Archive | May, 2011

Organizing 101: 10 questions, Part I

30 May

Tacoma activist Arthur M sent along an email and link about organizing that I think is right on. Thanks, friend.

Here is the link if you want to read the whole article. It’s 14 pages and I recognize that we live in a world of tweets and sparkle fingers today, so I want to tweet this article down a bit.

It’s funny, email seems so 1999 now. I still rely on email and I do not like telephone calls or telephones, but emails seem superfluous to blogging and the resultant give and take. Now I am thinking/wondering if blogging is becoming superfluous, being replaced by more interactive social networking tools. Not sure about that. I am continuing to blog, but also becoming more involved in social networking stuff.

Back to Organizing. Thanks again to The End of Capitalism for this work. I recommend reading the whole text, but here is Part 1:

“We aren’t done, we’re not leaving, and we’re in this together.”

1. What Is Organizing?

A. How to actually organize and build lasting radical organizations, particularly in terms of maintaining radical politics while reac10 questions about organizihing beyond insular communities

B. Without a sense of why they are there or a program about which to talk with people, door knocking will yield few productive results

C. Build Dual Power, Confront State Power. Building coalitions, political infrastructure, and visionary, alternative institutions that prefigure the types of social relationships we desire — while simultaneously confronting the state, right-wing social movements, and other forms of institutional oppression. One without the other is insufficient

2. How Do We Build Intergenerational Movements? (A Challenge to Young and Old!)

A. Recognizing that the struggle is for the long haul means that no generation can or should exist in a political vacuum

B. Most people do not work in productively intergenerational groups or live intergenerational lives outside tightly pre10 questions about organiziscribed roles (e.g., teacher-student)

C. We have a responsibility to find and work with the teenage radicals who are just now becoming political conscious and active

3. What Role Do Militancy and Confrontation Play?

A. People want to not just register their dissatisfaction with the war through petitions and periodic protests but actually end it

B. Develop a strategy that incorporates a sense of direct action in line with the state of local movement

C. Maintain relationships with other activists and groups who may not have engaged in the same tactics but who remained committed and sympathetic

D. Continually expand the movement numerically, while simultaneously increasing the militancy of those prepared to take risks.

E. Build mass movements where militant tactics can be present without dividing the movement

4. What about Anti-racism and Multiracial Movement Building?

A. The left, like U.S. society in general, remains significantly divided by race, so proactive measures are needed to create multi-racial spaces

B. The relationship of race to gender to class is still a challenging one for many U.S. radicals to grasp and organize around

C. How do we build a radical power base among white people that is profoundly anti-racist to contribute to toppling white supremacy?

I think the groups that M & I are working with in Olympia are very much about 1. C. right now. I feel good about the dual power. More of the ten questions sometime soon.

Solidarity.

Prisoner of Conscience Needs Our Help

29 May

Prisoner of conscience, Jackie Hudson, is at the Irwin PlowsharesCounty Detention Center and is having chest pains. We need to put pressure on the facility to transfer Jackie to a hospital emergency room for evaluation right away. The facility is reported to be monitoring Jackie’s condition, but has refused to transfer Jackie to an ER for evaluation. This is the current state of things at 9:00 am on Sunday, May 29th. You can help.

Here is contact information for the Irwin County Detention Center:

Irwin County Detention Center
132 Cotton Drive, Ocilla, GA 31774
Telephone: 229-468-4121

Website: http://www.irwincdc.com/

email: info@irwincdc.com

Thank you to Leonard at Ground Zero for sending out the call for help.

have you been to jail for justice?

Prisons and Profits? Can we have both?

29 May

It’s bitter sweet to be writing about prisons during the week that Gil Scott-Heron died. I believe that Gil did some time for possession of cocaine. That tells you so much about the current purpose of the incarceration industry. I guess there’s a good chance that with a record and prison time that Gil lost the right to vote. Think about that. The guy that wrote the television will not be televised could be disenfranchised. There it is. That is the purpose of the war on drugs. To disenfranchise a certain population. Dark skin have anything to do with it? I don’t know. You get to decide for yourself. But I do hope you will think about it.

Anyway, back to prisons and profits. If you want to have prisons in your society, a good purpose for a prison would be to rehabilitate folks. To give them skills that help in the world on the other side of the bars. Forget about punishment. We are likely to get plenty of punishment in this life, let’s work on opportunity, stability, value. Instead of creating a revolving door for throwaway people in the Prison/Justice Casino, how about we focus on a value-added system?

I am not dead set against profit. I understand that the profit motive, that style, fashion, all that stuff that powers the capitalist model, is like a natural force in the world. It’s like wind and tide. Fashion/desire/style is like human weather. Capture it and you can move things. But let’s make sure that profit is derived from the right things. I am ok with incentives that would turn a reasonable profit for a system that would create outcomes that the community desires.

So, in the case of the Justice and Prison system, if we are going to privatize the prisons and allow a profit to be made on the misery of incarceration, why not make profit contingent on good outcomes for the prisoner and the community?

How would you do that? It’s not that hard. Just think about this model:

* A for-profit prison would be paid a certain daily rate for incarceration of a prisoner.
* The for-profit prison would be paid a certain daily rate for a period after release of the prisoner
* The for-profit prison would be paid a bonus at one year after release for each prisoner who has not been arrested since release.
* The for-profit prison would be paid a bonus at one year after release for each prisoner who is employed
* The for-profit prison would be paid an even larger bonus at 5 years for each prisoner who has not been convicted of a felony crime since release.

That daily rate during incarceration would be flexible enough that the the prison could choose to help with vocational and living skills, maybe operate a vocational school and community college inside the joint. At the end of a sentence there would be a flexible release period where a private, for profit prison could decide to move a prisoner outside the walls into a supported system that would help with job placement and move the released prisoner toward a future that does not include more time inside the joint and moves the for-profit entity toward a profitable bonus payment for success in the form of a conviction-free future for the parolee and safer community.

Our current system creates throwaway people. There is a three strike system in effect in a lot of jurisdictions, but if you look at real opportunity, a single felony conviction may be sufficient to create the next two strikes. For lots of folks, it is a one strike, you’re out system.

People will say, wow, that sounds expensive. Where are we going to get the money for that? Declare a truce on the war on drugs. That’s where the money is currently going. Take the money from the war on drugs and spend it for drug treatment on request, and roll the balance into the prison-correction system. Let’s recycle folks who make a mistake back in to the productive community instead of targeting and disenfranchising certain populations and recycling those populations through a prison system that dehumanizes the prisoners and the jailers. Profit on misery is not a good thing.

Hey Gil, you will be missed, brother

29 May

Gil Scott Herron died a few days ago. If you are not familiar with his work, he is the grandfather, the god father of rap, hiphop, spoken word.

Here is a video of Gil talking about his work.

Gill is best known for the revolution will not be televised piece.

Economics and Humanities: Public Services or Private Profits?

28 May

The Supremes gave orders to California to do something about the prison over-crowding recently. It was a split 5-4 decision as most controversial decisions will be from the current court because there are 4 strongly conservative ideological votes on the court (alito, roberts, scalia, thomas for those tracking the justices) one swing vote (kennedy) and four liberal ? votes (breyer, ginsburg, kagan and sotomayor). The court reflects the country these days.

This decision is really much ado about nothing. Like the Obama health care plan, tweaking the current prison system will keep bureaucrats busy, but these changes will not produce the significant change that is needed in these systems. With health care, it is clear that the for-profit health care system needs to be forced to compete head to head with Medicare for Everyone. Health care accounts for 17.6% of the national economy according to recent studies. That chunk of the economy is currently firmly in the “for profit” category and the folks enjoying the profits of health care are the industry captains, the chiefs and CEOs who control the economics and availability of care. They are not giving these profits up without a fight.

Vermont threw down the gauntlet and has enacted single payer medical care. California legislators have sent this kind of law to the governor twice and The Guvenator vetoed the legislation twice. Hey, CA, send the legislation to Governor Brown if you are serious about this. Anyway, the battle to focus the health care industry on health care instead of corporate profits is very interesting, but let’s get back to prison economics.

The situation with the prison industry is very similar to the health care industry situation. We are talking about systems that have relegated their primary mission (corrections or health care delivery) to a profit mission. Certain systems just don’t work as well in private industry as they do in a non-profit or public sector system. Think about fire departments. This country has experimented with for-profit fire departments and has generally decided that the profits of understaffing fire response does not work out well. Prisons could work for public safety, for prosperous communities if they were structured correctly. But let’s not kid ourselves, the prison system in place in the US is about social control, it is not about public safety.

Click on the photo

Look at the racial disparity of incarceration. Need to see a graphic?

I think the statistical evidence is clear that incarceration in the US is primarily about social control, it is not about public safety. That is the public policy foundation in this system. But the prison industry is also largely privatized by the Reagan revolution, the corporatization of the republic. If you need some particulars, look at these links:

It’s not hard to see that prisons in the US are not about justice or public safety, they are about social control and profit, but there is another way. Coming next.

Big Mike on the Budget

26 May

Thanks to Move On. Also, thanks to Don at Wa Liberals for sharing this video.

Disclaimer: some other mike, not small blue mike, not mikewmd, not olymike. That’s not me in the video. I don’t have that much hair. But the mikes stick together, so here it comes:

You are up, Big Mike! Break it down for us.

Update from the Front Lines of the Class War

25 May

The Washington legislature continues to crawl through the special session. You can see where they have been by tracking the slimy trail.

Well. I guess that’s a little harsh. But here is a note about the current status from my friends at POWER:

POWER is an organization of low-income parents and allies advocating for a strong social safety net while working toward a world where children and care giving are truly valued, and the devastation of poverty has been eradicated.

For immediate release Tuesday, May 24, 2011

POWER members are asking their legislators the following questions:

Why is it that the only bill ending a tax break that seems likely to pass, SB 5587, targets low-income people, when there are so many tax breaks to wealthy individuals (country club memberships, elective plastic surgery, etc) and large banks and corporations?

Why is this the only bill ending a tax break that does not need a super majority?

Why are legislators adding a new tax break, SB 5873, that they can’t reverse without a super majority, while failing to provide basic services to the most vulnerable members of our state?

POWER members have called, visited and written their legislators. We have rallied, sang, shouted, even slept in the Capitol Building with thousands of Washington citizens forwarding the message to stop budget cuts harming Washington’s families, children, immigrants, and workers. We have asked that the rich pay their fair share.

“And this is what we get?” asks Shelly Robbins, POWER volunteer and 37th District resident. “I just can’t believe that Microsoft can’t afford to pay their sales tax, while I pay mine. The legislatures don’t seem to make the connection that passing a tax break decreases our revenue. And we’re stuck with these tax breaks once they vote them in.

Background Information:

The Senate passed SB 5873 which extends a huge sales tax break for Microsoft and 4 other large corporations: (http://www.seattlepi.com/default/article/High-tech-giants-seeking-massive-tax-break-1264165.php?source=mypi). Expected loss to taxpayers could be up to $1 billion. It passed the House Ways and Means committee yesterday and being voted on today and is expected to pass. They can do this with a majority vote, but cannot reverse it without a super-majority vote, thanks to Tim Eyeman’s initiative 1053.

The only tax break bill that seems to be moving is SB 5587, which closes the property tax deferral program for low-income home-owners. It has passed the Senate, without the requirement of a 2/3 majority, and is expected to pass the vote today in the House.

My buddy, Dana, in Olympia added the following observation to the POWER news release:

I think most of you know my opinion of politicians in general. This time their perfidy has surprised even me. While the Democrats were sticking a pacifier in our mouths in public they were stabbing us in the back during the secret back-room deals.

Here is the background: The Senate passed SB 5873 which extends a huge sales tax break for Microsoft and 4 other large corporations: http://www.seattlepi.com/default/article/High-tech-giants-seeking-massive-tax-break-1264165.php?source=mypi. Expected loss to taxpayers could be up to $1 billion. It passed the House Ways and Means committee yesterday and being voted on today and is expected to pass. They can do this with a majority vote, but they cannot reverse it without a super-majority vote thanks to Tim Eyman’s initiative 1053.

The only tax-exemption bill that seems to be moving is SB 5587 which closes the property tax deferral program for low-income home-owners. It has passed the Senate – without the 2/3 majority they say is required to close tax exemptions for corporate non-people – and it is expected to pass the vote today in the House.

Get it? After all of the work time energy blood sweat and tears we expended the only tax exemption they are ending is for low-income home owners! The Wall Street banks that destroyed our economy and are now recording record profits as they steal all of our homes keep theirs. Cosmetic surgeons keep theirs. Country club members keep theirs. The only ones who lose their exemptions are low income homeowners. Rather than taxing the people who have the money they are gutting our schools, gutting funding for low-income health care, gutting support for disabled people, gutting funding for low-income families, so on and so forth and ad infinitum. They are gutting programs benefiting people who literally have nothing else and greatly increasing the wealth of the already wealthy. Children and disabled people are going to be thrown onto the streets while Microsoft and Wall Street banks continue to receive huge tax exemptions.

Keep in mind that while the Republicans promoted and supported these bills, we don’t expect anything else from them. It is the Democrats who are doing this to us.

It is pretty discouraging to watch the Washington State democrats fold like a limp t-shirt in the face of the tax initiative assault on good government. “Centrists” will complain that attacks on the Democrats make the party weaker, but they fail to recognize the possibility that their own lack of fight for core values makes the party not only weaker, but irrelevant. Well, lead, follow, or get out the way, would you?

Olympia Undead has some thoughts on the state of the State and you can read more of that here. I think their engineering to assist the Dems is admirable. The title is “how to pat yourself on the back when you don’t have a spine.” Nuff said.

No, probably more to say about all that.

Maybe it’s a good thing that medical science found a simple medical treatment that will stiffen some parts of the body, but there continues to be no treatment that can stiffen the spine of the average democratic legislator.

In election news, I got an email from Nancy Pelosi this am. Nancy was pretty excited about the democratic win in NY District 26. I don’t know if the newly elected democratic rep Kathy Hochul is supported by a spine, but I do know she only got 48% of the vote and won the election because a tea party candidate siphoned 8% of the republican vote. You do the math, baby, you connect the dots, kemosabe. This candidate will be gone in the next election cycle barring some miracle that persuades the electorate that republican plan to eviscerate the social welfare state and promote casino economics and a permanent war economy is not the way we are going to “win the future” (thanks to Barack and his speech writers for that bit of oratorical irony.)

There’s more, but I better stop there for today. Go get them. It’s hump day.

Economics 101 – Courtesy of Critter’s Crap

17 May

Critter’s Crap breaks down economics for us. It’s really quite clear.

Over a long period of time, the numbers show that the economy grows at a rate of 2.1%. We can and should have a discussion about steady state economics in light of resource depletion, but for the purpose of evaluating economic activity, income and wealth growth and distribution, Critter’s work is on the money (so to speak).

Here’s the 2.1% growth rate graph

That alarming dip at the end is the 2008 Great Recession.  Will the economy bounce back to the historical 2.1% rate?  Probably will, but the other possibility is that the world will end on May 21st and this discussion will be moot.  Let’s assume the former rather than the latter, shall we?

So that graph suggests that the economy has grown at a pretty steady rate over time regardless of tax policy.   Critter goes on to look at income distribution under the various tax schemes that have been in effect in the time from of this graph and shared the following:

That looks pretty fair.  A lot of folks doing fairly well under the “onerous” tax rates that existed prior to the coming of Ronald Raygun.

But take a look at what happened to income distribution since Mr. R showed up and started spewing his economic nonsense:

I understand that many Americans can’t make heads or tails of economics and that certainly goes a ways to explain how the electorate falls for the suggestion that a flattened tax rate is going to do us all good, but the numbers are clear.  A flattened tax rate does the top 1% a lot of good and it hurts the rest of us.  The income is simply redistributed from the middle class to the really, really wealthy.  Check your last tax return.  If your gross income is not in the millions range, you are not really, really wealthy.  Sorry to break it to you.  You may be comfortable, maybe you can afford a really nice car, vacations in the sun, and more, but you are not up in that range where your income grew by 403% in the last 28 years.

I know that I go over this whole economic thing on a regular basis, but as long as so many folks who can figure out how to mark a ballot continue to misunderstand the economics of taxes and income distribution, I think the work is not done on this topic.

Tax the rich.  If you have read this far, you are not rich.  The rich know all of this and don’t spend any time worrying about it.  They are getting the ride of a lifetime, but the rest of are finding the ride a trifle bumpy.  When the rightwingers claim that lower tax rates will cause the economy to grow, remember that chart at the top.  2.1% growth over a very long period of time.

Thanks to Critter for the good work.  Go read Critter’s take on all this.  It seems to get him going a bit, so if you are frightened by the F Bomb, better just stick with my PG review of Critter’s work.

Is It Time for an SOS Call?

14 May

I am thinking about suggesting that the progressives, radicals, and rabble (that’s me) consider sending out an SOS. Yes, an emergency call.  I think we are there.

In this instance I think the SOS will be an emergency call for a Summer of Solidarity (think Summer of Love).

Those of us who voted in 2008 elected Obama as President and put him in charge of a democratic Congress and at the end of a two year session with that group we had an escalated war in Afghanistan, huge bailouts of Wall Street banks and traders, and a corporatist health care reform bill crafted on a table where single payer or even a public option had no place.

2010 elections gave us a tea party sweep of new corporatists idealogues in Congress who defy description or classification, but any way you look at this group, they are not good news.

In 2012, there will be 33 Senate seats up for election.  21 of those seats are now held by democrats and 2 by independents who lean left and 10 Senate seats now held by republicans will be for voter and Citizen United selection.  Bad as things may currently seem, they could get worse after November 2012.  That’s my take on the federal situation.

Budget woes from the Wall Street robbery of Main Street and the 2008 crash have created a state by state funding crisis that has become a golden opportunity for cuts to social welfare programs, for privatization and capitalist takeovers or dismantling of important public functions.  Tim Eyman has continued to pound on the state budget in Washington to create a funding snarl that creates a new excuse for hammering on the middle class, the working poor, the disabled, the lowest 50% of the socio-economic scale (that’s me and most of my good friends).courtesy Wiki Commons, photo by judy seidman, poster by Anita Willcox

That’s my take on the State level.

Folks can argue (and they do) that Obama and centrist democrats are so much better than the other real alternative, but I think it is difficult to argue that Obama is taking us in a progressive direction.  He has continued the imperial presidency, violates national and international law with the drone attacks on civilian populations in countries that we are not at war with.  He has arguably committed war and high crimes, most recently with the murder of the people (whoever they were) in the compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan.  So, even if you think this is better than the alternative, I will challenge you to persuade me that Obama is taking the country in the right direction.

Back to the Summer of Solidarity.

We wrapped up our Friday the 13th zombie crawl to the Olympia Capitol yesterday.  It was a good time, good food, good music, good cause, good company.  And there is reason to believe that the pressure that we have brought to bear on the Washington legislature is producing results.  A tax loophole ending bill made it out of committee yesterday on a straight party line vote and is heading to the floor for consideration. Would this have happened without the demonstrations, without the occupation of the Rotunda last month, without incessant pressure from the groups and individuals who have spent time in Olympia over the past couple of months?  I think not.

But, it’s small victories that we are achieving in a sea of big battles.  Environmental degradation, corruption of the political process by court decisions that find that money is speech and corporations are people, deregulation of markets and industries, wholesale class war on unions, teachers, the poor, the disabled?  It’s hard to see how a small legislative victory or two is going to turn the tide.  Still I think we are right to claim those small victories.  They are ours.

That’s as much as I have time for today.  I need to work on a few things around the home front as so much time and energy has been directed to the zombie event over the past couple of weeks.

I will tell you this much: a lot of the discussion is evolving toward creation of the alternative community.  The battle for good public policy is important and should continue for those who have the time and energy for it, but we also need to let the good times roll.  We need to step in and fill the vacuum that is created by the failure of public policy.  And we need to do it in the company of good friends, enjoying music, sharing food and really FREE (that’s you, Lee) market thinking and that is what I am thinking about when I start organizing myself around the idea of a Summer of Solidarity.

More tomorrow.  Love and peace to all of you who put energy into the activities in Olympia over the past two months.  I am optimistic because of your ideas, your ideals, and your energy.

Sanity, Power, Values and More

11 May

“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.”
— David Brin
(1950- ) Author

I don’t know much about sane folks, but I get the drift here from Mr. Brin. I figure the realm of politics attracts opportunists the way a basketball court attracts tall folks. It’s just obvious that this realm appeals to a certain population. One population that is called to politics are reformers, utopians, philosophers who want to see if their ideals can be put in practice. That is probably the best of the lot. Another group are or become pragmatists who think they can see a way to move a body politic toward an ideal through compromises and the politics of the possible. And yet another group are simply political functionaries who understand the political realm as primarily a playing field for exercise of power. All of the experimentation that attends the exercise of power and is done without the counterweight of the human values captured by Eleanor Roosevelt’s master work, the declaration of universal human rights is fraught with risk. Perhaps it is done in the context of a different philosophical realm – the social darwinism of Ayn Rand or the puritanical criminality of folks who come to power with the idea that ethnic cleansing of society is a means that is justified by their dream end of a pure society. And really, this ethnic cleansing model is simply operationalizing social darwinism. It is an impatient social darwinism that doesn’t even have the moral conscience to enact policies of neglect and exclusion that will achieve a similar end more slowly. I will give those folks points for efficiency. The trains will run on time or the conductors will be thrown under the wheels.

So, in an exercise of brutal or brutish efficiency, our country now engages in some horrendous stuff and there is not much outcry. Waterboarding? Is it ever ok to torture beings? I don’t think this is a tough question. Our efficiency (misunderestimated imho) overcomes our values and we are drawn into questions about whether torture works? Does torture work? Of course it works. The work product is tortured individuals on both sides of the equations. Torture creates monsters.

The correct question is should we torture beings? Is there ever a justification for torture? The simple and correct answer is no. Kick the question to ethics philosophers, to religious leaders, to large political bodies, the answer is the same. Torture is wrong. Don’t bother playing around the margins with sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions etc. This is torture. Subject any of the individuals who favor these “pragmatic” options to skirt the clear moral and legal prohibitions to torture to enhanced interrogation techniques for 72 hours and let’s see if they continue to think this is ok. Of course, that is a rhetorical proposition. Unless the proponents of enhanced interrogation techniques volunteer for the treatment to show that is not inhumane, we who believe the treatment is inhumane cannot cross that line. It’s just that simple.

public domain Wiki CommonsHow about murder? Is murder ever ok? “Thou shall not kill” seems to be a pretty common principle in religions and moral philosophies. Geopolitics continues to find justification for wholesale violation of this principle in decisions to enter into wars or “police actions.” Intentional destruction of life is delivered through our proxies, the drones, that circle above us. The finger that pushes the button is isolated from humanity by electronic screens, the screens of violent computer games, the screens of electronic drone control panels, the human screens that allow this murderous activity to be conducted anonymously. Murder from behind the screen of anonymity. Pay no attention to the man behind the screen or curtain. The drone attacks are surgical and intelligent. We get the illusion of smart bombs when we need the reality of smart leaders, smart policies, smart action.

So, this country recently sent a team of assassins into another sovereign country in the dead of night to murder an unarmed man. Our agents captured a man who had been convicted of no crime and it is said they shot him in the face, possibly in front of his family members. Are we ok with that? Is that an event for celebration?

I say no.

So what are our values? Why do other folks around the planet find themselves in conflict with us? I will let John Foster Dulles have the last word:

 

“Somehow we find it hard to sell our values, namely that the rich should plunder the poor.”
— John Foster Dulles former Secretary of State