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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Perspective

The Texas sheriff deputy killed at a gas station Friday "is the 23rd officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page," the Washington Post reports.

The police this year have killed 787 people, according to the web site killedbypolice.net.

In June The Guardian did an analysis and found about 1 in 4 people killed by police this year have been unarmed. More than twice as many of the unarmed victims of police killings were black than were white, despite black Americans being far fewer in number than white Americans.




Friday, August 28, 2015

A Great New Mexican

I've written about New Mexico's Dennis Chavez, the first Democratic Hispanic US Senator, who voted for the legislation that created Social Security and wrote the legislation that created the Rural Electrification Administration, which literally transformed America and still provides electricity to millions of Americans in areas commercial power companies find too unprofitable because of the cost of running power lines to them.

Thomas J Hagerty
Thomas J Hagerty

Thomas J Hagerty was a Catholic priest who became radicalized after being posted to a parish in Las Vegas, NM in 1901 and seeing the conditions Mexican railway workers lived under. Not many years earlier Las Vegas was the center of the resistance to the US takeover of New Mexico, and its independent minded people may have had an influence on Hagerty, too. He became a Socialist and helped popularize the movement nationally with his writings in the Socialist press and for a time ran a leading Socialist newspaper. He later became a founding member of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, the iconic Anarchist union. His use of his office for politics and his use of the Bible to justify his Socialist beliefs enraged the conservative pro Capitalist church hierarchy and he was first relieved of his church duties and ultimately defrocked.

"The Ballot Box is simply a capitalist concession. Dropping pieces of paper into a hole in a box never did achieve emancipation of the working class, and in my opinion it never will."

That was written by Hagerty. I've been expressing a similar sentiment lately, that no significant change can be brought about working within the political system (except as brought about by the forces that control that system, of course) but that it comes as a result of movements outside the system. I've cited the IWW's way of organizing as an example. They don't work to get contracts, but to be organized in a way that they can exert their power directly. They don't run candidates for office, as Socialists do. Socialists would take over government, Anarchists would eliminate government and run their work places and communities through direct democracy.

Hagerty wrote the stirring preamble to the IWW constitution, reproduced below, which is often reprinted by radicals and Leftists. I remember the first time I read it being floored by it. I probably shouted and lept to my feet with my fist in the air. I became even more enthralled with the IWW constitution itself, a remarkable document, written more than one hundred years ago, that lays out how to run a organization -- a union, a society, anything -- so that no one can accumulate power and that everyone has a voice. Everyone. It's a beautiful document.

I don't doubt there's a lot of Hagerty in it, being he was an IWW founder and a writer. Hagerty represents a vein in Catholicism that's hard to find in Protestantism, which I was raised under, by the way, that I think sees in Socialism the earthly manifestation of the best parts of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. It has less to do with God and more to do with how we relate to each other as human beings. We humans are a mixture of good and bad, to put it simply. We have strong impulses both to love and to fear. We can decide which of those we live by, which we try to work on, which are expressed in government and in our personal dealings.

Not that everyone is entirely consciously aware that they have that choice, but we can help each other be aware of it. That's what people like Hagerty did, or what Oscar Romero did. Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador, who was murdered in 1980 if not directly by the by CIA then by people who were part of the CIA's efforts to keep in power the Latin American dictators and butchers who kept imperialism's oligarchic allies in power, was one of the leading proponents of what's called Liberation Theology. It's called that because it encompasses the liberation of people from oppression, but it also finds support in the Bible for Socialism as the alternative to Capitalist Imperialism.

Hagerty was kicked out of the church by the same thing that killed Romero. Church leaders, Catholic and Protestant, who whether they are involved in conservative political movements directly or are only saying they are against Socialism or are only saying that politics have no place in the church and who go after people like Hagerty, are taking sides with Capitalism, which has survived as a system because it's been a successful way to manage our lesser natures, our greed, which emanates from our fear, and in supporting such a system all have chosen for whatever reason to live by their lesser natures. Not so Thomas Hagerty.


Note: Anarchists and Socialists share a Marxist analysis of Capitalism and Society -- the main difference between them is in how to organize society after Capitalism's overthrow. Their common Marxist analysis is evident in the IWW preamble that Hagerty wrote:

Preamble to the Industrial Workers of the World Constitution 

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.






Thursday, August 27, 2015

Newspapers Are Dead - Long Live Newspapers

Today's update by the Washington Post on the fate of the New Orleans Times-Picuayne, whose publisher after Hurricane Katrina decided to try putting out only three print editions a week and focusing on the newspaper's new online version, contains some bad news for those of us hoping Journalism will survive the relentless decline of the newspaper industry. The verdict is that the print edition still brings in all almost the revenue, and that revenue continues to decline.

This dovetails with national data showing that internet ad revenue has been slowly increasing but not nearly enough to help the newspaper industry.  In other words, an online newspaper can't come close to supporting itself.

Note that in my introduction I focused on the "publisher" of the Time-Picuyane, who is a rich man. The Washington post didn't talk to him. They talked to the man who runs the paper, the editor. They approached the story from the point of view of Journalism -- how many good reporters have been lost, what about the overall picture for newspapers? The reporters and editors at the Washington Post are naturally concerned about what being lost when newspapers are lost. Many of us cherish our newspapers. We look forward to the morning paper with our coffee. We appreciate the well written story that fleshes out something about American life. we appreciate thorough reporting on government and good investigative journalism that alerts us to problems in need of our attention.

But remember that newspapers have always been the voices of the people controlling the purse strings. When our founding fathers enshrined press freedoms in the constitution they were enshrining the ability of the members of their economic class of merchants and landowners to carry on an open debate among themselves. Their slaves didn't have their own newspapers, nor did the white working class, nor did women.

The most promising progressive web sites, like The Intercept and the Center for Public Integrity,  rely on funding from progressive rich people. Like the newspapers they are replacing they will only contain information and opinions progressive rich people want them to contain.

Locally, the New Mexico Political Report shows promise. It's funded, I learned within a few minutes owing to the the miracle of the internet, by Michael Huttner, a lawyer from Denver who has built a network of progressive news outlets. I also learned that Huttner is an Obama supporter and part of the Democratic Party establishment. I doubt it would take much more digging to find out that he gets financial help for his project from the Democratic Party, but even if he doesn't his publications' politics aren't going to stray outside the parameters allowed by the Democratic Party. They won't challenge the party's ties to Wall Street. They won't challenge Capitalism. We the people will continue to be the losers.

With all the publications I've mentioned, as it's been with all the newspapers that may or may not be fading into history, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Nevertheless, the model the new online publications are developing holds promise for we the people and for the possibility of us developing our own news outlets that promote our own interests.




Monday, August 24, 2015

Ray Lewis





Retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis became an icon of the Left when he showed up at Occupy Wall street in uniform to support the protesters. Memes like the one above were made of him and circulated widely. He has since developed a large following on Facebook where he leads discussions about the issues of the day, especially involving the police, and he's shown up various other places in or out of uniform, like in Ferguson, MO. He's definitely against police brutality and the continual gunning down of innocent people by the police, but also points out the reality the police face, as in this he posted today about what a cop would face if he tried to report another cop:








Sunday, August 23, 2015

Is It Time To Vote Yet?

"Truth and justice will never, ever, come from above. We will have to construct them from below."

That statement from a communique released this week by the Zapatistas relates to official complicity and impunity in some ongoing murders of teachers in Mexico, but is also meant to apply universally.

Zapatista women celebrate 20 years of struggle in 2014
The Zapatistas are indigenous people from the southern state of Chiapas who staged an uprising on January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA took effect. The uprising shook Mexico and made news around the world.

The Zapatistas are still fighting to keep their lands. They also have become a kind of laboratory and worldwide clearing house for constructing alternative forms of governance. Chiapas is probably the most radical state. It's teachers often go on strike and are met with deadly repression and go on strike again the following year. The Zapatistas, officially the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, named themsleves after "Emilano Zapata, the agriarian reformer and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution."

Zapatista flag
Their communique is a reminder that the power structure never gives up power voluntarily. If you look at the change that's occurred in the US it's come from and because of mass movements -- the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti War Movement, the Labor Movement, the Tea Party Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, the Women's Movement. Any legislative reforms that followed were forced by those movements.

We must exercise our power directly, not hand it over to politicians. Neither can change come through the ballot box.

As the great Anarchist Lucy Parsons put it, "Don't be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth."

It's a difficult idea for Americans to get used to, bombarded as we are from birth with the importance of voting, of  'exercising our democratic right to vote', of  our vote 'making a difference' and so on.

 Even the most disillusioned Liberals and Leftists, while conceding that voting isn't going to change the fact that both parties are the party of Wall Street, and that as far as economic matters go, voting is a waste of time, point to Supreme Court nominations. You've got to vote because of who will be appointing the justices.

That's a ridiculous argument for a couple of reasons. First, the current Supreme Court is the most business friendly court in history. No one even notices that, or that Democrats appointed some of tjhose corporate friendly judges.

It's really all about abortion. But what did this court just decide in the issue of gay marriage? As the court has always done it followed public opinion, as it has done and will do with abortion. The court's whittling own of abortion rights will end when a cut majority is unambiguously opposed to that, which isn't the case.

The IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, is a union formed by Anarchists. Anarchists realize that you'll never get around the problems that occur when you hand your power over to the state along with your vote. It's the state. That's where they differ with Socialism, which would retain the state. The IWW isn't even concerned about contracts. They exercise their power directly, on the shop floor. They simply walk out and maybe break up a few machines on the way out, and they don't run candidates for public office.




Friday, August 21, 2015

Have You Been Purged Today?

There's something ominous going on in England. The Labour Party is purging members it thinks will vote for Jeremy Corbyn as party chairman. Corbyn, a member of parliament, and his supporters want to return the party to its working class roots and away from the Neoliberalism of Tony Blair and subsequent party leaders.

The Labour Party in justifying its purge is saying that many people who don't support Labour's "values" are joining the party simply to vote for Corbyn and thus hurt Labour's chances in the next elections. What I've been reading is that that's true, but it's not Conservatives signing up for Labour to vote for Corbyn but people on the Left who had become disenchanted with Labour but are inspired by some courageous stances Corbyn has been taking like going against party leadership to vote against the most recent ruling Conservative Party austerity measures -- in other words, the people joining Labour to vote for Ccorbyn are the people who should be Labour's natural constituency. That sense of things is documented in a new article by Kerry-anne Mendoza published in the New Internationalist titled The Labour Purge Is Underway, in which she reproduces an email sent around by the Labour Party leadership that I've posted here.

Blair is often compared to Bill Clinton, who led a movement of conservative Democrats-- see Democratic Leadership Council -- that included people like Al Gore, Joe Biden and Tony Coelho who took over the Democratic Party in the 1980s and 90s and moved it to the right. Both Blair and Clinton as prime minister and president were able to pass things like NAFTA and legislation dismantling social services that no Republican president or Conservative prime minister could have gotten away with at the time. The Democratic and Labour parties today unashamedly promote Reaganomics economic policies and remain "liberal" on only two social policies, gay marriage and abortion, and posture on things like the environment and racial equality only as needed to prevent a revolt of their base.

Party orthodoxy is enforced in various ways. In the US it's usually thought that the election process is the primary way; vast amounts of money must be raised and since rich people have the money, rich people call the tune. But it's hard to even get on the ballot in the first place unless you have the approval of the party establishment. In New Mexico, for example, both parties hold nominating conventions where a candidate has to receive a certain percentage of votes from enrolled party members to get a spot on their party's primary ballot.

I've wondered if it would be possible to take over a mainstream political party by getting a lot of like minded people to join the party. We're seeing what happens when you try that in England.





Tuesday, August 18, 2015

But what do Socialists think about Bernie Sanders?

(Update: What the Sanders campaign might mean for the future of Socialism is discussed below, and I mention American's increasingly more favorable views toward Socialism. Today the Christian Science Monitor has more on that with new survey results)


Bernie is sometimes called a Socialist and it's sometimes said he identifies as a Democratic Socialist. That's an amorphous term usually understood to mean something like a European style Democratic Socialist, also an amorphous term since, like it has in the US, the political center in Europe has shifted significantly to the right over the past few decades. In general though Democratic Socialists don't seek to overthrow Capitalism but to reform it. Some of those reforms include state ownership of utilities and certain industries, and social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, etc. that liberal Democrats also support more or less.

Bernie Sanders rally in Los Angeles on August 10
There are different currents in actual Socialism and the differences mainly have to do with tactics, The primary difference is whether they believe the transition to Socialism can be achieved by the vote or must be accomplished through revolution.

Naturally Socialists are interested in Sanders' presidential candidacy and whether the policies he's promoting, which are intended to reform but not overthrow the Capitalist system, hurt or help the cause of Socialism, and whether they would make the US more fertile ground for Socialism.

This statement about it is from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, one of several Socialist parties or organizations that run candidates for political office as a way to educate people about Socialism. They like it that a person who identifies as a Socialist can run a viable campaign for US president as Sanders is doing, and they place his campaign in the context of other social foment taking place such as the Black Lives Matter Movement and the campaign to increase the wages of people who work at places like McDonald's and Wal Mart, and say that, like those, Sanders' popularity is another good sign, like those public opinion surveys that show that young people are as open to Socialism as they are to Capitalism, that, despite setbacks to Socialism's brand like the Soviet Union, history isn't over and a more humane and equitable world is still possible.

I'll be writing more about the different Socialist takes on Sanders as his saga unfolds. I haven't had much to say about Sanders' campaign because I see it as being solidly in the context of Democratic Party politics, about which I write quite a bit. His popularity is an expression of popular discontent, and of the fact that people want something besides what they're getting from Democrats, but from the time he entered politics, when he became mayor of Burlington Vermont, through his tenure in the US House and now the Senate, Sanders has worked within the umbrella of the Democratic Party -- he gets committee assignments as a Democrat and votes with them on critical issues like filibusters-- and he has gone along with most of its more egregious policies, like its support for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the bombing of Yugoslavia; he generally hasn't opposed US imperialism in its military or economic faces. He's a gun rights advocate.

Sanders has been a steady voice against Neoliberalism -- Reaganomics -- but doesn't openly call Democrats out for their embrace of it and isn't using this presidential campaign to speak out against their embrace of it. Much of his support is coming from Democratic Party liberals who aren't really aware of how their party has capitulated to Reaganomics, and his campaign isn't going to do much to change the course the country is on toward being just another third world country and a cheap labor pool for an increasingly powerful and bloated Capitalist system.





Sunday, August 16, 2015

As Social Security Turns 80 Dennis Chavez Can't RIP

Dennis Chavez is spinning in his grave.

Dennis Chavez
The New Deal New Mexico Democrat (there's a nice biography at the web site of the US House, where he also served) who as the nation's first Democratic Hispanic US senator voted for the legislation that created Social Security would be abhorred by today's Democratic Party as it executes a stealth attack on the program that has transformed what it means to retire in the US -- the poverty rate for seniors exceeded 40 percent when the program began and is essentially the same as for the general population now.

Because it's so popular and a so-called "third rail" in politics Social Security survives largely intact although it pays out less in inflation adjusted benefits than it should, but Democrats have their sights set on it. Their current leader, President Obama, when he took office formed a blue ribbon commission to give him debt reduction recommendations and packed it with Democrats and Republicans who want to privatize Social Security. (Democrats like Erskine Bowles, John Spratt and Dick Durbin, Republicans like Allan Simpson and Paul Ryan) and although that attempt was turned back he still makes ominous references to our "long term debt" -- code for Social Security -- despite Social Security not being part of the federal budget.

Democrats refuse to refute assertions that Social Security if part of the federal budget or the constant claims that the program is going broke despite the fact that it's been shown over and over that it's not and that a slight adjustment to the "cap" would beef it up substantially; only the first $118,500 of  a taxpayer's income is subject to Social Security contribution deductions, so millionaires and billionaires basically get off scot free and yet still draw their benefits.

New Democrats like those we have in New Mexico now usually profess support for the program when pressed but if you read statements they make about it it's always a qualified support, or they simply avoid the topic altogether. None has come out with a robust endorsement of the program as is. On their web site you'll see statements about the listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species but not about Social Security as a threatened program that millions of retirees depend on.

Republicans have never liked Social Security (although as they do with all other government benefits they complain about they take it) and make periodic attempts to privatize or undermine it. Democrats declining support for it must be seen in the context of their rightward transformation in the past 40 years and adoption of Reaganomics economic policies -- see the post below.




The Reagan In You: What the Steven Slaita case tells us about Reaganomics

University of Michigan professor Juan Cole in an article about the Steven Salaita case gets to exactly what's wrong with Reaganomics, the economic model of lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy, decreased levels of social spending and government ownership, more privatization and attacks on the ability of unions to organize and negotiate wages, initiated in the US by Ronald Reagan and since then adopted by both US political parties.


Steven Salaita - Press TV


Salaita, a professor born in West Virginia to immigrant Palestinian and Lebanese parents, is a Native American studies specialist who has done comparative studies of the plights of American Indians and Palestinians and sometimes writes and comments about Palestine. He had been at Virginia Tech but was recently hired by the University of Illinois at Champain Urbana (the main UI campus, the "Fighting Illini"). When Israel began slaughtering Palestinians with its massive air and land bombardment of Gaza last summer Salaita posted some things on Twitter very critical of Israel and it's Prime Minister.

One or more wealthy UI donors got wind of the posts and strong-armed the university's board into firing Salaita, which the board ordered the president to do. Salaita sued and a federal judge in a ruling this week that let the case proceed condemned the university's handling of the case in harsh terms. There appears no way the uiniversity can win and they'll probably have to settle in a way amenable to Salaita. The president is also suing the university and resigned this week, releasing a statement saying she was tired of "carrying water" for the board.

Cole points out that, because of changes in our tax policies -- he means Reaganomics --  universities are so starved of funding that they've had to do two things. One is to sock students with very high tuition. We've all heard about how so many students now leave college and start their lives out very deeply in debt -- at least $25,000-$35,000 for most and commonly $50,000 and up.

The other thing is that universities now rely for much of their budgets on donations from wealthy alumni, and this is where the University of Illinois got in trouble in the Salaita case.

Cole talks about how the situation has affected free speech -- that's Salaita's main defense, plus the fact that he'd signed a contract with the university -- but Reaganomics has affected America in more ways than that. Think about infrastructure. Childhood care and development programs. Think about our public schools.

And the economy. Wages inflation adjusted have remained flat since Reagan came into office. Governments, no longer having the revenue formerly paid in by corporations and the wealthy,  have drastically reduced the amount of wealth they put back into the economy. Consequently the days of robust growth are over, which isn't my opinion but the consensus of economists. There's really no prospect for most working people to get ahead any more.

Since tax rates on profits are so low now, the wealthy no longer pump money back into their businesses in order to get tax deductions. They can now just keep all the profits, and they've been doing it for some time now.

A major tax deduction is for salaries and benefits paid out. Often it was "a wash" to pay those things -- i.e., it lowered your tax bill the same amount you paid out, depending on your situation, or at least close to it. It made it cheaper to pay more in salaries and benefits. Now it's to the benefit of wealthy major stockholders for corporations to keep salaries and benefits as low as possible.

Something Cole didn't mention is that universities have also increased their partnerships with corporate America. Corporations are funding professorships, construction projects on campus, and research, giving them more say over what collegges and universities teach.

We have it here in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico. Research done in these corporate partnerships can be patented. No other academics can see it or get the benefit of it. They can't learn from it, build on it, or teach it to their students. One of the primary ways knowledge has been built up over  the centuries is being cut off, as will be the benefits that knowledge brought to humankind.

The responsibility for the situation we're in lies with Democrats and those who support them. Elected Democrats fall into two groups: those who actually believe in Reaganomics despite the absence of any evidence showing that it ever worked for anybody except the rich, and those who know it doesn't work or who just think it's bad for Americans but are afraid to say so, for fear of losing their fancy titles, their big salaries and their status.

Ultimately the blame lies with us. We're either too ignorant to know what's going on or if we do, too lazy, and too selfish, to do anything about it.





Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fidel Turns 89



Bolivian Information Agency photo

The iconic Cuban revolutionary leader received visits this week from, among others, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Bolivian President Evo Morales (left and center in the photo), also men who have found themselves in the crosshairs of the most powerful nation on earth and survived.

All are polarizing figures, loved by people around the world and despised by people around the world for the same reason, trying to find other ways for their countries to take besides being vassals of the United States, ways that are not Capitalism.