Monday, April 15, 2013

If You Liked Romney's 5 Point Plan, Vote for Obama

This article was originally posted on Policymic, 09/2012

So I watched the RNC.  There were no surprises, thedelusional theatrics of the Paul-bearers aside.  The official selection of Willard Mitt Romney as the presidential candidate of the Republican Party went off without a hitch. 
It's tempting to try to catalogue all the lies spoken, or to attack the retrograde attitudes of the attendees and speakers of the RNC, but to be honest I find nothing particularly rewarding to be found in wading through that morass. Doubtless some people are still surprised by whatever  latest incidence of hateful small-mindedness has emanated from the Republican Party, whether its the harassing of black camera-women, or unsolicited and incorrect opinions on the legitimacy of rape, but better writers than I have that subject covered.
The same goes for Romney himself. If you're truly interested in what exactly he did at Bain Capital or how successful it was, there are plenty of sources. If for whatever reason you want to read 533 of 'Mitten's''s untruths, well, there's a place you can do that too.
Yes, the entire thing was self-congratulatory lies on a scale not to be rivaled until the DNC opens its doors next week, a fact as tiresome as it is true.
 However there were a few points of actual content at the convention, amidst the digs at Obama's supposed kowtowing to the forces of evil and the gratingly repeated references to Romney's frugality. In his acceptance speech, Romney laid out a five point plan he said would create 12 million jobs.  
First, he pledged to make North America energy independent by 2020, using domestic sources of oil, gas, and nuclear power. Setting aside whether or not this may be technically possible, it's certainly not politically feasible for someone operating within the narrow bounds of actions acceptable to the US political system.  But that's his claim, and good for him, I'm sure it's a sound plan - obviously his competition must agree somewhat, since the Obama administration has opened the Arctic ocean to oil drilling, advocated for "clean coal," and promoted the use of nuclear power, supporting the construction of two new nuclear plants in Georgia.  Presumably the Obama administration also agrees with the claim that too much regulation of energy producers is a bad thing, since the EPA is now launching fewer enforcement actions than any year since 2002.
Second, Romney had a few words to say about education, claiming that every parent should have a choice about what school their children attend.  Unless this is a subtle statement in support ofKelly Williams-Bolar and Tanya McDowell— both black women imprisoned for sending their children to school districts outside their own — then it's safe to say that the Romney campaign is making the promotion of charter schools part of their platform. 
And why wouldn't they? Charter schools are popular at the moment (regardless of their actual results). So popular, in fact, that the Obama administration has vocally supported them,, as well as calling for "merit pay" for teachers, another educational issue supported by Republicans. It should go without saying that claims about the vast and malignant power of teacher's unions made at the RNC fall rather flat when the unions' supposed pawn in the White House is in opposition to them on their most important issues.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Romney's third point in his plan has also been shared by Obama.  Mittens pledged to "make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements." 
Certainly he didn't mean replacing NAFTA, which has had such ruinous effects on workers in the US as well as Mexico, with something more fair.  After all, no rational businessman would want to be forced to hire American workers who might demand pensions or safe workplaces when he could hire Mexicans willing to work for a pittance since being forced off their farms.  And we do know that Romney is a rational businessman, willing to drive a mile to save fifty cents on paperclips as we heard last night. So we can presume that any new trade agreements will be more of the same — "free" trade that eliminates protective tariffs and allows for easy movement of capital (but not labor!) across borders. 
The thing is, the four years of the Obama administration have seen exactly that, with trade dealsbeing signed with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama over the protests of domestic unions and foreign workers. A proposed free trade agreement covering much of the Pacific basin, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, is also being negotiated.
Romney's last two points in his plan — cutting the deficit and supporting small business — are shared by Obama as well. Both of them are agreeable phrases that always poll well but are fairly hazy when it comes time to translate them into policy.
Both campaigns accuse each other of proposing economic plans that will result in monstrous increases in the national debt and budget deficit (and of "increasing taxes on the middle class" for that matter) and it's entirely possible both are partially correct, given the history of the last 12 years. Both campaigns accuse the other of destroying small business, Obama through burdensome taxation and Romney through promoting cutthroat competition with larger more powerful companies. 
The truth is that both of these issues are red herring — national debt and deficits do not work the same way household debt does, and small businesses are simply not the pathfinders to economic recovery nor are they even the most important constituent of the economy.  When either campaign brings up these platitudes, it's best to take whatever they say with a large grain of salt.
About the only concrete policy difference outlined in the five points plan was the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This is particularly funny in light of how closely it was modeled on Romney's own health plan in Massachusetts, after originally being conceived by the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation some years back. 
And that really sums up this election in a nutshell — the Republican Party of 2012 is running against its own platforms and policy proposals from elections past. No matter how many aggressively ignorant Republicans shout about the Constitution, no matter how much whinging about the unfathomable evil of a Romney administration Democrats produce, from now until November, the difference between your two options is depressingly slim. You can vote for drone strikes, bank bailouts, and "free" trade, or you can vote for drone strikes, bank bailouts, "free" trade, and a coiffed hairdo. Democracy!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What it costs to gain a seat in Congress:

Democracy of, by and for the wealthy

This article was originally published on Liberation News, 04/13/2013
The U.S. political establishment likes to claim that this country is one of if not the most democratic states in the world. Other countries opposing its agenda are lambasted as “undemocratic” whatever their actual governments and objectives may be, and the “spread of democracy” is often cited as pretext for U.S. military and covert intervention in other nations.
At home, pundits and politicians say that the U.S. system of representative government and universal suffrage guarantees every citizen a voice in government. Domestic voices calling for revolutionary change—especially those who advocate moving beyond the capitalist system—are labeled as opponents of democracy, just as governments of countries targeted for regime-change are.
Much of the legitimacy of the current system of government in the U.S. is based around this story—that the U.S. government and society is democratic and that the wishes of the people are carried out by their representatives. So how accurate is this story, and how democratic is the USA really?
A study recently conducted by, a group devoted to campaign finance reform, revealed that in the 2012 election, the average cost of a successful Senate campaign was a staggering $10,476,451. A seat in the House cost, on average, $1,689,580. The group compared these figures to the median household income in the U.S., $52,762, and the median home value, $186,200.
What do these numbers mean? Obviously the cost of running an election campaign for national office in the U.S. puts it far beyond the means of the average citizen. Many workers, especially those working minimum-wage jobs and living paycheck to paycheck, would be unable to leave work long enough to run for election and still pay their bills, even leaving aside the massive expenditures required to sustain a campaign.
It follows from this that to win high office in the United States, you must either be (at least) a millionaire, or be able to seek and win the approval of people or organizations with millions to spend on a political campaign. Since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, corporations can spend without limit to make sure that candidates who will reliably serve their interests are elected.
'The principle governing this country's supposed democracy is far less “one person, one vote” than it is “money talks,"'
This ensures that the views and demands of the working class receive minimal attention in national government. The principle governing this country's supposed democracy is far less “one person, one vote” than it is “money talks,” and the end result of that principle is that voters may choose between two or three people who have been vetted and found acceptable by the established representatives of the capitalist class. In other words, we get to choose who in elected office will be oppressing us for the next two or four years.
This sort of false choice is emblematic of the problems inherent in most freedoms to be found in an ostensibly liberal capitalist society. Citizens are often (although not always) free to consume whatever news sources they like—although most of the news is presented from the viewpoint of people wealthy enough to own a printing press, broadcasting station or TV network. Citizens are free to go where they want—if they can afford to. 
Democracy for the minority
The Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin said: “In capitalist society, under the conditions most favorable to its development, we have more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always bound by the narrow framework of capitalist exploitation and consequently always remains, in reality, a democracy for the minority, only for the possessing classes, only for the rich.” 
This is a problem that cannot be solved without a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, a struggle grounded in militant action in the streets against false choices and against the rule of, by and for the rich. It must be a fight for real majority rule.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hospital cleaners more valuable than bankers

This article was originally posted on 8/19/12

According to new research by the U.K.-based New Economics Foundation, workers like hospital cleaners and child-care providers are worth far more to society than bankers or advertising executives.

The study examined six different jobs and attempted to determine their overall societal value. Workers who clean hospitals were judged to create roughly 10 pounds for every one pound they are paid, while bankers, due to the immense damage inflicted on the world economy by financial speculation and other practices, end up destroying seven pounds for every one pound they create.

Other productive positions researched included child-care workers—-who create 9.5 pounds for every pound they are paid, by virtue of assisting in the growth of the next generation of workers and freeing up parents to continue working—-and recycling workers, whose work generates 12 pounds for every one pound of wages paid through the reduction of carbon emissions and the reuse of recyclable goods.

Advertising executives, by virtue of their tendency to encourage "high spending and indebtedness" and to "create insatiable aspirations and [fuel] feelings of dissatisfaction, inadequacy and stress" were found to destroy 11 pounds for every one they generate.

Similarly, the money that a tax accountant saves a client is money that will not be used for productive purposes by the state—tax accountants were shown to destroy 47 pounds for every pound generated. As tax accountants are not often retained by the working class, it can be assumed that the money they save their clients is not being used for workers to avoid destitution.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said that the aim of the survey was to make the point that "there should be a relationship between what we are paid and the value our work generates for society. We've found a way to calculate that."

While it stops short of recommending revolutionary change—-instead suggesting various reforms such as including social and environmental value in prices or establishing various commissions and policies to promote income equality or a "green industrial policy"—the New Economics Foundation still provides a valuable lesson, one echoed by revolutionary thinkers past: Capitalism no longer acts as a positive influence on production and well-being, but as a hindrance that must be eliminated in the interest of human development.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Mitt Romney is in Europe this week, attending the opening of the Olympic Games in Britain and visiting Poland and Israel as well.  The trip comes immediately after Romney's first foreign policy speech in months, made to the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.  The VFW address was a rehash of the usual crypto-racist Republican rhetoric about Obama - he doesn't "want America to be the strongest nation on earth", he apologizes and appeases, he dislikes Israel, etc, etc.  Vice President Biden responded by calling Romney's speech "empty rhetoric and bluster", and criticized it for not "offering any alternatives" to the President's foreign policy.

Of course, given that the differences between the foreign policy ideas of Obama and Romney are virtually nil, Romney might be forgiven for failing to enumerating them.  The whole debate over foreign policy "credentials" is entirely empty and farcical, theater designed to obscure how little choice is actually on offer.  Two men on stage at a debate, each arguing with each other, "No!  I like Israel more!  I will kill more terrorists!  I will save the country from Iran!"  It's pointless except as a demonstration of ideological hegemony, a display of the limited parameters within which politics in the US take place.

Members of both parties have talked about the large differences between the current administration and the last - Democrats as if Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy had just been re-elected, a sentiment actually echoed by Republicans (a fair portion of whom have recycled the views of the John Birch Society for a new century).

But what exactly were the huge changes heralded by the Obama presidency?  Despite the rhetoric of the inauguration, the talk of extended hands and unclenched fists, there hasn't been any great difference between the current and previous administrations.  Afghanistan is still occupied, Iran is still the enemy (and subject to economic attacks, assassinations, and cyberwarfare), special forces soldiers and drones wage undeclared war in dozens of countries, from Somalia to Pakistan to the Philippines, dictators and death squads are still the US ally of choice from Bahrain to Colombia, interventions under the auspices of the never-ending War on Drugs continue to ruin lives, and cruise-missile humanitarianism has destroyed another country in Libya.  

About the only significant difference is that the US soldiers are no longer occupying Iraq - although in the context of the rest of the actions taken by the Obama administration it would take extreme amounts of wishful thinking to portray this as a sea change in US foreign policy (on par with thinking that Nixon beginning the US withdrawal from Vietnam signaled the end of foreign wars waged by the US).  Obama's 2002 declaration that he is not opposed to all wars, just dumb wars, mades his position clear - he's treading the same path as George Bush and the rest of his predecessors, he's just going to do it better.

Defenders of Obama like to talk about how he has improved the American image overseas - meaning Europe, since at this point he's joined his predecessors in being burned in effigy by crowds in the third world - and repaired longstanding alliances with countries like France and Germany, in contrast to the rude brushing-off they received during the Bush years.  But the reality is nothing important came of the tiffs between Bush, Chirac, and Schroder, over the Iraq war (or more likely, over whose companies would receive the first contracts to rebuild post-invasion Iraq).  US troops were not asked to leave Germany, and neither France nor Germany did anything at all challenge US foreign policy, and in fact such things are inconceivable without quite radical changes in the composition of the French or German governments.  The entire episode is a footnote.  

If Europe ever truly grows apart from the US, it will not be because the President is viewed as a boor and a rube.  Individual people may be representative of larger trends in governments or economies, but they are not the cause of those trends, which is why talk of foreign policy "credentials" is pointless - something apparently lost on the liberals who are already gleefully repeating the story of Romney's London Olympics gaffe.  Of course, those same liberals also manage to overlook that the Romney shares his positions on Iran and Afghanistan with their favored candidate.

Rhetoric is about all that distinguishes the two at this point (even more so in foreign affairs than domestic).  In an interview today with the right-wing Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, Romney slammed Obama for failing to support Israel, and claimed that the President would like Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders, which he called "indefensible".  Leave aside for a moment the fact that supporting an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders was officially the US policy for years, including during the Bush administration.  Regardless of that, the idea that there is any pressure being exerted on Israel by the Obama administration towards that purpose was disproved by leaked information in the Palestine Papers, which in fact indicated that Israel essentially had a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians and Palestinian land under its control.  As if to underline this, Obama today pledged an additional $70 million in military aid to Israel, perhaps preemptively responding to Romney's criticisms by describing the aid as representing the US's "unshakable commitment to Israel".

We can see that the differences are scarce.  Can anyone seriously argue that if Romney were to succeed Obama, US drones would be killing significantly more people than they are today?  Or maybe that he would quietly shelve the "kill list" and cease supporting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?  

Such things are absurd to imagine.  It's equally absurd to describe Romney and Obama as somehow being polar opposites, and to call the decision between them anything other than a vote on exactly how upfront you want your leader to be with his jingoism and disdain for the poor.  It's absurd to portray such a contest as offering any semblance of the choice supposedly so prized by western capitalist democracies.  

So whoever you vote for, remember that any verbal slip-ups, gaffes, or embarrassments overseas won't affect much of anything.  Nor will your vote itself.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wealth gap between Black, white has nearly doubled

This article was originally posted on 07/05/12

The wealth gap between white and Black people in the U.S. has nearly doubled over the duration of the current crisis in global capitalism, according to data released by the Census Bureau.
Black households had a median net worth of $4,995—a stark contrast with the $110,729 claimed by white households. The median net worth for Latino and Asian households fell as well—with Black, Latino and Asian households seeing their median net worth fall by 60 percent between 2005 and 2010. By comparison, white households lost 23 percent of their net worth.
In every crisis of capitalism, vast amounts of wealth are shifted between and within classes. When small or middling businesses collapse, more powerful capitalists are able to absorb their holdings and grow larger. Millions of working-class families have lost their homes and life savings in the latest crisis. Under capitalism, an increased concentration of wealth and power over time is the norm. People from oppressed communities are especially vulnerable to expropriation and economic hard times.
Households of color often lack significant safety nets to see them through tough times due to their status as super-exploited workers. Blacks and Latinos have historically suffered because of the racist nature of American society, having lower incomes, rates of literacy and life expectancy and inferior education, and higher rates of unemployment, imprisonment and health problems.
Racism is advantageous to the capitalist system. In addition to dividing the working class, super-exploitation—exploitation of labor over and above the “normal” exploitation that is the basis of capitalist profits—of oppressed nationalities produces astronomical profits for capitalists.
Historically, this has been been the experience of people of color in the U.S., from enslavement, as visited upon African and Indigenous peoples, or other forms of coerced labor as experienced by the Mexican and Chinese workers who built much of the American West, the myth of the hardy white frontiersman notwithstanding. Without revolutionary changes, any reform efforts are only band-aids on a larger wound, short-term gains always in danger of being rolled back when they become inconvenient for the ruling class.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Racism in Israel

Critics of Israel have long argued that the methods and policies used in its occupation of Palestinian land constitute a racist system of apartheid, as in South Africa or the American South.  Defenders of Israel of course deny this, usually responding that Arabs in Israel can vote and are members of the Israeli government, (of course, there were many nonwhites within the apartheid South African government as well, but never mind) among other things.  More fundamental criticisms of Israel's nature as a settler state invite accusations of anti-semitism.

Recently, however, members of the Israeli government have been much more open and forthright in their racism - this time against the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees and migrant workers.  Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has described African migrants in Israel as "illegal infiltrators" that threaten "our existence as a Jewish and democratic state."  Knesset member Miri Regev, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, described refugees as "a cancer in our body" while addressing a mass rally that would shortly devolve into a riot targeting an African neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

Interior minister Eli Yishai was even more open during an interview with the Israeli daily Maariv.  Speaking about the African migrants, Yishai said "Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man."  Most of the African migrants in Israel originate from Sudan and Eritrea.

Following this interview, some right-wing media organizations in Israel frantically attempted to spin Yishai's words, claiming that they had been mistranslated by Haaretz, one of Israel's leading newspapers.  They claimed that the full context of the quote had not been given.  

However, Yishai's other comments on African migrants are telling.  He has referred to South Tel Aviv, an area with a considerable African population, as "the garbage can of the country", and has repeatedly claimed that refugees and migrants are behind a massive crime wave, including rapes of Israeli women.  This is not borne out by data from the Association of Rape Crisis Center in Israel or the Israeli police.  Perhaps to explain this discrepancy, Yishai said that Israeli women who have been raped by migrant workers choose not to report the crimes "our of fear of being stigmatized as having contracted AIDS."  In response, William Tall, the representative in Israel of the UN High Commission for Refugees reminded Yishai that there was no AIDS epidemic in the African migrant population of Israel.

In the past, Yishai has lambasted the UN for failing to solve Africa's problems, and forcing Israel to shoulder the burden instead.  In making such a claim, Yishai either ignores or has forgotten Israel's long-running involvement in Africa, involvement that includes interests in African "blood diamonds" to interventions in Somalia.  

Most relevant to a discussion of racism in Israel are the many years of Israeli-South African cooperation during the apartheid period.  The two nations were so close that Israel offered to sell nuclear weaponry to South Africa - while many Israeli weapons were produced with uranium from South Africa.  The Israeli government has tried to obscure and deny these connections in recent years, but the documentary evidence remains.

Looking at Israel today, what can we see?  We see a state with a segregated system of roads.  We see a state whose Ministry of Education creates civics lessons discouraging any relations between Jewish girls and Arab boys.  We see a state where public remembrance of past crimes is criminalized.  We see a state engaging in globally-condemned de facto annexation of territory acquired by conquest.  We see a state where dissenters are threatened with death and told they deserve to be raped.  We see a racist society that is growing less doubtful about its defects by the year.

Of course, some people see the only democracy in the Middle East.
Free Cece McDonald!

This article was originally posted on 07/04/12

On June 5, 2011, Chrishaun “Cece” McDonald and several friends were walking past the Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis, heading to a grocery store, when a group of strangers standing outside the bar began insulting and threatening them. When McDonald asked the group to stop, one of the strangers smashed a glass into her face, injuring her severely. As McDonald tried to escape, her attackers pursued her. In the fight that followed, one of the attackers—an older man bearing a swastika tattoo—was fatally stabbed with a pair of scissors belonging to McDonald.
The facts of the case are not in question. McDonald and her friends were attacked, and they defended themselves. At least one of the attackers was a neo-Nazi. The only person to be arrested that night, however, was McDonald, who was charged with second-degree murder. (Her first attacker, Molly Flaherty, was not arrested until May 11 of the following year.) One year later, McDonald was sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay $6,410. How is it that such a clear case of self-defense could result in murder charges against McDonald, much less end with a sentence like that?
The unspoken answer is that McDonald and the friends she was with when she was attacked are Black. Their attackers were white. McDonald and her friends were all either gay, transgender or LGBT-friendly, and McDonald herself is a transgender woman. The insults that her attackers were shouting were racist, homophobic and trans-phobic slurs.
In a capitalist state, self-defense on the part of oppressed people and the poor is criminalized. The police, courts and penal system are part of this systematic terrorism, aimed at preserving the racist, sexist, capitalist status quo.
McDonald's treatment by police after her arrest is another example of this terrorism. She was denied medical treatment for the injuries sustained when she was attacked—a punctured cheek and lacerated salivary gland—and placed in solitary confinement after being interrogated for hours.
In the weeks and months following the initial charges, thousands of people signed a petition to the Democratic district attorney of Hennepin County, Michael Freeman, urging him to drop the charges against McDonald as he has done in three other cases involving accidental deaths during self-defense. He refused to drop the charges. That Freeman was operating under a double standard of justice is obvious when one considers that those who had their charges dropped were white and not transgendered.
The double standard was also evident during McDonald's trial, as the criminal past of her attacker and witnesses testifying against her were deemed inadmissible by the court, but a bad check written by McDonald was allowed as evidence of her dishonesty.
Throughout the entire process, the court and media has mis-gendered McDonald, repeatedly referring to her as male and holding her in a men's jail for much of the past year. Since her sentencing, McDonald has been held in a men's prison, mostly in solitary confinement. According to the Trans Youth Support Network, of trans women in prison, "statistics say that 38% are harassed, 15% are physically assaulted, and 7% are sexually assaulted while incarcerated—and these numbers are likely actually much higher, because collecting statistics on trans people in prisons and jails is extremely difficult."
Even though Cece McDonald has been sentenced, organization and struggle against the racist judicial system is still necessary to help McDonald and others who have been and will be its victims. More information on the case can be found at All progressive and revolutionary people should join in saying, "Free Cece!"