Wednesday, December 5, 2007

“Sorry” is not in George Bush’s lexicon

After the joint report of US intelligence agencies reported that Iran had stopped its nuclear program in 2003, the most appropriate approach for US President George Bush would have been to say “ Sorry, but we goofed”.

If he wanted to pass the buck, Bush could have of course blamed the 2005 intelligence report that said that Iran’s leaders were working tirelessly to acquire a nuclear bomb.

Instead, the US President on Tuesday warned that Iran was still a threat – referring to Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which the Middle East country claims is for its civilian program. All this is reminiscent of the hysteria the Bush administration successfully whipped up about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) ahead of the US invasion of Iraq.

This time over it may not be so easy, unless the US totally disregards public opinion both within the country and abroad. There are a number of inconsistencies in Bush’s stand.

Why should the community of nations, led by the US and its allies, impose sanctions on Iran if it is now believed that Iran is enriching uranium for its civilian programs ? How does this approach of the US and its allies sit with its bonhomie with Pakistan’s generals, who have lots of nuclear bombs, which may be used against Pakistan’s enemies like India, and are in far greater risk of falling into terrorist hands ?

This “ my buddy can do no wrong” approach with Pakistan flies in the face of common sense, and only goes to show that the US is harassing Iran, and trying to trigger a war there, because Iran will not toe the US line.

As the US uses this one-sided policy to expand its sphere of influence, and threaten nations that don’t toe its line, countries around the world are unabashedly backing its policies on Iran, as they did earlier in Iraq. Iran is the menace – that is the agreed point of view – though there have only been differences on how to tackle a country that has been prejudged a “menace”.

To be sure, Iran’s human rights record is abominable, but so is the record of many countries the US will not go to war with, and still continues to do business with, like China, like Pakistan. So frankly, what is the justification now to harass Iran with sanctions, and even military action ?

After WMDs, Bush is now talking about WW III

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Grapes of Wrath redux in South Florida

If you thought that John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath described a period long past in the history of labor in the US, then you should check out this Opinion column by Eric Schlosser in The New York Times.

The migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in South Florida have one of the nation’s most backbreaking jobs, working for 10 to 12 hours a day, picking tomatoes by hand, and earning a piece-rate of about 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket, according to Schlosser. “During a typical day each migrant picks, carries and unloads two tons of tomatoes. For their efforts, this holiday season many of them are about to get a 40 percent pay cut,” says Schlosser.

The Grapes of Wrath, you will recall, is the story of the Joads of Oklahoma, who after defaulting on loans back during the Great Depression, are lured into joining the ranks of laborers picking fruit in California. On arrival in California, they find hordes of applicants for jobs, and little hope of getting a decent wage, because of the oversupply of labor, lack of rights, and the collusion of the big corporate farmers.

In South Florida today, the place of the “Okies” in The Grapes of Wrath have been taken by illegal migrants with no rights, and exploited by the tomato farmers, working in collusion with the American fast food chains. Perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants and thus especially vulnerable to abuse, according to Schlosser.

This is not a crisis of capitalism. On the contrary capitalism has worked too well, with the invisible hand pushing down wages as labor is abundant and illegal. It is public policy and civil society that seems to have surrendered its role to big business.

In “Supercapitalism”, Robert Reich argues that corporations are trying to influence governments and public policy as a way to get competitive advantage. As long as people respond as consumers and investors, looking for the best deal and lowest price, they will abdicate their role as citizens in a democratic society, influencing public policy.

The answer to the problem of illegal migrants is evidently not to exploit them. The solution lies in regularizing their migration, after the US decides whether it needs more labor or not. There is already legislation aiming at regularizing illegal migrants, but that will not become law until the US Presidential elections are over, or maybe a lot later. In the meantime, capitalism will continue to deliver efficiently for big business, and very cruelly for the migrants.

Related articles:

Free markets do not necessarily mean democracy or quality of life

Thoughts on Che Guevara and the cruelty of capitalism