Friday, April 23, 2010

Chickengate: The Left and Science and Technology

By now you've probably heard of the Chickengate in Bolivia.

There is a chance that the president of Bolivia was joking about hormones in chickens causing premature baldness, reproductive developmental disorders, and other disorders due to sex hormone imbalances. ABI reports that the president was speaking "at times in a joking tone" ("a momentos en tono de guasa").

But if it was a joke, it in any case completely overshadowed what little coverage of the Summit on Climate Change in Bolivia there was in the corporate media. Seeking to counter the media coup, a gay indigenous man on the Left bravely put out a video statement: "I am a proud indigenous man, and I am a proud gay man, and I'd like to thank President Evo Morales for his leadership . . . in behalf of all humanity . . . in behalf of protection of our Mother Earth."

Evo can't be a homophobe -- especially given the new Bolivian constitution promulgated by his government specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time in the history of Bolivia -- and the corporate media are wrong to try to pass him off as one.

However, the Chickengate in Bolivia does remind us that there is a tendency in considerable parts of the Left today to be too alarmist about science and technology, especially when it comes to food and energy. That basically leaves the people hanging in the scientific and political vacuum between the Apocalypticist Left and the Panglossian Right.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fiscal Crisis of States

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, what next?  In the United States,1 a "fiscal crisis" of states and municipalities, both real (masses of public-sector workers are getting laid off even now2) and imagined (bogus public pension liabilities stats used in right-wing propaganda to attack unions3).

Money is out there, though, if only we had a powerful coalition to tax the rich!

There's a very good pro-labor, anti-racist, Green rationale to prioritize this fight above all, since one of the sectors under attack is urban mass transportation, whose workers are often unionized and, as in many other sectors of civil service, are often non-white.  Needless to say, state and municipal public service is the most feminist thing in the United States, in terms of profiles of both workers and beneficiaries.

Leftists can't win everywhere pursuing this battle to tax the rich, but we can win here and there,4 which would help build more durable bases for future actions than anything else.  There's nothing like victories to build a Left!

Taxing the rich is also better financial reform than any "oversight" of finance that the Democrats come up with at the federal level.  The less money the rich have, the less money for their gambles.  The financial reform PR message here is to tax the rich and spend their money here, so they won't spend it to bid up, say, real estate prices in China or something like that.

1  In the eurozone, the fiscal crisis expresses itself as the euro core of Germany versus the euro periphery of PIIGS.  See Jayati Ghosh, Heiner Flassbeck, Joseph Halevi, Costas Lapavitsas, and Mark Weisbrot.

2  Dean Baker, "State and Local Governments Have Shed 72,000 Jobs since December," MRZine, 2 April 2010).

3  Nathan Newman, "No Crisis in Public Retirement Systems: Debunking the Hype and the Attacks on Employee Benefits" (MRZine, 17 April 2010).

4  Rick Wolff, "Oregon Counters Massachusetts" (MRZine, 27 January 2010).

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Taliban and the Rights of Women

The dispute between Gita Sahgal and the "Human Rights for All" campaign on one hand and Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International on the other hand is a red herring, which is the reason why it has been "taken up with relish by Britain's self-styled 'decent left' of journalists and commentators, whose superior moral compasses led them to support the invasion of Iraq." All parties directly involved in the dispute profess that they are in favor of women's rights, though they may differ here and there on what exactly the said rights consist of.

But the thing is that women's rights, or lack thereof, in Afghanistan cannot decide the most important questions that Westerners have to ask themselves: will the NATO quit Afghanistan, and, if yes, when?

Under NATO, women's rights will be protected only to the extent that they don't conflict with the military logics of the parties in combat. After NATO's withdrawal, women's rights will be protected only to the extent that the parties governing post-NATO Afghan territories respect them. That probably means that Afghan women will enjoy only such rights as granted by allies of Iran-Russia-India in one part of Afghanistan and Taliban-Pakistan in another part of Afghanistan -- for decades to come.

In either case, with or without NATO, it is not possible for Sahgals, Beggs, or human rights organizations of the West to make the level of women's rights higher than it is given the prevailing objective and subjective conditions of Afghan society. It would help speed up the NATO departure once Western activists admit their inability to make a difference for Afghan women for such a realistic admission would help the Western public concentrate on the only questions on which they have at least some say.