Friday, July 17, 2009

Imagine and then Act: A Parecon/Parsoc Perspective

Imagine and then Act

A Parecon/Parsoc Perspective


Imagine twenty tentative claims about vision and strategy for a participatory society.

Imagine each tentative claim is massaged and refined, altered or augmented, made more eloquent, compelling, and clear, or even replaced in full, until the remaining list is valid and important enough that 40 countries each send from 5 to 50 activists to a five day gathering of roughly 1,000 activists who further refine and then broadly agree on the massaged, refined, augmented or replaced claims.

Imagine that that conference in turn conceives and promotes a proposal for an International Organization for a Participatory Society (or, if you think it communicates the intent more effectively, an International Organization for Participatory Socialism), including an interim structure, program, and methods of recruitment and action based on starting with 40 national chapters and proceeding from there.

Imagine that a year later 3,000 - 5,000 delegates from 60 countries representing 75,000 - 125,000 members, or more, gather to finalize and celebrate the broadly shared vision, structure, process, broad strategy, and initial program of the now firmly established and rapidly growing International Organization.

It's a nice image. Can the Reimagining Society Project actualize the first steps? Can its members participate with diverse partners and proceed together?

I hope so, but I am not going to offer twenty claims. Instead, I particularly appreciate the work of Stephen Shalom and Julio Chavez regarding participatory politics, of Cynthia Peters and Lydia Sargent regarding participatory kinship, and of Justin Podur and Mandisi Majavu regarding participatory culture, among many others contributing to the Reimagining Society Project around domains such as ecology and international relations.

I only offer the above image of possible future gains in hopes that the whole project can generate the needed twenty, or however many, shared claims. For myself, I want to offer ten tentative claims - mostly about participatory economics.

Claim 1: Elevate Vision

Escaping the mainstream view that "there is no alternative" and transcending the left view that even if an alternative is possible, clearly describing it is not a priority, requires working hard to produce a convincing practical vision. Only substance can counter cynicism. Only by knowing aspects of the future can we embody its seeds in our present structures. Finally, only by knowing where we want to arrive can we take steps able to take us there.

People who reject developing and sharing vision of a better society do not rebut the above arguments but instead rightly argue that vision might inflexibly fuel sectarianism, might over extend our knowledge, might divert attention from important concerns, and - worst - might be monopolized by an elite using knowledge to accrue power.

Nonetheless, Claim 1 is that we should not jettison vision, nor leave vision to narrow academic groups or other elite formations. These ways of dealing would virtually ensure the above listed bad outcomes. We should instead develop, advocate, and use vision flexibly and widely. We should welcome constructive criticism and seek continual innovation.

Our antidote to stultifying, misleading, and elitist vision must be inspiring, confident popularly shared vision shared welcoming continual innovation, and rejecting jargon or posturing.

Claim 1 advocates vision that is widely shared by many advocates able to judge, assess, refine, and utilize it without elite guidance. Claim 1 rejects vision that is monopolized by a few, no matter how intelligent and plausible it may be, because narrowly held vision will centralize confidence and authority and obstruct participatory aspirations.

Claim 2: Elevate Ethics

To compellingly favor a new society we must describe the key institutional features that make it libratory. But before settling on institutional aims comes settling on values.

Institutions are worthy if they attain our values but are not worthy if they don't. Our values therefore provide a measuring stick. They guide us when we initially conceive, then carefully assess, and finally flexibly advocate new institutions. So our values come before institutions, as a moral and intellectual foundation.

Additionally, social life is endlessly diverse and complex. While we can sensibly and morally seek core institutions to constitute the foundation of new society - we cannot sensibly or morally seek a detailed map of all features of a new society. To try to specify details that transcend basic essentials would exceed what we can reasonably know. More, it would create a single cookie cutter image of the future though we should be acknowledging a kaleidoscopic variation of features among desirable future societies as well as within each.

In other words, most decisions about policies and structures in a better future, beyond the most basic essential features, are for future people to determine in future times in light of their evolving circumstances and preferences. It would overstep what we can now know, and also overstep our rights and responsibilities, to propose, much less to demand, too much for tomorrow. Getting too detailed about the future we desire would impose uniformity on it rather than welcoming diversity to it. It would determine future outcomes based on current insights and preferences, not on the likely far more mature and insightful insights and preferences of future citizens.

All that we need, therefore, is a reasonably clear picture of essential structures - but then the question arises, what makes an aspect of future society essential?

The features we need to conceive, test, and then advocate are those that will guarantee that future citizens are free to decide as they desire, not to live as we decide in advance.

And why do we need to advocate even those essential institutions now? Why can't they too be decided later?

Because, only if we attain institutions essential to freedom, will future citizens be free to determine their own destiny. And before that, only if we envision essential institutions to guide movements, will movements attain them, or even attract sufficient support to win change at all.

Even essential core institutions, however, which is to say only those needed to establish the minimum necessary conditions of future freedom, shouldn't be conceived and advocated inflexibly. It is not just that we may have to refine our understanding as we learn more, though that is certainly true. Rather, it is also that even when our images of future essential institutions are overwhelmingly excellent, there will nonetheless likely be situations and occurrences that violate our general prevalent priorities and expectations and call for exceptional options. In those cases we will, in a better future, sometimes have to refine, bend, alter, augment or even substitute for what we quite sensibly most often advocate and maintain, our favored core institutions.

We therefore need clear values to inform not just our initial advocacy of sought essential institutions, and not just our continuing refinement of our views of those institutions as we learn more about their practical implications, and not just to guide our constant renovations and innovations regarding the kaleidoscope of variations in the multitude of social venues and relations that surround any society's core institutions, but also to inform our actions when core institutions don't work as hoped so they need to be temporarily amended or abridged.

Okay, so we need values to provide a moral foundation, a basis for logical conception and assessment of core institutions, a guide for correction of those core institutions when they require adaptation, and a guide for massive design activity beyond those institutions. But what values can help us with all this? And how do we get a list of desirable values down to a workable length?

Each person has dozens, maybe even hundreds of values he or she favors. Some of these not all people agree on. Even more often, not all people prioritize lists similarly. Everything from broad aspirations for justice or self-management may be on people's lists, to more narrow aspirations for, say, patience or even sobriety. If movements are going to utilize some manageable number of desirable values to guide vision and then also practice, then what should that manageable list include?

Undoubtedly there is no single answer to picking among all values a manageable subset that adroitly encompasses the depth and breath of our central desires. Different short lists can each establish worthy choices. In fact different lists can even have the same social implications, rather than only one list being "correct," so movements and organizations could arrive at the same final destination starting with different prioritized values in the forefront.

Still, the need for coherence in thought and communication does militate for having a shared set of guiding values, even though many possible sets might fulfill this function - so we ought to try and agree. It is a bit like a group working together on anything. It could favor working in one pattern or in another or a third, all equally able to succeed. It needs to settle on one, however, so there is coherence. Luckily, the history of struggles for liberation, both in the past and more recently, does pose some obvious choices for entries on such a list.

Would any leftist deny that people should have control of their lives up to the point of diminishing the same level of influence for others? We should have influence over the decisions that affect us, proportionate to the effect on us,

Would any leftist contest that societies should deliver a fair allocation of the benefits and costs of social life, including just resolution of disputes and effective use of assets to meet needs and develop potentials?

Would any leftist deny the central importance of mutual aid and solidarity, of diversity in outcomes and methods including ideas, lifestyles, life choices, etc.?

Would any leftist deny the need for ecological balance and wisdom, even beyond the rather timid desire for sustainability?

And at least in our modern times, once it is stated and clarified, would any leftist deny the importance of horizontal and welcoming participatory relations in place of hierarchical and top down elitist relations in all spheres of social life so as to remove institutionally created and maintained groups or sectors or classes of people arrayed in hierarchies of social reward, influence, and status?

Of course people in different countries, with different histories and different backgrounds, may use different words than those that appear above, but as advocates of freedom and liberty they will likely have in mind very nearly the same themes.

Similarly, people might prepare a list of values based on the above sentiments in one order or another, and altered to be more precise as it bears on different sides of life, but Claim 2 says that the above list, no doubt modified, augmented, and refined as well as made more compelling in its language, can provide a good taking off point. It is unlikely that there are many critics of injustice and advocates of liberation who would reject any of the indicated values and, in addition, it does seem clear that together the values listed closely summarize our highest aspirations.

Claim 3: Be Multi-Focused

A new and better world will include new and better production, consumption and allocation; new and better law, adjudication, and collective action; new and better relations of kin, family, sexuality, and nurturing; new and better relations of community religion, race, and culture; new and better ecological relations and practices; and new and better international relations; as well as, of course, new relations in more specific parts of life such as innovations specific to science, art, sports, education, health, and so on.

Given that we need social vision to rebut cynicism, learn, inspire, and guide practice, and given the importance of all sides of life, it follows that we need vision for economics, kin relations and socializing, cultural and community relations, political legislative and juridical relations, ecology, and international relations, not just for one or another of these.

Claim 3 not only says all these realms are centrally important, but that there is nothing to be gained by trying to prioritize them. Our vision and strategy for each of these aspects of life will inevitably provide a context that successful vision and strategy regarding other aspects must abide and augment.

For example, our economic vision and strategy will provide a context that feminist vision and strategy, cultural vision and strategy, political vision and strategy, ecological vision and strategy, and global relations vision and strategy must abide and augment, but so too, the same will hold in reverse. Feminist, cultural, political, ecological, and global relations vision and strategy will each provide a context that economic vision and strategy, and the other focuses too, must abide and augment, for all permutations.

In every case, to have a desirable and stable new society new arrangements in one realm will have to fit compatibly with new arrangements in other realms. Movements serious about attaining a new world will therefore combine vision and strategy across spheres of social life. They will not prioritize one focus above the rest because that would be both morally bankrupt and strategically suicidal. The same urgency and standards that we apply to developing vision, strategy, and then program for any one key area of life we must apply as well, to the other key areas. It is not, however, that each person must address all relations all the time - an impossibility - it is that our overall movement must by summing all its components, address all sides of life, even as it does indeed have components prioritizing attention to one focus or another, as well. In that way movements can generate compatible activism in all key areas and welcome and elevate key sectors of population to leadership regarding their priorities even as those sectors are moved primarily (though not exclusively) by one or another (gender, race, class, war and peace, ecology) concern.

Claim 3 is thus that a worthy movement for a new society will address all centrally important spheres of social life, each in their own right as well as together in their mutual interactions, with movement components highlighting and taking the lead in one area or another, but overall without elevating any one area above the rest, instead merging them in a movement of movements addressing all sides of life. Thus, the Reimagining Society Project as a whole, as but one example, but not each individual participant in it in every personal allocation of his or her energies, has to accomplish this degree of multi-focus attention.

Claim 4: Win Classlessness

To have classes means to have groups that by their position in the economy have different access to income and influence, benefiting at one another's expense.

Attaining classlessness means establishing an economy in which everyone by their economic position is equally able to participate, utilize capacities, and accrue income, and in which no one can accrue excessive income or influence at the expense of others.

We cannot eliminate the distinction between those who own means of production and those who do not own means of production, unless no one owns means of production, or, conversely, unless everyone owns means of production equally. That much is an obvious tenet of advocating a classless economy beyond capitalism.

But class division can also arise from a division of labor that affords some producers, who I call the coordinator class, far greater influence and income than other producers, who I call the working class. Taking for granted the obvious need to eliminate private ownership of the means of production; Claim 4 focuses on this latter point that even many socialists fail to accept.

A modern capitalist economy has owners who we call capitalists as well as people who have no economically structurally built-in power other than owning their own ability to do work. These people must sell that ability, and are called workers.

The controversial and important thing about Claim 4 is that it notices that capitalism also has a third class, the coordinator class, who, though they sell their ability to do work like workers, unlike workers have great power and status built into their structural position in the economic division of labor.

These coordinator class members, including lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, accountants, elite professors, and so on, work at overwhelmingly empowering tasks. Their position in the economic division of labor gives them information, skills, confidence, energy, and access to means of influencing daily outcomes. They largely control their own tasks and largely define, design, control, or constrain the tasks of workers below. They utilize their empowering conditions to enhance their income and decision making influence at the expense of workers below and, as well, when they can manage it, at the expense of capitalists above.

Capitalism is by this pareconish account a three-class system. Seeking classlessness therefore means not just eliminating capitalist class rule, but also eliminating coordinator class rule.

To eliminate private ownership but retain the distinction between the coordinator class and the working class ensures, by the structure of the coordinator/worker relationship, that the coordinator class will rule the working class. This change can end capitalism, and has done so on occasion, but this change cannot attain classlessness, and it has not done so, not even on one occasion.

Claim 4 says by way of rejection that our economic aims must take us beyond 20th century "market socialism" and "centrally planned socialism" (which systems have in fact been what we might more accurately call "market coordinatorism" and "centrally planned coordinatorism").

Claim 4 says by way of assertion that our movements and projects must not only be anti-capitalist, they must also be pro-classlessness. They must prioritize both eliminating the monopoly of capitalists on productive property and also the monopoly of coordinators on empowering work.

Claim 5: New Economic Values

Beyond getting rid of economic classes, we also ought to seek positive economic values including, at least in the parecon perspective, equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, ecological balance, and economic efficiency in utilizing assets to meet needs and develop potentials.

To be against something bad - such as class division and class rule - is desirable. But rejecting bad features does not generate clear and inspiring positive goals. To transcend dissent and become constructive requires positive values that we can measure new institutions against. Claim 5 is about positive economic values.

To massage the broad values noted earlier into the economic realm means looking at the key things economics does, and asking what our aims are for those key functions.

First, economics affects how much we each get from what we all produce. So what do we favor for remuneration? What is our value regarding distribution of income?

We want equitable distribution and in a pareconish perspective what's equitable is that each person who is able to work receives back from society in proportion to what he or she expends at a cost to him or her self in production.

We should be remunerated, that is, for the duration, intensity, and, when it varies from person to person, the onerousness of conditions of our socially valued work - and not for our property, our bargaining power, or even for our personal output. Of course, if we cannot work, or we have special medical needs, then we get product simply to provide for our well being.

To favor a value such as equitable remuneration is a matter of preference, not proof, of course, but this particular conception of what constitutes equitable distribution is certainly consistent with the most morally enlightened left practice.

In enlightened moral logic, luck in the parent lottery (as in having property owning parents), luck in the genetic lottery (as in being born with particularly productive talents and capacities), or luck in having better tools or even more productive workmates or in happening to be producing items of greater value than others are producing, should not accrue to one, on top of the lucky condition, excess income. Morally, instead, what we should be remunerated for is just our duration, intensity, and the harshness of our situation at socially valued labor.

Moreover, remunerating people's duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor also provides appropriate incentives to elicit what each individual has the ability to withhold or to provide: his or her socially valuable time, intensity of action, and willingness to endure unavoidable hardship while contributing to the social product.

Thus our first economic value is equitable remuneration.

Second, economies affect not just income, but also relations among people. So what is our value for economic ties among people?

Anyone who isn't pathological would presumably prefer to have people concerned with and caring about one another in a cooperative social partnership - rather than seeking to fleece one another in an anti social competitive shoot out. No further case needs to be made because no leftist would deny this aspiration.

Our second economic value is therefore uncontroversially solidarity and mutual aid.

Third, economies also affect our range of available options. So what do we value vis a vis this function?

Humans are limited beings who have neither time nor means to each do everything. Humans are also social beings who can enjoy vicariously what others do that we cannot. And finally humans are thinking and pragmatic beings who can benefit from avoiding over-dependence on narrow options that leave us stranded if those narrow options are flawed. Homogeneity of options delimits possibilities and risks over dependence on flawed scenarios. Diversity of options enriches possibilities and protects against errors.

Our third value, also uncontroversial, is therefore diversity.

Fourth, economies also affect how much say we each have over what is produced, in what quantities, by what methods, with what apportionment of people to tasks, and what product allotted to people. So what do we value vis a vis decision making?

Economic decisions determine outcomes that affect us. For that matter, the act of decision making itself also affects us by influencing our mood, our sense of involvement and efficacy, and our sense of personal worth. What norms governing decision making will make most likely that decisions and the processes of arriving at those decisions will accord with our desires for a new society?

Save in exceptional cases, there is no moral or operational reason for any one person to have excessive say compared to how much they are affected, nor is there any moral or operational reason for any one person to have insufficient say compared to how much they are affected.

Following that observation, it turns out that one decision-making norm can apply to all people equally, exceptional cases aside, yet can also respect the variation of specific operational needs from case to case, even while incorporating expert knowledge, careful deliberations, etc. Parecon's fourth value is called self-management. It means we should each have a say in decisions in proportion as those decisions affect us.

Clearly means of developing, discussing, debating, tallying, and acting on preferences are context dependent. No single approach such as dictatorship, majority vote, two-thirds vote, consensus, as well as various methods of information dissemination and deliberation, will apply optimally to all situations. Sometimes one of these approaches will be desirable, sometimes another. These are "tactical" means to some end. Describing them as matters of "principle" confuses rather than reveals. What will however suit all cases, as a principle, is the overarching norm by which we choose among possible means of decision making in each instance, sometimes choosing majority rule, sometimes, consensus, and so on, which is to agree on the degree of influence that we in principle think our modes of decision making should convey to each participant.

Thus, our fourth value is self-management, people having a say in decisions in proportion as they are affected by them.

Fifth, economies also affect relations to our natural surroundings. What is our value for economics and ecology?

An economy should not compel us to destroy our natural habitat leaving ourselves a decrepit environment to endure. But nor should an economy compel us to so protect the natural habitat that we are left no means with which to fulfill ourselves in its embrace.

What an economy should instead do is reveal the full and true social costs and benefits of contending economic choices, including accounting for their impact on ecology, and convey to workers and consumers control over what choices to finally implement. In that way in the future we can cooperatively care for both our environment and ourselves, in relative proportions that we freely choose.

Our fifth value is therefore ecological balance or perhaps husbandry is the proper word, which of course goes way beyond "sustainability," and is understood in this broad manner of incorporating ecological attentiveness into economic decisions.

Sixth, economics finally of course also affects the social output we have available for people to enjoy. Indeed, this is the reason economies exist. So what is our value for generating social product?

If an economy honors the above preferred values but wastes our energy and resources by producing output that fails to meet needs and develop potentials, by producing harmful byproducts that offset the benefits of intended products, or by splurging what is valuable in inefficient methods thereby wasting assets needlessly, it unnecessarily diminishes our prospects. Even as an economy operates in accord with equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological balance, it should also efficiently utilize available natural, social, and personal assets to meet needs and develop potentials without undo waste, avoidable byproduct problems, or misdirection of purpose.

So our sixth value is efficiency, understood as meaning meeting needs and developing potentials in accord with self managed choices without wasting assets or incurring avoidable costs along the way.

These six values together require classlessness ala Claim 4, since having class rule would violate these values, but the values also go beyond seeking classlessness to provide positive guidelines for institutional choices.

Claim 5 is that other things equal, in any economy more equity, solidarity, diversity, self management, ecological husbandry, and productive efficiency at meeting needs and developing potentials is good - and less of any or all of these qualities is bad. Economic institutions should by their operations as well as their outcomes advance these qualities, not violate much less obliterate them.

Claim 6: Reject Capitalism and 20th Century Socialism

Seeking classlessness and our other core values of participatory economy, as well as accommodating economic relations to gains in other spheres of social life and vice versa, compels us to reject private ownership of productive property, corporate divisions of labor, top down decision making, markets, and central planning.

Without belaboring the obvious, each of these institutional possibilities is ubiquitous in the world around us yet intrinsically violates one or more (and usually all) of the norms set forth above.

For example, noting just the most obvious violations, private ownership produces capitalist class rule over coordinators and workers. It obliterates equity by remunerating property and power. It obliterates self-management by vesting primary power in the hands of owners.

Corporate divisions of labor produce coordinator class rule over workers. This negates self-management by disempowering some and aggrandizing power to others, as does top-down decision making.

Markets obscure true social costs and benefits of all items that involve positive or negative effects transcending immediate buyers and sellers. Markets misallocate assets, particularly ecological, not to mention orienting output to maximizing surpluses rather than enhancing human well-being. Markets also impose anti social behavior. In market relations nice guys finish last. Finally, markets also produce class division between coordinators and workers even if owners aren't present. Elevating coordinator class rule, which the only subtle assertion about markets, occurs because firms must compete by cutting costs and because to cut costs, firms will hire an elite trained to that purpose and will free that elite from the implications of their cost cutting choices so they can remain callous to the immediate human implications of their choices.

Central planning also intrinsically violates self-management and imposes coordinator class rule to ensure obedience and in so doing typically also aggrandizes the ruling coordinator class at the expense of workers below, including centralizing control in ways that yield ecological imbalance.

For all these economic institutions, the propensity to produce class division in turn homogenizes options within classes thereby violating diversity, and creates a war of class against class thereby violating solidarity.

Claim 7: Win Self-Managing Workers and Consumers Councils, Equitable Remuneration, Balanced Job Complexes, and Participatory Planning

Rejecting capitalist and otherwise oppressive economic structures leaves us needing to advocate new economic institutions that will become the defining structures of participatory economics. These include self managing workers and consumers councils, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning.

First, for workers and consumers to influence decisions in proportion as the decisions affect them requires venues through which they can express and tally their preferences. We call these venues self-managing councils, the first defining institutional component of participatory economics, and familiar throughout the history of anti capitalist movements and, as a result, not particularly controversial, I suspect, for reimagining society participants.

Second, equity requires equitable remuneration under workers and consumers own auspices and in accord with accurate valuations. Equitable remuneration has two primary purposes. On the one hand, ethically, workers are compensated for the personal contribution of their participation in time, intensity of effort, and harshness of conditions. On the other hand, economically, remunerated work must be socially useful, which ensures that income provides workers and workplaces incentives consistent with eliciting fulfilling output. Equitable remuneration is parecon's second defining institutional component, also probably not very controversial among reimagining society participants.

Third, self-managed decisions require confident preparation, relevant capacity, and ample participation. Self-managed decisions therefore require parecon's third defining institutional feature, balanced job complexes, in which each actor has a fair share of empowering work so that no sector of actors monopolizes empowering work while others are left disempowered and unable to even arrive at, much less manifest, a will of their own. Balanced job complexes eliminate the monopoly on empowering labor that differentiates coordinators from workers. Balanced job complexes ensure that all workers are enabled by their work related conditions to participate in self-management.

But what does this entail, in practice? It isn't complicated, though it may be controversial. If we consider all the tasks that compose the work of a society, currently in capitalism and also in 20th century socialist workplaces, about 20% of the work is more or less empowering - conveying to those who do it a degree of self control, control of others, confidence, social skills, knowledge of the work situation, etc. The other 80% is rote, repetitious, and otherwise disempowering, diminishing confidence, social skills, knowledge of the work situation, etc. If we allot the empowering work to one group and the disempowering work to another, as occurs in both capitalism and 20th century socialism, the first group will have a different economic situation than the second - that will guarantee the first group's relative dominance over the second, and if there is no capitalist class above, their ruling status.

If, however, we divide up labor with each participant getting a mix of empowering and disempowering tasks, so that each participant is comparably empowered and thus comparably prepared to participate in self-management as the rest, the division of labor basis for class division is removed.

The worry some may have that the approach will lose some productivity from folks who might have done only empowering tasks is true. However the approach gains more than offsetting productivity from folks freed from learning to endure boredom and take orders rather than developing their capacities, who then do empowered tasks, as well as fostering real self management and classlessness. This approach, that we call balanced job complexes, is thus the third key feature of participatory economics.

All the economic values of Claim 7 plus classlessness together imply that allocation should be accomplished in accord with the freely expressed will of self managing workers and consumers councils and that it should be undertaken not to competitively aggrandize a ruling class against its subordinates, but by cooperative and informed negotiation in which all people's wills are proportionately actualized and in which operations, mindsets, and structures further the logic of self managing councils, balanced job complexes, and equitable remuneration rather than violating each.

All this implies the fourth and last defining institutional feature of participatory economics, participatory planning. Workers and consumers councils cooperatively negotiate compatible inputs and outputs, without a center and periphery, or a top and bottom, and also without destructive competition. Full descriptions of this fourth feature, and of all others as well, are available many places online and in print - please see the parecon section of ZNet, for example, where there are full books, instructionals, interviews, videos, question and answer essays, and much more.

Insofar as workers and consumers self managing councils, equitable remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning, treat all actors economically identically, they counter any for material hierarchies among actors that may be generated outside the economy, and insofar as they properly value ecological effects and convey decision making power to those affected by outcomes, and insofar as writ large, internationally, they steadily eliminate inequality of wealth and power between nations, parecon also seems well oriented to accommodate and even augment aims sought in other spheres of social life, though this is a determination which can only be fully evaluated when vision and strategy for those other domains exists in sufficient detail to permit evaluation of mutual compatibility.

Claim 8: Revolutionary Organization and Strategy

Insofar as the above noted claims are found valid, requirements for our own projects, organizations, and movements ought to include patiently incorporating the seeds of the envisioned future in present practice, including, when possible, using self managed decision making, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and cooperative negotiated planning, as well as central features of other features characterizing the new world we seek.

Creating institutions in the present that incorporate seeds of the future makes sense partly as an experiment to learn more about our aims, partly as a model to inspire hope and support, partly as a way to do the best possible job of fulfilling participants now, and partly to begin developing tomorrow's infrastructure today.

Of course, we need to recognize that we cannot have perfect future structures now, both because of surrounding pressures and because of our own emotional and behavioral baggage. But the fact that we need a sense of proportion about what future seeds we can experimentally harvest now is not the same as calling for entirely rejecting immediate harvesting.

Just as movements should foreshadow a future that is feminist, poly cultural, and politically free and just lest they are internally compromised in these aspects and incapable of inspiring diverse constituencies or even prone to alienate them, while also being incapable of overcoming cynicism, and weak in their comprehension even of current flaws and potentials - so should movements for the same reasons foreshadow a future that is classless, including incorporating council organization, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and self management.

Put strategically, if we construct movements that embody coordinator class assumptions, mannerisms, and aspirations, our procedures will violate our aims and cripple our prospects just as horrifically as if we constructed movements that embody sexist, racist, or authoritarian assumptions, mannerisms, and aspirations.

Our movements should no more slavishly reproduce the features of a class divided economy, than they should slavishly reproduce racist, sexist, or authoritarian contemporary relations. They should instead patiently and carefully adopt the features of classlessness.

Claim 9: Programs for Today

Seeking participatory economic institutions requires that we not only create in the present experimental and exemplary pareconish institutions as described earlier, but that we also fight for changes in capitalist institutions. Demands made against existing institutions ought to enhance people's lives, advance the likelihood of further successful struggle, and advance the consciousness and organizational capacity to pursue those further aims. These aims together provide a yardstick for measuring success.

As valuable as experiments in creating pareconish (or gender, race, or politically inspired) organization in the present are, if we were to only prioritize creating forward oriented experiments in our present activism we would be consigning those who work in existing institutions to peripheral observer status as well as callously ignoring pressing needs of the moment. The path to a better future includes creating experiments embodying its features in the present, yes, but it also includes a long march through existing institutions, battling for changes there that improve people's lives today even as the immediate victories auger and prepare for more fundamental changes tomorrow.

Changes in existing institutions that do not replace those institutions down to their defining core features are by definition reforms, however the effort to win reforms need not accept that only reforms are possible. On the contrary, efforts to win reforms can be premised on seeking desired immediate economic changes always as part of a process to win a new economy. Efforts to win reforms can choose demands, language, organization, and methods, in accord not only with winning sought short term gains that improve people's lives in the present, but also with increasing the inclination and capacity of people to seek still more victories in the future, up to winning a new economic order.

Rather than presuming system maintenance, battles around income, work conditions, the division of labor, decision-making, allocation, and other facets of economic life should be undertaken to enlarge and empower future-oriented desires and capacities. The rhetoric employed should advance comprehension of ultimate values. The organization employed should embody future based norms and it should persist after new gain to fight for the next.

The same should hold for economics as for other spheres of life, and vice versa. Win change now not only to enjoy the benefits today, but also to win more change in the future. This is a non-reformist approach to winning reforms.

Claim 10: Today's Tasks

At some point in the future vast movements will have features such as those noted above, however refined, improved, and augmented by new lessons they may be, and will, based on their merits, become vehicles toward winning gains and also conceiving and then winning the infrastructure of a new world. This will not happen, however, until people self-consciously make it happen.

This last claim is, to me, a truism, but it is also arguably the most powerful claim of all. Change will not come via an unfolding inevitable tendency in current relations that sweeps us, uncomprehending, into a better future. Change will come, instead, only via self conscious actions by huge numbers of people bringing to bear their creativity and energy in a largely unified and coherent manner that will incorporate continuous and lively internal debate, of course, but will also develop overarching shared aims and steadfast purpose.

If we travel into the future in our minds, and if we imagine looking into the past, we will see a relatively brief period, at some point, during which people in one nation or another, or perhaps in many at once, formed projects, organizations, and movements, that thereafter persisted to become centrally important vehicles for fighting for, constructing, and finally merging into a new world.

Whether we look forward or we imagine looking back, we can reasonably ask what attributes such a lasting project, organization, or movement would incorporate at its outset and thereafter. We can also reasonably act on our answers, once we feel we have them more or less in hand, to try to create such vehicles of change. Might we get these efforts wrong? Yes, we might. But if we don't try, then we have no chance of getting it right. And if we do get it wrong, we can take lessons from our mistakes, and try again.

The implication is that building such vehicles not just of current opposition, but also for self-conscious long-term creation of a new world, must become our agenda. We should act without exaggerated images of instant success, of course, but we should also refuse to succumb to cynical or excessively patient delay.

When a capable and caring group agrees on claims more or less like those enunciated above, Claim 10 is that it becomes incumbent on them to collectively seek wider agreement from a still larger group, to add additional dimensions bearing on other spheres of social life, and to solidify their inspiring intellectual unity into a more practical organizational and programmatic unity, in accord with their shared views.

Obama's war

Obama’s war

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With Obama approaching the end of his sixth month in the White House, there is growing evidence that his administration is in only the first stages of what is shaping up to be a major and sustained escalation of the US war in Afghanistan.

Elected in large part because of the hostility of American working people to the militarist policies of the Bush administration, Obama and the Pentagon are waging an intensified and brutal counter-insurgency campaign that has the potential of dwarfing the carnage in Iraq and dragging on for another decade.

July, little more than half over, has already become the deadliest month for US-led forces since the war began nearly eight years ago. A total of 46 occupation troops have been killed, 24 of them Americans. This death toll—approximately three a day—is equivalent to what took place during the heaviest fighting in Iraq.

For Afghan government forces, the toll is far higher, with the regime in Kabul reporting that between six and ten members of the country’s national police are being killed daily.

As always, the greatest price is paid by the Afghan people themselves, who are being killed in growing numbers and more directly subjected to the conditions of foreign occupation, as US troops carry out their “clear and hold” operations.

A telling indicator of the violence that is being employed against the Afghan people came last week from the US Air Force, which reported that it had dropped 437 bombs on Afghanistan in June. Close-air support missions flown thus far in 2009 by US warplanes had risen to 17,420 by the end of June, the Air Force command reported. This compares to 19,092 for all of 2008.

The increasing reliance on aerial bombardment is symptomatic of a ground force that is stretched dangerously thin. Its effect on the civilian population has been a succession of horrific massacres, including the slaying last May of over 140 people torn to pieces by a US bombing raid against two villages in Afghanistan’s western Farah province.

The initial escalation of the American-led intervention will more than double the number of US troops in the country, from 32,000 to 68,000. This is in addition to 36,000 troops from other NATO countries.

The most visible aspect of this troop buildup is the deployment of 4,000 US Marines, together with thousands of British troops, in an offensive in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, considered a stronghold of the insurgency.

Operation Khanjar, as the offensive has been dubbed, is shaping up as a fiasco, with the large US force unable to carry out any major engagements with the insurgents. The latter have melted back into the population, while conducting guerrilla attacks that have exacted a heavy toll, particularly among British troops.

In the areas in which the US-led force operates in Helmand, the insurgents reenter the civilian population or retire to safe havens across the border in Pakistan. But the size of the occupation force is entirely inadequate to hold the areas or prevent the insurgents from returning once it has left.

The threat of a far bloodier war has emerged clearly in the recent statements of senior US military commanders.

Among the bluntest were those of Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited the US headquarters at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul Wednesday. Mullen warned that the US forces faced “very difficult fighting” and said he did not know how long the war would continue.

“I know it’s got progressively worse over the three, three-and-a-half years since 2006,” he told the BBC. “And the Taliban has got much better, they are much more violent, they are much more organized and so there’s going to be fighting that is associated with it.”

If after eight years, conditions for the American-led occupation forces have grown “progressively worse” and the insurgency has become “better,” “more violent” and “more organized,” this can only be a measure of the Afghans’ hostility to the occupiers, which assures a growing number of insurgents and broad popular support for their struggle.

The US escalation has been severely hampered by its inability to mobilize any significant Afghan force to fight alongside American troops. While US commanders had envisioned one Afghan soldier for every American in the Helmand offensive, just 650 have been deployed alongside the US force of 4,000.

The American escalation has also failed to gain the support it sought from Pakistan’s military, which it had hoped would be deployed to block Taliban fighters seeking to cross the border. Pakistani troops remain tied down by the US-instigated campaign in the country’s northwest, which turned some 2.5 million people into internal refugees.

While US commanders portray the escalation in Afghanistan as an effort to win over the population, the reality is that massive military violence is being unleashed against an impoverished people in order to force it into submission.

The original pretexts given for waging the war in Afghanistan have fallen by the wayside. The authorization of the use of military force legislation passed by the US Congress in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York City was predicated on the American military being used to hunt down those blamed for these atrocities—Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, a name that now goes virtually unmentioned in official Washington circles.

As for Bush’s purported desire to bring democracy to the Afghan people, Obama has explicitly rejected such a goal as unrealistic. Instead, Afghanistan is headed for elections on August 20 in which it is universally accepted that the immensely unpopular President Hamid Karzai will be re-elected thanks to the web of corruption that ties him to warlords and criminal elements. The inevitable result will be intensified popular anger against the regime in Kabul and the US troops that protect it.

The only reason left for what is now clearly Obama’s war is the real and original one—the utilization of American military might to assert Washington’s dominance over the oil-rich and geo-strategically vital region of Central Asia.

The American military brass is openly lobbying for more troops to accomplish this aim. The implications of these demands were made clear Thursday when Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he is considering a proposal to increase the size of the US Army by 30,000 soldiers in order to relieve the stress caused by the Afghanistan buildup and the continued US occupation of Iraq.

There could be no clearer indictment of the Obama administration. Brought into office on a wave of antiwar sentiment, his administration is preparing to expand the US military in order to prosecute a dirty and protracted colonial war. Meanwhile, the country’s top military commanders exert their considerable influence over the government even more directly and openly than under the Bush administration.

American militarism under Obama enjoys support from the entire political establishment. The Democratic Congress votes to fund the wars, the US mass media parrots the war propaganda of the White House and the Pentagon, and the so-called “left” organizations that previously oriented towards protest politics have stopped their protests and tacitly backed Obama’s war.

Nonetheless, there remains deep hostility to war among masses of American working people, who will ultimately be forced to pay the price for militarism, through deepening attacks on their living standards, a growing toll of dead and wounded soldiers, and, ultimately, the drafting of working-class youth to fill the ranks of the expanding army. The struggle against war can be taken forward only through the independent mobilization of the working class against the Obama administration and the capitalist profit system that gives rise to militarism.

Fifty thousand General Motors retirees face destruction of benefits

Fifty thousand General Motors retirees face destruction of benefits

Interview with a former New Jersey auto worker

By Lawrence Porter and David Walsh

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The bankruptcy of General Motors, and the organization of a “new” auto company in its place, is being carried out at the expense of tens of thousands of active and retired auto workers, along with dealerships, other small businesses, and entire communities.

It is a ruthless Wall Street operation, presided over by the Obama administration, that will benefit only the corporate elite. Characteristically, a White House statement July 15 declared that it “strongly opposes” a measure in Congress pressing GM and Chrysler to restore the several thousand dealerships closed by the auto companies’ bankruptcies.

TomTom Micale

The administration claims that the crisis requires “all stakeholders to make difficult sacrifices.” In fact, the banks and financial institutions will be “made whole,” and new fortunes will be made out of the process, while the entire cost falls on workers and their families.

Active and retired United Auto Workers members will pay, through the destruction of jobs and the eventual slashing of benefits. The UAW-run health care trust—a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA)—will own 17.5 percent of the new GM. Provided with insufficient assets, but creating a lucrative source of revenue for the UAW officialdom, it will inevitably cut benefits owed hourly retirees. Some 122,000 retired salaried employees will also see their health care and life insurance benefits sharply reduced.

However, among the first victims of the wrecking operation may very well be the 50,000 or so GM retirees who were not UAW members. Most of them belonged to the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE)—now the IUE-Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA). During the recent bankruptcy court hearings, GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson acknowledged that the benefits owed these workers would likely be dropped.

Many of the workers are located in the Dayton, Ohio area, where the IUE was the bargaining agent at the now-closed assembly plant in Moraine. On July 14 some 600 retirees gathered for a protest at the local union hall in Dayton. The IUE-CWA has organized a publicity campaign, aimed at putting pressure on the Obama administration. The union is encouraging workers to phone and email the White House. The results of this toothless effort are entirely predictable.

The national news media has blacked out the plight of the IUE and other “splinter union” retirees, along with the other victims of the process, preferring to focus on soothing items about GM and its “new culture.” The scant coverage the case has received comes from the local media in Ohio.

Earlier this week the WSWS spoke to a General Motors IUE retiree who responded to our article on the bankruptcy court’s approval of the sales of GM assets.

Tom Micale is a retiree from the Delphi Battery plant (formerly Delco Battery) in New Brunswick, New Jersey, IUE Local 416.

WSWS: Tom, how long did you work at General Motors?

Tom Micale: I started working for GM when I was 19 years old. I retired in 1999 when I was 49. I worked for the Delphi division of General Motors, in New Brunswick. I retired shortly before General Motors got rid of Delphi.

We had a choice to retire under GM, or to continue with Delphi. I thought I was making the best decision by going with General Motors. They implied that when we retired we would have lifetime pension and lifetime health benefits, even though when I retired that wasn’t my goal.

A couple of years after I retired, I worked at a battery division at Delphi. Delphi got rid of the division. Within a year, Johnson Controls, which bought the battery operations in 2006, dumped the two battery plants that it had operated. The New Brunswick plant closed in 2007.

Delphi declared bankruptcy in October 2005, as you know.

So I thought that I had made the right decision go with GM. Then things began to happen to the economy, and later General Motors declared bankruptcy, that’s when this whole thing started.

When I saw what had happened with the UAW and their VEBA, I thought perhaps we would be all right. However, I started really researching the GM bankruptcy proceedings, and it came to my attention that things were not as they appeared to be.

WSWS: Now, you are one of the tens of thousands of IUE and other non-UAW retirees facing the immediate elimination of your benefits. What is happening at this point, as far as you know?

TM: We have not received any official notification, but I have read the bankruptcy court judge’s decision, and as of right now my medical benefits are with the “Motors Liquidation Company” of GM [“the bad company”].

I can’t verify it, but I have read that the “old GM” intends to file a request to the judge within a few days concerning the benefits to retirees, because it cuts too much into the monies they have. And I fully expect by the end of the month that that will occur, and that we will, in fact, have lost all of our benefits.

As far as my pension is concerned, I am on what they call a Supplemental Pension, which is a base pension. GM makes up the difference between the base pension and what I will get when I qualify for full Social Security. Although under the contract, I will be required to file for Social Security when I am 62 at reduced benefits, so it will be somewhat less than what I get on my supplemental.

I cannot find out—and I have researched it! ... I cannot find out whether or not the pension has gone with the new GM, or is staying with the old GM. If the benefits stay with the old GM, it is most likely they will turn the pension over to the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and they do not pay supplemental pensions. So I would take a hit on my pension by about 60 percent, from $2,400 to a little over $900.

WSWS: To be cut that much is drastic.

TM: If I sound like I am crying the blues or something, stop me. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I feel fortunate compared to some of the other retirees. My wife and I lead very simple lives. We don’t spend a lot. I live in South Carolina. I paid for my house. I don’t owe money to the bank.

We don’t qualify for Medicare for five years. But whatever savings I have is sucked out by the medical industry in this country. My wife has rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. She was young, 40 years old, when she was diagnosed with it. That was twenty years ago. She has been on every kind of medication there is. The latest one is often given to cancer patients and people who have transplants.

She started it two weeks ago, and it costs $1,600 a month. Not including her other medicines. With the medicine I take—I have heart disease—our costs for medication alone are $2,400 a month. And that doesn’t include doctor’s bills.

If I deplete my savings, and I would say that will happen within the next five years, only then will I qualify for Medicare or any form of charity care. If the benefits from GM are cut, we will eventually have to apply for charity!

I have to tell you, this is a shock, an absolute shock to me. I never expected this.

I also care for my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. She was in a nursing home, but I couldn’t leave her there. I’ve cared for her for three years, and also my wife’s two brothers for the last six years. They’re legally blind and totally deaf. They each get a small Social Security payment, which helps defray some of their costs, but the time is totally spent at home doing this.

WSWS: Could you tell me more about the decision of GM to file under Section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code and not Section 1114, which provides more protection?

TM: In my opinion it was all worked out beforehand by the government. It is unprecedented for a company the size of General Motors to go through bankruptcy in 40 days. It should have taken years.

At Delphi, which was one of their suppliers and a much smaller company, it has been four years and they are still working through bankruptcy. It’s just unprecedented, and I believe the whole thing was orchestrated before it ever got to a judge. Not only do I feel GM orchestrated this, I believe the government of this country orchestrated this. We are collateral damage.

WSWS: What do you think of the role of the UAW? It hasn’t said anything in defense of the IUE retirees.

TM: I think its great for the UAW to negotiate a VEBA and have a little bumper on their bumpers. From 1986-89 I was the shop chairman of the IUE, or shop steward, so I was involved in the union at that time as an officer. I can see it from the other side. What I see, however, is the total lack of support between the UAW and the other smaller unions. The unions have morphed into something that is no longer for the workingman, but merely better than nothing.

WSWS: This agreement was not negotiated for the benefit of the UAW workers, but for the benefit of the UAW officials. The last contract will bring new hires in at half the wages.

TM: I have to be honest here. I did the same thing to my local. I bowed to the pressure from my own plant, from those about to retire and from the IUE, and I was the one who negotiated our first ... what we called “competitive agreement.” It was a two-tier agreement, which brought people in at half our wages. It was the biggest and greatest mistake I have made in my life, and I have made many!

I regret it to this day. But the unions have gotten away from the principle of solidarity. Like I say, I was only in office three years, but during that time I got to see how the unions really operated. I was not disappointed that I lost the election, and I lost the election because of the two-tier wage system.

People brought in at lower wages were convinced that the man who ran against me would get their wages back, which would never happen. This was a real eye-opener for me. I had expected better until I saw how a union operated on the national level.

WSWS: Barack Obama came in saying he was going to save jobs.

TM: I supported Obama. In the last 30 years, there have only been two presidents I’ve voted for. I believed Obama. I am gravely disappointed since he took office; he is barely doing anything he said he was going to do. When he does, it is more heavily weighted, like the Republicans, for the wealthy in this country. The rest of us are just incidental, despite what he says.

We have a Congress that is majority Democrat, but again it shows that the Democratic Party does not have the courage to do anything. For example, they are supposedly working on this health plan, which I wholeheartedly support. But I don’t expect that anything will come from this Congress that’s going to help me or most Americans. It’s going to be a token.

I don’t have any confidence in them. I’ve lost my entire faith in this so-called representative government. It’s a shame. After 59 years of living in this country and following the rules, I’m just losing faith in the way things are done.

The health care plan will be a boondoggle for the health care providers. The elite in this country do not want a national health care system. As long as we pay taxes and buy their products, that for them is the bottom line.

The auto industry was doing poorly because the entire economy was doing poorly. When people tell me the autoworkers made too much money, they don’t understand we paid for those benefits by the hard work we did. I made a good living, but we paid for this with our sacrificing.

WSWS: They are trying to condition people to accept lower living standards. Those gains were the result of a long history of struggle. It was socialist-minded workers in the 1930s who led the struggles to form industrial unions.

TM: There is still on the local level a belief in the principles of the unions, but at the International level it is something entirely different. I saw it first-hand. Featherbedding, and “let’s not make waves” ... I hate it. It’s at the expense of the common, working man. That is why I am still trying to contact retirees, and so on. I want to bring some attention to the plight of the retirees.

I am not looking for the unions to support me in that. It’s something the people have to do themselves. If no one else will do it, I’ll be alone, walking on a picket line. But people in this country have do something and begin to take their country back.

There was a belief that this country had numerous classes, from the extremely poor to the middle class, right on up. There are two classes in this country now, the rich elite and everyone else. This past decade, it has hit us right in the face. In the past, the elite didn’t want us to know that. But now, they don’t even care, because they don’t think we’ll do anything and will be complacent.

The system is broken. I think at some point in time, this country will have a third party. My views have always been on the far left, which cross into socialism in many respects. That’s the way I feel. I honestly am for the working people. I think it is unacceptable that the poorest of the poor don’t have a meal.

US health care legislation to leave millions uninsured, ration care

US health care legislation to leave millions uninsured, ration care

By Kate Randall

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US Congress continued to debate reform of the health care system this week. In a 13-10 vote on Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a $615 billion Democratic-sponsored bill, with no Republicans supporting the measure.

The Senate health committee was the first of five committees in Congress considering health care to pass a version of the legislation. Votes were planned Thursday in two House committees—Education and Labor, and Ways and Means—on $1.5 trillion draft legislation presented by House Democrats earlier this week.

While differing in details, both the Senate health committee’s bill and the House Democrats’ draft legislation conform to the Obama administration’s proposals for an overhaul of the US health care system that will ensure the profits of giant health care insurers and providers, while rationing care for the vast majority of the population. They would also leave millions of US residents without health care coverage, and would deny it to all undocumented immigrants.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds that 56 percent of Americans surveyed support health reform this year, while only one in four say it’s not important to them. While the Congressional debate is framed by the imperative of containing costs, an overwhelming nine in ten of those surveyed oppose limits on getting the tests they and their doctors think are necessary.

The poll also showed that six of ten agree that employers should be fined if they do not provide health insurance; 58 percent support increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund health care. While the Obama administration has proposed funding half of any health care reform by cutting billions of dollars from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the survey found that about six in ten oppose cutting Medicare costs.

In opposition to these popular sentiments, however, health care reform legislation—whatever version emerges from Congress—will be not be based on improving medical care and easing the financial burden for workers and their families. It will be tailored to defend the big business interests involved: the pharmaceutical companies, health care conglomerates and large corporations.

On Wednesday, Obama continued to push for some version of the legislation to be passed before the August Congressional recess, granting interviews with all three broadcast networks. He again emphasized his support for “evidence-based” medicine—code words for rationed health care at cut-rate costs for ordinary Americans.

Asked by Dr. Tim Johnson on ABC World News, “Who would decide what medical care is unnecessary, and therefore, should not be paid for?” Obama responded, “We don’t think that we have to impose draconian measures to force patients to use a generic instead of a brand name drug ... or to force a hospital to administer one test instead of five tests ... I think most patients and doctors don’t want to spend money unnecessarily.”

He also told CBS Evening News that he now supports a requirement that all Americans obtain insurance coverage, a measure he opposed during his presidential campaign. “I’m now in favor of some sort of individual mandate as long as there’s a hardship exemption,” he said.

In the House Democrats’ proposal—America’s Affordable Health Choices Act—those individuals who do not have employer-based medical insurance, and who choose not to purchase coverage, would pay a penalty of 2.5 percent of modified adjusted gross income, if they cannot demonstrate “hardship.” This component of the legislation comes under the subheading “Shared Responsibility.” The Senate health committee fine would be $750 per individual.

Critics of this “individual mandate” have pointed out that many struggling working families and the unemployed—who would find it difficult to pay hundreds of dollars a month in premiums—would be forced to gamble going without coverage and pay the penalty instead, which might average $1,000 in the House version.

While this penalty is steep, it would still be less than the total annual premium they would expect to pay for coverage. And after the penalty is paid, these families would still be without health care coverage. Only for those earning about $400,000 a year would the 2.5 percent penalty be more or equal to the average insurance premium.

In line with the Obama administration’s demands for health care “efficiencies,” the Democratic proposal also calls for the establishment of a “Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research.” This center would be tasked with determining the “comparative effectiveness of the full spectrum of health care items, services and systems, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, medical and surgical procedures, and other medical interventions.” Those items and procedures deemed inefficient and not cost-effective would be targeted for reduction or elimination.

While full details of the Senate health committee version have not been released, it is estimated that under the House act 9 million people would still be uninsured, as well as an equal number of undocumented immigrants. These are conservative estimates.

Both versions of the legislation currently include a government-run option as part of a health care “gateway” or “exchange,” where individuals could purchase insurance if it is not available through their insurer.

In both the House and Senate versions, the penalties for employers who do not provide insurance are minimal, and would often encourage them not to provide it. The House plan would require companies with over $400,000 in annual payrolls to pay a fine equal to 8 percent of the payroll.

Under the Senate health committee proposal, companies with more than 25 workers would be required to pay at least 60 percent of workers’ insurance or pay a $750 annual fine ($375 for part-time workers)—a pittance considering that monthly premiums for the vast majority of insurance plans providing adequate coverage are in the three-digit range.

The Democrat-sponsored House bill calls for tax increases of 5.4 percent on those making over $350,000 a year to raise about $500 billion to partially pay the costs of the legislation. While after years of tax breaks for the wealthy this amount is minuscule, not unexpectedly this proposal has outraged Congressional Republicans as well as a section of Democrats.

Many Republicans are pushing for taxing employer-funded insurance premiums—a tax that would disproportionately burden the very section of the American population that health care reform is supposedly to benefit.

Obama has proposed to slash more than $600 billion in “efficiencies” from the Medicare and Medicaid programs as part of his pledge to big business for “budget neutral” health care legislation. These cuts will disproportionately impact the poor and elderly, while the rich will continue to purchase the finest insurance coverage and private care.

The House bill is also being considered by the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is dominated by the so-called Blue Dogs—fiscally conservative Democrats. Mike Ross (Dem.-Arkansas), who chairs the Blue Dogs’ health care task force, said the group wants to see changes in the House legislation to protect small businesses and contain costs. He commented to AP, “We cannot support the current bill.”

The other congressional committee considering the legislation, the Senate Finance Committee, must also include payment provisions for any bill they sponsor. Committee chairman Max Baucus (Dem.-Mont.) has indicated the committee might drop the government-run insurance option. While Obama has publicly maintained his insistence on including the public option, White House sources have all along hinted that everything is on the table.

Atlanta’s homeless under siege

Atlanta’s homeless under siege

By Dianne Mathiowetz

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On June 22, when temperatures soared into the mid 90s during a heat wave, Atlanta’s water department turned off the water at the city’s largest homeless shelter.

The Midtown facility, which is operated by the Task Force for the Homeless, houses some 700 men every night. Its 24-hour helpline also gives daily assistance to hundreds of low-income women, men and children.

Community activists quickly responded to this crisis. Calls for water went out over the radio airwaves and to e-mail lists. Cars, pick-up trucks and even the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition’s bio-fuel bus, “Rosa,” pulled up to the shelter’s doors to unload cases and jugs of water. Port-a-potties and pallets of ice were donated. Alternate shower and bathroom facilities were made available.

The shelter stayed open despite city officials’ threats to padlock the doors.

The next day, Task Force lawyers and supporters won a temporary injunction and restraining order from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville, who ordered the city to restore the building’s water service.

Moreover, the judge authorized the Task Force to pursue legal actions to prove “tortious interference” by the city administration. He ordered the city to turn over documents referring to the shelter. Task Force attorneys will take depositions from city officials with the aim of revealing any city collusion with business interests to defund the shelter’s operations.

While local media reported the court’s order to restore the building’s water, there was no coverage of the ruling that the city should stop its interference in the shelter’s funding operations.

From its founding in 1981, the Task Force for the Homeless has gained a reputation as a fierce advocate for the right of all to decent and affordable housing and for human dignity. Unlike many other agencies that provide only emergency shelter, food, medical care and clothing for low-income and homeless people, the Task Force has also been a political voice, championing their rights and demanding policy change, not charity.

This adamant position has often brought the Task Force into open and public opposition to powerful political and economic forces, especially since the run-up to the 1996 Olympics, when the floodgates were opened to large developers and corporate interests.

At that time, the Task Force filed suit against the city challenging an ordinance banning "urban camping"; it criminalized sleeping or lying in public places, i.e., parks. The organization has also effectively challenged other so-called “quality of life” ordinances which criminalize being poor or homeless and encourage racial profiling.

The city has supported the removal of all public housing projects, beginning with the destruction of Techwood Homes in the mid 1990s to build housing for Olympic athletes. This policy has displaced thousands of low-income families.

However, the Task Force, working with tenants at Bowen Homes—the latest project to be bulldozed—has kept affordable housing on the political agenda. It has mobilized for City Council meetings, pushed through resolutions calling for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, challenged the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s policies, and demonstrated at national meetings and conventions.

The first U.S. Social Forum in 2007 used the Task Force building; the participation of homeless people and housing advocates was an achievement of that gathering.

Over the last 15 years, the number of homeless people has grown, given the lack of affordable housing and the low-wage service economy. They’re living on the streets of Atlanta, under bridges, in abandoned buildings, in their cars and in parks.

In 2003, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin announced with great fanfare a plan to end chronic homelessness in 10 years. Millions of dollars were spent to rehabilitate an unused jail. The Gateway Center was opened two years later, not as a shelter but with 270 spaces for men and 30 for women who enter into programs geared to address the underlying reasons for their homelessness, such as unemployment, addictions, mental illness or domestic abuse. Those who do not participate are labeled “non-compliant” and are refused services at other agencies linked to the Gateway funding apparatus.

As other private and city-funded facilities have closed, the Task Force facility has become the shelter of last resort. The Gateway shuttle bus drops off homeless people there in the middle of the night. Homeless patients released from Grady Hospital arrive there still in their hospital gowns.

The Task Force is legally prevented from offering bed space to women and children in the same facility as men. However, on many nights its lobby is crowded with dozens of women and their children sleeping upright in folding chairs.

Critics throw scurrilous charges at the Task Force for its alleged “lack of results.” They accuse the facility, by its very existence, of encouraging people to remain homeless. Debi Starnes, a former City Councilmember and the city administration’s “homeless czar” is the leading voice in demonizing the shelter’s residents as “criminal elements” in the Midtown area. She falsely blames the Task Force’s funding cutbacks on “ineffectiveness.”

When Starnes told the media that housing was available for everyone staying at the shelter following the recent water cut-off, the Task Force challenged the City to provide it. No housing was forthcoming.

The Task Force’s lawsuit seeks the documentation that would show that Starnes’ actions and those of other city government officials and business associations led to the blocking of federal, state and private funding to the shelter. The facility was legally eligible for the funding and had complied with all requirements.

The city has refused to approve an annual $100,000 federal grant which the Task Force has been in line to receive for the last three years. The mayor’s office has even sent letters urging the grant be denied. Despite the judge’s order of June 23, that the city administration stop interfering in the shelter’s fundraising efforts, the mayor’s office, once again, urged the grant be denied.

The Task Force says it has lost nearly 50 percent of its annual budget due to interference by political and business interests which seek to gain the land occupied by the shelter. It is across the street from Emory University’s private Crawford Long Hospital and within blocks of newly built million-dollar condominiums.

The facilities’ operations—keeping it clean and functioning, providing security, staffing the offices and more—are largely done by current residents and formerly homeless people. The building houses an art gallery and studio space where homeless artists can paint and express their creativity.

A projected coffee house and community gathering place awaits the full restoration of water to become an ongoing performance venue. Already, at a weekly open-mike night, spoken-word artists and musical performers from among the homeless population and the community gather to share their talents. Programs teach computer, photography and video skills and bicycle repair, and there are literacy and voter registration campaigns.

Anita Beaty, the Task Force’s director, stresses that the coordinated attack on the shelter is not the central issue, even though it is an important facet of the struggle. The presence of thousands of homeless women, men and children, mostly African-American, on the main street of Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace, and the home of the Civil Rights Movement, makes it clear that “the city claims a history of progressive social change that it does not want to live.”

Task Force supporters are gearing up to pack the courtroom when its lawsuit against the city goes to court on Sept. 21.

And the water crisis continues. On July 15, unless another $8,000 is paid, the city once again vows to disrupt service. The Task Force for the Homeless is soliciting donations of water and money. For information, call 404-230-5000 or see

Tenants win first round against illegal evictions

Tenants win first round against illegal evictions

By Abayomi Azikiwe

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Residents of the Wellington Commons on Detroit’s west side have won the right to remain in their apartments for another month. After receiving an informal letter from management on July 9 stating that they would be required to leave the following day, the tenants began to ask why they should have to move because of financial problems faced by the building owners.

Organizers from the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions went to the apartment building to inform the tenants of their rights and encourage them to struggle against the eviction. The coalition issued a news release and attracted the local NBC-TV affiliate, which covered the struggle extensively from the evening of July 9 through July 10.

When a representative of the management company arrived at Wellington Commons after 11:00 a.m. on July 10, he was questioned by tenants, journalists and members of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition. A spokesperson for Elite Property, the management firm now controlling the building, said that it was not true that tenants had to leave by July 10.

Also, the management firm acknowledged that DTE Energy would not shut off the utilities services on July 10. The Elite Property representative, who identified himself only as “Bob,” said the company wanted to place the residents in other apartment buildings it manages.

“Bob” told the Pan-African News Wire that the apartment building was owned by a hedge fund from New York and that the firm had decided to go out of business. One resident of the Wellington Commons told the PANW correspondent that a firm called Stillwater Capital was actually the owner.

Later two officers from the Detroit Police Department arrived and went into the building to talk with the management. The cops later told the residents that the owners of the building owed over $100,000 in past-due utilities bills.

The actual amount of the bill could not be substantiated. Moreover, this was not the fault of the tenants, whose utility costs are included in their monthly rent payments.

Later, the representative of Elite said that any resident could move into another building supervised by the firm without paying a deposit.

The epidemic of foreclosures and evictions is a serious problem in Detroit and throughout the United States. In many cases, where people rent homes and apartments, tenants are not aware of the financial difficulties facing the owners. When they are ordered to move by the management firms that take over operations, many residents are not aware of their rights.

A great number of the evictions that are carried out by the private interests controlling the properties are in fact illegal because they are not conducted through the courts.

According to government statistics, more than 4 million people have lost their jobs since late 2007. Altogether nearly 30 million workers are either unemployed or underemployed. The rate of foreclosures increased by more than 30 percent during the first quarter of 2009.

These problems reflect the need for a declaration of an economic state of emergency in Michigan and throughout the country. A general moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions in the U.S. is needed.

Who's in Charge of US Foreign Policy?

Who's in charge of US foreign policy?

The coup in Honduras has exposed divisions between Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton

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The current stand-off in Honduras, in which the coup government headed by Roberto Micheletti is refusing to allow the return of elected president Manuel Zelaya, is raising questions about who is in charge of US foreign policy for the hemisphere.

Divisions have been noticeable from early on in this administration, for example at the summit of the Americas in Trinidad last April. Obama went to the summit with the idea of presenting a new face to the rest of the hemisphere and was immediately undermined by his adviser and director for the summit, Jeffrey Davidow. Fortunately, Obama ignored his advisers and proceeded along a diplomatic path.

When the coup occurred on 28 June, the first statement that came out of the White House was a major blunder. Although the US and international press gave Obama a pass, the diplomatic community could hardly help noticing that the White House issued the only official statement in the world that didn't have a bad word to say about the coup when it happened.

This position shifted as events moved forward, and Obama himself even went so far as to say: "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras." But then his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, seemed to contradict him. Twice she was asked by the press whether restoring the democratic order in Honduras meant restoring the elected president, and twice she declined to answer.

There appear to be others in the administration who would be content to let the coup government stall out the remaining months of Zelaya's term.

Obama needs to lay down the law and make it clear that this coup will not stand. He could start by firing the adviser wrote that initial statement in response to the coup. It's not like they were taken by surprise. Everyone saw this coming, and the Obama administration was talking to the Honduran military right up to the day before the coup.

Of course, if Obama really wanted to get rid of the coup government he could freeze the bank accounts of those who seized power, and their supporters in the Honduran oligarchy. This was recommended on Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times editorial board. Such a move would most likely do the job. These people may have a cause, but they are probably more dedicated to their life savings. It would also have the advantage of not hurting poor people in Honduras.

If Obama has qualms about acting unilaterally, he could easily get approval for such sanctions in the Organisation of American States, which condemned the coup and called for the "immediate and unconditional" return of Zelaya. (The OAS doesn't have the authority to require binding sanctions on its members, but it could approve sanctions for those members who want to implement them.)

It should not be surprising that Clinton and Obama have some daylight between them on foreign policy. Their differences over the Iraq war are one of the main reasons why Obama rather than Clinton is president today. But there appears to be some old-fashioned influence peddling involved as well.

It turns out that two of the Honduran coup government's top advisers have close ties to the US secretary of state. One is Lanny Davis, an influential lobbyist who was a personal lawyer for President Bill Clinton and also campaigned for Hillary. G Gordon Liddy, the man who organised the infamous Watergate break-in in 1972, once said of his friend Davis: "He can defend the indefensible." Davis is doing that quite well lately, testifying for the coup government at a congressional hearing last week, and spinning the media on their behalf.

The other hired gun for the coup government that has deep Clinton ties is Bennett Ratcliff. "Every proposal that Micheletti's group presented was written or approved by [Ratcliff]," a witness told the New York Times on Sunday. Who is Ratcliff? He was a senior executive for Bob Squier, known as the father of the modern political campaign. At his funeral in 2000, which was attended by some of the most powerful Democrats in the country, Squier was eulogised by Bill Clinton. Speaking on behalf of himself and vice-president Al Gore, also at the funeral, Clinton said: "But for [Squier], we might not have been here today." And not only them. In 1992, Squier's firm represented about a third of the Senate's Democrats.

It's all part of the "permanent government" that Obama will have to confront if he really wants to change US foreign policy. These people are pitting him not only against the region but the entire world, which has refused to recognise the coup government in Honduras. He is going to have to be tough and make a clean break with the past.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that Obama has remained silent in the face of repression by the coup government. They have shot and killed demonstrators, closed down radio and TV stations and arrested journalists. This week a trade union leader and a political activist were murdered.

Violence and the control of information are their main weapons of the dictatorship. They will use them much more freely if Obama maintains his silence. This is not Iran, where denunciations from the US serve to discredit the opposition. This is a government that is highly dependent on the US for aid, commerce and moral support – and that the whole world has condemned.

The cynics will say it doesn't matter, that even if Zelaya returns to Honduras with the coup government still holding power, and the military responds with murder and mayhem, Washington can avoid responsibility. But given the long-standing and close ties between the US and Honduran military, Hillary Clinton's relationship with their advocates, the ugly history of the US in Central America and its long support for death squads and anti-democratic forces there and the mixed signals that have come from the Obama administration since the coup, Washington will be blamed for the mess and potential bloodshed that could result.