Saturday, November 18, 2006


The Road from Serfdom

November 17, 2006

Milton Friedman had no idea that his six-day trip to Chile in March 1975 would generate so much controversy. He was invited to Santiago by a group of Chilean economists who over the previous decades had been educated at the University of Chicago, in a program set up by Friedman's colleague, Arnold Harberger. Two years after the overthrow of Allende, with the dictatorship unable to get inflation under control, the "Chicago Boys" began to gain real influence in General Augusto Pinochet's military government. They recommended the application of what Friedman had already taken to call "shock treatment" or a "shock program" ­ immediately halting the printing of money to finance the budget deficit, cutting state spending twenty to twenty-five percent, laying off tens of thousands of government workers, ending wage and price controls, privatizing state industries, and deregulating capital markets. "Complete free trade," Friedman advised.

Friedman and Harberger were flown down to "help to sell" the plan to the military junta, which despite its zealous defense of the abstraction of free enterprise was partial to corporatism and the maintenance of a large state sector. Friedman gave a series of lectures and met with Pinochet for 45 minutes, where the general "indicated very little indeed about his own or the government's feeling." Although he noted that the dictator, responsible for the torture of tens of thousands of Chileans, seemed "sympathetically attracted to the idea of a shock treatment."

Friedman returned home to a firestorm of protest, aggravated by his celebrity as a Newsweek columnist and ongoing revelations about Washington's and corporate America's involvement in the overthrow of Allende. Not only had Nixon, the CIA, and ITT, along with other companies, plotted to destabilize Allende's "democratic road to socialism," but now a renowned University of Chicago economist, whose promotion of the wonders of the free market was heavily subsidized by corporations such as Bechtel, Pepsico, Getty, Pfizer, General Motors, W.R. Grace, and Firestone, was advising the dictator who overthrew him on how to complete the counterrevolution ­ at the cost of skyrocketing unemployment among Chile's poor. The New York Times identified Friedman as the "guiding light of the junta's economic policy," while columnist Anthony Lewis asked: if "pure Chicago economic theory can be carried out in Chile only at the price of repression, should its authors feel some responsibility?" At his university, the Spartacus Youth League pledged to "drive Friedman off campus through protest and exposure," while the student government, replicating their own version of the Church Commission hearings that was just then investigating US crimes in Chile, convened a "Commission of Inquiry on the Friedman/Harberger Issue." Everywhere in the press the name Friedman was paired with the adjectives "draconian" and "shock," with small but persistent protests dogging the professor at many of his public appearances.

In letters to various editors and detractors, Friedman downplayed the extent of his involvement in Chile, fingering Harberger as more directly involved in the mentoring of Chilean economists. While defensive, he nevertheless reveled in the controversy and the frisson of being ushered into speaking engagements via kitchens and back doors to avoid demonstrators. He enjoyed exposing the double standard of "liberal McCarthyism," pointing out that he was never criticized for giving similar advice to Red China, the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. In recounting an episode when a man was dragged out of the Nobel award ceremony after shouting "down with capitalism, freedom for Chile," Friedman delighted in noting that the protest backfired, resulting in his receiving "twice as long an ovation" than any other laureate.

Friedman defended his relationship with Pinochet by saying that if Allende had been allowed to remain in office Chileans would have suffered "the elimination of thousands and perhaps mass starvation . . . torture and unjust imprisonment." But the elimination of thousands, mass hunger, torture and unjust imprisonment were what was taking place in Chile exactly at the moment the Chicago economist was defending his protégé. Allende's downfall came because he refused to betray Chile's long democratic tradition and invoke martial law, yet Friedman nevertheless insisted that the military junta offered "more room for individual initiative and for a private sphere of life" and thus a greater "chance of a return to a democratic society." It was pure boilerplate, but it did give Friedman a chance to rehearse his understanding of the relationship between capitalism and freedom.

Critics of both Pinochet and Friedman took Chile as proof positive that the kind of free-market absolutism advocated by the Chicago School was only possible through repression. So Friedman countered by redefining the meaning of freedom. Contrary to the prevailing post-WWII belief that political liberty was dependent on some form of mild social leveling, he insisted that "economic freedom is an essential requisite for political freedom." More than his monetarist theorems, this equation of "capitalism and freedom" was his greatest contribution to the rehabilitation of conservatism in the 1970s. Where pre-New Deal conservatives positioned themselves in defense of social hierarchy, privilege, and order, post-WWII conservatives instead celebrated the free market as a venue of creativity and liberty. Such a formulation today stands at the heart of the conservative movement, having been accepted as commonsense by mainline politicians and opinion makers. It is likewise enshrined in Bush's National Security Strategy, which mentions "economic freedom" more than twice as many times as it does "political freedom."

While he was in Chile Friedman gave a speech titled "The Fragility of Freedom" where he described the "role in the destruction of a free society that was played by the emergence of the welfare state." Chile's present difficulties, he argued, "were due almost entirely to the forty-year trend toward collectivism, socialism and the welfare state . . . a course that would lead to coercion rather than freedom." The Pinochet regime, he argued, represented a turning point in a protracted campaign, a tearing off of democracy's false husks to reach true freedom's inner core. "The problem is not of recent origin," Friedman wrote in a follow-up letter to Pinochet, but "arises from trends toward socialism that started forty years ago, and reached their logical ­ and terrible ­climax in the Allende regime." He praised the general for putting Chile back on the "right track" with the "many measures you have already taken to reverse this trend."

Friedman understood the struggle to be a long one, and indeed some of the first recruits for the battle of Chile were conscripted decades earlier. With financial funding from the US government's Point Four foreign aid program and the Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Chicago's Department of Economics set up scholarship programs in the mid-1950s with Chile's Catholic and public universities. About one hundred select students between 1957 and 1970 received close, hands-on training, first in an apprenticeship program in Chile and then in post-graduate work in Chicago. In principle, Friedman and his colleagues opposed the kind of developmental largesse that funded the exchange program as a market distortion, yet they took the cash to finance their department's graduate program. But they also had a more idealistic purpose.

Starting in the 1950s, Latin America, particularly the southern cone countries of Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, had become a laboratory for developmentalist economics. Social scientists, such as the Argentine Raúl Prebisch from his position as head of the UN's Economic Commission on Latin America, expanded Keynesianism ­ after John Maynard Keynes, who elaborated the dominant post-WWII economic framework that envisioned an active role for the state in the workings of the market -- beyond its focus on managing countervailing cycles of inflation and unemployment to question the terms of international trade. Chronic inflation, according to Prebisch and other Latin American economists, was understood not to be a reflex of any given country's irresponsible monetary system but a symptom of deep structural inequalities that divided the global economy between the developed and the undeveloped world. Volatile commodity prices and capital investment reinforced first world advantage and third world disadvantage. Economists and politicians from across the political spectrum accepted the need for state planning, regulation, and intervention. Such ideas not only drove the economic policies of developing nations, but echoed throughout the corridors and conference rooms of the UN and the World Bank, as well as in the non-aligned movement's 1973 call for a New International Economic Order.

It was the Chicago School's vision of hell, the New Deal writ large across the world stage. These ideas "fell like a bomb" on those who had long stood against Keynesianism at home only now to see its authority spread globally. The Chilean scholarship program was intended to counter such a vision. "University of Chile economists have been followers of Keynes and Prebisch more than of Marx," wrote former University of Chicago president and State Department director of overseas education programs William Benton, and "the Chicago influence" will "introduce a third basic viewpoint, that of contemporary 'market economics.'"

Students returned to Chile not just with a well-rounded education in classical economics but with a burning dedication to carry the faith to benighted lands. They purged the economics departments of their universities of developmentalists and began to set up free-market institutes and think tanks ­ the Center for Social and Economic Studies, for example, and the Foundation for Liberty and Development ­ funded, as their counterparts in the US were, by corporate money. They understood their mission in continental terms, committed, as Chicago alum Ernesto Fontaine put it, "to expand throughout Latin America, confronting the ideological positions which prevented freedom and perpetuated poverty and backwardness."

The program, which brought up students from universities in Argentina as well, is an example of the erratic nature of both public and private US diplomacy, conforming as it does to competing power interests within American society. At the same time that Kennedy was promoting Alliance for Progress reform capitalism, he was training and funding the men and institutions that would constitute the continent's dense network of death squads. At the same time that Chase Manhattan, Chemical, Manufacturers Hanover, and Morgan Guaranty were promoting, through the establishment of the Trilateral Commission, a more conciliatory economic policy in the third world, they were cutting off credit to Chile, making, in accordance with Nixon's directive, its economy "scream." And at the same time that every American president from Truman to Nixon was embracing Keynesianism, the University of Chicago's Economics Department, with financial support from the US government, had turned itself into free-market madrassa that indoctrinated a generation of Latin American economists to spearhead an international capitalist insurgency.

Throughout the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, though, the revolution seemed to be forever deferred. In the late 1960s, the Chicago Boys had drawn up the platform of Allende's nationalist opponent in the 1970 election, which included many of the proposals that eventually would be implemented under Pinochet. But Allende won, so Chile had to wait. In the meantime, the military junta in Brazil, which took power in 1964, had invited Friedman in 1973 down for advice, which it took for awhile. A severe recession and skyrocketing unemployment followed. Friedman pronounced this first application of "shock therapy" an "economic miracle." But the generals, wisely it seems, demurred, returning to its state-directed program of industrialization that, while failing to curb inflation, did lower unemployment and lay the foundations for Brazil's current economic dominance of Latin America. Richard Nixon too, early in his first term, showed promise, but then he raised tariffs, introduced wage and price controls and, with an eye to the 1972 election, declared himself a Keynesian and opened up the money spout. Nixon was an "enormous disappointment," reflected Friedman.

That left Pinochet, not the most reputable of characters but willing to go the distance. Chile became, according to Business Week, a "laboratory experiment" for taming inflation through monetary control, carrying out, said Barrons, the "most important modifications implemented in the developing world in recent times." American economists may have been writing "treatises" on the "way the world should work, but it is another country that is putting it into effect."

A month after Friedman's visit, the Chilean junta announced that inflation would be stopped "at any cost." The regime cut government spending twenty-seven percent, practically shuttered the national mint, and set fire to bundles of escudos. The state divested from the banking system and deregulated finance, including interest rates. It slashed import tariffs, freed prices on over 2000 products, and removed restrictions against foreign investments. Pinochet pulled Chile out of a number of alliances with neighboring countries intended to promote regional industrialization, turning his country into a gateway for the introduction of cheap goods into Latin America. Tens of thousands of public workers lost their jobs as the government auctioned off, in what amounted to a spectacular transfer of wealth to the private sector, over four hundred state industries. Multinationals were not only granted the right to repatriate one hundred percent of their profits, but were given guaranteed exchange rates to help them do so. In order to build investor confidence, the escudo was fixed to the dollar. Within four years, nearly thirty percent of all property expropriated not just under Allende but under a previous Alliance for Progress land reform was returned to previous owners. New laws treated labor like any other "free" commodity, sweeping away four decades of progressive union legislation. Health care was privatized, as was the public pension fund.

GNP plummeted thirteen percent, industrial production fell 28 percent, and purchasing power collapsed to forty percent of its 1970 level. One national business after another went bankrupt. Unemployment soared.

Yet by 1978 the economy rebounded, expanding thirty-two percent between 1978 and 1981. Though salary levels remained close to twenty percent below what they were a decade previously, per capita income began to climb again. Perhaps even a better indicator of progress, torture and extrajudicial executions began to taper off. With hindsight, however, it is now clear that the Chicago economists, despite the credit they received for three years of economic growth, had set Chile on the road to near collapse. The rebound of the economy was a function of the liberalization of the financial system and massive foreign investment. That investment, it turns out, led to a speculative binge, monopolization of the banking system, and heavy borrowing. The deluge of foreign capital did allow the fixed exchange rate to be maintained for a short period. But sharp increases in private debt ­ rising from $2 billion in 1978 to over $14 billion in 1982 -- put unsustainable pressure on Chile's currency. Pegged as it was to the appreciating US dollar, the value of the escudo was kept artificially high, leading to a flood of cheap imports. While consumers took advantage of liberalized credit to purchase TVs, cars, and other high-ticket items, savings shrank, debt increased, exports fell, and the trade deficit ballooned.

In 1982 things fell apart. Copper prices plummeted, accelerating Chile's balance of trade deficit. GDP plunged fifteen percent, while industrial production rapidly contracted. Bankruptcies tripled and unemployment hit 30 percent. Despite his pledge to hold firm, Pinochet devalued the escudo, devastating poor Chileans who had either availed themselves to liberalized credit to borrow in dollars or who held their savings in escudos. The Central Bank lost forty-five percent of its reserves, while the private banking system collapsed. The crisis forced the state, dusting off laws still on the books from the Allende period, to take over nearly seventy percent of the banking system and reimpose controls on finance, industry, prices and wages. Turning to the IMF for a bailout, Pinochet extended a public guarantee to repay foreign creditors and banks.

But before the crisis of 1982, there were the golden years between 1978 and 1981. Just as the international left flocked to Chile during the Allende period, under Pinochet the country became a mecca for the free-market right. Economists, political scientists, and journalists came to witness the "miracle" first hand, holding up Chile as a model to be implemented throughout the world. Representatives from European and American banks poured into Santiago, paying tribute to Pinochet by restoring credit that was denied the heretic Allende. The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank extolled Chile as a paragon of responsibility, advancing it 46 loans between 1976 and 1986 for over $3.1 billion.

In addition to money men, right-wing activists traveled to Chile in a show of solidarity with the Pinochet regime. Publisher of the National Review William Rusher, along with other cadres who eventually coalesced around Reagan's 1976 and 1980 bids for the Republican nomination, organized the American-Chilean Council, a solidarity committee to counter critical press coverage in the US of Pinochet. "I was unable to find a single opponent of the regime in Chile," Rusher wrote after a 1978 pilgrimage, "who believes the Chilean government engages" in torture. As to the "interim human discomfort" caused by radical free-market policies, Rusher believed that "a certain amount of deprivation today, in the interest of a far healthier society tomorrow, is neither unendurable nor necessarily reprehensible."

Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian émigré and University of Chicago professor whose 1944 Road to Serfdom dared to suggest that state planning would produce not "freedom and prosperity" but "bondage and misery," visited Pinochet's Chile a number of times. He was so impressed that he held a meeting of his famed Société Mont Pélérin there. He even recommended Chile to Thatcher as a model to complete her free-market revolution. The Prime Minister, at the nadir of Chile's 1982 financial collapse, agreed that Chile represented a "remarkable success" but believed that Britain's "democratic institutions and the need for a high degree of consent" make "some of the measures" taken by Pinochet "quite unacceptable."

Like Friedman, Hayek glimpsed in Pinochet the avatar of true freedom, who would rule as a dictator only for a "transitional period," only as long as needed to reverse decades of state regulation. "My personal preference," he told a Chilean interviewer, "leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism." In a letter to the London Times he defended the junta, reporting that he had "not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende." Of course, the thousands executed and tens of thousands tortured by Pinochet's regime weren't talking.

Hayek's University of Chicago colleague Milton Friedman got the grief, but it was Hayek who served as the true inspiration for Chile's capitalist crusaders. It was Hayek who depicted Allende's regime as a way station between Chile's postwar welfare state and a hypothetical totalitarian future. Accordingly, the Junta justified its terror as needed not only to prevent Chile from turning into a Stalinist gulag but to sweep away fifty years of tariffs, subsidies, capital controls, labor legislation, and social welfare provisions -- a "half century of errors," according to finance minister Sergio De Castro, that was leading Chile down its own road to serfdom.

"To us, it was a revolution," said government economist Miguel Kast, an Opus Dei member and follower of both Hayek and American Enterprise Institute theologian Michael Novak. The Chicago economists had set out to affect, radically and immediately, a "foundational" conversion of Chilean society, to obliterate its "pseudo-democracy" (prior to 1973, Chile enjoyed one of the most durable constitutional democracies in the Americas).

Where Friedman made allusions to the superiority of economic freedom over political freedom in his defense of Pinochet, the Chicago group institutionalized such a hierarchy in a 1980 constitution named after Hayek's 1960 treatise The Constitution of Liberty. The new charter enshrined economic liberty and political authoritarianism as complementary qualities. They justified the need of a strong executive such as Pinochet not only to bring about a profound transformation of society but to maintain it until there was a "change in Chilean mentality." Chileans had long been "educated in weakness," said the president of the Central Bank, and a strong hand was needed in order to "educate them in strength." The market itself would provide tutoring: When asked about the social consequences of the high bankruptcy rate that resulted from the shock therapy, Admiral José Toribio Merino replied that "such is the jungle of . . . economic life. A jungle of savage beasts, where he who can kill the one next to him, kills him. That is reality."

But before such a savage nirvana of pure competition and risk could be attained, a dictatorship was needed to force Chileans to accept the values of consumerism, individualism, and passive rather than participatory democracy. "Democracy is not an end in itself," said Pinochet in a 1979 speech written by two of Friedman's disciples, but a conduit to a truly "free society" that protected absolute economic freedom. Friedman hedged on the relationship between capitalism and dictatorship, but his former students were consistent: "A person's actual freedom," said Finance Minister de Castro, "can only be ensured through an authoritarian regime that exercises power by implementing equal rules for everyone." "Public opinion," he admitted, "was very much against [us], so we needed a strong personality to maintain the policy."

Jeane Kirkpatrick was among those who traveled to Chile to pay respect to the pioneer, lauding Pinochet for his economic initiatives. "The Chilean economy is a great success," the ambassador said, "everyone knows it, or they should know it." She was dispatched by Reagan shortly after his 1981 inauguration to "normalize completely [Washington's] relations with Chile in order to work together in a pleasant way," including the removal of economic and arms sanctions and the revocation of Carter's "discriminatory" human rights policy. Such pleasantries, though, didn't include meeting with the relatives of the disappeared, commenting on the recent deportation of leading opposition figures, or holding Pinochet responsible for the 1976 car bomb execution of Orlando Letelier, Allende's ambassador to the US, in Washington's Dupont Circle -- all issues Kirkpatrick insisted would be resolved with "quiet diplomacy."

Setting aside the struggles surrounding religion, race, and sexuality that give American politics its unique edge, it was in Chile where the New Right first executed its agenda of defining democracy in terms of economic freedom and restoring the power of the executive branch. Under Pinochet's firm hand, the country, according to prominent Chicago graduate Cristián Larroulet, became a "pioneer in the world trend toward forms of government based on a free social order." Its privatized pension system, for example, is today held up as a model for the transformation of Social Security, with Bush having received advice from Chilean economist José Piñera, also a Chicago student, on how to do so in 1997. Pinochet "felt he was making history," said Piñera, "he wanted to be ahead of both Reagan and Thatcher."

Friedman too saw himself in the vanguard. "In every generation," he is quoted in his flattering New York Times obituary, which spares just a sentence on his role in Chile, "there's got to be somebody who goes the whole way, and that's why I believe as I do."

And trailblazer both men were, harbinger of a brave and merciless new world. But if Pinochet's revolution was to spread throughout Latin America and elsewhere, it first had to take hold in the United States. And even as the dictator was "torturing people so prices could be free," as Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano once mordantly observed, the insurgency that would come to unite behind Ronald Reagan was gathering steam.

Today, Pinochet is under house arrest for his brand of "shock therapy," and Friedman is dead. But the world they helped usher in survives, in increasingly grotesque form. What was considered extreme in Chile in 1975 has now become the norm in the US today: a society where the market defines the totality of human fulfillment, and a government that tortures in the name of freedom.


Greg Grandin teaches Latin American history at NYU and is the author of the Empire's Workshop: Latin America, The United States, and The Rise of the New Imperialism, from which this essay has been excerpted.

Giuliani prepares US presidential bid—a new phase in 9/11 mythmaking

By Bill Van Auken
18 November 2006

With this week’s announcement that Rudolph Giuliani has formed an exploratory committee—the first step in making a run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination—the mythmaking surrounding New York City’s former Republican mayor is entering a new phase.

New York’s tabloids gave the founding of the “Rudolph Giuliani Presidential Exploratory Committee Inc.” banner headline treatment, while a number of political analysts treated the move as a groundbreaking event in the long slog to the 2008 election.

In the wake of the Republican debacle at the polls in this year’s midterm contests, Giuliani is being sold to the public as the party’s potential savior.

He is being promoted as a “moderate” Republican alternative to the politics of Bush and Co., ideally positioned to appeal to the “centrist” and “independent” voters whose crossover is credited by media pundits for this year’s Democratic sweep. Some have opined that the defeat dealt to Bush—as well as to a virtually every candidate for whom Giuliani personally campaigned in the run-up to November 7—has somehow strengthened the political position of New York’s ex-mayor.

Like most of what passes for political analysis in the American media, the attempt to cast Giuliani as a “moderate” alternative is both shallow and grossly misleading.

It is based almost exclusively on statements he made while running for mayor of New York in support of abortion and gay rights, the two key “social issues” that Republicans have flogged in order to mobilize their base within the Christian right.

Any close examination of his record demonstrates, however, that on fundamental questions of militarism, democratic rights and social equality, Giuliani is among the most right-wing political figures in America today.

As mayor, Giuliani was despised for his provocative defense of flagrant police killings of innocent victims such as Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond, the byproduct of relentless “quality of life” and “zero tolerance” law enforcement that rode roughshod over the democratic rights of the city’s working class and minority residents. In the Dorismond case, he brought public life in the city to an all-time nadir by illegally unsealing and publicizing the victim’s juvenile record of a nonviolent offense to “prove” that the 26-year-old got what he deserved when an undercover cop shot him dead on a Manhattan street corner.

Presiding over City Hall during the most explosive Wall Street boom in US history, Giuliani pursued policies that served to transfer wealth from the poorest sections of New York’s population to the richest, forcing nearly a quarter of a million people—in their overwhelming majority women and children—off welfare and into even deeper poverty.

During the same period, he expanded the city’s corporate welfare initiatives, handing out generous tax breaks and concessions packages to Wall Street firms and major corporations headquartered in New York.

He also sought to whip up religious backwardness and curry favor with the Republican right by staging bizarre and malicious confrontations over art that he deemed anti-religious or offensive, cutting off funds at one point to the Brooklyn Museum over an exhibition. The episode had more than a whiff of fascism, echoing the kind of campaign waged by the Nazis against “degenerate art.”

Moreover, his administration was packed with incompetent flunkeys, appointed for their unquestioning loyalty to the mayor or to pay off debts to political patrons. The exposure of multiple Giuliani-era corruption scandals continues to this day, with the city’s Department of Investigations continuing to pursue multiple probes into the ex-mayor’s closest aides.

By the fall of 2001, he was widely despised and so politically and personally discredited that he was forced to drop his challenge to Hillary Clinton for a US Senate seat.

But for Giuliani, the shopworn phrase “9/11 changed everything” has real meaning. The terrorist attacks five years ago served to wipe the slate clean, turning him into an overnight icon—“America’s mayor.” In the years that have followed, he has managed to turn this reputation into a marketable commodity that has made him a very rich man.

According to what passes for conventional wisdom within the US media, the terrorist attacks that toppled the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, proved Giuliani an exceptional leader, established him as a prescient warrior against international terrorism and demonstrated his selfless dedication to the people of New York and the nation.

He has since placed this media-driven reputation at the service of the most reactionary causes, explicitly promoting the ill-fated US war of aggression against Iraq as vengeance for the victims who died in the Twin Towers.

Giuliani was lionized by the media for the fact that he was at the scene of the World Trade Center’s collapse and spoke coherently to the people of New York in its immediate aftermath—in contrast to Bush who sat in a Florida elementary school classroom as the tragedy unfolded and then fled in Air Force 1 for a circuitous journey to secure military bases in the South and Midwest.

But what is the substance of Giuliani’s role on September 11? And how did the decisions he had made in the years leading up to the attacks affect the city’s response to the catastrophe?

The recent book by investigative reporters Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice and Dan Collins of CBS News, Grand Illusion, provides valuable insights into these questions, serving to prick the media-created bubble that has encased Giuliani for the past five years. (Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, HarperCollins, 400 pp, $25.95)

Giuliani’s decisions and their tragic consequences

Basing themselves on interviews with former city officials and survivors of the trade center collapse, testimony and documents that emerged from the 9/11 Commission in 2004 and the reporting of many others journalists who covered the city, Barrett and Collins establish that political decisions made by Giuliani over the course of his eight years in office left the city ill-prepared to confront the disaster that unfolded on September 11. They likewise make it clear that the actions taken by the ex-mayor on the day itself, when he wandered around lower Manhattan giving a series of “walking press conferences,” only contributed to the disorganization and confusion that ultimately cost lives.

The book makes clear that Giuliani, first elected in 1993, completely ignored the lessons of the first attack on the World Trade Center, which occurred that year, and failed to implement multiple recommendations from the city’s emergency services professionals that could have saved lives eight years later.

Among the most egregious manifestations of this failure to draw any lessons from the 1993 attack was the fact that firefighters were using the same 1960s-era “handie-talkie” radios on September 11, 2001, as they had used eight years earlier. On 9/11, just as in the 1993 incident, these devices failed to function within the high-rise towers.

As a result, entire fire companies failed to hear an order to evacuate before the towers fell, and the Fire Department as a whole was unable to communicate with the New York City Police Department, whose helicopter pilots had warned 25 minutes in advance that the North Tower was going to collapse. Similarly, the police received a warning that floors appeared to be collapsing in the South Tower 20 minutes before that building fell. As a result, the NYPD ordered its personnel out and suffered one-fifteenth of the casualties inflicted upon the FDNY.

Giuliani gave a self-serving and perverse explanation for the failure of the firefighters to evacuate the towers before they fell, attributing it not to a fatal failure of communications, but to a supposedly suicidal esprit de corps. “They weren’t going to abandon the ship,” he told the New York Times in 2002. “You have to understand the nature of a firefighter. It’s like the nature of a Navy captain.”

In point of fact, the bulk of the 343 firefighters who died were more akin to Navy sailors. Their captains—the senior leadership of the FDNY, much of which was also wiped out that day—were trying to tell them to flee the buildings, but were unable to make contact.

In another statement cited in the book, Giuliani celebrated the deaths of 343 firefighters as a deliberate and politically necessary sacrifice. “Rather than giving us a story of uniformed men fleeing, while civilians were left behind, which would have been devastating, to the morale of the country, they gave us an example of very, very brave men and women in uniform who stand their ground to protect civilians.”

The book effectively debunks this morbid claim that firefighters chose to die. Citing survivors who did escape the buildings, it makes clear that many caught in the collapse were not “standing their ground” but resting on floors, exhausted from the multi-story climb up the trade center’s stairs in full gear and oblivious to the fact that the building was about to fall.

A 2005 report issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology following a $23 million study of the response to the 9/11 attacks was unequivocal: “A preponderance of the evidence indicates that emergency responder lives were likely lost at the WTC resulting from the lack of timely information-sharing and inadequate communications capabilities.” It found that only half of the emergency responders “heard radio messages calling for the immediate evacuation of the building.”

When Giuliani testified before the 9/11 Commission in May 2004, he was nearly drowned out by a chorus of relatives of firefighters and others killed at the trade center, who booed and shouted, “What about the radios. Talk about the radios.”

While the commission, as its Republican chairman Thomas Kean later admitted, gave Giuliani a politically motivated pass, those in the audience knew that firefighters lacked adequate radios that day and died because of the politically corrupt methods of the Giuliani administration.

Several months before the September 11 disaster, the city struck a suspect no-bid $33 million deal with Motorola Corp. for new digital radios that were untested and grossly ill-suited for use in firefighting. After they were introduced, firefighters found that they could not hear transmissions from those working only a few feet away from them. In one case, a downed firefighter’s “mayday” call went unheard, nearly leading to his death. As a result, the radios—designed initially for encrypted use by the National Security Agency—were withdrawn and the antiquated models reintroduced.

In his testimony before the 9/11 panel, Giuliani claimed that the inability of the police and fire departments to communicate with each other was a matter of “technology”—that interoperable radios that could switch both departments to the same channel “do not exist today.” As the book points out, a study by the US Conference of Mayors had found that, on the contrary, 77 percent of the largest 192 American cities have precisely such radios in operation.

Grand Illusion cites the moving testimony of family members of firefighters killed on September 11 who attempted to sue the city over the radios but were blocked because of a clause in the victims compensation law that precluded any such legal actions.

“So much wrong has been done about the radios”

Testifying in court, Eileen Tallon, mother of Sean Patrick Tallon, a 26-year-old probationary firefighter, expressed outrage over the actions of Giuliani and his administration. She told the court, “In April 2001, my son came home and he said to myself and my husband and my daughter one evening: Something is going on with the radios. Something very bad is going on with the radios. He said I’m very worried. Even special chiefs and people were getting transferred farther away when they were complaining about the radios. So I said to him: Well you better stay quiet. You need your job. I said I’m sure the people at the top are taking care of the radios. And I have found out, Judge, that so much wrong has been done about the radios. And that’s why I’m here. I’m looking so that people that did wrong with these radios that we could, you know, show future generations that wrong can’t be covered up.”

Sally Regenhard, whose 28-year-old firefighter son was also killed on 9/11, testified, “The people who are guilty promulgated these stories that, oh, the firefighters could have left, but they didn’t. They heard the orders, but they refused. I’m here to uphold the character and dignity of my son. He was a marine. If he would’ve heard an order to evacuate, he would have evacuated. Not only that, he loved life. He never, never would have done anything to commit suicide.”

Nor was this the only fatal communications failure. FDNY officials present at the World Trade Center disaster were unable to communicate with 911 operators responding to the frantic calls from people inside the buildings. Thus, while fire department commanders had determined that everyone should evacuate the buildings, the operators, working off an established and outmoded protocol, were telling people to stay put and wait for emergency personnel to reach them. It will never be known how many of those who died might have found a way out if they had been told to flee.

Why was there no system in place to allow those at the scene of a disaster to communicate to operators fielding calls from people needing assistance? “During the Giuliani years, the city collected more than $250 million in telephone surcharges to upgrade 9-1-1 but diverted the majority of the funding for other budgetary purposes, even in years of huge surpluses,” Barrett and Collins report. “Unifying 9-1-1, Emergency Medical Services, and fire dispatch, as done in other major cities, was never considered. Instead Giuliani just let it drift.”

Asked at the 9/11 Commission hearing what he would tell leaders in other cities about how to prepare for a similar disaster, Giuliani replied, “The most important recommendation that I would make, put on the top of the list, is that cities should have Offices of Emergency Management. The Office of Emergency Management that we established in ’95, ’96 was invaluable to us.”

This self-congratulation by Giuliani is belied by the facts. As the staff report prepared for the commission pointed out: “Any attempt to establish a unified command on 9/11 would have been frustrated by the lack of communication and coordination among responding agencies. The Office of Emergency Management headquarters, which would have served as a focal point for information-sharing, was evacuated. Even prior to its evacuation, moreover, it did not play an integral role in ensuring that information was shared among agencies on 9/11.”

The evacuated OEM headquarters—popularly known as “Rudy’s bunker”—had been established in 1999 on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, a building adjacent to the Twin Towers. While a number of ranking police officials had argued strongly against the site—pointing out that the trade center remained the most likely target for a terrorist attack—Giuliani shrugged off the warnings and proceeded with a multimillion-dollar contract for the space with developer Larry Silverstein, a prominent contributor to the mayor’s reelection campaign.

The city then proceeded to install—in flagrant violation of building codes—a 6,000-gallon emergency fuel tank above ground level and a 275-gallon tank on the seventh floor. Subsequent investigations have suggested that the ignition of these tanks was the principal cause of 7 World Trade Center’s collapse several hours after the fall of the Twin Towers.

Giuliani and other city officials were unable to enter their high-rise bunker on September 11, and its state-of-the art equipment went unused. As for the OEM’s leading personnel, they played virtually no role on the day of the disaster. The agency’s director was Richard Sheirer, whose career as a fire alarm dispatcher took a meteoric rise as a result of his persuading his small municipal union to endorse Giuliani in his 1993 race for mayor.

The book cites the devastating testimony of John Farmer, the former New Jersey attorney general who headed the 9/11 Commission unit that reviewed the city’s response. “We tried to get a sense of what Sheirer was really doing,” he said. “We tried to figure it out from the videos. We couldn’t tell. Everybody from OEM was with him, virtually the whole chain of command. Some of them should have been at the command center.”

Sheirer was by no means atypical. Similar figures headed both the fire and police departments. The FDNY’s commissioner, Tom Von Essen—who had twice flunked a promotional exam to become a fire Lieutenant—also owed his position to having convinced the firefighters’ union to endorse Giuliani in 1993. Before the end of his term, he became widely hated as a turncoat by his union’s rank and file.

And at the helm of the Police Department was Bernard Kerik, who before being catapulted into the commissioner’s office had held only the rank of third-grade detective, the lowest after beat cop. His only known qualification was having served as Giuliani’s chauffeur and bodyguard during the 1993 campaign. Earlier this year, Kerik pleaded guilty to corruption charges involving kick-backs and mob ties. The case was only part of the geyser of scandal and corruption that erupted after President Bush’s abortive nomination of the ex-police commissioner as the head of the Department of Homeland Security.

As the book makes clear, on 9/11, these three, the nominal leadership of the city’s main emergency response agencies, were trudging aimlessly together with Giuliani through lower Manhattan, providing photo-ops, but no direction to the efforts of firefighters, cops and others at the scene.

Giuliani’s presence at the scene only served to exacerbate lack of communication and coordination that led ultimately to a greater loss of lives, as both his and others’ accounts of that day make clear.

Arriving at the Fire Department’s command post on West Street, Giuliani spoke briefly to the Chief of Department Peter Ganci, First Deputy Commissioner Bill Feehan and rescue chief Ray Downey, the senior leaders of the FDNY, all of whom were subsequently killed. As debris from the building began falling near the site, Kerik and others urged the mayor to leave. As Giuliani wrote in his own book, Leadership, “I turned north and headed to the Police Department command post.”

The action effectively separated the senior leadership of the Police Department from that of the Fire Department and flew in the face of the city’s own stated policy, which called for the Fire Department to be in overall charge of any fire incident and for the establishment of a joint command post. If they had done so, the inability of the two departments to communicate with each other over their incompatible radios could have been largely mitigated.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology study concluded that “functional unified operations were diminished as a result of the two departments’ command posts being separated.” The former head of OEM, Jerry Hauer, a qualified professional who was driven out of the post, agreed: “Had there been a senior police liaison at the command post, information about what the police were observing in the air could have been relayed to the ground.”

As the authors spell out, “Rudy Giuliani had the opportunity to make that kind of unified direction happen and, by his own description, the obligation to make it happen, but he didn’t.” Instead, he marched away from the FDNY command post with the entire senior leadership of the Police Department, which functioned largely as his personal entourage and bodyguard.

As Grand Illusion makes clear, Giuliani has parlayed the fabricated tale of his supposed heroism and decisive leadership on 9/11 into a personal fortune. After a failed attempt to upend the democratic process by having the 2001 mayoral election called off and his own term extended on the grounds that only he could lead post-9/11 New York, Giuliani established his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners.

Giuliani’s services amounted to renting out his name and the 9/11 aura to companies in trouble and lobbying for favors within the Republican political establishment. In many cases, those who put money into the enterprise were the same banks and corporations that he had showered with tax cuts and concessions when he was mayor. One of his biggest clients was the big pharmaceuticals’ association, which he assisted by lobbying against allowing the re-importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Kerik, who was a member of Giuliani Partners until scandal forced his ouster, was sent out to testify that the cheaper drugs could be used as a cover for shipping biological weapons across the border.

While Giuliani Partners is a private company that closely guards information on its earnings, divorce lawyers for Giuliani’s estranged wife Donna Hanover estimated the ex-mayor’s personal income at $20 million in 2002, over half of it coming from speaking fees—normally $100,000 for an appearance—and book advances.

The speaking engagements are numerous. Giuliani has become the headliner in a traveling lecture/seminar tour known as “Get Motivated,” which the authors describe as a “daylong infomercial that moves from city to city around the Lower 48 selling God, country and ways to make a killing in the stock and real estate markets.”

Giuliani, who takes the stage flanked by bodyguards, serves up his stump speech on the principles of leadership—“develop strong beliefs, be an optimist, have courage...”—and offers patriotic 9/11 anecdotes. He shares the bill with speakers who invoke their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and pitch the crowd get-rich-quick schemes that can be learned by buying their DVDs or paying $1,000 for a two-day investment seminar.

The authors point out that the appearances not only serve to fatten Giuliani’s bank account, but also give him “direct contact with the base,” a conservative lower-middle-class layer that has been courted by the Republican Party and the Christian right.

That such a figure—contemptuous of democratic rights, steeped in corruption and a paid shill for corporate and financial interests—could be seen as a “moderate” and a savior of the Republican Party is a measure of the desperate political crisis confronting the US two-party system as a whole.

Fantastic Job, Mr. President

By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, November 14, 2006; A31

There is something refreshing about George Stephanopoulos. After George Bush announced that he was firing Don Rumsfeld, Stephanopoulos -- on the air at the time -- actually seemed shocked that just a week earlier the president had said he would do no such thing. Stephanopoulos not only suggested that the president had lied but that he was wrong to have done so. In Georgetown, where the ABC newsman lives, such innocence must be considered quaint.

Washington's easy acceptance of lying, especially presidential lying, is beyond lamentable. It has cost the country plenty, including, of late, a war in a godforsaken place, which we are losing and are fighting for reasons that we no longer remember or that even matter. (Democracy? Weapons of mass destruction? A link to terrorism? Aw, forget it.) In the most recent case, Bush not only lied but compounded the lie by lying about why he lied in the first place.

Less than a week before the election, Bush told three wire service reporters that Rummy was his man -- now and until the end of his term. He said Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney were doing "fantastic" jobs, which was so clearly not the case that one of the reporters, Terence Hunt of the Associated Press, pressed the president further.

"You see them staying with you until the end?"

"I do," Bush replied.

What Bush did not say was that at that very moment he was casting about for a Rumsfeld replacement and that Robert M. Gates, a former CIA director, was being considered for the job. By the end of that week, Gates had been summoned to Bush's Texas ranch, where, clearly, he passed presidential muster. The appointment was announced by Bush at a news conference the day after the election. The president had his excuses ready. He lied for the sake of the troops.

Bush, you see, had made a decision. The president said he "wasn't going to be talking about hypothetical troop levels or changes in command structure coming down the stretch" of the congressional campaign. As is his wont, he used the word "decision" in a Billy Grahamish sort of way, as if it had not originated in his own brain but came from what Hebrew National, the maker of franks, sausages and lunchmeats, calls "a higher authority."

In fact -- and this is a fact -- the lie about Rumsfeld was consistent with the White House's political line that everything is just hunky-dory in Iraq and that only Democrats and advocates of same-sex marriage could think otherwise. It would have been inconsistent with the political line for Bush to have admitted doubts about Rumsfeld. It had nothing to do with the troops, who really don't give a damn who the SecDef is, since he is junior to their second lieutenant as far as they are concerned.

In this way, Bush lied about the lie and then, as has become customary, draped an American flag over it: the troops, the troops. Actually, if he cared so much for the troops he would have gotten rid of Rumsfeld months ago.

It has now been a week, and the president's lie has been forgotten . . . or excused . . . or minimized. This is the way it is in Washington, a town run by politicians who routinely lie in their political commercials back home (this is the lesson of the last campaign) and then think, somehow, that they can recover their virtue by recrossing the Potomac. Deep down, they know they lack the moral standing even to feign shock. For instance, the maker of the spot used against Rep. Harold Ford Jr. is briefly condemned (but secretly admired) when, at the very least, he should have had his citizenship revoked.

So it was downright exhilarating to see Stephanopoulos express shock at Bush's lie, and it would be equally exhilarating if the new Democratic majorities evinced a similar moral indignation. Instead of reassuring the administration's serial fibbers that they will not be required to answer for their statements about Iraq, they should instead be vowing to take apart the ship of state plank by plank until they find the rot -- not impeachment, mind you, just accountability.

This is not a matter of vengeance or, God forfend, politics, but of restoring the people's faith in their government. How dare these people lie to you and me and send Americans to die in Iraq for reasons that turned out to be wholly nonexistent? One way to return to the truth is to find the liars. I ask this not for myself but -- and I mean it -- for the troops.

Friday, November 17, 2006



[The Nation, from the December 4, 2006 issue]

The Democratic Party was not really ready for this. Democrats have been in the wilderness so long--since Ronald Reagan launched the conservative era twenty-five years ago--that older liberals began to think it was a life sentence. Bill Clinton was the party's rock star; he made people feel good (and occasionally cringe), but he governed in idiosyncratic ways that accommodated the right and favored small gestures over big ideas. The party adopted his risk-averse style. Its substantive meaning and political strength deteriorated further.

Then George W. Bush came along as the ultimate nightmare--even more destructive of government and utterly oblivious to the consequences.

The 2006 election closed out the conservative era with the voters' blast of rejection. Democrats are liberated again to become--what? Something new and presumably better, maybe even a coherent party.

This is the political watershed everyone senses. The conservative order has ended, basically because it didn't work--did not produce general well-being. People saw that conservatives had no serious intention of creating smaller government. They were too busy delivering boodle and redistributing income and wealth from the many to the few. Plus, Republicans got the country into a bad war, as liberals had decades before.

On the morning after, my 6-year-old grandson was watching TV as he got ready for school. He saw one of those national electoral maps in which blue states wiped away red states. "Water takes fire," he said. Water nourishes, fire destroys. How astute is that? It could be the theme for our new politics.

With Democrats in charge of the House and the Senate, we can now return to a reality-based politics that nourishes rather than destroys. The party's preoccupation with "message" should take a back seat to "substance"--addressing the huge backlog of disorders and injuries produced by conservative governance. This changeover will be long and arduous. But at least it can now begin.

Republicans lost, but their ideological assumptions are deeply embedded in government, the economy and the social order. Many Democrats have internalized those assumptions, others are afraid to challenge them. It will take years, under the best circumstances, for Democrats to recover nerve and principle and imagination--if they do.

But this is a promising new landscape. Citizens said they want change. Getting out of Iraq comes first, but economic reform is close behind: the deteriorating middle class, globalization and its damaging impact on jobs and wages, corporate excesses and social abuses, the corruption of politics. Democrats ran on these issues, and voters chose them.

The killer question: Do Democrats stick with comfortable Washington routines or make a new alliance with the people who just elected them? Progressives can play an influential role as ankle-biting enforcers. They then have to get up close and personal with Democrats. Explain that evasive, empty gestures won't cut it anymore. Remind the party that it is vulnerable to similar retribution from voters as long as most Americans don't have a clue about what Democrats stand for.

The first order of business is taking down Bush. The second front is the fight within the Democratic Party over its soul and sense of direction. These are obviously intertwined, but let's start with Bush and how Democrats can contain his ebbing powers. This is not a philosophical discussion. Events are already moving rapidly.

Everyone talks up postelection bipartisanship, and voters are weary of partisan cat fights. But that doesn't mean selling them out to get along with the other party. If Bush wants compromise, let him start by promising not to nominate any more hard-right-wingers to the federal judiciary. Harry Reid, the new Senate majority leader, could respond by promising not to confirm any nominees if Bush doesn't keep his word.

The tables are turned now. Democrats will control the pursestrings of government. Beyond keeping post offices open, they can kill anything Bush proposes. They have the high ground, but they can now also be blamed for what goes wrong. For the first time in a dozen years, Democrats have the power to alter the governing fundamentals.

Ending the war cannot be compromised. Voters want out "now," as soon as possible. They did not endorse a couple more years of US occupation, many more lost lives and wasted billions. If Democratic leaders get that wrong, it becomes their war too, and Americans will not be forgiving. A coherent alternative that deserves bipartisan support may emerge from the Baker-Hamilton group. But, if not, Democrats should be principled critics and draw up their own road map.

Let Iraqis decide their own fate. Telling them to split up into three parts sounds like more colonialist intervention. Iraqis are robbed of true sovereignty as long as occupying Americans are present. Democrats can come up with a plausible timetable for withdrawal, accompanied by rational foreign-policy steps like direct talks with Iran and other Middle Eastern powers to defuse the sectarian violence and to arrange a manageable exit for the US military.

Congress cannot command troops, but it has enormous leverage to coax and prod Pentagon policy through appropriations and other legislation. Cutting off funds in the midst of war is not going to happen--it never has in US history--but the military itself could become a valuable source of strategic ideas, both in hearings and through back-door communications. Bush's promised "victory" in Iraq is not an option.

The Pentagon, in fact, is especially vulnerable to Congressional pressure, because its spending is scandalously out of control. Rumsfeld allowed it, and the services took advantage of his open checkbook. Emergency "war" spending is headed toward $507 billion and covers numerous projects with no relevance to Iraq or Afghanistan. House and Senate committees can force out the facts and expose this outrage now. If they don't, it will haunt them later when they try to reduce federal deficits.

When Democrats take up their commitment to reducing Bush's budget deficits, they face a big problem up front. The economy is heading toward recession. Shrinking federal deficits would only make things worse. Dems need to back off that pledge and consider stimulative spending instead.

They can look for money elsewhere. One promising source lies in the many investigations and hearings Senate and House committees are planning to expose war-profiteering--Halliburton's no-bid contracts, obscene subsidies and tax breaks for Big Oil and Big Pharma, the rank corruption that has essentially looted government programs. Properly managed, these inquiries can produce popular anger and demands for recovering the public capital carried off by private interests.

The straightforward way to achieve this is taxation. For three decades, Washington has been cutting taxes for corporate and financial interests, not to mention the wealthy. Democrats have to find ways to stop intoning this conservative tax-cutting mantra by showing that government has been robbed and ordinary families are the losers. Will voters be upset that Democrats are recovering public money by raising taxes on the plunderers? I think they will cheer.

Representative Charles Rangel, the next chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has said he will not attempt to repeal Bush's outrageous tax cuts for the wealthy--but instead let them expire in 2010. That kills estate-tax repeal and puts other measures in terminal jeopardy. Democrats should go on the offense and develop a tax-shift strategy that increases taxes on corporations and capital in order to finance tax relief for struggling families, middle-class and below. Last-Ditch Bush may veto this, but let's see how many nervous Republicans vote against it.

All this depends, however, on the question of whether Democrats have the stomach for a fight, not only with Bush and the GOP but with the business and financial interests that underwrite both parties. We don't know yet, but a test case may come soon. Corporate leaders, investment bankers and the insurance industry are lobbying to gut the modest regulations enacted after Enron and to disable investor lawsuits against fraud on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms.

Which side will Democrats be on? In the 1990s leading senators supported big money against the interests of injured investors, including pension funds. Deviating Democrats included Chris Dodd, Joe Lieberman, Charles Schumer and Joe Biden, to name a few. If they are on the wrong side this time, voters should hear about it.

This tension between liberal economic values and the center-right economics of Clinton is the party's great divide. Clintonistas-in-waiting--awaiting Hillary's White House--still dominate party affairs in Washington. But the facts have changed. Voters expressed their contempt for Republicans in 2006. They did not suggest they want the same behavior from Democrats.

Is the new Congress reflected in economic populists like Senator-elect Jim Webb of Virginia and free-trade critics like Senator-elect Sherrod Brown? Or pro-gun, antiabortion conservatives from the South and Midwest who might pull the party rightward? Both before and after the election, major media, led by the New York Times and Washington Post, repeatedly emphasized that no leftward ideological shift would occur, because Democrats are moving rightward. This was bogus, way too simplistic. It overlooked the fact that 100 or more candidates ran aggressively on liberal or populist economic issues--against unregulated free trade and the offshoring of American jobs, against special interests, corporate excesses and social abuses. The Blue Dog and New Democrat caucuses will expand, but the Progressive Caucus will, too, and will remain the largest--at seventy-one members.

The spin originated with DLC types, and a principal source was Representative Rahm Emanuel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who recruited many of the candidates. "Emanuel and other top Democrats told their members they cannot allow the party's liberal wing to dominate the agenda next year," the Post reported. If Speaker Nancy Pelosi intends to be in charge, she might not want Representative Emanuel standing at her back.

The party's ideological debate is under way privately at a more serious level. Robert Rubin, the influential former Treasury Secretary and executive chair at Citigroup, launched the Hamilton Project this past spring to head off the rising rebellion within party ranks against corporate-led globalization. He is proposing various measures, but holds fast to "free market" principle: Don't interfere with the global markets and multinationals.

Organized labor has taken up Rubin's invitation to talk and is countering with its ideas for fundamental reforms. Labor leaders do not expect to change Rubin's mind. Their objective is to show Democratic incumbents that they are caught in a serious bind--between their injured voters and multinational investment bankers. Democrats will have nothing meaningful to say to them as long as the party adheres to the economic orthodoxy. They need debate and an aggressive agenda that stanches the bleeding for Americans and saves the global system by reforming it.

Nancy Pelosi has the power to break through the risk-averse habits. She and liberal allies like Representative George Miller are playing shrewd, not reckless politics. But the Democrats don't have forever to establish bona fides with the electorate. A year from now, if the party looks like the same old timid crowd, Democrats will be in trouble of their own making.

This is where activists can develop influence inside Congress. They have to work on persuading Pelosi, Reid and key House and Senate chairs to take the larger risks. The breadth of the Democratic victory gives them license to push a more ambitious agenda. The weak public regard for Democrats gives them an incentive. The House-Senate majorities enable the party to pass a lot of urgent progressive reforms--regulating global warming, for example--that may not become law but would create forward momentum and draw "nay" votes from reactionary Republicans.

Progressives must develop an inside-outside strategy that engages this new Democratic Congress intimately while it rallies citizens at large to add their voices, too. This is going to be a hard, long struggle. Turning around a political party and politics isn't accomplished in one or two election cycles.

But some newly elected Democrats found a smart formula in 2006. Talk to people about their lives and really listen to what people, not polls, say. Then offer solutions, not just rhetoric, that might work. If they learn to do this conscientiously, pretty soon Democrats might begin sounding like a political party.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Supreme Court inaugurates new term with reactionary death penalty ruling

By Jeff Lincoln
17 November 2006

On November 13, the Supreme Court in the case of Ayers v. Belmontes reinstated a death sentence imposed on a man in the state of California despite evidence that the sentencing verdict resulted from confusion over jury instructions.

The decision, which overturned a ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, was split 5-4. Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy ruled in favor of the death penalty. This was the first decision of the Court in its current term.

The majority opinion, authored by the so-called “swing” Justice Kennedy, is a thoroughly reactionary assault on fundamental due process rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The decision represents a conscious effort on the part of most extreme-right justices on the Court to loosen any restraint on the state’s ability to carry out executions.

Fernando Belmontes was convicted of murder in 1982 for the killing of a woman during a burglary attempt. During the penalty phase of the trial, the jury was tasked with deciding whether Belmontes would receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty. The prosecution and the defense were able to present evidence in aggravation and mitigation, respectively.

In addition to the well established precedent guaranteeing the right to a fair trial under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause, the Supreme Court has made the cornerstone of its capital punishment jurisprudence the Eighth Amendment (which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment) and has imposed as an interpretation of this amendment the right of defendants to present any mitigating evidence to the jury that might warrant a penalty less than death. Because of confusing jury instructions, however, Belmontes’ lawyers argued that the jury did not consider all mitigating factors.

The defense introduced into evidence, among other things, the testimony of Belmontes’ mother and grandfather who testified about Belmontes’ difficult childhood, particularly his abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father.

The primary component of the defense’s evidence in mitigation, however, was the prior experience of Belmontes when he was committed to a juvenile correctional program called the California Youth Authority. The defendant testified that during his time with the Youth Authority he underwent a religious conversion to Christianity and achieved a number of positive accomplishments. The defense presented testimony from the Youth Authority chaplain explaining Belmontes’ positive influence on other youths during the course of his commitment.

The thrust of the defense argument was that Belmontes had demonstrated that while he was incarcerated he was able to reform himself, and therefore if given a life sentence he could benefit society while imprisoned.

After the penalty evidence was presented, counsel and the court discussed the proposed jury instructions. The defense counsel submitted a request that the jury instructions include a list of the special aggravating factors and a list of the special mitigating factors that were raised by the evidence. Under the requested list of special mitigating factors, the defense sought to include the factors relevant to the evidence of his behavior during previous incarceration.

The trial judge refused defense counsel’s request to give the jury a separate list of potential mitigating factors and instead used a list of seven standard sentencing factors that are commonly used, including one—known as factor (k)—that instructed the jury that they could consider “any other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime even though it is not a legal excuse for the crime.” While this factor is worded as if it is a catchall provision that would include almost anything that is not enumerated in the six other factors, it is in fact nothing of the sort and served to exclude the defense’s primary mitigating evidence.

All the factors listed by the judge related to the severity of the crime and would not logically include consideration of the defendant’s future behavior. Though the mitigating factors were referred to as examples, the judge declined to inform the jury that they were not limited to consideration of the specific enumerated factors.

The confusion among the jury quickly became evident. After deliberating for a few hours, the jury foreman submitted two written questions to the court: “What happens if we cannot reach a verdict?” and “Can the majority rule on life imprisonment?” These questions clearly reveal that, at this point, a majority of jurors favored a life sentence with a minority faction to the contrary.

The judge responded to the questions with the jury in open court. After informing the jury that their verdict must be unanimous, one of the jurors, Mrs. Hern, asked the judge the following question: “The statement about the aggravation and mitigation of the circumstances, now, that was the listing?” The judge responded saying, “That was the listing, yes, ma’am.” Mrs. Hern followed up by asking, “Of those certain factors, we were to decide one or the other and then balance the sheet?” To which the court replied, “That is right. It is a balancing process.”

The appellate brief for Belmontes aptly explains the significance of the jury’s colloquy with the judge.

The clear import is that Juror Hern wanted confirmation that the list of factors the jury had heard was complete and exhaustive. The trial court gave her and the entire jury exactly that confirmation without any countervailing direction that all the evidence presented was proper for consideration, and that the list of factors was supplied only to help the jury consider the evidence, not to limit the jury’s consideration.

As a result of the court’s instruction, within twenty-four hours the majority contingent of the jury that was leaning toward a life sentence changed their position and the jury delivered a unanimous verdict of death.

Belmontes’ Post-Conviction Remedies

It is significant that just one year after Belmontes’ trial, the California Supreme Court recognized the problematic nature of the standard jury instructions and amended them to make clear that the jury could consider any evidence that was presented in court. Despite this fact, the California courts upheld the death sentence of Belmontes.

After exhausting his state court remedies, Belmontes filed a petition for federal habeas corpus relief in 1994. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to vacate Belmontes’ death sentence, pointing out that “the Eighth Amendment requires a capital jury to consider all relevant mitigating evidence offered by the defendant . . . this broad mandate includes the duty to consider mitigating evidence that relates to a defendant’s probable future behavior, especially the likelihood that he would not pose a future danger if spared but incarcerated.” The court then cited the trial judge’s failure to instruct the jury that it was obligated to consider Belmontes’ principal mitigation evidence.

The Supreme Court decision issued on Monday overturns the ruling by the Ninth Circuit. The majority opinion is largely unresponsive to the issues raised on appeal by Belmontes. The majority primarily relied on the case of Boyde v. California which previously examined the language of the factor (k) instruction and found that, standing alone, it does not unconstitutionally preclude jurors from considering mitigating evidence unrelated to the crime.

However, as Eric Multhaup, counsel for Belmontes, made clear in his brief and during oral argument, it was not the language of factor (k) alone that violated Belmontes’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, but rather the “unusual combination of respondent’s particular mitigating evidence, a mixture of standard and case specific jury instructions, and a number of mid deliberation juror questions coupled with the trial court’s improvised answers” that, taken in combination, deterred the jury “from considering and giving effect to some of the most compelling of respondent’s evidence in mitigation.”

In fact, Boyde serves to bolster the defendant’s argument because it holds that the standard for relief in such a case is whether there is “a reasonable probability that the jury has applied the challenged instruction in a way that prevents the consideration of constitutionally relevant evidence.” In other words, even if the jurors were properly instructed, one only has to show that there is a “reasonable probability” that the instruction was misapplied and constitutionally relevant evidence was not considered.

Aware of this, the majority of the Supreme Court tried to reason that the jurors “could have disregarded respondent’s future potential only if they drew the unlikely inference that the court’s instructions transformed all of this favorable testimony into a virtual charade.” In other words, there was no reasonable probability that the jury did not consider the mitigating evidence because if the presentation by the defense conflicted with the instruction from the judge, the jurors would certainly ignore the latter!

At best, the majority opinion evidences a complete indifference to the constitutionally guaranteed rights of defendants. As the dissenting opinion pointed out, “the incremental value to California of carrying out a death sentence at this late date is far outweighed by the interest in maintaining confidence in the fairness of any proceeding that results in a State’s decision to take the life of one of its citizens.”

The WSWS unequivocally opposes the death penalty regardless of the nature of the proceedings. The dissenting opinion, which does not explicitly oppose the death penalty, does however highlight the fact that in this ruling the Supreme Court has moved to eliminate existing constitutional safeguards that restrict the application of the penalty by requiring that any doubt be resolved in favor of the defendant. Clearly in this case there is substantial doubt that the jury properly considered all factors in deciding whether or not to give Belmontes a death sentence.

There is more involved here than mere indifference to such considerations or the fate of one individual. The justices that voted to reinstate Belmontes’ death sentence are actively seeking to remove any legal restrictions on the state’s ability to incarcerate and execute its citizens. This is demonstrated by the concurring opinion authored by Justices Scalia and Thomas, which went beyond Kennedy’s opinion to attack the premise that the defense should be able to present any mitigating evidence it considers relevant. “I adhere to my view that limiting a jury’s discretion to consider all mitigating evidence does not violate the Eighth Amendment,” the Justices wrote. From the perspective of these reactionary justices, constitutional safeguards merely stand in the way of maintaining social order.

The intention and effect of this legal perspective is to strengthen the more repressive elements of the state apparatus, including the police, the military, and the executioner. In the case of Hudson v. Michigan, decided in June, these same five justices abolished the long standing rule that the police had to knock and announce their presence before entering someone’s home, and in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld formed a minority bloc (minus Kennedy) that sanctioned unfettered executive power in the use of military commissions and the detention of “unlawful enemy combatants.”

These judges, who hold nothing but contempt for basic democratic rights, do not emerge out of nowhere; rather, they have been intentionally fostered and promoted by the most right-wing elements of the ruling establishment.

There is a certain social-psychological component to the ruling, with the justices betraying a vindictiveness and enthusiasm at sending Belmontes to his death. The use of the death penalty is itself a barbaric institution, and the zeal with which it is promoted by the highest court in the land—not to mention President Bush himself, who notoriously oversaw the execution of over 150 prisoners while governor of Texas—is an expression of the profound decay of democratic conceptions within the American ruling elite.

The Conservative Reach: Preaching the Gospel of Small Government

November 17, 2006

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Lawrence W. Reed is one of those people with so much passion for an unusual line of work that he invented a new occupation, and it has helped shape the conservative movement from here to the Himalayas.

Mr. Reed runs a conservative think tank school. Twice a year, ideological allies from across the globe travel to his program at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich., to study the tricks of the idea-peddling trade. Policy institutes have been central to a national organizing strategy that has long won the right a reputation for savvy, and state-level versions are growing in number and clout.

Pushing causes like lower taxes, less spending and school choice plans, they have offered conservatives a base of influence independent of electoral politics. Indeed, after the Republican losses in the midterm elections, many conservatives said this carefully tended world — of research organizations, single-interest groups, foundations and publications — was vital to the movement’s revival.

Mr. Reed has nurtured so many state policy groups that he has been called the movement’s Johnny Appleseed. But a competing metaphor is sometimes invoked, that of a restaurant chain. His school is part of an extensive system of support, a national back office of sorts, that allows even policy novices to produce abundant, salable fare.

Consider the experience here in Kentucky, where the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions has made enough noise for the state’s largest newspaper to call it a “conservative propaganda mill.” Its founder, Christopher J. Derry, was a sales executive with no public-policy background when he attended Mr. Reed’s school three years ago. He left with access to everything from off-the-shelf speeches and papers to management software.

“This is like a franchise,” Mr. Derry said. “I saw that I could recreate what the other state groups are doing.”

No one is more central to this replicating effort than Mr. Reed, who combines libertarian ardor with a demeanor so earnest it approaches guilelessness. He said he first felt called to “the liberty movement” as a 12-year-old watching the “The Sound of Music,” and was a high school sophomore when he burned his first Soviet flag.

He attributes the Republican losses in last week’s election to party’s failure to cling to its small-government philosophy and argues the drift shows the need for groups like his. “This underscores the importance of investing in ideas first and foremost, because politicians will almost always disappoint,” Mr. Reed said.

From Michigan to Mongolia

As a full-throated advocate of capitalism — the jagged, creative-destructive kind — Mr. Reed says he is used to being called a corporate apologist who would despoil the environment and afflict the poor. But he sees himself as a defender of free markets and free men, claiming among his major role models Thomas Clarkson, a 19th-century British abolitionist whom Mr. Reed regards as the world’s first think-tank entrepreneur. “Clarkson championed our movement’s overarching principle: If there’s anything certain in human affairs, it’s that liberty will prevail,” he said.

From Midland, Mr. Reed runs Mackinac (pronounced MAK-in-aw), the largest of the right’s state-level policy institutes. The center started its training program eight years ago, and it has alumni in nearly every state and 37 countries, from Uruguay to Nepal. Among them was a Mongolian who went on to become prime minister, putting his free-market training to work by privatizing the national herd of yaks.

When the Mackinac Center was founded in 1987, there were just three other conservative state-level policy institutes. Now there are 48, in 42 states, joined in an association called the State Policy Network. At least three former Mackinac presidents are now in the House, Representatives Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Tom Tancredo of Colorado, all Republicans.

Collectively, the groups have pushed for cuts in health and welfare programs, constitutional limits on state spending, and expanded school choice programs. They have opposed what they call burdensome health, safety, and environmental regulations and increases in the minimum wage.

In labeling the institutes (and himself), Mr. Reed prefers the term “free market” over “conservative,” since most of the groups stress economics over social issues.

In Colorado, the Independence Institute has been a leading force behind a constitutional spending cap called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. In Arizona, the Goldwater Institute has championed a school-choice law that sends 22,500 children a year to private schools. The Texas Public Policy Foundation helped pass a law to end what the group said were excessive lawsuits.

“In terms of generating and popularizing ideas, I think they’ve been very effective,” said Carl Helstrom, executive director of the JM Foundation, one of the movement’s major donors.

Some critics say the groups’ support for unfettered markets promotes a form of social Darwinism.

“Their philosophy encourages selfishness and greed,” said Iris J. Lav, who runs the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative, a network of 29 liberal state-level groups organized in part as a countervailing force. “If you have problems, they don’t care — just too bad.”

Greed is the rare accusation that rankles Mr. Reed.

“They think if you’re pushing free markets there must be something in it for you,” he said. “It speaks to their ignorance.”

Mr. Reed was raised in western Pennsylvania, where his father ran a plumbing-supply store and both parents ignored politics. The persecution of the von Trapp family in “The Sound of Music” grabbed his attention; the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, in 1968, sent him running to his first protest. He was 14.

Academia to Politics

After earning a master’s degree at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, he taught economics at Northwood University in Midland, but academia left him restless. In 1982, Mr. Reed, then 29, unsuccessfully ran for Congress and got to know an ambitious state senator named John Engler.

Both were Republicans who thought Michigan needed its own version of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington policy institute that was influencing the Reagan presidency. A few years later, when such a group formed, Mr. Engler helped recruit Mr. Reed to run it.

With $20,000 in seed money, the Mackinac Center was started in 1987 as a bare-bones affair, but quickly proved troublesome to Gov. James J. Blanchard, a Democrat. The Mackinac Center warned that one of Mr. Blanchard’s signature programs, the nation’s first prepaid college tuition plan, would need a state bailout. Amid fears about its financial health, the program soon suspended enrollment.

After Mr. Engler unseated Mr. Blanchard in 1990, Mackinac had a friend at the top. Acting on the center’s advice, Mr. Engler sold a state-owned insurance company for $250 million. But when Mr. Engler created tax breaks to lure businesses to Michigan, Mr. Reed, clinging to his free-market views, attacked them as “corporate welfare.”

The Mackinac Center has often battled the Michigan Education Association, a teachers’ union. When the union opposed privatizing support services, like school meals and security, a Mackinac employee monitored the union parking lot and discovered that it used private contractors like the ones it was opposing.

“We don’t just write papers, we do stakeouts,” Mr. Reed said.

Many of the state-level groups were inspired by larger Washington counterparts, like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. While there are no formal ties, many informal bonds have been formed through overlapping donors, revolving employees and occasional joint projects.

A key supporter of the state-level movement was Thomas A. Roe, a South Carolina industrialist and Heritage Foundation donor who founded the South Carolina Policy Council, and helped finance the other state-level groups. Mr. Roe died in 2000, but the Roe Foundation gives each of the 48 groups annual grants of $15,000 to $30,000.

With a budget of more than $4 million and a staff of 32, the Mackinac Center is more than five times larger than the average state-level institute, some of which consist of little more than a person and a fax machine. Most groups do not disclose donations they receive.

A Culture of Mutual Aid

To maximize the groups’ clout, Mr. Roe encouraged them to share their work, and a culture of mutual aid has taken hold. “There’s a joke that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you can steal somebody else’s wheel and use it,” said Mr. Helstrom, the JM Foundation executive.

Mr. Derry of the Bluegrass Institute has taken that advice to heart. He was working at an asset management firm in 2003 when a Bowling Green tax increase got under his skin. A few months later, he was sitting in Mr. Reed’s school, wondering whether to quit his $400,000 job to start a shoestring policy group.

“You’re going to have to decide what’s more important,” Mr. Reed said as the course wound down. “Making a lot of money or championing liberty.”

“I was hooked,” Mr. Derry said.

He said part of the appeal was the network of groups ready to help. Three conservative foundations offered grants totaling $80,000, but most of what Mr. Derry calls “franchise” help came in other ways.

Mr. Reed has a standard speech he calls the “Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy.” Mr. Derry added the words “for Kentucky” and took it on the fund-raising trail. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, in Olympia, Wash., is known for its guide to paring state budgets. Mr. Derry distributed it under the Bluegrass name. A Maryland paper on excessive lawsuits, republished in North Carolina, gained a third life as “Preparing for Tort Reform in Kentucky.”

“People were so helpful, I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Derry said. “It jump-started me by a couple of years.”

The Bluegrass Institute quickly made a mark by fighting with the state’s governor, Ernie Fletcher, a Republican, over a tax plan he called revenue-neutral and Mr. Derry called a tax increase. To make a point about pork-barrel spending, his group sent an intern into the Capitol dressed like a pig.

Depending on one’s perspective, the Bluegrass Institute view of liberty can seem either steadfast or extreme. Walking to his car after a recent event, Jim Waters, the policy director at the institute, mentioned how he had recently survived a head-on collision thanks to his car’s airbags. A few moments later, describing the institute’s priorities, he said the Bluegrass Institute was fighting tougher seat-belt laws, which he called an intrusion on liberty. Car safety laws “did save my life,” he conceded when asked about the apparent contradiction.

At an institute event in Bowling Green, an audience member chided the group for opposing efforts to ban smoking in restaurants. “I watched my mother die of cancer,” the person said.

“We hate smoking as much as you do,” Mr. Derry replied. “But we hate government even more.”

The Bluegrass Institute has a budget of about $400,000, but recently laid off a policy analyst, leaving a staff of five. Still, even critics say the group has leveraged modest resources into a growing presence.

“They get airplay,” said Susan Weston, a longtime advocate for Kentucky public schools. “They get their op-eds published. They’ve built an e-mail list.”

True to his promise of continuing help, Mr. Reed made a two-day visit to Kentucky last year. Speaking to potential donors in Louisville, he likened Mr. Derry to Benjamin Franklin.

After the event, Mr. Derry marveled once more at all the support he had received.

Mr. Reed said, “You’re our comrade in arms.”

Mr. Derry, replied, “It’s about liberty.”

Mr. Reed said, “This is a missionary movement.”


Mexican government steps up repression in Oaxaca

By Rafael Azul
16 November 2006

The Mexican city of Oaxaca is under police occupation. Government security forces are engaging in a “dirty war” of arbitrary detentions and disappearances reminiscent of the operations carried out in the 1970s.

Since the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) invaded and occupied the city on October 29, more than 40 leaders and members of the Popular Assembly of Oaxacan Peoples (APPO) have been arrested, 140 others have been detained and 39 have disappeared, including teenage youth. Brutality against protesters and teachers is on the rise. Disingenuously, PFP commanders claim that the current wave of detentions has nothing to do with repression against Oaxacan opponents of the governor, but is merely in response to common crimes. In addition to the PFP, paramilitary squads linked to Governor Ulises Ruiz and his Institutionalist Revolutionary Party (PRI) are involved in the detentions and disappearances. Following the initial police operation, masked police were seen doing house-to-house searches in neighborhoods most supportive of APPO. People who have been released have reported beatings and torture. Some of those still in detention are as young as 13 years of age. Arrest orders have been issued for the entire APPO leadership.

The Mexico City daily La Reforma indicated last week that 16 have been killed at the hands of police or paramilitary squads since June, including Indymedia reporter Brad Will, who was shot on October 27 together with two protesters.

PRI thugs who brandished weapons and shot at barricaded teachers and APPO members during the weeks before the government assault have been emboldened by the presence of the PFP. Teachers throughout the state describe being accosted and threatened by PRI paramilitaries. Some of these have fired on the university radio station, wounding one of the students guarding the facility. The government is jamming transmissions from the radio station, which still is in the hands of APPO.

The situation facing workers, students and peasants in Oaxaca, an impoverished state in southern Mexico, who have been protesting against the policies of the PRI state government and the national government of President Vicente Fox (National Action Party—PAN) is dire. They face the full force of the state under conditions in which they remain isolated from the rest of the working class of Mexico.

The primary responsibility for this rests with the trade union bureaucracy and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its leader, former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The Mexican Congress of Labor (CT) is doing all it can to prevent the Mexican working class from mobilizing in support of Oaxaca. For his part, Obrador, who postured during his election campaign as a tribune of the people and this summer was able to mobilize hundreds of thousands in Mexico City and elsewhere behind his demand for a recount of the July presidential vote, remained silent for months on the situation in Oaxaca and tacitly backed the incursion of federal riot police into the city of 250,000 people.

The struggle in Oaxaca began in May when the state’s 70,000 teachers demanded pay increases to cope with the high cost of living in the region. With the overwhelming support of the membership, Local 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) called a strike on May 22 after state authorities, claiming there was no money, rejected the teachers’ demand for a wage increase. On June 14 the state police attempted to put an end to the job action by evicting striking teachers from a protest camp in downtown Oaxaca, burning their tents, killing two teachers and wounding many others.

On August 1, Oaxacans, led by APPO and demanding PRI Governor Ulises Ruiz’s resignation, took over a hotel, occupied public radio and TV stations, and set up barricades throughout the city. The next day, striking teachers voted to add Ruiz’s removal to their strike demands.

Health workers joined the strike on August 16. During the next month, federal authorities largely abstained from confronting the Oaxaca crisis. The Fox government was preoccupied with the contested result of the presidential election. PRD candidate Obrador mobilized hundreds of thousands to press for his demand for a vote recount after election officials declared PAN candidate Felipe Calderon the victor by a razor thin margin.

After the Independence Day observance of September 16, with the election crisis under control, Fox and the Governance Ministry turned its full attention to Oaxaca and proceeded with the political preparations for the police occupation of October 29.

One of the main preconditions for the police assault on Oaxaca was an official end to the teachers’ strike, which was engineered by the SNTE leadership. Under pressure from the national union leadership, Local 22 leader Enrique Rueda reversed his former stance and engineered a return to work vote in return for a $42 million contract financed by the federal government.

Rueda and the Local 22 leaders are part of the National Coordinating Committee of Education Workers (CNTE,) a dissident faction within the SNTE. Even though they struck a militant pose at the beginning of the strike, Rueda and the CNTE leaders kept the teachers struggle confined to Oaxaca. Other CNTE locals, including the one in Mexico City, remained on the sidelines.

On November 6, SNTE national leader Elba Esther Gordillo, a PRI politician, warned the Fox administration that she would no longer tolerate direct negotiations between the Governance Ministry and the Oaxacan SNTE, demanding instead that it negotiate directly with the national union bureaucracy. Gordillo declared that any gains made by the Oaxacan teachers would only encourage “radicalism” in the union and called on the government not to grant amnesty to the teachers or the local SNTE leaders.

Since the takeover of Oaxaca, the PFP police have continued to receive reinforcements. The Pro Juarez Center for Human Rights (PRODH) gave evidence last week that out of 86 arrests it had documented, 59 detainees had disappeared and their place of detention was unknown.

PRODH also reported that most of the arrests were violent and detainees had been tortured. PRODH spokesperson Luis Arriaga gave the example of David Huesca, who was arrested and beaten last Thursday by PFP officials. Huesca was transported to the Oaxaca airport. He has not been heard from since.

Lawyers for APPO took the PFP to court last Wednesday, presenting numerous instances of illegal detention and torture. On the same day, APPO leaders requested that the Catholic Church in Oaxaca provide it with sanctuary against PFP arrest.

In the face of increasing repression, Oaxacan workers, peasants and students continue to resist. Local teachers’ union leader Rueda was forced to cancel a November 4 teachers’ delegates assembly, blaming APPO for exacerbating tensions among teachers by advertising the meeting on the radio. The delegate meeting was to set a return to work date.

On the same day, five leaders of Local 22 were pulled off a bus returning from Mexico City to Oaxaca and arrested by the PFP. Four hundred teachers marched in Oaxaca to protest the arrests, chanting “Assassins, Assassins” and demanding that the PFP leave the city.

On November 5, tens of thousands of APPO supporters marched in Oaxaca demanding that the police leave the city. Among the marchers were large contingents of teachers, students, peasants and representatives of the state’s 17 Indian ethnicities. A contingent from Mexico City included students as well as members of the Electrical Workers Union and unions representing university employees. Leading the march were family members of the victims of police and paramilitary violence since the Oaxacan crisis began on June 14.

A demonstration of more than 3,000 teachers in Oaxaca on November 7 opposed a return to work. On the same day medical students and faculty at the Benito Juarez University declared themselves on strike.

On November 8, hundreds of women demonstrated, dressed in black and carrying a coffin. The marchers were dispersed by PFP water cannons.

Despite the support from some independent unions, the Oaxacan teachers, workers and students remain largely isolated. Contributing to this isolation is the perspective of APPO itself.

The Popular Assembly of Oaxacan Peoples was formed in June, shortly after the attack on the teachers. A coalition of some three hundred organizations formed APPO to support the teachers and demand the resignation of Oaxaca Governor Ruiz.

APPO was able to mobilize tens of thousands, driven by the crisis conditions in the state, which were exacerbated by the collapse of corn prices, government indifference to the destruction caused by hurricane Stan in October 2005, and its policy of shifting water resources from villages to tourist hotels and corporate interests. APPO dissolved itself this week and reconstituted itself as CEAPPO (State Council of the Popular Assembly of the Oaxaca). Its program is a mixture of nativist populism, Oaxacan nationalism, syndicalism, and pacifism, conforming to the perspectives of the disparate groups that formed it. These include former elements of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) and supporters of the Zapatista Army, the Communist Party, Anarchists, Maoists and other radicals, together with elements of the bourgeois PRD.

While refraining from formally supporting any presidential candidate in the July elections, in deference to the Zapatistas, who called for a boycott, APPO called for a “no” vote for the candidates of the PAN and the PRI—effectively throwing its support to PRD candidate Obrador.

CEAPPO leaders have now discarded the fig leaf of political distance from the PRD. The new organization has openly proclaimed its support for the PRD and Lopez Obrador, and announced its intention to participate in the latter’s November 20 rally, called to proclaim him the legitimate president of Mexico. CEAPPO also intends to protest the December 1 official ceremony that will install the PAN’s Calderon as the country’s president.

Obrador, for his part, has reciprocated, publicly calling for the resignation of Oaxaca Governor Ruiz.

Such an approach represents is a recipe for defeat and disaster. The interests of the workers, peasants and students of Oaxaca and the country as a whole cannot be advanced on the basis of a policy that subordinates the working masses to any section of the Mexican ruling elite or any of its political parties. Nor can they be advanced on the basis of a nationalist perspective, whether based on Indian ethnicity or Mexican nationalism.

An alternative strategy is needed. The first step must be an appeal to the working class throughout Mexico for industrial and political action to defend Oaxacan teachers, workers, peasants and Indian communities, demanding the withdrawal of the PFP, the removal of Governor Ruiz and the release of all detainees.

Such a struggle must be conducted as part of the fight to build an independent socialist political movement that advances an internationalist program to unite working people in Mexico with their class brothers and sisters in the US, Canada, Central and South America.

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