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New Ground 92

January - February, 2004


  • A Victory for Liberty in Oak Park by Tom Broderick
  • Global Day of Action by Bob Roman
  • OUL Debate on Empire: Protest vs. Politics by Mark Weinberg
  • Did Something Important Happen? by Tom Broderick
  • Labor War in Lake Wobegon by Will Kelley
  • Other News compiled by Bob Roman
  • Homeland Regime Change
    OUL: Literature in 3 Dimensions
    OUL: Third Parties
    Life After Bush: Youth Activism and the Fight for Our Future
    March for Women's Lives
    Health Care Justice Act
    Congress Hotel
  • Letters

  • A Victory for Liberty in Oak Park

    by Tom Broderick

    The Village of Oak Park, Illinois, has passed a resolution urging repeal or revision of portions of the USA PATRIOT Act. On Monday, January 5th, 2004, at the first official meeting of the year, the Village Board Trustees of Oak Park voted five to one to join with over 230 other states, cities and municipalities to proclaim that "Americans can be both safe and free." The movement continues to grow. In the first week of January, Fremont County in Wyoming, Douglas County in Oregon, and Atlanta, Georgia, also passed similar resolutions.

    Under the guidance of the Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice, a program of educational outreach was begun. This included asking candidates for the Village Board to publicly state a position on the USA PATRIOT Act during the last election. On April 15th, shifts of petition circulators stood outside the U.S. Post Office as tax returns were filed. Informational leaflets were distributed and signatures were gathered for a Village Resolution opposing the Act. At the Village 4 of July parade, the Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice marched, distributed informational leaflets and gathered more signatures.

    At the Board meeting, several Oak Parkers spoke in favor of the Resolution. No one spoke against it. Earlier in the evening a proclamation commemorating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday was read. It included Village support for the vision of Dr. King. One of those who later addressed the Board about the USA PATRIOT Act pointed out that Dr. King would certainly have been targeted by the Act.

    Ben Iglar-Mobley formally presented copies of the petitions to each of the Board members. He said that a major element of the petition circulating drive was the educational outreach. During the several signature gathering efforts that he took part in, he said that only once or twice did anyone state support for the Act.

    Credit was given to the Village Community Relations Commission for their effort in drafting the resolution both by Village Trustee Galen Gockel, who read the Resolution and by Kevin McDermott of the Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice.

    After the reading of the Resolution, Village Trustee Robert Milstein asked for a slight, but significant change. Section 5 of the Resolution stated "That the Village of Oak Park urges Congress to repeal or revise those sections of the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act that violate the constitution . . ." Trustee Milstein asked that "or revise" be dropped and that we urge repeal of those sections that violate the Constitution. This change was approved. Milstein also lamented that language directing Village employees to refuse cooperation with Federal employees in enforcement of the Act was discarded.

    In Illinois, campaigns against the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act are now underway in west suburban Kane County and in downstate Normal.

    Global Day of Action

    by Bob Roman

    Saturday, March 20, will be a Global Day of Action Against War and Occupation. The date marks the one year anniversary of the U.S. bombing and invasion of Iraq. The Day of Action will bring millions into the street to say yes to peace and no to pre-emptive war and occupation. The Chicago DSA Executive Committee voted to endorse the Global Day of Action.

    The U.S. protests will also take on the war at home. We will express growing opposition to the so-called USA PATRIOT Act that authorizes political arrests, indefinite detentions, domestic spying, and religious and racial profiling. We will call for an end to the mass detentions and deportations of innocent immigrants in the name of fighting terrorism. We will say no to massive military spending amidst vast cuts in vital domestic social and economic programs.

    Planning has begun for the Chicago demonstration. On Saturday, January 11, over 100 people gathered to begin the process. Judging by some reports, the meeting reflected the strengths and the weaknesses of the movement: a great deal of angry enthusiasm tempered by papered over divisions between protest and politics that are also reflected in ideological disagreements and organizational jealousies. These divisions should not be overstated, however. At this point, people are far more interested in confronting the most dangerous President ever than in confronting one another.

    Be at the Federal Plaza on Saturday, March 20.

    OUL Debate on Empire: Protest vs. Politics

    by Mark Weinberg

    On Thursday, December 18th, a chilly Chicago night filled with major leftie events, about 20 people came to a special debate at the New World Resource Center which concluded Open University of the Left's Fall 2003 series of forums on the American Empire. Two prominent members of Chicago's progressive community, Carl Davidson and Andy Thayer dealt with the question: How can we best respond to the imperialist designs of the second Bush administration? The debate was moderated by sometimes DSAer Bill Minneman who introduced most of the programs.

    The first speaker was Davidson, a founder of the New Left in the sixties who humbly billed himself as a member of the steering committee of Chicagoans Against War and Injustice (CAWI) which, having opposed the U.S. attack on Iraq (as Chicagoans Against the War in Iraq), is now conducting a voter registration drive to get out the anti-Bush vote. Although he favors Dennis Kucinch among the current Democratic presidential candidates he doesn't expect a progressive to get the party's nomination, let alone to be elected and like many others, feels that U.S. election law is hostile to third party politics, as the Nader Green Party effort in 2000 proved. But he feels that registration in the Chicago area will build the base of our voters making future progressive victories possible. He also believes that almost any Democrat is a distinct improvement over Bush, something more of us believe now than in 2000. CAWI has trained several hundred voter registrars and registered almost a thousand voters so far.

    Davidson was followed by the much younger Thayer of the Chicagoland Anti-Bashing Network, a GLBT activist group. He was the last of 800 anti-war protestors arrested March 20th after the Lake Shore Drive march to have charges against him dropped. He cited the failure of virtually all Democrats to unequivocally oppose Bush's illegal attack on Iraq and suggested direct action was the only means to reasserting democratic control of our country; he cited many examples throughout U.S. history.

    Davidson retorted that Thayer had tactics without strategy, that he appeared to believe in the general strike as a means of regaining control of the government and that he appeared to be an anarcho-syndicalist. Thayer said he considered himself a Leninist. Davidson admitted to still considering himself to be a Marxist and that he appreciated the value of direct action more than Thayer appreciated electoral politics, an allegation that Thayer didn't really deny.

    Almost everyone in the audience availed themselves of the opportunity to make cogent comments. I stated that a successful general strike seemed about equally far away as the election of a progressive as U.S. president. Many felt that electoral politics shouldn't focus on Presidential politics which takes too much organizing and money; I concur. All in all this was an exhilarating event that focused unequivocally on basic left strategy. Chicago DSA and Open University of the Left will be co-sponsoring a series on American third party politics starting January 28th. Please show your support.

    Did Something Important Happen?

    by Tom Broderick

    From the roar of the fanfare, you'd think something important must have happened. This past November, the Illinois Legislature unanimously passed a bill to reform the death penalty. Lawmakers who favored abolishing capital punishment were able to join with those who felt that taking a life for taking a life is just. Immediately after this reform package passed, there were calls by some Legislators to end the moratorium on executions. Fortunately, Governor Rod Blagojevich said he was not yet ready to resume executions. "We have to see how these reforms work."

    This political focus on the death penalty in Illinois began to gain momentum during the term of former Governor George Ryan, a death penalty advocate. As Governor, Ryan was responsible for reviewing each capital case and deciding if justice required execution. He signed the death warrant in the first case he reviewed and a life was taken. When he was sent the second one, Governor Ryan had doubts. Anthony Porter came within 72 hours of extermination. A group of college students had researched his case and presented evidence to question Mr. Porter's guilty verdict. Mr. Porter was found to be innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to die. Anthony is now alive and free.

    Governor Ryan responded in two ways. He commissioned a panel to review capital punishment in Illinois. Proponents and opponents of the death penalty were included on the panel. Members included the late Paul Simon, U.S. Senator from Illinois; William Martin, lead prosecutor in the Richard Speck murder trial; and attorney and author Scott Turow. The panel was commissioned to review the capital punishment system in Illinois and provide recommendations to make it fair and just. Governor Ryan also said that he would not sign any more death warrants until he felt confidence in the system. Thus began the moratorium on executions that continues under Governor Blagojevich.

    Two years of detailed study across Illinois led the panel to offer 85 recommendations to improve upon capital punishment as a tool in meting out justice. They concluded with the caveat that even enacting every one of the recommendations could not guarantee that an innocent person would be put to death. This report did not establish the confidence in the system that Ryan was looking for.

    In January of 2003, Governor Ryan pardoned four more condemned men. He also commuted the sentences of the remaining 167 death row inmates, most of them to life without possibility of parole. Death row in Illinois was empty. This action was celebrated by abolitionists across the planet. Many considered Ryan a hero of conscience. He was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

    Let's return to the Illinois Legislature and the reform package that was trumpeted by Illinois State Legislators and much of the Illinois media as historic. It is not historic. It is a political placebo.

    Earlier I mentioned Ryan's commission suggesting 85 reforms to make our capital punishment system fairer, though still subject to lethal failure. Our Legislature responded by passing approximately 20% of this number.

    Our new reform bill no longer allows the citizens of Illinois to execute the mentally retarded. The U.S. Supreme court had already banned this.

    Our new reform bill will require the taping of homicide interrogations. Well, in two years it will. Until then, the police can continue to interrogate in secret. This reform should be expanded to include all felony cases. It will only help to present a clearer record of the judicial procedure, to the benefit of all looking for justice.

    Gary Gauger woke up one morning and found one of his parents dead at their home. Mr. Gauger called the police. They found his other parent, also dead. They had both been murdered. Gary was not arrested, but he was taken to the police station and kept isolated and awake. He was told he could leave after he described how he would have murdered his parents if he had done so. Eventually he complied and his description was entered as evidence. Mr. Gauger was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to die. Federal prosecutors told Illinois prosecutors that two motorcycle gang members had admitted to killing Gauger's parents. Instead of releasing Mr. Gauger, our judicial system left him facing execution for another year; execution for the murder of his parents. This smacks of attempted murder to me. Gary is also alive and free today.

    Another reform would keep prosecutors from seeking the death penalty where only one witness, jail-house snitch or accomplice supplies the evidence. When considering execution as a just remedy, I'm not sure it is fair to rely on only one witness to be infallible. It is absurd to rely on either a jail-house snitch or an accomplice to provide the only believable evidence in any case, not just capital ones. Anthony Porter, who I mentioned above was identified by two witnesses, yet he did not commit the crime.

    The police will threaten accomplices with death to get one to testify against another. This is one reason that police and prosecutors don't want an end to the death penalty. Threatening someone with death is an effective tool, though it might be considered torture when police officers use death threats against someone in custody.

    Nothing in the package passed by our legislature takes race or class into consideration. In Illinois, the death sentence is sought three times more often when the victim is white. Those who know their rights and can afford one, can immediately have counsel present at the police station. Those who have to rely on appointed representation must wait until a court appearance, which may not occur for a couple of days.

    The death penalty cannot be successfully reformed. The poor will always suffer from less well-financed legal help and racism still influences many decisions. Former Governor Ryan has suggested that we need to look at abolishing the death penalty. He is correct. Capital punishment is cruel. It is vengeful. It creates more victims in its wake. It does not provide justice.

    Despite all of the thoroughly documented troubles with the capital punishment system, Illinois sent two more men to death row in 2003. This low number reflects a general trend away from the death penalty in our country. But other cases are pending.

    There is an abolition bill that needs action by our Representatives in the Illinois House. It is House Bill 213. This year is an election year and many Legislators will not want to take a position to abolish the death penalty. To quote the Saturday Night Live Church Lady: Well isn't that special! The only solution to the unfair capital punishment system is abolition. Push your Legislator to promote justice. Only our Legislature can eliminate this penalty.

    Editor's Note, post-publication: for an interesting look at the politics and litigation around the death penalty in Illinois, readers may want to consult the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty's recent report on the subject, a 428K pdf format file.

    Labor War in Lake Wobegon

    by Will Kelley

    Packinghouse Daughter, by Cheri Register. New York: HarperCollins Perennial, 2001 (© Minnesota Historical Society, 2000).

    What is it about 1959? There are some years that everyone knows are crucial to history, years like 1968. But there are other years, as well, years that aren't so prominent in memory but pop up again and again. 1959 is like that. No one has written a book about it, as far as I know, but as I learn more about the history of working people, more likely than not there it will be: 1959. It was the year of the big steel strike, described in Striking Steel, and it appears again in Cheri Register's memoir, Packinghouse Daughter.

    1959 doesn't stand out as a year where anything reached a peak or fell to a nadir.* Rates of unionization were close to the highest they had ever been, but were not at a peak. Nor were there more work stoppages in 1959 than in other years. Adjusted for a tendency for three-year cycles, in 1959 work stoppages were on their way to a post-World War II low in the early 1960s, a low that wouldn't be reached again until the Reagan administration. And the Landrum-Griffin Act came too late for it to be a direct cause of anything.

    Perhaps it's just that the early baby boomers, the ones who write so much about themselves, were beginning to become aware of something beyond cowboy outfits, the Howdy Doody Show, and what was due for homework on Monday. That could explain a lot. Then again, perhaps some of the labor disputes of the time were particularly nasty, and threatened to shred further the impression of social cohesion and mutual accommodation that had been so carefully assembled after the war. That, at least, is the impression that a reader comes away with after reading Packinghouse Daughter.

    The book falls neatly into three parts. In the first, Register introduces meatpacking, the plant, and the family history that placed her there. On her father's side, the Registers descended from immigrants to far Southern Minnesota who arrived in the 1850s. Her branch of the family lost their farm in the 1920s, and her father eventually went to work for Wilson's meatpacking company in Albert Lea. On her mother's side, her grandparents emigrated from Denmark in the early years of the 20th Century. Cheri, the youngest of three daughters, grew up to witness her parents' post-war prosperity.

    She also witnessed an ugly contract fight that was tremendously divisive, disruptive, and nearly violent. Nearly 40% of the book is given over to a description of it. It began in early November, with disputes over mandatory overtime, notification, and responses to the automation that everyone could see coming. For instance, the union wanted workers who had been displaced to be able to pay for group insurance plans with the same premium payments that had been offered to the employer when the worker was part of the group. Unacceptably radical? Hardly, since now this is part of national law, as everyone who has used COBRA will be happy to testify.

    Wilson's, though, declined to follow the industry pattern, insisting on its right to "management prerogatives". The conflict escalated in early December, when Wilson's tried to impose a contract and threatened to hire permanent replacements. Tempers were short all around. But here is what makes the book a testament to something remarkable: in order to prevent an outburst of violence, Governor Orville Freeman called out the National Guard, occupying both the plant and Albert Lea until tempers cooled. Yet not even this broke the deadlock, which lasted for a total of 109 days.

    The third part of the book looks at the legacy of the strike, following the fate of the families, her hometown, and the company. Jobs and lives were hanging in balance, and not just those of the plant workers and managers. Governor Freeman, for instance, was widely understood to have sacrificed his office when he activated the Guard. President Kennedy, fortunately, later saw fit to make him Secretary of Agriculture.

    Register's strength is in her ability to remember the look and feel of a time and place, then compare it with what she discovered through archival research years later. This brings to life the full humanity of the people who participated, whether by choice or by chance, in this turbulent episode.

    For instance, it had been easy for the pro-business media to pillory Governor Freeman as someone who was just paying back a favor to Democratic Farmer Labor Party supporters. Her look at the notes he scribbled the night he called out the Guard, though, reveal a more nuanced sensibility that was concerned with the people of Albert Lea, not the politics. Beginning with "history of bitterness," his notes continue, "what of community, who can speak for community - people who live there. What are community rights livelihood of people & future of town." Eventually they conclude, "Also practical is the integrity of one of Minnesota finest communities - Legitimate objective to minimize antagonism where city country, farm worker - even inter-family bitterness takes place - casualties to flow from this are long & real."

    Freeman gave more weight to the right of a community to remain a community, by maintaining comity among its members, than he gave to the rights of private property ownership. He chose to use the Guard to calm the situation instead of allowing further disruption. It is a view of human rights that remains a basic challenge to extremist capitalist ideologues.

    Finally, then, this book tells us something about 1959. This was just a few years after the rate of unionization in manufacturing had reached its height and begun a long, secular decline that has yet to halt. If there is anything we have learned in the last fifty years, it is that this has been the result of a deliberate strategy. Once it became clear that Eisenhower would not try to dismantle the New Deal, by the mid-1950s a core segment of the business class decided to do it on their own, beginning with employment practices. Yet Register makes clear that central figures in the union saw themselves as powerful actors, a nearly irresistible force. They did not realize that central figures in management had determined to turn themselves into an immovable obstacle. The result: labor war in Lake Wobegon, or, perhaps closer to the spirit of Garrison Keillor, Millet. If this turns out to be an accurate view of the situation it could account for the harshness of the conflicts in 1959, and their vividness to an emerging generation. In addition, the struggle at Wilson's can be seen as a harbinger of things to come, not just another work stoppage over difficult contract negotiations with an always intractable employer.

    Packinghouse Daughter is a vital portrait of an important time, understood through the experiences of the people who lived it. The issues in conflict here remain unresolved. The book, then, is well worth the time. It would also be useful in college-level classes in a variety of areas.


    *The trends described here come from Michael Goldfield's book, The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States.

    Other News

    compiled by Bob Roman

    Homeland Regime Change

    The 2004 Eugene V. Debs - Norman Thomas - Michael Harrington Dinner will honor Eliseo Medina and Lynn Talbott. The Dinner will be held on Friday, May 7, 6 PM at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 N. Orleans in Chicago.

    Eliseo Medina is an International Executive Vice President of SEIU in Los Angeles, but many of us regard him as a Chicagoan as he organized the United Farm Workers' Grape Boycott here in Chicago in the 1970s. More recently, he was instrumental in getting the AFL-CIO to change its policy on immigration issues.

    Lynn Talbott is very much a Chicagoan, being an International Vice President of UNITE from UNITE's Chicago and Central States Joint Board. Ms. Talbott has been active in U.S. Labor Against the War and is a leader in UNITE's campaigns to organize low-wage workers, most notably the ongoing CINTRAS campaign.

    Our featured speaker will be Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky who, you can be sure, will have a great deal to say about building the Dump Bush movement.

    OUL: Literature in 3 Dimensions

    Open University Of The Left announces its first literary salon program of the new year, "1984 in 2004", a discussion of George Orwell's classic dystopic novel. We belatedly celebrate the 2003 centenary of the birth of this great socialist writer. This was the book, originally published in 1948 that put terms like "newspeak," "double think" and "thought police" into our language and generally accentuated our concern with the roles of technology and propaganda in totalitarian governments. Our discussion will focus on the relevance of Orwell's vision to "Amerika" today. The facilitator will be Mark C. Weinberg, Open University regular, reluctant bureaucrat and Political Education Director of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America.

    The salon will be held on Wednesday, February 4, 2004 7:00 P.M. at ACME Artworks, 1741 N. Western, Chicago. Tuition is $3 to $5 to cover costs but no one will be turned away for inability to pay.

    The next salon will be on March 3, featuring a discussion of Herman Melville's White Jacket, led by Hugh Iglarsh.

    OUL: Third Parties

    The Open University of the Left will be holding an 8 part discussion of third parties in the U.S., past and present. These will be held at ACME Artworks, 1741 N. Western Ave in Chicago All sessions will run from 7 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. After an opening presentation, a discussion will follow. Suggested tuition is $3 per session though no one will be turned away.

    1. Wednesday, Jan. 28: The Two Party System How We Got It

    This session will look at how the "good cop/bad cop" dynamic of the two-party system emerged in the United States. The session would describe the rise of the Federalist Party of Adams and Hamilton and the Democrat-Republicans of Jefferson and Madison. An opening presentation will argue that the slave owners who led the Democrat-Republicans were very skilled at seeming to champion the interests of small farmers and "mechanics." As a result of that and other factors there was no significant political party championing the independent interests of the poor in the early Republic.

    2. Wednesday, Feb. 11 The rise of the Republican Party

    This session would explore the disintegration of the Whig Party that was hastened by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and the subsequent rise of the Republican Party. The emphasis would be on what economic forces produced the Whig Party and what new economic forces led to its disintegration. The session will examine "Bleeding Kansas" and how the ideology of the Republican Party was different than abolitionism.

    3. Wednesday, Feb. 25 The Post-Civil War Third Party Efforts

    This session would focus on how the post-Civil War expansion of banking and railroad capital led to the rise of attempts to form third parties. The session will look at the Greenback movement of the 1870s and 1880s and also the Populist Party. The session will examine the ideology of the Populist, the Populist Party program, and William Jennings Bryan's famous "cross of gold" speech at the 1896 Democratic Convention. It will discuss the influence that the greenback and populist movements had on labor and radical organizations that followed, such as the IWW, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party USA. The session will also look at the specific role that populism played in the South, particularly during the Reconstruction era and then after the defeat of Reconstruction.

    4. Wednesday, March 10 First Attempts to Form a Labor Party

    This session will examine the very first attempts after the Civil War to form a labor party in the United States. The session will look at the 1880s and 1890s and Henry George and his "single tax" and the efforts of the Knights of Labor at that time. The session will look at the role that immigrant revolutionaries from Central Europe played in this process.

    5. Wednesday, March 24 The 20th Century before the New Deal

    This session will discuss the rise and decline of the Socialist Party in the early 20th century, and how it involved people from different class backgrounds and was a political force in rural America, the West and South. It will examine what lessons can be learned from the Socialist Party's rise and decline in this period. The session will also examine the LaFollette Progressive Party campaign of 1924 and its lessons for today.

    6. Wednesday, April 7: The New Deal and the Roosevelt Coalition

    This session will look at the years of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency and what the Roosevelt Coalition (which spanned everyone from the CIO to the Dixiecrats) represented. How did the Democratic Party include for many years everyone from Strom Thurmond to Henry Wallace and why did both of them bolt the party in 1948? What did the Progressive Party of 1948 represent, and why did it fail?

    7. Wednesday, April 21: The Rise of alternative political parties since Vietnam

    This session will examine the different parties which have emerged since Lyndon Johnson declined to run for re-election in 1968 the Peace and Freedom Party, Citizens Party, the Green Party and the movements within the Democratic party which have been transformed into cause celebres (the Harold Washington campaigns of 1983 and 1987 and the Jesse Jackson campaigns of 1984 and 1988.)

    8. Wednesday, May 5: Third Parties Today

    This session will discuss the role which different third parties are playing, or could play today. It will also discuss what progressive people should do on Election Day 2004.

    Life After Bush:

    Youth Activism and the Fight for Our Future

    The Young Democratic Socialists' Winter Conference will be held Friday February 20 through Sunday February 22 at CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown Manhattan in New York City. This will be a weekend long conference for young activists dedicated to social and economic justice. Workshops and plenary presentations will address topics ranging from U.S. foreign policy, workers rights, anti-racism, the feminist movement, confronting right-wing ideology, globalization and America's low-wage economy, LGBTQ activism, grassroots organizing, democratic socialist politics and more. Participants will explore what's at stake in this critical election year as well as strategize how students and youth can best affect change in 2004 and beyond. The conference will highlight upcoming mobilizations and campaign initiatives that anyone can plug into such as the April 25th March for Women's Lives, and the Books Not Bombs national day of action. "Life After Bush" will be an excellent opportunity to debate, network and have fun with other young people from across the country. Among others, Cornel West, Frances Fox Piven, Doug Henwood, Steve Max, Leslie Cagan and Ian Williams will be speaking. For additional information, go to http://www.ydsusa.org/confs/nyc_0204.html.

    March for Women's Lives

    April 25, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, has been the occasion of demonstrations in Washington, DC, in support of women's rights for many years now. The renewed offensive against reproductive rights has given this year's demonstration added urgency. In recognition of the danger, the organizers have renamed the event the "March for Women's Rights.

    The DSA National Convention endorsed this year's march. At its January meeting, the Chicago DSA Executive Committee did as well. In Chicago, Planned Parenthood will be organizing buses to Washington, DC. Chicago DSA will be encouraging its members and friends to participate in the national march and events locally.

    For more information, go to http://www.marchforchoice.org.

    Health Care Justice Act

    The Campaign for Better Health Care has been working on a legislative version of the Bernardine Amendment for some years now, and their current effort is so close to passage that one can almost taste it. It passed the full House last March (60-45) but has become hung up in the Illinois Senate. In the veto session, the Health Care Justice Act was tacked on to a "shell bill", HB 1083.

    This time we don't have Pate Phillips to blame; a Democratic majority runs the Senate. The present difficulty was provoked by a few Senators who discovered the bill farmed out the crafting of a universal health care bill to stakeholders outside the legislature then required the legislature to pass the resulting legislation.

    Admittedly, this is an unusual approach to legislation though it's not unheard of. The Chicago City Council, for example, is required to approve property tax increases sought by the Chicago Board of Education; they can't be denied. Informally, much legislation is crafted by lobbyists then rubberstamped by the legislature.

    For more information about the Health Care Justice Act, see "Other News" in New Ground 87 or go to http://www.cbhconline.org/fact_hb1984.htm.

    Congress Hotel

    According to news reports, there has been some contact between the hotel and HERE Local 1, the first time since the workers walked out last summer. It would probably be an exaggeration to call this one meeting much more than a conversation. The January 9 meeting was apparently initiated by a change in health care coverage under the plan administered by the union. There was not even any public agreement as to which side requested the meeting though there was agreement that there was no agreements reached at the meeting. But published reports indicate that there will be another meeting on January 22.

    In the meantime, the Congress Hotel has gotten into some difficulty with building code violations. For an idea of some of the problems as related by disgruntled customers, check out the strike web site, http://www.congresshotelstrike.info/. According to the City, most of the over five dozen violations have been corrected or are being corrected. The hotel is due back in court on these issues January 29.


    We Pay, They Play

    It seems to have been unnoticed by political and economic analysts that Clinton's greatest sin, in the eyes of our economic and financial aristocracy, was to create a budget surplus. The Republican ideologues among them were, of course, outraged that he had robbed them of their favorite political bull-whip: the slogan branding the Democrats as "tax and spend liberals" but the real blow was the fiscal threat posed to their class interests by the budget surplus itself. The surplus meant that the U.S. Treasury would be under less pressure to borrow money and the interest rate would fall, limiting the income of the bond holders and the fees of the "law firms" on Wall Street that negotiated the sale of large blocks of each bond issue to them. One should remember that a similar threat at the close of World War Two, posed by a group of progressive members of the House of Representatives, gave rise to the career of Richard Milhous Nixon.

    The solution, put into the action by the management of the Republican Party and the handlers of the current resident of the White House was quite traditional, although brilliant in the eyes of those who profited: a tax cut so extreme and unbalanced that it would throw the Federal budget into deficit and enrich the already wealthy to the extent that they could lend their added wealth to the U.S. Treasury at a well negotiated and comfortable rate of interest. They would be relieved of the pressure to find profitable investments, create employment or take (heavens!) risks. They could devote their energies to creating public opinion, playing (seriously) with politics and social affairs. There is always so much to do when one has a sufficiently high guaranteed income, without the responsibility of actually creating it. Running and ruining the country is so much fun.

    This is not a new development. Hierarchical states ruled by aristocracies have always borrowed for their immediate needs, be they wars, roads or palaces. They typically borrowed from the wealthy, who were often related to and supported the rulers, and were therefore assured of a handsome return over time. When the rulers could not borrow enough, they usually levied what they wanted from the middle and lower classes without a promise of return.

    With the further development of civilization, the process was refined. Corporations, including banks, developed to rationalize the process (and to take the blame when needed). America's "Gilded Age" illustrated the process, as did the "Roaring Twenties". When the Boom led to Bust, some corporations did undertake capital projects (The electrification of the Pennsylvania Railroad is a case in point.) but the typical upper class investor in the 1930s loaned money to the Federal Government that then undertook the needed capital projects, providing needed employment and (like road construction) subsidized sectors of private investment (trucking, auto manufacture, petroleum, etc.). The bond buyers were assured of a steady return without effort or risk and (as Alexander Hamilton put it) had the leisure to devote to "the arts of government".

    In solidarity,

    Niilo Koponen

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