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.

Click here to donate.

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.

ILCA helps sustain itself with membership dues. and must rely on you. People's World and Mundo Popular are not littered with distracting ads. You - not corporate cash - are these websites' only source of income.

When you hear $10 makes a difference - it really does.

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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."

Click here to donate.

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.
You can make one too. Donate today. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Five Facts about Alaska's Republican Senatorial Candidate

1) Miller has said that he would phase out both Social Security and Medicare, cut Medicaid, and completely eliminate the Department of Education.

2) He said he doesn't believe that unemployment benefits are "constitutionally authorized," and wouldn't extend this assistance to Alaskans struggling to find work in a still-recovering economy -- even though the only people eligible for unemployment are those who have already had it deducted from their paychecks.

3) He recently told Fox News that Republican lawmakers need to have the "courage to shut down the government" in order to eliminate the programs that he wants gone.

4) His campaign posted a message on Twitter, crudely attacking Senator Lisa Murkowski, asking "What's the difference b/n selling out your party's values and the oldest profession?"

5) According to the Anchorage Daily News, "Miller said the Second Amendment exists to protect the right of people to be a threat to their government."


Book Review-- The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politicsin the Age of Obama by Will Bunch

Review by Geri Spieler [reprinted from The Huffington Post]

It would be easy to write an Obama-backlash book using buzzwords with cliché' ridden accounts of the right-wing talk show blather-babblers.

Fortunately, Will Bunch does not resort to such pedestrian style bloggisms. As an experienced and award winning journalist, Bunch does his homework and reports on what he has learned in this straightforward accounting of the paranoid fringe tilting at delusions of conspiracy.

Stories about the "Oath Keepers," "Birthers," the Tea Party, Knob Creek militia, FEMA internment camps, the resurrection of the John Birch Society and Sarah Palin is all here in Bunch's over-the-top horrific telling of right-wing populism.

The Backlash goes into the deep background and the bizarre rise of Glenn Beck, the current darling of the Fox News rabid reporters. What is more shocking than Beck's popularity is the stark indifference of Beck's handler's to his lack of proficiency as a news caster or that he has a passing relationship with the truth.

Beck's raw ambition got him into radio when was only 13 years old in Seattle, WA, where he had an on-air job at an FM station doing the overnight shift on weekends. From that first job he never left radio and moved from one station to the next immediately after high school.

Bunch tells Beck's story in a series of personal and professional vignettes mixing his failed personal life with his ever-increasing success as a radio personality. His self-styled showmanship was modeled after a format called the "Morning Zoo." It was a mid-1980's drive-time fast-paced show with skits, parody songs and caricatures. Beck was riding high in the jocular, content-free teenybopper radio-land for while, but his lack of discipline got him into trouble more than once.

"An admitted sufferer from attention-deficit disorder, Beck clearly struggles with impulse control even after he finally stopped drinking and doing drugs in 1994 with the help of a then-friend, Senator Joe Lieberman," Bunch wrote.

Beck's troubles began long before his attempt at recovery as Bunch describes Beck's downfall both in his personal and professional life.

This was especially true in the late 1980s in Phoenix when, desperate to get his Morning Zoo out of a deep ratings rut, he staged a series of inane pranks against the show's number-one drive-time rival -- crashing the wedding of its program director to plaster his own show's bumper stickers on the bridal car, and finally, unbelievably, calling the wife of his rival deejay to make fun of... her recent miscarriage.
Bunch weaves Beck throughout the entire book as a backdrop for the many right-wing organizations and events dotting the country.

In his report on the Tea Party Convention, he reveals that as the event planners tried to paint the Tea Party as saving the country for the poor, oppressed, unemployed, retired and small business owners. It failed miserably in trying to make the case it was the right wing baby boomers Woodstock while charging attendee's $549 a ticket.

It was in fact the fundraising scheme of a small-time lawyer, Judson Phillips, just one of many who took advantage of the many Tea Party believers eager to buy a piece of the myth.

As Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin stump for the little guy, both are fanatically exploiting their celebrity by raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking engagements to the unemployed faithful, while offering no solace to those unable to pay their utility bills, but quick to blame Obama.

The convention itself became so controversial, Michele Bachmann and Marcia Blackburn, two two right-wing congresswomen, cancelled their appearances, as well as American Majority president, Ned Ryun. Bunch quotes Ryun as telling the media, "Listen, I'm all for a person making a buck, but this seems very crass, very opportunitistic."

In a philosophic bent, Bunch refers to Neil Postman's prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, to illustrate the obvious of how television is doing our thinking for us, and "people medicate themselves into bliss," according to Postman, by believing anything they see and hear on television, as evidenced by the fiction that is accepted as fact on Fox News.

The Backlash is disturbing in that it validates what we don't want to believe, and that is while "fake news" began on the Comedy Channel's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as a parody, Fox News has become reality as the most widely watched cable news show in the country.

If you are looking for an answer or some solace to the disconcerting uneasiness that the Glenn Beck's of the world are multiplying, you won't find it in the The Backlash. Bunch is just reporting here and offers no predictions of whether this marginal world of extremists will succeed in taking over the White House or Congress. He offers no philosophical musings beyond the Huxleyan references to what the deliberate manufacturing of falsehood is doing to our lives.

Yet, like Bunch's excellent previous book, Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy, The Backlash is a must-read for those who want to understand what is happening on the political scene and a context behind the doctrine of fear and hate.

This review first appeared in the New York Journal of Books,

Class warfare and the U.S. Presidency

by Joel Wendland

This new graph from via by way of Socialist-Economics shows income growth between 1948 and 2005:

If everyone does better or as well as under a Democratic president, why are the billionaires and the big corporations and their right-wing media the big polluters going after President Obama with comparisons to Nazis and racist attacks on his national origins befitting Tea Party zealots?

If he is the representative of big business, I'll eat my hat. (First, I'll have to go buy one.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Tea Party" Politics: Something Old or Something New?

by Norman Markowitz

Many foreign observers across the political spectrum have long considered the U.S. to be the most media saturated society in the world.

Others have mentioned that U.S. media bombards readers and viewers with endless facts and clips, without a framework to put those facts together (Marxists have long contended that the framework is there, hidden or closeted, and reflects and highlights capitalist principles and prejudices).

The huge amount of coverage for the "tea party" movement is an example of this.  First,  tea party activists and leaders are shown for their entertainment value(with right wing Fox News as their uncritical promoter). Neither the business leaders funding this "movement," nor the background of the right wing Republican politicians who have played a leading role  in it are mentioned.

Yesterday the New York Times reported a "tea party" rally in Washington.  Dick Armey, the old Texas righting Congressmen (a sort of minor league Dick Cheney) was a featured speaker.  Armey, best known for  privately calling Representative Barney Frank "Barney fag" heads a right wing pressure group called Freedom Works(where the money comes for this group and what it is all about wasn't explained).

The article used the term "populism" as a sort of generic term  for any demonstration attacking "elites" and quoted the wife of ultra right Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas attacking "elitism".

First, the use of the term "populism" in this way isn't knew. Michael Paul Rogin in a classic study, The Intellectuals and McCarthy (1963) made the point that those who saw McCarthy as an expression of "populist" anti-elitist politics of the kind represented from the left in Wisconsin previously by Senator Bob La Follette misunderstood American politics. 

Appeals to the "common man" and against the  rich, the banks, etc., had been a tactic of politicians and groups representing the rich since the 1830s, since the U.S. was the first country in the world to establish universal white male suffrage. Andrew Jackson, the very rich slaveholder and landowner had been the most important early practitioner of such politics. 

Abolitionists had been condemned by Jackson and many others  as  members of the privileged classes, more interested in Blacks than poor whites. Radicals and reformers of all kinds had been portrayed as enemies of the "common man," seeking to destroy the "common man's" freedom by establishing public schools, reforming prisons, giving women the right to vote, and other  tricks.  Labor unions and socialists were also condemned as foreign conspiracies seeking to take away individual freedom by making workers pay dues to unions, keeping workers from becoming self -employed businessmen, etc.

What Rogin  contended scholars through the world have long argued, that is, that the right learns from the left to engage in mass politics when it has to  but the fact that the right engages in mass politics does not make it in any way like the left. 

In Germany for example, the Nazis  used slogans like "Deutschland Erwache"(Germany Awake) and called their party the "National Socialist German Workers Party" but their ideology and policies were racist, xenophobic, militarist, an expression in an extreme form of traditional German rightist ideology and policies.  That Germany had lost WWI and the Weimar Republic, a liberal republic with a strong left opposition, had been established after the war both made them more extreme and also made sections of the German ruling classes ready and willing to support them against the socialists and the communists . Later, when the depression enabled them to garner a large voting bloc these ruling classes  supported  them in forming a dictatorship.

We don't have anything like the strong left of Weimar Germany and we don't have a depression of the magnitude of the early 1930s.

But we have a president who is both African-American and the first advocate of progressive domestic policies in forty years.  That he has done far less than many hoped is not really the point.  The Weimar Republic, for all its liberalism and constitutionalism, didn't change the economic and social structure of Germany.  Neither with all of its successful reforms did the New Deal in the U.S.  But both were opposed by the the respectable right because they were seen as the beginning of radical changes, an opening to a new politics in which the old prejudices would no longer work.

Although the "tea party" campaigns for the repeal of national health care legislation, opposition to all attempts  to tax the wealthy a "balanced budget constitutional amendment"(this is support of a Republican Party whose  tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and military spending and other subsidies to corporations increased the national debt from one trillion in 1981 to 10 trillion in 2008) it  apparently has the support of the corporations and the rich.

Why should the these ruling groups support policies which led directly to the stock market crash of 2008 and indirectly to the Obama victory---policies which have lost trillions not only for the people but for large corporations, investment banks, brokerage houses, compelling "bailouts" that the "tea party" groups promise to eliminate.

 A good question--something like why did the German corporations continue to support the Hitler regime after D day at the time of the July 20, 1944 bomb plot against Hitler when it was clear to all non Nazis that the war was lost and ending the Nazi regime was in the best interests of the German ruling class. Many have argued that the Nazi regime had enriched German capital so much with the loot of Europe, not to mention the earlier military subsidies and the destruction of the labor movement, that they could not turn against the regime. I would argue that the Reagan-Bush policies have enriched the corporations and the rich so much over the last thirty years that they cannot even in their own interest turn against those policies, even to support the tax reform of President Obama, which would eliminate the Bush tax cuts for families with incomes above 250,000 or the very modest attempts at regulation of wall street and banking, or the very limited health reform legislation. 

That is why I believe that  they and the media they control are highlighting the "tea party" groups, who represent a mish-mash of traditional rightwing ideologies and policies in the U.S. context, i.e., opposition to "big government" which aids the people, constitutionalism to protect property, not defense of the bill of rights to defend civil liberties and civil rights, and a very clear undercurrent of hatred--hatred of social welfare, hatred of undocumented workers, hatred of a president who dares to be both progressive and African-American.

The corporations and the rich are clearly hoping to use the "tea party" groups as shock troops to ride back to power and turn Obama into Clinton.  However, when you play with such groups, as the German ruling classes discovered, they really become difficult to control and eventually it becomes unclear who is using who.   

That is why we must carry forward the fight to keep these groups from gaining a foothold through the 2010 elections.  If they do, their influence will become more pervasive.  If they don't, they may very well dissipate as rapidly as they took shape, since they will lose much of their ruliing class sponsors.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Goldberg flap: Journalist declares Castro "sane" and "moral"

by Joel Wendland

After Fidel Castro stirred up some controversy last week with an offhand comment made to The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg about ineffectiveness of Cuba's socialist "model," Goldberg thinks the former Cuban president may have sought to alleviate some controversy within Cuba's governing institutions by "walking back" his comment. In explaining further his take on Fidel's widely disseminated remarks, Goldberg ended up describing Castro positively, declaring some of his comments as "sane" and "moral."

During a several hours long interview over the course of three days in Havana, Goldberg asked Fidel Castro about Cuba's economy in the context of a larger discussion of Latin America and trade. In a manner that Goldberg described as almost a "throw away remark" Castro said, "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."

Interpreting the remark literally and borrowing insights about the context of the comment from his friend Julia Sweig, an expert on Cuba with the Council on Foreign Relations, who traveled with him and listened to the conversation, Goldberg wrote that the former president's comments suggested the need for big changes in Cuba's political and economic system, changes that have been underway for several years now, including in the final years of Fidel's presidency. In his original post, Goldberg went on to describe some of those changes and even hinted that the ongoing U.S. policy toward Cuba is "hypocritical" and "stupidly self-defeating."

After Goldberg's reporting was published at The Atlantic's website late last week, President Castro delivered a talk Friday, Sept. 10, at the University of Havana promoting his new book, The Strategic Counteroffensive, in which he said Goldberg had misinterpreted his comment. Though insisting Goldberg had quoted him accurately and praising Goldberg's skills and professionalism, Castro said, "the truth is that the meaning of my response was exactly the opposite of the interpretation made by both American journalists of the Cuban model."

"My idea, as everybody knows," Castro explained, "is that the capitalist system does not work anymore either for the United States or the world, which jumps from one crisis into the next, and these are ever more serious, global and frequent and there is no way the world could escape from them. How could such a system work for a socialist country like Cuba?"

This clarification of the comment didn't sit well with Goldberg. In a teleconference with reporters Sept. 13, in which both Goldberg and Sweig sought to clarify their perspective on the situation, Goldberg expressed some doubts about Castro's response. "I don't know how you can interpret [the quote] as its opposite," Goldberg said in defense of his reporting.

Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, added that Castro's "clarification was intended to signal to certain domestic constituents that although, it's not even an open secret, it's common knowledge, widely discussed, in terms of how they're going to fix the model and where they're going to go in terms of economic liberalization, what he wanted to say is that although we're changing our model, that doesn't mean that we're importing U.S.-style capitalism." She added that she believes both Fidel and Raul Castro are of a single mind on the need for these changes to Cuba's economic system.

Cuba's leading institutions of governance have set the stage for a number of important systemic changes toward a market-oriented economy, Sweig explained. New proposals include private ownership of land, the shift from collective farming to cooperative farming with private ownership rights, the licensing of the 250,000 to 500,000 small businesses with non-family employees (as long as Social Security taxes are paid), and introduction of limited foreign investments in real estate. Just this week, the Cuban government announced a plan to shift 500,000 government workers into the private sector in order to cut unsustainable budget expenditures.

Sweig added that Cuba's internal changes and other global realities show that U.S. attempts at economic isolation of Cuba have failed and are unnecessary. The embargo is not a foreign policy; it is a domestic policy aimed at nothing more than addressing "a perception of the Cuban American vote" in Florida. "I think it's time for the United States to recognize that 50 years of one policy haven't achieved the intention which was to block the revolution, stop them from exporting it, and overthrow etc.," she noted. "I think it is time to take 'yes' for an answer."

"To be fair," she continued, "this administration, the Obama administration, while moving very slowly, recognizes that this is an obsolete policy." Right now, other major foreign policy considerations have pushed Cuba policy to the back burner and the Florida issue remains a stumbling block in terms of domestic U.S. elections. She described as positive President Obama's lifting of harsh Bush era travel bans on Cuban Americans and recent considerations in Congress to change the rules governing trade and travel with Cuba. "I think it is just a matter of time," she indicated, referring to the likelihood of lifting the embargo.

For his part, Goldberg initially insisted that Castro's motives for opening this discussion were personal rather than part of a strategic Cuban foreign policy initiative. "I think it's Fidel wanting to insert himself on the international stage a little bit," he said.

Goldberg revisited Castro's original remarks to him on anti-Semitism. In the original interview Castro stated that Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism from some quarters, especially in the Iranian government, were an anathema and especially harmful to pursuing peace. To reporters Goldberg said, "I have no way of judging this for sure, I can't look into a man's heart, but I think that the idea of holocaust denial in particular seems to genuinely offend him, as it should offend any sane moral person. And I think he had a very specific strong feeling to what Ahmadinejad has been saying."

Goldberg described his experience with Castro as "very spontaneous." "In other words," he added, "I don't think this was a foreign ministry derived plan."

"Fidel's Fidel," Goldberg explained. "It's good to be in essence the retired king, and I think a lot of it has been spontaneous. I have no doubt that the Council of State, the Foreign Ministry, and various other people would like to harness his new energy … in ways they thought were productive."

"He wants to talk about Iran one day and go to the Aquarium the next, and that's what he's going to do," Goldberg insisted.

Sweig took a different tack and suggested Fidel's actions may not be an official act but were by no means "in contradiction" Raul Castro's agenda.

When pressed further on whether or not the trip and the comments may have originated as an unofficial signal in favor of resetting U.S.-Cuba relations, Goldberg backed away a bit. "It is very hard to see the deliberateness of what we experienced when we were there. It might be true that there might be a deliberateness, or that, that Fidel certainly didn't do what he did and say what he said without Raul's knowledge and approval. Those things are all possibilities. We have no way of discerning that."

"Functionally," Goldberg went on, "I would have to say yes, some of the things he is doing could set the stage for a slightly different relationship between the U.S. and Cuba."

Sweig agreed, but emphasized that changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba will happen only after domestic political dynamics within the U.S. change in favor of opening friendlier relations with the island country.

My two cents

This whole episode reminds me of a couple of scenes from the 2000 Kevin Costner movie Thirteen Days in October about the Cuban Missile Crisis, a movie Fidel Castro saw and praised strongly at the time it was shown in Havana a couple years later. Notably, of course, Fidel Castro was intimately involved in the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. During his interview with Goldberg, he suggested he now regretted some of his personal role in the crisis, comments which he did not "walk back" in his subsequent response to Goldberg's article.

At one point in the movie, President Kennedy struggles to keep on top of the generals who desperately want to bomb Cuba to smithereens. One tactic he uses to attempt to regain control of the situation is to bring in the venerated Washington journalist Walter Lippmann to float a trial balloon announcing the possible peaceful resolution of the crisis with a deal to remove U.S. nukes from Turkey in exchange for removal of the Soviet nukes from Cuba. If the movie is true to real events, the leaked story tactic was done without the knowledge of his closest advisors except for Robert F. Kennedy.

Simply put, Kennedy used a reporter to send a diplomatic message to the Cubans and the Russians that he sought a peaceful resolution to the crisis, a "reset" of the situation which found the world on the brink of nuclear war.

While it may have been a point of prestige and pride for Lippmann to be used that way by President Kennedy, Goldberg probably has a personal, professional and political motive for refusing to see himself as having been used by Fidel Castro, hence his vigorous refusal to accept the possibility that the meeting and subsequent hubbub were on some level deliberate. Journalists are supposed to be smart and above being used, especially by former Communist leaders.

Regardless of the controversy, Cuba's choices about how to organize its society are its own to make. How it chooses to reorganize its economic system will likely be based on its own experiences and needs, not on formulas or the political intrigues of outside parties, especially the U.S. The events of this past week suggest the need for Americans to continue to demand a reevaluation of and change in U.S. policy toward Cuba that sees the beginning of the end of hypocritical travel and trade restrictions.

Cuba looking for a "reset" with the U.S.?

by Joel Wendland

After Fidel Castro stirred up some controversy last week with an offhand comment he made to The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Coldberg about ineffectiveness of Cuba's socialist "model," Goldberg thinks the former Cuban president may have sought to alleviate some controversy within Cuba's leading institutions by "walking back" his comment.

During a several hours long interview over the course of three days in Havana, Goldberg asked Fidel Castro about Cuba's economy in the context of a larger discussion of Latin America and trade. In a manner that Goldberg described as almost a "throw away remark," Castro said, "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."

Adopting a literal interpretation of the remark and borrowing insights from his friend Julia Sweig, an expert on Cuba with the Council on Foreign Relations, who traveled with him and listened to the conversation, Goldberg interpreted the president's comments as suggesting the need for big changes in Cuba's political and economic system, changes that have been underway for several years now. In his original post, Goldberg went on to describe some of those changes and even hinted at the silliness of the ongoing U.S. policy toward Cuba as "hypocritical" and "stupidly self-defeating."

After publishing these remarks at The Atlantic's website, President Castro wrote in one of his "Reflections" that Goldberg had dramatically misinterpreted his comment, though insisting that he had been quoted accurately and praising Goldberg's skills and professionalism.

In a teleconference with reporters Sept. 13, in which both Goldberg and Sweig sought to clarify the situation, Goldberg reiterated Castro's reply to the quote and to the article not as a misquote but as a misinterpretation. "He said that the quote was correct," Goldberg said, "but he said the meaning was the opposite of what I took it to be."

"I don't know how you can interpret [the quote] as its opposite," Goldberg said in defense of his reporting. Goldberg went on to note that Castro has said similar things before and that important changes have already taken place in Cuba, facts which caused him to be surprised at Fidel's response to his article.

Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, added that Castro's "clarification was intended to signal to certain domestic constituents that although, it's not even an open secret, it's common knowledge, widely discussed, in terms of how they're going to fix the model and where they're going to go in terms of economic liberalization, what he wanted to say is that although we're changing our model, that doesn't mean that we're importing U.S.-style capitalism."

More on this a little later...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Secret World of the Chinese Communist Party?

Thomas Riggins

The New York Review of Books for 9-30-10 has an interesting article by Ian Johnson, former Beijing bureau chief for the WSJ, reviewing Richard McGregor's THE PARTY: THE SECRET WORLD OF CHINA'S COMMUNIST RULERS. I don't know how secret it can be if there is a whole book about it.

There are some interesting facts revealed in this review that readers of our sites will find useful. We are told that the CPC is basically the heart and soul of contemporary China and that the views of some, that the party is becoming irrelevant, are dead wrong. Johnson informs us that while many polices of the party are not actually "communist" it is still "Leninist in structure" and its organization and workings "would be recognizable to the leaders of the Russian Revolution." Coming from a WSJ reporter I don't know if this a compliment or not. McGregor's book also shows that despite its "secretive tendencies" the CP "can be usefully analyzed." Maybe the secret world is not really so secret after all.

Johnson says one big misunderstanding about China, and it is a BIG one, is that China "has been privatizing the economy." There is a stock market to be sure and many shares have been sold to investors around the world but "almost all Chinese companies of any size and importance remain in government hands." This is a socialist sine qua non I would think.

This fact is relatively unknown to outside investors due to "ignorant or unethical Western investment banks and lawyers." It seems that ultimate decision making in all really important Chinese companies is made by the Organization Department of the CPC and the NOT the board of directors of the company-- i.e., the party remains "in control of all personnel decisions." CEOs and directors thus dance to the tune of the party.

What about smaller companies, those not belonging to the commanding heights of the economy? Here too "government control still remains pervasive" if less direct. What Johnson means is that "the manager is often a former official or close to Party circles." Johnson is wrong to call this "government control" since even he admits "that these companies are run as the manager sees fit." What he really means is that there is a climate of shared values and aspirations between middle management and the party.

The party also has control of the government as the party, through the medium of "leading small groups" of experts and senior party leaders that have been set up to advise each of the ministries. These groups exist from the top "down to the grass roots." Westerners object to this system, especially in the legal system because judges are not independent and merely "translate court decisions made by Communist Party legal affairs committees into rulings." This objection is based on the Western notion that the only free and democratic organization of government has to be based on bourgeois notions of democracy and any other notions of democracy, especially socialist or people's democracy is bogus. This overlooks the fact that most bourgeois democracies are themselves bogus.

While many Western "experts" on China write off the CPC in the long term, Johnson shares the view that "the West has consistently underestimated the Party's ability to adapt and thus might be excessively negative about its future."

Johnson has some criticisms of his own but they seem to be motivated by his WSJ background. He thinks China needs more reform efforts and while he says "reforms haven't quite ground to a halt" nevertheless the state sector is making a comeback because the CPC has a policy "of recentralizing control." But this is what you would expect a socialist state to do.

He also faults Chinese foreign policy for being concerned with only two "narrow concerns." The first is territorial (Tibet and Taiwan) and the second is "resource extraction in Africa and Central America." Well the first is a concern with the territorial integrity of the country, which is actually being threatened, and is hardly a "narrow concern." Nor is the second, which deals with China's relation to the Third World and its trade policies. By all accounts most African and Central American countries have had better and fairer deals with the Chinese than with the West. Johnson doesn't even mention the CPC's push to increase the unionization of its workforce, which is in complete harmony with socialist principles.

All in all this is an interesting article which should be read by anyone interested in contemporary China and certainly by anyone contemplating buying and reading Richard McGregor's THE PARTY.

E. coli might give us the right kind of gas, say scientists

This new post at shows how scientists are working on changing the genetic structure of the malevolent bacteria E. coli "to produce biodiesel fuel derived from fatty acids."

Desmond Lun, an associate professor of computer science at Rutgers University-Camden, is researching how to alter the genetic makeup of E. coli to produce biodiesel fuel derived from fatty acids.

"If we can engineer biological organisms to produce biodiesel fuels, we'll have a new way of storing and using energy," Lun says.

Creating renewable energy by making fuels, like making ethanol out of corn, has been a common practice in trying to achieve sustainability.

However, Lun says, "It's widely acknowledged that making fuel out of food sources is not very sustainable. It's too expensive and it competes with our food sources."

One alternative is to modify the E. coli microorganism to make it overproduce fatty acids, which are used to make biodiesel.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Some Questions and Answers About the September 11 attacks

by Norman Markowitz

This is ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  I have written about the attacks before, from the immediate aftermath on, on many occasions. These are some questions and possible answers  that I think are of special importance for our readers as we try to use Marxism as a tool of analysis to relate the past to the present.

Question 1. Why did the Carter, Reagan and Bush I administrations enter into and then escalate the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which led directly to the formation of Al Qaeda and the Taliban?

Answer:  At first Carter's advisors saw the war as a way to give the Soviets "their Vietnam; Reagan saw it as first a way to extend his policy of strengthening U.S. support for rightwing  regimes through the world from South Africa  and El Salvador to Pakistan and  fighting  low intensity wars, using groups like the Afghan mujahadeen and Nicaraguan contras as pawns in what was a recycling of classic imperialist policy.  Bush I went beyond Reagan's settlement with Gorbachev, which was a victory for the anti-Communist forces with the collapse of the Soviet Union, to bring first brutal warlords and then the barbaric Taliban to power as an expression to everyone that the U.S. had the power to do what it wished anywhere, now that the Soviet Union was destroyed.

Question 2--why didn't the Commission investigating the 9/11 attack deal with the whole history of the CIA and its Pakistani underlings involvement with the individuals and forces that created Al Qaeda.

Answer.  They could not have done  that in any way without exposing to tens of millions of Americans both the purposes and policies of imperialism.

Question 3:  Why didn't the U.S government use its power against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan when it was harboring bin laden and Al Qaeda, which had already launched attacks against the U.S, and its allies?

Answer:  Afghanistan became very important for U.S. corporations as a route for an oil and gas pipeline that would skirt Russian and Iranian territory and permit U.S. based corporations to defeat their competitors in the battle to control the oil and gas of what were former Soviet Republics.  The U.S  did nothing to dissuade its Pakistani and Saudi "allies" from continuing to support the Taliban regime.

Question:  why didn't the CIA and other U.S. military/police institutions take the Al Qaeda seriously after its early attacks?

Answer:  All U.S. military/policy institutions were organized after WWII to fight socialist/communist/anti-imperialist movements and in effect to use groups like Al Qaeda as pawns in that struggle. Also, it is likely that the Saudi Regime and the Pakistani military and intelligence services, filled with backers of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban, were able to manipulate their longtime U.S. colleagues into what was a policy of disinterest?

Question: Why were the hijackers able to move freely through the U.S. take flight courses without even returning to learn how to land the plane, and carry out their attacks?

Answer: They came mostly from Saudi Arabia and other "allies" of the U.S., not from Iran or Iraq. Two decades of deregulation and the fact that they had all the money that they needed enabled them to buy everything that needed. In that sense they were not only blowback from the Afghan war, the Frankenstein monster created by Reagan  policies, but also blowback from the "greed is good" open everything up to those with capital policy of the Reagan and subsequent eras?

Question:  Why were members of the bin laden family given red carpet treatment while so many innocent people of Muslim faith were arrested in guilt by association responses?

Answer:  The bin ladens are a big capitalist family, with the largest private fortune in the region as of 2001 and longterm connections with U.S. corporations, banks, brokerage houses, and the Bush family and its Texas allies?

Question:Why wasn't the disastrous immediate response of the Bush administration--in effect to protect itself by hiding rather than provide leadership--and the failure of the most expensive military in human history to shoot down the second suicide plan  over New York or the plane that hit the Pentagon or the plane that would have tried to hit the White House had its heroic passengers not given their lives to bring it down--not seriously discussed.

Answer:  See answer to Question 2 and ask yourself whose class interests media represents and how it, as Michael Parenti once wrote, "invents reality."

Patriotism is love of what is positive in a country, a civilization, not its ruling class or its state apparatus. Patriotism cannot really flower when fear and the herd mentality prevail.

The importance of the Steelworkers' recent steps

by Joel Wendland

The United Steelworkers this week filed a petition with the US Trade Representative "identifying a broad array of Chinese policies and practices that threaten the future of America’s alternative and renewable energy sector."

According to a USW statement:

The 5,800-page submission identifies five major areas of protectionist and predatory practices utilized by the Chinese to develop their green sector at the expense of production and job creation here in the U.S. Under the law, the Obama Administration has 45 days from the date of filing to determine whether to accept the petition for further action. This will put the Administration’s decision date on or before Oct. 24.

“Green jobs are key to our future,” said Leo W. Gerard, International President of the USW. “Right now, China is taking every possible step – many of them illegal under international trade laws – to ensure that it will control that sector. America can’t afford to cede more of its manufacturing base to China.

“It’s a national priority to reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies. But if all we do is exchange our dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on Chinese alternative and renewable energy production equipment, we will have traded away our nation’s energy, economic and job security.”

See the full complaint here.

In a statement, Sept. 10, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka expressed support for the USW petition:

It is time for the U.S. government to put an end to the unfair trade practices by countries like China that undermine the push for good jobs and clean energy investment. The AFL-CIO applauds the action by the United Steelworkers in filing a comprehensive clean energy trade case against the Chinese government. The predatory trade practices of the Chinese government have consistently violated the rules they promised to follow upon joining the World Trade Organization. Their actions have directly led to massive outsourcing and unrelenting trade deficits that have cost millions of American workers their jobs.

These charges, in addition to an ongoing campaign by the U.S. labor movement generally for new approaches to how China values its currency, came on the heels of an historic agreement in August between the USW and two Chinese-based companies to build wind farms in Texas using components made by unionized workers in America:

Last week the United Steelworkers union (USW) announced important agreements with two Chinese clean energy companies. The Chinese companies, A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd. and Shenyang Power Group, are world leaders in clean power generation.

The historic agreement states that the "USW will guide and work collaboratively on all aspects of the companies' U.S. market strategies including manufacturing, assembly, component sourcing, distribution and wind energy project development."

The agreement involves building one of the largest U.S. wind farms ever, in Texas. The steelworkers estimate that the massive 650 megawatt wind farm will use 50,000 tons of steel, to be made in the U.S.

The extraordinary agreement insures a large percentage of the wind farm components will be made by union workers in America. Under the agreement the Chinese companies will build a state of the art wind turbine plant in Nevada with an ongoing domestic supply chain. And further, the agreement includes the promise of company neutrality in union organizing drives connected to the project.

"We will work with A-Power and SPG to create long-term, good-paying, green American jobs," said USW International President Leo Gerard. "The USW is committed to building a strong domestic supply chain that will be key to the future of America's global renewable energy leadership."

My two cents, for what they're worth:

I strongly support Leo Gerard recent discussions of the issue of "economic patriotism" and it is clear that reaching the agreement with Chinese companies to create clean energy jobs here is huge and important thing. Both American workers and these companies will reap big rewards.

Some will say the USW petition goes too far because it targets China as a sort of economic enemy of the U.S., and that the rhetoric in the USW statement about the Chinese trying to "control" the clean energy industry is over-heated.

And they would have a point. U.S. global dominance – through economic, political, but mostly violent military pressure – of traditional dirty energy, like oil has forced developing economies like China's (and India's) have to seek alternatives. It seems only natural – not particularly greedy or power hungry as implied in some possible interpretations of the language of the USW statement – that China would try to develop its clean energy sector as swiftly as possible. And it is the nature of capitalism that cutthroat competition will benefit some at the expense of others.

Overheated rhetoric about other countries can often turn into waves of hate when used demagogically. One need only look at the carefully crafted Islamphobia generated by right-wing media and Republican Party officials over the past few months for an example.

I am convinced that neither USW leaders nor labor movement leaders generally would use the issue demagogically to inspire hate, but right-wing political leaders and pundits do and will and may co-opt the kind of rhetoric in the USW to further their own divisive causes.

Beyond this issue, however, another important consideration is that this petition, as well as the push for new currency values, is not primarily aimed at China-as-enemy. USW has no direct power to make U.S. policy with China or to impose rules on that country.

The petition is aimed at forcing the U.S. government to restructure its relationship with China, as evidenced by the statement's implied referral to the tricky position the step puts the Obama administration in.

The petition pressures the U.S. government to adopt an even more serious position with regard to developing the clean energy industry here (and as has been pointed elsewhere the Obama administration's efforts in this regard have been far more serious than any previous presidency).

Often, for those of us who favor dramatic changes in energy policy in order to address global climate change, the "global" part causes us to abstract the issue from the very specific needs of local communities. For example, some denounce developing economies for not moving fast enough to adopt clean energy alternatives, when of course those countries have few options. Others will also denounce developing countries for taking steps to protect themselves from bigger and more aggressive economies like the U.S. And still others will ignore the very special and very real needs of workers even in the developed economies for jobs when capital has organized their communities to be overly dependent on a single economic resource, like coal, for example, in West Virginia.

In this case, the Steelworkers are trying to address the specific needs of the members of the union and workers in the sector it seeks to organize. That is for new job creation. And the union is doing this in a responsible way: 1) it seeks to build itself by creating political pressure to develop a domestic clean energy sector that helps the U.S. as a whole shift from dirty energy to energy usage with a smaller carbon footprint 2) it has taking a number of very important steps to build positive and meaningful international relationships, only one of which was described above.

I think the ball is the Obama administration's court. It may not be in a position to demand much from China as that country holds some $843 billion in U.S. debt instruments. One important step for the U.S. to change this imbalance, however, is to develop its own exporting sector, i.e. building a manufacturing, clean energy or otherwise, that exports goods; not the current dynamic in which manufactures export themselves seeking countries with lower wages and benefits in order to make higher profits.

Some important alternatives to current U.S.-China policy:

1) reduce military-related tensions with China
2) create conditions for more cooperative energy projects between entities from the two countries
3) open serious negotiations over currency issues that highlight the specific needs of each country and seek mutually beneficial compromises

Alternatives to domestic policy that may impact U.S.-China policy:

1) Fight for and win new infrastructure investments in domestic clean energy manufacturing
2) Seek to create rules and guidelines for these investments to benefit companies that keep the work in the U.S.
3) Close existing tax loopholes that benefit companies looking to make an easy buck elsewhere
4) Swing the political/economic pendulum much further away from dirty energy

Any other ideas?