Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Note to Obama: No 'Wiggling' on Honduras

Revenge in Latin America:
The Right Strikes Back!

By Immanuel Wallerstein

Progressives for Obama

July 15, 2009 - The presidency of George W. Bush was the moment of the greatest electoral sweep of left-of-center political parties in Latin America in the last two centuries. The presidency of Barack Obama risks being the moment of the revenge of the right in Latin America.

The reason may well be the same - the combination of the decline of American power with the continuing centrality of the United States in world politics. At one and the same time, the United States is unable to impose itself and is nonetheless expected by everyone to enter the playing field on their side.

What happened in Honduras? Honduras has long been one of the surest pillars of Latin American oligarchies - an arrogant and unrepentant ruling class, with close ties to the United States and site of a major American military base. Its own military was carefully recruited to avoid any taint of officers with populist sympathies.

In the last elections, Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya was elected president. A product of the ruling classes, he was expected to continue to play the game the way Honduran presidents always play it. Instead, he edged leftward in his policies. He undertook internal programs that actually did something for the vast majority of the population - building schools in remote rural areas, increasing the minimum wage, opening health clinics. He started his term supporting the free trade agreement with the United States. But then, after two years, he joined ALBA, the interstate organization started by President Hugo Chavez, and Honduras received as a result low-cost oil coming from Venezuela.

Then he proposed to hold an advisory referendum as to whether the population thought it a good idea to convene a body to revise the constitution. The oligarchy shouted that this was an attempt by Zelaya to change the constitution to make it possible for him to have a second term. But since the referendum was to occur on the day his successor would have been elected, this was clearly a phony reason.

Why then did the army stage a coup d'état, with the support of the Supreme Court, the Honduran legislature, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy? Two factors entered here: their view of Zelaya and their view of the United States. In the 1930s, the U.S. right attacked Franklin Roosevelt as "a traitor to his class." For the Honduran oligarchy, that's Zelaya - "a traitor to his class" - someone who had to be punished as an example to others.

What about the United States? When the coup occurred, some of the raucous left commentators in the blogosphere called it "Obama's coup." That misses the point of what happened. Neither Zelaya nor his supporters on the street, nor indeed Chavez or Fidel Castro, have such a simplistic view. They all note the difference between Obama and the U.S. right (political leaders or military figures) and have expressed repeatedly a far more nuanced analysis.

It seems quite clear that the last thing the Obama administration wanted was this coup. The coup has been an attempt to force Obama's hand. This was undoubtedly encouraged by key figures in the U.S. right like Otto Reich, the Cuban-American ex-counselor of Bush, and the International Republican Institute. This was akin to Saakashvili's attempt to force the U.S. hand in Georgia when he invaded South Ossetia. That too was done in connivance with the U.S. right. That one didn't work because Russian troops stopped it.

Obama has been wiggling ever since the Honduran coup. And as of now the Honduran and U.S. right are far from satisfied that they have succeeded in turning U.S. policy around. Witness some of their outrageous statements. The Foreign Minister of the coup government, Enrique Ortez, said that Obama was "un negrito que sabe nada de nada." There is some controversy about how pejorative "negrito" is in Spanish. I would translate this myself as saying that Obama was "a nigger who knows absolutely nothing." In any case, the U.S. Ambassador sharply protested the insult. Ortez apologized for his "unfortunate expression" and he was shifted to another job in the government. Ortez also gave an interview to a Honduran TV station saying that "I don't have racial prejudices; I like the sugar-mill nigger who is president of the United States."

The U.S. right is no doubt more polite but no less denunciatory of Obama. Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, Cuban-American Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and conservative lawyer Manuel A. Estrada have all been insisting that the coup was justified because it wasn't a coup, just a defense of the Honduran constitution. And rightwing blogger Jennifer Rubin published a piece on July 13 entitled "Obama is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong About Honduras." Her Honduran equivalent, Ramón Villeda, published an open letter to Obama on July 11, in which he said that "This is not the first time that the United States has made a mistake and abandoned, at a critical moment, an ally and a friend." Meanwhile, Chavez is calling on the State Department to "do something."

The Honduran right is playing for time, until Zelaya's term ends. If they reach that goal, they will have won. And the Guatemalan, Salvadorian, and Nicaraguan right are watching in the wings, itching to start their own coups against their no longer rightwing governments.

The Honduran coup has to be placed in the larger context of what is happening throughout Latin America. It is quite possible that the right will win the elections this year and next year in Argentina and Brazil, maybe in Uruguay as well, and most likely in Chile. Three leading analysts from the Southern Cone have published their explanations. The least pessimistic, Argentine political scientist Atilio Boron, speaks of "the futility of the coup." Brazilian sociologist Emir Sader says that Latin America faces a choice: "the deepening of antineoliberalism or conservative restoration." Uruguayan journalist Raúl Zibechi entitles his analysis "the irresistible decadence of progressivism." Zibechi in effect thinks it may be too late for Sader's alternative. The weak economic policies of Presidents Lula, Vazquez, Kirchner, and Bachelet (of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile) have strengthened the right (which he sees adopting a Berlusconi style) and split the left.

Myself, I think there's a more straightforward explanation. The left came to power in Latin America because of U.S. distraction and good economic times. Now it faces continued distraction but bad economic times. And it's getting blamed because it's in power, even though in fact there's little the left-of-center governments can do about the world-economy.

Can the United States do something more about the coup? Well, of course it can. First of all, Obama can officially label the coup a coup. This would trigger a U.S. law, cutting off all U.S. assistance to Honduras. He can sever the Pentagon's continuing relations with the Honduran military. He can withdraw the U.S. ambassador. He can say that there's nothing to negotiate instead of insisting on "mediation" between the legitimate government and the coup leaders.

Why doesn't he do all that? It's really simple, too. He's got at least four other super-urgent items on his agenda: confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court; a continuing mess in the Middle East; his need to pass health legislation this year (if not by August, then by December); and suddenly enormous pressure to open investigations of the illegal acts of the Bush administration. I'm sorry, but Honduras is fifth in line,

So Obama wiggles. And nobody will be happy. Zelaya may yet be restored to legal office, but maybe only three months from now. Too late. Keep your eye on Guatemala.

[Commentary No. 261, July 15, 2009, Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact:, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write:

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Time to Stop Being 'Nickled and Dimed'

Left Margin Column

to Obama:
We Need
a New Deal

By Carl Bloice

July 9, 2009 - Now they are out to nickel and dime us to death. Here in my home town the traffic and parking department has been prevailed upon to "step up" its enforcement activity - and maneuvering to have parking meters work far into the night - in order help cover some of the city's budget deficit. In Massachusetts, legislators have slapped a tax on candy. The California state legislature recently endorsed a $1.50 tax on a bottle of alcohol and added an additional $15 to the vehicle license fee.

The astonishing thing is that such measures, being undertaken across the country, are being approved and even plotted by some liberals and progressives. It's high time we all recognize that the people who get hit by traffic fines are the ones without garages and "sin taxes," by and large, target working people. They are not the ones who got the economy into the current mess but if some people have their way, they will pay through the nose for it. This, at a time when unemployment is soaring, working hours are being cut and paychecks are shrinking.

Nor is there anything good to be said for pitting the budgets for police and fire services against health and welfare services. That's not the way to nurture the progressive political majority needed to really address the current crisis. Yet, in the absence of measures to bring in new sources of revenue to run our cities and states, well-meaning people are maneuvered into challenging each other for pieces of the shrinking pie.

All across the nation, schools are being shuttered, senior meal programs decimated, community health centers eliminated and legal aid for the poor hammered.
We are being told there is no other way and that we should stoically accept this austerity and count what blessings we have left. The problem is that if the sacrifices being forced upon our families and communities are really necessary, then they are not being doled out with anything approaching equity.
They're still living it up big time in some parts of town.

"The mood among financiers is suddenly more cheery,"
wrote John Plender in the Financial Times the other day. In London and New York "trading profits are up and bonuses are back" And, rather than being reduced to something more reasonable, executive compensation packages are on the way up. "There is also a growing suspicion on both sides of the Atlantic that bankers, a lethal breed whose activities have pretty much throttled the global economy while causing government deficits to balloon, are going back to business as usual - a frightening prospect for taxpayers everywhere," he wrote.

Meanwhile, the country's employment crisis continues to worsen. When wandering in the desert, beware shimmering water on the horizon," read the Financial Times' Lex Column, July 2. "If May's better than expected jobs report offered the dehydrated US labor market hope of succor, June's miserable effort was a mouthful of sand." The June jobs data from the Labor Department contained "few signs of life at all,' it said adding, "Slowing growth in weekly earnings, now at 2.7 per cent year on year, is another serving of angst. And falling hours plus sluggish wages mean a further drag on US consumption - already constrained by debt-laden household balance sheets and tight credit. The mirage, and with it hopes of a speedy recovery, has vanished."

"The entire growth in jobs over the last nine years has now been wiped out - the economy currently has fewer jobs than it had in May 2000," says Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Shierholz. "The labor force, however, has grown by 12.5 million workers since then.
"This is the only recession since the Great Depression to wipe out all jobs growth from the previous business cycle, a devastating benchmark for the workers of this country and a testament to both the enormity of the current crisis and to the extreme weakness of jobs growth from 2000-2007."

As economist Dean Baker notes in his Jobs Byte column, the percentage of the unemployed who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks increased by 2 percentage points to 29.0 percent in June and "Many of these workers will soon be exhausting even their extended unemployment benefits."

When drawing up the economic stimulus plan, the Obama Administration relied on a projection of an 8 percent jobless rate this year. It became clear a couple of months ago that figure would miss the mark. It now stands at 9.4 percent and the consensus is that it will reach 10 percent by Christmas. Pimco CEO and chief investment officer, Mohamed El-Erian, now suggests that it may go as high as 10.5-11 percent sometime next year. "Economists are currently spreading the word that the recession may end sometime this year, but the unemployment rate will continue to climb," Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times last week "That's not a recovery. That's mumbo jumbo."

"There are now more than five unemployed workers for every job opening in the United States," wrote Herbert.
"The ranks of the poor are growing, welfare rolls are rising and young American men on a broad front are falling into an abyss of joblessness.

The "broad front" to which Herbert refers may relate to what I consider some of the worst mumbo jumbo floating around out there: the idea that education guarantees a good job or any job at all. One of the striking aspects of the job stats so far this year is the number of out-
of-work college graduates. It keeps on growing. The percentage of unemployed people with some college or an Associate degree was 4.4 percent last June, 7.7 this May and now stands at 8.0 percent. For those under 27 years old with a Bachelors degree or better, it's 5.9 percent. "Everyone is worse off in the current downturn, and young college grads are no exception,"
writes Kathryn Edwards of the Economic Policy Institute. adding, "Although still better off than their peers without a higher education, young college graduates face challenges unique to their age and situation - it is likely that they have considerable debt from financing school, have had no time to build up savings, and, if looking for their first job, are not eligible for unemployment benefits."

"The tough economy and tight labor market have tarnished the luster of a bachelor's degree for young college graduates seeking employment, wrote Tony Pugh for the McClatrchy newspapers. "New monthly survey data from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston finds that during the first four months of 2009, less than half of the nation's 4 million college graduates age 25 and under were working in jobs that required a college degree.
That's down from 54 percent for the same period last year."

"The problem is most acute in the 25-and-under age group among Asian female graduates and black and Hispanic male graduates," wrote Pugh. "The survey, of
60,000 households, found less than 30 percent of Asian female grads, 32 percent of Hispanic male grads and just over 35 percent of young black male grads working in jobs that require a bachelor's degree."

Of course, a young graduate working at a low-paying job means one less job opening for a kid with no degree.

The figures for unemployment among college graduates are, of course, relatively low percentages; the greatest burden of joblessness is falling on those without a high school diploma (15.5 percent) and high school graduates (9.8 percent) - especially young African Americans (37.9 percent - seasonally adjusted)
and Latinos (31 percent in May). The figure for 20-24 year old Latinos was 16.5% in May.

"Why this rampant joblessness is not viewed as a crisis and approached with the sense of urgency and commitment that a crisis warrants, is beyond me,' wrote Herbert, one of the very few mainstream commentators to consistently deal with this crisis in minority communities. "The Obama administration has committed a great deal of money to keep the economy from collapsing entirely, but that is not enough to cope with the scope of the jobless crisis."

In a clear and hard hitting piece July 2, Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times Columnist, Paul Krugman, laid out the challenge the worsening jobs picture places before the Obama Administration and the nation. He wrote that "as in the 1930s, the opponents of action are peddling scare stories about inflation even as deflation looms" and "So getting another round of stimulus will be difficult. But it's essential."

"Obama administration economists understand the stakes," wrote Krugman. "Indeed, just a few weeks ago, Christina Romer, the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, published an article on the "lessons of 1937" - the year that F.D.R. gave in to the deficit and inflation hawks, with disastrous consequences both for the economy and for his political agenda.

"What I don't know is whether the administration has faced up to the inadequacy of what it has done so far."

"So here's my message to the president: You need to get both your economic team and your political people working on additional stimulus, now. Because if you don't, you'll soon be facing your own personal 1937."

As he prepared to depart on a foreign trip last week, the President issued a Fourth of July Message to the country that contained the words: "as long as some Americans still must struggle, none of us can be fully content." So true. As the Times put it in an editorial a few days earlier: "The jobs report for June should put a chill on hopes for an economic recovery anytime soon." And it makes a compelling case for more government stimulus, as unpopular as that idea may be in Washington. Americans all over the country are struggling."

Petty and punitive taxes falling on working people is not the answer. Nor is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
What's needed to get us out of this mess is a unified message to the people who run our cities, states and those in Washington charged with protecting the general welfare, that we need a new deal.

[ Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.]


Monday, July 6, 2009

Obama's Talk With Chavez: Something New?

The Possibility of
an Obama-Chavez

By Tom Hayden

July 2, 2009 - The media is full of speculation about President Obama's deft "deflection" against President Hugo Chavez' maneuvering and finger-pointing in the Honduras crisis. But another narrative is possible, of an undisclosed new diplomatic collaboration replacing the constant tensions and CIA foreknowledge of the brief 2002 coup against the Venezuelan leader.

It is too early to define a new era, but something profoundly new began developing between Obama and Chavez at the hemispheric conference in April in Trinidad.

According to eyewitness sources, under the apparently blind eye of the global media, the two leaders had lengthy conversations. The media covered the friendly photo of the initial handshake between the two leaders, then made much ado about an apparently-impertinent Chavez handing Obama a book in Spanish by Eduardo Galleano.

What has not been reported is that Obama, leaving his advisers behind, held lengthy private conversations with Chavez where only an interpreter was present.

It is not known what occurred in the secret talks. But sources in Caracas say that Chavez has become fascinated with Obama, seeking to understand the new US president and the forces around him, partly with advice from Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The Honduran crisis has been mounting for weeks. According to the New York Times', Chavez "had his playbook ready", planning to blame the CIA. But Obama, according to the Times' headlines, "deflected" the Venezuelan president by coming out strongly against the coup.

The real story is that a gradual rapprochement - not an alliance but a dialogue - is happening between the US and Venezuela, and it began in Trinidad, was pushed by Latin American leaders and welcomed by those like Obama, who prefer diplomacy over a return to US Cold War isolation.

It was no accident that Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, returned to Washington in recent days after his expulsion several months ago.

The rapprochement, if it holds, would seem to be welcome news. The fact that is has occurred so silently is evidence that peace has its enemies.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stopping 'The Long War' -- What It Demands of Us

The Long War
Needs a Long
Peace Movement

By Tom Hayden

The simultaneous conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond are all connected to the Pentagon strategy of "the Long War" projected to last fifty years in "the arc of crisis" that just happens to stretch across Muslim lands where there are oil reserves and plans for Western-dominated pipelines. The term "Long War" was introduced by Gen. John Abizaid in the 1990s and is the perspective of counterinsurgency experts around the Pentagon and think tanks led by the Center for New American Security.

The Long War will require a long peace movement, and a different one.

Many veterans of the movement against the Iraq War, impacted by the multiple wars, the financial and budget crises, and confused about the Obama era, are pondering the question of what to think and do. The following are brief notes outlining a possible strategy:

Counterinsurgency goes back to Malaysia and Algeria. It has never "worked", except in Malaysia where conditions were unique.

Counterinsurgency is aimed at the home front, to keep American casualties low and, as Kagan writes, "off camera, so to speak."

In Iraq, it's hardly "victory" when the client government is bragging about the American withdrawal and the future is totally uncertain. The "surge" delivered as CNAS and Gen. Petraeus wished, by keeping the war out of the election [their words, not mine]. Now counterinsurgency can't help them. They are pledged to withdrawal without having won the war, without having secured Western oil contracts, and without having reliable Iraqi client allies.

In Afghanistan, counterinsurgency is at cross-purposes with the drone attacks which kill the civilians who are supposed to be protected [which is why David Kilcullen writes against the continued use of Predators]. 21,000 more American troops mean more visible American casualties. The US is at fundamental odds with Karzai, who represents the growing mainstream Afghan distrust of the US. American troops can never "protect" Afghanistan civilians from American troops! The contradictions between the US versus Europe, NATO versus the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, will increase and cannot be bridged.

In Pakistan, the US has succeeded in forcing Pakistan troops into fighting the domestic Taliban, partly because of the Taliban's relative unpopularity. But in the process, 2-3 million refugees have been generated in the past few weeks alone, the greatest refugee crisis since Pakistan's bloody origins. There will be more upheaval soon in South Waziristan. How on earth is this "protecting the civilian population"? Again it is the contradiction at the heart of counterinsurgency.

I would keep a focus on the need for an exit strategy, because the Pentagon and CNAS don't believe in an exit strategy short of "victory", which is most likely unachievable. Even the Center for American Progress [CAP] proposes a 10-12 year occupation, speaking only of Afghanistan. Add up and project the casualties and budget costs, and you have a trillion dollar war with several thousand American casualties. You will antagonize more Muslims and drive them into anti-US nationalism and extremism. You will be running a gulag of barbaric detention camps in these countries, multiplying the Guantanamo and Bagram crises. You will add to the collapsing dream of funding for health care, education and stimulus spending here at home. Obama will be burdened with wars and occupations during his entire presidency. We will not be safer.

My advice:

--Read and study the Long War. It's not paranoia, it's a Pentagon strategy.

--Understand that the Long War is against Muslim countries and over oil and pipelines. It spreads terrorism.

--Understand the need to link with human rights, and anti-torture coalitions, especially the clergy.

--Understand the need to link with groups focused on domestic budget priorities, especially labor and people of color.

--Understand why Alternative Energy is a priority for the peace movement and a threat to the Long War's premises.

--Obtain and continually spread information on the real costs in American blood, taxes and civilian casualties.

--Work around the clock on the media, convincing them to report a rationale critique with special emphasis on resisting the growing secrecy of these special operation strategies.

--Spend the next six months preparing to expand the 132 House votes for an exit strategy into critical hearings and 230 votes by next spring as Congressional elections approach.

--Don't attack President personally. He is trapped between the Long War and his promise of an exit strategy, but attack the occupations and include the argument that the Long War might doom Obama's domestic priorities and even his presidency.

--Build a giant constituency base in Congressional districts. Employ field organizers by regions to run anti-war campaigns on a community-organizing model. Avoid Beltway faction fights by focusing on what the grass-roots needs.

The CNAS is the new "best and brightest" group, and we should remember what happened to them in Vietnam.

The Long War will fail because the US is overextended militarily and economically, and the world is more multi-polar than unipolar. The world does not share the US Long War agenda. This over-extension will cause worsening problems at home, become a threat to the open society, and lead to serious political challenges down the road.

The choice is always empire versus democracy.

Tom Hayden is the author of Ending the War in Iraq. His writings can be found at


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