Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book 'em, Greenspan

Alan Greenspan wrote a guest piece in the Economist magazine this month. He paints a rather grim picture which, from the perspective of political economy, there seems no way out.

Book equity is the amount of money banks have in reserves. Book assets basically the asset value of the loans they have made. The ratio of book equity to book assets basically tells the percentage of loans outstanding versus cash on hand. This is called "book capital".

As can be seen from the chart to the right, the current average book capital for US banks is around 10%. This means for every $1 in cash, the bank has $10 in asset liens secured by loans made. This is different than the value of the loans because the value of the assets fluctuate over time whereas the value of the loan is fixed at the time the loan was made. This is called "mark-to-market" valuation (Fair Value Accounting Standards, US SEC).

For instance, if a home mortgage loan is made for $50,000 and the home (asset) goes up in value to $55,000, the asset value is $55,000. If the value of the home declines to $45,000, the asset value is $45,000.

It is not difficult to see the problem we currently face. Banks have loaned at a ratio of 10:1, the housing market valuations have declined by 20%, the stock market by 35% and the bond market has also tanked. So, in essence, the assets of many banks have declined not only below the value of the original loans, but have even declined more than the amount of cash they have on hand.

For instance, Joe the Plumber Bank (JP Bank) has $100 in cash and $1,000 loans backed by assets at the beginning of 2007. JP borrowed $500 from Lenny Bruce Bank (LB Bank) to make some of those loans, and another $300 from the Fed. JP assets decline by 20%, leaving him with $100 in cash, $800 in assets and $800 in debt, with $1,000 in loans outstanding. JP Bank has $200 in losses to write-off. This is double the cash on hand. JP is therefore insolvent.

From the Greenspan article:
To avoid this scenario, many banks are holding onto cash so they can pay their creditors and prevent losses. They are afraid to invest money in assets which show no sign of a rebound.

How much extra capital, both private and sovereign, will investors require of banks and other intermediaries to conclude that they are not at significant risk in holding financial institutions’ deposits or debt, a precondition to solving the crisis?

The insertion, last month, of $250 billion of equity into American banks through TARP (a two-percentage-point addition to capital-asset ratios) halved the post-Lehman surge of the LIBOR/OIS spread. Assuming modest further write-offs, simple linear extrapolation would suggest that another $250 billion would bring the spread back to near its pre-crisis norm. This arithmetic would imply that investors now require 14% capital rather than the 10% of mid-2006. Such linear calculations, of course, can only be very rough approximations. But recent data do suggest that, while helpful, the Treasury’s $250 billion goes only partway towards the levels required to support renewed lending.

Government credit has in effect acted as counterparty to a large segment of the financial intermediary system. But for reasons that go beyond the scope of this note, I strongly believe that the use of government credit must be temporary. What, then, will be the source of the new private capital that allows sovereign lending to be withdrawn? Eventually, the most credible source is a partial restoration of the $30 trillion of global stockmarket value wiped out this year, which would enable banks to raise the needed equity.


Even before the market linkages among banks, other financial institutions and non-financial businesses are fully re-established, we will need to start unwinding the massive sovereign credit and guarantees put in place during the crisis, now estimated at $7 trillion. The economics of such a course are fairly clear. The politics of draining off that much credit support in a timely way is quite another matter.

18-Dec-2008. Greenspan, Alan. Banks need more capital. The Economist.
So what is Greenspan saying here?

First, banks need to be better capitalized, in other words, have more money in the bank. Since US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is a follower of Greenspan, literally and figuratively, this explains why the TARP money was basically given to the banks to hoard in their vaults.

Second, confidence in the solvency of banks needs to be restored in order to 1) ensure they lend to each other, and 2) the interest rates they charge do not make the cost of borrowing so expensive that it would drive up rates across the board, or be too costly, thereby freezing borrowing. If it costs banks more to borrow than they will make on the spread, they will loose money on the transaction.

Third, the government, e.g. the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury, are acting as lenders of last resort. This is what is meant by "counter party". Basically, its the same as a parent co-signing for a car loan for his teenager. This gives the lender confidence that, in the event the primary borrower cannot pay, the loan doesn't go into default because daddy will pay the bills. Only in this case, the government doesn't have money in the bank, but it does have the power of taxation.

Fourth, and almost unbelievably, Greenspan says that the credit crisis can only be resolved by recapitalizing assets via a stock market increase of over $30 trillion plus an "unwinding" of over $7 trillion in "sovereign credit" (the $7 trillion is the money provided by the US and other governments via the TARP and other, similar vehicles - Greenspan seems to be somewhat re-defining "sovereign credit" here). Greenspan is basically saying forget the real economy, forget about stagnation in capital investment, the financial sector fueled by Friedman monetary policy must be relied upon to bring us out of this mess.

Rest assured that this kind of thinking is not very different from that which guided the policies of the Hoover administration. Although Greenspan aggressively decreased interest rates in the run-up to the current speculative bubble (something 1930s Fed policy attempted to prevent), the idea that we need to drain credit support as soon as possible is very much in line with the orthodox economic ideology that guided both the Hoover administration and the Greenspan gang. Undoubtedly this thinking will result in massive resistance to government investments in non-defense spending, such as Obama's public works initiative.

Comment Rules

I know I've posted these before. However, if you want to leave a comment, here are the rules:

Bannable offenses:
  1. Don't be offensive or insulting
  2. Don't use ad hominem attacks
  3. Don't use profanity
  4. Don't spam every post or reply
  1. Stick to a point, don't rant on a lot of different topics
  2. Reference your facts with real sources (not Wikipedia, not other bloggers, unless they reference an original source)
  3. Avoid red baiting - I'm interested in rational debate and consider exploration of all political currents interesting and valuable
  4. If you must bait me, please do it with style, tact and grace. To quote Goethe, “A man's manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Financial Implosion

Anyone who has read my blog for several years will have seen that I've covered the financial markets regularly and based on a socialist analysis of the finanicalized capitalists system, was able to provide arguments for what we now see unfolding.

John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff have written an excellent summary in the current issue of the Monthly Review. I've included an excerpt below and encourage all to visit the link and read the whole article.

Again, if you have any money in a retirement account and have the ability to choose your investment plan, you should seriously consider putting it in something as close to cash as possible, such as a money market fund, TIPS fund or REIT fund. Bond funds are risky but better than equities. Real estate is also a huge risk.

Good luck and Merry Christmas! Remember, Jesus was the original Communist, or so I've heard. Throw the moneychangers out of the temple! :)
Financial Implosion and Stagnation
Back To The Real Economy

But, you may ask, won’t the powers that be step into the breach again and abort the crisis before it gets a chance to run its course? Yes, certainly. That, by now, is standard operating procedure, and it cannot be excluded that it will succeed in the same ambiguous sense that it did after the 1987 stock market crash. If so, we will have the whole process to go through again on a more elevated and more precarious level. But sooner or later, next time or further down the road, it will not succeed… We will then be in a new situation as unprecedented as the conditions from which it will have emerged.
—Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy (1988) 1

“The first rule of central banking,” economist James K. Galbraith wrote recently, is that “when the ship starts to sink, central bankers must bail like hell.”2 In response to a financial crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression, the Federal Reserve and other central banks, backed by their treasury departments, have been “bailing like hell” for more than a year. Beginning in July 2007 when the collapse of two Bear Stearns hedge funds that had speculated heavily in mortgage-backed securities signaled the onset of a major credit crunch, the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Treasury Department have pulled out all the stops as finance has imploded. They have flooded the financial sector with hundreds of billions of dollars and have promised to pour in trillions more if necessary—operating on a scale and with an array of tools that is unprecedented.

In an act of high drama, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson appeared before Congress on the evening of September 18, 2008, during which the stunned lawmakers were told, in the words of Senator Christopher Dodd, “that we’re literally days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications here at home and globally.” This was immediately followed by Paulson’s presentation of an emergency plan for a $700 billion bailout of the financial structure, in which government funds would be used to buy up virtually worthless mortgage-backed securities (referred to as “toxic waste”) held by financial institutions. 3

The outburst of grassroots anger and dissent, following the Treasury secretary’s proposal, led to an unexpected revolt in the U.S. House of Representatives, which voted down the bailout plan. Nevertheless, within a few days Paulson’s original plan (with some additions intended to provide political cover for representatives changing their votes) made its way through Congress. However, once the bailout plan passed financial panic spread globally with stocks plummeting in every part of the world—as traders grasped the seriousness of the crisis. The Federal Reserve responded by literally deluging the economy with money, issuing a statement that it was ready to be the buyer of last resort for the entire commercial paper market (short-term debt issued by corporations), potentially to the tune of $1.3 trillion.

Yet, despite the attempt to pour money into the system to effect the resumption of the most basic operations of credit, the economy found itself in liquidity trap territory, resulting in a hoarding of cash and a cessation of inter-bank loans as too risky for the banks compared to just holding money. A liquidity trap threatens when nominal interest rates fall close to zero. The usual monetary tool of lowering interest rates loses its effectiveness because of the inability to push interest rates below zero. In this situation the economy is beset by a sharp increase in what Keynes called the “propensity to hoard” cash or cash-like assets such as Treasury securities.

Fear for the future given what was happening in the deepening crisis meant that banks and other market participants sought the safety of cash, so whatever the Fed pumped in failed to stimulate lending. The drive to liquidity, partly reflected in purchases of Treasuries, pushed the interest rate on Treasuries down to a fraction of 1 percent, i.e., deeper into liquidity trap territory. 4

Facing what Business Week called a “financial ice age,” as lending ceased, the financial authorities in the United States and Britain, followed by the G-7 powers as a whole, announced that they would buy ownership shares in the major banks, in order to inject capital directly, recapitalizing the banks—a kind of partial nationalization. Meanwhile, they expanded deposit insurance. In the United States the government offered to guarantee $1.5 trillion in new senior debt issued by banks. “All told,” as the New York Times stated on October 15, 2008, only a month after the Lehman Brothers collapse that set off the banking crisis, “the potential cost to the government of the latest bailout package comes to $2.25 trillion, triple the size of the original $700 billion rescue package, which centered on buying distressed assets from banks.”5 But only a few days later the same paper ratcheted up its estimates of the potential costs of the bailouts overall, declaring: “In theory, the funds committed for everything from the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and those of Wall Street firm Bear Stearns and the insurer American International Group, to the financial rescue package approved by Congress, to providing guarantees to backstop selected financial markets [such as commercial paper] is a very big number indeed: an estimated $5.1 trillion.”6

Despite all of this, the financial implosion has continued to widen and deepen, while sharp contractions in the “real economy” are everywhere to be seen. The major U.S. automakers are experiencing serious economic shortfalls, even after Washington agreed in September 2008 to provide the industry with $25 billion in low interest loans. Single-family home construction has fallen to a twenty-six-year low. Consumption is expected to experience record declines. Jobs are rapidly vanishing. 7 Given the severity of the financial and economic shock, there are now widespread fears among those at the center of corporate power that the financial implosion, even if stabilized enough to permit the orderly unwinding and settlement of the multiple insolvencies, will lead to a deep and lasting stagnation, such as hit Japan in the 1990s, or even a new Great Depression.

24-Dec-2008. Foster, John Bellamy. Financial Implosion and Stagnation. Monthly Review.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Dreams of Red Havana

From an op-ed piece by Roger Cohen:

Since visiting Cuba a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about the visual assault on our lives. Climb in a New York taxi these days and a TV comes on with its bombardment of news and ads. It’s become passé to gaze out the window, watch the sunlight on a wall, a child’s smile, the city breathing.

In Havana, I’d spend long hours contemplating a single street. Nothing — not a brand, an advertisement or a neon sign — distracted me from the city’s sunlit surrender to time passing. At a colossal price, Fidel Castro’s pursuit of socialism has forged a unique aesthetic, freed from agitation, caught in a haunting equilibrium of stillness and decay.

Such empty spaces, away from the assault of marketing, beyond every form of message (e-mail, text, twitter), erode in the modern world, to the point that silence provokes a why-am-I-not-in-demand anxiety. Technology induces ever more subtle forms of addiction, to products, but also to agitation itself. The global mall reproduces itself, its bright and air-conditioned sterility extinguishing every distinctive germ.


Roger goes on to describe how Paris has succumbed to the modern spectacle, something that his visit to Havana made quite clear to him. I've often heard the same said about New York City, that since the 1980s it has become just facade of its former unique "city-ness", and now just another billboard for the same retail culture that dominates American suburbia.

Roger is also right in highlighting the addictive nature of what he calls agitation - whether it be in the form of computers, IM, cell phones, blackberries, iPods, television, radio, road-rage or what-have-you.

I think the agitation comes from the dual alienation these technologies, activites and public spaces foster, alienation from other humans as well as alienation from oneself. Though much modern technology, from the cell phone to automobiles and blogs, promise to bring people together and foster communication, they in fact cause a profound alienation between people. All communication becomes mediated communication, a non-physical, disconnected and ultimately unsatisfying communication that does little to reify our identity nor foster a true sense of connectedness or community with those around us.

This is what we want and need, it is a physical and emotional need intrinsic to the human condition. We become agitated because it is impossible to attain via these forms. Just as consuming products or eating fast-food does not "fill us up" - nor do these commiditized forms of communication fill us up. They promise to fill us up, but leave us empty, making us crave more, while at the same time making us afraid to forge real connections.

Ultimately we are left empty, afraid and alone; impotent to change because we are not even concious that another world is possible; until we see that one is, like Roger did.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Worker's Anger in Chicago Strike

As the economy worsens, American workers begin find their voice.
CHICAGO — The scene inside a long, low-slung factory on this city’s North Side this weekend offered a glimpse at how the nation’s loss of more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs in a year of recession is boiling over.

Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors, who for years assembled vinyl windows and sliding doors here, said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing.

Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory. Their sharpest criticisms were aimed at their former bosses, who they said gave them only three days’ notice of the closing, and the company’s creditors. But their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers.

“They want the poor person to stay down,” said Silvia Mazon, 47, a mother of two who worked as an assembler here for 13 years and said she had never before been the sort to march in protests or make a fuss. “We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere until we get what’s fair and what’s ours. They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn’t matter.”

The workers, members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, said they were owed vacation and severance pay and were not given the 60 days of notice generally required by federal law when companies make layoffs. Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois, said her office was investigating, and representatives from her office interviewed workers at the plant on Sunday.

08-Dec-2008. Davey, Monica. In Factory Sit-In, an Anger Spread Wide. New York Times.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Obama's Team of Rivals

So much for change? I guess we shouldn't be surprised. However, with the right-leaning group he's putting in place, is the world really better off than it would have been with McCain? Perhaps in the short run, but certainly not in the long run if one is looking for an end to the dictatorship of capital.

From MRZine (Jeremy Scahill):
As Barack Obama's opus, Team of Rivals, continues its rolling debut, the early reviews are in and the "critics" are full of praise for the cast:

"[T]he new administration is off to a good start."
-- Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell

"[S]uperb . . . the best of the Washington insiders . . . this will be a valedictocracy -- rule by those who graduate first in their high school classes."
-- David Brooks, conservative New York Times columnist

"[J]ust about perfect. . . ."
-- Senator Joe Lieberman, former Democrat and John McCain's top surrogate in the 2008 campaign.

-- Karl Rove, "Bush's brain"

"I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain . . . this all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators, and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign . . . [Hillary] Clinton and [James] Steinberg at State should be powerful voices for 'neo-liberalism' which is not so different in many respects from 'neo-conservativism.'"
-- Max Boot, neoconservative activist, former McCain staffer.

"I see them as being sort of center-right of the Democratic party."
-- James Baker, former Secretary of State and the man who led the theft of the 2000 election.

"[S]urprising continuity on foreign policy between President Bush's second term and the incoming administration . . . certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush. . . ."
-- Michael Goldfarb of the neoconservative Weekly Standard

"I certainly applaud many of the appointments. . . ."
-- Senator John McCain

"So far, so good."
-- Senator Lamar Alexander, senior Republican Congressional leader.

Hillary Clinton will be "outstanding" as Secretary of State
-- Henry Kissinger, war criminal

Rahm Emanuel is "a wise choice" in the role of Chief of Staff
-- Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, John McCain's best friend

Obama's team shows "Our foreign policy historically is not partisan."
-- Ed Rollins, top Republican strategist and Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign manager

"The country will be in good hands."
-- Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush's Secretary of State

Friday, November 14, 2008

Socialists invest in jobs, Capitalists invest in greed

China's response to the world economic crisis seems a lot better than the capitalist response. Now all they have to do is eliminate all the sweatshops.

From People's Weekly World:
China, hit by the current global economic crisis, with some foreign-operated plants closing down, took immediate, emergency action. Its State Council approved a $586 billion public works program to build new low-cost homes, mass transit and airports. The program will employ tens of thousands of unemployed workers and at the same time build or repair urgently needed infrastructure like bridges, roads and tunnels.

At the top of the agenda is rebuilding Sichuan Province, devastated by an earthquake that left millions homeless. (What a striking contrast to the abandonment of Hurricane Katrina victims by the Bush administration).

The Asian stock market soared 5.6 percent in response to China’s initiative and stocks in Hong Kong and Shanghai rallied strongly.

The New York Times pointed out that unlike China’s rescue package, our recently approved $700 billion bailout “helped strengthen bank balance sheets” but did not “mandate new lending or support specific investment projects in the United States.”

Because of their fanatical right-wing “free market” ideology, Bush and fellow Republicans are fighting tooth and nail against any steps to restrict corporate greed or government action to get our “real” economy going and growing.

The administration is using the bailout to help financiers who created the crisis but it has not slowed the plunge toward a deep recession. Last month 240,000 jobs were lost and the jobless rate zoomed to 6.5 percent. Meanwhile the bankers are using our tax dollars to buy up rival banks rather than free up credit to help jumpstart the economy.

The Times points out that “Beijing maintains far more control over investment trends than Washington does so it has greater flexibility to increase investments and counter a sharp downturn.”

In other words, China’s government has the power to command that these socialized institutions allocate resources to head off a depression.

China’s President Hu Jintao is scheduled to meet Nov. 15 with President-elect Barack Obama. Obama would do well to study China’s bold initiative. We do not have socialism and our banks are certainly not nationalized. But the people are losing patience as they watch their jobs, retirement accounts, and employer-provided health care go up in smoke. They are going to demand strong action to help the folks on Main Street.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chavez: We Must Forgive Palin as Christ Would

Universally demonized on the US & UK press, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela continues to call it like we all see it:
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin a "poor thing" who didn't know what she was saying when she called him a dictator.

Friday's verbal attack was the latest in long history of creative insults by Chavez — but was not unprovoked.

In an interview with the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision aired Tuesday, Palin remarked that "through negotiations or sanctions, if necessary, we can pressure dictators like Hugo Chavez to make it clear that they cannot mess with the United States whenever they feel like it."

Speaking at an event to inaugurate a thermoelectric plant, Chavez said he had heard of Palin's remarks.

"The poor thing, you have to feel sorry for her," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Palin, he said, is "a beauty queen that they've put in the role of a figurine."

Chavez said one must do as Christ did: "Forgive her, for she knows not what she says."

Republican presidential candidate John McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate surprised the nation and prompted questions about her qualifications to serve as vice president. The McCain campaign had no comment on Chavez' comment.

Palin, the governor of Alaska, says she would take the lead as vice president in energy policy, overall government reform and working with families who have special-needs children.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Candidates turned my face to Jell-O

If Obama wins, will he respond to these types of incidents with accountability? I think it is quite clear that McCain will not. After Nov 4 is when the hard work begins for all activists.

From Socialist Worker:
Nassau County police injured several people in their assault on antiwar protests outside the presidential debateNassau County police injured several people in their assault on antiwar protests outside the presidential debate

WHILE BARACK Obama and John McCain were getting makeup touchups for their Wednesday night debate at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, N.Y., police outside made sure that the voices of antiwar veterans wouldn't be heard.

Officers of the Nassau County Police Department reacted with reckless violence to a protest organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) outside the debate site. Among several people injured in the assault, former Army Sgt. Nick Morgan was knocked unconscious and his cheekbone broken when he was trampled by a police horse.

"We were there to force the issue that the leaders of this nation are not listening to or are not caring about veterans," said IVAW member Matthis Chiroux, who was among several veterans and activists arrested. "And they couldn't have done a better job of proving us right. They stomped my friend Nick's face into Jell-o. I put this on both candidates, on the major press and on the Nassau County police."


17-Oct-2008. Herschel, Lucy. Antiwar vets attacked by police outside debate. Socialist Worker.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Biden Bursts Palin's Bubble

I just read this op-ed by Bob Herbert of the NYT and thought it did a great job encapsulating bobble-head Palin's rhetoric during the US vice-presidential debate.

The most surprising thing for me was how impressed I've become with Joe Biden. He was awesome. His analysis and politics were, for the most part, dead-on and he was convincing, and he showed a sensitive side. I never knew much about Joe Biden before that night, but now I do and I'm proud and happy he is part of our nation's government.

Its time to turn back the clock on 28 years of conservative neo-liberal economic policies started by Reagan, continued by Clinton and the Bushies. Certainly a McCain/Palin Whitehouse would starkly highlight the irrationality and failure of capitalism for everyone to see, as they have already seen in Latin America and the rest of the LDCs.

But their mismanagement would bring about upheaval and conflict, and drive us deeper into environmental crisis than any sane person ought wish to go. Not only that, but the fascist tendencies of the Right's methods, such as torture and repression of leftists, will certainly entrench itself further in the enforcement apparatus (CIA, FBI, etc) under McCain/Palin.

For these reasons and more I am adamantly supporting the Obama/Biden ticket.

Palin's Alternative Universe, Bob Herbert, New York Times:

Sarah Palin is the perfect exclamation point to the Bush years.

We’ve lived through nearly two terms of an administration that believed it could create its own reality:

“Deficits don’t matter.” “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” “Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere.”

Now comes Ms. Palin, a smiling, bubbly vice-presidential candidate who travels in an alternate language universe. For Ms. Palin, such things as context, syntax and the proximity of answers to questions have no meaning.

In her closing remarks at the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, Ms. Palin referred earnestly, if loosely, to a quote from Ronald Reagan. He had warned that if Americans weren’t vigilant in protecting their freedom, they would find themselves spending their “sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.”

What Ms. Palin didn’t say was that the menace to freedom that Reagan was talking about was Medicare. As the historian Robert Dallek has pointed out, Reagan “saw Medicare as the advance wave of socialism, which would ‘invade every area of freedom in this country.’ ”

Does Ms. Palin agree with that Looney Tunes notion? Or was this just another case of the aw-shucks, darn-right, I’m-just-a-hockey-mom governor of Alaska mouthing something completely devoid of meaning?

Here’s Ms. Palin during the debate: “Say it ain’t so, Joe! There you go pointing backwards again ... Now, doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?”

If Governor Palin didn’t like a question, or didn’t know the answer, she responded as though some other question had been asked. She made no bones about this, saying early in the debate: “I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear.”

The problem with Ms. Palin’s candidacy is that John McCain might actually win this election, and then if something terrible happened, the country could be left with little more than an exclamation point as president.

After Ms. Palin had woven one of her particularly impenetrable linguistic webs, Joe Biden turned to the debate’s moderator, Gwen Ifill, and said: “Gwen, I don’t know where to start.”

Of course he didn’t know where to start because Ms. Palin’s words don’t mean anything. She’s all punctuation.

This is such a serious moment in American history that it’s hard to believe that someone with Ms. Palin’s limited skills could possibly be playing a leadership role. On the day before the debate, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, made an urgent appeal for more troops, saying the additional “boots on the ground,” as well as more helicopters and other vital equipment, were “needed as quickly as possible.”

The morning after the debate, the Labor Department announced that the employment situation in the U.S. had deteriorated even more than experts had expected. The nation lost nearly 160,000 jobs in September, more than double the monthly losses in July and August.

Conditions are probably worse than even those numbers indicate because the government’s statistics do not yet reflect the response of employers to the credit crisis that has taken such a hold in the last few weeks.

Where is the evidence that Governor Palin even understands these complex and enormously challenging problems? During the debate she twice referred to General McKiernan as “McClellan.” Neither Ms. Ifill nor Senator Biden corrected her.

But after Senator Biden suggested that John McCain’s answer to the nation’s energy problems was to “drill, drill, drill,” Ms. Palin promptly pointed out, as if scoring a point, that “the chant is ‘Drill, baby, drill!’ ”

How’s that for perspective? The credit markets are frozen. Our top general in Afghanistan is dialing 911. Americans are losing jobs by the scores of thousands. And Sarah Palin is making sure we know that the chant is “drill, baby, drill!” not “drill, drill, drill.”

John McCain has spent most of his adult life speaking of his love for his country. Maybe he sees something in Sarah Palin that most Americans do not. Maybe he is aware of qualities that lead him to believe she’d be as steady as Franklin Roosevelt in guiding the U.S. through a prolonged economic downturn. Maybe she’d be as wise and prudent in a national emergency as John Kennedy was during the Cuban missile crisis.

Maybe Senator McCain has reason to believe that it would not be the most colossal of errors to put Ms. Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency.

He’s got just four weeks to share that insight with the rest of us.

4-Oct-2008. Herbert, Bob. Palin's Alternative Universe.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

When Fascists Attack

Fascist violence has been on the rise world-wide, with an outbreak of racists violence and murder spiking on September 11th in Bolivia. Hundreds of indigenous supporters of president Evo Morales, men, women and children, were beaten and whipped by racist gangs supported by the right-wing elites. In the worst attack, at least 30 campesinos were mowed down by machine gun fire while trapped on a bridge. Hundreds are still missing.

In other areas, fascists rioted in the streets, people were beaten and tortured, then forced to denounce Morales on their knees, dripping with blood, while they were recorded on video.

Bolivian fascist groups have been on the rise for several years, their level of violence increasing markedly in 2008.

What is the response from the Bush administration (with support from the US media)? To put Bolivia on the "narco-terrorist" list and call Evo Morales a "weak and desperate" leader. We can only expect more of the same from the war-monger McCain.

Say no to fascist racism! Say no to even tacit support of these thugs! Say yes to support of the rights of indigenous people, democracy and socialism!

From Green Left Weekly:
The violence was an attempt to impose by force what was lost at the ballot box.

Violently assaulting civilians, police officer and soldiers, occupying and burning public buildings, blowing up gas pipelines, and blockading roads were among the tactics of the pro-neoliberal forces of the opposition, which utlitised fascist shock troops of racist armed youth gangs, such as the Santa Cruz Youth Union (UJC).

The worst violence occurred on September 11, with the massacre in Pando of unarmed indigenous campesinos — including children and pregnant women — who were marching against the racist violence. It was carried out by paramilitaries created and controlled by Pando prefect Leopoldo Fernandez, since arrested over the atrocity.

At least 30 people were slaughtered, with more than 100 still missing.

Bolivia: Indigenous government defies US-backed fascists
From Worker's World:
Pando’s (Bolivia) prefect (governor) hired a gang of paramilitary criminals—some reports say from Brazil—who opened fire on a gathering of mostly Indigenous peasants on Sept. 11. As many as 30 people, all unarmed peasants, were killed near the capital city of Cobija. (BBC) This massacre was the most blatant crime in a series of attacks on buildings housing offices of the central government and popular organizations.

Facing fascist attack, Morales fights back
From the AP:
Gov. Leopoldo Fernandez of Pando province is being charged with genocide in what President Evo Morales calls an ambush of his supporters last week that left at least 15 dead and 37 injured.

Morales announced the arrest at a news conference Tuesday.

Bolivia governor arrested on genocide charges

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bush DOT To Track All Cars

Mary E Peters

The U.S. Department of Transportation has been handing millions of dollars to state governments for GPS-tracking pilot projects designed to track vehicles wherever they go. So far, Washington state and Oregon have received fat federal checks to figure out how to levy these "mileage-based road user fees."

Now electronic tracking and taxing may be coming to a DMV near you. The Office of Transportation Policy Studies, part of the Federal Highway Administration, is about to announce another round of grants totaling some $11 million. A spokeswoman on Friday said the office is "shooting for the end of the year" for the announcement, and more money is expected for GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking efforts.

Iraq Vets Rage Against the Machine in Denver

The pro-socialist punk band Rage Against the Machine staged a free concert in Denver the night of August 27th. Attended by nearly 10,000 people, thousands of protesters, led by Iraq war vets marched on the Democratic National Convention to demand an end to the war.

From Rocky Mountain News:
BRIGHTON AND 44TH -- A massive group of at least 2,000 chanting, shouting, sign-waving protesters are marching down Brighton Boulevard escorted by police in what is easily the largest such protest Denver has seen during this convention.

Employees at the Coors Field reportedly were told after 4 p.m. to evacuate because a protest was approaching.

The march, organized in conjunction with a free Rage Against the Machine-headlined music festival at the Denver Coliseum, is cosponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War and Tent State University.

About 50 Iraq veterans are leading the march to the Pepsi Center, followed by thousands of mostly young protesters carrying signs denouncing the war. More protesters continue to stream from the coliseum, where nearly 10,000 watched Rage urge them to join the march.
From CommonDreams:
DENVER - August 28 - Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) led a non-violent march of 8,000 allies, including members of Rage Against the Machine, to the front entrance of the Pepsi Center. There they delivered a letter containing their three points of unity to the Obama campaign's veteran staff. IVAW's three points of unity are:
  1. Immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq
  2. Full benefits and healthcare for returning veterans
  3. Reparations to the Iraqi people
IVAW is calling on Senator Obama to allow an IVAW representative to read the letter to the delegates.

Senator Obama's veterans' liaison, Phil Carter, told IVAW that they could expect a response from the Senator's campaign staff regarding their request. IVAW plans to hold Senator Obama's campaign team to their word.

*IVAW members Jared Hood, Jeff Key and Josh Earle are available for comment throughout the day.

Jared Hood, who lives here in Denver, served as a specialist in the Colorado Army National Guard from 2004-2007. During that time he served in Camp Navistar, Kuwait and Vilseck, Germany.

Josh Earl served as a Military Police Specialist in Iraq from 2003-2004 with the Denver-based 220th Military Police Company of the Colorado Army National Guard.

Jeff Key, a former Marine Corp lance corporal, served in Iraq in 2003. Mr. Key currently performs his one-man show, The Eyes of Babylon, which tells his story as a Marine in Iraq, in theaters across the country. He was also one of the IVAW members to speak with Obama's veterans' liaison on Aug. 27.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Disney makes health care unaffordable

From CNN:
ANAHEIM, California (AP) -- Cinderella, Snow White, Tinkerbell and other fictional fixtures of modern-day childhood were handcuffed, frisked and loaded into police vans Thursday at the culmination of a labor protest that brought a touch of reality to the Happiest Place on Earth.
"Tinkerbell" and other Disney characters were handcuffed Thursday in a protest outside the gates of Disneyland.

"Tinkerbell" and other Disney characters were handcuffed Thursday in a protest outside the gates of Disneyland.

The arrest of the 32 protesters, many of whom wore costumes representing famous Disney characters, came at the end of an hour-long march to Disneyland's gates from one of three Disney-owned hotels at the center of a labor dispute.

Those who were arrested sat in a circle on a busy intersection outside the park holding hands until they were placed in plastic handcuffs and led to two police vans while hundreds of hotel workers cheered and chanted.

The protesters were arrested on a misdemeanor count of failure to obey a police officer and two traffic infractions, said Sgt. Rick Martinez of the Anaheim police. They were cited and released, Sgt. Chris Schneider said.

Bewildered tourists in Disney T-shirts and caps, some pushing strollers, filed past the commotion and gawked at the costumed picketers getting hauled away. The protest shut down a major thoroughfare outside Disneyland and California Adventure for nearly an hour.

"It's changing my opinion of Disneyland," said tourist Amanda Kosato, who was visiting from north of Melbourne, Australia. "Taking away entitlements stinks."

The dispute involves about 2,300 maids, bell hops, cooks and dishwashers at three Disney-owned hotels: the Paradise Pier, the Grand Californian and the Disneyland Hotel.

The workers' contract expired in February and their union says Disney's latest proposal makes health care unaffordable for hundreds of employees and creates an unfair two-tier wage system. The union also says Disney wants to create a new category of part-time employees who would receive greatly reduced benefits.

"The other hotels around the area all have health care that is provided by the boss and have been able to get wage increases," said Ada Briceno, president of Unite Here Local 681, which represents the workers.

"At the other hotels in the same classification, for the same work, the workers get paid $2 to $3 an hour more."

Disney spokeswoman Lisa Haines said Disney and the union are in negotiations and nothing has been finalized. She said workers have protested 14 times but sat down to negotiate only 11 times in the past six months.

"Clearly we're disappointed that Unite Here Local 681 has spent more time protesting," she said. "Publicity stunts are not productive and are extremely disruptive to the resort district."

Before the arrests, the picketers marched and chanted outside Paradise Pier, holding signs that read, "Disney is unfaithful," and "Mickey, shame on you." They were joined by community activists and religious leaders from local churches.

Luz Vasquez, who works in the bakery at Disneyland Hotel, said she can't afford to lose many of her benefits. She said it's already hard to care for her three grandchildren and aging mother while earning $14.32 an hour.

"Disneyland is being unfair with us because we're fighting for our health care and they're trying to take it away," said Vasquez, 45. "They're trying to cut our hours and take away our seniority."

Co-worker Diane Dominguez, 50, said she was worried about losing health care because of the heavy labor involved in lifting mattresses, moving furniture and making dozens of beds a day. She also said rising prices and the cost of gas were eating into her salary of $11.11 an hour.

"The most important is health care. We need that and they want to take it away," she said.

At the heart of the issue is a free health care plan that has been provided to Disney hotel workers through a trust fund that Disney and other unionized hotels in the area pay into.

Briceno said that in exchange for the free medical plan, union members agreed in previous contracts to a lower wage for hotel workers in the first three years of their employment.

But Disney now wants to eliminate the free health plan for new hires and wants to create a new class of workers who put in less than 30 hours a week, said Briceno. Those part-time workers would receive no sick or vacation pay and not be given holidays, she said.

The company also wants to increase the number of hours full-time employees must work before qualifying for the health plan, she said.

"At the end of the day what it means is that workers are going to be priced out of health care," she said.

Haines said the majority of other employees at Disneyland pay for a share of their health plan, even though the resort shoulders about 75 percent of the overall cost. She said it's important to negotiate a contract that's fair to those other unions, too.

"We do remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement that's both fair and equitable, providing that union leadership is reasonable and realistic in its approach," Haines said.

Friday, August 15, 2008

McCain Aid Paid $800,000 by Georgian Government

From People's Weekly World news:
The conflict in Georgia has cast a spotlight on both John McCain’s ethics and on his ability to exercise good judgment in a time of crisis.

McCain’s longtime business partner and current chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, lobbied the senator on 49 occasions during a three year period while being paid $800,000 by the right-wing government of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

In numerous speeches this week McCain has ranted and raved against Russia’s role in the current conflict in Georgia. Positioning himself to the right of even the Bush administration, he has said that he believes the Russian leadership to be “far more dangerous” than the president believes it to be.

Precisely because of this posturing, the payments by the Georgian government to McCain’s partner raise ethical questions about the connection between Scheunemann’s personal finances and his advice to McCain who has seized on the current conflict as a campaign issue.

Barack Obama has called for a “review” of U.S. agreements with Russia but, unlike McCain, said, “We seek a future of cooperative engagement with the Russian government, and friendship with the Russian people.”

If McCain was hoping that escalation of tensions in Georgia would boost his campaign, he definitely was not hoping for what seems to be happening now: More and more media outlets are beginning to focus on the McCain-Scheunemann relationship.

The Seattle Times is reporting that on April 17, a month and a half after Scheunemann officially stopped working for Georgia, his partner and the only other member of his firm, took another $200,000 from Georgia to continue lobbying McCain.

The maneuvering amounts to McCain functioning on behalf of paid foreign agents and, at the same time, using helping create international tension to benefit his campaign for the presidency.

“Scheunemann’s work as a lobbyist poses valid questions about McCain’s judgment in choosing someone who – and whose firm – are paid to promote the interests of other nations,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers.

Brian Rogers, a spokesman for the McCain campaign admitted to the Los Angeles Times: “This is an issue that he (McCain) has been involved with for well over decade.”

A report in the Bloomberg News noted that McCain’s strong condemnation of Russia’s military action against Georgia as “totally, absolutely unacceptable” reflects long-standing ties between McCain and hard-line conservatives such as Scheunemann, an aide in the 1990’s to then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Numerous press reports on Scheunemann are turning up more and more disturbing background information:

Scheunemann, who also ran McCain’s 2000 campaign foreign policy operation, has, like McCain, supported regime-change in Iraq and NATO membership for all of the former Soviet republics. McCain sponsored or co-sponsored every one of the four bills and resolutions regarding Georgia that Scheunemann told him to sponsor.

Scheunemann, it turns out, was one of the ring leaders of the neo-con drive to go to war with Iraq. Before the U.S. invaded, he was chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Prior to that he was a leader of the Project for the New American Century, an outfit that said nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks, that the terrorists were linked to Iraq. Those claims, of course, were later proven false.

Support Obama

Folks, Obama is getting tons of negative press, as expected, from the US right-wing controlled media.

Sure, he is no socialist, but realistically, it is NOT in the interest of the world working-class for the Republican's to consolidate their stranglehold on the American imperial system.

Sure, all Obama offers a kinder-gentler capitalism - GOOD! I'd rather that then an invasion of Venezuela, for instance.

Finally, any movement to the left by the American ruling elite is going to pay out for the working classes and working class movement.

That is why I am supporting Obama.

From the AFL-CIO:
Sen. Barack Obama has pledged to fight for working families, and he has the record and the policy proposals to back it up.

Check out new fact sheets that spell out what Obama would do as president in two crucial areas: education and the building trades.

When it comes to education, Obama has a record of supporting full funding for No Child Left Behind, increased special education funding and expanding Pell Grants to enable more students to attend college.

He supports forgiving student loans for teachers and opposes taking away funds from the public school system through private voucher programs.

Obama’s education plan includes:
  • More funding for early childhood education and Head Start, so children are ready for school.
  • Reforming and fully funding the No Child Left Behind Act so it supports, rather than punishes, schools that need help.
  • Providing scholarships, mentoring and training to help recruit and retain teachers.
  • Supporting after-school activities and special education.
  • Helping make college more accessible for all families through grants, loans, tax credits and full funding for community colleges.
Obama has earned the endorsement of the AFT and the School Administrators union for his strong support of public education.

He also will support good jobs in the building and construction industry. As a church-based community organizer, Obama helped neighborhoods recover after being devastated by steel mill closings, so he understands the importance of protecting workers and making sure they have good jobs.

As a senator, Obama has been a strong supporter of prevailing wage laws and of investing in America’s infrastructure.

A co-sponsor of the Patriot Employers Act, Obama has fought to reward companies that keep good jobs here and support workers’ rights to a fair wage, health coverage, retirement security and the ability to form unions. And as an Illinois state senator, Obama voted for numerous bills ensuring workplace safety, prevailing wages and responsible bidder requirements for public contracts.

The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, a coalition of 13 unions in the industry, gave Obama its endorsement earlier this summer.

To rebuild an economy that works for everyone, we need to make sure that all families can send their children to public schools that are safe, well-staffed and well equipped so they can get the education they deserve at all stages of life. We also need to make sure we’re creating good jobs with good pay and an infrastructure that can support economic growth. Obama has the plans that will help create prosperity and make sure it’s shared by everyone.

To find out more about where Obama stands on the issues that matter most, check out Meet Barack Obama.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mediocre McCain

From Rex Nutting of MarketWatch:
Since last January, Sen. Obama's fitness for the presidency has been the only question that matters in American politics. The pollsters and pundits agree that if Obama can show the voters that he's up to the job, he'll win. If not, he won't.

But that begs another question: Is McCain fit to lead America?

That question hasn't been asked, nor has it been answered.

The assumption seems to be that McCain's years of experience in the military and in Congress of course give him the background and tools he'd need in the White House. As Britney might say, "Duh! For sure he's qualified!!! He's Mac!!!"

But is that true? Does McCain have the right stuff?

A careful look at McCain's biography shows that he isn't prepared for the job. His resume is much thinner than most people think.

Here are some reasons why McCain would be a mediocre president.

Lack of accomplishments
Like the current occupant of the White House, McCain got his first career breaks from the connections and money of his family, not from hard work.

The son and grandson of Navy admirals, he attended Annapolis where he did poorly. Nevertheless, he was commissioned as a pilot, where he performed poorly, crashing three planes before he failed to evade a North Vietnamese missile that destroyed his plane. McCain spent more than five years in a prison camp.

After his release, McCain knew his weak military record meant he'd never make admiral, so he turned his sights to a career in politics. With the help of his new wife's wealth, his new father-in-law's business connections and some powerful friends had made as a lobbyist for the Navy, he was elected in 1982 to a Congress in a district that he didn't reside in until the day the seat opened up. A few years later, he succeeded Barry Goldwater as a senator.

McCain hasn't accomplished much in the Senate. Even his own campaign doesn't trumpet his successes, probably because the few victories he's had still rankle Republicans.

His campaign finance law failed to significantly reduce the role of money in politics. He failed to get a big tobacco bill through the Senate. He's failed to change the way Congress spends money; his bill to give the president a line-item veto was declared unconstitutional, and the system of pork and earmarks continues unabated. He failed to reform the immigration system.

Every senator who runs for president misses votes back in Washington, so it's no surprise that McCain and all the others who ran in the primaries have missed a lot of votes in the past year. But between the beginning of 2005 and mid-2007, no senator missed more roll-call votes than McCain did, except Tim Johnson, who was recovering from a near-fatal brain aneurysm.

McCain says he doesn't understand the economy. He's demonstrated that he doesn't understand the workings of Social Security, or the political history of the Middle East. He doesn't know who our enemies are. He says he wants to reduce global warming, but then proposes ideas that would stimulate -- not reduce -- demand for fossil fuels.

McCain has done one thing well -- self promotion. Instead of working on legislation or boning up on the issues, he's been on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" more than any other guest. He's been on the Sunday talk shows more than any other guest in the past 10 years. He's hosted "Saturday Night Live" and even announced his candidacy in 2007 on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

McCain has not articulated any lofty goals. So far, his campaign theme has mostly been "McCain: He's None of the Above."

In the primaries, he campaigned on "I'm not that robotic businessman, I'm not that sanctimonious hick, I'm not that crazy libertarian, I'm not that washed-up actor, I'm not that delusional 9/11 guy." In the general election, he's emphasized that he's not that treasonous dreamer.

No leadership
McCain has frequently taken on near-impossible missions that go against the grain of his party. It's the basis of his reputation as a maverick. But McCain has never been able to bring more than a handful of Republicans along with him on issues such as campaign finance reform or immigration. Democrats on the Hill have accepted McCain's help on some issues, but except for a few exceptions (John Kerry and Joe Lieberman), they've never warmed to him.

To achieve anything as president, McCain would have to win over two hostile parties: The Democrats and the Republicans.

Living in the Sixties
McCain is still fighting the Vietnam War. But he's not fighting the real historic war, which taught us the folly of injecting ourselves into a civil war that was none of our business. We learned that, in a world where even peasants have guns, explosives and radios, a determined and popular guerrilla force can defeat a modern army equipped with the mightiest technology if that army has no vital national interest to protect.

Instead, McCain is fighting an imaginary Vietnam War, where a sure victory could have been achieved with just a little more bombing, just a little more "pacification," just a little more will to win at home. This fantasy clouds McCain's judgment on foreign policy.
Most of the other high-profile politicians who fought in Vietnam -- Colin Powell, Chuck Hegel, John Kerry, and Jim Webb -- aren't stuck in the past, and they don't view the Iraq War as a chance to get Vietnam right.

No principles
After years of honing a reputation as a guy who'll say the truth regardless of the political consequences, McCain has crashed the Straight Talk Express. On almost every issue where he took a principled stand against the Republican line -- taxes, immigration, oil drilling, the Religious Right -- he's changed his views.

We ought to like politicians who change their mind when the facts change; it shows maturity, judgment and flexibility. But politicians who change their mind to suit the prevailing winds show the opposite.

The bottom line
Successful presidents come from two molds: visionaries, or mechanics. The visionaries -- think Reagan or FDR -- see what others can't and say 'Why not?" to inspire the country. The mechanics -- think LBJ or Eisenhower -- know the ins and outs of government and are able to harness the power of millions of humans to accomplish great things, or at least keep the wheels from coming off.

McCain fits neither style. He's neither a dreamer, nor a detail guy. His major accomplishment, in Vietnam and in the Senate, has been merely to survive.

Just surviving doesn't make you're a hero, or a decent president. America needs to do more than survive the next four years.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

South Korea Attacks Union Leaders

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak's Grand National Party (GNP) has consistently shown its fascist tendencies, but this time it has crossed the line unambiguously for all to see. The GNP, much like the us GOP (interestingly similar name in this time of globalization), has implemented a brutal anti-working class agenda for the past two decades. The majority of the leaders of the GNP had been leaders in previous reactionary parties including those which ran the country during the dictatorships of the 60's and 70's.

Now they are trying to destroy the labor movement in that country.

From LabourStart:
About ten days ago, the South Korean government issued arrest warrants for the leaders of the country's trade union movement. Among those named were the President, Vice President and General Secretary of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), as well as leaders of affiliated unions. The KCTU Vice President was arrested by police and she's now being held at the Youngdeungpo Police Station.

The others are still at large. Police have encircled the union headquarters in Seoul.

The “crime” these trade union leaders are accused of committing is this: in early July, they called for a general strike. The South Korean government, in defiance of universally recognized human rights standards (including ILO conventions) has decided that this strike was illegal.

The KCTU has asked us all to take a moment and send off a strong message of protest to the South Korean government. LabourStart has launched a major new online campaign to do precisely that. Please go here now to send off your message:

Monday, June 02, 2008

In Memory of Utah Phillips

I am very saddened by this news of Utah Phillips passing on May 23rd. If you've never heard of him or his music, you are truly missing out. Get your ears on these to start:

We Have Fed You All A Thousand Years, Utah PhillipsWe Have Fed You All A Thousand Years, Utah Phillips
Live collection of great IWW and other songs. One of the best renditions of Solidarity Forever I've heard.

Fellow Workers, Ani DiFranco + Utah PhillipsFellow Workers, Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips
Live. Some great stuff, well produced. The rendition of The Preacher & The Slave is priceless. Excellent instrumental rendition of The Internationale.

A recent article on Utah's passing:
Utah Phillips spoke directly to each of us in that filled auditorium on April 24 of this year. It didn’t matter that it was his disembodied voice, speaking over a cell phone held up to a microphone, held aloft by Pete Seeger, one of the event's headliners. The strength of Phillips' message was as clear as the vitality in his tone. I was happy to be there to hear his response to our benefit concert on his behalf, happier still to witness the warm exchange between he and Seeger, another elder of fighting the good fight.

But this room on that sunny spring day in Rosendale, New York was dedicated to Utah Phillips; we'd all come with the intention of helping this man who’d been there for the greater “us” for decades. He told us of his life and plans for the future. Sure, he sounded tired, but none could accept that he would not get through this challenge. He told us so. None would believe that he would pass away about a month later.

Damn, at least we can say that it took a lot to silence Utah. But the echo of his work rings loudly, as sonorous as the music onstage that day from Pete, Dar Williams, Redwood Moose, Sarah Underhill, Norm Wennet, Bill Vanaver, and my own band Flames of Discontent and others.

Phillips was born Bruce Duncan Phillips in Cleveland Ohio in 1935. Not simply because he was a Depression baby, not only due to the powerful example of his parents’ work in the militant labor movement, but perhaps due to a calling, Phillips decided early on that he would dedicate his time to social justice.

By the mid-1950s, he was a rambling veteran of the Korean War, damaged from the sights and sounds around him. Phillips was a drifter with a taste for drink. Ending up in Salt Lake City, 20 year-old Phillips arrived at the Joe Hill House, a shelter that was a part of the Catholic Worker movement facilitated by Ammon Hennacy, an anarchist and associate of noted humanist and socialist Dorothy Day.

Hennacy had a tremendous impact on the young Phillips, not only aiding him to get clean and focused, but by way of his radical beliefs and tales. Phillips absorbed these ideas and, adding in the influence of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Borscht Belt comedians, raconteurs and various country musicians, Phillips created “U,” Utah Phillips, the character whose life he’d maintain as his own throughout the decades. Hennacy also introduced Phillips to the Industrial Workers of the World and he became a life-long dues-paying member and activist with this global labor organization. He would later use many of Hennacy’s teachings and statements in his oratories, at once satiric, sentimental and revolutionary.

Though Phillips engaged in several noted career journeys (including an unsuccessful run in ‘68 for US Senate on the Peace and Freedom ticket), he will always be remembered as a folksinger. Making full use of the amazing heritage of song within the Wobbly repertoire, Phillips came to champion the IWW and their Little Red Songbooks. His rounded baritone adorned more than one collection of IWW recordings. In between writing many powerful originals songs such as “All Used Up,” Phillips brought to life the ballads of Joe Hill, Ralph Chaplin, T-Bone Slim and the “Unknown Proletariat,” who could have been most any of us. But he never failed to see the importance in the smallest of the small.

Oddly enough, Phillips became something of a cult figure with the college crowd in recent years. Two strong CDs with Ani DiFranco brought him a bit of notoriety, but he remained, well—Utah. Sometimes singing and fighting are just that interchangeable. Each time we lift up a guitar, put pen to paper, speak our mind or simply count our blessings, let’s pause a moment for Utah Phillips.

Pietaro, John. 31-May-08. Let's pause for Utah Phillips, 1935-2008. People's Weekly World.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Alvaro Uribe's Laptop Lies

It seems Colombian President Uribe's government is playing favorites when it comes to rebels, warlords and laptops. Perhaps his own allies dealings in drug trafficking would have been exposed if these laptops were open to public scrutiny.

Why on earth were known criminal, murdering, drug-dealing warlords - men known to have ordered the murders of thousands - even given laptops, blackberries etc. while in prison?

Perhaps because Uribe is and always has been involved with these drug dealers (at least according to the US intelligence community):
The release of a 13-year-old previously classified military intelligence document linking Colombia’s right-wing president Alvaro Uribe to drug traffickers has intensified the crisis of Washington’s most slavish supporter in Latin America.

A virtual “who’s who” of the Colombian cocaine trade, the report was issued by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 1991. It was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archives, a non-governmental research group based at George Washington University.

The document lists 104 of the “most important Colombian narcoterrorists contracted by the Colombian narcotics cartels for security, transportation, distribution, collection and enforcement of narcotics operations in both the US and Colombia.” Uribe appears as number 82 in this list of assassins and drug smugglers.

The confidential DIA report described Uribe in the following terms: “A Colombian politician and senator dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín Cartel at high government levels. Uribe was linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the US. His father was murdered in Colombia for his connection with the narcotics traffickers. Uribe has worked for the Medellín Cartel and is a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar Gaviría.” It added that Uribe had “attacked all forms of the extradition treaty” that Washington had sought to bring Colombian drug traffickers to trial in the US.

Van Auken, Bill. 05-Aug-2004. Colombia’s Uribe: US ally in “war on terror” named as drug trafficker.
Meanwhile the international press is eager to jump on any "evidence" Colombia releases which discredits FARC or any other leftist.

The corruption is disgusting.

From the AP:
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Laptop computers have proven evidentiary treasure troves of late for Colombian investigators probing far-right militias and leftist rebels.

So it amazed many to learn that authorities did not immediately secure the laptops and cell phones belonging to most of the 14 paramilitary warlords they yanked out of prison on May 12 and extradited to the United States to stand trial for drug trafficking.

The hard drive in warlord Ramiro Vanoy's laptop and three cell phone SIM cards - which store phone numbers and text messages - went missing from Itagui prison outside Medellin, where half of the extradited warlords were held.

And prosecutors are not yet able to say whether any of 10 seized computers were tampered with during the more than 48 hours that lapsed before prison officials handed them over to judicial investigators.

The apparent neglect - or worse - was especially striking given officials' recent handling of evidence found on other laptops.


"It's sabotage of important evidence, though you don't know whether it's ineptitude or done deliberately," Lopez said in a telephone interview.

After an uproar in Colombian media about the mishandled equipment, Vanoy's lawyer turned over on Friday what he said was the errant hard drive, "its seals of guarantee perfectly intact," according to the national prisons authority.


The laptops' presence in prison owe to their owners' unusual situation: the warlords surrendered under a 2003 peace pact that offered them reduced prison terms in exchange for their full cooperation in confessing to crimes. Many were using the machines to compile details of their transgressions.


Mancuso has implicated more politicians and military officers than any other paramilitary boss as criminal accomplices of the warlords, who seized control of Colombia's Caribbean coast beginning in the late 1990s, killing thousands and stealing millions of acres of land.

Many believe Mancuso had information in his laptop that could have incriminated more of his partners in crime and correctly suspected his extradition could be imminent when President Alvaro Uribe extradited a first paramilitary warlord on May 7 after receiving a court's go-ahead.


Chief Prosecutor Mario Iguaran's office provided the following update Tuesday on the paramilitaries' legacy: 1,492 bodies of victims have been recovered from common graves and demobilized fighters have confessed to 5,841 crimes.

It said it believes another 4,000 common graves remain to be unearthed.

Bajak, Frank. 28-May-08. Warlords' laptops: not handled with care. Wired News.

China in Africa by Richard Behar

China is leveraging its Communist political legacy and 3rd world status, as well as its surging financial muscle, to compete head-to-head with the Western neo-colonials in Africa. Specifically China has gotten in on the resource grab for oil, timber, copper and other minerals which the US and European powers have been engaged in for well nigh a century.

There are signs, depending always on the quality of the local leadership, that the overall model may have longer lasting positive effects such as infrastructure and hospital projects, there are signs that China is even more exploitative of the African workers than the Westerners.

This is the most disturbing aspects, that China is using its credentials as a nation exploited by Western colonizers to gain leverage with African nations sharing a similar history. However, based on this article, it is not applying socialist principles to those efforts but instead applying the most brutal capitalist exploitive model possible on the ground against local workers. Behar even suggests that there are reports that Chinese workers imported to Africa are convicts, essentially slave labor.

This is especially sad in the case of countries like Zambia where during the 70s workers enjoyed cradle-to-grave security based on an extensive welfare state funded by nationalized mineral wealth, a model the western powers could not abide for long and one that the Chinese government, at least for now, seems uninterested in resurrecting.

Below is an excerpt from an incredible article by the tenacious journalist Richard Behar which appeared in, of all places, Fast Company magazine. I highly recommend you take the time to read the article:

An unfathomably vast terrain comprising 49 nations, the sub-Sahara represents nearly one-fifth of the earth's landmass. Yet its total economy is tinier than Florida's. Here, 300 million people get by on less than $1 a day. Until they don't: It is the planet's biggest tomb, where compared to the 1960s, twice as many children under the age of 5 are now dying each day from disease; a bottomless badland where $500 billion of Western aid since World War II (more than four Marshall Plans) has barely made a dent in the poverty; a region whose market share of world trade is shrinking by the hour as it gets left behind, perhaps permanently, in the dust of globalization; a place so desperate for everything -- cash, trade, investment, infrastructure -- and so powerless to negotiate strategically, that it's pretty much up for sale to the highest bidder.


In describing China's exploits, it's tempting to evoke the image of a benign, postcolonial West being outfoxed by a ruthless and unscrupulous neo-communist power. Don't bother. The American track record in modern Africa has been deplorable -- a half-century of backing strongmen, turning a blind eye, and taking what we can get with little or no regard for the health or welfare of the locals. So no, this is not an update about the Yellow Peril, although no shortage of U.S. officials see China's safari as precisely that. Instead, this is a story about an economic model of exploitation that is at once formidably efficient and tragically flawed, about a planet that's being consumed by those who live on its surface. Today's global economy has an insatiable need for raw materials. That's as true for China's rise as it is true for the maintenance of America's economy. With China exporting some 40% of its GDP, Americans need to understand that behind that Made in China tag at Wal-Mart is a mutually reinforcing death spiral. We are beginning to overwhelm our host.


Equatorial Guinea is less a country than a corrupt, extended-family business that cooked up its own national anthem. And the American oil industry has been singing along for years, cuddling up as much as necessary (and with barely any competition) to Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the 66-year-old despot who has ruled this backwater since 1979. Smaller than El Paso, Texas, E.G. has nevertheless managed to get itself at or near the top of just about every shameful list in the world -- from the most-censored countries (according to the Committee to Protect Journalists) to the most corrupt (Transparency International) to the worst places to do business (the World Bank). Geoffrey Wood, a business professor at the U.K.'s University of Sheffield and coauthor of The Ethical Business, concluded in his own 2004 study of E.G. that the country is a "criminal state" that matches or exceeds the "rapacity and brutality" of the Duvaliers' Haiti, Somoza's Nicaragua, and Batista's Cuba. Despite an economy with the highest average annual growth rate in the world (21%) since 2001, more than half of the population lacks access to potable water and electricity. The UN says E.G. shows the greatest disparity on earth between per capita income ($50,000, surpassed only by Luxembourg) and human welfare (most of E.G.'s citizens live on less than $1 a day).

Behar, Richard. June-2008. China in Africa: Part I. Fast Company.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Longshoremen May Day Strike

Happy May Day!
“We’re standing up for America, we’re supporting the troops, and we’re telling politicians that it’s time to end the Iraq war now!” longshore union workers say.

More than 25,000 longshore workers at 29 west coast ports are exercising their First Amendment rights today by taking a day off work and calling for an end to the war in Iraq.

“Longshore workers are standing-down on the job and standing up for America,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath. “We’re supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it’s time to end the war in Iraq.”

McEllrath says rank-and-file members made their own democratic decision in early February when Longshore Caucus delegates voted to take action on May 1. Employers were notified of the plan, but refused to accommodate the union’s request despite plenty of advance notice. The employer group, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) consists of large carriers and port operators, most of which are foreign-owned.

“Big foreign corporations that control global shipping aren’t loyal or accountable to any country,” said McEllrath. “For them it’s all about making money. But longshore workers are different. We’re loyal to America, and we won’t stand by while our country, our troops, and our economy are destroyed by a war that’s bankrupting us to the tune of 3-trillion dollars. It’s time to stand up, and we’re doing our part today.”

01-May-2008. Dockworkers protest Iraq war, stay off job on May 1. People's Weekly World Newspaper.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

300,000 March in Support of Chavez

While the capitalist press runs stories about small protests against Chavez in various parts of the world, on April 11th, over 300,000 march in support of the socialist revolution in Caracas:
Under the banner, “Never again will the people be betrayed,” some three hundred thousand people rallied outside the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on Sunday in a massive show of support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The rally was held to celebrate the anniversary of the popular uprising that defeated a US-backed opposition coup from April 11-13 in 2002, and restored the democratically elected Chavez to power.

Janicke, Kiraz. 15-Apr-2008. Massive Show Of Support For Venezuelan President Chavez On Coup Anniversary. VA.

Why Did William Fallon Resign?

The commander of U.S. forces engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan resigned Friday. He was denied testifying along with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to Congress. Why? He disagreed with the Bush Administration and publicly stated that there would be no war with Iran "on his watch."

From the Voice of America:
The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa stepped down Friday, after just a year in command, following allegations he had disagreed with the Bush Administration on some key policies. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the headquarters of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

It was the last day in command for Admiral William Fallon, and it came several months earlier than expected. The Florida sunshine, dress uniforms and upbeat music could not mask the fact that this ceremony was not expected to happen until later in the year, or even next year. That changed when Admiral Fallon was depicted in an Esquire magazine article earlier this month as the only man standing between the United States and war with Iran.

Indeed, Admiral Fallon did say several months ago that war rhetoric from some members of the White House staff was not helpful in his effort to ease tensions in the Middle East. And he has publicly opposed some other key policies, including, initially, the surge of U.S. forces into Iraq.

Pessin, Al. 28-Mar-2008. US Middle East Commander Steps Down After Controversy. Voice of America.

Monday, April 14, 2008

After Long Struggle, Maoists Win in Nepal

From Asia Times, M K Bhadrakumar:
The South Asian political landscape will never be the same again following the Maoist victory march in Nepal's elections to a new 601-seat constituent Assembly last Thursday. It may take several days before the election results are fully known, but available trends indicate that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is surging ahead. By Monday, the Maoists had secured 89 of the total declared 162 seats for which results were declared.

The established mainstream parties, such as the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) are trailing far behind. The royalists, who rooted for the perpetuation of the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy, have been routed. A distinct possibility arises that the Maoists will secure a simple majority and lead the next government - an extraordinary feat for the former rebels who gave up a decade-long armed struggle and took to the democratic path hardly two years ago.

The impact is bound to be far-reaching on Nepal's political economy, South Asia's political landscape and the geopolitics of the region. Thursday's elections are primarily aimed at forming a constituent assembly to determine the contours of Nepal's political system. The results signify that the country is irrevocably set on the path of republicanism. Even the limited role of a constitutional monarchy seems out of the question.

The results signify pervasive popular disenchantment with the established political parties. Most expert commentators have to explain their lapse in not foreseeing such an outburst of popular opinion. Clearly, the people have voted for change. The groundswell of support for Maoists is fairly widespread, cutting across regions. Claiming victory, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (popularly called Prachanda) said his party's victory was a mandate for lasting peace, implementation of the democratic republic and rapid economic development. He frontally addressed the intriguing question: "People are asking, 'What is this Maoist party?' And the international community is asking, 'What will happen after the Maoists win?' All these fears are unnecessary."

Prachanda held out the assurance that his party's agenda would be to work with other political parties during the transition period. "We will establish greater national unity with all political parties after the election," he added. The Maoists received commendation from an unexpected quarter when former US president Jimmy Carter, who led a team of foreign observers, stated at a press conference in Kathmandu on Saturday his conviction that the former rebels were every bit wedded to the democratic path.

The poorest country in South Asia has suddenly catapulted itself to the vanguard of democratic reform and political transformation in the region. India, which basks in the glory of its democratic way of life, at once looks a little bit archaic and tired in comparison. After 60 years of uninterrupted democratic pluralism, vast sections of Indian society are yet to realize the potentials of political empowerment. The Nepalese people have come from behind and overtaken the Indians in expanding the frontiers of "bourgeois" politics.

Politics in India still meander through alleys of caste and parochialism and eddies of religious obscurantism and Hindu nationalism. The upper-caste Hindu elites in Nepal used to share social kinships with the Indian political elites. The Maoists have upturned Nepal's entrenched caste politics. The Indian electorate is yet to explore in full measure ideology-based secular political empowerment, which is the bedrock of democratic self-rule. Unsurprisingly, India's main opposition party, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which thrives on Hindu fundamentalism, has been stunned into silence. It feels let down that a country that it dearly cherished as the world's only "Hindu kingdom" has taken to secular democracy with such panache.

The Maoist government will proceed to dismantle the pillars of Nepal's feudal structure and will take recourse to radical economic and political reforms based on distributive justice and egalitarian principles. That is bound to catch the attention of impoverished Indians in the sub-Himalayan belt sooner or later. The Indian states (provinces) bordering Nepal are notorious for their misgovernance.

The Maoist victory in Nepal poses a challenge to the Indian establishment as well. Delhi is distinctly lukewarm about the prospect of an outright Maoist victory. The Indian establishment traditionally works with the Nepali Congress. Some elements within the establishment view with disquiet the prospect of the Maoists galvanizing revolutionary movements within India. Conceivably, Delhi didn't anticipate a tidal wave of popular will favoring the Maoists in Nepal.

All the same, Delhi allowed the democratic process in Nepal to take its course. It could not but take a keen interest in Nepalese politics and a completely "hands-off" approach was unrealistic to expect, but the real question was of not being intrusive to the point of interfering in Nepal's internal affairs. In the event, Delhi kept cool and maintained a delicate balance - watching developments closely while keeping a decent distance and reserving options to adapt to circumstances. However, a period of adjustment to the new political realities in Kathmandu becomes necessary and a thorough revamping of policy directions is inevitable. Nepal is far too important a neighbor for India. Its rapidly growing relations with China add to Delhi's policy calculus.

China's policy towards Nepal is not ideology driven insofar as Beijing kept in view the imperatives of inter-state relations almost until the end of King Gyanendra's direct rule. But Beijing swiftly adapted to the emergent democratic forces in Nepal with great pragmatism and forged working relations with all political parties, including the Maoists. China's interest in Nepal has increased almost exponentially. The overarching geopolitical reality is that the United States has become hyperactive in Nepalese politics. The developments in Tibet have added a further dimension. Tibetan activists in Nepal have been particularly strident.

Much depends on Prachanda's priorities. The Maoist leader has time and again shown he is not a dogmatist wedded to textbook Marxism and will give primacy to the implementation of his reform agenda. He has proved to be a brilliant tactician. He will tap into all available goodwill in Delhi and Beijing to the extent that his agenda of Nepal's rapid economic development benefits.

In his first post-election comments, Prachanda said Nepal will develop "new relations" with the Indian leadership. He stressed the close cultural and historical links between the two countries and pointed out it is "quite important" to have good neighborly relations with India. "A good understanding with Delhi can create a new basis of unity with India," he said.

But he clarified that Nepal will maintain equidistance between India and China in political terms. Beijing is certain to respond to him, given the criticality of Nepal to Tibet's security and stability. If China's Central Asia policy is anything to go by, it will put big money on the table in Nepal in the coming period so as to keep at bay the three "evils" - terrorism, religious extremism and separatism.

Besides, Nepal is resource-rich. There are any number of areas such as development of infrastructure, hydroelectric power or the manufacturing industry, where Nepal offers attractive business opportunities for enterprising Chinese firms. Nepal can also be a gateway to the Indian market.

The advent of the Maoists to power in Kathmandu, therefore, confronts Delhi with a creative challenge. The old days are gone when Delhi could take a complacent view that come what may, Kathmandu would remain wedded to cultivating Indian goodwill. The need arises now for Delhi to be proactive, efficient and competitive. China's "soft power" in Nepal is already very considerable, while Nepal is no exception to the latent "anti-Indianism" common to India's neighboring countries.

Any Indian assumption that Nepal is its security backyard or that it should be within India's "sphere of influence" will be untenable. If Delhi resorts to pressure tactics, sensing that the Maoists have a long way to go to consolidate their grip on political power, it might prove counterproductive.

On the other hand, the lengthening shadow of Chinese influence in Nepal should act as a spur goading India into creative diplomacy. Having said that, India is still left with vast leverage over Nepal spread over several inter-locking planes - geography, culture and common ethos, shared history, economic and social linkages, etc - and there is no real need to panic.

Almost certainly, the Maoists will want to jettison the 1950 treaty of peace and friendship with India, which they consistently viewed as an unequal framework. Equally, Delhi is conscious of the treaty's growing irrelevance, even though the treaty provides significant trade and transit advantages to landlocked Nepal and the Maoists, once in power, may come to better appreciate that. No doubt, the renegotiation of the treaty will bring to the fore the new impulses of the three-way equations involving India, Nepal and China.

Nepal has proved to be an unhappy experience for the United States and India in their newfound interest to coordinate and harmonize their regional policies. While India managed to keep its options open in a developing situation, the US policy finds itself in a cul-de-sac. It was predicated on the naive belief that Nepal could be made a geopolitical pressure point on China's soft underbelly. Nepal becomes the latest link in the chain of the George W Bush administration's foreign policy misadventures. The Maoists of Nepal still figure in the US State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

But Prachanda may offer Washington an exit strategy without loss of face. Responding to the media on Sunday, he said, "Yesterday, I had a very serious discussion with former US president Jimmy Carter, and I raised this question [of Washington regarding the Maoists as terrorists] ... It seems ridiculous to me."

M K Bhadrakumar. 15-Apr-2008. Nepal triggers Himalayan avalanche. Asia Times.