Saturday, October 31, 2015

Attention Police

And those who blindly support them. US cops would have simply executed this man within seconds. It doesn't have to be that way.

The 1:37 video is a condensed and cleaned up version of a longer cell phone video that lasts 5:43. That one is more jerky and includes the people in an apartment across the street talking in the background as the situation unfolds, but it shows the police patiently keeping the man contained in one area until the officers with the shields arrive.

The shorter version was posted by Filming Cops, a well known copwatch group in Florida, and reposted by my Facebook friend Joe Conway, a retired psychologist and former director of a mental health center in Reading, PA, who wrote:

Important to note; that in saving his life in a humane way; they also saved the community from the trauma of his killing and the expense of the investigation that would have followed, and the denigration of the relationship between the cops and community. It would have made the next killing easier, and would be a door opener for the next after that. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

The South Side

I don't like it that police, and a growing number of other people, can put one of those "boots" on your car wheel to immobilize you until they get some money out of you or otherwise make you submit to something. It's like letting them judge and convict you without benefit of a trial. It's almost like an arrest. Here at my apartment complex they'll boot your car if you park in a handicap space and you have to pay $75 to get a private company to come out here and take it off.

This photo is apparently going around on Facebook. It was reposted by my conservative Republican brother, who lives in the small rural town in Michigan on the far fringes of the Chicago area where we grew up. The post's original description got reposted with it:

G.m only in the chi on the south side lol

"The chi" is Chicago, and everyone in that area knows that when you say "the south side" you mean where the Black people live. I at first thought there were some racial undertones in my brother's posting, but then I followed the link back to where it was originally posted. It was posted by a Black guy who also posts a lot of Liberal things.

My perception went through several phases. Through all of it, though, I found the picture funny. But why? How does humor work? How do we use cultural markers in humor?

Here are two other pictures, one posted by the conservative Republican brother and one by the Liberal Democratic brother.




Monday, October 26, 2015

Higher Than Education

What's college all about, anyway? Is it job training for high paying jobs? Or a place where you learn how the world works, which is something we need to know if we live in a democracy? What about a place where learning about the arts can help you understand and appreciate the world in ways the first two can't?

We can have discussions about things like this because, in relative historical terms, we're a highly educated society. But we could be gong backward. Discussions like this might not take place in the future.

The ongoing entrenchment of Neoliberal, i.e. Reaganomics, economic policies, with lower taxes on the rich and corporations, is putting college further out of reach for more working class students. But it's also changing the very nature of how we think about things, like college, as outlined in a rather long and dense (87 footnotes) article by Nancy Welch in the International Socialist Review. Current realities, our ways of thinking about things, are being replaced by new ones. Some things are just not part of the discussion any more. Some things will never come up because we won't even be imagining the same things we did before.

The article addresses something pointed to by many critics of the direction we're heading, which is that most college faculty is now non tenure and part time. Tenure -- which is job protection similar to what unions afford -- is meant to give scholars academic freedom, to look into whatever they want to. When faculty is on contingent, semester to semester contract, as more and more are now, they aren't as likely to rock the boat. In the early 70s there was a 75-25 balance (75 percent tenured, 25 percent non tenure and part time). It's now 25-75, and as the article lays out, many college teachers don't even make a living wage.

But money still flows to college administrations, and not just to the highly paid college president. Administrators now outnumber teachers, according to the ISR article.

I looked up the University of New Mexico budget and found this on page 29. It lumps student employment in with administrative employment into a category called "staff/student/other salaries, so it doesn't let you compare apples to apples, but I'd add that if by student employment it means the kind of "work study" jobs I had in college, that was part time at minimum wage.

But at UNM, the staff/student/other" category is more than double the "faculty salaries" category.  Look under the heading 'Expenses." (These figures are in thousands of dollars. 204,357 means $204,357,000.)

The ISR article also points out that colleges are sitting on big piles of cash reserves. The UNM budget is very complex and things are broken up into different campuses and departments. I coul'd find a budget item for cash reserves in the time I have today, but note that in this snippet from the UNM budget there's a 53.6 million surplus in this area for 2016.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It's The Stupid, Stupid

It's the economy, stupid
(Often quoted sign posted in the office of Bill Clinton's presidential campaign manager, James Carville)

When the roof starts leaking you don't blame a Muslim, or a homophobic talk show host. You just curse and call a roofer.

With the way our political system is set up, and the way the media portrays the world, there aren't enough avenues to express what it is that bothers us, to express what really needs expressing. That's the lesson, I think, of an article by Rick Perlstein that's being posted around the internet that talks about how democratic socialist/populist Bernie Sanders is getting some respect from some working class conservatives who've heard what's he's saying.

When people get anxious there are fundamental causes: economic insecurity and threats to our sense of who we are are the most fundamental. Our "sense of who we are" is what we usually think of as our "identity" and when our identity is under attack we feel threatened. But those kinds of things aren't talked about, at least not directly, by politicians and the media, and identity politics doesn't identify them. Politicians and journalists have insecurities of their own and don't want to reveal that, because we as a society are that way, too. We're guarded about such things. We don't want to give other people any ammunition to use against us, and our sense of self requires that we project an image as someone who has our act together. We are left with inadequate ways of expressing our discontent that aren't up to the task, and lead us off into solutions that don't address the problems.

My older brother, a true blue liberal Democrat, has a small army of Facebook friends who post things about the outrageous things conservatives say. Whenever an article appears that uses data from studies conducted by sociologists to suggest that working class Republicans are uninformed and even unintelligent they post it and leave self congratulatory "I told you so" comments. My younger brother, a true dittohead conservative tea bagger Republican, posts racist and Islamophobic things on his Facebook page, and the two brothers don't interact at all on Facebook.

I've suggested to the liberal Democratic faction that posting such things is counterproductive but I have a hard time explaining why. I really don't have the language myself to explain why. You can make the case that economic issues are what unite us all -- all of us who work for paychecks and aren't the inherently rich, which is how I define the working class -- but not the case for why everyone doesn't realize that, or why it's such fun to feel superior to other people, to look down on them, which bolsters our sense of who we are, i.e., someone who is more tolerant, or simply, someone who is not them.

Working class conservatives, and people in general, express their anxieties in the only ways they know how. Often that's by blaming immigrants and other kinds of people, or liberals or conservatives or socialists or people who vote for people we don't like because they don't know what we know. But if we can find ways to identify what's causing our anxieties instead of focusing on how we express them, we'll end up a lot better off.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Hillary Train

On my Google news page there's a Rush Limbaugh transcript from today where he's preparing his audience for nothing to come of Hillary's testimony before the Benghazi committee. The headlines about Clinton's emails have stopped, thanks in large part to Bernie Sanders, and Hillary's nationwide polling lead is intact. Republicans have failed to derail the Hillary train. Biden might yet stumble into its path but that won't slow it down.

I remember 1992 when Bill Clinton and Al Gore got the upper hand on George HW Bush, who had angered his base by breaking his no new taxes pledge and being wishy washy on abortion. Clinton and Gore started pummeling him and went on to an electoral vote landslide. It is said that that election was transformative in that it reversed a trend of three straight Republican presidential election landslides, and cemented the Republican Party as the party of the South, as Clinton brought states in the Midwest and Northeast that had been swing states, and California, into the Democratic party column. Democrats Clinton and his successor Obama, however, turned their backs on their base and governed as moderate Republicans.

There's disarray in the Republican base now. Because of Bernie Sanders, who has tapped into the same vein of resistance to Neoliberal Capitalism that Occupy Wall Street did, Hillary Clinton has been taking a more populist and Leftist tone, in her rhetoric at least. Women, who are in reality the Democratic Party's base now, could turn out for her in overwhelming numbers and swing some Southern states, and even affect the balance in the congress, if Clinton continues to run as a Liberal Democrat and convinces people she'd govern that way. This could be a transformative election. I'm not holding by breath, but it's possible.

Note: Eric Draitsert uses this song as the introduction to the Counterpunch podcast. Counterpunch is a newsletter begun by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair that's influential on the Left.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Hillary Clinton during this week's Democratic presidential debate demonstrated how easy it is for a popular uprising to change the terms of the debate when she volunteered her own version of what needs to be done to Capitalism. At 2:50 into this clip she talks about the "excesses" of Capitalism and the need to periodically "save Capitalism from itself."

These phrases are tropes of the Americans Left. I used one of them in the post below.

The standard line of the Left is that when he came into office Franklin Roosevelt implemented the American version of democratic socialsism via the New Deal to "save Capitalism from itself." Roosevelt was aware that the "excesses of Capitalism" had resulted in the rise of the American Labor Movement," and that it had a strong socialist vein.

He knew socialism was making headway in Europe and elsewhere. European countries all had viable socialist and social democratic parties if not Communist parties, and a few years earlier socialists had taken over in Russia and were on the verge of taking over in China. In the US, socialists were being elected to city councils here and there, sometimes winning majorities, and being elected as mayors and even to state legislatures.

Frank Zeidler, Milwaukee's Socialist mayor 1948-1960
With the New Deal, Roosevelt successfully co-opted that trend and brought most of it into the Democratic Party. Other Democrats were doing the same thing at the local level. In Minnesota, for example, then Minneapolis mayor Hubert H Humphrey brought socialists into the Democratic Party by forming a new combined party, the Democratic-Farm Labor Party, or DFL. Minnesota Democrats still run under the DFL ballot line today, not as Democrats. The Farm Labor Party had been one of several populist state parties that grew up in the early 20th century especially in the Midwest and brought together different elements of the working class, and were heavily represented by recent immigrants -- Scandanavians, Jews, Italians, etc. -- who had brought socialist ideas from Europe.

The Democratic Party, in a process that accelerated under Bill Clinton, gradually shed its socialist leanings and marginalized its left wing. Bernie Sanders represents that wing and has been partly successful in mobilizing it. Hillary Clinton can see that happening and as a result has moved to the Left during the campaign -- coming out against the TPP trade treaty and the Keystone XL pipeline project, for example. By using the language she used the other night, she showed that she knows her history and the latent potency of socialist ideas.

Irony Note: The clip here is from Melissa Perry's program on MSNBC that focuses on African American issues. Perry came up through somewhat radical African American and feminist channels in academia but gained the fame and success she enjoys now by tying herself to the mainstream establishment and the Democratic Party, although she still has a lot of credibility among young Black people and the Black Lives Matter movement, which she has covered on her program and in articles. Young Black people in general and the Black Lives Matter Movement in particular are almost entirely lacking the kind of economic critique Perry demonstrates here. Older Black Left/socialist radicals have varying takes on the young peoples' seeming disdain for class based economic analysis. Cornel West, for example, advises patience, but people like Glen Ford have harshly critiqued them for their lack of knowledge about economics and the radical history of Black struggle movements, and for their culture of opportunism in seeking to advance themselves financially as people like Perry have.

Trivia Note: The DFL party in Minnesota harkens back to a farmer radicalism and populism that was somewhat apparent in my family growing up. On my mother's side there were and are farmers who belong to grain co-ops, by which farmers band together to sell their grains and buy their supplies. As you drive through the country and see those big grains silos, many of them are owned by farmer co-ops.

One uncle was pouring the daily outpouring of milk from his dairy herd onto the ground morning and evening during a fight between his association and the dairies. One of the family reunions on my Dad's side was held in a Grange Hall in a small Ohio town, a remnant of the farmer based Granger movement that brought regulation to the railroads and grain warehouses and, among other things, got free the rural mail delivery that we still have today instituted.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Strange Rehabilitation of Socialism

Fully 27 percent of conservatives have a favorable view of socialism. That was the surprising tidbit in one of the many articles flowing out and studies being linked to that talk about Americans' evolving takes on socialism in the wake of the first Democratic presidential primary debate in which Bernie Sanders was asked about the term democratic socialism.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson/Wikimedia/Salon
For several years polling has been picking up the trend of younger Americans having a more favorable a view of socialism, as favorable as Capitalism in some polls, and I've noted that here.

Although the media casts the finding that 27 percent of conservatives overall approve of socialism as proof they don't like it, as compared to liberals, of whom more than half overall approve of it, I see it as somewhat amazing that so many conservatives have a favorable view of socialism. During the height of the Cold War Reagan revolution, when even the term "liberal" was demonized, it was hard to find anyone who'd admit they approved of socialism.

But Reagan is dead, most of the Cold War propagandists are gone and Americans aren't growing up under the anti communist hysteria that once gripped the country. Furthermore, the conservative political establishment continues to dismantle the New Deal socialism that ameliorated some of the more severe effects of Capitalism, and younger Americans see this happening before their eyes. They're looking forward to less rosy futures than their parents did at their ages and can directly attribute it to Capitalism. As they struggle through a Capitalist present of mushrooming wealth and income inequality, staggering student loan debt and inflation-adjusted wages that remain at early 1980s levels, they are seeing what they learn about socialism with different, clearer eyes.

It's ironic, of course, that the conservative dream of forever stamping out socialism didn't come true, but instead, someone labeled a socialist is a serious presidential candidate. It's just unfortunate that we're finding out the benefits of socialism the hard way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Debate Analytics

An article in an online magazine Vocativ contains some interesting analysis of last night's debate and the presidential campaign so far, for instance that the two front runners were asked the most questions by far, and blocked their opponents from being asked questions by not mentioning their names. Apparently if a candidate mentioned another candidate's name they had to be given time to respond.

The article has some analysis of what happened on Twitter last night. Many people don't pay much attention to Twitter but I have been lately because a certain segment of the population uses Twitter heavily, and people like politicians, certain power brokers, entertainers and so forth know this and are getting their messages out to that segment via Twitter. The "segment" is basically what sometimes is called the millennials but I think more accurately is the 18-34 demographic, that advertisers love and that is the future.

Bernie Sanders gained many more followers last night than any other candidate (46,000 more versus Hillary's 10,000 more) but fewer than Donald Trump (+70,000) whose running Twitter commentary on current events is widely reported in the media.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Certified Organic

On my Google News page I spotted an article by Modern Farmer (whatver that is) headlined The Bad News About the Organic Industry. The article is a pretty exhaustive look at some of the problems in the organic food industry, mainly having to do with the standards for what's considered organic but also with the costs a farmer incurs by "going organic."

During the Clinton Administration the USDA started an organic foods certification program. That's the green and white "USDA Organic" label you see on most organic foods (that many non organic foods mimic with a similar colored and shaped label they stick on in the same place to get you to pick up their products.)

I recall when the USDA organic certification battle was being waged. Big agribusiness tried to dilute the initial standards, then having for the most part failed, they were able to re-open the issue a year later and tried to dilute them again. Both attempts were beaten back, but the standards never were ideal in the first place because, in the opinion of me and other semi neurotic people, they allowed small amounts of non organic and synthetic ingredients.

Those problems, the ongoing problems with the food industry not wanting to label foods that contain things people don't want to eat, and the problems listed in the Modern Farmer article could be rectified with another concerted effort by the people. After the USDA certified organic battles many of them, I think, went their merry ways and there will have to be another round of activism to perfect the standards and to once and for all give us control over what we eat. But I think it will happen. There are just too many people now who are concerned about what they eat for big agribusiness, and the politicians who love their campaign money, to overcome.

Note: The Modern Farmer article cites as one of the problems the fact that foods grown in other countries can get the USDA Organic label. I myself don't see that as a problem. Mexican and Canadian trucking companies came come into the US now, and if I want to do what they did and figure out how to operate in their countries I'm free to do it.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Slanted News

Just for the record, while internet and weekend TV news is being dominated by the turmoil surrounding the speaker position in the Republican controlled US House of Representatives, my local newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, which is owned by true believer Republicans, at this moment has not one thing about it. Here are screen shots of the web pages for Columns, Editorials and News:

You can look around the paper even more by clicking on links but I find nothing. I looked on the eJournal, too, which shows the pages of the daily print paper but see nothing there, either.

I can understand the embarrassment the editors at the Journal must be feeling over the problems in their party - this is what happens when you identify too closely with a political party. The national media also seems embarrassed and I've noticed many articles promoting Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan as a savior from their discomfort, and portraying him as some kind of statesman. If you're under that illusion just do a Google search for "Ryan budget." This guy sees Ayn Rand as his mentor.

TPP and Hillary

Wikileaks has released the final draft of the "Intellectual Property" section of the TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnetship Treaty. Open Media reports that it confirms what's been feared about the draconian TPP ttreaty's assault on internet freedom and about various other issues.

Now Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly praised the TPP and under whose supervision as secretary of state negotiations were conducted for years, has come out against the treaty, one of several bold gestures to her party's natural liberal base she's made in an attempt to halt the erosion of her support to Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden and interrupt the relentless flow of negative news headlines stemming from her use of a private email account as secretary of state. Clinton has also been hinting that she'll drop her opposition to big bank regulation, wants to end private prisons, etc. George Zornich writing in The Nation explains how Clinton's reversal on the TPP makes it much harder to pass the treaty, as it now becomes a problem for Democrats running for federal and state offices and ammunition for their prospective primary opponents.

The TPP was negotiated in secret between 605 corporate lobbyists and 12 Pacific rim countries (U.S., Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei). As part of a strategy to prevent opposition to the treaty from coalescing, all details of what's in it have been kept secret from the public and from congress and the Obama Administration has constantly repeated a focus group tested storyline that the treaty will  boost the economy and create jobs.

The treaty has two primary functions. First is to expand Neoliberal Reaganomics Capitalism in the Pacific rim. Related is to further the aims of the US ruling elite's geopolitical "pivot to asia" strategy by which the US has been moving to stem the rise of China by encircling it militarily.

All the TPP signatory countries now do large amounts of trade with China, but with the TPP the US ruling elite hopes to isolate China economically by tying the signatories economies more closely to the US economy. Many inducements have been put forth to that end, such as allowing signatories to maintain tariffs that restrict US products, but the biggest is that the TPP furthers the Neoliberal "national competitiveness" doctrine which means lowering the wages and living standards of workers in advanced industrial nations and transferring industrial jobs to poorer countries.

One often hears talk about "national competitiveness" and "competitiveness" -- when the intent is to refer to the lowering of wages -- couched as talk of "productivity" growth. Many people confuse economic growth and productivity growth. Productivity simply means how much profit you're making on your investment, and that can be increased in several ways -- new technology, automation, or paying lower wages. Reaganomics, or Neoliberalism, which Democrats and Republicans have both adopted, is about lowering wages.

Note how this representative of the World Economic Forum talks to a clueless CNBC reporter who keeps using "growth" and "productivity growth" interchangeably.

The World Economic Forum is a huge NGO that facilitates the coordinating of economic policies of governments and corporations. It hold a big annual economic forum in Davos, Switzerland attended by all the heads of state and CEOs, and issues a much-watched annual productivity scorecard that rates nations' business friendliness, which is the subject of this interview.

"Increasing competitiveness is what's going to drive growth growing forward," the WEF rep says. In other words, profits won't come from more production and more sales but by paying workers less.

That's what the TPP is designed to do.

For more on the TPP see my previous post.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

TPP And The International Working Class

Just about everything the Obama Administration is saying about the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty is disputed by people who know something about it, and now it's coming to light that because it was so desperate to make a deal the administration caved on key issues in the final moments of the negotiations.

One is that foreign automakers who have US plants can import 70 percent of the parts from China. That's huge. I know. I grew up in Michigan, where much of the state economy is, or was, dependent on the manufacture of auto parts. Automakers make the bodies and paint them and usually make the engine blocks, and they assemble the final car, but most of the parts are contracted out. When I was young I worked in a place that made push rods, valves and various fittings. Earlier I'd worked in a place that made some of the plastic parts -- tail light lenses, arm rests, and so forth. Much of my father's works as a truck driver was hauling auto parts. When he had an accident my mother supported us by working at the plastic factory. There was a swath across the southern half of Michigan, between western Michigan where I lived and Detroit on the east side, of towns and cities and counties whose economies were tied to the auto industry.

The Obama Administration says it fixed some things people were complaining about but the TPP still has those tribunals made up of corporate lawyers who, because the TPP is a treaty, can override US law and fine governments in the US for making laws that foreign companies don't like, like environmental laws. There's nothing to prevent currency manipulation. It could affect our internet. It's guaranteed to make some critical medicines more expensive. And on and on and on.

Even the supposed good things you read about the TPP are good only because they'll increase corporate profits at US workers' expense. CBS has an article that says that the US may benefit because the middle classes of countries like Vietnam will expand. You almost want to laugh. The Vietnamese middle class will expand because they'll be making things we used to make.

Think also about how, after NAFTA, the export of jobs affected US worker pay and tax revenues. All a company had to do was threaten to move overseas and unions buckled, and governments fell all over themselves to make their taxes practically disappear.

And yet. Nothing like the TPP would ever happen if the working class was organized internationally. Capitalists couldn't play one set of workers against another. They couldn't find any tax havens. They couldn't keep scurrying around in search of cheaper labor. Politicians couldn't manipulate us by appealing to our nationalistic sentiments because we'd already have dropped them to make common cause with our brothers and sisters in other lands.

If workers from different countries figured out how to cooperate, just a little bit, this world would be a vastly different place.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Bernie Sanders and the UAW

UAW workers say "no way" - Alex Smith photo

United Auto Workers members at Chrysler facilities have rejected by 2-1 yet another "give back" contract the union leadership had negotiated on their behalf  -- "the first time that autoworkers have rejected a national contract in 33 years" reports the World Socialist Web Site. The contract, among other things, would have expanded the unpopular "two-tier" wage system, not eliminated it as workers wanted.

This is part of a bigger story. Union leadership is more conservative than union members are and has worked with management to undermine workers. With this vote Chrysler workers are pushing back. 

The bigger story still, of course, is whether the raised consciousness of the Chrysler workers indicates there's a shift underway not only in the Labor Movement but the US population in general. One sees signs of this popping up repeatedly. In the past few years there has been Occupy Wall Street, the Black Lives Matter movement, an the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

Sanders is tapping into Capitalism's inherent class divides, which under Neoliberalism have become more exxagerated than ever, but there's a danger that his candidacy could contain the natural forces that lead to popular uprisings by redirecting them to the effort to get him elected. If that happened, most people who voted for him would go home after his inauguration and feel pleased with the state of affairs, leaving everything else in place -- a conservative Democrat-Republican-media political establishment, conservative courts, conservative union leadership, and corporate control of most of the important decisions that get made in the country such as the kind of cars we drive, the kind of electricity we generate, the kind of products that get made, the kind of food we eat and most importantly whether the country's wealth and resources are used for the pubic good or private profit.

Bernie talks about a "political revolution" but hasn't said exactly what that means. Does it mean getting him elected? Or does it mean that people gain a sense of their own power and how to use it, for, among other things, getting people like him elected?

The other side of the coin is that the election of a Bernie Sanders would be significant in itself and that the kind of concerns I'm raising will only divide the working class. That his election could facilitate other kinds of change. It might be a boost to consciousness raising and the overall uprising.

These questions should be debated, but I don't see history backing up the latter argument. I'd point to the early 20th century when, riding popular discontent with Capitalism, Socialism and the Labor Movement rose in tandem, and led to, but were co-opted by Franklin Roosevelt with his New Deal transformation of government, and gradually petered out from there leading to current union leadership and the current Democratic Party and its supports for things like NAFTA and TPP and the repeal of Glass Steagall. If you can show me a path from Bernie Sanders to lasting change, however, I'd be glad to hear it.