Sep 21 2014

Ebola and the real health crisis in America

Mumia abu Jamal’s Radio Essays.

With the death of Mr Thomas Duncan shortly after his arrival from Liberia, West Africa, the Ebola crisis has burst into millions of news screens generating deep levels of fear and xenophobia. To be sure, Ebola is a serious health concern, for it has a seventy per cent mortality rate, named after a river in Congo near the first outbreak in 1976, it’s also known as haemorrhagic fever

But to beat back the fear, public officials have been playing down the threats posed by the virus often armed with little more than hope and false confidence. For politics, often more image than reality, is a poor barrier against the seriousness of viruses, disease and death. This isn’t about the Ebola crisis, it’s about the American health care crisis, made possible by a flawed business model that prioritises profit above all other things, even life itself.

Consider this, when Mr Duncan first entered Texas Presbyterian Hospital, he was interviewed by a screener, prescribed antibiotics and sent home, that person, that screener, was more likely than not, not a medically trained health care professional but a receptionist, perhaps armed with a check-list to cover. Chances are, she was perhaps the lowest paid member of staff, until one considers the janitorial workers.

Health: business or human model

This business model, one followed by most institutions in America, is now exposed as ineffective, dangerous, and the least health conscious. That was a business decision driven by the bottom line of money. Money not life. Similarly, the recent crisis has exposed how vulnerable nurses are in this system. For the business perceives them as less valuable than doctors. Hence they are paid less, trained less, protected less, and work more.

Who spends more time with ailing patients? Doctors or Nurses? Who has the closest physical contact with patients? According to published accounts, nurses had their necks exposed and when they complained were told to use tape to cover up. This is a system that protects profits and prestige not people. For doctors, get the most protection; nurses the least.

When Ebola first struck West Africa, the US mobilised soldiers to go there. Cuba, which has advanced bio-technical medical expertise with tropical diseases, sent over one thousand doctors to help heal and treat people. Cuba, little socialist Cuba, has sent over one hundred and thirty five thousand health care professionals to over one hundred and fifty four countries. More than the United Nations’ World Health Organisation. Their Latin American Medical School in Havana, trains thousands of poor medical students from all over the world for free. Not much of a business model, but one hell of a human model.

Mumia abu Jamal was on death row until December 2011, today he remains in prison without parole.

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Sep 21 2014

Rana Plaza – When art meets reality

Pauline Bradley reports on art that brings to life the struggle of sweatshop
workers in Bangladesh

No caring person can have failed to be shocked at the news of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory on 24 April 2013. This eight-story commercial building collapsed in Savar, a sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area, the capital of Bangladesh. It is considered the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest “accidental” structural failure in modern human history.

I recall feeling anger and helplessness at the time. I tried to direct other’s anger on social media towards union campaigns such as IndustriAll, an international union who covered the disaster and were working to strengthen health and safety rights and hold the big brands to account for their negligence.

A year and a half later I attended the annual Document 12 festival at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, where journalists, artists, and film makers with a human rights interest show their work. Here Carla Novi’s film “Rana Plaza” was screened followed by a Q & A with Carla.

The film began with riots from two rival groups in Bangladesh but no women were visible “They are all at home or at work,” Carla was told. Carla made her way to Rana Plaza where she sympathetically interviewed 15 women garment workers including Dilori Begum. One worker sang a song about the hardships of working in the factory, a kind of Bangladeshi version of “The Factory Girl”.

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Sep 21 2014

Scotland out of NATO

Eric Chester reports on recent developments in the Scottish peace movement

The Trident missiles armed with Nuclear warheads located at Faslane Naval Base have become a flashpoint for Scottish activists. One of the few specific pledges made by Alex Salmond and the SNP during the referendum campaign was a commitment that no nuclear weapons would be based in an independent Scotland. The SNP was responding to a popular campaign that has continued for decades and has seen repeated efforts to block the base through mass actions of non-violent civil disobedience.

As socialists, we need to join with others in the effort to pressure the UK government to remove the Trident missiles from Faslane, as we seek to convince the peace movement to widen the focus of its actions to include a call for a nuclear weapons free Scotland and a demand that Scotland withdraw from NATO.

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Sep 21 2014

The Middle East: Imperialism’s curse

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 6:56 pm

Nick Steff looks at imperialism’s legacy in the Middle East in light of current events

The Middle East has been fought over for many centuries. Its importance as the bridge between East and West and as the birth place of three of the world’s most influential religions means it has been a continual target for competing empires. In the last 100 years the importance of oil and gas to the world economy has added a third reason for conquest and domination.

During the early years of the 20th century, following WW1, this area was literally carved up by French and British imperialism. The straight borders that separate some of these modern states were cynically put in place by British administrator Sir Mark Sykes who drew a line on a map “from the ‘e’ in Acre to the last ‘k’ in Kirkuk”.

As the second half of the 20th century opened, US imperialism began to assert its authority as British and French influence waned. With the Cold War, many of these countries became pawns in the struggle between the USA and the Soviet Union.

In recent years, the democratic revolutions of the ‘Arab Spring’ were a cause for celebration and cautious optimism amongst democratic and progressive forces. They carried a local and global significance. If Gaddafi could be overthrown in Libya, Mubarak in Egypt and the Assad family under siege in Syria, then anything was possible. From the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia in 2010 to the Iranian Green movement, from the Taksim Square protests in Istanbul to the Bahraini Uprising, mass protests over the past four years have engulfed the region – north, south, east and west. While many of the democratic gains of these movements have been overturned, it has shown those involved that the ossified rule of corrupt families, self-interested elites and the local ciphers of imperialism were not as indestructible as they thought. So a legacy of what is possible still remains.

However, the rise of Islamic State (IS) shows the reactionary and anti-democratic forces that can come to dominate when a power vacuum is created and the forces of social progress fail to fill it. The jihadist stampede of IS across the north of Syria and vast swathes of Iraq has been reinforced by its brutal terror and medieval machismo. It has brought fear to communities that do not conform to its social and religious ‘vision’.

Meanwhile the current representatives of western imperialism look on in horror, failing to accept that their actions and policies in the region have anything to do with creating this situation. The failure of their occupation of Iraq has left them desperately looking for a meaningful response to protect their interests. The slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during the US-led occupation and the destruction of the economic and social fabric of its society have provided the fertile conditions for IS to flourish. Added to this, is the reinforcement of religious sectarianism between Sunni and Shia imposed by the occupiers on the corrupt and incompetent Iraqi government to ensure Western interests are protected.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron desperately holds up the ‘success’ of their ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Libya as the pinnacle of western intervention that could be seen as a way forward against IS. This has resulted in Libya disintegrating into a civil war between numerous militias. The country is ungovernable with the ‘government’ holed up in a hotel on the Egyptian border and a Greek car ferry anchored off Torbruk, over 600 miles from the capital, Tripoli. Libya can now be added to the list of ‘failed states’, with its territory and arms being used to spread the cause of Islamicism across the Maghreb into Chad, Mali, Nigeria and beyond. The legacy of Cameron and Obama’s ‘humanitarian’ intervention in Libya is a continuation of Blair and Bush’s ‘liberation’ of Iraq. The tragic irony is that some Libyans and Iraqis nostalgically yearn for the cruel but stable regimes of Gaddafi and Saddam.

The rapid advance of IS in Iraq and Syria has caused consternation in the ruling classes of the neighbouring states. Turkey has borders with Syria and Iraq. The Turkish government sees the Kurdish population who live within its own borders as a bigger threat to its interests than IS. While local Kurdish forces have battled IS for the border town of Kobane, Turkish state forces have been bombing their own Kurdish population. They have also been reluctant to allow Kurds crossing the border to join the fight for Kobane. As Kurdish PYD leader, Gharib Hassoustates “The Turks have fought the Kurds for thousands of years, so they know who their enemy is. And it is not IS. The truth is that Turkey does not want a democratic state to be set up in our region, it wants an Islamist state.”

In Iraq, the threat posed to the Shia population and the Shia holy shrines has caused Iran to rush to the aid of the Iraqi government. A leading commander of Iran’s Quds brigade – General Qassem Suleimani, has played a decisive role on the ground, organising the defence of Baghdad and other key towns by Shia militia. This defence has been in conjunction with US air strikes. However, there have been strenuous official denials that there was any cooperation between the US and Iran!

Throughout this time, the genocidal attacks on the Palestinians by the West’s major ally in the region have continued. In the summer, the Israeli state’s most recent bombardment of Gaza took on a tragic but familiar pattern. Over 50 days, 2100 Palestinians were killed, mainly civilians, including about 500 children. In addition, they brought chaos and ruin to the economic and social infrastructure. Tens of thousands of Gazan residents are still homeless, many being refugees several times over.

Israeli provocation never stops

International patience and tolerance of Israel’s methods of terrorising the Palestinian population is starting to wear a bit thin. The UN Secretary General recently described the destruction of Gaza as a source of “shame to the international community”. Examples of the deliberate Israeli shelling of UN schools acting as refuges and the targeting of young boys playing on the beach have made even some of Israel’s most ardent supporters call for restraint.

Guilt money

In October, an international donor conference saw £3.4bn pledged by states to aid the rebuilding of Gaza. How much of that is delivered remains to be seen. A lot of this is guilt money provided by states that refuse to publicly recognise and deal with the real problem – the Israeli apartheid state and its occupation of Palestine. Its continued blockade of Gaza, perversely, means the perpetrator also benefits from the aid, as many of the goods and services needed for rebuilding Gaza have to come through Israel!

So while the international community breathes a collective sigh of relief as the ‘ceasefire’, brokered by Egypt between Hamas/Fatah and the Israeli state, is maintained, what does this mean to ordinary Palestinians?

Israeli forces continue systematic attacks against Palestinian civilians and property in occupied Palestinian territory. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights provides a weekly update Their most recent report included: 7 Palestinians, including 2 children and a woman, being wounded in different shooting incidents in the West Bank; Israeli gunboats firing at Palestinian fishermen off Gaza; Israeli forces continuing to provide protection to violent actions by Israeli settler, such as burning a mosque near Nablus and the destruction of olive trees; and over 50 Palestinian civilians, including children being arrested in the West Bank.

Israel’s provocation never stops. Recently, it has announced plans to build more illegal settlements in the West Bank.

While the Palestinian struggle on the ground takes many forms, the role of the international solidarity movement must be to take up the fight for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Boycott campaigns against Eden Springs, Veolia, G4S, Raytheon or other companies can help end their collaboration with the occupation forces. The momentum of the international BDS campaign has started to impact on Israel. This pressure must be increased to help bring about justice in Palestine.

Imperialism has caused decade after decade of repression in the Middle East. It is the source of the problem and cannot be part of the solution.

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Sep 21 2014

CATALUNYA PREPARES FOR INDEPENDENCE

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 6:55 pm

Liam O’Hare (Common Weal writer and Radical Independence campaigner) reports on the movement for Catalan independence

In recent times, the winds of change have been sweeping Scotland and Catalonia. Disillusioned with big government, austerity economics and a lack of democracy, mass movements have emerged to demand radical change and self-determination. While the reasons fuelling the movements are similar, the respective paths of the two nations have recently diverged.

The movement in Scotland suffered a setback on September 18th when a majority of Scots rejected independence at the ballot box. However in Catalonia, despite several political obstacles and challenges, support for independence continues to grow. A tipping point is near to being reached and Catalonia could be about to defy the Spanish government in Madrid. But how did it arrive at this stage?

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Sep 21 2014

The Importance of Republicanism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 6:45 pm

Bernadette McAliskey gave the following talk at the ‘London Says Yes’ rally held on September 6th 2014

Going back in history there was the Great Debate in English democracy between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, which too may people forget. This debate preceded the more radical discussion on the rights of the working class. The debate centred around basic democracy, what constitutes the state, the role of the state and the role of citizens within it.

Edmund Burke, although actually an Irishman, was an English nationalist, who, at the time, argued that once the people had voted, the state, as it were, became the permanent voice of the people. It wasn’t really within the gift of the people to challenge this. However, Thomas Paine said that nobody has the right to set the boundaries for the next generation. Democracy is always evolving and the citizens who formed society created the government and created the state. And it was the right of the citizens, at any point, not only to dismiss the government, but to reconstitute the state.

We can see this in the later development of what is called parliamentary democracy, which the British think they invented. Actually, the Native Americans had a much better form of democracy before this. But the concept that, once the government is in place, it supersedes the rights of the people, fits very well with a backward democratic society like England.

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Sep 21 2014

England – nationalism versus republicanism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 6:19 pm

In England during the referendum, members of both the Left Unity Party (LUP) and the Republican Socialist Alliance organised meetings in London, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. In the aftermath of the September 18th, Steve Freeman (RSA and LUP/Scottish Republic Yes Tendency) provides his analysis of the campaign and its political consequences.

On Thursday 18 September Scotland stood on the brink of an historic change by ending the 1707 Act of Union. But when the votes were counted a majority of Scottish people voted no by 55% to 45%. This “averted the biggest constitutional crisis in the nation’s history”. (Mick Brown Daily Telegraph 20 September 2014). Instead of Scotland’s democratic future passing into the hands of the people, the no victory handed the power back to Cameron, the Coalition government, the Whitehall machine and the Westminster parliament.

The power had already drained away from Scotland as Cameron emerged from Downing Street the following morning to tell us what would happen next. Scotland would be handed down more powers. Then he seized the opportunity to torpedo the Labour Party and undermine UKIP with the slogan of “English votes for English laws”. He played the card of reactionary English nationalism. He had ‘saved’ the country from predatory Scottish nationalists. He had seen off Alex Salmond. Now he would make England an offer it could not refuse and harvest the votes in the general election.

Later that day the ‘no’ victory was crowned by Her Majesty. With victory in the bag, she emerged from behind the scenes to address the nation. This was reported on the front page of the Daily Telegraph. The headline proudly proclaimed “The Queen’s pledge to help reunite the Kingdom”. This was above a regal photo of the monarch standing beside Gelder Burn on the Balmoral Estate wearing the robes of the “Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle” (Daily Telegraph 20 September 2014). She called on her subjects to respect the outcome and appealed for a “coming together again in a spirit of mutual respect and support”.

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Sep 21 2014

RIC – a Scottish republican movement in the making?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 6:09 pm

In the aftermath of the referendum, Allan Armstrong examines the potential for the Radical Independence Campaign

The campaign for Scottish independence has been the largest movement for popular democracy seen in these islands since the Irish War of Independence. In terms of electoral participation it was unprecedented. Voter registration was 97% and voter turnout was 85%.

The ‘Yes’ alliance faced the biggest ruling class offensive, backed by the UK state, since the Miners’ Strike. Only this time it brought together the combined Tory/Lib-Dem/Labour ‘Better Together’ ‘No’ alliance, UKIP, Ulster unionists, the Orange Order, other Loyalists, British fascists, the BBC, the Pope and the Free Presbyterian Church, and the US and Chinese governments!

Yet we still won 45% of the vote, and badly rattled the British ruling class in the last two weeks before September 18th. Cameron had only conceded the referendum, and signed the Edinburgh Agreement, back in 2012, because he thought the prospect of any alternative to the ‘Westminster way’ would be trounced – “There is no alternative”. We showed that, “Another Scotland is possible”. Furthermore, since September 18th the mood of anger and defiance has continued.

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Sep 21 2014

Weeks when decades happen

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 5:52 pm

Murdo Ritchie analyses the result of the independence referendum and
what it means for Scotland the rest of the UK state.

“There are decades in which nothing happens and there are weeks in which decades happen.” Lenin

When 1,517,989 voters (44.7%) declared they were prepared to abandon their primary, legal national identity to build a better Scotland, it was clear that Scottish national independence was coming. The defeated felt triumphant; the victorious worried.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement on the morning of the ballot declaration was filled with wishful thinking, “the debate has settled for a generation or as Alex Salmond has said, perhaps for a lifetime. So there can be no disputes, no reruns –we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people.” The media may have declared the result decisive but the numbers and mood told otherwise.

Though the quantity of the votes may have been counted the quality of the two contesting groups needs to be measured.

From the moment of the Independence Referendum’s launch it was dismissed as irrelevant or a meaningless distraction. The Westminster elite and their Holyrood branch office considered the proposal of no consequence so the easily forgotten failed Scottish minister Wendy Alexander screamed “Bring it on!”

For most of the two years of the campaign, the polls only marginally altered. The No Campaign Better Together was mainly a media campaign that ran adverts, appeared on billboards and sent out mail drops. Unlike the Yes campaigners who were active for the two years and could be seen on the streets, held meetings and delivered their own
leaflets.

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Sep 21 2014

Scottish Independence – A Feminist Response

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 5:44 pm

Book Review: Scottish Independence – A Feminist Response, Authors: Cat Boyd & Jenny Morrison Publisher: Word Power Books

Even when we lost we felt like we had won something

It was an exciting time to be involved in Scottish politics. There was an optimism and vibe in workplaces and on the streets that I can never remember experiencing before. And even when we lost we felt like we had won something- a movement, a connection a possibility of another way of living. Obviously there was a plethora of literature, books and pamphlets and leaflets to accompany this political phenomenon. Usual stuff from the left – some of it good, some tedious but not much was inspirational. However, along came a wee book by Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison and it captured my imagination and boosted my belief that young socialist women have ideas on class and gender which can inspire us all.

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