Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kerry for Secretary of State??

Comment posted to Telegram Online AP article, Sunday, December 16, 2012:

On foreign policy, Kerry is Obama's good soldier

Sen. Chris Coons, in praising Kerry's performance as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: "The role of the chairman ... is ... lots and lots of time listening to folks who've got concerns, whether it's on behalf of the defense community, the business community, the diplomatic community and being the person who's at the intersection of all that and trying to keep the Senate productively engaged..."

This is what we get if Kerry is appointed?  Where in that dynamic are the interests of the American people being represented?  Over and over again, when we've been asked or offered a chance, the people of Massachusetts and America have spoken loud and clear for peace, and for demobilizing and bringing home our troops from the endless wars and occupations our defense, business and diplomatic communities have instigated - but the American people are apparently not represented at the table where such things get decided.  

How about a Secretary of State who is clearly committed to peaceful resolution of disputes and to not engaging in war and the threat of war to promote private interests?  How about, for example, Congressman Dennis Kucinich?  He's available now, thanks to some of the most outrageous gerrymandering ever seen - his new district consisted of mostly someone else's district connected to a piece of his home base in Cleveland by a strip so narrow that in places it consisted of only the Lake Erie beach!

In naming Kucinich, Obama would avoid putting a nominally Democratic Senate seat at risk, and  would signal his intention to actually pursue the policies that he earned a Nobel Peace Prize for making great speeches about.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hands off the kids - then what?

OK, I get it. 

As teachers we're not allowed to put our hands on the students, or have a personal relationship with them. 

With 20 students a class, 5 classes a day and 4 minutes between classes, I had no time for personal relationships. I had to simply process them through the plan of the day. I was sternly warned never to visit their homes. I was not allowed to bring parents into the classroom because so many would have to be told they couldn't be there because of their arrest records. 

I was of course not allowed to strike a student, but even a reassuring pat on the back - Lord forbid I should comfort a child with a hug - would have put my job and career on the line - and touching is so important for forming deep emotional connections. Being alone with students after hours was strictly forbidden - even sometimes as I discovered when we carefully remained in full public view. 

As for fights, no matter how many times I was warned, I would always put myself between two students who were fighting. In the moment I couldn't let go of my inner conviction that that is what an adult, a man, had a duty to do. Each time I did that I risked my job. 

The students all of course knew that they had us over a barrel. One unsubstantiated accusation of abuse could wreck a career - and I had children of my own depending on my paycheck. 

Furthermore, in Springfield I couldn't pull students out of my class, couldn't send more than one or two a day to the Principal's office because they too were overwhelmed. 

The threat of calling meetings with gave me some power, because parents could lose a day's pay or even their jobs to come in, and they would take out their anger on their kids. But there was only so much of that I could do. 

So what do we do about that? Letting kids run wild doesn't work, and restoring the paddle won't work either. 

If I found myself in the schools again I would approach it as an organizing problem, not as a control issue. 

Mollycoddling the youth?

Answer to my previous post in the T&G Online:

Smertz wrote:

"Criminal and antisocial behvior continues to go unchecked in many of these families. ...  Love and compassion are needed, I agree. But also discipline and accountability. If they continue to get mollycoddled whenever they break the rules, they are not going to improve. ... I am sure the key is stricter rules that are enforced, and now winked at, as they are here."

Mollycoddled?  As you travel round the world, you'll never see police in the school halls or middle school students in adult criminal courts, except for here! With 2 1/4 million people in prison or jail, five million more on probation or parole, we lead the world in depriving people of their freedom.  If it hasn't worked yet, why would more of the same work?

Agreed, we have a duty as adults to teach children to be responsible members of society, and they need our firmness, strength and leadership.  But how do we do that when society itself is breaking down?

We can blame and punish whoever is below us in the pecking order to keep it under control, or we can stand in solidarity with all who are trapped inside this disaster, working together for new solutions and a new deal of the cards.  This goes also for how we work with the children, who are moving beyond our control.  If we choose the path of standing with each other - for example around the demands for no more foreclosures, good jobs for all, the right to a home and a good education - then perhaps we must also stand with our youth.  Yet somehow, as we stand and work with them, we need also to teach them how to be responsible adults.

I honestly don't know how this will work.  We've never been in a moment like this, with such a profound social and economic breakdown - not even during our Revolution or the Great Depression.  But groups like Worcester Roots, Earn a Bike, Toxic Soil Busters and the Youth Center by Foley Stadium are exploring this new way of relating to and working with our youth.  They have something to teach us all.

Violence at North High

Comment to Telegram Online article

North High problems aired at forum; LATEST: ASST. PRINCIPAL SHOVED TO GROUND

I taught at the High School of Commerce in Springfield.  I had what they called the worst of the worst - 9th grade Algebra I Support for kids who were in algebra because the School Board said they had to be, but who shouldn't have been been because they didn't understand arithmetic.  Since I left I'm told the teachers have lost control of the halls, and the school is failing as a place to learn.

My students were actually very sharp.  They were so fed up with the b.s., and were hungry for something that made sense.  They showed up in high school hoping this time would be different, this time they would get the break they needed.  But there was so much else wrong in their lives: chaos at home, the shame of poverty and even fear of death.  And always hanging over them was dread of getting pushed out into a world that had no use for them, no jobs that pay enough to build a life on.

Today it's worse; half the kids who don't go on to college - and many that do - aren't finding *any* job!

But face it, when are you ever going to need the algebra we're force feeding these kids, unless it's prove you're smart enough for college?  It doesn't even teach thinking skills, just memorizing a bunch of made-up rules.  The "trouble-makers" kept challenging me with the questions we should all be asking: how does this make any sense?  So the schools brand them as stupid, failures, and some here call them animals, sub-human, deserving only to spend their lives in prisons and jails.

My students' parents, every one I met, wanted the best for them.  But they too were struggling with all the problems of a society and economy that's breaking down and failing - too much work or not enough, broken homes, a broken social safety net - and crippled by arrest records. (Over half the adults in Mass. have one!)

Hard to deal with as these "tough kids" may be, we need to listen to them, work with them, never forget the "love" part of tough love - and admit that they too are our future!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear Occupy Worcester...

OK, so let's talk about the purpose and context of the Occupy movement.

There was a great outpouring of public rage at Wall Street following the bailouts, but nothing much changed, no fundamental causes were addressed, no one was held accountable as t
he economy collapsed and failed to recover in any meaningful way while the billionaires continued to profit. The foreclosure crisis and the ballooning student debt created a mood of anger and rebellion directed at the banks and the wealthy. People, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and frustrated by the inability of the old-line movements to organize a response, took these grievances to the street. The potential for a mass rebellion was in the air, but that mass rebellion didn't happen. 

Now OW is the local heir to this moment of expectation, however disappointing the outcome may seem. And the need for such a movement is about to become wildly apparent.

The Arab Spring is a shambles, but the crises that fueled it and fueled Occupy continue to build as the US and world economies slumber toward the next stage of the Great Debacle. Congress is about to come home from the Fiscal Cliff circus in Washington with a Very Bad Deal. (But people will remember who offered to lead them in the struggle to prevent this!) The economies of Europe, Britain, China and Russia are already going back into recession. The $640 trillion derivatives market, a vast Ponzi scheme, is teetering on the brink, and the world flight from the dollar is already beginning. 

Everyone who is still holding their breath hoping that things have at least stabilized is about to get a massive jolt of reality.

Among other things, tens of millions of people, young and old, who borrowed to stay or go back to school are about to find themselves without further financing for school and without jobs to pay their new debts. The foreclosure crisis, which has receded like the ocean from a beach before a tsunami, is building up toward a massive new assault by the banks on people's homes. Millions thrown out of work will find themselves not eligible for even minimal unemployment benefits. 

The food security net, already stretched to the limit and probably further cut by Congress next week, will be unable to cope, and actual hunger will stalk the land. 

The Occupy movement has earned its place as a brand name, looked upon with hope by millions. Remember the steady stream of regular people who stopped at the encampments to find out what was going on? When public outrage starts to spike again, OW has the potential to give it some urgently-needed leadership, direction and focus. What would that look like? I don't know. But it's worth talking and thinking about, preparing for and sowing the ground for.

One thing it would look like is the ability to take on and keep commitments to, for example, show up at a meeting no matter how we feel when the moment comes.

Are the people who still identify with OW the ones who can take on this great historic challenge? Are you? Are we?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Youth unemployment disaster

In response to article in GoLocal Worcester by Adam Drici,

The job situation for young adults and teens in Worcester is indeed very serious. We don't know what the real unemployment rate is, but it could be quite high - because the official U-3 unemployment rate doesn't count anyone with any sort of job, even a few hours a week work on a family business, and especially because it doesn't count anyone who has never held a job!

The article quite rightly points to the problem of older workers taking the "starter jobs" that would go to teens and young adults. Older workers are getting hammered. Men and women with 30-year careers behind them are having to take whatever they can find to survive. And that's not a figure of speech. That is literally what is at stake for them. And teens who outgrow their family homes and need to go stay on someone else's couch - that couch is already taken by an unemployed aunt or uncle!

It isn't just about finding a way to earn income. Starter jobs are where youth learn how to be a worker - how to show up on time every day, how to take direction and respect the authority of a supervisor, how to do tasks impeccably and maintain a cheerful attitude no matter how you feel inside and more. Say what you will about MacDonalds, it's a place where you can learn these skills. And they are real skills and take a lot of learning. For far too many youth there is no place to go now to learn them! And as the workplace standards we used to have continue to degenerate, a growing climate of hostility and suspicion is poisoning even this well. (Hopefully this will be offset by what for young folk will be a new tradition of solidarity as workers self-organize in the fast food industry and workplaces like WalMart.)

Drici's article has uncovered some wonderful programs. The Worcester Unemployment Action Group (WUAG)is an active participant in the Community Labor Coalition and has shown up for Worcester SAGE Alliance and Worcester Roots events and applauds their efforts. And the workshops at Workforce Central have much to offer. But this unemployment catastrophe is outgrowing the model of a program with a paid staff. A political effort is called for, one that can bring thousands out for political rallies and events and to pressure the politicians and corporations, one that can grow exponentially, unconstrained by available funding.

WUAG invites unemployed youth to join with us in the effort over the coming weeks to defend the social safety net they and their families need to survive the hard times, which are the target of the Fiscal Cliff circus the politicians have set up. And we invite youth to join with us in building an irresistible demand for a major jobs program like the WPA and a public commitment and program for full employment for all, like the Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act that Congressman McGovern is co-sponsoring.

Perhaps the time is right now also for a broad youth conference on unemployment.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Warren's post-election campaign

Susan77 wrote "Someone needs to tell her and Obama the election is over - they can stop campaigning. Act like grownups and get to work in Washington ..." 

Actually that's a major part of what is wrong with Congress. I'd fault the Dems for this as much as the Republicans. Real politics only usually happens in this country during election season. People come together and organize to elect a candidate, but the organization is there for the candidate. The donor, voter and activist lists belong to the candidate, and win or lose they get put away in a file cabinet until the next election season. 

We need Senators who will support people in organizing and staying organized around our issues, who will encourage us to keep holding them accountable, and who keep coming back from Washington to get out to our meetings and events, to hear us out, tell us what they've learned and rally us to put more pressure on. A politics that doesn't belong to the candidate or even to the party, and that never stops. 

No matter who we elect, anything else soon becomes one flavor or another of business as usual. 

I thought Warren's speech yesterday was very encouraging from that perspective. She's making herself super available, and coming to the people for give and take of ideas. I hope she keeps it up. 

As for calling her a Marxist, just what does that mean? She bluntly said that the wealthy are going to have to pay up. A good majority of the American people agree with her - are they all Marxists? The billionaires, great banks and corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars and are just speculating with them, when we clearly need that money to be spent on putting people back to work. Efforts to bribe them into investing it productively haven't worked. These are just facts, and calling people names for saying so doesn't change them.

I hope that some of the folks on this list will give Senator Warren the benefit of the doubt for a while and watch with an open mind. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who are the "panhandlers"?

I've talked with perhaps 30 "panhandlers" in recent weeks.  I can't say for sure how many were mentally ill, drug or alcohol addicts, but only 5 or 6 out of the 30 seemed to me to be suffering from anything that more income or a job wouldn't fix.  Most were formerly productive working people who've fallen off the bottom rung and are now trapped in extreme poverty.

The most common reasons were long waits to get onto SSDI or not enough money from SSDI to live on.  Many are still in a room or apartment and trying to keep a roof over their heads. Some are in tents or sleeping in their cars.  One has a goal of $20 a day to pay for staying on someone's couch.  All agreed that almost anything - even jail - is better than having to go into the former PIP shelter - if they could even get in.  (Many can't!)

Almost all were very clear that they did not want to be begging in the street. It's humiliating, degrading, and they get a lot of hate and abuse from passing motorists.  In conversations with me - and with each other that I overhear at the free church breakfasts - they talk of how hard it is to get enough money to meet their goals.

Many spoke with pride of the way they never harass motorists, and of their good relationships with the police.  They approved of the way police would chase off or arrest sign-holders who harassed motorists or interfered with traffic, and wondered why a new law would be needed.

Not one referred to themselves or each other as "pan-handlers", which has built into it a suggestion of swindler, scam artist, professional beggar.  They refer to themselves as "signers" or "sign-holders".  Never have I seen any indication of their being organized.  The infamous "white van": someone apparently borrowed it from a relative whose couch they were sleeping on.

For most, the main solutions to their problems are a full-employment economy - we all need that! - higher SSDI payments for those who truly can't work, and more and better help with housing.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The pulse of the WalMart Associates

Worcester Unemployment Action Group members turned out for the demonstrations at the Northborough, Worcester and N. Oxford WalMarts yesterday.  Why is that our issue?  Because those are the kind of jobs we're being pushed into!  A WalMart future, which is to say no future at all!

Just last week WalMart announced a 34% increase in the employee contribution to health care - on top of a 40% increase last year - and an increase in hours required to be eligible to 30/week.  Not that many WalMart workers average 30 hours a week.  Workers' shifts get changed without notice, so they can't hold another job or keep up with other responsibilities - and they have no right to refuse.  Many are on food stamps, subsidized housing and Commonwealth Care.  Now all but the minority of "full time workers" will be depending on the taxpayers for health care!

One of the posters (in the T&G comments) said the workers should go back to school and get a degree if they want something better.  But our educated guess is that many of the workers at WalMart have had successful careers and many have college degrees or more!  Now they've been thrown on the slag heap, and that slag heap looks like ... WalMart!

We were warmly greeted by WalMart workers wherever we went, many thanked us and some even cheered!  Apparently none of the "associates" were reporting us to the manager until we started chanting.  At one store we were just planning to deliver a letter to the manager but he was taking his time showing up - apparently no one had told him he had a problem!  He showed up quick enough when we started chanting!

Even the ones ordering us out of the store mostly were friendly and almost apologetic.    

My guess is that the only thing keeping all 1.4 million WalMart workers from walking off the job is fear.  But you can only push people so far before they reach the point where they feel they just have to take a stand and fight back. That moment could be almost at hand.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Transaction Tax on Stocks and Bonds

Reply to comment on previously cited post to

Proof Reader:

The Transaction Tax in the Full Employment bill would be 0.25 percent  on each stock or bond trade, and 0.1 percent on each derivative trade.

If you are an investor who holds a stock for a year on average before selling it, that would be two trades on a $100 stock, costing you an extra 50 cents per hundred per year.  Speculators who hold stocks and bonds for days or minutes before selling could run up quite a bill.

This tax would hugely reduce the volatility of the markets and would largely eliminate the advantage enjoyed by programmed computer traders, making the market fairer and less dangerous for smaller investors.  I would expect that your average garden variety millionaire would actually come out ahead!

Obama reaching across the aisle

Comment in Telegram Online:

So we are all waiting to learn: when Obama talks about compromise and reaching across the aisle, is this code for agreeing to cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?  And will he sacrifice the unemployed by letting the Emergency Unemployment Compensation act expire?  The signs are not encouraging.

We need to make clear to him - it's not OK to throw Grandma under the bus!  That's not what we reelected him for!  And not OK to sacrifice Uncle Freddy who's been looking for a job for over a year!

Compromise? - never mind reaching across the aisle.  The Left/Right divide in Congress - and on Network TV - is not the real divide in this country.  How about reaching across the street to where the people are!

Tim Murray for Governor?

Comment on Telegram Online article
New political order may lift Murray’s prospects
What I'd be looking for from Tim is to stop pretending everything's coming up roses and admit the truth about unemployment: it's still a disaster, even here in Massachusetts. Much worse than the laughable 6% (or 6.5%) figure that he likes to brag about. 

We don't know the "real rate" of unemployment and underemployment in Massachusetts or Worcester - the most common guess by folks on the ground is about 20% - but nationally if you take the Bureau of Labor Statistics U-6 rate (currently over 14%) and add an estimate of long-term discouraged workers (see it comes to about 23% - not counting all the people on SSDI and SSI who would be working in a good economy! 

And we don't really know if it's getting better here. The building trades unions have seen employment pick up over the past year, but some folks lower on the totem pole think it's getting worse. Bragging about that 6% figure may get Tim points with business leaders and administrators but regular folk are hungry for some real honesty. 

Sad to say, Brown and Romney were closer to the truth on this issue, although they didn't have anything but empty promises to offer. 

A good starting place would be for Tim to speak out about the urgent need to stop the expiration of the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation act on Dec. 31, and to restore the Extensions to their original length, 99 weeks. 

Next step, he could speak out for passage of the Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act that would put millions back to work with a small tax on stock, bond and derivatives trades, and for his partner Patrick to stop sitting on the $16 billion for public projects that the Legislature has approved over the past few years and start spending it. 

Then he could speak for emergency help for the probably several hundred thousand Mass. unemployed who have exhausted their benefits or were never eligible - with relief, and especially with housing. 

That Tim Murray could be unstoppable! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Interest Rate trap and the Tea Party


I know your heart, and it is good.  If there is hope for this country, it will come from people like you.  But if you're going to be a realist you have to look at the big picture, not just at how things are and how they've "always been".  

This article came across my desktop just a few days ago:  "It's the Interest, Stupid!  Why bankers rule the world" by Ellen Brown

Brown makes the astonishing claim that interest payments to the banks - on personal, mortgage, business, corporate and federal, state and local debt - have reached 35% to 40% of our GNP and is still rising exponentially.  We're talking maybe $6 trillion a year and rising, going to the banks and other owners of interest-bearing paper!  That dwarfs the billions they're trying to squeeze out of government spending - and out of our paychecks.  And it's reaching a limit - the economy is imploding because we don't have nearly enough purchasing power to buy back what we make!

I've been watching Ellen Brown for a while.  She's on the level and her work is solid.

So what do we do with this situation?  

If we join with the Tea Party and the GOP and we succeed in removing the government (but not the courts and police) from our lives, that mountain of debt continues to grow and our economy continues to suffocate and collapse.  The super-rich who are fattening off this meltdown will grow ever more cruel and oppressive.  It will not end well.  

Or rather, it is not ending well.

Romney and Brown had to be stopped, but clearly Democrats like Obama, have no answer, just timid steps sort of in the right direction.  They're paid for and enmeshed with the same web of billionaires.  Obama got his start with Goldman Sachs money, and during his first four years not one banker was even indicted for trashing and plundering the world economy, never mind tried and convicted.  (By contrast, following the Savings and Loan scandal in the 1980's there were thousands of Federal indictments, including many bank CEO's and CFO's, and over 1000 criminal convictions.)

We need a new kind of politics.  We will have to go on creating and supporting it ourselves. 

Message from God? Might as well be!

What about Climate Change? Mayor Blumberg just endorsed Obama, citing climate change as a main reason and citing his moves on car efficiency and alternative energy, and Obama makes brief comments about it in campaign speeches, but in three debates neither candidate even mentioned it! 

For those who think that the Good Lord wouldn't let us destroy our planet, consider this: 

Right before a critical election, with one of the candidates aligned with the "climate change deniers" and huge donations from the oil and coal industries in play, the largest and most powerful North Atlantic storm ever recorded comes cruising along our coast, makes a sharp left turn at full moon, sends the powerful north wall of the eye of the huricaine smashing straight into New York Harbor and swamps the city. 

If you're into looking for messages from the Almighty, how about that one? 

It was enough to get Mayor Blumberg to speak out. How about Obama and Romney? 

Let's hear it guys! 

No to New Voting Machines! Demand paper ballots!

Comment on T&G article In Worcester, ballot counting a slow process  By Nick Kotsopoulos,

Beware new ballot machines! And new vote counting machines too!  From what I've been reading practically every voting machine on the market is hackable, most of it has "proprietary software" that the City and State won't even be allowed to look at.  The owners of these companies have been known to brag that they can deliver an election to this or that candidate.  

Even if the owners of these machines are completely honest, trusting our votes to a "black box" owned by a private corporation and trusting them to tell us how we voted seriously undermines the appearance of fairness and public trust.

To me that's the Gold Standard is hand-counted paper ballots.  Most European countries by law don't allow anything but hand counted paper ballots, for very good reason. With representatives of each party and the City looking over the shoulder of the officials doing the counting, it can take a while, but I say tough noogies!  Let'em wait for us to count them!  An honest vote count is worth a few more hours of waiting!  

If we do buy new voting machines, the absolute bottom line, one we should be ready to go to the mat for, the City must not even bid on anything with proprietary software which can't be printed out and examined by our own experts. Every detail of exactly what the machine does with our votes and how it does it, and every software update or patch, has to be open book, public record, and fully examined before it is installed and used.  

Any standard lower than this is giving some corporation a license to steal our votes, and paying them good money for it to boot!  

But why bother with all of that?  Why not paper ballots?  They're traceable, they're re-countable, and they don't break down.  When the day comes that the votes from Massachusetts decide a presidential election and the whole country is waiting as we finish our hand count, we can beam with pride as we model for the rest of the nation what an old fashioned honest vote count looks like! 

Why do charges of elitism against Dems stick?

L*** wrote:   "BTW, MSNBC has not lied to us and they were needed desperately to counter part or debunk the lies on Fox.  That is FACT, G***.

I agree, and I personally get a charge out of Rachel Maddow when I happen to see one of her shows, but G*** is right - to a working person, MSNBC and Rachel can seem condescending, snobbish, out of touch with our reality, even insulting. 

We need a different kind of politics. One that comes from the grass roots, that is about people coming together to take back our world, one where how much money or education you have makes no difference, where what you contribute to others and how well you work with others is what matters.  That kind of politics has NEVER been on television.  

As a matter of fact, even msnbc-type politics has never been and still isn't on broadcast network television.  In 1968, the Smothers Brothers took a few steps down that road - and promptly got yanked.  I haven't forgotten that.  

I understand in my gut what moves the Tea Party, and except for some of their right wing Republican leaders I've always felt comfortable walking into a Tea Party crowd and talking.  But the independence of the Tea Party is a dangerous illusion - their agenda is paid for by billionaires and their ideas justify their power.  Their politics would trade a corrupt corporate-ruled government for the naked rule of the corporations. 

And I understand how Dem politicians can get painted as the enemy of regular people and how for some folk it could stick - not fully leveling with us, taking their plays from the DNC and the centrist advisors the Dems hired for them, and it shows.   

Politicians who come closer to the truth about our situation, who actually try to represent our real interests within limits, can sometimes be more painful to hear.  Their failure to be fully on our side, to be fully one with us, to cut loose their ties to the corporations and the world of executives, administrators, donors and experts who presume to know better than we do what we need, can feel like a betrayal.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lincoln and the two-party system

Reply to comment in T&G on Spielberg's new film on Lincoln:


Agreed, we need another Lincoln. Or another Roosevelt. Neither man however emerged from the strength of their own characters. Both were in fact shaped by the tigers they were riding.

As in our own time, the 1850's saw the failure of a set of election rules that locked in a two-party system - Whigs and Democrats - two alliances of contesting forces. Then as now, those who operated outside the two main parties were seen as spoilers, voices in the wilderness.  In the 1840's and early '50's, small anti-slavery parties apparently were going nowhere.

Lincoln's election came about with the shattering of the two-party system, climaxing in 1860 with a four-way race which Lincoln won with less than 40% of the popular vote.  The two parties had proven unable to contain the issue of slavery - or rather the rivalry between the slaveowners who ruled the Southern States and the rest of the nation.

Unfortunately that breakup led to a civil war of breathtaking savagery. One shudders to think how it might have ended if fought with today's weapons!

The crisis of the two party system today is rooted in the decisive influence over both parties - at the national level at least - of the giant international banks and corporations and their owners, hell-bent on control of the planet in pursuit of ever larger profits. Those who challenge this power from within one of the parties must unite with the corporatist leadership to win elections, but risk being discredited in the eyes of regular people for that. Any effort to challenge the corporate powers from outside the two parties gets marginalized by the dynamics of the system - and corporate control of the media.

The events of the 1850's, like those of the 1930's, were driven by the beliefs and actions of regular people bursting through the constraints of the political system.  As that pressure keeps building, containing it grows ever harder.

How events unfolded in Lincoln's time is well worth studying for the lessons it may hold.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Science, Pseudo-science and Statistical Noise

A scientist wrote:

<   [The] Index of /Misc._Physics/SB [reports that the San Diego] courthouse tower clock records 5.2 quake


<   [A list member who was there] reports he didn't feel the quake.

<   [The writer]  wonders, are after-shocks of statistical interest?  >

My reply:

At first reading, that seems like such a strange question for a scientist to ask, but then maybe it's not.  You're simply saying after-shocks are just statistical noise, signifying nothing, right?  A 5.2 quake wouldn't be just random noise here in Massachusetts, but I can imagine it well might be in Santa Barbara.   

I'm sure you would agree that people discovering and noticing the background noise from any phenomenon of the natural world is a wonderful thing, and an opening to connect and engage them in enjoyable and even useful conversations.  

People, scientists included, evidently have a built-in need to concentrate on the noise and tease a meaningful signal out of it.  We scientists have elevated that need to a new level, inventing and using powerful techniques and tools for verifying that a signal is real, devising explanations of its meaning, verifying and coming to agreement that an explanation makes sense.  (Not always in that order.)  Scientists and lay people alike, we all seem to have built into us - perhaps even built into our wiring - a need to find that signal in the noise, and tease out its meaning.  Many of you will know of experiments that demonstrate this.

Perhaps this apparently innate urge derives from the instincts of the hunter, sitting silently and still in the forest, listening to the chorus of sounds, watching the field of movements, sensing the medley of scents, feeling every vibration of the earth, waiting for a signal or combination of signals that might indicate food or danger, tuning out the rest.  

That we all share this innate capacity is part of what makes it possible to engage with regular people, to share with them our ways of thinking, reasoning and understanding, and to share with them tools for thinking more powerfully about the natural world and about policy questions that concern it.

This innate capacity is also preyed upon by moneyed interests, who use it to rob people of their earnings and shape their political choices.  

I had a friend, "Joe", who was a compulsive gambler.  I used to count cards for him at the Blackjack Tables, and he would always leave them a bit ahead.  But then he would feel the need to prove to me that he could beat the other games as well.  Sometimes he would win at those for a while, but in the end he would always leave the casino broke.  At one table, Joe and each other player had their own private system for finding the pattern in the way the cards were dealt.  As far as I could determine, the cards were dealt as close to entirely randomly as human ingenuity could devise, but because this random pattern would repeat every 400 cards or so a computer could beat this game.  That pattern however would be far beyond the capacity of the human mind to see and remember, so they were all trying to find a simpler one.  The house even provided them with charts, tables and pencils to help them with their search for the winning formula.  

Perhaps an opposite case is that of the deniers of natural selection and global warming and their following.  The leading "deniers" include theocrats, charlatans and pseudo-scientists, many in the pay of powerful monied interests.  A crucial piece of their strategy is persuading people that if they can't sense the signal in the noise.  They then argue on religious authority that there should be no signal.  

Once persuaded, people will simply not see the signal even when it's as plain as day and carefully explained to them.  

I'm sure we all know of examples of this kind of error among scientists as well. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reply to a defender of the NRA

JohnShade, you write that "... [the] same could be said for churches, unions, civil society organizations and government. Each is an organization that exists to propagate itself before any other goal."
Please consider what you're saying. You are excusing the NRA (and no doubt other organizations and politicians in your life) with the excuse "they all do it, they're all like that, so live with it."
It is in our nature to try to understand others, other organizations and societies from the starting assumption that they are like ourselves, like the groups we know and are part of. This is very limiting. There is a whole world out there of regular people self organizing and organizing for the common good, people and groups whose essential goodness becomes invisible to you when seen through this lens.
Consider in your own life. Do you belong to a local NRA group? Is *it* "there to make money"? Are you in it to make money? Is your local church, lodge or boy scout troop, militia or oath keepers group there to make money?
If your answer is no, then why are so many of these organizations organized from the top around the principles of money, profit, self perpetuation and self-aggrandizement? If that's not what human nature dictates at a small scale, then possibly, just possibly, it isn't a universal law of nature for larger formations either.
Perhaps when you really start looking for these exceptions to the rule, from a place of accepting the possibility they exist rather than a belief that they can't, you will find some.
Your first attempts will very likely be failures and disappointments. If you've spent your adult life assuming all large organizations are corrupt and self-seeking, your skill at sorting the good from the bad is undeveloped. So promise yourself from the start that you won't give up in despair and curse the lot and go back to your old beliefs the first time you are disappointed or feel betrayed by the movement or organization whose honesty and integrity you decided to trust.
Instead, commit now, at the start of your search for honest leaders, organizations and movements, to take each disappointment as a learning moment. Commit now to seriously examining what were the signs and indications of corruption, profit-seeking and self-aggrandizement that you should have picked up on. Commit to grieving your loss and then going back to trying, to continuing your search for groups that don't display those signs and indications.
The reality is that they're all around you, but it will take real work to learn how to see and trust them. The world of free people struggling to learn how to self-organize and cooperate in small and large scale efforts is all around you. But if we're to survive and save our communities, our country, our civilization, we need to learn to see with new eyes. Know that everyone who has gone before you has had to struggle with this, and is still struggling with it.
Undoubtedly in some ways you are already part of the struggle toward this new way of seeing. But you need to learn to distinguish between those leaders and groups who would lead us in circles and pit us against each other, and those that are genuinely part of this path of transformation.
And then  teach what you've learned to your friends, your children, your neighbors and your battle buddies.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

An even deeper layer of the crisis

Another letter to the investors, posted as a comment to:


Good article, good discussion of the fantasy world of financial capital and how all the Fed's efforts to find a way out of the trap are only setting the stage for a financial panic.

Mr. Fitzgerald points to a root problem of consumers de-leveraging and corporations being afraid to invest in the real economy.  However I believe there is another deeper layer here.

The past 12 years and especially the past 4 have seen rapid increases in productivity even as wages and production have stagnated and declined.  The decline in the income of regular people - roughly the 90% - in both relative and absolute terms, taken together with their enormous debt burden and declining personal wealth, has resulted in an "accumulation trap", where any investment in economic expansion sufficient to increase employment comes up against the barrier that working people's purchasing power is insufficient to support any resulting increase in output.  With output stagnant, any investment in the "real economy" only goes into further lowering costs, especially wage costs, which drives us even deeper into the accumulation trap.  This accumulation trap is reflected also on the financial side, where claims against a stagnant real economy are proliferating.  The economic system is thus teetering on the brink of a massive implosion, which could take the form of

  #  a profound deflationary depression, which will go on until massive-scale corporate bankruptcies clear the decks for a new round of expansion, or

  #  an inflationary depression which wipes out all claims from fixed-principal instruments.

Either will come at a huge social cost.

Historically there have been three paths of escape from an accumulation trap:

  #  a World War vast enough to result in destruction of much of the world's physical capital;

  #   a revolution that liquidates the claims of all property owners on the economy; or

  #   a redistributive "New Deal" that taxes away much of the accumulated paper claims of the wealthy and allows worker organizations to win back their historic share of production, clearing the decks for a new round of the game.

A new world war would inevitably devolve into nuclear war, which would be unlikely to spare any advanced country from total destruction, and a revolution would be resisted bitterly and would almost certainly devolve into a nuclear civil war.  That leaves a new "New Deal" as not only the least destructive path in terms of lives and fortunes, but really the only one that makes any sense.  It would be a hard pill for the super-rich to swallow, but it would save the game they love, so they could play again.

Winning a New Deal would require a government, backed by an alliance of mass movements and far-thinking elements of the upper classes, with the capacity and will to force the winners of the current round of the game to turn in most of their winnings.

The current program of the Democratic Party gives lip service to this direction, but doesn't begin to go far enough to make a critical difference.  The Republican Party, representing apparently a clear consensus of the corporate rich, is committed to doing everything possible to prevent any form of government redistribution.  And we don't now have mass movements in the US capable of challenging the power of the elite in combination with dissident elements of it, such as happened in the '30's.

The outlook I fear is not good.

ps I think it unlikely that this post on this site will change any minds.  I see organizing mass movements as the only possible path for the working people.  What path makes most sense will depend on the circumstances as they unfold.  And there is no alternative to playing the game as we find it, even as the unthinkable becomes the reality that's "on the table".

Friday, October 12, 2012

Letter to the readers of Forbes

Comment to Op/Ed in Forbes, 10/11/12, by Peter Ferrara:

Obama's Real Unemployment Rate Is 14.7%, And A Recession's On The Way

Ferrara’s analysis of the unemployment situation is spot-on, and matches what we at a local unemployment group in Central Massachusetts have been seeing on the ground.

Working people here almost without exception dismiss the official statistics with contempt, and the general consensus is that the real local unemployment rate including involuntary part timers is somewhere around 20%. And yes, we have seen an uptick in people getting part time work. The mood among those over 40 is deep sullen anger and cynicism masked by fear and a sense of hopelessness. Among younger working-folk there is widespread passivity and disconnection, and a loss of belief in the value of hard work to achieve long-term goals. Truly a social disaster in the making.

Mr. Ferrara’s policy analysis however is wide of the mark. The economy cannot restart if the working people have no spending power, and our spending power is continuing to tank. The amount of money accumulated by the well to do and the corporations is in the trillions, but it won’t get invested in job-creating projects in the real economy unless there is a prospect for making a profit off those investments – which requires an expanding market. So we’re at an impasse, a classic “accumulation trap”.

I am well aware that most readers of Forbes won’t want to hear this – perhaps many of you simply can’t hear it – but the only way out of the trap we’re in is through a massive wealth transfer or liquidation of claims on wealth, far exceeding anything Obama has proposed. This can happen through a deflationary depression and mass scale corporate bankruptcies; through an inflationary depression that wipes out the value of all fixed-principal investments; through a world war that liquidates a large part of the world’s physical capital; or through confiscatory taxes, with the proceeds going to job-creating projects, wealth redistribution or both.

One way or another, one or more of these will happen. Attempting to control every degree of freedom to contain this systemic crisis as the pressure continues to build can only guarantee an uncontrolled and chaotic outcome.

I would suggest to you that the best, least dangerous option for preserving our system and your place in it is the confiscatory tax route – a new New Deal. I don’t blame you a bit for finding that highly objectionable and distasteful, but don’t let that blind you to the virtues of that path. From our point of view also it is vastly preferable to a depression or war, so you could easily make common cause with us.

Many of you still have not forgiven Franklin Roosevelt for what you saw as a betrayal by one of your own, but the truth is that at a moment much like the present one he saved the system and preserved your place in it by finding ways to release the building pressure and effect a peaceful and orderly wealth transfer sufficient to restart the economy. And through a World War - something that won't work out so well in a nuclear-armed world.

We've all shared the experience of playing Monopoly. At first everyone’s having fun.  A point comes where someone is winning - exciting for them, an engaging struggle to stop them for the rest. Then a point comes where someone has won and all that’s left is the inevitable taking of everything the other players have. At that point the winner may be having a grand old time but everyone else has had it. The saving grace in a Monopoly game is that you can always turn in all your cards and properties, reshuffle the deck and start over - or at least walk away and play another day.

Now imagine a Monopoly game where the stakes for the losers are life and death, but the winners won’t restart the game because winning feels so good. That’s kind of like where we are today. You need to ask yourselves, are you committed to saving the game itself so you can play again? Or are you more committed to holding on to being the winners of the current cycle at all costs?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Press Release on drop in unemployment rate

Stone Riley, a member of the Worcester Unemployment Action Group (WUAG), said:  "We hope that the reported decline in the unemployment rate is real, but the detail figures behind the headlines are confusing, contradictory and vague.  Even if the decline is real we note with concern that the improvement has not been shared by Black and Latino workers - a reflection of widespread discrimination in the job market along many lines, including age, CORI status, credit scores and - incredibly - duration of unemployment."

Chris Horton, a volunteer organizer for WUAG, noted: "We are deeply puzzled by the new BLS figures.  The Employer Survey found an increase in the number of jobs of 114,000.  Since the monthly increase in the adult population is about 87,000, so if we assume no big change in the proportion of people with two jobs, the decrease in the number of unemployed was maybe 27,000.   The Household Survey's 0.3% decrease in the unemployment rate translates into about 450,000 more people with jobs, which is far out of line with the Employer Survey results.

Mr. Horton continued: "The Household Survey reported a big decrease in the number of job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs.  This again is not supported by the Employer Survey data."

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project said: “Major indicators improved, but we cannot afford to ignore the long-term unemployed—the 40 percent of the unemployed who’ve been out of work six months or longer. They’re about to reach the edge of a real and enormous financial cliff at the end of December, when the federal extended unemployment program is slated to expire. Failure of Congress to renew the program will immediately pull the rug out from under two million unemployed Americans, an unconscionable result we cannot and should not tolerate." 

The BLS reported that "The number of … involuntary part-time workers rose from 8.0 million in August to 8.6 million in September."  Mr. Horton commented: "this would mean that all of the increase in the number employed would be in this category, plus another 150,000 moving from full time to part time status involuntarily.  We have seen some increase in people finding part time jobs.  However the Employer survey shows the average workweek increasing by 0.1% over the month, with factory overtime unchanged.  Unfortunately, much as we would like to see a ray of hope, we find the results of this Household Survey to not be credible." 

"The official unemployment rate", Mr. Horton continued, "is inherently misleading in that it excludes perhaps two-thirds of those who want and would take a job.  This makes using it to identify trends inherently difficult, and helps mask the need to take the unemployment crisis as the national emergency that it is."

The Worcester Unemployment Action Group, founded in February 2012, is an all-volunteer association of unemployed working people.  Its statement of purpose describes it as “dedicated to winning an economy with well-paid socially useful work for all and decent support for the unemployed. We seek to hold public and elected officials accountable to all the people, including the unemployed.  We organize mutual support groups, public forums, demonstrations and media events, and we work to bring about changes in policies and laws.”
Please feel free to contact WUAG to request being put in touch with unemployed members who have agreed to give interviews.