Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Choice of Words

   The ideological battle between the left and right, socialism and capitalism, is alive and well even though around two decades ago it had supposedly been settled.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has extended its influence over the globe.  As the capitalist system has extended itself, the world has not seen less wars nor has the market provided answers to things such as hunger and housing.  In fact those problems have intensified even within the U.S. itself.

   In the country that boasts of the freedom to protest, we have seen protesters beaten and pepper sprayed and removed from the sites of the gatherings.  In the past few years people have been forced from their homes while bankers have made enormous profits after being subsidized by the people who are supposed to tighten their belts.   At the same time that people protest the unjust situation, the "free" press which is mainly corporatist, lectures the people about the wonders of entrepreneurs, as if the people are upset with entrepreneurial activity and not the fact that the largest corporations and Wall Street firms write our legislation for their sponsored politicians to make law that runs against the interests of the majority of the people. 

   In Cuba, the socialist government has been undergoing a process of implementing changes to the structure of the economy.  The economy, for the most part, was designed in a time when a socialist camp of countries existed and provided an alternative to the capitalist model.  Since this is no longer the case, Cuba has decided to proceed in a way which makes it possible to preserve the advances it has accomplished, yet at the same time become more functional in the world it lives in.

   It is no secret to the  politicians in Washington that the policy of maintaining the embargo against Cuba is useless.  There are various business groups which are clamoring to find ways to convince Washington that it is time to rethink the wrong-headed policy.  More people to people bridges are built between the two countries despite the attempts at economic isolation.

   Recently there have even been op-ed articles promoting the idea of IMF loans to Cuba. There are almost daily articles about the return of capitalism to Cuba.  The press seems to be more and more searching for ways to help  the stubborn Washington politicians to find ways to justify an about face in regards to Cuba. 

   Look, as far as viewing the changes in Cuba's economic system through the eyes of a believer in capitalism goes, it's understandable that the changes can be considered a turn towards capitalism.  But through the eyes of many believers in socialism, it should be viewed as a way of eliminating many of the bureaucratic obstacles and inconveniences that people faced on the island.  Also, it must be recognized that Cuba is intentionally maintaining the achievements it has made since its revolution in 1959.  There will not be a reappearance of homelessness, malnutrition, nor lack of medical care or an educational system which requires people to amass a debt in order to get a degree.   These are some of the things allow Cuba to be socialist.  The investments coming from abroad are all being directed towards projects that will not only grow the economy but will do so to expand and improve on the benefits that the country provides for its people. 

   Yes, there are similarities in how businesses in a capitalist society operate and how businesses in socialist Cuba do.  But that isn't what gives a country the capitalist character.  Capitalist countries allow a disproportionate amount of wealth to be accumulated in a few hands.  It does so to the detriment of many as it doesn't attempt to truly remedy the problems they face.  Minor adjustments are made because of a certain amount of pressure by the people who really do yearn for more equitable circumstances.  But always there are screams by the proponents of free markets against such measures.  They, along with their corporate sponsors spend a great deal of effort trying to convince people that the problems are actually a result of intervention in the market.  It is actually an attempt to explain why it is better for the rich to get richer while the rest get poorer. 

   Things in any type of system must be produced, sold, and bought.  That is what blurs the line between capitalism and socialism.  What differs socialism drastically from capitalism is how the society decides to make an economic system work for the benefit of the entire population.  Socialism strives for growth that is sustainable and avoids the exploitation of the workers for the profits of a few. 

   In some ways the society which Cuba aims to achieve is very similar to what the protesters all over the world are demanding for themselves.  To the dismay of the capitalist preachers, they know that the people of the world are looking for an alternative to their sermons.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Alternative Example

   The International Monetary Fund has a history of being a tool of the powerful countries to take control over less developed ones.  Over time, the IMF has been actively trapping countries into positions of owing so much money that it becomes impossible to pay without new loans.  These new loans often come at a price.  The price of these loans isn't only the interest a country must pay, but also a restructuring of the country's economy so that large portions of public services end up in the hands of foreign corporations.  What is supposed to be a helpful hand turns out actually being an economy subjected to foreign interests.  This situation is so extreme at times that people wind up not owning their own water sources.  Governments are forced to cut social services and programs for their people just to pay the interest on unpayable loans.

   As the people of the rich nations are facing hard economic situations and austerity measures in their own countries while watching the banks and financial institutions get bail outs, many have taken to the streets to protest the growing inequalities in wealth within their own societies.  Although these are the very countries that proclaim to be the most democratic, it seems quite obvious that some voices are heard over others.  While the vast majority will be forced to swallow the poison pill, the tiny elite who control most of the world's wealth are accumulating riches at levels never before seen. 

   These measures, we are told by our "democratic" governments, are necessary to create a better economic situation for all.  The "trickle down" economic theory has spread across much of the world.  But is it really the way to a more equitable and stable economic future?

   The answer to this question may be found in the most interesting of places.  The IMF's International Monetary and Financial Committee's September 24, 2011 report contains a section on Argentina.  In it it states:

:In the past decade, Argentina’s economy has undergone an unprecedented structural

transformation. Since the 2001/02 crisis, Argentina has recorded eight consecutive years of

growth, a sequence that has not been witnessed since the 1963-1974 period. Between 2003

and 2010, average annual economic growth was almost 8 percent, but the outstanding aspect

of this unprecedented growth period is that it was achieved together with a noticeable

reduction in poverty, unemployment, and inequality. From the point of view of the

Argentinean experience, growth must be broadly shared in order to build a more mature and

sustainable economic and social structure."

"Argentina follows a solid path that sustains high rates of growth as a result of the policy

framework followed by the country since 2003. It is based on a sound macroeconomic

policy framework supported by continuous twin surpluses, external and fiscal, a disindebtedness

process with no precedents, responsible fiscal and monetary policies, a floating

exchange rate regime, and the accumulation of foreign reserves. In this regard, the historical

pattern of stop and go that has characterized the Argentinean economy since the post-war

period was avoided. Key components of the model are job creation, fairness and social

inclusion and income distribution. In the past eight years, the average income per capita

grew by 60 percent in real terms and public expenditure per capita increased tenfold during

the same period. 3.5 million jobs were created, with unemployment decreasing from 18 to 7.3

percent, while the average real wage climbed 37 percent. Improvements in the minimum

wage, as recently occurred, benefit both the functional and the personal income distribution.

We share the view that equality is an important ingredient in promoting and sustaining

1 Social and political stability supported economic stability, and social participation

was preferred to social repression. Argentina has also been particularly successful in

guarding the most vulnerable sectors of its population, as well as its producers from the

recent episodes of volatility in international commodity prices."

"We believe it is necessary to

continue to rethink the role played by credit rating agencies through concrete policies aimed

at reducing dependence and enhancing supervision."

   Is seems that the fact that Argentina decided to reject the usual prescriptions by these international lending institutions led them out of the crisis they were facing and on to a solid future.  This is a point that should be realized by the countries dealing with enormous debt and also by the countries who may in the future consider listening to the ideas of the IMF.

   Perhaps ways other than what the elite bankers of the world would like countries to follow are more rewarding.  Perhaps countries are going to have much different relations with these institutions in the future. 


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Silly Promises and a Promising Future

   I am often baffled by the level of willingness that many Americans have to find excuses for the actions of the U.S. government.  There should be little confusion about the fact that although this country has democratic systems in place, there exists a situation in which many people feel like their voices aren't represented by those who have been elected.  We are close to entering the fourth year of Obama's presidency and there has been plenty of disappointment with what he has accomplished, or more appropriately, what he hasn't accomplished.

   Back when Bush was still president and the 2008 election was in full swing, Obama was able to take away the Democrat party's nomination from Hillary Clinton's seemingly probable role.  This was possible due to the positions each had taken in regards to the war Bush decided to start in Iraq.  Hillary Clinton attempted to pretend that her vote to give Bush the power to wage war without Congress giving him the the authority to do so, was done believing that war wasn't necessarily going to be pursued.  She supported the war, regardless what she tried to say during the campaign.  Obama put himself on the side of the people's sentiment against the war.  He was immune to having to defend himself as Hillary tried since it was a vote he never had to cast.  It was an easy position for him to take and it impressed more voters.  Obama cruised to victory at a time when most people would have chosen almost anyone who seemed to offer a break from the ignorant policies of the Bush administration.

   The new president came in appearing as a man who would finally do the people's business instead of working on behalf of the powers that had already become one with both political parties.  His bold beginning was to order the closing down of the black hole like torture chamber in occupied Guantanamo Cuba.  But hindsight is 20/20.  The prison remains, as does the occupation of that part of Cuba.

   He then decided to seem like he was going to go farther than anyone else had and create a health care system that was dedicated to allowing health care to be reached by all Americans.  But quickly it became obvious that he had no intentions in eliminating the main obstacle to such a system, the insurance companies.  We are told by those like the president that we have to do what is possible and although we know that there is no way to defend the fact that this health care system is one designed for profit and since it is so, people are refused necessary care and those who are covered by insurance are often financially ruined by the prices that are unpayable.  We are expected to rationalize what we know is wrong.  We are supposed to believe that his health care accomplishment, which gives more business, more profits to the very companies that hold people hostage to policies that would be laughable if they were actually a joke and it wasn't such a despicable arrangement, is a major victory for the people.

   "Bush's War" quickly became Obama's war and he decided to hide behind "what the generals think" as if his civilian presidency wasn't actually able to tell the generals what was good for the country.  We are supposed to imagine that because he campaigned as if he was against the war, we are somehow waging one in a way that it wouldn't have been waged had John McCain won the election.  That actually isn't even the point. 
   The point is that he was elected because people had come to realize that the war was a mistake and the United States shouldn't be there anyway.  As if his decisions weren't insulting our intelligence enough, Obama's administration throughout this year had been trying to find ways for the Iraqi government to allow our troops to remain at war in that country beyond the deadline that Bush had set along with his Iraqi counterparts (if they can be truly considered as such).  His administration's efforts were unsuccessful.  But apparently leaving Iraq according to Bush's timetable (while leaving the largest mercenary force in existence behind) will undoubtedly be presented to us as Obama fulfilling another campaign promise.  (That sentence should end with an exclamation point but I feel a period is more suitable since it is so serious of an insult to the Americans who can't stomach being involved in the war any longer and the Iraqis who will continue to suffer from this situation.)

   The "change" that so many people had hoped for in 2008 only materialized in rhetorical terms.  Obama's administration has sat by and allowed record numbers of Americans to lose their homes thanks to a Wallstreet scheme which was able to be hatched thanks in large part to laws created, or eliminated, during the previous Democrat hero's administration, Bill Clinton. 

   Bill Clinton, the man who is now coordinating relief for the country of Haiti, stood before the unlucky people of that country and said that he felt bad about the results of some policies that he had supported that had caused more harm than good in Haiti.  Bill Clinton mastered the art of showing empathy.  Maybe one day he will apologize for how almost two years after the earthquake, Jimmy Carter plans on reporting to the U.S. that the only rebuilding he has seen during his visit to Haiti is the rebuilding of mansions for the rich.  I guess if we are to follow the line of thought of a certain Christian evangelist we can imagine that this misfortune has something to do with a punishment for voodoo practices.

   With protests springing up all over the country, it should be obvious that change hasn't come with the election of Obama.  The big shots on Wallstreet have become richer than ever and new poverty statistics show that there exists more poverty than we were previously led to believe.  But there is more freedom, no really there is, more freedom of money to influence our politics.  Surely that should make up for all of the freedoms that have been twisted and abused during the past decade or so!  "Only in America" as Don King, the boxing promoter, or puppet master, likes to say with a smile.  Yes, only in America is the incumbent president's goal of raising a billion dollars for a campaign viewed as an admirable record to be proud of. 

   We can feel good about showing off to the world what our freedom to protest looks like.  We see thousands of arrests and veterans being shot at with projectiles as less than embarrassing.  We like to talk a good game when we pick and choose which country to lecture about human rights, but I know we are talking to ourselves.  When we interfere in the internal affairs of a country in Latin America while claiming that Chavez is doing so without any evidence, we do so because we tell ourselves that we are better, more just. 

   The people of this country are beginning to realize that the promise of change will not come simply by voting for the politician who makes the beautiful promises that we feel comfortable hearing.  People are tired of the silly gimmicks of political campaigners such as Romney's saying that he will eliminate much of the foreign aid that this country pays for.  That quite simply wouldn't be likely to happen.  Most of what we hear as being foreign aid goes eventually to aiding U.S. corporations operating in foreign countries.  The "economic hit man" John Perkins clearly explained the situation of Indonesia.  U.S. investment in that country went to build everything necessary for the oil companies to conduct business.  The oil has been extracted, billions of dollars were made for the investors, and a few powerful Indonesians became rich too.  The vast majority of Indonesians have gained virtually nothing from the natural resources of their country.  They have been subjected to Washington backed strong men for decades with no way out.  Strong men, dictators, anything we'd like to call them, it doesn't matter.  They all are working more for their personal fortunes at their people's expense.   It is all just fine with the U.S. since those strong men work in the interests of capital.

   The lofty claims about human rights that the U.S. presidents and others officials in the government ring hollow.  The U.S. power only finds problems with leaders of countries willing to buck the trend of U.S. dominance.  The most clear example is the country of Cuba.  Having fought for its independence from Spain, it ended up having to live with a constitution written while under U.S. occupation.  After the former colonizer was cut out of the equation, the mighty power to its north took the place of master on the island, retaining the right to intervene militarily when it felt that its interests were threatened.

   So it was like this until 1959 when Fidel Castro's revolutionaries with the support of the people took control of the island's destiny.   In one of his first visits to the United States, Fidel made it clear that the independent nation of Cuba wasn't looking for handouts from the U.S., only respect.  At the same time our government realized that this wasn't an ordinary power grab, but a move to actual independence.  From almost the first day and ever since, Washington has tried almost every trick under the sun to erase this independently minded government that has become an example of a country that resists imperialism. 

   There is no doubt that the lives of the Cuban people have been made more difficult due to the punishment handed out in the form of the embargo, a punishment for choosing independence.  But there is no doubt that in many areas thanks to their independence, their lives are better than in most underdeveloped countries that have opted for the path of being a client state.  Decades of dictatorships imposed on Latin America by Washington has led to societies that suffer from violence, hunger, homelessness, and exploitation of natural resources by American corporations.  Death squads trained by American military specialists have left thousands dead.  Attempts at democracy were crushed time and time again by assassinations. kidnappings, and bribery.  The people of Latin America over the past few short years have been electing governments which are trying to break the chains that have held back the dreams of the continent for centuries.  Never has there been more unity in Latin America than there is at this moment in history.  The countries are forming new alliances to develop themselves in ways that will ultimately help their forgotten majorities live better lives. 

   All of this to me is quite inspiring.  Much is made of what we refer to as the "Arab Spring" here in the U.S.  But this rejection of puppet dictators began over a decade ago in Latin America with the election of Hugo Chavez.  Now the leaders of Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, along with Cuba are working together in harmony.  Of course to Washington, this is a disaster.  Not all of the leaders are as outspoken as Chavez, who has earned the spot of enemy #1 in our corporate press, but all are implementing programs to help the people who had been left out of the plans of past governments who were happy to follow the orders from the north.

   It took a long time for those people to accomplish such a feat.  It seems that the American people are showing symptoms of growing tired of governments which work at the service of mighty corporations while making life more difficult for the majority of working people.  In cities all across the United States, people are finding ways to at least voice their disappointment with the status quo.  We are certainly not bold enough yet to take the chance of voting for a candidate who isn't bought and paid for by the corporations, but if the regular politicians don't find the backbone to go against their wealthy sponsors, eventually a candidate who isn't supposed to win, similar to how Chavez was elected in Venezuela, will be chosen by the people.  At that point the country will be able to begin the process of making a society that actually matches the rhetoric that we too often pretend to believe out of convenience. 

   As much as we like to tell ourselves that we are an example for the world to follow, I think that the world has provided some great examples for us to take note of.  It's Shameful that we accept living with the knowledge that we have to choose the lessor of two evils.  The people of Latin America have shown us that a better future is possible and the voices that were once drowned out by the powerful can be heard.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"We Are Powerless"

   "We are powerless in a foreign country."  This was the response from the U.S. representative of the embassy in Israel to the jailed American reporter who was aboard one of the boats that tried to enter Gaza.  The ambassador didn't come to visit the fellow American, only a representative from the embassy.

   Roberta Jacobson told senators during her confirmation hearing that the administration, through diplomatic channels, would do whatever it could to get Alan Gross released. 

   What makes the U.S. government believe, or pretend, that without official diplomatic relations with Cuba, it would be in any position at all to secure the release of Mr. Gross?  According to the response given to the jailed American reporter in Israel, with which the United States has a seemingly unconditional friendship with, including financial and military ties, the U.S. is powerless in a foreign country!

   If the United States wanted to, it could see Mr. Gross back home with his family quickly.  He is no more human than the five Cubans who have been imprisoned for over a decade after what the U.S. claims with a straight face as being a fair trial in Miami. Mr. Gross has even expressed a desire for himself  to be traded for the five Cubans.  Instead, the U.S. finds him to be a convenient excuse not to change its stance towards the island.  The excuse is more necessary than ever since while President Obama's claims of not seeing any change on the island is contradicted by Freedom House's most recent published report (Freedom House is one of the groups that takes our tax dollars to come up with unfavorable reports based on interviews with ordinary Cuban people on the island) and the remarkable comment by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns.  Burns said "Cuba appears to have taken a positive step by allowing its citizens to buy and sell homes," which is an admission of things changing and recognition  of something positive. 

   OK.  I know that by reading the inside of my passport I am subject to the laws of the countries that I visit.  I also know that there are political issues that affect the U.S.' willingness or unwillingness to help its citizens being held in other countries.  For that reason I am willing to state that I find it unbelievable that the U.S. is doing what Roberta Jacobson claimed during her confirmation hearing.  Any observer, whether it be the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles or a congressman who probably doesn't support the embargo, would agree that a swap for the Cuban five for Alan Gross could happen.  The problem isn't that the United States is powerless, it is that is lacking the political will to break free from the influence of the extremists in Miami. 

   Once the clownish extremists are brushed aside as they should be, the people of the U.S. and Cuba, as well as their respective governments, can begin a cooperative relationship that is mutually beneficial and could potentially  have a positive impact for the people of the entire hemisphere.