Manuel Zelaya speaks out: “The president of Honduras is John Kerry”


This man is the last true democratically elected president Honduras has had. Five years ago, he was deposed in a violent military putsch, backed to the hilt by Washington. Manuel Zelaya was sent into exile, very much against his will, and even more so against the will of the Honduran people. Ever since then, there’s been a campaign to silence all critics of the US-imposed puppet régimes (there have been three so far) in the wake of the coup. Sham elections have not been enough to buy off the populace, and criticism has been growing. This year, things came to a head when child refugees from Central America, thousands of them, began arriving at the border with Mexico, unaccompanied by adults, but often in possession of their birth certificates and other documents identifying them and their countries of origin. Honduras is heavily represented among those lands, and if you wonder why, let the last real president of the land explain it all to you:

A short time after the fifth anniversary of the coup d’état that brought down his government, former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya spoke with Miradas al Sur about the current situation in Honduras and Latin America.

Manuel Zelaya only began to be affectionately called “Mel” by large parts of the population of Honduras in the second half of his mandate as president there. Until then, and for a good part of the peoples of Latin America, he had only been the progressive face of the Honduran Liberal Party, one of the traditional axes of power in the Central American country. But as of 2008, his way of wielding power began to turn toward the creation of a state closer to the humble folk, and more disposed toward solidarity with the popular sectors not only of his own land, but of all the Caribbean. Zelaya put conservative noses out of joint, and even those of his own comrades, upon confirming the leftward turn of his government, with a 60% minimum wage increase and an explicit turn toward 20th-century socialism. That same year, and hand in hand with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, Honduras formally entered into Petrocaribe and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). “Petrocaribe is a commercial alliance. ALBA is an alliance of Latin American integration. I entered into both. Those countries who want to establish another system for a world which is still possible, must join ALBA. Not just Petrocaribe. That is more for business dealings,” Zelaya explained.

But while a good part of Latin America and the Caribbean was drawing closer to “Mel”, there were some in Honduras and the United States who grieved for politicians like Zelaya, and even more for those who preceded him. So it was that on June 28, 2009, the armed forces, backed by the supreme court of the nation, carried out a coup d’état which did away with the progressive profile of Honduras. “The result of the coup was that the security apparatus or the economic apparatus or the economic system began to be 99% directed by policies designed in Washington,” said the former president. “And, lamentably, they are policies of the most reactionary right-wing elements in the United States, very sectarian groups of the far right. After the coup, narcotrafficking and crime increased. The exploitation of the transnational mining firms is deepening, the privatization of all public services such as roadways, ports, telecommunications. They’ve even privatized things that belong to civil society and the state, such as collecting customs duties. And one of the most classic forms that the North American right has for controlling our countries is militarism. Now, here, soldiers have been substituted for the police. They’re substituting for the powers of the state in all matters and have given them extraordinary powers, as if we were living in a de facto dictatorial state. The separation of powers disappeared. There’s just one power of state, which the president wields over the military. If we review all the indicators of the land, we will find that everything has deteriorated from the coup to the present. The internal and external debt has quintupled. In five years, they’ve managed to indebt the country like it was in the 1960s, and it’s the largest debt in our history. The murder rate has converted us into the most violent country on the planet. We were a small and peaceful country. We are the poorest society in Latin America. We have always been at some level of poverty, but never like it is now. The president of Honduras is not Juan Orlando Hernández; he was imposed by way of a fraud. The presidnet of Honduras is named John Kerry, and his policies are those of the United States.”

Following his removal from office, and after several months in exile, Zelaya joined the National Front of Popular Resistance, which became the party of Freedom and Refoundation (LIBRE), over which he presides today. In November of 2013, LIBRE participated in the presidential elections with Xiomara Castro, Zelaya’s wife, as candidate, reaching second place and breaking up the historic bipartisanism of the National Party and the Liberals.

A few weeks ago, Zelaya himself denounced that he had been repressed, along with all his party, at the doors of the National Congress.

“That incident is just one more proof of the militarization of the land, and its absorption in neoliberal politics,” Zelaya pointed out. And with respect to this point, he emphasized that “we have to get back to calling it neoliberalism. Because neoliberalism in itself was the monetary and fiscal control of a society, but now it has advanced in military politics, in looting and exploitation, in diseases, epidemics, pestilence, death. Now it’s a neoliberalism of disaster which is being applied here. We were expelled from the congress at bayonet-point, and with tear gas, because one of the characteristics of the governments of force is that they don’t accept the opposition. For them, the opposition has to disappear, and for that reason, they have to limit our access to the media. There is an exaggerated media blockade today in Honduras. We have no option to defend ourselves practically in any media outlet. Everything is against us. But we ourselves have grown stronger. We are much stronger than before, especially because the popular consciousness has grown in recognizing what affects us. We understand that the United States won’t go away; what we need is to have honest, respectful relations with them. Which is what we don’t have right now, because those currently governing [in Honduras] are those who duck their heads and bow down to serve Washington’s orders.”

In effect, as well as having an enormous weight in Honduran internal politics, the United STates are now the centre of a very deep international debate which affects Central American societies. In the last months, the phenomenon of child migration toward the northern country has taken on a worrisome importance, to the point where the affected countries are trying to begin joint actions to deal with it. In June alone, it is estimated that 2,000 Salvadoran, Honduran and Mexican children crossed the border into the United States every week.

“The problem is that the great powers were born of migration, but don’t want to recognize the migrants of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Zelaya. “They are products of migration, but they close themselves off in an anti-historical nationalism because emigrating is a right, not a crime. We all have that right because we were born in a world which is shared among all, in one human race. Those who managed to get to those nations are telling them to take their children. And now they’re hunting those children without pity. Now the powers are on display before the world. Because first they deny their parents the right to be legalized, and now they’re persecuting the children. Just as at the time when Jesus was born, they’re ordering them to kill all the children who were born then so that no messiah can emerge. Worse than the persecutions of the holocaust. They’re persecuting children, torturing them, denying them the right to reunite with their families. This is not a humanitarian crisis, it’s a humanitarian crime of the neoliberal model against the poor of Latin America and Africa.”

Translation mine.

I have to admit that Mel Zelaya didn’t really appear on my radar until he joined the ALBA, which is the late Chavecito’s baby and which has been going from strength to strength even now, after his death. At first Mel seemed like just another too-conservative-for-my-liking leader, but when he began to demonstrate that his heart was in the right place and his feet were headed in a good direction, I was sold. Not only was Mel the last real president of Honduras, he was also unequivocally the best. Under him, the socioeconomic profile of that poor little country was beginning to rise. Poor people were getting access to social services that had been denied them before: doctors, schools, hospitals. Literacy was going up; poverty rates were beginning to fall. And all that, which should have been terrific news, was greeted by Washington in the kind of doomsday-prophet tones you’d expect in the advent of a Category 5 hurricane about to make landfall along the eastern seaboard.

Which, of course, the ALBA was. A hurricane of promise, hope and rapid improvement. A hurricane of mutual aid and regional autonomy. Countries that used to rely abjectly on foreign “aid” from the US and elsewhere began to stand up on their own feet, and walk unassisted. That was bad news for those who used to turn obscene profits from the poverty and dependency of those little Latin American lands. They were used to taking advantage of those poor, ill-educated, highly dependent folks — as cheap labor, cannon fodder for proxy wars, and houseboys to the empire. The fact that those same people were now becoming aware that they could be so much more than that did not sit well with Washington. Hence, the coup.

It gives me no satisfaction to see blowback arriving in the form it has taken. Child refugees are the most helpless and vulnerable of them all. Along the way, who knows how many have been robbed, raped, beaten and killed? The ones we hear about arriving in Texas and Arizona are the lucky ones, the ones that made it through in one piece.

Honduras is embroiled in a civil war, although the US media won’t report that. And the death squads that we thought had died out with the evil 1980s? They’re back with a vengeance. That’s why so many desperate Central American parents are sending their kids to the country which, in a massive and humorless irony, is the author of their misfortunes.

When will it all end? When democracy is restored in Honduras, of course. But for that to happen, first the sham “democracy” installed by Washington must be trashed and kicked to the curb. The last real president of the land has not finished his mandate, and the three impostors who were tapped to “replace” him know this full well.

So do the people of Honduras, and they are absolutely furious that their will has been trampled under the boots of a fascism that everyone except the “freedom-loving”, “democratic” country behind it is willing to call by its right name. Little wonder that they are willing to give up even their own children to place the problem back at the door of its source!

How many trolls does $1 billion a year buy?


I don’t know, and neither do you. But I bet the Koch Brothers do…

Conservative groups may have spent up to $1bn a year on the effort to deny science and oppose action on climate change, according to the first extensive study into the anatomy of the anti-climate effort.

The anti-climate effort has been largely underwritten by conservative billionaires, often working through secretive funding networks. They have displaced corporations as the prime supporters of 91 think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations which have worked to block action on climate change. Such financial support has hardened conservative opposition to climate policy, ultimately dooming any chances of action from Congress to cut greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet, the study found.

“I call it the climate-change counter movement,” said the author of the study, Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle. “It is not just a couple of rogue individuals doing this. This is a large-scale political effort.”

Billionaires spending billions to keep the gravy train rolling…and rolling right over any pesky government that would stand in their way. And how exactly does that work?

“This is how wealthy individuals or corporations translate their economic power into political and cultural power,” he said. “They have their profits and they hire people to write books that say climate change is not real. They hear people to go on TV and say climate change is not real. It ends up that people without economic power don’t have the same size voice as the people who have economic power, and so it ends up distorting democracy.

“That is the bottom line here. These are unaccountable organisations deciding what our politics should be. They put their thumbs on the scale … It is more one dollar one vote than one person one vote.”

Apparently, in the United States of Amnesia, any billionaire can set himself up as a charitable cause, hiring mouthpieces so that the money keeps on rolling…right back to him.

The vast majority of the 91 groups on Brulle’s list – 79% – were registered as charitable organisations and enjoyed considerable tax breaks. Those 91 groups included trade organisations, think tanks and campaign groups. The groups collectively received more than $7bn over the eight years of Brulle’s study – or about $900m a year from 2003 to 2010. Conservative think tanks and advocacy groups occupied the core of that effort.

The funding was dispersed to top-tier conservative think tanks in Washington, such as the AEI and Heritage Foundation, which focus on a range of issues, as well as more obscure organisations such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the John Locke Foundation.

Funding also went to groups that took on climate change denial as a core mission – such as the Heartland Institute, which held regular conclaves dedicated to undermining the United Nations climate panel’s reports, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which tried and failed to prosecute a climate scientist, Michael Mann, for academic fraud.

AEI was by far the top recipient of such funds, receiving 16% of total funding over the eight years, or $86.7m. Heartland Institute, in contrast, received just 3% of the total, $16.7m. There was also generous support to Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group affiliated with the conservative Koch billionaires, which received $22.7m.

And if you thought Conrad Black was adept at setting up shell corporations to funnel money back into his own overstuffed coffers, that’s nothing…just look at these guys, who money-launder their own “charitable” donations:

The leading venue for those underground donations was the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which alone accounted for 25% of funding of the groups opposed to climate action. An investigation by the Guardian last February found that the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund had distributed nearly $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups from 2002-2010. The Donors group has now displaced such previous prominent supporters of the climate denial movement as the Koch-affiliated foundations and corporations like Exxon Mobil, Brulle said.

Other conservative foundations funding climate denial efforts include: the Searle Freedom Trust, the John William Pope Foundation, the Howard Charitable Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which also promote a free-market approach on other issues.

The sad part is, all this chicanery is apparently perfectly legal. Nobody has closed the loopholes on them…yet.

And in a comic twist, the climate-change deniers are even in the business of denying that they’re all paid hacks:

A number of the groups on Brulle’s list – both as funders and recipients – refused to comment on his findings or disputed his contention that they were part of a movement to block action on climate change.

Whitney Ball, the president of the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, said the organisation had no say in deciding which projects would receive funding. However, Ball told the Guardian last February that Donors offered funders the assurance their money would never go to Greenpeace. “It won’t be going to liberals,” she said at that time.

“We do not otherwise drive the selection of grantees, nor do we conduct in-depth analyses of projects or grantees unless an account holder specifically requests that service,” Ball said in an email. “Neither Donors Trust nor Donors Capital Fund as institutions take positions with respect to any issue advocated by its grantees.”

Why do I get the feeling that Whitney Ball is lying through her teeth? Oh, maybe because that’s what they all do. That’s what they’re all paid to do. They are being paid extravagantly to lie. And the lies are downright risible:

“Each of the scholars that work on any particular issue speaks for his or hers own work,” said Judy Mayka Stecker, director of media relations at AEI, in an email. She went on to write, however, that most of the AEI scholars who have worked on energy and climate change have moved on and would be unavailable to comment.

Well, that’s convenient!

“We do believe that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that man-made emissions will lead to some warming,” said David Kreutzer, an energy and climate-change fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “We are opposed to mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cuts.”

He said many conservatives saw a carbon tax, cap-and-trade and other climate policies as a government takeover by stealth.

“What we are not interested in doing is a huge shift of power to the government under the guise of preventing some climate problem,” he said.

Even though the government is the one entity powerful enough to effect any change that would actually stick — and work? Again, how convenient.

The Hoover Institution, which received about $45m, claimed to produce no work on climate change – while displaying on its website an article by a Hoover research fellow on an August 2013 Hoover poll on economic, energy and environmental issues.

“Hoover has no institutional initiatives on climate change,” a spokeswoman, Eryn Witcher, wrote in an email. “Individual Hoover fellows research and write on a wide variety of topics of their own choosing, but we’re not aware of any who are working in that field at this time, nor are we aware of any gifts or grants that have been received for that purpose.”

In the article, the Hoover fellow, Jeremy Carl, who works extensively on energy and climate issues, discussed climate change and fracking, concluding: “Many Democrats and liberals are in denial when it comes to reality on energy and climate policy, endorsing both science and political fiction.”

Funny, Mr. Carl, but any reputable scientist would say the same about YOU.

And, unlike you, they would be right.

PS: Barry Ritholtz has a very helpful map here. It’s a little out of date now, as it leaves the Donors’ Trust layer out of the picture. It would be located between the top tier and the conservative think-tanks (and maybe also between them and the front groups). Perhaps an update would be in order.

There is no joy in Leamington tonight.

It’s been a sad day in Canada’s ketchup town…although no doubt some corporate titan in a head office far away was just putting his wingtips up and blowing smoke rings on his fat cigar over this:

In Leamington, Ont., a town synonymous with tomatoes and ketchup, Heinz Canada announced Thursday it is closing its century-old plant, throwing 740 people out of work.

Company officials called employees to a meeting Thursday afternoon, where they were told that the last production run of giant plant, which makes everything from ketchup to condiments and baby food to tomato juice, would be in mid-year 2014.

The move comes just months after Heinz was taken private by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital in a $23.3 billion deal.

So much for Warren Buffett’s name being synonymous with social conscience. Capitalists know no such thing. Heinz is not a struggling corporation; this was purely a profit move, and should be punished accordingly.

Good thing I’m not a ketchup person; boycotting won’t pain me in the least. Pass the poutine, and for you good folks in Leamington…good night, and good luck.

Guess who’s joining MERCOSUR!


The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, will ratify on Thursday during the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) Heads of State Summit that Bolivia wants to join the regional bloc.

The Bolivian minister of communications, Amanda Dávila, informed that Morales would travel to Brasilia, Brazil, where the summit will take place, to express his country’s wish to be a full member of the organism. At the moment, Bolivia is an associate state.

“The meeting in Brasilia is very important, because there, president Evo Morales will thank MERCOSUR for its invitation and secondly, that we wish to join [the bloc],” said Dávila, according to the ABI news agency.

The minister said that Bolivia’s intentions of accepting the invitation “does not mean we will abandon other processes of integration, such as that of the CAN [Community of Andean Nations].”

Dávila explained that the Bolivian announcement is the beginning of a process that will take about a year, during which the legislative assemblies and congresses of the MERCOSUR member states will debate approving Bolivia’s official participation.

President Evo Morales announced the decision to accept the invitation to join MERCOSUR two weeks ago.

In a speech he listed the reasons for joining the bloc: MERCOSUR “does not have a free trade agreement with the United States”, and within the bloc “there is a productive complementation, a politics of complementarity, not competitiveness.”

He also emphasized that “MERCOSUR is a market much larger than the Andean Community; the Gross Internal Product of the CAN is $279 million, whereas that of Mercosur is $1.932 billion.”

At present, MERCOSUR consists of Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Venezuela and Paraguay; the last is suspended as of last June, since the coup d’état against president Fernando Lugo.

Translation mine.

Apparently the formal invitation for Bolivia to join MERCOSUR went out in November. Nobody told me nothin’. I just translate ‘em, folks.

But seriously: This is great news. It’s a formal recognition that Bolivia is on the up-and-up. For a large common market like MERCOSUR to consider Bolivia worth including means Evo is doing something right. And sure enough, the Bolivian economy is flourishing. Even without a free-trade agreement with the US, they’re holding their own. And no DEA, either. How ’bout them apples, Gringolandia?

Prostitution in Germany: hard facts, hard debate, harder thoughts

(Photo: EMMA.)

German FEMEN demonstrators outside the largest brothel in the cathedral city of Köln. They consider prostitution a human rights abuse, and hold up human trafficking, rampant in Germany, as an example of how liberalization of laws governing the “Oldest Profession” has failed. A Swedish feminist, interviewed by EMMA (the leading German feminist magazine), agrees. I’m going to translate the interview in its entirety, as what she has to say resonated very strongly with me, as well…and at the end, I’ll explain why, in case it’s not self-explanatory already.

The leftist Kajsa Ekis Ekman speaks with EMMA about prostitution as a right-wing concept — and as a left-wing fallacy.

EMMA: How did you come to write your book, Varat och Varan (trans: Wares and Being)?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: I lived in Barcelona, and shared an apartment with a woman who prostituted herself at a highway rest stop. I was there when she came home at night with her so-called boyfriend, that is, her pimp, all drunk. When I went back to Sweden in 2006, a debate was going on: Prostitution as “sex work”, which liberates women. I had experienced it quite differently, and wanted to get involved.

EMMA: Didn’t Sweden have this debate already, in 1999, when it brought in legal punishment for johns?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: No, at the time there were all the “old-fashioned” arguments: “Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world”, or “A man just can’t help needing sex”. The “modern” arguments came up later. Suddenly, it was: Prostitution is liberated sexuality, and whoever is against it, is a puritanical moralist. That had something to do with the strengthening of the queer movement, which defined prostitution as hip and cool. The problem is, this movement may have called norms into question, but not power relationships. In this discourse, the prostitute is not a human being, but a symbol of sexual transgression, with which one can adorn oneself, like an earring. So I decided to write a book, in order to bring some facts into the debate. For example, opponents of the anti-john law have always claimed that the law was just the doing of social workers and radical feminists, and that no one had ever listened to the prostitutes. But when I looked at the studies, I realized that this was not true. In the 1970s, there had been a complete change of perspective among researchers. Whereas before, people used to look on prostitutes as criminals and not a part of society, later they began to go into their milieu, and ask questions of them. Ever since then, studies about prostitution have drawn their conclusions from the world of prostitution: from prostitutes themselves, but also from pimps and johns. Their testimony forms the basis of our law.

EMMA: What is your response to the so-called “progressives” who say that a woman should have the “right” to prostitute herself, and a man the “right” to buy a woman?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: That’s a stupid argument by any analysis. If we based our society on the maxim that everyone can do what they want, and no one has the right to stop them, we’d be living in a completely different society than the one we have right now. So let’s analyze what prostitution is. Leaving aside, for the moment, the human traffickers, pimps, and the high rape and murder rates, and just looking at the two people who meet in prostitution, you see that one of them wants sex, and the other does not. Without this basic requirement there is no prostitution, because when two people both want to have sex with each other, there is no reason that one of them should pay for it. Even in the priciest escort service in a five-star hotel, she doesn’t want sex, but money. So there is always the inequality of desire. Prostitution speaks to the right-wing concept of a hierarchic class-based society, in which some make the decisions, and others carry them out.

EMMA: In your book, you decry the fact that left and right have become allies on the subject of prostitution.

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: Yes. Because on the one side, we have the neoliberal right-wingers, who believe in the free market and want to deregulate everything. And on the other, we have the post-modern leftists, who just say yes to everything that sounds to them like freedom. Now we have prostitution with a totally deregulated market, low wages and high rent, which dictates the vocabulary of the left: “Oppressed women are empowering themselves to define their own lives and refuse to be victims.”

EMMA: You write that the “victim” has been simply erased from this debate.

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: The word “victim” is now practically taboo. It’s painful to be a victim, it’s the worst thing that can happen to a person. That’s why everybody always hastens to say: “I’m not a victim! I refuse to be a victim! I don’t want to be called a victim!” So naturally, in the prostitution debate, there can be no victims. Instead, one is a “subject”. That means: If you’re a victim, you have to be ashamed about it. Because it’s ultimately your own decision to be a victim. That, again, is part of the neoliberal agenda: Everything is the free decision of the “subject”. The opposite of “victim” is not “subject”, it’s “perpetrator”. But when there are no victims, there are also no perpetrators. With that, not only does the victim disappear, but also the responsibility of the sex-buyer. The sociologist, Heather Montgomery, wrote about children in Thailand who were sold into prostitution from their own villages. Montgomery writes that these children had developed great survival strategies, so you could not call them “victims” in any way. It just doesn’t get any more cynical than that.

EMMA: In may European countries, there’s a serious debate going on about prostitution as a human rights abuse, and as an expression of power relationships between the genders. In Germany, on the other hand, EMMA is unfortunately the only openly feminist voice against prostitution. Have you an explanation for that?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: When I talked with German women on the subject, I was very surprised at how vehement and emotional they were in defending prostitution. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that in Germany, the emphasis on the role of the mother is more conservative than in other European lands. Prostitution doesn’t work, after all, without its counterpart: the long-suffering wife, who keeps a pretty house and stays home to look after the children. I don’t believe what the queer movement contends; prostitution doesn’t create more freedom, but more conservative family relations. Because the more prostitution there is, and the more out in the open it is, the more the men have to keep their women away from that world. In Cuba, where I spoke at a conference awhile back, there is, for example, the following development: Cuban men don’t buy women, but foreign men come in as sex tourists. The upshot is that Cuban women can’t meet with foreign men, because then they’ll automatically be seen as prostitutes. That is, the more prostitution there is, the less freely women can move, because then they’ll get closer to prostitution more quickly. More prostitution on the one hand means more puritanism on the other.

EMMA: Where there are “whores”, there have to be “holy Madonnas” as well?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: Yes, and it’s interesting to look at it from a historical viewpoint. A hundred years ago, people argued very differently in order to defend prostitution. Back then, they said: Prostitution is necessary in order to keep families intact. If a man can’t go to prostitutes, they said, then he wouldn’t be able to stick it out in his marriage. He would become wild and unpredictable, and civilization would break down. But if he could go to a brothel, he would come home calm and level-headed. So prostitution used to be sold to us as a marriage-saving device, but today, the queer movement is pushing prostitution as a means to break up the crusty old family model. To legitimize prostitution, therefore, whichever argument best fits the spirit of the times is the one that gets used.

EMMA: In Germany, they’re now planning to reform the very liberal prostitution laws. There are supposed to be better controls — for instance, prostitutes will be required to register, and the police will have right of entry into bordellos. These bordellos will then get some sort of certificate. What do you think of that?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: They’re making the same mistake as from a hundred years ago! Back then, they also brought in so-called regulations — that is, prostitution in state-controlled brothels. The basis: We need prostitution, but we’ll let it happen in a controlled environment. So we’ll keep it clean and orderly, separate the good prostitutes from the bad. To what did that lead back then? To a huge slave market. Women and girls from poor rural areas and from Eastern Europe came into the big cities to work, would be snapped up at the railway stations, and brought to the bordellos. Because there just plain weren’t enough women to cover the enormous demand. It’s just the same as today; you can never separate human trafficking from prostitution, because there are never enough women going into prostitution voluntarily. So you have to get them from somewhere and force them into it. The only effective way to combat human trafficking is to lower the demand for prostitution! We should actually have learned that from history.

EMMA: Has Sweden succeeded in that with the ban on sex-buying?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: The number of men buying sex has gone down. Before the ban it was one man in eight, now it’s one in twelve. Since sex-buying is illegal, it’s definitely had a great effect on the “normal family father”, who might not care what feminists think of prostitution, but who doesn’t want to be a criminal.

EMMA: Has the law and the debate about it also led to men understanding why they shouldn’t buy women?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: I think so. When there are always articles in the papers, reporting on how the mafia funnels girls into Sweden, then a lot of men say to themselves: If that’s prostitution, I want nothing to do with it. I believe that for a lot of Swedish men, prostitution is no longer an issue. In Germany, it’s different. I’ve been in districts where one sex club stands right next door to another, and the neon signs are flashing. If you, as a man, go roaming around there, and you’re a bit drunk, then it’s very possible that you will walk into one of these shops. Men are also victims of this capitalistic strategy, if you will. After all, the prostitution industry lures the men in with all means available.

EMMA: What were the reactions in Sweden to your vehement case against prostitution?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: Very positive. And the “liberals” have gotten a bit quieter. That’s because they aren’t arguing with facts. Their strategy is to tie prostitution in with all the positive things in modern life: Sex, work, freedom of choice, independence, strength. At the same time, they project all the negative, “unmodern” attributes onto prostitution’s opponents: radical feminism, sex-negativity, Christianity, prudery, and so on. They present these things as facts, but they’re not. They say, for example, that prostitutes are more subject to violence since the law was brought in. This claim is all over the Internet, but no one has ever furnished proof for it. Also: Who abuses the women? The johns! So that’s just one more reason to punish the johns, and discourage them from buying women.

EMMA: Are there any political parties who want to abolish that or weaken it?

Kajsa Ekis Ekman: No, on the contrary. It’s been reinforced just recently. Anyone who buys sex from minors or trafficking victims will now not only face fines, but jail time. So the law has broad support in the Parliament. Norway and Iceland have adopted it as well, France and Finland are now discussing it too, and Holland has always realized that total liberalization hasn’t functioned. And what I’m particularly proud about: The police have had a change of heart. At first they used to say, “Oh come on, that’s not a crime, haha!” And treated the johns like parking tickets. Meanwhile, many lessons have been learned. I’ve been there with some of them, and can say that the police are very sour on judges who let johns off. They complain: “We see this man here every week, and he only gets a slap on the wrist!” Some of them now sound downright feministic. Because they have to see the misery every day, out on the streets.

Well. That’s a fair chunk, is it not? Now, here’s what I got out of all of it, and here are my thoughts on the matter.

In Canada, or rather here in Ontario, there was recently a court ruling which had the effect of liberalizing prostitution further. Prostitution wasn’t illegal, but soliciting, pimping, and keeping a common bawdy house were. Soliciting and pimping still are, but brothel-keeping no longer is. The idea was to improve the freedom and safety of the sex workers. Whether this will prove to be the case remains unknown.

I do know from what I’ve seen, though, that the anti-soliciting part has always been a bad joke; the parade of streetwalkers through downtown Toronto, starting at sunset, made that all too clear to me. The girls in the too-short skirts and too-high heels were not on their way to a club; anyone with an eye could see that they were not walking purposefully, but merely strolling, putting the “merchandise” on display for potential buyers.

And the guys who were driving too slowly even for residential neighborhoods (which is where all this was taking place; there is no red light district in Toronto), and often putting on the brakes…what were they doing if not soliciting? One particularly pesky would-be john even tried to pick me up as I was on my way out to meet some classmates for the night; my baggy jeans, puffy coat and flat Doc Marten boots didn’t deter him. I had to actually flip him the bird before he realized I wasn’t for sale. (In the eyes of these guys, any female walking alone after dark is potentially a whore.)

So there was definitely solicitation going on. And the fact that it’s still illegal hasn’t stopped it one bit.

If you want to take a real bite out of prostitution, you have to address the demand side seriously, the same as you do with any other economic problem. Punishing the hookers for soliciting accomplishes little besides driving them further underground. And to try to catch the johns for the same offence, without making sex-buying itself illegal, would demand an awful lot of police decoys, since johns who only get off with a slap on the wrist will be right back out there again once their fines are paid. It might be a handy source of revenue for the cop shop, but that’s about it.

Unless you actually make it illegal to buy sex, but not illegal to sell it, as in Sweden, all the same old prostitution-related problems will go on unchecked. The streets will be unsafe to walk, whether or not you are one of “those” girls. They will be crawling with horny guys who may or may not be trustworthy. Drug dealing will be rampant; after all, even those who are out there of their own free will may have demons to hold at bay, or simply need to numb their sensibilities a bit to deal with the sickos and the creeps. And there will be rapists and serial killers on the prowl, looking to take advantage of teenage runaways and others who are unlikely to be missed. Prostitutes are not to blame for perverts and serial killers, of course, but wherever they congregate, those guys are stalking.

The arguments against the Swedish anti-john law, over here, are that prostitution will be driven underground. Which is silly, because it already IS underground (but still not hard to find!), and it’s not illegal to BE a john, only to be too obvious about being one. And the punishment for being one is not a strict enough deterrent. Unless you live an a city where there’s a john school, or are named as a sex offender, there are no real social consequences for sex-buying.

The onus, as always, remains on the sellers. They are the ones whose good names get sullied. They are the ones who get rounded up and thrown in jail. The johns, who are after all “good family fathers”, get off lightly, and their names are protected.

Prostitution is being billed nowadays as “sexual liberation”. For whom? Think of the crudest and ugliest insults you know, and you will instantly come up against the dirtification of female sexuality. If you are a woman and you get trolled on the internet, you will either be accused of being in the sex trade (whore), or be told in effect that you belong there (slut), or be reduced to nothing more than the merchandise for sale (cunt). You will be invited to “suck my dick” or “bend over, bitch”. You will be threatened with a rapacious fucking. In short: You will be reduced to doing what whores do. And all this just for being female and daring to venture an opinion in public! This is “liberation”?

The whole idea of prostitution as “free sexual expression” falls flat when you realize that once money is taken out of the expression, as Kajsa Ekis Ekman says, there is only one person who wants the actual sex, and it isn’t the woman. The one doing the sexual expressing is the man, and he has to pay for it. This is “free”?

And yes, there is a gross gender inequality inherent even under the best circumstances in prostitution. Even when it’s a rentboy situation, who’s the buyer? Most of the time it’s men. That’s where all the demand is. Women rarely pay gigolos; even those who have the money (and they are precious and few) are typically ashamed even to contemplate it. Female sexuality is shamed, degraded, repressed. Fuck the MRAs and their silly prattle about how male sexuality is taboo, but women can just walk into any old bar and get laid. Sure we can…if we’re selling.

But in reality, if we try to do it the way the guys do, we strike out way more often than not. If we’re not model-gorgeous — and most of us aren’t — we stand to be rejected, and badly. Guys fear and are threatened by female sexual demands; it’s a rare man who isn’t. After all, we take longer to get warmed up; we’re not automatically guaranteed an orgasm; we have to work hard for it and maybe never have one at all. And at the end of it all, after two minutes of humping, he gets off, rolls over, and starts to snore, and we’re left lying there frustrated. You can’t get a lot of sexual satisfaction if you’re an average female chump. And if you are reduced to buying it, you run the risk of being labelled oversexed and pathetic. You’re not a “real” woman, who performs sex on her man’s demand, but doesn’t desire it for herself.

But guys? Hey, no shame there. It’s practically a rite of passage, a feather in the fedora for the machos. It’s expected that men want sex more than women, and the same old double standards that Ekman describes, from a hundred years ago, still apply. She’s right; the Oldest Profession is very much a conservative thing. It relies on conservative notions of madonnas and whores; of “real” men wanting sex and “real” women not; of “good” and “bad” girls; and of the idea that a man is within his rights to buy what he’s not getting at home (except, of course, for the purposes of procreation). And also conservative notions of women and their dangerous sexuality needing to be corralled and cloistered, with “bad” prostitutes ghettoized in red-light districts, and “good” housewives sequestered in the suburbs. (Heaven forfend that the two groups of women should ever get together and compare notes!)

So it’s no wonder if women, who only make 70 cents to a man’s dollar still, are pretty much screwed. (So to speak.) Nor is it any wonder that some go out, “voluntarily” of course, and sell sex for a living. They’re not doing it to finally get themselves a good lay. (Most johns are lacking in that department. Anyway, it’s HER job to be good in bed, not his.) They’re doing it because it’s the most lucrative job you can have without specialized training or education, with flexible hours and no dress code. And if you’re young and pretty, you’re in just like that. You can even advertise yourself as a “model” — nudge nudge, wink wink. And hey! You can even play it as some kind of hipster thing, you little badass, you — although I suspect that this fashion puff piece is just tackily tongue in cheek.

But are you truly sexually free or economically independent through prostitution? Ay, there’s the rub. You’re still dependent on the sexual desires of the client and of his willingness to pay the asking price. He who pays the piper is he who calls the tune.

And that’s why demand-side economics applies to the sex trade. It works the same in all markets. Demand for drugs drives the drug trade. Take the demand away, and the trade collapses; suddenly, drug trafficking isn’t worth it anymore. Human trafficking works the same way. Make it uncool to buy, and suddenly it’s no longer so lucrative to sell girls. The bottom falls out of the market whenever demand does. They know that already in sex-positive, feministic Sweden. How much longer before all the well-meaning “sexual liberation” leftists and “third wave” feminists here get the message? And what will we do when it finally sinks home?

Festive Left Friday Blogging: Evo dines with the Queen

Look who had a royal visitor:

No, this wasn’t just some standard photo-op grip-and-grin with a beautiful Bolivian aguayo cloth. There was a greater significance to this royal visit than just pleasantries and gift exchanges. But let’s hear it from the president’s mouth:

At a youth forum yesterday in Cochabamba, 400 km southeast of the capital city of La Paz, the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, revealed that Queen Sofia of Spain told him, “Now you will be the rich and we will be the poor.”

Queen Sofia visited Bolivia from October 15 to October 20. On Tuesday the 16th, president Evo Morales gave a dinner in her honor in the great hall of the government palace.

“When the queen arrived at dinner, she was seated beside me, and she told me: ‘Evo,’ she said, ‘now you will be the rich, and we will be the poor.’ The queen told me that! I’m not making this up, the vice-president [Alvaro García Linera] heard it too.”

Morales mentioned the instance in context of the economic successes of his government since the nationalization of Bolivia’s natural resources in 2006.

“The queen was always asking me, ‘What have you done to elevate Bolivia?’

“Since the great global powers are no longer robbing Latin America like they used to, now they can no longer be so powerful. The theft of our natural resources has ended and in a short time, we have raised ourselves up,” said Morales.

Drawing a comparison with the social development of his own country, Morales continued: “What are they calling for in Spain? An assembly to rewrite the constitution. And here, we had a constituent assembly, as well as in Venezuela, and in Ecuador they also achieved a new beginning by way of their constituent assembly.

“How many years has it been since the Moncloa Pact [of 1977] did away with military dictatorships? But they think they’ve resolved their internal problems, and they haven’t resolved them. Europe’s problems are worsening,” added Morales.

Translation mine. Linkage added.

And as usual, Evo hits it right on the nose. In fact, earlier this year, there were calls in Spain for a “second Moncloa Pact”. Spain is one of the countries hardest hit by the European monetary crisis, and the antideficit measures they’ve had to bow to will only make matters worse. Half of all young Spaniards are now out of work, and the protests are going on nonstop, with sporadic riots every time the police attempt to crack down on the dissenters. Many have fled Spain for wherever they can find work; ironically (considering the role of Angela Merkel and the German bankers in precipitating the whole crisis), many are doing so in Germany. Things are going to get worse all over Europe before they get better.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is on the up and up. It used to be Latin America’s poorest country; not anymore! Two weeks ago, in this same slot, I showed you Evo’s enviable numbers. I’m betting the Spanish prime minister would kill for anything even half so good (he’s no more popular than Franco ultimately was, at this point, and for good reason; he’s from the same fascist party). And if Queen Sofia came away with anything from this visit, besides that gorgeous length of aguayo, I hope she takes Rajoy aside for a stern talking-to and holds up Evo’s Bolivia as the good example Europe really needs.

Economics for Dummies: Another horrible trapped-miner story

Yes, this is satire. But it has a very large, uncracked grain of truth in it. Can you spot it?

PS: On a more serious note, read this. And remember, that original “trapped miners” story did not have a happy ending, because it ain’t over yet.

Atlas Sucked: A review of a review

Yesterday, this movie review crossed my sights. At least, that’s what I think it’s trying to be, although it comes across as…well, see for yourself:

Who is John Galt? He’s the Han Solo of the most important movie flop of the year.

The first Tea Party movie, the long-gestating adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” hits theaters on Friday (not coincidentally, Tax Day).

Did you catch it? Or rather, did the “reviewer” hit you hard enough over the head with it? No? Read on, then:

The movie is a dystopian public affairs parable — poli-sci-fi — about a collapsing society beset by massive economic strife (the Dow has sunk below 4,000 and gas is $37 a gallon). Airline crashes and oil prices have made railroads economically central again. Nationwide, infrastructure is crumbling; formerly highly paid executives roam the streets begging for work.

A dynamic female railroad executive, Dagny Taggart, takes a chance on a new high-tech steel alloy, made by an arrogant industrialist named Rearden, that could save her business. But her brother, who runs the Taggarts’ firm, is more interested in cultivating ties with a government that keeps passing policies meant to equalize wealth, which is quickly vanishing, and even goes so far as to ban anyone from owning more than one company.

Meanwhile Dagny and other corporate leaders are losing some of their most talented people, each of whom disappears after asking the Delphic question, “Who is John Galt?”

Oh, oh, Delphic, is it? That’s an awfully grand word coming from a dude whose photo (along with that ludicrous “Han Solo” reference) makes me wonder if his voice has even changed yet:

That Freudian slip in the subhead is good for a laugh and a half, too. Yes, “tarting” is exactly the right word for this, albeit inadvertently:

The film is a low-budget affair with almost no marketing muscle. Its success will depend entirely on word of mouth. Its producer’s hopes that it will turn out to be an unexpected hit — “My Big Fat Objectivist Rant” — are unfounded. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” depended on broad jokes about nutty dads and wacky immigrants. “Atlas Shrugged” is over the heads of most of the audience, being thick with convoluted industrial scheming and enough talk about entrepreneurship, unions and monopolies to fill a copy of The Wall Street Journal.

Yet the movie’s chief flaws — on-the-nose-dialogue, a cheesy score, no-name actors — are fixable, and it is alive with the potency of Rand’s convictions. “Atlas Shrugged” is a rough draft of a movie, but one that’s good enough to renew interest in the story’s cinematic possibilities. Both Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron have been wooed to star as Rand’s indomitable heroine of the rails and each would be wise to lend her prestige to such a bold project, one that offers juicier dramatic possibilities than “Aeon Flux” or “The Tourist.”

Actually, I’d say both actresses dodged a bullet with this one. At least they’ll both recover from the flops of the respective crappy films mentioned here. Recovering from such a monumental flop as “My Big Fat Objectivist Rant”, however, would prove impossible. Even their looks wouldn’t be enough to save them from that kiss of death. And this wouldn’t help them either:

“Atlas Shrugged” is like the Bible (the only title that outscored it in an unscientific 1991 survey that asked readers which books had most influenced them). Neither is to be taken literally. Each makes a lot of valid points.

Try not to snicker too loudly at this, people. “A lot of valid points”–such as the stoning of disobedient children, as prescribed in Deuteronomy? Such as arrogantly marching off and leaving society to wither, as prescribed by Alissa Rosenbaum, alias Ayn Rand–who, incidentally, made that biblical comparison first, in response to an editor who rightly told her to trim her inane ranting? But yeah, I suppose she had a point; just not the one she thought she had. Both the Bible and Atlas Shrugged are just over-long and extremely overrated works of fiction. (And of the two, I much prefer the Bible–at least it occasionally breaks out into poetry and has a few humane heroes. Both of those virtues are conspicuously lacking in Rand.)

But hey, at least our widdle criticus admits that his referenced “survey” (which he doesn’t link or even footnote) is unscientific. That’s a tacit way of admitting it’s absolute bullpucky.

The idea that Atlas Shrugged is over anyone’s head is absolute bullpucky too. Considering that the book is most popular among bitter, alienated teenagers (whose interest in it drops off precipitously after age 20, along with their angst and acne), I’d say it’s not over most moviegoers’ heads at all, but well beneath them. As is this bit of sob-sistering on the part of our “critic”:

The film is an indie labor of love, not multiplex fodder. It was shot on a ludicrously meager budget of about $10 million, big talent agencies refused to send it any clients (though it still managed to score a few familiar faces, including “Barton Fink” Oscar nominee Michael Lerner) and it was rushed into production because otherwise the producer’s option would have expired two days later. The producer is a first-time amateur and neither the screenwriter (Brian Patrick O’Toole) nor director (Paul Johansson) has any credits to brag about.

Oh, the poor, dear, brave things! Just look at what a vast amount of machinery they were up against in Big Liberal Hollywood! They couldn’t get much financing–only a measly $10 million! They couldn’t get any big stars–all the agencies were against them! They couldn’t get any big writers or directors! Oh, woe is them!

Okay, let’s get serious here. Does this little turd even realize that Ayn Rand got her start in so-called liberal Hollywood? It’s true–she was once a lowly, googly-eyed screenwriter, before becoming a (heavily promoted) bestselling novelist. And some of the biggest actresses of the day vied rather extravagantly for a role that ultimately went to Patricia Neal–that of Dominique in The Fountainhead. Which, of course, is based on the Rand-rant of the same title. So let’s not delude ourselves that Hollywood would never shit out a Randroid movie. It did, a long time ago–and the movie was a flop, probably for the same reasons as this one will be: it was long-winded, preachy, implausible and more than a little bit rapey. It tried hard to be grand, and came off only as melodramatic and inhumane. (And yes, I’ve seen it. An experience I will long remember, and longer regret.)

Yet whether the movie, which is set in 2016-17, has any resonance in 2011 depends on your answers to questions like these: Can you picture the government hiring a “Coordinator of Economic Planning”? Can you picture such a coordinator giving directives meant to correct the fact that “rich people are getting richer, poor people are getting poorer”? Do you see any instances of crony capitalism involving close ties between certain CEOs and certain political figures? Do you see any powerful unions out there? Do you worry that fuel prices could rise to unaffordable levels, and if so, do you think the government might have anything to do with that?

Now, this is the first thing I’ve seen (and it comes on the second page of the piece) that actually seems to make sense. Unfortunately, it’s followed by this:

Liberals will scoff, “Oh, that could never happen” of things that already are happening. Then they’ll scoff at the box-office receipts — as if the puny circulation of The New Republic or National Review meant either of these magazines should be dismissed.

“Things that are already happening”? Like what? The frankly ludicrous gas prices and the planes falling out of the sky? Shit, we’re nowhere near to that. Amurricans kvetch about gas prices all the time; I’ve been hearing them do that since I was a kid in the 1970s and the Saudis got a little uppity. But now the Saudis are tame, and even though the oil companies are raking in the profits hand-over-fist (with zero government price-fixing!) it has yet to get anywhere near the per-gallon price Rand “predicts”! Likewise, if airplanes are falling out of the sky, it’s because the greedheads running the airlines are cheaping out on maintenance and not replacing their fleets faster than metal fatigue would force them to. You can’t blame the government for that, although you certainly can blame it for refusing to regulate industries properly. (I do.) Rail travel is still as little used in the US as it was after Ronald Reagan gutted Amtrak for the sake of the Big Three, and no one–government or the banks–is offering any incentives to change that, nor are any railway execs smelling golden opportunities and pouncing on them. There is no office of central economic planning, unless maybe you count the Fed, and it’s not owned by the government, but by private banks!

I will concede that there are plenty of crony capitalists cozying up to politicians out there, though, and they all have in common an unaccountable predilection for Ayn Rand. (Poor taste? Indubitably.) But powerful unions? And a government setting gas prices? Pfffft. As if! There are no real-life Dagny Taggarts, dagnabbit.

As for the New Republic and the National Review, their puny circulations do indeed tell us something: that they, and the influence they have, are overrated, and that their right-wing, elitist readers and writers are all too often out of touch with the larger reality. Just like the guy who wrote this:

Most movies, even movies that earn many times what “Atlas Shrugged” will make at the box office, don’t matter. “Hop” and “Sucker Punch” are not going to create any activists, stir any conversation, make people want to read more about the subject. Despite playing on only a couple of hundred screens (and only covering the first third of the novel), “Atlas Shrugged” is going to have an impact. It’ll make kids want to read the book, it’ll get argued about on widely read blogs, it’ll make some viewers question their assumptions: Why is it, exactly, that we are supposed to hate successful businessmen?

I wasn’t aware that we were “supposed to hate successful businessmen” (or -women; don’t let’s forget Ms. Taggart, now!). In fact, I get quite the opposite impression from the overwhelming majority of Hollywood’s output. We are supposed to worship the suits–even when, like Gordon Gekko of Wall Street, they overreach and create only the financial equivalent of a black hole. We are supposed to believe, wholeheartedly, that Greed Is Good, that The Strongest Will Survive, that the devil should take the hindermost, and that the capitalist system is a magnificent machine that may sputter a bit when monkey-wrenched, but never really breaks down. Even when, out here in reality, it does, and does so all the time, and does so–worst of all–with government touchingly prepared to offer all kinds of concessions and bailouts to the real looters, and none to their victims.

I don’t doubt that Atlas Shrugged will generate a broader reaction, though–and, outside the usual crowd of pizza-faced punks, or right-wingers still stuck in that petulant adolescent phase, it will be one mainly of revulsion and groaning and derisive laughter. Surely not what Rand, or her filmic adapters, had in mind. And surely not what our not-so-critical critic has in mind, either:

And who is this mysterious John Galt, the shadowy figure not fully explained in the movie, who seems to be leading a pinstriped rebellion of the country’s business leaders?

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, whose plan to restore sanity to federal budgeting made headlines this week, has reportedly ordered his staffers to read “Atlas Shrugged.” That leaves him open to being associated with the more distasteful elements of Randism.

Bring it on.

Ryan need only state that (of course) he doesn’t agree with everything Rand stood for and never said otherwise. Even making Rand a respectable topic in the national conversation (Thursday afternoon, “Atlas Shrugged” the book stood at No. 79 on Amazon’s list of bestsellers) will challenge some minds.

This is Rand’s moment: Her demon vision, despite the odor of brimstone and the screech of axe-grinding that envelops it, seems less and less unimaginable. For all its stemwinders, its cardboard capitalists and villainous bureaucracy, “Atlas Shrugged” makes ringing statements: that wealth has to be created before it can be divided up, that government isn’t necessarily your friend, that the business of America is business.

There is so much here to chuckle at, I hardly know where to begin. Paul Ryan? Are you serious? Oh dear, I see you are. Poor baby. Don’t anyone tell this boy that Ryan’s “sane” budgetary move, like the movie, is a flop foretold. (In this case, it flopped even before the review came out. And in the New Republic, to boot. Ouch!)

And how about that Amazon sales rating? Yes, that tells us so much about the virtues of Rand–especially after that whine about the New Republic and the National Review and their teeny-weeny circulations. Thank heaven for wingnut welfare, or all these piss-ant pundits would be out of a job and would have to go looking for a real one–in a world where Randian principles have led to so much gutting that finding one is nearly impossible!

Clearly Kyle Smith is trying to have it both ways here. Just like any Randroid, he’s trying to have his cake, eat it, and force someone else to pay. That way, he can go on harboring smug, fallacious notions about the basic nature of wealth, while overlooking the fact that in the US, government is indeed the friend of the richest (and virtually nobody else). And that this notion that “the business of America is business”, while a ringing statement sure enough, is ringing more than a little off-key in this age, where those “too big to fail” are getting federal bailouts while the peons who used to work for them are left to starve and their houses are foreclosed, and the only ones still making money are those who already had plenty of it to begin with. If you’re not born with a silver spoon up your ass and a golden opportunity under your nose, like Rand’s fictional railroad heiress Dagny Taggart, well, off to the human scrap heap with you, you fucking moocher. Nobody owes you a living, even when they owe their own cushy living to your labor–or, as is more often the case, that of some poor bastard in the Third World.

But oh, what a testament to Ayn Rand’s power of persuasion it is that this big lie of hers simply refuses to die, and that her cult (financed by shadowy billionaires such as the Koch Brothers) keeps that eternal flame of capitalist conformity brightly lit. We obscure leftist bloggers will have to keep on bringing up the fact that she was a hypocrite who took social security payments and government-funded healthcare during the last decade of her life because her books, those perennial bestsellers, ironically weren’t selling well enough to save her from the spectre of good, old-fashioned, capitalist medical bankruptcy (brought on, of course, by her own foolishness–she had lung cancer from all that dogmatic capitalist smoking). Or that her greatest inspiration was a psycho-killer who went to his execution pissing himself for fear. Or that she was a speed freak whose Benzedrine habit, not her purported brilliance, was the real fuel of her windy rants. None of that matters. What matters is that her shitty books, and the shitty movies made from them, enjoy a reputation for being “influential” because shitty “critics” and shittier “thinkers” keep promoting them, pushing them…and whining that the world is against them when even a cursory glance at reality shows the exact opposite. Ayn Rand’s shit has succeeded only too well. How long before it is finally, definitively discredited, and sinks into the obscurity it deserves?

Canada disgraced in Latin America by yet another mining company

Late Night Sunrise from Michael Watts on Vimeo.

Its name is Pacific Rim, it is an environmental abuser, and it is menacing the people of El Salvador. What must Canada’s Salvadoran immigrants, many of whom are refugees here from their country’s dirty civil war, be thinking of this? Probably the same thing I’m thinking: that Pacific Rim is a dirty bully, a corruptor and a national disgrace, in at least two nations. I’m happy to see how the Salvadorans are fighting back and refusing to be intimidated. We could learn a lot from them up here in the Great Oblivious North.

Finally, signs of intelligent life at the Christian Science Monitor


Well, its Latin America desk, at any rate.

One in 10 South Americans – about 38 million people – escaped poverty during the past decade. That’s remarkable progress by any measure.

Contrast that with the United States, where poverty has been growing due to a decade-long stagnation of income for the middle class and the Great Recession. In 2009, the US had more poor people than in any of the 51 years since poverty levels have been estimated.

Of course, America’s poor are far better off than South America’s poor. And the US still has a much lower poverty rate (14.2 percent versus around 70 percent). South America remains infamous for huge income gaps between a tiny elite and masses of people making, often, just $1 or $2 a day.

Still, 10 years of growing prosperity has shrunk that gap. The credit goes to democratic leftist governments that have vastly boosted social spending to help the poor, maintains Mark Weisbrot, a left-of-center economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Half of that improvement comes from Brazil. Under outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the nation pushed up the minimum wage a real 65 percent in eight years, helping to raise the wages of tens of millions of workers, including many receiving more than minimum wage. A program offered small cash grants to poor families if they sent their children to school.

The results? Real income per person is up some 24 percent since 2000. Illiteracy is down. Poverty has been halved since 2002; extreme poverty is down by 70 percent, says Mr. Weisbrot, pulling more than 19 million people into the middle class.

And the economy hasn’t suffered. Unemployment under Mr. da Silva’s presidency dropped from more than 11 percent to 6.7 percent. Income inequality has fallen considerably.

Okay, couple of quibblettes here: Brazil gets the lion’s share of the positive mention. I’m guessing that’s due to its enormous population, of which so many are poor (or extremely poor) that it was too glaringly obvious to ignore just how bad they had it before Lula and his rather modest reforms came along. Plus, under the neo-con code of US journalism on Latin America, cuddly little Ewok-y Lula counts as “good left” because he’s not too radical or too critical of Washington, the World Bank, and the IMF. Not like, say, a certain big handsome Venezuelan whom Mark Weisbrot likes to mention quite a bit:

Other nations with “progressive” governments have made much social progress, notes Weisbrot. He lists Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Venezuela. Under President Hugo Chávez, attacked by the right in the US, oil-rich Venezuela has tripled social spending per person since 2003. Attendance at universities has doubled. Most of the poor now get health care under a government program.

Okay, here comes another quibblette: Why the unnecessary quotation marks around the word progressive? The governments of all those countries surely deserve better than that disparaging little trick of punctuation, since all have made impressive socio-economic recoveries under their progressive leaders. Much better, since they are all much improved.

Still, I shouldn’t complain too loudly; after all, the piece doesn’t then go on to undercut all that talk of progressives and their progresses with vague, unsubstantiated noises about “tyranny”, the way so many other English-language whore media pieces (including previous ones in the selfsame Monitor) have done. Instead, we get…more relatively decent reporting:

The continent weathered the financial crisis relatively well. Social spending rose. So there was no big rise in poverty, says Norbert Schady, an economic adviser to the Inter-American Development Bank, speaking from Quito, Ecuador.

Moreover, prospects for continued economic progress are strong. The Institute of International Finance (IIF), set up by the world’s biggest banks, forecasts 6 percent growth in gross domestic product in Latin America this year, which includes Mex­ico and Central America as well as South Am­er­ica. That growth should shrink poverty further.

By contrast, the IIF forecasts a 2.5 percent growth rate this year for the US. At that slow pace the US could see a further rise in poverty.

South America’s new economic vigor is also causing a geopolitical shift. The US has long considered Latin America part of its political and economic sphere of influence. Officials running South America’s left-of-center governments often charge the US with imperial ambitions.

But as US growth slows, South America’s businesses have reached out to other markets. While 15 percent of South America’s trade is still with the US, a greater share is tied to Europe. Also, trade within the continent is growing with a free-trade deal. So South American governments no longer feel so much under the thumb of the US.

All of this is unquestionably true, and it’s refreshing to see it in the Monitor for a change. Normally I’d have to go to a progressive alternative or independent media site, like the Socialist Worker, or end up translating something from a LatAm indymedia site here. I have to say it’s pleasantly surprising…

Oh wait, I just noticed something: The byline is David R. Francis. Perhaps the honest, even and objective tone of this piece owes to the fact that it wasn’t written by the famously blinkered Sara Miller Llana? I bet it does.

Congratulations, Mr. Francis, on your journalistic breakthrough. And oh yeah: Watch your back. They don’t like to see too many nice things being said about Chavecito, Evo, Cristina or El Ecuadorable in there.