Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Soldiers in silent revolt in Iraq

"A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at each end." - Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
What is the Iraq war all about again? Why isn't this getting covered in the corporate controlled media? What happens when Turkey invades Kurdistan? Is it patriotic to support the war? If so, what does that mean and why? Isn't it more "patriotic" to support the people who are forced to fight in the war? Or maybe patriotism is a useless concept? Who's interest does patriotism serve?
British and US troops are turning away from confronting the Iraqi resistance – despite the rhetoric from Gordon Brown and George Bush that they are “winning” the war.

Revelations from both British and US troops show that morale has plummeted and that soldiers are avoiding all encounters with anti-occupation forces.

A senior British commander told the Sunday Telegraph that since they withdrew from Basra this summer they have not once returned to the city. They patrol around their base at the airport, with the occasional forays to the Iranian border.

He admitted that the military and the resistance have struck a deal not to attack each other. The oil rich southern Iraqi city is now in the hands of rival resistance organizations.

One senior British officer said, “We are tired of firing at people. We would prefer to find a political accommodation.”

Other soldiers said they saw little point in fighting on. One captain admitted, “If we went into the city every night, we would still be doing it in ten years’ time.

“There is nothing the military can do any more without the backing of politicians, and no politician wants to touch Iraq with a barge pole. Having the military out here without political backing is pointless.”

If the British military is “officially” pulling back from the war, US troops are doing so unofficially.

In an echo of the Vietnam War, US troops told independent journalist Dahr Jamail that they run fake patrols and send false reports as part of a strategy of “search and avoid”.

One soldier, who had recently returned from Iraq, admitted, “Morale was incredibly low. Most men in my platoon in Iraq were just in from combat tours in Afghanistan.

“We were hit by so many roadside bombs we became incredibly demoralised, so we decided the only way we wouldn’t be blown up was to avoid driving around all the time.

“So we would go find an open field and park. Then we would call our base every hour to tell them we were searching for weapons caches in the fields and doing weapons patrols and everything was going fine.

“All our enlisted people became very ­disenchanted with our chain of command.”

Another soldier said, “We’d go to the end of our patrol route and set up on top of a bridge and use it as an over-watch position. We would just sit with our binoculars and observe rather than sweep. We’d call in radio checks every hour and say we were doing sweeps.”

“It was a common tactic, a lot of people did that. We’d just hang out, listen to music, smoke cigarettes and pretend.”

A third soldier told Jamail, “One of my buddies is in Baghdad right now and we email all the time. He just told me that nearly each day they pull into a parking lot, drink soda, and shoot at the cans.

“They pay Iraqi kids to bring them things and spread the word that they are not doing anything and to please just leave them alone.”

Soldiers in silent revolt in Iraq. Socialist Worker. 30-Oct-2007.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Unions on the offensive

This election cycle is the most positive for unions in the US in recent memory. Candidates for president, notably John Edwards, are actively courting unions:
An effort to unionize dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino got a boost Monday from members of Connecticut's congressional delegation and top elected officials.

They attended a rally at the state Capitol to back the United Auto Workers, which has petitioned the National Labor Relations Board seeking an election to form a union for about 3,000 dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino.


"Isn't it great to be on the offense again?" Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., asked participants at the rally.

Elected officials endorse UAW organizing drive at casino
. The Advocate. 23-Oct-2007.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Columbia University and the evil dictators

An excellent post by Louis Proyect on September 25, 2007:

I don’t think there is anything that I hate more than sanctimoniousness and there was plenty of it on display when Lee Bollinger’s sandbagged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday. As the NY Times reported, “Mr. Bollinger praised himself and Columbia for showing they believed in freedom of speech by inviting the Iranian president, then continued his attack.” Bollinger was also praised by the ultra-right media, starting with Rush Limbaugh:

Rah-rah, way to go! I apologize for being critical of you, Mr. Bollinger. I really do. But, on the other hand, where’s this been for five years?

One can only wonder whether Columbia University’s moral compass has been broken in years past since its aversion to evil dictators seems to be rather selective.

Full post

Oh, and guess what - heir to the 21-year dictator of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov, described as bizarre, brutal and self-obsessed, president Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, was speaking at Columbia on the same day - and completely avoided Bollinger's ire.

Come on People

At the beginning of this month, Rochester NY activist James Slater was allegedly murdered by two teens in his community seeking to relieve him of his iPod and other gadgets. The murder rate in poor communities in the United States is endemic. Bill Cosby and Harvard professor Dr. Alvin Poussaint have recently released a book titled "Come On People" which combines personal stories of people overcoming extreme challenges in their lives and a call to community action to change the systemic cycle which exploits and degrades the poor of America.

The link below is to a talk Cosby and Poussaint gave at, of all places, Borders in Boston. Although the forum is certainly hack-ish, the topic and what they have to say is not. I encourage you to view the video. Also note the host's continued insistence on people taking personal responsibility and not getting the case the authors are making for collective responsibility.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Viva Che!

Remembering Che Guevara on the anniversary of his death as a true hero. Che had a deep love of the masses coupled with hatred for those who callously exploit them. In Latin America, now as then, the class divide is markedly visible. It is no wonder that this is the terrain where 21st socialism is gaining ground.

A previous post on this blog from 2005 titled Che's Ride offers a review of the Motorcycle Diaries, a semi-biographical film about Che.

Following is an edited excerpt from an article by Peter Taaffe on this month, October 2007.

Like millions throughout the world, we [Marxists] hailed his heroic efforts in combating capitalism and imperialism. Che Guevara was and remains an enduring symbol of implacable resistance to a destructive and wasteful system, and the inevitability of a revolt against it by its victims. What a contrast between Che Guevara and the politically bankrupt and cowardly misleaders of the labour movement today!

As Tony Saunois's analysis published recently on demonstrates, Che Guevara was not a 'plaster saint'; he made mistakes. But he was also capable of reassessing his actions and learning from them.


Che Guevara, at the time of his death, was an increasingly vocal critic of Stalinism, which he began to reject after he had visited the 'Eastern bloc'. He read Trotsky and had a book by Trotsky in his belongings when he was murdered. Moreover, the charge of 'wanting a nuclear holocaust' because he supported nuclear missiles being installed in Cuba is false to the core. Does every capitalist government that supports nuclear weapons for 'defence' do this because they want to unleash a nuclear holocaust? Merely to pose the question shows how absurd is the charge that [some] has levelled against Guevara.

The Cuban revolution from the outset was besieged by imperialism. It had just experienced the CIA-sponsored 'Bay of Pigs' invasion. It was, therefore, entirely understandable for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to seek to defend, through the acquisition of arms, the gains of the revolution.

There is a discussion to be had as to whether it was tactically wise for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to support the installation of nuclear weapons in Cuba. They honestly believed it was necessary for the defence of Cuba but the real ultimate defence of the Cuban revolution was in the mass support in Latin America and worldwide.


The tragedy of Che Guevara is that he was assassinated while he was still developing his ideas. We supported this heroic figure in his combat against imperialism. But, at the same time, we pointed to some of the deficiencies in his 'guerrillaist' strategy, counter-posing to this the social role of the mass working class of Latin America.

The reprinted article below shows the consistent attitude of Marxism towards Che Guevara, not ex-post facto, but at the time of his death and since.

Taaffe, Peter. Latin America - Marxism or Guerrillaism?, 2007 (reprinted article c. 1968).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Germany calls for return to Democratic Socialism

The Wall Street Journal just cannot understand the resurgence of the SDP:


The introduction to the Social Democrats' new draft party program hails a commitment to the "proud tradition of democratic socialism." Ironic, since only yesterday Germany celebrated the 17th anniversary of the fall of the original "democratic socialist" republic, East Germany.

This push back to the future is partly a reaction to the rising popularity of the Left Party, an amalgam of post and not-so-post East German Communists and disgruntled West German Social Democrats. The Left Party's solution of more welfare and taxing the rich is particularly popular in the East, where unemployment is twice as high as in the West.

Full story...

The backlash is happening and it will accelerate as the vehicle of capitalist power, the US imperial military machine, looses strength. Already it is quite clear that among the popular classes in the developing world (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador) and Europe (Germany, Spain, Italy) and even in the United States, the proponents of neo-liberal globalization have lost their credibility. Even the political classes are beginning to voice their uncertainty (see this and this).

They have had their chance to prove that naked capitalism is an effective system for the betterment of the world. They have failed and the people know it. The war machine combined with the police state is all they have that is left to enforce their corrupt doctrine.

Popular power is the essence of full democracy

From Venezuela Analysis today (Oct 11, 2007):
Chavez Outlines Proposed Social and Economic Structure for Venezuelan Socialism

"With the approval of the Constitutional Reform, with the power that it will give to the people, we will break from this straightjacket that the colonial model imposed upon us," said Chavez on Sunday from the Humboldt Hotel on the mountain above Caracas.

Chavez spent much of his show this week explaining what he calls "the new geometry of power," which will reorganize the political, territorial, and economic structure of the country. Chavez has said that these changes will be fundamental to the planned transition to a socialist system in the country.

The president explained the proposed territorial distribution, which will be made up of states, federal districts, municipalities, communes, federal territories, and island districts. Chavez has explained before that organized communities will unite to form communes throughout the country, which will basically be self-governing entities.

As for political organization, the communities will exercise power through the communal councils, workers councils, and farmer and producer councils. Chavez emphasized that in this way the communities will have increased decision-making power with regards to the administration of public resources and public works.

"It's not bringing power closer to the people, but rather giving power to the people," emphasized Chavez.

The national government will be assigning a total of Bs. 3.2 trillion (US$ 1.4 billion) to communal councils in 2008, according to Chavez. He said that the money would be progressively administered to the communities over the next year as they get organized.

"For next year, once we have popular power included in the constitution, the government will be ready to transfer resources, duties and responsibilities to the communes, starting in January of 2008," said Chavez.

He went on to explain the proposed economic configuration that will set up productive units under the management of communes and in the form of socialist enterprises and cooperatives. Chavez emphasized that the economy would be centered on satisfying the needs of the Venezuelan communities and decreasing inequality in the population so that "there are not such extreme differences among Venezuelans."

"Popular power is the essence of full democracy, of socialism, of socialist democracy. Only in socialism can we achieve it," he said.

Full story...

Monday, October 08, 2007

IMF Warns of Serious Crisis

Kevin Depew of Minyanville, quoting from the Financial Times, today offers:

1. IMF Warns of "Serious Crisis"

Rodrigo Rato, outgoing managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned that the credit squeeze was a “serious crisis” that was not over yet and would curtail growth worldwide, the Financial Times reported.

  • “Policymakers should not think that the problems will stay at the desk of the bankers,” Rato told the FT.
  • “Problems are going to come to the real sector, come to the budgets – that is something we keep telling people.”
  • The outgoing IMF chief said many of the big emerging markets are growing rapidly, but “to what extent they will keep that momentum will depend on how long the slowdown is in the US and Europe."
  • Wait a minute, did we say, "outgoing" IMF director?
  • Indeed we did, which admittedly takes some of the sting out of Rato's warnings.
  • It's a bit like when you take a new job, get drunk at your celebratory party, and blab to everyone about how your old firm is horrible and will probably collapse into bankruptcy without your genius to rely on anymore.

2. But Wait, There's More

Outgoing IMF Director Rodrigo Rato also told the Financial Times the U.S. dollar is now “undervalued” on many measures, a statement which the FT gushed is "an unusually bold assessment."

  • Is it? Is it really an "unusually bold assessment"?
  • We're not so sure.
  • First, the U.S. dollar index is down more than 2% in the past 30 days alone, and down nearly 6.5% year-to-date.
  • Over the past 18 months it's down 14%.
  • And now we're seeing the inevitable stories rushing to embrace the decline as positive for business.
  • Bloomberg boasts "Weak Dollar Boosts Growth Without Fueling Inflation."
  • "The dollar is in a quasi-sweet spot,'' Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist at Bank of America (BAC), told Bloomberg.
  • "It's dropped enough that it's creating an earnings upside for U.S. multinationals, while I expect many foreign companies to hold the line on prices they charge U.S. consumers.''
  • Too bad those those are two different and unrelated things: earnings upside for multinationals, and domestic pricing power.
Meanwhile, I'm reading Sweezy & Magdoff's "The Irreversible Crisis" (Monthly Review Press). They offer an incredibly compelling framework for understanding exactly what the heck is going on in the world economy. Best 10-bucks you'll ever spend, irregardless of your politics.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Working Class Defined

So, what is the official definition of "working class"?
Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus
Main Entry: plebeian
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: lower-class
Synonyms: banal, base, coarse, common, conventional, humble, ignoble, low, lowborn, lowly, mean, ordinary, pedestrian, popular, proletarian, traditional, uncultivated, unrefined, unsophisticated, unwashed*, vulgar, working-class
Antonyms: aristocratic, cultivated, refined
Source: Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.3.1)
* = informal or slang
Makes you wonder what the ignoble lowborn who wrote this entry for Roget was thinking, eh? Mind was fixed on pelf and place (see this, and this) perhaps.

Ken Loach - Which Side are You On?

The Rochester Labor Council and the George Eastman House's Dryden Theater ( have been running a series of labor films this fall. Laura and I went to see Ken Loach's (biography/filmography) "Which Side Are You On" - an account of the 1984 UK miners strike that lasted for over one year. For me the film was quite moving.

The miners and their families were fighting for their jobs as Thatcher proceeded with completely destroying the entire coal industry in the UK. At least 190,000 (one hundred and ninety THOUSAND) jobs were lost in under 5 years time. Hundreds of communities were destroyed, schools closed, towns and factories demolished and, of course, the lives and futures of over a million people ruined.

Loach tells the story through the songs and poems of the people who were affected, the mining families themselves. He also captured on film the brutal police actions against the 100% legal pickets with many strikers being beaten with clubs and subjected to massive police terror tactics. One scene shows hundreds of police occupying a small village night and day with shields, and clubs on the ready. Every bit of pavement was covered by police.

Other scenes show the police breaking up pickets to let scabs into coal pits. Every tactic was used to incite riot. To the credit of the miners there was little hostility form their quarter. Nevertheless they had to suffer brutal attacks, terrorism and even cavalry charges.

The film was made all the more poignant since many of the miners and their families were so hopeful of victory, even as they lived in poverty, faced eviction from their homes, had their belongings repossessed by creditors, and were eating most of their meals at soup kitchens.

Still they put on a brave face. Ultimately they all lost their jobs, the industry was dismantled, and the union destroyed.

(scene pictured in the photo appears in the film, the policeman doesn't miss; it is displayed here courtesy of

When all was said and done, Prime Minister Thatcher had declared a victory over socialism in the UK. But it was a very narrow victory indeed:
The Tories later admitted that it cost nearly £6bn to win the dispute, which they saw as a political attempt to break the power of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). In the ten years following the end of the strike, the continued war against the miners cost a further £26bn in redundancy and benefit payments, keeping pits mothballed and lost revenue from coal.

Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet were desperate for victory and prepared to go to any lengths. For the first time in a post-war national strike the police were openly used as a political weapon. Agents provocateurs and spies were deployed and the state benefits system used to try and starve the miners back. Former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson subsequently admitted that preparations for the strike were, "just like rearming to face the threat of Hitler in the 1930s". Evidence emerged – after the event – about the role of MI5, MI6, the CIA and ultra-right wingers like David Hart and Tim Bell, who advised Thatcher during the dispute.

Yet despite the extraordinary lengths the Tories went to, by October 1984, six months into the strike, the future of Thatcher’s government hung in the balance. The proposed strike by the pit supervisors’ union, NACODS, threatened to close down all working pits in the Midlands – when there were less than six weeks’ coal stocks.

03/04: Socialism Today: Miners strike revisited
The Dryden will be showing a number of Ken Loach's films over the next few weeks including Cathy Come Home and the US premier of Its a Free World, both on October 10th. Ken Loach also released an excellent film in 2006 called The Wind the Shakes the Barley.

Note: Anarchist pop-group Chumbawamba was actively supportive of the miners strike as were other groups. A tribute album to the miners is available here.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ron Paul Wins Landslide!

Ron Paul today won by a landslide in an Oregon straw poll. From the LRC Blog today:
Writes Scott Sutton: "Here are the results from today's straw poll in Portland -- yet another landslide victory for Dr. Paul.

Ron Paul 77 votes, 67%
Mitt Romney 18 votes, 16%
Fred Thompson 12 votes, 10%
Mike Huckabee 5 votes, 4%
Rudy Giuliani 2 votes, 2%
John McCain 1 vote, 1%

"Kyle Saners, a member of the Salem Meetup group and an OR National Guard member who served in Afghanistan, gave a tremendous speech on behalf of Ron Paul." Blog: Ron Paul Wins Oregon Straw Poll
I'm not surprised. He is the only Republican candidate who doesn't pander to the fascist right. I have been consistently impressed by his position on the war (see my post Giuliani vs Kucinich). The media is starting to take notice. ABC New reported today:
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul announced this week that he raised more than $5 million in the third quarter, a figure that put him in the orbit of Arizona Sen. John McCain ($6 million) and far ahead of Mike Huckabee ($1 million). [The former is considered one of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination, and the latter was identified by former President Bill Clinton as the only "dark horse that's got any kind of chance" for the GOP nomination.]

Not bad for a guy who has generally been treated as a fringe candidate whose only impact on the race would be as a punching bag for more legitimate candidates looking to score political points. For example, in one of the early Republican debates, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani attacked Paul for saying extremists "attack us because we've been over there."

Paul is far from a typical Republican presidential candidate: He has been against the war in Iraq from the outset and embraces a libertarian platform that includes dismantling the Department of Education. His support is largely Internet-based, with 70 percent of his donations coming online, according to Paul's communications director, Jesse Benton. His passionate supporters regularly bombard online news stories with comments on why Paul is the only candidate worth considering in the GOP field.

06-Oct-07, The Ron Paul Factor, ABC News

There has been a consistent and vocal group in the grassroots of the Republican that has been pushing for common sense and a more liberal outlook. Ron Paul is their standard-bearer. If he continues with this momentum, it will be very interesting to see how these people react when the RNC crushes Paul's campaign. My guess is that it will create a mass-exodus from the party to the Democrats. Hillary will present the strong, common-sense candidate they are looking for who is solidly center-right.

If Ron Paul stays a blip, however, the trend will be slower as the more rabid right-wingers in the RNC continue to cannibalize themselves and alienate their base.

Either way its bad news for the RNC leadership. They should be especially troubled by the coming investigations into computerized election fraud. They certainly have a lot to worry about over the next decade...

But obviously there is still very little choice for the voter. An interesting thought experiment is to imagine Ron Paul running against Hillary Clinton. Here we would have essentially a liberal Republican running versus a conservative Democrat. This goes to show the fundamental problems with the two-party system - namely that it is corrupt and only serves the interests of capital, while marginalizing any voices of dissent.

Anyone who wants to have a chance of a political career must operate within the machinery of the parties, where their ideals are wrung out of them. The conservatives have seen this with the Bush administration. They thought they were getting a conservative Christian into office who would enact radical social change according to their agenda.

In fact all they got was a capitalist tool who's every single decision was based on servitude to oil and military supplier interests, domestic and foreign. This being in accordance with the traditional role his family has played geopolitically for over 50 years.

The two party system is rigged and must be ended. A true democracy, a direct democracy, where dialog between political parties elected by and for the people is our right. Decisions must be made, not by small circles of the rich and powerful controlling vast the machinery of the two-party system, the bureaucracy and the media, but by people's parties in dialog with each other to reach compromises that meet everyone's diverse needs.

As a socialist I believe in radical democracy, an everyday participatory democracy in which we all engage. In America, we have democracy once every two years if we are lucky, for the several minutes we spend in the voting booth. Is it any wonder our government is so foul?

New Diner Blog

To any who are interested, I've launched another blog focusing on diners in the Rochester, New York area. Its going pretty well so far, with the launch story getting quite a few hits. Please take a look!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Jammie Thomas vs RIAA

From Tim Worstall's blog:
Jammie Thomas has lost the first case against music file sharing to actually come in front of a US court.

A single mother has been ordered to pay $220,000 (£110,000) to the music industry after losing a test case trial in which she had illegally downloading songs from the internet.

A jury in Minnesota ordered Jammie Thomas, 30, to pay an alliance of six major record companies $9,250 for each of 24 songs for which they sought damages. They could have awarded damages as low as $750 per song.

Thomas, a Native American and mother of two, made legal history by becoming the first of 26,000 people sued by the Recording Industry Association of America over alleged use of filesharing software to take the case to court.

05-Oct-2007 : Tim Worstall, Jammie Thomas

A great of example of how the crime doesn't fit the punishment. Why go after a single user who may have had Kazaa installed versus going after pirate rings that manufacture and sell CDs for profit? The laws need to be changed. Anyone who distributes content without gaining financially should be exempt from this RIAA witch-hunt.