Friday, December 10, 2010

China’s Consumerism and the Implications for Market Socialism » pa

China’s Consumerism and the Implications for Market Socialism » pa

David Leonhardt’s reporting on his trip to China and his numerous insightful interviews give important insights into development questions of great interest to progressives and socialists everywhere. While its not as long as a book – though I expect Leonhardt will turn it into one – I felt compelled to re-organize the material from the parts that reflect upon some important theoretical and practical questions of market socialism and Marxism. Consider this a review of his "new book," which opens:

When the Wuqi International Hotel was completed this spring, it immediately dominated the modest skyline of Wuqi, a small city in north central China. The hotel is part of an effort by local officials to reshape a city far from the fast-growing export oriented towns and cities on the coast.

But changes here are the kinds that a new breed of Reformers including many industrial workers, service providers and small business/enterprise producers have been recommending for China as a whole. In Leonhardt’s report, the government of Wuqi offers more generous health insurance to its citizens than many places. Its schools are free all the way through high school, rather than through only ninth grade, as is usual in China. Over the last decade, the city has embarked on ambitious tree-planting programs that have brought green to the yellow-brown hills of the Loess Plateau, where Wuqi is located, and where the famed Long March ended in those hills in 1935.

Read more: China’s Consumerism and the Implications for Market Socialism » pa

Marxists and Marmots

Thomas Riggins

How often do we hear that socialism sounds like a good idea but it doesn't work in practice because of human nature. This is an old refrain. People are by nature selfish and so competition is the natural outcome with the most talented and aggressive people reaching the top and the mediocre masses down on the bottom. But suppose it is really the opposite. Suppose those who engage in friendly cooperation really are closer to what nature intends. In a cooperative society maybe even the victims of aggressive actions still have a better chance to thrive than they would in a completely competitive environment. Maybe the Ayn Rand world is not the world for us and socialism is more natural after all.

A recent article in Science Daily (12-8-2010) may provide a clue to the answer to these speculations ("Social Relationships in Animals Have a Genetic Basis, New Research Reveals"). Scientists at UCLA have been studying marmots living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Marmots are rodents who are a genus (Marmota) of the squirrel family (Sciuridae). Some marmots have a propensity, so we are told, to chuck wood and are known as woodchucks. Others can predict the weather (groundhogs) according to some.

The marmots I am linking to possible socialist ideas are the yellow-bellied marmots (M. flaviventris) studied by the scientists. The name refers to fur and not to their lack of valor.
The scientists found "that having many friendly interactions gave marmots fitness benefits--these marmots reproduced more," said Amanda Lea, one of the researchers and lead author of the paper. "Over a lifetime [about 15 yrs], a marmot that is very social will have more offspring than a less social one." Hmmmm. I wonder how much this applies to humans. This is one way of putting the "social" into socialism.

But the scientists also found out that some marmots are the victims of aggression from their fellow marmots. Those who do not respond in kind, that is those inclined to turn the other cheek pouch, also have a better survival rate. So it seems that "a marmot that is getting picked on frequently" also will have more offspring. It is the family unit as such that is really important. Tolerating aggression as well as strengthening friendly cooperation keeps marmot society functioning. "Those relationships are important for social stability and reproductive success. I believe these ideas are generalizable well beyond marmots," said the study's co-author Daniel T. Blumstein.

What is important is that these behaviors have a genetic basis and are passed on through the generations. If such behavior is common to mammals as such then humans also have these inborn tendencies for cooperation and tolerance. These genetic traits are, I think, much more in accord with the ideals of socialism than the ruthless free market world of Ayn Rand and other capitalist apologists.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Arizona's Two Death Penalties

Thomas Riggins

First, I am not picking on Arizona, just using it as one example; it is standing in for any state that uses similar methods to try and balance its budget. Arizona currently has 126 felons on its death row awaiting execution. The national average cost for each prisoner from sentencing to execution is $2 million-- about 10 times the cost for life imprisonment.

But the 126 people on death row are not the only people the state of Arizona has sentenced to death. Arizona has cut its medicaid budget due to the on going collapse of the world capitalist system. To reduce its budget deficit low income people in Arizona will no longer receive organ transplants that had been paid for by the state.

The New York Times (12-3-10) refers to this as "Death by budget cut." The deaths of poor people due to the cut in medicaid is every bit as premeditated as those of prisoners given lethal injections by the state. The NYT reports that Francisco Felix, 32, will not get the liver transplant that would have saved his life. He is in the process of dying. The cost of the transplant was $200,000. It was his turn on the list but he was refused after the state ended this part of medicaid for the poor. If the governor commuted just one of the 126 people condemned to death he could have sentenced Francisco Felix to Life with his family and had $1,600,000 left over to save 9 more people as well; that what's left after the cost of transplant plus the $200,000 that the prisoner's life sentence will cost the state.

There are many other cases like that of Francisco Felix. These new rules took effect in October and no one has died yet. But the poor sick and needy are sitting on their own death row just as real as the 126 people legally under the sentence of death. They two have been legally given a death sentence. Sentenced to death not for murder but for being poor. A capital offense in Arizona.

If Arizona really wanted to save money the state would commute all 126 death sentences to life imprisonment. With the savings they could help save the lives of all their sick and poor citizens and residents who are in need of life saving medical procedures such as organ transplants. It is the only thing a civilized state can do.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Obama on the Fence?

Thomas Riggins

Matt Bai has an article in the Wednesday New York Times "Debt-Busting Issue May Force Obama Off Fence." Bai says that Obama's fiscal commission has given him the choice of ruling for the next two years either from the center left [allied with "traditional liberals" who want the rich to pay their fair share of the taxes and cuts in the military budget] or from the center right [both Democratic and Republican centrists who want to reform "entitlement" programs and taxes].

Bai indicates he has to choose between a "liberal renaissance" or continue his attempts to work with the Republicans in a "postpartisan" alliance. The choice he makes will shape the political landscape for years to come-- for better or worse.

Although many think that Obama is the opium of the Left we can still work with him for progressive causes on whichever side of the fence he falls. Who would have wanted a McCain-Palin administration-- we wouldn't even have a fence, just a ditch.

Bai doesn't know which side Obama will choose. His recent two year pay freeze for federal workers (who did not cause the economic collapse) while bankers and CEOs (who did) are raking the money in is not a good sign of things to come.

Bai gives us some hints which side Obama will choose. I will give three major ones he points out. 1. Obama's books and writings indicate he is a "whatever works" pragmatist with no particular ideological commitment-- a political chameleon perhaps. 2. Bai reports that in private Obama has sometimes called himself "essentially a Blue Dog Democrat." He didn't mention this during the primaries! 3. Although he voted against confirming John Roberts as Chief Justice he "castigated" Democratic activists who criticized those Democratic senators who did saying they threatened "thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas." Well, the "thoughtfulness and new ideas" of John Roberts are not leading us down the road to a more democratic country.

In any event Bai says Obama is "loath to publicly disown his base on any specific issue." I'm not sure I like the adverbial phrase. The proof will be in the pudding. Obama must decide, according to Bai, either for the left or the right once the Bowles-Simpson committee gives him its report. Social Security is the acid test. Bai says that if he accepts the commission's recommendations on Social Security the outrage from his base will be so great he could face a primary challenge in 2012.

The Republicans would love that: something like a Feingold-Obama fight (suggested in The Nation by Cockburn) to cover themselves while they self destruct over a Palin-Romney brouhaha. Obama has come to the Rubicon-- how will the die be cast?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

RED PLENTY- Book Review

[This looks like an interesting book-- can anyone point out the economic flaws in the story?--tr]
RED PLENTY by Francis Spufford (2010) reviewed by Phil Ebersole [Phil Ebersole's Blog]
This quirky, fascinating book is a docu-drama about the efforts of idealistic reformers in the Soviet Union in the 1960s to overcome the inherent flaws of central planning and make the promises of Communism come true. I can remember than era, and can see why it would not have seemed impossible. The Soviet Union launched the Sputnik in 1957, its economy was reported to be growing faster than ours, and many Americans had much the same feeling as they had toward Japan in the 1980s or China and India today.

This story is told as a series of vignettes about characters both historical and fictional involved in the workings or the attempted reform of the Soviet economy, told in a style that is sardonic, poignant and highly readable. The second chapter is told from the viewpoint of an exuberant Nikita Khrushchev, visiting the United States in 1959 and challenging the capitalist world to peaceful economic competition. The last chapter returns to Khrushchev in forced retirement in 1968, sitting in his garden and brooding on what went wrong. Spufford conveys a sense of Soviet life during that period that is so convincing I would have thought he experienced it; in fact, he is a Briton who doesn't speak Russian.

Along the way he does an excellent job of explaining Soviet and Western economics in both theory and practice. The flaw of Soviet economics is that no system of central planning has been found that can substitute for supply and demand as a means of coordinating an economy. In a market economy, the price of a product reflects everything that is known about its value and scarcity, without the need for omniscient masterminds at the top.
The book's hero, to the extent that there is one, is Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich, the only Soviet winner of the Nobel Memorial Price for Economics. Kantorovich hoped that sufficiently sophisticated mathematics and computer processing would allow the Soviet planners to optimize their system, and accomplish what a market system would do without creating a wealthy capitalist class. His theories inspired Khrushchev to create the city of Academgorodok, where the best minds of the Soviet Union were allowed to work in relative freedom to create a better future. Some of the scenes are set in Academgorodok; others depict the nitty-gritty of making the Soviet system work in practice.

Kantorovich's reforms were introduced in a partial and self-defeating way. In one chapter, the managers of a textile mill realize that with, with their obsolete machinery, they won't achieve their production quota, and their careers will thereby be ruined. Risking being shot as saboteurs, they fake an accident that destroys their machine, expecting they will get a newer, more advanced model as a replacement that will enable them to meet their target. Instead, they get a copy of the old obsolete machine. The new machine is both better and cheaper to make, but the machine tool manufacturers keep on with the old machines. Under the new plan, the manufacturer is expected to make a profit, and the profit is higher on the old machines. Why? The price was based on the machine's weight.

Spufford's account makes the resistance and sabotage of the reforms seem inevitable. Managers were asked to give up control to an impersonal system, but they still had responsibility for results. The temptation to do what W. Edwards Deming called "tinkering" was irresistible. In fact, the whole story reminds me, in many ways, of American industry's partial adoption and then abandonment of Deming's total quality management system.

Spufford identifies the moment when capitalist defeated Communism. It was when Soviet economic planners decided to forego development of a new generation of computers, and instead reverse-engineer the IBM 360. (The Soviet military had their own advanced computers, but these were never shared with the civilian economy.) By so doing, the economic planners in effect admitted that the Soviet Union would always be a second-rate industrial power and the dream of a socialist paradise was an illusion.

The Soviet Union later made an economic comeback not as an industrial power, but as an oil and gas exporter. Some of the discoveries in western Siberia were guided by Academgorodok geologists. The reforms later attempted by Mikhail Gorbachev were not a revival of Kantorovich's ideas. Kantorvich sought to optimize the Soviet economy while leaving the structure of Soviet power intact; Gorbachev sought to democratize Soviet government while leaving central economic planning intact.

The book's end notes explain what in the book is fiction, what is the result of research and the sources for the research. It is almost as interesting as the main body of the book. There is no U.S. edition of Red Plenty; I ordered my copy from a distributor of British books.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Health Care Heresies

Thomas Riggins

Now that the Republicans and their neofascist fellow travelers have taken control of the House they have set them themselves the goal of repealing the recent health care reform the Democrats enacted. Flawed as that reform is it at least will enable 35 or so million people to get some sort of health insurance in the coming years. There are around 50 million without insurance at present. Hopefully these extra 15 million will also be covered.

The Republican reactionaries keep harping that we have the "best" health care in the world (we actually rate 37th among developed countries). Here are a couple of examples. The US has "the best medical care system in the world"-- Bob McDonnell, Republican Gov. of Virginia. We have the greatest medical care "the world has ever known"-- Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby. So while reactionaries and rightist may consider denying this to be heretical, the following information from Science Daily may call their flights of fancy into question.

On November 29th Science Daily reported the results of an 11 nation study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund: "US Adults Most likely to Forgo Care Due to Cost, Have Trouble Paying Medical Bills, Survey Finds." Of the 11 advanced industrial countries studied the US came in dead last with Americans having the highest numbler having to give up seeking health care due to cost, they also had the most trouble paying their medical bills [some 60 per cent of personal bankruptcies in the US are caused by medical bills another study showed].

Americans, even with insurance, have higher bills, more disputes with insurers, and more often have insurers refuse to cover procedures they thought were covered. This is, of course, because of the for profit nature of health insurance. This is an industry that should be run out of business by a single payer government run system such as Medicare for all. Here are some facts the study found. 1. 33% of Us adults went without necessary care, couldn't see a doctor, or couldn't afford to get medicine; in the U.K. and the Netherlands it's 5 to 6%. 2. 20% of Americans had problems paying for their care while in France it was 9%, Netherlands 4%, Germany 3% and U.K. 2%. 3. 35% of Americans paid $1000 or more out of pocket for medical care last year-- significantly more "than all of the other countries." It goes without saying that the these figures are correlated along class and income perameters.

The politicians who most oppose health reform for the poor have, of course, fully covered health care at taxpayer expense which, if made available to regular citizens they denounce as socialism. The lead author of the study, Cathy Schoen, wrote, "In fact, the U.S. is the only country in the study where having health insurance doesn't guarantee you access to health care or financial protection when you're sick."

The study also found out that the people on Medicare have less problems with the US medical system than adults under the age of 65. One can hardly imagine, given these grim realities, how Republicans and other reactionaries are able to carry off election victories of the magnitude they did in the 2010 midterms. The vast majority of the American people will continue to suffer not only with respect to medical coverage, but economically, socially, and in education. Yet they have the power of the vote and of wielding it to improve their lives and those of their children. They only need access to the facts, not readily provided by the establishment media. Lets work for and hope that the Left will do a better job of getting the truth out to the American people.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Very Bad Wizard

This is reposted from Phil Ebersole's Blog.
Phil is a progressive and a member of the Greater Rochester Bertrand Russell Society.
You should google his blog; he has many insightful articles. I thought I would share this one
because it reminds us that President Obama can't make the changes we want unless we fight with him to get them-- tr

A very bad wizard
by philebersole
In L. Frank Baum’s story, the Wizard of Oz promises Dorothy and her friends, the scarecrow, the tin woodman and the cowardly lion that if they succeed in their quest, he will grant the scarecrow’s wish for a brain, the tin woodman’s wish for a heart, the cowardly lion’s wish for a lion’s courage and Dorothy’s wish for a way back to Kansas.

When they succeed, however, the Wizard is unable to grant their wishes. Instead he gives them other things he says are just as good. The scarecrow gets a college diploma, the tin woodman a flowery valentine card and the cowardly lion a military medal. Only Dorothy can’t be helped because the way back to Kansas is something real.

President Obama promised his followers that, if they succeeded in putting him in office, he would make an all-out effort to achieve certain goals – a public option for health care as an alternative to private health insurance, a “cramdown” allowing federal bankruptcy judges to reset mortgages, the preservation of Social Security. But when they achieved their quest, they were given other things that President Obama says are just as good – the Affordable Care Act, the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Deficit Reduction Commission.

In the story, the scarecrow manifested brains, the tin woodman heart and the lion courage in their actions, not as a gift from a wizard. And Dorothy was able to browbeat the wizard into taking her along in his balloon ride back to our world.

The lesson is that we the people should not depend on the gift of a charismatic political figure. If we want a full employment economy, if we want to curb the power of Wall Street over the government, if we want affordable health insurance, if we want to stop the erosion of labor rights and the social safety net, we need to create a political force that has to be reckoned with no matter who is in office, as the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the labor movement and the civil rights movement did in earlier eras.

Because President Obama may well be a very good man, but he certainly is a very bad Wizard.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Senate Rules Block Progress

Senate Rules Block Progress

The U.S. Senate should revise its rules on filibusters and consent for judicial nominations in order to stop a recently growing trend of gridlock and indecisions, argues a new report from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Read more here...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reflections on "Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage" NYT headline 11-12-10

Reflections on "Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage" NYT headline

Thomas Riggins

1. Interesting headline: Instead of "US Economic View" etc, the Times has personalized it to seem as if it is the president's personal view.

2. China, Britain, Germany and South Korea are the culprits. China is understandable it is not our "ally" but a revolt in the client states bodes ill for the empire.

3. BO (the US) wants to procure economic growth before reducing deficits. This core strategy is being outright rejected by other world leaders. This is a first for an American president at a G20 meeting.

4. The other leaders are upset over the Federal Reserve's devaluing the dollar and accuse the US of doing so to make the rest of the world pay for the American trade deficit instead solving its problems by decreasing spending at home. Nice try, but no cigar.

5. Here is what China told the US-- since the dollar is the world's reserve currency (for the time being) the US should consider the "global economy" not just its "national circumstances." Right. BO is supposed to come home and put US national interests second to those of China and others. That's a lead balloon if ever there was one.

6. Greenspan agreed that we were weakening the dollar to make the rest of the world pay for our mistakes!

7. Geithner denied this, saying we would never do that just "to gain competitive advantage."

8. Many other "big" powers see it Greenspan's way! The leaders of the UK (PM David
Cameron) and Germany (Chancellor Angela Merkel) dismissed BO's plea for stimulus spending and favored austerity.

9. This whole G20 disagreement is between the capitalists of the US and their allies (plus China) on how to get the world economy out of the doldrums but to the advantage of capitalists. BO's plan would favor American workers-- stimulus = more jobs-- and if the "world" follow's suit a bigger market for US goods so US capitalists also benefit.

10. The other nations reject this and want to help their capitalists through austerity-- balance their budgets by cutting social programs and reducing benefits to the masses of the working population and retired people. This allows for longer working hours and less taxes on the corporations to sustain benefits.

11. The US was more or less getting its way until this current G20 meeting-- the Europeans and others were reluctantly letting the US call the shots-- but the tea party takeover in our mid-term elections has weakened BO in the eyes of other world leaders so they are rejecting his leadership vís a vís the world economy.

12. The free trade accord with South Korea fell through as it was felt by BO's advisors better to return empty handed than to look as if (because he had) given too many concessions to get it signed.

13. Now that the world thinks WE manipulated the value of the dollar (as we did) to help our economy, we can't complain about the Chinese "under valuing" their currency. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

14. The sub-text of this G20 meeting is that plans are afoot for the creation of "rules for a new global financial order" not dominated by US capital-- that will truly be a New World Order-- but not the one the US planned on. First the decline, then the fall.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The "Emissions Power" is a Myth


Despite China’s total carbon emission, which shows China is a major CO2 emitter, its per-capita emissions in 2007 were only 4.6 tons, less than 25 percent of the United States and only half of the EU.

Additionally, China has done the best job in CO2 emission reduction in the world through its strenuous effort in recent years. From 1990 to 2007, the average global per-unit CO2 reduction rate stood at 15.4 percent, with the United States at 27 percent, the average of developed countries 22 percent and the average of developing countries 10.2 percent, while China’s figure stood at 49.2 percent.

Book Review: Generations of Resistance » pa

Book Review: Generations of Resistance

Generation of Resistance: The Electrical Workers Unions and the Cold War
by John Bennett Sears
Conshohocken, PA, Infinity Publishing Company, 2008.

In the first half of the 20th century, there were two major schools of labor history. The established, anti-socialist one represented by John R. Commons, Selig Perlman and Philip Taft dealt with the institutional political history of the trade union movement, relating in a fairly narrow fashion that history to the larger pattern of U.S. history.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Check out the new

Welcome to the new A fresh look and easier to use tools will make our presentation of working class ideas, culture and politics exciting every day.

There are four basic sections on this site.

  1. Each month we will present in our "Features" section the monthly issue, which includes articles and other content that represent the core theoretical mission of this online publication. 
  2. The "What's New" section are the latest updates and analysis on major events, cultural happenings, and other issues of the day. 
  3. The "Editors' Blog" section hosts the ramblings and opinions of PA editors and friends.
  4. And, fourth, the "Podcast" section will feature the latest audio recordings of interviews with activists and others.

In the near future, readers will be able to use and share educational tools in various multimedia formats. So look for that content soon.

As a reader, you will be able to share your favorite content with your friends and social networks through the "share" function on each page. You will be able to post your comments on each article and blog post.

You can stay connected with by joining our e-mail list by clicking the "receive our newsletter" link on the home page, or by finding us on Facebook or Twitter. We want to hear from you and join with you to build an activist community online.

E-mail us with article submissions or story ideas at

Capitalism sucks unless you are very, very rich

By Joe Sims

This article originally appeared at, October 27, 2010.

Capitalism sucks, unless you are one of the 74 wealthiest Americans who made profits five times bigger than the previous year, while most working-class people were catching hell in the Great Recession.

If you are one of the gilded Americans whose earnings were more than $50 million a piece last year, you actually saw your average income "skyrocket from $91.8 million in 2008 to a mind-boggling $518.8 million in 2009."

These guys - the group of 74 - made more than the combined total of the 19 million lowest paid workers in the country.

These findings and more are based on statistics recently released by the Social Security Administration and analysed almost exclusively by David Kay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winning former New York Times reporter.

At the height of the election campaign, it's a surprise, even startling, that the media has said scarcely a word about this.

Johnston comments, "Not a single news organization reported this data when it was released October 15, searches of Google and the Nexis databases show" - a curious silence indeed given the debate in Congress on extension of the Bush tax cuts.

The superprofits raked in by the 74 added up to a combined $38.4 billion in 2009, up from $11.9 billion earned by 131 individuals with wages above $50 million in 2008, according to Social Security Administration data, writes Bloomberg news.

Keep in mind, the data, based on Medicare payments only, pertains only to wages and salaries and not investment income.

While the rich are growing fabulously richer - a fivefold increase in fact - wages for most of us fell, Johnston points out. Equally significant, he says, "Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar."

This massive transfer of wealth, he contends, began in 1981 when there was "an abrupt change in tax and economic policy. Since then the base has fared poorly while huge economic gains piled up at the very top, along with much lower tax burdens."

Thus it was Reaganism and GOP policy that set these forces in motion, a process that has had a devastating impact on the working class both economically and ideologically. "This systematic destruction of the working class and middle class has come during an era notable for celebrating the super-rich just for being super-rich," Johnston writes. "From the Forbes 400 launch in 1982 and Robin Leach's "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" in 1984 to the faux reality of the multiplying "Real Housewives" shows, money voyeurism has grown in tandem with stagnant to falling incomes for the vast majority. There has also been huge income growth at the top and the economic children of income inequality: budget deficits and malign neglect of our commonwealth."

It was hoped that the Obama election two years ago signaled the end of that era of unprecedented capital accumulation that resulted in the Great Recession. That is precisely what's at stake next Tuesday.

The peoplesworld is part of the independent and free press tradition in the U.S.A. We are funded exclusively by our subscribers and supporters — no corporate money.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Obama Rejects Tax Cuts for the Rich, Calls for Big Oil to Pay Fair Share

by Joel Wendland
This article originally appeared at, Sept. 9, 2010

The President came out swinging in a major economic policy speech in Cleveland, Sept. 8, against Republican Party obstructionism on economic recovery. He flatly rejected GOP plan's to give mammoth new tax cuts to the richest Americans and accused its leaders of pushing the "same philosophy that was tried for the last decade which led to the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression: tax cuts for millionaires, cut rules for corporations, and leave the middle class to fend for itself."

Instead, President Obama called for a new package of tax cuts for working families, tax credits for businesses to purchase new equipment and for research and development, and infrastructure projects to spur job growth.

To pay for these proposals, administration officials told reporters the President wants to close tax loopholes for big oil companies and other companies that move jobs out of the country.

President Obama said he favors extending tax cuts for Americans earning $250,000 or less, while letting the Bush tax cuts for the very richest Americans sunset.

"We are ready, this week, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less," the President said. "For any income over this amount, the tax rates would go back to what they were under President Clinton."

He rejected Republican claims that this move would be bad for the economy, citing the high deficit. "We can’t afford the $700 billion price tag [for tax cuts for the rich]." He also recalled that with a similar tax code in place in the 1990s, the U.S. economy created 22 million jobs.

When the economic crisis began, President Obama said, "My hope was that the crisis would cause everyone, Democrats and Republicans, to pull together and tackle our problems in a practical way. "

"But as we all know, things didn’t work out that way," he said. Ideological and partisan considerations caused "[s]ome Republican leaders [to figure] it was smart politics to sit on the sidelines and let Democrats solve the mess."

House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner, R, Ohio, offered his party's views on the economy late last month, but, the President said, they were awfully familiar.

"There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner," he explained. "There were no new ideas. There was just the same philosophy we already tried for the last decade – the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place."

Instead Republicans want to scale back the major accomplishments of the past year and a half. They want to allow health insurance companies to once again deny care for people who are sick and allow the credit card companies to raise interest rates unfettered, Obama pointed out. Republicans want to privatize Social Security and voted against family tax credits for higher education.

Indeed, the President continued, Republicans have kept tax loopholes for corporations that move jobs out of the country. "For years, Republicans have fought to keep these corporate loopholes open," he said.

"In fact, when Mr. Boehner was here in Cleveland he attacked us for closing a few of these loopholes – and using the money to help states like Ohio keep hundreds of thousands of teachers and cops and firefighters on the job," the President noted.

Referring to the jobs bill passed by Congress last month, President Obama explained that the closed tax loopholes will help pay to keep teachers in schools, cops on the beat, and firefighters protecting our families.

But Boehner "dismissed these jobs … as quote 'government jobs' – jobs that I guess he thought just weren’t worth saving," President Obama added.

"Mr. Boehner and the Republicans in Congress said no to these projects. Fought them tooth and nail," Obama emphasized.

"Though I should say that didn’t stop a lot of them from showing up at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies and trying to take credit," he said, referring to to the fact that numerous Republicans who voted against the recovery act have claimed credit for money brought to their home districts. "That’s always a sight to see."

Republican obstructionism and hypocrisy earned additional fire from White House Director of Communications Dan Pfeiffer who told reporters by a teleconference with the press, Sept. 8, Boehner and the Republicans want to return to the same policies that caused the crisis and hurt America's working families in the first place.

"We know the policies that Leader Boehner and the Republicans are advocating," Pfeiffer said, citing the huge deficits, the financial meltdown, and jobs crisis. "We know what they'll do. We're still reaping the consequences of that."

Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Jason Furman touted the Obama administration's accomplishments in the economy. In addition to the recovery act, President Obama's legislative accomplishments include the "cash for clunkers" program, extension of the homebuyer tax credit, tax credits for businesses to hire unemployed workers and those involved in infrastructure projects, and the passage of the new jobs bill last month.

Furman also noted that new tax credits the President has proposed would be designed to benefit companies who do research and development here in the U.S. He added that the President wants to pay for new tax credits and infrastructure projects by ending massive government tax subsidies for the biggest oil companies.

"The big oil companies actually pay lower tax rates on their profits than most other corporations in the economy," he said. "Get rid of those tax breaks so the big oil companies are being treated just the same as every other corporation when it comes to taxes."

Furman added that new revenue could be created by closing some 350 remaining loopholes that still provide incentives for companies who move their profits, investments and jobs out of the country.

Monday, October 4, 2010

One nation working together

Here is the New York Times coverage:

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of union members, environmentalists and peace activists rallied at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, seeking to carry on the message of jobs and justice that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. trumpeted at a rally at the same site 47 years ago.

More than 300 groups organized Saturday’s march on Washington to build momentum for progressive causes.

A spirited crowd spread out along both sides of the reflecting pool.

More than 300 groups organized Saturday’s march to build momentum for progressive causes like increased job-creation programs and to mobilize liberal voters to flock to the polls next month.

The rally’s sponsors, including the N.A.A.C.P., the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Sierra Club and the National Council of La Raza, said they also hoped to demonstrate that they, not the Tea Party, represented the nation’s majority.

Organizers called the march “One Nation Working Together,” saying they hoped it would be an answer and antidote to what they called the divisiveness of the Tea Party.
 Read the whole article here

Saturday, October 2, 2010

President Chavez announce support for Correa presidency

Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Ministry of People’s Power of Foreign Affairs

Only minutes ago, President Hugo Chávez Frías spoke to President Rafael Correa, who finds himself detained in the National Police Hospital in Quito.

President Correa confirmed that there was an attempted coup in progress, evidenced by the insubordination of a segment of the National Police to government authorities and laws.

President Hugo Chávez expressed his support for the constitutional president of Venezuela’s sister Republic of Ecuador, and in the name of the Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our Americas condemned the attacks against the Constitution and people of Ecuador.

The Government o f the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela expresses its confidence that President Rafael Correa and the people of Ecuador will defeat this coup attempt and that together the people of Latin America and the Caribbean will remain alert, accompanying Ecuador in solidarity in this historic moment.

Caracas, September 30, 2010

A Saturday for Peace and Social Justice

by Norman Markowitz

Trade Unionists, civil rights and peace activists, will demonstrate in Washington today for peace and social justice--for an end to the war in Afghanistan and an end to social neglect and disrespect of labor, the cities, the poor, the majority of people who make up the people of the United States.  This rally is not against the Obama administration but an attempt to move it in the direction that  the great majority of the people who voted for  support.  It is an answer to the Tea Party demagoguery. 
Demonstration are never ends in themselves.  Regardless of the numbers who come, it is important that this demonstration be a beginning  not an end.
Forty seven years ago the National March on Washington took place, the most significant national demonstration in U.S. history.  That demonstration sought to rally support for both pending civil rights legislation but also(as it is often forgotten) jobs and social justice everywhere, an end not only to the brutal system of segregation  in the  South which was supported by police terror which the whole world had seen in Birmingham on U.S. Television and read about in bombings and murders through the South but also about discrimination, poverty and inequality in the North and through the country.  The peace that was at the core of Martin Luther King's dream was "positive peace," peace with social justice, peace without poverty because, as the man whose tactics most inspired King, Mohandas K. Gandhi, once said, poverty produces the greatest violence.
The Vietnam War was not the issue that it would become the following year, and the young President had not yet delivered on what those who voted for ;him hoped he would carry forward.
Today, the war in Afghanistan, a different war against a very different enemy but a distraction and a developing disaster for the administration is a major issue.  Obama as I see it is much better today than John F. Kennedy was in 1963--he is not a cold warrior engaging in the old politics while he talked of a new frontier.  But he faces what has been over thirty years of reaction and also a Republican opposition that is much much more a party of the right and the ultra right than it was in 1963.  There are no Senators like Jacob Javits of New York, Clifford Case of New Jersey or Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, among others in the Republican party today.  Nelson Rockefeller was regarded as a "crypto-Communist" by right wing crazies in 1963.  Today those right wing crazies are largely in control of the GOP and even have their own network, Fox News, to promulgate their world view.
The March on Washington helped usher in a bold shift in domestic policy--not by Kennedy who was of course assassinated, but by Lyndon Johnson, who articulated many of the demonstrators aspirations in his call for a Great Society and an "unconditional" War on Poverty in 1964 and his successful push to enact Civil Rights and social legislation to advance those goals.  That program, along with justified fears among voters that his right wing Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, would engage in policies that would escalate the cold war with the Soviet Union into a much greater conflict--possibly a nuclear war--led  to a sweeping repudiation of the political right in the 1964  elections and the enactment of new civil rights and social legislation, a second wave of progressive legislation which Johnson's Vietnam War escalation, divisions among progressive forces,and a racist backlash stalemated.
Obama has Kennedy eloquence without Johnson's cold war baggage.  But he faces a racist backlash which increasingly is not so subtle and the war in Afghanistan is, along with the frustrations developing from the compromises that he has accepted with corporate and especially finance capital on domestic policy.
But I and I hope we are not anarchists or in the ultra-left tradition that always says "the worse the better."  I don't believe that a righwing Republican victory and a third wave of Reaganism will create such a disaster as to strengthen left forces to the point that the whole system will change  or even be overthrown.  I don't believe attacking Obama and attacking those on the left who continue to defend what his administration is trying to do is anything more in this context than what Communists sometimes said of their Trotskyists and other ultra-left opponents who made similar attacks on them for supporting the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s--that is, the ultra-left was engaging in "intellectual masturbation" with no possibility of reaching masses of people to consummate anything.
President Obama will hopefully see this demonstration as a mobilization for what he ran on--change we can believe in."  He can and must pick up the ball that the people have handed him and run with it in the next month, signaling progressives that he will de-escalate the conflict in Afghanistan and push legislation to "bailout the people" in the next Congress, if the people give him the votes to do so.T
The demonstration itself will hopefully encourage mobilization against the Republican right, immediately in the elections and then on an ongoing basis.   This is the only realistic and responsible program for progressive in the present moment.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Obama admin. response to possible Ecuador coup attempt

Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release                                                                                      September 30, 2010


Events in Ecuador

We are closely following events in Ecuador.  The United States deplores violence and lawlessness and we express our full support for President Rafael Correa, and the institutions of democratic government in that country.  We urge all Ecuadorians to come together and to work within the framework of Ecuador’s democratic institutions to reach a rapid and peaceful restoration of order. 

Millions for Republicans who block reform

In his recent blog post over at, Zach Carter digs into which Republicans are getting big Wall Street cash to block the President's reform agenda. He uncovers 90 members of Congress who have close to $180 million in campaign funds from Wall Street sources. Here's what he found:
A full 90 members of Congress who voted to bailout Wall Street in 2008 failed to support financial reform reining in the banks that drove our economy off a cliff. But when you examine campaign contribution data, it's really no surprise that these particular lawmakers voted to mortgage our economic future to Big Finance: This election cycle, they've raked in over $48.8 million from the financial establishment. Over the course of their Congressional careers, the figure swells to a massive $176.9 million.

The complete list of these Crony Capitalists is below, along with the money they pulled in from Big Finance, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics ( The career data goes back to 1989. Of the 69 House members who voted with Wall Street on both the bailout and financial reform, 60 are Republicans, while nine are Democrats. All 21 Senators who voted with Wall Street on both issues are Republicans, and Republicans raked in over 90 percent of the total campaign contributions. Here's a chart showing Wall Street's total contributions to this crowd for the 2010 cycle, by political party:

Some 90 percent went to Republicans. More reform over what has been won is going to take a big fight, and this Nov. 2 will make a huge difference about how that fight turns out.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Engels : The Force Theory of Herr Eugen Dühring

Thomas Riggins

Chapters two, three and four of Part Two of Anti-Dühring "Political Economy" deal with Dühring's theory that political systems and power are PRIMARY and economic relations are SECONDARY-- both historically and in the present day. Engels says Dühring gives no evidence or arguments in favor of this theory (which he claims is ORIGINAL) but simply asserts it as a given. Engels says this is old hash and has been the way history has been seen since the beginning. The true history of mankind has actually taken place behind the scenes and is the real basis for the pompous doings of the kings and presidents, popes and generals that strut the stage and are memorialized in the history books.

Dühring's idea that all the previous history of mankind is based on man's enslavement of man-- i.e., on force-- and that this is the only way we can explain it is exemplified by his example of Robinson Crusoe and Friday. Crusoe enslaves Friday. But why does he do this? Engels says "only in order that Friday should work for Crusoe's benefit." That is for an ECONOMIC MOTIVE. Dühring has reversed the true relation between political order and economic order and does not see "that force is only the means and that the aim is economic advantage."

Slavery, by the way, the condition from which Dühring starts out his "political force is the basis of history" nonsense is itself the result of prior historical and economic developments.
Slavery requires two preconditions: tools and material for the slave to work upon and a food supply to provide a basic subsistence for the slave. This means that a prior historical period in which distribution of social wealth has developed must have preceded the introduction of slavery.

Engels gives as examples primitive societies with common land ownership where there was no slavery or it "played only a very subordinate role." This is also true of ancient Rome before it became an imperial power. Even in the US, Engels says, the cotton industry of England was more important than force in maintaining slavery in the South so that "in those districts where no cotton was grown or which, unlike the border states, did not breed slaves for the cotton growing states, it died out of itself without any force being used, simply because it did not pay."

But wait a minute. Doesn't this sound right about the world we live in? Dühring says capitalist property today is the result of the use of force in the past and in fact all past property accumulations are also based on force (Rome, Egypt, etc.,) and force is, in Dühring's words, "that form of domination AT THE ROOT OF WHICH LIES not merely the exclusion of fellow-men from the use of the natural means of subsistence, but also... the subjection of man to make him do servile work." It sounds right. Big business and the oil giants use force to take over natural resources (Niger Delta, Iraq, the Amazon), they force masses of third world workers into sweat shops at low wages, etc. Why isn't Dühring right on?

Well, Engels says he is not: "Private property by no means makes it appearance in history as the result of robbery [so much for 'property is theft'] or force. On the contrary, it already existed ... in the ancient primitive communes of all civilized peoples." Engels gives many examples of the development of private property by trade, individual labor, and the accumulation of wealth in the form of domestication of animals-- none of which involved force or robbery. His logical argument is, however, that before you can use force to take someone's property or to steal it from him, it (i.e., property) must already exist "therefore force may be able to change the possession of, but cannot create, private property as such." If Dühring had meant this he would have been correct but force is NOT at the root of the domination of man by private property.

Nor is force the cause of the "subjection of man to make him do servile work" at least with respect to modern capitalism. At this point Engels gives a long quote from DAS KAPITAL [from Vol. 1: Section One of Chapter XXIV "Conversion of Surplus Value Into Capital"] the upshot of which is that economies based on commodity production where property is based on the labor put into it evolve into capitalist economies where surplus value develops and labor becomes separated from property and "property," Marx writes, "turns out to be the right, on the part of the capitalist, to appropriate the unpaid labour of others or its product, and to be the impossibility on the part of the labourer, of appropriating his own product. The separation of property from labour has become the necessary consequence of a law that apparently originated in their identity."

Engels points out that Dühring never mentions Marx's arguments (since they would demolish his own) and that the whole structure of modern exploitation and servitude "can be explained by purely economic causes; at no point whatever are robbery, force, the state, or political interference of any kind necessary."

Again, Dühring is totally wrong when he writes "political conditions are the decisive cause of the economic situation." If that were the case, Engels says, then capitalism would have been voluntarily brought about by the feudal system; but that didn't happen. In the struggle to overthrow feudalism "the decisive weapon" was the ECONOMIC power of the bourgeoisie. An example being the great French Revolution of 1789 which broke out because the capitalist system had become the dominant economic power but, "The 'political conditions' in France remained unaltered, while the 'economic situation' had outgrown them." As a result the nobles no longer had an important social function but they nevertheless tried to keep control of the social wealth "in the revenues that came to" them.

This is not unlike today (2010). We have a socialized economy in that the large industries and banks etc., could be kept running by their workers alone if the capitalist class vanished overnight-- they too have no important social function. Even though they are useless they still fight to control the social wealth and increase their revenues. When the workers finally wake up to this fact, and their living conditions are as desperate as the French in 1789, the game will be up for the capitalists. A few more depressions will suffice one hopes.

While the living standards of the world's working class approaches, day by day, the level of the French in 1789 we find, as Engels says, "the bourgeoisie has already come close to occupying the position held by the nobility in 1789 [in our day they are no longer "close" they have equaled the position of the old nobility-tr]: it is becoming more and more not only socially superfluous, but a social hindrance; it is more and more becoming separated from productive activity, and like the nobility in the past, becoming more and more a class merely drawing revenues...." All this not only points to a socialist future but decisively shows that Dühring's view that politics determines economics is a "delusion."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Venezuelans hand President Chavez huge electoral win ... again

From the Venezuelan embassy:

President Hugo Chávez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV in Spanish), won the majority of the seats in Venezuela’s National Assembly during Sunday’s legislative elections, claiming 94 of the 165 available seats.

A multitude of different opposition parties grouped in a coalition won 60 seats. The National Electoral Council (CNE) released the results as soon as the trends of the votes counted were irreversible. The outcomes of a few races are still being determined.

The CNE also confirmed a record turnout of 66.45 percent, the highest in the history of legislative elections in the country. By comparison, less than 40 percent of U.S. voters participated in the 2006 mid-term elections.

As the international press highlighted, the electoral process developed peacefully and in normalcy.

According to analysts, the PSUV emerged tremendously strengthened from this election. President Chavez’s party not only won the single biggest proportion of seats in Sunday’s election, but also more seats than his former party (MVR) did in the 2000 legislative election. The PSUV also took the majority of seats in 18 of Venezuela’s 24 states.

More importantly, though, was the level of participation – over 66 percent of Venezuela’s 17.7 million voters cast ballots in the election— and what this reflects in terms of the effectiveness, transparency and consolidation of the country’s electoral system.

Additionally, opposition political parties participated in the elections, choosing not to repeat the tactical mistake they made in 2005 when – against the advice of the Organization of American States and Carter Center – they chose to abstain from participating in that year’s legislative contest.

Sunday’s election was the fifteenth time since 1998 that the Venezuelan people have gone to the polls to cast their ballots. Over 6,400 candidates engaged in vibrant debate for the 165 available seats, and thousands of national and international observers were on hand to witness the electoral process.

For information on Venezuela’s legislative elections, please read our Fact Sheet (

Friday, September 24, 2010

Live Working or Die Fighting: Review

review by Peter Waterman (reposted)

Paul Mason, Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global. London: Harvill Secker. 304 pp. ISBN

With Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global, Paul Mason has invented a new genre - one which reaches places not commonly touched in either
recent academic labour history or accounts of contemporary labour struggles. It
should communicate that history and those struggles, and the relationship
between such, to new generations of workers as well as to those in the global
justice and solidarity movement unaware of such.

As someone who literally grew up, and just as literally went to school, with British and European labour history, who has long studied and written about historical and contemporary labour struggles,
national and international, I felt enlightened and inspired by this book. Much
of this has to do with the genre, a quasi-cinematic one, consisting of
flash-backs (or forwards) or montage, that create above all an image of the
working class as a continuing, if irregular, presence, existing on a worldwide
stage. What Paul Mason is both recording and urging upon us, it seems to me, is
recognition of the moments and places in which there have existed working-class
cultures of protest that had or have messages for humanity more generally:

‘[This] history needs to be rediscovered because two sets of people stand in dire need of knowing more about it: first, the activists who have flooded the streets in Seattle,
Genoa and beyond to protest against globalisation; second, the workers in the
new factories, mines and waterfronts created by globalisation in the developing
world, whose attempts to build a labour movement are at an early stage. They
need to know…that what they are doing has been done before…Above
all they need to know that the movement was once a vital force: a
counterculture in which people lived their lives and the the main source of
eduction for men and women condemned to live short, bleak lives and dream of
impossible futures.’ (x)

Quite how Mason manages the leaps in his narrative between mutilated workers in Shenzhen, China, today and the Battle of Peterloo, Manchester,
in 1819 is something of an artistic mystery. I can only say that it works,
without parallels being forced or fingers being wagged. Other chapters compare:
silkworkers in Varanasi (Benares), India now and in the Lyons, France, revolt
of 1831; the casual labourers of a Lagos slum in 2005 and the Paris Commune of
1871; oilworkers in Basra, Iraq in 2006 and the invention of Mayday in
Philadelphiain 1886; and immigrant
office cleaners in London’s East End in 2004, and the Great Dock Strike of
unskilled workers in London’s East End in 1889. If we eventually reach the
globalisation of unskilled workers’ unionism in 1889-1912, we are later
confronted by ‘wars between brothers’ amongst miners in Huanuni, Bolivia, today
and German workers’ failures to condemn the war of 1914-18 and to bring about a
revolution at its end. Most exotic of is are Mason’s 25-page account of the
Bund, the socialist union of Jewish workers
in interwar Poland.
This is preceded by a sketch of the struggle in El Alto, a giant squatter city
(on a plateau 500m above the city and the high-rises of a literally downtown La Paz). There are
several more such stories in this panoramic work, often expressed in the words
of the men and women activists involved. Coincidentally, I have been, as an
international labour researcher, in several of the countries or towns visited
by Paul Mason as a journalist. Yet my feeling in reading his accounts is less
that of recognition than of admiration for his capacity to evoke them, and to
do so with sympathy but without sentimentality or paternalism.

But what on earth is it that holds this patchwork narrative together? I think it is Mason’s insistence on a counter-culture of resistance, of rebellion and of creativity
from the class’s own resources, and of aspirations that go beyond the social
and human relations of capitalism. He himself argues that

‘If there is a recurrent theme amid all this, it is control. Politically, the labour movement has debated strategy in terms of reform
versus revolution. Practically, to the frustration of advocates of both
approaches, workers have been prepared to go beyond reform
but settle for less than revolution.’ (xiii)

In his concluding chapter, Mason does go into interpretation, offering an explanation for the Post-World War Two loss of working-class independence, and
incorporation into two ruling-class projects, one in the West, the other in the
East. However:

‘It is very different now. Today the transnational corporation is the primary form of economic life. In addition, global consumer culture is breaking down all that
was local, insular and closed in working-class communities. There is, for the
first time, a truly global working class. But it has not yet had its 1889
moment,’ (280)

Mason sees the leadership once offered by philanthropists, social democrats, anarchists or communists now resting with the ‘new social reformism’
of the anti-globalisation movement. For myself, as someone equally concerned
with labour internationalism and the global justice movement, this is a dying
fall. Perhaps the author, at the end of his marathon, ran out of puff. It is
not simply that we get a gesture where we need at least a picture. It is
because the gesture is to the ameliorative tendency within a movement that also
has a powerful emancipatory wing and because Mason appears unaware of the
extent to which the labour movement is (an admittedly contradictory) part of
this movement.

Paul Mason's comparative lack of attention to the labour, socialist and anarchist parties and ideologies that have played such a dominant role in the history of labour, and labour history (for better
or worse) is due to his stress on the socio-cultural rather than the
party-political. I find this focus (on a rank-and-file of flesh and blood, not
one seen through ideological spectacles) refreshing.
If the old labour and the new social movements are to be fruitfully
articulated, Paul Mason's pathbreaking book will have made a not insignificant
contribution. It should be read, taught, discussed. And translated, as a start,
into Spanish, Hindi and Chinese.

Mason’s is a romance of labour but one without sentimentality. Although neither a theoretical nor a policy-oriented work, it is certainly informed by both sympathy and understanding of the uneven
(if rarely combined) struggles of labouring people. Many of the major movements
he presents have actually fused, in varied measure, labour and nationalism,
labour and ethnicity, labour and democracy. These movements, and their leaders
and activists both known and forgotten, are, it is shown, never archetypal
proletarians, nor paragons of left
or socialist virtue. They were and are, however, our forebears and our compañer@s[1] - people
with whom we can in our turn empathise, learn from and with.

In concluding, I have to return to where I began, with this book as a new genre. The book has its own website, which is both elegant and transparent.[2] Here it
is possible to find photographs, a 60-second video clip of the author promoting
his book in a Nairobi slum, with the Internationale being played in the
background, resource lists, and reviews. The photographs and other graphics
could be taken as illustrations for a book that regrettably has none. The site
as a whole reinforces my feeling that this work is cinematic.

[1] This is a Spanish figure which has the advantages of surpassing the much-abused ‘comrade’ and of combining the male and female form.


Class and Crisis, notes

Gary Tedman

A class doesn't necessarily know what its own interests are, but it acts on its own interests, or what it thinks they are. A class doesn't have a consciousness of its own and nor does it have an unconscious, but it acts as if it had both. The unconsciousness of a class is its underlying tendency or direction, the consciousness of a class is what it says it is going to do, its media and press. We have no name for these two things but I would venture the aesthetic level and the ideological level can be useful as terms for them. What a class feels (aesthetic level, and shows in its affective practices) is never as one lump, in unison, it is always compromised and contradicted, but history can usually show how a class has felt in general instead of what it said about itself, or what its ideologists said about it, and the two things are often different. It is only in the modern period that it is possible for a class to have a precise consciousness of its real feelings and movement (with Marx), but this is a rare happening because of the forces against such a knowledge. In modern times it is considered to be a benefit not to have any exact knowledge of the true nature of the movement of classes and their desires, and the economy must remain a force beyond human control, be 'free'. In this strange world where knowledge and the control it can bring is considered a bad thing (except in the technical sense of the progress of science), 'consciousness' is hailed as the only good. Not the consciousness of self awareness of one's own feelings, but superficial delusions about the deeper movements at work, the type of consciousness that sees itself as the captain of its soul, and to be entirely without an unconscious. Thus in the present crisis we are trapped in a dualistic discourse about cuts versus spending within the capitalist economy, which lead, because they are either stupid cuts and/or daft spending, to the same place and an exacerbation of the crisis, and no mention is of course made of the big alternative to capitalism, genuine socialism, which might actually be the only thing to save us from total meltdown. This cannot even be thought in any serious way, it is the veritable unthinkable. So we seem to be all confined to the same narrative as in the last great global capitalist depression, and to be going to the same terrible place. It seems almost inevitable, impossible to arrest this movement, to go against this tide. We see demonstrations and protests but that is all they are, voices. How many need to protest before notice is taken? One might imagine the entire US out in protest, even the President himself, but still the same inexorable progress to doom continues to unfold when everyone returns to their work, or lack of it. Is there something about the social structure that needs to be broken before change can happen, or is the structure being broken itself by its own contradictions, and we are struggling to keep up with these breakages? The latter seems to be more the case these last few months of the crisis.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Great American Stickup: Review

This review is reposted from the Huffington Post

Excerpted from 'The Great American Stickup' by Robert Scheer

"It Was the Economy, Stupid"

"How did this happen?" ~ President George W. Bush

"It was a humbling question for someone from the financial sector to be asked--after all, we were the ones responsible." ~ Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., former Goldman Sachs CEO

They did it.

Yes, there is a "they": the captains of finance, their lobbyists, and allies among leading politicians of both parties, who together destroyed an American regulatory system that had been functioning splendidly for most of the six decades since it was enacted in the 1930s.
The big cop-out in much of what has been written about the banking meltdown has been the argument by those most complicit that there was "enough blame to go around" and that no institution or individual should be singled out for accountability. "How could we have known?" is the refrain of those who continue to pose as all-knowing experts. "Everybody made mistakes," they say.

Nonsense. This was a giant hustle that served the richest of the rich and left the rest of us holding the bag, a life-altering game of musical chairs in which the American public was the one forced out. Worst of all, legislators from both political parties we elect and pay to protect our interests from the pirates who assaulted us instead changed our laws to enable them.

The most pathetic of excuses is the one provided by Robert Rubin, who fathered "Rubinomics," the economy policy of President Clinton's two-term administration: The economy ran into a "perfect storm," a combination of unforeseen but disastrously interrelated events. This rationalization is all too readily accepted by the mass media, which is not surprising, given that it neatly absolves the majority of business reporters and editors who had missed the story for years until it was too late.

The facts are otherwise. It is not conspiratorial but rather accurate to suggest that blame can be assigned to those who consciously developed and implemented a policy of radical financial deregulation that led to a global recession. As President Clinton's Treasury secretary, Rubin, the former cochair of Goldman Sachs, led the fight to free the financial markets from regulation and then went on to a $15-million-a-year job with Citigroup, the company that had most energetically lobbied for that deregulation. He should remember the line from the old cartoon strip Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

For it was this Wall Street and Democratic Party darling, along with his clique of economist super-friends -- Alan Greenspan, Lawrence Summers, and a few others -- who inflated a giant real estate bubble by purposely not regulating the derivatives market, resulting in oceans of money that was poured into bad loans sold as safe investments. In the process, they not only caused an avalanche of pain and misery when the bubble inevitably burst but also shredded the good reputation of the American banking system nurtured since the Great Depression.

If we accept a broad dispersal of blame or a sense of inevitability -- or simply ignore the details, since they can be so confusing -- we lose the opportunity to rearrange our institutions to prevent such disasters from happening again.

That this is true has only been reinforced by the tentative response of the Obama administration in its first year. Even after a crash that economists agree is the biggest since the granddaddy of 1929, the president's proposed reform legislation stops far short of reintroducing the kind of regulation of the markets that prevented such disasters in the intervening eighty years. We still see a persistent fear, stoked by the same folks that led us into this abyss, that regulation and scrutiny will kill the golden goose of Wall Street profits and, by extension, U.S. prosperity.

If we as a people learn anything from this crash, however, it should be that there are no adults watching the store, only a tiny elite of self-interested multimillionaires and billionaires making decisions for the rest of us. As long as we cede that power to them, we can expect to continue getting bilked.

Three key myths consistently propagated about the financial markets proved devastating in this event. The first is that buyers and sellers are all logical and well informed about what they are doing, so the markets will always be "corrected" to provide accurate price values. The second is that whatever happens in these "free markets," the general public will not be hurt -- only irresponsible gamblers will lose their shirts. The third is that whenever the government gets involved, it will only screw things up; even if regulators only ask questions, it will poison the pond and spook the fish, to everybody's detriment.

All of these assumptions were proven false; the brave new world order of super-rational high-tech derivative marketing based on a Nobel Prize-winning mathematical model turned out to be a prescription for financial madness. A win-win system too good to be true turned out to be a cruel hoax in which most suffered terribly -- and not just that majority of the world's population that suffers from the whims of the market, but even some who designed and sold the new financial gimmicks. Left to their own devices, freed of rational regulatory restraint by an army of lobbyists and the politicians who serve them, one after another of the very top financial conglomerates imploded from the weight of their uncontrolled greed. Or would have imploded, as in the examples of Citigroup and AIG, if the government had not used taxpayer dollars to bail out those "too big to fail" conglomerates.

Along the way, these companies -- including the privatized quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac monstrosities -- were exposed as poorly run juggernauts, with top executives having embarrassingly little grasp of the chicanery and risk taking that was bolstering their bottom-lines. Worst of all, damage from this economic chain reaction didn't, of course, stop at the bank accounts of Saudi investors or American CEOs but led to soaring unemployment and federal debt, the acceleration of the home foreclosure epidemic, massive unemployment, and the wholesale destruction of pension plans and state education budgets.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Video: Elections in 2010 and the fight forward

Race to the Bottom: The Christie Administration's War Against New Jersey's Public Employees

The following is an early draft of an article that was  post n an edited version for a number of publications, including the Huffington Post. I have kept the original title and added a few points for our readers, points to the left of the edited article, but points which in no way deviate from its major arguments.

Norman Markowitz

A day after he was inaugurated as Governor, New Jersey Chris Christie issued an Executive Order which reduced the maximum contribution to public employee pension funds, which in some instances to $300 Christie had campaigned against public workers, blaming them for the state deficit.

Trade unions knew through leaked memoranda even before Christie was inaugurated that his advisors were planning to divide the labor movement, which has historically been strong in New Jersey, by pitting public employees against other workers. Christie's Executive Order was thrown in the State Court of Appeals, and he began to seek to implement it through state legislation, seeking allies among Democrats who control the majority in both houses.

The demagoguery, which was directed most against teachers and their unions—Christie called the National Education Association (NEA) the "National Extortion Association" was both crude and extreme – a style reminiscent of Senator Joe McCarthy which Christie has cultivated.

The reality of course was that New Jersey public employees were neither living high through their pension benefits, nor were they the cause of the state's complex fiscal crisis.

First, public sector employees earn, as studies have long shown, less than their counterparts in terms of money incomes in private sector activities. When this is factored in, their health and pension benefits, what many Europeans called "social incomes" balance out with private sector workers. Also, the pension "crisis" in New Jersey as in other states has been the result primarily of the larger stock market crisis and the raiding of pension funds, i.e., states and communities "skipping" payments to these funds in order to balance budgets. Studies have shown that as of 2009, when Christie took office, all public pension funds in New Jersey were underfunded by 46 billion. Instead of having a system where pensions are funded by general revenues and are organized so as to permit retirees to have an adequate income, we have a system where pensions at the state and city level are often raided to pay general expenses and those retirees who have the greatest need get the least in income.

In New Jersey Christie went on the attack in the Spring of 2010, proclaiming his own version of a "class war" with the comment that there are "two classes of people in New Jersey: Public employees who receive rich benefits and those who pay for them.

With the help of strategically placed Democrats and a united Republican party behind him, Christie succeeded in passing "reform" legislation, that would reduce benefits by limiting the pension system to full time employees who work 35 hour weeks at the state level and 32 hour weeks at the local level, base pensions for new employees and teachers on their five highest salary years as against three highest years change the formula used to determine pensions again for new employees from the present 55 year age to 60 years. push new employees as much as possible into 401K plans.

Similar action was taken on health care as new state workers would have to work a minimum of 35 hours a week to receive health benefits and municipal and school employees 25 hours, along with premium payments.

Christie also signed into law a 2 percent "cap" on property tax increases for communities (although Democrats were able to have health care, pensions, debt repayment and existing contracts with public employees exempted from this cap. Although he routinely denounces "big government," Christie has called upon communities to "renegotiate" existing contracts with public employees, threatening them with cutoffs of state aid. In New Jersey, all serious observers regard him as the most virulently anti-labor, right governor in the state's modern history.

The Democrats have pursued a policy of retreat, their leaders hoping that Christie will over extend him and the disastrous consequences of these policies, that is, the breakdown of education and social services, retirement of teachers, police, and other municipal employees who see their pension and health care rights eroded, will lead voters to turn against Christie and his party. Although Christie's obesity(a medical doctor, I have been told, observing hm, estimates that he must eat 8,000 calories a day to maintain his present weight while he speaks of "belt-tightening" for the people) and bullying style limits greatly his possibilities as a national right-wing politician, he has been hailed in right-wing circles in Florida and other states as a "crusader" for "fiscal responsibility" aka making New Jersey into a cheap labor right to work state.

However, the trade union movement is united, both public and private sector unions, are united in their opposition to Christie's policies. And there are some outstanding exceptions among the Democrats—most prominently Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, who is currently running for a state Senate seat with strong labor support and a lot of Republican money against her. For Christie and his advisors, her defeat would be an example to the Democrats that labor is weak and would lead them to retreat further.

These are just highlights of the Governor's nihilistic war against public sector institutions and public employees. Recently he has revved up the rhetoric, calling for a 30% premium co pay for health benefits for all public employees, including retirees covered by the New Jersey State system— a policy that would mean thousands in out of pocket expenses for employees and constitute a large de facto wage cut. It would have a particularly devastating effect on both retirees and low wage workers.

He has also come forward with a series of reform proposals oddly called a "tool kit" which would devastate the civil service system, eliminate gains that public employee unions have made over decades, and lead to major income and benefit reductions for public employees. It is as if he wishes to repeal the entire 20th century in regard to civil service, labor's rights, and public education.

All of the the incentive in the Christie policies lead governments at all levels  to replace full time employees with part-time employees who would not be eligible for pension or health care benefits.  They impact low income employees the most and  accelerate the race to the bottom  helping to  make New Jersey, which currently has the highest per capita income in the nation, a cheaper labor state.

Christie is an example of what the Republican party offers the people today  His definition of progress and responsible government is a return as far as it can be done to a public work force without unions, without pensions, without health care—a work force scapegoated for regressive property taxes, poor schools, and low incomes.  How such a work force can run schools, police forces, municipalities, state agencies, doesn't matter to him.  The more the public sector is decimated the more everything can be privatized.

Perhaps the governor, who supports "vouchers" for schools, will come up with a voucher system for police and fire, giving wealthy communities discounts while poor communities scrap by with reduced services.

His policies certainly  offer no solution to the pension question, or rather the crazy quilt system of pensions funded by regressive payroll taxes that we have in the U.S.  But a comprehensive solution to these questions has to be carried forward at the federal level, through a progressive transformation of social security---the opposite of what the present Commission is discussing, and through the establishment of a real system of National Public Health Care without private insurance companies playing any role.

Right now in New Jersey, Christie is using the pension and health care fiscal crisis an attempt to divide and conquer the labor movement. Fighting him in the courts, the coming elections, and in the communities at every level is what the New Jersey labor movement is doing today. Defeating Christie in New Jersey is essential not only to the defense of public workers and not only in New Jersey but as a lesson to all of the "little Christies" through that the policies Reagan Bush era which produced the present economic crisis will not be recycled as a phony solution to that crisis.

This article is based largely on important material compiled by Peter Guzzo, who represents various trade union and other groups in the New Jersey legislature.

Video: The Republican Corporate Power Grab

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Comrades" by Robert Service

Better late than never. Robert Service is touted as one of great experts on Communism-- he is quoted all the time in the media and gives lots of interviews. When you look through his book on the history of the Communist movement ["Comrades'] you get the impression he doesn't know what he is talking about. This 2007 review from The Guardian reinforces this impression.

Reposted from The Guardian
Robert Service's Comrades is not the historical account that communism deserves, says Seumas Milne

Seumas Milne
The Guardian, Saturday 12 May 2007
Comrades" by Robert Service

624pp, Macmillan, £25

If the Chinese leader Zhou en-Lai felt it was too soon to assess the French revolution nearly two centuries after the event, it's certainly too much to expect any definitive - let alone politically detached - judgment on 20th-century communism less than two decades after its European collapse. It might be imagined, now that communism has been eclipsed in its original heartlands and politically defanged elsewhere, that a greater sense of perspective would already be emerging. But if anything, as time has passed since the demise of communist rule in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, the historical assaults on its record have become more sweeping and extreme. This is not, as is sometimes suggested, the product of revelations from previously closed archives - the crucial facts were known long ago, and the Soviet archives have tended to dampen down some of the wilder claims made, for example, about Stalin's terror.

More important is the fact that determinedly anti-communist and rightwing liberal historians now dominate western accounts of the Soviet period and, as the American historian Stephen Cohen points out, they are increasingly unopposed - not as a result of the power of their arguments, but mainly because of the left's lingering sense of historic defeat and writers' fear of being tarred with a totalitarian brush. So where once the cold warriors Robert Conquest and Richard Pipes had to do intellectual battle with left-leaning historians such as EH Carr and Isaac Deutscher, writers such as Simon Sebag Montefiore and the Oxford Russian history professor Robert Service now have a largely open field - and their highly coloured views are becoming received historical wisdom by default.

Fresh from his much-praised biographies of Lenin and Stalin and a history of modern Russia, Service's stab at a global history of communism is firmly in this neoconservative mould. From the first few pages, we are left in no doubt that, wherever it raised its head, communism was a bizarre and horrific historical detour. Unequivocally siding with the "totalitarian school" of Soviet historiography against the more even-handed "revisionists", his central argument is that, whatever the local variants, communists necessarily relied on dictatorship because of their lack of support, hare-brained socialist economics and reliance on an ideology, Marxism, that was inherently violent and totalitarian.

In what often reads more like a polemic than a historical account, Service offers a relentlessly cartoonish portrayal both of communist politics and theory. Marx, Lenin and their followers had promised a "perfect society" and a "workers' paradise", Service claims absurdly. Revolution is explained as a "bacillus", communist leaders as variously "dotty", "foolish", "lunatic" and "gangsters" who were guilty of "rank hypocrisy". The accumulation of factual errors also scarcely inspires confidence: Allende's 1970s government was not "communist-led"; the Malayan communists fought the British not the Dutch in the 1950s; Antonio Gramsci didn't die in prison; and Germany's Spartacist uprising didn't take place in 1918.

More importantly, for an account of a global movement, Service is clearly out of his depth whenever he moves away from his Russian and Soviet comfort zone - and even there, he often displays a curiously uncertain grip on the debates around some of the Soviet Union's most fateful policy turns, such as the decisions to build "socialism in one country" and collectivise agriculture in the 1920s. But the lack of sure-footedness becomes more striking as he lurches from Chinese land reform through the US labour movement to Cuban military intervention in southern Africa. Perhaps such unevenness is inevitable in an ambitiously wide-ranging survey, but Service is disabled by his evident lack of feel for the left or working-class movements and their concerns. Without a grasp of the forces that drove the wider revolt against capitalism and the imperial bloodbath of the first world war, it is impossible to understand where the communist movement came from and why it developed as it did.

Communism, which came to control a third of the planet in a generation, was the most important political movement of the past century. It carried out what other socialists had only talked about, abolishing capitalism and creating publicly owned, planned economies. Its crimes and failures are now so well rehearsed that they are in danger of obliterating any understanding of its achievements - both of which have lessons for the future of progressive politics and the search for a social alternative to globalised capitalism. It was a communist state, after all, that played the decisive role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, and communists who led the resistance in occupied Europe (something Service skips over in a few sentences); along with its brutalities and authoritarianism, communism delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, full employment and unprecedented advances in social and gender equality. Its collapse, by contrast, has brought an explosion of poverty and inequality and, in Russia, a retreat from the democratisation of the last years of the communist regime.

Even when grudgingly acknowledging communism's social gains, Service shows his colours with studied disdain for such policies as job security, narrow wage differentials and "discriminating in favour of the poorer citizens". He does so even more with his startling insouciance about violent repression - the murder of one million Indonesian communists in a western-backed coup in 1965 is dismissed in a single sentence - while insisting that communists were in no position to "whinge" about imprisonment, torture and death because they "advocated a dictatorship".

Service's insistence that communist power had to be based on repression because it lacked consent is crudely misleading. The model of communism that took root in Russia and was then exported had its origins in the extreme conditions of the time - from the Paris Commune and Tsarist repression to foreign invasion, economic backwardness and the isolation of the Bolsheviks - as much as in ideology, in a period when most of the world was under colonial rule or capitalist dictatorships. There certainly was mass support for these regimes - as widespread post-communist nostalgia testifies - though it waxed and waned, and the system of one-party rule became increasingly dysfunctional as time went on. Service himself argues that any attempt to break with capitalism will inevitably be resisted by the capitalist world and will only survive the resulting crisis through repression of those resisting fundamental social reform. It is a dilemma that elected governments such as Hugo Chávez's in Venezuela now face, just as Allende's did in Chile. Where Service is surely right is in recognising that, while the particular form that communism took in the 20th century will never be repeated, radical movements will emerge - and already are - to challenge the world's grotesque and growing inequality and its domination by a handful of great powers.

· Seumas Milne's The Enemy Within: Thatcher's Secret War Against the Miners is published by Verso

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gaga Slams GOP Senators threatening to filibuster Defense Bill over DADT

People's World Labor Editor Wins Award

John Wojcik, labor editor of, is a winner. Originally from Brooklyn, the Chicago resident and former United Food and Commercial Worker shop steward easily wins over anybody with his friendly banter, passion for justice and story-telling ability.

He is also a winner of a 2010 Labor Media Award from the International Labor Communications Association, AFL-CIO.

The recent announcement of the award came as People's World and Mundo Popular were preparing for a fall push to raise money for the two websites. What a great reason to give!

Click here to donate. and need to raise $150,000. Already in hand is $40,000. Just $10 can help us reach our goal.

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You already know how unique these websites are. But did you know that there are only a handful of labor reporters and editors employed by corporate-owned media? It used to be - back in the day - that labor reporters were at nearly every daily newspaper in the country. But news about working people and union members were among the first casualties of the corporate takeover of the media.
That's why these websites and organizations like the International Labor Communications Association are so important.

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Among and other notable achievements are:

• the first and only labor coverage of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster;
• illuminating articles on the Nov. 2, 2010, midterm elections;
• campaigns for jobs, equality, human rights and the One Nation Oct. 2 march
• hard hitting exposes on the corporate interests behind the tea party;
• consistent voice for multi-racial and broad unity/action against racism, against immigrant-bashing and Muslim-bashing, homophobia, gender inequality and other forms of bigotry and discrimination;
• thousands of fans on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter .

You know it takes money to run two daily news websites, no matter how much frugality we employ (and we are frugal!). Staff, travel, technology and advertising - regardless of the modest budget - still takes money.

You can give big, bigger or biggest -- $10, $100, $1,000 or more - and make a difference. By giving you are sending a message: "These websites are important to me."

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It's good to be acknowledged for your work. and John Wojcik got acknowledged by ILCA. For his winning feature story, ""Steeler Nation fights its way back," the judges wrote:
"John Wojcik uses sports fandom as a poignant window into the long-term costs of blue-collar layoffs in the country's heartland. On a Steelers' game night in September, Wojcik spoke with out-of-town fans who had made the trek from California to Pittsburgh for the game; it turns out, like many Steelers fans across the country, the family's patriarch had worked at the Homestead Mill until it was shuttered in 1989. Wojcik captures the pride these former steel workers felt in the work they did, the devastation of the mass layoffs, and their struggles since, working fast-food jobs for minimum wage. Wojcik's essay makes an eloquent argument for an industrial policy in America."
That's a wonderful acknowledgement.
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