Saturday, September 11, 2004


Check out Salón Chingón and watch Gringoton, a comic short film directed by Greg "Gringoyo" Berger, in which Berger stars as a gringo in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt who works Mexico City selling chewing gum, squeegeeing windshields, and singing songs in the streets -- all for the cause of raising funds for a popular insurrection to bring George W. Bush before an international human rights tribunal.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Toward Re-founding the Left

I've been reading Detroit Lives (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1994), an oral history of Detroit organizers compiled and edited by Robert H. Mast. It's a wonderful book. Here's what Rick Feldman -- "the co-editor, with Michael Betzold, of End of the Line (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988), an oral history of Detroit autoworkers, and an officer of UAW Local 900" (264) -- says in his testimony in the book: "[T]he organizational form of a Marxist-Leninist cadre-type organization in the '70s and '80s was not one that facilitated transformation. It facilitated getting things done. We didn't know how to break out of that. When the organization dissolved, the question of what kind of organizational form helps people to develop as well as relate to grassroots activities and cadre development was not resolved. These are still important questions" (269).

The remaining "Marxist-Leninist cadre-type organizations" -- the Communist Party, the Workers World Party, the International Socialist Organization, the Socialist Workers Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Socialist Equality Party, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, for instance -- still get some things done, such as maintaining presses (e.g., International Publishers, Haymarket Books, Pathfinder Press), publications (e.g., the International Socialist Review,, and bookstores (e.g., Revolution Books); organizing demonstrations, holding educational forums, etc. on their own or through groups they sponsor (e.g., International ANSWER, Refuse & Resist!) or through coalitions (e.g., Not In Our Name, United for Peace and Justice) of which they are members; providing staffers, organizers, and activists for various groups, coalitions, and campaigns (e.g., the Nader/Camejo campaign). So do socialist organizations that are much more loosely structured than "Marxist-Leninist cadre-type organizations," like the Committee for Correspondence, Democratic Socialists of America, Left Turn, Solidarity, etc. In addition, both types of organizations help young activists acquire organizing skills and experiences that they may find useful (in anti-war organizing, labor organizing, community organizing, third-party organizing, etc.) even after leaving the organizations.

The work done by diverse socialist organizations, as well as their former members, is far from insignificant, but what Feldman said remains true: we don't know how to break out of that. Or more precisely, we don't have social and political conditions that would allow us to break out of that.

In my opinion, hundreds of thousands of decent organizers and intellectuals exist among current and former members of both types of socialist organizations, as well as other leftists who have worked with them. Old ideological divides like "the Russian Question" are no longer relevant. It would be good to create a lateral network of organizers and intellectuals who come from socialist milieux, regardless of their current and former organizational affiliations, to discuss politics, develop shared understanding, and work on some concrete projects together. That would be a modest step toward re-founding the left.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

$2,079 per Year on Entertainment

How much do Americans spend on entertainment on the average annually? In 2002, it was $2,079, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics ("Consumer Expenditures in 2002," November 21, 2003). Can American workers be induced to spend one hundredth of the sum -- $20.79 -- on politics instead, advancing their own working-class agenda?

You think politics isn't as fun as movies, video games, and spectator sports? Wait until you win. The triumph of an action hero on screen or a baseball team that you root for gives you merely vicarious satisfaction. The victory of a political party or ballot initiative that you support, in contrast, gives you more than the same vicarious satisfaction -- it will yield a financial return on your investment in the future.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

$1 a Year for a Third Party

According to Peter Feaver, a political scientist at Duke, "those who are against any war" are "about 10-20% of the American population" (January 29, 2003). That's about 29.4-58.8 million individuals, as the US population is now estimated to be 294,209,710 (September 7, 2004). If every American who is against any war contributes $1 a year, or, alternatively, if 1 in 10 Americans who are against any war contributes $10 a year, to the project of creating a mass political party on the left, the party will have an annual budget of $29.4-58.8 million. About $10 million should be enough to put its presidential candidate on all 50 states and run a spirited presidential campaign -- the rest would be spent on movement organizing and local electoral campaigns. That's a financially feasible project.

Unfortunately, as of now, just 12.9 percent of the working class are being compelled to spend 2.6-5.1 times more than the projected budget of a political party on the left that collects a due of $1 a year from "10-20% of the American population" who are "against any war":
The allocation of resources is unprecedented. The federation is spending $44 million, and that is being added to by its affiliates, to make a total of $150 million. Gerald McEntee, head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says his organization alone is spending $40 million. The Service Employees Union is spending $65 million. And it’s not just money — it’s man- and woman-power. McEntee says AFSCME’s offices will “basically close down” to put staff on the streets" (Roberta Wood, "AFL-CIO Gets Down to Nuts and Bolts," August 21, 2004)
That's a big waste. Leftists -- especially working-class leftists -- need to spend what they have to build their own political party, rather than contributing either money or time or both to the Democratic Party.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Does Money Buy Happiness?

Yes, money does buy happiness.

The trends in American happiness closely correlate with those in real hourly earnings and household incomes in the United States: the overall decline in real hourly earnings and the narrowing of the racial gap in household incomes since the early 1970s:
Does money buy happiness? Philosophers, psychiatrists, social commentators, and journalists have long pondered the question. Now economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald weigh-in with their analysis in Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA (NBER Working Paper No. 7487). Their data source is the General Social Surveys of the United States from 1972 through 1992, a period of generally rising material living standards. The Survey shows that in the early 1970s, 34 percent of those interviewed described themselves as "very happy." Yet by the late 1990s, the figure had shrunk to 30 percent. The trend seems clear: American society may be wealthier measured in dollars and cents, but we are less happy.

Yet Blanchflower and Oswald reject such a simple conclusion. Instead, a closer examination of the data suggests that some groups in society have become happier while others have suffered an evident decline in their sense of well-being. For example, the happiness of American men has grown over the past three decades. But the happiness of women, despite gains in the job market and legislation aimed at reducing gender discrimination, has diminished greatly. Blacks are less happy than whites. Yet the happiness gap between the races is narrowing. Black men and women show an upward slope in their happiness (with black men happier than black women) while whites are less happy than before. Higher income is also associated with higher happiness, although not by as much as many economists might suppose. The details of the American survey differ from the British figures, but the outline and equations are essentially the same. Taken altogether, after the typical statistical and analytical caveats, their answer to the age-old question is, "Yes. Money does buy happiness."

The paper offers several intriguing calculations. For example, the biggest single depressant on reported happiness is the variable "separated from spouse," followed by "widowed." Being unemployed is similarly depressing. The authors calculate how much money it would take to compensate for a major emotional trauma. It would take about $100,000 extra per year to reimburse for the suffering of divorce or widowhood, and $60,000 a year to recompense men for the pain of unemployment. Put somewhat differently, a lasting marriage is worth $100,000 a year and a steady job $60,000 annually.

Blanchflower and Oswald's results suggest that happiness is U-shaped over the life cycle. We seem to hit bottom somewhere around the age of 40. Perhaps that is good news for the United States at least. The mammoth baby boom generation is aging, and as a society we may feel better off in coming decades. (Christopher Farrell, "Changing Patterns of Income and Happiness")
The trend in American women's happiness is out of sync with that in their income, but the disjunction is probably explained by the fact that more women have come to shoulder the double shift than in the early 1970s, experiencing more time crunches than could be compensated by income gains.

Monday, September 06, 2004

The Liberal Message Machine's Money Matrix

One of the problems of US politics is that too many intellectuals (most of whom have working-class or petit-bourgeois backgrounds) have come to depend on liberal rich donors and their foundations for livings (a post-modern feudalism!), rather than on public-sector employers like universities or (better yet) a political party funded by dues-paying working-class and petit-bourgeois members.
[A veteran Democartic Party operative Rob] Stein read a few reports that liberal research groups had published on the rise of the conservative movement. Then he began poring over tax forms from various conservative nonprofits and aggregating the data about fund-raising and expenditures. He spent hours online every night, between about 9 p.m. and 1 in the morning, reading sites like, which is devoted to tracing the roots of conservative groups and their effect on the media. To call this an obsession somehow seems too mundane; Stein spent much of the spring of 2003 consumed with connecting the dots of what Hillary Clinton famously called the ''vast right-wing conspiracy'' and then translating it into flow charts and bullet points.

The presentation itself, a collection of about 40 slides titled ''The Conservative Message Machine's Money Matrix,'' essentially makes the case that a handful of families -- Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors and others -- laid the foundation for a $300 million network of policy centers, advocacy groups and media outlets that now wield great influence over the national agenda. The network, as Stein diagrams it, includes scores of powerful organizations -- most of them with bland names like the State Policy Network and the Leadership Institute -- that he says train young leaders and lawmakers and promote policy ideas on the national and local level. These groups are, in turn, linked to a massive message apparatus, into which Stein lumps everything from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to Pat Robertson's ''700 Club.'' And all of this, he contends, is underwritten by some 200 ''anchor donors.'' ''This is perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,'' he said. (Matt Bai, "Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy," New York Times Magazine, July 25, 2004, p. 30+)
I'd like to see an analysis of the Liberal Message Machine's Money Matrix, which is more of a problem for us than its conservative counterpart, as the liberal rich-non-profit industrial complex sucks intellectuals out of our social movements and puts them into an enemy camp running liberal non-profits that support the Democratic Party, whereas its conservative counterpart doesn't cause us any sizable brain drain (only occasional "The-God-That-Failed" converts who are a good riddance from our point of view anyway).

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Haven't Heard Enough

What's the most difficult task that confronts leftists in the United States? To get Americans to realize that they exist.

Take, for instance, Ralph Nader, probably the best known American leftist alive.

Search Lexis-Nexis with the term "Ralph Nader" in the headlines or lead paragraphs of articles in "major papers," and you'll get 403 articles in 2001, 347 in 2002, 258 in 2003. Broaden the parameters from the headlines or lead paragraphs to full texts, and you'll get even more: 957 articles in 2001, 873 in 2002, and 667 in 2003. No leftist, not even Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn, compares to Ralph Nader's ability to draw audiences and generate media coverage (even in the years when he is not running for any political office).

And yet, when asked whether their opinions of Ralph Nader were "favorable, unfavorable, mixed, or [they hadn't] . . . heard enough about him," 33% of respondents replied "Haven't Heard Enough" on March 17, 2004; 37% on April 21, 2004; 29% on May 27, 2004; and 34% on June 24, 2004 ("Bush, Kerry in Dead Heat in Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Nader Holds the Key to Keystone State," June 24, 2004). Each time, "Haven't Heard Enough" was the biggest category.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Why Join the Million Worker March?

Why join the Million Worker March, defying a legion of naysayers?

To be sure, the Million Worker March will not be as big as the August 29, 2004 "World-Says-No-to-the-Bush-Agenda" march organized by United for Peace and Justice, much less the worldwide mobilization against the invasion of Iraq on February 15, 2003. However, the social composition of main organizers and likely participants of the Million Worker March -- in terms of class, race, and political consciousness -- is far more critical to the future of independent political action on the electoral and social movement fronts in the United States than either of the above.

As a matter of fact, if national anti-war coalitions had not adopted the AnybodyButBush strategy of concentrating overwhelmingly on organizing against the Republican National Convention and instead responded to the call of the Million Worker March organizers -- "We call upon United for Peace and Justice, Not in Our Name, leaders and all organizations preparing to demonstrate at the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention to make these great demonstrations a build up to a vast convergence in Washington, D.C. on October 17, 200" (emphasis added, "An Open Letter to the Anti-War Movement") -- we all would have been much better off. Contrary to the hope of the "World-Says-No-to-the-Bush-Agenda" march organizers and participants, George W. Bush shot up in polls afterward; and the march's inability to challenge the pro-war agenda of John Kerry, lest Bush gets "re-elected," made it another big landmark of demobilization and depoliticization of anti-war activists, most of whom had given the protests against the Democratic National Convention "a pass":
Even in the unified ranks of the Boston antiwar group United for Justice With Peace, fault lines began to form recently when activists started discussing whether to protest at the Democratic National Convention next week.

"Some people feel very strongly that we should have anybody but [President] Bush. They don't want to somehow play into the Republicans' hands," said Cynthia Peters, a coalition organizer.

The group decided to hold "People's Parties" instead, timed with Democratic Party events for convention delegates. Peters even encouraged national activists not to come to Boston, but instead hold People's Parties in their hometowns. Peters has mixed feelings about the approach, which is aimed at bolstering the chances of presumptive Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry.

"The 'anybody but Bush' movement makes people think that if Kerry wins we can all go home," Peters said. "But under Clinton we saw the dismantling of welfare benefits. We saw sanctions against Iraq and the bombing of Baghdad. I am under no illusions that Kerry is going to radically diverge."

Another left-wing group, United for Peace and Justice, decided differently; it will protest, and it's coordinating an antiwar event near the convention Thursday, the day Kerry speaks. "There's a lot of 'anybody but Bush' pressure," said Bill Dobbs, the media coordinator of the New York-based group. "Lots of people who feel very strongly about getting rid of Bush. They want to give the Democrats a pass. We do not want to give the Democrats a pass. We think it's important to keep the pressure on both parties."

. . . Activists, now members of well-organized antiwar movements, are debating — in living room meetings and e-mail exchanges, in the alternative press and on the Internet — whether to protest in Boston.

As a headline in the liberal magazine the Nation put it: "Progressive activists at the Democratic convention are faced with the question of whether to protest or just talk about their issues."

For some activists, at least, "the slogan 'The Evil of Two Lessers' has been replaced by 'Anybody but Bush,'" the Nation article said. "That leaves progressives with a question: whether to demonstrate at the Democratic National Convention in Boston July 26-29 or give the Dems a pass and concentrate on the Republican National Convention in New York August 30-September 1." (Anne-Marie O'Connor, "Activists Ponder DNC Strategy," Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2004)
The anti-war movement's loss of political independence and acquiescence to the hegemony of the Democratic Party is a political error of historic proportions, and we have to do all we can to recover from it as soon as possible. The Million Worker March is an important step in our recovery.

The Million Worker March can become much more than that, though, if the march organizers succeed in developing the network of organizers and activists -- many of them rooted in the labor left and Black communities -- that they have created in the process of mobilizing for the march and begin to lead local, regional, and national actions that fight against the wars abroad and at home at the same time. In that event, we can even look at the demise of the predominantly white anti-war movement as a blessing in disguise which created room for the emergence of a new social movement led by organic intellectuals of the Black working class.

Friday, September 03, 2004

"The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime"

If anyone tells you that "this is the most important election in our lifetime" one more time, direct him or her to (courtesy of Josh). Enjoy the quiz!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Take the Red/Green Pill -- Join the Green Alliance

Discontent that the Green Party missed a great opportunity to capitalize upon a giant gulf between the pro-war Democratic Party elite and anti-war rank-and-file Democrats and other voters on the left in 2004? Angry with the Democratic Party's undemocratic violation of voting rights of supporters of Ralph Nader/Peter Camejo and other candidates on the left? Dismayed that the Green Party, favoring an electoral college over the principle of one person, one vote, ended up nominating a candidate for whom only a tiny minority of rank-and-file Greens voted in primaries? Want a political party that grows out of, and in turn helps grow, social movements on the left?

Many of you are already on the mailing lists of Nader/Camejo 2004 and Greens for Nader. What if you want to get more politically active and directly participate in defining the future of the Green Party and independent political action? Try the Green Alliance (click on the logo below to join it):
Click Here to Join Green Alliance
It's an embryonic national network of Red/Green activists, organizers, and intellectuals, with whom you can discuss what is to be done and put it into practice.