Saturday, October 19, 2013

The U.S. Budget Deal : A New Stage In The Attack On The Working Class

End game for the Obama, Congress criminals; the total destruction of Social Security and Medicare under the guise of the bogus "budget crisis"


The shutdown of the US government, the threat of a debt default, and Wednesday’s agreement between the Democrats and Republicans has revealed certain fundamental features of the political system in the America.

Obama's ludicrous, kindergarten "sequester" exposed
What has been the end result? The “sequester” budget cuts—which include tens of billions of dollars in across the board spending reductions, including in education, home heating assistance, legal aid and other social programs—have been extended into the new year. The implementation of Obama’s Affordable Care Act will continue largely unaffected, setting the stage for the elimination of employer-provided healthcare for millions of workers.

From the standpoint of the political establishment, the main achievement of the budget deal is the creation of a framework within which the two parties can come to an agreement on sweeping cuts in social spending and reductions in corporate taxes. The agreement mandates the formation of a conference committee to forge a bipartisan budget agreement by mid-December that will reduce the deficit and the national debt, primarily through the slashing of entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

In his press conference Thursday morning, President Barack Obama made clear that the focus of the Democrats and Republicans will now turn to the these programs. “In the coming days and weeks,” he said, “we should sit down and pursue a balanced approach to a responsible budget, a budget that grows our economy faster and shrinks our long-term deficits further.”

Obama added, “The challenges we have right now are not short-term deficits; it’s the long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security.” As a result of the massive cuts already implemented, he said, short-term deficits have already fallen significantly.

Thus the government shutdown and threatened debt default has been used to establish the political conditions for the imposition of massively unpopular cuts to Social Security and Medicare, to make these cuts somehow appear “rational” and “moderate.”

Even though the resolution of the crisis was largely presented as a defeat for the Republicans, they achieved a significant portion of their agenda. As in each of the previous manufactured crises, the extreme right of the Republican Party sets the framework for the discussions, and the Democrats take the opportunity to agree to most or all of their demands, with which they broadly agree with in any case.

"Mainstream media" aids and abets Obama, Congress criminals
In the end, whatever the various political conflicts in Washington, the most decisive question in the series of events, beginning with the shutdown and ending with Wednesday’s agreement, was: What would the financial markets accept? When the debt limit began to be reached, and markets began to worry about the global consequences, Congress snapped into line and ensured that an agreement was quickly pushed through.

The initial issue that led to the shutdown—opposition within the “Tea Party” wing of the Republican Party—to the Obama administration’s health care plan faded into the background and has been dropped. While sections of the Republican Party oppose the plan, it was ultimately supported by the US corporate establishment, which quite correctly sees it as a mechanism for slashing workers’ healthcare benefits and a prelude to the type of privatization schemes planned for Medicare.

Seniors already eating dog and cat food just to to survive
What is most significant is that, throughout the entire debate over the budget, the sentiments of the great majority of the population were totally excluded. As the political establishment conspires to slash the two most important social programs in the United States, which keep millions of people out of poverty, there is not a voice of opposition from within the two big business parties or the mass media.

This is one particularly striking expression of the almost surreal political vacuum that exists in the United States. Under conditions of historic inequality, record corporate profits, collapsing wages and a universal attack on every social right of the working class, there is no organized resistance. The trade unions and the various organizations that orbit around the Democratic Party not only do nothing to oppose what is taking place, they participate in the process.

Yet the latest budget crisis has only intensified the growth of popular disgust and alienation from the political establishment. The central question that emerges is the necessity for the independent mobilization of the working class. The political gulf between official politics and the real interests of masses of people is an expression of the social gulf between the corporate and financial elite and the working class. But this social division must find political form.

The alternative to the politics of austerity is socialism. Five years after the 2008 Wall Street collapse, it is evident that the crisis of capitalism is systemic, and that it has inaugurated a period of social reaction, as the ruling class seeks to preserve its system by tearing up everything and turning the clock back generations. This system must be replaced by a society that serves social need, not the profit and the enrichment of the financial aristocracy.

Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The 5th Estate.

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.


Torture, American Style

Lest we forget

By Don Luce

My best friend was tortured to death in 1970.

Tiger cage, Con Son Island
Nguyen Ngoc Phuong was a gentle person. But he hated the war and the destruction of his country. He was arrested by the U.S.- sponsored Saigon police in one of his many anti-government demonstrations. 

After three days of continuous interrogation and torture, he died. "He was tortured by the (Saigon) police but Americans stood by and offered suggestions," said one of the men who was in prison with him.

Perhaps this is the biggest single difference between Viet Nam and Abu Ghraib. In Viet Nam, the U.S. primarily taught and paid the Saigon police and military to do their bidding. 

Abu Ghraib
In Abu Ghraib and Iraq, the U.S. military is carrying out the torture themselves. There were, however, many Vietnamese who were tortured by Americans before being turned over to their Saigon allies and put into jail. 

Reports of suspected Viet Cong being thrown out of helicopters, peasant farm people tied to stakes in the hot sun, and young men led off to execution by U.S. soldiers are well-documented by U.S. soldiers and journalists.

The U.S. paid the salaries of the torturers, taught them new methods, and turned suspects over to the police. 

The U.S. authorities were all aware of the torture.

The Tiger Cages

Con Son Island Guillotine
In 1970, President Nixon sent a delegation of ten Congressmen to Viet Nam to investigate pacification. A part of their mandate included a visit to a prison in South Viet Nam as a way to be allowed to visit a prison where U.S. POWs were held in the North.

Tom Harkin, then an aide to the congressional group, convinced two of the Congressmen to investigate stories of torture in the Tiger Cages off the coast of Viet Nam (the French built them in 1939 to hold political opponents; similar ones in French Guinea became famous in the movie Papillion, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman). The congressman requisitioned a plane for the 200-mile trip to Con Son Island. I was asked to go as an interpreter and specialist in Vietnamese prisons. At that time I was working for the World Council of Churches.

Abu Ghraib
On the way out Frank Walton, the U.S. prison advisor, described Con Son as being like "a Boy Scout Recreational Camp." It was, he said, "the largest prison in the Free World."

We saw a very different scene when we got to the prison. Using maps drawn by a former Tiger Cage prisoner, we diverted from the planned tour and hurried down an alleyway between two prison buildings. We found the tiny door that led to the cages between the prison walls. A guard inside heard the commotion outside and opened the door. We walked in.

Tiger Cage in Phu Quoc Island
The faces of the prisoners in the cages below are still etched indelibly in my mind: the man with three fingers cut off; the man (soon to die) from Quang Tri province whose skull was split open; and the Buddhist monk form Hue who spoke intensely about the repression of the Buddhists. I remember clearly the terrible stench from diarrhea and the open sores where shackles cut into the prisoners' ankles. "Donnez-moi de l'eau" (Give me water), they begged. They sent us scurrying between cells to check on other prisoners' health and continued to ask for water.

Abu Ghraib
The photos that Harkin, today a U.S. Senator from Iowa, took were printed in Life Magazine (July 17, 1970). The international protest which resulted brought about the transfer of the 180 men and 300 women from the Cages. Some were sent to other prisons. Some were sent to mental institutions.

Grace Paley described the prison life of one of the 300 women who were incarcerated in the Tiger Cages in her 1998 book, Just As I Thought:

In prison, Thieu Thi Tao was beaten on the head with truncheons. Her head was locked between two steel bars. Water was forced down her throat. She was suspended above the ground. Then, on November 20, 1968, she was transferred to national police headquarters. The Vietnamese Catholic priest, Father Chan Tin, in a plea for international concern about her case, wrote that she was "further beaten and subjected to electric shock." "She's become insane," Father Tin wrote, "unable to sleep for fifteen days, believing herself to be a pampered dog that could only eat bread and milk. Not being given these, she refused to eat and became so weak she couldn't talk. When the wind blew she wanted to fly.

Catso Tager Cage n Phu Quoc Prison
Late in 1969 Tao was transferred to the Tiger Cages of Con Son. She was there for a year and transferred to the Bien Hoa Insane Asylum. For several days, she was hung from an iron hook. Her spine was damaged by this torture and she still wears a neck brace.

"You saved our lives," Tao later wrote. "I still remember the strange foreign voices when you came. In the cages, we wondered what new indignities were to be visited upon us. But a foreigner [myself] who spoke Vietnamese with a heavy accent told us it was a U.S. congressional investigation. We had prayed for such an inquiry and took the chance to speak of the tortures. We begged for water and food. We were dying you know."

Abu Ghraib
Tao was a 16-year high school student then. She was put in cages because she would not salute the flag. She was obstinate, the prison director said at the time. The oldest prisoner in the Cages was Ba Sau. She was blinded by the caustic lime that was thrown onto prisoners as a disciplinary measure. "I was a Communist," she says. "But the others were only student protestors, Buddhists and writers."

Today, behind the five foot by nine-foot cages is a cemetery for the 20,000 people who died in Con Son prison. Most graves are unmarked. The prisoners at Con Son didn't even have numbers. When the survivors return, they bring flowers, pray and softly sing the songs that were whispered in the cages some 35 years ago. 

Phu Quoc Prison
Soon after the expose in Life, Congressman Philip Crane (R, Illinois) visited Con Son and declared "the Tiger Cages are cleaner than the average Vietnamese home." He could not understand afterward why even the most pro-American of Vietnamese newspapers condemned him strongly and even hinted that his remarks were racist.

Similar to contemporary events in Iraq and the so-called War on Terror, in 1971 the Department of Navy gave a contract to the company Raymond, Morrison, Knutson-Brown Root and Jones to build new cages even smaller than the original ones. 

Abu Ghrahib
The money for the new cages came from the U.S. Food for Peace program. Ironically, part of the construction consortium, Brown and Root, is today the Halliburton subsidiary that built the "isolation cells" in Guantánamo, Cuba for imprisonment of Afghan and Iraqi suspects. (For a copy of the contract, see Hostages of War by Holmes Brown and Don Luce.)

U.S. Policy in Viet Nam and Iraq

Torture was certainly an integral part of U.S. policy in the Viet Nam war. We paid for it through our "Public Safety" program. Our advisors taught "better methods" and were often present helping with "suggestions" during the torture. But as a general policy, our soldiers turned their prisoners over to the Vietnamese police for torture. Just as with U.S. policy-makers on Iraq, the U.S. developed rationale to claim that the prisoners we took were not covered by the Geneva Convention (the U.S. authorities claimed they were all "criminal prisoners").

Where Are They Now?

For 35 years I have followed the lives of the Tiger Cage inmates who are still alive. Many are doing very well. Loi runs an embroidery business. Tao is an agricultural engineer and runs a large shrimp farm. Lap is a high official in the Tourist Bureau. Tan runs an interior design business and Thieu is a prominent lawyer. They are all reminders that the people imprisoned for political reasons during a war are most often the leaders of a country after the war. The people who were in the Tiger Cages also have a have a special attachment to the Americans who worked so hard for their freedom.

Final Note:

"I read the books about the survivors of Auschwitz and Dachau," one of the former Tiger Cage inmates told me. "They are like us. Each has a special memory of someone who was there for them at a crucial moment. Someone who gave them a crust of bread or a few drops of water. Moments of kindness are seared in our minds. There is no way we can forget Mr. Harkin and his group."

Don Luce worked in Vietnam with International Voluntary Services and the World Council of Churches from 1958 to 1971. In 1970 he disclosed the Tiger Cages on Con Son Island to a congressional group. He presently works in Niagara Falls with the mentally ill, a soup kitchen, and a home for persons living with Aids. He can be contacted at 716-285-3403 x 2226.

Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The 5th Estate.

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.




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