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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

December, 2005

Tearing At Society's Fabric
By Edward W. Miller, MD

Capitalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction-Karl Marx (1818-1883)
On Oct. 27, 2005 two teenagers from the Paris suburbs were electrocuted at a power substation while dodging a police checkpoint. As the news spread, rioting quickly appeared across France. Thousands of cars and buses were torched and nursery schools fire-bombed. Rioters were the children of immigrants, once colonial subjects of France's empire, of Arab and African descent, and Muslim. Most were French citizens. Muslim rioting also spread to Arhus, Denmark and police in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods in Brussels were placed on full alert.
Laurent Levy, an anti-racist commented: "When large sections of the population are denied any kind of respect, the right to work, the right to decent accommodation, what is surprising is not that the cars are burning but that there are so few uprisings,"
In 1991, after violent riots between youths and police scarred France's Lyon, Alain Touraine, French sociologist, had predicted: "It will only be a few years before we face the kind of massive urban explosion the Americans experienced. "
There has been a certain unease in the minds of Americans since the media reported this violence sweeping across France, an unease accentuated by memories of our own racial riots in Watts, when on August 11, 1965, a Los Angeles police officer flagged down motorist Marquette Frye, suspected of being intoxicated. When onlookers taunted the policeman, a second officer was called in who then struck at the crowd with his baton. News of police brutality spread and the incident, combined with rising racial tensions, overcrowded neighborhoods, and a summer heat wave, sparked violence on a massive scale. In five days of rioting, more than 34 people died, at least 1000 were wounded, an estimated $200 million in property destroyed.
Some 35,000 African Americans took part in the riot, which required 16,000 National Guardsmen, county deputies, and city police to put down. Protesters' anger was directed primarily at white shopkeepers in the neighborhood and the all-white Los Angeles police.
On March 3rd, 1991 Rodney King an African-American was beaten repeatedly by Los Angeles police officers. The incident, videotaped by a bystander, raised an outcry, as many believed that the beating was racially motivated. The acquittal, of the four involved officers months later in a state court led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and mass protest around the country.
As the racial and economic disparity in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans and Mississippi is brought into our homes by the media, Americans are asking themselves: "With our economy weakening , our dollar losing its value, manufacturing and intellectual jobs leaving our shores by the millions, will we again be faced with civil unrest and violence ? "
Over two thousand years ago, Aristotle said: "Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime."
More recent history reminds us that economic unrest begets social unrest which, in turn, begets violence and revolution. As Karl Marx put it: "It is not the consciousness of man that determines their existence, but on the contrary, it is their social existence that determines their consciousness. "One basic question: Will the fabric of America's democratic system remain strong enough to withstand those political and economic assaults which are still being visited upon it, beginning on June 23rd, 1947 when the Taft- Hartley Act which greatly weakened the Labor Relations Act of 1935, was passed over President Truman's veto.
In a 2002 article ( the voicenews.com) Ralph Nader argued Taft-Hartley should be repealed as "One of the great blows to American democracy... drafted by employers. The Act fundamentally infringed on workers' human rights… impeded employees rights to join together in labor unions, undermined the power of unions to represent workers' interests effectively, and authorized an array of anti-union activities by employers... outlawing "closed shops"…establishing the right of management to campaign against union organizing drives ...prohibited "secondary boycotts... and entrenched executive tyranny in the workplace."
"Presidents have invoked the Taft-Hartley Act thirty-five times in attempts to halt work stoppages in labor disputes. All but two of those attempts were successful... In 1978 when President Jimmy Carter attempted to use the law to end a coal strike, the courts refused to issue an injunction... In 1971 President Nixon invoked the law to end a longshoremen's strike." (Steven Wagner, Ph.D Assistant Professor of History, Missouri Southern State College )
Today's statistics show that the wages of America's great middle class have increasingly failed to keep up with the expanding cost of living since 1972. As historian Howard Zinn put it: "No capitalistic system can survive without a social conscience. The economic disparity between a wealthy elite, a failing middle class and the desperate poor is today tearing at the fabric of our society… The Constitution gave no rights to working people: no right to work less than twelve hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, and create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance…" (The Progressive, November 2005 Issue)
Those forces tearing at the fabric of our society are everywhere visible. Just last month on November 8th voters in California who went to the polls protected their basic rights, by defeating Propositions 73, 74, 75 and 76. The majority of voters thus reassured young women of their freedom of choice, protected teachers' access to early tenure, allowed union leaders to joist on even terms with business in the political arena, and protected state school funding from our governor's threatened cuts. Schwarzenegger, who had organized the ballot with the help of wealthy supporters, and who represents big business as well as big muscles, had to escape to Asia to hide from the political fallout.
As Americans, we must stand together to prevent further shredding of our social fabric. In Washington (19 Nov.) -- The Republican-controlled Congress, while helping itself to a $3,100 pay raise, postponed work on some bills…. in favor of a two-week vacation. ( David Espo Assoc. Press Nov. 18, 2005) This Congressional gratuity came on the same day House Republicans OK'd a budget bill which will cut over $50 billion from Medicaid, food stamps, student aid, and the elderly, "to pay for tax cuts for the rich." The Bill was passed at 2 AM after all reporters had left... No democrats voted for it, and 14 Republicans opposed it. This is the same House that refused to raise the minimum wage not long ago. The $14.3 Billion cut in student loans will add $5800 to the present $17,000 the average American college student has to repay in interest and fees.
Medicaid cuts simply add to the retirees' co-payments, which many even today cannot afford. (SF Chronicle)
On Nov. 21st, Administration officials will publish a final rule, cutting physician's Medicare fees 4.4% in 2006. Medicare's trustees reported to Congress in April this formula would produce cuts totaling 25% from 2006-2011 while physicians costs rise 15%. (NY Times 20 Nov.) Studies show that our health care system ranks #37 in the world (behind both developed and developing countries); (www.informationclearinghouse.info/article10951.htm)
On another front, the House Agricultural Committee on Nov. 19th approved budget cuts that would take Food Stamps away from over 300,000 people, and could cut school lunches and breakfasts for 40,000 children. The action came as the government reported that the number of people that are hungry because they can't afford to buy enough food rose to 38.2 million in 2004, an increase in 7 million in 5 years. (Assoc. Press)
President Reagan and his supporters placed reliance on "trickle-down" to explain why corporate welfare would raise the living standards of those less fortunate, but any college student in Economics I understands the capitalism is really supported instead by "upward- surges." Nothing in the market can be sold unless there is a buyer, and that buyer must have either cash or credit. By limiting the minimum wage, large numbers of potential buyers in the market are automatically excluded. Many communities today, responding to this economic common sense, have been voting for a "Living Wage" thus guaranteeing a higher standard of living as well as more spending money for themselves and neighbors. Most Americans don't understand the economic morass that Bush and his Republicans have been producing for their fellow Americans. (The November 10th FRBSF Economic Letter)
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco reported that in September 2005, the latest data available, Americans again registered a "negative savings rate," i.e. "consumers are spending more than 100% of their monthly after-tax income, a trend of declining personal savings rates observed for two decades... as US households are becoming more consumption-oriented... Today the ratio of total household debt to personal disposable income stands at all-time high of 118 %."
The American economy is hemorrhaging. Paying for wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as for Homeland Security (Operation "Hunker-Down), and hurricane damage, plus cutting taxes for corporations and the rich. As the value of our dollar declines in relation to the Euro, and our trade deficit increases, the Republicans are supporting a formula for disaster, no matter what rosy economic messages come from Washington.
We lost our wars in both Korea and Vietnam and are now losing in Iraq. We are still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, where we support 18,000 troops. President Karsai, the ex- Unical Oil lobbyist to Washington, protected by US-paid Security guards, presides over a war-devastated Afghan people whose newly-elected parliament is ruled by ex-warlords and whose major export, with the Taliban no longer in control, is again opium.
Meanwhile, south of us in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez who understands the "upward-surging" theory is adding strength to his capitalistic democracy with a blend of socialist , or human-rights measures: distributing unused lands to the poor, establishing schools and medical clinics throughout his Country, fighting illiteracy, and selling his Venezuela oil at bargain prices to his poorer neighbors in the Southern Hemisphere, including Cuba's Castro. Such acts of human kindness are driving the "capitalist pigs" in Washington mad. That crowd of over 12,000 South Americans who booed Bush in Argentina at the recent OAS Conference in Mar Del Plata, were there cheering for Chavez.
We can hope that Bush and his Vice President Cheney, before they do us more harm, will be tried by Congress and impeached; for lying us into war, destroying our economy, increasing the terrorist threat, and forcing Haiti's democratically-elected president Aristide into exile. Their Neo-Con supporters: Wolfowitz and his Gang, should be convicted as traitors. Americans will then be faced with repairing the torn fabric of our society.

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