Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fidel Reflects on the name "Rahm Emanuel"

Havana.  February 9, 2009

Rahm Emanuel
WHAT a strange surname! It appears Spanish, easy to pronounce, but it’s not. Never in my life have I heard or read about any student or compatriot with that name, among tens of thousands. Where does it come from? I wondered. Over and over, the name came to mind of the brilliant German thinker, Immanuel Kant, who together with Aristotle and Plato, formed a trio of philosophers that have most influenced human thinking. Doubtless he was not very far, as I discovered later, from the philosophy of the man closest to the current president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Another recent possibility led me to reflect on the strange surname, the book of Germán Sánchez, the Cuban ambassador in Bolivarian Venezuela: The transparence of Enmanuel, this time without the “I” with which the German philosopher’s name begins. FidelEnmanuel is the name of the child conceived and born in the dense guerrilla jungle, where his extremely honorable mother, Colombian vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas González, was taken prisoner on February 23, 2002, together with Ingrid Betancourt, who was a presidential candidate in that sister country’s elections that year.

I read with much interest the abovementioned book by Germán Sánchez, our ambassador in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela who, in 2008, had the privilege of participating in the liberation of Clara Rojas and Consuelo González, former National Assembly deputy, from the FARC, the revolutionary army of Colombia, which had taken them prisoner. Clara had remained in the hands of the guerrilla forces out of solidarity with Ingrid and was with her throughout six years of difficult captivity.

Germán’s book is titled The Transparency of Enmanuel, almost exactly the same name as the German philosopher. It didn’t seem strange to me; in thinking about how his mother was a brilliant and very cultured lawyer; maybe that was the reason she gave her child that name. It simply led me to remember the years of isolation in prison that I experienced after my almost-successful attempt to take over Cuba’s second-largest military fortress on July 26, 1953 and to seize thousands of weapons with a select group of 120 combatants willing to fight against the Batista dictatorship imposed on Cuba by the United States. 

Of course, it was not the only objective or the only inspiring idea, but what is certain is that after the triumph of the revolution in our homeland on January 1, 1959, I still recalled some of the German philosopher’s aphorisms:

“A wise man can change his mind. A stubborn one, never.”

“Do not use others as a means to your end.”

“Only through education can a man finally be a man.”

This great idea was one of the principles proclaimed from the initial days following the revolutionary triumph, on January 1, 1959. Obama and his advisor had not been born or even conceived. Rahm Emanuel was born in Chicago on November 29, 1959, the son of a Russian immigrant. His mother was a human rights advocate named Martha Smulevitz; she was sent to prison three times for her activities.

Rahm Emanuel joined the Israeli army in 1991 as a civilian volunteer during the first Gulf War waged by Bush Sr., which used missiles containing uranium that caused serious illnesses in the U.S. soldiers who participated in the offensive against the Iraqi Republican Guard in retreat, and in a countless number of civilians.

Since that war, the peoples of the Near and Middle East have consumed a fabulous amount of weapons, which the U.S. military-industrial complex launches onto the market.

The racists of the extreme right might be able to satisfy their thirst for ethnic superiority and assassinate Obama like they did Martin Luther King, the great human rights leader which, while theoretically possible, does not appear probable at this time, given the protection surrounding the president after his election, every minute, day and night.

Obama, Emanuel and all of the brilliant politicians and economists who have come together would not suffice to solve the growing problems of U.S. capitalist society.

Even if Kant, Plato and Aristotle were to resuscitate together the late and brilliant economist John Kenneth Galbraight, neither would they be capable of solving the increasingly more frequent and profound antagonistic contradictions of the system. They would have been happy in the times of Abraham Lincoln —so admired, and rightfully so, by the new president — an era left far behind.

All of the other peoples will have to pay for the colossal waste and guarantee, above anything else on this increasingly more contaminated planet, U.S. jobs and the profits of that country’s large transnationals.

Fidel Castro Ruz
Febrero 8, 2009
5:16 p.m.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Down with Potato Chips!

Web address:

Additional Evidence That Potato Chips Should Be Eaten Only In Moderation

Acrylamide, found in foods such as potato chips and french fries, may increase the risk of heart disease. Acrylamide has been linked previously to nervous system disorders and possibly to cancer. (Credit: iStockphoto/Alexander Zhiltsov)
ScienceDaily (Feb. 26, 2009) — A new study published in the March 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by Marek Naruszewicz and colleagues from Poland suggests that acrylamide from foods may increase the risk of heart disease. Acrylamide has been linked previously to nervous system disorders and possibly to cancer.

After ingesting large amounts of potato chips providing about 157 micrograms of acrylamide daily for four weeks, the participants had adverse changes in oxidized LDL, inflammatory markers and antioxidants that help the body eliminate acrylamide—all of which may increase the risk of heart disease.

Additional research is needed in long-term studies of people consuming typical amounts of acrylamide (averaging about 20 to 30 micrograms).

It is recommended that FDA and the food industry continue to decrease acrylamide in foods by improving food processing technologies. FDA reports that acrylamide is particularly high in potato chips and French fries.

According to American Society for Nutrition Spokesperson Mary Ann Johnson, PhD: "Consumers can reduce their exposure to acrylamide by limiting their intake of potato chips and French fries, choosing a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat meat and dairy products, and quitting smoking, which is a major source of acrylamide."

Journal reference:
1. Naruszewicz et al. Chronic intake of potato chips in humans increases the production of reactive oxygen radicals by leukocytes and increases plasma C-reactive protein: a pilot study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009; DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26647

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is Communism for the Birds?

Farmer provides safe shelter for storks [from Vietnam News Service]

Birds of a feather: Dinh Van Hoe’s farm has become a destination for thousands of storks, which find safety and care under the farmer’s protection. — VNA/VNS Photo Truong Vi

NAM DINH — Three years ago, farmer Dinh Van Hoe of Giao Ha Village in Nam Dinh Province, 160km south of Ha Noi, woke up one morning to find the green leaves of his bonsai farm had been replaced by the white feathers of a thousand storks.

Hoe rented a 10ha farm in the village to start a bonsai business in 2004, but soon found he got more than he bargained for when a flock of storks descended on the farm that winter.

A staff member at Xuan Thuy National Park, a protected wetlands area located 10km from the farm, said that storks often nest on bamboo and search for quiet places where they feel safe.

"The farm is favourable site for the birds after a long day searching for food on the surrounding aquaculture farms. I know that storks here are not listed in the International Red Book of Endangered Species, but it’s a sign of an improved environment," said Nguyen Xuan Anh, a staff member at Xuan Thuy National Park.

From September to April, it is possible to glimpse rare birds at Xuan Thuy Park, a wintering sight in the East Asian-Australian flyway.

"Some birds catch fish and shrimp for food at farms around the park and shelter in bushes and trees. Naturally, the bonsai farm has been a good site for storks over the last three years," Anh said.

Green farm

Hoe has planted nearly 4,000 ornamental trees and dug a number of fish ponds. He also raises pigs and chickens on his large farm, which bring in a good income.

"Fish and livestock bring me a profit of nearly VND700 million (US$40,000) per year, while bonsai gardens are a long-term investment. However, birds flocking to the farm brings peace to my life and business," Hoe said.

He plans to grow bamboo to create more favourable conditions for the storks and to shield them from the poachers he has caught trying to sneak into his garden.

"It’s a gift from heaven and I am committed to protect the birds, not only for me, but for everyone in the village."

Born in neighbouring Giao Xuan Village, Hoe saved up the money he earned oyster farming to begin the ornamental garden.

Land policy

However, the 41-year-old farmer worries that the commune’s policy on land use will be detrimental to the birds.

Hoe said he needs a longer land use contract, from 20 to 50 years, which will give him enough time to make a bigger investment and protect the storks.

"I want a long-term contract rather than a contract renewed every five years, as the village administration requires. I’ve invested VND4 billion ($230,000) in the farm since 2004, but I do not dare to increase the figure because of the change in land policy," he said.

Vice chairman of Giao Ha Commune, Cao Xuan Truong, said the farm is the only site in the commune where the birds shelter.

He said the local administration will protect the birds, but they need support from the higher administration in terms of planning and funding.

The local administration planned a 42ha area on a 20 year lease to help boost the village population’s average income of VND7 milion (US$400) per capita per year.

"We want to help households in the village get a chance to enrich their life with farming, but we need a master plan from the district and province," Truong said.

He also said that the commune is requiring farmers to protect the birds by any means possible.

Over the past three years, the commune has been supported by an SIDA Environmental Fund project to enhance awareness about environmental protection.

In an effort to save the birds, Xuan Thuy National Park Director Nguyen Viet Cach contacted Birdlife, an international non-governmental organisation, and the Nam Dinh Provincial Department of Natural Resources and the Environment to solve the problem of Hoe’s garden.

"The garden is out of our range of control. The farm’s storks are not migratory waterfowls, but they have an ecological importance to the people," Cach said.

"We are in discussions with Birdlife to assist the commune and save the birds as soon as possible."

The director also suggested that the farm become an eco-tour site in order to protect the birds and give them a long-term home. — VNS

Rapid Ice Decline In Arctic

Ice Declining Faster Than Expected In Both Arctic And Antarctic Glaciers

ScienceDaily (Feb. 26, 2009) — Multidisciplinary research from the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 provides new evidence of the widespread effects of global warming in the polar regions. Snow and ice are declining in both polar regions, affecting human livelihoods as well as local plant and animal life in the Arctic, as well as global ocean and atmospheric circulation and sea level.

These are but a few findings reported in “State of Polar Research”, released February 25 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the International Council for Science (ICSU). In addition to lending insight into climate change, IPY has aided our understanding of pollutant transport, species’ evolution, and storm formation, among many other areas.

The wide-ranging IPY findings result from more than 160 endorsed science projects assembled from researchers in more than 60 countries. Launched in March 2007, the IPY covers a two-year period to March 2009 to allow for observations during the alternate seasons in both polar regions. A joint project of WMO and ICSU, IPY spearheaded efforts to better monitor and understand the Arctic and Antarctic regions, with international funding support of about US$ 1.2 billion over the two-year period.

IPY has provided a critical boost to polar research during a time in which the global environment is changing faster than ever in human history. It now appears clear that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass contributing to sea level rise. Warming in the Antarctic is much more widespread than it was thought prior to the IPY, and it now appears that the rate of ice loss from Greenland is increasing.

Researchers also found that in the Arctic, during the summers of 2007 and 2008, the minimum extent of year-round sea ice decreased to its lowest level since satellite records began 30 years ago. IPY expeditions recorded an unprecedented rate of sea-ice drift in the Arctic as well. Due to global warming, the types and extent of vegetation in the Arctic shifted, affecting grazing animals and hunting.

Other evidence for global warming comes from IPY research vessels that have confirmed above-global-average warming in the Southern Ocean. A freshening of the bottom water near Antarctica is consistent with increased ice melt from Antarctica and could affect ocean circulation. Global warming is thus affecting Antarctica in ways not previously identified.

IPY research has also identified large pools of carbon stored as methane in permafrost. Thawing permafrost threatens to destabilize the stored methane -a greenhouse gas- and send it into the atmosphere. Indeed, IPY researchers along the Siberian coast observed substantial emissions of methane from ocean sediments.

In the area of biodiversity, surveys of the Southern Ocean have uncovered a remarkably rich, colourful and complex range of life. Some species appear to be migrating poleward in response to global warming. Other IPY studies reveal interesting evolutionary trends such as many present-day deep-sea octopuses having originated from common ancestor species that still survive in the Southern Ocean.

IPY has also given atmospheric research new insight. Researchers have discovered that North Atlantic storms are major sources of heat and moisture for the polar regions. Understanding these mechanisms will improve forecasts of the path and intensity of storms. Studies of the ozone hole have benefited from IPY research as well, with new connections identified between the ozone concentrations above Antarctica and wind and storm conditions over the Southern Ocean. This information will improve predictions of climate and ozone depletion.

Many Arctic residents, including indigenous communities, participated in IPY’s projects. Over 30 of these projects addressed Arctic social and human science issues, including food security, pollution, and other health issues, and will bring new understanding to addressing these pressing challenges. “IPY has been the catalyst for the development and strengthening of community monitoring networks across the North” said David Carlson, Director of the IPY International Programme Office. “These networks stimulate the information flow among communities and back and forth from science to communities.”

The increased threats posed by climate change make polar research a special priority. The “State of Polar Research” document not only describes some of the striking discoveries during IPY, it also recommends priorities for future action to ensure that society is best informed about ongoing polar change and its likely future evolution and global impacts. A major IPY science conference will take place in Oslo in June 2010.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Film Review: Auf der Strecke [On the Line]

A Short Story in Film:
30 Minutes of a Gripping Tale

by Eric Green

Rolf is a Swiss born security guard in a German department story that become totally involved with Sarah the book seller at the store. The problem she doesn't know it. He just follows her on the security cameras.

He takes care of theft at the store with a gentler touch than his colleague and seems generally not very happy with his job. He is often distracted by Sarah and he actually becomes her stalker.

He sees "arranges" to see her, he knows when she leaves the store and makes sure that he gets on the same metro. He is hopeful on the next "rendezvous" on the after work Metro train, but she enters the train with another guy. What comes after that is a quick turn of events that have you glued to the screen?

Philippe Zweifel has done an excellent screenplay and Reto Caffi as his collaborator and also the film's director.

Roeland Wiesnekker plays Rolf. He has a familiar face, but looking at his many film credits, none appear to be films released in the U.S. And, Catherine Janke plays Sarah. She seems to be new actor. Both Wiesnekker and Janke do excellent jobs in portraying this unlikely couple.

The film is 30 minutes, which qualified it for a "Short Live Action Film" category at the Academy Awards. And, in fact it was nominated. While it didn't win, it probably joins all of the other short films in the unfortunate world of not being seeing in major distribution areas.

This prestigious Oscar nomination is the climax in the impressive life of the short film "Auf der Strecke". It has been honored with 50 awards, including the Swiss Film Prize 2008 (Quartz for Best Short Film), the Grand Prix 2008 at the International Short Film Festival in Clermont-Ferrand, the Lutin 2008 Best European Short Film [A French Award] and the Student Oscar (Honorary Foreign Film Student Award).

The 37 year-old director Reto Caffi is a graduate of the Academy of Media Arts, Cologne, Germany, [A university based academy] which produced the film with co-producers Blush Films [Zurich] and Swiss Television. This was Caffi's graduation film.

If your interested in viewing this film, you can go to the web site of the film and see portions of the film.

Stiglitz Targets New Int'l Architecture at Un University

Stiglitz Presents Case for Developing Countries in the Global Financial Nightmare

byMike Tolochko

Leave it to Joseph Stiglitz to get to the radical truth of the global financial crisis. This time he was the main speaker for the United Nations University "Thinking on Global Issues Lecture Series." The title of his talk was, "Explaining the Financial Crisis and What it means for the Future of Global Development."

Stiglitz is professor of economics at Columbia University an 2001 Nobel Laureate in Economics. He contributes to the work of the UNU World Institute for Development Economics Reseearch [UNU-WIDER] in the field of global development. He also chairs the Chair of the Commission of Experts of the President of United Nations General Assembly on the Reforms of the Internatioinal Monetary and Fianncial Systems, established in 2008. [See previous report on their meeting]

The UN University is a rather new innovation of the UN. It is based in Tokyo, Japan with satellites around the world.

For this talk, the UNU had to go beyond its normal presentation arena, which usually takes place at the 174 seat Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium. Conference Room 2 was used for the overflow. A total of over 1,000 registered for the lecture. It was the topic, but also, Stiglitz has the reputation of telling the truth about global economic issues, that brought everyone out.

2 Crises

Stiglitz developed the case for there being 2 crises. The first one being the Financial Crisis, which came from the US Bubble; the consumption boom; banks broken; and, it is still unraveling.

The second crisis is the crises for macroeconomics.

For the first crisis he said the obvious that many did very well. And, it is these same people who did very well who will resist any real regulation of the financial systems. "They don't want real reform." They say we should be careful "to not overreact." They call up the routine arguments of the danger to "innovation" with too much regulation.

But, the truth is that with their big profits, Stiglitz said, there was not much innovation.

"The Financial system is a means to an end; Not the ends itself." That was his reoccurring theme.

He said that there are deeper problems in the financial system. He said that all the incentives in the banking system were the wrong incentives. It lead to banks becoming too large to fail.

He said that the financial system will probably be corrected in the next few years, but the deep problems, which created the crisis, will remain.

Japan in 1997-98

He made several references to the economic crisis that took place in Japan in the 1990s, especially in 1997-98.

That crisis should have warned all of that all countries are integrated in the global economic system. And, that there are strong global imbalances in that integration.

Built Up Reserves

One thing that took place in the 1990s was a revolt against the International Monetary Fund, which Stiglitz was a main economist for a number of years. He said that with that crisis, many countries refused to go along with the IMF dictates. This was a good thing in one way. This led many countries to hold quite large reserves. While this was good for those countries, the system around them was built on a different premise.

This lead to an "Insufficient Aggregate Demand." [For more on this concept, go to Stiglitz's former speeches on the subject.]

Macro Economic Crisis

Stiglitz then talked about the second crisis, "The growing inequality all over the world." He referred back to the countries that balked at the IMF demand for deregulation and those kinds of reforms. But, some countries had to go in that direction. And, that has deepened the crisis.

He said that the new "Global Integrated Economy must get healthy for the U.S. economy to recover."

He targeted the IMF for still pursuing failed policies.

He said that many of the reforms being pursued will not help developing countries. He cited the new US Economic Package. He gave mild support to it, as something in the direction that needs to take place. But, he pointed out that the "Buy America" plan will honor the trade agreement in place, which means those with the EU countries; and, not the developing countries. This again discriminates against development countries.


Stiglitz gave the following random recommendation to the assembly "students:"

The old Market ideas of the past decades must not be used to go to the future;

There must be local reserve system reform;

A NEW CREDIT FACILITY is need. The IMF cannot do that job. It would take too long for it to reform itself to be of any use;

We need a new global architecture…A new Breton Woods. The past 60 years has shown that the ideology of the market place is too flawed to continue. The 1997-98 crisis should have warned us; now we must go a different way.

Note: In his speech, he didn't articulate what the new road should be. He said that he is working with [he is actually the leader] a UN group to formulate that new road. That is the President of General Assembly Commission on Experts. That should be ready soon.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Teachers Union Anti-War Resolution

Teachers Urged to Oppose Escalation in Afghanistan; Unemployment Insurance for Part-timers

by Mike Tolochko

The New York State United Teachers [NYSUT] is a labor organization of all the teachers and educational professional staffs in New York State. The group represents over 450,000 members. They come from every corner of the very diverse world of New York State. The very rural areas of Western and the northern tier of New York State. Plattsburgh, which is close to Montreal; Buffalo, which is close to Toronto; all the way down to New York City and Long Island. This year's meeting will be taking place in Buffalo, NY, April 2-3, 2009

This year the combined strength of the full organization is fighting against the cutbacks that are being proposed. NYSUT has held many demonstrations in Albany, NY to express their rage.

Here are a couple of resolutions that will be proposed.

Proposed Resolution #2 Oppose Escalation of the War in Afghanistan is being submitted by the Professional Staff Congress from the City University of New York. The resolution draws attention to previous passed resolutions:

"Whereas, NYSUT, at its 2008 Representative Assembly, and the AFT at its 2008 Convention, affirmed a resolution entitled, "Against the Current U.S. Policy of Permanent and Preemptive War," which stated that 'the war on error' is an ideological construct that observes the real reasons for the war-which include control over wealth and resources.'"

The resolution cites the importance of Afghanistan's oil and natural gas and the strategic location of these reserves. The resolution also cites the New Administration desire to increase the number of troops being sent. The resolution then says, "Resolved that NYSUT opposes escalation of the war in Afghanistan and communicate to the NY State congressional delegation its opposition to the proposed escalation of the war and to the opening of additional fronts of the way." And, then the PSC class for "NYSUT participate in revitalizing the anti-war movement."

Extend Unemployment Insurance Rights

This resolution [#31] focuses on the rights of part-time and contingent workers. CUNY has been hiring more and more part-time teachers, as has been the pattern across the countries in all colleges and universities. This resolution calls on NYSUT to push for unemployment insurance for part-time instructors.

DC Voting Rights

From the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights:

As early as Tuesday, February 24, senators could vote on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act (S.160).

Call your senators toll-free at 888-999-6775* between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET on Monday, February 23, and urge their support of the DC Voting Rights Act.

Our nation was founded on the belief that every American should have a voice in governing this country. However, for the nearly 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia, this is not a reality. Washington, D.C., residents pay federal income taxes and serve in the military, but do not have full-voting representation in the U.S. Congress. Passage of S.160 will remedy this injustice by providing Washington, D.C., residents with a full-voting member in the House of Representatives for the first time in our nation's history.

Call your senators today and tell them that voting representation is a fundamental civil right of all Americans - one that is long overdue for the District of Columbia.

2008 Oscars

Film Review: Oscars Big Winner is "Slumdog Millionaire"; With a Few Surprises

by Eric Green
"Slumdog Millionaire" was the big winner with 8 Oscars for this year's Academy Awards ceremonies. Danny Boyle took home the best Director for that film; and the film swept all the music awards for A.R. Rahman. Rahman is a legend in India for his film music creations.

As expected Kate Winslet won best actress for her stirring portrayal of Hanna Schmitt in the anti-fascist film, the "Reader." The film was based on a book by a German attorney/judge.

In a dead heat for fans of films, close friends, Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke, faced off for the best actor award. For Rourke this was the culmination of his return to film acting in, "The Wrestler." He won awards for best actor from the Indy Spirit Awards the pervious day; and, also the Golden Globes. [Darren Aronofsky's "the Wrestler" won the top film prize at the Indy Spirit Awards.] But, this evening, Penn won for his great portrayal of Harvey Milk.

In a little wrinkle, a former winner introduced each of the 4 leading actor awards. Penn was introduced by Robert DeNiro who paid tribute to Penn's acting skills and also his international activity for human rights and peace. DeNiro said that in this world you have to do both. Penn didn't disappoint in his acceptance speech. Starting off with sarcastic references to "Communists and Homos" and referring to the ugly anti-Gay demonstrators outside the Oscars, he called for the rights of gay ad lesbian people to enjoy all the rights of people in the U.S. He made special mention of Prop 8, recently passed that would ban gay marriage.

Heath Ledger's mother, father and sister accepted his award for Best Supporting Actor; and Penelope Cruz won Best Supporting Actress.

While there were Black actors, as former Oscar winners, only two Black actors were nominated for any of the top positions; and, none won. Villa Davis for "Doubt" and Taraji P. Henson for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

The loss by Rourke and Maria Tomei, for Best Supporting Actress, left, "The Wrestler" with no Oscars.

In a hotly contested Oscar race, "Slumdog Millionaire" cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, won the Oscar.

The biggest surprise of the evening was in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. Here, it was thought the French film; "In Class" would spar off against the Israeli Anti-war film, "Waltz with Bashir." But, neither won. A Japanese film, "Departures" won the award. This film is about a layed of violinist who goes to work at a mortuary. The film did not have nearly the film distribution of the other nominees. Very few people have even seen the film. In fact, commentators who reported these results of the Oscars had not seen the film. Let's hope the film gets a distribution so that it can be seen. As days past it will be interesting to see why the heavily favorite film, "Waltz With Bashir" did not win.

As expected, "Man on a Wire," won the top documentary film. "Smile Pinki" won the best documentary short. Let's hope this film gets some distribution so that we can see it.

And, for Original Screenplay, Dustin Lance Black got the Oscar for "Milk." In his acceptance speech he described his life as a son of Mormon religious people and his transformation.

"Wall-E" the very popular film, won the Best Animated feature film. Andrew Stanton is its producer.

Economics of the Industry

It is a shame that speakers, awardees and industry spokespeople did not call attention to the dire straights this field of the creative arts is about to enter. Someone could have slammed the right wing Republicans for targeting portions of the President's economic package that target the National Endowment of the Arts and the Humanities. Let's hope this gets corrected. I am sure with Sean Penn leading the way, it will.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes

by Barry Estabrook
From Gourmet Magazine

Driving from Naples, Florida, the nation’s second-wealthiest metropolitan area, to Immokalee takes less than an hour on a straight road. You pass houses that sell for an average of $1.4 million, shopping malls anchored by Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, manicured golf courses. Eventually, gated communities with names like Monaco Beach Club and Imperial Golf Estates give way to modest ranches, and the highway shrivels from six lanes to two. Through the scruffy palmettos, you glimpse flat, sandy tomato fields shimmering in the broiling sun. Rounding a long curve, you enter Immokalee. The heart of town is a nine-block grid of dusty, potholed streets lined by boarded-up bars and bodegas, peeling shacks, and sagging, mildew-streaked house trailers. Mongrel dogs snooze in the shade, scrawny chickens peck in yards. Just off the main drag, vultures squabble over roadkill. Immokalee’s population is 70 percent Latino. Per capita income is only $8,500 a year. One third of the families in this city of nearly 25,000 live below the poverty line. Over one third of the children drop out before graduating from high school.

Immokalee is the tomato capital of the United States. Between December and May, as much as 90 percent of the fresh domestic tomatoes we eat come from south Florida, and Immokalee is home to one of the area’s largest communities of farmworkers. According to Douglas Molloy, the chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers, Immokalee has another claim to fame: It is “ground zero for modern slavery."

Read the whole article here...

President Obama Moves Toward Progressive Taxation

by Norman Markowitz

Let me alert the readers of our blog to what may become a major breakthrough for the Obama administration as it struggles to overcome both the far-reaching economic crisis and the crippling effects of the long political march to the right over the last thirty years.

President Obama, in the name of containing deficits, has called for taxing investment income from the multi-trillion hedge funds and private equity partners at standard income tax rates (which he further proposes to raise to 39.6 percent for the highest incomes) as against the present "capital gains" rate of a maximum of 15 percent.

According to press reports, both Democratic party congressional leaders and of course the Republicans have opposed that, but it would be an enormous step forward if it or something like it could be adopted soon. It is something that the entire left, including those who have been "tailing" the right by criticizing the administration for this appointment or that failure to deliver on specific election promises in a moths (as if nothing seriously had changed in Washington except that there is a new President to negate) should get behind and get behind now.

President Obama is defining this policy in terms of necessary deficit reduction (a way to contain deficits that will inevitably mount in the next few years and hopefully, given overall economic growth connected to this major re-taxation of the wealthy and capital sharply reduce the annual deficit) This is very wise, given the present popular hostility to finance capital combined with the traditional fear of runaway deficits which the Republicans, who created the runaway deficits in the past, are now exploiting

It is a major step in reversing the Reagan and post Reagan detaxation policies which, along with a multiplying of pre Reagan military spending has given us both the mounting inequality(and stagnating real purchasing power) and more than ten fold increase in deficits over the last thirty years.

On this issue, President Obama at this point is well to the left of his party's congressional leadership, as the Roosevelt administration found itself often to the left of the Democratic party majority in Congress. These political leaders, even those considered progressives, are much more beholden to finance capital in a direct way (through those who fund their campaigns) then is the President, which was true in the New Deal era especially, but not so clearly in recent decades, when conservative Democratic Presidents, Carter and Clinton, found themselves in conflict from the right with their own congressional leadership .

President Obama will also discuss savings of 90 billion from the withdrawal from Iraq (although critics are already pointing rightly to have that will connect up with the expansion of involvement in Afghanistan).

While the administration is also advocating cuts that will be criticized, what the President is calling for in effect might be called "smart Keynesianism," as against the mishmash of military Keynesianism and Friedmanite monetary policy and virtual worship of anti-regulation policies that the Reagan and Bush administrations pursued. It is "smart Keynesianism "in that it stresses health care, education and energy, as the areas to protect and seeks to use progressive tax policies to produce the counter-cyclical effects that will reduce unemployment and thus reduce payments from unemployment insurance and other public assistance funds while at the same time raising significantly more revenue from capital to put back into the public sector, not vice versa, which was the policy that characterized the Reagan and Bush years and, in a less direct way, the Clinton years.

Along with the Rescue Plan, this call for a return smart and I would say sane policy on the taxation of finance capital may be the most important initiative that the Obama administration has made. It deserves our wholehearted support right now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

UN/ILO Meting on Day of Social Justice

Mary Robinson Challenges both the ILO and the UN on "World Day of Social Justice"

by Mike Tolochko

Mary Robinson the former President of Ireland, former High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations and many other major international positions challenged the International Labor Organization and the United Nations to live up to the highest level of workers, labor union and everyone's social justice on the first day of the implementation of the United Nations General Assembly declaration that February 20th of each year: "World Day of Social Justice."

This UN declaration took place in 2007 and it was followed in June 10, 2008 by the International Labor Organization's adopting of the "Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization." The ILO declaration was signed by governments, employers and workers organizations, which emphasized the ILO's Decent Work concept adopted in 1999.

H.E. Omurbek Babanov, Vice Prime Minister of Krygyzstan, opened the special UN session, Friday, February 20, recalling the importance of past UN actions such as implementation of the Millennium Development Goals especially in regard to the collapse of the world financial system. He called special attention to the crisis with the invasion and destruction of Gaza.

Thomas Pogge a professor of philosophy and international affairs at Yale and author of the book, "World Poverty and Human Rights" cited worldwide poverty and malnutrition. He cited World Bank figures that in 2005 there were 3.14 billion people living in poverty and malnutrition or 48% of the world population. The world economic crisis will radically increase those numbers. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon often talks about the Bottom Billion.

Radhika Balakrishnan professor of economics at Marymount Manhattan College next said, "The current global economic crisis is evidence that the neo-liberal economic policies that have been followed for almost three decades have not worked." She said the policies have made bad assumptions, "about the virtues of the marker." She continued, "neo-liberal fiscal and monetary policies favor those groups with unearned income from interest-bearing financial assets and neglect the fulfillment of the right to work for those whose only asset is their labor."

She later, during the discussion period said that a main problem for academics is that most, a large percent, economic teachers are not equipped to deal with an economy where their main ideology has failed.

H.E. Miguel D'Escoto, president of the General Assembly for the 63rd Session sent a message of support. He said, among other things, "These are trying times for the world, especially for the hundreds of millions of marginalized people who live in poverty and isolation. Last month we were witness to the violence against the most afflicted members of our world community, the Palestinian people in Gaza."

This special session took place in the Economic ad Social Council Chamber of the UN.

Mary Robinson's comment triggered a lot of discussion. She made it clear that the UN has a special responsibility with its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The celebration of that Declaration on its 60th Anniversary took place in Paris, 2008. Robinson especially pointed to Article 23 of the Declaration, which demands the Right to Work and to right to form Trade Unions. This she coupled with a minimum package of labor union rights. She was very well received by the few hundred of gathered NGOs and activists.

French Strikes; March 19th and in the Colonies

by Mike Tolochko

Mark it down: THURSDAY, 19 March 2009;
This is the date of the next National Strike in France.

At the same time and continuing for a least 4 weeks, French external colonies in the Caribbean of Martinique and Guadalupe, French Guiana on the South American continent, and Reunion [off the East Coast of Africa] have been in general strikes for higher wages; lower taxes on fuel and fruit. The trade unions and left movements are very strong in these places.

While not directly connected, both sets of struggles are fighting against the neo-liberal economic policies of Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

These struggles receive almost no coverage in international news media, especially the struggles on the islands.

Stay tuned

George Will's Habit of Invention


The blogger Digby popularized the use of the phrase "The Village" to describe Washington media elites. The mocking nickname was inspired by a 1998 Washington Post article by Sally Quinn about Washington's reaction to the Lewinsky scandal. Quinn quoted David Broder saying of Clinton's effect on Washington: "He came in here and he trashed the place ... and it's not his place." And: "The judgment is harsher in Washington. We don't like being lied to." Others -- journalists like David Gergen and Chris Matthews alongside politicians like Joe Lieberman -- echoed the sentiment that The Village just couldn't tolerate Clinton's lies.

It was all bunk, of course. The Village hated -- and, it must be noted, lied about -- the Clintons long before anyone, Bill Clinton included, had ever heard of Monica Lewinsky. And needless to say, other politicians have both had extramarital sex and told lies without drawing The Village's scorn.

So it's laugh-out-loud funny to suggest that Washington -- specifically, the newsrooms of Washington -- is filled with journalists of such reverence for the truth and honesty that they simply could not accept someone who told a lie. It certainly never manifested itself during the Bush administration -- Broder, for one, famously suggested that Clinton should have resigned because "he may well have lied" but repeatedly refused invitations to say the same about Bush.

But wouldn't it be nice if The Village really was as opposed to lying as Broder claimed? More specifically, if the media elite who serve as Village elders had the good sense to shun their colleagues who habitually misinform, that could go a long way toward reversing the decades-long erosion of public confidence in the news media.

Take, for example, George Will. Will recently used his syndicated Washington Post column to make several false claims about global warming -- something he has done frequently in the past. Will's column sparked widespread condemnation, but the Post refused to run a correction and insisted that it has a "multi-layer editing process and checks facts to the fullest extent possible."

Read the whole article here...

Friday, February 20, 2009


Thomas Riggins

This month we actually celebrate two famous birthdays that were on February 12-- the 200th of both Darwin and Lincoln-- and this year is the 150th of ORIGIN OF SPECIES.

The January/February issue of PHILOSOPHY NOW (issue 71) has an interesting article by Massimo Pigliucci (“The Evolution of Evolutionary Theory”) which points out that evolutionary theory itself has evolved-- it is now in the middle of its fourth stage, according to the author.

Briefly the stages are: 1. Pre-Darwin (from the ancient Greeks thru Lamarckism); 2. Darwin and the independent co-inventor- Alfred Russell Wallace based on “common descent and natural selection”; 3. ”The Modern Synthesis”-- Darwin didn’t know about genes, so he couldn’t really explain the mechanism by which natural selection took place: Mendel’s discovery of genetics was used to create the modern theory of Darwinian evolution---J.B.S. Haldane, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Julian Huxley, George Gaylord Simpson, Ernst Mayr, and others; 4. contemporary research is exploring new extensions of Darwinian thought in many directions but the Standard Synthesis is still the basic model.

Pigliucci thinks “Darwin’s chief contribution to humanity” is that he demolished any notion of intelligent design with respect to the origins of species-- natural selection is random in the sense that it is not planned.

Pigliucci denies that it is random, saying naturally selected traits “are in the direction of an improved ability of the organisms to function in their environment.” I’m not sure that “direction” is the right word to use. This is probably just a quibble over wording.

What is important is that Darwin allows us, "To abandon a supernaturalist view of life on earth in favor of explanations based on natural causes...” Evolution is as firmly fixed as the basis of scientific knowledge in the biological sciences as is mathematics in the physical sciences. Darwin ranks with Marx, Newton and Einstein ( as well as many others) who have shaped the modern scientific world outlook.

However, after reading about Darwin, it is is necessary to point out the following problem, at least for Americans. Checking the internet, I discovered that about 60% of Americans reject Darwinian evolution. That is an enormous number of scientifically illiterate and uneducated people to have in our population at this time of world crisis.

We will need scientific solutions to the economic and environmental problems facing us. In our society these will only be arrived at through democratic consent. With such a large number of clueless people voting we will have many elected officials at all levels who are, quite frankly, nincompoops. They will be used by antisocial and anti-working class forces to hinder needed reforms and changes.

Already we have seen these forces at work cutting funds for education from Obama's stimulus package, funding groups who deny global warming, and trying to tone down science teaching in the public schools.

Our society is in evolution right now, with the possibility of a qualitative progressive leap forward. We will have to keep vigilant and fight for every program that furthers human education and the study of science and fight against all those who, in the name or religion (or anything else such as "fiscal responsibility") try to hamper this goal.

Why Retirees Should Care About the Employee Free Choice Act

From the Alliance for Retired Americans:

As he hands the baton to Barbara Easterling, George Kourpias has a message for members regarding the Employee Free Choice Act. “There is no doubt in my mind that the fate of workers and retirees is undeniably linked. We cannot have a solid, stable retirement unless we have a solid, stable middle class,” said Mr. Kourpias. By standing together, union workers fought for and won better wages, health care and pensions, and safety and respect on the job. However, Mr. Kourpias is concerned that a great deal of what unions have achieved is crumbling in today’s troubled economy. According to the National Labor Relations Board, in 2007 nearly 30,000 workers faced illegal employer retaliation for trying to join a union – that is five times as many as in 1967. “Workers and retirees must fight together to pass the Employee Free Choice Act so we can finally crack down on companies that break the law and try to block a worker’s freedom to join a union,” Mr. Kourpias declared. He advises seniors to talk to their children and grandchildren; polls have shown that younger workers may not be as aware of the benefits of collective bargaining. Seniors are also urged to call their elected officials in Washington.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The New York Post and Racist Terror in Houston

by Norman Markowitz

Thanks to our blog, I just joined the protest against the New York Post's sociopathic cartoon connecting the recent tragedy of shot by the police after attacking its owner with cops riddling with bullets a chimp made to represent President Obama as they say,"They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus package."

Just good clean KKK, neo Nazi fun? In my response I said that I thought immediately of Julius Streicher, the "editor" of the Nazis anti-Semitic tabloid, Der Sturmer, which specialized in portraying Jews as both lecherous beasts and degraded, dehumanized creatures. Racist portrayals of African Americans as either comical or violent animals, who could be beaten and killed for the pleasure of superior whites was long a staple of newspaper and later animated cartoons in U.S. popular culture(see the late Marlon Riggs great documentary Ethnic Notions, to get a clearer and fuller understanding of this) The message, whether it was from Klansmen here or Nazis there or the "mainstream" publications which helped to legitimize their hatred was simple--Blacks, Jews, or you select a target, forfeit the right to be considered human if they don't keep their place, and we can turn on them, even a President of the United States, when he dares come forward with an economic rescue plan that New York Post owner Rupert Murdoch doesn't like, can be portrayed as chimp shot to pieces by cops, as a warning to any African-American, in this case even President Barack Obama, that he can be killed with impunity if he doesn't do what is expected of him by the likes of Rupert Murdoch.

I came across this atrocity in print after listening to an account of a related atrocity in real life that happened last New Years eve in , Bellaire an affluent suburb of Houston, Texas. I heard about the atrocity on New York Sports Radio while listening to sports analyst Mike Francesa, whose analysis of games, teams, and individuals respect. On New Years Eve, Robbie Tolan, the son of former National League baseball player Bobby Tolan, and his cousin were stopped by police as they drove into Bobby Tolan's home.

The police did not identify themselves and began to arrest the two, forcing them down. While Bobby Tolan and his wife, in pajamas, walked out and Bobby Tolan tried to tell the police officer that the two were his son and nephew and that the car was his, he was pushed against a door and his wife thrown against a garage door. When his son, lying on the ground, turned around and cursed the policeman for pushing his mother against the garage, the police officer shot him in the chest.

And the horror continued as Bobby Tolan, his wife, and his nephew were held in police cars. It seems that the police had run the license plate of the car incorrectly and concluded that it was a stolen car. But they did not follow even elemental police procedure. Although Tolan has
lived in the area and it is heavily patrolled by police, this didn't matter. Although Tolan could here on the police radio that the cops on the seen were being told that the car was not stolen, he was kept in the car as a cordon of police gathered around trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, he, his wife, and nephew were released and were able to get to the hospital to see his son, whose life was literally at stake. With the help of a supportive hospital staff, they kept the police away from his son, who survived but has a bullet in his liver. Tolan discussed all of this in an interview on Mike Francesa's radio program today. What he and his family has asked for is an apology from the local government and the police and so far they have received nothing, except statements of support from some officials for the policeman who shot his some and comments from the mayor that the incident is under investigation.

These two events are not really disconnected, since the values in the New York Post cartoon was in effect acted out by the police, if Tolan's account is accurate(and from what I can garner from press reports of the event, it is). If a president can be so portrayed, why not the son of a distinguished major league baseball player, himself a would-be major leaguer with no criminal record of any kind. Francesa asked Tolan if he thought it would have helped if he had told the police about his baseball background. Tolan said he wouldn't do that but in a community where African Americans constitute 1 percent of the population and (according to the program) 44 percent of police stops, the racial profiling that the local police are denying seems to be a way of life.

This is not just about one Rupert Murdoch tabloid that the hip of New York usually laugh at although for those like myself who are old enough to remember when the Post was New York's only consistent liberal-labor newspaper, there is always more sadness than laughter. This isn't just about one more rich white Southern suburb whose police look for Blacks the soldiers look for potential invaders across a militarized border. It is about the forces who were decisively defeated in the last election, those who sold racism along with other prejudices and sheer ignorance for so long and now become more rabid than ever before.

The petition I signed calls for an apology by the New York Post and the firing of the Editor who passed on the cartoon. Why not a boycott of local New York advertisers whose ads appear in the Post. After all, cartoons like that tell us that the Post's target market is made of KKK and neo Nazi types, who aren't known to have that much disposable income in New York City.

As for the atrocity in Texas, a federal investigation might be called for, since the Civil Rights laws were passed to stop among other things both citizens and police from engaging in acts like this and getting away with it through power structure cover ups.

Racism in all of its forms, ideological, institutional, is still on the playing field, feeding off inequality, offering scapegoats as a substitute for policies to face the present economic crisis. It must be literally knocked down with reasoned condemnation and firm action every time it raises its head.

Speak out against NY Post's racist cartoon

Yesterday, the day after President Obama signed his stimulus bill into law, the NY Post ran a cartoon depicting the bill's "author" as a dead monkey, covered in blood after being shot by police. You can see the image by clicking on the link below.

In the face of intense criticism, the Post's editor is standing by the cartoon, claiming that it's not about Obama, has no racial undertones, and that it was simply referencing a recent incident when police shot a pet chimpanzee. But it's impossible to believe that any newspaper editor could be ignorant enough to not understand how this cartoon evokes a history of racist symbolism, or how frightening this image feels at a time when death threats against President Obama have been on the rise.

Please join me and other members in demanding that the Post apologize publicly and fire the editor who allowed this cartoon to go to print:

The Post would have us believe that the cartoon is not about Obama. But on the page just before the cartoon appears, there's a big picture of Obama signing the stimulus bill. A reader paging through the Post would see Obama putting pen to paper, then turn the page to see this violent cartoon. The imagery is chilling.

There is a clear history in our country of racist symbolism that depicts Black people as apes or monkeys, and it came up multiple times during the presidential campaign.

We're also in a time of increased race-based violence. In the months following President Obama's election there has been a nationwide surge in hate crimes ranging from vandalism to assaults to arson on Black churches. There has been an unprecedented number of threats against President Obama since he was elected, with hate-based groups fantasizing about the killing of the president. Just a week ago, a man drove from Louisiana to the Capitol with a rifle, telling the police who stopped him that he had a "delivery" for the president.

There is no excuse for the Post to have allowed this cartoon to be printed, and even less for Editor Col Allan's outright dismissal of legitimate concerns.

But let's be clear who's behind the Post: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, the Post's owner, is the man behind FOX News Channel. FOX has continually attacked and denigrated Black people, politicians, institutions at every opportunity, and ColorOfChange has run several campaigns to make clear how FOX poisons public debate.

I don't expect much from Murdoch. However, with enough public pressure, we can set the stage for advertisers and subscribers to think long and hard before patronizing outlets like the Post that refuse to be held accountable.

You can help, by making clear that the Post's behavior is unacceptable, and by asking your friends and family to do the same.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Weather Makers (6)


Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Part 6

Lets look at just some of the problems we create by burning coal, according to the scientific evidence in Flannery's book.

There are wee bits of dust and particulate matter that drifts in the atmosphere. They are called aerosols. Coal burning plants in the U.S. now pump so many aerosols into the atmosphere that they kill about 60,000 people per year in this country alone (increased mortality thru lung diseases). Lung cancer rates are higher around areas with coal burning plants.

Aerosols also influence "global dimming." This is a phenomenon whereby less sunlight can reach the earth. Soot aerosols, along with jet trails, reflect sunlight back into space cooling the earth. But we are putting so much CO2 into the air that the heat being trapped is greater than the heat being reflected into space. Therefore the earth is warming up. The only thing that can prevent an ecological disaster is to start removing CO2 from the air (which we have not figured out how to do in any meaningful way).

If we stopped putting CO2 into the air today the CO2 already there will continue to heat the earth for decades. So, we are facing a big problem.

Here are some interesting statements from Flannery. It seems that if all new greenhouse gasses were immediately stopped from entering the air, the ones already in the air would continue to heat up the planet until 2050 or so. Then the atmosphere would stabilize at a new higher annual temperature. But we are no way near halting our polluting ways! In fact, we should note that "half the energy" we have burned since the beginning of the industrial revolution has been burned in just the last 20 years. So our polluting is becoming more intense.

Here is what we have to do to stabilize the climate around 2100-- we would need to reduce CO2 by 70% of the 1990 level by 2050. Then we would have CO2 at 450 parts per million. Flannery thinks it more realistic to aim at 550 parts per million with climate stabilization "centuries from now." The earth would end up around 5.4 degrees F [or 3 C] hotter by 2100 than it is now.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change says we must prevent "dangerous" climate change. So what constitutes dangerous climate change? It seems the consensus is about 2 degrees C-- anything over that may lead to disaster. So 2C is the most we can stand for, and if we get to work NOW we may still get 3C by 2100, the outlook is not so hot (no pun intended).

"Earth's average temperature," Flannery writes, "is around 59 degrees F, and whether we allow it to rise by a single degree or 5 degrees F will decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of species, and most probably billions of people."

Besides oceans, rain forests and coral reefs, the world's mountains are also experiencing rapid change. You can forget the snows of Kilimanjaro and the glaciers of New Guinea. The CO2 already in the atmosphere has doomed them and they will be gone in just a few decades.

As the earth warms the mountain habitat changes and animals who were lower down on the mountain move to the top while the topmost species go extinct. We are now in the process of losing mountain gorillas, panda bears and many plant species.

Flannery says some species benefit from global warming. The Anopheles mosquito is spreading and the malaria parasites it spreads will soon be infecting "tens of thousands of people without any resistance to the disease."

Obama's stimulus bill, whatever else it does, may be a boon for malaria parasites. It contains one billion dollars for the coal industry to help develop "clean coal" [there is no such animal] which fosters the illusion that we can survive without closing down the coal industry itself.

We can't save everything, but scientists think if we start taking strong action now we will ONLY lose one third of all existing species on earth. If we don't take action, then by 2100 we will have doomed 60% of existing species to extinction. Is burning coal and other fossil fuels really worth it?

Don't think calculations have not been made. Economists working for the UN in conjunction with the World Meteorological Association have done calculations that concluded it was too expensive to really halt climate change. The rich nations will be able to deal with it. The billions of poor in the Third World will be the ones to suffer but, the economists calculated that the life of a poor person was "worth only a fifteenth of that of a rich person." It is just not cost effective, according to them, to try and save the poor. At this point I wish Flannery would refer to Marxism, but alas he seems not to be a Marxist.

More grim news to come!

“Buy America” Discussion Guide

Listen to the following podcast (episode #93): Interview with Scott Marshall about the "buy America" clause in the economic stimulus: (press play on the mini-player and turn up your computer's volume)

If you do not see that, try copying and pasting the following url into your browser:

The “buy America” clause in the Obama stimulus package has been all over the news lately. Political Affairs has prepared a 15 minute audio with Scott Marshall, head of the CPUSA Labor Commission.

Discussion Questions:

1. How does the “buy America” clause in the stimulus package differ from the “buy America” concept promoted in the past?

2. How does the “buy America” clause in the stimulus package affect U. S. trade?

3. Is the ‘buy America” clause in the stimulus package anti proletarian internationalism?

Recommended Readings:

Think Tank report, trade and industrial policy, by CPUSA Labor Commission

Section 1. The Communist Manifesto

Springtime of Hope, by Sam Webb (especially sections on financialization and neoliberalism)

Buy America Provisions, by Alliance for American Manufacturing

To survive, Americans must assert themselves as economic patriots, by Leo Gerard, USW

Please share this discussion with your friends. We'd love to read all comments.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Texas Thieves Show that Sweeping New Regulation is Needed Now

by Norman Markowitz

The SEC, acting more quickly than one would imagine under the Bush administration, has accused the Stanford Financial Group of Houston, Texas of "a massive ongoing financial fraud"

The SEC instituted a raid on the group's Houston offices and found that 8 billion in uninsured CDs. allegedly in a bank in Antigua, couldn't be accounted for. It seems that the Group was running something like a Ponzi scheme on its CDs, which most people identify with insured bank deposits, paying high interest on them and misinforming buyers concerning where the CD money was going.

The Stanford Group is also charged with violating a New Deal piece of legislation, the Investment Company Act of 1940, in that it failed to register as an investment company. In an interesting and humorous sidelight, the press reported that the Stanford Group lost 400,000 to Bernie Madoff, the state of the art swindler whom the SEC let get away with much more than 8 billion, but that is little comfort to those who bought CD's that they thought were relatively safe from a company that used them to invest in real estate and other risky ventures. Just as one capitalist, to paraphrase Marx, swallows up many, one crooked capitalist can rob many other crooked capitalists along with millions of people looking for a safe place to put their money like CD's.

This is further evidence that the people need a new National Banking Act and a new Security and Exchange Commission Act, legislation that will both repeal completely the deregulation of the last thirty years and modernize and make much more comprehensive the regulation of finance capital at all levels. Stanford Group executives had to surrender their passports and it is at this point very likely that they will face criminal prosecution. Creating preventive regulation that will stop such con men before they start, or at least relegate them to activities like trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge to tourists, can be done and should be done.

Take Action: Demand a Vote for Hilda Solis Now

From Labor Up Front:

Confirm Hilda Solis Now!

Congresswoman Hilda Solis' confirmation to be our new Secretary of Labor is now scheduled for a "test" vote on Tuesday, February 24th, in the Senate. This means that she must get 60 votes to stop a filibuster before she can be confirmed.

The Republicans are fully mobilized by big business and the far right to try and prevent her confirmation. Her husband's taxes have nothing to do with it. They are determined to stop her nomination as a way of fighting against the Employee Free Choice Act. She, like President Obama, strongly supports the bill.

This is fully in keeping with the Republican's unsuccessful efforts to derail the economic stimulus package. In fact it is a continuation of the same Republican bankruptcy that pushes tax breaks for the rich and rejects public works and people helping spending. The ultra right in the Republican Party and big business fear Employee Free Choice because of the crucial role the legislation will play in economic recovery. It will mean they and the rich will have to settle for less to promote recovery. After all it was the profiteering of the Banks and big business that got us into this economic crisis.

Hilda Solis and passage of Employee Free Choice will spur economic recovery by raising wages and working conditions for millions of working families. This means good jobs/green jobs from the economic stimulus that get money circulating by creating demand for goods and services. The combination of a Secretary of Labor that actually represents the interests of labor and passage of Employee Free Choice are the best counterbalance to the greed and power of Wall Street and big business. They are our country's best bet for economic recovery.

Take action now

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Concessions to GM" are the Wrong Way to Go

by Norman Markowitz

The press is filled with stories that GM is pushing the UAW to make"givebacks" as part of its restructuring plan under the auto bailout. Its "plan has to be approved by the Treasury. Neither the UAW nor the Obama administration should stand with GM on this issue. If there are concessions, they should be to workers and the government that is"saving" GM and Chrysler from collapse.

A little history, both recent and not so recent, should put this in some perspective for both trade unionists and progressives in and out of the administration. First let's jump back to 1979, when the Carter administration bailed at Chrysler and used its influence to push the UAW to "give Chrysler" givebacks, in effect to workers pay for Chrysler's building of high profit gas guzzlers and profiteering from military related subsidies to run itself into the grand. Carter proceeded to lose the election to Reagan and the U.S. auto industry joined other large industries in busting unions and exporting capital with Reagan administration support. Michael Moore's Roger and Me, shows powerfully what GM did with its givebacks and to its workers in the Reagan era, turning Moore's hometown of Flint, GM's most important industrial center, into a city of evictions, poverty and crime.

If anyone in the Treasury Department has any serious "faith" in GM and Chrysler today showing any real sense of social responsibility, they are still thinking in terms of the trickle down theory that revived under Reagan and hopefully ended under Bush – namely, that in good times you give corporations a everything they want on the principle that they will trickle down some of their profits to workers and in bad times you act like a conservative banker, giving corporations the capital they need to survive as long as they "reduce" labor costs. They are also failing to understand that without the support of labor and low income Americans generally, the administration cannot accomplish its economic goals and defeat the inevitable rightwing Republican attempt at a backlash.

These approaches didn't work for Carter and will not work today. Another approach is for the administration to work with the UAW, to see it as an ally in this process and bring its representatives, its economists, forward to become active participants in process of regulating GM and Chrysler's "bailouts." If the Obama administration established a national single payer health care system for all citizens as a matter of right (the standard and the rule in the developed world) GM's attempt to reduce the costs of health benefits for union retirees would of course become moot, because it wouldn't have the responsibility of paying for those benefits.

If the present UAW leadership studied a little history (not the red-baiting kind or even the former social democratic kind that glorifies Walter Reuther and leaves out Wyndham Mortimer, Bob Travis, Henry Kraus, and other CPUSA activists who led and won the General Motors Strike at Flint in 1937 and made by far the most contribution to the rise of the union) it might realize that it won its greatest victories when its leadership had a "social unionist" outlook, that is, an approach that led them to see that everything that concerned their workers and workers as citizens was their business, that they wouldn't make deals over the heads of the workers or take the position that management could do what it wanted outside of narrow contract enforcement issues.

Nor is it simply a question of "regulation" vs. no regulation of the auto bailout and the larger bank bailout. The New Deal government, for example, established under the National Recovery Administration in 1933, comprehensive industrial codes of conduct to be administered industry by industry by code authorities. Planning prices, production, and guaranteeing workers rights to union unions were in the codes. Labor and consumer representatives were supposed to have seats on the code authorities. But they didn't on most of authorities. The codes were drawn up by government officials with connections to the industries and attorneys representing the industries. The trade union provisions were gotten around by forming company unions. Workers came to call the NRA "national runaround" before it was abolished in 1935 by a rightwing Supreme Court for reasons that had nothing to do with these left criticisms.

The Obama administration can learn from the mistakes of the early New Deal in this regard, Just as it can't get bipartisan support from Republicans with a real progressive program, it can't get auto company managers to do anything more than what they did with the Chrysler bailout if it doesn't establish new ground rules from the beginning.

First, "givebacks" from workers, including retirees, reduces their overall purchasing power and contributes to more layoffs through the economy and more decline. It isn't "countercyclical" in the sense of Keynesian economic theory in that it doesn't act against the downward thrust of the business cycle but accelerates it. Maintaining jobs and wages and restructuring social benefits like health care in the interests of the workers (establishing universal single payer health care) is countercyclical and essential in sustaining and expanding mass purchasing power in Keynesian theory.

While I am not at this moment ready to start throwing stones at Secretary Geithner as some on the left are, the "bailout" should be broadened beyond the Treasury Department to include, from the government side, the departments of labor and health and human services. Most of all, the UAW should play a direct role in the planning and administration of the funds. The Obama administration can and should innovate in administering both the auto bailout and the larger nearly $800 billion rescue plan.

These are questions that will determine both the livelihoods and the quality of life for workers, students homeowners, consumers in the immediate future. The federal agencies which deal with labor, education, environment, health and human services should be part of the planning and administrative processes that will decide how and for what these huge amounts of public money are used. Representatives of labor, environmentalists, students and public sector education, representatives homeowner representatives, should all be involved in both the planning and subsequent administration of these funds if the banks and the corporations are to both held accountable and held in check.

Who won the stimulus battle?

February 15, 2009
From the
They Sure Showed That Obama

AM I crazy, or wasn’t the Obama presidency pronounced dead just days ago? Obama had “all but lost control of the agenda in Washington,” declared Newsweek on Feb. 4 as it wondered whether he might even get a stimulus package through Congress. “Obama Losing Stimulus Message War” was the headline at Politico a day later. At the mostly liberal MSNBC, the morning host, Joe Scarborough, started preparing the final rites. Obama couldn’t possibly eke out a victory because the stimulus package was “a steaming pile of garbage.”

Less than a month into Obama’s term, we don’t (and can’t) know how he’ll fare as president. The compromised stimulus package, while hardly garbage, may well be inadequate. Timothy Geithner’s uninspiring and opaque stab at a bank rescue is at best a place holder and at worst a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the TARP-Titanic, where he served as Hank Paulson’s first mate.

But we do know this much. Just as in the presidential campaign, Obama has once again outwitted the punditocracy and the opposition. The same crowd that said he was a wimpy hope-monger who could never beat Hillary or get white votes was played for fools again.

Read more

Podcasts: "Buy America" and the economic stimulus package

Political Affairs #93 - "Buy America" and the economic stimulus package

On this episode we discuss the "buy America" provisions of the president's economic recovery package with Communist Party Labor commission chair Scott Marshall.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Film Review: The Class

by Eric Green

"In Class" Can be A Teaching Event for U.S. Schools

This French film, "The Class" has been nominated as one of the 5 best Foreign Films for 2009 by the Academy Awards Oscars. There is stiff competition at the Oscars for this category: "Waltz with Bashir," An Israeli anti-war film, and "Baader Minhof Complex" a German film.

This is not your regular predictable high school film. In this film where 15 year old high school students from many backgrounds are followed through one year of school. Its could have been called, "A Year in the Life."

Most of the students are from the area of Paris in which they were born. But, given the migration of peoples' these days, in this class you have students from China, the Caribbean, African—Mali and Morocco.

As the preliminary notices said and confirmed by the credits at the end most of the students played themselves; as well as the teachers.

The film involved filmgoers in the students interrelationships, but also, the relationships between the teachers, not their romantic drama as too many films do, but in their relationships to the students.

The method of deal with disciplining of students should be of interest to any students and administrators in the U.S.

This is the kind of film that could and should be used by teachers in the U.S. with their high school students. It shows that the problems of teenagers, high school student are truly universal. This is a real teaching and learning film.

The film is shot with three high definition video cameras, which brings you closer into the classroom.

Laurent Canet directed the film, which won the Palm d'Or at Cannes.

Francios Begaudeau played Francios the teacher and Franck Keita played Souleymane the student from Mali. These two and all the other students were incredibly realistic in their performances. This also goes for the teacher and administration of the school.

This film is a must.

Theatre Review: August: Osage County

by Eric Green

"Plains Thinking" by Steppenwolf

A perfect combination of probably the best "regional theatre" in the States, the Steppenwolf from Chicago, the writing of Tracy Letts [a member of Steppenwolf], and an outstanding cast directed by Anna D. Shapiro has brought August: Osage County to Broadway in NYC.

Steppenwolf is a great theatre company which specializes in Ensemble presentations; a theatre presentation that is truly satisfying.

Topping the cast as Violet Weston is Estelle Parsons as the matriarch of this improbably family. The term dysfunctional is probably well overused to describe a family that has many challenges to face on a normal day, but when some special happen, like a death in the family, the challenges become Herculean.

The stage set must be cited for comment since Parsons has to climb up and down two sets of stairs for much of the performance. And, the performance is a hefty 3 and one half hours. Ms. Parsons is 81 years old. Her physical prowess is only equaled by her acting strengths.

Another recognizable actor is John Cullum who plays, Beverly, Violet's literary husband. And, Elizabeth Ashley another familiar actor, plays the sister of Violet.

The play takes place outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, in Pauhuska, Oklahoma. As is made clear early on in the play, these are "Plains" people who think "Plains" way of thinking. They are no Midwesterners or borderstate people.

Well as you can imagine Letts rolls out a cast of 13 characters, all of who play major rolls in this engrossing play. The entire play takes place in an old, large country home. I say that because to produce a play of this size is very expensive, something that will be less possible in the near future. Bringing this play to Broadway took a major effort from producers and supports alike.

Letts and Shapiro together give the audience a performance of acting that is never slow, never tedious and never without another family wrinkle that is sure to get your interest.

The 3 and one-hour performance is difficult enough, but on Wednesday and Saturday add a matinee production. These are hard working actors.

Given the economic crisis, tickets for this play and similar plays are much more affordable. So, if you are in NYC or around NYC or are planning a trip to NYC, be sure to see this play. You will not be disappointed.


Thomas Riggins

based on THE WEEK 2-20-09

Geithner’s bank rescue went over like a lead balloon. It was short on specifics and long on generalities and had no new positions to offer. The Week quotes Chicago Investment manager Peter Cook who observed the government said it was “going to do something bold and new, and it [Geithner’s speech] was neither bold nor new.” The Wall Street Journal pointed out the new plan looked like an echo of what Bush and Paulson wanted to do-- buy the toxic assets of the banks.

Why not just nationalize the banks and admit that capitalism can no longer function, if it ever did, for the public good?

Governments around the world will be forced to take socialist measures to get out of this depression-- any other actions will just patch the system up until the next crash.

Robert Kuttner (USA TODAY) says the truth is “Several of America’s biggest banks are insolvent.” How much cash will it take to correct that-- can it be corrected short of nationalization? Geithner’s proposals will only keep them running along while their assets go down the rat hole of bad debts.

What Kuttner suggests, according to The Week is “that ‘It would be far cleaner and more efficient’ for the government to ‘take over the large banks, clean out their balance sheets,’ and then sell them back to the private sector.”

Sell them back? Didn’t the private sector cause this mess in the first place? The whole argument for capitalism is that it is more efficient and runs the economy better than state ownership and socialism can.

But we have never had socialism in an advanced first world industrial state so we don’t know what it can or cannot do. But we have had capitalism and it has produced this current mess-- and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

No, I don’t think we should sell the banks back to the same private sector which ruined them in the first place. If it takes the government to keep things going then the government should just keep them permanently.

The banks should be seen as public institutions run by the government to provide loans at reasonable rates and to help people, not as means to generate profits for a few capitalists at the expense of all the rest of us.

Geithner has too many ties to the old moribund Wall Street gangs, he should be replaced by someone who will boldly go where no capitalist has gone before.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Thomas Riggins

Two articles in SCIENCE DAILY online, five years apart, [“New Research Provides The First Solid Evidence That The Study of Music Promotes Intellectual Development” April 20, 2004 & “Adolescents Involved With Music Do Better In School” Feb. 11, 2009] should tell all people interested in the education of children what position to take when arguments are made to cut music programs in the school systems.

It is music and art that are often the first cut for budgetary reasons. The excuse is that they are not as fundamental as math and science. These articles show however that music at least is just as basic as it can be because without it many students will not reach their full intellectual potential and will thus do poorly in math, science, English, and other cognitive subjects.

The science is this. In the first study children who took keyboard lessons or singing lessons who were given IQ tests pre and post the lessons (just one year of lessons!) showed a jump in their IQ scores compared to children who did not get the lessons.

The second study showed that children taking music lessons and who were taken to concerts by their parents were positively effected in their reading and math scores. It also showed, and here is where school programs come in, that “socioeconomic status and ethnicity affect music participation.”

The study showed that “certain groups are disadvantaged in access to music education.” Young Hispanic and Black children are “less likely to take music lessons” than are Whites and Asians.” Family income is a factor.

Whites and Asians are more likely to get private music lessons than Hispanics and Blacks due to income disparity. What this means is that when a school distinct cuts its music program it is deliberately deciding to sacrifice the intellectual development of Black and Hispanic poor children and to make them less intellectually competitive with Whites and Asians. Music classes in schools are absolutely essential to bring about racial equally and to further democratic participation in our society.

Parents should be alert to the fact that any attempt to cut music education, or not to provide it in the first place, is a conscious racist attack on Black and Hispanic people not just a simple budget cut.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Notes on the stimulus bill

By Joel Wendland

The Republicans in Congress hated the economic recovery bill from the beginning. I think it reminded them too much of the past eight years and Bush's failure to handle economic matters in any intelligent way. It reminded them of how they toed Bush's economic line without deviation and voted for every single one of his budgets and his $3 trillion war in Iraq blindly. It reminded them of all the reasons they lost power.

This psychological turmoil combined with the humiliation of the loss in November prompted a bad decision-making process on how to handle the new political and economic reality in the country. When Obama and the Democrats introduced the stimulus package, top Republicans said to each other, let's fight the election battle all over again. Let's put our free-market fundamentalist, trickle-down ideology and policies that lost us the election out front – even with John McCain leading the way – and have it out all over again with Barack Obama.

So McCain led the way with an amendment to the stimulus bill that would have cut all the job-creating provisions in favor of hundreds of billions in new tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Needless to say, it flopped.

Other Republicans had other ideas. They have been a little trickier. They wanted to influence the outcome of the bill without having to actually vote for it.

Republican Sens. Tom Coburn, Chuck Grassley, Johnny Isakson, Mel Martinez, and David "DC madame client" Vitter added their own amendments or co-sponsored other amendments that were ultimately adopted to the bill and finally passed.

So much for the argument that the bill lacked bi-partisan input. Ironically, none of these Senators voted for final passage. Each one, instead, claimed the bill lacked bipartisan support and cost too much.

Funny claim, because two of those amendments offered by Republicans with bipartisan support added something like $100 plus billion to the final Senate version of the bill. One of those provisions actually would have provided $30 billion or so for a housing tax credit. They claimed it addressed the country's housing problems. In fact, the bill would have given a $15,000 tax credit to real estate speculators trying to take advantage of falling house prices by buying foreclosed homes on the cheap and flipping them for quick profits, and the government, under the Republican amendment would guarantee them a $15,000 profit for each house -- paid for by taxpayers.

That scheme wouldn't have fixed "the housing problem"; it would have exacerbated it. In fact it would have robbed taxpayers to pay off speculators.

But even with that Republican amendment, those Republicans who insisted it was meant to fix housing failed to vote for final passage of the bill.

(Note: the compromise package hammered out in conference Wednesday evening cut that $30 billion tax credit to $2 billion and reasonably limited it to first-time home buyers and imposed an income cap on who could claim the credit.)

Even more ironically, after the group of five Republicans named here (and probably more I have overlooked) added their amendments and raised the price tag of the total bill by more than 12 percent, most Republicans refused to vote for the bill.

Guess what their argument was. You got it. It cost too much and raised the deficit too much. This only shows a deficit in the Republican thought process. Their tax cut policy and war in Iraq added more than $5 trillion to the national debt after Bush inherited a surplus. Their tax policies delayed economic recovery after the 2001 recession for more than four years. Their economic policies and ideology of free-market fundamentalism handed the big banks the keys to the kingdom. They looked the other way as bankers robbed home buyers and made business decisions that caused the credit meltdown and the current economic collapse.

I don't envy Barack Obama the political and economic difficulties under which he leads this country. But the Republicans have proven, if nothing else, the bankruptcy of their ideas and the hypocrisy of their politics.


Thomas Riggins

Once again we have more books than reviewers. Anyone who would like to review one of the following books please contact me at Reviews should be 800-1000 words and be sent to me as an email attachment in RTF. If you have a book already that interests you and you would like to review it for us please contact me as well.



3. LEFTISM IN INDIA, 1917-1949, by Satyabrata Chowdhuri.



Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wall Street Wants "Socialism for the Rich" from the Obama administration

by Norman Markowitz

Yesterday the new Secretary of the Treasury presented an outline of the Economic Rescue Plan, and presented it in the general context of the Obama's administration's strong criticism of the banks and brokerage houses and their auxiliaries aka finance capital. And the stock market went down sharply. "Wall Street," "the Market," and other inanimate and metaphysical entities, were "disappointed" in the report, "upset" that it wasn't "specific enough," that it has not a "clear" plan.

What is going here? My educated Marxist speculation is that Wall Street wants what it has wanted in one form or another from the federal government through modern history, what one critic called during WWII "socialism for the rich," that is, benefits without responsibilities.

They got that in its fullest sense in the Reagan-Clinton-Bush era, when finance capital and capital generally got "deregulation" and an army of military and other subsidies along with guaranteed "bailouts" from federal agencies when their speculative baubles collapsed. When I outlined the concept of "Socialism for the Rich" in a class I was teaching during the Reagan era and asked students to try to define it in their own words, one student caught the principle brilliantly when she said " do everything for me. Don't do anything to me." That sums it up perfectly, then and now.

There are criticism's that can be made of the Treasury proposals. Although it is really a symbolic issue (albeit an important one) the cap on executive compensation for banks and other firms receiving rescue funds should be much stronger. While it is good that the Obama administration, raised the issue(for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt unsuccessfully proposed a $25,000 salary cap during WWII) the Treasury's retreat on here can be seen as a small setback. More importantly, the Treasury is not advocating the creation of government authorities to supervise finance capital's use of rescue plan money, hoping to use various incentive plans to prevent both capital hoarding and other misappropriations of funds.

But I doubt that those reasons are the causes of finance capital's criticism, reflected in the sell off yesterday by large institutional "investors" or multi-billion dollar funds, those who shape the daily prices of stock and the flow of capital. Nor do I believe that they want an item by item central plan over a definite period of time (something like a a state capitalist version of the old Soviet Five Year Plan, which would really make them accountable). What they want is what they had under Reagan and Bush co-existing with the fiction of regulation.

What upsets them I think is those parts of the Treasury's report that suggest that aid to student loans, cars loans, home loans, might be radically expanded from the 200 billion previously proposed. What finance capital wants is "caps" on spending that benefits workers and consumers, caps to "restrict deficits" while providing capital without strings to banks and other financial institutions. This would permit them to tighten the screws on workers and consumers and also profiteer with greater interest payments (ironically, one should remember those in the U.S. and internationally who are asking for "bailouts" that must increase deficits are largely those who collect the interest on the deficits).

The Obama administration is just beginning and it is beginning in very encouraging ways. But it will, as any Marxist would tell the President, have to develop dialectically through its conflicts and confrontations with the banks and corporations of the system that it is trying to save, just as the New Deal government had to move after its first two years to support far -reaching legislation (social security, unemployment insurance, the Wagner Act, the WPA, the National Youth Administration, minimum wages and the forty hour week) to advance the interests of the working people against the banks and the corporations. We should all remember that the capitalist class in the first years of the New Deal used the National Recovery Administration to set up company unions and price fix in their interests, and Agricultural Adjustment Administration subsidies both legally and illegally to drive tenants and croppers off the land,. T he leading sections of capital saw the new administration as a "temporary" expedient to deal with the depression, an expedient to be gotten rid of once the emergency rescue legislation for capital had stabilized the situation. I am sure that the leading sections of capital today see the Obama administration in a similar light.

Far more direct regulation of capital is in my opinion necessary. A better redistribution of public investment to aid working people is also in my opinion necessary. But my and any non ruling class individual's or group's opinions matter next to nothing without mass organization and consciousness around these issues. Through both its inevitable conflicts with finance capital and the growth of such organization and consciousness, the Obama administration should and hopefully will come to similar conclusions in the months ahead.