Monday, August 30, 2010

The Iraq withdrawal a solid administration accomplishment

by Joel Wendland

The latest post by Earl Ofari Hutchinson at Huffington Post deflects what he calls unreasonable criticisms of the President's Iraq policy from the left.

Much has been made by some critics that the scheduled Iraq withdrawal is much less than meets the eye. Their points of criticism are that 50,000 troops will stay in the country, at a cost of billions more of US tax dollars, and there's no firm guarantee that they'll go packing, one and all, any time soon. The biggest criticism, though, is that President Obama fudged on his campaign promise to end the war and remove all troops from the country by May 2010. He made the promise more than two years ago during the campaign, and when he made it he was careful to note that he meant withdrawal of combat troops. By ending the war he meant ending American direct involvement in ground action. But many progressives and antiwar Democrats took his "end the war" pledge too literally; the nuances were either ignored, tuned out, or in a euphoric and wildly hopeful moment distorted.

The Iraq withdrawal by any measure is a solid administration accomplishment. The six year ground war with US troops taking casualties, inflicting death and destruction on towns and villages, and heavy collateral damage, i.e. civilian deaths, stirred international, and regional hatred of the US, and reaffirmed the US image as the bully boy of the world. The war was a colossal domestic and international disaster, and the mountainous lies and deception that Team Bush used to get and keep the US in Iraq will be a permanent mark of historical disgrace and shame on the Bush legacy.
The 50,000 or so troops that will stay in the country is unfortunate, but a necessity. The final withdrawal date of December 2011 spelled out in the US-Iraqi treaty for the 50,000 can easily be shaken by any number of events and contingencies, the worst one being, a full blown descent into factional religious or civil war in the country with the US forces caught in the middle. The troops are there supposedly to see that that doesn't happen and the training, intelligence and transportation and logistical support, supply for the Iraqi is intended to do just that.

Read the whole post here.

Video: Thousands march to celebrate Dr. King's vision

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Marxism, Mosques, and Mockery

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the New York Islamic Cultural Center

Thomas Riggins

Spending six weeks in South Florida (Boca Raton) I thought I would be missing the action in NYC. Not the case. The "Ground Zero Mosque" flap is spreading throughout the land. The fact that the social center envisioned by some American Muslims is not a mosque (it is social center but also has a prayer room) nor is it to be located at ground zero doesn't seem to matter to the rabid opposition opposed to an Islamic center in lower Manhattan.

A Rasmussen poll released on August 23 claims 62% of those polled oppose the Islamic center. According to the New York Post (a paper subsidized by the ultra right billionaire Rubert Murdock) the pollsters reported that the opposition is based on the belief that the Islamic center is "a deliberate provocation that dishonors the memories of the 3000 [sic] people that died that day."

Marxists and other progressives understand that this is nonsense since the Islamic religion and Muslims in general are in no way responsible for the events of 9/11. We do know that right wing elements, including elements from the growing proto-fascist right, are using this issue for political purposes making a mockery of the constitutional rights of all Americans in the hopes of damaging the Obama administration and the Democratic congress.

Obama's comments were perfectly appropriate for a US President: all Americans have the right of religious freedom under the law and no group of right wing anti-American fanatics, tea baggers included, have a right to force their views on the rest of us.

The military has even stated that this anti-Islam agitation is hurting the war effort and threatening the lives of our troops. Ok, our troops should not be there in the first place and should be brought home immediately, but it shows the hypocrisy of the Dick Amorys, Newt Gingrichs, and John McCains and their ilk that they could care less about the troops in the field than a few extra votes from their crazed supporters.

Another mockery is the way The New York Post reports on this dispute: by twisting the facts and trying to stir up religious and ethnic hatred between Americans-- all to further Murdock's anti-working class political agenda. As evidence I offer the following headline From the same issue of the NYP: "US worse than al Qaeda: imam" accompanied by a photo of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the imam associated with the Islamic center, being hosted by the US embassy in Bahrain last Sunday. He is described as the imam "who decried Muslim blood on US hands." The subtext is, of course, here is this anti-American Muslim fanatic being sent to the Muslim world by the Obama administration as a guest of the State Department for who knows what evil purposes being hidden from the American people and he wants to build HIS mosque at GROUND ZERO!!! Yikes! Call out the Minuet Men!

Let's look at the actual story written by Murdock's mouthpiece, one Jennifer Fermino, pretending to be a reporter for a publication pretending to be a newspaper. Here is the first sentence, it sets the tone: "The Islamic cleric who wants to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero once claimed in a jaw-dropping speech that the United States has killed more innocent civilians than al Qaeda."

Two points: 1. This would be "jaw-dropping" only to ignorant Yahoos who know nothing about the history of US foreign policy and the conduct of the US military. 2. The statement happens to be true. In just one war alone, the Vietnam War, the US killed more innocent civilians than all the terrorist organizations in the world have managed to kill. The same is true of the civilian deaths in Iraq. If Ms. Fermino is so ignorant as not to know that she at least has an excellent qualification to be a NYP "reporter."

Here is what Imam Rauf actually said in a speech he gave in 2005: "We tend to forget in the West [if we ever knew-tr], that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims. You may remember that the US-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations."

Ms Fermino calls these statements "incendiary" but does not reveal to us that they are also true, which happens to be the case.

Imam Rauf said the following as well, which is also true, and he should be congratulated for his courage: "What complicates the discussion intra-Islamically, is the fact that the West has not been cognizant and has not addressed the issue of its own contribution to much injustice in the Arab and Muslim world. It is a difficult subject to discuss with Western audiences [they are distracted by constantly dropping their jaws-tr] but it is one that must be pointed out and must be raised."

The NYP also says he used the N word in his speech (he used it in a context describing how people SHOULD NOT judge other people-- by skin color or gender) not as US military slang uses it to describe Arabs as "sand n's."

This whole story is biased and designed to discredit the imam for speaking the TRUTH! It is based on a audio tape that can be heard on the Ayn Randroid website AtlasShrugs. I wish Atlas would shrug all the Randroids, Ferminos and other crypto-fascists opposing religious freedom and stirring up ethnic and religious hatred off the backs of the American people.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beck, Palin, and the Desescration of History

by Norman Markowitz

There is a very old saying, attributed to Voltaire, that "history is a pack of tricks played on the dead."  That   should be applied directly to  the "rally" being held  in Washington on the 47th anniversary of the most significant rally ever held in the nation's capital---the 1963 March on Washington. 

The March on Washington was not about religion, although Martin Luther King  was a Christian minister who used Christian religious themes to advance progressive humanist values and policies--values and policies which were and are far closer to socialism than to capitalism.

The purpose of the 1963 March on Washington was to mobilize and publicize support for comprehensive Civil Right legislation, for the most important Civil Rights legislation to be passed in the 20th century. 

The purpose of this rally is to try to unite the secular and religious right of the last decades of the 20th century to attack the first African American president in U.S. history and the first President since the 1960s who was identified with progressive policies.  The political themes of this march are in reality much closer to the Klu Klux Klan march on Washington in 1924 during the Coolidge administration(Coolidge made sure to leave town so as not to be seen as for or anti-Klan).

 Then those hooded fascists a time when fascism had just come to power in Italy  saw themselves "defending White Protestant Nordic America" from  immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and of course Blacks whom they identified with crime, immorality, Communist revolution, etc.

Similarly, the "tea party" groups who have materialized as a far right pressure group in the aftermath of Obama's victory are not revolutionaries literally risking their lives to challenge the authority of the British Empire, as were those who defended British colonial power by dumping East India Company tea in Boston harbor.  Rather they are  what Herbert Hoover long ago called ."irreducible minority of the Republican party" those who see "Americanism" as the sum of their prejudices and property.  Will Rogers also captured with they are about when he said that the Republicans were a party whose reason for existence was to reduce their members taxes.

Glenn Beck is no visionary minister and mass leader like Martin Luther King, who has risked his life over and over again to lead oppressed people against the brutal segregationist power structure in the South, as King did.

  Many who watch Beck  occasionally do so to laugh at him.  Many see him as either a crazy or a con man or a little of both who makes his living on Fox news with hysterical rightwing tirades Many  also see Sarah Palin as a sitcom character seeking fame and fortune in a political world which imitates fiction television.

  It is easy to laugh at Beck , Palin and their  Tea bagger   friends, the way German intellectuals and large numbers of urban Germans  laughed at the Nazis in the 1920s.  It is easy to use reason and to refute them. 

But they are not about logic and reason, but emotion, fear, and hatred.   And they use the American flag and their disreputable definitions of "Americanism" to advance political agendas which can only lead to catastrophe for the American people--that is, a restoration of the Reagan-Bush policies at a time when such policies can only lead to economic and social breakdown.  But we can't wait for the Obama administration, liberals and Democrats, to fight back against these forces.  We must begin as a left that is a vital part of this country to do with Communists especially did in the late 1930s--to take the flag away from reactionaries and fascists by identifying ourselves and our ideas with the democratic, egalitarian values and accomplishments, from Roger Williams to Martin Luther King, that is "our America"  internationalist and pluralist culturally, an America represented by its working people building cooperatively a great civilization.

Deficit and the October 2nd Rally

by Norman Markowitz
This is a quick commentary on a bad Internet connection but I thought I should post it now(that after all is the power of the Internet).  Paul Krugman had an article very recently calling upon President Obama to get rid of Alan Simpson, co chair of his deficit commission.  Simpson is the former somewhat secular conservative Republican Senator from Wyoming(I believe it is Wyoming; if it isn't it is some other right to work mountain state that usually goes for the Republicans)
It was a good article, although it got some nasty commentaries from investor types who read the Times online(one even suggested it was a "love note" to Keynes)
I made my own comments, suggesting that the issue really wasn't cutting social security to restrict deficits, but reforming the system seriously by changing its funding formulas, that is, moving away from regressive payroll taxes toward progressive income and corporate taxs(general revenues) which is what many of its original founders fought for in the 1930s
But that is not the point that I want to make.  Paul Krugman, who won  the Nobel Prize for Economics, was rightly criticizing the administration and Democrats for moving toward fiscal conservative policies. Actually, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and other progressive theorists in the study of economics should be in this administration helping to shape policy, not looking outside, criticizing  bad policies in the hope that the administration will reverse them before the Republicans offer something worse.
The economic crisis is not going away although the President's huge influx of public capital into the economy has so far contained it.  In the U.S. and in a number of European countries   there is a move away from the "new right" policies of Milton Friedman, Reagan, Thatcher, et al, to old fashioned fiscal conservatism---policies  of restricting deficits by cutting public spending for anything that governments can get away with.  These policies failed miserably in the early years of the Great Depression everywhere and they will inevitably fail again.  President Obama still has time to open his administration to progressive activists who fought against the reactionary policies in  all fields and provide leadership that will serously produce "change we{the working people and low income people} who elected him "can believe in."  
A good place to start would be for the administration to proclaim its support for the peace and social justice rally planned for Washington on October 2nd.  Instead of keeping silent on the rally, Obama would be wise politically to embrace it, even speak at it, and use it to mobilize millions for the coming crucial off year elections.  He could restate his campaign commitments and lay out a legislative plan for the upcoming Congress that would block tlhe Republicans from feeding politically on the high unemployment and social fears that grip millions of Americans today.  He could thu snatch victory from the jaws of either stalemate or defeat for himself, his party, and the people.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Zeitoun: A Review

(reposted from The Guardian)
Hurricane Katrina
The amazing true story of Zeitoun
Abdulrahman Zeitoun is the real-life hero of Dave Eggers's new book. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina he paddled from house to house in a canoe, offering help to his neighbours. For his trouble, he was arrested as a suspected terrorist

Ed Pilkington, Thursday 11 March 2010 22.00 GMT

Abdulrahman Zietoun in the New Orleans Greyhound bus station where he was held after being arrested. Photograph: Julie Dermansky/Polaris
Saturday afternoon and the Zeitoun household is bustling with activity, as you quickly get the impression it always is. Kathy Zeitoun, dressed in a blue silk shirt and matching hijab, is fluttering around making spiced pumpkin-flavoured coffee and answering the constantly ringing phone. Noises emanating from four of her five children bubble up like broth from the back room where they are watching Kung Fu Panda on a giant flat-screen TV. Kathy seats me in the neat and orderly living room, which is dominated by cream leather sofas and a watercolour of a street scene from her husband's native Syria. Beside it is a framed 3D model of the Qur'an.

Gradually, out of this domestic pleasure dome, telltale signs emerge of the calamity that struck the Zeitouns almost five years ago. An outside wall of the house is stained with a faint but still clearly discernible line at about shoulder height, a record etched in paint of where the flood waters settled.

"Most of the time I don't think about what happened at all," Kathy says, as she pours the coffee. "Until I step out on to the street – then it all comes back to me."

In recent days Kathy has been forced to think back a lot on the events leading up to and following 29 August 2005, when hurricane Katrina ripped through her city of New Orleans, breaching its levees and immersing much of it, including her home, in several feet of water. The reason for her current preoccupation is the publication of the new book by that one-man literary factory Dave Eggers, whose best-known previous work is the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

The book, entitled Zeitoun, is, as its name suggests, a very personal telling of a national tragedy. It explores what happens when the entire fabric of society collapses, plunging a city into a parallel universe where there is no justice, no government, no protection, no respect. It does so exclusively through the eyes of the Zeitouns. Eggers spent three years on and off interviewing the family, then translating their memories into his trademark vivid yet restrained prose.

At the centre of the book is Kathy's husband, Abdulrahman, or Zeitoun as he is universally known, a New Orleans building contractor who has attained almost mythical status. Not only is he the dominant character in the 339 pages of Eggers's book, but in the US press he has been dubbed an "all-American hero" for the phlegmatic way he conducted himself in the midst of catastrophe.

That said, when I arrive at his house he is nowhere to be seen. He turns up an hour and a half late, which Kathy insists is wholly true to form and actually not that bad: he kept her waiting for two hours on their wedding day. He could have turned up 10 hours late and still you'd forgive him, just as soon as you felt his firm handshake and the embrace of his warm smile. "Zeitoun," he says in self-introduction, as though there were any doubt.

He comes into the room straight from a building site with his trousers splattered in mud. "I really don't feel we deserve all this attention," he says in a thick Middle-Eastern accent. "I only did what I had been brought up to do."

What he did was to stay in New Orleans when the hurricane struck, driven by a conviction that that is where he belonged. While Kathy and the kids joined the mass evacuation from the city, he hunkered down at home; and when the levees broke and the flood water poured in, he put to use a battered old canoe he owned to navigate the streets of his neighbourhood, now turned into canals.

Zeitoun paddling through New Orleans in his canoe may well become one of the enduring images of Katrina. A line drawing of him in the boat is printed on the cover of Eggers's book, and the film director Jonathan Demme plans to make an animated movie of his story next year.

Zeitoun takes us on a guided tour of the route that he negotiated in his canoe in the days after the storm. He begins by pointing to a pillar at the front of his house. "That's where I kept the canoe tied, like you'd tie up your horse."

We set off by car along the maze of streets around his neighbourhood. On every street corner he has a tale to tell. The first stop we make is at a house of grey clapboard standing on stilts. In the hurricane, the flood waters reached almost up to its windows. As he paddled by, Zeitoun explains, he heard a voice faintly crying "Help!". He swam to the front door and inside found a woman in her 70s hovering above him. In one of the most memorable phrases of the book, Eggers writes: "Her patterned dress was spread out on the surface of the water like a great floating flower."

"She was inside the house holding on to the bookshelf with water up to her shoulder," Zeitoun recalls, as we stand outside the house. "She must have been in the water for about 24 hours by then."

Zeitoun helped the woman reach safety in a fishing boat, which was no small feat given that she weighed 90kg (14st). His construction skills and great strength proved invaluable as he levered her on a ladder out to the vessel.

Our tour continues and we pass the house of a local Baptist church pastor and his wife whom the Zeitouns had known for years and who similarly cried out for help. Further on, we come to the residence of a man who was stranded and to whom Zeitoun brought food and water every day while he still had his canoe and his liberty.

All in all, Zeitoun reckons he must have helped to save or rescue more than 10 neighbours. "The way I thought of it was, anything you can do to help. God left me here for a reason. I did what I was brought up to do – to help people."

At this point, our journey begins its descent to a much darker place. Zeitoun points out the spot where he saw a human body floating in the filthy water. Then we arrive at Claiborne Avenue where the weirdness truly began. It was 6 September, six days after the hurricane, and he was in the house – his own property, which he rents out – along with a Syrian friend, Nasser Dayoob, his tenant Todd Gambino and Ronnie, a white man Zeitoun didn't know but who had asked to stay in the house for shelter. Zeitoun was on the phone to his brother in Syria when six unidentified police officers and National Guardsmen burst through the front door dressed in military fatigues and bullet-proof vests and carrying M16s and pistols. Zeitoun explained he was the landlord, but the only response was a demand from one of the National Guardsmen for his identity card.

"All he did was look at my ID," Zeitoun says, "and that was enough. Nothing else. No other questions. The moment he saw my name he said, 'Get into the boat!'"

We get back into the car and retrace the route of that boat ride, stopping at the Greyhound bus station near the city centre. Today it's back to a semblance of normality, with its familiar canine logo and silver buses lined in rows. But when Zeitoun was carted off there, he and his three companions found themselves surrounded by 80 or so men with assault rifles and dogs, a mixture of National Guardsmen, prison wardens and soldiers, some of whom had recently been serving in Iraq and who seemed to approach the situation in New Orleans with a war-zone mentality. The closest thing it reminded him of was Guantánamo.

'You guys are al-Qaida,' said one soldier. 'Taliban,' said another

He takes us to see a concrete compound at the back of the bus station and describes the network of chain-fence pens that had been erected overnight to convert the area into a makeshift detention centre. Zeitoun and his companions were flung into one such cage, with armed soldiers standing guard over them on the roof.
"Why are we here?" they asked a passing soldier. "You guys are al-Qaida," came the reply. Another soldier said as he passed: "Taliban."

It was like a dagger blow for Zeitoun, for himself personally and for his vision of America, the country where he had come to live as a young merchant seaman from Syria and which he had always believed was a land of fairness and opportunity. He had come initially in search of work, never expecting to stay, but he then met Kathy, a local Louisiana woman who had converted to Islam four years previously. They had built a life together, grown their construction business and had children. And now here he was being called a terrorist. "I felt very bad. It was very hurtful. These guys wanted revenge on us, no matter what."

He was kept penned up at the bus station for three days and nights, and interviewed by officers from homeland security who seemed to think they had caught a big fish. He says now that whenever he drives by the Greyhound station – or Camp Greyhound as it was dubbed – dark thoughts enter his mind.

What dark thoughts? "Being called those terrible names. The memory of people refusing to help. Imagine you see a doctor and you shout at him, 'Can you help me?', because your foot is infected and hurting badly, and he's wearing a green medical gown and a stethoscope around his neck, and he says, 'I'm not a doctor,' and walks on. How would you feel?"

While Zeitoun was incarcerated, first at Camp Greyhound and then in a maximum-security prison, Kathy was, as she puts it, "battling her own demons". One of the gross injustices against them both was that Zeitoun was allowed no phone call, which left her in mounting despair. For two weeks she had no word from her husband, concluding in the end that he must be dead. Then, on 19 September, she learned of his detention from a missionary who called her after having seen Zeitoun in prison.

She dashed back to the city from Texas, where she had been staying with friends. The nadir came for her when she tried to find out the address of the courthouse where he was due to appear, charged with looting. Court officials told her they couldn't divulge such information as it was private.

"I cracked open at that point," she tells me. "How could the address of a courthouse be private? I cried harder then than I did at any other time. I felt like I was a little kid again – with no say-so, no rights, no voice. I felt lost."

Zeitoun was detained for almost a month before he was released on $75,000 (£50,000) bail for having looted his own house. The others fared worse: Dayoob, Gambino and Ronnie spent five, six and eight months in prison respectively, despite Zeitoun's efforts to prise them out. Eventually, the charges against all four of them were dropped.

Their experiences were just a blip in the civil rights catastrophe that was Katrina. Camp Greyhound held a total of 1,200 detainees in the aftermath of the hurricane, most of whom were African-Americans and all of whom suffered the indignity of having their right to habeas corpus removed.

As they approach the fifth anniversary of those events, the Zeitouns have managed with striking success to put their lives back together. The children are starting to sleep in their own beds again having for years insisted on cramming into their parents' for security.

Kathy has been diagnosed with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including memory loss and dizziness. "Katrina was a great reality slap. I was naive before – I felt I had things under control. But I've come to the conclusion that I don't control anything. I'm in control of nothing," she says.

Zeitoun still gets angry about the way he was treated, particularly as an American Muslim. "Muslim is a very simple word. Translated into English it means peace or believers. So why have these two nice, beautiful words been changed in people's minds to 'terrorist'?" he asks.

Despite that, he refuses to be bitter and vengeful. Instead, he dedicates his time to rebuilding the city, which is what he was doing when he was so late for our meeting. So far he has renovated a museum, some schools and about 250 houses damaged in the floods.

He says he is more disciplined now about his religious observance, making sure he at least is punctual for his five daily prayer sessions. He is also extra careful to follow all the civil rules – he doesn't speed or cut through red lights or park where he shouldn't. "I don't want to give these guys the chance to do the same thing to me again."

He has never even thought of abandoning the US. He refuses to bear a grudge, and says, for him, it remains a great country – you don't judge 300 million people on the behaviour of a few bad guys. Nor will he contemplate quitting New Orleans. "This is my home, my city. My life is here now," he says.

To prove the point to himself, perhaps, he plans to buy another boat; his canoe went missing following his arrest. This time, though, he wants a bigger model that would allow him to rescue people more easily.

But surely that suggests that he fears another Katrina, I ask him.

"It happened before," he says. "It can happen again."

Video: Glenn Beck is not Dr. King

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gender pay gap signals need for Constitutional rights guarantee

Women's Equality Day: Time for Constitutional Guarantee of Women's Rights
August 26, 2010

As students return to school this week, many will open their history books to learn that 90 years ago today women were given the right to vote when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was signed into law. The history books will explain how this event began to radically transform the role of women in our society. Today, women have more opportunities than ever before. For the first time, more women attend and graduate college than men, and women now make up half the workforce. In recent years we have witnessed Nancy Pelosi become the first woman elected Speaker of the House of Representatives; we've seen Hillary Clinton come closer to winning a major party nomination for president of the United States than any woman before her; and now, for the first time, we have three sitting female U.S. Supreme Court justices. Despite these historic milestones, women are still denied the one thing that would make us truly equal to men -- equal protection of the law, which all men receive thanks to the 14th Amendment.

"When history books and the media celebrate women's successful fight for the right to vote, they often imply that women now have constitutional equality," says NOW President Terry O'Neill. "The fact is, sex discrimination against women is not unconstitutional, and statues prohibiting it have no constitutional foundation. It is time to write women into the Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment."

The Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, was drafted by suffragist leader Alice Paul and introduced in Congress in 1923 to fix the deficiency of the 14th Amendment by providing the constitutional foundation that women have equal protection under the law. The ERA passed Congress in 1972 but failed to be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Every year since 1982, the ERA has been reintroduced in Congress and repeatedly shot down. Opposition to it has been consistent and vitriolic.

"For far too long this nation has deprived women of a constitutional guarantee of equality," says O'Neill. "But our progress has clouded this fact. We must educate women that they do not have the same rights as men in this country. We must work together to re-ignite a movement of advocates who refuse to accept second-class status for women."

We can start by calling on our representatives at the state and federal level to advance the ERA. Last July, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) sponsored the reintroduction of the ERA, and more and more states are considering ratifying it. Women can do their part by voting in 2010. We must vote for candidates who believe that equality is a basic human right -- candidates who believe in reproductive freedom, who support equal rights for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered people, who are dedicated to eliminating racism and violence, who promote economic justice, and who believe that women must be included in the U.S. Constitution. Only then can we achieve equality for all.

What is Marxism? A Bird's-Eye View

by Bertell Ollman

A young reporter asked a leading capitalist how he made his fortune. "It was really quite simple", the capitalist answered. I bought an apple for 5 cents, spent the evening polishing it, and sold it the next day for 10 cents. With this I bought two apples, spent the evening polishing them,and sold them for 2O. And so it went until I amassed 80. It was at this point that my wife's father died and left us a million dollars". Is this true? Is it fair? What does it all mean? There are no more hotly contested questions in our society than why some are rich and others poor—and whether things have to be this way.

Karl Marx sought the answers to these questions by trying to understand how our capitalist society works (for whom it works better, for whom worse), how it arose out of feudalism and where it is likely to lead. Concentrating on the social and economic relations in which people earn their livings, Marx saw behind capitalism's law and order appearance a struggle of two main classes: the capitalists, who own the productive resources, and the workers or proletariat, who must work in order to survive. "Marxism" is essentially Marx's analysis of the complex and developing relations between these two classes.

Read the whole article here

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

NOW to President Obama: Alan Simpson Must Go

NOW to President Obama: Alan Simpson Must Go
Statement of National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill
August 25, 2010

Alan Simpson is not fit to lead the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The ugliness of his disrespect for women is matched only by his dogged determination to dismantle Social Security by cutting benefits or increasing the retirement age. The National Organization for Women urges President Obama to take a stand on this issue and replace Simpson immediately.

Alan Simpson, the current co-chair of the president's Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, wrote an embarrassing and inappropriate e-mail Tuesday to Ashley Carson, executive director of the Older Women's League (OWL), berating her and the organization's work to stop the Fiscal Commission's assault on Social Security.

Making no secret of his contempt for Social Security recipients, Simpson states, "I've spent many years in public life trying to stabilize [Social Security] while people like you babble into the vapors about 'disgusting attempts at ageism and sexism' and all the rest of that crap." Simpson's hate-drenched message continues to vilify Carson by saying, "take a look at the chart on Page 6 which I hope you are able to discern if you are any good at reading graphs."

Simpson's surreal meltdown concludes with a wholesale condemnation of Social Security recipients: "We've reached a point now where it's like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!"

A "cow with 310 million tits"? For those who believe Social Security belongs to the workers who earned it, not to the government and certainly not to the Fiscal Commission, NOW announces its "Tits for an Ass" campaign. NOW will be asking our 500,000 members and supporters to use our website or Twitter account to help us buy baby bottle nipples, which we'll hand deliver to the White House with a letter urging President Obama to fire Alan Simpson. And while he's at it, the president should replace Simpson with a leader who will actually try to address the federal budget deficit, instead of using it as a subterfuge to cut Social Security benefits.

On this eve of Women's Equality Day, we celebrate 90 years of women's right to vote, but Simpson's rant is a nasty reminder of how ageist and sexist some of our leaders still are. If Simpson does not have the decency to resign, then President Obama should relieve him of his duties.

Supporters who are on Twitter can participate by going to NOW's "Tits for an Ass" campaign.

Who's the real enemy?

There aren't three sides here. Please feel free to share the below item. --Joel

Covert Operations
The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.
by Jane Mayer
The New Yorker

On May 17th, a black-tie audience at the Metropolitan Opera House applauded as a tall, jovial-looking billionaire took the stage. It was the seventieth annual spring gala of American Ballet Theatre, and David H. Koch was being celebrated for his generosity as a member of the board of trustees; he had recently donated $2.5 million toward the company’s upcoming season, and had given many millions before that. Koch received an award while flanked by two of the gala’s co-chairs, Blaine Trump, in a peach-colored gown, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, in emerald green. Kennedy’s mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had been a patron of the ballet and, coincidentally, the previous owner of a Fifth Avenue apartment that Koch had bought, in 1995, and then sold, eleven years later, for thirty-two million dollars, having found it too small.

The gala marked the social ascent of Koch, who, at the age of seventy, has become one of the city’s most prominent philanthropists. In 2008, he donated a hundred million dollars to modernize Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, which now bears his name. He has given twenty million to the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur wing is named for him. This spring, after noticing the decrepit state of the fountains outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Koch pledged at least ten million dollars for their renovation. He is a trustee of the museum, perhaps the most coveted social prize in the city, and serves on the board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where, after he donated more than forty million dollars, an endowed chair and a research center were named for him.

One dignitary was conspicuously absent from the gala: the event’s third honorary co-chair, Michelle Obama. Her office said that a scheduling conflict had prevented her from attending. Yet had the First Lady shared the stage with Koch it might have created an awkward tableau. In Washington, Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.

Read more

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UM Janitors Reengage the Struggle

By Annie Fox

Four years ago at the University of Miami janitors, landscapers, and others, all poor, mostly immigrants, decided they'd had enough. They took on their contract employer, UNICCO, and by extension, the University itself, the largest private employer in Miami-Dade County, FL, demanding their right to organize, their right to respect, and their right to a living wage. They struggled for months, with a strike, rallies and marches, a hunger strike and more. On May Day of that year, these dedicated workers, with their student, faculty, and community allies, made history, when UNICCO agreed to recognize their union.

These same workers once again face a struggle, this time for fair contract negotiations. The union proposal contains such terms as a four-year duration for the agreement, a $0.75/hour raise in each of those years, the use of seniority to decide among qualified bidders for posted jobs, and a safe working environment, including 30-minute breaks for landscapers when the temperature is 100 degrees or more and solutions for people working alone in buildings at night. Such proposals are patently reasonable, frankly modest. Yet the company proposal for these same items is no, no, no, no and no.

Saturday, 300+ janitors and landscapers, members of SEIU local 32BJ, and their supporters rallied for justice at the Bede Episcopal Chapel on the edge of the UM Campus. Florida State Representative Luis Garcia reminded all that everything workers have won, has been won by people just like those now up against this university administration, workers who came together in unions to fight for their rights. S.T.A.N.D. (Students toward a New Democracy) was recognized for its key role four years ago, a role today's new students are taking up with dedication and gusto.

Josette Acador, an SEIU member working for the "Sunshine" company at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, came to the rally before work—a county away—to pledge support. To resounding cries of "Si! Se puede!" the crowd powerfully rejected the company's paltry, stingy proposal, before enthusiastically authorizing their negotiating team to call a strike, if necessary. The crowd then poured out of the Chapel to march out along the campus border, to be met by honking horns and thumbs up by locals and parents moving their sons and daughters into the dorms. What an orientation for students arriving to begin the fall term!

Glenn Beck logic and the truth behind the "mosque"

by Dweezel Reeder

FOX TV personality Glenn Beck is famous for wasting tons of chalk on his TV program showing the connections between subversive groups like SEIU and maoists controlling the Obama administration – all of whom have ties to the pro-Communist Rockefellers, the Trilateral Commission, and the United Nations.

So let's try his mode of thinking to clarify a little bit about the invented controversy surrounding the Cordoba Initiative's Islamic Cultural Center in New York. Remember not all conspiracies are theories.

First: the people who propelled the controversy – FOX News and GOP leaders – are controlled by same people who funded the Islamic center. According to recent media reports, the second largest shareholder in News Corp, which owns Fox, also financially backed the cultural center.

In addition, FOX News owner Rupert Murdoch published a book authored by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, vilified by FOX News commentators as an anti-American radical, titled What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America. As Todd Gitlin notes, the book was published by a Murdoch subsidiary.

Second, Murdoch's company gave $1 million to the Republican Governor's Association.

Third, new intelligence reports indicate that Republican and FOX News-inspired protests against the cultural center are fueling anti-American radcialism by groups who may support terrorism.


Tighten your aluminum foil hat.

Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp./Fox plays both sides of the controversy, with a little money on each side. Indeed, the Republican Party and the anti-Muslim hysteria they whipped up is fueling the radical anti-America groups in the Muslim world, giving them lots of propaganda showing how America hates Muslims.

Now this means that Rupert Murdoch and Fox, controlling both the Republicans' anti-Muslim hysteria and the publishing houses that put out "moderate" Islamic views, are fueling and manipulating the growth and spread of groups that may support or participate in terrorism as well as those who reject terrorism and want a little religious freedom.

So by financially backing groups like the Cordoba Initiative, they are creating the conditions for starting controversies that make FOX News commentators and Republican politicians seemingly relevant, but more importantly spread terrorism, so they can promote greater U.S. military involvement, which is the real goal. This is because more people watch Fox when there is a war on and they can produce shows like "24" which derived its audience from people afraid of terrorism.

At bottom, this conspiracy is about getting another TV job for Kiefer Sutherland.

Update: Of course this means you are a dupe if you believe this post. And, more importantly, you're a dupe if you don't.

Update 2: Glenn Beck's anti-Muslim rally on August 28th is also now being promoted and sponsored by FOX News.

Oct. 2 march promo


Not so simple

by Sam Webb

I found it "over the top." What? The reactions among the liberal, progressive and left (lpl) commentariat to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' criticism of the "professional left" for its negativity toward the Obama administration.

And here's why!

First of all, what goes around comes around. Let's face it - lpls have been very critical of the new president, sometimes stridently so. And even where he has won important political victories (health care legislation) or staked out a positive position on a controversial issue (defense of religious freedom in connection with the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero), he has caught hell. So not to expect some blowback from the administration is naïve or presumptuous. Is there anyone who doesn't blow off steam from time to time?

Read the whole article here

Monday, August 23, 2010

Born in the U.S.A. Is What Makes Someone American

by Eric Foner

For almost 150 years Americans have believed that anyone born here, whatever his or her origins, can be a good citizen. There is no reason to believe the children of illegal immigrants are any different.

Congress should think long and hard before tampering with this essential American principle embodied in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Approved by Congress in 1866 at the outset of Reconstruction and ratified two years later, the amendment establishes the principle of birthright citizenship. With minor exceptions, all persons born in this country are American citizens, whatever the status of their parents.

Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, several of his Senate colleagues and a number of conservative political commentators are now demanding that the amendment be reinterpreted or rewritten so as to exclude the children of illegal immigrants.

Bitter conflicts about who should be an American citizen are hardly new, nor are efforts to exclude those deemed for one reason or another undesirable. The very first naturalization law, enacted in 1790, barred non-white immigrants from ever becoming citizens. This prohibition was lifted for Africans in 1870 but lasted into the mid-20th century for Asians. In 1857, in the Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared that no black person, free or slave, could be a citizen of the U.S.

Read the rest here

Video: Steelworkers understand how capitalism works

Do you know the consequence of less than an enthusiastic effort to retain Dem majorities?

Historic election for labor
by Dick Meister
San Francisco Bay Guardian

Labor and Democratic Party leaders are concerned – and rightly so – that labor's rank-and-file may not turn out in November to support labor-friendly Democrats in the massive numbers that played a major role in the election of President Obama and Democratic congressional majorities in 2008.

AFL-CIO officials are hoping to turn the anger and frustration that so many working people feel into votes, financial support and campaigning in behalf of pro-labor Democrats. But the officials worry about an "enthusiasm gap" among unionists and their supporters stemming from the relatively slow pace of the progressive economic and political changes that they had very much expected from Obama and the congressional Democrats.

Many unionists are frustrated as usual by the lack of a viable progressive alternative to the Democratic Party. But they'd best beware, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says, of the serious consequences of being less than enthusiastic supporters of Democratic candidates in November's elections.

"The Republican Party of NO doesn't want our vote," says Trumka. "All they want is for us to stay home. They want us to feel hopeless and disgusted so they can come back by default."

Read whole story here

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scientists map and confirm origin of large, underwater hydrocarbon plume in Gulf

Scientists map and confirm origin of large, underwater hydrocarbon plume in Gulf

ScienceDaily (Aug. 19, 2010) — Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have detected a plume of hydrocarbons that is at least 22 miles long and more than 3,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, a residue of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In the study, which appears in the Aug. 19 issue of the journal Science, the researchers measured distinguishing petroleum hydrocarbons in the plume and, using them as an investigative tool, determined that the source of the plume could not have been natural oil seeps but had to have come from the blown out well.

Moreover, they reported that deep-sea microbes were degrading the plume relatively slowly, and that it was possible that the 1.2-mile-wide, 650-foot-high plume had and will persist for some time.

Read the rest here...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You Might Be a Marxist If ... You Want to End the Exploitation of Workers (Part 2)

By David S. Pena

Last month’s article discussed the exploitation of workers under capitalism, so let’s briefly review the main points of that discussion, and then we’ll consider some objections to the view that capitalism exploits workers.

Capitalists want to maximize profits, and they do this by exploiting the working class. The basic method of capitalist exploitation is to pay workers the lowest wage they can get away with (as close to mere survival as possible) while forcing their employees to do the maximum amount of work. More specifically, capitalists try to maximize the value they get out of you, in the form of the product or service that you produce, by increasing the period of time that you have to work beyond the time it takes you to produce enough to cover your wage or salary.

For example, last month we looked at an auto parts worker who was paid $50 per 8-hour day. That worker was able to produce $50 worth of product in approximately 3 minutes. Thus it took the worker an insignificant amount of time to produce enough value to cover the day’s wage. If you consider only those 3 minutes, it looks like an even exchange between the worker and the capitalist. The worker produced $50 worth of product and will be paid $50 in return. But don’t forget, our factory worker has to stay on the production line for a much longer time—another 7 hours and 57 minutes— just to get the $50. If this had been an even exchange, in which the wage equals exactly what the worker produces, the workday would have ended after those 3 minutes. But if that happened the capitalist wouldn’t make any profit, and maximizing profit is the whole point of capitalist production. Nearly $10,000 worth of surplus value was produced during the additional 7-plus hours that the worker was forced to remain at work. The capitalist steals this value from the worker; the worker is never paid for producing it. This theft of surplus value is what is meant by the term “capitalist exploitation.

 Read the whole story here...

Some thoughts on the class struggle

Some thoughts on the class struggle
by Rick Nagin

The class struggle is the most basic, fundamental and important fact of life. The conflict between working people and corporate power permeates all aspects of society - the economy, politics, ideology and culture.

Why is this, and why can't the two sides just call a truce and live in peace? Because the nature of the capitalist system divides people into opposing camps with irreconcilable interests and forces the fight. The workers who comprise over 80 percent of the population create the wealth, but the corporate owners and financiers take the lion's share.

According the U.S. Department of Labor, for every $4 in new wealth created in manufacturing, workers get $1 (in wages and benefits). The corporate forces get $3. Put another way, during a 40-hour week workers create the value they are paid in 10 hours, and for 30 hours they work without pay, creating wealth for the bosses.

Read more here...

Video: President Obama – No Corporate Takeover of our Democracy

Bobby Thomson, Memory and Identity

by Norman Markowitz

Someone from our PA collective sent me a video clip of Bobby Thomson's "shot heard round the world" home run yesterday, realizing that I was an "old (and I would say ongoing) Dodger fan."

Thomson, was a decent man at a time when baseball players lived under the "reserve clause" and most made salaries not so far above the average worker (and, unlike the average worker could be "traded" to another team and city at the whim of the owners, and be blacklisted if he refused to go) passed away this week. Ralph Branca, who threw him that ball, was a very decent man also, the Dodger pitcher who welcomed Jackie Robinson in 1947 when some others on the team were so hostile that they had to be traded because of their opposition, is fortunately still with us.

There is a minor "scandal" connected to the home run--one worthy of the high cold war period of the 1950s. In recent years it was "discovered" in that "spies" for the Giants in the Polo Grounds bleachers(the farthest bleachers in any ball park anywhere) claimed to have stolen Roy Campenella's signals to Branca, thus tipping Thomson off, but that is largely irrelevant, just as the spy stories of the cold war era were largely irrelevant to the larger context of events. Rather, the Giants went on an incredible streak, winning 34 of their last 39 games and forcing the Dodgers to tie them on the last day of the season by wining a 14 inning game on a hit by Jackie Robinson. The Dodger pitcher, Don Newcombe, who had pitched that 14 inning game was exhausted when he left in the 9th inning of the third playoff game after giving up a run and putting on two base runners with one out.

But what does this have to do with memory and identity. I was seven years old at the time, living in the East Bronx, before it became known as the South Bronx, and for some reason in July I became a Dodger fan (I think it may have had something to do with a pre-game TV show, Happy Felton's Knot Hole Gang, which featured little league kids and Dodger players).

At the time, the Thomson home run was a disappointment to me, but I didn't grasp its "historic significance." As I became more and more a fan and more and more bombarded with Sports media, I came to see it as a tragic moment, a sort of Pearl Harbor Day of Infamy aimed at the Dodgers. In my neighborhood I was "encircled" by Yankee fans, for home Yankee power was an expression of the natural order. That they were as poor or even poorer than I was was largely irrelevant. I wore my Brooklyn Dodger cap proudly  to the slings and arrows of the Yankee hoi poloi. And I learned to fight for what I believed in. I also learned to see through racism, at a time when there were virtually no African-Americans on Television except in stereotypic roles  in the fiction shows and as individual singers and dancers (not part of integrated groups) in the variety shows. The Dodgers were Jackie's team, the team that pioneered integration, and their defeats at the hands of Yankees always brought up an undercurrent of racist ideology, i.e., Blacks like Don Newcombe would choke in the clutch, not be able to win the big games, not really be able to play the skill positions. I argued against this as a kid using the rationalism and empirical evidence of the Enlightenment years before I had ever heard of the Enlightenment. I also was prone to have African-American friends since they were usually fellow Dodger fans, which also helped me see through the lies of racism.

When Bobby Thomson hit that home run in New York and nationally the Dodgers were  often the team of the left – associated with anti-racism and general working class values, and the Yankees the team of established wealth and power. To be fair to the Giants, they followed the Dodgers in integration and by 1951 were of the better teams the second most integrated team after the Dodgers (Willie Mays, for example, then a rookie, not yet the all time great player he was to become, was on deck when Thomson hit that home run). Also, in our neighborhood, by the mid 1950s a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood, the family of Ossie Virgil, a Puerto Rican New York Giant player still lived and he would come and play with the kids(Virgil who was not a star, was not making a great deal of money in that era).

While I would never go back to the good old days of the "reserve clause" and its super exploitation of players, I believe that we could learn a great deal from Cuba, where baseball is public about how to make the games open and affordable to the people. The world of "luxury boxes," the elimination of the doubleheader, playoffs that threaten to take the world series into November, are all expression of capitalist profit maximization, even when you have, as you do now, a very strong craft union representing the players.

As a final point concerning identity, I remained a Dodger fan after the team left Brooklyn in 1957. This has opened me up to more than fifty years of criticisms concerning Dodgers owner, Walter O'Malley, who left New York, where he was making a good deal of money, to make much more money in Los Angeles. Although this is also an expression of capitalist profit maximization, most of these criticisms portray O'Malley the way Trotskyists portray Joseph Stalin(the New York journalist, Joe Flaherty actually with tongue very deep in cheek once proclaimed "Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O'Malley" as the three most evil men in history, which I have always taken as a satire on cold war ideology, although many of my fellow Dodger fans would take it seriously.) But this criticism, like the constant attacks on members of the CPUSA and Communists everywhere which invoke the name of Stalin as their justification, taught me to separate the team  and what it stood for from the leadership.

This year the Dodgers look like they are completely out of it, unless they can play for the rest of the year the way the Giants did in 1951 – which is very very unlikely. However, baseball, like the class struggle, has no time clock, although the defeats of the past and present do matter, great victories are possible, as Thomson and the Giants proved in 1951.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Worth reading

President Obama's winning streak
By Eugene Robinson
Washington Post
Friday, August 20, 2010

This is a radical break from journalistic convention, I realize, but today I'd like to give credit where it's due -- specifically, to President Obama. Quiet as it's kept, he's on a genuine winning streak.

It's hard to remember that the inauguration was just 19 months ago. Expectations of the new president were absurdly high. If Obama had done back flips across the Potomac River, when he reached the other side he'd have faced probing questions about why it was taking him so long to cure cancer, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and usher in an age of universal peace and prosperity.

But look at what he's accomplished in just the past few weeks. Let me highlight four recent headlines.

"Last U.S. combat troops leave Iraq": Obama campaigned as an early and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, calling it a distraction from the more important conflict in Afghanistan. When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush's combat surge. Obama said he would bring our combat forces home and he did -- ahead of schedule.

Read the whole story here

Video: President Obama's defense of religious freedom

Why it's difficult to take some who stylize themselves as "professional leftists" seriously

by Joel Wendland

The item on the other end of this link appeared just two weeks ago on the often well-reported news website Inter Press Service. It was immediately re-posted by a bunch of left-wing sites like Dissident Voice and, as well as other ultra-leftist sites who claim to be "Marxist-Leninist" – most of whom regularly denounce Obama and Democrats, and, during the 2008 election campaign sometimes openly argued and sometimes obliquely suggested that a President McCain would be no different. Even liberal sites like – which is generally pro-Obama – re-posted the item.

Aside from, many of the people behind these other sites even argued that Obama's statements, pledges, and positions were "just words" – echoing ironically a lot of right wingers and other political opponents of his.

The reporter in the IPS piece noted that President Obama delivered a speech to a veterans group in which he did not speak to his pledge to remove all U.S. combat troops by the end of this month. The IPS reporter took this absence as evidence that the President had "dropped" his promise to do so.

The reporter wrote:

Obama's jettisoning of one of his key campaign promises and of a high-profile pledge early in his administration without explicit acknowledgement highlights the way in which language on national security policy can be manipulated for political benefit with the acquiescence of the news media.

This statement was made even as the last combat brigades in Iraq were being shipped home. Indeed, the same reporter predicted even before Obama took office that his pledges to bring the war to an end would go unfulfilled.

Grudgingly acknowledging that the troop levels are dramatically lower, the reporter then goes on to try to make a case that remaining troops labeled as non-combat have the same combat capabilities, taking the word of an unidentified "senior administration official" as evidence.

Unfortunately this kind of reporting suggests a real problem for the left. Instead of emphasizing the need for drug testing Robert Gibbs could have aimed his criticisms of what he labeled the "professional left's" (not that he had IPS or any of these other websites in mind) being out of touch with the general public, its attitudes or its experiences, and how much self-identified members of this group actually relish that fact.

Anyone who has military experience in a combat unit knows that while all military personnel get some level of combat training, not all troops are the same. And while some non-combat units will have some combat attachments, the force in Iraq can in no serious sense be thought of as a war-making force.

Not understanding this, or caring to explain this, is the fatal flaw in IPS piece. It is meant to show problems and spark divisions rather than get at the truth. The aim, unfortunately, appears to have been to make the President the main political enemy of the "real" progressive movement. And apparently a lot of folks who run those websites bit.

Ironically, President Obama's pledge – thought to be "just words"– proved to end in a real policy change; while the words of a "senior administration official" unfortunately got reported by IPS – and circulated by a lot of anti-Obama left-wing sites – as the real policy. Let's do better next time.

What the unnamed "senior official's" words reflect is an altogether different phenomenon missed by the author of the article and apparently by most of the anti-Obama left. Those words were meant as political cover from the right (again ironic that a leftish publication like IPS took the bait).

Those words were meant to emphasize that a strong military presence remains – because it does – to soften the harshest criticisms of the militarists and right-wing supporters of endless war and occupation. Now it might be tempting to say it doesn't matter what right-wing people say or think or do, but because they have unlimited quantities of cash and media resources, they shouldn't be so easily dismissed. Because of their resources, they have proven deft, even after being so clearly defeated politically and discredited ideologically just two years ago, at dominating messages and manipulating public opinion today.

Being out of touch and quite high on one's horse sometimes makes dismissing this stark reality. If Obama were really principled and really a good guy, he'd stand up and say damn the right-wing and just do what he wants. He's the boss of the military after all. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work like that – especially not without a unified majority of Americans of diverse political backgrounds and outlooks standing with him and giving him the political cover to make those changes.

Leftish self-marginalization makes it easy not to have to worry about the vast quantity of political calculation which holding power, pursuing an agenda, and keeping power (through reelection) requires.

Let's remember that after massive action by the peace movement and a growing realization about the disaster of Bush's policy in Iraq, Americans remained split on how to bring the war to an end. (Again right-wing pundits and political figures dominated this conversation in important ways.) While more than six in 10 Americans wanted to get out of Iraq, they were split down the middle on how quickly that should take place and in what manner it should be done.

(Of course, it is easy to dismiss this point, saying real anti-imperialism demands and end to war now and leave campaigning or building a meaningful, influential movement to someone else. But let's just dismiss the nonsense in that last clause out of hand, especially since we're trying to be serious about being a viable political force.)

President Obama has essentially fulfilled his promise – so far – in a way that reflects that majority opinion.

I don't think it is nit-picky (and here I think Gibbs is off base) to say the withdrawal could be faster and that we have to make sure it is completed. While the military units that remain in Iraq are by no means a war-making force, as I have argued elsewhere, they are in harm's way and can be exposed to situations that easily slip into a viable campaign for escalation. They need to come home quick and safe.

Whatever the case, the one enduring thread throughout this discussion is the influence and power of the Republicans, the ultra-right, the militarists, and their media arms. This is the linchpin. It is self-evident that the necessary goal of decisively defeating this force in our country has not yet been realized.

How do you do so on the issue of US military involvement overseas? I think there are some great suggestions in this piece about local organizing around stressing to elected officials – at this time candidates seeking votes are even more prone to influence – the importance of shifting priorities to militarism to social needs and job creation. Also, leftists should be enthusiastic about the possibilities of success rather than defeatists off the top.

A special focus on Afghanistan may be even more important here. Because while the Obama administration re-emphasized its intention to begin a pull-out from there by next year, military brass and others have made noise about wanting to delay it (ironically many of these same left media sources have taken this noise as evidence of the real administration policy). One thing's for sure – it will be a movement of people not an echo chamber of "critique" that brings such a necessary change.

Anyway, this is enough out of me for now.

How to best strengthen/protect Social Security

As we battle to defeat the Republicans this fall, we should work with labor and other progressive groups to win pledges from Democrats to protect and strengthen Social Security. It is important that Democrats and the labor movement have made this a central election issue. Here is one way Social Security's long-term fiscal strength could be ensured without hurting retirees or other beneficiaries.

From the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare:

Raising the Social Security Tax Cap

According to the Social Security Trustees, the Social Security Trust Fund will be able to pay full benefits until 2037, and incoming payroll taxes will be sufficient to pay about 78 percent of benefits thereafter. Some are using this modest gap in long-term funding as a pretext to justify proposals for large cuts in Social Security benefits destined to reduce the federal deficit. Others have proposed closing the gap by increasing income received by the Trust Fund. One way to increase revenue is to raise the Social Security tax cap.

Social Security's Current Cap

Under current law, Social Security contributions and benefits are based on earnings that fall below an annual cap, which is $106,800 in 2010. In the past, the tax cap has been set at a level that covered about 90 percent of all earnings paid in covered employment. Currently, however, only about 83 percent of earnings are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. This erosion in covered earning largely stems from the fact that wages for the highest paid six percent of workers have been rising faster than wages for the vast majority of people who make less than the cap.

Restoring the Cap to 90 Percent

The extraordinary growth of income for those at the highest end of the wage scale was not anticipated by those who established the formulas that fund Social Security today. Wages for middle and lower income workers have remained stagnant for over a decade, despite the booming economy, while higher-wage workers have seen significant wage growth during that time. Restoring the tax cap to a level that would again cover 90 percent of earnings would reduce Social Security's long-term deficit over its 75 year solvency period by nearly one-third.

Eliminating the Cap

Some have suggested that the tax cap should be eliminated altogether. These options include proposals to provide reduced benefits to workers for their contributions above the new maximum, in addition to proposals which would provide no benefits at all for these additional contributions. While eliminating the cap without providing commensurate benefits to those making the additional contributions would eliminate Social Security's funding shortfall, it would also break the current link between a worker's contributions and the benefits received upon retirement. This would be a substantial departure from the contributory nature of the Social Security program and would undermine the broad public support Social Security has enjoyed for over 70 years.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Video: AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka on jobs vs. deficit

President Obama says combat operations ending in Iraq

by Joel Wendland

In an e-mail this afternoon, President Obama said that combat operations in Iraq are ending this month:

Shortly after taking office, I put forward a plan to end the war in Iraq responsibly. Today, I'm pleased to report that – thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians in Iraq – our combat mission will end this month, and we will complete a substantial drawdown of our troops.

Over the last 18 months, over 90,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. By the end of this month, 50,000 troops will be serving in Iraq. As Iraqi Security Forces take responsibility for securing their country, our troops will move to an advise-and-assist role. And, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year. Meanwhile, we will continue to build a strong partnership with the Iraqi people with an increased civilian commitment and diplomatic effort.

He went on to tout numerous legislative and administrative changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs to support hundreds of thousands of returning war vets and millions of others as well:

Part of ending a war responsibly is meeting our responsibility to the men and women who have fought it. Our troops and their families have made tremendous sacrifices to keep our nation safe and secure, and as a nation we have a moral obligation to serve our veterans as well as they have served us.

That's why we're building a 21st century Department of Veterans Affairs. We've made one of the largest percentage increase in the VA’s budget in 30 years, and we're dramatically increasing funding for veterans' health across the board. In particular, we're delivering unprecedented resources to treat signature wounds of today's wars—Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Our sacred trust to take care of our veterans goes beyond simply healing the wounds incurred in battle. We must ensure that when our veterans leave the Armed Forces, they have the opportunities they need to further their education and support their families. Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, some 300,000 veterans and families members have pursued a college degree. Others are taking advantage of job training and placement programs.

Despite serious concerns that top military brass would push for ongoing combat operations and endless occupation, these events signal an important victory for the hard work of the peace movement. While we weren't able to stop the war before it started and the human and economic costs of the war for both Iraqis and Americans is unbearable, we shouldn't be afraid to claim this victory. It is an important reminder that despite enormous obstacles meaningful change can be won with the right kind of social movement – a broad coalition of social forces – demanding the change we need.

It also makes abundantly clear the decisive importance of a broad approach to elections as a McCain victory would almost certainly have led to dramatically different events in this regard.

I think this victory shows that an end to the Afghanistan quagmire can be fought for and won as well.

The biggest challenge will be the fight to win the sort of structural, cultural and ideological changes need to make wars like these unthinkable in the future.

[Update]: On the Iraq troop withdrawal, it is important to know that their is a huge difference between combat and non-combat troops, being a former U.S. Army infantryperson. But, the important fact remains that a U.S. military presence creates an unstable, at best, Iraqi sovereignty. Because it keeps U.S. troops in harm's way, escalation remains a potentiality. Therefore, ongoing agitation for keeping the promise for full withdrawal in 2011 is still an important task.

Obama administration to enforce voter registration in public assistance offices

I agree with the Times' perspective on this issue that expanding the vote in ways that give poor people a voice is a strong democratic move. It seems clear also that Republicans blocked these efforts as a racist and classist measure against poor and racially and nationally oppressed people.

--Joel Wendland

A Welfare Check and a Voting Card
New York Times
Published: August 9, 2010

After years of deliberate neglect, the Justice Department is finally beginning to enforce the federal law requiring states to provide voter registration at welfare and food stamp offices. The effort not only promises to bring hundreds of thousands of hard-to-reach voters into the electorate, but it could also reduce the impact of advocacy organizations whose role in registering voters caused such a furor in 2008.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, better known as the motor-voter law, is well-known for making it possible to register to vote at state motor vehicle offices. However, the law also required states to allow registration at offices that administer food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, disability assistance and child health programs. States were enthusiastic about the motor-vehicle section of the law, and millions of new voters got on the rolls while getting a driver’s license. But registration at public assistance offices proved far less popular.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Video: Flash Mob invades Target over its support for anti-gay candidates

Shirley Sherrod: You and I can't yield – not now, not ever

The following is the text of an e-mail to NAACP supporters on August 17, 2010:

Back in March, I delivered a speech to an NAACP Freedom Fund banquet in my home state of Georgia. I drew on my personal life story to urge poor people, white and black, to pull together and overcome racial divisions. We have to understand that our struggle is against poverty and against those who are blocking our path out of poverty.

Unless we figure this out, I warned, our communities won't thrive and our children won't prosper.

As you know, a Tea Party blogger named Andrew Breitbart released an intentionally deceptive, heavily edited clip from that speech to make it look as if I was delivering exactly the opposite message. Then Fox News blasted that false message across America's airwaves, creating a firestorm that led to my ouster as the USDA State Director here in Georgia.

Not long ago, I sat here in my living room in Albany, Georgia for an afternoon of deep conversation with NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. As he has done in public, Ben movingly apologized for the fact that the NAACP was initially hoodwinked by Breitbart and Fox into supporting my removal. I told him what I want to tell you.

That's behind us, and the last thing I want to see happen is for my situation to weaken support for the NAACP. Too many people confronted by racism and poverty count on the NAACP to be there for them, especially those in rural areas who often have nowhere else to turn.

People ask me, "Shirley, how are you getting through all of this?" I tell them that, if they knew what I have lived through, they'd understand that these current challenges aren't about to throw me off course.

When I was 17 years old, my father was murdered by a white man in Baker County, Georgia. There were three witnesses, but the grand jury refused to indict the person responsible. I knew I had to do something in answer to my father's death.

That very night, I made a commitment that I would stay in the South and fight for change.

I have lived true to that commitment for 45 years. I didn't yield when, just months after my father was killed, they came in the middle of the night to burn a cross in front of our house with my mother, four sisters, and the baby brother my father never got to see still inside.

And I'm surely not going to yield because some Tea Party agitator sat at his computer and turned everything I said upside down and inside out.

I learned a lot of lessons from my parents growing up, but one of the most important ones is what my mother taught her children after our father was killed. She told us we mustn't try to live with hate in our hearts.

My mother led by example. Just 11 years after that cross-burning incident, she became the first black elected official in Baker County, and she's still serving, still working to bring people together.

You and I have to keep working as well. Change has to start with us. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I have received over these last few weeks. It means so much to me and my family.

But you and I have to make sure that people all across the country who wage a daily struggle against poverty and racism have support networks as well. And that's why your personal involvement in sustaining the NAACP is so critical.

The NAACP confronts the virulent racism that my family and so many other families have had to endure. But it is also leading the way in breaking down the structural barriers that block so many people's paths out of poverty.

In our struggle between the "haves" and the "have-nots," they want to keep the poor divided - and we have to insist, by our words and our actions, that there is no difference between us.

As we move forward together, I urge you to remember this: Life is a grindstone. But whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.

Thank you for all you are doing to challenge poverty and racism. I look forward to working and struggling right by your side.


Shirley Sherrod

Troop withdrawal from Afghanistan to begin next year

Below is a portion of a read out from an August 16th press conference with State Department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley:

QUESTION: Can (inaudible) a sense of just how many – the reliance on security contractors since 2002, and has it gone up or has it gone down, and in relation to the gap that you’re talking about in terms of capability of the Afghan Government?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question. I don’t know that we have – I don’t have numbers here.

QUESTION: Can you just give us a sense? Are you using more or less today?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have more civilians in Afghanistan, but we also have more – a larger military presence in Afghanistan. I suspect it’s gone up slightly, but I’ll – we’ll double-check that.

QUESTION: What’s the concern in terms of money being allocated to Lebanon --

MR. CROWLEY: Hold on, hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: So you’re suggesting that the withdrawal table is still on track? Because I have a follow-up to that (inaudible) Afghanistan.

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: Because you said --

MR. CROWLEY: -- as the President has outlined in his – that we are going to review the current state of progress at the end of this year and we will begin to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan beginning next year, but as to the length of time that will take – back to Goyal’s question – that is not – that’s not knowable at this point.

QUESTION: But General Petraeus yesterday on Meet the Press basically suggested otherwise, that we might have to be there longer or – he pointed to the cover of Time Magazine what might happen and so on once the U.S. forces, suggesting maybe this timetable should be lengthened.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t want to create any new news here. The --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: The withdrawal of troops will begin next year, but its pace will be, as General Petraeus said yesterday and as the President has stressed, based on conditions on the ground. But again, as we’re able to expand the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces, that will definitely have a profound impact on the length of time that you’ll see international forces still in Afghanistan.