Letters from the Street

Philosophy, theology, and whatever else crosses my mind.

Category: Politics

Crisis of Capitalism 4: Impending Constitutional Crisis

Donald Trump has been using the presidential power of the pardon in targeted ways. Scooter LIbby, who has been pardoned, and Martha Stewart, who he has indicated a willingness to pardon, were both convicted of lying to the FBI. He has issued a pardon to Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted of campaign finance violations. There has been mention of a pardon for Rod Blagojevich, who is serving time for public corruption.

All of these crimes have relevance to the investigation Robert Mueller is conducting into the Trump campaign. There is every likelihood that Trump is sending a message to those who are in Mueller’s cross-hairs: don’t worry, lie if you want to, I’ve got your back.

That’s one side of the crisis: Trump using kingly powers to further his various schemes.

The other side of the crisis is this: the oligarchy is not unanimous on its goals or methods. Trump faces strong opposition from within his own class. There are many who have no problem with shady enterprises, when it benefits them, but have other plans than Trump’s. There are even a few who believe in the rule of law and the current structure and don’t want to see it dismantled.

Either way, Trump is already receiving pushback, even from within his own party. Being Trump he will push the limits, and the pushback will intensify. I can’t predict what course it will take. They may even come to an accommodation, although it seems the Big Deal Maker isn’t very good at that sort of thing.

If they can’t rein him in, it could get very messy.

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The US is the Destabilizing Factor on the Korean Peninsula

Okay, the summit is back on. (Remember how Howard Cosell came up with names for boxing matches like the Thrilla in Manila? Why aren’t we calling this the Singapore Sling?) This is encouraging, but only so important.

What is more important is that South Korean president Moon Jae-In and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) chairman Kim Jong Un had a meeting two days after Trump cancelled the summit.

These two really want to work towards reconciliation and are willing to take risks to make it happen. This is good news for the whole region.

It’s easy to say, if your only source of news and analysis is the distorted viewpoint of the capitalist press, that North Korea is the destabilizing factor. This is incorrect. While the combat phase of the Korean War began when the DPRK sent tanks over the border, there is a larger context than simply “they invaded us first.” The DPRK was already being subjected to destabilization efforts by the US, as part of its general Cold War policy to oppose communism wherever it might gain strength. This is not because communism is evil and we’re the good guys. This is because the oligarchy, the capitalist ruling class, does not want to lose its power and wealth to any social system that would put justice for everyone ahead of their profits. Of course they lie about this. They couldn’t do all they do, without greatly increased repression at home and abroad, without the willing compliance of the average citizen.

It comes down to this: the US is the principal destabilizing factor on the Korean peninsula and, by extension, in that part of the world. The US has maintained a heavy military presence despite decades of truce. This is threatening, not just to the DPRK, but to China, Russia, and others with interests there. The US has exercised a lot of influence over the South Korean government. It’s not like an actual colony such as Puerto Rico or Guam, and it’s not like a client state such as Afghanistan or Iraq. But the South Korean military is commanded by US generals, and for many years the South Korean government consisted of men willing to be puppets of the US in exchange for US support of their power.

Moon Jae-In appears to be willing to forge his own path. He can’t be reckless, and isn’t. But he is willing to take some risks, and doesn’t toe the US line in every instance as his predecessors have done. I hope at some point he will have the political collateral to be able to send the 20,000 US troops off the peninsula. This would be a major step forward to increased stability.

Colonialism

In a recent period of history, traditional colonialism largely came to an end. Especially in the years after World War II, many former colonies fought for and gained political independence from their former masters. However, political independence didn’t confer complete independence. Those countries were still subject to the imperialistic nature of capitalism in the modern era. Whether or not a country’s governmental processes are ruled by the power structure in, say, the UK, France, or the USA, many decision are still made which keep them subservient. For instance, multinational corporations can move factories in and out without any consent of the people who live there, regardless of economic conditions, environmental impact, etc. And the international financial bodies, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, ensure that these countries stay in debt, in poverty, and in a state of virtual peonage to the 1%.

This isn’t an abstract notion. It is daily reality to billions of people the world over. Recently, we saw a striking enactment of the nature of neo-colonialism, as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc over wide swaths of the Caribbean and North America. In states such as Texas and Florida, the disaster response from government, businesses, and NGOs, was immediate and powerful, In Puerto Rico, a colony of the USA in all but name, the response was pitifully inadequate, and continues to be.

One glaring example of how this is working out concerns the electrical power distribution infrastructure. In places like Texas, most of the work is being done by utility companies which have mutual aid agreements with each other. Workers from electrical power companies which were not affected by the storms have been deployed to areas that were. In Puerto Rico, a contract was given to a tiny utility company called “Whitefish,” based in Montana, to restore the power grid. Whitefish had only two employees at the time Maria hit. One of them is a close associate of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. They have no track record of doing this kind of work and are being paid millions to do it by the Puerto Rican electrical power authority. In other words, wealth is being extracted from Puerto Rico and being paid to Whitefish owners in the US. In the old days of colonialism, they used to extract raw resources such as minerals and spices to make money. Now, they just extract money.

This would be a great time to create a sustainable power structure in Puerto Rico. Blessed with lavish sunshine and wind, the new grid could be based on these renewable sources. It’s not a fantasy. China, according to the BBC, installed more than 34 gigawatts of solar power in 2016. That’s right, in one year. By contrast, Puerto Rico’s total electricity production prior to Hurricane Maria was 4.878 gigawatts. This clearly indicates that it could be done in Puerto Rico.

But creating a self-sustaining energy production capacity doesn’t serve the needs of the old-line power corporations. They want to sell natural gas, petroleum and coal. They have to keep their markets dependent on non-renewable sources. The people who actually live in Puerto Rico are given no choice.

As Marx said in a letter on British rule in India, “The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”

Do-Re-Mi

I’m working on a one-person play about Karl Marx. It will be a mix of monologue, rap, and old worker’s songs (we need to keep that old stuff alive!)

I’m changing the words of some of the songs so as to make them relevant either to today’s scene, or to the life and ideas of Karl Marx. Here’s one of them, borrowing heavily from Woody Guthrie’s Do Re Mi (I like John Mellencamp’s version from the tribute album “A Vision Shared.”)

 

Now if you want to get some pay, you’ve got to work the livelong day,

Do what the boss man tells you to and never have your say.

Cuz he owns the whole damn load, all the land and all the roads,

All the judges and the cops and politicians, by the way,

See, he’s got more money than you even know,

And it gives him all the power over how things go, so

If you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,

Why, you never stand a chance against the bosses

As long as they have it all under lock and key.

This whole world could be a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or to see;

But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot

If you ain’t got the do re mi.

If you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,

Why, you never stand a chance against the bosses

Without having proletarian unity.

This whole world could be a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or to see;

Yeah your little ass is grass without the whole damn working class

Takin’ over the do re mi.

Individual Rights or Solidarity Rights?

I suppose it goes back to the Enlightenment. The scientific revolution triggered the end of the Middle Ages. Instead of being told what to think, people started to think for themselves. And learn. The old doctrines of church and state began to be replaced by empirical investigation and the rise of reason. Not just in the physical sciences, but also in philosophy, culture — and politics.

The Enlightenment had a huge impact on how people thought about their relationship to government and each other. The revolutions in the US and France were major outcomes of these changes.

One of the things that changed was the concept of what Jefferson called “inalienable rights.” A right is something you’re born with. We all have it. It’s not given or even guaranteed by the government, although it can be taken away by someone stronger than you.

Americans have been raised on the recitation of these rights. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” “Freedom of religion, of assembly, of petition.” “Freedom from unlawful search and seizure.” And so forth.

These freedoms, coming as they did on the heels of millennia of authoritarian government (tribal rulers, kings, princes, emperors, popes and caliphs, etc.), were truly revolutionary in their impact. As the power of the hereditary aristocracy gave way to the power of business tycoons, some of whom like Andrew Carnegie rose from very humble beginnings to the very peaks of success, and as the divine right of kings gave way to the Declaration of the Rights of Man (sic), at last it was possible for individuals to make their own decisions, based not on who their parents were, but on what they could learn, make, think and do.

It was truly liberating. It was an entirely necessary development to create the kind of material wealth that so many of us enjoy today. By “so many of us,” I don’t just mean the 1%. People in the working class in all advanced industrial nations enjoy a standard of living that a king in a dark, dank castle could not have dreamed of. (Except, of course, when it comes to the power to rule.)

Many still consider these rights, these individual rights, to be the height and summation of all that humans can aspire to. Liberty forever! (Equality and fraternity, not so much.)

I’m not writing this to discount the importance of these rights. They are still of the utmost importance to our lives, and will remain so indefinitely. But that is not the end of the story of the development of the concept of rights. There is something else happening. The idea of rights is still expanding. Here’s where I think it is leading.

As important as these individual rights are, they leave large gaps in our ability to provide all people with security, good health, shelter, good nutrition, good education, etc. All of those things remain commodities to be bought and sold on the market. Take health care: you pay for it like you pay to go to a movie or for a Louis Vuitton handbag. But health care is not a luxury, it is something that everyone needs.

Under our concept of individual rights, healthcare will always be a commodity to be bought and sold. Why? Because under individual rights, one person has the right to ask for as much money as the market will bear, and to keep all of it for him or herself, regardless of how that affects anyone else.

Let me repeat that: regardless of how that affects anyone else.

That’s how pollution gets poured into our streams and air. That’s how poor people are evicted from their homes so that some developer can make even more money on the property.

We need another kind of rights, in addition to the individual rights that have done so much for us. We need solidarity rights. These are rights that we hold in common, not ones that each of us has separately. The right to decent shelter, clothing, food or health care is not a personal right. You can’t take these things away from someone else, under our current system, because they own and control them.

Within solidarity rights, things change. The individual doesn’t own something like health care. They can’t use it to extort money out of other people. Same with housing, food, or education. These are rights we have, not rights that have. In sharing good food, for instance, we’re not taking something away from someone else, because it never belonged to them in the first place. They still have a right to be compensated for their labor in producing it, they just don’t get to set the highest rate they can and pocket the profit that they exploited from people who need good food.

When Bernie talks about doing away with college tuition, he’s not talking about “free tuition” as his critics say. He is talking about how we all own education, in common with each other. We’re not trying to take something away from anyone else. That something was taken away from us, when it was made a commodity that someone else could get rich from. Rich off of your back. Rich off of the work you do to provide for yourself and your family. Rich off the choices you have to make, whether to have the good insurance or the car that doesn’t break down.

This idea of solidarity rights will continue to evolve. 50 or 100 years from now, we may realize that there are other solidarity rights that at this time we would not be able to recognize, because in the grand scheme of things, we are still barely out of medieval times and we don’t have the perspective yet.

The expansion of solidarity rights will go hand in hand with the expansion of socialism in our economic and political lives. Without greater economic justice, there will be no development of solidarity rights, and without solidarity rights, economic justice will not last.

Workers of the world, you have your chains to lose and a world to gain — for each other!

Transition to Socialism: Peaceful if Possible, Says Engels

I’ve been posting historical information from the Russian Revolution. At times, the revolution was violent. In nearly every case, this was provoked by the reactionary forces, either of those who were loyal to the Tsar and the old order, or other countries such as Germany, England, and the United States.

The question comes up, must a socialist revolution be violent?

It’s important to remember that the Russian Revolution happened in a particular place, at a particular time, under particular conditions. Those conditions never existed before and never will again. It is not a model for how a revolution has to happen. There are lessons to be learned, for sure, from the failures, from the successes, from the excesses.

Let’s not forget this: while much of the world speaks out in condemnation when the left commits a violent act, or even talks about it (such as the opposition to the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, or the Black Panther Party in the 60s and 70s), the ruling class uses violence against the 99% all the time. Every time they kill a black person on the street, every time they shoot an innocent person on a no-knock warrant, every time they fire someone without cause, every time they use dogs or fire hoses on peaceful protesters such as at the Standing Rock encampment, every time they dump toxic waste in a community, every time they use fake emissions testing, every time they arrest and deport a hard-working immigrant, they assert the ability and will to use violence against us. And every time they do, the rest of us know that we could be next, and that innocence is no shield. So this whole topic is rife with hypocrisy and double standards.

Remember this?

Elian Gonzalex

Deadly enemy of the state right there, requiring the deployment of (I kid you not) over 100 federal agents to bring him down.

Just keep that in mind.

Here’s what Friedrich Engels had to say on the topic, from “The Principles of Communism”, published in 1847, the year before he and Karl Marx wrote “The Communist Manifesto.” I believe that they are as valuable now as they were then:

“Will the peaceful abolition of private property be possible?

“It would be desirable if this could happen, and the communists would certainly be the last to oppose it. Communists know only too well that all conspiracies are not only useless, but even harmful. They know all too well that revolutions are not made intentionally and arbitrarily, but that, everywhere and always, they have been the necessary consequence of conditions which were wholly independent of the will and direction of individual parties and entire classes.

“But they also see that the development of the proletariat in nearly all civilized countries has been violently suppressed, and that in this way the opponents of communism have been working [against] a revolution with all their strength. If the oppressed proletariat is finally driven to revolution, then we communists will defend the interests of the proletarians with deeds as we now defend them with words.”

As a lifelong pacifist, I struggle with this issue as much as anyone. There is so much that can be done with nonviolent direct action, as proved by Gandhi, King, and many others. And yet, in the face of extreme injustice, my own moral purity is not what’s at stake.

There are 2 Kinds of Strikes

Benjamin Studebaker in fine form:

Source: There are 2 Kinds of Strikes

Unity Rally: We’re Not Going Back

(Angela Davis was a key figure in the CPUSA in the 70s and 80s. Glad to see her taking part in this Unity Rally.)

Join the Communist Party and the People Before Profits Education Fund Saturday evening on March 4th. We are gathering to promote a higher level of united mass struggle against racism, sexism, relig…

Source: Unity Rally: We’re Not Going Back

We Need Love More Than Ever

I’ve been having these conversations with friends who, like myself, are very concerned about the current social/political situation.

One of them remarked that an acquaintance had said that it would be OK to just run over protesters if they were blocking the street. This caused despair for my friend, who then generalized to “Trump voters.”

Well, you know what? Nearly 63 million people voted for Trump. Most of them people not that different from me. Same worries about jobs and kids and all that. They saw a solution being offered by Trump. I think they were mistaken, gravely and dangerously mistaken, but not evil.

They will regret their choice, and perhaps before too very long at the pace things are going.

Out of 63 million voters, were some of them racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic? Yes. Trump brought those folks out of the woodwork and made them feel stronger. I’m not talking about them. They may be redeemable. I’m not counting on it. A lot of that hate is dyed in the wool. They just need to be opposed.

But I know from the depths of my soul that those mean-spirited types were not the majority. And so there’s the majority, regular working stiffs like you and me, who have been fooled by a con artist, and we don’t need to shame or blame them. We need to win them back.

They are our friends, our neighbors, the parents of the kids our kids sit next to in school. We need them. And so, as strong as I am in opposition to the 1% and the way they treat the rest of us, “the rest of us” is us.  All of us. Let’s act like it. Without giving up our resistance to the train wreck that is taking place in Washington, DC and in statehouses all over the country, let’s act like it.

Moral March in Raleigh, NC draws thousands

RALEIGH, N.C. — On a lovely, sunny mid-February day, thousands of people came to Raleigh Feb. 11 to let their voices be heard in the 11th Annual Moral March on Raleigh.

Source: Moral March in Raleigh, NC draws thousands

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