Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fight The Boys in the Backroom on the Public Option

by Norman Markowitz

In the 1960s in a New York political campaign, the winning reform Democrats played an old Marlene Dietrich song," See What the Boys in the backroom will have and tell them I'm having the same," changing the last part to say "tell them you'll have none of the same. " The Boys in
the Backroom of the Senate Finance Committee, led by Boss Baucus, killed the two "public option" parts of the national health legislation, the first and better one proposed by Senator Jay Rockefeller 15-8, (five Democrats and all ten Republicans against eight Democrats) and the second by Senator Charles Schumer by a vote of 13-10).

Now is the time for all of us to bombard our Senators and Congressmen and tell them that we will not let the boys in the backroom in effect kill the legislation that President Obama promised in his campaign and which he still pledges to deliver The great majority of Americans support the public option as they have long supported national health insurance. That really doesn't matter too much as long as that support is registered passively in polls. It also doesn't matter much if those who support Public Option will passively accept what the Boys in the Backroom who are Democrats have done by simply continuing to support them in subsequent elections.

What should done and done now. First we should call upon President Obama to register his displeasure with this vote and restate his support of the public option and call upon all Democrats (including those who supported Baucus yesterday) to support legislation with the public option. The Democratic National Committee should also come forward with clear and open criticism and at the very least an implied warning that those Senate Democrats who have joined Baucus to bury the public option can expect no support from the national party in their re-election campaigns (the tactic that Lyndon Johnson, a crude but effective power politician, used to push Democrats to support social legislation which powerful economic interests opposed).

Obama does not have the majority that Johnson did and he doesn't have the organizational power that Johnson had in the Democratic party, but he has much greater ability to reach masses of people and win their support than Johnson ever did and he can use that ability to go to the people in 2010 by vetoing a bill that has no public option (not to mention a regressive taxing of benefits) and campaign against the profiteering insurance companies the way Franklin Roosevelt successfully campaigned against the "Economic Royalists" and the Supreme Court and
earlier presidents campaigned against the Trusts.

This is in my opinion in both his interest and the national interest, which is the interest of the people, not the corporations, the banks, and the insurance companies. It is and will be argued that any bill must be accepted because no bill will be considered a defeat. But a bill without public option now is objectively a defeat. Saying that public option can be added later goes against what has usually been the pattern of U.S. history--namely that if you don't make progressive breakthroughs rapidly when the opportunity is there, you don't make them. And if you don't make them you lose support among the people eventually, even if you retain political power in the short run.

Right wing Republicans are already muddying the political waters with early campaigns against big government health care, bank bailouts, deficits and taxes. President Obama can seize the initiative by demanding health care legislation with a major public option component and explaining to the people how this is really, short of the elimination of the private insurance companies entirely through a single payer system, the only way to substantially lower health care costs for individuals and society as a whole and raise the quality of care Obama can also make it clear that it is the entire united Republican party which has fought against any public option and put the onus on them in the 20010 elections.

In the 1960s, when reform Democrats used that Marlene Dietrich song to win an election, a civil rights activist, Reverend Eugene Callender joked, "New York has the only real two party system in America. Reform and Regular Democrats." The Senate Finance Committee vote suggests a different and more sinister "two party" system threatening both the Obama administration and peoples movements--a new "conservative coalition" of Republicans and a small number of strategically placed Democrats to bloc progressive initiatives and legislation. If that is not challenged and challenged now, it may very well cripple the Obama administration's ability to break free of the Reagan Bush policies which have brought the nation to the brink of disaster.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Thomas Riggins

The London Review of Books (8/27/09) has an interesting review of Gotz Aly's HITLER'S BENEFICIARIES: HOW THE NAZIS BOUGHT THE GERMAN PEOPLE by John Connelly ("It Never Occurred to Them"). These remarks are based on the review [my comments in brackets].

Aly, "the most influential popular historian" in Germany has a new answer to an old question. "What was the point of Nazism?" The new answer is that the Nazi's had a sincere desire to "better the lives of ordinary Germans." Aly thinks the National Socialists were just as much socialist as national. [This is an old argument used to discredit socialism. The Nazi's were socialists, look what they did, socialism and fascism are basically the same, etc.]

Here are all the goodies the German's got from the Nazi's [according to Aly]:

Twice as many holidays. [We could do with this.]

Pro tenant laws making it harder to raise rents and evict people. [Rent stabilization]

No tax on overtime pay. [Pro worker]

National health insurance for all retirees.[Medicare]

Low taxes on beer [this is enough to get anyone elected!]

The burden of taxes was placed on the rich not the workers and the poor.

These six things, and many other measures that "transferred wealth from the haves to the have-nots" indicates that Nazi Germany was a VOLKSSTAAT or people's state. [Not quite a state of the whole people since if you were not a Teuton you were not part of the Volk.]

Aly says the Nazi's did not rule by terror but by giving the people what they wanted [true democracy?] This was because they really feared the people and wanted to maintain their popularity at any cost once they had power. The people's "satisfaction" had to be "purchased" daily.

But Connelly says that even in the worst times, even at the end, Goebbels, for example, showed no fear of the people. He wrote in his diaries "that we will never lose this war because of the people. The people will persevere in this war until their last breath." [So it seems "fear of the people" was not a concern at the top].

Nevertheless, Nazi documents report that many of the Volk were alienated from the regime along class lines. The rich got first crack at the dwindling food supplies and things in the shops and this led to resentments.

But was Nazi Germany a "Volksgemeinschaft"-- a ''community of the people"? While many think it was not, that this was a fiction of German propaganda, Connelly thinks there was something real to it. The people never really rose up against the Nazis. Whatever complaints people may have had about their government, Connelly says , "Loyalty to Germany transcended any momentary doubts."

Connelly thinks Aly is an historian repulsed by the crimes of the Nazis and not too sympathetic to the Volk who followed them. Nevertheless he has been very much influenced by historians such as Martin Broszat (1926-1989) who wanted to do, and did, just what he thought to be scientific analysis of the Nazis, what he called "neutrally cool scientific research." Connelly says for many who followed in Broszat's wake "Human actors and their intentions faded from focus...."

Broszat and his followers made much of the fact that no direct order for the Holocaust issued by Hitler can be found. The Holocaust is NOT denied but it seems to have just happened-- sort of an "automatism." It is, Connelly writes, "as if it had been launched by a sadistic deus absconditus."

Trying to get away from moral issues, as it were, Aly sees the killing of the Jews as a by product of the need to win the war. They were killed "in order to take their valuables" for the war effort.

Aly "portrays neither the regime not the citizenry as hating Jews; everything they did was meant to further an end that could be calculated in terms of material reward." Connelly points out that in his book of over 400 pages, Aly treats antisemitism on only ten.

Aly still blames the Volk for the horrors of the Nazi regime. But what big moral crime were they guilty of, Connelly asks. It seems like their actions were the actions of any other people at war. They were "trying to improve their social security arrangements or of buying goods at reduced rates in French and Belgian shops." Aly says to his readers, the younger generation of Germans, yes what was done was not right. But the Jews were not killed qua Jews. They were victims of the war effort.

The consequent of his book, Connelly concludes, "is to shield wartime Germans from more searching historical inquiries."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Film Review: Capitalism A Love Story

by Eric Green

Film Review:

Capitalism: A Love Story

Written, Directed and Produced by Michael Moore

Also produced by: Jessica Brunetto, Tia Lessin, Anne Moore with three Executive Producers: Kathleen Glynn, Harvey and Bob Weinstein.

A progressive interviewer of Michael Moore eagerly questioned the filmmaker: Are you a Socialist? He beats around the bush, and usually avoids the answer when he questioned on these issues. This time he said in a defensive mode said, "I never read Marx." The short of it, Michael Moore is a filmmaker. A damn good one to.

But watching his latest screen gem, "Capitalism: a Love Story," is probably the closest so far he has moved away from the economic and political system of Capitalism and the closest he has moved toward a socialist solution. His final on-air film comment is that "Democracy is the system" he likes.

But, interestly, in the background of those closing comments and leading us through the film credits is a great, upbeat version of the working class and Communist national anthem, "The International." When the final words are spoken, that is, the culmination of our struggle will be a universal "Human Race" the final cog in the films wheel fits together.

Michael Moore is truly an amazing character. He is spawned from our country. He is "Made in the USA." He is the Mark Twain, Woody Guthrie and other progressive populist of our time. Enjoy him!

His Films Speak to Us; and, For Us

This is the 20th anniversary of the his first major release, "Roger and Me." That is where he predicted, with great foresight, the downfall of the General Motors dynasty.

Since then he took us through the Columbine shooting disaster, "Bowling for Columbine" and the Bush Administration, in "Fahrenheit 9/11." The former film was a highly creative film whose highlights included the senile Charlton Heston showing, clearly, his fascist beliefs. Exposing Rock 'n Roll millionaire Dick Clark's greedy scheming of people on welfare sticks in my mind, also. The "9/11" film fully exposed the fascistic methods and beliefs of the Bush Administration and its allies. The use of the September 11, 2001 attacks to further the ultra-right agenda elevated that film to epic proportions. Clearly Fascism is on Moore's mind.

And, with Moore's films, especially this one, you never see the equating of Fasciam and Communism which is so fashionable today by the right wing and too many liberals and social democrats

Moore's "Sicko" should have cleared the way for a national health care program that mirrored the national health services systems of the United Kingdom and most of the rest of Europe and most of industrialized Asia. Not to leave out the crown jewel of national health care, Cuba. The honest depiction of Socialist Cuba was unique for U.S. filmmakers. The film enjoyed tremendous popular success, especially financial success. Documentary filmmakers are supposed to lose money, Moore made millions. Since that film, every national poll; the 2008 elections; all of organized labor supporting Single Payer and the Public Option, leave no doubt what the vast majority of people in the US want.

Only the power of state monopoly capital had the strength to beat back the will of the people in the U.S. from this goal, at least for now. Their financial and political strength in the Halls of Congress and the White House is totally transparent. To hear from political leaders in Washington, D.C., from both sides of the aisle, that the cutback or elimination of the health insurance industry from selling health insurance would be too disruptive speaks to the direct link that our government is linked to the goals of those same industries. There is no talk about the disruptions, death and diseases, which are caused every minute of every day due to the greed and power of that health insurance and pharmaceutical industry.

The episode of Dr. Jonas Salk inventor of the polio vaccine and how he turned it over to the drug companies to manufacturer with the proviso of no profiteering with his discovering was particularly important. That is in stark contrast to the too many physicians scientists who are looking for vaccines and another drugs simply to cash in and humanity as a secondary thought. Some need the money to pay back their medical school tuitions; which is questionable in an of itself; but, far and away the majority of these medical researchers just want to get rich.

The 500-Pound Guerilla is Taken On this Time

But, in this film he took on the political economic system of Capitalism. And, he had to do it within a short time limit of a film. He had to put the Moore touch of entertainment, but with grim and devastating stories of victims of the Capitalist system. Moore continues his principles of having the victims, themselves, tell their stories. More foreclosures; employers who take our life insurance policies on their own employees and make themselves the beneficiaries, i.e., Wall Mart; and, as well as the ascendancy of the Goldman Sachs Financial Corporation as the kingpin of contributions to politicians and then being given top positions by both political parties in making deals to feed their own coffers. The power brokers of Goldman Sachs simply have no shame. That was one thing nice about the Moore film, he just gave the raw facts…no talk of the fancy philanthropies of Capitalism which make greedy corporation look good, but, in fact, avoid billions of dollars of taxes for a few million for their do-good activities. And, to justify these foundations to their stockholders, they take enormous tax breaks. This is a win-win for Corporate America. It takes us back to the ruthless, anti-worker, steel magnate, millionaire Andrew Carnegie and his library legacy.

Merrill Lynch played that role with the Bush Administration. Moore's actual filmage of the head of Merrill Lynch instructing President Bush on his comments to the media.

While the film is silent on current Wall Street and White House Connections, Moore does show the corporate role that current financial leaders Larry Summer and Tim Geitner played in the 1990s. Moore also showed that Wall Street is willing to back either mainstream political party in elections in order to keep their grip on national policy.

90% Tax Bracket for the Wealthy

Moore is old enough to remember when the rich were taxed 90% of income. And, in those days, the country grew and industries grew. When Reagan and too many Democrats insisted on cutting the wealthy taxes, that only wetted their appetites for greater profits and more inflated salaries, stock options and other perks. And, that is when the country increased its downward spiral.

What Makes Moore's Films So Powerful?

First of it is Moore himself. His own first person involvement brings the film viewer, up front and personal with every aspects of his films. A large percent of viewers identify with many of Moor's frustrations and rages against the injustices of Capitalism. Moore comes across as a real person, not a film huckster trying to make millions. On the contrary.

Moore was raised a Catholic, so he spares no time in ripping the role of the Church, but in this film episode he puts the life of Jesus Christ into contemporary times and asks the obvious question: what would Christ do with all the greed in the world? He answered that question by showing another picture of the church by showing the positive role of the church at the history worker sit-ins at the Republic Door company in Chicago; and, also the "liberation Catholic Church" leaders in Detroit.

Labor and Moore

The union busting by the capitalist system is specifically highlighted for the first time in Moore's films. In previous films anti-worker and anti-union actions were documented, but here, they too center stage. Again, by highlighting Republic Door in Chicago and comparing that worker action to the Auto, Flint Detroit sit-ins in the 1930s, Moore comes up 100% on the side of the workers and their unions.

The music editor for the film is Dan Evans Farkas who also music edited Sicko and also, the great film, "the Wrestler."

The film was shown to labor audiences at the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh last week. It had a limited opening in Los Angeles and New York City; and, will be opened nationally on October 2nd.

Add this film to your film library, today.

Class Mobility in Modern America

We often talk about class mobility in the United States and other capitalist nations. In truth, class mobility, when it exists, is essentially a lottery system, where a few slots are handed out on the back of many participants. A further truth is that in America, as elsewhere in the capitalist world, it is a rigged game; that is it is one in which prior winners get much better odds than the rest. However, more recently I have directly seen the “true form” of American “class mobility” in action.

Over the years the area I live in has changed from an essentially rural farming community to a resort community. While even as little as a decade ago farms were still common, and most foods could be locally sourced, those useful and productive farmlands were rapidly replaced with housing developments and golf courses.

The most immediate sign of this change can be found in the super markets. Where once local produce flourished, now there is trucked in industrial food “products”. The consequences can be seen at the pediatricians office.

Often now it is not at all unremarkable to see some 5 or 6 year old, already a hefty 60 or 80 lbs, waiting at the local pediatrician. Indeed, the change from local farms to franken-foods, highly profitable for demand driven capitalists in the food industry, was both so swift and so complete, that one finds local families where the youngest sibling is already larger than then eldest.

At the same time many of those former farms now serve as land for large and new housing developments and estates for the wealthy. Some are gated communities with their own private security forces, reminding me of the street mafiaso and wise guys one used to find living in Bayonne. Others are populated with doctors, lawyers, architects, and other similar people. But what all of them have in common is the need for “services”, whether to have someone wash their clothes, cook their meals, or raise their children.

Naturally, this need was supplied by a trailer park and trailer trucked homes for the servants and the working poor of the new malls and supermarkets, the people to clean and staff walmart, etc. Tucked away on some low laying land, next to a swamp and a “wildlife preserve” given to the county, land that the speculators at the time I guess deemed not to be desirable, a trailer park for the poor was born. There is a less commonly used road that runs through it. Out of site and out of mind, I guess.

But, as virtually every other piece of undeveloped land has now been sold, the trailer park lands themselves have actually become valuable. So for those people, they had a surprise when their properties were re-assessed with a 3 fold increase last year, and this was soon followed by a buyout offer from a developer for the park owners. Of course, if that does not work, there is always, thanks to our supreme court, the possibility of eminent domain; seizing the trailer park homes to give to wealthy developers who still wish to make more McMansions and golf courses for the wealthy. No doubt there are some swamps in a nearby county which could be developed in an out of the way and out of sight new trailer park for the working poor. For the poor, a longer commute. For the wealthy, a new golf course.

This then is the new class mobility found in America today; being poor means being forced to move from one undesirable homestead to another because some rich person wants your land. The mobility not of income, but rather of the highway.

Healthcare is a right in this country....

Operation Hey Mackey! - Whole Foods, Oakland from Jamie LeJeune on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Let Them Eat Cheerios

Web address:
Use Of Statins Favors The Wealthy, Creating New Social Disparities In Cholesterol, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (Sep. 26, 2009) — Since the introduction of statins to treat high cholesterol, the decline in lipid levels experienced by the wealthy has been double that experienced by the poor.

While statins are highly effective in reducing cholesterol and improving heart health, their use may have contributed to expanding social disparities in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, according to research by Virginia W. Chang, MD, PhD, of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania, and Diane S. Lauderdale, PhD, of the University of Chicago, published in the September issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

"Income disparities in lipid levels have reversed over the past three decades," according to Dr. Chang, lead author and Assistant Professor of Medicine and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. "High cholesterol was once known as a rich man's disease, because the wealthy had easier access to high fat foods (e.g., red meat). Now wealthy Americans are least likely to have high cholesterol, because they are more likely to be treated with statins, an expensive but highly effective pharmaceutical treatment to lower lipid levels."

While cardiovascular disease remains a leading cause of death in the U.S., mortality due to heart disease has declined dramatically since the 1980s. Researchers estimate that about one-third of that reduction is a result of pharmaceutical innovation, including the use of statins. Dr. Chang notes, "Though statins have a longer-run potential to reduce disparities by making it easier for everyone to lower cholesterol relative to lifestyle changes, they have yet to diffuse widely across all income levels."

This study was supported in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


Thomas Riggins

With or without health insurance people are going to sicken and die. David Hume tells us, “The first entrance into life gives anguish to the newborn infant and to its wretched parent; weakness, impotence, distress, attend every stage of that life, and it is at last finished in agony and horror.” So having access to medical care may lighten this burden.

We live, so I am told, in a “democracy” and we have an elected Congress that represents the people. Or does it? Maybe it really represents just the interests of the big corporations. We may get some scraps now and then, but when push comes to shove the big boys get their way.

This is illustrated by a nice quote from the New York Times of 9-26-09. In that issue we read the following:

“The latest New York Times/CBS Poll found solid support for a government run insurance plan, or so-called public option, that would compete with private insurers. Other surveys have found similar results.

But what the public seems to want and what Congress plans to give them may not be the same thing.” [read the whole article on page A12]

The polls show that a Medicare like public plan should be offered to EVERYONE (65% in favor). Congress doesn’t think so.

This is simple. Those not in favor of a universal public option are AGENTS OF THE PRIVATE INSURERS. They don’t represent the people who elected them. They should be called out on this and dumped in the next election if they persist in going against the clearly expressed will of the people.

This is a fight we can win-- we only need the will.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Thomas Riggins

It is hard to keep track of all the right wing cranks out there, but the New York Times [9-26-09] has a feature article on Bill Wilson who runs an outfit called Americans for Limited Government-- which seems to be funded by some New York real estate magnate. Rather than admit he is just the mouth piece for some rich right-winger, Wilson’s outfit claims to have 400,000 members, which the times exposed as a Big Lie.

Here are a couple of really wacko positions this group has cooked up:

Obama is the biggest liar of all!

AmeriCorps suggests to them “a parallel with Hitler Youth”!

Here is the measure of the man. Wilson says: "We face what I personally believe is the greatest threat ever to individual freedom and democratic rule." Really! Obama, democratically elected, is a greater threat than an Axis victory in WW2, greater than McCarthy's fascism of the 50s, greater than a Union defeat by the slavocracy and greater than Bush #2 with his rigged elections and lies to take us to war.

Well, there IS a threat to individual freedom and democracy afoot in the land-- and I think it comes from the likes of Bill Wilson and his ilk.

Wilson says he believes in “small government” and thinks the majority of Americans do too. Nevertheless, even in the face of entrenched racism (President Carter knows whereof he speaks) Obama [the embodiment of BIG GOVERNMENT evil] won with 53% of the popular vote.

People should really get hold of the Times article. I’m putting Wilson down as a front runner for the annual En folkefiende Awards.

If anti-democratic rabble rousers such as the Bill Wilsons of the world really believe in small government, I suggest they move to Monaco.

Friday, September 25, 2009


by Steven Sherman

Arrighi forthrightly recognized that Marxism had reached an intellectual and political cul-de-sac. But, unlike postmodernists, he remained interested in developing a critical history of capitalism. The Long Twentieth Century and Adam Smith in Beijing, as well as his other books and articles, will be invaluable to future scholars and activists pursuing this project.

(On June 19, 2009 Giovanni Arrighi succumbed to cancer at the age of 71. Below, I try to give a sense of his intellectual
achievement. But we should also note his warmth and sense of humor, which family members, colleagues, students and others will undoubtedly miss.)

I first encountered Giovanni Arrighi when I was visiting Binghamton University and considering enrolling in the PHD program in Sociology in 1988. Giovanni was teaching a seminar, and took issue with a grad student who was fulsomely denouncing a minor point in the evening's reading. "Don't cut down a tree with a pen knife--it will break, and that would be a pity. But don't try to mow the lawn with an axe." Although he made these comments with his typically good humored demeanor, there was an important point being made. Use intellectual tools appropriate to the task you set yourself.

It was something he always tried to do as he took on the task that preoccupied him during forty years of writing--the reconstruction of a theory of historical capitalism. About a year later, he announced in a seminar that "Marxism is dead". "I'm sure you meant that metaphorically", a student commented the next week, encouraging him to back away a bit from the comment. "Metaphorically only in the sense that Marxism does not have a body that can be declared dead.... But, when someone dies, you don't go to their funeral and yell insults at them, even if they were a bad person. And Marxism was not bad."

Arrighi had no interest in postmodern critiques of Marxism, which largely abandoned efforts to explain capitalism. But he thought it was important to recognize that Marxism had reached a political cul-de-sac. In his article "Marxist century, American century", he noted that more and more of the world's working class was in a situation parallel to that which propelled Russia's on a revolutionary path: socially powerful in factories, but immiserated. Nevertheless, Marx had failed to anticipate that workers would divide themselves along such axes as nationality, gender, race, and age in ways which would frustrate the revolutionary impulse.

And Marxism had been compromised by its alignment with a state socialist model whose limits were increasingly obvious. Rather than defensively recuperate Marxism (as many Marxists continue to try) or toss over the project of critiquing historical capitalism altogether (a la the postmodernists), Arrighi sought to reconstruct the history of capitalism by eclectically combining Marx and Marxists with a number of other historically oriented scholars--Joseph Schumpeter, Fernand Braudel, Karl Polanyi, and, perhaps most audaciously, Adam Smith.

What he drew out of the Marxist tradition was itself an eclectic and unusual combination: the global vision of Immanuel Wallerstein, the class struggle emphasis of Mario Tronti, the focus on political leadership of Antonio Gramsci. On a political level, Arrighi never took it as an insult when some accused him of 'third worldism'. He regarded both Mao and Ghandi as important leaders and thinkers. On a biographical level, his experience trying to manage his father's factory, and his work for the multinational Unilever after he received a PhD clearly influenced him; throughout his career, he was convinced that most Marxists made an important error by failing to distinguish between different types of business enterprises.

Arrighi's first conceptual shake-up of Marxism came many years before it is was widely recognized that Marxism was in crisis. As a result of his work in Africa, he realized something was wrong with the theory that the essence of capitalist development was the proletarianization process, wherein the proletariat, seperated from the means of production, becomes dependent on wages for his reproduction.

Far from depending on wages for their reproduction, African workers continued to reproduce themselves by growing their own food and in other ways producing their own reproduction. In fact, were the capitalists to internalize the entirety of their workers reproductive costs, most of their profits would disappear. This work was part of a broader effort by Marxian anthropologists to develop a more complex understanding of how capitalism actually worked by closely observing relations in the periphery. It was subversive of the linear direction to history often mapped out by Marxists, with its often explicit political implication that the real focus of politics must be an urban proletariat.

The Long Twentieth Century, first published in 1994 (an updated edition will be released shortly) was a much more ambitious revision of historical capitalism. Arrighi took issue with a number of commonplaces here--that many of the features of capitalism since 1970, often captured under the phrase 'globalization' were dramatically new, that the US was becoming more powerful and globally entrenched, that material production had been superseded by finance. Instead, he went back to the fourteenth century to identify several recurrent patterns, tracing the rise and fall of Genoa, the Dutch, the British, and the US. Capitalist powers typically ascended by overseeing a 'material expansion' that enlarged the number of commodities circulating.

But when this reached its limits, preeminent states turned towards finance, employing networks developed as trading and military powers to produce a global financial reach. Eventually this was exhausted, when the money was employed to finance a new production complex (he was fond of pointing out that Marx himself noted the 'tag team' quality of the history of capitalism, with the Dutch handing off power to the British, and the British handing off to the US)

Whereas Hardt and Negri claimed that Arrighi described the static 'eternal return' of cyclical history, in fact he described this pattern to indicate certain evolutionary features. Each power controlled a larger territory than the last. And while, since the Dutch, each power has grounded its material expansion in a 'hegemonic' political settlement, each of these settlements included more classes and larger portions of the world. Thus, when the US became hegemonic following World War II, it included as junior partners both the industrial working classes of the US and Western Europe and post-colonial leaders.

This deal was fragile, and came undone as the US' competitive position declined in the 1970s and the US, in line with the pattern, shifted towards finance. There was no doubt in his view that American hegemony had begun its decline. He was also confident the US financial expansion would end (recall that the book was published in 1994, during the Clintonian heyday of the 'end of history'). Arrighi ends the book on an uncertain note, suggesting that the world could self-destruct in total war, or perhaps give way to some sort of global social democracy.

In seminars, he often expressed an optimism, arguing that a Chinese or East Asian hegemony might be grounded on a more inclusive political deal than that which undergirded American hegemony. His next project (edited with his partner, Beverly Silver), Chaos and Governance(disclosure--I was part of the working group out of which this book emerged) largely filled in the framework of the Long Twentieth Century, indicating the financial, military, and social transformations that accompanied each hegemonic transition.

In his final book, Adam Smith in Beijing, Arrighi focused on the question of the re-emergence of China as a great economic power. The book's framework employs a typically audacious gesture. Adam Smith claimed that the natural pattern of the growth of a market economy was to expand through the division of labor, eventually reaching an equilibrium. For Arrighi, this was true in China, but not in Western Europe. The latter did not expand through this 'natural' market pattern, but instead expanded geographically, using the fruits of colonial plunder to fuel its market economies. He notes that Smith himself (in contrast to many of his alleged followers) remarked that the expansion of Europe was hardly a blessing for the colonial world.

The second audacious borrowing/reworking in the book involved a concept from David Harvey, accumulation by dispossession. Harvey developed the concept to describe the process of appropriation around the world by financial capital during the neoliberal epoch. Arrighi described the long history of Chinese capitalism as 'accumulation without dispossession'. In other words, the Chinese proletariat was never really alienated from the land, lending a qualitative difference to capitalism in the East (note the overlapping theme with his earlier work on Africa).

Even with all the changes of the last twenty years, Arrighi believed that this difference was still highly relevant to understanding China. The final chapter brims with optimism about the potential of Chinese development, even as he emphasizes China's complete failure to date to come to terms with the environmental question. This is not the place for a full critical assessment of Arrighi's work. Here it should just be indicated some of the strengths of his legacy. First, his major historical works were subversive of one of the worst elements of traditional Marxism, its tendency towards the apocalyptic.

In this vision (profoundly influenced by Judeo-Christian theology) the world is fundamentally bad until the revolutionary break, which replaces the old system with a new, good one. The Long Twentieth Century and Chaos and Governance both suggest a much more complicated vision, in which capitalism incorporates emancipatory demands even as it expands. Secondly, there is the profoundly Eurocentric quality to much Marxist writing. The presumption is that Europe figured out capitalism first, and shows the future to the rest of the world. Although this has been tempered lately, as the experience of colonialism has been better incorporated, the idea that there are important world historical narratives besides the expansion of European capitalism remains marginal.

Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the details of Adam Smith in Beijing, its regrounding of the centrality of China is highly significant. One can imagine parallel long, global histories of Indian/South Asian or Islamic development. "I am not post-modern or modern, I am pre-modernist", Arrighi once declared in a seminar, not really joking. He focused less and less on the possibility of the one-fell-swoop ovethrow of capitalism in favor of a collective, worldwide groping for a more just, equitable and sustainable world.

As he commented in his final interview: "I would have no objections to it being called socialism, except that, unfortunately, socialism has been too much identified with state control of the economy. I never thought that was a good idea. I come from a country where the state is despised and in many ways distrusted. The identification of socialism with the state creates big problems. if this world-system was going to be called socialist, it would need to be redefined in terms of a mutual respect between humans and a collective respect for nature.

But this may have to be organized through state-regulated market exchanges, so as to empower labour and disempower capital in Smithian fashion, rather than through state ownership and control of the means of production. The problem with the term socialism is that it’s been abused in many different ways, and therefore also discredited."


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Review: The Red Queen, by Margaret Drabble

by Eric Green

Book Review:

The Red Queen
"A Transcultural Tragicomedy"
Margaret Drabble
McClelland and Stewart

This is my first Drabble book. I was warned that it was unlike any of her many previous writings. That said, I can't wait to read her other books. She is an amazing writer. Everything about her writing is interesting. Her character developments. Her humor. Her way of being serious in a way that keeps you interested and never a boring moment. Her ability to move between centuries and completely different world and still keep everything coherent and understandable. There are no glitches.

"The Red Queen" reminded one reviewer of Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha "[1997] which is certainly true. For me, it was also reminiscent of Sheila Dong's "Shanghai." [2001, Perennial]

In both of these books, and most certainly "The Red Queen" the reader not only is entertained with the novel and it's little mysteries, but you learn a whole lot about the country in which the novel takes place. Golden gives insights into the Japanese world and Dong in the world of China before 1948. Those insights help explain contemporary Japan and China

Similarly, Drabble's book gives valuable insights in Korea, both North and South.

"The Red Queen" is broken up into two parts, the 1700s world of Korean dynasties and then the very current world of Korea. How Drabble fits these two worlds together, 200 years apart, is only something that Drabble can accomplish.

The two key characters are Lady Hong and Barbara Halliwell. The family members that surround both seem to also run parallel to each other. Where actual history blends with fiction is blurred in a very nice way.

Then at the end Drabble herself enters the fray.

This is one of those unique novels and begs to be read.


[from SCIENCE DAILY-- just to have some info to counter our neo-fascist Republican friends who agree with Bush/Cheney that "torture makes us safer"]

You Can't Trust A Tortured Brain: Neuroscience Discredits Coercive Interrogation

Coercive interrogation techniques used to extract information from terrorist suspects are likely to have been unsuccessful, new research shows.

ScienceDaily (Sep. 22, 2009) — According to a new review of neuroscientific research, coercive interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration to extract information from terrorist suspects are likely to have been unsuccessful and may have had many unintended negative effects on the suspect's memory and brain functions.

A new article, published in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Science, reviews scientific evidence demonstrating that repeated and extreme stress and anxiety have a detrimental influence on brain functions related to memory.

Memos released by the US Department of Justice in April of 2009 detailing coercive interrogation techniques suggest that prolonged periods of shock, stress, anxiety, disorientation and lack of control are more effective than standard interrogatory techniques in making subjects reveal truthful information from memory. "This is based on the assumption that subjects will be motivated to reveal veridical information to end interrogation, and that extreme stress, shock and anxiety do not impact memory," says review author, Professor Shane O'Mara from the Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. "However, this model of the impact of extreme stress on memory and the brain is utterly unsupported by scientific evidence."

Psychological studies suggest that during extreme stress and anxiety, the captive will be conditioned to associate speaking with periods of safety. For the captor, when the captive speaks, the objective of gaining information will have been obtained and there will be relief from the unsavory task of administering these conditions of stress. Therefore, it is difficult or impossible to determine during the interrogation whether the captive is revealing truthful information or just talking to escape the torture. Research has also shown that extreme stress has a deleterious effect on the frontal lobe and is associated with the production of false memories.

Neurochemical studies have revealed that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, brain regions integral to the process of memory, are rich in receptors for hormones that are activated by stress and sleep deprivation and which have been shown to have deleterious effects on memory. "To briefly summarize a vast, complex literature, prolonged and extreme stress inhibits the biological processes believed to support memory in the brain," says O'Mara. "For example, studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred." Waterboarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain.

"Given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, it is unlikely that coercive interrogations involving extreme stress will facilitate release of truthful information from long term memory," concludes Professor O'Mara. "On the contrary, these techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged stress, which compromises brain tissue supporting both memory and decision making."

Journal reference:

O'Mara et al. Torturing the Brain: On the folk psychology and folk neurobiology motivating 'enhanced and coercive interrogation techniques. Trends in Cognitive Science, September 21, 2009
Adapted from materials provided by Cell Press, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Baucus Spells Doom to Democratic Party; and All of Us

by Phil E. Benjamin

Baucus [Senate Finance] Bill Rips Workers and their Unions;
Makes Mockery of the Congress

Back in 1980, there was a labor and peoples' movement to cover the uninsured. David Stockman was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Finance. Stockman cynically proposed that to cover the unemployed and uninsured with health insurance, union health benefits should be taxed. He said there was just enough money to cover it.

As was said then, that would have constituted a double tax, since workers had already
sacrificed higher wages, in their contract negotiations, to get better health benefits
and pensions. The proposal, even in that heady Reagan period, was soundly defeated.

But, the taxing of union health benefits has been a dream of the right wing and the Republican Party ever since.

Well 30 years later, Max Baucus, the Democratic Senator from Montana, is now proposing that very same tax. In fact, it is one of centerpieces of his totally unsupportable health legislation.

Taxing of union benefits will jack up the cost of existing health benefit plans, to very
high numbers, and at the same time, provide the incentive to reduce benefits.

This is NOT what labor voted for. Workers and their unions were assured on more than one occasion that they would do NO WORSE than what they already have. Well, that won't be the case if Baucus wins. It will be quite the opposite.

It is common knowledge that Baucus receives millions of dollars from the insurance
industry that is known about. His arrogance at committee hearings is also well


No wonder, the Jay Rockefeller, the U.S. Senator from West Virginia, is in a Senatorial
fit in opposition the Baucus proposal.

True, some of his anger is that, as the ranking leader of the health committee of the
Senate Finance Committee, Baucus did NOT include him as part of the "Gang of 6"
who supposedly wrote his bill? Supposedly, because there is mounting evidence that the insurance industry, itself, wrote the actual language. There were three Republicans and three Democrats. The other Democrat is Kent Conrad from North Dakota.

But, Rockefeller is also angry that there not be any form of "public option" in
the Senate Health Committee proposal. He may be quiet on the financing aspect.

Rockefeller must be supported in his attempt to derail his own Committee's bill.

But, given the way the U.S. Senate works, the movement to dump the Baucus bill cannot be just around Jay Rockefeller.

The AFL-CIO and all of its affiliated unions and those with Change to Win are opposing
this Baucus proposal, but they will need rank and file, grass roots, support to defeat it

What if Baucus Wins?

If Baucus Wins; WE All Lose.

Here are some clear things to think about.

This bill is total incomprehensible. Attending small meetings with those who are trying
to understand it and then explain it to people who are fairly familiar with the issues,
is one thing. Even for both of these groups, the bill is very confusing.

But, to go out to the general popular and talk about "subsidies" and "health insurance exchanges" is tailor made for the Republican Media Machine to attack it as more D.C. craziness. And, the whole idea of co-ops in health care would take hours to explain.

And, now that this bill is so anti-working class and anti-union, the right wing and the
Republican Party can say with a large degree of authenticity, that this bill hates
workers; and, therefore the Democratic Party are anti-worker.

In fact, the Baucus bill makes the Hillary Clinton Bill of the early 1990s, a cakewalk
to understand.

Did the think tank of Republicans and insurance carriers, with Baucus, deliberately
construct this bill to receive the ridicule of the same Republican Party? Who knows?
Sure looks like it.

This is especially so given the fact that not ONE, NOT ONE, Republican Senator supports the proposal. Only Olympia Snow seems a little interested.

Senate Health Committee

There is no word from the Senate Health Committee with its new Chair Iowa Senator Tom Harken. Taking over from Ted Kennedy. Its silence doesn't sound good for any of us.

3 House Bills

The three house bills are a lot more progressive than Baucus, but the power of the House
against the Senate Finance Committee is not good.

Jay Rockefeller said it quite clearly, that in the joint House and Senate Committee that
will ultimately get both the Senate and House Bills, the Senate Finance Committee has
most of the real power.

Time For Action

The time for action is NOW. Every Senator must be told: NO BAUCUS BILL. Every House Representative must be told, NO BUAUCUS Bill.

And, it is NOT JUST the Public Option. The whole bill it totally flawed and must be discarded.

If It Passes

If this Baucus bill becomes law, even with some minor tinkering, the future of the Democratic Party and its standard bearer is in deep trouble.

What is worse than no health legislation coming out of the Congress for the President to sign; is a law that is anti-worker and anti-union.

PS Insurance Carriers Stocks Skyrocket with Baucus

The Baucus bill is certainly good news for the insurance industry. Following the President's speech to Congress and the announcement of the Baucus bill, the major carriers saw huge increases in their shares:

United Health Group Rose 1%; Well Point Rose2%;

Aetna Inc. Rose 2% and Cigna stocks rose an incredible 4%.

Was the health reform movement meant to help those who don't have any insurance or limited insurance; or was is made to help the insurance industry?

The Answer to that question is an easy one.

Knocking the Baucus plan off the table will send insurance carriers stock tumbling, but it is a tumbling that will give hope to the 50 million people without any health insurance; and, another 60 million will lousy coverage.

By over playing their greedy and inhumane hands, the insurance carriers just might be handing themselves their walking cards.

Sotomayor Issues Challenge to a Century of Corporate Law


WASHINGTON -- In her maiden Supreme Court appearance last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a provocative comment that probed the foundations of corporate law.

During arguments in a campaign-finance case, the court's majority conservatives seemed persuaded that corporations have broad First Amendment rights and that recent precedents upholding limits on corporate political spending should be overruled.

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong -- and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges "created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons," she said. "There could be an argument made that that was the court's error to start with...[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics."

After a confirmation process that revealed little of her legal philosophy, the remark offered an early hint of the direction Justice Sotomayor might want to take the court.

"Progressives who think that corporations already have an unduly large influence on policy in the United States have to feel reassured that this was one of [her] first questions," said Douglas Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.

"I don't want to draw too much from one comment," says Todd Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. But it "doesn't give me a lot of confidence that she respects the corporate form and the type of rights that it should be afforded."

For centuries, corporations have been considered beings apart from their human owners, yet sharing with them some attributes, such as the right to make contracts and own property. Originally, corporations were a relatively rare form of organization. The government granted charters to corporations, delineating their specific functions. Their powers were presumed limited to those their charter spelled out.

"A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible," Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in an 1819 case. "It possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it."

But as the Industrial Revolution took hold, corporations proliferated and views of their functions began to evolve. In an 1886 tax dispute between the Southern Pacific Railroad and the state of California, the court reporter quoted Chief Justice Morrison Waite telling attorneys to skip arguments over whether the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause applied to corporations, because "we are all of opinion that it does."

That seemingly off-hand comment reflected an "impulse to shield business activity from certain government regulation," says David Millon, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.

"A positive way to put it is that the economy is booming, American production is leading the world and the courts want to promote that," Mr. Millon says. Less charitably, "it's all about protecting corporate wealth" from taxes, regulations or other legislative initiatives.

Subsequent opinions expanded corporate rights. In 1928, the court struck down a Pennsylvania tax on transportation corporations because individual taxicab drivers were exempt. Corporations get "the same protection of equal laws that natural persons" have, Justice Pierce Butler wrote.

From the mid-20th century, though, the court has vacillated on how far corporate rights extend. In a 1973 case before a more liberal court, Justice William O. Douglas rejected the Butler opinion as "a relic" that overstepped "the narrow confines of judicial review" by second-guessing the legislature's decision to tax corporations differently than individuals.

Today, it's "just complete confusion" over which rights corporations can claim, says Prof. William Simon of Columbia Law School.

Even conservatives sometimes have been skeptical of corporate rights. Then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist dissented in 1979 from a decision voiding Massachusetts's restriction of corporate political spending on referendums. Since corporations receive special legal and tax benefits, "it might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere," he wrote.

On today's court, the direction Justice Sotomayor suggested is unlikely to prevail. During arguments, the court's conservative justices seem to view corporate political spending as beneficial to the democratic process. "Corporations have lots of knowledge about environment, transportation issues, and you are silencing them during the election," Justice Anthony Kennedy said during arguments last week.

But Justice Sotomayor may have found a like mind in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights," Justice Ginsburg said, evoking the Declaration of Independence.

How far Justice Sotomayor pursues the theme could become clearer when the campaign-finance decision is delivered, probably by year's end.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bertrand Russell on Bolshevism (10 & Final)

by 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:

7. "Conditions for the Success of Socialism"

Russell makes some very interesting observations in his final chapter. I am not going to discuss observations specially related to conditions as they existed in 1920 but will address more general observations such that we could think them still applicable today.

"The fundamental ideas of communism," he says, "are by no means impracticable, and would, if realized, add immeasurably to the well-being of mankind." So, at least, communism is a worthwhile ideal to struggle for it seems. It is strange, however, for a logician such as Russell not to realize that the fundamental ideas of communism logically rest upon Marx's theory of value and since he rejects that theory he should think them to be impracticable.

Be that as it may, Russell finds no fault with the fundamental ideas, the problem is "in regard to the transition from capitalism." The capitalists may put up such a fight to maintain power that they will destroy what is good in our civilization and "all that is best in communism." So this must be avoided.

There can be no success for a communist revolution if industry is paralyzed. If that should happen the economy would breakdown, there would be mass unrest, starvation, and the communists would have to resort to a "military tyranny" to retain power and maintain order and the utopian ideals of communism would have to be practically junked.

So the success of any true communist revolution depends upon the survival of industry. This means that poor countries, small countries, and countries without fully developed economic power cannot have successful revolutions because the capitalists of the advanced countries would overthrow them or subvert them. Russell doesn't realize it but he is a Menshevik!

There is only one country large enough and powerful enough to have a successful revolution. "America, being self-contained and strong, would be capable, so far as material conditions go, of achieving a successful revolution; but in America the psychological conditions are as yet adverse." He further remarks that, "There is no other civilized country where capitalism is so strong and revolutionary socialism so weak as in America." Amen.

Wherever socialism comes to power the bourgeoisie will but up a fight, and Russell says the important question is how long the fight (he uses the word 'war') will last. If it is a short time he doesn't see a problem. If it s a long time there will be a big problem involving the ability of socialism to maintain its ideals.

Therefore, Russell draws the following two conclusions. There can be no successful socialist revolution unless America first becomes socialist or is willing to remain neutral with respect to a socialist revolution. World history since 1920 would seem to give some credence to this view. Second, in order to avoid the kind of civil war that would effectively cripple the realization of the the ideals of socialism, communism should not be set up in a country unless the great majority of the people are in favor of it and the opponents are too weak to initiate violent opposition or effective sabotage of the process.

Russell also says the working class should be educated in technical matters and business administration so as not to be overly dependent on bourgeois specialists. This would imply an advanced industrial society, which was not the case in Russia.

With respect to England, actually any advanced country-- especially the US-- is meant, Russell maintains the best road to socialism should begin with "self-government" in industry. The first industries to be taken over would be mining and the railroads (transportation) and Russell has "no doubts" that these could be run better by the workers than by the capitalists.

Russell says the Bolsheviks are against self-government in industry because it failed in Russia and their national pride won't allow them to admit this. This is misleading. The Bolsheviks certainly favored workers control and soviets being in charge of industry but the civil war made this difficult to establish in practice [thus war communism]. They had no objections to workers self-government, that's what the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) was all about. As far as having nationalized industries in capitalist countries being governed by worker's councils was concerned, this was permissible as a transitional stage to full socialism but not as an end in and of itself. Besides, a capitalist government would be unlikely to let the workers actually have the determining voice.

Russell thinks capitalists only care about money and power. So socialists should first take over the industries by means of self-government and allow the capitalists to keep their incomes, then,when all can see that they are drones, they can be dispossessed without too much trouble. In this way we could have a relatively peaceful transition to socialism without the collapse of industry. Historically, Social Democrats have supported this but have in practice, in almost all cases, betrayed the workers and helped out the capitalists instead.

Russell says that another reason industrial self government is a good idea is that it would forestall the type of over centralization found in Russia. This should not be a real concern as Russia was backwards and Russell's plan assumes an advanced economic basis. The important thing is that it would be a support for democracy.

Russell makes an important distinction about democracy. There are at least two ways we can think about democracy One is parliamentary democracy, or in the US the type of representational democracy set up over two hundred years ago basically to protect slavery. Russell says this type of democracy is "largely discredited" and that he has "no desire to uphold" it as "an ideal institution."

There is still "self-government" to be upheld, however. Russell doesn't give a more specific name for this, but today we use terms such as popular democracy, direct democracy (as opposed to representational democracy) or participatory democracy. The Russians tried soviets but the conditions on the ground made this impracticable. For the US, probably, some sort of mixture of popular democracy and parliamentary democracy (with the right of recall) would come near to what Russell had in mind.

Russell gives three main reasons for ensuring that socialism is based on his notions of self-government. 1) No dictator, no matter how well intentioned, "can be trusted to know or pursue the interests of his subjects [Stalin]. 2) A politically educated population depends on self-government [the Soviet working class was unable to defend its gains against Yeltsin and Gorbachev and Co.]. 3) Self-government promotes order and stability and reinforces constitutional rule [the Soviet constitution was just a piece of paper].

Russell's reasons are no doubt correct and successful socialism will be more likely if, when the time for the transition from capitalism comes, "there should already exist important industries competently administered by the workers themselves." This is certainly the ideal situation. But history does not always deal us the ideal hand. Sometimes, we are forced to play the hand we are dealt as it is not realistic to constantly fold your cards unless you have a royal flush.

Besides rejecting Bolshevism because he does not think it compatible with the type of stages and gradualism with respect to self-government that he has outlined [what the Bolsheviks questioned was if the ruling class would resort to violence if socialism won peacefully]. Russell has another big problem with the Third International and that it is that its methods are based on coming to power as a result of war and social collapse, whereas socialism can only work, i.e., keep its ideals intact, by coming to power in a prosperous country-- not one destroyed by war and social upheaval.

Let us say that this is an alternative method. In 1920 the Bolsheviks had no way of knowing if this [violence] was a doomed project. It appears to us now that Russell may have been correct. Socialism can come to power by this method, but it cannot succeed in building a real lasting and popular social order. Russia and Eastern Europe seem to have confirmed Russell's fears. The jury is still out with respect to the remaining socialist countries.

Russell ends by saying the Bolsheviks are too dogmatic and what is really needed is an attitude that is more patient and takes into consideration the complexity of the international situation and rejects "the facile hysteria of 'no parley with the enemy'". By 1948, when his work was reissued, Russell could have read Lenin's "Left Wing Communism An Infantile Disorder" and he would have realized how inappropriate his description of the thought of the Third International was.

He then says, Russian Communism "may fail and go under, but socialism itself will not die." True then, true now. The Great War, Russell says "proved the destructiveness of capitalism" and he hopes that the future will not show the "greater destructiveness of Communism" but rather the healing powers of socialism. What came was another world war of even greater destructiveness and the entrenchment of capitalism and its destructiveness. It now threatens the very Earth itself-- its atmosphere, its oceans, and its rain forests and all life on Earth. Now more than ever we need "the power of socialism to heal the wounds which the old system has inflicted upon the human spirit."

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

Saturday, September 19, 2009

WFTU and Peruvian Labor Confederation Announce Int'l Trade U niom UYouth Conference

by Mike Tolochko

World Federation of Trade Unions [WFTU] and the General Confederation of Workers of Peru [CGTP] Announce

" First International Trade Union Youth Conference".

In issuing this Call for Conference, the WFTU and CGTP state that, "Youth unemployment is one of the major problems in the World for both men and women. According to reports by the International Labor Organization [ILO], the number of unemployed people in the world increased during the decade 1995 to 2005 from 74 million to 85 million, that is an increase of 14.8%. And from then to present, according to unofficial figures, the number of unemployed young workers is over 100 million."

The convening unions Call to Conference then focuses on Latin America: Regarding the number of unemployed young workers in Latin America and the Caribbean, it increased from 7.7 million to 9.5 million during the same years as cited above." Their invitation then cites the economic crisis for the working youth. 35% of those who still have jobs. Latin American and Caribbean do not overcome the poverty threshold because of low wages, while 6.3 million live in extreme poverty.

The invitation then cites the subcontracting, outsourcing of work from union jobs. In fact they stated that, "outsourcing is being institutionalized by laws imposed by the neoliberal government." The direct aim of these governments is anti-union, preventing, "youth from participating in trade unions."

A major section of the Invitation deals with the rights of immigrant workers who are seeking work around the world. Corporations in the USA, Japan and the European Union countries are taking advantage of imperialist trade agreement, which force workers to move between countries to find work. The Call documents the Mexican/US border as being a particularly cruel border crossing.

The WFTU reminds people of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And, the WFTU has ever since its founding of the UN in 1945 has been organizing workers and their unions to defend and extend these rights.

As the only anti-imperialist international trade union organization, the WFTU associated with unions like the CGTP, are holding this youth conference to help young workers defend themselves against the onslaught of neoliberal policies.

Neo Liberal Means Anti-Government; Only Corporate

The Call cites the dictatorial international power of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. Their policies believe that: "the State should no interfere in the economic policies, the best is the privatization of strategy sectors of nations and [then] it is needed to implement adjustments of deregulation and reforms of the State." "To achieve this objective [privatization], they developed policies to destroy the trade union movement and to abolish workers' rights.


See the WFTU webpage to see how you can attend this conference.

The Conference Agenda

The titles of the conferences main topics are:

The world capitalist economic and financial crisis;

Role of transnational Corporations.

Immigrant Workers

World Geopolitics, the role of imperialism and national struggles

Youth and the Class oriented trade unionism

Objectives of struggle of trade union youth

Action plan of trade union youth


Invitation was signed by:

Mario Huaman Rivera, Secretary General CGTP
George Mavrikos, Secretary General, WFTU

Friday, September 18, 2009

New UN General Assembly President Sounds Alarm!!

"The world can enjoy no peace, being divided between poor and rich, with the gap between the two widening"

by Mike Tolochko

Each year, a new President of the United Nations' General Assembly takes office. Last year, Miguel d'Escoto lead to General Assembly in a direction it had never seen. He led the General Assembly's countries, the G-192, to challenge the world powerful nations, the G-8 and G-20, to include the rest of the world in the solution to the world capitalist financial and economic crisis. Next week's G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh, Pa, will be the first test of the General Assembly expert panel's inclusion in their deliberations.

Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki will be the next president of the UN's General Assembly. It will be General Assembly's 64th session.

Dr. Treki has been a leading international diplomat from the country of Libya. He is currently Libya's secretary [Minister] of African Union Affairs, a post he has held since 2004.

Speaking in Arabic to the General Assembly in accepting this Presidency, Dr. Treki thanked the African Group, in the General Assembly, for nominating him for that position. Generally speaking the yearly presidency of the General Assembly is shifted between the world's continents.

"The world has gone through many cruel and bitter stages, including a phase of colonialism and slavery, which embodies oppression in its cruelest forms. The peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America were the victims. Successive wars were fought, chief among which were the First and Second World Wars. The peoples of the small and large countries alike paid the highest price for those wars I terms of destruction, material losses and hundreds of thousands of human lives lost."

Dr. Treki then cited that Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the beacon of hope following WWII.

But, Dr. Treki said that the establishment of the Security Council introduced a major defect. "The countries that emerged victorious fro the Second World War had the lion's share in leading the establishment of the Untied Nations. The Charter was drafted to give the victorious countries rights not accorded to other States. This represented a major defect, especially with respect to the Security Council…….It is no longer for the United Nations, with a membership of 192 countries, to remain the Organization it was when it had only 50 members. The need to reform the United Nations system has emerged, especially vis-à-vis the role of the General Assembly and the need to grant it full authority to shoulder its responsibilities in the arch of human progress."

Dr. Treki than cited the arms race a major problem. "Military expenditures has increased, and military budgets have risen into the trillions dollars. The small countries have felt obliged to increase their military capabilities at the expense of their development and welfare of their peoples. Weapons of mass destruction have proliferated and the entire world has felt threatened. Although the major Powers, which possess nuclear weapons, have called for disarmament, they have not set a good example for other countries by taking the initiative to dismantle their own weapons of mass destruction."

He then cited the human crisis that is taking place.

"The exorbitant amounts spent on arms could have been spent to reduce poverty, fight diseases and assist poor peoples' in the field of development. Hundreds of millions of people suffer fro hunger; hundreds of millions of people are deprived of their right to education and suffer from disease, with no access to medicine…..the world can enjoy no peace, being divided between poor and rich, with the gap between the two widening. Furthermore, peace cannot prevail in the world while some peoples live under foreign occupation and suffer the consequences of racism. Peace can prevail only within a framework of justice and respect for human rights regardless of one's religion, race, colour or nationality."

MDGs and World Financial Crisis

Dr. Treki committed himself to attacking the world financial crisis and moving to solving the Millennium development Goals in his term in office.

It will be interesting to see if Dr. Treki will be able to summon the General Assembly's G-192 behind him the way Miguel d"Escoto was able to do.

Dr. Treki's full speech is available from the UN's Department of Public Information.

Free Software economics for Indigenous Nations

Information in the computer age is the last genuine free market left on earth except those free markets where indigenous people are still surviving (Russell Means)

Some of the surviving nations in North America have tried Casinos and call centers. Others have tried meat packing for freedom. Yet, unemployment remains high, over 80% for some communities, such as on the Lakotah reservations. Similarly, per capita income often remains below the poverty line. On the Lakotah reservations, per capita income is typically less than $4,000 annually. The exact story is of course different for each nation, but the overall results of these efforts have usually been rather bleak.

Worse still, each of these efforts require nations to participate in a culturally foreign social-economic model. Each time doing so, a small part of the culture dies in the process. That is because this model requires people to compete against each other, often by any means necessary, and to do so while using the labor of others for personal gain in a market that is often closed and where goods and services often become artificially scarce and demand is artificially generated to further extract wealth rather than meeting real needs.

Certainly, for the American Indian working at a meat packing factory or a call center a job is a means of survival for a family. But it leads to no real economic development or further growth, whether for the worker or for the nation. It is a relationship that exists because the cost of bargained labor is so very cheap on the reservation. If the standard of living and income expectations did actually rise, those so eager to place some temporary facility or industry on the reservation will often simply pull up and leave to someplace cheaper. In fact, this relationship specifically discourages investment in the kind of economic development that would produce long term growth, infrastructure, and economic facilities, because doing so both will create higher future labor costs and make it far more difficult to later leave.

Even in the case of Casinos, there are issues. Where a nation is fortunate enough to be the direct beneficial owner of a casino rather than simply licensing the rights and profits to an outside entity, this casts the nation itself in the role of extracting wealth through deliberate deception of others. It may be ironic, given that this is essentially a reversal of roles, since often indigenous lands were acquired through such tactics, but this too means people must forget who they are and what their lifeways mean and take up the very same behaviors of the invader that they found to be so very offensive. In this way, also, the nations and culture can surely also slowly die.

As I noted there are basic cultural questioned tied to economics, and this is especially true for American Indians who's cultural experiences were originally formed in a classless society. This was best explained to me once by Russell Means. While at the time we were talking about the social and cultural consequence of western styles education, what he said that most stuck with me at the time was, and to roughly paraphrase his words, “Indians do not compete”. Clearly the logical way forward is to look at sustainable models based on voluntary cooperative economics with direct or collective ownership over the means of production. Fortunately there are a number examples found practiced today which do not require high levels of (presumably external) investment to get started and which have already been demonstratively effective. One example of this is found in the economics of free (as in freedom) software.

Free software underpins not just the technological foundations of the global Internet, but even the financial success of large capitalist corporations. Examples of this include IBM, who claims to make over $1 billion in revenue annually through free software, and RedHat (rhat), which is a publicly traded company that develops and sells free software for enterprise uses. But while free software scales even to sustain very large businesses and commercial activities, it also enables individuals and much smaller and entirely autonomous entities to successfully economically participate by making the means of production available to everyone, and hence often with very minimal startup costs.

Free software is often expressed and provided through a copyright license, such as the GNU General Public License. The terms of such a license essentially are that one who receives free software is free to provide the software to others, whether in original form or modified, so long as they add no additional restrictions or conditions when they do so. Since they originally received the software with the full source code to compile and build it, it is necessary to offer it to others with the same. This, in economic terms, is a transaction, but not an exchange of money, it is rather an exchange of consideration. This is often called copyleft.

This relationship does not in any way prevent free software from being commercially sold in any fashion. However, it does mean one cannot artificially control or otherwise restrict the freedom of what the purchaser may do with what you have sold them. Free software also offers entirely new ways for buyers and sellers to relate. Since the downstream seller may choose to make changes or fixes and then redistribute the improved version, those changes too become public, and can make their way back to the original developer and to all users of said software, who then benefit. This is where true cooperative benefits scale, and in a manner that is both socially and culturally consistent with the lifeways of many indigenous nations.

Certainly not are all free software relationships expressed as buyers and sellers, it is simply the one most clear to explain to a larger audience. In fact many kinds of cooperative relationships can exist, many different kinds of business models can be applied, and these too often will align well with traditional lifeways. Equally important, free software allows cooperative expertise. Since one cannot derive exclusive benefit at the expense of another, there is much greater incentive for people working on similar problems to do so together rather than competitively.

With no artificial market barriers to participation, and with the possibility for zero cost in distribution, much of the cost of commercially starting in free software are entirely infrastructure and equipment costs. Given the cooperative nature of free software, this too could lend itself to shared or cooperative costs. Individual nations could even minimally invest in setting up small community development centers where equipment and infrastructure are particularly scarce.

Free software certainly will not solve all the problems of the surviving nations alone. However, it certainly can even in a small way help contribute to the establishment of sustainable economic development as well as a means to enable individual and communal economic sovereignty even in the present world, and hence to do so without having to compromise core social and cultural principles in the process.

Podcast #110 - President Obama raises the roof at the AFL-CIO convention

Subscribe to this podcast in iTunes

Political Affairs Podcast #110 - President Obama raises the roof at the AFL-CIO convention

On this episode, President Obama raises the roof at the AFL-CIO annual convention, discussing his positions on issues like workers' rights, the environment, jobs, health care reform and education. Stay with us.

Download the mp3 version of episode #110 here

Irony of white supremacy

Wise's analysis of the contradictions of white supremacy might be applied to the health care debate today. Republican dominated states in the South, where Republican Party machines dominate state/federal politics and where hatred of Obama seems to lean to the Confederate revivalist side, are states in which working class people need health reform the most. See Rachel Maddow's analysis here:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Human or Corporate made Crises?

Web address:

Human-made Crises 'Outrunning Our Ability To Deal With Them,' Scientists Warn

from Science Daily [comments in brackets]

ScienceDaily (Sep. 17, 2009) — The world faces a compounding series of crises driven by human [CAPITALIST] activity, which existing governments and institutions are increasingly powerless to cope with, a group of eminent environmental scientists and economists has warned.

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers say that nations alone are unable to resolve the sorts of planet-wide challenges now arising.
Pointing to global action on ozone depletion (the Montreal Protocol), high seas fisheries and antibiotic drug resistance as examples, they call for a new order of cooperative international institutions capable of dealing with issues like climate change – and enforcing compliance where necessary.
“Energy, food and water crises, climate disruption, declining fisheries, ocean acidification, emerging diseases and increasing antibiotic resistance are examples of serious, intertwined global-scale challenges spawned by the accelerating scale of human activity,” say the researchers, who come from Australia, Sweden, the United States, India, Greece and The Netherlands.[ITS SPECIFIC HUMAN ACTIVITY-- MONOPOLY CAPITALIST CORPORATE GREED AND IT’S TRANSNATIONAL]

“These issues are outpacing the development of institutions to deal with them and their many interactive effects. The core of the problem is inducing cooperation in situations where individuals and nations will collectively gain if all cooperate, but each faces the temptation to free-ride on the cooperation of others.”[ITS THE BIG CORPORATIONS NOT INDIVIDUALS AND NATIONS. THEY PROFIT FROM THESE ACTIVITIES AND MUST BE TAKEN OVER AND RUN BY THE WORKING CLASS]

There are few institutional structures to achieve co-operation globally on the sort of scales now essential to avoid very serious consequences, warns lead author Dr Brian Walker of Australia’s CSIRO.

While there are signs of emerging global action on issues such as climate change, there is widespread inaction on others, such as the destruction of the world’s forests to grow biofuels [CAUSED BY THE “MARKET” FOR THESE PRODUCTS CREATED BY CAPITALISM] or the emergence of pandemic flu through lack of appropriate animal husbandry protocols where people, pigs and birds co-mingle.

“Knowing what to do is not enough,” says Dr Walker. “Institutional reforms are needed to bring about changes in human behaviour [ITS NOT REFORM OF HUMAN BEHAVIOUR THAT’S NEEDED BUT THE ABOLITION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY IN NATURAL RESOURCES], to increase local appreciation of shared global concerns and to correct the sort of failures of collective action that cause global-scale problems.”

“We are not advocating that countries give up their sovereignty,” adds co-author Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

“We are instead proposing a much stronger focus on regional and worldwide cooperation, helped by better-designed multi-national institutions. The threat of climate change to coral reefs, for example, has to be tackled at a global scale. Local and national efforts are already failing.”
The scientists acknowledge that the main challenge is getting countries to agree to take part in global institutions designed to prevent destructive human [BUSINESS] practices. “Plainly, agreements must be designed such that countries are better off participating than not participating,” they say.

This would involve all countries in drawing up standards designed to protect the earth’s resources and systems, to which they would then feel obligated to adhere.

However they also concede that the ‘major powers’ must be prepared to enforce such standards and take action against back-sliders [I.E., CORPORATIONS]

“The major powers must be willing to enforce an agreement – but legitimacy will depend on acceptance by numerous and diverse countries, and non-governmental actors such as civil society and business,” they add.
“To address common threats and harness common opportunities, we need greater interaction amongst existing institutions, and new institutions, to help construct and maintain a global-scale social contract,” the scientists conclude. [THERE IS NO SOLUTION WITHOUT SOCIALISM].

Why capitalism fails

Why capitalism fails
By Stephen Mihm
Boston Globe
September 13, 2009

Since the global financial system started unraveling in dramatic fashion two years ago, distinguished economists have suffered a crisis of their own. Ivy League professors who had trumpeted the dawn of a new era of stability have scrambled to explain how, exactly, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression had ambushed their entire profession.

Amid the hand-wringing and the self-flagellation, a few more cerebral commentators started to speak about the arrival of a “Minsky moment,” and a growing number of insiders began to warn of a coming “Minsky meltdown.”

“Minsky” was shorthand for Hyman Minsky, a hitherto obscure macroeconomist who died over a decade ago. Many economists had never heard of him when the crisis struck, and he remains a shadowy figure in the profession. But lately he has begun emerging as perhaps the most prescient big-picture thinker about what, exactly, we are going through. A contrarian amid the conformity of postwar America, an expert in the then-unfashionable subfields of finance and crisis, Minsky was one economist who saw what was coming. He predicted, decades ago, almost exactly the kind of meltdown that recently hammered the global economy.

In recent months Minsky’s star has only risen. Nobel Prize-winning economists talk about incorporating his insights, and copies of his books are back in print and selling well. He’s gone from being a nearly forgotten figure to a key player in the debate over how to fix the financial system.

But if Minsky was as right as he seems to have been, the news is not exactly encouraging. He believed in capitalism, but also believed it had almost a genetic weakness. Modern finance, he

argued, was far from the stabilizing force that mainstream economics portrayed: rather, it was a system that created the illusion of stability while simultaneously creating the conditions for an inevitable and dramatic collapse.

In other words, the one person who foresaw the crisis also believed that our whole financial system contains the seeds of its own destruction. “Instability,” he wrote, “is an inherent and inescapable flaw of capitalism.”


Logics of Empowerment

Logics of Empowerment in Neoliberal India
Aradhana Sharma
University of Minnesota Press
111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401
ISBN: 978-0-8166-5453-6

A book review by Carol Hoyer

Ms. Sharma has written a very informative book on the conditions of and neglect of marginalized women in India. As a feminist, the author provides support for her theories from her twenty months of ethnographic research in north India.

In the introduction, the author talks about how media and government portray that all is well in India. As most governments, India tends to by-pass those who are seen as non-essential individuals; those living in poverty and those who don’t receive the necessary education or training to improve their lives.

The author relates that it is not her intent in this book to say whether empowerment programs are successes or failures, but her intent is to examine how empowerment is conceptualized and implemented. As a psychologist I have always found the word “empowerment” is used haphazardly and to one’s own convenience.

As with many programs for the marginalized individuals, government leaves little room for education and critical thinking. The aim of government is to ignore these issues and use the innovative programs when they need them.

The Mahila Samakhya program is a program that was developed to help educate the marginalize women of India. Each village had a mentor of sorts and groups of women meet to discuss their concerns and set goals on how to accomplish change. Over time, the government tried to gain more control of what was being taught by using funds and voting privileges to their advantage. An example of this is when the government can say, “Look we have so many empowered women,” and choose to let them vote when needed or show off their changes when meeting with other governmental officials.

This is not a book that is easy to breeze through. And many who are anti-feminist will not want to even open it. Readers must read slowly and let the information sink in and compare the research to what they know. The information provided by the author is some that can be used in other countries and the Mahila Samakhya program has many resources to share.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

No Change In The Link Between Deprivation And Death Since 1900s

FYI from Science Daily

Web address:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 16, 2009) — The link between deprivation and premature death is as strong today as it was in the early 1900s, according to research published on

The study, the first of its kind to directly compare modern deprivation and mortality with conditions a century ago in the whole of England and Wales, has been undertaken by Ian Gregory, Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University.

Using the census mortality data from 634 districts in the 1900s, Gregory has explored the links between deprivation and mortality in Edwardian England and Wales to premature death and poverty in 2001.

The twentieth century saw huge improvements in mortality rates in England and Wales. In the 1900s, 33% of deaths occurred in the under 5s and only 13% occurred over the age of 75 – one hundred years later deaths aged under 5 are less than 1% and 65% of deaths now occur in those over 75. Life expectancy has also improved, rising from 46 for males to 77 and 50 for females to 81.

In the 1900s the main causes of death were respiratory, infectious and parasitic diseases but in 2001 this changed to cancers, heart diseases and strokes. The experience of poverty changed too, while in the 1900s it meant not having the bare necessities for existence, a century later relative poverty meant comparing an individual's income or deprivation with those experienced by society as a whole.

Despite the dramatic decline in mortality in the twentieth century the link between mortality and deprivation across England and Wales "remains as strong today as it was a century ago", says Gregory.

The author argues that links between mortality and deprivation are deeply entrenched and that patterns from the Edwardian era are strong predictors of ill health today. Gregory maintains that modern diseases "have a possible long-term link to unhealthy living conditions in the distant past". He says: "The strong association between modern deaths from lung cancer and 1900s mortality suggests that this might in part be a cultural effect caused by the long term prevalence of smoking in poorer areas."