In Spain, the neoliberal State attacks women to `protect’ them

Austerity measures help neither the republic nor the democracy. They usher violence and injustice into the civil society. For women, austerity measures mean something dreadful.

In 2011, Spain elected populist conservative Mariano Rajoy from the People Party (PP), with the support of fascist groups and the ultraconservative branch of the Catholic Church. He campaigned as a strong believer in neo liberal values, particularly pushing austerity as the basis for economic policies. No matter that the so-called public debt originated from a complex association of debt and profit making through outrageous interest rates to private banks and investors.  As in the United States, the message and the methods involve the religious right and the control of women’s bodies and the most vulnerable.

Once again women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, labor rights are at stake.

“Today, it is going to be impossible for women to have abortions. We expected a bad law, but this is the worst we could have imagined,” said Francisca Garcia, president of ACAI, La Asociación de Clínicas Acreditadas para la Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo. This worst law imaginable has overturned previous reproductive laws, and in particular the 2010 law passed under the socialist government of Zapatero, one of the most comprehensive defenses of women’ss right to control their bodies. The new law will make abortion impossible unless pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, who designed the antiabortion bill, explained: “Women are victims of abortion.” His comment shows his utter contempt for women’s intelligence and capacity to understand their bodies and their needs. He pretends that the morality of this bill rests on the defense of the unborn yet conceived child and on an economic necessity. Actually, countries, like France, that have progressive abortion laws and public services to support mothers have among the highest birth rates in the industrial world. Moreover, it goes against the European Union views on abortion rights with twenty of the twenty-eight members guaranteeing women’s right  to freely decide on their pregnancy. Six EU countries have conditions on abortion but allow it. Only Malta and Ireland prohibit abortion.  According to Le Monde, the Rajoy government and its campaign against abortion received funding and support from the ultraconservative Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, based in the United States with representation in Spain.

Undocumented immigrants are also targeted by Spain’s so-called reform of the health care system. They are now denied any kind of coverage under the public health care system. Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have protested these measures. As with abortion rights, there is no rationale or morals that can justify these measures, since health is recognized as a basic human right and covering a population is both more humane and cost efficient. These bills have been designed to show the muscles of this government and its commitment to punitive public policies. By reducing public services to the bare minimum, neoliberal policies overpower human rights.

Simultaneously, Gallardon wants to `reform’ the penal system and create a life-without-parole sentence. Following the United States, he is advocating for a Patriot Act-type of security law with more restrictions applied to unions and the right to strike.

Meanwhile, demonstrations multiplied in Spain and across Europe.  In Spain the police responded violently to women demonstrating for their rights. They pushed groups of women to the ground, which was filmed and triggered more protests.

Almost 25 years ago, Jacques Derrida noted, “Today the police are no longer content to enforce the law, and thus to conserve it; they invent it.” Today, the Rajoy government, no longer content, invents the law to exercise violence against women while showing a cynical contempt for the Spanish people.

To fight for these rights is to fight for the people of Spain and elsewhere against the oppressive globalized neoliberal order that, with mechanical precision, disassembles human society and turns profit-making into a State religion.

 

(Photo Credit: Fernando Alvarado/EFE)

We are all canaries in the coal mine

In December 2011 Swiss financial journalist Myret Zaki asked a group of economists a simple question, “Why now?  For example, you have all noticed that suddenly Greece was in crisis”. She noted that it was not because of Greece’s public debt, which had been fairly stable and not especially large. The economists mentioned Goldman Sachs, which had advised the Greek government to sell its financial products and then informed their own clients and friends about Greece’s “financial weakness”. Myret Zaki completed the picture with the story of the 2010 Soros Dinner, when a few hedge funds managers cooked up an attack on the Euro through Greece. The Wall Street Journal report on the dinner quoted Hans Hufschmid, a hedge-fund administrator (GlobeOp Financial Services SA), in London and New York: “This is an opportunity…to make a lot of money.”

We all know what happened next. We remember the demonstrations and how these speculators precipitated the demise of employees, citizens who were to pay for their financial coup. As France’s General Commissioner for Public Investment René Ricol explained, “This is a combat between the world of finance, the world who wants to make a lot of money very quickly, and the world of `true life’”. With the support of neoliberal doctrine, the world of finance has subsumed civil society.

But that was then.

Today, in Greece the world of “true life” has reorganized after the shock of the financial attack that sent many into poverty and precariousness. Taken by surprise, people believed at first that the country had overspent its revenues; now they know that overspending was not the problem.

The recent documentary, Canaries In the Coal Mine, shows how the State is controlling the revolt and the fight for reestablishing the democratic civil society values. This story should be understood as “a lot more than Greece’s tragedy.”

Greek trade unionists defending steel workers who were not paid during 18 months were sent to court, accused of terrorism for organizing demonstrations and for showing workers’ frustration. As prosecutions of heads of associations representing workers, immigrants, and others demonstrate, anti terrorist laws have been used to install a general surveillance of “true life” populations, producing the legal tools to choke any contestation.

The criminalization of Greece’s social movements has been generalized. The documentary makes it clear Greece is in Europe. Across Europe, many are being threatened by the same shock of the unfettered and ferocious financial powers. Everyone who fights for rights is in danger, according to Oliver Stein (Progress Lawyers Network) and Pierre Arnaud Perrouty (Human Rights League, Belgium): “The ones who carry the contestation protect the rights of us all…. They are the canaries in the coal mine”. Once the canaries are smothered, everyone will feel the blast.

Last week, Moodys upgraded its rating of Greece by two points. Why? “The Greek economy is bottoming out after nearly six years of recession”. Greece underwent appropriate structural reforms.

Yes, thanks to an artificially engineered recession, the Greeks touched bottom. That is not a positive sign!

Sofia Tzitzikou, who runs a community clinic in Athens, knows “the bottom” well. Greeks, who had a very effective health-care system until the “crisis”, lost their social security. Almost 50% of the population does not have access to social security, to health care. Women have been particularly affected as their reproductive rights are compromised, since women now have to pay for these services.

Sofia explains that the role of the community clinics is not to substitute for the public services that are the State’s responsibility. But people are suffering and dying, and so solidarity is indispensable. She explains that this engagement is also political work. Clinic workers explain to their patients that they have to get involved as well to revive and counter the structural reforms prescribed by the Troika (European Commission, IMF, European Central Bank).

“In Greece we have a systematic infringement on human rights, social rights, workers’ rights, on democratic rule of law, on the welfare state” declares Zoe Konstantopoulou, a representative at the parliament.

Canaries in the Coal Mine captures the aftermath of the neoliberal financial shock on “true life.” It debunks the construction of a crisis that is actually an experiment in controlling civil society for financial benefits for the few. That’s what happened in Greece, which, not that long ago, was one of the top 20 economies. Sofia explains that right now, in Greece, democracy is absent. Democracy is to serve people for the improvement of people’s lives, not the opposite. The documentary opens and ends with music by Greek rap artist Paulos Fyssas, assassinated in Athens by a Golden Dawn fascist activist.

What happened in Greece is possible anywhere. Only solidarity, in particular European solidarity, and true democratic resilience might counter this brutal attack on civil society. We should listen carefully to Athenian student Melanie Mavrogiorgi: “We don’t have the army in the government to control us. So we have hope as we see people still demonstrating. They are still hunting and fighting for their rights. I think that is a piece of democracy.”

The documentary ends: “Pay attention to the canaries in the coal mine. They warn us of the dangerous gas that neoliberal politics wants to blow up. It is time to get out of the mine!” The documentary ends; the struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / 15M Barcelona)  (Video Credit: Yannick Bovy / YouTube)

The European Union, France and the attacks on the Roma: who’s next?

Members of the Roma community in a camp in Lyons, 2010

Members of the Roma community in a camp in Lyons, 2010

When, in 2007, the European Union opened its membership to Eastern European countries, it only left the door ajar. As Renault or other European corporations had welcomed the entrance of Eastern European countries into the Union, seeing the potential for reserve of cheap labor, the promise of a “we stand together European citizenry” of these new members did not apply to the Roma, who are European citizens. In eight European Countries including France, the Roma have been under work restrictions, with only 150 types of work or “métiers” opened to them. Moreover, an employer who would like to hire a Roma would have to pay a monthly 700€ (about $900) flat tax on salary, a huge deterrence to employment.

This summer, despite the recent formation of a French socialist government, which includes a few Europe Ecology ministers, under the presidency of François Hollande, the policies of removal of Roma camps from some sites in France, a practice started by Sarkozy and opposed at the time by one François Hollande, have been reenacted under the aegis of Manuel Valls, the minister of the interior.

These removals triggered a series of criticism, including from other members of the government such as Cecile Duflot (Europe Ecology) who pointed out the counterproductive nature of such actions that push already stigmatized population toward more precariousness.

Martine Aubry, socialist mayor of Lille, one of the cities where Roma were evicted, was reported to be furious at M. Valls for having engaged in this action without any consultation with her or her administration.  She also emphasized that it was a serious breach in the work that her city has done to welcome the Roma. This work included construction of camps, with three more being built when the police dislodged the Roma from unofficial sites.

M.Valls claimed that the camps were unauthorized and therefore unlawful, adding that the law of the republic had to prevail. However, the laws have consistently ignored the reality of life for the Roma community and have targeted them as scapegoats by describing a surge of Roma population that would occur if they were to be `unleashed’.

The `surge’ of Roma in France amounts to 15 000 people. That number has remained stable for years despite the politics of expulsions, according to anthropologist Martin Oliviera, a member of the European Observatory Urban-Rom who works in a suburb of Paris. He adds that the Roma are not nomadic, as the cliché supports. He emphasized that their vocation is not to gush, or spill, westward “as if Europe was slanted.”

The politics of exclusion, on the other hand, are slanted. They are part of a capitalist framework that has evolved to a new neo liberal order that plays out to build (or to generate) the “vulnerable” that becomes the “filthy” as the politics of exclusion grows, and the French socialists are themselves entangled in this. The impediments to living and working for the Roma are in place. Unquestionably, various critics forced the government to make a gesture: the tax on salary was removed and the number of Métiers authorized increased. But it is too little and will not produce the real support that the Roma need.

So now, many are being rendered vulnerable under the same framework. Many are in the streets with no sense of belonging. This is not about charity for the Roma. It is about living in resistance to an order that we have allowed to be ours.

 

(Photo Credit: Libération / Jeff Pachoud / AFP)

 

The unmaking of the indebted woman

In this season of hollow political American presidential campaigns, The Making of the Indebted Man: Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, by Maurizio Lazzarato appears as a work of resistance. The book explores contemporary financial power and the debt crisis that comes with it, a crisis that has shaped our current political situation.

Maurizio Lazzarato sees the debt system as a political project that means to engage the individual for the future. Debt creates a system of efficiency/ profitability that tends to control all individuals, unemployed or employed. As Lazzarato points out, the economical origin of the current crisis, the subprime crisis, has been rendered invisible. In fact, the couple debt-fault is only applied to individuals while the debt crisis, as the failure of the entire neoliberal system, is left untouched, unmentioned.

The creation of mechanisms of debt has been the central action of neoliberal political economy. This new world order begat a dynamic of work subjectivity in the post-industrialized economy, thanks to the neoliberal turbine: the differential of power between the lender and the borrower. According to Lazzarato, Michel Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics expounded on the historicity of incipient neoliberal governance, but neglected to incorporate the power-function of debt-money finance in neoliberal governance. Lazzarato relies on Gilles Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control to argue that as capitalism moved from production to service, social control moved from disciplinary control to market based control with the fluctuation of interest rates as the basis of the production of indebted citizens.

In this world, debt political economy is the real global controlling power.

In his conclusion, Lazzarato calls for new solidarities and a new cooperation, reminding us that neoliberalism has also legitimized a debt toward the planet itself.  There’s global debt, and there’s planetary debt, and the two are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Nevertheless, I wonder if the title, the making of an indebted man does not carry a singular and restrictive vison. After all, the making of the indebted woman started way before the advent of neoliberalism.

In “The political economy of vulnerable”, Dan Moshenberg recently highlighted a transnational reality of the fate of the indebted woman, showing that this “in debt” status now has a widely recognized name: the vulnerable. Moshenberg showed how predatory rates of local banks rendered a woman desperately vulnerable and isolated until she finally killed herself. Debt is part of the recently installed system of domination that will continue to control women, as our lives (including sexual and reproductive) will be even more dependent on this global financial order. Now is the time for women to strengthen and intensify our resistance. The unmaking of the indebted woman is the beginning of the end of the neoliberal condition. Cancel the debt … now!

 

(The Making of the Indebted Man: Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, by Maurizio Lazzarato, translated by Joshua David Jordan, will be released in the United States by Semiotext(e) next month.)

 

(Image Credit: aspoonfulofsuga)

Expose the attacks on the undocumented and on women in France

While in the United States, attempts to hurt, reduce and constrain women’s bodies are multiplying (as the recent bill in Virginia to impose vaginal sonogram on women who seek an abortion demonstrates), two recent developments in France show that the politics of constraint and control of the body and in particular of women’s bodies are also expanding in Europe.

In France, undocumented immigrants, “les sans-papiers” have access to health care, through “l’aide medicale d’Etat” or AME (State Medical Aid), if they have been in France for at least 3 months. While this seems to be better than many other places in the western world, some barriers that have been erected to divide and control immigrants and residents.

For example, it used to be that in order to register, people could go to any regular center of the national health coverage “les caisses d’assurance maladie,” and there were many of them. Recently, new rules have been introduced. Since the end of 2011, in Paris only two centers have been processing applications to be registered in AME. After two months, the Observatory of Foreigners’ Right to Health, ODSE, has reported a series of problems. These include long waiting lines, starting in the middle of the night, summary selection of applications, loss of applications, mounting administrative red tape. All these difficulties contribute to delaying indispensable coverage and access to health care for people who are already among the most vulnerable.

Another recent development directly affects women’s health and well being. In 2001, a bill was passed that gave women’s reproductive rights a great boost. The new law includes provisions for anonymous access to contraceptive and abortion services for minors and without parental consent. It also provides for an ambitious sexual education program, lately the distribution of money to enforce this law has been problematic. Recent reports have shown the importance of sexual education through school as well as free and easy access to centers where women and men can access information on the various questions related to sexuality.

The law itself is beyond repeal, but that does not mean it is safe from dilution. Although officially budgeted for the 2012 fiscal year and voted by the parliament, apparently, 500 000 Euros slotted sex ed programs has disappeared. The Sarkozy administration must have misplaced it!

So how are these two issues related? Both are about creating barriers for some women to access services that allow full social participation and meaningful exercise of their rights. They are about relegating to the back seat some selected populations who are excluded through constraining policies on their bodies, which are, thus, made invisible in body politics of the nation. The reshaping of existing social advances concerning reproductive rights, health care for all, has become the priority of neoliberal governments. It follows the pattern that has already been developed for emerging countries, cutting public services. It is important to identify policies that follow this pattern. It is important to expose them in order to lessen the impact of the US neoliberal transformation anywhere it is being exported.

 

(Photo Credit: http://femmesenlutte93.over-blog.com)

 

W/Health: Constructions of delusional perceptions

The recent release of Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter, former head of corporate communications for CIGNA, has triggered media interest in trying to explain why there is no sound universal health care system in the United States nor does one appear on the horizon.

In fact, this book could be re-titled “The Confessions of a Public Relations Hit-man.” Potter was, as he writes, a “spinmeister” for the health insurance industry, in particular Humana and CIGNA.

He reveals some of the methods that are commonly used by corporations to “create perceptions without any public disclosure of who is doing the persuading or for what purposes.” He discloses the fundamental tools of the spin-business utilized by industries (health insurance, oil, tobacco, etc.) to manipulate so-called “public opinion” with faulty information, statistics and worse. Words and phrases like “propaganda”, “fear mongering tactics”, and “consumer” appear regularly. This spin-business has found support and sustenance in the absence of political examination of the current US society.  Potter is critical of the process but rarely, if ever, critical of the neoliberal thinking that vindicates it. In The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978 – 1979, Michel Foucault argued “liberalism in America is a whole way of being and thinking.” Potter’s book confirms this critique of `liberalism in America.”

In my attempts to summarize what Deadly Spin exposes, I realized that what it does not expose is equally important. Potter exposes in great detail the technique and the technology of crafting messages made to diminish actual stories of mistreated people to a mere discussion of their economic viability. He also exposes the collusion between corporate power and political power in the United States, showing how corporations get involved in writing bills aimed at controlling their own power.

Potter exposes PR groups, such as APCO, that specialize in “influencing decision-makers and shaping public opinion by crafting compelling messages and recruiting effective allies”. For instance, Michael Moore produced a truthful documentary, Sicko, on the suffering of American citizens who were denied financial coverage of their medical needs. Moore focused on American citizens who had health insurance and how they were vulnerable to the health market emphasizing that access to care was a financial privilege. APCO worked strenously with Potter’s PR team to produce propaganda against Sicko and succeeded in reducing the impact of the film.

A turning point in Potter’s professional life occurred when he came across a RAM (Remote Area Medical) clinic and saw with his own eyes the ways in which people seek care were packed and packaged. Tellingly, the clinic was installed in animal stalls. Nothing prepared him for what he saw.

What the book does not reveal is the link between neoliberal dogma as religion and the reduction of people to consumers of health care. What if Potter had the same revelation in Philadelphia, where he lives, where there is massive poverty, where life expectancy, in some areas and especially in African American communities, is lower than in Bangladesh? What if Potter hadn’t had to travel to the distant rural zones to see the health care situation?

Potter reviews the history of health care reform without revealing the profound effect of racial and social discriminations. His framework remains free enterprise, service, such as there is, remains service to the consumer. He fails to reveal that the neoliberal Public Relations industry has also worked in the worldwide promotion of the same market based health care. Cigna was among the health insurance companies that invested in countries where Structural Adjustment Programs imposed the destruction of public social services, including health care. CIGNA was one of the health insurance companies that grossly benefitted from those deregulations.

Potter also does not address reproductive health and rights, except to note that women’s policies cost more because of pregnancies. In this, he mirrors the decision of the Obama administration to bargain away coverage for abortion and reproductive health as well as immigrants’ health in the passing of an ill conceived and inadequate health care plan.

Nonetheless I appreciate and respect his personal and emotional inquiry. He is right when he says that journalism has become corporately infused. Corporate, and I would add nationalist as well. He gives many examples of PR constructions and distortions of realities meant to keep people in the dark with regard to their health care system, “selling the illusion of coverage,” constructions and distortions that were never denounced or investigated properly by journalists. Those distortions have formed the faith in the power of the neoliberal economy. In the United States, opposition to that faith is subtly silenced. Wendell Potter comes short of acknowledging this relationship. Instead he remains focused on the manipulation of news media, maybe because he started his career in journalism and has now returned to it as a senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy.

 

(Photo Credit: PR Watch)

 

Nascent Collectivities: Transnational Abandonment, I

On November 20th 2008, as reported by George Washington University’s student newspaper, the Hatchet, a Latino worker installing windows in a GW residence hall was killed after a fall from the 7th floor. The worker, Rosaulino Montano, worked for Engineered Construction Products, a window subcontractor for primary contractor Clark Construction. His death was featured in one article in the Hatchet, which also reported that the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) was investigating the incident. The coverage of Montano’s life and his relationship to the university was brief. The Hatchet reported that he lived in Virginia and had several children. The conditions of his work, the events of the accident, and the relationship of the university to Clark Construction or Engineered Construction Products were not examined although the article did note that he was subcontracted to work at GW. There have been no follow up articles.

OSHA reported that sanctions had been imposed on the firm that had hired Montano. The firm “…received one serious violation for violating OSHA’s fall protection standard (1926.501(b)(1)) and a monetary penalty of $2,500.  This was the only citation and penalty issued in relation to Mr. Rosaulino Montano, 46, fatal injury.   No other employer …was deemed responsible for ensuring safety at the site.”

A brief Hatchet article dutifully marks Montano’s death: “A man fell to his death while installing a window on the seventh floor of the new GW residence hall.” It is reported that he “lost his balance” and “died instantly after he fell out of the window and hit the concrete below.” The article gives a few details about his life. Through a statement by a university spokeswoman, his family is mentioned. After this brief enunciation of concern and regret for loss of life, there is no further curiosity about his life or the manner of his death.

The language of the Hatchet article evokes personal feeling and sympathy or charity (he lived in Woodbridge and had several children) yet the structural contexts of his death aren’t explored. There is little investigation of his employment status, no investigation of what it means to be subcontracted, and no investigation of the routes, economic or otherwise, through which he came to work at the university.

The relationship between Montano and the university community is thin. His life and his death have little content or detail, and no noteworthy or substantial legal, social, economic, or emotional connection to the university community. While there are a few modes of identification, his ties to the university community are tenuous. University business continues, there is no memorial service, there are no statements of regret by university officials, and there is little coverage or desire for information about his life. The conditions of his employment, the conditions of his work, the details of the accident which killed him, and the routes through which he came to work at the university are not visible in accounts of his death.

Short lived regret and sympathy doesn’t pursue what happened to Montano’s family; they are abandoned to depoliticized charitable discourse. It doesn’t pursue the role of the state, the economic arrangement between subcontracted company and the university, the citizen status of the worker, or the relationship between his labor and the life and well-being of the university community.

Giorgio Agamben has something to say about the biopolitics of life and the institutional role of universities in neoliberalism that might help us understand `what happened to Rosaulino Montano”:

If the exception is the structure of sovereignty, the sovereignty is not an exclusively political concept, an exclusively juridical category, a power external to law … or the supreme rule of the juridical order …: it is the originary structure in which law refers to life and includes it in itself by suspending it. . . . (W)e shall give the name ban … to this potentiality … of the law to maintain itself in its own privation, to apply in no longer applying. The relation of exception is a relation of ban. He who has been banned is not, in fact, simply set outside the law and made indifferent to it but rather abandoned by it, that is, exposed and threatened on the threshold in which life and law, outside and inside, become indistinguished. It is literally not possible to say whether the one who has been banned is outside or inside the juridical order. . . . It is in this sense that that paradox of sovereignty can take the form `There is nothing outside the law.’ The originary relation of law to life is not application but Abandonment” (Agamben’s italics).

In a world of abandonment, bodies who do not fit into regimes of life are written out of discourses of mourning, structure of feelings, knowledge systems, and world view of the university. In the rhetoric of abandonment, subcontracted means outside of a collective narrative, recognition of name, traditions, and care of a community, the feelings of community belonging, and the protections of institutions of the state. A public discourse demarcates among kin and those who are not kin, differentiating and marking out, a political space between those who are directly and deeply involved in community and the university (through a relationship to an employer, a relationship to intellectual labor, or a relationship of in loco parentis) from those who are not seen as deeply or directly involved in the work of the university. Public mourning tells us who is valuable and who is not valuable, who is intelligible and not intelligible, which subjects, which bodies, which labor, and which behaviors contribute to domains of value and utility that neoliberal universities produce. Exceptional subjects are included in relationships of ethical responsibility and are mourned. Unexceptional subjects are abandoned to discourse of charity.

The single public text of Mr. Montano’s death reveals a structure of American modernity and liberalism that makes Latino workers disappear.  The domesticated immigrant worker in the neoliberal center is identified through markers as father and family man. Work and heterosexuality has the effect of briefly making Montano’s life visible so he can be recognized, his death can be regretted, and responsibility can be directed to the subcontracted company. The events of his life and death are then quickly folded from view. Montano’s death does not become a presence which resonates after a fleeting moment when the events of his death are duly recorded and regret is expressed. He becomes in the structures of feeling of the university a ghostly presence, there but not there, a palimpsest of whom unactualized traces exist.

 

(Image Credit: Union Safety)