April 15, 2009

Tea Party? You Call THAT A Tea Party?

The right-wing mobilized nationally today by calling demonstrations with an anti-government tea party theme. These protests were designed to appear as grassroots events with populist messaging aimed at attacking the Obama administration, the bailouts, people who want or expect government to do more in times of crises and the left and center. The decentralized nature of the protests and their well-funded coordination and staging didn't work as many of the events appeared as incoherent tirades by marginal groups. Media coverage was a mixed bag.

True enough, the right was able to pull out more people than, say, have attended recent antiwar rallies in many locations. They did this by appropriating populist rhetoric and by attempting to appear as non-partisan as possible. This strategy no doubt alienated sections of their base and gave liberals an easy target. Their rallying point calling for an end to taxation without representation, for instance, deliberately forgot the Bush and Reagen years and ignored the recent and promised tax cuts while speaking volumes about right wing paranoia.

These were not spontaneous demonstrations moved at the grassroots. These were not populist events putting forward popular demands. The right wing is incapable of leading and mobilizing in these ways and has no unified program or message.

These were well-funded attacks on the political center that used red-baiting and conveyed not-so-subtle racist and political threats. They were as much an attempt to intimidate progressives, people of color, gays and others as they were an opportunity for right wing extremists to blow off steam and deal with the depression they have been living with since November. These extremists generally looked like fools when all was said and done today, but this lack of coherence may fuel and deepen right wing frustration and make it more volatile. We now have some idea of this movement's weak points, but we also should have an enhanced sense of the considerable danger that it represents.

The right wing is threatening revolution with these tea parties. The shrill voices of Victoria Taft and Lars Larson echo in the air over an audience of thousands, some carrying pitchforks, with messages of hate. The left and progressive forces can win some of these people over and the new administration can neutralize some of the more dramatic extremism with a truly populist program that works in the short run, but the far right will ramp up their actions until a united and effective response arises from the left and is taken up by all progressives. The people the right wing blamed today--immigrants, gays, women, union members and others--are most likely to be their first victims if they gain momentum.

We can best fight this danger with conscious anti-fascist organizing and by building unity between the groups targeted by these tea parties. Unity and an offensive organizing strategy from the left are needed now--not just in reaction to today's events, but in order to take to new levels the work being done by the left, labor, gays, women, people of color, immigrants and other forces of good will. The right will gain momentum if unity and progress on the left stalls.

May Day 2009 will be a real test for all of us. A fight-the-right-get-into-the-streets message should be made part of every public event between now and May 1.

Benji Lewis Support Events in Albany & Corvallis

Albany--Benji Lewis speaks on Resistance on Thursday, April 30 at noon at Linn-Benton Community College. This is sponsored by Veterans for Peace #132 and you can get more info at www.couragetoresist.org/benji

Benji Lewis speaks about his decision to resist reactivation and deployment to Iraq as part of the "We Can Say No" campaign.

Corvallis--On Sunday, May 17, 2009 through May 17 there will be a benefit concert for war resister Benji Lewis at 7:30 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis, 2945 NW Circle Blvd. in Corvallis. Tickets are $12 in advance (locations to be announced soon), $15 at the door. E-mail rock4thecause@gmail.com and www.emmasrevolution.com for more info. Sponsors are Veterans for Peace #132.

April 14, 2009

2009 May Day Events In Salem and Portland

(NOTE:  for 2011 events, see this post.)

May Full Mobilization--Portland
May Day 2009 - March and Rally for Immigrant and Workers’ Rights: Economic Justice for All!
Friday, May 1st, South Park Blocks, SW Salmon and SW Park
1pm – Posters and Party, 4pm – Speakers and Entertainment, 5pm

May Day Rally and March for Comprehensive Immigration Reform--Salem
Friday, May 1st, 11am, 900 Court St. NE, Salem, Oregon
On Friday May 1st, thousands of Latinas and Latinos and our allies will march and rally at the Oregon State Capitol to call attention to our plight for a just immigration reform that will bring millions of immigrants out of the shadows. For more information call CAUSA at 503-269-5694.

Stonewall to Prop 8: The Fight for LGBT Liberation with Sherry Wolf

Stonewall to Prop 8: The Fight for LGBT Liberation with Sherry Wolf
Thursday, April 16th, 7:15pm. PSU Smith Student Union Room 101

Late last year, Sherry Wolf wrote “On the eve of 2009, it is impossible to speak of a national gay liberation movement, as that would entail active groups of people mobilizing at the grassroots to achieve common aims. There has not been a national march on Washington to demand civil rights, to say nothing of liberation, since 1993. The vibrant twenty-fifth anniversary march commemorating the 1969 Stonewall rebellion in New York City the following year drew an estimated one million people, but these actions were not used by mainstream gay organizations with money and powerful connections to build grassroots movements as a means of winning concrete gains.”

On the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, what is the state of the LGBT rights movement? What is LGBT liberation in the era of Obama? Where does homophobia come from and how can we end it once and for all? Join the International Socialist Organization, Haymarket Books, and Sherry Wolf for a lively discussion of the key questions of the political period.

NW Tour Sponsored by Haymarket Books and the International Socialist Organization

Endorsed by Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (SMYRC) Portland, OR., Bitch Magazine, Jobs with Justice Portland, PSU Queer Resource Center, Queer Ally Coalition, 4 Women Events LLC, Democracy Insurgent at UW, Campus Anti-War Network at UW, Amnesty International at UW.

Wolf is the author of the forthcoming Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of Gay Liberation(Haymarket Books, 2009). Wolf is an associate editor of the International Socialist Review and has written for Alternet, Znet, Counterpunch, DissidentVoice, MrZine, New Politics, Socialist Worker, and many other progressive publications and Web sites. She is a popular public speaker on campuses nationwide and has appeared on radio shows from Pacifica’s Democracy Now! to NPR-affiliate KALW’s Your Call. Wolf is a long-time social justice activist since her student days in the anti-apartheid campus divestment movement through to today’s struggle for equal marriage rights.

Oregon Unemployment Rate Ties Record High in 60+ Years

Calculated Risk says:

Oregon's unemployment rate is at the peak level of the 1982 recession - the highest since record keeping started in 1947. The unemployment rate is increasing rapidly, and the rate of increase appears to be accelerating.

Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 12.1 percent in March from 10.7 percent (as revised) in February. The state’s unemployment rate has risen rapidly and substantially over the past nine months, from a rate of 5.9 percent in June 2008.
...
Manufacturing shed 2,100 jobs in March, during a time of year when a flat employment pattern is typical. Employment stood at 171,600 in March, which was by far the lowest employment level since comparable records began in 1990.
...
Construction losses steepened, dropping 1,700 jobs at a time of year when a gain of 700 was the expected normal seasonal movement. The rate of seasonally adjusted losses in construction has quickened, as the industry is down 12,600 jobs or 13.6 percent over the past six months.

Seasonally adjusted construction employment, at 80,000, is now below its level of approximately 83,000 jobs seen during much of 1997 through 2000. Despite a drop of more than 25,000 jobs since reaching its peak in 2007, construction is still slightly above its low point over the past dozen years—75,500, which was reached in June 2003.
...
Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 12.1 percent from 10.7 percent in February. This tied Oregon’s unemployment rate in November 1982, the highpoint of the early 1980s recession. While historical records prior to 1976 are not exactly comparable, it appears clear that the 12.1 percent level is Oregon’s highest since 1947, when the Employment Department first started publishing unemployment rates.

April 13, 2009

Oregon Union Retirees: New ORARA Address & News On Medicare Advantage Subsidies

Below is the new mailing address for the Oregon Alliance for Retired Americans:

ORARA
PO Box 86249
Portland, OR 97286

And from the ORARA newsletter:

***********************************************************************
INSURANCE COMPANIES' MEDICARE ADVANTAGE SUBSIDIES BEGIN TO DISAPPEAR
***********************************************************************
The Obama administration's plan to rein in private Medicare drug plans began on Monday, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced cuts in payments for private Medicare Advantage plans in 2010. The Wall Street Journal
reports that reimbursements to private insurers that administer Medicare Advantage plans would fall by 4% or more next year. About 10 million Medicare beneficiaries use the Medicare Advantage plan, and their health care costs the government an
average of 12-19% more than other Medicare beneficiaries. President Obama proposes to use the savings from this move for health care reform, including Medicare reforms. Alliance President Barbara Easterling said, "President Obama is already
producing results on his promise to make health care affordable. The Alliance applauds this step and is ready to help the administration reach the ultimate goal of universal health care for all."

Can Marxism Explain The Financial Crisis?

From The Socialist Worker:

While mainstream economists and policymakers are reeling, Marxists have been vindicated in their prediction that a host of problems in the system--overproduction, declining rates of profit, class inequality and speculative bubbles--would inevitably produce a serious global recession.

The independent Marxist journal Monthly Review has been tracking the development of the crisis through a series of articles over the last several years. John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff have collected these together in a new book, The Great Financial Crisis, that attempts to explain the roots, nature and trajectory of the crisis.

Read more here.

Are Our Oregon Tax Dollars Supporting Sweatshops? Events In Portland And Ashland This Week

Are Our Tax Dollars Supporting Sweatshops?

Wednesday, April 15 * 11:30 am
Portland's Main Post Office
715 NW Hoyt St * Portland, OR


Wednesday, April 15 * 5:00 pm
Ashland's Downtown Post Office
120 N 1st St * Ashland, OR

This Tax Day, join Sweatfree NW in demanding that taxpayer dollars not be used to support sweatshops. Sweatfree activists in Portland and Ashland will be gathering outside of city Post Offices to release a new report revealing the strong extent to which taxpayer money continues to be spent on the purchase of goods from companies engaged in serious human rights violations.

This is part of the ongoing effort to get Oregon to adopt a sweatshop-free purchasing policy that will ensure that uniforms for state police, firefighters and other public employers are made in workplaces that observe strong labor standards. To RSVP, please call Elizabeth Swager of Sweatfree NW at (503) 784-1951.

Oregon & Washington Teamster Printers Endorse HR 676

The Executive Board of Local 767M, Graphic Communications Conference/IBT, has endorsed HR 676, single payer healthcare legislation introduced by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI). The 900 member local union represents workers in the printing industries of Washington and Oregon.

Executive Board member John Walsh, who was instrumental in bringing the resolution forward, said after the vote: “The runaway cost of healthcare erodes our wages and is a sticking point in contract negotiations. People without coverage suffer from preventable illnesses and face bankruptcy.

Americans need effective, fair, affordable healthcare, and we cannot achieve that as long as profit takes priority over people. As our national experience with Medicare has shown, single payer is the best way to make the system effective and fair, and removing profiteering is crucial to controlling cost. For these reasons, we have endorsed single payer as the best concept and HR 676 as the best legislation.”

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

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

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

In the current Congress, HR 676 has 74 co-sponsors in addition to Conyers.

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

Kay Tillow
All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care--HR 676 c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217
(502) 636 1551
Email: nursenpo@aol.com
http://unionsforsinglepayerHR676.org

April 12, 2009

Michael Munk On Portland's Working Class Poets

Today's Sunday Oregonian (Portland) has an article by our friend Michael Munk on Portland's working class poets with good illustrations. You can read it (text only) at http://blog.oregonlive.com/books/2009/04/northwest_writer_timothy_egan.html.

Paul Boal's Letter To The Statesman-Journal On OSB

The S-J ran Paul Boal's letter today about the Oregon School for the Blind. It's a strong letter and it illustrates the frustrations we're all feeling and the questions which this effort are forcing people to think about.

Here is a link to S-J the letter.

Here is the letter:

April 12, 2009

April 12, 2009

I believe the state and the city of Salem have dollar signs in their heads instead of what is best for blind or deaf children — even if it is only 31 students at some times.

The Oregon School for the Blind is and has been a sort of haven in our now too-fast moving society.

Can someone please take me back to the times when people mattered and cared for each other? Not what a few, well-connected people think the majority wants.

Regarding the recent articles about the OSB and the Oregon School for the Deaf, it might help if we could actually get important information regarding the changes proposed, such as:

1. How will this affect the students involved?

2. If one building is used, will it be divided so the blind and deaf students have their own area and facilities to fulfill their separate needs?

3. How will the unused building be used?

4. If the building is sold, will funds be provided to aid the remaining school or,

5. If the building is sold, will funds be used for the many citizens or an elitist project?

There are many questions that need to be addressed. How do we know that a merger for these schools would be beneficial without knowing the plans and goals involved?

— Paul Boal, Salem

April 11, 2009

Keep The Guard In Oregon!

From local antiwar activists:

Friends,

Help keep the Oregon Guard in Oregon!

The campaign to keep the Oregon National Guard from going to Iraq or Afghanistan is alive and well. We had a spirited hearing on the two measures, HB 2556-1 and HR 4, before the House Rules Committee on March 11. The Chair of the Rules Committee told us that the bills wouldn’t get out of his committee to a floor vote unless we can tell him that we have enough votes (31) for it to pass the house. We have good bipartisan support but we are not up to 31. If the measures pass the house they will go to the Senate.

We are asking everyone to send an eletter to their state representative and senator urging them to support the guard measures.

The easiest way to do this is by going to the following website of the Oregon Progressive Network (OPN): http://oregonprogressivenetwork.org/eletters/?eid=21 Click on “Add your name”. You will then see a possible letter. You can modify the letter, modify the subject line, find your legislators, and choose who to send it too, all at the same website. You should modify the subject line and content of the eletter to increase the impact of the letters. All very easy!

A copy of the letter from the website is provided as a comment to this post.

If for some reason you want to send a letter but do not want to go through the OPN website, you can find your legislator and their contact information at: http://www.legislatorpro.com/oregon.

For more information about the Guard Home Campaign and the measures before the Oregon Legislature go to: http://www.pjw.info/guardhomecampaign08.html.
Please send this appeal on to friends who might like to participate.

Silverton Peace Vigil--April 17

Monthly Peace Vigil In Silverton

Date: Friday April 17, 2009
Time: 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Repeats: This event repeats every month on the third Friday.
Location: Silverton - Town Square Park

April 10, 2009

Late Word On The School for the Blind

According to a union source, the legislature's education committee passed the bill to close the School for the Blind out of committee with a do-pass recommendation of 7-to-2. The next stop is the Ways and Means committee and then the bill moves on to the Senate.

Union lobbyists believe that most legislators on the relevant committees believe that they are doing the right thing and see the issue as empowering home school districts to serve 864 potentially affected families with kids who are visually impaired and struggle with other challenges as well. One problem is that there is no record of anyone asking these 864 families what they think. There is also no means in place to evaluate how many of these 864 families know about the Oregon School for the Blind or would use its services if they did know about it. Most families hear about the School programs through word of mouth or through community contact.

Forces backing the merger are moving fast and are pretending that home school districts will be able to replace the School for the Blind and the expertise and coaching that the School provides with home district resources enhanced by sending money now spent on OSB to the districts. We doubt that all of this money will make it to the districts or be spent on the special needs students if this plan does go through. The legislature is essentially positioned to throw the kids and their families under the bus: they are not listening to the parents who are testifying and arguing against the pending closure.

Union activists are promising to fight on, but say that the experts, teachers, blind community, families and students from the blind school seem to have found a situation where even overwhelming public testimony doesn't seem to matter to key decision-makers.

Union activists at the School for the Blind like Melissa Silbernagel been warriors for their students. Silbernagel has been going to legislator after legislator in the Capitol and has poured her heart out with honest information about this issue. Melissa and the other professionals at the special schools are great examples of what is right with education. They have been persevering for years with poor support from ODE and the legislature.

Oregon School for the Blind

Teacher Joyce Lonsford talks about how important the school is to the students and society.







180-plus Wal-Mart Workers Finally Win A Union Contract in Québec

A Wal-Mart workplace of about 180 workers in St-Hyacinthe, Québec, have become the first group of main store Wal-Mart employees there to win a union contract. The arbitrated collective bargaining agreement was awarded to the workers and the company April 8, after more than four years of legal challenges, negotiations, and mediation.

The contract cover includes seniority rights, wage increases and a wage ladder free from favoritism, and, for the first time ever, an all-important grievance process.

"Our St-Hyacinthe members have a lot to be proud of," said Wayne Hanley, national president of UFCW Canada. "Because of their determination, and Québec's progressive labour laws, the workers have made history, but it was hard won. It's been a long, difficult road for the St-Hyacinthe members and their families...It's time for Walmart to start walking the talk. It describes itself as a socially responsible company committed to environmental sustainability and helping people to 'live better'. Those are important things, but so are workers' rights. The St-Hyacinthe contract challenges Walmart to truly demonstrate that it's serious about being a community partner and a positive force in Canada and the world." Hanley's statement appears on the UFCW Canada website.

A 2008 arbitration award delivered a union contract to a small group of Tire & Lube Express (TLE) workers at a Wal-Mart in Gatineau, Québec. Wal-Mart later closed the TLE in retaliation for the union win. In 2005 Walmart also shut down a store in Jonquière, Québec, immediately after the union applied for binding arbitration. Also in 2005, UFCW Canada was certified as the bargaining agent for the St-Hyacinthe Tire & Lube Express. An arbitrated contract for this worksite is expected by the end of this year. First union contract negotiations are also now underway for a Wal-Mart and TLE in Hull, Québec, and for a Wal-Mart main store in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

Canada's Supreme Court heard arguments in January that by closing the Jonquière store Wal-Mart violated the Charter rights of the workers there. The Court's decision is expected this fall.

Canada has better labor laws than the US and this story illustrates why we need change along the lines of what EFCA could provide. We wish that workers did not have to depend on courts and arbitration for our rights--in fact we don't when we're united and militant--but at least some Canadian unions have the willingness and strategy in place to see a legal fight through and deliver results which can later be improved upon. Let's hope that this wins inspire Wal-Mart workers to organize internationally.

Oregon A Key Battleground For Single-Payer Health Insurance?

All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care--HR 676 c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217
(502) 636 1551
Email: nursenpo@aol.com
http://unionsforsinglepayerHR676.org


Oregon unionists have a unique opportunity to make a vital contribution to the struggle for single payer healthcare legislation.

As the article below from the Corvallis Gazette-Times indicates, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley told a community meeting in Corvallis, “I will support a single-payer plan if we can get it to the floor.” During the November campaign Merkley indicated support for single payer, but this is the first time he has done so since being elected.

If Senator Merkley will introduce a Senate companion bill to Congressman John Conyers’ House single payer bill (HR 676) or co-sponsor the single payer bill (S 703) just introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the national struggle for will be lifted to a new level. We need to put the single payer solution on the table in the Senate as well as the House.

For Senator Merkley to take such a step he must hear from a movement within his state that persuades him that popular support and activism for single payer is massive and is stronger than the power of the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.

Our hope is that Oregon’s union movement can take up the challenge of persuading Senator Merkley to take this action.

We are sending this memo to all Oregon unions that have endorsed HR 676 asking them to contact Sen. Merkley:

1) Send a letter to Sen. Merkley telling him that your union has endorsed HR 676 and ask him to introduce HR 676 in the Senate or sign on as a co-sponsor of S 703. If you can, send him a copy of your union’s resolution endorsing HR 676.

2) Ask other community organizations or individuals to write or call Sen. Merkley.

3) Make an appointment to meet with him during the congressional recess April 6 to April 17th when members will be in their home districts.

4) Attend community forums and meetings where he is appearing and raise the single payer health care issue in ways that show the popular support.

Please let us know whatever actions you decide to take and any responses you receive. .

Thank you for your efforts. It is our unions that must lead this struggle to bring health care justice to the nation. If we can help in any way, please let us know.



http://www.gazettetimes.com/articles/2009/03/22/news/community/1loc02_merkley.txt

Merkley backs single-payer system
By Rachel Beck
Corvallis Gazette-Times
“Health care” were the two words on everyone’s lips Saturday in a public meeting with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.

About 150 people packed a conference room at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library for a town hall meeting, Merkley’s first in Corvallis since his November election victory over incumbent Gordon Smith.

Merkley described his four committee assignments and the challenges he hopes to help solve.

“We are facing one of the most difficult moments we’ve seen in the economy in our lifetimes,” he said.

Fielding questions, he said, “I will support a single-payer plan if we can get it to the floor.”

But he said there must be a bill on the table by summer or Congress will get bogged down by other issues.

“We may not get this opportunity for another 20, 30 years,” he said.

Merkley said he has signed on to a bill that would quadruple money to health clinics, which are cost-effective. He also supports wellness programs, particularly for youth, which act as preventative care.

Merkley said lack of oversight over companies such as Halliburton was a huge problem, and a questioner asked if he would refuse campaign contributions from such companies. Merkley said the question was too broad.

Dr. Paul Hochfeld of Corvallis drew a parallel between the senator’s answer and the power of insurance companies in the healthcare debate. He wanted to know how the political process could be fixed to keep industry from unfairly influencing legislation.

Merkley didn’t offer specifics but said the current campaign funding models aren’t working to make sure voices are heard equally.

The economy was another topic. Merkley compared stimulus funding to a short-term pain with long-term benefits, much preferable to not doing anything and facing worse problems down the road.

Merkley said after the meeting that he was struck by how many people turned out and the energy of the crowd. Topics raised were mostly the same he’s heard elsewhere in the state.

“I think by and large it’s the same cross-section of addressing fundamental concerns of healthcare and jobs,” he said.

He said he and fellow Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden hope to work to highlight Oregon as a state on the cutting edge of renewable energy technology.

Salem & CAUSA: Community Organizations Energized by President Obama's Call for Immigration Reform this Year

From CAUSA:

Community Organizations Energized by President Obama's Call for Immigration Reform this Year

Statement by Francisco Lopez, Executive Director of CAUSA, Oregon's Immigrant Rights Coalition

Salem, Ore.-Today's news on the front page of the New York Times that President Obama will move on immigration reform this year has community organizations across the country ramping up to achieve a just and humane immigration solution. Story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/09/us/politics/09immig.html?ref=global-home.

"We endorse President Obama's call for immigration reform and admire his courage to fight for something we all know must get done. This is the kind of bold and visionary action we expect from our political leaders. Climbing our way out of this economic crisis means forward thinking policies that include fixing a broken immigration system that has created a servant class in our midst. America's economy cannot recover if we allow 12 million immigrants to continue to live and work in the margins of our society.

Obstructionist will throw everything at this Administration's attempts to create a society which recognizes the inherent value and worth in us all. For too long we have shrunk in the face of key decisions that must be made to get our country back on track. We will not allow this to happen.

We've seen first hand the pain of immigrant families ripped apart by unjust raids. Our communities and our nation have suffered long enough."

Help out and read more by going here.

Don't Bowl Alone action items

ACTION ALERT: Congress is in recess, but the issues are live
April 10, 2009

For the ten days or so, your elected reps are on recess, otherwise known as, in town! Actions are planned on the key issues: support for President Obama's budget, Employee Free Choice, health care and more.

You don't have to "bowl alone" -- check out the three links below for info about what's going on in your local area.

The broad coalition (labor, civil rights and others) that is continuing to push for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is organizing events all over the country during the Congressional recess.

The National Women’s Law Center, the Children’s Defense Fund and others are pointing people to public events organized by Health Care for America NOW.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights is urging people to contact their elected officials on the foreclosure crisis.

April 9, 2009

Oregon School for the Blind: The Fight Moves Forward!

The following letter comes from a leader in the efforts to keep the School for the Blind open and functioning in its current capacity. This shows real progress and demonstrates what happens when people organize and mobilize to defend public services. I'm glad that Susan Castillo is against closing OSB or merging the School for the Blind with the School for the Deaf, but I would not yet count on her in this effort. Ditto for the Republicans mentioned below, who are not friends of education and public services in Oregon. If they're supporting the special schools now, it is only because they hope to reap some benefit for themselves later and because they're playing a divide-and-conquer game: split everyone who believes in education and public services into competing groups and then bog down the legislature in a fight over funding as a step towards winning in the 2010 elections and getting a Republican in as Governor. They can play both sides because they don't have an alternate budget that will work and because they do not have a reasonable base to be accountable to. Let's hear more from the progressives who also oppose closing OSB or merging of the special schools and who genuinely support education and public services!

Dear Community:

Thank you to our OSB Board, students, parents, teachers, community members, neighborhood residents and citizens who spoke at the hearing in defense of our kids and the OSB. Every one of you was amazing and you touched all our hearts. There is no better testament to the quality of education at OSB than the brilliance and beauty of our STUDENTS!!

It would be great if we could quickly write supports letters to the editors to the Oregonian, Salem Statesman Journal, the Eastern Oregonian (below) and other newspapers writing about this House Bill and school closure

Here's an article link:
http://www.eastoregonian.info/main.asp?SectionID=13&SubSectionID=48&ArticleID=91248.


Some quotes:

In her testimony, relayed by teacher Liz Owen, she pleaded with lawmakers. "Please don't throw our children away over money," she wrote. "They did not ask for this life, it just is the way they have to live it."

Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, said the notion of closing the school comes up every session. The idea gathered more momentum this year because of the state's epic economic struggles. "I oppose the closing of the school for the blind," Jenson said, "and I will speak against it."

No place for the blind

School’s impending closure puts local boy’s future in question
The East Oregonian 4/9/2009

When news broke this week that state legislators are seriously considering the closure of the Oregon School for the Blind, one Pendleton mom reacted with angst. "It would just be devastating," said Adina Teribury.

Teribury's son Alix, 14, started living at the school three years ago. Alix, blind from birth, has multiple disabilities--he's severely mentally retarded, said Teribury, and he has seizures.

The 135-year-old school has been firmly positioned under the legislative microscope for years. This year, however, the school's steep operating costs scooted the OSB closer to the center of the chopping block. The annual price tag for educating a single student runs $143,000.

In past sessions, the Legislature talked about moving the school's 31 mostly-teenage students to the Oregon School for the Deaf. Now, however, lawmakers are considering closing the school altogether--sending students back to their home communities for education and vision services.

Students at OSB go through mobility training, learning to use a cane and ride the city bus across town and, generally, how to function as blind person in society.

The residents experience sports (such as goalball), participate in a therapeutic riding program, play instruments and operate their own radio station. The campus includes two dorms, an infirmary, a gym/pool building, a dining hall and the headquarters of the Oregon Commission for the Blind.

Teribury drives Alix, the oldest of her three children, to and from Salem each week. He spends weekends in Pendleton.

Before enrolling at OSB, Teribury said, her son attended Pendleton schools. The boy proved disruptive and often hurt himself and others. Once he hit himself repeatedly, hard enough to cover his face with purple bruises.

"I got a call every two or three days a week to come and pick him up," said Teribury, who works as an in-home care provider for senior and disabled clients.

Since starting at OSB, Alix has learn to feed and dress himself and use a cane. He is calmer and more manageable.

"As mentally retarded as he is, he's made big leaps and bounds," she said. "It's been a miracle for him and our family."

Alix's improvement isn't the exception, but rather the rule, according to Teribury.

“The turnaround I've seen in other kids, the stories I've heard other parents tell..." She trailed off. "It would just be devastating," she said again.

Advocates for the closure, such as Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, say money from sale of the campus and the school's operating budget could be used to serve a higher number of visually-impaired students in their home schools.

Oregon Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo is against the closure. "The superintendent has proposed co-locating the school for the blind with the Oregon School for the Deaf," said Morgan Allen, Oregon Department of Education spokesman. "Our position is that both schools should be co-located on the campus of the school for the deaf."

Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, said the notion of closing the school comes up every session. The idea gathered more momentum this year because of the state's epic economic struggles.

"I oppose the closing of the school for the blind," Jenson said, "and I will speak against it."

Jenson said OSB is not "a boarding school where people to go to vegetate," rather a place where students adapt to blindness.

"But it is very expensive," Jenson said.

Teribury worries about Alix's future if legislators ax the school. "He would go back into the Pendleton School District--that's devastating, not just for him, but for all the other students," she said.

In her testimony, relayed by teacher Liz Owen, she pleaded with lawmakers. "Please don't throw our children away over money," she wrote. "They did not ask for this life, it just is the way they have to live it."

Fear In Salem: Cascade Junior High, Alcohol And More

The Wednesday night forum at Cascade Junior High on school safety and the Marion County alcohol stings are getting a great deal of attention and are front-page news. The recent antiwar rallies, the opposition to the merging of the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf, today's NAACP forum at Western Oregon University and the rally at the State Capitol for healthcare yesterday all affect more people and have mobilized more people but they aren't getting the same levels of publicity or public discussion.

Much more is at stake here than a lazy, pro-business town newspaper not doing its job. The Cascade Junior High events and the alcohol stings are primarily about fear--fear of youth in particular--and enforcement. These events highlight alleged problems and are then reported as they are in order to assure us that the authoritarian hand of government is there to protect us. They are made newsworthy only because they distract us from more common or shared social problems and because they try to convince or assure us that the armed might of government is necessary and in force.

More kids will go to school hungry, poor or without health insurance today than will ever have to deal with mass violence at school. Think about it: millions of kids go to school every day with the problems I just cited, but almost no kids will experience deliberate violence at school on the order of what was allegedly being planned at Cascade Junior High. Despite what all of the media says, violence and victimizing crime are relatively rare. Law enforcement steps in and replaces real community or collective reflection on a problem, assures us that they have this problem under control and this then takes the place of people developing the kinds of relationships which lower violence and enforce reasonable community standards. Along the way law enforcement waved the April 20 flag at the Cascade forum, possibly causing more panic. The alcohol stings accustom us to a police force using young people not yet actually serving on a police force to enforce laws. Where does this stop?

We are not in favor of school violence or irresponsible drinking, of course. It's just that these problems pale in comparison to the wars, the lack of health insurance, home foreclosures, unemployment, environmental destruction and inequality which really do plague Oregon now. I suspect that the Cascade Junior High events and the alcohol stings are being manipulated by law enforcement and others to distract us from these very real social problems. School violence and irresponsible drinking almost inevitably draw people to the easy and individualized answers of letting the cops deal with it, pulling kids out of public schools, being hyper-vigilant, living in fear and buying guns. These "solutions" atomize people. Ending the wars, feeding people, providing healthcare for all, making housing a right, creating a green society with jobs for all and stopping racism, sexism and homophobia are political problems that require people to work together without fear. Which set of problems and which set of solutions are law enforcement and the media pushing? And why are they doing this?

I recommend a few concentrated days of organized community reflection on violence and war, drinking and drug use and the kind of generalized social irresponsibility that capitalism is encouraging as it self-destructs--and let's do in the communities and in the workplaces without the police. Why not show "Columbine" in every movie theater for a week? Why not give the kids forums to express their angst and expectations for the rest of us? Why not restore to people of color and to Native Americans what has been taken from them so that they might deal with social problems in culturally specific and sensitive ways? Why not give the peace movement part of school curriculum and offices in schools for counselling? Why not zone bars out of the downtown area and let them open in neighborhoods where they can be controlled by communities? Why not close every strip club and ban alcohol ads and advertising that mixes up sex and driving? Why not ban the cage fights and zone the military recruiters out of the county? Why not set aside the time and the means in the schools and in local politics to organize our communities for increasing our communal self-reliance and sense of social justice?

April 8, 2009

Interview: David Harvey - Exploring the logic of capital

The following interview comes from Socialist Review. Both the publication and David Harvey's work come highly recommended.

Interview: David Harvey - Exploring the logic of capital

Interview by Joseph Choonara, April 2009

Joseph Choonara spoke to acclaimed Marxist theoretician David Harvey about capitalism's current crisis and his online reading group of Karl Marx's Capital which shows the revival of interest in this work.

Some commentators view the current crisis as arising from problems in finance that then impinged on the wider economy; others see it as a result of issues that arose in production and then led to financial problems. How do you view it?

It's a false dichotomy that's being posed. There is a more dialectical relationship between what you might call the "real" and "financial" sides of the economy. There is no question that there has been an underlying problem of what I would call "over-accumulation" for a considerable time now. And in part the movement into investing in asset values rather than production is a consequence of that. But as the search for new forms of asset value developed you also saw financial innovation that created the possibility of investment in hedge funds and those sorts of things.

There was a long-term process in which the rich looked for reasonably high rates of return and began to invest in a whole series of Ponzi schemes - but without Bernard Madoff at the top. In the property market, stock market, art market and derivatives markets, the more people that invest, the more prices go up, which leads to even more people investing. All of those markets have a Ponzi character to them. So there is a financial aspect to the crisis but unless you ask why the most affluent were taking that path you miss out on the real problem.

You mention a crisis of over-accumulation. Can you explain that concept?

Capitalists always produce a surplus product. A healthy capitalism has to grow at 3 percent per year; the problem is to find where you can achieve that 3 percent growth. There are various blockages. For instance, if capital is confronting labour problems, then it is hard for it to find an outlet and over-accumulation occurs. If it faces problems in the market, the same issue arises. Over-accumulation is any situation in which the surplus that capitalists have available to them cannot find an outlet, whether through labour constraints, market constraints, resource constraints, technology constraints or whatever.

In this context you have talked about mechanisms such as a "spatial fix" in which surplus capital is shifted abroad rather than accumulated at home. Would you see the growth of the financial system as another type of "fix"?

If you move towards a spatial fix you need a sophisticated financial system to achieve it. To the degree that a spatial fix was being sought after the 1970s, capitalism required a set of international financial institutions that would facilitate the flow of funds to China, India, Mexico or wherever. So the new financial architecture that emerged from the 1970s onwards was, in part, to facilitate ease of capital movement around the world.

But then the financialisation that occurred became an end in itself. You start to find new markets emerging in the 1990s in currency derivatives, interest rate swaps, etc. They grew from almost nothing in 1990 to about three times the output of the global economy in 2006.

The explosion of credit that accompanied this also helped capitalists to hold down wages.

There were many aspects to the crisis of the late 1960s and early 1970s but one fundamental aspect was the power of labour, and breaking the power of labour became terribly important. This was partly done by migration policies, by outsourcing and offshoring, and also by the political attacks by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and others. By 1985 the power of labour had effectively been broken.

Ever since the 1970s we've been in a situation of what I'd call wage repression in which real wages didn't really rise at all. But that led to problems in the market. If you restrict wages you have a problem with aggregate demand. One way that problem was solved was by giving working people credit cards and allowing them to go into debt. Household debt in the US has tripled in the last 20 years or so.

Again a key role was played by financial institutions. The best example I can think of is financial institutions lending money to builders and developers to construct housing, say around San Diego, then facing the problem of who is going to buy this stuff. The financial institutions then lend to working class people so they can buy the houses. After a while there aren't enough "respectable" working class people to lend to, so they start to lend to those with very low credit ratings, which led to the emergence of subprime over the past five or six years.

The financial institutions have been operating on both sides - the production and the consumption of housing. They brought the whole of the population into a serious state of indebtedness. Now at some point or other, if indebtedness rises to a level that is no longer consistent with income, the thing is going to break down. That's what we're seeing right now.

The bubbles in asset values also concealed some of the problems.

When asset values are rising everybody thinks they are better off. A person who bought a house in 2000 for maybe $300,000 saw its price rise to maybe $500,000 four years later. If they cashed out they were $200,000 richer. Everyone starts to be in that position, not just corporations. So, yes, it conceals what the nature of the problem is. If there is enough collective expectation that the housing market is going to go up forever, you get the kind of asset bubble that goes on and on - until now.

Personally I was expecting a crash in the housing market in 2003. It didn't happen. I kept thinking to myself, am I crazy? It didn't happen in 2004 and I thought, am I even crazier? By 2005 things were getting ridiculous. In the end even I started to believe we were in a different world and that I'd been wrong. Then in 2006 things started crumbling and I realised I'd been right.

When I last interviewed you for Socialist Review in February 2006 you said, "I'm nervous about the possibility of a major financial crisis breaking out in the US." Just how major do you think the current crisis is?

I was nervous about the US situation at the time I brought out A Brief History of Neoliberalism in 2006 and when I brought out The New Imperialism book in 2003. Back then I said that if the US was any other country it would be visited by the IMF. I think one of the things we have to realise is that if there had been a crisis in 2003, it would not have been as serious as the current one. The crisis will now have to take care of the past six years of profligacy.

Also if you compare it to the regional crises that happened before, such as the South East Asian crisis of 1997-98, there was always the US market to sell things to. But today where on earth is your market going to be?

We are in for a very difficult period. I can't see us coming out of this for a number of years. But when I say "us" I think there will be a difference in regional impacts. I guess that while East and South East Asia are in a lot of trouble right now, because of the collapse in export-driven industrialisation due to the contraction of the US market, they are likely to be able to stimulate their domestic markets and come out of this with less violence than, say, the US.

The US is going to have to bear the brunt of this crisis, and of course people there are not used to it. If you lived in Argentina you'd be saying, "Not again!"

You have argued that, while the global role of the US is likely to be diminished, rivals such as China cannot currently take its place.

I don't think China has any interest in supplanting the US as the global hegemonic power. It has a great interest in propping up the US. There is a complicated relationship between the US and China. The US relies very heavily on Chinese investment in the bonds issued by the US treasury. But the move by the US Federal Reserve to put a trillion dollars or so into this market in late March immediately saw the dollar falling.

I worry about what the Chinese will do in the face of a rapidly falling dollar. The US dollar has stayed remarkably stable; in fact it's gained against other currencies in the past six months or so. But that may be reversed. It's a delicate situation.

The Chinese are in a better situation than the US. Their banking system is not disrupted in the same way and they have more room for manoeuvre in terms of their surpluses. If they start to coordinate with Japan and South Korea, and if the Taiwanese throw in their lot with China economically, you're likely to see the emergence of an East Asian collaborative zone. I'd not be surprised to see an East Asian regional bank along the lines of what is being proposed in Latin America.

Regionalisation is one process that we may see, which would leave the US as one powerful region alongside many others and without the power it has exercised over the global economy.

But the problem now is that China is sitting on trillions in dollar-denominated assets.

Yes. They are between a rock and a hard place. If they let the dollar decline they lose money. If they continue to invest in it they may lose even more in the long run. There's considerable debate inside China. When they set up sovereign wealth funds, which invested in, say, the Blackstone Group, and lost money, there was a lot of internal criticism.

If there is a run on the US dollar, which is something I think everybody fears and nobody wants to talk about, then the consequences will be catastrophic. Regional configurations such as East Asia will have no option but to go it alone and the same will apply to Europe and Latin America. It will mean competition between regional blocs, the sort of thing that happened in the 1920s and 1930s with very unhealthy results.

Does the increasingly global nature of production make collapse into protectionism less likely than in the 1930s?

It makes it less likely at certain levels of production but in the face of a crisis you get very rapid reconfigurations. Consider how fast the de-industrialisation of Britain occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The reconfiguration of production relations took place in the space of about ten years. Just because production systems and commodity chains are stretched over multiple spaces it doesn't mean they can't be cut up. You could have China cutting off outside suppliers and adopting an import-substitutionalist policy, which I suspect is going to emerge as a respectable way to deal with the current crisis.

So don't anticipate that just because everything is now more globally connected we can't disconnect it. However, having said that, there are vested interests involved. So there will be a political struggle over this.

On your website davidharvey.org you've been running an online reading group of Karl Marx's Capital. Are you surprised by the massive interest this has generated?

Yes, astonished! It seems to have come out just at the right moment. I get emails from people saying, "I always wanted to read this book and finally I have got through it," which is gratifying. I have tried to lay out something people can understand and work from, and then develop their own political ideas around.

It is important in approaching Capital to have some grasp of the overall dynamics of the system, and not just undertake a close reading of the first volume. How can this be achieved?

People really need to read a lot of Marx - volumes two and three, Theories of Surplus Value, the Grundrisse and so on. But I try to say, in the final lecture I think, that there are things that Marx misses. The nature of his project was the critique of classical political economy as much as it was an analysis of the dynamics of capitalism.

For instance, Marx did not want to deal with the question of interest. But at various points, even in volume one of Capital, the question of interest and credit becomes central - for instance in the discussion of the centralisation of capital and in the chapter on money. There is an issue here of the role of what I call the "state-finance nexus". In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels argue for the centralisation of the means of credit in the hands of the state. In the section on primitive accumulation in Capital, Marx talks about the rise of the bankocracy, the rise of state finance and the national debt as crucial moments.

If you really want a good analysis of capitalism, you have to put the question of the state and finance almost up front, whereas Marx puts it at the back - you have to get to volume three of Capital. It can be misleading to concentrate on production rather than, say, the mobilisation of money-capital. There are limits to how far you can take the volume one analysis if you want to understand how capital accumulates and how it circulates.

In your book Limits to Capital you sought to develop a more coherent picture from Marx's fragmentary writings on interest, credit, etc. You seem to imply that more work in this area is needed.

A lot of people have been working on finance capital over the past ten or 15 years and there's now an extensive literature on this. It is valuable work. But one of the problems I have is that it tends to isolate the financial system from the overall dynamics of capitalism - as in the dichotomy implied in your first question.

What routes are there out of the current crisis?

How we come out of the crisis depends fundamentally on the balance of class power. I don't yet see the emergence of a coherent class opposition to the way, for example, that the British or US governments are trying to get out of the crisis.

We are beginning to get a populist outrage, which could produce something equivalent to political movements that have emerged in Latin America. I'm hoping that a coherent movement will start to crystallise which will say, "We don't want to go out of this crisis only to enter an even deeper one in five years time," and which will demand a radical transformation of the system.

The powers that be are trying to come out of the crisis without changing the fundamental dynamics of class power, but there's a widespread sense that these have to change. It's amazing to see the popular discontent here with Barack Obama's economic team. For many of us, the people he selected were appalling. Fascinatingly, many people in the country would probably agree with us.

April 7, 2009

Portland Protest: Break up the Banks! Stop Blank Check Bailouts!

National Day of Protest
Break up the Banks! Stop Blank Check Bailouts!
Saturday, April 11, 2pm
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Portland

(rumor has it that Amy Goodman will join us here in Portland)

Join us this Saturday, April 11 for a national day of protest to break up the power of the banks that caused the current financial crisis and to push for systematic reform of the financial sector. In Portland, we will combine the call to -- nationalize, reorganize and decentralize -- with the Portland based Fire Your Bank campaign. This should be a great event that helps all of us get the message out to Congress and the President that we want solutions to the financial crisis that benefit all of us, not the Wall Street elites.

Bring your signs, chants, cell phones, and energy. And help get the word out and forward this email to your lists.

Some sign ideas include:

Banksters are gaming the system
Break Up the Banks
If it's too big to fail, it's too big to exist
Bailout the people
Trustbusters 2.0
Fire Your Bank
Stop Blank Check Bailouts

Three Key Reforms

NATIONALIZE: Insolvent banks that are too big to fail must incur a FDIC intervention -- no more taxpayer handouts.

REORGANIZE: Current CEOs and board members must be removed and bonuses wiped out. The financial elite must share in the cost of what they have caused.

DECENTRALIZE: Banks must be broken up and sold back to the private market with new antitrust rules in place-- new banks managed by new people.

National Labor Coordinating Committee Formed: Can Change to Win, AFL-CIO & NEA Unite?

Ever since the founding of Change to Win in 2005 there has been great speculation about when, or if, most US unions would reunite, either in the AFL-CIO or in some other federation. Many complicating factors have arisen to block or otherwise affect labor's organizational unity: the November elections and the roles specific unions took on in the political campaigns, problems within SEIU and UNITE-HERE, the Labor Secretary appointment and other pro-labor appointments by the Obama administration, the auto crisis and the attack on the UAW, a number of false or unsuccessful starts and the strong personalities guiding the process. Today's announcement, released below, seems initially positive, even with some union leaders immediately expressing their doubts. The involvement of the National Education Association (NEA) is especially positive since the NEA is not affiliated with either the AFL-CIO or Change to Win.

For Immediate Release:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Contact: Linda Foley 202-213-4303

Labor Leaders Form National Labor Coordinating Committee

The AFL-CIO, Change to Win and the National Education Association announced today the creation of a National Labor Coordinating Committee to consult among their affiliated unions and to act nationally on the critical issues facing working Americans.

“Recognizing the historic moment we face, the American labor movement must unify to restore the American dream for working families,” said David Bonior, who continues as Chair of the unification effort.

“I am very pleased with our progress. The Committee pledged to complete its consultations and other work on unification plans over the coming months. A unified labor movement is the way to ensure that the vast majority of Americans who want a union are able to join one.”

The members of the National Labor Coordinating Committee are the Presidents of:

AFL-CIO
Change To Win
National Education Association
American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees
American Federation of Teachers
Communications Workers of America
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Laborers International Union of North America
Service Employees International Union
Unite Here
United Auto Workers
United Food and Commercial Workers
United Steelworkers

The Committee will work on some of the biggest challenges confronting our nation, including the reform of our labor laws, the renewal of our economy and the passage of national health reform.

The affiliates of the AFL-CIO, Change to Win and the NEA collectively represent more than 16 million workers in over 60 national and international unions.

To reach David Bonior, contact Linda Foley 202-213-4303.

The Difficulties Of Solidarity: "Hebrew Labor" Lives On As Israel Railways Fires Arab Guards

This comes to us from Jonathan Cook writing at The Electronic Intifada. It illustrates the problems of building working class and union solidarity under current conditions in Israel and, more generally, how class consciousness, objective and long-term realities and nationalism collide. The links we provided do not appear in the original article.

"Hebrew Labor" Lives On As Israel Railways Fires Arab Guards

A decision by Israel's state-owned railway company to sack 150 Arab workers because they have not served in the army has been denounced as "unlawful" and "racist" this week by Arab legal and workers' rights groups.

The new policy, which applies to guards at train crossing points, is being implemented even though the country's Arab citizens -- numbering 1.2 million and nearly one-fifth of the total population -- have been exempt from serving in the military since Israel's establishment.

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, complained to Israel Railways and the attorney general last week, arguing that the move was meant "to cleanse the railways of Arab employees."

"It is an especially grave matter as this is a public company whose operations are meant to benefit all citizens," he said.

The Laborers' Voice, a workers' rights group based in Nazareth, said the new condition of employment was designed to reserve rail jobs for Jews, most of whom are conscripted for three years after finishing school.

It added that Israel Railways was following dozens of other major Israeli firms and thousands of small businesses that keep jobs off limits to Arab workers by defining the roles as security related.

Israel Railways announced last month that all crossing guards would be required to produce a discharge certificate from the army or face dismissal. The first 40 Arab workers received their notices last week, taking effect almost immediately.

Taher Jayousi, 32, from the Arab village of Qalansuwa in central Israel, where 20 of the fired guards live, said they had been told their job would now require them to carry a gun and could therefore be performed only by former soldiers.

One commentator in Haaretz, a liberal daily newspaper, ridiculed the attempt to characterize the guards' role as security related. "A dreamed-up security demand is one of the oldest tricks to reject Arab candidates in job interviews," wrote Avirama Golan.

That assessment is shared by Adalah, an Arab legal group, which has threatened legal action against the transport ministry for violating the sacked workers' constitutional rights.

Adalah said it was relying on a ruling three years ago in which the courts rejected Haifa University's decision to reserve student accommodation for those who had served in the army.

The position of crossing guard was created in 2006 to increase rail safety after five people were killed and more than 80 injured when a train collided with a stranded car at a crossing point. Nearly two-thirds of the 260 guards are reported to be Arabs.

Such other railway jobs as engineer and station staff are already reserved for Jewish workers, said Wahbe Badarne, director of the Laborers' Voice.

Assad Salami, 35, another of the sacked guards from Qalansuwa, said: "Until now, the company could find few Jews who wanted to do guard work for the low wages we're paid.

"But with an economic crisis looming it has the chance to get rid of us and offer our jobs to Jews."

In a statement defending the new policy, Israel Railways said it was intended to provide job opportunities for army veterans, a social benefit the company described as "significant."

Another of the former guards, Ibrahim Nasrallah, 25, said: "What does that say to us if the company is only concerned about reducing the unemployment rate among the Jewish public?"

He said the use of security as a pretext to avoid hiring Arab workers was one he and his family were familiar with.

"My brother is a chef and has been unemployed for the past eight months. Every time he goes to a restaurant and they see he's an Arab they tell him they are only hiring workers who have served in the army. It's crazy -- you need to be a former soldier to cook food in Israel!"

Badarne of the Laborers' Voice said he has heard similar stories from other Arab workers.

"Laws against discrimination exist in Israel. The problem is that there appears to be no interest in enforcing them.

"If I go to the shopping mall, even the notices in the windows asking for sales assistants require army service from applicants.

"At least in these cases we can prove that it is racism we are dealing with.

"More sinister, however, is the more recent practice of employers telling Arab applicants that a position is already filled to avoid the threat of legal action. There the racism is veiled."

Large sections of the economy are officially off limits to Arab workers because they fall within what Israel defines as its security industries, especially weapons manufacturers, the airports and national airline, ports and refineries, and the various security agencies.

But he said many large state-owned corporations that are not involved in security fields were also reluctant to employ Arabs, sending a message to smaller firms that discrimination was legitimate.

According to figures provided in 2004 by Nachman Tal, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, the domestic security service, only six of the 13,000 employees of the Israeli Electricity Corp were Arabs.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's former prime minister, admitted racial discrimination was rife in a speech to the parliament in December. "It is terrible that there is not even one Arab employee [out of 900] at the Bank of Israel."

Of the civil service, he added: "There is no arguing that some government ministries did not hire Arabs for years."

Government statistics show that 12.5 percent of all Arab college graduates are unemployed, nearly four times the figure for Jewish graduates.

Even those who do work are often forced into low-paying and menial jobs, Badarne said.

Salami, who trained as a schoolteacher, said that, among the 20 guards from his village, four were lawyers.

Badarne pointed out that the long-standing Zionist principle of "Hebrew labor," or Jews employing only other Jews, still had great influence in Israeli society.

He was especially critical of the country's trade union federation, the Histadrut, which has traditionally also been one of the country's largest employers.

It did not allow any admission of Arab workers until a decade after Israel's creation and even then it set up a separate, and marginal, Arab section within the organization, he said.

"Unusually for a trade union, poor workers, and that means, overwhelmingly, Arab workers, are simply not on the Histadrut's agenda. It is there to protect the jobs and good salaries of workers in the large state corporations and government offices."

He added that his organization, which offers Arab workers support services and legal advice, was currently seeking redress for many Arab workers who had been sacked after attending demonstrations in January against the Israeli army's attack on Palestinians in Gaza.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

April 6, 2009

Irene Kangas Tefft, Communist, Died In Portland Today

From Paul Kangas:

Irene stood on the heavy old wooden planks of the the train station platform.

The smell of the desert sage filled the air. Dressed in a cool flower print cotton dress, in the hot desert air of Pendleton, Oregon sobbing about fear.

Her first born was going off to war, as some of America was digging A-bomb shelters. “War with Russia”, screamed from some headline in 1960. The drums of war were pounding. Irene hugged Paul & kept crying to him, “You don’t have to go. You could stay here & work on the farm. Milk the cow. Maybe find a job somewhere.” The horizon stretched on forever in the high desert. The sun just past high noon. The platform was blazing hot, quiet & empty, except for Irene’s sobbing.

A mothers anguish against war. Fearing her child was too young to understand war, peace & death.

What does a farm boy, of a mere 18, who has never even read “War & Peace”, know about war? Nothing. Her innocent country son was being sucked into a bloody pile of carrion being ground up by the war machine.

Bodies go in. War profit come out.

Irene was an activist. She had been born into a long line of activists, her father Jack Saari, Iron River Mi., & even her husband Iren Kangas, a Michigan logger, all members of the movement, who built the unions & peace movement in the 30’s. She understood more about war than her young simple son could ever, at his age.

Why had he grown up so fast? She was so busy raising 5 kids, that she forgot to teach her sons about the reality of war, capitalism & life.

Now, standing at the last place a mother wants to stand, one step from her son’s future grave, in the military, she felt frustrated that she could not communicate the dangers of getting on that train: to boot camp, to the Navy, to death.

What had she done wrong? She felt she had failed to raise her son to refuse the military. Their life went by too fast. Irene felt she had forgot to teach her first born son the dangers of war. She tried several teary appeals to reason. They sounded too little & too last.

From Francis Perkins, to Angela Davis to Linus Pauling. Irene had many heros who where were opposed to war. Yet now her son had been drafted into a maelstrom he did not understand, that might snuff out his young & tender future. Irene had been raised reading anti-war newspapers like her father Jack Saari’s “The Worker”.

Suddenly, from the East, Irene could hear the sound of the train.

The engine to death coming. In 9 minutes she would lose her son, possibly forever. She cried louder.

The thunder of the approaching train drown her cries out. She tried to control herself. She had just 8 minutes left to convince her son to stop. To come back home with her. To think this over. To study the issues of war.

Yes! Maybe he would be better off staying home for a year or two. Studying the politics of war & then doing something against the war, rather than just being another statistic. Another kid who comes home in a box.

Another mother who gets a flag from her government. As the huge black steam engine rumbled passed them, like a harbinger of death, and then screeched to a halt, steel wheels grinding on steel rails, with a cloud of white steam shooting out from the brakes, in the hot Oregon desert, “Please Paul, do not get on that train!

That train to your young death, she sobbed, over & over.” Paul did not understand? He was numb to reason. Somewhere in his youthful male mind, he though he was bullet proof. Many young men want change. Want to get out on their own. They see war movies. They never see the dead bodies of those who have gone before them.

Hey! He had been drafted. He had high school friends who going into the Navy with him. He had signed a contract with the Navy. They offered him a school: "navy intelligence." It would be a fresh new start.?

What better choice could he get if he stayed home?"

Irene looked into Paul's eyes. She could see the lost state of his mind. Irene now realized she had not given her son enough information about life, his future, wars, capitalism and the deception the media pushes.

From looking into his eyes, Irene could see Paul had really been mentally sucked into the war machine. Hypnotized by the idea of a new adventure.

"Paul," Irene pleaded, "please snap out of it." Nothing.

One last kiss,.. and then Paul was gone. Gone maybe forever.

Irene had recently marched in SF,on that cold & rainy Thursday, in 2003, at age 88, in a wheel chair, the week before the Iraq war began.

What a long and active life she had had, walking beside her activist son Paul.

Yes, they were both still alive, 46 years later, & still marching together after all these years. Paul had survived & learned his lesson well. He taught his son Shane, what his parents had not taught him, “to avoid the military.”

Irene had marched in hundreds of anti-war marches from the 60’s, to 2003. When she wasn’t marching for peace with Paul, she was knitting red, yellow & blue Viet Cong hats & vests for her 3 sons: Paul, Emil & John, whom she also marched with.

Irene Kangas Tefft, union organizer, mother, comrade, & my best friend, age 97, passed away in Portland, Oregon 4-6-09.

Portland: Spread the word! Time for a Transit Riders’ Union!

The following is circulating over the web and is important. The call for a transit riders' union is timely; we would only add that this should be organized in solidarity with the transit workers' union and poor peoples' movements regionally.


Spread the word! Time for a Transit Riders’ Union!

TriMet is proposing severe cuts to our bus and rail transit service. We need our public transit now more than ever! With transit ridership at record levels, and more working people relying on the buses and the trains every day, we’re coming together to let TriMet know our community will stand up to defend our public services. And cuts that hurt working people undermine our economic recovery.

Join transit riders and community members to rally at the…

TriMet Hearing for Public Comment on Proposed Cuts

DATE: Tuesday, April 7
TIME: 4-7 pm
LOCATION: Portland Building (the “Portlandia” building, 1120 SW 5th Ave., downtown at 5th Ave and Main St., Auditorium on Second Floor)
BRING: Friends! Signs! Enthusiasm to defend our public services! We’ll make our voices heard both inside and outside the hearing.

Can’t make it on Tuesday?

-> Can you come to one of the two other hearings?
Monday, April 6, 4-7 pm: Wilson High School Cafeteria (1151 SW Vermont)
Wednesday, April 8, 4-7 pm: Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, Public Safety Training Center (12700 SE 82nd Ave.)
-> Or can you call or email TriMet? (Some helpful talking points are below…)
Email: comments@trimet.org
Comment line: 503-962-5806
Mail: TriMet-MK2, 4012 SE 17th Ave., Portland, OR 97202
-> Can you forward this email and let some friends know? Can you hand out flyers on your next bus trip?

Summary of proposed cuts: TriMet is proposing to cut five bus routes entirely, and on many other bus routes they propose cutting out a weekend day or making service less frequent or shortenening the route. They’re also proposing to make the MAX trains run less frequently. For full details on proposed cuts, see http://www.trimet.org/alerts/servicecuts.htm

TALKING POINTS

This is no time to cut public transit. We should be running more buses, not fewer.

·TriMet ridership has increased dramatically over the last year: 7.8 million trips in February 2009 alone. Ridership has grown faster than the population for more than a decade.

·In fact, transit ridership in the U.S. in 2008 was the highest in 52 years is setting records all over the country.

·Riders of public transit are disproportionately people with low and moderate incomes (66% of passengers in the U.S.), people of color (59%), and people going to work (59%).

·In hard times, working people depend on public transit more than ever – including people living far out from downtown, and people who work the night shift.

·Transit jobs are good union jobs. With Oregon’s unemployment over 10%, we need more good jobs, not fewer.

·To fight global warming, we need everyone to drive less, which means riding transit more.

·Cuts that hurt working people also undermine our economic recovery.

It’s true TriMet is under budget pressures, but…
·Congress is giving trillions away to the bankers and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

·Portland’s City Council has just come up with funds for a new stadium.

·Somehow there’s money for a massive bridge across the Columbia River.

·Prison spending is growing faster in state budgets than anything but Medicaid.

·Obama is proposing to put 100,000 more police on the streets of the U.S. (The Bus Riders’ Union in Los Angeles has a slogan: 1,000 more buses, 1,000 fewer police!)

·Most of Oregon’s corporations pay only $10 a year in taxes, and rich people pay very little income taxes. (A lower share of their income than the poor!)

That’s why we are mobilizing as a community to insist on full funding for public transit operations and all our public services, now more than ever.

April 4, 2009

Today's Portland Antiwar Rally

Several of us attended the teach-in and antiwar rally in Portland today organized by Pdx Peace.

I found the talk given by Zahra Alkabi of Save Refugees during the morning teach-in especially helpful. She has a global perspective and the experience of having lived as a refugee to draw upon and she is able to give a credible history of Iraq and conflicts across the region. She is also able to appeal to one's conscience without reducing her points to a series of abstract moral imperatives. Our Communist Party Club, Portland War Resisters League and Portland ISO all had literature tables at the events today. We heard updates about the effort to keep the Oregon National Guard home and news about local campaigns in solidarity with Palestine. Benji Lewis spoke at both the teach-in and at the rally and received some well-deserved recognition for his courage and leadership.

Today's activities were held in three separate locations and the events were not well-publicized. Portland now seems to have two antiwar coalitions--PDX Peace and Portland Peaceful Response Coalition (PPRC). All of this apparently works against large turnout and mass action.

One event organizer initiated a conversation with me this morning about labor's role in the antiwar movement in Oregon at this point. Union turnout at antiwar events has been low in recent months--no unions were represented today--while workers face especially tough times on the job and in our communities due to the economic crisis. He offered that future antiwar rallies should put forward key economic demands which speak directly to workers more prominently. I can't disagree with his thinking, but putting forward new slogans and demands by themselves might not be sufficient at this point. After all, we are looking at an economic slide which will continue to take jobs and may temporarily erode union organizing and bargaining power. The practical absence of a dialogue between labor and the antiwar movement in Oregon now certainly inhibits the mobilization of one movement to support the other. A new formation and a new conversation about social change are needed in Oregon.

I also found the criticism of the Obama administration today frustrating. This comes primarily from sections of the left which lack a nuanced understanding of the political moment we're in. We're most inclined to emphasize building the capacity of key movements which can push the administration in positive directions and talk about recalibrating the left's relationship with labor, people of color, immigrants, environmentalists, the disabled, womens' organizations and prisoners. We recognize that the November elections created new opportunities for the left which would not exist had we sat out the elections or put forward a sectarian program. We work to make each activity we are involved in another opportunity to grow our movement, broaden our base and change relationships--and create real change, of course. To the ultra-left groups and the purists this is nonsense and translates as selling out and as support for Obama.

The fortunes of the antiwar movement have been better as today's low numbers and lack of unity show. We are sliding further into an economic crisis, people are willing to give the new administration a chance, the war in Afghanistan has not yet impacted Americans as the war in Iraq has, military recruitment is up, key forces previously at the forefront of the antiwar movement here are not stepping up and the antiwar here is itself divided. As these factors come into play the ultra-left and the purists are able to play a seemingly stronger role and they probably repel more people than they attract.

There is no certain way past these problems, but if we do not set to work trying to solve them and organizing more united public efforts at social change we will be overtaken by these problems and the pace of larger political developments. The event organizer who raised the issue of labor's role in the antiwar movement is on to something because all of the contradictions I've listed here can be overcome by people working together in a social struggle for real change. That struggle can create new conditions which may indeed unite more forces behind a broader program and the fresh demands which naturally arise from the grassroots almost daily. What we are missing in Oregon now is the proper mechanism or structure to hear those demands, refine them and act upon them in a united movement.

We are not the only ones trying to work through this. Go here for United for Peace & Justice Resources and here for a strong piece by Freedom Road Socialist Organization dealing with some of these questions. A Communist analysis of our problems and prospects can be found here.

Progress In Oregon: SB 328 And HB 2188 Move Forward

Our Oregon is reporting the following news:

Taming Abusive Debt Collectors

The House of Representatives helped to protect consumers from abusive, illegal debt collection practices by passing SB 328. The bill finally closes a decades-old loophole that gave the debt collection industry a special exemption from enforcement.

SB 328 will give the Oregon Department of Justice the authority to protect consumers by enforcing the laws we already have. This means putting a stop to the worst abuses and creating a strong deterrent against breaking the law.

The Senate passed SB 328 in February, and the bill now goes to the Governor's desk.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 386, introduced by Senator Bonamici and co-sponsored by Senator Monnes-Anderson and Representative Holvey. As Senator Bonamici explained, SB 386 will stop the "sue first, ask questions later" tactics of aggressive bill collectors.

SB 386 makes it illegal for a debt collector to attempt to collect a debt that they know, or have good reason to know, does not exist, and removes obstacles facing consumers who deserve to have their day in court.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Preventing the Next Mortgage Meltdown

On Wednesday, the Oregon House passed House Bill 2188, which will take solid steps towards preventing the next mortgage meltdown.

HB 2188 will help prevent the same type of risky lending that got us into the current foreclosure crisis, by tightening lending rules around "negative amortization" loans. These loans have been especially risky contributors to the mortgage meltdown and the resulting financial crisis.

HB 2188 also provides homeowners equal access to justice when violations occur, ensuring that all consumers have the ability to protect themselves if they are victimized by unlawful lending practices.

Further, the bill requires that when a lender purposefully solicits business from people who speak a language other than English, the disclosures be translated to the language in which the sales pitch was made.

HB 2188 now moves on to the State Senate.

While the struggling economy continues to pose serious threats to the vast majority of Oregonians, it's encouraging to see that there are so many leaders in this state who are willing to stand up for policies that will level the playing field for average consumers.

Benji Lewis Resists The War--Corvallis Press Conference Scheduled

Benji Lewis Resists War-Press Conference

DATE & TIME: Monday, May 18 at noon

PLACE: Corvallis Public Library, 645 NW Monroe Ave.

MORE INFO: www.couragetoresist.org

Benji Lewis was honorably discharged from the Marines Corps after 4 years of active duty, including 2 combat tours in Iraq. In October 2008, he received notification that he was being involuntarily activated to be sent back again. But instead of reporting for duty on 18 May 2009, Benji will be holding a press conference to publicly refuse activation. The press conference will be held at noon at the Corvallis Public Library, 645 NW Monroe Ave. The public is invited to come and show solidarity with Benji as he 'just says no' to war.

April 3, 2009

Israel and the U.S. — does the tail wag the dog? by Adrienne Weller

I seldom agree with the Freedom Socialist Party, but I think that this article is important. It was originally published in the Freedom Socialist newspaper, Vol. 30, No. 2, April-May 2009 and can also be read at www.socialism.com. I’ll add some comments below.

Freedom Socialist • Vol. 30, No. 2 • April-May 2009
Israel and the U.S. — does the tail wag the dog?

by Adrienne Weller

Israel's winter blitzkrieg into Gaza, like all its other forays against Palestinians, was made in the U.S.A. This is thanks to enormous U.S. financial support for Israel — roughly $3 billion a year — combined with unwavering political backing, even in the face of genocidal policies.

A stream of books and articles in recent years attributes this deadly relationship to the influence of the well-financed, highly organized Israel lobby in the U.S. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, represents a pro-U.S. government perspective. Other writings take an anti-imperialist point of view, like those of retired sociology professor James Petras (The Power of Israel in the United States) and leftist author Alexander Cockburn (in The Nation and CounterPunch).

These writers claim that when Israel says "Jump," the United States answers "How high?" This is a dangerous error. Small, isolated, dependent Israel no more dictates to the imperialist U.S. giant than a tail wags a dog. To assert otherwise covers up U.S. culpability for the crimes against Palestine and impedes the fight for justice in the Middle East.

Serving U.S. interests. After World War II, the U.S. became the top world power and moved to wrest control of the Mideast from Britain.

Support for Israel kicked into high gear in the 1960s when President Kennedy authorized the first major sale of weaponry to Israel. This was part of a Cold War plan to counteract Soviet arms sales and influence in the Middle East while boosting U.S. profits. Following the Six Day War in June 1967, the U.S., impressed by Israel's victory over Egypt, Jordan and Syria, incorporated Israel as a vital asset.

U.S. aid to Israel is a guarantee of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money gushing into the pockets of arms manufacturers. And, through its repression of the Palestinians and wars with its neighbors, Israel serves as a weapons development and testing ground for Uncle Sam.

Alexander Haig, Secretary of State under Reagan, is one of many officials who have acknowledged Israel's value to the U.S. as a military proxy — in Haig's words, "the largest American aircraft carrier in the world," one that cannot be sunk and carries not even one U.S. soldier. Obviously, in the eyes of the empire, Israeli workers and soldiers are merely cannon fodder.

Where the critics go wrong. The Israel lobby is a conglomeration of Zionist (Jewish nationalist) organizations, rightwing Christians, pro-Israel politicians, finance capitalists, and well-off American Jews who support U.S. corporate interests in the Middle East.

Critics of the lobby diverge from one another in their political philosophies.

Professors Walt and Mearsheimer hold a minority view in a ruling-class debate over how best to advance the goals of the U.S. via its relationship with Israel. They oppose the Israel lobby, but not the idea of a Jewish state; they think that Israel should be more "evenhanded" with the Palestinians. They do not believe that Zionism, by definition, makes equality for non-Jews impossible in Israel.

Walt and Mearsheimer blame the lobby for undermining the U.S. as a moral force and international mediator for democracy in the Middle East. But this benevolent characterization of Washington's role is absurd. The millions of people who have suffered and died as a result of U.S. foreign policy are the proof.

Anti-imperialist James Petras, in a surprisingly patriotic notion, agrees that the U.S. and its "democracy" are damaged by the lobby's "control" over Middle East policy. He implies that U.S. torture and assassinations are modeled on Israeli practices.

Has Petras forgotten the School of the Americas, which taught torture tactics to dictators in the Western Hemisphere for decades, or the apartheid system in South Africa, based on Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. South? Is he unable to see the parallels between atrocities against Native Americans and Palestinians?

Alexander Cockburn argues that the lobby squelches anti-war sentiment in Congress and encourages war in Iran. Congress' overwhelming endorsement of Israel, he says, is an "astounding demonstration of the power of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and other Jewish organizations lobbying for Israel."

But the Israel lobby doesn't dictate U.S. actions in the Middle East. What drives the U.S., first of all, is its dependence on the region's oil — which means holding down Arab rebellion. Washington's goals happen to dovetail nicely with the expansionist ambitions of its junior partner, Israel.

And what fundamentally drives the lobby is a shared understanding that Israel would not last a day without U.S. backing, and that such support is not written in stone. Its ongoing mission is to make sure that Washington remains convinced that Israel is a loyal and indispensable agent of U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Both Petras and Cockburn blame the lobby for the Democratic Party's support for war in the region. But, regardless of the lobby, the record shows that the Democrats are just as much the party of war as the Republicans, in the Middle East as around the world.

Class clarifies. Defenders of Israel routinely accuse all its critics, including the writers discussed above, of being anti-Semitic. But the Jewish people are not the same as the state of Israel.

This, however, is a distinction many people do not make — and, of course, the Jewish nationalist state of Israel itself encourages the identification of the two. Because of this, to falsely blame U.S. foreign policy on the Israel lobby — often called the Jewish lobby — does encourage anti-Semitism. It stereotypes Jews as evil outsiders magically able to give orders to the most ruthless empire in world history, scapegoating Jews for U.S. imperialism. And it minimizes and mocks all the Jews who are not Zionist cheerleaders for Israel.

There are deep class lines among Jews, just as among every people. Jewish workers have a rich tradition of socialist politics and joining with others to fight for the underdog. They are not guided by Zionism — which, according to its founder Theodore Herzl, was designed to give oppressed Jews an alternative to revolution.

Neither are these workers "self-hating Jews." And neither are they, nor many other Marxist and humanist critics of Israel, anti-Semitic.

Rather, they see a ruthless drive for profits as the only rational explanation for U.S. and Israeli atrocities. The ruling class does not want peace, because war is indispensable to its power and profits.

What will make peace possible. Far from being a safe haven for Jews, the state of Israel has proved to be a menace to them, as well as to everyone else in the Middle East. No poor or working person or refugee is safe inside or outside of Israel.

History has proved that Zionist Israel as an exclusive land for Jews is inherently racist and cannot last. The only possible answer is one, secular, democratic state of Palestinians and Israelis, with divisions and inequalities bridged by a socialist economy. Increasingly, many are coming to believe that a one-state solution is the only solution.

The recent bombing of Gaza sparked international outrage, including a welcome upsurge of Jews committed to ending Zionism. Though polls at the time showed that the majority of Israelis, rallied by their government and media, backed the Gaza attack, 10,000 Israelis demonstrated against this assault in Tel Aviv. Young Israelis and soldiers continue to protest and go to jail for refusing to be occupiers.

Working-class Arabs and Jews, united against capitalism in the Middle East and the U.S., can breathe fresh life into the struggle to bring this tormented region peace.

Email Adrienne Weller, a Jewish veteran of anti-fascist organizing, at adrienne.w@earthlink.net.