Thursday, September 29, 2016

The So-Called Clinton Trump Debate

I’ve always found Presidential debates to be difficult to witness.  Those individuals in the Democratic or Republican Parties appear to live in a completely different world from working people in this country.  They profess to care about people and argue that they are working in our best interests.

Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco quarterback who has refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem had this to say about the so-called presidential debate.  “Both are proven liars and it almost seems like they’re trying to debate who’s less racist.”

So a question to be asked is: Why is there such a disconnect between what government officials say, and the actual reality working people experience every day?

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton asked the audience to fact-check their arguments.  Well, we can begin our fact checking by taking a look at the science of basic arithmetic.

When we pay for any commodity the money usually goes to private enterprises or corporations. Some of that money goes to the owners and some goes to the workers who produce all goods and services.  When the owners get more in terms of profits, workers get less.  When workers get more in terms of wages, owners get less in terms of profits.  This is basic arithmetic.

Looking at this relationship, we see that the interests of workers and owners are antagonistic.  The press argues against this perspective.  They routinely argue that when workers receive higher wages, employers simply raise prices.  This is not true.

Prices are set because of the system of supply and demand.  If corporations set their prices too high, people will not purchase commodities and corporations will go out of business.  We see this with respect to the price of gasoline.  Gasoline used to be about four dollars per gallon, and now it is about two dollars per gallon.  Corporations lowered the price because they felt they would loose money if gasoline remained at a price of four dollars per gallon.

So, we can conclude that the interests of workers and employers are antagonistic.  A fundamental problem with the Clinton and Trump campaigns is they argue that the interests of corporations and workers are the same.  By doing this, they are both clearly taking the side of corporations against workers.

Donald Trump has most of his business interests in this country.  He favors placing onerous taxes on commodities imported into this country.  In economic terms, this is called protectionism. 

Protectionist policies favor weaker capitalist economies.  By placing taxes on imports, domestic industries are in a more favorable position to compete. 

When Britain and France were the world powers in the nineteenth century, the United States had protectionist laws to encourage investment in domestic industries.  During those years, the prices of commodities were more expensive than in other countries because of these measures.

Then, after the Second World War, the United States became the world’s superpower.  The protectionist measures were abandoned.  U.S. corporations could undercut the prices of corporations in other countries, and placing onerous taxes on corporations during those years was counterproductive.

However, something else happened after the Second World War.  In the first part of the twentieth century, working people commonly toiled for twelve to fourteen hours per day.  The wages of those times were barely enough to feed a family.  Children routinely worked in factories.

So the labor movement organized and forced corporations to make significant concessions.  The civil rights movement also organized to give Black people rights they had been denied.  The women’s movement also organized to make real gains for women.

Corporations responded to these developments by making massive investments into manufacturing facilities where workers receive a salary of between one and ten dollars per day.  This was not done just because capitalists are greedy as some people argue.  No, a constant feature of the capitalist system is that corporations are routinely driven to cut costs.

One of the reasons why many capitalists favor Hillary Clinton is because her policies favor their investments in other countries.  So, this is the choice.  Trump’s policies might favor more U.S. jobs with higher prices.  Clinton’s approach might favor fewer jobs with lower prices.  Working people loose with both strategies.

We should also keep in mind that the banks nearly closed down in the year 2008.  These banks were saved by literally trillions of dollars in government assistance known as quantitative easing.  The government bought up nearly worthless investments to rescue the banks.  This crisis can not be averted and it is only a matter of time before the capitalist debt-bubble will break.

What do working people want?

Since the interests of workers and capitalists are antagonistic, we might ask the question: What do workers and farmers want?

I will only give my opinion on this question based on my life’s experience.  There are eight basic things that workers want.  These include: food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, health care, education, and exposure to cultural activities like art, music, sports, recreation, dancing, theater, and film. 

The incomparable singer Etta James also said in one of her songs that she wanted “security.”  For me, this means that we need to have the right to all those things workers want and need throughout our lifetimes.  Of course, all these goods and services need to be of the highest quality.

Capitalists want us to be competitive.  They want us to think that workers who live in other cities, or states, or countries are our competitors.  My opinion is that working people have the same interests in all countries.  We all would like the things I just mentioned.

Politicians as well as the media argue that it is unrealistic to have these goals.  They argue that the way to get what we want is to work for a corporation directly or through a small business.  The idea of working people running a government where human needs are more important than profits is totally unacceptable to those who support the capitalist system.

However, when we think about the goods and services people want and need, we might question the role of some of the enterprises we’re routinely exposed to.  The cities throughout the world are filled with office buildings that house enterprises that include: banking, insurance, advertising, as well as stock brokerage houses.  Thinking about what these enterprises do, they don’t directly provide for the goods and services we want and need.  Yet, we need to pay for all these enterprises with every commodity we buy.

Both Trump and Clinton argue that they have plans that will reinvigorate the economy.  However, there is no real plan in the capitalist system.  Capitalism is continually regulated by the anarchy of supply and demand. 

In 1929 there were more commodities on the market than could be sold at a profit, so capitalists merely shut down the economy.  Millions lost their savings.  Working people experienced pay cuts and there was about thirty percent unemployment.  This same scenario almost happened in 2008.  Clearly, there was no plan for these events.

Donald Trump totally discredited Hillary Clinton’s claim that working people benefitted from policies she advocated with the following statement:

“You go to New England, you go to Ohio, Pennsylvania, you go anywhere you want, Secretary Clinton, and you will see devastation where manufacture is down 30, 40, sometimes 50 percent.”

However, Trump also totally discredited his character when he argued that he favors “law and order.”  Had there been a real debate, this statement would have destroyed any popularity Trump has.

The Central Park Five

 In the year 1989 a young woman was raped and brutalized in Central Park, New York.  The police arrested five Black teenagers for the crime and coerced them into signing confessions.  There was no other evidence connecting the Central Park Five to this crime.

Donald Trump paid $85,000 for adds in four New York City newspapers.  The headlines of these ads were: “Bring Back the Death Penalty.”  Theses ads, signed by Trump argued:

“I want to hate these muggers and murderers.  They should be made to suffer.”  ‘They should serve as examples so others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence.”
After serving seven years in prison, conclusive evidence emerged that someone else was guilty of this crime.  All of the Central Park Five were released from prison.  The city of New York eventually paid each of the Central Park Five one million dollars for every year they spent in prison. 

Donald Trump argued that this settlement was a “disgrace.”  He went on to say that, “The recipients must be laughing out loud at the stupidity of the city.”

So, Donald Trump argued that young Black teenagers, who were found not guilty of anything should be made to “suffer.”  When it was conclusively proven that they were innocent of the crime they had been convicted of, he offers no apology.  To the contrary, he calls the payment they received for being unjustly incarcerated, to be a “disgrace.” 

I read the newspapers every day.  Rarely have I seen any mention of Donald Trump and the Central Park Five.  Yet he is in the papers every day.

Hillary Clinton chose not to call Trump in this gross hypocrisy.  Clinton supported her husband, President William Clinton’s “Crime Bill.”  The effect of this bill was to dramatically increase the number of people living in prisons in this country.  Anyone who lives in the USA has a better chance of going to prison than citizens in any other nation in the world.      

I’m supporting Allyson Kennedy for President and Osborne Hart for vice-President.  They are the candidates of the Socialist Workers Party.  They understand that the interests of workers are antagonistic to the interests of corporations.  They understand that only by mobilizing working people will any basic changes happen.  They see the interests of working people throughout the world as the same and see our interests as being international.  They believe that it is clearly possible for working people to establish a government where human needs are seen as more important than corporate profits.

While they will not win the election, this strategy has the potential to transform the world.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Colin Kaepernick, & The National Anthem

Recently Colin Kaepernick, who is the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the singing of the National Anthem.  Kaepernick gave the following reason for his protest:   

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.  There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

“I am not looking for approval.  I have to stand up for people that are oppressed.  .  .If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Clearly, Kaepernick’s protest has struck a cord with the many people who have been protesting police brutality.  His protest has also shed light on the history of why Francis Scott Key wrote his Star-Spangled Banner.

Francis Scott Key was a slave-owner who lived in Maryland.  He wrote his Star Spangled Banner about the United States defense of Fort McHenry during the war of 1812. 

Before going into the motivations for the national anthem, I believe it is useful to look at a bit of history.

The first of many revolutions in the Americas

During the American Revolution, the British promised about 3,000 slaves their freedom because they joined the British army and fought against the revolution.  For this reason, most Black people in this country fought for the British against the revolution. 

During the negotiations after the British defeat, representatives of the United States demanded the return of the 3,000 Black British soldiers to slavery.  At that time the most valuable commodities in the world were slaves, and the United States government desperately wanted ownership of the British soldiers who had a dark skin color.

The British government agreed to this demand and betrayed the promise they made to the Black soldiers.  However, the Irish Commander of the British forces, Sir Guy Carleton, countermanded the order to return Black soldiers to slavery.  He ordered these soldiers to Nova Scotia and fulfilled the promise the British had made.

After the revolution, the United States government was made up of two factions.  They were called the federalists and the anti-federalists.  The federalists favored a strong federal government and supported the commercial interests in the northern states.  These federalists succeeded in abolishing slavery in several northern states.

The anti-federalists were in favor of a weak federal government and supported slavery.  The anti-federalists became the same Democratic Party that President Barack Obama represents.  With the election of Thomas Jefferson, the federal government became dominated by these pro-slavery interests.

The war of 1812 and it’s aftermath

During the war of 1812, the British again promised freedom to escaped slaves who joined their army.  As a result, thousands of slaves joined with the British.  These former slaves fought with arms in hand against a government that was dominated by slave owners.      

In the original version of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key wrote about how he was horrified that former slaves had escaped and fought against the slave-owning republic.  The following words were written by Francis Scott Key in the original version of the Star Spangled Banner.  These words are never recited today for obvious reasons.

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Here Francis Scott Key made it clear that the United States government had no intention of supporting the interests of the slaves.  He clearly felt that escaped slaves deserved, “the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”  When he wrote about “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” he clearly was not talking about human beings who happened to be slaves.  We should be clear that these were not the words of an isolated individual, but reflected the position of the United States government at that time.  In fact, the entire economy of the United States was based on slavery.

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery when he was nineteen years old.  He became a leader of the abolitionist movement.  On July 4, 1852 Douglass spoke on the meaning of the Fourth of July for the millions of slaves who lived in this country.  He concluded his speech with the following words:

“Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms­ of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without rival.”  

Thinking about the reality these words represented, we might conclude that nothing had been gained from the American Revolution.  The British rule of the thirteen colonies was tyrannical, and the conditions slaves experienced represented, “revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy.”

Were there any gains made because of the American Revolution?

My opinion is that in order to see all the ramifications of the first revolution in the Americas, we need to take a closer look at the events of those times.

During the British rule of the thirteen colonies a person’s status in life was determined upon their birth.  There were the gentlemen and everyone else.  The so-called gentleman had the power, lived off of the labor of the people, and never worked.  The majority of the population lived at the mercy of these gentlemen.

The words of the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” were indeed revolutionary.  Initially, the affluent people who supported the revolution attempted to dominate the government.  However, with Shay’s Rebellion and other initiatives by working people, the Constitution was amended to include the Bill of Rights.  The idea that everyday people would have rights with the new government was another clearly revolutionary idea.

Reading these words, one might ask: So how did all of this affect the slaves who never had any rights?  Answering this question requires looking at a bit more history.

The slave owners of this country were obsessed with repressing slave rebellions and apprehending escaped slaves.  President Thomas Jefferson worked to isolate the revolutionary government of Haiti, where slavery had been abolished.  General Robert E. Lee was the commanding officer of the U.S. army that put down John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.  That raid had been about organizing and armed defense of slaves who wished to escape bondage.

However, what the slave owners didn’t see was the emerging class interests of northern capitalists, as well as the emerging class of workers and small farmers.  Growing numbers of people became convinced that a continuation of the slave system would be a roadblock to the development of this country.  These differences became so profound that millions of soldiers would be mobilized in the Union Army to militarily defeat the slaveocracy.

While the slave owners were obsessed with suppressing slave rebellions, the Union Army literally destroyed nearly every building in South Carolina.  This was a conscious move to convince the Confederacy that they had no chance of winning the Civil War.

As a direct consequence of the Civil War, the government adopted the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.  These Amendments abolished slavery, gave all men full citizenship rights, as well as voting rights.  When Black people learned of the defeat of the confederacy, there were immensely joyous celebrations.

My opinion is that this development would have been unlikely without the American Revolution freeing this country of British rule.  We should recall, that under the rule of the British, the vast majority of the population never had rights that government ministers needed to respect.

We will also notice that after the Civil War reconstruction governments emerged in the former confederate states.  These governments attempted to create a real democracy.  Many Blacks and Caucasians learned to read for the first time.

However, the same government that defeated the confederacy, effectively gave power to forces that became the Ku Klux Klan.  In the year 1877, the Union Army ended their occupation of the South, and the Ku Klux Klan militarily defeated the reconstruction governments.

The Ku Klux Klan then stripped Black people of their citizenship rights with a series of apartheid-like laws known as Jim Crow.  It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that the civil rights movement erupted and forced the government to defend the rights that had been gained after the Civil War.  The rebellions of 1966–1968 also forced the government to change some of their institutionalized discriminatory practices.

So, what does all of this have to do with Colin Kaepernick?  My point is, that while this might be difficult to see, gains have been made because of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement.  Saying this, we might also consider that Frederick Douglass’ words on the Fourth of July reflected a real reality, as do Colin Kaepernick’s words today.

My point is that real progress has been made with respect to working people since the American Revolution.  Today working people and farmers are in a stronger position to advance our demands than workers and farmers of the past.  We have these advantages because of the many struggles that erupted before us. 

The problem has been that when the American Revolution did away with British rule, a government emerged that expanded chattel slavery.  When the Union Army defeated the confederacy, the U.S. government would eventually support Jim Crow segregation.  When the government outlawed Jim Crow, that same government advanced a course of mass-incarceration.

The problem is not to dismiss those who made real advances in the past.  The problem has been that when these advances were put forward, the government reacted with an iron heal of repression.  

So, when we think of the slavery and the genocide against the Indians, I do not believe that there are good reasons for celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July.  When we think of the reality that surrounded the Star Spangled Banner, as well as the reality we experience today, we can only cheer on Colin Kaepernick for his courageous stance.

For those interested in continuing the tradition of struggle that started with the American Revolution, this country has an amazing history that we can draw from.

For those interested in the origin of the Pledge of Allegiance, you can see my review of the Pledge at this link.     


Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?

A review of:

Looking Backward
by Edward Bellemy, 1888
Penguin Classics

The Pledge of Allegiance
by Francis Bellamy,
Sept. 8, 1892
The Youth Companion

by Edward Bellamy 1898
Fredonia Books

Every school day millions of students stand up, place their hands on their hearts, and recite the following words:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God,  indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The literal meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance is that everyone who resides in the United States experiences liberty and justice at all times.  There aren’t too many people who would defend this point of view and conscious workers understand that this argument is absurd.

One reason why many people feel that liberty and justice is not experienced by everyone in this country stems from the fact that residents of United States have a better chance of going to prison than residents living in any other nation in the world.  One out of every four prisoners in the world resides in U.S. jails.

The original Pledge 

So, a question might be asked: Why was the Pledge of Allegiance written?  Francis Bellamy, who was a Baptist minister and a Christian socialist wrote The Pledge in the year 1892.  Bellamy’s original idea for his Pledge contained the following words:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty, justice, and equality for all.”

Bellamy wanted to use the word equality because of the phrase “Liberty, equality, and fraternity” that was used in the French Revolution.  He decided not to use equality in his Pledge because the discrimination against women and African Americans made this word too controversial.  In 1892 women did not have the right to vote, and African Americans were legally discriminated against because of the Jim Crow laws. 

The reason why Bellamy decided to use the phrase I pledge allegiance to my flag is a bit more involved.  Francis Bellamy’s first cousin was Edward Bellamy who wrote the novel Looking Backward in the year 1888.  Looking Backward is the story of someone from the year 1887 who was transported into a world of the future.  In this future world poverty did not exist, women experienced full equality, corporations were nationalized by the government, and society was organized on the basis of genuine solidarity. 

When Francis Bellamy wrote the words I pledge allegiance to my flag he imagined that he was pledging allegiance to a socialist world of the future that was envisioned by his cousin Edward Bellamy in the novel Looking Backward.  In this future world Francis Bellamy imagined that there would be liberty, justice, and equality for all.

When we understand why the Pledge was written, we can also understand why Francis Bellamy objected in 1924 when his pledge was changed from “my flag” to “the flag of the United States of America.”  Francis Bellamy’s granddaughter also objected in 1954 when the words “under God” were added.  The reasoning for this objection stemmed from the fact that Francis Bellamy was pressured to leave the Church because of his socialist sermons.


Apparently Edward Bellamy was intrigued by the fact that the word equality was not included in the Pledge because the title of his final novel written in 1898 is Equality.  In Equality, Edward Bellamy continued the story of Looking Backward but refined many of his views.  The following passage illustrates what Edward Bellamy’s feelings were about the main obstacle humanity faced in the year 1898.  When Bellamy uses the term “our political system” he is writing from the point of view of his main character, Julian West, who was transported into the future and is identifying with the past.

“Undoubtedly the confusion of terms in our political system is rather calculated to puzzle one at first, but if you only grasp firmly the vital point that the rule of the rich, the supremacy of capital and its interests, as against those of the people at large, was the central principle of our system, to which every other interest was made subservient, you will have the key that clears up every mystery.” P. 13 

While Bellamy understood that the abolition of slavery was an advance in human history, he also showed how there were numerous similarities between the system of slavery and the system of wage labor.  He even went so far as to say that in a sense a slave had one advantage over a worker.  Slaves were compelled to work while workers need to ask, or apply for employment.  For this reason, Bellamy argued that the slave was, in a sense, more honorable than the worker because slaves didn’t ask to be exploited.

Bellamy also explained how the capitalist system works in his Parable of the Water Tank.  He imagined a water tank which was owned by a small percentage of the people.  In order to drink water the people needed to pay for the water in the water tank.  In order to obtain the money to purchase the water, the people needed to bring buckets of water to fill the tank.  However, the people were paid less for a bucket of water than they needed to pay for that same amount of water.  Eventually the inevitable happened and the water tank overflowed.  At this point the owners said they didn’t need any more water and the people had no way to satisfy their thirst.  The owners hired all kinds of people to convince the populace to accept this arrangement, but eventually the people saw the light and confiscated the water tank from those who owned it.

Bellamy also questioned what was the difference between war and peace in the capitalist economic system.  He argued that when thousands of people die as a result of job related accidents, that this is not an example of living in peace.  He also showed that in the later half of the 19th century tens of thousands of troops were mobilized to crush strikes of workers.  Bellamy argued that the number of soldiers mobilized in these armies exceeded the number of soldiers headed by George Washington in the American Revolution.  Yet the government argued that the nation was not at war.

Bellamy also made a number of arguments that today we would find reprehensible.  He believed that human achievement was congenital.  In other words, he felt that people were born with a certain potential that they could not surpass in their lives.  He argued that the initial immigrants who came to the US came from the best Europeans, while those who came to this country during his generation came from the worst.  He felt that in his future world there would be a separation of the races.  Less objectionable was his opinion that he didn’t view himself as a socialist, but a nationalist because he wanted all major enterprises to be confiscated by the government.  However, all these ideas were made in the context that humanity had the potential to make profound improvements in the world.

While these opinions are clearly reprehensible, we also need to look at the times when Bellamy wrote his novels.  The birth of the Niagara Movement which culminated in the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) occurred in the year 1905 several years after Edward Bellamy passed away.  In other words, Bellamy did not have the knowledge of the civil rights movement, or the Russian Revolution, or the Cuban Revolution, or all the other movements that erupted in the twentieth century.  This is not an attempt to excuse Bellamy’s unfortunate remarks, but to place them in a historical context.

Finally, Edward Bellamy gives his own version of the kind of pledge to a new flag that the citizens of a future socialist world might recite. “The American, as he lifts his eyes to the ensign of the nation, is not reminded of its military prowess compared with other nations, of its past triumphs in battle and possible future victories.  To him the waving of the folds convey no such suggestions.  They recall rather the compact of brotherhood in which he stands pledged with all his countrymen mutually to safeguard the equal dignity and welfare of each by the might of all.”  I believe that this kind of pledge is the kind that people all over the world might support.

Steve Halpern is the author of Looking Back From 2101.  This novel uses a similar format as Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.