financial reform laws.

What happens next has to be decided by 19 May, which is the deadline for the debt ceiling. If the debt cap remains in place then the government will have to stop borrowing at that limit, bringing the federal government to a screeching halt. It is almost unbearable to contemplate what antics these jokers are likely to perform before agreeing on yet another last minute compromise. US capitalists will have to wait anxiously to see if their hired flunkeys will satisfy the credit ratings agencies. These organisations grade US debt and effectively determine the interest rates the government has to pay for its borrowings. Sequestration was itself a compromise and more compromises about compromises leave the agencies less than impressed because the core ‘entitlement’ programmes – Medicare and Social Security – are left intact.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that, with the sequester in place, the budget deficit will fall in the near term, but will rise from this year’s $845bn to over $1 trillion by 2023, debt will reach 77% of GDP and be back on an upward path. To really solve the problem, US capitalism needs to sharpen its blade and cut boldly, ruthlessly and viciously. Judging from recent performances, this final bloody ending is still some way off.

Steve Palmer, US correspondent

US gun control – no solution/FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

The basic facts about the appalling slaughter of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut are now well known and have shocked people around the world. The massacre comes in the wake of other mass shootings in the US and has re-awakened calls for stronger gun control. The gun control advocates appeal to common sense: fewer guns should, they say, mean fewer deaths. The threat of more gun controls has provoked a vigorous response from gun rights advocates. They point to the Second Amendment to the US Constitution as protecting the right of individuals to possess firearms. They also argue that preventing law-abiding citizens from owning guns leaves the guns in the hands of ‘the bad guys’ and that universal gun ownership would deter violent crime and enable private citizens to defend themselves. The cat, they say, is already out of the bag: millions of guns circulate on the black market, unhindered by gun laws. US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.

Both sides pose the issue in terms of the rights and responsibilities of individuals. But this is a social problem, not an individual one. Capitalist violence, not guns, is the problem. Capitalism depends on violence and breeds violence and so long as it exists, the slaughter of innocents will continue. US imperialism is armed to the teeth with every imaginable weapon. It uses state violence to coerce the oppressed and enslave the exploited. It also, through its state, uses violence to threaten other nations, to expand at their expense and to defend itself against its competitors. Further, capitalism creates myriad problems which drive toward social violence: poverty; unemployment; racial and gender oppression; gangs; mental illness; drug dependency and the illegal drug economy; every imaginable kind of chauvinism; colossal individualism, egotism and competitiveness. Finally, it succeeds in making individuals feel isolated and personally responsible for, but powerless over, the results of these problems.

Who really does the dying?

In 2010 there were 30,814 deaths from firearms in the US. Of these, 19,392 were suicides (horrific in itself) and 11,078 were homicides. The remaining 344 were due to ‘legal intervention’, ie, killed by cops. Of the homicide victims, 6,151 were black – more than 55%, although black people are just 13% of the US population. Of the black male homicide victims, 43% were 24 or younger. Black males age 15-19 are more than 11 times more likely to be gun homicide victims than white males of the same age. By any standard, this is a massacre. Yet about this daily carnage of young people of colour, the media and the capitalist ‘experts’ have nothing to say, otherwise they would have to start talking about the whole issue of racism and racial oppression and the broad sweep of social problems created and fostered by capitalism and imperialism.

Gun control – a diversion

The ruling class promotes gun control as the primary solution to this slaughter. However, guns are being used as tools to try to find individual solutions to social problems. The bumper sticker ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people’ has a certain obvious truth: guns don’t just shoot people on their own. But it is no response to the critical question: what makes people kill people? Tinkering with the availability of guns – whether increasing or reducing it – is not going to do away with the social violence created by capitalism, and is hypocritical and diversionary.

The real reasons for gun control

The real reasons for gun control are nothing to do with ‘protecting the public’: they are all about maintaining capitalist domination and disarming the oppressed. This crucial aspect of gun control is concealed from view.

Historically in Britain, subjects had the right to possess arms for their defence, and this was accepted, with only slight encroachments, until the beginning of the last century. In 1918, when the secret Blackwell Report was written, discussing what to do about the vast numbers of weapons which would be available after the imperialist slaughter of 1914-1918, it quoted the findings of a sub-committee:

‘There are two distinct categories of person from whom danger is to be apprehended, viz (1) the savage or semi-civilised tribesmen in outlying parts of the British Empire whose main demand is for rifles and ammunition, and (2) the anarchist or “intellectual” malcontent of the great cities, whose weapons are the bomb and the automatic pistol…Our conclusion is that the regulation of the arms traffic after the war is a matter of vital importance to the future of the British Empire.’

Non-political criminal misuse of firearms did not appear to interest the Blackwell Committee. The ensuing Firearms Act of 1920, besides controlling the arms trade, deprived British citizens of the right to own firearms and turned it into a privilege, which has been steadily whittled away ever since, to the point, even, where the country’s Olympic pistol shooting team has to practise abroad.

In North America, despite constitutional guarantees of an individual’s right to bear arms, forms of gun control existed from before the Union was founded. However these were directed against black people, slave and free, even decades after the Civil War was over.

Ironically, modern gun control in the US was initiated, not by liberals, but by California conservatives around Ronald Reagan. The Black Panther Party, openly carrying guns, had begun to challenge police harassment of black people – ‘policing the police’. In 1967, a conservative Republican assemblyman introduced a bill which would prohibit the carrying of a loaded weapon in any Californian city. Reagan endorsed the Bill and it passed into law, supported by Republican lawmakers. Similarly, the black insurrection throughout the country in the summer of 1967 was followed in 1968 by the first Federal gun control law in 30 years, which was implicitly directed against black ownership of guns. The point was not so much to control guns as to control black people.

Obama has used Executive Orders to extend gun control. We sadly, but confidently predict that these will do nothing to halt the slaughter of young people by firearms. Gun controls are intended to confine the possession of deadly weapons to the ruling class and to disarm the oppressed and to prevent them from defending themselves and fighting for their liberation. To US imperialism, civilian gun deaths are just ‘collateral damage’. The real answer is the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with a socialist system which can begin to overcome all the problems which lie behind social violence.

US workers thrown off ‘fiscal cliff’/FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

After weeks of ‘will-they-won’t-they’ speculation, Congress finally passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act on 1 January. The ridiculous antics and accusations, the tension and the finger- pointing are not just ‘playing politics’, as the bourgeois commentators wearily call it, but reflect the inability of the ruling class to come to a final decision about the economic strategy they have to pursue. US capitalism, weighed down by some $16.4 trillion of Federal debt, needs to drastically cut back on state spending. To do the job properly means flushing all the expectations of more or less secure employment, increasing income and comfortable retirement, collectively known as the ‘American Dream’, down the toilet. With them will go forever the material basis for the political illusions that have contained class conflict in the United States for the last half century. The Republicans are the party with the necessary policy to do this, but they do not have the power; the Democrats have the power, but know that massive cuts will undermine the social and political coalition they rely on for support. This is the impasse in which the ruling class now finds itself.

So we have been lurching from compromise to compromise for the last few years. In December 2010, Congress extended the ‘Bush tax cuts’ of 2001 for another two years. Since there are only two ways to pay for state expenditure – increasing taxes or borrowing – this meant that the US government would have to go deeper into debt. When borrowing approached the ‘debt-ceiling’, a limit set by Congress, in August 2011, it passed the Budget Control Act which provided for huge cuts in government programmes (‘sequestration’) to take effect on 2 January 2013, unless Congress took a number of steps to eliminate the budget deficit. With a lame-duck Congress in an impasse inevitably nothing happened. With the election over in November, an end of year deadline loomed which, without Congressional intervention, would have seen sequestration begin, the Bush tax cuts expire, expiration of extended unemployment benefits, a 2% increase in payroll tax and other fiscal events. This was the ‘fiscal cliff’. After weeks of squabbling and finger-pointing, both party leaderships managed to devise a compromise.

The Republicans wanted to avoid tax increases for millionaires, while the Democrats insisted that anyone earning more than $250,000 should lose their tax cuts. The compromise settled on a limit of $450,000, which was hailed by the media as a Democratic victory, since the tax rate for the rich would rise from 35% to 39.6%, and sequestration was deferred for two months. Yet the 2% increase in the payroll tax also quietly went ahead, affecting anyone earning less than $113,000, raising the rate from 4.2% to 6.2% and pushing taxes up for the 77% of the population who are lowest paid. This meant an absolute increase of $960 per year for the average worker and $600 for anyone earning $30,000 – a significant sum to many families. The working class got booted off the cliff.

On examination of the Act, this ‘great victory for the middle class’ turned out to be stuffed with ‘pork’ – US political slang for spending which benefits some interest, usually someone who has lobbied or donated to a Congressperson’s campaign. So the US motor racing franchise, NASCAR, received $100m tax breaks over seven years; rum producers Diageo and Bacardi received tax breaks worth $580m; Hollywood got $430m over the next two years; finance capital got an $11.2bn tax break on interest income on money lent overseas; $1.5bn was doled out for multinationals selling through overseas affiliates; the railroad industry got a $331m tax credit; the energy industry received some $18.2bn and Goldman Sachs benefited to the tune of $1.6bn tax relief on its corporate headquarters, disguised as a redevelopment incentive for lower Manhattan.

At the same time as the fiscal deadline loomed, Federal spending was approaching the debt ceiling and it seemed likely that the US was heading toward another crisis in mid-February over increasing the ceiling. Right-wing Republicans were eagerly expecting to play a game of chicken with the Obama administration until they realised that there is no point taking hostages unless you are prepared to shoot them and that their popularity ratings were under water. So on 23 January the Republicans agreed to a limited increase in the debt ceiling until 19 May. There are two intervening deadlines: 1 March when the deferred sequestration cuts are due to kick in, and 27 March, when spending for government agencies must be renewed. The Republicans are hoping that both of these will give opportunities to extract concessions from the Democrats in the shape of cuts in the ‘entitlement programs’ – Medicare, Social Security, etc. Like a drunk staggering from lamp-post to lamp-post, US capitalism will lurch from crisis to crisis until confronted sooner or later with the next financial collapse. We will report on the next lurch in this journey in the next issue of FRFI.

Steve Palmer

The election is over: the crisis intensifies/FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

The 2012 general election is over. Although some $6bn was spent, with $2.6bn on the Presidential race alone, the political landscape has not changed much: Barack Obama was re-elected, and there were slight changes in Congress. With the Senate still controlled by Democrats, and the House of Representatives by Republicans, this split leaves Congress facing the same gridlock it has experienced for the last two years, promising further legislative paralysis. STEVE PALMER, US correspondent, reports.

Historic result

Both candidates were bankrolled by finance capital and imperialism, and the outcome is that US support for Israel’s blood-thirsty adventures will continue, as will drone attacks on wedding parties on the Pakistan borders.* Nevertheless, this election reflected significant developments within the US political landscape.

In particular, the Republican ‘Southern Strategy’ – the basis of its electoral strategy for the past 50 years – was left in pieces. It was originally developed in the mid-1960s, after civil rights legislation and desegregation led white southerners to reject the Democratic Party. The Republican Party had enjoyed minimal white southern support, but about 90% black support, as the traditional party of Lincoln who had ended slavery. Now the Democrats gathered support from black voters, while the Republicans appealed to the disenchanted white voters by advocating racism in an oblique form. In this ‘dog-whistle’ politics, the underlying racist message is so abstract that it is heard only by its target audience: opposition to ‘forced bussing’ and ‘racial quotas’, and advocacy of ‘States’ rights’ against the Federal government replaces blatant racism.

This strategy worked well for the Republicans for decades. However, by 2010 the proportion of non-Hispanic whites had fallen to 64% of the population. The Democrats were now a coalition based on the support of women, black people, Latinos, youth and a section of white people. Republicans depended overwhelmingly on the support of white voters, concentrated amongst older people (see Table 1).

Romney’s support was overwhelmingly from white voters – almost 90%. Although just over half of Obama’s support was from white voters, the votes of other groups enabled him to win.

In Table 2 we can see clearly the significant contribution to Obama’s victory made by women, younger Americans, non-whites and LGBT voters. Equally obvious is Romney’s dependence on men, older Americans, whites and, in particular, white Evangelicals and Catholics. Projections show that Latinos and Asians will increase their respective shares of the US population from 17% to 29% and from 5% to 9% by 2050, while whites will fall from 63% to less than 50%. Obama drew his support from sections of the population which are going to grow in size in the future. The ‘Southern Strategy’ has run its course.

The gulf between these starkly different constituencies made the Presidential campaign brutal. The depth of the divide was evident in bitter, often vitriolic and explicitly racist exchanges. Throughout the country, Republican-controlled States tried to restrict voting by poor people and people of colour by making voter registration more difficult. Legal skirmishes over these restrictions continued throughout the entire campaign, right down to polling day.

Republicans actually strengthened support for Obama amongst women by their opposition to abortion, by particularly misogynistic remarks about rape and by attacking an advocate of easier access to contraception as a ‘slut’. With their persistent racist attacks denigrating Obama, including images of monkeys with his face and widespread distribution of a video claiming that Obama’s real father had been a black American communist, Republicans did everything – short of putting up ‘We don’t want your votes’ posters – to encourage black support for Obama. Antagonism to ‘illegal immigrants’ and support for militarisation of the Mexican border similarly pushed Latinos toward Obama; homophobic opposition to same-sex marriage did the same for the gay community. An impressive achievement, given that Obama has failed to support important reforms demanded by these groups. While Romney offered blatant oppression and discrimination, Obama offered the more attractive, if empty and illusory, promise of hope.

Defeat for the Republicans brought howls of outraged pain, accusations of voter fraud, petitions for States to secede from the Union and death threats against Obama. Some found the prospect of another Obama presidency so depressing that they committed suicide. The twittersphere was thick with usage of the word ‘nigger’ – in a country where the word is so deeply stigmatised that mainstream media will only refer to it as ‘the N-word’. Clearly a deep, bitter and vindictive divide has opened up. How this plays out in future will be very significant.

What next?

The major issue confronting US imperialism is what has become known as the ‘fiscal cliff’. The underlying long-term decline of US capitalism has been mitigated by a steady expansion of debt. However, the impossibility of accumulating debt into the infinite future has impressed itself on the ruling class, mainly as a result of the 2007 financial crisis, since when reduction in government deficit financing has become the central domestic issue. The ‘fiscal cliff’ is the package of tax increases and cuts in government expenditure which will be automatically implemented on 1 January 2013, unless Congress can agree an alternative. Tax increases will occur because of the expiration of various tax cuts made in the past.

The direct result of ‘going over’ the ‘fiscal cliff’ will reduce the deficit by approximately $560bn. The consequence of this massive reduction has been estimated as a decline in GDP growth of somewhere in the region of 3.5% to 5%, sending the economy into another full-blown recession and increasing unemployment. The indirect effect of the ‘fiscal cliff’ is the current cutbacks in investment by companies due to the uncertain outcome after 1 January.

Potentially even more damaging to US capitalism is the rapidly approaching need to raise the debt ceiling – the Congressionally determined limit on the amount of Federal borrowing. The exact date when this will occur is uncertain, but we are just weeks away. Congressional Republicans widely regard this limit as giving them leverage over the Obama administration in the talks to resolve the ‘fiscal cliff’. However, failure to raise this limit could be far more disastrous for the US economy than going over the cliff: a halt to Federal borrowing will lead to far larger and swifter cuts in Federal spending. How a compromise can be negotiated within the time limit is impossible to know and difficult to foresee, given the ideological divide between the two sides and the smouldering resentment among the conservative wing of the Republicans. We may soon be treated to the spectacle of one section of the US ruling class, cutting off its nose to spite its face, pushing US capitalism over the cliff into another deep recession.

* See FRFI 229, ‘US presidential election: no choice but imperialism’,

index.php/united-states/2720-us-presidential-election

Table 1 – Share of candidates’ support from different groups

Romney Obama

Whites 88% 56%

Blacks 2% 24%

Latino 6% 14%

Asian 2% 4%

Other 2% 2%

Total 100% 100%


Table 2 – Split of groups’ votes between candidates

 

Group Share in total vote % Split between candidates %

Obama Romney Other

Total 100 51 48 1

Men ? 47 44 52 2

Women ? 53 55 44 1

Married Women 31 46 53 1

Unmarried Women 23 67 31 2

Age: 18–29 years 19 60 37 3

30–44 years 27 52 45 3

45–64 years 38 47 51 2

65 + years 16 44 56 0

White ? 72 39 59 2

Black ? 13 93 ?6 1

Latino ? 10 71 27 2

Asian ?? 3 73 26 1

Other ?? 2 58 38 4

LGBT ?? 5 71 22 7

White Evangelical 26 21 78 1

White Catholic 18 40 59 1

Jewish ?? 2 69 30 1

US presidential election: no choice but imperialism /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

The two candidates

First, let’s compare the two candidates. Mitt Romney has a background in private equity investment and regularly repeats the classic ‘free market’ mantra of tax cuts, state expenditure cuts and deficit reduction, with attendant fairy stories about how the US economy will expand as a result. His economic advisers are both former Chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W Bush. Romney’s foreign policy team includes 17 members who served in the Bush-Cheney administration. Other Bush-era luminaries, such as extreme right-winger John Bolton, who advocates war with Iran, are also prominent advisers. Vignettes of a Romney foreign policy: he opposed the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq (‘tragic’), announced that Russia is ‘without question our number one geopolitical foe’, and has described Dick Cheney as a ‘person of wisdom and judgment’ and the ‘kind of person [he]’d like to have’ working with him. Those Romney doesn’t want are the 47% of the population who are too poor to pay income tax who, he claimed at a fundraising dinner, ‘believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.’

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USAID - The United States Agency for International Development

The US agency primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid. USAID states that ‘U.S. foreign assistance has always had the twofold purpose of furthering America's foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets while improving the lives of the citizens of the developing world.’ In 2012 ALBA expelled USAID from their countries after extensive evidence that it was funding subversion and destabilisation.

Defeat in Wisconsin

Photo: Workers protest February 2011

Defeat in Wisconsin

In early 2011, Scott Walker, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin presented a Bill to the legislature called the ‘Budget Repair Bill’. The Bill would end collective bargaining for most public sector workers, cap any wage increases, and force the unions to hold annual votes to certify as a recognized union. Employers could not collect union dues. Massive opposition developed culminating in demonstrations involving tens of thousands of Wisconsin’s workers. Yet the Bill was still passed by the Republican legislature in March 2011. As a result of this setback, a movement started to recall Walker. The recall was finally put to Wisconsin voters on 5 June 2012 and defeated. We are republishing this article explaining the failure of the recall, written by Jeff Bigelow, from Liberation News, newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation in the US.

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Greed, arrogance and hypocrisy: Business as usual on Wall Street

‘The course of true love never did run smooth’ – especially when it is the love of money! On 10 March, the JP Morgan Chase bank announced that its Chief Investment Office had lost $2bn on trades. This is peanuts to JP Morgan, the world’s largest bank, which has total assets of $2.32 trillion – less than 0.1%. JP Morgan is widely touted by an enthralled media as an ‘exemplary’ bank. The President agrees: ‘JP Morgan is one of the best managed banks there is, Jamie Dimon, the head of it, is one of the smartest bankers we got’ – Obama even has his own bank account there. However, Dimon has been a loud and outspoken critic of bank regulation, and particularly of the Volcker Rule, which would, in theory, prevent commercial banks like JP Morgan from gambling on the exchanges.

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US economy: unstable recovery at expense of the working class

The ‘Great Recession’ ended in the second quarter of 2009, according to the economists. The Dow Jones stock exchange index has broken through the 13,000 mark; employment is up; unemployment is down; production is up; exports are up, and consumer confidence is up. The US economy is apparently recovering. There are even whispers about the possibility of the stock market breaking through its 14,198 high from October 2007. But how robust is this recovery? Steve Palmer reports.

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Trayvon Martin: no justice, no peace

Trayvon Martin, aged 17, was walking home with some sweets and iced tea when he was shot in cold blood by George Zimmerman. After making an emergency 911 call to police to report a black male behaving suspiciously and, despite being told not to follow him by the operator, Zimmerman got out of his truck, went after Martin and shot him dead.

At the time of writing Zimmerman has not been arrested, because, according to police, he was protected by Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law which gives citizens who perceive a threat the right to use deadly force. At least 23 other States have passed similar laws, dubbed ‘Shoot First, Ask Questions Afterwards’ laws by opponents. In Florida, in the first five years of the law’s operation, ‘justifiable homicides’ in Florida more than tripled, to over 100 in 2010 from just over 30. The Stand Your Ground law was invoked in at least 93 cases over that time period, involving 65 deaths. The law has been used to excuse killings in bar brawls, gang shoot-outs and road-rage incidents.

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Republican primaries: competition of idiocy and ignorance / FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

‘I must note that, going by what everyone is saying, that the selection of a Republican candidate to aspire to the presidency of this globalised and far-reaching empire is, in its turn – I am serious – the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that I have ever heard.’ (Fidel Castro, 24 January 2012)

If anything, Fidel is understating the truth. Since Barack Obama, as incumbent President, is the Democratic Party candidate in this November’s election, the stage has been occupied by the Republican Party race for its presidential nomination. It has been a pantomime for all seasons, overstuffed with buffoons and very poor jokes. The production opened last March with the entire cast of candidates denouncing Sharia law, something apparently threatening the USA (24% of the population believe that Barack Hussein Obama, a Christian, is actually a Muslim). One of the features of the race has been the rapid rise and fall of candidates or potential candidates. In April 2011, billionaire businessman Donald Trump briefly bounced on stage as a possible candidate, but almost as swiftly bounced back off. In August Texas Governor Rick Perry announced he was running for the nomination. In October, it emerged that the Perry family leases a hunting camp once called ‘Niggerhead’. Herman (‘If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself’) Cain appeared to roars of applause...only to be yanked briskly off when his mistress went public.

Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, is clearly the candidate of finance capital. Romney himself helped found private equity firm Bain Capital, and has a net worth of $250m. A list of his donors reads like a Who’s Who of Wall Street: Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, UBS, Wells Fargo and Citigroup. His Republican opponents have attacked him for his speaking fees, for destroying jobs, for paying low taxes, for being a ‘Vulture Capitalist’. Democrats are gleeful that they can run these criticisms as part of their ads in the general election. Indeed, finance capital is so concerned about these populist anti-capitalist, anti-elitist attacks that the Wall Street Journal criticised Romney’s opponents ‘for their crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism... Politics isn’t subtle, and these candidates are desperate, but do they have to sound like Michael Moore?’ and sniffed that Gingrich’s backing comes ‘from a billionaire who made his money in the casino business, which Mr. Gingrich apparently considers morally superior to investing in companies in the hope of making a profit’ (13 January 2012).

Although Mitt Romney has been heavily critical of Obama’s policy toward Israel, Newt Gingrich is the prime Zionist candidate. In November, he claimed that the Palestinians were an ‘invented people’ who ‘had the chance to go many places’ and should have left Palestine. Days later, he received $5m from arch-Zionist casino billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, the eighth richest man in the US. He subsequently promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In January Adelson’s Israeli-born wife gave Gingrich a further $5m. The mercurial former Speaker of the House, who on one famous occasion shut down the US government, has been attacking Romney’s business background. The Republican establishment has become deeply disturbed and big guns are being rolled out to stop the Newt. Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has released a stinging statement which begins: ‘I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich, but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late.’ It continues unrelentingly: ‘a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway...a number of House members wanted to throw him out as speaker...mounting ethics problems caused him to resign in early 1999... Gingrich had a new idea every minute and most of them were off the wall’, and on and on.

Who is going to win the Republican nomination? Given the party’s current fit of right-wing petit-bourgeois hysteria, it is premature to write Gingrich completely out of the picture. But in the battle of the bankrolls, which is largely what determines the outcome of these supposedly ‘democratic’ elections, Romney is the likely victor.

Steve Palmer, US correspondent

Imperialist booty: how much does the United States loot from the rest of the world?/ FRFI 224 Dec 2011/Jan 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 224 December 2011/January 2012
Photo: US soldier harassing Iraqi workers in Fallujah, 2007

Imperialist booty: how much does the United States loot from the rest of the world?Nearly five years ago, in FRFI 195, we discussed an article by Charles Post about the labour aristocracy. FRFI has repeatedly argued that, in the imperialist countries, there is a ‘labour aristocracy’ – a privileged section of the working class, enjoying some of the spoils of imperialist exploitation and which behaves as the political agent of the ruling class. We have shown how this section has consistently betrayed the interests of the US, British and international working class by its actions. Post attempted to demonstrate that there is no such section, mainly by claiming that imperialist booty – the swag looted by the US imperialists from the exploited nations – is an insignificant part of the income of US workers. We argued that it is very significant and is quite sufficient to provide the privileges enjoyed by better-off US workers. Now Post has republished his article, with some minor modifications, in the academic journal Historical Materialism.1 Post’s absurd denial of the existence of a labour aristocracy undermines the struggle against racism and imperialism and covers up the betrayals of social democratic organisations like the Labour Party. We don’t have room to revisit our entire argument (see RCG website2), so we are going to bring the numbers up to date, correcting them and including all sources of booty. We believe FRFI readers will be interested in knowing the extent of US exploitation of oppressed nations. STEVE PALMER reports.

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Occupy US: arrests and evictions – where now?/ FRFI 224 Dec 2011/Jan 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 224 December 2011/January 2012

The Occupy movement is steadily being clubbed off the streets of the United States. After two months which have shaken up political dialogue in the US, the ruling class is working its way around the country banning and physically removing Occupy encampments. This development is the greatest challenge the movement has faced, and its response will determine US politics in the years ahead. Steve Palmer, US correspondent, reports.

In New York, Atlanta, Oakland, Detroit, Portland and other cities, police have been attacking Occupy demonstrators and destroying their encampments. In Tampa, Florida, the police rolled out a tank as part of the preparations for an Occupy rally. The excuse has been the need to enforce ‘health and safety’. Yet these same cities sit idly by as they allow the poorest to fester in slums and go without decent healthcare. Instead of fixing their citizens’ problems, they batter off the streets those who protest about them. Behind the crackdown is the hand of the 1%, the ruling class, determined to remove opposition to their unfettered rule.

The Occupy movement is not only under threat from police batons and tear gas: false friends are circling round it, hoping to channel its energy into support for Obama in the 2012 presidential election and to use it to support the Democratic Party. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has posted a petition ‘100,000 Strong Standing with Occupy Wall Street’ on its website, blaming Republicans, not capitalism, for US economic problems. The Service Employees International Union, which has contributed money to Oc­cupy Wall Street, plans to bus Oc­cupy demonstrators from cities all over the country to Washington, DC to lobby in support of Obama’s ‘jobs creation’ proposal. The hypocrisy of these moves is incredible: across the country it is Democratic Party mayors who have been ordering their police depart­ments to attack Occupy protesters.

While the Democrats are toying with Occupy, the dirty tricks department is positioning itself to try to discredit the Occupy movement. Well-known Washington lobbying firm Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford has approached the American Bankers’ Association with a proposal to prepare a campaign against Occupy Wall Street because of the ‘potential to be explosive later in the year when media reports cover the next round of bonuses and contrast it with stories of millions of Americans making do with less this holiday season’, according to a leaked memo. The firm advocates investigating Occupy Wall Street leaders’ backgrounds, litigation history, bankruptcies, and, sinisterly, ‘other associations’. The aim is ‘to construct fact-based negative narratives’ – in plain English, smears – ‘of the OWS for high impact media placement to expose the backers behind this movement’. We now know about this project; but it is likely that other, similar activities are already under way, guided by other organisations.

The police have scored some own goals: pepper-spraying an 84-year-old woman in Seattle; slamming a retired New York Supreme Court judge up against a wall with a riot baton;  pepper-spraying peaceful passive students at University of California Davis campus. So much for police being part of the 99%: they are unequivocally on the side of the 1%. But broader strategic questions are raised. How is Occupy going to respond to these varied threats? Is this going to be a movement focused on preserving encampments? How is it going to mobilise broad support? What will it do in an election year? Will it challenge imperialism? What about immigrant rights and racism? What about the wars? What about the prison struggle? What is it going to do about police brutality? In certain cities, links are being built with the working class through local labour organisations. Some Occupy groups have involved themselves in the struggle against foreclosures (repossessions). The Occupy movement has gained support on campuses. But will the movement build links with the most oppressed or will it revert to being a radical anti-con­su­merist orga­nisation? Occupy has to evolve toward the most oppressed and face off against imperialism if it is to grow, gain strength and achieve real change.

US military to regroup after leaving Iraq/ FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 224 December 2011/January 2012

In October, President Obama announced that all US troops would leave Iraq by 31 December. The US had hoped to keep up to 20,000 troops in the country but negotiations broke down when the Iraqi government refused to grant immunity from prosecution to US forces – something the US always insists upon wherever its troops are stationed overseas. In a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, 12 US senators wrote ‘the complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq is likely to be viewed as a strategic victory by our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime’.

However, the move does not mean an end to US interference in Iraq. It sparked what The Washington Post called ‘the US State Department’s biggest overseas operation since the effort to rebuild Europe after the Second World War’ as it attempts to take over operations in Iraq from the military. In Baghdad, the biggest embassy in the world will oversee a workforce of 16,000 civilians. These will include 5,000 armed mercenaries and 4,600 people to instruct the Iraqi armed forces in the use of US military equipment. Civilian contractors will also continue to train the Iraqi police force at three training facilities. There will be two consulates and two airport support sites handling a fleet of 46 aircraft. No doubt the CIA will also remain. President Obama confirmed, ‘We will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world.’

At the end of October, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expanded on US plans, saying: ‘We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq, and to the future of the region.’ The New York Times reported that the US may bolster its military presence in the Gulf by sending more combat troops (possibly a battalion or even a brigade) to Kuwait in order to respond quickly to developments over the border in Iraq or Iran. The US already has 23,000 military personnel in Kuwait and another 17,000 elsewhere in the region. More US war ships will patrol the region. The US also wants to extend military ties with the Gulf Co-operation Council states and to integrate these countries’ air and naval patrols and missile defences. Bahrain and UAE already have troops in Afghanistan and Qatar and UAE joined with the NATO attacks on Libya.

Jim Craven

Oakland General Strike - Nov 2011

bwd  Set 1/3  fwd

A major victory was achieved today for the ‘Occupy’ movement, when Occupy Oakland successfully shut down the heart of the city, many of its schools, the major banks and the port. The Oakland General Strike had been called to protest police brutality, after the police fractured Scott Olsen’s skull last week, and to make Capital pay for its crimes by hitting it economically.

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Occupy Wall Street – Occupy Oakland!

Occupy Wall Street – Occupy Oakland

Occupy Wall Street is now in its sixth week and has spawned clones in every major city in the US, and in many minor ones, as well as in hundreds of other cities throughout the rest of the world. The ruling class wants rid of it – a constant reminder to working people of the inequities of capitalism and the charade of capitalist ‘democracy’, and a constant reminder to the ruling class of the precariousness of their power. In their desperation to be rid of the movement they have tried ignoring it, dismissing it, patronising it, ridiculing it, sneering at it, condemning it, lying about it, and embracing it, trying to hug it to death. None of this has worked. People have had enough. So the ruling class has resorted to club rule.

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We are all Troy Davis – 21st century lynching in the US / FRFI 223 Oct/Nov 2011

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

On 21 September 2011 the US state of Georgia legally murdered 42-year-old black prisoner Troy Davis. Troy was convicted of the 1989 killing of white police officer Mark MacPhail and had always maintained his innocence. A national and international campaign against his execution was supported by Amnesty International, former US President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Pope, and one million people signed a petition calling for clemency. On the night of his death protesters gathered outside the prison in Jackson, Georgia, many wearing T-shirts and holding placards proclaiming ‘I am Troy Davis’. All this was not enough to save his life. The execution was due to take place at 7pm local time and there was a temporary reprieve while the Supreme Court deliberated on and rejected a last-minute petition. President Barack Obama refused to intervene in the case, stating it would not be ‘appropriate’. Troy Davis was put to death by lethal injection at 11pm.

Troy was convicted in August 1991, entirely on the basis of witness testimony, which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. There was no forensic or any other kind of evidence against him. Since then, seven out of nine of the non-police witnesses have retracted or contradicted their testimony and many have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against him.

During the 20 years between Troy’s original conviction and his death there have been numerous appeals and legal challenges. Three previous execution dates were set aside, following various submissions. Throughout this process Troy had the support of his family, legal team and campaigners, all of whom spoke out, not only about his individual innocence, but in order to highlight the racist nature of the US death penalty. After the execution, lawyer Thomas Ruffin described the execution as ‘racially bigoted’ and a ‘legal lynching’, and pointed out to the press that: ‘In the state of Georgia 48.4% of people on death row this morning were black males, and in Georgia they make up no more than 15% of the population.’

The continuing racist nature of the US death penalty, ever since the days of slavery, is widely known. The first detailed study to clearly expose this in modern times was in fact carried out in Georgia in 1972. The Baldus Study established that black defendants were 1.7 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants and that murderers of white victims were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who had killed black people. In the past 30 years, similar studies across the ‘death penalty states’ of the US have repeatedly come up with similar conclusions. Nationally, black and white people are victims of homicide in roughly equal numbers, yet 80% of those executed have been convicted of killing white people.

Alongside Britain, the US has appointed itself the world’s policeman, the arbiter of international right and wrong. The execution of Troy Davis demonstrates yet again how Obama’s government has no more right than that of any of his predecessors to lecture any other country on its judicial system or human rights record.

End the racist death penalty!

Nicki Jameson

United States: bourgeois parties squabble as working class bear brunt of crisis / FRFI 223 Oct / Nov 2011

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

Although the Presidential and Congressional elections will not take place for more than a year, political posturing by both the bourgeois parties, Republican and Democrat, is already under way. Our last report (see FRFI 222) concluded with the cliff-hanging debate over the US government’s debt ceiling: would they agree in time to prevent the government shutting down? Once again, as we go to press, both parties are at loggerheads, threatening to shut the government down at the end of September. US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.

This time the dispute is over a continuing appropriations bill which includes relief funds needed to pay for disaster recovery after recent widespread flooding on the east coast. Opposition to any tax increases at all has now become part of the Republican credo, and they are demanding that the funds be paid for by extra cuts. Unless appropriations are passed, relief operations will halt within days and the government as a whole will have run out of money on 30 September.

The debt ceiling debate was eventually resolved at the last minute by a compromise in which the Republicans prevailed, and the same is almost certain to happen in the current battle. In exchange for raising the debt ceiling by $2.1-$2.5 trillion until 2013, the compromise had three main parts: $900 billion in immediate cuts, a further $1.2-$1.5 trillion in cuts in late November, and a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The balanced budget amendment now needs to pass the Republican-dominated Congress with a two-thirds majority, so that won’t be happening this time round. There will also be no agreement on the $1.5 trillion of cuts supposed to be drawn up by a bipartisan ‘Joint Committee’ (be prepared for some very public political histrionics as the deadline approaches). This means that a package of $1.2 trillion of cuts over 10 years will automatically be triggered. Surprisingly, the cuts not only savage education and social programmes, but the Pentagon takes a $350 billion hit in the first package of cuts and $600 billion in the second.

What stands out is that there are going to be no tax increases. But Obama got what he wanted, which was for the debt ceiling debate to go away until after the next election – and he gave the Republicans exactly what they wanted, too. This has infuriated left-wing Democrats who are outraged that the rich have yet again got away without being taxed. For the first time, Obama’s approval ratings in California, traditionally a solid Democratic State, have fallen below 50%, and it is clear that Obama’s continued accommodation of the Republicans is driving many of his supporters away.

What the majority of people in the US are concerned about is unemployment. The economy is stagnating. The latest unemployment figures show that the overall unemployment rate is unchanged at 9.1% and that among Hispanics the rate is 11.3%, among black people 16.7% and among teenagers 25.0%. The total number of jobs lost since January 2008 is 8.7 million, while only 1.8 million have been added. Some 450,000 government jobs have been lost. Real GDP has still not returned to the pre-recession peak and growth in the second quarter was revised down to 1.0% at an annual rate. The housing crisis continues, with 10.9m homes worth less than their mortgage – 22.9% of the total. The Federal Reserve reports that manufacturing activity is weak. Small business confidence indices have been in decline for six months. The consumer price index has risen by 3.8% during the last year, due mainly to rises in food and energy prices.

There is clearly no chance of this economy reducing unemployment on any significant scale on its own. Consequently, on 8 September the White House announced the American Jobs Act. This legislation is clearly crafted as an attempt to satisfy Republicans. The Bill budgets $450bn of stimulus money, to be paid for by closing tax loopholes and increasing the deficit reduction target. Payroll tax cuts of $240bn target small business. There is aid of $60bn to help States retain up to 280,000 teachers who would be laid off, and to modernise 35,000 public schools. There is additional aid for improving infrastructure ($75bn), an extension of unemployment benefits ($49bn) and a number of other provisions. However, Republicans argue that the last stimulus didn’t work, that closing the tax breaks is a tax increase, and that anyway the schools don’t need repairing. Prepare for more political squabbling.

Obama also introduced a deficit reduction package designed to cut $3 trillion over the next ten years. The plan includes $1.5 trillion in tax increases, primarily on the rich, by closing loopholes and limiting deductions. It also includes $580bn in ‘adjustments’ (ie cuts) to health and entitlement programmes including $248bn from Medicare (health programme for the elderly) and $72 billion from Medicaid (health programme for the poor). It also counts savings of $1.1 trillion from ending the US occupation of Iraq and withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. It was immediately welcomed by left liberals who were jubilant that the President was (at last!) showing some ‘spine’. In fact, the package seems designed simply to provoke Republican rejection since there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that it will pass the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Obama will then be able to turn round and blame ‘Republican intransigence’ without having to take any responsibility for the Federal cuts which will be made. All part of the bourgeois posturing for the 2012 elections.

None of these ‘initiatives’ makes any serious difference to the working class. The economy needs to generate 350,000 new jobs each month even to restore unemployment to the official ‘natural rate’ of around 6%. That is not going to happen – in August there was zero net job growth.

Huge cuts are under way in education. Of 24 States for which data is available, 21 are providing lower funding than last year, 17 are lower than pre-recession levels and 10 are more than 10% below pre-recession levels. Three States – Arizona, South Carolina and California – have reduced funding to public schools by more than 20%. State and local governments are expected to shed up to 110,000 jobs in the third quarter of this year. Universities and colleges are hiking tuition fees by significant amounts – 10%-15% – while cutting the grants and aid to poorer students. Some States are amending their unemployment insurance programmes, cutting the duration of benefits, reducing average cheque amounts and tightening eligibility. Other State budget cuts reduce health care, services to the elderly and disabled, and higher education. In other cases ‘deals’ have been struck with public sector unions reducing pay and benefits, increasing health care costs and adding unpaid furlough days.

At one end of the scale, unemployment, poverty and misery are growing. 14 million people were unemployed in August; a further 8.8 million were forced to work part-time for economic reasons and a further 2.6 million people who wanted to work were not counted as part of the labour force. Median household income has fallen, even without adjusting for inflation. In real terms median household income fell between 2009 and 2010 by 2.3% and was 7.1% lower than its previous peak in 1999. While median income for all households in 2010 was $49,445, that of black households was $32,068 – 3.2% lower than in 2009. Where the head of the household was disabled, the 2009-2010 decline was 8.5%. During the one-year period, the number of people without any health insurance rose from 49 million to 49.9 million – disproportionately hitting poorer families. The percentage of the US population with incomes below the federal poverty threshold increased from 14.3% to 15.1% – the highest level since 1982. A better measure of poverty is half median income, and by this criterion 22.1% fell below this level in 2010. Some 48.8 million people lived in food insecure households in 2010 (up from 36.2 million in 2007), of which 16.2 million are children (21.6% of all children). Black (25.1%) and Hispanic (26.2%) households experienced food insecurity, far higher than the national level (14.7%). In June 2011, 45.1 million people received SNAP/Food Stamp aid – one in seven of the population and 3.8 million more than in June 2010.

At the other end of the scale, capital and the capitalists are prospering. In 2008, corporate profits were 9.9% of national income; by the second quarter of 2011, they had grown to 14.4%, from $1,248.4bn to $1,933.7bn. A survey of 100 corporations with the highest paid CEOs found that 25 of them received more in salary and other compensation in 2010 than their companies’ paid in federal income tax expenses. The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and the bourgeois politicians are scrapping over who gets to organise the oppression of the working class.

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