We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Troubled Waters of Big Ag’s Academic Influence

by Paula Crossfield from Civil Eats

This excellent article reports on an incident at the U. of Minnesota involving the holding up of a film produced by the University's Agricultural Department. This incident offers another illustration of how the ruling capitalist class infiltrates every important institution in US society to insure its class interests. 
Not long after the news broke that Troubled Waters [the film] was being held up, it came to light that Vice President of University Relations Karen Himle was behind the film’s purgatory. This information was notable because her husband John Himle is president of Himle Horner, a public relations firm that represents the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, a group that promotes both ethanol production and industrial agriculture practices. More troubling, as El Dragón at Fair Food Fight points out, is the fact that Cargill–which is a key player in ethanol production–has its VP on the University of Minnesota’s board. And that the U of M also has a building on its St. Paul campus  named for Cargill. In addition, the university has had funding put at risk by its research before, and so could be trigger-happy.
Closely related to this issue and which provides excellent background information on US farming practices, is a book by Michael Pollan entitled, The Omnivore's Dilemma. After reading this book you will never look at food the same way as you have in the past.

When Generosity Hurts: Bill Gates, Public School Teachers and the Politics of Humiliation

by Henry A. Giroux from Truthout

This article develops in considerable detail the current corporate and right-wing influence on issues related to public education, and their use of cultural products such as the recently released film, "Waiting for Superman" to further their agendas. While the article produces a lot of substance, it could benefit greatly by editing and formatting it for an internet audience. 
Beneath its discourse of urgency, altruism and political purity parading in a messianic language of educational reform and a politics of generosity are the same old and discredited neoliberal policies that cheerfully serve corporate interests: privatization, union busting, competition as the only mode of motivation, an obsession with measurement, a relentless attack on teacher autonomy, the weakening of tenure, stripping educational goals of public values, defining teacher quality in purely instrumental terms, an emphasis on authoritative modes of management and a mindless obsession with notions of pedagogy that celebrate memorization and teach to the test.

With Voting Rights Groups Reeling, New Registrations Decline

by Jesse Zwick from The Washington Independent
After more than a decade of success expanding voter rolls, voting rights advocates are noting a disturbing trend in the run-up to the 2010 elections. Dramatically fewer groups are engaged in registering voters during the current election cycle than in previous midterm elections, and fewer voters, especially in poorer areas that are traditionally underrepresented and therefore the usual target of voter registration drives, are registering to vote as a result.
The author argues that this is because of right-wing efforts to curtail independent registration campaigns and to put up many obstacles in the way of 3rd parties to run in elections. He supports his argument only with the observations of people involved, or have been involved, in independent registration voter registration campaigns. 

I'll bet that people who visit my blog can think of other reasons why fewer people are interested in voting. Like, for example, what difference does voting make? In the 2008 elections people registered and voted in relatively large numbers believing in candidates who promised change--and they received more of the same. The economy for working people is still a disaster, the wars continue, the infrastructure in the US continues to crumble, public services are being slashed, more environmental disasters, more bankster frauds, etc.

The ruling capitalist class has always managed its elections by limiting registration and 3rd parties whenever it was deemed necessary to maintain their rule. This is important to them in order to maintain the fiction or the illusion of a representative democracy. It's just that some years the political operatives of the ruling class are more active than others, more active whenever any threats appear to challenge their management of elections. So, while the current repression that he cites in his essay may be a factor in lower voting registrations, it is probably not a very significant factor. The most important factor, I believe, is diminished interest in voting because increasing people are becoming aware that it really makes no difference. 

New climate denialism: Who promotes it, and how to answer it

by Renfrey Clarke from Int. Journal of Socialist Renewal
...to discuss climate change honestly is indeed to delegitimise the prevailing system of property relations. And for the great majority of human beings, who have no stake in oil sands or coal loaders, that is precisely what needs to be undertaken.


Policy Reform to 350

by Bill McKibben from Solutions
Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re at 2100, and the atmospheric CO2 level is slowly subsiding back toward 350, and the worst is over. Let’s try to figure out how we got there—reverse-engineer a century of halting but ultimately decisive progress. 
He imagines an (optimistic) scenario where humanity just barely survives the onslaught of climate change disasters.

Friday, October 15, 2010

As Radical As Reality: An Interview with Mickey Z

by Frank Joseph Smecker from Toward Freedom

I share many of the sentiments expressed in this interview by both parties. However, I am bothered by a phenomenon that I too often encounter with writers on the left--their insistence on seeing "civilization" as the problem. To his credit, the interviewer, Smecker, initially identifies the problem accurately as capitalism, but thereafter sticks with civilization. Michey Z constantly sees civilization as the problem. This always rankles me. It tends to suggest to me that these leftists/environmentalists don't really understand the problem and therefore can't have the right solutions. Of course, another explanation is that people are often reluctant to use the word capitalism because they may suffer consequences in terms of their careers.

Civilization includes everything that working people have created with their gifted minds and their labor to make life more meaningful, easier, and secure. It encompasses all literature, music and the arts, technology, knowledge of the universe, etc. Should we throw that all away??  Do we need to in order to survive??  NO!

THE problem is the economic AND political system called CAPITALISM. Usually the "political" part of it is covered over with a thin veneer of references to a republican or democratic form of government. This veneer consists only of carefully managed elections, elections which allow working people to choose between various agents of the capitalists. 

The capitalist system was gradually created over a long period of time by sociopaths or opportunists who discovered ways that they could use other people for their benefit. By accumulating wealth and power, these people became a ruling class. 

They established property laws that said that all things created on their property, consisting of either land or buildings, belonged to the owners who paid an hourly wage to their workers. The ruling class passed laws and established police agencies to enforce these laws. When working people fought back they were killed or imprisoned (they still are in many parts of the world). After a time working people became so indoctrinated with the virtues of this new system that they began to think of it as natural, or that there was no other alternative. Thus, working people today are being exploited without most of them being aware of it or realizing the injustices of such a system.

The same class of owners established banking institutions which over a long period of time evolved into central banks that issued money or notes to governments that legally established their use as money. (A good explanation of this historical process is found in Web of Debt by Ellen Brown.) These notes which the central banks create out of nothing are lent to governments. Thus, governments end up owing considerable debt including interest to the central banks. Governments then have to tax working people to pay these debts.

Using primarily these two methods of extracting wealth from working people has enabled this class of people to become very rich and powerful.

In today's world capitalism is like a giant parasite that has climbed onto the backs of working people without their knowing it. Thus working people have to work harder and harder and trash the environment in order to survive because they unknowingly are also feeding this parasite.

Electric Evasions

by Michael Dawson from his blog, Death by Car.

This blogger asks questions about electric cars that the industry refuses to ask in public, and goes on to state:
...capitalists never publicly admit the existence and complexity of all four of these questions.  That is for the obvious reason that capitalism is virtually impossible if these questions are taken seriously.  Making big money almost always requires ignoring one or more of these questions, and the capitalist system as a whole is as heedless of ecological limits as just about any dystopian fantasy one could concoct.

Debunking Money #2: Orwell and the Animal Farm [10:12m video]

by dvrabel from Council on Renewal.

After viewing this 2nd in his series of videos that attempts to explain the money system in the US, I am beginning to think that the series is looking quite promising. As I wrote Wednesday, I am a student (informal) of money so that I already have some background that helps me to understand what he is talking about. One thing I learned today, to my surprise, was that the banking consortium or cartel (the word he uses) that owns the Fed also includes foreign banks: in Canada, UK, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland.

(See video 1 and my introduction here.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chile's Ghosts Are Not Being Rescued

by John Pilger from Truthout

This author is one of the best contemporary journalists, a loyal friend of peace loving working people everywhere. 

In this timely article he tells the truth that is hiding behind the celebrated mine rescue that Chile's ruling class hopes will distract the world. It will likely succeed unless the miners themselves are allowed to tell their side of the story. I doubt that this will be the case. What is likely to happen is that those miners who are willing to tell an "acceptable" story will be heard, otherwise they will be ignored. That is the way the world's corporate media works to "manage the consent" of working people in the world. Only from alternative media sources and journalists such as Pilger can we find out the true story behind this near tragic event. I've already found one such report.

Presently President Piñera of Chile is milking the event for all it is worth to conceal his administration's continuing attacks on working and indigenous people of Chile. He represents the same class of people that collaborated with the US Empire to eliminate a real friend of working people, former socialist President Allende, back in the 1970s in order to install a friend of the Empire, General Pinochet. 

The Empire supports leaders like Piñera everywhere in the world so that the capitalist ruling classes can maintain their wealth, their power, and, above all, their system.
Piñera is a billionaire who controls a slice of the mining, energy and retail industries. He made his fortune in the aftermath of Pinochet's coup and during the free-market "experiments" of the zealots from the University of Chicago, known as the Chicago Boys. His brother and former business partner, Jose Piñera, a labor minister under Pinochet, privatized mining and state pensions and all but destroyed the trade unions. This was applauded in Washington as an "economic miracle," a model of the new cult of neoliberalism that would sweep the continent and ensure control from the north.

No International Justice for Congo. UN Coverup of War Crimes

by Ann Garrison from Global Research

Probably the worst crimes that the Empire has engaged in has been on the continent of Africa. This likely because there is so little Western media coverage of that continent, and what little there is can be easily controlled to give out the "correct" messages. Occasionally we get glimpses of what is really going on when we come across articles like this, but often they only scratch the surface. 

Western corporations, by arming and playing off one group against another, have benefited greatly from the mining of exotic minerals like coltan. For more information, see this website.

Foxconn’s Global Empire Reflects a New Breed of Sweatshop

by Michelle Chen from In These Times

The abuses at Foxconn in Southern China made it briefly into some mainstream media, but other reports are surfacing to suggest that their model of worker management is widespread in the electronics industry. Capitalists' never ending search for greater profits creates such gross examples of wage slavery.
With hundreds of thousands of employees worldwide, Foxconn's militaristic model is perfectly suited to the evolving workplace culture of the global economy—homogenized, disciplined, robotically efficient.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Debunking Money (volume 1): Money, Myth, and Machiavelli [12:26m video]

by Dvrabel from Council on Renewal

The blogger in this first video (apparently more or another is planned) tries to explanation how our monetary system works by simplifying it so that ordinary people can understand it. I think that one can simplify things too much, but this may offer a basic idea and hopefully his future videos will add more helpful detail. When he talks about the banking system, it seems to me that he mostly means the Federal Reserve. 

There is one comment following the video that I think is really helpful, and that is the one by "DrKrbyLuv".

The "Fed" is a consortium of private banks that own the "Fed" through stock ownership. It has a veneer of government participation--an attempt at legitimacy--through the appointment of the Board of Governors by the President and confirmation by the Senate. However, I believe that this is only a formality, that he essentially appoints members after he gets the word from key capitalist advisers.

I am presently an informal student of money and have plans to continue my studies. I don't think it is possible to learn about this subject in any school which to me illustrates how important it is to gain an understanding of it, and how important it is to the ruling class that you don't understand it. I recommend that a good place for a novice to start is with Ellen Brown's book entitled, Web of Debt.

Thus far during the course of my studies I learned that the issuance of money was what the agrarian Populist movement in the late 1800s was all about. The financial capitalists fought the Populists ruthlessly and eventually crushed them which illustrates how important the control of money is to them. The best source of information about this movement is a book by Lawrence Goodwyn entitled, Democratic Promise

This story, like so much else of real importance in US history, was covered very superficially in the schools I attended. Who was it that said that the victors write history? Well, in our history the capitalists won and they have written our history.

Why the IMF Meetings Failed: And the Coming Capital Controls

by Michael Hudson from his blog

This author is a widely respected economist on the left end of the liberal spectrum of capitalist thought. Thus, he might best be labeled as a social democrat--one who believes in a kinder, gentler capitalism--if only people would behave better. People who believe that are probably fooling themselves because they are well paid by the existing system. Nevertheless, I think that one can learn a lot from this author who is far more honest and insightful than most economists. 

I will not pretend to understand everything he writes, but I think I get the gist of it. I mostly differ from him in this article in what he leaves out of the picture--the two fundamental bases of the power of the US dollar. 

The first one is the US's overwhelming ability to use military force against its adversaries. Increasingly all the world's capitalists rely on the US military along with NATO to intimidate the rest of the world into using US dollars which the Federal Reserve "creates out of thin air", or on their computers. In an article published last year Hudson does elaborate on this:
When the U.S. payments deficit pumps dollars into foreign economies, these banks are being given little option except to buy U.S. Treasury bills and bonds – which the Treasury spends on financing an enormous, hostile military build-up to encircle the major dollar-recyclers – China, Japan and Arab OPEC oil producers. Yet these governments are forced to recycle dollar inflows in a way that funds U.S. military policies in which they have no say in formulating, and which threaten them more and more belligerently. That is why China and Russia took the lead in forming the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) a few years ago.
The second reason the world accepts US dollars is because of the deal in June 1974 negotiated by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, America's most distinguished war criminal, when he established the US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Co-operation. Essentially this deal guaranteed US protection of this medieval kingdom of Saudi Arabia and, in exchange, the Saudis agreed to sell their oil in US dollars only. The next year all of OPEC, probably due to Saudi Arabia's dominant influence, decided to sell only in US dollars. See this excellent article by William Engdahl which explains the effects of the arrangement:
The crucial shift took place when Nixon took the dollar off a fixed gold reserve to float against other currencies. This removed the restraints on printing new dollars. The limit was only how many dollars the rest of the world would take. By their firm agreement with Saudi Arabia, as the largest OPEC oil producer with a swing role. Washington guaranteed that the world's largest commodity, namely oil, could be purchased on world markets only in dollars. Oil was essential for every nation's economy, being the basis of all transport and much of the industry.

The deal had been fixed in June 1974 by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
when he established the US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Co-operation. In effect, the US Treasury and New York Federal Reserve “allowed” the Saudi central bank, SAMA, to buy US Treasury bonds with Saudi petrodollars. In 1975, OPEC officially agreed to sell its oil only for dollars. A secret US military agreement to arm Saudi Arabia was the quid pro quo.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How the banks got us coming and going

by Lee Sustar from Socialist Worker

This is an excellent followup of the article I posted yesterday entitled, "ForclosureGate and Real Estate Armageddon
Now that the same predators who pushed people into self-destructing mortgages have been caught carrying out fraudulent foreclosures, will hard-pressed homeowners finally get permanent relief?

If they organize and fight back, yes. But the banks and their political front-men and -women will do anything they can to prevent that.
Read here how one family took direct action to reclaim their home. But organized action is much better.
The author rightly advises the reader not to forget the central truth of the banking/financial scam:
...the question of whether the banks' paperwork is in order or not is irrelevant from the standpoint of justice. The banks pumped up the housing market to make huge profits, crashed the economy in the process and now seek to foist the costs onto working people. Just as the banks didn't care who bought the mortgages they bundled together, they don't care how many lives they wreck by throwing people out of their homes.

Collapsing empire watch

by Glenn Greenwald from Salon

In this brief article the author provides a number of links to data that provides support for the thesis that life in the US is deteriorating, and probably at an accelerating rate.
It's easy to say and easy to document, but quite difficult to really internalize, that the United States is in the process of imperial collapse.

A new study shows that Americans are Idiots

by Jill from Brilliant at Breakfast

The organs of indoctrination--education and media--in the US have achieved astounding success as this article argues and a study suggests.

Monday, October 11, 2010

ForclosureGate and Real Estate Armageddon

by Michael Collins from The Economic Populist

In this excellent piece the author discloses how the bank/financial elites recently used Congress in a desperate attempt to work their way out of the mortgage/foreclosure mess they created. He also looks at the possibility that the crisis could result in a further melt-down of the economy. 
While my story focused on the process and contempt shown to citizens by Congress in that process, I became aware of a much broader issue.

Herding the Sheep

from Washington's Blog.

Today this blogger has re-posted two articles (one of which I am posting on this website) from last year on the various disinformation methods used by the ruling capitalist class to "manage consent". His introduction that follows is especially important if working people are to have any chance of replacing this barbaric system:
Here are two essays I wrote...explaining why media is so bad, and why we need to "be the media" ourselves . [My emphasis]
But, what about the internet? Doesn't it allow for many dissident views? Noam Chomsky's answer to that was as follows:
The Internet now allows dissident voices to be heard and offers a wider range of perspectives and information as well. But for the large majority of the population that doesn’t mean much. People do not have the time or background even to know what to look for, and we should not underestimate the effectiveness of the dedicated programs of atomization of the population. Anyone in the sciences knows that what you can do alone is limited, and easily strays into error. Serious work generally requires interaction among a community of researchers. The same is true in trying to understand something about what is happening in the world. One of the reasons for the intense hostility to unions on the part of business and other power centers is that they are a democratizing force, offering ways for working people with limited resources and opportunities to join together to develop their own ideas and a sensible framework for interpreting what pours out in an incessant flow from the ideological institutions. That’s [impeding union activity] only one of the many devices employed to create what is an ideal society from the perspective of the masters: one in which the basic social dyad is you and the tube. So the term “readily available” is accurate in a narrow sense, but availability in principle does not suffice for understanding and action. [My emphasis]

The Ecuadorian Coup: Its Larger Meaning

by James Petras from Global Research

Focusing on the recent coup attempt in Ecuador, the author delineates the problems that center-left regimes in South America face as they try to benefit from agro-mineral exports while, at the same time, trying to steer a more independent course in their relations to the Empire.
The center-left regimes – except Venezuela – have continued to participate in all joint military programs [with the US].  The center-left has not transformed the state. Equally important it has promoted the economic bases of the pro-US Right via its agro-mineral export strategy.  It has ignored the fact that political stability is temporary and based on a balance of social power resulting from the popular rebellions of the 2000-2005 period. The center-left ignores the reality that as the capitalist class prospers, as a result of center-left agro-mineral export strategies, so does the political right.  And as the wealth and political power of the export elites increase and as the center-left turns to the Right, as has been the case with Correa, there will be greater social conflict and a new cycle of political upheavals, if not by the ballot box then via the bullet – via coups or via popular uprisings.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Caught in the Whirlwind: US Working-Class Families Face the Economic Crisis

by Johanna Brenner from New Socialist

The author provides an excellent analysis of the situation that working people are confronting under the "new normal" which neo-liberalism is attempting to impose on us. She also suggests strategies to counter these trends. 
Misery does not create resistance. But as current family survival strategies run up against their limits, openings for organizing will appear. Meanwhile, the accelerating drumbeat of opposition to public sector workers is forcing their unions into a last-ditch battle. If the unions are ready to embrace strategies for building genuine community-labour alliances it might be possible to overcome the growing hostility directed at public sector workers and build an effective movement around the politics of care. This politics of care will challenge the devaluation of carework and careworkers as well as create links between those who use care services and the workers who provide them.

Inept Government Leadership Caused “Inadequate Triumph” in Elections [Venezuela]

by Marea Socialista [a left-wing committee] from Venezuela Analysis

The recent elections in Venezuela produced right-wing gains in their parliament (National Assembly). However, Hugo Chavez's party (PSUV) and others on the left maintained majority control. 

Many on the left voice increasing criticism of the Bolivarian government of Chavez which has promised much and produced only marginal gains for working people. According to the opinions behind this article Venezuela is plagued with a bureaucracy which wants to, at best secure the status quo, and at worst wants to restore oligarchic control.
These bureaucrats, specialists in converting easy victories into ridiculous failures, are the same people who dismissed the experiences of worker control, the same people who didn’t want to vote for a new labour law, the same ones who pass from clique to clique in order to hold onto the best positions in the government, to obtain the highest privileges. They are the ones who aren’t bothered by the murder of hundreds of social, rural, and worker leaders, and cover up the corrupt right and boss-hired murders with impunity. They are the ones who have public employees’ collective agreements stalled, among others. They are the ones who accuse those who struggle for their rights as being counter-revolutionary, while they themselves live with a similar or higher level than the piti-yankee bourgeoisie and oligarchs who they say they are fighting against.
 "Clientelism" to which the article refers is a tradition among office holders in Latin America.

There have been some socialists on the left in various countries that have since the beginning dismissed the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela as just another manifestation of caudilloism that has characterized many populist type governments in Latin America. Although I have had some doubts about the Venezuelan revolution, I've tried to keep an open mind on the subject.

My two-week visit to Venezuela in December of 2005 did not resolve my doubts about their Revolution. I was with a group tour which featured visits to co-ops, new popular institutions such as community radio stations and banks for low income people, and government officials. While impressed with the former, I was particularly unimpressed with the latter. 

I remember especially my encounter with one high government official to whom I asked about the newly proposed popular councils which were much celebrated in various left-wing sources in North America. At first I thought there might be some problems with translation, but I soon became convinced that he hardly knew anything about them nor had much interest in them. I regard such grassroots social units as an essential foundation on which to build a new society that promotes social justice. They are the "bottom" to an inverted hierarchical structure that requires power to be exercised from the bottom up.

There are many problems that newly established revolutionary governments face. The problem of regressive bureaucracies has been a major one. The most famous, of course, was the Soviet revolution in Russia. Because of a shortage of trained government specialists on the left, the Russian revolutionaries had to resort to using many from the former Czarist regime who carried with them the old authoritarian, class attitudes of the former rulers. 

This phenomenon is similar to a larger cultural one where old attitudes and practices are still in the minds of many people, revolutionary as well as others, and the difficulty this creates with efforts to establish a new society.

Geo-engineering: global warming quick fix?

by Vivien Langford from Green Left

The author reports on a lecture at Melbourne University of the noted author Clive Hamilton in which he gave a recent history of the "research and investment in geo-engineering solutions to global warming." His most recent book is entitled Affluenza, Scorcher and Requiem for a Species.
This book is about why we have ignored those warnings [about global warming], and why it may now be too late. It is a book about the frailties of the human species as expressed in both the institutions we built and the psychological dispositions that have led us on the path of self-destruction. It is about our strange obsessions, our hubris, and our penchant for avoiding the facts. It is the story of a battle within us between the forces that should have caused us to protect the Earth—our capacity to reason and our connection to Nature—and those that, in the end, have won out—our greed, materialism and alienation from Nature. And it is about the 21st century consequences of these failures.
In his lecture entitled, “The Return of Dr Strangelove” he reviews the recent efforts to solve the climate crisis through the geo-engineering of nature by...
investors, such as Richard Branson and Bill Gates, who have a vested interest in business-as-usual growth, but also seem to have a vision of themselves as saving the planet in a unilateral way — a messiah complex.

Hamilton described these men as “so out of sync with modern attitudes to nature that they seem like a throwback”. 
Hamilton's view is that such efforts are extremely reckless with many unforeseen consequences and explains that...
...the world’s apparent inability to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is due to the profitability of fossil fuel use, it is probable that, rather than buying time for such a transition, geo-engineering would become an incentive for business to continue polluting as usual

The limits to energy efficiency

by Simon Butler from Green Left.

The article points to evidence that the push by "green" environmentalists to reduce energy consumption by increasing energy efficiency runs into the contradictions of the capitalist system that undermines their objective.
That a more efficient use of a resource will increase demand for it may appear to be surprising. But in a capitalist economy — where endless growth is needed for profits to be made — it makes perfect sense.