Obama Administration Pursuing Panama FTA

Panama Free Trade Agreement

The Obama administration is currently considering plans to pass the Panama Free Trade Agreement (Panama FTA). The agreement–which is a NAFTA-style free trade agreement–was negotiated under the Bush administration but was not passed before he left office.

Presently, it is being pushed by a number of large banks–many of which received government bailout money. Obama’s trade representative has indicated that the administration is supportive of the agreement.

This is unfortunate as during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama expressed opposition to NAFTA, saying that he was open to having that treaty “renegotiated” to expand environmental and labor protections.

Public Citizen’s Citizens Trade Campaign came out against the agreement, stating:

On behalf of our more than twelve million combined members, we are writing to express our strong opposition to the Panama “Free Trade Agreement” (FTA). This pact reflects the unsuccessful ending point of the past administration’s trade policy and should not serve as the starting point for the new Congress and administration.

Responding to broad public demand for change, more than one hundred candidates from both parties ran on platforms of trade reform in 2008. The past trade model has led to massive American job loss, downward pressure on wages, the loss of nearly 300,000 family farms and massive trade imbalances that have contributed to our current economic crisis. It has given broad, expansive new rights to foreign corporations to challenge our environmental and public health standards, and flooded the United States with unsafe imported food and products. And, it has devastated developing nations where millions of family farmers have been forced off their land and poverty, despair and desperation-driven mass migrations have grown.

Like many of the proposed free trade agreements in the Americas, the Panama FTA uses language that is almost directly replicated from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). This language is problematic and raises doubts about the extent to which environmental and labor standards will be enforced, limits access to medicines, and grants preferences to foreign investors that allow them to sue governments in order to create a more business-friendly climate.

Panama’s Offshore Tax Haven Status also an Issue

Public Citizen has also released a report criticizing the prospect of a free trade agreement with Panama because the country makes it easy for U.S.-based corporations to setup subsidiaries in Panama in order to avoid paying taxes. In fact, it is so easy to do so that Public Citizen’s dispatched one of its interns to give it a try. Here’s what she found:

Passage of the Panama FTA would not reign in these practices. In fact, Public Citizen argues it would take away regulatory provisions aimed at restricting the use of offshore tax havens.

More on the Panama FTA can be found on Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch website.

Che: A Graphic Biography

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I’ve never really read much about Che Guevara, but have always been curious about his life and politics. I’ve been interested due both to his iconic status–his image is everywhere–as well as his influence on the so-called “New Left” in the United States in the 1960s. Spain Rodriguez’s Che: A Graphic Biography provides a quick-and-easy introduction to Guevara’s life that gives biographical details, historical context, and political analysis.

Che: A Graphic Biography helps to explain why Guevara has become a world renowned figure. Ultimately, Rodriguez concludes that Guevara’s celebrity status owes to his life becoming a symbol of standing up to U.S. imperialism. Before presenting that conclusion, Rodriguez describes the important chapters of Guevara’s life, discussing his tour of Latin America and the influence it had on his political development, his involvement in the Cuban revolution, his work spreading revolutionary politics in Africa and Latin America following the Cuban revolution, and his death while attempting to organize a revolution in Bolivia. Throughout this history, the book inevitably discusses the tension between Guevara and Cuba’s Marxism and the free-market capitalist ideology of the United States. It does a good job talking about how the United States sought to suppress revolutionary movements in Cuba and Latin America generally while also touching on Cuba’s attempts to forge alliances with Marxist governments around the world. If there is one downfall of the book, it is that Marxism is receives relatively little detailed exploration and that there is only limited critical assessment of Guevara’s politics.

While the book is short at around 100 pages and can’t get into all of the details of Guevara’s life and times, it more than makes up in it for its readability. For someone not terribly well versed in Latin American politics and history, the book successfully presents enough information to give a sense of what was happening while at the same time keeping the narrative flowing. Moreover, the brilliant illustrations present Guevara in a compelling light, making it easy to follow and breaking up the text for less than frequent readers.

The book also contains an essay by Sarah Seidman and Paul Buhle titled “Che Guevara, Image and Reality” that looks at the commodification of Guevara’s influence and his relationship to revolutionary politics. It looks at how Guevara influenced and was used by a variety of anti-imperialist movements while also providing a critical look at how his image has been used outside of its political context on a range of consumer products.

Overall, Che: A Graphic Biography is well worth reading for those curious about why Guevara has become such an iconic figure and for those interested in learning about revolutionary movements.

Spain Rodriguez, Che: A Graphic Biography, (Verso Books, 2008).

Film, Discussion Looks at Zapatista Uprising in Mexico

A Film and Discussion at The DAAC in Downtown Grand Rapids Looked at the Zapatista Uprising

Tuesday night, The Bloom Collective held a showing of Zapatista at the DAAC in downtown Grand Rapids. Zapatista is a 1999 documentary film about the first 4 years of the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, from 1994 to 1998. The film features interviews with Subcomandante Marcos, Noam Chomsky, and many others. It has been much heralded over the past decade for its accurate and moving portrayal of the post-NAFTA struggle in Mexico and the work of the Zapatistas during that time.


Following the film was a discussion led by a college graduate who studied in Mexico through the Mexico Solidarity Network (MSN). To begin, a brief update on the last ten years in Mexico was given: The Zapatistas decided they did not need the government’s permission to be autonomous and began their own municipalities throughout Mexico. Since the filming of the movie, efforts have shifted to focus on schools and health clinics. In 2005 the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) released the Sixth Declaration of the Lancandon Jungle to initiate a new step in their struggle, to united with “workers, farmers, students, teachers, and employees… the workers of the city and the countryside.” During the 2006 presidential election, the Zapatistas ran “The Other Campaign, ” in which they dismissed the candidates from the two major parties (Party of the Democratic Revolution [PRD] and the National Action Party [PAN]) and began their own tour of the nation, talking to people and listening to their needs.

Women and the Zapatistas

Groups such as MSN have become an opportunity for those living in Zapatista communities to sell their artisanry directly to the consumer, thus avoiding the “middle man” and ensuring a fair price. This has been particularly empowering to women, who are then able to work out of the home and avoid being harassed or degraded in public.

Government Harassment and Targeting

The film mentioned that the Zapatistas do not hold bank accounts – this has changed in recent years, and these bank accounts have become a way for the government to target the Zapatistas. When Zapatistas Fair Trade Coffee co-ops were formed, government owned coffee co-ops would spring up nearby, selling the coffee at a cheaper price and thus undercutting the Zapatista’s coffee sales. Government agents have been known to appear at the Zapatista communities, supposedly searching for marijuana plants – a completely unfounded claim, as the Zapatistas do not allow drugs or alcohol in their municipalities.


Following the update, questions were asked by various filmgoers. Although a good turnout of about thirty people attended the film showing, only a small handful stayed for the discussion. One person asked if any humanitarian laws applied/were enforced in Mexico. Although United Nations measures have passed over the years, they are not effective as there is no system in place to enforce these (and the United States is a powerful member of the UN). Human rights observers have gone to Mexico and documented the situation, which has resulted in enough pressure to shut down government bases.

Discussion turned to NAFTA’s effect on corn production. As of 2008, there are no tariffs on corn coming in to Mexico, making corn from the U.S. and other countries cheaper to buy in Mexico than Mexican corn (which is a huge industry in the country). Because farmers can no longer sell their corn at the price of production, many have moved to cities to find the legendary NAFTA jobs, that don’t really exist.

The narco industry was brought up next, termed “insane” by the discussion facilitator – “narcos run the state now,” as drug lords have infiltrated PAN. U.S. aid has been given to fund the Mexican army, which helps bring drugs to the U.S. Narcos also buy their weapons from the U.S., due to lax gun laws in Arizona and Texas (the facilitator noted that border patrol does not care what goes in to Mexico.) The contradiction of “fighting the drug war by looking for pot plants in Zapataista communities” while this narco situation continues was noted.

The film gave the historical context, and the discussion was useful to gain an understanding of current events in Chiapas, Oaxaca and other regions of Mexico.

Study: Media Coverage of Venezuela, Columbia Serving Washington’s Needs

Study by FAIR Finds Coverage Of Colombia and Venezuela Reflects US Foreign Policy Bias

A new study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) titled “Human Rights Coverage Serving Washington’s Needs” reviewing ten years of editorial coverage in the country’s four largest newspapers finds that the corporate media has largely saw to amplify the positions of the US government.

FAIR writes:

“Rather than independently and critically assessing the Colombian and Venezuelan records, major corporate newspaper editors, to one degree or another, have subordinated crucial human rights questions to what they see as the U.S.’s interests in the region.”

The newspapers have done this by focusing on Venezuela’s human rights record–a so-called enemy of the United States–and minimizing or ignoring human rights abuses by Colombia, an ally of the United States:

“What leads editors to discuss Colombia’s nightmarish human rights record with less alarm than Venezuela’s flawed but clearly superior record? The answer seems to lie in the relationship between the editors’ views and U.S. strategic thinking. Over the time frame of this study, U.S. officials have highlighted human rights concerns in Venezuela out of opposition to the populist policies of its President Hugo Chavez, which they see as threatening to U.S. interests. At the same time, officials have tried to diminish the gravity of Colombia’s human rights problems in order to sustain political support for a number of military, anti-drug and trade projects the U.S. shares with Colombia.”

Findings Similar to Study of Grand Rapids Press Coverage

In a 2007 study, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) found similar bias in the Grand Rapids Press’ coverage of Latin America. In an overview of its findings, GRIID wrote:

“The way that Cuba and Venezuela were reported on in this 6-month period is in line with the current US State Department’s position towards Cuba and Venezuela. Does this mean that the Associated Press does not act independently of US policy or did the Grand Rapids Press decide to run stories that were reflective of the government position?”

Coverage Reflects Chomsky’s Propaganda Model

The coverage also reflects the functioning of the propaganda model that Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman outlined in their influential book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. In a study by the North American Congress on Latin America, Kevin Young found that coverage of Venezuela and Colombia follows this model in reporting on the abuses of the Venezuelan government while ignoring those of Colombia. Young’s study looked at two issues–free speech and presidential term limits–and found that in both cases The New York Times and The Washington Post contained harsh criticisms of Venezuela but were either silent or supportive of Colombia, thereby reflecting US policy.

Headlines: US Attacks in Pakistan Kill 61; Huguo Chavez Wins Reelection

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

U.S. Drone Attacks Kill 61 In Pakistan

A pair of U.S. missile strikes over the past three days have killed 61 people in Pakistan. On Saturday a remote-controlled U.S. drone bombed three compounds in South Waziristan killing 30. Earlier today another U.S. drone struck the Kumman tribal region killing 31 people. The U.S. has now struck Pakistan at least three times since President Obama took office.

Sen. Feinstein: U.S. Using Pakistani Base For Drone Attacks

The attacks come days after Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, became the first U.S. politician to publicly state that the U.S. is using a Pakistani base to carry out the strikes. During a Congressional hearing Feinstein said: “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.” Until now the Pakistani government has attempted to distance itself from the U.S. airstrikes.

Pakistan To Allow Sharia Law in Malakind Region

The Pakistani government and Taliban militants appear close to reaching a ceasefire in the Malakind region of northern Pakistan. Under the deal the government said it would allow the region to be ruled under Islamic or sharia law. The deal was announced on the same day Pakistani president Asif Zardari said the Taliban was trying to take over the state of Pakistan.

Venezuela’s Chavez Wins Vote On Re-Election

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a referendum vote on Sunday to remove term limits paving the way for him to run again in 2013. Electoral authorities said 54 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment to remove term limits for all politicians. Chavez held a victory celebration in Caracas last night.

Hugo Chavez: “The Venezuelan people today radiate their light and democratic, revolutionary virtues to the entire world. Let the world see this light and the people of Simon Bolivar.”

British and French Nuclear Subs Collide in Atlantic Ocean

The British and French governments are being accused of covering up a recent collision between two nuclear-armed submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. The accident occurred on Feb. 3rd or 4th but wasn’t publicly known until today. The British sub, the HMS Vanguard, was armed with 16 nuclear ballistic missiles. The French sub was carrying a similar load. It is unknown whether the collision caused a radioative leak. Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said: “This is a nuclear nightmare of the highest order. The collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons onboard, could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed.”

UN: 50 Million Workers to Lose Jobs Due to Economic Crisis

In economic news, the UN’s International Labor Organization is estimating the global economic crisis could result in a staggering 50 million workers to lose their jobs. The U.N. agency’s chief Juan Somavia said: “I sense a huge popular frustration brewing.” Somavia said the current economic squeeze is “provoking tensions, political uncertainties and even possible security risks.” Last week Dennis Blair, the nation’s new Director of Intelligence, warned that the current global economic crisis has become a greater security concern to the United States than terrorism.

700,000 Italians Protest Berlusconi’s Economic Policies

Workers have staged large protests in countries across the globe. On Friday as many as 700,000 workers took to the streets of Rome to protest Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s economic policies.

Obama Hails Passage of $787 Billion Economic Stimulus Bill

Here in this country, Congress has passed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. On Saturday President Obama hailed the bill’s passage as a major milestone.

President Obama: “This historic step won’t be the end of what we do to turn our economy around, but rather the beginning. The problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread and our response must be equal to the task. President Obama is expected to sign the bill on Tuesday in a special trip to Denver.

White House Moves to Weaken Executive Salary Cap Rules

While President Obama praised Congress for approving the stimulus package, White House officials said Sunday Obama wants to revise the part of the stimulus package dealing with executive compensation. Congress capped executive salaries and bonuses at all institutions receiving federal bailout money but the White House wants executive pay to be limited only at banks that received what it has described as “exceptional assistance” from the government. In other economic news, President Obama has dropped plans to name a single “car czar” who would oversee the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler.

GOP Lawmakers Call On Sen. Burris To Resign

Republican lawmakers in Illinois are calling for Sen. Roland Burris to resign after he acknowledged that he had conversations with allies of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich before Blagojevich named him to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat. In one instance, Burris said Blagojevich’s brother had asked him for campaign donations. When questioned under oath last month Burris failed to tell state lawmakers about these conversations. Some lawmakers are accusing Burris of committing perjury. Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office last month after he was accused of trying to sell Obama’s seat.

Federal Court Rules in Favor of Mountaintop Coal Removal

A federal appeals court in Richmond Virginia has overturned a decision that restricted the controversial coal mining practice known as mountaintop removal. Friday’s decision reverses a 2007 ruling that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had violated the Clean Water Act in issuing permits for four coal mines. Friday’s ruling is seen as a major victory for the coal industry. Environmentalists say Appalachia could now face up 90 new mountaintop removal coal mining operations, which would destroy huge swaths of the Appalachian Mountains. A coalition of environmental groups including EarthJustice, Sierra Club and Coal River Mountain Watch are now urging President Obama to ban mountaintop coal removal.

Israel Considers Releasing Palestinian Leader Marwan Barghouthi

In news from the Middle East, Israel is reportedly considering releasing imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi who has has been held since 2002. Israeli officials believe his release would likely bolster President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction before any prisoner swap with Hamas. Barghouthi is seen as a possible successor to Abbas to head Fatah. This comes as outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attempts to negotiate a last-minute deal with Hamas under which Israel would release 1,000 or more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Olmert said that the release of Shalit is the top priority in any deal with Hamas.

Ehud Olmert: “This is the priority of Israel. First, Gilad Shalit. Second, the end of smuggling of arms across the Egyptian border through Philadelphi Corridor (Gaza-Egypt border) into Gaza. And third, complete total ceasefire

and any hostile activities by the Hamas from Gaza.”

Advisor: Obama to Lift Stem Cell Research

A senior advisor to Barack Obama said the president will soon issue an executive order lifting an eight-year ban on embryonic stem cell research imposed by President George Bush. Obama adviser David Axelrod discussed the issue during an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.

Chris Wallace: “When are you going to issue an executive order on stem cell research?”

David Axelrod: “That–we’ll be doing something on that soon, I think.”

Chris Wallace: “An executive order lifting the ban on federal funding.”

David Axelrod: “The president is considering that right now.”

In 2001, President Bush limited federal funding for stem cell research only to human embryonic stem cell lines that already existed. Scientists believe embryonic stem cell research could eventually produce cures for a variety of diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.

U.S. Military To Recruit Temporary Immigrants

The New York Times reports the U.S. military will begin recruiting immigrants offering a chance to become citizens in as little as six months. The program will focus on immigrants with special skills who are in the United States on temporary visas. This marks the first time since the Vietnam War that the armed forces would be open to temporary immigrants.

Blackwater Changes Name to XE

The private military contractor firm Blackwater Worldwide has decided to change its name in attempt to rebrand the company’s image. Blackwater will now operate under the name Xe, pronounced like the letter “z.” Blackwater’s decision comes less than a month after the Iraqi government announced it will refuse to renew Blackwater’s operating license. In 2007, Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked massacre in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Begins Asia Trip

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Japan on her first trip abroad as President Barack Obama’s chief diplomat. She also plans to stop in Indonesia, South Korea and China.

Civil Rights Leaders Visit India to Retrace MLK’s 1959 Trip to Study Gandhi

And a delegation of U.S. civil rights leaders has arrived in India to retrace the steps of Martin Luther King Jr., who came to India 50 years ago to study Mahatma Gandhi. Members of the delegation include Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Young and Martin Luther King III.

Martin Luther King III: “As the son of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King have had this opportunity to pay tribute to the greatest human being that ever worked on our planet, the great Mahatma Gandhi…. 50 years ago my father and mother came to this country and spent about 30 days. In this occasion, we will only be able to spend only two weeks, but, it is a special honor.”

Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba

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On January 1, the Cuban revolution celebrated the fifty year anniversary of its toppling of the Batista regime. The US media coverage of that anniversary was limited and when coverage did appear it either presented the revolution as repressive or centered around the personalities of Fidel or Raul Castro.

This kind of US media coverage has been consistent for decades and was reflected in a six-month study that the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy conducted in 2007 on Latin America. This type of media representation of Cuba has contributed greatly to the lack of understanding amongst those living in the US about the reality of life in that Caribbean nation for the past fifty years.

Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba is an important new book that can serve as a counter to the biased US media coverage. Author and journalist, Reese Erlich, provides readers with an excellent overview of US policy towards Cuba since 1959. Erlich has traveled to Cuba numerous times since his initial visit in 1968, when he went as a member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). These visits not only helped the author to develop relationships with Cubans over the past 40 years, it provided him with some insight into the evolution of the revolutionary experiment in Cuba.

Not an Apologist for the Cuban Government

Another important aspect of Dateline Havana is that the author does not act as an apologist for the Cuban government. While Erlich’s investigation of US policy towards Cuba does acknowledge how Washington has punished and marginalized the revolutionary government, he doesn’t shy away from pointing out the many shortcomings. Erlich shares the stories of many Cubans who feel that the Cuban government has not lived up to the stated goals of the revolution, such as providing adequate food, work opportunities, and the right to dissent. Erlich even devotes chapters to the discussion of racism in Cuba, whether or not Cuban women are better off since the revolution, and how the government treats the gay community.

The author’s critique of Cuba is balanced by his ability to present us with information on US policy that will not overwhelm readers. Erlich looks at the harsh realities of US attempts to overthrow the Cuban government, the use of biological warfare, assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, a propaganda war through radio and TV Marti, and the decades long embargo that has attempted to strangle the tiny Caribbean island.

One of the most revealing chapters deals with the issue of artistic expression in Cuba with a focus on the international acclaim of the late 1990’s musical phenomenon known as the Buena Vista Social Club. Erlich interviews several musicians who participated in that project, most of whom have been supporters of the Cuban government. However, the interviews also reveal that many of those same musicians were frustrated with how film maker Wim Wenders depicted Cuba in his highly acclaimed film about the Buena Vista Social Club.

A Good Book for Understanding US-Cuba Relations

Dateline Havana concludes with a look into the future of US/Cuban relations in a post-Castro era. The author raises many questions about the resiliency of the five-decades long revolution and whether or not the US will ever be willing to have open relations with the island nation as long as it maintains a commitment to what was started in 1959. Reese Erlich’s book is an important contribution for anyone who cares about understanding US policy and its future with Cuba.

Reese Erlich, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba, (Polipoint Press, 2008).

Anarchism For Beginners

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Anarchism is a political ideology that has been largely forgotten among the political mainstream and has been largely forgotten by the institutionalized left. While a number of socialist and communist newspapers continue to be published across the United States, anarchism has considerable less public visibility. However, as Marcos Mayer shows in Anarchism For Beginners, despite its lack of visibility since the Second World War, anarchism remains a popular political philosophy. Unlike many mainstream histories of the topic that treat anarchism as a distinctly 19th and 20th century phenomenon, Mayer argues that anarchism continues to have influence on society, particularly after the Soviet experience discredited the socialist and communist left.

A Brief Overview of Anarchist History

Mayer begins his short, illustrated introduction to anarchism by talking anarchism’s resurgence in the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s. He cites contemporary thinkers such as Noam Chomsky who identify as anarchist–along with a renewed interest in the topic–as being key in keeping the philosophy alive. From this introduction, Mayer segues into an overview of anarchist theory and action over the past 200 years. He gives short overviews of the major theorists Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Goldman, while looking at the historical successes and failures of the movement, including the Spanish Civil War, the terrorist campaigns of the late 1800s, and its contribution to women’s rights. Whereas many histories confine their discussions to one continent, Mayer gives a global overview of anarchism, looking at the movement in Europe, the United States, and South America.

Expected Shortcomings

As would be expected in such a short book (169 pages with illustrations on every page), Mayer’s book has to leave out some topics. Unfortunately, while it goes further than many books in that it recognizes the continued relevance of anarchism, it comes up short in offering examples beyond the anti-globalization movement. In the discussion of anarchism after World War II, Mayer talks only of its influence on artistic movements such as Dadaism, the French Situationists and May 1968, and punk rock. Of all these, the discussion on punk rock could have been greatly improved, as Mayer focuses only on the more commercialized sections of the punk scene, rather than the anarcho-punk movement that has fostered an underground network of publications, collective houses, and music labels, all of which are often intimately tied with political action. Similarly, while he touches on it briefly in his discussion of Murray Bookchin, Mayer misses the opportunity to look at anarchism’s role in the radical environmental movement. Contributions to the animal rights movement are also overlooked.

A Worthy Introduction

Overall, Anarchism for Beginners is a worthwhile starting point for someone looking for a quick overview of anarchism. Its short length and cartoon style make it a worthy introduction to a complex topic, and its brief descriptions of different anarchists and movements offer a good jumping off point for further exploration. Moreover, unlike a lot of primers on anarchism–this one was actually written in this century. After reading this book, interested readers might consider moving onto No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism or An Anarchist FAQ: Volume 1, both of which will expand on the concepts introduced in Anarchism for Beginners.

Marcos Mayer, Anarchism For Beginners, (For Beginners, 2008).

Report says CAFTA has Failed to Deliver

A new report from the Stop CAFTA coalition charges that CAFTA has failed on numerous fronts and has not improved the lives of workers in the signatory countries. The coalition says that CAFTA’s failings should be used as reason to suspend the agreement and reject future neoliberal trade agreements.


Earlier this month, the Stop CAFTA Coalition released a report on the effects of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and called for the trade agreement to be suspended by president elect Barack Obama.

The report argues that CAFTA has failed on several fronts and that its failure should be seen as a reason to reject the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement and focus instead on agreements that focus on human rights, and economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

The report argues that the problems that come with CAFTA–often dismissed by critics as “growing pains” that will even out over time–are problems inherent to the flawed economic theories that shaped the agreement. As with many neoliberal trade agreements, jobs gained have largely been low paying–and often dangerous–jobs at factories owned by multi-national corporations. Similarly, a rise in exports reported by some CAFTA countries has largely benefited multinationals. Intellectual property rights included within CAFTA have stopped local corporations from being able to sell generic medicine to impoverished citizens who cannot afford brand-name drugs. The agreement has also paved the way for destructive environmental projects including open-pit mines and hydroelectric dams. Moreover, CAFTA’s rules make it harder for citizens to challenge these projects.

The report also briefly looks at how the United States has been impacted by CAFTA. The agreement’s passage was hotly debated in the legislature and many unions and NGOs opposed CAFTA. Some of them opposed the agreement on the grounds that it would negatively affect the agricultural and industrial sectors of the US economy. The report concludes that there has been relatively little effect on those sectors. However, it cautions that any gains for the US under CAFTA favor large corporations over small ones, and agri-business over small farms.

Overall, the report concludes that:

“The promises of DR-CAFTA have not been realized in the first three years of its implementation. If DR-CAFTA is not seriously renegotiated, it will continue to harm local economies and people, promote migration, and greatly increase the economic inequalities that persist throughout the region. Without changes to the current economic model and vast improvements to local infrastructure, employment opportunities will continue to be scarce, and the poor will continue to become poorer as the rich continue to become richer.”

The report offers several ideas for alternatives to the neoliberal CAFTA, including ALBA, a cooperative trade agreement focusing on development and mutually beneficial policies, and the Association Agreement with the European Union. In addition, it contains a “Pledge for Trade Justice” that offers elements that must be present to have an agreement based on justice and equality. These include increased transparency, stronger core environmental and labor standards in the body of trade agreements, provisions allowing for locally focused sustainable development, and more.

CAFTA was supported by West Michigan Representative Vern Ehlers who has a history of supporting neoliberal trade agreements including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow both voted against CAFTA.

The Stop CAFTA coalition has released two previous reports on the effects of CAFTA in 2006 and 2007.

Columbus and other Cannibals

Jack D. Forbes’ Columbus and other Cannibals is a powerful book that will challenge readers’ basic assumptions about western civilization.

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Jack Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals was one of the early books to come out of the anti-civilization movement. That milieu–dedicated to the destruction of civilization and all that comes with it–offers an often difficult, yet lucid critique of what is wrong with the world. Arguing that problems are more than governments, economic systems, or individual systems of oppression, the movement argues that problems arise specifically from the very notion of civilization and that problems in society are ingrained in the fabric of society. First published in 1978 and reprinted this year by Seven Stories Press (containing additional chapters), Columbus and other Cannibals introduces readers to this challenging theory.

Forbes–a longtime Native American activist and professor–roots his critique of civilization in the perspective of the indigenous peoples who were subjected to genocide, ecocide, and terrorism at the behest of European conquerors. To explain this, Forbes introduces readers to the Native American concept of the “Wetiko” psychosis–the disease of cannibalism:

“Wetiko is a Cree term which refers to a cannibal or, more specifically, an evil person or spirit who terrorizes other creatures by means of terrible evil acts, including cannibalism.”

Forbes argues that Columbus–the first conqueror–carried this “terribly contagious psychological disease” and introduced it to the Americas. He argues that western civilization is built on imperialism and exploitation, which are essentially forms of cannibalism. Forbes defines cannibalism as “the consuming of another’s life for one’s own private purpose or profit.”

Throughout the book, Forbes explores different aspects of the Wetiko psychosis including the aforementioned genocide of the Native Americans, the rise of patriarchy, authoritarianism, state terrorism, and the state itself. Forbes weaves historical examples into his writing, discussing the Israel-Palestine situation, 9/11, US intervention in Central and South America, and the Roman Empire. He analyzes different aspects of the Wetiko psychosis including lying, sadism, and arrogance–all of which are necessary traits. He also argues that the primary beneficiaries of Wetiko societies are the wealthy and those who rule, but that it is also organized, systemic behavior that depends on the support of those living within Wetiko society. Forbes argues that the system often uses the promise of material prosperity to stifle dissent and gain supporters, some of whom do the dirty work of the ruling class. As examples, Forbes explores colonialism and class conflict.

However, while Forbes is a strong critic of much of what the western world has done, Columbus and other Cannibals is not without hope. At the end of the book, Forbes talks about the possibilities for curing western culture of the Wetiko disease. He stresses the importance of a spiritual movement to confront the insanity of the Wetiko psychosis, as it is a “sickness of the spirit.” He rejects Christianity, explaining that it has all to often allowed or aided Wetiko destruction. Instead, Forbes speaks positively of Native spirituality and a dramatically different way of living in relation to the Earth and other living things. He argues that people need to realize that they are part of the Earth and advocates for a form of animism or “life-ism” that has respect for life, respect for the living, and a respect for all forms of life. Such a worldview would fundamentally change how western culture sees the world:

“But this earth of ours is not ugly. Nor this sky, nor this sun, nor this moon. Nor are the animals and the plants ugly. We live in a mysterious, marvelous universe and it offers us a chance to be cured by its loving embrace.”

Columbus and other Cannibals offers an important critique of the insanity of western civilization, while also offering a possible path for renewal. It is the kind of book that has the potential to greatly expand people’s consciousness and foster a great understanding of the world and what needs to be changed. At the same time, it challenges the basic assumptions of western culture and forces the reader to explore the very foundations of society. Readers who stick through the book will be greatly rewarded.

Jack D. Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals, (Seven Stories Press, 2008).

Bush VS Chavez: Washington’s War on Venezuela

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In a follow up to her first book The Chavez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela, Eva Golinger has written another excellent book that provides more insight and analysis into current US policy towards Venezuela. Bush Versus Chavez: Washington’s War on Venezuela takes a look at US policy towards Venezuela since the late 1990’s with an emphasis on what tactics the US has used since the attempted coup in 2002.

In The Chavez Code, Golinger focuses on the role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) (the government agency that has been used around the world as a tool for backing political forces that are friendly to US interests). In Bush VS Chavez, the NED is mentioned but only as one of the agencies used to undermine democracy in Venezuela. Golinger investigates all of the agencies within the US government that have contributed to either supporting anti-Chavez forces within Venezuela or directly confronting the Chavez-led government. These agencies, in addition to NED, are USAID (US Agency for International Development), the US State Department, the US Military, the US Intelligence community, and the Center for Security Policy, which was commissioned by the US government to craft a position paper on Venezuela in May of 2005. Golinger is able to provide a detailed analysis of each of these agencies’ roles since she did the hard work of looking at all the internal declassified source materials from the US government relating to Venezuela. The publisher of Bush VS Chavez has posted these original source documents on their website in order to allow the public to view what the author used in her research.

So what exactly have these government agencies been up? Golinger documents that NED and USAID have been aggressively been funding anti-Chavez forces throughout the country. One group is Sumate, a Venezuela organization that claims to focus on open and free elections. The reality is that Sumate has used US funding to orchestrate things like a recall referendum in 2003. Sumate has been at the forefront of the US campaign to destabilize Venezuela and were even rewarded for their efforts when Bush invited their director to the White House in May of 2005. This is ironic, since no member of the Chavez administration has received such an invitation.

In addition to the funding of anti-Chavez forces, the US strategy has included military intimidation. In the first half of 2006 the US military conducted four separate military “exercises” in what the Pentagon calls “Operation Partnership of the Americas.” Golinger points out that these exercises, which conducted out of the US bases in Panama, were part of Plan Balboa, which some analysts see as a preparation for direct US military intervention. Even John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, admitted that the US “sent a nuclear submarine to intercept communications off the coast of Venezuela in April of 2006.” Along with this kind of direct military action the US has also used other agencies such as the DEA to spy on Venezuela. The Drug Enforcement Agency has even gone so far as to accuse the Chavez administration of drug trafficking even though they have never presented any credible evidence.

The last major component of the US campaign against Venezuela is to use diplomatic agencies, particularly the US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield. Brownfield, a seasoned foreign policy diplomat has spent most of his time traveling in the Curacao region of Venezuela. Curacao has become the main region of Venezuela to foster anti-Chavez activities. Brownfield has gone so far as to encourage the governor of that region to advocate for an independent state. Brownfield has also negotiated additional US military activity and has developed strong relations with the anti-Chavez business community, particularly the media and energy companies.

Few books to date have done such an excellent job of presenting the multi-strategy approach to US policy against Venezuela. Bush VS Chavez is one of the best to date and is useful for anyone who wants to understand how US foreign policy functions abroad.

Eva Golinger, Bush Versus Chavez: Washington’s War on Venezuela, (Monthly Review Press, 2007).