16 November 2009

Idealism, Capitalism, and Healthcare Justice

This is a letter to the editor of my school's newspaper, in response to a letter in last week's edition (which can be read here.) I'm working on trimming down this letter to fit in the word limit, and there's always a chance it will be edited even further, so I'd like to post the full version here, just in case my point gets obscured for the sake of brevity.

To the Editor:

The healthcare reform bill that passed the US House is certainly an impressive piece of legislation, and makes a strong statement about how Congress feels healthcare should be administered in the United States. However, the impressive parts of the bill aren't such notes like the numbers of the people that will how be able to have health insurance, or the comprehensiveness of the new “public” health plan. Rather, what makes the Affordable Healthcare for America Act (HR 3962) so amazing is as an example of political and rhetorical maneuvering, successfully passing off a coup for the health insurance industry- and most likely their lapdogs in Congress- as a significant “reform” to the benefit of working people.

To be fair, both to the bill itself and its supporters who may take issue with what I am saying, HR 3962 does include a couple things which, taken by themselves, are pretty good. Removing anti-trust legislation, and stripping health insurance companies of the ability to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or drop coverage when an insured person does get sick do represent some steps forward in curbing the power of the health insurance industry. However, these measures are but a small part of the overall bill, which couples each halting step in a potentially good direction with measures that will serve to further fatten the coffers of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. For example, pricing in the “public option” is left to the private sector, a contradiction if I've ever heard one. Furthermore, mandating that all Americans have some sort of health insurance has the result of either herding people into high-cost, low-benefit private plans, or criminalizing their lack of health insurance, subjecting them to fines which they probably would not be able to afford anyway. How this will help solve the problem of medical bankruptcy is quite beyond me.

Of course, the amendment process in Congress means that this bad bill gets even worse. The now-infamous amendment proposed by Michigan congressman Bart Stupak (a Democrat, mind you) prevents people from using subsidies to buy insurance that would cover abortion, even if they use their own money to pay for that specific provision, as an article in the November 9th edition of the New York Times points out. Medicare funding is also being cut, which leads one to wonder how that system will survive as more and more people become eligible for the program. So, when the letter to the editor in last week's Lafayette mentions this healthcare bill as a step in the right direction, I have to wonder if he and I are in fact reading the same bill, or if the writer thinks that these regressive measures are in fact strides toward a “happy medium” between “idealism and capitalism."

Is there another option to this bill? You bet. HR 676, which in thirteen pages does more good than the 1,990 page HR 3962 by abolishing private health insurance companies and effectively creating a system of Medicare for the entire US population, would be an incredibly positive step forward by mandating that health coverage will no longer be administered through a system whose purpose is to make money off of people's pain and fear. In the context of our current healthcare system, this would certainly be a major reform, and one which would be met with outright hostility by the health insurance industry. It's also likely that, if brought to a vote in the US House, it would fail, as the Democratic Party is pathetically divided, and in many ways is just as much a heel to the health insurance industry (and capitalism as a whole) as the Republicans. But, contrary to the tortured logic of “bi-partisanship” that many political leaders like to put forward, and the spirit of “compromise” in last week's letter to the editor, the health of human beings is not something we should be dithering on. I, for one, proudly stand on the side of “idealism,” or perhaps more accurately, justice.

Update: the edited version of this letter was printed in the Lafayette without modification (so far as I can tell, at least.) However, it is somewhat frustrating to see my letter- which I edited down due to a claimed word limit on submissions to the paper- being published next to a rather lengthy letter from someone whining about the supposed persecution of Greek life on campus.

28 April 2009

The Specter of Sixty

Coming back from my morning classes, I was treated to some interesting news filtering in from the political side of the internets. Apparently Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) is now Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA). Gone is the interesting tid-bit of Pennsylvania being a state with a pro-life Democratic senator and a pro-choice Republican senator. Gone is the Republican primary battle that many pundits say Specter would have lost. Inching ever closer, however, is the fabled number 60, which will give the Democrats (along with their caucus compatriots, "Independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman and "Independent" Bernie Sanders) the theoretical ability to pass legislation without the threat of a fillibuster. Once this mess with Minnesota gets sorted out, the Democrats will finally be able to get that progressive agenda pushed through that they've really really wanted to do for so many years, but have been blocked by those evil Republicans. Finally, we'll get universal healthcare, troops out of Iraq, the right for workers to organise, and equal rights for all!

Heh, okay.

I don't think even the most self-deluded Democrats think this. But it seems like much of the media is portraying Specter's switch as a major coup by the Democrats, and while it may be an important propaganda victory for them on the lines of "moderates leaving the sinking and ever-rightward-moving ship of the GOP," it's not like this will give them another reliable vote on things like, say, the Employee Free Choice Act. That is, if the Democratic Party as a whole is even interested in pursuing that anymore anyway.

19 April 2009

Four Years On

A little over four years ago, I made a decision that dramatically changed my life. At the time, I had considered myself a socialist for a few years already, but wasn't really involved. I had decided that I wanted to join a group during the 2004 elections, and was reading up on various parties and organisations that I thought I might be interested in. The parties running candidates had a particular draw for me, though I had more or less ruled out Workers World and the SWP for political reasons. That left the Green Party (not socialist, but I was considering it anyway), the Socialist Equality Party, and the Socialist Party USA. I found a Green Party group in my home county and worked with them for a little while, but in April of 2005, I decided to actually join the Socialist Party and do my best to get involved.

In retrospect, I think I got really lucky. In the four years since I've joined the SP, I felt I've really grown, both politically and as a person in general. Part of it is just the social aspect; I've met so many interesting and friendly people because of my involvement with the SP (and the socialist movement in general.) But being connected to layers of activists and long-time socialists has been extremely helpful in developing my own politics, and absorbing ideas and organising strategies. While I still have a long way to go as an organiser, I feel I've been able to learn and apply things from my experiences with the SP, and hope to continue learning and organising into the future.

At this point in history, I think it's more important than ever for all socialists to be organised and involved. If you're looking for an organisation to join, the Socialist Party ranks very highly on my list. Maybe you should check us out!

11 April 2009

Occupy Everything Right Now?

I finally got around to watching Across the Universe yesterday, something I've been meaning to do for a while but never seem to remember when I'm in the library. I'm not really a Beatles fan, so that aspect of the film wasn't its main draw for me, though I did like the way the songs were integrated.

Mainly, I wanted to watch it to see their treatment of Students for a Democratic Society (cast in the film as the much less punchy-sounding "Students for Democratic Reform") and how the film approached the anti-war and radical student movement as a whole. When I first heard about Across the Universe, I was somewhat concerned that the social movements of the 1960s would get glossed over somewhat to the advantage of cool footage about hippies, which is how some retellings of the 1960s end up. Thankfully, it ended up not being the case, though I still felt the treatment of the anti-war and student radical movement in Across the Universe seemed somewhat superficial. It was also very condensed, going from the anti-war marches of 1967 to the Columbia student strike to the adventurist terrorism of the Weather Underground in what seemed like the course of a year or so in the film, when in fact the evolution of the American student left was a longer and much more complicated process. Now, I know this wasn't the point of the film, but in the context of the recent and ongoing upsurge of militancy in the US, particularly in the context of the student occupations, I wish it had been.

I have yet to take part in a student occupation, and given the political climate at Lafayette College, my guess is that I won't be taking part in one during the remainder of my tenure here, though I would not want to be so hasty as to write off any future radicalisation. I would argue that student occupations are an excellent tactic given the right conditions and a clear strategy for said occupation, and despite some issues and problems that came up with even the most successful student occupations, the examples of the Rochester and first New School occupations should serve as lessons of when and how to use a student occupation successfully. These, along with similar occupations at colleges around the country, the most notable probably being the one at NYU, have generated significant interest and media attention, which will probably be good for the left in the US on the whole.

However, not all the occupations have been recieved well, even by other leftists. An article in The Nation, for example, talks about how the second New School occupation was met with a heap of abuse, particularly on the point that the second occupation didn't seem to have any demands, and it almost looked like the occupation was for its own sake, rather than having some sort of goal in mind. Now, a lof of the press I've read from and about the second New School occupation seems to vindicate that view, and I remember being very confused about the occupation compared to the clarity of the first one. But the article goes further to state that because of this apparent lack of demands and organisation, many people failed to support the occupation once engaged. The article focuses attitudes of the faculty, mentioning for example that during the NYU occupation, "some left-leaning faculty privately complained that they couldn't totally support the students because of their naive strategy and incoherent, sprawling demands."

While it makes perfect sense to criticise a perceived lack of cohesion to a movement, once the rubber hits the road, it seems silly to withhold support even if the action or movement seems premature or non-cohesive. In some cases, it may make sense on a propaganda and reputation/recruitment level to support an action a group thinks is unwise. While using the Bolsheviks as a comparison may draw the charge of being a stale and and theoretical far leftists, I think the July Uprising illustrates an important point. In July 1917, workers in Petrograd staged an uprising against the provisional government. The Bolshevik party thought the uprising was premature (partially due to their own relative weakness at the time, I'm sure), but they refused to stand aside from the uprising, and participated to the best of their ability. This resulted in the arrest of many Bolshevik leaders, but also helped convince non-Bolshevik workers that they were serious about workers revolution, and would support such action even if they weren't leading it. To be sure, the situations being compared here are rather different, but I think the general point still stands: you can criticise a movement or action, but the price of abstention may be higher in the long run, and supporting something, even with criticism (which should never be forgotten) may help endear you to groups of unaffiliated radicals and activists which may then be more willing to hear and accept criticism.

So while I'm not sure I think the movement is ready to be "Occupying Everything Right Now," if for some reason this did happen, I would do my best to stand with them as far as they go, and hope that my comrades do the same.

08 March 2009

Getting Back to Blogging

Anything to avoid classwork, right?

Actually it's somewhat interesting; a short mention of blogging on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! said that college students that blog tend to be happier (though don't tell that to the people who have to read them...) And giving myself some additional focus outside of school might do some good, since I've been feeling somewhat stuck lately. So hopefully I can get back into this. As a result, the blog will become more personal and less political, though Marxism has taken over my brain by this point so there's really no avoiding politics.

But here's to being back (hopefully)!

18 October 2008

Election Recommendations

The general election is coming up quickly, with only a few more weeks to send in absentee ballots for out of state college voters like me, or to decided who to actually vote for like so many other people. For my part, I sent in my absentee ballot last week, marked with votes signifying an urge for radical change in American society that is sorely needed in this time of capitalist crisis. For other US voters that also have that urge, but aren't sure who to vote for yet, I offer to you somewhat of a voter's guide to this election. This guide is primarily focused on my home state of New Jersey, but I'll add some out of state races as I go on.

President and Vice-President: Brian Moore and Stewart Alexander (Socialist Party USA). There are three socialist parties running presidential tickets this year, the Socialist Party USA, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation. All three of them present revolutionary socialist programs and are at least worth looking into. However, with the state of ballot access law as it is in the US, not all the presidential tickets will be on the ballot in every state; all three will be on in some states, while others will have only one or two of the three, and many will unfortunately have none.

Out of these three sets of candidates though, I recommend the Socialist Party USA's ticket of Brian Moore and Stewart Alexander the most. The SP's platform is the most well-rounded and complete of the three, and also outlines a strong commitment to radical democracy in all aspects of society. In addition, the multi-tendency nature of the Socialist Party allows it to be widely inclusive within a strong Statement of Principles, so that socialist regroupment sorely needed in the US today can best be done through the Socialist Party, compared to both the SWP and PSL. For example, when the SP began its presidential nomination process, it extended a call to any and all interested socialist organizations in the US to collaborate in the 2008 elections, to present a united socialist electoral front in as many races as possible. While only two organizations responded, some success came out of the effort in the nomination of Stewart Alexander, a long-time member of the Peace and Freedom Party (a socialist party only active in California) as the SP's vice-presidential nominee. Unfortunately, the Peace and Freedom Party made an aggregious tactical and opportunistic error in nominating Ralph Nader for president rather than any socialist candidates. Nevertheless, the PFP still remains a socialist party, and hopefully people in the PFP committed to independent socialist political action will realize that course on the presidential level once again.

Where Brian Moore and Stewart Alexander are not on the ballot, there are a couple options. If either the Socialist Workers or Socialism and Liberation candidates are on the ballot, then they are worth voting for. Alternatively, you can write in Brian Moore and Stewart Alexander (which is also recommended for states with no socialist candidates on the ballot.)

US Senate from New Jersey: Sara Lobman (Socialist Workers Party). Sara Lobman is the only socialist candidate running for US Senate in New Jersey. Because of this, and because her program is one worth supporting (at least critically), she is worth voting for.

US Congress, 2nd New Jersey District: Tino Rozzo (Independent/Socialist Party USA). Tino Rozzo is no longer a member of the Socialist Party, but is still listed on the ballot as such. While I wouldn't describe his platform as revolutionary socialist, the fact that he is running on a socialist platform means that he is worth voting for.

US Congress, 10th New Jersey District: Michael Taber (Socialist Workers Party). Like Sara Lobman, Michael Taber is worth supporting in this election. Interestingly, Taber's only opponent is the Democratic incumbent (as the district is in the urban era of North Jersey dominated by Democratic machine politics), so Taber will probably get a (somewhat artificially) high percentage of the vote in this district.

US Congress, 11th New Jersey District:
Skip it or write-in. There are no socialist or independent left candidates in this election, so my recommendation would be to either not vote, or to write in your favorite radical.

Something to note is that there is an independent candidate in this election; Chandler Tedholm is running under the slogan "For the People." While this may indicate at least a populist tilt, and indeed some aspects of his program are rather progressive. For example, he is opposed to the war in Iraq and supports a single payer healthcare system (then again, some Democrats also support these things.) However, looking into other positions indicate a rather disturbing and reactionary side to the Tedholm campaign. On immigration, Tedholm says:
"There is no mystery how to accomplish a border closure. The technology was perfected in 1914. A barrier of barbed wire in some depth, backed machine guns, backed by artillery or air support would do the trick. There are only two requirements– you have to be willing to commit enough manpower to man the line 24/7/365 (and to inspect all of the supposedly legitimate traffic that could be used for smuggling), and you have to be ready to shoot to kill."
While he does mention afterward that he would "like to think we are not the kind of people who would tolerate that kind of brutality for long," a willingness to stoop to such brutal measures in the first place against working class people of other countries who are looking for work means that Mr. Tedholm should not be supported by anyone who considers themselves socialist, internationalist, pro-worker/immigrant, etc. Furthermore, Tedholm vaccilates on taxes as a "neccessary evil" rather than giving a more detailed policy, and supports the war in Afghanistan.

Madison, NJ Borough Council:
Write-In Peter Moody (Socialist Party USA). I'm running a write-in campaign for Borough Council, on the SP-USA platform. Admittedly, I didn't do much for this campaign, though I tried to actually get on the ballot earlier in the year. Unfortunately, I didn't get enough signatures. Still, a write-in campaign continues, and if you live in Madison, I hope you vote for me.

29 September 2008

No to the Wall Street Bailout! (a statement from the Socialist Party USA)

I haven't used this blog to promote the SP-USA that much (hell, I haven't used this blog that much period, despite well intentions otherwise.) Still, given the situation, it seemed like a good thing to post.

by the Socialist Party USA, National Action Committee

The current "financial crisis" is not just a temporary setback or because of the lack of regulation in the financial sector. The collapse of the financial sector is indicative of the total failure of the capitalist economy. In recent years, the leading recipients of this proposed bailout have attempted to justify their “Washington consensus” of decimating social safety nets, massive cuts to wages and benefits, and privatization of public services, in the name of mercilessly strict adherence to the “tough love” and “sacrifice” of the “free market.” This deregulation and dismantling of any social protections was a logical step for the capitalists represented by the Republican and Democratic Parties. The call now for regulation of the markets is a hypocritical call by those who continue to promote the free market as the solution to everything. In demonstrating the cynical facade behind the unwaivering economic ideology they've peddled for decades, these same power brokers and politicians who demanded the near complete deregulation of the financial sector under "free market" principles, are now calling upon all tax-paying U.S. workers to "come together as Americans" and take "collective responsibility" for their boundless greed and ultimate financial failure under the very standards they themselves imposed.

Congressional Democrats, through continuous pledges to reach a "bipartisan" solution to the financial meltdown, have predictably fallen over themselves to reaffirm their reliable role as one of the two great parties of capital. As Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed on September 26th, "We will not leave until legislation is passed that will be signed by the president. The markets [sic] need a message from us that we're acting." Barack Obama, whose $25 million dollars in campaign contributions from the financial industry in this election has exceeded the amount received by John McCain, has likewise urged bipartisan passage of the bailout package, "in the spirit of cooperation on behalf of the American people.

As socialists, we understand that there can no longer be any rational debate on the question of pursuing the "free market" as an alternative to the compelling urgency for a socialist transformation of society. The need of the largest capitalist firms to wipe out competition has already led to the centralization of economic power, but in the form of private ownership of an unaccountable ruling class of professional speculators, not of working people.

If we the people are now to publicly socialize the costs of our ruling class' disastrous practices, as our corporate politicians demand, what justification can be given for handing the very pillars of our economic security back to their private and unaccountable ownership, once resurrected?

The Socialist Party rejects the bail-out plan. Instead, we propose that the government take over the financial sector, and then delegate the distribution of home loans to a decentralized network of non-profit credit unions. These institutions are far less likely to push bogus loans than the white-collar criminals which control the current financial institutions.

While opposing the bail-out we also call for programs which will provide support to, and help empower individuals, families, and working people as a whole to take power away from the corporate powers that be.

  • We support building millions of units of low-density. high quality, and low-cost housing.
  • We support a federally funded socialized healthcare system which would eliminate health insurance companies and be controlled by locally elected community health committees.
  • We support elimination of anti-workers laws and give all workers the right to organize through card check off and the right to strike.
  • We support laws that would encourage the creation of worker-owned/ run institutions.
  • We support massive investment into mass-transit and alternatives to fossil fuels.
  • And finally we call for the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan (which includes thousands of national guard troops which have been taken away from their families and jobs to fight oversees), slashing our military budget by at least 50% and establishing a steeply progressive federal income tax system.

The above actions would improve working people’s lives, bring the thousands of troops overseas home, raise hundreds of millions of dollars and take the tax burden off of low and moderate income individuals and families.

The real solution to the vast majority of these problems would be to move rapidly to a socialist society, one in which housing is provided to all as a basic right, the financial sector and commanding heights of the economy are made publicly accountable through social ownership and worker control of the economy, and production is oriented toward the needs of working people, rather than maximizing the profits of an obsolete ruling class of multi-millionaires and billionaires. We, the majority who work for a living, can no larger afford to produce and relinquish all that maintaining the private profits for our ruling class entails!