news roundup: California budget and Obama's secret guests

An agreement was made between California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators that would dramatically cut social spending and start offshore oil drilling. Part of the budget cuts include:

$6 billion from K-12 schools and community colleges over two years
$3 billion from the University of California and California State University systems
$1.3 billion from Medi-Cal, the state's healthcare program for the poor
$1.2 billion from the state prison system

Republicans warned the deal could fall through over the proposed release of prisoners of non-violent crimes (other key points of the deal can be seen in that SFGate article).

On the topic of California's budget crisis, here is a talk by Mike Davis and David Bacon at Socialism 2009.

President Obama continues President Bush's policy of keeping certain White House visitors a secret. Obama administration officials of denied requests of top health care industry executives visiting the president. Obama criticized the same types of practices by former President Bush during his presidental campaign.

Today on Democracy Now! there was a good interview with Princeton University professor Cornel West and Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party on race in the age of Obama and the social struggles that need to rise to push Obama. From Cornel West:

Lincoln supported the slave trade when he was in the House. He supported the Fugitive Slave Act. In the first inaugural lecture he gave, he supported the first proposed Thirteenth Amendment, which said there would be slavery forever in America, the unamendable amendment. That was Lincoln. If it were not for the abolitionist movement, the courageous black and white freedom fighters, from John Brown to Douglass, who put pressure on Lincoln, we would have been dealing with a white supremacist Lincoln.
Lincoln became great, because a social movement pushed him against slavery in that regard. And Obama is looking to the wrong Lincoln. And if he doesn’t understand the greatness of Lincoln was responding to the social movements of working people and poor people, he’s going to end up with a failed presidency, with a lot of symbolic gestures, but, on the ground, everyday people, those Sly Stone called “everyday people,” suffering still.


Rafsanjani speaks at Friday Prayers

Yesterday was another defining moment in the movement in Iran. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani gave the Friday Prayer. He is on the Assembly of Experts which is the group responsible for appointing, monitoring, and dismissing the Supreme Leader. As an Ayatollah he is in rotation of giving the Friday Prayers and this is the first time a pro-reform leader has been in such a position. There was lots of speculation how far Rafsanjani would go in his speech. At the same time numbers of people in the street rivaled early days after the elections as hundreds of thousands, possibly a million, gathered in the streets, many shouting "death to the dictator" and "I am ready to die to get my vote back," strong signs that this movement is still in its early stages. Meanwhile, Mousavi may be calling for the military for support.

He made a number of points during his speech. Calling for the freeing of prisoners, stating peoples voices need to be heard and censorship in the media needs to stop. He called for talks to dispute the crisis, and said the Government and security forces should act within the limits of the law. He criticized the Guardian Council for not acting faster and called for unity. In a rare move, state TV did not run the speech, but instead had said Rafsanjani had simply called for unity trying to quiet the protests. Rafsanjani noted China should listen to all its people and was critical of their response to the protest there. He also mentioned violence in Palestine and Pakistan.

Many pro-reform politicians were at the prayer including Mir Hossein Mousavi. Rafsanjani tried to quiet down slogans and chants, but they sporadically appeared.

Protesters inside the mosque chanted “Allah o Akbar”, “Azadi… Azadi” (Freedom… Freedom) and slogans against Russia and China.


It is worth mentioning that there was a loudspeaker inside the mosque which chanted, “Death to America!”, but every time that slogan was heard, people loudly replied with, “Death to Russia, Death to China!”

Numbers of people in the streets was anywhere between hundreds of thousands to over a million. A group gathered around Evin Prison, where many protesters are being held. Basijis forces clashed with protesters using teargas, batons, knives, and tasers. There were reports of them targeting women, pulling them away from the crowds.

Basijis and other security forces today brutalized protesters once again. At least two people were shot and one girl was reportedly killed during the protests. Basijis used batons to beat people – even small children and women were not spared. Many women were reportedly stabbed with knives by Basijis dressed as women. Several mosques around the city were packed with Basijis waiting to come out and clash with protesters.

I also got unconfirmed reports from Twitter that Mousavi was with a group of protesters converging at the Interior Ministry in an attempt to get the military to his side. There were also talks of him being arrested if he were to speak. A general strike is to be called if Mousavi is arrested. I'll report more on this if I hear anything else. It has been confirmed that 36 high ranking military personnel were arrested along with a number of lower ranking officials. We may see more concrete developments involving the military in the coming days. It should be noted that neither the Iran Revolutionary Guard nor the Army has really involved itself in the unrest.

I also found news of oil workers being arrested due to fear of strike. Weeks ago when talk of a general strike first started it was stated that the oil workers would be the first to strike.


Pictures in Seattle Liberal Examiner

Erik Strand used a couple of my pictures in his article Socialism Conference 2009: is this their time? for the Seattle Liberal Examiner.


you got sached

"If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered."

-Thomas Jefferson

Goldman Sachs recently posted the biggest quarterly profits in its 140-year history. This might seem surprising given its competition has fallen:

“Goldman is essentially the last investment house standing,” said Matt McCormick, a banking analyst at Bahl and Gaynor Investment Counsel. “So they have the ability not only to attract and retain great employees, but they have the ability to attract and retain great clients."

This, and the economic crisis in general, is a characteristic of capitalism itself, one that Marx and Engels theorized over 160 years ago. Recessions are expected and typically are a consolidation of capital. The situation with Goldman Sachs is a bit different though. If you look at the complete picture, you'll see Goldman did not get lucky. Former Goldman employees are at the center of this, filling high government positions. This was a conjob engineered by Goldman Sachs, on the backs of the American people.

By now, most of us know the major players. As George Bush's last Treasury secretary, former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson was the architect of the bailout, a suspiciously self-serving plan to funnel trillions of Your Dollars to a handful of his old friends on Wall Street. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary, spent 26 years at Goldman before becoming chairman of Citigroup — which in turn got a $300 billion taxpayer bailout from Paulson. There's John Thain, the asshole chief of Merrill Lynch who bought an $87,000 area rug for his office as his company was imploding; a former Goldman banker, Thain enjoyed a multibilliondollar handout from Paulson, who used billions in taxpayer funds to help Bank of America rescue Thain's sorry company. And Robert Steel, the former Goldmanite head of Wachovia, scored himself and his fellow executives $225 million in goldenparachute payments as his bank was selfdestructing. There's Joshua Bolten, Bush's chief of staff during the bailout, and Mark Patterson, the current Treasury chief of staff, who was a Goldman lobbyist just a year ago, and Ed Liddy, the former Goldman director whom Paulson put in charge of bailedout insurance giant AIG, which forked over $13 billion to Goldman after Liddy came on board. The heads of the Canadian and Italian national banks are Goldman alums, as is the head of the World Bank, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the last two heads of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — which, incidentally, is now in charge of overseeing Goldman — not to mention …

Matt Taibbi explains how Goldman Sachs has done this before in The Great American Bubble Machine.

They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased. They've been pulling this same stunt over and over since the 1920s — and now they're preparing to do it again, creating what may be the biggest and most audacious bubble yet.

The article explains how Goldman Sachs has been behind a number of bubbles since the Great Depression, including the early 2000 tech stock bubble, the housing crisis, and the oil crisis.

That summer, as the presidential campaign heated up, the accepted explanation for why gasoline had hit $4.11 a gallon was that there was a problem with the world oil supply. In a classic example of how Republicans and Democrats respond to crises by engaging in fierce exchanges of moronic irrelevancies, John McCain insisted that ending the moratorium on offshore drilling would be "very helpful in the short term," while Barack Obama in typical liberal-arts yuppie style argued that federal investment in hybrid cars was the way out.

But it was all a lie. While the global supply of oil will eventually dry up, the shortterm flow has actually been increasing. In the six months before prices spiked, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the world oil supply rose from 85.24 million barrels a day to 85.72 million. Over the same period, world oil demand dropped from 86.82 million barrels a day to 86.07 million. Not only was the shortterm supply of oil rising, the demand for it was falling — which, in classic economic terms, should have brought prices at the pump down.

Page 6 of the article gets into recent history describing how Goldman managed to steal money from taxpayers directly with federal bailout money.

After the oil bubble collapsed last fall, there was no new bubble to keep things humming — this time, the money seems to be really gone, like worldwide-depression gone. So the financial safari has moved elsewhere, and the big game in the hunt has become the only remaining pool of dumb, unguarded capital left to feed upon: taxpayer money. Here, in the biggest bailout in history, is where Goldman Sachs really started to flex its muscle.


By the end of March, the Fed will have lent or guaranteed at least $8.7 trillion under a series of new bailout programs — and thanks to an obscure law allowing the Fed to block most congressional audits, both the amounts and the recipients of the monies remain almost entirely secret.


Goldman's primary supervisor is now the New York Fed, whose chairman at the time of its announcement was Stephen Friedman, a former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs. Friedman was technically in violation of Federal Reserve policy by remaining on the board of Goldman even as he was supposedly regulating the bank; in order to rectify the problem, he applied for, and got, a conflictofinterest waiver from the government. Friedman was also supposed to divest himself of his Goldman stock after Goldman became a bankholding company, but thanks to the waiver, he was allowed to go out and buy 52,000 additional shares in his old bank, leaving him $3 million richer.

The next bubble is just beginning, in the form of carbon credits, which are really a joke as far as helping the environment goes.

The new carboncredit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that's been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won't even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.

Ultimately this shows what a fairy tale the concept of a 'free market' is.
The collective message of all this — the AIG bailout, the swift approval for its bankholding conversion, the TARP funds — is that when it comes to Goldman Sachs, there isn't a free market at all.


And here's the real punch line. After playing an intimate role in four historic bubble catastrophes, after helping $5 trillion in wealth disappear from the NASDAQ, after pawning off thousands of toxic mortgages on pensioners and cities, after helping to drive the price of gas up to $4 a gallon and to push 100 million people around the world into hunger, after securing tens of billions of taxpayer dollars through a series of bailouts overseen by its former CEO, what did Goldman Sachs give back to the people of the United States in 2008?

Fourteen million dollars.

That is what the firm paid in taxes in 2008, an effective tax rate of exactly one, read it, one percent. The bank paid out $10 billion in compensation and benefits that same year and made a profit of more than $2 billion — yet it paid the Treasury less than a third of what it forked over to CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who made $42.9 million last year.

How is this possible? According to Goldman's annual report, the low taxes are due in large part to changes in the bank's "geographic earnings mix." In other words, the bank moved its money around so that most of its earnings took place in foreign countries with low tax rates. Thanks to our completely fucked corporate tax system, companies like Goldman can ship their revenues offshore and defer taxes on those revenues indefinitely, even while they claim deductions upfront on that same untaxed income. This is why any corporation with an at least occasionally sober accountant can usually find a way to zero out its taxes. A GAO report, in fact, found that between 1998 and 2005, roughly twothirds of all corporations operating in the U.S. paid no taxes at all.

What's interesting looking at Goldman Sachs and the recent economic crisis in general is how they fit into Marx's criticisms of capitalism. A recession is just part of the boom and bust cycle that is an integral part of capitalism. From The Meaning of Marxism:

As capitalism reaching the height of its boom phase, prices and wages start to go up in response to the increasing demand for labor and goods. Hungry for profits, capitalists borrow huge sums of money from banks and other lenders in order to get in on the profit bonanza, thereby taking on huge debts that they expect to pay off from windfall profits. Debt, in other words, helps prolong the boom by offering cheap money to investors; but it sets them up for bigger falls once the crisis hits, because it creates an intricate financial chain, that, if broken, threatens a financial crisis. (page 64)

Capitalism also naturally leads to monopolization as bigger companies buy up or drive smaller ones out of business. Not necessarily leading to smaller businesses disappearing, but becoming less significant. This happened in the late 1890s as companies monopolized to the point that they had to be broken up. The same can be seen today with conglomerates growing larger and having rising market shares. Recessions speed up this process as we can see today.

Each economic crisis accelerates the centralization and concentration of capital, the big fish eating the small fish (or the profitable fish eating the bankrupt fish).(page 65)

But this time around there was a twist Marx himself would have never seen coming. With its influence in government Goldman Sachs was able to eliminate its competition partially through policies beneficial to itself. Another question should be asked. Would this situation not had happened if there were no Goldman Sachs? I'd argue it still would. Goldman is smarter and better-connected than its competition, but is just a product of the system of greed that led to this crisis.

The true face of capitalism has shown itself through this latest crisis. If citizens really had a say in our 'democracy' would Goldman Sachs be able to get away with what they've done? Of course not. As should be clear by now, it doesn't matter if a republican or democrat is in the White House, now it is clear both these parties are simply parties of the super wealthy.

Democracy Now!: As Goldman Sachs Posts Record Profits, Matt Taibbi Probes Role of Investment Giant in US Financial Meltdown
Rolling Stone: The Great American Bubble Machine
Rolling Stone: Inside The Great American Bubble Machine
New York Times: With Big Profit, Goldman Sees Big Payday Ahead
MSNBC: Strong bank results mask wider weakness
The Meaning Of Marxism by Paul D'Amato


all about the health care

Just after I flew over my handlebars and went head first into the street there was one thought in my head as I was getting up. I hope I don't have to go to the hospital cause I don't have any health insurance. It was one of those moments where the stupidity of the health care system just hits you. The fact that people have to make this decision all the time, weighing financial stability against their health.

A few weeks ago Sensen No Sen, a political blog I regularly read had a great three parter on the health care crisis and how it might change in the years to come. The posts are well researched and cited. The first part addressed the problems with the current system. In 2007 18% of the population has no healthcare, of those 80% being citizens. Yet the United States spends a larger portion of its GDP than any other industrialized nation, while 37th in the World Health Organizations ranking of the world's health systems.

Part 2 looks at the different options on the table, although mentioning how single payer has been rejected, and does not go into it in detail. Most proposals are mandated healthcare from the insurance companies which is far from universal when you're forced to buy a horrible product. The best option on the table is that with a government funded public option, and while it's included in the House Bill, the Senate Bill does not include it.

Part 3 explains how the health care industry is an oligopoly and the reasonings why we will not have low priced, market driven health care. I would have liked to see more analysis on a single payer system. I don't really see it as a realistic option these days with the millions the health care industry spends on lobbying in this country. Where are those lobbying reforms Obama promised us anyway?


the green brief

Don't know why I didn't stumble upon this earlier, but The Green Brief is a very good source of day to day information from Iran. The big news now is that Mousavi supporter Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is scheduled to lead the Friday prayer. Sources say Mousavi will also attend the prayer.

There was a general strike in Kurdish areas of Iran yesterday. From the Green Brief #27:

Kordestan province and many other Kurdish areas in Iran’s northwest observed a strike today. The strike was held in remembrance of Kurdish political activist, Dr. Abdorrahman Ghasimlo and in protest of the elections. All shops were closed in Saqez, Mahabad, Bokan and Sardasht as well as a few areas in Urumieh. The general strike was so wide-spread in Saqez that even rural areas around that city closed all shops in a show of solidarity. Transportation was completely jammed. No taxis could be seen on the streets of Saqez.

And on the topic of Friday prayers:

It has now been confirmed that Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mahdi Karoubi and Mohammad Khatami will be attending this week’s Friday prayers which will be lead by Hashemi Rafsanjani. In the past three weeks, Rafsanjani didn’t lead prayers in Tehran’s Friday Prayers mosque even though he is one of the four Imams of the mosque who lead prayers there in turns. There are reports that the Sea of Green might use the opportunity to conduct protests, but they remain unconfirmed as of yet.

July 25th is a Global Day of Action for Iran. Check for rallies in your area.

A few weeks ago it was reported that Nokia had sold the Iranian government spying software. As word spread sales of Nokia phones have plummeted. Protesters have also targeted products advertised by state-run TV creating an advertising crisis.


protesters once again hit the streets in Iran

As expected the streets of Iran exploded today on 18 Tir and the 10 year anniversary of a brutal crackdown against student protesters. This information has been gathered from a very reliable twitter source I have been following since near the beginning of the election. I will also update this throughout the day as I get more information so be sure to check back.

There are reports of protests in the cities of Tehran, Rasht, Ahvāz, Shiraz, Mashhad as well as others. Although unconfirmed it is probable shots were fired in various areas of Tehran. It was later confirmed that protesters were shot at in Azadi Square. Many unlinked sources reported that police were turning on the basij para-military force, who have been responsible for most of the violence in the past month. As this happened people began asking additional police forces to join their cause. It was said that police were disarmed early on in the election conflicts due to their compassion toward the protesters. For the first time the basij began retreating the scene, maybe finally frightened by the will of the people. Families also came out into the streets in cities around Iran once again this is a movement of the people not just the young. Cars all over the streets were also honking horns in support of the protesters. Meanwhile the government cracked down further on communications while showing small groups of protests on state TV.

Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi is expected to appear at a Mosque in Tehran. The movement appears to be moving past Mousavi and political powers and for the people themselves. Also in a remarkable showing of international solidarity, protesters gathered in front of the Chinese embassy in Tehran in opposition of the recent violence against the ethnic group of Uighurs.

Below are a few of the tweet from user oxfordgirl I based much of this information on.

Rasht, Ahvaz, Shiraz, Mashad all seen lge protests. Chants of death to dictator at some, others silent march. #iranelection #gr88

V large protests Shiraz. More reports of protest in almost every city in Iran & arnd the world. Organised by the ppl 4 the ppl

Unconfirmed: shots heard at Azadi squ. helicopters all over tehran - #iranelection #gr88

Avoid Mirdamad, reports clashes and fire. Unconfirmed but better stay safe. #iranelection #gr88

Getting 2 many reports 2 keep up w/. Clashes all ovr Tehran, protests all ovr Iran. Again Mullahs join protest in Mashad #iranelection

Gunshots heard Keshavarz Blvd and Azadi square. Cannot confirm. report fire Mirdamad. Be careful ppl #iranelection #gr88

Unconfirmed reports: Shots heard Azadi squ, reports of several injured. I cannot confirm. #iranelection #gr88

Appears now there HAS been shooting at protesters at Azadi Squ. Be safe, if it is very rough go to nearest mosque. Pray for the dead. #i ...

Shooting reported Azadi and Enghelab. #iranelection #tehran #gr88

Reports; Families coming out together,. Babol , Kerman, Ahvaz , Rasht, Tabriz, Shiraz, Hamadan, kerman #iranelection #gr88

V, V unconfirmed report that police have turned on basij. Treat with caution, but something like this had been expected. #iranelection

Sources: The fire at Mirdamad was at the metro. Some report shop windows smashed - by basij - #iranelection #gr88

Mousavi expected to appear at Mosque in Tehran this evening - have no other details. #iranelection #gr88

I cannot confirm reports police fire on basij, but coming in from many unlinked sources. Would be incredible. #iranelection #gr88

Report : ppl protesting in front of Chinese embassy in Tehran #iranelection #gr88

ppl asking police to join them as news spreads of unconfirmed reports that police fired on Basij in Tehran today #iranelection #gr88

Basij reported to be in retreat for first time, perhaps not happy being led by Khamenei son?! #iranelection #gr88

Gov jamming communications from provinces more effectively that in tehran. #iranelection #gr88

Iran Tv showing this morning footage to show 'no protests' except small group near Uni. We know better #iranelection #gr88

Mousavi dnt giv up, we dont need another political party. Power is always in the hands of the ppl & they will grasp power. #iranelection

No more political parties, step up and lead the ppl Mousavi or they will take power for themselves. This country is on brink #iranelection

Cars everywhere r honking their horns in support of the protesters #iranelection


Iran, Honduras, Immigrants and Marijuana

I've got a number of topics to cover today.

Let's start with Iran. Tomorrow is 18 Tir on the Islamic calendar. It marks the 10th year anniversary of a brutal crackdown on university students protesting the closure of Salem, a reformist paper at Tehran University. Public commemorations of the event are illegal, but this could be another increase in action in Iran. Ahmedinejad gave a public address yesterday calling Iran the elections in Iran the world's freest. In a very interesting type of civil disobedience people were asked to turn on all electronics and appliances to put heavy strain on the power grid. There were reported blackouts in numerous cities including Eastern Tehran.

Vice President Joe Biden made a statement that the United States would not interfere if Israel decided to attack Iran. Obama later said this was not a green light for Israel to attack Iran although while clarifying Biden was not sending a signal Obama said, "I think Vice President Biden stated a categorical fact, which is we can't dictate to other countries what their security interests are. What is also true is that it is the policy of the United States to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear capabilities in a peaceful way through diplomatic channels." This ignores the fact that the US gives Isreal billions of dollars a year in military aid, and therefore should have a say on how they use it. But as always, this fact was not mentioned by either the president nor vice president.

Nobel laureate and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias will moderate dialog between Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and interim leader Roberto Micheletti of the coup forces. While the Honduran media supports the coup forces despite majority support for Zelaya, similar elements of the media can be seen here on the coverage. Here is a great analysis on the media's handling of the situation. As I wrote last week, even though the US has condemned the coup, their actions are starting to prove otherwise. Even though the event has been called a coup, the administration will not give it the official title cutting off aid to the military forces.

The quote of the day goes to a report by Reason Online in an article discussing how poor, high-immigrant El Paso, just across the border from violent-filled Cuidad Juarez could be one of the safest in the nation. They conclude cities with high immigrant populations usually lead to low violence. The quote:

"Most people in Washington really don't understand life on the border," El Paso Mayor John Cook told the Post. "They don't understand our philosophy here that the border joins us together, it doesn't separate us."

The Marijuana Policy Project has started running ads calling to legalize and tax marijuana in California. The move has been discussed as a way to help with the budget crises. Marijuana is the number one cash crop in the state and a $13 billion a year industry.

Noam Chomsky on the economic crisis, the middle east, the environment and industry in the US

Democracy Now broadcast a great speech by Noam Chomsky last Friday. I highly recommend watching it in its entirety.
Noam Chomsky, the MIT professor, author and dissident intellectual, just turned eighty years old this past December. He has written over 100 books, but despite being called “the most important intellectual alive” by the New York Times, he is rarely heard in the corporate media. We spend the hour with Noam Chomsky. He spoke recently here in New York at an event sponsored by the Brecht Forum. More than 2,000 people packed into Riverside Church in Harlem to hear his address, titled “Crisis and Hope: Theirs and Ours.” In his talk, Chomsky discussed the global economic crisis, the environment, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, resistance to American empire and much more.

Some excerpts:

Haiti’s first free election in 1990 threatened these economically rational programs. The poor majority made the mistake of entering the political arena and electing their own candidate, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist priest. And Washington instantly adopted standard operating procedures: the moving at once to undermine the regime. A couple of months later came the military coup, instituting a horrible reign of terror, which was backed by Bush, Bush I, and even more so by Clinton. By 1994, Clinton decided that the population was sufficiently intimidated, and he sent US forces to restore the elected president—that’s now called a humanitarian intervention—but on very strict conditions, namely that the president had to accept a very harsh neoliberal regime, in particular, no protection for the economy.


One such inefficiency, now recognized to be one of the roots of the financial crisis, is the under-pricing of systemic risk, a risk that affects the whole system. So, for example—and that’s general, like if you and I make a transaction, say, you sell me a car, we may make a good deal for ourselves, but we don’t price into that transaction the cost to others. And there’s a cost: pollution, congestion, raising the price of gas, all sorts of other things, killing people in Nigeria because we’re getting the gas from them. That doesn’t count when we—we don’t count that in. That’s an inherent market inefficiency, one of the reasons why markets can’t work.


Well, while Obama’s signaling very clearly his intention to establish a firm and large-scale presence in the region, he’s also, as you know, sharply escalating the AfPak war, following Petraeus’s strategy to drive the Taliban into Pakistan, with potentially awful results for this extremely dangerous and unstable state, which is facing insurrections throughout its territory. These are the most extreme in the tribal areas, which cross the AfPak border. It’s an artificial line imposed by the British called the Durand Line, and the same people live on both sides of it—Pashtun tribes—and they’ve never accepted it. And, in fact, the Afghanistan government never accepted it either, as long as it was independent. Well, that’s where most of the fighting is going on. One of the leading specialists on the region, Selig Harrison, he recently wrote that the outcome of Washington’s current policies, Obama’s policies, might well be, what he calls them, “Islamic Pashtunistan,” Pashtun-based separate kind of quasi-state. The Pakistani ambassador warned that if the Taliban and Pashtun nationalism merge, we’ve had it. And we’re on the verge of that.


By World War II, there was a significant change. Business leaders and elite intellectuals recognized that the public had won enough rights so that they can’t be controlled by force, so it would be necessary to do something else, namely to turn to control of attitudes and opinions. These were the days when the huge public relations industry emerged in the freest countries in the world, Britain and the United States, where the problem was most severe. The public relations industry was devoted to what Walter Lippmann approvingly called a “new art” in the practice of democracy, the “manufacture of consent.” It’s called the “engineering of consent” in the phrase of his contemporary Edward Bernays, one of the founders of the PR industry.


And they are the architects of policy. Obama made sure to staff his economic advisers from that sector, which has been pointed out, too. The former chief economist of the IMF, Simon Johnson, pointed out that the Obama administration is just in the pocket of Wall Street. As he put it, “Throughout the crisis, the government has taken extreme care not to upset the interests of the financial institutions or to question the basic outlines of the system that got us here.” And the “elite business interests” who “played a central role in creating the crisis…with the implicit backing of the government,” they’re still there, and they’re “now using their influence to prevent precisely” the set of “reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive.” He says, the economy—“The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them,” which is no surprise, considering who constitutes and who backs the government.


The state-corporate program began with a conspiracy by General Motors, Firestone Rubber, Standard Oil of California to buy up and destroy efficient electric transportation systems in Los Angeles and dozens of other cities. They were actually convicted of criminal conspiracy and given a tap on the wrist, I think a $5,000 fine. The federal government then took over. It relocated infrastructure and capital stock to suburban areas and also created a huge interstate highway system under the usual pretext of defense. Railroads were displaced by government-financed motor and air transport.


So think what’s happening. Spain and other European countries are hoping to get US taxpayer funding for high-speed rail and related infrastructure. And at the very same time, Washington is busy dismantling leading sectors of US industry, ruining the lives of workers and communities who could easily do it themselves. It’s pretty hard to conjure up a more damning indictment of the economic system that’s been constructed by state-corporate managers. Surely, the auto industry could be reconstructed to produce what the country needs using its highly skilled workforce. But that’s not even on the agenda. It’s not even being discussed. Rather, we’ll go to Spain, and we’ll give them taxpayer money for them to do it, while we destroy the capacity to do it here.


It’s also important to remind ourselves that the notion of workers’ control is as American as apple pie. It’s kind of been suppressed, but it’s there. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution in New England, working people just took it for granted that those who work in the mills should own them. And they also regarded wage labor as different from slavery, only in that it was temporary. Also Abraham Lincoln’s view. There have been immense efforts to drive these thoughts out of people’s heads, to win what the business world calls “the everlasting battle for the minds of men.” On the surface, they may appear to have succeeded, but I don’t think you have to dig too deeply to find out that they’re latent and they can be revived.


United 4 Iran Global Day of Action, July 25th, San Francisco, noon

There will be a mega rally on Saturday, July 25th in front of San Francisco at City Hall Plaza from 12pm to 4pm to support the people of Iran during this remarkable time in their history. This event is to get the entire Bay Area together to stand for Iran. From the organizers:

This is going to be the biggest rally of NorCal Iranians on Ahmadinejad's inauguration day, please invite all your Iranian and non Iranian friends to this event.
There will be live performances by local and out of state artists in support of Iranian's struggle for democracy.
As before we ask you not to bring flags or signs, plain Iran flags with no sign in the middle please.
Let's get United 4 Iran.

If you are on Facebook join the event and invite all your friends.


iran goes on strike

Iran will go on a 3-day strike during a holiday that is usually ignored.

Monday is the start of an unusual three-day Islamic holiday called Itikaf. Sometimes translated as “seclusion” or “retreat,” Itikaf is a time when particularly pious Muslims cloister themselves inside homes or mosques for a period of intense prayer and deep spiritual reflection. It is a practice that the Iranian regime has long encouraged the country’s citizens, particularly the youth, to take part in, usually without much success.

But this year, supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are planning to take up the government’s appeal for religious observance. Mousavi’s Web site has called on Iranians to use the state-sanctioned holiday to launch a three-day, nationwide strike and boycott of businesses and banks in hopes of re-sparking the popular demonstrations that brought the country to a halt two weeks ago.

Socialism 2009 in San Francisco

This weekend I attended the Socialism 2009 conference put on by the International Socialist Organization in San Francisco. It was an amazing event with talks on topics including racism, sexism, immigrant issues, history, the middle east, the prison system, the environment, science, media, unions, and socialism, Marxism, and revolutionary politics. I highly recommend attending next year in either San Francisco or Chicago, and maybe even New York since it was so successful this year in those two locations. Here are some pictures from the weekend. Also, check out my flickr

Talk on Prop 8 is Going Down: Winning Gay Marriage in California

Sherry Wolf speaking on Prop 8 is Going Down: Winning Gay Marriage in California

Prop 8 is Going Down: Winning Gay Marriage in California

John Pilger speaking on Empire and Obama: Power, Illusion, and America's Last Taboo

Main Auditorium at the Women's Building in San Francisco, Ca

Mark Steel's birthday cake

Richard Brown of the San Francisco 8 speaking for Oscar Grant, San Francisco 8 and the History of Political Repression in America

The record spins during the after party

Panel on Will Socialism Eliminate Sexism?

Final Rally: The Return of Socialism

Reform clerics say Iran's presidential vote invalid

A group of reform clerics came forward disputing a statement from the Guardian Council calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the presidential election.

The pro-reform clerics group said in a statement that the top legislative body, the Guardian Council, no longer had the right "to judge in this case."

In a statement to the press, the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers said some members of the Guardian Council had "lost their impartial image in the eyes of the public."

I don't know the significance of this. It is important that any clerics are contradicting the Supreme Leader's words, but I'll have to figure out what implications this has in Iran's government.

Meanwhile it's been reported that a handful of protesters have been executed. Prisoners have also been raped. As the government is loosing their grip they use more drastic tactics.


Obama admin control over the press and more on Honduras

Columnist Helen Thomas and CBS reporter Chip Reid criticized White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on the issue of pre-selected questions about health care sent in from email and social networks.

“It feels like the concept of a town hall, I think, is to have an open public forum. And this sounds like a very tightly controlled audience and list of questions. Why do it that way?” asked Reid.


“We have never had that in the White House,” Thomas said, referring to the degree that press events are pre-scripted in the Obama administration. “I’m amazed, I’m amazed at you people who called for openness and transparency…”

Watch the video. It's dissapointing seeing this type of action from the White House since this was one of the foundations of Obama's campaign.

For more on Honduras check out this article by Socialist Worker and today's Democracy Now!


Iran: from the revolution to today

I had been planning on writing a brief history of Iran to put the situation today in context, but someone more informed on the topic beat me to it. Since I know some people don't like reading really long articles I decided to paraphrase below. I still highly recommend reading the original article since it's full of great information. I still want to write a history on events before the 79 revolution.

WITH REPRESSION silencing most street protests for the moment as hardliners tighten their grip, is a democratic transformation--or revolutionary change--possible in Iran?

Lee Sustar begins at the revolution of 1979, when US-backed dictator, the Shah of Iran, was forced to flee the country, mainly due to general striked throughout Iran. Factory councils were initially set up but power centered around the clergy and middle-class and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The left was quickly divided and violently smashed and the 1980 invasion of Iran by Iraq backed by the United States allowed Khomeini and the clerics to consolidate power.

[In the post-revolutionary era] divisions broke out roughly into three camps: an Islamist left, which maintained some of the social rhetoric of the revolution; an Islamist right, based around the most conservative clergy; and a pragmatic right dominated by clerics who were close to, or had become part of, big business interests. Over the next two decades, these factions would clash over how Iran should engage with the world, economically, politically and culturally.

The Islamic left took power during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 with Mir Hussein Mousavi becoming prime minister. Mousavi justified social policies on religious grounds, saying "the way of Islam is to attend to social justice." After the war and Khomeini's death, factional struggles came into the open and cleric Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani eliminated the office of prime minister and was elected president. Ali Khamanei became the supreme leader replacing Khomeini. Despite his attemps to engage the West, workers' standards of living declined and lead to riots and repression.

Rafsanjani completed his two alotted terms as president and aligned himself with the Islamic left, who after the fall of the Soviet Union shifted toward pro-market, neoliberal policies. Reformist candidate Mohammad Khatami won the 1997 presidential election, but the Islamic right, with their support from Khamanei controlled the majority of the government. Students in the pro-democracy movement had no support from the president and workers suffered under privatization and deregulation. In addition the clerics' Guardian Council, which approves candidates in office, barred many reformers from running in parliamentary elections.

To counter the mortal threat from Khatami's reform program the right built up networks of former Revolutionary Guards and the basij. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose political connections as well as those with the basij became the right's candidate for the 2005 presidential election, then being mayor if Tehran. With Khamanei's support, and suspected voter fraud, Ahmadinejad one the post. He put himself forward as a populist against Rafsanjani who was seen as the cause for Iran's economic turmoil. Once in office Ahmadinejad embraced privatization, but on a model based on Russia and Eastern Europe, where entrepreneurs are able to create huge private monopolies from former state assets. These assets would go to allies of Ahmadinejad threatning Rafsanjani and the existing capitalist class in Iran.

Rafsanjani supported his old rival Mousavi to counter Ahmadinejad and Khamanei. At the same time the economic and social liberal position of Mousavi gave him backing of young people and the working class. The election took place, Ahmadinajad won and we are where we are today.

For those in the Bay Area, there is a huge rally planned for Saturday July 25th in front of San Francisco city hall. I'll post more as I get information. For now check the Bay Area for Iran group on Facebook.

who makes policy in this country?

I'm on the mailing list for the Organic Consumers Association and usually there's some really interesting stuff in their newsletter. This week they have a list of the top 100 firms that spend the most money lobbying in this country. The amounts are for the first quarter of 2009. Here are the summations by industry:

$42 Million: Health Care, Health Insurance, & Pharma
$31 Million: Oil
$20 Million: War
$17 Million: Telecoms
$15 Million: Financial
$10 Million: Automotive
$7 Million: Life Insurance
$6 Million: Biotech

And the top ten companies:

1. Chamber of Commerce of the U.S.A.: $9,996,000
2. Exxon Mobil: $9,320,000
3. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: $6,910,000
4. Chevron U.S.A. Inc: $6,800,000
5. Lockheed Martin Corporation: $6,380,000
6. Pfizer, Inc: $6,140,000
7. Conoco Phillips: $5,980,935
8. National Association of Realtors: $5,727,000
9. U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform: $5,480,000
10. AT&T Services, Inc: $5,134,873

Do you still think our government has your best interest? I'm sure if this were to be further divided by Republicans and Democrats receiving these funds it'd be a near even split. See the full list here. Also note that many of these corporations contract out to lobbying firms so the am mounts are greater than this.

Another interesting article from OCA is about "natural" products and how many times it's a marketing ploy and actually undermines the organic foods industry. Retailers like Whole Foods Market and wholesalers like United Natural Foods Inc. push these products with rather than certified organic products. On the topic of Whole Foods, here's an in depth article about their poor labor standards and union busting.

military coup in Honduras and how the US will act

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was ousted by a military coup on June 28, 2009. President Obama has joined many leaders throughout the country condemning the ousting, although Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held off formally calling the event a coup which would cut off millions in aid to Honduras. The US administration has not called for Zelaya to be reinstated in office. Zelaya is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and has made a series of moves in opposition of US foreign policy, mainly highly criticizing the war on drugs. The president has said the US is responsible for drug violence in Central America and has called for legalization. In December he wrote Obama a letter outlining these points. He also raised minimum wage by 60 percent in a country where many foreign companies operate factories.

Generals Romero Vasquez and Luis Suazo who led the coup also received training by the United States at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formally known as the School of the Americas. WHINSEC has trained many Latin American soldiers and policemen including generals, dictators, and armies for drug cartels, some of which have been previously involved in CIA sponsored coups.

Democracy Now's Juan Gonzalez related these events to Haiti under the Clinton administration.

[T]his reminds me very much of what happened years ago in Haiti, where you had basically a military coup against a legally elected president, Aristide, and where the—a Democratic administration, President Clinton, condemned the coup leaders, as has President Obama, at least in this in the early days here, but where the US military was playing a different role—in essence, had its own ties with the established coup leaders.

It will be interesting to not only watch what the Obama administration does during this event, but also what goes on behind the scenes.