Against the Current, No. 145, March/April 2010

Against the Current, No. 145, March/April 2010

The Politics of Inverted Fear

— The Editors

THE PERVASIVE SENSE of insecurity and menace in our society today is not unfounded. Far from it — but the reality of the crisis we face is turned upside down by a manipulated and cynical discourse.

Let’s pose a simple question. There are now 45-50 million people in the United States who lack health insurance. Millions more will lose their insurance through job loss, or just because they get sick. What is the greater threat to them: a medical crisis that financially wipes out them and their families — or being hit by a terrorist attack?

Race & Class: Obama Forgets Black Community

— Malik Miah

WHAT I FOUND most striking about President Barack Obama’s first “State of the Union” address before Congress on January 27 was what he didn’t say. In his 70-minute speech on the economy as the first president of the United States of African heritage, I expected that Obama would highlight the special impact of the recession on Blacks.

The last Democratic president, Bill Clinton (once referred to as “the first Black president,” even if this was initially a comedian’s line), always spoke of the special concerns of African Americans — even when he didn’t mean it....

Lost Liberties in the Age of Obama

— Michael Steven Smith

WHEN WORLD WAR II broke out on September l, l939 the poet W.H. Auden sat in a bar on 42nd Street and penned a poem using that fateful date for its title. He reflected that the past ten years had been “a low dishonest decade.” And so has our last ten.

Politicians explained the attack of 9/ll as “they hate us for our freedoms.” Then came the United States’ criminal attack on Iraq, justified because Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.”...

A Year of Banking Bailout

— Nomi Prins

WELCOME TO WHAT to what I call the Second Great Bank Depression. Why that name? Because this period of economic chaos, loss, and global financial destruction was manufactured by the men who shaped the banking sector.

The deluge of money pouring from all orifices of Washington into the banks gives tacit approval to the backward culture of banking — a world based on crazy compensation, counterproductive competition, and loosely regulated practices and laws....

The Crisis and the Potential

— Kim Moody

A VERITABLE CIVIL erupted in the past year among several of America’s leading unions. At a time when over eight million jobs were disappearing, unemployment reaching highs unseen for nearly three decades, home defaults and foreclosures hitting all-time records with no end in sight, and labor’s major legislative goals being cut to pieces, some of the country’s biggest, most aggressive unions went to war — not against capital or Congress, but against one another....

Gaza Freedom March Blocked

— an interview with Kim Redigan

Fourteen hundred international activists mobilized in Cairo, Egypt in late December for a Gaza Freedom March (GFM) to break the siege imposed by the U.S., Israeli and Egyptian governments. The marchers were blocked and attacked by Egyptian police and military forces; there can be no doubt that the authorization for these assaults and the orders to block the march from reaching Gaza came directly from the U.S. administration.

[To get some flavor of the Gaza Freedom March experience, Against the Current interviewed Detroit high school teacher and social justice activist Kim Redigan....

Haiti, Imperialist Disaster

— David Finkel

THE PICTURES AND news reports tell the stories of Haiti’s physical destruction, the agony and heartbreak, the heroism of rescue efforts — and the filthy business of “missionary” child-snatchers — reporting the unfathomable scale of the reconstruction that may take decades.

What today’s pictures don’t convey is how Haiti became “the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.” How it was looted and deforested to pay “reparations” to France for the crime of winning its independence in 1804. How the U.S. Marines occupied it from 1915 to 1934. How all the imperialist powers abetted and profited from the horrific Duvalier family dictatorship....

Washington's Magical Realism

— Saul Landau & Nelson Valdes

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
— Henry Kissinger, June 26, 1970

“I’ve heard many in this room say that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras. … What does that mean in the real world, not in the world of magical realism?” — W. Lewis Amselem, US Representative to the Organization of American States, November 11, 2009

A COUP BECOMES a coup — for U.S. magical realists — when Washington defines it as such....

Washington's Post-Cold War Coup

— Dianne Feeley

THE PRETEXT FOR removing Honduran President Manuel Zelaya — that holding a civic consultation to replace the Constitution of 1982 was his power grab, enabling him to run for a second term — doesn’t hold water. Such a document could only have come into effect well after his term of office ended.

From the time Zelaya assumed office in 2005 on the Liberal Party ticket, his team worked to develop a number of alliances by attempting to win over the U.S. Embassy, working to ensure that his fellow party member Roberto Micheletti became the president of the Congress....

Resistance with the Scent of a Woman

— Alicia Reyes

“THEY’RE AFRAID OF us because we’re not afraid. They think, act, and are going backwards as they stay behind their military armor. They see us laughing, struggling, loving, playing as they watch us from behind their military armor.”

This song by Liliana Felipe, an Argentinean, is sung during many of the Honduran resistance actions. It reflects the feelings of the women in resistance. The protests against the coup in our country have been characterized from the outset by sizable women’s participation.

Guatemala Coup Fails

— Dianne Feeley

WHILE THE COUP in Honduras was successful, in Guatemala an attempted “cold” coup unraveled. Rodrigo Rosenberg was murdered on May 10, 2009; the following day the media ran a video filmed shortly before his death. In it Rosenberg stated that if he were killed, President Alvaro Colom and his wife were responsible....

California Crisis Hits, Fightback Erupts

Questions for a New Movement

— Adam Dylan Hefty

PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES IN California during Fall 2009 saw the eruption of a movement to defend public education — and more broadly, public services and goods — from an onslaught of cuts and fee hikes in the wake of the 2008-09 economic downturn and federal and state budget cuts.

In many ways, the situation affecting California public universities is not new; the crisis is rooted in contradictions at play since the 1970s....

After the Wheeler Occupation

— Zachary Levenson

ONE ASTUTE OBSERVER of the Wheeler occupation noted that the events of November 20 represented a synthesis of the twin strategies of the current student movement: “popular organizing” in the form of general assemblies on the one hand, and a “militant resistance” enamored of occupations on the other.

This synthesis overcomes the twin pitfalls of organization without mobilization and its equally pernicious inversion, mobilization without organization....

The Cuts and the Fightback

— Tanya Smith

THE ACCELERATED PRIVATIZATION taking place at the University of California is transforming the institution. For faculty, students and workers the changes are devastating. Programs and services are cut, student fees are raised over and over again, workers face both furloughs and layoffs while the faculty’s shared governance shrinks....

AFSCME 3299 Fights Back

— Kathryn Lybarger

IN FEBRUARY 2009, four months after the economy crashed, the members of AFSCME Local 3299 ratified a contract with the University of California that has rightfully been called “historic” for the relative gains won by the union on wages and the wage structure. The union represents service and patient-care technical workers, who struggled for more than 18 months to win this agreement....

The Save Public Education Fightback

— Claudette Begin

THE COALITION OF University Employees (CUE) represents workers on ten University of California campuses and one national laboratory. We have been involved in bargaining statewide for the last two years, with no end in sight. For several years our members had not received raises. Additionally there had been hundreds of layoffs on campuses and at the Office of the President....

Solidarity Alliance: A Call to Action

— Claudette Begin

AN HISTORIC ALLIANCE was born at UC Berkeley on August 28, 2009. Lyn Hejinian, Professor of English and a member of SAVE, a newly formed faculty group, had issued an invitation to student groups and the union coalition to come together and share our plans to fight the cuts.

AFSCME, AFT, CUE and UPTE eagerly responded as did a number of student groups, including the student government and underrepresented students as well as SWAT (Student Workers Action Team which had formed during the summer.)...

Celebrating the Past--the Legacy of the Free Speech Movement

— Gretchen Lipow

A COMMEMORATION OF the 45th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement took place at the University of California at Berkeley last December 2nd. As the years fly by anniversaries become more significant as the students who participated exit the stage of life. The usual 10-year anniversary is now shortened to five years. Just recently the FSM gang that met for a potluck dinner decided to celebrate each year!

This year’s event coincided with the struggle of UC students from several of the campuses: Davis, Irvine, Santa Cruz and UCLA....

Gender, Sexuality & Liberation

Sex & Iran's Upstoppable Resistance

— Catherine Sameh

Sexual Politics in Modern Iran
By Janet Afary
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009,
442 pages, $33 paperback.

SINCE IRAN’S PRESIDENTIAL “election” in June 2009 and the protests that followed, the world has caught a partial, albeit highly mediated, glimpse inside that country and its politically active citizenry. The state, frequently misrepresented as a monolith and in neoconservative circles tarred as “Islamo-fascist,” is now more accurately understood as a diverse and fractured set of actors....

Fighting Fires & Breaking Barriers

— Kate Flynn

Sisters in the Brotherhoods
Working Women Organizing for Equality in New York City
By Jane Latour
Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 308 pages, $24.95 paperback.

HAVING A YOUNG daughter and working in the building trades, I am always scanning cultural representations of construction and skilled trades work to see if there are women. Whether Sesame Street or Wendy on “Bob The Builder,” women — in cartoon form at least — are partially visible in the presence of tools and heavy machinery....

Gay Marriage: End of the World?

— Chloe Tribich

When Gay People Get Married:
What Happens When Societies Legalize Same Sex Marriage.
By M.V. Lee Badget
New York University Press, 2009, 288 pages, $35 cloth.

ON JANUARY 14, the fourth day of the trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case that is challenging California’s same-sex marriage ban, the following exchange occurred between the plaintiff’s lawyer Christopher Dusseault and his witness Ilan Meyer, a Professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia. (Excerpt from, which blogged live from the trial.)...


Forging Change, Breaking Chains

— George Lipsitz

Grassroots at the Gateway:
Class Politics & Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936-1975
By Clarence Lang
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009,
324 pages, $28.95 paperback.

REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING are not only things that people do; they are things that are done to them. In our time, the Black freedom movement of the mid-20th century is now both well remembered and selectively forgotten....

Labor at War or in the Tank?

— Paul Buhle

Embedded With Organized Labor:
Journalistic Reflections on the Class War At Home
By Steve Early
New York: Monthly Review Press, 266 pages, $17.95 paperback.

STEVE EARLY IS one of a small handful of extraordinarily keen-eyed observers who see things from within the shrinking world of U.S. organized labor — and who hold nothing back from readers....

Noam Chomsky: Moral & Social Thinker

— Michael A. McCarthy & Glen Pine

The Essential Chomsky
By Noam Chomsky, edited by Anthony Arnove
New York: The New Press, 2008, 413 pages
+ notes and index, $19.95 paperback.

NOAM CHOMSKY IS a powerhouse of insightful thought – this book attests to that. So analyzing or even summarizing Anthony Arnove’s The Essential Chomsky is no simple task. A moderately lengthy and notably chronological collection of texts plucked from Chomsky’s enormous output, The Essential Chomsky leaps from linguistics to Palestine to libertarian socialism and back to linguistics again....

In Memoriam

Dennis Brutus: Honored by the Enemies He Kept

— Patrick Bond & Ashwin Desai

SO MUCH HAS been said about the loving and nurturing characteristics of Dennis Brutus and his political and literary contributions. Those who knew him understood how much he wanted to encourage future generations of radicals and poets.

Yet sometimes it is also useful to know a person through the enemies they keep, and Dennis Brutus had a superb collection. They ranged from apartheid racists to international capitalists and multilateral institutions, to some of his ex-comrades who were post-apartheid compromisers responsible for a South Africa where today, 16 years after freedom, the state recently confessed that whites enjoy annual real income one quarter higher than in 1994, and that blacks actually lost income....

Daniel Bensaïd: The Power of Indignation

— Michael Löwy

DANIEL BENSAÏD, THE lively and inspired French Marxist thinker and activist, has left us. This is a great loss, not only for us, his friends, his comrades of struggle, but for revolutionary culture. With his irreverence, his humor, his generosity, his imagination, he was a rare example of a militant intellectual, in the meaning of these words....

Lester Rodney: The Long Ball Hitter

— Frank Fried

I AM WRITING this piece after reading the New York Times obituary of Lester Rodney, where both the role of the Daily Worker and Lester’s role as its sports writer were given their due credit in the fight to integrate major league baseball. Irwin Silber’s book Press Box Red has previously told Lester’s story in depth, and Dave Zirin’s recent articles round out his significance to sports in a more contemporary fashion [see for Zirin’s tribute — ed.]...