June 30, 2007

US Social Forum Blogging

[Exhausted from running from workshop to workshop to discuss this fall's Iraq Moratorium and plagued by a hotel "Internet connection" that moves in geological time, I have asked some friends here at the inaugural US Social Forum to help out by blogging it with me. The first post comes from Jamala Rogers, who started working here as a volunteer days before most of us showed up. I should also mention that the commendable Modern Pitung, who blogs at All Out for the Fight, seems to be live blogging the USSF. Any other blog coverage readers want to recommend?]

Atlanta. I arrived on Sunday afternoon to volunteer in the pre-Forum frenzy. Having coordinated many national conferences and events, I multiplied one of those conferences by 100 and knew I needed to get down here. The USSF is for the movement and by the movement so we each have a responsibility for doing our individual and organizational part to ensure its success.

While putting together the badges for the conference, my small work table grew to four people. Bedsides me, there were two were young, African-American women and one older white male. One sistah was an budding entrepreneur here in Atlanta with a shop in the Five Points area. The other sister had taken a 31-hour bus ride from Connecticut to attend the USSF. She got big props from all of us!

The sole male was from Texas by way of my home state of Missouri so we made a connection based upon common geography. When I found out he is a member of Veterans for Peace, I told him I was invited to participate in the group's opening ceremony for their national conference being held in St. Louis. Although he didn't think he would make the August confab, it was an indication of the kind of networking that allows us to see how connected we really are.
We all expressed our excitement about attending the historic USSF and what events we planned to attend, our expectations, etc. I can only believe that our working table was a microcosm of the thousands of fortunate people able to experience the first such forum in the US.

Jamala Rogers

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June 21, 2007

Dion, Paris Hilton, and Rock and Rap Confidential

"Paris Hilton? Ol' Jimmy's done taken leave of his senses entire. What little he had left."

Don't lie, I know that's what you're thinking.

Could be, but you're not gonna prove it with this post. I recently got an appeal from the splendid folks at Rock & Rap Confidential, a progressive music publication (started in the early '80s by Dave Marsh and his posse as Rock & Roll Confidential). They wanted me to hustle folks to subscribe--but let them explain in their own words:

Rock & Rap Confidential, the only publication ever recommended by Rage Against the Machine, is now available free of charge via email. To subscribe, just send the email address you wish to receive it at to:

RRC is the only publication that reviews and promotes every type of music.

RRC, the first to oppose Tipper Gore and the music censors, remains in the forefront in the fight for musical freedom of expression.

RRC is always giving answers to the question: Just exactly why do we need the music industry?

RRC regularly challenges Bono on his bullshit.

Trust me. This is a publication you want to read. And the sucker's free. What are you waiting for?

Okay. To convince those unwilling to take my word for it, I was going to reprint their insightful obituary of James Brown, continuing the JB coverage that started here after his death.

I may still do that sometime soon, but I'm going with another piece of evidence. Just an hour ago I got an email from RRC's list for occasional forwards (and you definitely want to sign up for that too). It hipped me to a brand new YouTube offering, in which Dion--Dion DiMucci, Dion & The Belmonts, that Dion--unveils a new love song he's just written to Paris Hilton. No audible snark, no innuendo. Just a true love song in the old style. And the combination of that lyrical straightforwardness combined with the horrific media-saturated mess that is Ms. Hilton is what gives this song its power.

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June 11, 2007

Opening a Dialog on Disability and the Left

I recently received an email from my old friend Mike Meiselman (who says he eschews screen names as part of his bid to get onto the "no-fly" list--I guess everybody needs a hobby). Mike wrote it after reading "The Left and Mental Health," a recent article by Bill Fletcher, Jr., posted at the website of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad.

In the interests of deepening this discussion, I asked for and got Mike's permission to publish his response. I strongly suggest reading Bill Fletcher's short piece first, and if the discussion raises questions or sparks thoughts, I hope you, dear reader, will post something in the comments section below.

Thus saith Mike Meiselman:

I want to thank Bill Fletcher, Jr. for his recent note concerning mental health concerns. Coming from an individual as well respected as Brother Fletcher I hope his message will not be lost.

Yet even a person as respected as Bill has to start his paper on mental health by asking people to take what he says seriously--to hear him out before laughing.

Mental illness, cognitive and physical disabilities have not and are not taken seriously by the left. In fact, most all on the left do not see any place for people with disabilities (PWDs) except as wards of the state.

Last year at the annual meeting of Jobs with Justice in St. Louis the National Action planned a demonstration in favor of keeping a state institution for people with disabilities open. One of Jobs with Justice's major supporters, AFCSME, wants to keep these state-run institutions open, as the employees are AFSCME members. When challenged whether this was in the best interest of the residents, comrades and friends deferred to a parent's organization that supported the institutionalization of their children.

Parents often do not represent the wants and needs of their children, disabled or not. But one can hardly fault the parents for their thinking. The financial and emotional stigma attached to raising children with severe disabilities is multiplied by the lack of supports available for the caretakers. Unfortunately, AFSCME's interest and the interests of some parents took precedent over the desires and needs of the prisoners in these state institutions. No one contacted the residents, nor were any disability advocacy organizations; it was enough to get some parents' approval.

Locking people with disabilities up in institutions has a history. The initial establishment of these institutions was progressive. Now they have become regressive. In the 1960s, faced with shrinking budgets, many state institutions were closed and the residents kicked out with no supports whatsoever. These closings and evictions had nothing to do with the welfare of the people with disabilities. They were simply measure taken in accord with capitalism. Economically they were unable to justify their existence.

We know now, however, that the overwhelming numbers of people with disabilities thrive outside traditional state institutions when they receive appropriate supports. In fact, a major goal of the disability rights movement is implementing "Olmstead" legislation (after a Supreme Court case of a couple of years ago). The Olmstead decision orders that money spent on an individual incarceration in a state institution should follow each person into the community and appropriate supports follow them.

The upsurge in the struggle for the civil rights of Black people in the '50s and 60s inspired many liberation movements. PWDs were also inspired. Berkeley, California gave rise to the Independent Living Movement. First fighting to gain admittance to the University and then facing many hurdles in being able to attend classes, people with disabilities took on the Administration and the attitudes of the campus community.

Inspired by their success, Independent Living movements sprang up all across the USA. People in wheelchairs and their supporters took on public transportation. Chaining themselves to buses in cities from San Francisco to Chicago to Boston, they began to win increased access to so-called public transportation. In state after state, city after city, struggles like ones to make voting stations accessible, to allow people with disabilities to attend court without the humiliation of being carried up flights of stairs, for an end to segregated schools. People with disabilities fought for basic democratic rights.

We support the struggle for Democratic Rights. We are active participants in many such struggles. For the most part though, we are absent from the struggles of PWDs. Why are PWDs fighting these struggles without the broad support of a concerned people? Because of the stigma attached to people with disabilities. It's similar to white skin privilege. "At least I have it better than that poor soul" is what we say when we send money in to "Jerry's kids" every Labor Day. We look at people with deformities, developmental disabilities, injuries and illnesses and turn away.

Today, especially after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, there is more fear being spread about how dangerous people with disabilities are, along with cries that more people need to be housed in state-run institutions as a matter of public safety. Increasingly louder voices call for preventive detention for people with mental disorders. Where is the left in opposing these attacks on democratic rights?

I know there are revolutionaries and progressives who work with PWDs. I know there are progressives working with SEIU and AFSCME or trying to organize the workers who serve PWDs. We should be uniting with the aspirations of the people who we work for and be very careful about the unity we have with those who profit off the institutionalization of PWDs.

I am not going to attempt a full-blown declaration concerning the disability rights movement here. It is long and complex. In fact, my own disability does not allow me the concentration needed to write much more.

Do some research. I suggest these books--Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment by James I. Charlton, and Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract by Marta Russell. Or just google Disability rights and see what comes up. And you could do a lot worse than to check out my wife's blog, Big Noise.

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June 9, 2007

Ban The Heart Punch!: Scooter Libby edition

[The Heart Punch was a purportedly devastating blow in '50s professional wrestling, of such potential deadliness that "controversy" about the need to ban it was a mainstay of commentary on wrestling broadcasts.]

United States District Judge Reggie Walton just delivered a lulu of a Heart Punch. He is the guy who presided at I. Lewis Libby's perjury trial (part of the Valerie Plame/CIA outing affair) and then sentenced old Scooter to 2 1/2 years--plus probation, plus a fat fine.

Between the verdict and the sentencing, Walton was subjected to an orchestrated barrage of letters from various Republican bigshots urging clemency for the little war criminal. Among them was a letter which was signed by 12 big bucks legal experts, including Robert Bork and Alan Dershowitz, asking for "friend of the court" status and claiming that the whole trial was unconstitutional.

Judge Walton, in a footnote near the end of his order granting amicus curiae status to various applicants, wrote:

It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is an indication of these eminent academics' willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it.

Bam! "Doctor! Is there a doctor in the arena!?"

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June 7, 2007

Ruling Class Getting Edgy About Immiseration Of The Masses

[I post here something I recently got from a guy named Scott H., who is responsible for the valuable Maoist theoretical blog Massline.info. It's a piece from US News & World Report introduced by Scott's brief commentary. I've been thinking about this stuff a bunch lately, which is why Scott's post resonated with me.]

I have attached below an editorial from the current issue of U.S. News & World Report which contains some statistical information about the worsening economic situation in this country for the great majority of the people. The editorial focuses on what it calls the "middle class", but of course most of what is known as the middle class is actually part of the working class (though typically the better-off sections of it).

The article becomes laughable toward the end when three pitifully inadequate palliatives are put forward to deal with the situation. But it does a much better job at showing how the economic situation of the masses is rapidly deteriorating. It is rare to see this issue frankly discussed in bourgeois publications (even in the limited way this editorial does) because they and their politicians have no real idea what to do about it, and it is better to remain silent about what they can't deal with. However, the plain fact is that American capitalist society cannot for long continue on the course that it is now taking.

Even on the left there is grossly inadequate attention being paid to the worsening economic situation of the people and the growing precariousness of the entire U.S. and world economy. When a qualitative leap for the worse occurs--and this could happen at any time (though it might conceivably still be a decade or two away)--this will come as a tremendous shock to most people, especially to those who are now fairly comfortably well off. It will change the fundamental social and political situation in the country.


Uneasy in the Middle

By Mortimer B. Zuckerman

The American middle class is worried-and with reason. Middle-class workers have long been the foundation of American society. In recent decades, they have seemed more prosperously buoyant than ever, living in bigger houses with a panoply of utilities, gadgets, and entertainment systems. So why the angst?

The roots are primarily economic. Even in these boom times, anxiety levels rival those of the early Reagan recession years. In particular, people have great and growing fear about losing their jobs. And we are at one of the rare points in our history when Americans have stopped dreaming of a better life for their children. Now the hope is negative: that their children won't be forced into a lower standard of living. Americans used to feel sure each generation would do better than the last˜but someone has run away with the ladder. Now the middle class lives with the same uncertainties that dog the poor. So close do many feel to the economic margin that they fear they're but one illness or one job loss away from catastrophe.

The paranoia is not idle. In the 1970s, a family had a roughly 7 percent chance of its income dropping by half or more. Today the odds are 17 percent. Almost two thirds of workers believe that it is harder to earn a decent living now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, according to the Pew Research Center. Workers with fewer years of formal education feel it most, as earnings of the college educated have about doubled compared with high school graduates. Yet the public education system, once the great equalizer, is perceived to be deteriorating, even as it has become dramatically harder to finance a college education.

Fairness. The economy as a whole is performing well, but most people are not sharing in it. In 2005, the average income of those in the "bottom" 90 percent of the economy dipped from the year before. That's just one broad indicator of the problems confronting many of the groups within that 90 percent˜no college education, single parent, minority. Meanwhile, at the top end of the economic spectrum, the gains have been spectacular. Just look at CEO pay, for example, which has risen in the past decade at triple the rate of the median worker's pay.

What is clear is that our richest 10 percent have gained the most. That top slice now receives 44 percent of pretax income, the highest since the 1920s and 1930s, and up from 32 percent between 1945 and 1980. The richest 1 percent has done even better, with pretax income growing from 8 percent of national income in 1980 to 17 percent in 2005. Another way to look at it is that the richest 1 percent of Americans took in 21.8 percent of all recorded income in 2005˜double their share in 1980. This means that the 300,000 Americans at the top made almost as much money as the 150 million Americans at the bottom.

Along with sluggish median earnings, these 150 million are having to meet rising healthcare costs no longer funded by government and employers. Even Americans who went to college are now experiencing the kind of income instability high school dropouts faced in the 1970s. And many fewer can count on the fixed-benefit plans provided by larger firms: Fewer than about a third provide such benefits today, compared with 80 percent 30 years ago. Millions of people are now on their own to ride the economic roller coaster.

Fiscal policy has been no help. Over a 20-year period, government has been taking more from the middle class in taxes than it has given back in benefits. This is the underlying cause of the Democratic capture of the middle-class vote in the past election.

What to do? The rise in the minimum wage will help, as it did in the 1990s. There remain three imperatives:

1. Help workers change jobs. It should be much easier than it is now to transfer health and pension benefits.

2. Boost our national investment in education and training. We have to reduce inequality while expanding economic opportunity. We must have an education system that a much larger proportion of the middle class can afford. It has to equip Americans with the skills to make them mobile and give them greater economic security.

3. Make taxation fairer. Expand the earned income tax credit, and make the whole system more progressive. Average tax rates on the richest one-hundredth of Americans have been cut in half since 1970, while taxes on the middle class have risen. Other income for the wealthy, such as dividends and capital gains, is now taxed at lower rates than the wage income of most middle-class families.

I am not arguing that gifted managers and entrepreneurs should be taxed more. Given the changes in the global economy, there is a more competitive market for top talent, and that should properly manifest itself in higher pay. But that necessity does not warrant obvious injustice.

The alternative is dangerous as well as inequitable. The gulf between what top managers receive and what they pay workers is increasing tensions. The longer this goes on, the more our social fabric is at risk.

[This story appears in the June 11, 2007 print edition of US News & World Report.]

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June 1, 2007

'Driving' Out Hugo Chávez?

Rich college students in Venezuela have been demonstrating for days against Hugo Chávez's decision not to renew the over-the-air broadcast license of reactionary television channel RCTV.

Never mind that the channel violated its public-interest duties by giving aid and comfort to the plotters of the 2002 coup attempt. And never mind that the channel knowingly broadcast falsehoods during the coup, reporting, for example, that Chávez supporters had fired on unarmed civilians -- a claim later conclusively disproved. And never mind that a broadcast license is a privilege, not a right. The ruling classes, of course, view everything in their own lives through the lens of entitlement and are just shocked that such a privilege might be taken away from them for any reason.

As the photo shows, the students are posturing as progressive by attempting to display the symbol of the peace sign. Unfortunately, they got it a bit wrong, instead uniting around an icon with which they are much more familiar: the Mercedes symbol.

"Javier, bring the car around. The protest is over and I'd like to go shopping now."

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