Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Waste of the Nation

Though "capital spending on bridges, roads and factories" has not been high, the U.S. economy is growing steadily, according to the garbage indicator:
"Volume in the garbage industry absolutely is an indicator of the state of the economy," said Michael Hoffman, senior analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey. "The simple observation is our economy is in fine shape."

For the past 15 months, solid-waste landfill volume has been growing at a high single-digit percentage rate, he added.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So far, landfill volumes have held firm, Hoffman said, with the top three U.S. waste management companies seeing an average of 6 percent growth this year.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"We are taking away tons of furniture and renovation material," said Cameron Herold, vice president of operations for 1-800-Got-Junk, a Vancouver, Canada-based company that hauls old appliances, furniture, construction waste and other items garbage workers do not handle.

The company's sales and volumes are on track to more than double this year from 2003.

"Our guys in San Francisco have picked up leather furniture and big-screen TVs because (people) are upgrading," Herold said.

And industrial waste remains strong. Waste Management Inc., for example, saw a jump in its "roll-off" volume beginning in April.

While overall GDP growth has slowed, Friedman Billings Ramsey's Hoffman said, "from the industrial level of activity, measured by disposal occurring in the economy, it hasn't even taken a breath." (Reshma Kapadia/Reuters, "Piles of Garbage Suggest a Strong Economy," November 30, 2004)
The wealth of the nations depends upon the waste of a nation, overindebted Americans functioning as "the world’s consumers of last resort and its borrowers of first resort" (Gary A. Dymski, "Post-Hegemonic U.S. Economic Hegemony: Minskian and Kaleckian Dynamics in the Neoliberal Era," Journal of the Japanese Society for Political Economy, April 2002), which means that capitalism can never become Green.

The Internationale

Listen to the most festive rendition of "The Internationale" ever, played by a Japanese band Soul Flower Mononoke Summit.

Soul Flower Union

Here are the lyrics in Japanese:


"Proud of Britain": Googlebombing New Labour

From The Virtual Stoa, Lenin's Tomb, Dead Men Left, and Jews Sans Frontieres, I got wind of the Labour Party's new shameless campaign, which asks you to tell them "what makes you proud of Britain" ("Disclaimer: The Labour Party may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published"):
Googlebomb New Labour
Be sure to link to http://www.proudofbritain.net/ and http://www.proud-of-britain.org.uk/.

Monday, November 29, 2004

November 29, 1947

Today is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution on the partition of Palestine: A/RES/181(II). Anti-Zionist Notes, a new blog by "a jewish israeli-american and a former west bank settler," recommends Simha Flapan's The Birth of Israel: Myths And Realities (Pantheon, 1987) for a better understanding of the resolution and events that followed it.

The Iraqi Communist Party . . . to the Right of the Gaullists!

Juan Cole comments on "the interview that Majid Musa, deputy speaker of the Iraqi National Council and leader of the Iraqi Communist Party, gave to Egyptian Radio (BBC World Monitoring, Nov. 23)":
The Egyptian interview asked what the participants at the Sharm El Sheikh conference could be expected to agree on.
"Majid: I believe that there is a common ground and that a consensus is possible. The continuation of the unstable conditions, the deteriorating security situation in Iraq and the activities of terrorists and saboteurs will not be restricted within Iraqi borders. The impact of those crimes and this terrorism will spread throughout the region, unless we take timely measures and cooperate to ward off such dangers." He added that the issue of the exact shape of Iraqi federalism was an internal affair.
The Cairo interviewer asked him about a deadline for withdrawal of US troops. (France had pressed for a deadline of Dec. 31, 2005, for this withdrawal, but the other Sharm El Sheikh participants, including Egypt, rejected it).
"Majid: As for the other issue, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces, it is an objective that all Iraqis without exception seek to achieve. Nobody could claim that they are keener than the Iraqi people to see a quick end to the presence of foreign troops. However, the problem is deciding when those troops could depart. We have not yet built sufficient military, police or security forces to protect the security of Iraq."
It appears to me that the stance of the Iraqi Communist Party, at least for now, is not so far from that of the US government-- curb terrorists and saboteurs, decide on federalism in the Iraqi parliament, and be patient about foreign troops until an Iraqi military can be trained. That is, the ICP seems somewhat to the right of the Gaullists here! (Informed Comment, November 26, 2004)
Cole's comment reminds me of what As`ad AbuKhalil said last April:
When I see the rise of As-Sadr movement and the Sunni fundamentalist groups I can't but wonder about the prospects for secularism in Iraq. The Iraqi Communist Party could have provided the credible alternative but the idiots of the party have damaged their cause for years -- if not decades -- to come by accepting to serve as a tool for occupation. Just as Arab communism suffered from subservience to USSR (especially on the partition question), Iraqi communism has deeply hurt the movement. (The Angry Arab News Service, April 5, 2004)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

From Black Reconstruction to Operation Dixie

Tom Engelhardt, commenting on "a map floating around the e-universe in recent days [which] shows Pre-Civil War Free vs. Slave States," writes that "[t]he 2004 electoral map probably does tell us that, under the endless layers of a quarter-century of 'culture wars' and 'moral issues,' including those of abortion and gay marriage, lies the heavy historical burden of America's slave past and racial history" ("Mapping the Election," TomDispatch.com, November 14, 2004).

("Free States vs. Slave States ~ Oh How Far We've Come. . . ," Sensory Overload, November 04, 2004)
Democrats cry foul over "President Richard Nixon's decision to pursue a 'southern strategy' (based, in part, on seeing the strength of segregationist Governor George Wallace's third-party presidential bid in 1968 in which he garnered 46 electoral votes and about 13% of the popular vote)," the strategy "meant to drive a wedge right into the greatest of all New Deal Democratic Party contradictions -- the long-lived, increasingly uneasy alliance of the northern liberal and southern white conservative wings of the Party" (Engelhardt, November 14, 2004).

The "southern strategy," however, has worked only because both the Republican and Democratic Parties, alike controlled by the ruling class, chose to crush poor farmers' and workers' attempts to overcome white supremacy and advance their class interests -- from Black Reconstruction to Populism to Operation Dixie.

As Nathan Newman and J. J. Gass note, "The ultimate bulwark of white supremacy was violence" (emphasis added, "A New Birth of Freedom: The Forgotten History of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments," 2004, p. 16). Had the North had the political will to do so, it would have refused to demobilize the Union Army ("The Union Army is quickly demobilized. From a troop strength of one million on May 1, only 152,000 Union soldiers remain in the South by the end of 1865" ["Reconstruction Timeline: 1863-1866"]), placed the South under the Union Army's military dictatorship for a decade or so, confiscated all land of the big Confederate land owners, and redistributed it to Blacks and poor whites in the South to break the economic base of white terror that would later culminate in the Colfax massacre and other atrocities.

Some white Radical Republicans knew that expropriation of Confederate landlords was what it would take to truly reconstruct the South, though they were a minority among the party elite, according to Eric Foner:
The idea of remaking Southern society led a few Radicals to propose that the federal government overturn the plantation system and provide the former slaves with homesteads. In a speech to Pennsylvania's Republican convention in September 1865, [Thaddeus] Stevens called for the seizure of the 400 million acres belonging to the wealthiest ten percent of Southerners:
The whole fabric of southern society must be changed, and never can it be done if this opportunity is lost. . . . How can republican institutions, free schools, free churches, free social intercourse exist in a mingled community of nabobs and serfs? If the South is ever to be made a safe republic let her lands be cultivated by the toil of the owners.
Confiscation, Stevens believed, would break the power of the South's traditional ruling class, transform the Southern social structure, and create a triumphant Southern Republican party composed of black and white yeomen and Northern purchasers of planter land.

Even among the Radicals, however, only a handful stressed the land question as uncompromisingly as did Stevens. (Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877, Harper Perennial, 1990, p. 107)
Freedmen and -women wanted land, correctly believing that's the necessary condition for their freedom and autonomy:
As A. Warren Kelsey, a representative of Northern cotton manufacturer shrewdly observed:

The sole ambition of the freedman at the present time appears to be to become the owner of a little piece of land, there to erect a humble home, and to dwell in peace and security at his own free will and pleasure. If he wishes, to cultivate the ground in cotton on his own account, to be able to do so without anyone to dictate to him hours or system of labor, if he wishes instead to plant corn or sweet potatoes -- to be able to do that free from any outside control. . . . That is their idea, their desire and their hope.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Most of the land occupied by blacks in the summer and fall of 1865 lay within the "Sherman reservation." To [Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner Oliver Otis] Howard fell the melancholy task of informing the freedmen that the land would be restored to their former owners and that they must either agree to work for the planters or be evicted. . . .

Howard requested the assembled freedmen to appoint a three-man committee to consider the fairest way of restoring the planters to ownership. The committee's eloquent response did not augur well for a tranquil settlement:
General, we want Homesteads, we were promised Homesteads by the government. If it does not carry out the promises its agents made to us, if the government haveing concluded to befriend its late enemies and to neglect to observe the principles of common faith between its self and us its allies in the war you said was over, now takes away from them all right to the soil they stand upon save such as they can get by again working for your late and their all time enemies . . . we are left in a more unpleasant condition than our former. . . . You will see this is not the condition of really freemen.

You ask us to forgive the land owners of our island. . . . The man who tied me to a tree and gave me 39 lashes and who stripped and flogged my mother and my sister and who will not let me stay in his empty hut except I will do his planting and be satisfied with his price and who combines with others to keep away land from me well knowing I would not have anything to do with them if I had land of my own -- that man, I cannot well forgive. Does it look as if he has forgiven me, seeing how he tries to keep me in a condition of helplessness?
In these words, the committee expressed with simple dignity the conviction of all freedmen that land was the foundation of freedom, the evils of slavery could not be quickly forgotten, and the interests of former master and former slave were fundamentally irreconcilable. (Foner, pp. 48, 72-3)
What prevented the Republican Party from heeding the Black and white Radical Republicans' call for land reforms? Foner explains: "Blacks' quest for economic independence not only threatened the foundations of the Southern political economy, it put the freedmen at odds with both former owners seeking to restore plantation labor discipline and Northerners committed to reinvigorating staple crop production" (p. 48).

The Northern business elite even feared that Blacks, if allied with poor white farmers and workingmen, would go the way of the Paris Communards!
  • The Death of Reconstruction expands our understanding of the North during the generation following emancipation. Reading broadly in the region's newspapers, magazines, and popular books, Heather Cox Richardson summarizes the story of southern Reconstruction that was available to literate northerners. This popular account, she argues, explains why northern sympathizers deserted the former slaves. These often partisan media initially depicted the freedpeople as good workers who subscribed to free labor principles and a harmony of interest between labor and capital, in this regard comparing favorably with strike-prone laboring Democrats who regarded capital as their natural enemy. Soon, however, observers began to wonder whether universal male suffrage would sustain the free labor vision or instead enfranchise workers who would champion collective entitlements rather than individual liberties. The rise of a "labor interest" among black southerners rattled northern Republicans, who feared that the freedpeople were coming under the sway of demagogues.

    Even as the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, reports from Louisiana and South Carolina indicated that politics by ex-slaves challenged property rights and proper government in ways reminiscent of the oft-reported horrors of the Paris Commune. In the context of northern fears of labor unrest, Richardson argues, white northerners even interpreted white supremacist massacres as justifiable defenses of the social order. Efforts to secure national civil rights protections seemed to demand an expanded federal government that would rely on freedpeople's votes while turning them into its subservient wards. The Republicans' resulting fear "that the mass of African Americans hoped to use the national government to attain prosperity," instead of relying on their own hard work, rendered northerners unwilling to rescue their onetime southern allies from Democratic terrorists. Thus the disfranchisement and segregation of black southerners proceeded without substantial northern resistance. (Stephen Kantrowitz, "The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post–Civil War North, 1865–1901. By Heather Cox Richardson" [Book Review], The Journal of American History 89.3, December 2002)

  • Why did northerners abandon Reconstruction? After years of pursuing a rough equality for the newly freed slaves, why did they walk away and watch in silence as Jim Crow descended on the South? Historians have offered a number of explanations for this abandonment: partisan politics, racism, war weariness, corruption, class needs of planters. But Heather Cox Richardson argues that these explanations, while compelling, are "disparate aspects" (p. xi) of the northern experience. How, she asks, did they fit together? The answer can be found in northerners' adherence to free labor ideology.

    This is a big topic, and to make the job manageable, Richardson focuses almost entirely on northern newspapers and opinion makers: she follows the trajectory of the northern discourse about the nation's political economy between 1865 and 1901. Having fought a war for free labor, Republicans were committed to the South's transformation into a free labor society and were drawn to the newly emancipated slaves as ideal free laborers: workmen who "worked hard and skillfully, lived frugally, saved their money, and planned to rise as individuals through their own efforts" (pp. 7–8). These "good" workers, who believed in the harmony of interests between employees and employers, stood in sharp contrast to bad workers: those who allied with the Democratic Party, believed that "polarizing wealth meant the creation of economic classes locked in inevitable conflict" (p. 8), and looked to the federal government for help in solving their problems.

    When recalcitrant southern whites interfered with the South's transition to a free labor society, Republicans concluded that the federal government would have to assume an active role in the process. Republicans passed civil rights legislation and the Fourteenth Amendment and then fought for universal male suffrage, all to ensure the protection of the freedmen's economic rights. But Republicans' commitment to black male suffrage evoked Democratic complaints of corruption and empire building, and the freedmen's political activism, viewed in the context of increasing labor unrest in the North, engendered Republican worries that enfranchising black men would "harness the government to the service of disaffected workers, who hoped to confiscate the wealth of others rather than to work their own way to economic success" (p. 82). In South Carolina, a convention attended by ex-Confederates protested new taxes and accused black legislators of plundering property holders, fueling northern concerns. In 1871, Horace Greeley chided "lazy" blacks (p. 99) who were unwilling to work, drawing a parallel between the Paris Commune and the South Carolina freedmen.

    Though not all blacks fit this category -- Republicans praised those blacks who achieved success in an individualistic fashion -- an image of "an uneducated mass of African-American voters pillaging society was one of the most powerful ones of the postwar years" (p. 118). Increasingly, Republicans "read the Northern struggle over political economy into the racial struggles of the South" (p. 94) -- including the campaign for a civil rights bill and the 1879 black exodus -- and the debate over Reconstruction was recast as a debate over state action, individualism, and the American way of life. By the 1890s, it was clear to northerners that their faith in the freedmen as free laborers had been misplaced, and virtually all black activism had come to symbolize the threat that European-style class conflict posed to American individualism. Thus northerners who hoped to preserve traditional American values accepted black disenfranchisement and came to believe that blacks were "bound by race into permanent semi-barbarism" (p. 224). (Melinda Lawson, "Heather Cox Richardson. The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865–1901" [Book Review], American Historical Review 108.5, December 2003)
W. E. B. DuBois called Black Reconstruction "a glorious failure." It was a lost opportunity of world-historic proportions.

The same elite opposition to communism, which organized labor was unable to defy, explains the failure to unionize Southern workers, leaving white workers unacquainted with the power of interracial solidarity and vulnerable to racist demagoguery:
One important outcome of the Truman years’ CIO commitment to anti-communism and to the Democratic Party was the defeat of Operation Dixie, launched in 1946 as a major effort to organize the Deep South. Initially launched with 400 organizers and a $1 million budget, “Operation Dixie” was cancelled two years later following pressure from racist, anti-communist Dixiecrat governments and employers. The CIO leaders had to choose between organizing the South and maintaining the labor-Democratic alliance. Art Preis explained their dilemma:
It was impossible to support the Democratic Party and not reinforce its Southern wing, the chief prop of the Jim Crow system and the one-party dictatorship in the South. The CIO leaders refused to wage political war against the Southern ruling class because that would undermine the whole Democratic Party and put an end to the Democratic Party-labor coalition.15
Present-day company threats to move to the Sunbelt if workers do not accept concessions and the generally lower wages of workers in the South are the living legacy of this decision. A weakened labor movement was the result.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . [T]he alliance between organized labor and the Democratic Party strengthened throughout the next 20 years while the coalition of Southern Democrats and Republicans passed restriction after restriction on labor unions. Following the 1943 passage of the Smith-Connally Act, the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) placed a number of restrictions on union activities, including barring communists from leadership positions, outlawing sympathy strikes, and imposing “cooling-off” periods on strikes. The Communist Control Act (1950) allowed the government to remove elected union leaderships by fiat and to deny collective bargaining rights to “communist” unions. The Landrum-Griffin Act (1959) allowed union leaders to use “trusteeships” against militants and allowed the government to take over unions. (Lance Selfa, The Democratic Party and the Politics of Lesser Evilism, 2004)
That's the legacy of the duopoly of the parties of the ruling class: sacrifice of the interests of Blacks in particular and workers in general, especially in the South.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

No Sharing

Ever notice the Waffle House menu's insistence that Double Waffle is for "dine-in only, no sharing"? A common prohibition at low-end restaurants, it's also a small-print reminder of what capitalism is all about.

From enclosure to enforcement of intellectual property rights, capital's message is always No Sharing.

Products of intellectual labor, unlike land and waffles, can be shared by all without diminishing their use value for anyone, however. "Copies" are as perfect as "originals" for the most profitable products -- such as drugs and software -- in the age of mechanical reproduction, withering the aura of private property and making the revolutionary act of sharing and sharing alike irresistible. Capital, of course, tries to stop it, but, in doing so, it makes visible the "invisible hand" of the market, demonstrating that it is not scarcity but state power at capital's disposal that prevents us from having what we want -- even what we need to save our lives.

Covering Dissent

Tom Hayden argues that "[c]are will have to be taken during such militant actions [as mass demonstrations and civil disobedience] to send the clearest possible message to mainstream public opinion" ("How to End the Iraq War," AlterNet, November 23, 2004).

The proverbial "mainstream public" who do not directly participate in such militant actions, however, will only see or hear of them through the media. How did the media cover them during the Vietnam War?

After studying the media coverage of the anti-Vietnam War movement, Melvin Small concluded:
From the first major demonstration in April, 1965, to the wild Mayday activities of May, 1971, the media framed their stories in terms of the size and composition of the crowds attending antiwar events, and especially the absence or presence of violent, bizarre, or countercultural behavior. Aside from reporting that the protesters wanted out of Vietnam, the media virtually ignored the political discourse that served as the centerpiece for most antiwar activities. They rarely exposed casual readers and viewers, who constituted the bulk of their audiences, to the rationales behind protest activities" (Covering Dissent: The Media and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1994, p. 160)
As even the largest anti-war mobilizations only involved a minority of Americans, fine points of "the message" -- beyond Out Now! -- never reached those who only saw them on TV, heard about them on radio, or read about them in newspapers.

What lesson may we derive from Small's research as we seek to rebuild a movement against the Iraq War? Since the media do report on "the size and composition of the crowds" and their behaviors (Small, p. 160), anti-war organizers -- rather than wrangling with one another about speakers' lists and contents of speeches -- should concentrate on expanding the size of the crowds and sending a message not through words but through the social composition of the crowds and their actions. What message should we seek to send? Masses of Americans are opposed to the war, among whom are an increasing number of GIs, veterans, and military families, who can embolden soldiers deployed in Iraq to disobey and refuse to take orders. Workers and oppressed communities such as Blacks, Latinos, and Arabs -- who are capable of literally stopping "business as usual" for production will stop without their labor -- are at the forefront of opposition. And if the power elite refuse to end the war, the nation will become ungovernable.

Does that mean that "political discourse" doesn't matter at all? It does, but it mainly matters to those who get involved in mass actions, rather than their spectators. How we talk about the Iraq War before and after the mass actions in our own communities, linking it with the war against workers and oppressed communities at home as well as other wars abroad, makes the difference between helping end this war and creating conditions for building our own bases of power.

The US Casualty Rate in Iraq: 9%

The US casualty rate in Iraq is about 9%, according to Editor & Publisher:
The Pentagon's latest official count, provided on Wednesday, listed 1230 American military killed in Iraq and another 9300 U.S. troops wounded in action. How seriously? More than 5000 of them were too badly injured to return to duty. More than 850 troops were reported to have been wounded in action in Falluja so far.

But this only scratches the surface of the total toll.

Earlier this week, CBS’s "60 Minutes" revealed that it had received a letter from the Pentagon declaring: "More than 15,000 troops with so-called 'non-battle' injuries and diseases have been evacuated from Iraq."

These include serious injuries that arise from accidents (vehicular and otherwise), trauma and severe psychiatric problems. The number is in line with estimates offered earlier this year by United Press International, based on arrivals at the main treatment center in Landstuhl, Germany.

Some of these Landstuhl cases are not serious but according to "60 Minutes" only 20 percent of the evacuees return to their units in Iraq. . . .

The total number of casualties is about 25,000, plus the more than 1,200 killed. Since about 300,000 men and women have served in Iraq, it makes for a casualty rate of about 9%. (emphasis added, Editor & Publisher, "Press Routinely Undercounts U.S. Casualties in Iraq," November 25, 2004)
In other words, US soldiers deployed in Iraq have nearly a one-in-ten chance of getting killed, physically wounded, or psychologically traumatized.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Happiness and Prejudice

Research shows that money buys happiness, so it means that the rich, happier than the poor, are more likely to use stereotypes in social judgment than the poor:
  • Four experiments examined the effects of happiness on the tendency to use stereotypes in social judgment. In each experiment, individuals who had been induced to feel happy rendered more stereotypic judgments than did those in a neutral mood. Exp 1 demonstrated this phenomenon with a mood induction procedure that involved recalling life experiences. Exps 2 and 3 suggested that the greater reliance on stereotypes evident in the judgments of happy individuals was not attributable to cognitive capacity deficits created by intrusive happy thoughts or by cognitively disruptive excitement or energetic arousal that may accompany the experience of happiness. In Exp 4, happy individuals again were found to render more stereotypic judgments, except under conditions in which they had been told that they would be held accountable for their judgments. These results suggest that although happy people's tendency to engage in stereotypic thinking may be pervasive, they are quite capable of avoiding the influence of stereotypes in their judgments when situational factors provide a motivational impetus for such effort. (Galen V. Bodenhausen, Geoffrey P. Kramer, and Karin Süsser, "Happiness and Stereotypic Thinking in Social Judgment," Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 66.4, April 1994, pp. 621-632)

  • In a series of experiments at Michigan State University, undergraduates were asked to imagine that they were members of a peer disciplinary panel assembled to judge an assault case. Some were told that the alleged assailant's name was John Garner; others were given the name Juan Garcia. The researchers, who reported their work in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, provided both groups with an otherwise identical case summary and asked them to rate the likelihood that the accused was guilty.

    The panelists' judgments, alas, conformed to a common racial stereotype. Juan was rated more likely to be guilty.

    But there's a twist. Only when the researchers induced a happy mood by playing the students cheerful music or asking them to describe a happy memory -- did the stereotyping occur. Subjects asked to remember mundane events from the previous day rated both suspects equally guilty.

    Achieving social harmony in a multiracial society need not preclude a happy populace. The disparity in Juan and John's guilt disappeared when the happy students were asked to justify their decisions.

    Psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen suggests that happy people simply aren't motivated enough to tackle a complex analysis; it might spoil their good mood. Instead, they rely on quick conclusions -- the cognitive equivalent of a TV dinner. Only when given sufficient reason do they take the time to prepare a more thoughtful evaluation. (Peter Doskoch, "The Dumb Side of Happiness," Psychology Today, September-October, 1994)

Thursday, November 25, 2004

186,000 Deportations, 887,000 "Voluntary Departures"

Notice that it is "laws adopted in 1996" -- under the Bill Clinton administration -- that are responsible for deportations and "voluntary departures" of hundreds of thousands of immigrants:
No one keeps track of exactly how many American children were left behind by the record 186,000 noncitizens expelled from the United States last year, or the 887,000 others required to make a "voluntary departure." But immigration experts say there are tens of thousands of children every year who lose a parent to deportation.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security say they are simply enforcing laws adopted in 1996, which all but eliminated the discretion of immigration officers to consider family ties before enforcing an old order of removal. (Nina Bernstein, "A Mother Deported, and a Child Left Behind," New York Times, November 24, 2004)
Breaking up families and leaving many children behind -- such are the "family values" of the Bushes and Clintons.

China: a Bull Market in Sects and Cults

As China has gone capitalist, the opium of the masses has come back -- with vengeance:
Kuang Yuexia and her husband, Cai Defu, considered themselves good Christians. They read the Bible every night before bed. When their children misbehaved, they dealt with them calmly. They did not curse or tell lies.

But when Zhang Chengli, a neighbor, began hounding them last year to leave their underground religious sect and join his, it seemed like a test of satanic intensity. He scaled the wall of their garden, ambushed them in the fields and roused them after midnight with frantic calls to convert before Jesus arrived for his Second Coming and sent them to hell.

Ms. Kuang poured dirty water on Mr. Zhang's head. Mr. Cai punched him. Yet Mr. Zhang persisted for months until the couple's sect intervened and stopped his proselytizing for good.

Mr. Zhang's body - eyes, ears and nose ripped from his face - was found by a roadside 300 miles from this rural town in Jilin Province, in northeastern China. The police arrested Mr. Cai and fellow sect members. One of them died in police custody during what fellow inmates described as a torture session.

China's growing material wealth has eluded the countryside, home to two-thirds of its population. But there is a bull market in sects and cults competing for souls. That has alarmed the authorities, who seem uncertain whether the spread of religion or its systematic repression does more to turn peasants against Communist rule.

The demise of Communist ideology has left a void, and it is being filled by religion. The country today has more church-going Protestants than Europe, according to several foreign estimates. Buddhism has become popular among the social elite. Beijing college students wait hours for a pew during Christmas services in the capital's 100 packed churches.

But it is the rural underclass that is most desperate for salvation. The rural economy has grown relatively slowly. Corruption and a collapse in state-sponsored medical care and social services are felt acutely. (Joseph Khan, "Violence Taints Religion's Solace for China's Poor," New York Times, November 25, 2004)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Don't Let "Higher One" Pull a Fast One on You!

Privatization of universities proceeds apace, but some students are bucking the trend. "Over 2,000 PSU [Portland State University] students have pledged to support the boycott" of their new campus ID cards "emblazoned with a MasterCard logo" (Tony Rasmussen, "MasterCard Student IDs Incite Boycott and Walkout: Debates about Privacy and Privatization," November 19, 2004). According to The Daily Vanguard, more than 200 students stormed the PSU president's office on Tuesday, November 23 (Treasure Porth, "Students Demand: 'Break the Contract,'" November 24, 2004).

Many students cut up their new Higher One cards in the Park Blocks Tuesday as part of a protest against PSU's contract with the ID/debit card company. Students later marched on to President Daniel Bernstine's office to demand that he meet with representatives from student government. A meeting is planned for Dec. 2.
Students are not only angry about the university's release of their personal data to Higher One, a "virtual bank" that issued the new ID cards, without their consent. The cards are also a major rip-off: " [T]he bank account attached to the cards is low quality: deposits must be mailed to Texas, the 'virtual bank' has no branches on the West Coast, and the fee schedule is higher than all banks in the Portland area, the most notable of which is a $0.50 charge for every pin based transaction. Denise Wendler, the Director of Business Affairs at PSU and the employee responsible for signing the contract, recently stated that if she was a student she would use Direct Deposit over the HigherOne debit account" (Rasmussen, November 19, 2004). The company website says that Higher One "currently serves 13 public and private university clients" ("Fall Term Not Just Busy for College Students: Higher One Processes Nearly $93.5 Million in Financial Aid Disbursement for 13 Universities"). Its newest clients are Columbus State University and Georgia Perimeter College in Georgia ("Columbus State University and Georgia Perimeter College Choose Higher One for New Campus-wide Disbursement, Banking and Debit Card Services Program for Students," November 9, 2004). Kids, don't let Higher One pull a fast one on you!

Squeezing $175 Million from Families of Prison Inmates

The New York State Department of Correctional Services has squeezed out of families of its prison inmates "approximately $175 million in what amounts to an unconstitutional tax since the beginning of the current MCI contract in 1996," according to the Center for Constitutional Rights ("New York Families of Prisoners Launch Campaign to End the Backdoor Tax On Prison"):
[C]alls from New York state prisons must be made collect. Rates charged by MCI, the sole provider of phone service to the prisons, are no bargain: $3 per call, plus 16 cents a minute. . . .

In New York prisons, that 16 cents a minute pays for service that MCI offers to the general public, as the rights group [the Center for Constitutional Rights] points out, for as little as 5 cents. With the $3 surcharge, the markup for a typical call runs to more than 600 percent. And thanks to a payback arrangement with the phone company, Correctional Services reaps most of the profits -- 57.5 percent, which translated last year into a windfall of $23 million-plus. (Clyde Haberman, "Condemned to Get Stuck With the Bill," New York Times, November 23, 2004)
Check out the website of the New York Campaign for Telephone Justice to get involved in the good campaign to end this hideous racket.

It's not just New York, however. Some estimate that "prison phone service nationwide generates as much as $1 billion a year" (Robert Tanner/The Associated Press, "Inmates, Prisons Feud Over Phone Bills," March 30, 2003)!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Up 32% Thanks to the Democratic Party

The Democratic Party lost despite the following facts:
  • Americans disapproved of his [George W. Bush's] handling of the economy, foreign affairs and the war in Iraq. There has been a slight increase in the number of Americans who believe the nation should never have gone into Iraq. A majority of Americans continue to believe the country is going in the wrong direction, traditionally a warning sign for an incumbent (Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder, "Americans Show Clear Concerns on Bush Agenda," New York Times, November 23, 2004)

  • [W]hen allowed freely to name the issue that was most important in their vote, [only] 6 percent chose moral values, although smaller numbers named issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. On a separate question in which voters were given a choice of nine issues, 5 percent chose abortion, 4 percent chose stem cell research and 2 percent chose same-sex marriage (Nagourney and Elder, November 23, 2004)

  • Americans now have a better opinion of the Democratic Party than of the Republican Party: 54 percent said they had a favorable view of Democrats, compared with 39 percent with an unfavorable view. By contrast, 49 percent have a favorable view of Republicans, compared with 46 percent holding an unfavorable one" (Nagourney and Elder, November 23, 2004)
So, what did the Democratic Party accomplish in the 2004 elections exactly? Raised the perception that Bush "legitimately won" by 32%: "Still, in a telling contrast with the 2000 election, 82 percent of respondents said that Mr. Bush legitimately won on Nov. 2. Just before Election Day, 50 percent of respondents said they considered Mr. Bush's defeat of Al Gore in 2000 a legitimate victory" (emphasis added, Nagourney and Elder, November 23, 2004)!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Flames of Solidarity, from Nablus to Falluja

Notes from Palestine argues that, "when Palestinians watch the US and UK massacres on Al-Jazeera," they "understand better than most in the world what it would feel like to live in Fallujah," the sense of identification deepened by a feeling that "that the outside world -- whether Arab, Western or other -- has abandoned the people of Falluja to their fate" ("Solidarity with Falluja," Notes from Palestine, November 21, 2004). "Thus a call to the people of Falluja and Iraq that at least Nablus, Jabal An-Nar - the Mountain of Fire, stands in solidarity with them" -- the call photographically documented by Notes from Palestine (November 21, 2004):

'Al-Fallujah' spelt out in flames lights up the sky on Jabal Ash-shamliya, the mountain overlooking Nablus from the North.

With each letter ten metres high and the word 50 metres from right to left, the flames continue to be readable from the entire city long after being lit.

Progressive Muslim Union

The Progressive Muslim Union is a new organization that promotes a progressive interpretation of Islam and what it means to be a Muslim, affirming that "a Muslim is anyone who identifies herself or himself as 'Muslim,' including those whose identification is based on social commitments and cultural heritage" (emphasis added, "PMU Statement of Principles"). A very worthy cause and timely undertaking -- good for Muslims and good for leftists.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

No Symmetry between the Left and the Right

Compare and contrast the Republican and Democratic Parties' GOTV efforts described by Matt Bai: "The Multilevel Marketing of the President" (New York Times, April 25, 2004) and "Who Lost Ohio?" (New York Times, November 21, 2004).

It looks to me that the Republican Party's model -- relatively speaking, within the limits of top-down organizing required by the parties of the ruling class -- was more partisan, more committed to the party's presidentially candidate, far better organized, more participatory, and (most importantly) far more local-volunteer-driven than the Democratic Party's.

Here's the key difference:
  • [The Ohio State director of America Coming Together Steve] Bouchard closed almost a third of the offices and pared down his canvassing staff by two-thirds. His team then focused its efforts on signing up new voters in heavily Democratic areas where a lot of new and transient voters had yet to register. Using Palm Pilots equipped with 30-second video ads to show to prospective voters, the canvassers set about identifying voters across the state: where they lived, how they planned to vote, what issues they cared about. Even building an up-to-date list of previously registered voters was a monstrous assignment in Ohio, because voters in the state don't register with a party affiliation; the only thing canvassers knew about their political orientations before knocking on their doors was whether they had voted in either party's primary in the last six years. Every night, without fail, the canvassers plugged their Palm Pilots, full of new data about the homes they had visited, into ACT's Web-based voter list" (Matt Bai, "Who Lost Ohio?" New York Times, November 21, 2004)

  • [Bush's campaign manager Ken] Mehlman explained that Bush volunteers, in consultation with headquarters, set their own goals for their states and counties, and thus had a sense of ownership in the campaign. He said this new kind of grass-roots campaign sprang from the same lofty impulse as "Survivor" or "American Idol." "The lessons of reality TV are that people today are into participatory activities," he said. "They want to have influence over a decision that's made. They don't want to just sit and passively absorb. They want to be involved, and a political program ought to recognize that" (Matt Bai, "The Multilevel Marketing of the President," New York Times, April 25, 2004)
The Democratic Party, unlike the Republican Party, refused to tap into local knowledge of local organizers in Ohio (and probably elsewhere).

From personal observations, I knew that none of the longtime organizers in any sort of social movement (labor, community, Green, feminist, religious, etc.) in Ohio was enlisted to map the Democratic Party's GOTV campaign -- it was all money, Palm Pilots, and inexperienced white youths hired by 527s and dispatched to communities to which they were strangers and will not come back after election day.

In contrast, Bai's April 25, 2004 article shows that the Republicans -- while tightly controlling the campaign's overall structure, message, and strategy ("despite Mehlman's 'Free to Be . . . You and Me' rhetoric, they were not, in fact, empowered to make even minuscule adjustments to the Plan" [Bai, April 25, 2004]) and giving specific tasks and rewards to volunteers ("[Bush Team Leaders] are volunteers who are given prizes . . . for accomplishing six specific tasks, the first of which is to recruit five other B.T.L.'s. Volunteers are also rewarded . . . for calling in to talk radio programs or writing letters to the editor on behalf of the president" [Bai, April 25, 2004]) -- relied upon local volunteers to organize Republican supporters in their own communities. That's a better organizing model both for the short and long-term.

Why did the Republican Party have a better model of organizing than the Democratic Party? Because Karl Rove's brains are bigger than any Democrat's? No.

The reason is that there is no structural symmetry between the Republican Party's relation to grassroots organizers on the right and the Democratic Party's relation to grassroots organizers on the left.

Most organizers on the left -- including those who ended up voting for John Kerry -- positively hated Kerry's and the Democratic Party's program on big-ticket issues like war and health care, so they didn't volunteer their knowledge of local communities to the Democratic Party's and allied 527's campaign managers -- nor did they in 2000, and they will not in 2008 either.

In contrast, I have yet to meet an "AnybodyButKerry" voter in person -- those who positively hated George W. Bush's and the Republican Party's program but voted for Bush anyway because they hated Kerry's and the Democratic Party's program even more -- though there must be at least some. Nationwide, only 7.5% of those who voted said that they voted for Bush in order to vote "against his opponent," whereas 17.5% of those who voted said they voted for Kerry to vote "against his opponent" (CNN, "U.S. President/National/Exit Poll"). Organizers on the right were even less ambivalent about Bush than Bush voters in general, so they could readily offer all they had to the Republican Party's campaign managers.

More importantly, the Republican Party elite can easily court and absorb organizers on the right. What organizers on the right want -- restrictions on abortion, opposition to gay marriage -- doesn't cost the Republican Party donors any money, so Republicans in the White House, Congress, state legislatures, etc. can actually deliver a good deal of it -- of course, piece by piece, so as not to kill the gooses that lay the electoral golden eggs.

Not so with the Democratic Party and organizers on the left. What organizers on the left want -- an end to foreign wars, no foreign military aid to regimes that violate human rights, single-payer universal health care, equal funding for quality public education, defense of workers' rights to organize, strong protection of natural environments, etc. -- at least hurts the interests of one or more important sectors of the ruling class in the short term and may even threaten the ruling class's collective class power and capitalism as a mode of production in the long term. The Democratic Party not only cannot deliver it, but, when in power, it makes its own attack on it (especially since the mid-1970s). The Democratic Party, therefore, cannot even court organizers on the left as vigorously as the Republican party does organizers on the right. On the contrary, the Democratic Party wants to keep organizers on the left at arm's length.

That, in a nutshell, is the reason why "entryism" of the left is futile.

Friday, November 19, 2004

What's the Matter with Kansas?

By now, everyone has read -- or at least heard of -- Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, right? If you haven't read it and don't care to, here is a short article that Frank adapted from the book: "Red-State America against Itself" (July 20, 2004).

Frank bemoans that "the things that liberalism once stood for -- equality and economic security -- will have been abandoned completely" as the Democratic Leadership Council pursues its dream of collecting "the wealthy suburban Mods" alienated by "the crazy Cons" for good (Frank, July 20, 2004), but there is no turning back the clock. The Democratic Party's transformation is, at bottom, not a nefarious DLC conspiracy. It is part and parcel of the structural shift in the global economy.

The welfare state funded by progressive taxation rests upon private production largely independent of the state, the existence of most jobs and tax bases (profits and wages) being consequently dependent on profit rates and individual private investors' willingness to invest in production at home (not abroad), all determined by the market.

The ruling class could never tolerate socialism but did tolerate the welfare state when a socialist alternative existed as a threat and the Great Depression made workers rebellious. The compromise between capital and labor that was the welfare state lasted until the mid-1970s, when stagflation hurt profit rates and made workers restive again, who challenged the trade union bureaucracy that had brokered the compromise. In response, the power elite attacked workers, through a set of policies called neoliberalism -- the beginning of the end of the welfare state not just in the United States but all over the world. Hence the hegemony of the DLC here, "New Labour" in Britain, and so on -- you know the story.

It's of course worth defending what's left of the welfare state, just as it's worth defending what's left of socialism like Cuba, but we can't defend either by dreaming of the ghosts of the Democratic Party past.

Take a look at CNN's "Election Results" in Kansas, and scrawl down to the "Vote by Income" section. See? Both the Democratic Party and white workers in "Red-State America" are too far gone to even contemplate patching up their failed marriage.

What is to be done? Hard to say, but I'd look to the hardy souls who voted for Ralph Nader and anarchists like Chuck "Chuck0" Munson, who, by the way, can use some donations to finance new wheels so he can achieve his "goal of doing rural organizing and outreach in the region" without borrowing his parents' vehicle.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Greens Shame Dems

I have heard some Greens voice a misgiving that the Green Party's support for a recount in Ohio may make the party look like a Democratic Party front.

Standing up for the most basic of democratic rights is, however, not only the right thing to do -- it has put the Green Party on the Black political map like never before:
The Greens, who don't stand to win anything except the respect and admiration of all decent people, raised nearly $150,000 in only four days to challenge George Bush’s unofficial 136,000 vote margin in each of Ohio's poll precincts. Kerry had the same option and plenty of cash on hand ($15 million in unspent campaign funds), but took the Skull and Bones path, fearing a contested outcome might damage the legitimacy of a system that he values just as dearly as his erstwhile opponent, George Bush -- Black voters be damned. There is no law against making a concession speech and getting a recount, but oligarchs like Kerry treasure stability above all else -- it keeps them on top. ("Greens Shame Dems," The Black Commentator 114, November 18, 2004)
The question is whether the Green Party can translate increasing Black recognition of the party into more active Black support for and participation in it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

108th Congressional Hall of Fame/Hall of Shame

Take a look at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation's "108th Congressional Hall of Fame/Hall of Shame". In the Senate, Republicans (5 - 9 = -4) and Democrats (2 - 6 = -4) are exactly the same, though Democrats (25 - 13 = 12) are better than Republicans (2 - 15 = -13) in the House.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Morally Sound Democrats

Ohio Green Amy Hanmer discovers this howler (ohiogreens-general@yahoogroups.com, November 13, 2004): "Cleveland Kerry Meetup," post-election, changed its name to "Morally Sound Democrats."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

An Open Letter to Michael & Ralph: Dog John Kerry and the Democratic Party!

Dear Messrs. Michael Moore and Ralph Nader:

I know you two had a falling out, but it's time for you to make up, join hands, and dog John Kerry and the Democratic Party together.

Paucity of voting machines in Black, Latino, and other working-class precincts: "many polling places in inner-city neighborhoods had fewer voting machines than during the last presidential election" in Ohio (Geoff Dutton, "Suburbs Were Busiest, Even with More Machines," Columbus Dispatch, November 5, 2004). 155,428 provisional ballots and 92,672 "spoiled" ballots in Ohio, both predominantly cast by Black, Latino, and other working-class voters. Paperless electronic voting machines. The list of problems goes on and on: see, for instance, Bob Fitrakis, "None Dare Call It Voter Suppression and Fraud" (The Free Press and Dissident Voice, November 7, 2004); Greg Palast, "Kerry Won" (TomPaine.com, November 4, 2004); "CNN Just Changed Their Ohio Exit Poll Page" (DemocraticUnderground.com, November 3, 2004); and Greg Palast, "An Election Spoiled Rotten" (TomPaine.com, November 1, 2004).

Why let John Kerry and the Democratic Party get away with conceding without consulting rank-and-file Democrats, disregarding their votes, ignoring violations of their voting rights? Dog them and make them demand a recount! Make them fight for equal protection!

Better yet, lead activists to stage sit-ins at John Kerry's offices and the Democratic Party offices nationwide and to hold big raucous rallies in front of them.

Begin with Ohio.

Here's the Ohio Democratic Party contact information:
Dennis White, Chair
614-221-6563 x128 (voice)

Dan Trevas, Communications Director
614-221-6563 x129 (voice)

Hanna Greer, Executive Director
614-221-6563 x100 (voice)

Address: 271 E. State St. Columbus, Ohio 43215
Phone: 614-221-6563 (voice)
614-221-0721 (fax)
Then, go to Massachusetts and D.C., pursuing John Kerry.
Office Locations
Washington D.C.
304 Russell Bldg.
Third Floor
Washington D.C. 20510
(202) 224-2742 - Phone
(202) 224-8525 - Fax
Click here to email Senator Kerry

One Bowdoin Square
Tenth Floor
Boston, MA 02114
(617) 565-8519 - Phone
(617) 248-3870 - Fax

One Financial Plaza
Springfield, MA 01103
(413) 785-4610 - Phone
(413) 736-1049 - Fax

Fall River
222 Milliken Place
Suite 311
Fall River, Ma 02722
(508) 677-0522 - Phone
(508) 677-0275 - Fax

90 Madison Place
Suite 205
Worcester, MA 01608
(508) 831-7380 - Phone
Make as much ruckus as you can.

This is a win-win situation for all of us.

If John Kerry and the Democratic Party refuse to demand a recount (you know they will), the refusal will expose their commitment to bipartisan plutocracy more clearly than ever in the eyes of all outraged activists in Ohio and other states who care about voting rights. We can win more and more of them to independent political action.

In the unlikely event that John Kerry and the Democratic Party get compelled to demand a recount due to pressures of activists in Ohio and elsewhere, it will help put George W. Bush's so-called "mandate" into question.

If, against all odds, John Kerry demands and gets a recount, wins Ohio, and takes the electoral college majority, the next POTUS will be weaker than if Bush won both the popular vote and the electoral college fair and square.

Whatever happens, you, Mr. Nader, will be able to show all liberals and leftists (many of whom unwisely attacked you or failed to support you in this election cycle) that it is you, not the Democratic Party, who really care about their voting rights, helping them declare independence finally.

You, Mr. Moore, will get to shoot a great documentary. Dude, Where Is My Voting Machine?


A Nader/Camejo/Green Party Supporter, Columbus, Ohio

Monday, November 08, 2004

Call on the Ohio Democratic and Green Parties to Demand a Recount!

John Kerry and the Democratic Party elite abjectly conceded and want us to stand down in the interest of getting on with the bipartisan program of making Iraq safe for foreign investors and making the rich richer and the poor poorer in America -- but we shouldn't. If we cannot stand up for the most basic of democratic rights -- voting rights, especially of Black, Latino, and other working-class voters -- we are not capable of winning anything better, such as the end to the Iraq War and establishment of single-payer universal health care.

Bob Fitrakis, the editor of the Free Press, writes: "[U]nofficial results showed Bush with 136,483 more votes than Kerry, although 155,428 provisional ballots, 92,672 'spoiled' ballots, additional overseas ballots, and some remaining absentee ballots remained uncounted. The day after his concession, Kerry drew 3,893 votes closer to Bush when a computerized voting machine 'glitch' was discovered in an Ohio precinct. A machine in ward 1B in the predominantly Republican Gahanna, Ohio, recorded 4,258 votes for George W. Bush when only 638 people cast votes at the New Life Church polling site" ("None Dare Call It Voter Suppression and Fraud," November 7, 2004, http://www.freepress.org/columns/display/3/2004/983 and http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Nov2004/Fitrakis1108.htm).

Most importantly, "[s]poiled ballots will only be counted if someone with standing, such as five Kerry electors or the Ohio Democratic Party, demands and legally qualifies for a recount" (Fitrakis, http://www.freepress.org/columns/display/3/2004/983 and http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Nov2004/Fitrakis1108.htm).

Call upon the Ohio Democratic Party, Kerry electors, the Ohio Green Party, and David Cobb electors to demand a recount. Make them fight for voting rights!

Make them do it, even if you think (as I do) that Kerry would be no better than Bush on big issues like the Iraq War and single-payer universal health care. Why? Because if the recount throws Ohio to Kerry, it makes the next President a man who won the electoral college but did not win the popular vote, which will weaken the executive branch by denying it the illusion of popular consent and legitimacy; and even if the recount doesn't change the outcome, your demand will send the Democrats and Republicans a message that you won't obey their order to keep quiet about the reign of plutocrats who continue to assign crappy voting machines to Black, Latino, and other working-class precincts that make more of working-class votes spoil than votes of the rich white voters.
The Ohio Democratic Party Contact Information:

Dennis White, Chair
614-221-6563 x128 (voice)

Dan Trevas, Communications Director
614-221-6563 x129 (voice)

Hanna Greer, Executive Director
614-221-6563 x100 (voice)

Address: 271 E. State St. Columbus, Ohio 43215
Phone: 614-221-6563 (voice)
614-221-0721 (fax)

The Democratic National Committee Contact Information:

The Green Party of Ohio Contact Information:

The Green Party of the United States Contact Information:

Cobb/LaMarche '04 Contact Information:
Cf. Saturday, November 13, 2004, 1-4 PM
Public Hearing on Election Irregularities and Voter Suppression

We are calling on anyone who experienced or observed election irregularities or voter suppression this election season to come to give testimony at a public hearing before public officials, community representatives and the media. Your stories will be documented, recorded and put into a report and formal complaint to the Board of Elections. If you have any information about election irregularities please participate. New Faith Baptist Church, 955 Oak St., Columbus, Ohio, 43205.

Contact: call 614-253-2571 or email truth@freepress.org for more information.
Sponsored by Citizen's Alliance for Secure Elections, the CICJ, League of Pissed Off Voters, Election Protection Coalition, Common Cause, WVKO Radio.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Cruelty, Manipulation, Meaninglessness

The dream life of the rich, white, and educated men in suburbia, who brought you George W. Bush's second term, is well animated by The Incredibles (Dir. Brad Bird, 2004):
"THEY keep finding new ways to celebrate mediocrity," grumbles Bob Parr, once known as Mr. Incredible, the patriarch of a superhero family languishing in middle-class suburban exile. He is referring to a pointless ceremony at his son's school, but his complaint is much more general, and it is one that animates "The Incredibles," giving it an edge of intellectual indignation unusual in a family-friendly cartoon blockbuster. Because it is so visually splendid and ethically serious, the movie raises hopes it cannot quite satisfy. It comes tantalizingly close to greatness, but seems content, in the end, to fight mediocrity to a draw.

By "they" Bob means the various do-gooders, meddlers and bureaucrats -- schoolteachers, lawyers, politicians, insurance executives -- who have driven the world's once-admired superheroes underground, into lives of bland split-level normalcy. "The Incredibles," written and directed by Brad Bird and released under the mighty Pixar brand, is not subtle in announcing its central theme. Some people have powers that others do not, and to deny them the right to exercise those powers, or the privileges that accompany them, is misguided, cruel and socially destructive.

Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson, best known for his title role on television's "Coach"), who was once a superman in both the Nietzschean and the DC Comics sense of the word, has been forced by a litigation-driven, media-fueled anti-superhero backlash into the flabby, dull life of a cubicle drone. He and his pal Lucius, a k a Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), do a little clandestine moonlighting, with the help of a police scanner, but it hardly compensates for the 9-to-5 tedium of Bob's day job processing insurance claims.

His wife, Helen (Holly Hunter), a daring and feisty crime fighter named Elastagirl in their former life, now stays home raising their three children, two of whom have already manifested special abilities they are not allowed to use. Bob and Helen's teenage daughter, Violet (who speaks in the scratchy deadpan of the essayist and public radio storyteller Sarah Vowell), can make herself invisible and generate impermeable force fields, but these powers serve mainly as metaphors for her shyness and disconnection. Dash (Spencer Fox), her younger brother, uses his gift of superhuman speed for low-level mischief. Like their parents, the children are forced to conform to a society where "everyone is special, so no one is."

In the movie's view of things, this kind of misguided egalitarianism, enforced in petty ways at school and work, is not just stultifying but actively, murderously evil. The super-villain, a flame-haired nerd named Syndrome (Jason Lee), is a would-be superhero tormented by his own lack of special talents. From his high-tech island laboratory, populated by faceless minions, a slinky second-in-command (Elizabeth Peña) and giant killer robots, he plots a quasi-genocidal campaign against the former costumed crime fighters, whom he lures out of retirement by promising them the chance to practice their profession once again.

Syndrome's ultimate goal is not so much to rule the world as to force the rules that already govern it to their logical conclusion. His diabolical utopia will be cleansed of heroes: once he is done, he hisses, "everybody will be super, which means no one will be."

The intensity with which "The Incredibles" advances its central idea -- it suggests a thorough, feverish immersion in both the history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand - is startling. . . . (A. O. Scott, "Being Super in Suburbia Is No Picnic," New York Times, November 5, 2004)
So, what's left for John Kerry voters to watch? I Heart Huckabees (Dir. David O. Russell, 2004).

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Ohioans with an Annual Income of Less Than $50,000

Many Democrats are asking: "What went wrong?"

A simple economistic analysis of the voting pattern can tell you what is to be done:
Less Than $50,000 (48%)
$50,000 or More (52%)

Source: CNN.com, "Election Results"
Ohioans whose annual income is less than $50,000 voted against Bush by a margin of 16% (Ohioans whose annual income is $50,000 or more voted for Bush by exactly the same margin), but they constituted only 48% of the Ohioans who voted. The difference is clear, stark, and easy to grasp.

Promise working-class voters a pro-working-class program featuring public works jobs, universal health care, and an end to the Iraq War, use exciting ballot initiatives (e.g., universal health care) to raise the turnout of less-than-$50,000-a-year voters by 3-4.5% (according to Caroline J. Tolbert, John A. Grummel, and Daniel A. Smith's research, "the presence and usage of the initiative process is associated with higher voter turnout in both presidential and midterm elections. The disparity in turnout rates between initiative and noninitiative states has been increasing over time, estimated at 7% to 9% higher in midterm and 3% to 4.5% higher in presidential elections in the 1990s" ["The Effects of Ballot Initiatives on Voter Turnout in the American States," American Politics Research 29.6, November 2001]), and you are on your way to a victory.

The thing is, though, that the Democratic Party would never do any such thing.

That's why we need to create an alternative to it, by any means necessary, ballots or streets.