February 27, 2009

March 7: Support State Workers, Support Teachers, Build Unity!

Support Oregon Education Association members and all state workers now fighting against budget and program cuts by turning out at the Salem downtown convention center at 8:15 AM on Saturday, March 7. This is our chance to show unity in the face of the Governor's recommended budget and the cuts it contains.

February 26, 2009

What REALLY Happened At The Oregon State Hospital Today--And Onward To March 7!

State worker anger at the Governor's proposed budget and the state's position in union contract negotiations is reaching a slow boil in some state worksites. We have covered some of that, at least in rough outlines, here.

The Statesman-Journal is running an article about a state worker protest at the Oregon state Hospital here. So far as it goes, the article is generally correct in its reporting and most of its facts. What is missing from the article is context.

Workers at the State Hospital are represented by AFSCME, SEIU and the Oregon Nurses Association. AFSCME called a protest at the State Hospital today without coordinating or checking in with SEIU, which represents most of the workers. SEIU statewide leaders have called for protests within worksites this week in order to communicate workers' anger and test the depths of worker dissatisfaction with the Governor's budget and bargaining proposals, but they have not been ready to organize larger public protests.

Both SEIU and AFSCME scheduled bargaining reports at OSH today. Union member-leaders from SEIU essentially took over the meeting and announced the scheduled SEIU protest. An AFSCME staffperson gave a brief report that agreed with the SEIU bargaining report. The workers from both unions listening to the reports then marched on the boss in far greater numbers than union leaders expected and forced the boss to hear their complaints publicly. It took very little urging by union member-leaders to make this happen. In the process the workers created their own message, which coincides with SEIU's public position in general and with AFSCME's more public push to some extent. This is an important step for the workers to take and will help win better union contracts in the long run.

Worker anger is probably beyond what many union leaders have measured in many key state worksites. A typical stand taken by a DMV worker, for instance, was expressed in this way:

I...believe that this is crap. We have done our part before when we went without step increases and no COLA.. Now I am not willing to give up my medical insurance...Maybe the Governor shouldn't have given all of those great big raises and maybe he should give back more then 5%. I agree we should stand united on this. Furlough days must be office closures and as visible to the public as possible...whatever we give up will not be given back!!!!!

It has not reached a point yet where there can be a discussion of striking or taking more militant actions, but the anger is there. On the other hand, workers in AFSCME and SEIU are often not unified, even when they work together. The two unions have different structures and different timelines for their action plans. Action may spur unity at the worksite level in some places, but there are real pressures in worksites which push back against this. These problems need to be overcome.

There will be a labor solidarity event in Salem on Saturday, March 7 which should draw teachers and other state workers together. The state's strategy seems to have been to force teachers into competition with other state workers for available funding. Labor needs to reject this manipulative strategy. Details are not firmed up yet, but watch this blog for info.

February 25, 2009

CAUSA Says: Stop The Anti-Immigrant Raids!

Call to Action:
Communities must fight back against the FIRST WORKSITE raids of the Obama Administration in Washington State 2.24.09


Tell the Obama Administration: Stop the Raids, Pass Just and Humane Immigration Reform

Raids hurt our businesses, our communities, all workers and immigrants. Raids victimize the very people that helped to bring change to the White House and elect President Barack Obama.

Yesterday, 28 workers, incuding 3 mothers, were chained and arrested in a factory in Bellingham, WA as part of ICE enforcement operations.

In this time of economic hardship it is completely unacceptable for the Obama administration to be executing raids on our workers, businesses and communities--it is time for him to hear from us.

CALL THE WHITE HOUSE NOW at 202-456-1414 to speak to the President.

Tell President Barack Obama:

The raid in Washington State is unacceptable, and hurts all of our communities. He must stop the raids, and we must pass comprehensive immigration reform - NOW!.

or

FAX a letter to: 202-456-2461

For more information on the raid:
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008781541_webraid24m.html
http://www.bellinghamherald.com/590/story/806909.html
If you visit these stories, please leave pro-migrant comments--there is some ugly stuff being written on these boards.

CAUSA
700 Marion St NE
Salem, OR 97301
503.269.5694
503.982.1031 fax

Cascadia: Bobby Jindal Hates You--Real Oregon Reality Hits It!

This was posted on Real Oregon Reality, one of the better Oregon liberal blogs. It's one of the stronger liberal responses to the speeches last night. The Chinuk hit it this time.

Let's look inside the Republican "Big Tent" for another moment.

Louisiana Governor Bobby "PBJ" Jindal, Republican Response, Feb 24th 2009:

...and $140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

The Oregonian's Jeff "Shadout" Mapes:

But forget that for a moment. As I sit typing this in Portland, I'm less than 50 miles - as the ash flies - from an active volcano. I'd like to know as soon as possible if Mount St. Helens is going to blow again. It's kind of like how Jindal would presumably appreciate the most advanced hurricane monitoring possible.

Man, this stuff just writes itself, kinda.

But if you live in any city near the I-5, and can look out an east-facing window to see a might snowcapped mountain that was built out of titanic underground forces, which another explosion from has not been ruled out, then as far as Bobby Jindal and the Republican party are concerned ... you're on your own, Joe Oregon and Jane Washington (and parts of California).

Fiesta de Democracia!

Fiesta de Democracia!

Join Portland CISPES in celebrating the long struggle for democracy in El Salvador! We would like to invite you to join ten elections-observing delegates who will be traveling to El Salvador this March to witness and observe a historic moment in El Salvador's history.

¡Que viva la nueva democracia salvadoreña!
When: Monday March 2,6:30-8:30pm
Where: Liberty Hall, 311 N. Ivy St., Portland
Event will feature dinner and dessert, Salvadoran music, speakers, a raffle and an art auction!!!

This event is a benefit for the Portland CISPES delegation to El Salvador in March 2009 where ten Portlanders will travel to El Salvador as international observers for the Presidential elections.

February 24, 2009

Oregon State Workers Up Against The Wall

SEIU Local 503, the lead state union now involved in union contract negotiations with the state, hoped for an early contract settlement in its main state and higher ed units. Perhaps as many as 30,000 people--state workers--are covered by these contracts. The state put an initial concessionary contract offer on the table early on, which the union might have been willing to accept, but later withdrew this offer. Since that time the state and national economies have weakened, state workers in Washington and California have faced especially hard battles, counties and cities across Oregon have begun serious budget and job cuts and state union contract negotiations here in Oregon have gone from bad to worse.

The Governor announced last week that he is rolling back managers' raises, which is always a sore point for union-covered state workers. The union's proposals up to this point have been step-up-to-the-plate, good-faith sacrifices offered with the understanding that the state is economically slammed and that some lost ground might be made up later. The Governor's response has been to demand even deeper and
more unreasonable cuts.

The state's most recent counterproposal amounts to a 4.6% annual pay cut for state workers. That proposal includes:

*26 furlough days for all state workers:

*No holiday pay on 15 currently-paid holidays

*11 furlough days on prescribed days, including two this biennium

*Elimination of the 10th salary step or grade. This will especially anger many union members who worked hard to achieve this over the years and who depend on added steps and cost-of-living raises.

*A full freeze on salary steps or grades

This proposal puts all economic terms in the main state worker union contract, including employer-paid health care, in jeopardy with a possible contract re-opener that could be initiated by either party at some point in the future. It makes an early settlement in contract negotiations unlikely.

The SEIU bargaining team is understandably outraged and is left demanding that the state share with the workers whatever sacrifices need to be made. The Governor's demands and his proposed budget instead seeks to close the state deficits projected in the next biennium on the backs of state workers and Oregon's most vulnerable people by also cutting social services and education spending. Deep cuts have already been made and it should not be utopian or unrealistic to demand that these cuts be restored. State workers will do a statewide protest action this Thursday in worksites.

The next SEIU-state bargaining session is scheduled for Monday, March 9 and Tuesday, March 10.

The coming March 15 antiwar rally in Salem should feature a strong message to the state: cutting social services, education funding and state worker salaries and benefits is unacceptable when money is being spent on wars and prisons. That message should be repeated at the May 1 rally also scheduled for Salem. Finally, AFSCME and SEIU should have a common program and a common approach at the basic worksite level, regardless of differences and structures.

February 22, 2009

Michael Savage Loses It

Angela Davis gave a strong lesson in how racism works last night at Reed College. See our posting below for details. We continue to make the point that there is always a conversation about race taking place in the US. This conversation may be conscious or unconscious, serious or lacking in seriousness, but it is always taking place in contradictory ways and runs through every social relationship. And as Angela Davis said last night, "Racism is not attached to particular kinds of bodies in the way that we like to think about it" and we need to understand race "as a language that helps us understand our connection to the social world."

Come now to Michael Savage, right-wing hate radio dj. He knows very well that race is "a language that helps us understand our connections to the social world" and the implications of this scare the daylights out of him. It would be difficult to accept this understanding of race and not see the deeply rooted relationships and currents of oppression which run through American capitalist society, constantly dragging it down and turning it into its opposite. Savage can't work through this logically and still keep his job as the voice of the most reactionary forces in America's middle-class, however.

So what does Savage do? He attacks logic in the form of Attorney General Eric Holder and his recent comments on racism in the US. Holder is reported to have said, "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." He is also reported to have said that "we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race." These remarks were made to Department of Justice employees celebrating Black History Month. Holder's entire speech reads like a commonsense liberal approach to race and racism and is a weak call for dialogue.

It drove Savage nuts, however. He enlisted racist white listeners to call in and lie about their negative experiences with affirmative action and distorted Holder's comments before screaming that he has given up. It's painful to listen to the racist invective, but hearing Savage lose it on the air in response to "the ascending of what used to be called 'the other America,'" as Angela Davis put it, is worth the price of admission. Go here to hear the rant.

Angela Davis At Reed College


Angela Davis spoke at Reed College last night, filling Kaul Auditorium and an overflow space with a multiracial and multigenerational crowd.

She began her talk recounting the evolution of Black History Month from Negro History Week and by extension the evolution of Black consciousness and freedom consciousness. Davis named some of the many great people and events to celebrate in February's Black history month, and a few that should be known, but are not. However, she warned, our current political moment is full of contradictions and we should not get stuck in a fascination with firsts (for example, the first Black President or first Black Secretary of State), but instead, we should develop an appreciation for mass movements and social change. We often cannot see or do not know how “ordinary” people--and especially women-- became agents of change in freedom struggles, so we often cannot see ourselves as agents of change either. Davis emphasized that in its day, the civil rights movement was popularly understood as a freedom movement, an extension of the anti-slavery struggle, and that we are still attempting to undo the incalculable damage done by slavery and colonialism. There would have been no freedom or civil rights movement if the people in struggle had not used collective imagination and resistance.

Davis spent much of her talk contrasting the Bush years with the promises and contradictions already present in the new administration. We are coming out of a period of collective depression and powerlessness, she said, and moving into a situation where the historic Black struggle for freedom and against the government becomes a “beautiful paradox” with a Black man as head of state. This would not be the case if, say, Clarence Thomas was in the White House. Barack Obama identifies with a tradition of struggle and it is this contradictory identification and situation which helps to define the present political moment.

Davis posed the questions so many of us are asking: how do we transfer this celebratory spirit we're feeling after the November elections to a real movement for social change and how do we disagree with the government now? How do we build pressure, movements and resistance now? And how do we respond to this moment made bittersweet by the passage of Proposition 8 in California?

She moved from this discussion into an analysis of the prison industrial complex and how race connects the prison system with the larger political contradictions before us. She reminded us that Oregon's Black population is only two per cent African-American but that African-Americans are over-represented in the prison system. One in every 10 General Fund dollars in Oregon is going to prisons. The US has the world's largest prison population. Davis labels the US “Prison Nation” and refers to the transfer of funds into prisons as a “prison binge.” This Nation and this binge exist, at least to some extent, because the system needs to warehouse people who lack healthcare, education and housing—people who are produced or who exist as surplus on the periphery of capitalist societies.

Davis noted that so many prisoners become passionate about learning while locked up. “Where might they be now had someone taught these prisoners to read and to consume knowledge?” she asked. Davis emphasized the need for education as a means of prison avoidance and stressed this several times during her talk.

There is a need, she said, to push Obama on many issues and to build mass movements. She is critical of the administration's decision to send troops to Afghanistan and hopes that Obama can be pressured on Palestine, education funding, prisons, racial profiling, Islamophobia and homophobia.

“People are relegated to civil death in prisons,” she said. “We know that we are free because we know that we are not in prison.” In this sentence Davis captured much of the dialectic understanding of freedom that we experience and connected it to imprisonment and current political conditions. We can contrast this to another recent time when we knew freedom through struggles for our collective liberation. Race and racism--”The most important factor in the history of this country,” Davis said--are the ways in which we have come to understand our connections to the social world. These often inherently negative social relationships are dooming people of color to imprisonment, I think she would argue. The prisons are full of people of color because of a racist mindset that constantly surveilles people and communities of color, Davis emphasized. She spoke briefly to the point that white people do indeed have an interest in racial equality.

Davis ended the main body of her talk with a reading from Bishop V. Gene Robinson's invocation given at the inauguration. Bishop Robinson is a gay Episcopal bishop and this invocation did not receive the media attention it should have. Among the many hopeful and progressive prayer petitions offered by Bishop Robinson, the one that seemed to touch Davis the most was the one which said, “Bless this nation with anger--anger at discrimination at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants; women; people of color; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”

During the question-and-answer period, Davis was able to go into further detail about her vision of how offenders and victims of crime can work together to stop crime and violence. Society should engage both victims and perpetrators in healing processes. She argued for a more elastic system of justice which does not commodify the experiences of victims and perpetrators into an equation which says that X amount of crime equals Y amount of time served in prison. She also got to argue for flexibility on the left, in our thinking and practice. Her fix for education rests on “starting all over again” with the system and “unhooking” some of things we find valuable in society from capitalism.

This was a good lecture and discussion and I will refer back to in future posts. This post is only a brief recap of some of the points Davis made last night. Davis has found relevant ways of explaining dialectics and consciousness without being overbearing or didactic. She has an excellent grasp of the contradictions present in society right now and a historical-materialist approach which she uses to show how these contradictions have developed and where they may lead. She is strongly anti-mechanistic and anti-dogmatic in her thinking. She is is weakest in suggesting alternatives and paths of struggle, explaining how and why white people do not have a vested interest in racism and articulating strategy. I was disappointed that she did not draw more on her own lived experience in her talk. Angela Davis still has her laugh, which I remember well from the 1970s.

A young woman sitting in front of me was wearing a hand-lettered tee-shirt with the message, “When was the last time you spent a day enjoying life?” That message seemed to capture the basic demand felt by the audience and Davis: struggle, reflect and enjoy life together!

February 21, 2009

Oregon Schools For The Deaf And Blind To Be Consolidated?

For many years now there have been cautious moves taken at the legislature towards consolidating the Oregon School for the Deaf and the Oregon School for the Blind. We have always seen the fingerprints of corrupt public officials and real estate interests on these hoped-for deals and the legislature has refused to go along. Now the State Board of Education has weighed in and voted for consolidation. If the deal goes through the "special schools" will share what is now the School for the Blind.

Susan Castillo, the allegedly liberal State Schools Superintendent and head of the Department of Education (ODE), is apparently on the same page as the State Board of Education. Legislation moving forward consolidates the schools and puts the money from the sale into a school trust fund.

Granted that the two schools together now serve less than 200 students and have rapidly increasing costs, but this hardly seems to be the point. Let's not confuse state policy, education policy and real estate deals which have the potential to drastically change downtown Salem. We're struggling with an economic crisis,but some people no doubt see an opportunity here to cut needed state services, develop real estate and make money in the process.

The schools serve special-needs kids with families who often sacrifice to place their kids in the schools. If the schools are not being run in an efficient manner, it is because administration and management at ODE is top-down, hierarchical and (no pun intended) old-school. A series of bad administrations at the School for the Deaf enriched themselves and managed for years without accountability to parents and staff. It is a slap in the face to students, parents and staff to now penalize them for past departmental mistakes. Castillo won her position with a promise to make positive changes, but this is one change we should live without. And who is on the State Board of Education now and who are they accountable to?

Who is going to buy a huge piece of real estate in Salem now and what will they do with it? Salem hardly needs more housing, more office space or more industrial space at this point given that we have so many shuttered businesses and homes in foreclosure. I suspect bad motives here precisely because it is such a bad time to try to sell or lease property of the kind the School for the Deaf is built on. If there is no buyer, the state is stuck with a burden and a problem which cannot be easily fixed or undone. Any buyer who does step up now is likely to have suspect interests and connections to agency, Board or political leaders.

This is a situation in which the needs of the students and their familes and the larger community are at odds with the needs of the state and the need for profits. The students will get more attention and better educations in separate facilities. The schools should be increasing their enrollments and giving the kids more individualized instruction and support, not consolidating.

The National Federation of the Blind has apparently voiced opposition to the deal. If they do intend to lead the fight, they will need support and numbers in the streets and at the legislature.

February 20, 2009

State Worker Union Contract Negotiations In Oregon

According to state economists, Oregon has $946 million less than expected to spend on state services and expenses. The bad news may well continue to the point that state revenues could drop by $762 million over the next biennium. The state budget will still grow over the next two years, but spending cuts in social services, consumer and worker protection, education, housing and community services and public safety have already been made and additional cuts are being discussed or made now. The state is $855 million behind the eight ball for the current biennium.

We have been forced on to a roller coaster driven by two wars, years of bad decisions by the Bush administration, a world economic collapse, a redistribution of wealth for the benefit of the wealthy, the privatization of many government services under conditions of capitalist globalization, the feeble response by liberals to the totality of the crisis hitting Oregon and the US and a slide downwards after a relatively stable economic period which was in itself a recovery from a relatively hard economic crunch. Oregon's economic diversity, our social safety net, fully-paid health care for state workers, relatively strong union contracts in key economic sectors, retiree migration from California and the state's participation in Pacific Rim economies helped serve as a buffer for awhile, but that buffer is now gone. Anyone expecting a kicker check or an economic upturn anytime soon has missed the train. Any time we lose over 10,000 jobs in this state in one month we're in real trouble. Our leading industries—-wood products and high tech—-took especially hard hits. Ironically, centralization in the high tech industry could not hold off the crisis. If Oregon's economy has had some built-in stability to it, it has also been a house of cards or a line of dominoes: cut real wages, force drastic increases in health care costs or allow mass home foreclosures and everything else begins to tumble.

The Democratic response has been to follow through with cuts in government services and spending while waiting for the stimulus package to kick in and to argue for some tax increases which they hope will eventually prevent additional cuts after June or mitigate the worst effects of these cuts. Few dedicated Democrats talk anymore about restoring the $142 million in cuts which were made in December. The Republic response has been to suggest tax cuts which benefit the wealthy and which provide less-than-modest tax relief for working families, reject the stimulus package and play groups off against one another for whatever is left. Racism, sexism and anti-immigrant sentiment figure strongly in their arguments. Probably no one believes that we have hit bottom yet and no one knows what it will look like when we do get there.

SEIU Local 503 represents most state workers and is now negotiating five of its largest or most important contracts with the state. The union could have lived with a situation in which the state built its budget on stimulus money, borrowing from emergency funds and reserve funds and the cuts made in December. Layoffs and furloughs would have followed, but the feeling has been that these could be managed and that an opportunity to regain lost ground by workers would eventually arise. An early offer in the main set of state union contract negotiations seemed likely to win worker approval because it kept fully-paid health care benefits for state workers at the expense of raises and possible furloughs. This was a significant backstep for the union to take. The state pulled the offer before the union could fully respond to it because the state negotiators have no direction from their bosses: such is the state's economic and political chaos. State worker union contract negotiations now seem to have gone into freefall.

The union's current stand is to say no to any new cuts, yes to maintaining key and vital services and to refuse to get dragged into the scramble for funding for some services and jobs at the expense of others. This last point is what gives the union's position a particularly progressive twist. The union position is that the Rainy Day and Educational Stability funds should be tapped and that any new cuts should be spread out over 24 months. Much emphasis is being placed on the struggle over how stimulus money and Medicaid funding will be apportioned and spent.

The Governor's new course-—and, presumably, the leading Democratic response to labor and people's demands-—has been to propose that 20% of the federal stimulus money coming in be used to close this biennium's budget shortfall, not to use Rainy Day and Education Stabilization funds during this biennium, cutting some state manager's salaries, freezing state worker salaries and furloughing teachers.

From a working class point of view, this response is untenable. Nothing in the Governor's program will help pull Oregon through the economic crisis and position us in a safe place if or when conditions improve. It does not question the impact of the wars on Oregon's economy and leaves in place a tax structure which benefits the wealthy. It provides no answers and no help to Oregon's most vulnerable citizens who will suffer the most from the cuts.

Politics And Race In Oregon

There is always a conversation about race taking place. This conversation may be in words or as a clash of symbols or may find its forms in more subtle manifestations of how we understand and express differences and solidarity. This conversation takes place in both conscious and unconscious ways, but it is always taking place. It is an inherently political conversation even when it lacks clearly defined or expressed politics.

There is an interview in the Eugene Weekly with Daniel HoSang, who is assistant professor of political science and ethnic studies at the UO and a 2008-2009 Wayne Morse Center Resident Scholar, which touches on these issues. HoSang has clearly done strong work in thinking about racism and the elections and how Oregon is impacted in the current political moment. It helps that he can contrast California with Oregon, provide the necessary historical perspective and put a finer edge on how we understand political involvement here.

To read the interview, go here.

February 19, 2009

Free Trade, Fair Trade And Oregon

The Oregon Fair Trade Campaign believes that the stimulus package is flawed because it contains weaker "buy American" language than what was originally proposed in the Senate version of the Bill. An article from OFTC is below.

Tim Mills takes another, but not contradictory, point of view in the Peoples Weekly World. You can read that article here.

Political Affairs magazine gives an overview of the stimulus package here.

The Northwest Labor Press editorial on the stimulus package is here. Don McIntosh goes through the package almost section by section and provides a realistic critique from a labor perspective common in Oregon. Labor is slowly and cautiously learning how to disagree with the new administration and advance alternate points of view. The specific character and content of these new labor approaches have yet to be fully defined.

Finally, an article at the Socialist Worker is premature in its criticism, regardless of how correct the facts or the prognosis in the article are. That article is here. It's well worth the read, even if its conclusions are flawed.

These issues come to the fore at a confusing political moment and it seems that things will only get more confusing over the coming months. Defining the sides in these debates and what are genuinely left and progressive points of view and contributions to the struggle is certainly becoming difficult. And DeFazio's logic and his vote on the stimulus package are resonating well beyond what he thought possible. Is it possible that he is using this issue as a springboard for a political campaign or movement that can win him another political office?

From OFTC:

Spending American taxpayer dollars to create American jobs and stimulate the American economy should be a no-brainer, especially when it comes to a stimulus package. Unfortunately, the brains in Washington, DC have flubbed even this one.

The concept behind "shopping locally" is pretty simple: wherever possible, money should be spent locally, so that it has a chance of circulating within the local economy, creating as much local good as possible. The same concept applies to federal procurement expenditures. Studies have estimated that adding "Buy America" preferences to publicly-funded infrastructure projects creates 33% more U.S. manufacturing jobs than buying supplies willy-nilly from the cheapest source anywhere in the world.

The economic stimulus package signed by the President this week contains weaker "Buy America" language than originally proposed in the Senate version of the bill. After considerable pressure from American business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and at the urging of the White House, language was added limiting procurement preferences under the stimulus package such that they be administered only in ways consistent with international trade obligations. Given that many trade agreements prohibit local procurement preferences, the "Buy America" preferences in the stimulus package, while by no means worthless, are much weaker than they could have been. That was a missed opportunity, to say the least.

During the "Buy America" debate, the Obama administration said its top priority was ensuring that the stimulus package was "consistent with trade agreements and doesn't signal a change in our overall stance on trade." That's funny, because in May 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama told the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign that he supported renegotiating trade agreements to allow for "Buy America" and "Buy Local" procurement policies. We got that pledge in writing. So which stance on trade has or hasn't changed again?

February 17, 2009

Come to Burger King at 803 Lancaster Dr. NE tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon

Come prepared to protest corporate greed, low wages the lack of affordable healthcare and corporate interference in the political process!

Workers and consumers will protest corporate greed at 802 Lancaster Drive, on Wednesday, February 18th. This is one of many actions at Burger King and Goldman Sachs locations across the country. While fast-food jobs are notorious for low pay and poor benefits, few consumers realize that Goldman Sachs is one of Burger King's largest owners. And even fewer realize that both Burger King and Goldman Sachs are costing taxpayers' billions of dollars while working against employees' freedom to choose to form a union.

SEIU released a new report, "King Size Combo: What Burger King and Goldman Sachs Are Costing Our Country," which shines a light on the economic damage the corporations do. The report notes that, in addition to bailout money for Goldman Sachs, taxpayers are paying over a quarter of a billion dollars a year to help make up for the Burger King's low pay and poor benefits.

While Burger King and its top owners like Goldman Sachs ask taxpayers to cover costs like worker health care, high CEO pay, and corporate bonuses, Burger King spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose measures that would improve conditions for employees--and major owner Goldman Sachs looks the other way.

Protestors in SALEM and across the country will send a clear message to regulators and lawmakers: We're tired of Burger King and Goldman Sachs having it their way at the expense of working families.

Show up and help send a message about corporate greed. Enough is enough!

Silverton Antiwar Vigil Set For Friday, Feb. 20

For Immediate Release
 
Keep the Oregon National Guard at home; don't deploy to Iraq" will be the main theme when Silverton People for Peace (SPFP) holds its monthly candlelight vigil Friday, Feb. 20, 6 p.m., Silverton Town Square Park, near the intersection of Water and Main Streets. There has been a growing movement in the Oregon State Legislature to keep the guard at home and a woman has been protesting 24 hours a day on the Oregon State Capitol steps since November protesting the deployment. To emphasize the serious of the cause, she recently started a hunger fast.
 
SPFP's  vigil is open to all area residents and signs appropriate to ending war and promoting peace are encouraged.
 
For more information on the vigil, call 503.873.5307.

Planning The Future Of Salem?

The City of Salem will take an estimated $5 million hit in our General Fund budget this coming fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2009. We have already had municipal layoffs, a hiring freeze and deep service cuts. Drive around Salem and see the damage done.

What is constantly at stake now are city services like clean water, police and fire protection, libraries, and parks. The revenues used to support the City's General Fund come mainly from property taxes, franchise fees and a share of State taxes and these are not meeting the city's needs. Working people carry most of these costs and burdens.

The City is asking for public input as more budget and service cuts are made. City Council and the City's Budget Committee will be considering our input at their March 9 meeting.

You can attend a meeting at:

Monday, February 16 at 7 PM, West Salem Roth's
Wednesday, February 18 at 6 PM, North Salem High School Auditorium
Saturday, February 21 at 10 AM, South Salem High School Library
Tuesday, February 24 at 6 PM, McKay High School Commons (Spanish speaking)

These meetings can easily turn into attempts to convince us that there are no alternatives to cuts in services. As people begin thinking along these lines we are easily led into arguing that the programs which do not directly benefit us should be cut. Such a lack of social solidarity works against everyone's interests in the long run.

We would not be in this position were there not on-going wars, a capitalist-created economic crisis and a tax system in place which taxed the wealthy fairly. Instead of managing this crisis for city officials or passively taking more hits, we should be demanding that they take positions against the wars and the crisis and for an equitable tax system. Planning the future of Salem should be a greater and more hands-on process than responding to crises in any case. The question of who owns this town and who determines where the money goes needs to be raised.

To see how people can win, go here.

February 15, 2009

The Stimulus Package And Oregon

The stimulus package has passed and Oregon's Department of Human Services analysts are now working to suggest changes to the Governor's recommended budget and save some threatened social service programs. President Obama had hoped to pass a package on his first day in office. It now seems remarkable that the package got through as quickly as it did, even with its compromises. An OCPP report here details what this may mean for Oregon.

The Republicans have maintained lock-step opposition to the administration. No Republicans voted for the stimulus package and seven Democrats, including Oregon's Congressman Peter DeFazio, also voted against it. DeFazio has frequently played to both sides when he was certain that a liberal majority could pass needed legislation. With the other Democrats, and with all of the Republicans, I suspect something like attempts at sabotage.

Republican opposition at this point borders on becoming a passive-aggressive refusal to cooperate at all. No Republican leadership has emerged since the loss for the right in November. If Gingrich does indeed return to leadership, it will be by default and not through consensus. If this marks a disaster for Republicans, it also gives a Democratic administration looking for a negotiating partner a major headache. I get the sense that the search for people to fill the empty Cabinet slots is also search for people who are either fundamentally conservative or who can cave when needed, the Solis nomination being the lone and principled exception. One can already hear Republicans bellowing about a lack of bipartisanship, whether or not the stimulus package works, or derailing it if it appears to be working or saying they told us so if it fails. The new administration should be looking leftwards in preparation for that day.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) are at the center of social services here in Oregon. TANF is really a modest program at this point and hardly qualifies as a welfare program; a look at the DHS TANF website here proves the point. When I last looked in November, about 428,000 people in Oregon were eligible for some sort of state medical assistance. At the same time, about 507,000 people in Oregon were using Food Stamps and about 22,000 families with children were in need of TANF cash assistance. Remember that this was in November and that conditions have only gotten worse for most people since then. Whatever the recommendations DHS will make in light of the stimulus package funds, the need for assistance will only deepen and the existing programs cannot meet these needs. Progressive forces should be pushing the legislature and the Governor to get the most money that we can for human services at the expense of the corporations and the military. Instead, we are seeing a lack of energy or an over-dependence on the new administration's programs or a lack of unity between social movements. Key union contract negotiations now taking place in Oregon are concessions-driven and are taking core forces away from social movements where they are needed. Economic and political pressures may be working to accomplish what the right has been unable to do since the historic protests in Seattle against globalization in 1999.

Oregon's right wing skips past the details of the crisis most people are experiencing here. As Frank Rich says, they have more of a set of talking points and less of a program. They posed no alternative to the stimulus package, and could only say that the market will eventually self-correct when faced with increasingly bad economic news. They took news of a small consumer revival last week as proof that the market is self-correcting, but a small consumer-driven rally hardly signals economic recovery. Their other lead issue seems to be the right to carry guns in public facilities and schools. They keep trying to jumpstart gun rights into a larger issue and use it to call into question Obama's entire program, which is just bizarre.

February 12, 2009

An Israeli Communist Speaks On Palestine, Zionism And The Elections

The Communist Party of Israel (CPI) and its front Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) were among the few political forces in Israel that confronted the massacre perpetrated by the Tzahal (IDF), the Israeli armed forces, in Gaza last January. Regrettably, the "major media" have not accurately represented the magnitude of the protest within the State of Israel against the war. The massive scale of the non-stop mobilization all over that Middle-Eastern country during those three weeks is shown by the huge demonstration of 130,000 in the city of Sakhnin, held at the initiative of the High Representative Committee of the Arab-Palestinian population in Israel, a week after the criminal offensive began; and the demonstration held in the city of Tel Aviv on another day, which drew 20,000 demonstrators, many of them carrying red flags.

Mundo Obrero, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Spain, interviewed Communist Party of Israel Secretary General Mohammed Nafa'h, a writer from the Druze village of Beit Jann, in order to acquaint the public with the positions of the Israeli communists. The interview was conducted in the party strongholds in the city of Haifa on the last day of January, thanks to the collaboration of Efraim Davidi.

The Communist Party of Israel celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. The party is one of the three organizations that trace their lineage to the Palestine Communist Party since the late 1940s, the other two being the Palestinian People's Party and the Jordanian Communist Party.

The CPI has a three-deputy parliamentary fraction in the Knesset Israeli parliament) and several mayors, including the mayor of Nazareth, where the CPI has governed for the last 32 years. It also has a significant presence among students and trade unionists.

In the last municipal elections in November, Communist MK Dov Khenin obtained 36% of the votes in the city of Tel Aviv, against the Labor mayor who received 51%. The CPI, Marxist-Leninist, is the only party in Israel in which Jews and Arabs are equally important members, and the party publishes the only daily Arabic-language communist newspaper in the Middle East, Al Ittihad (Unity), and a Hebrew weekly newspaper Zo Haderekh (The Path).

Mundo Obrero: Since the 28th of December, the Communist Party has called demonstrations around the country against the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip. What is the position of the Communist Party of Israel on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Mohammed Nafa'h:Since 1947, our party has advocated the position of "two states for two peoples" and supports the Palestinian people's right to self-determination. That is, the Palestinians' right to a free and sovereign state in the territories occupied by Israel in June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. We also demand the dismantlement of the Jewish settlements in the territories and the solution to the question of the Palestinian refugees in accordance with the UN resolutions.

MO: And on the situation in the West Bank and the "wall of shame"?

MN: Israel must withdraw to the ceasefire lines prior to the war of June 1967 and dismantle the wall, which we call in Hebrew and Arabic: the apartheid wall.

MO: How do you coordinate your activism against the assault on the Palestinian people, in this case in Gaza, with social, anti-war, and campus-based movements?

MN:First, we try to establish the broadest possible alliances, as it is clear that the Communists aren't the only ones opposed to the Israeli occupation. Second, we try to coordinate street protests with political consciousness raising and "practical" solidarity: sending clothes, food, and other humanitarian aids. The fact that more than 700 have been arrested in the demonstrations, from Nazareth and Haifa in the north to Be'er Sheva in the Negev desert, shows that many people have been moved to action by so much death and disaster. Finally, it means that we act in coordination with forces of the Palestinian Left. Traditionally, with the Palestinian Communists, but the day before the attack, knowing that its commencement was imminent, we got together in the city of Ramallah with the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the (Communist) People's Party in order to join forces. We held discussions with them again the day after the Israeli withdrawal.

MO: How would you explain, to foreigners, the fact that over 70% of the Israeli population support or justify the Israeli military attacks on Gaza that have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, 90% of whom were civilians according to some humanitarian organizations?

MN:Regrettably, a large part of the Israeli population has been deceived by the fallacious official propaganda that defined the colonial war in Gaza as an "act of self-defense." Censorship and self-censorship of the local media contributed to this. TV viewers in Israel did not see the dreadful scenes on their screens that people in Madrid or Barcelona saw night after night. Furthermore, Hamas's adventurist policy and its repeated provocations also contributed to turning the mostly poor civilian population of southern Israel into victims of missiles launched from Gaza. Many times, we have said that we support the struggle against the occupation, the political, mass struggle of the Palestinians, but we condemn attacks on the civilian population on either side of the border. Time and again, we have reiterated that there is no military solution to the Palestinian problem, the only solution is the end of the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. We have expressed this position before, during, and after the criminal attack perpetrated in January.

MO:In 2003, there was an attempt to assassinate the former secretary general, Issam Makhoul, by placing a bomb under his car, though miraculously his life was saved. Why did the perpetrators want to kill him? What is it like to live as the "enemies" of Zionist politics in the State of Israel?

MN:It is no secret that the democratic spaces in Israel are threatened by the government as well as extremist right-wing groups, officially "out of control," but everybody knows who is in charge of them. During the protests in recent weeks over 700 demonstrators were arrested, and some are still under detention until their trials. Right-wing groups attacked our events, causing injuries, while the police were "looking the other way." The war has unleashed a truly racist campaign against the Arab population under the leadership of the chauvinist party "Yisrael Beiteinu" (Israel Is Our Home) of the racist Avigdor "Yvette" Lieberman. In other words, there is a real danger that the Israeli society is advancing into the fascist direction, whose first victims will be the Arab-Palestinian national minority and the consistent left-wing sectors.

MO:Do you have contacts with Jewish communists living outside Israel and do they share your rejection of the Israeli policy of war against the Palestinian people?

MN:Our party does not claim to be "Jewish" or "Arab." Ours is a class-based party that makes no ethnic or religious distinctions. We have close ties with all pro-peace and progressive Jewish activists and organizations in Europe, Latin America, North America, and Australia. The Israeli leadership seek to galvanize the Jewish communities around the world into adopting their colonialist positions, but there are large Jewish sectors, organizations as well as individuals, that disagree with them and are even fighting against this colonialist policy. Not every Jew is a Zionist, neither in the rest of the world nor even in Israel.

MO:What relations do you have with the Communist Parties in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan?

MN:Our party has close relations and frequent contacts with Communist Parties and workers in the Middle East. Primarily with the Palestinian Communists, with whom we have closely collaborated since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, bringing all kinds of material and political support. Do not forget that supporting the Palestinian people's struggle for self-determination is an international duty of Israeli communists. We also maintain ties with the Tudeh Party of Iran, and last year we published a joint declaration of the Communists of the United States, Iran, and Israel warning that an attack on Iran would bring the region a tragedy of major consequences. The Communists of the Middle East get together at least once a year.

MO:What are the hidden objectives of the government behind the attack on Gaza and what relation does this show of force have with the next Israeli general elections in February?

MN:The Israeli government tried to deal a blow to Hamas, but what it did was to victimize all Palestinians in Gaza, particularly civilians. The objective is clear: to try to deepen the existing division--which is unfortunate-- among the major Palestinian factions to postpone the creation of an independent state. In the ruling Kadima and Labor parties there are those who believed that the colonial war would bring some political gains in the upcoming elections. But the only beneficiaries have been the racist, far-rightist parties.

MO:What are the main points of your program for the elections?

MN:When we began the parliamentary election campaign, once the municipal elections were finalized in November 2008, we thought that we could present a program that we would characterize as "against the current": against capitalism, against the occupation, against privatization, against globalization, and against racism, and for the rights of working men and women, for equality of the Arab population of Israel, for a healthy environment, for the rights of gays and lesbians. We called this program "a new socialist agenda for Israel." But with the criminal war and its terrible consequences in January, we had to abandon the plan and invest all our human resources, which are considerable, and all our material resources, which are meager, in the struggle against the war and its domestic consequences: particularly racism and fascism. Anyway, we make clear that capitalism engenders the occupation, oppression, and racism. Faced with the international capitalist crisis, which is hitting Israeli workers hard, the next government that gets elected won't last in power for long. Its fall will be due to the multiple crises that beset Israel: the crisis of the occupation, the capitalist crisis, the crisis of political leadership thanks to their bribes and kickbacks, and the ideological crisis of Zionism. All these situations will open up a new period of social and class struggles and new resistances to the occupation. Many young people look to the Communist Party and understand that we are marking a new path and presenting a real choice facing the crisis, the multiple crises. We are very much concerned about the present, but our commitment to the future is firm. This will be a future of peace and social justice.

The original interview "Entrevista a Mujammad Nafa'h, Secretario General del Partido Comunista de Israel" was published in the February 2009 issue of Mundo Obrero, a publication of the Communist Party of Spain.

February 11, 2009

Multnomah County Democrats to vote on Gaza resolution tomorrow

The Multnomah County Democratic Party is voting on a Gaza Ceasefire resolution Thursday, Feb. 12th at the Multnomah Democratic Central Committee meeting. See below for location and details.

A ceasefire resolution was introduced and passed the Platform committee by a vote of 3 to 0. It will now be voted on by the full Multnomah Democratic Party.

If you know any Precinct Committee people (PCPs)in Multnomah county that can come to support this resolution, please get them there. PCPs will be able to come before the microphone and present 45 seconds worth of pros!

The resolution language is below as well.

Event Start: 02/12/2009 - 7:00pm
Event End: 02/12/2009 - 9:00pm

Social hour at 6 PM
Meeting begins at 7 PM

Hollywood Senior Center
1820 NE 40th Ave., Portland

Group sponsoring event: Multnomah County Democrats
Location: Hollywood Senior Center
1820 NE 40th Ave
Portland, OR

Proposed Emergency Resolution
Introduced January 8, 2009
Updated January 15, 2009


Multnomah County Democrats call for immediate ceasefire in Gaza and return to negotiations.

Whereas attacks on civilian populations are illegal under international law;

Whereas collective punishment of civilian populations is illegal under international law;

Whereas both Israel and Hamas have recently launched attacks that threaten civilians;

Whereas Israel's attack on Gaza is killing and injuring large numbers of civilians including women and children;

Whereas Israel's 18 month siege of Gaza has created a humanitarian disaster which UN Special Rapporteur for human rights calls a "crime against humanity";

Whereas Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer has issued a call for a "Ceasefire and Engagement";

Whereas Israel refuses to let foreign media and human rights officials into Gaza to observe the situation;

Whereas Gaza's hospitals are overflowing with dead, dying, and wounded, the vast majority of whom are civilians;

Whereas Congressman Dennis Kucinich is calling for a report of possible Arms Export Control Act violations by Israel;

Whereas Israeli artists, musicians, writers, and others have called on the international community to stop the Israeli violence against Palestinians;

Whereas peace will never be achieved with overwhelming violence or occupation;

Be it resolved that:

The Multnomah County Democratic Party condemns all violence against civilians and calls on Democratic leaders and President-Elect Obama and his administration to demand:

an immediate ceasefire;
emergency and continuing humanitarian aid to those affected by violence;
unfettered access by United Nations personnel, international observers, humanitarian organizations, and the media;
opening of Gaza's borders subject to international monitoring for weapons;
investigation into Palestinian and Israeli violations of U.S. and international law;
immediate freeze of all shipments of arms pending an investigation into their involvement in violations of human rights;
and, engagement and negotiations without pre-conditions.

Submitted by

Peter Miller
Precinct 4041 Committeeperson

February 9, 2009

Debt Collection in Oregon

I went to bed one night last week to news that the economic crisis we're now in is the worst such crisis in the US since 1984. By lunch the next day that report was revised to 1972. I remember both of those disasters, and both were indeed quite hard, but this one seems more serious. I don't remember pensions being looted and 34 banks failing in 1972-1973. The 1984 crisis felt relatively localized and we could believe then that there was the ability and room for eventual economic growth. We believed then that government services were relatively secure and we had some faith in the courts restoring pension guarantees and rights.

With every economic crisis we see the same bad guys crawl out from under rocks. People go into the crisis with debt and debt burdens grow. At some point, then, there is a move towards debt collections, check cashing and car title loan rip-offs and buying debt.

Buying debt now seems like a bad idea and I think that it's unlikely that anyone will jump at the chance to make money off of debt in any big way as businesses close. WAMU sold my mortgage to a broker who clearly regrets the sale. A labor-church-citizen coalition effort in Oregon managed to drive most car title and payday loan businesses out of the market a few years ago--a great victory for the people. But debt collection remains a serious and increasing problem.

I argue that most or all working class debt should simply be forgiven, either outright by writing off debts or through graduated bailouts and tax write-offs for working class people. This will not happen soon and in the meantime we're stuck with collection agents harassing us.

Our Oregon is moving Senate Bill 328 and Senate Bill 386 which will help stop the most abusive debt collection practices if passed. This is good starting-place legislation. Read more about it here.

February 8, 2009

Anne Feeney Visits Salem

Three of us went to hear Anne Feeney play at Marc Nassar's house last night. Anne Feeney does folk-protest music, tells stories, leads trips to Ireland and seems to make it to picket lines and progressive events regularly. I have seen Anne play at many labor events and protests over the years but I feel as if I only saw her perform for the first time last night.

The small crowd at Marc Nassar's got to enjoy some of his excellent soups and great desserts before hearing Anne play in his living room. This almost-intimate atmosphere allowed people some small-group time with Anne and also allowed people the time and space to mingle. Anne had just come from the SEIU Local 503 steward conference and was probably tired from that. A few people in the room had attended the Peace Summit earlier or had been at union events during the day. Still and all, there was a high energy level in the room.

People attending last night seemed to come from the local labor movement, the peace and justice groups or from the folk music community. Anne pulled most of her music from her latest CD and some earlier releases or from the Little Red Songbook of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). She told some amusing anecdotes about her family and her travels which helped make her more for-real for us.

Anne's politics seem difficult to describe and are relevant here because her music is outstandingly political. She is clearly an Obama supporter, but she seems to have some sympathy with anarchism and the romantic myths of the IWW. She did not acknowledge any local projects or organizing, although she did refer to a great article in a recent issue of the People's Weekly World in a supportive way. Unfortunately, she also criticized the PWW.

Anne's visit and her music left me with a renewed sense of optimism and a stronger faith in the abilities of progressive artists to represent us and bring us together. She is a strong performer with great story-telling abilities. I am also left with many questions about the relevance and genuineness of traditional American radical folk music today.

I'm not sure what people in Oregon think about or how we can use songs about coal miners or the traditional labor anthems, heroic as they are. Those songs, after all, are specific to times and places which are foreign to most people here and they capture, at best, only small moments in working class life and experience. Bigger questions also come to mind: what is a folk song, how do we correctly understand and portray our working class experience today, what might forward-looking radical working class music sound like and who is best suited to transmit our classwide music and experience? I don't have answers to these questions, but they increasingly come to mind as I attend more post-November progressive events and spend more time with Latin American musicians and poets.

Our peña at Salem's Coffee House Cafe on Saturday, February 28 (135 Liberty St. NE--8:00-10:00 PM) will take us another step forward in answering these questions and bringing people from diverse backgrounds together.

February 7, 2009

The Oregon Peace Summit

Oregon PeaceWorks convened their third Oregon Peace Summit in Salem today. The event drew peace activists and the kindred hopeful believers from around Oregon. Peter Bergel of OPW led the gathering with strong support from OPW office staff, board members and volunteers. Several score of people attended.

The event opened with singing by Raging Grannies. Much of the day was spent taking about the Bring the Guard Home Campaign, which essentially attacks the legal means used by the government for troop deployment by challenging the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq and its application or relevance to the National Guard call-up. This campaign is headed up by Leah Bolger of Veterans for Peace. This is an impressive campaign currently being carried out in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Seven states---Oregon included---have introduced legislation originating in the campaign.

By the end of March Oregon may be sending about 3000 National Guard troops to Iraq, taking this huge force of people out when they may be needed during the skiing and fire seasons and at a time when Oregon is experiencing an explosive economic crisis. Many Guardsmen have already served in Iraq once or twice. The Guard troops may get sent because the US military forces were cut back and their work contracted out under Bush. The hope is that the campaign will be successful in moving HB 2556 and resolutions HR 4 and SR 1 forward through the legislature quickly and that the issue will then move into the courts. Even if all of this occurs as deployment is taking place, or soon afterwards, a victory in Oregon for the campaign will help other states. This effort is becoming a movement that can help push Democrats and President Obama forward in withdrawing the troops. Immediate calls to our legislators are needed now.

The March 15 antiwar rally scheduled in Salem was also discussed but took up surprisingly little agenda time. No posters or leaflets were available today.

I sat in on a break-out group dealing with prioritizing budget issues. We discussed relations between the antiwar movement, labor and churches. At the center of unity between these groups is Jobs with Justice if people use existing structures and have the willingness to push past the ways in which we have compartmentalized our separate struggles. We discussed in our small group the problems, questions and possibilities inherent in building a mass movement for change. We did not reach any firm conclusions or agreement, but having the conversation in that setting was quite helpful.

Much of the rest of the day was spent discussing the Peace, Justice & Environment Project and the opportunities and problems which may come with that. In another breakout group that I attended we had a spirited argument over whether or not antiwar and justice forces should organize, what organizing looks like and who ultimately owns movements for change. In the report-backs at the end of the summit very little attention was paid to these kinds of hard and pressing questions, but it was also clear that the antiwar movement in Oregon is trying novel approaches at the local level and that there is room for still more innovation.

February 6, 2009

10th Anniversary of Amadou Diallo Murder

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the police murder of Amadou Diallo. The story is well known: Diallo, innocent of any crime, was simply standing in the doorway to his apartment building, holding a bag of fast food in one hand, keys in the other. Officers saw Diallo and "mistook" him for a rape suspect, and before Amadou had any time to react, he was killed in hail of 41 gunshots. The then mayor Rudolph Giuliani launched a shockingly racist campaign to smear Diallo's memory as part of a campaign to defend the murderous officers, who got off scott free. More here.

A Communist Looks At A New Era

Speech at Peoples Weekly World event in Cleveland, Ohio (1/31/2009)

A New Era Begins
Sam Webb, National Chair, CPUSA,

I was standing on the Washington Mall on Inauguration Day, alongside nearly two million other people on Inauguration Day, and proudly watched the first African American take the oath of office in our nation's history. That alone made the day deeply memorable, joyful, and historic. But I couldn't help but think – and I'm sure that millions of others had the same thought – that the transfer of power from Bush to President Obama not only tore down a barrier that once was thought near impenetrable, but also signified the fading away of one era and the beginning of another.

It was hard not to think on that cold day in our nation's capital that the worst of the past 30 years of right wing extremist rule is behind us and that an era of progressive change is within reach, no longer an idle dream.

Just look at the new lay of the land: a friend of labor and its allies sits in the White House. Larger Democratic majorities control Congress. A feeling of renewal and hope is in the air. Public opinion polls show a high favorability rating for our new President. And the labor and people's movement that was so instrumental to the election's outcome, after a short holiday pause, is off and running.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party, notwithstanding its efforts to distance itself from arguably the worst president in our history, is on the defensive. Its grassroots constituency is dispirited. And, its governing philosophy of free markets, minimal government, fear, and division, and especially racist division, is discredited.

Now no one expects that the going will be easy in the coming months and years. There is, after all, eight years of extreme right-wing misrule to clean up. The multinational corporations and banks haven't gone into hibernation. Right-wing Republicans, while badly weakened, still retain enough influence in Congress and elsewhere to block or slow down progressive measures. And the challenges facing the Obama administration are immense, and none more than the economic crisis.

If there were such a thing as an economic tsunami, I would say we are experiencing it. Not since the Great Depression has the economy been in such bad shape, which leads many economists to predict that the downturn will be L-shaped, that is, deep and prolonged.

Furthermore, the economic contraction is worldwide. No country or region will escape its pain and long reach. Nor can any national economy, ours included, hope to make a full recovery without global coordination and cooperation. In an integrated global economy, we either swim together or sink together.

Financialization – two-edged sword
While the present economic turbulence was triggered by the collapse of the housing markets over the past two years, its underlying cause goes back to the mid-1970s.

At that time U.S. economy was rocked to its core by the interweaving of seemingly stubborn and contradictory economic problems – high inflation and unemployment, declining confidence in the dollar as a means of international payment, new competitive rivals in Europe and Asia, and a falling profit rate, all of which occurred in the context of overproduction in world commodity markets. Stagflation was the term coined to describe this contradictory phenomenon.

Faced with this unraveling of the economy and a crisis of profitability, then-chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker stepped into the breech and pushed up interest rates to near 20 per cent. This spike in interest rates threw the country into a deep recession, sending unemployment rates to the highest level since the Great Depression, forcing the closing of scores of manufacturing plants and a great number of family farms, laying waste to cities and whole regions, and bringing incredible hardship to the working class, and especially African-American, Latino and other racial minorities and women workers.

The rate hike also opened the door for a many-sided attack on labor and its allies, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the pre-Depression era. Wage and benefit concessions were demanded. New labor saving techniques and computerization invaded the workplace. Rules governing seniority, job classifications, line speed, and safety were either eliminated or routinely violated. And, the relocation of production to non-union and offshore sites became standard fare.

If we thought this was only done to dramatically increase the corporate share of the value that workers create in the production process relative to what they receive, we would be wrong. It was also motivated by the overarching desire of corporate capital to cripple the social power of the labor movement and disrupt its alliance with its most durable and powerful ally-the African American people.

Now we can't leave it at this, because, in addition to the working class and its allies taking a pounding, there is another side to this intricate story–Volcker's interest rate spike also wrung inflation out of the economy, restored confidence in the dollar in international money markets, and, especially important to us, redirected domestic and foreign investment capital (and there was plenty of it), abruptly and massively from the "real" economy–auto, steel, machine tool, construction, and so on–into financial channels and speculative ventures where returns were markedly higher.

Once in financial channels, money/speculative capital stayed there, but it did not sit on its hands. Its financial agents (banks, investment houses, hedge funds, private equity firms, mutual funds, and so on) intent on expanding their profits in an increasingly toothless regulatory environment raced at breakneck speed into a massive buying and selling and borrowing and spending speculative spree for the next three decades. And all this led to an explosion of the financial sector in terms of employment, transactions, and profits. Nearly 40 per cent of corporate profits came from this sector in the early years of this decade – not to mention the salaries, bonuses, stock options, and dividends of Wall St. insiders.

Capital that produces little, destroys much
If this transformation of the U.S. economy into a speculative casino run by the "masters of the universe," hunkered down on Wall St., has its roots in the unraveling of the U.S. economy three decades ago, what greased the skids during this period was the production and easy availability, seemingly without end, of staggering amounts of debt — corporate, consumer and government.

Debt is as old as capitalism. But what is different in recent decades is that the production of debt and the accompanying speculative excesses and bubbles were not simply passing moments at the end of the business cycle, but essential to evolution, interrelations, and functioning of the overall economy.

Without the massive piling up of debt and speculative bubbles first in internet technology, then in the stock market, and most recently, in housing, engineered by the Wall St/Washington complex, the performance of the U.S. and world economy would have been far, far worse.

But, as we are painfully learning, turning our economy into a financial casino built on the pileup of massive amounts of debt and bubbles that eventually burst is a two-edged sword. While it stimulates the economy, restores profitability and enriches the corporate class on a scale never seen, it also introduces enormous instability, economic insecurity, income inequality, and imbalances and distortions into the arteries and structure of the U.S. and world economy.

In other words, the growth of the financial sector and bubble driven economics were an unstable, bloodsucking, leech-like, and temporary fix for a sluggish, underperforming economy and the vechile for the financial titans of U.S. capitalism to reassert their power.

But as events have shown–it could not forever mask and compensate for stagnation tendencies, declining income of working people, and the shrinkage of the material goods sector of the economy. In fact, its remedy of rerouting capital into finance and turning the financial sector and speculation into the main dynamo of the U.S. and global economy only served to postpone the crisis to a later day and, in doing so, assured that it would be on a much broader scale as we now see.

A Wal-Mart economy of low wages, even when combined with financial speculation and massive debt creation is unsustainable and eventually erupts into crisis. At some point, the chickens do come home to roost..

None of this, however, could have happened without the political ascendancy of the right wing extremism 30 years ago. If Volcker struck the first blow in 1979, it was the Reagan administration, entering the White House shortly thereafter, and then successive administrations that were the decisive ideological and political/ practical agent of this reorientation of the economy, upheaval in class relations, and current economic mess.

Reaganites – main agents of neoliberalism
At the ideological level, the Reaganites said that government is best that governs least, that markets are self-correcting and efficient; that vast income inequality is a good thing, that deregulation and privatization are the best cures for what ails economy and the "welfare state," and that tax cuts for the wealthy trickle down to working people and lift all boats.

But the Reaganites didn't stop here. At the political-economic level, they dismantled the model of economic governance at the state and corporate level, a model that had its origins in the New Deal and then was expanded on by successive administrations in the next three decades. It rested on a measure of class compromise, social benefits for the unemployed, the elderly, the young and the sick, a legal environment favorable to union organizing, the removal of discriminatory barriers to equality, the expansion of democratic rights, and expansive fiscal and monetary polices at the federal level that favored broadly shared prosperity.

In its place, the Reaganites built another model of governance popularly called neoliberalism. If Roosevelt's New Deal favored working people then Reagan's Raw Deal stripped working people of income and rights, turned racism and other forms of discrimination into an instrument of practical politics and ideological mystification, and provided a feast of riches to the wealthiest corporations and families.

It was no accident that the first actions of the Reagan administration were to bust PATCO, endorse the interest rate hikes of Volcker, and cut taxes for the wealthiest families and corporations. This two bit actor turned the agencies of government that were established to protect labor, civil, and other rights into attack dogs against these very same rights.

This new model of political governance, popularly called neoliberalism, combined with an increased readiness to project military power globally, was designed to strengthen in a qualitative way the position of U.S. capitalism at home and abroad. But, as is said, the best laid plans of mice and men often come to naught, at least in the long run.

If I could sum up before moving on, the present economic crisis cannot be simply laid on the doorstep of the sub-prime leading crisis. Instead it was the result of the interweaving of a short-term cyclical crisis of the economy, especially in housing, with a longer term crisis of overproduction (too many commodities and too little purchasing power) and over accumulation (too much surplus value and too few ways to absorb it profitably), and the political ascendancy of the extreme right, dating back three decades.

It may go without saying, but the crisis in its short and long term form were driven by the system's built-in objective of amassing maximum corporate profits and power through wage exploitation (the process by which a sizeable portion of the values that workers create in the labor process are appropriated by the capitalist class) and the dispossession (usually coerced) of people's collective possessions (for example, social security) and rights, domestically and internationally.

A new New Deal
Given this situation, the Obama administration faces daunting challenges. Nevertheless, the new President, in my view, is off to a quick start. In less than two weeks he has:

* Issued an order to close Guantanamo prison and end torture-a practice that stains our image, violates our constitution, and endangers our troops in the field.

* Signed the Lilly Ledbetter bill that would give much greater scope to workers' discrimination claims as well as a bill that would extend health care to millions of children.

* Released funds to clinics that serve women heath care needs in the developing countries.

* Expressed support for higher fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles-something the UAW also supports.

* Opened up a greatly needed dialogue with the Muslim and Arab world.

* Dispatched George Mitchell to the Middle East in hopes of mediating the Palestinian- Israeli conflict - a conflict that cannot be solved by military means, but only by negotiation between the Israeli government and the representatives of the Palestinian people with aim of establishing an independent and viable Palestinian state and the right of both states live peacefully and within secure borders.

* The President met with military generals to map out a withdrawal plan for Iraq.

Of course, the Obama administration's immediate challenge will be to revive the economy. And the overarching question is: from where will the economic recovery come from in the near term? The only answer is: thru the massive injections of money from the federal government into the economy, into the hands of people who will spend it. Lagging demand for goods and services is the problem.

In this regard, the President's stimulus bill passed this week in the House should be welcomed and supported. Despite what Republicans say, it is a good bill that will ease the pain of this crisis, create jobs, and begin to reflate the economy. Some economists, like Paul Krugman, say that it isn't enough, that a trillion dollars plus and additional infrastructure spending would be better. I would agree with Krugman, but I also see the current bill as a first installment of the administration's recovery plan. In fact, Krugman may have the economics right, but the politics wrong.

President Obama in my opinion would make a mistake if he proceeded like a bull in a china shop. He's the president of the country, not an oped writer for the NYT, and thus has a different set of considerations and pressures. On the other hand, if the President agrees to too many concession demands from the Republican side it will water down the bill's stimulus potential and come back to bite him later on.

I would further add that even if Obama had introduced and passed a bigger stimulus package, there is no guarantee that a full-blooded and sustained recovery of the economy will follow. According to conventional wisdom and mainstream economists, high growth rates, near full employment, and healthy profit rates are the normal condition of a capitalist economy. Departures from this norm, it is said, are only passing moments during which capitalism removes barriers to future growth and creates the conditions for a new expansion that surpasses old peaks in production, employment and profits.

There is considerable evidence to question this view. Indeed, one has to wonder what the long-run prospects of U.S. and world capitalism are. Was the "golden age" of U.S. capitalism from 1945-1973, during which economic growth rates, investment levels and living standards steadily increased, the norm or the exception to the norm? Will the last thirty years of sluggish and lopsided growth continue, but at a significantly lower level?

If U.S. capitalism is entering a period of long-term stagnation then the economic recovery plan must include not only a sizeable and sustained economic stimulus, but also far-reaching political and economic reforms in order to restructure the economy along new lines. One without the other is not enough. Both economic stimulus and political-economic restructuring are necessary if U.S. economy is to have any chance of resuming a developmental growth path that is robust, sustainable (in a double sense – economically and environmentally) and favors the interests of the working class and its allies.

If this is the case, the Obama administration and the broad coalition that supports him will almost inevitably have to consider - and they already are - the following measures:

* Public ownership of the financial system and the elimination of the shadow banking system and exotic derivatives.

* Public control of the Federal Reserve Bank.

* Counter-crisis spending of a bigger size and scope to invigorate and sustain a full recovery and meet human needs – something that the New Deal never accomplished.

* Strengthening of union rights in order to rebalance the power between labor and capital in the economic and political arenas.

* Trade agreements that have at their core the protection and advancement of international working class interests.

* Equality in conditions of life for racially minorities and women.

* Democratic public takeover of the energy complex as well as a readiness to consider the takeover of other basic industries whose future is problematic in private hands.

* Turning education, childcare, and healthcare into "no profit" zones.

* Rerouting investment capital from unproductive investment (military, finance and so forth) to productive investment in a green economy and public infrastructure.

* Changing direction of our nation's foreign policy toward cooperation, disarmament, and diplomacy. We can't have threats, guns and military occupations on the one hand and butter, democracy, goodwill, and peace on the other.

* Full scale assault on global warming.

* Serious and sustained commitment to assisting the developing countries that are locked in poverty and misery.

New model of economic governance needed
Or to approach the same issue in another way: Will the political-economic reforms be modest, or will they be radical in nature, and when taken together, constitute a new model of political-economic governance at the state and corporate level – a new New Deal? By that I mean a reconfiguring of the role and functions of government and corporations so that they favor working people, the racially and nationally oppressed, women, youth, seniors, small business people and other social groupings.

Such a model would draw from the New Deal experience, but in the end it has to be shaped by today's conditions and requirements for political and economic advance for the broadest sections of the American people as well as people across the globe.

The new model of governance wouldn't be socialist, but it would challenge corporate power, profits and prerogatives.

Depression conditions prompted President Franklin Roosevelt and his advisers—albeit with a mighty assist from a powerful all-people's coalition led by the industrial unions and the multiracial working class — to reconfigure the role and functions of the state to the advantage of the ordinary people. This reconfiguration wasn't easy or done in a day.

Indeed, it was a hard fought struggle that combined unity of the Roosevelt-led coalition at every turn, mass mobilization, and a good dose of experimentation. The broad people's movement would do well to study the New Deal experience, not in a mechanical way, but with an eye to gaining insights for today's struggles and challenges.

New casting of political actors
In the meantime, we have some immediate struggles on our hands But the good news is that the broad movement that elected President Obama and larger majorities in the Congress is up and running.

This movement, or if you like, this loose coalition in which labor plays a larger and larger leadership role, can exercise an enormous influence on the political process. Never before has a coalition with such breadth walked on the political stage of our country. It is far larger than the coalition that entered the election process a year ago; it is larger still than the coalition that came out of the Democratic Party convention in August.

The task of labor and its allies is to provide energy and leadership to this wide-ranging coalition. Yes, we can bring issues and positions into the political process that go beyond the initiatives of the Obama administration. But we should do this within the framework of the main task of supporting Obama's program of action.

We can disagree with the Obama administration without being disagreeable. Our tone should be respectful. We now have not simply a friend, but a people's advocate in the White House.

When the administration and Congress take positive initiatives, they should be wholeheartedly supported and welcomed. Nor should anyone think that everything will be done in 100 days. After all, main elements of the New Deal were codified into law in 1935, 1936 and 1937.

Of course, change won't be easy. Powerful sections of big capital (energy, military, health care, pharmaceutical, financial and others), will resist going over to a new and robust growth path, resting on green industry, jobs and technology, on military conversion to peacetime production, on rising living standards and rights for working people, and on racial and gender equality?

That said, the opportunities for working class and people's gains are extraordinary. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Starring us in the face are some immediate challenges.

First, we have to support the passage of the President's stimulus bill in the Senate.

Second, we have to bloc any Republican efforts to derail the nomination of Hilda Solis, the nominee for the Secretary of Labor. This is the first round in the battle to pass the EFCA. Some may think this is a struggle of only the labor movement. But nothing could be further from the truth. A bigger labor movement in this country would strengthen the struggle on every front. No one expressed this point better than Martin Luther King toward the end of his life.

Third, we have to join others in resisting evictions and foreclosures–not to mention cutbacks and layoffs at the state and city level.

Fourth, the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan have to be brought to a close. As former President Lyndon Johnson realized too late, wars of occupation (in this case Vietnam) can quickly ruin a presidency that has great promise.

Well, you probably have other and probably better ideas.

In any case, we have our work cut out for us. But I think we can confidently say that change is coming. And we will build a more perfect union.

Yes We Can

February 4, 2009

The Peak Oil "Movement:" A Socialist Perspective

For those who are unfamiliar with peak oil theory, it goes something like this: World oil production is nearing (or has already reached) its peak and will soon (or has already) begin to decline, setting off death, destruction and the end of civilization. No one here at Willamette Reds is qualified to assess the validity of a scientific theory and of course no sane person would argue that the world's oil supplies are infinite. The issue I want to address here is not whether or when the world will face a serious energy crisis, but the character of the movement which has sprung up around peak oil.

One of the self-proclaimed gurus of this movement is Matthew Savinar, a California lawyer who runs the turgidly named lifeaftertheoilcrash.net, which allegedly averages 15,000 hits per day. The first words which greet visitors are "Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon," followed by a lengthy article that explains peak oil theory and the inevitability of the complete collapse of our civilization; no matter what we do, Savinar tells us, we are doomed; "collective action is useless." The website also helpfully provides a "Preparedness Store" and a book store, as well as numerous prominently placed advertisements for "recommended gear." Savinar's website seems perfectly crafted to cash in on visitors' nearly inevitable panic upon hearing Savinar's doomsday interpretation of peak oil theory; understandable given that Savinar himself admits that he cares nothing for "trying to save the world." For Savinar and other like-minded survivalists such as those at oildecline.com, peak oil is not so much a global issue urgently needing to be addressed as it is a combination of personal obsession and money-making tool; Savinar even set up a "peak oil simulation" at secondlife.com.

Make no mistake; the energy crisis is real. Any effort to draw attention to this issue is commendable. However, the position advocated by survivalists like Savinar is wholly inappropriate. Like it or not, everyone in the world is facing this energy crisis together. We will never arrive at any kind of solution by resorting to ever more extreme forms of individualism. Indeed, despite what the peak oil survivalists would have us believe, history has demonstrated the utility of groups of people working together for a common end. This was as true in the pre-industrial Classical, Medieval and Early Modern periods as it is today. Now is not the time for more individualism. The need for organized action has never been greater.

February 2, 2009

Feminism, socialism and development in the 21st century


"True socialism is feminist," and is already being built, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, standing next to three other South American presidents, all of them men, at a dialogue that took place Thursday at the World Social Forum (WSF).

"A new world is being born. Utopia is here in South America," continued Chávez, in a speech in which he repeatedly mentioned Fidel Castro as the precursor of the wave of leftwing presidents elected in the region in the past few years, and of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). Read more here.

February 1, 2009

Getting Communist History Right

The CPUSA magazine Political Affairs in the article "The Role of Predator Drones in Obama’s Foreign Policy" has, I will assume by mistake, made mention of the "invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets" whilst criticizing the CIA's use of the Predator UCAV (Unmanned Comabt Aerial Vehicle) in Pakistan. The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan can only be called an "invasion" by the greatest stretch of the imagination, and should in no way be conflated with CIA terror bombings. In fact, the CIA had already been engaged in destabilizing Afghanistan’s legitimate government through the training, funding and arming of Islamic extremists for several years before the Soviet intervention. It was the Afghan government’s repeated pleas for military aid from Moscow, aid which the Soviets were reluctant to grant, which sparked the “invasion.” The leftist military government of Afghanistan, the government which the USSR was defending, was engaged in such nefarious programs as land reform and literacy campaigns, as well as attempting to eradicate opium poppy production by lifting farmers out of the grinding poverty which characterized their lot under the old monarchy. This government wasn’t perfect, but it was a far cry from the CIA-produced monstrosity that replaced it. To reiterate: the USSR was repeatedly asked to intervene in Afghanistan by the legitimate government of that country against a CIA directed terror campaign.

There is nothing wrong with noting the crimes and abuses of the Soviet Union in Party publications where appropriate, as it discourages dogmatism and encourages a realistic view of our shared history as communists. However our view of the history of communism, especially our view of the USSR, should be just that: realistic. The bourgeois version of history is one of the primary weapons used against the communist movement by the ruling class. We communists have a responsibility to get our history right.