Elections 2012: Continue Work for Empowerment
International Workers Movement
Elections 2012: Continue Work for Empowerment
Obama: “I want the American people to urge Congress” to Back Plan for Taxes
President Barack Obama is making a direct appeal to “the American people to urge Congress” to back his plan for taxes and cuts to social programs. Obama submitted a plan November 29 that includes a slight increase in taxes on individual income over $250,000, while keeping in place tax levels for the large majority (98 percent of families, who make less than $250,000). It also includes at least $400 billion in unspecified cuts to Medicare and other social programs. The full content of the proposal has not yet been made public.
Obama is emphasizing, as he did during the campaign, that it is necessary for Americans to rally behind him and target Congress as the problem. Speaking November 28 he said, “I’m asking Congress to listen to the people who sent us here to serve. I’m asking Americans all across the country to make your voice heard.” Everyone is to focus on one small issue, of keeping taxes on the majority of families from going up about $2000 each if current tax breaks are allowed to expire December 31. Obama has a whole campaign called My2K, where everyone us urged tweet, phone, fax, facebook their Congressperson on why this $2000 is so important. As Obama put it November 28, “I’ll go anywhere and I'll do whatever it takes to get this done. It’s too important for Washington to screw this up.”
The emphasis on this one issue serves in part to divert from the more fundamental problems concerning the budget and the economy, such as the massive war spending (about $1 trillion yearly), the huge amounts paid to the financial oligarchy in interest payments (about $380 billion and rising), and an economy that cannot meet the needs of the people. The voice of the working class concerning a new direction for the economy, one that stops war funding and provides for the rights of the people, is to be silenced. Indeed, no one is even to consider these fundamental issues. Instead, all are to focus on rallying around President Obama in order to keep this $2000. Bringing all troops home now and cutting Pentagon funding accordingly — something the majority has repeatedly demanded — is not the first order of business, both for security and budget concerns. Freezing debt payments are off the table. Corporate tax rates are off the table. A role in deciding how the public treasury is to be spent is certainly nowhere to be found. These are the crucial matters for public debate so as to defend the public interest.
The focus on this one tax issue also diverts from Obama’s efforts to complete new arrangements of governance that essentially sideline Congress. It is the case that Congress is dysfunctional. How then to create a representative legislative body embodying the demands of modern democracy to empower the people themselves? How to make certain the voice of the people is not just heard, but is the deciding one, so that the popular will has its reflection in budgets and laws? Political empowerment of the people is the problem on the agenda for solution. Instead, Obama is acting to create conditions for acceptance of actions by the president to secure yet greater powers. And, to demonstrate that the role of the people is not to themselves govern, but to instead back the president against Congress. Fear about the “fiscal cliff” is being broadly generated to convince people that “something must be done,” and Obama is the one to do it.
In a speech in Pennsylvania November 30, Obama said, “In Washington, nothing is easy, so there is going to be some prolonged negotiations. And all of us are going to have to get out of our comfort zones to make that happen. I’m willing to do that, and I’m hopeful that enough members of Congress in both parties are willing to do that as well.” He added, “I'm here because I want the American people to urge Congress soon, in the next week, the next two weeks, to begin the work we have by doing what we all agree on. Both parties agree that we should extend the middle-class tax cuts. So the key is, though, that the American people have to be involved. It's not going to be enough for me to just do this on my own. So I'm hopeful that both sides are going to come together and do the right thing, but we all know you can't take anything for granted when it comes to Washington.” He also made clear, “I need you to remind members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — to not get bogged down in a bunch of partisan bickering, but let's go ahead and focus on the people who sent us to Washington and make sure that we're doing the right thing by them.”
Speaking of getting “out of our comfort zones” is Obama’s way of preparing the ground for acceptance of the major cuts to social programs. Emphasizing that both Democrats and Republicans are responsible if things get “bogged down” prepares the ground for the president to “do whatever it takes to get this done,” including bypassing Congress. He is mobilizing so that people will stand with him as the Office of the President moves to take control of the government purse strings.
In this manner he is positioned for a “win-win” when it comes to strengthening the powers of the president. If he succeeds in keeping the tax cuts, it will be seen as a “win” for him and for his approach of rallying people against Congress. If he does not, it is a “win” for the plans to go around Congress, using Congressional “bickering” and inability to get this one thing done as justification for far more significant changes.
Already, it is reported that Obama’s plan includes a mechanism for the president to take control of raising the debt ceiling. Yet another battle on this matter is expected in February. Obama is proposing that the President have authority to raise the debt ceiling and can only be stopped by a two-thirds vote in Congress. This idea was floated last year. Now Obama is striving to put it in place permanently. This is another indication of efforts by the executive to take control the purse strings from Congress.
Increasing the powers of the president will only serve to further block the people themselves from power. Everyone without doubt is concerned about high taxes and the growing inequality in society. Further marginalizing the people from political power cannot solve these problems. On the contrary, stepping up the fight for political empowerment in the course of advancing the anti-war, pro-social agenda of the working class is what can address these problems.
The White House, Congress and media are all promoting that there is now only one month left to prevent the country from going off the “fiscal cliff.” Obama is urging people to call on Congress to recognize the “urgency” of the problems and to support his plans. The fact that the debt and deficit issues could readily be solved by ending war funding and freezing interest payments to the financiers — who already got their trillions in bail outs — is to be ignored. Now, to add to the hysteria, there are reports that Wall Street is once again threatening to lower the U.S. credit rating.
A report from the Bipartisan Policy Center released November 27 says the federal government is likely to hit the $16.394 trillion debt ceiling in late December. The center says there is less room for the Treasury Department to maneuver than during last year’s debt-ceiling battle. The Treasury Department can, as it did in 2011, take a number of measures to avoid defaulting on the debt it has already issued. But that maneuvering room is expected to run out around mid-February.
The report brings out that February is also a time when the government provides tax refunds for people who filed their returns in January. It states that there is $33 billion due on interest on the debt alone that month, and another $27 billion due to military monopolies. As before, freezing these payments while continuing to meet payroll for federal workers is not to be considered.
The center also reminded everyone that the increase to the government on borrowing as a result of last year’s “debt ceiling” battle meant an additional $1.3 billion from the public treasury was given to the financiers. The center puts the costs at $19 billion over 10 years, based on changes in the cost of borrowing during the debate and what the changes amount to over the maturity of that debt. In this manner they show the entire farce was yet another pay the rich scheme!
Now, ratings agencies Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have threatened to join S&P in downgrading U.S. debt if there is not a resolution of the debt ceiling fight to their liking. These threats are yet further means to convince everyone that budgetary matters cannot be left in the hands of a dysfunctional Congress. And that debt payments are sacred.
These same Wall Street financiers who have responsibility for the current economic crisis and got trillions in bailouts want more direct control of the public treasury. Congress, and legislative bodies more generally are an obstacle. Hence, they are discredited, while appointed bodies or officials, like Control Boards and financial managers in Michigan, are to take their place. Now this arrangement is being instituted at the federal level. In the name of averting the “fiscal cliff” and a lowering of the credit rating, Obama will likely act, in December or during 2013, to appoint a “budget committee,” or some similar mechanism to take control of the purse strings.
The way forward is not increasing the power of the president and the monopolies, it is blocking it. The demand of the working class is to Cancel the Debts, Stop Paying the Rich, Increase Funding for Social Programs.
International Workers Movement
The National Boricua Human Rights Network (NBHRN) has been collecting signatures for a letter campaign, demanding that President Obama release Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. As the letter indicates, Oscar has served 31 years for 31 years for “his commitment to the independence of Puerto Rico. He was not convicted of harming or killing anyone, yet he is serving a sentence of 70 years.” Close to 100,000 signatures have been gathered so far.
The U.S. has refused to release Oscar because he has stood firm in defending the right to resist and in demanding that the U.S. end the crime of colonizing Puerto Rico. He has been subjected to the torture of solitary confinement. More recently he was unjustly denied parole, as the state tried to brand him as a “threat” and “terrorist” even though he was not charged with any terrorist acts or even violent crimes. Oscar is being used as an example by the U.S., as an effort to intimidate resistance with the threat of long-term jail sentences. Demanding and fighting for his release is an important part of the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico and these U.S. efforts to claim resistance is futile. As has been shown in Palestine, and across the U.S. with resistance by political prisoners and through prisoner hunger strikes, it is these efforts by the U.S. to repress the drive of the peoples for their rights that is futile. Join the letter campaign to demand freedom for Oscar López Rivera!
NBHRN is urging everyone to sign the letter and encourage others to do the same. They are hoping to deliver them to Obama in January 2013. The letter can be downloaded at their website: www.boricuahumanrights.org. They are asking that all letters be returned to them by December 15 at:
National Boricua Human Rights Network
2739 W. Division Street
NBHRN also encourages support for Oscar by:
• Writing to Oscar at:
• Supporting the campaign financially: donate directly through PayPal on the NBHRN website: press “donate” on the right side bar.
Below is the letter to President Obama, which can be taken or copied from here and sent to NBHRN
Honorable Barack H. Obama
Re: Oscar López Rivera
Dear President Obama,
We write to ask you to release Oscar López Rivera from prison. He has served 31 years for his commitment to the independence of Puerto Rico. He was not convicted of harming or killing anyone, yet he is serving a sentence of 70 years. When you compare his sentence to what the media termed “stiff” and “lengthy” sentences of 38 to 65 years given this year to New Orleans police officers convicted of shooting, harming and killing innocent, unarmed civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there is no doubt that his sentence is disproportionate, and politically punitive.
Three U.S. presidents have exercised the constitutional power of pardon to commute the sentences of men and women in U.S. prisons for Puerto Rican independence: President Truman in 1952, President Carter in 1979, and President Clinton in 1999. We are mindful that all of Mr. López’ co-defendants have been released, and most of them live in Puerto Rico, where they are well-respected, productive members of our civil society. They are not the first generation of pro-independence prisoners to carry themselves with such dignity.
We are always hopeful when we hear expressions by your administration that political prisoners in other countries should be released, as we eagerly await application of this policy to Oscar López Rivera’s case right here at home. For example, we recall that last December, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma and expressed, on behalf of the U.S. government: “We believe that any political prisoner anywhere should be released. One political prisoner is one too many in our view.”
We hope that you will breathe life into these words of Mrs. Clinton and commute the lengthy sentence of our brother Oscar López Rivera, and grant him immediate release. People of conscience in this country and around the world, such as Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as the United Nations Decolonization Committee, will welcome him home with open arms.
The Historic Necessity for Political Renewal
(The problem of political empowerment of the people is one facing the people in the U.S. and those worldwide The need for new electoral arrangements, new constitutions, and overall governing arrangements empowering the people to themselves govern and decide are being taken up for solution. The experience of the defeat of the Charlottetown Accord in Canada and of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) in taking up the work of political renewal is of great value to the same struggle here in the U.S. and worldwide. We reprint below an article on the work for political renewal in Canada from The Marxist-Leninist Daily, organ of CPC(M-L)
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October 26, 2012 marked the 20th anniversary of the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord and the defeat of the establishment forces that day by the Canadian people. The Charlottetown Accord, entitled, Consensus Report on the Constitution, was a deal reached behind closed doors by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, cabinet ministers, provincial and territorial leaders and other elite in Charlottetown on August 28, 1992, in the wake of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. The deal was to enshrine in the Constitution the status quo and turn over to Canada's First Ministers -- the Prime Minister and the provincial Premiers — the right to make decisions on behalf of the Canadian people. The Charlottetown Accord would have given them carte blanche to do as they pleased, with the Canadian people marginalized as voting cattle every few years.
A broad discontent prevailed across the country with the political process and the politicians and the feeling that the people exercise no control over their affairs. The question of where the sovereignty lies -- with the monarch or residing in the people came to the fore. Far from being willing to give up their decision-making power, the people showed themselves to be deeply concerned about the constitutional affairs of Canada and laying down the fundamental law of the land.
The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) CPC(M-L), since its founding, has taken up the work to empower the working class and people and modernize Canada's political, social and economic arrangements. In writing later of the significance of the defeat of the Charlottetown Accord, Hardial Bains pointed out:
"On October 26, 1992, the entire establishment was defeated. In the process, one of the most important problems of modern democracy was raised -- it is not enough just to have the right to cast a vote every few years. People want a say in governance, as well as the decisive role in laying down the rules. In one fell swoop, as it were, democracy was given a modern definition. For the first time in Canadian history, people affirmed themselves and forced the questions of governance and sovereignty onto the center-stage of national political life."
The Charlottetown Accord and the Canadian Constitution
In 1990, after the Meech Lake agreement which proposed defining Quebec as a "distinct society" collapsed, the unity of the Canadian people was attacked, dividing them on the basis of language, race, politics, gender, national background and religion. Fear-mongering was carried out about the imminent break-up of Canada. However, the desire of the people generally was to resolve the historical problems in favor of those who had been on the receiving end for decades and even centuries. In this situation, the Mulroney government announced that it was going to involve masses of Canadians in direct consultation as to how to proceed in solving the constitutional crisis. Keith Spicer, chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission at that time, was appointed to head a team of experts called the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future -- similar in form to a Royal Commission -- and talked to Canadians all across the country. Thousands responded with briefs and oral presentations, making hundreds of proposals. Spicer's report reflected the public's opinions: Canadians wanted politicians to turn over the process of writing a constitution to the people.
The most emphatic point made by the Spicer Commission was that the Canadian people did not trust the politicians to draft the Constitution. Outside of Quebec the majority of people consulted wanted a constituent assembly to draft the Constitution. Within Quebec, the Bélanger-Campeau Commission on the Political and Constitutional Future of Quebec, whose results were published in 1991, the most repeated demand brought out was that the people wanted a direct referendum on the question of whether the Quebec people favored exercising their sovereignty or not.
In 1992, when the Charlottetown Referendum was launched, all the political parties in the Parliament and all others against democratic renewal and progress, tried to enshrine the status quo and vest sovereignty in an executive power. The purported aim of the Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada, which published the Beaudoin-Dobbie Report, was to renew federalism and resolve the constitutional crisis and the issue of where sovereignty lies -- the question of who holds decision-making power. The Special Joint Committee claimed to have received a record number of submissions.
Canadians rejected this and other public consultations, which deprived them of the right to decide their Constitution themselves. An Enlarged Plenum of the Central Committee of CPC(M-L) on March 14, 1992, rejected the Beaudoin-Dobbie Report as a dangerous proposal, which would give constitutional protection to the traditional method of depriving the Canadian people of the right to make all the fundamental decisions which concern them. The party called on all Canadians to take a resolute and categorical stand in favor of their right to draft their Constitution through direct and universal suffrage.
On August 28, 1992, the 11 first ministers and the representatives of the territories and Aboriginal peoples declared that they had produced a Consensus Report on the Constitution. It was yet another constitutional deal reached behind closed doors. The monopoly-owned media reported euphorically that a deal was done and lauded the "public" for its input. Polls showed 70 per cent support for the Charlottetown Accord. The Charlottetown Accord could have been passed by Parliament and the provincial legislatures. However, a referendum had already been called in Quebec and legislation for referenda on the Constitution was tabled in BC and Saskatchewan.
For whatever reason, the government called for a national referendum. Even though this referendum was non-binding, this put the supreme decision-making power up for grabs. Leading up to October 26, the entire ruling circles literally ganged up on the Canadian people during the two-month campaign period, using millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to cajole the people to vote "yes." They created hysteria, threatening that if Canadians rejected the Charlottetown Accord, disaster would ensue.
However, the Canadian people were not to be cowed down. People demonstrated that they were not satisfied with political equality, which merely exists in the form of democratic freedoms but does not enable them to participate in governance. They wanted more than that, Hardial Bains pointed out. "The decision was theirs to make; they did not want to be told how to make it," he added. CPC(M-L) determined that what the people wanted was information. Initially, the federal government printed only a minimal number of copies of the Charlottetown Accord and distributed millions of copies of a brochure that claimed to present objective information but which was really a marketing piece for the 'yes' forces. But across the country people demanded to see the actual document on which they were being asked to vote. CPC(M-L) circulated the document far and wide and started informing people about its contents. Towards the end of the campaign, the government was forced to provide copies for everyone. Still, it did not provide background information or material related to constitutions in general or the Canadian constitution in particular.
Canadians were scandalized when they finally read the agreement to find that it effectively turned over to the political executive final decision-making power. The more the people looked into it, the more they saw the same old political elite, together with the economic, academic, judicial and labor elites, pushing their own agenda to keep power in an executive authority. At the same time they sought to divide the Canadian polity on an ethnic and racist basis, while marginalizing the say of the body politic over public affairs. In short, the people were asked to approve the very opposite of what they told the government during the Spicer Commission hearings.
The referendum required those participating in the campaign to declare themselves either part of the "Yes" forces or the "No." This was done to block discussion and incite passions. Despite this a very broad discussion emerged on the nature of the Canadian polity, the rights and duties of its members and their status and relationship to the constitution." Throughout the entire campaign, only amongst the people could one find discussion on the issues at stake.
CPC(M-L) pointed out that how one voted was a matter of conscience, but making an informed vote, required information. At a meeting September 5, 1992, CPC(M-L) formed the Committee to Vote No on October 26. The Committee was non-partisan — irrespective of one's ideology, whether one was for "Yes" or "No" or was undecided, all were called on to engage in discussion on the significance of the changes being proposed to the Constitution.
CPC(M-L) leader Hardial Bains was nominated to lead the Committee to Vote No on October 26 for purposes of registering it to participate in the referendum campaign. A 51-member Council of volunteers was elected to guide the Committee's work. The Committee called on all Canadians to inform themselves about the issues, to vote according to their conscience and not split ranks on the basis of the Yes/No divide created by the establishment. The Committee also provided pertinent information.
Three books by Hardial Bains were published during the period of the referendum and immediately after. The first, entitled Essence of the Consensus Report was published in early September 1992 and provided Canadians with the only real information about the contents and significance of the Charlottetown Accord on the Constitution. The Essence of the Consensus Report called for discussion to take place in workplaces, educational centers, neighborhoods and where seniors reside. This was proposed as a first step in forming citizen-based constituency committees to provide Canadians with a mechanism through which they could affirm their right to participate in governance. For practically the entire period of the referendum campaign, this book was the only source of information on the Charlottetown Accord.
The second book entitled A Future to Face was also published before the referendum campaign ended. It provided information on the Canadian constitution and the issues involved. Reams of articles, talk shows and propaganda by the Yes forces issued dire warnings about the disastrous consequences to Canada of voting No and called opponents of the Charlottetown Accord "enemies of Canada." Neither the government, the establishment political parties nor the media provided information or dealt with the substantive issues. Their sole object was to get a mandate from Canadians to do whatever they wished, behind closed doors.
The concern of the people over the state of affairs was reflected in the extent to which people participated in the referendum. Nationally, 73 per cent of eligible voters voted -- compared to 58.8 percent and 61.1 per cent voter participation rates in the 2008 and 2011 federal general elections, respectively. The number of people who voted No was 7,550,723 (54.2 per cent) and 6,185, 902 (44.8 per cent) voted Yes. Only Newfoundland, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories, voted Yes. All other provinces and the Yukon voted No. In Ontario there was virtually a tie, with 49.8 per cent voting Yes and 49.6 per cent voting No.
Following their defeat in the referendum, the ruling elite declared "business as usual." By this they meant that they would continue ruling through the executive power, because nothing in the current arrangements impeded them from bringing about the changes they wanted without amending the Constitution.
CPC(M-L) responded by publishing a third book, A Power to Share, which explains where sovereignty lies in Canada and how the political process works to ensure that Canadians are marginalized politically and society is ghettoized. It presented who this favors, what can be done about it and included proposals to change the political process so that it empowers the electorate.
While in the wake of the Referendum's defeat, politicians and establishment forces alike declared "business as usual," the members of the Committee to Vote No on October 26 turned their outrage at this situation into a practical program to empower the people so that they can exercise control over their lives. The National Council for Renewal was founded on December 19, 1992 in Toronto. In a signature campaign, 25,000 people across the country endorsed the founding of the Canadian Renewal Party in April 1993, a non-partisan association to continue the work for the renewal of the political process. A Canada-Wide Campaign for a Modern Constitution and Democratic Renewal was launched in the fall of 1994.
Significance of the Charlottetown Accord
With the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, Canadians began to make the link between the Constitution and political rights inherent to citizenship and to their lack of control over decisions in their daily lives. "In its simplest form, this question became very focused around the issue of whether or not the constitution should guarantee some fundamental rights such as the right to education, or whether this and other social rights would remain at the level of privileges to be bestowed or taken away at the whim of the government of the day, as was being proposed by including a 'social charter' in the Charlottetown Accord," Hardial Bains pointed out.
"Canadians started to grapple with the fact that the Canadian constitution recognizes neither the citizens that comprise the Canadian polity, nor the rights and duties that belong to them by virtue of being human and by virtue of being members of the polity. One of the other developments that took place in this period was a distinct emergence of Canadians as a people and their broad opposition to the racist concept of 'two founding nations' and their demand for the recognition of the equality of all citizens regardless of their national origin, language spoken, etc."
When John A. Macdonald declared that in Canada there are 'no rights, only privileges' there was no illusion that the government defended the rights and freedoms of the people, Hardial Bains wrote. He pointed to the patriation of the Constitution and the inclusion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, noting they served to create illusions about the degree to which rights and freedoms are guaranteed. However when push comes to shove, Hardial Bains said, "the Canadian people find the same dictate of no rights, only privileges."
Hardial Bains concluded, the Canadian people can no longer operate within the existing constitutional set up: "The limitations imposed on them by the constitution, by the negation of their sovereignty and their right to determine their own constitution, and by the political and electoral process in which they have no role in actually governing the country are shackling their every move when it comes to dealing with any of the problems they face. Aside from other things, those such as Prime Minister Jean Chretien who say 'leave the constitution aside' and deal with the real problems facing Canadians, such as joblessness or the economy, etc. are ignoring the existence of this law of limitations and the fact that it denies Canadians the possibilities to deal with the myriad problems plaguing the society."
The two diametrically opposed positions that emerged with the referendum campaign on the Charlottetown Accord highlight the importance and need for a Canada-Wide Campaign to this very day. One position is that the Canada Act, 1982 has no relevance to the Canadian people; it declares Canadian "democracy as we know it" just fine if only it is not abused and that the problems facing the Canadian people and society fall into some other sphere, be it economic or cultural or social, or in terms of changing government policy on this or that issue. The other, which is at the heart of the program of CPC(M-L), is that Canadian society has come to a point where its development is being obstructed by its constitutional foundation which is rooted in the British North America Act of 1867 and the political process which continues to be premised on all the notions in vogue in the Cold War period.
The defeat of the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 and the disequilibrium in the Parliament, which set in following the 1993 election, ending the arrangements whereby the Party in Opposition was an alternative to the Party in Power, gave rise to a cartel party system. This cartel party system has enabled the Harper autocracy to rule, even when the Conservative Party held a minority in Parliament, because these parties — whether in government or in opposition — serve an agenda dictated by the monopolies and stand for a neo-liberal vision and rule.
The inability of the ruling circles to resolve the crisis of governance and modernize the political arrangements 20 years ago has led to further degeneration in the political, social and economic life of the country, the pace of which is increasing. The situation facing Canadians today makes clear the urgent necessity to join in the work for political renewal and a modern constitution to resolve this crisis in the people's interest once and for all.
1. Hardial Bains, A Power to Share: A Modern Definition of the Political Process and A Case for its Democratic Renewal, Canadian Renewal Party: Ottawa, 1993, p. 2.