Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reverend Wright

Regarding Reverend Wright's speech at the National Press Club: I did not see it when he gave it, but I watched it on line all the way through soon after, and then I watched as he took questions. As I was watching and after the Q and A, I thought what a terrific educational presentation he was giving. I also remember thinking something like, "Well, I guess this should put to rest all that right wing stuff we've been hearing recently." And it crossed my mind that "this guy is from Philadelphia--Germantown, in fact! Damn!" The man's theme was "reconciliation and transformation" as expressed from the pulpit historically, and in particular in the "Black Church", with which, he pointed out, many white commentators, journalists, historians, etc. have been and continue to be unfamiliar. He invited them to stay around for the next two days at the symposium that was starting then. It was during the Q and A that he was asked provacative questions about Louis Farrakhan, etc. He handled all of these with insight, some humor and generally with restraint.

Silly, naive me. Please understand: I am no stranger to the commercial media and its distortions, racial insensitivity (or worse) and spin, etc. In addition,I worked as a history teacher for 35 years in a large urban school system where I think I might have learned more history than I taught. What I am trying to say is that I considered myself a little bit savvy about some of the issues the reverend was addressing and about what the press response might be.

But I must say I have been stunned by the deafness of most of the media commentators and the editorials. What exactly "offended" them? Was it that the Reverend Wright gave an articulate talk which cited uncomfortable facts of American history? Was it that he used big words with ease and delivered his talk with only occasional references to his notes. Was it that he mentioned that his denomination, the United Church of Christ, was in fact majority white? Was it that he handled some baiting questions without hesitation or waffling? Or was it his implied questioning of the patriotism of the Vice President of the US? This when he was asked if he considered himself patriotic. Actually, he had already dealt with the question and mentioned that many of his parishioners had served in Vietnam and both Gulf Wars as well as Afghanistan. But when he was asked again, his response went something like this (he does not waste words): "I served six years in the military. How many years did Cheney serve?"

The McCain-Clinton Gas Tax Bonanza

By Joel Wendland

So I used the calculator at this site –
to figure out how much I'd save with the John McCain - Hillary Clinton gas tax "holiday." My savings for this summer would total $4.14. I estimate that equals about 5 hours of rent for me and my family. Thanks Hill. Thanks John for your extra efforts to really boost the economy.

Please let's get serious.

McCain's Health Plan: Raises Taxes, Cuts Coverage

Today in Tampa, Fla., Sen. John McCain gave an address his advisers claimed would “unveil” his health care proposal—but he essentially offered the same tired proposal he’s been touting for months.

read the whole story here...

John McCain's Economic Policy: Here's $3

Health Care Costs Outpace Income Growth for Working Families

A report by a private foundation released Apr. 29 revealed that rising family health insurance premiums have eaten into more than half of what little income gains working households have seen in recent years.

Read the whole story...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reverend Wright and the Death Penalty

by Norman Markowitz

The news is filled with commentaries about Reverend Wright's speech
before the National Press Club. I saw him on Friday on the Bill Moyers
show in a one to one discussion with a sympathetic Moyers and he was I
thought good, progressive and humane. Yesterday, for whatever reason,
he sounded like he was on an ego trip, forgetting that his moment of
media fame has nothing to do with him and/or the wide variety of stands
that he has taken over his long life but everything to do with his
relationship to Senator Obama.

Hopefully, this will end and we can get back to the long hard struggle
to oust the Republican Right, who by the way have brought into positions
of power and influence the legions of Pat Robertson's Christian
Coalition and before that Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority," undermining
the separation of Church and State in the U.S., campaigning for a
constitutional amendment to have the U.S. declared a Christian Nation,
seeking to bring "intelligent design" into the schools to challenge the
"theories" of Charles Darwin, and for the most extreme, doing everything
they can to advance the end of the world aka end of days aka the
Rapture, when Armageddon will come and all non believers like myself and
I hope our readers will be "left behind." I wait with baited breath for
McCain et al to condemn those preachers of real hate.

Meanwhile, another story, discussing a sociological study of Harris
County, Texas, which expands and sharpens the large amount of both
social scientific and narrative evidence that the death penalty is
carried out more against African-Americans than whites is reported, both
criticized and praised, and then buried. That this extreme example of
institutional racism might have something to do with anger Reverend
Wright expresses would never be connected. In the article, McCleskey v.
Kemp, the 1987 Supreme Court Case in which the Court, by a 5-4 ruling,
rejected massive sociological evidence of executions in Georgia(the kind
of sociological evidence used to prove that segregation was not
"separate but equal" in the Brown decision) to sustain the death
penalty. Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis Powell made the point
that racist bias in a wide variety of sentences meted out existed and if
this execution was overturned, then the whole criminal justice system's
penalties on a wide variety of crimes would come into question(a
grotesque Catch -22 argument)

Lewis Powell in retirement now actively opposes his 1987 decision and
calls it the worst mistake that he made, but Warren McCleskey is dead,
others have been executed, and the Supreme Court today is made up a
majority of justices who are to the right of Lewis Powell. But that,
along with gas prices, consumer debt, the only entirely for profit
health care system left in the developed world isn't significant.
Whether and how much Barack Obama criticizes Reverend Wright.

As an historian of the 20th century, I can only imagine how historians a
century from now will look at all of this, assuming the present
political trends are reversed. If not, they may not have anything to
look at .

Cut off my leg to spite my face

A new study by Chicago's Northwestern University found that African American patients from Chicago's south and west sides are five times as likely to have a lower limb amputation than patients from overwhelmingly white suburban Chicago.

According to, which filed the story, the issue is about racial and class inequities in the delivery of quality medical care.

An author of the study said:

"Amputations are the canary in the coal mine for quality of care. Many amputations are preventable. This means the primary care for minority people may not be very good."

The study linked high amputation rates to lack of primary care and special care for diabetes, which remains a major cause for lower limb amputation.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Supreme Court Republicans Strike Again

by Norman Markowitz

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 to uphold an Indiana law requiring photo indemnification for voter identification. Civil Rights groups and even the Democratic party challenged the law on the more than reasonable ground that low income people, minority people, and senior citizens are far less likely to have such identification, which is usually connected to drivers licenses and thus find themselves in situations where they might be in the long run disenfranchised, even though they should be legally entitled to vote.

Today there are seven Republicans on the Court, including two, John Paul Stevens and David Souter, who usually vote against "The Four Horseman of Reaction" (a phrase used widely in the 1930s against four rightwing justices who were out to veto the labor and social legislation of the New Deal, which today applies to Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas). But Stevens joined and the more conservative Kennedy joined with the Four Horsemen to in effect make it harder for working people to vote, just as Sandra Day O'Connor, who had often opposed what were then the "Three Horseman of Reaction (Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist) joined with Kennedy to in effect end the recount in Florida and go against both the facts and what many considered case law on recounts and appoint George W. Bush president of the United States.

This is an ugly politically partisan, and dangerous decision, one that shows how the present court is ready to undermine basic civil rights. Stevens comment that the "law should not be disregarded because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators" particularly struck me. The laws disenfranchising Southern Blacks, establishing poll taxes and other discriminatory restrictions on voting, were the result of "partisan interests" seeking to insure that people who were likely to vote against them would be deprived of the right to vote. The Supreme Court for generations upheld such laws. Partisan interests were also the basis for discriminatory districting in state elections which a progressive Supreme Court challenged in the 1960s.

Justice Stevens used some examples from the Tweed ring in New York in the 1860s to deal with voter fraud. But he would have been on firmer ground if he mentioned the terroristic violence used by KKK groups to keep former slaves from voting during Reconstruction. He might also have dealt with the fact that the absence of the secret ballot made voter intimidation very widespread in the late 19th century and the political machines, both big ones in cities and smaller ones around country courthouses, have used "selective" counting of votes to insure victories.

Today, new voting machine touch screen technologies make potential fraud much greater than before. Today, the Republican Party in the 2000 and particularly 2004 election hired "consulting firms" to purge from the registration lists voters from groups that are expected to vote against them for any reason that they can find.

In democracies, the aim is to make voting as simple as possible and protect the right to vote. The Supreme Court decision today, representing the "partisan interests of individual Judges" struck a blow against political democracy today.

Green Jobs, A way out of recession

The latest issue of Sierra magazine, the magazine of the Sierra Club, the economy is linked to the global climate crisis.

Writer Tom Valtin points out that as the recession deepens "labor and environmental leaders are uniting to find alternative energy solutions that will revitalize our economy and benefit people and the planet."

The Blue-Green Alliance, a partnership of the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers, is a coalition of labor and environmental groups that is calling for investment in "green jobs."

The aim is to build up industry that is environmentally friendly such as "installing solar panels, building wind farms, and reusing construction materials."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Marxism, Mythology, and Tibet

by Norman Markowitz

This draft of an article may not be popular with some of our readers (the interpretations are very unpopular across much of the political spectrum in the U.S. and most of the developed capitalist countries) but I think that the major points are valid for those who see society in terms of historical materials.

First there is Tibet. In the 1930s, James Hilton wrote a popular, essentially escapist novel, Lost Horizon. In 1937, "Lost Horizon" was made into a very popular film by Frank Capra, famous for his political films and later director of the the WWII Office of War Information (OWI) The novel and the film deal with "Western travelers" (fleeing ironically political upheavals in China,) who crash land in the Himalayas, are rescued and brought to a valley of peace and
contentment peace, a place called Shangri-la, whose people are led by a wonderful high Lama.

This is a valley of eternal life and peace, one far greater than the "civilization" from which the travelers have escaped. To make matters more mystical, one of the travelers fleeing China, a suave British diplomat, is informed by the High Lama that he has been sent to replace him. Without continuing the fantastic but entertaining story, it is about finding, losing and for some finding again Utopia.

There are many odd parallels between the film and later real life. Sam Jaffe, who played the high Lama, was later blacklisted in the 1950s because of his opposition to McCarthyism, as was Jane Wyatt, who played Sondra, an ideal woman who had spent her life in Shangri-la.(she was to play the ideal suburban homemaker in the classic tv series, Father Knows Best) Franklin Roosevelt liked the film (which in its contrast between the peaceful egalitarian world of Shangri-la and the very mixed attitudes of the travelers, including one prominent capitalist crook is understandable). Roosevelt initially named the presidential retreat that the world today calls Camp David Shangri-la, and the term passed into general usage.

Although it was really unclear where the fictional Shangri-la really was
in the novel and the film(Tibet, Nepal, maybe somewhere in Northern
India) it acame to be identified with Tibet and in the cold war period
helped to compliment the theological mythology behind the U.S.
supported Tibetan Dalai Lama and the theocratic landlord class of
which he was the nominal leader.

Jam Jaffe, Jane Wyatt, and Franklin Roosevelt are dead today, but I think that if they were still with us, and all were progressives, they could distinguish myth from reality, particularly a myth that only serves the interest of the reactionaries who attacked them in their lifetimes.

First, Tibet in effect became a part of the Chinese empire when Mongol invaders established a dynasty, The Yuan Dynasty, in the mid thirteenth century, a few decades after the battles between feudal lords and King John were raging in England and another mythical figure, Robin Hood, was born. For centuries before that there was extensive commercial contact and interconnections between ruling class groups in China and Tibet. When Tibet became part of the Yuan Empire, Kublai Khan(a real historical figure mythologized for centuries in the European world) then in effect created a sort of Pope figure in Chinese (including Tibetan) Buddhism, which did not overcome religious sectarian conflict. The Ming dynasty, which overthrow the Yuan, pursued different policies distributing religious titles as European feudal aristocrats gave titles and wealth to their vassals. Conflicts intensified as the later Ming Chinese court for their own purposes gave great power to one Tibetan sect, whose leader eventually took the name of Dalai (or Ocean) Lama. Meanwhile, the Lamas (or teachers) were, whatever the mysticism surrounding their "incarnations" and their formal proclamations of peace and decency, in effect great lords and political leaders seeking to gain support from the Chinese court to expand their wealth and power, using Chinese military force to defeat and in some famous examples savagely persecute their rivals. And this went that way for centuries
and didn't end until our lifetime. Rather than a utopian society, Tibet was a brutal feudal society which was, from my readings, stands among the worst feudal societies in the world, far more repressive than Chinese feudalism and, even with the Buddhist clergy playing a more powerful role than the Catholic clergy and hierarchy in West European feudalism, certainly able to match the worst of West European feudalism.

The overwhelming majority of Tibetans were serfs living and working on manorial estates controlled by the high lamas and secular landlords (who were drawn often from the same families and were the ruling class). Serfs had no rights even by the standards of European serfs. If they could not work, their personal property was seized. They could be leased out and even sold. Their children could be taken from them and brought to the monasteries, where they were virtually enslaved Escape or resistance was often met with torture(eye gouging, cutting off of limbs, and even death by beheading). Actually, referring to this system as feudal in the Marxist sense of a feudal mode of production is generous. One might see it as a synthesis of feudal and slave modes of production and one in which it is difficult to say, at least from the perspective of the serf-slaves, that the feudal mode predominated over the slave mode.

What is important about this is that is that it cannot be separated from clerical power , although the region of which Tibet is a part became a battleground between the British and Czarist Russian empires in the 19th century as the Chinese empire found itself being carved up into commercial spheres of influence by major capitalist states and the Chinese masses experienced the horrors of imperial penetration, the Opium Wars, the Tiaping Rebellion and its suppression,the creation of cities within cities where Europeans did what they wished without any Chinese control, the entry of European and U.S. capital into China to develop railroads, mines, and other enterprises for themselves.

Even though the powerful lamas had not challenged Chinese authority for centuries (Chinese authority was after all the basis of their authority) the Chinese revolution was to change that. As China was fighting the U.S. in the Korean War, the government of the Peoples Republic in effect entered Tibet directly through an agreement with the two leading rulers, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. Both accepted posts given to them by the new Chinese government in the next few years, as they had from Chinese governments for centuries. However, as the Chinese began to enact anti-feudal reforms, the high Monks and the secular landlords in effect launched a campaign of resistance. First they demanded in 1956 that the great estates be
continued. Then, with direct CIA support, they launched an armed struggle against the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army as it sought to both liberate serfs and recruit them for the liberation of Tibet. With China radicalized under the Great Leap Forward, the Tibetan feudal/slaveholder class declared for the first time ever an independent Tibet in 1959 and launched a military uprising in the capital of Lhasa.

The Peoples Liberation Army suppressed the uprising and the Dalai Lama then fled to India. The dispossessed former Tibetan exploiting classes have continued since then to fight for a "free and independent Tibet" which for them at least, like other emigre groups from revolutions, means the restoration of their power. While the Dalai Lama politically has been all over the place in his statements (from praising Marxism to embracing Jesse Helms in the U.S. and joining with Margaret Thatcher to oppose the extradition of General Pinochet in London) Americans particularly should know that, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998, the Dalai Lama was receiving an annual "stipend" from the CIA in the 1960s of $186,000. Today the "Endowment for Democracy" created by the Reagan administration to do overtly what the CIA did covertly in the ideological conflict is, along with various other U.S. funded organization, providing millions a year to the Tibetan exile community in India and internationally to foster"democracy" in Tibet. The Chinese, who were barred from the United Nations for twenty-two years by the U.S. government and saw Tibet as a pawn in the cold war against them, certainly know all of that.

I am not saying that this a simple struggle between good revolutionaries and bad counter-revolutionaries, as capitalist media sees the the Chinese as evil warlike villains and portrays the Dalai Lama as a second Mohandas Gandhi. Tibetans who were liberated from serfdom slavery suffered greatly from the failures of the Chinese revolution--from the economic failures of the Great Leap Forward and especially from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when religion(and the people, from my readings remain very religious) was massively suppressed and ideological dictates prevailed over reason in the creation of large communes. Also, in recent years, as China has turnedtoward a "social market economy," ethnic or Han Chinese have come to Tibet in significant numbers and tensions and conflicts between Tibetans and ethnic Chinese have become significant. But most of what Tibetans suffered in in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution Chinese suffered. That many Chinese look down on Tibetans as backward and still feudal is probably true. This, along with the capitalist forms that characterize China's mixed economy may very well be fueling Tibetan nationalism inside the country that the emigre community. But cheerleading for the Dalai Lama and histrionic attacks on the Olympic Torch in the name of human rights not only does nothing to resolve the conflict while it denies that questions like slavery and feudalism, the way in which the Dalai Lama and the high lamas lived in the past, and the the suffering of the Tibetan people under the old system, are an essential part of human rights. Strengthening the Dalai Lama and the emigre class he represents is not helping the people of Tibet, even though in recent years he has criticized the old feudal system and said that he favors a constitution and representative government in Tibet (like so many of his predecessors over the centuries, he has said many different things at different times to different audiences).

Angering the Chinese people who know both the feudal history of Tibet and the history of their own bitter experiences with the imperialist powers, produces nothing that is positive.

As a final comment to what I expect will be a not so popular article, let me say that those who denounce the Peoples Republic of China for "cultural genocide" in Tibet should remember that the population ha doubled since 1950 and the average life expectancy of Tibetans has increased from 36 years to 65 years. Feudal Tibet was no Shangri-la. No one is claiming that Tibet as part of China's "social market economy" will be anything like Shangri-la. But there has and hopefully will continue to be progress. As a former believer in the Dalai Lama and still a strong believer in his Buddhist sect said, in a story which appeared in the Washington Post nine years ago, "I may not be free under Chinese Communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave." And he like many others in Tibet was a slave

Reading Lenin 12

READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 12 ]
Thomas Riggins

Using our editor's blog to further Marxist education seems like a good idea. So here is a famous work of Lenin's that outlines what Marxist philosophy is all about. It's 100 years old this year and we might ask ourselves what is still valid in this classic. Have new philosophic developments in the last 100 years made this work outmoded? I'm going to post some reflections on the book section by section and anyone who wants to read along and comment is welcome to do so. I hope to post weekly updates and Sunday seems the best day to this as it is a free day for me.


SECTION THREE: "Causality and Necessity in Nature"

Lenin thinks the question of causality is important and wants to begin to look at this issue from the standpoint of materialist epistemology. To do this he turns to Feuerbach's criticism of the philosopher Rudolf Haym [1821-1901, member from the center right of the National Assembly at Frankfort in 1848 and best known for his 1857 biography of Hegel] who attacked him on this issue.

Feuerbach quotes what Haym says about Feuerbach's book "The Essence of Religion": "Nature and human reason are for [Feuerbach] completely divorced, and between them a gulf is formed which cannot be spanned from one side or the other."

Haym is responding to Feuerbach's statement in his book that we "apply human expressions and conceptions to [the phenomena of nature], as for example: order, purpose, law; and are obliged to do so because of the character of our language."

Feuerbach goes on to point out that the big split between nature and human reason that Haym sees is not really there. He says his statement "does not assert that there is actually nothing in nature corresponding to the words or ideas of order, purpose, law." He was just trying to deny their identity (Idealism).

Feuerbach in fact claims that it is theism that makes this division, not materialism. "The reason of the theists splits nature into two beings -- one material, and the other formal or spiritual." Lenin discusses this Feuerbach-Haym dispute and concludes, "Feuerbach's views are consistently materialist."

Lenin says, "The recognition of objective law in nature and the recognition that this law is reflected with approximate fidelity in the mind of man is materialism." We should keep in mind the expression APPROXIMATE FIDELITY as Lenin often gets a bit carried away and talks about PHOTOGRAPHIC equivalence which many interpret as ABSOLUTE FIDELITY. This may be too strong a claim.

Since Marx and Engels were influenced by Feuerbach (he was the bridge between them and Hegel his philosophy being a materialist mutation of Hegel's Objective Idealism), Lenin makes the following remark about Engels that "to anyone who has read his philosophical works at all attentively it must be clear that Engels does not admit even a shadow of doubt as to the existence of objective law, causality and necessity in nature."

Lenin now makes some comments about Joseph Dietzgen who had been portrayed by the Machists as a subjectivist with respect to causality. Lenin tells us that while "we can find plenty of confusion, inexactnesses and errors in Dietzgen" so that as a philosopher "he is not entirely consistent", nevertheless the Machist view of him is totally false. He was a materialist and, Lenin quotes him as saying "that 'the causal dependence' IS CONTAINED 'in the things themselves'."

Lenin now demonstrates that Avenarius' line on causality is the same as that of Hume and his agnosticism on this issue. Avenarius, just as Hume, says we do not observe "causes" in nature, ie., "necessity", "All we experience," says Avenarius, "is that the one [event] follows the other.... Necessity therefore expresses a particular degree of probability with which the effect is, or may be, expected." Lenin calls this "subjectivism." With the development of physics in the last one hundred years, especially quantum mechanics, this has become the standard scientific view regarding "causality" and Lenin appears to be wrong in this respect. Materialism can live with a probabilistic universe if it recognizes that probability is an objective feature of reality as it presents itself to us.

But Mach and Avenarius are not justified by these developments. Mach says, "In nature there is neither cause nor effect.... I have repeatedly demonstrated that all forms of the law of causality spring from subjective motives and that there is no necessity for nature to correspond with them."

Modern science and modern materialism detect probability frequencies as objective features of quantum interactions independent of "subjective motives." Since, as Lenin says, the real issue is whether causal connections are the result of "objective natural law or properties of our mind", there is nothing in modern science that does not support the materialist position.

Lenin deals in a similar fashion with Pearson (who says "MAN IS THE MAKER OF NATURAL LAW), Petzoldt (who says "Our thought demands definiteness from nature, and nature always accedes to this demand; we shall even see that in a certain sense it is compelled to accede to it"), Willy (who maintains "We have long known, from the time of Hume, that 'necessity' is a purely logical (not a 'transcendental' characteristic...".

Now, two new subjectivists pop up: Henri Poincare [1854-1912, world famous French scientist] ("The only true objective reality is the internal harmony of the world," and this does not exist except in us); and Philipp Frank [1884-1966, Austrian scientist who later became a logical positivist who taught at Harvard] ("experience merely fills in a framework which man brings with him by his very nature....").

All the above were anti-materialism, or at least agnostics, and the reason Lenin added them to his critique was because they only varied here and there from Hume and Kant. These variations led Yushkevich and other Russian Machists to hail them as producing new ideas in philosophy. Lenin thinks that nonsense. Lenin says the essence of these "new" viewpoints "does not necessarily lie in the repetition of Kant's formulation, but in the recognition of the fundamental idea COMMON to both Hume and Kant, viz., the denial of objective law in nature and the deduction of particular 'conditions of experience', particular principles, postulates and propositions FROM THE SUBJECT, from human consciousness, and not from nature."

Lenin then grants that the Russian Machists "would like to be Marxists" and have read Engels' views on causality but are utterly confused. Yushkevich [P.S. Yushkevich, 1873-1945 was a Russian Menshevick], for example, "preaches" a new fad called "empirio- symbolism" and informs us that energy, in his own words, "is just as little a thing, a substance, as time, space, mass and other fundamental concepts of science: energy is a constancy, an empirio-symbol, like other empirio-symbols that for a time satisfy the fundamental human need of introducing reason, Logos, into the irrational stream of experience."

And let us not forget Bogdanov's "Empirio-monism" where we can read that the laws of nature "are created by thought as a means of organising experience, of harmoniously co-ordinating it into a symmetrical whole." None of this derives from the thought of Marx or Engels but derives from the philosophy of Kant.

Next week we will pick up with Section Four "The 'Principle of Economy of Thought' and the problem of the 'Unity of the World.'"

See Reading Lenin 11 here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Flag pins don’t cover hypocrisy

A disturbing study released last week by the RAND Corporation says about 300,000 service members and veterans — nearly one in five of the 1.6 million U.S. troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan — acknowledge experiencing major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Read the entire editorial here...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Moyer's Interview with Rev. Wright

Well, basically, would we say that [except for references to the supernatural] the Rev. Wright was "right on"? I think that anyone, and that includes presidential candidates, who attack Obama for being in his church is acting in bad faith.

Putting May Day back in the books

Workers Memorial Day and May Day: Putting back the history that was "stripped from the books."
At the annual Workers Memorial Day Breakfast in Philadelphia this morning 300 assembled trade unionists honored the over 160 men and women who died on the job during the past year in the tri-state area (PA, south Jersey, DE). Some of the families were present, and some family members spoke. The featured speaker was freshman Congressman Joe Sestak from suburban Delaware County. He told the crowd about his experience in just a year on the House Education and Labor Committee, which has held hearings preliminary to writing stronger legislation to protect workers and enforce penalties against employers who flout the law. Hearing the testimony of one worker after another about the hazards they faced on the job and the difficulties they encountered in correcting them, had, he stated, caused him to feel more strongly than ever about the need to strengthen OSHA and repair the years of damage done by the Bush Administration's cavalier pro-big business policies. Philadelphia AFL-CIO president Pat Eiding and PA AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Rick Bloomingdale also spoke. It was a morning full of poignant and thought provoking moments.
But this year the guests also got a new--and perhaps to many--an unexpected bonus. They heard Jim Moran, founding member of the Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PHILAPOSH, which sponsors the breakfast) give a brief, but, in the circumstances, amazing history lesson. He announced that this year on Thursday May 1, a program would be held to dedicate a Workers' Memorial at Elmwood Park in the city's southwest section. He went on to relate the story of the Haymarket massacre and the Haymarket martyrs and to tell how international Labor Day had been born in the USA and adopted by labor around the world. Pointing out that workers in every nation but the US celebrate May Day as Labor Day, he said, "probably many people here did not know this story; this knowledge was stripped from our history books and stripped from our memories." The assembled guests, representing many different unions, gave Moran a stong ovation when he finished.
I've heard the comment around here recently, "This is not your fathers' labor movement." While I do not entirely agree with the literal meaning of those words, the statement is generally intended to refer to positive changes going on all around us as labor confronts daunting challenges, old and new. This morning's breakfast provides an example of truth of that statement.

The Sounds of War in Washington

by Norman Markowitz

Many Americans fear that the Bush administration will launch a new war before the election in order to win the election for McCain with the usual appeals to "national unity" and "national security." While I am not nor have I ever been a "conspiracy theorist," meaning that I don't see history as a big conspiracy, even though as an historian I and every other student of history knows that "secret treaties," behind the scenes political maneuvers which have little to do with what the general public thinks they are about, are significant parts of history. To paraphrase a famous statement made by a nineteenth century Prussian general, war is politics by other means.

Yesterday, mass media was repeating intelligence reports about a Syrian nuclear reactor which the Israelis had previously destroyed. The reactor was seen as a direct step in developing nuclear weapons and the result of Syria using "North Korean" technology(since the Baath government of Syria was an active opponent of the Baath government of Iraq, it was not an original member of the "Axis of Evil," Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, although it may be on its way to replacing Iraq in that lineup). All sorts of questions were being raised about the "evidence" concerning these accusations, given the previous "photographic" evidence used to support the Iraq invasion, but my interest in it is as a trial balloon to prepare Americans to think in terms of new and/or wider wars.

Admiral Michael Mullen, new chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, launched a bigger and potentially more dangerous trial balloon when he accused the Iranian government and the special forces units of its Revolutionary Guards of using "malign and increasingly lethal influence" internationally, arming and manipulating insurgent groups. For those with short memories, alleged Iranian weapons found in Iraq were trotted out, along with suggestions that these weapons are being used to kill U.S. and Iraqi forces fighting against Shia militias in Basra and other Southern Iraqi regions.

Mullen didn't suggest any new war against Iran, but he did stress that Iran was seeking to establish a "weak Iraq" to advance its interests in the region (of course, one might ask what kind of Iraq is the U.S. seeking to establish as it works with and against Turkish outside forces, the Kurdish minority, Shia and Sunni populations). But Mullen went on to make a blanket condemnation of the Iranian government's support for all sorts of insurgent groups in the region, its training "Iraqis in Iran to come back and fight Americans and the coalition." He also, in a real blast from the recent discredited past, contended that "in fact we are seeing some evidence that they are supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan."

A little elemental history should be cited here. The clerical forces that came to power in Iran and established an "Islamic Republic" are of the Shia denomination. The Al Qaeda group and the Taliban in Afghanistan both represent ultra-right sectarian groupings within the Sunni denomination (which globally represents in its many groupings, which range from liberal to moderate to conservative, over 80 percent of the world's Muslims). Unlike the great majority of the world's Muslims, they are not only extremely intolerant of other religions and secular regimes in Muslim countries and non Muslim regimes everywhere, but they are specially intolerant of other Muslims. They have vilified and fought against Shia Muslims particularly and are sworn enemies of Iran, as they were sworn enemies of the Baath regime in Iraq.

The Bush administration, by its complete refusal to do anything but condemn and seek to economically harm a more liberal clerical regime in Iran in its early years, set the stage for the present rightist clerical regime, which is actively opposed by large numbers of Iranians
and whose adventurist demagogic President (a symbol but not the real power in the government) is in his crackpot embrace of pro Nazi Holocaust deniers and other stands in world politics is a perfect foil for the Bush administration, as was Saddam Hussein (whom the Reagan administration supported in its war against Iran in the 1980s, just as six U.S. presidents earlier supported the brutal reactionary regime of the Shah, which the CIA installed through a coup in 1953, in order to denationalize Iranian oil (which before nationalization had been controlled by British Oil interests) and split up the oil with the British.

Iran in 2008 is not Iraq in 2003. Its military power is significantly greater and a U.S. invasion (it is virtually impossible to think of any ally including Britain joining the U.S.) would have disastrous consequences for everyone, not the least of which would be large numbers
of Iranian and U.S. casualties far beyond anything that the U.S. has experienced to date in Iraq. U.S. bombing of Iran, which some interventionists have suggested short of invasion, would also be very different than the bombing interventions which the U.S. has since the Reagan administration carried out in many places, because the ability of the Iranians to retaliate and thus create a wider war is much greater.

Instead of preparing for a potential war against Iran or at the very least using Iran as an excuse to extend the U.S. occupation and operations in Iraq, we should be working to end that occupation and pursue a regional peace process that will not strengthen reactionary forces in power in Iran or be a pretext for reactionary forces in power in the United States to maintain their power.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Democratic race: pledged delegate contest is over


The much maligned Rev. Jeremiah Wright will be interviewed on PBS on Bill Moyer's Journal, Friday April 25, at 9:00 PM. It should be interesting to hear the real Jeremiah Wright and not the "Jeremiah Wright" cooked up by the mass media.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tell DHS: No No-match Letters for Immigration Enforcement

DHS is proposing using Social Security "no-match" letters for immigration enforcement. Every year, employers report their employees' Social Security numbers to the government as part of the process of paying their payroll taxes. The Social Security Administration (SSA) checks those numbers against their database; if they don't match, a so-called "no-match" letter is sent by SSA to the employer.

That works well enough when the issue is just checking the accuracy of Social Security's records. But now DHS is proposing to use this system for something far more critical -- identifying whether a worker is in this country legally. And the Social Security database just isn't accurate enough to be used reliably for that purpose.

Why isn't it? The Inspector General of the Social Security Administration estimates that there are more than 17 million errors in the database -- each of which would trigger a "no-match" letter. And more than 70% of those errors are in the records of legal, native-born American workers.

If you're one of those workers, when the "no-match" letter arrives, it's up to you and your employer -- not DHS or Social Security -- to resolve the "discrepancy". And if you can't get it resolved in time, your employer is required to fire you or risk significant penalties.

If DHS goes forward with this plan, it would cause thousands of people to be fired on an unverified hunch that an error in a database in Washington means that you're not a legal, authorized worker.

The Department of Homeland Security needs to hear from you that this is unacceptable. You can send a comment to them just by clicking this link:

The Shame of American Prisons

by Norman Markowitz

There is a lengthy article in today's New York Times which mentions that the U.S., with less than 5% of the world's population has 25% of the world's official prison population. The article looks at both causes and criticisms, from mandatory sentencing to the high level of violence in the society connected to the absence of gun control, to the flooding of jails and prisons with minor drug offenders.

These are all significant points, but there are also others. Crime, serious sociologists have told us for a very long time, is connected to destitution poverty. "Backward" societies seek to cope with crime through draconian, often religious based legal codes and various forms of local vigilante activities to control criminals. Advanced societies construct "welfare states" providing for a social safety net for the poor, attempt to make incarceration serve the interest of rehabilitation, and then seek to re-integrate offenders into society as effectively as possible, letting them maintain their basic civil rights and find gainful employment.

The United States since the end of the 1960s has built with critics call a "prison industrial complex" to compliment its military industrial complex and to substitute for the national "war on poverty" which Lyndon Johnson proclaimed in 1964 and then failed to fight after he escalated the Vietnam War in 1965.

As for a "welfare state," it existed only in a limited way in the U.S. and has been subject to relentless attack by Ronald Reagan and his successors since 1980. As a result, the number of Americans in prisons and jails has increased by four times since the 1970s and at present is one fourth of the official prison population of the world.

In a very basic way, this is an example of the horror that rightwing rule has produced in the U.S. over the last thirty years. Freedom, liberty and democracy as slogans in a society that has one fourth of all the world's prisoners. The richest society in the world with more really poor people than any rich society in the world. If this is the triumph of capitalism, can you imagine what its defeat would be?

April 23: Today's Super Snazzy Awesome Number


That's how much Clinton's primary win cut into Barack Obama's delegate lead. After the slash and burn campaign tactics that resembled the worst in Karl Rove's playbook, 12 is all Sen. Clinton gets.

The struggle over Pennsylvania and the number 12, as the New York Times put it in an editorial today, "was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it."

The editorial continues:

"It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election."

Voter fraud in Pennsylvania – scoop!

by Matt Parker

Hillary supporters were handing out the fake ballots in front of polling places all over Philadelphia.

At the polling place I was at, the guy handing them out was standing right in front of the door as people walked in to go vote. You couldn't get past him without taking one.

He gave me a hard time when I tried to take his picture, but he immediately disappeared after I turned my back on him to call.

The "ballot" itself says "official", and is obviously meant to confuse or hoodwink people into voting for hillary clinton.

I called the board of elections, but all they did was take my name and ask me to mail them pictures and the fake ballot. They weren't interested in sending a cop out to stop voter fraud. I tried to talk to someone higher up, but they said that "Bob Lee", the voter registration Administrator was already gone for the day. GONE - for the day !?!?!?!? It was 7PM, the polls were still open for another hour.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Networks host Clinton telethon

So the networks are calling the Pennsylvania primary for Hillary Clinton. They called it with less than 1 percent in. Now they are spending all this time saying it's about the spread, raising money and getting super delegates. The networks are helping Clinton be able to make the calls and tell her donors: they called it for me, now is the time to give (or declare yourself for me...if you are a super delegate). It's a Clinton telethon on MSNBC. And that's not me just saying it...Keith Olberman just did too.

Teresa Albano

Fired up in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- Thirty-five thousand people waited hours at Independence Mall to hear Barack Obama on Friday.

Today in the wee hours of election day morning some of the Obama offices had dozens of people waiting in line for assignments to get out the vote. In many communities the streets were peppered with volunteers with clip boards and packets of literature.

Most of Philadelphia is Obama territory. However there are small pockets where there has been some intimidation to keep Obama volunteers away from the polling places. Every polling place in Philadelphia has been assigned a lawyer to oversee the integrity of the election. Many of the lawyer-volunteers are from out of state.

The city is electrified over this election and there is a good chance that a strong Obama vote in Philadelphia and its immediate suburbs (which have newly become registered as a Democratic majority) will keep Clinton from claiming a two digit victory.

-- Debbie Bell

Clinton's latest "Osama I mean Obama" Outrageous Ad

by Norman Markowitz

The Pennsylvania primary will be over by this evening and the votes will be counted. But the Clinton campaign has once more disgraced itself with a last minute TV ad. On the blog, I recently wrote an article on the ABC debate comparing Hillary Clinton to Richard Nixon. This time she has sunk I think lower than that to the level of Joe McCarthy.

At the 1952 Republican Convention McCarthy attacked the Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson by saying "Alger, I mean Adlai" a reference to former New Dealer and State Department official Alger Hiss, who had been successfully portrayed as a Soviet spy and convicted of perjury in a major political show trial a few years earlier. The Clinton ad wasn't directly comparing Bin Laden with Obama but it was playing on , as the Obama campaign noted, "the politics of fear" (which by the was also the title of a classic study of McCarthy and
McCarthyism by Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate).

From press reports , the ad throws together flashes of a sinister bin laden and the September 11 attacks with newsreel clips of the Stock Market crash, the Pearl Harbor Attack, the "fall of the Berlin Wall," and Hurricane Katrina. That these events have nothing to do with each other(and that "fall of the Berlin Wall" was something that was hailed in the capitalist world) doesn't matter to Clinton. What matters is that all of these events are meant to invoke fear.

What are the fears? Obama campaign workers are still running across people who think that he is Muslim, which of course the Osama reference is meant to strengthen that, since advertisers operate from the principle that people are not rational and that the best way to sell anything is through often hidden messages that the product will make them glamorous, athletic, rich and successful, or that the competitor will make life miserable for them. Senator Obama again answered these ugly attacks the way a serious statesman, not a self-promoting politician would, when he said "it frustrates me that people would even ask a question like that, because they don't ask the same questions of some of the other candidates....if they don't vote for me, it should be because they think that Senator Clinton or Senator McCain have better ideas. It shouldn't be because they think that I am less patriotic or because they question what my religion is."

But Hillary Clinton really doesn't care. That she is in effect using coded language to play to centuries of institutional and ideological racism which made African-Americans invisible when it was not either demonizing them as dangerous violent people or trivializing them as comedy relief characters who could never attain the skills and "experience" of whites (however they acted) because they were inferior people doesn't matter to her. That the commercial that she is using against Obama could be used against her as a women by McCain at the drop of a hat doesn't matter to her.

Instead she is staying on message as her campaign slings mud against her opponent. I have experience and he doesn't, she claims, although what the experience is and what achievements it produced aren't really mentioned. We did it better in the 1990s, she claims, sharing "credit" for her husband's administration, when we created millions of new jobs (no mention that they were largely low skill job like those under Reagan), and began to reduce the federal debt (true, but through fiscal conservative policies that were better for Wall Street than Bush's policies, and pretty good for the corporations and the wealthy although no where near as good as Reagan or W. Bush, but not so good for working people in comparison with previous democratic administrations). What does it all come down to? You can trust me even if I am a woman because you know that my husband was president and I am white, coded appeals which are both racist and sexist.

Hopefully the voters of Pennsylvania will see through the "politics of fear" and not give Clinton the big victory she needs in the primary to keep her alive for the nomination. If they don't it will be objectively a defeat for the anti-rightwing forces in the U.S. because it will become harder for the progressive core constituencies of the Democratic party to actively support Clinton as the nominee against McCain (except passively as the lesser of the two evils) and her politics of fear tactics will almost certainly be turned against her by McCain, losing her support from the centrist voters whom she has consistently courted while she has taken the support of progressives for granted.

Live in Philly

By Tim Wheeler

PHILADELPHIA— With polls showing the gap between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama narrowing to single digits, the rival Democratic presidential candidates barnstormed across the state and volunteers went door-to-door to turn out voters in the crucial April 22 primary.

Obama fired up 38,000 supporters during an April 18 rally at Independence Mall in downtown Philadelphia. Thousands in the crowd wore the purple T shirts of the Service Employees International Union or waved “Teamsters for Obama” signs. “This election is our chance to declare our independence from the broken politics of Washington,” Obama told the cheering crowd. “No matter who we are supporting in this primary campaign, the one thing we know for sure is that the change the country needs will not come from a third George W. Bush term. And that is exactly what John McCain is offering…four more years of a war with no exit strategy, no end in sight, that’s sending our troops on their third, fourth, and fifth tours of duty….four more years of tax cuts for CEOs and corporations...”

So far this year, he added, 8,300 Pennsylvanians and 232,000 others have lost their jobs, millions are losing their homes in foreclosure and millions more are without health insurance or pensions. “I don’t think we can afford four more years of George Bush and John McCain’s ideas of economic progress. Its time to turn the page.”

Clinton is a politician who openly boasts that she can wheel and deal with the corporate lobbyists in Washington, Obama said. “I’m not running to be the president who plays the same old Washington games,” he thundered. “I’m running to end the game playing in Washington…I don’t believe we can take on the lobbyists if we keep taking their money….It will take a movement like we’ve built in this campaign…to change this country.”

Hundreds of Obama volunteers worked from a network of regional offices across the state. Connecticut volunteers worked the mostly Polish-American neighborhood of Port Richmond in Philadelphia. “We ran into a group of Hillary Clinton’s volunteers, members of the Communications Workers of America,” one New Haven volunteer told the PWW. “We had a wonderful talk with them. We refused to argue with each other and put our focus on the need to defeat McCain in November,” she said.

This reporter tagged along with a bus load of volunteers from Baltimore who fanned out east and west of Broad Street near Temple University. “You are in Obama territory,” said Gabe Gonzales. He urged those fluent in Spanish to step forward to work in Latino neighborhoods. “Philadelphia is fired up. This is a movement not just an election campaign.”

Gonzales decried Clinton’s attempt to exploit Obama’s use of the word “bitter,” to describe the anger of workers hit by plant closings. “I’m from Gary, I’ve lived through the plant shutdowns. I saw what it did to workers in my town. Bitter doesn’t begin to express how we feel. I’m pissed.”

At the other end of the state, Obama and Clinton spoke separately to an April 14 meeting of 2,000 steelworkers in Pittsburgh jointly sponsored by the United Steelworkers and a number of steel corporations. Obama got a standing ovation when he announced that if elected he will sign the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) making it easier for workers to join unions. He stressed the role of organized labor in providing higher wages and benefits in helping pull the nation out of recession.

While she did not mention it in her speech, Clinton, too, has endorsed the EFCA. She focused on “green jobs” to restore manufacturing. But when she dredged up Obama’s “bitter” comment the crowd booed. One woman worker shouted, “Your damn right. They took everything.”

Carl Davidson who lives near Aliquippa, PA. among the hardest hit by the shutdown of steel mills in Western PA. is active in Progressives For Obama, an offshoot of Progressive Democrats of America. “Obama has a very good shot at defeating McCain in November,” Davidson told the World in a phone interview. “If we can get a large number of voters under the age of forty to the polls, that will be critical to his victory.” He blasted Bill and Hillary Clinton for “playing the race card” and negative campaigning. “The racebaiting and redbaiting is really vicious. Hillary is really getting down to the bottom of the barrel.”

The negative campaigning has not produced any swing to her among Democratic superdelegates. Even with a narrow win here, Obama still holds an insurmountable lead in delegates.

Democratic Party National Chairman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others are calling on superdelegates to announce their preferance by the end of June. Donna Brazile, an uncommitted superdelegate told the Wall Street Journal, “There’s a group around (Sen. Clinton) that really wants to take the fight to the convention. They don’t care about the Party. It scares me and that’s what scares a lot of superdelegates.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

John McCain's Economic Plan Bites

From Change to Win:

Well, John McCain has finally seen fit to share his "plan" for revitalizing the American economy. He laid out the details in a speech on Tuesday at Carnegie Mellon University.

Unsurprisingly, it's just more of the same old George Bush economics -- big giveaways to the rich, and a few crumbs tossed to the rest of us to distract us from the crumbling infrastructure, undersupported military and mounting national debt the policies result in.

Let's get the biggest part out of the way up front: most of the "McCain plan" consists of just extending George Bush's tax cuts into the future. Since it's already well-established that the Bush tax cuts massively favor the wealthiest 1% of Americans over the rest of us, I won't spend a lot of time on them here. I'll just note that the tax cuts advocated by John McCain in 2008 were fiercely opposed in 2001 by... John McCain...
Read the rest here...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Reading Lenin 11

READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 11 ]
Thomas Riggins

Using our editor's blog to further Marxist education seems like a good idea. So here is a famous work of Lenin's that outlines what Marxist philosophy is all about. It's 100 years old this year and we might ask ourselves what is still valid in this classic. Have new philosophic developments in the last 100 years made this work outmoded? I'm going to post some reflections on the book section by section and anyone who wants to read along and comment is welcome to do so. I hope to post weekly updates and Sunday seems the best day to this as it is a free day for me.


SECTION ONE: "What is Matter? What is Experience"

Lenin says the first question is posed to the materialists while the second is put to the idealists (including the Machists) and agnostics. About 'matter' Avenarius says, "Within the purified, 'complete experience' there is nothing 'physical'-- 'matter' in the metaphysical absolute conception -- for 'matter' according to this conception is only an abstraction...." This theory Lenin calls "disguised subjective idealism."

Mach says, "What we call matter is a certain systematic combination of the ELEMENTS (sensations)." This is also subjective idealism. Lenin also has a quote from Pearson's "The Grammar of Science" to the same effect. He also says that the Russian Machists are totally off base when they equate these views to those of modern science. They are simply the old views of the idealists dressed up in new clothing.

Matter, Lenin says, "is that which, acting upon our sense-organs produces sensation." Bogdanov doesn't like this formulation and complains that materialists are not advancing and that their arguments, in his words, "prove to be simple repetitions." This only shows his ignorance as there are in fact basically only two main lines in philosophy with regard to this issue.

"One expression," Lenin points out, "of the genius of Marx and Engels was that they despised pedantic playing with new words, erudite terms, and simple 'isms', and said simply and plainly: there is a materialist line and an idealist line in philosophy, and between them there are various shades of agnosticism. The vain attempts to find a 'new' point of view in philosophy betray the same poverty of mind that is revealed in similar efforts to create a 'new' theory of value, a 'new' theory of rent, and so forth."

So much for "matter." Now, how is "experience" used in empirio-criticism?
I should say right off the bat that Lenin says "experience"-- the major concept of empirio-criticism -- is NOT clearly defined by the empirio-critics! With Avenarius it is vague and circular as when he says "pure experience is experience to which nothing is admixed that is not in its turn experience."

This is a definition which the philosopher A. Riehl in 1907 said "obviously revolves in a circle". And, Norman Kemp Smith, in "Mind" vol. XV, remarked, "The vagueness of the term 'experience' stands him in good stead, and so in the end Avenarius falls back on the time-worn argument of subjective idealism." Mach even goes so far as to say, "The acceptance of a divine original being is not contradictory to experience."

The confusion over this term can be seen in its use by Bogdanov. According to Lenin, when Bogdanov says, "consciousness and immediate mental experience are identical concepts" and that matter is "not experience" but "the unknown which evokes everything known" he is being an IDEALIST. Yet he is being a MATERIALIST when he says that those who go beyond experience only arrive at "empty abstractions and contradictory images, all the elements of which have nevertheless been taken from experience."

Mach in several works makes pronouncements in a materialist vein, so much so in fact that Lenin says he "instinctively accepts the customary standpoint of natural scientists, who regard experience materialistically."

All this goes to show that Engels was correct in saying there are only two fundamental positions with regard to "experience"-- i.e., the materialist and the idealist.


This is a short section where Lenin wants to correct a statement Plekhanov made in his book "L. Feuerbach". Plekhanov wrote, "A German writer has remarked that for empirio-criticism EXPERIENCE is only an object of investigation, and not a means of knowledge. If that is so, then the contrasting of empirio-criticism and materialism loses all meaning and discussion of the question whether or not empirio-criticism is destined to replace materialism is absolutely vain and idle." Lenin thinks this is a "complete muddle."

According to Lenin, Plekhanov must have had in mind, and not really understood, the following from Avenarius filtered through his disciple F. Carstanjen. Lenin says, "Fr. Carstanjen is almost literally quoting Avenarius, who in his "Notes" emphatically contrasts his conception of experience as a 'means of knowledge' in 'the sense of the prevailing theories of knowledge, which essentially are fully metaphysical."

Now, Carstanjen maintains that Avenarius did not investigate if experience , i.e., "all 'human predications', as the OBJECT of investigation" was real or not. What he did was simply classify "all possible human predications, BOTH IDEALIST AND MATERIALIST, without going into the essence of the question." As a result, Plekhanov's muddled conclusion above is unwarranted and in error.

Next week we will begin with Section Three of this chapter: "Causality and Necessity in Nature."

See Reading Lenin 10 here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Capitalism at Four Dollars a Gallon?

by Norman Markowitz

In 2005, I wrote an article for PA online titled "Capitalism at Three Dollars a Gallon." In 2006, I wrote another article for _PA _online titled "Brother Can You Spare a Gallon. " As I drive on the roads of New Jersey, which by the way has, because of its refineries, some of the cheapest gas prices in the U.S., the best that I can find is $3.17 a gallon and I doubt that I will be able to find that by Monday.

I am getting tired of writing these articles and it is costing me and the most Americans a good deal of money--money which could be put to much better use for ourselves, our families, and the national economy.

Nothing has changed and everything has in effect gotten worse. If the Bush invasion of Iraq was a "war for oil," it has been a war for expensive not "cheap oil." The crackpot assertions of Bush administration policy planners aside that they could invade and subdue Iraq and then substantially increase oil production there so that the war would "pay for itself" (or the U.S. would take oil profits from the Iraqis as the price of their "liberation") the price of a barrel of crude oil is today at an all time high and the U.S. government has done absolutely nothing to advance alternative energy programs. Instead, the administration, which has a "special relationship" with the most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class in the U.S., that is, the Texas based energy companies and the large military contractors, has done everything in its power to sabotage international alternative energy programs, which has not only increased the price of oil but has also obstructed international environmental protection policies.

Why is the administration doing this.? My "educated Marxist" judgment is that it is indifferent to very expensive oil because very expensive oil both enriches its Texas energy company backers and also increases their power in the capitalist class against other sectors of large capital. The capitalist class like the working class is highly stratified and while all capitalists defend their larger class interests against all workers, different sectors of capital fight for increased profits and power against others.

Expensive oil strengthens both the energy companies and also the military contractors, since it helps to create the catch-22 mentality that military interventionism is more not less necessary to keep other nations or blocs of nations from gaining control of oil producing regions and making the costs of oil even greater and "window of vulnerability" a nation faces greater (a version of the old Mutually Assured Destruction argument that fueled the arms race and came to be called MAD, that is, you had to build more and more weapons of mass destruction so that your enemies would not get the drop on you and they would do the same so that you would not get the drop on them and that would be a deterent to nuclear war).

I guess we can call more and more oil use, higher and higher prices, and more and more military interventions around protecting oil Unilaterally Assured Bankruptcy (UAB) not as catchy as MAD but if a national energy policy is not developed by the next administration just as probable.

These rightwing radical policies which Ronald Reagan brought to Washington when he dumped Jimmy Carter's energy conservation policies really need a serious left alternative in the U.S.

I would in looking for such a policy go back to one of the United States most successful public energy programs, the Tennessee Valley Authority ,which Franklin Roosevelt hoped would be extended to the large river valleys of the country as part of a national public energy policy.

I would hope the next administration will create something like a United States Energy Authority, in effect both nationalizing the Texas based oil companies and reorganizing them around the principle of providing the cheapest fuel possible. I would also expect this Authority (which would cover all energy sources) to use public profits from the oil sector to fund a national Research and Development program around solar and other alternative energy programs. Then, I would hope that a progressive U.S. government would immediately establish
cooperative relations with Venezuela and support rather than undermine progressive labor and political forces in Mexico(which also has a large oil industry), working to create a Hemispheric Energy Authority that would focus on public sector development and raising living standards
for the people of Latin America.Finally, I would hope that a progressive U.S. government would work to develop a global energy authority through the United Nations.

What would happen to the capitalists? Since many nations have operated on the principle that natural resources belong to the whole people and have created public energy sectors short of establishing a socialist society, the stocks of capitalist investors might be converted to bonds in the public energy authorities, no where near as lucrative as their present situation, but a policy that would give them some incentive to accept public energy policies. Also, I would hope that a progressive U.S. government would work to strengthen progressive political forces in both Iraq and Iran who are the only real friends that the American people have in those countries and seek to develop a regional peace process that would both create an federated Iraq which would retain its public ownership of oil and develop cooperative relationships with what would hopefully become a secular progressive Iran.

These are longterm policy goals that many will dismiss as "Utopian." I am sure some of our readers will ask me what I am drinking or smoking? My only answer would be that these policy goals constitute a policy worth struggling around, as against the "dystopian" policy of U.S. monopoly capital. That policy has given us oil barons allied to military contractors at home and feudal lords abroad, a commitment to "privatizing" Iraqi oil and profiteering from the Iraq and future wars, and, of course four dollars a gallon which will be followed by ? a gallon if rightwing Republican rule continues and there is no progressive national energy policy.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pentagon Researchers Label Iraq War a "Major Debacle"

by Joel Wendland

The Pentagon think-tank, National Institute for Strategic Studies, has just released a report calling the Iraq war a "major debacle." Here's some snippets from McClatchey:

The war in Iraq has become "a major debacle" and the outcome "is in doubt" despite improvements in security from the buildup in U.S. forces, according to a highly critical study published Thursday by the Pentagon's premier military educational institute.

The Pentagon report also sounded off on the cost of war:

The report said that the United States has suffered serious political costs, with its standing in the world seriously diminished. Moreover, operations in Iraq have diverted "manpower, materiel and the attention of decision-makers" from "all other efforts in the war on terror" and severely strained the U.S. armed forces.

The article also says that the report was less than glowing in its assessment of the "surge":

"Despite impressive progress in security, the outcome of the war is in doubt," said the report. "Strong majorities of both Iraqis and Americans favor some sort of U.S. withdrawal. Intelligence analysts, however, remind us that the only thing worse than an Iraq with an American army may be an Iraq after a rapid withdrawal of that army."

The report also appeared to sidestep the obvious criticism of the commander-in-chief, focusing its ire at Donald Rumsfeld and former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice:

The report lays much of the blame for what went wrong in Iraq after the initial U.S. victory at the feet of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. It says that in November 2001, before the war in Afghanistan was over, President Bush asked Rumsfeld "to begin planning in secret for potential military operations against Iraq."

Rumsfeld, who was closely allied with Vice President Dick Cheney, bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the report says, and became "the direct supervisor of the combatant commanders."

" ... the aggressive, hands-on Rumsfeld," it continues, "cajoled and pushed his way toward a small force and a lightning fast operation." Later, he shut down the military's computerized deployment system, "questioning, delaying or deleting units on the numerous deployment orders that came across his desk."

The McClatchey article also suggests political repercussions from the report in that it,

raises fresh doubts about President Bush's projections of a U.S. victory in Iraq just a week after Bush announced that he was suspending U.S. troop reductions.

That such weak criticism of the handling of the war is viewed as such a significant story suggests internal differences and splits in the military community over the wisdom of continuing the war. It also likely reflects opportunism in the military community sensing a power shift away from the Republican Party.

Hillary Clinton and Richard Nixon

by Norman Markowitz

In the U.S., mass media pundits from the CNN crowd to New York Times house "conservative" David Brooks, have always reminded me of the old Jewish atheist's critique of the Jewish Rabbinical clergy, "they talk to themselves, answer themselves, and agree with their own answers" (as the Pope travels around the U.S., one might say that that viewpoint holds true for religious leaders generally).

The media is talking to themselves about the "decline" of Barack Obama, the coming "fall" of Barack Obama, and agreeing with their own answers. In their role as political bookmakers, they know that Obama remains clearly ahead of Clinton and that Clinton must somehow register big victories that will enable her to take the heat of the "Super delegates" and give her the nomination. If they are conscious they know that that is what their bosses want, and that their role in continuing this barrage before the Pennsylvania primary is to create what scholars call a "self-fulfilling prophecy" that will encourage centrist voters to either vote for Clinton or not vote at all. The professional pollsters at this point don't seem to be showing any major shift in the vote, but anything of course can happen.

I titled this article "Hillary Clinton and Richard Nixon" because I saw the debate this week in which Hillary Clinton acted "presidential" in the tradition of Richard Nixon. With the help of media people and "questioners" who looked like they were from an old Nixon infomercial from the 1968 campaign, she in effect "red-baited " Obama in the old fashioned Nixon tradition, that of "guilt by association" which Nixon and his alcoholic and cruder buddy Joe McCarthy became famous for in the high cold war era.

Reverend Wright was once more dragged out for saying things that Obama should have condemned or left his church for the way Nixon's people compared Helen Gahagan Douglas, his Democratic opponent for the Senate in 1950, with Vito Marcantonio (perhaps the most courageous and militant left member of the House of Representatives in the twentieth century) on their voting record, and support for progressive policies. Nixon's people called Douglas in both red-baiting and "sexist" terms "Pink Lady" and won the election while the Democrats, Republicans and Liberal Party of New York ran a single candidate to drive Marcantonio from the House.

Obama was also asked about his "relationship" to some weather underground characters(well to do people who, like some Russian anarchist and nihilist radicals of the late 19th century,played into the hands of the Nixon administration and marginalized themselves by becoming a self-proclaimed underground and engaging in some failed violent acts).

These people were never "Reds" and never had any support from the Communist Party USA or any serious group committed to socialism in the U.S. (socialism wasn't exactly what they were about in what Lenin would call their "infantile leftist" activities).

But the "red-baiting" principle of course remains the same. The Weather Underground came into existence when Senator Obama was about eight years old and pretty much went out of existence before he reached high school, but that wasn't the point of the questioners or Clinton either, as it wasn't of the HUAC witch hunters who asked "unfriendly witnesses" "are you now or have you ever been."

Obama frankly looked pained and the media, which is about appearances and rewards for phoniness, saw this as an example of his failing. I saw it as an example of his intelligence and decency. As I looked at him I could hear him saying in his mind, "what country and on what planet are these people living in. We have a deepening economic crisis and this is what they are talking about. We have a disastrous occupation in Iraq and the possibility of new wars and this is what they are talking about. We have deepening inequality and injustice in our society and this is what they are talking about. We have a more than ten trillion dollar federal deficit and 'proposal' from John McCain for new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that will add trillions more and this is what these people are talking about."

Obama kept his cool and the debate finally after a long time got to issues where he once more showed that he was better than Clinton for progressive voters and realistic ones who realize that major changes must be made in national policy.

Hopefully, the voters who have supported Obama over the much of the conservative establishment inside and outside the Democratic party will redouble their efforts for him. If not the Republican right will be in a position to escape the defeat that their policies have earned. The Clinton campaign's aping of their "McCarthyite" tactics have already helped them, even though Hillary Clinton is having other people do the dirty work for her, just like the man whom Adlai Stevenson called a "white collar McCarthy, Richard Nixon."

I guess it could have been worse. Clinton might have tried to win sympathy by talking about herlittle dog, Chess (her advisors would tell her not to name the dog Checkers).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jet Streams are Shifting and May Alter Paths of Hurricanes

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution determined that over a 23-year span from 1979 to 2001 the jet streams in both hemispheres have risen in altitude and shifted toward the poles. The jet stream in the northern hemisphere has also weakened. These changes fit the predictions of global warming models.

read more | digg story

Anti-union Network Targets Workers


Lifting the Veil on Rick Berman
Five Fast Facts on Berman & the Center for Union Facts

Richard Berman doesn’t care about your kids, your health, your workplace, or your schools. He cares about money. Period.

1. He’s the hired gun for the alcohol, tobacco, and fast food industries. Notorious D.C. lobbyist, veteran spin doctor, and founder of Berman and Company, Richard Berman has made a name for himself working on behalf of unpopular clients like the tobacco, alcohol, and fast food industries. Through various front groups he’s created, Berman has mounted campaigns for his corporate backers to relax drunk driving laws, discount public health concerns about obesity and tanning, and prevent increases in the minimum wage.

2. Berman’s issue-focused front groups pay “huge fees” to his lobbying firm. Richard Berman runs five campaigns out of his offices in Washington, DC, most of which were revealed to pay “huge fees” to his lobbying firm. According to a July 2006 profile of Berman in USA Today, his company has 28 employees and earns $10 million dollars a year, but "only Berman and his bookkeeper wife" know how much of the $10 million ends up in their own pockets.

3. Berman’s backers stay far in the background. Berman is the face of attacks on public interest groups to absolve corporations, conservative business associations, industry lobbying groups, and right-wing policy centers and policymakers from responsibility and accountability. “[Berman] never discloses his financial backers, allowing large, mainstream companies to fund him without having to associate their brand names with his sharp-elbowed approach.” Las Vegas Sun, 11/3/07

4. Playing loose and dirty with the facts is Berman’s favorite tactic. Berman routinely misinterprets data, grossly exaggerates, and offers dubious statistics to further the agenda of his corporate clients. For example, as the Senate launched hearings and introduced the Employee Free Choice Act in March 2007, the Center released misleading figures based on National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) data that minimized the number of illegal firings during union election campaigns. Both Republican and Democratic Senate staff requested clarification on the group’s claims from the NLRB. Staff at the NLRB swiftly responded to report Berman’s data cannot be substantiated.

5. Attacking unions is one of his latest money-making enterprises. In 2006, Berman launched the Center for Union Facts front group to damage the public image of unions and further an anti-union business climate. Berman’s plans to fundraise among conservative activists for his attack on teachers’ unions were revealed in an expose in The Las Vegas Sun in Nov. 2007. In 2008 Berman will wage “an aggressive media campaign” on behalf of the Indoor Tanning Association, which has raised $400k+ to hire Berman to play down the well-documented health concerns over tanning.

Learn more about Rick Berman and the attack on unions and workers’ rights, visit

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Death Penalty Decision: Score One for Barbarism

by Norman Markowitz

Most of our readers probably know that the death penalty has been abolished in most of the developed world. The Council for Europe campaigns against it and , has even established October 10 as European Day Against the Death Penalty to challenge those conservatives who wish to re-establish it. Even countries with brutal and repressive criminal justice systems like Turkey have had to abolish it because of reap economic benefits from non death penalty countries. Although non death penalty countries don't employ economic sanctions against the U.S., a number of them refuse to extradite criminals to the U.S. where the death penalty is involved.

Many conservatives accept the view that United Nations and other studies have convincingly shown--that the death penalty is not in any way a greater deterrent to major crimes than life imprisonment. Europeans who defend the outlawing of the death penalty like to point to the errors in its enforcement. especially to the Americans who have been released from death row in recent decades when they were innocent. There is also the use of the death penalty as an expression of institutional racism and other prejudices where individuals are sentenced to death after trials that are clearly flawed if not directly biased.

Finally, large numbers of people across the political spectrum have come to accept the view that killing one person for killing another, regardless of how horrible the original killing was, brings no justice to the original victim and only extends the violence or, as Mohandas K. Gandhi said for all of humanity, "an eye for an eye will make the world blind."

The center of the anti- death penalty movement is in the contemporary "Western world" with one big exception, its self-proclaimed leader of the "Western World" , the United States of America. Today, theright-wing dominated Supreme Court of the United States of America voted 7-2 (although the judges were as they sometime are all over the place) that Kentucky's policy of lethal injection did not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment." The decision was grotesque, although the oldest judge,eighty-eight year old John Paul Stevens, (who voted in 1976 for the right of states to "re-establish" the death penalty,) in his support of the majority decision, suggested that the premises on which the original death penalty was upheld may no longer apply.

A little history that most Americans either don't know or have forgotten will be of use here. In 1972, the Supreme Court appeared to have abolished the death penalty when it ruled by a narrow five to four decision in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty as the laws governing it were written violated both the "cruel and unusual punishment" provision of the eighth amendment and the due process provisions of the fourteenth amendment. This followed after the development of a major movement against the death penalty which had produced a virtual moratorium on executions, which had numbered on the average 130 a year earlier, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After the Furman decision, over 600 death row inmates had their sentences commuted and the death penalty was null and void for the next four years.

However, the political backlash of the Nixon years took their toll on both the Supreme Court and the "law and order" political establishment. States rewrote death penalty laws to try to get around the due process and "cruel and unusual punishment" aspects of the Furman Case. In a number of cases in 1976, a more conservative yet divided Supreme Court upheld some new death penalty state laws (most importantly Gregg v. Georgia) and rejected others, establishing though the right of individual states to re-institute with judicial review the death penalty
on a state by state basis. In 1977, executions began again and in the first decade of the new century, 2000, the number of executions reached 85, with all of the executions taking place in fourteen of the fifty states and governor George W. Bush's Texas leading the way.

Since then, the anti-death penalty movement has grown substantially, states have declared death penalty moratoriums as they did in the late 1960s, and my own state of New Jersey proudly joined other American states which never re-instituted the death penalty and most of the developed world by outlawing abolishing the death penalty in December 2007.

The present Supreme Court decision though tells us more about the present Supreme Court than it does about changing attitudes among the American people about the death penalty. The decision today is clearly a setback(one should note that Clinton appointee Stephen Breyer voted with the majority). In the Gregg Case, Justice Stevens contended, the three "societal" reasons for the death penalty, incapacitation, deterrence, and retribution" may no longer be valid. The first point means life imprisonment without parole in effect incapacitates the criminal without killing him or her. The second point. deterrence, is, given the best sociological evidence simply false. The third point, retribution, was best answered by Gandhi.

It is likely that some states will be ending their moratoriums and preparing for new executions. Justice Stevens is eighty eight years old and only two other Justices voted against the majority. John McCain is for the death penalty 100 percent. The best way to end the death penalty in the U.S. is to defeat McCain and his party and change the balance on the court, bringing over a weak centrist like Breyer to the anti-death penalty side along as new Justices are appointed. That will be necessary to end a barbaric, anachronistic institution which brings the United States into disrepute through much of the world.

Was that Really John McCain or an Actor from Comedy Central?

By Norman Markowitz

I saw something very funny yesterday, although many people later told me it was real. I saw someone whom I thought was pretending to be John McCain come out with an "economic program." He started with tax cuts and more tax cuts to fight the recession. This wasn't a rerun of Ronald Reagan in 1981, although this character did say that he would also cut deeply "discretionary spending" (this had to be a comedy show, because discretionary social spending has been cut relentlessly in non fiction America over the last thirty years).

As I was expecting this guy to say "sock it to me," he said he would support repeal the federal gasoline tax, as this would reduce gasoline costs over time as against increasing deficits very quickly. While I was expecting an actor dressed up as P.T. Barnum to come out and exclaim "there's a sucker born every minute," the McCain character went on to promise government supported thirty year mortgages to everyone threatened with losing their homes out of one side of his mouth and a promise that the banks wouldn't lose anything out of the other. He also admitted(here was the "straight talk") that he really couldn't balance the budget in short order with these policies (Ronald Reagan said he could twenty-eight years ago but I guess this actor doesn't have much respect for Voodoo).

At this point, I expected a chimpanzee named Bonzo to step out and hit the McCain character in the head with a football. Or may a group of Supreme Court Justices with signs on their robes reading, Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas, to step out and start dancing with the McCain character as the audience chanted "Here Come the Judge."

People this morning though told me that it was really true. That that was the real John McCain. That he was really advocating a rerun of the Reagan policies of the early 1980s that produced the sharpest recession of the post World War II period, when unemployment reached 10% and real wages declined. That, after the Reagan policies and the Bush II policies of spectacular tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and crippling cutbacks in social services and the public sector, he was really playing that old trick on the people, a little bit like a political Ponzi scheme, where you get a little money in tax cuts in one pocket while you lose much much more in regressive federal, state, and local taxes and fees, out of pocket costs for education and health care, reduced wages and salaries, and then, like the victims of Ponzi schemes, watch as the bubble bursts (in this case, the whole economy goes into a deep recession.)

If that was really John McCain and not an actor on Comedy Central, he has come forward with an "economic plan" that can only repeat the disaster of the Reagan years, the disaster of the George W Bush years, in an economy that is much less able at every level to absorb the blows of trillions more added to the national debt, income inequality intensifying, and living standards for the majority not just stagnating but in all probability dropping significantly.

Maybe I was wrong in comparing the McCain program to a Comedy Central performance. It may have been more like Orson Welles famous 1938 Mercury Theater of the Air Radio broadcast of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which was presented so realistically that some people thought that Martians had really invaded the U.S. and panicked. Except, McCain's plan, which was so absurd it looked like a satirical skit, is real and should help Americans to see the dangers that his candidacy represents.

The Boss Endorses Obama

By Joel Wendland

Bruce Springsteen, far and away one of the great American rockers, today announced his endorsement of Barack Obama. The Hall of Fame musician said:

"He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit, a place where 'nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.'"

So more than anything, I guess this is a chance to talk about my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. My favorites and why in top ten order:

10. Born in the USA – Ronald Reagan stole this song, and we're stealing it back. It is the perfect song for the bitter folk who work hard, show courage, struggle, but when it comes down to it, the politicians in Washington just don't stand up for them.

9. Living Proof – Life ain't all politics. Sometimes its personal.

8. The River – Life ain't all personal. Mostly its about forces out of your control. Having a union card and being allied with a loving partner is sometimes the best tools we have to make it through.

7. Streets of Philadelphia – the song is a poem. It speaks for itself.

6. Last to Die – Who will be the last do die for our mistake? While John McCain debates the nuances of success and failure in Iraq with himself, people are dying.

5. The Ghost of Tom Joad – "Welcome to the new world order...."

4. Dead Man Walkin' – Probes the depth of humanity that challenges the acceptability of state violence.

3. American Skin (41 shots) – The police murder of Amadou Diallo is Rudy Giuliani's real legacy as New York mayor.

2. The Rising – Made to order song for a people's campaign to change this country...

1. The Promised Land - I believe in the promised land....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Poll: Support for "Free" Market Eroding

by Joel Wendland

A recent poll, whose results are posted at, shows that public support in 10 countries, including the US, China, German, the UK, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, Chile, and Turkey, for the so-called free market system has seriously eroded between 2002 and 2007.

Ironically, three-quarters of those surveyed who said they continue to support the "free" market, also said that it works best with strong government regulation, higher than among those who have become more critical of the "free" market.

The results of this survey are huge. My guess is that the shift, which is also potentially ideological in nature, has quite a bit to do with the policies of the Bush administration as much as people seeing the effects of such policies imposed on them and their communities by international financial institutions and right-wing political parties over the past period.

China is likely a more complicated example, however. Your thoughts?

Miami University Staff and Students Demand Respect, Fair Pay

For the past 4 years, Students for Staff (SFS) has been leading a living wage campaign at Miami University.

Their goal? Be a part of a campus community that treats its workers with respect and dignity, and one that contributes positively to the local economy and the working people that keep it functioning.

In the past, when the issue of fighting poverty and implementing a living wage has come up, administrators have responded by saying, "Not here, Not now".

SFS and students on campus won't stand for that! Over the past school year, SFS has built more power, a stronger organization, and broader support from on/off campus individuals and organizations because they believe their Miami University is, can, and should be better than minimum and poverty level wages.

Recently, the Graduate Student Association, University Senate, and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown have come out in support of the Living Wage campaign!

Sign this petition via the web at: