Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My 60th Birthday

On December 22, 2012 I reached the age of sixty.  This was a milestone and I decided to spend the day with Judi visiting the Longwood Gardens which is about forty-five minutes from our home in Philadelphia, PA.  The gardens are beautiful and visiting Longwood is a nice escape from our day-to-day lives. 

Longwood used to be the 1,077-acre estate of Pierre S. du Pont.  Ferdinand Lundberg argued in his book The Rich and the Super-Rich that the du Pont’s were the most affluent family in the nation.  This was because the du Pont’s not only owned DuPont Chemical Corporation, they also owned an enterprise known as General Motors.  This enormous wealth not only built the Longwood Gardens, but just about ten minutes from Longwood is the 979-acre estate that was owned by Pierre’s relative Henry Francis du Pont.  The gardens on this estate are called Winterthur.

Located at Longwood is one of the largest conservatories in the world.  There are rooms in the conservatory that house plants from every climate that include: tropical, desert, and temperate.  We happened to be there to view the dinner table the du Pont’s would have had when Pierre was alive.  A photo of that holiday table is pictured above and it might have had about 40 place settings.

One thing the official tour neglects to mention is that every penny that the du Pont family owned, and continues to own, came from the profits derived from thousands of auto and chemical workers.  Without the day-to-day toil of all these workers the du Pont’s never would have been able to amass the fortunes they enjoy.

Finding a place to eat

After visiting Longwood, Judi suggested that we have dinner at a restaurant in Kennett Square which is just a few minutes from the gardens.  The restaurants in this town appeared to be pretentious and over-priced.  It was a cold day and for a few minutes we didn’t know where we’d be eating.

Then, I had the idea of visiting a local bookstore and thought that someone there might know about a good place to eat.  We discovered that this bookstore was a voluntary venture where the books are donated and the profits go to a charity.  I saw a hardcover biography of Franz Fanon that I wanted.  The original price was $40 and the bookstore price was $4.  When the sales people learned that I was celebrating my birthday, they gave me the book as a gift.

The proprietors of the bookstore recommended a Mexican restaurant, Taqueria Moroleon, which was about fifteen minutes from Kennett Square.  Driving to the restaurant we passed the mushroom farms and hot-houses. 

The Kennett Square area is the center of mushroom farming in the United States.  Due to the insanity of the capitalist system, workers from Mexico travel to Kennett Square to pick mushrooms, working under horrendous conditions.  This is so we can have mushrooms in our pizzas, omelets, and pasta sauce.  The Spanish word for mushrooms is championes.

In the middle of these mushroom fields was a truck depot.  We saw eighteen-wheel tractor-trailers that, no doubt, carry those little mushroom boxes we see in the supermarket. 

The Taqueria Moroleon was an excellent suggestion.  The food was as good as any Mexican food I’ve ever had.  Unlike the pretentious restaurants in Kennett Square, the crowd at the Taqueria appeared to be working-class which made us feel right at home.

Well, this is how I celebrated sixty years on the planet earth.  While we both enjoyed the day, clearly there needs to be a lot of work to make this a world where there is human dignity for all.

You can see my photos of Longwood at:


Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Untold History of the United States – By Oliver Stone – A review

Oliver Stone has produced a ten-part documentary on the history of the United States for the Showtime network.  This documentary is based on the book of the same name that Stone co-authored with Peter Kuznick.  Stone’s purpose in preparing this project has been to give his audience a different picture of the history of this country.  While Stone gives us a number of facts most people are unaware of, the core of his point of view promotes a pro-capitalist perspective.  In order to do this, he must continue to keep essential historical facts hidden from the public.

What is capitalism?

In order to give some perspective to what a rational history of the United States would look like, we might start with an explanation of what the capitalist system is.  Capitalism came about because there were problems that emanated from societies ruled by royal families of kings and queens.  A new capitalist class emerged that was fundamentally interested in manufacturing commodities for profit.

This new class represented a progressive change in history.  For the first time there were mass production industries that had the potential of ending poverty in the world.  The problem of capitalism is that while the potential exists to eliminate poverty, because profits are the top priority, poverty is an absolute necessity of the capitalist system. 

Another problem of capitalism is the instability of this system.  For various reasons, the percentage of profits on investments tends to fall.  We can see this clearly when we look at the history of interest rates on savings accounts.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s the interest on savings accounts was about four to five percent.  Today, that same rate of interest is less than one percent.

This means that capitalists need to invest more and more in order to have a smaller and smaller rate of return on investments.  This state of affairs provokes capitalists to invest hundreds of billions of dollars every year in advertising.  This huge investment allows capitalists to maximize sales, selling commodities that many of us do not use. 

The falling rate of profit also demands that capitalists be obsessed with cutting costs.  This is why many capitalists have moved their operations to other countries in order to take advantage of lower labor costs.  This is also why capitalists have been, lowering the standard of living in the United States by giving wage increases that do not keep up with inflation.  The result has been that wages for working people have, in effect, been cut at a rate of about 30% over the past thirty years.

All of this means that depressions do not happen because of mistakes by capitalists or politicians.  No, when people who have power are obsessed with maximizing sales and minimizing costs, then, economic crisis’s are inevitable.

Therefore, while the potential has existed to eliminate poverty for quite a long time, the capitalist world moves closer and closer to another depression.  In their book, Untold History, Stone and Kuznick showed how during the last depression banks closed their doors and capitalists cut industrial production by 50%.  This was at a time when the official unemployment rate was twenty-five percent.

When we understand these facts, there is only one conclusion.  The only way to counteract the crisis caused by capitalism is to put in place a different kind of political economic system where human needs and not profits are the priority.  When capitalist politicians advance their strategies, they can only lead to the same kind of human made catastrophe that emerged in 1929.

Would Henry Wallace have been a better President?

One of the themes of the Untold History is to argue that the United States would have had a better government if Henry Wallace became President.  Wallace was the Vice-President in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt up until a few months before Roosevelt’s death.

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick argue that if Wallace became president, the government would have been more tolerant of the Soviet Union.  They also argue that had Wallace become President, the government would have been more supportive of labor and more critical of corporate power. 

Certainly Wallace made numerous statements that would make someone think that a Wallace presidency would have been different.  However, it is always best to judge people, not only by what they say, but by what they do.

Henry Wallace was the Vice-President under the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The record of the FDR administration is there for everyone to see.  Roosevelt probably used federal troops in attempting to break more strikes than any other President in history.  In spite of this vicious opposition, many labor unions won representation during the Roosevelt administration.  Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act that gave workers the right to the union representation they had already won through labor battles against corporations.

During the depression, as we might imagine, working people had an extremely harsh view of corporations.  Everyone knew the simple fact that corporations caused the depression that resulted in immense hardship.  Roosevelt manipulated this sentiment by making statements critical of corporations, while he viciously advanced policies that defended those who controlled corporate power.  Stone and Kuznick showed how Roosevelt refused to nationalize the banks even after millions of working people lost their savings.  This action protected the wealth of capitalists at the expense of working people.

Roosevelt refused to support the Costigan-Wagner Act that would have outlawed lynching in the United States.  Anti-lynching legislation had been advanced for over a decade.  Thousands of Black people had been lynched and the federal government rarely acted to prosecute the murderers.  However, Roosevelt was a democrat and the Democratic Party, as well as the Ku Klux Klan, ran the governments in the Jim Crow states.  Roosevelt did not want to antagonize his fellow democrats and refused to sign the Costigan-Wagner Act.

Roosevelt also adapted to this viscous racism by sending about 120,000 citizens of the United States, who happened to be Japanese, to concentration camps.           
Stone and Kuznick showed how Henry Wallace was from Iowa and became the Secretary of Agriculture before he was named Vice-President.  Wallace signed legislation that ordered farmers to destroy crops and young hogs in order to increase the price of food and clothing.  Wallace was clearly troubled by signing this order.  However, he signed the order and made it more difficult for people who were suffering during the depression to purchase the necessities of life.

Would Wallace have been friendlier to the Soviet Union?

Stone argued that Wallace would have been friendlier to the Soviet Union than President Harry S. Truman.  Challenging this assertion is easy when we look at the facts.

Historically superpowers have always dominated the capitalist system.  Before the first and second world wars, Britain was the world’s superpower.  The world wars signaled the fact that the British empire was collapsing.  Germany, the United States, and Japan were the world powers that were attempting to replace Britain as the world’s superpower.

Fascist Germany had taken military control of much of Europe.  When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, most analysts didn’t think this invasion could have been stopped.  Germany had dominated Czarist Russia in the first-world war. 

Joseph Stalin, the head of the Soviet government, had betrayed the revolution, murdered all of its leaders as well as many of the top ranks of the officer corps.  In spite of the fact that the Germans had prepared for the invasion, Stalin was taken completely by surprise when the German troops invaded.  Yet, in spite of Stalin’s horrendous lack of intelligent leadership, the Soviet Union defeated the German armed forces at a cost of over 20 million lives.

For the United States government, this appeared to be like a gift made in heaven.  The nation that was working to dominate the world had been defeated and, at this point, the U.S. didn’t need to make much of an effort.  Only after Germany had been defeated in Stalingrad did the Allied forces invade at Normandy.  While the U.S. never engaged more than ten German divisions in the war, the Soviet Union engaged 200 German divisions.

This was the reality that caused the U.S. government to temporarily change its hostile relations with the Soviet Union and send some aid to their Russian allies.  However, the U.S. is a nation dominated by capitalist relations.  Before and after the second-world war, the United States had hostile relations with the Soviet Union.

Clearly, no one knows what the world might look like had Henry Wallace become President of the United States.  However, Wallace proved himself to be a consistent capitalist politician and there is no reason to believe that had he become President, that the history of the world would have been significantly different.

(to be continued)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

37 schools may face closure in Philadelphia

Yesterday I received a real estate tax bill in the mail that says I owe about 20% more than I paid last year.  This morning I read a front-page story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about how 37 public schools in the city will probably be closed.  So, the city government is telling me that we will have to pay more money for fewer services.  This is the Christmas present the city government has given to it’s residents.  In order to fully appreciate the complete insanity of these policies, we need to give some background to the story.

Tax abatements

In the past few years Philadelphia has had the largest tax abatement program in the nation.  This means that the owners of many new and expensive skyscrapers in the city pay no taxes for ten years.  While the affluent owners of these buildings are enjoying their tax abatements, the school system has been cut to the tune of $400 million.

Racial discrimination

One of the borders of Philadelphia is City Line Avenue.  On the other side of City Line Avenue is the Lower Merion School district.  Per student funding for public schools in Lower Merion is double of what it is in Philadelphia.  The student population in Philadelphia is overwhelmingly Black and Latino.  The student population in Lower Merion is overwhelmingly white.

Back in 1954 the Supreme Court made its decision of Brown, v. Board of Education.  In this decision the court ruled that: “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”  In this decision, the Supreme Court argued that segregated education is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution that supports equal protection for all citizens.

The reason why there is gross disparity in educational funding is because there was an exception in the Brown v. Board of education ruling.  This ruling only applies to discrimination within cities.  Governments can discriminate all they want as long as this discrimination takes place outside the city limits.

The insanity of the capitalist system

When politicians talk about the need for cutbacks in social services, they know that the resources have been available for about 100 years to do away with poverty in the world.  Certainly there are sufficient numbers of people who would like to teach children the things we all need to know.  Certainly there are enough people who would like to see this happen so educational services could be vastly improved.

We can also say that there are enough workers as well as raw materials to make vast improvements in the standard of living in the world.  Yes, we all need and want: food, clothing, housing, health care, education, transportation, communication, as well as access to cultural activities.  The resources exist to provide everyone in the world with all these goods and services.  So, what is the problem?

We live in a society where the political and economic system is capitalism.  In this system human needs are not the priority.  Corporate profits determine all government action and dictate what will and will not be produced.

One would think that since the owners of capital have so much money, they would be satisfied with their wealth and allow everyone to have the means to live.  This is not how capitalism works.

In 1929 there was a depression and in the year 2008 the world nearly avoided another total economic collapse.  The fact that depressions are a constant feature of capitalism demonstrates how these events will continually occur as long as capitalism exists.

Clearly no one wants schools to close or depressions to happen.  Yet, these are the necessary consequences of the natural functioning of the capitalist system.

The Cuban reality

About 100 miles south of the United States is the island nation of Cuba.  The Cuban people had a political revolution and abolished capitalist property relations.  As a result, today Cuba has more teachers and doctors than any other nation in the world.  This is in a nation that is 100% Latino and about 40% Black. 

Clearly Cuba had many serious problems.  The revolutionary government inherited a nation that had an inadequate manufacturing infrastructure.  Cuba also exists in a predominantly capitalist world that is hostile to a government where human needs are the priority.  This means that the Cuban people lack in many of the goods that people have in developed capitalist nations.

However, the fact that Cuba has been able to survive and advance health care and education in the face of an all out crisis of capitalism is something we need to look at.  Cuba has shown the world that it is possible to make vast improvements in the standard of living of workers and farmers, if we advance a government where human needs are seen as more important than profits.

When we see taxes increase, as schools close, and jobs are eliminated, while we are expected to do more work, for effectively less money, yes, we can look at the Cuban road with a different perspective.  We can make this planet a much better place to live.  We can only do this when we have a government of working people that believes that human needs are more important than profits.     

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

1493 – uncovering the new world Columbus created - A review

Charles C. Mann’s book argues that globalized relations started with Columbus’ mistake of when he discovered a very old world.

The so-called educational system in the United States exposes students to a mythology course disguised as “American History.”  James Loewen is one of the historians who uncovered many of the routine falsifications in these courses with his book, Lies My Teacher Told Me. 

One of the myths contained in these courses is that Native Americans were not civilized and they needed exposure to the refinements of European civilization in order to escape the darkness.  This myth was blasted away in the book American Indian Contributions to the World – 15,000 years of inventions and innovations by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield.

Charles C. Mann views this history from a different perspective.  His book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus looks at some of the scientific discoveries that have demolished many of the ideas we have associated with Native Americans.

Where did the forests come from?

While many of us assume that the forests of the Western Hemisphere were virgin at the time Europeans came to this part of the world, Mann has a different point of view.  He argues that Native Americans planted many of the trees in these forests.

Today, farmers would never plant oak trees in order to harvest crops of edible acorns.  However, to the Native American, acorns were an edible food and oak trees are useful in many ways that benefitted their lifestyle.

In his book, 1493 – uncovering the new world Columbus created, Mann looked at how the world changed because of European and Asian contact with the Western Hemisphere.  One of his observations was how Native Americans cleared large sections of forestland in order to plant crops.

The consequences of Columbus’ mistake

Christopher Columbus’ goal was to find a shipping rout to China by sailing west.  Despite what we have been taught in school, Columbus did not discover that the world was round.  To the contrary, Mann argues that scientists had known the world was round centuries before Columbus.  In fact, Columbus made an erroneous calculation that contradicted the known science of his day.  He argued that the world was much smaller than it is and he proved himself wrong.

However, the Spanish did find large quantities of silver in the Americas.  The Chinese wanted this silver because they did not have a stable currency.  Mann argued that between 30 and 50 percent of the silver of the Americas went to China.

The Chinese were eager to trade silk and many other commodities for silver.  The Europeans were used to garments made of wool and did not develop cotton garments for many years.  As we might imagine, there was a strong market for silk made in China.  The Chinese emperor ordered peasants to plant mulberry trees.  These trees provided food for the silkworms.       

The world discovers new foods from the Americas

However, gold and silver were not the most valuable commodities that came from the Americas.  Corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, as well as chili peppers were all crops that had their origins in the Americas.

In Europe and Asia there was a population increase because of the introduction of these crops.  Because potatoes were easier to farm than grains, farmers had more time to develop handicrafts.

In China the introduction of these crops meant that food could be grown in mountainous regions.  This meant that farmers cut down forests to make room for food crops which allowed the population to increase.  However, when China lost many of its mountainous forests, this increased flooding which was one reason for famines.

Off the coast of Ecuador are the Galapagos Islands.  On these islands there are huge amounts of bird droppings that contain nitrogen.  Farmers used these bird droppings to fertilize the soil and many crops did not need to be rotated as a result.

However, mixed in with the bird droppings was a fungus that destroyed potato crops all over the world.  The potato originated in the Andean Mountains.  The native people of that region used different methods to farm potatoes.  They planted numerous varieties of potatoes and created a border around each field.  Because the native people used these methods, they never had a potato blight the rest of the world suffered from.


According to Charles Mann there are three commodities that are indispensable to the industrialized world.  These are: fossil fuels, steel, and rubber.  Rubber originated in Brazil.  However, rubber production in Brazil did not flourish because there are natural obstacles that make large-scale production impossible. 

Today, rubber continues to be necessary for industrialization.  Synthetic rubber doesn’t have the desired qualities of the natural variety.  Most rubber today is grown in Southeast Asia.  However, there is a strong possibility that the natural predators of Brazil will find their way to Southeast Asia.  This has the potential to cause a worldwide catastrophe.


While most of us assume that mosquitoes are common to the world, Mann argues that they came from Africa.  When slaves came to the Americas, they came with mosquitoes.  While the African salves had a resistance to diseases spread by mosquitoes, the rest of the world didn’t. 

This meant that Europeans who came to the Americas oftentimes experienced diseases spread by mosquitoes for about three years.  The economist Adam Smith argued that it was cheaper to hire indentured servants from Europe than to import slaves from Africa.  Smith did not account for the time Europeans became ill because of diseases like malaria and yellow fever.  When slave owners accounted for these diseases, they found it cheaper to use the horrendous institution of chattel slavery.  In other words, Black people were kidnapped and shipped to the Americas because they were physically superior to Europeans.   


The theme of Charles Mann’s book 1493 is how globalization is not a recent phenomenon.  This started with the integration of the Americas with the rest of the world.

Today the capitalist system has invented imperialist property relations.  This means that about 40% of the world’s population lives on two dollars per day or less.  This also means that about 250 families have more wealth than half of the world’s population.

While Mann’s book gives us a lot of information about our history, he fails to even mention the biggest problem we have been facing for the past hundred years.  This problem is that the capitalist world is dedicated to creating profits for a tiny minority of the population.  When we begin to deal with this problem, then all the other problems Mann writes about can be resolved.