Friday, July 15, 2016

Racism Rears Its Ugly Head

By David Starr

The recent shootings in Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas testify to how we still have a long way to go to establish good race relations. Of course, it isn't easy, since the United States was born with a defect: Racism.

Today's racism against Blacks/African Americans is an echo of past racism going back to slavery. Today's racism isn't as bad as slavery, but its institutionalized and overt forms still exist.

All the struggles and reforms for equality have preservered, but today the racism that exists threatens them. The "umbilical cord" between past and present racism hasn't been cut. It is evident in the behavior of some police officers, who are conditioned by racist stereotypes and even upbringing. They have become the problem while Black/African Americans continue to endure their racism.

The civil rights movement continues. The protests are a burning reminder that the "fire" of racism hasn't been put out. The protests are so needed. The anger is justified. Civil disobedience still plays a part in the quest to achieve racial equality.

But some people out there aren't listening...or don't care. Thus, it becomes necessary to get their attention, even if it becomes a little inconvenient for them. Racism isn't some minor irritation. It is a systematic and social problem. Some people live in bubbles. They are unaware of the content of issues. If one tries to burst their bubble to wake them up to the fact that we are connected one way or another, they may become offended. But on the other hand, they may wake up and realize the importance of knowing what's going on. Racism cannot be solved in a bubble.

Not meaning to sound overly pessimistic, but the U.S. as an empire continues to decay. It comes from attitudes which are bound to an exceptionalist past. Ultra-nationalists of all kinds want time frozen: They want a revival of the 1890s or 1950s. Forever. Racism, whether they like it or not, has a historical connection to exceptionalism. In the U.S., both go hand-in-hand. The decay emits an overt hypocrisy. Freedom is preached, yet inequality still persists and has grown. All men are created equal? Sometimes that has been a hollow slogan.

Inequality not only encompasses race, but class and gender as well. Class, in fact, is the most neglected of the three. All should be addressed. But sometimes it is difficult to focus on all three. One could be such an emotional driver that it puts the other two in the background. For Blacks/African Americans, race right now takes center stage with these shootings. But despite the circumstances it is very important to focus on all three, and the connections between them.

One way of challenging racism is to reject U.S. exceptionalism. As I alluded to, the latter has been more a perpetrator of racism than otherwise.

It is still possible to achieve a basis for racial harmony. But the struggle continues to evolve to that level.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Capitalist Rule Takes Its Toll


By David Starr

Much has been said about the consequences of "communism," although the latter hasn't really existed. It could take generations for a communist society to fully develop. After all, we're talking about an epoch here. Death tolls have been estimated under "communism." But what about death tolls under capitalism?

Capitalism has been dominant as an epoch and ideology for over 400 years. And a lot has happened in those years. There's been a revolutionizing of the modes of production, which produces a vast array of goods and services worldwide. But at what cost, especially worldwide?

A major result of capitalist rule worldwide is continuing poverty, labor violations and starvation. Death tolls have been estimated. An article entitled, "Mass killings under capitalist regimes," from Proletariat Wiki, provides an estimate of 156,102,415 deaths, and gives specific death tolls according to region.

Then there are other sources:

Noam Chomsky's article, "Counting the Bodies," published in spectrezine, states that "The democratic capitalist 'experiment' since 1947 has caused more deaths than the entire history of the ‘colossal, wholly failed experiment' of ["Communism"] everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, tens of millions more since, in India alone."

An Article entitled "The death Tolls of Socialism and Capitalism" published in asserts the following with regard to the United States:

"U.S. intervention in Latin America: 6.3 million dead
Invasion of Philippines: 650,000 dead + 1898 war 3 million dead
Afghanistan: 1.2 million dead
Vietnam War: 10 million dead [other estimates are 2 to 3 million dead]
Korean War: 10 million dead [other estimates are 2 million dead]
Yugoslavia: 300,000 dead
Iran-Iraq War (U.S. funding both sides): 1 million dead
U.S. intervention in the Congo: 5 million dead
U.S. Civil War (financial vs land capitalists): 650,000 dead
Native American Genocide: 95 million dead [figures have ranged from 50 million to 100 million dead]
African slave trade: 150 million dead
Indonesian purges against communists [with U.S. help]: 1 million dead
U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia: at least 1 million dead
U.S. backed Batista, Pinochet, Metaxas, Saddam, Suharto and various dictators: at least a few million dead"

From poverty:

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.

From Hunger:

The World Food Programme estimates that 795 million people don't have enough to eat.

As of 1988, according to International Service Agencies in Bethesda, Maryland, about 13 million people die each year from starvation.

In "11 Facts About Hunger," asserts that 805 million people go undernourished on a daily basis; in 2010, an estimated 7.6 million children died from hunger; nearly 98% of hunger is in the "Third World."

From disease:

The World Health Organization estimates that in 2012, 6.6 million children died before their 5th birthday; 68% of all deaths were from noncommunicable diseases.

According to the Global Health Policy Center, 3-9 million people died from respiratory infections, 1.3-3.0 million from malaria, 1.8 million from diarrheal diseases, 1.7 from tuberculosis and 0.5 million from neglected tropical diseases.

While capitalism is not responsible for the origins of all these conditions, it bears responsibility for fueling and continuing them. Given the nature of capitalism worldwide, the few have too much while the many have too little.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Barbarity of "Honor Killings"


By David Starr

The beating and burning of 18-year-old Maria Sadaqat in Pakistan is a shocking reminder that in the year 2016, the old practice of honor killings still exist. Pakistan has had a high number of honor killings over the years.

In 2000, the United Nations noted the possibility of 5,000 honor killings every year. This number could be in Pakistan alone. But it is not just a phenomenon happening in Pakistan. Worldwide, honor killings were on the rise between 1989 and 2009. And the killings have continued to accelerate. ("Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings," Phyllis Chesler, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2010.) The Sadaqat murder is the latest of reported honor killings. But most of the killings go unreported. The victims' families do not want the public exposure because it would dishonor them. Plus, there is the possibility of retaliation if the families made the killings public.

Sadaqat's murder is not a typical honor killing, but shows the marks of its brutality. The owner of a school Sadaqat taught at made a marriage proposal for his son to Sadaqat. The son happened to be already married with a daughter. Sadaqat turned down the proposal.

In retaliation, a group of men went to Sadaqat's home, burst into it and attacked Sadaqat. She was beaten and gasoline was poured over her. Eighty-five percent of her body was burned. She died later on. As I said above, most of these killings go unreported. Instead of the perpetrators being charged, they may wind up paying monetary compensation to the family.

In honor killings, relatives usually perform the grisly act. It could be a father, a brother or a combination of relatives, or nonrelatives. Chesler noted that the brutal act consists of "being raped or gang-raped before being killed; being strangled or bludgeoned to death; being stabbed many times; being stoned or burned to death; being beheaded; or having one's throat slashed."

Religion is connected to honor killings as well. A "moral" code is enforced, with a woman's subservience being "legitimate." "Violations" include being too "westernized," getting a divorce or promiscuity.

Statistically, here are some numbers for overall honor killings worldwide:

Killed by Family of Origin - 66%
Daughter/Sister - 53%
Wife/Girlfriend - 23%
Other - 24%
Multiple Victims - 17%
Tortured - 53%

Paternal Participation - 37%
Multiple Perpetrators - 42%
("Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings," Phyllis Chesler, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2010.)

Not that I'm making excuses for the attackers, but the Muslim world has been dominated by Western colonialism/imperialism for generations. This has been a real threat. Perhaps there is a fear that the Muslim world be engulfed in westernization, with a loss of culture and identity.

Nevertheless, the practice of honor killing is obviously barbaric and inexcusable. To quell it, more Muslims have to speak out. Some western mores could be adapted without being a threat to Muslim identity. The status of women has to be changed, where equality is a priority.

While not endangering Muslim identity, some old practices must be eradicated that not only degrade women, but take their lives. Maria Sadaqat should be a martyr for this endeavor.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Make America Great Again? More Like Make America Hate Again


By David Starr

The rise of Donald Trump has been emblematic of the rise in anger among the white, working class. The latter are threatened by cosmopolitanism, i.e., the changing demographics of U.S. society where the once, all-powerful white-dominated culture is in jeopardy.

Immigration has gone on since day one in the United States and will continue to do so. People of color are increasing in population, although the white population is still the majority.

Nevertheless, a section  of the white population, males in particular, yearn for a time when white dominance was more overt. Donald Trump is a "Great White Hope" to champion a rollback to the "good old days." But as Bob Dylan once sang, "The times they are a changin'."

Trump's position on immigration shows a deranged individual trying to find a "final solution" to illegal immigrants: mass deportation. It doesn't matter how gradual it is. Kicking out illegal immigrants would be oppressive, chaotic and expensive. The American Action Forum published a research report by Ben Gitis and Jacqueline Varas asserting that the removal of all illegal immigrants would "cost between $400 billion to $600 billion and reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by over $1 trillion."

Plus, there is the scenario of police and/or even military forcing immigrants out of their homes and put into detention centers until they are cleared for deportation (or even ignoring detention centers and dumping them off into their own country or another one).

Building a "big wall" would also be a disaster. Writer Stephan Loiaconi reported on the Sinclair Broadcast Group (8/18/2015) that the total cost could be $25 billion. Maintenance of the big wall could cost $750 million a year.

Trump paints Mexico in particular as the villain when it comes to illegal immigration. "For many years, Mexico's leaders have been taking advantage of the United States by using illegal immigration to export crime and poverty in their own country." The rapists and murderers have broken through the red, white and blue gates and are going on a rampage. Above all, this is Trump's view of a poverty-stricken people desperate to escape into more stable conditions.

When it comes to the root of the problem, Trump simply doesn't get it (or doesn't want to). It is U.S./IMF/World Bank austerity measures that are increasing the poverty. This antagonizes violence in the form of drug cartels. But Trump, intoxicated by U.S. exceptionalism, fuels the hate among his supporters against those of their own class, regardless of country.

Trump's attitude toward Muslims has been just as worse. Besides a database system, Trump bragged about having "many systems" to track Muslims. The latter would just as soon wear crescent patches on their clothes. Similar to Mexicans, Trump has demonized Muslims generally. And those among his supporters feed on this to further their own hatred of those who are not "100% American." They lump individuals together into a confined category of "terrorist," "murderer" or "rapist." While it's true that terrorism exists (but that word can be interpreted in any number of ways, e.g., like whose terrorism we are talking about), many Muslims are not crashing planes into buildings and committing suicide bombings.

Trump also shows his disdain for the working class when it comes to healthcare. Trump claims that "the American people have had to suffer under the incredible economic burden of the Affordable Care Act- Obamacare. "[P]redictably [it has resulted] in runaway costs, greater rationing of care, high premiums, less competition and fewer choices." Trump favors "much-needed free market reforms to the healthcare industry."

"Free market" practices have been tried. Before Obamacare, "free market" handiwork has dominated healthcare. After Obamacare, it still does. That's the root cause of the healthcare system being broken; the economic extremes of the "free market." Healthcare is a right, not a commodity to rake in obscene profits. But Trump hates calling it a right. And he manipulates his supporters into hating it as a threat by "big gubberment," although they could benefit from it.

A similar disdain also applies to tax reform. Trump claims he has "four simple goals":

1) "Tax relief for middle class Americans."
2) "Simplify the tax code."
3) "Grow the American economy."
4) "Doesn't add to our debt and deficit."

Trump does have ideas to prevent the 1% from taking advantage of tax loopholes, offshore accounts, etc. But his tax plan is nothing new. An article published in Counterpunch entitled, "If Donald Dump Was President," (10/09/2015) by writer David Rosen, tells how the working class would get shafted again: "[T]he real plan is hidden in the fine print that effectively shifts the overall tax burden. Trump calls for (i) a corporate tax rate of zero (except for businesses that outsource jobs, which would have a 20% tax) (ii) a cut in the capital gains tax rate (iii) repeal the estate tax (iv) impose an import tax" on vehicles made elsewhere, that would be a "35% tax."

Rosen writes that "[a]s a true mouth piece for the traditional Republican Party, Trump has proposed a conventional conservative tax policy that favors the rich, modestly helps the very poor and the screws the middle classes." As a result, "he continues a quarter-century of economic realignment that has seen the tax burden shift to ordinary wage-earners."

But a lot of hate would be reserved for foreign policy. Trump has no problem trying to reassert the U.S. empire's imperialism. Diplomacy is a word that doesn't exist in Trump's vocabulary. Speaking about the Iran deal, Rosen quotes Trump as saying, "They [Iranians] are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we're making on nuclear. We should double-up and triple the sanctions and have them come to us."

Regarding his dealing with Mexico, Trump, rather than talk about illegal immigration, would put down aggressive conditions: Mexico will protest having to pay for the big wall. But "[Mexico receives] $24 billion a year in remittances from Mexican nationals working in the United States. The majority of that amount comes from illegal aliens. It serves as de facto welfare for poor families in Mexico. There is no significant social safety net provided by the state in Mexico." So, "Mexico needs access to our markets much more than the reverse, so we have all the leverage and will win the negotiation."

What negotiation? Trump is giving an ultimatum, not exercising diplomacy. And since Trump knows of the effects of poverty in Mexico-and with Mexico being a "Third World" nation dependent as a market satellite-Trump's "proposals" epitomize the cutthroat behavior of U.S. exceptionalism. As I said earlier, he doesn't get to the root of the problem: Mexico's status as a "Third World" nation having austerity measures imposed on it by the U.S./IMF/World Bank.

A preview of Trump's ruthlessness was his dealing with Scotland. Trump, with help from the Scottish government, used and abused his power in trying to build a golf course in "an ecologically valuable, majestic windswept sand dune," as reported by Tim Pelzer ("Lies, Money, Power, and the Vile Trump," 6/04/2013) in the People's World. Pelzer writes that scientists refer the it as the "Amazon rainforest of Scotland" because "of a variety of plant and animal species that it contains."

Trump denied that the golf course would threaten the ecosystem. And he claimed that the project had support from environmental groups. "[But] University of Glasgow scientist Dr. Jim Hansom and a local Green Party representative" refuted this claim. "Trump also falsely argues that the project has local support."

In a display of unparalleled arrogance, Trump, disregarding the needs of the local population, said that he wants to see the ocean instead of wind towers, and that the local residents' houses would have to go because they blemish the view. Pelzer quotes Trump as saying, "The houses have to go because I don't like them."    

Rosen writes that Trump's foreign policy is one "that would make old-style hawks like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz blush." Trump's assertions of torturing people for the sake of it and killing innocent civilians bears this out.

Rather than anti-establishment, Trump is part of the wealthy establishment. From his consistent contradictory stances on the issues to his deranged oratory, Trump is not a champion of the working class. But he uses them to espouse hate.

It's tragic that many Trump supporters are violating their own class interests so they can vent their anger at the wrong target, making scapegoats of those who haven't institutional or corporate power. Not only are they cutting their own throats. They may be dragging the rest of the us down with them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chairwoman Roberta Lange Violates Rules of the Nevada State Democratic Convention


By David Starr

After the chaotic happenings at the Nevada State Democratic Convention, the establishment media's reports highlighted the behavior of Sanders supporters, but failed to get to the root of the problem.

MSNBC, e.g., published a report ("Bernie Sanders under fire after Nevada convention chaos, 5/17/2016) by Alex Seitz-Wald stating that "Sanders supporters threw chairs, started fights and booed officials..." This was par for the course in other sources.

The Nevada State Democratic Party also made similar remarks about Sanders supporters. It accused the Sanders campaign of having a "penchant for violence."

While it's true that the convention was a raucous event, the accusations about throwing chairs and starting fights are apparently false. I checked out several videos, some on the Young Turks news site, and found that there was no chair-throwing or fist-fights. What was not highlighted in the media's reports was the behavior of convention Chair Roberta Lange. During a voice vote to see whether to continue to use a voice vote as a convention procedure, Sanders supporters were louder than Clinton supporters, yelling "Nay!" In a display of cynical arrogance, Lange declared the yeas have it and then she heavily pounded her gavel. Sanders supporters were livid, booing the result.

Lange violated two rules of the convention regarding voting and discussion. The result of the vote at the least wasn't clear. Lange then should have taken a vote of standing division (a head count). She didn't. Lange also is required to allow discussion on the issue at hand. She didn't allow that, either.

The "best" was saved for last. Lange wanted to conclude the convention, but Sanders supporters were still outraged by the conduct of Lange. A voice vote was "taken." Lange arrogantly rushed through the procedure. In the face of a loud nay by Sanders supporters to not conclude the convention, Lange again said the yeas have it. She then sarcastically announced that the convention was concluded, heavily pounded her gavel and walked off the stage.

In one of the videos I watched, I could hear a woman yell, "Fucking bitch!" and a man yell, "What the fuck was that!" Sanders supporters refused to leave, seeing what a farce Lange perpetrated.

There was also a problem with the delegate count. Sanders had 1,662 delegates attend while Clinton had 1,695. But 58 of the Sanders delegates were disqualified, the State Democratic Party claiming that they were not registered Democrats because they failed to meet the May 1st deadline. If those delegates were counted, Sanders would have had more delegates present than Clinton.

Bernie Sanders' response to the convention was not apologetic; and it should not have been. The accusation that the Sanders campaign has a penchant for violence was ridiculed by Sanders as nonsense. He said that his rallies across the country have been nonviolent and that he condemns any and all forms of violence. He added that violence was perpetrated against his campaign: shots were fired at his campaign office in Nevada, and the apartment complex where his staff were staying was broken into and ransacked.

The establishment media failing to report the root causes of the chaos at the convention is a cop out. Roberta Lange was not an innocent bystander in all this. While the subsequent threats against her via email were not warranted, Lange nevertheless violated the rules of the convention.

Lange and the DNC are as untrustworthy as the establishment media.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

U.S. Leaders Complicit in Supporting the 2009 Military Coup in Honduras


By David Starr

In the 20th century, U.S.-backed military coups in Latin America were an occasional happening, followed by military dictatorships. Honduras is no exception.

In October 1963, e.g., a violent military coup was orchestrated to overthrow elected president Ramon Villeda Morales, who implemented a progressive agenda for his country. Infrastructure development, school construction, and agrarian reform comprised his agenda.

A U.S. company named United Fruit, having a private monopoly on land in Honduras, wanted to prevent Morales' agenda to come to fruition. Anti-communist right-wingers in Honduras and the U.S. also wanted his agenda stopped.

The JFK administration at first praised the reforms. Afterwards, however, the administration pressured Morales to water down his agenda. This did not satisfy the Honduran military elite and the right-wingers. But JFK opposed having a coup. On October 3, 1963, over a month before JFK was assassinated, the coup was carried out.

History repeated itself in 2009, when Honduras' elected president Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup. Like Morales in 1963, Zelaya was forced into exile to Costa Rica. Zelaya's "crime" was pushing for a non-binding referendum to get the Honduran constitution changed. The Honduran Supreme Court accused Zelaya of violating the constitution, although the referendum was like an opinion poll to get feedback from the Honduran population on constitutional changes.

What the Supreme Court did-ordering the Honduran Army to go after Zelaya and forcing him from power-was condemned as illegal by the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union. The Obama administration initially condemned it but backed off afterwards.

In his Article, "The Honduras Coup: Is Obama Innocent?," Michael Parenti goes through a list of factors relating to the Obama administration's behavior toward the 2009 coup:

1) "[A]lmost all senior military leaders active in the coup are graduates of the School of Americas [or School of Assassins]. These officers "would never have dared to move without the tacit consent from the White House, or the Pentagon and the CIA."

2) "[I]f Obama was not directly involved, then he should be faulted for having no firm command of those U.S. operatives who were. Why did Obama's people who had communicated with the coup leaders fail to blow the whistle on them? Instead, the U.S. kept quiet about it, a silence that in effect, if not intent, served as an act of complicity."

3) "Obama had nothing to say about the many other acts of repression attendant with the coup perpetrated by Honduran military and police: kidnappings, beatings, disappearances, attacks on demonstrators, shutting down the Internet and suppressing the few small critical media outlets that exist in Honduras."

4) "Obama refused to meet with President Zelaya." Obama, and other U.S. leaders, did not like Zelaya because of his close relationship with Hugo Chavez.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is especially culpable in the whole affair. Ben Norton, writing in Salon ("Hillary Is Being Misleading About Her Role in the Honduras Coup," 4/15/2016), said that the "state department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton, defended the coup. As a result, "the U.S. defied the Organization of American States and pushed for the world to recognize the coup government."

When journalist Juan Gonzalez asked Clinton about the coup, she responded that she didn't like the way it was done, but the perpetrators had a very strong case in following the rules of the constitution. Clinton also accepted the "election" that followed; an "election" held under the powerbrokers of a coup.

Clinton did say that the "election" didn't resolve the structural problems of Honduran society. Nevertheless, according to Greg Grandin, expert of U.S. policy on Latin America, "emails show that early on when there was a real chance of restoring [Zelaya] to power, she was working with the most retrograde elements in Honduras to consolidate the putsch."

In her memoir, "Hard Choices," Clinton wrote that the aftermath of the coup, i.e., the "elections," was a "victory for democracy," according to Norton. Norton quotes scholar Dana Frank, specializing in human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras: "[T]he post-coup governments, both of Micheletti, Lobo and Juan Orlando Hernandez have completely destroyed the rule of law, because they're in cahoots with organized crime and drug traffickers. against the Honduran people."

GOP members were more direct in supporting the coup. The Associated Press reported that U.S. reps IIeana Ros-Lehtinen and Connie Mack, and Sen. Jim DeMint, met with the post-coup regime. For Ros-Lehtinen-and brothers Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Belart, two other GOPers-it was called a "fact-finding mission." They judged Zelaya as guilty, and that the Honduran Supreme Court-along with the Honduran Army-provided a "legitimate response."

In an interview with Manuel Zelaya by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Zelaya clearly points the blame at "the right-wing of the United States." He also described his treatment by the Honduran Army: Rather than civility, "[T]hey threatened me with their rifles, M-16 machine guns. They said it was a military order. And they were shouting at me."  They also kidnapped him with his pajamas on. Zelaya said that there were 200 to 300 military men outside of his home who were hooded.

Two former U.S. ambassadors to Honduras were opposites in their treatment of Zelaya. Hugo Llorens produced a cable entitled "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup," released by Wikileaks. Llorens concluded that the coup was illegal and unconstitutional. Zelaya said Llorens helped him and his family after the coup.

Charles Ford, the ambassador before Llorens, wasn't so congenial. "[H]e said I could not have a friendship with Hugo Chavez. He wanted to name who my ministers of my cabinet of my government should be. He wanted his recommendations to become ministers of my government."

Once again, Democrats and Republicans, when it came down to it, supported another coup in Latin America, the first in 25 years. JFK was one of the few voices of sanity in opposing the 1963 coup. Hugo Llorens was one of the few voices of sanity in opposing the 2009 coup. It's too bad that sanity is the exception and not the rule within the United States' imperial foreign policy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fidel Castro - 100% Revolutionary


By David Starr

The U.S. public has been bombarded with vilifying propaganda about Fidel Castro for over 40 years. There's little surprise then that members of the public would impulsively conjure up a negative image of him; a demon, evil incarnate.

Castro has been condemned by the likes of the U.S. government and right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami, but praised worldwide, especially in the "Third World." His defiance of U.S. imperialism is legendary.

Is Castro a dictator? Having been leader of Cuba from 1959 to 2008, it would sound that way. But one should keep in mind that pre-1959 Cuba was a virtual neocolony of the U.S., where U.S. businesses had virtual control of Cuba's economy, the mafia had control of the casinos and Cuban leaders were appeasers to U.S. "diplomacy." Cuba's sovereignty was thus repeatedly violated.

In a nation like this, most would support someone like Castro, a strong, charismatic leader pulling his nation out of the U.S. orbit, thus ending Cuba's dependence as a market satellite. While Castro does have his faults, there’s more to him than the vilifying propaganda. Castro became a leader at a time when "Third World" nations continued to push for independence, including the utilization of armed struggle; when the Soviet Union was a formidable foe against the U.S.; when the Cold War reverberated across the world. At the forefront, things were looked at more in B/W than shades of gray.

The Making of a Revolutionary

Castro's life spells out the definition of the word revolution. At age seven, Castro had a thirst for knowledge, convincing his parents to send him to school. (Education was hard to come by then.) He went to Jesuit schools, studying agriculture, history and Spanish. He was also a stand-out athlete.

Castro studied law at the University of Havana, the latter known for its political activism. Castro got involved with a gang called the Revolutionary Insurrectional Union, where he would participate in fights with rival political activists. He was exposed to Marxism and other modes of political thought, becoming a Marxist and a nationalist.  Eventually, Castro left the university to join a rebellion in Colombia, fighting against a right-wing government.

Joining the Ortodoxo Party, Castro campaigned for a seat in the Cuban Congress in 1952. The party supported economic independence, social justice and an end to corruption. Elections, however, were not held. U.S.-backed tyrant Fulgencio Batista staged a military coup, overthrowing President Carlos Socarras. Previously, Batista was president from 1940 to 1944. He supposedly was center-left, having the support of the Cuban Communist Party. But after that, Batista became fiercely anti-communist and operated behind the scenes as a strong man.

As a lawyer, Castro petitioned for the overthrow of Batista, but Cuban courts rejected his plea. Seeing that there was no way Batista could be removed by legal means, Castro opted for armed struggle. He and his brother Raul formed an organization called the Movement. On July 26, 1953, Castro, his brother and 123 other Cubans attacked the Moncada Garrison in Oriente Province. Nine rebels were killed and 56 executed by Batista's government. During his trial, Castro spoke for four hours, saying, "Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me." Castro was convicted to 15 years imprisonment performing hard labor. But there was a public outcry, and Batista released Castro after a year on "humanitarian" grounds.

Becoming an exile in Mexico, Castro befriended Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary from Argentina. Guevara joined Castro to continue armed struggle in Cuba. Castro, his brother,  Guevara and 80 others arrived in Cuba in a yacht called the Granma on December 2, 1956. Batista's military killed about 60 of the rebels; only 20 survived. They made their way into the Sierra Maestra mountains in southeastern Cuba. From there, they fought Batista's military, getting support from the peasants, and urban activists who protested against Batista.

In a matter of just two years, Castro and his band of revolutionaries heavily contributed to the overthrow of Batista. It did help that the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Batista's regime. But this is what happens when a U.S.-backed leader becomes too unpopular: U.S. leaders dump him and hope they can have another compliant leader put into power. Castro, however, wasn't going to "play ball."

The Cuban Revolution succeeded on January 1, 1959.

Castro the "Devil"

Since Castro wasn't going to be like previous Cuban leaders, the Eisenhower administration, namely Vice-President Richard Nixon, rebuffed Castro's attempts at diplomacy. When Cuba established relations with the USSR, U.S. leaders cried foul, saying that Castro wasn't interested in democracy, but just wanted to grab power. But if this were true, Castro, with his intelligence, could have found an easier way to gain power. He could have bowed to the U.S. like previous Cuban leaders, and kept Cuba in the role of a neocolony. But Castro didn't do that: Instead, he risked a lot, being imprisoned and leading an armed struggle. So there's more to Castro than just power.

Castro is blamed for all sorts of transgressions. He, Guevara and Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev were blamed for almost starting a world war when Soviet nuclear missiles were exported to Cuba. But the U.S., had/has a strategic advantage, dominating world politics and having had its own missiles directed at the USSR. Now, it's the world's only super power, producing a gross imbalance of power in the world.

Castro was blamed for exporting revolution. But the left had momentum during the 1960s and 1970s, where revolutionary organizations in the "Third World," especially, tried to liberate their nations from subservience to capital and underdevelopment. Cuba aided Angola against an apartheid-backed opposition led by Jonas Savimbi.

Castro is also accused of betraying Guevara when the latter organized Bolivians to invoke a revolution in their country, and Guevara was eventually executed. This is absurd, since Castro and Guevara were comrades-in-arms.

But what about human rights in Cuba? Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the Cuban government of violations. In the course of Cold War hostilities, which Republicans and some Democrats in the U.S. still harbor against Cuba, no doubt there's been violations. But every country has violations, including the United States, which has the biggest prison population in the world; many being nonviolent "offenders" for possessing marijuana. Then there are the violations that have been committed by the CIA and anti-Castro Cuban exiles against Cuba, which have amounted to acts of terror. But no country's human rights record is exempt from criticism.

After the Cuban Revolution, there were political executions. Amnesty International asserts that between 1959 and 1987 there were 237 death sentences. (The numbers vary depending on the source.) Two-hundred and sixteen were carried out. The vast majority who were executed were police, politicians and informers. Scholars generally agree that those executed were probably guilty as accused. Due process, however, was not followed. ( Michelle Chase "The Trials," 2010. In "A Century of Revolution" by Grandin and Gilbert.) 

Some scholars assert that those executed were torturers, terrorists and other criminals in the employ of the Batista regime. The executions had wide support among the Cuban population; and if they were not carried out, members of the population would have taken the law into their own hands. The Cuban government justifies the executions as being similar to the Nuremberg trials conducted by the allies at the end of WWII. (Raul Gomez Treto, "Thirty Years of Cuban Revolutionary Penal Law," published by Latin American Perspectives. Spring 1991, vol. 18, no. 2)

Why do Cubans leave their home country? Political repression? U.S. immigration has mainly allowed defectors, especially white Cubans, easy entry in the U.S. But a top-secret document was made public by the Cuban-American Education Fund in 1994 signed by a U.S. agent named "Sullivan." The document reveals that, "The processing of refugee applications continues to show weak cases. Most people apply more because of the deteriorating economic situation than a real fear of persecution."

Besides, the U.S. has propped up regimes in nations like El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru which have had infinitely worse violations but don't get the same scrutiny. They are usually called "struggling democracies."

Assassination Attempts

The assassination attempts against Castro are almost legendary. According to Fabian Escalante, former head of the Cuban Secret Service, over 600 attempts have been made, from the Eisenhower administration to the Clinton administration. This, however, is disputable. Here are 10 bizarre attempts (Stacy Conradt, "10 Ways the CIA Tried to Kill Castro. "Mental Floss" magazine.):

"Marita Lorenz [a lover of Castro's], accepted a deal from the CIA in which she would feed [Castro] capsules filled with poison. According to Lorenz, Castro figured out her plan and offered her his gun. "I can't do it, Fidel' she told him." To add to this, the CIA told Lorenz that Castro wanted to kill their child. But she figured out that this was a lie.

"[A wet-suit was to be offered to Castro] lined with spores and bacteria that would give him a skin disease (or worse)." Castro never got the diving suit.

"An ordinary-looking pen would be rigged with a hypodermic needle with an extremely, potent poison." The needle was to be undetectable as someone would push against Castro.

"[An exploding cigar which] would have been packed with enough real explosives to take Fidel's head off." The plan never transpired.

"[A] double agent who would slip Castro a cigar filled with botulin, a toxin that would kill the leader in short order." The agent "got cold feet."

"[A]n explosive device in a conch shell at his favorite [diving] spot." The shell would look brightly colored and unusual to attract Castro's attention. When he got close to the shell, a bomb in it would explode.

"[Using] thallium salt, the chemical in products like Nair" to make Castro's beard fall out. This would make him look "weak and fallible" to the Cuban population.

"In an effort to discredit Fidel, not kill him, a radio station where Castro was going to do a live broadcast would be bombarded with an aerosol spray containing a substance similar to LSD." Castro would supposedly "freak out on the air" and Cubans "would think he had lost his mind and stop trusting him."

"[A] germ-covered handkerchief that would make him very ill."

"[A] poisoned milkshake." The attempt went awry when the poison pill stuck to the freezer. This was the closest attempt on Castro's life.

Unfortunately, the CIA has probably been trying to take advantage of Cuba's current situation and commit some sort of sabotage or fuel dissent. Cuba's sovereignty and security thus becomes paramount.

Fidel Castro is 90 years years old and out of power. After his death, a lot will be written about him, both with vilifying propaganda and with praises. But like him or not, Fidel Castro is 100% revolutionary.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

In Defense of Main Street


By David Starr

In an opinion piece entitled "In Defense of Demonized Wall Street" by Jason Desena Trennert (Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2015), capital markets are praised as "the greatest economic engine the world has ever known." Capital has revolutionized production as a leading force, but it is labor that is the true economic engine. Abraham Lincoln once said that labor is superior to capital. If it wasn't for labor capital wouldn't exist. Thus, it deserves the higher consideration. Instead of capital markets, labor markets would be a more accurate term.

The economic engine is run by the labor power of the working class in whatever economic sector we're talking about.

Trennert does criticize predatory lending, but it is capital itself that is inherently predatory. Money is worshipped on the altar of Wall Street. The neoliberal phase of capital has produced record profits. But the trickle-down economics originating with Reagan has not alleviated poverty. On a world-wide basis, gross inequality for many still exists while capital accumulation has soared. But only the 1% have really profited from it in a gross imbalance of income disparity.

Trennert, however, praises "modern banking" putting a "serious dent" in the crushing poverty that was once "the norm rather than the exception." I wouldn't say that it has put a CRUSHING dent in poverty. Especially since the Clinton administration, big banking has been a corrupt practice with, e.g, predatory lending. Bringing back Glass-Steagall would help-separating investment banks from commercial banks.

But under capitalist rule, not only will there always be the temptation to use and abuse banking; the latter would continue to be vulnerable to the boom and bust cycles of capitalism. And those within the working class are potential victims. The top percentage of income earners do not go through the depravity that afflicts most during a recession or a depression. These individuals have at least a financial buffer to weather the economic storm.

Trennert mentions Charlie Merrill, co-founder of Merrill Lynch: "His legacy has allowed untold millions of savers to put money in the stock market and retire in comfort." Again, on a world-wide basis, many have indeed put their savings in the stock market and many have gotten burned by it. The 2008 Great Recession is one of the biggest and brutal examples of economic meltdown. While people will continue to put their savings in the stock market, it is the biggest form of gambling in the world.

Trennert writes that Merrill "was the first to understand that the distinction between 'Wall Street' and 'Main Street' was artificial." But both haven't exactly been allies in the production of goods and services. Trennert tries to put across the idea that both are compatible, that "we're all in this together." It appears, however, that the few are more equal than the many.

While Trennert doesn't oppose "common-sense regulations," the latter have been gutted going back to the 1980s. And the wild speculation and a greed-is-good mentality that followed was a major factor leading up to the 2008 recession. (The Bush Jr. administration should take much of the blame with its “ownership society,” i.e., “you’re on your own society.”)

Labor is the economic engine but capital has gotten most of the credit...and the wealth. It's time for labor to get credit, and the wealth from production, that it deserves. To reiterate, if it wasn't for labor, capital would not exist.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Despite Sanders' New York Primary Loss, His Detractors Have Feared the Bern


By David Starr

Bernie Sanders' New York primary loss-the primary was exclusive, whereby independents couldn't vote-was a stinging defeat. Now, detractors from the Clinton camp and elsewhere will want Sanders to throw in the towel.

Sanders' detractors have portrayed him as a "far left looney," incompetent or ignorant. While the establishment wants things just as they are, Sanders, with his progressive stand on the issues, has rocked the boat. His detractors have been hellbent on stopping him. They have been fearing the Bern.

In Sanders' own party, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has favored Hillary Clinton so much so that she's been "trying to manipulate the presidential election process by limiting direct debate and tilting the national party apparatus in favor of one candidate," said Roots Action co-founder Norman Solomon.

The Washington Post ran a series of spiteful opinion pieces in March 2016 against Sanders. One, entitled, "Clinton is running for president, Sanders is doing something else," has Sanders entrenched in his "same narrow patch of ideological turf." With Sanders saying he would raise taxes on the wealthy, this is called "a politically ludicrous plan" during a recession. While Sanders is accused of making his "usual pitch" of important issues-Wall Street, campaign finance reform, a massive public works program and single-payer healthcare-"Clinton ran for president."

In another, entitled, "'Excuse me, I'm talking': Bernie Sanders shuts down Hillary Clinton repeatedly," Sanders acted "assertive--and at times outright feisty, as he shut down any attempt by Clinton to interrupt him" during the debate in Flint, Michigan.

In the New York Post, Sanders is called a communist, even though he is really a democratic socialist.

And in another opinion piece, entitled, "Alan Dershowitz: Don't be fooled America. Bernie Sanders is not pro-Israel," published on the FOX website, Sanders is subjected to the same reactionary accusations when one even has mild criticism of Israel. Dershowitz claims that Sanders' criticisms of Israel "reflects both abysmal ignorance about the conduct of the Israeli Defense Forces and a pervasive bias" against Israel.

The demonizing of Sanders has a pattern. Journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote a piece on the Intercept website where seven stages of establishment backlash are listed:

"1) Polite condescension toward what is perceived as harmless. [Sanders is in no way a serious candidate.]
2) Light, casual mockery [as support grows for Sanders.]
3) Self-pity and angry etiquette lectures [toward enthusiastic supporters].
4) Smear the candidate and his supporters, [misusing the terms sexist and racist].
5) Right-wing attacks to [demonize Sanders as his popularity grows in the polls].
6) Hysterical warnings [if the establishment candidate is rejected].
7) Unrestrained meltdown, panic, lashing-out and threats [if Sanders is elected the Democratic nominee for president]."

While it looks as though Clinton will clinch the nomination, it isn't over till it's over. If Sanders can pull off a "miracle," look for his detractors to reach stage seven.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Libertarianism: A Critique


by David Starr

Libertarianism has been a controversial philosophy or ideology where there its basic tenets are flawed. It is an incomplete system.

Peter Vallentyne and Bas van der Vossen describe libertarianism generally as
"a political philosophy that affirms the rights of individuals to liberty, to acquire, keep and exchange their holdings and considers the protection of individual rights the primary role of the state." (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, first published 9/05/2002, revised 7/01/2014.)

Vallentyne and van der Vossen write that libertarianism rejects "many powers" of the state because the latter uses individuals' wealth to "bail out large companies, provide for pensions, to help the needy, or to pay for public goods (e.g., parks and roads)." Lumping all these examples together, however, merely provides a B/W view of government. Based on today's world, there is an ethical difference between bailing out corporations and providing for the needy. Corporations have institutional power by funding politicians in their political campaigns and in turn receive favors. The needy do not have institutional power.

Vallentyne and van der Bossen also cite different tendencies of libertarianism, primarily, left and right libertarianism. Left libertarianism includes socialists, who support collective self-ownership of the means of production rather than having the state control it. Professor Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher of the City University of New York (CUNY), calls left libertarians "non-propertarians," i.e., they reject forms of private property. Right libertarians are "propertarians," i.e., they support private property as equal to life and liberty. They also support "free" trade, while left libertarians reject it and instead support fair trade.

A key flaw with libertarianism, at least the right-wing version, is that it perpetuates "the law of the jungle." Without a state, or "less government," one is left to fend for themselves. Pigliucci puts it this way: "The problem is that any anarchist position [generally a branch of libertarianism],-be it propertarian or not-simply puts too much trust in humans' ability to live a good and reasonable life without societal checks and balances. For all our cooperative instincts, we are still too darn selfish and greedy for that to work."

Libertarianism has also been described as a society without a state, i.e., since the state is a form of oppression, it would not exist at all. Defenders of libertarianism, especially on the right, see government as totally evil. Reform is out of the question. They yearn for a stateless society. But it would take further evolving and maturing of humankind to reach a stateless society, if that is even possible. For now, it is utopian.

Regarding violence, libertarians blame it all on the state. But this is an incomplete, and vague, position. While there is talk about personal freedom, nothing, as far as I know, is said about how this freedom comes about and the consequences. While libertarians condemn the violence of the state, they will act violent if necessary (the Non-Aggression principle). If violence were condemned consistently, then libertarians would be pacifists. Another point: one could say that one has the freedom to violate the freedom of others. Of course this wouldn't be justified. Laws come into play, i.e., the checks and balances system.  that Pigliucci mentions. Otherwise, as I stated earlier, one has to fend for them self in a libertarian society.

Whenever one rebuts a libertarian, the accusations fly, like, "you want to point a gun at me" or "you want to use the state to enslave me." But the shrill accusations ignore what would happen in a libertarian society. The potential violence and degradation of a "truly free society" is ignored, where it would be survival of the fittest.

Libertarianism is a utopia, and as long as humankind remains imperfect, it will not exist as a workable system.