Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Colombia, Part I: the Capitalism of Coffee

The more I read about Colombia, the awfuller the situation sounds. But I won't get ahead of myself.

The country has one of the most diverse geographies in Latin America, which is saying a lot. This leads to a corresponding diversity of agriculture and industry and its potential wealth is impressive.

You may have noticed in the news that coffee prices are going up, especially as Colombian coffee growers "go green." American retailers have been slow to reflect that price - for a variety of reasons. (One of which is we'd hang the bastards! You don't fuck with our coffee. It's in the Constitution.) One of those reasons is that it's still a challenge to find Fair Trade coffee in many places in America (Minneapolis is one gratifying exception!). Coffee futures are also on the rise after bad weather affected crops throughout the region. The US also imports its coffee from a variety of places. All the resources I've checked imply that of those countries which export coffee to the US, Brazil is the most notable, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia in some order. (Although Colombia seems to be the #1 import for "green," or raw, beans.) Perhaps the production and trade of beans and blends is too complicated to reduce in a way that draws clear lines. That's globalization for you.

But no doubt about it, corporations are interested in Colombia. (Where don't they stick their nose?) In 2006, the United States and Colombia entered into a free trade agreement, the text of which seems pretty typical of such a pro-business arrangement - even though over the last 10 years Americans have become increasingly hostile to the practice. (On a for-profit basis, "free trade" hurts workers in every country.)

"So what is this, Drez, some kind of coffee conspiracy?"

Au contrair. A conspiracy implies some kind of secret shared by insiders. Injustices in the coffee production system are often a result of haphazard business practices and a lack of developed alternatives. But we all know the military intervenes in the affairs of sovereign nations to protect US business interests. So in our next installment I'll take a look at the American presence in Colombia, the role of FARC, and just what is going down in this particular corner of the world.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Colombia, A Prelude

Over the last week or so, your attention may have been directed more than once towards the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, also known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The Feds claim that the door-busting carried out late last week was solely motivated by an attempt to find domestic groups that fund terrorists.

This raises a lot of important questions which I did not have the answers to, so I've begun to do a little research. I'm going to share not only the results of that, but also my research process, and perhaps you, O Loyal Readers, can help us all come to some consensual conclusions.

The first questions are raised by the FBI raids themselves. First of all, is there a legitimacy to the worry that domestic activists raise money for foreign terrorists organizations (or FTOs, as they say in bureaucratese)? What exactly are the motivations behind these small obscure groups? What relation do they have to an organization such as FARC? Should Americans feel that such actions taken by the FBI actually lead to increased security?

But of course in even asking those questions, we find our information lacking. Who or what is FARC? Why are they emphasized with equal importance to Hezbollah, one of the most infamous "freedom fighter" organizations in the world? (Many people, especially in the younger and post-9/11 crowd may not be familiar with FARC at all; others, such as myself, may have rarely paid them any attention.) Is it true that they fund themselves through drug trafficking and kidnapping ransoms?

These more fundamental questions also raise important political considerations - for those of us who are Marxists, or merely anti-war activists, and for those of us just being brought to political consciousness because damn, the world is fucked up lately, and the people we've let run things are doing a piss-poor job.

So I'm going to try to find the relevant news and information and share it with yall lovely people, and then apply a little of that good ole dialectical materialism, and we'll see what we come up with.

How's that for fair and balanced? (Eat it, Fox News.)

A list of preliminary links:
- Wikipedia Entry on Geography of Colombia
- Wikipedia Entry on Economy of Colombia
- Wikipedia Entry on FARC

Wiretap Expansion Threatens Internet Privacy

For those of you who read my last post and are worried that the government's ability to crack down on its citizens might be on the wane, check out this heartening article. Don't worry, it's for our own protection. You can tell because it's been introduced by the Obama administration, and Obama would never do anything to hurt American citizens, right?

(Except in the case of Anwar Awlaki, of course, a citizen marked for assassination without any actual disclosure of sentencing, or a trial, or any of those "niceties" enshrined by that hippy-liberal "Constitution" nonsense. And don't tell me "oh it's cuz his a terrister," because it's only a matter of time before anti-war activists are considered terrorists, and then the union organizers will be considered terrorists, and so on ... it's called a "slippery slope," look it up.)

The trend towards police state is unnerving in America, almost precisely because it parallels the rise of the police state in other countries too - allies and not-so-allies alike. As this article points out, Saudi Arabia and the UAE banned Blackberries because there was an inability of the government to "monitor" use.

That article also points out that the Obama administration wants to watch every international monetary transaction that goes on between America and the rest of the world. Not just the major ones - not just the big crates of electronic exchanges between banks, for example, or between masters of finance - not, essentially, by those of whom could wreck the most havoc with mismanaging their fortunes (as evidenced by the recession). No, they want to watch every parent sending their exchange student cash, every immigrant wiring money back home to her family. They want to monitor every transaction, every last one, all the foreign aid donated to countries hit by "natural disasters," every eBay and Amazon purchase, every Malice Mizer t-shirt some American otaku orders from Japan.

These are the faces of the new federal suspects. All the new data-combing programs, all the new hires for the DHS, all the new training courses and technologies, the cameras installed in the last 10 years, are going towards atomizing and oppressing the people who inhabit this country.

People need to move from a mindset that trusts or fears the government into an activist-oriented mindset. They need to find the groups in their areas that oppose the abuses of civil liberties and get involved. If you can't find such a group, look on the internet and help start one. Talk to your friends and families. Organize protests. Those of us who are already activists need to be doggedly recruiting and organizing against the expansion of federal authority.

There is still time before the noose closes, and even if it does it's never too late to fight back.

ADDENDUM: And the Democratic Party continues to alienate its base.... I'm so over that stuffy corporate machine. Talk about out-of-touch with the country. They're going to scream and whine as power slips out of their hand, but the worst part is they're leading all of our progressives back into cynicism and inaction. The worst thing those of us on the Left could do right now is make excuses for the goddamn Democrats.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Minneapolis, Minnesota FBI raids

Yesterday morning several Minneapolis peace activists got an unpleasant wake-up call: the Federal Bureau of Investigation busted down their doors and began rummaging through their stuff. The warrants gave them authority to seize computers, documents, cell phones, etc. on the grounds that they may have "funded foreign terrorist groups." One of these groups is allegedly FARC, which is a peasant guerrilla group in Colombia. Now, I don't know much about FARC (yet) and I know there is some disagreement about tactics and stuff on the left. But I do know that the Colombian government shoots peasants and dresses up the bodies like guerrilla fighters and that they have one of the most oppressive and violent regimes in Latin America, and I know that Obama praises these tactics openly, just how many other American administrations cozy up to tyrants and dictators, especially south of our borders.

This also gives us some very revealing insights as to how the Democrats intend to use the PATRIOT Act - to clamp down not on terrorist plots, but on ordinary grass-roots organizations trying to enact positive change. The Anti-War Committee isn't an al-Quada plot to blow shit up, it is a group of US citizens who want to end the bloody conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But under Bush the rhetoric was to paint any opposition to imperialist strategy as terrorism, and Obama has no intention of calling for the Act's repeal. No Democrat does. It serves their police state means towards their global dominance ends.

This is the real face of federal law: state-sanctioned terrorism. Forcing activists to live in fear. Making Americans afraid to stand for change. Turning our hope into dread. Close your doors, duct-tape your windows, and stay in front of the friendly glow of your corporate-mindwashing television.

Hundreds of Minneapolis activists turned out in solidarity last night against these raids. Because we don't fuck around. We know that an injustice to any group on the left is portent of injustice to us all. And without left opposition to the growing power of the right - led by FOX news, the Tea Party, and the Joint Task Force among other government agencies - then everyday Americans will live in ignorance and helpless fear.

We need a grass-roots political party that will repeal the PATRIOT Act and end the raids on peaceful activists.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Healthcare Reform: Greedy Insurance Parasites Stoop To A New Low

I looked out the window on September 23rd and guess what? The sky was not falling as the reactionaries in the Republican party promised me. No ominous rumbling of tank treads shaking the streets or black garbed agents rounding up unwilling citizens and herding them into FEMA camps, forcing them to get flu shots. The Teabagger Nation must be somewhat disappointed.
Of course September 23rd was the day a number of Obamacare provisions went into effect. And in the fucked- up logic that right wing assholes are famous for, the most controversial was the law that prevents bloodsucking insurance companies from turning down children with pre- existing conditions. That is such a decent thing to stand for that I figured even the most black hearted GOP corporate lickspittle could get behind it. Guess I was wrong.
The controversy began almost immediately when several insurance companies threw their collective hands up in the air and basically said, " Fuck it! We just won't insure any children!" The blame was then placed squarely on President Obama's shoulders, the human lice that own these insurance companies claiming that not being allowed to turn away a kid dying of leukemia was going to bankrupt them.
Isn't this picture as fucked up as a football bat? If the very limited health care reforms hadn't have gone through the dying child would not receive insurance coverage. But now that it has gone through, the child receives no insurance coverage. Best health care system in the world, right? Sheeeeeeit...
But that's what teabaggin' favorite Mike Huckabee still claims. His argument for turning down a kid dying from a preventable condition is a blue ribbon winner in the Bullshit Argument category. You know, where you compare two unrelated scenarios and pretend that it makes sense to apply the same solution:
" It sounds so good and it's such a warm message to say we're not gonna deny anyone from a pre- existing condition. Look, I think that sounds terrific, but I want to ask you something from a common sense perspective. Suppose we applied that principle [ to ] our property insurance. And you call your insurance agent and say, ' I'd like to buy some insurance for my house.' He'd say ' Tell me about your house.' ' Well sir, it burned down yesterday, but I'd like to insure it today.' And he'll say ' I'm sorry, but we can't insure it after it's all ready burned.' Well, no pre- existing conditions."
This nugget of " common sense" ( teabaggerese for " this is the excuse I have for being a complete and inhuman asshole " ) was spewed forth at the hugely ironically named Values Voter Conference. O.K., listen you ignorant teabaggin' assholes out there in Dumbfuckistan: if your idea of " values" is fighting like hell to force women to endure unwanted pregnancies and then do everything in your power to deny the kid basic medical treatment once it is born, you got a pretty fucked up moral compass. You need to pull your heads out of your asses and realize that someday your kid could need life saving surgery, but you aren't going to be able to afford it because of a pre- existing condition. If you vote for a corporate tool like Huckabee, Palin, or O' Donnel, you are basically voting to kill children. It is as basic as that.
That's a hell of a price to pay just for the chance to flip off the Liberal Elite.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Recession is dead; long live the Recession!

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research's Business Cycle Dating Committee, the "Great Recession" officially ended in June 2009, reports the Wall Street Journal. It's always nice to know when the academics define these things. It helps to have a good handle on how we use our economic terms.

And the article goes on to make plenty of sense. Americans still have no job prospects, they're exhausted, Obama has done nothing. Jobs may not come back until 2013 (plenty of time for a new Republican administration, or at least legislature, to claim victory for cut-throat economic policies that will rob working people of decent living standards). And those gains in employment - will they be largely service-sector jobs? Inquiring minds would like to know.

There might be solutions under capitalism, but they're not very ambitious ones. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international non-government organization (NGO) says the government could help by providing "additional job training and education programs to better match workers' skills to business needs."

But I find that questionable. What, exactly, are the "business needs" of today? The bottom line is - the bottom line. Businesses aren't hiring much because they can't profit off of it. Productivity soared on the heels of the recession as the bosses squeezed what workers remained for all they were worth (literally!). Now productivity has, according to one WSJ blog, hit its cap, so to speak. This leaves only hiring as a way to increase output.

But there's no reason to increase output if the revenue isn't there. And where is the money going to come from? It isn't infinite. It has to come from sales. The American middle class is not just broke - it's in debt up to its eyeballs and has only seen the tiniest relief. Mergers seem to be the tactic of the moment, with airlines and other industries looking to gobble down "post"-recession (stagnation?) deals. But any dolt who paid attention in high school economics knows that this leads to that most awful of capitalism's by-products, the (gulp) monopoly. (And Mr. Mathias makes the amazingly astute point at the end of his article, one we Marxists have been saying for forever - monopolies are the perfect opportunity to nationalize the industries that provide for people's needs.)

Republicans, Tea Baggers, Libertarians, and other denizens of free-market-fantasy-land (including many liberals and moderates) will probably insist that the ony way to deal with today's resultant monopolies is to bust them up the ole fashioned way (thank you President Taft). This is actually an idealist back-peddle, to think you can drive corporations backwards through time and make them behave like a small business again.

The only way to build jobs, to really build jobs and fix the economy, would be to take the monopolies and cartels (healthcare and finance and energy especially) and nationalize them. Then it wouldn't be up to the fickle whims of the capitalists to provide people jobs; federal aid would be direct and efficient. Not as a temporary stop-gap until the free market feels like playing ball again, but as a threat to corporate sovereignty altogether. Only then will we see actual nation-wide programs to create a green economy, float aid to the unemployed, and provide healthcare (and healthcare training!) to every American.

But it's clear the Democrats won't do that, so what are our other options at this point?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Patriot Day Sucks

Yeah, I said it. I detest this day. Number one, because nineteen right- wing Arab assholes hijacked four planes and murdered 3, 000+ people who had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Number two is because the rulers of the U.S.A. leaped at an opprotunity to wage war faster than a chicken jumps on a june bug. Initially an international day of mourning ( many of the victims were citizens of other nations ), the extreme right- wing of the American ruling class, represented by the Bush administration accosted September 11 as an American- only tragedy, complete with the lowest and most humilating displays of jingoism this nation has seen since the U.S.S. Maine exploded.
Now, without fail, every September 11 I have to put up with idiots tooling around in pick- up trucks with American flags whose size is in direct opposite proportion to the driver's I.Q. I have to watch politicians make insipid speeches about " hallowed ground" and " heroes". Some of these pricks are the very one that denied healthcare coverage to 9- 11 first responders. Save your fucking false gratitude, assholes.
9-11 depresses the shit out of me. I meditate on the tremendous waste and loss of life that came out of this tragedy. Namely the two utterly useless wars that George Bush and Dick Cheney started and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis who were killed to expatiate the bloodlust a large portion of the American public screamed for after the Twin Towers fell. Tragically, the poor people who died were quite similar to the 9-11 victims in one respect- they were killed for sins they themselves did not commit.