August 30, 2009

Marginalization: Another Response

This is another response to the opinion piece, "My Take on the Issue of Marginalization" by Emil Shaw contained in the August 4, 2009 edition of the Peoples' Weekly World.

For 25 odd years I've been an involved labor activist. This 25 years has included rank and file activism s well as near 20 years as a paid labor organizer and union representative. At core, my work with labor has always been grounded in a Marxist analysis and a sense that working in the working class movement represents a wider commitment to a more humane and just world.

For virtually all of my 25 years in the labor movement I've actively submerged my socialist and Marxist perspective on things. Over the years I've walked lots of miles and made a million phone calls for politicians and "coalitions" endorsed by the unions I've been involved in. I've been the soldier "carrying the water" for these organizations even though I have personally had deep doubts about the aims, intents and effectiveness of the projects and politicians I've walked for.

With all of the promises and hopes laid out there by the unions, politicians, coalitions for this and that, I've expected little and I've consistently received what I've expected. I have few illusions about many of the organizations I've served. I have never been asked about my perspective on the work I've done or campaigns I've been involved in. Within the broad labor movement I've never found or been invited to a wider discussion on the aims, goals and direction of this movement. All of my personal experience tells me that I have been serving institutions that are top-down and feudal rather than democratic and open in orientation.

If you ask me, the biggest problem we face now is the ideological and intellectual bankruptcy of the center-liberal coalition so many of us on the Left have served even as we submerge our own political perspectives and identities. Here I am talking about that broad alliance of unions, official civil rights, peace and environmental organizations, and the Democratic Party. This is that feudal, top-down alliance, and right now, this alliance has no answers and indeed seems to be drowning in its inability to rise above its own compromises.

I'm looking at it like this:

A year ago many of us were pretty excited and very active in the the 2008 election campaign, which incidentally was a campaign to elect a center-liberal President and Congress. A year ago the campaign was right on. The issues included coping with the worst recession/depression in the last 100 years, a visible end to the white mans' hegemony, a commitment to universal and accessible health care, and an end to frankly imperialist war adventures in the Middle East.

A year later, what do we have?

Dealing with the recession/depression has meant giving Wall Street continued free rein with no consequences with a secondary effort towards preserving an already woefully inadequate social safety net. Health care legislation has been negotiated away with the best ideas already vetoed by the insurance industry and hospital/health chains, and dropped by the politicians. War continues to escalate in Afganistan, Pakistan, and Iraq (even as Iraq winds down ?).

The end results are continuing growth in unemployment and poverty rates, further erosion of the public's health and well-being, escalating wars and further endorsement of the aims of U.S. imperialist policy, and a growing willingness on the part of government and media to ignore the problems and just declare that things really are better.

Meanwhile, where is this center-liberal coalition of a year ago?

The elected victors of the 2008 election are busy surrendering just about every aim put forward a year ago. There's lots here. The current health care sell out is just one example, not to mention the torture issue, immigration, molly-coddling Wall Street, constantly appeasing and appealing for "non-partisanship": you name it.

The unions are I don't know where. In the midsts of capitalist failure, rampant unemployment and falling living standards the unions are silent... Just plain silent; they have nothing to say. The European unions and Left might not have the answers, but at least they are able to say, "we're not paying for this disaster". Here, the best the unions can say is "how much?", ala' the roughly 50% concessions in big auto.

The Silver-Lining?

Emil Shaw, in his PWW opinion piece, would define the stakes of marginalization of the Left in terms of broad-active coalitions and the Left isolating itself by insisting on a pure socialism (?). The reality is that there are no "broad-active" coalitions out there... The center-liberal coalition of last autumn has shot its wad. Currently the center-liberal contingent stands by, watches, and decides whether to protest or not as each issue is surrendered away. At its most basic, this center-liberal coalition is afraid and/or unwilling to confront capital at any level. This is the current reality.

Believing that broad coalitions are a political necessity in U.S. politics, the silver lining might be this:

"Coalitions" are forming as we speak around the health care and need for public option. Acts of defiance by workers are beginning to happen (Philadelphia Museum, Bemis workers, HartMarx workers...). These "coalitions" are taking shape out of a necessity to maintain the aims and issues of the 2008 election in spite of its 2008 proponents abandoning the cause.

Recent grass roots activity around single payer and public option health care points to a possibly new phenomena... A new "left-front" to the left of the Democrats and Obama. This new "left front" (my term entirely) is highly skeptical of corporate hegemoney and free-market religion. It's too early to tell, but maybe its not so much about marginalizing ourselves. Maybe it has more to do with which "coalitions"?

August 29, 2009


Three of the Cuban Five have been moved to the Federal Detention Center in Miami Florida.  They are being held in solitary confinement, just as they were for the first seventeen months after they were arrested 11 years ago.  They were not allowed to bring with them any personal belongings and are only permitted to make phone calls once a week.

They are scheduled to be re sentenced individually on October 13th by the same judge who presided over their first trial.  People are being encouraged to attend the re sentencing if possible as a way to show solidarity with the Cuban Five.

They can be written to at the following address:

Inmate name and Register Number
FDC Miami
Federal Detention Center
P.O. Box 019120
Miami, FL 33101

Antonio Guerrero #58741-004
Fernando Gonzalez (Ruben Campa #58733-004)
Ramon Labanino (Luis Medina #58734-004)

Answering An Argument From The Left

The current issue of the People's Weekly World carries an article from Emil Shaw entitled "On Marginalization." Please read that article here.

Several political turns or trends seem to be happening at once. Sometimes the pace and depth of change takes our breath away.

Emil Shaw is speaking for a number of prominent and respected Communists when he says

But to be able to be in a position where people will listen to you, one has to be in the coalition, participating in their day to day work. To be on the sidelines doesn’t work. To yell “socialism” doesn’t work, in particular when the party and our international comrades, do not have a clear idea of what we are talking about, since the days of the demise of the Soviet Union. New paths towards an egalitarian and just social order are being written with the efforts of the people in Latin America and Asia. But this story is not yet completely told, depending on the degree of U.S. interference and also the degree of solidarity we can generate within the U.S. labor and people’s movement.

It's a point well worth considering and taking to heart. Shaw goes on to say

There are comrades who still feel that all we have to do is to follow the example of Charles Chaplin in his film “Modern Times” where he walks down the street, picks up a red construction flag, waves it around and all the workers from different work sites put down their tools and follow him in a procession. Times are different now.

The print edition and the on-line edition of the PWW each carry slightly different versions of the Shaw article but the gist is the same.

I don't know anyone in our political circles who opposes coalition work, who supports sitting on the sidelines or waving the banner and yelling "Socialism!" or following Chaplin's humorous lead in "Modern Times." Quite the opposite is true: people on the left tend to give up their identities as leftists to work in coalitions, hide our politics, set theory aside and appeal to the political center. And for the center and parts of the right this is still not good enough. They continue to accuse us of being unthinking, devious, covert and extremist. Many on the right believe that a shadow government now exists and that it is headed by the Communist Party: right wing hate radio has been saying this daily for the past two weeks. What is at stake is the existence of the left.

It is bad argument when leading Communists accuse unnamed people of being ultra-left, rejectionist or isolationist and then neglect to name names and continue their critique. We have been hearing this for at least several months now. If such people do exist, then there should be an open discussion and a resolution of the issues. If they do not exist, we have a right to ask why the criticism emerged in the first place.

My concern is that leading Communists may be making these criticisms in deliberately broad terms in order to appeal to the center and lead at least part of our movement away from traditional Marxism and towards social democracy. I'm not convinced that this builds the left even in the long term. And I think that it gives the right a victory by disarming the left. If your opponent can determine your moves you lose the game in sports and in politics. What does the left have to apologize for and how does criticism of an unnamed "ultra-left" help?

I certainly believe in coalition work and I back this up on my job and in my political work. But coalition work succeeds and works at its best today and under current conditions when everyone in the room and at the table is being honest with one another. If I'm at the table representing my union or another organization, I'm bound to stay within those frameworks. If I'm there as a member of Willamette Reds or the Communist Party I have a broader field to work in. In either case, I need to be honest about my politics and affiliations and have the hard conversations with people who have a problem with it. Few people do have a problem with it, however. How and when I have that conversation is something to be decided in the moment and with a collective body giving me support and criticism, but it needs to happen.

What we are losing on the left is the collective body and consciousness needed to enable conversations about politics and left organizing. If the left continues to adopt the social democratic models of decentralizing and orients towards heading gradualist movements, always appealing to the center, working from the top down, not adopting modern critical thinking and organizing models, not internalizing participatory democracy and not grounding our work in Marxism left identity will disappear.

The article and so much of what we hear from leading Communists these days does not deal with what else the left does besides work in coalitions. Do we read and understand Marx and Lenin? Do we publish newspapers and newsletters in our communities and in our workplaces? Do we run candidates for union or public offices? Do we act as part of a world movement and in solidarity with specific movements and parties elsewhere? Do we teach? Do we have community centers? Are we family-friendly and attuned to the cultures around us? Do we have affirmative action mechanisms in place so that everyone gets a chance to lead? Each of these questions has a "why?" and a "why not?" attached to it that goes to the very heart of why we have and are a part of the left in the first place.

People who ducked the questions of their left affiliations and thinking during the McCarthy years suffered as much as people who took the questions on head-on. My parents were among the victims. People who kept an open left identity through those years and argued the point had something to be proud of at the end of the day. Ben Gold, president of the furriers union, refused to back down and the furrier's union--I was a member once--won some strong victories under his leadership even while the union took some losses. We need more Ben Golds today in order to honestly stand up to the right. Wins and losses can both be expected, but if you give up your collective and your identity it's more difficult to recover from the losses and find something to rebuild with.

On the other hand--and I am sensitive to these points--hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people believe Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh when they say that the Communist Party is running a shadow government in the US and that Obama is either a tool or a leader of this conspiracy. To a large number of people in the US Obama is indeed a revolutionary and even the public option for healthcare is a radical step. Change will come incrementally for a time while such a large bloc of people thinks this way, but it may also be that change can be driven forward with a more stubborn and self-respecting left in place--one made more in the image of Ben Gold and William Z. Foster and less in the image of the postwar Earl Browder if we must measure our present and future by the past.

Let's look ahead, I say, and try to discover among ourselves where the "new paths towards an egalitarian and just social order are being written" here and now. We have yet to adapt or adopt as a left the participatory forms taken up in Latin America. Surely there are new Marxs and new Lenins in the movements around us. If the left does not offer them the chance to grow with theory and in collectives we choke the spirit that gives the left its distinct and necessary identity. And we do this as well when we backtrack on questions like the wars, healthcare and EFCA.

Part of the truth that needs to be told is that we have historically depended upon African-Americans to be the best Americans, to have and to hold every great republican and democratic virtue, and to save this country from its worst excesses and destruction. The civil rights movement had, and still has, the mission of redeeming the US. When Black people lead social movements, from Reconstruction and Populism forward to the civil rights and labor movements, the very best in the US comes to the fore. If the left were to move to the margins and exist as sideline critics of the Obama administration it would become an alien creature to African-Americans and lose their support, and deservedly so.

Another hard truth is that the modern left is becoming a left without labor at its center. For the first time in the history of the American left we are working in a movement not led by or comprised of union members. This gives the left a particular class orientation and leaves what remains of the unions up for grabs by other forces. Several factors help account for this: job losses in unionized sectors, people retiring who were active in the '60s and '70s, the recent splits in labor, too many leftists taking staff jobs and burying themselves in that work, the naturally slow pace and hard tasks of being a committed communist or socialist and an active union member, the absence of groups like Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy. It is definitely not the case that labor and the left are going separate ways because leftists accept marginalization or insist on waving the socialist banner and refuse to work in coalition.

Finally, it has to be said that among those sections of the left that are disengaging--the social democrats and greens who abstain from meaningful political action, the old-school lefties who stopped thinking in the '30s or '40s, the people who bury themselves in coalition work and deny being on the left--there is a real lack of organizing and organizing experience. They can't point to any recent successes, or even project building, despite all of the new opportunities that exist for the left. Their credibility suffers because they can't bring real and lived experience to the table.

On the other hand, some of us have had the odd experience of going to Portland Jobs with Justice as union members and leftists and hearing the gasp in the room from other labor-left people when we announced our political affiliations. Jobs with Justice has not met its goals locally in Salem not because of the presence of so many openly left people involved in it, but because so many of those people are buried in other work, because there are self-imposed barriers to union activism here and because the local left has not grasped the essentials of democratic centralism. "Organizingism" is as problematic as doing nothing. Forget the supposed problem of leftists accepting marginalization and waving banners from the sidelines in this case and help us get back to historically proven methods of leftwing work.

Somewhere on the left there must exist a space which rejects as false and harmful the misguided accusations of accepting marginalization and ultra-leftism, on the one hand, and fully appreciates the need for a Black-led and labor-led left moving ahead at almost any speed. In that space there is a rejection of ultra-leftism, disengagement and the watering down of who and what we are as three sides of one triangle. There needs to be a recognition that progress is made through critical thinking, the juxtaposition of opposing ideas and organizing. Put me in that space.

August 28, 2009

Oregon University Workers Need Solidarity--WOU Rally On Friday, September 4

On August 21, after the Union rejected management’s offer of 21 furlough days and a 2year wage freeze for classified workers in the Oregon University System, management walked away from union contract bargaining.

The union finally got a new bargaining session scheduled for Friday September 4 at Western Oregon University. You may ask why then and there? When bargaining occurs on one of the larger campuses, the union has more members, so the rallies are bigger and louder. Western is a relatively small campus and when coupled with a bargaining session the Friday before a holiday weekend, management is banking on a relatively uneventful day.

We need to make sure that management gets more than they expect. We need a large crowd prepared to send a strong, loud message that OUS workers are State workers too and should not be expected to make a greater sacrifice than their brothers and sisters working in DAS agencies.

Please take a long lunch and come to a noon rally at Hammersly Library on the Western Oregon University Campus in Monmouth. Western is about a ½ hour drive from most Salem worksites. Be sure to bring your whistles and thunder sticks.

August 26, 2009

Surplus Value, The Falling Rate of Profit, Economic Crises & Oregon

I talk a great deal on this blog about falling rates of profit, economic crises and what we experience here in Oregon. I recently raised the possibility that we could be looking at a period of real deflation, controlled or not. A co-worker and friend who has forgotten more about economics than I will ever know and I talked about it and he convinced me that I may be wrong about deflation. But when we talked about monopolization in the milk-products industry and the relative declines in the rates of profit in that sector and related sectors and the overall economic crisis--also subjects I've taken up recently--it appeared that I may be right about capitalist crises and their impact on at least some basic food supplies and markets.

Does this talk bore you or give you a headache? Listen, if I can figure it out and have fun with it--so can you.

Go to the surplus Value website here and begin learning. This is what proves at the most basic levels where the Republicans and the hate radio deejays are wrong. They never allow a debate about these basic capitalist contradictions--they never even mention it.

This has special implications in Oregon. The right is trying to convince people that socialists have taken over and that socialism is evil--without ever explaining what socialism is or how either capitalism or socialism work at their most basic levels. Since Oregon has both rural and urban regional economies, a large public sector, high unemployment and an increasingly polarized electorate these basic questions should matter to us.

Capitalism is either in crisis or it isn't. It will either emerge from the present crisis and meet human needs and provide incentives for upward mobility and enable upward mobility or it won't. It either moves from one crisis to the next or it doesn't. Democracy will either thrive or die when wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.

A planned economy built and governed by working people is either possible or it isn't. Production can either be turned to meeting human needs or it can't be. Democracy will either expand and take on new meaning and prospects in the hands of "regular" people engaged in social transformation or it will wither and die in our hands.

These are "yes" or "no" questions and millions of people are looking for their answers. This link has some of the basic economic explanations we need to get the proper handle on what's facing us.

Portland Jobs With Justice Salsa Party

Subject: Jobs with Justice and VOZ Solidarity Salsa Party!

For the past three years Portland Jobs with Justice and VOZ Workers' Rights Education Project have joined together to organize a solidarity salsa party to bring together individuals that are a part of and support both of our organizations for dancing, fun and fundraising. This year's Salsa Party will be fun for everyone, and will include dance lessons, food and a silent auction.

You can help by spreading the word, and helping to sell tickets. The tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. They include admission to the event, food and dance lessons.

Saturday - September 26, 2009
8:00 - 9:00 PM Dance Lesson
9:00 - 12:00 PM Salsa Party

SEIU 503 Dance Hall
6401 S.E. Foster Road
Portland 97206

If you have questions please call us at 503-233-6787 or email us at

Thanks for your support!

"What Palestinians Need" Dr. Mustafa Barghouti on KBOO 90.7 FM

Friday, August 28, 2009, 9:00am

"What Palestinians Need" Dr. Mustafa Barghouti on KBOO 90.7 FM

Go here for the info.

Please tune in for a very special broadcast of KBOO's ONE LAND, MANY VOICES, next Friday, August 28th, at 9:00 AM, with special guest, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Dr. Barghouti will be talking about his recent column, "What Palestinians Need", which ran in the August 13-19 issue of Al-Ahram Weekly (see link below).

Tune in!

DATE: Friday, August 28th, 2009

TIME: 9:00 AM

Where: 90.7 FM KBOO listener-sponsored community radio
(100.7 FM in Corvallis, 90.9 FM in Hood River)

Dr. Barghouti is a physician and political activist focused on the development of Palestinian civil society and grassroots democracy. He is the international spokesman for the Palestinian NGO sector, and organizer of international solidarity presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Dr. Barghouti writes extensively for local and international audiences on civil society, democracy issues and the political situation in Palestine, and on health development policy for Palestinians living under occupation.

In addition, Dr. Barghouti is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, an NGO that provides health and community services to more than 1 million people annually in the Occupied Territories. He also serves as Director of the Health Development Information and Policy Institute, an independent Ramallah-based think-tank specializing in policy research and planning for the Palestinian health care system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Dr. Barghouti was a candidate for president of the Palestinian National Authority in 2005, garnering 19% of the vote.

"What Palestinians Need"

August 24, 2009

A Letter From Palestine: Life & Passing In The Progressive Nonviolent Resistance

Greetings and Salaam from Palestine.

I hope that this message finds you well.

As some of you have heard that my father (Saliba Rishmawi, Abu George) have passed away at sixty six years old last Tuesday August 18th at 15:40 Pm while sleeping in his house in Beit Sahour, which was the biggest shock for my entire family.

My Father Saliba, was my best friend, my teacher and inspiration, because of him, I do what I do now. He has taught me how to live with honor and dignity, how to seek justice and freedom, how work with the community.

He used to host elections campaign for his political party in our house, since I was a little child, campaigning for how making Palestine a better place to live, so from early age, I used to see people coming to our house, organizing for demonstrations around the area, preparing for strikes, and working hard solving people's problems.

My father was an active volunteer in the workers trade unions, helping to make the struggling people have a better working hours and wages. Hard to remember the number of cases he solves in cooperation with his friends and comrades.

My father was conflict resolution man, he used to solve problems for many people in the town and for people from my family, until the last day of his life, he was helping people solving their problems, hard to be believe.

My father was very active in the popular committees during the first Intifada, he used to urge me to participate in the demonstrations if one day I did not go, he will get mad at me, he always told me you should be their with your comrades all the time, never miss any event.

My father was active in the voluntary working committees, always participating in helping farmers and people in our community by volunteering his time and labor for them.

Words can not help me describing how he was, some of you reading this message have met him in person and have spend time with him, he meant the life for my family and I. He was the compass for our journey, he was the captain of our ship, he was the leader he was he was,

It is very hard for me to write this message about loosing him, very hard to go home and not seeing him, very hard to say that he is dead now, I wish he is in a better place now watching over me and my family.

The only thing we could do is to continue his journey for Justice and freedom for Palestine. One of my friends wrote to me, that my father is lucky and privileged that he was never a refugee, lived, died and buried in Palestine, yes very true, he is privileged that he is buried in his hometown, in Beit Sahour the town he loved.

The funeral was attended by hundreds of people, a local poet from the town had written a long poem about him, and one of my cousins read it in the church, during the funeral, it was really moving for all the town seeing an honorable beloved man departing. Thousands of people came to the wake after the funeral, according to the Palestinian traditions all families in our town came and gave their condolences and all of the people who loved him, came also.

My of you has written to me and my family, one behalf of my family, we are so grateful for all of them we are grateful for those of you who came to Beit Sahour and spend time with my family and got to know him, we are grateful for all of you who prayed for him while he was sick, we are grateful for you of thought about him.

Please help us continue his journey by bringing Justice and Peace for this part of the world. Salaam and Peace for all of you.

George Rishmawi and family

Lisa Dixon's Letter To The Statesman Journal

Lisa Dixon is a strong union leader at the Department of Consumer & Business Services. She had the following letter published in the Statesman Journal on the 23rd. She speaks for many state workers: after awhile it does feel like a dance that gets done every two years, and especially so with governors and legislatures who take drop the ball and negotiators for DAS who seem less than competent. And it remains an incomplete struggle for the workers. Too often the energy is not there for rallies and strikes and the kinds of dramatic actions that caused public worker unions to turn the corner and become centers for organizing. The workers become easily isolated from one another and from a larger political fight for all programs and services and political alliances and coalitions replace a real people's fight, led by labor, in the halls of the legislature and in the streets. Every two years we get further away from being a people's and worker's movement, even when we hold the line and win something great for ourselves.

August 23, 2009

I signed up with the state for stability and eyes open to take a 50 percent cut in pay. In return for that, I show up and do a good job at work every day and I expect the state to keep their end of the agreement.

Why every two years we have to start at ground zero in bargaining here is embarrassing for the state, the governor and their bargaining team. DAS comes to the table every two years unprepared, with "no clear direction." Ridiculous. Bargaining has been every two years for the past 40. Don't they remember the drill?

Why go through these machinations? We want a living wage, fully paid health care and healthy working conditions for everyone, not just state workers.

Lastly, we wouldn't have to be in this feast/famine situation if a true rainy day fund existed to use in these harsh times when the economy goes south. (It will happen!)

Please e-mail and write your representative. We need leaders at the table with conviction and consistency.

— Lisa Dixon, Salem

It takes a fight to win

It takes a fight to win
By Sam Webb

It seems clear that the prospects for a bipartisan health care bill are diminishing with each passing day. And as far as I'm concerned that is a good thing. Nothing good, nothing resembling "reform" could come from bipartisanship in this Congress. The Republicans have no appetite for real health care reform. The health care system isn't broken in their view. So why fix it? A few cosmetic changes maybe, but nothing more.

According to media reports, the Democrats have begun devising a strategy to pass a bill without Republican support. I applaud them. While I can understand President Obama's desire to pass a bipartisan bill, there is nothing necessarily virtuous about bipartisanship, it should not be turned into a principle of political governance. Conversely, political partisanship is not necessarily a dirty word either. The appropriate method of governing can't be decided abstractly.

Process in politics is important, but it shouldn't trump the democratic will. Millions elected Barack Obama and a new Congress in the expectation that they would bring real change to their lives. But the health care debate is making crystal clear that the Republicans and to a degree some Democrats are in no mood to assist the the legislative agenda of the Obama administration, - an agenda that the majority of Americans elected him to carry out.

The mission of the extreme right in the Republican Party (and the extreme right dominates the GOP), in fact, is to sabotge health care reform and Obama's Presidency by any means necessary. It will embrace bipartisanship only in words and only to the degree that it stalls the reform agenda of the President. Once negotiations become substantive, right wing extremists turn nasty and let loose their attack dogs, including their gun toting ones, on the President and other advocates of real change.

I know the American people would like to have less rancor and partisanship in politics, but it is hard to imagine that changing anytime soon. For one thing, the extreme right turned mean spirited and divisive politics into its trademark three decades ago and there is little reason to think that will change going forward. In fact, the noise from the right wing is becoming more strident and shrill, more dangerous, and more irresponsible since President Obama was elected.

For another thing, eras of deepgoing democratic reform - the 1930s and 1960s come to mind - are a product of clashing partisan interests and political coalitions. Feelings are intense, democratic life is charged, divisions along class and social lines emerge in clearer form, and social inertia gives way to social action. Like it or not, political leaders and ordinary people take sides.

Franklin Roosevelt and John L. Lewis took sides in the New Deal era; so did President Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights era. And in both eras, millions - most of whom were new to political activism - threw themselves into the struggle for progressive social change. It wasn't always pretty, but it was nearly always necessary. Had political leaders not taken sides and had not people taken to the streets, progressive change would have died stillborn.

With the wreckage of 30 years of right wing rule everywhere, an economic crisis of immense proportions hanging over the country, an extreme right, badly weakened, but still a part of the political equation, and powerful corporate interests and their supporters in both parties who either want to prevent or contain people's reforms, can we move this vast country in the direction of economic justice, equality and peace without intense, sustained, and partisan struggle with an increasingly anti-corporate thrust? History and common sense say 'no.'

A reformer from an even earlier era famously said, "Power concedes nothing without a struggle."

Oregon DMV Office Closures

The people of Corvallis and the workers at the Corvallis DMV field office found out at the same time that their DMV office would be closing indefinitely. The workers at the Grants Pass DMV office found out when the landlord put up a For Sale/For Lease sign. For Corvallis that will be a month and three weeks prior to the closure, for Grants Pass that will be two months and two weeks prior to their closure. Is this good management?

After negotiations with the landlord who owns both properties, and two other offices, broke down, DMV decided to close the offices and move to different locations. Was this a sudden occurrence? Was there no warning? The previous lease agreements were for 10 years, it was no secret when the lease would be up. In fact, DMV negotiated a 6 month extension for both properties. If the landlord had raised his fees, it makes sense to move the offices and save the state some money, but DMV management knew this as early as the summer of 2008. DMV workers found out a year later.

DMV workers aren’t being told what is going on. Grants Pass and Corvallis workers just found out this past week what their assignments will be when the offices close. They still can’t get a straight answer about whether or not they will be reimbursed for time or mileage, even though they have a labor agreement which states they will. Lack of information and disrespect for employees has lead to a great deal of gossip and rumor. Workers learned from the paper that the Corvallis Office lease actually expired in the spring and that DMV was given a 6 month extension on the lease; they didn’t learn this from DMV management. Stephanie Miles, Field Services Group Manager, didn't share this with workers and refused to share any more information about up coming plans for new offices or the remaining two offices owned by the same landlord. Workers are not mushrooms, they do not need to be kept in the dark. They can be an organization’s most valuable resource, but DMV will never be a high performing organization until it recognizes this. DMV business partners receive more respect that do the workers who should be treated like an important and respected partner in the delivery of services to the citizens of Oregon. A simple heads up that there was a problem a year and a half ago and regular updates would have gone a long way to dispel the rumors and gossip that is now being complained about and would have made the workers feel, at least to some degree, that they were being included and were part of the equation .

This situation shows a lack of planning on the part of management and a lack of consideration for the inconvenience this will cause to the citizens who depend on the services provided by DMV. It appears there have been lease problems for a year to a year and a half, depending on which DMV manager you ask. It seems that should have been ample time to locate a new site so that services would not be interrupted in the Corvallis and Grants Pass areas. Closing an office for an indeterminate amount of time due to loosing a lease has never been done before that we are aware of. Stephanie Miles has given conflicting information on whether or not they are looking at closing Bend or West Eugene, the other two properties owned by the same landlord. On one hand, she has told employees they are looking at temporary sites, on the other she says they are still negotiating with the landlord. At least these workers have a heads up that they may be facing closures. The communities have yet to find out.

Customers in these communities will now have to leave their cities to do their DMV business. Auto dealers who depend on the local offices to process their title work will have to do the same. This comes at a time when the legislature has passed a fee increase in the form of the Oregon Transportation Act. The Corvallis Gazette Times gave DMV a "Raspberry" award for bad planning.

Workers in these offices will be farmed out to various surrounding offices and are just now being notified which ones. They must be compensated for travel time and mileage, to not do so would be a serious contract violation, yet Stephanie Miles will not provide this assurance to her workers. She states they are looking at where employees live to make this less stressful on the workers and that is good management. However, workers often choose to live where they work. At least two Grants Pass employees who choose to work and live in Grants Pass do so because they have family there, they can be close to their children, and deal with the daily situations that come up more easily. Workers in surrounding offices will now be picking up the extra customer workload, shuffling of equipment and inventory is going on, and the customers will be paying new fee increases on top of driving a longer distance for the services provided by DMV.

The workers at DMV are of the opinion that closing these offices will have a severe impact on the services provided to the citizens of Oregon who live in these communities. One can only imagine how much this will cost when all is said and done. It is certain that the workers in these offices have lost faith in the ability of DMV management to make sound business decisions. It is also certain that these workers know they are nothing more than a cog in the wheel and are not valued assets to the machine that is DMV.

What’s Happening in Health Care Reform?

O A R A--Oregon Alliance for Retired Americans

August 27th Meeting--Public Invited

What’s Happening in Health Care Reform?


Janet Bauer, Oregon Center for Public Policy, & Onofre Contreras, Oregon Health Action Campaign

Thursday, August 27th, 10:00 am until Noon

At the SEIU Building, 6401 SE Foster (near Foster and Holgate) in Portland

Refreshments Provided

August 23, 2009

To Those Born After by Bertolt Brecht

To the cities I came in a time of disorder
That was ruled by hunger.
I sheltered with the people in a time of uproar
And then I joined in their rebellion.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

I ate my dinners between the battles,
I lay down to sleep among the murderers,
I didn't care for much for love
And for nature's beauties I had little patience.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

Every sidewalk led to quicksand,
My speech betrayed me to the butchers.
I could do only little
But without me those that ruled could not sleep so easily:
That's what I hoped.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.

Our forces were slight and small,
Our goal lay in the far distance
Clearly in our sights,
If for me myself beyond my reaching.
That's how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth.


You who will come to the surface
From the flood that's overwhelmed us and drowned us all
Must think, when you speak of our weakness in times of darkness
That you've not had to face:

Days when we were used to changing countries
More often than shoes,
Through the war of the classes despairing
That there was only injustice and no outrage.

Even so we realized
Hatred of oppression still distorts the features,
Anger at injustice still makes voices raised and ugly.
Oh we, who wished to lay for the foundations for peace and friendliness,
Could never be friendly ourselves.

And in the future when no longer
Do human beings still treat themselves as animals,
Look back on us with indulgence.

A New Straegy And Tactics For The Peace Movement?

I think that Peter Bergel is miles ahead of much of the peace movement in taking on tough questions and suggesting solutions. Even if I don't agree with everything he writes, and don't always see where he is heading, I think that he approaches the questions confronting the peace movement with special genius. This is how every movement should move forward. Read some of Peter's writing here and follow and join in the discussion by hitting the "Main Ideas" link.

The Health Care Debate And The Archimedes Movement

An activist from the Archimedes Movement recently wrote the following. Whether she is speaking for herself or for the Movement doesn't matter (and isn't clear). The health care debate continues to be polarizing--which only means that some people want us to have healthcare and some corporate and political forces don't. Every social question worth taking up becomes polarizing at some point and we shouldn't be afraid of that. The question is how to win and hold the people who vote and who have been either left out of the debate or who have been deliberately scared and confused by the right. One test of the Democrats is whether or not we get real healthcare reform. That fight isn't over. The bigger test, I think, is whether or not the Democrats can organize and fight against the right in 2010 by building upon the pro-healthcare majority we have at the grassroots and in the workplaces. I like these powerful words:

Here's what I know. We have not worked all these years on health reform in order for Congress to pass a bill mandating that Americans must buy health insurance from a private company, regardless of whether it is for-profit or not-for-profit. If this is the primary focus of reform legislation, this is not acceptable. We want legislation that is going to lead us to improved health, lower the overall cost and improve the patient's experience as they interact with the system.

This debate has been whittled down until it's hard to recognize where we are in terms of progress, much less where we are going. How did the debate end up being about an individual mandate to purchase private insurance? Or, was that the intended question all along? And I can only imagine that there are vested stakeholders out there who are chuckling at what they will gain if these proposals actually get enacted as legislation. This is the health insurance version of the Medicare Part D boondoggle - the industry gets a lot of people who are required to participate, and American taxpayers will foot the bill.

I will not be cornered when someone asks me if I will settle for reform without a public insurance option. That is 100% the wrong question and I hope you'll join me in letting Congress know that they themselves have been cornered into solving the wrong problem.

Envisioning a Democratic Economy

Envisioning a Democratic Economy

DATES: Thursday, August 27

TIME: 6:00 pm

ORGANIZATION: Silverton People for Peace


DESCRIPTION: Community Conversation with the Rural Organizing Project, the Silverton Grange, and Silverton People for Peace. Special thanks to Rolling Hills Bakery for hosting after-hours!

Why: Since the collapse of the economy, our local communities have been feeling the pain. Oregon’s high unemployment and cuts in public services are nothing new to rural Oregon, but with the crisis, things are more serious than ever. While the main actors in this debacle are huge corporations, it is we the people who are paying the price. But it is also we the people who can act now to turn this crisis around - both through local support for our neighbors in need and through collective action that delves deeper into the systems that created this crisis and dares to rebuild them in a way that is accountable to the needs of our communities.

How: Join with your neighbors for an open conversation facilitated by the Rural Organizing Project. We’ll talk about the economic collapse through a lens of shared values: community, human dignity, human rights, justice, sustainability and explore where that leads us. We'll discuss ideas that rural and small town communities across the state are exploring - from community kitchens and ride shares, to investing in local banks and credit unions, to tax fairness policies in Oregon that could fill the budget gap without cutting services.

Who: Anyone who is concerned about how we join together to survive this economic crisis, or who wants to see an economy fundamentally different from the one that is collapsing around us. This includes people of faith, gardeners, social service workers, youth, seniors, artists, low-income people, healthcare workers, union members, peace activists, immigrants, teachers, people who are concerned about sustainability, first timers and old timers who care about social justice and their community!

Facilitated by Rural Organizing Project (ROP), a grassroots organization that exists to advance democracy in rural and small town through autonomous human dignity groups. ROP was founded in 1992 and is based in Scappoose, Oregon, but works in all 36 of Oregon's counties with more than 60 local groups who are united in their support for democracy and human dignity of all people, but whose main concerns and activities range from economic justice and peace to immigration, LGBT rights, and gender justice.

Thursday, August 27th - 6:00 - 8:00pm
Silverton, OR
Rolling Hills Bakery - 106 N 1st Street
RSVP: Sherry Pollock, contact (503) 873-2906

AFGE and IUPAT Locals in Oregon Endorse HR 676

AFGE and IUPAT Locals in Oregon Endorse HR 676

Portland, Oregon. American Federation of Government Employees Local 2157 and Painters Local 10 have endorsed HR 676, single payer healthcare legislation introduced by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI).

AFGE Local 2157 represents 600 employees at the Portland VA Medical Center and outlying clinics in Oregon as well as at the Veterans' Benefits Administration offices and Willamette National Cemetery. The local endorsed HR 676 following a presentation by member Betsy Zucker and Jobs with Justice activist Peter Shapiro. Local 2157 President Leonard Fearn said: "We are proud to join the growing number of unions who support
single payer healthcare. Private insurance adds cost, but no value, to our health care dollars. Single Payer Now."

AFGE Local 2157 has submitted its resolution to the AFGE International Union Convention which meets this month.

Local 10 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) also endorsed HR 676. Travis Giobbi, a Local 10 apprentice, submitted the resolution and reports that the local forwarded its resolution to their International Union Convention which meets in September.

HR 676 would institute a single payer health care system by expanding a greatly improved Medicare system to everyone residing in the U. S.

HR 676 would cover every person for all necessary medical care including prescription drugs, hospital, surgical, outpatient services, primary and preventive care, emergency services, dental, mental health, home health, physical therapy, rehabilitation (including for substance abuse), vision care, hearing services including hearing aids, chiropractic, durable medical equipment, palliative care, and long term care.

HR 676 ends deductibles and co-payments. HR 676 would save hundreds of billions annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of the private health insurance industry and HMOs.

In the current Congress, HR 676 has 86 co-sponsors in addition to Conyers. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced SB 703, a single payer bill in the Senate.

For further information, a list of union endorsers, or a sample endorsement resolution, contact:

Kay Tillow
All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care--HR 676
c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217
(502) 636 1551

Angst: town halls or otherwise

What kind of people are we? I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the soul of America. It’s mostly due to the insanity that has poisoned the August town hall meetings around the country. But, the reality of it for me is greater than that. It’s the cherry on a giant crap sundae that’s been building in my mind for a few decades.

Do I have what it takes to coexist with these other Americans? That’s what a sticker on my car says I‘m doing, and am telling others to do. Do I think that’s possible? Has it ever been? I suppose historically we may be coexisting rather well here, given the polar extremes of the left and right in modern America. There are many factions throughout the centuries that have annihilated each other over policy divisions great and benign.

But it really disturbs me how much anger I feel lately. Last fall was finally our time, after the worst eight years of my life. A horrid time in American history. A period of shame that should be felt from top to bottom across this land. And six months in, I’m told that this new President is evil, he’s Hitler, he’s tossed out the Constitution,… Socialism!… Communism!… and worse,.. Taxes are coming! Where were you people for the last decade?

Instead of a country that came to it’s senses after a nasty dance with Fascism and breathed a collective sigh of relief, what do we find? We find that the 25% of the population that never had a problem with anything the Bush Administration could muster is controlling the message during the Obama Administration as well, with the same fear and disinformation that exploited the populace from 2001-2008.

And who are these people that the media likes to refer to as the “independents”? The people whose minds can be changed in an instant and whose votes are battled over in every election cycle. The middle 40% of America that apparently can go either way if marketed to properly. I’m growing more and more disturbed by these people as well. I understand cynicism when it comes to politicians from all parties, but when it comes to issues, please have a stance. Many of the people I know that choose to play the middle-ground do so because it’s easier and requires less reading. I also believe this group is more prone to cult of personality, which leads to voting without knowing what you’re voting for. Obviously there are many in this group who voted for Bush as well as Obama. Philosophically, this is unacceptable. But in our sad reality, Gore, Kerry and McCain have one giant trait in common… they’re boring. Achilles heal of politics.

So, back to my original point. Can I stand to live within the same borders with these people? How different can your values be from your neighbor’s and yet a peaceful coexistence maintained? If a person on my street owns a Hummer, I revile them. I don’t know them, and I find myself not wanting to. Am I becoming as intolerant as I feel that the Right is? Is it okay for me to despise people for their choices as I know they despise me for mine? When I see the disgustingly vivid anti-abortion signs being held by the bridge on the way home, do those people feel the same anger toward me that I feel toward them? And whose fault is it if we do? Who started all this?

Different sides of many issues have battled it out forever with varying degrees of civility or bloodshed. Some things change via the pen, some via the armaments. I’ve only been around for three-and-a-half decades of history (as far as I know), so my only path to knowledge of the centuries I’ve missed is reading up on it. And as much as I read I still find it difficult to put our time in perspective. How much do we dislike each other? How does it compare to levels of angst and disdain during or prior to similar periods of American or World history? At what level of whatever will whatever be triggered with the resulting whatnot? I don’t know.

Instead, as the opinions of the radical Right are voiced from my TV or littered within my local newspaper, I just lose track of who I‘m angry with. Is it with the person who just misrepresented a reading of the Constitution, or is it with the media who fail to point it out? The person who thinks Obama is a communist, or the radio personality who told them he is?

This I suppose brings me back around to the dance with Fascism that I referred to concerning the Bush years. In reality, little has changed on that front. It was there before him and is very much here now, though his tenure was a spike on the graph. Sure, we may make some progress on social, wedge issue matters. But when it comes to changing the economic structure of America and the war economy, the true power brokers work their magic.

This current fight over healthcare is a prime example. If Americans were presented with reality, they would surely choose a similar system to that of the rest of the civilized world. But when much of the population falls for the fear mongering of the Fascist puppet-masters that control a substantial amount of our government‘s action or lack thereof, we get the recent insanity at the August town halls. We find middle-class Americans screaming with all their might to protect the rights of corporate America. We find elderly Medicare recipients furious at the thought of government-run healthcare. Once again, an unacceptable line of thought.

So, what comes of the corporate control of our government and our media? Well, some wicked legislation this way comes. Drug companies, insurance companies, banks, investment firms, oil companies all reap vast rewards for their insidious work inside government offices. And now that most of the media is owned by these same companies, journalism has become entertainment. General Electric has no interest in investigating General Electric.

And hence, given that so much of the population votes based on reasons outside of the issues that actually affect their lives and the media refuses to investigate, much of this corporate tinkering goes unnoticed by the public. Even when things fall apart due to obvious corporate misbehavior and scandal and crime, it’s very easy to blame the liberals lack of values or the scourge of illegal immigrants ruining America, or the ever popular devil, taxes. Multi-national corporations fill your food, air and water with chemicals that make you ill, and you get to deal with their cohorts in the health insurance industry and prescription drug industry, and your finances are a disaster. On the news, Senator So-n-so slept with What’s-their-name. And that scoundrel has to go. Those in bed with Monsanto and Tyson and Merck?, no story there.

As I watched a local town hall the other day, a woman emphatically stated that the Constitution does not guarantee the right to healthcare. And I wonder again, why is it that I have to share a planet with such heartless souls. Are you willing to step over a dying human being to snatch a few more of your precious tax dollars back from the feeble grasp of another social program? Will you use those dollars to add another foot to the wall around your house to protect you from that lazy drivel that wants to take what’s yours? Even worse, are you willing stomp the poor again in outrage that corporations pay their fair share? So, now the middle-class will fight battles for multi-billion dollar multi-national companies as well?

I don’t know who I’m angry at anymore. I may be back to despising the species as I did back in college. The problem with college is that you occasionally learn things. The more I learned about the evil and pain that can be tossed about so callously in the race for profit, the less I enjoyed humanity and it’s capabilities. I was willing to toss the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, people can do wonderfully selfless and beautiful things. But the despicable scroll of history cramps my gut with bitter disdain for the dark possibilities of humanity. Profit always wins and working people always face misery and nature always loses. We win some battles, but the war never goes well.

And for now, though I cannot lay exact blame for my anger, I know that I need to find another way to deal with it. I don’t want to be them. I don’t want to be red in the face. I don’t want to be cold in the heart. I want to find a way to be aware and to be involved without burning a hole in my gut and wasting my soul on feelings uncontrolled by me. I think that few people are capable of this, but I’d like to be one of them. Ignoring for the sake of inner peace hasn’t been my modus operandi, but I’m currently coasting at an annoying simmer. Like it or not, I must coexist. That was never really in dispute. So my only option is to find the other way. To keep my eyes open without the sights dooming my spirit. I’ve only been around here three-and-a-half decades. Best of luck to me I guess. Best of luck to you.

August 20, 2009

Koin Center, Calpers, Dubai And Risk

This picture shows the height of the Burj Dubai in relation to other famous buildings. More about that in a minute.

It turns out that the Koin Center in Portland is--or was--partly owned by the California Public Employee' Retirement System (Calpers). Calpers keeps a good part of our economy moving, either through its business deals or by paying California retirees relatively good pensions. Lots of these retired folks move up to Oregon and make a home here. They get unfairly criticized for jacking up property prices. We should be blaming the realtors and banks instead.

Calpers is walking away from the Koin Center. This is one of the state's tallest buildings and contains 19 floors for businesses and 11 floors used for residential condos. Portland's office vacancy rate is about half of what the national vacancy rate is, but investors suddenly seem nervous about putting money in even apparently healthy real estate markets. Last month a partnership that included Calpers defaulted on the building's mortgage. The June Calpers report on investments showed a 23% loss in the value of its investments for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Calpers has lost quite a bit of property that it once owned over the past year. The Koin building itself may have a 26% office vacancy rate by this winter.

Matters could be worse, I suppose. The world's tallest skyscraper is the newly-built Burj Dubai in Dubai. A one-bedroom apartment there cost $3.5 million one or two years ago; today the value of a home there may have dropped by as much as 60%. The building's opening is being delayed to some unspecified future date. One story is that investors are nervous about the slow pace of sales of space in the building and recouping their investments. Certainly someone who paid $3.5 million for a one-bedroom apartment is likely to be upset that their neighbor, with a similar or bigger apartment, paid 60% less than they did. Both buyers are likely to be disappointed that living in the world's largest building will be more of a pain than a joy given the property's loss of value before it is even fully occupied. And it may not open or be fully occupied any time soon.

Companies involved in this potential disaster are Emaar, Samsung Engineering and Construction and Besix SA. Emaar owns John Laing Homes in the US. If this project falls apart, we will feel it here in the US.

Imagine the world's tallest building empty, or nearly so, and the Koin Center largely empty as well.

Criticism of Weapons--A Reflection by Sam Webb

Criticism of Weapons

By Sam Webb

I spoke last weekend at a public library in Blue Hill, a small coastal town in Maine. Most in the audience worked and voted for President Obama, but in the course of what was a very interesting conversation, it became clear that most of them haven't done much since then. How to explain this - probably they thought that they had done their part in electing a new President and that the country would move in a progressive direction on the strength and momentum of that victory.

Obviously, this hasn't happened. Since President Obama entered the White House, opposition to his agenda has been stiff, but none of the earlier legislative struggles match the scope and intensity of the current struggle over health care reform.

The Republican Party and its echo chambers in the mass media, shamelessly spewing hate, and racist caricatures and code words, and lies, want nothing more than to put a stake into the heart of health care reform. Then there are the private insurance companies who turn blue at the thought of a medicare-like public option that would cut into their profits and power. And if this isn't enough, sections of the Obama-led coalition, while supporting some aspects of health care legislation, are busy trying to torpedo a public option as well.

Marx once said that "the weapon of criticism can never replace the criticism of weapons." Marx wasn't making a pitch for violence, but rather suggesting that social change, above all, requires the united action of millions. Marx's observation was insightful then and resonates now as far as the struggle over health care reform is concerned.

If the people who elected the President and a new Congress (as well as others who didn't vote for them, but desperately need health care overhaul) become political actors (criticism of weapons) in the next few weeks, the American people will seal the deal on real health care change and set the stage for other reform struggles, including radical ones.

Admittedly, mobilization by labor and others is going on, but I suspect from my experience in Blue Hills that many decent minded people who could and should be engaged in this battle, are still on the sidelines. If this is so, the main task of supporters of health care reform is to immediately draw these very people into the struggle in very practical ways.

Maybe it's organizing a phone tree to a congressional representative, a visit to a legislator's office, a local demonstration, a town hall meeting, a resolution in a city council, church or union, civil disobedience at corporate headquarters of a private insurer, ...

Victory is assured if we do!

Milk Prices Falling--What's The Scoop?

National Public Radio did a credible report on the farm-to-company fall in milk prices today. Go here for that story.

I'm not an expert on farming or the dairy industry. But we have spent some time on this blog talking about monopolies, rising and declining prices and the possibilities of deflation under controlled and uncontrolled circumstances. This report on the dairy industry fits into those blog conversations.

We believe that monopolies occur "naturally" or inevitably under capitalism. The drive for profits and the means used to maintain given rates of profit while cutting other costs works against competition over time.

The drop in farm-to-company milk prices may mark a specific moment in monopolization, as the NPR story suggests, or it may be part of a larger economic turn to deflation--or both. The story points out that two corporations (one of them a coop) controls most milk production and pricing in the US. The Bush administration investigated this monopoly but refused to take action. The Obama administration is indicating that a new investigation is in the offing. Senator Bernie Sanders is also taking lead on the issue.

Farmers who are prominent in the fight against the monopoly say that the companies are paying less than the cost of producing milk. It seems unlikely to me that this is true across the board and in every region, or that that situation can last over a long period of time, but it's clear that the two dominant corporations are linked to one another and that they are forcing small producers out of the market.

The NPR story accepts as fact the argument that there is a "milk glut" and that falling prices are due, at least in part, to this supposed glut and a drop-off in exports. I'm not sure that these are reliable facts or that they tell us much by themselves. Since the number of dairy products available are increasing, the costs of physical plant and equipment are generally holding steady or decreasing in value or cost and farm labor wages are set almost artificially low, there should logically either not be a glut or producers should be able to hedge against it--unless there is manipulation in the market or, perhaps, banks are unwilling to extend credit. Certainly feed and veterinary costs are increasing, but in the case of feed we can point to other monopolies as the culprit. In any case, farmers are getting squeezed and there is no obvious break in prices for consumers. In fact, it seems outrageous that anyone can speak of a "glut" in any food item given the numbers of hungry people in the world.

Finally, we are not hearing enough about inflation and deflation in economic reports. Can NPR, or anyone else, place what it is happening to milk prices in the larger context of what is happening now in the economy? Is it coincidental that prices in other markets are dropping as well, that certain monopolies are emerging from the economic crisis with lower production costs and more economic power and that US fiscal policy seems so uncertain?

The farmers who were interviewed said that they want a truly competitive market overseen and managed by real government regulation. I wondered as I heard them speak if their demands would be called "socialism" by the right wing. If so, the right could lose some of its rural base.

August 18, 2009

Finally, One Of Those Town Halls In Salem

Kudos to Rep. Schrader for holding a town hall in Salem. Ron Wyden's Field Organizer assured us last week he would not be showing his face in the Willamette Valley during the August recess.

The town hall in Salem was well organized with raffle ticket drawings for the coveted chance to ask a question. It lasted just 60 minutes.

But who came for the questions, anyway? What kind of action was going to be outside the meeting place? No guns, maybe one sign as everyone waited patiently in line. Inside the right wing talkers were going a mile a minute. No real screaming like we see on T.V. or the internet.

There was just one man who tried to create an incident. A good sized group of advocates for immigration reform held up signs at the back of the hall. Some big 400 pound guy placed himself in front of them claiming he was keeping them from marching down the aisle. Well, if someone like that was standing in front of me. Maybe 4 inches between us. I would call it intimidation. I would want him removed. But of course that is what he wanted in a crowded room. Luckily it wasn't me. Credit goes to the sign holders for their calm, patient demeanor.

Oh, Rep. Schrader. He basically explained the House bill. He did talk about the Public Option but was clear that he is concerned about the cost of the bill. No surprise there. There was some booing and some loud clapping but it was clear that there were a good number of people who supported health care reform, although we did seem to be outnumbered. It is hard to tell because we are so polite and they are so rude.

The strangest moment for me was when Rep. Schrader tried to use his experience as a veterinarian to talk about how he always spends time with pet owners before euthanizing their animal. Probably not the best way to explain Medicare payments for discussions about living wills. He probably deserved the reaction he got.

So Salem's Town Hall didn't have people shouting in Schrader's face or racist signs about the President. But then, Town Halls are starting to change a little bit:

In Boulder, Colorado 300 people turned out on Monday to tell Rep. Jared Polis to stay with his support of the Public Option. I am sure all those signs were a welcome sight.

In Florida Rep. Alan Grayson held a spirited Town Hall Monday night in a Union Hall where his supporters way outnumbered his critics.

In New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luhan held a forum with an overflow crowd and a large majority applauded loudly as he stressed many times his support for the Public Option and strongly criticized health insurance companies.

Even in Fork Union, Virginia Rep. Perriello faced a 50/50 crowd.

Maybe the Net Roots, Unions and health care advocates are realizing a spineless Democratic Party will let the Republicans destroy any prospect for Health Care Reform. The opponents of change out organized us the last couple of weeks. But it is only round one.

August 15, 2009

Blockbuster, Netflix, Urban Outfitters & Lenin

Blockbuster took a second-quarter loss that booked in to be less than expected. Last April it looked like the company might go out of business, in fact. They did some cost-cutting--fewer minimum wage kids working there, less to choose from on the shelves, fewer promotionals--and came out of it with an 18% loss of sales. Revenue dropped by 22%.

Blockbuster's main rival right now is Netflix. Nexflix has a facility in Salem that you can't easily find; they aren't in the phone book and their building had no identifiers the last time I went looking for it.

Netflix has several advantages over Blockbuster. They can offer customers more choices, a customer can order from home and keep ordering, they have significantly lower operating and labor costs--and they get help from the Post Office. The Netflix mailers do not conform to the standard mailing packages sizes so the Post Office has special bins for Netflix and pulls workers from other jobs when the company ships its videos. Reportedly the company gets away with this at no additional cost. We pay for it as Post Office customers. Remember that next time you're standing in line at a Salem Post Office.

Urban Outfitters also took a hit in sales and their profits dropped 14% in the company's second quarter. What makes Urban Outfitters' situation different from Blockbuster is that the company has some control over some of its competition--they also own Anthropologie and Free People--and they're doing a strong push to monitor consumers and shopping patterns with invasive high tech. Their database has information on over one million Anthropologie customers alone. The company has only 300 Urban Outfitters stores nationwide but these sell a variety of items and this gives banks and investors added faith in the company. The company is opening more stores while taking hits on profits. Prices at Urban Outfitters are actually dropping, which probably reflects the kind of deflation we wrote about recently and a marketing strategy as well. Blockbuster could get thrown under the bus by banks and investors, but Urban Outfitters is more likely to get the financing it needs to carry on for awhile, even with double-digit losses.

Companies compete with one another and race to cut labor and production costs, increase production and increase their profits and rates of making profits. Companies that lose in the competitive markets get swallowed up by larger companies or go out of business entirely. The workers and small businesses affected by this process are an afterthought, at best, to the banks and investors, who watch nervously for signs that profits and rates of profits are declining or labor costs and the costs of buying and maintaining labor and labor power are increasing. This is how monopolies form. Rival monopolies and their constant push for new means of production, new markets and advantages over one another cause the political instability and most of the wars workers end up fighting one another in. Economic competition is politicized and becomes very much its opposite over time because built into the system are processes which lead to economic crises and its destabilization.

Lenin got the point. He wrote:

Monopolist capitalist associations, cartels, syndicates and trusts first divided the home market among themselves and obtained more or less complete possession of the industry of their own country. But under capitalism the home market is inevitably bound up with the foreign market. Capitalism long ago created a world market. As the export of capital increased, and as the foreign and colonial connections and “spheres of influence” of the big monopolist associations expanded in all ways, things “naturally” gravitated towards an international agreement among these associations, and towards the formation of international cartels.

This is a new stage of world concentration of capital and production, incomparably higher than the preceding stages.

...The capitalists divide the world, not out of any particular malice, but because the degree of concentration which has been reached forces them to adopt this method in order to obtain profits. And they divide it “in proportion to capital”, “in proportion to strength”, because there cannot be any other method of division under commodity production and capitalism. But strength varies with the degree of economic and political development. In order to understand what is taking place, it is necessary to know what questions are settled by the changes in strength. The question as to whether these changes are “purely” economic or non-economic (e.g., military) is a secondary one, which cannot in the least affect fundamental views on the latest epoch of capitalism. To substitute the question of the form of the struggle and agreements (today peaceful, tomorrow warlike, the next day warlike again) for the question of the substance of the struggle and agreements between capitalist associations is to sink to the role of a sophist.

The epoch of the latest stage of capitalism shows us that certain relations between capitalist associations grow up, based on the economic division of the world; while parallel to and in connection with it, certain relations grow up between political alliances, between states, on the basis of the territorial division of the world, of the struggle for colonies, of the “struggle for spheres of influence”.

For the entire text by Lenin, go here.


The activities of PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals) is involved in so many types of activities that they often seem to be all over the map.  My feeling has always been that they are most effective when they use a light touch to communicate their message.  A few months ago they started their campaign to promote vegetarian eating in South America.  This week they extend that campaign to Cuba.

Their first salvo was launched in Argentina, the birthplace of Che Guevara.  They promoted their campaign with a poster of Lydia Guevara, granddaught of Che.  She is wearing camoflage pants, red beret and bandoliers of carrots instead of bullets.  One fist is on her hip and the other is outstretched.  Title, "Join The Vegetarian Revolution".

This week they have written a letter to President Raul Castro:

August 13, 2009
His Excellency Raul Castro
President of Cuba
Dear President Castro,

On behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than 2 million members and supporters, I am writing regarding recent reports about the "Cuban Toilet Paper Crisis." We would like to offer a little help while you "flush out" a more long-term solution. As a country that offers free health care and free medical education, Cuba is known to be health-conscious, and it is also a vegetarian-friendly place. With that in mind, we hope you will welcome the shipment that we will be attempting to send to you shortly--official PETA toilet paper reading, "Slaughterhouses Are So Filthy That Feces Are Found on Almost Every Piece of Meat. PETA" and "Wipe Cruelty From Your Diet. Go Vegetarian. PETA."

It is worth reminding anyone who is tempted by pork, chicken, and beef that salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli are routinely deposited on meat at slaughterhouses when feces fly in various directions as an animal's body is eviscerated. And in addition to putting one at risk of food poisoning, meat is a leading culprit in many of the worst "lifestyle diseases." According to the World Health Organization, heart disease, obesity, and cancer are all on the rise in Cuba; leading health agencies have stated that vegetarians are less prone to all these diseases than meat-eaters are. Hopefully, our pro-vegetarian toilet paper will inspire more Cubans to pile on the plaintains, get their bounce from beans, fill up on fruit, and live healthier, happier lives.

Not only is a vegetarian diet better for Cuba's human population, it is also better for its animal population. Animals lead hard lives and are castrated or debeaked without painkillers, only to be slaughtered later.

I hope you'll find our gesture useful in promoting good health through a vegetarian diet.


Tracy Reiman
Executive Vice President

This may be a hard sell in Cuba as they have always been proud that they have meat while other countries have no meat for the majority of their people. On the other hand, Cubans are a very analytical and intellectually curious people.  PETA might want to include some of those posters of Lydia Guevara along with the much needed toiletries.

August 14, 2009

Congratulations To David Hatchigian--A Victory For Workers & The Armenian Community!

A few of us around Willamette Reds have done serious work on Armenian issues over the years. The Armenian diaspora in the US often sees itself as still part of Armenia, so "Armenian issues" can mean many things--from trying to correct the record on the Ottoman/Turkish Genocide or getting US military aid to Georgia and Turkey reduced to getting recognition for an Armenian political prisoner here in the US or full rights and recognition for Armenians elsewhere. Obama drew Armenian support with pledges he made on correcting the record on the Ottoman/Turkish Genocide and then backtracked--the first sign for me that the new President was in trouble and would not live up to his promises without great pressure from us. Armenians are generally pretty angry about this betrayal.

Well, we have something to celebrate. David Hatchigian, a highly skilled electrician working out of Philadelphia's IBEW Local 98, recently won a four year fight with an employer. A management safety representative attempted to frame him on trumped-up charges of safety violations. David had an excellent work record. The safety rep referred to David as "you Arab" and showed real racism. David got fired, but Local 98 refused to process his grievance. David then got his own attorney, filed suit in federal court and stuck to it. The company folded in the face of the lawsuit and settled. If racism was involved in Local 98's decision to not pursue the grievance, I hope David takes action against the Local as well.

This is a case where class, race and unionism intersect. We're happy for David. We need to fight racism wherever it is. A strong and democratic labor movement could connect the dots and move everyone forward.

August 13, 2009

Electricity Prices Are Dropping, Productivity Is Up, Unemployment Is Up---And The Economy Is Recovering?

Demand for electricity is dropping quickly in the US, causing wholesale electricity prices and energy prices on the spot (daily) markets to drop. Consumers like you and I won't see smaller electric bills soon, if ever, but the falling electricity prices may cause other prices to not increase as rapidly as they might otherwise do. The power we pay for as consumers is purchased and sold on long-term contracts and the utilities aren't going to cut us a break.

Electricity prices have not fallen so quickly for so long since at least 1950. The total US falloff is not especially remarkable as a one-time drop in prices, but this has been happening in bumps and slides since last year and some regional markets are seeing drops much higher than the national averages. I believe that the main reason for the decreases are the continuing loss of basic industry. The mention of 1950 raises worries that we may see rapid deflation ahead.

If money exists chiefly to hold value as a means of regulating exchange, and if inflation is the steady and more-or-less uniform increases in prices over time, then some kinds of controlled inflation in a capitalist economy should work for the relative common good for at least short periods of time. Inflation is generally associated with capitalist economic growth, but there have been recent exceptions. In the mid-1970s, just after I entered the "for real" job market, we had continuously growing unemployment, a stagnant economy and inflation--everything workers didn't want.

It may be possible to have controlled deflation, but I can't imagine what that would look like. The value of money is generally determined in the day-to-day world through supply and demand and by politicized government policies. The value of money is affected by changing interest rates, currency trading, tax rates, financialization and other political and fiscal means. This rests on the ability and willingness of governments and other institutions to honor the face value of their currency--honor among thieves in crisis, mind you. Deflation could mean that all that determines the value of money, or money as a means of holding real value, has been thrown to the winds by these thieves.

Meanwhile, US productivity just made its biggest gains in six years. We're now looking at something like a 6.4% annual rate of increase in productivity in the nonfarm business sector. The so-called "unit labor costs" are dropping at rates comparable to 2001 while productivity is increasing. In other words, more work is getting done by fewer workers in less time. Hours worked declined by almost eight per cent last quarter alone while real compensation fell by something just over one per cent. Remember that this happened as the minimum wage increased. The people who railed against the increase in the minimum wage had nothing to worry about. The employers and their economists think that this increase in productivity and this decrease in "unit labor costs" means an end to inflation.

This may not come as good news if you have lost your job or your home, or if you're about to, or if you're doing the work of two people for less money. We're stuck asking what comes next. We are also asking who is going to buy all of the stuff being produced as unemployment continues to climb, even slightly. Maintaining employment and unemployment at current levels will create real problems in capitalist economies. Wages and prices could freefall for some time before finding new levels and correllations.

The Oregon University System And Higher Ed's Student Workers

SEIU Local 503, OPEU has filed an Unfair Labor Practice Complaint alleging that Oregon University System (OUS) Board negotiators are refusing to include the first Oregon undergraduate student workers to unionize in on-going union contract bargaining. SEIU Local 503 represents classified workers at seven state campuses and the contract covering these workers is still being negotiated. The larger and separate state worker unit represented by the union seems prepared to settle its contract.

The union recently organized 14 part-time recycling specialists at Portland State University. The unfair labor practice complaint against Chancellor George Pernsteiner and the Oregon State Board of Higher Education concerns their apparent refusal to bargain about the recyclers as part of negotiations over terms of a new contract for the 4,500 classified employees working at Portland State and six other campuses in the Oregon University System.

The recyclers organized their union earlier this year. OUS did not initially object to them being included in gthe larger OUS bargaining unit after Local 503 petitioned ERB on their behalf in April. The recyclers voted unanimously to join SEIU Local 503in July in an election overseen by the Employment Relations Board (ERB). ERB duly certified the union as the bargaining agent for the recyclers. University management told union leaders and the workers during their campaign that voting for the union could result in the recyclers losing their jobs. They may be the first group of undergraduate students to join a union in Oregon under these conditions.

OUS negotiators have refused to bargain over these workers' wages and benefits during negotiations for the entire bargaining unit. The union's complaint asks ERB to find the higher ed board in violation of state law and order the Board to negotiate with the union as part of the current contract negotiations. This move by Board negotiators is typical of the higher ed system in Oregon, which operates from the principle that no problem is so big that it can't be postponed or ignored.

State higher ed union contract negotiations are in mediation. Pernsteiner is demanding that classified workers take up to 24 unpaid furlough days plus whatever additional blocks of 15 unpaid furlough days he thinks necessary over the next two years. He refuses to commit to treating unionized workers equitably and sharing whatever sacrifices may be necessary or called for during Oregon's economic crisis. Surely administrators and managers should have to carry some of the weight, one might think, but Pernsteiner has other ideas. The union is left seeking a deal for classified university workers that resembles the proposed settlement advanced for other state workers.

Pernsteiner is one of several OUS negotiators to show up over the past several union contracts and negotiating cycles. One negotiator quit or was dismissed after she allegedly took the union's side on some classification issues. Others have either been less remarkable or more ethically challenged.

OUS human resources people and their campus counterparts have been steadfast in their refusals over the years to help better define classified bargaining unit work. Students have gradually come to take jobs once done by classified workers and hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of classified workers have been placed in non-represented jobs with short-term individual contracts but with somewhat higher salaries. The effects have been to stratify higher ed classified employment, undercut workers' skills and abilities, channel advancement through the system in peculiar ways which often involve favoritsm and limit union power. This has been done without much accountability on the part of OUS. If taxpayers knew how their money was being wasted in these processes and had a grasp of the shortsighted self-interest involved in making these decision they would be up in arms. A joint process agreed to by the union and OUS was put in place to correct this situation a few years ago, but that fell apart when OUS-driven inertia stymied it.

Students working on campus need to organize as workers, either in one of the already-existing campus unions or in a union or pressure group solely of their creation. They make very little and often do the same work as classified workers. They are denied a voice on the job. Most working students are working class people trying to do better for themselves. Some move from their student jobs into classified employment and stay there. The universities often try to disguise their status and manipulate them and segregate them from other workers. Their wages, like the wages of other workers, has a determining effect on local economies. Even a small but well-publicized job action or strike by students at an opportune moment--during a major football game, say, or at the very beginning or end of term--could have a tremendous effect on the campuses.

Immigrant Myth Busting Session To Be Held In Salem

Mid-Willamette Jobs with Justice cordially invites you to an Immigrant Myth Busting Session.

Facilitated by Attorney Michael Dale, Director of the Northwest Worker Justice Project

Thursday evening
September 10, 2009
SEIU Union Hall (MLK Room)
1730 Commercial St SE, Salem
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

We are a county of immigrants, yet time and time again, immigrants bear the brunt of the blame for everything that goes wrong in our country.

Very soon, Congress will restart the debate about the need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and it will be up to all of us to make sure that we separate “Fact” from “Myth”.

Please join us in a community session designed to dispel common myths about immigrants by empowering participants with facts about the root causes of immigration and share effective methods to challenge anti-immigrant statements/actions.

For more information please contact:
Timothy Welp at 503/580-2197
Samuel Davila at 503/931-1060 davilasam@yahoo.ccom

August 12, 2009

5 T0 1 - Taking Action For Real Change In The Health Care Debate

It was feeling like the right wing out organized us.  We wanted town halls full of people demanding Single Payer health reform.  Instead, we got right wing screamers who took all the air out of the room.  So we used another tactic.

Five of us banded together to make our case to Fritz Graham, Senator Ron Wyden's Field Representative.  Sen. Wyden's health care bill protects for profit health care companies and excludes any type of public option. All of us spoke up for Medicare For All.  We strongly advocated for the right of every person to quality health care.  We wanted to know why Medicare, a system with 3% administrative costs and a structure already in place, should not be opened up to anyone who wants to participate.  

The Wyden Plan protects for profit health insurance companies which have 30% administrative costs, including millions to CEOs.  
We let him know that we know Blue Cross/Blue Shield is his top PAC contributor.
We shared our personal situations.  Some of us have health insurance, some do not.  But the strong message we sent was that we are united in believing health care is a human right.

Fritz listened to us for an hour and a half.  He tried to defend Sen. Wyden's bill, saying politically he wanted to get something passed.  When he was asked, "How much of that bill is principle and how much is politics?"  He couldn't give a cogent answer.

Another message we sent was that Senator Wyden is seen as a Blue Dog Democrat.  We know he has been working with southern Democrats to slow down and possibly stall reform.

My guess is that we made enough of an impact that Sen. Wyden will hear our message:
1.  Health Care is a human right.  Medicare For All.
2.  A Blue Dog Democrat will not get re-elected in Oregon.

The five of us encourage people to speak out.  Talk to your Senators and Representatives.  But make it 5 to 1 not one on one. It takes more air out of the room.

August 11, 2009

The Manson Family, Leonard Peltier And Justice

I heard filmmaker John Waters on the radio yesterday making a case for the parole of Leslie Van Houten, one of the members of Charles Manson's "family" who helped murder Rosemary LaBianca in 1969. Van Houten could hope for a better friend and defender than Waters, who drew a vague connection between his declasse films, the social movements of the '60s and the crimes committed by Manson and his gang.

It's interesting that National Public Radio interviewed Waters about the case at length and did not challenge his faulty points of comparison between his films and reality or his particularly egregious rewriting of the history of the '60s. The interviewer picked up on the sheer and intentional grossness of Waters' work, but did so in ways which made the interview almost titillating and gave Waters more of a forum and an opportunity to appear insincerely introspective and regretful. He's regretting everything he did all the way to the bank.

The Manson case is getting some renewed media attention. It has become an opportunity for the media to make us think about where and who we were 40 years ago. Some of us remember where we were when Kennedy was assassinated; others remember where they were when news of the murders committed by Manson and his followers broke. We often remember a more trusting world when we look back, one filled with promise. Whether that's correct and realistic or not, what are we recalling and saying about the state of the world when we remember the events of August 10, 1969? It says a great deal about the degeneration of social relationships that the media is forcing this into the public discourse.

Meanwhile, Leonard Peltier has been in prison for 12,240 days. He's been imprisoned since 1976 for events growing out of the pine Ridge Reservation occupation. It is at least doubtful that he is guilty as charged, and likely that he's innocent. He is certainly a political prisoner.

If Waters' argument that Van Houten is guilty of the crimes she was charged with but has served enough time holds water--no pun intended--then Peltier gets his get-out-of-jail free card before she does. Peltier is probably innocent; Van Houten says she's guilty. If the argument that Van Houten has successfully done so much in prison to improve herself and help others gets her out from behind bars, then Peltier--a real hero--goes first. Check out the website for Peltier here.

If nostalgia for a time that never was is going to sway our opinions and determine what justice is, then it's fair to ask who better represents a time of protest--Van Houten or Peltier? Waters was all about linking Van Houten to protest movements, youthful idealism and Abbie Hoffman--none of that holds water. What is so radical about people destroying themselves with drugs and trying to provoke racial conflict and mass chaos?

Peltier, on the other hand, was part of a people's movement. The FBI broke the law in the ways in which it subverted and attacked that movement and in the ways in which it intervened to assure Peltier's conviction. July 28 was an international day of solidarity with Peltier but NPR didn't get anyone on to talk about the case and Waters didn't mention Peltier or any other political prisoners.

We say that art is not produced from abstract principles. It reflects the political-economy and social divisions of a particular day and place and attitudes about development, existence and change. Some art is progressive and revolutionary and some is declasse, reactionary or degenerate. Personal taste is not the issue; how art functions and how artists live out their creativity and ideals is very much the issue on the other hand. Waters crossed the bar, if he ever was on the right side of things.