Category Archives: Health Care

Three Positions on Gun Control

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

December 19, 2012

Armed Black Panther members of the Seattle chapter on the steps of the Legislative Building.

People across the United States are mourning the ghoulish mass murder that took place on Friday, December 14, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The victims – 20 children as young as six years old and six adults – were murdered by 20 year old Adam Lanza.

The horrific tragedy in Connecticut immediately ignited fierce debate on the merits of gun control, but predictably neither side is interested in examining the issue from a class-based perspective. The usual suspects representing the traditional political trends in America, led by different sections of the capitalist class, jumped feet-first into the discussion espousing the positions that people in the US have come to expect.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama came out in support of reinstating the assault weapons ban that expired under President George W. Bush in 2004. Though Lanza acquired his murder weapons by stealing them from his mother, rather than purchasing them, the President argues that reducing access to assault weapons will prevent future tragedies like the killings in Newtown, Connecticut, from taking place.

On the other side, we find the right-wing gun proponents. For them, not even the most heinous tragedy can shake their determination to uphold the Second Amendment for the capitalist class. Whereas liberals want to limit gun ownership to the state, the right-wing prefers to have armed bands of vigilantes and militias, who can be counted on to repress workers and oppressed nationalities if the conditions call for it. They hypocritically defend the right to bear arms for themselves while turning a blind eye to the already-existing gun control regulations on oppressed people in the US.

After observing the stances of comrades taking part in the debate, we felt it might be helpful to identify and materially analyze the competing positions of the gun control question. For the purposes of this piece, we hope to present some historical examples to better prepare comrades for discussions in the workplaces and the community.

Most of all, we hope to refute both the liberal position calling for greater restrictions on firearms and the crypto-right-wing position extolling the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. In its place, we arrive at and examine the Marxist position on the right to bear arms.

The Liberal Position

The “pro-gun control” forces, who have traditionally opposed to the Republican Party’s Second Amendment support and the expansion of firearms across the US, have found themselves languishing for many years. The Democratic Party has all but abandoned the position out of political opportunism. The pro-gun control position has found new life in the corporate media and the mind of liberal supporters in the US following the recent wave of mass shootings, like in Connecticut.

Rest assured, this “pro-gun control” position is put forward by other sections of the capitalist class in the Democratic Party, supported broadly by white middle class liberals. However, it also has some material support in oppressed nations affected most heavily by gun violence. Groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence articulate this position as follows:

“We should make it harder for convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and others like them to get guns in the first place. We can do this by passing laws such as requiring Brady criminal background checks on all gun sales; banning military-style assault weapons; and strengthening law enforcement’s efforts to stop the illegal gun market, like limiting the number of guns that can be bought at one time.” (1)

The capitalist class and the white middle class in the large cities in the North, West, and Midwest that live in more constricted confines with the working class and oppressed nations push forward this “law and order” gun control policy. Indeed, the US government already has massive gun control measures in place, especially in the major cities like New York and Chicago and states across the nation, which represent the extreme end of this policy, where it’s practically unheard of for average citizens to own firearms legally.

These measures don’t restrict mass murderers like Jared Lee Loughner – the shooter in Arizona last year – or Neo-Nazis like Wade Michael Page, who murdered six people at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin this summer, from acquiring firearms. Instead, they largely restrict the rights of oppressed people who face violence from vigilantes or police from owning guns.

It is no surprise then that billionaire Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg and his coalition, “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” are quickly becoming the leading force advancing this agenda. Principally, they support gun control for the same reason the Republican opposed gun control: they are afraid of oppressed nationalities. We quote the website of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns”:

“We support the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to own guns. We recognize the vast majority of gun dealers and gun owners carefully follow the law…But what binds us together is a determination to fight crime, and a belief that we can do more to stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.” (2)

This is a common theme among the liberal gun control advocates: a heavy focus on “crime” and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, especially in big cities. This position cannot be divorced from the war on drugs and the war on Black and Latino youth, who find themselves disportionately criminalized and imprisoned. Capitalist leaders like Mayor Bloomberg in no way seek to limit the violence visited on working class and oppressed communities. Remember that Bloomberg is responsible for spearheading the blatantly racist “stop and frisk” policies carried out by the NYPD. (3) The NAACP has said of these policies: “Bloomberg’s massive street-level racial profiling program is a civil rights and human rights catastrophe that both hurts our children and makes our communities less safe.” (4)

Are we to trust the liberals like Bloomberg, chiefly responsible and complicit in waging the war on black and brown communities, with ending gun violence with new criminal restrictions? Are we to trust the racist criminal justice system and groups like the NYPD whom Bloomberg has called “his army, the 7th largest in the world?” (5)

It is no coincidence that liberal bourgeoisie like Bloomberg are silent about gun control for their “private army” when it comes to police violence and murder committed by police, like in the case of unarmed 17 year old Ramarley Graham in New York City. (6)

The gun control policies of Bloomberg and reactionary allies, like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, are efforts to extend national oppression and the capitalist monopoly on violence, especially over Black and Latino communities. This also serves to keep the working class and discontented elements of society passive in the face of foreclosures, austerity, voter suppression, legislative attacks like Right-to-Work initiatives, and efforts to use state repression to silence social movements like Occupy Wall Street and trade union protesters in Michigan. After all, unarmed protesters are entirely at the mercy of the capitalist class’ “personal army,” leaving them subject to violent repression at protests or on picket lines.

It is only natural that these forces support such measures to strip oppressed nationalities and workers from their democratic rights to bear arms: They have their own arms, their own personal security, their own “personal armies”, their police, their courts, their prisons; in other words, the “special bodies of armed men” talked of by Lenin in State & Revolution. They live in gated communities and mansions, while most Black and Latino people live in occupied territory not unlike occupied Afghanistan. The agenda of the liberal Democrats is to strengthen the apparatus of state repression – to increase arms and weapons in the hands of their “personal army” – while keeping guns out of the hands of “criminals” and other “undesirable elements”. This agenda is reflected in the expansion of billions of dollars in state funding to arm police with military hardware to the tune of $34 billion dollars over the past decade. (7)

There seems to be no talk of gun control or preventing gun violence when it comes to the army of the capitalist class. There’s no talk of assault weapon bans for the police, who are upgrading to tanks in many cities! (8)

Middle class white liberals who live in gated communities, or the “nice” sections of town also don’t have the same worries as our class and our allies. They want to strip “the common rabble” and criminals of their means of self-defense. After all, the police and the ruling class of the United States are their friends. They’re not the ones getting imprisoned, stopped and frisked, or having their homes foreclosed on.

However, comrades cannot ignore that gun violence does have a disproportionate and devastating impact in the communities of oppressed people and working class communities. African-Americans are the victim of 54% of all firearm homicides, despite making up just 13% of the population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (9) It’s no surprise that gun-related violence disproportionately occurs in the US South, the historical home of Jim Crow and Ku Klux Klan terrorism against Black and Latino people, according to Zara Matheson at the Martin Prosperity Institute. (10) This provides some material appeal to elements of the oppressed nations in regards to these gun control policy.

Still, comrades should combat this wolf in sheep’s clothing. The enforcers of this violence are the American capitalist class and white supremacist forces that work to uphold the established order. Trusting them to end violence in the oppressed communities with gun control is the equivalent to entrusting the United States to help Syria and Libya with “humanitarian intervention.”

Malcolm X understood the nature of violence by the US government and police, as well as the need for African-Americans to defend themselves from these attacks. We quote him at some length:

“Last but not least, I must say this concerning the great controversy over rifles and shotguns. White people been buying rifles all their lives…no commotion. The only thing I’ve ever said is that in areas where the government has proven itself either unwilling or unable to defend the lives and the property of Negroes, it’s time for Negroes to defend themselves. Article number two of the Constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun. It is constitutionally legal to own a shotgun or a rifle. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get a rifle and form battalions and go out looking for white folks, although you’d be within your rights – I mean, you’d be justified; but that would be illegal and we don’t do anything illegal. If the white man doesn’t want the black man buying rifles and shotguns, then let the government do its job.” (11)

There’s a reason that the Sanford police covered up the shooting of Trayvon Martin this past February, and it was only after massive protests that his killer, George Zimmerman, was arrested. Across this country, the system of white supremacy is reinforced by the underlying threat of violence, whether it comes from police brutality or vigilante terrorism. The response is not to buckle to the pressures of liberals, who trust the very purveyors of violence to protect oppressed people, but for oppressed people to have the ability to defend themselves.

Sensible policy on guns for working class and oppressed people in America can only come from a Marxist position. But to do that, we must first analyze and pull apart the muddled position carried by the advanced, progressives, and some of our comrades.

The Left-Second Amendment Position

In response to the liberal gun control proposals, many people on the US Left embrace a position similar to that espoused by the Right. This “Left-Second Amendment” position unites with the views put forth by the National Rifle Association by dismissing guns as incidental to mass murders like yesterday’s tragedy in Connecticut. In this view, something else – an external cause like mental health or the culture of violence in the US – is chiefly to blame.

This is not incorrect. The US is an incredibly violent society, with the greatest purveyor of violence being the US government itself – and that’s not our opinion; that’s the opinion of Martin Luther King Junior, who used those exact words to describe the government on April 4, 1967. We see the evidence of this ‘cultural violence’ everywhere, from movies like Act of Valor, financed by the US military to glorify violence committed against other countries, to police violence inflicted on children and the innocent, like we saw in Anaheim, California, this year.

Along the same lines, mental health services in the US are stigmatized and woefully underfunded. It’s no coincidence that many of the perpetrators of these mass killings have had severe mental health crises; crises that were more often than not identified but not adequately treated.

The Left-Second Amendment position boils down to the pressing concern over the state having a monopoly on violence. When we look back in history, oppressed people have never won their freedom without armed struggle. In many cases, the lack of an armed populace has led directly to the rise of brutal fascist regimes, like in Chile and Spain. In 1973, the workers in Chile were underprepared to defeat the fascist coup d’etat that overthrew elected President Salvador Allende because of the government’s refusal to arm the people. During the Spanish Civil War almost four decades earlier, the social democratic government was similarly reluctant to arm the workers to resist Franco’s fascist brigades. And of course everyone knows of Adolf Hitler’s infamous ban on citizens owning guns after the rise of the Nazis.

In essence, many leftists view guns as a means of self-defense for oppressed people and a safeguard against fascism. This leads them to oppose gun control measures, i.e. the liberal position on gun control.

However, the Left-Second Amendment position mistakenly adopts the Right’s view of the right to bear arms as a philosophical abstraction, rather than a material reality. In practice, the Constitution does not protect the rights of oppressed people to bear arms. Even the most vocal advocates of the Second Amendment have no objection to regulations on firearm ownership by the people who need it most to defend their class and national interests from right-wing vigilantes and state power.

The Left-Second Amendment position rests on two incorrect assumptions. First, it implicitly assumes that gun ownership is not already heavily regulated and restricted for oppressed people. And second, it assumes that the US government would ever totally restrict the ownership of firearms, which leads these leftists to vocally oppose gun control measures.

We will begin with the first assumption.

Consider the following: In 1967, there was a major legal battle going on in California against a Governor bent on abridging “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The Governor and his party brought out all of the pro-gun control arguments about dangerous vigilantes running loose with weapons, saying that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” (11) As it would today, the Governor’s gun control policies led to massive demonstrations of armed people marching on the Capitol.

Yes, in 1967, California Governor Ronald Reagan – future right-wing President of the United States and darling of the National Rifle Association – signed the Mulford Act in direct response to the protests and actions of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The Act banned the open-carry of loaded firearms in California, which the Panthers used to intimidate racist police officers and thereby prevent police brutality in black neighborhoods. Open-carry meant that the Panthers could defend the black community, and they rarely had to fire a single shot.

There was no talk of “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” The white Second Amendment advocates we see today were not out in the streets marching with the Panthers against “encroaching tyranny.” Reagan banned the use of guns in a meaningful way by oppressed people because it was a direct threat to police dominance and white supremacy in California.

Historically, the Second Amendment has never defended the right of oppressed people to bear arms. An integral component of the state “Black codes” that were implemented at the end of Reconstruction was the denial of the gun ownership to African-Americans. This Jim Crow-era policy of national oppression extends into the 21st century through the racist “War on Drugs” and the disenfranchisement of Blacks and Latinos.

Remember that the US takes away the second amendment “right” of non-violent felons. By prosecuting the war on drugs, a disproportionate amount of Black men – 1 in 8, according to the Huffington Post – have no right to bear arms because of convicted felon status. (12) Similarly, Latinos comprise a disproportionate percentage of all convicted felons – “disenfranchised at a rate higher than whites, but lower than blacks.” (13) Through convicted felon status, the US government takes away the right to bear arms disproportionately from the African-American and Chican@ nations, allowing the state to more heavily occupy their territory through police.

Onto the second assumption:

The US government has no interest in repealing the second amendment or outright banning guns across the board. They already have ways of restricting the right of oppressed people to bear arms. For everyone else – especially white males – it’s the Wild, Wild West.

When the country was experiencing revolutionary upheavals during Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement, armed bands of white reactionaries used their second amendment ‘right to bear arms’ to attack and repress African-Americans struggling for more freedom. Striking trade unionists faced the same repression from both police and company-hired thugs on the picket lines in the 1930s and 1940s. In both cases, oppressed people and workers exercised their right to bear arms against and in opposition to the rights of an oppressor to bear arms.

The real Second Amendment advocates, attempting to make guns even more prevalent, actively pass Stand Your Ground laws that lead to the slaughter of Black youth like Trayvon Martin in February and Jordan Davis last month in Jacksonville, Florida. Marxists and progressives have nothing in common with these people.

The Marxist Position

“Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”

Karl Marx, March, 1850

We have examined two erroneous positions on gun control: the “left” error of embracing the Second Amendment, and the liberal “right” error of trusting the state with an exclusive monopoly on violence. Fundamentally, both positions stem from idealist assumptions about rights and the nature of the state.

The Marxist position on gun control is unequivocally upholding the right of workers and oppressed nationalities to bear arms.

In direct refutation of the Left-Second Amendment position, which upholds the right to bear arms as an abstract constitutional right, the Marxist position upholds gun ownership as a class right. Similarly, class rights directly confront the liberal belief that the state should be the predominant or sole trustee of firearms.

By classifying the right to bear arms as a class right, rather than a ‘human’, ‘constitutional’, or ‘natural’ right, the Marxist position upholds the social character of gun ownership. The Second Amendment enshrines the right to bear arms as an individual right set in place to protect individuals and their property from threats. Under capitalism, this translates into principally a ruling class and petty-bourgeois right since these are the classes that own “property,” i.e. capital, businesses, the means of production.

‘Open-Carry’ or ‘Concealed-Carry’?

We see further evidence of the reactionary character of the Second Amendment when looking at the prevalence of ‘concealed-carry’ state laws versus ‘open-carry’ state laws. ‘Open-Carry’ – allowing people to publicly carry firearms – is a social means of exercising the right to bear arms. As the Black Panther Party understood, the known presence of firearms allows oppressed people to better police their own communities and challenge the authority of the state without firing a single shot. The right to bear arms thereby becomes ‘social’ because it is a public exercise of power.

Consider why the police openly carry their firearms. The state allows its officers and agents to publicly display their firearms to deter confrontations with said agents. It is a silent exercise of state power.

Reagan banned the open-carry of loaded firearms in California precisely in reaction to the Black Panthers’ practices. If an African-American was stopped and harassed by a police officer, an openly armed Panther cadre would enter the scene to give legal counsel to the person facing police harassment. The Panthers challenged the state’s perceived monopoly on violence by acting as “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free [Black] State.”

In fact, California is one of seven states in the US to have outright bans on open-carry. Not surprisingly, the other six states with these bans – Illinois, Texas, New York, Florida, South Carolina, and Arkansas – are either the most populous and multinational, or located in the heart of the Black Belt South.

Not coincidentally, though, all 50 states in the US allow the concealed-carry of firearms. Illinois was the one state that upheld a ban on concealed-carry, but the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down that ban a week ago. (15) Concealed-carry caters to the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois class nature of the Second Amendment, which allows individuals to ‘protect themselves from attacks in public’. From Bernhard Goetz in 1984 to George Zimmerman in 2012, this right has generally manifested itself in white men gunning down Blacks and Latinos on the basis that they ‘felt threatened’.

Concealed-carry individualizes, rather than socializes, the right to bear arms. The Right uses concealed-carry laws to expand the legal basis for the murder of African-Americans and Latinos through Stand Your Ground laws. Even the NRA backhandedly agrees with bans on open-carry, calling the repeal of these bans “not a priority.” (16) Instead, the NRA’s far-right membership dedicatedly works to expand concealed-carry, which offers no legal basis for oppressed people to socially exercise the right to bear arms.

The Social Organization of the Right to Bear Arms

On picket lines, strikers in the 1930s regularly had to defend themselves and their fellow workers from company-hired paramilitaries. As far back as the Homestead Strike in 1892 involving Steelworkers and the Battle of Blair Mountain involving Coal Miners, the capitalist class has openly resorted to violence in order to crush the demands of striking workers.

Looking at restoring a militant strike movement as one of the main objectives of the progressive labor movement, it would be a folly to support increased gun control, which would allow the state, the capitalist class and its supporters to monopolize guns. While not all proposed gun control methods would completely curb access to firearms, Marxists should oppose any restrictions that further reduce the ability of oppressed people and workers to defend themselves or deter violence.

The disastrous consequences of gun control on the workers’ movement came full-circle during the South African Miner’s strike this year, in which state police opened fire killing 34 miners, armed mostly with clubs and other such weapons. A modern picket line with workers legally and openly carrying arms in self-defense would represent a strong deterrent to violent attempts to break up the strike by management, vigilantes or illegal police actions, like the ones that occurred in South Africa.

Many comrades will find that workers, and especially people of the oppressed nations in the US instinctively understand that the police force represents the ruling class and not their interests. Presenting the question of gun ownership in terms of class opens up workers to realizing that gun control is a question of democratic and class rights. Many workers understand reasonable gun rights and even gun control, but they will also reject the idea when presented with the prospect of surrendering their democratic right while the rich and their personal army get to hold onto this right.

In a March 1850 Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, Karl Marx described the need for workers to exercise the right to bear arms through social organization independent of the state. We will quote him at some length:

To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party, whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary. The destruction of the bourgeois democrats’ influence over the workers, and the enforcement of conditions which will compromise the rule of bourgeois democracy, which is for the moment inevitable, and make it as difficult as possible – these are the main points which the proletariat and therefore the League must keep in mind during and after the approaching uprising. (17)

In the underlined portion of the quote selected above, Marx describes the security functions of what the Bolsheviks would later call ‘Soviets’, or workers councils. Writing in London, Marx was warning against English attempts to co-opt independent armed bodies of workers by reviving citizens militias, which were directed and organized by the state to supposedly police communities. In actuality, these bodies served the interest of the capitalist state, making them functionally analogous to the gun control demands of the liberals today.

Marx instead recognized the necessity of workers organizing themselves and defending the right to bear arms through political struggle. This right would not be exercised individually through concealed-carry or for personal security, but it was instead a social right of the working class to defend their gains and interests.

In the oppressed nations within the United States, open-carry and the class right to bear arms has a rich history in America of forwarding national liberation. From countering white terrorism during Reconstruction, to the CPUSA again fighting off the Klan in the 1930’s, to the Black Panthers patrolling black communities, the right of Black armed organizations has been a guarantor of their democratic rights. Every instance of this has been organized, not on individual basis of “concealed-carrying” a handgun for individual defense, but as disciplined groups acting practically as the police force or army of the black nation itself. This, in essence, is the social right to bear arms.

The American working class and the Black and Chican@ nations should have the right and authority in their respective organizations to decide how to best manage gun rights in their communities. The answers lie in organizations and successful practices of the past, in contrast to the white liberal proposal to rely on the capitalist police forces’ monopoly on violence for protection.

We believe gun rights for workers and oppressed nationalities is a major factor in this struggle. Marxists should oppose the war on drugs and any possible “war on guns,” which would likely result in an intensification of national oppression. We should oppose legal restrictions, including efforts to strip members of the oppressed nations victimized by the Jim Crow legal system, of their right to bear arms. We believe Marxists should also support defensive, deterrence-based social gun policies, like open-carry, which would give oppressed nationalities and workers the ability to defend themselves from illegal violence and racist vigilantes in a legal fashion.

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(1) Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Mission Statement, 2012,http://www.bradycampaign.org/about/

(2) Mayors Against Illegal Guns, “About the Coalition,” 2012, http://maig.us/awoN03

(3) The Gothamist, “Bloomberg Continues Tone-Deaf Support Of Stop-And-Frisk Policy,” May 18, 2012,http://bit.ly/KXZrz2

(4) CBS News, “Bloomberg Defends NYPD’s Stop-And-Frisk Program, Says It Should Be ‘Mended, Not Ended’,” June 11, 2012, http://cbsloc.al/NsJZht

(5) Graham Rayman, The Village Voice, “Bloomberg Claims NYPD “7th Biggest Army in World” … Um, That’s Totally Wrong,” November 30, 2011, http://bit.ly/tgb0fT

(6) Lucy McKeon, The Nation, “Marchers Demand Justice for Ramarley Graham,” June 26, 2012,http://bit.ly/Oe65EU

(7) Justin Elliott, Salon, “How the feds fueled the militarization of the police,” December 24, 2011,http://bit.ly/u74o0s

(8) John W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute, “Tanks on Mainstreet: The Militarization of the Local Police,” January 3, 2012, http://bit.ly/ybNymo

(9) Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “Introduction to Gun Violence Statistics,” November 18, 2012,http://bit.ly/R5xf0i

(10) The Atlantic Cities, “The Geography of Gun Violence,” July 20, 2012, http://bit.ly/MOxA2k

(11) Malcolm X, “Malcolm X on the Right to Bear Arms,” http://bit.ly/R49Yhq

(12) Adam Winkler, The Atlantic, “The Secret History of Guns,” September 2011, http://huff.to/odPpKZ

(13) Dan Froomkin, The Huffington Post, “How Do You Disenfranchise 1 in 8 Black Men?” May 17, 2010,http://huff.to/au3ptU

(14) Michael McLaughlin, The Huffington Post, “Felon Voting Laws Disenfranchise 5.85 Million Americans With Criminal Records: The Sentencing Project,” July 12, 2010, http://huff.to/NtkyLs

(15) Ray Long, The Chicago Tribune, “Concealed carry: Court strikes down Illinois’ ban,” December 11, 2012, http://bit.ly/SRqfEW

(16) Sean Caranna, All Nine Yards, “NRA’s Own Prodigal Son Story – Open and Concealed Carry,” August 25, 2011, http://bit.ly/YdAOXJ

(17) Karl Marx, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, March 1850, http://bit.ly/noHW0h

Capitalism, not government policy, is the cause of the stagnant economy

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The following editorial below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

June 6, 2012

On June 1, the Labor Department reported that only 69,000 net new jobs were created in May, less than half of what economists had expected and less than a third of the relatively strong job growth of the December through February period. Immediately the Republicans and the Romney campaign blamed President Obama and his policies, especially the health care reform act. The Democrats and the Obama administration quickly fired back, blaming the Republicans for blocking their economic stimulus proposals in Congress.

The U.S. economy is showing signs of stagnation – that is, slow economic growth combined with ongoing high unemployment – ever since the financial crisis and deep recession in 2008-2009. When economic stagnation first showed up in Europe in the 1980s, mainstream U.S. economists blamed the European social democratic policies of high taxation and extensive social welfare programs like universal health care. Then economic stagnation spread to Japan in the 1990s and again mainstream U.S. economists blamed the Japanese government policy of supporting certain industries.

Now the third center of world capitalism, the United States, has joined Europe and Japan. With unemployment still more than 8% almost three years after the official end of the recession, it would take about six more years at the current rate of job growth just to gain back the jobs lost during the last downturn. The U.S. economy has followed a much more free-market approach of deregulation of industry, cuts in social welfare programs and attacks on unions since the 1980s. But Wall Street bankers, freed from regulations dating back the Great Depression, let their greed run amuck, leading to a boom and then bust in the housing markets that ultimately led the biggest financial crisis in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In a capitalist economy production of goods and services is done to make a profit. This drive for profits leads businesses to pay their workers less than the value of what the workers’ labor creates, which is what Karl Marx referred to as exploitation. This can be seen today in the United States as the purchasing power of wages has been flat while the value of what an average worker produces has been rising. This has led to record corporate profits, while more and more working people are living paycheck to paycheck and sinking into poverty.

At the same time, competition among businesses leads them to reinvest most of these profits into expanding their businesses and introducing new technology. This is what Marx called the accumulation of capital, which leads to the ability to produce more and more goods and services. But this ability to produce more comes into conflict with the fact that exploitation limits the ability of workers (who make up 90% of the population in the United States) to buy the goods and services that they have produced. The result is crisis of overproduction, or what are called recessions today.

During a recession, goods and services go unsold – not because they are not needed or desired, but because they cannot be sold at a profit. The most glaring example today is in the housing market, where there are a record number of homes standing empty at the same time as there are record numbers of homeless (counting not just those on the street, but including people living in cars and staying at friends and relatives).

This can explain the regular pattern of alternating periods of economic growth and recession, or what is called the business cycle. Here in the United States there have been 33 such cycles over the last 200 years.

For more than a hundred years, huge corporations have developed in more and more types of businesses, so that a small handful, or even just one, giant corporation can dominate an entire industry. What Marx called the concentration and centralization of capital can be seen in the recent takeover of more and more types of retail businesses such as office supply, bookstores and hardware stores by two or three companies.

These giant corporations can cut back on production to limit overproduction, but then end up with overcapacity, or the ability to produce more than they can produce and sell on the market for a profit. This overcapacity can be seen in many industries: car makers can produce more cars than can be sold, steel producers can produce more steel than there is a market for, etc.

With the ability to produce more than what can be sold, corporations are sitting on literally trillions of dollars of profits that are not being spent to expand business. This is what leads to stagnation: the lack of reinvestment of profits means slower economic growth and fewer jobs, i.e. the economic stagnation that we see today.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats offer a real solution to the economic woes for working people. The Republicans want to increase corporate profits by increasing the exploitation of workers using the methods of cutting pensions, smashing unions, limiting health care benefits and cutting unemployment insurance and other social safety net programs. In addition the Republicans would cut taxes and regulation on business to make them even more profitable. But this would only increase the contradiction between the limited purchasing power of workers and the ability of corporations to produce more, leading to another crisis of overproduction.

The Democrats would prefer to use the government to increase corporate profits through subsidies and loans for selective industries with new technology (like electric batteries and solar panels) or the health insurance industry (with the health care reform law). While the Democrats talk about helping out working people with cuts in payroll taxes and extending unemployment insurance, their support for balancing the budget will lead to more austerity: higher taxes and cuts to social programs, including the two biggest, Medicare and Social Security.

Only a socialist economy, where production is aimed at peoples’ needs, not for profit, can overcome the cycle of boom and bust and the economic stagnation that we face today. A socialist economy, with government and collective ownership of the means of production (and not just the extensive social welfare programs as seen in Europe), cannot be won at the ballot box, since both major parties are in favor of the 1% that benefits from capitalism. Only mass struggle can bring about the fundamental economic change that will benefit working people.

Cuba and International Solidarity

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Healing the Poor in Our Hemisphere

By Daniel Kovalik
March 4, 2012

“Never . . . was so much owed by so many to so few”

– Winston Churchill

Cuban medical internationalism

In his book, In Cuba, Father Ernesto Cardenal — the famous Nicaraguan priest, revolutionary and poet who is known to don a black beret a la Che Guevara – described Cuba as a giant monastery, with the residents living austere, but meaningful lives in service to others.  While this a romantic portrait, of course, and Father Cardenal said as much, there is still much truth in it.  Certainly, it is more true than the portrait of the island gulag which the U.S. and its compliant press would have us believe Cuba to be.  (Of course, there is a gulag on the island of Cuba, and it is called Guantanamo Bay and it is owned and administered by the United States.  Meanwhile, in Cuba proper, according to a January 27, 2012 Financial Times article, entitled, “Freedom comes slowly to Cuba,”  “there are currently no prisoners of conscience”).

Nowhere is this monastic spirit of true Christian giving and solidarity better seen than in the doctors and medical staff which Cuba sends to minister to the poor throughout the world.   As I recently learned in reading Conflicting Missions by Piero Gleijeses, Cuba began this medical solidarity work in Algeria where it sent 29 doctors, three dentists, fifteen nurses, and eight medical technicians in 1963 – that is, just after Algeria’s independence from France and just 4 years after Cuba’s own revolution.

As Piero Gleijeses, a professor at John Hopkins University, explains:

It was an unusual gesture:  an underdeveloped country tendering free aid to another in even more dire straits.  It was offered at a time when the exodus of doctors from Cuba following the revolution had forced the government to stretch its resources while launching its domestic programs to increase mass access to health care.  ‘It was like a beggar offering his help, but we knew the Algerian people needed it even more than we did and that they deserved it,’ [Cuban Minister of Public Health] Machado Ventura remarked.  It was an act of solidarity that brought no tangible benefit and came at real material cost.

These words are just as true today as they were then, as this act of solidarity is repeated by Cuba over and over again throughout the world.  And, it has been done even as Cuba has struggled to survive in the face of a 50-year embargo by the U.S. as well as numerous acts of terrorism by the U.S., and U.S.-supported mercenaries, over the years.

For example, just yesterday I was reminded by a story in Prensa Latina of the fact that, for the past 21 years, Cuba has been treating “26,000 Ukrainian citizens, mostly children, affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident” at its Tarara international medical center in Havana.  Cuba has continued to do so, it must be emphasized, though even the potential for any help for this effort from the Soviet Union passed over 20 years ago.

In addition, Cuba’s medical team, which was in Haiti well before the 2010 earthquake, has been the first line of defense against the spread of cholera in that country.  Even The New York Times recognized this in an article from November of 2011, entitled, “Cuba Takes Lead Role in Haiti’s Cholera Fight.”  This is contrasted with the United States which sent troops, instead of doctors, after the earthquake, and which over the years has done little but undermine any chance for democracy and development in that country.

As we speak, Cuba has hundreds of doctors working in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela where Venezuelan doctors fear to tread.  There are Cuban-trained doctors in remote parts of Honduras which are otherwise unserved by the Honduran government.  Patients from 26 Latin American & Caribbean countries have travelled to Cuba to have their eyesight restored by Cuban doctors.  Among this list is Mario Teran, the Bolivian soldier who shot and killed Che Guevara, who the Cubans forgave and to whom they returned his eyesight.  All in all, Cuba sends doctors to 70 different, mostly poor, countries throughout the world.  Cuba even offered to send 1500 doctors to minister to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina, though this kind offer was rejected by the United States.

I first learned of this solidarity when I travelled to Nicaragua in the 1980’s; at a time when the U.S. was terrorizing that country with its support of the Contras.   I went to Nicaragua open-minded, but also with beliefs and sentiments very much informed by Cold War hysteria.  While there, I naively asked some Nicaraguans if they feared that Cuba would try to take over their country (as President Reagan often claimed it would).  Those I talked to on this subject would simply smile and say, “Cuba sends us doctors and teachers to help us.  Why would we fear them?”  Indeed.  And, what do we have to fear of Cuba – nothing.

Today, I am on the Board of Global Links (www.globallinks.org), an organization in Pittsburgh which provides much-needed medical supplies to nine Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Cuba.   And, in the other eight countries, the medical teams we work with are often times staffed by Cuban doctors or by doctors trained in Cuba.   We see every day what Cuba is doing for the poor of our Hemisphere, and with very little resources.

The Cubans’ efforts, and indeed their country, are worth supporting and defending against the constant assaults by our own government which wants to destroy their worthy experiment in human, and may I even say, Christian, compassion.

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Chinese president stresses people’s well-being, health, social security

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March 5, 2012

Chinese President Hu Jintao (R, front), who is also General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, visits and joins a panel discussion of members of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) from the health sector and social welfare and security sectors in Beijing, capital of China, March 4, 2012.

BEIJING, March 4 (Xinhua) — President Hu Jintao said Sunday that China must further ensure and improve people’s well-being, promote the reform of the medical and health care system, and speed up the building of a full-coverage social security system.

Hu made the remarks while participating in a panel discussion with political advisors from the health sector and social welfare and security sectors at the ongoing annual full session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, the country’s top political advisory body.

China needs to put ensuring and improving people’s well-being in a more outstanding position, said the president.

On one hand, the government should play a leading role in solving the most pressing problems that are directly connected to the people, on the other hand, the whole society should be guided to carry forward the tradition of aiding the disadvantaged so as to make contributions to a better life, Hu said.

During the discussion, Hu also stressed that China should deepen the reform of the medical and health care system.

He said China should complete a social health care system to cover all the people, improve the basic medical system and grassroots medical institution system, and promote the reform of public hospitals.

On the social security system, Hu said China should speed up completing the system to cover both urban and rural residents so as to promote the system’s sustainable development.

Moreover, Hu said China should promote the social security system for the disabled so as to ensure their equal involvement in social life and enable them to enjoy the fruits of reform and opening up.

Jia Qinglin, chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, joined in the discussion.

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Who Are the 99%? Part II: The Working Class

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Second of four-part series

By Masao Suzuki
November 29, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the second article of a four-article series. The first article was titled, “Who are the one percent?” This article describes the working class, who make up most of the 99%. The next article will be about the rest of the 99% who aren’t part of the working class. The last article will talk about how the history of racism and national oppression is important to understanding what is behind the 1%-99% divide and how the 1% enriches itself while maintaining its privilege and power.

San José, CA – Despite heavy police repression and negative coverage by the corporate-dominated media, the Occupy movement continues and has even grown in places that saw some of the most outrageous police brutality, like the University of California at Davis. The strength of the Occupy movement comes from the fact that over the last 30 years, almost all the fruits of economic growth have gone to the 1% who benefit from the rise in corporate profits at the expense of working people’s wages. The next 19% have broken even, with their incomes just keeping pace with rising prices. And the lower 80%? We have lost ground, as wages fail to keep up with rising prices, the retired have higher health and dental costs and poor people suffer from more and more cuts and restrictions on their government benefits.

This bottom 80% of the population owns only 7% of the income-producing wealth and almost all have to work for others for a living. Those of us who have to work for others and who do not own the means of production make up the working class. The working class makes up about 80% of the population, but is not the same as the bottom 80% by income. There are a number of self-employed and small business people who are not ‘workers,’ yet still in the lower 80% of income. There are also some working class households with two highly paid workers who manage to earn enough to get into the top 20% of household by income.

The importance of the working class is that our interests stand in opposition to the interests of the top 1%. While the top 1% reap income and wealth from record levels of corporate profits, the working class suffers from unemployment, cuts in health care and retirement benefits, and the falling purchasing power of our wages. While the top 1% enjoy massive tax cuts, the working class suffers from cuts in public education, social services and attacks on government workers, as in Wisconsin. While the top 1% and their politicians plan for wars abroad to protect corporate profits and access to resources, it is the sons and daughters of workers who have to do the fighting and dying.

While the working class in the United States makes up the vast majority of the population, there are also large economic differences among workers. The best-off workers have higher incomes, relatively stable jobs and more control over their own work because of their skills, strong unions, or both. This group would include skilled trade workers like electricians, and other semi-professional, college-educated workers like nurses and teachers, skilled clerical workers and some unskilled workers with strong unions, like longshoremen. This upper part of the working class would also include better-off seniors who have both a pension and Social Security, who have paid off their homes, and who have enough income enjoy their retirement.

The upper part of the working class makes up about a fifth of the total population and about a quarter of the working class, but have more influence than other workers through their participation in unions, parents, civic and neighborhood organizations. They see themselves as ‘middle-class’ and often has a middle-class lifestyle, usually owning a home, having health insurance and some retirement savings, and usually are able to send their children to college. Most can take vacations and many have vacation homes.

At the same time this group has also felt the economic crisis. Many have gone for years without a raise while others have been laid off. Their home values and retirement savings have fallen and they have been paying more and more for health insurance. They are often working harder than ever, trying to do the work of their colleagues who have been laid off or retired and not replaced. Some sectors of this part of the class, such as nurses and teachers, have been relatively militant in the fight back against the efforts by the 1% to put the burden of the economic crisis on the backs of workers.

There is a larger group of workers that are not so well-off, put not poor or near poor either. Their incomes are lower the better-off workers, they have less control over their work, but most have full-time, permanent jobs. This group would include many semi-skilled workers such as some construction and manufacturing workers, many clerical workers, auto mechanics and truck drivers. These workers are the middle part of the working class, and make up about 45% of the class and 35% of the total population.

While this group aspires to a middle-class lifestyle, many have had big setbacks in the last few years. With less savings that the better-off workers, they are living paycheck to paycheck and are just one layoff, illness, or divorce away from losing their homes to foreclosure and/or having to declare bankruptcy. They see what has happened to their friends, neighbors and relatives who have lost their jobs, their homes, and their health and worry about the future.

Many in this middle part of the working class have had to cut back on health care, vacations, eating out, or recreational activities. Many retired workers fall into this category, with not quite enough to cover their expenses and have to turn to reverse mortgages or selling their homes to make ends meet. These workers don’t think that they can afford college for their children and see their neighborhood schools taking big cuts or even closing altogether.

Last, but not least, there is a lower-part of the working class that is poor or near poor. Nearly 25% of the population, or 30% of the working class, fall into this category and their numbers are growing. Their jobs are low-paying and are often temporary or part-time. Many are working two or even more jobs to try to make ends meet. Many receptionists, cashiers, retail sales people, childcare workers, cleaners, waiters and waitresses, cooks, home health aides and caretakers of the elderly fall into this category.

The lower part of the working class also includes the million of unemployed and jobless workers who have given up looking for work and are not included in the government’s count of unemployment. There are also many disabled, single parents, and poorer seniors who depend on government benefits that aren’t enough to keep them out of poverty. This includes many homeless, both those living in the streets or cars, and an even larger number who have to depend on friends or relatives for a couch to sleep on.

While a minority of the working class, this lower part is growing in numbers as the economic crisis drags on with continued high unemployment and more and more cuts in government services. Not only former middle working class, but also people who used to be in the upper part of the working class and even a small but growing number of managers and professionals are finding themselves applying for food stamps, lining up at food kitchens, and getting government and charitable help in ways that they would have never thought of a few years ago. This part of the working class is hardest hit by the economic crisis.

While the last article in this series will cover the issue of racism and national oppression, it is important to mention here that because of the historical inequality between whites and others (African Americans, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians), these groups that I call oppressed nationalities are more likely to be found in the lower strata of the working class, and less likely to be in the upper strata. For example, as many as 45% of African American workers can be found in the lower part of the working class, as opposed to less than half as many, or about 20% of white workers. At the same time, only about 15% of African American workers can be found in the upper strata, about half of the 30% of white workers who are in the upper part of the working class.

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Amnesty International’s Flawed Syrian Hospitals “Investigation”

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Failing the Burden of Proof

By Franklin Lamb
November 1, 2011

This observer counts himself among Amnesty International’s more than 3 million supporters and members in more than 150 countries and territories who also strongly endorse AI’s campaigns to end grave abuses of human rights. I share AI’s vision for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

In Beirut, I attend their events and was honored to play a small part in assisting with last spring’s AI research on the subject of disappeared Palestinians and Lebanese which resulted in AI’s excellent April, 2011 publication: Never Forgotten: Lebanon’s Missing People. This report documents one of the bitter legacies of the 1975-1990 civil war which is the thousands of people whose fates remain unknown.

I have crossed paths with AI researchers in the Middle East and recently during three months in Libya I followed their work which included the human rights problems of black Libyans, particularly from the Tawagha region but also in eastern and western Libya where blacks were often taken from hospitals, never to be seen again.

AI rightly condemned the number of massacres and extra-judicial killings perpetrated by both pro-Gaddafi and NTC partisans, many of which, like the 53 recently executed Gaddafi supporters found at the Mahari Hotel in Sirte involved the kidnapping and murder of patients in hospitals. These grisly scenes have shocked the world’s conscience and all people of goodwill condemn them. They weaken substantially the moral authority of the group currently claiming power in Libya.

Despite its generally exemplary work, Amnesty International, like the rest of us, in not infallible.

This is evident in its 39-page report: Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers, released on October 25, 2011.

AI’s conclusion from its “research” in Syria, which consisted significantly of collecting Al Jazeera and Al Arabia type media accounts including the dubious reports on the same subject by CNN’s Arwa Damon, and sundry anonymous You-tube clips, is virtually identical to what it concluded from its investigation in Libya on the same subject.

However, there is a great distinction between Syria and Libya, their medical professions and their current challenges.

AI claims, without convincing material, probative or relevant evidence that Syrian authorities, including Hospital administrators and staff, have since March 2011 turned Syrian hospital into instruments of repression in order to crush protests and demonstrations.

AI’s report claims that Syrian citizens wounded in protests or incidents related to the current unrest “have been physically assaulted in state-run hospitals by medical staff, and in some cases denied medical care, while others taken to hospital have been detained or have simply disappeared.”

AI offers as its proof of these claims the weakest and seemingly most competition-driven support of any Amnesty International reports I have read.

This observer recently had the opportunity to visit with administrators and medical staff at some of Syria’s largest state-run Ministry of Health hospitals (Syria also has Higher Education Hospitals for university students and Ministry of Defense Hospitals, the latter being roughly equivalent to American Veterans Hospitals for the military,) which is Damascus General Hospital, established in 1952. Damascus Hospital sees approximately 800 patients daily and is one of 90 hospitals belonging to the Ministry of Hearth that together serve all of Syria with 14, 571 beds.

Among those I had the opportunity to meet with at Damascus Public Hospital and to discuss issues raised by Amnesty International were Dr. Mahmoud Naji (damahosp@mail.sy) who is the Director of the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit at Damascus Hospital and Dr. Adib Mahmoud, (damahosp@mail.sy), Damascus Hospital administrator.

Both the Syria Medical Emergency Association, of which Dr.Naji is a representative and the Syrian Medical Association, have large memberships with the reputation of being fiercely independent of and resistant to outside influences.

At the same time they have achieved individual treatment and medical ethics standards that help make Syria’s medical services the highest rated in the Middle East.

Amnesty qualifies its findings with complaints that it did not have access to Syrian hospital staff, and that it wanted to protect its “witnesses” by withholding some specifics such as time, place, and circumstances of alleged wrongdoing by members the Syrian medical community, as well as the unwillingness of alleged victims of abuse to come forward.

For their part, Syrian medical staff, more than two dozen I met individually with, complained to this observer that AI’s Report is deeply flawed and that in fact Syrian hospitals welcome foreign visitors for tours and dialogue with all questions honestly addressed.  Syria’s medical profession has justifiably taken umbrage at what it considers, as one Physician described, “Amnesty International’s “gratuitous defamation of Syria’s medical community.”

According to Amnesty’s report, but without providing convincing collaborative evidence, wounded patients in at least four government-run hospitals had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, both by medical workers and security personnel.

AI’s charges that Syrian medical staff humiliate or refuse to treat patients brought laughter from some care givers at Damascus Hospital, as they explained the strict procedure they abide by from the moment a patient arrives at the emergency entrance.

“We treat each patient to the best of our ability and we are strictly forbidden from questioning them about the circumstances of their injury,” Dr. Mahmoud Naji explained.

This observer was invited to follow arriving emergency room patients as they were admitted and treated and until they were assigned a bed in the appropriate ward.

A nurse, who was filling out a patient’s medical forms noted, “In certain cases if there was an auto accident, for example, and an injured person arrives while the accident is being investigated then we could contact authorities. However, our patient privacy rules are very strict in Syria and we can only ask medical and certainly not political questions.”

One physician who had trained at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston explained, “ I am sure there must be some abuse and especially in the middle of an area where there is fighting, but I have personally never heard of any physician or medical personnel doing what some Western media have alleged without submitting proof.  He continued, “Do police officers sometimes come to the hospital? Yes but it’s like what you would see, for example, in America on a week-end night at the emergency room in maybe the 200 largest cities., isn’t it?

“When I was training in Boston and with all that goes on in the early hours of the morning in big cities, one sees more police cars outside emergency rooms than ambulances.

“While it’s not like that here, the police presumably sometimes have reason to suspect that a crime may have been committed and the arriving injured person might be the victim or the perpetrator and an officer has the duty to complete a police report. I believe it’s similar anywhere isn’t it?”

Another doctor commented, “And yes, our medical profession has been criticized along with our government because it is claimed by some that some injured people may not want to come to our hospital thinking we might report them to the police. We will not. Does that not also happen in every society?

“Someone is injured while doing something wrong or criminal and they are afraid of being arrested so they seek alternative treatment from friends or private clinics. Yes, that sometimes happens in our country. Every citizen can choose where they seek treatment.”

This observer also toured Syria’s Al Mouwasat government hospital, which like all government hospital in Syria is free to all, and met at length with a variety of staff just as AI could have and still can. It is Syria’s oldest and largest and has received dozens of patients over the past six months who had been injured during anti-government demonstrations.

Al Mouwasat, with approximately 850 beds was founded in 1946, the year the French occupiers left.  1946 was also the year US President Harry Truman promised to “take on that mean trust-the American Medical Association” and enact free health care for all Americans. Nearly 66 years later the gap between Syria and the US in terms of civilized and affordable medical care for its citizens is vast.

I participated in briefings from several physicians and staff including the Hospital administrator, physicians and nurses. We discussed at length any subject I raised including AI accusations.

Among those who discussed rumors that some Syrian medical staff refused treatment or reported to authorities or intimidated patients were surgeon Dr. Osama Yousef Shahin, Dr. Ayham Obied vascular surgeon, Dr. Imad Alasha, Director of the ER Department, and ER surgeon Dr. D. Shadia as well as Mouwasat hospital’s Administrator and various staff.

All can be contacted directly, by AI or others, via the hospital email address which is info@almouwasat and arrangements can be made for visitors to come and see for themselves.

One doctor who appeared somewhat offended by AI type accusations and even offered to request from among scores of current or former patients their permission to provide AI with their phone numbers so they could discuss privately AI’s sweeping and unsupported allegations against the Syrian medical community including the charge that they work in cooperation with various militias but also with government security services.

Dr. Alusha explained: “A few casualties from May are still hospitalized and others even come from “field hospitals” set up by opponents of the government. We do not ask them anything about where they received earlier treatment or their political views. We have not seen any of the claimed patient betrayal events described in some western media reports.”

Al Mouwasat has 4 ER operating theatres and routinely does about 50 operations per day. As with other hospitals visited, May 2011 was the most active month recently for Syria’s ER departments which are always open 24/7 with no cost to any patient, domestic or foreign.

Al Mouwasat hospital, like Damascus General Hospital and others, has received patients from Deraa, Homs, Hama, Idlib, and other communities according to Dr. Shahin who explained: “Any human being will be treated here without charge and without politics or the police being summoned and for as long as necessary until the patient regains good health. Jewish patients are also welcomed and while our government does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel, Israeli citizens will receive the same care as everyone else.  Just yesterday we received Lebanese from the Bekaa Valley with gunshot wounds. They come here because our care is of high quality and it’s free ever for foreigners and without political complications. We specialize also in Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) which attracts patients from across Syria and abroad. I think I speak for almost every Syrian medical person what I insist that we are doctors and care givers with a variety of political views which we leave at home. We comply with our Hippocratic Oath which we take seriously.”

According to Syria’s Ministry of Health, it has not received any complaint to date, either from the patients or from their relatives about maltreatment or political pressure.

In its Report: “Health Crisis: The Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers,” Amnesty International falls significantly below an objective standard and fails to shoulder its burden of proof for the charges it levels at Syria’s medical community.

The fact is that AI appears to have been somewhat lazy in its work and continues hyping its deeply flawed “investigation.” AI also failed to meet the standard of investigative work that we who will continue to support and endorse its human rights work expect from it.

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Lukashenko: Belarus’ healthcare is up to world-class standards

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October 21, 2011

MINSK, 21 October (BelTA) – Belarus has advanced its healthcare system to the world-class level, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with participants of the Second Eurasian Congress of Cardiologists on 21 October, BelTA has learnt.

Alexander Lukashenko is convinced that if a country has a well-developed healthcare and education, it has prospects and can develop further. “That was our approach to healthcare. That was our ideological ground when we faced a choice whether or not to break down the old healthcare system (or some elements of it) in order to build a new healthcare system in Belarus,” the head of state said.

The President admitted that the old healthcare system that Belarus inherited from the Soviet Union had a lot of advantages. “Both healthcare and education back then were not inferior to those in the neighboring states,” he said.

“However, the time demanded new approaches. We made a very painful decision some 5-6 years ago and we have been working really hard the last 3-4 years,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

The head of state said that Belarus has streamlined and upgraded the entire hierarchy of healthcare facilities, from rural health posts to regional hospitals and flagman research centers. “We have upgraded district hospitals, starting from operating rooms. We spent a lot of money to purchase state-of-the-art equipment. This pushed our producers to develop and manufacture all medical devices and equipment, starting from an operating table. After that, we set up 16 centers in the oblast.

Alexander Lukashenko stressed that new and advanced technology developed in medical research centers is “immediately adopted in the regions”.

The head of state also noted that Belarus had made considerable progress in reducing the infant mortality, down to the global level. Belarus has accumulated best practices in cancer treatment, transplantation of organs and tissues, cardiology and other areas. An extensive use is made of world scientific experience.

“We have revived our healthcare, modernized and raised it to the world-class level. I had to make decisions on all fronts since it was connected with expensive spending. And I do not regret it, although we had financial problems and are still dealing with some of them now. We spent a lot of money on it. As you can imagine, this does not generate profit. It only consumes foreign exchange earnings that the country makes,” Alexander Lukashenko stated.

Alexander Lukashenko noted the particular importance of the development of cardiology because, according to statistics, heart diseases are a number one cause of death. Our specialists have been in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan to share their experience,” the President said.

According to him, the second Eurasian Congress is staged in Belarus, which attests to recognition of the national cardiology school. The President asked the participants to openly express their opinion about what else Belarus needs to do in cardiology and in healthcare in general.

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Palestinian and Venezuelan Presidents Meet, Discuss Health Facilities and Statehood

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By Tamara Pearson

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas met yesterday (Prensa Presidencial).

Mérida, October 12th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) –The presidents of Venezuela and Palestine met yesterday in the presidential palace Miraflores in Caracas and signed nine agreements, including one to construct health facilities in Palestine. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez reiterated his country’s support for Palestine’s petition for statehood currently under discussion in the UN.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Chavez signed agreements in the areas of education, agriculture, and trade cooperation.

37 Palestinians are currently studying medicine in Venezuela’s Salvador Allende Latin American School of Medicine, and Chavez said the government is open to receiving more students.

The two presidents also agreed that Venezuela would construct heath facilities in Palestine, and in the area of agriculture Chavez said Venezuela wanted to contribute to Palestine’s urban and self sustaining agriculture with technology and resources.

“We’re going to open up spaces for the missions, for social work, for example, the mission Jose Gregorio Hernandez [which provides support for people with mental and physical disabilities]. Because of the aggression and the bombing, there are many people [in Palestine] with disabilities,” Chavez told the press.

They also agreed to create a joint commission to better follow up on the new agreements and those made when Abbas visited Venezuela in November 2009.

“We want to advance a lot more, but you all know there’s a blockade there,” Chavez said. The 2009 visit by Abbas was the first one by a Palestinian president to Venezuela. The visit followed Venezuela’s severing of relations with Israel and establishing diplomatic relations with Palestine in April that year.

Chavez also reiterated Venezuela’s support for Palestine’s petition for statehood, “The Venezuelan government will always support the Palestine cause. Palestine has the same right that Israel has to have a state”.

He asked that the construction of settlements in Palestine be ceased and that the “borders of June 1967” are returned to.

Abbas expressed his appreciation for Venezuela’s support, “Mr President and the Venezuelan people…I want to publically thank you, especially for the letter you sent …to the United Nations. We’ll continue struggling until we achieve the independence of Palestine.”

Chavez wrote a public letter, addressed to the Secretary General of the UN on September 17, analysing the Israel-Palestine conflict and calling for the recognition of the Palestinian state.

“[The Palestinians] would be willing to return to the negotiating table on the condition that Palestine is recognised as a state, something the vast majority of the world wants, but that one group doesn’t want…I insist on the need to explain to our people, in a didactic way, the geo-politics, history [of Palestine] and to say that the Palestinian cause is our cause, Palestine is part of the human fatherland,” Chavez said yesterday

Abbas also invited Chavez to visit Palestine next year. Chavez said he would visit the country once he had fully recovered from his cancer treatment.

Abbas is currently touring Latin America to seek for support for his country’s petition before the UN. On Sunday he visited Colombia.

Following the meeting with Abbas, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said that a Palestinian state can’t come about by the “imposition of some votes or a resolution” in the United Nations, but rather through negotiations.

Colombia and French Guiana (as French territory) are the only South American countries which don’t recognise Palestine. The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly supports Palestinian statehood, but the U.S, which is against it, has the right to veto in the Security Council, which will make the final decision.

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Venezuela’s Chavez: Free, Quality Healthcare Priority for the Revolution

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By RACHAEL BOOTHROYD – VENEZUELANALYSIS.COM

Today the national government also inaugurated two neonatal units at the Candelaria Garcia maternity hospital (Abrebrecha)

Caracas, October 3rd 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Speaking to Venezuelan health minister Eugenia Sader this Sunday, president Hugo Chávez confirmed that creating a “totally free and quality” national health service was a current priority for the revolutionary government.

Chavez made the comments during a televised phone call to Sader, who was touring the Candelaria Garcia maternity hospital in Carúpano in celebration of the centre’s first anniversary.

“We have to accomplish our goals and quicken our pace, so that every state, city and town has that kind of national public healthcare system, high quality and totally free for all our people,” stated Chávez.

The Venezuelan mandate also commented that the government’s attempt to provide a free and comprehensive healthcare system was for the “lives” and “happiness” of the Venezuelan people.

“This is what the socialist motherland is about,” added the president.

Based in the Venezuelan state of Sucre, the maternity hospital forms part of the government’s Baby Jesus mission. Launched in 2009, the mission focuses exclusively on the health of pregnant women and newborn babies, and guarantees Venezuelan women the right to a dignified birth.

In the past year, the hospital has delivered over 5,500 newborns and attended to over 11,000 women, confirmed hospital Director, Hanoi Yanez.

“We are trying to humanise that beautiful moment of giving birth, we are trying to give Venezuelan women what they deserve,” said Yanez to the president.

During the telephone conversation, Chávez also congratulated the new mothers on the births of their children and thanked staff at the hospital for their dedication to providing a national service.

“He who abandons everything in order to be of use to his country loses nothing, and wins what he has devoted himself to,” said Chávez, quoting the Liberator of Venezuela, Simón Bolivar.

Early last month, the Venezuelan government announced that it would be expanding the national health service by constructing over 1,200 public healthcare projects throughout the country.

Following Sader’s visit to the maternity hospital, the government also opened two new neo-natal units at the centre, specialising in intensive and intermediate care.

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Venezuelan President Calls for End to “Morbid and Inhumane” Health Rumors

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By JUAN REARDON – VENEZUELANALYSIS.COM

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez practicing softball with his presidential guard on 29 September 2011 (Prensa Presidencial).

Merida, September 30th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Thursday Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called unfounded media reports on his health condition “morbid and inhumane,” referring specifically to an article published in the Miami-based El Nuevo Herald in which unnamed sources claimed the Venezuelan president had suffered kidney failure, was on dialysis, and had aplastic anemia, a condition associated with chemotherapy in which the body is unable to produce sufficient blood cells.

Speaking to reporters in front of the Miraflores Presidential Palace yesterday, Chavez said wanted to he ask “the people of Venezuela not to pay any attention to the rumors.”

“People know me, know that I would be the first to come out and say, and explain, any difficulty in any part of the process (of chemotherapy). There has been no difficulty beyond what is normal,” Chavez said.

“As I already mentioned, the fourth cycle is over and now I am physically recovering with medicines so the body can resist the level of toxicity,” he explained.

“I have dealt with this well. But, well, here I am working, working hard, but I think it is good to clear up these issues,” he said.

On 29 September El Nuevo Herald’s Antonio Maria Delgado wrote a speculative piece in which he claimed “sources close to the situation” had told him the Venezuelan President was rushed to an emergency room after having suffered “kidney failure that required dialysis” and that Chavez may also be suffering from “aplastic anemia”, a condition in which bone marrow fails to produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells.

“Ha! How original,” said Chavez, joking off the El Nuevo Herald “sources that spoke under condition of anonymity.”

The Venezuelan President added that media reports read “like a novel” and asked reporters to put an end to “the speculation.”

After the article in El Nuevo Herald, numerous mainstream media outlets reproduced the same storyline. The Miami Herald published an English-language version of the Delgado piece titled, “Chavez´s Condition Might be Worsening,” the UK’s Telegraph published a similar story titled, “Hugo Chavez ´Rushed to Hospital after Kidney Failure´” and Fox News published “Venezuelan President Chavez Reportedly Hospitalized for Kidney Failure.”

Rumors surrounding Chavez’s health began earlier this year after a brief diplomatic visit to Cuba was extended so that doctors could perform an emergency operation on the Venezuelan President to remove a pelvic abscess. After several days of silence, Chavez announced live on national television that the original operation had led to the discovery, and removal of, a cancerous tumor.

A month later, Chavez underwent his first of four rounds of chemotherapy.

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