Friday, December 28, 2012

There is no American Left

Salvatore Babones, Op-Ed, Truthout:

In September 2012 Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to break the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) with a bid to privatize Chicago's public schools. The mayor's proposal was based on a plan to subject teachers (and schools) to performance measurement based on students' standardized test scores.

Teachers whose students scored poorly would be fired. Schools whose students scored poorly would be closed. The students would then be farmed out to so-called "charter schools" - for the most part, for-profit institutions run by corporations like Edison Schools, Rocketship, Victory Schools, and Educational Services of America.

The CTU went out on strike with the goal of maintaining public education in Chicago, America's third largest city. Schools in Philadelphia, America's fifth largest city, have already been largely privatized, and the state of Texas is currently in the process of privatizing its local public school systems.

The Obama administration: Center-right Democrats

Rahm Emanuel is not just any Democrat. He was Barack Obama's first chief of staff, responsible for hiring many of the Obama administration's key personnel. One of Obama's appointees, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is a former "Chief Executive Officer" of the Chicago public school system. In Chicago he had promoted the expansion of for-profit charter schools.

In Washington, Secretary Duncan developed the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" program to encourage states to privatize their schools. The funding was structured as a competition. All 50 states adopted the Race to the Top program in hopes of receiving scarce federal funding during a severe recession; only 12 actually received any grants. The tournament format was designed to ensure maximum institutional impact for the smallest possible investment.

It's not just in education policy that the Obama administration has pursued a broadly neoliberal, center-right agenda. For example, President Obama has taken no action to improve minimum wages or working conditions. The US federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, with no guaranteed sick days, holidays, or vacation time.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is proudly or derisively (depending which side you're on) known as Obamacare. America has long been the only rich country without universal health insurance. Obamacare is intended to extend health insurance coverage to all Americans.

What is Obamacare really? At its heart is a requirement that all Americans will have to buy health insurance, mainly from private, for-profit insurance companies. Insurance premiums will remain largely unregulated, subject to the single requirement that insurance companies will have to accept all applicants and not be allowed to turn away those with pre-existing conditions.

People who refuse to buy health insurance will be forced to pay a $695 penalty. Given that the cost of the most basic private health insurance in the United States is far greater than this, many people are likely to remain uninsured even after Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014.

The Obama administration embraces targeted assassination and maintains a kill list - sorry, "disposition matrix" - of people it considers fair game for drone attacks. The Obama administration embraces the use of torture on people in US custody (with the sole specific exclusion of waterboarding).

The Obama administration maintains a gulag archipelago of secret CIA prisons around the world, and automatically as a matter of policy classifies as "enemy combatants" any adolescent or adult male civilians who are killed in its military operations on the logic that if they were killed, they must have been combatants.

Over the past forty years, America has become much more politically correct with regard to gender and sexualiy. Men do not openly display calendars featuring topless models on their office walls, and public gay bashing is now considered inappropriate, even in Republican circles. But gender and sexuality are issues that transcend social class. Even rich, powerful men have gay children - or may be gay themselves. Even rich, powerful men have wives.

On every other issue, America - or at least American politics - has swung violently to the right. The more social class is involved, the further to the right America has swung. Poverty was once a social disease to be cured; it is now an individual crime to be punished. Put it down to individualism, conservatism, neoliberalism, or whatever -ism you want, America is now the world's greatest reactionary force.

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