Thursday, February 21, 2008

Praise for Castro

Fidel Castro, Hero
Over 100 US congressmen and women have called for an end to the criminal Cuba embargo. Ever wonder what it was like in Cuba before Castro got rid of the vultures who now live in Miami? Lets see:
In 1934 Fulgencio Batista took over the Cuban government in what became known as "The Revolt of the Sergeants." For the next twenty-five years he ruled Cuba with an iron fist, and the full blessing and endorsement of the United States government, who feared a social and economic revolution and saw him as a stabilizing force with respect for American interests.

Batista established lasting relationships with organized crime, and under his guardianship Havana became known as "the Latin Las Vegas." Meyer Lansky and other prominent gangsters were heavily invested in Havana, and politicians from Batista on down took their cut.

Through Lansky, the mafia knew they had a friend in Cuba. A summit at Havana's Hotel Nacional, with mobsters such as Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Santo Trafficante Jr., Moe Dalitz and others, confirmed Luciano's authority over the U.S. mob, and coincided with Frank Sinatra's 1946 singing debut in Havana. It was here that Lansky gave permission to kill Bugsy Siegel.

Many of Batista's enemies faced the same fate as the ambitious Siegel. Nobody seemed to mention the many brutal human rights abuses that were a regular feature of Batista's private police force. Nobody, that is, except the many in Cuba who opposed the U.S.-friendly dictator.
At first the strong man made and broke Presidents: seven of them in seven years, including Grau San Martin, whom he propped up for a few months (September 1933-January 1934). He fattened the Army from 8,000 to 20,000 men, gave it one-fourth of Cuba's budget. He put down political unrest with a hard sergeant's hand.

In the late '30s a change crept in. The dictator spoke of good dictatorship, "disciplined" democracy, constitutionality, economic reform. The cynical and the critical said that he talked big, did little to uplift Cuba's sugar-sick economy, uproot its age-old graft. But Batista began to curry civilian support. He encouraged opposition, pardoned political prisoners, even legalized the Communist Party. He cultivated culture. He took up smart squash-tennis (though he preferred cock-fighting), got a tailor, elbowed a way into Havana society, polished his pronunciation. He began to think of legitimizing his power. In 1940 he ran for the Presidency against his old revolutionary comrade, Grau San Martin. Batista won by a neat majority, which his opponents said was stacked by the Army.

Last year he told the politicians that they had better organize for the 1944 elections. They did not believe him until the President threatened to turn his job over to Senator Carlos Saladrigas if a new chief executive were not constitutionally elected. Then they tumbled into the arena.

New Man. The campaign was loud and ebullient, in the Cuban manner. Everyone admitted that cold, efficient Lawyer Carlos Saladrigas had no political appeal, but no one saw how he could lose. Gentle, starry-eyed Professor (of Anatomy) Grau San Martin supplied all the color, roused the mass enthusiasm.

In a soiled and wilted Panama suit, Dr. Grau stumped the countryside. The people remembered how, in his brief former Presidency during the great depression, he had tried to up wages, make more jobs. His earnest voice, his fervid sermons against corruption, his glowing talk of more schools and better roads, of Pan American solidarity and Cuba for the Cubans, sparked an emotional tinder. Peasant women knelt before him, held up their babies for his touch. Many believed the myth that "honest Grau" would end taxes, rent, electric and water bills.

When he cast his vote, Grau San Martin was sure that he would win if the poll was honest. He was as surprised as anyone over the result: the fairest, most orderly, least bloody (one death) election in Cuba's turbulent politics.

What Now? At 43, Cuba's strong man suddenly had new prestige. Fulgencio Batista was hardly ripe for retirement. He talked of a long trip among Cuba's neighbor countries; perhaps the ex-cane-chopper dreamed of becoming a voice in all Latin America. He was a man to watch. He was sure to keep one eye on the home island, to counter anything smacking of unpractical government. From his balcony last week he told his pueblo that if they ever needed him, he would answer their cries. Dr. Grau, preparing to move into the Presidential Palace next October, undoubtedly heard and pondered the outgoing dictator's promise.

12-Jun-1944. Time Magaine.
Lets not forget that most Cubans lived as peasants, little more than slaves, with no hope for themselves or their future. Castro changed all that, and very much for the better.

Praise for Fidel Castro from NYC Congressman Serrano:
Today’s news that Fidel Castro has retired from leading his nation proves yet again that this important figure defies the attempts of his critics to paint him simply as a power-hungry authoritarian. Instead, it proves that Castro sees clearly the long-term interests of the Cuban people and recognizes that they are best served by a carefully planned transition. Few leaders, having been on the front lines of history so long, would be able to voluntarily step aside in favor of a new, younger generation. In taking this action, Castro is ensuring that the changes he brought about will live on and grow.

I would like to congratulate both Fidel Castro and the Cuban people for this smooth transition of power. It is much to their credit that the much-predicted turmoil following Castro’s exit from direct control of the state did not happen. It proves that there is a broad base of support for the Cuban system on the island. It also proves that despite constant criticisms, Castro’s revolution was not merely a series of military events in Cuba in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but instead a process that continues to evolve in Cuba today.

As always, I want to take the opportunity to call on the Bush administration to change its backward and counterproductive policy of blockading and isolating the Cuban people. In a moment like this, it is wise to remember that the stated goal of the Bush administration and anti-Castro hardliners has been to push Fidel Castro from power. At times it seemed as though it was a personal grudge against Castro, remade into foreign policy. But now that he has voluntarily stepped aside and relinquished power, I wonder what twisted new rationale they will create to continue their failed policies. It is long past time to end the charade and begin dialogue and engagement with Cuba.

Our two peoples are so much alike, with so many shared linkages, it is particularly sad to see us continue to dwell on false and invented divisions. I deeply hope that the new leadership in Cuba can find a new opportunity for dialogue when a new administration comes to power in the United States in January 2009. It is time to recognize that Castro was a great leader for his people — and move toward engagement with his successor. It is time to put the past struggles behind us and move forward together.
19-Feb-2008. New York Times.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

McCain? The Arizona Hawk

Is John McCain different? Will he bring a new agenda to Washington? To be sure, he is in the pocket of a slightly different group of capitalists than the Bushs. He does not pander as much to the religious right as some other Republican candidates.

However, he is a hard-core right wing war hawk and will do everything in his power to undermine and subvert the left both domestically and abroad. He has already done so, in fact, and as president he will accelerate his agenda using the full power of the state, including espionage, war and outright terrorism (in the form of assassinations, etc).

McCain's agenda is very close to being fascist insofar as his aim is to liquidate opposing world views by force with no heed paid to a democratic process nor how many people are hurt.

Hopefully he will not be elected as President of the United States. However if he is we can only expect the worst and anticipate increased world instability as a result of his reckless and hawkish policies.
Now that John McCain has presumably wrapped up the Republican nomination, it's natural to wonder what kind of foreign policy he might pursue towards the rest of the world if he were elected President. For example, how would the "maverick" McCain deal with Latin America?

In recent years, the region has taken a decidedly leftist turn; new leaders such as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua have openly challenged U.S. diplomatic and political influence. McCain's record suggests that he would pursue a very hawkish and antagonistic policy in the hemisphere. It's even possible that the Arizona Republican, who has suggested that the United States might be in Iraq for hundreds of years and might "bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran," could ratchet up military tensions in Latin America and escalate conflict with countries like Venezuela.

The International Republican Institute (IRI)

McCain has chaired the International Republican Institute (IRI) since 1993. Ostensibly a non-partisan, democracy-building outfit, in reality the IRI serves as an instrument to advance and promote the most far right Republican foreign policy agenda. More a cloak-and-dagger operation than a conventional research group, IRI has aligned itself with some of the most antidemocratic factions in the Third World.

On the surface at least, IRI seems to have a rather innocuous agenda including party building, media training, the organization of leadership trainings, dissemination of newsletters, and strengthening of civil society. In reality, however, the IRI is more concerned with crushing incipient left movements in Latin America.

One of the least known Washington institutions, IRI receives taxpayer money via the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. A.I.D.). The organization is active in around sixty countries and has a budget of $74 million. On the board of IRI, McCain has been joined by a who's who of Republican bigwigs such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Kozloff, Nicholas. 14-February-2008. CounterPunch.

Real Income for Most Venezuelans Increases 328%

The capitalist press continues to distort the socialist revolution in Venezuela and raise crisis after crisis. Between 2004-2006 the real income (inflation adjusted) of the poorest 58% of Venezuelans increased by 130%, in other words, their incomes more than doubled. At the same time, state run supermarkets (Mercal's) offer basic foodstuffs for an average 39% discount over retail. This means the purchasing power of the average Venezuelan has increased by 328%. An example:
  • In 2004 you made $10 per week and milk cost $2 a gallon. You can buy up to 5 gallons of milk per week.
  • In 2006 you made $20 per week and milk at the Mercal cost $1.22 a gallon. You can now buy 16.4 gallons of milk per week.
The capitalist market has failed to respond to the increased demand effectively. In fact, there are widespread reports of distributors and speculators actually hoarding foodstuffs in an attempt to raise prices further. This has even been reported on the supply side, for instance, whereby multinational corporations are withholding or under-producing inputs into the local farming economy impacting the ability for farmers to produce the needed foodstuffs.
Problems like these are common in young socialist economies. In Cuba, shortly after the revolution, the government established a fixed low price for milk by subsidizing the stores that sold it. Overnight, milk shortages occurred. Parents who previously couldn't afford milk for their children now found that they could. This option didn't exist under the Batista regime. The U.S. press used this "milk shortage" to show that socialism had failed, when it actually had succeeded, especially for parents who could now afford to buy milk.

Irelan, Patrick. Feburary 15, 2008. CounterPunch.
Corruption is common especially at times of great economic change. This has been shown in the housing bubble in the first world economies. In Venezuela it is no different, a massive and rapid increase in purchasing power has spiked demand and there are those who look only to their personal profit.

The situation also demonstrates how integrated economic systems are and how both internal and external pressures can easily destabilize prices and supplies in the short term. But what is the solution?

First we must identify the problem. Capitalists would identify the problem as a classic case of supply and demand. Their cynical view leads them to the conclusion that the demand is too high, therefore prices should be allowed to rise, thereby curtailing demand and achieving equilibrium. This may be an appropriate "solution" for the iPod market, although I am not convinced even in this case.

But herein lies the problem with reducing all things to commodities. Food is essential for human life, therefore market driven pricing is inappropriate. A society must apply a minimum amount of resources to producing enough food for their own population. This basic subsistence level should be guaranteed for all people and the necessary resources, human and capital, should be applied to ensuring the proper level of production for the given population.

The latifundia model common in Latin America and in other countries with export oriented cash crops is completely the opposite from this. In this model, a nations entire agricultural sector is geared towards production of some export crop, be it tobacco, beef or sugar, and the basic foodstuffs are imported from abroad (usually the United States or EU). All agriculture is commoditized, and nations have no way to ensure food security for their populations.

Food security will likely be the key battleground in the coming century. As oil reserves continue to decline and bio-fuel continues its stellar rise, the ability for the US and the EU to export massive amounts of grain at competitive prices will rapidly decline. At the same time, the wholesale influx of the world peasant class (over 3 billion people) into shantytowns (in the 3rd world) or new factory cities (China, India) and out of self-sufficient food production will continue to decrease variegated national food production. This process has been accelerated by the expropriation of peasant plots by large land holders (primarily ranchers), corporations, and in the case of China, the government.

The upshot will be that nations will have no choice but to focus on food security. The commodity model will fail. The market will fail. People will starve. Production, processing and distribution must be in the control of a local democratic people's government and guaranteed for all citizens. Production, processing and distribution must be organized around rational, scientific principles, and monitored in a humane and moral manner. It is good to see that the government of Venezuela understands this and is taking measures now to ensure a future of food security for all its people.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hugo Chavez Threatens US Oil Supply

In response to Exxon's aggressive tactics of "judicial terrorism", President Chavez of Venezuela has threatened an oil embargo against the United States.

Meanwhile, the US and international media circus is using this scenario in their continued "Howard Dean Howl" campaign against Chavez.

Most recently the (CIA) coordinated ¿Por qué no te callas? smear campaign gained a lot of traction in the Spanish speaking world. Ironically, Chavez was correct in saying that Spain's King Juan Carlos is a fascist collaborator- it is historical fact ("The king, who spent much of his early life in exile and was groomed by Gen Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator [of Spain], as his successor" - and he's still at it!). What kind of world do we live in where fascists are made out to be heroes whereas socialists and idealists are made out to be fools? Who actually won WWII?

The goal of these campaigns is to discredit and undermine Chavez, make him out to be a fool, and thereby undermine the entire socialist project in Venezuela.
Venezuela's Energy Minister, Rafael Ramirez, characterised a series of court orders obtained by Exxon Mobil Corp. in Britain, the Netherlands, and the Dutch Antilles, freezing up to $12 billion in assets of Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA, as "judicial terrorism," in a statement today.

The injunctions were solicited by Exxon in anticipation of an arbitration ruling by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes over a compensation claim. As part of a drive to recover the nation's oil sovereignty the Venezuelan government nationalized Exxon's 41.7 percent stake in the Cerro Negro project in May last year with an offer for compensation. However, Exxon not satisfied, demanded arbitration. Although the U.S. oil giant has not specified how much it wants in compensation it said its investment in the project was valued at $750 million at the time the assets were expropriated.
Note that the judicial process has threatened to freeze between 12-43 billion in PDVSA assets, whereas Venezuela has been in ongoing negotiations with Exxon regarding only $750 million in compensation.

"This is pure judicial terrorism," Ramirez told reporters in Caracas. "If they think that with this they will get us to backtrack on our nationalization policies, well, gentleman from Exxon Mobil, you are dead wrong again."

Exxon presented the documents to the Federal Court in Manhattan on Thursday and is petitioning the court to ratify the injunctions in a hearing scheduled for February 13. However, Ramirez said the injunctions are temporary as all the court orders are subject to appeal.

"We don't have any decision in any court that is definitive. We have a temporary measure in a court in New York and we have the right to respond, that is to say a transitory measure and we are sure that we are going to defeat this measure," he assured.

The London High Court order was granted on Jan. 24 without any prior notice to the Venezuelan oil company. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Until then, PDVSA is barred from removing any assets in England or Wales up to a value of $12 billion. While attachment orders from courts in the Netherlands and Netherlands Antilles also grant injunctions up to $12 billion against PDVSA in these jurisdictions, Margaret Ross, an Exxon spokesperson in Houston, said the sum total that could be frozen worldwide was $12 billion.
It is interesting the way that Exxon is promoting this court ruling. It seems to be part of an integrated media campaign designed less to cripple PDVSA or recoup the $750 million, and more to continue the cycle of discrediting Chavez while attempting to create a crisis on the ground in Venezuela. A recent CIA report characterized Venezuela as a regional threat to US interests. One of the challenges they highlighted was that the ruling classes of Venezuela were being co-opted by the socialist reforms because they were in fact very good for the economy and creating profits. These types of smear tactics are designed to get those people to feel uncomfortable with Chavez and to join the opposition.

Ramirez said that PDVSA's assets in the jurisdictions covered by those countries are valued at significantly less than $12 billion and emphasised that the decision would not affect the company's cash flow and operational capacity. PDVSA's global assets are valued at $107 billion, he added.

However, the injunction could affect PDVSA's European refining assets, particularly a 50% share in German joint venture Ruhr Oel, which according to filings PDVSA made with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2006, were held through a Netherlands Company PDV Europa BV.

In the context of soaring energy prices, the move by Exxon is a particularly aggressive challenge to governments around the world who are trying to recuperate soveriegnty over their natural resources.
"To me it sounds like a very aggressive tactic," said Stephen Zamora, professor of international law at the University of Houston Law Center.

"I can't really say that I'm aware this has been used in other investment disputes. They may be trying to get the government to settle."
What? A new tool being used by international capital to undermine socialist revolution? They are changing the rules? They are making a small country that is trying to travel a different path play by different rules than they play by? Golly that just ain't fair!

Patrick Esteruelas, of the Eurasia Group in New York commented, "Although Exxon is within their rights to persue a temporary embargo of PDVSA assets they will probably have to prove that PDVSA has no intention of compensating them."

"However, PDVSA has been very careful to insist that they will still negotiate with Exxon to achieve an acceptable compromise," he added.

Ramirez said the media publicity was a result of Exxon trying to "scratch a figure into the negotiating table" to affect compensation talks and said the world's largest oil company's compensation demands were "ridiculous."

He also accused the US company of using the legal case to destabilize Venezuela, by creating panic over its finances, as the country's dollar denominated bonds experienced their sharpest drop in six months on fears the government could face a protracted legal battle with the oil giant.

PDVSA, which supplies about 10% of the U.S's oil, is a crucial source of funds for the Venezuelan government's social programs that provide free education and healthcare to the poor. In 2006, the company spent $13.3 billion on such programs, up from $6.9 billion in 2005 and more than double the $5.8 billion it invested in new domestic gas and oil projects.
Fox News hates this. The neo-fascists (and neo-liberals for that matter) continually claim that PDVSA is wrong to use its profits to rebuild Venezuela.

Ramirez said that the interests of the Venezuelan nation were more important than any corporation and assured that Venezuela would not back down from its policy of full oil sovereignty. We are "being attacked by a transnational corporation," but, "we are not going to back down, we are going to beat them in this battle," he said.

Caracas, February 8, 2008 (
See also:

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Union Membership Rises in 2007!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the largest rise in the number of U.S. workers belonging to labor unions in the last quarter-century. In 2007 the rolls increased by 311,000 for a total of 15.7 million workers, despite a decline in manufacturing jobs, particularly in auto.

The overall percentage of organized workers rose to 12.1 percent of the workforce, including 7.5 percent of private-sector workers and 35.9 percent of public-sector workers. Membership grew most in construction and health services, with a higher rate of 14.7 percent in Western states compared to 13.8 percent in Midwestern states.

Labor leaders hailed the turnaround. Stewart Acuff, AFL-CIO organizing director, cited organizing drives of 40,000 child care workers in Michigan and New York. (New York Times, Jan. 26)

IWW On The Picket Line. 6-Feb-08.

Western Media Propaganda Arm of Empire

The evidence should be clear more now than ever. News organizations are tools of specific segments of ruling class political opinion. The only reason to "read" them is to understand what agendas are being advanced and foisted upon the general public.

It is here that the truest form of democracy we have access to in late capitalist society exists - the "democracy" of the commodity purchase, in this case the purchase of propaganda. The news we buy and read tilts the economic landscape this way and that. So it seems that all we have left is to "vote with our dollars."

That, or reject the entire corrupt edifice wholesale.

From an excellent article by Toni Solo:
The main reason now to read most Western Bloc corporate media is to discover what lies they are spreading on behalf of their countries’ governments and corporations. In the case of Venezuela, Carlin’s piece indicates that one can expect a ratcheting up of the propaganda war against Venezuela over the next year or so.


But perhaps the most relevant point about Carlin’s particular brand of misreporting is that it confirms the intimate links between European mainstream media and European country governments and security services. Carlin’s piece is very much in the style of an older UK anti-journalist called Chapman Pincher. Pincher used to make a comfortable career writing screeds just like Carlin’s, based on unattributable sources, smear and guilt by association, regurgitating whatever the official propaganda line of the day may happen to have been.

Solo, Toni. The Observer Exclusive: Hugo Chavez is President of Venezuela. Venezuela Analysis. 03-Feb-2008.
From the Project for Excellence in Journalism:
Journalists are unhappy with the way things are going in their profession these days. Many give poor grades to the coverage offered by the types of media that serve most Americans: daily newspapers, local TV, network TV news and cable news outlets. In fact, despite recent scandals at the New York Times and USA Today, only national newspapers ­ and the websites of national news organizations ­ receive good performance grades from the journalistic ranks.

Roughly half of journalists at national media outlets (51%), and about as many from local media (46%), believe that journalism is going in the wrong direction, as significant majorities of journalists have come to believe that increased bottom line pressure is "seriously hurting" the quality of news coverage. This is the view of 66% of national news people and 57% of the local journalists questioned in this survey.

Journalists at national news organizations generally take a dimmer view of state of the profession than do local journalists. But both groups express considerably more concern over the deleterious impact of bottom-line pressures than they did in polls taken by the Center in 1995 and 1999. Further, both print and broadcast journalists voice high levels of concern about this problem, as do majorities working at nearly all levels of news organizations.

The notable dissent from this opinion comes from those at the top of national news organizations. Most executives at national news organizations (57%) feel increased business pressures are "mostly just changing the way news organizations do things" rather than seriously undermining quality.

Bottom-Line Pressures Now Hurting Coverage, Say Journalists. The Pew Research Center. 23-May-2004.
Of course the executives don't feel quality has gone down. Quite the contrary, from their perspective, quality has gone UP. Because the product they wish to generate has nothing to do with a free press, but with satisfying their class interest in order to secure their continued advancement upward in bourgeois society. Nevermind those pesky journalistic ideals. From a capitalist perspective, these are nothing more than product defects. The removal of which need not even be (consciously) poltically motivated.