Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gene Sharp: Author of the nonviolent revolution rulebook

"One of the main points which we used was Sharp's idea of identifying a regime's pillars of support," he said. "If we could build a relationship with the army, Mubarak's biggest pillar of support, to get them on our side, then we knew he would quickly be finished."

BBC News - Gene Sharp: Author of the nonviolent revolution rulebook

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thousands Occupy Wisconsin Capitol Building; Rev. Jesse Jackson Marches in Madison

“Today is a Serious Showdown”: Thousands Occupy Wisconsin Capitol Building Ahead of Anti-Union Vote

The Wisconsin Assembly is set to begin debate today on Republican Governor Scott Walker’s plan to cut pay and eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. The unions have agreed to accept all of Walker’s proposed cuts, which would see them pay 12 percent of their health benefits and half their pension costs. But they have refused to relinquish their right to collective bargaining. We speak to Peter Rickman, an activist in the Teaching Assistants’ Association at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has helped occupy the Capitol building in Madison for the past week to protest the bill. “People understand that this is a fundamental attack on basic worker rights,” Rickman says. “So, people like ... the firefighters, steelworkers and other folks—nurses, home care workers—who are joining us are doing this because this is a struggle for all working folks.”

Link to complete text

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Rev. Jesse Jackson Marches in Madison as Thousands Defend Public Employees and Unions

We speak to the famed civil rights leader as he walks a group of Madison students back to school as they reopen following a week of teacher protests, who joined tens of thousands of others to oppose the state’s efforts to pass anti-union legislation targeting public employees. “It’s no longer about workers making economic concessions,” Jackson says. “It’s about the Governor wanting to deny workers the right to collective bargaining.”

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Egypt Takes a Step Back From IMF Ways

Analysis by Emad Mekay

(Source: IPS)

CAIRO, Feb 20, 2011 (IPS) - Egypt could soon be looking for a new economic model – one that will be different from the traditional system that has been promoted for years by international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), under the reign of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

"Lots of Egyptians after the revolution realized the level of injustice against them, and that they were being ripped off for many years," Abulezz Al-Hariri, a former opposition member of parliament, told IPS.

"They started asking for their rights," he added. "This cabinet is just trying to cater to that immediate realization."

Since the mid 1980’s, the World Bank, the IMF, and USAID have sought to encourage policies that limit the role of government in the economy, cut budget deficits, and give more influence to the private sector and corporations.

Under pressure from the public following the success of the January revolution, the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq - originally appointed by Mubarak but kept by the military to run the everyday affairs until new elections are held - quickly rolled back some of the controversial policies.

Many of the moves announced over the past few days are designed to be a quick fix to the economic situation faced by millions of Egyptians who are eager to enjoy concrete benefits of the 18-day revolution in which 365 protesters died.

The new government has announced that all citizens are eligible to apply for monthly portions of sugar, cooking oil, and rice. The previous cabinet, which was comprised of businessmen and former corporate executives, had frozen the rations.

This decision overturned the previous policy of providing monthly rations only to those who prove they are poor through a lengthy process of paperwork and red tape.

Last week, new finance minister Samir Radwan said that the country will not change its current subsidies system, which offers reduced food prices for some 65 million Egyptians.

Furthermore, the new government promised to offset any extra cost in food prices that might accompany rising prices internationally. Radwan put the initial cost at 2.8 billion Egyptian pounds (about 425 million dollars).

Under the new policies, the health ministry will offer free health care 24 hours a day at public hospitals. Days before the Jan. 25 revolution, the Mubarak regime had limited free health care hours from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm.

Temporary workers who have spent at least three years working for the government will now be given permanent contracts that carry higher salaries, and benefits such as pension plans, and health and social insurance.

Many municipalities also saw long lines of applicants after the interim government said that it will offer subsidized housing for young people on an expedited basis.

And on Wednesday, the Central Bank of Egypt said it will be a "guarantor" to achieve the demands of banking sector employees, which include curbing top management compensation packages and salaries as well as offering greater benefits for employees.

But while the new measures remain limited, their implementation has raised questions about whether Egypt may be heading back to its strong socialist past, which flourished under the rule of former president Gamal Abdelnasser, who ran the country in 1950’s and 1960’s.

Some officials say that the new programmes constitute an initial reaction from a team known for its pro-capitalist background and are only temporary.

"We are not moving back to a socialist past," Amina Ghanem, deputy finance minister, told IPS. "We are just trying to extinguish fires."

"We are not going to lose our reforms," said Ghanem, who was also deputy to outgoing finance minister Youssef Botrous Ghali. "We want people to work and not take charity from the government."

For measures already announced, the interim government will find funding by re-allocating spending to more high-priority areas, rather than re-making the Egyptian economy, she said.

"Instead of spending now on, say, for example, landscaping, we’ll re-channel that money to more urgent needs," she explained.

Al-Hariri, a member of the left-of-centre Tagammu Party, agreed that the current interim government is not taking a U-turn away from capitalist policies inspired by Western financial institutions.

"Their measures are just like tranquilizers; something to kill the pain but not cure anything," he said.

Al-Hariri added that past policies under Mubarak were not effective and that any future government should find an alternative. He recommended long- term plans to create more jobs, and what he called "real industries" and "real investments".

Confiscating wealth looted by cronies of the former regime, more egalitarian distribution of wealth, gradual taxation, better government oversight, and placing "a reasonable ceiling" on profitability of goods and services sold to the public are among the measures that should restore an economic balance to society, he said.

Mamdouh Al-Wali, a business writer with the Al-Ahram Daily newspaper, said Egypt’s path towards a new economic direction will be fraught with dangers from deeply-rooted interests, such as businesses, former regime symbols, and international financial institutions.

"A future new government, even though elected, may not be able to resist all that counter-pressure," he told IPS. "The change will be hard." (END)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Pharaohs Of India

By Satya Sagar

from Countercurrents.org

When will the Indian public rise up by the millions against its corrupt rulers a la Egypt or Tunisia? When will the Indian sub-continent witness a mass upsurge against exploitation of the majority by a decadent minority elite? How long will the Indian people continue to put up with rising prices, grinding poverty, rampant disease and loot of the country by its leaders?
These are some of the questions being repeatedly asked by thousands of Indians clued into international news, in universities, colleges on internet chat sessions ever since the inspiring winds of change started blowing in the Arab world early this year.
The questions are quite natural, given the great discontent that has been swelling up among the people of India for many years now. Problem is, they may be way off the mark in their hopes about what is happening in the Arab world as also their understanding of what India is really all about.
To begin with, though there is no doubt the ouster of dictators from both Egypt and Tunisia are historical events; it is too early to say whether they are really revolutions that will transform the lives of their ordinary folk. The devil as they say lies in the details and doubts remain as to what the current upheaval will mean in specific terms of social welfare or democratic and political rights.
In both countries for example the transition to new regimes have been quite carefully orchestrated by the military, the same institution holding power behind the previous one. The history of betrayal of revolutions by clever generals spouting populist rhetoric, while forging a new dictatorship, is too long in the region for anyone to forget.
Secondly, the United States has welcomed the changes in both countries, another bad sign, given the evil role it has played in propping up one dictator after the other in the region. US politicians championing ‘Liberty and freedom’, have as much credibility as say MacDonald’s promoting a healthy and balanced diet. The truth is that Uncle Sam does not mind – as Henry Kissinger’s colourfully put it once- any bastard in power as long as it is ensured he is ‘our bastard’.
Thirdly, even if Egypt and Tunisia transform into liberal democracies with regular elections, separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary at best they will start looking like the many democracies in the developing world. As long as the rules governing accumulation and inheritance of wealth are not radically changed to ensure more equitable distribution of resources, power too will always remain concentrated in a few hands.
If the protestors in Arab world are not careful and persistent enough the danger is they could in fact become like India, the world’s ‘biggest democracy’! What that really means, we will come to a bit later, but first a recounting of modern Indian history.
India’s own big, united national movement against concentrated despotism happened during the time of their fight against British colonial rule. The presence of a single, identifiable enemy helped to mobilise a diverse range of forces around the sub-continent, even though the tragic Partition of India and Pakistan underscored its great weaknesses too.
The momentum of that grand struggle spawned the trappings of Indian democracy capped by a liberal and progressive Constitution, something that the Egyptians and Tunisians are demanding now. There can be no doubt about the importance and achievements of the Indian anti-colonial movement but all that is well and truly over now.
In the past six decades since Independence, slowly but steadily, every modern democratic institution in the country has now been shorn of its original intent or values, degraded and even destroyed by a deadly marriage between unprincipled politics and ill-gotten wealth. A marriage brokered by the vast state machinery of the Indian bureaucracy and police and guaranteed by the third largest standing army in the world.
The educated Indian middle-classes, who could be the guardians of liberal democracy, are too busy feasting at this Big Fat Wedding reception of business and power to take notice. It is an unscrupulous gluttony paid for through the looting of ordinary Indian people, who don’t get even the leftovers of this orgy and suffer endlessly, often living inhuman lives or simply curl up and die.
Many are protesting too and what is paradoxical is that while the Indian masses may not be together in one big national movement, everywhere you see people also continuously protesting against such despotism. Whether it is movements against land grab by corporations, dysfunctional governments, regional discrimination or oppression of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities the Indian public is in permanent but scattered revolt.
They have no single target to vent their ire upon because the targets are too many in a vast and diverse country like India, which is the size of many Egypts and Tunisias put together. There are not one but hundreds of Pharaohs like Hosni Mubaraks and Ben Alis strewn all around the nation, each running his or her own despotic fiefdom of business or politics or feudal control.
The surface competition among these various Pharaohs as they fight over the loot gives ordinary citizens some space between the legs of the dinosaurs and the illusion that there is still some democracy left in the country. Look around carefully though and what you will find are multiple cartels of politicians, businessmen, feudal lords and state officials scratching each other’s backs while saving each other’s ass too.
This is what Indian democracy has become, a coalition of homegrown colonialists fighting over an inherited Empire but carefully ensuring complete impunity to each other. Not a single important politician or businessman or bureaucrat in modern India has ever gone to prison for corruption or cheating the public of their resources or for that matter organizing murderous riots repeatedly.
At the same time India’s 1356 prisons are bursting at their seams, overcrowded beyond capacity with over 384,753 prisoners, as per 2008 figures of the National Bureau of Crime. Of these a whopping two thirds are undertrials, the highest proportion of such prisoners anywhere in the world, indicating a complete collapse of our criminal justice system.
Most of these are from the Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim communities underscoring the racist and discriminatory nature of the current Indian Empire. As Dr Binayak Sen, the well-known health and human rights activist, has pointed out Dalits and Adivasis are also the biggest sufferers of the millions of deaths due to malnutrition that take place in the country every year.
So on top of everything else Indian rulers are also guilt of nothing less than a silent, ongoing genocide, which the world has turned a blind eye to. That Dr Sen is right now in prison, ‘convicted’ by a Raipur sessions court for ‘sedition’ and denied bail by the Chhattisgarh High Court is testimony to the hazards that dissidents in India face today for speaking truth to power.
The political trial and conviction of Dr Sen itself, condemned globally, also underscores the rot in the Indian judiciary, which forms the very core of our democracy. With a few honorable exceptions the country’s judiciary has been reduced to a bunch of folks who have neither head, nor heart, nor conscience, as they slavishly turn the creaking wheels of a colonial legal apparatus for the benefit of their business and political patrons.
So how and when will India change and what does it mean to be inspired by the mass revolts in Egypt, Tunisia or elsewhere against despotism? The answers are not easy as the sheer size and diversity of the Indian subcontinent means the list of grievances and demands is also bound to be long and varied.
But it is possible and indeed imperative to find common grounds for coming together in a nationwide movement also. The themes of this united front have to be economic and social justice, respect for the demands of India’s diverse nationalities, an end to the unholy alliance of business and political power and an insistence on turning the Indian state into servants of the people instead of the masters they have become now.
To begin with, a good demand would be for immediate implementation, in both letter and spirit, of the Indian Constitution. As the only widely agreed set of rules to emerge from the Indian freedom movement, safeguarding the Constitution is the key to both achieving and deepening Indian democracy
Successive Indian government and agencies of the state have been the biggest violators of the Constitution and failed to uphold its principles as evidenced by the widespread poverty, corruption and abuse of fundamental rights in the country. India can indeed be both inspired by Egypt or Tunisia and also become a model for their future only when we end the impunity of our own Pharaohs and establish a genuinely democratic Republic NOW! 

Satya Sagar is a writer, journalist and public health activist based in New Delhi. He can be reached at sagarnama@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nine Pictures of the Extreme Income/Wealth Gap

(from truthout)

How Extreme Is The Concentration?
Now you have a way to visualize just how much money is concentrated at the very top. And the concentration is increasing. The top 1% took in 23.5% of all of the country’s income in 2007. In 1979 they only took in 8.9%.
It is concentrating at the expense of the rest of us. Between 1979 and 2008, the top 5% of American families saw their real incomes increase 73%, according to Census data. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth (20% of us) saw a decrease in real income of 4.1%. The rest were just stagnant or saw very little increase. This is why people are borrowing more and more, falling further and further behind. (From the Working Group on Extreme Inequality)
Income VS Wealth
There are a few people who make hundreds of millions of income in a single year. Some people make more than $1 billion in a year But that is in a single year. If you make vast sums every year, after a while it starts to add up. (And then there is the story of inherited wealth, passed down and growing for generation after generation...)
Top 1% owns more than 90% of us combined. "In 2007, the latest year for which figures are available from the Federal Reserve Board, the richest 1% of U.S. households owned 33.8% of the nation’s private wealth. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent." (Also from the Working Group on Extreme Inequality)
400 people have as much wealth as half of our population. The combined net worth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans in 2007: $1.5 trillion. The combined net worth of the poorest 50% of American households: $1.6 trillion.
Read the complete article here:
Nine Pictures of the Extreme Income/Wealth Gap

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The takeaway language of slang by James Sharpe - TLS

These two rather different yet equally fascinating works raise some fundamental thoughts about the nature and function of slang, a word itself of uncertain derivation. All students of the subject will agree that it is at once, like fashion in clothing, a means of inclusion and exclusion, whether for Tudor vagrants, nineteenth-century Oxbridge undergraduates, or modern gays or drug-users. Cracking the code that slang can constitute therefore admits outsiders, if only vicariously, to a new, and often deviant, cultural environment. Thus the early commentators on cant seem to have been fully aware that the terms they listed not only represented the argot of underworld characters conspiring against the norms of straight society, but also constituted a safe means of access to members of straight society into a world of adventure and freedom from convention.

Link:
The takeaway language of slang by James Sharpe - TLS

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why I Call Myself a Socialist: Is the World Really a Stage?

By Wallace Shawn

From truthout

In most reasonably large towns in the United States and Europe, you can find, on some important public square or street, a professional theater. And so, in various quiet neighborhoods in these towns, you can usually also find some rather quiet individuals, the actors who work regularly in that theater, individuals whose daily lives center around lawns and cars and cooking and shopping and occasionally the athletic events of children, but who surprisingly at night put on the robes of kings and wizards, witches and queens, and for their particular community temporarily embody the darkest needs and loftiest hopes of the human species.
The actor’s role in the community is quite unlike anyone else’s. Businessmen, for example, don’t take their clothes off or cry in front of strangers in the course of their work. Actors do.
Contrary to the popular misconception, the actor is not necessarily a specialist in imitating or portraying what he knows about other people. On the contrary, the actor may simply be a person who’s more willing than others to reveal some truths about himself. Interestingly, the actress who, in her own persona, may be gentle, shy, and socially awkward, someone whose hand trembles when pouring a cup of tea for a visiting friend, can convincingly portray an elegant, cruel aristocrat tossing off malicious epigrams in an eighteenth-century chocolate house.

Complete text:
Wallace Shawn | Why I Call Myself a Socialist: Is the World Really a Stage?