Friday, October 10, 2008

*Another Small Victory For Same-Sex Marriage

Click On Title To Link To July 2, 2009 "New York Review Of Books" Article Entitled "The Same-Sex Future" By David Cole That Gives An Update On This Struggle And A Capsule Of The Various Positions On The Issue.


With all the appalling economic news this week it is nice to have at least one small victory. That comes today with the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision declaring same-sex marriage constitutional in that state. This decision, while not as important as the first one in Massachusetts or as decisive as in California is still welcome. As always watch out for blow back on this issue.

Boston Globe news item- October 10, 2008

Connecticut became the third state to legalize same-sex marriage today in a 4-3 decision by the state Supreme Court.

In an 85-page decision issued at 11:30 a.m., the court struck down a law barring same-sex marriage, ruling that the state had "failed to establish adequate reason to justify the statutory ban."

The justices noted in the majority opinion that they recognized "as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health … that 'our decision marks a change in the history of our marriage law.' "

The case, Kerrigan v. the state Commissioner of Public Health, was brought by eight same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses by the Madison town clerk. They argued that the state's civil union law was discriminatory and unconstitutional because it established a separate and therefore inherently unequal institution for a minority group. Citing equal protection under the law, the state Supreme Court agreed.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Lessons Of Vietnam- Vietnam: A Televison History


Vietnam: A Television History, PBS, 1983

I have previously reviewed Stanley Karnow companion book, Vietnam-A History, that goes with this ten-part television series. I have reposted that review below for the convenience of the reader. Most of the political points that I have made there apply here as well. I would only add that visually some of the footage brought the message home more clearly that on the printed page and I would bring to the attention of the reader some of those highlights here.

This series spends much less time than Karsnow does on the long history of struggles against foreign invaders of Vietnam, particularly the Chinese. It really starts with the 19th century French occupation and more forcefully the take-over by the Japanese. When the dust of World War II settled there were massive forces in Vietnam who cried for independence but the vagaries of world politics and French imperialist designs to keep Indo-China as a colony frustrated that aim and led to the first of a series of post-war armed struggles for independence.

The Vietnamese fighting against the French occupation that culminated in their historic victory at Dien Bien Phu, the French withdrawal and the partition of Vietnam in 1954 is well-documented here, as is the then shadowy American presence. President John Kennedy’s early 1960's commitment to counter-insurgency as part of the global American-led fight against the expansion of the Soviet influence is explored. His initial escalation and the later increased escalation of President Lyndon Johnson are given full play here. Moreover, there are more than enough ‘talking head' high officials from various American administrations to give viewers a clue as to why, when the deal went down in Vietnam they were all, more or less, clueless- except the few, very few, who saw a quagmire in the making.

A subject that is done in great detail here is an examination of the morale of the American soldier as time when on and the reasons for continuing the war seemed hopelessly inadequate. Along those same lines, and for comparison's sake, is a rather nice introduction to what the ‘enemy’ thought about the whole thing, including interviews with General Giap, the military architect of the North Vietnamese strategies. Of course, no study of the course of the Vietnam War can be complete without an analysis of Tet 1968, both as a battlefield and in its relationship to a turn in American public opinion away from overt support for the war. Yes, for those who refuse to listen today in Iraq, Tet was a military defeat for the North Vietnamese. They admitted as much. However, in the modern world exclusively military objectives are not the only factors that will determine an outcome. Politically, the North by showing that this was indeed a strange adversary by American standards, moreover one committed to taking heavy casualties to achieve its goals, demonstrated that an American victory was no longer possible.

Or so one would have thought in 1968. Again American politics intervened with the election of one Richard Nixon. The war dragged on for five more years. As a result, as graphically documented here, the American army was almost broken in the process of the Vietnamization of the war. The part devoted to the collateral results in Laos and Cambodia in the early 1970's produced by American actions bears close watching as well as this has not received nearly enough detailed attention.

For those who want a case study in the limitations of a heavily armed army in modern warfare against a determined lightly armed but politically cohesive enemy this series is the place to look. If one solely wants a ten hour crash course into the Vietnam War era this is also your stop. This period of American history was part and parcel of my political coming of age and I found it informative and, as almost always with PBS productions, technically well done.



As the current Bush Administration-directed quagmire continues in Iraq it is rather timely to look at the previously bout of American imperialist madness in Vietnam if only in order to demonstrate the similar mindsets, then and now, of the American political establishment and their hangers-on. This book, unintentionally I am sure, is a prima facie argument, against those who see Iraq (or saw Vietnam) as merely an erroneous policy of the American government that can be ‘fixed’ by a change to a more rational imperialist policy guided by a different elite. Undeniably there are many differences between the current war and the struggle in Vietnam. Not the least of which is that in Vietnam there was a Communist-led insurgency that leftists throughout the world could identify with and were duty-bound to support. No such situation exists in Iraq today where, seemingly, from the little we know about the murky politics of the parties there militant leftists can support individual anti-imperialist actions as they occur but stand away, way away from the religious sectarian struggle for different versions of a fundamentalist Islamic state that the various parties are apparently fighting for.

Stanley Karnow’s well-informed study of the long history of struggle in Vietnam against outsiders, near and far, is a more than adequate primer about the history and the political issues, from the American side at least, as they came to a head in Vietnam in the early 1960’s. This work was produced in conjunction with a Public Broadcasting System documentary in 1983 so that if one wants to take the time to get a better grasp of the situation as it unfolded the combination of the literary and visual presentations will make one an ‘armchair expert’ on the subject. A glossary of by now unfamiliar names of secondary players and chronology of events is helpful as are some very good photographs that lead into each chapter

This book is the work of a long time journalist who covered Southeast Asia from the 1950’s until at least the early 1980’s when he went back after the war was over and interviewed various survivors from both sides as well as key political players. Although over twenty years has passed since the book’s publication it appears to me that he has covered all the essential elements of the dispute as well as the wrangling, again mainly on the American side , of policy makers big and small. While everyone should look at more recent material that material appears to me to be essentially more specialized analysis of the general themes presented in Karnow’s book. Or are the inevitably self-serving memoirs by those, like former Secretary of War Robert McNamara, looking to refurbish their images for the historical record. Karnow’s book has the added virtue of having been written just long enough after the end of the war that memories, faulty as they are in any case, were still fresh but with enough time in between for some introspection.

The first part of Karnow’s book deals with the long history of the Vietnamese as a people in their various provincial enclaves, or as a national entity, to be independent of the many other powers in the region, particularly China, who wanted to subjugate them. The book also pays detailed attention to the fight among the European colonial powers for dominance in the region culminating in the decisive victory for control by France in the 1800’s. That domination by a Western imperialist power, ultimately defeated by the same Communist and nationalist forces that were to defeat the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies, sets the stage for the huge role that the United States would come to play from the time of the French defeat in 1954 until their own defeat a couple of decades later. This section is important to read because the premises of the French about their adversary became, in almost cookie-cutter fashion, the same premises that drove American policy. And to similar ends.

The bulk of the book and the central story line, however, is a study of the hubris of American imperialist policy-makers in attempting to define their powers, prerogatives and interests in the post-World War II period. The sub-title of the book, which the current inhabitants of the Bush Administration obviously have not read and in any case would willfully misunderstand, is how not to subordinate primary interests to momentary secondary interests in the scramble to preserve the Empire.

Apparently, common sense and simple rationality are in short supply when one goes inside the Washington Beltway. Taking into account the differences in personality among the three main villains of the piece- Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon- the similarities of response and need to defend some sense of honor, American honor, are amazingly similar, individual rhetoric aside. There thus can be little wonder the North Vietnamese went about their business of revolution and independence pretty much according to their plans and with little regard to ‘subtleties’ in American diplomacy. But, read the book and judge for yourselves. Do not be surprised if something feels awfully, awfully familiar.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sarah Palin- Hands Off Professors Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorhn

October 7, 2008

Apparently, for the third time this presidential season I have to dust off this old review of the Weather Underground and the activities of leftist Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. Why? Sarah Palin, self-proclaimed "hockey mom" Republican Vice-presidential candidate, has decided that the virtue of the American Republic requires a rehashing of that old chestnut concerning the supposed organic relationship between the "terrorist" professors and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. I am reposting previous comments here because, frankly, I have nothing to add to the previous comments. Except this, Professors Ayers and Dohrn can now serve as prima facie evidence that ostensible leftists should be very careful in the choice of bourgeois capitalist candidates they "hang around with". In short, stay very far away from those types.

August 26, 2008

Apparently, the Republican presidential campaign of Arizona Senator John McCain is trying to get mileage out of some tenuous connection between Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Senator Barack Obama and very, very ex-Weatherpeople Professors Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. This same issue popped up in the spring of 2008. The introductory comment used there reposted directly below and a review of what The Weather Underground really meant politically still apply. I would only add that forty years of "cultural wars" by these reactionaries, led by Karl Rove and his ilk, is enough. I only hope that when our day comes we will relegate them to some nice island somewhere so they can "reflect" on their sins and leave the rest of us alone.


May 2008

There is currently a tempest in a teapot swirling around Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama concerning his relationship with former Weatherpeople Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. Here are a couple of reviews from last year on the historic significance of that movement. The real question to ask though is not why Obama was hanging around with Ayers and Dohrn but why they were hanging around with this garden-variety bourgeois candidate on the make. Enough said.




In a time when I, among others, are questioning where the extra-parliamentary opposition to the Iraq War is going and why it has not made more of an impact on American society it was rather refreshing to view this documentary about the seemingly forgotten Weather Underground that as things got grimmer dramatically epitomized one aspect of opposition to the Vietnam War. If opposition to the Iraq war is the political fight of my old age Vietnam was the fight of my youth and in this film brought back very strong memories of why I fought tooth and nail against it. And the people portrayed in this film, the core of the Weather Underground, while not politically kindred spirits then or now, were certainly on the same page as I was- a no holds- barred fight against the American Empire. We lost that round, and there were reasons for that, but that kind of attitude is what it takes to bring down the monster. But a revolutionary strategy is needed. That is where we parted company.

One of the political highlights of the film is centered on the 1969 Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Convention that was a watershed in the student anti-war protest movement. That was the genesis of the Weathermen but it was also the genesis of the Progressive Labor Party-led faction that wanted to bring the anti-war message to the working class by linking up the student movement with the fight against capitalism. In short, to get to those who were, or were to be, the rank and file soldiers in Vietnam or who worked in the factories. In either case the point that was missed, as the Old Left had argued all along and which we had previously dismissed out of hand, was that it was the masses of working people who were central to ‘bringing the war home’ and the fight against capitalism. That task still confronts us today.

One of the paradoxical things about this film is that the Weather Underground survivors interviewed had only a vague notion about what went wrong. This was clearly detailed in the remarks of Mark Rudd, a central leader, when he stated that the Weathermen were trying to create a communist cadre. He also stated, however, that after going underground he realized that he was out of the loop as far as being politically effective. And that is the point. There is no virtue in underground activity if it is not necessary, romantic as that may be. To the extent that any of us read history in those days it was certainly not about the origins of the Russian revolutionary movement in the 19th century. If we had we would have found that that movement also fought out the above-mentioned fight in 1969. Mass action vs. individual acts, heroic or otherwise, of terror. The Weather strategy of acting as the American component of the worldwide revolutionary movement in order to bring the Empire to its knees certainly had (and still does) had a very appealing quality. However, a moral gesture did not (and will not) bring this beast down. While the Weather Underground was made up a small group of very appealing subjective revolutionaries its political/moral strategy led to a dead end. The lesson to be learned; you most definitely do need weather people to know which way the winds blow. Start with Karl Marx.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On Workers Asset Liquidation Committees Today


On October 1, 2008 I commented in an entry entitled Fantastic Musings On The Financial Meltdown- Are We Prepared To Lead The Struggle For State Power that one of our demand today, a transitional demand if you will, should be to call for the establishment of workers committees to liquidate the assets of bankrupt companies and distribute them to the workers. I have taken a little heat from a couple of comrades over my formulation. I purposefully placed this demand in the context of the need for us to take a more aggressively agitational approach during this period, an exceptional time of capitalist economic chaos when we can get a hearing from working people looking for SOME way out of this nightmare.

The gist of the criticism of my position was that I was “defeatist” in that what is called for today is workers control of the companies. Under a workers government, which by the way is not going to spring forth today, that is the correct demand. Under capitalist conditions with no realistic prospect of a workers government on the horizon- and here I intend to be humorous- workers, take the money and run. Fast.

Look, our whole reason for existence as socialists is that we believe that this capitalist/imperialist system is fundamentally flawed and that it needs to be replaced by a more equitable society based, at the start, on socialist economic planning in the spirit of social solidarity rather than greed. No serious reader of this space should disagree with that general premise. The point is how to get that message out in a way that people can relate to. We, rightly, had (and have) not interest in bailouts, rescues or other remedies that would put a bandage on this broken down financial system. We call for a big NO vote on that issue. Again there should be no dispute on this. But hear me out.

Whether we socialists have developed a propaganda circle mentality or not, as I noted in the above-mentioned previous entry, we still need to deal with today’s social reality as we shift gears and become more agitational in our work as OUR political prospects brighten. The demand for workers committees to take control of liquidation of assets is directly counterposed to what is happening today as larger financial institutions are gobbling up smaller companies at fire sale prices. That is leaving untold workers without jobs, pensions, personal assets, etc. So companies fail- those things happen by hook or by crook under capitalism- we are in no position today to affect that. We ARE in a position to speak on behalf of those who suffer the consequences of this crisis in order to see that they get some minimal relief. Moreover this demand, and here is the real historic point, lets working people get to take things, even if in a negative way, into their own hands. That is worth raising the slogan for by itself.

Lastly, we have no interest in the imperialists’ capitalist nationalization schemes. This, essentially, is what the Freddie Mae and Fannie Mae deals were about. We socialists have all sorts of positions on nationalizations, when we support or call for them as well as, and under what conditions we defend them, depending of who is doing the nationalization and for what purposes. A quick review of recent history, as always, tells the tale. The Cuban Revolution’s nationalizations (and expropriations) of, mainly, American properties, we supported with both hands. Right? The same is true with any such efforts with the oil under Chavez in Venezuela. And we, moreover, defend those actions against attempts by the imperialists to take them back. No question. We neither supported nor called for the nationalizations of the (bankrupt) coal industrial under capitalist control state in Great Britain after World War II. We did, however, defend against Prime Minister Thatcher’s bloody attempts to de-nationalize these mines in the 1980’s. That will give a flavor of what a correct policy should be. Once again this position calls forth not the need for capitalist nationalizations but, in effect, the need to create workers committees to liquidate assets rather than to solidify the capitalists in their current strategies to save THEIR system.