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democracy

It is absolutely wonderful that the Communications Workers of America are buying books and teaching classes on “Runaway Inequality” by Les Leopold. It stirs a lot of thinking.

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The core argument is that something has been seriously wrong in America since the mid 1970s, when wages stopped rising at a rate similar to the increasing productivity. Productivity is the amount of wealth that one average worker creates in one average working hour.

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As the graph shows clearly, wages and productivity seemed to rise together from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s, then productivity continued rising with the same upward slope, but wages flattened out. Profits rose, but wages didn’t. The change, Les Leopold says, came about because of deliberate policy changes. The book is full of other graphs showing the policies that changed, the resulting inequality, and the amazing effects of this incredible rise in inequality. Leopold then concludes by saying that ordinary Americans must band together and change those policies. In other words, wage-earners have to do what the bosses have been doing. It’s a “must read” book, and the classes (I’ve taken them twice) are inspiring!

There are further questions

  1. Is the period 1947-2016 a representative period of history, or is it unusual?
  2. Is the problem local or systemic?;
  3. Given the situation described in the book, is there really a solution for wage-earners?

What period of economic history is “normal?”

The entire book and all its conclusions come from the hypothesis that something went wrong in the 1970s. I have my doubts. The unusual period in American history was not 1974-2016, as Leopold suggests, but 1947-1974, the first part of the graph. In other words, there is nothing unusual about wages being suppressed in a capitalist economy. The unusual period was 1947-1974.

Take a quick look at how unusual was the post-war world:

  • Europe and Asian were bombed flat. American had virtually no competitors in the capitalist world
  • American unions were far stronger than in any time in history
  • The United States set the terms for all economic transactions in the capitalist world
  • The United States had almost all of the world’s gold

Then look at how things changed: By 1974, German and Japanese automobiles were flooding the world. President Nixon had given up America’s control over gold. Unionism had peaked around 1957 and was clearly slipping. The Chinese were having tea with Nixon and had broken up their alliance with the Soviet Union. Economic competition between nations was getting back to “normal.” What every nation had to do, to compete, was lower their costs. Their costs are our wages and benefits.

Is the problem local or systemic?

Our problems derive from the system we live in. American working families are having pretty much the same problems that other capitalist nations are facing. We have probably lost more than the families in other nations since the mid 1970s, but we had more to lose. The lords of American industry and finance have been able to hold on to their hegemony in the world only by sacrificing our wages and benefits.

Even worse, the long-term process of robbing working families entails destroying our democracy. The end of World War II was a triumph of democracy, and nowhere was democracy stronger than here, in the land of the winners. Several of Les Leopold’s graphs show how democracy is diminished. A very striking one is the graph showing that the United States has more people incarcerated than any nation of any size in the world! Today, many people are saying that we live under a plutocracy and that democracy is dead and gone.

It isn’t true. The absence of democracy is fascism, and we don’t have fascism in America. Even in 1947, our democracy was not complete. It was partial. Since the mid-1970s, our democracy has faded, but not disappeared. If the process continues as it is going now, it would be fair to say that fascism is the logical outcome. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Is there a solution?

Given the system we live in as described in “Runaway Inequality,” are we likely to be able to reverse the policies that have brought disaster for working families since the mid 1970s? No. What happened since 1974 is not unusual, it’s part of the ordinary process of world capitalist economics.

If there is a solution for American working families. it will come from a different system.

Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio, 89.3FM, every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you’re interested in what I really think, check out http://lilleskole.us

 

 

 

Socialism has become a popular topic for liberal discussion. Thousands of young people are joining moderate socialist organizations such as SP, DSA, or one of the Bernie-ite electoral groups.

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It is wonderful to see so many people committing to a better world, but I’m not sure how serious they are. It would be good to take a look backward to see how this discussion was conducted over the ages.

Socialism was a suitable subject for tea parties and Utopian literature for a couple of centuries before the 20th. There were even some harmless experiments, including one here in North Texas in the 1850s. The draft law of the Confederacy ended the Texas experiments with guns and terror.

The hippies of the 1960s recapitulated that early period and did some more harmless experimenting with communal living, counter-cultural institutions and what they called the “land trip.” Almost all of them either gave it up or moved to Costa Rica or both.

In 1917, though, the talk got serious. Since then, serious advocates of socialism have realized that an opposition exists and it’s not just arguing politely. Millions died in the civil war after that first socialist economy was established.

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The “arguments” of the opposition then took the form of fascism. In Italy, Germany, and Spain, the socialists were put down with guns and terror.  No sooner had the Nazis been defeated than the “arguments” of the opposition began killing millions in Korea, Vietnam, Guatemala, Iran, Chile, South Africa, Angola, and Indonesia. Sorry if I left some out.

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Here in the United States, only a few of the advocates of socialism actually died and a few, not a whole lot, were imprisoned. But an awful lot of them lost their jobs and suffered blacklisting. Many Americans are still terrified of socialism because the terror that began in 1947 worked rather well for the anti-socialists. If it hadn’t, they would have gone much further, as they did in other nations.

Socialism is serious business. It’s not enough to discuss and advocate it. We need a plan.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you’re interested in what I really think, look at http://lilleskole.us

 

Mass shootings are regular events in America. In today’s newspaper, I just read that Americans have ten times as many guns as anybody else, and that’s the fundamental reason for all the killing.

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My own view may surprise you. When it’s all said and done, I am not for taking guns away from the citizenry.

Are Criminals and Terrorists the Issue?

The popular logic is that taking away a lot of people’s guns will also take a lot of guns away from screwballs, criminals, and terrorists. The NRA and the gun-nuts argue that the people who shouldn’t have guns will find a way to get them anyway, and the rest of us will be defenseless after we’ve given up our own. There’s a lot of heat in that argument, on both sides, but neither one deals with the essence of the question.

Let’s Start From Another Angle

If the citizenry gives up our weapons, then only the police will have weapons. That’s what worries me. I don’t know what percentage of the umpteen gun-caused maimings and deaths in America came out of police gun barrels, but I know that there are too many of them. Police shootings are treated as a separate controversy, but they actually go right to the heart of the matter.

The question of the proliferation of guns and the proliferation of police shootings are related. One can’t be solved without the other.

Community Organization is the Answer to Both Problems

If we had effective community organization, we’d have less crime, less need for protection, and a lot fewer police. Neighborhood watches, consisting of the neighbors themselves, could watch out for and report crimes. We would still need professional investigators similar to the ones we see on British BBC television, but we would no longer need armed and dangerous policemen on patrol. In the BBC murder mysteries, the investigators can call out armed units when necessary, and our militias should be able to do the same.

What is the Obstacle?

I can imagine people laughing as they read the preceding paragraph. They’re right, The police in America are not going to be disarmed. Our employers aren’t going to get us organized for self-protection either. But that’s not because it wouldn’t be a good idea. It’s because they don’t work for us. The police, and for that matter the military forces, all work for the plutocrats that run America. They are the armed agents of the people who rule us.

Our our problem is not the NRA, not the gun-nuts, not the terrorists, not the criminals. It’s the bosses.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat every Saturday at 9 Central Time .if you want to know what I really think, check out http://lilleskole.us

 

On the “Workers Beat” radio show this morning, I interviewed advocates for Dallas County Schools, a public service that provides transportation and safety for children going to North Texas schools. We are experiencing a propaganda blitz calling for us to vote “against” them in the November 7, 2017, election. How we came to this little historical intersection is an interesting story, and it illustrates a much larger problem for our world under capitalism.

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Today’s radio program was the third time I’ve had advocates for Dallas County Schools. The first ones were bus drivers organized by an independent union. They complained that somebody was out to smear their driving records but, when one considers that they log 106,000 miles per day, their driving record was pretty good. Co-Host Bonnie Mathias and I smelled a rat even then. We decided, without any explanation or prompting, that somebody was out to privatize Dallas County Schools.

When I interviewed the interim superintendent and the organizer for National Education Association later on, I was convinced that privatization was indeed the issue. They said that Texas Senator Don Huffines had originated the entire process with legislation calling for the vote. Although the “remedy” he proposed was complicated, it was skewed toward privatization, said my interviewees.

A Board member who hasn’t been on my radio show had contacted the Dallas AFL-CIO for help a few weeks ago. I sat in on the meeting. Later on, she and I corresponded as I tried to get to the bottom of what was going on.

Today I talked with a Board member and another union official. They went over the charges listed on the three expensive 4-color mailings I have received. They refuted them one by one. Mistakes had been made in the past, they said, but the superintendent and most of the Board had been replaced since then and rectification was under way. Further, the charges against them were overstated or even out right lies!

Nobody mentioned it on the radio, but they said there have been at least 5 robo-calls urging the voters to vote against them. Who paid for five robo calls and 3 big mailings? They said that the mysterious “Protect Dallas Kids” organization that opposed them had filed the required legal reports. They received money from the Dallas Citizens’ Alliance and one of the biggest corporation in North Texas, AT&T. A great deal more had been spent than had been reported, they said.

The Dallas Citizens Committee’s involvement was no surprise. Their main front is the Dallas Morning News, which has editorialized against the Dallas County Schools.

Other than Senator Huffines, I could only find one name associated with the propaganda blitz. The Treasurer, which is required to be listed on political propaganda, is also the Treasurer of the Dallas Republican Party. The address given is right outside Dallas County, but is in Huffines’ Senate District.

As I wrote in the Dallas AFL-CIO newsletter, the anti-worker credentials of Senator Don Huffines, the Dallas Morning News, and the Dallas Republican Party are well established. We stand with the workers!

There’s a Much Larger Lesson

In general, capitalists want to privatize everything. They have already privatized many of the prisons, much of the space program, and a great deal of America’s war machine. They argue that business can do everything cheaper and more efficiently than government, even though even the most shallow thinker can see why they can’t — to every expense they have to add profits.

Almost any form of economic activity can be used to generate profits. That’s why they keep trying to privatize everything. It’s a major issue in so-called trade negotiations as the big transnational corporations try to crate more profit centers all over the world.

The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has been trying to privatize Medicare for years. So far, the Senate has stopped him, but that doesn’t mean he won’t keep trying. They also want to provide everything having to do with veterans’ care.

Unions generally oppose privatizing. We argue that it leads to fewer services and more costs.  On the other side, the bosses look for any kind of problem that a public service may have, then they use that to argue for destroying the public entity and substituting themselves. That’s what’s going on with the Dallas County Schools, and it’s going on all over the world.

When we have a public service, there is always a possibility of corruption; but when we privatize, corruption is guaranteed!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat/ every Saturday at 9 Central Time. If you’re interested in what I really think, try http://lilleskole.us

 

Three hours after we went into the theater, we emerged dazed and questioning.

Movie Review: “Blade Runner 2049,” Directed by Denis Villeneuve, 163 minutes

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The last hour, or so it seemed, was the credits. The more the graphics arts in a movie, the longer the movie credits. My movie buddy always sits through to the final frame, because she wants to know if it was union-made or not. This one had three union logos at the end: Sag-Aftra, Teamsters, and IATSE.

Frankly, I loved every minute of it and would still be sitting there if it had gone on, but I suspect that this movie, like the 1982 Blade Runner, will undergo some cutting and re-cutting before they’re done. The original was one of the greatest accomplishments in movie sci-fi of all time. That’s not because of the incredible graphics. I suppose the incredible graphics award will go to one of those Transformer movies. It’s the way that all the elements of the movie, including music, backgrounds, special effects, acting, stunts — all of it — come together to produce a moody symphony.

Like the first movie, this one is basically a hard-boiled detective story set in a horrible future world dominated by corporations whose greed has left the planet barely inhabitable. Near-human android slaves (replicants) have all the jobs. There is no happiness in either group. There’s no sunshine anywhere at all. It’s as grim as if the Trump Administration had lasted until 2049.

I may have to see the film again, because I caught a number of tributes to other movies and other art forms, and there were probably a lot that I didn’t catch. And like all good sci-fi, there were some really great philosophical and moral questions raised by the replicant-killing Blade Runner, the not-so-bad replicants that he didn’t kill, the evil replicants that he did, and the even-more-evil corporation at the root of it all.

—Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio every Saturay at 9 AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, click here.

Movie Review, “Viceroy’s House,” Directed by Gurinder Chadha, 106 minutes.

Like most useful political movies, “Viceroy’s House” is showing in a very limited run. In Dallas, it’s at the Inwood, but showing only twice each day and sure to disappear on Friday.

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Critics compare the movie to “Upstairs Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey,” partly because it stars Hugh Bonneville, who was the Earl for years on “Downton Abbey.” Actually, it compares much more with “Doctor Zhivago” or “The Year of Living Dangerously,” because it’s an epic historical movie with a tangentially related movie-type love story in the foreground, while great events are going on behind.

Lord Mountbatten, a British war hero, arrives to take over as the last viceroy in imperial India. The weakened empire wants to free its millions of subjects and, for most of the movie, the problems seem fairly realistic. The Lord and his very able wife and daughter try to deal with them as well as possible. But there’s dirty business afoot and tens of thousands of Hindus and Muslims will kill each other before the film ends. In Kashmir and other parts of India today, they are still at it.

I don’t want to give away who the real dirty s.o.b. villain is, but his initials are Sir Winston Churchill, about whom I have already delivered some opinions.

As you know, the British didn’t just turn India over to Nehru and his democratic government. Instead, they partitioned it along religious lines as they had earlier with Palestine and Ireland — two other places where a lot of people have died. The entire scheme of partitioning at the end of World War II merits some scrutiny. Why, for example, did we end up with East and West Berlin, North and South Korea, Iraq/Iran/Kurdistan, and one of our old favorites, North and South Indo-China (Vietnam).,

Come to think of it, we might look through a lot of histories and consider what governments really intended when they partitioned geographic areas. I live in Texas, for example, which was partitioned away from Mexico along with California and the entire Southwestern United States.

The movie’s director is no novice She has put together a very satisfying movie with some real political and historical significance. Her own family members were among the victims of the period. The acting is superb at every level, from Lord Mountbatten to his least servants. There are hundreds of extras in wide-lens shots that must have cost a fortune. BTW, Mountbatten’s daughter served as a consultant on the film.

Don’t miss it!

Gene Lantz

Catch me on KNON radio 89.3 FM Saturdays 9-10 AM CST

 

 

Book Review: Gaddis, John Lewis, “The Cold War. A New History.” Penguin Press, NY. 2005.

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I got the book from the Oak Cliff Dallas library. Gaddis had already written several earlier books on the period, so this one is sort of a compilation, he says.

What I liked about it was that he included some of the significant events of the Cold War period. It’s not chronological. He presents events in the order he wants in order to make the point he wants to make: that the Cold War was not so much a part of the long confrontation between labor and capital, but rather an historically isolated one of democracy versus totalitarianism. From the first, in his detached academic way, he cheers the American side.

Although it’s presented way out of order, he does talk about the 1948 CIA intervention to keep the Italian Communist Party from winning their national elections. He talks, a little bit, about America’s overthrow of the elected government of Chile and the installation of fascist terror. He mentions the CIA overthrows of the elected governments of Guatemala and Iran.

Like a lot of post-Soviet Union books, he gives his explanation for the failure of that government. He seems to think that Premier Gorbachev was confused and easily swayed by that smooth-talking Ronald Reagan. He says that the Soviets erred by trying to live up to their commitment to worldwide revolution by supporting the Cubans, the Angolans, the Vietnamese, and the many other peoples that tried to advance beyond capitalism and called to the Soviets for help. He says the Soviets couldn’t afford them.

But the fundamental problem, he says, was that the Soviets could not provide the standard of living that their people had been promised. When Khruschev said “We will bury you,” no matter how that was interpreted here, he meant that the Soviets had a superior economic system.

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of smart people talking about the mistakes of the Soviet Union. Some of them imply that those mistakes were also made by the worldwide socialist movement and, especially, by CPUSA here. I think this book nudges us toward an idea of what those mistakes might have been:

1) They mistakenly thought they could extend cooperation with the United States and other capitalist nations after Hitler was defeated.

2) They mistakenly thought that capitalist economies would resume their desperate pre-war economic depression after the war

3) They mistakenly thought that no single capitalist nation could unite the others against them

4) They underestimated the post-war prosperity phase.

Having lived through the Cold War, and after visiting the Soviet Union twice and doing some of my own studying, I have to agree with the book’s author on this important main point: I don’t know if the Soviets could have provided a superior standard of living for their citizens, but I am convinced that they didn’t.

Gaddis, the author, says that a market economy is fundamentally superior to a planned economy because it is more flexible. The Chinese economy, he says, succeeds because they embraced capitalism.

Certainly, the Korean War, the Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam war are covered.  But some things were not.

I just glanced at the book’s index to see if he included some of what I considered the most important aspects of the Cold War: The Taft-Hartley law that put America’s unions into a long downward spiral, the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs, Senator Joe McCarthy’s hearings, the McCarran Anti-Subversive Act(s) that sent American activists to prison, and the House Unamerican Activities Committee which destroyed so many lives. None of them are mentioned; none even made the index. If he had mentioned such things, I might have given more credibility to his thesis that the Soviets and Americans were equally to blame for having started and perpetuated the Cold War.

I don’t think that this “equal blame” idea can stand the test of history, because the wealthy capitalist countries opposed the Soviet Union in every possible way from its inception, 100 years ago. World War II provided only a brief interruption in attacks against the Soviets, and they did that only because Hitler had become such a threat to all of them. From 1917 to 1941, and again immediately after the war, the United States and the other imperialist nations did all they could to undermine and overthrow the Soviets.

I think that the Soviet Union fell as the result of an attack. The frontal attacks, although there were plenty of them, could not bring the Soviets down. But the long siege did.

World War II ended with a gigantic Soviet and American victory in 1945. The declaration of Cold War came from Winston Churchill, sharing a podium with President Truman,  in Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946 – less than a year after the hot war ended.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio 89.3 FM from 9 to 10 every Saturday. Call in your opinions!