Sunday, May 31, 2009

California Upholds Ban on Gay Marriage: Build a National Movement for Equal Rights Now!
May 31, 2009
By Dan DiMaggio
On Tuesday, May 26, in a 6-1 ruling, California’s Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. In response to this ruling and the continued discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the country, activists have called for a National March for Equality in Washington, D.C. the weekend of October 10-11 to demand full, equal rights for all LGBT people.

Just hours after the verdict on Prop 8 was released, thousands took to the streets in protest across the country, in an echo of the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated on November 15 after the initial passage of this reactionary law. According to, there were events organized in over 115 cities, including rallies of 15,000 in Los Angeles, 5,000 in San Francisco, 3,000 in San Diego, and over 1,000 in Seattle. Another 4,000 marched in Fresno on Saturday, including hundreds who marched 14.5 miles in an effort to reach people in more socially conservative areas.

The ruling on Prop 8 in California is a major slap in the face to equal rights, even though the court did agree to recognize the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in California prior to the passage of Prop 8 in November 2008.

Yet while the California decision is a huge setback, recent months have witnessed a number of victories for the gay rights movement. New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Iowa have all legalized same-sex marriage, bringing the total number of states that have legalized marriage equality to six.

In addition the movement is making a huge dent in the battle for hearts and minds. 44 percent of Americans now say same-sex marriage should be legal (up from just 21 percent in November 2004). This includes 58 percent of those ages 18-34 (CNN, 5/4/09). There is a widespread feeling of confidence among many LGBT people and activists that the tide may be finally turning, despite the California ruling – although a major struggle lies ahead.

As Robin Tyler, one of the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 suit, said, “No civil rights movement has ever lost. Never. We will win. It’s not an ‘if’ it’s a when. Only we are going to have to fight like hell.” Tyler, who was married while same-sex marriage was legal in California, founded the website, which was responsible for the protests Tuesday evening.

Activists are now gearing up to put an initiative to overturn Prop 8 on the California ballot in 2010. There is also a major lawsuit being filed in the federal court system, arguing that California’s ban on gay marriage violates the constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the law. Yet many major LGBT rights organizations oppose this strategy, saying it is too soon to aim for a challenge at the national Supreme Court level given the current balance on the court.

We can't rely on corporate politicians or the courts to defend our rights, much less expand them. Rather than waiting for a supposedly more favorable balance on the court, now is the time to step up the movement in the streets, which can change the relationship of forces in society and build public support for LGBT rights.

Now is the perfect time to seize on the momentum generated by recent victories and the outrage at the passage of Proposition 8 in California (and the state supreme court’s refusal to reverse it) to go all out in organizing the national demonstration for equal rights for all LGBT people on October 10-11. Such a demonstration will help link up all the many efforts in different states and localities to push for marriage equality and broader LGBT rights.

Crucially, the mobilization will demand that the Obama administration repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, as well as demanding marriage equality at a national level. While Obama promised to repeal DOMA during his campaign, his administration has yet to make any moves in this direction.
Unfortunately, leading Democratic politicians have shown again and again that rather than taking a principled stand, they are willing to sell out the interests LGBT people out for their narrow electoral gains. In order to build a powerful social movement, it should not concern itself with the supposed needs of “friendly” Democratic politicians, but rather start from the standpoint of the need of LGBT people for equal rights NOW.

Expressing the growing frustration and anger of some in the LGBT community at the timidity of Democratic politicians on this issue, Tyler said, “If the National Democratic party does not, after 35 years of promises to our community, make sure we have full equal rights in this country, the gay divorce you are going to see is the gay communities divorce from the Democratic party. We are a civil rights movement. It’s time we acted like one.”

The national march this fall will allow LGBT rights activists to boldly campaign in their communities, schools, and unions to mobilize and build support. It will place the issue in the national spotlight and highlight the broad support for equal rights for all that exists, giving confidence to the millions who support marriage equality that they are part of a broader movement.

As the National March for Equality organizers put it in their call, “As members of every race, class, faith, and community, we see the struggle for LGBT equality as part of a larger movement for peace and social justice.” The call for a national demonstration on October 10-11 should be enthusiastically supported by all progressive organizations, linked to the struggle against all forms of oppression and for equality and real justice for all.

As socialists, dedicated to building a world free of exploitation, we wholeheartedly support the call for a national demonstration for equal rights for LGBT people in Washington on October 10-11. We link the struggle for equal rights for LGBT people to the need to replace this rotten capitalist system, which gives rise not only to economic crises and wars, but also feeds off of sexism, racism, and homophobia.

Ultimately, it is only through mobilizing a powerful mass movement that we can transform society. As the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Without struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are You Shocked?

“The Shock Doctrine” – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein, 2007 ---

Naomi Klein is a left critic of the Democratic Party and neo-liberalism. She herself seems not to be a through-going socialist, and implies that a ‘non-disaster’ capitalism might just succeed. “It is eminently possible to have a market-based economy that requires no such brutality and no such ideological purity.” (p.24, SD)

This book is a work of research and journalism, and gathers the economic threads of Milton Friedman Thought into one historical basket It shows how Freidman’s ideas have played out over the last 30 years in history, at the World Bank & IMF, and in torture regimes. The oddest fillip here is Klein’s use of the metaphors of modern psychological ‘medicine’ and torture – sensory deprivation, the destruction of personality and memory, the breaking of all social bonds and violence – and equate them with what neo-liberalism uses to break down a … society. Psychological methods which developed into the CIA torture regime of MKUltra were then used in Iraq in Abu Grahib, after being used on the Iraqi people themselves. This is how Klein links electroshock therapy and … Shock and Awe.

I think Klein is on to something here. The key point is that capitalism can no longer create sufficient wealth itself, and must severely loot the public sectors and working classes all over the world to maintain profits. It is the twists of a decaying system, much like the move toward financialization in the 70s in the U.S. was a result of a failure to make adequate profits the old-fashioned way. These two developments actually go together – Friedmanite “privatization, deregulation and cuts to social services” are at the bottom of our own financial meltdown here in the United States in several ways. And the fact that disasters – which were at one time avoided by prudent capitalists – are now eagerly sought as new profit opportunities by many major corporations – shows the capitalist system is at an even lower economic and historical point. During World War II, war-profiteering was a dirty word. During Iraq War II, war-profiteering was standard operating procedure. Capitalism has not changed, but the perception of it has.

Much of this history will be familiar to leftists. The operations of the “Berkeley School” in Indonesia in the 60s, which lead to the fascist crackdown by Sukarno. The counter-revolution in Chile, lead by Pinochet, which gave Friedman’s Chicago School and it’s homegrown acolytes their first chance to destroy an economy for the greater good of the comprador bourgeoisie and international capital. Similar events in Bolivia and Argentina followed, the latter leading to years of dictatorship and disappearances. Friedmanism spread to the UK after the Falklands War, when Thatcher seized upon that war to bring it ‘home’ against the Miners Union. It was used in South Africa after the defeat of apartheid. And the climactic moment - the massive destruction of the economies of the USSR and Poland, and other former workers’ states, through Friedmanite methods championed by people like Jeffrey Sachs. All this has started to come to an end – especially in Latin America where the ideology of Friedmanism and neo-liberalism has been defeated by bourgeois ‘developmentalists’ and leftists. They both oppose making their nations nothing but raw material suppliers and passive debt payers for U.S. capital.

Kleins’ thesis is that many times ‘changes’ and ‘reforms’ have to be accompanied by physical and cultural violence – in fact violence is an almost necessary part of neo-liberalism. Much as torture and some ‘therapies’ use the same methods. Chile, Indonesia and Argentina come to mind. But even in Bolivia, where the U.S. used ‘liberals’ like Victor ‘Paz’ Estenssoro to institute a draconian Friedmanite plan, they had to declare martial law and round up protest leaders.

The wrecking behavior of the IMF and World Bank, which were, and still are, stocked with Friedmanites, came to a glorious conclusion in the USSR, when U.S capital intentionally drove the former USSR’s economy over a cliff in the early 90s. These entities saw no contradiction in their so-called love of ‘democracy when they praised Boris Yeltsin's use of tanks and soldiers to break up a democratically-elected parliament, killing many in the parliament. Jeffrey Sachs, the U.S. ‘man on the spot,’ had promised Yeltsin IMF/WB aid in exchange for drastic measures to privatize, deregulate and remove social programs in Russia. When this aid didn’t come through, even Sachs has now realized that the U.S. had no intention of ‘helping” Russia. Russia, and much of eastern Europe, fell into a depression that lasted many years, with productivity, health and every other factor dropping like a stone. The social gains of the revolutions were nearly all destroyed or sold off for pennies on the dollar. George Soros, another buccaneer of the time, realized (after making millions off of neo-liberalism in eastern Europe), that something was wrong with the formula.

Even the ostensibly leftist Solidarnosc leadership in Poland bought into the neo-liberal agenda, and instead of getting workers self-management, they got plant closures and poverty. Recently, the Polish government sold the historic Gdansk shipyard to a Dutch off-shore company, UIT, for L82M. The EU Commission forced the sale when it determined that 'state' aid gave the shipyards an unfair competitive advantage. This sale was protested by the 9,000 employees and by the Polish shipyard union.

Friedman also made a visit to the Chinese bureaucracy before the Tiananmen Square massacres. He encouraged the bureaucracy to integrate more fully with the world capitalist system, and one way to do that was not to coddle the population. While some analysts think only students opposed the regime at Tiananmen and in other cities, many workers were actually part of the protest. Some students left before the crackdown. Klein points out that workers were the main target of the assault by the bureaucracy, in dead and arrested. This makes perfect sense if the point was to discipline the class in order to provide a cheap, quiet place for imperialist factories to re-locate.

The most astounding story is still playing out – in South Africa. Klein carefully dissects the mistakes of the ANC, which focused almost exclusively on the political, and ignored the economic, at the moment of victory over apartheid. This guaranteed that the economy would continue to be controlled by the white apartheid bourgeoisie. The economic conditions for black workers in South Africa since apartheid was overthrown have barely improved, if not gotten worse. And that is because the economic aspects of the Freedom Charter – which guaranteed nationalized control over major industries and banks – were dumped by the ANC leadership. There is no way the black proletariat in South Africa can better their situation now without seizing economic power. The moment was lost when apartheid was defeated – and apartheid economics remained. This is presently the struggle we are seeing now within the ANC and the South African workers movement - the realization that the Freedom Charter, whatever its limitations, was not instituted. In retrospect, the 'stagist' theory of the ANC leadership and the South African CP has resulted only in the prolongation of the masses' misery.

Klein looks at how the Friedmanite approach worked in the Asian financial crisis in the early 90s, the tsunami several years ago, and of course, Iraq and Katrina – using disaster to enrich a large, well-connected segment of international capital. For instance, the tsunami lead international resort owners to seize beach land that had been lived on by fisherman for hundreds of years, all in the name of ‘reform’ and ‘aid,’ and then turn it over to paying western tourists to enjoy.

Is there an essential link between Friedmanite theory and disaster? No, but in reality, it has played out that way. In theory, Friedmanism is such a vicious assault on the working class that it needed an opening in society to institute its methods. And collapses helped it take hold. What is most interesting here is to apply Klein’s thesis to the U.S. now. How is capital taking advantage of the present financial crisis to INCREASE their control of the government and society?

And I bought it at MayDay Books!
Red Frog

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Katrina One – “When the Levee Breaks”

Rising Tide – the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, and How it Changed America, By John M Barr, 1997

Katrina wasn’t the first time. This book details how many of the same problems of Katrina – racism, government inaction, broken promises, profiteering, the Army Corps of Engineers, the ruling clique of New Orleans – were there in 1927, long before the 2005 hurricane over-topped the levees around New Orleans. However, instead of coming from the Gulf, this torrent of water came from upstream. 1926 and 1927 had massive rains upstream, in the various tributaries of the Mississippi. The river levees broke in 145 places, 27,000 square miles were flooded, some to a depth of 30 feet.


Barr starts the book with an analysis of the debate after the Civil War between two engineers – Andrew A Humphreys, an arrogant and intense soldier appointed head of the Army Corps of Engineers; and James Eads, a bootstraps businessman, who first got his start dragging sunken boats out of the Mississippi. Humphreys was appointed because he had made a signature and ground-breaking study of the whole Mississippi basin and its flood potential. Eads, representing civilian engineers, spent his life on the river, and made his calculations based on his study of the real behavior of the river. Essentially, the debate centered over whether levies alone were enough to protect the surrounding areas to the rivers. The Corps said yes – even though Humphrey’s himself had shown this might not work. And Eads said no – levies alone would only raise the flood higher, and eventually be over-topped. He recommended that the Mississippi be allowed to drain into other rivers like the Atchafalaya, and some surrounding land areas. His thesis was that careful ‘diversion’ of flood waters into reservoirs, outlets and through cutoffs was the only way to prevent massive destruction.

Essentially, the Corps was wrong. In a debate with Eads and the building of jetties to create a boat channel in the Mississippi at the Gulf, they said it couldn’t be done. They lost that argument - the jetties worked, digging a deep channel using the natural flow of the river, which allowed big ships to reach New Orleans. However, they won the debate prior to 1927 regarding Mississippi flood control. As a result, the Corps started damming natural outlets, including the river just above Greenville, Mississippi. They were ready to dam the Atchlafaya in Louisiana too, which is the biggest natural outlet to the sea. Prior to Katrina, the Corps also claimed the levies around New Orleans were adequate for a category 5 hurricane. They actually are not recommending an improved levy system to this day. Having the Corps in control of the Mississippi river basin is a little like handing the freeway system to the Pentagon.


In spring 1927, levees upstream in state after state had failed. That still didn’t reduce the main pressure on the Mississippi, as some of the water just flowed back into the main channel. The main levee broke (called a ‘crevasse’) near Mound’s Landing, Mississippi, just above Greenville, and scoured out a long lake, still existing today. Hundreds of black levee workers drowned. It flooded the whole Mississippi “Delta” – the rich cotton land north of Vicksburg, in the Yazoo basin, that General Edgar Jadwin of the Corps said could never be flooded. The song, “When the Levee Breaks,” written by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, and later made famous by Led Zeppelin – that is this flood. It was one of many blues songs written about it.  As Barry himself puts it, 1927 was 'when the blues came to the Delta.'

It was not just the flood waters that made people miserable, principally black sharecroppers. They were herded to work prior to, and after the flood, under compulsion and guns. Blacks lived in concentration camps, some right on the levee, eating inadequate food. Somehow whites were not qualified to do the backbreaking, grinding work of dam building and flood recovery. The sharecroppers were not allowed to leave by the Red Cross, especially in Greenville. They were physically and sexually abused by National Guard troops. Greenville had been dominated by liberal white plantation owners for many years, lead by the Percy family, who had even stood up to the Klan. But when the flood hit, the ‘liberal’ plantation owners showed their true colors, and imprisoned their black populations, as they were afraid to lose their labor. However, this very action created the exodus they feared. After the flood subsided, millions of former sharecroppers moved north to Chicago, Detroit and other cities, having had enough. Scratch a ruling-class southerner, liberal or not, get a neo-Confederate wage-slaver.


The ruling clique of New Orleans, an especially powerful and in-bred collection of bankers, dominated the Mardi Gras krewes and private clubs like the Louisiana Club, the most exclusive in the country. At that time, they were led by James P Butler, president of the South’s largest bank. To guarantee that New Orleans would not be flooded, Butler and his cronies got the government to agree to dynamite the levee in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes below New Orleans, thus releasing the flood waters into mostly white, Cajun areas. Butler and the New Orleans bankers promised the Cajuns restitution, and of course, reneged on their promise after the levee was destroyed. At the time, all factual indications were that the Atchafalaya would carry most of the flood waters straight to the Gulf, and they would NOT come through New Orleans. And that is what happened. Hence the levee did not need to be destroyed. This unjust dynamiting helped Huey Long win the governorship of the state later, as he ran against the New Orleans ruling clique for what they did to the citizens of the state, among other things. Later, Long would pay with his life, when he was assassinated, by most careful accounts, by a policeman working for those very same bankers.


Calivin Coolidge appointed Herbert Hoover the head of the relief effort. Hoover was Secretary of Commerce. Hoover was an engineer too, and thought that a scientific and energetic approach to the disaster would solve the problems quickly. He was all over the newspapers, and it was this effort that led Hoover to being named candidate of the Republican Party and then President. Hoovers fundraising from private sources did not really work, but he did put pressure on the federal government to get involved with aid. At the time, the Red Cross was a private organization, and the government had no role in disaster relief. Hoover was able to get the government to make small contributions, for the first time, to aide citizens. Coolidge, much like Bush, thought the problem was someone else’s responsibility.

At the time, black people still voted for Republicans, due to the heritage of the Civil War. Robert Moton, head of the Tuskegee Institute, was the modern representative of the Booker T Washington style of black leadership. After the flood, Moton went to meet Hoover. Moton, in exchange for a promise by Hoover that the Government would give black sharecroppers their own land, and break up the plantation system(!), promoted Hoover for president among the black population, and helped cover up the conditions that black people had been subjected to in the Delta during the flood. Of course, Hoover never kept his promise after winning the election. Moton was that flood’s Ray Nagin. Nagin voted for Bush in 2000, and worked hand in hand with the New Orleans ruling clique for their interest. He failed to prepare poor citizens of New Orleans for evacuation, and now colludes with white real estate interests to decimate the 9th and other wards and parishes.

This disaster, like Katrina, revealed the rotten parts of the ruling class – a plantation system rooted in slavery; a banking elite that would drown their fellow citizens property so that their property would survive; technocrats who make mistake after mistake; a political class that used disasters to gain political power, and then went on as if nothing had happened; and a black elite that covered for the white elite. However, the black population of Mississippi paid attention; the poor white ‘crackers’ of Louisiana paid attention, and both made progressive steps to change conditions. Katrina itself had some of the same effect, and played a role in turning part of the population against the Republican Party and its philosophy.

And I bought it in the Vieux Carre, on Chartres Street, in New Orleans –
Red Frog, 5/10/09