October 30, 2008
The issue is a subcontractor, Delta Drywall, that is well known as a lawbreaker and unscupulous in their business practices. While the business is called Delta Drywall, the owner has had many businesses under different names which he bankrupts after cheating workers of their wages and benefits. For more background info on Delta, see this website: http://closerlookatdelta.com/.
The campus chaplain began the evening by asking us to think about how Willamette can treat justly, in an ethical and spiritually sound manner, those who work on campus, and how the university can support a just, peaceful and sustainable world by its actions.
Jason Sheckler, a union carpenter, recounted a few of Delta's past actions: falsified payroll reports, unreported hours, not allowing breaks for workers, not paying overtime, not paying prevailing wage on government projects, not paying workers at all, not providing health insurance to immigrant workers.
Juan Sanchez, a Carpenters union organizer, expressed that the immigrant workers were not being treated as human beings, stressing that they are not just workers, but have families to support.
Pastor Gail McDougal, pastor at Salem's First Congregational Church, urged the university to investigate the company and given the information, she indicated that the decision seems clear: do not allow Delta to build on campus.
Bill Smaldone, member of Willamette faculty, pledged to organize fellow teachers to ask hard questions of the administration and demand answers.
Ramon Ramirez from PCUN (farmworkers union) strongly challenged the students and faculty to think about the lives of the workers who build the buildings, reminding them that immigrant labor built this country, and pledged solidarity with the carpenters in their struggle.
Several workers with first-hand experiences working for Delta spoke to the audience.
A question was asked whether Willamette facilities has control over subcontractors. Jason indicated that while they are saying that they don't, that is not true, since on a different campus project, the university required a particular HVAC subcontractor to operate with the primary contractor.
A good turn out by students was encouraging, as they are central to pressuring Willamette administration to stop this contractor from working on the campus building. ALIANZA presented a resolution and petition demanding Willamette cancel the contract with Delta.
For a rather elite private campus which costs over $33,000 per year for tuition per student, that is not known for looking outward to the community or for its activism, this situation presents an opportunity for students, administration, and faculty.
October 29, 2008
You can hear the show here.
All of Sizemore's ballot measures ultimately aim or work to roll back our democratic rights, to limit or curtail government or to make it more difficult for working class people to organize collectively or even succeed individually. I find all of his ballot measures troubling, but this year I am especially angry about Ballot Measures 64 and 58.
Ballot Measure 58 is part of the anti-immigrant, English-only movement, regardless of what some of the measure's supporters claim. It gives racism a genteel cover and sidesteps the question of who should control education and the schools.
Ballot Measure 64 effectively takes away payroll-deduction or the "checking off" of voluntary union donations for political action by public employees, effectively limits their rights to donate to their unions and the charities, would force unions and charities to adopt limited or no political activism if adopted and limits or takes away the right of public-interest groups to use public facilities and take up collections for political purposes. A significant part of the money donated by public workers through payroll deduction goes to causes and issues which extend beyond their workplaces: raising the minimum wage, extending health care to more people, stopping payday loan ripoffs, changing workers' comp rules for the better, fighting discrimination and discriminatory practices. What Sizemore is objecting to is democratic progress.
October 27, 2008
By late September or early October McCain was back in step with Wall Street, but he and Palin had by then alienated key sections of the "pro-life" right to the point that in late October militant "pro-lifers" were on the airwaves with an anti-McCain message. They are taking a political line that verges on the anarchistic: voting for McCain-Palin, the lesser of two evils when it comes to the "pro-life" agenda, is still evil so don't vote. Liberal commentators were saying last week that McCain-Palin media events were looking liking couples counselling gone horribly wrong. Michelle Bachman's rants and Palin's rumored "insurgency" within the McCain-Palin campaign hit the news at the same time. Leading Republicans have apparently fallen into pro- or anti-Palin camps behind the scenes and, sometimes, in plain sight.
Thre is a strong feeling among conservatives that McCain is not aggressively pushing--or is incapable of pushing--the McCain-Palin campaign forward. Repoublicans on the sidelines, including many on the hate radio stations, alternately criticize and plead with McCain to lead a more vicious attack on Obama. The Republican surrender in Michigan, the reactionary push-back on gay marriage and the fallout over the cost of keeping the Palin family in style is pushing Palin to look more at running in 2012and less on winning this election. Unfortunatly, Palin has been given a pass by the media on her questionable travel expenses and her recent legal problems in Alaska--issues which should have moved the Republican rank and file.
North Carolina Representative Robin Hayes said at a McCain rally, "Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." He was echoing Palin's remark that "We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America...pro-America areas of this great nation." Taken together or separately, these comments show that the direction of the McCain-Palin campaign pushes towards division and civil conflict.
As voting gets under way the Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to make an issue of ACORN voter registration drives. Read correctly, this Republican attack is aimed at rolling back the progress made in the 1950s and 1960s against the Jim Crow laws which disenfranchised African-Americans and the poor. These laws were, for the most part, one of the last gasps of the Confederacy. The hoped-for mass outrage against ACORN has not materialized.
Confirmed stories are surfacing around the US of attempts to derail and suppress the popular vote through intimidation, as in New Mexico, or by making voting difficult, as in Florida and Ohio. It was reported several weeks ago that the ballot in an area of New York gives Obama's name as "Osama." In all of these cited cases Republicans are overseeing the voting, the voting machines and the ballot counts.
Right-wing hate radio has for the last week or so been red-baiting Obama and despairing over the liberal-centrist political advances. A number of small business owners are calling in to blame workers for voting their class interests and not staying in the loyal McCain camp. These programs feature Bachman and Palin but hardly mention McCain. They were silent on the desperately faked attempt by a Pennsylvania McCain volunteer to say that she was attacked by an Obama supporter--the kind of dangerous event which shows a campaign is attracting the wrong kind of people and melting down simultaneously. Magnifying this craziness, one show on hate radio claimed approvingly today that either the US or Israel will attack Iran this week as a way of throwing the election and getting rid of the Iranian regime. This isn't exactly an October surprise if Michael Savage is in the bleachers cheering the attack on in advance.
The arrests last week of neo-nazis who were apparently planning to kill 88 African-Americans and Obama--the second such planned attack revealed by the government--shows that segments of the far right are picking up the signals sent by Republican leaders. As the right collapses its most irrational forces step forward, climb through the chaos created by Republican leaders and attempt to seize the day by any means necessary.
October 23, 2008
THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
It is a spiritual force. It played a major role at critical times in the history of Russia. At the onset of the Great Russian War, after the treacherous Nazi attack, Stalin turned to her for support to the workers and peasants that the October Revolution had changed into the owners of factories and the land.
After the demise of the USSR, this church was not an ally of imperialism. That’s why in 2004, when His Eminence Vladimir Mijailovich Gundiaev, Kiril Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, visited our country, I suggested building a Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church in the capital of Cuba as a monument to Cuban-Russian friendship. The Historian of the City, Eusebio Leal, would be in charge of this undertaking. During the construction, earth was brought from the place where the remains were laid to rest of the Soviet soldiers who perished in our country during the tens of years they rendered services here. Thus, when the Cathedral was dedicated this past Sunday, I wanted to meet with the esteemed personality of the Russian Orthodox Church visiting with us.
Tomorrow, Thursday, he will be in Venezuela talking with President Chavez. Both draw inspiration from identical ethical principles derived from the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the Gospels, a religious belief they both share. After that, he will be visiting Ecuador to talk with Correa, a political leader who was trained in Liberation Theology.
His Eminence is not an enemy of socialism and he does not condemn to eternal fire those who struggle for a better world on the basis of Marxism-Leninism. He is listened to with great attention when he addresses the UN Human Rights Commission and other institutions. In his enormous country, he often speaks on television, for fifteen minutes on Saturdays, and tens of millions of people follow his every word attentively.
Our capital is honored with the presence of a Temple worthy of the prestigious Russian Orthodox Church. This is an undisputable evidence of our Revolution’s respect for the basic principles of human rights as it befits a profound and radical socialist Revolution.
There is no reason to make the least concession to Yankee imperialism. I am under the impression that His Eminence feels the same way. He is not an anti-Muslim; he respects that faith. And, in his ecumenical conception he feels that the Catholic Church can solve its differences with such countries as China and Vietnam.
It was really nice and rewarding to talk with him.
Fidel Castro Ruz
October 21, 2008
October 22, 2008
The picture we get of the wealthy-—people arbitrarily tagged with an average net worth of $89 million and who make more than $9 million per year---is that “some 84% of rich women and 63% of rich men say having money means having better sex” while also hiding their wealth and refusing to pay the taxes the rest of us carry. The report identifies “better” sex as the “biggest benefit overall to being rich.” A rather large number of these people seem to take some pride in having had sex in airplanes. Besides noting the stupidity of the report, we can also remark that the study is more than one year old and that its authors might get some different answers to their questions today. Still, it shows again the “let them eat cake” attitude held by the wealthy.
It turns out that people whose real income falls between $500,000 and $1 million a year have habitually been underreporting their adjusted gross incomes for years. This isn’t really news, but the MSN.com article shows that this reached 21 percent in 2001. That means that people with true incomes of $200,000 or more “received 25 percent of all income, but accounted for 40 percent of net underreported income and 42 percent of underreported tax in 2001,” the article shows. In 2001 this created a “tax gap” of something like $345 billion. They get away with this because the laws favor them and because they have kinds of income-—rent, business partnerships, tax shelters and capital gains-—which make hiding wealth easier. “Underreported business income” hit 43 percent in 2001. More than 10 percent of the people making $2 million or more are cheating on taxes. There are perhaps 18,000 rich people here with hidden Swiss bank accounts.
On the other side of the tracks, inequality is increasing globally. Again, this is not news either, but most Americans probably don’t realize that the US, Mexico and Turkey are seeing increasing social divisions which have been growing over the past 20 years. France is one of the few countries in which most social inequalities have been falling over this period because of salary increases for the poorest workers.
The richest 10 percent of Americans’ salaries start perhaps at $93,000 annually while the poorest 10 percent of the people here average $5,800 annually. This disparity in wealth in the US is astonishing, but what is also remarkable is that the US looks so bad when compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Jobs paying poverty-level wages increased by 4.7 million between 2002 and 2006 in the US. The number of working families living in poverty—-families making $41,228 or less-- increased by 350,000 from 2002 to 2006. Something like 22 percent of all US jobs now pay poverty-level wages. The solid south, Appalachia and the southwest are getting slammed especially hard. Most working class income—perhaps 60 percent—now goes to housing. Meanwhile, the wealthy are having sex in the air.
October 21, 2008
Everyone watching the numbers believes that median household income will be lower in 2010 than it was in 2000. Capitalist economists pretend shock when announcing this because this hasn’t happened since the 1930s. Median pay today is already lower than it was in 2000 and it is reasonable to project at least a 5 percent decline by 2010. Median household income last year is generally figured at $50,200, which seems artificially high. In 2000, median household income was figured at $50,600.
At some point we crossed a line between wage cuts which brought real wages down from a level needed to produce and reproduce labor power at something like “an American standard” to a level which is making it difficult for workers to repay debt. Over-production, meanwhile, has remained a constant since at least the early 1990s.
Marxists get it and aren’t shocked. We argue that there has generally been a long-standing decline in real wages that parallels a systemic decline in the rate of profits over time. Workers have to struggle for any advance in real wages, which is generally short lived, and we do so primarily through unions in the US. In some markets during some periods of time we see both a real increase in real wages for union members and increases for other workers as well. Go here for an excellent article on this subject.
Real incomes may or may not have grown from the mid-1980s and late ‘90s, as capitalist economists claim. The trick in their figuring may be because wages certainly stagnated during the early ‘80s, so any improvement probably seemed like a trend.
Moreover, capitalist economists tie recessions and depressions to economic growth in quarters so that we lose the long term vision or oversight of what is occurring in the economy. Economics starts to feel like sports to most people under these conditions: you start watching daily or weekly scorecards in order to see if you’re team is ahead or behind and you lose any sense of strategy and ownership. Workers understand recessions and depressions by looking at our hours and our wages. When hours started getting cut last summer we knew that trouble was coming. Most of us understand instinctively that we have effectively taken paycuts of at least 3 and 7 percent over the past several years and most of us expect this to continue.
The capitalist economists disagree over whether or not 2009 will be worse than 2010. We are being told not to expect any real gains until 2011. This is particularly bad advice because it does not anticipate positive labor law reform, increased union organizing and workers tying political victories in 2008 to economic advances through unions after the elections.
October 20, 2008
The US has something like $950 billion worth of credit card debt. Most of this is unsecured: most of us don’t pay in advance for credit cards or for debt we have not yet taken on. The banks which have actually benefited from the crisis up to now, or which have at least ridden it out, have all made money on credit card debt. How many times have you been urged at your bank to take their credit card and use it to transfer balances? And what about those credit card and check offers they send you regularly? Someone is buying in. After years of manufacturing credit card debt, those debts now form another serious threat to the banking and financial services industry.
The mortgage bailout was not a credit card debt bailout, of course, although there are remarkable similarities in how mortgage and credit card debt were manufactured by financial institutions. And a certain number of people—how many?—have been moving other bad debt on to overloaded credit cards.
Some banks can read the handwriting on the wall and are pushing higher interest rates before the elections. They can also read their own balance sheets: banks may lose as much as $137 billion over the next two years in bad credit card debt. Some of this debt gets sold off by banks to bigger banks at a profit, but about one-third of it will remain with the original bank.
Since banks know better than to trust one another, inter-bank lending has slowed to a near-trickle. Banks will find it increasingly difficult to sell credit card debt just as they have found it more difficult to sell mortgage debt. They’re stuck with raising interest rates on credit card securities, reducing credit lines, not pushing credit cards so aggressively and raising interest rates on the cards. Each option negatively impacts the banks, if only in the short run. Collecting on bad credit card debt is a headache for most banks most of the time. Not to put too fine a point on matters, but banks created their own headaches in part by over-emphasizing credit scores and then by pushing credit cards on people with low scores. The largest banks buying bad credit card debt gambled with centralizing their power and now seem to be losing their bet. The rate of increasing bad credit card debt is phenomenal, at least on paper. JP Morgan and Bank of America stand to be big losers here, if not in absolute dollars then certainly in containing their rates of loss over time.
The same political movement that wants to elect candidates from the center and left in November will be looking to limit interest rates, cut exploitative fees and break the industry’s worst billing practices. The nationwide crackdown on payday lenders over the past several years serves as a model for what can be done in this direction.
Let’s deal with salary cuts in a later post!
October 19, 2008
October 18, 2008 The Oregonian
Portland dockworkers opened their hiring-hall doors Friday to their brothers and sisters in the Machinists union who are on strike against Boeing, inviting them to apply for casual dock work to tide them over during the labor action.
October 16, 2008
NEW STOCK MARKET TERMS:
CEO --Chief Embezzlement Officer.
CFO-- Corporate Fraud Officer.
BULL MARKET -- A random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius.
BEAR MARKET -- A 6 to 18 month period when the kids get no allowance, the wife gets no jewelry, and the husband gets no ...
VALUE INVESTING -- The art of buying low and selling lower.
P/E RATIO -- The percentage of investors wetting their pants as the market keeps crashing.
BROKER -- What my broker has made me.
STANDARD & POOR -- Your life in a nutshell.
STOCK ANALYST -- Idiot who just downgraded your stock.
STOCK SPLIT -- When your ex-wife and her lawyer split your assets equally between themselves.
FINANCIAL PLANNER -- A guy whose phone has been disconnected.
MARKET CORRECTION – What happens the day after you buy stocks.
CASH FLOW-- The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.
PROFIT -- An archaic word no longer in use. Formerly used to describe the driving principle of the massive con game that got us where we are now.
US stock prices increased and then dipped again. Citigroup saw a big jump in stock prices but its losses have been understated or under-played. The dollar generally lost value internationally. Corporations with large overseas holdings in dollars say that they are caught between a need for cash now and the difficulties in accessing what they have stashed overseas. This is creating a need for loans which are not available.
Twelve million Americans owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, but the emerging details of the bailouts show that only 400,000 people can get help from the refinancing program as it is currently structured. This has left some home building corporations working for $15,000 or $20,000 tax credits, which puts them at odds with other capitalists and many politicians.
In a time when we are hearing about failures in the high tech industry, Intel showed some ability to make profits this week and Apple is trying to do better by holding the line on product price increases while their competitors raise prices. Dell and H-P are cornering parts of the market and Samsung is entering the American market with a low-cost laptop that it will market exclusively through one retailer. Apple’s rate of profit is suffering and Dell and Intel are not doing well despite advances in the stock market. The high tech dream of decentralized and clean capitalism pushed forward by inventors and investors on the ground is giving way to traditional capitalist competition and monopolization.
General Electric’s real estate division announced that they cannot see any gains through 2009. In the 1970s and 1980s companies like GE began to diversify and were generally rewarded with super profits as they moved out of their traditional manufacturing bases and into other industries. This was bad for workers in manufacturing and, eventually, is bad for most of the companies. Merrill Lynch turns out to be a major mover in Asian real estate just as China seems to be pulling out of these investments. Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch. Could this be the beginning of another real estate crisis?
Johnson Controls is expecting a huge fall in earnings. The steel industry may be experiencing further corporate consolidation internationally and investment is moving into copper and copper mining. Auto makers internationally are laying off workers this week while readjusting terms of credit. You can now get cash-back, leasing and discount deals on some smaller cars, but very little is being done on financing—and you need to qualify for the loans. Daimler announced massive cutbacks—including 1000 jobs in Portland—and shifts in production. Daimler stock then rose 7.6%.
On the one hand, we are hearing that the British bailout provided the model for the American bailout and laying the basis for global negotiations over financial regulations. On the other hand, we are hearing that the British government now in power will lose the upcoming elections by a landslide and that British food prices and inflation are rising rapidly. Food prices there increased almost 13% in September while the British pound is falling in value. No one expects these slides to reverse any time soon and a European-wide recession seems likely. Iceland is begging for help and remains in a kind of free-fall. Can we expect similar increases nationally and globally?
The Japanese stock market made a historic gain, but this gain came at the expenses of Australian stocks and investments. Workers in both countries are being played off against one another.
Establishment American economists and politicians believe that the recent quick slowing of capital flight to China is a good thing because this may help stabilize the faltering financial systems. In fact, the value of Chinese currency is not slipping internationally and China still has the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves. Restricting capital flight into China will probably be of little help to the US or to the European economies because China maintains such a big trade surplus, reports its reserves in dollars and uses some part of its surplus to invest in the US Treasury. If the Chinese refuse loans to the US or are dissatisfied with the yields on their investments, it will be the US which will suffer immediately.
In each case cited here we see the inherent and systemic failures of capitalism even after a financial bailout, international meetings to save the system and emergency measures by panicked governments and reluctant capitalists.
October 15, 2008
So lately I’ve been keeping up with the news of financial meltdown that’s been happening and trying to understand it all. Obviously, lots of folks got home loans they couldn’t afford and lots of lending institutions made loans that they never should have. Still, that doesn’t really explain the sheer panic evidenced by people who know about these things like Bernanke, Paulson, etc. I kept hearing about something called Credit Default Swaps (CDS) being the really, really big problem. Well, I’m a software engineer,not an economist,so I did some research. After reading a little about CDS’s, let me just say: OH. MY. GOD.
(Go here for more info on Credit Default Swaps.)
“A credit default swap (CDS) is a swap contract in which a buyer makes a series of payments to a seller, and in exchange receives the right to a payoff if a credit instrument goes into default or on the occurrence of a specified credit event, for example bankruptcy or restructuring. The associated instrument does not need to be associated with the buyer or the seller of this contract.”
Let me illustrate. I think there may be a chance that Erik will default on his truck payments. So I pay Czeslaw a little money every month so that if Erik does default, Czeslaw has to pay me the outstanding amount of Erik’s loan in exchange for the title to Erik’s truck. Alternately, Czeslaw could just give me the difference between the outstanding loan amount and the blue book value and I don’t have to pony up the truck. Neither of us has lent Erik the money to buy his truck or holds the title to it. Having made this deal, I now turn around and make a similar deal where Dwayne pays me monthly and I have to pay out to him in the event of Erik’s default. Czeslaw then makes a deal to pay Dwayne monthly so that Dwayne will pay him when and if Erik defaults. Every time any of us makes one of these deals, the amounts increase. Gas goes to $10 a gallon and the blue book on Erik’s truck plummets. All of a sudden the amounts we all have to cough up to each other if Erik defaults go through the roof due to the difference between the loan amount and the blue book value. Now substitute home mortgages for truck loans, big financial institutions for all of us, and home prices for blue book values, then multiply it all by about a gazillion.
In 2000, the total market for CDS’s worldwide was $600 billion. Thanks to an amendment that Phil Gramm slipped into the “Commodities Futures Modernization Act” of 2000, the CDS market was completely deregulated. Now in 2008, the estimated total market for CDS’s is $62 trillion. The mortgage meltdown was essentially the one small movement that caused this whole house of cards to collapse. These CDS--“financial weapons of mass destruction”, as Warren Buffet calls them--are completely unregulated and lack “transparency”. In other words, no financial institution knows how many potentially bad CDS assets any other financial institution holds. That’s why they won’t lend any money to each other.
While all of this good news was being reported, leading hedge funds began to pull their money out of the stock market. Some of this is about the hedge funds having to repay debts, but some of it also reflects the reality that not everyone with money thinks the newspapers are telling the whole story.
If some sectors of the finance capital monopolies are pleased with the main features of the bailout so far, there is still the problem of banks hoarding money and refusing to loan to other banks. Capitalists know better than to trust one another. Large investors are pressuring the Bush administration to insure interbank lending by the Federal Reserve. Any plan moving in this direction is likely to favor large banks and financial institutions over smaller ones and favor the needs of finance capital over the needs of workers.
Some credit markets were closed on Monday, which artificially inflates the trading and economic activity numbers. Stock market “surges” do not necessarily translate into good news for workers, of course: GM helped lead stock market activity yesterday, but the company still announced emergency plant closures and GM’s financing arm announced that will restrict loans to people with credit scores of 700 or better. (Most Americans with credit have a score of 720.) Philips Electronics, Nissan and Honda were also doing well on the stock markets and also announced steep production cuts and layoffs.
None of the so-called “experts” or news reports could truthfully report that prices will drop or that credit will become more available as a result of yesterday’s good news. In fact, some economists are concerned that the current crisis and how it is managed will lead to a period of inflation followed by quick deflation. The crisis of over-production we are living in now then would then become a crisis of under-consumption, perhaps because of production and job loss, the inability of companies and consumers to maintain any level of debt at all and the inability of workers to consume at a standard which does more than insure the reproduction of our ability to work. The transition from dealing in inflated currency to deflated or devalued currency and the question of who will manage that transition marks another systemic shortcoming of capitalism.
Remember that four million Americans are at least one month behind in mortgage payments: 500,000 of these people are somewhere in the foreclosure process. California bond sales did well on day one, but it's worth remembering how crazy it is that a state the size of California had problems in the first place or that bond sales are such an important part of its state budget or the repressive measures the state has waiting to curb public employees and their unions. In Oregon we know that the state’s college savings plans are down about $100 million from what they were at in January. About 70,000 people are invested in these plans and the people covered will have to make some other plans for their futures. The crisis continues and it has very human faces.
October 13, 2008
Earth and Beyond was created by now-defunct Westwood Studios before the developer was shut down by owner and mega-publisher Electronic Arts. As part of the contract in which Westwood agreed to be purchased by EA in 1998, the latter was bound to develop and run Earth and Beyond for at least two years. The game went live on Sept 24 2002 and was shut down on Sept 22, 2004 (referred to as "sunset" by fans).
Devoted fans of E&B, however, had other plans for their beloved game. In 2005, the Earth and Beyond Emulator project was formed and independent developers, working only in their spare time began the long process of reverse engineering Earth and Beyond. The success of the project is staggering; as of October 2008, the closed beta test has been completed and an open beta is in the works for later this month.
The group has remained relatively cohesive and focused for longer than the original game was live, maintaining a level of productiveness nearly on the level of full time professional developers, especially considering the immense obstacles to reverse engineering software. Especially of note is the complete lack of private ownership or even hierarchical command structures in this project; the new Earth and Beyond is free to download and free to play; instead of owners and managers, the project has coordinators and community organizers. Additionally, major decisions regarding gameplay and content are decided by the entire community, rather than only the development teams.
The success of the Earth and Beyond Emulator shows that profit, private owners and the like are not necessary for a group to be focused and productive; indeed, it was the encryption of the original data packets, enacted by EA to protect it's intellectual property, that proved to be the greatest hindrance to the group's productivity.
October 12, 2008
Weigl bills herself--or is billed by others--as "The Downtown Gypsy Queen of New York" and NPR claims that she lives up to this nickname by performing in "Romanian cultural outreach" efforts around the US. She has the appropriate anti-communist credentials to win NPR's attention: her family was reportedly forced out of Romania for unspecified political reasons in the 1960s, she moved to the German Democratic Republic and she then took part in some "radical" actions against the government of the GDR in 1968. These activities led to her being sentenced to a short prison term, later modified to assemblyline work, and her supposedly being barred from public performances for six years. She somehow landed in West Germany--we are not told how--where she continued her artistic career. She made it to New York and has apparently settled well into the gentrified downtown music scene. Her fallback job seems to be reinterpreting and singing Romanian Roma music.
Weigl has a strong and beautiful voice. I can't argue with her right to sing whatever she wants or defend how she was treated in the GDR, except to note that millions of people around the world perform assemblyline work every day and, all things considered, it is pretty light punishment for trying to overthrow a government in crisis. I do wonder about the details of her story, which seem not to quite add up, and how sincere "Romanian cultural outreach" highlighting Roma music can be given Romania's terrible treatment of the Roma peoples. I also question her political and artistic judgment in appropriating Roma music for her own benefit. Weigl is not Roma.
At some point this becomes a kind of cultural and political blackface, doesn't it? We get beautiful songs separated from their origins in a safe environment, thousands of miles away from the terrible conditions which produced this music. We get a white person interpreting a person of color's experience for us and this particular white person is getting recognition and money for it. All of this takes place at a time when Roma peoples are experiencing severe persecution and repression throughout Europe and while Roma musicians are struggling to make it and support their communities. People listening to Weigl or watching her are exempted from this reality but get some version of Roma music as a kind of reward for being privileged and lucky enough to live here.
We can't object to cultural interchange and sharing between artists, but in this capitalist society the recording and concert industries have encouraged white performers to appropriate music from people of color. The original writers, musicians and singers who birth this music are most often left in the background and rarely see success.
People interested in Roma music can go to a local music store or search the internet and find music by Saban Bajramovic, Esma Redzepova and Fanfare Ciocarila easily enough. Asphalt Tango Records has released a great series of classic Romanian Roma music from the 1960s. It's not hard to find original muzica lautareasca--the music Weigl is interpreting for us--and to learn all about it.
There was a real downtown Roma community in New York when I was a kid. It was centered on Third Avenue by 14th Street. Gentrification wiped it out. Roma music then was common at non-Roma weddings and small recording companies in Pittsburgh and Cleveland turned out disks that sold well beyond Roma communities. Weigl's work represents a break in tradition, a "cleansing" of that historic experience and the acceptance of its imitation.
The European socialist countries never solved the problems of national minorities and national minority rights. The Roma were never fully integrated into society and never gained their full measure of rights. On the other hand, a sincere effort towards cultural and political equality was attempted for the first time ever and progress was made. The European-wide attacks on the Roma that we see today did not happen in the socialist countries.
Socialist theory says that established political and cultural equality between peoples will allow for full integration. Cultural and artistic sharing between artists under conditions of full equality should mean that artists, regardless of their nationality, can share one another's music while functioning as part of a collective. Capitalism, on the other hand, appropriates the cultural expressions of this or that group, markets what it determines to be popular through competition and makes a few people stars at the expense of other artists.
October 11, 2008
There is an excellent article on the crises of contemporary global capitalism by William K. Tabb in this month's issue of Monthly Review. You can read the article by going here.
The U.S. and the other so-called “advanced economies’” financial systems are experiencing a systemic financial meltdown—this is the news of the week that is repeated daily, in one form or another, aspect by aspect. If you don't believe that this can touch most Americans, try getting a bank loan, look at what's happening at General Motors, look at what's happening with Wachovia and Wells Fargo, check out the downturns in high tech or look at Iceland and Hungary and the impacts the failures of their banks or bond markets are having on Europe and the US. We are at the beginning of an international run on the banking system in the advanced industrial economies. Broker dealers, non-bank mortgage lenders, hedge funds, money market funds and private equity firms remain at serious risk even after a week of intense shuffling and reshuffling internationally.
The advanced industrial economies (excluding China and India) represent 55% of the global Gross Domestic Product. These economies were in recession even before the late summer months when most Americans began to worry. The inability of the system to pull itself out of a severe recession by this fall and then to see crippling financial and banking crises occur testifies to capitalism's inherent and systemic weaknesses.
Remember that last year the Bush administration began insisting that the Chinese government increase the value of the Chinese yuan instead of letting it float against other major currencies. It was an arrogant push that gained some mistaken liberal and labor support. The Bush administration claimed that the Chinese banking system was in crisis. Liberals criticized the administration for refusing to censure China for what they saw as currency manipulation. Today we can see that it is the west's financial sectors that were in trouble and that the Chinese government was protecting its interests by not artificially increasing the value of their currency. The US must now ask the Chinese for new loans.
We also heard much at that time about “decoupling.” We got “recoupling” instead because capitalist financial markets have become so globalized. We had recoupling of stock markets, credit markets and money and currency markets. Now we can expect that global economic growth will slip into negative numbers by the end of the year. While the financial sectors of leading economies will continue to falter or fail, eventually the financial sectors in countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China may also slip. Central banks in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are scrambling to hold the line on developing recessions in their countries this weekend. For the time being, international capital is trying to play off Japan against Australia and Japan seems to be winning. This is bad news for workers in both countries, of course. If California seems to be in better economic shape this week than last week because of bond sales in Massachusetts,Germany has had to cancel the privatization of its national railway because of the global crisis:bond sales should not be a state's lifesaver and people--not markets--should decide government policy. If the US trade deficit really is shrinking, this is because workers' wages and savings in the US are strained and because of volatile oil prices.
The crisis is being blamed on the US housing market. In fact, the mismanagement of housing markets in other countries and the monopolization of the world financial and corporate sectors and their borrowing and trading practices seem as much to blame. Nervous reporters ask economists how long this recession will last and they are told that there will be no sudden recovery, that matters will get worse before they get better and that we can expect to live with this for three or four years or, perhaps, a decade. US job losses are projected to hit about 74,000 per month, on average, for the next twelve months. Stock awards and incentive bonuses are taking the place of salary increases in parts of private industry for workers who have jobs: work harder and your reward will be perhaps-worthless stock and still more hard work.
Several weeks ago the crisis was being compared to 1929 or 1907. Now we are being reminded of the 1987 stock market crash. In fact, there is no point in such comparisons. Looking back over the past year, we see that the so-called “rallies” which occurred after interest rates moved, people got their stimulus checks and bailouts took place are lasting for shorter periods of time or there are no “rallies” at all.
October 9, 2008
The bishop clearly works hard for human rights in El Salvador and lobbies in Washington against the free trade agreements. The Lutheran Church in El Salvador is expanding its work among the poor of their country and Bishop Gomez seems to guide his church with the letter and spirit of liberation theology.
The twelve-year-long war in El Salvador left more than 75,000 people dead and thousands more "disappeared" and in exile. Salvadorean refugees have scattered throughout the world and it seems to be part of Bishop Gomez's mission to visit and extend pastoral care to these refugees. He has been moved by the words and example of Archbishop Romero.
Three Lutheran pastors were assassinated in El Salvador during the country's civil war because of their work on behalf of human rights. Bishop Gomez was himself once captured by death squads. "My life was spared by the solidarity of the North American people who mobilized to support me," he said.
After the war, the people of El Salvador hoped for peace and expected that conditions would improve. Bishop Gomez believes that conditions are now worse in his country. "People live between two different realities," he said. "These realities are of surviving and of overcoming death." The free trade agreements which cover the region complicate the situation and make it much worse. Fourteen families controlled the wealth of El Salvador before the war; today perhaps five families do the same while only twenty per-cent of the people in the country have work which provides for them in dignity. Migration from and within El Salvador is increasing.
The bishop has a strong belief in the need for people to organize themselves. "We are in a historic moment now...where it is possible for people to make change," the bishop told us. "It will be very dangerous to lose this opportunity because powerful interests opposed to liberty" are present in El Salvador.
The bishop also told us that El Salvador needs help from North Americans now. He is part of an effort to bring North American election observers to the country in March. "In this historic moment we need oversight to make sure that the elections in El Salvador are real elections," he reminded us. The bishop also hopes that Salvadorean refugees will return to their country in order to vote in the March elections. The bishop sees the elections as the only way to make change in El Salvador.
Carrie Tracy, from the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations, also spoke. This organization has prioritized working on immigration reform. They recently completed a report on immigration which will appear on their website, and they will soon release a report on the issue of drivers licenses and immigrant rights. They also developed a tool to help start the conversation about immigration - a board game; you can download the game board and cards at their website.
October 8, 2008
The student association at LCC has done a great job registering students. The students supporting Obama had a big table full of campaign literature and they were registering students as well. A small and rather sparse table run by the Republicans had a few pieces of campaign lit out for McCain/Palin and Jim Torrey. They were not registering anyone to vote and didn't seem especially pleased with much of anything today. A few Torrey supporters stopped by to test me and to see if I was really non-partisan in my voter registration efforts or not.
Most students were friendly and most were already registered to vote.
Bond Measure 20-142 is a Lane County measure which, if passed, will renew an expiring bond dedicated to repairing LCC's infrastructure. This may not be the ideal long-term means of funding education and college infrastructure repairs, but a loss on this issue will leave LCC with some real problems. This is one of those issues which can hook people at the grassroots on political involvement and struggle by giving them a goal, hope and success. The LCC campus community clearly understands what is at stake here.
A few students did refuse to register to vote. When one young woman said that she would not vote, I answered that voting is one way to help create positive change. "I wish that I could believe that," she replied. She seemed to really want to have some faith in social change.
"I usually vote for God," one guy told me. I was stuck for an answer.
A number of the young people who refused to register today clearly feel unprepared to make decisions or commitments at this point in their lives. It's sadly easy to imagine them quitting a future job rather than standing up to an unfair boss or living in a future abusive relationship because they lack the will or a plan to leave.
A significant number of students told me that they will only vote on the bond measure and on local issues and races. Bond Measure 20-142 could pass, then, but if conservative or reactionary politicians also win, then LCC will still have problems with funding, autonomy and growth. Anti-education forces can cut school funding, make it difficult for more students to attend LCC and shape education in ways which benefit them and not society overall.
John McCain can boast of graduating from the United States Naval Academy. His class rank was 894 of 899.
Sarah Palin attended Hawaii Pacific University for one semester, North Idaho College for two semesters, the University of Idaho for two semesters, Matanuska-Susitna College for one semester and the University of Idaho for three semesters. After all of that she received a B.A. in Journalism.
These are not the kinds of educational resumes which demonstrate a commitment to critical thinking, scientific study or a strong foundation in the liberal arts. National educational policy will be turned inside out if left in their hands and in the hands of their followers.
October 7, 2008
One of the lead stories on msn.com yesterday dealt with the faint possibility that a few executives might do jail time for their role in the economic crisis. The closest thing we have to capitalist economic theory in this situation says that the Treasury Department should pick up the failing mortgages and mortgage assets so that banks in places like California and Florida can go back to “normal lending practices.” This might free a hoped-for “wave of capital” that may bring needed “liquidity” to the markets. Where is the talk about rebuilding infrastructure, putting people to work, green jobs and “normal” capitalist relations of production and distribution?
A strong opportunity also exists for capitalists like Warren Buffet to step into investment banks like Goldman Sachs and multinational corporations like General Electric in order to make money and restructure some banks and corporations. It’s impossible for me to believe that concentrations of economic power do not also translate into political power. The capitalists who are buying now are purchasing political power.
States are required to balance their budgets annually. A borrow-tax income-repay cycle is typical for states in America’s capitalist economy because capitalists have shifted the burden of paying taxes and fees to others. The borrowing part of that cycle is faltering. Since 159,000 jobs vanished in September we can assume a disappearing tax base—unless the rich are forced to pay their fair share—and future problems as states, counties and local governments try to make ends meet.
Following the logic of imperialism, American capitalists are looking around the world to step outside of the falling-apart credit market and recoup their lost economic power.
For instance, Xerox will use cash in the accounts of Xerox Canada to get a $300-million (Canadian) loan. Capitalists are apparently turning their sights on foreign pension funds and so-called “sovereign wealth funds” for readily-available capital.
This isn’t reassuring global capitalism. The German government has had to push a bailout of the country's second-biggest commercial mortgage lender and has hurried to guarantee personal bank deposits as the European financial crisis continues to spread. Ireland has also hurried to create guarantees on savings accounts. Iceland’s over-extended commercial banks are suffering. One of Italy’s-—and Europe’s—-largest banks has a recovery plan that may indeed result in raising the inflation rate to a dangerous level if it is put into practice and copied elsewhere. France’s largest bank is taking over the operations of another financial institution in Belgium and Luxembourg. The Irish and German plans are becoming stop-gap models aimed at preventing runs on banks all across Europe as stock markets there dive. Sarkozy, current President of the European Union, wants to hold a world economic summit next month to consider new rules for globalized financial markets. China and India could easily develop new protectionist trade policies. Germany's past push for stricter oversight of hedge funds and private equity firms last year, blocked by the US, will probably be restarted.
No European Union-wide plan is emerging. Africa, Asia and Latin America are being left to fend for themselves. In the past these kinds of capitalist and national maneuvers have led to wars.
October 5, 2008
In exchange, unions are dropping support for 4 ballot measures which would require companies with at least 20 workers to provide health insurance, allow injured workers to sue for damages outside of the workers' comp system, hold executives criminally liable for fraudulent activities within their businesses and forbid companies from firing employees without specific reasons and give fired workers additional legal options.
Labor probably raised over $12 million to move the pro-worker ballot measures forward and seemed ready to outspend the opposition. Labor's chances of winning on the 4 ballot measures looked good. The unions' ability to protect against the 3 anti-union measures is unknown.
Colorado's 1943 Labor Peace Act requires unions to hold an additional vote on creating an all-union shop after winning a union organizing campaign. This so-called "labor-peace law" undermines union organizing campaigns and makes it practically impossible to win strong union contracts. Colorado unions represent almost 9% of workers in the state while union membership nationally is at about 12%. Given this law and its dismal results, we're wondering why the far-right thinks an additional ballot measure is needed.
A small group of centrist politicians worked to get union and corporate heads to the table and change their approaches. Their motivating fears were open class warfare and increasing economic malaise in Colorado.
This can either be read as a smart tactical move by labor or as a selfish and abject retreat. Labor can now use its resources for defending union advances and for other political campaigns and can rightly take credit for dividing the capitalists. The 4 union-backed ballot measures so scared the corporate and political interests that they were forced to compromise. Healthcare and basic democratic rights were once again proven to be points of unity for workers and crunch issues for capitalists. On the other hand, polling shows that the anti-union ballot measures are likely to lose in any case. Quite a leap of faith is required to trust these new-found centrist and corporate allies. If the anti-union ballot measures do pass, unions will have lost even more: they may lose on the union shop issue and, through their own negotiating, they will also lose on 4 other key issues as well. Workers who are not in unions will share the loss and the backstep being taken in the fight for healthcare. This may not inspire workers to organize or labor's true allies to trust unions in the future.
A section of capitalists in Colorado are not pleased, of course. The Colorado Automobile Dealers and the Chambers of Commerce in some areas have come out against the deal and have announced their plans to continue the fight against the unions. Coors remains a name and a symbol attached to the far-right.
October 4, 2008
Last Monday the National Rifle Association showed up to film an ad for McCain at the mine. They were asking miners, "How do you feel about having your Second Amendment rights taken away if Obama becomes President?"
Someone called the union office and the union called the miners out on a memorial day--another way of saying strike--against what the NRA was doing and in support of Obama. It is one of those events which really makes me miss home.
I gather that the NRA could not finish filming and that the coal company is embarrassed by what happened.
The NRA made a big deal of union members supposedly being the backbone of their organization. Well, if you join the NRA you get great discounts on ammo and access to rifle ranges and my bet is that that is why so many workers join. Besides that, the miners' union used the slogan for years "God, guns and guts built the UMWA." The kind of class warfare that slogan describes is nowhere in the NRA's program.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), meanwhile, has found that workers striking for political reasons have no automatic legal protections against being fired. It could be argued that we have not had these rights given the way American labor law has been constructed since the time of the First World War, but this NLRB ruling was aimed specifically at blocking walk-outs by workers in non-union workplaces supporting immigrant rights demonstrations. Applebee's was one of the companies complaining and I'll never eat there again.
So what the miners did at Blacksville No. 2--and what workers supporting immigrant rights did in 2006, what the west coast longshoreman did last May and what the miners did in the 1970s to win changes in legislation--was courageous and they won. What we have to do is build the consciousness, capacity and strength needed to strike for political reasons as well, regardless of what the NLRB allows or does not allow.
Political strikes may not always work. When southern West Virginia coal miners closed down the mines to get out the vote for gubernatorial candidate Charlotte Pritt in the 1990s the strike backfired badly. That action came at a time of general union retreat and while two long and bitter strikes were still being discussed. Pritt lost, in part, over the gun issue and because of a terrible whispering campaign started by the state's Democratic establishment. If you're going to strike for political reasons, you need strong allies and the means to get your story out accurately.
I have good memories of the Pritt campaign and I would strike for her again.
A mass strike against something like Measure 64 in Oregon isn't in the cards for now, but it needs to happen.
October 2, 2008
- McCain-Palin conceded Michigan to Obama.
- As the so-called "rescue plan" moved along, the Federal Reserve began to talk about lowering interest rates and acknowledged that lowering the rates will cause inflation to increase. Some capitalists are clearly willing to throw others overboard if a higher inflation rate can raise their profits.
- The banking industry and the politicians in their deep pockets mobilized against mark-to-market rules which came into being after the savings-and-loan meltdown in the 1980s.
- General Electric got bailed out by Warren Buffet in a move which puts competitors for GE stock at a great disadvantage and waters down the value of GE shares.
- Oil prices, Dow industrials, copper prices, auto sales and mutual fund stocks all got hammered.
- The Supreme Court again said that capital punishment cannot be applied in cases of child rape. Meanwhile, Mumia Abu Jamal and Troy Davis spent another day on death row for crimes they did not commit and scores of US political prisoners spent another day in prison.
- Wachovia announced that they are terminating a $9.3 billion fund which holds and invests cash for about 1000 higher ed institutions. Citigroup bought most of Wachovia with government help. The schools invested in this fund can now redeem only 33% of their invested money. Schools heavily invested in the fund are scrambling to see where cuts and make-up funds can come from.
- It was announced that military bonuses to bring in more Army and Marine recruits for the wars are up 25% over last year.
- MSN put out a nine-point help program to help readers prepare for "personal and communal" disasters.
- Bill Sizemore is back in court in Oregon answering charges that he's a sleazy tool of corporate interests.
- The Oregon unemployment rate hit 6.5%.