Progressive Calandar 07.19.09
From: David Shove (
Date: Sun, 19 Jul 2009 16:24:51 -0700 (PDT)
            P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R   07.19.09

1. Palestine/film    7.19 9pm

2. Single payer      7.20 9:30am
3. Eviction/court    7.20 1:30pm
4. Peace walk        7.20 6pm RiverFalls WI
5. Organic/mushrooms 7.20 6pm
6. Japanese-Am/WWII  7.20 6:30pm
7. Terror/dissent/f  7.20 7pm
8. Oxfam Action      7.20 7pm

9. John Nichols        - A real win for single-payer advocates
10. Alexander Cockburn - Watch what Obama does, not what he says
11. Arundhati Roy      - Hollow language and hollow democracies

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From: Women Against Military Madness <wamm [at]>
Subject: Palestine/film 7.19 9pm

"Slingshot Hip Hop:" Outdoor Film

Sunday, July 19, 9:00 p.m. Bedlam Theatre, Rooftop Deck, 1501 South 6th
Street (West Bank), Minneapolis. "Slingshot Hip Hop" is the first
feature-length documentary about the Palestinian hip-hop movement. At the
cutting edge of this emerging Middle Eastern youth, it is a fresh, complex
and energizing window into contemporary life in Palestine and Israel, and
into one of the many identities that Arabs are exploring today. Free and
open to the public. Sponsored by: the International Jewish Anti-Zionist
Network. Endorsed by: the WAMM Middle East Committee. FFI: Email [at]

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From: Erin Parrish <erin [at]>
Subject: Single payer 7.20 9:30am

July 20: Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition Health Care for All in
2009: How Universal Health Care Supporters Can Be Most Effective. Lunch
provided. 9:30 AM - 2:30 PM at Minnesota AFL-CIO, 175 Aurora Avenue, St.
Paul. RSVP is required.

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From: Lynette Malles <lynettemalles [at]>
Subject: Eviction/court 7.20 1:30pm

URGENT! Barbara Byrd is a 50 year-old African American working woman who
is fighting eviction. Her duplex in Brooklyn Park was financed through
EMC. The Bear Stearns Companies, LLC and its subsidiary, EMC Mortgage
Corporation, recently agreed to pay $28 million to settle Federal Trade
Commission charges that they engaged in unlawful "predatory lending"
practices in servicing consumers' home mortgage loans.

Barbara is to appear in Hennepin County district court tower, 300 South
Sixth Street in Minneapolis, at 1:30 in Room 1453 on Monday to appeal her
eviction.  In March of 2009, after Barbara had lost her tenant and fallen
behind in her payments, EMC made notary date-errors in the foreclosure
documentation. During her June eviction hearing in housing court, the
judge had assured her that she should not have to move. Still a 24-hour
eviction was posted on her door July 6th, and Barbara spent sleepless
nights in fear of being thrown out.

[IMAGE] Please join us in court to support Barbara's courageous stand
against predatory lending. She has been receiving counseling and legal
support through Jewish Community Action. On a personal note, yet another
bank repossessed her car last week even though she had been trying to make
arrangements and was only eight payments away from paying off the loan.
Two days later, to make matters even worse, she sprained her ankle and now
has been commuting by bus on crutches. This is late-notice so spread the

Ona Kingbird's fundraising dinner was well attended. The father of one of
her former students approached her at the event. Out of gratitude for how
she had influenced his son, offered to help her out with a housing
possibility. The months race by. Her redemption period is over at the end
of September.

Rosemary Williams continues to negotiate with GMAC and has two, possibly
three options to consider for refinancing. Her People's Party on the 10th
was great, and I enjoyed meeting many of you. We'll get fun-raising totals
out in the next update.

Tecora Parks' loan documents are in the hands of a Housing Prevention
Project specialist who is looking them over for glitches. Any such errors
would strengthen their resolve to fight eviction in a situation already
aggravated by Indy-Mac's illegal lockout in May. A lawyer is still needed.
The Parks' redemption period ends in November.

--------4 of 11--------

From: Nancy Holden <d.n.holden [at]>
Subject: Peace walk 7.20 6pm RiverFalls WI

River Falls Peace and Justice Walkers. We meet every Monday from 6-7 pm on
the UWRF campus at Cascade Ave. and 2nd Street, immediately across from
"Journey" House. We walk through the downtown of River Falls. Contact:
d.n.holden [at] Douglas H Holden 1004 Morgan Road River Falls,
Wisconsin 54022

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From: Erin Parrish <erin [at]>
Subject: Organic/mushrooms 7.20 6pm

July 20: Women's Environmental Institute Organic Farm School "The Role of
Mushrooms in Remediation and Sustainable Agriculture" with Ron Spinos of
the Minnesota Mycological Society. 6 - 8 PM at Midtown Global Market in
the Greenway Conference Room. Register.

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From: Women Against Military Madness <wamm [at]>
Subject: Japanese-Am/WWII 7.20 6:30pm

FREE Third Monday Movies and Discussion: "Come See the Paradise"
Monday, July 20, 6:30 p.m. St. Joan of Arc Church, Parish Center, 4537
Third Avenue South, Minneapolis.

An enormously moving and nostalgic story of the World War II era with a
background of the relocation of Japanese-Americans from their homes to
armed encampments across the United States. (Mainstream Film--133 minutes)
Discussion follows. Sponsored by: the WAMM Third Monday Movies Committee.
FFI: Call 612-871-2229.

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From: info [at]
Subject: Terror/dissent/f 7.20 7pm

July 20 Terrorizing Dissent screening at Bryant Lake Bowl 7pm
The first and most complete story of the 4 days that shook St. Paul.

Doors 6PM
Movie 7PM
$6-20 pay what you can.
Bryant Lake Bowl 810 W. Lake Street Minneapolis
More info at
There may even be a few of the 8 there.

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From: Oxfam Action Corps - MN <minnesota [at]>
Subject: Oxfam Action 7.20 7pm

On the 3rd Monday of each month, we gather to plan our nonpartisan
grassroots activities. We've successfully organized events, lobbied
policymakers, and have used sheer creativity to stand up for meaningful
change. We meet at 7pm the unique Common Roots Café (2558 Lyndale Ave. S.,

--------9 of 11--------

A Real Win for Single-Payer Advocates

Canada did not establish its national health care program with a bold,
immediate political move by the federal government.

The initial progress came at the provincial level, led by the Co-operative
Commonwealth Federation's Tommy Douglas when he served from 1941 to 1960
premier of Saskatchewan. The universal, publicly-funded "single-payer"
health care system that Douglas and his socialist allies developed in
Saskatchewan proved to be so successful and so popular that it was
eventually adopted by other provinces and, ultimately, by Canada's federal

For his efforts, Douglas would be hailed in a national survey as "The
Greatest Canadian" of all time. But Douglas' regional initiative also
offers a lesson for Americans.

Those of us who know that the only real cure for what ails the U.S. health
care system is a universal public plan that provides health care for all
Americans while controlling costs recognize the frustrating reality that
there are many economic and political barriers to the federal action that
would create a single-payer system. This makes clearing the way
experimentation at the state level all the more important.

And, remarkably, the forces of real reform have won a congressional
victory on that front, a victory that ought not be underestimated.

By a 25-19 vote, the House Committee on Education and Labor on Friday
approved an amendment to the House's health-care reform bill allowing
states to create single-payer health care systems if they so choose.

"There are many models of health care reform from which to choose around
the world - the vast majority of which perform far better than ours. The
one that has been the most tested here and abroad is single-payer,"
explained Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who proposed the
amendment. "Under a single-payer system everyone in the U.S. would get a
card that would allow access to any doctor at virtually any hospital.
Doctors and hospitals would continue to be privately run, but the
insurance payments would be in the public hands. By getting rid of the
for-profit insurance companies, we can save $400 billion per year and
provide coverage for all medically necessary services for everyone in the

Votes for the amendment came from progressive Democrats who favor
single-payer - such as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lynn
Woolsey, of California, and Raul Grijalva, of Arizona - as well as
conservative Republicans who have no taste for single-payer but want
states to be able to set their own agendas.

Opposition to the amendment came mainly from Democrats such as committee
chair George Miller, of California, who have resisted moves to create more
flexible, innovation-friendly legislation.

The Education and Labor Committee - one of three in the House with
jurisdiction over health care - then apporved the amended America's
Affordable Health Choices Act, H.R. 3200, by a vote of 26-22.

The campaign for to add the amendment was advanced by a number of groups,
in particular Progressive Democratic of America, which mounted a
last-minute campaign to sway Democratic members of the House committee.
PDA Tim Carpenter is right when he says: "This is a victory for
single-payer advocates. Our job in the ensuing weeks will be to ensure
that this amendment does not get stripped from the final legislation."

And they will have powerful allies who will fight to preserve the

After the committee vote, Rose Ann DeMoro, the executive director of the
California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, said,
"This is a historic moment for patients, for American families, and for
the tens of thousands of nurses and other single-payer activists from
coast to coast who can now work in state capitols to pass single-payer
bills, the strongest, most effective solution of all to our healthcare

De Moro gets it.

Allowing states to do what is necessary to provide high-quality yet
affordable health care for all - even as a federal plan falls short of
that goal - opens up vital new avenues for promoting, and actually
implementing, single-payer systems.

--------10 of 11--------

"Watch What We Do, Not What We Say"
CounterPunch Diary
July 17-19, 2009

"Watch what we do, not what we say," was the famous advice Nixon's first
Attorney General, John Mitchell, gave the press at the onset of the Nixon
presidency in 1969.  It's a handy piece of advice in the Age of Obama too,
as we roll towards the end of his first six months in office. There's the
added difficulty that Obama likes to say two different things in the same
speech, usually prefaced by his trade-mark "Let me be clear".

"And let me be clear," he told the Russians in Moscow, even as he presses
forward with the Clinton/Bush policy of NATO expansion, ringing Russia
with missile bases, "NATO seeks collaboration with Russia, not

You think "saying" and "doing" are far apart on that one? Try this gem,
also delivered in Moscow: "Now let me be clear, America will not seek to
impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume
to choose which party or individual should run a country. America will
never impose a security arrangement on another country".

The last guy in the White House to be that clear was in fact Nixon, who
tossed in "perfectly" as a bonus.

Obama has been perfectly clear on so many pledges, such as restoring
constitutional protections such as habeas corpus, respect for
international treaties and covenants on torture and the treatment of
prisoners, ending eavesdropping and, when you take even a quick glance at
what he's done, he's been perfectly awful on so many fronts.

He was at his sermonizing worst in Ghana, telling Africans to shape up, a
homily aimed at those same folks back home who thrilled to Obama's
strictures on the campaign trail, using Father's Day a year ago to tell
black dads - only black dads - to shape up, an act he just reprised to the
NAACP's 100th convention in New York.

"Africa's future is up to Africans," he said in Accra. No it's not.
Africa's future is to a pervasive extent up to the World Bank, the IMF,
international mining and oil companies, the US Congress (which for example
votes cotton subsidies to domestic corporate farmers, thus undercutting
and laying waste the cotton economies of Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali and

"No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands,"
was his New York message for America's black youth. Rip the entrails out
of America's manufacturing economy, hock the economy to Goldman Sachs and
then tell the kids, if you fail, you've only yourself to blame.

What does the Administration say about Iran? At the recent G8 meeting in
Italy Obama talked tough. He said Iran has until September to show it is
serious about curbing its nuclear weapos program. Remember that the CIA,
to the fury of the Bush crowd said in 2006 there was no evidence that any
such program is underway.

In Italy Obama talked about an international September summit in
Pittsburgh "It provides a time frame. If Iran chooses not to walk through
that door, then you have on record the G-8 to begin with, but I think
potentially a lot of other countries, that are going to say we need to
take further steps."

Watch what we do.

As Afshin Rattanssi wrote on this site on Thursday, it's too early to tell
the reason for the midday plane crash on July 15 in Janat-Abad, northwest
of Tehran. All 168 people on board were killed in Qazvin province and
there is an inquiry underway. But, even so, the relatives of the 168 that
have died today may yet blame the U.S. and Britain for their dead, since
sanctions are already creating a spare parts crisis in Iran's aircraft
hangers.  Sanctions are what destroy countries, whether it be Nicaragua in
the 1980s or Iraq in Clinton-time. As Rattanssi says:

"In the 1990s, Bill Clinton's U.N. sanctions on Iraq killed hundreds of
thousands of children as discovered by its own agency, UNICEF. We now have
a man in the White House who trumpets the use of sanctions over the
war-war bluster of George W. Bush. President Bush's continual threats
about the use of military force on Iran did nothing but entrench the
Iranian people's support for the theocratic government. If much-mooted
September is the date for President Obama's new sanctions, they look set
to kill many more civilians than any threats by his former rival and now
secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Hillary and her husband seem never to
have been concerned about the lethal impact of sanctions on developing

In her election campaign Hillary was always eager to emphasize her
willingness to nuke Iran and fry 70 million. Watch what I could do. To
ABC's George Stephanopoulos a few weeks ago she hinted obscurely at a
First Strike scenario. Here she is in full spate last week in the new
Washington hq of the Council on Foreign Relations:

"We know that refusing to deal with the Islamic Republic has not succeeded
in altering the Iranian march toward a nuclear weapon, reducing Iranian
support for terror, or improving Iran's treatment of its own citizens.
Iran does not have a right to nuclear, military capacity, and we're
determined to prevent that.  But it does have a right to civil nuclear
power if it reestablishes the confidence of the international community
that it will use its programs exclusively for peaceful purposes. Iran
become a constructive actor in the region if it stops threatening its
neighbors and supporting terrorism.  It can assume a responsible position
in the international community if it fulfills its obligations on human
rights.  The choice is clear.  We remain ready to engage with Iran, but
the time for action is now.  The opportunity will not remain open

And then later, in answer to a hawkish question:

"I think part of the attractiveness of engagement -- direct engagement is
not only to make our own judgments but also to demonstrate to others that
we've done so and to make clear what kind of reaction we've gotten, which
I think lays the groundwork for concerted actions and certainly in just
the last six months in our efforts in talking with other partners, I've
noticed a turn in attitude by some, a recognition that it's not just the
United States that should be concerned about what Iran is doing, but that
there are implications for others who are much closer than we are to

Now you could say that this was just HRC trying to put herself back on the
map as a major player in the Obama administration, seeking to quell the
snickers that she's just one more sidelined Secretary of State who can't
even stop the White House from blocking her from hiring Sid Blumenthal.
There were slabs of the speech that as wacky as Obama's shameless fictions
about the freedom Africa and black kids in the US to shape their own
destinies - unless, that is, you go with Lenin's bleak remark that Freedom
is the recognition of necessity, later translated into song as Freedom's
just another word for nothing left to lose.  Try this pearl from our
Secretary of State:

"I believe NATO is the greatest alliance in history, but it was built for
the Cold War.  The new NATO is a democratic community of nearly a billion
people, stretching from the Baltics in the east to Alaska in the west.
We're working to update its strategic concepts so that it is as effective
in this century as it was in the last".

What the Obama administration most definitely will do is find as many
reasons to be "unpersuaded" about the peaceful intent of Iran's nuclear
program as was the Bush administration about evidence that Saddam had got
rid of its WMDs. It's the same game, maybe with the same ending.  At the
very least they'll intensify sanctions, ensuring that many will die,
starting with the very young and the very old.

Meanwhile the troops and weapons flow towards Afghanistan, with vast,
Vietnam-style "sweep" operations under way.

And how is the antiwar movement here dealing with that? Answer, what
antiwar movement?  We certainly can't watch what it's doing, because the
answer is nothing. And we can't hear what it's saying, because there too
the answer is nothing.

Where are the mobilizations, actions, civil disobedience? Antiwar
coalitions like United for Peace and Justice and Win Without War (with
MoveOn also belatedly adopting this craven posture) don't say clearly "US
troops out now!" They whine about the "absence of a clear mission" (Win
Without War), plead futilely for "an exit strategy" (UFPJ). One letter
from the UFPJ coalition (which includes Code Pink) to the Congressional
Progressive Caucus in May laconically began a sentence with the astounding
words, "To defeat the Taliban and stabilize the country, the U.S. must
enable the Afghan people". These pathetic attempts not to lose
"credibility" and thus attain political purchase have met with utter
failure, as the recent vote on a supplemental appropriation proved. A
realistic estimate is that among the Democrats in Congress there are fewer
than forty solid antiwar votes.

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn [at] .

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Into the Inferno: Hollow Language and Hollow Democracies
What can we do, now that democracy and the free market are one?
by Arundhati Roy
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The New Statesman
Common Dreams

While we're still arguing about whether there's life after death, can we
add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort
of life will it be? By democracy I don't mean democracy as an ideal or an
aspiration. I mean the working model: western liberal democracy, and its
variants, such as they are.

So, is there life after democracy? Attempts to answer this question often
turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a
somewhat prickly, combative defence of democracy. It's flawed, we say. It
isn't perfect, but it's better than everything else that's on offer.
Inevitably, someone in the room will say: "Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia, Somalia . . . is that what you would prefer?"

Whether democracy should be the utopia that all "developing" societies
aspire to is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The
early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after
democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or
in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn't meant to suggest
that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or
authoritarian governance. It's meant to suggest that the system of
representative democracy - too much representation, too little democracy -
needs some structural adjustment.

The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we
turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has
been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its
institutions has metastasised into something dangerous? What happens now
that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory
organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost
entirely around the idea of maximising profit? Is it possible to reverse
this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used
to be?

What we need today, for the sake of the survival of this planet, is
long-term vision. Can governments whose very survival depends on
immediate, extractive, short-term gain provide this? Could it be that
democracy, the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers, the
protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious
dreams, will turn out to be the endgame for the human race? Could it be
that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it
mirrors our greatest folly - our nearsightedness? Our inability to live
entirely in the present (like most animals do) combined with our inability
to see very far into the future makes us strange in-between creatures,
neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have
outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that
accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound, unfathomable
thing that we have lost.

It would be conceit to pretend that my new book of essays, Listening to
Grasshoppers, provides answers to these questions. It only demonstrates,
in some detail, the fact that it looks as though the beacon could be
failing and that democracy can perhaps no longer be relied upon to deliver
the justice and stability we once dreamed it would. All the essays were
written as urgent, public interventions at critical moments in India -
during the state-backed genocide of Muslims in Gujarat; just before the
date set for the hanging of Mohammad Afzal, the accused in the 13 December
2001 parliament attack; during US President George Bush's visit to India;
during the mass uprising in Kashmir in the summer of 2008; and after the
26 November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Often they were not just responses to
events, they were responses to the responses.

Though many of them were written in anger, at moments when keeping quiet
became harder than saying something, the essays do have a common thread.
They're not about unfortunate anomalies or aberrations in the democratic
process. They're about the consequences of and the corollaries to
democracy and the ways in which it is practised in the world's largest
democracy. (Or the world's largest "demon-crazy", as a Kashmiri protester
on the streets of Srinagar once put it. His placard said: "Democracy
without Justice = Demon Crazy".)

In January 2008, on the first anniversary of the assassination of the
Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, I gave a lecture in Istanbul. Dink was
shot down on the street outside his office for daring to raise a subject
that is forbidden in Turkey - the 1915 genocide of Armenians, in which
more than one million people were killed. My lecture was about the history
of genocide and genocide denial, and the old, almost organic relationship
between "progress" and genocide.

I have always been struck by the fact that the political party in Turkey
that carried out the Armenian genocide was called the Committee for Union
and Progress. Most of the essays in Listening to Grasshoppers are, in
fact, about the contemporary correlation between union and progress, or,
in today's idiom, between nationalism and development - those
unimpeachable twin towers of modern, free-market democracy. Both of these
in their extreme form are, as we now know, encrypted with the potential of
bringing about ultimate, apocalyptic destruction (nuclear war, climate

Though the essays were written between 2002 and 2008, the invisible
marker, the starting gun, is the year 1989, when in the rugged mountains
of Afghanistan capitalism won its long jihad against Soviet communism. (Of
course, the wheel's in spin again. Could it be that those same mountains
are now in the process of burying capitalism? It's too early to tell.)
Within months of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the
Berlin Wall, the Indian government, once a leader of the Non-Aligned
Movement, performed a high-speed somersault and aligned itself with the
United States, monarch of the new unipolar world.

The rules of the game changed suddenly and completely. Millions of people
who lived in remote villages and deep in the heart of untouched forests,
some of whom had never heard of Berlin or the Soviet Union, could not have
imagined how events that occurred in those faraway places would affect
their lives. The process of their dispossession and displacement had
already begun in the early 1950s, when India opted for the Soviet-style
development model in which huge steel plants and thousands of large dams
would occupy the "commanding heights" of the economy. The era of
privatisation and structural adjustment accelerated that process at a
mind-numbing speed.

Today, words like "progress" and "development" have become interchangeable
with economic "reforms", deregulation and privatisation. "Freedom" has
come to mean "choice". It has less to do with the human spirit than it
does with different brands of deodorant. "Market" no longer means a place
where you go to buy provisions. The "market" is a de-territorialised space
where faceless corporations do business, including buying and selling
"futures". "Justice" has come to mean "human rights" (and of those, as
they say, "a few will do").

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying
them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the
opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most
brilliant strategic victories of the tsars of the new dispensation. It has
allowed them to marginalise their detractors, deprive them of a language
in which to voice their critique and dismiss them as being
"anti-progress", "anti-development", "anti-reform" and of course
"anti-national" - negativists of the worst sort. Talk about saving a river
or protecting a forest and they say, "Don't you believe in progress?" To
people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs and whose homes are
being bulldozed they say, "Do you have an alternative development model?"
To those who believe that a government is duty-bound to provide people
with basic education, health care and social security, they say, "You're
against the market". And who except a cretin could be against a market?

This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing. Two
decades of this kind of "progress" in India have created a vast middle
class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with
it - and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass. Tens of millions of
people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods,
droughts and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental
engineering - the massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines and
Special Economic Zones. All of them promoted in the name of the poor, but
really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.

The battle for land lies at the heart of the "development" debate. Before
he became India's finance minister, P Chidambaram was Enron's lawyer and
member of the board of directors of Vedanta, a multinational mining
corporation that is currently devastating the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa.
Perhaps his career graph informed his world-view. Or maybe it's the other
way around. In an interview a year ago, he said that his vision was to get
85 per cent of India's population to live in cities. Realising this
"vision" would require social engineering on an unimaginable scale. It
would mean inducing, or forcing, about 500 million people to migrate from
the countryside into cities. That process is well under way and is quickly
turning India into a police state in which people who refuse to surrender
their land are being made to do so at gunpoint. Perhaps this is what makes
it so easy for P Chidambaram to move so seamlessly from being finance
minister to being home minister. The portfolios are separated only by an
osmotic membrane. Underlying this nightmare masquerading as "vision" is
the plan to free up vast tracts of land and all of India's natural
resources, leaving them ripe for corporate plunder.

Already forests, mountains and water systems are being ravaged by
marauding multinational corporations, backed by a state that has lost its
moorings and is committing what can only be called "ecocide". In eastern
India, bauxite and iron ore mining is destroying whole ecosystems, turning
fertile land into desert. In the Himalayas, hundreds of high dams are
being planned, the consequences of which can only be catastrophic. In the
plains, embankments built along rivers, ostensibly to control floods, have
led to rising riverbeds, causing even more flooding, more waterlogging,
more salinisation of agricultural land and the destruction of livelihoods
of millions of people. Most of India's holy rivers, including the Ganga
and the Yamuna, have been turned into unholy drains that carry more sewage
and industrial effluent than water. Hardly a single river runs its course
and meets the ocean.

Sustainable food crops, suitable to local soil conditions and
microclimates, have been replaced by water-guzzling hybrid and genetically
modified "cash" crops which, apart from being wholly dependent on the
market, are also heavily dependent on chemical fertilisers, pesticides,
canal irrigation and the indiscriminate mining of groundwater.

As abused farmland, saturated with chemicals, gradually becomes exhausted
and infertile, agricultural input costs rise, ensnaring small farmers in a
debt trap. Over the past few years, more than 180,000 Indian farmers have
committed suicide. While state granaries are bursting with food that
eventually rots, starvation and malnutrition approaching the same levels
as in sub-Saharan Africa stalk the land.

It's as though an ancient society, decaying under the weight of feudalism
and caste, was churned in a great machine. The churning has ripped through
the mesh of old inequalities, recalibrating some of them but reinforcing
most. Now the old society has curdled and separated into a thin layer of
thick cream - and a lot of water. The cream is India's "market" of many
million consumers (of cars, cellphones, computers, Valentine's Day
greeting cards), the envy of international business. The water is of
little consequence. It can be sloshed around, stored in holding ponds, and
eventually drained away.

Or so they think, the men in suits. They didn't bargain for the violent
civil war that has broken out in India's heartland: Chhattisgarh,
Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal.

As if to illustrate the connection between "union" and "progress", in
1989, at exactly the same time that the Congress government was opening up
India's markets to international finance, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP), then in the opposition, began its virulent campaign of Hindu
nationalism (popularly known as "Hindutva"). In 1990, its leader, L K
Advani, travelled across the country whipping up hatred against Muslims
and demanding that the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque that stood on a
disputed site in Ayodhya, be demolished and a Ram temple built in its
place. In 1992 a mob, egged on by Advani, demolished the mosque. In early
1993, a mob rampaged through Mumbai attacking Muslims, killing almost
1,000 people. As revenge, a series of bomb blasts ripped through the city,
killing about 250 people. Feeding off the communal frenzy it had
generated, the BJP defeated the Congress in 1998 and came to power at the

It's not a coincidence that the rise of Hindutva corresponded with the
historical moment when America substituted communism with Islam as its
great enemy. The radical Islamist mujahedin - whom President Reagan once
entertained in the White House and compared to America's Founding Fathers
- suddenly began to be called terrorists. The Indian government, once a
staunch friend of the Palestinians, turned into Israel's "natural ally".
Now India and Israel do joint military exercises, share intelligence and
probably exchange notes on how best to administer occupied territories.

By 1998, when the BJP took office, the "progress" project of privatisation
and liberalisation was about eight years old. Though it had campaigned
vigorously against the economic reforms, saying they were a process of
"looting through liberalisation", once it came to power the BJP embraced
the free market enthusiastically and threw its weight behind huge
corporations like Enron. (In representative democracies, once they are
elected, the people's representatives are free to break their promises and
change their minds.)

Within weeks of taking office, the BJP conducted a series of thermonuclear
tests. Though India had thrown its hat into the nuclear ring in 1975,
politically, the 1998 nuclear tests were of a different order altogether.
The orgy of triumphant nationalism with which the tests were greeted
introduced a chilling new language of aggression and hatred into
mainstream public discourse. None of what was being said was new, only
that what was once considered unacceptable was suddenly being celebrated.
Since then, Hindu communalism and nuclear nationalism, like corporate
globalisation, have vaulted over the stated ideologies of political
parties. The venom has been injected straight into our bloodstream.

In February 2002, following the armed raid on a train coach in which 58
Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were burned alive, the BJP
government in Gujarat, led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, presided over
a carefully planned genocide of Muslims in the state. The Islamophobia
generated all over the world by the 11 September 2001 attacks put the wind
in their sails.

The machinery of the state of Gujarat stood by and watched while more than
2,000 people were massacred. Gujarat has always been a state rife with
tension between Hindus and Muslims. There had been riots before. But this
was not a riot. It was a genocidal massacre, and though the number of
victims was insignificant compared to the horror of, say, Rwanda, Sudan or
the Congo, the Gujarat carnage was designed as a public spectacle whose
aims were unmistakable. It was a public warning to Muslim citizens from
the government of the world's favourite democracy.

After the carnage, Narendra Modi pressed for early elections. He was
returned to power with a decisive mandate from the people of Gujarat. Five
years later he even repeated this success: he is now serving a third term
as chief minister, widely appreciated by business houses for his faith in
the free market, illustrating the organic relationship between "union" and
"progress". Or, if you like, between fascism and the free market. In
January 2009, that relationship was sealed with a kiss at a public
function. The CEOs of two of India's biggest corporations, Ratan Tata (of
the Tata Group) and Mukesh Ambani (of Reliance Industries), celebrated the
development policies of Narendra Modi and warmly endorsed him as a future
candidate for prime minister.

Only two months ago, the nearly $2bn 2009 general election was concluded.
That's a lot more than the budget of the US elections. According to some
media reports, the actual amount that was spent is closer to $10bn. Where,
might one ask, does that kind of money come from?

The Congress and its allies, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), have
won a comfortable majority. Interestingly, more than 90 per cent of the
independent candidates who stood for elections lost. Clearly, without
sponsorship, it's hard to win an election. And independent candidates
cannot promise subsidised rice, free TVs and cash-for-votes, those
demeaning acts of vulgar charity that elections have been reduced to.

When you take a closer look at the calculus that underlies election
results, words like "comfortable" and "majority" turn out to be deceptive,
if not outright inaccurate. For instance, the actual share of votes polled
by the UPA in these elections works out at only 10.3 per cent of the
country's population. It's interesting how the cleverly layered
mathematics of electoral democracy can turn a tiny minority into a
thumping mandate.

In the run-up to the polls, there was absolute consensus across party
lines about the economic "reforms". Several people have sarcastically
suggested that the Congress and BJP form a coalition. In some states they
already have. In Chhattisgarh, for example, the BJP runs the government
and Congress politicians run the Salwa Judum, a vicious, government-backed
"people's" militia. The Judum and the government have formed a joint front
against the Maoists in the forests, who are engaged in a brutal and often
deadly armed struggle. Among other things, this has become a fight to the
finish, against displacement and against land acquisition by corporations
waiting to begin mining iron ore, tin and all the other wealth stashed
below the forest floor. So, in Chhattisgarh, we have the remarkable
spectacle of the two biggest political parties of India in an alliance
against the Adivasis of Dantewara, India's poorest, most vulnerable
people. Already 644 villages have been emptied. Fifty thousand people have
moved into Salwa Judum camps. Three hundred thousand are on the run, and
are being called Maoist terrorists or sympathisers. The battle is raging,
and the corporations are waiting.

It is significant that India is one of the countries that blocked a
European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes
that may have been committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent
offensive against the Tamil Tigers. Governments in this part of the world
have taken note of Israel's Gaza blueprint as a good way of dealing with
"terrorism": keep the media out and close in for the kill. That way they
don't have to worry too much about who's a "terrorist" and who isn't.
There may be a little flurry of international outrage, but it goes away
pretty quickly.

Things do not augur well for the forest-dwelling people of India.
Reassured by this "constructive" collaboration, this consensus between
political parties, few were more enthusiastic about the recent general
elections than major corporate houses. They seem to have realised that a
democratic mandate can legitimise their pillaging in a way that nothing
else can. Several corporations ran extravagant advertising campaigns on TV
- some featuring Bollywood film stars - urging people, young and old, rich
and poor, to go out and vote. Shops and restaurants in Khan Market,
Delhi's most tony market, offered discounts to those whose index (voting)
fingers were marked with indelible ink. Democracy suddenly became the cool
new way to be. You know how it is: the Chinese do sport, so they had the
Olympics; India does democracy, so we had an election. Both are heavily
sponsored, TV-friendly spectator sports.

Even the BBC commissioned the India Election Special - a coach on a train
- that took journalists from all over the world on a sightseeing tour to
witness the miracle of Indian elections. The train coach had a slogan
painted on it: "Will India's voters revive the World's Fortunes?" BBC
(Hindi) had a poster up in a caf near my home. It featured a $100 bill
(with Ben Franklin) morphing into a 500 rupee note (with Gandhi). It said:
Kya India ka vote bachayega duniya ka note? (Will India's votes rescue the
world's currency notes?)

In these flagrant and unabashed ways, an electorate has been turned into a
market, voters are seen as consumers, and democracy is being welded to the
free market. Ergo: those who cannot consume do not matter.

For better or for worse, the 2009 elections seem to have ensured that the
"progress" project is up and running. However, it would be a serious
mistake to believe that the "union" project has fallen by the wayside.

As the 2009 election campaign unrolled, two things got saturation coverage
in the media. One was the 100,000-rupee ($2,000) "people's car", the Tata
Nano - the wagon for the volks - rolling out of Modi's Gujarat. (The sops
and subsidies Modi gave the Tatas had a lot to do with Ratan Tata's warm
endorsement of him.) The other is the hate speech of the BJP's monstrous
new debutant, Varun Gandhi (another descendant of the Nehru dynasty), who
makes even Narendra Modi sound moderate and retiring. In a public speech
Varun Gandhi called for Muslims to be forcibly sterilised. "This will be
known as a Hindu bastion, no ***** Muslim dare raise his head here," he
said, using a derogatory word for someone who has been circumcised. "I
don't want a single Muslim vote".

Varun Gandhi won his election by a colossal margin. It makes you wonder -
are "the people" always right? The BJP still remains by far the second
largest political party, with a powerful national presence, the only real
challenge to the Congress. It will certainly live to fight another day.

The hoary institutions of Indian democracy - the judiciary, the police,
the "free" press and, of course, elections - far from working as a system
of checks and balances, quite often do the opposite. They provide each
other cover to promote the larger interests of union and progress. In the
process, they generate such confusion, such a cacophony, that voices
raised in warning just become part of the noise. And that only helps to
enhance the image of the tolerant, lumbering, colourful, somewhat chaotic
democracy. The chaos is real. But so is the consensus.

Speaking of consensus, there's the small and ever-present matter of
Kashmir. When it comes to Kashmir, the consensus in India is hardcore. It
cuts across every section of the Establishment - including the media, the
bureaucracy, the intelligentsia and even Bollywood.

The war in the Kashmir Valley is almost 20 years old now, and has claimed
about 70,000 lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand
have "disappeared", women have been raped and many thousands widowed. Half
a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir Valley, making it the most
militarised zone in the world. (The United States had about 165,000
active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation.) The Indian
army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in
Kashmir. Perhaps that's true. But does military domination mean victory?

Kashmir is set to become the conduit through which the mayhem unfolding in
Afghanistan and Pakistan spills into India, where it will find purchase in
the anger of the young among India's 150 million Muslims who have been
brutalised, humiliated and marginalised. Notice has been given by the
series of terrorist strikes that culminated in the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

India's temporary, shotgun solutions to the unrest in Kashmir (pardon the
pun) have magnified the problem and driven it deep into a place where it
is poisoning the aquifers.

Perhaps the story of the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the
world, is the most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times.
Thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been deployed there,
enduring chill winds and temperatures that dip to minus 40 Celsius. Of the
hundreds who have died there, many have died just from the cold - from
frostbite and sunburn. The glacier has become a garbage dump now, littered
with the detritus of war, thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel
drums, ice-axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that
thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact,
perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures, a pristine monument to
human folly.

While the Indian and Pakistani governments spend billions of dollars on
weapons and the logistics of high-altitude warfare, the battlefield has
begun to melt. Right now, it has shrunk to about half its size. The
melting has less to do with the military stand-off than with people far
away, on the other side of the world, living the good life. They're good
people who believe in peace, free speech and human rights. They live in
thriving democracies whose governments sit on the UN Security Council and
whose economies depend heavily on the export of war and the sale of
weapons to countries like India and Pakistan. (And Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia,
the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan . . . it's a long
list.) The glacial melt will cause severe floods in the subcontinent, and
eventually severe drought that will affect the lives of millions of
people. That will give us even more reasons to fight. We'll need more
weapons. Who knows, that sort of consumer confidence may be just what the
world needs to get over the current recession. Then everyone in the
thriving democracies will have an even better life - and the glaciers will
melt even faster.

 2009 The New Statesman
Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied
architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives, and has worked as a film
designer, actor, and screenplay writer in India. Her latest book,
Listening to Grasshoppers: Fields Notes on Democracy, is a collection of
recent essays. A tenth anniversary edition of her novel, The God of Small
Things (Random House), for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize, was
recently released. She is also the author of numerous nonfiction titles,
including An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire.


   - David Shove             shove001 [at]
   rhymes with clove         Progressive Calendar
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