News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lunatics protesting mosque aren't so different from bin Laden

An angry mob showed up in lower Manhattan to protest the opening of an "extremist Islamic center that aims to mock the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and create an army of jihadists who'll wage a battle that will eventually, if successful, destroy the America."

Sound far-fetched? That's because it is.

The above statement is pure fabrication. Pure fabrication - with the exception of the angry mob. They actually did show up.

Egged on by right-wing talk radio and the rest of the tea party crowd, these people descended to protest a "mosque" they perceived to be too close to Ground Zero.

Every mosque, they argued, is a "breeding ground for terrorists, as Islam is based in cruelty and terror and its logical outcome is the fight against modernity, democracy and tolerance."

Further, given that the 9/11 hijackers were Islamic, the hate-talkers say, the "mosque" must certainly be a slap in the face to those who perished. (Whether or not this would be an insult to the several hundred Muslims who also died there was never explicitly said.)

What's being built two block away from Ground Zero isn't even a mosque at all, but a community center based on Islamic values. According to the website for Cordoba House, the center's name, the mission will "[promote] tolerance, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City."

While these are likely not values appreciated by the frothing demonstrators, they are a far cry from mocking 9/11 victims.

Then there's the concept that if people of one religion do something wicked to some particular group or in some certain place, it naturally follows that the presence of that religion near the people or area where the atrocities occurred is somehow an insult. But except in the case of Islam, no one in America believes that. If that were the case, there should be no Christian churches near any synagogue, given the horrible persecution that Jews have experienced for centuries at the hands of Christians. But there are synagogues and churches side-by-side all around this city.

And, of course, Catholic churches are allowed not only to be near, but also to run, elementary schools.

Most nakedly obvious is the blatant bigotry against Islam. Those protesting the "mosque" argue that it is a religion of hate based on violence. A fair reading of the Koran will reveal some truly ugly verses-but the same can be said of the Bible. There are acts of genocide, incest, hatred, collective punishment, and so on in both the Old (Torah) and New Testaments.

But millions upon millions of religious people, Jewish, Christian and Islamic, base their faith not on this or that terrible verse, but on a perception that their preferred holy book tells them to love their neighbor.

Sure, Osama bin Laden calls himself a Muslim, but Pat Robertson (who told America we deserved 9/11) calls himself a Christian. In Israel, the hateful settlers take the Torah as their basis, but so do the progressive and democratic sections of the Zionist movement.

Just as most Christians and Jews are not extremists, neither are most Muslims. In fact, the very center being protested has as its aim to "provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all."

Compassion, generosity and respect for all: These are values common to billions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as any nonbeliever, Communist or true progressive.

Perhaps, most chilling of all is what these demonstrators were demanding: the government to stop the construction of a community center specifically because of the religion of those building it. In short, they wanted the suspension of the Bill of Rights.

Is there anything more chilling than thousands of people demonstrating against fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution?

Osama bin Laden and his thugs wanted to destroy the west, particularly the United States. They failed miserably. Only seven years after 9/11, the American people elected the first ever African American president, a man who grew up in a Muslim country and whose middle name, Hussein, is the same as that of two current or recent Middle Eastern rulers.

There is a huge democratic movement in this country, with labor at its core, that is white, African American, Asian, Latino, Arab and that unites people of all faiths or lack thereof. Its aim is to continue the very American tradition of the fight for peace, equality, democracy, civil rights and freedom-including of religion.

In an ironic twist, though many of them sported American flags, those protesting downtown had much less in common with this movement-and much more in common with bin Laden.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Forget budget cuts; tax the rich

By Dan Margolis, for the NY State Communist Party

Reading the news, one could be forgiven for believing the false notion that there is too little money in the state of New York. The state budget - due on April 1 - still hasn't been passed, as Albany can't come to an agreement on how to plug the $5 billion deficit. Instead, the legislature has been passing a series of week-long budget extenders to keep the government running.

But while the effects of the crisis are real, the perceived lack of wealth is not.

A federal court struck down Gov. David Paterson's plan to furlough state workers and delay their pay raises, and now he is now calling for thousands of layoffs. Paterson openly questions whether or not an agreement made between labor and the state in 2009, which says that there would be no layoffs in return for big pension concessions from labor, is binding. Even if it can't be overridden, the governor is laying the groundwork for the layoffs to take place as soon as the agreement expires.

On top of that, many in the state Legislature are working to slash funding to education, aid to cities and towns, health care and other areas. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken advantage of the situation and is pushing to reduce the city's workforce by nearly 4 percent. After widespread protest, the mayor was forced to retreat on his plan to axe several thousand teachers, but he is now threatening their planned pay raises.

All across the city and state, the effects of the budget crisis are being felt. Even the New York Public Library has been forced to send out appeals to its supporters urging them to get in touch with their local representative to halt the mayor's proposal for the biggest funding cut to the library system in the city's history. The transit system is planning to lay off hundreds of station agents (there would have been more had a judge not intervened) and to shut down train lines and bus routes.

On the surface, the deficits seem huge. The state is short $9.2 billion, and the corresponding figure for the city is $4.9 billion. In addition, the MTA, a public authority, faces an $800 million shortfall.

What to do?

Of course, there are a number of ways to reduce wasteful spending without cutting services important to working people, and a number of watchdog groups and unions have pointed them out.

But the money is there. Instead of making draconian cuts, the state should simply raise revenue.

Let's put the deficit into perspective: If you add up the city and state deficit, and throw in the MTA to boot, you come up with a total of $14.9 billion. Our mayor, who is presiding over the gutting of people's living standards, is a billionaire. So much of a billionaire, in fact, that he could pay off all of the city and state debts and still have more than $2 billion left over. To put that number into perspective, Bloomberg would then, if he lives to be 108 years old, still have, not accounting for interest, $50 million per year to live off of.

And there are more like Bloomberg: According to a 2008 issue of Forbes, there are 70 other billionaires in the city limits, and they have an average net value of $3.3 billion. These 70 New Yorkers - out of nearly 8.5 million and not including the mayor - control $231 billion alone.

On top of all that, this is the home of Wall Street and its huge firms like Goldman Sachs and others, and countless multi-millionaires.

Compared to all this wealth, the $15 billion the state needs to sustain services to working people seems like a trifle.

Aside from the pressure that monopoly capital can put on the city and state governments, there is simply no reason for New York to face layoffs or cuts to social services. Perhaps more than any other state in the country, we can, if the political will is there, balance the budget - or go further and enact our own statewide stimulus plan.

A small surcharge on the billionaires, a stock transfer tax (specifically tailored to exempt 401k and other pension savings), ensuring that the Fair Share tax law doesn't sunset: all of these things could solve our budget problem.

A planned demonstration by AFSCME District Council 37, which represents 125,000 city public workers, as well as a number of other rallies and campaigns to get people to contact their representatives, are all steps in the right direction.

What's needed is the reemergence of the coalition that enacted the Fair Share Tax Reform a couple of years ago, a broad alliance of all New York City labor, the Working Families Party, the African American, Latino, Asian American communities, religious groups and others.