Category Archives: Working Class

Memorial Day Letter to my Union President

As a retired sheet metal worker, on Memorial Day, I watched the Memorial Day video put out by the general president of my union.  This was my response to him. 

I appreciate your stress on staying safe during this pandemic, as well as the listing of our 14 members who have died from COVID-19.   I also appreciate your speaking of how our union has helped veterans transition from the military to our trade.

I want to comment on how your message affects me as a combat veteran of the Viet Nam War.  It is a good thing to support veterans, in our efforts to live productive lives (such as through our union membership and work), and for healing physical, emotional and moral injuries.    Yet, it is such a common thing to see this worthy sentiment seamlessly get extended to supporting militarism, something that I believe occurs in your video.   This type of thing can be seen easily every Memorial Day, July 4th and Veterans’ Day, and is unfortunate and upsetting.  Our willingness to sacrifice and our love of country got manipulated into a brutal war in Viet Nam, that created so much loss among the Vietnamese and among our people in the US. Viet Nam’s people or government had never done anything to hurt US people.

Sheet metal has been a good trade for me and helped my family and me to survive and thrive.  I have seen so many other Viet Nam veterans who did not thrive.   I believe, and many of us veterans believe, that our healing would go better if the country as a whole would have learned the tragic lessons that we learned the hard way.   The endless wars of the 21st Century indicate that our country has not.

Although I have worked my entire sheet metal career in the San Francisco Bay Area, like you I grew up in the Delaware Valley.   In my case, it was on a dairy farm outside of Kennett Square, PA.   I was in the high school class of 1964, and many of us ended up in Viet Nam.  At least four people I grew up with died as a result of the Viet Nam war.

Howard Lindecamp got killed in Viet Nam.  I was a patrol leader in Boy Scout Troop 24, and Howard was in my patrol.

Bob Vogelsang, a classmate and buddy, died in 1972.  He walked with a limp from a leg wound incurred while walking point in Viet Nam.  He became an alcoholic and died in a one-car accident.

Mark Arnold lived a mile from me.  A bunch of us kids used to play baseball over at Mark’s place.  He was a door gunner on a helicopter and died in 1976 of cancer connected with Agent Orange.  The Army denied any service connection to the cancer, even though everyone on his ward had the same cancer and had all been door gunners!

Bob Badger was a classmate who died in 1990 from Agent Orange-related illness.  I spoke with his widow at a class reunion, who was bitter about the long fight she had with the Army around their refusal to acknowledge Agent Orange as the cause of his fatal cancer.

Of these four, only Howard’s name is on the Viet Nam Veterans’ Memorial wall.

We are Labor – we are and represent working people.  We suffer from war and militarism, as soldiers, soldiers’ family members, and as people whose resources are stolen.  The trillion dollar military budget seems to have nothing to do with defending this country from foreign attack.   Big corporations may benefit financially from war and militarism but our interests are different from theirs; we in Labor should not support militarism.

Labor can be so much bigger and stronger, and could be key to changing  this country for the better.  We in Labor have done many worthy things, but a 6% rate of unionization in the US private sector does not warrant complacency.   There is so much we need to rethink about ways to redirect our efforts. This pandemic is the time, when so many aspects of our future are both uncertain and wide open.    Support for the Green New Deal, and for redirecting resources away from the military toward working people’s needs should be very high on our to-do list.

In solidarity,

Steve Morse
Oakland, CA

Left Gatekeepers Through the New Left: Monitored Rebellion

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders
Cultural containment meant “ring around the pinkos”

Leftist Patron Saints

What do the following people have in common: Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Robert Reich, Michael Albert, Howard Zinn, Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, Norman Solomon, Chris Hedges, Michael Moore, Greg Palast, and Chip Berlet? With the exception of Norman Solomon and Chip Berlet, these are household names among “progressives”. What they appear to have in common is that they are “left.” How far left? On the surface, they appear to run the full spectrum.  After all, Chomsky and Michael Albert are anarchists. Most, if not all, of the rest are advocating some kind of social democracy. Robert Reich and possibly Amy Goodman are New Deal liberals. Have we missed any tendency? Is that it? Yes, we are missing a tendency. The Leninist tradition, whether Trotskyist, Stalinist or Maoist. Are there reasons they are not included?

Why would the most supposedly leftist of all tendencies, the anarchists, get airtime on a show like Democracy Now, while Leninists such as Michael Parenti or Gloria La Riva are rarely, if ever, invited? A crucial key to understanding why this is the case is to clarify the differences between the Old and the New Left.

The Old vs the New Left

What all these patron saints have in common is that they are members of the New Left in the U.S. as opposed to the Old Left. The New left grew up in the early 1960’s on the basis of rejecting the Soviet Union as a model for socialism. For the New Left, some form of social democracy or participatory democracy (anarchist) was the best model. Additionally, the old left emphasized that social class — specifically the working class — was the agent of revolutionary change. The New Left rejected this. For them, the working class has been bought off by capitalism and was no longer a revolutionary class. The New Left turned to philosophers like Herbert Marcuse who claimed that students were the revolutionary class worth organizing.

At the same time, some sections of the middle-class civil rights movement organized around Martin Luther King (a social democrat). The women’s movement had two wings, the liberal Betty Friedan wing and the radical lesbians. But what both these New Left systems of stratification had in common was that race and gender were more important than social class.

There were exceptions to the rule. For example, while the Weatherman were anti-working class, they were secretive (Leninist), and identified with anti-imperialism and the necessity of armed force in order to fight. They tended to idolize third world countries and blindly accept their leadership. Malcolm X had clear roots in the Black working class and poor and maintained a class perspective. He was murdered before he settled within a leftist tendency, but he seemed to be on the way to Trotskyism when he died. So, in the New Left, there were some Leninist tendencies but mostly the social democratic and anarchist orientations won out.

A fourth major difference between the Old and the New Left was the economy. For the Old Left of the Communist Party of Russia, China and Cuba, capitalism by its very nature has contradictions that will drive it to destruction. All Leninists agreed that capitalism was doomed. For the New Left, capitalism seems to have survived its crisis of the Great Depression and the World Wars and was expanding production. It was thought that capitalism could go on forever. The New Left became increasingly cynical that capitalism could be stopped due to any inherent contradictions. Only by revolutionary will would it be possible for capitalism to be overthrown.

Who developed revolutionary theory? For the Old Left, revolutionary theory was developed by professional revolutionaries inside the Communist Party or by members of trade unions. At least hypothetically, if not actually, Leninist theory should be informed by political practice in organizing the working class and its struggles. On the other hand, led by the Frankfurt school, New Leftist theory was developed not within a party or a union but within the academy. Most New Leftist theory after 1970 came out of universities, whether structuralism, Foucault, post-structuralist or postmodernist. These theories were not informed by any connection to practice. They built on each other and increasingly lost touch with any kind of practical tests. One exception to this academic trend was Murray Bookchin and his anarchist followers.

Next, the Old Left did not think much of democracy. Leninist democratic centralism had limited democracy, but once a party decision was made there was no more arguing. Every member of the party carried out the program. For the New Left, democracy was very important. For the social democratic wing, democracy could be obtained by participating in elections either as an independent party, such as the Socialist party, or even by entering the Democratic Party, as had been done for 50 years by the Democratic Socialists of America. The anarchists would have nothing to do with representative democracy but wanted participatory democracy as in the early years of SDS.  This participatory democracy continued in the strikes in France in May 1968, and in the theories of the Situationist International. The social anarchists who followed Murray Bookchin and the Occupy movement of nine years ago incorporated this participatory model.

The attitude towards the arts between the New Left and the Old Left were at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Leninist left thought the responsibility of the artist was to represent reality as it really was from a working-class viewpoint (socialist realism). For the New Left, art was a rejection of the life of the working class. Beat poetry and abstract expressionism moved away from reality and expressed the psychological idiosyncrasies of the artist. What was revolutionary was individual expression.

As for appearance, Leninists tried to emulate the dress of the working-class so that short hair and jeans were a sign of solidarity. For the New Left appearances were determined by the countercultural tastes which included beads, long skirts, bell bottoms and tie-dyed clothes.  Among the Leninist Black New Left, dressing in the clothes of the African country they were originally from was an option.

In terms of social evolution, the Old Left embraced Marx’s linear model of primitive communism through three forms of class society before reaching communism. Like the bourgeoisie of their country, they championed the notion of progress through science and technology. The New Left was having none of this. They questioned whether capitalist society was more evolved than what went before and they were skeptical of science in delivering us to the promised land. They were much closer to romantics, who identified with tribal societies, whether in the United States or around the world.

For the Old Left, one’s personal life had little to do with the political world. It was possible to be withdrawn, apathetic or abusive in personal life and that had nothing to do with the revolution. For the New Left, specifically the women’s movement, “the personal was political”. What this meant was that your personal life needed to be a microcosm of the world you wanted to build. That meant you could not have a bad marriage and a good revolution. You had to “be the change you wanted to have happen”. This was enhanced by pot and LSD trips.

Where does psychology fit into the picture? For the Old Left, personal psychological problems were just “nerves” not worth taking seriously. It is understandable that the Old Left was skeptical or cynical of psychology and dismissed it as “bourgeois”. The work of Vygotsky, Luria and Leontiev in Russia remained untranslated, so they had no “communist psychology” to draw from. The New Left was much more interested in psychology. It was very sympathetic to the Freudian left of Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm. For the socialist women’s movement Karen Horney was a heroine. Reich’s work The Mass Psychology of Fascism helped explain not only the rise of fascism but the failure of the working class to rise up. For the Black Leninist left, Frantz Fanon was the best at explaining self-hatred among colonial people.

For the Old Left ecology was not an issue. They treated the ecological setting as a backdrop for social evolution which was understood as a higher form of nature. In terms of scale, the Old Left took for granted the nation-state as the smallest, most realistic political body to organize around. The Old Left thought of nature as infinitely fecund and able to carry a growing population without limits. But for the New Left, the ecology movement in the 60’s saw nature as under attack and should be defended and appreciated. The romantic tendency of the New Left meant “going back to nature”. This was later accompanied by the “small is beautiful” movement which fit well with anarchist decentralization concepts. Furthermore, in 1972 the Club of Rome issued its first report stating that the carrying capacity of the planet was limited. This meant that unlimited growth could no longer be sustainable. People had to learn to do with less. For the first time since the eugenics movement, the question of too many people on the planet was broached, however tentatively.

The last categorical difference has to do with the differences in religion and spirituality. For the Old Left, atheism was the ideal and organized religion and spirituality were all part of the same superstition. The New Left was more open to institutionalized religion (as in following Martin Luther King), while making a distinction between institutionalized religion and spirituality (which was separate from organized religion). By the early 1970’s, the New Left became susceptible to Eastern mysticism (TM, yoga) and the Gurus who came with it. Women especially were leaving institutionalized religion for wicca and other neo-pagan traditions. Some New Leftists later morphed into Rudolf Steiner Waldorf education and Gurdjieff movement.  Anarchists were more likely to gravitate to the magical work of Aleister Crowley. See table 1 for a summary.

But why does this matter? If the Old Left is marginalized and excluded in the press, magazines and on radio waves today and the New Left —  social democrats and anarchists — are welcomed, what does this have to do with Left Gatekeeping? After all, maybe the Old Left is not paid attention to because they are “out if date” with their Leninist vanguard party and mindless defense of the Soviet Union. To some extent this may be so, but that is far from the whole picture.

Old Left vs New Left – Table I

The Congress for Cultural Freedom

How it started

In his book The Mighty Wurlitzer Hugh Wilford describes the events that led to the founding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF):

In March 1949, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel hosted a gathering of Soviet and American intellectuals, the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace. This was sponsored by the American Popular Front attended by, among others, Paul Robeson and Lillian Hellman. It was a publicity disaster. The State Department derailed preparations by refusing to grant visas to would-be European participants.  Anti-communist vigilantes were alerted by the Hearst Press. Disruptions were staged by anti-Stalinists, organized by Sidney Hook. (Page 70)

What it did

In her book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, Frances Stonor Saunders traces the activity of an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom which existed from 1950 to 1967. The secret mission of the organization was to promote cultural propaganda in Western Europe to keep it from going communist. The idea was to make it seem that the cultural criticism of communism coming from the West about the Soviet Union was a spontaneous irruption, rather than stage-managed. The CIA poured tens of millions of dollars into this project.

As it turns out, groups of ex-communists for the most part inadvertently, helped to invent the weapons with which the CIA fought communism. Later, these ex-communists were sidelined as the spies attempted to professionalize their front operations with their Ivy League recruits.

As Stonor Sanders tells it, the congress:

…stockpiled a vast arsenal of cultural weapons — journals, books, conferences, seminars, art exhibitions, concerts and awards. Whether they knew it or not, there were few writers, poets, artists and historians, scientists or critics in post-war Europe whose names were not in some way linked to the covert enterprise. It consisted of former radicals and leftist intellectuals whose faith in Marxism had been shattered by Stalinism. (Page 2)

In terms of propagandistic goals, as Stoner Saunders says, “The most effective kind of propaganda is where the subjects move in the direction you desire for reasons which he believes are his own” (Page 4)

The strategy of promoting the non-communists was to become the theoretical foundation of the agency’s political operations against Communism over the next two decades. (Page 63)

Suitable texts were easily available from the CCF such as Andre Gide’s account of his disillusionment in Russia, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Yogi and the Commissar, and Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine. Further, the CIA subsidized The New Class by Milovan Djilas about the class system in the USSR. Books with titles like Life and Death in the USSR by a Marxist writer criticizing Stalinism was a book widely translated and distributed with CIA assistance. The compilation of articles made into the book The God That Failed was distributed all over Europe.

On the surface it may seem that the purpose of the CIA front groups was to destroy communism. However, Stoner Saunders denies this.

The purpose of supporting leftist groups was not to destroy or even dominate… but rather to maintain a discreet proximity and monitor the thinking of such groups to provide them with a mouthpiece so they could blow off steam. It was to be a beachhead in western Europe from which the advance of Communist ideas could be halted. It was to engage in a widespread and cohesive campaign of peer pressure to persuade intellectuals to dissociate themselves from Communist fronts. (Page 98)

Besides publishing, the CIA set up front groups for disseminating their ideas. In 1952 it began setting up dummy organizations for laundering subsidies. The formula was:

Go to a well-known rich person and tell them you want to set up a foundation in the name of the government:

  1. Pledge this person to secrecy.
  2. Publish a letterhead with the would-be name of the donor.
  3. Give the dummy organization a neutral sounding name.

When it came to the arts:

With an initial grant of 500,000 Laughlin launched the magazine Perspectives which targeted the non-communist left in France, England, Italy, and Germany. Its aim was not so much to defeat leftist intellectuals as to lure them away from their positions by aesthetic and rational persuasion. (Page 140)

According to Stoner Saunders the animated cartoon of Orwell’s Animal Farm was financed by the CIA and distributed throughout the world. But the CIA did more than distribute. They actually changed the story.

In the original text, communist pigs and capitalist man are indistinguishable, merging into a common pool of rottenness.

In the film, such congruity was carefully elided (Pilkington and Frederick, central characters whom Orwell designated as the British and German governing classes are barely noticeable) and the ending is eliminated. In the book:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig and it was impossible to say which was which. Viewers of the film saw something different — which was the sight of the pigs impelling the other watching animals to mount a successful counter-revolution by storming the farmhouse. By removing the human farmers from the scene, leaving only the pigs reveling in the fruits of exploitation, the conflation of the Communist corruption with capitalist degradation is reversed. (Page 295)

When it came to his novel, 1984, most everyone assumed that the idea of it came from Orwell’s Trotskyist criticism of Stalinism. However, Trotsky’s biographer, Isaac Deutscher, claimed that Orwell got the symbols, plot and chief characters from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s book We.

Image is of author Arthur Koestler, trade-unionist Irving Brown and Professor James Burnham

Who was involved?

What leftists or former leftists were involved in the Congress for Cultural Freedom? Sidney Hook (former Marxist), Arthur Koestler (former communist), James Burnham (former Trotskyist), Raymond Aron, Harold Laski, Isaiah Berlin, Daniel Bell (The End of Ideology), Irving Kristol (former Trotskyist,) Franz Borkenau (former communist), and Lionel Trilling to name just a few.

For the most part, without knowing exactly who they were dealing with, these former communists like Burnham, Koestler and Louis Fischer wanted to directly confront Stalinism politically. They felt no one knew better how to fight communism than they did. Burnham went so far as to say that CCF should form a true anti-communist front embracing the non-socialists right as well. Koestler, Burnham, Hook, Lasky and Irvin Brown met every evening as an unofficial steering committee. But cooler heads prevailed. Michael Josselson, one of the founders of the organization, believed in the soft-sell strategy, which is winning intellectual support for the western cause in the Cold War by fostering a cultural community between America and Europe.

Did these ex-communists know they were working for the CIA?

The parameters of knowing ranges from who knew and who didn’t. But these extremes are too easy. Better to separate points of gradation into:

  • Those who knew everything about the CIA involvement;
  • Those who knew some things and not others and did not want to find out;
  • Those who thought some things were fishy but didn’t inquire further; and,
  • Those who were completely naïve and didn’t know.

One who knew was Sidney Hook, who was in contact with the CIA. He was a regular consultant to the CIA on matters of mutual interest. In 1955 Hook was directly involved in negotiations with Allen Dulles. Another who knew but was not ashamed of it was Diana Trilling who said, “I did not believe that to take the support of my government was a dishonorable act”. Late in his life Orwell knew the CIA was involved and actively supported them. He had handed over a list of suspected fellow travelers to the Information Research Department in 1949.

Deeply suspicious of just about everybody, Orwell had been keeping a blue quarto notebook close to hand for several years. By 1949 it contained 125 names. (The Cultural Cold War, Page 299)

It would seem that most leftists fell into categories two and three. It is highly unlikely that those involved in radical politics both internationally and domestically, and those subjected to the intrigues of Stalin would be completely naïve about the machinations of any other large political organizations that were involved.

Furthermore, as Primo Levi points out insightfully in The Drowned and the Saved, those who consciously lie to others as well as themselves are in the minority:

But more numerous are those who weigh anchor, move off from genuine memories, and fabricate for themselves a convenient reality. The silent transition from falsehood to sly deception is useful. Anyone who lies in good faith is better off, he recites his part better, he is more easily believed. (The Cultural Cold War, Page 414)

How successful was the CIA?

It is tempting to think that an organization as powerful as the CIA would overwhelm and turn to mush another group that stood in its way. But that is not what happened. Ex-communists fought among themselves and twisted the intention of the CIA and took things in another direction. As if to answer Stoner Saunders’ excessive attribution of power to the CIA, Hugh Wilford says that the CIA might have called the tune, but the piper didn’t always play it, nor did the audience dance to it.

Did This Left Gatekeeping End with the Ending of the Congress for Cultural Freedom?

It is fair to say that Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin broke the hearts and backs of The Old Left. The sad story of disbelief and denial of communists who spent years bending over backward justifying Stalinist terrors and show trials was exposed. The Congress of Cultural Freedom contributed to this downfall to some extent, though the whole operation was exposed by Ramparts Magazine in 1967.

But what about the New Left? Since the Congress of Cultural Freedom had ended, was there anything left to monitor? After all, the New Left was not Leninist. Is there a relationship between the characteristics of the New Left in Table I and some new monitoring organizations like foundations, think tanks, public relations campaigns and lobbyists? Or was the New Left an autonomous, spontaneous eruption of the youth culture of the 60’s? Part II will discuss these important questions.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

When Homeless Means Homelandless: Guatemalans in Lincoln County

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

It doesn’t take a lockdown to pull from some of us humanists the universality of how deep the emotional, cultural, societal, economic and spiritual divide is between the have’s and have’s not.

As we move from “top” to “bottom” in the daily stories of how these forced social distancing measures, draconian business closures, far-reaching travel bans and the like are affecting lives, we need to have more humanistic ways of parsing out the realities of the homeless, or in the case of people from Guatemala, the homelandless.

There are many reasons Guatemalans have come to this county, crossing that borderline without the proper Gestapo paperwork and billets for the own lives.

After tragedy, Oregon Christmas tree industry buoyed by bill | KOMO

The stem of the immigration tide to an area usually starts with one family or one group of cohorts ending up in a place like Newport and loving it as a new promise, a new start, maybe a new homeland. For a time, there were seasonal jobs in the fishing, hospitality and salal harvesting arenas.

Most Guatemalans get here with very little. Some have children in schools. Many do not speak Spanish, let alone English.

In many ways, coming from Huehuetenango and other places where violence is prolific,  Guatemalans thought they’d be happy with the chance “to make it” in the USA since back in their native land the per capita annual income for lower economic groups is  $1,619. Add to this challenge of more than two dozen Mayan languages spoken in that part of Mesoamerica and none spoken here.

A Tales of Two Cities, Many Cultures, Infinite Mentalities

For many, watching daily TV-YouTube-Facebook antics of Trump and Company, Hollywood perversions, other rich and famous, and  even run of the mill policy makers “deal” with their seclusion and isolation makes the blood boil. Lovely gardens, three triple-wide fridge/freezer combos full of Whole Foods delectables; manicured lawns for croquet surrounding terra cotta pools; superfood smoothies laced with plethora of vitamins and herbs; soaking in Clorox-laced bathtubs and tips on how to dose one’s body with ultraviolet showers.

As we go further and further down the food chain and feeding trough, one more week of lock-down can parlay into more than ennui and cabin fever: for millions, one more week is less food, more anxiety, fear of the unknown, downright depression and suicidal tendencies.

Being homeless in a Time of Covid highlights how unhealthy, psychologically-stressing, and legally-precarious these days are. There is no social distancing when six or seven people share a campfire, a can of beans and smokes.

Now imagine that homelessness is coupled with the state of being homelandness.

Lighting Up Latin America – Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Assn

There should not be a question of legal or illegal immigration. People came and immigrated to this country from the time of the Indians. No one’s illegal. They should just be able to come.

— Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt has come a long way from home | Music | tucson.com

Guatemalans might be staying four-families-to-a-beat-up-RV on the Oregon Coast, but not speaking English, appearing like “the other” and having not only no cash reserves but also zero confidence in accessing local (and governmental) food and financial aid add up to be literal hunger.

Social Justice Starts with Who You Associate With!

Ironically, I use singer Linda Ronstadt’s quote “declaring there are no illegal aliens” because after my family moved to the US from stints in the Azores, Germany, France and UK, we ended up in Tucson, Arizona of all places.

I learned how to make tamales and mole from aunts and cousins of Linda’s. She even swept into one of these kitchen forays and planted a kiss on my forehead. Que lindo. Un chico hippie blanco haciendo tamales con mis tías (How cute. A white hippy boy making tamales with my aunties.)

Her brother Peter was Tucson’s Police Chief when I was a reporter there and in southern Arizona. His policies were virtually hands-off on immigrants, with or without papers.

I’ve been on this battle line for social justice in Latin America since age 19, when I was active as a student journalist and activist against US military aid to El Salvador and Guatemala. Then, a few years later, I was working in Southern Arizona as a reporter for a small newspaper group owned by a family. The two dailies — Bisbee Review &  Sierra Vista Dispatch — and a few other weeklies were run by two quirky brothers. My stories often times were front page doozies.

Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Building, 1927 | Special Collections

It was a crazy time for a young newspaper journalist:  In the morning covering the Bisbee rose club, and then five hours later, on the scene covering the drug tunnel found connecting Agua Prieta with Douglas. Funky stories about fence-jumping turquoise pirates getting into abandoned mine shafts at the Copper Queen open pit, to covering one of the deepest exploratory oil wells our near Tombstone. Drug-running, gunrunning, and nuts and bolts county planning and zoning. I interviewed Jesse Jackson when he came out to our neck of the desert to help settle down the Cochise County Sheriff Department going after a group of African Americans they were serving papers on.

Google: The Miracle Valley shootout and a confrontation between members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church (CMHCC) and Cochise County law enforcement and Miracle Valley, Arizona.

Kick-ass stuff for a reporter, having just gotten back from a year in Scotland and Europe, part of a trip to be a writer after spending four years at the University of Arizona, the college daily, and the school’s lab newspaper in Tombstone (The Epitaph).

Just a few months after Europe, I was part of the news-gathering brethren penning these sorts of headlines: “Salvadorans Fight Over Urine . . .  14 Border Crossers Die in Arizona Desert, Organ Pipe National Monument.”

That was July 5, 1980. I was 23 years old.

Crossing Borders, Crossing Philosophical Lines

I was in the thick of things journalistically, working with literally homeless-homelandless people, some individuals spending thousands of dollars to coyotes to get them across that bullshit borderline. Earlier, in my senior year of high school, I had met Chileans living in Tucson who were here through the good graces of activist miniseries. Because of these adults’ leftist college activities, union membership and outspoken positions against right-wing despotism and violence — the Pinochet years – many were imprisoned, and some lost loved ones and comrades to the general’s death squads.

Eventually, I ended up in the Highlands of Guatemala, and along the US-Guatemala border. More than 200,000 Guatemalans were murdered in the dirty wars, a system of genocide fed by the USA and its “foreign” policies and School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

Then, in El Paso two years later, I was a graduate student at the University, I worked with refugees at Ruben Garcia’s Annunciation House and wrote some stories for both the El Paso Times and the now defunct El Paso Herald-Post on the good work at Ruben’s sanctuary.

Guatemala - Why Are So Many Guatemalans Migrating to the U.S. ...

I taught college classes in prisons and also part of a college program for children of migrant workers.

Ruben Garcia Opens The Door To Humanity | The City Magazine

My tutelage in covering varying levels of homeless and homelandless was fast and furious!

Fast-forward, and I skim through many years in activism — revolutionary social work, education, environmental journalism, more. I worked with adults living with developmental disabilities for United Cerebral Palsy of Southern Washington and Oregon, with Foster Youth teens as case manager for Life Works NW, and with homeless veterans and their families for the Salvation Army.

Oh yeah, I was with Portland’s Big Kahuna of homeless and addiction services —  Central City Concern — as an employment counselor.

I was working with people I consider to be brothers/sisters/comrades – “detritus” the rich, the beautiful people, mainstream and even social services folk might call them. Or I’ve heard “the dregs of society,” “bottom of the barrel,” and from those a bit more evolved on the human scale, “those disenfranchised humans.”

In every case over the decades, I worked with people who either had no home (prison, transitional housing, foster homes are not homes) or who were looking for a better home than their dangerous and precarious situations beheld.

Many moons have passed, and, lo and behold, I have been on the Oregon Coast with my spouse since December 2018, after going toe-to-toe with the “Starvation Army” in Beaverton on some really corrupt leadership decisions and dangerous situations in which these poverty pimps put both the clients and staff.

One thing led to another. I was quickly working as a substitute K12 teacher in Lincoln County; I created my own column in the arts and entertainment rag, Oregon Coast Today; wrote for the Newport News Times (now it’s pro bono because of dropped ad revenues); and, now, going on one year, manage for both Lincoln and Jefferson counties an anti-poverty program for Family Independence Initiative.

I am working with low income households in a state-supported social capital research project. Families or individuals living in Lincoln and Jefferson counties receive $840 each for a year to do monthly 10-minute “journaling.”

Guatemala - Why Are So Many Guatemalans Migrating to the U.S. ...

Love and Death in a Time of Panic-Demic!

Things have changed since the SARS-CV-2, as the non-profit I work for as a 1099 contractor is now distributing (and helping other non-profits distribute) $32 million in places like Chicago, Boston, Seattle and Detroit. These are cash assistance lump sums: so-called unconditional cash transfers. Starbucks a la Schulz has thrown in with a $500-per-person Covid fund ($6 million total) for King County; and other cities like Boston, Chicago and Detroit are having FII move millions of bucks for each household to receive a $2,400 cash transfer.

My months working with families, face to face, at various places like the housing authority’s Ocean Spray Family Center in Newport, and the libraries throughout the county, as well as Homeless Education Literacy Project, have put me front and center close to my roots in Mexico and Central America.

I have talked to many immigrants who have come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

There is an underground labor network, shadow economy, cash under the table mode of work. There are people who are supporting Guatemalans with translators and help navigating the school systems for their children.

Chapina Express - Los Angeles Food Trucks - Roaming Hunger

Earth Day 2020 Zoomed

I am also involved in the American Cetacean Society and other movements in the county tied to Surfrider beach clean-ups and the legal process of banning aerial spraying of agent orange-like herbicides onto clear-cuts. I was asked to be a speaker on the Zoom Earth Day 2020, and in that planning, it was obvious to me I was back with what I term Greenie Weenies/Meanies.

I was told that “putting a downer” on the Zoom Earth Day event would be a no-no. This is the sort of group-think silliness and reckless false hope I have been dealing with since, err, I was 13 living in Paris with my mom and sister while my US Army old man was in Vietnam shooting brown people.

Then, a day after that April 22 event, I end up talking to Ginger Gouveia, who is working with Guatemalans, who are homeless and precarious, AND starving in Lincoln County. Thanks to the deadly combination of Obama-Trump-ICE-Racism-Lockdown.

This is really what ecological social justice is about. Nothing in the current mainstream and big green environmental movement in the USA gets the class divide, the power of poverty to tear at the soul of a country, the globe.

And to cut into our Guatemalan neighbors.

Trump threatens Guatemala after its court blocks asylum deal with ...

Here’s Ginger’s letter to me:

I am writing to you as a member the group, Acompañar Relief Fund.  We are concerned citizens who are seeking donations on behalf of immigrants who have lost their jobs and do not qualify for any assistance.  All of whom have been hard working asylum seekers with families.  Our focus is on providing as many families as we can with some food assistance.

Since starting this fundraiser, we have been grateful for the generosity of our community, friends and families. The need is GREAT and our goal is to be able to include as many families as possible.  This population will not recover for many months and will not receive any financial assistance, no stimulus check and no unemployment. We are looking for ways to continue providing some support for as long as this financial disaster continues.

This week we were able to give $60, or gift cards, as well as rice and beans and some Masa to 20 families.  The families with the greatest need are being referred by agencies working with them.

Sincerely, Ginger Gouveia, Acompañar Coordinator

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” – Karl Marx

Marx’s quote is taken out of context. He did see religion like opium which, of course, benefits for the sick and ailing —  it reduces people’s immediate suffering and provides them with pleasant illusions giving them the strength to carry on.

Almost all Guatemalans coming to USA, Oregon and Lincoln county place religion as both panacea and strength, community and spiritual sustenance.  In the past few years many unaccompanied minors and women with children from Central America have been crossing the border (at a rate of 180,000 per year). These are Mayans. Not the gringo Latin Americans. These are the Native Americans.

University of Oregon Professor Lynn Stephen has documented threats of violence, extortion, and torture against children and indigenous Guatemalan women whose husbands leave to go north:

“They’re leaving them in vulnerable, unprotected positions in communities. If you don’t have a male protector, women and children may become marks.”  Hundreds have ended up in Lane County and many others are in the Portland area.

“This is when it’s most amazing when it’s young people who are 15, 16, 14, deciding on their own to leave. My youngest son is 16. I can’t imagine what it would be like for him to make the journey,” Stephen said.

Rising hate drives Latinos and immigrants into silence | Cronkite News

These are cautious people, and the people working with refugees do not want to be named or identified in this anti-immigrant climate.

Gangs in Guatemala keep tabs on the new arrivals: harassment and extortion are common for the families back home when the gangs find out money is being sent to Guatemala by those working and living in the US.

Living close by, worshiping together, and being part of the shadow economy is how Guatemalans in Oregon survive, and thrive. Forming their own churches and then creating that kind of community is commonplace.

Right now, in Lincoln County, there isn’t enough support coming in to support Guatemalans. Churches are asking for help, per Ginger’s plea for donations.

No proporciona ningun beneficio en EUA….

That was the public service announcement mantra under the Obama Administration – USA does not provide any benefits.

U.S. pressure on Mexico to interdict refugees was pulled back for a few years and so many refugee workers have seen a new wave of Central Americans coming to Oregon. Many of those that got political asylum are still in Oregon.

They set down roots, enroll kids in schools, become part of the fabric of our towns and cities. With the lockdown and pandemic hitting the world and here in Lincoln County, our Central American homelandless brothers and sisters are struggling. These are valuable humans on their own accord, but invaluable as part of our community.

A while back, I read a letter to the editor of the Newport News Times railing against Oregon Coast Community College nominating an undocumented as Student of the Year. He was Guatemalan. He spoke eloquently at the podium why he came here and how he wanted to better his life.

The letter writer bashed this young person’s character. He brought up the old canard of having no papers is breaking the law. He called it a slap in the face to all the students who go to the college who were here “legally.” He felt the Guatemalan college graduate should not have been recognized!

In the end, we all are so-called illegal aliens – those with no Native American roots. That includes all the slaves forcefully brought to these shores. All those Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English armies and any number of people who immigrated here, either with paperwork or without.

All uninvited guests with no preapproval and passports given to them by the great First Nations tribes.

No one asked the Confederated Tribes of Siletz if the pioneers could come rushing into Oregon to steal their ancestral land.

It is 2020, a year that beguiles us all. Certainly, many of us five decades ago had 2020 vision about what would happen under predatory-parasitic-casino-disaster-neoliberal-neocon capitalism.  Yet now, in this 21st Century, there is obvious myopia and, worse, enabled blindness when it comes to really deal with this pandemic fairly, justly: it takes a village, state and country to raise a community, and the same to deal with pandemics.

I learn everyday from Guatemalans, including one of the country’s poets.

  • First, here are some Guatemala proverbs that say it all in a few words each –
  • Better to eat beans in peace than to eat meat in distress.
  • Do not bear ill will toward those who tell you the truth.
  • Everyone is the age of their heart.
  • It’s not the fault of the parrot, but of the one who teaches him to talk.
  • There’s no ill that doesn’t turn out for the better.
  • Your true enemy lives in your own house.

Better yet, a poem by Guatemala’s most famous poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967: Miguel Angel Asturias. According to The Review of Contemporary Fiction, “Asturia was a man who believed deeply in maintaining Native American culture in Guatemala, and who championed those who were persecuted. His literature was critically acclaimed, but perhaps not always appreciated. As an artist, his complexity is such that readers and critics often shy away from his elegant beauty.

Caudal (The Fortune)

To give is to love,
To give prodigiously:
For every drop of water
To return a torrent.

We were made that way,
Made to scatter
Seeds in the furrow
And stars in the ocean.

Woe to him, Lord,
who doesn’t exhaust his supply,
And, on returning, tells you:
“Like an empty satchel

Is my heart.”

Miguel Ángel Asturias - Pueblo e Historia de Guatemala

May Day is Red and Green

May Day, or International Workers Day, is celebrated with marches and rallies every May 1 to lift up the working people and their demands for freedom, equality, and justice. That is the Red tradition of May Day. But there is also an older Green tradition in which cultures the world over celebrate as Spring arrives in temperate and arctic climates or the wet season arrives in tropical climates. This Green tradition of May Day celebrates all that is free and life-giving on the green Earth that is our commonwealth and heritage. These Red and Green May Day traditions are complementary.

Historian Peter Linebaugh, in his The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day, provides an evocative description of the Green tradition of May Day:

Once upon a time, long before Weinberger bombed north Africans, before the Bank of Boston laundered money, or Reagan honored the Nazi war dead, the earth was blanketed by a broad mantle of forests. As late as Caesar’s time a person might travel through the woods for two months without gaining an unobstructed view of the sky. The immense forests of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America provided the atmosphere with oxygen and the earth with nutrients. Within the woodland ecology, our ancestors did not have to work the graveyard shift, or to deal with flextime, or work from Nine to Five. Indeed, the native Americans whom Captain John Smith encountered in 1606 only worked four hours a week. The origin of May Day is to be found in the Woodland Epoch of History….

Everywhere people “went a-Maying” by going into the woods and bringing back leaf, bough, and blossom to decorate their persons, homes, and loved ones with green garlands. Outside theater was performed with characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” and the “Queen of the May.” Trees were planted. Maypoles were erected. Dances were danced. Music was played. Drinks were drunk, and love was made. Winter was over, spring had sprung.

The Red tradition of May Day developed in response to the rise of capitalism, which undermined the Green tradition of May Day that people the world over had celebrated for millennia. Beginning in the 1500s in a process that continues to this day, landlords and capitalists have increasingly dispossessed working people from their land, their tools of production, and thus control over their means to life.

In the 1500s, rich landowners, with the support of the state, began to appropriate and take exclusive ownership of ancient public lands and forests, enclosing them for their own private profit-seeking purposes. Peasant communities lost their communal use of common fields and forests for grazing animals, hunting game, and gathering food and wood. This process continues today in many parts of the world.

The next stage of dispossession developed with the rise of the factories of industrial capitalism, which underpriced the handcrafted products of artisans, who then became dependent on capitalists for employment in the factories. In the U.S., the American ideal of republican liberty grounded in the economic independence of a free citizenry of small farmers and artisans gave way to a more inequitable class society of many workers and increasingly fewer capitalists, alongside a moderately-sized middle class of professionals and managers. The working people no longer had their freedom grounded in the economic independence provided by their own land and tools. They were now dependent on capitalists for their means of livelihood. When they crossed the threshold of the workplace, they entered a dictatorship where they had to work as directed and surrender their political rights to free speech, press, and assembly in the workplace. They received a fixed wage, while the owners took all the additional value that their labor created. They soon began to call their oppressive and exploited condition “wage slavery” in a conscious comparison to the conditions of African slaves on southern plantations.

The workers’ movement that arose in response began to organize labor unions and political parties around a program of cooperative production where workers would democratically manage their collective work and workers would receive the full fruits of their labor. They reasoned that economic democracy in cooperative production was the only way they could restore their freedom and achieve a decent standard of living under the conditions of large-scale production. The first political party in the world to raise this program – which soon became known as socialism – arose in Philadelphia and New York City in 1929 when labor unions organized the Workingmen’s Party. The “Workies” elected the president of the carpenters union to the state Assembly of New York.

The author of the Workies’ platform resolutions, Thomas Skidmore, soon penned a book called The Rights of Man to Property! He argued for common ownership of large-scale means of production, universal public education, a debt jubilee, and land redistribution. He called for the abolition of private inheritance with estates going into a public fund for distribution of a share to each person upon adulthood. He called not only for the abolition of slavery but for reparations, for land and a share of the nation’s wealth to the former slaves to help them get started on their farms. He called for citizenship for American Indians and suffrage and equal rights for women. With an eye to environmental protection, he decried the destruction of the planet’s resources that would eventually result from capitalism’s promotion of the unrestricted use of unlimited private property.

This Red tradition of socialism can be seen as a way to recover the ecological sustainability that the Green tradition of May Day rejoiced and sanctified. It will take the full political and economic democracy of socialism to give the people the power to choose ecological balance instead of being powerless subjects of capitalism’s competitive structural drive for the blind, relentless growth that devours the environment. Hence Green Party activists often describe their perspective as ecological socialism.

The Red tradition of May Day emerged in the 1880s in the United States. It arose out of the worker’s movement fighting for the same kinds of demands that the Workies had raised in 1829. The immediate impetus came from the Haymarket Massacre in 1886. On the night of May 4, 1886, 176 Chicago police attacked about 200 workers who remained after a day-long demonstration for the 8-hour day. The police fired live ammunition, killing four and wounding 70. Somebody threw a stick of dynamite. Eight of the labor organizers were charged and convicted. Four of them were hung to death. One of the Haymarket martyrs, Albert Parsons, a white former confederate soldier married to Lucy Parsons, a former slave of African, Indian, and Mexican descent, said at this trial, “What is Socialism or Anarchism? Briefly stated it is the right of the toilers to the free and equal use of the tools of production and the right of the producers to their product.”

Lucy Parsons campaigned across the United States and Europe to have the worker’s movement commemorate May 1 as International Workers Day. Many workers’ organizations supported her call, including the American Federation of Labor, which then urged its adoption by the Second International of socialist parties. The first international May Day celebration in 1890 was a big success. The demonstrations worried the establishments across the world. After Coxey’s Army descended on May 1, 1894, in the first mass march on Washington, D.C. to demand public works spending to employ the unemployed in the midst of severe depression, President Grover Cleveland got Congress to declare a federal Labor Day holiday in September in a move designed to divide the labor movement.

Green Party members will be joining with other working people’s organizations to commemorate International Workers Day this year online given the social distancing we must practice in this coronavirus pandemic. What Greens can do to bring to these events is an understanding of the connections between the Red and Green traditions of May Day.

Conservatives try to red-bait Greens as “watermelons – green on the outside but red on the inside.” But we don’t take that as an insult. We will be on the ballot line in November as the Green Party, but there is plenty of Red as well as Green in our platform.

Working Class Heroes Stiffed!

John Lennon, prolific as a writer as much as a performer, wrote this:

Working Class Hero

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There’s room at the top they’re telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

Songwriters: John Winston Lennon
© Downtown Music Publishing
For non-commercial use only.


This was powerful stuff in the 70s as it should be now, 40+ years later. Sadly, nothing has changed for the better for us working stiffs. Matter of fact, it is even worse in 21st Century Amerika!! As this writer and countless other great writers have offered, the disparity between the Haves (1/4 of 1 % of our nation) and Have Nots (the rest of us, especially the working poor or “near poor” is comparable to the Gilded Age (1870s to 1900 approx.). This Military Industrial Empire has seen corporations literally eating up Mom and Pop America for generations. All one has to do is observe those Amazon delivery trucks flowing through your neighborhoods to realize the impact. Drive by those Wal-Mart Supercenters any hour of the day, even in this pandemic, to see how powerfully these giants control things. How many Wal-Mart Associates (don’t you just love how they call clerks such a nice name?) have to get food stamps and need Medicaid? As it is, over half of the corporation’s employees are Part Time, which means they get less in the way of benefits. Of course, both Amazon and Wal-Mart are non union, thus, not so great for any such benefits that even terrible unions would secure them.

This writer remembers, with a sad prism, of when my late parents were in a nursing home from 2000-04. Of course, this was one of the millions of corporate owned and operated nursing homes, where top mgmt made out like the bandits they were, and the lowest tier employees…. How about the janitor they employed, who earned less than $8.00 an hour? This fellow, with an infirmed mother at home, had to work 33 hours weekly at the place (this was so he would not qualify as a Full Time employee), and then he picked up a 2nd job as janitor at the local hospital (also Part Time) at about the same pay. No sick pay, no vacation pay, no holiday pay (I actually wrote about him when I saw him working on Christmas day), no health coverage… no nothing!

One day, when I visited my parents (I went by three times a week) I arrived as an aide was going to give my mom a shower. It was very difficult to move my semi invalid mother in and out of the bathroom and shower. I asked the aide ‘ How much do you make an hour?’ He replied, “Nine dollars an hour.” Nine dollars!! I knew that the nurses at the place were getting around $22 and hour… and they deserved more! But $9.00 and hour to wipe our parent’s asses clean when they sometimes shit themselves? Can one even imagine how difficult it is to do such work? For $9.00 and hour? No union, no real benefits to speak of. I remember, before my mother passed away, and I received, as their legal representative, a printout of the monthly medications she was getting, along the costs billed to Medicaid. It was astounding! What they were pushing into her old and frail body was incredible! Did anyone ever hear of homeopathy? Of course, the elder care doctor assigned to her came and went “whenever” as the nurses and aides did all the grunt work. Her doc did such a great job that my mom died because she got gangrene in her foot from an infection that it seems no one seemed to notice. They finally hospitalized her and had to cut off BOTH her legs from the knee down… and she died a few days later… better for her, believe me.

As the late Edward R. Murrow would say it: “This is Amerika.” Maybe this tragic pandemic will finally wake up the “sleeping giant” of our mass of working stiffs. Yes, the Wobblies were correct. We need one big union to save us from the vipers of this empire.

The Decade Of Transformation Is Here: Remaking The Economy For The People

The pandemic, economic collapse and the government’s response to them are going to not only determine the 2020 election but define the future for this decade and beyond. People are seeing the failure of the US healthcare nonsystem and the economy. The government was able to provide trillions for big business and Wall Street without asking the usual, “Where will we get the money?” However, the rescue bill recently passed by Congress provides a fraction of what most people need to get through this period. Once again, a pandemic will reshape the course of history.

Last week, we wrote about the failings of the healthcare system and the need for a universal, publicly-funded system. This week, we focus on the need to change the US economic system. The economic crisis in the United States is breaking all records. The class war that has existed for decades is being magnified and sharpened. The failings of financialized, neoliberal capitalism is being brought into focus at a time when people in the United States have greater support for socializing the economy than in recent times.

This Thursday, there was a record 3.3 million applications for unemployment, an increase of three million from the previous week, but on the same day, there was a record rise in the stock market. This contradiction shows the divide between the economic insecurity of the people and investors profiting from the crisis. The 11.4 percent increase in the stock market on Thursday was the largest increase since 1933 while the record rise in unemployment was 40 percent higher than ever recorded. Projections are for 30 percent unemployment this quarter, which is five percent higher than the worst of the Great Depression.

The response to the economic crisis reveals who the government represents. While people’s economic insecurity grew, the government acted to primarily benefit the wealthiest. This realization should spur an uprising like the United States has never seen before. Perhaps the most dangerous to the ruling class is their incompetence has been exposed. As Glen Ford writes, “The capitalist ‘crisis of legitimacy’ may have passed the point of no return, as the Corporate State proves daily that it cannot perform the basic function of protecting the lives of its citizens.”

Disaster Aid: Crumbs For The People, Trillions For The Wealthiest

Congress unanimously passed a $1.6 trillion coronavirus disaster aid bill this week. This is almost equal to the 2009 Recovery Act and the 2008 Wall Street rescue combined. Democrat’s votes were essential to passing the bill so they could have demanded whatever they wanted. This bill shows the bi-partisan priority for big business.

The bill is too little too late for people who have lost their jobs and for small businesses that have been forced to close. The law includes a one-time $1,200 payment to most people. This payment will arrive after rent and other debt payments are due for a US population with record debt. Congress does not understand the economic realities of people in the United States. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz explained what was needed saying, “The answer is we need no evictions, no foreclosures on all properties, and the government should guarantee pay.” In addition, credit card companies should also put “a stay on interest on all debt.”

When COVID-19 first began, we pointed out that the US healthcare system was not prepared to respond and showed the problems of putting profits before health. The COVID-19 rescue bill did not pay for coronavirus testing or treatment. Millions of people who lose their jobs will lose their health insurance, demonstrating why healthcare should not be tied to employment. Adding to health problems, the law did not increase the SNAP food program for the poor.

Roughly one-third of the funding goes to direct payments to people, unemployment insurance for four months, hospitals, veterans’ care, and public transit. Two-thirds go to government and corporations. Adam Levitin describes the law as “robbing taxpayers to bail out the rich.”

Congress allotted at least $454 billion to support big business in addition to $46 billion for specific industries, especially airlines. Some of these funds will also bail out the fossil fuel industry. According to the way the Federal Reserve operates, they will be allowed to spend ten times the amount Congress allocated to support big business, $4.5 trillion. Jack Rasmus writes that the Federal Reserve had already “allocated no less than $6.2 Trillion so far to bail out the banks and investors.” He summarizes the disparity: “Meanwhile Congress provides one-fourth that, and only one-third of that one fourth, for the Main St., workers, and middle-class families.”

Trump shows the disdain government has for the people and its favoritism for big business and investors as he objected to paying for 80,000 life-saving ventilators because they cost $1 billion while the government provides trillions to big business and investors. Governors and hospitals are issuing dire warnings of what is to come, but the federal government is not listening.

Economic Collapse Shows The Need For Transformational Change

The economic collapse is still unfolding. The US is already in a deep recession that is likely to be worse than the 2008 financial crisis and could develop into a greater depression if the COVID-19 economic shutdown lasts a long time.

Already, the crises, the government’s support for Wall Street and its failure to protect the 99% are creating louder demands for system change. We need to put forward a bold agenda and agitate around it to demand economic security for all. As Margaret Kimberly writes, we are entering a period of revolutionary change because we know returning to normal is “the opposite of what we need.” Or as Vijay Prashad says, “Normal was the problem.”

While the urgent health and economic crises dominate, the climate crisis also continues. The climate crisis already required replacing the fossil fuel era with a clean and sustainable energy economy and remaking multiple sectors of the economy such as construction, transportation, agriculture, and infrastructure. Now, out of these crises, a new sustainable economic democracy can be born where people control finance, inequality is minimized and workers are empowered, along with creating public programs that meet the necessities of the people and protect the planet.

The US Constitution gives the government the power to create money; Article I, Section 8 says: “The Congress shall have power … to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin.” Congress needs to take back that power so the government can create debt-free money. Currently, the Federal Reserve, which was created by Congress in 1913, is the privately-owned US central bank that produces money and sets interest rates. It puts the interests of the big banks first. The Fed can be altered, nationalized or even dismantled by Congress. Its functions could be put into the Department of the Treasury.

Monetary actions need to be transparent and designed to serve the necessities of the people and the planet. Money should be spent by the government into the economy to meet those needs while preventing inflation and deflation. In this way, the government would have the funds needed to transform to a green energy economy, rebuild infrastructure, provide education from pre-school through college without tuition, create the healthcare infrastructure we need for universal healthcare and more.  In addition, through a network of state and local public banks, people would be able to get cost-only mortgages and loans to meet their needs.

Moving money creation into the federal government would place it within the constitutional system of checks and balances where the people have a voice to ensure it works for the whole society, not only for the bankers and the privileged. This could end the parasitic private banking system and replace it with a democratic public system designed for the people’s needs as Mexico is doing.

Globalization must be reconsidered. Corporate globalization with trade agreements that favor corporate power is a root cause of this global pandemic. We need trade that puts people and the planet first and encourages local production of goods. This includes remaking agriculture to support smaller farms and urban farming using organic and regenerative techniques that increase the nutritional value of foods and sequester carbon.

What we need instead is popular globalization – developing solidarity and reciprocity between people around the world. We can learn from each other, collaborate and provide mutual aid in times of crisis as Cuba and other countries are doing now.

As businesses are bailed out by the government, they could be required to protect and empower workers. Workers’ rights have been shrinking since the 1950s as unions have become smaller and more allied with business interests. The right to collective bargaining needs to be included as a requirement for receiving government funds. For large public corporations, workers should be given a board seat, indeed the government should be given a board seat and an equity share in any corporation that is bailed out. For smaller businesses, as they reopen, it is an opportunity to restructure so worker ownership and workers sharing in the profits become the norm.

The US needs to build the economy from the bottom up. The era of trickle-down economics that has existed since the early 80s has failed most people in the United States. The government needs to create a full-employment economy with the government as the employer of last resort. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives US infrastructure a grade of D+ requiring a $2 trillion dollar investment that would create millions of jobs. The Green New Deal would create 30 million jobs over ten years according to the detailed plan put forward by the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins.

The coronavirus disaster aid includes a payment to every person in the US earning under $70,000. While the one-time $1,200 check is grossly insufficient, it demonstrates the possibility of a universal basic income. This would lift people out of poverty and protect them from the coming age of robots and artificial intelligence that will impact millions of existing jobs. The evidence is growing that a basic income works. A World Bank analysis of 19 studies found that cash transfers have been demonstrated to improve education and health outcomes and alleviate poverty

The United States economy is in a debt crisis that demands quantitative easing for the people. Personal, corporate and government debt is at a record high. While the economic collapse is being blamed on the coronavirus, the reality is that the pandemic was a trigger that led to a recession that was already coming. The US needs to correct those fundamentals — massive debt, a wealth divide, inadequate income, poverty — as part of restarting the economy. Just as the Fed has bought debts to relieve businesses of debt burden, it can do the same for the personal debts of people. We should start by ending the crisis of student debt, which is preventing two generations from participating in the economy. While we make post-high school vocational and college education tuition-free, we should not leave behind the generations suffering from high-priced education.

Rise-Up and Demand Change

To create change, people must demand it. Even before the coronavirus collapse, people were demanding an end to inequality, worker rights, climate justice, and improved Medicare for all, among other issues. In the last two years, the United States has seen record numbers of striking workers. The climate movement is blocking pipelines and infrastructure and shutting down cities. Protests against inequality and debt resistance have existed since the occupy movement.

Now, with the economic collapse, protests are increasing. It’s Going Down reports: “with millions of people now wondering how they are going to make ends meet and pay rent, let alone survive the current epidemic, a new wave of struggles is breaking out across the social terrain. Prisoners and detention center detainees are launching hunger strikes as those on the outside demand that they be released, tenants are currently pushing for a rent strike starting on April 1st, the houseless are taking over vacant homes in Los Angeles, and workers have launched a series of wildcat strikers, sick-outs, and job actions in response to being forced onto the front lines of the pandemic like lambs to the slaughter.”

Workers at the Fiat Chrysler Windsor Assembly Plant walked off the job over concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Pittsburgh garbage collectors refused to pick up trash because their health was not being protected. Chipotle employees walked off the job and publicly protested the company for allegedly penalizing workers who call in sick. Perdue employees in Georgia walked off their jobs on a production line over a wage dispute and management asked workers to put in extra hours without a pay increase during the pandemic. Some Whole Foods workers announced a collective action in the form of a “sick out,” with workers using their sick days in order to strike. In Italy, wildcat strikes erupted to demand that plants be closed for the duration of the virus. Postal workers in London took strike actions due to the risks of the virus.

The pandemic requires creativity in protest. Technology allows us to educate and organize online, as well as to protest, petition, email, and call. There have also been car marches, public transport drivers have refused to monitor tickets, collective messages have been sent from balconies and windows. People are showing they can be innovative to get our message across to decision-makers. We can also build community and strengthen bonds with mutual aid.

If the ownership class continues its call to re-open the economy despite the health risks, the potential of a general strike can become a reality. When Trump called for returning to work the hashtags #GeneralStrike and #GeneralStrike2020— calling on workers everywhere to walk off the job — began trending on Twitter. Rather than a strike against one corporation, people would strike across multiple businesses and could also include a rent and mortgage strike as well as a debt strike. The coronavirus has shown that essential workers are among the lowest-paid workers and that they make the economy function. We also understand that if people refuse to pay their debts or rent, the financial system will collapse. Understanding those realities gives a new understanding of the power of the people.

A general strike, as Rosa Luxembourg described it in 1906, is not ‘one isolated action” but a rallying call for a campaign of “class struggle lasting for years, perhaps for decades.” A general strike could take many forms, including a global day of action. Before the current crises, we saw the decade of the 2020s as a decade of potential transformational change because on multiple fronts movements were growing and demanding responses to an array of crises. Now, the triggers for the economic collapse could also be the trigger for transformational revolt.

We are all in this together. We are all connected and share a common humanity. If we act in solidarity during this time of crisis and in this decade of transformation, we can create the future we want to see for ourselves and future generations.

The Rise and Fall of the Work Society

The victories of Bernie Sanders in the early primaries had people talking about socialist revolutions, while Biden’s wins on Super Tuesday (in largely conservatives states) have tempered that enthusiasm.  This is an important reminder of something we all need to remember:  The Capitalists already won.  There may still be a few scattered enclaves of subsistence farmers and indigenous peoples who haven’t been forced to pay to exist, but in the West they won a long time ago.  That victory has been so complete that we don’t even notice anymore.  It’s completely normal to us to rent our lives away to “earn a living.”  Faced with a such world, few can even ask how we got here, let alone how to fight it.

It started with Protestantism, or more specifically with John Calvin.  Ignoring that Bible quote about camels through the eye of a needle, he preached that wealth was a sign of God’s favor and therefore the wealthy were virtuous and moral.  In contrast, the poor were immoral and lazy (despite the fact that any poor person can testify to how much work being poor requires).  This led directly to the Protestant Work Ethic, and the idea that hard work could make anyone rich.

It was a mindset that well served the farmers and craftsmen of the era.  But that was not enough for the factory owners and the rising capitalist class of the time.  They needed people to work for them.  Most people were content with self-sufficient agrarian lifestyles.  Which is why the capitalists pressured governments to enact a series of laws to push peasants off the land and into the cities and factories, events often known as the Enclosure of the Commons.  This is not to say peasant life was utopian, it was not, but it did allow for a certain degree of independence.  People were then stripped of the means of that self-sufficiency, forced into the cities and the factories with only their labor to sell.  Patrick Colquhoun1 explained it in the late 18th century: “It [poverty] is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.

It was there in the cities and factories that people began to think of themselves as Workers.  Capitalists secured their victory with various strategies that usually came down to destruction or cooption to make sure that people never think of themselves as anything other than workers, and we started paying to exist.  This was when the capitalists won.  In the centuries following, the world has been reorganized as a Work Society, with all social interaction revolving around labor.   Today, political pundits often speak of “workers” and the “working class” in the abstract.  Look at nearly any TV show, comedy or drama, and see how many of them revolve around the workplace.  Even the current buzzphrase “Work-Life Balance” places work first.  But “Worker” is a performative identity: workers must work.  In such a society, the providers of work will always have the advantage.  Labor may demand better working conditions, better hours and above all, better pay.  They may even organize workers’ political parties almost everywhere except in the United States) but beneath it all, they demand to work.

With jobs the be all and end all of demands, the best many of these workers now hope for is to change roles, move up in the Worker Hierarchy from Worker to Boss.  Unfortunately, this dovetails with a fascist mentality.  As Wilhelm Reich described it2: “The subjugated “little man” who desires authority and rebels against it at the same time.”  This means the potential for fascism remains latent in any Work Society.

But even capitalism’s favorite bogeyman, communism, is at its heart based around the idea of Human as Worker (i.e. the Proletariat).  The Worker identity was too strongly established in the industrialized countries so successful communist revolutions happened in countries that had no longstanding history with Protestantism (more specifically Calvinism), and more importantly, had large peasant populations.  Like our ancestors in the West, these peasants were in no way eager to accept poverty as the “lot of man.” And no matter how much they hated their feudal overlords (whose arrogance and abuse of power often sparked the revolutions in the first place), they did not wish to give up a self-sufficient way of life for waged labor, a condition that for centuries was regarded as little better than slavery.  In the end, many of the communist countries attempted to industrialize their people which meant forcing a worker identity upon them anyway, and often led to catastrophe.

This points to the contradiction at the heart of the Work Society.  Despite training us to see ourselves as workers, to capitalists labor is a cost to be reduced so that they may maintain their profits.  Always seeking to reduce those costs, they eagerly downsize and force less workers to do more.  That gives them a pool of surplus labor, makes workers so easily replaceable, plays factions of workers off against each other and keeps wages down.

Since the beginning, capitalists have been investing in technological innovation to increase labor power and further extend profits.  The problem, however, is that technological development and automation makes Labor more redundant than simply downsizing.  Up until now, this resulted in shifting workers from one occupation to another.  But recent developments in automation and Artificial Intelligence threaten workers to the point of irrelevancy. The Work Society is beginning to break down and workers are faced with a crisis of identity:  When workers cannot work, what then are they?  Neither labor nor capitalists are prepared to answer to that question.  Capitalists don’t want to lose their exploited slaves and laborer faces the fear of losing their identity (in addition to losing their livelihoods).  This threatens to overturn the very foundations of the Work Society.  Like any threatened system, it will fight to survive, and it has several strategies to do just that.

First, capitalists continue their old “divide and conquer” strategy of playing workers off against each other, this time including migrants and refugees into the mix.  Then they pay off their sycophants in government to unleash a full-throated neoliberalism in an attempt to turn the clock back to the Gilded Age.  A newer strategy is to blur the line between life and work by expanding the Work Society into more of people’s lives in order to marketize and monetize every aspect of it.  Under the trendy name of the “gig economy” they tell us how we can all profit by driving for Uber, renting our homes out on AirB&B and producing endless amounts of online “content” in what is essentially cyberbegging.  All in a quest to make ourselves ever more sellable, because if we can no longer be Workers, they would make us into Products.

But there is another more dangerous stopgap.  When faced with crises, combined with economic stress, the latent fascist tendencies will remerge.  Fascism is an emergency reaction of the Work Society as it tries to reorient itself to new circumstances.  We have seen it before, such as the defeat of Germany in the aftermath of WWI and the Great Depression in the previous century.  Similar conditions have appeared with the Crash of 2008 combined with increased automation and outsourcing in the labor market.  This time, even fascism may not save the Work Society as fascism is no more equipped to stop what’s coming than the previous order.

This is the world as it stands now.  There is a saying that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.  Capitalism (and Work Society) is the dominant global system to which There Is No Alternative, in the words of Margaret Thatcher.  With the fall of the Soviet Union, our capitalist ruling classes have even deluded themselves to believe that we live in the End of History.  However, there’s another old saying we should heed: “Those whom Gods destroy, they first make mad with power.”  In the madness of seeing the world only in this context with no alternatives accepted, capitalists have set up themselves (and the rest of us) to face an Outside Context Problem.  The Scottish author Iain M. Banks3 described the Outside Context Problem as something that: “…most civilizations would encounter just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop.”

Climate change is our Outside Context Problem.  It is a problem created by the capitalists, no matter how much they try to foist the blame on individuals for simply trying to survive in the society they created.  Once again, the capitalists have pulled out their usual bag of tricks: destruction and cooption.  Yet climate change cannot be killed, bought out, or paid off (even if those fighting against it can be).  Even bribing politicians to send in the military has brought chaos and suffering, but has not stopped the problem.  The desire to take on climate change directly is all but impossible because the US treats energy as an American monopoly (OPEC countries hold their reserves in the form of US securities).  Any attempt to mitigate climate change by decreasing fossil fuel use is regarded as a threat to US interests.  Forbidden to confront the very nature of the problem (unlimited growth on a finite planet), it is no surprise that many now are falling back on denial.  They say that this is just a bump that requires a few tweaks and not a world encountering a paradigmatic shift.  They sit back and trust in a technological solution to save us and continue on as before.

What it boils down to is this: in the coming years there is a choice to be made, either we continue down the road of misery we are on to destruction and possible extinction, or we make some very deep fundamental changes to our society.  Not just tweaks and marketing slogans like Sustainable Growth or Green Capitalism, but questioning capitalism and abandoning the Work Society and other changes so profound that they almost literally cannot be imagined in our current mindset.

Maybe it’s too late, and we have already destroyed ourselves.  And for people who see themselves as nothing more than workers, maybe extinction is a mercy.  But in the end if we do survive, we will have to rediscover what is is to be fully human and remember what we were before we allowed ourselves to be convinced that we were only workers.

  1. A Treatise on Indigence: Exhibiting a General View of the National Resources, 1806
  2. Listen, Little Man, 1971
  3. Excession, 1996

Fake News, False Democracy and Phony Economics

The growing popularity of an American social democratic presidential candidate who calls himself a democratic socialist has revived every anti-humanity distortion of the past, emanating from the tiny minority ruling our country through its servant class of professionals in media and politics. Newer and more bloody mythologies about supposedly existing socialisms are expanding on the incredible death tolls supposedly inflicted by previous attempts at achieving the common good by confiscating the wealth of royalty and the rich in nations where free markets were supposedly destroyed by savages who felt that one thousand people and one thousand loaves of bread meant they should be distributed one to a person. That was instead of being owned by a capitalist and sold only to those who could amass the market forces to buy bread by creating private profit for the investor-rulers who owned the bakery.

Every attempt at creating a socialist let alone communist society has incurred the bloody violent wrath of the capitalist world, beginning with the Paris Commune of the 19th century, extending to the Soviet Union and China in the twentieth, and continuing to the present when truly electoral democratic attempts at revolutionary transformation in places like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia are met with external warfare in the form of sanctions and foreign financing of internal opposition reducing populations having finally achieved balanced diets for the first time in their lives to not only scrounging for survival but living under threat of military invasion for doing so.

While this minority created imperial policy that views the world as subject renter and American wealth as royal owner will soon be replaced by real democracy if it doesn’t destroy everything in its process of failing, attempts at creating what is called a “sharing” economy are made by well meaning souls trying to take the merchant relationship away by replacing it with person to person deals, as in the ancient markets which offered humanity a place to bargain as equals. But making a deal with someone at a flea market or neighborhood swap doesn’t really amount to a social change, just as a private non-profit hardly transforms market forces. The non-profit results from massive tax write-offs for the rich making donations that insure their system remains strong, and the innocent personal bartering that takes place among well meaning people is no comparison to a truly collective worker owned democratically controlled enterprise. We might as well claim that McDonalds is “sharing” its burgers and fries with us, as Tesla is “sharing” its autos, General Dynamics “shares” its weapons, and documented pharma and undocumented dope dealers “share” their drugs. The market still rules and it remains under the ownership and control of minority wealth, with the number of dollars they command at a peak never before seen in the history of humanity. The Roman Empire’s wealth amounted to chump change compared to the trillions of dollars owned and controlled by a tiny handful of global, mostly American billionaires.

A philosopher teaching the social values of the capitalist market and calling them democratic is like a pimp teaching social values of the sex market and calling it love, or an economist doing a cost-benefit analysis of dating that skips the expense of dinner and a movie and gets right to the rape. Under the control of such market forces, unless you are the philosopher, the economist or the rapist, ultimately you get screwed. Unfortunately, it is most of the world that has been criminally abused, but rising populations of workers are demanding and taking action for radical change to transform reality before it transforms all of us into lonely souls screeching and tweeting “me-me” while all collapses around “us”.

A real sharing economy will be cooperative, not competitive, involving majority social behavior, not individually imposed anti-social-ism promoted as beneficial for all when it only rewards some at the expense of the many. And too much that passes for “progressive” politics is like the “progressive” tax system which takes far more from the vast majority while rewarding the ruling class of fantastic wealth all manner of deductions, write-offs and constitutionally sanctioned criminality that makes them richer and the rest poorer. That is regressive, not progressive, using words that have nothing to do with the actions, which speak much louder. We need radical economic changes like a 20-hour workweek at a $20 an hour minimum wage, free public transit, worker owned and controlled businesses, public banks, health care for all, and far more. At cries of “how can we afford that? made by the innocent and ignorant under the control of their slick manipulators, try this: Stop spending trillions on war and instead spend it on life. Duh? But, all those jobs will vanish. How will those workers survive? With better jobs that serve humanity – their “identity group” – the environment, and their personal and social lives. Double duh?

We can defend our nation, if such is needed, with a truly defense force that does not involve spending hundreds of billions to place our military in foreign locales. We can save lots of transportation dollars by staying the hell out of other people’s national, political and economic business unless trading with them on a fair, non-superior market forces arrangement but one that treats everyone as having the same rights of pursuit of life and liberty, but in reality instead of just rhetorically.

If we truly mean to aid foreign people in a time of need, we can do it the way Cuba does by sending doctors, nurses and medical equipment at a time of plague or disease, and not the way we’ve always done it by sending bombs, guns and bullets to help prevent looting. And to the really ignorant bordering on stupid charges that we can’t afford to offer our entire population health care under public control because taxes will have to increase: For the rich? Of course. But even if working people see a tax increase of $500, and a health care expense decrease of $1,000, unless their education has exclusively been at private schools, they can see that represents a savings of money, not a loss.

Attempts to transform economic reality have always been, at their core, to establish a class free society of truly equal citizens, with no survival aspect of life denied anyone because it is not affordable. The shame of people living in the street in a society that spends trillions on war and billions on pets should relieve us of any fear of a judgmental, righteous, vindictive Old Testament god. We’d have been wiped out by such a deity, with holocausts, earthquakes, tsunamis and worse until he-she-it was finally rid of us. But our problem is not a deity, nor even the corona virus, which may be a threat to some of us, but  the capitalist virus is a threat to all humanity.

The Sanders campaign is the American equivalent of the growing global demand that ends the hypocrisy of calling minority electoral rule of the rich by the name democracy and using media and political hired help to plant that idiotic notion more deeply into public consciousness.  It wont work anymore. Real democracy means choosing the greater good, not the lesser evil which is the usual choice for the minority that has voted in the past. Hopefully, a majority will show up at the polls and vote for humanity in the majority, contradicting the minority shapers of what passes for conscious reality and beginning the transformation of the nation, in accordance with what is going on all over the world, from a selfish, anti-social and anti-human environment, to one of mutual aid, social justice, peace, and for the first time in human history, rule of the majority. The beginning of that pro-social democracy is dependent on the end of anti-social capitalism.

Trump Betrays His Promise to Protect and Fight for American Workers

Campaigning for the presidency in 2016, Donald Trump promised that, if he was elected, “American worker[s] will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”

Has he kept this promise?

When it comes to protecting workers’ health and safety, his administration has been a disaster.  Once in office, Trump packed the leadership of U.S. regulatory agencies with pro-corporate zealots, leading to predictable results.  They repealed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to keep accurate records of injuries, repealed a rule requiring that federal contractors follow safety and labor laws, and withdrew an OSHA policy allowing workers to participate in OSHA inspections.  In addition, as the AFL-CIO noted, the Trump administration targeted job safety rules for toxic chemicals, mine examinations, and child labor protections for destruction.  It also sharply reduced the number of OSHA inspectors.  As of 2019, only 875 were enforcing health and safety regulations nationwide―the lowest level in the agency’s half-century of operation.

Meanwhile, although Trump bragged in June 2019 that the wages of American workers “are rising at the fastest rate in many decades,” this claim is far from the truth.  In fact, wages rose faster only a few years before, under his predecessor.  Furthermore, an examination of what economists call “real wages”―wages offset by inflation―reveals that they have remained remarkably stagnant during the Trump era.  As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics later reported, “real” average weekly earnings of American workers rose during 2019 by just one-tenth of 1 percent.

The wage stagnation of the Trump era is particularly hard on America’s vast number of low-paid workers.  According to a study by the Brookings Institution appearing in late 2019, 44 percent of U.S. workers (53 million Americans) were employed in low-wage jobs that paid median wages of $18,000 a year.  The writers of the report concluded that “nearly half of all workers earn wages that are not enough, on their own, to promote economic security.”  Moreover, as data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates, the percentage of low-wage workers has grown dramatically.  Naturally, many of these workers have been forced, by economic necessity, to work two―and sometimes three―jobs to survive.

The Trump administration bears considerable responsibility for this impoverishment of American workers.  It has consistently opposed raising the starvation-level federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, set in 2009.  Indeed, Trump opposes establishing any federal wage minimum, and his GOP minions have blocked a minimum wage increase passed in 2019 by the Democratic-controlled House from being introduced in the Senate.  In addition, the Trump administration stymied a scheduled pay raise for federal workers and gutted Obama administration rules that made millions of Americans eligible to receive overtime pay for their overtime work.

Trump has also championed measures to deprive American workers of major healthcare and pension benefits that they have funded through their tax payments.  Although, during his 2015-16 campaign, Trump promised never to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, he has repeatedly sought to do so.   On February 8, 2020, he again insisted that his new federal budget “will not be touching your Social Security or Medicare.”  But, only two days later, Trump unveiled a budget that called for cutting Medicare by half a trillion dollars, Medicaid by $900 billion, and Social Security by $24 billion.

The Trump administration has also been waging an assault upon labor unions, which provide the major organizational muscle defending the rights of America’s workers.  Thanks to Trump’s anti-labor appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an agency established in the 1930s to guarantee fair treatment for workers and their unions, it has become ever more difficult for unions to operate.  The NLRB has issued rulings constraining how and where workers can organize and protest, gerrymandering bargaining units to the benefit of employers, permitting corporations to fire workers in retaliation for union activity, and narrowing the right to strike.  Given the NLRB’s pro-corporate bias, even existing labor organizations ― such as unions comprised of graduate student workers ― are now being threatened with loss of collective bargaining rights.

In recent decades, as an unrelenting corporate attack has crippled unions in the private sector, big business, the wealthy, and their right wing allies in public office have turned to destroying the lingering strength of public sector unions.  Working toward this goal, they have promoted “right-to-work” laws on the state and national level.  These laws, by eliminating the obligation of workers to pay for the union representation they receive, encourage the emergence of millions of “free riders” and, thereby, provide an effective way to undermine unions.  Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, House Republicans introduced the National Right to Work Act and, within days, the White House announced the new president’s support for “right-to-work” laws.

Although anti-union forces never managed to push the National Right to Work Act through Congress, they did secure an important victory.  After they brought the “right-to-work” case of Janus v. AFSCME before the Supreme Court, Trump’s Justice Department joined the case with an anti-union brief.  Then, thanks to Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch, a right wing ideologue, to the Supreme Court, the court issued a 5-4 ruling, overturning precedent and declaring that workers could refuse to pay dues to public sector unions representing them.

In the aftermath of this decision, public sector unions worked vigorously ― and, in most cases, successfully ― to convince workers to pay dues voluntarily.  But their membership did decline.  Consequently, despite opinion polls showing that about half of America’s non-unionized workers want to join a union, the Janus decision and the other anti-labor measures of the Trump administration have combined to reduce union membership in the United States to a record low of 10.3 percent.

As a New York Times editorial concluded, Trump, as president, has sent “a clear message to American workers:  You’re on your own.”

Brother/Sister Can You Spare a Warm Shelter?

On the Streets

The tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to homelessness is what the average person sees on Newport’s streets – mostly men, some women, seeking a public or private building’s overhang to get out of the rain.

Many on the streets are disheveled, struggling with mental health issues and addiction. Others are not so easily identified as homeless people.

Creating a permanent warming shelter is one stop-gap measure the Newport (OR) Working Group on Homelessness has been grappling with for more than a year.

On Feb. 5, more than 20 people filled the cramped space in the Avery building (where DHS offices are co-located with other agencies) to move this group into achievable goals.

Outside the DHS office, fighting against the gale force rain, many of these house-less people were on the covered concrete pad that lead up to the offices housing SNAP and TANF DHS workers.

They were seeking a dry space and companionship.

I asked one fellow – he said he goes by Fred, age 47 — what he wants immediately as a homeless citizen.

“Look, I see families out there with kids in tents. That’s just not right. I am okay living in the woods, but even a dude like me wants something, some place, to get out or the rain and cold. Even some simple open carport like structure, man. Nothing fancy. They should be all over the place.”

We talked about portable toilets, even cold-water taps and sanitary soaps. “Look, with this virus over in China, coming here. . . you think the powers to be would think about sanitation. I guess the solution is to let us die off in the woods . . . or ship us off to come sort of camp.”

Paul looking for camps.

Task Force with Teeth?

Inside, a city council woman, the Lincoln County Sheriff, plethora of social services leaders, private citizens and others coalesced to try to come up with a plan and priorities. The agenda to create safe transitional housing, welcoming and effective car camping regulations, policies for tent camping areas, and siting a warming shelter is daunting. Also, on the agenda was the big slice of the pie – addressing health and health-related issues.

Newport Policewoman Jovita Ballentine and Sheriff Curtis Launders were among the group wondering “how all this money spent on services” for these so-called “frequent users” (of the ER) really helps people with mental health issues who spend their days hanging out at such places as the Newport Rec Center.

For Launders, mental illness and addiction are the root causes of the homeless police agencies run into on a daily basis.

For Samaritan House director Lola Jones, helping homeless get out of the elements and into programs to assist them into permanent housing are part of a bigger picture. She reiterated that the Task Force is not a panacea for all the underlying issues why people end up homeless.

Amanda Cherryholmes, Lincoln City manager for Communities Helping Addicts Negotiate Change Effectively (C.H.A.N.C.E.), was quick to push back on the myth that more homeless services in an area will bring more homeless into the community. Cherryholmes cited counterarguments to that belief.

Image result for Paul Haeder homeless LA Progressive

She also pointed out that car camping allowances and even some concerted effort to have designated spaces with port-a-potty’s and storage facilities don’t address the fact “most people can’t afford to keep their car running when temperatures hit the low thirties or below.”

Also, at the meeting was a board member of Grace Wins Haven. Betty Kamikawa, president of the board of directors, ramified the point many in Newport and Lincoln County profess: “Hotels are struggling because of Air B & B. The vacation rentals have caused so many people to become homeless.”

I met people at Grace Wins after the taskforce adjourned. For Betty and the Haven director, Tracie Flowers, the crisis of unhoused individuals in Lincoln County is growing out of proportion to the solutions.

Image result for Paul Haeder homeless LA Progressive

The US had a shortage of 7.8 million units of affordable housing for very low income (7.5 million) and homeless (400,000) households and individuals in 2017, according the National Low Income Housing Coalition using US Census data. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s count had number of homeless higher, at 550,000 on any given night. The US Department of Education reported that 1.5 million school children experienced a period of homelessness during 2017.

Shelter Us from the Storm

“We need more shelters first,” Tracie said. “Too many people think the homeless are one type of individual. They are not.” That belief creates huge conflicts within social services agencies, non-profits, religious organizations, and for the homeless themselves.

Amanda Cherryholmes wants a more robust assessment of people coming into shelters and transitional housing. “We need to figure out what services the individual needs. Each one has different needs.”

She militated against the idea just any individual should end up in a warming shelter or in car camping arrangements. “There are two distinct groups. Families and young people needing shelter. And then single men.”

She pointed out that having a sexual offender among a group of homeless in a communal setting is not a good idea.

There are some brighter horizons in the mix. Some churches are stepping up to the plate.

Image result for Paul Haeder homeless LA Progressive

Tiny Homes, Relaxing Zoning

Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Kelsey Ingalls, on her Feb. 2, 2020 church blog discusses one small effort to avail the housing shortage: six cottages at time on church property.

“We formed the Exploration Team which is undertaking a feasibility study to form a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lincoln County and other local service agencies to help meet the housing needs of homeless, single-parentfamiliesThe Exploration Team is looking into the idea of building six two-bedroom/one-bath cottages on the southeast corner of the Church campus.  We are proposing a circular village layout with front porches and a central common area. Supportive services would be provided by our local service agency partners.”

Before the task force convened, Blair Bobier, Regional Director of Legal Aid Services, sent out an email framing the impetus behind the Newport Working Group on Homeless:

“There are many service providers who agree that some form of a ‘coalition’ model is an important next step towards addressing homelessness in our community.  In other places, one form of this model included a regular meeting of elected officials and law enforcement, along with service providers, to ensure that there was sufficient coordination among involved parties.  As has been pointed out, here in Newport, the Lincoln County Affordable Housing Partners (AHP) is a great example of service providers coming together on a regular basis—along with developers, government officials and members of the faith community—to exchange information and work towards common goals.”

With this huge brain trust in one room, and the compassion and passionate solutions-driven people commenting on what needs to be prioritized, it’s clear Newport and Lincoln County at large have many hurdles to overcome as homelessness and housing precarious situations are growing.

Relaxing zoning laws, and rolling up of sleeves will help develop coordinated efforts to get people out of the cold, screen people through various social services resources, and begin to help coastal communities look at the long-range health of affordable housing in this coastal area.

“Over the two years’ operating, Grace Wins has had over 2,000 clients coming through. Some stay a while. The fact is by this September there will be no winter shelter as the Commons will be torn down. Nothing for the homeless and the farmer’s market,” Betty Kamikawa stated.

Since Housing and Urban Development (HUD) no longer funds states for shelters, the onus is on states, counties and municipalities to grapple with the steadily growing problem.

Image result for Paul Haeder homeless LA Progressive

Running a Permanent Shelter Costs Money

Without financial support, and without volunteers, a shelter is a pipe dream. “We have to have financial support,” Jones stated.

Cynthia Jacobi, Newport City Council, told me at a PFLAG event at OCCC Feb. 8 she is hopeful that HB – 4001 will spur serious discourse on what to do about the homeless population in relationship to cities having the tools to allow for shelters. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has introduced a $120 million proposal to allow cities to more easily site homeless shelters. Kotek also wants a statewide emergency declaration on the homeless problem.

Jacobi too sees the need for immediate mitigation and a shelter for this emergency-sized problem here in Newport.

Pastor Ingalls on her blog tells her congregation a chilling fact most social services agencies in Lincoln County also shudder to contemplate – There’s a 17% homeless rate in our local schools. How a community frames the idea that nearly 1 out of every 5 students don’t have stable housing while the county is home to many second home residents will be important.

Several compelling stories about people who are homeless dying exposed to the elements were discussed at the meeting: According to Kamikawa, an 87-year-old Lincoln County resident was found dead in her car. She had been in an apartment living with her disabled son. Electrical wires were eaten through by rats. She had no electricity. She was evicted. She had a stroke while living in her car with her son.

Putting a face on and a story behind each homeless person might get the average person to think about how he or she can support a shelter and permanent housing solution as well as volunteering some hours each month to stem the tide of tragedies like this one.

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Grilling Newport City Councilwoman

I decided to ask a Newport City Councilwoman some questions on homelessness and next steps.

Paul Haeder:  What role do you see citizens joining the Homeless Task Force?

Cynthia Jacobi: I’m the City Liaison to the Homeless Work Group/coalition.

PH:  What role do you see citizens joining the Homeless Task Force?

CJ: I see the role of citizens in the new homeless coalition work group (as yet without an official name or title) as coming forth with the best ideas tailored for our community. Social services, government entities, law-enforcement, interfaith community and concerned citizens can all have a Voice in shaping these policies.

PH:  Why are you involved?

CJ: I have always felt a strong sense of social justice.  I see Families with more than one parent working who still cannot afford safe and decent shelter. Sometimes the cost of an illness, a car repair, or other unexpected costs forces the choice between buying groceries or paying rent or utility bills. Children in unstable situations are especially vulnerable.

As a wealthy society, in good conscience we cannot say there is no room at the inn. We have the means to house all of our population.  With strong leadership and compassion, I know we can do this.

PH: Will the Task Force cover larger issues?

CJ: There are so many overlapping issues:

The new Oregon State House Bill 4001 which may be a game changer in zoning, and funding.

All coastal communities have been addressing the Short-Term Rentals impact on housing inventory for working folks.

It is a valid suggestion to have a study on the actual impact economically and socially of STRs. For example:   Does the room tax cover expenses of police and fire departments, wear on roads, etc.?  Who would finance this study?

The City of Newport has been instrumental in building Surfview, the 110-apartment complex for lower-income citizens. This will open by summer. This was accomplished with a complex partnership of public and private funds, and the leadership in local city and county government. Need to do more of this.

PH: What role do you see mental health services playing in this move to have both temporary homeless facilities (a night facility) and also a warming shelter?

CJ: My understanding is that the county mental health providers have formed out-reach teams Which will go directly to unsheltered people, assess their needs and provide services and contacts for assistance.

PH: Car camping at churches and non-profits and governmental parking areas WITH some sort of case management and oversight seems like a good first step in getting the housing insecure into a system of evaluation and moving ahead with housing options. Is this the biggest and easiest priority now?

CJ: I think the quickest way to make an impact is to allow safe, supervised car camping in Newport.  Newport Planning Commission is in the process of examining our ordinances to allow car camping in certain Defined areas.  Along with oversight, outreach teams, and case management, this is the easiest first step to create safe shelter areas. Women, children, and seniors living in their cars are especially vulnerable. At the very least, they need a safe place to stay at night. We can do this.

I heard anecdotally that much of the seasonal help lives in their cars and rents small storage lockers for belongings.

PH: Do you know anyone personally or within a family circle who have been or are housing insecure, or homeless?

CJ: Personally, I have a few family members who have experienced bad luck, poor choices, and mental illness causing them to live in unstable conditions.

My husband, Gary, and I have volunteered at the overnight shelter.  We have met people displaced from their previous long-term housing, people who can’t afford rent, people who are disabled.

A common problem is affordability when working folks have to pay the first month, the last month, a damage deposit and utility hook ups. Before any of this can happen, there is background check costing $50 per adult for each application, even to be placed on a waiting list. While realizing that landlords must be protected, this situation seems unfair. How many working families can afford $2500 and more up front?

PH: What role do businesses and the chambers have in helping get some sort of affordable housing for the very people who clean the fish, serve the food, chop the veggies, clean the hotels, etc.? Can we get a round-table together, a charrette, where we bring a large brain trust together to attack the housing insecurity and the street homeless issues as a multi-pronged problem to solve?

CJ: As far as the responsibilities of businesses and chambers of commerce: Some businesses have stepped up to help their workers.  In particular, one of the fish plants has purchased motels and converted them to longer-term living quarters.

In the last few years, Newport has lost three large economy motels: one deteriorated and was bulldozed, one burned, and the fish plant bought another one. (or two?). These motels were often used as emergency shelters with vouchers by government agencies.

– The availability of housing related to jobs is affected by public transport access.

– Walkability and bicycle access are also important.

Image result for Cynthia Jacobi Newport City Council
Jacobi third from the right.