Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rebuild America - a great stimulus package!

By John Bachtell

Many pro-labor economists agree the current economic stimulus package being debated in Congress falls far short of addressing the deepening economic crisis. The tax rebate that this writer and his wife will get will surely go directly to the credit card company to pay off an old debt. So in this case it amounts to a subsidy to finance capital.

As progressive economists and organized labor have noted, massive public works program, extension of unemployment benefits and expansion of the food stamps program are needed to put money in the hands of people now.

There is an unusual amount of public discussion about the need for a "massive public works" jobs program to rebuild the nation's infrastructure beyond labor and progressive circles. This is new and lays the basis for the new president and congress to go further.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert addressed it in his January 29, 2008 column:

"There is usually not much about infrastructure stories to turn readers or viewers on. But the catastrophe in New Orleans and the bridge collapse in Minneapolis are tragic evidence of the peril that goes hand in hand with neglect of the nation’s roads, bridges, levees, transit systems, water treatment facilities and so on.

Just two weeks before the Minneapolis bridge collapse, an underground steam pipe in Midtown Manhattan exploded, sending a geyser of filth and asbestos-laden debris into the air. A woman fleeing the scene died of a heart attack, and the area suffered millions of dollars in economic damage.

In South Carolina, where candidates of both parties competed in recent presidential primaries, there is a long stretch of grievously neglected rural schools that has been dubbed “the corridor of shame.” Some of the schools are more than a century old. Among the many problems are ancient plumbing, inadequate heating and sewage that backs up into classrooms, bringing in vermin and terrible odors.

The country could do itself a favor by paying more attention to the efforts of Senator Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is chairman of the Banking Committee, and Senator Hagel, a Nebraska Republican. They have co-sponsored legislation that would create a national infrastructure bank to promote and help finance large-scale projects across the nation.

Part of their mission is to generate a sense of urgency. In an interview yesterday, Senator Dodd told me: “At a time when we’re worried about rising unemployment rates and declining confidence in this country, infrastructure projects have the dual effect of putting people to work — and usually at pretty good salaries and wages — while also creating a sense of optimism, of investing in the future.

The country has been hit hard by lost jobs in manufacturing and construction. As government and political leaders are scrambling for ways to stimulate the economy in the current downturn, infrastructure improvements would seem to be a natural component of any effective recovery plan."

Now comes Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, mayor of the nation's 3rd largest city, as reported in the Chicago Sun Times:

"Giving every American a $600 tax rebate is not the right way to stimulate an economy on the brink of recession, Mayor Daley said Monday, arguing instead for a modern-day version of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Daley has long contended that, when the private sector economy slows down, it’s time for the public sector to speed up — by initiating massive public works programs that generate jobs and contracts.

He made the same argument hours before President Bush was expected to use his final State of the Union message to push for quickie approval of a $150 billion economic stimulus program that would send tax rebate checks to 117 million American families this spring.

“People want a job. They don’t want a handout. They don’t want welfare and they don’t want a handout of $500. It doesn’t answer anything. So you take the $500. So you spend it within two weeks. Then what happens after that?” Daley said.

“The answer has to be how do you get federal money out of Washington immediately into the construction industry…There has to be a longterm commitment [by] Democrats and Republicans of putting people to work. If Franklin Delano Roosevelt put people to work, why can’t we as a great nation decide to put more and more people to work…There’s nothing wrong with a public works project…We could rebuild our schools, parks, libraries [and] infrastructure.”

Of course, such a public works program would mean ending the Iraq war and slashing the wasteful military budget, and taxing the rich.

The People's Weekly World ran a very informative article last week about the needed response to the economic crisis.

To fix economy, put working class first
By Terrie Albano

While stock markets plunge and panic spreads in financial circles, what happens when the economy goes into recession?

What kind of stimulus package is needed that would help working families? One that creates good jobs and ensures workers and their neighbors can pay their house or car note, buy groceries, fill up their gas tanks or make college tuition payments?

On Capital Hill, with unemployment jumping to 5 percent in December, and other indicators of major economic illness, lawmakers are starting to consider stimulus ideas.

President Bush and fellow Republicans want to pump $150 billion into tax cuts and government spending geared to big business interests and the wealthy.

But labor and other progressive groups say the key is putting money into the hands of working people. It’s working people who are the nation’s consumers. They can spur the economy if they have the income to buy what they need.

The AFL-CIO and others are calling for extending jobless benefits beyond the current 26 weeks. The labor federation also calls for:

• increased food stamp benefits;

• tax rebates targeted to middle- and lower-income taxpayers,

• fiscal relief for state and local governments;

• immediate investment in school renovations and bridge repair.

Many of these measures are contained in proposals being advanced by Democrats in Congress.

Communist Party USA head Sam Webb underscored the importance of these steps, but said more is also needed.

In addition to extending jobless benefits, the amounts unemployed workers receive should be raised, and paid until a worker finds a job, he said in a phone interview this week. “Social Security benefits also should be raised.”

Webb also called for an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and a freeze on interest rates, and an end to the Iraq war, “freeing up billions of dollars for people’s needs.”

Beyond these measures, fundamental solutions are required and these must put the working class first, he emphasized

Webb, elected the party’s chair in 2000, has a Masters degree in economics. But he considers his main credentials to be his activism in the labor movement and people’s struggles over the past few decades.

“People are hurting,” he said. “Unemployment is rising, and even those figures cover up the long-term joblessness in different parts of the country and among different communities,” he said. “Wages are stagnant and now you have the mortgage


Tax breaks for big business and the super-rich will only increase the deficit and will not create jobs, Webb said. Interest rate cuts will likely have little impact.

Big business’ interest is not the well being of U.S. workers, or even the U.S. economy, he said. “Businesses will only invest if they are guaranteed a high rate of return — profit — on their investment. They won’t hire new workers and put money in people’s hands without that guarantee.”

This is the main dynamic of capitalism, which has become more and more apparent to millions as plants close, wages stagnate, and whole regions collapse economically, Webb said.

Even as the country experienced economic upticks like the stock market “exuberance” of the 1990s and the housing “bubble” of the past several years, greater and greater wealth went into fewer and fewer hands.

A growing problem, Webb said, is the role of “finance capital” — banks and financial institutions. Instead of spurring the economy, they invested in nonproductive sectors like currency speculation, “where enormous money was made” along with enormous crises felt around the world.

Corporate America and the super-rich, ever in quest of maximum profits, will not invest their ballooning wealth when and where our society needs it, Webb said.

Therefore, as in the 1930s, the federal government must act to create useful, good paying public sector jobs and get immediate relief into the people’s hands, he said. That is what’s needed to stimulate the economy.

“There are long-term unmet needs in the U.S.,” Webb noted. “Bridges, schools and water systems are collapsing. Many people realize that in both urban and rural settings infrastructure is long overdue for repair.”

He cited an Environmental Protection Agency estimate that 75,000 sanitary systems nationally have overflowed with raw sewage, flooding houses and polluting drinking water and natural habitats.

The labor-backed Economic Policy Institute has proposed a $140 billion stimulus package that calls for federal spending to repair and build schools and bridges, creating more than 1 million jobs.

Webb added that the elections provide an opportunity to create new political terrain to fight against economic crisis in the near and longer term.

“It’s going to take a broad coalition of labor, African Americans, Latinos, all people of color, women, young people — all people — coming together and demanding this kind of economic program,” Webb said.

“Struggle. That’s what it will take to move the country along on a different track and put a working-class imprint on it.”

Monday, January 21, 2008

Overcoming the transit crisis: let's talk about "free rides"!

The crisis over mass transit funding for Chicago and the collar counties has been overcome for the moment with the passage of the $530 million transit bill in Springfield.

On a positive note - let's hear it for the seniors! They deserve free rides.

The discussion in the mass media has been disgraceful. After all, our senior citizens worked their whole lives to create the wealth of our society, they paid their taxes, they sacrificed to raise their children and get them through school. And yet many live in deep poverty, are forced to choose between eating and heating, prescription drugs and property taxes.

We, for one, have no problem with it. The reprehensible idea of a needs test is reflected also in the efforts to restrict Medicare and Medicaid. Besides, who rides public transit? Overwhelmingly working people, especially low income workers. Wealthy seniors won't be riding public transit anyway so it's not a matter of giving something to someone who doesn't need it.

Chicago would not be the only city that would offer free rides. Other cities do it either by area, time of day or by demographic. High school students are given half fare rides.

It's an important precedent and should be extended immediately to others, including the disabled and low income.

There's been discussion recently about free transit altogether in London and New York City, to relieve the growing crisis of traffic congestion and cut down on the costly public repairs due to the car culture foisted on us by the auto and oil monopolies. We're ready for that discussion.

We do have a problem with the transit bill - the state legislature's solution to the funding crisis falls once again on the backs of working families in the form of higher taxes and fees. And for that - let's not scapegoat the seniors.

In fact it seems solutions for all funding shortages at the state, county and city level is the call for higher taxes and fees that fall hardest on working people.

What galls us is not enough of our elected officials are talking about the two "sacred cows" - taxing the rich and the military budget. On these, there's only vast silence emanating from the corporate mass media.

What galls us is that few are talking about the "free ride" for big business, including the $100s of billions in corporate subsidies. You certainly never hear this from Mayor Daley, who has engineered $100s of millions in corporate tax abatements and privatization give aways.

One of the only discussions was around the gross receipts tax introduced by Gov. Blagojevich, which regardless of its problems, went in the right direction. And for that Blagojevich was nearly hounded out of the state by big business.

Few of our state legislators are talking about the free ride the wealthy 1% have gotten with the Bush tax cuts, and generally the regressive tax structure.

Few are talking about the "free ride" for the giant military contractors, those making guaranteed billions in profits off the Iraq war, and useless armament systems.

These policies are bankrupting our towns, cities, counties and states. If a fraction of that money were redirected to pay for mass transit, public education or universal free health care we would have no funding problems.

So let's not debate a few million when we should be talking about trillions.

This is a public debate we'll be forced to have because as RTA chairman Jim Reilly reminds us, there are $10 billion in capital improvements looming, including replacing aging buses and trains, track and equipment repair. This doesn't even include an extension of the mass transit system, including the long anticipated extension of the Red Line, and putting on more buses and trains.

The public debate already is encompassing new federal spending priorities, which under the Republican ultra right domination of the presidency and Congress, have dismantled funding for mass transit, and other areas of social spending.

Electing a president and Congress in 2008 that moves in this direction will be a vital first step. The desire by millions for a radical change of federal priorities is reflected in the mass outpouring of voters in the primaries thus far.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kristol's fairy tale

By John Bachtell
The New York Times should be ashamed to print the trash written by William Kristol. Like all the other Neo-cons who developed the blueprint and ideological justification for the Iraq war and occupation, he has zero credibility to be making any argument.

And yet, in his Jan. 15 NYT op-ed column "The Democrats' Fairy Tale" Kristol continues to create his own fairy tale, ala the Neo-con boast "we create our own reality."

Kristol, admiring his self cleverness, argues that the Bush troop surge is working in Iraq and therefore that the occupation is doing the job. But in the meantime he skips over the whole history of this dispicable debacle, the loss of 10s of thousands of Iraqi and US lives, the forced exile of millions and some convenient facts that have led to the current dampening of the violence.

First, hooray to Obama for opposing the invasion in the first place. I was a witness at that demonstration in Oct. 2002 in downtown Chicago, where Obama said, "I'm not against all wars. But I am against stupid wars."

And this was a stupid war for oil and strategic domination of the Middle East region, for the unrivaled sole superpower status of US imperialism. That dream of the Neo-cons has crashed and burned on the sands of Iraq.

Here we offer another take on the so-called "success of the troop surge," which like everything else the Neo-cons dream up has become a nightmare.

Iraq: Is US 'surging trouble?'
By Susan Webb, People's Weekly World
Saturday, January 12, 2007

Bloody suicide bombings continued to slaughter dozens of Iraqi civilians in recent weeks, and a new United Nations report says that 2 million Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition, disease and disrupted schooling. Yet reports from a variety of sources indicate some decrease in violence recently, and in some areas people hungry for a semblance of normal life have begun to come out into the streets. There are growing indications, however, that this has come not primarily from the military “surge” pressed by President Bush, but from a potentially dangerous U.S. decision to make deals with various militias, particularly those in Sunni areas linked to former Baathists.

Vali Nasr, a well-known Middle East scholar affiliated with the Council on Foreign Relations, told National Public Radio recently that much of the decline in violence is not a result of the U.S. “more troops on the ground policy,” but of “deal-making” with Sunni and Shia militias,. The U.S. has “settled for individual deals in individual neighborhoods,” Nasr warned, “but that doesn’t mean lasting peace.”

“The real question,” he said, “is whether this is sustainable.”

In a recent interview, Salam Ali, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Communist Party, said that while there has been a “tangible” improvement in conditions, especially in Baghdad, it is based on several problematic circumstances.

One is the violent sectarian cleansing of neighborhoods over the past two years that has led to a kind of negative stability, with several million Iraqis displaced from their homes. Another is the suspension of activity by the Shiite militias of Moqtada al-Sadr, blamed by most Iraqis for some of the worst sectarian violence. Finally, there is the “rather questionable cooperation between the U.S. and armed groups that have switched sides.” These groups, which had been hostile to the political process in Iraq, now are “cooperating with American forces for their own political goals,” Ali said.

The U.S. has made deals with thousands of former armed insurgents, many with ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, providing them with arms and cash to patrol neighborhoods, first in Anbar Province and now in Baghdad.

The New York Times reported Dec. 22 that the U.S. has hired some 65,000 to 80,000 “volunteers” in neighborhood patrols, known as Awakening Councils or Concerned Local Citizens. The number is expected to grow to over 100,000. Most are being paid an average of $300 a month, a large sum for Iraqis, and the U.S is supplying them with weapons and, in some cases, reconstruction contracts. The official U.S. line is that these forces will be eventually integrated into the Iraqi government army and police forces.

But many Iraqis are suspicious of the motives of some of these groups, and there is growing concern that that the U.S. is in effect setting them up as private militias outside government control.

Some Iraqis welcome indications of fracturing among reactionary forces who would like to return to power. But the U.S. tactic is also sparking fear that these same forces are getting a boost from the U.S.

The governing Shiite Islamic parties, already reluctant to give up or share power, see the U.S. deals as a threat. This is complicating efforts to end sectarian polarization, even as many Iraqis want the government to more actively pursue national reconciliation.

While the government says it will integrate a portion of the “volunteers” into national security forces or provide them other jobs, Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi told a Dec. 22 news conference the groups would not be allowed to have any infrastructure, such as a headquarters building, that would give them long-term legitimacy.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the biggest Shiite Islamic party, told reporters the groups should be an “arm of the government … not a substitute for it.”

Ali said the Iraqi al-Qaeda first set up shop in Anbar early in the U.S. occupation. He characterized it as a “marriage of convenience” between former Saddam Hussein intelligence and military personnel and extreme Sunni Islamic forces. The province was fertile soil for this, with a political scene dominated by tribal elements and links with Saudi and Jordanian smugglers going back to the 1980s and ’90s and the imposition of U.S. sanctions. Gradually, the al-Qaeda group became better funded than the Baathist/nationalist forces, and last year announced it planned to set up its own Islamic government. According to Ali, the Baathists and tribal forces felt they had been marginalized, and decided to make a tactical alliance with the U.S. to strengthen their own positions.

Ali described it as part of a “process of metamorphosis” among the Baathists. They no longer represent the Baath Party as an entity — it is beset by splits and bickering. “The former Baath Party leadership has lost control of many of its own people,” he said.

“What is going on now is a process of fragmentation in these armed groups,” whose leaders are degenerating in some places into local “warlords,” funded by the U.S., he said.

Ali called it a very “fragile” and volatile situation. Unfortunately, he said, “U.S. interference is proving to be a major obstacle to any real progress toward national reconciliation.”


Also read What's Behind Bush's "Surge" in Iraq?
by Joel Wendland,

Monday, January 7, 2008

Obama double digit lead in New Hamphire: Another win for the politics of hope

By Joe Sims

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has surged to a double digit lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire and seems sure to best the New York senator in this latest contest for the Democratic nominee for the White House. A Gallup-USA today poll shows Obama leading by 13 points with CNN estimating 10 point spread. Think blowout or landslide. Think stunning unrecoverable upset. Think tsunami.

Rising on the tidal wave of the Iowa caucuses, a tidal wave created by mainly white working class and youth voters, the African American Illinois senator appears to have even further broadened his coalition with independents favoring him 2 to 1 over Clinton. Polls results now indicate that New Hampshire voters by a margin of 12 or 13 percentage points now see Obama as more electable than his main rival. The man has met the moment and created a new movement.

Obama has emerged as an all-peoples candidate at an all-peoples moment. The combination of his personal charisma and leadership qualities, along with the broad themes of hope, change and unity is capturing the imagination of the U.S. electorate at a time when it is fed up with decades of fear mongering, divisiveness and hate. This desire for a new day of inspired forward looking leadership has created a new social movement that may well change the very direction of the country.

The Obama movement has emerged as the main form that the struggle against the extreme right is taking today. Here lies the great power of hope, unity and change. Neither the brave and historic bid by Hillary Clinton to become the first woman president nor the bold anti-corporate thrust of John Edwards, important as they are were able to capture the moment in quite the same way. Indeed it might even be said that with Edwards, notwithstanding the important ideological thrust of his pro-labor anti-big business message, this was not where the people are at the moment. However, that said, the three central currents of the democratic message taken as whole if united, would be a mighty front that would be difficult to breach in the November election.

If Obama wins on Tuesday, and this seems likely, South Carolina, Nevada and other contests seem much more certain. It is doubtless that as political scientist Ron Walters predicted weeks ago, the African American vote, always favorable, will rise mightily to the occasion. Doubtless the same will occur among Mexican Americans. Women already are moving solidly in Obama’s direction. Obama with already strong labor support in Illinois will gain new adherents. Big Business already on board will direct more of its money where it sees a winner. And then there is the overwhelming support of the youth and students who by all accounts have made the difference in the campaign. All this taken as a whole is the making of an all people’s electoral movement.

Clearly for the Clinton’s the politics of the vital center could not hold as independents, small town residents, rural voters, small business persons etc, have grown tired of triangulating comprises and negative attacks. Senator Clinton’s charge that Obama is not experienced enough sounds too much like “he is not qualified enough,” a subtle appeal that white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have rejected.

Politics as usual have bit the dust in this presidential season. The category of “likely voters” has been exploded as virtually meaningless as newly registered and energized citizens claim a stake in the future in such numbers that the pundits and politicians have been left scratching their heads. The Chicago school of grass roots electoral organizing, so brilliantly executed by Harold Washington almost 30 years ago combined with other organizing models including the wide use of Internet activism, has turned the campaign upside down. A new day is dawning in the snowy fields of Iowa and streets of New Hampshire, a day born of the hope in our hearts.

Joe Sims is the editor of Political Affairs and a member of the People’s Weekly World editorial board.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Illinois - 2008 election battleground

By John Bachtell

As the new year gets underway, it more and more looks like the 2008 elections could alter the political balance in a progressive direction for years to come.

And Illinois could be a 2008 election battleground state. In addition to giving an old fashioned Prairie State whupping to the Republican presidential candidate, there are several congressional races shaping up that could spell doom for more Republican right wingers.

The labor-led people's coalition is gearing up as never before and there are huge majorities who are fed up with the Bush rightwing agenda. There's a lot of action at the grassroots against the Iraq war, for universal health care, immigrant rights, expanding labor and civil rights, for stopping foreclosures and funding people's needs.

There are possibilies for Democratic pickups including electing some new very progressive representatives. Although many of the races will be complicated by the probable presence of Green Party and other independent candidates on the ballot.

What's colliding - and reflected in the presidential primaries - is a growing mass upsurge and a fraying of the Bush rightwing coalition. Running for the exits are Republican Reps. Dennis Hastert, Ray LaHood and Gerry Weller (one step ahead of indictment). They see the handwriting on the wall.

With the February 5th primaries fast approaching, the race in the 11th CD is considered to be the 3rd most important race in the country by the AFL-CIO. Here State Senator Debbie Halverson has the backing of labor, the Democratic establishment, community organizations, etc. The Republican nomination is up for grabs.

The race in the 14th CD where Hastert quit is wide open at this writing. A lot of people began to see Hastert as increasingly out of step with the district.

On the Democratic side is union carpenter and progressive candidate John Laesch (with the support of the state AFL-CIO, PDA and others), strong against the war and for immigrant rights, who is competing with businessman and Fermi Lab scientist Bill Foster (with deep pockets). Foster also calls for bringing the troops, but advocates a national ID card and has no approach to the healthcare crisis.

On the Republican side is a motley crew led by extreme rightwinger and anti-immigrant bigot Jim Oberweis.

In the 10th CD it looks like Democrat Dan Seals will get a rematch against Republican Mark Kirk, who likes to portray himself as a moderate but has voted with the Bush administration on every key issue. In 2006, Seals got 47% of the vote.

There's also possibilities for progressives to get more engaged in other primary races. Mark Pera, who calls for bringing the troops home from Iraq within a year, is challenging Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinski in the 3rd CD.

The 2008 election should excite everyone. We have a real chance to impact them with millions of fired up voters and their concerns. They challenge every progressive minded person to become fully engaged.