Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The USPS is a Public Service Not a Business

Megan J Brennan. Source: WSJ
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I used to get so infuriated with some of the right wing, Rush Limbaugh loving folks at work.  There weren’t too many of them fortunately but what pissed me off most about them was that we were in the public sector. We had what they would call a “socialist” type job.  But mimicking the Limbaugh’s, Hannity’s and O’Reilly’s they praised the virtues of the free market and private sector as the way to go. They attacked the poor, immigrants, people on welfare and other “lazy” people.  A bit hypocritical I would say having a job in the public sector with all the security, wages and benefits the public sector provides.  They denied to others what the struggles of others handed to them.

I see the new Postmaster General, Megan J Brennan is on track to whip the USPS in to shape. She is the first woman to hold this position so we know the pressure is on her not to weaken. The USPS, a public service we can be proud of, is not viewed as a public service by the 1%’s politicians and the hedge fund managers and other investors who want to get their grubby little hands on what they hope will be a lucrative business venture. Brennan’s entire family have benefitted from the USPS. Brennan’s father worked for the agency, she was a letter carrier as were two of her brothers. She aims to put a stop to wasteful practices. She wants to deny to future generations what to her was a gift that gave her entire family a decent life.

Unfortunately, the USPS is too efficient for the private sector’s liking, delivering mail to practically every address in the US six days a week.  Private industry simply can’t compete with a service like that and make profit,  “Nearly every house, every day” the Wall Street Journal whines. Brennan has the answer, hard work and competition.  I guess her and her family were slackers. “We’ve got to compete for business every day, and clearly we have to develop products and services that consumers want,”, she tells the WSJ.  The private sector, citing the need to compete and be profitable, suggests 4000 or so post offices be closed. This will affect those in poor rural communities in particular where the Post Office can become like a community center keeping people in the loop.

The Postal Service can operate more like a private business Brennan argues echoing many of her civil servant colleagues at the top. According to the Wall Street Journal she became convinced of this while in a one year MBA program at MIT. Funny how a year at a business school had more influence on her than her entire family’s life at the Postal Service. Brennan told the WSJ that she understands about hard work and competition “…from her upbringing as one of seven children in an Irish Catholic family.”. Did she now.  What sort of family was that?  A dysfunctional one I would say. In most of our families our parents learned not to create situations that caused siblings to fight each other. They understood that if there were three pieces of candy and two kids they either didn’t bring the candy out or they cut it in to three equal pieces. My family was not the healthiest in the sense that my father was an alcoholic and a former Japanese prisoner of war, something that affected him all his life.  But my parents taught me that to share was good.

The dominant ideas of any society are the ideas of the class that governs that society, the ruling class.  We are inundated with the ideology of the 1%, the bankers, speculators, Wall Street crooks and industrialists who claim the market is the answer to all things, that public services and decent public sector jobs are hurting the economy.  Our pensions, wages, benefits---------they all have to go.  We must compete. We must join with our employer to help them gain “market share” over their rivals.  How can workers build solidarity with that strategy? 

The USPS is a highly efficient public service. It receives no direct taxpayer subsidies. By Congressional mandate it has to pre-pay some $5 billion a year for retiree health benefits.  So what! Leaving aside the fact that we should have a fully paid national health care system available on demand, that’s a socially useful expenditure and also a public service, a service that all workers should have access to. For the 1%, a retirement is not a right, it is money out and they want you working until you drop.  That $5 billion that pays for a worker’s health benefits after serving the public (most likely in combat as well) for 30 or more years is about one third of the wealth of those two parasites, the Hamms that I wrote about earlier.

The predatory, never ending military ventures of a decaying and debt ridden empire cost us plenty, not just in terms of lives and suicides and the mental and physical repair of those involved, but trillions in weaponry. The arms business is very profitable. Obama has just called for another $6 billion to fight yet another terrorist group. In fact, the US taxpayer is sending arms and money to two (US government labeled) terrorist groups in order to fight a third (US government labeled) terrorist group. A foreign policy to be proud of.

And as far as subsidies go, US corporations receive plenty.  Here are just a few:

1.  $870 for Direct Subsidies and Grants to Companies.  The Cato Institute estimates that the U.S. federal government spends $100 billion a year on corporate welfare. That’s an average of $870 for each one of America’s 115 million families.

2.  $696 for Business Incentives at the State, County, and City Levels.  A New York Times investigation found that states, counties and cities give up over $80 billion each year to companies… $696 for every U.S. family…… this is actually one area in which state competition harms taxpayers, as politicians from different states compete with each other to woo corporations by offering them buckets of other people’s money.

6.  $870 for Corporate Tax Subsidies….  [T]he Tax Foundation has concluded that their ‘special tax provisions’ cost taxpayers over $100 billion per year, or $870 per family. Corporate benefits include items such as Graduated Corporate Income, Inventory Property Sales, Research and Experimentation Tax Credit, Accelerated Depreciation, and Deferred taxes. Source:  Scott Lincicome Cato Inst.

Also, as Good Jobs First points out, State and local governments have awarded at least $110 billion in taxpayer subsidies to business. Boeing heads that list with $13.2 billion, followed by Alcoa at $5.6 billion, Intel at $3.9 billion, General Motors at $3.5 billion and Ford Motor at $2.5 billion. Warren Buffet’s holding company received a nice $1.1 billion.

The Good Jobs First Report (
as reported on Al Jazeera in 2014) adds that “Boeing’s $13.2 billion is a bit more than its pretax profits for the last two years. It is also equals a stunning 70 percent of the $18.2 billion of equity owned by Boeing shareholders. Measured against the number of commercial jetliners sold — 648 last year,(2103) at an average of nearly $79 million per plane — these subsidies come to more than $20 million per aircraft.”

One might wonder why Warren Buffet might need any public subsidies at all him being the free market guru and all.  But the point is that the private sector receives plenty of taxpayer funds.  What we see here is simply the tip of the iceberg.

The main obstacle we have to overcome is our own consciousness.  We must reject the idea that a service like mail delivery should be a business as we should with health care, transportation, energy, water, and other vital social needs. Profit shouldn’t enter in to our thinking on these issues.

What can enter our thinking is capital allocation of course and how we invest the wealth our collective labor produces, but that is different to profit.  Things change all the time as new technology is developed and as what was once useful becomes obsolete. I am sure the USPS can do with many changes.  But such changes cannot be left to profit minded free market lapdogs at the top.  As new technology reduces the labor hours necessary in any given industry to produce the same amount or even more goods or services, it should lead to a reduced workweek and more leisure time, and in a collectively owned and planned system more time for all to plan the organization of work and distribution of the products of our labor.

As it is, changes that increase profits increase worker exploitation, lead to increased poverty, lower wages and a decrease in actual services or social needs.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Water charges Ireland: Could a Revolutionary Situation be Developed

by John Throne

Tens and tens of thousands of Irish workers and youth have taken to the streets and confronted the government and the state. What is the nature of this movement and what is its potential? Should it just be seen as a movement to bring down this government and replace it with another government?  Or should it be seen as having the potential to bring down the system and replace it with another system?

I support enthusiastically the militant stand of the Socialist Party in the water charges struggle. In doing so I would also like to say that I think that it would be important that the Socialist Party from its position of increased influence, take the lead in building a united front of mass direct action as has been emerging on the ground with the protests all over the country. Part of this is to put aside old conflicts and sectarianism and seek to unite the revolutionary left, such as the SP itself, the United Left, People Before Profit, Clare Daly, Joan Collins and other left and activist groups, into a revolutionary socialist current that can put forward its ideas in the movement as it develops.

What is the objective situation in Ireland now? In the CWI/SP when I was in it, we used to try and analyze the objective situation and from that decide on program, strategy and tactics. So I would like to ask this question: Is there a revolutionary situation in Southern Ireland now? This would be where the ruling class is split, the working class is showing it is prepared to fight for power, the middle class is vacillating and there exists a mass revolutionary force prepared to lead. I do not think this exists. I think it would be a mistake to think it does. However this is not the end of the story.

Elements of this situation do exist. There are splits within the capitalist class and its parties. The working class is confronting the government and the state if not yet confronting capitalism consciously. Sections of the middle layers are vacillating. The question I would like to pose is: Can progress be made to strengthen and develop these elements which could lead to a revolutionary situation?

One element that could certainly be strengthened in the building of a revolutionary force is if the revolutionary left groups could get over their sectarianism and come together.  There are many many thousands of workers and youth in an out of left groups which could be brought together. There are many who have been through the left groups and been disgusted by their sectarianism. There are many who would join a revolutionary left force if they could see one which this sectarianism didn't exist.

If these forces could be brought together, if such a force could be built, the working class could then be assisted in moving to confront the system. Such an influential revolutionary left could win to its ranks the most combative and conscious workers and youth. This force could then orient to the mass of the working class on the following strategy and program: Build committees of workers and youth against the water charges in every workplace, union local, district and trades councils, communities, schools and colleges, all decisions to be taken by these committees by democratic vote.

These committees can fight against the water charges but also fight for the cancellation of all debts to the banks and finance houses and for the taking into democratic public ownership of the banks, finance houses and all oil and gas wealth and all major industry.  From this, a fund could be  established for rebuilding and solving the problems the country faces. Such a lead by a non sectarian left force would see its influence grow dramatically. It could win over the most active and combative working class forces, orient these to the mass of the working class and build a revolutionary working class movement that could change things fundamentally.

This movement could also be given a direction that would extend outside the South of Ireland. Similar struggles are threatening in the North. Similar struggles are threatening in England, Scotland and Wales and throughout Europe. This movement can be developed into an international movement.

The only questions I have about the statement from the SP are these. First: What does it say about and what does it suggest it will do, about bringing together the many revolutionary socialists both in and out of organizations into a mass revolutionary force which can give leadership and seek to challenge the capitalist system and its austerity program?  Second: While raising the issue of the next election is correct, I do not think it is sufficient. I think that there is the possibility of building a movement to challenge capitalism in the present situation, but this will not be done if we confine our strategy and tactics and program within the limits of reforming the capitalist system, or winning a majority in the Dail, (This is where the building of the committees comes in, they already exist in embryo form in the anti water charges committees) and within the borders of the South of Ireland. It will not be done if we set our sights only on the next election and how many seats the left can win. It is a very serious mistake not to develop the committees to be the base of the struggle and that all decisions be taken democratically by these committees.

Finally the same question again: Could a revolutionary situation be developed if the left forces got over their sectarianism, came together and sought to win the most combative and thinking workers and youth and oriented these to the mass of the workers and to the middle layers around a democratic anti capitalist socialist program and internationalism? I think it can; it certainly cannot be ruled out.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Society's leeches: Harold and Sue Ann Hamm

The Hamms
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Poor old Harold Hamm.  An Oklahoma Judge has ordered him to pay his ex wife $1 billion to settle the divorce proceedings that this poor couple have had to endure for the last two and a half years.

Harold is the chairman of Continental Resources the oil drilling giant that is the largest producer in North Dakota's Bakken Field and was the senior energy adviser to Mitt Romney.  Hamm has paid Sue Ann Hamm $22.8 million already so he owes her another $972.7 million according to reports. And get this, the poor old bugger has to come up with $300 million by the end of the year.

Mr. Hamm thinks it's a pretty fair deal and wants to put the divorce behind him. He will still have 250 million shares in the company leaving him as 70% owner worth about $14 billion.

It's not that Ms Hamm doesn't deserve her rightful share of a company she worked for as a lawyer.  She got the court to force Continental to produce some 600,000 documents proving her expertise and decision making contributed to the increased stock market value of the company.  The judge determined that there was "no evidence that she needed additional support" according to the Wall Street Journal.

The larger issues are whether any of them have the right to that money at all, after all, they never earned it and more importantly, whether the production and distribution of such social necessities as energy should be in private hands at all. Obviously they should not.  The recent oil boom from hydraulic fracking which does extreme environmental damage has brought gold rush type conditions to North Dakota.  The massive and infusion of capital and rapacious thirst for profits has brought wealth for some and havoc to others as market booms like this and the social need for energy has no rational planning to it, left as it is to private individuals who could just as well be producing T-shirts.  A similar destructive situation is occurring in California as capital has swarmed in to the production of Almonds.  The environmental damage caused by such anarchistic methods of social production is extensive.

That two individuals can haggle over such stratospheric sums as more and more people find themselves living on the edge is obscene to say the least.  Some moron on FB the other day said with confidence in his own superficial, individualistic view of the world that the teachers in my community "don't need a raise" providing no other evidence than him asserting it.   He believes in freedom he says. The freedom for capital to plunder the world's resources no matter what the consequences as profit is king.  He, like the rest of us, will be buried amid the rubble of the decaying system he champions if it persists much longer.  He is of no consequence personally just an example of humanity at its worst.

When the so-called free market has finished with North Dakota, it too, like Detroit will revert to third world status until some profit thirsty budding Donald Trump will build a new casino or entertainment complex where workers can be fleeced of more cash, with government help of course.  The public/private partnership is a great deal for the entrepreneur, profits privatized losses socialized.  It is disgusting that people like the Hamms are portrayed as hard working and the epitome of success, what all young people should aspire to become.  It is not success, but one's failure as a human being that takes them to this point.

I can only wonder what the Hamm's more than $14 billion would do for society as a whole (society as a whole generated it) if its social allocation was democratically decided by those whose labor produced it and by those communities that would benefit from it.  I'm sure the reader can come up with some examples.

Ireland: Clare Daly on the Irish Water Reforms (video)

I’m a celebrity – get me out of here!

Myleene Klaas
Two in a row from Michael Roberts but there's a lot of useful information in this piece and some good recommended reading. (images not in the original)

by Michael Roberts

Myleene Klass is a sort of B-list celebrity in Britain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myleene_Klass). She comes from a family of musicians, quite well-off, went to private school, studied at the UK’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music, became a professional musician and pianist, eventually joined a successful pop band and is now a model for various food and clothing brands. She has appeared on B-class TV programmes like I’m a celebrity – get me out of here!, where you are parked in a jungle for several weeks with other celebrities and have to undergo various humiliating tests. She is apparently worth about £11m ($18m) in net worth and no doubt earns at least six figures a year.

She has attacked the proposed introduction of a wealth tax on British homes worth more than £2m that the current opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband wants to introduce. This so-called ‘mansion tax’ would mean around an annual payment of about £3000 a year by those who have such properties. In the UK, given the huge property boom of the last 20 years, these homes are mainly in central London. On a second rate TV show, Klass railed against Miliband, that this was attacking ‘poor grannies’ who may have big houses but no income.

Miliband was non-plussed, but could easily have answered this charge. First, most of these £2m houses are owned not by poor grannies but by very well off people, 40% don’t live in them and a sizeable number are owned by rich foreigners who have bought them in order to get a windfall from the London property boom (prices rising at 12% a year currently) and rent them out or leave them empty. Second, under the planned tax, those with £2m plus homes and low incomes would not have to pay each year, as the tax would be rolled up until that person kicked the bucket. Indeed, if a £2m house increases in value by 10% a year, that would add £200,000.  A mansion tax of £3000 is just 1.5% of that boost to wealth.

Klass’s attack (and the whining of other ‘celebrities’ like Griff Rhys-Jones, who says he will leave the country – although he lives in a big ranch in Wales and only uses his huge mansion in London on visits) is not to protect ‘grannies’. Klass has not complained about another tax, the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ that is actually being applied by the government, which reduces the benefits received by ‘poor grannies’ and other single people who have a ‘spare bedroom’ in their flats. These grannies are being forced to move into smaller accommodation or be even poorer. Klass had nothing to say about them.

Of course, Klass and Rhys-Jones are really complaining about paying any tax at all. The rich see paying tax as almost immoral – it takes away what they have ‘earned’ through hard work, talent and being clever – although usually it is just luck or being born rich. Anyway, I’m not sure that a 50% increase in the value of a home has anything to do with hard work or talent. But tax is immoral – or so says British PM David Cameron when recently announcing that the ruling Conservatives will cut taxes after the next election

Actually, if you think about it, taxes are the most moral social thing you can do – paying your contribution to the social good and to help others. The problem is that the spending by governments that kow-tow to the rich is often on military hardware, subsidies to large companies to invest and handouts to rich landowners and farmers – and of course taxes on the rich (like a mansion tax) are kept to the minimum.

And wealth may bring ‘happiness’ but it certainly does not bring morality and a ‘help thy neighbour’ philosophy. There are often well-publicised stories about rich philanthropists who set up trusts for the sick, for the arts etc. Actually, trusts are good tax havens for money that rich people don’t know what to do with. And there is way more money that goes to financing lobby organisations and politicians who aim to protect the interests or the rich and the super-rich.

In a great new book, Billionaires: reflections on the upper crust,  (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120092/billionaires-book-review-money-cant-buy-happiness), Darrel M West outlined various social surveys that show the richer a person is, the less likely they are to redistribute some of their wealth and earnings to those less lucky or ‘talented’.  A University of California study found that people driving expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers or ignore pedestrians right of way than those in cheap cars. They considered themselves kings of the highways. In another study, the richer the person, the more likely they were to take candy from a jar left outside a laboratory, despite a sign saying that it was for children only! The New York State Psychiatric Institute surveyed 43,000 Americans and found that, by some wide margin, the rich were more likely to shoplift than the poor. Independent Sector found that people with incomes on an average of $25,000 a year gave away 4.2% of their income while those on over $150,000 a year gave away only 2.7%.

As a UCLA neuroscientist put it: “As you move up the class ladder, you are more likely to violate the rules of road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and be tightfisted in giving to others”. Apparently, the richer you get the more you want and the less you want to give. Mike Norton at the Harvard Business School found that, when asked, rich people still felt that they were two or three times short of the money they needed to be really happy!
Carl Icahn. The wise thoughts of the superficial male

But so it goes on. There is never too much for some. For example, the world’s most famous bond trader is Bill Gross. He was head of the largest bond fund company in the world for years, PIMCO. But recently, he had been making some bad investment decisions and PIMCO started to lose money for its clients (banks, insurance companies etc). The clients started to withdraw their money and Gross was sacked for failure. But failure came nicely wrapped up in a going away present. He was paid $290m to leave! Bill Gross’ take-home pay was huge but he is not the wealthiest bond fund manager in the world. He is worth only $2bn, while the far less well known David Tepper is worth $11bn and Carl Icahn is worth over $20bn.

Indeed, there are more super-rich people in the world today than ever before. According to a new survey from Wealth-X and UBS (http://www.billionairecensus.com/home.php), the number of people with more than $30m in assets jumped 6% to hit a new record of 211,275 in 2014). Among them, they hold a staggering $30trn, or nearly twice the size of the US GDP. Those 211,275 people account for just .004% of the world’s population but hold 13% of the world’s wealth.   Most of these uber-rich hold their wealth in the companies and properties they own and the income they make they hoard up in cash. North America remains number one when it comes to population and wealth. 74,865 people in North America hold some $10bn between them. 69,560 of the ultra wealthy call the US home and hold $9.6bn. Europe has the second-largest concentration of ultra high net worth individuals, followed by Asia, but Asia will overtake Europe by 2027. The ultra wealthy are overwhelmingly male, 87%.

A mansion tax would not be even noticed by these people – although if it were brought to their attention, they would still complain about it being unfair.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The hidden crime of capitalism

by Michael Roberts

A recent estimate was made of the economic cost of varied human action globally. The annual economic burden of smoking on health services, shortened life expectancy and illness was found to be the greatest at $2.1trn a year, closely followed by the losses from wars and armed violence around the world and by obesity.

Global economic burdens
These burdens are not just from ‘human action’ but really come from the crimes and waste of capitalism: tobacco companies promoting cigarette smoking, wars provoked by imperialism and nationalism; food companies selling ‘affordable’ junk food with high concentrations of sugar, salt and fats – and of course global warming and climate change.

But one economic burden not recorded in this list is the waste from economic recessions and depressions. The loss of jobs, incomes and assets like homes is no small beer. And the longer the slump, the greater the loss.  This is a hidden crime of capitalism.

The current ‘recovery’ from the Great Recession of 2008-9 has been so weak and so drawn out that the overall loss of value compared with potential output if there had been no slump and/or a quick recovery is huge – probably close to $10trn over five years for the US alone. That ‘damage’ easily matches the damage from smoking over the last five years.

|This crime of capitalism is ignored by mainstream economics. For example, Robert Lucas is a Nobel prize winner and leading exponent of the view that modern capitalism is an efficient manager of human resources and the output of labour. He is infamously quoted as saying in 2003, that the problem of depressions had been solved by modern mainstream economics (http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/vulgar-economics-in-despond/). In 2010, he argued that there can be ‘shocks’ to the steady equilibrium growth path of capital investment, but they would usually be temporary. Very quickly, growth would return to its previous trend (http://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/nobel-prize-winner-analyzes-the-obama-growth-gap/).

Lucas presented the following chart of US economic growth over the last 140 years.  The red line represents trend economic growth and the blue line shows the actual growth rate. In this bird’s eye view, growth has been inexorable and mostly pretty much along the equilibrium trend path.
US real gdp
Or has it? The Great Depression of the 1930s stands out a huge deviation from this scenario, even at this height of observation. Also what is subtly missing from view is the gradual slowdown in trend growth especially since the 1980s. And a closer inspection of the blue line in the last six years reveals a distinct gap from the red line. And there appears to be no quick ‘return to normal’ (see my posts, http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/us-is-not-closing-the-gap-and-neither-is-the-uk/

Lucas noted this gap too.  For him, the problem this time was that “government is doing too much,” and he specifically highlighted the “likelihood of much higher taxes, focused on ‘the rich’” and a “large increase in the role of government”.  Well, none of those things happened except for the government bailing out the banks and the US economy still has not made up time from those ‘shocks’.

Recent research by economists Robert F. Martin, Teyanna Munyan and Beth Anne Wilson of the US Federal Reserve examined the experience of 23 countries since 1970 (http://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/notes/ifdp-notes/2014/potential-output-and-recessions-are-we-fooling-ourselves-20141112.html). They found that economic output doesn’t return to normal following a recession, especially a major one like the Great Recession.

Indeed, the gap between potential growth and actual output just gets wider. As a result, the trend growth rate also falls as a consequence. As the chart below shows, a deep slump followed by a weak recovery steadily lowers the long-term growth rate in each successive year.
So there is no return to normal and there has been a permanent loss of value and output for the American people as a result of the housing bust, the global banking crash and the subsequent collapse in investment, incomes and employment.

According the Fed economists research, on average, GDP remains well below its previous trend, even for short and shallow recessions.  On average, there is a permanent loss of output equivalent to nearly 15% of potential GDP growth in deep recessions more seven years later.

As the economists sum it up: “that recessions tend to depress the long-run level of output may imply that demand shocks have permanent effects. The sustained deviation of the level of output from pre-crisis trend points to flaws in the way the economics profession models the recovery of output to economic shocks and raises further doubts about the reliance on measures of output gaps to determine economic slack. For policymakers, the results also point to the cost of recessions, especially deep and long ones”.

So much for Robert Lucas’ confidence in recovery as long as governments don’t interfere. Slumps anyway have lasting damage: incomes, jobs and homes that can never be recovered. And right now that damage is still rising.  It is another economic crime of capitalism.

Nikki Giovanni on Bill Cosby

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Twenty or so years ago I was at a BBQ with some co-workers.  It was mostly black women and we were celebrating a huge success we'd had in organizing their department.  There are only two sources of power in the workplace, the bosses, or the organized workers. If the workers are not organized, divided along racial, gender or any other similar lines, the power of the boss increases over us, it leads us down the "every person for themselves" road as we all tend to look to the power as individuals; the boss, or often times, the incompetent bully supervisor, is in the driver's seat. "Divide and Conquer".  We all know where that leads; no one is liberated.

About that time Cosby had given one of his usual rants attacking the black working class. I can't remember all the details but I know he was attacking black women for not disciplining their kids, not keeping them in line. I recall him slamming them for the way they spoke to their children and not spending enough time with them etc. I made my feelings clear that day and I could see that some of the folks were reluctant to agree.  As Giovanni says there was a strong sense that this black man should not be criticized, especially by a white man, even one who they respected and I believe I had respect among my friends. People were a bit cautious.

I can't stand Bill Cosby.  There is always some truth in criticism but one always has to look at the source of it.  I was a single parent but both my wife and I had decent jobs, earned a good income as working class people.  We had joint responsibility for our child and both of us worked. But  I had to fight off sticking my kid in front of the TV to get myself a breather at the end of the day, or simply to make life easier. Working overtime was always a problem.  I know I dragged him to too many union meetings.

I lived in East Oakland. I knew many black families and single mothers who were raising their kids, doing the best they could as Nikki Giovanni says in the video.  I had friends who worked long hours looking after other people's kids and others who did home help work or other fairly low paid disrespected work. In some families, people were luckier where both parents worked, some were teachers or worked in the public sector like me. But East Oakland is overwhelmingly working class people of color and many parts of it is extremely impoverished. 

I savaged Cosby.  What does he know about raising children in these conditions?  He has maids, he's a billionaire no doubt. How dare he talk down and lecture to people who under the worst conditions raise their children to respect others, respect their elders and do they best they can under conditions not of their own making.  We all make mistakes.  When you work two jobs and are a single parent, or even if you're both working it might be that you talk to your kids too abruptly at times, or stick 'em in front of the TV using it as a baby sitter more often than you should.  But criticism of working class and poor people about inappropriate behavior, dress code, language and other personal choices, when it comes from movie stars, millionaires and others like Cosby should be seen for what it is, the whining of the privileged in society. 

I have never seen Nikki Giovanni's commentary above but I think it's right on. And Finally the victims of what appears to be a serial rapist are speaking out. One thing we know for certain when it comes to these types of assaults on women by men with money and power---he's not the only one.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

WalMart Sit Down's and Lessons from Auto and Labor History

by Mike Benca
San Leandro Worker's Club
Member OE Local 3 Highway Maintenance Worker

Nearly 80 years ago autoworkers at a General Motors auto plant in Flint Michigan stopped working and sat down. Unlike common strikes of the day they did not picket outside plant gates, but instead occupied their work-stations inside the company owned plant for over a month. They were safer inside from the batons of the police on the picket lines.  During the occupation, plant fire hoses were turned on the local police forces when they attempted to evict the rebellious workers.  The workers held out for 44 days even when threatened with the possibility of state militia being used against them.

This courageous stand by the Flint auto workers marked a turning point in the UAW in that in the following years tens of thousands of auto workers swelled the ranks of that union and the entire domestic auto industry was unionized.  Workers went on to win many gains in their standard of living in the following years after the sit down strike.

Over the last two years or so many fast food and retail workers in the United States have begun to organize with the backing of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and other labor affiliated groups.  Sporadically planned but very coordinated actions have occurred over the last two years and culminated recently with what has been called the first ever sit-down strike in company history at a Southern California Walmart.  OUR Walmart, the group supporting the workers has vowed to protest at hundreds of stores on the day after the US holiday Thanksgiving known as Black Friday.

While the brave workers who have spoken out for themselves and their coworkers and especially the ones who sat down and occupied stores last week should be commended it's important to ask just how effective these strategies are.  If one goes to Blackfriday.org they will be directed to a list of rules governing how protesters should behave on the planned day of action on Black Friday next week. Supporters are asked to not be too loud so that workers cannot communicate with customers and that protesters should not block aisles or prevent shoppers from getting to cash registers. So again we will be fenced in and hundreds of feet away from the store's entrance and asked to not block traffic and obstruct shoppers from walking in through the front doors.  A legal statement is easily visible on the website stating that the UFCW and OUR WalMart is not attempting to unionize the workers at this time.  

Well the writers of this blog ask what are the goals then of this movement?  I spoke recently by phone with a few organizers from OUR Walmart and was told that yes they are not totally pleased with the UFCW's steering of this effort, but none the less workers have seen some limited improvements in their working conditions since this latest movement began.  I was not convinced and explained that I would be supporting these workers on Black Friday, but was not committing to following the "rules" that the organizers are asking supporters to follow.  If we don't stop or at least deter shoppers from carrying out their purchases then what is the point of this entire movement?  

The owners of Walmart with their combined worth of over160 billion dollars will not really take this movement seriously until we begin drastically impacting service at their stores around the country.  The sit down strike in southern California last week was motivational, but also unfortunate in that customers and fellow workers are continuously seen in the footage walking right past the squatting strikers.

The union backed organizers will cite court rulings when defending their strategies and their refusal to block shoppers from entering stores or carrying out their purchases, but sometimes we have to break the laws.  In the thirties and throughout our history workers faced the most brutal opposition from the employers, rules were broken and laws violated through mass direct action and strikes. This is how the unions were built and the methods we have to return to today to save what we have and organize the unorganized. This is what the union leadership refuses to do, mobilize the potential power of the millions of members in organized labor along with the unorganized.  To do that, they have to fight for something substantial other than fewer concessions than the boss is asking for.

If enough of us stand up and carry out mass direct action, the forces attempting to hold us back will be put on the defensive and their court rulings and their power over these exploited workers will be broken.


In Israel, only Jewish blood shocks anyone

Killings of Palestinians by soldiers and policemen will never shock Israel. The propaganda machine will whitewash everything, and the media will be its mouthpiece.

By  | Nov. 20, 2014 | 5:42 AM
IDF soldiers in the West Bank village of Awarta, June 26, 2014.
 IDF soldiers in the West Bank village of Awarta, June 26, 2014. Photo by AFP

There was a massacre in Jerusalem on Tuesday in which five Israelis were killed. There was a war in Gaza over the summer in which 2,200 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians. A massacre shocks us; a war, less so. Massacres have culprits; wars don’t. Murder by ax is more appalling than murder by rifle, and far more horrendous than bombing helpless people trying to take shelter.
Terror is always Palestinian, even when hundreds of Palestinian civilians are killed. The name and face of Daniel Tragerman, the Israeli boy killed by mortar fire during Operation Protective Edge, were known throughout the world; even U.S. President Barack Obama knew his name. Can anyone name one child from Gaza among the hundreds killed?

A few hours after the attack in Jerusalem, journalist Emily Amrousi said at a conference in Eilat that the life of a single Jewish child was more important to her than the lives of thousands of Palestinian children. The audience’s response was clearly favorable; I think there was even some applause.
Afterward Amrousi tried to explain that she was referring to the way the Israeli media should cover events, which is only slightly less serious. This was during a discussion on the ridiculous question: “Is the Israeli media leftist?” Almost no one protested Amrousi’s remarks and the session continued as if nothing had happened. Amrousi’s words reflect Israel’s mood in 2014: Only Jewish blood elicits shock.

Israeli deaths touch Israeli hearts more than the deaths of others. That’s natural human solidarity. The bloody images from Jerusalem stunned every Israeli, probably every person.
But this is a society that sanctifies its dead to the point of death-worship, that wears thin the stories of the victims’ lives and deaths, whether it be in a synagogue attack or a Nepal avalanche. It’s a society preoccupied with endless commemorations in the land of monuments, services and anniversary ceremonies; a society that demands shock and condemnation after every attack, when it blames the entire world.

Precisely from such a society is one permitted to demand some attention to the Palestinian blood that is also spilled in vain; some understanding of the other side’s pain, or even a measure of empathy, which in Israel is considered treason.

But this doesn’t happen. Aside from exceptional murders and hate crimes by individuals, there is total apathy — and the obtuseness is frightening. Killings (we dare not say murders) by soldiers and policemen will never shock Israel. The propaganda machine will whitewash everything, and the media will be its mouthpiece. No one will demand condemnations. No one will express shock. Few will even consider that the pain is the same pain, that murder is murder.

How many Israelis are willing to give a thought to the parents of Yousef Shawamreh, the boy who went out to pick wild greens and was killed by an army sniper? Why is it exaggerating to be upset by, or at least give some attention to, the killing of Khalil Anati, a 10-year-old boy from the Al-Fawar refugee camp?

Why can’t we identify with the pain of bereaved father Abd al-Wahab Hammad, whose son was killed in Silwad, or with the Al-Qatari family from the Al-Amari refugee camp, two members of which were killed by soldiers within a month? Why do we reserve our horror for the synagogue and not consider these killings disturbing?

Yes, there is the test of intent. The typical Israeli argument is that soldiers, unlike terrorists, do not intend to kill. If so, then what exactly is the intent of the sniper who fires live bullets at the head or chest of a demonstrator a distance away who poses no threat? Or when he shoots a child in the back as he’s running for his life? Didn’t he intend to kill him?

The attack in Jerusalem was a horrendous crime; nothing can justify it. But the blood that flowed there is not the only blood being spilled here murderously. The degree to which it is forbidden to say that is incredible.