Friday, February 17, 2023

Michael Parenti Remembers A Champion of Labor: Vito Marcantonio

 "(Vito) Marcantonio represented the 18th Congressional District (mostly East Harlem) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Among all the individuals ever to serve in Congress, Marcantonio took the most outspoken and persistently radical stances on behalf of working people, labor unions, ethnic minorities, world peace, public ownership, and social democracy. He could be judged also by the enemies he made: the moneyed interests, big landlords, corporations, fascists, militarists, imperialists, and reactionary witch-hunters. 

"Marcantonio's district was twice subjected to redistricting in the hope of defeating him at the polls. He had the audacity to join forces with the Communist Party on a number of issues and in various electoral struggles. For this he was red-baited mercilessly by political opponents and the mainstream media. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I. amassed a huge file on Marcantonio and deliberated every year about putting  him on the Security Index for detention in time of emergency. 

"Marc (as his supporters called him) contested nine Congressional elections over the years, of which he won seven. In his last try for re-election in 1950, the Republican, Democratic, and Liberal parties joined together to back one candidate, a Republican named Donovan who lived downtown, outside the 18th Congressional district on swanky East 58th Street. Running on the American Labor Party ticket, Marc still carried Italian Harlem but lost to what he rightly called the "gang up." I remember the sympathy we all felt for him at the time. In his excellent biography of Marcantonio, Gerald Meyer observes: 'There is something distasteful and disquieting in the amount of power that was amassed to silence the only opposing voice in Congress.'"

"In my earliest years I was suspicious of Marcantonio, fearing that he might indeed be a Communist. My father saw him as a 'man of the people' who helped anyone who came to his office including many who do not live in his district. This was quite true and quite impressive. It certainly was enough to win Poppa's vote. By the time I got to college my politics had awakened sufficiently for me to become a Marcantonio supporter. 

"Marc was born in East Harlem and lived all his life within a few block radius. He was a short man of slight build. His voice and diction carried a New York street nasality. Yet the fire and the content of his remarks were compelling. 

"Late one night (when I was about 14 years old) I chanced upon a big rally being conducted at what was known as Marc's 'Lucky Corner,' on 116th Street and Lexington Avenue. Given the hour and the venue, the crowd of five hundred or more consisted almost entirely of men drawn from the surrounding Italian neighborhood. Several speakers addressed the crowd, each telling a story of how Marc had fought for some cause that directly helped them and others. 

"Finally, Marcantonio himself took the microphone and launched into one of his fiery speeches with deadly seriousness and scornful humor, striking blows at those stop the social pyramid. (I remember thinking to myself that someday I might be addressing large audiences.)

In the middle of Marc's speech something most unusual happened. A caravan of cars - shooting sparklers, flashing bright lights, blasting melodious horns and wild music, and sending balloons aloft - came rolling up Lexington Avenue from Spanish Harlem right alongside the large crowd gathered on 116th Street. It was a Puerto Rican invasion!

"Feelings between the Puerto Rican and Italian communities at that time were strained, as is often the case when low-income ethnic enclaves find themselves competing for housing, schools, and recreational areas. The Italians saw the Puerto Ricans as encroaching; the Puerto Ricans saw the Italians as shutting them out. 

"Now here they were, those wild Puerto Ricans rolling a blazing cavalcade right into the middle of Marc's talk and into the middle of Italian Harlem. Would he react with fury at the interruption? No, he flashed them a big smile, waved vigorously, and shouted an extended rousing welcome in Spanish. By now it was obvious that the invasion from Spanish Harlem was a friendly one. These were Marc's supporters and he had been expecting them all along. 

"What happened next was something I shall never forget. As if of one mind, the large crowd of Italian-American men all turned toward the caravan rolling up Lexington Avenue and broke into thunderous applause and deep-throated cheers. At that moment we realized that the Puerto Ricans were not our competitors; they were our allies. (In addition, we probably were impressed that Marc could marshal such enthusiastic support from Spanish Harlem.)

"Many politicians divide the common people against each other. Marcantonio brought them together, showing them their mutual interests - which was one of the reasons he was so hated by the powers that be. 

"The Puerto Rican population of East Harlem in the late 1940s largely supported Vito Marcantonio because he was on the side of the renters and workers, not the landlords and bosses. He fought for the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the 1939 extension of the Social Security Act. He fought for job programs for Puerto Rican immigrants, and for a minimum hourly wage in Puerto Rico and numerous other legislation for the island's inhabitants. In his first House speech in 1936, he declared: 'Puerto Rico is the most tragic victim of American imperialism.' 

"People loved Marc because he meant it. He also lived it. He worked tirelessly building an effective organization that was both a political machine and a social service agency. His office in East Harlem was always open to people in need. He put in 14-hour days and never took a real vacation throughout his public career. In 1954, at the age of 52, he burned out; while getting ready to launch a campaign for mayor, he fell dead in the street. 

"I went to his funeral, waiting in the long line to pass his open casket. Then out in the street again I found myself in conversation with a saddened African American woman. She told me how much inspiration and clarity Marc had brought to everything and how she would miss him. We both missed him already.

"Vito Marcantonio goes unnoticed in the official political history of this nation. But he was loved and mourned by hundreds of thousands. For some of us he remains unmatched.

"And I will never forget that night on Lucky Corner when that entire crowd of Italian men did a left face toward Lexington Avenue and gave heartfelt cheers and applause to their newly acquired Puerto Rican allies, just as Marc wanted."

------Michael Parenti, Waiting For Yesterday - Pages From a Street Kid's Life, pps. 93-7

WSJ Recommends Eliminating Frills and Extras in the Family Budget

Feb 14, 2023 at 10:10 am ET

Wall Street Journal

To Save Money, Maybe You Should Skip Breakfast

Saturday, February 4, 2023

We Need Democracy, Which Is Far More Than Voting

By Frank Scott


As the imperial system of global capitalism suffers an ever more dangerous breakdown at its crumbling headquarters in the USA the once near insanity of its leadership class edges closer to stark raving lunacy.


While a new administration presides over what many hoped would be a return to normal after the even more blatant and open worship of wealth, war and Israel of the Trump regime, what's missed is that what passes for normal is what needs radical change. As long as market normalcy in the USA means hundreds of thousands are homeless, millions are living in poverty and millions more than that are so much deeper in debt than ever before in our history that the World Bank warns of the possibility of social collapse.


Our (?) government presently needs trillions of dollars more of debt creation to pay off a minority of national and international loan sharks and is presently debating how much more we should borrow to create even more death and destruction than we have already caused.  Calling or considering this a situation that passes for normal is not just highly judgmental but criminally immoral and a danger to all of humanity.


While more than a million Americans have died in a pandemic that has wreaked economic havoc among almost all the population, millionaires have become multi-millionaires, multi-millionaires have become billionaires and some billionaires approach becoming trillionaires. A comfortable class of their servants spreads often well-meaning tales of profit-seeking evil individuals whose crime is survivable if only anti-social media mavericks purchase their products available at web sites and on podcasts. In a fanatically anti-social age of capitalism this market "normality" awaits the hopeful arrival of a Green New Deal salvation, named after the world war two version which brought better lives to many, creating a middle class for some but stark horror for more when billions of public dollars were spent to aid survival of the richest while allowing enough money to trickle down to pass for a welfare state form of capitalism. It now actually threatens to bring on even more dreadfulness to an even greater population.


This time some trillions in government domestic spending are proposed when tens of trillions are needed but will never be found under the market forces of private profit "normalcy" which spends hundreds of billions on imperial war.  We need a radical restructuring of the economic, political and value system that treats all of nature, earth, air, water and human beings as commodities to be bought, sold, rented in pursuit of enormous private profit for an ever shrinking number while increasing the hundreds of millions who sink lower economically while bearing the public loss that is the outcome of all private profit.


While a hopeful program for domestic progress is proposed by some, the old deal of the murderous warfare state is even more dangerous than ever, with the crackpots of the Trump regime replaced by even more experienced creators of mass murder policies and practices to preserve the alleged chosen people status of America's ruling capital and its servant class of often sincere worshippers of the idea of democracy who make it impossible by their service to the most anti-social, viciously anti-democratic political economic system that has reached a point of threatening not only America but the entire world.


The old cold war against communism is no more, but the new one against capitalist Russia and China has introduced greater spending on warfare than ever before and the sheer mind numbing idiocy of a daily barrage of mis and dis-information coming from the bowels of corporate mass media and naturally extending to most of their small time imitators at what is often called social media though it usually operates as anti-social as the system dictates. All of us are endangered by the potential of a nuclear confrontation provoked by the fanatic war cult serving the alleged interest of democracy, peace and freedom the way pimps serve the interest of love, marriage and family.


Naturally, this is treated as massive terror threats from outside enemies and desperately needing trillions spent on what is called defense, which adequately protects the Americans militarily ringing the Russian border and sailing the South China seas, having hundreds of military bases thousands of miles from America's shores and conducting insurrections in foreign nations while gullible Americans are led to believe a large demonstration at the capital in which fewer humans suffered than in an average hour of automobile traffic was a threat to our sacred democracy which has as much material substance as Santa Claus. This is sold to a mentally imprisoned population as a defense of America rationalized by a bi-partisan leadership of republicrats and demublicans collectively dumb enough to pick their noses and call it self lobotomy while offering absolutely no help at all to more than 25 million Americans without health care and more than half a million without shelter.


Despite the unrelenting intellectual and moral garbage being force fed to consumers of what is called by some our sacred democracy, newer generations contain more critical numbers than ever speaking out and showing signs of no more tolerance for this mass murdering drivel. Current mind mashing daily bulletins about Putin's being a murderous imperialist and Chinese performing genocide on Islamic people are part of the daily diet of intellectual sewage that passes for reporting in the news marketplace, where more minds are being destroyed while more wealth is created by the media servants of capital.


Daily bulletins inform (?) us that Russia and China are brutalizing their people while we slaughter thousands, destroy nations and reduce millions to poverty, defining all that as freedom and democracy. If there were a judgmental and vindictive deity such as the one created in the more sadistic episodes of Old Testament mythology that had one destroy the planet because of false worship or a bad migraine, there might be a cataclysmic explosion, earthquake, holocaust and plague every fifteen minutes until our nation was obliterated.


Luckily, we only have to deal with the largest population of earth dwellers growing fed up with a material reality forced on them by allegedly higher forms of humans practicing a form of political economics that might create a Department of Rape and call it a Ministry of Love.


The rest of the world is retaliating by offering lessons in humanity to western social degeneracy by describing how it is possible to end poverty by investing in people rather than murdering them. This revolutionary idea is the main reason for China and Russia being treated as enemies of private profit and public loss, even as both their economies still live according to augmented global rules of capital. Until humanity and not just one or another nation face the reality in which we all live and return to our roots in communal cooperation, the divisions of our race into separate but unequal minorities instead of a unified organism which is what we are and should act like we will be assured an extremely dim future, beginning with a nuclear holocaust which can be the outcome of present national madness especially centered in the western world minority that passes for leadership. The time to create global democracy was never more present nor possible nor necessary than the present moment and those of the ruling minority must be replaced before the majority pays the most awful price.  


The word democracy is far more revered than the practice and while the right to vote is a necessary part of the process what we vote for is absolutely more important than simply accepting as we do in America two sides of the same capitalist coin and calling it democracy. In Germany democracy put Hitler and the Nazi party in power and in America we are seeing a collapse in all aspects of our system and while it is especially obvious in the economics reducing the standard and cost of everyday life, the political structure of war and profit worship goes hand in hand. We must create real democracy and it must ultimately extend globally to all our people so that the action needed for social transformation can be up to and include all and not just some. We need to speed up that process which is well underway but not yet apparent to far too many of us. We need to stop watching the news and start making it.  Fast.


Friday, February 3, 2023

Debunking The Debunkers 2: Immigration

Michael Slager writing in Counterpunch magazine (The Migrant "Crisis" and 10 Misperceptions About Immigration, February 3, 2023) offers the following corrections to commonly raised concerns related to immigration in the United States. These concerns are debunked in turn by Legalienate.

1. Immigrants Cause Crime

"US government statistics and reputable criminology literature have shown that high concentrations of immigrants do not make crime worse and may even help to lower it. It is worth noting that US-born citizens are twice as likely as undocumented immigrants to commit violent crimes and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses."

This claim does not address the fact that a crime committed by an illegal immigrant is not one that citizens should have to deal with, whereas the crimes of one's fellow citizens are. The issue is the legitimization of violations of immigration law, not the spillover effects from those violations, be they good, bad, or neutral.

 2. Immigrants Might Be Terrorists

"It is highly unlikely that a foreign-born terrorist would kill a U.S. citizen. A study conducted by the CATO institute in 2019 found that the chances are 1 in 3.8 million per year. The likelihood of a refugee killing someone in a terrorist attack is one in 3.86 billion per year."

In other words, 911 was statistically improbable, which may be true, but not particularly helpful to know, given the trauma such an event inevitably causes. Furthermore, CATO is hardly a neutral source on immigration matters. They find no wage too low, no conditions too degrading, and no reason not to support "free labor" (i.e., desperate and exploited workers) going wherever it feels it needs to, regardless of what the law may require. If the entire planet is to be reduced to a "free trade zone," immigration law is illegitimate. If this is one's position, it should be stated up front.

3. They Take Our Jobs

"When an immigrant enters the workforce a US citizen is either not affected at all or finds work more suitable to their skills. Regarding so-called low or unskilled work, some Americans move into managerial or leadership roles because of their proficiency in English and knowledge of the culture. Labor displacement can happen, but it is a very small percentage and primarily affects those without high school diplomas, who, as I noted, often move into better positions."

It is unlikely that all the black workers who used to staff the nation's hotels moved up into managerial positions. Admitedly, Slager only claims that "some" move up, but then the question becomes, "What about the others?" about which he says nothing. Also, he should address the issue of an overall depression of wages brought about by a "reserve army of the unemployed," which has long been a staple of realistic economic analysis. If it is no longer operative, or somehow not applicable to the millions of desperate workers arriving to the U.S. from abroad, he needs to explain why. 

4. They Want To Live Off The Government

"Undocumented migrants are not eligible for welfare, food stamps, or Medicaid. Eligible migrants or legal immigrants use welfare at far lower rates than US-born citizens. In general, they are about 30 percent less likely to apply for welfare, than the US population, even though rates of poverty among some immigrant communities are far higher."

Why would excluded people apply for welfare at all? It makes no sense to say they are ineligible and can't receive anything, but at the same time they go on applying. (Actually, the welfare comment appears to be about legal immigrants - my error.) In any case, the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants ARE eligible, so welfare reaches them that way. Also, there are a range of programs from free food to low-cost medical care to free therapy and free English lessons that are available to the undocumented, though it might not be defined as "welfare." Suffice it to say that the undocumented immigrant package in the U.S. is far more generous than anything available in their countries of origin, which provides the inducement for them coming here. It hardly justifies the abuses they are forced to endure in getting and living here, but it is government and non-profit (i.e., quasi-government) support.

5. They Cost Us Money

"No, they do not. According to Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell University, documented and undocumented immigrants paid $328 billion federal, state, and local taxes in 2014 alone. The Social Security Administration estimates that unauthorized migrant workers paid about $12 billion into the Social Security trust fund in 2010. As noted, they are not eligible for benefits. By contrast, former President Trump paid out $750 in federal income taxes in 2016."

The total tax figure has to be compared to the total government costs at the local, state, and federal level in support of undocumented immigrants. Slager doesn't provide this number, simply moves on to Social Security, which is a related topic, but doesn't speak to the overall point.

6. They Are A Drag On The Economy

"Many foreign-born workers move to regions in the United States where there are labor shortages, stimulating local economies. Migrants are often more willing to move because of fewer familial ties. Lots of migrant women work in childcare, which allows native born parents, especially American women, to seek employment outside the home."

Yes, many migrants abandon their children to work and support them from the United States, which allows many American parents to abandon their children daily in order to work outside the home. This may not be a drag on the economy, but it's usually an emotional drag for the kids, especially when they are little. Yes, aggregate economic figures can make it look like this is a benefit all the way around, but is it really? 

7. They Refuse To Learn English

"After a decade of residency, a vast majority of immigrants speak English well. As a former ESL teacher, I can say that the demand for English classes, and it often exceeds available seats in the classroom."

It often takes ten or more years to gain residency, so "after a decade of residency" can mean after living a couple of decades in the U.S. In that span of time every single person should have picked up fluent English, which is not to say grammatically perfect, accent-free English, but fluent communication ability. Many immigrants who arrive as adults do not manage to do this, but this is not due to an outright refusal to learn. The real issue is the capitalist imperative of cheap labor, which undermines adequate investment in the workforce, and certainly does not support years of expensive language training. When the workforce doesn't speak English well, it produces all kinds of communication frustrations, which aren't perceived as a problem unless they interfere with profits. Nevertheless, communication problems always generate resentment. How could they not?

8. They Refuse To Assimilate

The pattern for assimilation has been roughly the same for over a century. Ethnic enclaves in major cities generally only last for about three (and often fewer) generations. One immigrant group is often replaced by others, who then repeat the pattern of settlement and assimilation.

Yes, they assimilate all too well, even to the point of identifying white people as "Americans" and people of color as separate, lesser races. Why are we teaching them to do that?

9. They Are "Illegal."

Approximately 75 percent of all immigrants are here legally. The other 25 percent are not, but of this group, 40% overstayed their visas.

This response misses the point that the line between legal and illegal has been hopelessly blurred by cheap labor policy subsidizing corporate profits. If you enter the U.S. illegally the consequence is supposed to be that you are removed from the country for a period of at least ten years before you are even eligible to apply for a legal visa. This so-called Law of Punishment has been reduced to a brief formality (exit the country for a day, a week, or a couple months and then re-enter legally) or not applied at all. Illegal entry or overstaying a legal visa has been legitimized as the first step on the "path to citizenship." U.S. law, however, continues to define it as a serious violation. We shouldn't be trying to have it both ways.

10. The Borders Are Wide Open

This is false. The southern border is significantly militarized and monitored by almost 17,000 agents. The cost of policing the border is over $16 billion per year. Under the Biden administration hundreds of thousands of people have either been refused entry or deported.

The borders are militarized, and also porous enough to have let millions of illegal immigrants find their way in. But the border fetish is really almost beside the point. Illegal immigrants are fleeing the aftermath of U.S. sponsored military and CIA interventions, as well as "free market" orthodoxy that has made any kind of decent life impossible for all but the few around the "undeveloped" world. Thus, they have legitimate claims to make against the U.S. government. How about we focus on and solve the real problem, instead of dividing ourselves into warring identity factions?


Thursday, February 2, 2023

Debunking The Debunkers: How To Reason With Scientists and Other Partially Rational Creatures

Scientists are increasingly aware that they need to improve their skills of public engagement, so as to combat scientific misinformation more effectively than they have been able to manage to date. This is a welcome development on the whole, as the American public's scientific illiteracy is boundless, which has contributed to substantial unnecessary loss of life in the Covid era, and promises to continue to do so on a range of issues in the future. Having said that, however, it is becoming equally clear that the unexamined assumptions of the scientists hoping to keep us properly informed may lead us as far astray as the self-interested propaganda put out by pseudo-scientific grifters. 

Consider the following passage from a recent book on how to reason with "science deniers."

"Content Rebuttal and technique rebuttal can be effective tools."

"We already know, based on the work of Schmid and Betsch, that it is possible to present science deniers with information that might change their minds. In the case of COVID-19 denial, what information might that be? With content rebuttal, we might share the studies showing that masks are effective. With technique rebuttal, we might point out the problem with conspiracy reasoning, either just before or just after they have heard scientific misinformation. Or - if that doesn't work - perhaps we might exploit their predilection for conspiracist thought. Imagine a conversation in which you are talking to a COVID-19  denier (which means that the person is already predisposed to believe in conspiracy theories), and you share the fact that Russia and China are engaged in a massive disinformation campaign on social media in support of the idea that the coronavirus is a 'hoax' and we need to 'liberate' ourselves from more lockdown restrictions. This is not a conspiracy theory, it is a real live conspiracy! Might this not appeal to them? I've cited some sources earlier in this chapter that you can print out and hand to them. Some even include graphs and charts. You might encourage your interlocutor to think about who is benefiting from all the polarization and division in the U.S. Doesn't that make them even a little bit suspicious? If all else fails, suggest that they do their own research. It is perverse, but it just might work!"

-----Lee McIntyre, How To Talk To A Science Denier (MIT Press, 2021) p. 174


We might cite studies showing that masks are effective. 

True, we might, but that won't necessarily have the desired effect, as there are also studies showing that masks are ineffective. McIntye's book shows that cherry picking data is a key problem in "science denial," so how can he justify overlooking the studies that run counter to his preferred conclusion? See, for example, Dr. Dean Edell's Eat, Drink, & Be Merry," (HarperCollins, 1999) p. 246, which cites a study of 1500 Swedish surgeons showing that working maskless did not result in a higher rate of infections,  and more recently, "The scientific case against face masks," (Unherd TV, January 13, 2023), which cites a range of mask studies claiming they are minimally effective or ineffective. For those who feel that the kind of mask is all-important, check with the This Week In Virology podcast, which recently cited a study of medical workers that concluded surgical masks and N95 masks were about equally effective in preventing disease transmission.

We might point out the problem with conspiracy reasoning. . .

Again, we might, but if we do we also have to point out that McIntyre's own sources claiming "apparently" massive Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns targeting Americans about Covid 19 and other issues are anonymous U.S. government officials whose intelligence services have a record of lying, distortion, and propaganda that make Mao and Stalin look like hopeless amateurs. In other words, he's as guilty of conspiracy thinking as the "science deniers" he's calling out in his book. It's difficult to see how hypocrisy is the road to rational consensus.**

I've cited some sources earlier in the chapter that you can print out and hand to them.

Which is about as condescending as it gets. Jehovah's Witnesses use this approach. Should that convince us their worldview is rational?

In any case, why would this be a better approach than people sharing links to their favorite online sources, as is commonly done, with no evidence that it leads to broader and deeper rational consensus? On the contrary. It leads to wholesale denunciation of those who fail to accept the presumably superior insight of one's favored sources. 

Some even include graphs and charts.

Graphs and charts are not inherently more credible sources of information than pure text, as McIntyre seems to believe. They are freely used in TV medicine ads, for example, with no sensible person believing that the claims made on behalf of the glorified products are therefore scientifically justified. Far from it. In short, trying to convince someone by the supplements an argument has (visual aids) rather than the substance it conveys is exactly what a critical thinker should want to avoid. The only things that really matter are the accuracy and relevance of the facts presented, and the quality of the logic leading to a conclusion.

You might encourage your interlocutor to think about who is benefiting from all the polarization and division in the U.S.

This is good advice, but the answer is not "Russia and China," as McIntyre thoughtlessly assumes, but the U.S. national security state and the banks and other corporations that dominate it, who need to keep the 99% divided so the 1% can continue ruling. The power of the propaganda apparatus they have developed to mislead the public mind (and prevent a popular mobilization against the capitalist state) is unprecedented in human history, with the possible exception of the medieval Church. On top of substantial political propaganda, trillions of dollars have been spent on marketing and public relations in the U.S., an effort overtly designed to bring forth "The New Consumerist Man," dwarfing the far more limited expenditures of officially socialist states to create "The New Socialist Man," or the truly microscopic allocations allegedly devoted to confusing Americans about Covid. Suffice it to say that Moscow and Beijing's contribution to false American beliefs is - at most - about as significant as how much your toaster contributes to global warming.

Do your own research! 

Uh, no. Do your research in collaboration with others. This is how science works, and how democracy best works. Doing one's own research invites endless ratification of confirmation bias, that is, selectively looking for information that reinforces what one already believes. Only when we interact with others do we have a chance of discovering our errors. This is less likely to happen online, where information is curated for your eyes only, which leads to ideological silos where underlying assumptions remain unseen and unchallenged. So do your research with others, and include people who hold different initial assumptions than you do, though hopefully not too radically different. And be respectful.

Obviously, science has a lot to teach us about what the relevant facts are and how they are best accounted for in areas of specialized knowledge, but there are no grounds for believing that when scientists venture into social and political thought that their conclusions are any better than those of the next guy you meet at the bus stop.


**McIntyre's dubious sources on alleged Russian and Chinese disinformation include:  "The Coronavirus Gives Russia and China Another Opportunity to Spread Their Disinformation," Washington Post, March 29, 2020. Also, "Chinese Agents Spread Messages That Sowed Virus Panic in U.S., Officials Say," New York Times, April 22, 2020