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Jobs, Jobs and Socialism

by Stephen Fleischman

What this country needs is a whopping 18 million new jobs – and a good 5-cent cigar.

The chances are we’ll get neither. Everybody’s talking bout jobs, jobs, jobs –but everybody that’s talkin’ about goin’ to heaven ain’t goin’ to heaven…

We’ve got a killer whale in Barack Obama and John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Leader in the House, is calling him a socialist. Boehner slammed Obama’s budget proposal and his recently passed economic stimulus package as “one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.” Others joined in.

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina called Obama “the world’s best salesman of socialism” and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leapt into the Obama-socialist bash-fest with his own epithets.

As with health care reform, there’s an obvious answer to the problem of unemployment but no one in our Congress has the guts to go for it—a government works program. But we can’t have that! That would be socialism!

So what’s a good socialist president to do? The answer—look back to our great tradition of government work programs.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) under the New Deal worked for Roosevelt when it was passed by Congress in the depth of the Depression in 1935. The Republicans railed against Roosevelt then, too, for his socialist ideas. He struck back by calling them “economic royalists”. And millions of Americans were employed rebuilding the infrastructure of the country—roads, bridges, parks, airports. Even artists, musicians, actors and theatrical groups were funded by the WPA. To good effect. More popular culture in America. For example, “The Living Newspaper” brought forth Orson Welles. He gave us “Citizen Kane”, the brutal portrait of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. It riveted everybody’s attention on one of America’s most powerful oligarchs.

The corporate oligarchy that runs this country today is made of the same stuff—various segments of capital within the infrastructure as well as high ranking government officials, members of Congress, parts of academia, and other elements within the society. The mainstream media, mostly owned by five major corporate conglomerates, controls most of what we see, hear, and read.

Just about every elected politician is in one corporate pocket or another. The political system is fueled by campaign contributions. Politicians need money to get elected and the special interests that give it to them gets a quid pro quo. Everybody knows that’s the way the system works.

Chris Hedges, in his Truthdig blog (3-8-10) pulls no punches when he describes America today: “There are no constraints left to halt America’s slide into a totalitarian capitalism. Electoral politics are a sham. The media have been debased and defanged by corporate owners. The working class has been impoverished and is now being plunged into profound despair. The legal system has been corrupted to serve corporate interests. Popular institutions, from labor unions to political parties, have been destroyed or emasculated by corporate power. And any form of protest, no matter how tepid, is blocked by an internal security apparatus that is starting to rival that of the East German secret police. The mounting anger and hatred, coursing through the bloodstream of the body politic, make violence and counter-violence inevitable. Brace yourself. The American empire is over. And the descent is going to be horrifying.”

How do the progressive forces of a nation come together to keep that from happening? Must we wait for another Great Depression, with millions living in Hoovervilles, before the working and under classes get organized?

The oligarchs are smarter than that. They know they have to produce enough jobs to fend off the growing resistance and Barack Obama is their front man to accomplish their goal.

President Obama crawled out of the Milton Friedman den at the Chicago school of economics where economists still exhort laissez-faire and deregulated capitalism. They’re still looking for that illusive “invisible hand”.

“I’m a market man,” Obama chortled when he threw his hat into the ring.

After another year in the doldrums, the country is well on its way to an apple sale. The economy is floundering and the administration is still trying to talk its way into new days of glory. The hunt for a way to produce jobs (without the danger of being called a socialist) is getting desperate. The president and the Democratic congress are spinning their wheels. The disenfranchised Republicans have no wheels to spin. They’re fixated, as they always are, on cutting taxes for the rich.

What we’re talking about here are the two faces of the same monster. The two-party system, finely tuned to maintain the fiction of a democratic atmosphere. The capitalist oligarchy uses one or the other party to bolster the corporate interests as political environments change. No third party interlopers allowed. If Obama doesn’t cut the mustard, they’ll make him a one-term president.

Nonetheless, the infrastructure of the country, today, is a shambles. We can certainly use a little of that WPA mojo.

Any presidential candidate that can take the bullies by the horns and take some new ideas to the people could well become the next president of the United States.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Corporatism, Oligarchy, Stephen Fleischman | 1 Comment

Mourning For Trees

We take trees for granted, don’t we?

This was our Japanese Red Maple. It’s been the centerpiece of the front yard of our house since we moved here in the Fall of 1982. Our children climbed it, our cats all climbed it. It was spectacular in the Spring and we saw it turn beautifully bright red every Fall. It was home for hundreds of birds, and countless squirrels, not to mention the 17-year Cicadas that molted all over it back in the mid-90’s.

It died last summer. Yesterday we had to have it removed. It had a sister on the other side of our front yard which died two summers ago. There’s evidently been a blight on Japanese Maples. Ours was the last one we could find in town. There are none left.

We also had to remove a cedar tree which has grown outside our daughter’s bedroom window for the past 30 years. It was blown over in high winds in a storm 10 days ago and was hanging over the main power feed into the house. We had to cut it down. And last week a friend from upstate called to tell me that the one of the two Sugar Maples that have grown in front of our house in Palenville since I was a small child was cracked and split in the same wind storm that took the cedar. It’s the one just to the left of the three skylights in the picture below. It too had to be taken down to protect the house.

So we’re in mourning this week. These trees have been with us most of our lives, and now they’re just gone. They are memories.

We will plant a new tree where our Japanese Maple was, and it will grow and hopefully it will outlast us. But I don’t take trees for granted anymore. They never move and they may seem like they will be there forever, but they won’t. I’m hunkered down today in the second major snowstorm of this week praying that this storm doesn’t take any more old friends. If you have a familiar tree, one that you see every day, even if it’s the one on the sidewalk outside of your apartment building, take note of it. Don’t just take it for granted.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | Environment, Nature, Warm Thoughts | 2 Comments

The Founding Fathers and the Luck of the Draw

by Stephen Fleischman

If Sarah Palin doesn’t know who the Founding Fathers are, she’s not alone—neither do most Americans.

To begin with, George Washington was not the first president of the United States—John Hanson was. Hanson became president under the Articles of Confederation, which was the first constitution of the original thirteen colonies, ratified in March of 1781.

George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army fought the British Red Coats to their defeat. As a result of Washington’s strategy, his forces eventually captured the two main British combat armies at Saratoga and Yorktown, leading to the war’s end in 1783.

Washington presided over the Philadelphia Convention taking place there because of the general dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation. The delegates from the thirteen colonies at the Convention drafted a new United States Constitution in 1787 and unanimously chose Washington to become the first President of the United States under that Constitution in 1789. He sought to create a nation capable of surviving in a world torn asunder by war between Britain and France who were always at each other’s throats in their empire building.

Washington supported plans to build a strong central government and create a national bank. For his central role in the formation of the United States, he is often referred to as “the father of our country”.

In creating the new nation, George had a little help from his friends. The Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton supported him and Washington responded in kind. He occupied the presidency for eight years. His farewell address in 1796 will be remembered for its stern warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.

Barack Obama could take a lesson here.

Technically, the Founding Fathers were those delegates from the thirteen colonies who were the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and those who participated in framing and adopting the United States Constitution of 1789.

Historian Richard B. Morris names seven of them as the key Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. These people, and other delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, were landed gentry, plantation owners and the elite of colonial America.

Some historians define the “founding fathers” as a larger group, including ordinary citizens who took part in winning American independence; even dirt farmers who would drop their plow or their scythe, grab their musket and join the rag-tag army of General George Washington to fight the Red Coats wherever they were.

But the key politicians and the delegates to the Continental Congresses and the Philadelphia Convention called the shots. There were about fifty-five of them. These delegates represented a cross-section of 18th Century American leadership.

While the fight for independence was happening in America, in England, the Industrial Revolution was booming right along. A more modern world had begun. As new inventions were created, factories followed soon thereafter.

Samuel Slater, who had been an apprentice in an English cotton factory, came to America. Once here, he reconstructed a cotton spinning machine from memory. He then proceeded to build a factory of his own.

Then came Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. In a nation where cotton was king, the cotton gin (short for cotton engine) was a machine for getting seeds out of cotton, making slave labor significantly more productive.

Then came James Watt’s steam engine. A new power source spun off a myriad of new industrial machines and the creation of new manufacturing plants. The owners became rich and ostentatious. The Industrial Revolution and Capitalism had arrived in America.

It was a boon for the 1787 delegates.

According to Wikipedia, the Internet Encyclopedia, at the time of the Philadelphia Convention, of the fifty-five or so delegates, thirty-five were lawyers or had benefited from legal education and thirteen of them were merchants.

There were six major land speculators, including Robert Morris.

Benjamin Franklin and ten others speculated in securities on a large scale.

Twelve owned or managed slave-operated plantations or large farms, including George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson—Thomas Jefferson who wrote this beautiful piece of prose—the Declaration of Independence: “… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…”

Yet, Jefferson, who owned as many as 200 slaves, freed only two slaves in his lifetime and five in his will and chose not to pursue two others who ran away. I guess he believed in the old adage: Do as I say, not as I do. George Washington and James Madison also owned slaves; as did Benjamin Franklin, who later freed his slave and was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Alexander Hamilton was opposed to slavery and with John Jay and other anti-slavery advocates, helped to found the first African free school in New York City.

These are your Founding Fathers, Sarah Palin. Can you pick a favorite now?

January 22, 2010 Posted by | History, Stephen Fleischman | 2 Comments

A Pound of Flesh

by Stephen Fleischman

Interest and Profit.

They fought about it in Shakespeare’s time.

Shakespeare wrote a play about it. A character emerged depicting the essence of it. Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”—a portrait of capitalism, in the period of transition from the feudal system.

Can you take a pound of flesh and spill not a drop of blood? That was the restriction Portia, the self-proclaimed lawyer, tried to impose on Shylock in Shakespeare’s play. The pound of flesh was the interest Antonio would have to pay if he didn’t return the 3 thousand ducats he borrowed on time. Portia excoriated Shylock’s capitalist greed while defending his right to be a Jew, in a time of intense anti-Semitism.

David M. Boje, Professor of Management at New Mexico State University, says of the play, “this is a critique applicable to today’s global corporate model of financial capitalism …

“…Shakespeare brilliantly portrays a conflict between courtly (feudal) usurer’s capitalism and bourgeois merchant’s capitalism, the triumph of the new forms of adventuring over the old in the 16th century.”

In those times, usury (excessive interest) or even a normally accepted amount was considered a very bad sin in certain Islamic and Christian nations. Today, it’s the normal way of doing business and is one of the pillars of the capitalist system. Money making money.

However, money is only a medium of exchange. It has no intrinsic value. It replaces a barter system. All classical economists, including Adam Smith and David Ricardo, recognize some form of the labor theory of value where the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labor-power that goes into producing it.

Karl Marx brought a new paradigm to the understanding of capitalism with the hypothesis that “profit is derived from the surplus-value that is extracted when workers put in more labor than is necessary to pay the cost of hiring their labor-power’.

This led him directly to the concept of the class struggle, the relations of production between capital and labor. Capitalism can only exist through the exploitation of the working class.

We’re in another period of transition, today—the next stage in our evolving economic system. Will it be socialism or something else?

Can we imagine a society where interest and profit do not exist?

Perhaps it was the road not taken when societies emerged from feudalism, with the lord dominant over the serf. Or even earlier, before the formation of class systems when human societies consisted of hunters and gathers, where members of the tribe were equal in some form of primitive communism.

Well, let’s see. The first thing we’ll have to learn, to achieve such a state on a higher level, is to bring out the best in people, not the worst—and to do that we must recognize that human nature is complex and is made up of both.

Compassion and a desire to serve one’s fellow man is as strong a drive in people as is greed. For a society, the stratagem must be to make the common good the standard behavioral form. The competition is in doing the best for mankind—rather than, “as long as I get mine, the devil take the hindmost”.

In the context of our country, in the failing state of capitalism, how do we save ourselves? Instead of making some pacts with the future, we are clinging to the failures of the past.

Our current attempts at health care reform are a good example.

In a show at providing universal health care for the nation, the people’s representatives dare not let these toxic words—socialized medicine or public option—cross their lips. Apparently, governments are no longer here to help our citizens. Powerful corporate entities, known as the health insurance industry, a part of the oligarchy that runs this country, won’t allow it. They literally own a good many of our Congressmen and Senators, enough of them to stop any kind of meaningful health care reform. Citizens are brainwashed into thinking that what helps the insurance industry helps them.

You can fool some of the people some of the time.

The rest of us are fighting back. The fight won’t be complete until the money changers are driven from the temple. If you can live with the mixed metaphor, we, the people, must take back our Congress, elect legislators that will represent us, not the special interests. Then, we might feel that we have a government that works.

If not, history will do it for us.

Instead of “The Merchant of Venice”, we will have to look to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” or “Richard IIII” for a more violent solution.

One way or another, in Marx’s own words, “Capitalism will dig its own grave.”

December 23, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Communism, Corporatism, History, Karl Marx, Stephen Fleischman | 2 Comments

This is no longer about Democrats vs Republicans.

It is no longer about right versus left. This is about corporate power versus ordinary people.

It’s about capitalism and corporate power. It is now perfectly clear that BOTH parties, all three branches of government, and the fourth estate are controlled by corporate power.

Corporate power versus ordinary people. For my generation it began with the Kennedy and King assassinations and the Vietnam War. We gained some ground for a few years in the 1970’s with the impeachment of Nixon, but Carter failed in spite of his good intentions and it went viral in the 1980’s with the election of Ronald Reagan. Since then our entire culture has been hollowed out by it. We now have two generations that have been educated under the Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush corporatist educational philosophy. Civics, Good Government, and the history of the Labor Movement has slowly but surely disappeared from school curricula. Reading by phonics went away suddenly in the mid eighties and was replaced by Whole Language, a dismal failure, that left a decade of classes of 1980’s and 1990’s school children behind the curve on reading and writing. And with G.W. Bush, “No Child Left Behind” put the failure of our educational system on steroids. I’m a baby-boomer. I was in the high school class of ’69 (the best class;). We were taught that Government is good. Our kids, and their kids, have been taught that Government is bad. We learned about the Red Scares, the Palmer Raids, the Army/McCarthy Hearings, and the Haymarket Riot. We learned who Joe Hill, and Paul Robeson, and Thurgood Marshall were. Our kids and grandkids have not been taught about those things in school. Thirty years have gone by. The me-first, sink-or-swim, liberalism-is-bad, Government-is-bad, greed-is-good thinking has now been instilled in a majority of our population. It’s assumed to be the norm by two generations who don’t remember the world without computers, internet, and cable TeeVee.

Our manufacturing sectors no longer exist. We’ve gone from the largest importer of raw material and the largest exporter of finished goods in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, to the largest exporter of raw materials and the largest importer of finished goods today. The American middle class experienced 40 years of growth after World War Two. Since the mid 1980’s, wages have declined in spite of the vastly increased productivity of the workforce brought about by the digital revolution, and the stability of the middle class is gone. Seventy-five years of labor protections brought to us by the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of union organizers and labor activists have been broken. Our bread-and-butter jobs are gone and won’t be coming back if the corporatists have anything to say about it.

Why do corporatists worship the memory of Ronald Reagan? Among other things it’s because Reagan and his followers revolutionized the way politicians communicate with voters. Cable TeeVee became widespead and began to replace broadcast. The Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to broadcast content in the public interest was abolished. Electronic media, which was then nascent, was conglomerated and brought under tight corporate control. The News Divisions of the large broadcast networks were taken out from behind the firewall of the Fairness Doctrine and put under the umbrella of the Entertainment Divisions. Roone Arledge, a sports broadcast producer, took control of ABC News. When “Cable News” became popular in the late 1980’s all bets were off. The news was officially canceled and has for the past 15 years been replaced by “info-tainment”, which was once called “bread-and-circuses”. The motion picture “Network”, produced in 1979, was eerily prescient. Our entire population has been dumbed down to the point where they will now seem to swallow any crap that comes out of their corporate TeeVee, including the myth of Barack Obama, who has shown himself to be just another player in the corporate game.

Nothing will change unless there is honest campaign finance reform and corporate money is taken out of politics. But the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are persons and that for corporations, money equals speech. Corporations have been deemed to be persons and granted protections under the First Amendment, but somehow they can still buy and sell other corporations. I don’t get that. Where I come from they call that slavery. But overturning corporate personhood will require a constitutional amendment and/or the overturn of at least two Supreme Court decisions, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Our entire government is now under tight corporate control. And don’t get me started on the environment, the climate, the wars, the torture, the militarized police, and all that other stuff.

Capitalism is a great system when proper tax and trade policies are enacted and the marketplace is properly regulated. We know this from our history. Karl Marx may have been wrong about the scalability of Communism, but he was dead right when he described Capitalism as an unsustainable system when left unchecked. If left on it’s own it will grow like a cancer. We are now in the cancer stage of Capitalism. Our economic and political systems are strangled by it and it is killing itself. It is eating itself from the inside and it will eventually collapse if Government does not take control and make it work.

Hopefully our species will survive to see that happen.

(crosposted at Daily Kos)

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Corporatism, Culture, Economics, Education | Leave a comment

War and Profits

by Stephen Fleischman

We know why there are wars, and we’ve known it for a long time. Good wars, that is, necessary wars, not wars by powerful foreign invaders, wars that might threaten our country.

Everybody knows we’re in the process of old-hat empire building, the kind designed by the British and for which they took hits around the world by the likes of George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi.

No lessons learned there. President Obama is about to make a momentous decision on Afghanistan. He has been mulling over, for the last few weeks, how many more troops he will be sending to McChrystal, to further his counter-insurgency in that country. It’s a process of foregone futility and everybody knows it. But the mainstream media, heavy with punditry, spends endless hours hashing over every detail, combination and permutation. The propaganda circle from government handout to media coverage is complete.

These graphs are provided by The Center for Public Integrity whose mission is to produce original investigative journalism to make institutional power more transparent and accountable. Just an example at random:


* Unidentified Foreign Entities $20,435,870,190
1 KBR Inc (formerly known as Kellogg Brown and Root) $16,059,282,020
2 DynCorp International (Veritas Capital) $1,838,156,100
3 Washington Group International Inc $1,044,686,850
4 IAP Worldwide Services Inc (Cerberus Capital Management LP) $901,973,910
5 Environmental Chemical Corp $899,701,070
6 L-3 Communications Holdings Inc $853,535,680
7 Fluor Corp $736,853,200
8 Perini Corp $720,859,110
9 Orascom Construction Industries (OCI) $617,089,510
10 Parsons Corp $579,265,450
11 First Kuwaiti General Trading And Contracting Company Wll $495,404,500
12 Blackwater USA $485,149,590
13 Tetra Tech Inc $362,107,010
14 AMEC PLC $317,171,280

Here’s a nice little interactive site showing how the circle of influence works

We elected Barack Obama to change all that, didn’t we?

But Obama took over from Bush without missing a stroke. The faceless corporate oligarchy that runs this country and that ran Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush, now runs Obama.

Who are these oligarchs?

Yes, there are factions within the oligarchy. They have their differences. They don’t all agree. They represent different entities of industrial and corporate power. They are the pillars of capitalism. They are mostly unheard and unseen, but occasionally you may get a glimpse of a face… says this:

Zbigniew Brzezinski – Puppet Master of Obama?

Zbigniew Brzezinski is the puppet master of Obama. This is a fact. Brzezinski is an 80-year old man from Poland who despises Russia. He was behind the catastrophic Carter administration. Brzezinski has the ultimate plan of preventing China from gaining access to African oil. China must have access to African oil or else the Chinese economy will recess rapidly. Brzezinski figures this will force China to invade the oil rich fields of southeast Russia just above North Korea. If China were to militarily take these oil fields from Russia, the two would obviously war which is what Brzezinski seeks. That plan is perfect in his eyes as it will weaken those two super-powers thus enabling American imperialism to regain strength. The real problem with this plan is that the Russians and Chinese are well aware of it. They know what Brzezinski intends to do. Unfortunately, the end result will most likely back fire on the west and produce world war III. China, and Russia against the US, and Europe.

The strategy of the George W. Bush administration to keep war going was to keep the American public in a state of fear. Obama is continuing that strategy. We must keep an enemy in the cross-hairs.

Al Qaeda, of course, is the one that does the trick—an Islamic group calling for global jihad. They claimed responsibility for 9/11—blowing up the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City—for blowing a hole in the USS Cole, for bombing US embassies in Africa. Al-Qaeda has attacked civilian and military targets in various countries. They have instilled fear in many places. When you hear the words “Al Qaeda”, think bogeyman.

The demonizing of the word “terror” didn’t originate with George W. Bush. Ariel Sharon, army general and a former Israeli Prime Minister, and others before him, used the technique quite effectively. They turned just about every Palestinian into a “terrorist” which put the mission of Zionism on the road to a Greater Israel. Sharon’s own government found that he bore personal responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre of Palestinians in September of 1982.

Acts like these notwithstanding, the United States has been a staunch ally and supporter of Israel in this special relationship, through the years, despite its war-like moves against the Palestinians, Gaza and Lebanon. According to Kathleen and Bill Christison, writing in Counterpunch, the United States is committed to giving Israel $30 billion over the next decade. The only stipulation imposed on Israel’s use of this cash gift in that it spend 74% of it to purchase U.S. military goods and services. Israel is, by far, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

Not bad for our war industry. We can keep our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going, and then some.

Do you like the idea of your son or daughter giving his or her life for the profits of KRB or DynCorp International?

I don’t think anyone could call that “service to my country”.

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Oligarchy, Stephen Fleischman, War Profiteering | Leave a comment

The Tea-Party System

by Stephen Fleischman

In the first Boston tea party, the colonists dumped the British tea into Boston Harbor because of taxation without representation.

The tea-baggers, today, are making a fracas because they want corporation representation without taxation.

Michelle Bachman, Congresswoman from Minnesota, also known as the “Crazy Lady”, is leading the tea-bag movement against the health care reform bill and right into the arms of the health insurance industry.

“It was Thomas Jefferson who said a revolution every now and then is a good thing”, she says, as she slams a two-foot stack of paper representing the bill.

The main-stream media, as is there wont, are picking up the oligarchy’s propaganda beat. The issue they’re beating around the bush about now is the pubic option. Another issue is more de-troupes for Afghanistan.

The oligarchy is pushing the pundits, and the punditry is bringing out their big guns—David Gergel and Wolf Donner Blitzer. They have panels, too, with Leslie Stalled, Lucrezia Borgia and her sister Gloria, Keith Globerman and Rachel Rachel. They can talk a hatful.

AC-DC 360, Gloria Vanderbilt’s son, has a firm grip on the teats of the cash cow at CNN. They know, over at Ted Turner’s barnyard, that if you put an hour’s worth of programming together, you can snowball that into a 24-hour news cycle on a cable-grable channel.

Over at 13th Century Fox, you’ve got Bill O’Pig and his piglets, Insanity Hannity, Glenn Beckish and Crispy Wallace under the aegis of Rupert In-The-Dock Murderock and Roger Beerandailes.

Now, Barry Obama, with his chief henchman, David Axelgrease, have an important decision to make and they’re not making it. Will they, won’t they, will they, won’t they, will they send the troops?

You’ve got twenty four hours of prime time chawed right there. The military pundits, chief among them Armchair General Barry McCaffrey, who’s probably the preeminent military analyst for NBC and MSNBC, are having their crack at it, too.

The profusion of talk about the pubic option coming up for a vote maybe next week or maybe not, is almost as good as Michael Jackson dying but comes nowhere close to the O.J. Simpson romp.

There were times when we used to have third parties kicking around; most recently, Monkey Wrench, Ralph Nader and his raiders. He kept running for president (of the United States, that is) and getting about 0.02% of the vote, giving the Democrats the perfect excuse for losing the elections.

We had Texas business man Ross Perot, candidate for president in 1992 and 1996, the second time under the banner of the Reform Party that got him absolutely nowhere, not even onto the platform with the tea party candidates in the presidential debates.

In 1955, the Communist Party (CPUSA) finally dissolved because its membership consisted solely of FBI agents.

Ah, but there was a time when Third Parties struck!

Wikipedia says, “Labor Party was the name or partial name of a number of United States political parties which were organized during the 1870s and 1880s.

The Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party of North America was formed in 1874. By 1877 the party changed its name to the Socialist Labor Party of North America, and continues under that name.

In 1877, the racist Workingman’s Party was formed in California, led by Dennis Kearney; by 1879 it was powerful enough to help re-write the state constitution of California, inserting provisions intended to curb the powers of capital and to abolish Chinese contract labor.

In 1878, the Greenback Party, under the influence of leaders of organized labor, changed its name to the Greenback Labor Party, and continued to operate in some states, electing a congressman as late as 1886; but by 1888 had dissipated. In 1886, a United Labor Party was organized in Chicago under the leadership of that city’s Central Labor Union; It drew over 20,000 votes for its county ticket in the fall of 1886, and in the following spring elections garnered 28,000 votes for its candidate for Mayor; but by 1888 it had merged with the Democratic Party in that city.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party split the Republican Party in 1912, long before Sarah Palin got around to it..

So, you see, there is still hope for America!

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Conservatism, Culture, History, Media, Stephen Fleischman | Leave a comment

Hypocrisy Unbridled

by Stephen Fleischman

I learned my first lesson in capitalism when I was a kid during the Great Depression of the 1930s. (Yes, I was a teenager in 1933)

In our living room, we had only one electric light bulb. It hung down from the middle of the ceiling on an electric wire. My father insisted that when you left the room, even for a short while, you turned off the light. You don’t waste electricity.

Every so often the bulb would blow out and have to be replaced. It was common belief, at the time, that the manufacturers could make an electric light bulb that would never blow out, but they wouldn’t do that because they wanted to keep selling light bulbs. We believed that was true of other items as well. That’s how capitalism worked.

I now know that it was called “planned obsolescence” and it was a well known and accepted tenet of capitalist marketing.

We’re coming to the end of the road, now.

See where planned obsolescence has taken General Motors. It is one of the nation’s iconic corporations that practiced it.

This was true of the auto industry in general. The new models appeared yearly, most of the time with nothing but cosmetic changes. The American consumer was programmed. A trade-in every year or two or three was “de rigueur”, but when foreign cars started penetrating the American market, Mercedes, BMWs, Toyotas, Hondas, the American consumer wised up. Here were better products that lasted longer.

In later years, I learned other lessons about the contradictions of capitalism and the path it must take to its own destruction.

Going back to Adam Smith, the concept that the “invisible hand” of the free market would keep the capitalist economy in balance has been the conventional wisdom. Capitalism must grow or die. And grow it did. Mergers and acquisitions became the modus operandi as corporate enterprises struggled with their competitors to survive.

We have a world-wide economic system of monopoly capitalism, now, that is in a state of perpetual class struggle—capital vs. labor –or bourgeoisie vs. proletariat, as Karl Marx put it. Within it, the contradictions are legion—in all aspects of life, even within the context of one politician’s speech.

Take this one, for example, that David Henderson of Econlog points out about the Obama health care speech to a joint session of Congress, last September 9th.

He’s for a public option and against it within a single speech.

“These private companies can’t fairly compete with the government,” the President said. “And they’d be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option.”

“But they won’t be,” Obama continued, “the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects.”

Then, two paragraphs later, he has “great concern” about how to pay for the government option. He states flatly that money will come out of Medicare and Medicaid. So, some of the money for a public option in the health care reform bill will come out of currently existing government health care programs. Is that a contradiction, or what!

Take Wall Street and Main Street. While the banks are making money again and bonuses are flying like hydrogen balloons, employment is dropping like a lead balloon. The government regulators are doing nothing about reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and separated commercial banks from investment banks. Like church and state, they don’t go together unless you want a gambling casino. Glass-Steagall staunched the bleeding and was pivotal in saving the financial system after the Great Depression.

By 1999, the Wall Street fat cats forgot everything they learned from that period. Apparently, they wanted a gambling casino. Provisions that prohibited a bank holding company from owning other financial companies were repealed on November 12th by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act—that’s Gramm as in Senator Phil Gramm, a practiced croupier at the craps table.

Wall Street went on a rampage, creating all kinds of financial gimmicks derived from derivatives you could bet on; things like packaged debt that they could bundle and sell in foreign markets and sub-prime mortgages that eventually put peoples’ homes under water.

This is what put our country into financial crisis in 2008 when we had to socialize the debt and privatize the perpetrators.

When we elected Barack Obama, we thought we were going to get change we could believe in. But Barack put the same old foxes into the chicken coop—Summers and Geithner, the ones who presided over the disaster to begin with.

Just another contradiction of Capitalism.

We are yet to see anything like Glass-Steagall reinstalled or anything that resembles it; any kind of robust regulation of the Wall Street gambling joint.

Just hold your breath and cross your fingers. Maybe the scales will fall away from eyes. That’s what scales usually do when truths become self-evident.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Economics, Stephen Fleischman | Leave a comment

Beware the Predator

by Stephen Fleischman

Senator “Chuck” Grassley (R) Iowa, roiled up over the proposal for a public option in the health reform bill, called government a “predator not a competitor”.

Government has been called many names, good and bad. Predator. That’s a new one.

If Chuck feels that way about government, why doesn’t he get out of it? Resign from the Senate.

Government is a neutral thing. Government is simply the organization through which control or administration of a city or state is exercised. It is used in the service of the entire nation not for a few special interests.

The conventional wisdom is that government cannot operate as efficiently as private industry.

It’s a classic myth, the result of years, decades, even centuries of brainwashing. The propaganda of capitalism. Keep the notion of “public options”, government run programs, out of peoples’ minds. Demonize them as “socialism”.

After all, if the working class got the idea that they, through a socialized government, can manage the means of production as efficiently as the capitalists, they might decide to do just that.

Entrepreneurs don’t like to tackle that problem head on. They don’t attack government, per se. They attack “big government”.

“Big government is bad” –the common disparaging cliché.

The badness of big government is often raised when discretionary spending is being considered for some program to benefit the people. It signifies taxes and rich people don’t like to pay taxes. Let the middle and working classes pay them. Rich people favor tax cuts, remember? They loved George W. Bush for that.

The rich don’t mind discretionary spending for increases in the defense budget, for wars against small and weak countries that can’t fight back. This means big bucks for the arms makers and the parasitic corporations that thrive along with them.

We’ve amassed a 2 trillion dollar deficit on that kind of discretionary spending. But not one dime for a universal single-payer health care system. Medicare is like a bone stuck in the throat of the health insurance industry.

For some unexplainable reason, we, as a nation, must keep a totally useless gang of blood-sucking corporatists, called a health insurance industry, a thousand pound gorilla, on our backs.

Republicans have declared they will do anything to kill any health care reform legislation. Their cry is that the Democrats are trying to restructure one-sixth of the economy, “writing a bill that will affect almost every American, every business and every doctor and hospital in the country,” reports The New York Times. (10-4-09) The Democrats say the challenges are daunting.

True, the challenges are “daunting”. They might not be so daunting if we could elect a congress of honest people, legislators who can’t be bought off by the health insurance industry; legislators who represent us instead of them.

Hasn’t the government taken on daunting jobs before? How about Medicare and universal health care for all Congressmen and Senators?

And besides… what’s wrong with restructuring the economy. Isn’t it about time?

We should use San Francisco as a model.

Maria L. La Ganga reports in The Los Angeles Times (10.4.09) that over the last two years, three-quarters of San Francisco’s uninsured adults have been enrolled in a public program that guarantees access to medical care called “Healthy San Francisco”.

So far, more than 46,000 adults have been enrolled in this city-run universal health care plan, the first in the nation. It has received high marks in recent independent studies.

Patients receive preventive services and ongoing treatment for chronic conditions. Prescriptions are covered and so are hospital stays.

A unique feature of the plan, patients must pick a “medical home” out of a network of more than thirty public and private clinics, physicians groups and hospitals within the city limits. The idea is that patients get consistent care and the system avoids duplicating services. Kaiser Permanente, a major private HMO, just joined and plans to accept up to 3000 patients.

The program is funded in part by an employer mandate, a controversial component of the plans now under discussion in Washington for the federal health care reform bill.

San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, described the program as “a public option”, “a strategy to provide health care regardless of your ability to pay, regardless of any pre-existing conditions”.

The city’s plan is government run and subsidized—a “public option”—and has not caused workers or employers to bail out of private insurance, another lesson for the national debate.

It might be a good idea for Chuck Grassley to drop everything, make a trip to San Francisco, and take a look at this predator. That might make him decide to resign from the Senate—or he may learn something that will help him complete a health care reform bill with a “public option” that will pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

October 6, 2009 Posted by | Health Care, Stephen Fleischman | Leave a comment

The Walrus and the Carpenter Are Talking Again

(With apologies to Lewis Carroll)

by Stephen Fleischman

“…a properly resourced counter-insurgency probably means more forces,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “… more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance.”

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: of shoes — and ships – and sealing wax –of cabbages and kings …

The Carpenter said nothing but, “cut us another slice…”

“Oh, Oysters, come walk with us. The day is warm and bright. A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk, would be a sheer delight. Yes, and should we get hungry on the way, we’ll stop and, uh, have a bite.”

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said, “I deeply sympathize.” With sobs and tears he sorted out those of the largest size…

The United States of America hardly sheds a tear when it destroys a nation. We always do it for the good of the people of that nation. We must protect them from themselves. We can’t allow the Taliban to return to Afghanistan. The Taliban happens to be an indigenous, religious and political movement that governed Afghanistan for five years when it was removed from power by US and NATO forces in 2001. Whatever happened to self-determination? In some strange way, the Taliban is being held responsible for 9/11. In 2004, the Taliban reared its hoary head again, and started a strong insurgency, fighting a guerrilla war against the puppet government in Kabul and its US and NATO allies participating in “Operation Enduring Freedom”—the one Adm. Mullen was talking about.

We had to cause regime change in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States with his weapons of mass destruction which he didn’t have. Eight years of pounding is not enough. There is hardly a structure left standing, untouched.

No matter.

“Little Oysters? Little Oysters? But answer there came none. And this was scarcely odd because they’d been eaten. Every one!”

Panama and Grenada were necessary wars. In Grenada, medical students were threatened, and Panama…well, Noriega came from there.

Korea was another matter. The North Koreans were being helped by Red China. Why were we there? I don’t exactly remember.

Now, Vietnam! That was a war! That’s where we learned about guerrillas—fighters who swim among the people like fish is water. Not many people had ever heard of the place, down in South-East Asia somewhere. The country was split during World War II. The French colonialists held onto the south, Red China took the north.

We had dominoes back then. Vietnam was a domino. The domino theory had it that if South Vietnam fell, all of Southeast Asia would go Communist. The French had been playing dominoes in Vietnam since before World War II. And when the war was over, the French came back to continue the game. But they found a guy there by the name of Ho Chi Minh who didn’t like the idea, and he put up quite a fight. In fact, he beat the feces out of the French at a place called Dien Bien Phu. The French yelled “Help!” The US sent in the Marines and eventually took over the war, as it is wont to do. We couldn’t let all of Southeast Asia go Communist, now, could we?

We should apply what we learned in Vietnam to what’s happening in Afghanistan now. The Russians learned their lesson. The one thing you can say for the war in Vietnam; it created the strongest anti-war movement America had ever known. It put a stop to the war. Nothing like that has been accomplished since.

The War Between the States—the US Civil War—Lincoln’s war, you could call it, was a war to preserve the union, and incidentally, end slavery. The official figure is that about 620,000 Americans perished in that war, in the four years between 1861 and 1865—360,000 on the Union side—258,000 on the Confederate side—more than in all other wars from the Revolution to Vietnam.

We live in a country that was born in genocide with the extermination of the Native American tribes, and we matured in a state of slavery to nourish the plantation system. One hundred and fifty years later, racial antagonism is still a hallmark of this country. Now, with a black president, one would think that racism has relented, but beneath the surface the stench of it can be felt (or smelt). When a Senator yells “you lie!” at our president during an address to a joint session of Congress; how do you interpret that? A civil war smoldering beneath the surface?

You be the judge. With a corporate oligarchy running the country, you can expect some fall-out. Barack Obama knows how to handle himself in the clinches. He gets screaming applause when he mentions “public option” at a rally for health care reform, and boos when he mentions Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, head of the Finance Committee, that just put out a health care reform bill that would warm the cockles of the health insurance industry’s heart (if it had one). Obama knows how to maneuver and that’s what the oligarchy likes and why he’s in the job. You can be sure that there will be no “public option” in the bill that eventually passes.

And you can be sure that there will be more troops heading to Afghanistan, perhaps as many as 45,000, to join the 68,000 already there. You can bet your McChrystal on it. Adm. Mullen tipped Congress off last Tuesday and if the Democrats oppose the request, they would be seen as flouting independent military advice.

“But Mother Oyster winked her eye and shook her hairy head. She knew too well this was no time to leave her oyster bed.”

Does this mean that we are living in an Alice in Wonderland world?

September 20, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Stephen Fleischman | Leave a comment