Monday, July 15, 2019

Does The Militant Support Smaller Government?

The Militant (publication of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)) prints two articles of interest. The first, by Roy Landerson, is entitled 2020 election debates show crisis of bosses twin parties, while the second, by Brian Williams, is Almost half of all US workers live ‘paycheck to paycheck’.

The first article is a critique of the Green New Deal, championed by the irrepressible Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). Mr. Landerson asserts the following:
Millions of working people distrust both capitalist parties and want to discuss an alternative to the anti-working-class course of successive Democratic and Republican administrations.
In the face of this, the liberals work feverishly to corral working people back into the rulers’ two-party shell game, to convince us we absolutely have to back the “lesser-evil” among the bosses’ parties or disaster beckons.
There are so many things wrong here, beginning with the word millions. 95% of voters cast ballots for either Democrats or Republicans, and most of the remainder plump for the Libertarians. The fraction who subscribe to the distrust that Mr. Landerson describes is tiny--likely less than 1%.

So it is a stretch to suggest that "liberals have to work feverishly" to corral working people back into the shell game. Very few sheep have gone astray--and those that have are mostly voting for Trump. The clamor for an independent labor party of socialist stripe is minuscule.

Yet corralling is precisely the motivation that's attributed to AOC. She's not entitled to any honest opinion--hers is solely a mission of bait-and-switch deception. I think this is grossly unfair. However much I disagree with AOC, I'm certain she really believes her own bullshit. She is truly convinced that "climate change" is the crucial issue of our age, and that mass poverty is the only solution.

It's nonsense on stilts. Unfortunately, it's nonsense that claims the allegiance of a large part of the electorate--much larger than those demanding a labor party. The Green Party, for example, was founded on such a program. Most grouplets on the Left have enthusiastically signed on to climate-catastrophism, e.g., Socialist Action, even if they refuse to support the Democratic Party.

The Militant, to its great credit, understands the "nonsense" part, though Mr. Landerson unfairly imputes dishonest motives to AOC.
The hook Ocasio-Cortez advances to try and convince workers to back her call for a bigger, stronger capitalist state is fear of climate-change-generated disaster. Hysterical — and unscientific — claims of impending catastrophe are supposed to make you happy to turn your life over to the government.
Then comes the really strange part:
President Trump says he has “cut more regulations … than any other administration,” part of the Republicans’ claims to be partisans of “small government.” ... 
The Democratic aspirants all claim they want ever more regulations and government agencies to place the “smart” meritocrats in every government nook and cranny to do “good” for the downtrodden, who’ve proven too dangerous to make decisions for themselves. ...
Trump says all socialists like big government. But if you look at the real continuity of the revolutionary working-class movement — from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution to the program of the SWP today — you see the opposite is true. Writing in 1871, Marx explained that the Paris Commune, the first time that the working class held power, “made that catchword of bourgeois revolutions — cheap government — a reality by destroying the two greatest sources of expenditure: the standing army and state functionarism.”
So apparently The Militant claims to support small government, in solidarity with workers who support Trump. They agree with the premise that regulations and the administrative state are the enemies of freedom.

But then comes the ludicrous claim that Marxists are NOT for big government! Tell that to the Cubans, whose very livelihoods are stifled by myriad rules and red tape. The former USSR was no slouch in the regulatory department, either. But apparently Revolutionary America is going to cut all defense spending and government functionaries.

And it is on that very weird promise that workers are supposed to vote SWP in 2019 and 2020.

The second article, by Mr. Williams, claims that
Four in 10 U.S. workers struggle to pay their bills, a recent UBS bank survey showed, and would confront a crisis if faced with a $400 emergency expense. One quarter of U.S. residents skipped necessary medical care in 2018 because they couldn’t afford the cost.
And more:
After adjusting for inflation, 50 percent of U.S. households have less income today than they did 30 years ago, the Federal Reserve Bank reports. While more jobs are available today, increasing numbers of workers are forced to work two or even three jobs to make ends meet. Wages are less than $18.58 an hour for half of all U.S. jobs, and more than a third pay less than $15. Some 4.3 million workers seeking full-time jobs are forced to accept part-time hours, the government admits.
Mr. Williams never explains, but one assumes that his cure for this will be higher taxes and more regulations--all in a futile effort to raise people's standard of living by fiat. Of course that will fail in a major way--see Venezuela for a recent example.

But if that's Mr. Williams' view, then it openly contradicts that of Mr. Landerson, who (correctly) argues that government regulations are the problem rather than a solution. This is very funny for unintentional reasons: "Landerson" is likely a pseudonym--the name does not appear on The Militant's masthead. I'm reasonably certain that the person behind the name is Mr. Williams himself. So he's schizophrenic--in one article he tells the truth (that regulations make people poorer), while in the second he suggests the opposite (that we can, by magic regulations, make people richer by fiat).

A couple additional points:

Debt Explosion: Mr. Williams complains that workers are too far in debt. Of course that's true--and not just workers. Practically everybody wants to spend beyond their means, and merchants are happy to extend credit. Ray Dalio has an excellent video on that topic here. But what is Mr. Williams gonna do about it? Prohibit people from taking on debt? Talk about a nanny state infringement on freedom.

Speed Up: Mr. Williams is exercised about automation, which he terms speed up. The example he picks is Amazon, which now uses robots that "that swarm around the 2,500-worker Amazon warehouse on Staten Island in New York bring goods for pickers to pack at breakneck speed, raising the rate from 100 items an hour to between 300 to 400."

And this is bad? Surely using machines to augment human labor is a good thing. Indeed, increases in productivity are the only real way people can actually get richer. But like all his socialist brethren, Mr. Williams is a true Luddite.

Brian Williams is a smart guy. Back in the day we nicknamed him Brainy--it still fits. But his ideology traps him in contradictions.

Further Reading:

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Trump Calls Out the Squad

So Trump just told the Sqaud (AOC, Omar, Pressley, Tlaib) that if they don't like the USA they should go back to their own, miserable, misbegotten countries.

Some thoughts:

1) The comment is over the top. Only Omar was born abroad, in Somalia. For some reason Somalis have come here expressly to become an aggrieved minority. So in her case, the request to go home and fix Somalia first before she tries to fix us may not be too far fetched. The rest were born in the US. AOC is of Puerto Rican ancestry, in which case she's an American back many generations.

2) The comment is not racist. It is a criticism of four individuals. It may be stupid, over the top, uncivil, etc., but it does not apply to any large group of citizens on the basis of race. There's nothing there that even remotely implies that all Blacks should go back to Africa, or some such.

3) It's a Godsend to the Squad. AOC must be overjoyed--it puts her squarely in the national spotlight. Their professed indignation is purely for show.

4) It won't hurt Trump at all. In a recent poll I read that AOC has a national approval rating of 13%--far below Trump's 46%. I have no data on Omar (who really is a racist), but I doubt she'd clear the single digits. The Squad is wildly unpopular, and widely perceived as representing what's wrong with America.

5) The real target of the attack is Nancy Pelosi, who is now between a rock and a hard place. She has been trying to diminish and isolate the Squad as nothing more than four votes in Congress. In return they've tarred her as racist (which she doesn't deserve any more than Trump). But now she's forced to stick up for them, and further, after a call-out from the President they're no longer just four irrelevant votes. Then Trump is claiming to support Pelosi--which is as embarrassing as it will be hard to disown.

6) Pelosi's predicament will make it much harder to keep control of the House in 2020. Swing-seat voters hate the Squad--and if Pelosi goes all squaddy they won't vote for Dems.

7) The 20 little dwarfs (Dem candidates) are similarly challenged--they either go all-in, Squad-crazy, or they end up siding with Trump. Liz has already picked the Squad--which will likely doom her presidential campaign. (Unless she can somehow credibly disown them later.) 

So as silly and over-the-top as it sounds, Trumps tweets are a stroke of political genius. Now all he has to do is watch the shit fly as the Dems tear each other apart.

Further Reading:

Monday, July 8, 2019

Jeff Mackler Interviewed by Paul Duddridge

Kicking off his super-ambitious, game-changing presidential election campaign, Jeff Mackler was a guest on Paul Duddridge's podcast (h/t Nick Baker). I listened to it last night. I don't have a transcript and comment on it from memory. The podcast is 53 minutes long.

Mr. Duddridge is a remarkably fair and astute interviewer. Of the available 50 minutes, Mr. Mackler was speaking for about 40 of them. During the first half hour Mr. Duddridge lobbed straightforward, softball questions toward him, letting his guest say his piece. Only in the last 20 minutes or so were the questions a little bit probing. Even then, Mr. Duddridge rarely interrupted, and apart from insisting on answers to his questions, he never argued back.

Mr. Baker describes the podcast as follows (emphasis mine):
Duddridge, an extreme example of a pro-capitalist, free-trade, “economic nationalist,” an advocate of no government interference in any aspect of human endeavor, and a Trump supporter who believes that the current president exemplifies these qualities, nevertheless features on his podcasts dissident Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarian Party members, with whom he jousts to present his ideas, all essentially in defense of “free market” capitalism as opposed to the “socialism” that he sees ever encroaching on “freedom” in present day America. Mackler’s debate with Duddridge, edited by Duddridge to highlight his own views and undercut Mackler’s, is nevertheless noteworthy not because it is likely to reach a broad audience but rather because it provided a limited opportunity for a socialist to express some fundamental revolutionary propositions.
If there was any editing it must have been very minor. There really is no way Mr. Mackler can claim he's been misrepresented. I think Mr. Baker's statement is an admission that his candidate didn't perform very well. I doubt this interview will be featured on the campaign circuit.

Mr. Mackler is very much prone to exaggeration. He opens by claiming that Socialist Action (SA) has "thousands" of members. He does not disabuse his host's impression that he'll be campaigning in all 50 states. Unfortunately he was never asked about ballot status, but if he had been I'm not sure he would have admitted that SA likely won't be on the ballot in even a single state.

SA's actual membership is likely around a hundred people. And I'll remind my readers that during Mr. Mackler's 2016 run his sole campaign activity was a five-day tour through Southern New England.

Mr. Mackler makes two central points:
  • That capitalism inevitably leads to mass impoverishment and environmental disaster.
  • That the only solution is an independent labor movement, completely separate from the Democratic Party, which he views as a bourgeois organization.
There is, of course, no evidence of mass impoverishment since the dawn of the industrial revolution and the birth of capitalism. From then until now the standard of living of nearly every human being on earth has done nothing but get better. Mr. Mackler never claims otherwise.

Instead, he complains about extreme wealth inequality. His exaggerations get more and more outlandish as the interview wears on, but I'm pretty sure near the end he asserted that only six people own half the wealth in the entire world! Mr. Mackler's claim is absurd, but many Leftists make the same sort of argument. Andrew Gavin Marshall, for example, in an article entitled World's Top Billionaires suggests that in the United States, "...the top 1 percent own more than 36 percent of the national wealth and more than the combined wealth of the bottom 95 percent." He arrives at those numbers only by taking a very narrow, cherry-picked definition of wealth. (See my post here.)

Do six people own 50% of all real estate in the United States? And do the same six people receive 50% of all disbursed social security benefits in the United States? Do only six people purchase 50% of all cars sold in the United States? Of course not. Yet those examples represent wealth that is not captured either by Mr. Marshall's legitimate statistics, or by Mr. Mackler's ridiculous assertions.

Wealth is much more widely spread than our socialist friends admit.

Mr. Duddridge pressed his guest on two issues. The first was the simple question: Has socialism ever been successful anywhere in the world?

It's a perfectly straightforward, predictable question, yet Mr. Mackler seemed totally flustered. His initial answer was to recite all the revolutions that had happened in the past: the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Russian Revolution, etc. Of course, Mr. Duddridge agreed--there have been lots of revolutions. That wasn't the question.

When backed into a corner, Mr. Mackler cited two examples of supposedly successful socialism: Russia from 1917 to 1923, and Cuba. If only those evil imperialists hadn't intervened, then surely those two countries would be much better off than anyplace else.

If only? Aren't socialists supposed to account for the possibility of "imperialist aggression" and defeat it? What's the point of socialism if it can't even withstand poorly enforced sanctions? Is that a record that will inspire people to try it again?

Yet those were the only two examples of socialism that Mr. Mackler claimed to be proud of. It's a pathetic list. Later in the program he noted that, despite accomplishing a successful revolution in 1949, China is today a capitalist country. Unmentioned was the slaughter of 50 million people by the socialist government before Deng Xiao Ping finally called quits on the experiment. Mr. Duddridge, lacking either time or energy, didn't chase that rabbit to the ground--Mr. Mackler got away with one.

The second issue upon which Mr. Mackler's bluff was called was climate change. SA states categorically that climate change is a cataclysmic threat to human civilization, and depending on what part of Mr. Mackler's interview you listen to, we have only 10-12 years to fix it. How building a labor party independent from the Democrats is going to resolve this problem within the narrow timeframe is a topic our guest never addressed.

Mr. Duddridge cited mainstream scientific expertise, which says that absent the Paris Climate Accords, climate change becomes irreversible after 2100. With the Paris Accords (assuming they're fully implemented), disaster day doesn't strike until 2106. In other words, the Accords buy us at most six years.

The conclusion is that climate change is irreversible. Nothing we do today will materially change the outcome. So how, Mr. Duddridge asked our socialist friend, is curtailing fossil fuel use of any consequence? The die is already cast.

Mr. Mackler--he who wants to put us on a massively impoverishing course of fossil fuel elimination--briefly argued against defeatism, and then reasserted his claim that his proposals will make a difference.

"What's your evidence?" demanded the host. And this is the funny part--Mr. Mackler had no prepared answer to that very obvious question. He--the purveyor of imminent, end-of-the-world cataclysm--couldn't provide even a single anecdote in support of his proposition. Paraphrasing from memory: there's the guy from Stanford--Jacobson. And then I can't remember his name, the guy from NASA. (I think he means James Hansen.)

That's it! On the basis of two names we're supposed to put the whole fossil fuel industry out of business, hugely increase the price of transport, electricity, and industrial products, and impoverish millions of Americans with Mr. Mackler's harebrained schemes.

The man is stunningly ignorant. And completely unprepared for this or any other interview. Surely if you believe in imminent cataclysm you'll have better evidence at your fingertips than this.

What happened to those Trotskyist presidential candidates of yore? Fred Halsted argued William F. Buckley to a draw. Silver-tongued Peter Camejo could draw a crowd of hundreds. Even Linda Jenness actually inspired her followers.

But Jeff Mackler? Socialist Action needs to fire him as a presidential candidate. The man is a disgrace.

Further Reading:

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Oberlin, 2019

From left, John Studer, Dave Prince, Holly Harkness, Steve Clark, Jack Barnes (speaking), Mary-Alice Waters, Norton Sandler, at closing session of SWP conference June 15. Banners summarized continuity of Socialist Workers Party since 1919 founding of first communist party in U.S. and other Active Workers Conference themes.
From left, John Studer, Dave Prince, Holly Harkness, Steve Clark, Jack Barnes (speaking), Mary-Alice Waters, Norton Sandler, at closing session of SWP conference June 15. Banners summarized continuity of Socialist Workers Party since 1919 founding of first communist party in U.S. and other Active Workers Conference themes.
(Picture and Caption Credit: The Militant/Arthur Hughes)
The lead article about the 2019 International Active Workers Conference (aka Oberlin Conference) isn't very long and doesn't say very much. But there are three other articles in the same issue of The Militant (published by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)) that are obviously related. I'll cover two of them here.

The people pictured above are mostly folks I remember from my youth, specifically John Studer and Steve Clark. It's odd that neither the leadership nor the pecking order has changed very much over the last 40 years. Just as Kremlinologists used to be able to tell who was up and who was down by looking at the seating order on the dais, it's also works for the SWP. The top dogs are Jack Barnes, Steve Clark and Mary-Alice Waters. Dave Prince and Holly Harkness are likely on temporary rotation. Norton Sandler is a nonthreatening old standby. John Studer sits on the end like an afterthought, present only because of his competence, not because he has any authority.

Mr. Barnes claims that the Party "is a little bigger this year," urging his comrades on to recruit more. They're very proud of new Comrade "Kaitlin Estill, 27, from Oakland, California," who joined the Party last year. Indeed, while it is not so labelled, I'll guess that this is a picture of her:
Top, participants view some 30 displays depicting work and political lessons of communist movement. Above, participants snap up books and pamphlets by revolutionary leaders.
Photo Credit: The Militant/Carole Lesnick
Given her youth and gender, it won't surprise me if she's on the dais next year, perhaps replacing Dave Prince.

The slogans are the usual Trotskyist word-salad, i.e., mostly completely meaningless. The "100 years" dates from the May 1st, 1919, founding of the Communist Party USA, which the SWP marks as the beginning of its own movement. The "right side of history" is a bit disconcerting to anybody who thinks they're on the far left--but yeah, I was smart enough to figure it out after a second or two.

I have absolutely no clue what "Advancing Along the Line of March of the Working Class" means. Why is of italicized? Weird.

The Party has always believed it is guided by the Holy Spirit, immune from serious error.
In his political report, “100 Years ‘On the Right Side of History,’” Barnes said that the SWP is the only party in the U.S. whose continuity as communists is unbroken. Other groups once claiming that continuity to the Bolsheviks tossed it aside — in deeds long ago, but more recently in words as well. Some, like the International Socialist Organization, have imploded and dissolved, with many ISO leaders and members going into the Democratic Party. Other organizations are well along the way.
It begs the question: If the SWP is so correct, then why is it so small? Surely if Marxism/Leninism/Trotskyism/Barnesism is correct, then some popular recognition of the One True Revolutionary Party must follow. Either the SWP is wrong, or Marxism/Leninism/Trotskyism/Barnesism is wrong. Or (most likely) both are wrong.

For all its infallibility, I think the Party completely misreads the current situation. The lede paragraph:
As working people face the grinding effects of the capitalist rulers’ economic, political and moral crisis and their wars abroad, SWP candidates and campaign supporters call for independent working-class political action, Barnes said. They point to the necessity for working people to break with the bosses’ government and state, as well as their twin parties, the Democrats and Republicans.
In a world where unemployment is at record lows, profits are at near record highs, and indicators of well-being (airplane travel, new cars sold, cheaper prices for consumer goods) as good as ever, it stretches credulity to think we're in a "crisis." Of course there are problems. Does the Party even suggest that it will eliminate all problems? Some of the problems are serious. But to suggest that we're at an end-of-the-world, cataclysmic crisis of capitalism/imperialism is not believable.

If we were in a crisis, it's not clear how "independent working class action" will solve it. It might just make it worse, as it did in Venezuela and Cuba. In the event, building an independent, working class party is a long-term endeavor--hardly a suitable response to an immediate crisis.

The second article (indirectly) about the Conference is Liberal's Green New Deal is a trap for the working class by Terry Evans. The key graf:
[Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez [AOC--ed] promotes a “Green New Deal,” backed by many of the Democrats running for president, as the central vehicle to accomplish this. She says, “We are facing a national crisis,” a catastrophe from fossil fuels and “climate change,” that requires a massive strengthening of the capitalist state to address it. And, she adds, the massive mobilization it would mount would create jobs.
 AOC suggests a Second World War style mobilization of the American people, just as Roosevelt did in 1941.
“When FDR called on America to build 185,000 planes to fight World War 2, every business leader, CEO, and general laughed at him,” the “talking points” for the Green New Deal Ocasio-Cortez released says. “At the time, the U.S. had produced 3,000 planes in the last year. By the end of the war, we produced 300,000 planes. That’s what we are capable of if we have real leadership.”
Such a mobilization is necessary to fight "climate change", says AOC. A side benefit is it will employ all workers, just as fighting the Nazis reduced unemployment in the 1940s.

Under a heading "Do we need bigger government," The Militant's criticism of this is right on the money (emphasis mine).
Like Roosevelt’s New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats today view workers and farmers as the objects of government policies to be administered, rather than people who are not only capable of fighting to change the conditions the bosses and their governments impose on us, but to transform themselves through that fight to take political power.
And so it comes: The Militant opposes big government for precisely the same reasons that I do--namely it infringes on individual liberty. The government has no right to "administer" our well-being.

Unfortunately, the paper goes off the rails in two ways. First, their alternative to big government is even bigger government. Their solution is a totalitarian state, euphemistically described as "independent working-class political action." That's really mob rule, with no protection for the individual allowed for. If you don't like what the "independent working-class" decides, then there's a bullet reserved just for you.

Second, there is a good argument to be made for fighting the Nazis. The Militant dismisses that as just an internecine squabble between imperialists, but obviously it was more than that. On balance the world is surely better off because Hitler (and Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung) are no longer around. To the extent we Americans aided that process we were doing the Lord's work.

There is no similar argument for the fight against "climate change," which in my opinion is mostly a non-problem. Or at least it's an insoluble problem--there is no reason to think that AOC's remedies will have any significant impact on the climate.

Instead, just as World War Two made everybody much poorer, so too would the Green New Deal. I'm against poverty, and I'm for Liberty. So I oppose the Green New Deal. And while I agree with The Militant's criticism of the project, I strongly disagree with their alternative. Mob rule destroys both human lives and livelihoods.

A Republic guided by a Constitution that explicitly says what the government cannot do is the best form of government ever invented by the human race.

Further Reading:

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Militant Takes a Holiday

SWP Oberlin Conference Attendees (Photo credit: Mike Shur; The Militant)
The Militant's masthead claims
Published weekly except for one week in January, one week in June, one week in July, and one week in December.
So it's odd that the paper missed four issues, from that dated June 10th until the issue dated July 8th (posted on the web today). Are they still gonna take the week off in July?

I think The Militant can no longer afford a weekly publication schedule, at least not in print format.

Of course the proximate cause for the pause was the Oberlin Conference, the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) annual meeting held on the eponymous college campus in Ohio. The paper has a teaser article about this year's conclave, promising a fuller account in subsequent issues. I already have a lot to say, but I'll reserve my comments until after I read the reports.

There are two articles in the current issue that are worthy of note. The first is an excerpt from James P. Cannon's book The Struggle for a Proletarian Party. I read that book a long time ago, as a companion to Cannon's A History of American Trotskyism. The two together are the standard introduction to Trotskyism that every new comrade reads.

I'm astonished how Cannon makes the Party look like a religious sect.
Our conception of the party is radically different. For us the party must be a combat organization which leads a determined struggle for power. The Bolshevik party which leads the struggle for power needs not only internal democracy. It also requires an imperious centralism and an iron discipline in action. ...
For the proletarian revolutionist the party is the concentrated expression of his life purpose, and he is bound to it for life and death. He preaches and practices party patriotism, because he knows that his socialist ideal cannot be realized without the party.
Big words, that. And I know that's the intention, but the reality is different. First, it's not really a democracy--Jack Barnes has held the leadership post since 1972! No genuinely democratic organization would tolerate that. All self-proclaimed vanguard parties share the problem, notably Jeff Mackler at Socialist Action (in office since 1984), and the recently collapsed International Socialist Organization (because of a leadership sex scandal). And second, it stretches credulity to think the SWP is "combat organization." Just look at the picture above. They're too old. Does the friendly church lady in the front row look like she's ready for combat?

I'm not gonna be too hard on my former comrades. They all look like really nice people. I'm proud to say they were my friends back in the 1970s, and given a chance they'd still be my friends today. Their only flaw is they can't muster the fierceness they claim to represent. Not a problem for me--peaceable friendliness is a virtue in my book. (I'm ashamed to say I can't recognize a single face.)

It's worth mentioning that this year's Oberlin meeting is celebrated as "100 years 'on the right side of history.'" The century mark refers to the founding of the Communist Party of the USA, founded on May 1st, 1919, which the SWP takes as the beginning of its own trajectory. Since then it's everybody else that's gone astray--not them.

Our comrades' core good nature is evidenced in this issue's second article worthy of comment. Of course when 300 comrades descend on the small town of Oberlin, Ohio, for a week, it behooves them to cover local issues. And boy, do they do it in style! The piece is entitled "Victory in bakery’s lawsuit against ‘racism’ smear by Oberlin College," written by Janet Post. It is by far the best article on the topic I've read anywhere, including many rightish blogs, some mainstream news sources, and especially InsideHigherEd that I read daily.

Gibson's Bakery, an Oberlin landmark for many generations, was libeled by students and Oberlin College as "racist." As Ms. Post writes,
A Lorain County jury June 7 ruled in favor of a lawsuit by Gibson’s, a family-owned and operated bakery, and its proprietors David and Allyn Gibson, against Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo, the vice president and dean of students of the northern Ohio college.
She relates the key events.
The Gibson’s complaint described how Raimondo and other Oberlin College authorities orchestrated a demonstration outside the bakery and distributed a libelous flyer saying its “owners racially profiled and discriminated against” three students. The students had been arrested after one of them tried to use a fake ID and shoplift two bottles of wine from the bakery on Nov. 9, 2016, and then pummeled a store employee who pursued them.
The three students, who are Black, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, including theft, in 2017, and acknowledged that the shop owners’ response had not been racially motivated.
When the guilty parties acknowledge that their accusers aren't racist, that pretty much closes the case. Nevertheless, with campus connivance, students organized large protests in front of the bakery accusing them of "racism". The College (the bakery's biggest customer) discontinued any commercial relationship.

Gibson's Bakery was awarded $44 million in actual and punitive damages. It is reasonably likely that they'll collect $33 million of that.

Ms. Post notes that the students come predominantly from "upper middle class families," attending a school located in a blue-collar part of Ohio. I can vouch from personal experience: there is nobody more obnoxious than a self-righteous 18-year-old who's been told since birth that he's the smartest thing since white bread, and whose parents are paying his way. I know--I was one of those kids myself, and I had the misfortune of teaching them during my career. (They do grow up. While the students are assholes, the alumni are courteous, helpful, smart and successful people, tamed by the school of hard knocks.)

The students can possibly be forgiven (though maybe not). The faculty and administrators, on the other hand, have no excuse. They really should know better, and the fact that they tolerate this behavior is a scandal.

The Militant deserves great credit for taking the side of the Bakery. It's something that courageous people do, but not fierce people. Fierce people were the ones out there carrying signs and shouting insults. James P. Cannon got it wrong.

Here's another issue that I wish The Militant would cover. Oregon (my home state) tried to pass a cap & trade law regulating carbon emissions. This is supposedly going to prevent climate change, but in reality all it will do is increase poverty. I'm against poverty, and The Militant is against poverty, so I'm hoping we're on the same side on this one.

In any event, 11 Republicans left the state so that the state senate wouldn't have a quorum to pass the legislation. There was a large demonstration against the law (and in support of the GOP) dominated by farmers, ranchers, truck drivers, and loggers. These, of course, would be the people driven into poverty by the self-righteous, virtue-signalling urban elite. (Sorry, but I can't find a link to the article covering the demonstration.)

Anyway, if you're against poverty you'll run this one down and cover it properly. Thanks in advance.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Book Review: Kim Jong Un

The book is by Anna Fifield and is entitled The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un. Ms. Fifield is the Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post and has made many trips to North Korea (DPRK). She speaks and reads Korean--already an accomplishment, since for English speakers it is among the hardest languages to learn.

Born in 1984, Kim Jong Un led a very protected childhood. He was not allowed to play with other children--indeed, his Japanese sushi chef was appointed as his playmate. He lived in the royal palace in Pyongyang, but not just that. The palace was separated into family units that were sealed from each other, so Un couldn't even play with his half-siblings or cousins. On summer holiday he went to the beach resort of Wonsan--the regime's playground--on lavish but similarly isolated holidays.

Un had four siblings (mentioned in the book; Wikipedia lists some others). The oldest was Un's half brother Kim Jong Nam, whose mother was Kim Jong Il's mistress. She was an actress who spent many years living in Russia. Because Nam was Jong Il's eldest son, he was the logical successor to the throne. Which is why he was assassinated by North Korean agents in Malaysia in 2016.

Kim Jong Il eventually took a real wife, Ko Yong Hui--a dancer born in Japan--who bore him three children. The eldest was Kim Jong Chol, described as effeminate and "bosomy," and never a serious contender for leadership. Then came Un, whose mother worked hard to earn him pride of place, purposely discrediting both Kim Jong Nam and his mother. Finally, they had a baby sister, Kim Yo Jong--the woman who represented the DPRK at the Olympics in South Korea in 2018.

Chol, Un, and Yo lived in luxurious isolation from other relatives--and from the rest of North Korea. It's possible that Un didn't even know about the famine that ravaged the country in the 1990s.

In 1996 Un joined his brother Chol in Switzerland to attend school. They lived with a maternal aunt. Un was not especially interested in academics, but in those days cared more about sport.  There are photos of Un swimming on the Riviera and skiing in the Alps. Most of all he was a basketball fanatic, spending all his spare time shooting hoops. A devoted fan of the Chicago Bulls, in later years he befriended Dennis Rodman, who made several trips to party with the Great Successor.

Un made few friends--his language skills stood in the way, and he hated playing with other children, accustomed as he was to adult company. But all that Franco-German food began to take its toll--during those years he acquired his double chin.

Today, standing 5'7", Un weighs nearly 300 lbs. He suffered gout in his ankle, necessitating an embarrassing, weeks-long absence from public life. He returned to service walking with a cane. Short hikes with South Korean president Moon Jae In--30 years Un's senior--left the Great Successor breathless.
[W]hen they all went to Mount Paektu together in September, Kim Jong Un was panting heavily. He observed that Moon didn't seem out of breath at all. Not for a walk as easy as this, responded the South Korean, who loves to hike.
Mount Paektu, the peninsula's tallest peak, has spiritual significance for all Koreans. Kim Il Sung claimed the mantle of Mt. Paektu. His son, Kim Jong Il (born in a Russian labor camp) was (in legend) born on Mt. Paektu. According to Pyongyang's leading newspaper, "The Majestic Comrade Kim Jong Un, descended from heaven and conceived by Mt. Paektu."

So no wonder that Western leaders, including Donald Trump, couldn't take this very strange, funny-looking, little man seriously. The insults flew as only Trump can throw them: mad man, little rocket man, maniac, bad dude, to name a few. Here's a list of 15 insulting nicknames directed at the inheritor of Paektu.

The surprise is that Kim Jong Un is in fact a master Machiavellian. President Trump has learned that the hard way.

Upon Kim Jung Il's death in 2011, Un had to consolidate his power. The first step was to eliminate any rivals.
Generally, the risk in this early period is killing too many people, not too few, Bueno de Mesquita told me when I went to see him in his office at New York University. If you get rid of too many, those who remain think their leader is indiscriminate and have a reason to live in fear. But if you kill too few? Well, that's easy enough to fix.
The assassination of his older brother, potentially a rival claimant, was essential. Then his father's cronies--older men who saw themselves as regents or as powers behind the throne--had to be eliminated. Most consequential was the execution of his powerful, gregarious, and charismatic uncle, Jang Song Thaek. And not just him but dozens or even hundreds of his coterie. Most dramatic was the killing of General Hyon Yong Chol, who apparently fell asleep during one of the Great Successor's speeches and "was publicly executed by antiaircraft guns, a method that would have blown him to a pulp."

Un understood that he needed friends to stay in office. So he allowed a sizable clique of people to become rich--a group with a sufficient stake in the system to defend it, who also understood that their wealth depended entirely on Un's pleasure.

Then he realized that economic progress was essential. Failure to improve living standards across the country would lead to his downfall. So he liberalized the economy allowing private markets to flourish. It was a capitalist-like solution, but definitely not capitalist. A capitalist owns the means of production. In the DPRK Kim Jong Un owns everything--nobody else can profit except by stealing. But the crime was ignored--until it wasn't. At that point, from one day to the next, the "capitalist" could lose everything and end up in a prison camp.

Still, the reform improved people's lives across the board.

Finally, North Korea is always afraid of attack from the US or one of its neighbors, and for that reason feels it must have nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Much to everybody's surprise, Un built and tested a hydrogen bomb, along with true, intercontinental ballistic missiles. Accordingly, Un followed a policy of byungjin: pursuing both nuclear weapons and economic growth at the same time.

According to Ms. Fifield the North Koreans have no further need to test either instrument, and their concession to stop blowing up mountains and shooting rockets over Japan is, in fact, an empty gesture. They weren't going to do that any more anyway.

I don't think Trump understood that before, but I believe he realizes it now. He still claims credit for stopping the DPRKs missile tests, but that's just for public consumption. Unlike previous American administrations, he's kept the sanctions on full blast--not relieving them even a little bit. Until Un makes some real concessions, Mr. Trump isn't going to make any, either.

American sanctions under Trump are somehow made of sterner stuff than in past times. They have real bite--the DPRK is under what amounts to a naval blockade. That, along with bad weather, is resulting again in widespread famine. This has to undermine the Kim regime.

Kim hopes to die peacefully in his bed and pass power on to one of his children (it seems he has at least three). But at age 35 he's seriously obese, a heavy smoker, and suffers from heart disease and diabetes. He may not be long for this world.

The Paektu dynasty might be coming to an end. Let's hope so.

Further Reading:

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"The Worldwide Crisis of Capitalism and the Relevance of Socialism"

The article with the above title (by prez candidate Jeff Mackler) is based on a resolution adopted by Socialist Action's (SA) 2018 convention. The provenance isn't very clear. It claims to be the introduction to a soon-to-be issued pamphlet of the same name (which I will definitely read). There are some introductory remarks by SA's editor (or Mr. Mackler?), followed by more introductory remarks by Mr. Mackler (or is that actually in the pamphet?). Then much of the article is in quotation marks (but not all of it), apparently quoting from some other joint statement or something.

So I'm going to ignore all italics and quotation marks and just treat it as a single piece all written by Mr. Mackler.

My Trotskyist friends understand nothing about economics, as demonstrated by the lede substantive paragraph.
Global capitalist competition, including the current trade wars, is a completely unavoidable aspect of the system of private profit. Competition results in new innovation/automation that increases the rate of profit for the initial innovator. But these gains are offset again by the rapid adoption of ever more advanced technology by competitors, and profit rates continue to fall.
Taken literally, they're true Luddites, seemingly opposed to any "innovation/automation." Apparently we should get rid of backhoes so that real men can dig ditches the way they used to--with a pick and shovel. But who needs those tools? Why not just use human hands, like a chimpanzee?

They claim capitalism has a "falling rate of profit," but fail to mention that it stems from lower prices. That is, consumers are better off and everybody has a higher standard of living. Our problem today is not too much "innovation/automation", but rather too little. Productivity growth (i.e., new technology) is only about 1%.
In their desperate struggle to fight the falling rate of profit capitalists try to reduce costs and increase their competitive edge by attacking trade unions and workers’ rights, by attacking wage and benefit levels, by attacking general social benefits such as education, health care, and pensions, by refusing to accept responsibility for the massive environmental damage caused by cutthroat capitalist competition, and by transferring production to low-wage, unregulated areas both within and outside their own countries…
This makes no sense. Until recently profits have been at record highs--there is no evidence of the long-term, secular decline that Trotskyists predict. While one can complain that wages are not growing as fast as one would like, there is no secular decline there, either. This chart shows that real wages have been increasing most months since 2009. There certainly has been no decline in spending on education and healthcare! Both those industries are growing faster than the economy. Social Security is still solvent (just barely). Only pensions have suffered, specifically because public employees have been promised benefits that were never realistic to begin with.

It is worth noting that apart from casual references as in the above quote, the document makes no mention of the "environment." Yet SA is on record as subscribing to catastrophic climate change, in which case long-term problems such as pensions are irrelevant. We'll all be dead by then. Yet somehow (at least in this document) the imminent end of the world has been put on indefinite hold.

SA obviously doesn't believe its own climate bullshit. But I will point out that making stuff cheaper with more "innovation/automation" is good for the environment. After all, cheaper means using fewer natural resources, less labor, less electricity, lower shipping costs, etc. SA needs to let us know how all of that hurts the environment.

With this background, the article then takes on several issues.

Russia & China: We're promised another pamphlet (by John Leslie) entitled China: A New Imperialist Power. I'll read that one, too, though maybe I shouldn't bother. SA's position on China is very similar to that articulately expressed by Lynn Henderson (here), and rebutted by me (here). No need to rehash it.

Teacher's Strikes: My Trotskyist friends are in love with last year's teachers' strikes, beginning with the one in West Virginia. Hate to break the news, but they're yesterday's news and will have no lasting impact on our politics. Nobody in the presidential campaign, for example, is discussing them at all.

I commented on the strikes in West Virginia and Kentucky here and here. The West Virginia strike was successful, but only on a narrow wage dispute. It hardly augers a new age. The Kentucky strike was a hail-Mary pass in an effort save an irreversibly bankrupt pension plan. The strike accomplished nothing. I have not followed the other strikes closely, but I believe the California strike was also about pensions, i.e., futile howling at the moon.

Mr. Mackler goes on to claim that the teachers' biggest problem is their alliance with the Democratic Party. Really? The Democrats actually control purse strings, unlike the losers over at SA. If you're trying to save your (hopeless) pension plan, working with the Dems is the best option. Real teachers need real money, not just a bunch of gobbledygook sloganeering from the likes of Jeff Mackler.

Tax the Rich: That's Mr. Mackler's solution to all problems. The richest man in West Virginia is the governor, Jim Justice. He's worth $1.6 billion, and owns coal mines (that look to be near bankrupt), hotels and golf courses. If you assume a 10% rate of return on his wealth (very optimistic), then his annual income is $160 million. By comparison, West Virginia's total annual income--the state GDP--was $74 billion in 2018. Jim Justice's income is 0.2% of the state's total--hardly enough to solve all the problems in the universe as Mr. Mackler proposes.

Socialism: Mr. Mackler disses the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Though they call themselves “democratic socialists”—falsely implying that other socialists oppose democracy—we prefer the traditional label, “social democrats,” which makes clear that the DSA and similar organizations are Democratic Party supporters first and foremost, who pretend that socialism—a fundamental break with capitalist exploitation and rule—can be won through electoral reforms and other incremental changes to the capitalist system.
The irony is that SA does oppose democracy--they call all elections phony unless they win them (which they never do). So the DSA's distinction is apt.

Foreign Affairs: SA doubles down on its support for the world's worst dictators: Kim Jong Un and Bashar al-Assad. Yes, they hide behind the fig leaf of only demanding US "non-intervention," but that's not much of a hiding place. In reality they support brutal, totalitarian regimes.

They discuss the "pink revolutions" in Latin America. Apparently--in Mr. Mackler's opinion--Venezuela didn't go full Venezuela enough. In addition to merely destroying the country, they should have nationalized it as well. That'll teach them evil imperialists! Of course SA touts Cuba as a successful example of socialism--a country that's much poorer than the Philippines, can't feed itself, and survives only because it's a police state.

I'm not sure what on this list makes for a viable election campaign. The only superficially attractive slogan is Tax the Rich, but that falls apart on even cursory examination. Nothing else here will have any popular appeal whatsoever.

So SA is publishing two new pamphlets. Here's how you order them.
Below is a partial list of pamphlets published by Socialist Action Books. To order send a letter with a list of the pamphlets you would like to purchase to P.O. Box 10328, Oakland CA 94610, along with a check made out to “Socialist Action Books.” Please add $2 for postage to any order of pamphlets, along with the listed price.

So far, at least a few pamphlets are available for free download; the rest are priced to simply cover printing costs.
That's pretty old-fashioned. My millennial children, for example, don't use either postage stamps or paper checks. I don't even use paper checks anymore, and maybe I'll send a snail-mail letter once every six months or so.

I hope the new pamphlets will be available for download. Yes, I would be willing to go to the bank, pay for a cashier's check, write it out and send it snail mail to the address above. But I doubt it would work. SA has never responded to anything I send them, so I think they'd probably pocket the money and not send me the pamphlet. That's just the way they roll.

Oh well.

Further Reading: