Monday, August 31, 2009

UN Annual Meeting; Pre Travels to Southern Mexico

by Mike Tolochko

International Capitalist Financial and Economic Crisis
Hits Mexico Hard

On the road to this year´s Annual Meeting of NGOs linked to the United Nations, a trip to Oaxaca, in southern Mexico made sense. How is southern Mexico doing in the capitalist economic crisis? The annual meeting was in Paris last year, commerating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60th anniversary. This year the theme is Disarmament and Arms Control and will take place: Sept 9 through 11, 2009 in Mexico City, Mexico.

Treveling South.

Oaxaca City, in the State of Oaxaca, has about 1 million residents. The State of Oaxaca is right next to the State of Chiapis. Oaxaca is 4 hours, by bus, south of Pueblo City in the State of Pueblo. Pueblo has about 4 million residents. This is by bus travel.

Pueblo is 2 hours south, by bus, of Mexico as its called in Mexico, not Mexico City. Mexico City has about 23 million residents.

Bus travel, unlike the USA, is very comfortable and inexpensive.

And, Mexico City is 2 hours south of the Dallas Fort Worth Airport in Texas.

The airfare from NYC to Mexico City is the same as the Airfare from Mexico City to Oaxaca. The air time of the former is about 5 hoursñ the latt is just 45 minutes.

I point this out since on commercial, for profit, airlines contols these routes. A monopoly and very high prices.

Mexican History

Ever since the 1700s and early 1800s the fate of those living south of the Rio Grande was tied to the territory of Texas that was in the US. This history of Mexico is a long one which everyone should become familiar with. The Spanish and French had that hands in long before the U.S. they all shared the desire to control and exploit the great natural resouces of the country.

When Texas separate from Mexico, north of the Rio Grande, around 1848, the fate of Mexico became dependent upon the whims of the powers of the U.S. government. The Mexican revolutions of the early 1900s and the wave of revolutionary movements in the 1920s didn´t change the relationship.

The revolutoinary movements in Mexico are heroic and live on today.


It was not until, however, with the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, that the economic, political and social cultural fate of Mexico suffered its greatest defeat at the hands of the U.S. government, i.e., imperialism in its rawest form. Democratic Party leader Bill Clinton defied many in his own party and the popular and labor movement in the U.S. by pushing through the law.

Since then all the predictions came true. The economy of Mexico became tied to the greed of the US capitalists, Wall Street. The exploitation of Mexicn farm labor continued. But, with NAFTA, whole Mexican industries were destroyed and tens of thousands of Mexican people were forced to migrate to where there were jobs. That meant the U.S. Mexican national industries that remained became subject to trade laws that only favored the USA.

The vile, anti immigrant rants of the ultra right and the compliance of too many liberals have kept this situation raw and unyielding.

New features like requiring visas to travel to the U.S. by Mexicans are hated in Mexico, especially since U.S. people are not required to have visas to visit Mexico.

The new administration is Washington promises changes. Remember the NAFTA discussion inthe US primaries?

Drugs and H1N1

Two recent develops increased the exploitation by the U.S. over Mexico.

The rampant drug trade where organized crime aided and abetted by too many banking and corporate interests in the U.S. is beng blamed on the Mexicans. The killings along the Mexican border are highlighted on U.S. Television regularly.

The pandemic of the H1N1 flu also known as the "Swine Flu" may have gotten its started at a U.S. multinational Pig Farm in Mexico, the Smithfield Industry. the sanitary conditions at the plant were extremely dangerous. It had been shut down and reopened many times. But, imperialism prevaled. the blame was placed on Mexico and not the U.S. corporation.

Continued Migration

The great need for jobs has not abetted. Poor and working class Mexicans being denied work in their own country, are seeking work where they can. This is part of the worldwide migration of workers to find work. U.S. right wing politicians and media ranters are attempting to take advantageof this.

This is expecially true given the crisis in the U.S. over jobs.

The growing size of these three cities andothers like Monterrey, are linked to the economic crisis and migration from rural to urban cities.


In Oaxaca, a town that has a university and medical school the crisis is gripping the population. Tourism is its many generating of money. Righjt now, the streets of bare of visitors from the U.S and Europe. It could be fear of the flu or drug trafficers, but the main reason is the capitalist crisis.

Oaxaca has not fully recovered by the violent actions by the Mexican state government of Oaxaca against striking teachers and angry workers and women against years of anti worker, anti people policies. these took place 3 to 4 years ago. Nothing is safer than the streets of Oaxaca, today.

Walking through the vendors and shops you see some very advanced things. For example, every street stall nd shop only uses circular, screw in lights that are environmental safe.

But the economic problems, stemming from the international capitalist financail and eocnomic crisis has his Oaxaca.

Street vendors who would make a few hundred pesos a day or more are now own making a few pesos, if anything.

State budgets in Mexico are being cut. That means that federal jobs will be cut.

The mining for precioius metals continues. Gold and silver mines are working hard. And, the bad working conditions are even worse today.

U.N. Session

The upcoming United Nations session taking place in Mexico City, September 9 11, 2009, will be addressing the great need for Disarmament and Arms Control, but, the underlying capitalist econonmic crisis will be on everyones mind.

Afterall historically, when an international financial and economic crisis hits, the theat of war increases dramatically.

Watch for reports as they happen.

Stay tuned.

Podcast #108 – The Art of Radical Painter Alice Neel

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Political Affairs Podcast #108 – The Art of Radical Painter Alice Neel

It's August 29, 2009. On this episode, we play a portion of our recent interview with historian Gerald Meyer about his recent article for the Columbia Journal of American Studies on radical painter Alice Neel. So stay with us.

Download the mp3 version of episode #108 here

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teddy Kennedy's Foregotten Accomplishment: Helping to Awaken World Opinion to the Nixon-Kissinger protected mass murder in East Pakistan

by Norman Markowitz

In the midst of all the tributes to Teddy Kennedy, which reflect conventional wisdoms concerning a conventional liberal Democratic party politician from a very powerful political family, one very unconventional and genuinely heroic act has been overlooked in the U.S.--Teddy Kennedy's rule in opposing the Pakistani army's invasion of East Pakistan and mass rape and murder of people in the region (people of Bengali ethno-cultural background who had long been treated as second class citizens by the central Pakistani government.)

The politics are very complicated and I will only mention them in the broadest outline. India was partitioned in the late 1940s into two states largely through the machinations of the retreating British imperialists and the Indian Moslem League, against the wishes of Gandhi, Nehru, and the main leaders of the independence movement. The partition for the most part made Muslim majority regions part of Pakistan and Hindu majority regions part of India, even though this meant that Muslim Pakistan was largely divided into two separate territories in the West and the East, with major ethnocultural differences and a thousand miles of Indian territory between the two regions--a completely unworkable situation which bred irredentist conflicts over the Northwest province of Kashmir, forced relocation of tens of millions of people between what had formerly been one India, and conflicts between different ethnocultural groups in West and East Pakistan separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory.

India became a leader of the non-aligned nations, developed friendly relations with the Soviet Union and pursued a peace oriented foreign policy and socialist oriented domestic policy under Congress Party led governments of Nehru and his successors, including his daughter, Indira Gandhi. Pakistan defining itself as a state for Indian Muslims became something like a Latin American junta state, with political parties and elections tolerated only as long as they did not threaten the reactionary landlord class and the political power structure for by and of the Muslim League. When elections seemed to threaten the existing order, generals stepped in and established a dictatorship over and over again.

The end of the 1960s, the most recent military dictator, General Yaya Khan, with advice and support from Henry Kissinger and the U.S. government, permitted elections to be held. The idea was to find a way to co-opt the Awami League, a rival to the Muslim League, which had large support in East Pakistan among its Bengali people. But the Awami League won an enormous victory in the elections in East Pakistan, creating a political crisis which lead General Yaya Khan to "cancel" the elections, arrest the leaders of the Awami League, and send the Pakistani army into East Pakistan to "put down" resistance, which meant widespread mass killing (Bangladeshi sources put the deaths at three million) which caught world attention, especially reports of the rape of hundreds of thousands of Bengali women by the Pakistani forces (many Bengali officers and soldiers of the Pakistani army, had rebelled against the terror and struggled to join the resistance.

From March of 1971 when the mass killing began to December when India intervened, the Nixon administration used its influence to block Indian military intervention in order to protect its Pakistani military ally (Pakistan had joined every cold war military pact that the U.S. set up in the region and its army and intelligence services were and are as connected to the U.S. military and intelligence services as they were previously to the British Empiore. Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister played the major role in winning support for Indian intervention through the world. Her greatest achievement, the signing of a 20 year friendship pact with the Soviet Union, more than anything else convinced Nixon and Kissinger to "let India intervene." Kissinger allegedly told the Indians very cynically that if the won quickly the U.S. would do nothing, but if the war dragged on it would have to "help" its "Pakistani ally." The Indian army intervened, was welcomed as liberators, crushed the now hated Pakistani army and forced it to surrender, and East Pakistan became the present state of Bangladesh.

But of all Americans, Teddy Kennedy played a very important and honorable role in these events. At a time when most Americans were understandably focused in the Vietnam War, Kennedy became the voice in the U.S. Congress denouncing the atrocities. More importantly he traveled to West Bengal (Indian Bengal) and other regions of India to observe the plight of and speak to refugees from the fighting. He returned to issue powerful report on what the Nixon administration had been seeking to hide, stating "nothing is more clear or more easily documented than the systematic campaign of terror and its genocidal consequences launched by the Pakistani army on March 25th [1971] ... Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and in some places painted with yellow patches marked 'H' [which was of course understood as a copying of the Yellow Star Nazis forced Jews to wear in occupied regions before the implementation of genocide.]

Kennedy concluded that "America's support of Islamabad [the central Pakistani government] is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy in East Bengal."

Rarely in the cold war era or any era had a major establishment politician issued such a critique of U.S. official policy. Here of course it was both completely justified and in context courageous. Since Nixon feared Teddy Kennedy most of all as a potential rival in 1972, it may have even contributed to the administration's retreat on the issue (although I believe the the international criticism and especially the Indian Soviet Friendship Treaty were more important). As I see it, this was Teddy Kennedy's greatest accomplishment on foreign policy questions and it is an accomplishment of which Americans should be proud, just as we all should be ashamed of the more than half century support of dictatorial and adventurist regimes in Pakistan, a nation that today is both a nuclear power and the center for many destructive regional conflicts, especially the war in Afghanistan

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review of Henny Mankell's Book Kennedy's Brain

Kennedy's Brain,
Henning Mankell
Vintage Crime

By Eric Green

"One of the greatest adventures and challenges of my life has been my work with Teatro Avenida. Working with people from different cultures make you realize that there are more things uniting us than separating us." Henning Mankell

Yes, the same great Swedish mystery writer, Henning Mankell, also directs the Teatro Avenida, a theatre company in Maputo, Mozambique. He is truly an amazing person.

Mankell's featured detective Kurt Wallander did not make this trip to Africa on current mystery ride. In fact, Mankell drifted more in the world of a novel while keeping a deep mystery going throughout the book.

In his Epilogue, Mankell said, "In conclusion, a novel can end on page 185 or page 326, but reality continues apace. What is written in this book is exclusively the result of my own choices and decisions, of course. Just as the anger is also mine, the anger that was my driving force."

Louse Canter, a very successful Swedish archeologist, is living her mid-'50s life a professional in her field would. She lives for her archeological digs, her son and the many friends and loves she gathers. Her father Artur, back in Sweden, is still a pillar in her life.

When her son Henrick is found dead, Louise's life goes into a wild free fall.

She becomes her own Kurt Wallander, seeking answers but only finding blind spots and bottomless pits. Only a person of Mankell's brilliance, living in Mozambique, could provide the factual backdrop to the unfolding steam of never ending new discoveries that await Louise as she tries to find out how her son died.

Mankell's anger: HIV/AIDs, greed and class warfare.

John Le Carre's, the Constant Gardner, published in 2001, described, brilliantly, the greed and ruthlessness of the pharmaceutical industry in Africa. Mankell drops the venue to one step below the drug cartels.

In this novel/mystery masterpiece we discover the world of those who ruthlessly try to develop drugs to stop the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Africa through use of humans as guinea pigs in experiments.

The two books make good book ends on the worldwide greed of the drug companies and their wanna bes.

The brilliance that both Le Carre and Mankell is their combining their writing skills and close attention to the facts and politics around the facts. That they both used their skills to expose the international pharmaceutical cartels and monopolies at the expense of patients and victims in desperate need for prescription drugs.

Henning Mankell's particular contribution through this book is that he actually lives in the very place that the crises are taking place.

Kennedy's Brain? What that Title?

You will have to read the book.

Health care, the passion of my life – Ted Kennedy

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Video: Alice Walker speaks about the Cuban Five

Michael Moore's new movie: Capitalism – a love story

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY’ - In Theaters October 2nd

“It’s a crime story. But it’s also a war story about class warfare. And a vampire movie, with the upper 1 percent feeding off the rest of us. And, of course, it’s also a love story. Only it’s about an abusive relationship.

“It’s not about an individual, like Roger Smith, or a corporation, or even an issue, like health care. This is the big enchilada. This is about the thing that dominates all our lives — the economy. I made this movie as if it was going to be the last movie I was allowed to make.

“It’s a comedy.” — Michael Moore

Check back for updates at

Monday, August 24, 2009

Podcast # 107: Labor Leads on Employee Free Choice, Health Reform and more

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Political Affairs Podcast #107 - Labor Leads on Employee Free Choice, Health Reform and more

On this episode, we talk with People's World labor editor, John Wojcik, about the coverage of labor and working class issues in that publication. When the corporate media is full of hype, you can get the facts at

Labor unions counter Republican lies about the British Health Service

Steelworkers and British Union Counter Lies About British Healthcare

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – The United Steelworkers and the British union UNITE have set up a website to counter the lies being spread about the healthcare system in the United Kingdom and the National Health Service (NHS) which provides it.

Rabid right wingers and Republican office holders continue to spread outright lies about British healthcare in an effort to influence the debate in the U.S. over healthcare reform.

Iowa Senator Charles Grassley has said that 77 year old Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy would not receive treatment for his brain cancer under the British system, and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint said the British NHS "does not allow" women under 25 to receive screening for cervical cancer.

These and other lies are directly answered on the website which also includes factual information about cradle to grave healthcare for all which is free.

The USW and UNITE officially merged over a year ago. The website can be seen at:

Home foreclosure may drive a "double dip"

What rebound? Foreclosures rise as jobs and income drop
By Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Delinquency and foreclosure rates for U.S. mortgages continued to rise in the second quarter, with loans to the most qualified borrowers going bust at an unnerving clip, especially in hard-hit states such as Florida and California.

The numbers reported Thursday by the Mortgage Bankers Association show clearly that rising job losses are worsening the nation's housing troubles and threaten the Obama administration's efforts to keep owners from losing their homes.

The quarterly National Delinquency Survey showed that almost one in 10 homeowners with a mortgage was at least one payment late, and thus delinquent, while another 4 percent had entered the foreclosure process on their loan.

Nowhere is there less sunshine in this picture than Florida. The survey found that from April to June, 12 percent of all Florida mortgages were in the foreclosure process and about 23 percent of all Florida mortgages_ almost one in four_ were late on payments or under threat of foreclosure.


Canada, recovery and jobs

Canada gets jobs with its economic recovery. No fair
by Barbara Kiviat

The Curious Capitalist

With the number of people going to collect unemployment checks on the rise—despite other good economic news—one starts to wonder, Could this be our third "jobless recovery" in a row?

Well, not in Canada. As this recent report (PDF) from CIBC World Markets points out, our northern neighbor isn't having nearly the unemployment issues that we are here in the States. At 8.6%, the unemployment rate is Canada higher than it's been in a decade, and not terribly below the U.S.'s 9.4%. But—in a big point of difference—people who lose their jobs in Canada are able to find new ones much more quickly.

Long-term unemployment has become a real problem in the U.S. The average unemployed person now spends 25 weeks out of work—a full seven weeks longer than before the recession started. In Canada, by contrast, the average length of unemployment is 15 weeks, just a smidgen above the pre-recession average of 14 weeks.

What gives? According to Benjamin Tal, a senior economist at CIBC, the discrepancy is a sign that Canada's recession overall has been less severe. Households took on less debt, corporations held on to more cash—Canadians are just kind of better than us (my words, not his).

Or maybe it's not that simple. Some provinces are seeing people stay unemployed longer. Ontario and Quebec are prime examples. Alberta and British Columbia, meanwhile, speak to the broader trend of getting back to work quickly.


Recovery, jobs and GDP

By Burton Frierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. economy is recovering more strongly than expected from its worst recession in decades, but next year will be lackluster and risks of a double-dip downturn remain, economists said in a Reuters poll.

After shrinking by 1.0 percent in the second quarter on an annualized basis, U.S. gross domestic product will grow 2.4 percent in the current quarter and 2.2 percent in the final three months of the year, according to a sample of around 70 economists.

This would make the recession that many say ended in the second quarter the longest since World War Two.

The recovery is now expected to be more robust than economists predicted last month, when they saw growth of 0.8 and 1.8 percent in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. The broad U.S. stock market is up 50 percent from March lows.

High unemployment, which the poll showed topping out at 10 percent, and a massive debt load on the shoulders of consumers will hamstring the economy after the initial rebound.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Remembering Hiroshima


Posted: 08.21.09

DANIA BEACH | On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, a U.S. Army Air Force B-29 dropped an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, Japan, killing 140,000 people. Three days later, another B-29 dropped another atomic bomb over Nagasaki, Japan, killing 80,000 people.

“Like all survivors close to the hypocenter, I heard nothing,” said Asher Soto, a young member of a south Florida Buddhist group, as she read the personal account of a Hiroshima survivor during a Hiroshima/Nagasaki observance, “Never Again!” The event took place at St. Maurice Parish on the 64th anniversary of the bombing.

“There was just the silent flash,” Soto read. “Lying in the rubble I couldn’t move and I knew I was faced with death. I heard my classmates asking for God in weak voices. My clothes were tattered and covered with blood. Even though it was morning, the sky was dark, as dark as twilight. I saw streams of human beings shuffling away from the center of the city. Parts of their bodies were missing and strips of flesh hung like ribbons from their bones. The strangest thing was the silence. People moved in slow motion, shuffling through the dust and smoke. I heard thousands of people breathing the words, ‘Water, give me water.’ Many simply dropped to the ground and died.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Video: AFL-CIO Sec.-Treas. Trumka "public option" is do or die

Ultra-right is afraid of communists

Surprised? Thought they had gone away? Check out this Republican Party-John Birch Society affiliated website:

Communists, socialists and Marxists are sick of what they claim are recent "unfair media attacks, stereotyping and vicious slander" against their ideologies and have launched an online protest petition to news media officers entitled, "Communists are people, too."

Read more, if you can stop rolling around on the floor LYAO...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

End the War in Afghanistan and Pakistan!

President Barack Obama was elected on a platform of CHANGE and with hopes for diplomacy, not war! As the war in Iraq winds down, more troops have been sent to Afghanistan. Some in the Pentagon are calling for more!

Now, 54% of the people believe the Afghanistan war is a mistake. The peace movement is challenged to organize the hope for CHANGE into a movement to end the war in Afghanistan as one of the big steps towards addressing the crisis in our communities.

Our best interests and the interests of the Afghanistan people lie in the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces. With every bomb dropped and every civilian and military death, we are no closer to helping the Afghan people and the
region to grapple with their problems. In fact, the U.S. presence is the biggest obstacle to doing so.

On October 7, the beginning of the 9th year of occupation and war in Afghanistan, we must mobilize nationwide a call for diplomacy, not war. Change ≠ War!

United For Peace and Justice is calling on the grassroots movements for peace and economic and social justice to gather in their cities and towns on October 7 for action, dialog, and reflection on the 8 years of death and dying in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan.

United For Peace and Justice is calling on its member groups across the country to initiate local actions or educational events in your community on October 7:

  • Teach-Ins on the costs, human and economic, of the occupation and war in Afghanistan and impact on the region.
  • Vigils, pickets and delegations to Congressional offices, as well as faxes, emails and calls.
  • Rallies, demonstrations, vigils and marches to bring the peace and justice message into the streets.
  • House parties to raise money for Afghanistan relief or other aid to the Afghan people.
  • Creative actions to highlight the devastating effects of the Drone air strikes.

In the month of October, many activities are being planned here and around the world. On October 5, a coalition led by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) will have a procession to the White House, deliver a petition and hold a non-violent direct action in Washington, DC. It is urgent that we also bring our message to Washington and we hope you will join this initiative.

The Iraq Moratorium has called for local actions on October 17 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War Moratorium. The Iraq Moratorium says, "Over 2 million people participated in thousands of communities [during the Vietnam War] and brought the anti-war movement into the political mainstream of American society. The lessons from that event in 1969 can help us strengthen the antiwar movement today."

Please call UFPJ at (212)868-5545 or email for more information.

Ten big reasons to speak up for health reform

From Famiiies USA:

1. A major expansion of Medicaid coverage—fully federally funded—for millions of low-income working families who currently fall through the cracks

2. A regulated marketplace that clamps down on insurance company abuses so people can
no longer be denied coverage

3. Requirements that insurance companies spend more of the premium dollars they collect
on patient care

4. Sliding-scale subsidies so middle-class, working families can afford the coverage they need to keep their families healthy

5. A strong public plan option that will provide choice, stability, and an honest yardstick to keep costs down

6. Limits on out-of-pocket spending, giving Americans real health security and peace of mind

7. Much-needed relief for small businesses so they can afford to offer coverage to their employees

8. Improvements to Medicare that will help seniors and people with disabilities afford their drugs and their cost-sharing

9. Better access to coverage for uninsured children so they can get the care they need

10. Long overdue steps to modernize the system, improve the quality of care provided, and curb unnecessary spending so our American health care system delivers the best possible care

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet. Review.

Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant, by Daniel Tammet. Free Press.

Review contributed by L

Imagine getting a glimpse inside the mind of someone living with autism. Tammet takes us into his world in this beautiful and fascinating memoir (for lack of a better descriptor) written in his mid-twenties. Tammet's world is one of numbers, counting, language, and other fascinations. It is also a sometimes very lonely place. Finding love changed that.

We meet Tammet as a child, swaddled in the love of his parents, follow him as the family grows (and grows), through the school system (no special ed for this child), and into young adulthood. Tammet takes the reader along as he finds love and launches his career.

As a child (and well into adolescence), when something catches Tammet's attention, it seems that everything else ceases to exist. Tammet tells a story of seeing a lady bug on a bush when he is walking home from the bus. He became so engrossed that he finally just sat himself down on the sidewalk to watch her; people walked around him. Eventually he put out his finger for her to climb onto, then ran home to begin his lady bug collection, a collection later tossed by a teacher who asked him to bring it to class, but then feared the hundreds of bugs would escape into the classroom. Even so, this was not as bad as the chestnut collection that grew so large his parents feared it would come through the floor of his second-story bedroom. There is also the description of precisely the way in which brushing his teeth was physically painful, something he could not explain to his parents (who thought brushing a good idea), and how he dealt with this and figured out a way to brush his teeth that he can tolerate. Tammet's ability to find pleasure in numbers and also use them to calm himself when he is stressed is palpable; not everyone appreciates the beauty of numbers and math in general and fewer still ever see them as Tammet does.

Tammet's family (of eleven!) is featured prominently in this book. In fact, the book is partly a testament to the devotion of his parents, even though they really didn't understand his ailment, and the value of having siblings who understood enough that things at home could "work." It is also, I think unintentionally, a testament to a social service system (UK) that made it possible for this family to survive, even thrive, with nine children--at one point, five children under the age of four--two of them with autism and,  and a father who suffered a series of mental breakdowns.

Naturally there are weaknesses, or perhaps places lacking clarity. Tammet's move from being mostly unable to communicate effectively verbally, having no grasp of emotions, not getting things such as why it isn't cool to just touch people when you want, and the like to signing up to be an international volunteer is one such gap. Yes, he is a savant and has some truly incredible abilities, especially in math and languages. Still, this leap is fairly astounding. His success in Iceland--professional and social--is hard to fathom. The language ability is also hard to understand, in some ways. Yes, languages involve lots of words, something he would be good at, and rules for use, again, something that fits with the math ability. But the ability to truly understand shared meaning, this I would like to see discussed. Similarly, when he finds love, as a reader you are delighted for him. Still, how was that really possible? How much emotion does he really feel? How does the autism impinge on the relationship, beyond the practical things such as his inability to drive and his occasional outbursts when he is overwhelmed? I suppose what we are missing are: (1) some sorting out of where Tammet falls on the autism spectrum, how extraordinary he is beyond the 1 in 100 "prodigious savants", more of a qualitative brushstroke of this autism spectrum to which he refers quite often; and (2) a much better view of how Tammet is seen by others, both his intimate circle and strangers. For this latter to be missing in a book written by someone with autism is, I suppose, inevitable.

Despite these mild frustrations, it is clear that Tammet is an amazing young man. He has written a book that is mature and sensitive way beyond his years. He has also given readers the tremendous gift of a view into his life and mind.

An earlier version of this review was posted to GoodReads.

Taxing the rich can pay for everything

In this post at Working-class Perspectives, the blog of of the Center for Working-class Studies at Youngstown state Universtiy, author Jack Metzgar demonstrates how taxing the rich can pay for everything.

Taxing Only the Rich CAN Pay for Everything

It’s time for everybody who wants to say anything about “Obamacare” and taxes to tell the rest of us their income class. I live in one of the 13.5 million households with a six-figure income between $100,000 and $200,000. I could afford to give back the annual $2,500 tax cut George Bush gave me in 2001 and 2003, but our current president has pledged that he won’t allow my taxes to increase by a single dime.

I thought this was foolish and unfair when candidate Obama promised it, but now I understand why he put himself in this trick box. My income class serves as a sort of buffer zone to protect the working class from being attacked with taxes on their health insurance and soda pop. The only way to ever have a discussion about what to do about our rapidly growing income inequality is to leave us, the vast majority of middle-class professionals, harmless.

Read the whole post here...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Must hear: People's World: Working-class Publication

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Political Affairs Podcast #106 - People's World: Working-class Publication

On this episode, we play our recent interview with Teresa Albano, editor of the Peoples World, Albano discussed the PW's editorial philosophy, it's role in reporting on labor and democratic struggles, and some of the big changes it is undergoing this fall.

Weekly Standard afraid of the Communist Party

From The Weakly Standard. Oh so amusing:

Although Lyndon LaRouche Democrats are standing up for the proletariat and opposing Obamacare because they want a single-payer system, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto notes that the CPUSA is enthusiastically supporting Obamacare:, a Web site of the conservative Media Research Center, notes that CNN, NBC and MSNBC have all shown "a poster of President Obama--on whose face a Hitler mustache has been Photo Shopped--bearing the caption ‘I've Changed.' " to illustrate the supposed extremism of ObamaCare critics:
But there's a problem with this media narrative.
For written at the poster's bottom is the web address "," the political action committee website for Communist and perpetual Presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
We're not sure that describing LaRouche as a "communist" is fair to communists; our sense is that his ideology is eclectically extreme and nutty, drawing elements from left, right and directions we haven't heard of.
On the other hand, if it's fair to tar normal citizens for taking the same position on ObamaCare as LaRouche, it's equally fair for us to link to this statement from the Communist Party USA backing ObamaCare:
Within our country, the Obamajority is needed to take to the streets in support of health care with a public option paid for by reversing the obscene tax giveaways to the super rich during the Bush years. If health care reform fails, it will be a giant step backwards for the Obama administration and for working people, the labor movement, African American, Latino, Asian-Pacific Island communities, women and youth on every issue including the economy, peace and democracy. . . .
This fight for health care is a fight for the ability to win on every other issue starting with Employee Free Choice and all the way to state budget priorities. It is a fight for unity against the ultra-right. What happens at the grassroots will in large part decide what happens in Congress. Now is the time for the Obamajority to act.
We don't know if it's original to the commies, but we do find that "Obamajority" an amusing coinage.
And before left-wing bloggers start shrieking about red-baiting, just remember: Obama and Hillary got there first.

I find the last line most amusing. Red-baiting is ok because Pres. Obama and Sec. Clinton did it too (supposedly). Logical projection: Health reform is right because Obama and Hillary said so too.

Millionaires' "grassroots" activism

Apparently, in the health care fight, millionaires have learned to become community organizers. check out this piece from McClatchy Newspapers:

Who's behind the attacks on a health care overhaul?
By Margaret Talev | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Much of the money and strategy behind the so-called grassroots groups organizing opposition to the Democrats' health care plans comes from conservative political consultants, professional organizers and millionaires, some of whom hold financial stakes in the outcome.

If President Barack Obama and Congress extend health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for it, and limit insurers' discretion on who they cover and what they charge, that could pinch these opponents.

Most of them say they oppose big government in principle. Despite Obama's assurances to the contrary, many of them insist that the Democrats' legislation is but the first step toward creation of a single-payer system, where the federal government hires the doctors, approves treatments, sets the rules and imperils profit.

These opposition groups appear to have spent at least $10 million so far on ads attacking the Democrats' plans. Still, supporters of a health care overhaul have outspent opponents by more than 2-to-1 so far, according to Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks ad spending. Supporters include drug makers angling for their own protections, unions, the American Medical Association and AARP, the seniors' lobby. Supporters announced this week that they intend to spend $150 million promoting an overhaul.


President Obama hammers misinformation and insurance companies

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
Saturday, August 15th, 2009

This week, I’ve been traveling across our country to discuss health insurance reform and to hear directly from folks like you – your questions, your concerns, and your stories.

Now, I know there’s been a lot of attention paid to some of the town hall meetings that are going on around the country, especially those where tempers have flared. You know how TV loves a ruckus.

But what you haven’t seen – because it’s not as exciting – are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country where Americans are airing their hopes and concerns about this very important issue.

I’ve been holding some of my own, and the stories I’ve heard have really underscored why I believe so strongly that health insurance reform is a challenge we can't ignore.

They’re stories like Lori Hitchcock’s, who I met in New Hampshire this week. Lori’s got a pre-existing condition, so no insurance company will cover her. She’s self-employed, and in this economy, she can’t find a job that offers health care, so she’s been uninsured for two years.

Or they’re stories like Katie Gibson’s, who I met in Montana. When Katie tried to change insurance companies, she was sure to list her pre-existing conditions on the application and even called her new company to confirm she’d be covered. Two months later, she was dropped – after she’d already gone off her other insurance.

These are the stories that aren’t being told – stories of a health care system that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. And that’s why we’re going to pass health insurance reform that finally holds the insurance companies accountable.

But now’s the hard part. Because the history is clear – every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests with a stake in the status quo use their influence and political allies to scare and mislead the American people.

As an example, let’s look at one of the scarier-sounding and more ridiculous rumors out there – that so-called "death panels" would decide whether senior citizens get to live or die. That rumor began with the distortion of one idea in a Congressional bill that would allow Medicare to cover voluntary visits with your doctor to discuss your end-of-life care – if and only if you decide to have those visits. It had nothing to do with putting government in control of your decisions; in fact, it would give you all the information you need – if you want it – to put you in control of your decisions. When a conservative Republican Senator who has long-fought for even more far-reaching proposals found out how folks were twisting the idea, he called their misrepresentation, and I quote, "nuts."

So when folks with a stake in the status quo keep inventing these boogeymen in an effort to scare people, it’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising. We’ve seen it before. When President Roosevelt was working to create Social Security, opponents warned it would open the door to "federal snooping" and force Americans to wear dog tags. When President Kennedy and President Johnson were working to create Medicare, opponents warned of "socialized medicine." Sound familiar? Not only were those fears never realized, but more importantly, those programs have saved the lives of tens of millions of seniors, the disabled, and the disadvantaged.

Those who would stand in the way of reform will say almost anything to scare you about the cost of action. But they won’t say much about the cost of inaction. If you’re worried about rationed care, higher costs, denied coverage, or bureaucrats getting between you and your doctor, then you should know that’s what’s happening right now. In the past three years, over 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies due to a preexisting condition, or saw their coverage denied or dropped just when they got sick and needed it most. Americans whose jobs and health care are secure today just don’t know if they’ll be next to join the 14,000 who lose their health insurance every single day. And if we don’t act, average family premiums will keep rising to more than $22,000 within a decade.

On the other hand, here’s what reform will mean for you.

First, no matter what you’ve heard, if you like your doctor or health care plan, you can keep it. If you don’t have insurance, you’ll finally be able to afford insurance. And everyone will have the security and stability that’s missing today.

Insurance companies will be prohibited from denying you coverage because of your medical history, dropping your coverage if you get sick, or watering down your coverage when it counts – because there’s no point in having health insurance if it’s not there when you need it.

Insurance companies will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or lifetime, and we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses – because no one in America should go broke just because they get sick.

Finally, we’ll require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies – because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be saving lives and dollars by catching diseases like breast cancer and prostate cancer on the front end.

That’s what reform means. For all the chatter and the noise out there, what every American needs to know is this: If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need. And we will deliver this in a fiscally responsible way.

I know there’s plenty of real concern and skepticism out there. I know that in a time of economic upheaval, the idea of change can be unsettling, and I know that there are folks who believe that government should have no role at all in solving our problems. These are legitimate differences worthy of the real discussion that America deserves – one where we lower our voices, listen to one another, and talk about differences that really exist. Because while there may be disagreements over how to go about it, there is widespread agreement on the urgent need to reform a broken system and finally hold insurance companies accountable.

Nearly fifty years ago, in the midst of the noisy early battles to create what would become Medicare, President Kennedy said, "I refuse to see us live on the accomplishments of another generation. I refuse to see this country, and all of us, shrink from these struggles which are our responsibility in our time." Now it falls to us to meet the challenges of our time. And if we can come together, and listen to one another; I believe, as I always have, that we will rise to this moment, we will build something better for our children, and we will secure America’s future in this new century.

Bertrand Russell on Bolshevism (7)

Thomas Riggins

Part Two of Bertrand Russell's "The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism" comprises seven chapters under the heading 'Bolshevik Theory. Briefly the main points of each chapter:

2. 'Deciding Forces in Politics'

Having discussed his objections to Historical Materialism, as he understood it, Russell now tells us just what really drives politics (and presumedly history as well). "These four passions," he says, "-- acquisitiveness, vanity, rivalry, and love of power-- are, after the basic instincts, the prime movers of almost all that happens in politics." But this formulation has no explanatory power. What led to the Peloponnesian War? The basic instincts and the four passions. How do you explain W.W.I ? Ditto. How do you explain the US war in Iraq? Ditto., etc., etc.

The problem with Marxism, according to Russell, is that it explains every thing based on just one of the passions-- i.e., acquisitiveness. Marxism will not succeed as a social system because the other passions are also at work and will sometimes trump the desire of acquisitiveness. "The desire for some form of superiority is common to almost all energetic men. No social system which attempts to thwart it can be stable, since THE LAZY MAJORITY will never be a match for THE ENERGETIC MINORITY." Here, by the way, is the sentiment at the basis of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. She could have dedicated ATLAS SHRUGGED to Russell.

Russell, at this time, seems unaware of the fact that throughout history every building from the Pyramids to St. Paul's', every palace and mansion and house that the energetic minority cavort about was built by the lazy majority, as was all the food produced. The energetic majority may travel in first class coaches but the railroads across Europe and Siberia, and North American were laid rail by rail by the lazy majority. Aristotle at least knew it was the work of his slaves that allowed him the time to practice philosophy.

Be this as it may, it does not seem, from the perspective of ninety years on, that Russell's "deciding forces in politics" adds much, if anything, to the understanding of the motive forces in history and politics. It is also definitely not the case that Marxism bases its philosophy of history on the basic instincts plus the "passion" of acquisitiveness.

3. 'Bolshevik Criticism of Democracy'

This is actually misstated as the Bolsheviks were not critical of democracy per se but of bourgeois democracy. They saw parliamentary democracy in the West as just another form of class domination by the bourgeoisie over the working people. They were especially contemptuous of its introduction into Russia under the Tzar and by Kerensky after the February Revolution. They favored a democratic system run by workers and peasants, especially with workers in the leading positions ( the famous soviets first introduced in 1905) and even referred to their government as the the DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP of the workers and peasants. 'Democratic" because it represented the interests of the majority of the people and a "dictatorship" because it denied political rights to the old exploiting classes. This is, by the way, an example of the dialectical principle of the unification and identity opposites.

Russell's objection to the Bolshevik criticism of parliamentary democracy is that there is no guarantee that communists, once in power, will not also abuse their authority and create just as oppressive a government as the capitalists-- i.e., that the communists will become a new ruling class or strata over the working people. Russell, in fact thinks this will happen. This view is similar, in some respects, to the views that Trotsky will put forth after 1928 and seems to ultimately have come to pass under Yeltsin and Gorbachev. The Soviet working class was ultimately sold out by the CPSU leadership and subjected to the restitution of capitalist modes of exploitation. This is not, however, a government just as oppressive as capitalism-- it is capitalism.

Russell says the Bolsheviks want to use a militant minority to overthrow capitalist governments in other countries and thus come to power. His idea here is that the Russian model of coming to power is the ONLY method the Bolsheviks have up their sleeves. This idea of a minority seizing power is actually known as "Blanquism" as has never been advocated by orthodox Marxists. The Bolshevik tactics were developed in Russia under conditions of illegality, despotism, and an absolute lack of democratic rights or values. The German Social Democratic Party and other Marxist parties in democratic conditions of legality never blindly imitated or followed the so called "Russian model."

In practice communist parties, except for some aberrations in the early years of the Third International, developed their programs talking into consideration not only the international conditions but also the specific political realities and conditions of their own countries. These are basic fundaments of Marxist theory. It is true they have been sometimes violated in the past, but never with successful results.

Russell gives two reasons why (minority) revolutions should not be attempted in democratic countries, neither of which make much sense to a Marxist. The first is that there are other minorities besides the class conscious workers-- such as teetotalers-- and they could adopt what Russell thinks are Bolshevik tactics "and be just as likely to succeed." Russell doesn't seem to be aware that Marxists are talking about CLASS STRUGGLE and that the theory of revolution is based on the idea that the working class is the KEY class in modern society and the only class capable of challenging the bourgeoisie for political power. The teetotalers of the world just don't have the heft to pull off a revolution.

The other reason Russell gives is that minority violence lets loose "THE WILD BEAST" in humans which civilization tries to control. But any violence does that, minority or majority, which is, by the way, why ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE should be avoided as far as possible. In any case Marxists think that violence is intiated by the ruling class against the working class and that Marxists resort to violence in self defense (at least this is the theory).

Coming up-- Russell on 'Revolution and Dictatorship'.

Click here for part one of this series
Click here for part two of this series
Click here for part three of this series
Click here for part four of this series
Click here for part five of this series
Click here for part six of this series

Friday, August 14, 2009

Part one of an ongoing discussion of "Multitude" by Hardt and Negri

by Joel Wendland

You ask, "Joel, why discuss a five-year old book by two authors (referring to Hardt and Negri, authors of Empire) whom a lot of people on the left have dismissed as out of touch?"

Time and real life test theory. And Hardt and Negri wrote Multitude in 2004 as a defense their book Empire and as a sequel both to explain why the Bush administration's policies – foreign and domestic – hadn't disproved their basic argument that imperialism, as defined primarily by an international competition among powerful nation states – Europe and the US – had been replaced by an all-encompassing system of "empire" unconfined by the boundaries of a single nation.

But Multitude also sought to define the kind of global political resistance by people (redefined in M as differentiated social subjects) to this all-embracing imperial (not imperialist) system. Democracy, H and N argued in the new book, is the best alternative to Empire.

OK sounds good so far. But does this theory hold up in a new era of reform and social change marked at its beginning by the complete rejection of Bush by the US people and the world? Can we expect a new book from H and N to sledgehammer Obama into their old categories? Can we separate the transient features of US imperialism from its more permanent ones, and does this render H and N's concept toothless?

So to begin let's look at the Preface to this book. A couple of caveats: I am reading this linearly and will be commenting on it thusly, which means at points repetitions in some discussions will occur. I am going to state right off that their is much to like about Multitude and I am going to highlight those points as much as possible. Everyone should feel free to comment, dispute or point to errors at any time.

Also, I think Marx's axiom from the opening of The 18th Brumaire is worth keeping in mind in reading this book, especially if one wants to read this book with the empathy needed to understand its arguments before setting about on the path of criticism. Marx wrote, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language."

"Preface: Life in Common"

No one can disagree with the stated goal of the book, the description of the "project of the multitude." It "not only expresses the desire for a world of equality and freedom, not only demands an open and inclusive democratic global society, but also provides the means for achieving it." Only cranks and tyrants could object.

And they do, H and N argue. They have constructed a world of "seemingly permanent state of conflict," which as it turns out has become the main necessary feature of "empire." It pervades all aspects of culture, politics and economy, "posing its own political order." War – defined as this perpetual state – is the greatest threat to democracy.

H and N then turn to a defense of their thesis in "Empire." "Our point of departure [in empire] was the recognition that contemporary global order can no longer be understood adequately in terms of imperialism. Briefly, empire, instead, is the tendency toward a "network power" which is a "new form of sovereignty" that combines various globalized entities such as powerful nation states, international institutions, and multinational corporations. Empire is a fusion of states, (capitalist) monopolies and international organizations of coercion into a single network of economic, military and political dominance; it excludes and erases all social space not absorbed or co-opted by empire. (It must be a single network, or you have an imperialist system.)

Within this system of domination, the order is "fractured by internal divisions and hierarchies but also plagued by perpetual war." Thus, rather than war caused and motivated by the competing interests of imperialist states, war is an expression of the political battles for position in the network of power now known as Empire.

National liberation movements led by the people, like those which emerged as soon as modern imperialism emerged with capitalism, are no longer viable alternatives to empire. Class struggle itself, even as an internationalist movement, undergoes a major transformation in the minds of H and N.

The new entity that must and is emerging to replace empire is the "multitude," the ultimate expression of the fight for democracy. The multitude is also an emergent global network of movements and social forces that find common ground on which to join forces to engage and struggle against empire and its representatives (and to make use of a concrete example, both Bush and Osama bin Laden were empire's actors).

Here, H and N distinguish the multitude from other concepts that generalize and categorize subalterns. For example, the multitude differs from "the people." To H and N, the people is a unitary subject, a reduction of diversity to unity, a setting aside of difference for the sake of unity rather than the embrace of the common and diversity to build strength. The "masses" are indistinct and uniform and do not qualify as the multitude.

The working class also fails to qualify in H and N's view. Let me quote: "The concept of the working class has come to be used as an exclusive concept, not only distinguishing the workers from the owners who do not need to work to support themselves, but also separating the working class from others who work."

Here H and N revive the old and narrow divisions of industrial workers and non-productive workers, a division they attribute to Marxism, to explain this disqualification of the working class as a model for the multitude. Of course, Marx did examine the role of "productive labor" and the people who performed it in capitalist relations of production, but he did not pose one group against another. (See Marquit, "Productivity of Labor.")

Without saying who defines the working class in this narrow way as only the industrial working class, H and N dismiss the working class as a candidate for the multitude. The words of the Internationale – "the international working class shall be the human race" – no longer work under empire.

Industrial working class, I would argue, can not be defined as an essentialist or inherent quality of any group of workers. While it can be based on objective factors like the production of surplus value, it has also been an historically contingent and contested subjectivity. Take dockworkers and truck drivers and railroad workers for example. Do they produce surplus values? Have they ever? Probably elaborate arguments could be developed to prove yes or no.

Basically, they produce a service – the movement of raw materials and commodities in the production chains and distribution networks for capitalist enterprises. Yet, the working class movement considers them vital industrial workers, key sections of the industrial working class. In the context of the United States, the supposed "they" who devised a narrow industrial concept of class, according to H and N, always viewed these non-productive workers as essential parts of the working class. See for example the 1934 general strike in San Francisco to win the unionization of the docks by the ILWU.

Further, workers, who may or may not have accepted H and N's narrow definition of the working class, fully understood that "class struggle" involved more than industrial workers, that winning any particular battle – a union contract, protection from repression, civil rights, etc. – required broad support from industrial workers, service workers, faith-based leaders and communities, unpaid home makers, groups of intellectuals, small business owners, civic organizations, the unemployed, and so on. (See the movie Salt of the Earth as perhaps the finest cinematic representation of this.)

The 1930s US labor movement saw the birth of social (or civic) unionism (often with an internationalist tendency) – the broadest possible concept of working class and class struggle – on a mass scale, though the labor movement had often practiced it on a much smaller scale well back into the 19th century. (See Markowitz, "Review," for example.) Workers at the center of a particular struggle had to forge a common goal, a point at which their particular interests intersected with those of others in order to build such alliances. While many times leftists and communists propagandistically defined these points of common interest as "natural," any organizer of any coalition will tell you negotiations and hard work go into making such alliances and networks possible.

For another example, communists frequently argued that the racist or xenophobic exclusion of some groups of people from a particular plant or industry ran counter to the common interests of all workers, and thus white, native-born workers, who were supposed to be "naturally" aligned with white capitalists had more in common with Black, Latino, Asian American, Native American, and foreign born workers. Indeed, their families and communities shared commonalities that made them stronger. Leftist theorists of cultural pluralism, in fact, argued for self-determination of these communities, and the need to preserve identities, but also the forging of a common point of interest, the struggle against exploitation and oppression. (See Meyer, "Cultural Pluralism," for example.)

It seems to me this broad concept of the working class and its great historical struggle does in fact qualify as a way of viewing the multitude as H and N define it. Unfortunately, H and N never mention this historical tendency in the labor movement. Perhaps it would knock down their claim to originality to do so.

But this reading only takes care of one portion of the H and N's beef with the working class. This broad concept of the working class isn't enough for them. And historically, that has proven to be the case as well. As the quote above reveals, H and N believe the "working class" also excludes capitalists from the "multitude."

This is the point at which H and N become most controversial for Marxists, I think.

But again, I think they are positing a concept of the multitude that has been previously argued for historically, which H an N ignore. First of all, Lenin argued for the broadest possible political coalitions in developed capitalist countries against military or economic action against the Soviet Union. Indeed, in the USSR, the New Economic Policy could be seen on a fundamental level to be a tenuous alliance of the communist party with individual capitalists for the sake of development and a long-term greater good. (See China today)

But an even better example is the world communist movement's call for a global popular front against fascism in the mid-1930's. Communists saw this as a working-class initiated movement/coalition but that would necessarily include capitalists. And the New Deal coalition and Popular Front up through World War II could be seen on the whole as a multi-class alliance of forces that resisted both the worst exploitation of capitalism in the US and its extremist arm in the Axis alliance (fascism) globally. Indeed, the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s looks a lot like the "empire" H and N describe today.

McCarthyism and the Cold War disrupted this temporary alliance, imposing severe repression on the working class advocates of both the broadest concept of the working class and the popular front – a small snag that puts H and N's multi-class multitude as the ultimate form of the struggle for democracy into question. A snag I hope they clear up in this book.

So are H and N simply proposing the renewal of a global popular front on a permanent basis, without telling us that is what they are doing? And are they obscuring that fact by claiming the people who invented the idea of the popular front always advocated only a narrow concept of the industrial working class? Hmmm. Let's discuss more next time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Top Five Health Care Reform Lies—and How to Fight Back

Lie #1: President Obama wants to euthanize your grandma!!!

The truth: These accusations—of "death panels" and forced euthanasia—are, of course, flatly untrue. As an article from the Associated Press puts it: "No 'death panel' in health care bill." What's the real deal? Reform legislation includes a provision, supported by the AARP, to offer senior citizens access to a professional medical counselor who will provide them with information on preparing a living will and other issues facing older Americans.

Lie #2: Democrats are going to outlaw private insurance and force you into a government plan!!!

The truth: With reform, choices will increase, not decrease. Obama's reform plans will create a health insurance exchange, a one-stop shopping marketplace for affordable, high-quality insurance options. Included in the exchange is the public health insurance option — a nationwide plan with a broad network of providers — that will operate alongside private insurance companies, injecting competition into the market to drive quality up and costs down.

If you're happy with your coverage and doctors, you can keep them. But the new public plan will expand choices to millions of businesses or individuals who choose to opt into it, including many who simply can't afford health care now.

Lie #3: President Obama wants to implement Soviet-style rationing!!!

The truth: Health care reform will expand access to high-quality health insurance, and give individuals, families, and businesses more choices for coverage. Right now, big corporations decide whether to give you coverage, what doctors you get to see, and whether a particular procedure or medicine is covered—that is rationed care. And a big part of reform is to stop that.

Health care reform will do away with some of the most nefarious aspects of this rationing: discrimination for pre-existing conditions, insurers that cancel coverage when you get sick, gender discrimination, and lifetime and yearly limits on coverage. And outside of that, as noted above, reform will increase insurance options, not force anyone into a rationed situation. 

Lie #4: Obama is secretly plotting to cut senior citizens' Medicare benefits!!!

The truth: Health care reform plans will not reduce Medicare benefits. Reform includes savings from Medicare that are unrelated to patient care — in fact, the savings comes from cutting billions of dollars in overpayments to insurance companies and eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse.

Lie #5: Obama's health care plan will bankrupt America!!!

The truth: We need health care reform now in order to prevent bankruptcy — to control spiraling costs that affect individuals, families, small businesses, and the American economy.

Right now, we spend more than $2 trillion dollars a year on health care. The average family premium is projected to rise to over $22,000 in the next decade — and each year, nearly a million people face bankruptcy because of medical expenses. Reform, with an affordable, high-quality public option that can spur competition, is necessary to bring down skyrocketing costs. Also, President Obama's reform plans would be fully paid for over 10 years and not add a penny to the deficit.

We're closer to real health care reform than we've ever been—and the next few weeks will decide whether it happens. We need to make sure the truth about health care reform is spread far and wide to combat right wing lies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Burning Bush?

A French Revelation, or The Burning Bush
(from Free Inquiry)

Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.

Honest. This isn’t a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

After the 2003 call, the puzzled French leader didn’t comply with Bush’s request. Instead, his staff asked Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, to analyze the weird appeal. Dr. Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters (38 and 39) in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel. Jehovah vows to smite them savagely, to “turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws,” and slaughter them ruthlessly. In the New Testament, the mystical book of Revelation envisions Gog and Magog gathering nations for battle, “and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

In 2007, Dr. Romer recounted Bush’s strange behavior in Lausanne University’s review, Allez Savoir. A French-language Swiss newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, printed a sarcastic account titled: “When President George W. Bush Saw the Prophesies of the Bible Coming to Pass.” France’s La Liberte likewise spoofed it under the headline “A Small Scoop on Bush, Chirac, God, Gog and Magog.” But other news media missed the amazing report.

Subsequently, ex-President Chirac confirmed the nutty event in a long interview with French journalist Jean-Claude Maurice, who tells the tale in his new book, Si Vous le Répétez, Je Démentirai (If You Repeat it, I Will Deny), released in March by the publisher Plon.

Oddly, mainstream media are ignoring this alarming revelation that Bush may have been half-cracked when he started his Iraq war. My own paper, The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, is the only U.S. newspaper to report it so far. Canada’s Toronto Star recounted the story, calling it a “stranger-than-fiction disclosure … which suggests that apocalyptic fervor may have held sway within the walls of the White House.” Fortunately, online commentary sites are spreading the news, filling the press void.

The French revelation jibes with other known aspects of Bush’s renowned evangelical certitude. For example, a few months after his phone call to Chirac, Bush attended a 2003 summit in Egypt. The Palestinian foreign minister later said the American president told him he was “on a mission from God” to defeat Iraq. At that time, the White House called this claim “absurd.”

Recently, GQ magazine revealed that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attached warlike Bible verses and Iraq battle photos to war reports he hand-delivered to Bush. One declared: “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.”

It’s awkward to say openly, but now-departed President Bush is a religious crackpot, an ex-drunk of small intellect who “got saved.” He never should have been entrusted with the power to start wars.

For six years, Americans really haven’t known why he launched the unnecessary Iraq attack. Official pretexts turned out to be baseless. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction after all, and wasn’t in league with terrorists, as the White House alleged. Collapse of his asserted reasons led to speculation about hidden motives: Was the invasion loosed to gain control of Iraq’s oil—or to protect Israel—or to complete Bush’s father’s vendetta against the late dictator Saddam Hussein? Nobody ever found an answer.

Now, added to the other suspicions, comes the goofy possibility that abstruse, supernatural, idiotic, laughable Bible prophecies were a factor. This casts an ominous pall over the needless war that has killed more than four thousand young Americans and cost U.S. taxpayers perhaps $1 trillion. [Americans should remember it was not ONLY Americans who were killed--tr]

James A. Haught is the editor of the Charleston Gazette (West Virginia) and a Free Inquiry senior editor.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

China's stimulus program, high-speed passenger rail

Introductory note from Wadi'h Halabi:

The remarkable article below, from Fortune, reports on the buildup in China's high-speed passenger rail infrastructure. It is the capitalists' on-the-ground follow-up to the two People Before Profits columns (co-written by myself with Art), published in the PWW last December. The PWW articles summarized China's stimulus response to the crisis of capitalism. (A link to Fortune's charts and pictures, worth viewing, can be found at the bottom of the article.)

In its own way, the Fortune article also addresses the more general topic of China's stimulus package, and some of the reasons why it is having a significant impact when the much larger US stimulus spending has generally not.

Naturally unmentioned by Fortune are the two key facts: First, that the capitalist class has no control over the capitalist economy, only partial control over who suffers or who gains in the system's unavoidable crises; by contrast, society develops partial control over the economy after a socialist revolution. The state in China, as in Vietnam, Cuba, Laos and People's Korea, is the product of a socialist revolution. (Incidentally, the economies of all five of those states are expanding; not many people are aware that the PDRK economy has been growing rapidly for several years, 2008 and 2009 included.)

The second key variable, which flows from the first, is which class controls the surplus created by workers, and in whose interests that surplus is deployed. The USA has not only 50 "Herbert Hoovers" (the 50 governors who are cutting spending and employment), but tens of thousands of them (the heads of cities, counties and municipalities who are doing the same); indeed, the US can boast of over twenty million 'Herbert Hoovers' (the number of corporations and other businesses in the US).


As mentioned in the PWW articles last December, China's stimulus program builds on the PRC's 5-year plan, as well as the 5- to 20-year development plans of cities and provinces. Fortune does report that the stimulus was in part specifically designed to address unemployment following layoffs from factories assembling for collapsing capitalist markets. It does not mention that the package is also heavily focused on alleviation of environmental problems. (Building of affordable eco-housing and renewable energy production, including cheap yet sophisticated rooftop solar water heaters, is another big element of the package.) Rail of course has, or can have, the lightest footprint for transport of people as well as goods. An even larger part of the rail infrastructure development, not mentioned by Fortune, is for cargo transport.

The problem of problems, as I have tried to stress in China as well as here, is that all of the equations, all of the problems, and all of the solutions, are global, and that only a united, conscious, organized international working class has the interest and capacity to address them. Impelled by crisis, the capitalists, home and abroad, are doing all they can to engineer counter-revolution in the PRC, Vietnam, the DPRK, etc. We need to develop the understanding and capacity to defend and strengthen them effectively.

That said, enjoy Fortune's article, it is a remarkable story.

China's amazing new bullet train
By Bill Powell, senior writer
Last Updated: August 6, 2009: 10:06 AM ET

This year Beijing will spend $50 billion on what will soon be the world's biggest high-speed train system. Here's how it works.

The train from Beijing to Shanghai.

All aboard China's new bullet train

When China's $300 billion high-speed train system is completed, it will be the world's largest, fastest, and most technologically sophisticated. Photographer Benjamin Lowy captures the epic project and reveals its human side.

Charts and pictures at

China's amazing new bullet train

(Fortune Magazine) -- When lunch break comes at the construction site between Shanghai and Suzhou in eastern China, Xi Tong-li and his fellow laborers bolt for some nearby trees and the merciful slivers of shade they provide. It's 95 degrees and humid -- a typically oppressive summer day in southeastern China -- but it's not just mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun.

Xi is among a vast army of workers in China -- according to Beijing's Railroad Ministry, 110,000 were laboring on a single line, the Beijing-Shanghai route, at the beginning of 2009 -- who are building one of the largest infrastructure projects in history: a nationwide high-speed passenger rail network that, once completed, will be the largest, fastest, and most technologically sophisticated in the world.

Creating a rail system in a country of 1.3 billion people guarantees that the scale will be gargantuan. Almost 16,000 miles of new track will have been laid when the build-out is done in 2020. China will consume about 117 million tons of concrete just to construct the buttresses on which the tracks will be carried. The total amount of rolled steel on the Beijing-to-Shanghai line alone would be enough to construct 120 copies of the "Bird's Nest" -- the iconic Olympic stadium in Beijing. The top speed on trains that will run from Beijing to Shanghai will approach 220 miles an hour. Last year passengers in China made 1.4 billion rail journeys, and Chinese railroad officials expect that in a nation whose major cities are already choked with traffic, the figure could easily double over the next decade.

Construction on the vast multibillion-dollar project commenced in 2005 and will run through 2020. This year China will invest $50 billion in its new high-speed passenger rail system, more than double the amount spent in 2008. By the time the project is completed, Beijing will have pumped $300 billion into it. This effort is of more than passing historical interest. It can be seen properly as part and parcel of China's economic rise as a developing nation modernizing at warp speed, catching up with the rich world and in some instances -- like high-speed rail -- leapfrogging it entirely.

But this project symbolizes even more than that. This monumental infrastructure build-out has become the centerpiece of China's effort to navigate the global financial crisis and the ensuing recession.

China's stimulus package

Last November, as the developed world imploded -- taking China's massive export growth and the jobs it had created with it -- Beijing announced a two-year, $585 billion stimulus package -- about 13% of 2008 GDP.

Infrastructure spending was at its core. Beijing would pour even more money into bridges, ports, and railways in the hope that it could stimulate growth and -- critically -- absorb the excess labor that exporters, particularly in the Pearl River Delta, were shedding as their foreign sales shrank more than 20%.

A single province, Guangdong, was thought at the end of 2008 to have more than 20 million unemployed workers, many of whom appeared intent on heading back home to poorer, rural provinces with nothing much to do. Little focuses minds in Beijing more than the prospect of huge numbers of idle young men. It conjures up images of social instability that could conceivably strip the Communist Party of its primary source of legitimacy: economic growth and the improving living standards it has been providing for nearly 30 years. Beijing, in other words, had a
lot riding on the bet that a massive boost to infrastructure spending could ameliorate the downturn. 0:00 /2:53China's $300 billion bullet train.

Just over half a year later, the medicine appears to be working (at least so far). Railway worker Xi Tong-li, in fact, is one small example of that. Last fall he was toiling in a factory that made industrial fasteners for export in the city of Dongguan in Guangdong province -- a factory that is now closed. When Xi, a native of rural Henan province, lost his job, he called a friend who was working on a spur of the high-speed rail line that will eventually connect Beijing with Shanghai, cutting travel time from around 10 hours today to about four when the line opens in a couple of years. Two months later he was hired at a wage of $250 per month. "I'm happy to have a job so that I can still send money back [to Henan] and help my parents," he says.

It's unclear just how many of those laborers who lost their jobs in the export sector have been absorbed by China's accelerating infrastructure build-out -- the biggest portion of which by far is construction of the high-speed rail network. Unemployment -- estimates range from 10% to 20% -- remains the government's primary economic concern.

As David Li, an economist at Beijing's Tsinghua University, says, there's no doubt that "the acceleration of [the massive railroad build-out] is playing a key role in China's recovery." In mid-July, Beijing announced that second-quarter growth came in at 7.9%, and that the quarter-on-quarter upswing was the fastest the nation had seen since 2003. Economists at Goldman Sachs now believe China will expand at 8.3% this year -- exceeding the 8.1% goal set by Beijing in January, and dismissed then as unrealistic by most private economists.

That the government-led infrastructure spending, as Li says, is driving this growth is beyond dispute. A recent survey by Australia's mining industry shows that China's overall steel production capacity has actually increased by 10% to 12% over a year ago, despite the worst global downturn in decades. But nearly all that production is being used domestically, the survey said.

And across the Chinese landscape, it's pretty easy to see why. Whether in Dalian in the northeast, Wuhan in the west, or Shanghai in the east, one constant is the sight of massive concrete buttresses about 246 feet apart, lined up one after another in rows extending as far as the eye can see. The buttresses support the tracks over which the high-speed trains will run. They weigh 800 tons each and are reinforced by steel cables. There are close to 200,000 of them being built, all across the country.

How China mobilized its vast resources

At a moment when the developed world -- the U.S., Europe, and Japan -- is still stuck in the deepest recession since the early 1980s, China's rebound is startling. And the news comes just as Washington is embroiled in its own debate about whether the U.S. requires -- and can afford -- another round of stimulus, since the first one, earlier this year, has thus far done little to halt the downturn. Tax cuts made up about one-third of the $787 billion package, and only $60 billion of the remaining $500 billion has been spent so far.

Proponents of more stimulus are likely to cite China's example of what a properly designed stimulus program can accomplish. Maybe so. But a closer look at China's high-speed rail program also reveals some risks that should factor into the "Why can't we do that?" debate that's surely coming in Washington.

Xia Guobin, an amiable 51-year-old, is vice president and chief engineer for China Railway Construction Co., the largest of three state-owned companies that are the primary contractors for China's railway build-out. Sitting in the company's Beijing headquarters, I tell him it's likely that U.S. policymakers will look at China and suffer a pronounced case of infrastructure envy. He chuckles and says, "Well, it's not as if we were all standing around here doing nothing when the world financial crisis hit."

He says it jokingly, but it's the first key to understanding why China seems to be getting quick economic traction from its spending. As anyone who lives here knows, the government's massive infrastructure investment has been underway for years. Ports, bridges, airports, highways -- China in three years' time will have more miles of multilane highways than exist in the U.S. The rail program itself began four years ago, and the first spur opened just before the Olympics last year, linking Beijing with the city of Tianjin, 70 miles away -- a ride that now takes just about 30 minutes.

This is the definition, in other words, of "shovel-ready." China, for instance, was able to more than double its rail spending this year because, for the most part, it could simply move up plans that were already in place. That means existing orders for steel and cement and process-control systems and computer chips were all expanded (and given the softness in the export sector, most suppliers have had no trouble meeting the increased demand).

Last year China Railway Construction Co., the nation's largest railroad builder, hired 14,000 new university graduates -- civil and electrical engineers mostly -- from the class of 2008. This year, says Liang Yi, the vice CEO of the CRCC subsidiary working on the Beijing-to-Shanghai high-speed line, the company may hire up to 20,000 new university grads to cope with the company's intensifying workload. But with the private sector cutting way back on hiring -- and university students desperate for work -- taking on that many new engineers and managers hasn't been too difficult.

It's been even less of a problem offering jobs to manual laborers on sites across the country. Liang says his unit alone is absorbing 8,000 more workers this year than it did last. It gives each one five days of basic safety training, which isn't a lot, but in China it's very rare for manual laborers to get any safety training.. Says chief engineer Xia: "Yes, we have more pressure on us, but we're not doing anything we weren't doing before. We're just doing more of it."

The other key thing to remember is that China's brand-new high-speed rail network will be the product of the country's economic system. For all the free-market progress China has made in the past 30 years, a heavy "command and control" component still exists. The central government in Beijing holds all the key levers of power. The Railroad Ministry sets the plans, state-owned banks lend the money, and state-owned companies get the projects rolling. In the meantime many private businesses struggle to get bank loans.

Indeed, "command and control" is an especially fitting metaphor for the high-speed railway build-out. Until 1984 the Ministry of Railroads and what are now the construction companies were all part of China's People's Liberation Army. To this day, many of the senior and middle management ranks are made up of former army officers -- conservative executives who are very good at following orders.

The result is that when plans are made, they also get executed. In America, jokes Sean Maloney, the No. 3 executive at Intel, "NIMBY-ism [Not in My Backyard] is still an issue. In China, it's more like IMBY-ism. They plan, they build things, and they move fast."

Occasionally that can stir up trouble. A year and a half ago middle-class residents in a Shanghai neighborhood went public -- a relatively rare event in China -- with a protest against a high-speed rail line being built south to Hangzhou because it was too close to their homes. They created enough of a ruckus that Premier Wen Jiabao himself interceded and forced a change in the line's route. Working with foreign companies

Still, all things considered, in the midst of the grinding global recession, a little IMBY-ism doesn't seem like such a bad thing to some multinational companies. China's stimulus plan has taken some flak for what some critics perceive to be a "buy China" bias in its spending. But when it comes to the rail program, any number of big foreign players claim to be benefiting directly. Bombardier of Canada got the contract for a signaling system on the network as well as for work on 40 high-speed trains. Altogether, Fortune estimates that foreign companies have won some $10 billion worth of contracts so far, and in a program that extends to 2020, there's more where that came from..

IBM (IBM, Fortune 500) is among the companies aggressively pushing for a share of the historic build-out. It won a contract to provide the software for the high-speed train spur (as well as a local intracity rail system) in Guangdong province. High-speed rail systems are as much about silicon chips and software as about cement and steel. So-called smart train networks -- and the software systems that run them -- can boost on-time performance, speed up maintenance, and improve safety. And Big Blue, for its part, has already decided not only where the future is for this industry but also where the present is.

How so? Consider that the Northeast Corridor, between Boston and Washington, D.C., is served by Amtrak's Acela train, which clips along at a stately average speed of 79 miles an hour. There's a lot of talk now, as part of President Obama's stimulus plan, about upgrading the system and building new, faster lines all across the nation. In his stimulus bill Obama has allocated $8 billion over three years for high-speed rail, and 40 states are now bidding for the funds, with results to be released in September. Among the possibilities, California wants to link San Francisco with L.A. via a high-speed link. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants the private sector to get into the act, proposing a high-speed spur to connect Las Vegas with L.A.

Maybe, after environmental reviews are finished and eminent domain issues settled, those lines will be built. Meanwhile, IBM opened its new global high-speed-rail innovation center last month.

In Beijing.

Zhang Dan and Josh Glasser contributed to this article. First Published: August 6, 2009: 9:40 AM ET