Archive for June, 2009

Morty’s Question of the Week (#2)

Posted in Morty's Question of the Week with tags , on June 28, 2009 by Mort the Sport

The back story: This question should be filed under political philosophy because, having read Marx, I’m interested in the philosophical underpinnings of his ideas. However, I’ve been told by professors that, in some ways, Marx was really a romantic poet. I think they meant that his ideas are based on fairly romantic premises. One is that workers always have the welfare of their fellow workers in mind when they act collectively.

The question: Is there an example of a successful communist government in the true Marxist sense of that word?

A minor qualification: By successful, I mean a government that held Marxist ideals while implementing them for the benefit of its people.

Answer (by BP): In a word, no.  I have been trying to rack my brain to think of a single example of a government that fits your criteria.  There have been a number of countries that have called themselves “communist” but that doesn’t mean that they have actually put in place policies that were aimed at helping all the people of their countries.  Sure, there have countries that tried to help their citizens, but they have not gone to far as to be communist.  And there have countries that called themselves communist but were really just socialist dictatorships (e.g. China or the former Soviet Union).  So I would have to say that there have not been any countries that have successfully pulled this off.

The reasons for this are much more difficult to understand.  I think that you would have to look at each country individually to see how each went in the wrong direction.  I would simply say that it is often difficult to get those in power to share that power with others.

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  – Lord Acton (1834-1902)


Honduran President Arrested (Updated)

Posted in Latin America with tags , on June 28, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

I know it is hard to believe but there are other things going on in the world than Iran (have we forgotten about that already?) and Michael Jackson (I’ll keep my mouth shut about that).

The President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was arrested shortly before a vote on a referendum was set to take place that would decide whether he would be able to seek a second term.  According to the Honduran constitution, the President is allowed only one term, and his was set to expire in January of 2010.  So Zelaya decided that he would hold a referendum to try to win another term.  Unfortunately for him, many others in government (even within his own party) did not like the idea.  So someone (most likely in the military) had him arrested.

But the part that is most interesting to me is this from the BBC:

In an interview with Spain’s El Pais newspaper published on Sunday, Mr Zelaya – an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – said a planned coup attempt against him had been thwarted after the US refused to back it.

“Everything was in place for the coup and if the US embassy had approved it, it would have happened. But they did not,” Mr Zeleya said.

“I’m only still here in office thanks to the United States.”

I have no way of knowing if this is true or not, but it is interesting.  And considering the way that Latin America has been dealt with in the past, I would not be surprised at all.

UPDATE: Well, I knew as soon as I first saw an article on this that it would be a big story.  But it seems that this story is even more complicated than I first realized.

First, I do not believe that the US had anything to do with Zelaya’s ouster.

In addition, I do not believe that Zelaya was even ousted in a coup.  At least not in the traditional sense.  He was trying essentially to subvert the Congress by taking his referendum directly to the people.  But his referendum would have changed the Constitution, but in Honduras any change in the Constitution must first come from Congress and then to the people.  But since Congress would not go along with Zelaya’s plan, he decided to just hold a referendum on his own.

The Supreme Court then ruled the referendum illegal and told the military not to go through the normal processes that would take place during an election.  I find it curious that the military runs the elections in Honduras, but who am I to criticize.  After Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the top military commander, told Zelaya that he wouldn’t run the election, Zelaya fired him.

So just before the election was to be held, the Congress told the military to arrest the President.  They did so.  And then took him to Costa Rica.  I don’t really know how constitutional it is to arrest the President and take him to another country, but it does seem that Zelaya was doing things that were technically illegal, and the Congress dealt with them in the best way they knew how.  Fortunately, I have not read that anyone was hurt when he was arrested.

Of course, some in the country have been protesting Zelaya’s ouster, and there is fighting in the streets.  Hopefully order can be restored with a minimal amount of bloodshed.  I would hate to see a situation like the one in Iran.

Something else that I find curious is the people that are supporting Zelaya.  Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and even Barack Obama are calling for his return to power.  Perhaps that is because of how he was taken or perhaps there is more to the story than we are being told.

This is certainly a complicated situation and it is hard to know what is going on without being there, but the way that this is being labeled a military coup seems disingenuous.  Especially since the military was not in power after Zelaya was taken and is not in power now.  In fact, the person who would be in charge should something happen to the sitting President is the one who is now in power, as the Honduran Constitution dictates.

(Yes, I am so nerdy/wonky, that I am in the process of reading the entire Honduran Constitution with the help of Google Translate.)

A Battlefield in Afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2009 by Mort the Sport

What shivers in the night

is not the soldier in fatigues; it is the tree line.

Though her rifle has never failed her,

scores of men might

laugh her off the side of the mountain. She stands

on watch; her thoughts are pieces of ice

that cannot thaw. Back home

the night does not blacken this much.

The trees dissolve and everything takes on a dream-sheen.

She feels her father’s stiff finger poking her shoulder,

clutches her rifle to her chest. Her heartbeat bursts

in her ears, drowning out all other sounds.

Something has left a bad taste

in her mouth. Her eyes fill with tears, but she will not

let a single drop escape. A scream is stifled. She takes aim,


The round sings far into the night, hitting nothing,

not even the trees. The mountain path winds around a bend

she cannot see past. Her pink shift dress,

the summers she went to her Grandma’s farm,

laughter and hay bales. This is what swims into her mind

just before she realizes

she is lying in a shallow ditch on the side of the road.

Her next thought is that she doesn’t

want to be part of the body count. In the movies, the hero never dies.

She’s got to live to see her brother in Barstow,

hear his smoke-battered voice,

feel his rough carpenter’s hands, see his pained smile.

Thoughts of her mother’s recipe book, its dingy pages

pasted together by confectioner’s sugar.

What is that taste in her mouth?

Why is it so sweet?


a pain is searing. The mountain gnashes its teeth, cutting

them baby-like on her trembling body.

What is that ringing in her ears?

The stars trail across the sky

like maggots at the bottom of a trashcan.

What is that taste in her mouth? Ash?

Inside her an emptiness opens like a bombed out village.

She imagines herself in purdah,

her face trembling behind a burkah. She would put on a veil

if she had to, but there’d be nothing behind it for the poppy farmers

to dream about. Instead she wears this uniform.

Why can’t she move her legs?

She finally remembers the explosion. That’s why this is all wrong:

There’s no sound, not even wind tracing the canyon walls

or mortar fire in the distance. She burns

in the dead of night, the ash filtering down through the sky

like slow motion snow.

She finally hears what her brother hears:


The weight of the air is too much. She will finally see

her father on the other side.

Open your arms, she thinks.

I could have been a wife, a mother, but this war has removed everything

I could have been and replaced it

with stillness.

The “Van”guard of the Coming Green Economy

Posted in Economics, Environment with tags , , , , on June 27, 2009 by Mort the Sport

The beauty of a book like The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones is that it explodes the persistent myth that policies are either good for the economy or good for the environment. Its basic premise is that to revitalize America, we must abandon our outmoded “gray” fossil fuel based economy in favor of green economy powered by renewable energy. Jones not only presents the reader with an impassioned justification for a renewable energy economy. He supplies the movement with a set of guiding principles and policy objectives. His book reads like a how-to manual for environmental justice activists. Not many progressives would argue with these three core principles that he articulates to undergird the new green economy: “equal protection for all,”equal opportunity for all,” and “reverence for all creation.” Jones has definitely won my respect and appreciation.

In addition, the book foregrounds the class dimension of environmental activism. He says a lot that needs to be said about the inequities of the environmental movement, arguing for what he calls “eco-equity.” As an activist in social justice movements, working primarily with the poor and the previously incarcerated, Jones is keenly aware that people of color and poor folks distrust the environmental movement. Many of them see environmentalism as an elitist enterprise that is too distant from the concerns of working people. As an antidote to this way of thinking Jones suggests that the environmental movement should focus on the economic opportunities that the new green economy will afford workers.

Jones identifies what he calls “the dual crisis”: “radical socioeconomic inequality” and “rampant environmental destruction.” Then he provides background on the previous waves of environmentalism: the conservation movement of the early twentieth-century and the what he calls the “regulation movement,” those campaigns that developed in the wake of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. All this history would be a tedious reminder without his comments about how each of them failed to be inclusive. Jones suggests that the third wave of environmentalism must focus on inclusion and investment. (He’s pretty pro-capitalist, though he did start out as a Marxist and a black nationalist.) Jones offers ways in which the various kinds of renewable energy and other sustainable practices like waste management and organic farming can provide jobs for workers with only a modest set of skills. He identifies the fields that can lead to quick job advancement (such as the solar power industry, which has a shortage of project managers).

Believe it or not, the green collar economy is already underway, and Jones points to many examples that support his overall argument. However, he notes that these few examples are but a drop in the bucket compared to what the country needs to wean itself off of deleterious fossil fuel. Jones claims that a massive public-private partnership is in order that will only be spurred by a grassroots movement. Among other things, he suggests that the president ought to make a public commitment to jobs and a carbon cap in the first 100 days of his presidency.

The 100-day mark has come and gone, and Obama has spent only a fraction of his political capital to move these two agendas forward; however, his smartest move was appoint Van Jones as the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I just hope that Jones is given enough clout in the CEQ and enough money to implement his cutting-edge policies and programs.

The House Climate Bill Passed!

Posted in Environment with tags , , on June 26, 2009 by Mort the Sport

As you may have already heard, the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed in the House today by a narrow margin: 219-212. (BP: To see how your Representative voted click here.) Even though it’s been watered down already by various members of the House (like the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee), I am happy that it passed. I like the comments of Grist’s David Roberts. He sees ACES as one piece of the energy-climate-environment puzzle. He suggests that we can’t expect Congress to spark a full-scale energy revolution with one piece of legislation. Some folks are not as sanguine about the success of the bill’s passage.

My hope is that this vote represents a first step in a movement toward cleaner energy and less carbon dioxide in the air. I hope that this bill and the stimulus package passed earlier this year will spur the creation of many green-collar jobs so that we can solve the economic problem by getting this country off of its dependency on foreign oil.

Now the bill moves on to the Senate, and so do the environmental activists who want to strengthen the bill before it becomes law.

Click here to find your Senator to ask him or her to strengthen the bill when discussion begins after the recess.

Public Figures and Privacy

Posted in Domestic with tags , on June 26, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

Is privacy dead in our culture?  I know that in this world of Facebook and MySpace, we like to let everything hang out (sometimes quite literally), but do we really need to have a public confession every time there is an indiscretion?

Recently, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) and Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) have admitted to having an affair.  Of course, my initial reaction whenever I hear something like this is: so what?  I really don’t care what these guys do in their personal lives.  I feel bad for their wives and families, but I really don’t care.  Unlike so many Republicans, I am not concerned with what one does in the bedroom or who they do it with.  It just doesn’t matter to me.  Unfortunately, it seems that there are many in the public who do want to hear this kind of stuff and love to judge others based on it.  There are calls for Sanford to resign.  If all he did was have an affair, then I don’t see why he should resign.  If, however, it is proven that he used public money for his little dalliances, then that is another matter entirely.  (Update: That is apparently what he did.)  He should not only resign but he should have to pay the money back to the people of South Carolina.

But all of this makes me think of public figures in general.  Whether they are politicians or actors or musicians, the public feels that they have every right to know every detail of their lives simply because their chosen profession puts them in the spotlight.  I think we need a renewed call for privacy in all of our lives, but especially for those who for one reason or another are in the public eye.

When websites like TMZ and people like Perez Hilton do nothing but report the daily goings-on of celebrities brought to us by paparazzi, it makes me think that privacy is just dead in our culture.  These kinds of websites would not exist (or thrive) if people understood that these celebrities are people too.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have people following your every move with video cameras?  To me, it sounds like a nightmare.

Perhaps I am in the minority here, but I, for one, think that privacy should be honored no matter how many movies a person has been in or how many albums they have made or even how many times they have been elected to public office.  We need to have a clear distinction between public lives and private lives.  And it seems that every day that line gets less and less recognizable.

Response to Question #1

Posted in Morty's Question of the Week with tags , , on June 23, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

MTS: This is the second (acknowledged) incident in which you stood idly by while someone made a completely or at least somewhat dubious claim.  I think you need to step up and let the world know that you are a Political Junkie and you are here to speak your mind.  Even if you don’t want to confront them and tell these people that they’re wrong, you can muddy the waters a little and give them something to think about.

(Take that with as much salt as you need to.)

Now, on to your question…

While I would agree that there are a number of laws that protect workers, I think that unions are important and play a necessary role in the political sphere.  I can think of at least three things that unions do for workers that are not covered by current laws.

First, with the use of collective bargaining, workers can often get higher wages, better benefits, and even better working conditions.  If one or two workers say that they want higher wages, they may (if they’re lucky) get something for themselves, but it is highly unlikely that they would be able to get anything for the whole group.  So it is much better to bargain as a whole rather than piecemeal.

Second, strikes are a very important tool in the workers toolbelt.  And to think of strikes without unions is just silly.  (Worker: I’m on strike, I want better working conditions for me and my fellow workers.  Boss: You’re fired!)  Only when workers act collectively do the bosses stand up and pay attention.  If their entire workforce walked out, they would have to take notice.  That would be infinitely harder without unions.

Finally, unions don’t just fight for workers in the workplace itself.  They also fight in the halls of Congress, on the streets and in neighborhoods.  Whether it is lobbying directly or raising money for candidates, unions are always working to get more and better laws passed for workers throughout the US.

So if you have ever had to use Worker’s Compensation, or if you simply enjoy your weekends off, thank the unions.  If you like vacations and medical insurance, thank the unions.  If you are glad that your child doesn’t have to work or if you like your overtime pay, thank the unions.  But the unions are not only a thing of the past, they should be a part of every workers’ future.  So if you’re a worker, join a union.

When we work together, there is nothing we can’t do.