Friday, June 30, 2006


Inequality is a Law of Nature? [Political Affairs archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Science and the Rich

New Scientist, the British science magazine more or less equivalent to Science News in the US, but a step down from Scientific American, has a wonderful article in its March 12-18 ‘05 issue. The article, by Jenny Hogan, is headed "There’s one rule for the rich... Anyone trying to redistribute wealth in a market economy may be up against a law of nature."

A law of nature? That would certainly make economic reform in favor of the poor a rather more difficult task than the left has envisioned. On the other hand, it favors those who want to abolish the market altogether.

What is Hogan talking about? A remarkable discovery has been made as a result of studying the US economy. Hold on to your hats, but scientists have found out that "The rich are getting richer while the poor remain poor." This astounding fact has emerged from a study of the US economy since 1979. In that year the income gap between the top one percent of the population and the bottom 20 percent was 33:1. By 2000 it was 88:5.

Hogan says that this gap will likely grow if the scientists (physicists) are correct with the new model of capitalism (the market economy) they are drawing up based on the laws of physics holds true.

A new science is in the making – a blend of physics and economics called "econophysics" and Hogan’s article is a news account about the conference to be held this week in Kolkata, India, a first for the new science.

She quotes Sudhakar Yarlagadda from the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, which is located in Kolkata, who is concerned about "understanding whether there is some kind of social injustice behind this skewed distribution" of wealth. Let’s hope not! If the US showed signs of social injustice what in the world would be going on in Kolkata, Bombay and New Delhi? India might have its own problems with "skewed distribution." But if this is all due to a law of nature what’s to be done?

Well, even if some people are confused about the "injustice issue" others are not, or at least they think society is "unfair." Hogan quotes Robin Marris a retired economist from the University of London. He says, "People on the whole have normally distributed attributes, talents and motivations, yet we finish up with wealth distributions that are much more unequal than that."

How are we to explain all this? Hogan tells us that there is some sort of "power law" (mathematical powers) at work that was discovered by Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) that explained why the rich people in Europe ended up with most of the wealth.

Who was Pareto? Excuse me for this small digression. He was an economic philosopher who came up with an idea now known as "Pareto optimality" as a measure of the efficiency of an economic system. This, and not his "power law," is the real basis of his philosophy.

That system is optimal when it can’t be changed in anyway so that to help a person B a person A will be hurt. So it is not efficient if, in order to abolish slavery, the slaves benefit at the expense of the masters. Any income redistribution would violate this optimality of the system.

Pareto’s system was very status quo. It favored free trade, economic elites (about three percent of the population as calculated by his "power law"), and authoritarian governments. While Pareto lived in Switzerland and was apolitical, he had a big fan down in Italy by the name of Benito Mussolini who adopted many of his ideas and gave him many honors. But as one author says (Peter Winch), "since he died after only one year of the fascist regime, his considered attitude to it must be a matter of conjecture." Hmmm.

Now back to Hogan. She says that while the rich are governed by Pareto’s law (fascists and their friends will protect the "efficiency" of the system for the benefit of the ruling class) the rest of us, including the poor, have been found to be subject to "a completely different law." We act like atoms in a gas.

How does this work? Hogan turns to a physicist at the University of Maryland, Victor Yakovenko, who after researching Internal Revenue Service statistics concluded that Pareto was correct about the upper crust three percent. His "power law" rules this group (and limits it numbers – not four percent or ten percent – the rich are three percent – actually between two and three).

The rest of us, just as atoms in a gas exchange energy when they randomly collide with one another, are randomly interchanging economically with a host of other people – only we exchange money for services and goodies, etc. Just as the gas/atom system has the same amount of energy in it after all the random collisions (conservation of energy), so does the economy regulating the 97%. When the day is done and we are all back home after dealing with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, and they are done with us, money has been redistributed but the amount of money is the same – just in different pockets. We are different from the elite because they are also creating wealth which trickles down to us. That is why we should not mess with them.

"This, along with research data from other countries," Hogan concludes, "suggests that there are two economic classes. In one, the rich grow richer while in the other the poor stay poor." This is an amazing scientific discovery. Who would have thought of this? This should go a long way to increase the credibility of science with the Bush administration. Left wing malcontents are simply anti-scientific and refusing to except a law of nature.

The good news for millionaire wannabe’s is that because the system is random it is possible for a member of the masses to jump into the elite once in a while (the lotto factor). But, Yakovenko warns, any type of social policy designed to redistribute the wealth of society to help the poor would be ill-advised. His atom/gas model, plus Pareto’s theories indicate trying to transfer the goodies from one class to another (from rich to poor that means) "will be very inefficient short of getting Stalin." Yikes!

Well I’m glad that’s settled. There is no arguing with science. I just wonder if there is a mad scientist somewhere on the verge of discovering a system where the wealth is actually being transferred from the poor to the rich. What kind of system would that be like?

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Thursday, June 29, 2006



Sartre at 100

By Thomas Riggins

The French are honoring their most famous 20th century thinker – Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). The French National Library in Paris is mounting a major exhibition dedicated to his life and works. Although Sartre had a rocky relationship with the French Communist Party he considered himself a "Marxist" of sorts. The New York Times has even weighed in with some opinions about this ("To Honor Sartre, France Buffs A Pedestal the Writer Rejected" by Alan Riding, 3/16/05).

I can’t say that Riding’s article is always informative. Take this observation, for example, regarding Sartre’s image as a "Left Bank intellectual." "Even for many French people, his embrace of Communist causes placed him on the wrong side of history." This was at a time when a fourth of the French were voting for Communists, so its also true that many French people (and not only the French) think he was on the right side of history.

Those causes, by the way, were for world peace, anti-racism, anti-imperialism, and freedom for the colonial peoples. Whatever may have happened to Communism – these were (and are) the right causes. As for "causes," we can learn something from Sartre when we reflect on his statement that "if I ask myself ‘Will the social ideal as such, ever become a reality?’ I cannot tell, I only know that whatever may be in my power to make it so, I shall do; beyond that, I can count upon nothing." You can’t be on the wrong side of that.

Riding observes that Sartre’s reputation is approaching that of the great French pantheon (which he may soon join) of Voltaire, Hugo and Zola. But Riding shows his true colors when he states that as "political visionaries," Raymond Aron (the conservative pro-US cold war intellectual) and Albert Camus "stand taller because their view of freedom was untainted by association with Stalinism or Maoism." Guilt by association! While Camus couldn’t bring himself to back the right of the Algerians to throw the French out, Sartre risked his life (he survived a bomb plot) speaking out against French repression in Algeria. So much for standing tall!

Camus died young, while he was still developing, so I don’t want to be too judgmental about him. But Aron was a typical conservative. He supported the so-called "Free World." He is dead so I don’t know how he would think about the "freedom" we are bombing the people of Iraq into.

Riding asks "is Sartre remotely relevant today?" He seems to think not. But this is a difficult question. He seems to base his judgment on the fact that Sartre is no longer fashionable or as fashionable as he once was. This is a different question from relevance. Sartre was both a popular writer and a philosopher. His big philosophical tomes (Being and Nothingness: The Critique of Dialectical Reasoning) were never best sellers. He articulated a philosophy of human freedom known as "existentialism" and tried to hook this up with Marxism. I think as long as there is a struggle to attain a more just and free world, and as long as society is dominated by class struggle and exploitation, serious people will find Sartre’s philosophy relevant even if they do not ultimately accept it.

Riding briefly outlines some of Sartre’s politics but his readers will get the wrong impression from his presentation. He writes that Sartre played no political role until after the liberation of Paris and that he "cheerfully" produced his plays and books during the German occupation after having been a prisoner of war for "a few months." The implication is that Sartre did not do his duty. Riding fails to mention that Sartre did have a role in the Resistance during the occupation. He ended up with a minor role because the Resistance was practically run by the Communist Party and Sartre was unwilling to commit himself, as pointed out by Thomas Baldwin (The Oxford Companion to Philosophy) to the Party or the Gauillists. After the war no one thought Sartre derelict in his duty.

Riding next wishes to put Sartre "in the dock." "Placed in the dock today," he writes, Sartre would face two charges: between 1952 and 1956, he was a fellow traveler of the French Communist Party, albeit breaking with it after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956." The charges should be amended. Sartre was more than a "fellow traveler." According to Baldwin, Sartre was member of the French Communist Party having joined during the Korean War. While he left the Party over the 1956 Hungary issue, his final break with it did not occur until 1968. [This does not appear to be accurate as most bios of Sartre maintain he was never a member of the French Comunist Party--tr]

What about this first charge. Only a typical right-wing anticommunist know nothing would want to put Sartre in the dock on this charge. Throughout France and Italy the Communists were extremely popular in the years before the invasion of Hungary. Europeans knew to whom their liberation from Hitler and his Nazi armies was due. We Americans like to say we saved the French, that we defeated the Nazis, etc., and carry on as if we should get most of, or even all of, the credit.

You would think it was the Battle of the Bulge that decided the war. But 80% of the German forces were in the East confronting the Soviets. That is where the war was won. D-Day was a mopping up operation in comparison. Throughout Europe everyone knew it was the Communists who were the main force in the resistance movements against the fascists. For Sartre, who had committed himself to anti-imperialism, to peace, and to the working class as the most progressive class in society, it was only natural that he should support the Party.

The second charge was that in the years 1970-1974 he "supported French Maoists." This is a bogus charge, and Riding knows it. It was Voltaire, one of Sartre’s fellow pantheon members, who said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." And Riding says Sartre’s "counsel" could claim "he was defending their right to exist more than their views."

Riding reports on four more of Sartre’s positions – on which "time favored him." Independent intellectuals can often mess up – even with good intentions – and Sartre was no exception. I say this because I think he made errors in two of the four positions mentioned by Riding. But first the positive. One, he was one of the first to support the right of Algeria to independence. This took a lot of courage as French fascists tried to assassinate him for being so outspoken, Two, he was an opponent to the US war against the Vietnamese people. Riding could have elaborated a bit here. Sartre co-chaired (with Bertrand Russell) the International War Crimes Tribunal that exposed the acts of war crimes in Asia by the US (still, as usual, going on in Iraq and elsewhere.)

Now the negative. Three, he went to Cairo in 1967 and made a speech on the right of Israel to exist. That is all well and good but he should have also called for the creation of a Palestinian state. But this was before the 1967 war and the take over of the West Bank and the true nature of Zionism was not so clear to many European intellectuals. Finally he broke with Fidel and Cuba (1971) over the perennial question of "persecution" of dissidents. I can only say that Sartre was too shrill. He forgot that the full force of US imperialism was (and still is), as far as possible, being directed against Cuba and in order to survive it is only natural for the Cubans to take corrective action against those they perceive as helping the US against them internally. Sometimes Voltaire has to take a back seat until we can create the conditions to seat him front row center.

He had two other worthy actions according to Riding. He stood with the students in May 1968 and, near the end of his life, he supported the demand that Vietnamese boat people be given refuge in France. One should also note that he refused, in 1964, the Nobel Prize in Literature. Riding quotes him: "a writer should refuse to be allowed to be transformed into an institution."

With the collapse of the Soviet Union progressives around the world are being forced to rethink the Marxist tradition. Sartre wrote, "I consider Marxism the one philosophy of our time which we cannot go beyond and.… I hold the ideology of existence and its ‘comprehensive’ method to be an enclave inside Marxism, which simultaneously engenders it and rejects it." Whether Sartre is relevant or irrelevant will depend on how interested students of the future are in engaging with his thoughts on Marxism.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Review: Nobility & Civility, by Wm. Theodore de Bary
By Thomas Riggins

At 85, Wm. Theodore de Bary is one the deans of Asian Studies in the United States. Operating out of Columbia University he has edited and overseen the publication of the ubiquitous series of readers Sources of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Traditions. We are eagerly awaiting a Sources of the Vietnamese Tradition.

In his new book, Nobility & Civility: Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good, published by Harvard, 2004, de Bary examines many Asian cultures to see what they may have to offer to the "humanizing" of the march towards globalization. "Nobility" refers to "leadership", "Civility" to "public morality."

By studying the foundational cultural values of the Asian peoples (de Bary primarily discusses China and Japan with a nod to India) he hopes to show the possibility of a civilizational synthesis of western and eastern thought with respect to the future development of globalization. Without knowledge as to how the people of the past have dealt with the political consequences of their value systems "it will be difficult," he writes, "to see how anyone could be expected to recognize and cope with similar problems in the present." Without the humanizing values found in the Asian tradition, especially in Confucianism, becoming a part of the world’s educational background, globalization may become [I would say it already is] "degrading, dehumanizing, and destructive of the earth, beyond anything seen in the past."

He discusses Confucius’ conception of the "noble person" in the first chapter. Of course one cannot mechanically apply the Confucianism of ancient China, developed in a feudal society, to the modern world dominated by monopoly capitalism. Nevertheless, Confucianism is still a living force in Asia. What is still relevant, regardless of economic system, is the Confucian belief that the duty of government is to serve the people and should be consensual.

The rulers have, according to Confucians "responsibilities towards the disadvantaged and uneducated.... noblesse oblige as it would be called in the West." De Bary quotes from a Confucian work from the 4th or 3rd century B.C. (Chronicle of Mr. Zuo) which talks about a ruler driven out by his people (a revolutionary act indeed) and concludes "if he exhausts the people’s livelihood... and betrays the hopes of the populace... what use is he? What can one do but expel him?"

This is a fundamental Confucian value and is certainly applicable today. I don’t think, however that it is congruent with the fundamental values of the globalization process which is driven by the principle that the welfare of the people is always secondary to the need for profit and the financial supremacy of corporations.

Confucianism might be used to try and mitigate the ravages of capitalism by well meaning (but ineffective) idealists, but more than likely it would be used to cover up and mask the social reality of exploitation and human enslavement, much as Christianity is used by the Bush administration in the United States.

This is not, of course, the fault of Confucianism. It is in its homeland China where it has the best chance to succeed. The basic values of socialism are not at odds with the Confucian ideal.

It should be noted that after initial hostility to Confucianism (more to how it was abused by the ruling classes than to its philosophical content), the Chinese party now has a more positive relationship with Confucians. Under Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin de Bary notes that some in the leadership have been led to reevaluate the role of tradition (especially after the excesses of the "Cultural Revolution" under Mao) and he concludes that "it is understandable that the regime might favor a more civil tradition like Confucianism to provide the Chinese content for a Chinese socialism. Thus it has sanctioned a Confucian Association to promote scholarly discussion of the subject and traditional observances of rituals like the celebration of Confucius’ birthday."

Besides Confucianism in China, de Bary also traces the history of the Japanese reception of Confucianism. This is an interesting history and shows how the original pro-people content of this philosophy was corrupted by the ruling classes to justify their privileges and power. There are also chapters on the influence of Buddhism in both China and Japan.

In an epilogue de Bary points out that in a time when people are talking about a "clash of civilizations" and the incompatibility of other cultures with their own it is important that students be educated in the classics of other civilizations. "We owe it to ourselves," he writes, "to make another, more determined effort to understand how the... resources available within these traditions afford the means for a meaningful discourse to take place on each other’s terms."

One of the most important themes that de Bary thinks should be discussed is the Asian view of the status of the person. He attacks the chauvinist view that the value of the individual "is a peculiarly Western or Judeo-Christian idea and that people who do not recognize it cannot be expected to respect human rights."

De Bary maintains that the Asian cultural tradition has always been aware of the importance of the individual and his or her self-cultivation. He quotes the Japanese Confucianist, Nakamura Masanao (1832-1890) who said "As far as individual morality is concerned, regardless of past and present, East or West, the main principle is the one thing of self governance.... This is the central concern of the independent self and is the source and principle of freedom." If we link this with the duty of the government to provide the conditions that best promote the principle of freedom we will find that Confucianism has a natural ally in Marxism in combating the inhumane practices of the movement towards globalization.

This is an important book and should be read by anyone interested in Asian culture.

Nobility and Civility: Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good by Wm. Theodore de Bary, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2004, 256pp.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs, and can be reached at

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Election 2006: How to Defeat the Right [PA Archival Materials]
By Thomas Riggins

While the Bushies and the ultra-right neofacists continue to saturate the airwaves and the media with the message of their mandate to rule and the new Republican majority, a tsunami of opposition has been building up in the consciousness of the American people. If the left can properly surf on the crest of this wave the Congressional Republican majority will be washed away in the midterm elections next year.

This opinion is based on a newly released New York Times/CBS News Poll that was published in the Times last Thursday and analyzed by Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder in a front page article entitled "Bush Doesn’t Share Public’s Priorities, New Poll Indicates."

We now know that President Bush is seen as not sharing "the priorities of most of the country on either domestic or foreign issues."

This has always been the progressive "people before profits" attitude of the left towards Bush and now it is the opinion of the majority of Americans. Sixty three per cent of the people reject Bush’s domestic priorities and 58 per cent his foreign ones.

These numbers indicate a real possibility exists to translate this disaffection with the President’s right wing neoconservative agenda into an electoral victory for progressive forces. This will only come about if the left forcefully challenges and exposes each and every one of Bush’s reactionary initiatives.

The only drawback from this optimistic assessment has to do with the public perception of the policies concerning Iraq. I say this because "there has been an increase in respondents [it is now fifty three percent] who say that efforts to restore order in Iraq are going well."

This indicates that the left must intensify its attack on the government’s Iraq policy. Since the corporate media monopoly has soaked the collective American brain with news of a triumphal election and new birth of "democracy" in the Iraq, it is an even more compelling duty for us to expose this deceitful cover for the continuing butchery of the Iraqi civilian population by the US military in its role as the private security force of the oil conglomerates.

But victory or defeat in the midterm elections will not depend on Iraq (barring a qualitative change in the nature of the conflict). Since "all politics are local", it is the domestic damage to the American people themselves that will be the lever used to topple Republican domination.

The opinion of one of those polled that, "the president favors big business over the health and well-being and overall stability of the entire American population" is the message that must be stressed with maximum intensity between now and the elections.

Right now, fifty-one percent of the people are opposed to Social Security privatization. This rises to sixty-nine percent when they are informed that private accounts "would result in a reduction in guaranteed benefits."

If the public can be convinced that this is indeed the most likely outcome of the private accounts scheme, then Bush is headed towards a complete defeat on this issue. A defeat that can be the foundation for a progressive program to rout him entirely.

Not even an advanced progressive agenda can be ruled out. The poll found that almost eighty percent of the American people believe "it was the government’s responsibility to assure a decent standard of living for the elderly." This belief is totally inconsistent with the thinking of the ultra-right neofascists that presently control this country.

In fact it is a confirmation of the thesis put forth by Sam Webb, the national chair of the CPUSA, in his "No mandate, no surrender" (available from PA) that the idea "we are two nations" split "into different worlds with different desires, values, and hopes" is a hoax.

The idea that the government should "assure" the well-being of the elderly, held by almost eighty percent (!) shows that the vast majority hold at least one position based on a broad progressive and humanist value that is even consistent with socialism. We must be able to demonstrate that this value is not only inconsistent with the Republican philosophy but incapable of achievement outside of the politics based on a broad center-left progressive coalition.

Bush’s approval rating is forty nine per cent. That is still too high for this enemy of the people to enjoy, but is far from a national mandate, as he claims, for his reactionary pro war political agenda.

This poll (it has a three percent margin of error, plus or minus), I think, shows that a real political opportunity to defeat reaction is at hand. If we can concentrate on the issues that are now upper most in the minds of most Americans, such as the war and especially Social Security and other domestic issues, and link these to a center-left coalition which includes other left issues (environmental problems, child care and education, unionization, unemployment, are a few others) there is no reason at all why the Congress should remain in the hands of the Republicans after 2006.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Monday, June 26, 2006


To Believe or Not to Believe
By Thomas Riggins

With all the talk of Red State religious reaction and the Republican-Evangelical alliance, I thought it time to bone up on Theology. A good place to start is David F. Ford’s Theology: A Very Short Introduction all the information you will ever need (unless you’re born again) packed into 175 pages. Anyway, critics of Marxism have often taken to calling it a type of religion-- a secular religion-- so maybe this book will reveal if there are any parallels. I don’t myself think Marxism is a religion, but that is not to say that some of the actions of the ultra-left don’t confuse the issue. This book, by the way, is basically about Christian theology.

We are informed early on that there are five different ways to practice this discipline (based on the work of Hans Frei). The first way (the order is arbitrary) is to take some current philosophical position and use it to explain and interpret the Bible. Right-wing Evangelicals won’t go for this unless they want to explain the Bible in terms of the Republican national platform instead of vice versa. I can see using Marxism in this way, however. That is, to explain the Bible in terms of class struggle, false ideological reflections of consciousness based on the primitive production processes of nomads, etc. This type of theological endeavor approaches religion from the outside. Ford considers this an extreme position to take.

Another extreme position, he tells us, is to interpret everything in terms of "classical" Christianity. We are talking about a "fundamentalist" position. Interestingly, Ford brings up the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein in this context. Wittgenstein’s notion of "language games" is discussed. Let me explain. Just as Chess is a game with a set of rules-- to play Chess you must follow the rules, so you can look at Fundamentalism as a language game (this is not how fundamentalists look at it). The game of Fundamentalism has as its rule "the Bible has to be defended as always right and correct about everything." To be a fundamentalist is to use this rule to interpret everything going on in the world about you. An atheist can play this game if she wants to, anybody can. A Wittgensteinian would also see Marxism as a language game. The rules of the Marxist language game are to explain things using the labor theory of value from Das Kapital plus Lenin’s views on party building, revolution and imperialism (if you are playing the Marxist-Leninist game). There are variations on this game--i.e., the Trotsky game, the Mao game, etc. Marxists won’t accept this philosophy, of course, but maybe it has heuristic value.

After discussing these "extreme" positions, Ford comes to three other types which he calls "mainstream." One of these is illustrated by the theology of Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). He took Existentialism as a model and used it to explain what he took to be the deepest meaning of the New Testament. Here we take a modern philosophy which is relevant to how (some) people attempt to understand life and use it to make sense of the Bible. This is very academic and has no broad mass following. The other two kinds of theology are also academic. This differs from the first type because it is inside Christianity, as it were, and not approaching it from the outside. While Marxism can use Christianity in the first type, it would be Christianity using Marxism in this type. By the way, Liberation Theology was a popular non-academic example of this type of theology (in my opinion, Ford does not discuss it.)

The next type is called by Ford "correlation" theology-- practiced by Paul Tillich (1886-1965). Here we try to correlate Christian ways of thinking and doing things with other systems as ways to enhance dialog and understanding. This is something Muslims, Jews and Christians should be doing. Marxism amd Liberation Theology could also play a role in this type of thinking.

Finally, the last type discussed by Ford, is a milder form of fundamentalism. That is to say, it assumes the basic truth of Christianity but is interested in the community of Christians and how they relate to other traditions. It differs, it seems , from fundamentalism in being more liberal and open minded and not so 100% literal. Ford suggests that Karl Barth (1886-1968) exemplifies this type. It should be noted that these types are not all mutually exclusive and that a Marxist outlook may be compatible (at least politically) with all but those associated with fundamentalism.

There is a chapter on Jesus Christ which is very revealing as far as the status of theology as a science goes. The point of this chapter is to try to answer the following question: "is the historical probability of the testimony to Jesus in the New Testament sufficient to sustain the plausibility of the Jesus Christ of Christian faith?" For Marxists this boils down to what is the plausibility that a person can walk on water. If you can believe that you can believe anything.

Ford goes over the Biblical account of the life of Jesus and concludes that it is "not falsifiable"-- which is very different from "its capable of proof."

Ford also reads the gospel with a 21st century sensitivity to political correctness. The New Testament is very clear in portraying Pontius Pilot as not wanting to kill Jesus. He finds no fault with him, washes his hands, etc., "When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said His blood be on us, and on our children." Matthew 27:24-25.

For the politically correct David Ford, who does not see to it, this becomes: "It was the Romans who condemned and crucified him as a rebel because of the political threat." Anyone can read the New Testament in any way one likes.

The life of Jesus is "not falsifiable" but history is not the issue. When you read about Jesus in the Bible you are reading testimonies of what his followers believed and this will "challenge readers in far more radical ways than could a set of verified facts." What use have we for the facts?

The conclusion I come up with after reading this book is, as a Marxist, it is a waste of time to argue about religion (there are no verified facts so what's to argue about) and time is better spent trying to get people to take an interest in the problems facing all of us with respect to the exploitation and suffering all around us and that needs to be addressed by progressive political involvement.

David F. Ford, Theology: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2000.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Aaffairs and can be reached at

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Remembrance of Things Past: Marcuse 1961
By Thomas Riggins

Now that the Soviet Union has passed into history many people are writing books and articles trying to explain what happened. Perhaps some books written before the event are more enlightening then many written after it.

One such book, I would like to suggest, is Herbert Marcuse’s Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis. This book was originally published in 1958 and was roundly condemned both by pro-Soviet progressives and by the cold warriors of anticommunism.

Marcuse thought he must have gotten to the heart of things when both sides interpreted him as supporting the other. The truth, however, is that Marcuse was trying to be "objective"-- within the limits imposed by the political conditions of the 1950s.

This little review will only discuss Marcuse’s 1961 preface to the Viking paperback edition. Its point is to suggest that we can learn a great deal from a critical engagement with Marcuse, especially with respect to understanding the future prospects of a revitalization of the international working class movement. This is a hopeful article in the "it is always darkest before the dawn" tradition.

Marcuse wrote about the historical tendencies in the Soviet Union of Khrushchev. Now, almost forty five years later, we are in a position to evaluate his understandings of these tendencies.

One of the first things he discusses is the dispute over "peaceful coexistence" between the Soviets and the Chinese. Both sides accepted the need for peaceful coexistence but their reasons were very different-- in fact they were dialectically opposite so we might have expected that they would get together (a synthesis). We know this didn’t happen. The Soviets, in fact, were simply negated.

The dispute centered on the nature of imperialism-- and if you get this wrong you lose.

The Soviets maintained that Lenin’s thesis on the inevitability of war was no longer valid in the post World War II era. Both sides agreed that the "essence" of imperialism had not changed. The Chinese also conceded that it was possible to avert war.

So what was the problem? The Soviets maintained that the growing strength of the world socialist movement had weakened the imperialists and they were now not likely to want to engage in warlike activity. They needed peace to consolidate their weakened position and could be best contained in a non-confrontational matter through diplomacy and compromise-- meanwhile the ever growing power of the socialist world, in conjunction with the national liberation struggle in the third world, would make the imperialists behave themselves. The Chinese wanted a more militant struggle. This was an argument over tactics. The Chinese agreed that the balance of forces were now (the 1950s) tipping against the imperialists, but they thought this would make them even more, not less, likely to engage in warlike activity-- out of desperation.

The Vietnam War seems to show that the Chinese were correct. And even though that war ended in a great victory for third world peoples and a major imperialist defeat, the world balance of forces did not end up tipping against the imperialists. It now looks like they are in control.

But are they? What is the war in Iraq if not a desperate and foolish bid to try and dominate the middle east and its oil reserves by force ? The imperialists are squabbling among themselves and ever more areas of the world are beginning to stand up to them-- the DPRK, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and China are not under their control, and countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and South Africa are moving out of their orbit (we might also add Syria and Iran). There are also indigenous revolutionary movements in Nepal, Columbia and beginning in Bolivia and Equador which challenge the notion of imperialism’s unchecked dominance. So, while the Chinese no longer practice the militant foreign policy advocated in the 50s, it still seems to be correct.

Now Marcuse makes a very interesting point. He says a society should try "to satisfy the vital material and intellectual needs of all its members with a minimum of imposed labor," and this "requires planning and control of the economy with a view to this end; it also requires re-education with a view to exchangeability of functions and a transvaluation of values, subverting a repressive work morality."

The real world is very far from this state of affairs, it is full of privation, misery and exploitation as well as alienation. Marcuse says realists might dismiss the above as utopian and unrealistic blathering. He uses the word "eschatological" to describe his depiction of a society based on material freedom. The interesting point is that contemporary western societies based on capitalism do not even aim at creating such a society. It is also the case that the Soviet Union did not itself reflect such a society on the ground, as it were.

Nevertheless, according to Marcuse, the Soviet Union is a qualitatively (I should say "was") different type of industrial society than capitalism because its eschatological vision was precisely to create the above described society of material freedom. It held out this goal as an attainable reality only hindered by the historical conditions of backwardness and capitalist encirclement.

In 1958, Marcuse saw the possibility that the Soviet Union might be able to further develop its technological base so that "it may militate against the further use of technology for perpetuating individually unnecessary labor" this could lead "to the elimination of scarcity and toil."

Although Marcuse realized that he would be charged with utopian fantasies, he also maintained that compared to the the status quo (unacceptable human exploitation and alienation), the eschatological vision provided by the Soviet Union held out to humanity, and kept alive, the notion that another world was possible.

Even though the Soviet Union was destroyed by counterrevolutionary forces engendered by both its internal contradictions and its situation in a hostile capitalist encirclement, the vision of a just and humane society remains. It is up to us to keep it alive for the future.

Herbert Marcuse, Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis, New York, Vintage Books, 1961

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editror for Political Affairs and can be reached at:

Saturday, June 24, 2006


The Immoral Clarity of Natan Sharansky [A book preview]
By Thomas Riggins

Roger Cohen of The New York Times recently reviewed The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror by Natan Sharansky (former anti-Soviet dissident and now member of the Israeli cabinet of Ariel Sharon) with Ron Dermer. With so many books floating around, it is prudent to check out the reviews to see which ones may be worth reading. If you have progressive politics, for example, a book raved about by National Review is probably full of right wing nonsense-- only to be read to see what the ultra right is up to, but most likely not for enlightenment.

New York Times reviews are usually more nuanced. Roger Cohen’s review was fairly balanced-- but one thing shines through from the direct quotes he presents, and that is the utter hypocrisy of Sharansky and his promoters. PA hopes to give a full review of this book in a future issue-- but here is a preliminary impression to alert anyone thinking of dropping a few shekels for this right wing screed.

The toxicity of this book is first indicated by the fact of its canonization in the Bush White House. Cohen says it represents the post 9/11 Bush World View. He also notes that everything Sharansky has to say he says in the first 40 pages of the book (this may be why Bush read it).The rest of the book (it has 303 pages) is basically repetition.

Basic to his argument, according to Cohen, is something Sharansky calls "The town square test" (which, by the way, both Israel and the U.S. would flunk.) Cohen explains what this test is by quoting Condoleeza Rice: "The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls ‘the town square test’: if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a fear society has finally won their freedom."

How interesting. The same issue of the Times has a follow up article on the Ward Churchill vs. Hamilton College brouhaha. Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York, you might have read, canceled Churchill’s speech (too controversial) "citing security reasons, after professor Churchill drew more than 100 death threats and college leaders received warnings of violence" (read threats of alumni donations being canceled). And this is state sanctioned because the state failed to provide adequate security-- thus encouraging fear mongers and their terrorist activities. So lets clean up our own town squares before we prance around the world, killing hundreds of thousands of women and children, trying to clean up other people’s town squares.

And let us not forget that Sharansky is member of Ariel Sharon’s government which has created one of the greatest fear societies of the world through its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Schoolchildren can’t walk to their schools without fear that Israeli forces will open fire on them. This naturally provokes Palestinian counter attacks which also, unfortunately, target civilians. Nevertheless, there have been three times as many Palestinians killed by Israel than Israelis killed by Palestinians. Sharansky himself lives in a fear society.

Still, he maintains, according to Cohen, the following propositions: 1) every one on earth can attain freedom, 2) democratic societies are nonbelligerent (this will come as a surprise to the Iraqis) this is the best basis for world security (along with not having oil), 3) fear societies look for foreign enemies as a way to maintain themselves and hoodwink their citizens (the Russians are coming).

So, let us ask as to #1-- what happened when the people of Central America, or the people of Haiti, or Chile attempted to attain freedom? What is facing the people of Venezuela and their democratically elected government? As to #2-- does anyone seriously believe the U.S. and Israel are nonbelligernt? I mean anyone who has access to the alternative media and doesn’t get all their information from TV. Ask the people of Cuba, or Iraq for that matter. Ask the Palestinians, or the people of Lebanon, or the Egyptians who is or is not belligerent. As to #3, Bush was reelected, if Ohio wasn’t stolen by rigged voting machines and voter intimidation, by fear mongering about foreign terrorists and other enemies-- Iran, North Korea, Cuba, etc. And Israel does the same-- all the Arab countries are out to get them, the whole world is anti-Semitic, etc. If this is the content of Sharansky’s book, his belief that the West is somehow putting his propositions into practice, its just stupid.

Nevertheless, he claims that you must follow his propositions in order to have "moral clarity." Cohen quotes him: "We must recapture moral clarity by recognizing that the great divide between the world of fear and the world of freedom is far more important than the divisions within the free world."

This from a leader in a terrorist state with its own supply of unsanctioned weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. North Korea and Iran are outlaws, but its ok for Israel to have any weapons it wants.

He also has the cheek to write, "When it comes to promoting democracy and human rights across the globe, the values and interests of the free world are one and the same." This from a representative of a government which would not even to talk to Yasir Arafat, the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people. Again it is the old story, "democracy" and "freedom" mean you agree with us.

Here is another example of "moral clarity." "Israeli counterterror strikes are meant to save innocent life and Palestinian terror attacks are meant the take it." Well, I’m glad that is cleared up. But why have "counterterror strikes" killed three times as many civilians as the "terror attacks." This is just Sharansky’s way of saying his side is totally the side of the good guys.

With respect to the Israeli attack on the West Bank town of Jenin (2002)-- basically a civilian refugee camp attacked by bulldozers and tanks in what can only be called an atrocity. Sharansky states the attack was "one of the finest examples in history of a democracy protecting human rights in wartime." This is the moral clarity of the Wehrmacht.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of PA and can be reached at

Friday, June 23, 2006


Ward Churchill’s Roosting Chickens [Politcal Affairs Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Ward Churchill, former chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado/Boulder (he was forced to resign last week but remains a professor) is the latest victim of the ultra-right anti-first amendment crowd.

Professor Churchill has some opinions that differ from the usual yahoo unquestioning jingoism of the crypto-fascist Bush supporters, and as an American citizen he thought he had the right to express them.
But if Al Qaeda pulled off 9/11 because it "hates our way of life and our freedoms"-- then all those idiotic proto-fascists protesting against Ward Churchill’s right to give a speech are doing just what Osama bin Laden wants-- they are his agents. They are in fact more "anti-American" and "pro-terrorist" that they think Churchill is.

He was invited to speak last week at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York on the American Indian Movement or Native American political action, but, as The New York Times reports, over 6,000 e-mail protests were sent to the college-- furious messages and, as is usual with the fascist mind-set, many threatened violence (the only way the ultra-right can "win" arguments).

As the Bill of Rights was clearly under attack in this organized protest-- especially the freedom of speech (Professor Churchill’s views were only a pretext) the outcome of this confrontation was important.

What happened? Hamilton College turned its back on its students, on its invited guest’s right to free speech, and ultimately on what America claims to stand for. The College, in a cowardly act of appeasement, caved in to the home grown American terrorists and canceled Professor Churchill’s talk.

What was so upsetting about his views? In the first place, he considers the U.S. to be an imperialist government that has murdered and robbed native and third world peoples since its inception.

In the second place, more specifically, he has no sympathy, it appears, for the victims of 9/11-- calling them "little Eichmanns"-- a reference to one of the Nazi planners of the Holocaust.

This is, admittedly, emotionally loaded (and counter-productive) language. But if Al Qaeda pulled off 9/11 because it "hates our way of life and our freedoms"-- then all those idiotic proto-fascists protesting against Ward Churchill’s right to give a speech are doing just what Osama bin Laden wants-- they are his agents. They are in fact more "anti-American" and "pro-terrorist" that they think Churchill is.

As far as Hamilton College is concerned, instead of standing up for the rights and beliefs we claim to be fighting for around the world, the college administration has struck a blow in favor of Al Qaeda-- a deadly blow against the Bill of Rights. As a Hamilton College student said, quoted by the Times, "In the end, free speech couldn’t happen at Hamilton."

And that is the issue. It doesn’t matter if we agree with Professor Churchill or not (how many centuries is it going to take for this to catch on?). I must admit, after looking over his book (On the Justice of Roosting Chickens) and particularly the chapter "The Ghosts of 9-1-1", there is much to object to.

The "Ghosts" referred to are all the people all over the world, and at home, mostly women and children--millions of them-- who have been killed by the policies of U.S. imperialism. Churchill blames, in general, "the U.S. citizenry as a whole" (presumably he exempts himself) for the evils he sees being carried out by the U.S. government. This is a new twist to the German doctrine of collective guilt.

He seems to disdain both the "right" and "left" considering them both complicit in America’s killing machine. He maintains the "progressives" are more interested in issues such as installing "speed bumps" and "combating the imaginary health effects" of second hand smoke than in fighting imperialism. He says the drive to end smoking in public places was "launched" by "American yuppies."

Churchill also calls most of the protesters at the 1999 World Trade Organization Battle in Seattle "volunteer cops" because they tried to prevent the "Black Block anarchists" from smashing windows and "inflicting minor property damage." Professor Churchill, who poses on the cover of his book in a flack jacket and holding what looks like an AK-47, has obviously never heard of the role of police provocateurs at mass demonstrations.

The most profound analysis Churchill can come up with to explain 9/11 is "What goes around comes around" and, in the end "karma is unavoidable." He thinks the World Trade Center was attacked because of the suffering caused around the world by U.S. imperialism. Considering all the crimes of America, he asks "Why did it take ‘them’ so long to arrive?", and, even better, "Why, under the circumstances, did they conduct themselves with such obvious and admirable restraint?"

But 9/11 was not, as professor Churchill contends, "pay back" for all of our evil deeds. Osama bin Laden had limited goals such as getting American bases out of Saudi Arabia and ending the U.S. "tilt" in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians. These goals were high on his list, along with the repression of half the human race (women), destruction of "heathen" works of art, and forcing his religious views on others by waging jihad against the infidels.

Churchill becomes, in fact, pathetic when he justifies the killing of the WTC victims on the basis that while, regrettably, working people were killed (janitors, firemen, food service workers, etc.) there were many more "little Eichmanns"-- i.e., a "much larger number of corporate managers, stockbrokers, bond traders, finance and system analysts, etc., among those killed." This was justifiable "payback" (done with admirable restraint).

Well, Professor Churchill’s rights were trampled on. People have a right to hear what he has to say even if it is not much more than ranting. What is needed, however, is a class analysis and a viable political alternative to present to the American people. Posturing with guns on book jackets won’t cut it.

Ward Churchill, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections On The Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality, AK Press, 2003. 309 pages.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Book Review – Iraq and the International Oil System
By Thomas Riggins

Stephen Pelletiere, a former professor at the U.S. Army War College, was, during the Iran-Iraq War, the CIA’s senior Iraq specialist. In this book he has written a history of the development of the oil industry since the nineteenth century with special emphasis on its international development most notably with regard to Iraq.

His major thesis is "that America’s occupation of Iraq is a bid to recoup what the oil companies lost when they were forced to disgorge in 1973 [as a result of the OPEC Revolution--tr]; that is, control over the world oil industry and beyond that control of the global economy."

Pelletiere marshals mounds of facts and statistics to substantiate his thesis. It is refreshing to have this conclusion proven by a former CIA big shot. One expects the Left to make this argument.

He further maintains that America had to go to war due to Iraq’s "unexpected defeat of Iran" in the 8-year long war fought between those two major oil producing countries. From the U.S. point of view the victory of Iraq would lead it to become a regional superpower, a superette-power, that would eventually "have contested the west’s grip on the region."

All the talk about spreading "democracy" and "wanting to over throw a tyrant", "of dangerous weapons of mass destruction" are stories for children. Anyone familiar with the Middle East and U.S. policy, as Pelletiere is with his years of CIA experience, as well as his Ph.D. from Berkeley and knowledge of Arabic, knows perfectly well that Iraq’s oil, and that alone, was at the heart of U.S. ambitions in the region.

The book is divided into six chapters. The first two describe the history and development of the international oil industry and the establishment of the great oil cartel (the Seven Sisters) created by the oil magnates.

In chapter three, Pelletiere discusses the attempts by the U.S. government to control the Cartel and how the Cartel came out on top by effectively enlisting the State and Treasury Departments to do its bidding.

The fourth chapter concentrates on the conflicts between successive Iraqi governments and the oil cartel-- not just the government of Saddam Hussein but his predecessors as well.

In the fifth chapter we learn about the oil cartel’s biggest defeat. How OPEC (the organization set up by the major oil producing and exporting countries) took over the production and pricing of their own oil from the power of the Cartel (the so-called "OPEC Revolution" of 1973).

The last chapter (the sixth) is all about the First Gulf War. The book was basically written to explain how this war came about. One of the most interesting sections is Pelletiere’s discussion of the role of the mass media in drumming up support for this war-- exactly as they did for the invasion of Iraq.

The major American media got their information basically from the CIA, which slanted everything to favor the aims of the U.S. government and its interpretation of events. The media then uncritically put this propaganda out to the American people as "the news." This explains why the American people don’t know anything about what is really going on in the Middle East-- or the rest of the world for that matter.

Pelletiere points out, for example, how the story about Iraq gassing the Kurds "Saddam killed his own people, etc.,") was manufactured. Both Iraq and Iran gassed each other during the 8-year war. The Iraqis used mustard gas and the Iranians used a cyanide-based gas in the Kurdish area. It was the latter that killed the Kurds in Iraq. But this fact did not fit into the American-British propaganda about Iraq. Nevertheless, in "all likelihood," Pelletiere writes, "Iranian gas killed the Kurds." I do remember reading about this in an op-ed article in the New York Times after the invasion of Iraq, but the orthodox view is still that it was Saddam that did it-- but who knows-- Saddam is history and as relations sour with Iran we may be treated to the revelation that it was the Iranians after all having "fooled" the CIA.

The lesson here is, once the U.S. government decides on an "enemy" you cannot rely on the mass media to present truthful and reliable information. All the more reason to rely upon the alternate press.

In the postscript, written for the second edition of his book, Pelletiere attempts to demonstrate, convincingly I think, that the invasion of Iraq, like the Gulf War, was brought about by "America’s determination to control Persian Gulf oil and to hang on to its arms-trading relationship" with middle eastern countries.

The basic argument here is that after the "collapse of communism" the military-industrial complex feared that U.S. spending on arms might go down and that some of the money it was used to getting might actually be invested in programs benefiting the American people.

The neo-conservatives are part of this complex but they are not "the real movers and shakers" of U.S. policy-- that honor goes to "All of the major defense contractors, who, with their hefty donations, subsidize the conservative think tanks, and contribute to candidates to the Congress and for the Presidency" these are the real powers behind the U.S. war policies: they get the billions spent on the military.

The American people will never hear this from our mass media because the Bush-Blair team’s use of the media, Pelletiere shows, is an example "of a technique previously pioneered (or at least made famous by) the National Socialists in Germany; this was the so-called Big Lie." We all know this fascist technique. If you just keep repeating the lie people will eventually believe it. Everyone tired of being lied to should read this book.

Steven Pelletiere
Iraq and the International Oil System: Why America Went to War in the Gulf
Washington, D.C., Maisonneuve Press, 2004.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


The Outing of Sponge-Bob SquarePants [Political Affairs Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Thank the gods for the faux Christian Right! One of their hate groups, Focus on the Family, has uncovered a sinister [left wing?] plot to corrupt America’s youth. David Kirkpatrick reported in The New York Times of 1/20/05 ("Conservatives Taking Aim At Soft Target") that James C. Dobson, the Focus founder, has denounced Mr. Sponge-Bob SquarePants for taking part in a "pro-homosexual video."

Not since the Tele Tubby scandal a few years ago has the so-called X-tian Right (I use the "X" because I don’t think Christ would want his name associated with these jokers) made such an important contribution to the defense of the Republic.

The video is going to be sent to thousands of elementary schools throughout the nation. It was made by the We Are Family Foundation founded by Nile Rogers, who wrote the song "We Are Family" after 9/11. (Not to be confused with the pro-gay advocacy group called We Are Family-- a different outfit. Our X-tian friends may have done this).

Besides Mr. SquarePants, the video features other suspicious characters whose sexual identities may be a problem for Mr. Dobson-- such as Barney. Mr. SquarePants behavior on his own show may also be an issue as well. He does hold hands with his friend Patrick and he has questionable television viewing habits. Mr. Kirkpatrick reports that he and Patrick (while holding hands mind you) watch "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy"-- a fact, I am sure, that has not been missed by Mr. Dobson and his inquisitional friends.

Mr. SquarePants has also become "a camp figure among adult gay men." Mr. Dobson cannot be pleased with this information. Mr. Dobson was first alerted to the possibility that Sponge-Bob might better be called Sponge-Bob HotPants by another organization claiming to be X-tian, namely the American Family Association.

Both groups are committed to the prevention of same sex marriages-- arguably the most important issue of the last two thousand years or so. Is the Sponge-Bob video subliminally programming the elementary school children who watch it to be tolerant in the future of same sex unions, or even, heaven forbid, to practice them?

However, the video itself, which has already been shown on network television, according to the Times article, has "nothing in it or its accompanying materials [that] refers to sexual identity." Nevertheless, there is that troubling handholding.

What is the real purpose of this video? Why is it being sent to elementary schools? The video makers state its purpose is to "teach children about multiculturalism" and "tolerance." Perhaps this does not make sense to Mr. Dobson. He may think elementary school children have enough problems just learning one culture. How can they learn many?

In any event, Mr. Dobson, and others of his ilk, will have none of this un-X-tian propaganda foisted off on the children of America. He is quoted as saying, "We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization [the We are Family Foundation, but Dobson is probably confused about this] is manipulating and potentially brainwashing [with a sponge yet!] kids."

But surely these so-called X-tians have Sunday schools to correct any ideas of tolerance and respect for others that may have contaminated their children in the public school systems.

Meanwhile, on the editorial page of the same issue of the Times, we learn that homophobia is weakening our national defense. The government has a serious shortage of people who can read and speak Arabic, as well as other languages, so that there is now a backlog of 120,000 messages in Arabic that, characterized as a "looming threat," remain untranslated.

The Times is rightly upset because in the last few years 20 vital Arabic specialists were discharged by the military for being gay. The mindless homophobia displayed by the government puts all of us at risk. Suppose somewhere in that backlog of 120,000 messages is another 9/11 plot.

No doubt it is more important to purge the armed forces of gays than to get through that backlog and provide security to the American people. Maybe Nile Rogers can send a few of those videos staring the insidious Mr. SquarePants to the Pentagon big-wigs, although I don’t think "tolerance" is a very high priority for Mr. Rumsfeld and his cronies.

--Thomas Riggins writes frequently for Political Affairs' online edition.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


By Thomas Riggins

Our organization, the Louisiana Purchase Return Committee has been formed to facilitate the return of the Louisiana Purchase to its rightful owner France.

Research shows that neither President Jefferson nor Napoleon Bonaparte were authorized to acquire on the one hand or to sell on the other the Louisiana Purchase[LP].

We demand the immediate return of the States of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma to our true Fatherland-- France. We also maintain that all so-called American citizens living in the LP are actually, by right, French citizens.

There are many benefits to be gained by the population of the LP having their land, illegally sold by Napoleon, returned to France and their rightful French citizenship restored to them.

For example-- they will have a better system of health care as French people. Everyone will be covered by medical insurance and will have affordable prescriptions as well. In addition high quality French wines will be readily available for consumption, replacing the California swill that passes for wine in the American occupied LP.

The educational system will aso be vastly improved. It is well known that the French have a superior educational system-- a French 10th grade drop out scores higher on average on tests of general knowledge, culture and science than do American college graduates. The people of the LP have the right to be French and the American government and the Bush administration can no longer deny them their true citizenship.

Older people living in the LP will also have a better time of it being French than at present. The French do not have a "Social Security" crises. French people have better pensions and retirement incomes than do the people living in the illegally occupied LP. In the America of today 850,000 elderly people are in dire poverty even with their social security benefits. Many of them are really French people forced to be Americans because of the illegal occupation. The return of the LP to France would be a boon to them.

The French also take care of their veterans better than the American government takes care of theirs. Instead of serving in the National Guard and finding yourself sent to Iraq, the young men and women of the LP will be able to join the French army. Provisions may also be made to allow the American-French to join the Foreign Legion which is certainly more romantic than the National Guard.

Speaking of Romance-- we all know that the French are much more romantic than the inhibited and uptight evangelical population of the LP. By becoming French both the men and women living in French America will acquire the mystique of the passionate French lover.

The LP states will all become overseas departments of France with all the rights of French people. This means a more democratic system than they now live under. Presently they are subject to "red state terrorism"-- their science text books have nasty little stickers put in them attacking evolution and their public officials are elected in undemocratic winner take all elections, As French people we will have proportional representation and dozens of parties to choose from-- all will represented in the Parliament in Paris.

Workers will also be better off-- with guaranteed unemployment insurance, strong unions, many controlled by communists who don’t fool around with workers rights, and six week vacations instead of the measly two weeks Americans get.

The people in the LP will also be paid in Euros not the weak and declining dollar. So, better food, better wine, better cheese, better movies (you can’t beat the art house French movie industry instead the violent shoot em up Hollywood junk), better love making, better working conditions, better health, better money, etc., etc.

I think the case has been made that the population of the LP will be 100% better off if they are French and they should now organize, demand that France return the $27,267,622 they were paid for the LP, they should also demand the right of return so that any present day citizen in the LP can go to France and be instantly given French citizenship. American French people, the time has come to break out the Chardonnay, start singing the Marseillaise, raise the Tricolor and tell the US government au revoir.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


The Plot Against the Poor [Archival materials from PA []
By Thomas Riggins

Federal programs to benefit the poor and elderly have been targeted by the Bush administration and its allies in Congress according to a recent article in The New York Times by Robert Pear ("Applying Brakes to Benefits Gets Wide G.O.P. Backing: Bush to Seek Firm and Enforceable Curbs" 1-9-05).

It seems that President Bush has decided that one of the ways he can carry out the teachings of his favorite philosopher (Jesus) is to stick it to the poor, elderly and sick. Perhaps he has taken to heart Matthew 13:12 "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."

Although I don’t think Jesus was speaking as an economist, this little maxim aptly sums up what the President and the Republican leaders in the House and Senate have in mind for whosoever hath not.

What the President wants to do is reign in benefit programs paid for by the federal government. We have more important things to spend our money on than the hath nots of the country – tanks, helicopter gun ships, and cluster bombs for instance.

He does want to increase funding for "military operations and domestic security." What should we cut? Social welfare measures are the prime targets. An example is "housing assistance for low-income families." There just isn’t enough homelessness in the United States and with the influx of poor families to streets and parks after the cuts go into effect there will be plenty more people to help with faith based initiatives and Christian caring.

The President will have the help of Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire (what’s he doing in a Blue State?) the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Herr Gregg is quoted as saying he wants to help "put the breaks on the growth of entitlements" that is of the nonmilitary kind.

The National Science Foundation will be underfunded in the new budget being prepared by the President (it goes to Congress in early February). The Bushies wanted to cut the science budget – who needs science anyway? It gets in the way of the President’s views on global warming, stem cell research, pollution levels and environmental problems. But after a stink from the scientific community and Republican Senator Chris Bond of Missouri, they decided to flatline it instead. If science gets with the program it might get more money next year.

The National Institutes of Health were also on the chopping block. With the medical community warning that Asian avian flu could become a pandemic here in the U.S. killing thousands, it seems like the perfect time to curtail medical research. The flu might even have some Malthusian benefits if the streets and parks get too crowded with hath nots.

However, the Bushies are not completely insensitive to reality, especially since they now make their own. They won’t cut the health budget; they will even increase it 2 per cent "which would not be enough to keep pace with the rising costs of biomedical research." Well, we can afford to fall behind in that field since so many Americans don’t have the insurance to get the treatments that the research would come up with anyway.

The new Medicare Law has to be looked at too. This law "offers prescription drug coverage to all 41 million elderly and disabled beneficiaries." Herr Gregg voted against it because it was "fiscally irresponsible" – what do these elderly and disabled people want from the rest of us anyway. His fellow Republicans recognize that this law is actually a boondoggle benefiting insurance and drug companies not Medicare recipients so it will not, in all likelihood, be cut. But its the thought that counts.

Anyway Herr Gregg opines that spending a lot of extra money on Medicare will lead to a "a ‘massive tax increase’ on workers." It doesn’t occur to a Republican that some people other than workers might get a tax increase. As for Medicaid, "the health program for low-income people," the Bushies are reported to still be working on how to cut that one – we have faith that they will find a way.

The President also wants new legislation to "make it more difficult" for Congress in the future to increase benefits for Social Security and, listen up vets, "veterans disability benefits." So vets, please don’t get disabled while in the service. Not only won’t you get armor for your vehicles but don’t look forward to a whole lot of new disability benefits. Still, the Republicans love you – they just don’t want to spend a lot of money on you, after all you can’t buy love.

Well, I could go on but I think you get the point. If you voted for Bush and most other Republicans I hope you won’t ever become a hath not and need Social Security, affordable housing, state of the art medical care, prescription drugs or anything produced by science. You get what you vote for [unless the elections are rigged] so know what you want.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Friday, June 16, 2006

Book Previews: The House of War & The Future of Hegel

Book Round Up #17
by Thomas Riggins
15th June 2006

Here is another of our book previews (reviews of reviews) of new books of interest to the progressive community. The previous 16 book round ups are archived on Political Affairs’ website. Any readers interested in writing a full review of one of these books should contact me at

HOUSE OF WAR: THE PENTAGON AND THE DISASTROUS RISE OF AMERICAN POWER by James Carroll, Illustrated, 657 pages Houghton Mifflin, reviewed by William Grimes in The New York Times, Wednesday, June 7, 2006.

Grimes, a loyal supporter of the bourgeoisie, doesn’t really like this book. He calls it a "tendentious, morally incoherent account of how the United States has become, in [Carroll’s] words, ‘a garrison state,’ in thrall to the machinery of war and the doomsday thinking of paranoid generals and twisted defense intellectuals." Already this sounds like a good book!

The book covers the history of the Pentagon from its opening in 1943 until the present. What gets Grimes’ goat is that Carroll portrays the U.S. as basically warlike and an enemy of, or at least the major threat, to world peace. "Always," Grimes writes, "the Soviet Union is seen as a willing partner for peace, driven into a corner and forced to react defensively by an American government bent on gaining nuclear superiority. (Eastern Europe was acquired, in Mr. Carroll’s view, by accident, not design.)" Carroll is right about that. The Soviet Union didn’t start WW2 after all, nor the cold war for that matter.

Grimes doesn’t seem to like Carroll’s view that basically all U.S. foreign policy and arms control policies are "duplicitous." The author doesn’t consider Iran to be a serious threat. "When it comes to nuclear danger," he writes, "Washington is by far the graver problem." This seems pretty obvious. Who has the most atomic weapons, refuses to take a no first strike position, and wants to make a whole new generation of updated weapons? Iran hasn’t even got one atomic weapon yet!

This is enough to give you the tone of both the review and the book. Here is Grimes’ ending, putting the author down for basically blaming the U.S. for the "cold war." Grimes writes, "The cold war was a dreadful time but perhaps not as dreadful as the years 1914 to 1918 or 1939 to 1945. If you don’t like it cold, try it hot." What a false dichotomy! It was hot enough for the Koreans, the Vietnamese, and hundreds of thousands of murdered Central Americans, as well as thousands of disappeared and killed Chileans, Argentines and other South Americans— not to mention the 100,000 plus Iraqi civilians wiped out courtesy of Uncle Sam.

THE FUTURE OF HEGEL: PLASTICITY, TEMPORALITY AND DIALECTIC by Catherine Malabou, Routledge, 2004 reviewed by Peter Benson in Philosophy Now, February/March 2006.

While not an "intro" to Hegel, the reviewer thinks this book "offers brilliant clarifications of some of the more opaque aspects of Hegel’s thought." Good, people reading Hegel need all the help they can get! Let’s look at some of these clarifications. Hegel called his philosophy "speculative" but did not mean that it was just "speculation." Benson points out that Hegel distinguished two types of propositions: "predicative"— "in which predicates are externally attached to a fixed subject" and "speculative"— "in which predicates are gradually unfolded from the concept of the sentence’s subject." Attentive readers, by the way, will recognize this as the method used by Karl Marx in developing the notion of capitalism in his masterwork Capital. "This gradual unfolding," Benson says, "is the essence of Hegel’s philosophical method."

Hegel thought that we could find in language the preserved forms of previous thought which we needed to understand and pass through to arrive at the truth. His most famous word was "Aufheben" which means both to overcome and abolish something and yet at the same time preserve and develop it. There is no word for this in English. "The movement it names," Benson writes, "(each stage of thought both retained and transcended) is that of the Hegelian dialectic." It is also the basis of the Marxist dialectic. Socialism both abolishes capitalism as a system yet preserves the productive capacities and scientific advances that it created. This also allows us to understand how profoundly disastrous and un-Marxist the Chinese "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" was in attempting to destroy all vestiges of China’s cultural history as "feudal" and "bourgeois."

Malabou also stresses another word she found Hegel using a lot. This is the word "Plastiche" or, in English, "plastic" in German the word has two meanings, as Malabou points out, according to Benson, namely "capable of shaping" and "capable of being shaped." Benson says the key to Malabou’s interpretation of Hegel is to be found in how she relates the concept of plasticity to his thought.

Hegel, according to Benson, considered Greek sculpture the highest form of the plastic arts by its perfect molding of the human form. He also liked Aristotle’s ethics of "molding one’s character, as a sculptor shapes stone, by the deliberate adoption of habits which thereby become a second nature." He then gives a quote from the book: "Human characteristics are not a given, they emerge as the result of a process of formation of which art is the paradigm." Marxists would consider the labor process as the paradigm.

At this point the review begins to morph into theology as Malabou discusses Hegel’s ideas about ’God" and why Christian theologians reject them. The role of "God" in Hegel’s system is very complicated but I think it is safe to say Hegel’s "God" is very unlike anything normally religious people would recognize. In fact we can leave "God" out of Hegel’s system and thus avoid a lot of theological twaddle.

The review then discusses Hegel’s views of history and compares Hegel’s real opinions with those of Alexandre Kojeve who in the 1930s "inaugurated French Hegelianism" and who thought that history ended with Napoleon and also with those of Francis Fukuyama who thinks history ended with Ronald Reagan. Needless to say, history still seems to be clunking along.

Malabou, however, endorses " the view that ’history is over.’" She also thinks, as a consequence, that the major problem facing humanity in our time is that we have too much "free time" due to "technological simplification." Maybe the French do have too many vacation days! Benson says, "Perhaps only a highly-paid professor of philosophy at a prestigious French university (i.e., Malabou) could possibly imagine that the major problem facing most of the world’s population today is how to fill their endless free time!" No comment necessary.

Benson also faults the book for neglecting politics and Hegel’s views on this subject. Despite these criticisms he gives the book an overall positive evaluation— an "otherwise excellent book."

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can reached at

Thursday, June 15, 2006


A Preview of Jared Diamond's "Collapse"
By Thomas Riggins

Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel, is coming out with a new book called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. PA will provide, hopefully, a full review when we receive it. Now we have a preview based on Diamond’s huge op-ed summary ("The Ends of the World as We Know Them") – taking up almost the whole page – published in The New York Times on 1-1-05.

Why do some societies thrive and last for thousands of years (Japan) while others die off (the Maya)? This is the question that Diamond sets out to answer. We shall see what he has to say and, most importantly, how relevant it is to our own society.

Reviewing civilizational collapses throughout history (he mentions Easter Island, the Maya, the Polynesian culture on Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, the Anasazi in the American Southwest, the Greenland Norse, Ancient Middle Eastern societies, the Khmer of Angkor Wat, and the Moche of Peru among others), Diamond comes up with five dialectically related factors responsible for the demise of these cultures.

It is important to stress that he is dealing with cultures that died out on their own and not with those that fell victim primarily to conquest or destruction by their neighbors. I say primarily because conquest or destruction could be a secondary factor ending a once prosperous society that became weakened by inherent degenerating factors within the doomed culture itself.

What are these five factors? They are 1) not protecting and taking care of the environment; 2) change in the climate; 3) enemies; 4) problems with your trade partners; and 5) how the culture deals with the irst four factors.

In some cases all five factors will be at work, in others a lesser combination two or three or even one. The Easter Island culture fell primarily due to bad environmental practices, for example. We all know about the giant statues of heads on Easter Island. There was a powerful agricultural society that produced them based on fertile soil protected by thousands of trees covering the island. Over the centuries the islanders cut down all the trees and denuded the island. The fertile soil was lost and the society collapsed.

This was not rational behavior from our point of view – but neither is ignoring the Kyoto Treaty and allowing the ozone layer to deteriorate, or allowing air pollution to increase. We understand that capitalism strives to maximize profits and grow and increase its capacity and markets and will do this because its the nature of the system – it can’t help but destroy our environment because it is motivated solely by the profit motive. What factors were at work on Easter Island? Surely the people recognized that destroying all the trees, leaving only a rocky landscape was fatal to their society yet they did it anyway!

The Maya did the same thing. They denuded their forests in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and other areas of Central America. The environmental destruction resulted in droughts, soil erosion and the collapse of their civilization. The Maya rulers insulated themselves from the masses whom they exploited. Diamond says the rulers "were able to insulate themselves from the problems afflicting the rest of society." By so doing," the elite merely bought themselves the privilege of being among the last to starve."

There is a lesson here for us as well. The elites of today in their gated communities, their private schools, their private protection agencies are isolated from the rest of society and increasingly uninterested in the public funding of schools, hospitals and police and fire departments.

Diamond gives us a "blueprint" for social collapse. That is if the ruling elite cuts itself off from "the consequences if its actions." Global warming, for example, and other attacks on the environment currently being pursued by US and other capitalist forces may not have ultimately fatal consequences for many decades, or even generations so that by ignoring them now present day elites are ultimately laying the bases for the future collapse of our civilization.

Diamond is more optimistic than this. He sees that America is not responding rationally to the long term problems facing the world. "Historically," he writes, "we viewed the United States as a land of unlimited plenty, and so we practiced unrestrained consumerism, but that’s no longer viable in a world of finite resources." Nevertheless, we have not changed our habits and behavior. The war in Iraq is a case in point. It is driven by the desire to control the world’s oil supplies so we can maintain cheap fuel prices to support an ever increasing pollution based economy.

Why is Diamond optimistic for the future? Because he says that these problems are entirely human made. We can solve all the social problems leading to collapse if we only have the "political will." We can learn from the mistakes of others. This is very optimistic indeed. History may actually be teaching us that the most difficult problems to solve are exactly those that are "man made."

--Thomas Riggins writes a regular column for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


The Grinch in the White House [Archival Materials]
By Thomas Riggins

Christmas has come and gone and we may have all been amused by the story of the Grinch who stole Christmas and other holiday tales. But in looking over the press I found several stories in real life that make the Grinch look not so bad. After all he only stole one day out of the year while the Grinch who lives in the White House is planning to steal the very lives of millions of children around the world, all of their days, in order to continue to enrich the ultra-wealthy millionaires he calls his base.

Recently Oxfam reported that an estimated 47 million children are expected to die over the next decade due to poverty and lack of food (that's around 13,000 kids a day – all preventable by the way).

This is backed up by a recent Unicef report (New York Times 12/10/04) which says one billion children (ie., over half of all the children on the planet) are suffering "extreme deprivation" due to war, HIV and poverty.

Since 1990 3.6 million people have been killed in war – almost half of them children. (How many of the 100,000 people murdered by the Pentagon in Iraq were children?) Girls suffer disproportionately more than boys. Most of the 120 million children denied primary school education are girls.

Of the developed countries, we in the United States can take pride that our God-fearing leaders still allow us to have the highest child poverty rate – 21.9 percent left behind. It's not that we can’t eliminate child poverty, both here and in the rest of the world. It's that we lack the will to do so.

Our President, who calls Jesus his favorite "philosopher," doesn’t seem to have his priorities in the right order. The Times had an article I saw on 12/22 headed "U.S. cuts aid to world food programs" – a perfect response to the Oxfam and Unicef reports.

We should note that global military spending is $956 billion per year (the U.S. spends the most by the way) vs. the $65 billion or so that it would take to get rid of poverty. Nevertheless our fearless leader wants to cut back what we give to the world food program.

As a result of the U.S. cuts about 6 million people will loose food aid. There are more hungry people than ever before. The Times of 12/8/04, in an article by Elizabeth Becker ("Number of Hungry Rising, U.N. Says"), reports that at least 5 million children die of hunger every year – this is from the the food and agriculture agency and is higher than the Unicef estimate.

The Times says "the number of chronically hungry people rose to nearly 852 million, an increase of 18 million since 2000." This is happening while the world itself is collectively getting richer and producing enough food to feed everyone.

It is of course the capitalist economic relations, so praised by the pundits of globalization, that prevent the proper distribution of food to the hungry. Even when people are working they can’t afford food. One half of the workers of the world "earn less than $2 a day."

In the face of all this human misery and suffering, Oxfam also reported that the wealthy nations are now giving one half of what they gave in 1960 for aid to the poor countries. So its not just the U.S. but the capitalist world as such that is ignoring and perpetuating poverty and starvation.

Let's return to the 6 million people affected by U.S. cuts in food aid. How much money are we talking about? The U.S. is cutting $100 million. That is a paltry amount considering the government in the last seven years alone has given $147 billion to one defense contractor, Lockheed – let alone what it gives to Boeing and the others!

We can’t give less than 1 percent of what we toss out to a defense contractor every few years in order to provide food to six million people? I don’t think Jesus would like this philosophy.

The six million have to starve because we have to lower our deficit – which was created by giving enormous tax cuts to the rich by the Bush administration. Well, so much for the Grinch in the White House. I wonder if he remembers what his favorite philosopher had to say about the rich man getting into Heaven?

--Thomas Riggins can be reached at

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Who John Stott Is [Archival Material]
By Thomas Riggins

This people draweth nigh unto me
with their mouth, and honoureth me
with their lips; but their heart is far
from me.-- Matthew 15:8

David Brooks, my favorite ultra-right New York Times op-eder, asked "Who is John Stott" in his 11-30-04 column. John Stott is an Anglican evangelical homophobic bigot of whom Mr. Brooks recommends politicians, "especially Democrats," take note. Brooks is upset with Tim Russert for having Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton on "Meet the Press" ("these two bozos") to talk about religion and politics. Later he includes Pat Robertson (a third bozo?).

These people do not represent the real world of evangelical Christians, according to Brooks. If the blue staters want to open up to "people of faith," to appeal to them, they will have to concern themselves with someone like John Stott who is "actually important."

The Rev. Mr. Stott is an important evangelical voice – with over 40 (nonsense) books to his credit. Brooks finds his voice "humble and self-crtitical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic."

Brooks evidently finds of some of Stott’s teachings, such as his rejection of homo-sexuality "as a legitimate life style", his support for the death penalty, his anti-choice and anti-abortion positions, examples of optimistic humility. With views like these it is no wonder Stott maintains "that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus." Not the teachings of Jesus? No indeed! What is important is the Passion, the life and sacrifice of Jesus. We don’t want to be burdened with any inconvenient teachings. The golden rule might get in the way of good Christian homophobia, or make our hands shake when we need to administer a lethal injection.

The most important part of Stott’s teaching may be his rejection of any idea that he could not know just what the Truth is (yes, with a capital T). Down with the notion that different religious traditions or other faiths could have a share of the Truth. "Truth has been revealed."

How lucky for us. Was it revealed in the Koran? Don’t even ask!

Confronted with these views, Brooks has the nerve to exclaim that there has "been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason."

But the "thoughtful" Rev. Stott belies this. Twaddle? What is the difference between Stott’s homophobia, anti-woman and pro-death penalty positions and those of Falwell and Robertson. I leave out Al Sharpton because he is definitely not in this company.

In his 1958 book Basic Christianity, Stott writes that God "is altogether beyond our comprehension." This didn’t stop the good reverend from writing forty books about him, but it takes "reason" off the table. You can’t reason about the incomprehensible. Stott still claims that "The Christian doctrine of revelation is essentially reasonable." More reasonable than the Islamic or Jewish? We are not in the house of reason when we make statements about religious fundamentalism.

Stott doesn’t want to submit religion to the scientific approach, but he does want to use the religious approach in science. "The empirical method is largely inappropriate in the sphere of religion," he writes. But what about science. There the empirical method has its rightful place – unless it contradicts revelation. Stott will go along with the "theory of evolution" – some type of evolution, but not Darwin! In Understanding the Bible he writes"any theory of evolution which is presented as a blind and random process must be rejected by Christians as incompatible with the biblical revelation...."

This is twaddle and implies that regardless of where the "empirical method" takes you in scientific investigation an extra-scientific dimension ("revelation") is the ultimate judge of truth.

So, enough of John Stott and and David Brooks’ twaddle. The point is that Christian fundamentalism in its conservative dress is what is being pushed. No one on the left should fall for Brooks’ position that by polishing up the rough edges of the Falwells and Robertsons with a classy substitute (the very British Mr. Stott) the attitudes and political consequences of evangelical fundamentalism are in any way changed.

There are plenty of progressive and mainstream Christians and even evangelicals who can be won over to left political programs. The notion, sanctioned by Brooks and proclaimed by Stott that "the teachings of Jesus" are not what is important should be a wedge issue for the Christian left. Those teachings are much more congruent with the socialist and communist world outlooks than they are with the capitalist world globalization movement that is being pushed by writers such as David Brooks.

--Thomas Riggins can be reached at

Monday, June 12, 2006


Thanksgiving in Retrospect
By Thomas Riggins

"Thanksgiving" has come and gone. Let’s look at last week’s news and views, some of it at any rate, to see who should be thankful for what. David Brooks, the ultra right op-eder for the New York Times was thankful for "Globalization" which he thinks is reducing global poverty. His article of 11/27/04 is headed "Good News About Poverty." He cites a World Bank Report that shows that "extreme poverty" (living on less that $1 a day) is down in East Asia and the Pacific region – 271 million people in 2001 vs. 472 in 1990. Brooks would like to see Bono or Springsteen tell this truth to their fans. He implies if they really cared about reducing poverty they should be "cheering on those guys in pinstripe suits at the free-trade negotiations and those investors jetting around the world."

A beautiful sentiment. He does admit a problem in sub-Saharan Africa where the pinstripers haven’t helped the locals too well – but that is because of "bad governments and AIDS." How could anyone be so low as to think globalization (or maybe profit hungry pharmaceutical companies, or American and European "free-trade" subsidies to their own agricultural sectors which destroy domestic markets in Africa and elsewhere) could be responsible?

While Brooks was waxing eloquent over the happy prospects of Asians moving up the capitalist ladder a rung (to regular old everyday poverty from its more extreme form) he must have missed an article in his own paper about the "good news" regarding New York State’s poverty. An article of 11/11 by Leslie Kaufman ("New York’s Working Poor Are Losing Ground, Report Says"), reveals that 32% of NY working families are "poor" – i.e., make less that $18,979 for a family of four. This is an increase of 2.7% since the 1990s. These families don’t make enough to pay their bills according to the Center for an Urban Future which released the report. The Center complains that the state doesn’t do enough to make education available to poor people and immigrants so that they can learn English and become literate and thus able to contend for better paying jobs. Nobody is too thankful about this – except the employers.

The people over at Morgan Stanley were being thankful as well – for the decline of the dollar. In the same issue of the Times in which Brooks is grousing about the Bono/Springstein lack of praise for the pinstripers, the chief economist for the Wall Street firm, Stephen S. Roach, wrote an article ("When Weakness Is a Strength").

Its true, he says, the dollar could tank causing a big problems around the world, but if the world’s central banks team up to "carefully manage a gradual and significant depreciation of the dollar" over time this would be a good thing for the US and the other countries.

He lists four ways we would all benefit from a lower dollar. 1) Interest rates would go up so that foreign banks will continue to buy our Treasury Bonds, etc., and provide money to the US to help its trade and investment deficit. These rates would also "suppress" parts of the domestic market – housing, autos, capital spending, etc., thus encouraging savings at home. Americans don’t save enough and they buy too much – one of the reasons for the deficit in trade, etc., [the current account deficit] is running about $665 billion a year. But if we "suppress" the market we also lose jobs and those workers won’t be thankful, and they won’t have savings either. 2) As the dollar goes down other people’s money goes up, and this 3) makes the US more competitive – our stuff is now cheaper and theirs more expensive in the market place.

Europe and Asia will have to make up for this by stimulating their home markets to make up for what they will lose over here. This will be unpleasant for them as they will have to "loosen" their labor markets "to unshackle internal demand." I’m not sure what Roach is getting at here. Some economic code word that does not bode well for the working class I fear. He calls this a "painful structural reform" – but I am unclear as to whom it will be "painful." It probably won’t be painful for the capitalists – at lease not the US variety.

4) The weak dollar could "defuse" the global trade problems. Our exports go up, our saving go up, our imports go down and, and – what is being "defused" here? This is all going one way – to benefit the US trade deficit. The rest of the world won’t be in the same thankful mood as the folks over at Morgan Stanley. They may even become nasty bout it and become not only protectionist but stop buying our dollars – i.e., investing in our treasury bonds and allowing us to live beyond our means. The motive of the central banks to manage this decline of our dollar is to prevent a precipitous collapse that will take the whole system down with it. This will hardly "defuse global trade tensions." It may even plunge the poor in parts of the world right back into the extreme poverty Brooks’ pinstripers are so concerned about.

--Thomas Riggins writes regularly for Political Affairs online and can be reached at