US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made an unannounced visit to Bahrain, ostensibly to encourage its leaders to embrace reform.
On Friday, Bahraini police fired tear gas at anti-government protesters after blocking them from marching toward the royal palace. About 150 people were injured in the incident.
Gates arrived in the Bahraini capital Manama on Friday evening after attending a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on the ongoing crisis in Libya, AFP reported.
He is making the visit to discuss the latest regional developments, encourage the Bahraini rulers to embrace reform, and reassure the monarchy about the United States’ full support, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters aboard the plane.
In his meetings with high-ranking Bahraini officials, the US defense secretary, who is the first member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet to travel to Bahrain since demonstrations began in the strategic Persian Gulf kingdom on February 14, will also discuss ways to defuse tension in the country.
The visit comes two weeks after the highest-ranking officer in the US military, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, also stopped in Manama, which is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Earlier, Britain’s national security advisor and armed forces chief of staff arrived in Bahrain to discuss the latest developments in the country. Peter Ricketts and David Richards met with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
The Manama demonstrations have set off alarm bells in neighboring Saudi Arabia. Riyadh launched a massive security operation on Friday to deter protesters from coming to the streets for a planned “Day of Rage” demonstration.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, known to Egyptians as “Mubarak’s poodle,” may be calling the shots in Cairo as head of the country’s military-led government, but the man who sits at his right hand side is the Pentagon’s poodle, and he’s likely to continue to play a key role in Egypt even after a civilian government succeeds the current military one.
Lt. General Sami Hafez Enan, “a favorite of the American military,” according to Elisabeth Bumiller’s piece in today’s New York Times, is second-in-command to Tantawi, the man reviled in Egypt for being a toady to the deposed president Hosni Mubarak.
Bumiller says Enan—who “remains in close contact with Pentagon officials by phone” and is “a crucial link for the United States”–is considered Tantawi’s likely successor as head of Egypt’s armed forces.
And since the military plays a dominant role in Egypt, Enan is likely to continue to exercise considerable influence, a point Bumiller agrees with. “No one disputes,” she observes, “that General Enan will play a central role in Egypt’s future government, more likely behind the scenes, where the country’s powerful and traditionally secretive armed forces are more comfortable.”
Washington showers $1.3 billion in military aid upon Egypt annually, which the Egyptian military uses to buy “American-made arms and equipment – typically F-16 fighter jets and M1A1 Abrams tanks.” None of the money ever leaves the United States. Instead, Enan and other senior Egyptian military officials present their wish list to the Pentagon, which then transfers US taxpayer dollars into the accounts of US arms merchants, who then deliver the goods.
It’s like an annual gift to General Dynamics. And Egypt. Courtesy of the US taxpayer.
Ever since Egypt agreed to become a prop of US imperialism in north Africa and western Asia—and to allow Israel to run roughshod over Arabs in Palestine and Lebanon–Washington has transferred $35 billion of US taxpayer money to the accounts of US arms manufacturers, on behalf of Egypt’s armed forces.
Bumiller reports that the reforms of General Enan and the military government “have so far been mostly cosmetic.”
Cosmetic is an apt description. Egypt’s revolution has amounted to little more that changing the faces of the state. Mubarak is out, because the people demanded it, and now so too is Mubarak’s old prime minister, also at the behest of the people. But Mubarakism—US domination of Egypt through a local military elite – remains.
This won’t change even if and when the current military government is succeeded by an elected, civilian, one.
What would happen if a future government decided to pursue policies at odds with US foreign policy preferences, especially in connection with Israel? Since a break with Washington on key foreign policy positions would likely disrupt the flow of equipment and training to the Egyptian armed forces, the probable outcome is that the government would lose the confidence of the military, and the military would take over to set Egypt back on the prescribed US foreign policy path. Knowing this, a civilian government is unlikely to step outside the boundaries its military’s benefactor is prepared to tolerate.
And just how independent of the White House and State Department will a future civilian government be? Already, officials in Washington are “discussing setting aside new funds to bolster the rise of secular political parties.” Sure, Egyptians are free to elect anyone they want, but modern elections are major marketing campaigns. Without strong financial backing, you haven’t a chance. How fitting, then, for the continuation of Mubarakism that Washington’s democracy promoters will be furnishing “acceptable” politicians and political parties with money, strategic advice, polling, and whatever other support they need to prevail over alternatives judged to be incompatible with “US interests”, but which, may, on the other hand, represent the interests of the mass of Egyptians.
Westerners would never tolerate foreign powers backing the West’s political parties, even if it was done in the name of promoting democracy. Strange that so many Westerners think it fine for their own governments to meddle in other countries’ elections –and fall for the deception that the imperialist practice of exerting influence abroad by buying foreign politicians is really a laudable exercise in democracy promotion. If foreign governments meddling in our elections means an outside power is trying to gain advantage at our expense, doesn’t Washington’s setting aside new funds to meddle in Egypt’s elections mean Washington is trying to gain advantage at Egyptians’ expense?
Or are Washington’s and the EU’s motives somehow purer? Given their records —both past and present—of backing Mubarak, other dictatorships, and absolute monarchies, to protect Western “interests,” this can hardly be true.
How then–with Egypt’s armed forces being a virtual extension of the Pentagon and Washington’s democracy promoters preparing to boost funding to pro-US political parties–are we to believe that the Egyptian rebellion will bring about anything more than a cosmetic face-lift of Mubarakism?
A real revolution requires more than replacing Mubarak with Tantawi, Tantawi with Enan, and Enan with a civilian government that needs to keep Enan–and the Pentagon officials he’s in close contact with–happy. A revolution is not a changing of the guard.
There will be blood. No revolution comes in a straight line. Counter-revolution runs its steady course from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia through Egypt and into Libya. In Qatif, the Saudi National Guard opened fire on a protest, a phenomenon which has become commonplace in Bahrain. Inside Egypt, rumors fly that it is the security services that orchestrated the attacks on Copts and women (at a march on the 100th anniversary of international women’s day). Libya is in the throes of an asymmetrical civil war, with Qaddafi’s forces and the rebels running a bloody standoff somewhere near the meridian that divides the country into its eastern and western halves. Jubilation at the hasty departure of Ben Ali and Mubarak settle into a time-sequence that is less exhilarating, but nonetheless impressive. It appears as if the people are not to be content by the first flush of victory. What is wanted is more, and this is where the counter-revolution comes in.
At one end of the Arab Revolt is Libya, where the guns are not silent, and threats of military intervention confound discussions in Brussels. The itch to invade mirrors the lead up to the Iraq war in 2003, but with the accents reversed: the French and the English are eager to thrust themselves, while the Americans and the Germans hesitate. NATO warships sail closer to the Libyan coast, and talk of “no-fly zones” intensifies. U. S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates rightly warns that any military confrontation would be seen as a declaration of war. An exhausted U. S. military machine is not capable of yet another war. And besides, the political outcomes of intervention in Libya are unclear.
Qaddafi’s hardened armies and the rebels, led as they are by ex-ministers of Qaddafi’s regime (such as Mustafa Abdul Jalil), continue to battle along the Mediterranean road, between Surt and Ras Lanuf. One day the rebels advance, and the next Qaddafi’s forces. In his dreams, Qaddafi saves nations. Awake, he razes cities. That has been the fate of some of these cities on the edge of the Gulf of Sidra. The “oil dole” and clan favoritism has enabled Qaddafi to secure support in the western part of Libya. The east is largely in the hands of the rebels. With a weak military capacity, the rebels nonetheless have Benghazi in hand and the more urbane set within Qaddafi’s troupe are loath to assume that it can be taken back militarily. It would probably be mete for the National Libyan Council (the government of the east) to declare themselves as the authentic government of Libya and wait. As oil revenue dwindle to the west and if an arms embargo holds, pressure on Qaddafi from below might set the western part of Libya aflame. The working class of Tripoli is restive. Their neighborhoods, such as Feshloon and Tejura, are on permanent lock-down. Martyrs lie on autopsy tables at Tripoli Central Hospital. The workers are not pusillanimous; they are waiting for their moment. Military intervention from NATO will only strengthen Qaddafi’s hand, allowing him to don the robes of the revolutionary against imperialist attack. The workers are also patriots. They might lose their resolve against Qaddafi if they see French and English speaking troops conducting Iraq War style raids into their homes.
Qaddafi continues to insist that the NLC is the mask of al-Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood has certainly a long lineage in the eastern part of Libya, bordering as it does Egypt, the home of the Brotherhood. Sections of the Brotherhood morphed into much more hardened fighters after their sojourn as part of the U.S.-Saudi-Pakistani war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. They formed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah fi-Libya), and returned to eastern Libya to take on Qaddafi. His forces cracked down with force, largely against the main figures of the Group, but also against Salafis who were not radical (such as Muhammad al-Bashti, brutally tortured to death in 1981). The Group tried to maintain its strength, and it did benefit from the Algerian Islamist uprising. A crippling blow came in October 1997, when the Libyan forces killed the Group’s most important commander, Salah Fathi bin Salman (who was known as Abu Abd al-Rahman Hattab). Qaddafi’s early support for the U. S. led “War on Terror” earned him quick dividends. The Group’s remaining intellectual leaders were swept up in 2004, Abu Munder al-Saidi in Hong Kong and Abdullah Sadeq in Thailand: they went into the black hole of Libya’s prison system. What could have been the rump of an Islamist uprising had been fully destroyed. What is now in command in eastern Libya is not al-Qaeda aspirants, but regional forces who have long-standing grievances against Tripoli. The counter-revolution prefers to see them as Islamists, and hopes to drive the stake of fear into the heart of nearby Europe.
With the media concentrating on Libya, focus has shifted from the Sultans of Arabia and their crackdown. Money is the oil that lubricates their counter-revolution. The Saudi royal family hastened to provide transfer payments that total $37 billion. The Gulf Cooperation Council has decided to turn over $20 billion to the beleaguered monarchies of Bahrain and Oman. Muscat and Manama have been equally overrun by dissent. Recycled cabinets are not enough for this popular upsurge, and the bullets fired into the crowd have failed to have the required pedagogical effect. The people will not stop their obligation to democracy.
If Qaddafi’s counter-revolution takes refuge in fantasies of al-Qaeda on Europe’s doorstop, the emirs stoke the fires of the Shia Revival. The Baharnah, the indigenous Shia of Bahrain, for instance, have a political party, the al-Wifaq, that certainly speaks for the Shia working class and middle class who feel a great sense of alienation from Bahrain’s institutions. However, this alienation was not always so. In other words, it is not a sectarian alienation whose roots might be found in the 8th century. Rather, the Shia distress in Bahrain has modern roots, even if these are refracted through older lineages. It is an alienation from oil more than a theological dispute.
Bahrain’s oil was discovered in 1932, and by 1934 it was the first country to export its oil to Europe. A British protectorate against the Ottoman Empire, Bahrain provided oil and protection for the sea lanes from powers that sought to rival British dominion over the Indian Ocean. In December 1934, a group of educated Bahrainis drafted a petition to their titular ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (who answered to Sir Charles Dalrymple Belgrave, who fashioned himself as Belgrave of Bahrain). No real reforms were forthcoming, and so in 1938, Shia and Sunni leaders (educated merchants and intellectuals) joined with the oil workers (who went on strike) to call for an elected legislature and the other trappings of democracy (including legal trade unions). They were crushed. Their leaders were sent to India. A second revolt, this time helped along by Nasserism, between 1954 and 1956 was equally beaten back (its leaders were sent to the cell in St. Helena that once housed Napoleon). There was little sectarian in these movements from below. They wanted a better share of the oil profits, and respect.
Independence from Britain in 1971 was greeted by a new struggle for constitutionalism. The al-Khalifa ruler went to visit the leading Shia cleric, Ayatollah Mohsin al-Hakim in his base in Najaf (Iraq), to urge him to moderate the Shia demands. It was in the interest of the al-Khalifas to color the demands from below as sectarian. A toothless constitutionalism was set up. Frustration with the pace of reform was heightened after the Iranian Revolution, and the older (Akhbari Shia) traditions found themselves marginalized by the more aggressive political Shi’ism that emanated from Qom (Iran). Sheikh Ali Salman, the current head of the al-Wafiq party, comes from this latter tradition, schooled in King Saud University (chemistry) and then in the famous al-Hawzah al-Arabiyyah in Qom (he was there during the first Gulf War). A renewed constitutional attempt in the early 1990s was once more crushed (and Ali Salman had to leave Bahrain). It set the stage for the King’s new constitution of 2002 that made the King truly sovereign and the various bodies purely advisory. The Shia leader of the time, Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamal said of it, “this is not the type of parliament we had demanded.” Al-Jamal died in 2006, leaving the field to Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim and his protégé, Ali Salman.
Whatever their temperament, the Wafiq Party led by Ali Salman is not in a position to create the vilayat-e faqih, the guardianship of the clerics. In collaboration with six other parties, it has recently made a reasonable demand, that the current government resign and that a new transition government “whose hands have not been stained with the blood of the martyrs” help “pave the way for the transition to real reforms.” They point to housing and income, to corruption and monarchical excess as their spurs. Also here is the talk of discrimination, and the “exclusion of competent national talent.”
About half of the population of Bahrain comes from South Asia: their needs are not on the table for this revolution. This is a pity. It shows the limits of their demands. The distressed migrants from Egypt and South Asia fleeing from Libya and stranded in Tunisia should give us a sense of the social ecology of the oil industry. These unregistered people produce the world’s wealth but are themselves utterly disposable in a time of crisis (only the stalwart agencies of the UN are at hand, and their miserable resources can only do so much). It is unclear to me why the new revolutionary forces in Egypt have not insisted that the border between Libya and Egypt be opened up to welcome their co-nationals homes.
The counter-revolution counts on sectarianism to tear apart the Arabian resistance. During Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006 and the Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq, the establishment Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia went on an anti-Shia rampage. Clerics such as Safar al-Hawali and Nasir al-’Umar preached exclusively through an anti-Shia lens. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak produced a fatwa in December 2006 that declared the Shia to be takfir, enemies of the Sunnis. In the last months of 2006, Toby Jones notes, the security forces “arrested Shi’is from Qatif and the surrounding areas, reportedly for supporting Hezbollah.” Ten years before, in Bahrain, the minister for justice and Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Abd Allah bin Khalid al-Khalifa, threatened “some Islamic movements” for “taking an extremist path,” and so allowed his security agencies to take the violent path against them, mainly Shia. It was a convenient way to pollute the waters of grievance.
In 1845, a British official watched unrest take hold in Bahrain. He wrote, “Numbers of the principal and most wealthy inhabitants, to avoid the effects of increased anarchy and confusion, fled upon the commencement of actual hostilities to Koweit on the Arabian and to Lingah and other places on the Persian Coast, where they have since temporarily located themselves, in order to watch the course of events, and return with the first signs of peace and established government, and consequent security to life and property.” The counter-revolution in 2011, similarly, watches and waits for its agents to do its work for it. It too wants to preserve life and property, but not those of the masses; only its own life and its own property. It counts on its allies in the North to bring the cavalry if things turn dire. Intervention might yet come in Libya, but it has already come to the Arabian Peninsula. Last year, the U. S. government inked a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The kit includes UH-60 Blackhawk and MH-6 Little Bird helicopters, very useful in counter-insurgency. When the Peninsula’s political temperature rises, those helicopters will be the “first signs of peace and established government” in the region.
Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at: email@example.com
We shouldn’t need yet another major nuclear power accident to wake up the public and decision-makers to the fact that there are better, much safer ways to make electricity.
In the aftermath of the largest earthquake to occur in Japan in recorded history, 5,800 residents living within five miles of six reactors at the Fukushima nuclear station have been advised to evacuate and people living within 15 miles of the plant are advised to remain indoors.
Plant operators have not been able to cool down the core of one reactor containing enormous amounts of radioactivity because of failed back-up diesel generators required for the emergency cooling. In a race against time, the power company and the Japanese military are flying in nine emergency generators. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton announced today that the U.S. Air Force has provided cooling water for the troubled reactor. Complicating matters, Japan’s Meteorological Agency has declared the area to be at high risk of being hit by a tsunami.
The plant was operating at full power when the quake hit and even though control rods were automatically inserted to halt the nuclear reaction, the reactor core remains very hot. Even with a fully functioning emergency core cooling system, it would take several hours for the reactor core to cool and stabilize. If emergency cooling isn’t restored, the risks of a core melt, and release of radioactivity into the environment is significantly increased. Also, it’s not clear if piping and electric distribution systems inside the plant have been damaged. If so, that would interfere with reactor cooling. A senior U.S. nuclear power technician tells me the window of time before serious problems arise is between 12 and 24 hours.
Early on Japanese nuclear officials provided reassurances that no radiation has been released. However, because of the reactor remains at a very high temperature, radiation levels are rising in the turbine building – forcing to plant operators to vent radioactive steam into the environment.
But the devastating Japanese quake and its outcome could generate a political tsunami here in the United States. For instance, in California it may become impossible for the owners of the San Onofre and Diablo Canyon reactors to extend their operating licenses with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The quake is also likely to further deflate the “nuclear renaissance” balloon.
These two reactors are sitting in high seismic risk zones near earthquake faults. Each is designed to withstand a quake as great as 7.5 on the Richter scale. According to many seismologists, the probability of a major earthquake in the California coastal zone in the foreseeable future is a near certainty. The U.S. Geological Survey reports the largest registering 8.3 on the Richter scale devastated San Francisco in 1906.
“There have been tremblers felt at U.S. plants over the past several
years, but nothing approaching the need for emergency action,” Scott Burnell, a spokesman at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Reuters today.
As the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe approaches next month, the earthquakes in Japan serve as a reminder that the risks of nuclear power, when things go seriously wrong. The Chernobyl accident required nearly a million emergency responders and cleanup workers. More than 100,000 residents from 187 settlements were permanently evacuated because of radioactive contamination. An area equal to half of the State of New Jersey was rendered uninhabitable.
Fortunately, U.S. and Japanese reactors have extra measures of protection that were lacking at Chernobl, such as a secondary concrete containment structure over the reactor vessel to prevent escape of radioactivity. In 1979, the containment structure at the Three Mile Island reactor did prevent the escape of a catastrophic amount of radioactivity after the core melted. But, people living nearby were exposed to higher levels of radiation from the accident and deliberate venting to stabilize the reactor. Also, within one hour the multi-billion dollar investment in that plant went down the drain. In the meanwhile, let’s hope that the core of the Japanese reactor can be cooled in time. We shouldn’t need yet another major nuclear power accident to wake up the public and decision-makers to the fact that there are better, much safer ways to make electricity.
Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary from 1993 to 1999.
Had the violent 8.9 Richter-scale earthquake that has just savaged Japan hit off the California coast, it could have ripped apart at least four coastal reactors and sent a lethal cloud of radiation across the entire United States.
The two huge reactors each at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are not designed to withstand such powerful shocks. All four are extremely close to major faults.
All four reactors are located relatively low to the coast. They are vulnerable to tsunamis like those now expected to hit as many as fifty countries.
San Onofre sits between San Diego and Los Angeles. A radioactive cloud spewing from one or both reactors there would do incalculable damage to either or both urban areas before carrying over the rest of southern and central California.
Diablo Canyon is at Avila Beach, on the coast just west of San Luis Obispo, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A radioactive eruption there would pour into central California and, depending on the winds, up to the Bay Area or southeast into Santa Barbara and then to Los Angeles. The cloud would at very least permanently destroy much of the region on which most Americans rely for their winter supply of fresh vegetables.
By the federal Price-Anderson Act of 1957, the owners of the destroyed reactors—including Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison—would be covered by private insurance only up to $11 billion, a tiny fraction of the trillions of dollars worth of damage that would be done. The rest would become the responsibility of the federal taxpayer and the fallout victims. Virtually all homeowner insurance policies in the United States exempt the insurers from liability from a reactor disaster.
The most definitive recent study of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster puts the death toll at 985,000. The accident irradiated a remote rural area. The nearest city, Kiev, is 80 kilometers away.
But San Luis Obispo is some ten miles directly downwind from Diablo Canyon. The region around San Onofre has become heavily suburbanized.
Heavy radioactive fallout spread from Chernobyl blanketed all of Europe within a matter of days. It covered an area far larger than the United States.
Fallout did hit the jet stream and then the coast of California, thousands of miles away, within ten days. It then carried all the way across the northern tier of the United States.
Chernobyl Unit Four was of comparable size to the two reactors at Diablo Canyon, and somewhat larger than the two at San Onofre.
But it was very new when it exploded. California’s four coastal reactors have been operating since the 1970s and 1980s. Their accumulated internal radioactive burdens could exceed what was spewed at Chernobyl.
Japanese officials say all affected reactors automatically shut, with no radiation releases. But they are not reliable. In 2007 a smaller earthquake rocked the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki site and forced its lengthy shut-down.
Preliminary reports indicate at least one fire at a Japanese reactor hit by this quake and tsunami.
In 1986 the Perry nuclear plant, east of Cleveland, was rocked by a 5.5 Richter-scale shock, many orders of magnitude weaker than this one. That quake broke pipes and other key equipment within the plant. It took out nearby roads and bridges.
Thankfully, Perry had not yet opened. An official Ohio commission later warned that evacuation during such a quake would be impossible.
Numerous other American reactors sit on or near earthquake faults.
The Obama Administration is now asking Congress for $36 billion in new loan guarantees to build more commercial reactors.
It has yet to reveal its exact plans for dealing with a major reactor disaster. Nor has it identified the cash or human reserves needed to cover the death and destruction imposed by the reactors’ owners.
As the old phrase states: Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. These are indeed extraordinary times in Wisconsin. The Budget Repair Bill that was passed by Governor Scott Walker and State Republicans will strip public employees of the right to collectively bargain and threaten the very existence of unions in the state.
Despite the severity of these measures, Democrats and sections of the Trade Union leadership have chosen to pour resources and direct energy into a campaign to recall Walker and other Republicans. Easy call, since the Democrats seem sure to cash-in on Republican overreach and win any recall election. Yet, a recall falls short of the extraordinary measure quotient – workers are ready to move now in Wisconsin and a general strike is the best tactic to respond to Walker’s assault on democratic rights.
Stripping workers of collective bargaining rights rolls back the historical clock to a time when there was no legal guarantee of getting a union contract. At the turn of the 20th century, American Employers denied, repressed and ignored claims pressed forward by workers. The question was one of force – could working people force their bosses to concede to demands for justice or would the bosses be able to exert more power?
And the critical weapon in this struggle was the strike. Well before the now famous Sit Down Strikes that led to the organizing of the car plants in Michigan, workers carried out mass strikes. The greatest tool in their possession was the general strike. The best example of the power of such a total shut down of labor came in Seattle in 1919.
Here, shipyard workers made a strike to defend the gains in pay and benefits they had made during World War I. At first, the strike was limited to the shipyard workers. But then, more than 110 other unions realized that their fate was dependent on the victory of the shipyard workers. They struck, the city was shut down and for five glorious days the city of Seattle was run by the General Strike Committee.
Though the business friendly national labor leadership bent to the will of the bosses and forced the strike to end, the point was made clear. Not only could labor strike back against attempts to take back gains, but working people held the capacity to run society themselves. Those who created the wealth were also able to administer it.
While Wisconsin 2011 is quite a different place from Seattle 1919, Walker and the Republicans seem intent to roll back the clock. Working people might take a cue from them and reach back for a weapon that can be used defensively and offensively – the general strike.
An argument must be won before this can be accomplished. Focusing solely on the Recall Walker and the Republicans campaign will take energy away from the effort to organize a militant response from working people. The old Democratic Party line of “wait for the next election” just won’t do anymore, even if that next election comes sooner rather than later. The time for waiting is over – the very existence of unions is on the line here.
Wisconsin can draw on a long history of socialist and other radical organizing and become the place where a new left-wing movement for the 21st century is born. The time to act is now!
Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RT | March 2, 2011
Suddenly America loves democracy in the Middle East – unless it’s Palestinian democracy
America, which supported tyrannies in the Middle East for decades, has overnight switched to endorsing the uprisings across the region demanding democracy to replace former US clients like Mubarak.
But some Middle East democracies find more favour than others, as Palestinians found out six years ago.
Standing Up to a Power Grab
Sometimes things fall apart and sometime they flow together.
As the Wisconsin State Senate rammed through their union-busting bill Wednesday night, people in the capitol chanted “General strike!” And I heard an echo. Not of 1934, the last time there was a general strike in the US, but earlier.
It was 1909, in the crowded Great Hall at New York’s Cooper Union; a big union boss was talking about talks and a 16-year-old girl shouted out from the back: “WALK OUT.”
More than 30,000 shirtwaist factory workers walked off their jobs after that. This week’s International Women’s Day celebrates the anniversary of that strike, by mostly young, immigrant women like 16 year old Clara Lemlich. 700 women were arrested, many more beaten and spat on for being “On strike against God.”
They struck for eleven weeks. It was the first successful uprising of women workers in this country–but their success didn’t go far enough.
Had, it, the 1911 Triangle Factory fire that killed 146 of these workers two years later might never have happened. A documentary about the fire is available now from PBS’s website, another one’s coming from HBO. At the March 25 centennial commemoration, the names of all the dead will be read.
But fewer Americans remember the demands these women and girls made… Not just for wage increases, but for the ability to have a say in the conditions of their workplace–the workplace that killed them. Those are the rights that will be taken from American workers if the Republicans’ power grab is allowed to stand.
Imagine, a century ago, if the rest of New York had stood with the women of the factories. Imagine if instead of 20,000, it had been 2 million workers marching. Or if it were to be today.
Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv, which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. More…9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITv.org.
Bahraini police have opened fire on anti-government protesters marching towards the royal palace in the capital, injuring at least 150 people.
There are also reports suggesting that security forces and pro-government vigilantes armed with clubs, swords and metal pipes are beating protesters near the royal complex.
Witnesses say at least ten ambulances were rushed to the area.
The violence came as nearly 50,000 demonstrators tried to stage a protest rally near the royal palace in the Refaa area of Manama on Friday, demanding political reforms.
Thousands of women have also joined the protest rally demanding an end to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s rule. Protesters are also calling for the ouster of the government and want a new constitution.
Bahraini authorities, however, claim that security forces fired tear gas on anti-government protesters to stop them from heading toward a square near the royal palace, where hundreds of armed pro-regime loyalists were waiting for them.
Bahraini security officials had earlier warned against demonstrations near the palace, saying they would deal with the issue as a national security threat.
“The march that some people are trying to hold today to the Reffa area threatens security and social peace,” an interior ministry statement said on Friday.
“The interior ministry holds the organizers and participants of this march responsible for the consequences and reiterates the need to avert any confrontation among the residents that could result in unnecessary loss of life,” the statement added.
“Under these conditions…the interior ministry confirms that forces to defend public order will be present to prevent any clash that may occur between the residents.”
All roads leading to the palace were blocked since early in the morning, forcing protesters to walk long distances to reach the area where members of the Sunni royal family live.
The Plan to Steal Everything and Sell the People into Slavery
On Wednesday evening, in a veritable Night of the Long Knives, Wisconsin’s integrity was brutally murdered on the floor of the state Capitol in Madison. On 9 March, integrity and trust built up over a century was obliterated as Wisconsin state senators quickly reversed course and cleaved its budget “repair bill” in half. Financial items require a quorum, thus, collective bargaining was split off from the budget repair bill and voted on separately so as to permit its being voted on now. Even so, this still broke the state’s open meeting law requiring 24 hours’ notice to ensure transparency. Instead, the Wisconsin senate Republicans pulled out this new legislation without advance notice and began voting, leaving only a stunned Democratic legislator, Peter Barca, to read the open meeting law out loud to prevent the senators from voting. The senate voted over his objections anyway.
The Wisconsin brand has always centered on integrity. This was really about the only distinctive comparative advantage the state could lay claim to. Now, it is gone. With collective bargaining abolished, huge issues remain beyond labor. The privatization of public assets is now on the agenda, with the yet-to-be-voted-on budget repair bill.
Wisconsin is a state that invented Progressive Era Republican rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries under such progressive populists as Robert LaFollette. Under their tenure, rent-seeking from the public domain and similar insider corruption were checked by a strong public sector anchored in integrity. The state’s long history of reforms nurtured a prosperous middle class and made it a model of clean government, solid infrastructure, trade unionism and high value-added industry managed by socialists and the LaFollette Progressives.
Fast-forward to Scott Walker today. Representing a new breed apart from Wisconsin’s earlier Republicans, he is seeking to re-birth the asset-grabbing Gilded Age. A plague of rent-seekers is seeking quick gains by privatizng the public sector and erecting tollbooths to charge access fees to roads, power plants and other basic infrastructure.
Economics textbooks, along with Fox News and shout radio commentators, spread the myth that fortunes are gained productively by investing in capital equipment and employing labor to produce goods and services that people want to buy. This may be how economies prosper, but it is not how fortunes are most easily made. One need only to turn to the 19th-century novelists such as Balzac to be reminded that behind every family fortune lies a great theft, often long-forgotten or even undiscovered.
But who is one to steal from? Most wealth in history has been acquired either by armed conquest of the land, or by political insider dealing, such as the great US railroad land giveaways of the mid 19th century. The great American fortunes have been founded by prying land, public enterprises and monopoly rights from the public domain, because that’s where the assets are to take.
Throughout history the world’s most successful economies have been those that have kept this kind of primitive accumulation in check. The US economy today is faltering largely because its past barriers against rent-seeking are being breached.
Nowhere is this more disturbingly on display than in Wisconsin. Today, Milwaukee – Wisconsin’s largest city, and once the richest in America – is ranked among the four poorest large cities in the United States. Wisconsin is just the most recent case in this great heist. The US government itself and its regulatory agencies effectively are being privatized as the “final stage” of neoliberal economic doctrine.
A peek into Governor Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” reveals a shop of horrors that is just the opposite of actually repairing the budget. Among the items listed in the bill until Wednesday night were sell-offs of state power generation facilities – in no-bid contracts notoriously prone to insider dealing.
The 37 facilities he wants to sell off produce heating and cooling at low cost to the state’s universities and prisons. Walker’s budget repair bill would have unloaded them at a low price, presumably to campaign contributors such as Koch Industries – and then stick the bill for producing this power at higher rates to Wisconsin taxpayers in perpetuity. (And this is all being sold as a “taxpayer relief” plan!) Invariably, this will make its way into new legislation once attention is diverted from the current controversy.
The budget bill also plans to tear down the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). This is not New Jersey, where a succession of corrupt governments have underfunded (read: stolen) the state pension system in order to shift resources to pay for budget shortfalls in general revenues caused by tax breaks for the rich. The WRS is one of the nation’s most stable, well-funded and best-managed pension systems. Although Wisconsin is not a big state, the WRS has amassed $75bn in reserves, and pays out handsome pensions to its public retirees, without needing new public subsidy. The Walker bill has language providing for tearing down this system, raiding its assets to pay for further tax cuts for the rich (especially property owners), and then throwing Wall Street a meaty bone as public employees would be shifted to 401k plans handled by money managers on commission.
In a separate proposal, Governor Walker would start privatizing the University of Wisconsin’s two flagship doctorate-granting campuses. Ironically, the land grant universities – of which Wisconsin has long been among the best – were created by protectionist 19th-century Republicans as an alternative approach to British free-market doctrine, which dominated the prestigious and largely anglophile Ivy League universities. These universities, like their German counterparts, taught a new economic policy of state management and public enterprise that formed the basis for subsequent US and German development.
Walker would kill off this tradition, and return intellectual production to the highest bidder.
Other proposals suggest selling off Wisconsin’s public northwoods lands with their cornucopia of mineral and timber wealth. And much more is said to be in the works.
So Walker’s war is not only against the Democrats and labour, it is against Wisconsin’s Progressive Era institutions. His policy threatens to pauperize the state and deal a coup de grace to Progressive Era institutions and impoverish the state’s middle class. Contra John Maynard Keynes’s gentle suggestion of “euthanasia of the rentier”, it is the middle class that is being euthanized – throughout North America and Europe.
Michael Hudson is professor of Economics at the University of Missouri (Kansas City) and chief economic advisor to Rep. Dennis Kucinich. He has advised the U.S., Canadian, Mexican and Latvian governments, as well as the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). He is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002). He can be reached via his website, email@example.com.
Jeffrey Sommers is a professor at Raritan Valley College, NJ, visiting professor at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, former Fulbrighter to Latvia, and fellow at Boris Kagarlitsky’s Institute for Global Studies in Moscow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forces loyal to the Bahraini regime have attacked a Press TV crew, filming anti-government demonstrations near the royal palace in the capital, Manama.
The assailants, who were armed with machetes and clubs, took the Press TV crew’s equipment.
“We were following an anti-government protest rally towards the royal palace that suddenly a group of about 300-400 pro-government thugs surrounded us,” Press TV’s correspondent in Manama Johnny Miller said.
Last week the Bahraini government blocked access to Press TV’s website from the country.
The violence came as tens of thousands of anti-government protesters are heading towards the royal palace, demanding political reforms.
Bahraini authorities had earlier warned against demonstrations near the palace, saying they would deal with the issue as a national security threat.
According to Press TV’s correspondent, since hundreds of pro-government forces have also gathered near the royal place more confrontations are expected.