Friday, September 25, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


By Harry Targ

Leaders of 20 developed and developing countries, the G20 countries, will meet on September 24-25 in Pittsburgh to continue dialogue on the global economic crisis and financial regulation. One way to think about the G20 is to see it as an emergency response to an emergency situation, not necessarily a byproduct of the long and contradictory development of the global political economy.

Most of us ordinarily would not see the connection between contemporary economic problems and the complex global history that has brought us to where we are. Most importantly, we are not likely to realize that fixing the problems of immediate concern might require addressing the long-term structural developments that have led to the crises of our own time.

Some time ago, L.S. Stavrianos wrote a large history of the global economy, Global Rift: The Third World Comes of Age. In it, the author developed a detailed discussion of the conflictful evolution of the global political economy from the dawn of commercial capitalism to the 1980s. Bringing the story up to the present would entail describing the emergence of neo-liberal globalization, the immediate “cause” of the global, largely financial crisis of our own time.

Stavrianos suggests that we can conceptualize the history of capitalism as the result of the conflict between what he calls “centers” and ‘peripheries.” Center nations have been those that
accumulated economic, political, and military power, often aided by technological advances and military prowess. Through these elements center nations gained disproportionately from interactions with most of the world’s nations and peoples. Periphery nations by virtue of their limited power, control, access to technologies, lost from their interaction with the powerful countries of the world. In a sense, much of the value of goods and services and natural resources produced by peoples in the periphery were expropriated by those in the center. The 500 year history of the global economy has been based on the expropriation of value from the periphery to the center.

During the era of commercial capitalism (1400-1770), a rising merchant class, supported by state armaments and mercenaries seeking riches, traversed the globe, trading, investing, and extracting gold and other riches wherever they could. Central to the rise of global capitalism was the trade of commodities made in Europe for African slaves. Kidnapped slaves were brought to recently conquered western hemisphere lands to cut sugar, grow tobacco, cultivate dyes, and produce other agricultural commodities. The products derived from slave labor were brought back to Europe, processed, and sold on the world market. Therefore, the slave system was basic to the development of the global capitalist economy.

As extraction of natural resources, trade, and production advanced, an era of industrial capitalism emerged. In countries such as Great Britain, the industrial revolution occurred. A factory system was created which brought masses of workers together to produce goods more cheaply. This generated more and more goods for sale on the world stage. Center nations experienced an increasing thirst for markets in and resources from the periphery for the production and sale of goods. With industrial capitalism, powerful and wealthy center countries grew and most of the rest of the world experienced arrested development.

The expansion of industrial capitalism led to monopolies, individual or small numbers of corporations controlling larger and larger shares of individual industrial sectors. In addition small numbers of corporations and banks expanded their domination of the global economy at large. During the era of monopoly capitalism, as Stavrianos called it, stretching from the 1870s until today, smaller and smaller numbers of corporations and banks controlled more and more of all production.

Three particular changes shaped the late nineteenth and twentieth century global economy. First, banks became independent and interdependent actors in economic life connected to the corporate sector. Second, corporations and banks (and thus their governments), became increasingly dependent on the export of money capital, direct foreign investment, in comparison with trade in goods and services in prior eras. The seeds of modern financial speculation were planted. Third, from the 1880s until the 1950s, powerful center countries acquired colonies such that by the time of the Spanish American (Cuban) war, 70 percent of the land mass of the world was controlled by European and North American colonial powers.

After World War II, periphery countries won their political independence but remained neo-colonial countries; that is their economies were dominated by traditional center nations. The only exceptions to this continuing center/periphery structure of dominance and subordination was that reflected in the rise of the Socialist bloc, Chinese, Cuban, and Vietnamese revolutions, and countries organizing to pursue a “non-aligned” foreign policy.

As the socialist bloc and the non-aligned movement lost their power, traditional capitalist powers, assisted by international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreements on Trade and Tariffs (later the World Trade Organization), demanded a renewed system of center/periphery relations to expand the expropriation of surplus from peripheries to centers. So-called neo-liberal policies were imposed on poor and debt-ridden countries requiring them to downsize their governments, de-regulate their economies, privatize public corporations, and shift their economies from producing goods and services for domestic use to exports.

Part of the economic crisis the G20 leaders and peoples all over the world face is the result of the expropriation of wealth from the periphery to the center (concretely from workers, farmers, and peasants), the excess accumulation of wealth in the center with decreasing capacities to use it to make greater profit, and overproduction and dramatically declining abilities of peoples of the globe to purchase what is produced. The root cause of this economic crisis, like others, results from the accumulation of enormous wealth at one pole, the center, and growing human misery at the other pole, the periphery.

Among the conclusions that can be gleaned from this brief history are the following:

-The contemporary period in global economic/military and political history is the byproduct of historic transformations in world history, from feudalism, to commercial capitalism, and then the industrial revolution, and finally the rise of a monopoly and a financially driven world system.

-Economic transformations have been intimately connected to transformations in military power (access to sea power, land armies, air war, and nuclear weapons) and technological advances.

-Human history, at least since the fifteenth century, has been shaped by the inequitable distribution of power and wealth, creating center and periphery nations and peoples.

-Periphery countries have been shaped economically, politically, and culturally by their connections to center nations.

-This global system of centers and peripheries has stimulated integration (what now is called “globalization”) which has been connected to violence, hunger, disease, and human misery.

While Stavrianos suggests that most of the world’s people have been shaped by their connection with the rich and powerful he also argues that the center/periphery relationship impacts on both actors. Peripheries always have resisted their domination. Sometimes they have achieved significant victories, other times not so much.

It will be interesting to see if voices of change at the G-20 summit can begin to restructure the global economy away from the historic center/periphery structure that has so influenced world history.

Please visit my blog:

Sotomayor Issues Challenge to a Century of Corporate Law


WASHINGTON -- In her maiden Supreme Court appearance last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a provocative comment that probed the foundations of corporate law.
During arguments in a campaign-finance case, the court's majority conservatives seemed persuaded that corporations have broad First Amendment rights and that recent precedents upholding limits on corporate political spending should be overruled.
But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong -- and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.
Judges "created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons," she said. "There could be an argument made that that was the court's error to start with...[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics."
After a confirmation process that revealed little of her legal philosophy, the remark offered an early hint of the direction Justice Sotomayor might want to take the court.
"Progressives who think that corporations already have an unduly large influence on policy in the United States have to feel reassured that this was one of [her] first questions," said Douglas Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.
"I don't want to draw too much from one comment," says Todd Gaziano, director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. But it "doesn't give me a lot of confidence that she respects the corporate form and the type of rights that it should be afforded."
For centuries, corporations have been considered beings apart from their human owners, yet sharing with them some attributes, such as the right to make contracts and own property. Originally, corporations were a relatively rare form of organization. The government granted charters to corporations, delineating their specific functions. Their powers were presumed limited to those their charter spelled out.
"A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible," Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in an 1819 case. "It possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it."
But as the Industrial Revolution took hold, corporations proliferated and views of their functions began to evolve.
In an 1886 tax dispute between the Southern Pacific Railroad and the state of California, the court reporter quoted Chief Justice Morrison Waite telling attorneys to skip arguments over whether the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause applied to corporations, because "we are all of opinion that it does."
That seemingly off-hand comment reflected an "impulse to shield business activity from certain government regulation," says David Millon, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.
"A positive way to put it is that the economy is booming, American production is leading the world and the courts want to promote that," Mr. Millon says. Less charitably, "it's all about protecting corporate wealth" from taxes, regulations or other legislative initiatives.
Subsequent opinions expanded corporate rights. In 1928, the court struck down a Pennsylvania tax on transportation corporations because individual taxicab drivers were exempt. Corporations get "the same protection of equal laws that natural persons" have, Justice Pierce Butler wrote.
>From the mid-20th century, though, the court has vacillated on how far corporate rights extend. In a 1973 case before a more liberal court, Justice William O. Douglas rejected the Butler opinion as "a relic" that overstepped "the narrow confines of judicial review" by second-guessing the legislature's decision to tax corporations differently than individuals.
Today, it's "just complete confusion" over which rights corporations can claim, says Prof. William Simon of Columbia Law School.
Even conservatives sometimes have been skeptical of corporate rights. Then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist dissented in 1979 from a decision voiding Massachusetts's restriction of corporate political spending on referendums. Since corporations receive special legal and tax benefits, "it might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere," he wrote.
On today's court, the direction Justice Sotomayor suggested is unlikely to prevail. During arguments, the court's conservative justices seem to view corporate political spending as beneficial to the democratic process. "Corporations have lots of knowledge about environment, transportation issues, and you are silencing them during the election," Justice Anthony Kennedy said during arguments last week.
But Justice Sotomayor may have found a like mind in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights," Justice Ginsburg said, evoking the Declaration of Independence.
How far Justice Sotomayor pursues the theme could become clearer when the campaign-finance decision is delivered, probably by year's end.

Activists, Big Business Converge on G20 Meet

By: Jeb Sprague
Inter Press Service
September 20, 2009


As media and government delegates prepare for the G20
Summit to be held Sep. 24-25 in Pittsburgh, local
business and activist groups are promoting clashing
visions of days to come.

Hit hard over the last quarter of the twentieth century
with a collapsing steel industry, recession and falling
population, Pittsburgh is still a decent place to live
- often highly rated because of low housing costs.

Also see below: World Bank, NGOs Exhort G20 Not to
Forget the Poorest

On one side, Pittsburgh government and business leaders
say they have reshaped the city to connect with
globalisation as a hi-tech, financial and medical
industry hub.

On the other side, labour, community, youth and
environmental groups are fighting for green jobs and
clean energy, while calling into question how
government and corporate leaders have dealt with the
global financial crisis and urban renewal.

The host of the summit is the Pittsburgh G20
Partnership, run out of the Allegheny County Conference
on Community Development, which according to its
executive vice president is "a sort of holding company"
for the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and
other regional business groups.

The group includes many of the largest business
interests active in the area. Public affairs
coordinator, Philip Cynar, explains, "Our group is made
up of corporations involved in advanced manufacturing,
financial services, healthcare, information technology,
and energy".

Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of corporate
relations for the group, says that Pittsburgh's
business leaders have learned to operate in a
globalised world, and the G20 summit provides a prime
opportunity for further insertion into the global

"We've learned capital tends to flow freely" so "we are
trying to put Pittsburgh on the map and attract global
investors," he told IPS.

Large business interests have been at the centre of
coordinating the summit. "We communicate on a daily
basis with the White House, the State Department and
the Secret Service, all in preparation for
communication operations and planning receptions at the
14 hotels where journalists and delegates will be
staying, the trappings for welcoming the world to the
region," Flanagan added.

Not far from the Regional Enterprise Tower, where
business groups promoting the summit operate, a peace
and justice coalition based out of Pittsburgh's Thomas
Merton Centre is organising for a people's march
against the G20, sending a very different message.

The umbrella coalition, including organised labour,
anti-war activists, and numerous environmentalist,
socialist, and grassroots organisations, levels steep
criticism at the G20 leaders and global capitalism,
most pointedly the effects on low-income and working-
class people by state policies meant to benefit
transnational corporations.

Melissa Minnich, communications director of the Thomas
Merton Centre, says, "The financial bailouts of the G20
governments are meant to benefit the largest
corporations. The people that end up paying are the
average citizens."

Dozens of other organisations are taking part, such as
the G-6 Billion with an inter-faith march, a march for
jobs in Pittsburgh's poor Hill district, and a people's
summit to call for economic and environmental justice.

Carl Davidson, a labour writer and organiser with the
local Beaver County Peace Links, observes that,
"Pittsburgh in particular has suffered from policies
advocated by the G20, hit hard by the job loss and
deindustrialisation in globalisation. People see these
world leaders and the global corporations they work
with as responsible."

David Hoskins, an organiser with Bail Out the People,
told IPS "We will have a march for jobs, calling for a
federal job programme like the New Deal era, on
Pittsburgh's Hill".

Pittsburgh business and government leaders, with a
successful downtown, have recast the city as a modern
centre for green-technology innovation.

But problems remain. Pennsylvania is the only state in
the U.S. without a budget. Unable to pay some of its
pensioners, the city of Pittsburgh has sold off parking
lots to raise money.

With ghost towns at the city's outskirts and many
communities suffering from environmental degradation,
local activists say development has been an
undemocratic process geared toward the beautiful

Melissa Minnich says poor communities have lost out.
She lives near "one green space that was slated to be
worked on". However, she explains, "We were told by the
contractors that city funds were rerouted to downtown
so construction could not begin."

With rich coal deposits in the south of Pittsburgh,
dirty mining techniques remain. Longwall mining,
cutting deep horizontal shafts, has caused sinkholes,
draining one lake on the outskirts of the city, as well
as forming huge coal piles that sit idle leaking
mercury into the Monogahela River.

There are dozens of large coal-fired electric power
generators, and one nuclear power plant, all along the
Ohio River stretching down to West Virginia, supplying
electricity to much of the east coast.

David Meieran, an organiser with the Three Rivers
Climate Convergence, a Pittsburgh-based environmental
group, says "It is absurd that Pittsburgh's chamber of
commerce and corporations like the PNC-bank are saying
they are green companies now just because they are
constructing these environmentally-friendly buildings."

He adds, "They still maintain sizable holdings in coal
companies that do mountaintop removal and longwall
mining, profiting off deaths and environmental

In 2008, according to the American Lung Association,
Pittsburgh ranked above all other U.S. cities in short-
term levels of particle pollution, "a deadly cocktail
of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and
aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks
on end".

The defence industry has a presence in Pittsburgh.
Carnegie Mellon University has a robotics institute
working closely with the U.S. Department of Defence.
Local universities are involved in healthcare research
and development tied to the private sector.

To defend the summit, Pittsburgh's mayor and city
council have amassed a force of four thousand police,
including many auxiliaries from the rural countryside.
Two thousand National Guard and an untold number of
secret service agents with hi-tech surveillance will be

Diane Richard, public information officer for the
Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, explains "There are
facilities in place to afford us leeway in how many
arrests we have to make". She acknowledged other
agencies would have horseback units present.

Much of the discussion within Pittsburgh's advertiser-
radio and newspapers has focused on financial costs of
hosting the summit and the inconvenience to downtown

One downtown resident told IPS that a big part of the
population in the city "is as old and conservative as
Miami, Florida, and they don't want to see any spray
paint or flag burning". He expects that the Pittsburgh
police will use harsh tactics against protesters.

It is believed tens of thousands of protesters from
Pittsburgh and around the country will gather. A mass
march will start on Sep. 25, at 12:00 P.M., on the
corner of 5th and Craft near Pittsburgh's college.

Reverend Thomas E. Smith, of the local Monumental
Church, has offered his lawn and parking lots to

He explains, "We are hosting a tent city that is
symbolic of the need for a fair and living wage, and
for a national and international workers' movement
similar to the poor peoples' campaign that Dr. Martin
Luther King was in the process of organizing prior to
being assassinated."

The G20 protesters face hurdles in getting their
message out to a wider audience. With official politics
in the United States channeled through a corporate
media and a powerful two-party monopoly, peace and
justice organizers say, the biggest challenge is just
for their message to be heard.

Important Information Concerning Democracy in Honduras.

*President Manuel Zelaya, after over eighty days in exile, has returned
to Honduras.* He reported the news in an interview with Canal 36, a
Honduran television network. Zelaya has called for the increasingly
strong resistance movement to converge at the United Nations building in
Tegucigalpa. The coup regime denies that Zelaya is in Honduras and has
repeatedly stated that Zelaya would be arrested upon return to Honduras.
*Visit the SOA Watch web site at

for updates.*

*Click here to urge your Representative to take a stand for democracy in

Monday, September 21, 2009

No Short Cuts to the Top: Lessons on Building the Progressive Majority from the Resignation of Van Jones

By Keith Joseph

Van Jones’ resignation as an environmental advisor to the Obama administration is further evidence that associations with the far Left are a political liability for Democratic Party politicians. The first thing that revolutionary democrats, socialists and communists have to figure out is how to change this fact of political life in the United States -- so that it is not a liability but a necessity for liberal and progressive politicians to have strong, active and mutually beneficial alliances with those of us firmly (and far) to the left of the Democratic Party.

Throughout Obama’s candidacy, and now during his presidency, the Right has tried to make his real and imagined associations with the Left a burden – Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, come quickly to mind—and now Van Jones. Associating with the far left was not always political suicide for a mainstream politician.

McCarthyism’s primary objective, indeed, was not to simply attack Communists as such but to break the Progressive alliance—the coalition of Communists and Liberals that made the New Deal possible and provided support and often leadership to the developing modern Civil Rights Movement. Assassins were summoned when the alliance appeared to be re-forming in the late 1960’s around Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Building a progressive majority is the process of rebuilding the coalition between socialists, communists, and liberals, and progressives. This is the coalition that defeated Nazism in World War 2.

Answering the proverbial question “What is to be done?” is difficult in the United States because the electoral and governing processes are mystified by the two-party-system. In a parliamentary system the party that wins the most seats in the election is obliged to build a “governing coalition” that includes other political parties. A parliamentary system is far more democratic as it allows for proportional representation. It also allows us to see the political process in clear terms. In a parliamentary system a government can “fall” if it is no longer capable of keeping together a majority of the representatives in the parliament. The parliamentarians represent definite class forces and each successive government is a different configuration of these class forces.

In the U.S. the “governing coalition” is usually formed during the electoral process and the coalition is not a multi-party coalition like in Europe—in the U.S. the coalition is actually inside the party structures. Ronald Reagan built a coalition of free marketers, and cold warriors, with racist white workers (known in the mainstream press as “Reagan Democrats”) and right-wing Christians as the ground troops. Reagan’s coalition brought the Republican Party nearly 30 years of uninterrupted rule (if it weren’t for Ross Perot taking 15% of Bush Sr.’s vote in 1992 Clinton would not have won the election. And Clinton was never able to build a stable governing majority so he was forced to adopt much of the Republican free-market agenda and his presidency was seen even by his liberal supporters as a disappointment wracked by scandals).

The Democratic Party with Obama at its helm has finally cobbled together a majority coalition. The Democratic Party’s traditional coalition includes organized labor, women, Afro-Americans, Latinos, queers, and other oppressed peoples, as well as urban professionals. Both parties have large corporate presences but after eight years of Bush, big capital got behind Obama and the Democrats.. The Republicans lacked a leader that could keep together the Regan coalition and unite right wing Christians (represented in the primaries by Huckabee), Libertarians (represented in the primary by Ron Paul), free marketers (Mitt Romney) and national security hawks (McCain and Ghouiani). But here is the problem: Although Obama and the Democrats have a governing majority, it is a precarious majority and it is certainly not a progressive majority.

The majority coalition that Obama has built includes the odious and hegemonic presence of Financial Capital –Wall St. and the Insurance industry (by “hegemonic” I mean to say that Wall St is not only present in the coalition they are in charge of it). So, for instance, while a clear majority of the U.S. population favors a “public option” if not single payer healthcare, Obama does not have a majority in his governing coalition that will support it.

Radical democrats, socialists, communists and other left- progressive forces must organize to change the balance of power in the country, to re-order Obama’s majority coalition –growing it to the Left—so we can end the subservience to the interests of financial capital and still be a majority. That is what building a progressive majority entails. Making more friends and isolating our enemies so we can drive our enemies from power.

Signs of our success at the national level would be the resignation of the investment banker Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of Staff, the resignation of Tim Geithner from the Treasury, and the resignation of Ben Bernackie as chair of the Federal Reserve, etc. and their replacement with people who are not creatures of Wall St.

Obama has been flirting with the left and the liberal/left coalition for years. Unfortunately revolutionaries have not been very useful coalition partners. Unlike Martin Luther King who brought not only moral authority but a mass movement to the table, today’s revolutionaries, I am sorry to say, bring practically nothing to the table. Indeed, we are simply a liability.

So even though under certain circumstances – a very unpopular President (Bush 2) launching an unpopular war (Iraq) —we can mobilize millions for a protest those millions remain unorganized and not only “outside” of the coalition but irrelevant to it. 30 years of essentially a Republican majority has pushed us so far back on our heels that our vision has narrowed and we only know the politics of protest. In order to build the progressive majority we must criticize and abandon the politics of protest, or “protest mode” and instead make protests and demonstrations an occasional and minor tactic in a much vaster arsenal. We must recall that the question of revolution is the question of power. Power can be had by those who organize to take it and it can be used to expand organization. We must organize to take power wherever we can put our hands on it – school boards, city councils, mayors, student governments, public library boards, local democratic party organizations, Parent Teacher Associations, municipal recreation programs, unions, corporate boards, etc.

The resignation of Van Jones reveals the bankruptcy of his organizational model. It is a variation of protest mode best described as “lobby mode.” The left lobbyist thinks protest are too radical and don’t accomplish much. So instead they lobby the powerful. Instead of making “demands” on power they “ask” power and they do it politely while wearing a suit.

Instead of demanding or asking power, we must organize to take power.

I saw Van Jones speak about the U.S. prison system at the annual “Left Forum” in New York City a few years ago around the time he was transitioning from an advocate for prison reform to an advocate for the green economy. During the Q & A I asked him how we can link a program that calls for prison abolition to the real concerns of working people about crime in their neighborhoods. I spoke briefly about my own experiences organizing against police brutality in neighborhoods were drug fiends roam the streets and were “crack-heads” have taken over houses. Working class people in my experience were more interested in getting the fiends off their block then abolishing prison. So this was a real practical and theoretical problem. Van Jones, to my surprise, responded “I don’t get involved in neighborhood politics.” At the time, although I was less than impressed, I didn’t think much of it. When I learned that Van Jones had moved on from prison reform to the “green economy” and had been appointed to Obama’s administration I celebrated it as a victory. I figured having someone from the left (whatever I thought of their particular shortcomings) was a good thing. But because Jones didn’t involve himself in “neighborhood politics” he had no real base of support. Van Jones did not arrive at his position as the result of mass struggle and so he had to rely on the good will of liberals instead of the power of an organized movement.

We must learn the lesson that the resignation of Van Jones teaches—neighborhood politics are the basis of national politics. Without organized neighborhoods, organized communities, organized cities, organized workplaces we will not be able to implement any of our “minimum program” (healthcare is a case in point) much less build an organized movement struggling to overthrow the domination of capital.

The progressive majority – the coalition between revolutionaries: socialists, communists, radical democrats, progressives and liberals – must be built from the bottom up. Block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, shop by shop, there is no short cut.

A radical democratic movement and organization is developing in New Brunswick NJ and we are building this coalition—the coalition we want nationally-- at the local level. We are in the midst of campaign to change the form of local government (changing the form of government is what revolution is about). The current government is made up of a city council elected at-large. We petitioned to place a question on November’s ballot to change the way that council people are elected. From an at-large system to a “ward” based system. In a ward system council people would be elected from each of the city’s major neighborhoods. With a ward based system working people could start to run for elected office in the city. We will have a base area and a model of the kind of politics that we need in cities across the country.

We need help. We are fighting a political machine bank-rolled at the end of the day by Johnson & Johnson the multi-national pharmaceutical firm that has its world headquarters in town. They have the power of money or dead labor on their side and we have living labor on our side. But we could definitely use financial assistance. And if you are available on election-day or the weeks before we could use your living labor too. You can donate or contact the campaign at our website: Empower Our Neighborhoods.