Monday, June 30, 2008

Bush as a Great President?

by Norman Markowitz

I am going to finish a course tonight that I am teaching on post 1945 U.S. history by bring it up to the present, 2008. After dealing with the economic, political, and cultural differences between the U.S. in1945 and 2008 I will present a counter-factual history of the Bush administration, to help students see what he did and didn't do by turning everything inside out.

First Bush realizes that he didn't win the 2000 election, has no mandated, and works closely with Congress on a bipartisan program. Then Bush provides strong leadership after the 9/11 attacks and rallies the people as FDR did on the day after Pearl Harbor, detains the bin Laden family in Boston and launches immediately a full investigation of the CIA involvement with bin Laden and the financial connections between Saudis, Al Qaeda, etc. Bush calms the people, realizing that hysteria and reaction are what the terrorists want.

Bush then uses broad international support to move against the Saudis and also to break with the Pakistanis. The U.S. does participate in a multi-lateral intervention in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime. Bush meanwhile seeks to improve relations with the then liberal elements of the clerical regime in Iran, to strengthen improved relations between South and North Korea. Of course Bush leaves the isolated Iraqi
regime of Hussein alone, since invading it would completely undermine all other aspects of his foreign policy.

Domestically, Bush defines "compassionate conservatism" as upgrading the EPA, increasing taxes to reduce deficits, and even with the 9/11 attacks, keeping the military budget in the vicinity of 300 billion. The Patriot Act is never passed and the redundant and expensive Department of Homeland Security, a bureaucracy often in conflict with other agencies, is never created, since its work was being done before by existing agencies. Bush doesn't aid labor, but he leaves labor alone. Bush supports expanding existing health care coverage and
benefits. FEMA is not the ignored and marginalized agency it was and is under Homeland Security and when Hurricane Katrina hits, the army corps of engineers plans to improve the levee system have been carried out,
and FEMA plays a positive and professional role in evacuating New Orleans and saving lives and property. Reconstruction is also carried out with skill and speed.

In my 2008 counter factual history, the deficit has been kept to where it was in 2001 (instead of more than doubling) real wages have grown modestly (instead of dropping sharply) the U.S. military budget is about half of what it really is today, the dollar is strong, and the price of oil, at most, is 80 dollars a barrel. The remnants of Al Qaeda are outlaws on the margins of a number of countries instead of growing stronger and more sinister from the base areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where they began in the 1980s.

I will tell my students not to present this narrative of the Bush administration on exams, but to see it as the opposite of everything that the Bush administration did (by the way, my "great president" Bush pursued counterfactual policies that a centrist Democrat or even Republican might have pursued).

I will then deal with the real Bush policies, tell the students that their exams will be due in two days, wish them luck and a happy July 4th weekend, celebrating the revolutionaries who declared their independence from another George who wasn't too bright but who came from a family with hereditary entitlements.

Reading Lenin 21

READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 21 ]
Thomas Riggins

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


The Russian Machists comprise two groups. The first is made up of conservatives and reactionaries grouped around V. Chernov (already discussed), and the other group is made up of "would be Marxists" who think they can harmonize the philosophy of Avenarius and Mach with that of Marx and Engels. Lenin, in this chapter, will show that this is a hopeless task.


Lenin begins by discussing an 1895 article by a disciple of Avenarius named Franz Blei [1871-1942], "Metaphysics in Political Economy." Among other things the article maintains that Marxism is metaphysical because of its belief in "materialism" and "objective" truth and "that there was indeed nothing behind the Marxist teaching save the 'subjective' views of Marx."

Lenin has no doubt that the party members, remember Bogdanov was a Bolshevik leader, flirting with Machism will reject Blei's version of Marxism. But, says Lenin, "You must not blame the mirror for showing a crooked face." Blie gives a true reflection of the social views of his movement. Rejecting his views would show the "good intentions" of the Russian "Marxist" Machists, but would show even better "their absurd eclectical endeavors to combine Marx and Avenarius."

The next Machist Lenin looks at is Petzoldt, whom we have seen before. He has a philosophy of "stability" which is based on "human nature." The tendency is for humanity to attain a state of "stability." This conflict free state will come about on its own by the operations of human nature. It cannot be brought about by socialism. But "moral progress" towards this stability and equality can be seen in our [1908] time. Wages are going up for workers and profits are going down, and there is the foundation of the Salvation Army all of which is evidence for Petzoldt's views! Lenin says this is just "hackneyed rubbish" and represents not a scientific understanding of social science but the "infinite stupidity of the philistine." Now it is time to look at the Russian Machists.


Bogdanov wrote an article in 1902 in which he quotes the famous passage from Marx's introduction to "Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy" about consciousness being a reflection of material reality. Bogdanov then concludes, "SOCIAL BEING AND SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS ARE, IN THE EXACT MEANING OF THESE TERMS, IDENTICAL." Lenin thinks this is nonsense.

In complex societies, and especially in capitalism, people are NOT CONSCIOUS of their social being. Thomas Frank's book "What is the Matter with Kansas" is an example of that. What Marx says is that social consciousness REFLECTS social being. But just what does this mean? Lenin says, "A reflection may be an approximately true copy of the reflected, but to speak of identity is absurd. Consciousness in general REFLECTS being-- that is a general thesis of ALL materialism."

I hate to say it, but there seems to be a problem with this formulation. Does it account for FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS? Working people voting for Republicans, or even Democrats for that matter, are not manifesting a consciousness that reflects their actual social being as cogs in the capitalist machine. What is the distorting mechanism and how does it supervene to block even an "approximately true copy of the reflected"? At any rate, Bogdanov is certainly wrong to be talking about an identity relation between reality and it reflection.

Lenin says Bogdanov's formulation is based on the IDEALISM inherent in the Machist position that outer reality is the same as the sensations we have of it: that outer reality is in fact sensation. "Sense-perception is the reality existing outside us" as Bazarov puts it.

Bogdanov wants to be a good Marxist; Lenin says Bogdanov MINUS Machism "is a Marxist," but is hampered by his idealist deviations. With regard to Machism: "If certain people reconcile it with Marxism, with Marxist behaviour, we must admit that these people are better than their theory, but we must not justify outrageous theoretical distortions of Marxism."

Social production was complex in Marx's day and is even more complex today. Actions of producers in Iowa can have effects on people in Africa. The world economy of capitalism is so vast and interconnected that no one can know all that is going on. Even "seventy Marxes," Lenin says, could not grasp it. But Marx has discovered the OBJECTIVE LAWS that govern the development of capitalism, and this is the most important thing.

Once we understand this we understand "the highest task of humanity." And what is this task? It is to understand these objective laws, Lenin says "to comprehend this objective logic of economic evolution," SO THAT we conform our social consciousness to this logic and the social consciousness "of the advanced classes of all capitalist countries." This is a task, I fear, we are woefully deficient at in the present social environment of capitalism.

Bogdanov and the Russian Marxists did not contribute to this task when they, whatever their good intentions, mixed up reactionary bourgeois idealism with Marxism. Historical materialism sees social being (here the capitalist process) as independent of human consciousness which reflects it with greater or lesser precision. The philosophy of Marx and Engels "is cast from a single piece of steel, you cannot eliminate one basic premise, one essential part, without departing from objective truth, without falling a prey to bourgeois-reactionary falsehood." Is this too strong a statement? Is Lenin too fundamentalist? Or is this correct and far too many so called Marxists, even in our own day, have fallen into a similar stance as that of Bogdanov? I don't mean being "Machist" but are they eliminating a fundamental pillar of Marxism (the dictatorship of the proletariat, the labor aristocracy, class struggle, democratic centralism, internationalism, etc.,) and expecting the house to remain standing?

Bogdanov's desire to "update" Marxism is not based on any real empirical analysis of the facts. In fact, Lenin says, he "is not engaged in a Marxist enquiry at all; all he is doing is to reclothe results already obtained by this enquiry in a biological and energeticist terminology. The whole attempt is worthless from beginning to end...."

At the close of this section Lenin makes some interesting comments about Marx and Engels that are certainly relevant today. He says that for Marx "the transfer of biological concepts IN GENERAL to the sphere of the social sciences is PHRASE-MONGERING." This is certainly true of social Darwinism, but what about modern (2008) attempts to do this? Has science advanced to where this is no longer phrase-mongering? I am thinking of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscientific explanations being applied to the social sciences.

While Lenin has spent most of the time in MEC discussing episte-mology, he nevertheless says that as Marx and Engels transcended Feuerbach they emphasized not materialist epistemology (which they certainly believed in) but rather "the materialist conception of history." He says they put the stress "rather on DIALECTICAL materialism than on dialectical MATERIALISM and insisted on HISTORICAL materialism rather than on historical MATERIALISM."

The Russian Machists have been confused by their embracement of empirio-criticism which is more interested in spreading an idealistic form of epistemology then it is in thinking seriously about the problems of historical materialism. This leads to the falsification of Marxism by nonmaterialist doctrines and is also a "characteristic feature of modern revisionism in political economy, in questions of tactics [especially in a possible tendency to confuse tactics and strategy--tr] and in philosophy generally, equally in epistemology and in sociology."


This section is about an essay by S. A. Suvorov that appeared in the collection "Studies 'in' the Philosophy of Marxism" which book we have discussed before. Lenin heaps scorn on Suvorov for making up new terms for already existing aspects of historical materialism developed by Marx, and using biological examples to try and illustrate social phenomena. Sovorov would be making what today we call a "category mistake." Sovorov's essay is so out of date and behind the times we need not spend any more time on it. The book it appeared in was a collection by all of the usual Russian Machist suspects and elicited from Lenin the comment that "we arrive at the inevitable conclusion that there is an inseparable connection between reactionary epistemology and reactionary efforts in sociology."

Next week we will take up with Section 4 of this chapter.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ebony Hillbillies

By Eric Green

Chocolate Drops Highlight Ebony Hillbillies

I failed to mention that at the Carolina Chocolate Drops concert in Prospect Park, a member of the Ebony Hillbillies was invited to join the Drops on stage.

Citing the Annual Black Banjo gathering that features African-American guitar and banjo players, the Chocolate Drops brought on stage a member of the Ebony Hillbillies. They met the Hillbillies at a recent gathering.

Subway straphangers are familiar with the Ebony Hillbillies. They have performed on more than one occasion below street level at the Times Square performance space. This is one of the most cherished performance spaces allowed by the New York City Transit system.

The Hillbillies are a remarkable string band and guitar and banjo players.

You can check on the whereabouts of the Hillbillies by "googling" their name.

Needless to say, their participation last Thursday nite was more than well received.

Live Blogging from the National Committee of the CPUSA

Notes on the report of the CPUSA political action commission (6-29):

There is a huge political shift taking place in the country because of the sagging economy and discontent with the war in Iraq. But this shift is taking place in attitudes on a host of other issues too: health care, immigration policy, environmental issues, workers rights, and so on. Also, barriers of racism and sexism broken in the Democratic primaries with tens of millions of people turning out to vote for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Anti-racism sentiment is growing and the class unity concept is taking hold.

New forms of political activism especially on the Web are more prevalent.

John McCain represents four more years of George W. Bush's administration. He favors privatization of public services like Social Security and Medicare and the never ending war in Iraq. He gets most of his financial backing and political advice from the military and oil sectors of the capitalist class – the most dangerous section of the capitalist class. His political strategists include Karl Rove and Charlie Black, who represent his ties to the Bush administration and to the ultra right. His "base" includes big oil, Wall Street speculators, military contractors, PhARMA, and the very rich.

It is not enough to be against one candidate. A landslide victory will require active involvement in building organization and thought patterns for a Democratic victory.

The labor movement is pivotal to building the unity of voters against McCain and for Obama and stronger progressive and Democratic majorities in Congress.

The Communist Party is planning a pamphlet on McCain to help educate voters.

McCain is targeting Latino, women, and Jewish voters. He is having difficulties on all fronts. McCain abandoned comprehensive immigration reform for the hard right policy of border fences and punitive actions. His opposition on women's health issues and fair pay policies have limited his outreach to women voters. And his efforts to target older Jewish voters in swing states like Florida will fall flat as they learn about his call to privatize Social Security.

The corporate media is aiding McCain by playing up the idea that white voters won't vote for a Black candidate.

There is a qualitative difference between Obama and McCain and the defeat of McCain and the Republicans represent a setback for the ultra right.

The People's Weekly World discussion on race to help educate voters and to bring clarity on some of the complex problems involving race.

Obama campaign is unique because of the strong independent character. We do not agree with Obama on every issue, more differences will arise, and we should not expect to agree on everything. The Communist Party will present its own election program.

The peace movement has a special role to play in helping to win large progressive majorities in Congress.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stop the Yucca Mountain Radioactive Waste Dump

by Joel Wendland

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is in a hurry. This month that department filed a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build and use the proposed nuclear dump site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The DOE dumped something like 30 million documents on the NRC and insisted on an expedited process, in order to limit public scrutiny of the $70 billion project and to get it done before George W. Bush leaves office.

The problem is the DOE has not adequately explained a number of key safety problems and political issues. According to Beyond Nuclear, an organization that advocates alternatives to nuclear weapons and unsafe nuclear energy, the DOE has yet to present the NRC with proposals on "a final repository design; final national transport plan; final design for the 'Transport, Aging, and Disposal' canister in which the waste would be 'permanently' sealed; final EPA regulations on radiation releases; and meaningful treatment of Western Shoshone Indian land rights at Yucca under the 'peace and friendship' Treaty of Ruby Valley signed by the U.S. government in 1863."

In short, they haven't explained how they are going to safely move dangerous nuclear waste through your town and prevent accidents or leaks and how the waste will be stored safely (permanently) at Yucca Mountain and avoid the hazards caused by earthquakes or other geological events at the mountain.

Most importantly, the DOE plan will dump radioactive waste on or near land belong to the Western Shoshone nation. This act would be another in a long, sad history of the relations between the U.S. government and Indian nations.

To speak up on this, go to Senator Harry Reid's "Petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Reject the License Application for a Nuclear Waste Dump at Yucca Mountain." Sign and circulate.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Good to be Obama

So there were two special elections for the House of Reps this past spring in which Republican candidates campaigned against their opponents by linking them to Barack Obama. The message was this person is like Obama (who is a secret radical Muslim liberal, and by the way, he's Black), so you should vote for me. Both Republicans lost in those elections, signaling that divisive campaigns and fear-mongering won't work. One of those elections was in a Republican stronghold in MISSISSIPPI; the other was North Carolina.

Now the other shoe has dropped. Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, a guy who has supported Bush's war in Iraq, his tax cuts for billionaires and wealthy corporate donors to the administration, helped blocked passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, and helped ram through right-wing extremists for federal courts, is campaigning on Obama's coattails. Smith is running ads highlighting praise Smith received from Obama on the Oregon Senator's support for better environmental policy.

I guess Smith must have been watching when 75,000 people turned out to see Obama speak in Portland earlier this month.

Times are changing.

Michael Franti and Spearhead – Hey World

...smash the empire...

From FrantiV

Cuba News: It is a small step...

This week the House Appropriations Committee passed the Financial Services Appropriations bill which included three provisions that would alter the harsh additions to the Cuba embargo imposed by the Bush administration.

According to the Latin America Working Group, the provisions are:

1) Allow Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba to visit family once a year rather than once every three years;
2) Expand the U.S. definition of family to include aunts, uncles, 1st cousins, nieces, and nephews.
3) Tweak the "cash-in-advance" regulations to allow agricultural goods to leave U.S. ports for Cuba prior to receiving Cuba's cash payment; title is transfered after the cash is received in the seller's account.

The provisions are a small, but significant step toward changing the U.S. government's failed and disastrous relations with Cuba.

Music Review: The Carolina Chocolate Drops

By Eric Green

The Carolina Chocolate Drops Rocks Brooklyn
Every so often you hear and see a new set of music makers that sets you back on your heals; and, at the same time clapping, singing and standing/dancing. In Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Friday nite, June 26, The Carolina Chocolate Drops captured the imagination and love of thousands of open air tough, music lovers. []

Led by the oldest performer of the three in the group, Rhianno Giddens, she is 31 years old, and joined by Justin Robinson and Dom Flemons, both 5 years her junior, this group is an African-American string band from the North Carolina Piedmont.

The group plays all of the important instruments: banjo, fiddle, jug, harmonica, snare and kazoo. Each of them is also an accomplished singer. Giddens and Robinson are from North Carolina and Flemons is now living in Inwood, New York City. The fiddle playing by Giddens and Robinson was just amazing.

And, to boot, both Flemons and Giddens did traditional dancing that you would expect from much older performers. Giddens and Robinson both sang a capella song.

Each of these three performers is not only well versed in their particular area music, researching their music heritage, but they nicely shared with the appreciative audience.

This is group of young performers who really enjoy what they are doing onstage and sharing with the audience.

This is brief review, but one which strongly encourages everyone to consult the group's website to see if they are performing in your area.

Fortunately for New Yorkers, we will be able to seem them again at Symphony Space at the end of 2008.

Book Review/Summer Reading: The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon

By Eric Green

The Yiddish Policemen's Union,
Michael Chabon
A Novel, 430 pages
Harper Perennial

AVery Different Look at the Middle East

When I first saw this book, last year, I shied away from it. While I really enjoyed Chabon's, Kavalier & Clay, I had misgivings about this book. After all, how could such a best selling novel [which is also a great mystery book] be any good? Chabon also was awarded the Pulitzer for that book. What little I read about it, and I read very little, led me to believe it might be just another one-sided book on the Middle East.

Well, I was given the book by a person with no Jewish background, let alone any background in Yiddish. He just smiled and said that I would like it. A colleague of mine at PA, also a person with no Jewish or Yiddish background, also smiled after I told him I was reading it. He really enjoyed it, no small feat for that guy to enjoy a novel.

By the time of this second "review" I was well into being totally mesmerized by Chabon, once again.

This time, Chabon transports readers to the Sitka District of Alaska where the Jewish settlement was placed after 1948, not in the Middle East. That, by itself, is an amazingly creative and imaginative concept. But, if that isn't enough, it is through Chabon's main character, Meyer Landsman, my father's first name, that we learn about the inner workings of the Jewish settlement with all its warts, criminal elements, and redeemable and unredeemable people. Some readers may come to know sometimes more that you would want to. The phrase we often hear today, "you didn't have to tell me all of those things," is what you could tell Michael Chabon when he goes into his colorful descriptions.

Doing some more research I found an interview of Chabon where he tells readers that in the early 1940s, Harold Ickes, FDR's Secretary of the Interior actually suggested Alaska as a homeland for displaces Jewish people. Chabon is not too far from the truth. Or as we say sometime, "You can't make these things up."

I guess the amazing thing to me is that this book received such accolades and rare outright condemnations from right wing and defensive elements of the Zionist and the pro-Israeli world that reacts and over reacts to any criticisms. The Commentary reviews, there were a few, continued their accolades of Chabon, giving him, for them, a backhanded complement by comparing his writings similar to Philip Roth's novels that involved Jewish characters. But, John Podhoretz made it clear that while Chabon was a very good writer, "sentence for sentence the best writer of English prose of his age in America," that he was still anti-Zionist and that he "hates Israel." The Jewish Forwards similarly seemed afraid to say too much against Chabon's work, but its tortured review made it clear that they were not happy with the book.

Like Roth, Chabon doesn't mince words. In a way, the book is reminiscent of Michael Gold's book, "Jews Without Money." When some one says that the "Jews have all the money," I refer them to Gold's book. And, the scene hasn't changed much.

Now, I have another book to refer people to who would like to have some insights into the ultra-religious sects and political world within the Jewish community. Like Gold and Roth, Chabon shows that Jewish people succumb to the same things as everyone else does, i.e., drug and alcohol addiction, organized crime and wild war like schemes to achieve goals that on the face of it might seems ridiculous, but upon reflection is painfully too close to reality.

Picking up a book by Chabon, for me, is similar to going to a movie by great film directors who transport you into a new place. You have to trust that they will not abuse your trust of them. In that regard, Chabon is very trustworthy fellow.

I look forward to more Chabon books.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Using the "God" Word

Thomas Riggins

Denis Noble has a review ("For a Redefinition of God") of Stuart A. Kauffman's new book REINVENTING THE SACRED: A NEW VIEW OF SCIENCE, REASON, AND RELIGION, in the 6-20-2008 issue of SCIENCE.

Well, if God is going to get a new definition let's see what it is. Those of us who are skeptical as to God's is-ness do not want to be doubting the is-ness of what isn't the is-ness we think it is but some other is-ness that is entirely different. Maybe we can even learn about God's relation to Marxism.

Kauffman, a theoretical biologist (there is an interesting Wikepedia article about him), argues that biology cannot be reduced to physics. This is anti-reductionist and Marxists could agree that there is a QUALITATIVE leap involved in the dialectics of emergent life. In biological evolution he says "ceaseless novelty" arises and "ceaseless creativity" takes place in nature. Is this a rehash of Henri Bergson's (1859-1941) CREATIVE EVOLUTION?

Because of this ceaseless creativity Kauffman wants to recreate or reinvent the concept of the "sacred." Noble doesn't say why. This is what Kauffman says, "Seeking a new vision of the real world and our place in it has been a central aim of this book-- to find common ground between science and religion so that we might collectively reinvent the sacred."

This will be a hopeless task since the new definition of God will be rejected by Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and most other people as well. No matter, as Noble quotes him as saying "we must use the God word, for my hope is to honorably steal its aura to authorize the sacredness of the creativity in nature."

Why must we use the "God" word this way. Why can't we use the "God" word this way: "There is no God." That is using the word and without "stealing" its "aura." For Kauffman the "creativity of nature" = "God" or as Spinoza said "Nature" = "God".

How about this? History and the development of Marxism cannot be reduced to biology. Marxists are finding out, to their sorrow, the ceaseless novelty and creativity of history and Marxism. This makes Marxism, historical materialism, sacred due to its ceaseless creativity. I want to use the word "God", maybe even I must, so the "creativity of Marxism" = "God" and I will found the First Church of Marxism.

As for Kauffman, Noble asks, "So, could his concept of God as nature's ceaseless creativity be convincing?" You can pray to it (just don't expect any answer). You can love it if you want to but it doesn't concern itself about you so don't wait up for any calls, and don't overlook that lump. "God," Noble says, "is not even given the power that the Deists recognize." And that's not much compared to what traditional religious people expect. Maybe a few Unitarians here and and there, and some Buddhists, will buy into this idea.

Noble concludes, "Bringing science and religion together globally in the way that Kauffman wishes is not going to be easy [do you think?] -- as other ecumenical movements have repeatedly found [including my First Church of Marxism]-- but it is necessary." Again with the "necessary." If something is necessary it will come about. I'm placing my money on the First Church of Marxism.

Labor endorses Barack Obama

The labor movement has united to endorse Barack Obama for president. The 10 million-member AFL-CIO announced its endorsement today. The 7 million-member Change to Win federation endorsed him in early May.

The AFL-CIO statement read in part:

Endorsement Triggers Largest Ever Mobilization of Working Families AFL-CIO Program to Reach Union Voters Nationwide, 13 Million in 24 Priority States

Calling Sen. Barack Obama a champion for working families, the top leaders of AFL-CIO unions today voted without opposition to endorse him for president of the United States, thrusting the labor federation’s largest ever grassroots mobilization effort into high gear.

“In so many ways―on jobs, health care, gas prices and the war in Iraq―our country is headed in the wrong direction,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. “Barack Obama has proven from his days as an organizer, to his time in the Senate and his historic run for the presidency, that he’s leading the fight to turn around America. He’s a champion for working families who knows what it’s going to take to create an economy that works for everyone, not just Big Oil, Big Pharma, the insurance companies, the giant mortgage lenders, speculators and the very wealthy. We’re proud to stand with Sen. Obama to help our nation chart a course that will improve life for generations of working people and our children.”

In its endorsement statement, the AFL-CIO General Board cited Obama’s strong support of working families on issues such as health care reform, fair trade that will lift up workers here and around the world, retirement security and the freedom to form unions and bargain for middle-class living standards. Obama has a 98 percent voting record on working families’ issues, compared to just 16 percent for Sen. John McCain.

Ralph Nader and the Race Card

By Joe Sims
I got a call yesterday from a subscriber in Boston complaining that PA hasn't said much about Ralph Nader's ill-advised entry into the US presidential campaign. “Why aren't you covering him,” she asked. “Point taken,” I replied, “but don't you think he's playing a negative role both now and in the past? I mean, if it hadn't been for his campaign in 2000 we might not have the war in Iraq.” “Oh, we'd have it” she replied, “Kerry himself has big investments there.” Really? But I thought it was Gore who ran in 2000. Oh well don't confuse things with the dates and facts.

Little did I realize that a few hours later, the news would ablaze with racially inflammatory remarks by none other than Mr. Nader himself who accused the Democratic nominee of “talking white,” not threating the “white power structure,” and “appealing to “white guilt.” So dear reader, here's your column.

By “talking white” (whatever that means) one presumes, Ralph wasn't referring to the cadence of Mr. Obama's speech. Obama, who grew up in Kansas, Hawaii and other points on the globe in all likelihood speaks in tones in keeping with the dialects of the hoods whose corner's he hung out on. Rather to be fair Mr. Nader was making a more substantial point: namely that the Obama campaign wasn't addressing the race and class issues of poverty and discrimination facing Black America.

Ralph apparently hasn't been paying attention to the Democratic candidate's speeches or platform. Be that as it may, what is even more striking is the implicit assumption that in Nader's mind, poverty is a Black thing, as if white poverty, gender poverty, or Latino and Asian poverty didn't exist.

As curious is Mr. Nader's concept of what “Blackness” entails or in what “taking Black consists” a problem that may relate to the degree of his class and spatial remove from the problems of this and other communities of color. Al Sharpton was right yesterday when he said "I don't know how one "talks black or white,” and "There are clearly different styles and speech cadences in every community."

Mr. Nader also clearly doesn't understand the central most basic issue before the Black community today: the need to remove from power the conservative, backward, intolerant, racist minded forces now inhabiting the White House and other corridors of power in Washington. What greater challenge to the “white power structure” could there be? But the question must be asked, does he really care. After all, who are his remarks designed to appeal to? So dear reader, here's your dream come true as today's nightmare, I'm writing about Ralph, consumer advocate, corporate challenger, poor person's advocate, and now in this latest incarnation, race bater. Happy?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oil Companies, the Supreme Court, and the Price of Terrorists in Pakistan

by Norman Markowitz

Another quick summary of the not so pleasant news of the day. McCain is trying to jump on the environmental bandwagon by promising to buy fuel efficient cars for the federal government in his administration (setting a good example that the auto companies and advertisers will of course follow). Meanwhile, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to knock down the punitive damages previously awarded to plaintiffs against Exxon by by a federal district court in California from $2.5 billion to $500 million for the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the worst of its kind in U.S. history. A federal district court decision earlier cut in half the original jury verdict, which awarded plaintiffs $5 billion in punitive damages.

In his angry dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that "in light of Exxon's decision to permit a lapsed alcoholic to command a supertanker carrying tens of millions of gallons of crude oil through the treacherous waters of Prince William Sound, thereby endangering all the individuals who depend on the sound for their livelihood, the jury could have easily given expression to its moral condemnation of the decision by its award." McCain of course won't criticize the decision but Obama, who has a much better environmental record, should. Obama can say that he will appoint judges to the federal judiciary who will support the people and juries who stand up to corporate arrogance in defending the environment and the people. Since Exxon is raking in super profits, neither the federal district court reduction or today's Supreme Court reduction is based on any ability to pay.

And the scandals from the Bush "war against terrorism" mount. Officials of the U.S.-NAT0 supported government of Afghanistan claim that groups within Pakistani military and intelligence were involved in a plot to assassinate the Afghan president. The Taliban forces who came to power as a result of the war the U.S. and Pakistan and rightwing Muslim guerrilla detachments, most famously the Saudi detachment led by Osama bin Laden, continue to launch attacks against the present government in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan carrying out terror and murder as the Bush administration pursues its Iraq war.

While this is going on, two reports highlight the incompetence and corruption of the Bush administration, even perhaps for those who support its wars. The General Accounting Office has issued a report of far-reaching misuse of the $5.6 billion in "anti-terrorism" funding that the Pentagon has supplied Pakistan with since 9/11, including $200 million for air defense systems even though the Al Qaeda-Taliban forces have no airplanes, $45 million for roads that were never built, and other charges and over charges that would be considered criminal fraud.

Speaking of the fraud, the report suggested that the Pakistani government and military was "exaggerating" if not fabricating specific terrorist threats to get the the money. Besides being longtime allies, both the Pakistani military and the present day terrorists need each
other,the former to get funds from the U.S., the latter to get protection for its attacks, just as Osama bin Laden and the Bush administration need and re-enforce each other and, regardless of the nonsense that the right will be peddling in this election, bin Laden can be expected to issue statements that will benefit John McCain against Barack Obama, just as he issued statements in 2004 that clearly aided Bush against John Kerry, because the present policy in Iraq and the general policies of the administration enrich his friends at home in Saudi Arabia and provide fertile ground for his clerical fascist machinations in Muslim countries.

Speaking of fraud, an investigation shows that a scandal straight out of the U.S. Indian Reservation policy in the 19th century, but with very contemporary cold war implications is afflicting the Pentagon. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the Pentagon has been buying large quantities of military supplies from former Warsaw Treaty countries, with all kinds of corrupt arms dealers and firms here and abroad engaged in subcontracting and profiteering.

The age and quality of these supplies supplies and their origin is often fudged. In this case, the Pentagon contracted with a Miami based firm to provide ammunition allegedly produced in Hungary for the Afghan Security forces. But, as if the Afghanis don't have enough trouble, the ammo was really Chinese and over forty years old (the Miami Company, which is under investigation for other frauds, removed the Chinese packaging). Pentagon officials noted that the contract for the ammo was "valid since there was no age provisions it it for the supplies. The head of this firm, now under suspension and facing prosecution, was 21 years old when he "won" a two year contract worth 292 million from the Pentagon to supply ammo to the Afghanis last year

Adding a little comedy to the injury, an American businessman who acts as a purchaser for the U.S. military from former Soviet Republics and Warsaw Treaty states blamed the Pentagon for incompetence, noting that given the vast amount of intelligence gathered in the cold war period all all aspects of this weaponry, they should have done a much better job.

But with an administration that treats foreign countries the way U.S. governments in the 19th century treated Indian Reservations, that is, as places to set up trading posts and make quick profits, what can be expected. I would assume that there was probably inside bribery in these deals (there usually is) but it isn't being discussed.

In any case, the Afghans soldier on, the Pakistanis, continue their manipulations, the Saudis and Exxon continue to rake in super profits from oil, and, oh yes, three U.S. military personnel were also killed today in Northern Iraq while the rightwing media machine portrays John McCain, like George W. Bush as the man who will stand tough against terrorism. It will take a major effort by an Obama administration to begin to root out these thieves and their lobbyists in Washington, to reform the corrupt and wildly parasitic funding practices of the military industrial complex while working for a foreign policy directed toward peace.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

McCain, Monet, and the News of the Day

by Norman Markowitz

A few news items caught my always politically motivated attention today. First, McCain has a suggestion for a long-term solution to the energy crisis--a $300 million prize to anyone who designs a better car battery. That is one buck for every American and well worth it McCain said.

I don't really think McCain knows too much history involving automobiles (for example the auto companies blocking all sorts of technological innovations for years and then taking them over). He probably hasn't thought through what auto company or companies would get the battery, what the oil companies would do, what the royalties would be, etc.

But he understands the gimmick the need to put something out there like a rebate or a Reagan tax cut to make the public believe that money will be put in their pockets Maybe he could stage it on TV or the Internet and call it the 300 million dollar question, like the old TV show, the $64,000 question (John Glenn, who had a more distinguished military and Senate career as an Ohio Democrat than McCain, was as I remember on that show if the 1950s before he went into space).

But, hold on a minute, McCain may be a Manchurian or to be more precise Sao Paulo candidate. He is saying very nice things about Brazil, whose president, Lula is a well known Social Democrat (a "creeping socialist" as his political soul mates in the GOP used to call them). McCain praised Brazil's policy of producing new cars that will run on alternate fuel and in his man on horseback or hybrid manner said "whether it takes a meeting with automakers during my first term in office or my signature on an act of Congress we will meet the goal of swift conversion of American vehicles away from oil."

Lula aside, I immediately thought of the recent book by philosopher Harry Frankfurt, On Bull Shit, which more and more is becoming a symbol for our age. Besides his usual John Waynesque bluster, what is McCain talking about? Would that we were anywhere near converting our vehicles from gasoline and everything else. That will be a major global effort and one that will require enormous research and extensive international cooperation.

McCain makes some good points, but having just marked over 30 take home examinations, I would say to McCain what I often write on my not so great student papers, "some good points, but you don't connect them effectively and your paper is marred by significant errors." I tell my students that they can work to do better. I would never say that to McCain, since his "errors", that is, advocating greater tax and other concessions to oil companies while talking about "swift
conversion" from oil, calling for more "market initiatives" to solve the energy crisis, even criticizing agricultural subsidies for ethanol producers while announcing his support for ethanol as a alternative energy source is so contradictory and confusing as to make me doubt that he even understand his good points.

Then there is the statement by "senior" McCain adviser and longtime lobbyist for dictators Charlie Black, that a new "terrorist attack" would help the McCain campaign. Charlie Black is a roguish character who in the past has lobbied for Ferdinand Marcos, the Congo's Joseph Mobutu (one of the worst tyrants of recent history), the CIA supported Angola contra, Jonas Savimbi, and the Iraqi political adventurer and bank swindler Ahmad Chalabi,whose "intelligence" gave the Bush administration excuses for the Iraq war and today, from my readings, is allied to the clerical regime in Iran.

Black will tell you that he did all of this as a good American and a promoter of democracy, but this "straight talk" statement should give citizens something to worry about(many believe that Bush will try something, most probably a conflict with Iran, to win the election for his new found friend McCain).

The press is chuckling at Black's statement but I'm not. Given this administration, it is a little bit like a German journalist chuckling in the Winter of 1933 that he heard an adviser to the very new Chancellor, Hitler, say that with new elections coming, the depression getting worse, and the Communists growing in strength, it would really help Hitler if the Reichstag burned down!

But enough of politics. Capitalism is about intellectual and cultural freedom, and a painting by Claude Monet, the late 19th, early 20th century French impressionist painter, broke all records in a Christie's auction in London today by selling for $80.4 million, when the auctioneers expected to sell for at most 47 million. When the amount was announced, the audience burst into applause.

The buyer is as of now unknown, (I expect though that he or she, if American, will be in the McCain camp and obviously not in any need of an alternative energy automobile for reasons of economy). Why anyone with any sense of decency should be applauding an individual who has the wealth to spend 80 million for a painting while tens of millions live a hand to mouth existence in a rich country like the U.S. and inequality and destitution poverty has expanded hugely both in the rich countries and between the rich and the poor countries is well beyond my simple socialist consciousness and conscience.

The auction reminded me of the kind of freedom that Anatole France, a contemporary of Monet and great French progressive man of letters, meant when he said that "the law in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges,to beg in the streets, or to steal their bread." But the rich and poor have the right to bid on great works of art(if the poor can somehow become rich by building a new car battery and winning the big prize). And in the U.S. they do sleep under bridges and beg in the streets.

Support the Employee Free Choice Act


The Employee Free Choice Act
would help level the playing field and get our economy back on track. That’s why we’ve launched a huge campaign to get 1 million people to support this bill and tell Congress it’s time for change!

Sign the petition—we’re already at 29,349 signatures! We need you to be one of them.

The Employee Free Choice Act would give more workers the chance to negotiate for better benefits, wages and working conditions by forming unions.

And that will help all of us. There’s strength in numbers, and as we build our collective muscle, we can raise living standards, improve health care and stop corporate America’s race to the bottom.

But some CEOs try to stop unions, preventing their workers from negotiating a contract. In fact, 30 percent of corporations illegally fire pro-union workers during union organizing drives. Of course, no CEO would agree to work without a contract. So why can’t their workers have the same rights?

It’s time to bring back some fairness. That’s why we need 1 million voices supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. But a million people is a LOT of people. We won’t reach our goal without YOUR friends and family.

Do you support this bill? Take one minute to sign our petition. Upload a photo while you’re at it!

Anti-union groups are mounting a campaign to fight this bill. We can’t match our opponents dollar for dollar, but we can prevail if enough people rally to this important cause.

World Rejects Torture, U.S. more equivocal

Almost 6 in 10 people around the world reject the use of torture in all instances, according to the latest survey from Only slightly more than one-quarter of respondents expressed a willingness to accept some torture under the hypothetically dubious, extremely unlikely, and illegal event that torturing a suspect might lead to "saving lives."

As President Bush continues to hide from fresh charges by current and former military officials that he and other top administration officials ordered torture and illegal mistreatment at U.S. operated prison camps (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, etc.), the latest poll data shows much of the rest of the world is well in advance of him.

In a recent report by the Physicians for Human Rights, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the events at Abu Ghraib, wrote last week: "there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Mexico, Spain, France, Great Britain, Palestinian Territories, China, and Indonesia expressed the greatest unequivocal opposition to torture with all higher than average scores, ranging from 61% opposition to 82%, according to the survey.

Turkey, South Korea, the U.S., and Nigeria showed the highest numbers of support for generally allowing torture. The U.S. fell in below the global average in unequivocal opposition.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Medicare Improvement Bill Up for a Vote

Tuesday, June 24, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on H.R. 6331, a Medicare bill that helps Medicare beneficiaries. The bill will help more seniors qualify for help paying Medicare premiums by fixing the current personal assets test. In addition, the bill stops scheduled payment cuts to doctors who treat Medicare patients. There are also improvements to Medicare’s preventive benefits such as eliminating several co-payments as well as bringing mental health parity to Medicare benefits.

H.R. 6331 is scheduled to be considered by the House under a fast track procedure that will require a two-thirds vote to pass. Therefore, every vote counts. Please send your Member of Congress the attached e-mail letter today.


Thomas Riggins

The idea behind the op ed page was to promote diversity of opinion by letting the opinions of people who were not professional journalists as such have an avenue for expression. Of course we see at the New York Times, for example, paid staff who are professional journalists also writing op ed pieces.

Op ed pages also provide a palce where scholars and academics can express themselves and influence the reading public. A recent study of the op ed pages at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the The Star-Ledger (the major New Jersey paper) has revealed the op ed pieces accepted for publication from academics AGREE WITH THE EDITORIAL STANCES OF THE PAPERS ON THE ISSUES WRITTEN ABOUT 90 to 95% of the time. That is not diversity, it is propaganda.

This shows that to really get a different take on the world than that dished out by the bourgeois media you should be reading Political Affairs, The People's Weekly World and other left publications. Despite Fox News, The New York Times is NOT a left publication!

(this news is from the NYT 6/23/08 "Media Talk" in the Business Section).

Video: Reading Marx's Capital with David Harvey

Reading Marx's Capital with David Harvey

David Harvey has taught Marx's Capital Volume I for nearly 40 years. He has taught Capital in universities, in the community, and in prison-- to students, activists, unionists, and prisoners. Now, for the first time, his entire course is being made available online at:

This free online course consists of 13 two-hour video lectures by David Harvey, sharing his famous close reading of the text of Marx's Capital, Volume I. You can watch the videos online, or subscribe to the podcast.

David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) and author of numerous books, including The Condition of Postmodernity, The Limits to Capital, The New Imperialism, and A Brief History of Neoliberalism.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Music Review: Metropolitan Opera Visits Working Class Brooklyn

The Met Opera Comes to Working Class Brooklyn

by Eric Green

On a recent Friday nite in June, the 20th to be exact, the Metropolitan Opera of New York City visited the Meadow in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. This was their first visit to Brooklyn's open air world and it was a resounding success. It is not a new finding that opera is enjoyed by a significant number of working class people including broad sections of African Americans and Latins. But, it is a real happening when the highest form of that music, the MET, is made available, at not cost, to the working classes of Brooklyn. And, we all took advantage of the opportunity.

Tens of thousands were there from 7pm to past 10pm. The music started at around 8pm and concluded with enores which included the singing of Grenada, TWICE. The main song from Latraviata was supposed to be the last one of the evening, but alas our two main singers would not have it, so they sang Grenada again. They sang an array of arias and familiar songs that kept the audience in a high state of enjoyment throughout the evening.

The singers were very familiar to opera goers: Soprano Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna. She is from Romania and he is French. They were a perfect selection for Brooklyn. Their singing perfection might, in part, come from their being married. The Met Opera chorus was just amazing and the orchestra director for all of this was great. It was directed by Iom Martin who has a great career as a composer, pianist and director.

Of course, to pay the cost of this event corporate sponsors like Bank of America were needed. In other countries where the performing arts are more appreciated and fought for there are city and national budget lines which makes these kinds of events not just possible, but mandatory. This evening showed what was possible in regard to turn out.

The next Congress should be forced to significantly increase the federal support for the arts, for example, the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.

Orchestras, theater companies and all other creative and performing arts should not be forced to go hat in hand to Corporate American for hand outs.

Reading Lenin 20

READING LENIN: Materialism and Empiro-criticism [ 20]
Thomas Riggins

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


We can basically skip over this section as it adds nothing new to Lenin's argument. It is a review of an obituary of a Russian scientist, N. I. Shishkin [died 1906], by "our notorious reactionary philosopher" L. M. Lopatin [1855-1920]. Shishkin was a Machist and was praised by Lopatin, whose work "lies in the borderland between philosophy and the police department." Lenin was in exile and cut off from Russian intellectual developments when he wrote MEC and this short section was written to give the Russian audience something to chew on. According to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, Lopatin was an idealist whose philosophy was a form of personalism influenced by Leibniz and his theory of monads.


There are two major points that Lenin wants to make at the outset of this section. "Firstly", he says, "Machism is ideologically connected with only ONE school in ONE branch of modern natural science. Secondly, and THIS IS THE MAIN POINT, what in Machism is connected with this school IS NOT WHAT DISTINGUISHES IT FROM ALL OTHER TRENDS AND SYSTEMS OF IDEALIST PHILOSOPHY, BUT WHAT IT HAS IN COMMON WITH PHILOSOPHICAL IDEALISM IN GENERAL." One has only to compare the French, German, English and Russian representatives of Machism, as Lenin has done, to see that this is so.

What we find is that the main idea of the Machist version of the new physics is "denial of the objective reality given us in sensation and reflected in our theories, [and] doubt as to the existence of such a reality."

Lenin thinks the popularity of this idealistic "deviation towards reactionary philosophy" is only temporary ("a transitory period of sickness") -- a growth ailment he calls it, "mainly caused by the ABRUPT BREAK-DOWN of old established concepts." We should all be able to understand this. The abrupt break-down of the USSR and eastern European socialism in our own time has led to similar reactionary consequences not only in science and philosophy but in the theory and practice of Marxism as well.

If Marxism is a science, i.e., "scientific socialism"-- then these words of Lenin about physics should also apply to it. "The materialist spirit of physics, as of all modern science, will overcome all crises, but only by the indispensable replacement of metaphysical materialism by dialectical materialism."

This raises some serious questions. Few scientists today call themselves "dialectical materialists." Can we say they are "shamefaced" dialectical materialists? Can we say they are practicing diamat more or less unconsciously?

Lenin gives a long quote from Abel Rey the gist of which is that as physics has become more and more mathematical it has begun to lose contact with real objects and to deal with mathematical abstractions. Lenin thinks this is one of the reasons for the growth of idealist tendencies in the new physics.

Another reason is the growth of RELATIVISM. This is not a reference to the theory of relativity, first proposed by Einstein in 1905, and Einstein is never mentioned in MEC. Lenin thinks that the principle of the relativity of our knowledge leads to idealistic conclusions in the brains of people ignorant of dialectics.

The fact that the old truths of physics are breaking down and being replaced has made many think that there is no objective truth-- only relative. Diamat, as expounded by Engels in "Anti-Duhring," maintains that "truth" is indeed relative and changes as we learn more about the objects of nature, but relative truths still reflect objects that exist independently of man. It is not true that "there can be no objective truth independent of mankind."

"Engels," Lenin writes, "reproached the earlier materialists for their failure to appreciate the relativity of all scientific theories, for their ignorance of dialectics and for their exaggeration of the mechanical point of view."

The last few pages of this chapter, yes we are finally finishing Chapter Five (one more to go), are devoted to a book by Duhem, "Theory of Physics." In this book Duhem writes "A law of physics, properly speaking, is neither true nor false, but approximate." That would be fine, says Lenin-- IF Duhem really understood the "but." Diamat recognizes the provisional nature of all knowledge and as science advances that our world conception will also advance (and sometimes retreat).

Duhem, the practicing physicist, also thinks this way. But, ignorant of dialectics, he has been led into Machism and sometimes thinks the reason laws are "but approximate" is because there is no actual objective reality out there, independent of mankind, in the first place. Lenin doesn't say that Duhem is in a "muddle" but he does say he is VACILLATING.

Physical idealism is the result of the failure of mechanical materialism to deal with the revolutionary new developments in physics and will vanish when science takes the step from metaphysical to dialectical materialism.

Lenin chose physics to illustrate his theories. He could have picked any number of sciences had he so wished. I should also note the conditions of 1908 are not unique. Marxism itself, as a scientific world view, is going through a similar crisis today in 2008 as was physics in 1908. Lenin's methods of analysis are as useful today as they were then.

Ever since the "Prague Spring" and the "Cultural Revolution" Marxism has been in crisis. The fall of the Soviet Union is but one consequence, not the cause. Like the 1908 crises in physics, the crisis in Marxism is one of relativism where old established ideas have been thrown aside by new historical events and no new consensus has emerged. Each national party has its own version and formerly despised views historically considered as revisionist, opportunist or products of bourgeois idealism are back on the agenda under new names and guises parading about as the latest interpretations of "scientific socialism."

To paraphrase Lenin, all the old truths of Marxism, including those which were regarded as firmly established and incontestable, prove to be relative truths, leading many to believe there can be no objective universally applicable Marxist principles and each national party is free to go its own way.

This is all the result of the breakdown of the international communist and workers movement as a result of World War II and its aftermath and the current weakness of the Marxist parties in the face of world imperialism. But there are signs of a new world historical shift to the left. Again, to paraphrase Lenin, this shift is being made and will be made by modern Marxists; but it is advancing towards the only true dialectical materialist philosophy and method of struggle by zigzags, not in a straight line, and instinctively not consciously, gropingly and unsteadily with no clear vision of the final conflict and goal, and oftentimes with its back to it.

We should keep all this mind, and especially the need for theory and ideological struggle to strengthen the progressive movement and we should especially study the history of the movement over the last two centuries so that the errors of the past will not become the failures of the future.

Keep this in the forefront as we approach the end of our course in Materialism and Empirio-criticism. We will begin next week with Chapter Six.

See Reading Lenin 19 here...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama meets with labor leaders

McClellan, Bush and Memories of Watergate

by Norman Markowitz

Although I doubt it will get the coverage it deserves. Scott McClellan, the defecting former Bush press Secretary, has just testified to the House Judiciary Committee about Bush administration actions which are in my opinion clear impeachable offenses. McClellan, echoing in his own way John McCain,who was vilified by the Nixon White House when he refused to fall on his sword for them and turned states evidence in the Watergate conspiracy, told the committee that he had written his book because "ideals of candor, transparency and integrity" outweigh loyalty to an individual office holder."

In a truly bizarre turn of phrase, Texas Republican CongressmanLamarr Smith, who did everything that he could to impeach McClellan's testimony, then said that McClellan "will have to wrestle with whether it was worth selling out the president and his friends for a few pieces of silver." (I doubt that even Bush's fundamentalist supporters would have the nerve to compare him and his "ministry" with the man who in the biblical narrative was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver).

McClellan told the committee how he had been manipulated to lie to the press for the administration on what was a crude and petty attempt by key White House figures to get back at former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of their Iraq war policy, by leaking information to a very friendly journalist source that would blow the cover of his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA operative (in the 1970s, Congress enacted legislation with harsh penalties for such actions, since they endangered the lives of individuals).

Where does Watergate come in? Nixon promised those who were arrested presidential pardons and jobs if they kept their mouths shut. It didn't work. In this case, Scooter Libby was the sacrificial lamb( the "d'oeuvre" as Nixon said about one of his prospective scapegoats, "so they won't come back for more"). The political climate in the country and Democratic party opposition made sure that that Nixon's cover-up eventually didn't work and the whole administration eventually came down.

In this case, it so far has worked. Libby was tried, convicted, and got presidential clemency very quickly (he is independently wealthy and doesn't need a job). Rove, Cheney, et al, are not on their way to trial (at least not in this administration). At this point, the whole sordid affair is another defeat for American democracy at the hands of its enemies in the White House.

Although the first priority now is to defeat McCain and the Republican right across the board, it might be good for the Obama administration if and when it takes power to revisit this whole affair and appoint a special prosecutor. The Republican Congress in effect forced Clinton to do that in the Whitewater Savings and Loan Scandal, which had nothing to do with his presidency. These acts, like the Watergate conspiracy itself, were an example of the abuse of power and outright tyranny from which that the Constitution was supposed to protect the people.

FOX News Smears Aimed at Obama

1. "Fox News' E.D. Hill teased discussion of Obama dap: "A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab?" Media Matters, June 6, 2008

2. "Fox News in trouble again over Obama smear: 'baby mama'" Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2008

3. "Dems cancel debate over Fox Chief's Obama joke,", March 10, 2007

4. Liz Trotta on Fox News Channel, May 25, 2008

5. "Fox Attacks: Black America,", June 2007

6. "Fox Attacks: Obama, Part 2,", June 2007

7. "Fox News and its problem with African-Americans," overview, March 2007

8. "SMEAR: Obama's Books Contain Racially Incendiary Remarks,", June, 2008

9. "Schlussel: Should Barack Hussein Obama be president "when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam"?," Media Matters, December 20, 2006

10. "Tennessee GOP Smears Obama With Alleged Ties to Anti-Semitism and Farrakhan," TPM Election Central, February 27, 2008

11. "Obama, Clinton to skip Fox-backed debate,", April 10, 2007

Social Networks Reducing the "Digital Divide"

From CNet

" networks may be part of the reason that low-income students are largely just as technologically proficient as their peers, contradicting parts of a 2005 Pew study that detailed an economic "digital divide." According to the new study, a full 94 percent of students use the Internet, 82 percent use it at home, and 77 percent have social-networking profiles.

The "digital divide," obviously, goes far beyond Facebook profiles, and social networks come with a whole host of new problems like cyberbullying, but at least there are signs that it could be leveling the playing field a bit."

Sierra Club Endorses Barack Obama

From Sierra Club:

As USW President Leo Gerard said, the Sierra Club and his union "are standing together in support of Barack Obama because we all share the common goal of putting America back to work by building a clean energy economy." Gerard said he believes Obama is committed to "breaking the chokehold Big Oil and the other polluting energy industries have on our economy and future."

Senator Obama's green jobs/climate change platform is impressive:

  • Senator Obama has presented a bold and comprehensive plan for addressing climate change that relies on what the world's scientists have told us needs to be done. His plan includes a "cap and auction" system that would cut our carbon dioxide emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
  • His plan requires that polluters pay for the global warming pollution they emit and would invest the money generated from those credits into clean energy, green jobs, and aid for the lowest-income Americans affected by higher energy costs.
  • His plan calls for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and for improving energy efficiency in the U.S. 50 percent by 2030, and would create tens of thousands of jobs in growing industries while at the same time reducing the amount Americans spend on energy bills.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

McCain Pushes New Nuclear Power Plants

by Norman Markowitz

John McCain has called for forty-five new nuclear power plants by 2030 (when he will be ninety four years old) and made a strong pitch for the safety of such plants, while using the argument that they are being built in Europe, Russia, China, everywhere else and (to use the language of Dr. Strangelove, "we cannot afford a nuclear power plant gap").

Now, let me say that I am not ready to dismiss nuclear power out of hand. A case can be made for it as part of an overall energy policy, assuming that the kinds of safeguards that exist, from my readings, in France and some other countries (which corporations never really established here) are put in place. But given our declining infrastructure, it is very unlikely that companies given carte blanche by a McCain administration would establish such safeguards. Also, as environmentalists contend, nuclear power is both too expensive and potentially too dangerous. It is not only environmentalist opposition and memories of Three Mile Island (which unfortunately have long faded) which explain why no new nuclear power plants have been built in the U.S. in decades. As Daniel Weiss, of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive policy group noted, "Wall Street won't invest in these plants because they are expensive and unreliable so Senator McCain wants to shower the nuclear industry with billions of dollars of taxpayer handouts."

Longterm nuclear power plant construction will , at least at the present time, do nothing to limit gas prices that are the result of both demand and the manipulation of supply by transnational oil companies and oil producing nations. And, we, if not McCain, should remember that nuclear power has always been very expensive for consumers. Power companies raise prices on the level of their investment and nuclear power for electricity has meant higher costs for both consumers who use directly the energy produced by such plants and often by consumers whose rates go up because of the investments of their service providers in nuclear power and the costs of maintaining nuclear installations (which companies pass on to consumers).

Instead of digging for more oil regardless of its environmental effects and building new nuclear power plants, which Bush and his new ideological soul mate McCain call for, both through huge subsidies to big private business, we have got to begin to think of a national energy policy with a large public sector and regulation of private companies in the public interest, meaning the interests of consumers and the environment. Both nationally and globally, we have got to remember and revive the S word, Socialism, if we are to seriously address an energy crisis which "free market" capitalist and anti-environmental corporate subsidies have made substantially worse over the last 35 years.

US Good Intentions Over New Iraq Oil Deal Doubted

Thomas Riggins

Finally the New York Times is beginning to shed light on why there has been so much death and destruction in Iraq and why over 4000 American troops have died and perhaps over a million Iraqi's. It wasn't for our country, or to fight terrorism, or for freedom. Read today's NYT front page lead story-- it tells it all-- OR DOES IT?



"A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards"

Exxon-Mobile, Shell, Total and BP (the companies that made up the old Iraq Petroleum Company are back after having been kicked out 36 years ago by the Iraqi government.). The Times reports that the companies have "a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations."

The US government and the oil companies want to help the Iraqi people increase their oil production even though their good intentions are doubted by skeptics. The new oil deal will be announced around the end of the month.

The Times reports that "There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract." How disheartening that our good deeds and concern for others can be so misunderstood.

"Sensitive to the appearance that they were profiting from the war" oil company officials said "they were helping Iraq" to reconstruct their oil economy. What's wrong with that? Wanting to help people who have fallen on hard times is a noble aspiration.

Everyone will benefit when all that Iraqi oil gets into the hands of the former Iraqi Petroleum Company partners and makes its way to the world market and your neighborhood gas station. If you should ever ask what does your government do for you-- this is it.

Lee Raymond, former CEO of Exxon said, "There is an enormous amount of oil in Iraq. We were part of the consortium, the four companies that were there when Saddam Hussein threw us out, and we basically had the whole country."

Well, they basically have it back-- if they can keep it.

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It's the Networks Stupid: The 2008 Election and the Internet

By Joe Sims

I had a conversation not so long ago with an intelligent fellow about the merits of on-line activism to working-class constituencies. The working poor in his state and city, he claimed were not online. Hunh? More recently, I heard a few editors and writers refer to the movement to on-line publishing as a “defeat.” The absence of print for them meant a publication had “disappeared.”

Tell that to the organizers of the Obama campaign who singed up 1. 5 million contributors who have brought in a few hundred million dollars in small contributors. Tell that to the Hillary Clinton campaign one of whose chief strategists, Peter Daou said in a Google forum on the Internet and Presidential politics, that a chief task of their campaign for the last year, was to move Mrs. Clinton's core supporters, workers and the elderly to on-line activism. The issue wasn't whether or not they were on-line, but how to get them to use technology to contribute to the campaign financially or organizationally.

What's the most important issue in the 2008 elections? Why winning of course. How to do it? Why, “It's the networks stupid," according to Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's on-line presidential effort in 2004. Trippi in a written address to the Google panel discussion on 2008 election suggested a completely new era is afoot in presidential politics. The reason? The turbo-charged multi-platform power of the Internet. Trippi pointed to three unprecedented developments to make his point.

First, the explosion in the number of bloggers in 4 years from 1.4 million to 77 million today.

Second, the role of independent initiative of citizen bloggers, one of whom, independent of the Obama campaign created a Million-for-Obama social website that gathered in a few weeks hundreds of thousands of members.

Third, the geometric growth in the number of broadband connections. Trippi suggested we are on the verge of the first Interactive Presidency, where the new president will use the vehicle of on-line organizing, not only to get elected, but to mobilize the grass-roots on-line community of millions to get his legislative program implemented. In other words, to get people active in the process of governing. Think about that. Everything has changed.

In a recent blog, I made the point that most people see the Internet as a means of communication. The Google panelists, who included the on-line directors for many of the democratic and republican candidates rubbed that notion into the dirt. Peter Daou spoke of the Internet use as having three basic aspects: fund raising, organizing, and communications Mindy Finn, who worked for Mitt Romney summarized it nicely as Message, Money and Mobilization.

Daou spoke directly to issue of message claiming that the interaction between traditional and new media forms have created a new dynamic 24-hour “chattering stream” or interactive loop of information. The agenda setting role of traditional media, he said is gone. Now, controlling the flow of the “chattering stream” he suggested is key to winning elections. The candidate who controls the stream is the victor, he said.

Joe Rospers, who heads the Obama campaigns online work pointed to the huge importance of organizing interactive networks around the three principal pillars of the campaign. With 1 million participants in Obama campaign website and another 1. 5 million donors, the campaign has managed through social networks to

a) build campaign constituencies in tens of thousands of communities;

b) bring those people into activity during the primaries; and

c) involve them in several dimensions of the campaign's organizing, fund raising, and communication activities. They have managed to leverage networks of supporters to build relationships between different groups, allowing them to reach out and get friends involved. One example of this was by getting first-time contributors to agree to give a second or third time on the promise that they would get matching pledges from another first-time contributor. They could then communicate with that person, send them messages through the site or directly through e-mail, thereby building relationships and building the movement.

The concept of “networks” is an interesting one that should be given greater attention. Significantly, it is involving millions in new political activity for the first time. I have heard criticism of concept of networks on the left as being a “lower” form of organization, that is, loose, amorphous, too autonomous, faceless, etc. Similar attitudes have been expressed regarding people who join organizations on-line and on-line activism generally. However, the explosive growth of a mass movement around the Democratic party primaries might suggest a rethinking of these attitudes is in order.

No one responded to my earlier blog on Behold the Power of the Internet which raised some of these problems. Didn't surprise me. Wonder if anyone will care to comment on this one. Hey, guys, It's the Networks! Intelligent people.

Tell Congress: No offshore drilling


It's time to state the obvious: Off-shore drilling is not a serious idea to reform our energy policy. The Government's own Energy Information Administration points out that this oil won't be available for decades and the total quantity is an "insignificant" drop in the bucket on the world oil market.

The only groups that benefit from McCain's offshore drilling idea are big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil which are already making record profits. So why does John McCain like this cockeyed idea? Maybe because, as the Wall Street Journal reports, "McCain does lead all other senators, and all others who ran for president, in contributions from the oil and gas industry..."

But how much does YOUR Senator get from oil and gas? Whose side will they vote on if offshore drilling comes up for a vote?

Find out about your Reps. and Take Action

Income inequality skyrocketing under right-wing rule

The Economic Policy Institute reported yesterday that income inequality is still on the rise, and growing sharper.

"The ratio of the wage income of the top 1% of earners to that of the bottom 90% more than doubled between 1979 and 2006, increasing from a ratio of 9.4-to-1 to 19.9-to-1."

By contrast the previous 3 decades (1947-1979), when labor unions had larger influence over the struggle for wages and benefits, "there was relatively little change in the earnings disparity."

But zooming in on the wealthiest sections of American society, reports EPI, "the upper one-tenth of 1% earned 70.4 times as much as the average person in the bottom 90% of the income scale." Just 30 years ago, that ratio was 21 to 1.

There is no doubt that this jump in income inequality is the result of 30 years of ultra right wing rule characterized by slashing anti-poverty programs and public education, anti-union policies, anti-minimum wage policies, free trade and outsourcing policies and the like. Time to bring it to an end.

More than half the world favors leaving abortion to individual choice

A survey released earlier this week by found that in "17 out of 18 nations polled around the world, majorities reject using criminal penalties, such as fines and imprisonment, as a means to prevent abortion."

52% of the people surveyed on four continents from Nigeria to France, Mexico to Indonesia approve of the idea of leaving abortion up to the individual.

23% agree that government's can used non-punitive methods to encourage choices other than abortion (including education, counseling and adoption).

Only 18% agree with the idea that fines or imprisonment or other punitive measures should be used.

In the U.S., the breakdown on these questions was 69%, 21%, 8%, suggesting that right-wing fanatics who support imprisoning doctors or women for making private health decisions or other government intervention in reproductive choice matters are in a global and national minority.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

NO to another year of war

Tell Your Rep TODAY: Vote NO to Another Year of War!

As early as Thursday, June 19th, the House could be voting on a bill that contains a record-shattering $165 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as some domestic spending on expanded GI benefits and extended unemployment insurance.

When the funding bill came before the House of Representatives last month, the peace movement lit up the phones and it made a difference. House members need to hear from us again. If this bill passes, it will give President Bush and his successor the unconstrained ability to pursue the war into next summer.

Time is short, so we urge you to act now:

Bush's "Energy Policy": Bring Big Texas Oil to the Arctic

by Norman Markowitz

There are a few truisms, the first spanning all history, the second history in the capitalist mode of production. The first is that reactionaries learn nothing and forget nothing and continue to do the same thing over and over again, blaming each failure on internal or external scapegoats or specific mistakes in implementation. The second is that capitalists will seize upon any crisis or disaster of their making to profit from that disaster, even if it means making the situation worse for the people and in the long run, even for them (since their long-run is inevitably short-run profit).

George Bush reflected both truisms today when he called for an end to a congressional ban on off shore oil drilling and an opening of part of the Arctic National Wild Life Preserve for oil drilling. Bush said that this was lower gas prices and protect "national security." He, the great scientist, proclaimed that" scientists have developed innovative techniques to reach arctic preserve oil with virtually no impact on the land or local wildlife." He blamed the Democrats for opposing the policy in the past and helping to create the present gas crisis. The Democrats responded quite rightly that Bush was offering no solution to the energy crisis and pandering to Big Oil, which has been first and foremost in his political machinations throughout his career.

But more is really needed. First, one should remind Bush and the Democrats for that matter that battles over off shore drilling were fought and lost in the past even before the modern environmental movement pushed back some of the worst predators. Seizing control of public lands to exploit them, both by legal and illegal means, has been a consistent theme since the rise of U.S. industrial capitalism, whether it was franchises to loot Indian reservations, phony land claims by a syndicate headed by Meyer Guggenheim and J.P. Morgan to control coal lands in Alaska (which led to the famous Ballinger-Pinchot scandal in the Taft Administration) to bribes to lease oil lands to oil companies in the Harding administration(the Teapot Dome scandal) to many others. The oil depletion allowance, giving oil companies a huge tax windfall for digging up and using more and more oil, a non renewable resource, has been a scandal for generations and a source, analysts abroad contend, of a "national energy policy" that provides a big disincentive for energy conservation and efficiency (progressives even before the contemporary environmental movement condemned it as a massive subsidy to oil companies that gave them super profits and heightened inequality).

But Bush doesn't know and doesn't care. He doesn't know the meaning of the word conservation. His attitude toward the environment isn't any different than Ronald Reagan's, who as governor of California allegedly said "when you've seen one Redwood you've seen them all," and as president of the U.S. junked the Carter administration conservation and alternative energy policies and went all out for deregulation and subsidies for Big Oil (and of course a foreign policy of disrupting the OPEC oil cartel by backing Saddam Hussein's Iraqi dictatorship in its war against Iran). Reagan also with strong support from the auto companies encouraged minivans which later became SUVs as he pushed "free market" aka subisidize and bail out capitalism as the way to create a limitless supply for a limitless demand.

Once the oil is gone, it will be gone. It has been and will continue to be infinitely more expensive to repair the damage done to the environment by corporate predators than any "trickle down" gains that have been made in jobs and prices by those predators policies. Even if one supports developing oil resources in the Arctic Wildlife preserve, no one who is not a propagandist for the administration and/or the oil companies would say that such developing could seriously produce major new sources of oil to deal with the present crisis, given the existing system, for a long time. As for Bush's comment that scientists have developed technologies that can develop oil with no ecological damage, from my understanding (and I am no scientist but neither is Bush) this is not only very wrong but a little bit like tobacco companies in the pre-1960s period citing "studies" for medical researchers they bought that smoking represented no serious health risks.

McCain announced his support for Bush and Senator Obama announced his clear opposition. Unlike Bush and McCain, Obama has come forward with serious suggestions for a national energy policy. Now would be a good time to bring them forward.

GOP Racism Aimed at Obama

The Texas Republicans have decided on how they are going to campaign against Obama, apparently. According to the Dallas Morning News, among the anti-Obama campaign gear circulated there was a lapel button that said, "If Obama is President will we still call it the White House."

See here...

You Can't Have Him

From Political Action

Solidarity with Imprisoned Zimbabwean Union Leaders

From Trades Union Congress:

Take action now to support Zimbabwean trade unionists on trial - We need your photo now!

On Monday 23 June, just days before the Presidential run-off election, Lovemore Matombo and Wellington Chibebe, President and General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) will be in court to face charges of 'spreading falsehoods prejudicial to the state' - or rather, telling the truth about violence in Zimbabwe. As part of their bail conditions they have been banned from addressing political or public gatherings for almost the whole election campaign. These charges and bail conditions are clear breaches of free speech and freedom to associate.

We are urging people everywhere to protest at attempts to silence these men, and at the state-sponsored violence and intimidation which has intensified since the first round of elections in March.

If Lovemore and Wellington aren't able to address a public gathering themselves, you can help them to with this campaign action, but you'll need to hurry.

We are making a giant photo mosaic of Lovemore and Wellington, using pictures of hundreds of their supporters from around the world - and we want to use your photo as one tiny part of it. We'll get this printed on a large banner as a focus for the London demonstration on 23 June, and will make the image available to other international demonstrations and to the media.

This is a last minute campaign, so we need to get your photos in immediately.
There are two ways to do this:

Take a photo of yourself with your digital camera and email it to

Take a photo of yourself with your cameraphone and send it by MMS to 07546 229055 (0044 7546 229055 from outside the UK)

Behold the Power of the Internet

By Joe Sims
A new study released Sunday by the Pew Center points to the dramatic increase in the power of the Internet in US presidential politics. According to the study, some 46 percent of the US people have used the Internet in some form, (web pages, podcasts, cell phone text messages) to get information on or take action in the campaign. Pointing to the power of web video, some 35 percent reported watching video on-line about the campaign, a three-fold increase over 4 years ago. The study suggests that Democrats, particularly Obama supporters are more engaged in this multi platform medium than either Republicans or Independents.

Getting information however, is just one dimension of Internet use. Most candidates and perhaps most readers of this story still view it as broadcast medium. One writer says that this is perhaps the last election in which that misconception will continue. Writing in PC magazine Chole Albanesius quoting Josh Bernoff makes this point well:

"They see the social Internet as another form of broadcast media, and I think this is the last election that this kind of thinking will be supported."

Right now the article comments ““The candidates are using the Internet to help them campaign, but what happens after the election?” The suggestion here using social networks to stimulate public interaction is what's coming next.

"What would happen if Obama said, 'Listen, I have this idea that we should be getting the troops out of Iraq, what is the best way for me to communicate that,'" Bernoff asked. "What would happen if Clinton said, 'I'm concerned about the needs of working families, and here is a list of 12 [ideas], which do you like the best?' How could you become involved in helping to do this?"

Think about it folks, as a multi platform entity the internet is more than just a broadcast medium. Much more. It has the potential of changing the way politics itself is done. And by the way: that potential is here.