August 31, 2008

Geohn McBush and Fear Mongering the Cold War

Poor, poor Georgia.

The Georgian state ethnically cleans out the Russians of South Ossetia. South Ossetia’s ethnic Russians break away and call for protection from and unity with the Russian Federation. Russia steps in, in this obviously post Soviet and inevitable conflict… And we have the Cold War again? Did I miss something here?

So, the first rule when running right wing political campaigns is to foment fear and war mongering. Bush and his heir, John McCain, face the possibility of losing real big in November. Here we have another classic case of the right creating a false enemy (Russia), with all the boogey men of the Cold War, all in an attempt to make Bush and McCain look tough and brave… Personally, I think Bush and McCain are irresponsible. I mean, what about the threat coming to the USA from the Cayman Islands?

More significantly however, Bush’s, and McCain’s policy towards Russia is downright dangerous and provocative. The South Ossetia thing is more than an election ploy… It is also a policy of military and political confrontation with Russia. In the South Ossetia case, it is a confrontation with Russia over what is happening in Russia’s front yard. And our dear “western democratic” Georgia is up to its neck in its own aggressions towards non-Georgians.

Of course, for years now the US has planned to surround Russia with a Star Wars type missile system. US missiles in Poland, US missiles in the Czech Republic are a “for sure” Missiles in Georgia are probably in the US foreign policy planning stage, now that Ukraine doesn’t seem willing to engage in US pandering. And of course, the CIA has been playing a large role in creating and funding “oppositions” in every state of the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States for years now….

So I’m ranting and raving…

I guess it comes to this. If you like wars, want more of them, make them last longer, if you really need an enemy to make life simple… Yeah, vote for McCain… Lord knows, his predecessor has given us some real “doosies” If however, you want some responsibility in US foreign policy, based on principles of international equality and global conflict reduction, then well, you better look long past McCain…

August 28, 2008

Portland Public Schools--Do The Right Thing!

Undraia Smith is a member of SEIU Local 49 in Portland, OR. She was volunteering with her union when her little brother died suddenly from a heart attack. Her family has worked hard to get defibrillators in high schools. Unfortunately, Portland Public Schools won't accept them.

Please take a minute to call School Superintendent Carole Smith at 503-916-3200 and ask why placing defibrillators is not a priority.

A statement from Christeen Johnson follows:

My name is Christeen Johnson and I am the mother of Eddie Barnett Jr. I am also the founder of the Eddie Barnett Jr. Foundation, Inc. Please feel free to visit my website at

My son Eddie died February 23, 2005 while playing varsity basketball for Grant High School while at Madison High. Eddie was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2001 called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy or HCM. He was banned from playing any sports for one year and then his doctor changed his diagnosis to hypertension and released him to play. After an autopsy it was found that the doctor's first diagnosis was correct and Eddie went into sudden cardiac arrest that evening in February, while collapsing on the basketball court. His death was highly publicized at the time, as it was a huge impact on our community. Since Eddie’s death I found a lot of information about this disease along with sudden cardiac arrest and how Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) have been life saving in these cases.

My foundation's mission since established in 2005 has been to raise awareness of undetected heart defects in athletes and youth and to deploy AEDs into the community, mainly schools. I assisted in the legislation process, along with Rep. Mark Hass and a law was passed to require all school districts to have AEDs in them. I presented my concerns to Commissioner Randy Leonard who in turn wrote a resolution asking Portland Public Schools to put AEDs in all its schools. We presented this resolution to the City Council and it passed unanimously. I attended a PPS board meeting the year my son passed and stated my concerns. I also met with the Director of Health and Safety along with some coaches and Athletic Directors from the district and discussed this issue. To date PPS has refused to put AEDs in all the schools. Donations were offered so money should not be an issue. I also tried to contact the new Superintendent almost a week ago and was told she was too busy and someone else would get back to me. I have worked and continue to work tirelessly to save lives and families the devastation that my family has suffered from this loss especially if it can be prevented.

My concern is that Portland Public Schools seems to be reluctant in putting these units in all of their schools while all the surrounding school districts have done this immediately. As you may know just recently a life was saved at Bally Fitness by one of these machines which is one of many stories of survival in our community since my son's death. I am deeply saddened that after my son's death on one of PPS's courts, out of all districts they are refusing these machines despite donations being offered. It leads me to believe that not only is PPS not taking the loss of my son's life seriously but also not concerned about the remaining children, teachers and staff that are in these school buildings with the potential to need these machines. I pray that another life doesn't have to be lost for PPS to get on board. One life was truly enough and three years is more than enough time to realize this.

I am asking that you support me in asking the question "why?" I plead for your help with making the district accountable to citizens of this community they service and that contribute their tax dollars for these schools to continue to operate. Please take a moment to place a call, and ask Superintendent Smith "why isn't placing AED's in Portland Public Sschools not a priority?" That number is (503) 916-3200. Thank you so much for your time, attention and prayerfully your support.


Christeen Johnson

August 26, 2008

How I (Almost) Became A Hot Property

I (almost) became a hot property this week.

American media started paying attention to fifty-something blue collar white Catholic guys from Pennsylvania with the Biden announcement. I started to see some vague caricature of myself in the news. Then, to make it all even more bizarre, they started to focus on Chester County, Pa., where I lived for 9 years. Chester County is supposed to be an epicenter of some kind, even though Biden is from Scranton.

I have been searching my memory to recall one good day spent in Chester County and I have not been able to remember one. Not one. You would think that in 9 years you would have one good day. I probably did, but I can’t remember it.

When I lived there, southern Chester County was a generally poor and rural place heavy with racism and split by chasms of class and gender. It was the kind of place where they took you to the Wilmington GM plant for a senior class trip and where more kids died in self-inflicted car wrecks than went to a university. I saw my first Klansman there and I remember not being allowed outside because of a Klan rally being held miles away—my folks were that scared. Old money and gentility were giving way to a blue-collar migration from the south as jobs at Conowingo Dam, Wilmington GM and Lukens Steel opened up. There were sharecroppers and migrant farmworkers. Teen pregnancy was high. Drug use was high. The schools were warehouses and the teachers knew it and acknowledged it openly. The fifty-something blue collar white guys there who may now be voting for McCain are as likely as not to have had a drug-addled and sexually-charged adolescence, complete with fast cars and evenings turned suddenly violent. Sean Penn’s great film “At Close Range” was made about a family I knew there.

Chester County is home to Lincoln University, a top Black university, but I didn't hear word one about Black people there.

And one more thing—Catholics, and especially Italian Catholics, did not have an easy time of it there in those days. I have not seen that reported anywhere.

None of this context made it into the national media, of course. I’d love to ask leading Republicans how they feel about this.

The story from Pennsylvania was about fifty-something blue collar white Catholic guys from Pennsylvania, to be sure, but it was also about how Chester County has now become the Philly ‘burbs and how Big Pharma has pushed out the farms and factories. Somewhere along the line they lost track of the workers. The question was whether or not a guy like me identifies more with Obama or McCain. We’re suddenly the important demographic after all of these years—for this week, anyway—but the media is hinting that we have been conceded by the Dems and welcomed into the Republican fold. Biden may be our savior, or at least our able representative, though this may not be his idea of a career move or success.

Pennsylvania has been around for a long time. The working class has been around even longer. The Catholic Church predates both. Someone in the media might have noticed this before this week.

I didn’t hear anyone like me actually interviewed, mind you. The interview time went to experts and newly-arrived money talking about people like me. The new rich folks predictably voted for McCain last time, but now they’re wondering. It's beginning to sound like an old Tide commercial. The experts stayed on script.

Gimme my cheesesteak and birch beer and lemme vote for Obama, will ya?

August 23, 2008

A Few Words About Georgia, Ossetia And Abkhazia

At this time last week it seemed that the Bush administration was willing to jeopardize its relations with Russia and peaceful approaches to the mideast and Iran over the presence of Russian forces in South Ossetia and Georgia. The media was following the Bush administration's line that Russia had invaded Georgia and that the Russians and local militias were committing mass atrocities. Refugees from Ossetia were being interviewed and filmed. It took some days for the administration and the media to begin talking about Abkhazia and to acknowledge the flow of refugees towards Russian lines. Charges then surfaced in the US media that Ossetia and Abkhazia are criminally run enclaves. British Petroleum rushed quietly to exercise its considerable influence in the region.

Dangerous and rather stupid comparisons were made by the American media, Georgian lobbyists and the Bush administration--sometimes it is hard to tell the difference in who is speaking--between these events and the Prague Spring of 1968, Germany's Anschluss or the Munich Agreement of 1938. None of the comparisons were remotely credible and they served primarily to confuse people. By mid-week the media and the Bush administration were saying that Ukrainian and Polish independence were under threat.

Let's be clear. The Georgian government, headed by an American-trained lawyer, attacked Tskhinvali. The city was in ruins before Russian forces got there. It was Saakashvili, the Georgian president, who was the invader. He has been part of Bush's coalition providing support for the occupation of Iraq and a good friend of Israel.

The Bush and media responses to the Russian presence in Georgia has been a measured hysteria. Calls to isolate Russia by kicking the Russians out of the Group of 8 industrialized nations and more are either empty threats or, more seriously and dangerously, a sign that Bush has learned nothing in Iraq and that American unilateralism continues without pause. These threats also serve to tell the Russians that the American government considers them insignificant. It's the kind of insult which leads to a divided world deep in conflict.

South Ossetia is not Georgia: Russian forces did not invade Georgia by going into South Ossetia. We can see from Ossetia's experience that the historic formula of creating autonomous regions within countries now has limited or no applicability. Georgia has been violating South Ossetian rights since at least 1991 and, in response, Russia has been present in South Ossetia since 1991 or 1992. In the recent past Georgians living in South Ossetia have found some common political cause with their Ossetian neighbors and not all Ossetians have lined up behind separatists or nationalists. The dubious argument that Ossetia and Abkhazia are criminally run enclaves, even if this were true, argues more for their liberation than for them remaining within a state that does not meet their needs and makes us wonder where Saakashvili has been while criminals were moving in to the two regions.

The situation in Abkhazia is more complicated. Many Abkhaz insist that they are independent of Georgia. Abkhaz have been eligible to receive Russian passports since 2000--their own passports cannot be used for international travel--and Russia pays pensions in Abkhazia and provides other needed financial benefits for most of those who apply. The Abkhaz get all of this without having to pay Russian taxes or serve in the Russian military. The Russian government, bad as it is, did not need a conflict now, and especially a conflict which had the potential to disrupt international oil supplies and stick it with an occupation of a region with such a low standard of living and so many problems. There have been massive and tragic population shifts in Abkhazia since the fighting in the 1990s which tip any attempt to find social consensus there. And there are other national groups in the region, most notably the impoverished Armenians, who also need justice and help in economic development.

American unilateralism will not help build consensus in Abkhazia or across the Caucasus region.

Georgians, Abkhaz and Ossetians did relatively well as part of the USSR, the brief but disastrous policies of shifting populations and enforcing the use of the Georgian language under Beria and Stalin notwithstanding. Moreover, these negative polices did not come solely from the government of the USSR or from political leaders. The current corrupt Russian government cannot fully liberate them today, but these peoples deserve the right to determine their paths of economic and political development and the democratic rights common to all peoples.

One week later Poland and Ukraine are still intact. It has come to light that a former lobbyist for Georgia is on McCain's payroll. Zionist forces are trying to keep the issue alive. Liberal skepticism, too little and too late, of the entire Georgian and American misadventure is emerging. Sarkozy's efforts have been overshadowed by Rice in the American media and it is publicly admitted that her legacy will rest to some great extent on how she handles this disaster. Biden spent some of last week in Georgia also, but it has not yet been explained what he was doing there. The botched American response, then, comes down to wayward foreign influences, egos and unilateralism.

And no one in the US has mentioned the Trans-Dniester Republic, which deserves recognition, rights and autonomy no less than South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

A Few Words About Cuba

National Public Radio is running a story today about the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. Instead of focusing on the music or the musicians, the story focuses on alleged racism in Cuba and supposed barriers to the advancement of Black musicians there. At one point the NPR reporter leads a man being interviewed to the answers the reporter seems to expect or want.

Racism is a terrible phenomenon and Cuba seems able to confront it in one way or another. I don't know if the charges of racism at Cuba's National Symphony Orchestra are justified or not. I do know that I rarely see people of color at classical music events here in the US, as musicians or in the audience. It seems weird to me that the media in the US gets to go around the world charging racism but does not deal seriously with racism here. It also seems weird to me that the NPR reporter interviews someone in North Carolina as an expert on racism in Cuba. Are there no Cubans worth interviewing who have studied the issues in more than a subjective way?

One positive or interesting point did come out in the NPR story. It was said that Cuba has had a policy of affirmative action in music programs that allows most poor people access to music and musical training.

Think about it: a small socialist country with all kinds of problems, relatively isolated and quite poor, has the strength to teach its This is a particular strength of socialism. The creative energies of the people are liberated and encouraged.

And think about this: schools here in Oregon have cut music programs, shop classes and physical education completely or to the bone. Oregon cannot get skilled machinists because shop programs are gone and apprenticeship programs can't bring people in with basic qualifications; the same is probably true for music. You will soon see scantily dressed girls advertising car washes and kids will soon be knocking on our doors selling candy to raise money for programs that ought to be fully funded by schools, school districts, the educational service districts or the state. We have a huge bureaucracy but no money for needed school programs. These programs, once essential and required, are now considered add-ons and luxuries.

I have never been to Cuba, but I don't think that Cuban girls are out on the street dressing provocatively or that kids are selling candy door-to-door there in order to raise money for school music programs.

NPR's next stories should be on racism here in the US and why our kids don't have full music, shop or physical education classes.

August 19, 2008

The Churches And Class Struggle

Gus Hall, a historic leader of the Communist Party, once commented with words to the effect that our struggle is with the capitalists and not with God. He was crafting an approach from the left to people of faith.

The American left has always had religious believers in our ranks and sometimes they have seemed to predominate, especially in the pacifist, peace and Latin American solidarity movements. If we often disagree with their emphasis on individual witness by counter-posing mass organizing or with their absolutism by counter-posing flexibility, we still do not deny their sacrifices in leading civil-disobedience and developing realistic legislative peace and environmental platforms. We recognize the strength of religious faith and its progressive possibilities among working class people, particularly in Black and Latin American and Appalachian communities.

People of faith working in solidarity and civil rights movements have been able to spark impressive and successful organizing efforts for two or three generations. Their efforts have proved so threatening to the ultra-right that the right wing has tried to appropriate or develop its own populist and activist message which now shows signs of having run its course. The religious left, meanwhile, was only temporarily set back by this right wing attack and it remains vital, if also carrying within it some expected contradictions.

We have not seen a joining of some critical progressive tendencies in the mainstream churches which might move the struggle and presence of the left forward. The pacifist and activist American religious left has not developed a theology of liberation here which corresponds to American conditions. Race and class are often central to their efforts, but this has not been worked into a shared theology. The workers who attend the churches have been largely left out of the conversation in any case and class struggle within the churches has been left to find its own level. At the same time, new progressive forces calling for serious church reform—and this is particularly true in the Catholic Church—have not allied openly with the traditional left and liberal forces in the churches. They do great work in fighting racism and sexism and in projecting a very different vision of religion, but it often seems as if they have invented themselves and have no allies. This may be changing.

Former Catholics, Vatican II and liberal Catholics will be meeting in Portland on Saturday, August 23rd from 3:00-5:00 PM at the Central Lutheran Church at 1820 N.E. 21st Ave. The discussion will focus on the role of the people in renewing the Catholic Church, The meeting is sponsored by Call to Action, a national organization for Catholics seeking peace, justice, inclusion and accountability in the Catholic Church. Monthly meetings of the Northwest Oregon Chapter of CTA are on the 4th Saturday of each month. All are welcome and refreshments are served. For more information send an e-mail to

August 14, 2008

Crisis or not? The capitalist rollercoaster this week.

On August 8 National Public Radio reported that the price of oil fell more than $3 and dropped more than 20 percent from its peak of $147 a few weeks ago. Stock prices rose sharply at the same time. This was reported as positive news.

Later on the 8th it was reported that the market for private loans for education has almost entirely dried up. Wealthy students going to the top schools can still get student loans, but everyone else is having a much harder time of it.

On the 12th the fall in oil prices was being spun as a not-necessarily-good thing. It was announced that Oregon’s state unemployment rate is now at 6 percent. More than 13,000 more Oregonians are unemployed than were unemployed one year ago. There was much crowing in the media about the increase in exports from the US, a drop in imports coming into the US and US economic growth hitting over 3 percent as the unemployment figures were being announced.

By the 13th the lead stories were about employers cutting jobs and cutting hours and inflation increasing. British Petroleum was getting publicly nervous about the fighting in Georgia, Ossetia and Abkhazia and was clearly exerting its political influence internationally. The prime real estate market in Miami was again admitting its slide downward.

Today the lead media story was that consumer prices are up 5.6 percent compared with this time last year. This is the biggest increase we have seen in 17 years.

Crisis or not? It depends on who you ask and where you sit—and that may be the most sure sign that there is indeed a crisis. There seem to be conflicts taking place between international monopolies or cartels as well as between the monopoly and non-monopoly sectors of the world economy. It’s not news that contradictory data comes out daily or that this is done or presented in such a way as to keep you confused.

Ask yourself: even if “things are getting better,” are they getting better with or without workers, can we still afford the basic necessities of life and how many of us live in peace?

August 13, 2008

Lenin in Salem, OR.

At our meeting with Jarvis Tyner on Saturday a Willamette Reds member asked about the differences between socialism and communism. It may seem like an obscure matter, but the question goes to the heart of why some of us identify as communists and others don't. Below is a quote from Lenin that helps us better understand the importance of the question and points us towards its answer.

I had lunch today with two comrades and the matter of quoting from Lenin and Marx came up. We agreed that nothing is true merely because Lenin or Marx said it, or said it was true, but because experience has validated (or not) the conclusions they drew. This raises an interesting question of how we should approach our theory and what we do. How do we refer back to Marx and Lenin in meaningful ways and connect their thinking and work to the present day?

Here is the clarifying quote from Lenin:

Marx continues: "In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor and with it also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished, after labor has become not only a livelihood but life's prime want, after the productive forces have increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of the co-operative wealth flow abundantly--only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!"

The economic basis for the complete withering away of the state is such a high state of development of communism at which the antithesis between mental and physical labor disappears, at which there consequently disappears one of the principle sources of modern social inequality--a source, moreover, which cannot on any account be removed immediately by the mere conversion of the means of production into public property, by the mere expropriation of the capitalists...

The state will be able to wither away completely when society adopts the rule: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs", i.e., when people have become so accustomed to observing the fundamental rules of social intercourse and when their labor has become so productive that they will voluntarily work according to their ability. "The narrow horizon of bourgeois right", which compels one to calculate with the heartlessness of a Shylock whether one has not worked half an hour more than somebody else, whether one is not getting less pay than somebody else--this narrow horizon will then be crossed. There will then be no need for society, in distributing products, to regulate the quantity to be received by each; each will take freely "according to his needs"...

Until the "higher" phase of communism arrives, the socialists demand the strictest control by society and by the state over the measure of labor and the measure of consumption; but this control must start with the expropriation of the capitalists, with the establishment of workers' control over the capitalists, and must be exercised not by a state of bureaucrats, but by a state of workers...

But the scientific distinction between socialism and communism is clear. What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the "first", or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production become common property, the word "communism" is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism...

--From "The State and Revolution", 1917

August 12, 2008

Zvonko Busic--Again

On July 20 I posted an an article on Zvonko Busic as part of a short series on the Balkans. You can read that piece here. The article brought a number of hostile reactions from nationalists and our blog readership shot up.

Michael Munk later posted the following on his website:

Oregonians note: Busic father in law , who is in touch with the Busics in Croatia, lives in Portland and Busic's lawyer is Marc D. Blackman of Portland.

I sent a rant to the NY Times complaining about their July 19 description of Zvonko Busic, leader of Croatian fascist hijackers whose bomb killed a New York City police officer in 1976. Busic was paroled from prison a few weeks ago and now is free in Croatia, which has rehabilitated many of its fascists after the fragmentation of Yugoslavia. I protested that the Times called the terrorists "Croatian independence fighters." Also referring to Cuban emigres who blew up a civilian aircraft killing over a hundred people, I wrote "evidently, you call terrorists "terrorists" only if their cause resists US actions or policies. So the released Croatian terrorist wasn't a terrorist leader because he killed to oppose a "Communist regime." On the other hand, that's how you routinely call Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghan resistance fighters.

Well, perhaps the Times got the message: It ran a full page headline (although back on A26) reading "Terrorist's Release Reopens Wound of Unsolved Bombing" and correctly referred to it among "chapters of American terrorism." But it turns out that federal agents stopped the New York police from fully investigating whether Busic and his terrorist gang also bombed La Guardia airport 10 months before the bombing they were convicted of. That killed 11 people and wounded 75.

The article is at

Visit Michael's website

August 11, 2008

A Big Step For The Left And Labor In Oregon

The Civil and Human Rights Committee of SEIU Local 503, Oregon Public Employees Union sponsored and hosted a talk by Local 503 retiree activist Ann Montague, union organizer Bob Novick, and Communist Party Vice Chair Jarvis Tyner, on Friday, August 8, 2008, in Portland, Oregon.

A Local 503 local union leader did a great job facilitating the meeting. Sixty-three people attended the talk, which was held at the Portland 503 union hall. The crowd was overwhelmingly working class, with many participants coming from SEIU, AFT, CWA, Teamsters and other unions. People came from as far away as Eugene and Corvallis to attend. One woman who attended took literature with her for her non-union paper mill.

The forum was held to reflect on past civil rights struggles and to tie them to the present political moment. The panel featured three slightly different perspectives on the past and on the Obama candidacy. Ann Montague's talk focused on Bayard Rustin and the mid-sixties civil rights movements and gay liberation. Bob Novick discussed what movements are and discussed social movements as a mixture of politics and community. He emphasized direct democracy and did a history of 1968 for us, reaching back to the 1930s and 1940s to develop his themes. Jarvis Tyner focused on the history-making March on Washington and on how that march changed his life. He tied the movement around the March to what is happening now and emphasized how the movement for change is bigger and broader than the movement to elect Obama. Jarvis did not separate the two efforts, however, and he shared with us how the movements for social change have grown from the 1930s to now. Audience participation was limited by time constraints, but it was enthusiastic and people stayed to talk long after the meeting ended. Communist literature was well-received.

The Friday meeting was one of four events held in Oregon featuring Jarvis Tyner and discussions about the Communist Party and the elections. A Thursday night dinner in Salem brought together CWA, SEIU and AFT members. A Saturday educational discussion involved the Oregon Communist Party club and several people who are curious about our club and the Communist Party. A Saturday night reception brought together a mix of union and gay activists and some people from a West Salem neighborhood. A number of people have expressed an interest in joining the Communist Party here and several more heard about socialism for the first time at these events.

On Saturday we discussed how and why the fight for democracy is inseparable from the fight for socialism and why defeating the ultra-right in the US will create a different stage or type of struggle for us here. We generally see that an anti-monopoly coalition has taken root and that people are in motion. This coalition can elect people to office and force needed progressive changes by working for social ownership and broadening democratic rights. The push for socialism will form very much around issues and needs and can be built on distinctly American traditions and structures, led by a working-class party that helps people grow in class-consciousness and experience. The present moment, with all of its dynamism and contradictions, gives us confidence in the ability of people to make progressive change.

August 7, 2008

Brett Favre: In Solidarity

I’m feeling a lot of solidarity with Brett Favre these days. It’s not the money… Lord knows, Brett and I are on the extreme two ends of the national salary scale. And it’s not culture, Brett’s a lot more “blue collar” than me. Instead, where the solidarity is coming from is the way Brett is getting disposed of. Brett Favre, like me, is in the end just another disposable worker.

So I’m thinking about the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre. Favre’s career in Green bay was simply amazing. Super Bowls, league records, for most of Favre’s career, the Green bay Packers were a force to be reckoned with in the National Football League. Right now Favre is capable of playing quarterback better than 90% of the quarterbacks in the League. In a wheelchair, Favre’s bullet accurate passes should still insure him a starting position in half the League’s teams.

And the guy gave his heart and soul to Green Bay and the Packers. Farve is a guy that showed up to a game 110% prepared and emotionally hyped. He never “dissed” Green Bay and he never played the “greed” card. Green Bay Packer fans loved Farve and Farve honored and loved the fans.

And then the shoe falls… Brett Farve, still arguably the best quarterback in the League gets told he’s no longer welcome in the Green Bay Packer organization. Seems the Packers have a “personnel development plan” that says Farve is in the way of the future Packers. Like any piece of meat, Farve has been placed under the microscope of calculating businessmen, who have found him disposable in the interests of the businessmen’s calculations.

Of course, the double shame here is that the Green Bay Packers are the only community owned team in the League. Even though every resident of Green Bay is an owner of the Packers, the businessmen are still running the show. Even though Packer fans are there for the loyalty and commitment to their team rather than the calculation of future worth, the businessmen still control…

So hey, Green Bay’s folks should make the call on Brett Favre’s future in Green Bay! Green Bay fans are committed to Farve and most folks know he has another Super Bowl or two in him. So why should he be sacrificed to the businessmen’s future? Why does calculation always take precedence over loyalty, commitment, and individual grace?

P.S. And I’m a 46 year Chicago Bears fan!

August 4, 2008

George Pelecanos Takes Another Swing At Racism

I have been reading George Pelecanos crime writing since his book King Suckerman came out in 1997. I missed much of “The Wire,” which Pelecanos had a major hand in, until it started coming out on DVD. I like some of his books—Nick’s Trip, Right As Rain, Shame The Devil—more than others. None of them exactly connect with “The Wire,” which was a departure in many respects from Pelecanos' work. I have heard him read twice.

Pelecanos writes with a formula and after reading a few books you catch on. What is remarkable in his writing is his ability to bring many life stories to a logical intersecting point in one novel and to see so perceptively into race, ethnicity and class from that point. His “white ethnic” lead characters are, for most the most part, stumbling humanists who find their way by following hard-working African-American heroes. The bad guys are people disconnected from their communities, the privileged and the people who live in badly distorted personal and social relationships. Pelecanos has become the conscience of middle-aged “white ethnics” and the generation who came on the scene in that brief moment during the 1970s when there seemed to be some hope that racism could be overcome through cross-cultural experience. His novels are generally progressive. I do not know of another straight, male and white writer who can write so perceptively about gays, women and people of color.

The latest Pelecanos novel is The Turnaround. All of Pelecanos’ novels take redemption as their themes, but The Turnaround goes a bit further. It seems less political than other Pelecanos novels, and the female characters stand further in the background, but if we take the novel as a metaphor and think about the timing of the book’s release, we can imagine that Pelecanos is making a statement about white responsibility for racism and the need for reparations for slavery and discrimination.The book begins with a not-so-fictional account of six young men, three African-American and three white, reaching towards adulthood in 1972. Had they met and interacted in a healthy environment, some of the boys might have managed to reach across society’s racist divide and be friends. On each side of that divide there are people struggling to get by and people giving up, a great deal of pain and many missed opportunities. The boys are brought together instead by a violent incident which results in one of the young men being killed, one going to prison and one being visibly scarred for life. Three of the young men emerge as compassionate, if somewhat wounded, adults and another manages to live a life of distanced privilege. The book relates how the contradictions between them—deeply rooted in race, ethnicity, class and masculinity—come to a breaking point and are resolved.

This is not a book in which the leading characters find a way home or into one another’s hearts. A connecting point for several of the characters is their ambiguous relationship to the military and their heartbreak over the wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The privileged WASP never really gets it, and neither does the hopelessly isolated Black gangster or his stupid white apprentice. The second chances the main characters get may make their lives easier, but they do not repair past wounds. The ending is implausible, but still not happily so because so much has been forfeited along the way.

If this novel is a metaphor or map for creating social relations which can overcome racism, then Pelecanos seems to be saying that the white privileged elite will use their power to insulate themselves with charity and violence while hard-working Black people are, by themselves, powerless to effect change. Gangsters and crime cross the lines of race and class and reinforce the system of class privileges. From the point of view of this novel, then, the solution lies in “white ethnics” taking responsibility for dumping the privileges racism wins us, finding common cause with Black workers and giving them the means of production while maintaining some financial control. Politics and collective protest are not options. A capitalism that looks past race and is built on hard work and human relationships is possible, as much the product of Black labor as “white ethnic” generosity. There is a working-class/middle-class citizenship within reach of compassionate and hard working men and “ethnic whites” find their way to it by following Black men who strive legitimately for more and better. Violence is ever-present for the greedy and the stupid and available to the good guys in defense of home, family and friends.

There are limits to this world view, of course, but Pelecanos has not yet reached those limits. His novels and “The Wire” more often than not show capitalism on the loose, coming apart at the seams because of its own built-in pressures. Some people find their ways back from the precipice of that crisis through personal strengths, resourcefulness and anti-racism while others cannot do so. His writing remains tight and engaging and hopeful.

The Turnaround is a book for the present political moment, with all of its contradictions and shortcomings. It moves the necessary discussions on racism and reparations to another level just as they surface again in electoral politics.

Mid Willamette Valley Jobs with Justice: One More Time.

Last Monday, July 28, a number of activists and leaders from labor, faith organizations and community activist groups came together, to yes, one more time, put together a mid-Willamette Valley, Jobs with Justice chapter. The meeting was good; the attendance was especially good given that this was a first meeting. Folks made it from from rather diverse organizations, including CWA, SEIU, The Teamsters, the First Congregational Church, Voz Hispanica, Manno et Manno, and the Salem chapter of the Communist Party.

Monday night’s meeting was attended and facilitated by Margaret Butler, who coordinates the very successful Portland Jobs with Justice chapter.

Maybe a quick explanation for readers who don’t about Jobs with Justice:

Jobs with Justice is about 20 years old and came together in a number of east coast cities in response to the social devastation being caused by rampant workplace closings, de-industrialization, and the re-structuring of American capital in the direction of bigger and better profit extraction.

From its inception, Jobs with Justice has been very much a community-based phenomena. The project is based on putting together community wide responses and initiatives in the interests of a more decent society (understatement intended). As such, community/city chapters of JwJ includes unions, progressively oriented religious and spiritual groups, civil rights organizations, grass-roots neighborhood organizations, and largely labor based individual activists who come together based on a shared sense of the need for a community response to “business as usual” economic and social predation. As an organization of activists, the terms of membership are pretty straightforward… Show up at any five actions you want over a one-year period…

So, back to Margaret and Portland JwJ:

Portland JwJ has a solid 15-year history. As with most efforts around organizing, it began with a handful of activists and organizers, and it grew as more folks and organizations saw the need….

I don’t want to do a recitation here, but when I was doing picket duty at the Portland Parry Center strike, I saw the food and coffee, money and people show up continually and in goods numbers. This was the Portland JwJ. Portland JwJ mobilized for Hilton Hotel workers too… Results were an excellent contract. Lots of Portland area school workers have the contract they have because of the kind of community pressure JwJ can exert.

Jobs with Justice in Salem:

There has in the past been a Jobs with Justice presence in Salem and the Mid-Willamette Valley… Thus, the “one more time” title. And some good work has been done. I’m thinking of the Albany Steelworkers and the brutal Wa Chang strike. There was also the contract campaign support for City of Salem AFSCME workers, and the Corvallis Living Wage ordinance… All solid wins!

But Salem Jobs with Justice has never been more than a handful of activists (some real dedicated) and a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. The key failure here has been a solid lack of buy-in by Salem’s labor unions.

I don’t know what to call it, maybe “capital city-itis”…

Salem, being the State capitol, has a feel like all other capitols. Capitol cities are cities that center around “cutting the deal”. That’s what capitalist politics are, it’s all about “cutting the deal”, or as cartoonist Carolyn Berry put it, “two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.”

And the mentality of “cutting the deal” permeates Salem labor unions, leadership and rank and file like a wet blanket on the imagination. Salem’s labor leaders fixate on lobbying and cutting the deal with the State’s politicians. Salem’s primarily public sector workers identify with the aims and purposes of their jobs and the perceived significance of their elected bosses. Salem’s private sector unions are lost in the shuffle, and the Immigrant Rights/Labor Rights Movement; such a big issue in Salem, organizes and hangs out largely alone.

But the times change. The historical forces change…

The Monday July 28th meeting and folks present looked at some pretty big issues facing
Salem workers. Issues like housing and health care, inflation, civil rights and worker rights, education, transportation… all things that are bleeding folks dry.

And there have been some sharp lessons. The Teamsters learned last summer exactly how ineffective a traditional strike can be. SEIU got a good contract a year ago… The one before that was… not so good… The City transportation workers and drivers took big layoffs last fall. At the same time Salem’s poorer working class folks have to face an even harder time getting around town with a thoroughly inadequate public transportation network.

And to add to the list, it is becoming more and more apparent that viable collectively bargained healthcare is on its last finger hold… And unions and memberships are going to have to cope with inflation… i.e., the usual 3% ain’t going to cut it when inflation and the Consumer Price Index are running at 6%, 7% or 8%.

Back to Basics:

Starting a Jobs with Justice chapter is not magic or rocket science. It involves getting out and talking to people, leaders and activists, and that’s it… Real basic, just talk, look at the big picture, and go from there.

From there… It is largely up to the collective imagination and conversations as to whether to play politics as usual, or try something new, like going back to old concepts like solidarity and organizing for working class and peoples’ power.

Given the historical forces at play, I’m optimistic for Salem and a viable Jobs with Justice chapter. The issues are too big, and the social holes too wide to put our heads in the sand. I’m going to trust the inherent intelligence of the Movement to see the big picture and adapt. I think it’s there…

By the way, if you are interested in joining the Jobs with Justice effort, contact Timothy Welp at, or me at LambchopII@comcast,net.