South Africa shack dwellers killed

September 29th, 2009

I report below an updated press statement on the attack on the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC), an informal settlement in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The settlement has been for many years at the center of people commoning on housing, electricity and water. The situation in South Africa seems to be at a crucial point and resistance to ANC politics, which is now meeting a wall of violence.

This press statement has been updated. Please use this version from now on. We will update further as we get further information.

Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC)

Emergency Press Release, Sunday 27 September 2009

Kennedy Road Development Committee Attacked – People Have Been Killed

Last night at abo ut 11:30 a group of about 40 men heavily armed with guns, bush knives and even a sword attacked the KRDC near the Abahlali baseMjondolo office in the Kennedy Road settlement. The movement was holding an all night camp for the Youth League but the camp was not attacked but the people at the camp were intimidated and threatened.
The men who attacked were shouting: ‘The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu.” Some people were killed. We can’t yet say exactly how many. Some are saying that three people are dead. Some are saying that five people are dead. Many people are also very seriously injured. The attackers broke everything that they could including the windows in the hall. They destroyed 15 houses before launching their attack. They were knocking on each door shouting ‘All the amaZulu must come out’ and then destroying the shacks. As far as we know two of the attackers were killed when people managed to take their bush knives off them. This was self defense.
The Sydenham police were called but they did not come. They said that they had no vans but they didn’t radio their vans to come. This has led some people to conclude that this was a carefully planned attack on the movement and that the police knew in advance that it had been planned and stayed away on purpose. Why else would the police refuse to come when they are being called while people are being openly murdered? When the attack happened one officer from Crime Intelligence was there in plain clothes. Read the rest of this entry »

Uninsured Travel from Across the Land of the Free for Free Healthcare from Relief Group “Remote Area Medical”

September 29th, 2009

Thousands of Americans line up to receive free healthcare provided by a relief organization called Remote Area Medical.

watch this Democracy Now video

The Independent had this story
August 15, 2009
The brutal truth about America’s healthcare

An extraordinary report from Guy Adams in Los Angeles at the music arena that has been turned into a makeshift medical centre

They came in their thousands, queuing through the night to secure one of the coveted wristbands offering entry into a strange parallel universe where medical care is a free and basic right and not an expensive luxury. Some of these Americans had walked miles simply to have their blood pressure checked, some had slept in their cars in the hope of getting an eye-test or a mammogram, others had brought their children for immunisations that could end up saving their life.

In the week that Britain’s National Health Service was held aloft by Republicans as an “evil and Orwellian” example of everything that is wrong with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama is trying to reform the US system.

The LA Forum, the arena that once hosted sell-out Madonna concerts, has been transformed - for eight days only - into a vast field hospital. In America, the offer of free healthcare is so rare, that news of the magical medical kingdom spread rapidly and long lines of prospective patients snaked around the venue for the chance of getting everyday treatments that many British people take for granted.

In the first two days, more than 1,500 men, women and children received free treatments worth $503,000 (£304,000). Thirty dentists pulled 471 teeth; 320 people were given standard issue spectacles; 80 had mammograms; dozens more had acupuncture, or saw kidney specialists. By the time the makeshift medical centre leaves town on Tuesday, staff expect to have dispensed $2m worth of treatments to 10,000 patients.

The gritty district of Inglewood lies just a few miles from the palm-lined streets of Beverly Hills and the bright lights of Hollywood, but is a world away. And the residents who had flocked for the free medical care, courtesy of mobile charity Remote Area Medical, bore testament to the human cost of the healthcare mess that President Obama is attempting to fix.

Christine Smith arrived at 3am in the hope of seeing a dentist for the first time since she turned 18. That was almost eight years ago. Her need is obvious and pressing: 17 of her teeth are rotten; some have large visible holes in them. She is living in constant pain and has been unable to eat solid food for several years.

“I had a gastric bypass in 2002, but it went wrong, and stomach acid began rotting my teeth. I’ve had several jobs since, but none with medical insurance, so I’ve not been able to see a dentist to get it fixed,” she told The Independent. “I’ve not been able to chew food for as long as I can remember. I’ve been living on soup, and noodles, and blending meals in a food mixer. I’m in constant pain. Normally, it would cost $5,000 to fix it. So if I have to wait a week to get treated for free, I’ll do it. This will change my life.”

Along the hall, Liz Cruise was one of scores of people waiting for a free eye exam. She works for a major supermarket chain but can’t afford the $200 a month that would be deducted from her salary for insurance. “It’s a simple choice: pay my rent, or pay my healthcare. What am I supposed to do?” she asked. “I’m one of the working poor: people who do work but can’t afford healthcare and are ineligible for any free healthcare or assistance. I can’t remember the last time I saw a doctor.”

Although the Americans spend more on medicine than any nation on earth, there are an estimated 50 million with no health insurance at all. Many of those who have jobs can’t afford coverage, and even those with standard policies often find it doesn’t cover commonplace procedures. California’s unemployed - who rely on Medicaid - had their dental care axed last month.

Julie Shay was one of the many, waiting to slide into a dentist’s chair where teeth were being drilled in full view of passers-by. For years, she has been crossing over the Mexican border to get her teeth done on the cheap in Tijuana. But recently, the US started requiring citizens returning home from Mexico to produce a passport (previously all you needed was a driver’s license), and so that route is now closed. Today she has two abscesses and is in so much pain she can barely sleep. “I don’t have a passport, and I can’t afford one. So my husband and I slept in the car to make sure we got seen by a dentist. It sounds pathetic, but I really am that desperate.”

“You’d think, with the money in this country, that we’d be able to look after people’s health properly,” she said. “But the truth is that the rich, and the insurance firms, just don’t realise what we are going through, or simply don’t care. Look around this room and tell me that America’s healthcare don’t need fixing.”

President Obama’s healthcare plans had been a central plank of his first-term programme, but his reform package has taken a battering at the hands of Republican opponents in recent weeks. As the Democrats have failed to coalesce around a single, straightforward proposal, their rivals have seized on public hesitancy over “socialised medicine” and now the chance of far-reaching reform is in doubt.

Most damaging of all has been the tide of vociferous right-wing opponents whipping up scepticism at town hall meetings that were supposed to soothe doubts. In Pennsylvania this week, Senator Arlen Specter was greeted by a crowd of 1,000 at a venue designed to accommodate only 250, and of the 30 selected speakers at the event, almost all were hostile.

The packed bleachers in the LA Forum tell a different story. The mobile clinic has been organised by the remarkable Remote Area Medical. The charity usually focuses on the rural poor, although they worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Now they are moving into more urban venues, this week’s event in Los Angeles is believed to be the largest free healthcare operation in the country.

Doctors, dentists and therapists volunteer their time, and resources to the organisation. To many US medical professionals, it offers a rare opportunity to plug into the public service ethos on which their trade was supposedly founded. “People come here who haven’t seen a doctor for years. And we’re able to say ‘Hey, you have this, you have this, you have this’,” said Dr Vincent Anthony, a kidney specialist volunteering five days of his team’s time. “It’s hard work, but incredibly rewarding. Healthcare needs reform, obviously. There are so many people falling through the cracks, who don’t get care. That’s why so many are here.”

Ironically, given this week’s transatlantic spat over the NHS, Remote Area Medical was founded by an Englishman: Stan Brock. The 72-year-old former public schoolboy, Taekwondo black belt, and one-time presenter of Wild Kingdom, one of America’s most popular animal TV shows, left the celebrity gravy train in 1985 to, as he puts it, “make people better”.

Today, Brock has no money, no income, and no bank account. He spends 365 days a year at the charity events, sleeping on a small rolled-up mat on the floor and living on a diet made up entirely of porridge and fresh fruit. In some quarters, he has been described, without too much exaggeration, as a living saint.

Though anxious not to interfere in the potent healthcare debate, Mr Brock said yesterday that he, and many other professionals, believes the NHS should provide a benchmark for the future of US healthcare.

“Back in 1944, the UK government knew there was a serious problem with lack of healthcare for 49.7 million British citizens, of which I was one, so they said ‘Hey Mr Nye Bevan, you’re the Minister for Health… go fix it’. And so came the NHS. Well, fast forward now 66 years, and we’ve got about the same number of people, about 49 million people, here in the US, who don’t have access to healthcare.”

“I’ve been very conservative in my outlook for the whole of my life. I’ve been described as being about 90,000 miles to the right of Attila the Hun. But I think one reaches the reality that something doesn’t work… In this country something has to be done. And as a proud member of the US community but a loyal British subject to the core, I would say that if Britain could fix it in 1944, surely we could fix it here in America.

Healthcare compared

Health spending as a share of GDP

US 16%

UK 8.4%

Public spending on healthcare (% of total spending on healthcare)

US 45%

UK 82%

Health spending per head

US $7,290

UK $2,992

Practising physicians (per 1,000 people)

US 2.4

UK 2.5

Nurses (per 1,000 people)

US 10.6

UK 10.0

Acute care hospital beds (per 1,000 people)

US 2.7

UK 2.6

Life expectancy:

US 78

UK 80

Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)

US 6.7

UK 4.8

Source: WHO/OECD Health Data 2009

Granting vs confirming rights; commons and commoning; invisibility.

May 8th, 2009

Few days ago I posted I video of Louis Wolcher’s talk on the meaning of the commons, a discussion that find inspiration from The Charters of Liberty as studied by Peter Linebough in his book The Magna Carta Manifesto. I have extracted here the central part. This extract develops four points. 1) The importance of seeing the state not simply as “granting” rights, but as confirming rights; b) For the state (king) to reach a point of confirming commoners’ rights, implies the commoners were already commoning , i.e. took their own life into their own hands: “”to common was to engage in a form of life in which you took your life, your subsistence, into your own hands and you did not wait at the table for crumbs to drop from the powerful”; 3) commoning or the memory of commoning as a different life was central in building resistence to the later enclosures; 4) the problem is today that — in “ordinary people” at least in the US — there is much little memory of commoning, hence people instinctual reaction to “market failure” and crisis is “the market, more markets, different markets.”

Point 1, 2 and 3 are brilliant and simple points that could be put in the first pages of any handbooks on “how to change the world” if there was such a thing. I think that point 4 is problematic. Not in the sense that it does not reflect some true. It certainly does. But because the commoning is not lost in our lives: it permeates them to a variety of degrees as much as it is “invisible”. There is commoning among workers in offices and factories. There is commoning in schools and hospitals. In neighbourhoods, in social movements milieus, in domestic spheres and there is definitively both commoning and a memory of commoning among the indigenous people, the migrants from the global south and in their original communities. How can we recognise it, how can we reclaim it, how can we “own it” and how can we turn it into a social force?

Anyway, here is the text on “The meaning of the commons” by Louis Walker.

“The notion of the commons in the Anglophone legal tradition is rooted in the a particular kind of historical memory ⎯ one that goes back to the fuedual era and that took institutional form in two founding documents of the english constitution: Magna Carta in 1215 and the great charter of the forest in 1225. Now, these so called charters of liberty are widely remembered today, but they are remembered primarily in only one of their aspects. The aspect I am referring to that most lawyers are familiar with in this country is the one that drew the attention of the founders of our constitution. It is the idea that the king, the sovereign, grants people certain rights and put certain limits on his power ⎯ and so in the famous article 39 of the Magna Carta we find the origin of the due process of low for example and the idea of habeas corpus. So what we have there is the idea of the king, anointed by god, putting limit on himself, restraining himself, and granting you rights. Forgotten or, I should say, barely remembered, is the other aspect of the charter of liberty. It is the notion that the king did not grant but confirmed certain customary practices that people have been engaging in for hundreds of years and which were under threat. I am referring in particular to the right of the people in common to make use of the forests and the rivers for grazing, for firewood, for basic economic needs in common with other in the community.”

“It seems to me that it is extremely important to draw the distinction that I have just drawn between the state, or the sovereign, or the king granting people rights, and confirming rights that people themselves take. In the XXI century, certainly in America, we have been beaten up so much by a positivistic conception of the law and of the state that it is hard for us to think of “rights” as anything other than creation of people that are more powerful than us, creation that are given to us by the powerful. But the customary rights that were confirmed in Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, were not given by anyone. They were taken by the people, and they forced the king to confirm what they had already taken. The commons, in this sense, as Peter Linebough so eloquently put in his book, is best expressed as commoning, not a noun, but a verb. People actually expressing not a set of property relationships, but rather a form of life in which autonomy and the ability to meet basic subsistence needs, was something that was in the grasp of the commoners themselves, not something that had to be given to them by a superior authority. Compare that for example to the widespread idea that “welfare” in our society is something that is given by the state, controlled by the state, and that can be taken away by the state. Now, the common in this sense ⎯ and I want to stress this as a matter of law, or rather of legal theory ⎯ was not property held in common. This is an important point. The commons in this original sense was not a tract of land or a forest that the king granted a deed to a group of people, villagers for example, to go in and root around and satisfy their basic subsistence needs. It was not held in common because the very notion of property, of private property is what must be put in opposition to the commons in its original sense, in its original historical memory sense. So, commoning, as a verb ⎯ I guess is a gerund ⎯ to common, how is that? ⎯ to common was to engage in a form of life in which you took your life, your subsistence, into your own hands and you did not wait at the table for crumbs to drop from the powerful. This was what was conferred in the charter of the forests and the Magna Carta in their forgotten or nearly forgotten dimensions.”

“Now the point about this . . .is that the people that commoned and that in some sense were confirmed in their commoning in these charters in the XIII century, their joined cultural memory enabled them to form a point of resistance to effort to extinguish what they have done, to estinguish their form of life. And when the landed nobility in England engaged upon the process known as the enclosures, which in our terminology would be the creation of private property rights owning their ultimate force to a grant from the king, there was a resistance possible precisely because people could remember in their life-time, or in the life time of their parents and grand parents, a different form of living.”

“ . . .Now I think that the distinction I have drawn between the commons and commoning goes to the very hart, in my interpretation at least, of the meaning of the commons. And its most important salience for us today in a world that is melting, is its political importance. If we think of the commons as commonly owned resources then we imagine begging government, the powerful, the technocrats, for a solution to our problems, as we cowar in our homes waiting for the floods to raise. On the other hand, if we think of commoning in its original sense of an ungranted, unscripted form of life, then the possibility just begins to open itself. For us to freely create the future in common with one another . . .”

“There is however a very grave problem with this distinction that I have drawn between commons and commoning, the commons as some sort of property concept and commoning as a form of life. In the XIII century in Europe commoning as a social practice was bread into the bones of the people, it was one of the elements of social construction of reality that people did common. They accepted it as normal, as part of life. And so when a threat came to it, they had a memory, something to fall back on. We are in a less fortunate position. Because the enclosures, the marketisation and globalisation of this world with the notion of private property and global capitalism has eclipsed the commons imagination to such a degree that we have lost contact with this earlier memory if ever we had it . There is nothing for us to fall back on, or, to put it differently, for most people, ordinary people, the only solution they can think of to the failures of the markets that are rawling us right now in so many different ways is the market, more market, different markets. And so, unlike the medieval peasants or the medieval commoners we do not have this cultural memory of a different way of being, or at least the average person does not in the United States. And that present a problem”.

Economic Crisis as a response to Class Struggle

April 30th, 2009

An interview to Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis on KBOO Community Radio discussing the current crisis => kboo.fm/audio/by/artist/silvia_federici_and_george_caffentzis

The Meaning of the Commons

April 17th, 2009

Great talk by Law Professor Louis Wolcher. This is the first talk in a one day conference on part of The Law of the Commons Organized by the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild Friday, March 13, 2009. Here is the programme.


Obama meets Lenin

April 12th, 2009

. . check it out here

www.commoner.org.uk/?p=80

post-war economy: Gaza

April 12th, 2009

Democracy Now! producer Anjali Kamat files a report on the state of the Gazan economy, where unemployment and poverty rates are among the highest in the world, agricultural land and infrastructure are wasteland, and tunnel smuggling into gaza is the main way people can access food and stuff but at very high prices. But there is still something missing in this report: How do people live nonetheless?

commons on video

January 22nd, 2009

video_button_white_dred.gifhere is the latest video on the commons . . .where some definitions are provided:

www.thenation.com/doc/20090126/commons_video?rel=hp_mediaband

Obama’s kids

January 8th, 2009

This summarises Obama’s world view: “We’ll provide new computers, new technology, and new training for teachers so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with kids in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future.” The rest of Obama’s Speech on the Economy is here.

Resource war in Congo and green capitalism

November 18th, 2008

video_button_white_dred.gifThis is a “democracy now” clip on the current Congo’s resource war and its links to green and communication capitalism. To what extent the new green capitalist governance paradigm that is being taking shape these days will depend on war like these? And to what extent war like these are fundamental to reshape Africa’s role in the new global political economy?