Wed Market Highlights Week 1

Hi all.My one volunteer effort in this election cycle is to person the table at the Wed Market from 12-1 each week.
I have modest goals but a big vision.  How do we turn a red state blue?  Or more accurately, how do we grow local progressives? This has been on my mind since 2004.

Here is a brief summary I posted on FB on the UCDC’s Facebook page.

During my hour and a quarter at Wed Market:

Roughly 10-12 visitors. No one said unregistered. All said they know about photo ID.

One Mifflinburg supporter asked me “Do you believe in the NEw World Order?” “The Bildenburg Group?” “Have you seen Jesse Ventura’s video about the six FEMA camps?”

When I didn’t jump on her conspiracy theory bandwagon she said “You’ll probably laugh at me.” I told her I would not. I pointed out that FEMA probably makes camps to help people for disasters.

I tried to say that the powerful are rigging the system, but they don’t need to meet in secret club and smoke cigars to do it.

Then a couple tried to do a drive-by insult fest. “Are you better off now than four years ago?” “We have to get rid of BHO!”

I crossed the ten feet and tried to engage them in discussion. “What is BHO?”(I thought it was a government agency).

The pair, mostly the man continued on about how their small business is being crushed, how we should be ashamed for supporting Obama, how we should be doubly ashamed since we were next to the prayer tent (not sure what that meant and I apologized to the nice prayer folks after), how ACA will cost $2,200 per person, how the economy is in the tank. They left with a final “Baby killers!” insult.

I tried to engage the man saying “Let’s talk about policy, about issues.”

Barbara said “You will never convince people like that.” I know. But my point is how did it look to the watchers? TO the people around there? I have no idea if it will work, but if we can use the Wed Market to find ways to talk progressive values in local speak, we will do more to make America a freer place than we may know.

Grand Bargains, Friedman, and the Problem with Moderates

Thomas Friedman, I suppose, thinks of himself as a moderate.  Maybe like Matt Miller from KCRW’s Left,Right, and Center who advocates for “radcial centricism” (or something like that).  This species of thinking imagines that the “left” and “right” can only be correct up to a point.  Hence, the one good path towards progress must, by definition, be some thing “in between.”  Friedman, especially, excels at taking what seem like irreconcilable differences and with his wise words, turn them into new consensuses that if only the irrationally passionate partisans of left and right would accept would lead us into a shiny tomorrow.

Friedman’s recent op-ed in the New York Times is a classic.  He argues that the great debate of our times is over “which capitalism?” instead of “which -ism?” Fair enough.  In this context, he defines “American Capitalism” as- that’s right- the perfectly moderate mix of opposites, of public and private.  I suppose that European “safety-net” socialism is unbalanced by inference from his argument.

To regain our American mojo we need to rebalance public and private. Hence, he calls for a series of “grand compromises.”  Between cutting the federal budget and raising taxes.  Between paying  for “nursery schools and nursing homes.” (Nice line).  Between labor and management.  Between environmentalists and extractive industries.  And so on.  Between Dogs and Cats.  Yankees and Red Sox.  No, not the last two.

I find this seductive.  Yes, let us come together and find common ground.  What a story: can we not have politicians who can use language, influence, guile, and all their dark arts to bring these differing parties to Friedman’s round table of Grand Compromises?  I want to be in that story!

But I am afraid it is a fairy tale.  Continue reading

Letter about Deaths Due to Lack of Insurance

Organizing for America- the organizing branch of the Obama campiagn that stuck around afterwards, has a great example of using technology to rally people.

I wrote the following to Chris Carney and as I got into it I wanted to give it a broader audience.

Dear Rep. Carney,

I am here for Betsy and Lisa [Names changed]-

We must pass health insurance reform now.  Too many people and businesses face warped incentives or grim and miserable health due to the burdens of our perverse and broken system.

Betsyworks full tie in a private child care facility.  She is a single mom.  She often baby sits infants for many families and is always willing to help people with sick children or other events.  Her selflessness allows others to pursue their careers as professors, doctors, and business leaders.  Her employer, a day care center subsidized by a local employer, does not provide coverage.  She had such severe back problems she could not sleep.  Friends pooled $300 to help her see a chiropractor.  She limited coverage now, but is still an injury away from financial crisis.

Lisa has leukemia.  She works cleaning people’s homes.  She cleans and cooks for her husband every day, even when he has been furloughed or been between jobs.  She stays married to a disinterested, neglectful and nearly abusive husband because she could never afford individual coverage, or even get it with her leukemia.  Where is her freedom to live her life?  The combination of patriarchy and our health care system is deeply unfair and sexist.  I think only the strength of her personality and her adult son keeps her husband from raising his hand against her.

Millions are uninsured.  In 2009, one study found 45,000 Americans died due to lack of coverage. [1] They used a rigorous method used by researchers in 1993 who found around half that number then.  Among those 45,000 are more than 2,000 uninsured veterans.[2] On 9/11, 3,000 of our citizens were innocent victims and became iconic heroes.  We endure 15 9/11s every year through 45,000 private tragedies of martyrs to a broken healthcare system midwife by a corrupt political system.  We have marshaled billions of dollars and 100,000s of soldiers to avenge the fallen of 9/11.  Meanwhile, we engage in trivial “death panel” and “reconciliation” food fights at home while our fellow citizens are chewed up and spit out as corpses by the broken health care system.   Why should the public tragedy of 9/11 count for so much more all these years than the sum of 45,000 private tragedies year in and year out?

Where is the justice in that? How is that fair?


[1] Heavey, Susan.  Sept 2009.  “Study Links 45,000 Deaths to Lack of Health Insurance.”  Reuters.  http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE58G6W520090917

[2] Physicians for A National Health Program. Nov 10, 2009. “Over 2,200 veterans died in 2008 due to lack of health insurance.”  http://www.pnhp.org/news/2009/november/over_2200_veterans_.php

Blunt

Blunt

Poetry, sometimes, should be a blunt instrument.

Bertolt Brecht knew that, perhaps because his name

Sounds like a hammer striking a spike.

Can poets afford to be subtle and ambiguous

When rogues and thieves and fools lie their way

To power?  We need to know that we do not live

In a promised land.  A shameless crew of liars,

Practiced and polished, buttering and bettering

Their molten images, have rotted language,

Which litters the landscape like bug-chewn

Fallen fruit.

                        No one approves of blunt poetry

That says lying rhymes with dying, it’s not art.

But many die because of lies, real human beings

With real empty stomachs or real holes in their bodies

With real blood draining away.

                                                            So, in these days

Of mean, twisted, squalid lies thickening the air

Like a year-long cloud blocking the sun,

What can one do but bludgeon you, reader?

From: Spaces and Lines by Karl Patten

Commentary:

I first drafted this poem back in the bad days of Reagan-Bush/daddy.  But I never got around to doing anything with it. However, when Bush/baby came along it was imperative that I publish it, in 2002.

I assumed that that was the end of it, but now after a year of Obama I think it’s time to give it to the world again.  I do not think of him as a rogue or a thief, but I’ve come to believe he is easily fooled by the people he appoints.  My heart sank early when Rahm Emmanual was named his chief of staff; little chance of “change” with this Chicago hoodlum running the show.  Things quickly got worse: Summers, Geithner, Gates, Jones, etc.  All these men, blind to the causes – corporate, military-industrial, banking – that put us in the current mess, and the international loss of trust in the USA – are carrying us to further disasters.  I still think Obama is personally a decent human being, and his language is, for a politician, “practiced and polished,” but, like most of the Democrats in Congress, a disease called fear has withered his spine.  Perhaps an extended stay in a rehabilitative facility could reconstruct it, but I dare say it’s already too late.  The nation still wants – and needs – change but all these blind and blighted men cannot imagine it.  Instead we get Afghanistan, and worse.  I had had some small hope in Eric Holder, but after the Justice Department couldn’t find the Blackwater murderers guilty, hope melted away.

With all the above, it is necessary now, reader, that we go out and bludgeon Obama and all of his squalid crew and turn things around.  Pardon me for my excess, but sorrow and anger tend to boil over.

If Obama were a Socialist

Obama favors a public option to provide most Americans with health insurance; for this he has been labeled a socialist. In fact, what Obama is suggesting is a far cry from socialism. Here is what Obama would be saying and doing if he were a socialist.

If Obama were a socialist he would try to change the system of property rights that allows wealthy individuals to own the means of production on which we all depend for our livelihoods. He would argue that by owning and controlling these means of production, the wealthy are able, systematically, to take advantage of us as working people.

If Obama were a socialist he would point out that each of us, in our work, produces more value than we receive but that this extra value becomes the property of the owners of the firms. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics an unskilled manufacturing worker in the U.S. produces about $160,000 of new value annually and receives $30,000 in wages. The extra value of $130,000 is claimed by the owners and used to meet the operating expenses of the firm. As working people we don’t get to participate in decisions concerning how the extra value we create is used. We also don’t get to participate in decisions concerning how the work we do is organized or how much of the value we create we get to keep.

If Obama were a socialist he would know that owners comprise a very small segment of the population and their ability to confiscate this extra value allows them to make themselves wealthier at our expense. The very wealthy, just a sliver of the population, own and control most of the business wealth. It gives them enormous power and placing us, the working people who created that wealth, in a situation of subservience. Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan and other advocates of capitalism celebrate ‘free choice’ and ‘freedom from tyranny’ but in reality, those who control the extra value we create have considerable power over the rest of us – power to determine how the workplace is organized and controlled, power to influence the laws that regulate the market, power to withhold access to the means of production on which we all depend if their interests are not being served. If Obama were a socialist he would work to reduce or eliminate the influence of these owners on our elected representatives and on the powerful constituencies of government including the military and prisons.

If Obama were a socialist he would try to change our undemocratic and exploitative system by giving working people a say over how the extra value we create is used and by giving us real influence in politics. He would advocate for publicly funded elections so that we could elect representatives to take real steps to curb corporate power. He would also argue that we have a right to participate on the boards of directors of firms because the extra value we create results from our work effort and thus should belong to us. He would say that when you or I do something or make something we ought to have the right to have a say in what happens to it; if we are denied that right we are being treated as an object, not as a subject imbued with a conscience and a will. He would point out that giving working people these rights is entirely feasible, as has been demonstrated by the productivity and viability of worker-owned enterprises both at home and abroad. If Obama were a socialist he would want to use his considerable influence to convince working Americans that we are being duped when we think our system is democratic or that it makes us free.

Obama is not a socialist. In the health care debate he is not fighting the stranglehold that insurance and drug companies have on politics. He is not arguing that doctors, nurses, technicians and staff should own and operate hospitals; that insurance companies should be run by the adjusters themselves, or even that as citizens and taxpayers we have a right to form a state-run single payer health insurance provider – a right that is enjoyed by working people in every other industrialized nation.

You may not like what Obama is doing; you may not approve of the modest protections he is trying to include in our wasteful and immoral privately owned health care system. But don’t call him a socialist.

OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA: Obama Should Read It! John Peeler

OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA:
Obama Should Read It!

John Peeler

During the recent Summit of the Americas, in Trinidad, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela gave President Obama a copy of Open Veins in Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by Eduardo Galeano.  Few in the American press corps or in the White House staff would have understood the importance of this book.  Originally published in 1971 in Spanish and in 1973 in English, the book has been reprinted many times and remains standard reading for any educated Latin American, and for most English-speaking students of that region.

Eduardo Galeano is an Uruguayan writer who has published several other books and continues to write essays for many Latin American publications, as well as for such English-language magazines as The New Internationalist.  Open Veins depicts the history of Latin America since the conquest that began with Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World.  Its theme is set in its first sentence: “The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing.”

Of course, this is a recasting of the familiar “law” of competitive advantage in classical economics, that different countries will all gain by specializing in what they can most efficiently produce.  Reflecting the analysis of dependency theorists who were at the peak of their influence when the book was published, Galeano undertakes to show that the world has been systematically structured against Latin America since the Conquest, making the region dependent on decisions made in the great metropolitan centers of Madrid, London, and New York.

Writing vividly about the successive stages of Latin America’s subjection, Galeano exposes the lust for gold and silver of the early conquistadores, the incredible contrasts of slave-based plantation agriculture in Brazil and the Caribbean, and the importance of Latin American oil and minerals to the US economy in the twentieth century.  He analyzes the contradictory attempts of nineteenth century Latin America to  follow the footsteps of the British and the North Americans toward economic development, and explores “The Contemporary Structure of Plunder,” the twentieth century dominance of the United States.

What is especially notable about this book is not its theory, but the elegant and accessible writing that is characteristic of all of Galeano’s works.  He chooses to write this way to reach a maximum audience:

I know I can be accused of sacrilege in writing about political economy in the style of a novel about love or pirates.  But I confess I get a pain from reading valuable works by certain sociologists, political experts, economists, and historians who write in code….I suspect that boredom can thus often serve to sanctify the established order, confirming that knowledge is a privilege of the elite.

Something similar occurs, one might add, with a certain militant literature aimed at a public of the converted.  For all its revolutionary rhetoric, a language that mechanically repeats the same clichés, adjectives, and declamatory formulas for the same ears seems conformist to me.  It could be that this parochial literature is as remote from revolution as pornography is remote from eroticism (288).

President Obama could not have a better introduction to the mind of Latin America than this elegant classic.

Barack Obama and John Maynard Keynes

Submitted by Charles Sackrey 

There’s some good economic news out there, believe it or not.  Among the most promising is the recent discrediting of two powerful right-wing ideologues, Alan Greenspan, widely acclaimed head of the Federal Reserve System from 1987-2006, and Milton Friedman, a mere professor but a powerfully influential component of the view that government is essentially bad and unregulated corporations are essentially good.  The unforgiving march of current history has revealed both as having been too dim-witted to realize that unregulated capitalism is no more stable than an unregulated day care center. 

 Greenspan, at whose knees fawning journalists and politicians bowed obediently, had a genuine religious commitment to “free markets”; a central tenet of this faith was his confidence that the pack of fiercely greedy and unregulated wolves running the world’s financial system had “honorable intentions.”  Recently, he admitted that “I was wrong” about those fellows, proving the case that we all have crazy ideas at times, but never so much as when people worship at our feet.  One result of the bootlicking, and not paying attention, is that during Greenspan’s two decades as head of the FRS, we experienced the greatest upward redistribution of income in our nation’s history.  No need to ask this fellow, “Which side are you on?”

 Friedman became famous because his simple-minded mantra about free markets fit like a glove with the needs of powerful corporations, the right-wing think tanks they fund, a legion of academic economists also in love with deregulation, and a mostly clueless media who lionized Friedman as they did Greenspan.  Together, this crowd made Friedman a hero, but only by ignoring that “free markets” was code language for allowing global corporations to spread their control to every corner of the globe.  For the grim truth about Friedman’s bag of tricks, one need only read Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine (2007).  There, she provides ample examples of the moral compass that directed Friedman’s zeal.  For instance, in 1975, he traveled to Chile to press his views in a private meeting with the fascist dictator and genuine barbarian, Augusto Pinochet, whose allies had overthrown the elected government (with CIA help). In fact, apparently beside the point to Friedman, this meeting occurred in the middle of a murderous purge by Pinochet of his political enemies that included the “disappearance” of 2,300 people and the torture of 30,000 more.  Friedman told a reporter during this visit that, “I am against economic intervention by the government, in my own country, as well as in Chile.”  Clearly implied here is, “no matter what.”

So, if you’re like me, and have all along thought that Freidman and Greenspan were wrong, and utterly so, about deregulated capitalism, it is certainly pleasant to know that Barack Obama has gone back to what is called “Keynesian” economics.  This is a set of ideas most effectively spread by John Maynard Keynes, an Englishman, who published a book in 1936 that reshaped modern thinking about capitalism.  He wrote in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, about which most economists here and abroad had no useful advice, given their allegiance to the free market ideology that was also then the received truth. 

Keynes carefully put to rest this doctrine by explaining, as Marx had done in the 1860s, why capitalism is inherently given to unending expansions and damaging contractions.  He also argued persuasively that government intervention could help to keep these inherent ups and downs from becoming cataclysms such as the Great Depression.  His policy prescription was simple enough: when, for whatever reasons, consumers and businesses stop spending  — which will eventually create a recession, or worse — the government needs to encourage more private spending with tax cuts and add its own purchases to the total.  Keynes noted that, in a downturn, it doesn’t make any difference whether the government builds pyramids, cathedrals, or goes to war, as long as the spending occurs.  The prime example occurred during World War II when spending on guns, bullets, bombs, ships, tanks, and all the rest began an expansion that ended the Depression and lasted almost unabated until the 1970s.

Despite what seemed to be the proof of the Keynesian pudding, economic conservatives like Friedman and Greenspan would again have their day, especially after Ronald Reagan came into power in 1980 championing greed as good and government as bad.  Fading memories about the Great Depression, and other factors, produced a waning influence of Keynesian ideas, and many foreign governments – Britain under Margaret Thatcher a prominent example — became converts to the religion of deregulated capitalism.  Friedman, Greenspan, Thatcher, and their allies around the world had waged an effective war on Keynes’s idea that government intervention in capitalism was often useful and sometimes crucial to its longevity.  Now, apparently, the pendulum has swung again, and the present collapse of global capitalism suggests that those who still worship at the free market church will need to wait a spell before catchy slogans about freedom and capitalism gather the attention of policy makers.

Keynes had another theory that had great influence, the idea that that we needed also to regulate the international system of markets. In 1944, he and representatives from the U.S. and its allies in Western Europe, designed a post-war international economy that was also carefully regulated, but not to the point of stifling trade.  According to many economists and journalists, what followed was “the golden age of U.S. capitalism,” roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1970s.  Then, along came Reagan and the pernicious spread of the free market church, capped by eight years under the guidance of G.W. Bush, who, wherever he could, dismantled economic regulations domestically and internationally.  At the end of his inept and miserable presidency, capitalism was as unregulated as it had been for a over a century.  This economic policy has produced the inevitable outcome, that we are bearing as he settles in Texas apparently as dazed and confused as ever.  His presidency cannot help but confirm the view of the late journalist, Hunter Thompson, that Bush was our “Goofy Child President,” and his leaving can give us the comfort of knowing that adults are back in the White House.

All this is why Barack Obama is pushing for a $825 billion expansion package of a particular kind.  About a third of it will be reduced taxes aimed at expanding private spending, and most of the rest will be used to rebuild the national “infrastructure.”  This is a term that refers to such public services as schools, health care, bridges, roads, and hospitals, and others that are crucial to the lives of most people.  Included also are billions of dollars for conservation and renewable energy, the reasons for which are obvious to all but those excited about global warming because it brings us closer to Armageddon and the Day of Judgment.  The rest of us can hope that the spending on renewable energy and conservation will gradually produce economic production that is less and less an assault on our biosphere.  Obama urges us to rebuild these elements of the public infrastructure so that people can be safer, healthier, more comfortable, and more confident, all of which will help them to think more clearly about how to remake a society that is going to seed. 

We badly need for Barack Obama to continue to remind us that it is muscle, brains, dedicated work, and human imagination  — rather than wildly overpaid financiers and corporate executives —  that are the principal ingredients by which people build societies.  His plan for economic expansion seeks to produce an atmosphere that encourages us to dream different dreams and to imagine a better world for everyone.  My fondest hope is that the witness of this brand-new president, armed with reasonable ideas rather than right wing slogans, can help us to crawl over a vast mountain chain of consumer garbage and catch a glimpse of something more fully exemplifying the great powers of human imagination.