Sunday, December 11, 2005

Holiday Levity

The US leaves repressive totalitarian governments alone untill they start messing with other countries and violating the soveriegn rights of other nations.

The US supports repressive totalitarian governments so long as there is money to made, period. Any time a government--any government--interferes with this, efforts are made to "correct" it. This could mean diplomatic or economic coercion--or straight military intervention, in cases where a pretext can be employed to support it. "Democracy" does not enter into the equation, except as a an obstacle to be avoided, since ordinary people in large numbers have shown a historic incapacity to put the needs of private enterprise ahead of their own. In this respect, strong-arm dictators are much easier to enter into "constructive" dialogue with than any diffuse population.

You do not understand why we try to impose Democracy on others untill you live in one of these totalitarian countries. When your door gets kicked down in the middle of the night you really apprieciate freedom.

In that case why not "impose democracy" in China instead of celebrating their lack of basic freedom as an "opportunity" to make money? Contrary to popular mythology, "democracy" is not the inevitable result of economic growth. For reasons that should not be hard to discern, Western elites like to believe that as their profit margins increase under any given circumstance, so does the general wonderfulness of life on planet earth for everyone else. Since they own the media, this is the message that they choose to repeat again and again for our benefit.

The American business community does not care about "democracy"--after all, they are the ones who own the country, fund political campaigns, staff the executive, and in other ways preclude it here at home. They care about making money. So long as Hussein, Noriega, and other tyrants help us make money, they are our good friends. As soon as they become the least bit disobedient or disruptive to our interests, they are replaced. This is history of American foreign policy in a nutshell--easily verifiable should anyone bother looking at the (not secret) documentary record.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Shared Laughs w/ a Republican

Speaking of people dying, socialism and communism did wonders for the poor in the 20th century. Famine killed 20 million in Russia and 30 million in China because of a lack of private industry and competition.

"Socialism" coming out of Stalin's mouth had about as much authenticity as "Democracy" coming out of Bush's. Or do you take it as an article of faith that everything that comes out of a dictator's mouth is the Gospel truth? Every system of power employs a noble purpose to justify its rule. And the fact is, "socialism" is a purpose that has wide appeal in most of the world. The fact that many systems continue to exploit it as a concept--e.g., China--tells us zero about how the system is actually run.

Sort of like "capitalism" here, as you've already pointed out--capitalism with a huge public sector which interferes with markets on behalf of investors, subsidizes the wealthy, precludes competition, etc. The reason you can't "get rid of the inefficient government" is because "the capitalists" rely on it for survival. Good luck trying to raise that issue at the Republican convention.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Hugo Chavez and "21st Century Socialism"

I'm all for popular sovereignty and economic independence, but my impression is that demagoguery and the personalization of issues only undermines the full realization of these goals; it does not complement them. The emphasis should be on what Venezuelans, etc., are doing to create a viable alternative to neoliberalism--not on what their self-involved figureheads tell them they should be doing.

It may be that Chavez's policies--like Castro's--are widely supported by his constituency. The question in my mind is the degree to which these policies have been developed through popular participation vs. a top-down sort of authoritarianism with little meaningful input from the average citizen. Even if the outcome is the same, I do not believe the two enjoy equal justification.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Intelligent Design?
by Noam Chomsky

from ZNet
An old-fashioned conservative would believe in the value of Enlightenment ideals — rationality, critical analysis, freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry — and would try to adapt them to a modern society. The Founding Fathers, children of the Enlightenment, championed those ideals and took pains to create a Constitution that espoused religious freedom yet separated church and state. The United States, despite the occasional messianism of its leaders, isn’t a theocracy.

In our time, the Bush administration’s hostility to scientific inquiry puts the world at risk. Environmental catastrophe, whether you think the world has been developing only since Genesis or for eons, is far too serious to ignore. In preparation for the G8 summit this past summer, the scientific academies of all G8 nations (including the US National Academy of Sciences), joined by those of China, India and Brazil, called on the leaders of the rich countries to take urgent action to head off global warming.

"The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify prompt action," their statement said. "It is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now, to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions."

In its lead editorial, The Financial Times endorsed this "clarion call," while observing: "There is, however, one holdout, and unfortunately it is to be found in the White House where George W. Bush insists we still do not know enough about this literally world-changing phenomenon."
Toward a Community Standard

..."[O]ur critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our [health] coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance..."

-- Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart executive vice president for benefits

Sunday, November 06, 2005


from The Financial Times
According to what many in financial circles will regard a heretical piece of research by Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, materialistic goals may even cause dissatisfaction with life and mental disorders such as paranoia.

...Explaining the benefits of experiences over possessions, he said they tended to be unique, whereas a house or a car is likely to become the norm very quickly.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

US Plans for a Post-Castro Cuba

from The Financial Times
US planning for Cuba's “transition” after the demise of Fidel Castro has entered a new stage, with a special office for reconstruction inside the US State Department preparing for the “day after”, when Washington will try to back a democratic government in Havana.

The inter-agency effort, which also involves the Defense Department, recognises that the Cuba transition may not go peacefully and that the US may have to launch a nation-building exercise.

...Officials say the US would not “accept” a handover of power from Mr Castro, who is 79, to his brother Raul, aged 74. While it is not clear what the US position means, Mr McCarry stressed the US would not “impose” its help.

Monday, October 31, 2005

On Economic Growth

from Foreign Affairs
Among the developed countries, the United States has been doing well in the growth sweepstakes -- or so you might assume if you focused exclusively on GDP. GDP statistics, however, can be very misleading. They do not really measure how well the country is doing or how much better off its citizens are becoming.

No one would look at just a firm's revenues to assess how well it was doing. Far more relevant is the balance sheet, which shows assets and liabilities. That is also true for a country. Argentina grew rapidly in the early 1990s, mainly as a result of a huge consumption binge financed by international borrowing. But that growth was not sustainable and was not sustained. Similarly, the United States has been borrowing heavily from abroad, at the rate of $2 billion a day. It would be one thing if this were being spent on high-productivity investment. In fact, it has been used to finance increases in consumption and massive tax cuts for upper-income Americans.

Consider the following thought experiment: If you could choose which country to live in but would be assigned an income randomly from within that country's income distribution, would you choose the country with the highest GDP per capita? No. More relevant to that decision is median income (the income level that 50 percent of the population is below and 50 percent is above). As the income distribution becomes increasingly skewed, with an increasing share of the wealth and income in the hands of those at the top, the median falls further and further below the mean. That is why, even as per capita GDP has been increasing in the United States, U.S. median household income has actually been falling.

There are other reasons why someone might not want to look at just per capita GDP. He might worry about his security. What happens if he gets ill? If he loses his job? What happens when he retires? He might worry about crime. He might worry about the quality of his children's schooling. How do his children fare in competition with those who can afford the best schooling that money can buy or with those in countries such as Singapore that offer a first-rate public education? He might worry about the environment. Are there government regulations prohibiting arsenic in the water?

When viewed through these lenses, the United States does not look as good. There are some dimensions in which it is outpacing others -- for instance, it boasts five to ten times the per capita prison population of other advanced industrialized countries and more working hours per week. It also has less job security, worse unemployment insurance, and fewer people covered by health insurance.

To be sure, the American dream still attracts millions from around the world. But some of that attraction may be based on a lingering myth of upward mobility in the United States and an underappreciation of the difficulties that confront the poor. And although there is still no comparing the U.S. standard of living and that of poor countries, these are not the laurels on which one wants to rest.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"Workers Win on Gulf Coast Pay Cuts"

from Working Families e-Activist Network, AFL-CIO
Faced with massive public outrage, President George W. Bush is restoring wages he cut for the construction workers who will rebuild the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast.

Right after Hurricane Katrina hit, President Bush signed an executive order allowing federal contractors to pay substandard wages to construction workers who will rebuild the Gulf Coast—workers who already had lost so much and were struggling to rebuild their lives and their communities.

But you and other working family activists made the difference. You sent more than 350,000 messages to Congress and the White House—and it worked: 37 House Republicans urged the White House to reverse the suspension, and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) led unanimous opposition by Democrats to the president’s suspension.

We won. Gulf Coast workers won. President Bush is lifting his pay cut as of Nov. 8.

Now he must reinstate affirmative action requirements for contractors in the Gulf and end his attempts to slash programs for working families while adding new tax breaks for the rich—we’ll keep working on that and, of course, ask you to do your part.

You are a powerful force for working families. Thank you for restoring decent pay for Gulf Coast workers.
PUP Where We Belong

via LabourStart UK

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wal-Mart Proposes Raising the Minimum Wage

from The Wall Street Journal
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Chief Executive Lee Scott, whose company has become synonymous with low prices and, critics say, low pay, called on Congress to consider raising the minimum wage.

In a speech to Wal-Mart directors and executives, Mr. Scott unveiled a series of initiatives designed to present a kinder, gentler face for the world's biggest retailer, which has come under stepped-up criticism for everything from its wages and benefits to its impact on small businesses.

Mr. Scott also discussed a new health-care package with lower premiums for Wal-Mart workers, and he touted the retailer's efforts to cut pollution.

Whether it is jobs, health care, product sourcing or environmental impact, "it is clear to me that in order to build a 21st century company, we need to view these same issues in a different light," Mr. Scott said in his speech yesterday. He added that he has spent the better part of last year exploring ways to use the company's heft and resources to have a more positive impact on society.

The proposal to lift minimum wage is particularly likely to raise eyebrows. Though Wal-Mart pays above the current $5.15 an hour minimum wage -- the average hourly wage among its 1.3 million U.S. workers is just under $10 an hour -- some of its smaller competitors don't pay as much. As a result, a boost in the minimum wage could pressure the profitability of Wal-Mart competitors.

"This makes it look like they're doing something for labor, but with little cost to themselves," says Lawrence Katz, professor of economics at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

But Mr. Scott, noting that minimum wage hasn't changed in almost a decade, described Wal-Mart's core customer base as finding it increasingly difficult to afford basic necessities between paychecks.

"We simply believe it is time for Congress to take a look at the minimum wage and other legislation that can help working families," he said.

Mr. Scott delivered his speech on the eve of the company's annual two-day conference for analysts at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters. Analysts likely will want to know how the company plans to achieve some of these goals while containing costs and jump- starting sales.

In energy-saving moves that will save Wal-Mart money, Mr. Scott said the company plans to increase the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet -- among the largest in the country -- by 25% in the next three years. It also will invest a total of $500 million annually exploring technological advances to reduce greenhouse gases 20% during the next seven years and sharing its findings with others, including competitors.

In addition, Wal-Mart said it will show preference to factories in China that participate in a "green company program" it is helping to design and to suppliers who address their own contribution to global warming.

"Wal-Mart now sees the need to raise environmental standards and that is promising, but will they adapt tough voluntary standards and press suppliers to do the same?" said Fred Krupp, president of the New York-based Environmental Defense, a large environmental group active in global-warming issues.

Mr. Krupp added: "If they do, it could be very big."

Critics also have taken Wal-Mart to task for its health benefits; less than half its workers are enrolled in a company-offered health plan, partially because of the cost of the premiums.

Mr. Scott elaborated on a new health-plan option for financially strapped workers. It costs approximately $23 a month for an individual, about $17 less than the cheapest previous plan. But workers will be covered for three visits to the doctor and three generic prescriptions under the new plan before a $1,000 deductible kicks in.

The previous plan required the deductible payment to be met first.

"They are simply repackaging an old bad policy and calling it a fairer plan," said Paul Blank, campaign director of, an activist campaign run by the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Philly transit strike: Don't ignore union's argument

After reading many concerned letters to the Metro regarding a possible strike by SEPTA workers, it occurred to me that I was basically ignorant of the union's position on the matter. So I went to their website, located at According to the union's president, Jeffery Brooks--and contrary to SEPTA claims--his members have paid for health care all along, not only in terms of copays for hospital, doctor, and prescription privileges, but also by accepting reduced salary compensation (and numerous other concessions) in exchange for a strong health care plan. This paints a very different picture than the one commonly held of greedy bus drivers holding the city hostage because they think they are "better" than everyone else--a caricature that can be maintained only when we ignore their side of argument.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

There is a dimension to the pro-life position which seems attractive to people because it puts them in a position of judgment over others, as if this alone is a solution.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

One Party Removed from Totalitarianism

from A Tiny Revolution
I used to joke that the Soviet Union collapsed because they only had one communist party. They'd still be around if they'd been smart enough to have two communist parties that were exactly alike on every issue except abortion.
Pentagon Leaders Express Doubt over Iraq Occupation

from The Wall Street Journal
In a major shift, many American civilian and military leaders have concluded that the insurgency can only be defeated politically. The best way to take some steam out of the insurgency and boost the growth of a credible home-grown government is to begin withdrawing troops, these officials argue. To be sure, they don't want a precipitous withdrawal, but they think a lower profile over time would ease some problems.

The large American military presence in Iraq "feeds the notion of occupation" and "extends the amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant," Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress last week. Gen. John Abizaid, a fluent speaker of Arabic and the top American commander in the Middle East, said at the same hearing that it was vital for the U.S. to gradually "reduce our military footprint" in the region. "We must make clear to the people of the region that we have no designs on their territory and resources," he added.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Confronting Racism

It seems to me that those of us who are concerned with addressing racism in our society should begin by listening to the grievances of those who are most affected by it, and work to ensure that their opinions about what might help the situation are taken seriously. All too often I find the discussion turns to the preoccupations of white people over how things should be done, who should pay for what and under what conditions, objections to minority leadership, and large quantities of time and energy devoted to examining any inconveniences that may befall whites in pursuing such concerns. In other words, racism plays heavily in the efforts to address racism. This is why I think it's important to defer some authority to minority groups in coming up with the solutions that can best help them, with everyone else playing a supporting role.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Communists reemerge in Afghanistan, this time with US support?

from (via Angry Arab)
Peter Dimitroff, the country director of the National Democratic Institute, a leading, mostly US-funded NGO, ''appreciates the irony in his organization's support for former communist groups. ''We support all registered parties, but we support some in a deeper fashion. We like groups that get together on the basis of ideas not ethnicity or geographical background. That is why we are supporting groups like the communists with US money, which is kind of funny . . . They are good guys and well organized. They are the closest to a professional political party you can get."

In the traditionalist and highly conservative Afghan political context, the former communists are openly ''women-friendly," fielding a sizeable number of female candidates. Given the party's gender equity policy, it is hardly surprising that some of the leading women on the political scene have a communist affiliation. And the female quota -- which stipulates that 25 percent of the parliamentary seats will have to be filled by women even though they make up only 10 percent of the candidates' pool -- will undoubtedly boost not only female but also communist representation in parliament.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Race and Katrina, cont.

I noticed the posting from Sept. 6th. It's been my feeling that the failings (at least in regards to dealing with post-Katrina) were class motivated rather then race motivated. I recognize that the majoritty of the poor are black, or hispanic. (And boy did they lose out, since there were no spanish language warnings issued at all.) Still my thoughts are that it's because they are poor not because of their race that they were ignored and left to die. I'm not ignoring the fact that racism caused poverty for minorities in the south and elsewhere, I just think that poverty is the bigger problem since the expectation was, "Issue the warning and people will evacuate themselves."

I agree with your observations; I simply presume that racism has an intrinsic class dimension; after all, you can't really talk about one without implying the other.

I don't believe the motivation behind the Katrina response-failure was anything other than a concerted lack of motivation. I think that's where racism played a central role: it was a situation where the people who suffered and died were predominantly poor and non-white, while those with the authority to help them were predominantly neither. As such, the outcome should not be entirely surprising. I don't think it needs to presuppose any conscious dislike for the poor or minorities. These groups simply have no voice in the executive branch as it is currently administered; subsequently their needs--in this case their lives--do not constitute a high priority unless some compelling political reason (e.g., scandal) can justify it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

No-bid reconstruction contracts awarded for Katrina, Iraq-style; Bechtel, Halliburton among winners

from The Wall Street Journal:
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is importing many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq as it begins the largest and costliest rebuilding effort in U.S. history.

The first large-scale contracts related to Hurricane Katrina, as in Iraq, were awarded without competitive bidding, and using so-called cost-plus provisions that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend.

Contracts for temporary housing have been awarded to politically connected companies like Fluor Corp. and Bechtel National Inc., a unit of Bechtel Group Inc., leading congressional Democrats to renew charges of cronyism they first leveled when the firms won lucrative work in Iraq.

In response, there have been bipartisan calls in Congress to establish a new government agency to manage the Louisiana rebuilding, and possibly have it run by a pro
minent figure such as former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani or former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Separately, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) yesterday said she supported the creation of an "antifraud commission" to oversee government contracts issued in response to the disaster.

Some are questioning as well whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- which has a small procurement staff responsible for spending a relatively tiny amount of federal money each year -- is capable of effectively disbursing tens of billions of dollars.

In Iraq, several audits found that contracting problems were exacerbated by overworked and inexperienced government procurement officers who weren't up to the difficult work they were entrusted to carry out.

"You can easily compare FEMA's internal resources to what you saw in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq: a small, underfunded organization taking on a Herculean task under tremendous time pressure," said Steven Schooner, a contracting expert at George Washington University law school in Washington. "That is almost by definition a recipe for disaster."

FEMA already is under fire for its poor initial response to Katrina. Its chief, Michael Brown, was removed on Friday as head of the direct relief effort.

Officials at the agency, a division of the sprawling Department of Homeland Security, said they are up to the task of ensuring that the money will be spent efficiently. "FEMA has extensive experience in acquiring the products and services required to make sure that the support needed in response and recovery operations is secured quickly to meet the needs of disaster victims," said James McIntyre, a spokesman for the agency.

In Iraq, audits have uncovered evidence that hundreds of millions of dollars were misspent by some contractors willing to stretch or break rules, while government officials were unwilling or unable to prevent abuses. Government reports have detailed systemic management failings, lax or nonexistent oversight and alleged fraud and embezzlement by officials charged with administering the rebuilding, as well as questionable activities by the contractors they employed. For example, audits have found evidence of procurement officers paying contractors twice for the same work and spending tens of millions of dollars with little to no documentation.

Officials from Bechtel and Fluor declined to discuss comparisons between their work in Iraq and the Gulf Coast. Bechtel spokesman Howard Menaker said the company's deal with the government was still being finalized and declined to comment further.
A Fluor spokesman referred questions to FEMA.

The administration has allocated more than $62 billion to the regions hit by Katrina, and the final price tag is expected to soar to more than $100 billion. Already, at least seven contracts have been awarded for the post-Katrina effort. The Army Corps of Engineers late last week announced a $100 million deal with Shaw Group Inc. of Baton Rouge, La., for relief operations including the pumping of flood water out of New Orleans. Halliburton Co.'s Kellogg, Brown & Root unit, also prominent in the Iraq reconstruction effort, is doing repair work at three U.S. Navy facilities in Mississippi as part of an existing Pentagon contract.

FEMA, meanwhile, has announced four major contracts with firms charged with providing emergency housing relief in storm-battered areas of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. The $100 million contracts with Bechtel, Fluor, Shaw Group and Denver-based CH2M Hill Cos. were awarded after what FEMA described as "limited competition." FEMA also recently hired Houston-based Kenyon Worldwide Disaster Management to collect human remains in the disaster zone. FEMA didn't announce the total of that contract, and Kenyon didn't respond to requests to comment.

All the deals include cost-plus language, which means the companies can pass along all their costs -- plus a predetermined profit -- to the government. Similar provisions were routinely used in Iraq. Critics said they encouraged waste by removing any incentive to control costs.

FEMA officials and outside contracting experts said no-bid contracting and cost-plus language have been used in prior disasters to speed the government's ability to get contractors on the ground and in place as fast as possible. They said cost-plus, in particular, is required after disasters like Katrina because it is difficult, if not impossible, for the government to know exactly how big the relief and rebuilding efforts ultimately will be.

FEMA has been given primary responsibility for spending the more than $50 billion in aid approved by lawmakers last week, which means it will be the lead contracting agency for months to come. That gives it a responsibility well beyond its normal role in past disasters. The agency has never before been asked to disburse money at the level that it will for Katrina. Of the $305 billion spent on federal-government procurement in fiscal year 2003, FEMA accounted for $87 million. The agency already has spent many times that in the Katrina aftermath.

Unlike in Iraq, where an inspector general is tasked solely with probing reconstruction contracts, FEMA has said oversight for the Katrina relief effort will be provided by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general.

Several Democrats and outside experts have raised additional questions about how the government spends the money allocated for Katrina relief. A provision in the latest Katrina relief bill temporarily raised the spending limit on government credit cards used for Katrina-related purchases to $250,000 from $15,000 per transaction, to allow officials to buy needed supplies more quickly than if they went through normal procurement channels.

Numerous audits have found that the government lacks adequate controls to prevent misuse of such cards. In 2000, for instance, a probe by the General Accounting Office, now the Government Accountability Office, found that government credit cards in two California Navy units had been used for more than $660,000 in fraudulent or questionable purchases of personal goods ranging from jewelry to pizza. The report by Congress's investigative arm found that government employees bought numerous objects of "questionable government need" like $2,500 flat-panel computer monitors.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Liberal Media?

I happen to agree that there is media bias, but it simply reflects a corporate structure of organization, incorporating both the "liberal" and "conservative" views of the owners and managers, the market (advertisers), and the product (audiences). The problem is that the centralized nature of corporate institutions does not allow local media to be reflective of their populations, as local networks essentially adapt to national formats: Conservative communities get the same news liberal communities do, and both are infuriated by whatever they disagree with, invariably leading to charges of bias. (Naturally, nobody notices what they do agree with, since that's just "unbiased reporting.") The fact that this ubiquitous gripe comes from boths sides by people watching the same networks and programs should tell you something about what is happening, and it has nothing to do any particular political hegemony other than whatever range of perspectives you would expect to get from the business interests who own and control them. If we want representative media, I would suggest we shift ownership and control to the communities that media serve, and away from centralized institutions which impose one format on everyone.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Racism in the Katrina Aftermath

In correspondence with Republicans...

The society is racist, but that does not mean, as a society, we are conceptually committed to racism; on the contrary, we are explicitly opposed to it. The racism that exists in our communities and institutions is mainly a function of unequal power relationships based on race, which most of us tend to deny or ignore, or at any rate fail to actively resist. It does not help that whatever (perhaps imperfect) attempts to address racism in this country are met with accusations of "racism" or "playing the race card" (as in the case of race-specific policies like affirmative action, or, in the case of Katrina, even acknowledging that race was a factor) by the very privileged sectors who have stood to gain the most from its legacy. In my view the question is not whether one is "racist" since most of us fall into the same boat: we oppose racism in principle while contributing to it in practice. The question really is, "are we doing anything to confront racism?" In the case of our current leadership, I think the answer is clearly no, since confronting racism presupposes the acknowledgement that racism is a problem that 1) exists and 2) warrants confronting.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Debacle in the AFL-CIO

If you need a simple way to comprehend the recent fissure in the labor movement, consider this: union members had no say in the decision either way. Within my own union, I can probably count on one hand how many of my coworkers were even aware the split was happening, let alone solicited for their views by leadership. (The decision to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO was made by our president and general executive board exclusively--and presented to the membership in a scant, upbeat home-mailing after the fact.) This tendency to exclude members from the central decisions that affect their organizations is what's really wrong with the labor movement; it is the problem that transcends all others.

If there are going to be any creative solutions to the challenges that working people face today, they should be coming from working people--not representatives who claim to know their best interests while shutting them out of the debate. Unfortunately, the post-WWII tradition of American business-unionism (the state-corporate initiative to replace grassroots, democratic unionism with a service-style form of representation structured like a business) is only being reconstituted in a more contemporary form among "dissident" leaders like Andy Stern (SEIU), who want to "market" unionism by creating "brand names" that will re-inspire confidence in their "service." That all sounds well and good, but if the product--wages, benefits, pensions, etc.--fails to be satisfactory for the members, where is the savvy "consumer" supposed to go?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Being Muslim for a Month


From eating McDonald's to being a Muslim for 30 days, a new documentary series by Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame delves into the lives of Muslims in America.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Many are the mysteries of religious faith. For instance, it is well known that Jesus brought good news for the poor, but what about rent control south of Washington Ave? Jesus is also famous for saying the poor would inherit the earth, but has he had an appraisal done lately? And in any case who would handle the landscaping? So mysterious is God's will that most people mistake it for indigestion. Then there is Buddha, who's first great revelation was that life is suffering--and boy was he fun in the sack. Of course, it is not for us mere mortals to be burdened with these great questions of the universe--only crushing credit card debt, thanks to bankruptcy reform and a Republican-led congress.
Film Review: Star Wars - Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Well, thank god that's over.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Climbing down the ladder of success, while rewarding, is not without its challenges. For one thing, nobody gets it. For another thing, "nobody" necessarily includes hot chicks. This is where the vow of chastity derives its origins, along with the vow of practicing just in case. Of course, the realm of the flesh is only one battlefield among many--and yet it covers my whole body. Death may be my only exit strategy, but it's better than anything Rumsfeld's got, and at any rate it's the best way to vacation like a European.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Film Review: Batman Begins

The pre-Batman Batman is trained in the orient as a ninja by an Irish actor with a bad fu manchu. Through rigorous martial training, he is compelled to face his fear of bats, which he sustained in youth while recreating at the bottom of a well. This pre-fetish incarnation of Batman transcends his fears by embracing them, laying the groundwork for his new identity--in this case a symbol, both "elemental" and "terrifying." (Saddled with the task of making a rational case for the Batman franchise, I challenge you to do better.) This brings us to the middle third of the movie, easily the most worthwhile as it develops the most important relationships, best characters, and sexiest costumes. The whole ending is a goddam travesty, and it pains me to reference it. Let's just say the Scarecrow is a welcome reprieve from the overarching sub-plot of ninjas using microwave weaponry to vaporize the city's water supply in order to catalyze inert psychedelic properties that have been deposited there. Katie Holmes is not terrible, and one can only thank divine providence for delivering Rutger Hauer a non-embarrassing role. If you loathed the other "Batmans" as much as I did, you will find this film about as tolerable as Episode III in relation to its abjectly offensive predecessors.

Friday, June 24, 2005

In Defense of Karl Rove

Boy, Karl Rove sounded like a real Nazi Wednesday night when he made that crack about liberals reacting to 9/11 by offering "therapy and understanding" to our attackers, while conservatives "prepared for war." You see, Nazis also hated liberalism, which in their situation included parliamentary democracy, and they sought alliances with traditional conservatives like the military and more contemporary conservatives like the industrialists in order to undermine and eventually destroy it. (The last issue of Foreign Affairs referenced some of the anti-liberalism of the Third Reich--see the May 28 posting below.) Anyway, old Herman Goering would be proud to see that his trademark technique of mobilizing a population for war is still being employed by the great men of our era; indeed, the Nazi's had a much stronger argument for defense against "European encirclement" than the Bush administration ever had for Iraqi WMD.

Probably the most comical aspect of Rove's comment, however, was the Democrats' demand for an apology and/or resignation. Gee, that's rich: You're accused of questioning the single most disastrous foreign policy move since the South Vietnam invasion, and you want it taken back? What the fuck is wrong with you people?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

In Praise of Mortality

Thank goodness for the limited lifespan. After all, one can't get by without shaving forever. And just think what cell phones will be like in 1,000,000,000,000,000 eons--or public schools, for that matter. Think of how long it's going to take to clean up the mess of the current administration--and that's just in the city of Philadelphia. No, the world is like a really fucked up day, and death is the good fortune of not being an insomniac.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

There are no hot chicks at my job, so if, while reading this, you discover that you are one of my co-workers, please stop complaining to me about it. Also, none of us have a snowball's chance in hell of dating a celebrity, so shut up about that while you're at it. Oh, and don't complain about work.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I greatly enjoy my work, which is lowly and meaningful. It is lowly because it involves physical work, and it is meaningful for the same reason. Something tangible--indeed, even necessary--has been accomplished. Also, one saves money on gym memberships; and who really feels like "working out" after work anyway?

Regarding the issue of "intellectual work"--i.e., the freedom to experience numbness in your wrists and buttocks after prolonged exposure to nothing particularly unpleasant or challenging besides your fellow "intellectual coworkers"--what's centrally important is whether or not you have health insurance. Indeed, medical coverage is more important than the variety "intellectual work" itself, if only for the anti-depressants you will require while doing it. (In fact, it's best never to use one's mind at work. A mind is much better suited to thinking--the function for which it was designed--but this is quite ill-advised in most work environments, if altogether forbidden in journalism.)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

I've come to reverse my opinion on hot weather: in the final analysis, most people prefer air conditioning. There is a net decrease in loitering throughout Philadelphia. (No small victory in the campaign for psychological space.) Then there are other considerations: I eat less, which saves money--particularly if you shop at ACME. And though I drink water all day (healthy), no time is wasted at the urinal as it simply bursts forth from the millions of tiny urethras in my derma I like to call "pores." There is also the sense of accomplishment that comes from working through the hottest period of each day without registering the severe pain which radiates from chest to jaw. Truly, the heat has simplified my life.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

My morning commute takes me deep into the heart of South Philadelphia, to the Stella Maris "convent" as I like to call it, since I've never spied anyone besides sisters on its grounds. By the time I arrive the shadows are among their shortest on any given day, yet everything seems abandoned. The sisters may as well be apparitions as often as I have observed them over the course of several years--at least from my vantage point at the western-most gates. Inside, the parking lot is empty. Whatever the function of the buildings close by (and the total acreage is substantial), my best guess would be administrative, or possibly even a kind of converted dormitory--perhaps a better explanation as to the dearth of activity in mid-day.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I wanted to say something about blogging. If I haven't been doing that much of it lately, well, you can hardly blame me: I've been doing it for two years and still have a readership of three. I look at successful blogs--The Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, et al.--and repeatedly resolve that this number must be reduced--dramatically, if possible. The usefulness of an online journal, whether for reference or rants or contemplation, should be readily apparent; the usefulness of having every waking thought a public event, much less so, I think. But my best attempts at driving away readers appear to have been in vain. Even non-readers manage to stumble onto the site from time to time, which is truly awful--except that they rarely return, small consolation though it may be.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Dear friends,

I write today from the confines of my presently tropical bedchamber. I'm afraid I did not sleep well last night thanks to my moist circumstances. I am the kind of guy--were you to ever sleep with me--who likes a light frost on the bureau before bedtime. I'm not a particular fan of cold, but it casts into sharper relief the warmth around me, preserved as it is by the series of buffers (e.g., blankets, comforters, "human shields," etc.) I employ for that purpose. It is the bane of my closest associate and business partner, whose circulation is better suited to the surface of the sun--or shall we say several centigrade greater than what I now endure.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Wachovia Admits Ties to Slavery

from The Philadelphia Inquirer
Wachovia Corp., the nation's fourth-largest bank, has asked African Americans to forgive the company for its history of owning slaves and using them as loan collateral.

"We apologize to all Americans, and especially to African Americans and people of African descent," Wachovia chairman Kennedy Thompson said in a statement yesterday. Based in Charlotte, N.C., Wachovia is the leading bank in the Philadelphia area.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

History's Recurring "Liberal" Threat

from Foreign Affairs (May/June 2005)
In the late 1920's, a group of [German] intellectuals known as conservative revolutionaries demanded a new volkish authoritarianism, a third Reich. Richly financed by corporate interests, they denounced liberalism as the greatest, most invidious threat and attacked it for its tolerance, rationality, and cosmopolitan culture.... [T]he Nazis vilified liberalism as a Marxist-Jewish conspiracy, and, with Germany in the midst of unprecedented depression and impoverishment, they promised a national rebirth.

...In his first radio address to the German people, 24 hours after coming to power, Hitler declared, "The national government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. They regard Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life." German elites proved susceptible to this mystical brew of pseudoreligion and disguised interest. Churchmen, especially Protestant clergy, shared this hostility toward the liberal-secular state and its defenders; they were also filled with anti-Semetic beliefs, although with some heroic exceptions.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

AFL-CIO Kills Health and Safety Department

from Confined Space
AFL-CIO staff wore black to work today, and for good reason. Coming only a few days after Workers Memorial Day, 169 positions were eliminated, including half of the four-person Health and Safety Department's professional staff. Deborah Weinstock and Rob McGarrah have been given notice that their positions will no longer be funded, although it is unclear when these changes will take place. What's left of the department -- Director Peg Seminario and Bill Kojola -- will be merged into the newly-created Government Affairs Department. 52 new positions will be created at the federation.

This is a sad day for workers, for the labor movement and for all those who care about the health, safety and working conditions of American workers.
AFL-CIO Warned Against Protest

from The New York Times
The Bush administration has warned the nation's biggest labor federation that union-run pension funds may be breaking the law in opposing President Bush's Social Security proposals.

In a letter on Tuesday to the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Department of Labor said it was "very concerned" that pension plans might be spending workers' money to "advocate a particular result in the current Social Security debate."

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Chalabi Gets Petroleum Minister Post in New Iraq Government

from Informed Comment
More details of the new Iraqi cabinet are now out. The big and rather ominous surprise is that Ahmad Chalabi is the temporary Petroleum Minister. It has not in the past been easy to pry him out of positions once in them. And, in the past, whenever he has been around big money, a lot of it has mysteriously disappeared. Some are saying that at least he has the background to deal with foreign oil companies. But lots of Iraqis have such a background. The point is that Chalabi doesn't know anything about the petroleum industry and also has a poor business reputation to put it lightly.
The Nation and the Middle East, Cont.

from The Angry Arab News Service
My dear friend Joseph Massad wrote an excellent critique of the lousy piece on the war on Middle East studies at Columbia University in the ostensibly leftist Nation magazine... Scott Sherman, who seems to believe that you need to blame the victim for his victimhood, offers a typically weak and vapid response to the letters that reached the Nation, and only a handful of which were published. Sherman, as Angry Arab was told by inside sources, scrambled to find one token critical Arab to offer him praise in this section of the letters to the Nation but alas could not find any. And if the mainstream Washington Post does not print a news item that is not based on at least two sources, Sherman--you shall notice--is satisfied with one anonymous source merely to smear Joseph Massad.
Grassroots Fight Ensues as Schwarzenegger Favors Business Interests

from The New Standard
Facing a deficit estimated in the billions for the upcoming year, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has adopted an aggressive strategy to roll back state spending. His campaign to control the budget has touched off a battle with the state’s labor and grassroots organizations, some of which are suggesting the actor-turned-politician is proving incapable of standing independently from the business interests that helped fuel his campaign for office.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Whole Foods

from Znet:
In July 2002, employees at the Whole Foods Market in Madison, Wisconsin, made history when they voted to become the first unionized store at the natural foods mega-chain. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)-supported organizing drive was motivated by lower-than-industry wages, absence of a legally-binding grievance procedure, and other unfair labor practices. The pro-union vote also sparked a determined and eventually successful year-long campaign by the chain's notoriously anti-union CEO John Mackey to defeat the only union shop among its more than 150 stores.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Poll: Syria More Popular than US in Lebanon

from The Angry Arab News Service
Which country is more unpopular than Syria in Lebanon? Take a guess. No, it is not Micronesia. Try again. Yes. You guessed right. It is the US. According to a national Zogby poll conducted in Lebanon, US is more opposed than Syria by a sample of the Lebanese population.
Wangari Maathai

from The Progressive
You don't have to recognize only those who bring warring parties together or those who stop a war or the production of arms. For us to enjoy peace, we need to manage our resources more responsibly. We need to share our resources more equitably, both globally and nationally, and we can only do that in a democratic space. If we don't have space to discuss, to dialogue, to listen to each other, to respect each other's opinions, we're going to use our power to control our resources at the expense of those who don't have them. By doing that, we create a lot of enmity, and eventually we have conflict. In Kenya I see these things happening all the time: resources become depleted, water becomes finished, wells dry up, and the next thing you hear is that tribesmen are fighting a war.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and, also generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.

- Albert Einstein (commenting on why he joined the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO)

Monday, April 11, 2005

"Mission Accomplished" from the BBC

Inside Iraq as you'll never see it on CNN. Required viewing for all Americans:

(Choose "Save target as" to download and view...)

from Confessions of an Economic Hitman
Today, we still have slave traders. They no longer find it necessary to march into the forests of Africa looking for prime specimens who will bring top dollar on the auction blocks in Charleston, Cartagena, and Havana. They simple recruit desperate people and build a factory to produce the jackets, blue jeans, tennis shoes, automobile parts, computer components, and thousands of other items they can sell in the markets of their choosing...

The old-fashioned slave trader told himself that he was dealing a species that was not entirely human, and that he was offering them the opportunity to become Christianized. He also understood that slaves were fundamental to the survival of his own society, they they were the foundation of his economy. The modern slave trader assures himself (or herself) that the desperate people are better off earning one dollar a day than no dollars at all, and they are receiving the opportunity to become integrated into the larger world community. She also understands that these desperate people are fundamental to the survival of her company, that they are the foundation of her own lifestyle. She never stops to think about the larger implications of what she, her lifestyle, and the economic system behind them are doing to the world--or of how they may ultimately impact her children's future.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Morality and Power

In making a moral evaluation of any policy, past or present, we have to inquire into the motives of the policymakers. There is a tendency among ideologues from both ends of the spectrum to deduce hidden motives and/or apply unspoken dogmas (such as economic determinism, for instance) to their analyses, without bothering to look up what policymakers actually thought they were doing.

Since I proceed from the assumption that all power is used for "the good" of those in a position to exercise it, the question of how power justifies itself--whether as divinely ordained, mandated by crisis, or democratically inspired--is not morally relevant. All power justifies itself; and since it is not the tendency of humans to view themselves as criminals, the fact that those in positions of authority internalize the noble intentions of their institutions proves nothing. Adolf Eichmann certainly did not see himself as a monster; he was simply fulfilling his institutional role within the Third Reich. Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union. The Spanish and Portugese brought "civilization" and Christianity to South America. We settled land left "idle" by the Native Americans. A hundred years later we defended South Vietnam against its own population by laying waste to the nation. And we continue to prop up deeply unpopular regimes in Latin America and the Middle East because, after all, they're better than "the alternative"--a catch-all expression (interchangable with "communism") for "any government who feels a responsibility for the welfare of its people," and not the needs of US investors, financial institutions, manufacturing corporations, etc., to paraphrase the late George Kennan. So, no: I don't make moral evaluations based on the stated intentions, sincere or otherwise, of those in positions of authority over the lives of others. Morality relates specifically to behavior and its predictable human consequences, not "intent."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Was Bush Right?

It's one thing to ask the question as if the only opinion that mattered was ours--as if we were the only ones affected by our decision to resort to force. I'm sure it's easy for American politicians, intellectuals, and pundits to feel satisfied with a policy that asked so little of them--in taxes or in the risk to their personal well-being or that of their loved ones. But since morality does not principally deal with how we feel about ourselves--but rather how our behavior affects others--it follows that one does not pose these questions to oneself.

The main moral question of Iraq, as I see it, relates to the violence we necessarily imposed on the victims of a tyrant so that we might remove him. In this case, hundreds of thousands of people, no longer among the living, that we are responsible for, due to our choices. The Iraqis who were killed certainly had no say in it, nor the family members that lost them. The question we should be asking is whether they think it was worth it, since either they or their loved ones might still be alive today otherwise. Personally, I don't feel comfortable speaking so confidently about what is "right" in such circumstances, particularly when an alternative--and preferably democratic--solution might still have been found.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Other Pope

from Informed Comment
John Paul II was a complex man and among the more intellectual popes in history. Because of his admirable stance against Stalinism in Eastern Europe (which did not in fact involve any denunciation of communism or socialism per se) and his anti-abortion stance, he is often claimed as an ally by the American Right (which is mainly Protestant and mainly about the best interests of wealthy business people).

But John Paul II was often an inconvenient man, whose moral vision would be upsetting to the US Republican establishment if it were taken seriously. He opposed the death penalty, to which George W. Bush is so attached. He opposed the Iraq War. He condemned laissez-faire capitalism and cared about the exploitation of workers, who he felt should have a dignity that is seldom bestowed upon them by the Walmarts and other firms in the US. And he cared about the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people in a way that virtually no one in the American political establishment does. He symbolically blessed the Palestinian claim that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palestinian people.

That is, the Pope's message sometimes had a strong progressive content, and he was in some important ways on our side. That progressives might have had differences with him on some issues should not forestall our celebrating his progressive legacy. The American Right appropriates shamelessly anyone who even halfway agrees with them. We on the left must learn to make sectional alliances and commemorate those areas of agreement we have with people like John Paul II.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Central American Free Trade Agreement

from The Wall Street Journal
The legislative battle over the Central American Free Trade Agreement is heating up, and if we are to believe the grandiose claims put forward by Cafta's supporters, this deal will create great jobs at home, close our trade deficit, lift Central America out of poverty, and solidify democratic reforms there. It will also boost global trade talks and allow supporters to paint themselves as "pro-growth" and "pro-jobs." Wow.

But we've heard these arguments before: 11 years ago, when Congress debated the North American Free Trade Agreement; 10 years ago, with the ratification of the World Trade Organization agreement; and five years ago, when China joined the WTO. In each instance, the American people were told the deals would open markets abroad, improve U.S. competitiveness, spur jobs and growth, and eradicate poverty.

It didn't work then and it won't work now.

Friday, March 25, 2005

American fundamentalists

from Informed Comment
The cynical use by the US Republican Party of the Terri Schiavo case repeats, whether deliberately or accidentally, the tactics of Muslim fundamentalists and theocrats in places like Egypt and Pakistan. These tactics involve a disturbing tendency to make private, intimate decisions matters of public interest and then to bring the courts and the legislature to bear on them. President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders like Tom Delay have taken us one step closer to theocracy on the Muslim Brotherhood model.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The "Ownership" Swindle

from The Nation
There is a long tradition of American capitalists not only mobilizing small-business and professional support for the elite, but also shifting working-class aspirations to undermine the potential of radical labor and political movements. Instead of delivering on the promise of upward mobility, American capitalism in the late nineteenth century delivered home ownership as a substitute for owning one's land or tools. After the elites forcibly smashed working-class organizations, like the Knights of Labor and anarchists, that demanded an end to wage slavery during the post-Civil War industrialization, the workers' movement increasingly turned toward securing an American, or living, wage instead of demanding control over industry. In the early twentieth century, after Populists and Progressives raised public awareness about the corrupting power of big corporations, there was a wave of interest in industrial democracy as a necessary complement to political democracy. During the 1920s, America began to develop consumer capitalism and a democracy of shoppers alongside a brief infatuation with stock markets.
Democracy in Iraq

As Tom Friedman strangely points out, what the Bush administration intended for Iraq (US-written constitution, caucuses, etc.) has been thwarted every step of the way by Iraqis, whose organized demands for free-elections--including the non-violent resistance of which Sistani has been the symbol--eventually compelled the US/UK to allow them to happen.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Examining the Right--and wrong

The contemporary right likes to focus on concentrated power in government--a legitimate concern which I share, for obvious reasons. The contemporary dishonest right (typically those in power) focus exclusively on the power of government because they advocate a different kind of concentrated power--private control over the economy in the form of corporations--and because they recognize a flaw in government not present in corporate institutions: government is potentially democratic. Corporations, if you bother to look at their internal distribution of power, are not. Well, the reason why traditional conservatives were so concerned with government is because concentrated power is dangerous no matter where you find it. At the same time, they recognized that government had the potential not to be totalitarian, which is why they championed its democratic forms. How we judge government, economic institutions, or anything else should be on the basis of whether they are democratic or not. That's the only thing that gives them any legitimacy; I don't care what you're talking about. If they're not democratic, then they're one or another form of tyranny--as any classical Enlightenment figure (for instance Adam Smith, who had quite a bit to say about this) would readily tell you--and deserve to be dismantled, thus diffusing power and widening the scope of human liberty, in the classical conception.

Beware the conservative who blames everything on government without taking into account other forms of concentrated power in society. What these powerful interests advocate is not getting rid of all forms of illegitimate authority (see libertarian socialism, a branch of anarchism), but simply replacing one for another--and, in this case, eliminating the potential for democratic rule by the citizenry in the process. Private management of the economy combined with the attenuation of democratic federal structures is fascism.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The World Bank

from The Angry Arab News Service
PAUL WOLFOWITZ to head the World Bank. Will he promise to bomb all poor countries to end poverty? Will he promise that the Iraq war will eventually spread prosperity on earth? Will he demand that poor countries praise Israeli oppression of the Palestinians in return for aid? Next appointment: Bush to head the Physics Department at MIT. And Ashcroft to head the National Organization for Women. Rumsfeld will head Greenpeace.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

White House to Launch Push for Pro-Business Regulation

from The Wall Street Journal
The Bush administration is expected to launch a push for business-friendly regulation, possibly including streamlined and more flexible pollution standards, chemical-handling rules, and workers' medical-leave protections.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Consumerism is not democracy

In response to the assertion that consumer choice is "democracy in economics"...

Our relationship to corporations as consumers is only one among many. Yes, we can exercise consumer freedom. Is that the same as political liberty? If I lock you in a mansion with every distraction and amusement as your disposal, does your freedom to choose among limitless options make you free? Political freedom implies the power to influence the outcome of end choices. Maybe people would prefer a version of Windows that doesn't suck for 3 years before Microsoft bothers to work out the bugs. That seems reasonable. Not much anyone can do about it since Microsoft is the industry standard, and what people want is irrelevant since they all (by necessity) want Microsoft, at least if they work in most business environments. Or maybe skilled machinists in the 80's would have preferred technology which put more power into their hands during the production process, not undermine it so that their jobs could become the mundane drudgery it is for their unskilled replacements who barely make a livable wage. But that's another type of relationship we have with corporations: as employees. How much of a "vote" do we have in this capacity? None, unless it's imposed by other means. I suggest we not weaken this means.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Managing Activism: How to Neutralize Democracy

from The Center for Media and Democracy
Managing Activism is written for PR practitioners whose clients engage in risky businesses (fossil fuels, pesticides, genetically engineered foods, nuclear waste, toxic dumps, animal testing) and who therefore become the targets of "activist groups" including "environmentalists, workers' rights activists, animal rights groups and human rights campaigners." Don't expect much sympathy for the activists. Deegan is a battle-hardened PR veteran and a committed soldier in the war against activists who "in an increasingly pluralistic society" present what she calls "a growing threat to organizations of all shapes and sizes. And because activists employ a wide range of aggressive tactics such as generating bad publicity, seeking government and legislative intervention, encouraging boycotts, etc., they can cause severe disruption, including damage to reputation, sales, profitability, employee satisfaction and, of course, share price."
Wal-Mart Workers Vote 17-1 Against Union

from The Wall Street Journal
Workers at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. tire department in Colorado on Friday voted 17-to-1 against union representation. A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers said the group will ask the National Labor Relations Board to throw out the result. The union claims workers had been subjected to intimidation before the vote and Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, added employees to the unit to dilute the strength of the union supporters. In addition, the union says the Bentonville, Ark., retailer unfairly disallowed a union representative to observe the election. A pro-union worker who was scheduled to observe suffered a seizure prior to the vote. Wal-Mart rejected the union's request to have one of its representatives serve as a substitute. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the union was offered an opportunity to provide another worker to observe but couldn't find one. She said any workers added to the operation were a response to business needs and not part of an antiunion effort. The spokeswoman said the company doesn't tolerate harassment or discrimination.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

How dare some say, 'Support our Troops'?

from The Portland Press Herald
Someone recently informed me that they didn't know that my son was being deployed to Iraq and asked why I hadn't told them. I really didn't have an answer.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Wal-Mart Brings Child Labor Back

from The New York Times
Wal-Mart has faced previous child labor charges. In March 2000, Maine fined the company $205,650 for violations of child labor laws in every one of the 20 stores in the state. In January 2004, a weeklong internal audit of 128 stores found 1,371 instances in which minors apparently worked too late at night, worked during school hours or worked too many hours in a day. Company officials said the audit was faulty and had incorrectly found that some youths had worked on school days when, in fact, those days were holidays.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Assorted Nerds Ask: Will China Be the Next Superpower?

They've got a lot of poor people with no rights, if that's what is meant by "economic powerhouse," etc., in the business press. Yes, that can translate into high profits--for foreign investors and the government officials who set up the deals. What happens to the rest of us is incidental. There may be some benefits; probably a lot of harm done to people in both countries.

As to China becoming a military rival of ours, it's sort of a weird fascination. Obviously the government is in a position to do very well, considering the wealth of "human capital" they have to attract investment. Which means more money for guns and bombs so they can be better tyrants and repress their population even more and cause all kind of trouble in the region, etc. And, yes, maybe someday even pose a threat to the US. But if that's so much of a concern now, it doesn't make much sense to participate in it.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Passionate Response, and My Reply

First of all, we do not live in a democracy, so it would be ridiculous to expect that our media serve as a democratic institution. The media actually functions in much the same way that government does. It is a pluralistic system of competing interests. As there is an audience, a program will arise and as there is a program, generally an audience will arrive. If this fails to occur than the idea or media has little saliency in the polity.... And, as for the polarization of the media; is that not a little more intellectually honest than the preposterous notion of an unbiased news source? I actually prefer the more candid, up-front bias. Just as it was in the old days...

European news coverage is no more broad than that of America. Most nations have only one major newspaper. The United States can count at least 5 papers all over a million in circulation.... In fact, a good bit of the "broad" international reporting that you speak of comes from Reuters and the AP, all of which are posted in every major newspaper throughout the world. Here is an interesting note, however, of all the major western countries, the US is the only with no tabloid style paper in the top 5. Do you consider Camilla, the Page Six girls, and French popstars to be a broad news gathering experience? Once more, your vaunted BBC can be heard on NPR. Does the BBC broadcast American news programs to its listeners to give them another perspective? NO, what you consider to be broad coverage are reporters who all work from the same organization, but report from different parts of the globe.

...The fact of the matter is that it takes a certain kind of person to have broad interests outside of their own lives and communities. There is no greater number of those in Europe than in America. And for those in America, there are 400 cable channels, thousands of online newspapers, BBC on NPR and streaming 24 hours a day, and millions of websites great and small.

Of course Europeans complain that the world and media are to America-centric and that we do not have to learn about them as much as they about us. But, isn't that common sense? We have been a dominant power for 60, some say 100, years. It is only reasonable that we receive more coverage. We have a much greater impact on the world. We give more money, by a gross proportion, than any other nation. We consume more resources, we import more, we export more, we have been the leading source of technological advancement. I could go on and on, but like Tony Bliar said, the measure of the country is the number of people trying to get in rather than leave. If we are so narrow, why do the aristocracies of the world send their children here for education? Why is the United Nations here? Why the financial and political center of the world? Simply having those institutions would seem to mean that there are a variety of sources from which the citizens can, and do I might add, learn.

I will not deny that many Americans are ignorant about other cultures and geopolitcal struggles. But, it is a fallacy to think ignorance and exceptional American trait.

I think what you are talking about is developing a more informed citizenry rather than the facade of too few and too narrow media sources. And I imagine you would rather like to have control of what exactly those people digest from the media.

I don't think the idea of US democracy or its meaningful application in our everyday lives is ridiculous at all, and I'm sure you don't either. And while I'm interested to hear your many views, I'm not interested in arguing or defending points that 1) I never made, or 2) that I in fact agree with since they don't bear on anything I said. For instance, I never said anything about Americans having less access to other sources of information than anybody else (the central thrust of what I understand to be your response); my argument was that the programming which serves our communities is less sophisticated and less broad by comparative standards due to (I think) uniquely high levels of media consolidation and lack of regulation in these markets (again, comparatively). (E.g., It's generally recognized that the "spectrum of debate" in the US--liberal vs. conservative--is ridiculously narrow compared to other places, which incorporate a much wider range of political views.) Other than that, nothing much to add to what I've already said.

But let me ask you another question. How is a government run news program more democratic and less oriented to propaganda than a multi-various selection of private news organizations?

There's no reason to expect that it would be. Institutions are democratic to the extent that people have meaningful control over them. That means participating in them--something which highly-concentrated ownership of any kind precludes, regardless of form. If we want democratic media that reflects the concerns of the general public, media ownership and control should be diffused, thus widening the scope of involvement.

Also, what makes you think that Americans are less sophisticated and broad in their media selections?

The fact that the programming is less sophisticated and less broad, something that correlates closely to centralization of media power and absence of (potential) counterveiling forces (in the form of regulation, etc.) which still exist elsewhere. Personally, I think this accounts for the increasingly hostile denunciations of media as "liberal" or "conservative," depending on orientation. When there's only one voice which explains reality, it's only natural that you want it to be yours.
Democracy vs. Capitalism

The conflict between democracy and capitalism is that private ownership and management of productive property excludes popular participation in the central economic decisions that affect everyone (except in cases where such ownership is so diffuse that it extends to most people in the society; no longer the case here, if ever). Individual action and participation means more than going to the polls every four years. It means acting and participating in the institutions of the society, not being excluded from them on the grounds that some specialized class (bureaucrats, executives, generals, royalty, clerics, etc.) reserve this right for themselves, whatever the benevolence of their intentions. In the former Soviet Union, this centralization of power developed in the form of a totalitarian state; in the US, as collectivist legal entities (corporations). In the USSR, the state largely dominated economic institutions; in the US, corporate power dramatically pervades the state. In either case the effects on the general population have been a profound attenuation of their influence over the society--a striking parallel between systems, despite many other (not minor) differences.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

What Do You Think?

A question I came across today:
As [with] the majority of Canadians I consider my views on political issues to be very liberal and I've only too often noticed that Americans seem to take a more conservative root when debating political issues such as drug laws, abortion and same sex marriage all of which I have no problems with. So my question is for any Americans; why is it that you guys are so conservative where did these values root from? is it a religious thing or is it just something that you believe in? or am I making to much of a generalization?

The reason I think this way is because I see your presidents views and notice that you had no problem re-electing him.

Honesty Needed on Social Security

from The Denver Post
With almost 50 years of solvency ahead of us, we have the time to determine the best way to invest our Social Security dues without engaging in risky schemes or cutting benefits. Unfortunately, President Bush is taking a different approach because he does not believe in the program. He is creating an artificial urgency to help push a solution in search of a problem.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Of Lies, and Lying Liars

from The Center for Economic and Policy Research
Social Security is currently more financially sound than it has been throughout most of its entire history. To cover any shortfalls that may occur over the next 75 years would require less than we came up with in each of the decades of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s. All we have to do to save Social Security is to keep the privatizers' hands off of it.

Friday, February 04, 2005

EPA Study Accused of Predetermined Finding

from The New York Times
The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general charged on Thursday that the agency's senior management instructed staff members to arrive at a predetermined conclusion favoring industry when they prepared a proposed rule last year to reduce the amount of mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants.

Mercury, which can damage the neurological development of fetuses and young children, has been found in increasingly high concentrations in fish in rivers and streams in the United States.
Mayor of New York "Not Very Republican" on Social Security, Challenger Says

from The New York Times
"I've never thought that privatizing Social Security made a lot of sense," said [New York mayor Michael R.] Bloomberg, who, like Mr. Bush, is a Republican. "I think what you'd see is that people would invest...unwisely."

He added, "These are not monies that people should be speculating with."

...[Former City Council minority leader] Mr. Ognibene used Mr. Bloomberg's comments to once again paint him as a disloyal Republican. "He's trying to be negative rather than be supportive of the president's initiative to try to save Social Security," Mr. Ognibene said yesterday. "From that point of view, it's not very Republican."
Study: When the False Comes First, People Forget the Correction

from The Wall Street Journal
The news media would do well to keep in mind that once we report something, some people will always believe it even if we try to stuff the genie back in the bottle. For instance, six months after the invasion, one-third of Americans believed WMDs had been found, even though every such tentative claim was discomfirmed. The findings also offer Machiavellian possibilities for politicians. They can make a false claim that helps their cause, contritely retract it -- and rest assured that some people will nevertheless keep thinking of it as true.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

School of the Americas

from The North American Congress on Latin America
The United States uses its power to penetrate and transform other states for its own purposes, a defining feature of imperialism. In the Americas, U.S. hegemony has always depended on soldiers to uphold a particular kind of capitalist order, and regional military forces have long served as basic tools of this U.S. imperial project. The [School of the Americas] has played a vital role in this undertaking, having trained over 60,000 troops from its post-WWII founding to its 2001 reincarnation as the [Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation]. It forms part of a hydra-headed repressive apparatus-encompassing armies, police forces, paramilitaries, arms manufacturers and think tanks-that consumes ever-more public resources as cold war pretexts give way to neoliberal policies generating widespread discontent. This apparatus, and the School's role within it, remains important as regional governments rely on the armed forces to control the social and economic disorder that, to a considerable degree, results from their own policies.
For the Mightiest Nation, War is Fun

from BBC News
The US Marine Corps has publicly upbraided one of its generals for his comments describing shooting people in Iraq as "fun".

Discussing fighting in Iraq, the General said he liked brawling and enjoyed shooting people.

The Marine Corps said Lt Gen James Mattis had been "counselled" concerning his remarks, made during a panel discussion in California.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Human Rights Watch Condemns Meatpacking Industry

from The New York Times
For the first time, Human Rights Watch has issued a report that harshly criticizes a single industry in the United States, concluding that working conditions among the nation's meatpackers and slaughterhouses are so bad that they violate basic human rights.

The report, released yesterday, frequently echoes Upton Sinclair's classic on the industry, "The Jungle." It finds that jobs in many beef, pork and poultry plants are sufficiently dangerous to breach international agreements promising a safe workplace.
Remembering Operation Paperclip

from BBC News
The CIA has been urged to release documents about Nazi war criminals hired by US intelligence officials during the Cold War era.

See also CIA Admits Employing Nazis
War at Wal-Mart

from Business Week
The AFL-CIO is planning an effort modeled on its powerful get-out-the-vote political machine. Headed by a veteran labor and Democratic politico, Ellen Moran, it aims to engage hundreds or even thousands of union members to do mailings, phone banks, and work-site visits to convince labor households and, later, the public, that Wal-Mart undercuts living standards. The campaign won't call for a boycott, but labor leaders say focus group studies they've done show that some people may shop elsewhere if told of Wal-Mart's actions.
For American Companies, a Gift from the Public

from The New York Times
When Congress passed a one-time tax break on foreign profits last fall, lawmakers said their main purpose was to encourage American companies to build new operations and hire more workers at home.

But as corporations are gearing up to bring tens of billions of dollars back to the United States this year, adding jobs is far from their highest priority. Indeed, some companies say they might end up cutting their work forces.
Halliburton's Inflated Costs Keep Generals Guessing (and Undersupplied)

from The Wall Street Journal
In December, Halliburton's giant Kellogg Brown & Root unit, which provides basic services such as food, postal service and telephones to the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, submitted a detailed estimate to the Pentagon for expected spending in the year starting May 1, based on a list of Army requirements. The company said its costs for the year could exceed $10 billion.

But the Army has budgeted just $3.6 billion to support the KBR- provided services during the same period -- nearly $7 billion less than KBR's estimate.

Since then, the Army has been trimming its requests to close the gap. In an interview, Gen. George Casey said the difference now stands at closer to $4 billion. Still, he said, "To say that we're not worried would not be true. Someone has made some assumptions that have driven the costs through the roof."

Monday, January 31, 2005

The Last Word on Social Security: Hands Off!

from A Tiny Revolution
Conservative Republicans have hated Social Security since before it began. In 1935, Republican Senator Daniel Hastings said Social Security would "end the progress" of America. Ever since, conservatives have been claiming Social Security is about to collapse. When people who are now receiving Social Security checks were starting to work in the 1960s, conservative Republicans were telling them they'd never see a dime. Bush himself, when he was running for Congress in 1978, said Social Security would "go broke" within ten years.

However, until now conservative politicians have never made any serious attempt to kill Social Security. That's because Social Security is extremely popular. And as much as conservatives dislike Social Security, they dislike losing elections even more. Social Security has often been called the "third rail" of American politics—touch it and you die.

But things have changed. Not Social Security itself; it's fine. But conservatives think that—after saying since 1935 that Social Security is about to collapse—they've finally gotten Americans to believe it. As a recent internal White House memo put it, "For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win."

The person who wrote this was being honest: conservatives have been fighting against Social Security for 60 years. It didn't have anything to do with a "crisis" in 1945, 1965, or 1985. And it doesn't now.

Now, you may be wondering: why exactly do conservatives hate Social Security? Why do they think something so many Americans like is so terrible?

Here's one answer: $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

President Bush's plans for Social Security would mean Americans would be required to hand billions and billions of dollars over to Wall Street. As Fortune magazine recently put it, Wall Street is "salivating" over this. Even the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank that has pushed for privatization for decades, says that "financial institutions in particular" would benefit.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Pentagon Considers Contra-Style Terror Tactics in Iraq

from BBC News
With no end to the Iraq conflict in sight, some US military strategists have been considering tactics used during the civil war in El Salvador, a brutal and bloody campaign that lasted for years.

...The shield which stopped a guerrilla victory in El Salvador was in reality a reign of terror. Tens of thousands of those killed in the war were rebel sympathisers, tortured and murdered by the security forces. It was a well-organised, dirty war in which the CIA was heavily involved. Horrendously mutilated corpses - sometimes decapitated - were left in full public view. Using fear, the policy succeeded in denying the rebels open civilian support.

Some in the Pentagon have now been mooting the idea of training Iraqi hit squads to target insurgents and their sympathisers to quash open civilian support for them.

But for this to work would mean out-terrorising the Iraqi rebels, a difficult task indeed.
"Human-Rights" Group Keeps Anti-Arab Anxiety High

from The Wall Street Journal
Mosques across the U.S. continue to carry books and pamphlets describing non-Muslims as "infidels" and promoting intolerance against Western society, according to a forthcoming study by Freedom House, a U.S. human-rights group.

Despite vows from American Islamic leaders after Sept. 11, 2001 to proselytize peacefully, New York based Freedom House researchers found 57 documents with incendiary material in more than a dozen mosques and Islamic centers in six states and Washington, D.C., visited over the past year.

The materials "demonstrate the ongoing indoctrination of Muslims in the United States in the hostility and belligerence of Saudi Arabia's hardline Wahhabi sect of Islam," says the report, an advance copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The report presents a challenge to the approximately 2,000 Islamic institutions in the U.S., some of which say they now screen publications for extremist messages. The Freedom House researchers say they found in December 2003 seven publications with what they deemed intolerant messages at the Islamic Center of Washington D.C., which President Bush visited days after the 2001 terror attacks. One, titled "Loyalty and Dissociation In Islam," advises Muslims to "be dissociated from the infidels, hate them for their religion . . . and always oppose them in every way, according to Islamic law," according to a translation by Freedom House.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Fearing Indictments, US Proposes Its Own International Court

from The Wall Street Journal
The Bush administration is fashioning a plan to set up an ad hoc tribunal in Tanzania to address alleged genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, sidestepping the International Criminal Court whose supporters hold a majority of votes on the United Nations Security Council.

The proposal, floated with diplomats in New York and lawmakers in Washington, would meet the administration's twin goals of confronting atrocities in Sudan and shunning the ICC, an independent tribunal with 97 members including European Union countries, Australia and Canada. The proposed tribunal would be organized under the auspices of the African Union, rather than the U.N., but would share some facilities with the U.N.'s war-crimes tribunal for Rwanda, which holds proceedings in Arusha, Tanzania, people familiar with the proposal said.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Fascism Yields Disappointing Returns in Pension Plan

from The New York Times
"What we have is a system that is good for Chile but bad for most Chileans," said a government official who specializes in pension issues and who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation from corporate interests. "If people really had freedom of choice, 90 percent of them would opt to go back to the old system."
The Social Security Windfall: Wall Street Keeps Profile Low, Fearing Public Response

from The Los Angeles Times
The nation's brokerages and mutual fund companies could be big winners if the government were to allow Americans to funnel some of their Social Security taxes into private investment accounts each year. Firms such as Fidelity Investments, Vanguard Group, Merrill Lynch & Co. and Schwab collectively could reap billions of dollars in management fees and commissions over the long term.

But the emotions triggered by President Bush's call for restructuring Social Security also have raised the risk that the financial industry could become a target of public ire.

Bush has touted the accounts as a way for Americans to earn returns over time that would give them greater retirement income than Social Security can promise. Workers most likely would give up their right to a portion of their future Social Security benefits by choosing private accounts.

Powerful groups including the AFL-CIO and AARP have bashed the idea of privatization, saying it would shred the retirement safety net and leave more Americans at the mercy of market swings.

The AFL-CIO in December sent letters to 46 major financial companies, asking them to renounce the concept of private Social Security accounts.

Facing that kind of reaction, "most people in the [investment] business are keeping a very low profile," said Greg Valliere, chief strategist at Stanford Washington Research Group, a political consulting firm. "They don't want to be identified as proponents because of the potential backlash."