Thursday, July 31, 2008

UN Paris Session



The annual NGO [Non Government Organization] to the United Nations meeting this year will be held in Paris, France: September 3-5, 2008.

The meeting will attract over 2,500 NGO from around the world. This will be the first time the meeting will be held away from the United Nations home in NYC. The meeting has plenary sessions; roundtables; and workshops.

The focus this year is on the issue of Human Rights since the formal title of the session is: "Reaffirming Human Rights for All: the Universal Declaration at 60." [This hotwire will link to the famous declaration]

Sixty years ago the Declaration was seen as great document which following the second devastating world war in less than 40 years. The racism, anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination which was at the heart of the Nazi regime spurred this document. Also, for many in the United States, it was seen as a document to rid the US of its persistent racism. I can't say for sure, but William Patterson declaration against racism to the United Nations may have been spurred by the UN action.

There will be special presentations such as "Absences" a photographic presentation by Gustavo Germano, which documents the fascism that reigned in Argentina form 1976 to 1983.

I will be bloging from Paris starting on September 2nd.

One interesting area of discussion will focus on the use of Anti-Terrorism to threaten Human Rights in different parts of the world. In fact there was a full, all-day discussion on that topic at the United Nations yesterday.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

John McCain's Record on Failing U.S. Veterans

McCain has a vets problem. Support the troops is little more than a slogan for McCain.

People Forego Medical Care to Avoid High Costs

From National Public Radio:
In a new poll conducted in Florida and Ohio for NPR by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, one in four people say they're having trouble paying their medical bills. Many are middle-class people with jobs and health insurance. And some even say they earn six-figure incomes.

According to the survey, 30 percent of people in Florida say they've put off needed medical care. And 41 percent in Florida say they've skipped dental care.

Read and listen to the story here...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tell Congress: Get the Truth About LaVena Johnson


LaVena Johnson was a 19 year old private in the Army, serving in Iraq, when she was raped, murdered, and her body was burned--by someone from her own military base. Despite overwhelming physical evidence, the Army called her death a suicide and has closed the case.1

For three years, LaVena's parents have been fighting for answers. At almost every turn, they've been met with closed doors or lies. They've appealed to Congress, the one body that can hold the military accountable. But, as in other cases where female soldiers have been raped and murdered and the Army has called it suicide, Congress has failed to act.

Will you join Mr. and Mrs. Johnson in calling on Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, to mount a real investigation into LaVena Johnson's death and the Army's cover-up2? Will you ask your friends and family to do the same?

From the beginning, LaVena's death made no sense as a suicide. She was happy and had been talking with friends and family regularly3--nothing indicated she could be suicidal. And when the Johnsons received her body, they noticed signs that she had been beaten.4 That was when they started asking questions.

After two years of being denied answers and hearing explanations that made no sense, the Johnsons received a CD-ROM from someone on the inside. It contained pictures of the crime scene where LaVena died and an autopsy showing that she had suffered bruises, abrasions, a dislocated shoulder, broken teeth, and some type of sexual assault. Her body was partially burned; she had been doused in a flammable liquid, and someone had set her body on fire. A corrosive chemical had been poured in her genital area, perhaps to cover up evidence of rape.5

Still the Army sticks by their story. They refuse to explain the overwhelming physical evidence that LaVena was raped and murdered and continue to claim that she killed herself.

For many Black youth, and working class young people of every race, the military is seen as an option for securing a better future. LaVena came from a deeply supportive family, and while the military wasn't her only option, she was attracted by its promise to help her pay for a college education and the opportunity to travel around the world. She also thought that by joining she could continue her lifelong commitment to serving other people in need. She made a decision to serve in the military, with all its risks, and expected respect and dignity in return.

LaVena's death is part of a disturbing pattern of cases where female soldiers have been raped and killed, and where the military has hidden the truth and labeled the deaths suicides.6,7 In virtually all cases, Congress has been slow to investigate or hold the military accountable in any way. Unfortunately, most families simply don't have the resources, time, and psychological strength to push back.

We can help the Johnsons, and other families, by holding Congress accountable in the LaVena Johnson case and by demanding it investigate the pattern of cover-ups by the military.

Please take a moment to join those calling on Congressman Waxman to investigate the cover-up of LaVena Johnson's death:


1. "The cover-up of a soldier's death?", March 6, 2007

2. "Is There an Army Cover Up of Rape and Murder of Women Soldiers?", April 28, 2008

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. "Suicide or Murder? Three Years After the Death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson in Iraq, Her Parents Continue Their Call for a Congressional Investigation," Democracy Now!, June 23, 2008.

6. See reference 2.

7. "2 Years After Soldier's Death, Family's Battle Is With Army," New York Times, March 21, 2006.

Other References:

"Justice for Pfc. LaVena Johnson," DailyKos, June 30, 2008

"Rapists in the Ranks, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2008

John McCain's record on aid for corporations but not for workers

[Joel Wendland]

From the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO:

Even after 9/11, No Help for Workers

McCain voted against unemployment benefits for laid off airline workers after 9/11
[S. 1447, Vote #293, 10/11/01]

McCain voted against the amendment that would have provided unemployment, job-training and health benefits to workers displaced as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. The bill contained $15 billion in loans and loan guarantees for airline companies but failed to provide any assistance to workers.

So in other words, McCain voted huge giveaways and aid to airline companies in the wake of the September 11th attacks, but took the time to specifically vote against aid for workers displaced by the economic fallout from those attacks.

This is not a "maverick" policy. It is pure Bushism plain and simple.

How it happened: John McCain's Flip-flop on Offshore Drilling


Political Affairs history

By Ben Sears

This note is inspired by Norman's of July 24: "Political Affairs in the Worst of Times." I very much appreciated his effort to do what is not easy for us, even today. The fact is that the '50s were not good times for the Left in the US and, of course, for the CPUSA especially. It was a time when a lot of folks who considered themselves of the Left appear to have felt that they could have a movement without a Communist Party. This proved to be, as is now obvious, an attempt to find an "easy way out" or "wishful thinking" maybe, but an idea that would not stand the test of time or class struggle. So looking back at what was being said by those with the persistence and courage to stay with the Party as they contemplated and debated the way forward is a most valuable historical endeavor. Not without some pain, perhaps. But that is why the Party is able to make the special contribution that it does.

All this does not mean that the '50s were entirely barren. Developments, such as the Civil Rights Movement, for which the ground had been prepared by the Party's earlier work, show that progress does not stop dead in its tracks, even in the hardest times. And maybe some readers have seen the film about the life of Paul Robeson which includes a short clip of Robeson--standing on the steps of the Supreme Court I believe--pointing out that the Court (and Chief Justice Warren specifically) acknowledged the importance of international opinion [which was particularly influential at that point with the existence of a bloc of socialists countries] in driving the momentum toward the Brown decision.

On the Hungarian "uprising" of 1956, I don't see how it can reasonably be called a "social democratic" revolution, given the international situation. The most destructive war in history, which saw fascism spread over virtually the entire continent of Europe before being defeated, had only been over for a decade, and the hopes of so many for a secure peace were being undermined by US imperial policies and Dulles "brinkmanship". I remember seeing an on-line article by Eric Hobsbawm about Hungary that made some of the points--not all--that Norman did. I think it was in the fall of 2006, which would have been the 50th anniversary of the events in Hungary.

Movement against McCain grows at Economic Summit

By Joe Sims
The broadening character of the movement against right-wing extremism rose to a new level yesterday as Barack Obama held an economic summit in Washington DC, attended by former Republican officials including Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neal and Securities and Exchange Commissioner William Donaldson. The meeting was entitled “Economic Security for American Families” and was held against a backdrop of the IMF saying the US economic crisis is ongoing with inflation at its highest level in 17 years, a record deficit along with a loss of 62,000 jobs in June according to the BBC.

O'Neal, who angrily broke with Bush over the Iraq war and other issues is known to be close to none other than Dick Cheney and Alan Greenspan. With a former author of the right-wing Contract on America endorsing Obama, a broad multi-class coalition of the US people is forming to oppose Bush and now John McCain, who is lurching rightward on affirmative action, tax cuts for the rich and off-shore drilling.

The super-rich it seems are also fed up with Bush feeling the Republican cabal has bankrupted the country. On a recent talk show on Bloomberg radio an investment councilor for the wealthy expressed the disgust and worry of big business at the Bush administration policies that are viewed as wrecking the economy.

Obama at the meeting pointed to the existence of an economic “emergency.” The gathering was also attended by AFL-CIO and Change to Win officials John Sweeny and Anna Burger.

The BBC suggest that former Treasury Secretary and Harvard President Larry Summers favors nationalization of some banks. “Mr Summers argues that the US government should nationalize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, assuming their $6 trillion debt and begin a rapid programme of aid for households facing foreclosure.”

Labor the BBC report says is against new trade deals than don't include union rights, while big capital is resisting. “Trade unions argue that the US should not sign any new trade deals that do not have clauses protecting workers' rights, while Mr Rubin believes that a descent into protectionism would exacerbate the world economic slowdown.”

Here's a list of who attended from the democraticunderground as reported by NBC's Chuck Todd and NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli:

Bill Bradley, former US senator, managing director of Allen & Company;Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway; Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer, SEIU; Jon Corzine, governor of New Jersey; William Daley, former Commerce secretary, JP Morgan Chase; James Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase; William Donaldson, SEC chairman, 2003-2005; Indra Nooyi, chairman of PepsiCo; Paul O'Neill, former Treasury secretary, Blackstone Group, Alcoa special Adviser; Federico Peña, former Energy and Transportation secretary, Vestar Capital Partners; Penny Pritzker, CEO of Classic Residence by Hyatt; Robert Reich, former Labor secretary, professor at the University of California (Berkeley); Robert Rubin, former Treasury secretary, Citigroup; Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google; William Spriggs, economics professor and chairman of the department at Howard University; Lawrence Summers, former Treasury secretary and former president of Harvard; John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO; Laura Tyson, former chairman of Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers; Paul Volcker, former Fed chairman.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tell Congress: No war on Iran

It looks like Democrats and Republicans in Congress would move towards war with Iran, even before President Bush does. House Resolution 362 demands that President Bush spearhead an international effort to create a land, air and sea blockade of Iran, both to prevent Iran from exporting oil and petroleum-based goods and to impose strict inspections on all of its imports.

Make no mistake about it, this resolution is only steps away from war with Iran. And it has serious momentum in Congress. However, some members of Congress have begun to back away from this resolution, giving us a window of opportunity to change it.

I just signed a petition calling on the House leadership to remove language from the bill calling for a military blockade, and to stress diplomatic engagement instead -- I hope you will too.

Please have a look and take action.

Gas Prices and the Energy Crisis

In this video Sen. Harry Reid joins "Meet the Bloggers," Friday July 26, to talk about the McCain-Bush energy policy. Speculation is driving higher prices of oil and gas, said Reid:

Celebrate Medicare's Birthday

Write a letter to the editor about:

Rekindling Reform and UHCAN (the Universal Health Care Action Network) urge everyone who cares about universal health care to take note of a great opportunity - the July 30th anniversary of Medicare's 1965 birth. Medicare's birthday is a time for celebration and action. We hope you'll email a letter to the editor today and call Congress on Wednesday to say, "Please protect and expand Medicare, and let it point the way to health care for all."
Medicare has given seniors and disabled Americans what we all want: secure, high quality care with wide choice of caregivers - and little waste on administrative middlemen. But the insurance industry and its right wing allies are working relentlessly, step by step, at undermining this national treasure, because it is a model of a government program that works, and one that could cover everyone. We mustn't let them dismantle Medicare.

Candidates for the presidency and Congress need to hear voters' demands to preserve and strengthen Medicare. A good way to get that going is to email a celebratory letter today that your local newspaper can run for the July 30 birthday. Below, to help you get started, are three sample letters. You can borrow from them and add or substitute your own words. Be sure to check your newspaper's word limits. A shorter letter has a better chance.

Then, on July 30, let's call our Congress members to say, please protect and expand Medicare, and let it point the way to health care for all.

For a database of contact info for the top 100 newspapers, see

PA in 1960: A New Hope

by Norman Markowitz

By the Spring of 1960, sit-ins against segregation in pubic accommodations, from lunch counters to movie theaters, libraries, and churches were sweeping the South. A presidential election was coming and millions looked for a new political path outside of the suicidal straight-jacket that the cold war and the nuclear arms race had placed the U.S. and much of the world. The March, 1960 issue of PA reflected the campaign to have a reconstituted CPUSA play an active role in the period. Herbert Aptheker was now Editor, assisted by Hy Lumer as Associate Editor. V.J Jerome, a novelist, short story writer and and cultural critic who had been the CPUSA's leading cultural functionary had edited The Communist and its successor PA, from 1935 through 1954, when he had exhausted all appeals and became a Smith Act political prisoner, serving three years in the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

This issue began with a PA staple, "Notes of the Month" written by Hy Lumer. Lumer looked at the development of the European Common Market, the threat it posed to U.S. dominance and the need for broad cooperation in Europe between capitalist and socialist countries as a necessity for both economic well-being and peace. He also called upon U.S. labor to work for international cooperation with European and other unions. Lumer warned against the new U.S.-Japanese Treaty with its maintenance of U.S. military positions in Japan, its support for Japanese big capital and reaction against China (the U.S. China policy remained "non-recognition," active campaigns to keep U.S. allies from trading with the Peoples Republic, and the blocking of the Peoples Republic's seating in the UN).

Finally, Lumer called for an all out campaign to pass an "effective voting rights act" in 1960, calling upon Northern Democrats especially to act to break an expected Southern filibuster(the view of U.S. decline was overly optimistic, and the Voting Rights legislation passed in 1960 was very weak, but PA was addressing some of the central issues facing the working class and the American people.

A. Krchmarek looked at the record 116 day Steel Strike, in a limited victory for the Steelworkers in spite of a Taft-Hartley injunction and in a clear way analyzed the issue confronting Steel Workers in the midst of the ongoing postwar economic expansion, It raised questions of work rule enforcement, conditions in the plants, that had largely been buried in the 1950s as conservative leadership lived off gains in wages and benefits and kept silent on both these issues and organizing the unorganized.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, whose life as a revolutionary activist began with the IWW before WWI and continued with the CPUSA until here death in 1964. She had a previously served two years as a Smith Act political prisoner at the federal women prison at Alderson, Pennsylvania and would become CPUSA National Chair in 1961.

Her article, "The Golden Jubilee of International Women's Day," recounted the history of a world holiday, adopted by the Socialist International in solidarity with New York City female garment workers, just as May Day had as its initial inspiration the Eight Hour Day strikes launched by U.S. workers on May 1, 1886, and the subsequent Haymarket riot and political trial and execution of the Haymarket rally leaders. But Flynn was dealing with much more than history. She looked at the condition of women in the U.S. work force, in the professions and government, raising issues that would be heard in feminist rallies and literature with a decade. But Flynn was looking to class and political solutions. "What an improvement," she contended," could be made in Congress if it were representative of our countries population." This would require the election of a substantial number of Negroes, workers, farmers, youth democratize Congress--to retire the aged, reduce the number of lawyers and politicians, kick out the Dixiecrats...." While progress has been made in terms of representing, compared to 1960, the lawyers and politicians still predominate and the Dixiecrats are today Republicans, a leading force in the GOP as against its allies in the conservative coalition.

There was also an interesting historical article, "The Gentleman From Mississippi on Hiram Revels, the free black who became the first Senator seated from Mississippi since the Secession nine years earlier, and who ironically was replacing the Mississippi Senator who became president of the Confederacy.

There was also a number of lengthy book reviews, William Z. Foster reviewing Canadian labor leader and Communist Tim Buck's Our Fight for Canada, a collection of his writings. Also, in the tradition of British parliamentary debates, there was a sharply worded review of John Strachey's The End of Empire by the prominent Marxist theorist and leader of the Communist Party of Great Britain R. Palme Dutt (a former labor party minister, Strachey as Dutt shows tongue in cheek was a champion of the use of force to preserve the empire he was now burying, an example that "The Social Democrat always learns history from its backside, after the event."

The issue ended with the Resolutions enacted at the 17th Congress of the CPUSA on a wide variety of issues, ranging from labor, women, youth, and various oppressed ethnocultural groups in the U.S. The convention, which had a decidedly left orientation, seeing the party as having struggled successfully against "anti-Party sectarians" and a "wave of revisionism," saw accurately I think, the need for the party to fight to develop greater outreach to the working class struggles, the struggles of African Americans, Latinos, and women. Uneven development, the lack of collectivity, and weakness in party clubs were seen as the main problems. There were also no excuses (which might very well have been merited) for the continuing repression by all levels of the U.S. government, mass media, corporations, etc. The only real reference to the ongoing repression was a call by editor Herbert Aptheker for readers to petition for the release of Henry Winston, a CPUSA national leader Smith Act political prisoner who had already served four years in federal prison and whose parole applications had been denied three times. "Suffering special discrimination as both a political prisoner and an Negro," Aptheker wrote," Winston's health was allowed to deteriorate to the point where a most serious operation was finally necessary, As a result vision in one eye is totally lost and in the other badly impaired. and he remains critically ill. Still, the Government sadistically persists in its refusal to grant him a medical parole."

Henry Winston would eventually replace Elizabeth Gurley Flynn as National Chair and serve in the leadership cadre with Gus Hall, General Secretary of the CPUSA for many years. He would lose the remaining sight in his eye, but not, as he would say over and over again, his vision. Although a new decade and a new period in U.S. history was dawning, characterized by the Civil Rights movement, the CPUSA was still a long way from regaining its own civil rights.

Unfortunately, there is a large gap in my personal collection of PA's which covers the 1960s and 1970s. Although this is purely accidental, unlike the eighteen and a half minute gap in the Nixon White House Watergate tape, I will pick up this review of Political Affairs soon looking at the 1980s and carrying the review through to the present period, or looking at the PA in its struggles against Reagan I, Bush I, Clinton and the present administration, Bush II by parentage, Reagan II by policy.

Tell Congress: Pass Paycheck Fairness Act

From NOW:

House Could Vote on Paycheck Fairness Act THIS Wednesday!

Great news! The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1338 sponsored by Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.) was passed by the Education and Labor Committee on July 24 without any harmful or weakening amendments. The House leadership intends to bring this bill to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as THIS WEDNESDAY.


Action Needed:

The Paycheck Fairness Act has 231 sponsors and all of them need to be reminded that women's wages have stagnated in recent years and according to the Economic Policy Institute, women's median pay has fallen in recent years. It is time to stem this economic crisis for women workers.

It is essential that they pass this bill without harmful amendments that weaken the intent of the Act. It is also imperative that they oppose any motion to "recommit" the bill. This would not only stall -- and perhaps kill -- the chance for the bill's passage this year, but could also undermine the important anti-discrimination measures in the legislation. Opponents of pay equity for women may attempt to impose an unfair cap on damages that limits monetary awards in cases dealing with gender, religion or disability discrimination. Currently, workers facing race or ethnicity discrimination are not subject to caps on damages and this should be true for other groups affected by pay discrimination.


Wilfrid Sellars and Marxism

Remarks on Tim Crane's "Fraught with Ought" London Review of Books, 19 June 2008
by Thomas Riggins

"Fraught with Ought" reviews two new books concerning the American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989). These are a collection of papers about Sellars by Jay Rosenberg (Wilfrid Sellers: Fusing the Images, Oxford, 2007) and an anthology (In the Space of Reasons: Selected Essays of Wilfred Sellars, Harvard, 2007). Why all this interest in an academic philosopher, unknown to the general public, and dead for almost twenty years? And what has any of this to do with Marxism?

Briefly, Sellars was an analytic philosopher, a member of a school stemming back over a hundred years, that grew out of the rejection of the European philosophical tradition growing out of German Idealism, especially Kant and Hegel. Marxism also grew out of this German tradition.

Recently some analytic philosophers have come to believe that the wholesale rejection of Hegel and others in the classical tradition has been a mistake and was based on a faulty understanding of their works by some of the founders of the analytic movement, especially Bertrand Russell.

Sellars' philosophy is being examined in this light and is taken by some to be useful in reclaiming Kant and Hegel, for example, and using them as part of the program of analytic philosophy-- viz., of using the analysis of ordinary language usage and the philosophy of language to find the solution to philosophical problems. Rehabilitating the thinkers from whom Marx and Engels learned so much and whose ideas they grappled with in forming their own is also a way of reminding the contemporary world of the continuing relevance of Marxism.

One of Sellars' most important works was his 1956 paper "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind." Although not in this work, Sellars gives an interesting definition of the aim of philosophy:"The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term."

This really is quite general and could be said of the natural and social sciences as well. The aim of Marxism could be said to be to bring about the end of human exploitation in the broadest possible sense by the most effective means, considered in the broadest possible sense, of eliminating capitalism and abolishing classes.

Marxists also share a common aim with Sellars. He wanted, in his own words. "to formulate a scientifically oriented, naturalistic realism which would 'save the appearances.'" The last expression refers to a desire not to stray too far from common sense. His love of science is the same as that of all true Marxists and is very clearly expressed by him when he writes, "in the dimension of describing and explaining the world, science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not."

In other words, he shares with Marxists the idea, as Crane says, that philosophy's "fundamental task" is "to explain how things seem (in the broadest sense of that term) consistent with what science has told us about the world." The term "scientia mensura" is used by Sellarsians (it could be adopted by Marxists as well)to sum up this view. The job of philosophy is to bridge what Sellars called the "manifest image" of the world [i.e., common sense]and the "scientific image" [we are just a bunch of vibrating strings or atoms, etc.] Crane says Sellars developed his own "systematic philosophy" to deal with this problem. Let us see how far it agrees with Marxism.

Many philosophers such as Sellars have been bothered by three things about the manifest image of the world, according to Crane, namely intentionality or meaning, value, and consciousness. All bourgeois realists, just as all Marxist materialists, accept "that there is a world independent of thought." Bourgeois realists are in fact materialists. Sellars, however, has a problem with how we become aware of the world and how we use language to describe it.

Marxist and non-Marxist realists alike tend to see language as somehow reflecting or referring to the objects of the world. We learn what "cat" means by referring to a real cat. "According to this view," Crane says, "things in the world cause our minds to form certain representations, which is why they represent what they do." This is what Lenin thought when he said consciousness or sensation is a picture of reality. Crane says it is the view of the early Wittgenstein (of the "Tractatus"). But Selars doesn't buy this. He has his own theory by which he replaces "reference" with "inference." As Crane puts it, "To talk about the meaning of a word is not to talk about the relation it bears to the object it stands for. Rather, it is to talk about what inferences-- what legitimate patterns of thought and reasoning-- that word can be used in."

This is a very dicey development. It seems to grow out of the later Wittgenstein (the "Philosophical Investigations") and his notion of a "language game." Whether this view can be reconciled with materialism is still being debated. What is really distinctive in this view is, Crane says, the role that normativity comes to play in the system. Sellars refers to words as "natural-linguistic objects" and we have to learn the rules (norms) for their use: "they tell us," Crane points out, "how words should and should not be used. Signification and meaning are normative matters." This leads us to a very important key concept of his philosophy-- namely, "the myth of the given." I'm not sure this "myth" is really a myth.

Sellars thinks of thought as "inner speech",as Crane says, "as employing the concepts one has learned in the course of acquiring a language to make inferences which result in dispositions to make 'outer' verbal judgments." So thinking, just as speaking, is subject to rules and norms.

Crane uses the example of a fig tree to clarify Sellars' views. An old fashioned materialist ( such as Lenin ) might say that we have the notion of a fig tree as a result of having learned how to use the words "fig tree" as a result of our early education. Our senses were presented with a particular object, our parents say "fig tree" and we learn that this "given" is to be referred to as a "fig tree."
This is an example (but not a good one) of "the myth of the given." Sellars says "all awareness is a linguistic affair." As crane puts it "the perceptually given" is not "a mental episode which is prior to thought and language." This has the smell of idealism clinging to it.

Lets try to be clearer. Crane says Sellars holds, "Every episode of taking something in is really a case of conceptualising it, and conceptualising requires being subject to the norms which can only come with the acquisition of a language." Sellars is really saying it is wrong to think there was a "concept of x" in the mind of the child just waiting to be given the name "fig tree". It was only by learning a language that a fig tree could present itself to the child as a fig tree and not just some kind of perceptual static.

Sellars' ideas about sense perception are weak, I think, and I agree with Crane when he says he thinks them "unconvincing." I think, for example, that consciousness and consciousness of objects have evolved from organisms that were precursors of H. sapiens. Other animals certainly have awareness and can even think yet are without "language"-- or least without what we humans think of as "language". Sellars appears to believe that only humans have language. If we grant this and restrict ourselves to "human language" then Crane thinks Sellars' ideas are "clearer and more
tractable" if we confine the inferentialist theory to thought and language and leave sense perception out of it.

Now thought, language, meaning, and inference are the result of brain processes that can be studied by science. This is the case even if meaning, thought, and knowledge will not themselves be, as Crane says, part of "the scientific image as such." Why is this so? Sellars writes that it is because "in characterising an episode or a state as that of KNOWING, we are not giving an empirical description of that episode or state; we are placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one says." And Crane reminds us, this also goes for saying and thinking. If I say, think or know that e.g., my redeemer liveth, or that workers by uniting will only lose their chains I must give reasons that logically lead to a justification for these statements. I am not just referring to some chemical or neurological activity in my brain.

What is important about this part of Sellars' theory is, according to Crane, that questions dealing with "meaning and significance" are not about facts-- "questions about what is the case" -- they are questions concerning "what ought to be." They are not questions for science. Sellars thinks they are normative because we have to follow rules for justification which are located in "the logical space of reasons." Sellars says. "If they are thinking THIS, then they OUGHT to think THAT too."

What is going on here? It seems natural to distinguish between factual (scientific) statements and value (moral, un- or non- scientific) statements. But, says Crane, Sellars has gone beyond this dichotomy: "not only moral value, but also thought and consciousness, are (in his words) 'fraught with ought.'" There are problems with this I think. If I give justifications for my belief that united workers have only their chains to lose those justifications are intended by me to be true factual statements about the world and thus subject to scientific scrutiny. It is scientific socialism to which I appeal. It is another question, indeed fraught with ought, whether that commitment logically forces me to embrace the dictatorship of the proletariat as well.

Some have come to think that Sellars' views would cause a "sea change" in philosophy. Crain disagrees and thinks Sellars' "inferentialism" with respect to "meaning and thought" can be weaned away from other elements in his system and adopted by those with "more traditional" attitudes towards "the self and the mind." I think that there is no need for Sellarsian extremism on the question of the "scientia mensura." To save the appearances, the "manifest world", we don't have to divorce it so completely from the "scientific world" as Sellars maintains. We only need show there is no manifest contradiction between the two worlds. There is no contradiction between our being human beings running about with "minds" on the one hand, and being ultimately vibrating strings or atoms on the other.

Marxists view the human world of consciousness as a higher level organization of matter (that stuff existing independently of the human mind from which the universe and everything in it derives) and what science ultimately discovers this stuff to be will not be in contradiction to the view that the manifest world is part of the continuum logically derived from the knowledge of the scientific world. Thus, Marxists can adopt some portions of Sellars' inferentialism, especially with regard to the consistency of their thoughts with respect to what they ought to believe and do given what they say they believe and do.

Cuba Reforms its Food Production Process

The ability to correct errors and negative tendencies, without losing sight of the fundamental path, has been a big factor in the survival of the Cuban vision of social revolution.

read more | digg story

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obama – The Greener Candidate

A recent commentary from The Environmental Magazine (E) describes presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama as the greener of the two candidates for president.

read the rest here...

Film Review: The Dark Knight

By Eric Green

The Dark Knight [The newest Batman Film]

This is not meant to be a film review. Films like the newest Batman film, "Dark Knight", by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, is far too much into the genre of high speed, over-the-top loudness and other pyrotechniques for me to give it a fair review. I just don't appreciate these films. Clearly, they make a contribution to the film world; many film lovers enjoy and spend time reviewing them. In fact, if it was not for Heath Ledger's performance and it being his last film, I would have passed on it.

The acting by Christian Bale and Maggie Gyllenhall were both excellent. Gyllenhaal's performance is especially worth noting. This film will surely further propel her career.

The performances of Gary Oldman and Eric Roberts were also enjoyable to watch.

Ledger on a Different Level

It is the performance by Ledger that will be talked about for years and decades to come. His career cut short at 28 years of ago with a body of work that includes his stellar performance in "Broke Back Mountain." That award winning performance was followed in the same year with his interpretation of "Casanova." He was equally amazing in that film.

There is no doubt in my mind, given the lasting memories of "Broke Back Mountain" and this film, Ledger's life in the hearts and minds of film people will continue to grow. His future films and aspiring director career were on peoples' minds.

It reminds me of John Garfield, a great actor in the late 1940s, whose life was cut short under suspicious circumstances at the age of 39. He is still remembered. And, of course, the great James Dean, whose life ended at the shorter age of 24.

It is reported that Jack Nicholson, a former "Joker" player in a previous Batman film, warned Ledger about the mentally demanding role that is present to the kind of actor he knew Ledger to be. Nicholson's warning was sadly prophetic.

Watching the film was a strong mixture of "what am I doing here watching this kind of film" and then the "Joker", Heath Ledger, would enter the big screen, and I became quite content and happy to be there.

It is said that his would be supporting role for the awards events of the year 2008. So be it. In this film, no one came even close to his performance, the performances by the other actors were quite good.

While I rarely agree with the film editor of the NY Times, Manohla Dargis, in this review she said it better than I could ever: "….Mr. Ledger's performance and the film's visual beauty are transporting. (In Imax, it's even more operatic.) No matter how cynical you feel about Hollywood, it is hard not to fall for a film that makes room for a shot of the Joker leaning out the window of a stolen police car and laughing into the wind, the city's colored lights gleaming behind him like jewels. He's just a clown in black velvet, but he's also some kind of masterpiece."

See the film for Ledger's performance.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Does Obama have a Republican in the oven?

by Joe Sims
Back when many nurkletoids thought Senator Obama's candidancy improbable at best, I mused with some friends over possible running mates. My favorite potential vice-presidential nominee for both Mr. Obama and Mrs Clinton was former secretary of state, Colin Powell. “What!?”, many replied “a Republican? Have you lost your mind?”

Maybe, but I wasn't then and still am not aware that Mr. Powell was a declared Republican, even though his long years of service to the Dark Side, certainly qualify him. Still, I reasoned even if he is, the military man is of a more pragmatic centrist-to-moderate bent, as compared to the neo-conservative extremists who call themselves the “Vulcans” who sit astride Bush's neck.

Powell, who like Gerald Ford, is a supporter of affirmative action and seems an ardent trilateralist and bona fide of the Rockerfeller club, has been giving unofficial advice to Obama and has spoken favorably of him, if with some restraint. The general is also well regarded in Republican circles, among independents and fractions of the center. Having left the State Department after being hemmed in by Cheney, he appears to be ill disposed to Republican extremism.

Based on this criteria his stock rises as potential potential partner on a Democratic ticket. Consider further that the question of questions in the election is the defeat of ultra-right politics. A candidate who could garner support among Republicans, moderates and independents, would then be a valuable asset in the election.

However, be that as it may, everyone knows speculation about Powell himself is complete nonsense. Still, the issues involved remain relevant. I thought of this today, when reading news reports that Ann M. Veneman, former secretary of agriculture in Bush's first term is on Caroline Kennedy's list as a potential VP. Veneman, known as a big friend of argribusiness and the meat lobby, clashed with Democrats on a number issues according to today's story by By Amie Parnes and Ben Smith of

Will this be thought of as another move to the center or even a lurch to the right by uneasy adherents of the movement for unity, hope and change, or will it be seen as pragmatic realpolitic neccesary for the historic task of delivering the country from the brink of economic and enviornmental catastrophe and enormous political peril? I can hear the deafening din even now.

John McCain Endorses Barack Obama's Plan for Iraq?

Does John McCain actually know what his position is? Maybe he should consult his advisers.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Immanuel Wallerstein Reflects on the Future

by Gregory Esteven
Immanuel Wallerstein is a scholar whom I respect for his deep understanding of the capitalist world system. His never-wavering commitment to a better future and his realistic optimism are characteristics we should admire, too.
In his recent article in Monthly Review Magazine, entitled Remembering Andre Gunder Frank While Thinking About the Future (part eulogy and part analysis), Wallerstein makes some interesting statements. Most startlingly, he suggests that capitalism is in a systemic crisis, and that within 25-50 years, we will have an altogether different system! He argues, therefore, that it is of utmost importance for the Left to fight hard today, pushing a well-considered agenda, because it is not inevitable that the system which finally replaces capitalism will be better. Without our activism and guidance, it could very well be worse.
He also lays out time-frames for thinking about a Left agenda. These are short-term, medium-term and long-term. That sounds evident enough, but his explanation of these has greatly aided me in thinking about what a Left agenda should be.
I'd like to know what you out there in Internet Land think about Wallerstein's ideas here. Are we really so close to the end of capitalism? And what do you think about his time frames for a Left-wing politics?

Will George W. Bush be the Next Prime Minister of Britain?

by Norman Markowitz

There is a story today that those who constantly call upon working class supported parties to move to the right (which they call the "center") might note. The British Labor Party, which was formerly committed in its platform to socialism as a long-term goal from 1918 until Tony Blair eliminated that clause in the 1990s, suffered a crushing defeat in a by-election in Scotland. Scotland was Labor's and especially left Labor's greatest stronghold, and before WWII, the historic stronghold of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In the 1980s, Scotland was where Margaret Thatcher was both booed and mooned by people angry at her anti-working class policy and where she made what was perhaps her nuttiest speech, addressing a convocation of clergy and telling them that the unemployment problem was due to the decline of the work ethic,which was due to the decline of the Protestant Ethic and it was their job to revive the Protestant Ethic which would revive the work ethic which would deal with unemployment.

Tony Blair was elected by the core constituencies of the British Labor Party to reverse Thatcherism in the middle 1990s, but what he represented was in U.S. terms a cross between George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, a "kinder, gentler" Thatcherism and a politics of personality while he in the name of New Labor" (which I call Tory 2) used his power to turn the Labor Party into a second albeit more moderate Conservative party, moving first away from any commitment to socialism (which in reality the labor party had moved away from in the 1950s in terms of policy) and then from the welfare state which had been the Labor Party's central achievement.

Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair and some hoped that he would move the Labor Party away from Blair's Tory 2 positions. But he hasn't. Instead he has tried to play Blair game with a less than winning personality, and has recently gone beyond Blair and even Thatcher by seeking a partial privatization of the National Health Service, the Labor Party's greatest specific achievement.

All of this has opened the door to the Conservatives who have begun under the leadership of David Cameron to try to appeal to sections of labor and minorities, offering their version of what George W. Bush in 2000 called "compassionate conservatism."

But no one should trust them. A Tory government would probably be ultra right, taking advantage of the weakening of labor that Blair orchestrated, just as Bush took advantage of Clinton's failed policies and "Reaganism with a human face." A Tory government would in all probability be Thatcher 2, just as Bush has tried to be Reagan 2.

Tony Benn, a veteran left labor man of unyielding socialist convictions and aristocratic background, a sort of socialist Winston Churchill who has spent many years in the political wilderness that Labor Party bosses consigned him to as the Chamberlain appeasers marginalized Churchill in the late 1930s, responded to this defeat best when he said of Brown, if I went to a doctor who said I feel your pain and I have a vision, I would get another doctor."

The Labor Party needs more than Brown's hollow rhetoric. They need to become the Labor Party again, revive the welfare state and begin to think of a socialist Britain, the platform on which they won their most important victory in 1945.

Jazz on the Rocks: A Rap on Pulp Music

Well, Lily, he and his spawn have been. Non-stop. We have witnessed the musical death of a generation in this country, one that grew up never hearing a melody they could whistle, who think chords are trousers, and think 'bones is a TV program.

read the rest here...

Veterans Respond to McCain's"Obama Wants to Lose" Remark

While Barack Obama spends the week in Afghanistan and Iraq, speaking to throngs of cheering troops and diplomats, John McCain is accusing the likely Democratic nominee of wanting to "lose" the war in Iraq. I'm not the only Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who's feeling insulted by John McCain's remarks today. Here are some remarks from other vets.

read the rest here...

Obama Supports Pro-Worker Policies

In his video introduction submitted to last year’s AFL-CIO Presidential Candidates Forum, Sen. Barack Obama laid out some of his personal history and connected it to why he’s running for president. It’s worth watching again now that he’s the Democratic presumptive presidential nominee.

read the rest here...

Barack Obama at the Site of the Berlin Wall

by Joel Wendland

In the build-up to Obama's Berlin speech on July 24, I wondered what would be the tag line that comes out of this moment. What would Obama say that would be comparable to and/or surpass Kennedy's self-identification with anti-Communist Berliners or Reagan's trite call to "tear down this wall?"

If there was one theme that did that, it was Obama's call to see the world and its people as one, that what harms one, harms all, that our collective effort is needed to tear down the walls built up between races, religions, and regions.

Of course let's not get swept up by form and rhetoric; let's remember that the devil is in the details and that is the site of political struggle.

Unfortunately, many of my friends are obsessed with Obama's apparent anti-Soviet comments. My response: why are you so shocked and surprised? What elese would a Democratic Party candidate for the presidency say? Why would a candidate of the center do anything else? (Recalling of course that so-called candidates of the left have made similar types of comments.) If he had not said those things, the media coverage wouldn't be about his substantive comments or his idealism and vision, but about how he didn't bash the Soviet Union. Believe you me.

The plain fact is that left-center unity is about policy and politics, strategy and tactics not about how nice someone is to the memory of the Soviet Union. Let me check the Communist Party's 2008 election platform... Hold on... Nope I don't see "pro-Soveitism" on it anywhere.

But I do see a call for universal health care, an end to the war, workers' rights, and so on. Let's not get distracted by these other non-issues.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Political Affairs in Worst of Times

by Norman Markowitz

Yesterday I began to look at the history of Political Affairs in its early years, the years of the high cold war. Along with the Truman Doctrine, (1947) NAT0 alliance (1949), and Korean War (1950) abroad came the Taft-Hartley Act against Labor, (1957) the use of the Smith Act against the CPUSA national leadership (1949) the McCarran Internal Security Act (1950) aimed at both the CPUSA and the broad left, with its provisions aimed at destroying mass organizations it listed as "Communist fronts" and to arrest and place in political concentration camps "subversives" who appeared on its lists in the event of a "national emergency. Although the CPUSA was not banned as such, it faced a level of repression unprecedented in U.S. history, policies which sought to literally segregate its activists from the working class and the people as a whole. And this from the wealthiest and most powerful government in the world with the most powerful mass media, the mass press, movies, radio and the new and increasingly hegemonic medium of television, in history.

In spite of the imprisonment of much of its leadership (even though it remained technically a "legal" party, in the sense that African Americans in Mississippi at the time were technically U.S. citizens possessed of civil rights and civil liberties) the party had continued to steer a course against both left adventurism and right-wing opportunism. It was fighting a two front war On one front, there was was for the movements of the working class here and abroad, the struggle for peace against a likely WWIII that would destroy humanity. On the other front, there was the right of the CPUSA to exist and in the larger sense the right of people not to be afraid any more to join organizations, march in protests, think outside the box of cold war consensus politics.

But things really weren't getting so much better by 1956, although the Montgomery Bus Boycott had given many hope of progressive revitalization. Joe McCarthy had destroyed himself as an individual in 1954 when he attacked the Eisenhower administration out of his drunken arrogance, but McCarthyism was not gone. In 1956, a "secret speech" given by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev condemning the policies of the Stalin leadership produced fierce debate and divisions in Communist parties through the world after it was released by the CIA through the world.

In 1956, also ,the FBI, fearful that the "thaw" in the cold war political climate would undermine its infiltration and subversion of the CPUSA, established a "secret" Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro) to attack CPUSA members and organizations in ways that it feared the courts would now consider illegal (later other groups were added to the Cointelpro list, especially the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s, but the CPUSA was the target of the majority of Cointelpro's actions in the fifteen year history of the organization.

In the Communist Party the international struggles were mirrored by a developing factional struggle. Eventually, a significant number of party members, including some very prominent ones, resigned, although there were no party purges. The official story, which continues to this day, then became that the CPUSA ceased to exist after 1956. There was no Communist party in the U.S. Those who left the CPUSA in this period became accepted "witnesses" against it, whether or not they chose to be so. Indeed, party journalist Joseph Starobin had both resigned from the CPUSA and called for its dissolution in a letter to the Nation magazine in August, 1956, which was seized upon by liberal establishment media. This isn't now nor has it ever been true, and it is perhaps the greatest dogma and lie that the CPUSA must fight.

At worst the struggle would seethe novelist Howard Fast, author of the classic Citizen Tom Paine, whose novel Spartacus had been advertised in PA in 1952, write The Naked God (1957) a sad testament of anti-Communist propaganda, the equivalent of a bad Hollywood B movie, to revive his career. This was sad, because Fast became much more of a pulp fiction writer after he left the party, never regaining the literary and political power of his fine historical novels.

In reality, the CPUSA was to survive and move on and fight on and those who left it produced nothing new on the left as some hoped. In grassroots struggles, Communists and former Communists often continued to work together, although the official line was that the later was reduced to a few isolated die hards and the former had entered "the free world."

I picked up an issue of PA, from November,1956 which I found both fascinating and sad. Not so much the debate, as reflected in John Gates article "It's Time for a Change," calling for a revised, revitalized Communist Party (although Gates use of "It's Time for a Change" sounded a little odd, since that had been Dwight Eisenhower's presidential campaign slogan against the Democrats in 1952). I hope I would not have agreed with Gates at the time (I was 12 years old and nowhere near the left) and it is obvious to me as a historian that he has been proven wrong in his larger view.

William Z. Foster's article, "Karl Marx and Mass Impoverishment" challenged the views that Gates represented, contending that Marxism was a guide to action, not a series of dogmas, and that those who hold that the prosperity of the time and Keynesian economic theory had made the party's long-term view of the general crisis of capitalism obsolete.

In this regard, I noted sadly that Gates contended that organized labor "has now grown to 18 million" (today it is 17 million with around twice the population). Gates went on to say that "labor is already strong enough to win the thirty hour or four day week when the situation presents itself." This in 1956? Gates also admitted that much of the party's losses in membership had been because of a decade of far-reaching repression, but then asked ahistorically why members were not returning now that things were improving (besides the fact that the improvement, for Communists in terms of their own civil rights was both limited and relative).

The debate about the party's future filled the issue, but without polemical rancor. The polemicism came from outside. For me the most fascinating and frustrating article was "A Discussion with Critics" by the distinguished Marxist historian and party activist, Herbert Aptheker. There was the New York Times weighing in on the inner-party battle in an editorial, denouncing the CPUSA as "intellectually bankrupt." There was Michael Harrington, later founder of DSOC (a socialist member of what I call the caretaker left of the 1950s, rivals of the CPUSA who divided their time between bemoaning the intellectual malaise in the U.S. and warning against "Stalinist" Communists, a theme which continues in some circles to this day, fifty-five years after Joseph Stalin left this mortal coil.) Harrington warned that any alliance with Communists was "as impossible as ever," because they are "bound to Moscow" (Moscow was then saying bad things about Stalin) but the Party remained a danger.

Aptheker went through the critics one by one, the name calling, ("idiots," "cowards,") the irrational arguments, ("Communists" were responsible for problems of the left,) and reading between the lines, that the Communists had "had a monopoly" on progressively mass action in the U.S. since the 1930s. Aptheker asked the reasonable question, to all of these critics how could a party that had accomplished so much, was still fighting with all its resources for labor rights, civil rights and civil liberties and peace, be a party of dogmatists, sectarians, cowards and slaves to Moscow. If it had been these things, the accomplishments would not have been made. The "critics" were in themselves dogmatic in their anti-Communism, both blaming the victims of McCarthyism and hinting that their own failures to advance their parties and beliefs were somehow the result of Communist influence. To use 21st century language, anti-Communism for them was an exercise in denial. In 20th century language, it was a failure of self-criticism.

I had hoped to look at an issue from 1960, as the party began its reconstruction with the release of its key leaders, but I will have to get back to that tomorrow, because I literally have to teach a class about in fifty minutes. But I will end with this quote from Herbert Aptheker which answered seriously those critics on the left who refused to or were afraid to listen Aptheker quoted Sam Adams, called a "traitor" even by more moderate colonists for his militancy, Adams replied that "the true patriot will inquire into the causes fears and jealousies of his countrymen...." Aptheker then went on to say for himself and his party that "The Communist Party is an honorable and viable member of the present-day band of true patriots. Its members have no monopoly on patriotism and no patent on the way forward. But its members can make their organization what they want it to be. Having accomplished that, Communists with renewed vigor will make their modest contributions to the welfare of the American people, the unity of the Left, and to the cause of Socialism."

Those ideals are still very appropriate. And who knows? The contributions may be very much more than modest. Tomorrow, if my internet connection holds, we will be in 1960s.

Insurance Company Rules

From Health Care for America

Campaign Calls for Living Wage by 2010

The federal minimum wage is due to increase today, July 24, to $6.55 per hour. Passage of the increase was one of the first accomplishments of the new Democratic-controlled Congress, and the wage is scheduled to rise again next summer to $7.25.

read the rest here...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tell the Senate: Pass Fair Pay for Women

From the National Organization for Women:

It has been a year since the House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act and we must demand that the Senate quit stalling and support a bill to restore our rights. Although opponents of women's fair pay have implied that the House-passed bill has "gone too far," they couldn't be more wrong.

As we promote the Senate version of the bill, the Fair Pay Restoration Act (S.1843), we must remind our Senators that the proposed Act is really quite simple - it does nothing new and simply gives women back the decades-old enforcement rights that the Supreme Court took away from them last year!

Take Action NOW

Action Needed:

In the Senate, the fair pay bill has had a tumultuous year. After a Senate committee hearing on S. 1843 in January, the Senate leadership hoped to expedite fair pay restoration by bringing the House-passed version of the bill directly to the Senate floor in April. But Senate conservatives campaigned against the bill, demanding that the Senate consider another version that had been introduced directly into the Senate, and that they have hearings with an opportunity for discussion and amendments.

The 57 yes votes for the Senate version of the bill weren't enough to stop the Republican filibuster and close debate, so now we must get more sponsors and supporters for the Senate bill before any further Senate action can be taken this fall.

ACT NOW to get more Senate sponsors

On Thursday, July 17th, supporters of fair pay for women gathered for a rally and press event on the Senate side of the Capitol in the "Senate Swamp" along with Lily Ledbetter herself, Kim Gandy, President of NOW, and dozens of supportive senators and Congresswomen, including Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

These leaders stood together to demand fair pay, and now we must join them to build support for the Senate bill -- send a message now, and also plan to contact your senators when they come back to your state for their August recess.

Call and email your Senators now and demand fair pay for women!

Call now - (202) 224-3121 - and ask for each of your senators' offices in turn, and tell them you want the senator to suppoer the Lilly Ledbetter fair Pay Act in the Senate.

Political Affairs, The Early Years

Political Affairs will be ending its print edition soon and, moving into the vanguard of 21st century media, become an all online publication. In recent years it has reached a far larger audience than the print edition. I go through my old issues to give all of us the sense of what PA was and is, since understanding the past and its relationship to the present makes history relevant to both the present and the future. In will start with two issue, the from November 1946 and the second from January, 1952.

PA, founded at the end of WWII, as a successor publication to The Communist, theoretical journal of the CPUSA since 1924. The depression and WWII and brought about major changes in the size influence and orientation of the Communist Party and the larger labor and progressive movements. As the war ended, the CPUSA in 1944. was temporarily dissolved and transformed into the Communist Political Association, more of a mass organization to influence labor and the left through the New Deal coalition than an independent Marxist-Leninist party.

But these policies, associated with General Secretary Earl Browder, produced major internal and international criticism and were reversed in 1945, as the Browder leadership was defeated by William Z. Foster, the CPUSA's most distinguished working class leader. Political Affairs was in effect born in the period of that struggle, but, while it was a theoretical journal it was never narrow and always written to reach a wide audience. In the November, 1946, issue, Max Weiss wrote about the Anniversary of the Russian Revolution and the fight for peace, warning
that the right was in the process of "undermining the New Deal and that Wall street was seeking a "Pax Americana, a peace which will insure world hegemony for American imperialism." Frederick V. Field wrote about "American Imperialist Policy in the Far East"(Field was a relative a number of generations removed of Robber Baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, an man with inherited wealth whose education and humanism had led him to first the Socialist and Communist parties. He was involved with the Institute for Pacific Affairs, a foundation founded research organization which was targeted by HUAC, the right-wing press, and after the Chinese revolution, Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was a casualty of the cold war consensus, its destruction removing an important voice of reasoned opposition to the policies that led to non-recognition of the Peoples Republic of China and U.S. involvement in the Korean and Vietnamese Wars.

Other materials in the November issue included a "Manifesto of the Communist Party of Spain," ten years after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and a year after those who put Francesco Franco into power, his fellow fascists Hitler and Mussolini, lost WWII. The Spanish Communists were hopeful that the establishment of a broad anti-Franco front would bring down a regime which was a pariah in postwar Europe.

The cold war, though would save Franco and in 1959, he would be greeting doubt Eisenhower in Spain, as Adolf Hitler greeted him in Berlin two decades earlier. From the CPUSA's national leadership came a statement about the internal struggles in the party over Browder's now abandoned policies. Finally, there was an analysis by John Williamson of the struggles facing the labor movement as anti-union forces outside the movement and anti-Communist forces inside pursued what were essentially complementary divide and conquer tactics against the background of a developing cold war.

By 1952, the Korean War was raging, the Communist Party's National leadership had been "convicted" under the Smith Act, and the political persecution of party leadership and membership was at its height. Yet, in the January 1952 issues, there remained optimism and hope.

Protesting the increased prison sentence given to Gus Hall, from the five years he received in the original Smith Act trial by one federal judge, the infamous Harold Medina, to a three year sentence added by another federal judge, the CPUSA national committee published a speech given by Hall to Cleveland Communists on the importance of Communist cadres before his imprisonment and called for the release of all Communist political prisoners and the repeal of the Smith and McCarran Acts, aimed at the party and the left, and the Taft-Hartley Act, aimed at the entire labor movement.

The issue also had articles by Alexander Bittelman, an old party activist who had spent his youth in the Czarist Russian empire and was a special target of American anti-Semites, wrote on the central nature of Lenin and Leninism, "Lenin's Teachings and the Liberation of Humanity. There was also a translated article by Palmiro Togliatti, then the leader of the largest Communist party in Western Europe, a review of the We Charge Genocide petition and document on the oppression of the African-American people which was brought before the United Nations and spread throughout the world although it was made invisible in the U.S. The prominent African-American Communist, Harry Haywood, was the author of the review. The issue also contained an article on the Vienna Session by Fred Montgomery, connecting the struggles for general disarmament with support for movements of national liberation and opposition to the United Nations sanctioned war in Korea.

Some comrades would leave in the subsequent struggles, from both left and right positions that would produce a fierce internal battle in 1956, on the heels of a decade of mounting political repression that represented the cold war at home. PA, as we will see tomorrow, was at the center of both that struggle and the party that would emerge from it. But in journal had rooted itself clearly in the struggles of American and world labor (the articles of John Williamson on U.S. Labor were both insightful and to the point) the struggle against racism, and the struggle for peace and imperialism.

As a postscript, as I read Alexander Bittelman's in both the 1946 and 1952 issues, I remembered that, after his release from prison, he responded gently to a writer who had mentioned that he had been a prisoner of the Czar. That was an error, he wrote. It was only in the U.S. with its proclamations of freedom and democracy (I am paraphrasing) that he was ever sent to prison for his political beliefs and activities.

Film Review: Transsiberians

by Eric Green

Anderson Film Gets you to Thinking; On the Edge of Your seat

Before you and your mate[s] decide on your romantic train ride in Europe and Asia, think twice. While the Orient Express has the history of the great film, "Murder on the Orient Express," to worry about, it could be a better choice than the highly adventurous Transsiberian railroad.

In his new film, Brad Anderson, takes you on a train ride from Beijing, China to Moscow, Russia. And, as you can suspect, this being a murder/mystery film, the overriding topic would be drug trafficketing. After all, that is a major feature of Post Soviet Russia; and, always a good thriller theme.

In this well directed, although sometimes a little over the boundary of believability, film, you get to see the new Russia through they eyes of 5 rather well developed characters.

Ben Kingsley, a government drug enforcement agent who worked at the same job in Soviet times and also post Soviet times, plays the most interesting character.

When the innocent US traveler played by Woody Harrelson questioned Kinglsey's almost wistfully positive comments about the Soviet era, Kingsley made it clear that while in those days the light might not have been so bright, in current times, the bright light brings with it massive wealth and lots of poverty. And, with that major drug dealings.

Emily Mortimer plays Harrelson's seemingly innocent wife, but who has a past that becomes very important to Kate Mara's character. Mortimer's attempt to befriend Mara and get her to learn from her very difficult times, actually takes some very well directed and written turns as the film moves towards its ending.

Eduardo Noriega, a Spanish film actor, is the obviously handsome and devious drug dealer and one who almost steals the show. Anderson must have learned of Noriega through Anderson's previous film, The Machinist, with Christian Bale. That film was financed by the Spanish Government film industry.

This film has over 15 producers and many contributions from different governmental film agencies.

The film is not always easy to watch, but I would put it on the must see list.

While this film is certainly not the documentary film or even mainstream film that some people hope, will, someday, begin to tell the truth about the Soviet Union. Maybe, in its own simple way, the Brad Anderson may provoke such a retrospective of thinking.

We saw the film at the Paris Theater in Manhattan, 58th Street and Fifth Avenue. The cost of the film was $1.00 less for regulars and seniors: $11 and $7.50. The theatre is a landmark theatre since its been running films since 1948, the longest, continuous art cinema in the US.

Latest Racist Tactics by Right-wingers Against Obama

By Joel Wendland

Yesterday a friend of mine sent me a link to a CNN story titled "Could an Obama presidency hurt black Americans? -".

In it the CNN reporter quotes a hard-right pundit for American Conservative:
Steve Sailer, a columnist for The American Conservative magazine, wrote last year that some whites who support Obama aren't driven primarily by a desire for change.

They want something else Obama offers them: "White Guilt Repellent," he wrote.

"So many whites want to be able to say, 'I'm not one of them, those bad whites. ... Hey, I voted for a black guy for president,' " Sailer wrote.

Among others of apparently varying political backgrounds.

But that CNN chose the hard right racist Sailer to quote is telling. Today, produced this blog post which details Sailer's racist creds. Some of the things he has written includes the following, according to

African-Americans “tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society” [Link]

– “The brutal truth: Obama is a ‘wigger’. He’s a remarkably exotic variety of the faux African-American, but a wigger nonetheless.” [Link]

– Michelle Obama “sounds like she’s got a log-sized chip on her shoulder from lucking into Princeton due to affirmative action.” [Link]

– “Nor is it surprising that the black refugees at the Superdome and the convention center failed to get themselves organized to make conditions more livable. Poor black people seldom cooperate well with each other because they don’t trust other blacks much, for the perfectly rational reason that they commit large numbers of crimes against each other.” [Link]

The CNN article is aimed not at revealing something about racism in America, but at dividing white and Black voters and promoting animosity and divisiveness. One expects that from Republicans like Sailer et al, but CNN? Well, perhaps decency is too much to ask from them too.

But the CNN article isn't the only one of similar type out there. The Wall Street Journal July 22 published this gem by extreme right-wing Hoover Institution Fellow Shelby Steele, titled "Why Jesse Jackson Hates Obama."

As if using the same talking points as Sailer, Steele essentially argues that Obama offers whites relief from racial guilt, which Jesse Jackson (and Dr. King) used to win an end segregation and for civil rights legislation. And because Obama represents an end to that "moral leverage" against white guilt, Steel insists, Jackson is jealous of and angry at Obama.

What is the aim of this kind of rhetoric? I think on one hand, Sailer's sneering and dishonest rhetoric, is aimed at promoting in white voters a sense that Obama and African Americans are playing a racial card in this election and that whites should fear the agenda behind that movement.

On the other hand, it is designed to split African Americans along generational lines, between those of civil rights generation and of a progressive orientation against what Steele imagines to be the bulk of the African American community: apparently naturally conservative people.

While both Sailer and Steele (and CNN for that matter) are working hard to re-define what Obama's candidacy means, it is clear that both fundamentally misunderstand him. His candidacy represents a courageous and rare address of the political landmine field of race in America. He has addressed the complicated subject in a unifying manner that attempts to address legitimate grievances of working people of all races. Sailer and Steele promote divisiveness.

Further, Obama's candidacy has prompted distinctly unique and remarkable movement among his supporters against racism. Look at this video of excerpts of a speech by the AFL-CIO's Ricahrd Trumka for example:

This isn't about assuaging "white guilt." It is about a social movement for change. Trumka's discussion of the issues like health care, ending the war, pay equity for women, and so on suggests that what Obama inspires is the unity of working people for fundamental change that would benefit people of all races and seek an address of continuing inequity.

People like Steele or Sailer who hate the idea of universal health care or for whom pay equity means nothing or who may love the war in Iraq just don't get that.

Minimum Wage to Go Up July 24

[by Joel W.]

Tomorrow, July 24, the federal minimum wage will go up to $6.55 as a result of a measure passed last year by the Democratic-controlled Congress. It will go up next year to $7.25.

But, as the Economic Policy Institute reported today, there are 23 states that mandate a minimum wage higher than the federal government. And even when the final increase in the federal mini-wage is put in place next July, the federal wage will still be behind 11 states and the District of Columbia.

While the minimum wage increase will ultimately mean about $100 more per week and an improvement for millions of workers, obviously no working family or individual can meet all of their basic needs on $6.55 per hour or even $7.25. (Recall that 75% of mini-wage earners are over 20, and millions are heads of households). The Democratic measure passed last year follows more than 12 years of Republicans blocking minimum wage increases.

It is pretty clear that the minimum wage will need to go up again very soon. Congress has to look at ways to implement a living wage law that will prioritize the needs of working families to meet their basic needs, which $7.25 just won't do.

Bush officials in last days push pro-business measures

By Joe Sims
Bush administration officials appear to be using their last days in office to rush through measures designed to aid big business to the detriment of workers – a clear heightening of the class warfare driven politics of the Republican right.

The lead story on the Washington Post this morning entitled US Rushes to Change Workplace Toxin Rules, details efforts by the Labor Department to make it “tougher to regulate workers' on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins.” According to the Post, the attempt at rule changes were done in secret.

If implemented the measures would benefit big business profits. “The change would address long-standing complaints from businesses that the government overestimates the risk posed by job exposure to chemicals.”

Today's revelation of the machinations of the Labor Department was preceded by a report yesterday from that the White House attempted to redefine carbon dioxide to protect power plants from emission regulation. Yesterday's blog by Setyam writes that “Earlier this month, former EPA official Jason Burnett wrote to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) with explosive revelations on how the White House has neutered climate change science to protect corporate interests. For example, OMB general counsel Jeffrey Rosen asked for multiple memos on whether carbon dioxide (CO2) from cars and plants could be regulated differently.”

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Burnett added to the story describing how officials attempted to determine if CO2 from plants could be differentiated from emissions coming from cars.

In still another sign of the unmitigated pro businesses anything-goes-drive of the lame duck administration the PWW online daily writes that “In an unlikely team-up, impartial investigators from the Government Accountability Office joined a low-income workers’ advocate at Congressional hearings July 15 to tell lawmakers that President Bush’s Labor Department has failed to enforce minimum wage and overtime laws and that low-wage workers are routinely being robbed of their earnings”

It's raw class warfare time in Washington.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Netroots Nation: A Social Democratic Moment?

In 2009, a new president and many new members of Congress will come into office—and they’ll face both big problems and powerful resistance to solve them. How can we pass good policy and improve the lives of working families?
read more here...

Obama Goes Abroad

Barack Obama’s whirlwind tour of the war-zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with visits to Israel and Germany, where he will give an historic speech near the Brandenburg Gate, has left John McCain in the media dust.

Read more here...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Maliki 'Clarification' Came After Pressure from U.S.

Earlier today, a German magazine reported that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki said that he favored Barack Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq in 16 months.

But later, an Iraqi aide to al-Maliki "clarified" the remark.

The statement by an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling his remarks in Der Spiegel "misinterpreted and mistranslated" followed a call to the prime minister's office from U.S. government officials in Iraq.

Remember when Bush said he would withdraw troops if Iraqis asked him to do it? Now Bush is just playing blatant puppet master.

read more here...

It's all in your head

Gore, Obama at Netroots Nation conference stress renewable

“This is about a new direction for the American people,” said Howard Dean at a rally at the Netroots Nations conference in Austin, Texas over weekend. The Netroots Nation conference gathered some 3000 blogger-activists. Dean was among a number of Democrats attending the four-day long meet, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore.

Read the full article at

AFL-CIO and CtW getting to the table?

By Joel Wendland

New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse reported yesterday that the elections have the leaderships of the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win federation talking.

Here's what he says:

In a series of dinners and meetings in Washington, the presidents of several breakaway unions and the presidents of several federation unions have been mapping strategies to help elect Senator Barack Obama and forge joint policies on trade and other issues.

Several union officials involved in the meetings said the leaders had also discussed overhauling the A.F.L.-C.I.O. to address the concerns of some breakaway unions, with the aim of persuading some to rejoin.

It is the need to defeat the Republicans in the November elections that has brought both sides together:
...eager for the Democrats to win the White House and increase their majorities in Congress, the union presidents are trying to maximize their political cooperation, especially in swing states where unions are strong: Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Greenhouse also reports that local union organizations from both federations have continued to work together despite the split on a variety of things from political action and elections to organizing campaigns.

The article goes on to cite labor leaders who believe that after the election struggle, talks may turn to reunification.

For once the big media hasn't tried to exploit differences among workers and their organized leadership. Good article, and important developments.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How the Left Saved Capitalism

by Gregory W. Esteven

There is an entire genre of theory explaining why the Western capitalist democracies did not undergo socialist revolution in the 20th Century, as Classical Marxism had predicted. Not surprisingly, most of this material comes from the Left itself. This has led Slavoj Žižek to suspect - perhaps with some justification - that the Left has long settled into a comfortable, moralistic posture, relishing defeat with the masochistic rapture that we project onto Christian martyrs of old. We can include Antonio Gramsci's work on hegemony in this genre, as well as the entire output of the Frankfurt School and other psychoanalytically-inclined Marxist theorists (Althusser comes to mind). Taken together, this work contributes greatly to our understanding of the complex dynamics of political and social change, reminding us to avoid over-simplifications and belief in quick fixes of all varieties. I do not want to diminish these contributions in any way, and am not challenging them here.

But at the same time I am suspicious of placing too much emphasis on the Left's failures in order to account for the ongoing state of affairs. To supplement the theories I've already mentioned, I would like to propose a somewhat subversive reading of the conventional narrative. Couldn't we also say that the successes of the organized Left (modest though they were) actually helped to preserve capitalism, saving it from runaway contradictions, and therefore temporarily reducing the need for revolution?

At first this may seem counterintuitive, but not when we take into account a key feature of capitalism that distinguishes it from previous modes of production - namely its need for instability. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels assert that:

"The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones."

I think that old saying, "Sometimes your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness" applies here. Capitalism sustains itself through its contradictions (e.g. the preponderance of the small owning class over the vast working class, the social nature of wealth-generation contrasted with the private nature of accumulation), while these same contradictions always threaten the integrity of the system itself. We know that the capitalist class benefits, for instance, from maintaining high profits and low wages, as well as from divisions in society, such as those of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. But if the workers become too impoverished, or sexism, racism and homophobia become too pronounced, the system becomes destabilized to a dangerous degree; explosion, or rather implosion, is a real possibility. If wages drop so low that workers give up shopping, this starts to cut into profits. And although it is in the interests of the capitalist class to keep workers divided on the basis of race, they don't want crazy racist militias roving the streets murdering minorities. We have a delicate balancing act here. Capitalism can't afford for the pendulum to swing too far in either direction (towards stability or instability).

Marx and Engels were writing when capitalist relations of production were at their most inhuman. Workers in most industrialized and industrializing countries weren't even afforded the bare minimum of workers' rights which at least some of us enjoy today, such as the right to organize, limits on the length of the work day and bans on child labor. Observing these conditions, along with growing concentrations of wealth, it's no wonder that Marxism's early proponents believed that revolution was not only inevitable in the economically-developed countries, but close at hand.

Something strange happened, however. The rise of labor unions and radical political organizing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though they faced intense, and often violent, opposition from the ruling classes, resulted in increasing positive gains for workers. The grossest contradictions of capitalist relations were reduced, precisely because the working class was winning important battles. In many countries workers won better wages, a shortened work day and safety regulations at the workplace. And with the birth of the welfare state in Western Europe and the New Deal in the United States, a new "capitalism with a human face" seemed to be on the horizon.

In fact, let's be clear. The level of prosperity and freedom which existed in the West, from roughly the early 1950's to the beginning of deep reaction in the 1980's, was unprecedented in world history. There were a number of reasons for this, and one of them was that the past and continuing successes of the Left were ensuring that workers were getting a fairer share of the pie, thus providing economic stability and less intense contradictions. More of the wealth was going to more of the people than ever before. (Not to mention the fact that Left and Progressive movements were working hard to reduce other contradictions, such as sexism and racism.)

It's probably hard for young people nowadays to imagine, but my grandfather - after fighting in Japan in WWII - worked for one company from the early 1950's to the early 1990's: United Gas. Until the 1970's, he and his family lived in houses provided by the company, which paid the utility bills and offered many opportunities for job advancement and higher pay. With the money they saved over the years they were able to move up to the middle class, buy land and their own home, without going into debt to do it. They had a great health plan at low cost. And when my grandfather retired, his pension was more than enough to cover living expenses. He often remarked that although he never belonged to a union, he knew that he only enjoyed these kinds of wages and benefits because other workers did belong to unions. Now, his company was perhaps more kindly and paternalistic than most, but it does illustrate the more humane capitalism which existed in that period.*

Capitalism is an incredibly dynamic and adaptable system, since, as we have seen, it was able to adopt "socialistic" reforms in order to ameliorate the condition of the worker and avoid crisis and revolutionary upsurges in the core nations. But the question for us today is whether this (broadly-defined) Keynesian logic of amelioration has run its course, reaching its limits with the advent of the global economy, which is qualitatively distinct from the international trade of yesteryear. In other words, was the great wave of reaction, the end of capitalism with a human face, simply brought about by the initiative of certain interests represented by Thatcher in Britain and Reagan in the United States, or has a more fundamental, structural, change taken place in the world system? The possibility I hint at is that the more humane version of capitalism is irreconcilable with globalization, as the former was associated with more autonomous national economies which could offer greater protections to workers, shielding them from blows from foreign markets.

We all know what the picture looks like today. A global division of labor has emerged, with manufacturing jobs moving to the peripheral and semi-peripheral nations, and the core nations transitioning to "postindustrial" economies, dominated by information and service industries. Whatever is left of the welfare state is being dismantled. Workers are watching the hard-won gains of the past disappear. Multinational corporations set the policy agenda and workers in one part of the world are pitted against workers in other parts of the world (e.g. the euphemistically-called "outsourcing"). In the year 2000, the richest 1% of the world's adults owned 40% of global assets.

While some say that Marx is irrelevant today, I maintain that the time of Marxism has just arrived. Isn't it in today's global economy that Marx has been vindicated? The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and the concomitant immiseration of much of the world's population, have occurred on a scale that makes Marx's predictions seem utterly conservative. He also couldn't have foreseen the contradiction of profit-driven environmental degradation threatening all life on the planet, as well as the total normalization of imperialist agression, both of which support his theories.

And isn't it really in today's era of globalization that the old Leftist dream of internationalism becomes conceivable, practically, and necessary, strategically? I've long thought that the Industrial Workers of the World's objective of organizing skilled and unskilled labor together, across national boundaries, was ahead of its time. Far from being relics of a bygone era, the work they are doing now is cutting edge. They have a better understanding of the present conjuncture than many mainstream unions, which have been slow to adapt to the realities of the postindustrial economy. The IWW has worked to organize such service industry employees as Starbucks coffee shop workers; there are more of these kinds of jobs in the U.S. than traditional manufacturing jobs today. My perverse Leftist imagination can't help but envision workers at both ends of the chain (the people who pick the beans and the people who serve the coffee) organized into the same transnational union. But that may be a ways down the road.

Whatever the case with the IWW, Marx is definitely having his revenge, and it is not at all clear whether capitalism can continue to be reformed, in any significant way, as it was in the past. What comes next we cannot be sure, but it seems that the time to revive the Socialist project has arrived, and it must be one adapted to the needs of the 21st century.



*Of course, this increased sharing of the wealth with workers in the Western democracies was predicated upon the fact that those countries had largely built their fortunes through colonialism in the past and from the ongoing super-exploitation of workers in the world's periphery and semi-periphery. We can't forget this aspect of the picture. The kinder, gentler capitalism wasn't being experienced by all the world's peoples.