What We Stand For

The Communist Party of Indiana CPUSA struggles for socialism: to better the lives of Indiana's working families, to protect and extend labor's ability to organize, for the needs of women, children, immigrants (documented and undocumented), the disabled, LGBT, and all people who strive for affordable quality health care, housing, and education. We stand against racism in all its forms. We stand for jobs for all. We stand for peace. We support all who struggle world wide for the dignity and self-determination of the majority of their nation's people and against imperialism, occupation, and exploitation for private profit.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Aides Say Obama’s Afghan Aims Elevate War

In a move that is bound to result in more Afghan and US deaths, and to further undermine a country already in shambles due to US policy, the New York Times (NYT) reports on January 28th that President Obama
intends to adopt a tougher line toward Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development, senior administration officials said Tuesday.


Mr. Obama is preparing to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan over the next two years, perhaps to more than 60,000 from about 34,000 now.
12,000 additional US troops are to be deployed to Afghanistan by midsummer 2009.

While the article focuses on the current administration's problems with Afghan President Karzai, the impact of the US policy on the Afghan people is the issue at hand. As the NYT article says, the Afghans are experiencing
a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban.
The drug trade can be traced to the lack of other forms of work in a country where 53% of the population lives below the poverty line, inflation is at 30%, and 80% of the labor force is involved in agriculture. (From Wikipedia, "Economy of Afghanistan".) This economy is the result of US policy in how the development of the Afghan economy was handled after the US invasion, and in the lack of economic development prior to the invasion.

The rise of the Taliban is a definite result of the US policy towards this country. Following US policy, the US worked to undermine the secular, progressive communist government that governed this country and strengthened the most distorted, fundamentalist, and retrograde sectors of the society, to the benefit of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

As detailed in the article "How the CIA Created Osama bin Laden" (GreenLeft.Org, 19 September 2001),
“Throughout the world ... its agents, client states and satellites are on the defensive — on the moral defensive, the intellectual defensive, and the political and economic defensive. Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They're doing so on almost every continent populated by man — in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America ... [They are] freedom fighters.”

Is this a call to jihad (holy war) taken from one of Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden's notorious fatwas? Or perhaps a communique issued by the repressive Taliban regime in Kabul?

In fact, this glowing praise of the murderous exploits of today's supporters of arch-terrorist bin Laden and his Taliban collaborators, and their holy war against the “evil empire”, was issued by US President Ronald Reagan on March 8, 1985. The “evil empire” was the Soviet Union, as well as Third World movements fighting US-backed colonialism, apartheid and dictatorship.
The GreenLeft.org article continues,
In April 1978, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan in reaction to a crackdown against the party by that country's repressive government.

The PDPA was committed to a radical land reform that favoured the peasants, trade union rights, an expansion of education and social services, equality for women and the separation of church and state. The PDPA also supported strengthening Afghanistan's relationship with the Soviet Union.

Such policies enraged the wealthy semi-feudal landlords, the Muslim religious establishment (many mullahs were also big landlords) and the tribal chiefs. They immediately began organising resistance to the government's progressive policies, under the guise of defending Islam.

Washington, fearing the spread of Soviet influence (and worse the new government's radical example) to its allies in Pakistan, Iran and the Gulf states, immediately offered support to the Afghan mujaheddin, as the “contra” force was known.


Between 1978 and 1992, the US government poured at least US$6 billion (some estimates range as high as $20 billion) worth of arms, training and funds to prop up the mujaheddin factions. Other Western governments, as well as oil-rich Saudi Arabia, kicked in as much again. Wealthy Arab fanatics, like Osama bin Laden, provided millions more.

Washington's policy in Afghanistan was shaped by US President Jimmy Carter's national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and was continued by his successors. His plan went far beyond simply forcing Soviet troops to withdraw; rather it aimed to foster an international movement to spread Islamic fanaticism into the Muslim Central Asian Soviet republics to destabilise the Soviet Union.
Thus the Afghan people were treated as pawns in a cynical US cold war chess game resulting in millions losing their lives; a decades long policy that undermined the Afghan economy and central government, violated the right of the Afghan peoples to self-determination, and rained death and destruction on an impoverished people struggling to survive.

The Obama administration appears to be acknowledging that the post-US invasion central government created by President Bush and lead by President Karzai does not extend beyond sections of the capital city. The
Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.

Evidently the Obama policy goals are very limited, focusing on achieving little more than policing:

“If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who served under Mr. Bush and is staying on under Mr. Obama, told Congress on Tuesday. He said there was not enough “time, patience or money” to pursue overly ambitious goals in Afghanistan, and he called the war there as “our greatest military challenge.”
The administration is focusing on pressing for anti-corruption initiatives. This runs the risk of appearing to abandon central government in that country.
“If it looks like we’re abandoning the central government and focusing just on the local areas, we will run afoul of Afghan politics,” Mr. Khalilzad said. “Some will regard it as an effort to break up the Afghan state, which would be regarded as hostile policy.”

Mr. Gates said
“My own personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and our allies, and whatever else we need to do flows from that objective.”
Thus the Obama administration continues one of the policy mistakes of the Bush administration, seeing Afghanistan and that region through the lens of a "war on terror". This policy ignores the needs of the people in the region, and ignores the long history of US intervention that is the underlying cause of the rise of retrograde and reactionary trends in the political society of the region.

There does not appear to be a concensus in the US peace movement on Afghanistan, in part because of the belief that it served as the home base for Al Qaeda when the 9/11/01 attack on the World Trade Center took place.

This view ignores the US role in creating Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in undermining civil society, and in fostering thirty years of war in the country and in the region with no regard for the needs and goals of the people living there.

The peace movement is involved in a discussion on the question of Afghanistan, reflected in the United for Peace and Justice Organizing Discussion on the question.

The first important step in developing a clear position from the antiwar movement on Afghanistan is to generate more discussion about the situation there and how the peace movement can play a role in promoting peaceful solutions to the problems. We suggest several resources and critical questions for discussion which will help you in this process.

1. Organize discussions within our own group.
2. Raise questions with candidates.
3. Follow how your media is covering (or not) this issue and offer them resources to improve their reporting.
4. When your group feels it understands the issues well enough, organize a community forum.

Whatever our views on the U.S. military in Afghanistan, an escalation will mean more casualties, more hatred and more money wasted on war rather than rebuilding communities there and here. As the U.S. war machine tries to distract from its failures by shifting focus from the occupation of Iraq to the war in Afghanistan, we must adapt our strategy. It’s time to speak out now!
However, there is an active policy now in the Obama administration which demands protest. The US does not help countries that it invades and polices; it uses those countries for its own purposes. War does not destroy Al Qaeda and similar organizations, it acts as a recruiting tool. It is natural for a person to look at the cynical policies that the US and its allies have followed in the region and to see corruption and inhumanity whereever the US has extended its hand because that in fact is the reality of US policy.

The peace movement can consider
  • an end to the US war against the people of Afghanistan
  • respect for the right of the Afghan people to self-determination
  • withdrawal of all troops with no bases left behind
  • no-strings attached help for rebuilding Afghanistan
While the situation today is different in many dynamics from the period of anti-colonial struggle that some of us remember, there are also similarities. In many parts of the world we have peoples that are struggling against US imperial policies including occupation and long term destruction of civil society.

In the periods of anti-colonial struggle the nationalist and Marxist ideologies that imbued those movements with such humanity and power were augmented by the existence of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union no longer exists, and what ideologies and organizational forms people find available are those that the US created in its cynical and short-sighted battle against communism on behalf of exploiters and their allies.

It is no surprise that the anti-imperialist sentiment finds expression through these retrograde forms when those are what is available.

The US peace movement has a special task of looking beyond anger and fear to the struggles of the people against whom the US wages war, and building people-to-people, movement-to-movement bridges based on peace and mutual respect to overcome the wars, destruction, and the deaths. We can stand against US imperialism and cynical US policies that forget the people living in the countries it destroys.

We can say No War Against Afghanistan for the sake of our own youth and, just as much, for the sake of the struggling Afghan people.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Indiana's jobless rate is highest U.S. jump

January 28, 2009

Indiana's unemployment rate soared to 8.2 percent in December, one of the largest jumps in jobless rates in the nation.

Unemployment in Northwest Indiana increased in line with the rest of the state, where the jobless rate nearly doubled from the same time last year.

The monthly unemployment report, released Tuesday by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, showed Porter County coming in under the state average at 7.4 percent, but above the national average of 7.2 percent, while Lake County weighed in at 8.6 percent and LaPorte County stood at 9.2 percent.

East Chicago took the biggest hit locally, with unemployment jumping to 12.8 percent, third-highest in the state.

Follow the headline link for the full story

Republican Senators Say They Will Hold Up Solis Nomination

Posted By James Parks On January 27, 2009

With unemployment at the highest level in decades, Senate Republicans are saying they will hold a vote on the nomination of a key Cabinet member in the fight to restore jobs in this ailing economy. Some conservative lawmakers are vowing to hold up a vote on Rep. [1] Hilda Solis’ (D-Calif.) confirmation as labor secretary because of their opposition to the [2] Employee Free Choice Act, which she supports.

Solis, who comes from a union family, has been a champion of workers for more than 15 years combined in Congress and the California legislature, where she was the first Latina elected to the state Senate.

Solis backers have created two Facebook groups in support of her nomination: ”[3] Americans for Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor,” and “[4] 1,000,000 Strong For Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor“—and each has some 300 members who signed up in the past few days. The groups give information on how to contact your senators to urge that Solis be confirmed. Sign up for both is open to any Facebook member.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New NLRB Chairwoman Liebman a Welcome Change

Posted By James Parks On January 26, 2009

Wilma Liebman

The union movement is praising President Obama’s nomination of Wilma Liebman as the next chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

As an NLRB member over the past eight years, Liebman has challenged the Bush administration’s [1] war on workers. The board’s Republican majority made it harder to form unions through majority sign-up, limited the ability of illegally fired workers to recover back pay and allowed employers to discriminate against union supporters in the hiring process.

AFL-CIO President [2] John Sweeney says Obama made the right choice.

America’s working men and women will finally have the fair and committed leader they deserve with Wilma Liebman as chair of the National Labor Relations Board. What a refreshing change it will be to have a labor board that aims to safeguard rather than blockade workers’ rights. Liebman will work to help the NLRB serve one of its key missions–to undergird all workers’ right to collective bargaining as a cornerstone of our economy and democracy.

Report: Employee Free Choice Act Needed to Make Economy Work

Posted By Seth Michaels On January 23, 2009

The advocacy organization [1] American Rights at Work has produced a new report, “[2] The Employee Free Choice Act: Ensuring the Economy Works for Everyone,” that clearly explains how restoring the freedom to form unions and bargain can revitalize the U.S. economy.

Follow link for the full story.

Hatred Of Slavery Drove Darwin Ideas

By Mike Collett-White
Jan 23, 2009

LONDON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A new book on Charles Darwin says a passionate hatred of slavery was fundamental to his theory of evolution, which challenged the assumption held by many at the time that blacks and whites were separate species.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Indiana Stalls Jobless Aid
The AP article read "Indiana bolsters jobless aid", but it should have read "Indiana Stalls jobless aid" because that is what they are doing. There is a logjam of 42K unemployment claims. It is well documented that Indiana is out of money and wants more from the government to pay claims even though the governor just won re-election on the platform of a fiscally sound state. Just like a family that has to deal with a loss of income, Indiana is delaying paying their bills in hope that the check that is in the mail gets here. But for the families of people who are unemployed that is of little comfort. I have already heard from people who have been laid off for a month and haven't gotten any money. The state processes about 200K claims a week which is double a year ago. Part of the way they are stalling the claims is to tell people that they made an error in their claim and that keeps the wolves at bay so to speak.
The following story is an example of the ongoing stuggle that the community and the EPA is having with the governor's IDEM. BP is building an multi billion dollar addition onto the East Chicago oil refinery, which happens to be the oldest refinery in the US. This new addition is to process tar sand oil. Environmental groups around the area and country and many legislators have questions the whole process for permits that BP has gotten. There was little time for public comment and then BP and IDEM conspired to stack the meetings with people in favor of the building of the addition.

IDEM cut short permit process, e-mail suggests


January 25, 2009

By insisting on processing the permit by June 1, regardless of what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said, IDEM also refused to help the EPA gather evidence that BP violated the law.

That's according to an e-mail obtained by the Post-Tribune.

Project 'dead' by June 1

When IDEM processed BP's permit application last spring, EPA had reason to believe BP had violated the Clean Air Act by emitting too much pollution. EPA said BP also modified a refinery unit before receiving a permit to do so. But EPA needed more evidence to prove it and wanted BP to agree to pay a fine for the violations. So EPA officials asked IDEM to help by not issuing the air permit until BP handed over the documents to EPA.

"They want us to hold up issuance of the permit until BP caves to whatever relief EPA would like(,) recognizing that BP must have the permit before June 1 or the entire project is dead," IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly said in an e-mail to Gov. Mitch Daniels' IDEM liaison, David Pippen, on Feb. 26, 2008.

Valparaiso environmental attorney Kim Ferraro wasn't surprised.

"It confirms what we knew; that they were really trying to push this thing through," Ferraro said.

IDEM rejected her request for more time to review BP's 1,351-page permit on behalf of residents, but granted her a 30-day extension to review a 100-page permit for a recycling company in Elkhart.

"When we ask about extensions of time, IDEM's usually pretty quick to say, 'We'll give you more time,' " she said. "It's completely inappropriate that you're trying to cut short a very needed public input into the process because you're trying to make it easy for the permittee."

Neither IDEM nor BP would directly answer who or what gave Easterly the idea that the project would be "dead" if the permit wasn't issued by June 1.

"All parties involved understood that the expiration of the emission credits would require portions of the permit to be re-evaluated," IDEM spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said in an e-mail.

BP received credits for reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide and fine particles at the Whiting refinery in 2003, earlier than required. The credits expire after five years. Using the credits allowed BP to avoid installing more stringent pollution control equipment or shutting down some of the polluting units to further reduce pollution.

BP spokesman Scott Dean wouldn't answer whether BP told IDEM the project would be dead by June 1. He referred to a 2008 company press release.

"If we do not have an air permit this year, some of our credits will expire and we will have to modify our permit application and recalculate the costs and timing of this proposed multibillion dollar, multiyear investment in the Midwest economy," the release stated.

Dean said BP reduced its overall air emissions by 68 percent between 2001 and 2006 and that credits help people get cleaner air sooner.

Hartsock said IDEM did help EPA with enforcement by providing documents EPA requested.

"You presume IDEM didn't want to help," Hartsock said in an e-mail. "IDEM simply wanted to follow case law recognizing long-standing EPA policy keeping permitting separate from enforcement."

Enforcement action

Easterly states in the e-mail that, "EPA's position seems to be that the permit cannot be issued until the enforcement action is resolved."

When authorities settle violations with a company, the agreement often requires the company to use new pollution controls to keep the violations from occurring again. Any such controls would be incorporated into a permit that was issued after the enforcement -- guaranteeing that BP?would emit less air pollution.

Ann Alexander, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said if BP started construction early on a project that would increase emissions over a certain threshold, BP would need "far more stringent" pollution controls than IDEM's permit required.

"It would mean cleaner air in the region," she said. "They want to make sure if someone is doing a large expansion project that is, in fact, going to increase emissions, that companies have to face up to that and put in the controls necessary to make sure the community doesn't end up paying the environmental cost of the expansion."

To force IDEM's cooperation, EPA gave IDEM an ultimatum: Hold the public comment period on the air permit open until BP and EPA settle the enforcement case, or EPA will make negative public comments on the draft permit. But EPA backed off just a month later.

IDEM said EPA's request that permitting and enforcement be resolved simultaneously was only the opinion of one person -- Cheryl Newton, the acting director of EPA Region 5's air division.

" 'EPA' did not give IDEM advice; a single person, referenced in your question, suggested action which would have been a change in long-established EPA policy and reinforced by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals," Hartsock said in an e-mail. "EPA chose to follow its policy and the law and supplied IDEM with a letter confirming their approval of the permit."

EPA?would not comment. Spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon said EPA's two official comment letters on the BP permit summarize EPA's position on the overall permitting process and EPA's interactions with the state.

Change in EPA direction

Just one month after EPA?threatened to make negative comments on the permit, the agency backed off. In its comments, EPA pointed out only minor issues and requested that IDEM later add any details BP and EPA agreed on during enforcement.

NRDC's Alexander said as a result, the permit fails to address problems from the past and is based on "untenable" assumptions about emissions.

"Given that EPA had strong reasons to suspect there was a problem, they should have either gone to great lengths to demonstrate why there wasn't a problem or held off until it was resolved," Alexander said. "I don't think going ahead and issuing the permit without resolving the problem was a good solution."

Jane Jankowski, the governor's spokeswoman, denied that anyone from the governor's office interfered.

"The commissioner sent an e-mail to David Pippen, the governor's office liaison to IDEM," she said in an e-mail. "The governor's office took no action."

Contact Gitte Laasby at 648-2183 or glaasby@post-trib.com.

White House Memo: Great Limits Come With Great Power, Ex-Candidate Finds

Newt Gingrich is reported, in the January 25th New York Times (NYT), to have said of President Obama:
“I thought he did very well during the transition on things like the dinner with George Will, and all the words sounded good,” said Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House. “But I think they are right at the cusp of either sliding down into a world where their words have no meaning or having to follow up their words with real behavior.”
This leaves one to wonder why anyone is quoting Newt Gingrich any more. Gingrich is the former speaker of the House and the Republican most associated with the retrograde "Republican Revolution" of 1994 that ended forty years of Democratic Party majorities in that institution.

One of the problems working toward broad bi-partisanship is that it gives power to people and a Party that was not earned at the ballot box and which goes against the democratically expressed will of the people. However, bi-partisanship is a goal for President Obama because he has to run for another term and, while the electoral college vote count in the 2008 elections was hugely in the President's favor, the actual ballots cast gave Obama a slimmer margin and showed a more divided nation. Further, the reelection period for those who have to run in 2010 is already started, and the calculus of political realities is already playing some role in political decisions today.

Given all that, it is still distressing to see Newt Gingrich ressurected to opine on questions of political moment. Does the focus on bi-partisanship in effect ressurect the dying embers of the ultra-right that saw crushing defeat at the polls? That may be the hope of Newt Gingrich and his ilk but hopefully the Administration will feel no pressure to respond to the hypocritical, racist, anti-working family, and destructive message that sector of the political spectrum has been spewing since the late 1970's when Newt Gingrich was elected. It should not be forgotten that the Newt followed Dick Cheney as House Minority Whip in 1989.

While not reporting the details in this article, the NYT mentioned that the President's
plan to build bipartisan consensus around an economic package ran smack into discontented House Republicans.
Should the Republicans, who had the Presidency for the last eight agonizing years of decline and destruction for this country, play any role in crafting a plan to address the wreckage for which the Republicans, as leading representatives of capital at the time, are responsible? If you have a wolf at the door of the hen house, would you ask the wolf how to protect the hens from being eaten?

The NYT said too that the President
wrestled with fresh challenges at every turn, found some principles hard to consistently apply and showed himself willing to be pragmatic — at the risk of irking some supporters who had their hearts set on idealism.
There is a consistent theme that counterpoises pragmatism with idealism, with pragmatism as the obvious winner. After all, idealists hope for that which can't be achieved while pragmatists get stuff done, which is at the heart of the US capitalist credo: Just Do It!

Some advocates for the needs of the masses of working people in this country and globally are looking at this and coming to the conclusion that the definition of pragmatism needs to be changed by mass grass roots organization around the issues that are of import to working families. According to Robert Kuttner of Demos, interviewed on Democracy Now,
a crisis is also an opportunity, and the crash on Wall Street was also the crash of right-wing ideology, the ideology that claimed that markets could do nothing bad and governments could do nothing good. We’re going to have reality making the most compelling case for activist government since the New Deal. The question is whether Obama seizes the moment. He will either be Roosevelt, or he will be Hoover. There’s no middle ground.
The programs instituted during the Roosevelt administration were the result of the people's movements of the time which made the President's decisions the pragmatic decisions, as evidenced by his three term presidency. The New Deal was not a one-man show; it was the result of mass movements and progressive thinking that challenged the status quo and effected real change in the lives of the majority of people in the country.

As Katrina Vanden Heuvel says in The Nation,
The President will only be as brave as ordinary citizens move him to be.
Vanden Heuvel continues:
President Barack Obama takes office at a time defined by hope and fear in equal measure. To confront this nation's many challenges he will need to act swiftly, show that he is on the side of people whose homes are being foreclosed and jobs lost and invest political capital--along with trillions of dollars--in a sustained recovery program. While many caution our new President to tread carefully, the reality is that half-steps will not lay the groundwork for a new economy that is more just and fair. Only by effectively marshaling the power of government can Obama improve the actual conditions of peoples' lives--and consign anti-government evangelists to the dustbin of history.

Fortunately, Obama has a mandate for change. People support reconstruction of America's crumbling physical infrastructure, and of our society
Certainly in this blog there have been many calls for a grassroots people's movement to counterbalance the pressure from the right, and surprisingly from the ultra-right that was considered by some to be superfluous and without any power.

The President's early signs of a commitment to pragmatism are not surprising; one does not get to be President of the United States without being pragmatic in building support across a wide political spectrum. In the case of the Obama presidency, the pragmatism was linked to an appeal to hope that evoked an amazing response in the US electorate and resulted in the election of the first African American to the highest office in the nation.

Hope is not about pragmatism or idealism, hope is about meeting the needs that the moment puts before the people and which the people see as priorities. These are bread and butter issues: work, health care, housing, education, peace, financial stability for the elderly, pension protection, and similar issues.

The issue of torture is one of those that motivated people to stand against the Bush administration. While running for office, President Obama
had tough criticism for the Bush administration’s use of harsh interrogation tactics, President Obama left himself some wiggle room in overturning that policy, by deferring a decision on whether some techniques should remain secret to keep Al Qaeda from training to resist them.

“I think it emphasizes a realist, a pragmatist, someone who is not on a strictly political or ideological exercise,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, who is close to the president. “It underscores what I think is part of his leadership style, which is that there has to be some flexibility — a firm principle but a flexible application.”
This raises the question of how keeping the door open to torture represents firm principle but flexible application? At its core, this is another example of the tension between principle and pragmatism, with pragmatism winning out.

Republicans continue in their coercive style to threaten obstruction if the President doesn't respond to their foul demands. Talking about the bill to address the financial crisis:
“I said to him straight up, ‘I think your electoral success was largely based on the hope that you could deliver change to the way Washington works,’ ” said Representative Eric Cantor, the Republican whip. He said he had told Mr. Obama pointedly that he would lose Republican support unless House Democrats were willing to make some changes in the bill.
Republicans are proving once against that they are willing to hold the hopes of the many hostage to the machinations of the few.

While highlighting the tension between Republicans and the President, it must be noted that there are similar if more muted tensions within different sectors of the Democratic Party itself. The 1/25 NYT reports in a lead story on the Obama economic program that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, does not include in his stimulus bill funds to pay for health insurance (COBRA) for laid off workers, nor for putting laid off workers who cannot pay for their own health insurance into state medicaid programs with federal funds meeting the costs. Further, recent extensions to unemployment benefits exclude people who are long term unemployed. This highlights the fact that the struggle to meet the needs of the working families in the United States today has to go beyond two-party politics and root itself in a class conscious grassroots movement that fights consistently for needs of the exploited and the oppressed.

While looking forward to a more sympathetic and certainly more intelligent administration, working people cannot afford to view the President as our leader and follow his lead, which will reflect many anti-working class pressures. Working families need to be an independent political voice during this administration's tenure. We may all live in one country, but we don't all have the same interests. Politics matters. Pragmatism under capitalism = death, literally.

Will the focus on pragmatic bi-partisanship undo the President by making it impossible for him to achieve any real change due to including so many conflicting interests that what results is mud?

The answer to this question cannot be up to the President, it is up to the people's movements in this country who engage in mobilization and education to ensure that pragmatism and hope coincide and that the needs of working families, the disabled, the young and the old, the unemployed and the underemployed, the unorganized who want to become organized, the soldier who wants to come home, are the needs that must be addressed when looked at through the sophisticated and possibly cynical lens of political pragmatism.

The calls of the few Newt Gingrichs of the world should be drowned out with the calls of the masses of people demanding help for the social problems that face this society, including protecting those programs like Social Security and Medicare that appear to be under attack based on fiscal pragmatism of the worst kind. The calls of Democrats who refuse to see beyond the current structures, or who are wedded to the forces of capital, for pragmatism in the face of need must to be overcome by a people's movement that is resolute on behalf of working families and our needs.

As many others are saying, its time to organize!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

EPA again hits IDEM

EPA again hits IDEM

January 24, 2009

By Gitte Laasby

Post-Tribune staff writer

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has still not submitted its plan to reduce regional haze in the country's national parks. The plan was due more than a year ago.

If IDEM?doesn't submit its plan within the next year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have to formulate the plan instead. For now, EPA?is threatening to put Indiana on official notice in the Federal Register.

The EPA's?Regional Haze Rule from 1999 aims to improve visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas, such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. The rule requires states to develop and implement air quality protection plans to reduce the pollution that causes the haze.

Indiana isn't close to any of the parks EPA is concerned about, but IDEM?spokesman Rob Elstro said emissions from Indiana are transported there.

The EPA sent a letter to IDEM on Jan. 14, saying IDEM has not formally completed the public comment process for its plan or submitted limits on the best available technology that the most polluting facilities can install to control emissions.

"The letter we received wasn't unexpected. Indiana is one of 37 other states that are also in that situation. We are working with EPA?to submit the plan fully," Elstro said.

Part of the delay is that the plan involves making rules to flesh out details of the law.

See IDEM's plan at www.in.gov/idem/5795.htm

Read more about regional haze on IDEM's Web site at www.in.gov/idem/4499.htm


All Out for the Employee Free Choice Act

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is the single most important initiative before the people of the United States and President Obama today.

The EFCA will help build an economy that works for everyone. Passage of this act will do more to help US working families over the longer term than any other single action to help end the current US fiscal crisis. As the AFL-CIO states
Supported by a bipartisan coalition in Congress and millions of workers around the country, the Employee Free Choice Act would level the playing field and put the power to choose a union back where it belongs—in the hands of workers. It will restore workers' power to bargain for a better life, rebuilding the middle class and strengthening the economy for the long term.

The full text of the EFCA is available at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.800:

EFCA will help to rebalance the distorted distribution of wealth in this country which underlies the fiscal crisis. We live in a country where, in 2005, 1% of the population had 21.8% of the wealth. This trend has continued. The disproportianate distribution of wealth is even more pronounced today, despite the fiscal crisis.

Corporations and CEOs aren't treating workers fairly. They cut back on workers' health care and wages, while CEO pay skyrockets. They intimidate workers who join together to negotiate a contract, while protecting their own perks and benefits.

The Heritage Foundation is representative of the attack by business interests. In an article entitled "Employee Free Choice Act Would Disenfranchise 105 Million Workers", published on January 7,2008, they describe the secret ballot mechanism as a "fundamental right" of workers.

The Heritage Foundation and other business interests are lying to people, harping endlessly that
A fundamental principle of American democracy is that votes are private choices. Secret ballot elections ensure that voters can choose the candidate who truly represents them, not the candidate whom their friends or neighbors want them to support. Millions of Americans cherish this freedom, but many Members of Congress want to take it from American workers.
The Heritage Foundation continues:
The card-check process also denies workers the right to vote "yes" or "no" on joining a union. Workers can only vote "yes" by signing the card.
Both these statements by the Heritage Foundation are outright lies designed to scare working families into supporting business rather than our own interests.

The true "fundamental right" is the right to work and to join together in a union. Article 23 section 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Business interests are attempting to confuse people by replacing the meaningful democratic right to form a union with the mechanism of the secret vote, which they call a right and which does nothing for working families on its own. Workers can vote secretly all they want without bothering a boss. However, forming a union has real impact on workers lives, and on the boss's ability to pay as little as possible and keep the most for themselves.

Voting secretly is but one of a variety of mechanisms used to express the will of the people. History has shown that business interests are quite happy to subvert and undermine this mechanism in this country and elsewhere to achieve their goals. Rachel Maddow reports on widespread Republican efforts to block Democrats from exercising their rights to vote in the 2008 presidential election on her MSNBC show.

In the context of union organizing the secret ballot is a mechanism that works for the business owner, not for the worker. It gives the boss the ability to monitor the organizing activities, to identify and intimidate or fire key workers involved in organizing, and to apply terror tactics and lies to prevent workers from joining a union.

America's workers want to form a union. Nearly 60 million would form a union tomorrow if given the chance. It is the business practices, not the union organizing, that is anti-democratic and deprives workers of their rights.

As outlined by the AFL-CIO:
The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800, S. 1041), supported by a bipartisan coalition in Congress, would enable working peope to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions by restoring workers' freedom to choose for themselves whether to join a union. It would:

Establish stronger penalities for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations.

Provide mediatation and arbitration for first-contract disputes.

Allow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.
The EFCA makes it easier to organize a union by allowing the work of union oganizing to take place with less intervention from the management of the enterprise being unionized.

The EFCA does not take away the right to secret ballot should the workers want to use that mechanism. EFCA adds another form for a worker to express support for having a union.

The key section of the EFCA reads:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, whenever a petition shall have been filed by an employee or group of employees or any individual or labor organization acting in their behalf alleging that a majority of employees in a unit appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining wish to be represented by an individual or labor organization for such purposes, the Board shall investigate the petition. If the Board finds that a majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for bargaining has signed valid authorizations designating the individual or labor organization specified in the petition as their bargaining representative and that no other individual or labor organization is currently certified or recognized as the exclusive representative of any of the employees in the unit, the Board shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or labor organization as the representative described in subsection (a).

On March 3, 2007 at a rally in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, now President Obama said
the union movement is the best way for working people to take care of themselves in the 21st century economy:

In coffee shops and town meetings, in VFW halls and right here in this crowd, the questions are all the same. Will I be able to leave my children a better world than I was given? Will I be able to save enough to send them to college or plan for a secure retirement? Will my job even be there tomorrow? Who will stand up for me in this new world?

The answer is you. It’s the men and women of the American labor movement.

Business interests are fighting the Employee Free Choice Act viciously, with lies. Workers and our allies can fight back.

Join the American Rights At Work Million Member Mobilization Campaign in support of the Employee Free Choice Act at http://www.freechoiceact.org/page/s/aflcio?source=aflcioweb.

Its time to stop letting the same business interests that caused today's fiscal crisis define what we can be paid and what our benefits should be. Working people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not underpaid and overworked, or left without a pension or health care.

Let's win the Employee Free Choice Act now!

Friday, January 23, 2009

IDEM comes under attack by Evansville officials

IDEM comes under attack

January 23, 2009

By Gitte Laasby

Post-Tribune staff writer

City officials in Evansville share outrage from Hammond and Gary over changes in enforcement at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

They call the changes "absurd" and criticize IDEM's management for "emasculating" the agency. City officials are now taking their frustration to the Indiana General Assembly, where Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has been asked to testify to a state House committee.

Several bills also are in the works and the EPA has sent a letter with concerns to IDEM.

"We had very little expectation anything we said or did to communicate with (IDEM Commissioner Thomas) Easterly or Gov. (Mitch) Daniels would matter," said Dona Bergman, director of Evansville's Environmental Protection Agency.

"Frankly, I think U.S. EPA, from that letter, is quite concerned. I?don't think IDEM bothered to consult with EPA?before they made these decisions. EPA staff we have spoken to were quite shocked."

Three changes are causing concern: IDEM's decision to eliminate funding for city agencies that monitor air, including those in Gary, Hammond and Evansville; a new enforcement policy that would narrow the category of environmental permit violations to comprise only violations that cause actual harm to human health or the environment; and the elimination of IDEM's Office of Enforcement.

Bergman said Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel talked to Daniels, and that Evansville EPA?staff contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5.

As the Post-Tribune reported Thursday, the regional office of the EPA sent a letter to IDEM Tuesday raising questions about the changes.

McDermott welcomed the intervention. He and a Hammond environmental manager were asked to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee in early February, "probably to answer questions about this whole situation," McDermott said.

"Maybe this has something to do with the change in administration in Washington. I welcome EPA's involvement."

IDEM officials announced in December that IDEM was canceling city contracts to monitor air, saying it would enhance efficiency and that the agency would save $2 million by doing it in-house.

Bergman called it "absolutely absurd" and "dis-ingenuous" to claim IDEM would be as effective and efficient as local agencies.

She questioned the savings, citing top IDEM officials who said IDEM would need to hire at least four people to take over the responsibilities. Evansville legislators have asked IDEM for a fiscal analysis of where the savings would be, but IDEM has not provided answers, she said.

"I am not going to stand there and say this is going to enhance efficiency. None of that is true," Bergman said.

Hammond, Gary and Evansville officials have expressed concern that IDEM will be less responsive to complaints of residents and perform inspections less frequently.

"For the larger sources," such as U.S. Steel, BP and NIPSCO, "the ones that IDEM staff will have resources to inspect, 70 percent of those will get done only every two years. Thirty percent will be done every three years," Bergman said. "Local agencies did all those and a whole lot more every year."

Bergman is not optimistic that bills requiring IDEM to enter local contracts will go anywhere, but hopes EPA and public awareness will help.

"There are obviously people at (EPA) Region 5 who are concerned," she said. "I think there are a number of mid- and low-level IDEM personnel who want to do a good job, who really care about the environment and protecting the environment. They're very distraught by the system ... and now a management team that seems bent on emasculating the entire agency."

"For the larger sources," such as U.S. Steel, BP and NIPSCO, "the ones that IDEM staff will have resources to inspect, 70 percent of those will get done only every two years. Thirty percent will be done every three years," Bergman said. "Local agencies did all those and a whole lot more every year."

She's not optimistic that bills requiring IDEMto enter local contracts will go anywhere, but hopes EPA and public awareness will help.

"There are obviously people at (EPA) Region 5 who are concerned," she said. "I think there are a number of mid- and low-level IDEM personnel who want to do a good job, who really care about the environment and protecting the environment. They're very distraught by the system... and now a management team that seems bent on emasculating the entire agency."

Contact Gitte Laasby at 648-2183 or glaasby@post-trib.com.


Krugman: Employee Free Choice Key to Economic Recovery

Krugman: Employee Free Choice Key to Economic Recovery

Posted By Seth Michaels On January 22, 2009 @ 10:54 am In Legislation & Politics | 2 Comments




In the latest issue of [1] Rolling Stone, Nobel Prize-winning Princeton economist Paul Krugman has written an open letter to President Obama detailing the steps needed to end our economic crisis and turn the country around.

Krugman’s prescription includes quick and large-scale actions to save jobs, rebuild infrastructure and protect those whose health care, housing and retirement have been put at risk—but it also includes longer-term strategies to make sure America is “a more just and secure society.” High on Krugman’s list? In addition to health care reform and an economic recovery package, he stresses restoring workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life by passing the [2] Employee Free Choice Act.

…you can do a lot to enhance workers’ rights. One is to start laying the groundwork to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it much harder for employers to intimidate workers who want to join a union…the legislation will enable America to take a huge step toward recapturing the middle-class society we’ve lost.

Obama issues appeal to Israel, Hamas

In what can only be interpreted as a one sided approach to the peace process in the Palestinian struggle against occupation and Israel militarism, President Obama
said Hamas must end rocket fire at Israel, and Israel must "complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza." Although those steps were taken this week, low-level violence has marred the fragile cease-fire.

Obama said he would aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians while also always defending Israel's "right to defend itself."
This continues the line established by prior administrations that focused on the US's "special" relationship to Israel and viewed Israeli actions as defensive against the Palestinian people rather than as the aggressive and illegal acts of an occupying power.

In the meantime, Israel understands that in the eyes of many nations the Israeli attack on Gaza was a war crime. The VOANews.com reports
Israel's prime minister has assembled a team to defend the country against charges of war crimes in its recent offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
While the VOANews.com report spins the offensive as if it were against "Hamas militants", the reality is that the Israelis devestated the entire region and murdered many women and children. The offensive was clearly designed to terrorize the entire population, following a blockade that had the same goal.

President Obama's naming of a new special envoy to the Middle East, Sen. George Mitchell, should be welcomed if it signals a commitment to work for a just peace in the region. However the statement on Israel and Hamas signal a policy of "more of the same" rather than "change we need".

The President's statements on continuing the Bush policy of a "War on Terror" are also unwelcome to those who were looking for a more sophisticated and sensitive, even if not anti-imperialist, foreign policy in the regions including Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is the region that President is declaring
"the central front" in the battle against terrorism and extremism. "There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problems in isolation," he said.
A foreign policy that approachs the US issues in that region in context of the needs of the people of the region as well as those of the US people, and which puts the peaceful and mutually beneficial resolution to issues at the forefront of a policy, would be welcome. However, putting the relationships to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the context of the "battle against terrorism and extremism" draws lines that are sure to make diplomacy difficult, signaling an aggressive and combative approach to diplomacy there.

Finally, on Iraq, the NY Times report said that
Obama's top military officials said yesterday they will make sure he knows the potential downside of any timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, including the 16-month deadline he set during his presidential campaign.
Here again we have to applaud the President in his desire to bring the troops home and hope that he does not take the occassion of various "downsides" to a timetable to move away from that goal.

All in all, for those who are proponents of peace and social justice, these first steps toward foreign policy send a message of continuity with some of the key components of the Bush administration's policies, and continue along lines that are not designed to achieve a just peace in the Palestinian struggle. Hopefully as the President continues involvement in these processes he will extend his tone of humanity and inclusiveness to the oppressed and the hungry of Palestine as much as to those of us here in the United States who look to him for humane and caring leadership.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Seeks Halt to Guantanamo Trials

In a wonderful beginnging to his administration, the New York Times reported that
U.S. President Barack Obama ordered military prosecutors in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals to ask for a 120-day halt in all pending cases.
This is a welcome first action by the President and sends strong message that the injustices that were such a decisive and pervasive component of the Bush administration are to be ended.

Military judges were expected to rule on the request on Wednesday at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an official involved in the trials said.

The request would halt proceedings in 21 pending cases, including the death penalty case against five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Prosecutors said in their written request that the halt was "in the interests of justice."

The proceedings at Guantanamo were seen world wide as unjust due to the torture of prisoners there, holding of prisoners without due process, detention of child prisoners, and the lack of access to the prisoners by family, press, and legal representation. The fiction that the prisoners were not on US soil and therefore not covered by US law but rather by military law, and that the prisoners were not covered by the Geneva Conventions, all conspired to reinforce the world's opinion that President George Bush is a war criminal.

President Obama's move to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay is welcomed by all who love justice and human rights world wide.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration!

Today was the day so many of have been waiting for. Initially I was just looking forward to saying goodbye to the horror that has been the Bush II administration. Then Barack Obama became the President-elect and I started looking forward to saying hello to some positive changes, and to celebrating an extremely important marker in the history of the United States in the election of the first African-American president.

For me the day was only partially about the Presidential inauguration. It was also about the millions of people who participated by going to Washington and standing for hours in the cold to share in a collective sense of hope and positive anticipation. For some today marked a moment of pride in emerging from the shadows represented by the term "minority" or "special interest" and being fully recognized as participants in the US experiment.

The moments that were truly important were not the moments of pomp and circumstance today. The moments of humanity and caring that broke through the boundaries of the trappings of power to reassert a warmth and human connection, as much as any political promise, represents the hope that President Obama brings as capital to his first four years in office.

The Obama children looking happy and relaxed during the ceremonies. The clear warmth between the President and the First Lady as they danced together. The faces of older folks who were participating in a moment that they never thought would happen while they lived. The faces of younger people excited to be alive and wondering what would happen next. These were among the moments that most moved me.

Now comes the time to realize the dreams, to ensure that the promised change is instantiated in the lives of working families across this nation.

While the President may want to take a non-partisan approach that insists on the unity of all the people of the United States as a single people looking for solutions to today's problems, he faces a complex poliitical establishment and the contradictions between his vision and the interests of different participants in the dance of power will make for an interesting drama in which we can all participate by engaging in organizations in neighborhoods and work places, encouraging those organizations to express themselves and build constituencies around areas of concern to the members, and helping the President to achieve the goals so many working families depend on to ameliorate the difficulties in which we find ourselves due to social and economic stresses not of our personal making.

My best wishes to the President and to all in these United States that work together for positive change on behalf of working families, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed, and for an end to racism, exploitation for private profit.

In unity and struggle,

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Cuban Revolution and the liberation of Africa

When the Cuban Revolution triumphed on Jan. 1 1959, its leaders openly declared their enmity for imperialism and colonialism, and began to organize material solidarity for revolutionary struggles in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

One of the first African countries on which Cuba focused was the Congo, a Belgian colony until 1960. Though rich in minerals, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (as it is now called) had been ruthlessly looted by Belgian, European and U.S. capitalists, who strove to make sure they could continue to do so unimpeded after the country became independent. The CIA and Belgium connived with Congolese traitors to murder the left-wing prime minister, Patrice Lumumba and replace him with a corrupt military man, Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese-Seko). Lumumba’s supporters carried out guerilla war against Mobutu and an army of foreign mercenaries the CIA brought in to support him.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, one of the main leaders and theoreticians of the Cuban Revolution, showed up in the Congo with a small but highly-trained group of mostly Afro-Cuban volunteers, and worked with Congolese guerilla forces, trying to impart some of the ideological and tactical lessons learned in Cuba in a new context. Unfortunately, even with Cuban help, the organizational and leadership level of the insurgent forces was no match for the Mobutu army and the white mercenaries. Thwarted, Che left Africa for Bolivia, where he met a heroic death.

Cuba helped Algeria resist a Moroccan invasion, and helped the Portuguese colonies in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Sao Tome-Principe) fight for independence. In 1974, the overthrow of the fascist regime in Portugal made possible the quick triumph of the independence struggles. In central Angola, the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) formed a government, led by Marxist doctor Augustinho Neto, whom Che had met in Africa in 1965. However, two right-wing armed movements — the FLNA of Holden Roberto (Mobutu’s brother in law) and UNITA, led by a ruthless warlord, Jonas Savimbi — contested the MPLA’s power.

From the north, Roberto invaded with troops from Mobutu’s Congolese army, in an attempt to capture the Angolan capital, Luanda. South African apartheid troops, who had been fighting the SWAPO independence movement in Namibia, pushed north. Both these forces were fully aided by the CIA.

At this point, Cuba sent its own military forces to support the Angolan troops. It was not a matter of technical advisors, but of thousands of Cuban volunteers putting their lives on the line to defend the Angolan people’s freedom. Quickly, Cuban and Angolan troops defeated Holden Roberto’s forces, which ceased to be a factor in Angola, and then turned back the South African intervention.

In 1985, the South African army invaded Angola from Namibia once more, in coordination with Savimbi. Cuban President Fidel Castro quickly sent a force of 40,000 Cuban troops to help Neto (Fidel says eventually more than 300,000 Cuban soldiers and 50,000 technical helpers served in Angola — all of them volunteers).

From December 1987 to March 1988, Cuban and Angolan troops, with Soviet aid, defeated South Africa and UNITA in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, an Angolan military base which the South Africans and UNITA tried to capture with five unsuccessful ground assaults. Though South Africa claimed victory, there is no doubt it was for them not only a military but a huge political defeat. A short while later South African and Cuban troops were withdrawn from Angola and Namibia got its independence.

Most analysts consider that Cuito Cuanavale so rattled the South African regime that it led to the fall of hard-line racist prime minister P.W. Botha and his replacement by F.W. deKlerk, who convinced his colleagues in the ruling National Party that they must negotiate with the African National Congress. There followed Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the crumbling of the apartheid state.

Today, Angola remains poor despite continued Cuban help, oil wealth and the death of Savimbi. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has still not recovered from Mobutu’s long and larcenous reign. But all over Africa, the Cuban contribution is recognized and extolled.

Nelson Mandela put it best: “Hundreds of Cubans have given their lives, literally, in a struggle that was, first and foremost, not theirs but ours. As Southern Africans we salute them. We vow never to forget this unparalleled example of selfless internationalism.”

Bailout Is a Windfall to Banks, if Not to Borrowers

In a New York Times article of January 18, 2009 entitled Bailout Is a Windfall to Banks, if Not to Borrowers, Mike McIntire reports on the fact that the banks that received federal bailouts have not used the money to make loans.

The chairman of one bank, the Whitney National Bank in New Orleans, in explaining how his bank was going to use the $300 million it received of bailout funds, said
“Make more loans? We’re not going to change our business model or our credit policies to accommodate the needs of the public sector as they see it to have us make more loans.”
Highlighting the systemic nature of the financial crisis, despite over a trillion dollars being distributed in various forms of bailout and supports to the financial industry, things continue getting worse.
[A]s mounting losses at major banks like Citigroup and Bank of America in the last week have underscored, regulators are still searching for ways to stabilize the banking system.
According to the New York Times,
[T]he Obama administration could be forced early on to come up with a systemic solution....
The capitalist economic system in which the banks function incorporates no sense of commitment to the needs of working families or the larger society. This is reflected in the behavior of the people in the banking institutions.
An overwhelming majority saw the bailout program as a no-strings-attached windfall that could be used to pay down debt, acquire other businesses or invest for the future.
Most financial institutions don't see increased lending as a responsibility associated with the acceptance of the bailout funds, in part because the law authorizing the bailout funds did not stipulate that usage. At least on banker, Walter M. Pressey of Boston Private Wealth Management, sees the bailout money as a cash cushion.
“With that capital in hand, not only do we feel comfortable that we can ride out the recession,” he said, “but we also feel that we’ll be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves once this recession is sorted out.”
In the initial discussion about the bailout, the funds were expected to be used to buy up bad mortgages. Then the focus shifted after the money was allocated and the funds were used instead to "direct investments in individual banks in return for preferred shares of stock".
But a Congressional oversight panel reported on Jan. 9 that it found no evidence the bailout program had been used to prevent foreclosures, raising questions about whether the Treasury has complied with the law’s requirement that it develop a “plan that seeks to maximize assistance for homeowners.”
The report concluded that the Treasury’s top priority seemed to be to “stabilize financial markets” by simply giving healthy banks more money and letting them decide how best to use it. The report also said it was not clear how giving billions to banks “advances both the goal of financial stability and the well-being of taxpayers, including homeowners threatened by foreclosure, people losing their jobs, and families unable to pay their credit cards.”
Mark Fitzgibbon, research director at Sandler O’Neill & Partners, which sponsored the Palm Beach conference, said banks seemed to be allocating the bailout money for four general purposes: increased lending, absorbing losses, bolstering capital and “opportunistic acquisitions.” He said those approaches made sense from a business perspective, even though they might not conform to popular expectations that the money would be immediately lent to consumers.
The bankers take different approaches, but in the end many of them
“...see TARP as an insurance policy,” he said. “That when all this stuff is finally over, no matter how bad it gets, we’re going to be one of the remaining banks.”
The priority of the banks for self-preservation by hoarding the federal bailout funds, or to use the money for opportunistic acquistions and expansion, directly contravenes the focus of the efforts to make the economy functional. However, the banks are acting totally logically from their own perspective. Here we have an example of the social contradictions built into capitalism that highlights the divergence between the needs of the great masses of the people in this country, the working families that include you and I, and the systemic needs of the financial institutions and the capitalists these institutions serve.

At a time when there is a growing acknowledgement that a restructuring of our economic system is required, it is important to present the socialist alternative. For example, rather than buying non-voting "preferred" stock in financial institutions, and thus effectively denying the Federal government a voice in the operation of the institution, it would save money for the society and bring the institutions under democratic control if they were bought at current market prices and absorbed into a single national bank under direct Congressional control. An alternative would be to seize the banks without restititution and create a national bank. Whatever the mechanism, and whatever the structure that emerged, the main structural differences that socialism would advocate would result in the financial institutions being under more public, democratic, control and having as a priority the needs of the vast majority of the people of this nation, the working families that actually keep our economy afloat.

To participate in a discussion on the question of structural change and meeting the economic challenges of our time, please join the Socialist Economics group at http://groups.google.com/group/socialist-economics/.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cease Fire Now! End the Siege!

Editor's note: This statement is published despite the report in the New York Times this evening that
Israel’s prime minister announced the unilateral cease-fire in Gaza late Saturday, saying all Israeli objectives for the war had been reached.
Israeli soldiers will remain in Gaza as an occupying force, and Hamas has pledged to carry on the struggle against the occupation.

Almost three weeks into "Operation Cast Lead," we call once more on Jews and others to speak out for a cease fire and against the siege of Gaza.

At Jewish Voice for Peace, we echo the report issued on January 14 by 9 Israeli human rights organizations: Israel's military operations in Gaza pose a "clear and present danger to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians." In Gaza, "the level of harm to the civilian population is unprecedented" while "military forces are making wanton use of lethal force."

We condemn Israel's assault on Gaza. As of today , more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli assault, including at least 335 children and many more civilians. Nearly 5,000 have been wounded, many paralyzed for life. Tens of thousands have fled their homes - but Gaza is entirely sealed off, so there is nowhere to hide, no safe haven for civilians, no escape corridor for civilians to flee the air, sea and land attacks. Electricity and running water are scarce, the health system has collapsed and sewage is running through the streets in some areas. Inside of Israel, rockets continue to rain down, hitting population centers like Beer Sheba and Ashkelon and causing widespread fear.

We condemn these ongoing rocket attacks, which indiscriminately target civilians. 13 Israelis have been killed, 3 of them civilians, with over 82 civilians injured.

Jewish Voice for Peace:

* Calls on all Americans to support Rep. Dennis Kucinich's resolution calling for an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire" and "unrestricted humanitarian access" to Gaza. Call your congressperson or write them today.

* Joins the call from Human Rights Watch (and others) for Israel to stop using white phosphorous, an incendiary tool permissable in the laws of war as an "obscurant" - but when used in densely populated Gaza, causes widespread, horrific burning of the skin.

* Demands an end to the vicious siege on Gaza, which brought the population to the brink of humanitarian disaster with extreme shortages of food, water, fuel and medical supplies.

* Calls for an end to the 41 years of occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, including an immediate end to the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Only when Palestinians and Israelis are both equally free to decide their own sovereignty will there be peace.

One bright spot in the midst of this terrible darkness is the explosion of dissent in all corners of the globe. We are especially moved by the Israelis who refuse to fall in line with the drumbeat of war: those like Nomika Zion in southern Gaza who, despite living terrified under rocket fire, stand up to say "Not in my name...The bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name nor for my security." or the group "Other Voice", made up of Israelis living under the threat of qassams, who call for Israel to end the attack and strike a truce with Hamas.

We are inspired by those Israeli soldiers who refuse to fight this civilian population, some of whom are already in jail for their refusal; those Israelis who gather every week to demand their country halt its assault and end the siege, or protest everyday at countless intersections throughout the country; and especially those Israelis who stand outside Sde Dov airforce base in Tel Aviv every morning to remind the pilots that every day they drop their bombs, they drop them on civilians.

In North America, we are inspired by the thousands of people who have gone into the streets for protests, in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and elsewhere, and especially the Jewish women who held a sit-in the Israeli consulate in Toronto, telling the Israeli authorities that "we'll end our occupation when you end yours."

And we are motivated by the tens of thousands who have signed petitions and sent letters calling for Congress to work for an immediate ceasefire and end the siege, and by the tens of thousands who have signed up on JVP's email list and sent thank-you letters to Jon Stewart (www.thankyoujonstewart.com). We are hopeful that more journalists and op-ed page editors will tell the truth about Gaza and Israel (here are examples from the Washington Postand the Wall Street Journal.)

And we are grateful to our friends at Jewish Peace News for bringing us insightful analysis and timely reports on dissent against the war.

© Copyright by JewishVoiceForPeace.org

Obama Pledges Entitlement Reform; Moving Away from Employee Free Choice Act

What is going to be the cost of the economic recovery plan to working families?

The President-elect is reportedly positioning the economic recovery in opposition to the "entitlement" programs, Social Security and Medicare.

As Michael D. Shear reported in the January 16, 2009 Washington Post,
President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare "bargain" with the American people, saying that the nation's long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.
What the President-elect means by getting control over these programs remains to be seen. However, just the fact that this discussion is being advanced must raise very serious concerns for anyone interested in the well being of our elderly, poor, and disabled family and friends in this country.

The article reported the President-elect as saying
"What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further. We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's."
At the same time, the President-elect is signaling a move away from support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
The president-elect also gave his support for legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, but he said there may be other ways to achieve the same goal without angering businesses. And while many Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to see a quick vote on that bill, he indicated no desire to rush into the contentious issue.
"If we're losing half a million jobs a month, then there are no jobs to unionize, so my focus first is on those key economic priority items I just mentioned," he said. "Let's see what the legislative docket looks like."
The President-elect reportedly
framed the economic recovery efforts more broadly, saying it is impossible to separate the country's financial ills from the long-term need to rein in health-care costs, stabilize Social Security and prevent the Medicare program from bankrupting the government.
The president-elect said
"Social Security, we can solve. The big problem is Medicare, which is unsustainable. . . . We can't solve Medicare in isolation from the broader problems of the health-care system."
These statements raise more questions than they answer. It is too early to know what direction the President-elect intends to take these efforts to address fundamental problems in important programs that help everyone in the United States. The important thing for working families and our allies and organizations, and many are already doing this, is to continue to exert pressure to protect and expand these programs and to participate in providing counsel and support to the President-elect in any efforts he makes that move in that direction.

The President-elects outlook is
"The theory behind it is I set the tone," Obama said. "If the tone I set is that we bring as much intellectual firepower to a problem, that people act respectfully towards each other, that disagreements are fully aired, and that we make decisions based on facts and evidence as opposed to ideology, that people will adapt to that culture and we'll be able to move together effectively as a team."
This non-partisan, anti-ideological, managerial approach implies that one can in fact come to an understanding of data without applying an interpretive structure. Ideology or philosophy define the priorities and the goals of a decision making process. It causes concern to some that the President-elect sees himself in this anti-ideological context because to address the issues of the day demands a clear set of goals and a clearly defined context in which to make the decisions required to achieve those goals. Many of these questions create situations where win-win doesn't work because of the contradictions in the social structure. Where will the money for Medicare come from if it to be protected and expanded? From the beleagured backs of working families or from the overflowing coffers of the rich. If neither is an option, do we jettison the program? Does it get morphed into something very different? Just as with President Clinton's "welfare reform" initiative, can Social Security and Medicare be protected and expanded or will they be gutted or transmogrified in the name of fiscal responsibility?

There are fundamentally opposing interests at play in our society and our economy. These large questions about the "entitlement" programs and unionization could be viewed more fundamentally as discussions about the priorities for this nation. Do we want to continue the increasing accumulation of wealth in the hands of 1% of the nation's people while the other 99% see a continuing real loss in spending power? Do we see providing health care to the people of the nation as enough of a priority to challenge the insurance companies which, like vampires, feed off the financial blood of the healthy and leave the sick to rot untreated. Each solution to a problem involves winners and losers when an economy gets to the point we're in today, where there is little room left for padding.

The President-elect is a man of compassion and intelligence. In just a few days he will be the acting President of the United States. Let's look forward with positive anticipation to a humane and supportive administration crafting programs that benefit working families. We are all invited to participate through the Change.gov web site, participating in the policy discussion, and by participating in the Renew America Together days of service. However, keeping in mind the President-elect's background as a community organizer, we can also all participate by working in our neighborhoods and work places to build and expand a people's movement to help the new administration win the fights they must take on, and to provide pressure to ensure that working families needs are the priority for the next challenging period in our nation's history.

Communist Party of Greece: Theses of the CC on Socialism: 1 - The Contribution of the Socialist System

The Communist Party of Greece Central Committee has offered a set of Theses of the CC on Socialism. The Theses deal with
-- the contribution of the Socialist system

-- theoretical positions on Socialism as the first, lower stage of Communism

-- Socialism in the USSR - Causes of the victory of counter-revolution

-- The necessity and relevance of Socialism, Enrichment of our programmatic conception of socialism

-- Epilogue

Certainly we in the United States are now living through a period of fundamental restructuring in the economic system due to the global crisis of Capitalism today. However, a restructuring is not a revolutary activity when it leaves the old power structures and priorities in place. As the Theses declare in their opening:
The development of capitalism and the class struggle inevitably brought communism to the historical limelight during the middle of the 19th century.
Communism is back in the limelight today in the United States, though seen through the lens of capitalist distortions and some liberal anti-communism.

However, the financial crisis forces fundamental questions before the working class and the capitalist class both, and in some ways capitalists have been more effective than the working class in responding. Just looked at in economic terms, the tally today would be capitalists $1.5 to $2 trillion, working class about zero.

There is much hope that this will change post-inauguration, with the administration of President-elect Obama. However, there are both good and disturbing signs of future plans. For example, the $700 billion fiscal kick-start to put people to work is a very positive down payment on what should end up being $1 to $2 trillion in funds if the need is to be met.

However, on the disturbing side one finds talk about the need to review "entitlements" like social security and medicare, two programs at the very heart of our limited but vital social support system for working people, and especially the elderly. Both these programs need to be protected and expanded, not reviewed due to a fake lack of resources for the Federal government. A good recent action that would argue against the idea that an attack on Social Security and Medicare might be waiting in the wings is the recent vote for the extension and expansion of the SCHIP program.

I say "fake lack of resources" in the paragraph above because the obscenely disproporationate distribution of wealth to the top 1% of the population's benefit has not been addressed. Until the distribution of wealth is made more democratic and realistic through very progressive and redistributive taxation, there should be no talk of anything but protecting and expanding programs that help working families, immigrants, the disabled, and the young. There is plenty of money available; it is just tied up in the hands of the very few richest people in the United States.

The Theses mentions that
Despite the various problems of socialist countries, the socialist system of the 20th century proved its superiority over capitalism and the huge advantages that it provides for peoples’ lives and working conditions.

While the anti-Soviet mill continues to spew out its selective and distorted vision of an evil empire, the reality was as more complex. The Theses outlines:
[E]veryone had guaranteed work, public free health care and education, the provision of cheap services from the state, housing, and access to intellectual and cultural pursuits.
These are huge victories for working families and compare favorably to the United States, where there is much hunger, vast numbers of people without effective access to health care, housing is tenuous as shown by the mortgage crisis, and work is a disappearing luxury as the government's computers die under the onslaught of requests for unemployment insurance aid.

One can look at the Cuban experiment to see the flowering of the Socialist project in our hemisphere. While blockaded by the US, Cuba has continue to flourish and provide a good life to that nation's population. The US media forgets the blockade, which has been attempting to strangle Cuba. Capitalist and bourgeois media presents the problem of new cars in Cuba as if it were not due to the US embargo that prevents the cars from being imported but were somehow a result of the weakness of the socialism system. Capitalist media never mentions the thousands of doctors that Cuba has sent around the world to help the poor and those in need for free.

When viewed with an objective and partisan eye, the Socialist countries were and are able to provide a much healthier and more stable life for their working class populations.

Section A concludes that:

The gains that were undoubtedly achieved in the socialist states, in comparison to their starting point as well as in comparison to the living standard of working people in the capitalist world, prove that socialism holds intrinsic potential for dramatic and continual improvement in the lives of humankind and the development of the human personality.

The level of development of socialism in each revolutionary worker’s state was not the same and to a large extent was dependent on the level of capitalist development that existed when power was seized - an issue that must be taken under consideration when assessments and comparisons are made.

The most significant fact, however, is that the historic leap that was attempted and accomplished with the October Revolution in Russia as the starting point, gave an important momentum to the development of man, as the main productive force, in his scientific and technological achievements, in the advancement of his living standards, educational and cultural level.

What was historically new, was that this development concerned the masses as a whole, in contrast to capitalist development which is intertwined with exploitation and social injustice, with great devastation such as that, which occurred with the native populations in the American continent, in Australia, with the massive slavery system in the USA in the previous centuries, with colonial exploitation, with the anarchy of production and the ensuing destruction of the great economic crises, with imperialist wars, child labour and so much more.

The contribution and the superiority of socialist construction in the USSR should be judged in correlation with the imperialist strategy of encirclement that caused great destruction, continuous obstacles and threats. The imperialist strategy took various forms during different periods of revolutionary workers’ power (direct imperialist attack in 1918 and 1941, declaration of the Cold War in 1946, differentiated political diplomatic relations in relation to other states of Central and Eastern Europe).

This fact does not annul the need to focus our attention to internal conditions, to the economic-political relations, with the decisive role of the subjective factor in the dominance, development and supremacy of the new social relations.

There can be much discussion on these Theses. Certainly the assertion of the "decisive role of the subjective factor in the dominance, development and supremacy of the new social relations" deserves further exploration and discussion. The implication is that the ideological struggle is now on the forefront of the struggle for Socialism, a struggle that many see as decisive in regards to humanity's survival due to the prediliction for war and for destroying the environment that capitalism exhibits. Were subjective factors the primary reason for the victory for counter-revolution in the Soviet Union? Did the second economy that developed there play a decisive role as well? Did other issues? What was the relationship between the subjective and the objective/materialist contradictions that resulted in the set back to the workers of the Soviet Union that resulted in the loss of Socialism in that nation?

Regardless of the conclusions drawn the times have presented working people with fundamental questions to resolve:

How should our financial system be structured?

Why are we at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and possibly elsewhere

What is globalization and how can working people unite to turn the positive aspects of globalization to our benefit and end the negative aspects that result in a race to the bottom of the wage scale, unemployment, and other social problems.

How can we fix the environment in a society whose financial system structurally demands the rape and pillage of every natural resource?

How can we develop a positive set of relations with our neighbors, tolerant of differences, and expressing strong internationalist solidarity with the working families, the working class, in every area.

How can we win peace in a capitalist system the demands resources and disrespects people? What are the contradictions in the social system that tend toward war?

How can the systemic and demonstrable impacts of racism be eradicated, such as the health differentials between Black and white people in the United States.

How can we create a society able to provide health care to all?

At the end of the day, the challenges demand a structural solution. Is Socialism the answer to the question: how can man survive for the next two hundred years. I think so. What do you think?