September 30, 2008

Capitalist Rationing

Credit has suddenly dried up. If you're trying to buy a car or a house you will find it almost impossible to get a loan this week, even if you have excellent credit and a strong credit score. Building contractors are only getting credit on materials extended to them for 30 days. Many small employers are keeping cash on hand or in several separate bank accounts in order to make payrolls and are covering other business expenses with credit cards. The credit limit on one of my credit cards was dropped this week, so if this is a widespread unannounced development small businesspeople are about to get seriously jammed.

The problem is not your local bank refusing to lend you or a small businessperson money. The so-called "smart money" is being held in reserve or is being gambled on the volatile stock market by capitalists and finance monopolies while the so-called credit markets and bond markets are running dry. Since this particular crisis in credit and bonds--that is, credit banks not lending and companies not issuing bonds and large investors essentially on strike against society--predates the financial crisis by at least one year, it is indeed possible that a bailout plan could pass and the credit and bond crisis remain in place. A section or faction of international capital is understandably wary of any plan which does not tackle the current problems associated with credit and bonds.

Socialist governments in the past have been known for nationalizing or socializing some social wealth and, when necessary, creating national plans for production and distribution and rationing some products. The goals have been to insure that society shares its wealth and poverty as equally as possible and to limit the kind of economic chaos that results in either over-production or under-consumption and the kind of social crises we are now experiencing. When a socialist government attempts to reach these goals there is an international outcry by capitalists and their apologists. When that outcry and economic sanctions or blockades don't work in derailing socialist experiments, there is usually some sort of armed intervention by the US and other imperialist powers.

But the capitalists are not really opposed to planning and rationing. They merely object to workers and the popular will deciding these questions. In a capitalist society planning is done through cartels and monopolies and through limited government regulation. Corporate heads and economists come from the same social class, get the same educations and share the same political and economic reference points. This "dictatorship" of the capitalists dictates the terms and conditions of production and distribution formally and informally and creates legal, social and cultural mechanisms to insure business going on as usual.

Capitalist rationing is typically done through pricing and wages, or is at least experienced by workers in a capitalist society in these ways. You don't buy the car or the home you most want because of their high costs and your low wages, but you may buy a house or car that you can live with and try to afford over time. This is a form of rationing.

Capitalists also ration by controlling the money supply and by allowing a certain level of inflation. This works to steer money into certain directions and not into others and normally works to insure at least higher rates of profit for the capitalists over some time span.

Capitalists also ration by controlling credit and the granting of credit through credit banks and markets and bond sales. The crisis in this sector of the world economy is relatively recent and is complicated by competition between the finance and banking sectors, on the one hand, and other monopolies, as well as by the recent innovations and new "financial products" and speculation the finance and banking sectors now deal in.

National Public Radio took an interesting sidestep today by seeming to raise the issue of nationalization or socialization of society's wealth in an almost-serious way. You can read or listen to the story here.

The story downplays the progress made in Venezuela and pooh-poohs the Latin American left. It also fails to distinguish between nationalization and socialization of wealth and misstates the differences between socialism, liberal economic reforms and regulation and right-wing economic intervention. Still, the story seems to validate the point that nationalization or socialization of wealth can work as a response to capitalist crisis. The American Enterprise Institute, which seems to have taken over NPR, will no doubt set the record straight for us tomorrow. And I'm not waiting for NPR to apologize for trashing us for so many years.

September 29, 2008

Did the Rosenbergs kill Wall Street?

Ronald Radosh, a premature neoconservative, is getting banner headlines in newspapers across the US this week with his opinion piece on the Rosenbergs. Radosh has made a career out of bashing the left. We blogged about the case previously.

Radosh's article distorts the record and meaning of the Rosenberg case and gives a one-sided and simplistic view of the USSR which is simply wrong and intellectually dishonest. More importantly, it uses the Rosenberg case as a springboard to attack the entire left. The attack comes as the financial crisis deepens and as more people come to question the fundamentals of the system itself and then take action. Widespread anger, the movement around Obama, successful mobilizing and the political moment are giving tepid Democratic politicians the push to stand up against a Bush bailout disguised as a financial bailout.

The Republicans seem more disoriented than usual. McCain didn't suspend his campaign, despite his statement that he would. Bill O'Reilly is taking a we're-all-in-this-together line. Karl Rove seems caught between factions in retreat. He wants McCain to center his attack more directly and personally against Obama while McCain/Palin are critically described as looking like "a father-daughter team" by would-be supporters. It is left to Radosh to use his academic and publishing credentials to publicly remind the right that he and his particular brand of anti-communism are still alive and might be of service.

The message from Radosh and the Republicans yelling about socialism coming to the US through the proposed bailout on the Senate floor is clear: change the subject from the financial crisis and its causes and solutions to anti-communism. Radosh takes the nuanced and academic path in this while Hannity and the extreme right in the Senate go for the angry and fear-provoking sound bites and reactions. The two approaches seem coordinated and differ only in degree. They attempt to recover the ground that Rove apparently feels McCain is conceding. At some point--and we may have reached this point--their views become especially problematic for capitalism itself.

Radosh and the generation of academic neocons behind him don't come cheap, of course. If Radosh's first job is to help change the direction of the social conversation about the financial crises taking place by using cold war agitation, his second job seems to be securing grants, endowed chairs and foundation positions for those in his camp. There is just the slight hint of a plea for funding in his hit piece on the Rosenbergs and the left.

Let's look at today's news about the proposed bailout and the tumbling international markets from a working class point of view. A faction or section of finance capital is going under while another faction or section is essentially threatening to go on strike against society. How long and how far can they push the envelope? Can we call their bluff or even break their strike? The strong and sudden drift towards the center and left creates some new options.

When the situation is reversed and we're the ones going under or preparing to strike the capitalists are merciless in their attacks.

Radosh's role in attempting to revive the cold war and McCarthyism under such circumstances is particularly unsavory.

See a good article relating to this subject from the Socialist Worker here.

September 27, 2008

The Oregonian's "Obsession"

The inflammatory DVD "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" is apparently going to be an advertising insert in The Oregonian this Sunday. It's being distributed by a shadowy right-wing neo-conservative organization in order to throw the election and once again raise the false ideas that Obama is a Muslim and that the fundamental questions in the election are religious in nature. We urge everyone to call The Oregonian to protest their inclusion of the video in the paper and to take them to task for what amounts to running racist hate speech in their paper. Please call 503-221-8140 or 503-276-7270 immediately.

The Federal Elections Commission is being urged to investigate the group and individuals behind this video. There is reason to believe that they are fronting for the McCain campaign or a “loose cannon” wing of the campaign also tied to the Israeli government. The video and its distribution are multi-million dollar projects. Forces with lots of money are interfering in the election and attempting to provoke a religious conflict in the final weeks of the political campaigns.

To their great credit, a number of progressive religious leaders are stepping forward to condemn the video and its distribution. Distribution of the video comes at a time when a preacher invited to Palin’s church is being exposed as an anti-Semitic fanatic; perhaps the goal is to take attention away from Palin’s own probable religious prejudices.

Some newspapers around the US are refusing to include the advertisement. The mainstream American Jewish press has also generally rejected the claims by the zionist and neo-conservative fanatics associated with the DVD and its distribution.

September 25, 2008

What is money, anyway?

In the context of all that is happening around us, the question of what money is gains some special importance. I’m seeing the question raised and answered in the media in ways which I think are especially unhelpful, and perhaps even dangerous.

Money is a commodity that represents or “stores” value and, in the sense of our immediate thinking and needs, acts as a means of payment. To the extent that it measures and controls other commodities it has a special relationship to everything that is produced and distributed.

Most Americans probably believe that our money is backed by gold or silver, a hard material with some intrinsic value all of its own. Even if this was the case—and it is not—we have to realize that the widespread use of paper money and coins as we know them today is something quite recent and we have to ask what really gives gold and silver their values and how their values are maintained over years. Dollars replaced gold as the internationally accepted form of value by the end of the Second World War. By 1973 or 1975, when the big recession hit, the links between gold, silver, international trade and value had either faltered or were breaking down.

The peculiar evolution and development of commodity production that we live with rest on the development of forms of value. Barter and money, in this sense, are historic forms of value.
Money clearly has had a historic and determining economic and political role, but its role has shifted from being one form of value among several and an instrument for expanding trade to being a commodity and the pre-eminent form of value with a special determining relationship with all other commodities.

Capitalism could not have developed without money and currency. Only under mature capitalism can a capitalist class hold money in reserve, put it into action, make profits and turn money into capital. Capital, in this sense, is the accumulation of money and depends upon commodity production and distribution. Money that purchases goods and services remains money. Money that is used to buy things for resale at a profit is capital.

Think about this in terms of relationships. Capital and money are kinds of “third parties” that insert themselves between you and others. You can exchange money or capital all day long and be no better off than you were to start with. Capital only begins to yield profits when it is put to work buying someone’s labor power and putting that power to work in production or administration. A product is then produced and sold at its averaged value and at a rate which exceeds what the producers—the workers-- need to live. The surplus produced, the need to work for a living, the buying and selling of labor power and other commodities normally insures a well-functioning, if basically unjust, capitalist system. The push in the system is always towards lowering labor costs and the costs of production while increasing production and finding new markets.

Really, the idea that a thing has or maintains some inherited value is abstract. And what could be more abstract than giving gold and silver a special relationship to value, money and the production and distribution of all commodities? Once started, this abstract process seems to know very few limits and becomes more dangerous. Credit cards, home equity loans and the various “financial instruments” which are such a subject of debate today all rest on this abstraction. They have been globalized out of capitalist necessity.

So long as labor or labor power is a commodity, to be sold by workers in order to live and produce more, there will be a need for money. Money, in fact, helps to express this relationship of need and power. Someone has money because someone else does not. Money regulates production and distribution in exactly this sense, in fact. It allows for certain kinds of innovation and development (what is profitable) while also making other forms of innovation and development impossible (what is not profitable). Production and distribution are limited by money’s role in “what the market can bear” but the casual selling and buying of credit can have the dangerous potential to help turn that theoretical market upside down.

September 24, 2008

What Communists Do--And What We Don't Do

Sunil Babu Pant, an openly gay Communist sitting in Nepal's recently-elected Constituent Assembly, is working hard and with great patience for gay rights in Nepal. It is a lonely struggle for the openly gay comrade and he must organize almost person by person, dispelling prejudices and myths which have led to violence and repression in the past. His efforts have paid off: Nepal now has a relatively large gay rights organization and court rulings are beginning to favor gay rights. It seems that the country's new constitution will include and reflect some of these progressive advances.

In South Africa, meanwhile, the South African Communist Party has supported the National Executive Committee of the ANC against out-going President Mbeki and his cabinet. The Party's role and policies in this complicated situation have worked to support the interests of the workers and the nation and to carry through the on-going South African revolution. You can read about these efforts here.

The New York Times and other US media have commented on how the Vietnamese are viewing the US elections. Most of these articles, including one that ran in The Times last Sunday, have emphasized how forgiving of Americans the Vietnamese are. Considering what the US did to Vietnam during the protracted war years, this willingness to forgive is remarkable. It is especially interesting that the media continues to quote so many people taking a basically humanist view of the war and its aftermath from the generation which built the Communist Party of Vietnam into a ruling party. You can follow an interesting account of how the Vietnamese are dealing with Agent Orange and its victims and seeking American support for their efforts by going here.

That's who and what communists can be--advocates and organizers for human rights, forces for government accountability and motivated by a humanist conscience.

On the other hand, as our dialectic opposite, we have news that Sarah Palin attends a church that welcomes an anti-semitic preacher. Imagine if that preacher had come to Obama's church or even had a casual relationship with him. She has apparently won the support of Mikheil Saakashvili, the gangster President of Georgia, but Laura Bush publicly doubted her foreign policy expertise today. She (Palin) finally got it that we may be in or on the verge of a serious economic disaster today and she apparently marked this news by taking daughter Piper to FAO Schwartz to try on princess dresses. It's a let-them-eat-cake gesture.

McCain apparently saw the polling data this morning and got the news that the debate scheduled for Friday will have millions of viewers and some tough questions. His response was to suspend part of his campaign and ask that the debate be cancelled.

Finally, someone thought to ask today why we're talking about a $700 billion bailout. The first Republican response was a "clarification" that the $700 billion will not be committed money so much as it will be back-up, a kind of "just-in-case" pot of money if things go totally south. That didn't ease anyone's sleep, especially considering the lack of transparency in the Paulson proposals. The second Republican response was to clarify--again--that there is no bill or legislation pending yet. They're apparently hoping to hold everything in check and do a last-minute push when they have what they want within reach. So the questions remain: why $700 billion? Where did that figure come from? Who put that figure forward? Why is the meat of the discussions on the financial crisis held in Washington last week not being made public? No one is providing answers to these questions.

September 22, 2008

The Rosenbergs

A rather vitriolic and oddly-placed article by Sam Roberts in last Sunday's New York Times deals with the Rosenberg case. You can read that article here.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage in 1951 and executed in 1952. The case has refused to go away, and it seems unlikely to go away with the latest news that Rosenberg co-defendant Morton Sobell has admitted that he and Julius Rosenberg and others spied for the USSR during and after World War Two.

Actual espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage are quite different charges, although the media has confused the two. It seems unlikely that the Rosenbergs and others could have received a fair trial, regardless of the charges. The Rosenberg sons, Michael and Robert Meeropol, have spent much of their adult lives searching for the truth of the matter and reliable scholarship and research have either cast doubt on the convictions or seemingly disproved them altogether. At times some Rosenberg supporters have advanced the possibility that the Rosenbergs may have engaged in commercial espionage--as opposed to military espionage--or that Julius may have been guilty but that Ethel was not. A Sam Roberts piece dealing with this can be found here.

The Roberts piece that ran yesterday quite mistakenly states that belief in the Rosenbergs' innocence was some kind of imposed article of faith for the left and implies that the left remains in broken denial even as proof of their guilt becomes established fact.

The left has no such articles of faith. Our agendas form around the needs of people here and now in the US. We have maintained an opposition to the death penalty, of course, and a belief in the need for fair trials. Most Americans probably accept those premises as well.

Gaining perspective is generally a necessary and good thing. In this case we can go to the new book on the RAND Corporation by Alex Abella for some help.

Abella's book apparently goes into some detail on the lives and work of Herman Kahn, John Davis Williams and their circles at RAND. Kahn provided the basis for the character Dr. Strangelove. He argued for limited nuclear war and drew a full and rather frightening picture of what a post-nuclear war world might look like. RAND made its fortunes with such hopelessly dire war advocacy and predictions and quickly developed a stake in maintaining a permanent arms economy and support for global mutually assured destruction. Even the CIA was not hawkish enough for Kahn and Williams. This thinking was well established by the time Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed. And for all of this Kahn and Williams are referred to as "real men of genius" even today.

If either or both of the Rosenbergs were indeed spies, their supposed willingness to spy and risk their lives must be measured against the terror of the times in which they lived. The United States had used nuclear weapons and seemed ready to do so again against the USSR and China. Only the kind of insanity that eventually took hold of RAND's leading lights could have justified such a move by the US or made it possible, but that very insanity was then ascendant. A nuclear war could not have been limited and would have been fully destructive.

Roberts is quick to draw lessons in his article, but he draws the wrong ones in his haste to embarass the left. We think that the Rosenberg trial and the times they lived through illustrate that the hawks cannot be trusted in power, that nuclear weapons and democracy are ultimately incompatible and that the supposed need for national security should not be placed above the democratic right to receive a full and fair trial and life itself.

September 21, 2008

(Some Of The) Lies McCain And Palin Told Me

I'm losing track of the lies coming from the McCain-Palin camp. Let's answer a few of the most recent and repetitive ones. The bold type and italics below responds directly to the lies and distortions of the record I have been hearing most recently.

1. Obama is not a Muslim and he did not take his oath of office with the Qu'aran.
2. Cindy McCain did not meet Mother Teresa in Bangladesh.
3. Obama's tax proposals will not raise your taxes.
4. McCain was one of the Keating 5: he was accused of improperly aiding Charles H. Keating, Jr., chairman of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which was being investigated by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. The Senate Ethics Committee criticized McCain's involvement, saying that he exercised "poor judgment" in meeting with the federal regulators on Keating's behalf and McCain eventually made a lame apology. The failure of Lincoln cost taxpayers about $2 billion. The 21,000 bank customers, most of them old people, lost about $285 million in savings when Lincoln went under. What does this say about McCain's regulatory experience?
5. Palin did not turn down the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" automatically. She did turn it down after more lucrative federally-funded projects and money came her way. And what about Palin's Knik Arm Bridge?
6. McCain does have a relationship with bizarre conman and criminal Raffaelo Follieri.
7. Franklin Raines in not an Obama advisor.
8. Palin did not sell the Alaska state jet on eBay for a profit.
9. Palin did cut funding for schools with special-needs kids.
10. Obama supported the Lugar-Obama Bill, a 1998 Illinois ethics reform bill, a 2006 federal government citizen oversight bill and a federal 2007 ethics reform package.
11. Obama has written one memoir and McCain has written two.
12. Palin does not oppose so-called "special interests." Alaska's Lieutenant Governor is a former oil industry lobbyist, Palin hired a federal lobbyist for Wasilla and had strong support from the Alaska Republican establishment through her 2006 campaign.
13. Palin has a record of supporting tax increases and she has been dogged by ethics investigations and charges that she has abused her power as governor.
14. Palin has not supported McCain consistently in the past.
15. McCain's proposed budget increases the national debt and budget shortfalls.

If I can come up with 15 lies I have heard from McCain-Palin and their supporters in the last two weeks in less than ten minutes then anyone who reads a newspaper or listens to the radio daily or weekly can also.

Financial Bailout: "Rant and Rave"

That US financial markets are collapsing is hardly a surprise. Neither is the haste and panic of the 700 billion dollar bailout put together over the weekend by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Once again, this bailout points to the speed and determination of capitalism’s “kept pets” in the government.

However, don’t expect to see any of this speed or determination when it comes to the effects of this collapse on the 80% of us who simply live off what we make from our jobs. Instead, what you’ll hear when it comes to unemployment insurance extensions, help for working class homeowners, universal health insurance, public infrastructure programs, and bankruptcy protection for working people are long tortuous debates on exactly who is “worthy” of the few pennies of help, how such help restricts the self regulatory tendencies of a free market, and that all of this is what charities are for. And these debates will go on for months. Nothing like the five days it took the Bush Administration to fork $700 billion into the Fortune 500. Note too, this isn’t counting the $6 trillion tied up in Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae (two weeks ago), or the $85 billion that went to AIG (Allied Insurance Group) last weekend.

I’m sorry, but I’m really pissed off about all of this stuff. I guess this is what is called, “a rant and rave”.

The word out there a lot in the last week is “regulation”. Yes, for years Wall Street has been given a free hand to do its business, even in the shadiest ways possible. But de-regulation is not the cause of this crisis. The cause of this crisis is 30 years of unrestricted capitalist plundering of the working class… This being the 80% of us who live off what we make on our jobs.

Capitalism has two faces when it comes to the plunder of the population.

Face #1, To the population as consumers: Capitalism says… “Hey, buy that car. Why not, you’ll look sexy and feel cool… So buy it now, you won’t owe a thing for three months. No money down! Just sign the papers…” And, “Hey, you’re part of the American dream, buy that house! Floating random interest rates? That won’t happen for five years, why worry?”. “Trouble? Can’t make the bills? There’s a payday loan store right down the street… Your credit is good! Borrow a couple hundred at 25% interest… We’re here for your convenience”.

Face #2, To the population as workers: “You don’t like $10 per hour? Tough, I’ve got 150 people out there who want your job right now. Pension? Sorry, we don’t do that any more, that’s your responsibility… Oh, healthcare… We’ll cover your premium 100%, and for the low price of our group rates we’ll offer coverage for your partner and the kids for a mere $600 per month.”

A little more irony:

This same Administration that has Henry Paulson crafting trillion dollar giveaway solutions to the Fortune 500 is the same Administration that two years ago passed laws making it virtually impossible for working Americans to declare personal bankruptcy. The intent is clear…. The current Administration will do whatever it takes at whatever the cost to preserve and cover the thieves on top. As for the rest of us… They’ll do whatever it takes to squeeze the last drop of blood out of the rest of us turnips!

I’m angry! I don’t feel like being rational or practical today. So here’s my solutions:

1. An immediate moratorium on home foreclosures. Make it illegal to force families out of their houses… Period!

2. An immediate public works/infrastructure package. Our cities and transportation networks need the work done! Nobody should be paid a wage less than $15 per hour. The aim here should be a full living wage employment policy.

3. Nationalize the banks and insurance firms. Buy the high rollers out… I wouldn’t give them any more than a nickel on the dollar. Once the government has control, re-negotiate mortgages based on what people can pay. Build public investment based on the common needs of people, environmental and social sustainability and quality of life.

4. Immediate single payer universal health insurance. Currently we have 45 million uninsured people; this will number rise as the economy tanks. Did you know? In spite of 45 million uninsured people, the cost of healthcare, 15% of the GDP, is the highest cost in the western post-industrial world. Stop feeding the insurance companies!

5. Radically increase Social Security retirement making Social Security a meaningful and sustainable retirement system.

6. A guaranteed minimum income for all. If capitalism can’t find meaningful ways to use peoples’ productive power, they can pay the damned freight for people to do nothing.

7. Free education; kindergarten to doctorate! Education and the increased ability of folks to use this education is always a sound public investment.

So I can hear it now! “You can’t do that! That’s socialism! The government will screw things up!” Well, before we talk about what will screw up and what won’t, maybe we should take a look at how capitalism is working and for who? Is all well with you?

It’s about time we remember that old phrase, “government by the people, of the people, for the people”. The above are solutions for people! Or would we prefer to get ripped off, riding the rich mans’ train to economic disaster, but secure in the fact that we have unthinkingly preserved “free enterprise” regardless of cost? People will have to think and act on this. You can’t get through a crisis of this magnitude without thinking about the costs of changing vs. not changing. Or maybe we’ll just trust our “betters” in Wall Street and Washington; after all, they’ve done such a good job!

September 19, 2008

More On The Financial Crises

The roots of the current crisis run deep into the ground of capitalism. Earlier this week the BBC took as their lead theme the question "Can capitalism survive?" on a talk show and asked listeners if they thought the crisis is global or not. It's not a difficult to answer question, but I can't imagine the American media posing the question.

But if the roots of the crisis go deep into the system itself, the struggle over what to do in response goes back just a few generations. Today's financial news has invited comparisons with the panic of 1907 and the events of 1929. The suggested repairs very much mirrors debates between liberal and conservative forces in 1932 and 1933. Liberals can argue that conservative wins in those years paved the way for much of the bad news we are reading in today's papers.

Like most workers, I went into a panic when I heard about Lehman Brothers and AIG. My first thought was for my disappearing pension and then for the losses we're all taking. I was relieved when I first heard about the bailout. As the implications of the bailout become more widely known, however, my anger rises.

Bush has effectively doubled the national debt and the US now becomes the world's insurer and the predominate backer of mortgages. The people who made the bad decisions which led to this totally predictable crisis are walking away with money in their pockets while the old people standing in line with me at Wells Fargo are freaking out. A new round of bank and financial mergers--which is part of what got us into this mess so rapidly--are underway.

You can go here and here to read more. A radical response to bailouts and the related problems is forming and gathering strength.

The absolute minimum conditions we should be demanding are:

1. Impose new regulations and limits on the entire financial system.

2. Tie rescuing the financial system to getting it under control and making up what workers and the poor have lost.

3. Strengthen the laws regulating the financial sectors, put teeth in them and fully enforce them to the benefit of workers, youth, the unemployed, the specially oppressed regions and communities of color.

4. Create and re-create public investment under public and worker control with a special emphasis on rebuilding infrastructure, renewable energy and long-term green development.

5. Extend unemployment insurance, cap home mortgage interest, provide healthcare and housing, restore cuts in education and public services and rebuild the welfare system.

The bailouts, rescues and near-rescues are being debated, certainly, but Bush and the media seem set on presenting most of the package as necessary and beyond questioning. Some forces on the extreme libertarian right mobilized immediately and accused the Bush administration of betraying capitalism. Their voices, soon forgotten, only helped Bush pose as a populist and gave McCain-Palin some ground which the Republicans could not hold.

Six months ago the media was saying that the election would be all about the war and developing the contradiction between McCain's supposed war record and foreign policy experience and the mass antiwar sentiment and hopes Obama represents. The logic of this weak reasoning almost necessarily gives McCain the edge, and it seems that Republicans bought in. If Obama moved to the center or the right in response, the Republicans moved even further right with Palin and they did so in a quick-distanced leap.

Now it seems that the economy is becoming the direct and immediate determining issue for Americans and this gives Obama an edge. This edge should come with some concrete demands and expectations by workers. This should be translated into hard politics which give progressives a landslide in November and then becomes the means to hold the elected politicians accountable.

Two of the buried stories here are the strong possibility that the auto industry will get $25 billion in loan guarantees from Congress and that $6 billion is needed to maintain Pell Grants at their current (underfunded) levels. The auto industry stubbornly refused to make high-mileage fuel-efficient cars, has forced workers out on strike and extracted serious concessions from the union and has not lowered the prices on their products. They're getting a bailout while working- class students on Pell Grants are only getting between $431 and $4731 annually for school. More than six million people get Pell Grants now and another 800,000 more are trying for the grants this year.

How many of them are laid-off workers or the children of laid-off workers? How much do they have in savings? Who bails them out? How many have homes or can some day expect to have homes of their own?

September 17, 2008

Fr. Roy Bourgeois in Salem

Peace activist and Catholic priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois spoke to a small group at Willamette University this afternoon. His presentation was part of a tour Fr. Roy is doing of the Pacific Northwest. He stresses an anti-Bush and anti-McCain message and is using his tour to build solidarity and protests scheduled for this November at Fort Benning, Georgia. This is Fr. Roy's second visit to Oregon.

Fr. Roy frames his message as a reflection on peace-making. "I don't know what could be more important," he said. "War kills hope."

Archbishop Vlazny is not happy about Fr. Roy visiting Oregon. The Archbishop cancelled one of Fr. Roy's Portland appearances scheduled to be held at the St. Andrew Community Center. That event then moved to a Lutheran church. Fr. Roy is well known as a progressive and leading church dissident. His very presence sparks reaction.

Fr. Roy Bourgeois is a soft-spoken, no-collar priest from working-class Louisiana. He served in the Navy in Vietnam. To hear him tell it, it took several years for Fr. Roy to become a critic of American foreign policy. His experiences in Vietnam led him to question his faith and examine it more closely. He then found his way to Maryknoll through a Canadian missionary priest working in Vietnam. He entered seminary after he returned from the war and he then participated in the dramatic protest by Vietnam vets who returned their medals. He was first arrested at that protest.

Maryknoll sent Fr. Roy to Bolivia. Bolivia was then a dictatorship and Fr. Roy moved into the La Paz slums. He was there for five years. "It was there that the poor became my teachers," he told us. "Liberation theology is the theology of the poor. It's theirs. They name it. It's where they discover a God who does not want them to suffer."

Fr. Roy was arrested in Bolivia and then expelled from the country for his solidarity work. From Bolivia he went to El Salvador. Conditions in El Salvador further radicalized him and he began to build solidarity with the Salvadorean peoples' struggles when he returned to the US. His activism has centered on closing the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning. He has done some serious jail time for his work.

"Bishop Romero is for me a model spiritual leader," Fr. Roy said. He contrasted Bishop Romero with the quiescent American Catholic hierarchy who remain silent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Our church leaders have become corporate executives," he said. From his comments and from recent media coverage it is clear that Fr. Roy is supportive of the movement for women priests within the Catholic Church.

Fr. Roy recently addressed a large auto workers' union conference in Detroit and spoke there against the Colombia free trade pact. He was apparently well-received there. The annual protests at Fort Benning now draw thousands of people and the hope is that working class participation in the protests will continue. Pressure is also building again to shut down the School of the Americas and redirect the money spent to healthcare and education.

Fr. Roy was part of a delegation who met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Something like 4000 Venezuelan soldiers had attended the School of the Americas. The Venezuelan government withdrew from SOA after meeting with the delegation. Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Costa Rica have also withdrawn from SOA participation, but it seems that Costa Rica may have restarted participation. Fr. Roy gave us a strong push to support the Morales government in Bolivia.

If there are weaknesses in Fr. Roy's approach, they are that he is still anchored in individual witness or protest (and not mass and lasting organizing for change) and that he cannot articulate an alternative economic vision or prospects for society. A student pressed him on economics and got an evasive answer. The student correctly pointed out that if Fr. Roy believes that imperialism has its roots in economics then the solution should be in economics and politics. Fr. Roy's response was incomplete.

Still and all, Fr. Roy and the movement he is a part of deserve our strong support. Please go to to help out.

September 16, 2008

Buy Gold?

You sometimes hear ads on the radio advising you to invest in gold. Even the liberal talk station KPOJ runs these ads. The ads always have a slightly sleazy feel to them, no matter where they run.

Buying gold is not a bad thing in itself, if you can afford it, but gold only assumes its real value and meaning if all other currency collapses. In other words, if you invest in gold you're betting that there will be a real disaster and you're hoping that you will have enough gold to barter your way through that crisis. It's a grim thought.

Today I heard a well-respected capitalist economist suggesting that gold may indeed be a wise investment. In explaining the recent bad numbers and what is slowly becoming a run on failing banks and insurance companies, most economists were cautioning patience and their version of duck-and-cover. But one guy was telling us to invest in gold.

After the second world war most capitalist governments had growing deficits. They learned to live with inflation because they had to cover the costs of more wars and military expenditures and because inflation proved in a short period of time to be quite profitable for large sections of the industrial capitalists. The capitalists, after all, could buy labor power below its value, purchase raw materials at lower costs, settle debts with less money and get greater credit from banks. They could play by those rules until inflation, over-production and under-consumption caught up with them in any case. When inflation did catch up with the monopoly capitalists currencies had to be stabilized. Prices of the goods produced by the monopolies shot up, to be sure, but the monopoly capitalists could put their competition out of business and reorganize production and distribution to suit their needs.

One by-product of this, I think, was that the US tried to corner the world's gold market and did this as inflation actually raised the prices of what an ounce or kilo of gold could buy. The dollar began to lose its value internationally. It looked like a bad deal for the US until the American government refused to pay more for gold mined and then traded internationally. Other countries were then forced to devalue their currencies and foreign banks were forced to grant the United States credits and support a falling dollar until the dollar was reestablished and the US was in a stronger economic position. The alternative would have been--and was in a sense--war.

From 1968 to 1973 the American government struggled to find its way and we all lost in the recession that followed. The French have probably never been forgiven by the American far-right for challenging American economic hegemony at this point. The international agreements governing gold were then broken in stages.

The artifically maintained relationship between gold, the dollar and international production and distribution and banking could not be maintained forever. The connection between the dollar, gold and real value was broken. Speculation and private sales of gold took off as a part of this decoupling for the first time. Capitalists and capitalist governments no doubt panicked because they know as well as anyone that hard currency is needed to assure a normally functioning capitalist system. The gold standard, as it was known until the early 1970s, was finally broken.

Sixty-plus years after the war the capitalists and their governments are still struggling with stabilizing currencies, and particularly the dollar, while also holding inflation down to the point that it remains profitable for the monopolies. Some sections of the capitalists and some governments are clearly giving up. They see openings for other currencies and opportunities to corner markets. And so it is that we have wars for oil and influence.

So--if you're a gold speculator you're probably in a good position right now. It seems like a bad deal all around, though, since gold can only find or increase its value today when everything else falls apart.

Charlie Rangel

Representative Rangel has been dogged by accusations of financial impropriety over the last several months. Last week the congressman made a feeble attempt to step out of the limelight and explain away the suspicious financing of his beach house in the Dominican Republic by citing "cultural and language barriers" in the complicated house and tax transactions This must have caused some consternation in his district, which has within it many Spanish-speaking people, and the Rangel family as well. The congressman's father was from Puerto Rico and Rangel grew up in working-class New York City where he must have mixed with Spanish-speaking people.

Rangel has taken some bad positions over the years. He has supported the free trade agreements, the draft and Israel and has given Venezuelan President Chavez a hard time. Why would the right attack him after all of that? Because, on the other hand, he is a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and he has stood up for civil rights and against racism and an attack on Rangel now suits their needs and interests. This not about money, ethics or influence- peddling.

Rangel sounds and looks a lot like the old-line New York politicians I remember from my childhood. Even if you didn't agree with their politics, you tuned in to watch the brawl when it happened. It's like being opposed to boxing but watching a good match now and again. Rangel clearly inherited part of the old political machine, which locked out the left and compromised with the right and fought for self-preserving reforms over the years that also often benefited the working class, but he has also built his own machine from the grassroots and kept it going.

The timing of the most recent scandals to hit Rangel are suspicious. The Democrats were laying into McCain over his houses and trying to raise the issue of massive foreclosures just as Rangel's problems with his beach house and his four Lenox Terrace apartments hit the news. The differences between Rangel's situation and McCain's got overlooked in the media, though. Rangel offered to pay back taxes and fees on the beach house and no one is seriously saying that Rangel got his houses in exchange for political favors or for favoring special interests. The Republicans, on the other hand, are clearly living in a world of competing special interests and payments to politicians for services.

Rangel could have twice as many homes than he does, and have them all in exchange for political favors, and still not reach the levels of apparent corruption that Republicans are hitting. In Mississippi the governor and the secretary of state seem to be conspiring to steal the state's Senate race. Palin has yet to do a for-real press conference and respond to charges that she billed taxpayers for her per-diems for 300 nights when she stayed home instead of in the governor's house or in a hotel. There is still the issue of the fratboys-gone-wild at MMS. And we're deep into a banking and financial crisis which even McCain lays at the door of the Republicans and corporate America.

Give Rangel the benefit of the doubt for now and focus on the real and costly corruption that is costing us honest elections, a cleaner environment and, ultimately, lives as well.

September 14, 2008

Racist Nation/Racist Election 2008

Last Sunday, September 7, I was out tabling Party literature and the Peoples’ Weekly World in front of the Salem Public Library. I got into a long conversation with a woman, mostly about the 2008 Presidential elections. This woman was terrified with the recent jump in the polls for McCain and Palin. McCain was not only still in the race, he was actually ahead.

Me, being a little cavalier and a lot too confident, said something about the spike in the polls that always follows a party convention: the Republican Party convention was just over. And of course, I said we have to work hard to get Obama elected, but that if we work hard, we will win. I don’t think she was convinced. I guess as this past week wore on, I wasn’t so convinced.

This past political week was just weird. In spite of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac collapsing and being bailed out by the Federal Government (6 trillion dollars tied up in Freddy and Fanny, and the discussions in Congress and Executive Branch over the bailout didn’t even take a week…. “Here’s the check”.). In spite of Lehmann Brothers going down the tubes, with unemployment hitting an official 6.1% and climbing. With banking and financial institutions going shaky around the world. With a big bombing in Baghdad, with nothing but bad happening, McCain and Palin were still solid in the polls and more than ready to attack pigs with lipstick.

Really, last week in terms of a political analysis, was baffling. Then, maybe not so baffling.

Over the last week, National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” did a week-long show where they talked to a cross-section of voters in the York, Pennsylvania area about the current Presidential election. The breakdown of who was for who was pretty disturbing. Most white voters, but not all were voting for McCain/Palin. All the African-American voters were voting for Obama. A minority of white voters were voting for Obama too.

But it was really the dialog and comments of the white voters which was so disturbing. On guy, a cop, sneered, “I don’t know what a community organizer is.” A woman, “Leah”, acknowledged the terrible state of the nation, economic hardship for many, dwindling resources for many, and then ended by saying she couldn’t “trust” Obama. Someplace deep down, she knew Obama was a Muslim and nothing could convince her otherwise. Lots of the white voters too said Obama didn’t have knowledge and experience to be President; they said Obama was lacking, especially in international relations (and Bush doesn’t know the difference between Sweden and Switzerland? How could Obama know less?). If you read the meanings between the lines, this was the “black people really aren’t equal and capable of being President”.

At the same time, these white voters were poked and prodded by the NPR reporter about possible “unconscious racism”. But these same voters denied any racist attitudes at all…

But, you know, you could here the racism in their voices, and you could hear the racism in the meanings. I mean the cop couldn’t be a racist he thought, he’d never been to a lynching. And Leah doesn’t have racist attitudes, it’s just that Obama is a Muslim.

As this series of interviews progressed, the notion began to grow as to why McCain and Palin are doing so well. It didn’t come to me immediately; more like a growing thought. But the only logical explanation is racism… Good old American, to the core, racism….

Some astronomers are fond to point out that when they scientifically measure the mass of the universe, it contains 1/3 more mass than they can account for. These astronomers will tell you the mass is out there somewhere, but they don’t have a clue as to where.

Same thing goes with this weird last week. Nothing can account for why McCain and Palin are doing as well as they are… But they are doing well.

Astronomers have mentioned sub atomic particles and dust for their missing 1/3rd. In the political realm, I can’t think of anything except racism. And this is the kind of racism that is so embedded and within the heads of white people that it is totally a part of the American fabric of culture. And it is so deep a part of American culture that a person like “Leah” will pass up the change she knows needs to happen; she’ll accept the even greater hardship, and she’ll accept these worse consequences because someplace deep in her head she can’t let go of the racist attitude…

So jeez, how do you deal with a piece of the American iconography that has just as much cultural weight as “mom”, “apple pie, “the American dream”, “manifest destiny”, “white supremacy”?

For what it is worth, the only way I can see dealing with such embedded racist attitudes is to move them to front and center stage. I guess I think it is time for the progressive forces in America to call the culture’s deep racism for what it is… Like every union election where the boss pulls out the “race card”, it might be worth the thought that in the political realm too, there cannot be any political and social progress while the racism goes unchallenged and is allowed to wreak its damage.

September 11, 2008

The Candidacy To Nowhere

An investigation has found a "culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" at the Minerals Management Service's royalty collection office in Denver. This is the agency that issues offshore drilling leases and collects royalties. The scandal hits suspiciously close to the vote next week on expanding offshore drilling.

The news is full of salacious details of out-of-control parties, sex, drugs and gifts, ski trips and golf outings going to agency bureaucrats from energy company representatives.

Politicians in both parties appear shocked at the "culture of ethical failure" present in the agency. Something like 19 people working on oil marketing in the Denver MMS office received gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies. Chevron, Shell, Hess and Gary-Williams Energy were buying their way to fortune--and now fame--by maintaining a kind of frat house atmosphere at our collective expense. The MMS workers involved will no doubt be fired or transferred or reprimanded, but what will happen to the companies and the company executives who made it all possible?

One news story claims that a report on the scandal says, "Employees frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and natural gas company representatives." These representatives also referred to some of the women working in the agency as the "MMS Chicks."

The report also says that the director of the royalty program had a side job working for a company that paid him for marketing its services to various oil and gas companies.

Corporations conspired to provide illegal substances to government employees and put at least one ranking federal employee on a private corporate pasyroll. Are we to assume that they did these deals and took these risks without expecting something in return?

The timing of the investigation, the release of the findings now and the pretended shock by politicians all has a hollow ring, doesn't it? We have come to expect these kind of scandals under the Bush administrations. We have a sinking feeling that this must be the tip of a very large and very cold iceberg.

In line with this kind of dishonesty, Sarah Palin seems bent on repeating her "bridge to nowhere" speech daily and to as many people as she can make listen. The media has done a good-but-too-late job of proving that Palin is lying, but she continues to tell the story and get applause from the Republican faithful. Perhaps the logic runs along the lines of telling a lie so often that people will eventually believe it.

Palin isn't getting much direct and unrehearsed media time. The Republicans clearly want image, not substance, and they see in Palin a new Spiro Agnew or Dan Quayle. Her latest pronouncement on foreign affairs has her willing to risk a confrontation with Russia over Ossetia and Abkhazia by the US sponsoring Georgian membership in NATO. It is not clear from the interview she did with ABC whether or not she also realizes that such a confrontation would certainly blow now-existing American options with Iran and other countries and have tremendous future consequences. She seems willing to risk both cold and hot wars. At some point, perhaps, British Petroleum may get nervous about their pipeline in Georgia and their bad deals with Azerbijan and Turkmenistan and tell Palin to shut up.

The Republican faithful who applaud Palin when she lies about "the bridge to nowhere" don't care about the bridge or the deal. They see the bridge as a symbol of government, or at least as a metaphor, and are applauding the intended dismantling of government by the smarmy sportscaster-candidate. The media analysis of Palin's lies and the Democratic response to Palin have been painfully lacking in matching symbolism or metaphor.

These faithful also seem unconcerned about the developing hot and cold wars. The conflict with Russia and now the illegal and on-going interventions in Pakistan--who on the Republican side has a solution which doesn't involve killing? We worry that their "Christian Zionism"--that apocalyptic mysticism doing Republican double-duty as religion and politics--has found a way to insert itself into policy under a covert guise. Perhaps it provides a meeting place for those on the right who feel called to bring the End Times closer and the devil-may-care-bring-it-on partying frat boys now filling government offices and making policy, Jack Daniels bottles and McCain-Palin buttons in hand.

September 10, 2008

Call to help Cuba


Dear Friends,

Like all of you, IFCO has been watching with heavy hearts as Hurricanes Gustav, Hannah and Ike have ravaged the Caribbean. IFCO is organizing a variety of disaster responses this week.

Here is how you can help:

1. Help us organize an IFCO-Pastors for Peace Construction Brigade of 30-50 skilled carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. They and a small number of support individuals will travel to Cuba for approximately two weeks to assist in the reconstruction of social projects--i.e. schools, hospitals, medical facilities, home for the elderly, etc. This brigade will arrive in Cuba with tools and humanitarian aid collected from our friends. As usual, this aid will be delivered to the Ecumenical Distribution Committee which will distribute the aid wherever it is needed most.

2. Help us organize a mini-caravan to gather aid that Cuba says they need.

3. Send a generous donation. IFCO has established a Hurricane Relief Fund to respond as best we can to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Cuba.

The magnitude of need in Cuba has reached historic proportions. Each of us can contribute in some way to the recovery effort. You have helped us in the past. Our friends in Cuba need our support now more than ever before.

Please be as generous as you can. Send your tax-exempt contributions toIFCO, 418 W. 145th Street, New York, NY 10031 212-926-5757 by phone or by snail mail or donate online at our website.

Let us help Cuba rebuild with no strings attached! All contributions are tax deductible. IFCO is a 501c3 non profit organization.

And please dont forget to urge other people of faith, conscience and good will to contribute in any way possible to this effort.

Important: Please designate all contributions with the word Hurricane. Do not use the word "Cuba" in the subject notation line of your check or with an online donation.

Donating on line is safe, simple and straight forward: Go to

Designate your donation amount and write Hurricane Relief in the box online.

418 W 145th Street, New York, NY 10031
tel: 212.926.5757 - fax: 212.926.5842

September 4, 2008

Downscale whites? Race war? Trotskyists? Marx vindicated?

One of the McCain-friendly commentators I heard speaking from the Republican convention today said, "McCain is not going to win the African-American vote. He isn't going to win the Hispanic vote. He needs to win part of the downscale white vote in swing states in order to win."

Translation: McCain wins by dividing working class and poor people, by playing the race card and provoking a race war.

The "downscale white" vote? He's talking about me, I think. How many "downscale white" votes are the Republicans going to pick up by finding a genteel way of calling people "white trash"? It's a loaded and insulting proposition any way you cut it.

Another commentator said, "He (McCain) used to joke about Trotskyists in the press corps. He doesn't do that anymore."

Really? It's an odd label for McCain to pick up on and joke about and we're left wondering if there really are Trotskyists in the media and how McCain knows about them. Maybe you had to be there to get the joke...

An economist speaking about the stock market slide today blamed it on rumors or data saying that American work productivity is slipping. "The bad news here," he said, "is that productivity is reduced by either reducing jobs or reducing hours when over-production is a threat."

Translation: Well, if you need a translation go to Capital or Value, Price and Profit by Marx.

An artist to be afraid of?

Salem, Oregon was where artist Byron Randall lived his early years. Randall, who died in 1999 at the age of 80, has relatives here in Salem who helped put on the current show of a few of his works at the Et Cetera gallery in Salem.

Yesterday was the opening evening and I went down to see. Most of the art for sale at this gallery is meant to be non-offensive in that it is not disturbing, but quite easy to look at and digest. I am no art critic, or expert of any kind, but still I would say what I have seen of Randall's work - at the gallery and on line at - is strongly humanist. Meaning --- real human life and the deep connections that develop with an authentically lived life come through, whether it be a still life of an ashtray and fruit, flowers, death, bones, Mexican villages, dream-like scenes, or visual commentary on our political and social environment.

This humanist streak seems to disturb some people. One of his relatives, a niece, is quoted in the Statesman Journal as saying his work from late in his life had "some dark tendencies, featuring satan, skulls, nude females and a demonic version of Mickey Mouse, intended to symbolize the evils of capitalism." She is also quoted as saying, "I guess these days he'd be called bipolar."

The gallery yesterday was crowded with wine-drinking first-nighters. The gallery is small and it was not easy to view the paintings as long as I would have liked. One of Randall's children donated a number of his works to Salem's Willamette University Hallie Ford Gallery, but Hallie Ford has never displayed his work. Randall deserves a better showing than a crowded small gallery. Here's hoping that Hallie Ford will organize a retrospective showing of this artist and place the artist in the context that he lived. In the meantime, enjoy the work we're being allowed to see at the Salem Et Cetera Gallery, look at the online gallery, and consider reading this enlightening interview with Randall, in which he explains a few things you're not going to get info on in a commercial gallery. Here's a quote :

Interviewer: Would you say government sponsorship of the arts was one of the better facets of Communism?
Randall: Hell yes, or Socialism. Those two terms shouldn't be confused because Communism is a hundred years down the road if it ever comes. It's a different kind of human being all together. It will be Socialism that will eventually lead to communist society because it's "Each according to his ability and each according to his needs," which is the basis for a Socialist economy. Each man shall do his own work for society and shall get back what he needs to survive. Communism is when money is no longer necessary. By that I mean not just a few people but society as a whole, because they're social beings who expect to share and expect to contribute what they can.

Interviewer: What is the relationship between your political beliefs and your art?
Randall: I'd say they were rational. Rational to the extent that I contributed my art in any practical way I could to the over throw of Capitalism. I've illustrated leaflets, posters, wood cuts, and I've done what I could within my art activity. I was a card carrying member of the Communist party for seventeen years. I'm not talking about splinter groups but the main stem Communist/Marxist Soviet Union position.

September 3, 2008

Fat State Employees

There is a story going through workplaces that doesn't seem to be dying after a few weeks and in spite of all the other events taking place. It concerns a plan by the state of Alabama to force public employees to lose weight and get in better shape or face special insurance board fees. The state already charges workers who smoke. This new plan expands that concept further.

Alabama's state insurance board will apply an obesity charge to anyone with a body mass index of 35 or higher who is not making progress in losing weight and getting in better shape. They have not yet determined how much effort or progress a worker would have to show over what period of time in order to avoid the fees. They don't know how many people might be affected. They have some figures which show that people with a body mass index of 35 to 39 supposedly generate some greater healthcare costs. They only know for certain that workers have until 2010 to lose those pounds.

Since Alabama is a so-called "right-to-work" state this program is non-negotiable. There is no rewards program for people who get in shape and no guarantee that an employee who faces the charges or some other punishment or discrimination over an inability or a failure to lose weight will get a fair hearing or help. The details seem a little vague when it comes to how a person gets caught and told to work off the pounds.

Most workers talking about this that I run into see this for what it is--punishment and an invasion of rights and privacy and an attempt to split workers and drive a wedge between us. Nothing in the plan lowers healthcare costs or expands healthcare coverage no matter how many people lose weight. A group is being scapegoated for a social problem--lack of adequate healthcare--and a door is being opened for further penalties and punishments. This sort of thing can easily spread much further.

This plan also comes during a national campaign against public worker unions. The symbol for this campaign two years ago was an obese and angry-looking woman sitting in front of a sign identifying her as a DMV worker. People were rightfully outraged by the ads. It is no coincidence, I think, that the Republicans are featuring recurring sets of anorexic-looking women this time around in their media blitz.

Adding insult to injury, a leader of the Alabama State Employees Association is being quoted as saying that this program is a positive step. Alabama state workers--and public workers everywhere--need to look carefully at who represents us and start making the changes which build unity and the capacity to lead and to fight for goals like healthcare for all.

September 2, 2008

The Red Light Special On Republican Values

The Republican convention looks like the political equivalent of a small-town K-Mart after a Wal-Mart just opened up across town. The stage is sparse and lonely and there is only one monitor working.

Bush clearly did not want to show up--or perhaps he wasn't really wanted there--and used the hurricane as an excuse. When that excuse blew past, he still didn't show. Cheney took off for a tour of the Caucasus, a trip full of symbolism. He wasn't going to be tied down by sentiment for New Orleans or, more to the point, for his party and politics. The trip he is on is said to be a delicate diplomatic mission that a bad attitude or a wrong word could easily upset. It's impossible for me to imagine that this is true, but if it is indeed true then we should all be counting down to disaster.

Cindy McCain showed up at the convention looking like an angry has-been country singer stuck on the casino circuit. Laura Bush on the podium reminded me of everyone's most disliked HR manager. You can hear her firing someone while keeping that steely smile and countenance in perfect and well-practiced place.

And Palin. She was McCain's cave to the far-right and he apparently caved after just a few minutes of talking with her. If the Republicans win, this woman could easily be our next President. This is a person who has only taken a few trips out of the US, was once associated with a political party that called for Alaska to secede from the US and seems to live in a world of personal on-going crises. She apparently doesn't get the concept of separation between church and state or, for that matter, the separation of family from state. It is indeed wrong to focus on her family crises and ignore her politics, but Palin and her party invited media scrutiny by making her family part of the political equation in the first place. It's too late for complaints from the right on this score.

The selling point here? Stuck with a K-Mart-style convention and shoddy candidates and leaders who won't show up, the Republicans have a lame but resonating appeal to part of their disaffected base. "Look," they say, "you know us by the crises and crosses we bear. Our candidates have personal dramas and crises just like you do."

This isn't political engagement and there are no proposals being made or plans being offered at the convention worth talking about. The Democrats would not be able to get away with this. Emotion is trying to eclipse politics and the illusions of sameness and identity politics in their most distorted forms are attempting to take over debate. It's not that McCain and Palin have overtaken Obama and Biden in the polls or on the streets, but that a part of the Republican base--the sections most hurt by 8 years of Republican rule but still clinging desperately to conservative double-talk--are pushing their way forward and selfishly insisting on getting attention now. It's a dangerous cultural and guttural response to the naive liberal attempt to make this election about politics and hope.

We're being forced to listen to this nonsense from the Republicans. They are closing ranks to protect a hockey mom with a troubled family and faith in God, a scrappy western woman who fights corruption and keeps her guns ready. Thank God she doesn't believe in abortion. Thank God she doesn't let big government intrude into her family with sex education. Attack her and you attack America. Listen to us now!

Protect her from who and from what exactly? And what if we don't listen? The wagons have been circled and much of America remains outside of the circle, whether we acknowledge that or not. If we see parts of ourselves in the Palin drama, it is because Republicans have created social crises, tired country singers fill the airwaves singing about them, HR managers whack us for bringing them to work and K-Mart and Wal-Mart sell us back our blues at discount prices. Why does that become a reason to vote Republican?

What if we refuse to play the Republican version of Cowboys and Indians? Will the volume and angst from the right increase or will they run out of steam and stop throwing their tantrum?

Liberal forces need to be pushed by the left to remain at the grassroots, organizing for change. Back up the goal of making this moment about politics and hope with a real politics and hope that directly takes on the wars, the poverty, the ecological destruction and the loss of social infrastructure all around us.