Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pro – Reclaiming Abortion Rights

By Kathe Pollitt

A review

At a time when abortion rights are under severe attack, Kathe Pollitt has written an important book that takes up many of the most relevant issues surrounding the Pro-Choice movement.  In her book, Pollitt exposes the myths used by the anti-abortionists.  She demonstrates how these forces are primarily aimed at taking away any rights women have gained over the years.

One of the themes of this book can be seen in following passage:

“To force girls and women to undergo all this (complications associated with pregnancy and giving birth to a child) against their will is to annihilate their humanity.”

Pollitt also argues that”

“Legalizing abortion didn’t just save women from death and injury and fear of arrest, it didn’t just make it possible for women to commit to education and work and free themselves from shotgun marriages and too many kids.  It changed how women saw themselves: as mothers by choice, not fate.”

While the anti-abortionists argue that they are “pro-life,” Pollitt gives us the facts of how abortion related deaths declined significantly after this procedure became legal.  “Deaths from legal abortion declined between 1973 and 1985 (from 3.3 deaths to 0.4 per 100,000 procedures.)”

The anti-abortionists argue that fetuses should have all the rights as human beings.  Pollitt answers this argument with the following statement:

“Even if we all decided to define personhood to include fertilized eggs and embryos and fetuses, they would not have the right to use a woman’s body against her will and at whatever cost to herself.”

If fetuses are viewed as people the 20% of all pregnancies that end in miscarriages might also be viewed as acts of murder.  Fertility clinics that routinely destroy embryos would also be viewed as murderers. 

If you feel that these views are farfetched, consider the 1991 Supreme Court decision of Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls.  This decision ruled that Johnson Controls could not bar fertile women from jobs because these jobs might cause potential birth defects.  In other words, women are fertile for about 30 years.  Employers have argued that during these years they should be prevented from many occupations because they might become pregnant.  Even the Supreme Court ruled against Johnson Controls, but this is the kind of madness corporations are willing to inflict on the lives of women.

One would think that the anti-abortionists would favor sex education as well as full access to birth control.  Women who routinely use birth control only account for about five percent of all abortions.  However, this isn’t the case.  In several states government funds that were once used for family planning, now go to centers that counsel women against abortion.

In fact some of the same people who argue against abortion also argue against assistance to indigent mothers who have children.  This brings us to an issue anti-abortionists refuse to talk about.

Before abortion became legal women had abortions and affluent women had safe abortions.  Making abortion legal made it possible for working class women to have safe abortions.

Pollitt supports this argument:

“The ability to determine the timing and number of children undergirds the modern ideal of egalitarian, intimate marriages based on love, companionship, and mutual sexual delight.”

Abortions in China

In her book Pollitt neglects to mention abortions in China.  Clearly this is not a focus of her book, but it is an issue people who favor choice might want to be aware of.  In China families are forced to have only one child.  If a family is unwilling to be limited to one child, abortions are forced on women.  Affluent women can avoid this law by paying a fine of thousands of dollars.  According to my calculations, this state of affairs means that there are twice the number of abortions per capita in China as the United States.

Clearly those who favor choice are opposed to forced abortions.  Kathe Pollitt does give the facts showing that the number of children women have goes down when they have opportunities in education and employment.

Abortion and The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander wrote a book titled: The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  This book argues that the old system of Jim Crow legalized discrimination has been replaced with a system where Black people are grossly over-represented in the prison system of this country.  How is the theme of this book relevant to the issue of abortion?

The point is that after Jim Crow became illegal, the forces that have power in this country worked to reverse this important gain.  A similar course of events occurred when abortion became legal.  Powerful forces began to reverse this gain.  What does this say about the government in this country?

Clearly a representative government would work to make life easier for those who have few resources.  However, the government in this country has consistently worked to reverse gains made by women and Blacks.

Kathe Pollitt gives the facts showing how the democrats have worked to reverse the gains made because of the legalization of abortion.  However, she also implies that the democrats might be a bit better than the republicans on this issue.

Pollitt is correct in arguing that the anti-abortionists are primarily opposed to the rights of women.  The question is why? 

We live in a capitalist system where the number one priority is profits.  When capitalists can pay women and Black people less, this means they can have more in profits.  As their system goes into decline, as it is today, they are even more driven to roll back on everyone’s wages and benefits.

This all means that we need a workers government where the central priority is that human needs are more important than profits.  This government would also make it a central priority to reverse the discrimination against women and Blacks.  There is no more important issue than giving women the right to decide if and when they are to become mothers. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

A brilliant young man who left Newark for the Ivy League

By Jeff Hobbs

A review

In his biography of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs’ goal was to give a comprehensive view of this young man’s life.  He has done much more than that.  Hobbs’ biography gives us a better view of the world we live in, than we see in the mainstream media today.

Robert Peace’s childhood

Robert grew up in Orange, New Jersey.  Orange is one of several towns in the Newark metropolitan area.

Robert’s mother Jackie, worked in hospitals and nursing homes serving food in area cafeterias.  She made a special effort to raise her child, reading to him at night and refusing go parties after his birth.  Jeff Hobbs’ had the following dedication to his book: “Dedicated to Robert DeShaun Peace and to his heart, Jacqueline Peace.”

Robert’s father, Skeet Douglas sold cocaine. 

Malcolm X, in his autobiography explained why some African Americans might be tempted to live a life outside the law.  When he was a student in school a teacher asked the young Malcolm what type of work he might want to do.  At the time Malcolm was thinking about being a lawyer.  His teacher responded, “. . . you’ve got to be realistic about being a n-(word).  A lawyer--that’s no realistic goal for a n-(word).  You need to think about something you can be.  You’re good with your hands--making things.  Everybody admires your carpentry shop work.  Why don’t you plan on carpentry?”

Malcolm X would become one of the most influential leaders of working people in the history of the United States.  However, before he made this transition he had an occupation similar to that of a corporate lawyer.  He was a thief.

Skeet Douglas appeared to know everyone in the neighborhood.  He introduced his son to his friends, and cultivated young Robert’s curiosity about their lives.  Douglass also was an educated man and gave his son the fundamentals of how to develop the discipline to study.  For these and other reasons, Robert had a deep bond with his father.

When Robert was seven years old, Skeet Douglas was accused of murder.  The police argued that they found a murder weapon on Douglas when they arrested him shortly after a murder.  Clearly, had Douglas been guilty of murder, the first thing he would have done would be to loose this weapon.  Jeff Hobbs showed how there was a witness willing to testify that Douglas had no weapon when the police arrested him.  This witness died before Douglas’ trial.

In this country, judges do not allow defense attorneys to present evidence showing that police departments have a history of abusing the rights of citizens who are accused of crimes.  In fact, during the summer of 1967 Newark exploded in a rebellion that was sparked by police abuse. 

One of the goals of Robert Peace’s life was to spend time with his father in prison, and to find a legalistic way to reverse his father’s conviction.  These efforts were met with almost total indifference from the state authorities of New Jersey.

St. Benedict’s

Robert’s mother Jackie felt that the best way to raise her son was to provide a private school education.  This required a great sacrifice, especially since his father had no income as a prison inmate.

Robert went to high school at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School.  St. Benedict’s happens to be located across the street from Arts High.  This is the art and music high school that I attended.  While Robert graduated from St. Benedict’s in the early 1990’s, I graduated from Arts High in 1971.

Robert became the outstanding student in his class.  His grade point average was near perfect.  He excelled in water polo even though he didn’t know how to swim when he started school.  He was also seen as a leader who assisted his classmates in their studies.  These efforts earned him the most prestigious award at St. Benedict’s. 

Charles Cawley was a graduate of St Benedict’s.  He was also the CEO of MBNA bank and had a salary of tens of millions of dollars per year.  Cawley looked at Robert’s record and decided that he would pay for most of Robert’s college education.  This was the only time Cawley made this kind of contribution that would about $140,000.

Yale University

Robert was accepted at Yale University.  Here Robert majored in one of the most challenging fields of study, molecular biochemistry.  While many students in this field struggled to absorb their lessons, Robert routinely aced his examinations.

Jeff Hobbs, the author of this book was Robert’s roommate at Yale.  There were two experiences Robert had at Yale that caught my attention.

Robert worked in Yale’s cafeteria in order to pay some of his bills.  One day he asked three students “politely” to bus their trays.  They refused and left their mess for Robert to clean up.  Robert was enraged at the attitude of these students.  Part of this rage might have been because he knew that his mother might have experienced this same kind of humiliation working in the Newark area.

Robert had a habit of smoking marijuana.  Given the stress he experienced in his life, he felt that smoking marijuana helped him relax.  He also learned that it was easy to sell this product on the Yale University campus.

Here we might think about the fact that a few states have legalized marijuana and others have made this product available for medicinal use.  However, the authorities at Yale called Robert into their office informing him that selling drugs was against school policy. 

These administrators understood that they had absolutely no intention of denying Yale students from getting high.  These administrators probably had used marijuana themselves.  Everyone in this room understood clearly that the reprimand Robert received was merely a show.  Robert learned from this meeting that he needed to be more careful.  In his years of selling this product, he was never apprehended by the police.         

We might also think about the fact that Yale University is a place where graduates work in top positions of the government.  Presidents George Bush Senior and Junior graduated from Yale as well as the Secretary of State John Kerry.  Many officers of the Central Intelligence Agency graduated from Yale.  The CIA has a long record of working to overthrow democratically elected governments all over the world.  Millions lost their lives because of the wars against the people of Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Clearly, these administrators at Yale would never dare reprimand those graduates about the horrendous crimes they have committed.  No, they only had the courage to bring a young Black man into their office to chastise him about selling a product that they all probably used.  

After graduation Robert had a dream of travelling to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  After studying for eight years in school he felt he needed a break.  Robert felt that the time he spent in Rio was the best time of his life.  Before travelling to Rio, Robert worked at a lab at Yale doing cutting edge research in an attempt to find a cure for cancer.

Back in Orange N.J.

Upon returning to Orange, New Jersey, Robert discovered that his immediate plans had fallen through and he needed to get a job.  He worked for a few years as a biology teacher at St. Benedicts. 

Then, he decided to work in real estate.  He quit St Benedicts and got a job at Continental Airlines as a baggage handler.  This job enabled Robert to travel the country, where he might find properties that he could purchase at a low price, and sell, making a bit of money.

Robert attained a license to do these transactions and had an understanding of the market.  The problem was that Yale University, one of the most prestigious in the nation, had political reasons for not teaching students the reality of the capitalist system.  Because people were ignorant of this reality, almost all economists were completely surprised when the housing market went bust.  This event ended Robert’s career in real estate.

Eventually Robert planed to attend graduate school, but he needed some money before making this transition.  He made a diligent search for a job, but found none.  Around this time, I was also looking for work.  It took me about eight months to find a job.

We might consider that President Obama argues that one of his major accomplishments was to reduce the unemployment rate.  Obama says this because he doesn’t count the number of people who have given up looking for work.  When we take these people into consideration, the unemployment rate has not changed since Obama has been president.  This is the largest percentage of people unemployed since the depression of the 1930’s. 

Robert felt that the only way for him to make this money would be to have one big score of marijuana.  Assassins murdered Robert Peace while he attempted to make this one last score.

What were Robert Peace’s options?

Reading this book, we can speculate that Robert Peace might have made different choices.  This could have allowed him to live a relatively prosperous life.  We can look to a few of Robert’s fellow graduates at Yale to get a better picture of what his alternatives were.

One graduate worked about 120 hours per week attempting to build a career at the Lehman Brothers investment firm.  This was before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and their assets, in effect, vaporized.

Jeff Hobbs, the author of this book, had a problem finding work with his degree in English.  For a while he relied on his wife’s income and stayed at home caring for their children.

Ty Chantey graduated at the top of Robert’s class at Yale.  Initially he wanted to be a research scientist.  Then, he discovered that he would need to pay back $350,000 in student loans.  Because of this debt, he decided to become a dermatologist.  He and his wife were resident doctors and they never saw each other.  They worked on opposite shifts because of the need to care for their children.

A few months before Robert Peace’s murder, Ty Chantey called his friend.  He told Robert that, “I’ve always looked up to you.”  With all the stress Chantey was experiencing, he remembered the good times he had with a friend who made him feel at ease.  400 people came to Robert Peace’s funeral because Robert had this same kind of effect on their lives.

We might also think about Robert’s friend Ina who joined the military and spent time in Afghanistan.  After returning from her combat mission she called Robert and said she worried about him.  This statement surprised Robert thinking that she faced a dangerous time when in Afghanistan. 

Ina responded, “I was there for a year.  And no one I knew was killed or even hurt.  Back home, though, a lot of people were killed.”

Thinking about these words we might also think about the former Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Corey Booker.  Booker was also a Yale graduate and argued that his main accomplishment was reducing the crime rate in the city.        

This is not the story of someone who made bad choices in their life.  This is the story of an extremely talented individual with leadership abilities who did his best.  This is the story of the political economic system of capitalism that was completely indifferent to these efforts.  This is a story of how the people who support capitalism are only interested in outstanding efforts when it is about generating super-profits for the wealthy.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Payouts and Cutbacks - Philly's city government dumps money on the affluent

Recently a new boardwalk opened in Philadelphia.  The boardwalk runs along the Schuylkill River between Locust Street and South Street.  The boardwalk extends the pedestrian and bicycle path that also runs along the Schuylkill.  Recently, I rode my bike about sixteen miles to see what the finished boardwalk looked like and took the photo included in this blog.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the cost of this boardwalk was eighteen million dollars and the project took a total of eight years.  The Inquirer had political reasons for not reporting on many of the other costs that made it possible for this boardwalk to be built.

The priorities of city government

For this boardwalk to be built, those people who had the resources made a few decisions about what their priorities are.  We can see what these priorities are by looking at where money has been spent in Philadelphia. 

1) Sports stadiums and convention centers were built at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

2) The Philadelphia City Charter requires that the first item that needs to be paid in the city budget is for city bonds.  Some of the owners of these bonds are, no doubt, some of the most affluent people in the area.  Tens of millions of dollars, that is paid out by the city is interest payments on these bonds.  So, in other words, affluent individuals reap millions merely by lending the Philadelphia government money.

3) Philadelphia has the largest tax abatement program in the nation, amounting to about $500 million in tax credits for new construction.  The owners of many of the buildings in the above photo received tax abatements and pay no taxes for ten years. 

The tallest building in the above photo is the one billion dollar headquarters for the Comcast Corporation.  The owners of this building pay no taxes.  Brian L. Roberts is the CEO of Comcast and he is the highest paid executive in the Delaware Valley.

Recently the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article that showed how the people of this city benefitted from all these investments.  The article states that Philadelphia has become the poorest of the ten largest cities in the nation.

Goods and services that working people need

Yes, when the plans were made to invest in this new boardwalk, basic services that working people need were consciously neglected.

1) In this country, the agriculture department estimates that one out of every six people doesn’t have enough food to eat.

2) Last year the Philadelphia city government closed twenty-three public schools and the cutbacks in education are just beginning.  The city government has actually made a decision to violate the contract they have with the teachers union.  They are doing this attempting to force teachers to make financial contributions to their health insurance.

We might consider that the teachers of Philadelphia have already lost 3,000 support personnel.  This has meant that teachers need to have overcrowded classes in run down schools.  Sylvia Simms of the School Reform Commission had this to say about the efforts teachers are making under these difficult conditions.  She argued that teachers are “playing games on the backs of our children.”

Ms. Simms neglected to mention that the above evidence shows that the city government has been a literal cash dumping machine.  As we have seen the city has been dumping millions of dollars on some of the most affluent people who live in this area. 

The other government action program for dealing with these problems has been to spend trillions of dollars on war, as well as making the United States the nation with the most prisoners in the world.


The U.S. government has consistently argued that their actions serve all the people who live in this country.  The island nation of Cuba has shown that it is possible for a government to have a different set of priorities.

Since the revolution, two of the main priorities of the Cuban government has been health care and education.  Today, Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world. 

Recently, Cuba sent about 400 health care workers to Africa to treat patients who have the Ebola virus.  The World Health Organization argues that Cuba today is sending more health care workers to fight this disease than any other nation in the world.

The World Bank has also argued that Cuba has the best educational system in all of Latin America.


I found the new boardwalk in Philadelphia to be an enjoyable place to stroll or ride a bike.  With all the wealth in this country, there is no rational reason why poverty is not being eliminated.  Clearly there are also enough resources to make more projects like this boardwalk possible. 

However, if I had to choose, I would prefer that money be spent to eliminate poverty, and hunger.  I would also like it if the Constitution in this country was more like the Cuban Constitution.   Cuba guarantees every citizen the right to a lifetime of free education and health care.