October 30, 2009

Zoltan Zigedy Responds To Us And Sam Webb

We continue to receive responses to our postings below on revisionism, Marxism and Sam Webb's latest commentary. Here is one from Zoltan Ziggedy:

It’s a curious thing about revisionism: once it takes root, it continues unabated - inexorably towards further compromise and dilution - even in the face of stubborn, contrary facts. This was the case with Earl Browder who devised a new “Communist” strategy in the midst of an all-class war against fascism, a strategy that he doggedly and dogmatically clung to even when alarming signs of a new ruling class offensive were apparent to all at the end of World War II.

 Similarly, Sam Webb has dug his heels in, defending and even expanding, his class-compromising views on the path that Communists should take. Maybe its now time to anoint this path with its own name: Webbism.
 Webb sees the Obama election, as Browder saw the World War II anti-fascist alliance, as a historic marker, a qualitative turning point. “It constituted”, he maintains, “a serious setback for neoliberalism in both its conservative and liberal skin.” It did nothing of the sort.
 Webb confuses, willingly or not, a rejection of Bush’s rule on the part of the US electorate with a sea change in the dominant ideology. Given that both Parties have thoroughly absorbed the basics of neo-liberalism – free markets, the primacy of the private sector, and minimal regulation – the notion that a regime change counts as “a serious setback” for the reigning ideology is pure fantasy. Certainly Obama’s election creates more favorable conditions for waging a concerted struggle against neo-liberalism. But Webb doesn’t want to lead or even join that struggle. With nearly a decade of railing against the rule of the “ultra-right”, Webb treads water when the tide begins to turn, clinging to the leaky vessels of the Democratic Party and mainstream trade union leadership. He is content to not only defer to their course, but defend that course against any more challenging alternative.
 “The notion of the capitalist class on the one side and the working class on the other may sound ‘radical’,” he asserts, “but it is neither Marxist, nor found in life and politics.” This surprising remark stands glaringly at odds with the words of the first Marxists, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, who wrote in the opening to the Communist Manifesto: “Freeman and slave, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in a constant opposition to one another… Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie possesses, however, this distinctive feature: It has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” This is the Marxism of the Communist tradition, but not the “Marxism” of Sam Webb.
 Webb’s quotes of Lenin’s work are telling. He attempts to bolster his argument for collaborating uncritically with capitalist forces by noting that Lenin urged the exploitation of differences within the ruling class and the necessity of compromise with allies: “to refuse beforehand to maneuver, to utilize the conflict of interests (even though only temporary) among one's enemies, to refuse to temporize and compromise with possible (even though transitory, unstable, vacillating and conditional) allies - is this not ridiculous in the extreme?” It is important to distinguish between exploiting differences between enemies and compromising with allies – a distinction that Webb seems not to grasp. Monopoly capital and its henchmen are not allies, but enemies. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party (those who support single-payer, oppose the war, etc), most African-American leaders, some small business groups, etc. are potential allies, “though transitory, unstable, vacillating and conditional”.
Webb fails to reveal the target of Lenin’s polemic in this quote from “Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder: it is not principled Communists who recognize “the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party”, as Lenin wrote, but those who refuse to work in “reactionary” trade unions or participate in parliamentary activities.
Lenin closes his pamphlet with the following emphatic statement: “The immediate task that confronts the class-conscious vanguard of the international labour movement, i.e., the Communist Parties… is to lead the broad masses (now, for the most part, slumbering, apathetic, hidebound, inert and dormant) to their new position, or, rather, to be able to lead not only their own party, but also these masses in their approach, their transition to the new position.”[Lenin’s emphasis].
In the context of warning about left-wing excesses, Lenin, calculatedly and deliberately, reminds the reader of “the first historic task” of Communist Parties. Sam Webb, willfully or inadvertently, retreats from this imperative, consigning a subordinate role to the CPUSA, a role of subservience and apology for the lesser of two evils.
Zoltan Zigedy

A Reply From Sam Webb

Sam Webb sent this along as a response to points made in posts relating to his piece given above and below and for inclusion in our discussion:

Sending the to include in the discussion. Sam

“To imagine,” wrote Lenin, “that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will he a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”.

Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.

"To carry on a war" , Lenin observed , "for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie, a war which is a hundred times more difficult, 5 prolonged and complicated than the most stubborn of ordinary wars between states, and to refuse beforehand to maneuver, to utilize the conflict of interests (even though only temporary) among one's enemies, to refuse to temporize and compromise with possible (even though transitory, unstable, vacillating and conditional) allies - is this not ridiculous in the extreme? (Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, p. 52)"

Lenin wrote,

“It would be a radical mistake to think that the struggle for democracy was capable of diverting the proletariat from the socialist revolution or of hiding, overshadowing it, etc. On the contrary, in the same way as there can be no victorious socialism that does not practice full democracy, so the proletariat cannot prepare for its victory over the bourgeoisie without an all-around consistent and revolutionary struggle for democracy.”
(The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination)

On another occasion, he wrote:

“A [Communist] must never for a moment forget that the proletariat will inevitably have to wage a class struggle for socialism … This is beyond doubt. Hence, the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party of Social-Democracy. Hence, the temporary nature of our tactics, of ‘striking a joint blow’ with the bourgeoisie and the duty of keeping a strict watch ‘over our ally’ … All this leaves no room for doubt. However, it would be ridiculous and reactionary to deduce from this that we must forget, ignore, or neglect [democratic] tasks which, although transient and temporary, are vital at the present time.” (Two Tactics of Social Democracy)


At our November 2006 National Committee meeting we said that our tactical policy has to change to adjust to the new situation, and though we have been making that adjustment, I thought it might be useful to say some additional words on this subject.

Tactics are not pulled out of a grab bag; nor is their purpose to make someone feel righteous or to demonstrate one’s revolutionary temper. They aren’t intended to upstage or outsmart others with whom we work.

Instead, they are constituted with an eye to activating the core forces, to drawing in new social forces to struggle, and to deepening and extending unity, in particular, multi-racial, multi-national workingclass unity. Or to put differently, they facilitate quantitative changes in the balance of class and social forces that, accumulatively, will bring about changes of a qualitative, strategic nature in the political balance of power.

Tactics register and adjust to small changes in the balance of forces as well as bigger changes in the tempo, direction, and nature of the struggle. Thus tactical adjustments can be slight or sweeping, The tactical changes that we are making in the aftermath of last year’s elections, for example, fall somewhere in between.

Tactics embrace issues, slogans, demands, and forms of organization and struggle. They are time, place, and circumstance sensitive.

A tactical policy takes into close account the sentiments and moods of masses, both the politically active and passive.

“… we must not regard,” Lenin wrote, “what is obsolete for us as being obsolete for the class, as being obsolete for the masses. Here again we find that the “lefts” do not know how to reason, do not know how to conduct themselves as the party of the class, as the party of the masses. You must not sink to the level of the masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class. That is incontestable… But at the same time, you must soberly observe the actual state of class consciousness and preparedness of the whole class (not only of its Communist vanguard), of all the toiling masses (not only of its advanced elements).”

At the same time, tactics are anchored in a strategic policy that captures the main trends and tasks of political development.

To quote Lenin again:

“…we in Russia have been convinced by long, painful and bloody experience of the truth, that revolutionary tactics cannot be built up on revolutionary moods alone. Tactics must be based on a sober and strictly objective estimation of all the class forces in a given state as well as of the experience of revolutionary movements.”

And on another occasion, he said,

“Our left communists, however, who are also fond of calling themselves proletarian communists … are incapable of giving thought to the balance of forces, to calculating it. This is the core of Marxism and Marxist tactics, but they disdainfully brush aside the core with proud phrases.”

While tactics are dependent on a sound strategic policy and an exact estimate of the balance of political forces, the practical application of that policy owes a debt back to tactics, which are an adaptive tool that fits the policy to concrete circumstances. Sound tactics give a strategic policy suppleness and elasticity.

Sound tactics also allow a movement to retreat as well as advance. It would be a wonderful world if the class and democratic struggles effortlessly moved from one victory to another, from one stage to the next, but the historical process isn’t like that. Thus, every generation of activists and communists has to master the art of defensive as well as offensive struggles.

Tactics not only aim to activate and unify the core forces and their allies, but also to expose, weaken, and exploit any divisions within the opposing coalition of forces.

“The more powerful enemy,” our good friend Lenin said, “can be conquered only by exerting the utmost effort, and by thoroughly, carefully, attentively, and skillfully taking advantage of every, even the smallest, “rift” among the enemies, … among the various groups of bourgeoisie …, by taking advantage of every, even the smallest, opportunity of gaining a mass ally, even though this ally may be temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable, and conditional. Those who do not understand this, do not understand even a particle of Marxism.”

This fundamental concept is unappreciated; too many see the ruling class as a unified bloc.

The aim of tactics isn’t to up the ante at every turn.

“Formerly many Communists,” said Georgi Dimitorv in his report the 7th Congress of the Communist International, “used to be afraid it would be opportunism on their part if they didn’t counter every partial demand of the Social Democrats by demands of their own which were twice as radical. That was a naïve mistake.”

In fact, the tactical point of departure for left-center unity and joint action is the most advanced demands of the center. That rule of thumb has served us well and will continue to do so as we go forward in this new political situation.

I only wish other sections of the progressive and left movement embraced this approach as well. But too many don’t. They either make left demands the point of departure for broad unity, or “damn with faint praise” proposals of center forces, as I mentioned earlier, or counterpose their own demands against less advanced demands.

The real task, however, is to combine partial demands that elicit broad support and are winnable in the near term with more advanced demands that are not yet supported by a broad enough constituency, but could be won in the course of ongoing struggles.

At the same time, while the most advanced demands of the center are a point of departure, they are not a final destination; while left-center unity is a concept of unity, it is also a concept of struggle.

October 29, 2009


Camisa de Tony

One of the recent paintings made by Antonio in his prison cell at USP Florence, Colorado (translation: one day my prison shirt will stay there hanging)

On October 13th, Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five, was resentenced to 21 years and 10 months. While waiting for his court hearing, he wrote this poem and sent it to all his supporters from around the world.

Miami is before my eyes. I can't sleep
An obstinate verse bounces
between the luxury of a skyscraper
and the tragedy of a broken shower.

through the window I see the rising sun
to light the green tinted windows,
in every direction people, with whom
I make an imaginary world, walk.

The Royal Caribbean cruises,

the McDonald's, the school, the banks,
the homeless rummaging through the trash
the vendor under the umbrella
still there and again I look at them
from the "hole", that is, "from my altitude".


It is called Miami's Down Town
a mass of steel, concrete and glasses.
During the day an authentic ant's nest.
During the night a dangerous and empty place.

Its each time highest buildings
are symbols of power and opulence:
banks with millionaire transactions,
houses with few tenants.

In the cosmetic urbanization
there are parking lots for countless cars.
and I do not know how to say it in verse
but what captures more my attention
is to see that the public transportation
basically is used by the black people.


Once again orange jumper
Once again solitude between bricks.
Once again broken mattress without pillow.
Once again big noise in the hall.

Once again to change clothes once a week.
Once again tiny yellow pencil.
One again by a miracle a phone call.
Once again to walk without destiny.

Once again a cage to "recreate",
This time even they don't give coffee.
Once again dirty floor, cold shower.
Once again a "cop-out" to complain
and, of course, they don't answer once again.
Once again "hole" and once again poetry.

Does The Working Class And The Employing Class Have Anything In Common?

Not all workers and not all bosses all of the time, mind you. Not now, in the capitalist present and every day, but in an objective and historical sense. Not as a matter of theory or an ideal, but in the real relations human beings live out as workers or capitalists.

How about it--do workers and employers have anything in common or not?

Sam Webb, Communist Party leader, has an article in the People's World in which he says:

The notion of the capitalist class on the one side and the working class on the other may sound "radical," but it is neither Marxist, nor found in life and politics. Pure forms exist in high theory, but nowhere else.

I highly recommend that everyone read the article. Sam Webb also has a related post here.

For many of us, we took Lenin at his word and came to socialism with at least two concepts in mind. One was that workers and bosses have nothing historically and objectively in common. Another was the notion that "ordinary" people can govern ourselves by holding all of society's wealth in common. This public ownership presupposed a different kind of administration of things--different social relations--and was neatly summed up in the slogan "Every cook can govern."

Many of us sharpened our thinking on this when we read Kuusinen's Fundamentals Of Marxism-Leninism. We read:

The genuine class struggle of the proletariat begins when this struggle goes beyond the narrow limits of defence of the workers’ immediate interests and develops into a political struggle. For this the first requirement is that the advanced representatives of the working class of the whole country should begin to wage a struggle "against the whole class of capitalists and against the government that supports that class" (Lenin).

Working backwards, many of us then read in Marx:

These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.

At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!"

Anyone can throw quotes around, and quotes by themselves of course prove nothing. It may be that our understanding or the way many of us learned Marxism is at fault. Marxist methods either give us the tools to understand real and lived experience or they are worthless. Perhaps Marxism has missed something or is passe?

So--what is lived and real experience here? Do workers and employers have common interests or not? Is there a class struggle or not? Can "every cook govern" or not?

Basic Marxism

From Chernenko's book Soviet Democracy:

The socialist revolution in Russia, headed by the party of Lenin, was accomplished by the working people in their own interests. The landlords, factory owners, czarist officialdom, and all other oppressors were ousted and power was placed where it belonged--in the hands of the working people.

The working people became the common owners of the wealth of the country, including everything created by their labor. In other words, private ownership was replaced by public ownership. The new character of property presupposed a new character of its administration.

The previous revolutions, even historically important ones, had given little to the masses of working people without whose participation they could not have been carried out. At any rate, immediately upon its coming to power the new exploiting class had invariably seen to it that the working people would not be able to exert any appreciable influence on the political life of their country.

A socialist revolution involves vast numbers of people in the conscious making of history. Freeing them from oppression, it brings them into political life, getting them to participate i the discussion and solution of problems of statewide importance. Formerly downtrodden and deprived of all rights, the working person becomes an active participant in the revolutionary process, aware of their social importance.

October 28, 2009

Mongolia & Rio Tinto-Ivanhoe

I recently posted something here on gold, silver and making a quick buck. I mentioned Mongolia in passing and cited the mining deal signed between the Mongolian government and Rio Tinto-Ivanhoe. I don't know anyone who thinks about Mongolia very much, but perhaps we should be paying more attention to that country.

The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) leads a governing coalition in their country. These are ex-Communists who surrendered to revisionism, became social democrats and gained the credibility and trust needed to hold together a ruling coalition though several crises. Don't worry if you don't know what these labels mean.

Monogolians are debating whether or not they should be opening their country up to multinational capital, and especially to extractive industries. This is apparently coming as a disturbing surprise to the multinational and scandal-dogged Rio Tinto-Ivanhoe mining partnership. They thought that their contract was locked in when they signed it with Bayar Sanjaa, Mongolia's prime minister.

The Mongolians do business differently. Bayar Sanjaa is probably stepping down from office for health reasons. A spokesman for the MPRP is saying that the coalition government can survive his resignation, which must be accepted by the country's parliamentary speaker in order to take effect, and that the government's policies will stay in place in this period. Beyond that no guarantees are being made.

Rio Tinto-Ivanhoe have at least $4 billion at stake here and they're getting nervous. Mongolia has huge reserves of precious metals which can be mined with relatively few problems. The incoming prime minister has not yet been designated and that person will have a great deal of power. No one expects a new prime minister to not jack the multinationals for as much as they will pay. Since the country is still debating what to do with its wealth and resources it is conceivable that the Mongolians can expel the multinationals, offer deals to competitors, trade in some other currency than dollars or wait for capitalist stability to return before moving forward with development. The Rio Tinto-Ivanhoe deal, the Mongolians think, can be manipulated if needed.

Multinational corporations are more used to manipulating countries and governments than being manipulated by them. The MPRP is potentially taking on the kind of fight that few governments have won, or even survived. A Rio Tinto spokesperson has been quoted as hinting that the corporation can look to other parties in Mongolia's parliament if the MPRP doesn't do their bidding. This would be imperialistic, illegal and sleazy--and expected.

So far the MPRP has sidestepped a direct confrontation with the multinationals. They are holding on to reserves which can seriously impact the world economy if opened up for exploitation and mining, but they are holding on and seeking better deals at a time when global capital is in crisis. Coalition governments are easily disrupted and overthrown, but Mongolia also has allies who also would like lucrative contracts and competitors who would prefer that multinational corporations do business with them instead. It's difficult to know which side has the stronger hand. We hope that the MPRP will prevail and put in place a policy which will protect its people and its environment.

Kenny and Keeran Banned from Party Soc-Econ Group

This old, but excellent article on the Second Economy in the USSR by the authors of Socialism Betrayed was not posted to the Communist Party's socialist economics group because one of the moderators deemed it "not pertinent to this site," and that discussion of the USSR is irrelevant. Since the USSR was a socialist state, and the Party's socialist economics group is for discussing, well, socialist economics, the reasoning isn't clear to me. Indeed, we had been discussing the Soviet Union on the group only a few days prior. Why the sudden change?

The Communist Party Of Canada

Our neighbors to the north do many things very well and much better than we do. The Communist Party of Canada seems much better prepared for the current political moment. Check out their website here. A recent CPC editorial on the war in Afghanistan says bluntly what too many of us have been hesitant to say publicly since last November.

October 27, 2009

Pensions & Healthcare

Non-union retirees in some bailed-out companies are complaining loudly that their pensions are being unexpectedly cut in order to subsidize union retirees. Some of these cuts are quite drastic--as high as seventy-five per cent--and the non-union people are understandably upset.

Union workers took it on the chin while most of these non-union people did relatively well over the past 20 years or so. Most of the union workers whose retirement benefits are up for discussion took early and forced retirements and not all of their retirement benefits are completely secure. In many cases younger and less senior workers gave up something so that remaining high-seniority workers could keep working. Corporations were successful in pitting younger and less senior workers against older and more senior workers in many cases and too many unions sacrificed too much in the process. Pattern bargaining, which was the foundation for workers in entire industries to move forward with healthcare, pensions and higher wages, has been sacrificed.

Republicans and conservative Democrats will no doubt make an issue of the disparity in benefits between union and non-union retirees in bailed out industries. They will use the issue as a bully pulpit to attack unions and further divide workers.

If the point were that we should have guaranteed social pensions and retiree benefits owned and managed in the interests of the working class the folks complaining would have more of a case. I'm thinking here of something bigger and better than Social Security, and not something to replace it either. A portable and guaranteed pension with healthcare for every worker that provides for a dignified retirement in addition to Social Security is not too much to ask or to expect.

But the people who are complaining the loudest today don't seem to be about a guaranteed social pension for all. Their primary objection seems to be that a union worker is getting a subsidy at their expense.

No one is actually taking money from non-union retirees and giving it to union retirees, mind you. The union retirees in most cases draw their benefits from different pension funds than non-union retirees and the union retirees had representatives, however weak and incompetent they have been, to negotiate on their behalf. Most subsidies come through cost-shifting, employer contributions, government contributions, retirement plan investments and union contract concessions and not all plans define benefit levels in any case.

The workers whose pensions are being cut still have a valid complaint, I think. It is no fault of theirs if labor laws in this country have stopped them from gaining union representation or if unions have not shown enough interest in them over the years. Labor's social agenda should always be broader and more inclusive than it is. In the winner-take-all exclusive-representation union contract bargaining system we have in the US a union must use every advantage that it can in order to win a first (often basic and generic) union contract. Healthcare and pensions have therefore become the jealousy guarded "union advantage" and this explains why most unions have taken a backseat in the healthcare and pension struggles; if everyone can get these through legislation, and if the law makes union organizing so difficult and gives the bosses so much power, what is the union advantage? How do unions organize and maintain themselves if they can't offer something better than what employers do or what can be obtained on the market?

This logic works against itself, of course. The benefits of a relatively small group of workers will always be at risk if other workers can't get them, the market will constantly attempt to drive the workers' living standard down and those with superior benefits will develop a circle-the-wagons mentality over time that cannot be sustained. In the US, moreover, unions can no longer negotiate on behalf of retirees.

In order to better understand this question and understand how union benefits are won and maintained you should read "Why The Health Insurance Excise Tax Is A Bad Idea" by Steve Early and Rand Wilson in The Nation. Check it out here.

Apple iPhone--We Win One

PepsiCo Inc recently released an Apple iPhone application for its Amp Energy drink aimed at helping guys in the 18 to 40 age range pick up women. The app had 24 different kinds of women listed, provided some lame "coaching" and encouraged users who "scored" to give up the details via Facebook and Twitter. Besides endangering women and violating the common rules of social equality and privacy and good taste, the app went beyond the objectification of women and also provided pick up lines I can only imagine creating disgust and outrage. The company at first blew past these objections by saying that it was an attempt to "show the humorous lengths" their target audience goes to in order to find companionship. It's all good fun, you see.

Among the 24 types of women were the "cougar," "the rebound girl," "the tree hugger" and "punk rock girl." I'll skip over the suggested pick up lines. The idea that salacious details would be shared via Facebook and Twitter and identities compromised is more than troubling. This would quickly become a tool for rapists. It's incredible and outrageous that a company would put this out on the market.

Enough people agreed with that as word of the app spread. The company has pulled the plug on the promotional gimmick. A half-hearted and insincere apology has been issued.

This is a real people's victory, though. A major multinational corporation was stopped when it tried to move rape culture to a new and higher level.

Someone else will try this, to be sure, and the technology will be improved upon and the pick up lines will become meaner and raunchier. The direction will become more pointed and politicized; I can imagine Limbaugh's "feminazi" added to the types of women, for instance.

We need to keep up the political and cultural struggle and start talking about "rape culture" again. We need to make this socially and politically unacceptable under any circumstances.

The Chicken Vote--We Lose (for now)--And Janet Taylor's Rumored Deals

Salem's City Council did exactly the wrong thing by voting against chickens in Salem. The winning arguments seemed to be about noise, cleanliness and fights between neighbors, but I have had the feeling through this struggle that the real issues are about redefining Salem as a certain kind of urban center and drawing a class line between people who need to save money for food and those that don't (yet) need to do so.

The vote might have been easier to take if Salem were not being remade before our eyes. Most downtown construction seems to be for a non-existant or barely-existant upwardly-mobile sector with money or credit handy. Meanwhile, parts of West Salem and areas in the northeast and east of Lancaster look increasingly crowded and poor. South Salem east of Commercial presses increasingly into rural land and fills it with manufactured home parks, cheaply built housing and unused retail and office space. All of this happens while jobs disappear and as Salem has plenty of already-existing empty homes and business space. Development here has smoke, mirrors and decks of precariously stacked cards built into its planning.

The development of the Riverfront Park and the placement of the crosswalk where it is on State Street has helped the downtown area. It gives people an incentive to walk and enjoy our surroundings and provides an opportunity for small and people-friendly businesses to survive. This area and the area around the Salem Cinema are two bright spots in downtown Salem.

Rumor has it that Janet Taylor is working to move the State Street crosswalk down to the Commercial Street corner in order to benefit her real estate and business holdings wrapped up in what will replace the old mill. The story is that federal law allows only so many such crosswalks in a given area and that Taylor wants easy access to the new site. If this is true--and it may or may not be--Taylor's influence is suspect and her commercial interests are at great odds with the park and with already existing businesses which benefit the community. Also, moving the crosswalk will put pressure on the bar, liquor store and auto detailing shop on the block north of Commercial to close.

The no-chickens vote fits into a broader vision for Salem which makes less room for people and human interaction and more room for commercial interests and particular forms of development for quick profit.

Honduras And The US US Administration

The news today is that the Obama administration is getting increasingly frustrated with the government of Honduras. That government took power four months ago in a coup. Protests in the country have been strong and the de facto government there has seemed helpless as its sinks deeper into a national crisis and gets little or no help internationally.

One of the causes of frustration for the Obama administration is the lock-step push by the far-right in this country to support the coup in Honduras. The new Honduran government, which hardly governs, has been lobbying in the US and has hired a PR firm here to represent its interests. They may not have had to bother. Hate radio deejays keep comparing the government of President Manuel Zelaya to the Venezuelan and Cuban governments. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina supports the coup and leading Republicans are using their influence to hold up important State Department appointments as a pressure tactic. It has been left to Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to argue the administration's case and pressure the coup leaders to step down or step aside. The American military establishment reflexively supports the coup while the administration is looking for a deal.

This lobbying by an illegitimate government, unnecessary as it may be, should raise serious concerns across the political spectrum precisely because it echoes through the right wing agenda here.

One gets the impression that the far right, here and in Latin America, was expecting something different. The coup leaders may have expected more regional support and may have coordinated their actions with the far right here in order to turn or weaken the Obama administration. The far right here may have had similar regional expectations. A quick pro-coup solution to the crisis would have met their needs, but a protracted struggle in a polarized country also gives them a political model to adapt internationally. They also hope for a domino effect of falling governments and destabilization, particularly as Latin America moves left and as American capitalism remains in crisis. The immediate driving forces here, I think, are the corporations doing business in Honduras. It may well turn out that the accusations of Colombian-Venezuelan revolutionary ties made some months back were deliberately floated by these forces in anticipation of blocking international solidarity with Honduras.

The ability of Republicans to block appointments is what concerns me here. Granted the lack of inertia in the US government when new administrations come in, the current administration is still missing dozens of key people whose appointments are being held up by the folks who want to see this administration fail. Missing people in the State Department, the Office of Legal Council, Health and Human Services and the Labor Department means that work isn't getting done and that the government cannot function with even a cautiously centrist agenda. Since many of the people whose appointments are on hold are relatively liberal there is reason to believe that the administration could still move in the right direction if it did not have to deal with this roadblock.

We are left to speculate how much better life might be with a pro-choice head of the Office of Legal Council, a Health and Human Services bureaucracy that enables healthcare for all, a State Department bureaucracy which does not take a bomb-'em-first approach to international diplomacy and a Labor Department solicitor who is pro-worker. For that matter, we are still speculating on what it might be like to have an administration and a Democratic Party that rallies us to push through a progressive program over the objections of the far right. Obama sends the wrong signal when he tells Democrats that he doesn't mind mopping up other people's messes but doesn't want to be told that he's not mopping fast enough.

More On Germany And Greece

We recently wrote here about the importance of the German and Greek elections and the questions they raise for the left internationally.

Some on the German left are attributing the terrible loss taken by the Social Democrats (SPD) in the elections to reforms in Germany which cut some unemployment benefits. The left vote advanced and gave the Left party (Die Linke) 11.9 per cent of the votes and the Greens 10.7 per cent.

In the aftermath of the election the ruling Christian Democrats and the right wing Free Democrats have sounded triumphant and have been lauded by the American right wing, and particularly by corporate interests here who want to see anti-labor and anti-environmental legislation advance. They also would like to see a weaker Germany--and a weaker Europe--with a stronger dollar in place. Will German capital and the right wing there take the bait and compete, give American imperialism what it wants or stand on something like a national principle?

One of the controversial national leaders of Die Linke has stepped down from national party leadership. The Green party, which has too often befriended NATO and what it might represent in a new (read pipe dream) Europe, then started talking about a regional coalition with--guess who!--the right wing. This might give the Greens a path to a power-sharing arrangement regionally and a better shot in future elections, but it also effectively puts some Greens in the service of imperialism and risks repeating the failures of the social democrats eventually. Will the Greens get their hand at managing a part of the economy in crisis and misdirecting the left and take that opportunity or not? This is what cost the SPD its heart, soul and power.

It is cliche to say that no good deed goes unpunished, but it is also often true. The Greek elections gave the social democrats there a good victory and gave the left a general advance while also polarizing the country and giving the far right there some needed numbers as well. The Greek left-led labor movement in particular acted with admirable discipline before the elections and helped give the left its votes. Wall Street noted the Greek left's advance with dismay. "Why can't they more like the Germans?!" seemed to be the line on Wall Street last week and the week before. They have been saying this for 70 years.

Multinational capital responded to the Greek vote by downgrading the country's sovereign-credit rating and suddenly discovering that Greek accounting is slipshod. The government announced that the 2009 budget deficit is much worse than anticipated and multinational capital and European Commission both responded by expressing their new-found lack of trust in the Greek economy and government. These warnings have a hollow ring to them since the outgoing conservative government revised the economic figures for both 2008 and 2009, and held power then, but they still serve to provoke outside intervention in Greece and push the incoming government towards a more conservative model. The Greek social democrats will be caught between a polarized and restive electorate and hostile international economic interests no matter what they do now. The downgrading of Greece's sovereign-credit rating and the opportunistic criticism of Greek accounting practices is a first shot fired at the new government--and it comes even before the social democrats have fully taken power. The real threat is that Greece's credit ratings may be cut again in the coming months.

The Greek government is responding cautiously. It will take 3 or 4 years, speaking optimistically, for the Greek social democrats to cut the country's deficit to a level acceptable to the European Union. The Greek statistics services will be separated from the Finance Ministry, which comes as a mixed blessing. The draft budget will be presented next week. We appreciate the need for PASOK, the Greek social democratic party, to proceed cautiously. We hope that PASOK will cast its lot with the left, uphold the independence of the country and put forward a budget which does not penalize the working class. International solidarity between the left-led and social democratic-led countries is needed and should be seen as a part of an international anti-imperialist strategy.

October 26, 2009

Gaza Freedom March Fundraising Dinner

ACTION NAME: Gaza Freedom March Fundraising Dinner

DATES: Nov 06, 2009 through Nov 06, 2009

TIME: 6:00 pm

Americans United For Palestinian Human Rights

The short play "Seven Jewish Children" will be performed.

Help us send a contingent of local PSU Students to help break the siege on Gaza
Friday, November 6th @ 6:00 pm
PSU in the Smith Building Ball Room (By Cafeteria)
Hosted by Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights

The Gaza Freedom March is scheduled to happen from December 27th 2009 through January 2nd, 2010

Flyer located here http://www.auphr.org/docs/flyers/Gazamarch-11062009.pdf

Iraqi War Vets Organizing In Oregon

Contagious Love Experiment

DATES: Oct 29, 2009
TIME: 7:00 pm

ORGANIZATION: Veterans for Peace #156 Rogue Valley, OR

MORE INFO: http://contagiousloveexperiment.wordpress.com

DESCRIPTION: Iraq War Vets, Josh Stieber and Conor Curran, Biking Across the Country on a Personal Mission of Peace. Hear the Amazing Story of their Journey - How their War Experiences Spurred This Effort

Thursday, October 29th at 7pm
SOU Commuter Resource Center
(SOU Stevenson Union-Room 202, Main Floor; Ashland )

Josh & Conor have also agreed to spend the next day in Ashland for potentially more in-depth round-table discussions and Q & A.
South African Communist Party,

For more information call 541-482-9625

Sponsored by Ashland WILPF, Rogue Valley Veterans for Peace Chapter 156, Peace House, Collateral Repair Project, Medford Citizens for Peace & Justice, SOU Women's Resource Center and SOU Commuter Resource Center.

Changing The World With Margaret Randall In Salem

Margaret Randall was in town this evening to read from her new book, sell copies and engage people in critical thinking about Cuba and her work. Randall has written many books. "Change the World: My Years in Cuba" may be her best effort yet. You can read a review of it here.

Randall did a long reading from her book and talked about her life in Cuba. She pointed out in her reading and in the discussion which followed both what works well in Cuba and what has blemished the Revolution. She states her views frankly and speaks from experience.

As a writer and cultural worker Randall has a great grasp on what literacy means and what forms it can take. She devoted much time to talking about the literary and cultural achievements of the Cuban Revolution and her roles in carrying some of these achievements forward when she lived in Cuba. As a feminist and as a theoretician she could also speak knowledgeably about the steps taken forward and backward in Cuba. She ably cited how debates were carried forward in her neighborhood, how schools either hit the mark or missed the mark in educating and transforming the young, how beauty contests were politicized while she was in Cuba and how they maintained their essentially oppressive features and how race and racism were confronted and partially transformed. She also spoke about the repressive measures put in place in Cuba in the 1970s and how these were confronted and overcome.

Randall's talk--and, I imagine, her book--concerned the ethics of revolution and revolutionary change. She is examining power relations and the promises, fulfilled and unfulfilled, which arise in revolutions. These are not new questions, but Randall's experiences and work over the years in Latin America give her a special perspective and one which needs to be heard and debated. In her reading she left many political questions unanswered, allowing us to look at them as questions of ethics, politics and revolution and allowing us to appreciate the ambiguity present in a decisive historic moment.

The questions this evening were particularly good. Randall had the opportunity to talk about her struggle in the 1980s to regain her US citizenship, the use of culture and literacy in Cuba and the current situation in Latin America.

I think that Randall missed her own mark in being too critical of the old left and in rejecting following a "party line" as a way forward. At least some of the young people present were looking for a path and Randall could have urged revolutionary regroupment, visiting Cuba, defending the Cuban 5 and build a revolutionary party as necessary steps forward. Still, her great and inspiring work speaks for itself and she is right in reminding us that the historic "ends-versus-means" formulation doesn't work.

A victory for undocumented workers in France

From L'Humanite

The undocumented workers of {Plus Net} are Victorious

Translated Saturday 24 October 2009

The 25 striking workers of the building cleaning company in Montreuil obtained regular immigration status after a year-long fight.

Friday evening, when they were convoked by the Prefecture, the undocumented workers striking at Plus Net [1] registered on their odometer already a long and difficult year of struggle, 361 days and as many nights occupying their cleaning company headquarters in Montreuil (Seine-Saint-Denis), putting pressure on their employer to pay the tax necessary for their obtaining a legal status. This, despite the fact that these 25 workers satisfy precisely the criteria defined in the ministerial circular promulgated in January 2008, permitting regularization based on employment for work. It took a year-long fight to obtain, at last, an application of this right.

So last Friday the Prefecture delivered them a provisional visiting permit for three months, with authorization to work, the first step in the delivery of a residency permit. "Now we will be able at last to work in dignity and serenity," Arouna Traoré said happily. He is the strikers’ delegate, whose portrait was published in l’Humanité for 20 August 2009.

When we went to meet with them last summer, the strikers told us about their conditions of work; contracts for 86 hours per month, 195 hours of work performed, work days that could exceed 24 hours without stop, and all this for a pittance. From Saint-Maurice, Mali, and Senegal, these workers have been in France for years.

This summer, Arouna Traoré also told us "When it’s all over, we’ll throw a big party and invite all our supporters to come eat and drink!" Because, without a salary for a year, the strikers have held on thanks to the solidarity of neighbors, associations, unions, and political parties, who have provided an indispensable economic and moral aid.

Promised, and delivered: this evening, the newly documented workers of Plus Net celebrate their victory [2]. On the program: testimony by the strikers, spectacle, notably Tarace Boulba. In the presence also of Patrick Le Hyaric, director of l’Humanité. "We will eat and drink, too," warns Arouna. All the franciliens [3] are invited to come celebrate with us, because we are full of joy."

[1] "+ Clean", or "More Clean"

[2] Starting at 19h, in the salle des fêtes of the Mairie de Montreuil, metro line 9.

[3] inhabitants of the Ile-de-France

October 21, 2009

Listening To Dolores Huerta And Gail McDougle In Salem

Gail McDougle, pastor of Salem's United Church of Christ, received the Annual Salem Peace Lecture award and recognition for her outstanding work for peace and justice in our community this evening. The event was held at Willamette University and featured a presentation by Dolores Huerta, most often associated with farmworker organizing. Dolores Huerta delivered the 2009 Peace Lecture after Reverend McDougal received her recognition.

Reverend McDougle was one of the founders of both the Salem Interfaith Hospitality Network (1999) and Congregations Helping people (2005). She has also served on the board of Habitat for Humanity (2008-2009) and she is president of the board of directors of the Willamette Family Medical Center. All of these efforts have made a great and positive difference in our community.

Reverend McDougle's church has opened its doors to a number of needed efforts. It has become a center for the immigrant community and for Jobs with Justice. In her remarks this evening--more of a homily, really--Reverend McDougle pulled themes and inspiration from her own life and experience, placed them in a biblical context and gave them relevant political meaning. Her focus was on the biblical vision of justice and how we live that out today, but her remarks were purposefully broad enough to include everyone present, believer or not. We always get the feeling when we are in her presence that Reverend McDougle is a special and knowing person, driven by her intelligence and instincts. The crowd responded to her with a standing ovation. A special presentation of roses from Causa to Reverend McDougle expressed the community's appreciation for her work.

Dolores Huerta spoke from notes about current and topical issues and focused her remarks on inspiring people to do more for social justice and attacking the right. She tied together feminism, gay rights, immigrant rights, the work of the peace and antiwar movements, labor organizing and other struggles. It's hard to believe, but Dolores Huerta will turn 80 next year. She wants us to organize parties for her foundation then, which funds community organizing and training in immigrant communities.

Sister Huerta could have focused her talk on history or on herself or on a particular program. All of that would have been fine and interesting, but she spoke instead about current events and theory in a way which engaged people. When Ramon Ramirez introduced Sister Huerta he spoke of the past but also brought the past into the present with his remarks. Both of them mentioned the Obama administration in passing, but their messages were clear: it's up to us to put the pressure on to win immigration reform and more. These things are within reach if we organize.

Many of the young people present clearly wanted to know more. They are asking how to organize, what positions to take and how to move forward. Sister Huerta did not have the time to give a class in organizing, which she could certainly present, but she told the young people to engage people with fun efforts and small tasks first and to build from an activist minority. Sister Huerta prizes education, community and organizing.

If there was a weakness to the evening it was that there was not enough time to have the needed discussions and teaching from the speakers, the weakness on the left of not talking about and prioritizing building an independent left political party or a united left force and the tendency of so many people on the left to take a microphone and preach instead of engaging in dialogue. The young teacher from McMinnville and the young women activists who presented questions about teaching and organizing should have had more time on the agenda. Change will come in this country when those people can carry on the traditions that Sister Huerta so capably embodies.

FINAL Chicken vote OCT 26TH

Hello, Friends of the Movement to Get Urban Hens Legalized in Salem.

The FINAL vote on whether or not Salem will allow 3 hens w/in city limits is on Monday Oct 26th at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

If you'd like Salem to allow 3 hens it would lovely for you show up Monday night for an hour. You don't need to speak. You just need to stand up when the speaker asks supporters of chickens to stand. The more people who stand the better.

Monday, October 26 at 6:30 pm
Salem City Hall - 555 Liberty Street - Room 240

If you can't make it, a letter to the Mayor would be very helpful, jtaylor@cityofsalem.net, Of course, both a letter and showing up Monday would be ideal. We need her vote back. After voting in favor of chickens, she voted last time to table the issue saying the chicken movement had lost momentum.

Thanks for putting up with occasional e-mails from me over the past 7 months on this matter.

-Lisa Clark-Burnell

P.S. If you want more info on the two proposals they will vote on, let me know and I'll give you the details that I have.

October 14, 2009

Salem Capitol: Public Option Now!

At noon today, approximately 150 people rallied at the State Capitol, calling for a "robust" public option to be included in the final health care reform Bill.

The rally was organized by the new Keizer/Salem branch of Move On. This action was the first action organized by local Move-On activists, the branch being barely six weeks old. This event is of importance in that it proves that a grassroots movement for change is possible in Salem, Oregon.

As a speaker at this event I'm a bit biased. All the same, there were two "themes" that seemed to float through this crowd.

"Theme" number one was a sense that any health care legislation which does not provide universal coverage, that doesn't do away with health insecurity for everyone and all people is a seriously flawed and totally inadequate legislation. "Theme" number two was a sort of collective reality check. There was a strong sense that the current health care job in Washington D.C. is going terribly wrong, and that if we don't organize, hit the street, have our voices heard, there will be no health care reform.

Move-On did request that rally speakers be furnished from the staffs of Senators Wyden and Merkely, and Representative Kurt Schrader. All three politicians declined the invitation. On the other hand, fascist readio commentator, Bill Post's threat to disrupt the event with his tea-bagger goon squads never materialized either.

I suspect Move-On will develop more of a local presence with further actions as the issues progress.

By the way, Channel 8 said "almost 100"; I counted 150... For what it's worth.

October 13, 2009


Antonio Guerrero was re sentenced today per a decision by an appeals court that found the original sentences were excessive. Federal Judge Joan Lenard re sentenced him to 262 months (21 years, ten months) and five years probation. Antonio's attorney, Leonard Weinglass said, "I'm surprised with this decision.  We negotiated an agreement with the government in good faith which was to be 20 years. Hopefully he will be home in seven years." 

 The government had no evidence to show that the defendant obtained any top secret information.  The Judge said that he "wanted" to obtain such information. The Cuban Five have always maintained that they were in the United States to monitor Cuban exile groups planning terrorist attacks on Cuban soil. Cuba considers the five to be political prisoners.  There is currently a delay in the re sentencing of two other Cubans pending a probe into whether the U.S. government had determined if they had caused any damage to U.S. security.

Also, a son and daughter of Che Guevara are in South Africa participating in remembrance ceremonies of their father's death on October 8, 1967.  They will be meeting with government officials to ask them to advocate for the freedom of the Cuban Five in upcoming meetings with United States officials.

October 12, 2009

Civil Disobedience In Oregon For Healthcare

Progressive Democrats of America, along with Black Agenda Report, Code Pink, and AfterDowningStreet.org, has endorsed a pro-single payer campaign of civil disobedience called the Mobilization for Health Care for All, initiated by Healthcare-NOW!. the Center for the Working Poor, and Prosperity Agenda. The campaign is targeting health insurance companies under the theme "Patients Not Profits!" For more details on the campaign and for useful packets of information see the Mobilization's website at www.mobilizeforhealthcare.org.

So far there has been a sit-in and arrests in New York at Aetna on October 1 and in Chicago at Cigna on October 8.

Actions including one in Portland are planned for 10 or more cities around the country on Thursday October 15. Anyone interested in participating in the Portland action, either as someone risking arrest, or as a support demonstrator in a legal demonstration, or in other ways can send me an e-mail at pdaoregon@igc.org and I will make sure you get information about when the c.d. training will occur and other information. If the dates for the training or action this time are not convenient, the Mobilization is planning further demonstrations after the 15th so there will be other opportunities.

For other parts of Oregon, there may be an action in Medford, though it may occur in a subsequent wave of the campaign. There is identified leadership there and people in southwest Oregon who would like to take part are encouraged to sign up at the Mobilization website. There is also a small nucleus of interest in the Eugene area but no identified leadership known to me there as of this writing. Again, interested persons are encouraged to sign up at the national Mobilization website. If anyone is willing to step up and take point on organizing a Eugene area action, contact Julia Willis at organize@mobilizeforhealthcare.org (you could cc me too and I will make sure it gets followed up).

Chris Lowe
PDO state coordinator
503 788 2543

My Name is Rachel Corrie--Oregon State University - Corvallis - Oct. 21-25

My Name is Rachel Corrie

Oregon State University - Corvallis - Oct. 21-25

The Department of Anthropology, the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Center for the Humanities, and the University Theatre of Oregon State University will present Alan Rickman's and Katherine Viner's My Name is Rachel Corrie, October 21-24, 7:30 PM, and October 25 at 2:00 PM in the Lab Theatre of Withycombe Hall, 30th and Campus Way. There will be free pre-show lectures (listed below) in the Green Room of the theatre at 6:30 PM exploring the events that formed some of the background of the play (Sunday talk begins at 1PM). There will be post-show discussions following every performance. Tickets are available at the door. A two dollar donation is suggested.

The play relates the story of Rachel Corrie, a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, who went to Gaza to work for Palestinian human rights and was tragically killed there on March 16, 2003. Rachel was a vital young woman driven by her need to make a positive difference in the world. Inspired by her story, and with permission from her family, Rickman and Viner edited Rachel's diaries, journals, and e-mails to create this fascinating and moving portrait of this dynamic young woman. Newsweek said the play is "theater that not only stirs our hearts but sticks in our heads." Time Out (London) said of the original production that it had "extraordinary power" and was funny, passionate, bristling with idealism, and luminously intelligent. The London Guardian reported that when theater is as "good as this," it will "send us out enriched by other people's passionate concerns." USA Today noted that the play was "deeply, authentically human." Rachel Corrie's story has moved audiences around the world and there have been productions throughout the United States.

The role of Rachel will be performed by Elizabeth Helman, director of the 2009 Bard in the Quad's Twelfth Night and faculty member in Theatre Arts at Oregon State. The play is directed by Charlotte Headrick and design is by George Caldwell. Cassandra Kornman is stage manager for the production.

Due to the design of the Lab Theatre, latecomers cannot be admitted. The play is performed without intermission. Box office opens at 6:15 PM on nights of performance and at 1:30 PM for the Sunday matinee. This play contains language and situations that are not suitable for young audiences.

For further information on the production, contact the director t cheadrick@oregonstate.edu or 737-4918 or David McMurray of the Department of Anthropology mcmurrad@oregonstate.edu at 737-4515.

Pre-show talks are in Withycombe Hall 62 (the Green Room) and are listed below:

Wednesday, October 21st, 6:30 PM
Theresa May, Theatre Arts, University of Oregon
Radical Theater versus Theater about Radicals:
Thoughts on My Name Is Rachel Corrie
Play follows at 7:30 PM in Withycombe Lab Theater.

Thursday, October 22nd, 6:30 PM
Steve Niva, Government and International Studies, The Evergreen State College
Student Activism and Rachel Corrie
Play follows at 7:30 PM in Withycombe Lab Theater.

Friday, October 23rd, 6:30 PM
Smadar Lavie, Anthropology, University of Virginia
Israel, Palestine, and Rachel Corrie
Play follows at 7:30 PM in Withycombe Lab Theater.

Saturday, October 24th, 6:30 PM
Joel Beinin, History, Stanford University
Historical Context of My Name Is Rachel Corrie
Play follows at 7:30 PM in Withycombe Lab Theater.

Sunday, October 25th, 1:00 PM
Craig and Cindy Corrie (Rachel¹s parents)
Olympia, Washington
Continuing Rachel¹s Work in the Gaza Strip
Play follows at 7:30 PM in Withycombe Lab Theater.

October 11, 2009

Rally for Public Option: State Capitol, October 14

Move-On.org/PAC is leading a rally for a public health care option, to be held on the front steps of the State Capitol Building on Wednesday October 14, 12 noon to 1pm. Speakers will be calling for a meaningful and robust public health insurance option. Petitions in support of HR 676 Single Payer will also be being circulated although Move-On locally and nationally has not adopted a Single Payer agenda.

Move-On is generally associated with large scale national internet campaigns. The October 14 event is however a very local grass-roots effort. The local Move-On chapter was organized about 6 weeks ago by a handful of local people, most of whom don't see themselves as political people. In many ways the health care issue has become the galvanizing force here. With the possibility of meaningful health care reform becoming dimmer and dimmer, folks decided that they needed to get active if any kind of positive change is going to happen.

Hmmm, but are these folks the the "backlash" the Senate Democrats were so worried about? If you remember last Sunday when the Senate Democrats scrambled to tweek the Baucus Bill fines and OK State governments to play the role of tribune of the poor and battle directly with the insurance company consortiums??? Even as they lined the pockets of the health insurance industry with 60 million customers mandated to buy inadequate coverage???

So, if you have the time, if you have a lunch, stop by. Every bit of fight back helps!



The blogs are saying the Police estimates were between 100,000 and 200,000 and Associated Press is saying thousands.  But it doesn't really matter.  The importance of the march from the White House to the Capitol was that it happened.  The first March On Washington of this size meant to send a message to the President that patience is running out.  And the first march to debunk the myth that the young people who worked to get him elected do not believe in marching in the streets, that they will only use social networking and on line petitions to redress their grievances.  

October 10, 2009

Capitalism vs. Life

The October 2009 issue of Monthly Review has this great quote from Paul M. Sweezy:

Paradoxically, the further we look down the road into the future, the clearer the choice between capitalism and socialism becomes. Capitalism is a socioeconomic system that cannot exist without expanding. it was not only Karl Marx who said that: it is the credo of every capitalist and the taken-for-granted axiom of bourgeois economic science since the days of Adam Smith. On the other hand, the very idea of a permanently, expanding economy in a finite environment is a hopeless contradiction. For a long time, roughly the first four or five centuries of capitalist history, this contradiction was ignored or evaded by pretending that the environment is for all practical purposes infinite, hence capable of supporting a permanently expanding economy. This pretense is now, in the second half of the twentieth century, wearing thin. Stated as an abstract proposition it is obviously absurd; concretely, evidence is piling up for all to see of a perilous collision between a relentlessly expanding economy and an already over-taxed environment...

So far most people, in becoming aware of these problems, see not capitalism, but the excesses and excrescences of capitalism, as the villain of the piece. But this doesn't get to the root of the matter. If by some miracle all the excesses and excrescences were to vanish, the contradiction between an inherently expanding economy and a finite environment would still be there. (Originally published in the Monthly Review 40th Anniversary Booklet, May 25, 1989.)


Today Miami Federal Judge Joan Lenard has reset the re sentencing of Fernando Gonzalez and Ramon Labanino to an unspecified date.  The re sentencing hearing for Antonio Guerrero shall proceed as previously set on October 13, at 10:30am (EST).
I don't know what this means. Antonio Guerrero who apparently will have his hearing had been sentenced to double life sentences.
Fernando Gonzalez had been sentenced to 19 years and Ramon Labanino had received a life sentence.
I doubt that this was requested by their lawyers so it must have been requested by "our" government.
I suppose an eternal optomist like myself might say that the double life sentence was so outrageous they needed to make some change and the other two are being delayed (until time uncertain) because they may be sent home.  But this I doubt. More likely the government wanted their cases separated for some nefarious reason.
Meanwhile, the three of them are in Miami jail separated from each other and the last I heard in solitary confinement.
I am sure my good friend Walter Lippman will figure it all out and I will pass on the information when I get it.

October 9, 2009

Oregon State University, Ed Ray & The Corporate Money Machine

Oregon State University President Ed Ray took another step forward in what looks like a plan or process for handing education over to corporate interests yesterday. According to Ray, in 2025 OSU will be as much as 60 percent larger, more focused on specific research areas, more international and "built upon goals of student success and faculty achievement."

Ray's annual State of the University addresses to the OSU Faculty Senate rarely contain surprises. The speeches confirm direction, draw some media attention and announce to the world that the OSU administration is fully behind or in step with big business and government and not particularly interested in anything that may be associated with critical thinking. Thursday's speech announced that the University will adopt the divisional structure used by corporate America and bigger university players elsewhere who are focusing more on world markets and seeking more corporate support. It is a kind and gentle means of telling Oregon's parents and students to kiss off and signalling to the relatively few faculty still in the liberal arts that they should be churning out their resumes. It also signals to staff that there will be more job cuts, or perhaps a few more dead-end jobs.

“If we are successful in setting and sustaining a course toward greater excellence, I believe that Oregon State University can be among the top 15 land grant universities by 2025,” an OSU press release quotes Ray as saying. “Consequently, we will be an international research university that attracts the very best students and faculty from around the world to our education and research programs.”

We wonder why a university must plan to be "built upon goals of student success and faculty achievement." What is OSU based on now if not that? And we wonder what adopting and furthering this vision of becoming an "international research university" means to an institution which is (or has been) paid for by Oregon's taxpayers and is one of only two U.S. universities designated a land-, sea-, space- and sun-grant institution.

Defenders of the status quo remind us that OSU is not really a public institution at this point, and has not been for some time. Privatization and grants have made the University dependent upon other sources of income and support. We respond that OSU grew as a public institution and that it should remain fully so. This move, as with so much of what has happened in higher ed in Oregon over the past 20 years or so, continues a trend which takes education and educational resources away from the state, pays for private industrial research and development with public dollars, enriches cliques of administrators and contractors and does little or nothing to meet the state's needs.

Ray and his administration are on a roll and corporate America and the military-industrial and sports industries are paying for part of it at our expense. OSU won a record $252 million in external research funding in 2008-09, and private giving of $82 million. The Campaign for OSU has raised more than $534 million toward its goal of $625 million, with almost two years left to go. What influences and trade-offs come with such funding and funding sources is a fair question. OSU's adoption of the corporate model is an obvious sign of a shift in direction and desired results, but what else is being bought with this money?

We are not comforted when President Ray notes that this money came in "during the worst financial year since the Great Depression.” Given the state's high unemployment, the housing crisis, the problems with the state budget and the need for elusive social services we can think of many other uses for this money. Higher ed classified staff just accepted a contract with furlough days. Could none of this money be used to offset the hit staff and faculty just took?

Ray is telling us to get used to it. "This kind of fund-raising success will have to become the norm not the exception," the OSU press release quotes him as saying. “As great as these efforts have been, we must more than double the value of our annual awards of research grants and contracts by the year 2025...And we must more than double the annual fund-raising level achieved through our campaign, which will require at least one and perhaps two additional campaigns over the next 15 years.”

It is a kind of "Let them eat cake" remark if understood in its proper context. President Ray waited until union negotiations were concluded to announce his plans and shout with joy about what's in his wallet. His announcement now also gets OSU out of the target sights during the January vote and the coming legislative session. We can easily picture OSU opening campus call centers and hiring work-study students to do the needed future fundraising, but it is more likely that such work would be either contracted out to the Third World or left to the administrators who seem to be hitting the cocktail circuits more frequently these days.

Get worried when any OSU administrator talks about "a year-long transparent process," as President Ray did. It means that the OSU administration spent good time and money talking to themselves and buying consensus and silence while checking which way the winds were blowing and pushing a corporate agenda. It also means that someone is about to get pushed into the oncoming traffic. The "year-long transparent process" and the needed "strategic investments" to pay for that process and what will follow have created university divisions which now look like this:

Division of Earth Systems Science: College of Agricultural Sciences, College of Forestry, and College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences;

Division of Health Sciences: College of Health and Human Sciences, College of Pharmacy, and College of Veterinary Medicine;

Division of Business and Engineering: College of Engineering and College of Business;

Division of Arts and Sciences: College of Liberal Arts, College of Science, and College of Education.

It is probably no accident that Arts and Sciences has been listed last. The OSU administration sees them as bottom feeders, I'm sure, but an organizational flow chart could also picture an evolutionary process with the strongest wolves representing the Division of Earth Systems Science thinning out the academic herd and the vultures roosting at the Kerr Administration building.

The Oregon University System administrators continue to struggle with problems of administration, centralization, managing and navigating a unified state higher ed system and funding. They have a tendency to play the liberal side of the street when needed to get funding, to use privatization in creating a patchwork system of education and resources, to close the barn door after the stock has left and to turn on one another when all else fails. The OSU Loser of the Week is OSU-Cascades Administration Vice President Becky Johnson, who was clearly hoping to get something more for her campus than she did and lost out. It's not hard to detect the move to toss this campus overboard, even with the vague plans to increase enrollment there, but Johnson has some political allies as well. Next in line may be the Extension program, but that program also has its allies. In a struggle between Johnson and Extension for what resources or carrion Ed Ray has to chuck their way, I'll bet on Johnson for now and on Ed Ray later. The Cascades' days, at least as a part of OSU, are numbered.

OSU needs lots of students fast--something like 30,000 to 35,000 by 2025--in order to pay for all of this. Contracting out, privatization, low-wage contracts, program cuts, restructuring and the cycles of centralization and decentralization which afflict higher ed in Oregon can only save so much money. International students pay the highest tuition and bring with them additional funding and resources, or so President Ray and his administration hope. The plan, therefore, is to double the percentage of OSU’s international students enrolled in graduate or professional programs and to graduate something like 6,000 students each year. The Bridge to Success program, which pays tuition and fees for thousands of students now, will likely be expanded. This doesn't translate into more opportunity for Oregon's students, however. OSU will look more like an assemblyline and Corvallis will be quickly overwhelmed. If you think housing in Corvallis is now unaffordable and hard to find, imagine what it will be like in 5 or 10 years.

Did Ed Ray talk to anyone involved in urban planning in Corvallis or Benton County as plans to change the area's demographics and living standards moved forward? Does OSU administration now have favored candidates in the company town's political races? And what if some of the good citizens of Corvallis object to plans to jack up their rents and change their town?

OSU currently has just less that 800 tenured and tenure-track faculty. They may begin hiring some permanent faculty in order to reach their goals, but it is also easy to imagine that President Ray's administration will attempt to share faculty with other state institutions, use visiting faculty, increase faculty workload and move some faculty through the tenure track processes at the expense of other faculty. The administration's plans certainly have the potential to pit classified staff, tenured and tenure-track faculty and the non-teaching, research and administrative "faculty" against one another in fights over salaries, resources, benefits, space and support.

Sabah Randhawa, OSU’s provost and executive vice president, is allegedly leading an effort to find the money and means to add 25 to 30 faculty members in arts and sciences over the next two years. I doubt that this is so, or that it means much in the real world, but we can also question the wisdom and politics of putting forward an over-reaching OSU plan and adding this as an afterthought or as a sop. In fact, OSU is cutting positions and depending upon retirements "and other natural attrition" to make its nut. In rightwing speak, these are "death panels." The OSU Human Resources department will have its hands full with acting classes as they learn the Stanislavsky System of Acting as the preferred means of dealing with disciplinary cases, layoff notices and terminations. At the end, this HR need may be the only way of saving OSU's theatre department.

When we hear President Ray say, "We have reworked our base budgets to provide additional resources to the colleges most centrally engaged in delivering undergraduate education" we know that there will be job losses. In the long run, I think, increasing OSU dependence upon the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) is a guarantee of job loss and wasted funds.

“We also must significantly increase our direct partnerships with industry,” President Ray said on Thursday. “Right now, only 2 percent of our annual research funding results from industry partnerships. We must increase this to 4-8 percent of our total even as we more than double our annual research portfolio by 2025.”

The "unseen hand" of capitalism, is picking our pockets. OSU has taken public money, and continues to do so, but shows little loyalty to the state; the University is doing research and development for the corporations at rock-bottom prices; Oregon's students and workers are not the priority; OSU jobs are being eliminated and workers there are getting nailed; the University is getting rich fast off of grants, gifts and international students---and President Ray only wants more buy-in from industry. I think that any public official should be immediately accountable to the people of Oregon.

October 8, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust: Nummi Gets Tossed

Think back to the late 1970s and the 1980s when we were hearing about how productive the Japanese were and how we needed to import their managerial and production concepts. Suddenly team building, labor/management committees, "win-win" and horiziontal organizations became the mantras. I heard this at work and then I heard it in church. Lee Iacocca was the hero of the day. Ross Perot followed vaguely in his wake. Both have been sent to the outer reaches of the American political landscape with the kind of dispatch which commentators usually attribute to Stalin or Kruschev, but they once promised a leaner and meaner productive America. Their velvet fist replaced the "unseen hand" of the old capitalism, and it was supposed to be capable of renegotiating trade deals and union contracts. We got half of the loaf.

It seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? The argument in America in the early 1980s was over how industry could best be managed and retained, not whether or not we would have industry here. And we believed that industry meant some level of unionization and that industry and unionization guaranteed at least the possibility that another New Deal might arrive. With industry, unions and a new New Deal within reach it was not unreasonable to think that a resurgent left might eventually take power.

Toyota and GM incarnated the turn towards alleged Japanese managerial and productive concepts by creating the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.(Nummi)joint venture in 1984. This helped Toyota avoid taxes and tariffs and got it off of the trade hook in the pre-WTO days. It also gave GM a second wind with a long-term outlet for its parts and for the surpluses it had on hand when Nummi came into being.

At least two generations of managerial and engineering scientists have learned to recite the Nummi credos backwards and forwards since 1984 and they have spread the Nummi gospel through whatever is left of industrial America. This has gone forward as a barely-disguised ideological attack on unions and the left. Toyota and GM made some handsome profits, but the big advances for industry here were in creating and stabilizing "lean production" and buying off a section of the United Auto Workers' union leadership and membership. They were successful in both endeavors.

A brave vanguard of the traditional left in the UAW objected to Nummi at the time of its creation, but the international union's leadership and staff buried the objections while the fight against concessions in basic industry took up the militant's remaining energy and time. They were, we might say, prematurely anti-corporate.

Come now to 2009 and Toyota is closing the last auto plant in California--Nummi. With it, perhaps, will go much of the nonsense that has accompanied the pseudo-science of labor-management cooperation, but we can't be that lucky. Instead, what we are more likely to see and hear are drowning cheers from the hard-hearted far-right as they applaud the withdrawal of a foreign-based corporation from these shores, further deindustrialization, the further weakening of a once-strong industrial union and an opportunity to reintroduce their version of laissez-faire economics. They're hoping that the splatter effect of the Nummi closing will cover labor and the Democrats in gore--never mind that the Republican governor of California was willing to promise the company money he didn't have in order to keep the plant open.

This is more of the "one-sided class war" we used to hear about (which was never really one-sided, and only rarely reached the level of warfare) and so we wonder at the inability or failure of the unions or the left to talk about occupying the plant, forcing it to remain open and productive in some other capacity or once more raising the flag for an industrial policy that might work. At the very least, we should expect the Dems and the UAW to make Toyota pay a steep price for leaving.

Nummi was, as the far-right says, a political sop intended more to engineer social change than to produce automobiles. Whatever benefits and promises the UAW got from the GM-Toyota deal came with a price, however, and this is what the right will not tell you: the companies bought part of the union, changed the nature of production, forced a rigged debate in the US about deindustrialization at a moment when the economy was going into a slide, helped kill pattern bargaining and insured that the Labor/management cooperation disease spread through most American workplaces. Much of the union and Democrtic leadership was complicit, if only in their silence and weakness, but it was the most reactionary sections of capital that forced the deal to begin with.

There are plenty of lessons here, and we may be debating these for years to come. Today, right now, I'm thinking that three obvious lessons are these:

*All talk of labor/management cooperation is suspect. It comes either when the economy is doing great and they need our buy-in, or when the economy is beginning to stumble and they need the union stamp of approval for isolating workers and burying the left.

*Industry could previously depend upon union leadership to cut the deals and win some rank-and-file buy-in when questions like "lean production" came up. This guaranteed some union's survival. Industry doesn't need their consent now and can throw the union leadership and the unions under the bus. EFCA does not really correspond to this new reality; in fact, labor has no strategy or tactics in hand to deal with the new economic and political problems.

*The dominant Democratic and social democratic thinking in labor and across the left is also inadequate. We now have a left without labor at our core. Reliance upon the Democrats by labor and the left has weakened both forces. Few people are going to trust unions and a left which they can't rely upon for leadership, independence and clarity.

The Price Of Gold

Yesterday I posted here on gold, silver and possible ways to make a quick buck, known not entirely without reason as "making a killing." I used some humor and sarcasm, which didn't really work, but the points I made are consistent with past postings on these topics.

The Wall Street Journal has even less of a sense of humor than I do. In The WSJ today they say that gold is edging past $1038 an ounce and in the speculative market it is hitting a high of something just over $1043 an ounce. Predictions of gold hitting $1100 an ounce are still there, but these predictions are being downgraded to $1050. Watch for another predicted drop.

None of this would be an issue or of interest were it not for those annoying radio ads telling us to buy gold now and the working people taking the advice. A pawn shop near my job posts new gold prices weekly. It looks more like a scam every day, and especially so with so many speculators in the market and the projected high prices being downgraded.

Working class people might be better served by buying lots and lots of new tires for resale. The profit margin on tires for new cars looks like a better bet than gold right now, and most of us know what we're doing with tires anyway.

Gold is advancing at the expense of the dollar. If wrecking an international currency is your thing, buy up all the gold that you can. Notice that the radio deejay patriots are urging you to buy gold regardless of what it does to the US economy. Limbaugh has apparently taken his money and invested it in gold and football. His speculating in gold and his investing in non-productive economic ventures should cast great doubt on his patriotism.

Right in line with yesterday's posting here, the Mongolian government announced a copper and gold mining deal with Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto. The lack of environmental regulation in Mongolia and the willingness of the government to help pave the way forward for the two inter-related multinationals have been cited as the final deal makers. The new mine will hit full capacity in 2018 and will last into the 2060s. In the meantime, says Rio Tinto, there will be "far-reaching benefits for employees and communities directly linked to the mine..."

Let’s Go Public: Reframing the Health Care Debate by Putting Health Back into the Discussion

This great article comes from Meizhu Lui at Freedom Road Socialist Organization:

The national policy discussion around health care reform ignores the big question—“How do we improve the people’s health?”—and concentrates instead on a narrow question: “How do we get people insured?” The debate is couched in language that is designed to exclude people from the discussion, putting the whole issue in the domain of so-called experts and policy-makers.

Read more here.

October 7, 2009

Global capitalism an abstraction? Get real!

We've recently heard from President Obama and his echo chamber among some on the left that global capitalism, and other such nasty-sounding "-isms" are abstractions and not really worth paying any attention to. Here's a hint for the purveyors of this idea: It's not true.
Social, economic, and political systems are not abstractions; if they were, human society would be unable to function. Rather, the terms we use to define such systems describe a particular set of common, objective, and essential historical conditions which make up said system. For example, we use the term "slavery" to describe a system in which slaves perform compulsory, unpaid labor for a master who owns them as his property. Performing compulsory, unpaid labor and being owned as property are objective conditions that can exist in the real world. Thus, the word "slavery" is a sort of shorthand for a specifically defined set of objective historical conditions. This is why historians can rightly point out that slavery existed in Classical Greece, Rome, and the American South. Slavery in these three times and places might have had slightly different characteristics, but in all three there existed common objective characteristics, which we collectively refer to as slavery. In contrast, words like "justice," "mercy," "freedom," and the like defy objective definition; they are abstract ideas, and cannot in any way be defined in objective historical terms.
One might argue that different people do indeed define and use terms like "capitalism" differently. However, simply because two journalists or scholars or bloggers use a term like "capitalism" differently does not mean that it is an abstract idea. Rather, it means that one definition is correct and one is not. What is a correct definition? A correct definition of a social or economic system will contain objective, verifiable, and essential historical conditions that are common across societies of many times and places. Note that these qualities are completely absent from definitions of abstract ideas like freedom and justice.
Still, one might argue that the specific set of conditions for a particular term is up for debate, as is the case for more recent terms like "fascism". However, this does not indicate that these terms are abstractions, rather that the precise content of their objective historical definitions has not yet been established, that not all common traits have been identified. Nevertheless, each and every term such as "fascism," "capitalism," and "plutocracy" must have some kind of objective definition; if they did not, the terms would be meaningless.
Other terms such as "totalitarianism" are falsely objective; that is, that they are simply amalgamations of objective verifiable conditions common to several societies across history, but these conditions are superficial rather than essential. The notion of totalitarianism is an amalgam of similarities between state influence and control over intellectual, cultural and political life in socialist and fascist states. However, these similarities are formal, not essential; the "totalitarian" state power exercised under fascism and socialism historically were put to different uses, for different reasons, to the benefit of different classes. Moreover, if such centralized control is excercised by a non-state institution or group of institutions, then such an arrangement is not "totalitarian," giving the term an inherent ideological cant.
It really isn't surprising that a President of Obama's ideological leanings would attempt to confuse the important difference between concrete and abstract terms. Nor is it surprising that revisionist forces within our Party would wholeheartedly swallow such a line from the President they so uncritically adore.