Thursday, May 7, 2015

Women and the Technological Revolution

By Reihana Mohideen

We are told that women may soon bid farewell to existing methods of birth control and welcome a new type of contraception in the form of microchip implants. An MIT start-up backed by the Bill Gates Foundation plans to start pre-clinical testing for the birth control chip this year and pave the way for a possible market debut in 2018.
The fingernail-size microchip implant -- measuring 20 x 20 x 7 millimetres -- holds enough 30-microgram daily doses of levonorgestrel—a hormone already used in several contraceptives—to last for 16 years. Women who receive the implant under the skin of their buttocks, upper arm or abdomen would also get a remote (wireless) control that allows them to halt or restart the implant whenever they like. The technology includes secure encryption to prevent outsiders from blocking or reprogramming the implants wirelessly. As an added precaution, the remote control can only communicate with the microchip implant across a distance equivalent to skin contact.
Can this new application for microchips potentially revolutionise the level of control women have over their reproductive functions? Or is this another example of intervention and control over women’s bodies, by what has been considered by many feminists to be a “patriarchal”, that is a white male-dominated scientific establishment?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Political Crisis and the Impasse of the Philippine left

By Reihana Mohideen

No Viable Political Alternative

While Walden Bello’s resignation as Akbayan congress representative should be welcomed, it has also exposed the crisis and failure of the left and progressive movement to put forward a viable alternative to elite rule. Furthermore, it has exposed the failure of the pragmatic electoral politics of the Philippine left.

An important question which needs to be posed is, how can the left respond to this latest political crisis and steer it in a progressive direction, so as to benefit the masa and not some faction of the ruling elite? Given that the major elite factions are unable to present a credible alternative, this provides the left with a unique opportunity, to present and win mass support for a left alternative to elite rule.

Another feature of the current crisis, however, is the political crisis of the left itself. For several decades now the left has been facing a crisis of its own, unable to develop the strategy and tactics to win mass support for a progressive alternative to the crisis-ridden system.

The left’s electoral tactics based on a ‘win at any cost’ formula, justifying the brazenly pragmatic deals with traditional politicians, has failed: from Bayan Muna's alliance with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when they were the official party list of the GMA-regime enabling them to win the largest number of seats of any left bloc in congress, to Akbayan's alliance with President Noynoy and the Liberal Party. Bayan Muna and the Makabayan bloc have not been able to surpass their approximately three million voter 'base' and break through to winning a seat in the senate. Akbayan garnered less votes in 2013 and did worse in the senate ratings, when they were part of the governing Liberal Party coalition, than in 2010.

Looming in 2016 is another potential electoral debacle for the left with some sections contemplating electoral alliances with the Binay dynasty, the ultimate trapo and even Duterte, a neo-fascist.

The opportunist electoral tactics of the left have been extremely damaging. It has prevented the left from effectively using the electoral arena to develop a left-progressive and anti-neoliberal political-electoral alternative in the country. It has also contributed to the demobilization of the mass movement, the lifeline of the left. It has weakened the left as an effective political force, incapable of mobilizing to the point of seriously challenging and making a dent in the system of elite politics in the country.

The left is therefore a part of the problem. It mirrors and manifests the political crisis we face today.
The Inevitable Failure of the Noynoy Regime

The crisis facing the Noynoy regime has been brewing for some time now. The Napoles revelations about the pork barrel scams exposes the entire political establishment  as being utterly self-serving and corrupt.

The pro-US foreign policy of the regime is exemplified by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which some have argued concedes more of our national sovereignty, than even the agreements made by the Marcos dictatorship in the establishment of US bases.

The Mamasapano debacle further exposes the extent of US intervention in our national affairs under the guise of the "war on terror", with the compliance of Malacanang, leading to an all out war situation in Mindanao. It may have effectively derailed the passage of the BBL and any possibility of an interim peace in Mindanao.

While demanding that the President is held accountable, we should also demand that the Akbayan leaders in cabinet be held accountable and speak the truth!

Adding to this we have the climate crisis and various issues relating to the inadequacy of the government’s disaster response, massive unemployment, especially mass youth unemployment, the infrastructure and the energy crisis and the long-term critical problems facing the run-down public education (now K12) and health systems.

Laments about the Philippines being the “basket case” of Asia meanwhile reflects the desperate poverty, hunger, malnutrition and homelessness that destroy an increasing number of the population.

When elected, many predicted that there would be a political crisis at some stage during the Aquino presidency. This regime is a typical post-Edsa-type regime: committed to neoliberalism and unable and unwilling to take on the dynasties which control the political system. The underlying problems  of the system are simply perpetuated under the Aquino government. From the very beginning the competency of the Presidency, now revealed for its bungling and ineffectuality, was also in doubt. The demobilization of the mass movement, partly due to Akabayan’s coalition with the governing party, could have been a factor that staved off the crisis well into the President’s second term.

Mamasapano is the latest in a string of issues around which this regime has lost mass support. Mamasapano is not only a failure of leadership. It’s also an indication of the depth of the crisis of the entire socio-economic and political system of Philippine capitalism. It once again demonstrates that no pro-elite, pro-capitalist regime in this country is able to provide any long-lasting solutions, or even put in place the first and necessary steps, to address the Bangsamoro quest for self-determination.

The failure of the Noynoy regime in this instance has also created a dangerous situation with the far right now on the offensive. This is a reminder to us that if the left cannot provide an alternative, there are others, such as the far right, who are waiting in the wings to seize the opportunity to do so.
The Left at an Impasse

The situation facing the left today is grim: a smaller and diminishing organized base; a demobilized mass movement; and no prospects of any significant electoral support in the lead-up to the 2016 elections. The left, in its current position, is unable to advance an alternative in the face of the political crisis facing the Noynoy regime and the elite opposition. The left is at an impasse.

How can we break through this impasse is the key question. There are no obvious and easy solutions. It will require a tremendous amount of political will and collective effort. It will require a far-reaching renewal, a transformation, of the left. It will require the formation of a new left political centre.

This will involve ongoing discussion and an honest assessment of the problems we face. It will mean being prepared to get rid of formulaic ways of conducting political work and activity. It will require a completely non-sectarian political outlook. We need to relearn and learn new ways of conducting political activity, new forms of campaigning and being prepared to test things out. We have to be able to reach out to newly radicalizing forces and foster and encourage the growth of new movements. This is a very different approach to raiding them when they emerge and carving them up between various left factions. We have to conduct intensive and sustained awareness raising and educational activities, different types of propaganda activities. We will have to make a big push back to the streets, real mobilizations of those beyond our own base and the NGO funder-driven stunts that pass for “mobilizations" of the left today.

Key elements of an alternative politics have to necessarily:

1.      Challenge the control of the clans/dynasties/oligarchy over our political system and the dictates of economic neoliberalism,
2.      Place the revival of mass struggles and the movements at the heart and centre, such that they can pose a serious challenge and become a counterweight to dynasty politics and economic neoliberalism, and
3.      Actively use the electoral arena to propagate an alternative politics, so as to raise the issues, raise people's awareness and steer the political terrain in a progressive direction.

The broad organizational form of this new political centre could be a political-electoral coalition of the left and progressive forces.

There are theoretical and even ideological implications, in relation to the socialist aims of our struggle, that we will need to discuss. How do we understand twenty-first century socialism in the Asian and regional context? How do we popularize socialist ideas in the Philippines today and win over a new generation to socialism? What are the transitional demands that orient an alternative politics towards socialism?

Some of the lessons of the most advanced struggles against neoliberalism and for political alternatives today, such as those in Latin America and Greece, based on new political forces and the renewal of the left, need to continue  to inspire and inform our political course.

April 11, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mary Jane Veloso, the Death Penalty and the "War on Drugs"


On Mary Jane Veloso, the Death Penalty and the "War on Drugs"

By Reihana Mohideen

Mary Jane Veloso's case has raised some far-reaching questions that need to be discussed by the left and the progressive movement.
Firstly, there's the issue of the death penalty. There are approximately 77 Filipino's on death row internationally and we can be pretty certain that they are not the heads of drug cartels or the corrupt politicians who are in cahoots with them or even the sons and daughters of the elite. As in Mary Jane's  case it's the small fry who are the victims -- the mules, poor women and men, desperate enough to be conned and vulnerable to being trafficked.
This is not a coincidence. It's integral to the class nature of the capitalist state that serves the interest of the ruling classes, and the 'justice' system is an integral part of this state. Capitalism is also patriarchal, hence poor women, the majority of the world's poor, are victimized even more cruelly by a patriarchal state.
This is why the left and progressive movement must demand the abolition of the death penalty. In the Philippines today, and the majority of countries world-wide, the 'justice system' serves the interest of the ruling classes and working people and the poor are the victims of it.
French revolutionary Anatole France exposed the hypocrisy of the bourgeois justice system more than a hundred  years ago, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. "
Secondly, there's the problem of the global "war on drugs" campaign. After half-a-century of the "war on drugs" there is now an increasing consensus worldwide that this "war" has failed to protect people or reduce the drug trade. Instead it has increased repression and killed millions of people, built massive criminal empires and wasted billions of dollars.
Even according to the UN secretary-generals’ special envoy on HIV/Aids, to think that a drug free world can be achieved through prohibition and repression is an "illusion".
According to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, an international committee of human rights, legal and health specialists, and a mixed bag of others ranging from former UN Sec Gen Koffi Annan to billionaire capitalists and former heads of government:
- The wholesale drugs market is worth more than the entire global market for cereals, wine, beer, coffee, and tobacco combined.

- Markup is massive — production worth €11.5bn; wholesale worth €83bn, and customer sales €290bn, in 2005.
- Fighting wars — €440m a year for those fighting along the Pakistan- Afghanistan border.
- Between 2008 and 2013, users worldwide increased by 18%, to 243m — one in every 20 people.
- Illegal opium production has increased from 1,000 metric tons to more than 4,000 since 1980.
- Heroin prices have fallen 75% since 1990, even as purity increased.
- The drug control system is unable to cope with the new psychoactive substances being produced daily.
- Money has been diverted from health care and crime fighting.
- HIV and other infections increased.
They argue that it's time to prioritize people's health and welfare first.
This has implications for us in the Philippines. We know that the long arms of the drug cartels are intertwined with big-time corruption in the law enforcement agencies, the justice system and other wings of government and the elite political establishment.

For us the first priority is a war on poverty, the best preventative measure against drugs, not the "war on drugs". A war on poverty entails a war on corruption, synonymous today with elite rule.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Capitalism and Sport


Sports is one of the very few avenues through which a handful of working class women and men can overcome the class divisions under capitalism. Mohammed Ali, to Pacquiao and Mayweather, the Williams sisters and so many other world class athletes are testimony to this. In many of these examples class, race and gender are closely intertwined.

This is because sports is very big business and, especially during the past decades of neoliberal capitalism,  has undergone a massive transformation through privatization. Football in Australia, for example, was a community sport, organized through local clubs until the 1980s when, due to its popularity, it also became a profitable commodity to be bought and sold by big capital. Now all the national teams are owned and run by big capitalists and every aspect of the sport is commodified. A similar transformation has taken place in cricket, in India, for example. All the major basket ball teams in the Philippines are dependent on big-business backers. This is also the message in the Pacquiao and Mayweather fight: boxing, certainly at this level, is no longer a sport, but big business with lots of money at stake. 

And as with every other commodity, women's bodies are used to promote the product. Even women's sports, like women's tennis, with the emphasis on the costumes and the camera shots focusing on women's legs and behinds, is an example of this.

The key issues in all this are the privatization ( and therefore commodification) of all sports and how to bring sports back into the control of communities, to be played for the game itself and not for profit. This also means that society -- people -- should decide how to develop sports, within a pro-people, non-sexist, non-racist culture and which sport should be encouraged and which ones phased out. And these issues will have to be discussed and debated extensively, through a process of popular participation. In the transition to an anti-capitalist, socialist and feminist society, how to redress the various aspects of bourgeois and patriarchal culture that we inherit, including in sports, will be one of the biggest challenges any movement for social transformation will face.