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The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010


Some Preliminary Observations

Sukla Sen

The Run Up

The draft Bill which had been approved by the Union Cabinet on November 20 20091 was eventually listed for tabling in the Lok Sabha on March 15 20102, the penultimate day of the first half of the Budget Session of the Parliament, after a lapse of almost 4 months.

In fact, the Bill was in the offing for quite some time by then, since the successful clinching of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, on October 10 20083.

The Deal has, it may be pertinent to recall, opened up for India the doors to the global nuclear market, thereby making the tag ‘Indo-US’ somewhat of a misnomer in so far as the tag conveys the impression of strict bilaterality4. The market had remained out of bounds since the first (“peaceful”) nuclear explosion carried out by India way back on May 18 1974 with the plutonium obtained from the spent fuel rods of the nuclear reactor CIRUS supplied by Canada5 to mentor India onto the path of developing capabilities to generate nuclear power (only) for “peaceful” purposes. The nuclear explosion, despite the disingenuous tag, “peaceful”, was looked upon by the rest of the world as a clear breach of faith, if not worse. The reactions were strong and almost instantaneous. India was, as a consequence, practically shooed out of the global nuclear market. With passage of time the barriers went further up and up. And, more so, after the second round of five blasts, on May 11 and 13 1998, declaring itself openly as a nuclear weapon power and attracting strong condemnations from the rest of the world5A. Things became even tougher.

But if the US had earlier taken the lead to impose sanctions in response to Indian blasts, under George Bush, it took a unilateral initiative to radically reverse the situation in 2005. The contours of that move were duly captured in a joint statement issued on July 18 by George Bush and Manmohan Singh from Washington DC. After traversing a long and tortuous path marked by cajolements, mainly by India, and muscle flexing by the US, the international community was sort of coerced into accepting India back as a legitimate partner in (civilian) nuclear trade. The 45-member Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) on September 6 2008 at the end of two rounds of stormy sessions granted a unique waiver to India, completely disregarding Pakistan’s shrill cry for a similar, and even-handed, treatment. The grand reward for the grossly aberrant India stood out in sharp contrast also with the harsh treatment being meted out to Iran, a signatory to the NPT, on the ground of its presumed intention to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of working towards nuclear power despite repeated denials and access granted to IAEA inspections of its facilities.6

This Bill is generally being looked upon as a continuum of that process, allegedly, in order to ensure a “level playing field” for the American enterprises – to let them have a significant share of the cake7, the Indian nuclear market – a part payback for the American generosity bestowed upon India, for its very own reasons though. The move had, however, been first conceived by the then NDA government way back in 19998.

When the US Secretary Of State, Hillary Clinton, visited India in July 20099, there were talks of the Bill getting passed by the Indian Parliament. But nothing of that sort happened. Again in late November 2009, when Singh was to meet Obama in Washington DC10, there was talk of getting the Bill enacted. Even then, it did not happen. The Union Cabinet had dutifully approved the Bill just on the eve of the visit though. With Manmohan Singh to visit the US to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, called by President Barack Obama, slated to be held on April 12-13111, the government was again trying to push it through. Never mind the considerable cooling off of Indo-US relations in the meanwhile as compared to the George Bush days12.

It is of course quite another matter altogether that the Bill could not eventually be tabled on account of the shift in relationship of forces within the Parliament caused by the introduction, and its passage in the Upper House, of the much lauded and controversial Women’s reservation Bill13. And now, given the realignment of forces, whatever be the intentions of the government, no easy or early passage is on the cards. But that does in no way mitigate the salience of the Bill and its serious implications. In any case, Barack Obama is scheduled to visit India later this year14. So the pressure will persist. 

The Bill

Since the Bill was approved by the Union Cabinet on November 20 2009, at least three significant changes have been made. One, the name has been changed from ‘The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2009’ to ‘The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010’15. Two, in clause 6. (2), the quantum of “liability of an operator for each nuclear incident” has been revised upwards from “rupees three hundred crores” to “rupees five hundred crores”. Three, a new “Chapter”, ‘Offences and Penalties’ with 4 clauses, has been added. Also, the Chapter IV, ‘Claims and Awards’, has been somewhat restructured and expanded.

The Bill, in the present form, is contained in 28 (26 + ii) pages. It has 7 Chapters constituted of 49 clauses and also ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ with ‘Notes on clauses’ following plus two memoranda.

The objective of the Bill as laid down in the extended subject line is:

To provide for civil liability for nuclear damage, appointment of claims Commissioner, establishment of Nuclear Damage Claims Commission and for matters connected therewith or incidental there of

Para 7 of the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ further lays down that the purpose of the Bill is: to enact a legislation which provides for nuclear liability that might arise due to a nuclear incident and also the necessity of joining an appropriate international liability regime.

The “appropriate international liability regime” clearly refers to ‘Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage’ (CSC) – 199716, which is purportedly based on the earlier Paris and Vienna Conventions. India is as yet signatory to none of these Conventions.17 And the CSC is yet to come into force18. And, that being the case, India has got to get a national law enacted so as to be able to declare that its national law complies with the provisions of the Annex to the subject Convention, before it is considered for membership of this Convention (i.e. CSC).

This Bill appears to be very much a move in that direction. It is, however, interesting to note while the CSC provides that “liability” of the “operator” is absolute, i.e. the operator is held “liable” irrespective of fault; the corresponding provision in the subject Bill, as contained in Clause 5 (Chapter II), is pretty much contrary to that. This Clause lists out the circumstances under which the “operator” will not be “liable” in case of an accident.

Regardless of justifiability or otherwise, the motivation for such a clear departure deserves to be properly explored.

The range of implications of joining this Convention, the main purpose of which appears to make Supplementary Compensation available jointly by the member countries in case of a (catastrophic) accident over and above the “liability” limit of the “operator” and the concerned state19, also need be thoroughly examined.

 

The author of the Bill is Prithviraj Chavan (Minister of State for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences).

The Bill, in pursuance of the objective as spelt out above, in the Clause 9 (Chapter III) provides:

The Central Government shall, by notification, appoint one or more Claims Commissioners for such area, as may be specified in that notification, for the purpose of adjudicating upon claims for compensation in respect of nuclear damage.

The Chapter IV provides the details as regards ‘Claims and Awards’.

The heart of the Bill is however, arguably, constituted of clause 5, 6 and 7 (Chapter II). The clause 6 gives out the limits of “liabilities”, clause 7 spells out the “liability” of the Central Government and the clause 5 lists out the circumstances under which the “operator” shall not be “liable”.

The Major Problems

The major problems are as under:

I. The Bill paves the path for private participation as "operator" of nuclear power plants in India.

One of the central elements of the Bill is to define the "liability", arising out of any nuclear accident, of an individual "operator" – independent of (and unaffiliated with) the Government of India.

Till now all nuclear establishments/ventures, including power plants, without any exception, are run by the state through affiliated bodies – the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) for uranium mines and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) for the power plants.

Given that fact, this provision makes sense only in the context of an impending programme for participation of private players as “operators” of nuclear power plants.

In fact, the Clause 6. (2), inter alia, provides:

The liability of an operator for each nuclear incident shall be rupees five hundred crores

And, the Clause 7 (1), inter alia, provides:

The Central Government shall be liable for nuclear damage in respect of a nuclear incident.

(a) where liability exceeds the amount of liability of an operator specified under sub-section of section 6;

(b) occurring in a nuclear installation owned by it

Furthermore, the Clause 6. (1) provides:

The maximum amount of liability in respect of each nuclear incident shall be the rupee equivalent of three hundred million Special Drawing Rights.

Therefore in case of the power plants operated by the NPCIL, as is the case with all the plants as of now, the quantum of “liability” is “three hundred million Special Drawing Rights” or equal to the “maximum” (i.e. total) “liability”.

The much lower quantum of “rupees five hundred crores” will apply only in case of nuclear power plants not owned/operated by the NPCIL. As of now, there is neither any such plant nor has any such plan been announced.

But these provisions taken together are a clear pointer to that direction.

The nuclear industry is unique in character in terms of safety hazards. And a nuclear power plant is potentially catastrophic, as so chillingly demonstrated by the Chernobyl disaster on April 26 198620, in particular. Given the fact that profit maximisation drive is the very raison detre of any private enterprise giving rise to the intrinsic and inevitable tendency to cut corners in the field of "safety", the envisaged ushering in of private players as “operators” of nuclear power plants is an open armed invitation to disaster.

A regulatory body overseeing safety measures can at best mitigate this trend, not eliminate it by any stretch. And given the tremendous clout of the private operators in this field given the scale of investments required, the efficacy of any regulatory body, in any case, would be highly suspect.

Hence, this move calls for all out resistance.

And, the CSC does in no way obligate its members to open up their wombs to private “operators”.

II. A. The Bill proposes to limit the total “liability" (of the (private) "operator" plus the "state") regardless of the scale of the disaster.

This is just unacceptable.

II. B. On top of that, the total or “maximum” “liability" has been "capped" at "three hundred million Special Drawing Rights [SDR]". This works out to just around Rs. 2,100 crore and 450 million US$.21

In case of Bhopal Gas Disaster, the Supreme Court had approved a deal between the contending parties providing compensation to the victims amounting to US$ 470 million22. That was way back in 1989, more than two decades ago. Even at that time this was considered grossly inadequate.

So, while whatever cap on “liability” is unacceptable; this cap on total “liability" or the "maximum amount of liability", as the draft Bill has put it, is woefully paltry. More so, given the fact that a catastrophic nuclear accident may very well dwarf the Bhopal Gas Disaster in terms of devastations.

In case of Chernobyl Disaster, while no precise estimate of total economic impact is available, as per one report, the total “spending [only] by [neighbouring] Belarus on Chernobyl between 1991 and 2003 was more than US $ 13 billion.23

That’s incomparably larger as compared to the “maximum liability” pegged in the Bill – 450 million US $!

However, once India joins the CSC, and it comes into force, the cap on total “liability” would undergo significant change as additional compensation over and above 300 million SDR would become available. In fact the CSC also permits the concerned states to provide for further (“third tier”)24compensation over and above the CSC limits. As long as the nuclear power plants in India obtain, joining the Convention may in fact turn out to be beneficial for the potential victims. But then the government must come clean on its plans, make specific commitment and explain the implications. The onus clearly lies with it.

III. The liability of an individual non-state (i.e. private) "operator" has been "capped" at a mere Rs. 500 crore. Less than one-fourth of the total or "maximum" liability.

And, the difference between the actual compensation to be paid and the "liability" of a private "operator" would be borne by the Indian government i.e. the Indian taxpayers/people.

So, while the very concept of cap is unacceptable and the total cap could very much turn out to be woefully inadequate; the cap on individual private "operator is abysmally low - less than one-fourth of the total cap.

It is evidently an attempt to brazenly favour a private "operator" at the cost of Indian masses.

The eminent jurist, and former Attorney General, Soli Sorabjee has argued in details25:

Any legislation that attempts to dilute the Polluter Pays and Precautionary Principle and imposes a cap on liability is likely to be struck down as it would be in blatant defiance of the Supreme Court judgments. Moreover, it would be against the interests and the cherished fundamental right to life of the people of India whose protection should be the primary concern of any civilised democratic government.

Not only that, there is a further provision that this cap for an individual "operator" may be fixed lower or higher than the normative cap of Rs. 500 crore, but in no case lower than Rs. 100 crore. Quite significantly, while the cap of Rs. 300 crore, as had been understandably approved by the Union Cabinet, now stands revised upward to Rs. 500 crore; there is no corresponding revision of the floor level of Rs. 100 crore. So this “revision” in actual practice may turn out to be just a ploy, an act of deception.

It is not clear what stops the Indian government, or its designated agency, to peg such caps, while actually operating this provision “having regard to the extent of risk involved in a nuclear installation” – and no objective parameters whatever having been laid down, at the minimum of Rs. 100 crore, or thereabout?

In that case, the "cap" for the private "operator" becomes even less than one-twentieth of the total or "maximum" "cap. That's just ridiculous.

It is also equally significant that while “the Central Government may, having regard to the extent of risk involved in a nuclear installation by notification, either increase or decrease the amount of liability of the operator”, there is no such corresponding provision for the “maximum [i.e. total] liability”. If the risk assessment of any particular “installation” makes it liable for adjusting the “liability” for the private “operator” it would be quite logical to adjust the “maximum [i.e. total] liability” for that “installation” in alignment with that. That nothing of that sort has been provided in the Bill clearly gives away the real intention behind. To lower down the “liability” of a private “operator” even much below the otherwise abysmally low amount of Rs. 500 crore – not even one-fourth of the “maximum liability”. That’s evidently just a stratagem to deceive.

Furthermore, with passage of time, the Indian Rupee is expected to depreciate against the SDR. With the total or "maximum" cap having been defined in terms of SDR and the cap of individual private "operator" in terms of Indian Rupees, the proportion of the financial burden to be borne by a private "operator", in case of a catastrophic accident, would further go down! Here again, there is no apparent reason, other than to favour the private “operator”, why in one case it is SDR and in the other case it is Indian Rupees.

Here it is pertinent to keep in mind that the CSC does not establish either a floor or a ceiling on the liability of the operator or require the concerned state to limit the liability of the “operator”. It in no way makes it incumbent upon any member country to either bring in private “operator” or limit/cap its “liability” at a level lower than the “total liability” (of minimum 300 million SDR).24

The Situation in the US

In case of the US, in the event of an accident, the first $375 million is paid by the insurer(s) of the plant. It is mandatory to insure the plant.

Beyond that, up to US$ 10 billion is paid out of a fund jointly contributed by the “operators” as mandated by the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act.

Beyond that, the Federal Government pays.26

The contrast is too stark.

Other Issues

The argument by some commentators that without this Bill being enacted, the American companies would be at a disadvantage appears to be somewhat confused and only partly true. The American vendors will conceivably be at no disadvantage as compared to their competitors as the vendors are routinely "indemnified for consequential damages". Even otherwise, the Bill does not prohibit the “operator” from making the equipment vendor “liable” on account of an “accident”. That is between the “operator” and the “vendor”. But as far as the victim is concerned, the “operator” will be “liable” subject to the applicable cap. From the (potential) victim’s point of view, such single point responsibility should actually be welcome. That would conceivably cut down much of legal complications which may arise otherwise.

The US-based enterprises will, however, be at a distinct disadvantage as prospective "operators" in absence of a cap on their “liability”.

The mainstream, and also radical, critics, known to be otherwise knowledgeable, have rather pitiably missed the central point that the essential thrust of the Bill is to enact a law in compliance of the CSC and usher in private players as "operators" and peg their “liability” at ridiculously low levels, going well beyond the framework of the CSC.27

The other point that has been raised is that the Bill “lets nuclear equipment suppliers and designers off the hook”28. This, however, appears to be fairly misconceived – at two distinct levels. One, the vendor, the designer or even the turn-key contractor is customarily indemnified (i.e. given immunity) from consequential damages (which include third party damages). That is the standard norm. Two, the Bill itself does not do anything to prohibit the plant owner/operator from incorporating suitable clause(s) in the contract with the vendor/designer/turn-key contractor to hold them liable for any damage caused to any third party arising out of their faults.

Much to the contrary, the Clause 17, inter alia, provides as under:

The operator of a nuclear installation shall have a right of resource where

(a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing;

(b) the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee;

That evidently knocks the bottom out of the argument that the Bill “lets nuclear equipment suppliers and designers off the hook”.

It, however, holds the “operator” responsible vis-à-vis the victims of any accident. That is both logical as the accident would take place while the “operator” is “operating” the plant; and highly welcome from the potential victim’s point of view as this would eliminate likely complications in determining and pinpointing “responsibility” resulting in interminable delays in obtaining any succour.

The objections raised as regards the 10-year limit to “liability” 29, as provided in Clause 18 (Chapter IV), are quite valid. In case of exposure to low dose radiations, the injuries caused thereby – mostly in various forms of cancer, may take much longer time to manifest. But then it would be that much difficult to establish the causal link.

Conclusion

All in all, the Bill has got to be opposed on the following grounds:

I. The Bill paves the path for private participation as "operator" of nuclear power plants in India. That’s an open invitation to disaster.

II. A. The Bill proposes to limit the total “liability" (of the (private) "operator" plus the "state") regardless of the scale of the disaster. That’s just unacceptable.

II. B. On top of that, the total or “maximum” “liability" has been "capped" at "three hundred million Special Drawing Rights [SDR]". This is too paltry.

III. The liability of an individual non-state (i.e. private) "operator" has been "capped" at a mere Rs. 500 crore. Less than one-fourth of the total or "maximum" liability. And it has provisions to further lower this amount, and pretty steeply at that. This is a blatant negation of the Polluter Pays and Precautionary Principle clearly and assiduously laid down by the Indian Supreme Court.

The Bill, if not withdrawn outright, must be referred to the concerned Standing Committee after tabling in the Parliament and widespread, open and transparent public consultations must follow thereafter to consider all the pros and cons, including the implications of joining the CSC, before taking any further step forward.

26 03 2010

Notes:

1. See: <http://www.dailyindia.com/show/364588.php> or <http://www.kseboa.org/news/us-pressure-civil-nuclear-liability-bill-likely-in-parliament-session.html>, for example.

2. See: <http://news.rediff.com/report/2010/mar/13/nuke-bill-to-be-tabled-in-rs.htm> and <http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/nuclear-bill-to-be-tabled-in-rsmarch-15-govt/388495/>, for example. A significant point to note is that as late as on March 14, and 13, both these news items, from otherwise credible sources, are quoting the concerned Minister to the effect that the Bill would be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on March 15. While, in reality, it was to be tabled in the Lok Sabha. That shows the degree of non-transparency prevailing.

3. See the Editorial, and other articles under the section, Indo-US Nuclear Deal, in the Peace Now, March 2009 at <http://www.cndpindia.org/download.php?view.16> for an account of how the deal crossed its last hurdles. The news item at <http://www.kseboa.org/news/us-pressure-civil-nuclear-liability-bill-likely-in-parliament-session.html> explicitly links the Bill with the Deal thus: "The passage of a civil nuclear liability Bill is one of key steps in implementation of the India-US civil nuclear agreement." And, it is no unique. Here is another example: "The US has linked the completion of the Indo-US nuclear agreement to India’s capping of nuclear liability and that is why the hasty move to introduce this in parliament." at <http://indiacurrentaffairs.org/civil-nuclear-liability-bill-prefering-interests-of-us-companies-over-indian-people/>. There is no specific provision in the Deal to this effect though. A rather well-informed article at <http://www.american.com/archive/2010/march/india-the-united-states-and-high-tech-trade> lists out 3 hurdles in full implementation of the "landmark U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement—the crown jewel of the U.S.-India strategic partnership".

4. See the Editorial in the Peace Now, February 2010 at <http://www.cndpindia.org/download.php?list.13>.

5. India’s first reactor, the 1 Megawatt (MWt) Aspara Research Reactor, was built with British assistance in 1955. The following year, India acquired a CIRUS 40 MWt heavy-water-moderated research reactor from Canada. The United States agreed to supply heavy water for the project. ... India commissioned a reprocessing facility at Trombay, which was used to separate out the plutonium produced by the CIRUS research reactor. This plutonium was used in India's first nuclear test on May 18, 1974, described by the Indian government as a “peaceful nuclear explosion.” Excerpted from India’s Nuclear Program by Volha Charnysh at <http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-weapons/issues/proliferation/india/charnysh_india_analysis.pdf>. Also see Nuclear Power in India: Failed Past, Dubious Future by M. V. Ramana at <www.npec-web.org/Essays/Ramana-NuclearPowerInIndia.pdf>. This talks of India being largely cut off from the international nuclear market as a consequence.

5A. For world reactions to May 98 blasts, see <http://www.fas.org/news/india/1998/05/wwwhma14.html>.

6. For a brief evaluation and the trajectory of the Deal (till early 2008), see <http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article10224>. For a timeline, see p 7/8, Peace Now, Feb, 2010 at <http://www.cndpindia.org/download.php?list.13>.

7.  See <http://indiacurrentaffairs.org/civil-nuclear-liability-bill-prefering-interests-of-us-companies-over-indian-people/>, for example. The pleadings of Omer F Brown, a key spokesperson for the US nuclear industry, that India enacts a nuclear liability law, as referred to above, has further validated this position.

8. See: <http://www.business-standard.com/india/news//govt-open-to-raising-nuclear-liability-cap//388512/>, for a very concise history of the move towards enacting a nuclear liability cap bill, locating the first move way back in 1999, and an explication of the government's point of view.

9. See <http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2009/July/20090720161943xjsnommis0.2136499.html>.

10. See: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8374050.stm>.

11. See: <http://www.deccanchronicle.com/national/pm-may-visit-us-april-n-summit-158>.

12. See the Abstract at <http://acdis.illinois.edu/newsarchive/newsitem-indiausrelationsfrombushtoobamanewchallenges.html>, for example. Also <http://pragmatic.nationalinterest.in/2010/03/24/understanding-indo-us-relationship/>.

13. See: <http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/Nuclear-liability-bill-not-to-be-tabled-in-Lok-Sabha-today/519134/H1-Article1-519210.aspx>, for example. The news item also reported that: "Government sources say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen to get the bill passed in parliament ahead of his US visit in April." Also see <http://www.dailyindia.com/show/363428.php>.

14. See; <http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/americas/Obama-to-visit-India-later-this-year/Article1-518487.aspx>.

15. See the revised Bill at <http://www.cndpindia.org/download.php?view.36> and compare with the description of the earlier version given in Nuclear Liability Law in Developing Countries - Indian Case by B. B. Singh at <http://www.cndpindia.org/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.65>.

16. See: <http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Conventions/supcomp.htmll>.

17. See B B Singh, op cit.

18. See A flawed Bill by Praful Bidwai at <http://www.flonnet.com/stories/20100409270709500.htm>. It provides: since it was opened for signature in 1977[read 1997], the CSC has only been signed by 13 states and ratified by only four countries (Argentina, Morocco, Romania and the U.S.) – in place of the minimum of five countries needed for its entry-into-force.

The relevant provision, Article XX. 1, reads: This Convention shall come into force on the ninetieth day following the date on which at least 5 States with a minimum of 400,000 units of installed nuclear capacity have deposited an instrument referred to in Article XVIII.

19. See The Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage: Catalyst for a Global Nuclear Liability Regime by Ben McRae at <http://www.nea.fr/law/nlb/nlb-79/017-035%20-%20Article%20Ben%20McRae.pdf> for detailed explanations.

20. For a quite conservative, but exhaustive, estimates of the impacts of the disaster, see Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-economic Impacts and Recommendations to the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine by The Chernobyl Forum at <http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/Chernobyl/chernobyl.pdf>. For an alternative assessment by the Greenpeace, look up

<http://archive.greenpeace.org/comms/nukes/chernob/read25.html>

21. The exchange rate on March 25 2010 stands at 0.6603090000 SDR per US$, at <http://www.imf.org/external/np/fin/data/rms_five.aspx>. And, SDR 0.0144709000 per Indian Rupee.

22. A news item at <http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article53103.ece> provides: According to an agreement on February 15, 1989 facilitated by the Supreme Court, the Union Carbide Corporation, U.S. provided a compensation of $ 470 million (Rs. 715 crore)

23. See: <http://www.greenfacts.org/en/chernobyl/l-3/5-social-economic-impacts.htm#1p0>. The comparable estimate reported by the Greenpeace, at <http://archive.greenpeace.org/comms/nukes/chernob/read25.html>, is:

The Belarus Government estimate the total economic damage caused between 1986-2015 would be (1992 June prices) $235 billion. In Ukraine, in 1995 the Ministry for Chernobyl needed 286.4 thousand billions of karbovanets ($2.3 billion), but received only one third of this. It is therefore possible to estimate that the total bill for those countries most effected will exceed $300 billion by 2015.

24. Ben McRae, op cit.

25. See: <http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article64688.ece?homepage=true>.

26. See: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price%E2%80%93Anderson_Nuclear_Industries_Indemnity_Act >.

27. India-US Nuclear Deal Redux: Another Showdown by Radha Surya at <http://www.zcommunications.org/india-us-nuclear-deal-redux-by-radha-surya>, which refers also to various other eminent critics including Brahma Chellaney, a known nuclear hawk, and Gopal Krishna, of the Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA), is an excellent illustrative case.

28. The bill lets nuclear equipment suppliers and designers off the hook. Excerpted from The great nuclear folly by Praful Bidwai at <http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=130882>. The oft repeated references made to the Bhopal Gas Disaster and the “liability” of the Union Carbide therein is plainly misleading. The Union Carbide was the owner/operator of the plant. Apparently, no one at any stage even as much talked of holding the (yet unheard of) vendors of equipment(s) or designer of the plant responsible or “liable”. Siddharth Varadarajan, even while noting the provisions of the Right to Recourse has rather curiously refused to acknowledge the implications in a forthright manner. Ref. <http://svaradarajan.blogspot.com/2010/03/nuclear-liability-law-has-sting-in-tail.html>.

29. Equally obnoxious is the 10-year limit to liability: many forms of radiation injury, including cancer and genetic damage, reveal themselves only 20 years after exposure. See Bidwai, ibid.

Health Reform: Theirs and Ours


By Paul Street


Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Corporate health “reform” has gotten the congressional votes it needed and the public relations spin is on. Now that the “deeply conservative” Barack Obama[1] and his fellow corporate Democrats have pushed their big business-friendly measure – devoid of any public insurance option to counter the power of the insurance oligopoly– through the House and Senate, the reigning bipartisan U.S. political-media culture is pushing two childish narratives:  the “liberal” Democratic one of an “historic" people’s victory and the “conservative” Republican one of a dangerous and “socialist” “government takeover.”

 

“The Industry Has Already Accomplished Its Goal” (August 2009)

 

These two, mutually reinforcing fairy tales both delete the harsh state-capitalist reality imposed by the “unelected dictatorship of money”[2] in this as in so many other Washington policy dramas. As Business Week candidly told its elite readers last August:

 

“As the health reform fight shifts this month from a vacationing Washington to congressional districts and local airwaves around the country, much more of the battle than most people realize is already over. The likely victors are insurance giants such as UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, and WellPoint. The carriers have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable. Health reform could come with a $1 trillion price tag over the next decade, and it may complicate matters for some large employers. But insurance CEOs ought to be smiling.”

 

“...The [insurance] industry has already accomplished its goal of at least curbing, and maybe blocking any new publicly administered insurance program that could grab market share from the corporations that dominate the business.”[3]

 

Significantly, Business Week noted that industry executives had “already offered” such “concessions…as accepting all applicants, regardless of age or medical history.” Such concessions “make a government-run competitor unnecessary,” UnitedHealth’s Oxford-educated Vice President Simon Stevens (a former advisor to neoliberal British Prime Minister Tony Blair) told leading administration and elected officials in Washington. "We don't think reform should come crashing down because of [resistance to] a public plan," Stevens argued. “Many congressional Democrats have come to the same conclusion,” Business Week noted.

 

The key point for the corporate “health” insurance syndicate was to block any public competition/alternative and the insurance moguls were quite ready to give on “pre-existing conditions,” lifetime benefit caps and the like. “Reform” was in the air and had support from many large business, political, and professional interests, not just the nation’s working-class majority. A popular new president had staked his reputation and perhaps his re-elections chances on some (almost any) version being passed. It was going to happen, the insurance and drug companies knew.  The leading insurance firms' goal,  successfully achieved more than half a year ago, was to “redefine” and set the terms of reform in a way that left core corporate prerogatives intact and unchallenged by popular public alternatives.

 

Of course, the insurance industry’s big managers and investors will make out like bandits in ways that go beyond killing the public option and which will more than compensate them for “concessions” on some of their most vile and egregious practices (which they knew to be doomed).  Insurance premiums can be expected to continue their deadly rise and the mandate that tens of millions of Americans buy private insurance or face fines will boost profits.  The “reform” bill prohibits the government from negotiating prices with drug companies and from permitting the importation of drugs.  The insurance companies will remain exempt from antitrust laws.

 

Irrelevant Public Opinion

 

"And dominate policy” in defiance of irrelevant public opinion," Business Week might have added to its description of the big insurance firms. Majority sentiment on the health care issue had long stood well to the left of business parties and the dominant political class and media, as polling data revealed.  Contrary to politicians’ and dominant (corporate) media pundits’ insistent claim that the public insurance option lacked popular support:

 

* 69 percent of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide health coverage to all U.S. citizens (Gallup Poll, 2006).

 

* 59 percent of Americans support a single-payer health insurance system (CBS/New York Times poll, January 2009).

 

* 59 percent of doctors back a single-payer system (Annals of Internal Medicine, April 2008).

 

* In a remarkable CBS-New York Times poll conducted in late September of 2009, 65 percent of more than 1,000 Americans randomly surveyed by CBS and the Times responded affirmatively to the following question: “Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government-administered health insurance plan – something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and over get – that would compete with private health insurance plans?”[4]

 

But so what? Who cares? Certainly not the editors of Business Week or the executives and owners of the leading insurance companies, for whom the “reform” bill is a boon. Citizen opinion and democratic theory – according to which the government and the citizenry are the same – are fine and dandy. Things are different in the real world of wealth, power, propaganda, and policy, where government is beholden to the Few, the “real players” are the ones with the deep pockets, and “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business,” as John Dewey noted more than a century ago.

 

In detailing how the insurance giants were compromising Obama’s initial promise to increase government’s role in the health care market at every step last summer, Business Week noted the special contribution of John Sheils, an actuary employed by the Lewin Group, a corporate consulting firm in Falls Church, Va. According to Sheils, in a dubious “finding” that UnitedHealth used again and again to move federal legislators (including Democratic Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia) off the public option, “88 million people, or 56% of those with employer-provided coverage, would desert private insurance for a government-run program. That would destabilize the marketplace and potentially kill the private insurance industry.” As it peddled this suspect “scientific” claim (questioned by the Congressional Budget Office) purporting to project a supposedly horrible outcome – many Americans would be less than devastated to hear that the extortionist insurance industry had collapsed (!)– resulting from a public insurance option, UnitedHealth did not advertise the fact that it owned the Lewin Group and therefore paid Sheils’ salary.

 

Obama’s Secret Accomplishment

 

Obama is already being hailed by his “liberal” and partisan base for “heroically” leading and the passing “the first comprehensive health reform in U.S. history.” This narrative should not be accepted without serious qualification. It is unwise for leftist critics of corporate power (I am one)  to downplay the significance of the bill’s promise to expand coverage to tens of millions who currently lack insurance or of the bill’s measures to end some of the insurance industry’s most revolting practices (yearly and lifetime benefit caps, slashing coverage for people who become sick, and refusing coverage to older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions).  These are changes that anyone who is not hopelessly alienated would want to support; we should not be seen as sneering at them (or as being allied with right-wingers denouncing the reform for some very ugly reasons).

 

Still, a heath reform of some “comprehensive” nature has been in the offing for some time now, for reasons (not the least of which includes the fact that much of the corporate sector has come to want [business-friendly] “health reform”) already mentioned. And contrary to propaganda on both sides of the (narrow) bipartisan spectrum, the insurance companies have been more than ready to “give” on their most vile practices and to see coverage nearly universalized as long as the policy deal leaves their core cost-driving and profit-making powers and oligopolistic structure intact and as long as they were nicely compensated for their “concessions.”

 

The real question was not whether there would be a health care reform, but whether the reform would be on the people’s terms or on those of the big insurance and drug companies and their Wall Street backers.  Obama’s great hidden accomplishment – certain to be buried and ignored by dominant U.S. mass media – has been to secure a reform that expands coverage and abolishes vile and arcane industry practices without fundamentally challenging concentrated corporate and financial power in the health care sector.

 

What “the Left” (and the Majority of the Population) Wants as “Too Disruptive” and “Politically Impossible”

 

During an interview with FOX News’ Brett Baier last week, Obama said this about his health bill: “Now, we can fix this in a way that is sensible, that is centrist. I have rejected a whole bunch of provisions that the left wanted that are – you know, they were very adamant about because I thought it would be too disruptive to the system.”[5]

 

That was a very revealing statement.  It speaks volumes about Obama’s “deeply conservative” essence (see note 1 below). What horrid “disruptive” and “system”-threatening provisions were advanced by the “left” and properly rejected by the supposedly “progressive” president? The public option, drug re-importation, and direct Medicare drug price negotiations, not to mention single-payer option, designed to  save the country $350 billion a year in corporate insurance company bureaucracy (dedicated largely to denying care to and to marketing) and profits – the two major and interrelated factors behind  escalating health care costs.

 

Never mind that these sane and sensible “Left” measures were supported by most Americans. They had to be demonized by the President and his fellow noble “centrists” as too dangerous and radical because big insurance and drug companies and their Wall Street backers hate such policies - for obvious reasons.

 

Along the way, conventional political and media wisdom claimed that such measures lacked “political support.”  They “didn’t have ‘political support,” the leading left intellectual Noam Chomsky quips, “just the support of the majority of the population, which apparently is not political support in our dysfunctional democracy.” As Chomsky ads, “There should be headlines explaining why, for decades, what’s been called politically impossible is what most of the public has wanted.  There should be headlines explaining what that means about the political system and the media.”[6]

 

There’s a lot of big money behind the insistence that Obama and the Democrats advance the notion that the truly progressive health reform irrelevantly favored by most Americans is too hazardous and extremist to consider. The health sector poured a remarkable $178,252,901 into congressional and presidential campaigns between the beginning of the 2008 election cycle and the summer of 2009.  The insurance industry invested $52,739,320. Obama received more than $19 million from the health sector for the 2008 election cycle – a new record.[7]  The prolific author and former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges reports that “the five largest private health insurers and their trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, spent more than $6 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2009. Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug maker, spent more than $9 million during the last quarter of 2008 and the first three months of 2009.”[8]

 

“About Increasing Corporate Profit at Taxpayer Expense”

 

What can we expect from the “historic reform” now moving its way to the president’s desk? After overdue and elementary changes (many maddeningly delayed until 2014 and after) that any civilized human would want (the expansion of Medicaid and abolition of the right to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, for example), the bill gets much less than exciting from a progressive perspective.  Besides blocking single payer (banned from the health policy debate from the beginning of the neoliberal Obama administration) and a public option (downsized and then completely stripped out over the last year) and thereby leaving the for-profit insurance mafia essentially unchallenged, the bill will grant untold billions (trillions over multiple years and decades) of dollars worth of subsidies to that mafia.  It will identify “universal care” with government coercion requiring citizens who are not deeply poor to buy that mafia’s persistently pricey products.  As Hedges notes, “Families who cannot pay the high premiums, deductibles and co-payments, estimated to be between 15 and 18 percent of most family incomes, will have to default, increasing the number of uninsured. Insurance companies can unilaterally raise prices without ceilings or caps and monopolize local markets to shut out competitors. The $1.055 trillion spent over the next decade will add new layers of bureaucratic red tape to what is an unmanageable and ultimately unsustainable system….This bill is not about fiscal responsibility or the common good. The bill is about increasing corporate profit at taxpayer expense. It is the health care industry’s version of the Wall Street bailout. It lavishes hundreds of billions in government subsidies on insurance and drug companies.”

 

No wonder that “health care stocks and bonuses for the heads of these corporations are shooting upwards.”[9] It’s a good time to invest in the insurance syndicate.

 

“First We Have to Take Back the White House…”

 

For what its’ worth, my sense is that the United States cannot have truly progressive health reform in accord with the national majority’s longstanding support of progressive change without removing the for-profit insurance companies from the equation by introducing the obvious social-democratic and cost-cutting solution: single-payer government health insurance. Obama knows this himself - in a part of his mind rendered inactive by his love for power.  When Obama claims (soon) to be the first president to have passed real health reform in the U.S., he won’t say anything about the following comments (available on YouTube) he made as a state senator (speaking to the Illinois AFL-CIO) in the summer of 2003:

 

“I happen to be a proponent of a single--payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan.”[10]

 

This statement was made just prior Obama's realization that he had a serious shot at national office - a realization that sharpened his willingness to subordinate himself to the aforementioned “unelected dictatorship.”

 

Speaking of the struggle for single-payer in 2003, Obama said “we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House”[11].  Nearly seven years later, the federal legislative and executive branches have been “taken back” by the Democratic Party.  Sadly, however, the United States’ corporate-managed “dollar democracy” and its narrow “one-and-a-half party system” (Sheldon Wolin) have yet to be taken back from concentrated wealth and the related giant military industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower had warned about upon leaving the White House.[12]  The United States’ “representative democracy” remains crippled by “too much [corporate and military] representation” and too little [actual popular] democracy” (Arundhati Roy)[13] under Obama no less than in the Bush-Cheney years.  Far from being an exception to this tragic reality, the current “health reform” is an epitome of it.

 

The Conyers-Kucinich Congressional Cave

 

The most pathetic part of the story, perhaps, is the willingness of such supposed fierce congressional single-payer advocates as John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich to support the corporate reform model advanced by Obama, Pelosi, and Reid et al. One might (naively) think that a president who exhibits such clear and unprincipled scorn for progressive ideals he once trumpeted would face strong resistance from the Progressive Caucus.  But no, every single member of that group that once pledged to oppose any final bill without a public option caved in and traded in their not-so deeply held principles to help score a partisan victory for a bill that will “enrich and strengthen the same industries that comprise our immoral health care system.”[14]

 

Yet again we see that true progressive change can never come from within or through the Democratic Party.[15] Nor can such change be achieved with or through such “progressive” and activist organizations as Move.On, which gathered more than $1 million to pressure House Democrats who had originally voted “no” on corporatist health reform to recant their previous rejection of Obama’s proudly "centrist" (by his own description) bill [16],  The corporate-managed fake democracy that cloaks the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire in the U.S. is a richly bipartisan affair.  The Democrats’ health reform offers more evidence of this harsh reality.

 

Paul Street ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) is the author of many articles, chapters, speeches, and books, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007; Segregated School: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008). Street’s next book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010), will be released next summer.

 

NOTES

 

1. This accurate description of Obama belongs to the centrist journalist Larissa MacFarquhar in the spring of 2007. “When he talks about poverty,” MacFarquhar noted, “he tends not to talk about gorging plutocrats and unjust tax breaks: he says that we are our brothers’ keeper, that caring for the poor is one of our traditions.” Such refusal to advance large reform – e.g. single payer health insurance on the Canadian model (which Obama claimed to advocate as late as the summer of 2003 however) – reflected what MacFarquhar found to be Obama’s “deeply conservative” take on history, society and politics: “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean. He distrusts abstractions, generalizations, extrapolations, projections. It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good. Take health care, for example. “If you’re starting from scratch,” he says, “then a single-payer system”—a government-managed system like Canada’s, which disconnects health insurance from employment—“would probably make sense. But we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside”…Asked whether he has changed his mind about anything in the past twenty years, he says, “I’m probably more humble now about the speed with which government programs can solve every problem. For example, I think the impact of parents and communities is at least as significant as the amount of money that’s put into education.” MacFarquhar found that Obama’s “deep conservatism” was why “Republicans continue to find him congenial, especially those who opposed the war on much the same conservative grounds that he did.” She noted that some of Bush’s top fund-raisers were contributing to Obama’s campaign and observed that Obama garnered 40 percent of the Republican vote in his 2004 Senate victory. See Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007).

 

2. This excellent phrase belongs to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Riding the ‘Green Wave’ at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond,” Electric Politics, July 22, 2009.

 

3. Writers and editors are often more candid about things in the business press since the relatively privileged and heavily indoctrinated audience of that press is considered safe. At the same time, the elite business and coordinator class audiences/markets of the business press have (since their members commonly play managerial roles that matter) to be somewhat accurately informed about events and developments. They can't be kept in the fantasy world that corporate media creates for the dangerous working- and lower -class majority – the dreaded citizen mass or “rabble.”

 

4. New York Times-CBS Poll, “Confusion Over Health Care,” survey of 1,042 adults, September 19-23, question number 57, p. 15 of 26, poll results at http://documents.nytimes.com/new-york-times-cbs-news-poll-confusion-over-health-care-tepid-support-for-war#p=15

 

5. “President Barack Obama Talks to Bret Baier About Health Reform,” FOX News, March 17, 2010, read at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,589589,00.html.

 

6. Sahil Kapur, “Chomsky: Health Bill Sustains the System’s Core Ills,” The Raw Story (March 22, 2010), read at http://rawstory.com/2010/03/noam-chomsky-health-bill/.

 

7. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics “Open Secrets” Web site.

 

8. Chris Hedges, “The Health Care Hindenburg Has Landed,” Truthdig (March 22, 2010), read at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_health_care_hindenburg_has_landed_20100322/.  To make matters worse, Hedges notes that “Up to 30 members of Congress …who hold key committee memberships have major investments in health care companies totaling between $11 million and $27 million. President Barack Obama’s director of health care policy, who will not discuss single payer as an option, has served on the boards of several health care corporations.” Pretty vile.

 

9. Hedges, “Health Care Hindenburg.” “Take a look at the health care debacle in Massachusetts, a model for what we will get nationwide,” Hedges rightly ads.    ”One in six people there who have the mandated insurance say they cannot afford care, and tens of thousands of people have been evicted from the state program because of budget cuts.”

 

10. "Obama on Single Payer Health Insurance," June 30, 2003, YouTube video clip at http://www.1payer.net/All-Videos/obama-on-single-payer.html. See also YouTube link at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpAyan1fXCE

 

11. “Obama on Single Payer Health Insurance.”

 

12. “Eisenhower’s Farewell Address” (January 17, 1961), read at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Military-Industrial_Complex_Speech

 

13. Arundhati Roy, “Democracy’s Fading Light,” Outlook India Magazine (July 13, 2009) at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?250418.

 

14. Firedog Lake, March 18, 2010, read at http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/35866.

 

15. For an excellent history and analysis of the Democratic Party, see Lance Selfa, The Democrats: A Critical History (Chicago: Haymarket, 2008). For a detailed review of Selfa’s book, see Paul Street, “A Left Case Against the Democrats,” International Socialist Review (May-June 2008).

 

16. Hedges, “Health Care Hindenburg.”

Beyond Insurance Reform: An Assessment of Obama's Achievement

 Rose Ann DeMoro

[The author is  also a leader of the AFL-CIO, the US trade union organisation. This essay appreared in
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rose-ann-demoro/diary-of-a-wimpy-healthca_b_51
0706.html]

Executive Director, National Nurses United, AFL-CIO and California
Nurses Association

Posted: March 23, 2010 08:07 PM

Passage of President Obama's healthcare bill proves that Congress can
enact comprehensive social legislation in the face of virulent rightwing
opposition. Now that we have an insurance bill, can we move on to
healthcare reform?

As an organization of registered nurses, we have an obligation to
provide an honest assessment, as nurses must do every hour of every day.
The legislation fails to deliver on the promise of a single standard of
excellence in care for all and instead makes piecemeal adjustments to
the current privatized, for-profit healthcare behemoth.

When all the boasts fade, comparing the bill to Social Security and
Medicare, probably intended to mollify liberal supporters following
repeated concessions to the healthcare industry and conservative
Democrats, a sobering reality will probably set in.

What the bill does provide

-Expansion of government-funded Medicaid to cover 16 million additional
low income people, though the program remains significantly under
funded. This limits access to its enrollees as its reimbursement rates
are lower than either Medicare or private insurance, with the result
some providers find it impossible to participate. Though the federal
government will provide additional subsidies to states, those expire in
2016, leaving the program a top target to budget cutting governors and
legislatures.

-Increased funding for community health centers, thanks to an amendment
by Sen. Bernie Sanders, that will open their doors to nearly double
their current patient volume.

-Reducing but not eliminating the infamous "donut hole" gap in
prescription drug coverage for which Medicare enrollees have to pay the
costs fully out of pocket.

-Insurance regulations covering members' dependent children until age
26, and new restrictions on limits on annual and lifetime on lifetime
insurance coverage, and exclusion of policies for children with
pre-existing conditions.

-Permission for individual states -- though weakened from the version
sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich -- to waive some federal regulations
to adopt innovative state programs like an expanded Medicare.

All of these reforms could, and should, have been enacted on their own
without the poison pills that accompanied them.

Where the bill falls short

-The mandate forcing people without coverage to buy insurance. Coupled
with the subsidies for other moderate income working people not eligible
for Medicare or Medicaid, the result is a gift worth hundreds of
billions of dollars to reward the very insurance industry that created
the present crisis through price gouging, care denials, and other
abuses.

-Inadequate healthcare cost controls for individuals and families.
1. Insurance premiums will continue to climb. Proponents touted a
"robust" public option to keep the insurers "honest," but that proposal
was scuttled. After Anthem Blue Cross of California announced 39 percent
premium hikes, the administration promised to crack down with a federal
rate insurance authority, an idea also dropped from the bill.
2. There is no standard benefits package, only a circumspect reference
that benefits should be "comparable to" current employer provided plans.
3. An illusory limit on out-of-pocket medical expenses. But even in the
regulated state exchanges, insurers remain in control of what they offer
and what will be a covered service. Insurers are likely to design plans
to attract healthier customers, and many enrollees will likely find the
federal guarantees do not protect them for medical treatments they
actually need.

-No meaningful restrictions on claims denials insurers don't want to pay
for. Proponents cite a review process on denials, but the "internal
review process" remains in the hands of the insurers, and the "external"
review will be up to the states, many of which have systems now in place
that are dominated by the insurance industry with little enforcement
mechanism.

-Significant loopholes in the much touted insurance reforms:
1. Provisions permitting insurers and companies to more than double
charges to employees who fail "wellness" programs because they have
diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol readings, or other
medical conditions.
2. Permitting insurers to sell policies "across state lines", exempting
patient protections passed in other states. Insurers will likely set up
in the least regulated states in a race to the bottom threatening public
protections won by consumers in various states.
3. Allowing insurers to charge three times more based on age plus more
for certain conditions, and continue to use marketing techniques to
cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees.
4. Insurers may continue to rescind policies, drop coverage, for "fraud
or intentional misrepresentation" -- the main pretext insurance
companies now use.

-Taxing health benefits for the first time. Though modified, the tax on
benefits remains, a 40 percent tax on plans whose value exceeds $10,200
for individuals or $27,500 for families. With no real checks on premium
hikes, many plans will reach that amount by the start date, 2018,
rapidly. The result will be more cost shifting from employers to workers
and more people switching to skeletal plans that leave them vulnerable
to financial ruin.

-Erosion of women's reproductive rights, with a new executive order from
the President enshrining a deal to get the votes of anti-abortion
Democrats and a burdensome segregation of funds, that in practice will
likely mean few insurers will cover abortion and perhaps other
reproductive medical services.

-A windfall for pharmaceutical giants. Through a deal with the White
House, the administration blocked provisions to give the government more
power to negotiate drug prices and gave the name brand drug makers 12
years of marketing monopoly against competition from generic competition
on biologic drugs, including cancer treatments.

Most critically, the bill strengthens the economic and political power
of a private insurance-based system based on profit rather than patient
need.

As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote after the vote "don't
believe anyone who says Obama's healthcare legislation marks a swing of
the pendulum back toward the Great Society and the New Deal. Obama's
health bill is a very conservative piece of legislation, building on a
Republican (a private market approach) rather than a New Deal
foundation. The New Deal foundation would have offered Medicare to all
Americans or, at the very least, featured a public insurance option."

Unlike Social Security and Medicare which expanded a public safety net,
this bill requires people -- in the midst of the mass unemployment and
the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression -- to pay
thousands of dollars out of pocket to big private companies for a
product that may or may not provide health coverage in return.

Too many people will remain uninsured, individual and family healthcare
costs will continue to rise largely unabated and private insurers will
still be able to deny claims with little recourse for patients.

If, as the President and his supporters insist, the bill is just a
start, let's hold them to that promise. Let's see the same resolve and
mobilization from legislators and constituency groups who pushed through
this bill to go farther, and achieve a permanent, lasting solution to
our healthcare crisis with universal, guaranteed healthcare by expanding
and improving Medicare to cover everyone.

Leaders of the National Nurses United have raised many of these concerns
about the legislation for months. But, sadly, as the healthcare bill
moved closer to final passage, the space for genuine debate and critique
of the bill's very real limitations was largely squeezed out.

Much of the fault lies with the far right, from the streets to the
airwaves to some legislators that steadily escalated from deliberate
misrepresentations to fear mongering to racial epithets to hints of
threatened violence against bill supporters.

For its part, the administration and its major supporters shut out
advocates of more far reaching reform, while vilifying critics on the
left.

Both trends are troubling for democracy, as is the pervasive corruption
of corporate lobbying that so clearly influenced the language of the
bill. Insurers, drug companies, and other corporate lobbyists shattered
all records for federal influence peddling and were rewarded with a bill
that largely protected their interests, along with a Supreme Court
ruling that will allow corporations, including the health care industry,
to spend unlimited sums in federal elections.

Rightwing opponents fought as hard to block this legislation as they
would have against a Medicare for all plan. As more Americans recognize
the bill does not resemble the distortions peddled by the right, and
become disappointed by their rising medical bills and ongoing fights
with insurers for needed care, there will be new opportunity to press
the case for real reform. Next time, let's get it done right.

Rose Ann DeMoro is executive director of the 150,000-member National
Nurses United

Three Responses to Arundhati Roy


Introduction


Arundhati Roy is a well-known and powerful writer, associated with the left. As a result, when she lends er name to a cause, many people listen. However, her recent foray, Walking With the Comrades, in Outlook magazine, has serious problems.Aboe all, it reinforces the fraudulent notion that conflicts in India are a one-to-one battle between the state and some corporate groups on one hand and the Communist Party of India (Maoists) on the other. The Maoists would love to have this image deeply engraved. And the state too would like to reduce all conflicts to the monochromatic image of a Kishenji with his face covered. We reproduce below three thoughtful responses to Roy's article.

Pulp Fiction from the Red Corridor

A Response to Arundhati Roy’s ’Walking with the Comrades"

Monday 22 March 2010, by Jairus Banaji

(The below comment first appeared on kafila.org)

Arundhati Roy’s essay Walking with the comrades is a powerful indictment of the Indian state and its brutality but its political drawbacks are screamingly obvious. Arundhati clearly believes that the Indian state is such a bastion of oppression and unrelieved brutality that there is no alternative to violent struggle or ‘protracted war’. In other words, democracy is a pure excrescence on a military apparatus that forms the true backbone of the Indian state. It is simply its ‘benign façade’. If all you had in India were forest communities and corporate predators, tribals and paramilitary forces, the government and the Maoists, her espousal of the Maoists might just cut ice. But where does the rest of India fit in? What categories do we have for them? Or are we seriously supposed to believe that the extraordinary tide of insurrection will wash over the messy landscapes of urban India and over the millions of disorganised workers in our countryside without the emergence of a powerful social agency, a broad alliance of salaried and wage-earning strata, that can contest the stranglehold of capitalism? Without mass organisations, battles for democracy, struggles for the radicalisation of culture, etc., etc.? Does any of this matter for her?

In Arundhati’s vision of politics the only agent of social change is a military force. There are no economic classes, no civil society, no mass organisations or conflicts which are not controlled by a party (or ‘the’ party). There is no history of the left that diverges from the romantic hagiographies of Naxalbari and its legacies, and there is, bizarrely, not even a passing reference to capitalism as the systemic source of the conversion of adivasis into wage-labourers, of the degradation of their forms of life and resources and of the dispossession of entire communities. In Arundhati, the vision of the Communist Manifesto is reversed. There Marx brings the Communists in not to prevent the expansion of capitalism but to fight it from the standpoint of a more advanced mode of production, one grounded in the ability of masses of workers to recover control of their lives and shape the nature and meaning of production. The primitive communism in terms of which she sees and applauds the programme of the CPI (Maoist) recalls not this vision of the future but the debates around the possibility of the Russian mir (the peasant commune) forming the basis for a direct transition to communism. On that issue Marx was, as always, profoundly internationalist, speculating that ‘if the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for the proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land [the mir] may serve as the starting point for a communist development’. That didn’t happen, the revolution in Russia remained isolated, it was subverted internally by the grip of a leadership every bit as vanguardist as Kishenji, and if we don’t learn from history, we cannot truly speak as the beacons of hope that Arundhati sees the Maoists as. It is not hope but false promises that will lie at the end of the revolutionary road, aside from the corpses of thousands of ‘martyrs’ and many more thousands of nameless civilians who of course had no control over ‘the’ party.

Obama and Cuba: The End of an Illusion


“The times we live in reflect that in Latin America and the Caribbean the confrontation between historic forces is getting worse.” — Raul Castro [1]

On February 23, 2010, incarcerated Cuban Orlando Zapata Tamayo [2] died after a prolonged hunger strike, despite the efforts of Cuban medical personnel to treat him and prevent the ending of his life. Over the past several years Zapata Tamayo identified himself with Cuban opponents of the Revolution who are directed and sustained by Washington. His political “awakening” followed a career in petty crimes such as burglary and fraud that escalated into more serious offenses of assault landing him several separate stints in prison.

Zapata Tamayo’s death quickly became the pretext for an orchestrated and deeply cynical campaign by the US government and its European imperialist allies — echoed in the big-business media — to slander Cuba around human rights, torture, and political prisoners.

On Capitol Hill, calls have increased to halt the supposed efforts by the Obama Administration to “improve” relations with the sovereign Cuban state and to instead step up open political hostility and action. Proposed Congressional legislation to end travel restrictions to Cuba for US citizens, never very warm in the first place, is likely to go into deep freeze. On March 11, 2009, the European Union Parliament strongly [3] condemned Cuba over the death of Zapata Tamayo by a vote of 509 to 30 with 14 abstentions. The EU resolution further mandates its “High Representative” and “Commissioner” to “immediately to begin a structured dialogue with Cuban civil society and with those who support a peaceful transition in Cuba,” that is, to openly establish political collaboration with would-be clients (many of whom already are on Washington’s payroll) who aim to overturn — “peacefully” of course — the Cuban Revolution and sovereign government. (The Cuban government has begun a vigorous counter-campaign. The March 1, 2010 online edition of Granma International corrects the factual distortions and false assertions on “political prisoner” Zapata Tamayo’s life and death in the article “For Whom Is Death a Useful Tool?” [4] by Enrique Ubieta Gomez. See also the March 3, 2010 speech by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez [5] at the United Nations Human Rights Council.)

Of course, the crocodile tears shed by imperialist governments, institutions, and media over the death of Zapata Tamayo stands in great contrast to the relative silence and lack of action over the numerous (no one knows exactly how many) detainees — often picked up arbitrarily and not charged, let alone tried, for anything — who have been tortured and beaten to death in the “democratic” custody of US, British, Canadian, and other secret European “facilities” in the so-called "war on terror.

The US government openly spends dozens of millions of dollars in direct financial and other material “aid” to its Cuban clients and agents inside Cuba. Obviously this is a violation of Cuban law. The Cuban government — as the sovereign product of the Cuban Revolution — is under no legal or moral obligation to tolerate such activity from the conduits of a foreign power currently committed to its destruction. In fact it would be the height of naïve irresponsibility to not act rigorously and firmly against such mercenary subversion. Accordingly, there are several dozen individuals in Cuban jails, all of whom have been convicted in Cuban courts with all their legal rights protected, including right to legal council and defense. It should be added that the convictions were based on incontrovertible evidence of acts of receiving material and financial aid and direction, that is, of being mercenary clients and agents, of US government agencies, not “conspiracy” charges, which are the gambit used by US prosecutors when they lack evidence of actual deeds, as in the case of the Cuban Five. (For more information on the case of the Cuban Five, in US prisons for over 11 years, framed up and convicted on trumped-up “conspiracy” charges, for their heroic activities infiltrating Miami-based Cuban-American organizations involved in terrorist acts against Cuba, and the international campaign to free them [6].)

Of course, the death of Zapata Tamayo is not a cause for any happiness or satisfaction for any Cuban revolutionary or defender of the Cuban Revolution. It is particularly a cause for regret and frustration because it is an inevitable byproduct of US policy. The normalization of US-Cuban relations would bring with it the definitive end to the current US policy of “regime change by any means possible.” When that happens, opponents of the Revolution like Zapata Tamayo can present and attempt to win support for their views in a legal framework and not as agents of an aggressive foreign power.

In any case Cuban President Raul Castro has repeatedly offered to exchange all the imprisoned agents and clients of Washington in exchange for the Cuba Five.

As I will demonstrate in this essay, many months before Zapata Tamayo’s death, it had already become clearer that the Obama Administration had no hidden desire for normalizing US relations with Cuba or fundamentally alleviating, let alone ending, Washington’s economic and political war against the revolutionary socialist island. In fact the Obama-Hillary Clinton team is — after some peripheral adjustments in the opening months of the new administration — continuing the firmly bipartisan, half-century-long policy of overturning the sovereign Cuban government. This policy, set in place shortly after the triumph of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, remains the longest unchanged foreign policy position of the US government in the history of US diplomacy.

The assertion that a fundamental change in US Cuba policy was in the works with the new Obama Administration was made by many conservatives and ultra-rightists, some of whom fantasized in horror that Obama was a secret supporter of the Cuban Revolution. The illusion, from the other end of the bourgeois political spectrum, was shared as well by many liberals and leftists who fantasized in wishful thinking that Obama planned to end US sanctions and hostility. Among the former, it is still seen as useful to present Obama as a barely closeted commie. Among the latter, on this and virtually every other central domestic and foreign policy orientation of the current administration, a sobering-up, at varying pace and degree, is taking place.

 

McAffrey'sSignal

 

On December 22, 2009, retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey [7] wrote a letter to Wayne Smith, a prominent voice in US academic, think-tank, and diplomatic circles who advocates an end to the US embargo of Cuba and the normalization of US-Cuba relations. In the letter, McCaffrey withdrew from a scheduled January 2010 delegation of fellow dignitaries to Cuba Smith was organizing. McCaffrey cited comments by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez sharply denouncing the behavior of President Barack Obama following the fiasco of the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit as the ostensible reason for his withdrawal from the trip.

McCaffrey had visited Cuba before, met top Cuban leaders including Fidel and Raul Castro, and declared publicly and before a US Congressional panel that Cuba represented no “military threat” to US “national security.” His Congressional testimony brought him harsh criticism from elected Cuban-American officials who defend the heirs and interests of Cuba’s former ruling classes that were ousted in the 1959 Revolution and other policymakers who oppose any “liberalization” of anti-Cuba US policy. McCaffrey had long spoken out formally, and with some force, against the longstanding US policies of overt “regime change,” employing trade and travel sanctions, political hostility, and military intimidation. McCaffrey aligned himself with a significant, growing minority in US ruling circles who have argued for “engagement” as the best way to advance the goal of ending, once and for all, the Cuban Revolution and its political resonance and influence worldwide and, in particular, across the Americas.

McCaffrey is no mushy, naïve bourgeois politician. He has a “distinguished” military career defending the interests of US imperialism in combat action, from the 1965 US invasion of the Dominican Republic to multi-medaled “service” spanning Vietnam and the first Gulf War. In that latter war, McCaffrey’s command oversaw one of the most despicable examples of war crimes in recent decades, when US forces bombed and shot to death many thousands of unarmed, fleeing Iraqi troops — abandoned by their officers following the military rout by US forces — who had shed their uniforms and were attempting to return to Iraq from Kuwait, along what became known as the “highways of death.” The defenseless, forcibly conscripted former soldiers were massacred and buried in mass graves after the slaughter. Among the soldiers participating was the future Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who no doubt picked up a few pointers on the morality of the merciless targeting of unarmed innocents.

McCaffrey has a direct, intimate connection with US policy in Latin America, going back to the aforementioned invasion of the Dominican Republic. The liberal Democratic Lyndon Johnson Administration dispatched over 40,000 Marines and 82nd Airborne troops to that impoverished island to abort an increasingly powerful popular uprising that threatened to overturn the military dictatorship that had seized power overthrowing the elected, constitutional government of Juan Bosch. At least 2,000 Dominican civilians were killed in the US invasion, which aimed at averting what Johnson called a “second Cuba.” Under President William Clinton from 1994 to 96 McCaffrey was Commander-in-Chief for Southern Command of the US Armed Forces with the charge of coordinating “national security operations” in Latin America. Next, still under Clinton, he became the so-called “Drug Czar.” Of course, the pretext of combating drug trafficking has become finely tuned over the decades as an increasingly central rationalization for US intervention in the Americas and political campaigns against governments in conflict with Washington. This has been further deepened under the Obama Administration as it has moved in 2009 to implement the Bush Administration plan to greatly expand direct US military presence on the ground in Colombia with seven military bases there and to reactivate the Fourth Naval Fleet off the waters of Latin America, six decades after being disbanded. Both moves were rationalized in terms of the “war on drugs.”

By itself, McCaffrey’s announcement may seem to have limited significance. But McCaffrey is a savvy bourgeois political operative who never functions as a lone wolf. He is a disciplined figure who can read the tealeaves. So his action should be understand in its proper context, which is the downward trajectory of US policy toward Cuba under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as 2009 unfolded and ended, following a period of false expectations and widespread illusions that a change was coming. More precisely, after the initial months of his administration, which found the Obama team on the defensive and isolated, Washington has subsequently pushed back and scored a certain degree of progress in asserting its positions and strengthening its allies in Latin America, while tamping down expectations of significant change in US policies towards Cuba.

The successful — for Washington — outcome of the June 2009 coup in Honduras gave impetus to the US pushback. After its isolation at the San Pedro Sula Summit of the OAS, Washington took advantage of the coup in Honduras to step up its fight to regain political leverage under the Obama Administration. The White House and State Department formally opposed the coup even as political operatives close to the Administration worked on behalf of the coup makers. Once the US government became a central player in diplomatic maneuvers and intrigue after the June 28 coup, it was guaranteed that any process that unfolded would be skewed in the most demobilizing, conservative manner possible. All of this culminated in the farcical signed agreement on October 30, 2009 which was presented as facilitating the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya to his presidential post but which actually did no such thing. With the signed document in hand, the “de facto” Honduran regime brusquely shunted Zelaya aside, and Washington announced that it would support the outcome of the November 29, 2009 elections held under the auspices of the coup regime and significant repression and closing of democratic political space.

 

Obama Pushes Back

In the period immediately preceding and following the time when General McCaffrey canceled his trip to Cuba, a sequence of events unfolded which underlined this shift:

  • On November 19, 2009 Obama chose, in a clear provocation, to publicly correspond with Yoani Sanchez, the so-called “dissident blogger,” the latest wholly manufactured, financed, and highly promoted darling and tool of both liberal and conservative anti-Cuba forces in US bourgeois media, academic, and political circles. This was done as an answer to the repeated invitations of Cuban president Raul Castro for direct dialogue between the United States and Cuban governments where every question and political difference would be, as put by Raul Castro, “on the table.”
  • On November 30, 2009 a document was issued accusing the Cuban government of persecuting an Afro-Cuban doctor and, in general, practicing institutionalized racism. The initiative was under the direction of Carlos Moore, a notorious Afro-Cuban counter-revolutionary activist who presents himself as a fighter against “racism” in Cuba. Moore has a long history of working with US-based counter-revolutionaries who are creatures of US government and intelligence agencies. The document, “Acting on Our Conscience: A Declaration of African-American Support for the Civil Rights Struggle in Cuba,” was signed by a number of prominent “progressive” African-American academics and figures such as Prof. Cornell West, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Ruby Dee Davis, Prof. Ron Walters, and Prof. James Turner. In response to this slanderous “Declaration,” defenders of revolutionary Cuba’s exemplary role in fighting racism inside Cuba as well as its amazing record in combating colonialism, imperialism, and apartheid in Africa went into action (see the counter-petitions “In Solidarity with the Real Anti-Racist Movement in Cuba” [8] and “Declaration of African American Activists, Intellectuals and Artists in Continued Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution” [9] and the article, “Latest Attack on Cuba Falsifies History of Fight Against Racism in Cuba” [10]).
  • Washington-Havana talks on legal rules and procedures governing immigration, which had been scheduled for December 2009 following their unilateral termination by the Bush Administration in 2003, were pushed back by the Obama Administration after an initial meeting in July 2009. (The talks resumed on February 19, 2010.) Since then, Washington has stonewalled Cuba’s offer to expand bilateral negotiations to reach accords on the issues of combating drug trafficking and terrorism as well as collaboration and cooperation towards hurricane preparedness and relief.
  • On December 5, 2009, Havana police arrested one Alan Gross, formally an employee of an outfit calling itself Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI). Gross is being held in a Cuban prison accused of spying. DAI is a major for-profit mercenary business employing 350 full-time staff in its central office in Washington, DC suburbs and operating in over 60 countries. That is in line with the contemporary US policy of utilizing so-called “subcontractors,” operating as “private” for-profit corporations, as proxies for promoting and implementing US government policy (DAI’s website calls the US State Department’s Agency for International Development its “principal client”). This policy of manufacturing “front” organizations with elaborate business structures is nothing new for US and other imperialist intelligence services. However, this “privatization” of US intelligence and operational tasks has become more rampant and brazenly open. (There are tens of thousands of employees of such “contractors” working for US military and intelligence agencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other fronts in the so-called “war on terror.”) It has the advantage of establishing degrees of separation — what spook jargon calls “plausible deniability” — from the US government source of political direction and financing, although few in the world are taken in by the elaborate charade. Perhaps most important for the individuals heading up these myriad fronts — most of whom are themselves graduates from direct government “service” in military, intelligence, or other such fields — is the lucrative material rewards involved, as these relationships are a “legal” cash cow. Gross and DAI were nabbed handing out highly sophisticated satellite cell phones and computer equipment as part of open US polices to finance individuals and groups that will work hand-in-hand with Washington to subvert and eventually destroy the Cuban Revolution under the guise, of course, of innocently promoting “democracy” and “human rights.” The 2008 Federal US budget openly allocated $45 million for this purpose. (These are separate from covert funding operations.) In that budget DAI received nearly 10% of the mercenary money. In the past, much of these funds were handed to rightist Cuban-American outfits based in Florida, who tended to just pocket the money for personal use. The botched DAI operation seems to indicate that the Obama Administration was moving towards new methods to get money and equipment directly to their mercenary clients inside Cuba, without the gusano middlemen and their sticky fingers. So far the Obama Administration has issued perfunctory statements of “concern.” The above-mentioned Wayne Smith, who was the chief of the US Interests Section in Havana when it was established under the Carter Administration in the late 1970s, told the Miami Herald that if Gross distributed satellite phones and other high-tech equipment, it will be hard for Washington to argue his case. "If he was caught with simply a cell phone, even if he didn’t have proper documents, they would have just expelled him. . . . I’m struck by the fact that the United States has not raised hell over this. If I were down there handling the case, and the guy hadn’t done much, I’d be making noise. Maybe he was up to something he shouldn’t have been up to.’’
  • Following the Christmas Day 2009 attempted terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines plane headed to Detroit, the US from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Washington made all citizens of Cuba, along with a number of other countries, subject to enhanced searches and harassment at US Customs checkpoints on the basis of Cuba being on the US State Department list of states that “sponsor” and “support” terrorism. The degree of hypocrisy and mendacity involved here is breathtaking. Thousands of Cuban citizens have died in terrorist attacks launched from US soil against Cuba since the 1959 triumph of the Cuban Revolution. These attacks have either been directly organized and promoted by US government agencies or winked at and tolerated by US authorities over the years. Perhaps the most notorious incident in a long and sordid history was the October 6, 1976 terrorist destruction of a Cubana Airlines craft and the murder of all 73 passengers aboard, which included the 24 members of Cuba’s juvenile national fencing team, which had just won all the gold medals at Central American and Caribbean athletic games. The two organizers of that crime, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posadas Carriles — both former operatives of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) — are currently living freely in the United States. There is not an iota of factual evidence tying Cuba to any act of terrorism in the United States or anywhere else. The fact that the Obama Administration has refused to remove Cuba from this list is a clear indication of its continuation of the essential core of US anti-Cuba policy.
  • In the “Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, given on February 2, 2010, US “Director of National Intelligence” Dennis Blair stated, “Cuba has demonstrated few signs of wanting a closer relationship with the United States. Without subsidized Venezuela oil shipments of about 100,000 barrels per day, the severe economic situation would be even worse. President Raul Castro fears that rapid or significant economic change would undermine regime control and weaken the revolution, and his government shows no signs of easing his repression of political dissidents.” Translated from sophistry into English, Blair is lamenting the fact that the Cuban government has refused to surrender to Washington’s demands and do US imperialism the favor of liquidating the Revolution itself in exchange for all the charms and benefits of US domination.

“We Send Doctors, Not Soldiers”

It should be noted that the social catastrophe in Haiti has complicated Obama’s anti-Cuba pushback in the hemisphere. Inside the United States, there has been a near-total blackout of Cuba’s medical solidarity with Haiti — a truly inspiring history — where the Cuban medical personnel and brigades, who were already on the ground before the earthquake providing, free of charge, much of the medical care existing in Haiti, were the first responders in the disaster. The Cuban teams, reinforced with doctors from Cuba, as well as Haitians and others from the hemisphere trained in Cuba, set up the first open-tent clinics and operating facilities, which have already served tens of thousands. This is widely known and acknowledged in the Caribbean, Latin America, and worldwide. Cuba, by far, has the most, and the most effective, personnel and programs actually providing medical aid to the Haitian people. As Fidel Castro wrote, “We send doctors, not soldiers.” [11]

The Obama Administration, on the other hand, has rapidly poured in troops and essentially seized the Haitian Airport at Port au Prince, while slowly getting medical equipment, supplies, and food, not to speak of on-the-ground functioning medical facilities, to the people. In the initial days and weeks, US and other Western resources went primarily to rescue UN personnel, foreign diplomats, and Western tourists and citizens, criminally failing to provide minimal assistance to devastated working-class Haitian neighborhoods. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was forced on the defensive as outrage mounted internationally over the heavy-handed US military role which prioritizes the landing of troops at the airport and seaports while forcing some aid shipments to travel overland via the Dominican Republic. According to the Associated Press [12], for every dollar in US “aid,” 40 cents goes to the US military while 10.5 cents is for food, 10.5 cents is to transport the food, 1.6 cents to pay Haitians working on recovery, 1 cent goes to the Haitian government, and ½ cent to the government of the Dominican Republic. We should all be very grateful, however, that the Western imperialist hyenas, who have looted Haiti for centuries, and, with Washington in the lead, imposed the blood-soaked tyranny of the Duvalier family protecting a system where 1% of the Haitian population controls 50% of its wealth, has magnanimously agreed to cancel $290 million of Haiti’s $890 million international debt!

(Towards the end of February 2010, the US government announced the withdrawal of those doctors under its direction, the closing of its last field hospital inside Haiti, and the departure of the highly publicized US Navy Medical Ship Comfort from its Haitian dock. Of course the medical needs of the earthquake survivors are multiplying rapidly as the legions of homeless living in “tent communities” in horrid conditions including massive rain are facing diarrhea, malaria, and all the disease produced by such conditions on top of constant undernourishment and hunger. In addition it is estimated that up to 30 percent of those who received emergency surgery in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake will need follow-up operations. While Washington withdraws its minimal direct medical assistance the Cuban medical mission in Haiti is expanding.)

From Trinidad to Turtle Bay

The first months of the Obama Administration found Washington playing defense on the “Cuba Question” at a series of hemispheric meetings under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS), a body traditionally dominated by the US government. Obama came face to face with the political ground lost by Washington in the Bush years that needed to be made up under his Administration.

In two successive OAS Summits held in April 2009 in Trinidad and June 2009 in Honduras, the Obama Administration was embarrassingly isolated. Washington came under remarkably open pressure over its anti-Cuba policy, which formally united every other government in the OAS, and dominated the agenda, much to Obama and Clinton’s chagrin. Nevertheless at the June Summit, hosted by the soon-to-be-ousted Honduran President Zelaya, the Obama-Clinton diplomatic team was able to prevent a formal vote openly condemning US policy although it was forced to retreat and acquiesce to the abrogation of the 1962 OAS resolution expelling Cuba (see my articles “Trapped in Trinidad” [13] and “Slipping and Sliding in San Pedro Sula” [14]).

Washington’s isolation and near-humiliation over Cuba at the OAS Summits was squared a few months later on October 28, 2009 when, for the 18th consecutive year, and with the most lopsided vote yet (187 for the Cuban resolution and 3 siding with Washington with 2 abstentions), the UN General Assembly voted on, as the resolution put it, the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial, and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” Washington was only able to get 2 other votes this year — Israel and Palau, while losing El Salvador, Iraq, and Afghanistan from the 2008 vote. It is surely a delicious irony — and a powerful symbol of how utterly isolated US anti-Cuba policy is (and how embarrassing for Washington’s diplomacy and political authority) that even the US-created, sustained, and dependent governments of Afghanistan and Iraq felt compelled to vote for Cuba!

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriquez’s UN presentation [15] was a factual, devastating indictment of the grotesque reality of US sanctions, which extend to life-saving medicines and technologies that are even partially manufactured or developed in the United States:

“Alexis García Iribar was born in Cuba, in the province of Guantánamo. He suffered from a congenital cardiopathy known as persistent arterial duct. At the age of 6 and after successive deferrals and hemodynamic complications, he had to be submitted to an open-heart surgery on March 9, 2009, because the government of the United States prevents the US companies NUMED, AGA and Boston Scientific from selling to Cuba the ’amplatzer’ and ’embolization coil’ devices required to perform a catheterization that will spare children from this type of surgery. I could mention another 12 cases of children between the ages of 5 months and 13 years who have had to undergo a similar procedure in the course of the last one and a half years — two of them underwent surgery after last January 20. Cuban children suffering from lymphoblastic leukemia whose bodies reject traditional medicines can not be treated with the American product”Elspar" (Erwinia L-asparaginase), created specially to treat intolerance. Consequently, the life expectancy of these children is reduced and their suffering increases. The U.S. government forbids Merck & Co. to supply this medication to Cuba.

Cuba has not been able to acquire Gene Analyzer Equipment —indispensable to study the origin of breast, colon, and prostate cancer — which is manufactured by the company Applied Biosystem (ABI). Lactalis USA, a supplier of dairy products, was fined $20,000 by the US government. Since the election of President Obama, there has been no change whatsoever in the implementation of the economic, commercial, and financial blockade against Cuba. The blockade remains intact."

US ambassador Susan Rice [16] found herself tangled up in Turtle Bay (the Manhattan neighborhood where the UN is located) where she defended, in a lonely place, US policy with childishly knee-jerk rhetoric: “Here we go again. I suppose old habits die hard. The hostile language we have just heard from the Foreign Minister of Cuba seems straight out of the Cold War era and is not conducive to constructive progress. We will not respond in kind to painfully familiar rhetoric that we have heard in years past.”

What a stupid joke! Of course it is Washington that is continuing its “Cold War” against revolutionary Cuba. It is Washington that refuses to accept — 50 years later! — the actuality of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s right to self-determination. It is Washington not Cuba that claims a right to subvert, intervene, and harbor and protect terrorists so as to bring about a return to US domination. The surreal remarks of Rice register how tied up in knots Washington finds itself politically as it flails about furiously from its isolated diplomatic corner. But embarrassment and diplomatic isolation are far from sufficient to bring about a change in US policy. Washington under Obama is determined to change the unfavorable political relationship of forces that accumulated over its Cuba policy across the Americas under the years of George W. Bush’s Administration.

Obama Advances Bipartisan US Policy Aims in Latin America

Under Obama’s leadership, Washington has made some progress toward its bipartisan political goals in Latin America. Obama was aided by the initially widespread hopes and illusions in him in Latin America and worldwide as well as in the United States by many self-described “progressives.” While, after one year, these are being increasingly discarded, the initial illusions were a useful cover for the Obama Administration as it pushed forward an agenda in essential continuity with its predecessor in Latin America and internationally.

Under the Bush Administration there were concerted, failed efforts to subvert and overturn the proletarian state in Cuba and the left-wing, anti-imperialist governments in Venezuela and later Bolivia that came to power amid massive popular struggles. None of this worked out very well for Washington. All of its targets were politically strengthened and the policy had virtually no support in Latin America. The governments of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia — in close alliance with revolutionary Cuba, which provided tremendous solidarity in the form of large-scale medical and educational assistance — successfully resisted US-backed military coups and counter-revolutionary plots and subversion and carried out significant policies in favor of working people.

Under the new Obama Administration there was a tactical diplomatic shift — a necessary retreat in form, more of a regrouping. The bellicose rhetoric and in-your-face confrontationalism of the Bush years were ratcheted down somewhat. Ambassadors were again exchanged with Venezuela and Bolivia. At the OAS Summit in Trinidad, Obama was photographed shaking hands with Hugo Chavez. Nevertheless, the aims of US policy were unchanged. (And, in recent months, alongside the shift to direct contention again with Cuba, there has been a ramping up of political hostility, demonization, and destabilization against the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela. Corporate media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post and the increasingly bellicose and conservative editorial page of the Washington Post have echoed, albeit more harshly, the US State Department government line painting a picture of Venezuela in utter economic and social chaos under a repressive government lashing out at dissent and “dropping the mask of democracy.”)

On Cuba, Obama quickly adjusted US policy on some secondary questions — in the face of the mounting hemispheric and near-unanimous international opposition to the US economic, financial, and commercial embargo — in order to more credibly defend and promote the core policy aim which remains the overturning of the revolutionary government, the destruction of the social relations and conquests of the Revolution, and the restoration of capitalism and US domination.

Obama fulfilled his campaign promise to end existing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans and has eased somewhat the ability of some Cuban academics, musicians, artists, and scientists to visit the US and some similar categories of US individuals to legally travel to Cuba at the invitation of Cuban society. Also, there has been a slight US liberalization in granting so-called “people-to-people” licenses. Nevertheless, so far, the Obama moves still are far from taking us to where the policy on exchanges and licenses was under Clinton and the first several years of the George W. Bush Administration.

These anemic measures, doled out with an eyedropper, are presented by Obama and Clinton as bold moves begging for a Cuban response. They are saying in essence: “We’ve done our bit, now you must basically commit suicide and end the Revolution in exchange.”

Colombia

Over the course of the first decade of the new millennium, the political and moral deterioration of the armed guerrilla movement of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) became more pronounced and apparent, to the great advantage of the Colombian officer corps and capitalist political parties. Their political consolidation took place under the leadership of Alvaro Uribe. (This entire development was candidly analyzed by Fidel Castro in a remarkable small book, Peace in Colombia [17], which is a treasure trove of the Marxist method and principles.)

In this framework, on October 30, 2009, the US and Colombian governments signed an agreement to significantly expand the US military presence there in seven military bases. This puts potentially large-scale US military forces directly on the ground for future political contingencies in the heart of the South American continent. Colombian territory has become the wedge by which Washington hopes to regain on-the-ground military striking power, under the cover of fighting “drug trafficking,” on the South American continent. This military presence will aim to threaten and intimidate governments in conflict with Washington and to counter the inevitable explosions in popular struggles and revolutionary bids for power that are built into the contemporary reality of economic crisis and class and social polarization throughout the Americas.

Endgame

There is no question that, if Cuba were to drop its revolutionary political orientation and become more responsive to the interests and dominance of world capitalism and imperialism, then Washington would change course and establish full diplomatic relations and end all sanctions in a New York minute. But short of Cuban political capitulation, what will end the US economic and political war against Cuba? There are three factors which can be looked at separately, but which are totally intertwined, playing upon and off each other.

First and foremost is independent mass pressure inside the US, that is, independent of the maneuverings, machinations, and intrigues of the bait-and-switch game on Capitol Hill. This first factor is weak today, although that can change. And while there is a vibrant, committed core of Cuba solidarity activists in cities across the United States, as a national movement it is decentralized and diffuse. Of course the “Cuba Question” is not at this time a pressing issue in US politics. There is no imminent momentum towards direct US aggression. Widespread sentiment against the US embargo in US public opinion exists, and there is even a small but significant layer of US public opinion that is consciously sympathetic to the example, legacy, and historic leadership of the Cuban Revolution, particularly among Blacks. There is furthermore great, broad interest in Cuba, and the prospects of visiting there, among ordinary US citizens. Preventing people from seeing the actual Cuban reality as opposed to the hell painted by imperialist propaganda is, of course, a major reason US authorities strain to maintain travel restrictions.

Second is hemispheric and world pressure. In formal diplomatic terms it’s hardly possible for Washington to be more isolated in its Cuba policy, especially in the Western Hemisphere. Nevertheless, among Washington’s imperialist allies who are also its dog-eat-dog competitors on the world capitalist market, opposition to the US embargo at the UN has more to do with antagonism towards US attempts to impose its economic and financial policies extraterritorially than with any sympathy for revolutionary, socialist Cuba. The above-cited EU Parliament vote strongly condemning Cuba is a truer reflection of the class and political antagonism of European imperialism. In the Americas, while popular solidarity with Cuba is very widespread and is a big factor weighing on the postures of even conservative governments, it is certain that as social and political polarization deepens in the wake of growing economic crisis, antagonism towards Cuba — the permanent example and inspiration for all hemispheric forces fighting for social justice — consciously fostered and demanded by Washington, among certain governments and political tendencies is bound to grow. There are many delicious contradictions within the actuality and dynamics of the Cuban Revolution’s place in Latin American history and contemporary politics.

The third factor is divisions within the US ruling class. This factor totally flows from and is dependent on factors one and two. Short of a victorious social revolution inside the United States bringing working people to political power, it is the political representatives of the US “Establishment” that will make the decision to end the five decades of economic and political war against the Cuban Revolution. So far we have only seen tactical divergences from within an utterly united policy of defeating the Cuban Revolution and destroying Cuban socialism.

If Obama and Clinton had any illusions that the Cuban government under Raul Castro would be less inclined to promote revolutionary internationalism and solidarity with the oppressed and exploited overwhelming majority of humanity against the policies of world capital, they have had enough time to shed them.

Despite years of stupid speculation and assertions about splits and divisions between Raul and Fidel Castro, it seems fairly clear that Washington no longer thinks that anything fundamental has changed in the Cuban leadership and political orientation, either within Cuba or in its foreign policy, under Raul Castro’s Presidency. Cuba remains revolutionary and Marxist. Revolutionary continuity is the reality in Cuba.

Therefore so does continuity remain the reality of US policy under Barack Obama.

by Ike Nahem


Notes

* From MRZIne:
http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/201...

* Ike Nahem is the coordinator of Cuba Solidarity New York (email: ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ), a member of the National Network on Cuba. Nahem is an Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Teamsters Union. These are his personal political opinions.

On the Situation in Sri Lanka


Sixteenth World Congress of the Fourth International


Last May the national struggle of the Tamil people suffered a total defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan government. The defeat, which was a product of the “war on terror” was the most comprehensive defeat suffered by a national liberation struggle for many years. It is a defeat not just for the Tamil people but for the whole of the left and progressive forces in Sri Lanka.

Last May the national struggle of the Tamil people suffered a total defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan government. The defeat, which was a product of the “war on terror” was the most comprehensive defeat suffered by a national liberation struggle for many years. It is a defeat not just for the Tamil people but for the whole of the left and progressive forces in Sri Lanka.

In the last two months of the war, the armed forces committed relentless and indiscriminate artillery and air attacks killing some 40 000 civilians, including many women and children.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was reelected last January, has no intention of resolving the Tamil national question for which the Tamil people have struggled for decades.

After the war, some 300,000 civilians were forced to flee from the war zone and were locked up in internment camps behind barbed wire fences. These internally displaced persons (IDP), as they were branded, have been allowed since December to go back to their original homes but the Rajapaksa government has not given the means for a real settlement. People are still waiting for financial assistance and also food support, medical and sanitary aid. To this day around 100 000 civilians are still remaining in the camps.

Besides this situation, the Rajapaksa government uses open and brutal repression to silent its opponents and the media. There are 12,000 political prisoners behind bars, some of them for years, without any legal inquiries and most of them are Tamils. Not less than 20 journalists have been killed in the last three years. Many of them have fled the country in fear of their lives. The government must seriously address a political settlement for the Tamil national question. The first step should be to build a power-sharing arrangement.

We also demand that:

• All political prisoners be released unconditionally,

• The Sri Lankan government stop suppression of media freedom,

• The Sri Lankan government assure the IDP a safe settlement in their home and secure the livelihood.

We congratulate our comrades in the NSSP for the courageous stand they have made, and continue to make, in the face of Sinhala state repression and regret that some on the left internationally were unable to lend more support to this struggle.

The International Becomes a Perspective


Salvatore Cannavò

 

To recount the 16th congress of the Fourth International, we could begin by speaking of the reconstitution of the Russian section of the International, a kind of return to the sources: the Fourth International was founded at the initiative of Leon Trotsky in 1938, in the wake of the struggle and defeat of the Left Opposition to Stalinism, destroyed in Russia during the 1920s and 1930s.

sixteenth-world-congress
The Sixteenth World Congress
Photo: Inprecor

We could continue by noting the presence of many Latin American organizations, starting with Marea Socialista, which is part of Chavez’s United Socialist Party in Venezuela and proposed to strengthen political and international unity so as to respond collectively to the proposal for a Fifth International launched by the Venezuelan president. We could stress the importance of the birth of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France, regardless of its contradictions and its growing pains, constituting the main novelty of European politics as well as the dynamics, under other political latitudes, of the German left.

However, to reflect the success represented by the 16th World Congress of the Fourth International - which ended on February 28, 2010 at Ostend, Belgium, on the North Sea - we prefer to cite three elements:

* Firstly, participation. Delegates, observers and guests coming from a good 40 countries helped develop a debate powered by the presence of all the continents, from Australia to Canada, Argentina to Russia, China to Britain, and Congo to the United States. To succeed in bringing together in one place over five days, in completely self-financed manner and without any institutional support, so many organizations, is not an easy thing.

* Then the fact, that for the first time the new International Committee elected at this Conference is more than 40% female. And there were many young members. The international Committee is a “federal” body, which means that each national reality has its own representatives. There is no “rebalancing” of the central bodies - history taught this international current that a political line cannot be imposed from above, still less by a “guide” party - the composition of the international Committee therefore reflects a generational renewal, a change of mentality and a new political and social reality.

* The third element was the major political and organizational discussions, focused on the future. The Congress turned towards the East, to Asia, with a fundamental role played by the Philippine organization, the already mentioned presence of the Russians (Socialist Movement Vperiod), the Polish Party of Labour (PPP) invited, the orientation of the Hong Kong group in China and the new Japanese organization under construction. But above all with the important and decisive presence of the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), a significant organization, whose national Congress in January ended in a rally involving over ten thousand workers, peasants and, especially, women.

Revival

For the Fourth International this was a renewal, a symptom of the overcoming of the difficulties of the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. After a series of defections or divisions and a loss of perspective, the discussion concerning the possibility or, at least, the will to consider a "new international" – the fruit of a possible political process, initiated by the choices made in France, by the attendance of organizations such as the Pakistani one or by the debate taking place in Latin America - has provided a fresh impetus and a new internal debate. The political process that must be watched carefully is the construction of “new anti-capitalist parties”, broad and with a mass influences, including “the current response to the crisis of the workers’ movement and the necessity of its reconstruction”. A perspective that has an organic, international character without however resulting automatically in a “line” that should be followed slavishly everywhere.

A perspective, we should emphasise, which coincides with the desire and the project to strengthen this political current which has now existed for more than seventy years, but which retains considerable vitality, as evidenced by its ability to devote a session of its debate to - and approve a new resolution on - climate change, considered one of the main novelties of the new century and a decisive battle in the “capital-labour” conflict. Moreover, this attention to new themes and new subjects of conflict had been shown already in the previous Congress which approved a resolution on the anti-globalization movement and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) issue. There are not many revolutionary Marxist organizations which can integrate, or even aspire to integrate, in their programme questions which were so controversial in the history of the labour movement. Indeed, there is no other.

Obviously we have to keep a sense of proportion: we are talking in various parts of the world of small political organisations, sometimes small groups, even if generally they are activist collectives inserted in their national, social and political reality. But the fact of belonging to an international framework helps the preservation of a certain vitality and the ability to maintain a thread and a common discussion. And thus to respond now to current challenges, such as the possible convening by the Venezuelan Government of a debate for a Fifth international. The propagandist nature of this proposal and the complexity of an invitation from a head of government escaped nobody. At the same time, and this has been stressed repeatedly, the hypothesis gives new credibility and a new visibility to the conception of the International, the fact that this dimension is crucial to confront capitalist globalisation and its crisis. And it is no coincidence that, besides the proposal from Chavez, there is another, originating from the US Znet website, with, among its first signatories, people like Noam Chomsky, Michael Albert, Vandana Shiva, Michael Löwy, John Pilger and many others.

during-the-int-discussion
During the international discussion
Photo: Raoul

The Congress decided to participate in this debate while maintaining intact its conception of the International, i.e. of a body based on a program, a common perspective (the transcendence of capitalism), internal democracy, social effectiveness and absolute independence from governments. At the same time, Marea Socialista’s call for the holding of an international meeting in Caracas, possibly in June, was welcomed positively. Also the question of the social movements was at the centre of discussion, with the commitment to the "Summit" in Cochabamba on global warming, called by the Bolivian President Evo Morales, the various Social Forums - that of the Americas in Asunciòn, the European Social Forum in Istanbul and the World Forum, in 2011, in Dakar, the Euro-Latin American summit in Madrid next May and that against NATO in November 2010 in Lisbon. Fresh impetus was also given to the Institute for Research and Education in Amsterdam, which will be supported by two new "regional" centres, in Manila and Islamabad, whose symbolic importance is obvious.

At the European level, in addition to the above-mentioned emphasis on the Madrid and Lisbon summits, it is important to put in motion the process of convergence of the anti-capitalist left, beyond formulas and forms, necessary to advance common reflection and, above all, to initiate common political campaigns. In this connection, the Congress voted in favour of the organization of thematic conferences to discuss various issues with a view to taking common initiatives. The first meeting will be dedicated to the economic crisis and in particular how to effectively oppose it in three aspects: redundancies, and attacks on pensions and public services.

  • Salvatore Cannavò is a member of the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International and of the leadership of Sinistra Critica in Italy. In November 2009 Sinistra Critica decided to declare itself in political solidarity with the Fourth International thus bringing its political experience and forces to strengthen the FI.

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