Tuesday, July 27, 2010

AFL-CIO president speaks on economic revitalization

Here's an interesting post from the AFL-CIO NOW BLOG, reporting union president Richard Trumka's speech at Netroots Nation.

I particularly liked this paragraph:
(J)ust as corporations have taken advantage of immigrants, they have skirted, exploited and violated labor laws that empower workers to form a union and bargain for a better life. The good jobs of the past were good jobs because workers organized and fought for fair wages and benefits. Without labor law reform corporations will continue to take advantage of workers and no matter how much we invest in our economy, how much we increase our productivity, our wages will remain stagnant and we will continue to fall behind.
And I agree with Trumka's conclusion about the need for cooperation between union activists and other progressive movements. Workers' rights are human rights.

Monday, July 19, 2010

This is just wrong

I do not think that it is cute or amusing that there is a National Parks Edition of Monopoly. Somehow, this game seems ironically appropriate, given the privatization of almost everything since the Reagan years. But what happened to the idea of public land for the public good, and not for private profit?

Go ahead. Call me a socialist. See if I care.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Greek tragedy

Sometimes when I wake up in the morning and listen to public radio, I hear the announcers talking about the debt crisis in Greece. They always talk as if this crisis was created by Greece having too many expensive social programs that help ordinary people.

CommonDreams.org has posted a piece by Walden Bello of Foreign Policy in Focus that offers a different perspective:

Although the welfare-state narrative contains some nuggets of truth, it is fundamentally flawed. The Greek crisis essentially stems from the same frenzied drive of finance capital to draw profits from the massive indiscriminate extension of credit that led to the implosion of Wall Street. The Greek crisis falls into the pattern traced by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff in their book This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly: Periods of frenzied speculative lending are inexorably followed by government or sovereign debt defaults, or near defaults. Like the Third World debt crisis of the early 1980s and the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, the so-called sovereign debt problem of countries like Greece, Europe, Spain, and Portugal is principally a supply-driven crisis, not a demand-driven one.

In their drive to raise more and more profits from lending, Europe's banks poured an estimated $2.5 trillion into what are now the most troubled European economies: Ireland, Greece, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain. German and French banks hold 70 percent of Greece's $400 billion debt. German banks were great buyers of toxic subprime assets from U.S. financial institutions, and they applied the same lack of discrimination to buying Greek government bonds. For their part French banks, according to the Bank of International Settlements, increased their lending to Greece by 23 percent, to Spain by 11 percent, and to Portugal by 26 percent.

The frenzied Greek credit scene featured not only European financial actors. Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs showed Greek financial authorities how financial instruments known as derivatives could be used to make large chunks of Greek debt "disappear," thus making the national accounts look good to bankers eager to lend more. Then the very same agency turned around and, engaging in derivatives trading known as "credit default swaps," bet on the possibility that Greece would default, raising the country's cost of borrowing from the banks but making a tidy profit for itself.

If ever there was a crisis created by global finance, Greece is suffering from it right now.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Entering the Fourth Spiral Galaxy

I have been thinking about hope and hopelessness. I have been thinking about individuality and community versus individualism and conformity. I have been thinking about the possibility of social and political transformation versus the possibility of annihilation of truth, beauty, freedom, and the entire planet. And sometime soon -- I hope -- I will write a long blog post about all of this. If you know me, you know that I generally come down on the side of hope. Because I think hope is what is necessary if we are going to have any chance of things turning out right. I don't know if we can transform the world, but if we give in to hopelessness, it's not going to happen.

My current reading material seems connected to this topic. I have been reading Outercourse, the intellectual biography of the late radical feminist philosopher and theologian Mary Daly. One of the characteristics of Daly's work is her ability to feel and express the full horror of the way the world is -- at least in the foreground -- with a joyous connection to a different Background reality and the hope that the Earth can be saved.

In that spirit, here is a quote from Daly's "Prelude to the Fourth Spiral Galaxy" from Outercourse.
If I were not home already, I could not have arrived.

But there was such an urgency to arrive! I had to get here even to begin. And it is absolutely necessary that I begin, and that I begin again. Because I know more Now. Not enough, but more.

My Cronies and I--Who are we? A ragged remnant, maybe. But also the Conjurers of a different Course. Staggering on the edge of a doomed world, we soar in our souls...sometimes, even often. Basking in Be-Dazzling Light, we ponder the holes out there as they grow, leaking in the sun's kiss of death, the kiss of our Elemental Sister, who, like our sisters here, has been turned against us.

Shed tears no more...or tears galore. But summon the guts to keep going. My mantra for Outercourse: "Keep going, Mary. Go!" Because they want me to stop. The undead vampire men, the bio-robots gone berserk, the leaders. They want us to stop because they are winding down.

Keep going. Not really because they want me to stop, want us to stop. But because I am surging with Life. Because, you see, I have arrived here, Now, and I can begin. Because I was born for this Time, and I am strong.
Daly was known more as a theorist than as an activist. But if you visit MaryDaly.net, which formerly explored Daly's work, what has been left behind in her memory is a link to this activist web site, The World Can't Wait! It is a fitting tribute, indeed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Need a job?

This morning I heard about a great new website on the public radio program The Takeaway. Here's a bit of an audio transcript:
It’s perhaps the most common complaint levied against illegal immigrants – they are stealing American jobs and bringing down the economy. Now, the United Farm Workers of America is teaming up with "The Colbert Report" to offer farm worker jobs to any American who wants to take them. The organization is encouraging any unemployed Americans, Washington pundits and anti-immigrant activists to sign up for the Take Our Jobs campaign. They say that if you’re okay with long days under the hot sun, small paychecks, no overtime or workers compensation, they will happily train and set up Americans with farm jobs.
You can listen to the story here, and here's a link to the takeourjobs.org web site, which is sponsored by the United Farm Workers.

Obesity and hunger

I found this fascinating and thought-provoking post on AlterNet. Blogger melissamcewan writes that a major cause of childhood obesity in the US is hunger and malnutrition. Poor hungry people eat cheap food that has lots of calories, but little nutrition.

In 2005, 12% of USians, 35 million people, were unable to put food on their tables for at least part of the year, and 11 million of them reported going hungry at times. It’s only gotten worse, as joblessness has become more widespread and unemployment benefits run out. Access to nutrient-rich food is a class issue even in the best of times, and these are not the best of times.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What happens when the rich get richer

To the three people or so who read this blog, I regret that it has been so long since I've posted. I've been really busy rewriting one of my novels. And other stuff has been happening in my life. Posting may be infrequent here for a while.

Here's an interesting article by Robert Reich over at The Nation. Reich argues that the main cause of the Great Recession wasn't the unregulated mess on Wall Street. It was the fact that a very small percentage of the population has monopolized a huge percentage of economic resources.

Consider: in 1928 the richest 1 percent of Americans received 23.9 percent of the nation's total income. After that, the share going to the richest 1 percent steadily declined. New Deal reforms, followed by World War II, the GI Bill and the Great Society expanded the circle of prosperity. By the late 1970s the top 1 percent raked in only 8 to 9 percent of America's total annual income. But after that, inequality began to widen again, and income reconcentrated at the top. By 2007 the richest 1 percent were back to where they were in 1928—with 23.5 percent of the total.

Each of America's two biggest economic crashes occurred in the year immediately following these twin peaks—in 1929 and 2008. This is no mere coincidence. When most of the gains from economic growth go to a small sliver of Americans at the top, the rest don't have enough purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing. America's median wage, adjusted for inflation, has barely budged for decades. Between 2000 and 2007 it actually dropped. Under these circumstances the only way the middle class can boost its purchasing power is to borrow, as it did with gusto. As housing prices rose, Americans turned their homes into ATMs. But such borrowing has its limits. When the debt bubble finally burst, vast numbers of people couldn't pay their bills, and banks couldn't collect.
Reich thinks that we as a nation will find a way to change this, because we can't survive if we don't:
None of us can thrive in a nation divided between a small number of people receiving an ever larger share of the nation's income and wealth, and everyone else receiving a declining share. The lopsidedness not only diminishes economic growth but also tears at the social fabric of our society. The most fortunate among us who have reached the pinnacles of economic power and success depend on a stable economic and political system. That stability rests on the public's trust that the system operates in the interest of us all. Any loss of such trust threatens the well-being of everyone. We will choose reform, I believe, because we are a sensible nation, and reform is the only sensible option we have.

I hope he's right.