Friday, December 01, 2006

Message from President Fidel Castro to participants in the celebrations for his 80th birthday

Dear compatriots and dear friends from all over the world:

During this time, I have worked intensely to guarantee in our country the objectives of the Proclamation of the 31st of July.

Now we find ourselves facing an adversary who has led the United States into a disaster of such magnitude, that it is almost certain that the U.S. people themselves will not allow him to conclude his presidential mandate.

In addressing you, intellectuals and prominent individuals of the world, I was in a dilemma: I could not bring you all together in a small venue. It was only within the Karl Marx Theater that all of the visitors would fit and, according to my doctors, I was still not in a condition to face such a colossal encounter.

I opted for the variant of speaking to all of you utilizing this channel. My thinking is well-known regarding José Martí’s ideas of glories and honors, when he said that they can all fit on a grain of corn.

Your generosity really overwhelms me. There are so many people that I would like to mention here that once again, I am opting not to do so, and I ask you to forgive me for mentioning just one name: that of Oswaldo Guayasamín, because he was able to synthesize many of the best virtues of those present here.

He made four portraits of me. The first one that he painted in 1961 was lost. I looked for it in every possible corner, and it never appeared. I suffered so much when I found out what an exceptional person Guayasamín was. The second was in 1981 and is kept at the Casa Guayasamín in Old Havana. The third, in 1986, is kept at the "Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Man." How far we were, he and I, when we first met, from imagining that the fourth portrait would be his birthday gift in August 1996.

How inspired his words were when he said: "From Quito and in any corner of the Earth, leave a light burning, because I will be back later."

About Oswaldo Guayasamín, I wrote one day, during the inauguration of the Capilla del Hombre, "He was the most noble, transparent and humane person I have ever known. He created at the speed of light, and his magnitude as a human being was limitless."

As long as the planet exists and human beings breathe, the work of creators will exist.

Today, moreover, thanks to technology, the work and knowledge that humanity has created throughout thousands of years is within everyone’s reach, even though it is not yet known how human beings are affected by the radiation from billions of computers and cell phones.

Recently, the prestigious World Wildlife Fund, based in Switzerland and considered internationally to be the most important NGO overseeing the global environment, stated that all of the measures taken by Cuba to protect the environment made it the only country on Earth that meets the minimum requirements for sustainable development. This is an encouraging honor for our country, but of little importance in the world, given the weight of its economy. That is why, on this past 23rd, I sent a message to President Chávez saying:

"Dear Hugo:

"By adopting a Comprehensive Energy Savings Program, you have become the most prestigious defender of the environment in the world.

"The fact that Venezuela is the country with the largest oil reserves is extremely important, and will make you an example that will draw along all other energy consumers to do the same, saving a countless amount of investment.

"Just as Cuba, a nickel producer, can mobilize resources worth billions of dollars for its development, Venezuela, with its exports of hydrocarbons, could mobilize trillions.

"If the rich industrialized nations were to achieve the miracle of reproducing throughout the planet – within several dozen years – solar fusion, having first destroyed the environment with hydrocarbon emissions, how will the poor nations, who constitute the immense majority of humanity, be able to live in that world?

"¡Hasta la victoria siempre!"

Finally, dear friends, who have done us the immense honor of visiting our country, I very sorrowfully take my leave of you, because I was not able to personally thank you and embrace each one of you. We have the duty to save our species.

Fidel Castro Ruz

November 28, 2006

(Translated by Granma International)

Cuba Summons Troops, Citizen Soldiers

Associated Press Writer

December 1, 2006

HAVANA -- Communist Cuba's military is rolling out its olive green Soviet-era hardware this weekend, summoning 300,000 troops and citizen soldiers for a show of strength in times made uncertain by Fidel Castro's illness.

Anti-aircraft missiles, tanks and armored vehicles, MiG fighter jets and helicopter gunships have rehearsed in recent days for Saturday's parade in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution.

"These Arms Will Never Bow Down Before the Empire!" the red letters of an eight-story-high banner proclaimed Friday from the side of the National Library facing the plaza.

Loyalists across the capital have been exhorted to participate in the event, aimed at warning Cuba's enemies abroad and at home that the revolutionary government has the means and manpower to defend itself. Cuban officials have not said whether the ailing leader will attend.

"You're going to see plenty of armor, every aircraft they can put in the sky, plenty of guns -- self-propelled and towed," predicted Hal Klepak, an expert on Cuba's military who teaches history at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Cuba's military stockpiles have been diminished by years of disuse, lack of parts and tropical humidity. But experts believe the island still has more working tanks, missiles and other materiel than most Latin American nations.

The show of strength also underscores the role Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces will likely play in maintaining order and guiding the nation after Castro is gone. Cuba's aging leaders have long insisted the island's communist system will outlive them.

"In Latin America, when times are confused, the military traditionally forms the final bulwark," said Klepak. "That's also true in Cuba."

Saturday's military parade comes four months after Castro underwent emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding and temporarily ceded power to his 75-year-old brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro.

Many Cubans hope Castro will attend the parade, making his first public appearance since falling ill.

While authorities here insist Castro is recovering, U.S. officials have said they believe the man who ruled Cuba for 47 years has some kind of inoperable cancer and will not live through the end of 2007.

Even if Castro were in perfect health, the armed forces probably would have still held a parade to mark its 50th anniversary. "But it probably wouldn't have been this big, and it may not have even been in Havana," Klepak said.

The parade's most obvious purpose is to warn the United States against taking advantage of Castro's illness to attack the island.

The same warning was sent in early August after Castro fell ill, when as many as 200,000 regular and reserve troops were mobilized and placed on high alert.

In those first few weeks, newly activated reservists donned olive green uniforms and black combat boots to patrol the cobblestone streets of Old Havana while retired officers and decommissioned soldiers were ordered to check in daily at military posts.

Estimates of troop strength on this island of 11.2 million people vary between 39,000 to 55,000, depending on the source and which branches of the service are included.

"The Cuban Army remains one of the most formidable in Latin America" and "remains well-trained and professional in nature," according to the publication Jane's World Armies.

Cuba can also count on more than 1 million militia members, as well as paramilitary and civilian defense groups. Cuba's "War of All the People" military doctrine calls on all other able-bodied citizens to take up arms in the event of a foreign invasion.

Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, which replaced the military that existed before the Cuban Revolution, traces its roots to Dec. 2, 1956, when 82 rebels landed on the island on a yacht -- the Granma -- that sailed from Mexico.

Fidel and Raul Castro were among the fewer than two dozen rebels who survived the landing to reach the mountains, where they launched a guerrilla war against then-President Fulgencio Batista.

After the revolution triumphed in 1959, the new government enjoyed its first major military victory at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 when the island's nascent militia forces soundly defeated a CIA-led exile army that invaded the country.

Mexico: Hundreds of thousands gather to inaugurate López Obrador

ON 20 November, the official anniversary of the 1910 Mexican revolution, and 141 days after the right-wing parties stole the presidential election, the popular protest movement headed by the ex-presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was out in force for its own inauguration ceremony in the Zócalo , Mexico City's main square.

Juan Guerrero, Mexico City

One of the biggest central squares in the world was filled up to the brink. People who had arrived late where trying to follow events in neighbouring streets.

The 300,000-strong crowd, made up of members of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), AMLO's party, the PT; the workers party (and coalition partner of the PRD in the Por el Bien de Todos alliance), and members of community organisations, braved the cold and waited quietly for the arrival of Obrador.

For months the media have been predicting the death of the protest movement and the political bankruptcy of AMLO and the PRD. Straight after the stolen elections AMLO called on his supporters to occupy the Zócalo and build a tent city there.

For 48 days the protesters camped in the square, protested throughout the country and did everything in their power to reclaim the election which so clearly had been stolen from them.

Today they were back and the official anniversary celebrations, organised by the government of the outgoing president Vicente Fox, disappeared into insignificance. Most acts of remembrance were cancelled.

'The legitimate government is the organised people'

When López Obrador appeared on the stage the crowd woke up and started shouting slogans. "Es un honor de estar con Obrador" (it is an honour to be with Obrador" and also "Si se pudo" (yes it can be done").

The inauguration started with a proposal from the head of the National Democratic Convention, an organisation made up of the different parties in the Obrador alliance, trade unions and community organisations. The proposal, arrived at through consultation of 1,025,000 delegates, was to mobilise again on 1 December to protest against the fraudulent presidential inauguration of Filipe Calderón .

The speaker asked the hundred thousands in front of him if they agreed and were prepared to occupy the Zócalo at 7am on 1 December. Immediately all hands were raised, as if it was the action of a single person.

Then the alternative government of 12 people, six women and six men, was proposed to the crowd.

The inauguration speech, given by Obrador, set out 20 programmatic points of the alternative government, points around which "a government of the people" will be organised, "the organisation of the most important civil movement that has ever existed in our history, we will build it from below - the political, economical, social and cultural transformation that Mexico needs".

The biggest cheers arose when López Obrador attacked the ruling class and the present and future official government of Mexico. "A government divorced from the people is nothing more than a facade, an egg shell, a bureaucratic apparatus, the legitimate government is the organised people". He called for the setting up of a truth commission to investigate the illegal enrichment and rampant corruption with which nationalised industries had been privatised, the old boys network around the political parties and the corrupt practices with which government contracts are granted.

His first measure of his popular government, Obrador said would be to "confront the economic monopolies" and to propose a "law on competitive prices" which will do away with "exaggerated prices the mexicans pay for services and goods".

He proclaimed a long list of prices Mexican people pay and compared them with the price a US citizen would pay for the same goods and services in the US. "It is not acceptable that Mexicans pay 223% more for cement, 260% more for broadband internet, 65% more for telephone, 116% more for household electricity, 116% more for cable television and 26,000% more charges for the use of a credit card".

Other points in the 20-point programme included free education, a national minimum wage enshrined in the constitution, protection of Mexican industry from international competition, rights for the indigenous people and all other minorities, no to privatisation and yes to the protection of the national patrimonium [heritage].

Obrador received the biggest cheer of the evening when stating that a people oppressed could not be expected to undergo this oppression peacefully. "When there is no justice, there can be no peace" and he announced his support for the rebellion in Oaxaca, demanding the resignation of the state governor Ulises Ruiz and the withdrawal of the militarised police from Oaxaca. (see the socialist 461)

The genie is out of the bottle

THIS RADICAL programme of reforms, as presented by Obrador, can act as a catalyst and a propeller for the struggle of the Mexican masses. The PRD, whilst it is not a workers' party, in the sense that it defends the class interests of the working class, can for now be a force around which groups of workers in struggle can gather.

Whilst Obrador included in the 20 points the need to democratise the trade union movement and supported secret ballots, a fundamental task for worker activists, socialists and revolutionaries, he did not at all refer to democratising the PRD, the need for a workers' and poor peasants' government or the need to break with capitalism.

The grip of the capitalist barons and reactionaries, supported by imperialism, over the Mexican people can only be broken by breaking with capitalism and thus breaking their power. The floodgates will open in Mexico. In this struggle we will stand side-by-side with the millions seeking a better life, a society more just and equal, and an end to the plundering of the tiny elite. Throughout we will defend revolutionary socialist ideas, explain and point to the fundamental tasks the mass movement has to undertake.

The creation of a mass workers' party, with democratically elected representatives, on a worker's wage and subject to recall. The necessity to reclaim and rebuilt the trade union movement. The urgency to defend a programme of genuine democratic socialism, with workers' control and management, and the immediate implementation of a emergency plan to rebuild society.

A people can be subjected, exploited, and abused for a long time. It can try to make ends meet, bow the head and endure terrible suffering. However, exploiters be warned, once it seeks change, once it stands up and has decided to fight for its rights, no multi-million dollar army can stop it, no amount of repression will knock it down. We are witnessing the first steps in this process in Mexico today.

Brawl Breaks Out in Mexico Congress

By IOAN GRILLO, Associated Press Writer

Friday, December 1, 2006 06 54 AM

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Leftist lawmakers threw punches and chairs at their conservative colleagues and some tried to block the doors of the congressional chamber Friday just an hour before incoming President Felipe Calderon was to take the oath of office there.

Ruling party lawmakers, chanting "Mexico wants peace," seized the speaker's platform where Calderon was supposed to appear, while leftist opponents blocked most of the chamber's doors.

The brawl was shown on live television across Mexico.

Anticipating Friday's standoff, the conservative Calderon took control of the presidential residence in an unusual midnight ceremony with outgoing President Vicente Fox, swearing in part of his Cabinet. In that private ceremony, broadcast live from Los Pinos, Fox handed the presidential sash to a military cadet as his term ended at midnight.

That left experts on Mexico's constitution puzzled over whether Mexico had a president or not Friday morning.

In the midnight broadcast, Calderon called on Mexicans to leave behind the divisions that have dogged him and the country since the disputed July 2 elections.

"I am not unaware of the complexity of the political times we are living through, nor of our differences," he said. "But I am convinced that we today we should put an end to our disagreements and from there, start a new stage whose only aim would be to place the interests of the nation above our differences."

The leftist Democratic Revolution Party — whose candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, narrowly lost the presidency to Calderon — massed thousands of supporters nearby in the capital's main Zocalo plaza, and thousands of riot police surrounded Congress to block them from moving in.

Lopez Obrador, refusing to recognize Calderon's victory, has set up a parallel government of sorts and declared himself "legitimate president" of Mexico.

"This shows once again the violence of the PRD," said the ruling party's Senate leader, Santiago Creel, who expressed confidence that Calderon would still be able to complete the constitutional ritual.

While Fox argues that Calderon automatically became president at midnight Thursday, some constitutional experts say Calderon must first be sworn in, leaving confusion about who was in charge of Mexico for roughly nine hours. The constitution states that Fox's last day in office was Thursday.

Even Creel, interviewed on television inside the chamber Friday, was left talking about "the two presidents of Mexico."

Creel was referring to Fox and Calderon — not Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador, who was expected to appear before thousands of supporters in the Zocalo, was unlikely to get anywhere near Congress, ringed by several layers of 10-foot-high steel barriers and thousands of riot police. But conditions inside the building were even more chaotic.

Democratic Revolution and ruling party legislators had camped out in the huge Congressional chamber since Tuesday, wrestling and shoving for control of parts of the stage and later camping out with pillows, blankets and pizza.

Fox had previously said he would go to Congress with Calderon to hand over the presidential sash, but Democratic Revolution has objected to his presence, accusing the former leader of throwing the elections to Calderon. The midnight ceremony meant there was little reason for Fox to attend, although Creel said he was still welcome.

It appeared unlikely that visiting foreign dignitaries, including former President George H. W. Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would attend the congressional ceremony.

Instead, Calderon's office prepared a third ceremony — at the massive and heavily guarded National Auditorium on the other side of Mexico City, in which he planned to address the nation. He then planned to go to an adjacent military parade ground where army commanders will swear allegiance to the elected head of state, symbolizing the military's tradition of staying out of politics since the 1930s.


Associated Press reporter E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Calderon's English language Web site

George Trow, 63, a Critic of American Culture, Dies


George W. S. Trow, a writer and media critic known for his biting lamentations over what he saw as the twilight of culture in late-20th-century America, was found dead on Nov. 24 in his apartment in Naples, Italy. He was 63 and had lived in Naples for the last few years.

The Italian authorities ruled that Mr. Trow’s death was due to natural causes, said Rory Nugent, a writer and longtime friend.

Associated with The New Yorker for nearly 30 years, Mr. Trow (his surname rhymes with “grow”) was best known for his provocative essay “Within the Context of No Context.” Published in the Nov. 17, 1980, issue of the magazine, the essay was released in book form by Little, Brown the next year. As a result of Mr. Trow’s work, “the context of no context” — his pithy indictment of the emptiness of modern discourse — became an enduring catchphrase in intellectual circles.

Among Mr. Trow’s other books were a collection of short stories, “Bullies” (Little, Brown, 1980); a novel, “The City in the Mist” (Little, Brown, 1984); and a second volume of criticism, “My Pilgrim’s Progress: Media Studies, 1950-1998” (Pantheon, 1998). His most recent book was “The Harvard Black Rock Forest” (University of Iowa, 2004), a long essay first published in The New Yorker in 1984.

In mourning the passing of American discourse, Mr. Trow was not so much a conservative as a wistful curmudgeon. As he passionately believed, the shimmering Manhattan of Champagne, dinner jackets and meaningful conversation had been devoured, in the decades after World War II, by a culture of celebrity-driven bombast. “A landscape rather like history with the tide out,” he once called it.

To Mr. Trow, the culprit could be named in one word: television.

“The work of television is to establish false contexts and to chronicle the unraveling of existing contexts; finally, to establish the context of no-context and to chronicle it,” he wrote in “Within the Context of No Context.”

While many critics praised the dyspeptic urgency of Mr. Trow’s prose, his style — deadpan, telegraphic, heavily autobiographical — could also work against him. At its most aphoristic, his writing struck some reviewers, in an odd twist of fate, as lacking sufficient context.

“One of Trow’s favorite formulations in ‘My Pilgrim’s Progress’ is ‘You’ll have to trust me on that one,’ ” Gerald Marzorati wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1999. “Among the things you have to trust him on are just about everything having to do with his thesis.”

Mr. Trow also wrote several plays, among them “The Tennis Game,” “Prairie Avenue” and “Elizabeth Dead,” that were produced Off Off Broadway. He collaborated on the screenplays of two films, “Savages” (1972), directed by James Ivory; and “The Proprietor” (1996), directed by Ismail Merchant.

George William Swift Trow Jr. was born on Sept. 28, 1943, in Greenwich, Conn., to a prominent family; his father was a high-ranking editor at The New York Post. George Jr. attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1965.

An editor of The Harvard Lampoon in college, Mr. Trow was an early contributor to its offshoot, National Lampoon. In 1966, he joined The New Yorker, then under the stewardship of the esteemed editor William Shawn. There, Mr. Trow wrote Talk of the Town articles and also published his short fiction.

He left the magazine, incensed, in 1994. For Mr. Trow, the provocation must have seemed like his most dire cultural prophecy come true: Tina Brown, then the editor, had invited the comedian Roseanne Barr to edit a special issue about women.

In his note of resignation, Mr. Trow likened Ms. Brown to someone selling her soul “to get close to the Hapsburgs — 1913.”

Ms. Brown shot back, in a note of her own: “I am distraught at your defection, but since you never actually write anything, I should say I am notionally distraught.”

In the last half-dozen years, Mr. Trow’s nostalgia for a waning world grew into an enveloping despair, his friend Mr. Nugent said. Mr. Trow forsook his home in Germantown, N.Y., and roamed North America, from Texas to Alaska to Newfoundland, living a pared-down existence, never settling long in one place. After treatment in a psychiatric hospital, he expatriated himself to Italy.

Mr. Trow’s mother, Anne C. Trow, of Southbury, Conn., is his only immediate survivor.

“George was tireless at the oars in pulling toward what he thought was valuable,” Mr. Nugent said yesterday. “His world was that of Mr. Shawn and The New Yorker; of Diana Vreeland, who could be his companion at dinner. And the rest of the world was onto something new.”

German Left Party leaders pay tribute to deceased spy boss Markus Wolf

By Stefan Steinberg
1 December 2006

It came as no surprise that a high-ranking delegation of Russian officials jetted to Germany to attend the funeral earlier this month of Markus Wolf, the former spy chief of Stalinist East Germany, who died in his sleep on November 9 at the age of 83.

The Russian delegation was headed by Ambassador Vladimir Kotenev, who praised Wolf at the funeral service as a loyal friend of the Soviet Union. As former head of the KGB in the East German city of Dresden, the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was ideally placed to follow and appreciate the work carried out by his German colleague Wolf, who for 34 years had led the foreign intelligence section of the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry of State Security—MfS).

For much of the post-war period, Wolf played a key role, working directly under the head of the MfS (also called the Staatssicherheitsdienst, or Stasi), Erich Mielke, in building up and directing the massive police state apparatus that defended the interests of the East German Stalinist bureaucracy prior to the ignominious collapse of the regime in 1989.

Amongst the estimated 1,500 mourners at the Berlin central cemetery were many leading figures from the East German intelligence and political community. Mielke himself died in 2000 (see “Erich Mielke—the career of a German Stalinist”) but his long-time deputy Gerhard Neiber was in attendance, together with Fritz Strelitz, the deputy defence minister of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), as well as Wolf’s replacement as head of foreign intelligence, Werner Grossmann.

Prominent figures from the East German cultural bureaucracy also turned out, such as the former deputy culture minister Klaus Höpke and theatre director Manfred Wekwerth, the last president of the East German Academy of Art, who read out a long tribute to the spy.

Political representation at the funeral came almost exclusively from the ranks of the Left Party-PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism). The PDS is the successor party to the Stalinist ruling party of East Germany, the Socialist Unity Party (SED). The presence of prominent representatives of the PDS at the funeral refutes the attempts of this organization on various occasions over the past 17 years to claim that it had distanced itself from the legacy and methods of the East German Stalinist bureaucracy.

The attendance of such leading figures as PDS Chairman and Left Party deputy in the European parliament Lothar Bisky, who gave the main speech at Wolf’s grave, and honorary Left Party Chairman Hans Modrow (the last prime minister of the German Democratic Republic prior to German reunification), made clear that the Left Party leadership not only acknowledges its debt, but is prepared to parade its continuity with the repressive dictatorship headed by the SED and defended by the Stasi.

Over the past two years the Left Party-PDS has sought to expand its influence in West Germany through a fusion with the organisation Election Alternative—Labour and Social Justice (WASG), a group dominated by trade union bureaucrats, disillusioned social democrats and a number of petty-bourgeois radical organizations. The attendance at the Wolf funeral of WASG Chairman Klaus Ernst, alongside Bisky and Modrow, makes clear that this organisation has no problem paying tribute to a man who played a crucial role in creating one of the most repressive state police forces in the world.

Markus Wolf came from a cultivated Jewish family which was radicalised by the events in Germany in the first third of the twentieth century and turned to communism. His father, Friedrich Wolf (1888-1953), was a doctor whose experiences as a medical orderly in World War I drew him to the Communist Party. Friedrich Wolf also wrote theatrical works and played an active role in opposing repressive legislation, such as the Weimar Republic’s reactionary anti-abortion law. As a Jew and Communist, Friedrich Wolf was forced to flee Germany with his family following the Nazis’ rise to power.

Friedrich Wolf was representative of a broad layer of intellectuals and professionals in Germany who were won over to communism in the 1920s and were prepared to make great sacrifices in the struggle for socialism. However, the idealism and deeply-felt anti-fascist sentiments of such men and women were crudely abused and exploited by the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy, which had taken control of the Comintern after Trotsky’s expulsion from the Soviet Union and Stalin’s decimation of the ranks of the Left Opposition.

As part of the exile community in the Soviet Union, Friedrich Wolf’s eldest son, Markus, attended the Comintern Academy in Moscow, where as a youth he made his first fleeting contact with such figures as the first president of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Wilhelm Pieck, and SED Party Secretary Walter Ulbricht.

Following the dissolution of the Comintern by Stalin in 1943, Markus Wolf was instructed to find work as a radio journalist in Moscow. At the end of the war he was part of the delegation of German Communists who returned to Berlin to take over leadership in the Russian-occupied east of the country at the behest of the Stalinist leadership in Moscow.

Older figures such as the long-time German Communists Ulbricht and Pieck had been selected for their leading posts in the East German Stalinist bureaucracy based on their roles in the 1930s, when they participated in the systemic purging from the exiled German party in Moscow of “dissident elements”—i.e. Trotskyists and other socialist critics of the Stalin regime.

Marcus Wolf was still a youth in the 1930s and played no direct role in such purges, but the witch-hunt of oppositionists constituted the atmosphere within which he was educated. His rapid ascension in the ranks of the East German bureaucracy after the war made clear that he had learned the lessons from that period and enjoyed the trust of his Stalinist masters in Moscow.

Wolf arrived in Berlin on May 27, 1945, at the age of 22, and began work as a journalist. In this capacity he attended the Nuremberg Trials as an observer. The dissident from Stalinism, Wolfgang Leonard, describes a meeting with the young Markus Wolf in 1947. “Misha [Markus],” Leonard writes, “had an even more important function as controller responsible for the principal political broadcasts. He had particularly good relations with very senior Soviet circles, and he occupied a luxurious five-room apartment in . . . West Berlin.”

In 1947, Leonard had a leading position in the East German Stalinist Central Secretariat and was writing most of the party’s political manuals. At Wolf’s villa on Lake Glienicke, an hour from Berlin, Leonard discussed with Wolf his plans for a different emphasis in the party programme—in favour of a so-called “German road to socialism.” Leonard was promptly rebuffed by Wolf, who rejected Leonard’s proposal and declared that the party program had to be rewritten on this point. Wolf told Leonard: “There are higher authorities than your Central Secretariat.”

The incident makes clear that the Soviet authorities were convinced they had a trustworthy ally in Markus Wolf—someone who would defend their interests even against dissenting elements inside the East German Stalinist leadership. Wolf was to repay the trust of his Moscow masters with 34 years of loyal service.

Four years on, and acting on Soviet “advice,” Ulbricht made Wolf the secret intelligence chief. Two years later, in June 1953, workers took to the streets of Berlin and other East German cities in a popular uprising against the Stalinist bureaucracy. For a number of weeks the fate of the East German ruling clique hung in the balance, and the regime was rescued only through the intervention of Russian tanks to crush the rebellion. The bureaucracy reacted to the uprising with a wave of persecutions and a massive expansion of the Stasi secret police apparatus.

At this point Wolf’s foreign intelligence service was merged with the Staatssicherheitsdienst, with Wolf working as deputy to the first head of the Stasi, Ernst Wollweber. “Domestic security” and “secret foreign intelligence” were now two sides of the same coin—the “sword and shield” established to protect the party, repress any independent opposition on the part of the working class and perpetuate the party’s hold on power.

In 1957, Wollweber was replaced by his deputy, Erich Mielke, who went on to run the Stasi until the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic. At the same time Wolf’s department was renamed the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (General Reconnaissance Administration—GRA).

In the course of his career at the head of the GRA, Wolf built up a network of spies comprising 4,000 agents who were able to penetrate deeply into the ranks of various political parties in West Germany as well as international organisations such as NATO. Wolf’s greatest coup, which he also describes as his most significant setback, was the rise of his agent, Günter Guillaume, through the ranks of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) to become the top aide to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. The unmasking of Guillaume as an agent was the trigger that led to Brandt’s resignation in 1974.

Wolf regarded Brandt (who had played his own shameful role in the persecution of Trotskyists in the 1930s) as a potential ally who could enhance East Germany’s foreign policy influence through an extension of the SPD’s so-called “Ostpolitik.” Wolf and his masters in the SED Central Committee wanted to keep Brandt in power to further their own interests.

In his memoirs, Wolf writes that he had growing doubts about the course taken by the German Democratic Republic leadership in the 1970s, and his antipathy for his immediate boss, the crude policeman Erich Mielke, is well known. Despite any qualms about the official political leadership, Wolf remained at his post and retired only in the final years of the German Democratic Republic after more than three decades of service.

Wolf played no active role in the mass demonstrations of 1989 that heralded the collapse of the German Democratic Republic, but he was persuaded to speak to the massive crowd which gathered at the Berlin Alexanderplatz on November 4, 1989. Demonstrating his attachment to the police state apparatus he had so assiduously built up, Wolf used his speech to plea for leniency for Stasi officials. His remarks were booed by large sections of the crowd.

Following a brief exile in Moscow at the beginning of the 1990s, Wolf returned to Germany, where the authorities of the now reunified country tried and sentenced him in 1993 to 6 years in prison on charges of “treason.” The trial against Wolf was part of a concerted anti-communist campaign organised by leading political circles in West Germany to create the best conditions for the introduction of “western” values—i.e. capitalist market economy values—in the formerly Stalinist east. Wolf conducted a four-year appeal of the court decision, denouncing it as “victors’ justice.”

In a series of trials after German reunification, West German courts had attempted to use arbitrary interpretations of the law to prosecute prominent East German leaders for activities generally regarded as normal tasks of any state—such as the defence of borders. Wolf was able to point out that the ruthlessness that characterised his own methods had been matched by those employed by leading Western intelligence services.

The German authorities were hardly in a position to dispute this argument. For much of the post-war period their own intelligence services had been run by Reinhard Gehlen, who had been one of Hitler’s chief spies. Gehlen had built up his post-war intelligence network using former Nazi contacts and cronies, first in collaboration with the CIA and then in the service of the West German government in Bonn.

The more likely reason for the reduction of Wolf’s sentence to two years’ parole, however, is that he knew too much—i.e. embarrassing and incriminating facts about the activities of West German politicians in the post-war period. As a result, Wolf was able to stay out of prison.

Wolf was a cultivated man and a very different political animal than the Prussian police thug Mielke. His activities against the West German state in the post-war period were based on a profound understanding of the continuity between post-war German democracy and the relics of the Nazi state. He was fond of quoting literary figures and in his memoirs cites the German playwright Bertold Brecht’s play “The Measures Taken” to justify his activities in the German Democratic Republic: “And what baseness would you not commit...?” This, Wolf declares, is “the motto for every aspect of secret intelligence work, which one can typically describe as disinformation.”

In the name of the struggle for socialism and the fight against fascism, the East German Stalinists, including Wolf, created a police state machine, the primary task of which was the suppression of any opposition to the ruling clique. While the exploits of Wolf’s agents such as Guillaume made the headlines, the GRA under Wolf assisted in disrupting and sabotaging genuine socialist opposition in West Germany to the Stalinist bureaucracy.

His department was an essential component of one of the most repressive state apparatuses in modern history. At the time of the collapse of the Stalinist state in 1989, the Stasi employed an estimated 91,000 full-time employees and 300,000 informants. This amounts to approximately one in fifty East Germans employed to inform and spy on their fellow citizens.

The fact that leading members of the Left Party and the WASG are prepared to doff their hats and pay tribute to such a man must be taken as a warning that they would be prepared to take up Wolf’s heritage and adopt similar measures to crush any independent social movement or initiative on the part of the working class.

Ark. Begins Faith - Based Inmate Program

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- Arkansas correction officials are dedicating a Bible-based program for female prisoners, but a national group said it's a risky move while a similar system is being challenged in federal court.

Forty-nine women have enrolled in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative at the Wrightsville prison, which officials will dedicate Friday.

Under the program, inmates live in a separate unit and attend classes on subjects including computer skills and anger management. They also participate in religious devotionals.

After being released from prison, participants receive guidance from a mentor and a local religious group for at least six months.

The program, operated by Prison Fellowship Ministries, was dedicated for the Tucker Unit in June and 99 men are participating in the program. Mark Earley, the program's president and chief executive officer, says the women's program has a capacity for 50 prisoners and the men's unit can take 120.

The dedication comes as Prison Fellowship Ministries appeals a federal judge's order to cease its program at the Newton Correctional Facility in Iowa and repay the state $1.53 million. The Ministries also operate programs in Kansas, Minnesota and Texas.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State challenged the Iowa program, saying it violated the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause by using state funds to promote Christianity.

Earley said Arkansas' program could not be challenged in the same way because no taxpayer dollars are going toward the program.

''The issue in the Iowa case was the partial contribution by the state,'' Earley said. ''All of the new programs are totally funded by private funds.''

Ayesha Khan, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said states should wait and see what happens with the appeal before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before expanding or entering into the program. The appeals panel's decisions establish case law in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

''It's legally risky for them to start walking down this path at this stage,'' Khan said.

Dina Tyler, a spokesman for the state Department of Correction, said the only state money going toward the program is for housing and feeding the inmates. Tyler said participation in the program is voluntary.

''Your religion is not a factor in participation,'' Tyler said.

Earley, however, said participation in Bible study is a mandatory part of the program, which he described as ''Christ-centered.''

Economic Storm Signals


“It’s tough to make predictions,” Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, “especially about the future.” Actually, his remark makes perfect sense to economists, who sometimes have trouble making predictions about the present. And this is one of those times ... economists’ assessments of the current state of the U.S. economy, never mind the future, are all over the place.

And here’s the bad news: this kind of confusion about what’s going on is what typically happens when the economy is at a turning point... At turning points, the various indicators ... often point in different directions, so that both optimists and pessimists can find data to support their position.

The last time things were this confused was early in 2001, when most economists failed to realize that the United States was sliding into recession. If that sounds ominous, it should: the bond market, which has a pretty good record of forecasting recessions, is pointing toward a serious economic slowdown next year.

Before I explain what the bond market is telling us, let’s talk about why the economy may be at a turning point. Between mid-2003 and mid-2006, economic growth in the United States was fueled mainly by a huge housing boom... That housing boom has now gone bust. But the optimists and pessimists disagree both about how bad the bust will get and about how much damage the housing slump will do to the economy...

Most, though not all, of the ... economic numbers that came out this week were ... substantially weaker than expected. Pessimists feel vindicated by the downbeat data. Nouriel Roubini..., who has been forecasting a housing-led recession for some time, ... predicts zero growth for the current quarter. Economists at Deutsche Bank say the same thing.

But that’s still a minority position; most forecasters are still telling us not to worry. So whom should you listen to? And how can you avoid believing what you want to believe?

Maybe the best answer is to look at what the financial markets say. Not the stock market, which is a notoriously bad indicator of the economy’s direction, but the bond market. (Paul Samuelson, the Nobel Prize-winning ... economist, famously quipped that the stock market had predicted nine of the last five recessions).

Since last summer, when the housing bust became unmistakable, interest rates on long-term bonds have fallen sharply. They’re now yielding much less than short-term bonds. The fact that investors are willing to buy those long-term bonds anyway tells us that these investors expect interest rates to fall. And that will happen only if the economy weakens, forcing the Federal Reserve to cut rates. So bond buyers are, in effect, betting on a future economic slowdown.

How serious a slump is the bond market predicting? Pretty serious. Right now, statistical models ... give roughly even odds that we’re about to experience a formal recession. And since even a slowdown that doesn’t formally qualify as a recession can lead to a sharp rise in unemployment, the odds are very good — maybe 2 to 1 — that 2007 will be a very tough year.

Luckily, we’ve got good leadership for the coming economic storm: the White House is occupied by a man who’s ideologically flexible, listens to a wide variety of views, and understands that policy has to be based on careful analysis, not gut instincts. Oh, wait.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


“The Confederates have attacked Gettysburg…!”

“Yeah but…Is it a Civil War yet…?”

Conservatives attack animated penguin movie as global-warming propaganda

Cultural conservatives, led by CNN's Glenn Beck, Fox News' Neil Cavuto, and syndicated talk-show host Michael Medved, have all criticized Happy Feet, the new Warner Bros. animated movie about Mumble, the tap-dancing penguin, because they say the movie is laced with liberal overtones and tries to "indoctrinate" children. Specifically, conservatives claim the movie is pushing a global-warming agenda. Yet the film makes no references to global warming.

Instead, the movie's conservationist subplot revolves around Mumble's attempt to combat man-made pollution and overfishing in his quest to help his fellow penguins. The blockbuster movie, which has already earned more than $100 million in U.S. ticket sales, is silent regarding the issue of global warming.

Nonetheless, Cavuto and Beck, who referred to the film as "propaganda," both complained that the movie amounts to "an animated version of An Inconvenient Truth," a reference to former Vice President Al Gore's critically acclaimed documentary about the threats posed by global warming. Cavuto said that while viewing Happy Feet, he "half-expected to see an animated version of Al Gore pop up." Cavuto also stated that he found the movie "offensive" and asked whether it pushed "a far-left message."

Medved, who is also a professional film critic, complained in a November 17 entry on his weblog that "the propagandistic theme suggests that the biggest menace for the lovable penguins is the human race -- stealing the fish on which the birds depend, or ruining planet earth through pollution and global warming." [Emphasis added.]

None of the commentators supplied any examples from the movie to support their allegation that Happy Feet pushes a liberal, global-warming agenda. In fact, no scenes from the movie mention the issue. Happy Feet is void of any global-warming references, there are no obvious allusions to it, and global warming is not one of the movie's themes. Global warming plays no part in the film.


COMMENT: CNN's Glenn Beck, Fox News' Neil Cavuto, and syndicated talk-show host Michael Medved…Squares from Squaresville, every one of them.

Besides being utter imbeciles, that is…

BTW--If it’s not Murphy Brown then it’s Happy Feet…Does anyone still believe the rightwing reactionary Republicans are dealing with reality…?

Turning on the Puppet

New York Times
November 29, 2006

The pictures show a handsome blond kid. Nick Rapavi’s family and friends described him as a tough guy with a selfless streak. He’d wanted to be a marine since high school, and his dress uniform had a parade of medals for heroism in Afghanistan and Iraq, including a Purple Heart. He was on his third overseas deployment, and planned to go to college when he finished this stint in the spring.

The 22-year-old corporal, the oldest son of a dentist, grew up in Northern Virginia in the shadow of the Pentagon. The kid described as being “full of life” died Friday in Anbar Province, the heartless heart of darkness in western Iraq, the hole-in-the-desert stronghold of the Sunni insurgency and Al Qaeda fighters.

His mother told The Washington Post that her son’s squad had approached a gate on patrol, and Nick told his men to “stay back while he went through.” He was shot in the neck by a spectral enemy that melted away, one of 2,874 brave Americans to die fighting in Iraq.

In Latvia, President Bush vowed yesterday that “I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.” But his words about Iraq long ago lost their meaning. Especially the words “mission” and “complete.”

At least in Anbar, the Pentagon may be about to pull troops off the battlefield. In another article yesterday, The Post, reporting on a classified Marine Corps intelligence report, said that “the U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter Al Qaeda’s rising popularity there.”

The Post went on: “The report describes Iraq’s Sunni minority as ‘embroiled in a daily fight for survival,’ fearful of ‘pogroms’ by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on Al Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital.”

ABC Nightly News went even further last night, reporting that the Pentagon is “writing off” Anbar and will send the 30,000 marines stationed there to Baghdad. “If we are not going to do a better job doing what we are doing out there,” a military official told Jonathan Karl, “what’s the point of having them out there?”

President Bush is still playing games, trying to link the need to stay in Iraq with Al Qaeda. “No question it’s tough,” Mr. Bush said at a news conference. “There’s a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented, in my opinion, because of the attacks by Al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal.”

Never mind that W. dropped the ball on Osama, and that his own commanders have estimated that Al Qaeda forces represent only a fraction of the foe in Iraq. Al Qaeda wasn’t even in Iraq until the Bush invasion.

The administration still won’t admit the obvious, that our soldiers are stuck in the middle of a civil war and that it’s going to take more than Dick Cheney powwowing with the Saudis to get us out of it. Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, gingerly talks of “a new phase” in the conflict.

But reality does break through at moments. As Mr. Bush and Mr. Hadley head to Jordan to try to tell Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki not to go all wobbly, a stunning secret memo from Mr. Hadley has surfaced, expressing severe skepticism about whether our latest puppet can cut it.

Michael Gordon reveals in today’s Times that in a classified assessment, Mr. Hadley wrote that the Iraqi leader, who is getting pushed around by Moktada al-Sadr, was having trouble figuring out how to be strong.

“The memo suggests that if Mr. Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps,” he writes, “it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing ‘monetary support to moderate groups,’ and by sending thousands of additional American troops into Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is current shortage of Iraqi forces.”

Just what the election said Americans want: More kids at risk in Baghdad. (W.’s kids, of course, are running their own risks, partying their way through Argentina.)

Mr. Hadley bluntly mused about Mr. Malaki: “His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shi’a hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

It’s bad enough to say that about the Iraqi puppet. But what about when the same is true of the American president?

Ten Months or Ten Years

New York Times
November 29, 2006

Here is the central truth about Iraq today: This country is so broken it can’t even have a proper civil war.

There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons — religion, crime, politics — that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable. It was possible to settle Bosnia’s civil war by turning the country into a loose federation, because the main parties to that conflict were reasonably coherent, with leaders who could cut a deal and deliver their faction.

But Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.

Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch.

Anyone who tells you that we can just train a few more Iraqi troops and police officers and then slip out in two or three years is either lying or a fool. The minute we would leave, Iraq would collapse. There is nothing we can do by the end of the Bush presidency that would produce a self-sustaining stable Iraq — and “self-sustaining” is the key metric.

In his must-read new book about the impact of culture on politics and economic development, “The Central Liberal Truth,” Lawrence Harrison notes that some cultures are “progress-prone” and others are “progress- resistant.” In the Arab-Muslim world today the progress-resistant cultural forces seem to be just too strong, especially in Iraq, which is why it is so hard to establish durable democratic institutions in that soil, he says.

“Some may hark back to our successful imposition of democracy on West Germany and Japan after World War II,” adds Mr. Harrison. “But the people on whom democracy was imposed in those two countries were highly literate and entrepreneurial members of unified, institutionalized societies with strong traditions of association — what we refer to today as ‘social capital.’ Iraq was social capital-poor to start with and it now verges on bankruptcy.”

On Feb. 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my “pottery store” rule for Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell’s advice.)

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.

That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today. The Sunni Muslim world should hang its head in shame for the barbarism it has tolerated and tacitly supported by the Sunnis of Iraq, whose violence, from the start, has had only one goal: America must fail in its effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region. America must fail — no matter how many Iraqis have to be killed, America must fail.

This has left us with two impossible choices. If we’re not ready to do what is necessary to crush the dark forces in Iraq and properly rebuild it, then we need to leave — because to just keep stumbling along as we have been makes no sense. It will only mean throwing more good lives after good lives into a deeper and deeper hole filled with more and more broken pieces.

Nicaraguan election: Ortega’s victory and the dead-end of Sandinismo

By Rafael Azul and Patrick Martin
30 November 2006

Daniel Ortega, the long-time head of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) of Nicaragua, won the country’s presidency in a general election November 5. Ortega received 38 percent of the total vote, about nine percent more than his nearest opponent, the US-backed conservative Eduardo Montealegre of the National Liberal Alliance (ALN), who received 29 percent.

A second right-wing candidate, José Rizo of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), took 26 percent of the vote, while Edmundo Jarquin of the Sandinista Renovation Movement, a split-off from the FSLN, received 6 percent, and the Sandinista-turned-contra, Eden Pastora, polled less than 1 percent. The 90-member unicameral legislature will be divided roughly along the same proportions as the presidential vote, with the result that no party will have a majority.

Ortega won despite receiving one of the lowest totals in his five campaigns for the Nicaraguan presidency. The Sandinista leader won by an overwhelming margin in 1984, five years after the FSLN took power with the armed overthrow of the right-wing Somoza dictatorship. Ortega lost in 1990 to Violeta de Chamorro, receiving 42 percent of the vote in the election, held under heavy US economic and military pressure, which ended Sandinista rule. Ortega had slightly lower totals in subsequent election defeats, losing to right-wing candidate Arnoldo Alemán in 1996 and the current conservative president Ernesto Bolaños in 2001.

The FSLN has moved steadily to the right during the 16 years since it gave up the presidency. The Sandinistas have never been entirely excluded from power, retaining influence in the armed forces and controlling a large minority of seats in the legislature, as well as accumulating sizeable property holdings in the hands of top Sandinista leaders such as Ortega.

For the last seven years, Nicaraguan politics has been dominated by a coalition of Ortega’s followers and those of former president Alemán, who reached an agreement with the Sandinistas in 1999, dubbed “El Pacto,” under which Alemán and Ortega received permanent seats in the legislature, giving each lifetime immunity from prosecution on corruption charges.

A constitutional amendment adopted as part of the agreement between the PLC and the FSLN lowered the threshold for victory in the presidential election from 45 percent to 35 percent, provided the winning candidate had at least a five percent margin over the nearest rival. These criteria were tailored to Ortega’s proven electoral base and made possible his victory November 5.

“El Pacto” ultimately led to a split in the right-wing camp, with Alemán’s supporters retaining control of the PLC apparatus and nominating Rizo, while a breakaway faction, opposed to continuing the deal with the Sandinistas, put forward Montealegre as its presidential candidate, with the open backing of the Bush administration.

The 2006 campaign marked an even sharper swing to the right on the part of Ortega and the FSLN. Going beyond the alliance with the Alemán camp, Ortega reached agreement with elements of the former contras, the guerrilla force armed and trained by the CIA to launch terrorist attacks on Nicaraguan towns and villages during the 1980s.

One former contra, Jaime Morales Carazo, is Ortega’s running mate and will take office as vice president. If anything happens to the 60-year-old Ortega, his successor will be the former chief public spokesman of the contras (and a man whose confiscated family home Ortega currently occupies). Carazo is a close associate of former president Alemán and godfather to his children.

Another former right-wing guerilla, Salvador Talavera, formed the Nicaraguan Resistance Party to voice the grievances of ex-contra soldiers, many of them poor peasants and Miskito Indians, who have not received the land grants they were promised in return for their services to the US-backed insurgency. In September, Talavera, known as “Little Jackal” during the contra war, signed a “peace pact” with the Sandinistas, eventually appearing in campaign commercials for Ortega which flooded the airways during the final weeks before the vote.

FSLN woos Church, big business

As part of his embrace of the right, Ortega has made his peace with the two most powerful bastions of social reaction in Nicaragua: the Catholic Church and the business establishment.

In 2005, Ortega made a public obeisance before the Catholic hierarchy, marrying his long-time companion Rosario Murillo in a church wedding presided over by the primate of the Nicaraguan church, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. He also publicly “confessed” to Obando y Bravo for the alleged sins of the Sandinista regime in the 1980s, with the result that the cardinal made television appearances during the election campaign suggesting that Catholics could in good conscience vote for Ortega.

The rapprochement with the Church reached its low point last month, when Sandinista deputies, the largest faction in the legislature, voted without opposition for a vicious anti-abortion law, the strictest in the hemisphere, which provides sentences of six to 30 years in prison for women who receive abortions and the doctors who perform them.

There are no exceptions in the law for rape, incest or the health or even life of the mother. The existing laws are already so restrictive that only 24 legal abortions have been performed in Nicaragua over the past three years, compared to an estimated 32,000 illegal procedures.

Ortega’s return to the presidency has thus been purchased at a grisly price that is already being paid by Nicaraguan women. The first recorded death under the new law came within days of the presidential vote, when 18-year-old Jazmina Bojorge died of complications of a pregnancy that she was seeking unsuccessfully to terminate for health reasons. The five-month-old fetus also died.

In relation to big business, Ortega and the FSLN have long sought a good relationship. The FSLN, despite its radical rhetoric, was always a bourgeois-nationalist movement that advocated the development of a Nicaraguan capitalist economy less subservient to US imperialism, not the replacement of capitalism by socialism.

During the presidential campaign, Ortega was at pains to reassure both domestic Nicaraguan capitalists and foreign investors that their property would be secure under a new Sandinista government. On September 29, he met with more than 100 American investors and real estate developers and pledged to them, “Confiscations are not even being considered.” Later he signed a “governability pact” drafted by the Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce in which he promised to respect “free” markets and property rights if elected.

Two days after his election victory, Ortega met with former US president Jimmy Carter, who headed a massive election monitoring operation, and gave him assurances that the new government would respect property rights, “free enterprise” and the free trade agreement with the United States. The New York Times reported, “Business leaders said they were confident Mr. Ortega would not roll back the free-market reforms in the Nicaraguan government since 1990,” which includes the privatization of more than 360 state-owned businesses.

Ortega has also indicated that he will reappoint members of outgoing President Bolaños’ pro-market economic team. On November 16, he declared his “absolute agreement” with stringent conditions being imposed by the International Monetary Fund for a new loan. Those conditions are designed to place constraints on government spending and taxation, severely limiting the government’s ability to redistribute income and spend money on social programs and infrastructure.

Satisfied by Ortega’s statement, IMF officials announced that a negotiating team was being sent to Managua. The IMF, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and the World Bank have pledged to help the future government with $200 million in loans and aid.

The response of Washington

The return of the FSLN leader to the presidential palace has produced predictable gnashing of teeth in the Bush administration and the US ultra-right. Many of the top personnel in the US national security apparatus first came to prominence during the Reagan administration campaign to destroy the Sandinista regime in the 1980s.

Robert Gates, Bush’s nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, was deputy director of the CIA in the 1980s and deeply involved in the illegal war against Nicaragua. John Negroponte, now director of national intelligence, was then US Ambassador to Honduras, the neighboring country where the contra army was trained, armed and largely based. Elliott Abrams, currently Middle East director for the National Security Council, was the State Department official directly responsible for the contras. In the Iran-Contra scandal of the late 1980s, he pled guilty to perjury before a congressional committee and was later pardoned by the first president Bush.

The fall election campaign produced a virtual reunion in Managua of fascistic American sponsors of the contras, all warning in apocalyptic tones that Ortega’s election would transform Nicaragua into a base of international terrorism, just as they portrayed the Sandinista regime of the 1980s as an agency of “international communism.”

Oliver North, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel who became the public face of the Iran-Contra scandal, appeared in Managua, followed by Jeane Kirkpatrick, former ambassador to the United Nations in the Reagan administration. They could not agree on an alternative candidate however, with North supporting Rizo and Kirkpatrick backing Montealegre.

Other US visitors on the anti-Ortega bandwagon included Otto Reich, a former State Department sponsor of the contras and head of Latin American policy in the first years of the current Bush administration, outgoing Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the US president’s brother, and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Tom Shannon.

Erstwhile congressional sponsors of the contras also weighed in. Republican congressmen Dana Rohrabacher, Tom Tancredo and Dan Burton called for the US government to consider shutting off the flow of remittances from Nicaraguan immigrants living in the United States, who send an estimated $850 million a year back to their families in Nicaragua. “If Daniel Ortega, who has declared himself as an enemy of the United States, takes back control of Nicaragua, you can expect the US government to respond accordingly,” they declared in a joint statement. “We will not permit a hostile, anti-American government to reap the same economic benefits” as a pro-US regime.

Congressman Peter Hoekstra, outgoing chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, addressed a public letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling for the Bush administration to “fully re-evaluate relations with Nicaragua” in the event of an Ortega victory. US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez warned that more than $220 million in aid and even more in capital investments were at risk.

The election itself took on the aspect of a US-controlled exercise, with the Bush administration pouring in funds and manpower in an all-out effort to deny victory to Ortega and the FSLN. The US Agency for International Development, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and the International Foundation for Election Systems spent a total of $15 million to train tens of thousands of election observers and poll officials—nearly as much as the estimated $17 million spent by all the presidential candidates and their parties.

An even more ominous tone was set by the announcement that the US Army Southern Command would send 2,000 reservists to the Nicaraguan department of Carazo, allegedly on a humanitarian exercise “to build schools and clinics and provide medical services.” The US troops will be in Nicaragua from January 1 to May 15, coinciding with the initial months of the new presidency.

It was notable, however, that local US businessmen expressed far less concern than Washington about the dangers of an Ortega administration. A letter to its members from the Nicaragua Association of Investors and Developers, reported by the Los Angeles Times, said: “Mr. Ortega stated that he is fully committed to promoting foreign investment and tourism, realizing that it was the future of the country’s economic growth. We believe he is serious.” The American developer of the first Marriott beach resort in Nicaragua, Mike Cobb, president of Gran Pacifica development, said he plans to “move ahead with all due speed” and “stick to the path we have established.”

The leading ally of the Bush administration in the region, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, congratulated Ortega and offered to act as go-between in negotiations with international lending agencies. After more than a week of relative silence, US Ambassador Paul Trivelli announced November 16 that the Bush administration would recognize the election result and work with Ortega. Trivelli had publicly supported Montealegre during the campaign.

A balance sheet of Sandinismo

The integration of Ortega and his clique into the Nicaraguan elite and their efforts to effect a rapprochement with American imperialism confirm the analysis of the class nature of the Sandinistas made by the world Trotskyist movement after the FSLN came to power in 1979. The FSLN publicly embraced Castroism and the struggle against US imperialism and even paid lip service to socialism. It was, however, never a working class or socialist political party, but rather a bourgeois-nationalist movement seeking to use support from Cuba and the Soviet Union to provide it with room to maneuver in a region dominated by Yankee imperialism.

The US government under President Reagan responded to the Sandinista regime by financing a CIA-organized proxy force, the contras, which conducted a decade-long war of sabotage and terror against the people of Nicaragua, in which more than 50,000 died. The conflict dragged on until the crisis of the Stalinist regime in the USSR put an end to Soviet support for the Sandinistas, and Ortega and his associates agreed to a deal with Washington that led to their 1990 election defeat.

The last 16 years have seen the rapid liquidation of the limited social gains in education and medical care made under the Sandinistas in the 1980s. One million school-aged children do not attend school, and the rate of literacy has dropped from nearly 90 percent in 1990 to only 67.5 percent today. Only 29 percent of children complete elementary school. More than half the population has no access to basic medical services.

Both the FSLN and its conservative political opponents have embraced “free market” policies. But contrary to the claims that Nicaragua would revive economically on the basis of free trade, a massive disinvestment took place. Capital flowed freely out of the country, which became dependent on loans from international financial institutions.

This period has been one of economic disaster for the vast majority of Nicaraguans, and a vast bonanza for the wealthy: the top 10 percent of the population receives 45 percent of the nation’s income. Officially, 22 percent of the labor force is unemployed and another 40 percent is underemployed; annual growth rates of 1.4 percent guarantee increasing unemployment. Hunger is endemic; more than 20 percent of the population faces malnutrition, and nearly a million live at the very edge of starvation.

Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in Latin America, after Haiti, with a poverty rate of 45 percent. On average, the price-adjusted per-capita income adds up to a paltry $790 per year, with a distribution so skewed that 80 percent of the population earns less than two dollars per day. An increasing number of Nicaraguan workers emigrate to Costa Rica and the United States to find jobs.

Child labor is rampant, with an estimated 167,000 children forced to work every day. Maternal mortality stands at 150 deaths per 100,000 live births. (The figure is twice as high on the impoverished Atlantic Coast). There are tens of thousands of land mines left over from the CIA contra war, which continue to maim children and adolescents.

The social infrastructure is disintegrating. Only two main roads are usable; the country’s railroad was dismantled in 1990; Nicaragua no longer has a fishing fleet and its ports are in such disrepair that its exports and imports flow through Honduran and Costa Rican ports. Failed “free market” policies have made basic services such as electricity and clean water unavailable for hundreds of thousands. At the same time, rising fuel prices have raised the cost of public transportation.

Throughout this period, the Sandinista Party has held seats in the National Assembly and was party to the introduction of “free market” reforms. While the people suffered, the Nicaraguan elite, including Ortega and other FSLN leaders, enriched themselves on the basis of the pro-market policies and a wave of corruption that swept the country, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which killed thousands in Nicaragua in 1998.

Ortega’s response to the deepening social calamity is to embrace policies that will remove remaining barriers to investment and insure that Nicaragua remains a low-wage platform for transnational corporations, expanding the so-called free trade zones that now employ tens of thousands of Nicaraguans in slave-like conditions for hunger wages.

The Sandinista leader will assume the presidency under conditions in which Nicaragua and Central America are fast approaching a social breaking point. In the last year, Nicaraguan workers have repeatedly repudiated the FSLN and PLC’s pro-business policies. This year alone has seen strikes by thousands of transport workers, teachers and public health workers against government austerity policies and the collapse of basic living standards. Free trade zone workers are increasingly demanding collective bargaining rights and decent conditions. They have been joined by strikes and protests on the part of agricultural workers and the unemployed.

In response to this mounting crisis, Ortega has been placed in charge by the very oligarchy that was once his enemy, alongside a contra vice president. The FSLN, a movement that began as a guerrilla army claiming to represent the poor and the oppressed against the Somoza dictatorship, is entrusted with safeguarding Nicaraguan capitalism, fully committed to the defense of profits for big business and the repression of the working class and poor.

In the American media, Ortega’s return to power in Nicaragua will be categorized as part of the broader shift to the left in Latin America, which has seen social democrats, former anti-American guerrillas or trade union leaders like Lula in Brazil come to power in most countries. Ortega’s presidential campaign reportedly received direct financial subsidies from Venezuela, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has promised cheap oil supplies in the event of renewed US pressure against Nicaragua.

In the final analysis, however, the emergence of these regimes represents not the coming to power of popular or working class forces, but the last line of defense for the Latin American capitalist class and its imperialist patrons in Washington.

The strategic problem facing the working class of Latin America, as in all the backward and oppressed countries, remains that elaborated by Leon Trotsky in his theory of Permanent Revolution: the construction of revolutionary parties that will establish the political independence of the working class from the national bourgeoisie and unite the oppressed in the “third world” with the working class in the advanced countries in a common struggle for socialism.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Cowards Turned Out to Be Right

The New York Times
November 28, 2006

For several years, the White House and its Dobermans helpfully pointed out the real enemy in Iraq: those lazy, wimpish foreign correspondents who were so foolish and unpatriotic that they reported that we faced grave difficulties in Iraq.

To Paul Wolfowitz, the essential problem was that journalists were cowards. “Part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors,” Mr. Wolfowitz said in 2004. He later added, “The story isn’t being described accurately.”

Don Rumsfeld agreed but suggested that the problem was treason: “Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn’t as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.”

As for Dick Cheney, he saw the flaw in journalists as indolence. “The press is, with all due respect — there are exceptions — oftentimes lazy, often simply reports what someone else in the press says without doing their homework.”

Mr. Cheney and the others might have better spent their time reading the coverage of Iraq rather than insulting it, because in retrospect those brave reporters based in Baghdad got the downward spiral right.

“Many correspondents feel a sense of vindication that the administration finally accepts what we were screaming two years ago,” notes Farnaz Fassihi, who provided excellent Iraq coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Now Ms. Fassihi wonders how long it will take for the administration to acknowledge the reality of 2006 that Iraq correspondents are writing about: the incipient civil war.

Dexter Filkins, who covered Iraq brilliantly for this newspaper until his departure this summer to take up a fellowship at Harvard, says he was constantly accused of reporting only the bad news, of being unpatriotic, and of getting Americans killed.

“I don’t think it ever affected our reporting,” he said. “But I did find it demoralizing, the idea that the truth — the reality on the ground that we were seeing every day — did not matter, that these overfed people sitting in TV studios and in their living rooms could just turn up the volume on what they wanted to be happening in Iraq and that that could overwhelm the reality.”

Mr. Filkins added: “I have almost been killed in Iraq 20 or 30 times — really almost killed. “I’ve lost count. Do these people really believe that we were all risking our lives for some political agenda?”

Richard Engel of NBC says he was taken aback when pundits accused him of standing on a balcony in the Green Zone and simply feeding the world bad news. “Like most journalists in Iraq, I have never lived in the Green Zone,” he notes, adding: “To imply from afar we were just lazy was missing the point, and also dangerous. I know several reporters who were so incensed by similar criticism, they took extra risks.”

While it’s the right that led those toxic attacks, the left is also vulnerable to letting ideology trump empiricism. Mr. Filkins notes that while he used to get nasty letters and e-mail primarily from conservatives, much of the fire more recently has come from liberals accusing him of covering up atrocities — all of it from people whose ideological certitude is proportional to their distance from Baghdad.

As we try to extricate ourselves from Iraq, a basic lesson for the administration is that it should deal with bad news in ways more creative than clobbering the messenger. From the beginning of the war, the Pentagon has had an incredibly sophisticated news operation (now including its own news channel, carried on some cable networks), but it has often seemed more concerned with disseminating propaganda than with gathering facts.

Take the Defense Department’s Early Bird news clipping service, which traditionally had been a dispassionate collection of outside articles to keep senior military officers informed. Lately it has been leading with in-house spin. The Early Bird of Nov. 20, for example, began with three separate unpublished letters to the editor by Pentagon officials before getting to the news from around the world.

So how about if the administration devotes itself less to managing the news and more to trying to manage Iraq?

Monday, November 27, 2006


Intel Post Fuels New Dem Fight In Congress

Pundits Slam Pelosi, Jewish Support Tepid for Rival Harman

Jennifer Siegel | Fri. Nov 24, 2006
The Jewish Daily Forward

A California lawmaker’s campaign to become chair of a key congressional committee over the objections of House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi is dividing Jewish lawmakers and failing to attract public support from Jewish groups.

For months, speculation has bubbled in Washington over Pelosi’s alleged desire to keep the reins of the House Intelligence Committee out of the hands of fellow California Rep. Jane Harman and instead elevate Rep. Alcee Hastings, a South Florida lawmaker who was previously removed from his federal judgeship because of influence peddling. But the fight has taken center stage in recent days, since the Democratic congressional caucus rejected Pelosi’s candidate for majority leader, Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, another lawmaker whose reputation has been tainted by ethics allegations.

Harman — a centrist panned by liberal critics as insufficiently tough on the Bush administration — appears to be winning the media battle. Several prominent pundits, including Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, have accused Pelosi of allowing a petty personal feud to cloud her political and policy judgment.

In the corridors of Congress, however, Hastings has attracted the public backing of the Congressional Black Caucus and Florida’s House delegation, including two Jewish members. Harman is Jewish, but that has no helped her with Jewish members.

“I’m just a Hastings person,” said Rep. Robert Wexler, who recently joined fellow Florida Democrats in signing a letter in support of Hastings. If the decision is “based on qualifications, Alcee wins, hands down… and with respect to impeachment and so forth, first of all, number one, Alcee was acquitted in a court of law, and we really should not be second-guessing an acquittal in a court of law.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, another Jewish legislator, also signed the letter. The South Florida districts of Wasserman Schultz and Hastings abut each other and are two of the most heavily Jewish in the nation. Hastings, first elected to the House in 1992, is known as one of Israel’s strongest advocates in Congress, as is Harman.

In contrast to Hastings, Harman has failed to secure the public support of many erstwhile allies. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who was backed by Harman and opposed by Pelosi in his successful bid to become majority leader, subsequently told ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” that he was deferring to the newly elected House speaker on the intelligence committee fight.

Both Harman and Hoyer belong to the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, which gained at least nine members in the last election and was seen as successfully flexing its muscles during the majority leader tussle. But only 18 members, about half of the coalition’s current total, signed a November 15 letter to Pelosi urging her to make Harman the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Even Harman’s public supporters are loath to openly challenge Pelosi over the appointment.

“This is going to be the speaker’s decision,” said New York Rep. Steve Israel, a fellow Blue Dog who signed the group’s letter of support. “She has the right to make selections for chair — that’s her prerogative, so I’m going to defer to her prerogative, but I also have the right to co-sign letters putting forth recommendations, and that’s what I’ve done.”

Two other Jewish lawmakers — Rep. Eliot Engel of New York and Rep. Brad Sherman of California — praised Harman’s performance on the intelligence committee but also demurred to Pelosi over the leadership decision.

Rep. Sherman “abides by, and is in support of, House rules, which leave the decision of House Intel chair to the speaker. It’s Pelosi’s decision,” the lawmaker’s spokesman, Michael Briggs, told the Forward. “That being said, he has voiced to Speaker Pelosi his personal opinion, which is that ‘Harman has done a spectacular job.’”

Hastings’s backers — most notably his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus — have backed him unequivocally. Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina, the CBC’s chairman, recently said that the 40 plus members of the coalition would not consider a “compromise” candidate, who is rumored to be Silvestre Reyes, a Hispanic lawmaker from Texas.

“There’s no reason for us to have that discussion or even consider that, when we are fully supportive of Alcee Hastings and believe that he should be appointed,” Watt told the Congressional Quarterly, a Washington newspaper, last week.

While Hastings enjoys the support of his fellow Florida Democratic lawmakers, several of Harman’s fellow Jewish lawmakers from California have failed to back her publicly or even hinted that they may support Hastings.

Rep. Adam Schiff, who like Harman hails from southern California and belongs to the Blue Dog Coalition, declined to sign the centrist group’s letter backing her. A representative for Schiff contacted by the Forward declined to comment.

In June, Rep. Henry Waxman — a Southern California kingmaker who has served in the House since 1974 and is one of its most liberal members — told the Forward that Hastings was “a fine man” who “would do an excellent job” as the committee’s ranking Democrat. He suggested that it is Harman’s time to step down.

“She’s trying to stay on, and I know she’s called a lot of people to generate news articles and a lot of pressure on Ms. Pelosi,” said Waxman, who represents a district adjacent to Harman’s on the heavily Jewish west side of Los Angeles. He added, “The Democratic rules have been that the head of that panel is rotated off after a certain period of time… [and] the idea behind it was that we didn’t want members serving on the intelligence committee permanently; we wanted to give other members a chance to serve on it.”

Allies of Pelosi have cited the unique term-limits governing the intelligence committee as a rationale for rotating Harman off the panel, even as the incoming House speaker and other Democratic leaders have pledged to implement the recommendations of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission. The commission called for the repeal of term limits, arguing that it would improve congressional oversight of intelligence agencies.

Pelosi’s office, however, said she would not be wedded to maintaining senior members on the committee.

“These recommendations were included by the commission, but left open to the Congress for consideration,” wrote Pelosi’s spokesperson Drew Hammill in an email to the Forward. He added, “Speaker-Designate Pelosi has extensive experience with the Intelligence Committee having served there for 14 years…. [and] experience will be just one of many qualifications” she “will take into account when making her decision.”

Outside the halls of Congress, African American organizations have openly backed Hastings, while Jewish groups have stayed predominantly neutral. The Black Leadership Forum, an umbrella group that includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League and other organizations, supported Hastings in a November 9 letter to Pelosi.

In late October, Time magazine posted an article on its Web site alleging that the FBI was investigating allegations that Harman and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had entered into an illegal deal to promote her bid for the intelligence chairmanship. Under the alleged deal — which both sides vigorously deny was ever made — Aipac would urge its donors to lobby Pelosi on Harman’s behalf; in return, Harman would press the government to go easy on two former Aipac staffers, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who are being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly communicating classified information to Israeli diplomats and reporters.

Reportedly, Pelosi has been lobbied by some pro-Israel donors, but Aipac insists that it played no role and that it favors neither Harman nor Hastings. Meanwhile, other Jewish groups have said publicly that they have high opinions of both Harman and Hastings.

“Jane Harman has been a very strong and impressive voice on the intelligence committee,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League. “We would certainly be pleased if Harman did get the position, but we probably would be pleased if others did, as well.”

The Socialism of Bernie Sanders

Harold Meyerson Fri. Nov 24, 2006
The Jewish Daily Forward

At 2 in the morning on a November night in 1914, on the square that abutted the Forward building in the middle of the Lower East Side, a crowd that had been gathered there all evening heard an announcement it had awaited for hours: Tammany had conceded. New York’s 9th Congressional District had a new representative, Socialist Party candidate Meyer London.

“Men sang and danced,” one local later recalled. “London was brought to the square to head an impromptu demonstration [which culminated in a] march over the streets at early dawn.”

London’s victory marked just the second time that an avowed socialist had been elected to Congress. He had been preceded there two years earlier by Milwaukee’s Victor Berger. Debsian socialism was at its height in those years. Roughly 1,200 socialists held municipal or state office across the land.

What that socialism consisted of varied from region to region, state to state. In Berger’s Milwaukee, it was the very sober public-works politics of beer-drinking Germans. On the Lower East Side, it embodied the secular messianism and militant pragmatism of Russian-Jewish immigrants. American socialism was a universalistic ideology that took very different forms in a variety of American subcultures.

London served in Congress from 1914 through 1918, and again from 1920 through 1922, when Democrats and Republicans in Albany agreed to divide up the Lower East Side in the decennial reapportionment so that London could not win re-election. Berger served from 1910 to 1912, and again from 1922 through 1928. After that, there were no socialists in Congress for a very long time.

In the years that London and Berger served on Capitol Hill, socialism was a more clearly defined ideology than it is now, and the gap that separated it from progressivism and liberalism was more pronounced. London introduced bills to establish a minimum wage and ban child labor, charting the course the New Deal would follow 20 years later. Berger pursued similar legislative priorities, though neither he nor London got anywhere with their bills.

Berger and London remain the only Socialist Party members to have served in Congress. In the early 1970s, Democrat Ron Dellums, the left-wing congressman representing Berkeley and Oakland, joined the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, the group founded by legendary activist Michael Harrington with an explicit strategy of functioning openly as a socialist group within the Democratic Party. Dellums was a leading civil rights and antiwar activist who played a key role in persuading Congress to place sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime. His democratic leftism was more distinct than his socialism, which was the case for most socialists of his generation who were active in social movements and electoral politics. Another Democratic congressman who has maintained membership in Democratic Socialists of America is Brooklyn’s Rep. Major Owens.

This January, Bernie Sanders will be sworn in as America’s first socialist senator. A congressman from Vermont’s one and only House district since 1990, the Brooklyn-born Sanders has run as an independent since he first was elected mayor of Burlington in the early 1980s.

The rumpled, professorial Sanders has caucused with the Democrats in the House and will do so in the Senate. (He’s drawn no serious Democratic opposition in any of his recent elections.) Indeed, he’s played a distinct role within the caucus.

A few years ago, he formed the House Progressive Caucus as a counterweight to the conservative Blue Dogs and the centrist New Dogs. He was the first member of Congress to lead bus trips to Canada so seniors could buy more affordable medications, and he is an advocate of single-payer health insurance. In the Senate, he is likely to join fellow rookie Sherrod Brown at the head of an incoming class that is opposed to free trade deals. His antipathy to free-market capitalism may run deeper than that of his peers, but it manifests itself in his campaign for a global mixed economy rather than, say, nationalizing this or that industry, which hasn’t been part of socialist doctrine for many decades now.

What does it mean to be a socialist in America these days? Even in Europe — where socialist, social democratic or Labor parties either govern now or have recently governed in virtually every nation, and where the welfare state remains far stronger than it is here — socialism as a coherent ideology is hard to find. Parties of the center-left grope for ways to preserve the social compact at a time when globalization is eroding it everywhere.

On the Hill and on the stump, Sanders’s calls for a sturdier compact are more impassioned and systemic than those of his progressive colleagues. His attacks on corporations and his defense of the working class — and his sense of the inherent antagonism between the two — are more explicit than those of all but the most militant left-liberals.

But Sanders’s role in founding the Progressive Caucus displays the more important half of his political identity. Like Michael Harrington, Bernie Sanders is the kind of socialist who can build a larger, preponderantly non-socialist, left alliance — of which he can then constitute the socialist wing. In America, that’s as good as it gets for a socialist who lives in, and tries to better, the real world.

Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect and political editor of L.A. Weekly. He is a vice chair of Democratic Socialists of America.

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