Democrats, NRA Agree: Turn Schools Into Prisons

Chase Madar

Outrage over the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may or may not  spur any meaningful gun control laws, but you can bet your Crayolas  that it will lead to more seven-year-olds getting handcuffed and hauled  away to local police precincts.

You read that right.  Americans may disagree deeply about how easy it  should be for a mentally ill convicted felon to purchase an AR-15, but  when it comes to putting more law enforcement officers inside our  schools, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and liberal Democrats like  Senator Barbara Boxer are as one.  And when police (or “school resource  officers” as these sheriff’s deputies are often known) spend time in a  school, they often deal with disorder like proper cops — by slapping  cuffs on the little perps and dragging them to the precinct.

Just ask the three nine-year-old girls and an eight-year-old boy who  got into a fight at their Baltimore elementary school — then got arrested by real police.  Or Salecia Johnson, age six, cuffed and arrested for throwing a tantrum at her elementary school in  Milledgeville, Georgia.  Or Wilson Reyes, a seven-year-old at a Bronx,  New York, elementary school who last December 4th was cuffed, hauled  away, and interrogated under suspicion of taking $5 from a classmate.  (Another kid later confessed.)

The last of these incidents made the cover of the New York Post,  but the New York City Police Department still doesn’t understand what  they did wrong — sure, the first-grader spent about 4 hours handcuffed  in a detention room, but that’s “standard for juvenile arrest.”

Which is precisely the problem: standard juvenile misbehavior (a five-year-old pitching a fit, a 12-year-old doodling on a desk) is increasingly being  treated like serious crime, resulting in handcuffs and arrest.  If you  can’t understand why such “consistency” is crazy, please desist from  reading the rest of this article.

It seems grotesque that the horrific slaughter of those 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, will result in more children getting traumatized, but that’s exactly where we’re headed — with firm bipartisan support.

In his amazing post-Newtown speech last December, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, called for armed guards in all schools — a demand widely hailed as jaw-droppingly nutty.  A few weeks later, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed $50 million in federal grants to install more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and National Guard troops in schools, but made her pitch in the caring cadences of a Marin County Democrat.  And when President Obama ordered more police in schools (point 18 in his 23-point Executive Order responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy), it was all over.

So here’s an American reality of 2013: we will soon have more police in our schools, and more seven-year-olds like Joseph Andersons of PS 153 in Maspeth, New York, getting arrested.  (He got handcuffed after a meltdown when his Easter egg dye-job didn’t come out right.)

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

In fairness to the feds, similar kinds of local responses were already underway before the LaPierre-Boxer Axis of Tiny Handcuffs even arose.  Across the country, from Florida and Connecticut to Tennessee, Indiana, and Arizona, despite tough budgetary times, municipal governments are now eagerly scrounging up the extra money for more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and armed guards in schools.  (The same thing happened after the Columbine shooting 14 years ago.)  No one keeps national statistics, but arrests of the 10-and-under set do seem to be on the rise since Sandy Hook. A typical recent case: in January, a seven-year-old at a Connecticut school was arrested by the police for “threatening” a teacher.  Jitters are understandable after the trauma of Sandy Hook — but arresting a seven-year-old?

Truth be told, we were already well on our way to turning schools into carceral fortresses before the Sandy Hook slaughter even happened.  In fact, the great national infrastructure project of the past 20 years may be the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  After all, we are the nation that arrested Isamar Gonzalez for being in her high school early to meet with a teacher, then arrested her principal, Mark Federman, when he tried to intervene.

The stats speak as loudly as the anecdotes: of the Chicago School District’s 4,600 arrests in 2011, 86% were for misdemeanors. That school system spends $51.4 million on security guards, but only $3.5 million for college and career coaches.  And for every incident that makes the news, there are scores that don’t.  Despite a growing body of damning research by civil libertarians of the left and the right, including Annette Fuentes’s excellent book Lockdown High, political opposition to the school-to-prison pipeline has proven feeble or nonexistent.  Brooklyn State Senator Eric Adams, who represents one of the most liberal districts in the country, has staked out the civil libertarian outer limit by helpfully suggesting that Velcro handcuffs might be more suitable than metal ones for arresting young children.

The metal detector at the schoolhouse door is threatening to become as iconic an American symbol as baseball or type 2 diabetes.  Not that metal detectors in place were capable of preventing the massacre at Red Lake High School in Minnesota in 2005: young Jeffrey Weise just barged right in and shot six people dead; nor could the metal detectors at George Washington High School in Manhattan or Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn prevent teens from getting stabbed. Yet metal detectors and school police proliferate across the country.

One state, however, truly leads the way. Self-satisfied Yankees have traditionally slandered the state of Mississippi as a jerkwater remnant of the past.  As for me, I say Mississippi represents the American future.  A new report by advocacy groups shows how the Hospitality State is leading the nation in cruel and draconian school over-policing.  Felony assault charges for throwing peanuts on the school bus!  Dress codes enforced by handcuffing a child to a railing for hours for the crime of not wearing a belt!  Cops escorting a five-year-old home for wearing the wrong color shoes! And constant arrests of kids for “disorderly conduct.”

Yes, the “Mississippi model” of non-union teachers plus “zero tolerance” discipline is the kind of schooling that some of the best and brightest among our education “reformers” have been touting — and what they are increasingly getting.  In fairness, Governor Rick Perry’s Texas is struggling with Mississippi for vanguard status, with cutting-edge surveillance of students and 300,000 misdemeanor arrests in 2010 for “crimes” like tossing a paper airplane.  And Massachusetts is a strong contender for third place.

Safe Schools Without Police or Metal Detectors

The over-policing of our schools is particularly grotesque because it’s so unnecessary.  All schools need order and all students need self-discipline (as do adults), but putting police and metal detectors in a school often just adds another layer of violent chaos to an already tough situation.  In my own policy research on school security overkill in New York City, I’ve found plenty of high schools, and not in the fancy parts of town, that do just fine without police or scanners.

In fact, they do better than fine: one report I coauthored with advocates from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform found that schools without police or metal detectors actually get significantly better educational results (higher graduation rates, lower truancy) than their heavily policed counterparts.

So why aren’t these low-impact schools being held up as models?  Why don’t City Hall and the New York City Department of Education seem to want to know about these more effective — not to mention cheaper — models? Alas, despite a steady 15-year nationwide drop in crime, politicos continue to score points with voters by showing that they aren’t afraid to crack down on children, especially the working-class Black and Latino youth who bear most of the brunt of these policies. The psycho-racial-political dynamics are pretty much the same throughout the country.

But there are proven, demonstrably better, ways to do school discipline.  Ask Judge Steve Teske whose visionary common sense has brought down referrals to juvenile court by 70% in Clayton County, Georgia, by forcing schools to handle minor disciplinary infractions without handcuffs or police arrests.  (In the same period in that county, serious weapons charges, like bringing guns and knives to school, have fallen by 80% — further evidence that restraining a police presence actually makes schools safer.)

For another example of the right way to respond to school violence, look no further than Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, site of the 1999 massacre of 12 students and a teacher by two heavily armed students. In response, the school made the choice not to add a phalanx of armed guards. (Columbine actually had an armed school resource officer on duty the day of the killings, and he was unable to slow, let alone stop, the carnage.)

In fact, Columbine today remains an open campus with no metal detector at the front door.  Instead, its administration has worked hard to improve communications with the student body, trying to build an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.  Columbine parents have supported this approach for a simple reason: they don’t want their children treated like criminals.  Because Littleton, Colorado, is a largely affluent community with political muscle, they’ve been able to resist the avalanche of punitive measures that have been generated by every school massacre since the one that took place at theirs.

Other schools — particularly urban ones with working-class African-American and Latino students — are not so lucky. When President Obama announced his pledge of more “resource officers” in schools, he was quick to qualify it with an “if they want them.” A laudable sentiment that doesn’t really reflect how things usually work on the ground.

One Brooklyn high school principal I interviewed told me of the constant pressure he experienced from higher up in the New York City Department of Education to put in a metal detector and more police personnel. Another school security success story I profiled back in 2008 has since had a metal detector rammed down its educational throat despite its immaculate disciplinary record.  Now, its students are made to feel like potential criminals from the moment they arrive every morning.  The logic is, in its way, all-American: crazy white kids go on shooting sprees, and then the screws tighten on Black and Latino kids.

Resisting the Axis of Tiny Handcuffs

Is there any hope of preventing the rush to put more first graders in handcuffs? Yes, but don’t expect any help from the NRA, which is actively promoting a heavily armed vision of heaven on Earth in which armed guards will be everywhere, with all public space turned into an airport security line.  As for Barbara Boxer, evidently she wasn’t as struck as I was by the t-shirts that Sacramento’s school security police made with the slogan “U Raise ‘Em, We Cage ‘Em” emblazoned on the image of a child behind bars. Or maybe she should talk to constituents like five-year-old arrestee Michael Davis or the seven-year-old in San Mateo whom a cop blasted in the face with pepper spray for climbing a bookshelf. It remains to be seen if the NRA and Boxer, united, can ever be defeated.

This response to the Newtown massacre is of a piece with a developing post-9/11 American national-security-lockdown mentality — the belief that an armed response will solve most of our problems, domestic and foreign.  It’s a habit of thought that leads not figuratively but quite literally to a police state.  The over-policing of schools is just a part of the increasing militarization of the police nationwide, which in turn fuels the smoldering paranoia that drives civilians to stock up on AR-15s and the like.

Ending this cycle of armed fear and violence will require getting police out of the schools along with the whole battery of security state accessories.  The only way to get there will be via the broadest possible civil libertarian coalition: Black community groups and Ron Paul types, immigrants’ rights activists and teachers and principals unions that see the big picture, liberals and conservatives united against the nanny/thug state.

There could be no finer spokesperson for such an ecumenical gathering than the newly crowned Miss America, Alabama-raised Brooklyn-residing Mallory Hytes Hagan.  After wowing the pageant judges with her terpsichorean prowess, she demonstrated the soundest policy judgment.  Asked if she thought it was a good idea to bring armed guards into schools, Ms. Hagan’s response was clear.  “No, I don’t think the proper way to fight violence is with violence.”  According to the New York Daily News, she said it “firmly.” Let people of goodwill rally behind this model citizen to end all the grotesque violence in our schools.

Chase Madar (@ChMadar) is a civil rights attorney in New York City who has written about the proven alternatives to school security overkill. His latest book is The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower (Verso).

Sonia Sotomayor Reveals Prejudiced U.S. Class System

sotomayor

David Goodfriend

If you are losing hope watching the current sequestration budget impasse, take heart in an unlikely place: Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World. As I read that book in the context of the latest manufactured D.C. crisis, I cannot help but see my own world differently.

We can talk about race and class in America all we want but Justice Sotomayor describes better than any sociologist or politician just what a different planet you live on if you have education, power, and wealth. And what it feels like if you don’t.

She puts us in the Harvard/Radcliffe admissions office circa 1970, where everything from the oriental rug to the white couch to the perfectly coiffed hair of the admissions officer conspire to say: you don’t belong here if you’re from the Bronx.

We feel the accusatory stares of students and teachers who cannot believe that a Puerto Rican woman would be at Princeton but for affirmative action.

We experience her self-discovery and actualization as she realizes, from her perch in an elite university, that the reason she and so many of her peers felt stupid in grade school was because they were only half lingual in two languages, Spanish and English, and how so many Puerto Rican schoolchildren just assume that this must mean they’re dumb.

When we talk about the importance of diversity in our power structures, we cannot just think of it as a morally preferable state of affairs but rather an expansion and improvement of our institutions to the benefit of all. Someone who has experienced what Justice Sotomayor describes is exactly the kind of person you WANT to be the judge when you yourself are the accused. Someone who can see how alienation between worlds, classes, and languages can result in a rush to judgment. This is as true in a contract dispute as it is in an illegal search and seizure case.

I can’t help but wonder… What does President Obama think when he reads this book? Or First Lady Michelle Obama, herself a Princeton grad like Justice Sotomayor? Recognition? Affirmation? Frustration? All of it?

And what about the other Supreme Court justices? In their conferences, how does Justice Sotomayor illuminate the issues with her powerful experiences, viewpoints, and communication skills? Will she be to this Court what Chief Justice Earl Warren was to his, persuading the other justices the way a committee chairman might go about winning a majority of members for the vote?

Finally, in a strange way, I even start to understand the House Republicans in the latest budget battle a little better as a result of this book. Just as Sonia Sotomayor saw the world of education, wealth, and privilege as an utterly foreign realm, so too does the white southern male view the Puerto Rican justice as an aberration. Same with the African-American president. Their world is turned upside down by these newcomers to the power structure, forcing a retreat to the familiar if nihilistic corner of Hell-no-ism.

Perhaps, too, there is commonality. The white southern male views with suspicion any power grab inflicted by the northern establishment. They see themselves as from a different world than that of Washington or New York, just as the Puerto Rican from the Bronx might view herself as entirely foreign to the financial centers of Manhattan or San Francisco. Perhaps there is mutual alienation and suspicion.

My allegiance invariably comes down on the side of he or she who felt the sting of exclusion the most, since this will be the person to empathize with me most when I’m flat on my back. In this case, I sleep better at night knowing that the judiciary is being led by nine robed scholars who include in their ranks Sonia Sotomayor. Hope lives on.

Venezuela Rejects U.S. Government Interference

Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela rejects in the strongest terms the declarations made by United States State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland on February 19, 2013, which constitute a new and rude interference by the government in Washington in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

The statements by this U.S. government spokesperson are in perfect keeping with the destabilizing and corrupt discourse of the Venezuelan right wing, which puts in evidence once again this bourgeoisie’s subordination to imperial interests. The speculations by said spokesperson regarding the situation of President Hugo Chávez and the institutions of Venezuela have generated deep indignation among the Venezuelan people, who today accompany the president with enthusiasm and a sense of affection.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela upholds the rule of law and justice, and is blessed with solid institutions that, by the sovereign will of the Venezuelan people, are enshrined in the constitution of 1999. In the framework of the democratic revolution constructed by popular power over the last 14 years, the only transition being proposed is the transition toward Bolivarian socialism under the leadership of the revolutionary government of Commander Hugo Chávez.

Caracas, February 20, 2013

Joseph Ratzinger’s Failed Papacy May Have Fatally Undermined the Vatican

ratzinger

Terry Sanderson

And so we are to see an end to the rule of Joseph Ratzinger at the Vatican. At such times it is usual to break out into a chorus of “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz, but we fear that Ratzinger’s successor will be as bad, if not worse, than the man himself.

Ratzinger has ruled for decades at the Vatican, even before he became Pope. He was chief inquisitor under the rule of John Paul II, and as the old Pope’s health failed, Ratzinger ramped up the reactionary agenda. (Not that John Paul II was any slouch at authoritarianism and bigotry).

Under Ratzinger the Vatican has become despised and resented throughout the world. He has played a major role in reducing the Catholic Church’s popularity and its authority.

Catholics have deserted the Church at an increasing rate, repelled by the inhumanity of Ratzinger’s unbending adherence to what are perceived as cruel doctrines.

When he came to Britain in 2010, we were told that the visit had been a huge triumph. In fact, it was an abject failure as the official statistics showed and the Catholic Church’s own research confirmed. The visit did succeed, though, in generating the largest protest march ever seen against a papal visit.

Of course, the endless child abuse scandals that have been exposed have been a major factor in Ratzinger’s failure as pope. As one revelation followed another, it was clear that for centuries the Church has been covering up the crimes of its clergy. It has put the safety of children well behind the interests of those of the Church.

Every single accusation of child abuse landed on Ratzinger’s desk when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In most cases they were kept secret. Only when the civil authorities became involved did the Vatican come clean about its activities – and even then it had to be forced.

For all its claims that it has now cleaned up its act, new cover-ups seem to be discovered almost every week. And we should not forget the horrible attempts to avoid paying compensation to people whose lives they have ruined and who the Church sometimes dismissed as liars and money-grubbers.

Under Ratzinger, too, the Catholic Church has become crazily politicised. He has instructed his bishops to go out into the world and aggressively push legislators to obey Vatican edicts.

In this, too, he has failed dismally.

When you recall the apocalyptic language that the Catholic Church has been using to oppose gay marriage, and its predictions of the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, (including several increasingly hyperbolic interventions by Ratzinger himself) you would have thought that Catholic politicians would have felt it beholden upon them to vote against.

But not so. An interesting by-product of the controversial Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was the number of supposedly Catholic MPs who voted in favour of it.

There are 82 known Catholic MPs. Of them, 57% voted for the Bill with 34% against and 9% registering no vote.

But this illustrates that Catholic politicians in this country do not, in general, take their whip from the Vatican. (Some do of course, and are quite open about it). Even so, politicians still labour under the impression that there is a “Catholic vote” that can be corralled. There is no such constituency.

But this is the latest of many recent indications that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has become increasingly isolated under Ratzinger’s arrogant rule. Its many political confrontations with governments around the world who are trying to modernise their societies usually result in defeat for the Church.

Let’s have a look at a few:

During the American presidential election, the Church decided that it was totally opposed to President Obama’s plan to introduce a health insurance mandate. The reason? It would include funding for contraception.

In an effort to placate the bishops, Obama has since offered two radical modifications that would relieve the Church of having to provide contraception to its employees. But, as is its way, the Church will accept nothing less than total surrender.

There is a strong suspicion that this confrontation was manufactured as a means of defeating Obama at the election. It was presented as “an attack on religious freedom”, but it was perceived as a peevish assault on the rights of women.

As we know, the Church’s attempt to derail Obama’s campaign failed. Indeed, it could be argued that the Church’s hysterical behaviour and childish demands for complete obedience went a long way to ensuring that Obama got his second term.

The Catholics in the pews suddenly started thinking for themselves and the bishops were unable to order them into voting the way the Church told them to. Instead of rushing to the polling booths to defeat Obama, Catholics voted for him in record numbers.

In Spain – once regarded as the most Catholic country in the world – the previous secularist Government legalised same-sex marriage. The Church set its face against such a reform and agitated violently against it. The reform passed. The new Government, which is supposedly sympathetic to the Vatican promised to repeal the law. It has failed to do so, thwarted by the constitutional court. Abortion reforms were enacted, Church privileges were reduced, and changes made to the stranglehold the Church had on education.

In Portugal, similarly, same-sex marriage is now legal. This despite the Catholic Church’s best efforts to defeat it.

In the Philippines, the Church declared that a Bill in parliament to make contraceptives legal and freely available must not pass. It passed.

In Ireland, once unquestioningly under the thumb of the Catholic Church, the child abuse revelations have been so extreme that it caused the Prime Minister to denounce the Church in parliament and has since closed the Irish Embassy at the Vatican. The Church is also trying to defeat a small change to the stringent abortion law that would allow women who have been raped to have an abortion. It is unlikely that the Church will prevail.

In South American countries, which the Pope could once guarantee to rule with a rod of iron there have also been rebellions. In Brazil gay marriage was approved (although the Church succeeded in defeating attempts to reform the harsh abortion laws). In Mexico City same-sex unions are now legal.

This political agitating, and these attempts to interfere in democratic parliaments is increasingly resented. Poll after poll shows that the Catholic population do not agree with or accept the Vatican’s doctrines on abortion, contraception, homosexuality or assisted suicide.

This is reflected in the dwindling number of Catholics who continue attend Mass – or have anything else to do with the Church.

Joseph Ratzinger will now disappear from the scene. Many will sigh with relief at his departure. But we shouldn’t celebrate too soon. He has put in place a college of Cardinals that are as reactionary as he is – or even more so.

Whoever they elect as the next Pope, there is unlikely to be much improvement.

Imperialism Mourns Pope of Counterrevolution

Editor’s Note: This 2005 article commenting on the death of Pope John Paul II is being featured in light of the current papal circus following the resignation of Pope Benedict, a topic I will soon write about.

Workers Vanguard

The enemies of human liberty and progress, the rich and powerful capitalist rulers of the earth, honored one of their own when they knelt before the body of the archreactionary, anti-Communist Pope John Paul II, the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland. President Bush ordered American flags flown at half-mast, while he and two former American presidents made the Vatican funeral rites. In contrast, when the last Pope died, Jimmy Carter sent his mother and his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who lurked around Rome long enough to see the CIA’s favored candidate, Wojtyla, elected in 1978.

Wojtyla was no “people’s Pope,” as the capitalist media dubbed him in its necrophilic celebration of feudal remnants (from the death of the Pope to Prince Charles’ royal nuptials). In its crusade against Communism, U.S. imperialism had no more reliable political ally than Pope John Paul II. Above all, he worked tirelessly to reverse the results following World War II of the Red Army’s great victories against the Nazis: the overturn of capitalist property relations in East Europe, especially in his native Poland.

Even in church terms, Wojtyla was a reactionary. He favored the ultrareactionary Opus Dei, a lay organization that achieved political prominence in Franco’s Spain, and led a modern church inquisition that ruthlessly smashed internal dissent. Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law, promoted to a cushy Vatican post by Wojtyla, gave a funeral oration, a calculated slap in the face to Catholics outraged by Law’s—and the Pope’s—arrogant stonewalling over the Boston priest sex abuse scandals. The Pope’s medieval denunciation of sex, including forbidding condoms, is quite literally a death sentence for millions in the global AIDS pandemic.

In Latin America, Wojtyla crushed the “liberation theology” priests who actually had some sympathy for the poor, while promoting to Cardinal the Vatican’s ambassadors to the bloody Argentine and Chilean military juntas. In Chile in 1988, he personally blessed the junta’s leader, General Pinochet. This Pope of reaction made a special point of beatifying Nazi-lovers. Those he put on the first step to sainthood included the infamous Pope Pius XII, whose beatification process is still under way. Pius XII collaborated with the Nazi regime in Germany and the fascists in Spain and East Europe; he also refused to condemn the Holocaust against the Jews. Wojtyla also beatified Cardinal Stepinac, mentor to the bestial Croatian fascist regime in World War II. And he beatified nearly 200 priests who collaborated with the fascistic forces of Franco and died at the hands of the Republicans during the 1930s Spanish Civil War.

Above all, hatred of communism drove Pope Wojtyla’s political agenda. Of course, the Vatican is the largest landlord on the face of the planet, thus always viscerally hostile to the proletarian expropriation of capitalist property in the means of production and land. As Karl Marx pointed out in The Civil War in France (1871), the heroic Paris Commune understood this:

“Having once got rid of the standing army and the police, the physical force elements of the old government, the Commune was anxious to break the spiritual force of repression, the ‘parson-power,’ by the disestablishment and disendowment of all churches as proprietary bodies.”

For American imperialism’s rulers, Wojtyla was a spearhead of their drive to overthrow the Soviet degenerated workers state, homeland of the October socialist revolution. According to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, Wojtyla made a secret deal with Reagan, agreeing not to oppose the U.S. installation of hundreds of cruise missiles targeting the USSR from all over West Europe in exchange for the U.S. cutting off its funding to women’s programs overseas that mentioned abortion.

In the Pope’s native Poland, the vehicle used by the CIA and Vatican to hammer away at Poland’s socialized property forms was Wall Street’s favorite “trade union,” Solidarnosc, which exploited the grievances of the Polish proletariat against the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy. Uniquely, we Spartacists warned that Solidarnosc was a stalking horse for counterrevolution. As the fate of the Polish working class hung in the balance in 1980, we forthrightly called for “A Workers Poland Yes! The Pope’s Poland No!” (Spartacist No. 30, Autumn 1980). Before Solidarnosc solidified as an open counterrevolutionary force, we said that the task of Trotskyist revolutionaries in Poland must be “to raise in these unions a series of demands that will split the clerical-nationalist forces from among the workers and separate them out. These unions must defend the socialized means of production and proletarian state power against Western imperialism. In Poland today the elementary democratic demand of the separation of church and state is a dividing line between the struggle for workers democracy and the deadly threat of capitalist restoration.”

This should have been elementary for any Marxist, especially in Poland, where the Catholic church is virulently anti-Semitic, a notorious bastion of reaction even within world Catholicism, and a powerful political force. But no. As we wrote in 1980: “First in Iran, now in Poland, various fake-lefts have maintained that the traditional church (Islamic Shi’ite and Roman Catholic respectively) can play a progressive, even a revolutionary, role. In this sense the opportunistic left shows an ideological regression similar to the bourgeoisie in the imperialist epoch” (“Religion & Reaction,” WV No. 268, 14 November 1980). Everyone from the American Socialist Workers Party to the pseudo-Trotskyists of the European United Secretariat to the “state capitalist” Cliffites, represented in the U.S. by the International Socialist Organization (ISO), vicariously bowed before Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Pope Wojtyla in Poland. The drive for capitalist counterrevolution in Poland, led by Pope Wojtyla and Solidarnosc, was the opening wedge for capitalist restoration throughout East Europe and the USSR. In Poland as in the USSR, this created vast misery: mass unemployment, homelessness and a furious wave of anti-Semitism, anti-woman legislation, anti-Roma (Gypsy) terror and all-sided clerical reaction.

In its struggle against feudalism, the bourgeoisie, when it was an ascending class, embraced Enlightenment rationalism and rejected the religious obscurantism of the feudal order’s ideological bulwark, the church. But today, in this epoch of imperialist decay, the bourgeoisie of the most powerful capitalist state rejects Enlightenment rationalism, embracing organized religion as one more means to prop up its rule. It falls to revolutionaries to uphold the liberating ideals of the Enlightenment and authentic Marxism. In Poland, one of these Marxists was the great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. Her words, in the 1905 essay “Socialism and the Churches,” are a fitting epitaph for all peddlers of religious obscurantism:

“The clergy, no less than the capitalist class, lives on the backs of the people, profits from the degradation, the ignorance and the oppression of the people. The clergy and the parasitic capitalists hate the organized working class, conscious of its rights, which fights for the conquest of its liberties.”

USA’s New Cold War Against Russia and China

Zhao Jinglun

If NATO further expands to Georgia and Ukraine, crossing the Kremlin’ s “Red Line,” hostility would be further heightened. The missile-defense installations are supposedly aimed at Iran, but do pose a direct threat to Russia in the event of a nuclear first strike.

Former president Bill Clinton started his illegal air war over Kosovo ostensibly to save Kosovo Albanians from being massacred by the Serbs. The real purpose, however, has been rumored to be Moscow’s deprivation of its last European ally, Serbia.

Moscow has steadfastly opposed Western efforts to block Iran’s nuclear program as those efforts could be designed to support a regime change that would pave the way for Western penetration into Central Asia.

Russia has just published its new foreign policy concept in which President Vladimir Putin indicates that the most important aspect of Moscow’s foreign strategy is to strengthen its ties with China. The two countries hold the same principle on core issues in international politics and that can constitute a basic element in maintaining regional and global stability. Russia will engage in full spectrum foreign policy cooperation with China when dealing with new challenges or menaces, as well as in solving regional and global problems.

This may not exactly be what the Obama administration wants to hear. It has succeeded in stirring up conflict between China and Japan; but has been unable to sow any dissension between China and Russia. Its efforts to “reset” the relations with the Kremlin ended in slight disappointment.

Indeed, U.S.-Russia relations are now seemingly at their nadir. The publication of Moscow’s new foreign policy concept was delayed as Putin wanted to emphasize the principle of non-intervention in Russia’s internal affairs. He especially resents the humiliating Magnitsky Act, which was overwhelmingly passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Barack Obama. Moscow retaliated by banning the American adoption of Russian orphans.

Stephen F. Cohen, Russian expert and professor emeritus at NYU and Princeton, is even talking about a potential new Cold War. As one Chinese saying goes, “It takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three-feet-deep. ” Cohen points to four components of U.S. policy resented by Moscow:

* NATO expansion to Russia’s borders which now includes European missile-defense installations. This poses the most serious threat to Russian security. If NATO further expands to Georgia and Ukraine, crossing the Kremlin’ s “Red Line,” hostility would be further heightened. The missile-defense installations are supposedly aimed at Iran, but do pose a direct threat to Russia in the event of a nuclear first strike. Moscow has demanded participation in the European system, failing that, a written guarantee that it will never be directed against Russia. It was rebuffed on both counts.

* “Selective cooperation, ” or the obtaining of concessions from the Kremlin without any meaningful White House reciprocity. Putin has never forgotten his vital role in the 2001 U.S. war in Afghanistan and was later rewarded by George W. Bush’s further NATO expansion and tearing up of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

* “Democracy promotion” in Russia’s domestic politics, viewed by Russian leaders as an intolerable interference with their internal affairs. The National Endowment for Democracy openly funded Russian NGOs.

* Last but not least, high-level Moscow circles have repeatedly complained that “the Americans do not care about our national security.”

It is unlikely that Washington will make any meaningful concessions on these four issues. So the chill in relations will probably continue.

In fact, the clash of strategic interests has a long history. Former president Bill Clinton started his illegal air war over Kosovo ostensibly to save Kosovo Albanians from being massacred by the Serbs. The real purpose, however, has been rumored to be Moscow’s deprivation of its last European ally, Serbia.

Moscow has steadfastly opposed Western efforts to block Iran’s nuclear program as those efforts could be designed to support a regime change that would pave the way for Western penetration into Central Asia.

Russia has also blocked Western efforts to intervene in Syria, its ally in the Middle East, where it has a naval base at Tartus.

The Kremlin also pursues a hard line refusing to return the Northern Territories (four islands), which Moscow calls the Southern Kurils, to Japan. It is not just a conflict with Japan. It is also a response to the United States’ pivot towards Asia and the (Asia) Pacific region – Russia also considers itself a Pacific power. The latest incident occurred on February 12, the day President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address.

The U.S. military reported that two Russian “Bear” (TU-95) strategic bombers, capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles, visited the U.S. strategic island Guam (Moscow denied this). U.S. Air Force F-15 jets were scrambled from Andersen Air Force Base to intercept the intruders. Nevertheless, both sides “stayed professional. ”

U.S. military officials hold that ever since Putin reclaimed the Russian presidency, the number of such flights in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska has increased, but encounters with U.S. aircrafts have generally remained “very professional. ”

Neither side is looking for a fight; but they’re not on the best of terms either.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn.

From Idealism to Imperialism: Canada’s Dark History of NGO Funding

Julie Lévesque and Nik Barry-Shaw

For many years Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been heavily criticised for its ideological management of aid funds. Known for its ties to right-wing religious groups and its unwavering pro-Israeli stance, the Harper government has cut the funding of organisations such as KAIROS working to promote, among other objectives,  Palestinian human rights.

The Conservatives recently decided to review the funding of projects in Haiti, arguing there was a “lack of progress”.

We will recall, however, that “progress” in Haiti was greatly hindered when the US with the support of  Canada and France orchestrated a coup d’état against Haiti’s very popular and democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Aristide was to implement measures to improve the living conditions of most Haitians, a move feared by the Haitian elite and their foreign partners making profits from the slavery-like conditions of most Haitians.

A Conservative government would have probably acted just like the Liberals did at the time.

Both the mainstream and alternative media suggest that the Harper government has scrapped the well-established and neutral institution of foreign aid, which was not prone to being influenced by the ruling party’s political and financial interests:

“The issue here is the reversal, by Stephen Harper, of a 60-year consensus shared by all previous governments about the central role of civil society in Canada. Every previous government has funded civil society groups and NGOs even when they espoused policies that contradicted the government’s own. Governments might have done so grudgingly and not as generously as some of us hoped. But it has been one of the quiet glories of Canadian democracy that our governments have often backed groups that criticized them or had competing priorities.

No more. With Stephen Harper, you either buy the party line or you get slapped down.” (Gerry Caplan, Kairos case is a reminder of the real Harper agenda, rabble.ca,February 20, 2011.)

To say that “every previous government has funded civil society groups and NGOs even when they espoused policies that contradicted the government’s own” is an incorrect statement. The  bookPaved with Good Intentions – Canada’s Development NGOs from idealism to imperialism “uncovers the darker side of the role played by NGOs.”

Like most developed countries, Canadian development NGOs have in fact served Canada’s foreign and domestic interests, and it is not only since the present Conservative government took power that NGOs have served Canadian as well as US foreign policy objectives.

Global Research met with one of the authors of the book, Nik Barry Shaw, who explains the origins of development NGOs in Canada and how they are serving political interests.

Here is the first part of the interview.

How and when did you discover the influence of government funding on NGOs?

It started as a conjecture. We were involved in Haiti solidarity activism in the early 2000s and heard many sources criticising NGOs. We knew that their position in Haiti was a hundred per cent in line with the foreign policy interests inCanada. This influence obviously happens behind closed doors and it is hard to demonstrate.

In the late 60s and the 70s, with the antiwar movements and the influence of the liberation theory, a handful of NGOs tried to go in a radical direction doing things which activists nowadays should be doing: criticise Canadian foreign corporate interests in the Global South, in South Africa, Guatemala, the mining interests in Chile, Canada’s foreign policy alignment with the US empire, etc. That criticism became an important part of their work and lots of projects were influenced by what they called the ‘ideology of solidarity’, which was saying to Canadians: “We need to fight on the side of the oppressed in these countries.”

From the beginning, the funding of the NGOs was governmental; it started out as a creation from government and they were looser with the control. They probably did not expect anything to go off the rails, like CUSO – an NGO founded by Keith Spicer and other people who had ties to universities, and the Liberal Party of Canada. They went to Lester B. Pearson and appealed for funding, and a lot of NGOs did the same. CUSO was the first NGO funded by a government. The largess that it received from the government pushed others to ask for funding and that spurred the creation of a matching grant system.

It started as a governmental creation explicitly as a way of winning over ordinary Canadians to the idea that Canada has to be up on the world stage, and that our duty in the Cold War was to develop the Third World, and that NGOs would create that human connection with Canadians and the aid program because otherwise it wouldn’t exist and would have no real relevance for ordinary Canadians

But it’s funny that a handful of them, including CUSO, the biggest NGO at the time, ended up doing the opposite! They made a case against aid and Canada’s foreign policy and went at the root of the issue which was that the corporations dominated the world economy, and the foreign policy of Western governments played a role in that domination and furthered it and were impoverishing the Global South. That, of course, was unacceptable.

So this led to increasing tensions between NGOs and the government, which started increasing control into the funding, eventually cutting it all in the case of CUSO in 1979. They were told they were not getting money until they reorganised their whole structure. Up until this time, under the influence of the more radical elements, they had been pushing toward a more democratic direction, giving more influence to the people in the field, decentralising and allowing programs to be developed by people outside the head office.

The government said, “We are getting rid of the democratically elected board of directors, replacing them with a bunch of people flown from the outside and we’re going to recentralise decision making power back in the hand of the home office.” They wanted someone that was accountable to them not accountable to people in Tanzania they had been working with, for example. So we discovered that there were very clear and very public instances of where the government stepped in and really imposed its agenda on organisations that received government funding.

In the past few years, cuts from the Harper government, related for example to NGOs defending Palestinian human rights, have given the impression that agenda-driven NGO funding is a new trend initiated by the Harper government when in fact government funding has practically always been aligned with foreign policy.

Yes, the first example in the book is in 1970-1975 when CCIC (Canadian Council for International Cooperation) had their funding cut after they organised a delegation to a UN conference in Rome on the food crisis at the time. Look how things change! They criticised very strongly the Canadian government’s position and that echoed back home and led to a pretty big overhaul of the food aid program, which in some ways ameliorated it, but the main impact was that the Liberal government, run by Trudeau at the time cut their funding.

There is definitely a parallel between what was happening internationally with development NGOs and what was happening domestically with community organisations. Trudeau wanted to create a participatory society so a lot of money was given to those orgs but always with conditions and strings attached. In Marxist terms it’s building the hegemony, the idea that the ruling class will appropriate the initiatives and ideas of oppositional movements and turn them into something that is harmless and defends the existing order. So it may seem like the rulers are willing to reform when in fact they absorb the oppositional elements, neutralize them and use them to defend the status quo.

It is basically what we call manufacturing dissent?

Yes. And it’s been going on for a long time.

How did you get the idea of writing about the inner workings of NGO funding?

Through my involvement in Haiti solidarity and the conflicts we had with development NGOs throughout 2004-2005. We expected these organisations who are for democracy and human rights to obviously be opposed to what was happening [the US-French and Canadian coup d’état] in Haiti because it was so blatant, how could they not? [To read more about Haiti and the coup d’état against the first democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, see our file here.]

Do you think these NGOs defended the military intervention deliberately or that they got caught in the propaganda against Aristide?

It’s complex. At the time we were just a bunch of anglo kids with some connections to the Haitian community that was opposed to the coup and we lacked experience and credibility. So we got in touch with other people, tried to build allies in the struggle, and they would tell us, “Well, I know someone at Development and Peace or Alternatives and they’ve been working on this issue for years and they’re good people and they say you’re completely wrong, so – end of discussion.”

It was difficult because they would not look at the facts, but would decide on the basis of their contacts. And if you told them, “You took all this money from the government and have this position on Haiti because of Canada’s implication in the coup, you are sold out, you’re a tool,” they would reply, “No, we’re not a tool, we were faithfully reflecting the position of our partners in Haiti.” And it’s true, they were.

Alternatives worked with a group called The Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA), headed by Camille Chalmers, an economist at the state university in Haiti, and regroups a bunch of left leaning, anti-neoliberal NGOs and it’s true they reflected their position. But the next question is why were they getting funding? Who were the groups that were getting funding? How come you were working with them and not some pro Lavalas groups [President Aristide’s party]? How come there is not one NGO in Canada that was working with the government, that happened to support the government or at least was not vehemently opposed to Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas movement? And we’re talking about a movement that had 50-60 per cent support, and overwhelmingly amongst the poor.

So are these NGOs being dishonest? I think a lot of it is that you buy into your own thing, especially for the left NGOs. They’ll say, “We’re working with the grassroots, we’re working with the civil society, with the people who are really struggling to change things.” You need to believe that if you’re going to do the work. But it’s not true. Who is Camille Chalmers? Who’s PAPDA? Who’s SAKS and all the NGOs they’re working with? They’re middle class Haitians! University educated, very far from the base, living a comfortable life, they have air-conditioned offices, they are set apart on a class basis from the rest of the society and their positions reflected that.

In the second coup it was overwhelmingly the tiny middle class and the bourgeoisie with members of the former dictatorship against the rest of society, against the government and its supporters in the slums and the countryside.

But the NGOs don’t see that because these groups give up on class analysis and can’t acknowledge the fact that the groups they are working with are not actually that grassroots and are not that connected to ordinary people, because that destroys the whole lies of NGOs, because they’re supposed to work directly with the poor people, the grassroots and social movements or whatever the buzzword they use at the time. They see themselves as working directly with the people, whereas the big, official aid agencies are working with the governments; they are big, top-down institutions and we, the NGOs are bottom up. That’s the appeal, and fundamentally it’s false because they end up creating a lot of little top-down structures and hierarchical relationships throughout society within Haiti and between organizations in Haiti and their relationships with foreign NGOs.

A good example of the lack of interest of NGOs in grassroots organisations is the one you mention at the beginning of your book, where you explain that it is the Haitian grassroots NGOs which initiated the downfall of the Duvalier dictatorship and instead of associating themselves with these organisations, the international NGOs replaced them or linked themselves with NGOs run by the Haitian elite.

In some ways it’s an unconscious and inevitable process. A lot of international NGOs, after the first coup in 1994, went there to try to work with the popular organisations. But the way they are structured and the amount of bureaucracy there is and paperwork there is to fill out and the expectations of the donors who fund the Canadian NGOs have – all of this makes it impossible to work with someone who is genuinely poor working class. You need people who are university educated, who are from the relatively privileged elite, who can talk the talk to get the funding.

It doesn’t automatically mean that they are unrepresentative of the rest of the population but you tend to work with people who aren’t necessarily connected with the grassroots, and if there is no strong accountability between the middle class people at the top getting the funding and the people at the bottom, the grassroots that you claim to be supporting, then sometimes what happens is the organisation becomes a vehicle for the person at the top. And the funding has a tendency to erode the accountability to the bottom and I think that’s what happened to a few organisations in Haiti. They received large amounts of funding after 1994 and they were very militant and very pro-Lavalas for a time, and with more funding it centralised power in the hands of the people who were able to get that funding and made them dependent on continuing to please the donors.