September 29, 2010

GENERAL STRIKE IN SPAIN TAKES ON SOCIALIST ZAPATERO

OUR RIGHTS VERSUS THEIR PRIVILEGES

Today, (Sept 29 ) is the first General Strike in Spain in 8 years. And the first strike against the Socialist Prime Minister Zapatero. Spanish workers have taken major cuts which have reduced their deficit by 46% since 2009. But now they are fighting more massive cuts in the public sector, attacks on pensions and social services. Zapatero has chosen to side with capital in this crisis and the workers took to the streets. This is at the same time as the European Central Bank President wants cuts of 200 billion Euros which will result in 20,000 further job losses.

Today there were protest rallies in many European countries but Spain spoke the loudest:
10 million workers (70%) joined the call for a General Strike. The largest strikes were in Madrid (500,000) and Barcelona (400,000). The small island of Mallorca had 20,000. The Steel and Energy sectors reported 100% walked out.

Before the strike there were some who doubted workers would turnout but clearly the working class wants to make a strong statement to a Socialist Prime Minister who is on the wrong side in this fight.


September 27, 2010

FBI COORDINATES RAIDS AGAINST ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS

The FBI coordinated raids at the office of the Antiwar Committee in Minneapolis and the homes of labor and antiwar activists in Minneapolis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday. No one was arrested but computers, cell phones, political leaflets were seized. The FBI issued a statement, "There is no imminent threat to the community and no planned arrests". Clearly coming on the eve of the mass march in Washington D.C. planned for October 2nd and upcoming national mobilizations in April, these raids were meant to intimidate activists.

The United National Antiwar Committee (UNAC) quickly issued a statement attacking the harassment of antiwar activists. All those individuals who were targeted by the FBI had been at the the UNAC Conference which called for mass demonstrations against U.S. wars and occupations in April of next year. They called for protests early this week at FBI offices and Federal Buildings. At last count there are already 18 cities with planned actions.

In addition, the New York Times today is reporting that the White House will introduce a bill that makes it easier to wiretap the Internet. They will submit the bill next year to require all online services to be technically equipped to comply with a wiretap order.
It will require:
All services that provide encrypted messages must be capable of unscrambling them
All foreign communications providers that do business in the United States would have to have an office in the U.S. that is capable of providing intercepts
All software developers of peer to peer communications services would be required to redesign their products to allow interception

Some privacy and technology advocates say these regulations would create weaknesses in the technology that hackers could more easily exploit. On line banking, anyone?

All these government activities are meant to intimidate anti war activists. One of the targeted activists, Tom Burke said it well: "The goal of the raids is to harass and try to intimidate the movement against U.S. wars and occupations and those who oppose U.S. support for repressive regimes. They are designed to suppress dissent, to divide the peace movement and pave the way for more interventions in the Middle East and Central America."

September 25, 2010

If You Want Democracy, Make Polling Illegal

I'm fed up with political polling. Here's why:

If you've been reading the news recently you have probably noticed that poll after poll says the Republicans are going to win big time on November 2nd. Based on these polls it is now clear that the Republicans are going to at least take back the House of Representatives. Never mind the vote itself.

What more proof can there be of this impending Republican victory than other recent polls which show Obama's approval rating plummeting to new lows? Of course there's a fair number of other polls which seem to indicate that most folks dislike the Republicans even more than they dislike the Democrats.

For over a year now, poll after poll has also indicated that people are very angry at corporate America, especially the banks. Indeed people are so mad at the corporations, banks and the Republicans that they are likely to give the Republicans a landslide and in the process create a gilded cakewalk to even greater corporate profits -- or so the polls would seem to suggest.

This is not exactly scientific, but it seems that nine out of every ten politically oriented news articles end up justifying themselves with a poll. This must be where our democracy's heart and soul is - in the polls. Every time a poll is referred to, the illusion of democracy is resurrected; after all, what is a poll but a reference to what the people think? Or so we believe...

The reality of polling suggests something else. It is common knowledge that if one re-words a polling question, asking the same question in a different way, one will get wildly different responses. Thus, there's a quasi scientific art in phrasing the polling question so as to get the results one wants.

That fine art of phrasing is itself based on another piece of public opinion science called the focus group. Here, the focus group leader offers different phrasings of an idea at a group of people and then asks them for their reactions. Once the right "tweak" is found, a "message" can be "crafted" and then "tested" with carefully formulated polling questions designed to measure the public's acceptance of the original "message".

A caveat to this; a focus group never focuses on facts, rationales or justifications of the "message" to be developed. Instead, the focus group, and later the poll, plays to a visceral pre-conscious reaction to the question aimed at eliciting an opinion with absolutely no reference to to any justification of the opinion.

In practical terms, we've all been polled at one time or another. Do you ever remember a time where you were asked why you hold the opinion that was elicited from you?

Politics American Style:

When you get right down to it, most American political reporters could care less about analysis and background. It's a well known fact used by most political operatives that most Americans will "glaze over" if faced with a description and consequences (anticipated and not anticipated) of a particular policy or direction. This "glazing over" is not a cultural accident or imperfection; instead, it is a desired state of affairs.

Out of this "glazing over" ignorance, it is possible to create and manipulate public opinion in very big ways and at the same time maintain the illusion that we live in a democratic society. In this way, the political dialogue is devolved down to a horse race mentality where there is no substantive content, where only winners and losers matter and polls become the mechanism by which we measure the furlongs.

Making Polls Illegal:

First of all, it ain't gonna happen, not in America and not in the foreseeable future. Polls and focus groups are here for the long haul because here in America, freedom of speech is a commodity which can be bought on the open market. We all have free speech, but those with wealth and power can buy as much free speech as they can afford. Given our mega-rich and their corporations, this can be an awful lot of free speech; so much free speech that it might be able to drown out every other perspective out there. In America a monopoly of free speech in the marketplace of ideas might already be the fact, but I'm digressing.

All the same, imagine what American politics might look like if polls weren't around. First, without the focus group and polling process the whole "message" crafting structure of political discourse would most likely come tumbling down. Those who control political discourse would have grave difficulties "crafting" the message and they would be unable to test how the message might be playing in the public domain. Second, without the polls those who control the political discourse would not be able to amplify their message by invoking a poll created "public opinion". Third, something would need to change in the media's reporting of politics in that the horse race style of news coverage would no longer be possible without polls. Maybe an opening for real content in political reporting? We could only hope...

Of course, without focus groups and polls, sound-bites, slogans and the one sentence "analysis" might become dangerous to their authors rather than helpful; the authors wouldn't know which without the polling results. The sum effect might be moving the real political discourse in this country from the TV, radio and 15 second sound bite to something more substantial. Something more substantial might include a scenario where politicians would need to present reasoned and thoughtful positions to the electorate and where the electorate might actually engage with each other regarding the position and the rationale behind the position.

A Final Thought:

A final factor worth considering is that polls are not always accurate. Indeed, in times such as now where the political and social landscape is complicated, polls would most likely be even more inaccurate. This is because polls, with their yes/no format and artificially created categories of opinion are less able to accommodate a complicated reality.

For instance, right now based on media reports and media polling results one would think the Tea Party is some kind of majoritarian movement about to attain complete political hegemony on November 2nd. I note this morning a poll which places Jerry Brown five points ahead of Meg Whitman for the California Governor's race. I have a hunch that the Democratic majority in Oregon's legislature will do OK in November. Its also important to remember that the Tea Party at best represents about 25% of the electorate; hardly a majority.

September 23, 2010

The Corporate Attack On President Obama

We talk a great deal about how the monopolies---monopoly capital---have a particular and commonly held political viewpoint. They make their profits by exploiting workers at the point of production, occasionally manipulate markets and prices and spread their investments in ways which generally guarantee that money makes money. There is nothing mystical or unpredictable about this or the crises that are created when overproduction or under-consumption take hold, when the rate of profit drops or when money stops making money at an acceptable rate for the monopolies.

These monopolies represent a distinct political force as well as an economic force on the world stage. Whatever competitive tensions exist between them, the monopolies represent a hard-right or far-right political force. When compliant governments adopt the economic policies championed by the Chicago School and Milton Friedman the monopolies institute a reign of terror in order to seize and create new markets and increase the rate of exploitation. They declare class war. This is brilliantly drawn out in Naomi Klein's book Shock Doctrine. More than that, they are now challenging some of the fundamentals of US democracy itself. The current economic crisis, which the monopolies are in large part responsible for, has provided the shock and fright among people necessary for the monopolies to push their political program here in the USA.

MSN Money asked, "Is fear of President Barack Obama one reason we're stuck with sluggish economic growth?" earlier this week and then answered the question by saying,"That's the message the CEOs of several major companies are sending out."

According to MSN Money, CEOs are apparently complaining that President Obama is unpredictable. In turn, they are not rushing forward to develop or invest capital, thus prolonging the economic crisis until they get their way. The MSN report quotes Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers as saying, "We don't know what the latest great idea from Obama will be. Therefore, we are hunkering down...CEOs are uncertain, so they don't want to have the liability of adding a lot of employees."

Rodgers apparently went on to say, "Obama uses political rhetoric to demean me and my motives, but the fact is, I am completely happy with my motives and the morality of my decisions...My moral responsibility is to protect and grow the investment of shareholders." No other social force---not workers or the poor or African-Americans or even the small capitalists---could play such an obvious and publicly disruptive role and expect to weather the resulting political storm. No one else in society can speak so openly and bluntly about their self-interest and justify it with a stranglehold on your job or your home or your future. As the MSN article points out, "Profits are expected to rise 36% in 2010...And companies are sitting on a near-record $2 trillion in cash, money they could use to invest and create jobs."

Despite this and the President's inability or refusal to organize or even urge mass mobilization for a democratic and anti-monopoly program, or to push for legislation which goes to heart of monopoly power and control, company spokespeople for corporations such as Intel and Verizon believe they are operating in a particularly hostile environment and are saying so publicly. At another time their remarks would have been regarded as treasonous. Blackstone Group CEO Steven Schwarzman has apparently compared the Obama administration to Hitler while Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent has come close to comparing the administration unfavorably to the old Soviet government. James Tisch, the CEO of Loews (which apparently owns half of Diamond Offshore Drilling) has complained that Obama's commission to investigate the BP oil spill wasn't pro-oil industry enough. All were apparently offended that Obama once referred to some bank executives as "fat cats."

Obama's many friends in the corporate and monopoly-corporate world do not seem much interested in saving him or his administration. Among these "friends" and enemies of the administration are the real sources of funding for the tea party movement, mass privatization, defunding or eliminating Social Security, the attacks on labor rights and living standards and the extension of democratic rights to all. Any victory by these forces will leave gays, African-Americans, the labor movement and the marginalized particularly vulnerable.

This should give us pause as we criticize the Democrats and the administration for their inability or unwillingness to fight for change, or even for their own political survival. We need a big turnout in Washington, D.C. for the October 2 demonstration and we need a large voter turnout in November to answer these assaults on democracy.

If there are political losses for democratic and anti-monopoly forces now and in 2012, I figured today, I will be well into my 60s before there is a chance for serious political change again. My generation entered the workforce just as the recession of the early 1970s was taking off. If the most pessimistic reports are true, we will reach what should be our retirement age in the second dip of a deep recession or depression with little reason to expect progressive political movement.

September 22, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Told Time and Time Again.

This week, the Senate has failed to pass a repeal of the US Military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. If the Democrats lose seats in November, it is likely that this policy will continue for some time to come.
...

In April of 1879, a small tribe of Plains Indians, the Poncas, assisted by sympathetic whites, used the US legal system to fight the federal government's plan to remove them from their historic lands and onto the "Indian Territory", known now as Oklahoma. A band of sixty to seventy Poncas had been arrested for refusing to go. Judge Elmer Dundy issued a writ of habeas corpus, demanding that the government show by what authority the prisoners were being held. The District Attorney in the case then stated that the Poncas had no right to the writ, given that they were not people, as defined by law. After hearing the arguments, the judge overruled the DA, stating that Indians had the same natural rights as whites, and that peaceful peoples could not be imprisoned, or forced to move without consent.

During the trial, Chief Standing Bear spoke for his people: "Oh, my brothers, the Almighty looks down on me, and knows what I am, and hears my words. May the Almighty send a good spirit to brood over you, my brothers, to move you to help me. If a white man had land, and someone should swindle him, that man would try to get it back, and you would not blame him. ...My brothers, a power, which I cannot resist, crowds me down to the ground. I need help."

There is a long list of peoples that have been cheated by this country. A long list of rights withheld. Trails of tears. And Blood.

Battles have been won. Progress made. Apologies few.

Yet today, of all our peoples, it is easiest to deny full rights of American citizenship to those who are gay, lesbian and transgendered. And can we not blame them for demanding the rights of which they have been swindled? Yet still today, politicians, and voters alike, stand tall and proclaim, "We will not allow you to serve your country as yourself." And still today, our government continues to tell our neighbors, co-workers, family and friends, "No, you are not a person, as defined by the law."

To which they respond, "Brothers and sisters, a power, which we cannot resist, crowds us down to the ground. And we need your help."

An Army of One? Well, One equals One. Equality Now!

September 20, 2010

LADY GAGA TAKES IT TO THE STREETS FOR DADT REPEAL


I just got finished watching Lady GaGa's speech at a rally in Maine to help put DADT repeal over the top. Now there are parts of the speech that may not pass some "politically correct" muster. But she gets A+ in a number of areas that the HRC strategy of schmoozing with the pols just doesn't get it.

A+ - For leaving the halls of Congress where she had been lobbying to go to Maine. Senators Collins and Snowe are going to be needed to break the filibuster

A+ - For using the words "workplace discrimination" which connects Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) repeal with the passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act(ENDA)

A+ - For not just addressing Congress but calling out President Obama (who knew GaGa would end up our "fierce advocate") and calling out Harry Reid (as there are rumors that he will delay a vote until after November)

A+ - For her passion about Gay and Lesbian Equality which led her to say that it is the Homophobes who should be kicked out of the Military

A+ - For using her fame not to glorify herself but to put a spotlight on the most powerful politicians and use technology to mobilize political action by the grass roots.

Did she say somethings that I would have said differently? Sure. But her message was clear. End workplace discrimination - NOW!!

And kudos for talking about the Constitutional guarantees of equality before the law

September 19, 2010

What's a Left to Do?

Since the 2008 collapse of the global capitalist greed machine the slogan used by the European Left, Canadian and even U.S. Left has been a simple, "We're not paying for this!!". Personally, I admire this slogan. I like the attitude of resistance encapsulated within. I also like this slogan because it clearly lays the blame where it belongs; with the global capitalist class.

But, this slogan is not enough. There is certainly no sign that the global capitalist class has assumed any responsibility at all for the meltdown they produced, and certainly no responsibility for the misery being suffered by millions and millions of people across the globe. Unfortunately too, it is workers, the unemployed and the poor who are de facto, being stuck with capitalism's big bill. This is what "austerity" and "concerns about the deficit" are all about, and the austerity/deficit folks are presenting the bill to the working class in Britain, France, Germany, Greece, the US, the globe, every time wage levels are cut and new austerity measures introduced.

What's a Left to Do?

The global left needs a comprehensive analysis and a positive program. To date, that's not there. To date, we struggle and resist, indeed struggling and resisting seems to be on the upswing, but we are still not able to project a Left program that deals with the current crisis and offers a way out.

So, here I'd like to suggest some immediate steps towards Left solutions to the current mess.

First, the global banking system needs to be nationalized and even maybe, internationalized. The bourgeoisie runs the world through their banks. From India to Ontario decisions about growth, abandonment, who gets what and what gets developed and what doesn't get developed is decided by banks and is in the interests of those who own and control these mega-resources.

So, imagine for a second if the banking system was re-organized in the interests of an egalitarian society and a sustainable civilization! What a concept!

Second, what about the concept of a guaranteed minimum income and a re-definition of work? 150 years of amazing increases in worker productivity might actually have us economically able to provide rich lives for all citizens without having to overwork those employed while those who are unemployed drop through society's floor. If such a re-definition of work is to be undertaken, we might find that a lot of the current occupations are socially non-productive and often downright destructive. Here, I dare to imagine a world without payday loan centers, a world without collections agents, a world without advertisements and the constant distraction of new trinkets, bells and whistles to be outmoded in six months for the nest crop of bells and whistles.

All of these are just some loose thoughts. But what about envisioning what a sane world might look like? And what about a Left that is able to project how we get to this saner world?

Designed Obsolescence: Profits of Unsustainability


Parked in a meeting the other day at work, I was introduced, once again, to a concept that really pains my mind. We were informed that, yet again, parts for such-and-such instrument are no longer manufactured, and hence, when any part on said instrument fails, the whole thing is useless. I'm sure the phrase "designed obsolescence" is familiar to most people, but I believe it is a practice that is becoming overly prevalent in our society.

It's bad enough when the part that most often goes to the big parts-store in the sky is renamed the 'illuminescence module' in order to quell the angst you experience when spending an exorbitant price for a 'light bulb' (and I'm not kidding). "Of course, we'll pay more for the 'illuminescence module'. Send us ten of them!" But when the simplest parts become the difference between a functioning machine and a $5000 counter decoration, I believe we are wasting precious resources for the sake of continued profits.

This is nothing new, of course. It is also no surprise that the first interchangeable parts were invented for military usage. If anything needs to be efficient, it's killing. Regardless, before the late 1700s, almost any part that broke made that particular instrument obsolete unless you could find someone to manufacture an exact replica. So the old adage, "they don't make things like they used to" is very true. There is a lot of cheap crap out there, but many things that we use today are actually sturdier than their predecessors,.. cars, farm implements, etc.

The problem with making things that last is that our system needs people to buy. According to the television, you need a new cell-phone every six months. And yes, please be nice and recycle the toxic waste from the "old" one. Fashion has always been a good industry for such practice. Is it really about expressing your unique style, or is it about selling more stuff? Automobiles are an especially wasteful industry, but when the economy slows and vehicles sit in the lots because people realize that their current car is just fine, the industry is hit with layoffs, and sometimes permanent plant closures.

Well, people need jobs. And people need jobs in the manufacturing of goods. Although, more and more, our jobs in the US have more to do with the selling of goods that are manufactured elsewhere. That is, of course, a whole other issue. But the point is that some people's livelihoods are dependent on the rest of us buying things. It has been that way for centuries. But we cannot continue to draw from this planet, ultimately sifting all of our resources from the raw material stage into the landfill stage, increasingly killing each other as we go.

Even indigenous tribes exploit resources, so I'm not requesting that we all live in tents in the woods in order that our wastefulness disappear. My main gripe is that we are better than our actions. We have the knowledge and ability to create a non-exploitative, non-profit-driven economy. And we must, or we'll turn this planet into a desert dotted with dumpsters and graves.

Traveling across Oregon a few years back, I stopped at a restaurant bathroom in Prineville. A gentlemen in there, bothered by the absence of a paper-towel dispenser, and forced to use the hot-air dryer, says to me, "God gave us resources for a man to make a living, and they won't even let ya do that anymore."

Now, it was the "designed obsolescence" of instrumentation that costs thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars that prompted me to write this. But the idea of turning the lifetime of a tree into the lifetime of a paper-towel truly embodies the term for me.

September 17, 2010

THE WORKING CLASS BUILT THIS COUNTRY: IN 2010 WE MUST MOBILIZE TO TRANSFORM IT

From Harry Targ's great blog:

I want to add my voice to the thousands of essayists and bloggers who have been contemplating the 2010 elections, the media “framing” of Tea Party influence, the role of progressives in the elections, and mobilizing for the last 54 days before the elections.

First, I think elections still matter. Since most people see politics and elections as equivalent and some of them actively participate in the electoral process, progressives need to be there as well. In addition, in states and communities decisions will be made about how federal government money for local school corporations is to be allocated, about workers compensation for victims of asbestos related workplace injuries, so-called Right to Work laws, and how congressional and state legislative districts will be redesigned. At the national level, policy decisions about such critical issues as jobs, climate change, education, military spending, and judicial appointments will be affected by election outcomes.

Read more here.

September 16, 2010

800 ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS ATTEND NATIONAL CONFERENCE - CALL FOR ALL OUT MOBILIZATION APRIL 9, 2011

For the first time in decades there was a broad based decision making conference that has called for a national political mobilization against U.S. wars, interventions and occupations. The United National Antiwar Conference (UNAC) was an open, democratic gathering that included every major national antiwar group in the United States. And hundreds of State, local and regional antiwar organizations.
After hours of debate the conference unanimously adopted a 24 point action program which culminates in mass demonstrations in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles in April of next year.

The General Demands:
BRING THE TROOPS HOME NOW!
Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops, mercenaries, military contractors and war dollars from Iraq. Afghanistan, Pakistan
MONEY FOR JOBS AND HUMAN NEEDS NOT WAR!
END AID TO ISRAEL!
End support for Israeli occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza

The UNAC Conference also voted to build an Antiwar Contingent in the October 2nd National March For Jobs in Washington D.C. This March was initiated by the NAACP and SEIU1199. It now also has the support of the AFL-CIO. One of the popular speakers at the conference was Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report. In addressing UNAC's involvement in the October 2nd march he expressed support for the action but he cautioned, "Let's have a real protest, not a Democratic pep rally". He writes more about the upcoming rally and his critique of the Obama Administration at www.blackagendareport.com.

For months I have been saying that it feels to me like the only real mass movement we are seeing in this country is the movement for Marriage Equality - visible, creative and independent of the two political parties (admittedly by necessity). So I am very excited to see that this unifying conference agrees that to build a movement strong enough to push back the war makers (as with the homophobes) we must be visible and independent of both political parties - I am sure creativity will also raise its head.
SO SAVE THE DATE - 4/9/2011
ON TO SAN FRANCISCO!!!!


September 10, 2010

The Invisible Elephant in the National Living Room

The invisible elephant is this:

In 1980 the top 1% of the population received 9% of total incomes. In 2008, this same 1% received 23.5% of total income (an increase of 14% to 15 % over a couple of decades). The top 5% of the population now receives about 60% of total incomes, the top 10% about 70% of total income... Which means the rest of us... All of those of us with a family incomes of $99,000 and below... That's 90% of us, must share the remaining 30% of incomes.

Jumping to another statistic, US based corporations, not including the financial sector, are currently sitting on $1.8 trillion in loose un-invested liquid cash.

Yet one cannot talk about these facts (yes, they are facts); they are not acknowledged in government or major media circles. If somebody did mention these statistics on a national stage, there would be an hysterical roar from the Republicans and their corporate sponsors, "You're starting a class war, you can't do that!!!" And the Democratic Party, not knowing what or who they stand for would shut up and comply.

The upshot is, there is and has been since the end of FDR's administration an implicit agreement going through Washington D.C. (both sides of the aisle) and top media reporters that issues around distribution of income and economic structure will never be mentioned. These subjects are "black hole" subjects on the national stage, and that's why the ludicrous arguments against removing tax breaks for the top 2% are getting the traction they are.

"Trickle-Down" is America's official economic ideology:

"Trickle Down" says this: When America's rich gain, so do the rest of us. According the the principles of trickle-down, it is in every citizen's best interest to help the rich get even richer. The way it's figured is that if the rich get richer, the rest of us will get bigger crumbs. The current sad state of affairs is that trickle down has moved well beyond a hypothesis and theory and has instead been enshrined with full bi-partisan support as an article of faith never to be questioned. This is why the above mentioned elephant remains invisible and will continue to remain invisible.

Trickle-down is known by a number of different names. Around most of the rest of the globe, trickle-down economics are known as "neo-liberal" economics. Here in the US, trickle-down often goes under the name of laizzes-fair capitlism, or neo-conservative economics. Regardless of the title, this trickle-down article of faith relies on the same basic economic policies.
These policies include systematically deregulating economies; everything from occupational health and safety to minimum wage protections to any trade barriers which might interfere with international capital penetration. These policies also rely on massive tax cuts and massive cuts to safety net protections, including even the most basic protections such as unemployment insurance. Under trickle-down, government actions are used to drive down wages and benefits in the private sector as well. Thus, trickle-down economies rely heavily on state repression to silence worker and poor peoples' rights to protest and take direct action in their own behalf.

"Trickle-Down's" real track record:

If one looks at the period from 1980 to 2008 one will notice that the top 1% share of the national income has increased by roughly 15%. During this same period of time, the lowest 20% of the population has seen their share of national income fall into the abyss. The next 40% to 60% of the population has been able somewhat to hold their own over this same two and a half decades by significantly increasing a family's total hours of work. Remember, this is the period when working class (often referred to as the "middle class") families moved from a one wage earner household to two wage earner households. With household incomes essentially flat, this same 40% to 60% were the same folks that took advantage of America's expensive but easy credit in order to fool themselves that they were participating in the American Dream. Of course we now know where this expensive but easy credit has taken us...

Trickle-down has an even more extensive track record on the international scene. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been forcing trickle-down policies down the international throat as a pre-condition for any IMF loan. Thus trickle-down has been a forced policy for most Latin-American states, what used to be the old Eastern-Bloc, and significant chunks of Asia, including Iraq in the Middle East.

This track record is not a pretty one. Universally and in virtually every case trickle-down economic policy has lead to massive unemployment, often at the 40% to 50% level; incredible spikes in poverty levels often including mass starvation; violent political repression; and the destruction of internal industries and manufacturing. At the same time, trickle-down has lead to massive gains for the richest segments of an IMF-attached society with the biggest benefits going to the financial speculators and those attached to international capital.

How big chunks of the rest of the world feels about trickle-down comes down to this interesting little fact. In 2005, the IMF had 80% of its loans in South America. In 2010, the amount "invested" in South America has decreased to 1%. Most South American countries have been working like mad to pay off the IMF, and they're not inviting the IMF back. As every South American government now knows, the price of an IMF loan is a willingness to tear one's own society into shreds.

The future of trickle-down:

All facts considered, trickle-down should be a dead and deeply discredited economic theory; that is unless you buy the proposition that it is only the top 5% of any population that matters. But this seems not to be the case. Trickle-down is alive and well. While thrown out of Latin America, trickle-down has been given a new lease on life in nations such as Britain and Germany and the EU in general as they apply "austerity" economics on their own citizens. Trickle-down remains the dominant economic ideology in the old Eastern-Bloc too, thanks to new post-communist highly repressive governments.

Here in America, trickle-down is alive and well with a radical version of this tainted theory being adopted wholesale by the Republican Party. With absolutely no doubt, the Republicans, if in power, would cut unemployment insurance in spite of an official 9.6% unemployment rate (an unofficial 20% is more accurate). They would deregulate the economy regardless of recent mining disasters, the BP oil spill, and Wall Street's destructive speculative obsessions. They would holler about the deficit while maintaining a state of constant warfare and would conveniently forget about the deficit when it comes to tax cuts for the rich.

All of the above Republican positions sound ludicrous except that they might very well win on November 2. That such ludicrous positions could win is largely because we have a national cultural muzzle on when it comes to issues of economic structure and who the winners and losers really are (like, you know, the facts). So, the elephant remains invisible and big, giant chunks of the foundation of our society remain off-limits and unacknowledged as existing.

Final thoughts:

I was talking to a friend yesterday who was telling me about a conversation he had with some real estate agent bozo while manning the Working Families Party booth at the State Fair. The conversation with the bozo ended when Bozo said with a sneer, "You don't believe in profits, do you?", and my friend said, "WFP is OK with profits. Personally no, I'm not OK with profits".

I'm with my friend 100%. I don't "believe" in profits. As I see it, profits are about getting something more for nothing. The whole basis of profit is to get more out of the transaction than you put in. The extra that one gets as profit had to come from someplace, and that's the part that is usually taken from somebody else. So, yeah, profit is theft and every piece of the Republican platform, for instance, does indeed boil down to a wider opening for even bigger robberies.

The truth of the matter is this: Civilization works because millions and billions of people make it work; yup, even in our semi-barbaric society. Economies are created and re-created every day when the millions and billions of people go to work and make and provide the services and products that we use; good or bad. Each one of these small wheels connects to larger wheels with the whole thing, called society, working because each of the parts is working. Interestingly each wheel and each bigger wheel is made up of live human beings, each with their own life, family, own subjectivity, etc. etc. These are the people I am for...

September 9, 2010

Defending The Legacy Of Rosa Parks And The Freedom Movement

Last week I heard a program on National Public Radio (NPR) dealing with myths. One of the “myths” highlighted was the story of Rosa Parks, the great African-American freedom fighter. The radio narrative picked up on the story that Rosa Parks is often portrayed as someone with limited political consciousness who acted spontaneously in refusing to move to the back of the bus in the segregated south. In fact, she had some left-wing political training and consciousness before she made her historic and planned decision to act publicly against institutionalized racism. And she went on to develop her political consciousness through the freedom movement, moving closer to Pan-Africanism and speaking at Robert F. Williams’ funeral in support of the man and his mission.

The story sought to discredit, if only in general terms, the legacy of Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement by pointing out a particular “myth” of the movement and criticizing the movement for not being more open about her political leanings and background.

If we look back 55 years we see an America still very much in the grips of anti-communism and McCarthyism and experiencing at the same time the tremendous stirrings of an on-going but modern freedom movement that promised democratic advances and civil rights for all. The core demands put forward by that movement promised to improve the lives of every oppressed person. The radical nature of that movement and its demands were obvious, but the specific backgrounds and political leanings of its leadership—and especially its grassroots leadership—were somewhat beside the point. The question is not about the “myths” of the civil rights movement at a particular point, but about the democratic trajectory that that movement was launching. A time inevitably arose when sharper political questions could be raised—needed to be raised—but the anti-communism of the 1950s needed to be lifted and defeated first.

The story referred to the “myth” of Rosa Parks but failed to take into account that good political organizing requires control of a social conversation. Had the civil rights movement of 1955 allowed the social conversation to rest with the left leanings of its established leadership at the grassroots, we might still have officially sanctioned and legal segregation and McCarthyism might still be with us. Instead, the civil rights movement won historic victories by asserting the humanity and personhood of Black people. The right-wing is still smarting from this loss and is still seeking to roll time backwards and undo these victories. They are reacting against democratic progress and this is why we call them “reactionaries.”

What is at stake here is not just the legacy of the civil rights movement, which is tremendous and important by itself, but also an understanding of how things change. We move through barely-disguised democratic battles in order make life better for every oppressed person and also in order to exploit social contradictions and raise the level of social struggles. Social questions can open and develop slowly or quickly, but they have the capacity to accelerate and fundamentally alter society once they gain traction. We can move forward or backward, but movement never stops. One fundamental question we constantly face is who determines the course, direction and speed of that movement.

September 7, 2010

FRANCE AND BRITAIN FIGHT PENSION REFORM AND JOB CUTS

United ... thousands demonstrated in Le Mans, western France, yesterday as workers across the country  protested against  plans to raise the retirement age.

In France the unions expected 2 Million of their workers to join their General Strike today. They got 2.5 million. They were protesting legislative attacks on their pensions. Today is the beginning of the new political term in France so this strike was making a statement to the politicians considering Pension legislation.

In Great Britain workers shut down the London Underground and Metro service with a 24 hour strike over threatened job cuts

This fall will be filled with actions by unions in the European Union. At the end of this month there will be a General Strike in Spain and a massive convergence on Brussels called the "Euro-Manifestation". The strike in Spain may spread throughout the EU as demonstrations have been called for the same day in Portugal, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Poland. These actions are called for by the European Trade Union Confederation.

If there were such an equivalent in the United States it would be the AFL-CIO calling for a one day General Strike in all 50 states.

September 1, 2010

FIDEL TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR GAY PERSECUTION IN CUBA

Fidel Castro: I Take Responsibility For Cuba's Persecution Of Gays

Calling it a "great injustice," today Fidel Castro told a Mexican newspaper that he accepts responsibility for Cuba's persecution of its gay citizens, thousands of whom were rounded up and placed in internment camps during his regime.
Castro said that the revolutionary government's actions represented "a great injustice – a great injustice! – whoever committed it. If we committed it, we committed it. I am trying to limit my responsibility in all that because, of course, personally I don't have that type of prejudice." The interviewer paraphrases him as saying that "everything came about as a spontaneous reaction in the revolutionary ranks that came from the nation's traditions. In the old Cuba, blacks were not the only ones discriminated against; there was discrimination against women and, of course, homosexuals." Was the Communist Party to blame, the interviewer asks. "No," Castro responds. "If anyone is responsible, I am. True, at that time I couldn't concern myself with the subject. I was deeply and mainly involved in the October Crisis, the war, the political issues. But in the end, if responsibility must be assumed, I assume mine. I'm not going to blame others," Castro says.
Many will likely credit Castro's niece Mariela for today's statement as she has led Cuba's burgeoning LGBT rights movement in recent years. Havana has staged gay pride parades for the last two years.