Saturday, November 23, 2013

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A half-century since the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

By David North
22 November 2013
Fifty years ago today, on November 22, 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated as his motorcade made its way through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Unlike so many other clichéd phrases about American history, it is actually true that virtually no one who was old enough to be politically conscious would ever forget where they were when the news of the "three shots fired at the president's motorcade in Dallas" flashed across the United States and around the world. Even after a half-century, the traumatic events of that Friday afternoon and the days that followed remain vivid in the consciousness of countless millions of people.

The first question that arises on this anniversary is why the death of John F. Kennedy retains such a hold on the consciousness of the American people even after the passage of a half-century. He was not the first, but the fourth American president to be assassinated. Of course, the murder of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865 lives in the national consciousness, nearly 150 years after the event, as one of the most tragic and traumatic events in American history. But that is not hard to understand. Lincoln was, after all, America's greatest president--a rightfully beloved figure in world history who led the United States in a Civil War that put an end to slavery. Lincoln's place in the country's history is unique, and his assassination is an essential moment in the American experience.
The next two presidents to die at the hand of an assassin--James Garfield in 1881 and William McKinley in 1901--were mourned in their time and soon forgotten. Why, then, has the murder of Kennedy not faded from the national consciousness? One obvious reason is that Kennedy's death occurred in the age of television. The killing itself was captured on film, the murder of his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was broadcast live on national TV, and the president's funeral was watched by virtually the entire country. The recorded images impart to the events of November 1963 an immediacy that seems almost timeless.
However, there are more significant reasons for the enduring political resonance of Kennedy's death. The most obvious is that the overwhelming majority of the American people have never accepted the official version of the assassination presented in the Warren Report: that the president's murder was the act of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was not part of a broader political conspiracy.
Despite all the efforts of the media to discredit the critics of the Warren Report as "conspiracy theorists," the American people have rendered their verdict on the subject. The Warren Report has been seen, almost from the day of its publication in 1964, as a political cover-up. And that it certainly was. The report was commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson--who told his political confidants he believed Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy--to reassure a rightfully suspicious public.
The composition of the Warren Commission precluded any serious investigation into the assassination. Its members included such high level guardians of state secrets as former CIA director Allen Dulles (who had been fired by Kennedy in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs fiasco) and John J. McCloy, an old friend of Dulles, who was among the most influential and powerful of the "Wise Men" who directed American foreign policy following the Second World War. McCloy played a critical role in persuading Warren Commission members who doubted the single gunman theory to keep their dissenting opinions to themselves and go along with a unanimous finding that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone in the killing of the president.
One of the commission members, Congressman Hale Boggs, who was to become the House majority leader, subsequently acknowledged that he had doubts about the infamous "single bullet" theory (which asserted that the same bullet passed through both Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally). Boggs was killed in October 1972 when his private plane apparently crashed in Alaska. Neither his body nor the plane was ever recovered.
The defenders of the Warren Commission have for decades used the term "conspiracy theory" as an epithet to discredit all evidence and arguments that suggest a political cause for the murder of an American president. Rather, the assassination had to be seen as a senseless and meaningless event, unrelated and unconnected to the condition of American society and politics. Under no circumstances could the assassination of the president be seen as the bloody outcome of conflict and crisis within the government, of something very sinister and rotten in the American state. That was the purpose of the official cover-up.
The United States is a country with many dark secrets. It may be the case that the American people will never know who killed Kennedy. But the deeper causes of his death can be explained. The assassination of Kennedy suddenly, in one terrible moment, confronted Americans with the unforeseen and explosive consequences of the interaction between the United States' malignant internal social contradictions and its reactionary and sinister post-World War II role as the world's leading imperialist power.
John F. Kennedy entered the White House in January 1961. Only 16 years had passed since the end of World War II. In August 1945, the Truman administration, anticipating the coming struggle with the Soviet Union, made the cold-blooded decision to drop atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to demonstrate the United States' omnipotence and ruthlessness. The atom bomb was an instrument of political rather than military necessity.
As the American historian Gabriel Jackson later wrote: "In the specific circumstances of August 1945, the use of the atom bomb showed that a psychologically very normal and democratically elected chief executive could use the weapon just as the Nazi dictator would have used it. In this way, the United States--for anyone concerned with moral distinctions in the conduct of different types of government--blurred the difference between fascism and democracy." [Civilization and Barbarity in 20th-Century Europe (New York: Humanity Books, 1999), pp. 176-77]
The United States emerged from the war as the dominant capitalist power in the world. Britain had been bankrupted by the war, and its long and humiliating retreat from its earlier imperialist glory was well underway and unstoppable. The attempt by the French bourgeoisie to hang on to its empire was heading toward disaster--first in Vietnam and, somewhat later, in Algeria. The American ruling class believed that its time had come. It believed that the combination of apparently limitless industrial power, the hegemonic role of the dollar in the new international monetary system, and sole possession of the atom bomb would guarantee its domination of the world for decades to come. In a burst of hubris, it even renamed the 1900s after itself--calling it the "American Century."
But by the time Kennedy was inaugurated, the course of post-war history had undermined both the illusions and self-confidence of the American ruling elite. The tide of popular anti-imperialist revolution had steadily grown over the previous 15 years. The Chinese Revolution had swept the pro-imperialist regime of Chiang Kai-shek from power. The dreams harbored by General MacArthur and other lunatics in the Pentagon and sections of the political establishment that the United States could achieve a military "rollback" of the Chinese government and even the Soviet government were shattered in the catastrophe of the Korean War. But the shift from "rollback" to "containment" did not alter the basic counterrevolutionary drive of American imperialism.
In place of a head-on military confrontation with the USSR and China, the anti-communist "containment" strategy involved the United States in an endless sequence of repressive anti-democratic and counterinsurgency operations aimed at propping up hated pro-American puppet regimes. Any foreign government in the world that was identified by the United States as harboring anti-imperialist, let alone socialistic, sympathies became eligible for destabilization and its leaders became targets for assassination.
Established by the Truman administration in 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency came into its own under Eisenhower in the 1950s. This was the decade of US-sponsored coups d'état--most infamously in Guatemala and Iran--and endless conspiracies against regimes that were seen to pose a threat to the global interests of the United States. What came to be called the "National Security State"--based on the alliance of powerful corporate interests, a massive military establishment, and an array of highly secret intelligence agencies--assumed dimensions incompatible with the maintenance of traditional forms of democracy within the United States. Just days before he left office, President Eisenhower--perhaps frightened at the monster whose growth he had abetted--delivered a televised "Farewell Address" in which he warned the American people that the growth of the "military-industrial complex" posed an immense danger to the survival of American democracy .
In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, Kennedy sought to strike a tone of bold resolution. In the most grandiloquent passage, he proclaimed that the "torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans" who would be willing to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe" to uphold the global interests of the United States. However, for all the soaring rhetoric, Kennedy's speech gave expression to the challenges confronting the ruling elite. In a more candid passage, he warned that if the United States "cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
Kennedy's speech was an attempt to reconcile in rhetoric the democratic pretensions of the United States--which had already been badly discredited in the eyes of the world by the repression of the McCarthy era and the ongoing and brutal denial of basic civil rights to African-Americans--with the imperatives of American imperialism. Such rhetorical exercises came to define the public face of the Kennedy administration.
But beneath the surface an uglier reality prevailed. Less than three months after his inauguration, Kennedy gave final approval for the launching of a counterrevolutionary invasion of Cuba by an anti-Castro army that had been created by the CIA. The new president received assurances that the invaders would be greeted as liberators when they landed in Cuba. The CIA knew that no such uprising was in the offing, but assumed that Kennedy, once the invasion had begun, would feel compelled to commit US forces to prevent the defeat of an American-sponsored operation. However, Kennedy, fearing Soviet retaliation in Berlin, refused to intervene to back the anti-Castro mercenaries. The invasion was defeated in less than 72 hours and more than 1,000 mercenaries were captured. The CIA never forgave Kennedy for this "betrayal."
While it is likely that Kennedy was chastened by the Bay of Pigs disaster--his anger over the false assurances given him by the CIA and US military was not a secret--the April 1961 defeat hardly ended Kennedy's commitment to counterinsurgency operations. His fascination--and that of his brother, Robert--with assassination plots, particularly against Castro, has been amply documented. Eventually, these plots required the recruitment of Mafia gangsters, drawing the Kennedy administration into self-destructive relations with the criminal underworld.
Within the United States, the social tensions that were to explode later in the 1960s were already apparent during the Kennedy administration. The determination of African-Americans to exercise their civil rights was met with violence by state governments that defied the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling of the Supreme Court. Moreover, notwithstanding the relentless anti-communist propaganda of the state and media, which was enthusiastically abetted by the trade union bureaucracies, the working class continued to press for substantial improvements in living standards and social benefits. Kennedy, who cast himself as a representative of the tradition of New Deal reformism, advanced a legislative agenda that led, after his assassination, to the passage of the law establishing Medicare.
In the final year of his presidency, the political divisions within the ruling class over critical issues of international policy became more intense. Kennedy's decision to avoid an invasion of Cuba in the October 1962 missile crisis was opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Following the resolution of that harrowing crisis, which brought the United States and the USSR to the brink of nuclear war, Kennedy pursued and obtained passage of the nuclear test ban treaty.
These measures did not signify that Kennedy had abandoned a Cold War agenda. In fact, the last three months of his presidency were preoccupied with the intensifying crisis in Vietnam. Though it is not possible to determine what course Kennedy would have chosen in Vietnam had he lived, the historical record hardly supports claims that he favored the withdrawal of US forces. Kennedy authorized the overthrow of South Vietnamese President Diem, which resulted in the latter's murder on November 1, 1963. The purpose of the coup was to establish a new anti-communist regime that would wage war against the National Liberation Front more effectively than Diem. Three weeks later, Kennedy was murdered in Dallas.
The assassination of President Kennedy marked a critical inflection point in the modern history of the United States. In 1913, a half-century before Kennedy's death, Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as the 28th president of the United States. It was during his administration that the United States, in 1917, entered the First World War, promising to "make the world safe for democracy." It was under the banner of Wilson's hypocritical invocation of a global democracy that the United States, for the first time, emerged as the principal imperialist power. That position was consolidated during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45), who sought to preserve a popular base for capitalism within the United States through the social reforms of the New Deal. These reforms enabled the Roosevelt administration to portray its intervention in the Second World War as a struggle for democracy against fascism.
The Kennedy administration brought that era to an end. Significantly, the Kennedy administration had come to office at precisely the point when economists began to take note of the first significant signs of the erosion of the global position of American capitalism. As first European and then Japanese capitalism recovered from the ravages of World War II, the economic supremacy of the United States was called into question. Just eight years after Kennedy's assassination, the dramatic shifts in the balance of international trade and payments brought about the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of dollar-gold convertibility. The United States had definitively entered an era of protracted decline.
John F. Kennedy was the last president who was able to link his administration, in the public mind, with the democratic traditions of the United States. But the political and moral foundations of his presidency had already been fatally eroded by the evolution of American imperialism. However sincere the democratic ideals and aspirations of the great mass of people, the United States had entered World War II to secure the global interests of American capitalism. In the years that followed the war, its policies assumed an ever more criminal character. The chasm between the rhetorical invocations of democracy and the brutal reality of American policies became impossible to conceal, either internationally or within the United States. Kennedy enthusiasts, especially after the president's death, referred to his administration as "Camelot." It could be better described as "a bright and shining lie."

150 years since Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

By Tom Mackaman 19 November 2013
One hundred and fifty years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. He spoke at the dedication of a national cemetery on the site of the bloodiest battlefield of the Civil War, where less than five months earlier some 46,000 soldiers had been counted dead, wounded or missing.
In just 271 words, comprising ten sentences, in remarks lasting scarcely over two minutes, Lincoln placed the battle, the war and history itself in the context of the struggle for human equality.
It is politically significant that President Barack Obama has spurned invitations to the event being held today at Gettysburg National Cemetery commemorating the historic and beloved speech. This follows his decision not to attend the July gathering marking the 150th anniversary of the battle itself.
Obama, after all, attempted to attach his name to that of Lincoln in his first campaign for the presidency, and he seldom misses the chance to drape himself in the mantle of "military glory--that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood," to borrow a phrase from a speech Lincoln delivered in 1848 opposing American military aggression against Mexico.
The words of the Gettysburg Address, however, cannot settle comfortably in the ears of a president who has done more to advance inequality and eviscerate democratic rights than any other in American history.
Lincoln was acutely aware of the importance of summing up the democratic and revolutionary significance of the Battle of Gettysburg and the war as a whole. Though the battle, fought on July 1, 2 and 3 of 1863, had been a victory, forcing Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia to abandon its invasion of the North, the commander of the Union forces in Pennsylvania, Gen. George Meade, had failed to pursue Lee's shattered forces, then trapped in Maryland above the flooded Potomac River.
Meade's folly ensured that the war would drag on for nearly two more years. An exasperated Lincoln penned the general a letter he ultimately decided not to mail. "I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape," Lincoln wrote. "He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely."
What gives the Battle of Gettysburg its transcendent quality is, in large measure, Lincoln's speech, which appeared on the dedication program that day under the unassuming heading "Dedicatory Remarks, by the President of the United States." Lincoln's "remarks" were given second billing. They were d elivered only after the keynote speaker, Edward Everett, had given a two-hour oration.
There have been bloodier battles, but none has become so closely identified with progressive ideals as Gettysburg. For the most part, their meaning has resided precisely in the senselessness of the carnage. The slaughters at Somme and Verdun in World War I come to mind.
All of this makes somewhat ironic Lincoln's assertion in the address that "the world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they ['these honored dead,' who gave 'the last full measure of devotion' to the cause of freedom and equality] did here."
Lincoln had not initially been invited to the dedication, and it was no accident that Everett, the nation's most famous orator, got top billing. The poets Bryant, Longfellow and Whittier turned down opportunities to speak. But so interest ed was Lincoln in the event that he countermanded his secretary's travel schedule, giving himself an extra day so as to be certain to arrive on time. This was wise. The train system was choked with the thousands of people arriving for the dedication. The governor of Minnesota, who had left a week early, failed to make it at all.
Lincoln was, in the period of Romanticism, precocious in prose style, anticipating Twain and later Hemingway in his generally spare and studied use of words. Not a syllable in the Gettysburg Address was there by chance. This makes all the more intriguing the speech's lack of detail. Lincoln mentioned no dates, proper names or places. He never even said "Gettysburg."
This was intentional. Lincoln was lifting Gettysburg above its time and place and locating the Civil War in the sweep of American and world history. He invoked the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, though neither by name--"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal"--and immediately bound them to the Civil War and to the worldwide struggle for equality: "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
The struggle to defeat the slave owners' rebellion had begun in 1861 as a war to preserve the Union and return it to the status quo ante. On January 1, 1863, with Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War became a revolution to destroy slavery and the old social order in the South. The Gettysburg Address places the war on a still higher and more global level. It was a war for "a new birth of freedom," fought in order "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not pe rish from the earth."
By destroying chattel slavery, the Civil War did indeed give freedom a new birth. It would also bring the class struggle to a new and higher stage.
"In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic," Karl Marx wrote. "Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. But out of the death of slavery a new life at once arose. The first fruit of the Civil War was the eight hours' agitation that ran with the seven-leagued boots of the locomotive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California."
Marx wrote Lincoln one year after the Gettysburg Address, on behalf of the First International, to congratulate him on his reelection: "The workingmen of Europe felt instinctively [that when] an oligarchy of 300,000 slav eholders dared to inscribe, for the first time in the annals of the world, 'slavery' on the banner of Armed Revolt, when on the very spots where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century... their hopes for the future, even their past conquests, were at stake in that tremendous conflict on the other side of the Atlantic."
Though Lincoln did not, and could not, recognize the class struggle, he did believe that the Declaration of Independence's assertion of human equality was "put there for future use." Thomas Jefferson had included it, even though it would have "no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain."
For what future use did Lincoln see in the Declaration? It provided, he said, "a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression."
This must have been his overriding aim in the Gettysburg Address, so clearly in dialogue with Jefferson and the Declaration, just as the Civil War--the Second American Revolution--moved to complete the first.
In warning of "reappearing tyranny and oppression," Lincoln could never have predicted the America of 2013, in which a tiny layer of aristocrat billionaires, whose obscene wealth puts in the shade that of the old slavocracy, rules by means of lies, conspiracies, theft, spying and military terror.
While Lincoln spoke as a representative of the bourgeois democratic revolution, his words and ideals resonate today.
But government of, by and for the people is incompatible with degenerate capitalism. The democratic ideals have been repudiated. The American financial aristoc racy of today has much in common with the old slavocracy. It despises the very notion of social equality.
Today, the realization of Lincoln's ideals is possible only under socialism. The new revolution that will be fought in the interests of mankind will be directed against the capitalist system.
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The US military and the Philippines

By Bill Van Auken21 November 2013
In a brief statement last week on the impact of Typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines, President Barack Obama declared it a "heartbreaking reminder of how fragile life is."
As the head of a government that has visited death and destruction upon impoverished peoples from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to Libya, Yemen and Syria, the US president hardly needed to wait for nature's fury to be visited upon the Philippine people for such a reminder.
The US military, the principal instrument for carrying out this carnage--inflicting 100 times the number of deaths caused by Typhoon Haiyan during the last dozen years of aggressive wars waged by Washington--is now being promoted as the indispensable Good Samaritan in the Philippines.
Some 50 US warships and military aircraft and 13,000 American sailors, airmen and marines have been brought into the relief effo rt, led by the naval battle group of the nuclear-powered super-carrier, the USS George Washington, along with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
"We will be present as long as we are needed--no longer than required," Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Wissler, the commander of the US military operations in the Philippines, said on Monday.
The people of the Philippines have ample reasons, rooted in both their country's tragic history and its present geo-strategic position, to treat such promises with extreme skepticism.
There is perhaps no more egregious example of the US military overstaying its welcome than in the Philippines. It was there, at the end of the 19th century, that US imperialism first cut its teeth, becoming a colonial power by means of military conquest and savage repression.
In testifying before the US Senate Tuesday on relief oper ations in the Philippines, a State Department official cited the "close historic ties" between the two countries. Neither government officials nor the media, however, show any inclination to examine these "ties" in any detail, for the obvious reason that it would serve only to expose a historic crime.
The US military's first appearance in the Philippines came in the form of a navy squadron commanded by Commodore George Dewey, who sailed into Manila harbor on May 1, 1898 and within hours sank the entire Pacific fleet of Spain, which had ruled the territory as a colony for the previous 300 years.
Brought back from exile aboard Dewey's warship was Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of a nationalist movement that had been fighting to end Spanish colonialism for three years before the US armada arrived. US forces were able to take Manila only because it was surrounded on land by these independence fighters. Washington posed as their ally and the liberator of the Philippines just long enough to secure control of a territory it coveted as a market, a source of cheap labor and raw materials, and a base for the projection of US power in the Pacific, particularly toward China.
It then turned savagely against the Filipinos and signed a treaty with Spain paying it $20 million for a land the Spanish no longer controlled. The Filipinos, who had proclaimed an independent republic, the first to be formed in Asia as the result of an anti-colonial rebellion, were excluded from these negotiations.
What followed was the imposition of a US colonial regime and over a decade of bloody counterinsurgency operations that would claim at least several hundred thousand Filipino lives. In 1901, Gen. Franklin Bell, who commanded US forces in Luzon, the island group that included Manila and roughly half the country's population, told the New Yo rk Times that there alone some 600,000 had been killed in military operations or died from disease.
As another American general put it, "It may be necessary to kill half the Filipinos in order that the remaining half of the population may be advanced to a higher plane of life than their present semi-barbarous state affords."
Mark Twain, the most prominent and passionate opponent of the US war in the Philippines, defied the "support our troops" rhetoric of the day, denouncing the US military for massacres that left "not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother." The celebrated American author referred to US occupation forces as "Christian butchers" and "uniformed assassins."
The Philippines campaign was among the first counterinsurgency operations waged by the US military, and it introduced all of the atrocities that would later be visited upon Vietnamese, Afghans an d Iraqis, from massacres, to torture, to "re-concentration" camps.
US colonial rule continued until the end of World War II, after which Washington backed a series of semi-colonial governments, including the hated martial regime of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country for two decades. Until 1991, the Pentagon maintained control of the massive Subic Bay naval base and Clark Air Force base, which played crucial roles in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
This is no mere ancient history when it comes to the plight of the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. The widespread poverty, social inequality, inadequate housing and government corruption that are the legacy of colonial and neo-colonial oppression played at least as great a role as the blind forces of nature in inflicting so much death and destruction.
Nor are US designs on the Philippines a matter of a bygone era. Reuters news agency noted Wednesday: "As US ships deliver food, water and medicine, they are also delivering goodwill that could ease the way for the United States to strengthen its often-controversial military presence in one of Southeast Asia's most strategic countries."
If the US military first came to the Philippines as the instrument of a rising imperialist power seeking to secure new markets in Asia, it now returns as the spearhead of a waning one, determined to encircle and contain a rising regional and global rival, China.
The Philippines is strategically crucial to the Obama administration's so-called "pivot" to Asia. Its government, having closed the giant US military bases in 1992, has since allowed US special operations troops to return for training and for carrying out joint operations and has hosted visits by 72 US warships and submarines at Subic Bay during the first six months of this year a lone. Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing to secure US rights to bases for ships, planes, supplies and troops.
Naval base construction is proceeding at Oyster Bay on the island province of Palawan. Officials are referring to the facility as a "mini-Subic," and plans have been reported for stationing both US warships and Marines there. Situated on the country's western-most island, it is in close proximity to the Spratly Islands, the site of a provocative territorial confrontation between Manila and China egged on by the United States.
Thus, the "humanitarian" operation of the US military in the Philippines is inextricably bound up with war plans that could well drag the country into a global conflagration.
The predatory calculations of the US ruling class aside, there exist among the masses of American working people genuine feelings of sympathy and solidarity with the worke rs of the Philippines. The deep ties are expressed most concretely in the estimated presence of 4 million Filipino-Americans in the United States.
The catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Haiyan only underscores the necessity of a united struggle to sweep away the conditions of poverty and inequality in both countries, along with the capitalist profit system that has created them.

Obamacare exposed: The gutting of health care for workers

By Kate Randall 20 November 2013
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), Barack Obama's signature domestic policy, is being exposed on a daily basis as a counter-reform aimed at a restructuring of the US health care system in the interests of big business. The president's repeated claim that the law will provide access to affordable, quality health care for the American people is a calculated lie.
A true reform of the health care system in the US would provide universal access to high-quality medical care. It would train thousands of new doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. It would dedicate billions of dollars to research into the prevention and eradication of disease. It would improve the quality of life and extend life expectancy in line with the advances in medical technology.
The health care overhaul commonly known as Obamacare will do none of these things. It will do the exact opposite by deepening th e class divide when it comes to the provision of health care in America. The ACA will cut costs dramatically for employers and the government while reducing and rationing medical services for millions of ordinary people--while boosting the profits of the health care industry.
In remarks before the Wall Street Journal CEO Council on Tuesday, Obama emphasized that his health care overhaul was based on the "existing private insurance system." In fact, it extends the sway of the capitalist market over the provision of health care. Its key provision requires those without insurance to purchase coverage from private insurers or pay a fine, to be enforced by the Internal Revenue Service. There are no real controls over the prices insurance companies charge, the out-of-pocket costs they impose, or the profits they extract from the exploitation of the health care needs of the people.
While attention has been focused on the technical problems plaguing the federal site and the state exchanges set up under the ACA, the real debacle is the abysmal product that is being offered for purchase. The health care law stipulates that certain coverage is mandatory and that people cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, but there is nothing in the law to prevent the insurance companies from pricing policies on their terms and inflating premiums, deductibles and co-pays to more than compensate for these mandated services.
Working people shopping for coverage are facing the cruel reality that the "affordable" policies being sold through the Obamacare exchanges constitute "insurance" in name only. The cheaper "bronze" policies include massive deductibles, in many states topping $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family, which must be paid in full before insurance coverage even begins. Co-pays and coinsurance for doctor visits, hospitalizations and other services have been hiked significantly when compared to the current individual insurance market.
The consequences for those forced out of economic necessity to purchase these substandard policies will be devastating. Workers will either have to shell out thousands of dollars if a family member faces a significant health care event, or they will simply forgo treatment.
Those covered by these policies will be less healthy and face new health risks as a result of their Obamacare insurance. A child's infection will go untreated because it is too costly; a hospitalization will be cut short because a family cannot afford the coinsurance. People will suffer and die.
Others will choose not to purchase coverage and pay the fine because either (1) they simply cannot afford the premiums, or (2) the coverage is so inferior--and the out-of-pocket expens es so high--that it is better to remain uninsured and pay the penalty. Insurers can be expected to jack up their premiums even higher if a dwindling pool of cash-paying customers results in what they consider an unacceptable drain on their profits.
By the government's own admission, the health plan that Obama pledged would provide "near universal health care" will leave 31 million people uninsured. These will include, among others, millions of the very poor whose resident states have chosen not to expand the Medicaid program, undocumented immigrants who are barred from receiving government subsidies, and those who cannot afford to buy coverage, with or without the small stipends.
It is also becoming clear that Obama's lie--"If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan"--extends far beyond those who stand to lose their coverage in the individual insurance market. The majority of the US population, some 170 million people, are presently insured through their employers, and this vast market has been targeted by the insurance industry and businesses for a drastic overhaul along the lines of the Affordable Care Act.
Many employers have already begun transitioning their workers to high-deductible plans with steep out-of-pocket costs in anticipation of an ACA rule, postponed by Obama until 2015, which will require businesses with 50 employees or more to provide health insurance to their full-time workers. Big business has no intention of shouldering the costs for complying with this regulation, which instead will be passed down to workers. Some companies may simply choose not to comply and pay the nominal $2,000 per employee penalty.
Other employers, both in the private sector and in state and local government, have already begun shifting retirees and in some cases active workers to private insura nce exchanges modeled on the ACA exchanges. Some have dumped their workers directly onto Obamacare, offering them small stipends. Workers who for decades have traditionally received employer-sponsored coverage are now being thrown onto these exchanges to fend for themselves as individuals in the private market.
With these moves, a voucher-type system is being instituted. Big business and its representatives in both political parties eye Medicare, the government-run health program for seniors and the disabled, and Medicaid, the program for the poor jointly administered by the federal government and the states, as the next big targets for privatization and dismantling. The Social Security retirement program is also in their sights.
The reactionary, pro-corporate character of Obamacare needs to be viewed in this light. For the political strategists of the corporate-financial elite, the longer life span achieved i n recent decades--with workers living longer in retirement and their total health costs rising as a result--has created an undesirable state of affairs. The health care overhaul is aimed at drastically reducing medical services for ordinary Americans, resulting in a deterioration of the health of workers and their families and premature, preventable deaths.
The Affordable Care Act is of a piece with the entire anti-working class agenda of the Obama administration, which seeks to claw back the social gains won by workers in the course of a century of struggles, while increasing the wealth of the tiny elite at the top. The government that claims there is "no money" for vital social needs such as health care has spent trillions bailing out the banks and the auto industry and continues to pump out $85 billion a month to prop up the stock and bond markets.
A real solution to the crisis of health care in America loo ks nothing like Obamacare. Health care is a social right that must be defended by the working class with its own program and perspective. Universal, quality health care can be achieved for the mass of the population only by dismantling the present for-profit health system and placing it on socialist foundations.

Socialist Alternative candidate wins in Seattle City Council election

By Joseph Kishore
20 November 2013
Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant has been pronounced the winner in City Council elections in Seattle, Washington held earlier this month. The longtime incumbent, Democrat Richard Conlin, conceded defeat late last week after revised vote totals showed Sawant leading by 88,222 votes to 86,582.
The victory of Sawant--and the near-win of another Socialist Alternative City Council candidate, Ty Moore, in Minneapolis, Minnesota--reflects growing popular alienation from the Democrats and Republicans. The continued economic and social disaster resulting from the economic crisis and the polices of the ruling class is fueling increasing hostility to capitalism. Despite the relentless free-market propaganda of the media, opinion polls show a steadily rising number of Americans who say they are sympathetic to socialism.
However, aside from its implicit anti-big business connotat ion, the broad mass of the population has only a limited conception of what socialism actually signifies. Sawant's campaign exploited the latent sympathy for socialism without advancing demands that went beyond the boundaries of capitalism.
Sawant's victory is being hailed by an array of publications and organizations, including CounterPunch and the newspaper of the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Worker. In its article on Sawant's campaign, the ISO called her victory "a stunning result for a revolutionary socialist and a powerful symbol of the discontent with the political status quo."
There is no doubt that Savant's vote expressed discontent with the status quo and a desire for change. But the description of the candidate as a "revolutionary socialist" borders on the absurd. Asid e from occasional vague and non-committal references to socialism, Sawant's campaign was conducted on the basis of nothing more than a moderately reformist capitalist program. Her electoral victory is no more threatening to American capitalism than the repeated election of Vermont "socialist" Bernie Sanders to the United States Senate.
Sawant's central slogans--for a $15 an hour minimum wage, rent control, and a tax on millionaires to fund public transportation--echo demands that are now being inscribed in the platform of many local Democrats. In the course of the campaign, the principal establishment newspaper in the city, the Seattle Times, published a highly favorable column by Danny Westneat noting that Sawant's main proposals "are pretty much indistinguishable from those of current [Democratic] Mayor Mike McGinn or his challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray," now the mayor-elect.
Sawant's campaign to uted the fact that the call for a $15 an hour minimum wage had been taken up by Murray, a prominent figure in the Washington State Democratic Party establishment.
Aside from the fact that nothing in Sawant's program threatens capitalism, her campaign was not directed toward the mobilization of the working class as an independent force. She conceived of her campaign as a means of applying pressure on the Democratic Party.
In an article published Tuesday ("Will the minimum wage go up?"), Socialist Worker elaborated on the basic political conceptions shared by the ISO and Socialist Alternative. Sawant's election and a union-organized "Fight for 15" campaign are part of a broader push to raise the minimum wage, the ISO wrote, noting that "President Barack Obama has supported legislation that will raise the federal minimum wage from $7.2 5 an hour to $10.10."
While suggesting that one should be "skeptical" about Obama's support for a minimum wage increase, the ISO went on to gush that his position "does show us...that our movement is gaining momentum." Obama and other capitalist politicians are "feeling the heat."
In fact, the Obama administration, acting on behalf of the corporate and financial aristocracy, has presided over a coordinated attack on the wages of the entire working class. It is notable that in Socialist Alternative's special election issue, which was used for mass distribution, there is not a single reference to the Obama administration or any of its policies. There is no reference to the bailout of the banks, the nationwide assault on wages, or the administration's attack on Social Security and Medicare. At no point did the campaign criticize the militarism of the Democratic president, drone assassinations, or NSA spying.
Socialist Alternative also boasted of the endorsement of many local unions, which otherwise continued to back Democratic Party candidates. These included the local chapters of the American Postal Workers Union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The King County AFL-CIO Labor Council officially backed Conlin, but several members of its board of directors openly supported Sawant.
At a local and national level, the unions supporting Sawant are collaborating with the Democratic Party and the corporations in a systematic attack on the jobs, wages and living standards of the workers they claim to represent.
The anti-working class character of these organizations was highlighted in the midst of Sawant's campaign by the rebellion of 31,000 machinists at Boeing-- headquartered outside of Seattle--against the demands of the corporation, supported by both the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and Washington's Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, for major pension and health care cuts, along with a long-term wage freeze and no-strike clause. On Monday, Sawant participated in a rally called by the IAM, declaring her solidarity with the union. (See: "The workers' rebellion at Boeing")
Socialist Alternative, the ISO and similar groups represent a tendency within bourgeois politics. The difference between them and political operatives working directly within the Democratic Party is tactical in character. There is a certain division of labor between Sawant and, for example, the new mayor-elect of New York City, Bill de Blasio (who once worked on behalf of Hillary Clinton), but their political outlook is fundamentally the same.
Writing in the Washington Post last week, Nation magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, a staunch supporter of the Obama administration, wrote of a rising "democratic wing" of the Democratic Party in language that is virtually indistinguishable from that of the ISO and Socialist Alternative. Even the issues are identical.
Citing the election of de Blasio and the campaign to bring forward Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as a possible presidential candidate in 2016, vanden Heuvel commented: "Progressive Democrats are waging fights to raise the minimum wage at the local, state and national level, with the White House signaling it will join at the federal level. Labor unions have found success in growing protests by fast-food workers demanding decent wages."
The political regroupment among pseudo-left organizations is an international trend. Socialist Alternat ive has called for a new coalition of like-minded groups, in alliance with the trade unions, to run 100 "independent" candidates in local elections next year. Their aim is to establish a political framework analogous to Syriza in Greece, the Left Party in Germany, and the New Anti-capitalist Party in France.
In all of these cases, these nominally "left" organizations are helping to prop up the capitalist system. Socialist Alternative, the ISO and similar groups are seeking to play a similar role within in the United States.

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