Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Dude, Where Are My Hot Rods?

Shortly after the US invasion of Iraq began, the world went aghast to hear that "[s]even nuclear facilities in Iraq . . . [had] been damaged or effectively destroyed by the looting that began in the first days of April" (Barton Gellman, "Seven Nuclear Sites Looted," Washington Post, May 10, 2003, A1). Daoud Awad, "who ran the electrical design department at Tuwaitha," asked: "How could they leave a place like this without protection? . . . It's not an ordinary place. It's too dangerous" (Gellman, May 10, 2003). To belatedly answer Awad's question, nuclear facilities in the United States itself are hardly secure, so it is no wonder that Washington failed to secure nuclear sites in its newly conquered territory. Here is an example of homeland nuclear insecurity:
Two months after discovering that three highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods are missing from a defunct PG&E nuclear reactor near Eureka, officials are still struggling to find them.

Numerous workers in yellow radiation-proof suits are scouring the reactor cooling pond with robotic probes and video cameras, seeking the missing rods; former employees have been interviewed. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sent inspectors to Eureka to monitor the search.

It's the third case in which deadly hot fuel rods have disappeared from a U.S. nuclear power plant since 2000. . . .

Cases of missing fuel rods at three separate power plants since 2000 "show that historically, NRC's material control and accounting practices have been extremely lax," said Ed Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington.

Such cases worry Lyman because they raise doubts about whether the nation can keep track of fuel rods slated for use at a potentially much more dangerous site scheduled for construction near Savannah, Ga. That one is a nuclear plant that will burn weapons-grade plutonium from discarded nuclear bombs. Terrorists might have a field day if they swiped plutonium from such a plant, Lyman said.

In searching for the rods, PG&E officials stress they're trying to avoid repeating mistakes made in the first missing-rods case, four years ago at a plant on the East Coast. That case had a Keystone Kops quality that PG&E officials have no desire to emulate.

In late 2000, officials at the Millstone 1 nuclear plant in Connecticut noticed an odd discrepancy in their records. Soon they realized that they couldn't locate two nuclear fuel rods containing 17 pounds of uranium and 1.4 ounces of plutonium, which were supposed to be sitting within the blue, eerily glowing waters of the plant's cooling pond. As it turned out, the rods had last been seen two decades earlier, but no one noticed they were missing until 2000.

Even so, the missing rods didn't become an exceptionally urgent issue until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Nine days later, the NRC staff reported the missing rods to the agency's board of commissioners. For many months afterward, officials at the Millstone plant used video cameras and other equipment to scour through the plant's equipment-crowded cooling pond, struggling to spot the missing rods -- to no avail.

NRC fined the Millstone plant $288,000 for its failure to keep track of the rods and for its failure to notify the NRC of their loss in a timely manner.

To this day, no one knows where the Millstone rods are. . . . (Kevin Davidson, "Nuclear Waste Mystery," San Francisco Chronicle, August 29, 2004)

Monday, August 30, 2004

Elogio del cimarrón en Venezuela

El Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas presents an exhibition "Oscuridad, Silencio y Ruptura: 150 Años de la Abolición de la Esclavitud en Venezuela" (displayed from August 1 to September 12, 2004). Jesús García, the head of the Network of Afro-Venezuelan Organizations and one of the exhibition's organizers, says:
"En esta oportunidad hacemos énfasis en el valor político de nuestro aporte, concretamente del cimarronaje", como se conoce en América Latina la rebelión de esclavos negros que huían a zonas deshabitadas en las que podían vivir libres, durante la dominación española y hasta que las nuevas repúblicas abolieron la esclavitud.

El énfasis se debe a que "para mostrar la presencia de las culturas africanas en Venezuela se ha privilegiado lo accesorio u ornamental, como la música, la vestimenta o la participación en el culto católico, sin replantearse lo más profundo, que fue su sometimiento a la esclavitud y la rebelión destacada por los cimarrones", dijo García.

Durante siglos, desde la famosa rebelión en 1552 del negro Miguel, quien se proclamó rey de una comunidad de esclavos sublevados en las minas de Buria, 200 kilómetros al oeste de Caracas, miles de cimarrones huyeron de casas y plantaciones de sus amos blancos y crearon decenas de comunidades libres o "cumbes", base de poblaciones de mayoría negra que se desarrollaron en costas y llanuras.

Fenómenos similares se registraron en otros lugares de concentración de esclavos, como Cuba, Haití o Brasil. (Humberto Márquez/Inter Press Service, "Elogio del cimarrón," August 26, 2004)
IPS provides an English translation of Márquez's article: "Black Contribution to Local Culture Has Been Largely Ignored" (August 26, 2004).

The exhibition was brought to my attention by an email newsletter of TransAfrica Forum, an important network of Black intellectuals on the broadly left side of the political spectrum. It is doubtful, however, that Venezuela (or Haiti, Nigeria, Sudan, international debt, and other issues discussed in the same TransAfrica newsletter) is on the radar of politically conscious segments of the Black working class in the United States in the same way as South Africa during the anti-Apartheid struggle, national liberation movements in the rest of Africa, and the Cuban Revolution once were. At least not yet. How do we expand international solidarity beyond links to intellectuals?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Green Party: Local Progress, National Retreat

Carl Mayer, who served on the Township Committee of Princeton, New Jersey and ran on the Green Party ticket for Congress, wrote an acerbic commentary on the Cobb/LaMarche candidacy in Dissident Voice: "Cobb's Cool-Aid: Why the Green Party Will Implode if the Green Party Doesn't Dump Cobb Now" (August 24, 2004). Mayer lists a host of problems:
  • Cobb "has no paid staff and only a handful of people working on his non-effort, which he runs out of his house, using a P.O. Box, part-time."

  • "The Cobb for President Meet-Ups attract all of 167 people, WORLDWIDE: up from 57 people WORLDWIDE before the convention."

  • "Cobb is missing the deadline to get on the ballot in state after state, assuring that he will be on the ballot in many fewer states than the 43 that Nader was on last time."

  • Cobb's ally Medea Benjamin "has written that Cobb should not campaign in 23 battleground states. Assuming Cobb gets on the ballot in 33 states -- a reasonable assumption -- this mean Cobb will be running a 10 state or less non-campaign."

  • "So far he has raised about $150,000, around what is needed for a medium-sized town council race."

  • "Cobb's VP candidate, Pat LaMarche, when campaigning in her home state of Maine, announced at a press conference that she was NOT committed to voting for her running mate, David Cobb, and would vote for Kerry unless Kerry was 70 points ahead in Maine, in which case she could safely vote for Cobb. Well, since Kerry is not going to win any state by 70 points, that means LaMarche will not be voting for the top of her own ticket."

  • Cobb "will get, at most, 250,000 votes nationwide. This means Cobb will have shrunk the Green Party to 1/10 of its size in terms of votes (Nader received 2.7 million in 2000) and to less than 1/20 of its size in terms of money raised."
On the other hand, the Green Party is running the total of 405 candidates in 2004, of whom slightly less than a quarter may be expected to be elected, based on the average of "victory rates" (victories/candidates) of Green candidates 1985-2003 -- thus continuing the party's steady progress in increasing its number of local officeholders despite the certainty that Cobb/LaMarche 2004 will receive fewer votes than Nader/LaDuke 2000 did. That is not an unreasonable hypothesis, as many of the Green candidates are running for nonpartisan local offices and are likely to win or lose mainly on the strengths and weaknesses of their own campaigns, regardless of the fortune of the party's presidential ticket.

The question is whether the Green Party's local progress and national retreat is a one-time event, a temporary concession to the Democratic Party's aggressive Anybody But Nader campaign against a prominent left-wing alternative to John Kerry, or it becomes a precedent which will define the Green Party's future, effectively making it irrelevant in national politics. If the former, leftists who want a party of the working class and our allies can make the Green Party our home, working within it to make it a viable challenger to the Democratic and Republican Parties in national politics in 2008, recruiting activists and organizers for it out of such social movements as movements against the occupations of Iraq and Palestine. If the latter, however, we may have to conclude that the Green Party is going the way of other recent attempts at third-party building like the Labor Party and create a new political party willing to fight for the allegiance of working-class voters in not just one-party states but also battleground states, expanding the scope of working-class political participation and challenging rank-and-file Democrats at odds with the Democratic Party elite to join us.

After the November election, leftists inside and outside the Green Party who are discontent with the Green Party's AWOL from national politics in 2004 should get together and discuss what is to be done.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Baghdad in No Particular Order

Roberta Smith's review "Caution: Angry Artists at Work" surveys myriad works of activist art created in outraged reaction to the George W. Bush administration, displayed all over New York City, scheduled to coincide with the Republican National Convention: "At the moment, President Bush and the G.O.P. are the chief art-world targets: no one seems to have a critical word to say about the failings of the Democrats" (New York Times, August 27, 2004). Even among the works reviewed by Smith, however, there are exceptions. For instance, Paul Chan's film Baghdad in No Particular Order (2003), "an impressionistic meditation on prewar Iraq that from the present perspective amounts to an unusually strong antiwar statement" (Smith, August 27, 2004).

Safar drawing for his son Anoush (December 18, 2002) / Paul Chan
Chan created a companion website of the same title, which, as well as the film itself, presents a montage of "[n]otes, gifts, promises, paintings, trash, and other ephemera from the city which is now hardly a city." The montage tells us: "This Is the Baghdad You Destroyed." Chan's work reminds us that the destruction had already begun long before Bush took the White House: "Baghdad reminds me of Paris and Detroit. The Tigris cuts the city like the Seine. And because the city has not been able to rebuild after the first gulf war, buildings and streets display signs of past carnage. Magnificent and ruinous cityscapes. Like Detroit" (Chan, "Map," Baghdad in No Particular Order).

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ballot Access: Unsafe in Any State

Take a look at the latest Los Angeles Times poll:
President Bush has moved past Sen. John F. Kerry in three of the most hotly contested Midwestern battleground states despite continued doubts about the country's direction and the president's policies, new Los Angeles Times polls have found. . . .

In Missouri, Bush leads among registered voters 46% to 44%; in Wisconsin, he leads 48% to 44%; and in Ohio, the president holds a 49% to 44% advantage, the surveys found.

Like a national Times poll released Wednesday, the surveys underscore the difficulty Kerry has had converting a general desire for change into support for his candidacy. The Massachusetts senator trails Bush even though a majority of voters in all three states said the country is not better off because of Bush's policies and "needs to move in a new direction."

But while Bush is drawing support from virtually all the voters who back his policy direction, Kerry is attracting only about four-fifths or fewer of the voters in the three states who said they want a new course. . . .

Times polls in June showed Kerry and Bush tied in Wisconsin, Kerry holding a statistically insignificant one-point advantage in Ohio, and the president leading 48% to 42% in Missouri. Compared to those numbers, the race has tightened somewhat in Missouri and edged slightly toward Bush in Wisconsin and Ohio. . . .

In Ohio, Bush's overall approval rating remained mired at 47%, unchanged from June, with 50% disapproving. And in Missouri and Wisconsin, slightly more voters disapproved than approved of his handling of the economy; the dissatisfaction peaked in Ohio, which has lost 230,000 jobs since Bush took office, with 52% disapproving. (emphasis added, Ronald Brownstein and Kathleen Hennessey, "Bush Leads Kerry in 3 Key States," August 26, 2004)
There is a chance that the Nader/Camejo campaign will attract more than one fifth of the voters who "want a new course" and yet cannot believe that Kerry would provide it.

Hence the Democratic Party's battle to exclude Nader/Camejo from the ballots -- even in Ohio, where "Ralph Nader's Ohio supporters on Wednesday turned in petitions with 14,473 signatures to Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, nearly three times the 5,000 signatures needed to get Nader on the state's Nov. 2 presidential ballot as an independent" (emphasis added, "Signatures Exceed Count Needed for Ohio Ballot," Indianapolis Star, August 19, 2004).
The Butler County Board of Elections ruled that only 24 of Nader's 633 petition signatures -- less than 4 percent -- were valid in the county.

Butler was the first major Ohio county to verify its share of petitions carrying a total 14,473 signatures submitted by Nader backers to Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell Aug. 18, said Dan Trevas of the Ohio Democratic Party [dan@ohiodems.org/614-221-6563 x129], which has asked election boards to scrutinize Nader petitions. . . .

"Boy, they sure don't want anyone to have a choice, do they?" Kevin Zeese, national spokesman for the Nader campaign, said Wednesday. He called the Butler County ruling "disgusting."

Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Blackwell, said that "a 95 percent error rate is extremely high, and perhaps unprecedented." (emphasis added, John Kiesewetter, "Nader Campaign Set Back: Butler Co. Accepts Only 4% of Ballot Petition Signatures," Cincinnati Enquirer, August 26, 2004)
See, also, Mary Lolli, "County Rejects Most Nader Petitions" (Journal News, August 27, 2004). And who says the Republicans support the Nader/Camejo campaign? In Butler, Board of Elections Deputy Director Betty McGary, a Democrat, and Board of Elections Director Robert Mosketti, a Republican, collaborated with each other to disqualify the signatures.

The Democrats' "Anybody But Nader" campaign is nationwide, as documented, for instance, by Patrick Martin in "Democrats’ Drive to Keep Nader off Ballot: a Reactionary Attack on Democratic Rights" (WSWS.org, August 26, 2004), encompassing not just battleground states like Michigan but also such one-party states as Illinois. Intellectuals such as Medea Benjamin and Ted Glick have argued that the Green Party should adopt a "safe state" strategy. However, a "safe state" strategy is not even feasible, much less strategic, since the Democratic Party is bent on kicking Any Prominent Leftist off the ballot everywhere, as it always has and will be.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"Whoever Wins . . . We Lose"

Pop culture often becomes a medium through which the politically repressed returns. The Manchurian Candidate -- in which "[t]he chief danger to the republic . . . emanates not from the extremes -- a fanatical foreign enemy combined with a zealous administration -- but from the center, from the moderate wing of the opposition party and its corporate sponsors" (A. O. Scott, "Remembrance of Things Planted Deep in the Mind," New York Times, July 30, 2004) -- is one example. Alien vs. Predator is another. Its tagline, "Whoever Wins . . . We Lose," succinctly sums up the 2004 presidential election. Not surprisingly, it has already inspired a number of visual parodies.

Sean Bonner, August 11, 2004

Scott Ricamore, August 13, 2004
Cf. Sam Smith, "The Election Is Over -- We Lost: Now, on to November 3rd" (March 2004).

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Black and Latino Voters for Nader

One of the best kept secrets of this presidential election year is that Ralph Nader has been polling better in 2004 than 2000, despite the relentless barrage of attacks by Anybody But Nader intellectuals: "Nader 2004 > Nader 2000" (August 07, 2004); and "One Vote, One Party, NO Choice" (August 13, 2004). Another is higher levels of Black and Latino support for Nader/Camejo in 2004 than 2000:
With Nader thrown in, Kerry's percentage among black voters declined from 81 percent to 73 percent. Nader drew 10 percent of black voters, dropping Bush to only 9 percent.

Among Latino voters in a three-way race, Kerry's support fell from 57 percent to 52 percent, while Bush's fell from 38 percent to 35 percent. Nader was the choice of 8 percent of Latino voters. (emphasis added, CNN, "Poll: Kerry Leads among Minority Voters," July 6, 2004)
As liberal intellectuals have moved to the right, working-class voters, especially working-class voters of color, have moved to the left.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Organizing Six Million Nader/Camejo Supporters

MoveOn, a Democratic Party front group, is said to have 2.5 million "members" (Don Hazen, "Taking It to the Streets," AlterNet, August 25, 2004). Supporters of the Democratic Party are duly impressed, but should we, leftists who seek to create a political party of the working class and our allies?

According to the latest Gallup survey of voters in Ohio, among the registered voters, Ralph Nader gets 5%, and among the likely voters, he gets 4% (David W. Moore, "Close Presidential Race in Ohio: Kerry 48%, Bush 46% among Likely Voters," Gallup.com, August 19, 2004). Nationwide, 3% of likely voters and 5% of registered voters say they support Nader/Camejo 2004 ("USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll Results," USA Today, August 23, 2004). It is safe to say that Nader/Camejo supporters in the USA, not counting non-citizens, number six millions or more this year (calculated conservatively based on the 2000 data of registered voters: "Registered Voter Turnout Improved in 2000 Presidential Election, Census Bureau Reports," February 27, 2004). That is a group larger than and to the left of the subscribers to MoveOn mailing lists.

Leftists ought to take interest in organizing six-million-strong Nader/Camejo supporters. Don't leave the task of organizing to the Nader/Camejo campaign.

After the 2000 election, some -- Greens and non-Greens -- grumbled that "Nader didn't organize the Nader voters." Nonsense. Nader's job is to serve as a figurehead, lending us his hard-earned national name recognition -- no more and no less. It is our job, i.e. the job of rank-and-file organizers, to make use of Nader's name to find and organize Nader supporters. For leftists, an electoral campaign like Nader/Camejo 2004 is a means, not an end in itself. Use the campaign as an occasion that allows us to go out and discover our allies who have not met us -- and one another -- yet. We should be building our own network -- a collection of lists of names and contact information -- of citizens and residents of the United States who are opposed to the rule of capitalist empire as a matter of principle, and there is no better way of doing so than asking people whether they support Nader/Camejo this year. And that's the network that we can use after November 2, 2004. To rebuild the movement against the occupations of Iraq and Palestine, and to organize core supporters of independent political action, i.e. political action by and for the working class and our allies, unbounded by the limits of acceptable speech and behavior dictated by the Democratic Party elite.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Defending Democracy from the "Anybody But Nader" Gang

The Democrats claim that they are campaigning for "Anybody But Bush." That is either a lie or a bad faith. Their creed is, in truth, Anybody But Nader.

I hate George W. Bush more than Democrats do. I've certainly organized and participated in more anti-Bush protests than them. In fact, my fellow left-wing activists and I were already doing all we could to build up opposition to the war on Afghanistan for which all Democratic politicians except for The Honorable Barbara Lee voted.

The Anybody But Nader gang do prefer John Kerry to Bush, but they are NOT opposed to Bush being on the ballots, and they would live with Bush should Kerry manage to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. What they ARE opposed to is Nader getting on the ballots, for they can't tolerate the fact that anyone as well known as Nader is running without ruling-class permission, challenging the elite consensus for plutocracy and imperialism. Hence their crusade against the most basic of democratic rights -- the right to participate in politics: e.g.,
  • Ralph Nader's efforts to get his name on presidential ballots in important swing states are becoming mired in legal challenges and charges of fraud by Democrats who have mounted an extensive campaign to keep him from becoming a factor in this year's election.

    . . . [L]ocal Democratic parties across the country, aided by a group of lawyers calling themselves the Ballot Project Inc., have initiated mini-campaigns to stop him, state by state.

    "The Democrats are making this as difficult and as debilitating for him as possible, making him expend blood, sweat and tears for every inch," said Charles E. Cook Jr., a nonpartisan analyst who tracks races in every state. "He has only so many hours in the day and so many resources. And to the extent that he's tied up trying to get on the ballots, he's not getting any kind of message across."

    So far, only three states have closed the door on Mr. Nader: Georgia, Oklahoma and Indiana. He seems close to getting on the ballot in 11 states, either on the Reform Party line or as an independent, though he could still face challenges in some. He has filed petitions in about 20 others and is awaiting rulings on their validity. He has yet to file in 18 states.

    Most of Mr. Nader's deadlines come this month: the due dates for 23 states fall from Aug. 2 to Aug. 24, meaning he has had to meet almost daily deadlines across the country while fending off lawsuits.

    He is entangled in an assortment of suits, many in states that may be the most contested in November. He is in court in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and West Virginia, and faces potential suits or administrative challenges in Oregon, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and Maine. He is also in court in Texas and Illinois, which are not swing states but where his challenge to state ballot requirement is diverting his time and resources.

    The legal strategies in most states are being developed by local Democrats, but the Ballot Project is helping them to find lawyers to work pro bono and share information. "We're doing everything we can to facilitate lawyers in over 20 states," said Toby Moffett, a Washington lobbyist and former Connecticut congressman, who, with Elizabeth Holtzman, a former congresswoman from New York, is overseeing the Ballot Project.

    Because of federal campaign finance laws, the project cannot coordinate its activities with either the Kerry campaign or the national Democratic Party, but the party approves of the legal challenges, said Jano Cabrera, a spokesman, and is closely monitoring Mr. Nader's progress.

    . . . The requirements vary from the minimal in Louisiana and Colorado, which require only that a candidate pay $500, to the more onerous, like Texas, which required 64,000 signatures as early as May 10.

    "There is no other country in the world that has free elections that forces a candidate for chief executive to have to wrestle with 51 separate sets of laws," said Richard Winger, an expert on ballot access laws. . . .

    "Where are the battles?" asked Kevin Zeese, Mr. Nader's spokesman. "Everywhere. It doesn't matter if it's a swing state or a safe state. The Democrats are doing their best to harass us everywhere. Their goal is to divert our resources and bleed our campaign."

    At the same time, challenging the Nader petitions is "extremely difficult," said Dan Booker, a partner at Reed Smith, a Pittsburgh law firm that helped build the case against Mr. Nader in Pennsylvania.

    The drive by Pennsylvania Democrats is one of the most extensive and offers a glimpse into what it takes to mount such a challenge.

    Mr. Booker said that 8 to 10 lawyers in his firm were working pro bono on the case, 80 hours each a week for two weeks, and could end up working six more weeks. The firm also took on more than 100 volunteers.

    Working with Reed Smith was a Philadelphia lawyer, Gregory M. Harvey, an elections specialist who has been detached from his firm while he organized 70 volunteers at his end of the state. . . .

    On Aug. 2, the Nader campaign filed about 47,000 signatures in Harrisburg. The Democrats responded with the equivalent of a statewide bucket brigade: Officials in Harrisburg, under the auspices of H. William DeWeese, the House minority leader, photocopied the 47,000 signatures and trucked them to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where volunteers began examining them line by line. They had one week in which to file their challenge.

    In Pittsburgh, software programmers and data-entry volunteers occupied three conference rooms at Reed Smith, where they created a database of the 47,000 names that were checked against the state's list of registered voters.

    In Philadelphia, Mr. Harvey sent volunteers to the city board of elections, where they compared the signatures from the petitions with those on voter registration lists.

    . . . On Aug. 11, James Gardner Colins, president judge of the Commonwealth Court, ordered all parties to meet Thursday to set a date for hearing the evidence. He took the highly unusual step of ordering at least five judges in courtrooms throughout the state to hear the individual signature challenges simultaneously. That means at least five cadres of lawyers for the challengers and for Mr. Nader and probably handwriting experts for each side in each courtroom. . . .

    Mr. Zeese said it was "crazy" to have to appear in five courtrooms at once. "This is a perfect game plan for how to destroy independent politics in this country," he said, accusing Democrats of "antidemocratic activities." (Katharine Q. Seelye, "Democrats' Legal Challenges Impede Nader," August 19, 2004)

  • Democrats will soon air TV ads in Wisconsin and New Mexico trying to link Republican groups to independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

    The Nader Factor -- led by former campaign workers for presidential hopefuls Wesley Clark, John Edwards, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt -- expects to spend up to $50,000 on the ads.

    The spots are set to launch Tuesday in Madison and Albuquerque, N.M., and run through Sunday. (Juliet Williams/The Associated Press, "Anti-Nader Coalition to Air Ads in Wisconsin," The Post-Crescent, August 21, 2004)
Ohio, too, may become a ballot access battleground. Even though Ohio petitioners for Nader/Camejo submitted 14,473 signatures -- nearly three times the required 5,000 in Ohio -- "Don McTigue, a Columbus lawyer who specializes in election law, was hired by the Ohio Democratic Party to scrutinize" them; and Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Dan Trevas (dan@ohiodems.org/614-221-6563 x129) "said party officials will decide, in consultation with McTigue, whether they want to file legal challenges to Nader's petition" (Alan Johnson and Jonathan Riskind, "Nader Petitions Questioned: Ohio Democrats Might Fight Independent's Bid to Get on Ballot," Columbus Dispatch, August 21, 2004, p. B1).

If the Ohio Democrats do file legal challenges, all who defend voting rights, not just Nader/Camjo supporters, should hold a protest or a sit-in or street theater at the Ohio Democratic Party headquarters (271 E. State St. Columbus, Ohio 43215)!!! And so should all who live in the states where the Democrats have already trampled, or are trampling, on the civil rights of Nader/Camejo voters. The Nader/Camjo campaign now needs to become more than a good fight on the electoral front. It's time to take action in the streets.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

In the Spirit of Walt Contreras Sheasby

Walt Contreras Sheasby, an outstanding Red/Green activist and theorist, died. His life was tragically cut short by the West Nile virus, the spread of which has been associated with climate change exacerbated by capitalism.

Here is a bibliography of recent works (both theoretical inquiries and occasional polemics) by Walt. My fellow activists -- read them and learn from him, so we can carry on the unfinished work of bringing about a new world free from brutal exploitation, dehumanizing oppression, and uncontrollable destruction of nature:
  • "Third Parties '96: Birds of a Feather..." (Synthesis/Regeneration 10, Spring 1996)

  • "Inverted World: Karl Marx on Estrangement of Nature and Society" (Capitalism Nature Socialism 32.8-4, December 1997)

  • "Handy Hints for Building Your Own Ralph Nader Campaign" (Synthesis/Regeneration 11, Fall 1996)

  • "Refor'Madness" (Progressive Populist, September 1996)

  • "Anti-Prometheus, Post-Marx: The Real and the Myth in Green Theory" (Organization & Environment: International Journal for Ecosocial Research 12.1, March 1999 )

  • "Growing the Red/Green Paradigm: Ecological Socialism in Root and Branch" (Synthesis/Regeneration 22, Spring 2000)

  • "Ralph Nader and the Legacy of Revolt" (Against the Current 15.4 [88], September/October 2000; 15.5 [89], November/December 2000; 15.6 [90], January/February 2001)

  • "Marx at Karlsbad" (Capitalism Nature Socialism 12.3, September 2001, pp. 91-97)

  • "The Enemy of Nature and the Nature of the Enemy" (Capitalism Nature Socialism 13.4, December 2002, available at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ecosocialism/message/1253 and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ecosocialism/message/1254)

  • "The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World" (Organization & Environment: International Journal for Ecosocial Research 15.4, December 2002)

  • "George Soros and the Rise of the Neo-centrics" (Citizine, December 2003)

  • "Fascism and the American Polity" (Dissident Voice, January 13, 2004)

  • "J. R. R. Tolkien: Saving the Ecosystems of Middle Earth" (Marxism, March 29, 2004)

  • "Tolkien and Radical Ecology in the Sixties" (Marxism, April 21, 2004)

  • "Democrats Launch Anti-Nader Campaign" (Citizine, May 28, 2004)

  • "Karl Marx and the Victorians' Nature: the Evolution of a Deeper View: Part One: Oceanus" (Capitalism Nature Socialism 15.2, June 2004, pp. 47-64)

  • "Objections to Nader" (The UnRepentantNaderVoter, June 22, 2004)

  • "The Green Divide: Conflict, and No Consensus" (Greens for Nader, July 4, 2004)

  • "How the Greens Chose Kerry over Nader" (The UnRepentantNaderVoter, July 19, 2004)

  • "Karl Marx and the Victorians' Nature: the Evolution of a Deeper View: Part Two: the Age of Aquaria" (Capitalism Nature Socialism 15.3, September 2004, pp. 59-78)

Friday, August 20, 2004

Iraqi Footballers Speak Up

George W. Bush has been exploiting Iraqi athletes for his "re-election" campaign ads: "In those spots, the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan appear as a narrator says, 'At this Olympics there will be two more free nations -- and two fewer terrorist regimes'" (Grant Wahl, "Iraqi Soccer players Angered by Bush Campaign Ads," Sports Illustrated, August 19, 2004). Sports Illustrated reports that Iraqi footballers are outraged:
"Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," [Iraqi midfielder Salih] Sadir told SI.com through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. "He can find another way to advertise himself."

Salih Sadir, left, has celebrated two goals for the surprising Iraqis in Greece, but will find his return home quite sobering. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush's TV advertisement. "How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?" Manajid told me. "He has committed so many crimes." . . .

To a man, members of the Iraqi Olympic delegation say they are glad that former Olympic committee head Uday Hussein, who was responsible for the serial torture of Iraqi athletes and was killed four months after the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003, is no longer in power.

But they also find it offensive that Bush is using Iraq for his own gain when they do not support his administration's actions. "My problems are not with the American people," says Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad. "They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?" . . .

Sadir, Wednesday's goal-scorer, used to be the star player for the professional soccer team in Najaf. In the city in which 20,000 fans used to fill the stadium and chant Sadir's name, U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled loyalists to rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr for the past two weeks. Najaf lies in ruins.

"I want the violence and the war to go away from the city," says Sadir, 21. "We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away."

Manajid, 22, who nearly scored his own goal with a driven header on Wednesday, hails from the city of Fallujah. He says coalition forces killed Manajid's cousin, Omar Jabbar al-Aziz, who was fighting as an insurgent, and several of his friends. In fact, Manajid says, if he were not playing soccer he would "for sure" be fighting as part of the resistance.

"I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?" Manajid says. "Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq."

Everyone agrees that Iraq's soccer team is one of the Olympics' most remarkable stories. If the Iraqis beat Australia on Saturday -- which is entirely possible, given their performance so far -- they would reach the semifinals. Three of the four semifinalists will earn medals, a prospect that seemed unthinkable for Iraq before this tournament.

When the Games are over, though, Coach Hamad says, they will have to return home to a place where they fear walking the streets. "The war is not secure," says Hamad, 43. "Many people hate America now. The Americans have lost many people around the world -- and that is what is happening in America also." (Wahl, August 19, 2004)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Nader in Ohio: Go Bucks!

"Ralph Nader's Ohio supporters on Wednesday turned in petitions with 14,473 signatures to Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, nearly three times the 5,000 signatures needed to get Nader on the state's Nov. 2 presidential ballot as an independent" (emphasis added, "Signatures Exceed Count Needed for Ohio Ballot," Indianapolis Star, August 19, 2004).

It helped that the Democratic Party is truly feeble in Ohio, unable to sabotage us!

According to the latest Gallup survey of voters in Ohio, among the registered voters, Nader gets 5%, and among the likely voters, he gets 4% (David W. Moore, "Close Presidential Race in Ohio: Kerry 48%, Bush 46% among Likely Voters," Gallup.com, August 19, 2004).

Yea! Go Bucks!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Democratic Party, Unions, and Israel

Is there a line of attack that can potentially unite leftists interested in a campaign to divest from the Israeli occupation, a rank-and-file campaign to promote union democracy, and a campaign to create a political party of the working class and our allies? Here’s a hint:
There are approximately 9,500 pension funds, 3,500 banks, 1,500 labor unions, and 500 insurance companies in the United States that invest in Israel Bonds. School districts, municipalities, and other large institutions also purchase them. One of the largest sources of institutional investment capital in Israel is from U.S. pension funds through the purchase of Israeli government bonds. (Global Exchange, "Israel Bonds: A Bad Investment," 2003)
First of all, from a purely financial point of view, Israeli bonds are poor investments. "[B]ased on the findings of a visit by the IMF to Israel in December 2003. . . , [t]he IMF estimates the accumulated GDP loss from the security situation at 6-8% of GDP" (emphasis added, "IMF Sees 2.5% Growth for Israel in 2004; The International Monetary Fund Estimates the Accumulated Loss from the Security Situation at 6-8% of GDP," Globes [online] - Israel's Business Arena, June 06, 2004) -- a self-inflicted pain caused by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian resistance to it. It is no wonder, then, that “[t]he major credit rating services give Israel Bonds the sixth rating, classifying them as only an ‘upper medium investment’” ("Israel Bonds: A Bad Investment," 2003). In addition, “[u]nlike most securities, Israel Bonds cannot be traded on the open market or easily converted into cash” ("Israel Bonds: A Bad Investment," 2003).

What if activists for Palestinian solidarity, union democracy, the Green Party, and so forth joined hands, exposing financially unwise decisions undemocratically made by leaders of political parties and trade unions who claim to advocate but act against the interests of the working class? Misuse of pension funds to financially support the Israeli government is an issue that can bring a seemingly remote question of the Israeli occupation home to many American workers. At the same time, the way that such investment decisions are made, without active consent of workers, highlights lack of democratic control over both trade unions and governments. Moreover, like James E. McGreevey who invested New Jersey Public Employees Pension Funds in Israeli bonds while advocating for privatization of their management, leaders who misuse pension funds for an immoral political purpose are, more often than not, engaged in simultaneous attacks on workers on other fronts. Most importantly, the problem is one that the Democratic Party, a close ally of Zionists -- especially those in the Labor Party of Israel -- cannot address, much less solve, without ceasing to be what it is. There is no other issue -- aside from the US occupation of Iraq -- that is a better argument for the urgent need for a political party of the working class and our allies, a party that is not controlled by the US power elite, the majority of whom have seen in Israel a useful instrument to prevent or destroy the rise of Arab masses for democracy in their own countries.

The State of Unions

Ever wonder why labor unions in the United States are so weak? One of many reasons is that union officials are too busy electing their class enemy and excluding their petit-bourgeois ally from ballots to focus on putting movement back into the "labor movement."

Here's an example from Oregon:
  • "A union backing Sen. John Kerry for president charged the Ralph Nader petition campaign with fraud and forgery Monday in its effort to place Nader on the presidential ballot in Oregon. Leaders of the Service Employees International Union, Local 49, said they analyzed some Nader petitions and found that two-thirds of the names might be fraudulent" (Don Hamilton, "Union Blasts Nader Petitions," Portland Tribune, August 17, 2004).

  • "The service employees union . . . said it has spent as much as $25,000 to investigate Nader's petition drive" (emphasis added, Jeff Mapes, "Service Union Contends Signatures for Nader Petition Faulty," The Oregonian, August 17, 2004).

  • [Greg] Kafoury [a Portland attorney who is Nader's top campaign aide in Oregon] said he was incensed that union investigators had visited many canvassers to deliver a letter warning that falsifying petitions is a felony. He said the letter was worded to scare petitioners into thinking they could be held liable for an invalid signature, even if they believed the signer was a properly registered voter.

    "The obvious goal is to intimidate people so they stop gathering signatures because they know we are close," Kafoury said. "Visiting people at their homes at night to threaten them with prison is gangster tactics. Nothing like this has ever been seen in Oregon before."

    The letter tells petitioners that "your signature certifies that you personally witnessed each signature collected on the petition and that you obtained the signatures from qualified voters. Falsely signing the petition may result in conviction of a felony with a fine of up to $100,000 or prison for up to five years." (emphasis added, Mapes, August 17, 2004)
It's ironic that one of the few things that union officials expect the Democratic Party to do is to allow card check. What if bosses are to show the same zeal shown by SEIU Local 49 above in beating back card check drives, spending big bucks to "investigate" the validity of signatures on union authorization forms, to propagandize that they are fraudulent, to deliver threatening letters to volunteer organizers at night, and even to recruit a few workers to become turncoats who claim that they did not actually sign the authorization forms? That will reduce the utility of card check to virtually nothing.

Union officials would certainly protest if the same tactics used by SEIU Local 49 against the Nader/Camejo campaign were used against their own organizing campaigns. They would rightly call it undemocratic.

However, something more than a simple inability to remove the beam from their own eye may lurk in the conduct of SEIU Local 49 officials. Commonly, unions negotiate with employers for "neutrality agreements" (i.e., the employers' promise not to conduct an anti-union campaign) in card check drives. Such neutrality agreements do not come without a cost to workers. For example,
The UAW International has entered into an agreement with a fast-growing auto parts maker, Metaldyne, to remain neutral in union organizing drives. So far, so good. And in at least two of Metaldyne’s plants already represented by the UAW, the union has negotiated a wage of $16.21 an hour. That’s higher than many auto parts workers, though not in the top range. So far, pretty good again.

But in both these cases, $16.21 represents a wage cut. In one of the plants, a New Castle, Indiana machining facility, production workers have been making close to $26 an hour.

Those 1,200 New Castle workers are still employees, for now, of DaimlerChrysler. But after September 14, when the current UAW-DCX contract expires -- and along with it a ban on plant sales -- the factory will be sold to Metaldyne, which already owns 40% as of early this year.

Metaldyne has about 5-6,000 hourly workers in 26 small plants in the U.S., mostly in the Midwest. They are represented by the UAW, the Steelworkers (who were given a neutrality agreement in exchange for an investment in Metaldyne from the union’s pension fund), the United Electrical Workers, and an independent union, with ten plants still non-union. . . .

In the recent past, in 1999 and 2000, when GM and Ford sold off their parts divisions, the UAW negotiated for the affected workers to continue to receive Big Three-level wages and benefits from their new companies, Delphi and Visteon. Many had over 20 years’ seniority and had expected to retire with a Big Three pension. The Metaldyne sale indicates a change of policy -- apparently in exchange for the organizing neutrality agreement. (by Jane Slaughter, "UAW Trades Pay Cut for Neutrality," Labor Notes, July 2003)
Union officials used to the idea of making concessions to employers in exchange for neutrality agreements may be thinking in the same way about elections: neutrality is not a right but a privilege you pay for. Therefore, looking at the Nader/Camejo campaign, they think, "The chutzpah of running an electoral campaign without making concessions to the Democratic Party bosses first!"

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bonjour paresse

The number one reason why most Americans avoid political organizing is probably lack of free time. Can they take a page from the latest slacker manifesto from France?
Bonjour paresse (Hello Laziness), a call to middle managers of the world to rise up and throw out their laptops, organigrams and mission statements, is the unexpected publishing sensation of the summer in France. Subtitled "The Art and the Importance of Doing the Least Possible in the Workplace", the 113-page "ephlet" (part-essay, part-pamphlet) is to France's managerial class -- the cadres -- what the Communist Manifesto once was to the lumpen proletariat.

Written by Corinne Maier, an economist at state-owned Electricite de France (EDF), Bonjour paresse flashed -- albeit briefly -- to the number one spot on Amazon's French bestseller list. An anarchic antidote to management tomes promising the secrets of ever greater productivity,

Bonjour paresse is a slacker's bible, a manual for those who devote their professional lives to the sole pursuit of idleness. There have been many works in praise of idleness over the decades, but with the French work ethic weakened by the introduction of the 35- hour work week, the siren's appeal has never been stronger. . . .

Over lunch at the Cafe Bonaparte off the Boulevard Saint Germain, the 40-year-old mother of two says it is time for wage slaves to hit back. "Businesses don't wish you well and don't respect the values they champion. This book will help you take advantage of your company, rather than the other way around. It will explain why it's in your interest to work as little as possible and how to screw the system from within without anyone noticing."

Many already are. An IFOP poll cited in the book claims 17 per cent of French managers are already so "actively disengaged" with their work that they are practically committing industrial sabotage.

Even if Bonjour paresse is obviously a tongue-in-cheek send-up of French corporate life, EDF is far from amused and has started disciplinary action. But the book is about so much more than EDF. It is a book of its time and place. France is entering a long- promised Age of Leisure. No other OECD country has witnessed as dramatic a fall in the number of hours worked per inhabitant. In its 2004 employment outlook, the OECD reported that the French worked 24 per cent fewer hours than in 1970, whereas Americans toiled 20 per cent more. France was not alone. Large declines were also seen in Germany and Japan. But the situation in France is extreme.

Two factors explain why. First, the proportion of people of working age in France who manage to find jobs has plunged to 61.9 per cent, compared with over 70 per cent in the UK, the US and Denmark. Second, the introduction of the 35-hour week means French workers put in less time than ever. Maier, who works just two-and-a-half days a week, is hardly unusual. The average French worker clocks only 1,459 hours per year, compared with a mean of 1,762 for the OECD as a whole and almost 2,000 for the Stakhanovites in the Czech Republic. . . .

The disenchantment with corporate life is total. Forget In Praise of Slow, Carl Honore's faddish new treatise on "marrying la dolce vita with the dynamism of the information age" and all the other wimpy pleas for work-life balance. It is hard to see Maier and her electrician buddies rushing into new Spanish "siesta salons" selling 20 minutes of sleep for E4. They'd much rather zonk out on the job for free. There's no "I don't know how she does it" quest for the tempo giusto because the object of work is simply to do as little of it as possible. . . .

Bonjour paresse initially seemed destined to disappear without a trace. Published at the end of April by the little-known Editions Michalon, the book, whose title is a nod to Francoise Sagan's 1954 novel Bonjour tristesse,generated little comment. At the end of July, however, Le Monde, France's leading daily, unexpectedly devoted a front page article to EDF's disciplinary action against the book's author. The newspaper of reference reported that Maier had been summoned to a preliminary hearing on August 17.

Failing to see the funny side, EDF accused Maier of "repeatedly failing to respect her obligations of loyalty towards the company" and of running a "personal campaign, clearly proclaimed in the book, to spread gangrene through the system from within". Citing her habit of reading newspapers in meetings and of leaving one gathering early on May 3, the charge sheet also alleged she had neglected to secure permission to mention on the back cover that she worked for EDF.

Corinne Maier is as bolshy and unrepentant as her book leads you to expect. Her motor-bike helmet by her side and her long brown hair looking like it could use a good brush, she declares she has no intention of attending the disciplinary meeting. "It's the middle of August and I will obviously be on holiday," she says. "I have sent them copies of my train and ferry reservations to prove it."

But she insists she is not looking to get fired. Her situation clearly suits her well.

Born into a family of aluminium siding salesmen, she studied in Paris at Sciences-Po, the French equivalent of the London School of Economics, before taking further degrees in industrial economics and later a doctorate in psychoanalysis. She has found time to write eight books since 2001, including several works on Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst. Three of these come out later this year, two introductory books on Gaullism and Nazi Germany and a more "intello" book on Pasteur.

France's unions have championed her cause. They see EDF as determined to crush all sources of dissent to its transformation from quintessential symbol of the French public service into a regular societe anonyme, a public company that the centre-right government will then be able to privatise. An umbrella body representing the six main unions at EDF has issued a statement defending Maier's freedom of speech, saying she had "not revealed any secrets, jeopardised any business or even mentioned EDF by name once in the book".

"EDF has cited the pettiest offences," says Maier. "The real reason is that they don't like my book." Refusing to comment on "an ongoing disciplinary procedure", EDF is belatedly trying to bury the row its own clumsy response had started. The book, however, is already being reprinted. "My publisher is delighted with EDF's reaction," says Maier. "It is all thanks to them that we have a bestseller. We have had interest from numerous overseas publishers wanting the translation rights."

Jo Johnson is a unit of human resource in the FT's Paris office


1. You are a modern day slave. There is no scope for personal fulfilment. You work for your pay-cheque at the end of the month, full stop.

2. It's pointless to try to change the system. Opposing it simply makes it stronger.

3. What you do is pointless. You can be replaced from one day to the next by any cretin sitting next to you. So work as little as possible and spend time (not too much, if you can help it) cultivating your personal network so that you're untouchable when the next restructuring comes around.

4. You're not judged on merit, but on whether you look and sound the part. Speak lots of leaden jargon: people will suspect you have an inside track

5. Never accept a position of responsibility for any reason. You'll only have to work harder for what amounts to peanuts.

6. Make a beeline for the most useless positions, (research, strategy and business development), where it is impossible to assess your 'contribution to the wealth of the firm'. Avoid 'on the ground' operational roles like the plague.

7. Once you've found one of these plum jobs, never move. It is only the most exposed who get fired.

8. Learn to identify kindred spirits who, like you, believe the system is absurd through discreet signs (quirks in clothing, peculiar jokes, warm smiles).

9. Be nice to people on short-term contracts. They are the only people who do any real work.

10. Tell yourself that the absurd ideology underpinning this corporate bullshit cannot last for ever. It will go the same way as the dialectical materialism of the communist system. The problem is knowing when...

Translated from 'Bonjour paresse: De l'art et de la necessite d'en faire le moins possible en entreprise' by Corinne Maier (Editions Michalon, E12.) (Jo Johnson, "The Slacker's New Bible," Financial Times, August 14, 2004)
Then again, if you don't first build labor unions, political parties, and social movements on the left that militantly fight for the rights to leisure and free speech -- institutions originally created by fighters who, pace Maier, didn't think that "It's pointless to try to change the system. Opposing it simply makes it stronger" -- you can't easily follow in the footsteps of French slackers.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Honey, I Shrunk the Empire!

Iraqi resistance to the occupation is clearly taking a toll:
President Bush on Monday announced plans to bring home up to 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia within a decade. . . .

At the Pentagon, defense officials said a "significant portion" of the 60,000 to 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members and civilian personnel in question would come out of Europe, including about 30,000 troops in two heavy divisions in Germany.

They said moves would not begin until at least 2006 after decisions are made on new domestic base closings, and that a brigade of Army Stryker armored vehicles with 5,000 troops would be deployed to Germany as part of the U.S. shift away from ponderous forces toward mobility.

The United States now has about 115,000 troops stationed in Europe and another 97,000 in the Asia-Pacific region. A senior State Department official said troop reductions in Asia would be "not very dramatic" but gave no details. (Adam Entous, "U.S. to Remove Up to 70,000 Troops from Europe, Asia," August 16, 2004)
Observe the Democrats' reaction to the announcement:
Advisers to Democratic presidential rival John Kerry warned the plan could make America more vulnerable. . . .

"As we face a global war on terror with al Qaeda active in more than 60 countries, now is not the time to pull back our forces," asserted [Gen. Wesley] Clark, a former supreme commander of all NATO forces in Europe. (Entous, August 16, 2004)
Essentially, Washington has three choices, all of which are unattractive to the power elite: end the US occupation of Iraq, withdraw US troops from Europe and East Asia to deploy them in the Middle East and Central Asia, or resort to conscription. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are ready to evacuate US troops from Iraq yet, unless allied governments contribute more troops, which is unlikely. The Republicans, who lack working-class support to resume the draft, are losing parts of the empire in order to hold onto Iraq. The Democrats, as well as the ruling class, are exasperated by what they think of as the Bush Team 's incompetent imperialism, but they will have no choice but to take a highly unpopular measure of reinstating the draft if they are to continue the occupation of Iraq while maintaining Washington's spheres of influence in Europe and Asia at the same time. That will prove, in the end, an even more destructive and self-destructive course of action than the Bush administration's.

Hugo Chávez Frias' Landslide Victory

Now that the votes are counted, it is clear that Hugo Chávez Frias won a landslide victory in the August 15 referendum in Venezuela:
With 94 percent of the votes counted, Chavez had 58 percent of the vote and the opposition 42 percent, according to Francisco Carrasquero, president of the National Elections Council. . . .

Carrasquero said 4,991,483 votes were cast against recalling the former army paratrooper, and 3,576,517 in favor. (Andrew Selsky/The Associated Press, "Carter Endorses Chavez Win in Venezuela," August 16, 2004)

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrate in fornt of Miraflores Palace in Caracas, August 16, 2004. Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced to the nation preliminary official results showing that President Hugo Chavez had survived the recall vote. A spokesman said the 'No' option opposing Chavez's recall had obtained just over 58 percent of the vote, while the 'Yes' vote obtained nearly 42 percent. (REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez)
Even Jimmy "Carter and the head of the Organization of American States, who led observer teams, said the voting appeared clean" (Selsky, August 16, 2004). Nevertheless, Juan Forero of the New York Times, as anti-Chávez as ever, is spinning furiously to discount the victory of the Venezuelan masses: "But the voting, if anything, showed clearly that millions of Venezuelans -- not just the very rich, as Mr. Chávez contends -- want him out" ("Chávez Is Declared the Winner in Venezuela Referendum," August 16, 2004).


The number of eligible voters in Venezuela is roughly 14 million. That means that approximately 26% of the eligible Venezuelan voters voted SI, in favor of recalling Chavez. That's more or less in keeping with the proportion of the rich and comfortable in Venezuela.

Also, keep in mind that, like most nations in the world, Venezuela has traditionally had high rates of working-class abstention and disenfranchisement -- the problems that Bolivarians have made efforts to correct but probably have yet to fully remedy:
As the August 15 recall referendum on President Chavez's mandate approaches, pro-government sectors have complained to Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) about the disparity in the number of voting centers between working-class and wealthier neighborhoods.

During a press conference last Tuesday, Jorge Rodriguez, member of the board of directors of the CNE, expressed his "indignation due to the absolutely lack of democracy, lack of justice, and of equality with regard to the distribution of voting centers."

Rodriguez, who is serving at the CNE since late last year, when Venezuela's Supreme Court appointed him and other directors to lead the elections commission, criticized the way the voting centers have traditionally been set up, especially in big urban centers. After reviewing the voting centers' distribution by zone and population in Caracas and other cities, Rodriguez concluded that their unequal distribution amounts to discrimination against the poor.

A high percentage the population of the valley of Caracas, who live in shanty towns built in the city's hills, must travel long distances to find their assigned voting place as none is located in those hills, according to Rodriguez.

"In Las Minas de Baruta (a predominantly working-class zone outside Caracas), there are 25.000 citizens registered to vote, but only 4 voting centers. In the same municipality, in El Cafetal (a middle, and upper-middle class sector), there are 40.000 registered voters, and 40 voting centers."

Rodriguez also mentioned the case of El Paraiso, a middle-class neighborhood in southwestern Caracas, with 14 voting centers. The working-class neighborhood next to it, La Cota 905, with a similar population, only has only one voting center.

"This situation repeats itself throughout the country, and it clearly violates the principles of equality of rights, especially human rights as expressed by the Constitution," said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez announced that, in response to this problem, the CNE started a study to determine where new voting places could be opened "so that all citizens have equal opportunity to exercise their voting rights."

“The United States has the same problem in the South,” said a Hector Madera, a reporter for Negro Primero community radio, who covered Rodriguez’s press conference. “But the goal of the dominant classes there is to prevent poor blacks and Hispanics from voting, and artificially causing long lines is one of the tactics they use as people get discouraged from voting,” Madera said.

Government officials and pro-government political commentators have also complained about the fact that opinion polls are inaccurate as polling companies don't take into account poor areas of the cities.

The 40% -- 50% of the population which according to some polls approve of Chavez's presidency is concentrated in working-class zones. These zones traditionally have high abstention rates, as an important percentage of their inhabitants who are eligible to vote, don’t have non-expired ID cards or are not registered to vote.

Part of the government's strategy is to get the poor to get or renew their national ID card, and to register to vote. “It hurts them that we are finally issuing ID cards for the poor,” said Chavez last night during his new weekly radio program “Patrolling with Chavez”. “Everybody has the right to vote, to participate, and to ratify mandates. This is a participatory democracy,” said Chavez.

Venezuelans traditionally have to stand in line for several hours to have their ID cards issued or renewed, and then wait several months to get receive their cards. Since last year, the government has set up ID card centers at special locations, and it is using modern machines that allow citizens to obtain their cards in minutes.

("Venezuela's Discrimination of Poor Voters Prompts Measures," Venezuelanalysis.com, June 17, 2004)
Considering the aforementioned problems that the Bolivarian government inherited, we may say that Chávez's victory is truly a landslide, clearly the fruit of drives to register voters and naturalize immigrants of the working class.

Venezuela's "Misión Identidad" (Mission Identity) will continue after the referendum as well:
El ministro de Interior y Justicia, Lucas Rincón Romero informó que con el acto que se realizó este martes en el Coliseo de La Urbina donde se juramentó a 6 mil 763 extranjeros como nuevos venezolanos, comenzó la segunda etapa de este proceso que se extenderá hasta el día 3 de enero del año 2005.

Aún quedan muchísimas personas de otros países hermanos que quieren ser naturalizados, y estamos en el día de hoy retomando este proceso que forma parte de la Misión Identidad, dijo el ministro.

Recordó que en una reunión de ministros se aprobó extender hasta el venidero año este plan de naturalización y cedulación a los extranjeros, en vista de la gran cantidad de ciudadanos que todavía están aspirando a convertirse en venezolanos. (Sonia Verger/Venpress, "Juramentados 6 mil 763 nuevos naturalizados," August 10, 2004)
A great boon to both immigrants and the Bolivarian Revolution!


Margarethe von Trotta's new film Rosenstraße (2003) will be released on August 20 in the United States (Laura Winters, "The Women Who Stood up to Hitler," Financial Times, August 13, 2004). Watch the trailers at the film's official websites in German and English.

Rosenstrasse tells a little known story of the 1943 protest of thousands of non-Jewish German women who had resisted the Nazi pressures on them to divorce their Jewish husbands, demonstrated when their husbands were finally rounded up, and, most importantly, succeeded in securing their release.

Why is this remarkable event so little remembered in Germany and the rest of the world? "Hannah Arendt says, 'When everybody is guilty, nobody is guilty.' So I liked the idea of putting up another mirror for people to look into -- to show that these women did behave differently, and they did succeed," says von Trotta (qtd. in Winters, August 13, 2004). Peter Schneider elaborates the theme of "collective guilt" as a paradoxical means of denying one's own moral and political responsibility: "If you look at the big heroes of the German resistance, the military men like von Stauffenberg, you could say 'You can't ask the same thing from me because I'm just a little citizen.' But if you prove that ordinary citizens took risks to help Jews and were successful -- well, it shows that resistance was, in fact, possible, but that most people chose not to do it" (Winters, August 13, 2004). Reluctance of many to face their own choice not to resist is one of the important reasons why memories of resistance -- especially collective and successful resistance like the Rosenstrasse protest -- are rarely included in dominant representations of the holocaust and other instances of genocide.

Moreover, the power elite who control the media do not want us to know how to resist them. An intuition that the audience might take away from films like Rosenstrasse knowledge of how to fight the power, convinced that a good fight may very well result in a practical victory, rather than just a moral triumph, is what motivates them to obstruct their production -- it took von Trotta eight years to make this film -- or dismiss the significance of their subjects if they get produced and distributed at all. Soon after Rosenstrasse was released in Germany, Wolfgang Benz, director of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin, tried to discount the importance of women's protest at Rosenstrasse: "Ein Teil der deutschen Juden war in 'Mischehe' mit Nichtjuden verheiratet. Diese Gruppe war in der Rosenstraße, mitten in Berlin, interniert. Die Frauen sammelten sich auf der Straße vor dem Gebäude, harrten tagelang aus, kämpften um die Freilassung ihrer Angehörigen, wurden laut und ließen sich nicht vertreiben. Sie konnten nicht wissen, dass den Männern in der Rosenstraße nicht das Vernichtungslager zugedacht war, dass sie vielmehr zum Austausch mit anderen für bestimmte Funktionen festgehalten wurden" (Wolfgang Benz, "Kitsch, Klamotte, Klitterei: Die Legende von der 'Rosenstraße,'" Süddeutsche Zeitung, September 18, 2003). In short, he questioned whether it was the Rosenstrasse women's protest that secured their husbands' release:
Benz cited an article written by his former student Wolf Gruner that postulates that the Nazis never intended to deport the people being held in Rosenstrasse 2-4. On the phone from Berlin, Gruner explains his sources. "One of them is a regional decree from Frankfurt am Oder with orders from the Reich Main Security Office for the next deportation wave," he says. "This decree specifically excluded Jews in mixed marriages from the Final Roundup."

. . . So if these Jews were not to be deported, why were they detained? By comparing lists of the Jewish employees who worked in Jewish organisations in Berlin both before and after the Final Roundup, Gruner concludes that the people held in Rosenstrasse 2-4 went on later to fill the jobs of Jews who had been deported. (Winters, August 13, 2004)
Von Trotta and Nathan Stoltzfus -- a historian who authored the most important work on the Rosenstrasse protest Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany (W. W. Norton, 1996) -- disagree:
Von Trotta disagrees. "There were children held in that building," she says. "If the Nazis meant solely to be filling the jobs of bureaucrats, why did they hold young people there?"

Stoltzfus, who wrote a sharp riposte to Benz, concurs with von Trotta. "Deportation decrees were often used to deceive. For instance, they had been deporting Jews from Germany to Auschwitz since the middle of the summer in 1942, but no deportation directives said they were to go there until February of 1943." (Winters, August 13, 2004)
The controversy is but one instance of ceaseless struggles over popular memory of resistance.

Finally, if resistance is publicly commemorated at all, those who are honored are more often men than women. Von Trotta's very choice of the subject goes against the grain. From Stoltzfus's research, we learn that:
In the decades leading up to the Third Reich, Jewish assimilation in Germany had taken the form of intermarriage. In 1904, 9.3 percent of Jewish men who married, and 7.7 percent of Jewish women, married outside the Jewish faith. Between 1910 and 1913, these averages increased, respectively, to 13.5 percent and 10.92 percent, while the war years, 1914 to 1918, saw further sharp increases to 29.86 percent and 21 percent.[49] In 1933, against the grain of the new politics, this trend was still strong, as 44 percent of the German Jews who married chose non-Jews. In 1934, with the tide of Nazi propaganda and persecution rising, this number fell to 15 percent,[50] and in September 1935 the Nuremberg Laws prohibited further intermarriages altogether, and nullified all marriage engagements between mixed couples. As of June 1935 some 500,000 persons stood on the membership lists of Jewish communities in Germany; approximately 35,000 of these lived in intermarriages.[51] . . .

Thus after Hitler took power, fewer German men married Jews, while it was still possible, and more German men than women divorced their Jewish spouses under the Third Reich.[54] Because the large majority of intermarried Germans were women, and because these women were part of "Jewish households" -- married to men subject to every measure of the anti-Jewish persecution -- the story of opposition by intermarried Germans is largely (but not only) the story of German women married to Jewish men. (Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany, W. W. Norton, 1996)
Therefore, the memory of the Rosenstrasse protest is doubly subversive: it not only encourages us to believe that resistance is possible but may also lead many women to remember that we have even more stakes in fighting the rise of the right than men do.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

¡Chávez No Se Va! ¡VOTA NO!

Even Juan Forero of the New York Times all but conceded that "Chávez no se va":
With Venezuelan oil now hovering at $37 a barrel and the country enjoying a $7 billion windfall this year, Mr. Chávez's government has embarked on a spending spree that has astounded analysts and greatly improved his chances of winning on Sunday. . . .

A decisive moment in Mr. Chávez's presidency came 18 months ago, when in the middle of deepening political unrest and a crippling national strike, the president tightened the state's grasp on the national oil company, Pdvsa, (pronounced peh-deh-VEH-sah) by dismissing 18,000 antigovernment managers in a move that many analysts believed would ruin the company.

Instead, Pdvsa is today producing 2.6 million barrels a day, and has quickly turned itself around to bankroll what Mr. Chávez grandly calls his Bolivarian revolution, named for the 19th-century Latin American political visionary Simón Bolívar. . . .

The government's philosophy is neatly summed up in Mr. Chávez's new, unofficial, name for Pdvsa, the People's Oil Company, a designation symbolizing Pdvsa's central role in ratcheting up spending in the name of the poor.

"Oil is not only for a minority, so that minority can get rich," Mr. Chávez told supporters in a recent speech. "It needs to be redistributed." . . .

Some government money goes to quirky programs aimed at bringing quick political payoffs and positive headlines -- like the thousands of Argentine cows the governments says it plans to buy and hand out to the poor.

Critics charge that Mr. Chávez's antipoverty plans are piecemeal and politically motivated, that he has placed incompetent officials in positions of power, and that he is bypassing fiscal controls, with hundreds of millions of dollars in public assistance now circumventing the Congress and the Central Bank and going straight into the barrios.

Officials in the Chávez administration counter that they are shifting vast amounts of money toward a social experiment aimed at nothing less than transforming a country that in the 1970's appeared headed toward affluence but was sidetracked by corruption and government ineptitude.

The strategy for this makeover is hashed out every Monday when nine ministers, led by the minister of education, Aristóbulo Istúriz, meet around an oval table at the Ministry of Education, paintings of revolutionary era generals and statesmen lining the walls. Here, ideology is put into practice.

"Up to now, we had democracy with political rights, in the midst of profound inequality," said Mr. Istúriz, a close confidant of the president. "What we needed was to create a social democracy."

Mr. Istúriz said some programs did not start until recently because the government was busy tightening its control over Pdvsa and putting in place a new legal framework. Mr. Chávez pushed through constitutional reforms in 1999, then other laws were passed in 2001 that gave the state more say over and access to revenues, particularly from oil.

"All this allowed us to take control of the company and direct part of the earnings to social programs," Mr. Istúriz said. "Today our government is much stronger."

Much of the emphasis, he said, is on education, with high school and university classes expanded for the poor, and ambitious literacy and vocational programs for those who had never considered stepping into a classroom. Now, 12 million Venezuelans from small children to adults are enrolled in some kind of educational program, up from 9 million at the start of Mr. Chávez's government.

In all, he said, the government this year is spending more than $4.5 billion, nearly 20 percent of its budget, on education. That is equal to 6.1 percent of gross domestic product, Mr. Istúriz said, about twice the percentage of last year.

Much of the money comes from Pdvsa. Rafael Ramírez, minister of energy and mines, recently said $1.7 billion from Pdvsa's $5 billion capitalization budget now financed social programs. About $600 million is being spent on education and health care programs, another $600 million is going toward agriculture and $500 is being spent to build homes and a highway and to finance other infrastructure projects.

Another $2 billion in revenues is forming a development fund to pay for megaprojects like a hydroelectric plant, a state airline, power stations and sugar industry plants. . . .

For the people of the teeming barrios of the city, who rarely, if ever, received much attention from generations of Mr. Chávez's predecessors, the government's approach is a welcomed change.

In the Gramoven neighborhood, the construction of a clinic, a multi-use sports complex, a meeting hall, a shoe factory, housing and the country's largest subsidized market on a 56-acre plot is seen as nothing short of miraculous.

"Now there is concern for the barrios, for the people who are in need," said Víctor Rojas, a Pdvsa employee for 23 years who is helping oversee this project. "I'm sad we didn't do this before. We could have changed people's lives. They would be living in dignity, not in misery."

Not far away, in a small classroom, neighborhood people are learning to read in one program, and earning their high school equivalency diploma in another. They thank Mr. Chávez and Pdvsa, saying the company is at last benefiting them.

"We have an opportunity we never had," said Margarita Ascanio, 55, a seamstress who, with the help of a Pdvsa-financed literacy program, is learning to read. "Pdvsa now belongs to Venezuela." ("Free-Spending Chávez Could Swing Vote His Way," August 14, 2004)

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez march in a 'Vote no' campaign for the upcoming Aug. 15 referendum on his rule, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2004. The banner reads 'Chavez will not go.' (AP Photo/Gregorio Marrero)

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez march in a 'Vote no' campaign for the upcoming Aug. 15 referendum on his rule, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2004. The signs read 'Vote No.' (AP Photo/Leslie Mazoch)

A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds an image of Chavez in military fatigue at a 'Vote no' campaign march for the upcoming Aug. 15 referendum on his rule, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2004. (AP Photo/Leo Alvarez)

Grecheu Pereira, 42, places a candle on an altar built in support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the poor Jose Felix Ribas section of Petare neighborhood in Caracas, August 11, 2004. Chavez faces a recall referendum on his rule on Sunday and Venezuelans are sharply divided over his presidency. REUTERS/Howard Yanes

A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hold a poster which reads 'NO' during a march urging to vote no in the recall of the left-wing leader, in Caracas, August 8, 2004. Chavez and his opponents will face off on August 15 in a referendum to decide whether he should step down from the presidency of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter. REUTERS/Howard Yanes

A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez carries a sign that reads 'Vote NO' while jogging in Caracas, Venezuela Saturday Aug. 14, 2004. Supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wrapped up campaigning ahead of Sunday's recall referendum on his rule, with neither side commanding a convincing lead in what's expected to be a bitterly contested vote. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

For Hugo : Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez march in Caracas. (AFP/Andrew Alvarez)

A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gives the thumbs up as he drives his car with a sign in the window that reads 'your answer is NO', in Caracas, Venezuela Saturday Aug. 14, 2004. Supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wrapped up campaigning ahead of Sunday's recall referendum on his rule, with neither side commanding a convincing lead in what's expected to be a bitterly contested vote. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Farmers walk in a field where they carved the word 'No' to encourage Venezuelans to vote 'no' in the upcoming Aug. 15 referendum on the rule of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Gregorio Marrero)

Friday, August 13, 2004

James E. McGreevey and the Political Closet of the Democratic Party

New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevey holds a press conference to announce his resignation amidst scandals about corruptions. At the same time, he tells us that he is "a gay American" ("New Jersey Governor Resigns Over Gay Affair," 365Gay.com, August 12, 2004), making history as the first gay man to exploit coming out as a bid for sympathy to distract our attention from the scandals -- sympathy that he desperately needs to forestall calls for immediate resignation and an interim election:
The timing of the governor's coming out was apparently driven by the potential lawsuit [by Golan Cipel, McGreevey's former aid, alleging sexual harassment], and the timing of his resignation -- Nov. 15 -- was driven by a desire to avoid an interim election. As it stands, the State Senate president, Richard Codey, another Democrat, will inherit the executive office until the end of 2005. While the mechanics of trying to hold gubernatorial primaries and an election this year would be daunting, Mr. McGreevey's strategy doesn't serve New Jersey residents well. The state will be led by an embattled governor mired in personal and legal problems for three months. Then, because of the peculiarities of New Jersey's Constitution, Mr. Codey will simultaneously lead the Senate and the executive branch -- an enormous amount of power for someone whose voter mandate comes only from a State Senate district in Essex County. ("The Governor's Secret," Editorial, New York Times, August 13, 2004)
Judged by the responses of spokespersons of leading GLBT rights organizations, it appears that his maneuver has achieved at least a partial success:
His announcement makes McGreevey the highest ranking politician to identify himself as gay.

"It's obviously an amazing announcement," Michael Adams, Lambda Legal's director of education told 365Gay.com.

"The very human way in which he made his announcement may help other gay Americans to come out," said Adams.

That sentiment was echoed by Cheryl Jacques, the president of the Human Rights Campaign.

"Coming out is a deeply personal journey and Governor McGreevey today showed enormous courage. We are hopeful that, like millions of other American families, Governor McGreevey and his family will come to a place of understanding."

"The closet is a terrible place to be," said Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay and lesbian Task Force. "Governor McGreevey's announcement today is another poignant reminder of that."

"It takes a great deal of courage to be so honest and straightforward, and we look forward to the day when sexual orientation is not an issue that can be played with in the political arena."

Gay Democrats praised McGreevey's courage.

"He has demonstrated a strong record of support for our community and we are confident that the incoming governor will be as strong," John Marble, the spokesperson for the National Stonewall Democrats told 365Gay.com. ("New Jersey Governor Resigns Over Gay Affair," August 12, 2004)
Why should GLBT leaders line up behind McGreevey, however? As if McGreevey's coming out were in the general interest of GLBT individuals! Reading about his relation with Golan Cipel, anyone would come to a conclusion that, regardless of sexual orientation of the parties involved, the relation is one of sordid use of political office for patronage:
  • In today's job market, we should all be as marketable as Golan Cipel, the special friend of Gov. James E. McGreevey, who lands jobs as often as the seasons change.

    Job One in 2002 was as McGreevey's $110,000 homeland security advisor. But because the 33-year-old Cipel is a citizen of Israel, federal law-enforcement officials would not share information with him.

    The governor transferred Cipel to Job Two, as a "special counsel," at the same salary.

    When the media continued to question his role, he left state government Aug. 27. He would have had to return to Israel, unless he got a work visa for a job he was uniquely qualified to fill.

    He then got Job Three with MWW Group, a public relations firm in East Rutherford. His job was to oversee relationships with MWW's clients in Israel.

    Among MWW's clients in New Jersey are the New Jersey Lottery; Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group, the company which operates the auto inspection system, and the Mills Corp., one of six developers to submit plans to redevelop the Meadowlands with a mall and entertainment complex.

    Not everyone in the McGreevey administration was comfortable with Cipel taking Job Three. It was feared it would taint the state's relationship with MWW, with the twisted media reported such items as, "The contract to rebuild the Meadowlands was awarded to the Mills Corp., represented by the MWW Group, the public relations firm which hired Golan Cipel in August."

    On Sept. 12, a group from MWW people met with the governor and staff at a hotel in Woodbridge, and Cipel was a point of discussion. McGreevey aide Jo Astrid Gladding, who attended the meeting, said, "We do not discuss private meetings."

    Cipel remained with MWW until last week, when he accepted Job Four of 2002.

    Cipel was hired by State Street Partners, a lobbying firm in Trenton. The firm was founded by two Republicans, Rocco Iossa and Michael Torpey, the former chief of staff to Gov. Christie Whitman.

    With a new party in power following the November election, it made sense for the firm to add a Democrat. In December, James Kennedy, the Democratic mayor of Rahway, became its third partner. It was a strategic choice. Kennedy was the best man at McGreevey's wedding, and is considered the governor's best friend.

    With Job Four, Cipel becomes the problem of State Street Partners.

    "You can bet the farm this will be a liability (to State Street Partners)," said one of McGreevey's close advisors. The best lobbyists operate under the radar screen. Overnight, Kennedy and State Street Partners became a major blip.

    "We evaluated Cipel on his merits, on his resume," said Iossa. He said Cipel will work with clients in New Jersey and Washington, and the firm is looking to expand its list of international clients.

    "We do not think he will be a liability," said Iossa.

    He will remain a liability to McGreevey, however. He became an issue when McGreevey hired him for a job for which he was ill-suited, and then moved him to an amorphous job, also at $110,000, at a time when the state was having trouble making ends meet. When pressure grew too great, he was hired once, and then once again, by firms with a vested interest in gaining the governor's favor. Some people have all the luck. (Rick Malwitz, "Why Can't the Rest of Us Get Jobs as Easily as Golan Cipel?" Home News Tribune, October 6, 2002)

  • Golan Cipel, identified as the other man, quit his $110,000-a-year state job after questions were raised.
  • Inspired by the period's rapid pace, Mr. McGreevey pledged to make a controversial appointment daily, each one representing a different demographic constituency.

    So he trotted out Golan Cipel, New Jersey's homeland security adviser, an Israeli with minimal qualifications for the job, who didn't even qualify for high security clearance; Roger Chugh, named to the top job in the Department of State, who resigned after being accused of strong-arming fellow Indians for campaign contributions; William D. Watley, who quit last week as commerce secretary after being criticized for lobbying on behalf of development projects undertaken by an affiliate of the church for which he's pastor; and Joseph Santiago, former Newark police director, who was forced out as state police director after alienating everyone and all their dogs.

    And just when things seemed to be stabilizing a bit and Mr. McGreevey was achieving his goal of being on radio and television as much as Oprah, the past two weeks have brought unfortunate developments.

    While casually discussing the longstanding rumor that Machiavelli, who first proposed a Newark Arena during a book tour in 1513, is buried under the goal posts at Giants Stadium, Mr. McGreevey found himself implicated in more messiness. This time it was in a case that led to the indictment of one of his fund-raisers, David D'Amiano, who is accused of soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for government favors.

    FINALLY, Charles Kushner, the governor's top campaign contributor, and the man he unsuccessfully supported to be head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was charged with hiring a prostitute to try to thwart a federal investigation in a tale with enough familial amity and Machiavellian moxie for a month's worth of intrigue at the Bada Bing. (Peter Applebome, "If New Jersey News Is Bad News, at Least It's Consistently So," New York Times, July 18, 2004, p. 29)
BTW, the governor's love of Israel went far beyond an affair with one Israeli hunk:
"This was the first time ever that a state governor would actively campaign to reverse divestment and to leverage Zionist and rightwing frenzy to announce investing public funds in Israeli bonds. New Jersey Governor, Jim McGreevy, did just that, by announcing to the Zionist rally of many thousands that he was the first governor in New Jersey to invest Public Employees Pension Funds in Israeli bonds" ("Report of the Third North American Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement Rutgers University -- New Brunswick, New Jersey, October 10-12, 2003")
Hardly a wise investment, even from a purely capitalistic point of view, setting aside the Israeli occupation: "[B]ased on the findings of a visit by the IMF to Israel in December 2003. . . , [t]he IMF estimates the accumulated GDP loss from the security situation at 6-8% of GDP" ("IMF Sees 2.5% Growth for Israel in 2004; The International Monetary Fund Estimates the Accumulated Loss from the Security Situation at 6-8% of GDP," Globes [online] - Israel's Business Arena, June 06, 2004).

Even while McGreevey was exploiting the New Jersey Public Employees Pension Funds for a political purpose, he was pushing for privatization of pension-fund management at the same time:
  • The McGreevey administration's plan to allow private investment firms to manage New Jersey's multibillion-dollar employee pension funds is beginning to emerge as a sensitive issue in several pivotal legislative elections this fall.

    New Jersey is one of just two states that allow public employees to manage a major pension portfolio, and after the downturn in the stock market three years ago reduced the value of the retirement fund by almost a third, the state treasurer began lobbying to hire outside investment managers and diversify the fund's holdings.

    But the leaders of some state workers' unions say the plan would cost the state millions of dollars to cover the outside fund managers' fees, and warn that investing too heavily in high-risk assets like hedge funds could endanger workers' pensions. With legislative elections just two months away, some Republican candidates are describing the plan as a pay-to-play scheme that would allow Mr. McGreevey and his fellow Democrats to use the lure of lucrative investment contracts to rake in campaign contributions from investment firms.

    Today, just hours after a handful of state workers picketed outside the treasurer's office at the State House, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Princeton, joined union leaders in blasting the plan.

    "I'm surprised that the administration has not learned the lesson from the boondoggle privatization schemes of the Whitman administration, which were more interested in political donations than taxpayer savings," Mr. Gusciora said.

    New Jersey's pension funds are now valued at about $60 billion, down from $85 billion in August 2000.

    Although the stock market plunge caused heavy losses for most institutional investors, the state treasurer, John E. McCormac, said New Jersey's pension system, which holds only low-risk securities, had performed worse than similar funds in other states.

    Despite opposition from some union leaders, the state has hired a consulting firm to analyze the portfolio and advise the state on whether, and how, to diversify its holdings. If, as expected, the consultant recommends that the pension system broaden its portfolio, Mr. McCormac said he would have no choice but to contract with outside financial managers because state investment employees are not permitted to buy and sell hedge or venture capital funds.

    But leaders of the union that represents the 60 employees in the Division of Investment, who now manage the pension fund, said the McGreevey administration was painting a misleading picture of the pension fund's performance. Joseph Golowski, a retired state auditor who is now consulting for the union, said the return earned by New Jersey's pension fund had been in the top 10 percent of all retirement systems in the country in recent years. Rae Roeder, the president of Communications Workers of America Local 1033, said the administration's attempt to disband the Division of Investment was politically motivated.

    "It's the last remaining pot of gold in the state," she said.

    Although the administration does not need legislative approval to change its investment regulations, some lawmakers have called for public hearings to establish an oversight body to monitor the way investment contracts are awarded. State Senator Peter Inverso, a Republican from Mercer County who faces a difficult re-election battle in a district heavily populated with state workers, said he would lobby the administration to drop the plan.

    "I am greatly concerned that the pension system and its beneficiaries will fall victim to political contributors who are anxiously lining up for a return on their investment," Mr. Inverso said during a rally last week.

    In New Jersey, where a succession of political corruption scandals has bred deep suspicion of elected officials, that apprehension is one of the major obstacles facing the McGreevey administration's proposal.

    Orin Kramer, whom Mr. McGreevey appointed to head the State Investment Council, said he believed that the administration could win the confidence of the public only if it set up a system that was open and accountable. "The policy will speak for itself," he said.

    In the partisan and highly politicized atmosphere in Trenton, however, Mr. Kramer's credentials have also become a factor in the debate. While Mr. Kramer helped develop public policy in the Carter White House and was chairman of financial regulation commissions during the administrations of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo in New York and Gov. Pete Wilson in California, he is also a major Democratic fund-raiser and was finance chairman of Mr. McGreevey's election campaign in2001. That makes some union officials wary.

    "It just makes no sense to open up the system to even the appearance that campaign donations might be influencing decisions," said Mr. Golowski, the union consultant. "The system we have now was set up 50 years ago because of a scandal, and it has been scandal-free for more than 50 years. In New Jersey, that's fantastic." (David Kocieniewski, "Many Wary of Trenton Plan To Privatize Pension Fund," New York Times, September 4, 2003, p. B5)

  • Seeking support for a plan that would allow private investment managers to run part of New Jersey's $60 billion pension portfolio, the McGreevey administration released a consultant's report today that urges the state to reduce its risk by diversifying its investments.

    New Jersey's employee pension system, the only public retirement fund in the country managed solely by civil servants, lost about a third of its value during the stock market slump of the past three years. Although the losses were comparable to the drop in the market, State Treasurer John E. McCormac has argued that the state can get better returns, and assume lower risks, if it hires professional investment managers to run the fund.

    Despite opposition from state employees' unions, Mr. McCormac hired the consulting firm Independent Fiduciary Services to analyze the system. The firm recommended that the fund, which now invests only in stocks and bonds, begin investing in hedge funds and venture capital. State law does not permit public employees to invest in hedge or venture funds, so such a move would require the state to hire private managers.

    "This report makes it clear that New Jersey should diversify, seek a safer balance and better control of risk," Mr. McCormac said.

    But leaders of the state employees' unions have bitterly opposed the proposal to use private fund managers, saying it would be too costly and open the door to influence peddling.

    New Jersey's pension system was established 50 years ago, after a scandal involving elected officials who had steered consulting contracts to politically connected investors, and union leaders say it has delivered a return on the fund's money. Jim P. Marketti, a union leader, said if the state allowed private fund managers to run the system, elected officials would be able to reap huge amounts of campaign donations. But he worried that public employees might see their retirement security placed at risk. (David Kocieniewski, "Change Urged To Diversify Pension Fund In New Jersey," New York Times, September 19, 2003, p. B5)
By now, the State Investment Council of New Jersey has become set on privatization of pension-fund management, but, ironically, it is McGreevey's own greed that has stalled it: "Under pressure from Gov. James E. McGreevey, the panel in charge of New Jersey's $80 billion investment portfolio yesterday canceled a meeting where it planned to consider a ban on hiring private investment managers who contribute to state political campaigns" (Dunstan McNichol, "Investment Rule Hits a Roadblock: McGreevey Thwarts a Ban on Hiring Managers Who Give to Political Parties," The Star-Ledger, July 16, 2004).

Embodied within McGreevey's career are contradictions of the Democratic Party.

While opposed to gay marriage, McGreevey did sign a domestic partnership legislation into law in January 2004 (Kathy Hennessy/The Associated Press, "Gay Couples Praise N.J.'s Domestic Partner Law, But Want More," May 1, 2004) and pushed through popular progressive tax reforms (Robert S. McIntyre, "The Taxonomist: Jim McGreevey, Working-Class Hero: New Jersey's Governor Stands Alone in the Corporate-tax-reform Hall of Fame," The American Prospect, September 9, 2002). At the same time, his advocacy of Israel and privatization of pension-fund management, as well as his privatization of public political power, has gone further than his Republican opponents'. Interest groups wedded to the Democratic Party, such as the aforementioned GLBT organizations, see men like McGreevey and convince themselves that the glass is at least half full, so they embrace McGreevey's opportunistic coming out and collaborate with him in his charade. If necessary, they would defend worse crimes than his. That's the secret that will stay in the political closet, until we succeed in creating a practical alternative to the Democratic Party.