Saturday, December 26, 2009

Individual mandate constitutional?

Unconstitutional or not, the individual mandate is outrageous and offensive. Not because of asking people to take responsibility and pull their own weight, but because it mandates that everyone buys an over-priced and disgusting product from one or another giant financial corporation.

The Senate version is worse: it levies fines for not having insurance but tax breaks for the cost of insurance, while the House version subsidizes the cost of insurance for people with modest incomes, and imposes a tax penalty for no insurance.

The Senate version includes no restraint on their price-fixing and market-monopolization practices, and no public insurance option to restrain prices through competition. But either version would force some 20 or 30 million new customers into the maws of the giant insurance-company vacuum-cleaner, which sucks up and pockets or wastes our hard earned money, and employs armies of clerks and lawyers to haggle over what care we will be allowed in return.

In return we get some rules limiting their discriminatory practices, but they're still allowed to charge up to twice as much for older patients and four times as much for "pre-existing conditions". So older, sicker citizens will be priced out of the market, and will be fined (and maybe prosecuted) for it!

This is reform? Constitutional or not, it is a scandal and must be stopped.

Kerry, Coakley and McGovern, are you listening? This rising tide of protest is not a Republican or a Democratic thing - it's bigger than that. Your system is cracking at the base. Who will speak for us on the inside?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Why the "Democratic Monopoly" in Massachusetts?

Every election cycle we hear appeals to vote Republican in order to break the Democratic stranglehold on state politics. This is a plausible argument until you look at the details.

Today's Republican Party is far to the right of the Grand Old Party of yesteryear - and far, far to the right of the public on the real issues. Ballot access and press coverage is very poor for third-party candidates. This, combined with the awful state of Republican politics, has the effect of herding everyone else into the Democratic fold. People of widely differing views, representing widely divergent interests, must time and again come together in the general election to prevent well-funded Republicans from winning.

Thus most of the real politics in America - politics that is not about empty slogans, concocted "cultural issues" or campaigns to scapegoat one group or another - has to play out within the Democratic Party. It is a sign of the political health of the Massachusetts voters that - given the system we have - the real political contests here are played out in the Democratic Primaries.

Labor and neighborhood activists, small business leaders, non-profit leaders, activists from professional associations, professional bureaucrats and administrators, entrepreneurs and socially-conscious "old money" and financiers struggle over the Democratic nomination. Then everyone who isn't politically insane rallies around the winner in the general election. Of necessity we all maintain an attitude of civility toward each other, insisting that "we're all Democrats", since we need to all co-exist within the only framework available for sane people who want a shot at political power.

The recent primary contest for the Senate seat showcased this scenario, with very distinct constituencies coalescing around Coakley, Khazei and Capuano. Passions and rhetoric ran high; but if Brown showed signs of having a real chance we would all sober up and rally around Coakley.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Comparing Health Care Bills

Comment to Worc. T&G 12/24/09:

House bill: 6 million more covered than Senate bill, still leaving 18 million uninsured. House bill expands Medicaid to more 'working poor' than Senate plan.

House: paid for with taxes on wealthy; Senate: taxes on wealthy and upper-middle class, fines on uninsured and taxes on good insurance plans.

Senate bill fines the uninsured and provides a tax break, House bill imposes tax penalty on uninsured and provides a subsidy.

House requires employers to provide coverage and gives tax credits to help smallest businesses pay; Senate: small fine for employees not covered.

Senate bill would allow plans that pay only 60% of medical costs. House bill leaves that to a committee.

Both plans prohibit denial of coverage for pre-exiisting conditions. National physician and nurses groups point out these protections have many loopholes.

Both would provide voluntary long-term care plans.

House bill would close the drug coverage hole in Medicare, while Senate bill would make it smaller. Both would give drug companies new patent protections.

Both: a national insurance exchange. Senate: national plans, privately owned, would be offered. House: a public plan offered.

House bill, but not Senate's, would strip the insurance companies of their anti-trust exemption.

House would let the undocumented buy insurance on the exchanges with their own money, Senate would not.

Both would make abortion coverage rare in plans sold through the insurance exchange.

My call: Senate bill is a loser, a huge giveaway to the insurance industry, no cost control. If that is what comes out of committee, our legislators should vote to kill it.

House bill is marginally worth passing, with needed insurance reforms and some cost control - if the abortion restrictions can be pulled out of it.

Neither will end the health care crisis or meet the need for real reform. That will require an improved Medicare for all, and eliminating the parasitic health insurance industry.

On Paul Samuelson's obit.

Comment on Worcester T&G Editorial Footnote "An Economic Giant Now at Rest", 12/20/09:

I studied economics from Paul Samuelson's textbook many years ago. It was clear and effective, but deeply flawed.

This editorial mentions the debate between Samuelson and Milton Friedman on the role of government. But both held the same theory about how the economy worked. They only really disagreed on how much the government could do.

Samuelson like Keynes said that government can and should intervene in 'free market' economies to stabilize them and ease the pain to ordinary people when jobs or whole industries are lost. And he held that government needs to act to stop the growth of monopolies.

Friedman, whose theories guided the 'Reagan Revolution', said that anything the government did only made things worse.

There are much deeper problems with both of their theories.

1. Both said that the value of a thing is nothing more or less than what you can get for it on the market - which is no theory at all! So a million-dollar bet on the future value of a fund capitalized by bets on whether homeowners will be able to pay back their predatory loans is 'worth' as much as a million-dollar machine, as long as someone will buy it.

We see where this kind of thinking has led us!

2. Their view that we have something close to a free-market economy in American now is not supported by the facts. Whether you are trying to start a grocery store or a factory there is no level playing field - except for a little while with a new technology. The big boys and the insiders have a huge advantage.

3. Their view that labor is just another input and that working people can bargain over the fair price for their work is just wrong, as anyone who has tried to bargain with their boss one-on-one has found out the hard way.

4. Even deeper, their belief that every owner trying to maximize their own profits will somehow work out for the best for everyone - the 'Invisible Hand' of Adam Smith - is nothing but a false god, a religion of greed, masquerading as science.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reid's Manager's Amendment to the Senate Health Care Bill contains

a. no public option,
b. no Medicare buy-in - and
c. a back-door version of the House's Stupak Amendment - that would effectively block abortion coverage in the health insurance exchanges and would probably result in its being dropped from most private plans as well.

(See NOW's bulletin:

If the liberals and progressives who elected Obama are to have any credibility, we must act to block this deeply flawed bill unless it meets bare minimum standards of doing more good than harm.

I am calling Kerry and Kirk (866-338-1015)and urging them to make clear that they will vote against this bill unless either a. or b. (or both) is included, and unless c. is removed. They must make it clear to the leadership that either no public option and no buy-in or removing abortion coverage is a deal-breaker.

The Blue Dogs need to understand that they will be running next time as candidates of the party that couldn't pass the health-care bill we promised - because of them - unless they back down. They've been playing "chicken" with us long enough; it's time to call them on it.

On Samuelson's death notice

I studied economics from Paul Samuelson's textbook many years ago. It was clear and effective, but deeply flawed.

This editorial ( mentions the debate between Samuelson and Milton Friedman. But both held the same theory about how the economy worked. They only really disagreed on how much the government could do.

Samuelson like Keynes said that government can and should intervene in the economy and regulate it to stabilize it, to ease the pain to ordinary people when jobs or whole industries are lost, and to stop the growth of monopolies.

Friedman, whose theories guided the "Reagan Revolution", said that anything the government did only made things worse.

There are much deeper problems with both of their theories.

1. Both said that the value of a thing is nothing more or less than what you can get for it on the market - which is no theory at all! So a million-dollar bet on the future value of a fund capitalized by bets on whether homeowners will be able to pay back their predatory loans is "worth" as much as a million-dollar machine, as long as someone will buy it.

We see where this kind of thinking has led us!

2. Their view that we have something close to a free-market economy in American now is not supported by the facts. Whether you are trying to start a grocery store or a factory there is no level playing field - except for a little while with a new technology. The big boys and the insiders have a huge advantage.

3. Their view that labor is just another "input" and that employees can bargain over the fair price for their work on the "labor market" is just wrong, as anyone who has tried to bargain with their boss one-on-one has found out the hard way.

4. At an even deeper level, both believed that every owner trying to maximize their own profits will somehow work out for the best for everyone - the "Invisible Hand" of Adam Smith. This is nothing but a false god, a "religion of greed", masquerading as a science.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Windmill City

Bootstrap pointed out something important: the turbines for these windmills came from Germany. That's a wakeup call!

We are spending a trillion dollars a year on a war machine with 700 foreign bases and troops in 130 countries - mainly to protect US control of the world's oil markets. If the war they are prepared for ever happens it will destroy our civilization, win or lose. But the oil-based technology they are protecting threatens to destroy our biosphere, and perhaps our species! The insanity of this picture is just mind-boggling!

What Princeton has shown is that the answer is right under our noses. If we could take that trillion dollars a year and spend it at home building wind, wave, solar, geothermal and (soon) fusion energy technology and electric vehicles that run on it, we would absolutely not need that oil!

We would put the people back to work, at good-paying jobs.

We would be makers of products the world needs and will buy.

We would be able to lift from our children's minds the dread of nuclear annihilation that most of us have lived with our entire lives, because the last reason for a world war would be gone.

And we would be able to start thinking again about leaving a beautiful world for our great grandchildren and their great grandchildren.

If Washington won't take the lead, Princeton can. And Worcester could too.

Imagine shipping crates being unloaded at the docks of Bremen and Calcutta marked "Another Worcester Windmill - Made with Pride in USA".

Imagine travel brochures at Heathrow Airport shouting "Visit Worcester Massachusetts, the world famous 'Windmill City' where the American Revolution began!"

Imagine being proud to tell people anywhere in the world that you're from Worcester - and everyone not only knows what you mean, they can pronounce it!

Why not?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Republicans, Gambling and Addiction

Addictive and self-destructive behavior, such as gambling or voting Republican, is something very different from a habit, although habits are part of their mechanisms. In a human being these behaviors are mediated and maintained by belief systems; and are extremely resistant to any real or lasting change unless the belief system changes.

What all addictions have in common is the belief that there is something "out there" in the world which can take our pain away and make us feel good if we can acquire it, use it or get more of it. It involves making something or someone else responsible for our feelings, and then seeing ourselves as deprived, as having lost or given up something we need, when we don't get it. The actual physical withdrawal symptoms turn out to be relatively tolerable without this psychological component.

The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and The Easy Way to Stop Drinking, both by Alan Carr, are two powerful applications of this framework for understanding addictive behavior, with very high long-term success rates reported. The user is asked to simply read the book - a detailed description of the physical and ideational processes whereby the addiction is maintained and how the user experiences these - while changing nothing. They examine their own experience and become observers of their own process. Then they pick a day and time, invite in witnesses, and have a last drink or smoke, and redefine themselves as a non-smoker or non-drinker from that moment forward.

I tried this. I read Carr's alcohol book fifteen months ago, after 47 years of regular and sometimes heavy drinking. Then I threw a "last drink" party for some friends, had my final drink and stopped cold. I do not regard myself now as an abstaining alcoholic or a reformed drinker; I am a non-drinker. I have open bottles of wine in my house now left behind by guests, and I trust myself not to touch them. Sometimes I feel the urge to take a drink when I'm really upset or discouraged about something, but then I think about it for a minute and the urge goes away.

I hadn't thought about voting Republican - and engaging in Republican rants - in this light, but it fits! The essence of it is the belief that there is something - someone -out there who is responsible for one's feeling bad, and there is something the authorities should do to take that pain away - more arrests, more imprisonment, more executions or police shootings, more mothers thrown off welfare, more kids thrown into boot camps or more teachers fired, more enemy cities bombed or terrorist supporters killed by missile strikes or death squads, more girls forced to have a baby they don't want or more addicts killed by dirty needles. Ranting about this seems to take away the feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and humiliation and make one feel powerful and in control again. It's never enough, but the lesson drawn is only that we need more. No amount of lessons from life that this does not further our real interests, that it only makes things worse, seems to be able to penetrate.

How do we change this?

Perhaps Carr could be prevailed on to write the book The Easy Way to Stop Supporting Republicans. And then we would have to get them to read it!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Social Inequality Class

Note to a young woman who just completed her "Social Inequality" class at a top college:

Your social inequality class continues for a lifetime, a step along the road to opening your eyes to the core reality of the world we inhabit and broadening your perspective on it.

The challenge to those of us who have chosen the path of understanding is to embrace, organize and unite the disempowered - from a broad and inclusive vision of who we all are, how we came to be hers and where we could be going - to change that reality.

Which means embracing and accepting the pain of being one of us; not just the pain of being Black or Latino or female, or the pain of being branded gay or fat, a "sped" or disabled, an "illegal" or a "felon", but the pain of being working-class. This pain doesn't go away, but if you commit to the struggle it will not stop you from living your living life joyfully, and it can be a source of power. ...

But if you try to run from it and deny it, it will follow you, and then it will run your life and twist you.

Been there, done that.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Capuano and Kennedy

For those of us who loved and admired Ted Kennedy, Mike Capuano would be a great choice.

Like Ted, Mike is a passionate and joyful warrior for the people and for democracy.

Like Ted, Mike is a man of principle, a man who speaks truth to power, a man who doesn't ask which way the wind is blowing before he casts a vote.

And Like Ted, Mike is becoming a master of strategy, of working the system to make things happen, from a position of principle.

Like Ted, Mike has a great BS detector, and listens to it.

Like Ted, Mike is unafraid to stand against war when war is not truly needed, and when the pack is baying for blood; someone who stands his ground when those around him are panicking and dodging for cover.

Like Ted, Mike sees democracy as meaning everybody in, nobody out. Everyone working together and supporting each other, not some of us trying to secure what we have by keeping others down. Everyone's children and everyone's grandparents equally precious.

Like Ted, Mike is unafraid to stand with Labor, and unafraid to work for the success and growth of business in Massachusetts, from the position of someone who represents and speaks for the working people who elected him.

And like Ted, for Mike none of this a strategy or a calculation; it is straight from the heart, from who he is.

But unlike Ted, Mike is not a child of wealth and privilege. He may have been educated in Ivy League schools, but he is one of us. The torch he carries is not that of one who has descended from the mountain to be among us - it is the flame in the heart of the "ordinary" working people of Massachusetts, longing for opportunity, respect, fair play and dignity for ourselves, for our children and for our children's children.

It is the flame of the American Dream.

Everyone says no one can replace Ted Kennedy. That may indeed be so, but in his way, Mike Capuano could prove to be an even greater Senator. The People's Senator.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


We need Mike Capuano in the Senate.

He is an experienced legislator with 11 years on Capitol Hill, with a proven track record, who knows how to get things done and can hit the ground running.

He is a straight-forward, passionate man who speaks and acts from his heart. He's had some fancy education, but he's still one of us, and speaks for us.

He is brave. His votes against the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, at a time when the country was in a panic, were votes of principle, as is his opposition to the escalation in Afghanistan.

His vote against the No Child Left Behind Act - he foresaw that it would not be funded and would become a setup for breaking the public schools - was another act of courage.

He's willing to play political hardball to get respect for the progressives, and for all the people who voted for Obama and Change last year.

For example, he has been a supporter of Medicare for All - Single Payer - since the beginning, and has worked hard to keep a strong public option in the Health Reform Bill. But he has joined with 40 other Representatives in pledging to vote against the bill if it comes out of the final committee with the Stupak amendment, which would strip tens of millions of families of the coverage they now have to support a woman's ability to choose whether to bear a child.

Our own Rep. McGovern and five other Mass. Representatives have endorsed him, as have many other state leaders, thirty state labor bodies and a great many local unions. His voting record on the Hill is nearly 100% in line with the positions of the Democratic Party, and the AFL/CIO rates his labor voting record at 97%.

This is not the result of a calculation or strategy. He belongs to us, but no one owns him. I have talked to him face to face, questioned him and studied his record. I am totally convinced that it comes straight from his heart, from who he is and from his deepest commitments.


Polls are open on Tuesday, 7 am to 8 pm. Be there.

Property Tax Crisis

This latest looming crisis underscores the need to greatly reduce reliance on property taxes to fund city services.

(See Nick's column:

Property taxes are the most arbitrary and regressive way of raising revenue. How property is valued often has only a loose relationship to people's ability to pay - witness the agony of retired workers who can no longer pay the taxes on their homes. Entire towns or regions which become unaffordable to the families who have lived in them for generations, because of "gentrification" leading to rising property values driving up taxes. For example, the families that had lived on Nantucket since the Vikings are largely gone now, driven out by the taxes.

And this crisis reminds us of how very unstable property values can be, and the chaos that can happen as assessors scramble to keep up with fluctuations - and owners struggle to cope with the unanticipated revaluations.

Studies over the years of who ultimately pays a tax indicate that landlords are able to (and must) pass along the entire burden of property taxes to their tenants, so that people in Green Island, who may pay half their income in rent, effectively pay a much larger portion of their income on taxes than people living in trophy homes in Princeton. This is invisible to them, but it is very real. Yet the inequity in the absolute amount of revenue per person between Worcester and Princeton means that the schools in the "hill towns" are much-better funded.

Revenue for schools in particular - the biggest local expense and the greatest source of social inequity - should rest reliably and securely on the state income tax, the fairest and most stable source. The use of property is a kind of income and probably should not be tax-free. But we need to get away from these periodic struggles to save our city services by squeezing more blood from the property-owners, which every few years produces a new disaster.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Letter to a Democratic Party forum:


Enough already about what a threat Afghanistan was or is to us. Everyone is treating that as the one piece of what Bush and Cheney did which is beyond question, but it's horse-ticky, like the rest of their lies.

Did you know that George Bush Jr. when he was in college was a fanatic player of Risk, the Parker Brothers "Game of World Domination"? And that he was notorious for changing the rules when he was losing? That might give some clue to the mentality of the man who allowed 9/11 to happen and then ordered the invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban government of Afghanistan, like most CIA-sponsored regimes, was pretty disagreeable from the point of view of a progressive, but the facts are that it did not organize or support any terrorist act against the US, and there was not one Afghani involved in any of them. Bin Laden and supporters had a training camp in Afghanistan - in territory over which the government had only loose control and involving a few hundred people.

The US demanded that Bin Laden and his supporters be arrested and turned over. The Afghan government did what any self-respecting government that valued its independence would do. They asked that the universal standard of protocol in criminal cases be followed: a presentation of evidence and a formal request for extradition. The Bush government branded this failure to obey - and obey quickly - as defiance and impudence, and responded by ordering an invasion. Our corporate media pulled one of its periodic crescendos of "manufactured outrage", and practically our entire Congress pissed all over themselves to be first in line to support it.

The fact that when US forces had Bin laden surrounded and cornered they let him get away is good evidence that the invasion of Afghanistan was never about catching him.

The map I saw yesterday of where US forces are concentrated in Afghanistan casts further doubt on the official line that "fighting terrorism" is the real mission in Afghanistan. The fighting is mostly south and east of Kabul, but nearly half the US forces are in the desert in the south-western provence. There are reliable reports that they have been supplied with large numbers of main battle tanks (useless against the Taliban.) From there it is a straight shot to Teheran - 700 miles or so of desert to the west, with no mountain ranges, rivers or major fields of sand dunes in the way, just one relatively small ridge to cross.

The whole thing stinks of imperialism, one giant Risk game with nuclear-armed players, and with our own towns and cities as hostages.

Our job, as I see it, is to get the American people to demand an end to these foreign wars, and to demand it so strongly that our Democratic representatives and administration will have to give in to it to keep us pacified. The Democrats can then take credit for it, and an energized people will turn out to reelect them.

That dynamic. around this and a range of other issues, can keep the Democrats in power in 2010 and 2012. Without that, the working people will stay home again, as happened in 1994.

So, paradoxically, to save the Obama Administration we (the people) have to unleash our rage at what he's doing, and take it to "the street". Our Rep. Jim McGovern, Rep. Mike Capuano and other representatives from Massachusetts clearly understand this. Pres. Obama has given us many signals that he does too. But we - the people, with the leadership of Democrats who get this - have to make it happen.

Electing Capuano to the Senate on Tuesday will help.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Capuano, Coakley or Khazei?

The civil liberties issue is going to be crucial - as will be the issue of whether our Senator is truly, gut-level, on the side of the working people or is just with us on a collection of issues and ways of doing things.

In case you haven't been paying attention lately, let me remind you that we are in the midst of a profound, world-historical economic, social, political and environmental crisis, and for the people it is continuing to get worse. The American people turned out in '08, in what by US standards (but not by world standards) was large numbers, to elect a Democratic President and Congress running on the promise of change. And they are not seeing it. There are many signs that the "Obama voters" are fed up with the entire political process, and with the failure of Obama and the Democratic Congress to deliver, and that they may not turn out in '10 and '12 to vote at all.

See for example:

In Hondouras a few days ago, 70% of the adult population failed to show up at the polls, almost al observers agreed that it was a decisive repudiation of the dictatorship that was running the elections. But few here saw it that way when 70% of the voters of Worcester didn't vote last month in City elections, but the meaning is the same. in District 4 only 8% of the adult population participated in a hotly-contested City Council race.

I've been at a lot of doors and in a lot of living rooms recently, talking to people about politics, government and their lives. I couldn't get many out to vote, but I can tell you they are paying attention, and they are getting angrier and more desperate. People stay home as a vote of no confidence - a massive, ongoing vote of no confidence in our whole electoral system, one that has been going on for generations, but no one is paying attention. People are very clear about that. If you doubt it, go out and ask them!

The only thing that can save the Democrats - and perhaps our democracy itself, such as it is - in '10 and '12 will be people taking to the streets and taking other direct action to demand the change we voted for in '08; and then only if the Democratic representatives, the President and the Democratic governors respond to that pressure - and take credit for that - the way Roosevelt did!

And it's going to happen. (The street heat, that is.) The pot is coming to a boil.

The question to ask about the Senator we nominate is: does he or she get it? Will he or she be on the side of the people in the crunch? Or will they side with the "law and order first" crowd and support the impulse to beat the people back with clubs and gas, injunctions, jails and detention camps?

Any sign of anti-union bias is a warning flag. The unions, such as they are, are the only organized voice the working people have right now, and their support for the Democratic Party is critical to our future.

I think Capuano gets this. My best guess is that at a gut level he is - and will be - on the side of the people, the side of democracy.

I have doubts about Khazei, and serious doubts about Coakley.

Ask about Martha: where would she have stood on the Flint sitdown strike, or the civil disobedience of the Civil Rights Movement?

Where would she have stood on Sept. 6, 1774, when 4,722 militia members from 37 towns gathered in the streets of Worcester and stopped the courts from meeting?

If - or rather when - she is forced to choose between the law and the people, between the law and democracy, what does her record show about where she would stand?

Teachers Vote No Confidence


Anyone who blames 'the teachers' or 'the unions' for the mess in our schools should try teaching for a week. What the schools *are*, the bottom line, is teachers in a classroom working with students. It is a difficult, demanding and exhausting job. Everything else, everyone else in the school, is just support and structure.

And anyone who thinks being a 'team player' always means going along with the principal, right or wrong, needs to do some re-thinking.

The fact that this is the first time in six years that the staff at a school has voted no confidence in their principal says buckets. I trust Dr. Boone will take this as seriously as it apparently deserves to be taken.

Teachers need and deserve to be respected and supported - and paid - as professionals. They organize in unions when they find they can't get that respect any other way. The union is the teachers. And the teachers are the schools.
Two homeless children broke into an abandoned building and lit a candle that set it on fire, and as it happened six brave fire-fighters died as a result. Dozens of family members were heart-broken, and a whole City shared in the grief. How could the punishment for that action possibly "pay for" what it caused, and still be appropriate to what those children actually did?

If you want to look for fault, why not ask why those children were homeless in the first place.

People forget that there was a time in this country - three decades in fact, the '50's through the '70's - when homelessness was practically unknown. Poor people could always find a room, and get help paying for it. There is no law of God or nature that says "the homeless will always be with us".

But while there are homeless people who need a place to get in out of the cold, and abandoned buildings they can break into, they will get into them - and they will light candles, and make fires to keep warm - and sometimes that will start building fires - and sometimes those fires will kill people.

No threat of possible punishment for something that could possibly happen if they make a mistake that they don't intend to make will stop them.

Now we're closing the PIP Shelter, and there will be even more people with no place to go. There are hundreds of abandoned buildings in the city, and more are being abandoned every week. We have fewer fire-fighters to deal with the fires that wil result, and they have farther to go. So when the next fire comes that takes a fire-fighter's life, whose fault will it be?

Will the blame lie with some homeless child who started it? Or perhaps some broken, homeless old man, who may once have been your fellow worker or your neighbor, but who now is just trying to survive another night?

Or does the blame lie with our failure as a City to deal with these twin disasters of homelessness and building abandonment?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Declining property values

Good summary, Nick.

One statistic you should have included is the proportion of homeowners - and the proportion of new homeowners - who are underwater now: trapped by a mortgage whose principal amount is higher than the market value of their property. That number is very high, and climbing.

But the engine that is driving the property values in Worcester down and driving our City toward a fiscal and housing disaster is the shocking collapse of the market value of the three-deckers!

Abandonments are spreading. The banks that take foreclosed properties when no one will bid on them are walking away from them. Boarded-up buildings are a fire and crime threat, and drive down the value of surrounding properties. With no one maintaining them, they quickly go to ruin. The effects are felt in Tatnuck as falling home values and declining City services.

This is the central challenge we need to tackle together to save our City.

Khazei, Capuano and Afghanistan Demo

Khazei and Capuano both look good to me. I'm glad Khazei is taking a stand now against the escalation in Afghanistan. We can't afford to replace Kennedy with a centrist. President Obama is a great speaker, but he needs a backbone, and Kennedy was part of his backbone.

But the problem is much bigger than elections, and a lot of folks who voted for change in 2008 are giving up, because we aren't getting the change we voted for.

Obama is catching a lot of heat from Wall Street and has taken the representatives of the great financial houses into his Cabinet. He talks big, but starts from a compromise position and then compromises that away under pressure. Electing Khazei or Capuano to the Senate will help, but what it will really take to save the Obama Presidency and the change we voted for is the people organizing to pressure him back.

Starting with the demonstration against the escalation in Afghanistan at Lincoln Square, on Wednesday at 4:30!

With enough pressure from the street, the people we elect and send to Washington may yet deliver. Without that, Washington just swallows them up and the things we voted for just disappear!

Posted by ChrisHorton

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Worcester man dies in custody

It would be so good to be able to look at a story like that of the unfortunate Kenneth Howe and be able to assume that what the police are saying is probably true. We need to be able to trust them to know right from wrong, do the right thing and 'fess up when they mess up.

But it is clear from these comments that this is not the situation today.

Police are working people, not so different from you or me. They have been organized into a semi-military corps, trained in the use of violence, and sent out, armed, into the streets every day to deal with the ugliest and most dangerous situations and out-of-control people that most of us wouldn't want to go anywhere near.

To do their job well they need the support and cooperation of the community - the entire community. Including support when they have to get rough with someone who is resisting or endangering them or endangering others. To earn and keep that support, they need to protect their reputation for honesty, integrity, fair dealing and following the law without favor, discrimination or prejudice.

But it is unfair to expect the police to police themselves. It is totally natural for working people to stick up - and cover up - for each other; all the more so when they are comrades-in-arms who need to completely trust each other in life-and-death situations. And it is only human to take better care of those who have power, money, reputation, manners and influence than those who have none.

The bottom line is that every city or town needs an independent civilian review board, so that in cases like this we can have confidence - and they will know - that the truth will come out. We need that - but the police we send into harm's way every day need it at least as much!

The police work for us, not for some boss who gets his orders at the Country Club. They must be held responsible to us. From that will flow the respect, understanding, appreciation, cooperation and support they need from us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Prince from the Black Planet

Thank you Diane for your defense of free speech.

When I was little there was a TV show, Captain Video, which had on it an episode about the Prince from the Black Planet. On that planet, if you ever lost a contest, you became an Inferior ... for life. The Americans on the space ship knew better and showed him the light. But our treatment of ex-offenders is turning America into the Black Planet!

Millions of people are being labeled Inferiors .. for life. The outrage about letting Mr. Levasseur speak - some 30 years after his crimes - is part of this very-un-American tendency.

The American tradition is that when you commit a crime, you do your time, and then you get a chance at a fresh start. We're losing that, folks. CORI laws, off-limit occupations, security checks, lifetime sex-offender registries and the like make it very hard to start over.

During the city election campaign I talked with many young men who said some version of "I can't vote, I'm a felon." So many that we have to think someone must be telling them this.

This is wrong. First of all, once you're out of prison you are an "ex-felon", not a "felon". You are not a statistic or a probability or a risk, you are a free person ready to try again to make a life for yourself. Second, once you are out you have the absolute right in Massachusetts to register, vote and participate in public life.

And to speak at a University if people want to hear your story!

The Foreclosure Issue

Foreclosures is the Elephant in the Room that most Council candidates are dodging.

Worcester has had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state for the last 3 years. Banks are emptying buildings and leaving them to go to ruin. This blight brings rising crime and homelessness, plunging tax revenues, emptying schools and plunging property values, with a huge proportion of new homeowners throughout the City now “under water”.

Only Grace Ross has made this a central issue, organizing residents and shepherding bills through the Council to keep people in their homes and direct public money for home-buying to city residents rather than outside speculators.

District 4 results

To me, the big story of this District 4 race was that - as Clive and many others predicted - the "infrequent voters" Grace Ross was trying to engage did not turn out.

The unofficial results of this race were

Haller 62%,
Ross 38%.

The vote totals were almost exactly the same as for the Haller-Simonds race two years ago. Perhaps mostly the same people, voting the same way.

But the real winner was "Not Voting".

As percents of District 4's 14,985 registered voters, the results were

Haller 8.7%
Ross 5.3%
Not Voting 87.0%

I did a little playing with numbers from Wikipedia, and came up with an estimate that District 4 has about 24,500 adults age 18 and over. As a percent of that, the results were

Haller 5.3%
Ross 3.8%
Not Voting 91.4%

Many say that those 87% (or 91%) who didn't vote just don't care, but I've been in enough peoples homes, listening to them talk about their issues, their concerns and their feelings, to know this isn't true.

The problem is that most working people don't believe their vote will matter, that it will make their lives better, or that anyone they send off to represent them will remain on their side. And they are afraid of stirring up a struggle that they aren't ready for.

We're not going to just talk them out of those beliefs. We will have to be there talking and working with them, organizing and leading them and teaching them how to struggle and win *between* elections.

One ray of hope came from an election worker I sat next to at a polling station. At 4 pm he pointed out that there were entire streets where no one had voted, but then there were a few - no different from the others to look at - that always had a good turnout.

He used to live on one of those streets, and he had organized his neighbors to get out and vote, and to get each other out to vote.

Eleven years after he moved away they were still doing it!
It's still taboo in America to speak the truth about how the current disaster for women in Afghanistan began; but it was the fruit of the CIA-organized, funded and equipped war against the Afghan revolution and then against the Soviet troops who came into Afghanistan to defend it.

But I remember the accounts every week of US-supported "Mujahadeen" entering towns, burning the school and the health center, killing the doctors and the teachers, and fleeing into the mountains.

And I remember a letter from an AFSC volunteer in an Afghan village who was present when the civil war began in '78, before the Soviet intervention. The revolutionary government in Kabul issued a series of decrees, taken up by the town's revolutionary committee. These were, in order (if I remember it right): a decree that women could appear in public without a veil; a decree that women must be allowed to speak at public meetings; a land reform, redistributing the holdings of the feudal landlords to the peasants; a decree that all girls had to receive a 4th grade education just like the boys; a decree granting women equal rights with men to a divorce; a decree granting women the right to attend college;

and finally a decree abolishing the right of husbands to kill their wives.

It was on the Friday after the last of these decrees that the Mullahs led the outraged faithful (men) out of the Mosques and on a rampage, hanging any communists, supporters of the government or unescorted women they could lay their hands on. Thus began the civil war, with the US supporting one side (with arms so advanced that even its NATO allies weren't allowed to have them) and the Soviet Union supporting the other.

Many young people I've told this story to are unable to guess which side the US was on; but of course it was on the side of the wife-killers. And it was in protest of the Soviet intervention - and in support of the wife-killers - that Jimmy Carter (Lord bless him) withdrew the US athletes from the Moscow Olympics and initiated the rapid arms buildup that marked the beginning of Cold War II - which did not end in the obliteration of our civilization, but could have.

Virtually no one spoke against this madness, because our terror of being accused of being soft on communism was still so great. Even most of the US anti-imperialist movement shied away. The Soviet move seemed outrageous because they no sooner had entered Afghanistan then they presided over the arrest and execution of the Afghan President Amin, who had begged and pushed them to send troops.

They claimed to have proof that he was a CIA agent, who had deliberately sabotaged the revolution by leading a campaign of wanton killing of enemies. This seemed like quite a whopper at the time; but now, in hindsight, I'm not so sure.

Rails to Worcester

In 1959, through trains (4 each way daily) made the run from Worcester to Boston in 58 minutes, with stops with baggage handling at Framingham, Wellesly Farms and South Station. The run from Springfield to Boston took 2 hours and 1 minute, with additional stops in Auburn and Palmer.

With the tracks in comparable condition, including restoring double-tracking where necessary, and using modern rolling stock - not super-trains, just light-weight high-speed cars, with traction on every axle, that lean into the turns - it should be possible to average 20% higher speeds. Cut 2 minutes from every 1959 stop for no baggage and higher acceleration, but add a minute each for 10 or 12 commuter stops, and commuter trains could run hourly from Boston to Springfield in less than 1 hour 40 minutes, and less than 50 minutes from Worcester to Boston.

Expensive? Yes. Pie in the sky? No.

Passenger service never did make money directly. The railroads recouped the expense of providing commuter and inter-city passenger rail service by 'speculating' in land, purchasing it low and re-selling at a huge profit when its value was increased by their investment and service.

As a society we have to start doing that kind of accounting, looking at the value added to our communities by government investment and services - and at how to recover some of it for the cost - not just looking at the bottom line of government balance sheets.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


So is Feingold the one?

Someone is going to have to challenge Obama in the 2012 primaries.

It must be someone who will stand up to Obama, the Blue Dog Democrats and the Oligarchs on a broad range of domestic and international issues, and who has the strength of character and understanding to not compromise on a wedge issue such as support for Israel.

It must be someone who stands squarely on the side of the American working people and is not trying to find common ground with the Oligarchs

It must be someone who can reach and rally the rank-and-file activists of the labor movement, and fire up their hearts and their courage.

It must be someone who speaks not just to and for the hopes of the people but who gives expression to our anger.

Ideally it should be someone of color, because many Afro-Americans may otherwise support Obama no matter what he does, but it must at least be someone who understands the centrality of race in America and the importance of confronting racism and building "black-white" unity.

It must be someone with the skills and instincts of an organizer and a leader, not just a lawmaker. Someone with a proven track record of coalition-building. Someone with a vision of a lasting transformation of American politics, a new kind of politics rooted in and driven by an organized people.

And it must be someone who has the charisma to break through peoples' skepticism and cynicism and touch their hearts.

Dennis Kucinich actually comes pretty close on the issues, understanding, commitment and passion, although maybe weak on leadership and coalition building. We need to look closely at why his campaigns for president never caught fire.

Those who have taken the time and effort to really listen to Kucinich and watch his performance at events like the AFL_CIO rally last year at Chicago's Soldiers Field know that there was a potential in his campaign for a great political upset. And yet, a measure of the task we face is that after two presidential runs, his name recognition is still below 80%. Many who do recognize his name are conditioned to snicker when they hear it, without even being able to explain why. Perhaps this was due to the urgency people felt about finding someone who could beat Bush, and the fact that they had not lost all hope in the system as it is. Certainly it owed much to his being nearly totally ignored by the corporate media.

But it points to a "recognition barrier", our need for a candidate who already has a high name recognition and media presence - if possible.

It is not too soon to be looking at the few people who are our trusted voices on the national political stage, not too soon to be thinking and talking about whether "they're the one" who could do it - or rather who could lead *us* in doing it!

Kucinich again? Barbara Lee? Bernie Sanders? maybe Al Franken? Or Michael Moore?

Or maybe Russ Feingold?

Let's keep looking, asking, talking to each other, and challenging them! And let's keep *our* hope alive!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

War reauthorization vote

Comment on

In a defining moment in US history, 32 brave Democrats voted against the war reauthorization act. The "progressives" who defected - lamentably under Barney Frank's leadership - don't get it. The dollar, now hurtling toward disaster, is issued by a private consortium of the biggest bankers, which was given an outrageous private monopoly over the issuing of money. Our elected representatives have no control over them, and they have no loyalty to us. Like it or not, we, the people and our representatives, can't save their dollar. The IMF, which has never been a friend to working people anywhere, can't save it. We must not sacrifice our core interests and convictions on its alter. Make good note of who the 32 are - and their brave leaders Barbara Lee, Jim McGovern and of course Dennis Kucinich. These are the ones who are clear about whose side they're on, the ones still standing after all the threats and blandishments, the shell games and payoffs. These are the ones we have to defend, with all our might.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


TThe Taliban are not what most of us would wish on Pakistan or anywhere else, but the April 16 New York Times gives a hint of what is unfolding there, and why we can't "fix" it:

Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH, April 16, 2009

What this story makes clear is that the Taliban is either leading or unleashing a long-overdue social revolution in the countryside, a rebellion against the power of the big landlords, and that is what all the "experts" have been so concerned about, why they fear and predict this "insurgency" will spread to all of Pakistan!

I've been shaking my head over every story coming out of Pakistan for years, asking: "What is really going on below the surface? This doesn't make sense!" We've been shown a country going unstable, but no satisfactory clue as to why. Finally here's a clue. We can be sure there's more, much more, but this piece of the story at least makes sense!

There are indications in the story that the fact that peasants were rising against their landlords under Taliban leadership was well known to journalists, perhaps five years ago, certainly by three years ago; yet only now has the Times deemed it necessary to share this information with the broader elite, the professionals, academics and "top 1%" who make up most of its readership. A Google search shows that the story was not picked up by other media; perhaps it came with a tag indicating "not for mass consumption"!

How does this square with Bhutto's land reform? Was that incomplete or corupt, leaving unfinished business? What about the Taliban in Afghanistan is unclear. Is the same thing happening there? The revolution of 1978-79 was also a revolt against the landlords, which failed and was crushed despite half a million Soviet troops trying to save it, but the class conflict in the countryside must still be there, as presumably the surviving landlords or their families returned to claim their land. Where is the reporter who will tell us whether unleashing a peasant rebellion is also powering the Taliban's success in Afghanistan?

Nor is there any hint here as to how this affects Pakistan's large urban working class. Are the Taliban championing their cause also? Could urban working people tolerate its call for Sharia Law? Pakistan's labor movement represents barely 2% of the non-agricultural workforce, yet it is active, militant, uniting, and winning victories, working with the basically corrupt Pakistan Peoples Party. What are their leaders thinking and saying? What they will do if Pakistan goes critically unstable? Will they be able to lead the working class? Is there an underground workers party that will suddenly emerge? Will they then join with the Taliban-led peasants or oppose them in a battle of competing revolutions? Our media rarely gives a hint that they exist at all. But without this information, our ability to understand the danger of and motives for US intervention in Pakistan, and our understanding of the need to block the Obama Administration from broadening US involvement, are very weak.

The Pakistan crisis has the potential to develop into a nightmare: US troops and mercenaries, with vast fleets of armed robots, wading into the midst of a titanic struggle between a long-overdue peasant revolution, led by religious fanatics, and a long-overdue workers revolution led by we don't know who, in a nuclear-armed nation ten times the size of Iraq, with India sitting on the wings ready to take advantage! This must not be allowed to happen!

The US can't fix Pakistan or save it from itself. Our "Empire" evidently cannot by its nature bring progress and democracy to anyone, no matter what the intentions of the people at the top, any more than the Soviet Red Army could save a revolution in Afghanistan. Theirs just wasn't that kind of an army anymore, and neither is ours. We've done enough damage already.

For better or for worse, the people of Pakistan (and Afghanistan) must be left free to work this out for themselves! Perhaps we do have a role to play though in persuading India to stay out of it too!

Are WE ready to take on the Empire?

In response to Alternet article "Neocon Fantasies of Empire Crushed: the New Global Reality", By Mark Engler, Foreign Policy in Focus. Posted April 21, 2009:

Are we the people ready for a serious battle to shut down the Empire, close all the bases and bring the troops home? If Obama were to lead us down that path are we ready, willing and able to take his back, with the Republicans and the media baying for blood and using their power to "manufacture outrage" about God knows what? Do most of us even have access to good information about what's going on in the world?

Many commenters deride Obama for not taking on the military and the Empire. But before we lay this all on him, we need to ask are WE ready?

No, we have some serious organizing to do, not least of which is building an alternative media that the millions will turn to, with our own foreign correspondents to give us a people's-eye view of the world. Even AlterNet readers are not well informed, as we sometimes discover. It has great writers, editors, thinkers; but imagine how the situation would be different if we were getting regular reports from AlterNet's South Asia correspondent, or better yet our own Pakistan correspondent? But as far as I can tell the alternative media are not yet even able to support a Capitol Hill reporter, as witness the fact that AlterNet didn't pick up on the House bill to authorize a naval blockade of Iran until three weeks after it was introduced and it already had 100 co-sponsors!

Obama is doing the right things for right now, lowering tensions, opening doors, defusing situations, and encouraging us to organize and develop the habit and ability to make ourselves heard in Washington. The test will come when we are able to *demand* more - with a voice that's millions strong, unity that is based on experience and good information, and a megaphone that can't be drowned out by Fox. (In this regard, making good use of the window Obama has opened to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed is absolutely key to laying the foundation for such a movement!)

When the time is right, Obama will either respond to our pressure and change directions, or we'll find a new leader. Perhaps he's only our John the Baptist; only time will tell. But even if it's the latter, we'll be building on ground he helped us prepare.

And prepare we must, urgently, because time is short. Engler's article is a good and fascinating read, and I agree with his prescription for the present in his conclusion, but he fails to appreciate the depth of the economic crisis. When he talks about "now" and "later" he's apparently thinking in decades. I'm thinking years. A few years.

The crisis of Empire and of US hegemony will unfold rapidly, with unforeseen and dramatic turns of event. One thing can be predicted with some confidence however: other governments won't "decide" to replace the dollar as the world's currency; rather, there will at some point be a panic and a race for the exit!

We have serious work to do: build the alternative media, inform, teach and organize the people, and build the pressure on Washington - and on Obama. As Joe Hill once said: "Don't kvetch, organize!" (Did he really say that?)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Major News Blackout

Check out this story on Alternet if you haven’t seen it yet:

Is Geithner's Game Up? Damning Report Calls BS on His Smoke-and-Mirrors Bank Rescue Plan
By Mike Whitney, CounterPunch. Posted April 13, 2009
Is this a Big Story? Or What?

This is Huge!

This cuts right to the bone on the question of whether we have a government that will be on our side, or whether it will sell us down the river into real serfdom!

So did our media give it the play it deserved?

NO! For the most part our lickspittle mass media IGNORED this story!

*Look* at the results I got from searching for it over the past week on Yahoo News and Google News, searching on various keywords:

Wire Services:
Reuters covered this story;
AP, UPI, Bloomburg, AFP, and Alertnet did NOT!

Fox News, CNN Money and ABC News reported this story;
CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN (regular news), PBS, NPR and the BBC apparently did NOT!

National newspapers:
The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal reported this story. (The WSJ only reported it yesterday.)
USA Today, the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Times apparently did NOT!

Some regional newspapers:
The Boston Globe covered the story;
the Miami Herald, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Atlanta Constitution, San Francisco Chronicle, St.Louis Post Dispatch, Denver Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencier apparently did NOT report it!

Some local newspapers:
The Charlotte Observer reported this story.
The Baltimore Sun, Worcester Telegram-Gazette, Little Rock Democrat Gazette, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Springfield Republican, and the Little Rock Democrat Gazette apparently did NOT!

The New York Post and the Boston Herald reported this story.
The New York Daily News, Newsday and the Chicago Sun Times apparently did NOT.

ISP Services:
Yahoo News reported it, three times.
msn/msnbc did NOT.

Alternative Media:
Alternet reported this story today.
Surprisingly, the Huffington Post, TruthDig and CommonDreams have NOT! (I’m not sure I understand this part of the picture!)

All of these sources get Reuters wire, and they all monitor Yahoo news, so either they didn't consider the report of the Congressional Panel established six months ago to oversee the use of nearly $1 Trillion of our money to be important, or they killed the story!

Outraged? You should be!

Surprised? You shouldn't be! This is their standard MO!

So it's up to us to get this story out!

Perhaps anticipating this treatment from the Mainstream Media, Elizabeth Warren, the chair of the Congessional Oversight Panel and one of the country’s top bankruptcy lawyers, also released an 8-minute report on Youtube! (
Check it out! She uses very diplomatic language, but her message is clear to a careful listener.

Then forward this story and the Youtube link to your friends and relations, and any lists you’re on, and ask them to pass it on! Be sure to include your Representative and Senators!

Then write your local paper, TV station and NPR outlet and give them Hell for killing this story!

Then Organize!

News to the People!

News Blackout!