January 30, 2008

If you go to the Communist Party USA website, you will find several new youtube videos, as well as a response to President Bush's 2008 State of the Union address.

Rose Kachadoorian In Salem And Armenia

Rose Kachadoorian gave a great presentation on her recent trip to Armenia at the Salem SEIU office last night. The room was packed, the food (mostly prepared by Rose) was delicious and there was a good back-and-forth between Rose and those attending. Rose gave a basically socialist interpretation of life in Armenia today. She is clearly a gifted presenter and teacher.

Rose went to Armenia to do pesticide education and in order to work on a cob house project. She did four seminars on pesticides and related environmental hazards.

Rose told us that only 16% of land in Armenia is arable. After collective farming was abolished, small parcels of land were given or sold to people and this model brings with it many problems. In her presentation Rose detailed for us what crops are grown in Armenia and what their relative importance is. Grapes, tomatoes and livestock are important to rural Armenia. It is difficult for Oregonians to understand why Armenia is not better developing a beer industry with their hops.

It seems that getting soil samples done in Armenia is now impossible and that there is a serious shortage in the country of educational bulletins and other information to assist farmers. There is also a shortage of rural medical workers there. Pesticides are often stored in pop bottles, protective gear is not used and and some people trust supposed cures for pesticide poisoning which don't work.

Cob is developed from organic materials, mixed and then used to build or insulate homes. This creates the possibility that old homes in Armenia can be rehabilitated, workers can learn new skills and an economy can develop around these needs and this work.

Rose used a slide show to illustrate her points and to call to our attention some of the differences between Armenia and Oregon. I think that we were all interested in scenes of workers eating together, rather than in cubes, and people making lavash. One important point Rose made--and which an Armenian-American audience member underscored--is the strong role that families play in Armenian life and the role that the churches play there in preserving family and communal history.

Rose spoke briefly about the war over Nagorno-Karabagh. She pointed out that the Nagorno-Karabagh entity has one of the world's highest numbers of accidents due to unexploded ordnance. She also told us about the lingering effect on the country from the 1988 earthquake.

Rose and people in the audience briefly detailed the existing political and economic situation in Armenia today, which is not good.

We left the event well-fed, well-educated and pondering the disaster which capitalism has brought with it to Armenia.

January 29, 2008

Andy Stern In Portland

A few of us attended the rally for Portland Public Schools workers last night and then went to hear SEIU President Andy Stern speak.

You can read about the workers' struggle here. It was an energetic rally which clearly impressed the Portland school board and probably did some good. Since the mid-1980s I have been wondering about the effectiveness and wisdom of marching through deserted streets and then not disrupting business-as-usual when needed. We did the march last night, but we also filled the room when the school board met and made an effective statement. The practice of solidarity is a good value in itself and we see too little of it.

SEIU President Andy Stern spoke briefly at the rally, as did some union members and SEIU Local 503, OPEU Executive Director Leslie Frane. They sounded a militant tone.

President Stern later addressed a mixed crowd at a church in downtown Portland. He gave a "big-picture" talk which highlighted certain features of the capitalist crisis: centralization and globalization of wealth and power, world economic integration from which no country can uncouple and the loss of citizen power. He talked about a new and negative corporatism and contrasted this with the problems faced by "Team America" and the inability of the system and the unions to fully meet these problems.

President Stern has a reputation for innovative thinking and for finding unexpected opportunities and solutions to problems. Some people on the left refer to him as "class collaborationist"--meaning that he lacks class consciousness and opportunistically leads and splits the labor movement around an agenda which does not benefit workers--while the ultra-right sees Stern as splitting their ranks and working to create a climate in which unions sneak in under the capitalist radar screen and reassert themselves.

I did hear a few surprising concepts advanced from Stern last night. First, he talked rather bluntly about capitalism and corporatism and went so far as to equate a kind of corporatism with fascism. He talked about socialism, if only in passing, and did not attack the Chinese or the Chinese economy head-on. He did not use the event to back a particular candidate and seemed at one point to go out of his way to appear tough and non-partisan. He came out in support of term limits. He dispensed with the myth that education is a key to success or well-being in the current capitalist economy.

Stern is a patriot at heart and his is the voice of the American middle-class facing dispossession. He goes further than most union leaders, who typically get stuck in being reactive and having an agenda which only meets the narrow needs of the moment, by projecting questions and then by finding allies and solutions beyond the working class and union experiences.

Stern said that the New Deal is basically irrelevant to our work today. He didn't pose solutions to the big-picture problems he highlighted, except to say that markets aren't working. He mentioned in passing that co-ops, professional associations and the use of pension funds to win gains for workers might be models for solving the social crisis.

None of these points are taken up publicly by leading union officials. Whether we agree with Stern or not, we have to welcome the social conversation he is initiating.

The first question to Stern from the audience was about the Change to Win union federation. Stern still defends CtW but admits that it was not the spark that he hoped it would be. Behind that, I think, is an admission that part of the labor movement over-estimated our reach and the consciousness and desires of American workers at a particular moment. For Stern, the problems experienced by CtW may have pushed him in other directions, and perhaps to the right. A logical follow-up question concerned organizing internationally and Stern said that all workers with the same employer should be in the same union internationally and he cited a successful SEIU-backed worldwide union organizing effort among security guards.

The core question of the evening--"So, Andy, what specifically are your problems with capitalism and unions and what are your programmatic solutions and what are the vehicles needed to move these forward?"--didn't get asked. The opportunity was there--and Stern should get credit for providing the opportunity--but the crowd choked. We're too accustomed to short-term thinking, in ourselves and in our union leaders.

So--no strong surprises. We had the sense after President Stern's talk that he may be laying the groundwork for a new political career or a for a new political initiative.

January 25, 2008

Oregon Food Prices

Food prices are generally increasing. We’re hearing that Oregon is getting hit with some remarkably steep increases in food prices. Why is this so?

Nationally, meat prices are projected to increase by something like two to three per cent in the coming months. Egg prices may be dropping, but dairy prices are projected to increase at the same rate meat prices are. Fresh fruits, cereals and bakery products may easily see price increases of five to seven per cent. Sea food price increases are projected to be as high as four per cent.

It seems that some typical food prices in Oregon shoot somewhat over average national prices and some fall below national averages. A head of lettuce in Oregon, for instance, costs as much as 56 cents more than the national average price. Orange juice, on the other hand, can be as much as 75 cents less than the average national price. White bread can cost as much as $1.60 more in Oregon than elsewhere. Fresh whole chicken here books in at 52 cents below the national average price. Ground beef can be almost $1.60 more per pound here in Oregon than the national average price.

Oregon produces lettuce, dairy products, bread, eggs, chicken and beef and we’re not far from orange-producing areas. Transportation costs, including fuel prices, to markets must be relatively low. Oregon is a state where retailers like Les Schwab use "free" Oregon meat to draw in business. Wage rates in agriculture-related industries are low and unemployment is over 5 per cent in Oregon; wages for most workers are unlikely to increase significantly any time soon. We can't blame the price increases on long distances, transportation or wage increases.

In tough times, people often turn to cheaper sources of protein and low-end foods. We assume that a simple supply-and-demand process exists here, but it doesn't. There seems to be an increasing demand for eggs, for instance, but the price of eggs is dropping and is projected to continue to drop.

There is no shortage of supermarkets and big box stores here, even with the Albertson’s closings. Fast food—also apparently booming in Oregon—probably gives the supermarkets a run for the money, especially for poor people’s money. The theory that competition eventually drives prices down by itself would not seem to apply here.

It stands to reason that technological change would lower the cost of food production and that this would show up in lower or stable prices. For all of the GMO development, new fertilizers, development and diversity of products in the dairy industry and the free research ride agribusiness gets through state university systems we are still not seeing lower or stable food prices. The relative costs of food production related to technological development are probably dropping, however.

The argument that resources and foodstuffs are being "diverted" to other international markets incorrectly assumes that there are natural and necessary limits to food production and that markets must compete under conditions of scarcity for necessary items. Since this is not so, we cannot blame scarcity or other countries for high food prices here in Oregon.

So—why the price increases?

It’s probably true that farmers and agribusiness are deciding, as a matter of policy, not to increase laying flocks, that increasing fuel costs have some part to play, that feed prices are up and that more corn crops are being diverted for ethanol production. We have seen a shift in the Willamette Valley towards labor-intensive nurseries on farmland and away from edible crops. The passing housing boom has meant less farmland overall here, straining food production. It may also be true that agribusiness is unable to attract low-wage workers given the recent anti-immigrant legislation. These reasons all reflect choices that capitalists make in the marketplace—seemingly rational choices based on a need and struggle to maintain a rate of profit--and forces and events that they come up against.

But, bottom line, I think that the capitalists are making another fundamental choice which is not being discussed in the media. Wherever and whenever possible, the capitalists are increasing agricultural production or, through competition, are maintaining surpluses and temporary shortages while either maintaining wages at their current levels or actually cutting pay. Through competition, the food retailers are slowly centralizing their economic power and seeking to boost sales while cutting or maintaining labor costs as well.

Actual food production costs may not be stable, and they are not dropping uniformly, but I think that it's a safe bet that there is at least a general drop in agribusiness production costs. This drop may be offset, or not, for agribusiness by the movement of other commodities, including the cost of labor power. So it is that we see this relentless drive to build more big box stores and we watch as these corporations affect and then play a determining role in how food is produced and at what cost.

The cost of food will eventually settle at its value. In turn, the cost of food will help set the value of labor, or wages. We know what a minimum wage is, but we cannot know what a minimum profit is. The maximum rate of profit is determined by the (relative) minimization of wages and the (relative) increase or prolongation of working hours; this elasticity established under capitalism in the relationship between labor power, wages and profits insures a class struggle. We're in for a bumpy ride.

January 24, 2008

Gaza--Finally Some Good News!

Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TocjkugWEEc to see the Al-Jazeera report on the Gaza break-out.

Watching it, I was reminded of these approximate lines from the play "Marat/Sade":

...Screaming in language
that no one understands
of the rights that we grabbed
with our own bleeding hands
as we stormed through the hallways
and tore down the walls
of the prison they told us
would outlast us all...

The Israeli wall is vulnerable.

January 22, 2008

Are The Forward's Editors Insane?

The Forward began as a Jewish socialist newspaper one-hundred-and-eleven years ago. Originally published in Yiddish, it served as a bridge for immigrants and quickly moved to the right and into the liberal center. In the 1980s the English supplement became a newspaper in its own right and has attracted a number of great writers. For much of its history the paper was a daily; today it publishes weekly. I believe that the paper appears in English, Yiddish and Russian today. After briefly ceding first-place to other Jewish press, the Forward is again a leading Jewish newspaper. The Forward’s offices once literally towered over my old New York neighborhood.

An editorial in the January 4 issue makes me question the sanity of the Forward’s editorial board—not just their politics, which are often tragic enough, but their sanity.

The editorial states that an unknown but significant number of American Jews will cast their votes this year based on Israel’s security needs. We don’t know if this is true or not—the editorial does not attempt to prove this point with statistics or polling data—but let’s take this as fact for the sake of argument.

The editorial goes on to claim that among American Jews a major shift to the right is taking place and that this shift is motivated or driven by fear. And the editorial--and presumably the Forward itself—then gives into this alleged fear and gives it credence.

The Forward can find no Democratic candidate for President who is sufficiently pro-Israel. The test for this is the apparent willingness of the Democratic candidates to argue for “multilateral diplomacy to contain Iran” and whether or not these candidates favor war with Iran as something other than a last resort. If they’re willing to use diplomacy to “contain Iran” and if they’re not hawks, says the Forward, they are not pro-Israel enough. The Democratic candidates’ stands apparently embarrass their Jewish supports, says the Forward: this hesitancy of the candidates to call for war is “awkward” for their leading Jewish supporters, says the paper.

The Forward intimates that there is a Jewish rush towards McCain and Huckabee. The Forward doesn't criticize this supposed rush, either. In the context of the editorial, this is a reasonable phenomenon and to be expected. The threat, says the Forward, is that this rush to the right could potentially tip “Florida, Arizona, Missouri and a few other states” towards the Republicans.

The Forward calls this a choice between “a plunge into the unknown, or more tough talk and tax cutting.” The alternative is to “Wait for a Democrat to take office, and then push hard for military action.” The Forward says this might work—but to what end?—and the editorial then ends on an ambiguous note.

We have no problem finding Democratic politicians who are extremely pro-Israel and pro-war. It is easier for us to name those who are not pro-zionist and pro-war than those who are, in fact. If we leave this point and the debatable and supposed shift to the right by masses of American Jews based on Israel’s supposed military needs alone, however, we are still stuck with the Forward’s effective call to war. This is insanity.

War serves no people’s interests and, in fact, any war involving nuclear powers (Israel and the US) could tip the scale easily towards extinction. To imagine otherwise is insanity.

The paper is effectively working for the right when it treats matters of war and politics ambiguously. And arguing that there is a Jewish rush towards Huckabee? Is he such a friend of the Jewish people, or has the apocalyptic Christian Zionism touched him also? We credit middle class and working class Jews with being able to discern Huckabee’s true character, but apparently the Forward is unable to.

What does the Forward's front-page warning amount to? It signals to the candidates that they must move to the right. This signal endangers the Jewish people as much as it does others in the long run. It is irresponsible.

A look at recent Forward headlines, moreover, makes a case against war and against the main points raised in the editorial: “Israeli Operations In Gaza Meet Little Resistance In Washington,” “Top Israeli Banks Accused of Sending Millions of Dollars To Hamas Entities,” “Clinton, Guliani Top Survey Of Jewish Voters” and “House Leaders Vow Tough Stance on Iran” recent Forward headlines proclaim.

January 18, 2008

OSU: Money Makes Money

Money makes money: this is the miracle of capitalism. Workers sell a commodity (labor power) to get money in order to purchase commodities. A good capitalist or administrator, on the other hand, is a money owner: he buys commodities (including labor power) in order to sell them in order to get money. He must be a Midas if he is to survive for long in the marketplace. Surplus value (profit) is won only through the exploitation of wage-labor. The capitalist or administrator has the choices of either lengthening the workday, “revolutionizing” production and distribution, reducing the value of our labor power or somehow fleecing society and consumers at large by drinking too long and deeply at the public trough or playing “Gotcha!” with fees and add-ons if he is to survive at all. These gathered-in profits are then distributed as either interest, rent or profit. The capitalists, money-lenders and landlords all take their shares.

Now today we see these principles well illustrated by Oregon State University.A study detailed in today’s news shows that OSU’s “economic footprint” is now $1.5 billion – 50 percent higher than it was just a decade ago. See “Oregon State University: An Economic Analysis” for details.

The study measures the total economic activity attributable to the university. This includes the $675 million in revenue flowing into the university from sources outside of the state. It also includes nearly $114 million in annual spending from the university’s students.

OSU administration has gained a news sense of itself and feels that they have much to crow about. OSU President Ed Ray now speaks of OSU as an “economic catalyst and engine.” This study, he says, “makes a strong case for the value of investing in this university. Simply put, every dollar of state general funds invested in OSU leverages nearly $10 in further support for the university and spending statewide.”

OSU also brags about having a strong economic impact in all of Oregon’s 36 counties. The study pegs this at a $1.165-million average economic impact per county. This figure excludes Benton and Linn counties, where the university supposedly delivers nearly $250 million in value-added economic effects.

According to the OSU press release, University “economic output in each of those 36 counties ranges from more than a combined $652 million in Benton and Linn to $103,668 in Wheeler. Fifteen counties each show economic output related to OSU of more than $1 million. Furthermore, OSU expenditures led to some 16,000 full- and part-time jobs for Oregonians statewide.”

The role of OSU employee wages in determining the size or depth of this “economic footprint” gets some mention, but we’re still seen as falling largely under “other payroll expenses.” Still, it’s logical to deduce from the report that the relatively high level of wages and benefits paid to union-represented OSU employees are not only not breaking the bank but are actually helping imprint OSU’s “footprint.”

Rebecca Johnson, OSU vice provost for Academic Affairs and International Programs as well as an economics professor in the OSU College of Forestry, is quoted in the University’s press release as saying, “Every taxpayer in the state can look to these numbers with confidence and know that their investments in Oregon State are paying significant, valuable dividends.” What seems to be happening instead is that taxpayers are paying the freight for OSU expenses while private industry gets from the University a number of immediate benefits--research and the products of research, trained workers and a reserve of labor power, an investment haven and more. OSU’s boast that the University “is one of only two U.S. universities designated a land grant, sea grant, space grant and sun grant institution” is an advertisement for its role as an entry point into international markets.

The bottom-line University claim here is that OSU is worth $1.5 billion a year. OSU has set about “revolutionizing” its production or output by creating a number of business or cost centers and will eventually eliminate departments and replace them with divisions—the corporate model. The state share of OSU’s costs—and, therefore and eventually, its profits—will eventually shrink to the point that it can no longer be considered a public institution if these trends continue. Indeed, OSU may already have reached this point.

Faculty salaries at OSU generally fall below faculty salaries across the Pacific Northwest. Union-represented workers at OSU won a relatively good union contract last year, but this doesn’t make up for the wage freeze or the reduction in positions which they have experienced.

It's fair to ask what the "product" is at OSU--knowledge, labor-power, workers, research and results or money?

Our basically Marxist analysis of where profits come from and where they go given above is sustained by the study and by what we see on campus every day.

The study and the related OSU press release are designed and timed, I think, to remind us that we are hostages to a system which allows multinational corporations almost-unhindered access to the work, resources and results created at public expense in public institutions. The study and the press release say “Feed us—or else.”

January 14, 2008

Global Capitalism

I asked Jerry Harris to write this review for our blog after reading a piece he wrote for Science & Society. This ties in with a series of discussions Willamette Reds has been having for some time. I think that Jerry's piece below and the book he is reviewing for us takes us to the next level of discussion.

A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class and State in a Transnational World
, by William I. Robinson. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004. Pp. 200.

William Robinson has added another important book to his growing body of work. His new effort, A Theory of Global Capitalism, argues that globalization is a new stage of world capitalism. Unlike his previous explorations into the affects of globalization on particular countries and regions, this book has a larger canvass, developing a framework to understand change and conflict in today’s world. Robinson’s focus is on three key issues, transnational production, transnational capitalists and the transnational state.

The first chapter argues globalization is a new era characterized by the rise of transnational capital. The transnational economy is based on global assembly lines where production is coordinated across borders and where capital flows unrestricted from one country to another. Information technologies laid this foundation by giving capitalism greater mobility that allowed it to establish a worldwide command and control structure. These changes led to key differences between the old national industrial economy and the new global economy. The old international system was based on national production linked to the world through export trade. But today’s world system is based on “the rise of globalized circuits of production and accumulation.” (p.11) This means transnational corporations produce anywhere, employ everywhere and sell in markets spanning the entire world. Transnational capitalists coordinate this vast network of relationships assuming leadership in the world economy from which they dictate global patterns of accumulation.

Robinson has contributed important insights into the development of the transnational capitalist class (TCC). He argues that a new global capitalist class has emerged with the integration of finance and production through foreign direct investments, cross border mergers and acquisitions and global assembly lines. Hence these transnational capitalists emerge as the dominant fraction of capital that, “imposes the general direction and character on production worldwide and conditions the social, political, and cultural character of capitalist society.” (p. 48) But Robinson is careful to draw attention to the continued existence of national capital, showing that many of today’s political and economic struggles reflect the competition between national and transnational capitalism. Both have their own forms of organization and patterns of accumulation. As with the first chapter, the author offers a range of economic data to support his views. Here Robinson examines the growth of transnational corporations, cross border mergers and acquisitions, the global interlocking of directorates, strategic alliances and the rise of Third World transnational elites.

The second chapter ends with the argument that a new dominant (or hegemonic) bloc has emerged, creating new globalized capital-labor relations. This bloc has its own political project carried out by agencies such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO, as well as national governments that work to adjust their economies to the demands of global capitalism. The author also points out that a unified vision of the global system has not been developed and that “conflicting solutions to the problems of global capitalism based on the historical experiences of their regional systems” lead to debates and differences within the TCC. (p. 76)

Chapter three offers what is perhaps the most controversial section of Robinson’s theory, the emergence of a transnational state (TNS). The author challenges the idea that states by nature have a national form, arguing that nation-states arose from a particular epoch of capitalism with historically determine capital-labor relations. These relations, when replaced by new forms of accumulation, produce new institutions through which class power is expressed. Robinson links three key ideas: first, that the TCC has brought into existence institutions that express their authority; second, that the nation-state is being transformed and absorbed into larger global structures; and lastly the transnational states “institutionalizes the new class relation between global capital and global labor.” (p. 88). As Robinson shows, the transnational state is not a “fully functioning political, administrative and regulatory structure…there is no clear chain of command and division of labor” (p.117). Rather it is emerging from the “political consequence of the social practice and class action of the TCC” (p. 121) as it attempts to build a new economic, social and political framework. It takes form not as a preconceived plan, but from the process of historic change itself.

One problem for Robinson’s transnational state theory is the role of military force, a key element of state power. His argument is that since the TCC controls the US government it follows all policies are on behalf of the global TCC, including US military goals. This fails to see a split between national and transnational factions of US capitalism and fails to recognize unilateralism as the counter hegemonic project of the nationalist wing of US capitalism. If history proceeds by two steps forward and one step back, then Bush is certainly one step back from globalism. This is easy to see in the widespread rejection of the war in Iraq by globalist regimes throughout the world who certainly do not see US leadership on their behalf. The problem is no functioning definition for translateral politics has been developed. There are clear lines of difference between transnational and national economic practices. In the transnational economy global capitalist share leadership and control and have many institutions through which they set goals and settle disputes. But transnational capitalists outside the US have no institutional means to affect US military policy. There are multilateral links developed in the old international system, but these lack the deep integration seen in the economic realm. The US state still maintains sole leadership of the US military. But wouldn’t a transnational state by nature have integrated and translateral political governance where global military policy would be worked out in such world institutions as the UN? It seems there is still a disconnect between the advanced state of economic global integration and the emergence of a fully developed world political structure.

In the book’s last chapter Robinson looks at many of the inherent contradictions within global capitalism as well as possible alternatives. The problems of over accumulation, global poverty and the social crisis are analyzed through a Marxist framework that the author shares with many critics of globalization. Robinson’s books are always informed by the work of Antonio Gramsci. Once again he puts the Italian Marxist to good use in a discussion of the battle over hegemony within the TCC, as well as examining the anti-capitalist social movements. Although this section is not as original as the preceding chapters there are still excellent insights into the current stage of political struggles and debates. Central to the author’s view is that “Social conflicts linked to the reorganization of the world economy will lie at the heart of world politics” (p. 175). He states that although the TCC has been unable to sustain hegemony in civil society, neither have social movements been able to offer a viable alternative. Here Robinson calls on popular movements to breakout of their local and isolated oppositional struggles to build a transnational movement and transnationalized class consciousness.

Robinson’s book is a major achievement in theorizing globalization and perhaps the best defense of transnational capitalist class theory to date. Wheter or not one agrees the book is a must read presenting a powerful theoretical thesis that needs to be contemplated and responded to by all who consider globalization a key question for our time.

Jerry Harris
Global Studies Association, Chicago

January 12, 2008

Twenty-Four Hours In Salem, Oregon And The Crisis Of Capitalism

We talk a great deal here about capitalist crises. Perhaps we feel that this is something abstract or far away. But look at the last 24 hours of life here in Salem.

Almost 2000 immigrant workers and their supporters rallied at the state Capitol yesterday as the driver's license issue continues to be the flashpoint for worker and immigrant rights. The easy-to-grasp story is that undocumented workers risk a great deal to come here for low-paying jobs that others don't seem interested in taking. Their labor and taxes supports a regional economy which is relatively strong but which also has some fragile spots. The immigrants get blamed for the system's economic weaknesses by people like Ted Campbell, one of the Oregon Minutemen. The media gave Campbell and his group more publicity than they merited after the state Capitol hearing and protests.

When one of Campbell's colleagues responds to protesters with views other than his own by saying that the protesters are using "Third World" tactics and "That's not how we do it in America"--and when the media reprints this without critical comment-- a message is being sent. We're all being told that our rights can be sacrificed if Campbell and people like him take power or if the economy goes into crisis mode.

The harder-to-grasp story here is that capitalism constantly pulls people into producing goods and services for profit and has an almost insatiable need to produce more and to open more markets. The system's historic tendency is to move beyond the local and the national and into global markets--and not just for the sake of competitive production and sales, but also in order to trade in human beings and so to lower the costs of production and to maintain rates of profit. An economy based on pulling ever more people into producing and buying commodities internationally for profit cannot suddenly restrict access to jobs and services in a particular strategic region--it won't work. The competition for markets and lower production costs also creates economic insecurity and competition among workers and gives racism its peculiar footing here.

While this is going on we also see some capitalists looting both the public treasuries and consumers in newer and bolder ways. One example of this is Cabela's, now known as "the world's foremost outfitters." Cabela's gets it market advantage by collecting sales taxes at its huge box store in Pennsylvania and not handing the money over to the state and by getting local government subsidies elsewhere. These are legal agreements made between the company and state and now common with the box store corporations. Will we see this in Keizer? The advertised solution to crowded River Road is to build more box stores and expand housing development and then to build another road. How about skipping the development and improving existing housing and services instead?

Another example are the fees collected at ATMs--you get charged for trying to buy back your own money--or those mysterious charges on your cellphone bill that you can never explain.

Ivan Cam may have taken these lessons to heart in running his operation. The drug trade and fencing stolen property have essentially the same rules as legal capitalism: invested money creates money; most things eventually sell for what they cost to produce; and a kind of "expropriation" constantly takes place between the capitalist, the worker and the consumer so that the capitalist has an interest in getting ever more out of the worker and selling more dearly to consumers. In the case of the drug trade, capitalists get to sell more dearly to ever-more-desperate consumers. Cam followed the capitalist playbook, even if he did so illegally. And like so many Oregon capitalists, he apparently did his share of polluting--he's doing 45 days in Marion County Jail for violating state environmental laws and it looks like additional federal environmental charges are coming.

The arrests of Kevin Lee Deal and Sarah Marie Deal for child porn, encouraging sex abuse, animal abuse and animal neglect illustrate a particular and peculiar turn the system takes. We live in a society very much based on the strong victimizing the weak: it's a principle built into our system of property rights, labor law and civil rights. The Deals apparently internalized this. The poodles got care and have been adopted, but what about the kids involved and the questions of how and why these sorts of things occur and reoccur in our community?

It seems unlikely to me that any of this would be occurring in a society based on cooperation, community and environmentally-friendly production and distribution for use. The examples cited above illustrate the outcomes of the capitalist crisis and they allow us to look deeper into how this crisis plays out here in Salem.

The mural above speaks to a time many Oregonians still use as our frame of reference or understanding. Those days are gone, and not just because times change and pass, but also because in the passing of time capitalist development here took certain paths and we now live where these paths have taken us. The poem below, written by Ralph Chaplin eighty-plus years ago, more accurately captures our present moment than the state Capitol murals.


What path is left for you to tread
When hunger-wolves are slinking near--
Do you not know the West is dead?

The "blanket-stiff" now packs his bed
Along the trails of yesteryear--
What path is left for you to tread?

Your fathers, golden sunsets led
To virgin prairies wide and clear--
Do you not know the West is dead?

Now dismal cities rise instead
And freedom is not there nor here--
What path is left for you to tread?

Your fathers' world, for which they bled,
Is fenced and settled far and near--
Do you not know the West is dead?

Your fathers gained a crust of bread,
Their bones bleach on the lost frontier;
What path is left for you to tread--
Do you not know the West is dead?

January 10, 2008


The following item is being passed around the net by concerned labor educators. The story originates in The Wall street Journal. It speaks to a modern form of blacklisting and the fragility and limits of workers' rights in the USA.

Starbucks Emails Describe Efforts to Stop Unionization
January 9, 2008 8:45 p.m.

A series of emails by Starbucks <http://online.wsj.com/quotes/main.html?type=djn&symbol=sbux>

Corp. managers sheds light on the company's efforts to thwart union organizing among its baristas.

The emails, which are part of a labor-dispute proceeding in New York and were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, open a rare window onto the company's labor relations practices. Labor experts not involved with the case said the activity is not illegal. But the emails could prove embarrassing because they show managers using various methods to identify pro-union employees.

The Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, has been trying to organize workers at Starbucks since 2004 and has been able to organize only several dozen at a handful of stores in New York and a few other cities.

According to several emails, in early 2006, Starbucks managers discovered that two pro-union employees in New York were graduates of a Cornell University labor program. According to an email, managers took the names of graduates from an online Cornell discussion group and the school's Web site and cross-checked them with employee lists nationwide. They found that three employees in California, Michigan and Illinois were graduates of the program and recommended that local managers be informed.

The emails are exhibits in a pending case before an administrative law judge in New York. Brandon Borrman, a Starbucks spokesman, said most of the documents relate to issues that were already settled in a separate agreement with the National Labor Relations Board, in which the company didn't admit any wrongdoing. He said the claims in that case were baseless but declined to comment on specifics, and said disclosure of the documents violates a confidentiality order.

Referring to Starbucks employees as partners, he said: "We honor the free choices of partners, and we strictly comply with labor laws, including those for organizing activities. It is unfortunate that a small group of activists continues to misrepresent itself as speaking on behalf of more than 150,000 partners world-wide when it does not.

"In the pending NLRB case in New York, the IWW has accused Starbucks of committing about 30 labor law violations during 2005 and 2006. The union argues that the company's effort to identify union supporters was part of a broader campaign of unlawful activity, and it argues that the company discharged three employees because they supported the union."

What possible nondiscriminatory reason could Starbucks come up with to scrutinize Cornell graduates working at the company?" said Daniel Gross, a former barista in New York. He alleges that he was fired in August 2006 because he is a union activist, and his termination is a subject of the pending NLRB case.

Workers at Starbucks often have higher pay and better benefits than typical part-time food-service employees. Starbucks in 2006 said its New York baristas typically start at about $8.75 an hour. According to the Department of Labor, the group that includes counter attendants, cafeteria workers, food-concession workers and coffee-shop workers had a median wage of $7.76 that same year.

The company emails show that managers have been fighting the union since 2004. "Below is a summary of the recent developments in New York City regarding our attempts to thwart a potential union situation," begins an email dated Oct. 29, 2004 by a Starbucks New York regional official.

In subsequent emails, managers identify whether an employee is an "IWW supporter" and discuss when pro-union employees will be reviewed and those that are "at risk" of being terminated.

Taking action against an employee based on union sympathies, such as firing an employee or directly asking if they support the union, would be illegal, said Chuck Cohen, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board and a partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius in Washington. But "employers speculating about individual union sympathies is not unlawful," he said.

Several times, managers expressed concern that emails could turn up in a legal case. On May 13, 2005, a manager warned: "Also, not to sound too 007 here but I am going to ask that we delete these messages after reading and stick to verbal conversations as none of this is protected under attorney client privilege and is subject to full disclosure."

In an email the prior day, the manager suggested that managers avoid "any specific language around 'union avoidance,'" and added, "It's semantics but we really wan [sic] to avoid any wording that suggests we engaged in counter union activity."

In other emails, managers discuss employee relationships to discern their union preferences. In one case, executives sought information about a Halloween party employees attended, and noted that a discussion about the union between two employees ended in part because they "were attracted to each other and this became the focus of their evening."

Write to Kris Maher at kris.maher@wsj.com <mailto:kris.maher@wsj.com> http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119992798501479685.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Starbucks Workers Union:http://www.starbucksunion.org/

January 7, 2008

Michael McGinnis Makes A Great Point

Michael Munk is forwarding the following letter from Michael McGinnis around. It originally appeared in The Oregonian. It reminds me of a comment by Gil Scott-Heron: "They have one bomb for every man, woman and child in the world. If you don't like the ways things are, call 'em up and tell 'em and they may send you yours."

Hoover's hit list, 2008

It would be interesting to see a list of the 12,000 people whom FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had determined to be "potentially dangerous" to national security ("FBI planned mass arrests in 1950," Dec. 23). With hindsight, we could analyze the names and decide just how "dangerous" these "radicals" were.

Would we find a bevy of bomb builders bent on the destruction of our nation? Or would we find civil rights leaders, labor leaders, intellectuals and others whose views were not in line with the ultraconservative Hoover's?

As we watch the current administration "rendition" those whom it believes to be enemies of the state, we should think back to those on the list and re-evaluate their threat. Then we should wonder who would be on the list if it were made now. Would I, simply for speaking out against the administration?


January 6, 2008

Salem, Oregon--Upcoming Cultural Events

We scooped the Statesman-Journal by profiling 6Killa and talking about a local poetry reading. We didn't use the condescending tone the S-J did, either, in last Saturday's paper. The tone of the article invited the first reactive reader response. I hope that others are responding more positively. The S-J web page is blocking my attempts to respond.

Some classic must-see films are coming to Salem.

On Wednesday, January 16 Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" will show. On February 20 the great Charlie Chaplin film "Modern Times" will show. On March 12 "The Grapes of Wrath" will show. All films will be shown at the Elsinore. Doors open at 6:00 pm and thefilms start at 7:00 pm. The cost is $5.00 per showing.

These films aren't just great works of art--they are also core introductions to basic marxism.

If this blog sometimes seems beyond your interest level or reach, go see these films--and let us know what we're doing wrong, also. Almost everything we talk about here appears in these long-ago classics.