Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Venezuelan Election

The PSUV, Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela, headed by Hugo Chavez gained 58% of the election, winning 17 of 23 governorships. The spin that the corporate media, and sadly the CBC, is putting on this is to trumpet the gains that the right-wing opposition made. Funny isn't it? Harper gets 38% and is a winner, Chavez 58% and is a loser. But it is going to be harder than ever for US propaganda to deem Hugo a dictator, since this is the second election in a year, the right-wing won the first and made slight gains in the second.

Like it or not, the Chavistas remain firmly in the camp of social democracy, as much as the US State Department and knee pad wearing liberals everywhere, would like to claim otherwise. But for me, this is a problem. Why? US and corporate-backed right-wing parties, with the corporate media at their side, undermine progressive governments, creating situations where they are thrown out of office. The right takes power and attacks the gains the people have made. All these reactionary measures are tarted up as "reforms". This see-saw has to stop, our rights and freedoms must be made permanent. The problem is, social democracy, not only allows this see-saw to occur, but sees the possibility of reactionaries taking power as an essential part of democracy.

No, I don't favour dictatorship. A dictatorship leads only to bureaucracy, paranoia and corruption. In seeking to protect the people from the oligarchs and CIA bum buddies, a dictatorship disempowers the people even more than a healthy social democracy.

What then is the alternative, one that is democratic and prevents the enemy from rolling back social progress? Certainly democratization of the media is necessary, but that would only be a small step in the right direction.

First off the oligarchy, its wannabees, its hired hounds and shills, religious fanatics and all-round haters, make up a fairly small minority of the population. There is another sector of the population that does not identify with the oligarchy, yet is not particularly conscious or educated, and will if suitable media campaigns are constructed support the forces of reaction. This sector, on the ground, that is, in the neighborhoods or the workplace, tends to work in its own interest and not that of reaction. It is only within the field of party politics or ideology that it acts otherwise. At the level of the workplace or neighborhood class trumps ideology and prejudice. (I should add, if this weren't the case, neighborhood associations and trade unions would be almost non-existent) Aside from a tiny fanatical minority, neighbors, no matter what religion or ideology, stand shoulder to shoulder against threats to their community. Trade union members are a cross section of the work force and when a strike is called both socialist and non-socialist workers stand side by side.

The solution then is to increase the amount of democracy in society, to bring it down to the local level and thus allow class interest to pre-dominate over acquired prejudices and ideologies. The basic political units should be neighborhood and work place councils, which are federated together and elect delegates to the higher levels of government. This will tend to reduce oligarchy's support to its own core, making it impossible for it to re-take power legally.

(I know that the PSUV has introduced neighborhood councils, but the government still runs on the old hierarchical system of representative government, favored by social democracy the world over.)

For More information on the election outcome see Jame Petras' article at 


and Patrick Larsen's at http://www.marxist.com/venezuela-first-balance-sheet-elections.htm

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Global Economic Crisis and the Experts

If it weren't for the suffering engendered by the global economic crisis, I would be laughing myself sick. None of the self-styled pundits and experts touted in the media knew it was coming. Other than a couple of mavericks, ignored by the mass media and especially the political leaders, none of the economists foretold it either. I, on the other hand, did, expecting it to happen any time in the last three or four years. The obvious signal of the coming crisis would be the imminent collapse of the housing bubble. This spring, I saw that the US housing market was really and truly in trouble, would soon collapse, and due to the interlinked nature of contemporary economies, the rot would spread globally. So I dumped my mutual funds, saving a chunk of my retirement money. In the years previous to this, I had paid off my mortgage, and indeed, had chosen a house within walking distance of down town and a yard big enough for a garden, all in preparation for the ''big one.''

I write this, not to pat myself on the back. I am a retired health care worker, not an economist. It doesn't take a genius to figure out the basic nature of the economy, just a little reading and a dollop of common sense. This same common sense suggests that you should read material critical of the system rather than its touts and ideologues, since they have a stake in it. One should no more believe capitalism's shills, than believing advertising for dish soap.

You find that crisis is endemic to the system, a relatively minor turn-down (that still puts millions out of work!) every 5 to 10 years and a whopper once and a while. Speculation booms are usually the last event before a crisis. A fall in profit in "real" industry – industry that makes things – due in part to market saturation, leads to speculative investment in areas such as real estate. As the value of a speculative product is largely hot air, eventually the balloon bursts, bringing the whole structure down with it. The situation was made worse by deregulation of the financial institutions which allowed vast frauds to be perpetuated.

Getting back to the pundits, experts, and economists who "didn't get it." I suspect that on the sly, most of them did, and have their money stashed safely. But their job was to pimp the system, to get as many suckers rounded up as possible and to protect the political gangsters and corporate bandits who set up the financial fraud.

These same pundits, experts, political gangsters and corporate bandits now claim "the turn-down should end by 2010", "Canada won't be effected much", and "de-regulation wasn't the problem."

They expect us to believe them?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Free Lunch Gang or the Coming Demise of Neo-liberalism

This was originally written in December 2003

"There Ain’t No Sec Thing as A Free Lunch," (TANSTAAFL) the old libertarian slogan means everything is interconnected and influences everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. Acting as though it did is dangerous abstract thinking and has severe negative consequences. No group is more guilty of the free lunch mentality than the so-called conservatives who have been at the helm of government in the UK, Canada and the US for more than 20 years.

Monetarist policies were adopted by these governments to defeat the stagflation that had been infecting the economy. With typical abstract thinking, “unions” were deemed as a major part of the problem and they sought to crush them. Conservatives sought a “free lunch” of lower wages and lower expenditure on social welfare. In spite of the criticisms one can make of the trade union bureaucracy, there are no such thing as “unions”, in concrete terms what you have (or had) were tens of millions of wage earners, some of whom were reasonably well paid.

When the payment for the “free lunch” of destroying people’s living standards came due the following occurred:

  • The millions of unemployed, as whenever you have a great deal of unemployment, created massive social problems. It is surely no coincidence that the 1980’s saw a vast increase in suicide, crime, drug addiction, child poverty and homelessness. All of these social problems cost money, in the short term, and especially the long term.

  • Since two-thirds of the economy is consumer-based and the overwhelming majority of consumers are ordinary people, the recessions of the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s were long and it took years for “consumer confidence” to return. Furthermore, since many of these wage earners are now permanently earning less, the body of well paid potential consumers is less numerous, making the economy more fragile. In order to consume at an “acceptable” level, people turn to credit, which in turn adds to the potential fragility.

  • In the US and UK, the traditional manufacturing areas were devastated by “conservative” policies, resulting in a loss of manufacturing industries. Goods once made at home are now imported. For the USA, this has exacerbated the balance of payments problem, making the economy fragile.

  • Cut-backs at work have resulted in much heavier work loads. Many people work longer hours to keep up living standards. The result is employee burn-out and an enormous rise in stress-related illness. All of this costs money, in terms of time lost at work and insurance payments.

  • The hypocrisy of the “conservatives” has created cynicism among the populace. Voters were told that they would “get government off your back”, but what happened was more government than ever. People were told there was no money for wages or social services, yet hundreds of billions of dollars were spent on corporate welfare, government megaprojects and their favorite form of corporate welfare, war and “defense” industries. Along with this “lack of money” came an astronomical increase in incomes for CEO’s and government bureaucrats. It can be all summed up thus; when its something we want, there’s no money. When it’s something they want, the coffers are bottomless. “Conservatism” has revealed itself as nothing more than a sleazy racket to steal our money, destroy our communities and rob us of our liberties.

But the real payment for the “free lunch” has yet to be made. Twenty-five years of abuse, lies and out-right robbery have created the potential for immense social unrest. Should some act or event crystallize this latent anger, payment for the “free lunch” will be demanded in full. And the bill is going to be a big one.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Day After Halloween

Far fewer kids seem out on Halloween trick or treating these past few years. One more example of the decline of community. Halloween has been replaced by phony parties in the malls. Commercialism reigns triumphant once again. One aspect of this decline has been the fear generated by the media about what might happen to those kiddies roaming around in the dark in your neighborhood. Add to this the urban legends that always appear about this time – poisoned candy, needles in apples or oranges. The latter was current when I was a kid 50 years ago!

Halloween was part of communal culture. You went around in home made costume to your neighbors and got gifts from them. Back in my day and beyond, Halloween also served another function – a kind of safety valve in the community. Living in a very authoritarian and repressive society, the young were given this one day of the year to cause mischief and torment their tormentors. While aimed at adult authority in general, the holiday also served as pay back time to individual members of the community who were unpleasant to children, such as the nasty teacher or the hateful old man down the street. They would get their windows soaped or the air let out of their tires. And the kids would snicker about this for months after.

Today, for the most part, the brute authoritarianism is gone. Children now face a more sublimated kind of tyranny. Every aspect of their lives is monitored and organized. It is of course, like the floggings and denigrating tirades of the past, "done for their own good." For "out there" lurks an army of kidnappers, child-buggerers, and gang members just waiting to pounce on Little Jason and Amanda.

Somehow I doubt it is all that much worse than when I was a kid. The difference is the lack of community. With real towns and real neighborhoods, we kids knew who all the "pervs" were and avoided them. Today "the public"is too aware, but then, overt knowledge of such things as pedophilia and incest was suppressed. We kids understood and expressed our awareness through warnings about not bending over to get the soap in a public shower and jokes about scoutmasters, priests and choirboys. In real communities, as the late Jane Jacobs pointed out, there are thousands of eyes seeing what goes on. The sick can't get away with much.

The anonymity and alienation of suburban life has given a much freer rein to the emotionally sick amongst us. This creates fear, and fear in turn, further destroys community. The suburb is a vicious circle that eternally grinds down everything that makes us human.The only way Halloween and all other forms of communal, non-alienated activity will revive is through rejecting the American-style suburb and a return to living in real neighborhoods.

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