Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Congratulations to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers on their latest partnership with Verite. Monitoring is essential to improving the lives of farmworkers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I spent much of the 4th Thursday in November as I usually do, recalling the horrific histories of the Powhatan Confedederacy encounters with the English around Jamestown - where my own ancestor's people, the Wicocomico, were destroyed; then the disastrous series of betrayals that characterized the English encounters with the Wampanoag, events now recalled by saccharine tales of "Thanksgiving."

But what strikes me increasingly in the last couple of years as I re-read these histories, and the histories of early European incursions into India, Africa and elsewhere, is how repetitious the pattern is. It begins with trade and trade routes, alliances made with one local group of people or another to facilitate this trade. It progresses quickly from there to war as European demands expand and begin putting pressure on local economies, foreign trading companies begin playing off one group against another, strategizing to maintain "friendly" leaders in positions of power, king-making. The English and French in the Southeastern US, Africa and elsewhere notoriously established "medal chiefs" - rulers by virtue of their alliances with foreign powers. Sound familiar?

The genocide or ethnocide and the enslaving or other subjugation of entire nations is just one strand of the net, the final one for many people, pulled tight around the neck at last. Those who see it coming, who try to resist, are branded "rebels" or "terrorists" - not always incorrectly, but always without telling the full story.

In fact, I think this may be the most important lesson of the story of "The Day of Mourning" or what my friend Alan Jamieson calls the "Last Supper for Native People": the conquest continues. In Iraq. In Afghanistan. In Africa. In South America. In North America.

Which helps explain why people get so upset when you talk about it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

More unemployed, more unemployed organizing

What did I say? The pattern is pretty clear. Every month the papers announce unemployment is not as high as expected -- then two weeks later, oh, p.s., it's actually higher.

The pundits can tell us how much better things are getting 'til they're blue in the chips -er- face. But the unemployed, and those of us close to it, are starting to figure out a few things: step one - organize!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Police policing police

The community where I live is reeling from a fatal police shooting of an unarmed 15 year old black child on Oct. 9. The young man and his friend (who now faces charges of felony "resisting arrest") had often stayed at the house they were allegedly "burglarizing." The homeowner says they were both welcome any time. According to the police, the boys saw two cops appear with weapons drawn and tried to run. But what is that, a capital offense now?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Break 'em up while we still can!

So I'm in Northeast Mississippi just for a day or two and I happen to check out the Daily Journal, and I see that unemployment in the land of my birth has dropped (the same song we're hearing all around the country) - probably because more people have just given up. Even the official rate (we know how accurate that is) in Alcorn County is now 11.3 percent, and it's worse in nearby Tippah and Benton Counties. This is recovery?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Organizing the Unemployed and Homeless

So there's these crazy people in Fort Wayne, actually believe people don't want to be unemployed! Who'da thunk it? I talked to this barn-burner, Tom Lewandowski. They're leafletting Michael Moore's new movie - unemployment offices and such - and talking to people about the economy! What good is that gonna do? Isn't our current system inevitable, exactly as it is?

They're negotiating with development boards in Fort Wayne - like a union - trying to get some money for job creation. They act like they think we ought to have some say in how that money gets spent, just because it came from our taxes.

Next they'll be saying that if Walmart wants us to build a parking lot for them, or otherwise subsidize them, they have to do something for the community. Pay a living wage? Provide employee health benefits (note: a "benefit" is something you get because you work there, not something you can buy if you work there)? ACCEPT A UNION? Where will it end?

The rabble could fall out of line and even think beyond jobs per se. They might even start to think the work ought to do more than just go to poor people. They could decide it also should serve poor communities.

What if big businesses that move into our communities and need a little help with zoning - not like those damn homeless neighbors of ours who expect local governments to bankrupt themselves so they can put up six or even seven tents like they think they own the place - OK, so they have permission from the property owner, but still! - you know, lovely big businesses, had to contribute to the public schools or something instead of taking tax money away from them? Where would be then?

What are they going to do when they realize they don't have enough left over for a nice big new clock tower like ours in Champaign-Urbana?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tomato pickers victory!

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers show once again the power and the value of self-organization. Reports of their demise or imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated - repeatedly.

But these mostly immigrant, low-paid, tough organizers extraordinaire keep coming back with more victories against all the odds. I admit that when I first began my own association with these folks, as a supporter - I signed up to receive a giant puppet that was traveling the nation during the Taco Bell campaign, and to organize a local demo within a day or so of the puppet's arrival - I secretly thought to myself, "What chance do they really have?" After all, in the real world, when David goes up against Goliath, he often gets his proverbial ass handed back to him tied up with a nice frilly ribbon.

Not this time.

And maybe even more amazing, the five years to the Taco Bell win was followed by two years to another unexpected win at McDonald's - of all places! we were all already on the way to corporate headquarters, thousands of us, when we got the word: the protest would now be a celebration! - another year to victory at Burger King ... and along the way picked up Subway and others.

In 2008, Whole Foods became the first supermarket chain to settle with CIW, and a year later growers who sell to Whole Foods had begun signing up to participate.

A strident growers' lobby called the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange had held up progress for some time, threatening to fine any of its member growers who agreed to pay the penny-a-pound extra demanded by the CIW, tangling them all in court, etc. But eventually, like water dripping persistently against a rock, CIW wore them down.

Stung by criticism that they won't deal with the CIW despite their claims to serve "Food with Integrity", Chipotle Mexican Grill then began claiming they were "working with" the CIW - even as CIW was still asking to negotiate. Now a really big grower, East Coast Growers and Packers, has broken ranks with FTGE - or joined ranks with CIW. Chipotle then apparently announced they would buy from East Coast, but still has no deal with CIW to my knowledge. Trying to have it both ways, Chipotle?

Friday, August 14, 2009

What would a real racist be like?

You really just cannot make this stuff up, even remotely. First white cops arrest African American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for breaking into his own house (OK, for getting annoyed when they accused him breaking into his own house). Then reporters ask Obama, who is trying to have a press conference about a little thing like health care at the time, what he thinks. Well, duh. What does any sane person think?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Black = criminal

(or so it seems from the police response)

heck it out!

(OK, in case you haven't heard the actual story, here it is. [p.s. Read the comments, too - they're fracking nuts!])

Honduras and Obama: Change versus No-Change

The latest crackpot take on Honduras is that Zelaya was "properly impeached" - after the army removed him in his pajamas at gunpoint and declared martial law, of course, suspending all that free speech stuff, etc. (They had learned, I guess, from previous outbreaks of anti-American riots over far lesser offenses.)

But all the serious commentary agrees that the media-christened "interim government" that resulted is not precisely constitutional or democratic. What follows that is mostly hand-wringing and little else.

Meanwhile there have been some interesting connection made. The shocking and of course completely unexpected presence of US-trained thugs among the coup perps are just one - as if the School of the Americas phenom hadn't lurked behind the scenes of most right-wing coups in the Americas since, well, forever.

Another is the degree of influence that Honduran business has a big slimy foot in the Beltway door (in the person of Lanny Davis) and maybe another (in the person of our old friend Otto Reich):

"Otto Reich has [...] been investing his energy during the last couple of years in a campaign against President Zelaya. [...] Reich also co-founded an organization in Washington named Arcadia Foundation together with a Venezuelan, Robert Carmona-Borjas, a lawyer specialized in military law who is linked to the April 2002 coup d'etat in Venezuela, per his own resumé. [...]Since last year, Reich and Carmona-Borjas have been conducting a campaign against President Zelaya, accusing him of corruption and limiting private property rights. Through the Arcadia Foundation, they created a series of video clips that have been shown in different media, attempted to portray Zelaya as a corrupt president who violates the basic rights of the Honduran people.

[...] Carmona-Borjas has traveled frequently to Honduras during the last few months and even held public meetings where the coup against Zelaya was discussed openly. At one encounter where Carmona-Borjas was present, the Honduran Public Defender, Ramón Custodia, who was involved in the coup d'etat, declared to the press that "Coups are a possibility and can occur in any political environment." After the coup took place, Robert Carmona-Borjas appeared at a rally in support of the de facto regime, on July 3rd, and received the honors and applause from the coup leaders who declared him "an important actor" that "helped make possible" the removal from power of President Zelaya and the installment of the dictator Roberto Micheletti as de facto president."

US tentacles run deeper, of course, down to a USAID-funded opposition coalition ...

"The "Democratic Civil Union of Honduras" is composed of organizations including the National Anticorruption Council, the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP), the Council of University Deans, the Workers Federation of Honduras (CTH), the National Convergence Forum, the National Federation of Commerce and Industry of Honduras (FEDECAMARA), the Association of Communication Media (AMC), the Group Peace & Democracy, and the student group Generation for Change."

... and through one of those tangled web-thingies involving ex-Contra czar Negroponte, who's back pulling strings again ...

"In his new role, John Negroponte presently works as Advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Remember, the current US Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens [who has been working with the coup since it started], has worked closely under Negroponte during the majority of his career. So it would not be a far jump to consider that John Negroponte, expert in crushing leftist movements in Central America, has played a role in the current coup against President Zelaya in Honduras."

... and even to discussions with "our partners" involved in the coup in the days just prior, although naturally as regards "precise knowledge of military actions" of course we had no idea!

Although the Obama Administration did withdraw some (not all) aid, its response to the coup has been perhaps the most telling example of what it's Doctrine of Change actually means: mostly not.

Monday, June 1, 2009

GM, the new Conrail

Here's a shock: the media are reporting this story all wrong. "GM files for bankruptcy protection," "...a low point in the carmaker's 100-year history...," "... a powerful reminder of how far GM has fallen ...," blah, blah, blah.

The closest they come to the real story is generally on the jump page: "To achieve the lower break-even point, GM will have to shed thousands of employees, several car brands, hundreds of dealerships, health care and pension benefits, and a mountain of debt."

Whoa, rewind there: " ... GM will have to shed thousands of employees, ... health care and pension obligations ..."

Lemme get this straight. The US Government now has controlling interest in GM. The same US Government that has been telling us we have to pump millions of our dollars into GM, et al., because if por exemplo the Big Three go down we could lose jobs big time. The same US Government has also been talking about creating jobs, public works, etc., etc. Now they own GM (mostly), and the jobs go down the toilet anyway? On their watch? On their orders?

Admittedly we're now talking 40,000 jobs instead of 2 million, but the game ain't over yet. We still have more bankruptcy tickets.

This is the wrong kind of restructuring, folks! This is the (now discredited?) IMF all over again, just the opposite of what we need, what we need being what we might call a Social Monetary Fund - that would fund job creation, not "job shedding"; expanded health care that would cover more people, not fewer; likewise pensions.

Instead we seem to be getting, as Greg Palast puts it, "Grand Theft Auto:" nevermind ERISA, nevermind the fact that the pension money isn't theirs to take, and how DO you walk into to the doctor's office and pay with a bankrupt car company's stock?

That's clearly what we should be pissed about. But I'd like to add one more little observation, while we're on the subject (or I am). A little history, just a sort of after dinner mint to tip us right over the edge. It concerns Conrail, pretty well named in retrospect.

You see, this has all happened before. Before 1975 there were a number of old private, for-profit railroad lines running in the Northeastern US. Only they went bankrupt. So the Government bought them, and restructured them, downsized them, "shed" some of their operations and the attendant workers, etc. At the same time, with the same Act, the Government began a program of "regulatory reform" - i.e. deregulation. Several such "reforms" followed, but that's another story.

The long and the short is, by 1980 Conrail turned a profit (NB: as a government run enterprise it became profitable). So the Government took the next logical step - claro. It re-privatized the company, the largest sale of public stock in US history!

Get it? Private enterprise not working - government/taxpayers assume debt, invest billions to rebuild and repair - then hand it back to the profiteers, this time with far fewer regulations, like, for example, secret contracts, etc., etc.

They call this 'socialism'? The smart guys have a better way to describe it: "Socialized risk, privatized profit." What it means is, socialism for the rich, while the rest of us get to take our chances with wild west capitalism.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The much-touted 'pace' of bleeding out

Let's say I'm bleeding. Badly. I have about 15 pints of blood in me. I drop a half pint and I don't like that exactly, but it's really no sweat. Then I lose another pint. I feel a little dizzy, starting to get concerned. Then a pint and a half. Weak, feeling sick. Another pint. Really worried now...

Then the 'pace slows'' to half a pint. Do I feel better? Not much. I'm in deep doo-doo, as a certain former President would say. I'm losing less blood than I was before per minute, sure, but my problem is still getting worse. Much worse - fast. Why? You don't have to be a surgeon of any stripe to figure this one out. Because the first drops of blood lost are not the same as the later drops. The more blood I lose, the more precious each drop becomes - the less able I am to weather the loss, not to mention recover from it.

So it is with the slower pace of job loss announced this week for April (only 539,000 losses - nonfarm). The more jobs the economy hemorrhages, the harder it is for laid-off workers to find work - and the harder it is for families to support one another as charities and social services become overwhelmed.

Of course, these are probably not the final figures anyway. (March figures were just "revised upward" to 699,000 people kicked out of work. 650,000 had been predicted.)

And once again, these official figures use "unemployment" as a technical term, which does not mean how many people are out of work. That number would be about twice as much, even centrist economists admit. Official unemployment rates - 8.9 percent this month - do not count the workers who have "become discouraged and stopped looking for work," workers who are failing to find adequate work - maybe a couple days a week when they need a full-time job, and many others. The under-employment rate could be 15-20 percent, according to some.

Of course, even that is not distributed equally. (What is?) For some age groups of black men, for example, the employment rate is barely about 50 percent now - for others, less than 15 percent.

But the economy "may be finally starting to find its footing," writes Brian Blackstone in the Wall Street Journal - even though " a good deal of the improvement came from government hiring in advance of next year's Census." Now all we have to do is convince the government to hire the 5.7 million people who hav been thrown out of work since December 2007 to count every living thing on the planet Earth ... hmmm ...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Capitalist swine manure lagoons

So now the swine flu outbreak may have an interesting link to "manure lagoons" at gigantic pig farms in Mexico on land stolen from campesinos and run by US agribusiness. There's a shocker! A big international corporation like Smithfield Farms involved in a catastrophe of Bhopal proportion?

Oh, yeah. Bhopal was a catastrophe caused by a big international corporation. So was this whole "recession". (Well, not by one.)

Smithfield Farms, by the way, has been on labor's naughty list for several years, too. The company has even become the Baby Face Nelson of union-busting, poster boy of the need for the Employee Free Choice Act:

" ...At a Smithfield Farms plant in North Carolina, the company actually formed its own police force, in cahoots with the local sheriff, to scare away the union with guns. The Wagner Act was supposed to end that kind of corporate criminality more than 70 years ago, but it is still happening today. ..."

And speaking of the recession, how does Smithfield Farms coming out smelling before this swine flu thing? (You can probably guess the apropriate simile from the first line of this post.)

" ...Workers soon to be let go from Farmland Foods have learned there will be no severance money to go with them.
Smithfield Farms Inc. announced in February it was closing the New Riegel plant April 17, along with five other plants around the country in a reorganization effort.

"...Some of [the workers] have been there for more than 30 years. They came to us two months ago and told us they were going to close the facility as well as four or five other plants owned by Smithfield.

"...At this point, he said they are not really bargaining with Smithfield, they are begging.

"...They [Smithfield] agree that they are making money ... They just won't pay a severance package. It's really a slap in the face to the people who made their livelihood there for better than 30 years."

Nice, huh?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More on "tea parties"

Yes, it's a pun.

Sorry, my basic critique of this "tax day tea party" embarrassment is below, but I just couldn't resist these -er- insightful comments from the Illinois "tea party" site, which I think show their true colors:

"I stand for preserving the American way. I am against this socialistic regime the uninformed have elected. I’ll be there with others!"

"[...] liberals are projecting a very rabid socialist agenda."

And when one lone voice chimed in to criticize the war, "Uh, [...] 'failed Iraq war'? Did you miss something? Like the success in Iraq? Democracy? Come on down to the tea party, be sure to wear your Obama slobbering t-shirt so we know who you are … maybe by April 15 you’ll come to your senses when you see how (N)Obama is rapidly destroying our country."

"I will be there will bells on. I am so tired of what Obama is doing to this country! We need to take back our country and renew our pride in being a true American."

"I am in P-Town also Carol and Bobbie, and if we can get an April 15th Tax Tea Party here in the land of Obamunism Central, I can be there. Of course, I also view April 15th as National Buy A Gun Day, so it might have to happen after Pekin Gun Store opens."

"Operation Support Our Troops organization will be there and is requesting perhaps a donation to bring since their inventory is low for the troops. Come with American Flags and signs - enough is enough! Get our country back! Help us with this 2009 American Revolution - stand strong, stand united and let us make history!"

"No more government funding of a 'bridge to nowhere', no more providing non-essential medical care for illegals, no more research grants 'to study the Kentucky toad' (see Stimulus bill), or public funding of 'artists', No more public financing of insurance for those that CHOOSE to live in high casualty risk areas, like beach front property."

I want to be clear that criticism or anger directed at Obama is not necessarily racist - there's a lot to gripe about, including how the economy is being managed and on whose behalf - but in this context of jingoistic "Ameristan" comments emphasizing the middle name "Hussein" and so on, I think there is good reason to see racism at work.

That's not all that's wrong, of course. Take the photo of a Texas woman proclaiming, "I'm a proud right-wing extremist." Or the anti-welfare "distribute my work ethic" or "free markets not free loaders".

This could go on all day, but maybe in closing we can pause to ponder the sly, "Don't tax me, bro."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Big little banks

Today's New York Times has a worried article about the government's assessments of the nation's biggest banks, and how lower assessments might send investors packing from the "smaller" ones. Es posible.

But the scale is all wrong for this discussion, or at least it's not to our scale for most of us. The big little banks or the big big banks, any and all of them are ready, willing and able to sack our communities like a thirsty horde of Vikings.

What would help us is to break them all up into local or regional banks, reorganized along cooperative lines - one member-depositor, one vote - and a mission to support local sustainable economies.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Missing the Boat

Seems the Libertarian nutjobs are coming out of the woodwork, holding little "tea parties" here and there. But these so-called tea parties have just about one and a half things in common with the original in Boston, besides the name, that is.

First, they are disguised. In 1773 the famous tea party-istas were disguised as Native Americans. In 2009 the cheap knock-offs are disguised as patriots who are standing up for the common people.

In 1773 of course the issue was "taxation without representation". The British colonies in North America had no elected representation in the British Parliament, though some of them did have influence via money. The American Revolution was a mixed bag, led by wealthy landowners - most involved in slavery - and by common craftsmen and idealists who believed in Thomas Paine's quite radical "Rights of Man."

These 21st century tea-party-goers have the principle just about reversed. They reject the basic principle established in the English wars of parliament versus king, carried on in the American rebellion, that the power to tax derives directly from the democratic process, and - I'd argue - that its primary purpose is to "promote the general welfare."

So, taxes would be the second thing this year's tea parties have in common with the 1773 party, except that it's similar in name only. That's why I say one and a half things in commmon.

There is certainly plenty of wastage of tax money, always has been. Business-obsessed and war-mongering public officials put our tax money to the worst possible uses: aggressive wars, subsidies to the biggest and most destructive corporations, tax breaks to the rich, deregulating industry, privatizing public services (yes, these activities cost tax money).

On the other hand, taxes pay for schools, libraries, streets, sanitation (in many places), public health, fire departments, adult education programs, and other things that clearly "promote the general welfare". Social security, disability, and child and family welfare programs are excellent uses of tax money. We could use twice as many teachers, and a lot more expenditure in most of these neglected areas. Better levees and a half-way decent evacuation plan might have saved half a million poor people's homes in 2005. Clearly a comprehensive response after the fact was missing, sidelined to the more pressing objectives of the richest 1 percent of our population.

So clearly taxes are not the problem, per se. The problem is a two-parter: how we spend taxes, and how we collect tax. Taxes are not too high, in fact; they are too low - on the rich. Sure, they're too high on most of us - sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, all regressive (they hit you harder, the lower your income). This is not a wonkish detail; it's the very heart of the issue. Libertarians (emphasis on the capital 'L') who gloss over this crucial reality are either clueless or faking, at the deepest level.

A lot of coded racism plays into this nowadays, too: anti-welfare "queen" ideology a la Ronnie "Rayguns" Reagan, etc. On a very important institutional level this is a familiar "divide and conquer" politics of the sort that allowed the English to conquer the Native Americans, India, and so on, and still keeps the American people under the thumb of its wealthy. It distracts our righteous popular anger over the repeated bail-outs of the rich and deepening neglect of most of us - away from the authentic popular pressure that is striving heroically in the opposite direction: toward a "people's bailout" and what some are calling equity.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The People's Potluck

Last summer a solid union friend of mine named Gene Vanderport got together some people he knew to talk about ways that communities could address the economic crisis.

This was well before the financial sector locked up and job losses really spiked in October and November. Of course the economists-that-be now admit that the recession started last year (at least), but at that time they had not admitted anything. What Paul Krugman tells us is a "liquidity crisis" some of us - including Gene's members - were already experiencing as a big fat "cash flow" problem, a housing problem, a job problem, a wages and benefits and paying-the-bills sort of problem. Of course it means the same thing.

The idea hatched at Gene's house was to hold a "People's Thanksgiving" just before the holiday of a similar name, and bring together activists and service providers from across the community with people who need food and housing and jobs, and put our heads together and see how we could help one another. The assumption was that we cannot rely on the government, certainly not on capitalism, to rescue our communities.

It was prescient.

The first potluck supper, which actually happened the weekend after Thanksgiving, turned into regularly monthly get-togethers - and spun off working subgroups focused on various aspects of the problem, and built ties to other local movements with potential for what my old hippy editor at the Buffalo Alternative Press used to call synergy: housing, food, jobs, union rights, health care, veterans' benefits and war, urban justice and racism, immigration and migrant farm work in the area.

One group is planning community gardens and teach-ins on container gardening, cooking on a low budget, canning what you grow, working with food pantries, etc. The Catholic Worker in town is involved and already fighting evictions in a nearby town, presenting ideas on how to put "stimulus money" to good use. A couple groups are collaborating on compiling a directory of services, discussing ways to fill the void left by our town's sudden loss of its Urban League, which had provided so many services and referrals.

Homeless participants are taking an active and integral role. Felons are telling their stories. Unionists and Greens and tenants' union advocates are working together, talking about nationalizing banks, collecting clothes for abused women and children, eating together and talking and sharing ideas on a "People's Bailout" or "Social Monetary Fund" and demands to make on elected officials as well as direct actions and organizing for mutual aid.

At first we talked about building towards a "Central Illinois Social Forum" in May. Now that event promises to bring in such new energy, so many exciting new ideas and connections, such excellent new community, that it will ikely be just the beginning.

I recommend the model. Highly.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Outrage is not enough!

Maybe you've heard the phrase, "Outrage is all the rage," describing how ticked off the American people are about the toxic economy and our feckless government. Quite right, too. Of course, we aren't pissed off enough until we're pissed off enough to do something about it.

It's not bad enough that the bastards who've been lowering wages and shipping jobs overseas for 30 years, all the time claiming - with economists as Greek chorus - that big business "knows best" so we should just lie back and let them run things, are the ones we're bailing out now.

It's not bad enough that they've stolen billions from us over the years by underpaying us for our work, and then shifting the tax burden to ordinary working folks away from the richest people in the frakking world, and now they come to us for help!

No, it's not bad enough that the chief instrument of our international economic policy (besides the military), the International Monetary Fund, has been extorting "reforms" in other countries when their economies are in trouble that our economic managers refuse to accept here - like nationalizing the banks. (By the way, most of the usual IMF demands - like privatization and cutting social services - are about the opposite of what just about any country needs.)

But the bloodsuckers like AIG used our money to give millions in bonuses? Let us get our hands on them! Or at the very least on the money.

On "Talk of the Nation" invited pundit Marc Ambinder tells us Congress allowed the AIG bonuses because of some "sense of the sanctity of contracts"- which the host rightly points out wasn't their take on UAW contracts.

But to ask whether it's "fair" to tax the money back, as another pundit on NPR did, that's not even funny. Is it "fair" that we - and future generations burdened by the debt - should pay for this monstrous ripoff? Absolutely not.

And to say, as NPR's select pundits did last night, that "the average American" just "doesn't understand" the complexities involved! It's enough to start riots, or ought to be.

But neither taxing, nor rioting is going to be enough. And in the long run, neither is nationalizing the banks and other companies. Yes, we should tax them, and yes, we should riot. And yes, we should nationalize them - and then clean the bums out, and then reorganize them completely: break them up, divide the assets among not just a half-dozen regions of the country but dozens of smaller, not-for-profit co-ops - and re-regulate (properly this time), and take the shackles off the credit unions, let them grow and compete with the for-profit entities, let them flourish unencumbered by the monopolizing lobbyist-inspired political thumb of corporate banking.

It's a decent formula for the rest of the economy, too: bailouts are, or should be, in-roads to government buyouts, yes, takeovers, housecleaning and reorganization on populist social principles: massive break-ups and reorganizations into worker-owned co-operative businesses in every sector of the economy impacted by the current cancer.

Because the problem isn't just mismanagement. It isn't just deregulation. The banks and mortgage companies, credit card companies, car loan financing schemers, etc., lent to everyone who could realistically afford their rates. Then they lent to a whole class of people who couldn't really afford the usury, and the rest is history why? Greed? No, not even close. Greed was there, of course. But the competitive drive to maximize profits, and control markets, demanded it. They had to expand or lose.

And they will have to again, even if the private clowns who run them now are replaced by the government clowns who deregulated them in the first place, and their newer apprentices - no, nationalization is far from enough. The reorganization we require must be carried out on a completely different agenda than the one our government has been working off, a people's agenda. A Social Monetary Fund agenda, if you ask me.

That's the short term solution at least.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Salvadoran people win!

Congratulations to the poor people of El Salvador on their recent election defeat of the evil rightwing ARENA that held power for so long. Bizarrely enough the new US Administration is welcoming the FMLN government, quite a change from the millions of US dollars that that used to pour into the country to try to crush them.

It remains to be seen what the FMLN will mean to the brave people of El Salvador, as varieties of Bolivarian socialism or other left-populist movements win elections - and re-elections! - in one Latin American government after another in the "new world order" of only one superpower, and that one in economic crisis - at the center of a world economic crisis.

Some of the signs between San Salvador and Washington might suggest a danger of cooptation.

On the other hand there have been encouraging efforts among the new left governments of Latin America to cement their own bonds of solidarity, including welcoming Cuba back into the fold (there's a can of worms in and of itself!) and support for Bolivian President Evo Morales in last year's showdown with the US.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Same Song, Different Day

Can you name the song?

ere's another observation similar to mine about Texas below, this one from the University of Mississippi, where I went to school - and used to write about "Neo-Confederates" in the student paper once upon a time.

Atkins is absolutely on the money that, "The recent spectacle of Corker, Shelby and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leading the GOP attack on the proposed $14 billion loan to the domestic auto industry -- with 11 other Southern senators marching dutifully behind -- made it crystal clear. The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests."

And, "Expect these same senators and their colleagues in the U.S. House to wage a similar war in the coming months against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act authorizing so-called "card check" union elections nationwide."

These guys are completely unreconstructed in essence. I remember a study a friend of mine at Mississippi did of proposals for economic development in the Delta region: the big land-owners opposed it, even though they themselves would have profited as much as - actually much more than - the sharecroppers and reserve army of the barely employed. Why? Because it would have brought increased social mobility for the local downtrodden, who might begin to entertain some crazy notions of going to school or running off to Memphis, or Chicago... or just that there might be other options for them than modern serfdom.Excellent point.

And to wit, Atkins says, "In their zeal to destroy unions and their hard-fought wage-and-benefits packages, the Southern senators could not care less that workers in their home states are among the lowest paid in the nation. Ever wonder why the South remains the nation's poorest region despite generations of seniority-laden senators and representatives in Congress?

"Why weren't these same senators protesting the high salaries in the financial sector when the Congress approved the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street? Why pick on blue-collar workers at the Big Three who last year agreed to huge concessions expected to save the companies an estimated $4 billion a year by 2010? These concessions have already helped lower union wages to non-union levels at some auto plants."

Excellent point - that only a commie pinko would make - like his others. Keep an eye on these clowns in the Southern caucus, they're up to serious skulduggery.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Texas secedes again

Fifth time's a charm?

n 1822 a bunch of white Americans from the Southeast, proto-Texans, left the US and crossed the Mississippi River and essentially re-introduced the institution of slavery into northern Mexico. In 1829 Mexico outlawed slavery, but gave the white slavers in the state of Coahuila y Tejas special dispensation until 1830. (The abolition movement was growing around the world, and slavery was abolished in the French Revolution - although Napoleon brought it back briefly - was outlawed in the British Empire in 1833, and so on.) Against this worldwide trend, early Texans seceded from Mexico in the so-called "Texas Revolution" (more accurately a Reaction) in 1835-6. Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and Sam Houston are still revered in the US as heroes of that war for slavery.

The American ex-pats of the Texan Republic soon joined the US - no shocker there - but a generation later left the US again in 1861. It was over slavery again (which wasn't strictly under threat in the US at the time, but slave states felt challenged by the election of Abe Lincoln, a moderate in that he opposed expansion of slavery - the slavers' bluff had been called, essentially).

After the war, black and Latino Texans faced regular atrocities from the Ku Klux Klan and the revered Texas Rangers (not much like the Lone Ranger), as well as Jim Crow laws and so on. In 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education banned racial segregation in public schools, the governor called out the Rangers to impede black students. Racist resistance continued through the 1970s - a kind of running secession from the trend toward civil rights and equality that was sweeping the world. "White flight" from cities in Texas - as elsewhere - represents one facet of this subtler, but no less racist neo-secession.

There's a connection here to anti-immigration movements, like the Minute Men (a kind of continuum between US Border Patrol and American Nazis - but that's for another time.

Now yesterday, with the recession growing and the threat of federal "expansion" of officially-defined unemployed (most people who aren't working don't count, rather conveniently) Texas governor Rick Perry turned down $555 million to bailout the state's sinking unemployment fund - which the state's own Workforce Commission chair says could be in the red in seven months.

"During these tough times," he says, "Texas employers are working harder than ever..." blah, blah, blah (my emphasis). What about Texas workers, being canned by the hundreds of thousands every week?

Perry's not alone, of course, which is what suggests there's a new wave of genuine neo-secessionism in the birthing here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Internationally networked injustice

We've been hearing for a few years about the brutal massacres, rapes, and kidnappings associated with mining coltan and other metals for computers and cell phones in the Congo Wars, similar to the blood diamond horrors further north. A collection of recent work also exposes brutal labor conditions on down the production line in Chinese factories.

Anybody want to tell me again how great the global economy is? How "third world people" just love to get those jobs? (One commenter on another blog argued correctly: "It's amazing how even so many ordinary Americans have internalized the right-wing framing of 'the economy' as little more than 'executive compensation packages'. I'm always amused by those who complain about Norway's 'high wages' and praise India's 'competitiveness'... while failing to produce any evidence of Norwegians desperately lining up to get Indian work visas."

Executive assassination ring

As usual Seymour Hersch reveals more than we really want to hear, but always credibly and non-trivially.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Butterflies caused the financial collapse

They just can't bring themselves to say the word: deregulation. Zachary Roth finds the obnoxious tip of an obscene iceberg at McGraw-Hill. Or maybe the metaphor is upside down: propaganda like this aimed at kids must be the lowest dung in the proverbial hill.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Keeping up with health care reform

As the national pudding of health care reform begins to near the legislative eating there are some half-fulls and some half-empties, but incredibly neither faction says what we need is more hanging out, playing "Guitar Hero." Except the mainstream media and the corporate world it lives in, that is.

Meanwhile back in the Beltway, there is actually reason to believe that the process could even respond to pressure ... for better ... or worse. Maybe that's why the media would rather we butt out.

At least the Clintons aren't in charge of this one.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Recovery, who gets it

Here's a useful piece of work.

I like that it's balanced, rational. Points out opportunities for grassroots pressure as well as problems (e.g. the money is dispersed, not overseen by - say - a Social Monetary Fund.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Buy American what?

This month's issue of Labor Notes carries a letter to the editor from Detroit's UAW Local 235 member Diane Feeley criticizing a rally she recently attended with the theme "Buy America," presumably supposed to be a clever take on the old slogan, "Buy American," which Feeney says she also never supported. "...and I certainly don't consider GM, Ford, Chrysler, or American Axle as 'American' companies." Good for her. The last Ford I owned was assembled from parts manufactured in about a dozen different countries, and more importantly most of the countries of origin had abysmal labor records - like Mexico*.

Feeney's letter appears under the headline, "'Buy America' won't solve economic crisis," which is as close to the jist of her letter as you could hope for in one line, I guess. But here's the part I liked best: "If the government is going to help out the Big 3 with our money, it should do it by making them develop fuel-efficient cars and mass transit. We could retool plants and produce green technologies - such as light rail, wind turbines, and solar panels."

So, there you have it, right from a UAW member: a Social Monetary Fund by any other name...

(*The history of Mexican auto workers' unions is complex. Basically, they've fought long and hard, and they deserve a lot more support than the UAW has given them. For now, I'll leave it at this: atthe time the car in question was made, Mexican auto workers offered to turn down jobs being shipped there from the US if the UAW would support their own efforts. The UAW refused. More on that another time.)

Demographic war

As 'genocide' was euphemized into 'ethnic cleansing' so now 'ethnic cleansing' has apparently become 'demographic war'! I suppose it could be a useful term, though. Is the aftermath of Katrina a "demographic war"? The collapse of Detroit?

And if you haven't read Matt's recent blog post about NPR and Clinton's 'strong support' for the Palestinians, check it out.

Zombie banks, zombie cars

When the AFL-CIO gets behind nationalizing banks, you know it's past due.

Some crazy radicals have even suggested a similar strategy for the auto industry. I mean, where's that "value" for our public bucks otherwise?

But critics of nationalization have a point that 'there are no guarantees.' And Fmr-Transport Sec. Barnum's off-base: we don't need "slimmed down" corporations, just the reverse. We need an expanded, social vision for them.

It's the original idea behind corporate charters, updated. The king/parliament, then Congress, used to grant charters to corporations in order to serve a particular function, assumed to be a good (for them). What we need is control over that purpose. Social Monetary Fund, folks, I'm tellin' ya!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Diversify or die

In today’s news there’s another stark reminder of the need for a Social Monetary Fund, which would push the economy in general and bailout recipients in particular toward a new, social kind of diversification. The worse the economy gets, the more people hold onto their old cars, and the more people hold onto their old cars, the more we need to convert some of that capital that’s frozen up now in making cars that people aren’t buying into some more useful purpose (more useful to us chickens, that is).

I heard someone on the radio the other day mention Zipcars, and the speaker raised the following I think very timely question: Will the business of Ford, Toyota, whoever, be selling more cars to people [whether they need them or not – ed.] or will it be providing the means for people to get from one place to another?

But the stimulus money being released now, though it may have been necessary to get the ball rolling in the very shortest of runs, is not what we’re looking for. Building more roads and bridges, willy-nilly, is ultimately self-defeating. It’s not “sustainable(as we say these days), laying more pavement and concrete we can’t afford to maintain for cars people are driving less and less to jobs they are losing more and more.

How much money do we have to spend to create every 60 jobs? That’s a drop in the unemployment bucket – especially since the workers who need these jobs the most aren’t getting them.

Clearly there are some profound needs that are being addressed by the stimulus discussion. But there are also colossal needs being missed, some that have been metastasizing for more than a generation, screwing up the federal poverty numbers, etc. The point is, there is a much better way.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Taxes and gases

The bizarreness of life with Obama in the White House was seldom more apparent (so far) than in the mad tea party around the mileage tax idea. Amazing how many of the rank-and-file "conservative" comments (see also previous link) blame Obama and the Dems - or "liberals"(whoever they are) - for this screwball idea, when it was a Republican who proposed it and Obama who "slapped it down".

The best one is, Obama must have okayed this, then when it was unpopular he sacrificed poor Sec. LaHood, his "favorite Republican". Of course it's possible, but a lot of Admin proposals are a lot less popular with people who are much more powerful, it seems. It's also possible that it was a fake or feint (and maybe LaHood is just a foil himself -we'll see) to make Obama's real proposal more acceptable - drum roll, please - like the Republicans' usual tactic of proposing 2-3 times what they really want in tax breaks for the rich and program cuts for the poor. Yikes.

The mere suggestion of a VMT is fubar, of course - along with tolls and gas taxes - and not just because it's an "invasion of privacy". Tolls and other "user fees" are Libertarian nonsense - if you care about the less fortunate. Likewise gas taxes, like all sales taxes, hit lower income folks the hardest. When they're not flying in their corporate jets, the big CEOs and a whole host of smaller business execs are charging their gas to the company anyway - and the company passes that on to "the customer" a.k.a. you and me, or cuts "labor costs" (again, you and me).

Here's where I have to differ with my friends the Greens: taxing poor people trying to get to work, especially in rural areas and in some cities, is just inhumane. In the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area, for example, there are over 1 million people but the public transportation sucks, especially if you're, say, an African American trying to get from your home on the East Side to a job (or to look for a job) across town or in one of the many white-flight suburbs. The train has one line, north-south only, and never makes it into any of the suburbs. The east-west buslines all turn at Main Street at the white-black neighborhood boundary and head north or south. Waiting for a bus transfer is bad enough when the snow's 6 feet deep and you're late to work, even if you didn't have to get your kids off to school, too.

And car insurance is higher on the East Side, too (high crime area - yeah, the people in the neighborhood say, we noticed! That's why we want the frak out!). Nah - gas taxes are not true progressive agenda.

So, how do we pay for roads? Hold on - first let's break down the assumptions here. A) One massive chunk of that money is for new highways and roads, or for expanding old ones. Some might be necessary, given our current lack of options, but most of it ... I'm thinking ... not. When we drive down through Tennessee there are 4-6 lane highways I've never seen more than a half dozen cars on at any one time - and I grew up down there. Here in Urbana, Windsor Road, for example, too damn wide. Most of our city streets are too wide, and street parking limited, too - but that's a whipping boy of another stripe. Essentially, there's a multimillion dollar shortfall comparing gasoline taxes to road-building, don't build some roads!

B) Maintaining current roads: back to "our current lack of options". This is where public transportation comes in. We need some economic infrastructure conversion here. Adding up the taxes and ticket prices, Amtrak costs the government more than cars and roads, you say? There's one big fat gas tax you're forgetting: Iraq. You wanna pay for something big? Cut that!

Oh, and here's another one: Afghanistan.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hilda Solis confirmed!

Hilda Solis is good news for sure. Still, she can't turn water into wine as John Sweeney seems to think. "She understands that the Employee Free Choice Act is critical to rebuilding our economy because working men and women deserve the freedom to choose whether to form a union without employer harassment and intimidation." OK, fine, but is it up to her? The Senate's still looking mighty iffy: "In the vote [on Solis], 54 Democrats, 24 Republicans and two Independents voted for confirmation. All 17 votes against confirmation were cast by Republicans. Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) did not vote." Not a recipe for passing major labor reform, to me. At least not obviously.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

NACLA on the Chavistas' big win

This thorough and insightful analysis of the Chavista victory in Venezuela is one more reason NACLA is such an indispensable source for understanding US-Latin American affairs. Chavez is not Jesus Christ, any more than FDR was in the US (not that it's the same - Chavez is better). But his presidency can be an important part of ordinary people building a society that's better for them and theirs. We could learn a lot from their struggles.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What's worse than corruption?

Hint: the answer isn't "nothing".

hat makes personal corruption a greater crime than playing fast and loose with human life? Bill Clinton is impeached for lying about screwing around - not for jailing Haitian refugees he himself had said it was illegal to turn back, or for bombing Iraq, which had never attacked the US. And the W sails through 8 years without so much as an impeachment hearing when he lied about "weapons of mass destruction," overthrew two governments - very likely a third - and tried to overthrow a fourth, presided over torture and "extraordinary rendition" for the purpose of torture, and pushed deregulation and other economic policies that led directly and inexorably to the worst financial and employment crisis since the Great Depression.

Likewise Blago, refusing to raise taxes and meanwhile stealing from the state employees' pension fund (with the collaboration of the legislature, to be sure), along with other economic crimes against humanity, gets impeached and removed from office for trying to sell a US Senate seat? Not that he shouldn't have been shown the door, but there were better reasons.

Now Roland Burris, with a history of opportunism so brash he would sacrifice an innocent man's life, appointed by the then-Gov. after Blago was cuffed and escorted to the can by federal agents, after the Democratic leadership promised not to accept any Blago appointee, gets in trouble now for stuff he has probably done his whole life? He never should have been senator in the first place, but not because of sneakiness or quid pro quo.

Hitler wasn't personally corrupt, as far as we know. So I guess he would be okay nowadays?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

educating our kids

My son was out sick from school the other day. He could have gone in, I guess, but it's not like he would have learned much if he had. About one day in ten or twenty I'm glad they're in school. Most folks could probably do better at home if they didn't have to work. And he might have passed on his vomit bug to some other family less able to have a parent stay home with a sick kid. Considering the insane number of days the schools don't have class already - no school last Friday, this Monday or this Friday, por exemplo - it's amazing we don't all get fired.

I am fortunate that one of my part-time jobs I can do from home sometimes. But I did have a couple of errands, and my son seemed up to it, so. We put his bucket in the back seat with him, stopped at Walgreen's for some Gatorade, and proceeded with caution. No sharp turns, etc.

My final errand, before we had to pick up my other son from school, was to stop by some apartments I'd heard about. Every summer one of the three big migrant farmworker streams in the US spins off a minor streamlet from Texas to Central Illinois, and the mostly Mexican workers stay through corn shucking. A few even try to ride out the winter. This one would have been a bad winter to start that if you're from a hot climate. Sixteen below was a little too cold even for me, and I left Mississippi years ago for Buffalo, NY.

These are apartments north of town where local crew leaders have been housing farmworkers. The local seed farmers contract their labor through crew leaders, as in other parts, and the crew leaders supply the workers, arrange for their housing, etc. They get paid for that, and if they can find cheaper accomodations, they can keep the difference. You see where this is going.

My son had never seen anything quite like these apartments, I realized. He'd never even seen anything like the trailer park of my boyhood - old mattresses leaned up against trailers outside, old tires, junk, scrub, weeds - nor the housing projects in my home town, nor Perkin's Alley. And these apartments were worse: garbage heaped everywhere, offensive smells, broken fixtures dangling here and there, bent doors with padlocks and deep gouges in them, smashed-up cars, ruts in the earth all around the buildings, etc. My friend who told me about them swears they are worse inside, and it seems likely. Does beat some of the farmworker accomodations around Immokalee, Florida, but a slave ship is about the only thing that wouldn't be an improvement over some of those camps.

I noticed a Latino man taking some garbage to the dumpster and spoke to him. "Too much," I said. He agreed. "You live here." He nodded, a little suspiciously. "What's it like?" Nothing. "Como es?" Then he spoke: "Como es what? Los apartementos?" "Yeah, si." "You can ask him." Behind me an Anglo man in brown coveralls was bringing some more garbage. He looked like he worked there, so I just let it drop and joined my son in the car.

I asked my son what he thought as we left. "Those apartments don't look like a very nice place to live," he said. No, they didn't. I told him about the farmworkers. He has heard me talk about them before. I told him they often don't have water to drink in the fields here, like in Florida, or toilet facilities. He shook his head. Later when I got the photos developed, I heard him telling his mother and brother about it. A+, I thought, and maybe the best education he's had this year.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

fire from the sky

The plan crash outside Buffalo was a disturbing horror story. Sitting at home in your living room watching TV - any evening, in fact - you could find yourself under tons of metal pour in through the roof. You could be a cinder before you could move.

Listening to the neighbors’ accounts of the fire that glowed above the treetops, though, it sounded to me like another fire over 20 years ago, one that never made the news.

Perkin’s Alley was an old dirt road down by the railroad between my house, growing up, and the broom handle factory in Corinth, Mississippi. The dirt road and the old shacks there were obscured from view by rows of trees on either side. The story was the shacks had been built for the workers who built the railroad and then abandoned years ago. Squatters lived there now. I used to see them moving around the neighborhood picking poke sallet, a sort of wild greens that nobody ate who could afford to grow or buy food.

There was a bridge over a creek that ran beside the railroad track, where we could duck in and hide from the police late at night when we were up to our mischief, and watch the cop cars roar past on the proper paved roads, one, then another, and another, and get in a good laugh with every one.

One night in the wee hours I was upstairs in our bathroom-sized “TV room” watching our little portable black and white when I noticed a bright orange glow above the treetops. I had been out wandering around at night enough to know the normal glow of the streetlights was cotton candy pink, not like this. I watched this strange orange glow a while and decided to go check it out, just a whim.

I had walked no more than a block when I saw a little knot of people in the street about a block away staring in the direction of the glow. I still couldn’t see what they were looking at for the trees. As I got closer I could see that they had very serious expressions, the kind people find themselves with when they witness a horror they know is part of life, the part of life it’s best not to talk about. It’s not exactly sad. They almost looked sick to their stomachs, not exactly helpless, more like nothing could be done and yet they weren’t sure what to do with themselves.

It was a fire. A solid block of brilliant fire so hot that anyone who tried to approach it got no closer than maybe 50 yards. It was impossible to even see what was burning. But it was Perkin’s Alley. Nobody said a word. There were no firetrucks. Ever.

The next day, and every day for a week, I combed the local newspaper for a story. In this paper a few stolen trash cans made headlines. But there was never one word about the biggest fire I had ever seen. My best friend the Mayor’s boy said the sheriff had set the fire. Apparently he gave the residents “five minutes to pack yer shit and get out” in the middle of the night. Then he lit it up, himself a fire from the sky. And Perkin’s Alley vanished overnight into a sort of no-man’s land between the railroad right-of-way and the broom handle factory. With poke sallet now as big as trees.