Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fidel's Turning of the Wheel...

Report from Cuba on Fidel's Transition

[Note from CarlD: This is a down-to-earth report on the closing on an era. Fidel has been the leader of Cuba for my entire political life, and the very first demonstration I went to was a 'Hands Off Cuba' vigil of twelve of us at Penn State during the Cuba missile crisis.

Later, representing SDS, I had a chance to meet with Fidel. At the Cultural Congress of Havana in 1968, Dave Dellinger, Tom Hayden and I were whisked away to a safe house, were we sat up with Fidel late into the night, discussing everything under the sun. He wanted to know our opinion of McGovern, Dellinger wanted to know about Che and Regis Debray, Hayden and I asked to start what became the Veceremos Brigade, and Fidel bugged me to explain 'hippies' to him, and I tried my best.

He is a remarkable man, with a photographic memory, wide knowledge and keen insights. Cuba will change after him, though, as brother Raul is already looking into the socialist market economy in China and Vietnam, but will undoubtedly make any reforms 'in the Cuban way.' We should all wish Fidel and Cuba well, and double our voices against the blockcade.]

By Marc PoKempner
Havana, Cuba

Subject: Castro's resignation

I thought you all would be interested in a bit of news from Cuba. I have read some of the US reports and, understandably given the bias, they don't get it right---though they have captured some of it.

There was no "police presence" that I detected whatsoever. Everything was completely normal. The so-called "independent journalists", supported by the US and Journalists Without Borders, have been floating a lot of totally fabricated stories lately about arrests, etc.

So be skeptical of all such sources, and keep in mind that one of the express strategies of the Bush administration is to destabilize Cuba from within. The most ridiculous of these was a report last week by an "independent journalist" that a young student was yanked from his home in Las Tunas after criticizing the government in a meeting at the university. Nothing of the kind ever took place. He stood up in a meeting and voiced some concerns and criticisms in an auditorium in a meeting presided over by Ricardo Alarcon, president of the National Assembly. The meeting was taped and broadcast internally to the entire university. Nothing happened to the boy and he appeared on Cuban TV to debunk the story.

The news of Castro's had enormous impact, but also wasn't exactly a surprise. Some people may have thought that Castro would be re-elected, but most people did not given his health. The emotional impact of the announcement before the parlaimentary session next Sunday came mainly from three aspects: 1) it is an historical moment in Cuba---whatever the US media says, Castro is the respected Commander in Chief and loved or revered by the majority of Cubans. Younger Cubans may want change, which is natural, but most have respect for Castro who has shown himself to be a brilliant leader, even if they chafe under some of the overarching controls; 2) he resigned with dignity. Most of the people I spoke to praised the content of the message as fitting of a great leader; 3) there is also sadness, not so much that he is resigning---which was to be expected---but because he was not able to be president when the US finally lifts the blockade. That is, he won't be president residing over the final triumph over the US.

If there was muted response on the street, it is because Castro has been ill for a long time and the resignation was just a matter of time. But also, people have been waiting during this transition period to see what changes and improvements will be made, what direction will the country take now to solve its problems. Since there are no easy answers, it wasn't as if Castro's announcement meant dramatic changes or chaos. So, the response to the announcement was quiet and reflective.

Cubans do want some changes. Life has been hard since the 90s, and I expect there to be some reforms. But no one expects an opening to a free market economy, even if some market mechanisms are introduced and even perhaps some kinds of cooperatives in the service economy (carpentry, construction, plumbing) and perhaps even light, small-scale manufacturing (furniture, clothing, leather goods, etc.).

US policy continues to weigh heavy on Cuba's potential for development. I could write pages about the harshness of the impact. And so there aren't any easy ways leading to dramatic economic improvement (and where in the world today are there such ways). Most Cubans do not expect dramatic improvements, but they do want to see some new strategies and some problems solved.

I do expect that the requirement of "exit permits" will be lifted, but that won't solve most Cubans desire to travel since most countries do not give Cubans visas easily and most Cubans don't have the $ to buy tickets, etc. If and when that control is lifted, I doubt many countries will give asylum so easily to Cubans who use travel as a way to leave Cuba.

I also expect that some of the restrictions on Cubans access to tourist hotels will also be lifted. These restrictions were first adopted to try to stem the explosion of prostitution in the 90s when the economy hit rock bottom. Prostitution has diminished dramatically since the end of the 90s, but there is still a notion of equity that keeps the regulation in place. That is, it is hard to swallow the growing differences in income between those who earn hard currency (artists, musicians, tourism workers who get tips) and those who get money from families abroad. So, seeing these people enter the hotels when ordinary Cubans do not have the funds is problematic in an egalitarian society.

The current generation seems to be willing to accept some deviance from egalitarianism as long as there is social justice. That is, everyone has equal access to health care and education, social services and housing are improved, and everyone has access to work that pays a living wage (i.e., wages have sufficient purchasing power). This cannot be accomplished with a free-market capitalist system. The government must maintain a strong hand in the economy and development of the society.

Next Sunday, the National Assembly will meet and elect the new president of the Council of State, which I assume will be Raul Castro, and the other members of the Council. This will be an important signal of who is in the inner circle of leadership--kind of like the cabinet. Raul will undoubtedly remain Commander in Chief of the armed forces, but there could be a new minister of the armed forces.

Marc PoKempner, photojournalist ph: 773.525.4567 cel: 773.505.4568 Chicago, Illinois, USA Member: ASMP - American Society of Magazine Photographers

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Is A Knowlege Worker?


By Alvin and Heidi Toffler

Economists around the world are belatedly admitting out loud that much of what they have been telling governments, businesses,
investors and students has been increasingly mistaken and misleading.

For some, this is old news, especially for economists themselves,who have long made fun of their errors. Their forecasts are so bad that Robert Reich, an economist and secretary of labor during the Clinton presidency, has suggested that "economic forecasters exist to make astrologers look good."

What is new is their increasing willingness to admit that the tools
they have been using for a century or more – theories and assumptions originally designed for probing smokestack economies – are becoming more and more irrelevant or useless for analyzing today's knowledge-hungry, no-longer-industrial economies.

With the U.S. in the lead, Asian countries racing to catch up and
Europe struggling to keep pace, advanced economies are shifting from
the reliance on Second Wave assembly lines and muscle power to Third
Wave brain power. This transition is typically symbolized by computers,
the Internet, mobile phones, digital production lines, networks,
ad-hocratic organization, heavy investment in research and development
and other knowledge-intensive tools and methods.

Put all these changes together with corresponding changes in
institutional boundaries, and the roles of managers, employees,
consumers and prosumers, and it is evident that we are inventing
something new on the face of the earth – a revolutionary wealth system.

Economists first caught sight of this as far back as 1962 when
Fritz Machlup of Princeton published a prescient book called "The
Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States." It
showed that even then the U.S. economy was becoming more and more
dependent on knowledge.

In the 1960s, the polymathic Kenneth Boulding and a small number of
other economists began showing an interest in the economics of
knowledge. But within their profession these leading minds were
intellectual outriders whose ideas were usually pooh-poohed or ignored.
As a result, even as many economies grew more and more dependent on
knowledge, conventional economists continued to rely on industrial-age
measures, models and notions.

In the 1970s and 1980s, we, along with other futurists and
economists, repeatedly called attention to the growing gap between the
emerging revolutionary economy and the obsolescence of mainstream
economics. Yet little was done to correct the problem.

In consequence, as knowledge – admittedly hard to measure – grew
more and more important, the picture of reality presented to
businesses, governments and key international organizations – right on
down to the World Trade Organization and the U.N. – grew more and more
detached from reality, reaching a point at which the discrepancy could
no longer be ignored.

The gap is now so wide that Business Week recently devoted a
lengthy cover story to it, detailing many of the distortions and
mischaracterizations of trade, unemployment and fiscal and monetary
policy that result from continued reliance on wildly out-of-date
theories and data. Nor is the problem just an American phenomenon.
Similarly poor numbers and models are used by economists in most of the
rest of the world, too.

A key reason why economics has not kept up with the changing
economy is the sheer difficulty of properly defining and measuring
knowledge and knowledge work. Who, for example, is a "knowledge

Many estimates about the workforce, present and future, for
example, focus on the most easily quantified employee categories. The
result is a very narrow notion of who is, and who is not, engaged in
knowledge work.

A widely propagated categorization scheme suggests that to be a
knowledge worker one needs to be a scientist or an engineer, a
mathematician, an information technology specialist, a teacher or a
member of one of the professions. The assumption is that if we tally
these up, we have identified the "knowledge labor force." From that, it
is presumed, we can calculate their contribution to gross domestic
product and many other variables.

But this is crude at best and misleading at worst, radically
underestimating the extent of knowledge work in the real economy and
the number of workers doing knowledge work, as we'll see next.

Part 2:

Many economists are belatedly struggling to catch up with the increasing importance of knowledge in advanced economies.

Even among the most sophisticated, the true role of knowledge in
the creation of wealth is still, for the most part, underestimated. And
economists still don't grasp the often-hidden aspects of knowledge

Economists will have to subdivide knowledge into subtypes. Not all
knowledge is the same or has the same potential for creating wealth.
And building a knowledge economy doesn't require that every worker,
today or tomorrow, will need the cognitive or analytic skills of the
proverbial "rocket scientist."

Thus, economists must recognize that even many jobs categorized as
low skill – and therefore not counted in the "knowledge work" category
– have, in fact, a knowledge component. By ignoring that component, the
amount of knowledge work in the economy is radically underestimated.

Car mechanics may still install a new tire or a windshield wiper.
But, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, their work has changed
"from mechanical repair to a high technology job. As a result, these
workers are now usually called 'technicians.' . . . Technicians must
have an increasingly broad base of knowledge about how vehicles'
complex components work and interact, as well as the ability to work
with electronic diagnostic equipment and computer-based reference
materials." What percentage of these jobs consists of knowledge work?

What about farmers? Even the poorest peasants in history have
always needed knowledge about seeds, soil and weather. Today, in the
U.S., various agriculture organizations representing corn, cotton and
soybean growers have teamed up with the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration to teach "precision farming" made possible by data from
satellites and high-flying aircraft.

According to NASA, the farmers learn "where fertilizers are needed
– and where they're not needed. They discover pests – and spray only
infested areas. It's a remarkably 'green' approach to farming."
Precision farmers use GPS receivers, farm equipment with computerized
controllers and other digital equipment. As one farm-equipment dealer
puts it, today "it would help to have a college education just to
figure out the benefits in running the tractors."

Are farmers knowledge workers? Full-time or part-time?

Many other classes of employees also do part-time knowledge work.
Waiters punch orders into a computer, which not only sends instructions
to the kitchen, but provides data useful for purchasing, scheduling and
many other purposes. It has even been suggested that golf caddies are
"a simplified example of a knowledge worker" because "good caddies do
more than carry clubs. . . . A good caddie will give advice to golfers,
such as, 'The wind makes the ninth hole play 15 yards longer."'

If the definition of knowledge work is realistically broadened to
encompass part-time knowledge work, the role of knowledge in the
overall economy becomes far more important than current statistics

The extent of knowledge work in advanced economies would be still
further enlarged if economists recognize that there are many
economically essential forms of knowledge. These include tacit
knowledge, personal insight, the ability to care for the ill or elderly
with warmth and gut intelligence, a talent for leadership, persuasive
expression, adaptability, a gift for timing and many other skills that
are primarily social, cultural and psychological. These skills were
seldom required for repetitive tasks on yesterday's assembly line but
are extremely valuable, especially in tomorrow's service sector.

Not all of these carry the same weight or have the same effect on a
company's bottom line or on the national economy, and they are even
harder to define and quantify.

Yet another way of categorizing knowledge work is according to
whether it is being generated, stored, exchanged or transformed. Or by
the different degrees of abstraction required by different jobs – from
data entry all the way up the abstraction ladder to research scientist,
financial "quant" or corporate strategist.

Knowledge workers in the same firm also perform different
functions. Some are good "knowledge importers" – they bring knowledge
from outside the firm, from customers, critics, competitors and others.
They are good gatherers. Others are "knowledge exporters" – they bring
data, information and knowledge to the outside world from inside the
organization. They might be publicists or salespeople, for example.
Others are "knowledge relayers" – they pass data, information and/or
knowledge back and forth within the firm. Still others can be regarded
as "knowledge creators."

Our knowledge about knowledge is so poor that we all – not just
economists – are unprepared for what lies ahead. One forecast that is
reasonably safe is that economists, trying to answer questions like
these, will devote more and more attention to the work being done in a
new branch of their own profession – neuroeconomics, the study of how
the brain itself works when making economic decisions.

With or without help from that quarter, however, until economists
understand all these dimensions of knowledge work, they will continue
to drastically underestimate not only the contribution of knowledge
work to the money economy, but the role it plays in the truly
revolutionary wealth system emerging on the planet.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Getting Organized, Getting Engaged:

Independent Antiwar Intervention
in the 2008 Election Campaigns

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On

February 13, 2008

If our peace movement wants to make some far-reaching gains in the 2008 election cycle, it doesn’t have much time to waste. Super Tuesday is over, the remaining campaigns will end in November, and critical events are moving at a rapid pace.

Most important, ending the war in Iraq needs to be a greater part of everyone’s political decisions in 2008 than it is now.

In mid-February, we’re down to four main candidates, plus the Greens—two Republicans who promise to win the war, whatever the cost, even if it takes decades, and two Democrats who promise to end it, with less than desirable timelines and qualifications.

Large numbers of Americans critical of the war have decided to enter this arena in one way or another—but they are not necessarily part of the one million or so who have taken to the streets to date. Most have not. The most obvious is the insurgent wave of youth taking up Barak Obama’s cause, seeing him as their favored instrument to end the war and advance other progressive causes. They may make other choices later, but they have chosen to enter the fray this way, whether anyone else thinks it’s the best way or not.

Yet we, the more seasoned core of the antiwar movement, are not as engaged as we could be. Tom Hayden has elsewhere argued forcefully—‘After Super Tuesday, Time for Peace Movement to Get Off the Sidelines’--on why the peace and justice movements need to deploy more of its forces. At the risk on repeating some of his points, I’ll focus on some of the key ways it can actually be done, although just about any way would be better than doing nothing.

Political Intervention. With all the various ‘plans’ regarding Iraq being floated, it’s important that the peace movement stake out its position, and the one shared by the antiwar majority among the people themselves, of immediate withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq and their return home. Every candidate of every party needs to be directly confronted with this at every public forum. While there are important differences among them, not one of those remaining completely shares this perspective. They are either lagging behind the electorate or opposing it. Those who claim to want to end the war, at whatever level they are contending, need to be openly informed that they only gain support by taking a stronger stand.

Ballot Intervention. We can also directly put issues on the ballot, as well as into the discussion. Near West Citizens for Peace & Justice, for example, put a cutoff of funding for the war on the ballot at its township level in a working-class suburb of Chicago in the recent primary, where it won by 77 percent. Since electoral law varies, this may not be practical in some areas, but wherever it can be done, it’s a great nonpartisan, non-endorsing tool to bring antiwar votes to the polls.

Expanding the Electorate. This is already shaping up to be an historic election with a record-breaking turnout, if for no other reason than the likelihood of the ‘White Guys Only’ sign being taken from the Oval Office. Growing numbers want to be part of that history, and not just watch it. Still, the sharper the differences are drawn with the unabashed defenders of prolonging the war, the greater the potential turnout. But it has to be organized. Some new voters register themselves, but many do not until they are encouraged, especially among young people. The antiwar movement has everything to gain from registering voters in a nonpartisan fashion, so that the contact list with the new voters belong to it, rather than any party. Most states make it easy for volunteer organizations to get new registrations on their own and turn them in. There’s nothing standing in our way but our own lack of initiative.

Shaping and Informing the Electorate. A few years back the average voter was a 60-year-old retired economically liberal but socially conservative blue collar woman in a ‘white’ working-class suburb. But everything changes, especially in times of crisis, and there’s no law of the universe or even demographics that says it has to remain that way. Expanding the electorate comes in many flavors—the promoting more war and injustice crowd certainly works on expanding it in their direction, and there’s no reason we can’t do it our way. Moreover, an electorate more educated on the war—disabused of notions that Iraq caused 9/11 and other such lies and illusions—is more likely to vote rationally on the war, and to make educated selections among the candidates on their own, with an assist from wide distribution of candidate position survey and score cards, candidate night debates, and so on.

Identifying the Antiwar Electorate. Knowing that a majority of the electorate is critical of the war is one thing. It’s quite another to know all the names and addresses of voters in your precinct who are opposed to the war, support the war, or waver in between. The additional information is empowering to those who hold it, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be in the hands of our neighborhood-based peace and justice groups. But you have to do old-fashioned, door-to-door organizing to get it. Fortunately, a voter registration drive in an election cycle is an excellent way to do it. And it’s an additional plus that the same information is more than useful for mass mobilizations and other projects beyond Election Day.

Mobilizing the Electorate. Potential voters who are registered and antiwar but don’t make it to the polls don’t help much. There’s no reason we can’t organize nonpartisan GOTV—Get Out The Vote—events, not only ourselves, but with all our allies among churches, schools and unions. This way the relationships and ties belong to you after the election, not to any party. No one’s campaign reaches far enough into every corner; there’s always work to be done in areas where it’s not crowded but important to us nonetheless. Again, you can get your antiwar voters to the polls without endorsing anyone. They’ll figure out what to do.

Protecting and Securing the Vote. Perhaps I’m biased by my years in Chicago, but, yes, this is crucial to know how to do. Getting all sorts of voters to the polls doesn’t help much if you can’t get a fair and reliable count. There’s lots of justified concern about electronic machines these days, but in the 1980s, I went through an excellent three-hour training on ‘100 things to watch for’ to prevent stealing the vote when all the ballots were paper. (One was to look for long, sharpened fingernails on those handing out ballots. A wink from the precinct captain would get an unfavorable person’s ballot ‘nicked’ for later removal). It’s definitely worthwhile getting a number of people trained and positioned as poll watchers and election judges, for the future as well as the present.

Staking Claim to the Vote. It’s not very convincing to politicians or anyone else for us to claim a positive gain from an election we had nothing to do with, save for cheerleading on the sidelines. But to the degree we can reasonably claim responsibility for favorable results and turnouts in one battle, it enhances our independent ‘clout’ in future battles, inside and outside the electoral arena. It enhances our ability to ‘counter-spin’ the outcomes and post-election battles from those who would marginalize us. Most important, no matter who is elected, the need for an ongoing, independent and election-savvy organization is going to be more needed than ever in the dangerous ‘end game’ to Bush’s disaster in Iraq.

There are different sets of rules for doing all the above, depending on whether your local group or coalition is a 501C3, a 501C4, a straightforward public interest group with a bank account and no tax exempt status, or just an ad-hoc group of volunteers. If you are in doubt as to what can or can’t be done, and have a status that needs defending, consult a lawyer with some experience on the topic. But don’t fall for the claim that you can’t do anything.

There’s a lot that can be done, preferably completely independent of any party or campaign. If your imagination fails, you can always get to the organizations of the candidates or party of your choice, but do it now. You don’t want to tell your grandchildren that you sat on the sidelines in the Election of 2008.

[Carl Davidson is author, together with Marilyn Katz, of ‘Stopping War, Seeking Justice,’ available at He was founder and director of Peace and Justice Voters 2004 in Chicago, and a member of the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice. See for more information.]

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