July 31, 2009

Did Dems drop labor's number one priority?

'Blue dog' democrats drop vital support for 'card check' ...

Click HERE for an 11 minute clip of Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice, responding to questions in an interview with the Real News Network.


July 30, 2009

Johnny Walker: drunk on profits

Over 900 Diageo workers in Scotland face the sack following the announcement of the closure of the Johnny Walker packaging plant in Kilmarnock and distillery/cooperage in Port Dundas.

Labourstart, an online news service serving the international trade union movement, has established an international email campaign.

To learn more, and participate in the campaign please see this link:
http://www.labourstart.org/cgi-bin/solidarityforever/show_campaign.cgi?c=559

The Unite campaign site is here: www.unitetheunion.com/savediageojobs.

July 29, 2009

Oregon State Workers, The SEIU-DAS Tentative Agreement & Struggles Ahead

Most Oregon state workers whose unions bargain with the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) are moving towards settlement of their contracts quickly. The tentative agreement reached between SEIU Local 503, OPEU and the state has gotten the most media attention and will be the determining contract. Negotiations have been going on for eight months, with some high and low points along the way. Thousands of layoffs and closures have been avoided and the leadership of Local 503--its rank-and-file member-leaders and its officers and staff--deserves full credit for the advances made and the lines that have been held.

As we have written previously, state worker unions went into negotiations this year prepared to make contract concessions after winning some key legislative victories. The two efforts--the political effort at the legislature and the actual contract negotiations--took place in different time frames and pulled into action different groups of people. The broad social push for health care, workers' rights and social services was successful, at least in part, at the legislature because unions and their allies attempted to mobilize and they could depend upon a few legislative allies and because the far-right was in such disarray. Even then, some important battles were not attempted and others were lost. This translated in only a limited way into building momentum among union members to support an aggressive bargaining strategy. The world economic crisis and proof of that crisis here in Oregon retarded union members' militancy and insured that unions would not go into negotiations with all of their liberal and progressive allies behind them. In this round of bargaining there was little sense of a people's movement or a labor movement in place around core demands. Given that starting point, even a contract containing concessions but maintaining health care for workers, a salary step and union rights may be a victory. The SEIU bargaining team believes they met their goal of making sure that the union rank and file will not be stuck shouldering all of the costs of the economic crisis and the possible recovery.

The SEIU-DAS tentative agreement contains a one year step freeze, with steps resuming in September of 2010. This freeze is a huge sacrifice for union members to make. Some workers who receive a step this summer will have that step "rolled back" and restored later, but they will not lose money already received. The 24 proposed furlough days proposal has been reduced to 10, 12, or 14 days, depending on rate of pay. Workers who earn less than $2450 a month will take ten days. Workers who earn $2450 to $3100 will take twelve days. Workers who earn more than $3100 will take fourteen days. Some agencies will implement furlough days on a “floating” basis, but in most agencies, offices will be closed regular dates. Pro-rating accrual days and benefits for part-time and seasonal workers and implementing furlough days in institutions which need 24/7 staffing will be a real problem. The union also saved the tenth salary step; represented workers will get a step increase during the life of the contract. Still, this is a pay cut. Medical coverage as it is is safe if cost increases do not shoot over 10 per cent over the next two years.

The state continues to talk about classification studies, but no one should hope for too much from them.

SEIU will be holding their bargaining conference on Saturday, August 15th for bargaining delegates to review the tentative agreement and vote on whether to recommend ratification or not. A vote to ratify is almost guaranteed given the economic crisis and the lack of real options for workers now. These have been the toughest negotiations most state workers and union leaders have had to face in Oregon.

Some outstanding problems remain. We are all left wondering what happens to workers and unions if there is no real economic recovery in the next two years. The School for the Blind is closing, of course, and the media is no longer covering the story. This was a bitter defeat for kids, parents, the blind community, social services and labor. The Department of Education is rubbing salt in the wound, despite the efforts of the Department's HR people who are endeavoring to give workers proper advice as they face layoffs. One of the outstanding and never addressed issues state workers face is the lack of helpful coordination between managers, HR and agency administration; after awhile we begin to suspect that this is deliberate or, even worse, a form of telling incompetency that sabotages state services. This is never more glaring than when closures and layoffs go into effect. If agencies can't handle this, how will they handle furloughs?

Also, higher ed union contract bargaining is on-going and a list of take-aways and the typically belligerent attitude of Oregon University System (OUS) labor relations people remains. For almost 15 years now higher ed in Oregon has been pushing away from being a full partner and part of the state. There are a significant number of people in the OUS labor relations and political bureaucracies who want to see this devolution continue to the point that each campus is on its own and unions are broken there. Every bad stereotype of state inertia is present in the conservative higher ed bureaucracy. That bureaucracy gets its staying power from cooked political deals, a remarkably inefficient leadership which simply delays and postpones crises to its advantage and the old-school ties which are used to pull legislators behind programs and thinking which do not meet the state's needs. In this situation unions could sacrifice solidarity and allow higher ed to go the way of the School for the Blind in some way. The School and the blind students' needs also devolved. If labor remains allied only with its tepid allies and the pace of struggle does not pick up in Oregon and the progressive wings of the Democratic Party here do not advance on their own terms, we will see solidarity sacrificed and more cutbacks in social services and, eventually, more union contract concessions.

Some remaining questions are how, or if, unions will move beyond holding the line and regaining lost ground and lost power here; how unity can be built between all state workers and solidarity strengthened; why national healthcare has not been the priority we wish it were when healthcare has been such an important point for state workers and such a drag in contract negotiations; why and how the Democrats get to skate after not backing state workers more aggressively in contract negotiations; why are parents of kids at the School for the Blind forced to go into court in order to protect their kids and keep the School open and why are they there alone; and why at this moment unions take on such lukewarm allies when an expanded social struggle is needed.

The main danger at this moment is the "anti-tax" movement and its dishonest scare tactics aimed at overturning the state budget. They will certainly get their ballot measure on the ballot and will succeed in tying up unions, social service organizations and liberal and progressive groups for a time. A win for the ultra-right on tax issues is possible. It would open the door to "jungle economics" as a new struggle for another budget got underway and social solidarity was strained. This seems to be the right's entire agenda in a nutshell, in fact. A progressive win in that fight will require more energy, more creative thinking, more militancy and more and different allies than we have seen in this state worker contract fight and in the social services fights at the legislature.

July 28, 2009

Our parks: for natural habitat or commercial farm?

I've always wondered why in Minto-Brown Island Park, a large City of Salem, Oregon park, over 400 acres are leased to commercial farm activities.

It seems to me that publicly owned parks such as this are for green space and for nature and for people to enjoy - not for commercial ventures.

Salem currently has a chance to take about 1/2 of the park's current farm acreage - completely cleared land - and have it restored with native plants to its natural floodplain state - for no cost to the City. This would come about if the City agrees to accept funds authorized by the Obama administration through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The most information I have gathered is from a report to the City manager from the City Public Works director. The document is here. According to the report, the land would be purchased as a floodplain easement. The purpose of these easements is to "retard run off, prevent soil erosion and to safeguard lives and property." The report also goes on to say that the "floodplain easements provide for the restoration, protection, management, maintenance, and enhancement of the functions and values of the flood plains, including conservation of natural values, flood water retention and erosion control."

First, the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board was in favor of the easement, then they completely and unanimously reversed position. Something seems amiss. Did the Advisory Board get lobbied with folks who object ideologically to the Obama administration recovery funds programs?

My city council member wrote to me after I urged him to vote yes on the proposal, saying (sic): "I don't support selling local park land to the federal government. We don't have enough park land in Salem now and to remove whole sections of this park and hend them over to the federal government just makes no sense to me right now. Perhaps information will be developed that make some sense but certainly don't at this point."

First, an easement is not an outright sale; the easement would be to ensure the land remains in the restored natural floodplain state as intended. And, when huge sections of the largest park in Salem are completely cleared of any native vegetation and given over to commercial farming, do we really have a "park" there anyway?

In addition, the park currently has way too much in the way of invasive non-native plants such as blackberries and English ivy. Taking about 200 acres of the park currently used for farming and restoring it to native habitat sounds good to me.

July 23, 2009

Starbucks guide to Profits Grande

Yesterday the Business page of the Statesman Journal told me, through an Associated Press story, that "Starbucks profits beat expectations." This surprised me a bit. Given the closing of hundreds of their cafes across the country, I ignorantly assumed they were having some troubles. Obviously I am far from obtaining an MBA because the only ones having troubles at Starbucks are apparently the workers.

According to the article, "Closing stores, laying off workers and cutting other costs helped Starbucks beat Wall Street's profit expectations for its fiscal third quarter." And though sales were down, "Investors cheered the results anyway, sending shares up $1.46, or 9.9 percent."

CEO Howard Schultz told investors that this shows "positive momentum." Well, I suppose it does, if you're a shareholder. But, if you're one of the workers now unemployed due to this fresh-brewed "momentum", it's doubtful your outlook is as positive. Wouldn't it be nice to see life through the looking glass of such corporate executives? Slash n' burn, make 10 percent?

Well, no. No it wouldn't, because I have a conscience.

This story reminded me of a video sent to me a while back by Robert Greenwald, the producer of many amazing documentaries and shorts. It concerns worker intimidation and anti-union practices at the aforementioned Starbucks.

Here is the video, as well as link to the site.

http://stopstarbucks.com/

The Minimum Wage, Executive Bonuses And Class Justice

Some of the largest banks are paying billions of dollars more to their executives just months after they got bailed out. Most of these banks are showing increased profits and are paying the executives as much as, or even more than, they did in the pre-crisis days, which now seems like so long ago. The leading six U.S. banks are giving their executives $74 billion, up from $60 billion in the corresponding period last year.

Goldman Sachs disclosed that they have a record $6.6 billion for compensation expenses in the most recent quarter, bringing the total for the first six months of the year to over $11 billion. Goldman earned a record $3.4 billion for the second quarter and, along with J.P. Morgan Chase, is likely to be one of the strongest banks to emerge from the crisis. Have you noticed the new Chase banks all over Oregon?

Morgan Stanley has reported that they set aside $6 billion so far this year for executive compensation expenses even as they reported taking a third straight quarterly loss. They lost $1.26 billion, including an $850 million expense related to paying the government back after its alleged bailout. The company set aside $3.9 billion for executive compensation bonuses for this quarter. This represents 72 percent of its revenue for the quarter.

Some drain on the economy and some slap in the face to society, right?

But this morning as I drove to work what I heard on the radio were dire predictions about the damage that might be done with the increase in the minimum wage. Raising the pay of the poorest paid workers will kill small businesses and stall economic recovery, the economists said.

That's nonsense. This capitalist economy can recover by raising living standards, stabilizing prices and costs and taking some major costs (like healthcare) off of the backs of workers. The US can run deficits and experience a short period of inflation and still recover from the crises caused in large part by these banks and globalized industry. Employers have a choice: they can take their capital elsewhere or they can improve production and distribution methods. Increasing the minimum wage will not aggravate or cause another crisis.

But what about these banks and bankers? Why are the poorest workers being held up as the problem while these executives walk away laughing?

Dolores Huerta Coming To Salem

The Annual Salem Peace Lecture is pleased to celebrate its 20th year with organizer Dolores Huerta speaking on Immigration Reform & Farm Worker Justice. The Peace Lecture will be held on Wednesday, October 21 @ 7:30 PM at Hudson Hall in the Mary Stuart Rogers Music Center at Willamette University. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Dolores Huerta is co-founder and Secretary-Treasurer of the United Farm Workers of America,(UFW). In 1962 she and Cesar Chavez formed the National Farm Workers Association, the predecessor to the UFW. She directed the UFW's national grape boycott, resulting in the entire California table grape industry signing a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the UFW.

Delores spoke out early and often against toxic pesticides, like DDT and parathion, that threaten farm workers, consumers and the environment. She lobbied in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., organized field strikes, directed UFW boycotts, and became one of the UFW's most visible spokespersons. Robert F. Kennedy acknowledged her help in winning the 1968 California Democratic Presidential Primary moments before he was shot in Los Angeles.

Delores directed the east coast boycott of grapes, lettuce and Gallo wines. The boycott resulted in the enactment of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first law of its kind in the United States, granting farm workers the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions. In 1975 she lobbied against federal guest worker programs and spearheaded legislation granting amnesty for farm workers that had lived, worked and paid taxes in the United States for many years. Her efforts were instrumental in passing the Immigration Act of 1985.

Dolores Huerta has received many awards, including three honorary doctorate degrees. In 1984 the California State Senate bestowed upon her the Outstanding Labor Leader Award. In 1993 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. That same year she received the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award, the Eugene Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, and the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award. In 1998 she was named one of three Ms. Magazine's "Women of the Year" and was honored as the Ladies Home Journal's "100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century."

Dolores continues to work long hours on behalf of the rights of farm workers, immigrants and women. She has been arrested 22 times for non-violent, peaceful protests.

Each year the Peace Lecture Committee recognizes a local advocate for peace and justice. This year we are pleased to honor Gail McDougle, pastor of First Congregational Church UCC, with the 2009 Salem Peacemaker Award.

July 21, 2009

Horse Meat Coming To A County Near You?



Someone has crafted an argument that there are too many horses in the United States, that feed and care for horses costs too much and that the solution to the problem is to open horse slaughterhouses here in Oregon on the reservations and to have the Department of Agriculture resume inspecting horse meat for human consumption. The intermediate step in this process is to open the slaughterhouses for the production of pet food.

The U.S. currently ships lots of horses over the border for slaughter. In recent years a number of star racing horses, once coddled and prized for making their owners money, have made that terrible journey. These horses get shipped over the borders because the American pet food industry got caught running particularly inhumane slaughterhouses at a time when horses were moving from being considered beasts of burden and work animals to companions for humans. The industry shut down most of its American production, and I believe that the USDA stopped inspecting horse meat for human consumption. Changing those policies now will require a shift in our culture and changes in federal and state policies.

I want to suggest that other agendas are at work here than concern for horses and their feed and maintenance costs. Raising and breeding horses for food, selling horse meat for human consumption, broadening or increasing the numbers and kinds of animals to be used for our consumption and manipulating the American diet certainly means higher profits and higher rates of profit for the multinational food conglomerates. I can easily foresee a time when the rural people who are struggling now to pay feed, land and vet costs are employed on what was once their land as food industry and food processing workers. Turning impoverished Native Americans into almost-impoverished slaughterhouse workers to begin with will not create real economic development on the reservations, will not build tribal sovereignty and will not give the tribes back a part of their cultures taken from them by the settler-colonialists.

There is already too much meat in the American diet. Further corporate exploitation of the environment and the food chains helps no one but the multinational corporations. Horses have become companion animals for humans: capitalism is once again ready to sacrifice the desire for companionship and warmth for profits. The numbers and kinds of animals we relate positively to should be increasing, not decreasing, at this point in human history. The slaughterhouses will be located in the poorest areas of the U.S. and will certainly pollute and ruin these areas. The dead-end jobs created by the food industry--which exists solely for profit, and not at all for feeding people--are back-breaking and alienating.

Before someone in labor or on the left or in the tribes accuses me of elitism and/or ultra-leftism or makes the too-familiar jobs argument or reminds us that horse meat is consumed all over the world I want to say the following: the opportunities to make choices, push alternate social models forward and win concessions from the system are always present and these are among the most important tasks of the left. How the environment was treated two days ago and how animals were treated yesterday is how the poorest people will be treated today and how the working class and the middle classes will be treated tomorrow and the day after.

July 20, 2009

National Public Radio Gets It Wrong Again: How Are Salaries Determined?

National Public Radio did an odd story today on how wages are determined. You can find that piece here. We have spent a lot of space on this blog addressing this issue. See most of our Basic Marxism item labels to follow that discussion.

The NPR piece makes it sound as if wages are determined by accidental or mystical processes and confuses the salaries or wages workers receive on the job with the money a real estate agent makes as an entrepreneur. You are not an entrepreneur if you're on someone else's payroll, drawing a wage and exchanging your ability to work for that wage.

There is nothing accidental or mystical about how wages are determined. Workers produce commodities and provide services by definition. Part of the day or week or month of that work provides for the worker's upkeep. Part provides for the upkeep of the workplace. Part pays other bills for the owner, capitalist or administrator or agency. The rest of the product or production is taken by the capitalist as profit. It's in the capitalist's interest to take more profit and reduce all of the other costs. It's in the worker's interest to get more for her work. Antagonism is built into the system.

"Wages," Marx says, "are not a share of the worker in the commodities produced by himself. Wages are that part of already existing commodities with which the capitalist buys a certain amount of productive labour-power." The worker is not an entrepreneur and does not legally own the product or some portion of the product. Wages are paid from what the capitalist steals from the worker.

How are your wages determined? Your labor or labor-power--your ability to work--is a commodity just like every other commodity. "Wages," says Marx, "are the price of a certain commodity, labour-power. Wages, therefore, are determined by the same laws that determine the price of every other commodity."

The price of a commodity is determined "by the competition between buyers and sellers, by the relation of the demand to the supply, of the call to the offer," adds Marx. In general, then, this is how the price of labor as a commodity (wages) is determined. Here we see again how antagonism is built into the system: workers and bosses compete, or are forced into competition, and this competition generally determines your wages. The capitalists understand very well what the costs of maintaining labor or labor power are. These are the costs of producing and reproducing that labor power. It is in their interests to lower or cut those costs or to shift the burden on paying those costs on to others. The lower these costs, the higher their profits. It is in the interests of workers to insure that the capitalists shoulder more of these costs and pay higher wages. Workers will understandably struggle to sell their labor as a commodity at the highest prices possible. Communists point out that commodity production as we know it is crisis-driven and bound to collapse and argue that society can be organized around human needs instead.

So NPR completely ignored this historically-grounded and logical explanation of where wages come from and made it a more complicated or mystical prices. Their agenda is increasingly determined by their American Enterprise Institute sponsors. If you have read this far, you probably get the point of how wages and salaries are set. You may be asking yourself why NPR doesn't get it or won't say it.

In other articles NPR raised the question of whether or not raising the minimum wage will cost jobs and how close the recession/depression is to ending. As for the first question, we believe that the capitalists have a choice and should be held responsible for the choices they make: buy labor as a commodity at a higher price at the expense of some profit or not. It is in their nature to resist and it is in our nature to demand more. Moreover, the minimum wage is set artificially low and is not the minimal cost of producing or reproducing labor power.

On the second question, we communists project that capitalism carries with it these crises at regular intervals. The end of this crisis will only point to another one and recovery for the capitalists and the banks does not mean that we will see more jobs created. Indeed, companies and banks can recover in large part without increasing full or full-time employment, and especially so if the costs of maintaining a working class can be shifted to government or social services agencies or privatized services run for profit. It sometimes seems that much of the current crisis has been very much about finding what the minimum numbers of workers needed to run the economy are and driving down the wages of the people who remain working. In this regard, then, the debates about healthcare are not so much about keeping and making people well as they are about insuring profits for a few.

July 19, 2009

Words and Phrases I Hate

There are some words and phrases in modern common usage that drive me nuts. What drives me nuts are the connotations and the implicit meanings buried in such words and phrases. I can't help but see the hidden social toxicity buried within these terms. So yes, this is a rant and rave of sorts; take it for what it's worth.

"Stakeholders"

"Stakeholder" is a word commonly used amongst legislators and bureaucrats at all levels of government. A "stakeholder" is a privately controlled institution or entity with a big "stake" in the decisions and actions taken by the governmental agency in question.

For instance, real estate developers are the big "stakeholders" when it comes to issues of zoning, provision of local public resources, etc. The U.S. Treasury Department's biggest "stakeholder" are the banks: The bigger the bank, the bigger the "stake". Contractors and construction firms are the major "stakeholder" in any state highway department. The biggest "stakeholder" in the U.S. corrections system are the private prison operators. As the Federal government approaches health care reform legislation it is becoming apparent that the big "stakeholders" are the hospital chains, private insurance firms and the AMA.

Of course, "stakeholders" are stakeholders because they have resources. They employ armies of lobbyists, make large campaign donations, have access to the media and can influence media messages in significant ways. The important concept in this state of affairs is this: We all have freedom of speech in America. It's just that in our capitalist society some have more freedom of speech than others. Why? Because political and social discourse can be bought, sold and controlled to the extent that one has the money to do so (folks interested in how this state of affairs has developed in the U.S.A. should read Steve Hall's post of July 10, 2009).

Chances are you are not a "stakeholder". I know I'm not a "stakeholder". Most of us citizens are not "stakeholders". Government could give a damn about what you are I might think. And thus, it is possible to become involved in seven years of war in the Middle East in spite of opposition from 70% of the population. In the same sense, health care reform will amount to a giant disappointment even though 67% of the population are calling for significant health care reform including universality and accessibility regardless of ability to pay.

Personally, I'd like to see these "stakeholders" and their governmental cronies carrying their "stakes" right through their hearts.... This would be progress.

"Rule of Law"

Lord, I hate this phrase! I hear this phrase all the time these days. It comes up whenever the subject of Iran, or North Korea, Belarus, or even Cuba comes up and needs to be painted in a particularly negative light in the media. Thus, any nation in conflict with the U.S. is by definition ruled by some sort of a monolithic despot... As compared to us, where the "rule of law" prevails. As if somehow the "policy" is sacred, above criticism and immune to injustice if it's haggled about in the media then passed in some sort of legislative body.

Of course, this false dichotomy fails to mention that Nazi Germany's racial purity laws were laws passed by a legislature (Reichstag) and enforced through courts. This same view of things fails to acknowledge that the Jim Crow laws were indeed "laws", that thousands of working class activists spent years in prison or were deported because their labor activities and political orientation were "against the law", that our courts routinely jail and execute African Americans and other minorities at rates far exceeding their population rates and in spite of proven evidence that significant numbers of these convictions are false. Indeed, it appears that torture conducted by the U.S. government isn't really torture because it was invented and made policy by a President and a Congress. As a result, there is no torture, only "enhanced interrogation techniques".

People might do well to remember German 19th century Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck's quote to the effect that people who like laws are like people who like sausage; neither of them should ask how the product was made.

"It's Brain Chemicals"

Did you know? 25%- plus of the U.S. population are taking anti-depressant medication. In just about any pool of health insured people the most prescribed medications are by far SRI (Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors) anti-depressants.

I've long had an interest in psychology and psychiatry. Anybody who follows the modern treatment of depression and indeed most mental illness, will recognize that "it's all brain chemicals" is the primary explanation of mental illness, specifically depression, thrown out there by the psychiatric industry and in most popular explanations of depression.

40ish years ago, an experimental psychologist named Martin Seligman invented the concept of "learned helplessness". It was all sort of an accident and it happened like this:

There were three groups of dogs. The first group of dogs were rigged in a harness wired to give electrical shocks, but were never shocked. The second groups of dogs were rigged in the same harness and were given electrical shocks but could turn off the shocks by pushing a lever. The third group of dogs were rigged in the harness and given electrical shocks. This third group however had no way to turn the shock off. Thus, the third group of dogs were shocked, and they experienced the cessation of shocks, but the shocks and the cessation of the shocks were random, as these dogs as they had no way to control their occurrence.

The first two groups of dogs learned and coped. When the experiment was over, dogs of the first two groups recovered quickly and anthropomorphically put the experience behind them. The third group of dogs didn't do so well. Without any possibility of control, dogs of this third group quickly collapsed and whimpered in canine messes. To make matters worse, these dogs did not recover when the experiment was over. Indeed, the collapse and whimpering generalized; dogs of the third group approached new noxious experiences by collapsing and whimpering. Thus, the origins of the concept of learned helplessness!

Personally, I'm willing to bet that if one measured levels of neuro-transmitters in the brains of this third group of dogs, one would find these chemicals depleted or otherwise out of whack (please please don't attempt this stuff! Dogs deserve better). This might take me one step farther and I'd be willing to suggest that experiences of life alter brain chemicals... Specifically, that certain life experiences tainted with a lack of control, real or perceived, can make a person seriously depressed, including altering of brain chemicals.

One might think that something might be wrong with the nature of our society and our social relationships when 25% to 45% of the population needs anti-depressant medication to function. These questions however are rarely asked. Instead, all this depression gets explained as imbalances in our brain chemicals... The the path of this imbalance is further explained as the result of genetics and/or defects in the personality of the individual.

The end of all this?

Capitalist medicine by its very nature is not going to examine a toxic society. To embark on such an examination might very well lead to an undoing of the conceptual structure underlying modern capitalist psychiatry and the nature of capitalism itself.

On the other hand... "It's all the brain chemicals" avoids any examination of experience, the nature of our capitalist society, and at the same time creates a wonderful niche for new products. So, there's a whole new panel of improved anti-depressants hitting the market as I speak. Yahoo...

As a counter, I'd like to suggest that all this depression effecting giant segments of modern capitalist society has a lot more to do with wide segments of the population having "third group" dog experiences. Think about it, eh?

"We Decided Long Ago That We Are A Free Enterprise Society, So Shut Up."

I actually heard this about four years ago. It was in a high school classroom, the subject was American History and the period being studied was the Great Depression of 1929 to 1941. A kid in the class asked, "Why don't we study socialism? What's wrong with socialism?". The title of this sub-section was the teacher's response to the kid's question (exact quote).

A couple of months ago, the Republican Party labelled the Obama Administration and Democratic Party as "socialistic". Anybody with even a glancing knowledge of the socialist tradition knows this Republican plank to be pure bullshit. The Democratic Party in turn defended itself by stating its total adherence to a free market economy and flatly denying any socialist inspired policy within the Party or the Administration.

The sum effect of this whole Republican vs. Democratic pissing match was to once again reinforce that old American plank that we are a "free enterprise society", so... "Shut Up!"

About a month ago, Obama was pressed on the question of "Why not single payer?" Obama's response was that.... "If we could start from scratch single payer might be best..." "But..."

Here, Obama for pragmatic reasons shuts down any discussion of the health care alternative that actually could provide universal, quality, and individually free health care. Why? Obama's no dummy, he knows quite well that single payer is just too "socialistic", regardless of whether it works or not.

Every time I hear "we're a free enterprise society" I know that the limits of the public dialogue are being enforced. "We're a free enterprise society" is a shut down phrase; it is meant in this one sense only.

"Socialism or Barbarism?"

Rosa Luxembourg's quote... I love this quote because it makes the choices so clear.

"Stakeholder", "Rule of Law", "It's all Brain Chemicals", "We're a Free Enterprise Society". All of these common little statements aim to force the barbarism option by denying a socialist analysis and socialist solutions... Every time I hear "we're a free enterprise society" I can also hear a remark that goes like this:

"Mass homelessness? Double digit unemployment? Biggest proportion of people in jail in the whole works? Collapsing education system? 60 million with no health care? Yup, we gladly accept these outcomes because we are a free enterprise society!"

And thus speaks the ruling class...

July 16, 2009

Basic Marxism---Twenty-Five




From Bela Kun:

Marx’s doctrine does more than expound the general law of development of human history. It also contains the special law of development of the capitalist method of production and of bourgeois society engendered by it.

The great secret of capitalist production and its concurrent bourgeois society was a sealed book to the best representatives of bourgeois economy who investigated the capitalist method of production and deemed it an eternal institution, as well as to be the best representatives of pre-Marxian utopian socialism who critisised and rejected the capitalist system. The discovery of surplus value by Marx revealed this secret of capitalist production and bourgeois society. The wage-worker in capitalist society sells his labour power to the owner of the means of production. It is not a question here of any relation of things: product of labour and means of production, but of relations between people of whom one has only his labour power while the other owns the means of production. Commodity labour power is endowed with the peculiar property that even when purchased at its full value it creates more value than the equivalent of its own value, i.e., than is necessary for the reproduction of the commodity labour power. The private appropriation of these unpaid surplus values is the basis of the capitalist method of production and it is precisely this surplus value which is the source from which the capitalist class draws its growing wealth.

The discovery of surplus value led not only to the discovery of the motive power of the development of capitalist production, but also to the discovery of the driving force of the struggle between the two classes arising historically under capitalism: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Socialism was no longer a fortuitous discovery of this or that “gifted mind” but recognised as a necessary consequence of capitalist development and of the class struggle.

Capital — created by the workers — brings about the ruin of the small producers. It multiplies the class of the wage-workers. By developing the forces of production (machines, etc.), it constantly increases the earnings of the capitalists derived from the work of the former. Capital becomes more and more concentrated and finally leads to monopolist domination by a handful of the most powerful magnates. Production becomes more and more socialised. Hundreds of thousands and millions of workers are embraced in a few industrial organisations. The product of their social labour is, however, appropriated by a mere handful of capitalists.

In the process of the concentration of capital, human labour power is increasingly displaced by machinery. This leads, on the one hand, to the most intensified accumulation of wealth for the capitalists; on the other, to increasing misery for the working class. This also gives rise to the giant army of the unemployed. This industrial reserve army renders possible a still more intensive exploitation of the working class by the capitalists.

This constant expansion of production (which is accompanied by a steady decline in the purchasing power of the masses), leads to crises of over-production which become more aggravated at each repetition and shake the capitalist system more and more.

This historical tendency of development of capitalism was strikingly epitomized in “Capital,” the main work of Marx, in the following words:

“The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless Vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious. Self-earned private property, that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent labouring-individual with the conditions of his labour, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labour of others, i.e., on wages-labour.”

“That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an overextending scale, the co-operative form of the labour-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”

July 15, 2009

WHO IS MARIELA CASTRO ESPIN?

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Mariela is the 47 year old daughter of President Raul Castro and Vilma Espin. Her mother was a leader of the Cuban revolution in Oriente Province and assisted the guerilla movement in the Sierra Maestra mountains. She was President of the Federation Of Cuban Women from 1960 to her death in 2007. She was always a fighter for the rights of women and sexual minorities. Mariela often says she is a rebel in a family of rebels.

She is the Director of CENEX (Cuban National Center For Sex Education) This organization campaigns for effective AIDS education, recognition and acceptance of homosexuals, bisexuals, transvestites and transexuals. She sponsored the 2008 resolution which approved sex change operations within the Cuban State Health System (free of charge)

Recently she has been speaking out about larger issues. She is now speaking out about the future of Cuba and a continuing revolutionary process. She is well known in Cuba and recently she has been traveling around the world. She is often invited to speak at Gay Pride rallies but always conducts interviews about a range of subjects. In the last three months she has been to Russia, Italy and Great Britain. She often talks about Cuba's "Blockade Culture" which means blaming all of Cuba's problems on the blockade. And she speaks of the need for more participatory opportunities for Cuban youth.

Here are some excerpts from recent interviews she has given in Cuba and around the world:
"Many people think that when Fidel and Raul disappear, the revolution will disappear. This is a very bad mistake. It is great to see the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, with full national sovereignty and the search for social justice. But we still have a long way to go in broader terms...For me, a participatory socialist democracy is essential, not just at the level of proclamations or at the theoretical level, but in creating social mechanisms in actual practice. Socialism based on the dialectical approach means that we deal with contradictions as they crop up. The only way that young people will feel a part of this project is by participating in it, contributing their opinions, concerns and criticisms...
Cuba is an authentic, original, delightful and contradictory country. If participation mechanisms are developed in Cuban society, they will greatly enrich our revolutionary process, as well as international socialism. This has been one of our weaknesses..."

"The day the blockade is lifted will mean the removal of a huge burden imposed on our survival. But dismantling the blockade alone will not bring prosperity. We must perfect the mechanisms of socialist democracy. We have developed a culture of the blockade. We will have to assimilate the lessons of how to be Cuba without the blockade. Everything we do must serve the purpose of our sovereignty. But we must disregard internal mechanisms, which should be less rigid than they have been."

Last week in an interview with BBC she further defined what she meant by "democracy". The interviewer asked her about a multi party system.."I don't believe in multiparty systems. I believe in having diverse ideas, and in a participation in which we all contribute. Multiparty systems are a fiction to make one believe that he lives in a democracy. The United States has two parties - the Republicans and the Democrats - but neither of them responds to the most dispossessed classes. Europe has copied the American model. In the end their multiparty systems have not guaranteed democracy. So we have to keep thinking up new ways to bring about real democracy."
And we should all keep an eye on Mariela. She is an important part of the future of Cuba


July 14, 2009

Oregon Council on Civil Rights to Hold First Meeting

Oregon Council on Civil Rights to Hold First Meeting

Council will advise Commissioner Avakian, the Bureau of Labor and Industries, and the state on matters related to education about and enforcement of civil rights in Oregon

PORTLAND, OR- The newly-created Oregon Council on Civil Rights (OCCR), appointed to foster increased collaboration, outreach, education and partnerships between state civil rights enforcement efforts, advocacy groups, employers and citizens, will hold its first meeting this Thursday, July 16, in Portland. The OCCR will work with the Civil Rights Division of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) to advance civil rights in Oregon and fight unlawful discrimination in all its forms. Co-Chairs James Mason (Providence Health Systems) and Connie Ashbrook (Oregon Tradeswomen) will lead the session.

The OCCR and its 25 members will work toward stronger Oregon civil rights in several ways, they will: study and monitor the causes, effects and solutions of unlawful discrimination in Oregon; consider and propose legislative and agency-based actions and solutions; foster communication, goodwill, cooperation, and conciliation among groups interested in civil rights across the state; and advise the state on policies and procedures related to civil rights.

Details for the first OCCR meeting are as follows:

WHO:The Oregon Council on Civil Rights

WHAT:The initial meeting of the OCCR

WHEN:2:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 16

WHERE: The Portland State Office Building

800 NE Oregon Street, Room 1B, in Portland

“We have assembled a diverse team of Oregon civil rights leaders that bring decades of experience to this important task and represent a wide cross-section of Oregon communities,” said State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. “I look forward to working with the OCCR to strengthen Oregonians’ civil rights and defend them against unlawful discrimination.”

BOLI is Oregon’s chief law enforcement agency for protecting Oregonian’s civil rights. BOLI’s Civil Rights Division enforces laws that protect workers from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. Each year, the division fields an average of 30,000 inquiries and investigates over 2,200 cases.

To learn more about the OCCR, please visit: http://www.oregon.gov/BOLI/CRD/OCCR.shtml.

July 12, 2009

Health Care Debate Makes Me Sick

Marion County does have a free health care clinic; it's from 1pm to 4pm on the first and third Saturday of each month at Walker Middle School in Salem. To actually be seen, it helps to get to the clinic and get in line by 7am. Chances are you will be seen if there by 7am, that is provided the doctors who have volunteered to staff the clinic actually do show.

This free clinic is where I need to be going to get my prescriptions filled; it's my only option.

There's a story behind this.

I've been without health insurance, minimally employed and couch/room surfing since October 2008. In these circumstances the most basic tasks of daily life become a chore. This kind of emotional and mental wear and tear can really take a toll. It certainly has in my case. By late autumn of 2008 I was fighting an internal battle with a juicy depression; a battle that continues to be fought out each day.

I went looking for mental health help last autumn; specifically anti-depressant and counseling help. Marion County's psychiatric programming offered nothing. The message was loud and clear; as long as I wasn't actively trying to kill myself or someone else there were no services to offer. I called a bunch of medical clinics too. I'd pay cash for the appointment I told these clinics. Alas, no health insurance meant no appointment, cash or no cash.

So, for six months, I sucked it up. I used every trick I knew, meditation, daily and hourly self evaluation, constant sorting and re-sorting of my depressive thinking tendencies, making sure I didn't isolate myself... The whole gamut.

All the same, the psychological stress dam burst in March. I spent 10 days in an acute psych ward with a major depression. Only after this hospitalization were anti-depressants prescribed. To keep this prescription going from month to month my only option is the Marion County free clinic... 1pm to 4pm every first and third Saturday of the month.

Health Care Reform:

The uninsured health care count in the USA is somewhere in the area of 60 million people. A fix of the health care system was a major plank in the Democratic campaign of autumn 2008. Will such reform happen? Don't hold your breathe...

Right now, batting around the White House and Congress are three sorts of loose ideas on fixing health care. The most progressive plan, and this is in a relative sense because it really isn't very progressive, is Obama's idea of a government operated health insurance plan; a sort of super-medicare. A major downside of Obama's plan is that roughly 30 million people would remain uninsured.

Second, we have government run clearing houses which would funnel the uninsured into market driven private health insurance plans. I feel too cynical to comment on this scheme.

Third, we have "health care cooperatives". I suspect nobody in Congress or outside knows what these "cooperatives" would really be, but it is a catchy title; "cooperative" is such a nice and benign word! In reality, I suspect these "health care cooperatives" would be nothing more then establishing regional/community based health insurance groups where the operation of these regional groups would be contracted out to private market driven health insurance companies. This is just my guess however.

All three of the above schemes would require a mandatory purchase of health insurance coverage by all individuals. Only in America! In the context of the worst economic depression since 1929 all three schemes operate on the principle of loading additional costs onto millions of people who now have nothing. Those who can't pay will be subsidized we are told. Here I will stay clear of what means tested eligibility for subsidies would mean in an American context; the subject is too depressing.

A Fourth Option:

Also batting around Congress we have HR 676, the Single Payer option. Single Payer of course involves a government run single health insurance plan covering all citizens. As such, Single Payer involves universal health care coverage and government monitored and controlled health care costs through centralized negotiation of costs with all health care providers.

The downside is this however. Nobody in Congress, the White House, none of the health care pundits are willing to take Single Payer seriously. It's "socialistic", "un-American", and therefore "undesirable" these politicians and pundits tell us.

The Irony of the Whole Thing:

Polling data and just plain listening seems to suggest that people in the USA deeply want significant health care reform. People are dying (can't pass the pun up) under the weight of constantly rising and exorbitant deductibles, loss of health care through unemployment (often when you need it the most with serious life threatening illness), decreased coverages and legalistic denials of claims. In a nutshell, lots of people are at the breaking point with health insurance.

The reality is that the only option which would address the peoples' health care needs is Single Payer, ala' HR 676. Yet, this is the option that is constantly and intentionally ignored and ridiculed by the health care industry, Congressional and Presidential "powers that be".

Drawing Conclusions:

The current conversation in the health care industry and Washington D.C. isn't about about providing universal and quality health care to the population. Instead, the conversation is about saving the capitalist health care system including the private insurance corporations, hospital chains, lucrative speciality medicine, the clout of the AMA (American Medical Association), and the centrality of the profit system within the health care system. Nothing else can explain the ludicrous pronouncements and the quality of the dialogue that's been bandied about over the last month or two.

Left to their own devices, Washington D.C. and the health care industry will pass a public relations joke version of health care reform. Whatever comes out of the process will be neither universal or affordable. Real health care objectives will be buried under the weight of market tweaking and a zillion qualifying and contradictory details. Real reform will instead be replaced by the facade of reform.

Something Positive? Something Positive? Something Positive?

Real progress on health care will only happen when and if enough people stand up and say, "Enough!" Some of this is happening, although not enough to change the outcome; yet!

Some of these positive signs are recent public disruptions and confrontations of Congressional health care hearings by Single Payer activists. Other positive signs are a growing list of primarily branch and local labor unions who have passed resolutions calling for the passage of the HR 676 Single Payer option (Unfortunately, I am not aware of any national/international union which has yet weighed in on behalf of Single Payer). A third positive sign is a growing perception by many that the health care reform plans currently on the table are a screw job.

My two cents, for what it's worth, is this:

Nothing of value with health care (and a myriad of other issues) will happen unless a movement of people become politically active around what is needed. Only such a movement has the power to offset the concentrated and entrenched power of the capitalist health care industry and their bought and paid for political hacks. Grim as it sounds, I can see no other options.

July 10, 2009

Beware: Citizens United hopes for Fascist victory

Bear with me for a bit on some historical context concerning campaign finance before I get to the impending Fascist insanity.

The first campaign finance law in was enacted in 1867. Over the years, according to the Federal Election Commission’s website, Congress has enacted further campaign finance legislation in order to:

“- Limit contributions to ensure that wealthy individuals and special interest groups did not have a disproportionate influence on Federal elections;
- Prohibit certain sources of funds for Federal campaign purposes;
- Control campaign spending; and
- Require public disclosure of campaign finances to deter abuse and to educate the electorate.”

A giant step was taken in 1907 with the Tillman Act, which banned contributions to Federal campaigns from corporations and banks. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 went further, barring labor unions and corporations from campaign spending.

During the 1970s, campaign finance law again came to the forefront, starting with the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) and the Revenue Act of 1971. The FECA required full reporting of campaign contributions and expenditures, as well as put spending limits on media ads. It also allowed an exception where unions and corporations could use treasury funds to run Political Action Committees, through which contributions could be used for campaign purposes.

The constitutionality of these acts was debated soon after. In Buckley vs. Valeo in 1976 the Supreme Court stated that the contribution limits were indeed constitutional, given the importance of election integrity. The Court did, however, overturn the expenditure limits. The opinion was that a cap on expenditures was an imposition on political speech, while limiting contributions was not as much so. Basically, “spend whatever you want, but we’re still going to watch where it comes from.” As well, they decided that spending limits on publicly funded candidates were constitutional because candidates could opt out of public financing if they wished.

Now, why is any of that relevant? Well, we are all aware that corporate entities have, seemingly since their birth, been on the prowl to remove any blockades to their influence in the political sphere. It also appears that since the 1980s they have made great progress toward returning us to the late 1800s. And now on the near horizon is more Supreme Court activity that will undoubtedly turn this battle in their favor to an even more dangerous extent.

A right-wing group called Citizens United, and their lawyer, Theodore Olsen are attempting to overturn the corporate spending ban upheld in Austin vs. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, as well as McCain-Feingold. Of course, John Roberts and his corporate cronies on the Court are more than willing to hear this case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

In the 1990 Austin case, the Supreme Court decided that the Michigan campaign finance law that prohibited corporations from using treasury funds in elections did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The First Amendment is obviously the free speech side of the debate that we are all aware of.. Money is speech. That’s bad enough.

Now, the argument that the right-wing makes concerning the Fourteenth Amendment is quite the twist. The post-Civil War amendment involves the definition of personhood in the wake of slavery, meant to establish the rights of citizenship. Because the term ‘person’ is used and not ‘natural person’, they claim that corporations, or ‘artificial persons’ deserve the same rights as actual people.

Justices Roberts, Alito, and Scalia, especially, have a history of favoring corporate America over the people. They jump at any chance to increase the political influence of the elite financial powers that hope to control our lives. Justice Thomas will vote with these three because he can‘t eat breakfast without Scalia‘s approval.. Justice Kennedy, the usual swing vote, will also vote with them, as he always does on corporate matters.

Hence, in September, when this case is heard, there will undoubtedly be a 5-4 vote that will legalize Fascism in America, possibly to the greatest extent allowed thus far. Corporate America will be on its way to true personhood and a free-for-all in political spending can ensue; a right-wing utopia come to fruition. It is doubtful that the same courtesy would be handed to the unions or other groups that represent the ‘natural people‘ of this country.

This is an offensive and dangerous trend that has gained steam recently, along with most other right-wing agenda items since the 1980s. Bush’s court appointments may turn out to be the most significant factor in the fight. His legacy, as we know, will live much longer than his despicable eight years in office.

So pay attention late this summer, when the news is telling you to be very afraid of Socialism and the perils of health-care for all, it will probably go unreported that Fascism has been made constitutional in America.

July 8, 2009

As Union Workers Face Contract Concessions...

I have watched union contract bargaining driven by employer demands for contract concessions develop over the last 30 years. We have moved from trying to avoid and trade off in order to blunt the impact of concessions to trying to resist them at the local level, then to scattered fight-backs and struggles to change union leaderships so that fights might be waged more successfully, then to larger strikes and to organizing programs and political action. Now we go into contract negotiations hoping it won't be that bad. Union membership has never been high in the US—we may have hit 30 percent of workers 50 years ago, but today it is between 9 and 12 percent. When we talk about internal union issues, union benefits and contract concessions we are most likely talking to ourselves.

The patterns of how employers win concessions from workers are becoming textbook cases and repetitive: drop hints, change the language they communicate in, increase production, change department heads and human resources people, try contracting out or temps, let the panic run its course, reopen the union contract, ask for as much as they can at the bargaining table and take as much as they can get, enlist some union leaders for cover and then either go out of business or run with higher production and fewer workers. Some version of this gets played out in blue-collar and white-collar workplaces. It’s now usually better for most workers to go by the contract without reopening because they will walk away with more money and more benefits when the company eventually shuts down or downsizes to a minimum.

We may be reaching a standstill in contract struggles. The bosses have pared down and are trying to run work with an absolute minimum of workers during an economic crisis. On the other hand, they instinctively know that workers will resist and they know that the political climate might be shifting in our favor. Union membership is dropping only because of the economic crisis, but weakened unions have fewer resources and less will to resist. Union members who remain working after layoffs are likely to have high seniority, be closer to retirement and may feel that we don’t have much to lose by pushing back. It is a moment full of contradiction.

So-called “labor relations experts” now tell us that something like 25 per cent of the employers they represent should be in contract talks right now, but aren't. Employers are asking for extensions of contracts in many cases—and some union leaderships are agreeing to this.

This won’t last forever, of course. In the past the employers would be trying to develop some kind of joint processes or forums for cooperation in order to share the crisis and use workers’ knowledge to rebuild and be more competitive. Perhaps those days are over. Union contracts give the bosses a hold on the reality of some costs and any kind of disruption now threatens the stability they need. This provides a rationale for them throwing overboard the worst of the union-busters they have been hiring for the last 30 years or more, but will they do this? Unions should use this time to reorganize and build a fight which is both economic and political, but will we do this? Union leaderships have instead been chasing contracts which provide minimum benefits and build union density quickly for several years now. We are hearing talk about joint ownership of retirement plans and union co-ownership of companies again. We need a fight-back based on principles, not hitching our wagon to crisis-driven economies. The reality for us is that workers don’t fight back en masse until the worst of a recession or a depression has passed, but that should not be an excuse for inaction now. What path are we going to take?

Stella D'oro

There was a time not so long ago when you got served Stella D'oro cookies and Medaglia D'oro coffee when you visited an Italian home. My mother did this. For years this was how Americans experienced "ethnic food." Never mind that Stella D'oro was owned by Jews and wasn't especially ethnic or particularly Italian--the products were made in the Bronx, the packaging was Italian-themed,the company advertisements in Il Progresso featured wide-eyed and olive-skinned smiling fat people, there was a union label on the package and the products were kosher and that was enough already.

Not any longer, I hope.

Stella D'oro workers have been out on strike in the Bronx for almost one year. They just got a favorable ruling from the National Labor Relations Board ordering the company to reinstate the strikers. The company responded by announcing that the Bronx plant will be closed. The old owners are long gone; the present owners are far removed from their workers and the communities who purchase their products. In fact, they're a hedge fund that bought the plant from Nabisco, I think, with the intention of flipping it in a few years. Nabisco must have bought it from The Golds, the Stella D'oro owners I remember. The company was named after Stella Gold.

Anmyway, read about it here.

July 7, 2009

Going to Cuba: Pastors for Peace


Pastors for Peace "caravanistas" stopped in Corvallis today to present information about the caravan and its purpose.

This project was founded by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) in 1988. The participants deliver humanitarian aid - mostly medical and educational supplies and also other items - to Cuba, challenging the US economic blockade (and travel restrictions imposed on US citizens by the US government). It also serves as a way to build a network of supporters and to educate people about the blockade.

They will get to Cuba on July 24 after crossing from Texas to Mexico. Watch the media for information around July 21 - that is when they expect to get to the US/Mexico border. In prior years, they were refused permission to cross but after engaging in lengthy fasts, finally got across. Learn more about the IFCO and the caravan and how you can support them at www.pastorsforpeace.org. You can also call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 to say that you support Pastors for Peace, normalized relations with Cuba, an end to the blockade, and freedom for the Cuban 5.

Another speaker, from the National Committe to Free the Cuban Five, told us about the cases of the five Cubans who have been imprisoned in the US in various prisons for the last 11 years. They were convicted unjustly in US federal court in 2001 on conspiring to commit espionage and other related charges, in spite of their actions which were solely to monitor Miami-based terrorist groups in order to stop the terrorist attacks on Cuba. There are many ways to help with this issue, which most Americans are ignorant about. See www.freethefive.org.

The Oregon Peace Worker

The new Oregon PeaceWorker site is impressive. It features new articles on most areas of the peace and antiwar movements, Native rights, Palestine and many social justice issues. It looks great and is easily navigable. Oregon Peace Works has stepped into a new time; we hope that the peace and antiwar movements can follow. Check them out on Facebook and Myspace, but go here to see the new issue. I particularly appreciated Peter Bergel's basic article on the SCO and the economy. If the antiwar and peace movements can do more of this kind of analysis and back it up with more work with the labor movement, and if labor's agendas can really be broadened at the base to be in solidarity with social movements, we stand a much better chance of moving politics in the US leftward and forcing the Obama administration to honor Obama's pre-election commitments.

July 6, 2009

Six More Oregon Unions Endorse HR 676

From the All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care--HR 676:

Six more Oregon unions, including both the Oregon Education Association
(NEA) and AFT Oregon, the statewide affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have endorsed HR 676, single payer healthcare legislation introduced by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI).

In April, the 57th Annual State Convention of AFT Oregon, representing 12,000 teachers statewide in twenty locals, endorsed HR 676, reports Mark Schwebke, AFT Oregon President. In the same month, the Representative Assembly of the Oregon Education Association (OEA), representing about 47,000 educators, reaffirmed its support for single payer healthcare. AFT Oregon has sent letters to both of the state’s senators and all its congressmen urging them to support HR 676 and has also advised the AFT Executive Council of the position taken.

Other Oregon unions that endorsed HR 676 are AFSCME District Council 75, with 25,000 members; the State Council of Machinists (IAM); Portland Local 757, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) with 4,600 members; and AFT Local 5017, Oregon Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals.

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 83 co-sponsors in addition to Conyers.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced SB 703, a single payer bill in the Senate.

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

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

July 1, 2009

Three Questions For Socialists

What is the objective of the economic reforms advocated by the Obama administration?

What measure of progress has there been, or can be expected, from the proposed reforms for the security and advancement of working peoples economic interests?

How do the goals of socialists and communists differ from Obama, and how are they the same?

Read more here.