Monday, November 27, 2006

Who speaks for Oaxaca?

by Robert Adler, Jo Ann Wexler and Monica Trueba

Oaxaca, Mexico, November 27, 2006

You hear it said many times a day here in Oaxaca: Tenemos que aguantar—we have to endure.

You won’t hear this from the principal actors in the political drama which is being played out on Oaxaca’s stage. The leading roles are played by Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, Oaxaca’s, much-despised governor; the PRI, the deeply entrenched political party to which Ruiz belongs; the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO), the increasingly radical activist group demanding Ruiz’s resignation; and the PRD, the opposition party of defeated presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, which has acknowledged bankrolling APPO. They are all determined to win their high-stakes struggle for state and national power, and for international support.

It’s only the long-suffering and essentially voiceless people of Oaxaca who tell each other over and over, “We need to endure.”

Oaxaca’s troubles began in May, when the union representing most of the State of Oaxaca’s 70,000 teachers went on strike for higher wages and better working conditions, as they do every year. This year the governor didn’t award them the raises they expected, since (according to his detractors) he had already spent the money on pet projects which, coincidentally, put money in the pockets of his relatives, political supporters, and the PRI.

APPO occupied Oaxaca following Governor Ruiz’s ill-fated attempt to dislodge the striking teachers on June 14. Voicing idealistic goals, activists barricaded streets, blocked highways, burned dozens of buses, occupied most city and state government offices, and splattered just about every building in Oaxaca with anti-Ruiz graffiti. They turned Oaxaca’s normally enchanting central square and surrounding streets into a tense and sullen encampment. As the situation became known in the international press, tourism, Oaxaca’s major source of income, plummeted to less than 10% of normal.

As the months passed without resolution of the teachers’ issues, Oaxaca’s 1,300,000 school-age children, already among the most poorly-educated in Mexico, slid deeper into the trap of endemic, multi-generational poverty from which APPO claimed to be fighting to free them.

Ruiz’s presumed minions did their share to destroy Oaxaca’s economy as well. Bands of heavily armed, black-hooded marauders have assassinated more than a dozen teachers and other activists in late-night, drive-by shootings. At least 60 people have disappeared. The blatant daytime killing of American journalist Brad Will on October 27, allegedly by local PRI functionaries (although possibly by an APPO provocateur) created headlines worldwide, but was just one particularly visible episode in an ongoing campaign of terror.

Following Will’s death, the international media spotlight turned on Oaxaca and on Mexico’s president, Vicente Fox. He responded by sending in 4,000 members of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP), who now control Oaxaca’s zocalo and the route to Mexico City, but still have not been able to re-open all of Oaxaca’s highways. The dramatic November 2 battle for the strategic crossroads of Cinco Señores, near Oaxaca’s APPO-occupied Benito Juarez Autonomous University, inaugurated a new level of violence between APPO and the federal police. Violence erupted again on November 25, when young activists armed with homemade bazookas and shopping carts full of rocks and nail-laced Molotov cocktails turned a nominally peaceful march into a day and night of street battles. The level of violence from federal and local police also escalated. Reports vary, but from three to six demonstrators may have been killed.

With tourism down to a trickle and transportation to and within Oaxaca unreliable, the entire economy is failing. Businesses and services that cater to tourists have closed, including hotels, restaurants, stores and galleries, depleting the savings of the owners and putting thousands of employees out of work. Many of the businesses unfortunate enough to be located in the immediate vicinity of APPO’s encampments likewise have closed. Many Oaxacans were unable to bring their products to market or get to their jobs because of the presence of barricades and the absence of buses. Produce sellers, car repair shops, and dozens of other small businesses closed and laid off their employees. Self-employed workers such as taxi drivers, beauty parlor operators, shoe shiners, vendors, and the artisans for which Oaxaca is famous are barely able to maintain themselves in the local economy since their customers no longer have cash available to purchase their goods and services. Caught in the crossfire between APPO and Ruiz, Oaxaca’s already fragile economy is crumbling.

“We’re like a slice of ham in a sandwich,” says a Oaxacan friend. “We have APPO on one side and Ruiz on the other. Nobody notices that we’re being eaten up.”

The invisibility of the majority of the people of Oaxaca is no accident. Although it’s unlikely that more than a third of the state’s residents support Ruiz, he and his party vociferously claim to represent el pueblo, the people of Oaxaca. APPO’s survival also depends on maintaining its image as the true voice of the people. Although APPO supporters may number in the tens of thousands, a much larger “silent majority” of ordinary Oaxacans simply want their jobs back, their children in school, the ability to get to or across town, and above all an end to this conflict. Yet, when ordinary Oaxacans try to speak out, their voices go unheard.

When reporters descended on Oaxaca in the wake of the arrival of the federal police, it was not unusual to see a crowd of APPO supporters around every journalist, clamoring to be heard. However, we saw people who tried to say that they were neither for Ruiz nor for APPO, but for peace, shouted down and shoved aside.

Representatives of human-rights organizations are in Oaxaca, documenting and publicizing abuses by right-wing groups or the PFP. According to friends, Oaxacans who approach them to report threats or damage by APPO have been turned away. “Apparently we don’t count,” they conclude.

What started as a teachers’ strike has mutated almost beyond recognition. First APPO absorbed the teachers. It now appears that the PRD, led by defeated presidential candidate Lopez Obrador, is bankrolling APPO and so has it dancing to its tune. Not to mention the bombers who struck in Mexico City on November 6, who also claim to be acting on behalf of the people of Oaxaca. Or the increasingly violent activists who now make up a significant part of APPO, to the point that the have become APPO’s new face.

The next time you read a news story about Oaxaca, take a minute before choosing sides. If your political instincts lead you side with Governor Ruiz, remember that he earned his unpopularity by gratuitously attacking 70,000 teachers, and that his PRI functionaries have the blood of many people on their hands. If your reflexes push you to rally with APPO in supposed solidarity with the people of Oaxaca, remember that five months under APPO’s control left Oaxaca trashed and impoverished, and that what may have started as an idealistic, non-violent movement can no longer pretend to be either.

Even more importantly, remember that this struggle doesn’t have just two sides. It also has an inside—el pueblo--the majority of the people of Oaxaca, who still have no voice, and no choice except to endure.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

We’ve seen how much we spend each day on the war in Iraq, at almost three hundred million dollars, that is a lot of money. You can watch the dollars fly at this website. We spend that much for the country as a whole—you can look at what your state is spending. Or you could determine what we could be spending the money on if we weren’t spending it on the Iraq War. We are talking about costs at the present levels of expenditure, but the costs for the war just keep going up and up. The cost of the Iraq War is surpassing that of Korea or Vietnam to become the second most costly in our country’s history. Leading economists predict that the total costs to the United States economy could be between one and two trillion dollars, and pre-war estimates of $100-$200 billion dollars were laughed off by the Bush administration as being exorbitantly high. The estimated two trillion dollar cost is often mentioned in the foreign press, but doesn’t get much notice in the United States. The US has built the greatest economy (and military to guard it) the world has known. However, all empires get to the point where they spend so much money making war that they lose their power, influence and wealth and are no longer the leading country they once were. The Iraq War could do just that to the United States.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Please Vote Republican

If you wept at Ken Lay’s funeral, please vote Republican.

If you still believe
“Mission Accomplished" three and a half years later, please vote Republican.

If every time you pull up to the pump you wonder “can’t we give away a few billion more of my tax dollars in subsidies to the oil companies” and “how can I help the oil industry increase its record profits” and “those oil execs need a pay raise” and “shouldn’t George and Dick receive more credit for helping those energy companies out,” please vote Republican.

If you think Valerie Plame deserved to have been ‘outed’ because her husband Joe Wilson spoke out about the manipulation and fabrication of intelligence that lead us into the Iraq war, please vote Republican.

If you look forward to sharing a cell with Republicans Jack Abramhoff, Illinois ex-Governor Ryan, ex-Congressman Duke Cunningham, Jeff Skilling and his Enron buddies, the guys behind the jamming of the Democratic “Get Out The Vote” phone lines in New Hampshire, Thomas Ney, and many, many more, please vote Republican.

If you hate big government so much that you think that incompetence at the highest levels is the solution, please vote Republican.

If you think the numerous groups in the scientific community who have complained for years that the Bush White House has suppressed scientific findings and replaced them with their partisan political agendas are just crybabies or sore losers, please vote Republican.

If you consider ex-Republican House Whip Tom, “The Hammer” Delay to be a ‘friend’ of yours, please vote Republican.

If you define “Compassionate Conservatism” as giving the wealthiest 1% of the population even more tax cuts and look forward to the day when you or your children can pay for that loss in federal revenues through higher taxes or increased deficits, please vote Republican.

If you insist on ignoring the warnings of scientists at the
Jet Propulsion Lab at California Institute of Techology,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
US Army Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory,
The Scripps Institute of Oceanography,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
American Association for the Advancement of Science,
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
and virtually every other leading climatological science group, organization or institute
that human produced greenhouse gases are affecting our climate adversely and we don’t have much time to change the ways in which we produce and use energy —and you would rather be lulled into buying another SUV by the science “skeptics” on the payrolls of the big oil companies, please vote Republican.

If you forgot, or were never told, that the highest ranking British intelligence official, after talking with US administration officials before the war, reported back to his Prime Minister that the US was twisting the intelligence and facts to fit the Bush policy of invading Iraq, please vote Republican.

If you think our founding fathers would be proud of a political party that has admittedly dispatched operatives from WDC to uncover any and all information about Democratic opponents, spin it into “dirt,” and spend 90% of its advertising budget on negative ads, all because it is afraid to run on the issues, its record, and the President’s performance, please vote Republican.

If you love a President whose motto is “support our troops” but who didn’t provide them with sufficient body armor or protection for their vehicles from IEDs and who still won’t cough up the $17,000,000,000 the Army says it needs to repair all the equipment that has suffered the ravages of the sands of Iraq, please vote Republican.

If you don’t remember the time eight years ago when we had such swelling federal budget surpluses that we were pulling out our hair trying to figure out what to do when we paid off the federal debt, and you are glad--with our $300,000,000,000 annual deficits--that we won’t have those sore scalp problems any longer, please vote Republican.

If you believe a war with Iran will be more successful than our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, please vote Republican.

If you think that turning over the safety net of Social Security that has been well managed for seventy years to a bunch of high-paid, smooth-talking Wall Street financers will make your retirement more secure, please vote Republican.

If you want the increase in hurricanes, floods, droughts, diseases, species extinctions, and human wars over scarce resources that global climate change will bring, please vote Republican.

If you look forward to going quail hunting with Vice President Cheney, please vote Republican.

If you consider whistleblowers who stand up against this administration’s incompetence, cronyism, disregard for science, international law and our own Constitution to be mere nuisances who need to be smeared or fired to discourage others from following in their footsteps, please vote Republican.

If you favor Nixonian “dirty tricks” like jamming the Democrat’s ‘Get Out the Vote’ telephones in New Hampshire on election day and your only regret is that you can’t give Get Out of Jail Free cards to those who went to prison for doing this, please vote Republican.

If you condone the torture and other inhumane interrogation of prisoners in Iraq, well over 90% of which were neither terrorists nor criminals, and believe this helps us win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Muslim world, gains us stature around the globe, conforms with the Geneva Conventions, and will not set a precedent for similar treatment of our servicemen and women when they are captured, please vote Republican.

If you think we are ‘winning’ the war in Iraq, please vote Republican.

If you think it’s fair that someone earning the federal minimum wage would have to work for about 20,000 years to earn what Exxon’s CEO was given as a golden parachute, please vote Republican.

If you can make sense of your Medicare Drug Benefits package, please vote Republican.

If you think that ‘Brownie’ and FEMA did a ‘heck of a job’ in responding to Hurricane Katrina, please vote Republican.

If you contributed to the Scooter Libby Defense Fund, please vote Republican.

If you love your children but still think we should be spending over $200,000,000 a day on the war in Iraq, while not providing the promised federal funding for the No Child Left Behind Act, please vote Republican.

If you believe capturing Osama Bin Laden ‘dead or alive’ is no longer important, so it's fine to disband the working group charged with that task, please vote Republican.

If you think Presidential ‘signing statements’ should replace the Constitutional power the President has to veto legislation, please vote Republican.

If you’d be glad that your wife, son, husband, daughter or other relative was called back for a third, forth or fifth tour of duty in Iraq, please vote Republican.

If you believe that President served every month of his six years of Air National Guard duty according to the terms he signed upon entering the military, please vote Republican.

If you don’t care that the White House Council on Environmental Quality overruled the EPA and declared the air at Ground Zero ‘safe’ after 9/11, condemning thousands of the heroic first responders and clean up crew members to respiratory problems and lives of medical hell, please vote Republican.

If you agree with the threat Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made while planning for the Iraq war that the next high ranking military officer who suggests that we need to have a plan for stabilizing a post-war Iraq would be fired, please vote Republican.

If you favored the US withdrawal from the International Court of Criminal Justice, please vote Republican.

If you just love throwing away your hard earned tax dollars on those no bid military contracts being given to Halliburton and the other corporate cronies of the Bush Administration, please vote Republican.

If you supported the administration’s adamant stance against forming a 9/11 Commission and then when forced by public opinion to create such a commission, fought the commission’s attempts to get information from the administration every step of the way, please vote Republican.

If you think it’s fair that the incomes of the very, very rich should increase dramatically while those of middle class America stagnate, please vote Republican.

If you want the war in Iraq to continue on endlessly, please vote Republican.

If you realize that the touch-screen electronic voting machine you use on election day
1) hasn’t been regulated even to the extent slot machines in Las Vegas are,
2) has software that can easily be hacked to “flip” votes,
3) probably has no reliable paper trail to assure you that the machine correctly recorded your vote,
4) is owned and operated by a company owned and operated by Republicans,
well, then you’re free to vote any way you damn well please, because it won’t make a difference anyway.

ACE for the institute

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Greetings. You’ve just been drafted into the War on Terror.

I don’t know what you heard in President Bush’s “non-political” speech from the oval office on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. What I heard is that The Decider has drafted us all into his apocalyptic, make-it-or-break it view of the world. From now until that great and distant day when Victory over Terror is declared, we are all soldiers in his war. It’s us versus them, good versus evil, the threatened versus the threateners, the advocates of freedom versus the haters of freedom, resolve and sacrifice versus unspeakable violence, Civilization versus Islamofascism.

It’s “our generation’s calling,” the President told us, nothing less than “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st Century.” And, he warns us, we’re just “in the early hours of this struggle.” We or our children or perhaps their children can expect battles "like Iwo Jima and D-Day," with “thousands lost in one day.”

Needless to say, the outcome will depend on great “sacrifice and determination,” marked by “passion for service,” nobly watched over by mothers who are “worried but proud” as they send their children off to the crusade. “We will need them,” the President says, and for once I believe him.

But those great sacrifices, those dark and dreadful days, those bereaved mothers will be worth it, because “we will lead the 21st Century into a shining age of human liberty, the finest the world has ever known.”

It’s ironic that the path to that shining age of liberty leads through abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but no matter.

On 9/11, after we watched in shock as the towers collapsed and thousands died, a friend turned to me and asked, “Do you think this could destroy America?”

“Absolutely not,” I answered, envisioning how vast and rich and great America is, how strong and balanced and resilient we three hundred million Americans truly are. "Absolutely not."

I was horrified by the tragedy of that day, but not afraid. I was sure that the darkest imaginings and most horrible acts of terrorists could hurt us, as they had, but could never destroy us.

But now a little man who would be great has drafted us all into an endless war against Evil itself. That’s another matter entirely.

Now I am afraid.

REA for the institute

Monday, September 11, 2006

I’m angry.

Carl Rove and the right-wing radicals he’s put in office are not afraid of strong feelings. Anyone who has watched them spin their dark, distorted version of reality for the past six years knows that fear is the meat on which they feed. It’s terror for breakfast, lunch and dinner, terror trotted out whenever another news story reveals them as the liars, misguided ideologues, and arrogant incompetents that they are, terror to drive flocks of the fearful to the voting booths.

The liberals who speak out at all, try as usual to be the voice of reason and realism, even though they know that their fact-based, nuanced views will be derided as cowardly flip-flopping or, now that a key election is closing in, labeled as flat-out treason.

I’m sick of it.

I’m angry that the Bush administration turned the tragedy of 9/11 into the travesty of Iraq.

I’m angry that our country was hoodwinked into a needless, divisive, and costly war.

I’m angry for the years of lies about Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs and links to al-Qaeda.

I’m angry that Bush and his bullies bamboozled us with a classic bait and switch—promising to protect us against terrorism, but giving us instead a war that’s creating more hatred towards the US around the world, and breeding a new generation of terrorists.

I’m angry that our “visionary” leaders could envision a Middle East remade in our image, but in their arrogance refused to plan for postwar Iraq or provide enough troops for a successful occupation and transition.

I’m angry that Rove’s cynical contempt for the American people, his unlimited permission to hammer on our most primitive emotional buttons, and his attack-dog eagerness to Swift Boat anyone who dares oppose his gang, has debased our political discourse to the level of a fight in the sewers.

I’m angry that many of the rights shining forth from the Constitution, rights that generations of patriots fought and died for, have been gutted while a supine Congress cowers in the corner.

I’m angry that our intelligence community shrugged off its obligation to “tell truth to power,” and instead provided the powerful with the propaganda they needed to bully us into war.

I’m angry that the press followed blindly, avidly swallowing the war-party line.

I’m angry that new laws have let the bloated rich grow even richer, while millions of American children have no health insurance and attend crumbling schools.

And I’m angry that America’s gleaming cloak, our vital ability to lead the world through example, has been tossed aside like old rag and replaced by secret prisons, torture called by other names, and naked power.

Damn right I’m angry. Aren’t you?

This November we have the opportunity to plough our anger into electing a new Congress. These elections are crucial, as Carl Rove and his cronies know all too well. If at least the House of Representatives regains a Democratic majority, the checks and balances that have been derailed since 9/11 can start to work again. There will be at least the beginning of a power base that can oppose the rampant, rabid right.

If, however, Bush’s minions eke out yet another win through their unlimited media budget, by waving the bloody terror card again and again, by hammering away at symbolic wedge issues, shamelessly sliming their opponents, and managing to discourage enough voters and discount enough votes, the rest of us—the huge majority of Americans who would never have gone to war to realize Wolfowitz’s dream of an American empire—will be in deep, long-term trouble.

We need to win big if we’re going to win at all. We need so many ordinary people who register to vote despite all the red tape, who vote despite the roadblocks, long lines and broken machines, and whose votes get counted despite Diebold and friends, that no amount of manipulation, machination, chicanery or fraud can keep us from being heard.

Let’s turn our anger into votes, votes that count.

REA for the institute

Sunday, September 10, 2006

As we battle with short-term problems, such as the crucial November elections, it's easy to lose sight of longer-term issues. Human-caused climate change has to head the list. Read this call to action by John Ashton, the UK's special representative for climate change. Hmmm, I wonder why the US doesn't have a high-level climate-change office?

REA for the institute

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


"Consider the 6 days of Genesis as a figure of speech for what has in fact been 4 billion years; on this scale, a day equals something like 660 million years. All day Monday, creation was busy getting the earth going. Life began Tuesday noon and the beautiful, organic wholeness of it developed over the next 4 days. At 4 p.m. Saturday, the big reptiles came on. Five hours later, when the redwoods appeared, there were no more big reptiles. At 1/3 of a second before midnight on the last day, Christ arrived. At 1/40th of a second before midnight, the Industrial Revolution began. We are surrounded by people who think that what we've been doing for that 1/40th of a second can go on indefinitely. They are considered normal, but they are stark raving mad." David Brower.

LA for the institute