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In defense of protesting racists

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Charles Murray, whose speech at Middlebury College earlier this month was disrupted by hundreds of student protesters, is back on campus with a speaking engagement at Columbia University on Thursday. Here, Monique Dols and Alan Maass question the outcry against protesters, coming from conservatives and liberals, since the Middlebury demonstration--and consider the stakes for the left in the struggles to come.

Students at Middlebury College stand up against racism during a lecture by Charles Murray

A BACKLASH against protest is in full swing after the controversial demonstration against racist author Charles Murray at Middlebury College this month--and it isn't only the right wing that's raising complaints.

The latest case in point: A statement titled "Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression" is circulating on the Internet, with hundreds of signatures from academics, alumni and others. The statement begins:

The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one's willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one's beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.

The statement goes on to appeal to students to "listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one's beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share."

Language like this is familiar when it comes from university administrators trying to quest dissent--and, of course, from conservatives like Robert George, one of its two authors. But George's co-author is Cornel West, the radical scholar and activist, with a long history of protest and speaking truth to power, even when it isn't popular and comes at a personal cost.

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THIS SHOWS how far the backlash has gone since the protest at Middlebury, where hundreds of students confronted Murray during a speech hosted by a conservative student group, but given campus-wide prominence by the college administration.

When he came to the podium, almost all the students in the room turned their back on Murray and collectively read out their own statement. Murray was unable to go on and was ushered to another room, where he gave his speech via Internet live stream. Events took a turn for the worst afterward when Murray was confronted by a smaller group of protesters as he left campus--the confrontation left one professor accompany Murray injured.

The conservative media predictably depicted the whole event as students "rioting" and acting like "thugs." But liberals added their voices to the chorus of criticism. Washington Post columnist Danielle Allen actually compared Murray to the nine Black students who defied "the shouting, shoving mob" to desegregate Little Rock Central High in 1957.

Allen should know better, but Murray is no civil rights hero. If George and West's statement urges students today to respect "intellectual humility, openness of mind and love of truth," Charles Murray possesses none of those things.

Murray is most notorious for The Bell Curve, the 1994 book he co-authored that claimed to prove the intellectual inferiority of African Americans. Two decades later, he's still at it with a recent book that blames hereditary and individual factors for the unequal status of white workers and the poor. As historian Kevin Gannon wrote at his blog:

Murray is a peddler in racist pseudoscience, the likes of which we saw in forced sterilization programs and Nazi medicine. He slaps a thin veneer of misapplied scientific language and thumb-on-the-scale statistical "analysis" onto [racist arguments]...Murray's ideas are the literal equivalent of inviting a flat-earther to lecture on geography or an alchemist to teach your Physical Chemistry lab, or...inviting [Holocaust denier] David Irving to keynote a Holocaust conference.

This is who angry Middlebury students organized to protest against, using a variety of tactics: some focused on a demonstration before the event, others worked on a pamphlet exposing Murray as not "controversial," but a fraud whose claims have been disproven and discredited.

When the Middlebury administration rejected students' criticisms and endorsed an event whose format allowed no opportunity for genuine debate, the protesters used their right to free speech inside the lecture hall. "Without a platform for legitimate discussion," said one Middlebury senior, "it seems that students had few non-disruptive tools to get their voices heard."

The statement by George and West doesn't directly refer to the Middlebury protest, but that's the obvious subject. Cornel West's part in it is deeply disappointing. In putting his respected name to a statement like this, he gives the right wing cover to redirect discussion away from Murray's racism and toward the false claim that "free speech" is under assault by the left, especially on campus--when the right is clearly the main threat to free speech.

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IN THE context of the new Trump regime's authoritarianism, a defense of free speech is certainly in order. In fact, historically, it was the left that stood up for this basic democratic right. The right to speak without being shut down was won by generations of people who the right commonly refers to derogatorily as "social justice warriors": abolitionists, antiwar socialists, soapboxing anarcho-syndicalists, civil rights fighters.

Free speech should be vigorously defended on campuses, and university administrations shouldn't be able to ban or shut down speakers--experience teaches that they turn this power against the left.

But we must also stand squarely on the side of the right to protest. The statement by West and George clearly fails to do this. Instead, it paints students who seek to protest deplorable ideas as trying to "immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities."

This line of argument echoes the rhetoric of the right dating back to at least the 1980s, especially its "snowflake" claim: that young people in general and students in particular are self-indulgent brats who have been coddled and given too many participation trophies, and, as a result, can't handle having their ideas challenged my someone that makes them feel "uncomfortable."

The Middlebury students who protested Murray prepared carefully and debated intently in the lead-up to the protest. Whatever shortcomings they identify in retrospect, particularly regarding the confrontation after the event, they did their homework--which is much more than can be said about administrators and faculty members who defended Murray as no more than "controversial," and even disputed the Southern Poverty Law Center's characterization of him as a "white nationalist."

Any discussion about free speech must also be about the right of people like the Middlebury students to voice their disagreement with others' speech--and to expose those in positions of power who legitimize these ideas.

This is particularly important at a time when right-wingers--backed, unsurprisingly, by funding from the billionaire Koch brothers--are introducing cynically named "campus free speech legislation" that, if passed, would seriously curb students' right to protest.

Meanwhile, at Middlebury, the administration that sanctioned Murray's prestigious speaking event is threatening disciplinary action against students who protested him. We stand with the students against this threat to curb and silence their speech.

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NO ONE would suggest that Jewish students should be made to "listen respectfully" to a Holocaust denier. But for some reason, it is okay to state that Black students should "listen respectfully" to Murray, a peddler of racist eugenics and pseudoscience.

The same was said, by the way, when Jim Gilchrist, the spokesperson for the armed anti-immigrant vigilantes known as the Minutemen, came to spout his racist bile at Columbia University back in 2006.

While the statement by George and West makes a nod toward the right of students to protest speakers they disagree with, it nevertheless asks students to consider: "Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it better serve the cause of truth-seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?"

The problem with this formulation is that it assumes a level of civility that isn't present among a right wing that is openly seeking to eviscerate the remaining hard-won gains of oppressed people. Murray's racist claims have been comprehensively debunked for many years, yet he continues to get a stage because his ideas can be used to justify reactionary policies.

Should we be prepared to debate someone like Murray and the reinvigorated right wing that is inviting him to college campuses? Absolutely. The left can't rely on authorities to ban hateful speech or rescind their invitations, nor will it do for a small group of activists to use force or property damage to shut down their events.

We want to expose the reactionaries and racists, and win the debate, in order to persuade those who might be pulled by their ideas. But in cases like Middlebury, college officials frustrated any attempt to challenge Murray on these terms.

Free speech guarantees the right to speak without intervention by the state. But it doesn't guarantee the right to speak unopposed or uncontested. It is our right--one we must organize to defend--to turn our backs on a racist, to stage a walkout, and to raise our voices in protest.

There are many ways for the left to engage with the aim of winning politically. We can try to democratize the spaces where these speeches take place. We can expose the staged nature of right-wing speaking tours and call for groups sponsoring speakers like Murray to make the events into debates. We can push for longer discussion sessions, where students have an opportunity to speak uninterrupted and ask a question, make a point or read a statement, if they so choose.

We should show how much racist ideologues like Murray are getting paid and compare this with the budgets of left-wing student organizations that put out an alternative point of view. We can make fact sheets addressing the real issues at stake and draw attention to the impact of hateful and derogatory speech. We can put our ideas onto signs and banners, and we can use every effective opportunity--before, during and after such speeches--to raise our own voices.

Our movement faces important challenges. We must be in the forefront of defending the right to free speech. Without it, the left would be nowhere. But we must also challenge both the words and the deeds of repugnant racists, Islamophobes, xenophobes, misogynists and other reactionaries.

That requires building a movement with strength in numbers and politics, which can defend our own rights from escalating attacks in the era of Trump--and push back against the advances of the right wing.

Categories: Political Action

The one undemocratic state solution

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Publications like Socialist Worker stand for a "one-state solution" in Palestine--but the version advocated by Israeli leaders would continue apartheid, writes Daphna Thier.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (left) talks with a group of military commanders near the Gaza border

DONALD TRUMP doesn't care, and he's made that perfectly clear. One state? Two states? It's whatever the Israelis and Palestinians want.

At his first press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said, "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like...I can live with either one."

This sounds like a comically open-minded approach, but scratch beneath the surface, and the options he and Netanyahu are discussing are alarmingly different than the widely understood definitions of two states or one. And as reported in the Guardian, both heads of state were vague at the time about what "the alternative to a two-state solution would look like."

Trump's abandonment of the longstanding commitment of the U.S. government to separate Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side in Palestine--what is commonly known as "the two-state solution" in diplomatic circles--came days after Israeli President Reuven "Rubi" Rivlin announced his support for the full annexation of the West Bank in exchange for Israeli citizenship and "equal rights" for Palestinians living there.

"It must be clear," said Rivlin, "if we extend sovereignty, the law must apply equally to all. Applying sovereignty to an area gives citizenship to all those living there."

But what Rivlin envisions is strikingly different from what those who stand for Palestinian solidarity have historically meant when they call for "one democratic state."

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THE PALESTINE liberation movement has long argued for a secular, democratic state in all of Palestine that is a state of all its citizens, regardless of race, religion or creed. We have criticized the two-state solution for failing to address the demands of Palestinians whose homes, land and villages have been erased and replaced by the state of Israel.

Since becoming president in 2014, Rivlin has made several calls for "morality" and "civility" in managing Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. But while Rivlin's verbal commitment to Palestinian rights has ruffled some feathers among Israel's right wing, the fact is that Rivlin has spent his political career advocating for a Jewish state encompassing all of Palestine, known as Eretz Yisrael HaShlema (Greater Israel).

This can only be described as a thoroughly right-wing aspiration. Though he calls for "democracy," he is as committed as ever to the Jewish character of that state and opposes the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Rivlin's rhetoric aside, the annexation he advocates will result in the same kind of citizenship that Palestinians living within Israel proper presently "enjoy"--namely, the de facto denial of equal rights and social benefits. More than 35 laws discriminate against Palestinians, despite their "full" Israeli citizenship.

Ninety-three percent of agricultural, residential and commercial land is only leasable to Jews. More than 70 Palestinian villages, some that pre-date the establishment of Israel, are unrecognized by the government. Even recognized towns lack basic services and provisions.

And while Jews are encouraged to build and develop, Palestinians fail time and again to obtain the necessary permits for construction. Social services and public school funding are unequally distributed between Jewish and Palestinian communities.

Finally, countless families have been broken up through the denial of the right of return and the prevention of residency or citizenship status to spouses of Palestinian citizens.

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ALL OF these laws create apartheid even within the 1948 borders of Israel for the 20 percent of the Israeli population who are Palestinian.

And while Rivlin condemned the Settlement Regulation Law passed in early February, retroactively granting ownership of some 3,000 illegal Jewish homes built on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank, he also gloated about a 40-year-old deed that he said granted him ownership of a parcel of West Bank land.

When the Palestinian he supposedly bought the land from challenged his right to the land, Rivlin prevailed in court. Afterwards, he asserted his victory in racial terms, saying, "This Ashkenazi [a term for European Jews] is registered in Ramallah."

Rivlin's position is consistent with a far-right tendency within the Zionist movement. "I, Rubi Rivlin, believe that Zion is entirely ours," he said. "I believe the sovereignty of the State of Israel must be in all the blocs [of the West Bank]." This is the legacy of Vladimir Jabotinsky's right-wing current of Zionism dating from the pre-state Yishuv period, which covered the years 1920 to 1949.

This right wing of the Zionist movement argues that the two-state solution falls short of the ultimate Zionist goal--one Jewish homeland from the river to the sea. During the Yishuv period, the Jewish bourgeoisie initially sought to build the Jewish state on the model used by the French to colonize Algeria--cultivating cash crops with hyper-exploited Palestinian labor for the purpose of export to Europe.

In other words, the far right didn't seek separation at all, but rather the drawing in of Palestinians as a source of cheap labor. It was actually the Jewish labor current in the early settler colonial movement that fought for the exclusion of Palestinian workers and issued calls for hiring only Jewish workers.

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THE OSLO Accords of 1993 and the subsequent "road map to peace" of the early 2000s, which promised the erection of a Bantustan-style Palestinian state, underpinned the successful efforts of the Israeli political establishment to normalize business relations in the international market.

Even the right wing governments of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu have tacitly accepted the two-state premise. However, the disillusionment of Israeli society with this so-called peace process and the rightward lurch of Israeli politics have given credence to the long-standing position of that section of the Israeli bourgeoisie calling for full annexation of the occupied West Bank.

Noam Sheizaf, founding editor of +972 Magazine who interviewed various right-wing figureheads such as Rivlin and Elitzur, explained their vision for a Jewish one-state:

Gradually and unilaterally, Israel would annex the West Bank (different time frames were given for this process--from five to 25 years); beginning with Area C [currently under Israeli military rule] and then moving to B and A [governed by the Palestinian Authority]. Barring security clearances (and according to some--loyalty oaths), all Palestinians will end up having blue Israeli identity cards with full rights. The army will return to dealing mostly with national defense, and the police will take over civilian policing duties in the annexed territory. Constitutional measures that will define Israel as a Jewish State would take place in advance [these are currently being discussed in the Knesset]...Palestinian refugees will not be allowed back.

Gaza will not be annexed and will turn [in] to a fully independent region, separated from the State of Israel. Separating Gaza from their model is necessary for right-wing one staters in order to maintain a Jewish majority in the unified state.

There is also a slightly revised version of annexation--advocated by Naftali Bennett, who is the leader of the racist pro-settlement Jewish Home Party--in which areas A and B would be given a "degree of autonomy short of statehood."

But Bennett also calls for the immediate annexation of Maale Adumim as a first step in a staged annexing of all of Area C, which is 61 percent of the West Bank territories. Bennett's more limited proposal likewise offers Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians in Area C.

Like other pro-settlement advocates, Bennett is also a proponent of dismantling Israel's separation wall, which divides "the West Bank from Israel proper." Couching this in what sounds like liberal terms, Bennett says this will allow freedom of movement for Palestinians and the promotion of their economic development, development which Israel should actively encourage.

But Bennett, who gleefully declared after Trump's election that "the era of the Palestinian state is over," is using progressive-sounding talking points to paper over the injustice he is advocating.

Bennett and others of his ilk see the wall as establishing a barrier to the colonization of all land between the river and the sea. Thus, dismantling the wall is an essential part of advancing the project of annexing the Occupied Territories and legally establishing West Bank Jewish settlements as part of Israel.

The differing solutions--whether two-state or one-state with full or partial annexation of the Occupied Territories--reflect the varying interests of the Israeli bourgeoisie. Certain sections of the capitalist class benefit primarily from ongoing occupation, whereas other sectors would benefit from incorporating more Palestinian labor and/or normalizing relations with the Palestinian capitalist class.

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FOR THE Palestinian ruling class, the ideal resolution has long been two states. Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, and his allies would like to strengthen their authority over Palestinian society and economy, even as they help entrench a system of dependency on the Israeli economy.

For the majority of Palestinians, the two-state solution is not a path to liberation. This does not resolve the plight facing the 6.5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide--fully a third of the world's refugee population is Palestinian.

The West Bank and Gaza together constitute only a fifth of what was once Palestine, and the conversion of even the entirety of those territories into a Palestinian mini-state would do little for the 1.3 million refugees in Gaza and 775,000 in the West Bank, many of whom have been separated from their families or live a few miles away from homes and land inside Israel proper that they have been denied the right to return to.

The two-state solution also does nothing to address the needs of Palestinians living as second-class citizens in the state of Israel.

Finally, if Oslo has proven anything, it is that the call by U.S politicians and liberal Zionists, who are the historic proponents of the two-state solution, for Palestinians to "compromise" and exercise "patience" has failed to stop the expansion of settlements on stolen land, with three times as many settlers living in the West Bank today compared to when the Oslo "peace process" began.

Apartheid--in a single undemocratic state or in two--is not an answer to injustice or ethnic cleansing, because all citizens must enjoy basic freedoms, such as the freedom of movement, the right to own property, and freedom of expression. And all must benefit from social provisions and civil rights equally, regardless of religion or ethnicity. The rights of refugees to their property, to return to their homeland or to receive reparations would likewise be granted in a truly free country.

The call for Palestinian liberation should be one that includes not just all of Palestine, but also all Palestinians. This is the only real democratic solution.

Categories: Political Action

Charles Murray's ideas should be challenged

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Right-wing author and promoter of racist pseudoscience Charles Murray is taking his message to Columbia University in New York City on March 23. This follows several other campus speaking events for Murray. Earlier this month, antiracist protesters turned out to counter him at Middlebury College in Vermont, sparking a firestorm of controversy.

International Socialist Organization members at the Columbia University wrote this statement, published in the Columbia Spectator before Murray's scheduled appearance.

Charles Murray speaks at the annual "Freedom Fest" conference in Las Vegas (Gage Skidmore | flickr)

ON MARCH 23, the Columbia University College Republicans (CUCR) and the Columbia Political Union (CPU) are hosting the widely discredited right-wing ideologue Charles Murray to speak at Columbia University. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Charles Murray is a white supremacist who, as "a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, has become one of the most influential social scientists in America, using racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the Black and Latino communities, women and the poor."

We believe that it is a grave disservice to the Columbia University community and beyond that these student groups have opted to invite Murray to spew his racist and discredited ideas in an uncontested and staged format. Instead, we demand that the Columbia Political Union--whose stated mission is to provide a "nonpartisan space for open debate and political engagement" on campus--and the Columbia University College Republicans turn the event into a debate format in which Murray could have his ideas challenged and dissected. The event should provide an open discussion period during which students and other members of the community can not only ask questions, but also make their own arguments about the impact of Murray's ideas.

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IN 1994, Murray argued in The Bell Curve that non-whites are genetically inferior to whites. His racist theory claims there is scientific proof that Blacks and Latinos have lower IQs. Murray's research was funded by a handful of right-wing organizations and individuals, including the neo-Nazi Pioneer Fund, which generously funded Richard Lynn, a man who Murray heavily references in his book and who has claimed, "Evolutionary progress means the extinction of the less competent (non-whites). To think otherwise is mere sentimentality." Murray's work poses as scholarship; but when placed under peer-reviewed scrutiny his assertions crumble. Through the intentional manipulation of data, he attempts to lend a (pseudo) scientific veneer to his bigotry.

In 2012, Murray extended his bigotry to poor whites in Coming Apart, arguing that poor and working-class white people's increasing impoverishment is a consequence of cultural and genetic degradation. He has argued that most young people lack the "linguistic and logical/mathematical" ability to perform in four-year B.A. granting programs. Murray has even gone so far as to argue that there is a genetic basis of laziness in poorer people. He has said that many Black students on college campuses are there because of affirmative action and "don't belong there" academically. Murray has also argued that women are significantly inferior to men, claiming that their contributions to such fields as philosophy and mathematics have been negligible. These abhorrent arguments for racial, class and gender superiority are a serious affront to a large portion of Columbia students, and are demonstrably false.

In spite of his bankruptcy as a scholar, Murray's work has been widely influential for ruling-class politicians looking for a justification to cut aid and support for programs that serve working-class people, and has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, particularly Black communities.

Murray, as a right-wing ideologue with a false image of scholarly respectability, is a deeply pernicious character. Although we do not believe the university should be asked to arbitrate what hate speech is and isn't--since such power could just as easily be used against progressive speakers--Murray's critical influence on the continued disenfranchisement of many vulnerable communities means his ideas cannot go unchallenged. This is a moment that calls for us to use our right to free speech to challenge the widely discredited, racist and profoundly elitist ideas of Charles Murray.

First published in the Columbia Spectator.

Categories: Political Action

Tom Cat does Trump's dirty work

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Danny Katch reports on the struggle of immigrant workers at Tom Cat Bakery to defend their jobs in the face of company demands to prove their legal status.

Workers at Tom Cat Bakery in Queens protest management's threat to fire undocumented employees (Danny Katch | SW)

WHEN PEOPLE talk about Donald Trump's anti-immigrant base, they usually aren't thinking of artisanal bakeries in New York City.

But when Tom Cat Bakery in Queens handed out letters to 30 employees on March 15 demanding that they show proof of legal status, it showed that the people who have the most to gain from Trump's crackdown aren't white factory workers in the Rustbelt, but bosses everywhere who want to keep their workers divided and afraid.

At a Wednesday rally organized by Brandworkers, an advocacy organization for workers in New York City's food and retail industry, Héctor, a 13-year Tom Cat worker, addressed the crowd:

I pay taxes, I work hard, I have a family. Last week, we received a letter asking us for documentation. We were only given 10 days [to submit the paperwork]. I think it's very unfair the way we're being treated. We've given so much to this company. The reason why the company is successful today is because of our hard work.

We are asking for everybody to stand up with us today in solidarity. We are not criminals like we've been identified as. We're calling on Tom Cat and the American government not to treat us as criminals. We are hard workers, and we're taking this country upward.

Democratic City Council member Mark Levine told the crowd, "We reject the racist policies of Donald Trump's ICE which have targeted decent hardworking New Yorkers who have done nothing but contribute to this community contribute to this economy and made our city a better place."

"We demand that Tom Cat defend their workers in their time of need," he continued, "and that they offer the sponsorship that they need to remain here without this horrible threat standing over their heads."

But at this point workers don't even know whether the company is being forced to hand out these letters or if their employer is taking advantage of the national climate to advance its own agenda.

"The company has unilaterally done this," Brandworkers Executive Director Daniel Gross said in an interview. "We don't have any confirmation except for a letter on company letterhead about what's happening here."

Gross added that workers are demanding transparency "and immediate cooperation, in terms of challenging whatever is or isn't happening. They're demanding to stay in their jobs. And they're going to fight for that."

The New York Daily News reported in 2014 that there were 14,000 workers in New York City's $5 billion food manufacturing industry, and that 70 percent of them were recent immigrants, mostly from Latin America and Asia.

According to a study conducted that year by Brandworkers and the Urban Justice Center's Community Development Project, over 40 percent of those workers reported suffering from a workplace injury.

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MANY OF the Tom Cat workers under threat of termination have been at the company for at least 10 years. "We've given so many years to this company and made so many sacrifices," said one employee. "We built this company from the ground up."

"Last week, I was called into the office, and I was only given 10 days' notice to submit my working papers," said another. "They have given us only until the 28th of this month. After that we're fired. After hearing that news we've been devastated since we've given so many years of our lives to the rise of this company."

Worker after worker at the rally talked through Spanish translation of the shock at being given only a few days notice after giving the company so many years, without even word of severance pay. It was, of course, the same feelings of betrayal often heard from native-born workers going through factory closures or mass layoffs.

But Tom Cat workers are determined to fight. This is a group that first contacted Brandworkers five years ago for help in taking on abusive management from the bakery's new private equity owners, and that spirit of an organized workplace was evident at the rally.

Dozens of workers marched from a nearby park to the factory, chanting "¡Tom Cat, escucha! ¡Estamos in la lucha!" and "¡El pueblo unido jamás será vendico!" and joined by fifty supporters from various unions and labor solidarity groups.

"Their fight is our fight, our fight is their fight," said Julian, an organizer with Teamsters Local 814. "No matter their status, if they're working here, they deserve respect and they deserve rights."

Henry, a packing worker for 11 years at Tom Cat, echoed the sentiment of solidarity at the end of the rally. "Thank you all for being united with us fighting for justice," he said. "We'll continue fighting until victory, not only for the workers at Tom Cat, but for the workers of New York and all the workers in the nation--because many workers are going through exploitative conditions."

"What I know is that Trump picked the wrong group of workers and the wrong organization," says Gross. "They concluded that there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Trump is coming for all marginalized people, and this is the moment to draw the line and fight back. They're committed to fight in the end."

Categories: Political Action

When the scientists march

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Liz Ross uncovers a history of resistance to the status quo among scientists that is being revived during the Trump era, in an article written for Australia's Red Flag.

Science for the People magazine covers from 1970 and 1974

BRANDISHING PIECES of coal during parliamentary sessions passes for evidence these days, according to climate change skeptics. In this age of alternative facts, filing lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the denial of human agency in global warming are key qualifications to head the agency.

During his campaign, Donald Trump promised to reduce the EPA to "tidbits," and since the election, climate change information has been wiped from the agency's website. Orders have been issued that all agency research be vetted.

With the president's edicts and policies posing a threat not just to environmental research, but to the whole world of science, those who work in the discipline are taking to the streets, joined by international protests, on Earth Day, April 22.

This activism by scientists is often greeted with amazement. While acknowledging it's a mark of the widespread nature of Trump's attacks, there's incredulity--after all, who's seen scientists on the streets?

We shouldn't be so surprised. Scientists have quite a history of protest, particularly during times of upheaval.

On the campuses and in the public sector, there have been decades of strikes and protests involving scientists. Most recently in Australia, during the torrid times of Tony Abbott's government and its anti-science agenda, savage cuts to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization prompted scientists around the country to strike.

In the world of work, science is a relative newcomer, but one intimately tied to the development of capitalism. Karl Marx explained that "modern industry...makes science a productive force distinct from labor and presses it into the service of capital." In the process, it created its own workforce, whose class consciousness has waxed and waned. In the aftermath of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, there was a trebling in the science workforce along with a radicalization.

During the 1930s, British scientists formed a National Union of Scientific Workers, while some, looking for political expression, joined the Labour Party or the Communist Party. With fascism on the rise, scientists were called to decide which side they were on: face either a grim future under fascism or a grand, science-informed "complete Socialism."

Through their publications, membership in left-wing parties, union organizing and antiwar protests, these left-wing scientists had an impact for more than 20 years.

French physicist and communist Paul Langevin, though seeing his scientific work as important, argued, "Unless the political work is done, there will be no science at all."

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RADICALISM EBBED during the Cold War, then rose again in the late 1960s with the mass opposition to the Vietnam War, student activism and rising working class combativity. U.S. science workers formed antiwar groups and joined forces with unions and other groups in March 1969 to strike at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many other workplaces, opposing the military applications of science. Similar protests by scientists against the war also happened in England.

Activists formed the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Many in the group had New Left politics and a strong commitment to Third World struggles, and also took a strong stand against British intervention in Northern Ireland. As well, in their Radical Science journal, they took on the pseudoscience supporting racism and sexism in the mainstream media.

Scientist Marianne Craig remembers, "We were going to change the world, we were going to work together...We never went shopping on the weekend. We went to demos."

In the U.S., Science for the People was more openly left wing. "We were basically a load of shit-kicking folks, and we made sure our voices were heard," Al Weinrub recalls. The group argued that science was not neutral, but part of the "ideological and practical weapons used by the existing power structure both here and abroad, to justify racist and sexist oppression."

The group openly backed the Black Panther Party, while the New York branch helped the radical Puerto Rican group Young Lords organize a campaign against lead poisoning. Earlier, they campaigned against IBM and Polaroid, which were integral to apartheid South Africa's passbook system. They exposed the effects of Agent Orange, a project that extended to Australia, where one activist scientist's research informed testimony for Vietnam veterans.

Science activists Steven and Hilary Rose, in The Political Economy of Science, write that, like any other workers who sell their labor to the capitalist class, science workers become alienated from their creations, from the products of their labor.

But as their history has shown, they can also form part of the potential revolutionary forces within society when they organize and fight.

First published at Red Flag.

Categories: Political Action

How capitalism frames disability

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 01:00

Jenny Rellick contributes to the discussion on how disability is conceived of under capitalism--and how all that would be different in a socialist society.

I APPLAUD Lauren Nickell's explanation of the social model of disability and how it underlies the oppression of disabled schoolchildren ("Meeting the needs of students with disabilities").

The politics of education imposes disabilities on children who would otherwise simply have physical and cognitive impairments. As a disabled adult with a public school education, I would like to give examples for comrades who may not know how disablement can occur.

In many school systems, one elementary school, one middle school and one high school are designated for the children with certain impairments, causing hour-long bus rides each day for many children with impairments. Some states have separate schools for blind, deaf, intellectually impaired and other students with impairments.

This economizing policy enables school systems to have one teacher or assistant to accommodate several students, but it is segregation, and it is inherently alienating and disabling. The disabled students from other neighborhoods are often regarded as outsiders. In the cafeteria, a common scene is that disabled students sit at one table.

Some wealthy school systems provide accommodations at all schools so that students go to school with their neighbors. Students with different abilities have friendships in school that continue in the evenings and on weekends. The cafeteria is not as segregated in these schools, and students of all abilities learn how to learn, play and work together. That outcome is the exception, not the rule.

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ANOTHER EXAMPLE is that many children with a wide range of impairments need accommodations to do homework, but rarely are they provided.

A friend with cerebral palsy did not have the physical ability to write or type, and her mother had to be her scribe every night after a hard day's work. My friend knew she was a huge inconvenience to her mother and siblings. Technology today may have helped my friend partially, but a homework scribe is still the most time-efficient way to accommodate students with her type of impairment.

The school system not only disables students by failing to provide homework accommodations, but students begin to believe that their impairment is the cause of the disability, and there's nothing to change it. The students internalize the disability as burdensome to others, and they think it will, in adulthood, limit their value to employers.

To liberate students with disabilities, students need to become aware that they are not responsible for their social disability. Parents must not despair for their disabled child's future. Reframing the internalized model of disability with the social model is important in helping disabled people seek liberation. To create a society free of disablement, however, socialism is absolutely necessary.

The neoliberal answer to disablement is "reasonable accommodation" and nondiscrimination, two terms which sum up the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disabled people are responsible for reporting violations to the Department of Justice or taking violators to federal court themselves. This policy places the responsibility for ending society's disablement back on the disabled person!

Reasonable accommodation is always a matter of expense and the alleged offender's ability to pay, but nobody knows the actual threshold for reasonableness. The prohibitions of discrimination are similarly vague and difficult to enforce. If a competitive private school rejects a student who is disabled, parents don't know whether their child was objectively better qualified than at least one admitted student. The same problem renders it extremely difficult to enforce laws banning discrimination in hiring.

Under a socialist society, reasonable accommodation would be based on the needs of people with impairments and the ability of labor to provide it. Access to school would be a high-priority need, and labor would provide accommodations based on the availability of labor after higher priority needs like food, medicine and shelter, are satisfied.

Without capitalism, discrimination would serve no purpose. Workers would welcome people of differing abilities to join them as they work to address the needs of society.

Categories: Political Action

ICE's war on immigrant organizers in Vermont

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

Steve Ramey reports from Vermont on a campaign by immigration agents to detain some of the state’s leading labor activists--and the grassroots struggle to stop the Feds.

Immigrant rights activist Victor Diaz speaks to a protest against the arrests in Burlington (Migrant Justice)

DONALD TRUMP claims that deporting immigrants will lower crime, but now we know what he thinks is a "crime": organizing to defend workers' rights.

In a series of raids reminiscent of the mass deportation of immigrant workers in the Industrial Workers of the World a century ago, the Vermont field office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has launched a war on organizers with one of the state's most prominent labor justice organizations: Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante.

In the past week, ICE agents have abducted three members of Migrant Justice: Enrique "Kike" Balcazar, Zully Palacios and Alex Carrillo.

Balcazar is one of the main leaders of the organization's campaign to win access to driver's licenses for all Vermonters, as well as the Milk with Dignity campaign, which in 2015 forced Ben & Jerry's agree to a new code of conduct with migrant workers in its dairy supply chain--though the code has still not been implemented.

Palacios joined Migrant Justice last year, helped start a women's working group and was a prominent leader in the successful campaign that year to free Victor Diaz, a dairy farmworker who was likewise detained by ICE--under the Obama administration, it should be noted--in retaliation for his leading role in the Milk with Dignity campaign.

Carrillo, a dairy worker, was detained by ICE on March 15 outside the Chittenden County courthouse, where we was scheduled to have charges dropped for an erroneous DUI charge. DUI checkpoints are a notorious police tactic to entrap undocumented immigrants who are forced to drive without proper licenses and registrations.

Carrillo was abducted in front of his wife Lymarie Deida, an American citizen with whom he has a four-year-old daughter. "When they arrested Alex," Deida said at a rally organized by Migrant Justice, "they took away a father, a husband, a human being." Prosecutors continued with the DUI dismissal even in Carrillo's absence.

Two days after Carillo's arrest, Balcazar and Palacios were leaving the Burlington offices of Migrant Justice when they were "surrounded by four undercover ICE vehicles" and taken away, according to the organization's press release.

"Neither has a criminal record," the group noted in an online petition. "Their targeting appears to be political retaliation for their effective work in defending the human rights of workers and immigrants in this country."

Will Lambek, another Migrant Justice organizer, told Democracy Now! that when another of the organization's members was detained last year, he was told by arresting ICE agents, "'Tell your friend Kike that he's going to be next."

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THESE ARRESTS are a clear effort to disrupt human rights organizations and instill fear into the immigrant community of Vermont, but they have also been met with immediate resistance.

Migrant Justice swiftly mobilized the night that Enrique and Zully were arrested, organizing rallies of 80 people outside an ICE field office in St. Albans and, later that night, 30 people outside the ICE hub in Williston, where organizers saw the vehicles that had abducted Enrique and Zully.

Twelve hours later, on Saturday, around 500 people marched in Burlington, chanting "Not one more," "Vermont will fight for immigrant rights," "¡Si se puede!" and "ICE escucha, Estamos en la lucha."

Victor Diaz, who was himself freed from ICE detention by a large grassroots campaign last year, told the crowd, "I'm so amazed to see the support of all of you out today, united, to confront this storm that the Trump administration has brought down upon us."

Migrant Justice organizer Abel Luna said: "We are facing difficult times with the change of government. But we have been facing very difficult times since early 2008, when this deportation machine began with Obama. Now Trump is inheriting this machine, so it's not new. We know how to fight back, and we're going to continue to do so."

Migrant Justice coordinating committee member Miguel Alcudia talked about Zully Palacios:

She went along with me and Kike and others to the Cosecha Movement National Assembly in Boston and talked about the immigrant community. She has been spreading the word and bringing the struggle forward. And when Zully got involved with this struggle, she knew the risk that she was taking on, but she didn't let that stop her. She went ahead and fought for the rights of the more than 1,500 migrant farmworkers who are living and working in this state.

Because when Zully learned about the abuses that are happening in our state's dairy industry, she said, "I need to put a stop to this. I'm going to get involved in the struggle, I'm going to raise my voice to be in solidarity because this cannot continue!" Now she needs you to stand with her, to fight for her freedom. And not only for her freedom, but for the freedom of all immigrants unjustly detained in this state and around the country.

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IN ADDITION to being a key leading organizer of Migrant Justice, Enrique Balcazar is a member of Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan's Task Force on Immigration, and he helped write pending state legislation on fair and impartial policing. His detention has spurred an outcry among many elected officials in the state.

Kesha Ram, a Democratic state representative and co-chair of the Task Force on Immigration, spoke at the Saturday rally and named a long list of state government officials against to the ICE abductions. Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson tweeted, "The attack against members of our community is not the Vermont way. We must stand w/our fellow VTers. Our state is welcome to all." Even Republican state legislators have voiced their opposition.

This support is important, but we should be clear that our politicians' resistance to the Trump administration will last only as long as we are in the streets demanding it. We need to organize more rallies, marches and occupations to win the release of Carillo, Balcazar and Palacios--and start taking back the ground that the last eight years of harassment, raids and abductions have taken from our communities.

In 2006, when Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, they tried to pass a bill to classify undocumented immigrants as "aggravated felons" and criminalize anyone who helped them enter or remain in the U.S.

This outrageous attack was beat when millions of immigrants and their supporters struck and took to the streets on May 1, and a movement for immigrant rights was born. That movement helped give the presidency to Barack Obama, but he betrayed us with unprecedented raids and deportations.

This year promises to see the biggest May Day actions across the country since 2006. In Vermont, Migrant Justice and other organizations are in the early planning stages of rallies and actions. The shape of what these actions take will be a key factor in building our resistance and showing that, as Victor Diaz says: "Together, we can melt ICE."

Categories: Political Action

Despair in Europe's camps

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

A deal between Turkey and the EU has had disastrous consequences for refugees--but thousands across Europe are demanding that they be let in, reports Nicole Colson.

Refugees and solidarity activists rally for migrant justice on the Greek island of Lesbos (Legal Centre Lesbos | Facebook)

ONE YEAR after European Union leaders signed a deal with the Turkish government to cut off the wave of desperate refugees seeking to reach Europe's shores, the policy has caused even more death and suffering.

As of March 14, nearly 20,000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Europe this year after making the desperate trip across the Mediterranean Sea, according to the latest figures from the International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrants Project. That's a sharp drop compared to the same period last year, when more than 152,700 people entered Europe.

Yet the number of migrant and refugee deaths has actually risen--as a direct consequence of EU governments clamping down on their borders, forcing refugees into ever-more-dangerous crossings. As of March 14, some 525 had been killed or gone missing this year, while 482 were reported killed or missing in the first 73 days of 2016.

Under last year's deal, the repressive regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was given billions in aid, ostensibly for the refugees, and promised faster progress in Turkey's negotiations to join the EU. In exchange, Turkey agreed to take in undocumented refugees arriving in Greece. For each refugee sent to Turkey, the EU promised to take in a refugee directly from Turkey's camps at some point in the future.

As a result, just under a thousand refugees have been deported to Turkey from Greece. But thousands more already in Greece have been stranded in a kind of legal limbo resulting from EU leaders' unwillingness to let them in--stuck in abysmal conditions in what amounts to little more than prison camps.

"Many of the camps are overcrowded and there are frequent clashes, with those inside tired of the long wait for asylum papers and fearful of being returned to Turkey," Agence France-Presse reported in a recent feature. "On Lesbos, there are nearly 5,000 people in camps nominally built to hold 3,500, according to government figures." Those in the camps also face reports of repeated police brutality.

But that didn't stop European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos from hailing the EU-Turkey deal as a success because it has reduced the number of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from about 10,000 per day to less than 100 per day.

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OVER THE winter, images from the camps in Greece showed refugees living in tents amid heavy snow. In January, three people detained in the badly overcrowded Moria camp on Lesbos died within the span of six days--possibly from carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from the fact that some in the camps have been forced to use wood-burning stoves to keep warm.

"During the four months I have been here, I have not been interviewed once, and they [authorities] keep postponing [my interview]," Arash, an asylum seeker from Iran, told Human Rights Watch last month, as he described conditions in the camp including "[e]xtreme cold temperature, lack of heating, adequate food and clothing, and humiliating treatment."

Driven to despair by the detention, and suffering from nightmares he says resulted from torture while imprisoned in Iran, Arash attempted to visit the camp psychologist, but was told there was a long waiting list. Arash later attempted suicide.

After a fire inside the Moria camp in September burned many refugee families' meager belongings and tents, Fahim--who had travelled with his wife and two small children rom Afghanistan--explained how dire the situation was to the aid organization Save the Children:

People here are so sick of the situation. Every single person is suffocating. Because we've been here so long our minds are decaying, they become rotten from within. And people are pushed to do things that they wouldn't normally do...This whole place is a ticking time bomb and I don't think anyone is paying attention.

Such despair is the norm, especially for the youngest refugees.

According to Save the Children, the appalling conditions in the camps are psychologically devastating for the estimated 5,000 children who remain in them. Its report "A Tide of Self-Harm and Depression" documents a spike in children in the camps harming themselves and displaying other signs of psychological trauma:

Incidents of self-harm in children as young as nine are growing, with mothers finding self-inflicted scars on their children's hands while bathing them. Some children as young as 12 have even attempted suicide--and in one case claiming to have filmed the event--in response to seeing others do so.

There has also been a spike in drug and alcohol abuse amongst teenagers in the camps who are trying to escape their painful realities, a vulnerability which dealers are exploiting.

Children have been caught up in violent protests, have seen dead bodies in the camps, have spent winter in flimsy tents or even slept in car parks, have been denied an education, and have lost all of their belongings in fires.

"The EU-Turkey deal was meant to end the flow of 'irregular migrants' to Greece, but at what cost?" asked Andreas Ring, humanitarian representative for Save the Children in Greece. "Many of these children have escaped war and conflict, only to end up in camps many of them call 'hell,' and where they say they are made to feel more like animals than humans. If conditions remain unchanged, we could end up with a generation of numb children who think violence is normal."

Some children have found ways to leave the island with smugglers in the hope of reaching the EU--only to find themselves victimized again. According to a recent report from the EU's criminal agency Europol, an estimated 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe--many of them thought to be victims of human trafficking.

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REFUGEES ARE caught in an impossible situation. For many, the choice is a stark: risking life and limb in the increasingly slim hope of making it to Europe or staying at home, where the threat of war, repression and other catastrophes in countries like Syria may be an even bigger threat.

As Warsan Shire wrote in her poem "Home"--which has become a rallying cry for the plight of refugees:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well...

you have to understand
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

But obscenely, lack of decent treatment for refugees is by design. "It sends a message to migrants: Do not come," Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, told the New York Times.

Now, refugees are being cynically exploited yet again by international leaders. Leading the way is Donald Trump, who has demonized Muslim immigrants and refugees in particular as a terrorist threat. But it should be remembered that the stage was set by Barack Obama--whose administration took in a pitiful number of refugees, despite the fact that U.S. imperial policies have been a major driver of the refugee crises.

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LAST WEEK, when the governments of the Netherlands and Germany blocked attempts by Turkey's government to whip up support among immigrants for a new constitution that would grant Erdoğan even more restrictive powers, the Turkish regime threatened to ditch its agreement with the EU.

Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the government would scrap its EU deal and allow 15,000 migrants a month to flee to Europe.

While this is widely believed to be a bluff on the part of Erdoğan's regime, such inflammatory statements only succeed in whipping up the anti-refugee sentiment that far-right parties across the EU--like Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen's National Front in France--have been capitalizing on in recent months.

In response to the threat from Turkey, Jane Collins, spokeswoman for the far-right UK Independence Party, sneered: "There needs to be a strong message sent out that we will be turning back boats from whence they came."

The response from centrist politicians has been predictably craven as well. Fearing a surge of the far right at the polls, political leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel have not only failed to defend the rights of migrants and refugees, but have capitulated to racist scapegoating in an effort to shore up their own political base.

In Italy, where more than 500,000 refugees and migrants have landed over the past three years, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of the center-left Democratic Party has pledged to crack down, reportedly sending out a directive to police stations across Italy to increase deportation. The government also has announced plans to open 16 new migrant detention centers.

And while Angela Merkel has been hailed as a "hero" for maintaining her composure when Trump refused to shake her hand last week, the woman being hailed as the new "leader of the free world" engaged in textbook immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia as she launched her bid for a fourth term as chancellor.

At the annual conference of the center-right Christian Democrat Party (CDU), Merkel "pledged that not all of the more than 1 million migrants who flooded into the country last year would be allowed to stay, and that those who are will have to integrate into German society," reported Britain's Telegraph.

Reportedly, Merkel's call for a ban on the burqa won the loudest applause from delegates. "Showing your face is part of our way of life," Merkel said, adding, "Our laws take precedence over honor codes, tribal customs and sharia."

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BUT IF the politics on offer from Europe's political leaders are centered on racism and scapegoating, others are fighting for a different vision--exemplified by the call to smash Fortress Europe by opening the borders and letting the migrants and refugees in.

That was on display on March 18-19, as marches and rallies took place in several cities across Europe to coincide with UN Anti-Racism Day. In London, Glasgow, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Athens, Paris and others, thousands marched and embraced refugee and migrant rights as central demands--as well broader opposition to the nationalism of right-wing politicians like Trump and the vicious racism of far-right forces.

In Lesbos, refugees themselves took the lead in a protest of 2,000 people, marching against racist persecution and specifically opposing the deal between Turkey and the EU that has amplified the suffering for so many. "Shut down Moria" was one of the main calls. In Athens, an estimated 15,000 took to the streets, including Syrian and Afghan refugees.

In the UK, some 30,000 turned out in London for a march against racism, war and poverty and in defense of refugee rights. Anti-racist supporters carried signs that read "Migrants make our [National Health Service]" and "Blame austerity, not migrants."

Zakariya Cochrane of Stand Up to Racism, the group that called the march, told Press TV that the rally was about "anti-racists uniting and going on the defensive on all the issues: child refugees, defending migrants and refugees, the divisive policies of Donald Trump and Theresa May."

These protests came on the heels of a February demonstration in Barcelona, which drew over 160,000 calling on the government to allow refugees in. On banners and signs, marchers proclaimed: "Enough excuses; Let them in now."

That kind of solidarity has to be our guiding principle. Defend the refugees and end their suffering. Open the borders and let them in now.

Categories: Political Action

A poison pill we shouldn't swallow

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

Sean Petty, a nurse and member of the New York State Nurses Association, looks at what's lurking in Trump's health care plan, in an article written for Jacobin.

IF ENACTED, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) will be the most devastating attack on New Deal/Great Society programs that the United States has seen in the last 40 years. It will shape the experience of working-class life, as well as the political, ideological, and economic terrain of class struggle more than perhaps any other single piece of legislation in the post-financial crisis era.

To fully capture the bill's implications, we must recognize how we got to this moment and how this history can shape our resistance efforts. The AHCA's predecessor, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, better known as Obamacare), midwifed the current legislation in ways that unions, health-care justice organizations, and the left must understand. The far right capitalized on Obamacare's failures, convincing significant sections of U.S. society to support more extreme forms of austerity.

Paradoxically, the rightward trend in mainstream American politics offers the U.S. left a historic opportunity to build mass resistance to neoliberalism.

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HOUSE SPEAKER Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump would like us to believe the AHCA "repeals and replaces" Obamacare. It doesn't. Much of the ACA's framework would stay in place: Most importantly, Trumpcare maintains the provisions that subsidize private insurance costs, though through tax credits.

To get the bill passed, Trump and Ryan are squeezing it through the budget reconciliation process, a filibuster-proof system that only requires a simple majority vote. This strategy restricts the AHCA to funding provisions, leaving important regulations on the health-insurance industry intact. This represents the bill's only virtue; these regulations, along with Medicaid expansion, were pretty much the ACA's only progressive elements.

What the AHCA does, however, is drastically modify the procurement and allocation of roughly $500 billion in annual health-care spending. While it doesn't alter the programs this money funds--Medicaid and Medicare, insurance subsidies and a vast network of health-care institutions--it does qualitatively change where that money comes from, how much is available, and where it goes.

Put simply, Trumpcare takes funding away from the poorest Americans and transfers it to the richest.

As with the ACA, the media has largely focused on how the AHCA will affect coverage. Its changes are, indeed, profound. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has predicted that 26 million people will lose health coverage over the next 10 years, returning the overall number of uninsured people in the United States to more than 50 million.

Most of these people will be working and non-working poor people cut from Medicaid's rolls. But a sizeable chunk will be those who can no longer afford their premiums because of the AHCA's subsidy changes.

Under the proposed bill, tax credits are pegged to age, not income. Further, Trumpcare drastically reduces these discounts, so most beneficiaries will pay significantly more for their health insurance.

People in their 20s will receive a $2,000 annual subsidy. Their insurance will be fairly cheap, but the available plans will belong to the "low premium, high deductible and co-pay" category that already plagued the ACA exchanges. The AHCA also allows insurance companies to charge older people five times more than younger folks, and the tax credit for Americans aged 60 and above will total just under $5,000.

Precisely the people who need coverage the most won't be able to afford it. And that's on purpose. The AHCA aims to stabilize the insurance markets in the absence of the individual mandate by getting older patients with higher costs to drop out. Once you lose coverage, you have to pay a 30 percent surcharge to your insurance company to sign back up.

These 50 million uninsured Americans will undoubtedly delay necessary medical treatments and flood emergency rooms for care. There, they'll be joined by people who do have insurance, but, thanks to high deductibles and overcrowded facilities, now rely on urgent care for many of their health-care needs. Public health providers, already severely weakened by the Affordable Care Act, will become extremely overburdened.

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BEYOND THIS wholesale reduction in coverage, the changes to funding streams and what they will do to the viability of entire sections of American health care is even more catastrophic.

Disemboweling Medicaid is the economic and ideological axis on which this legislation turns. Currently, the federal government allocates Medicaid funding to states based on utilization. Each state determines the scope of benefits and pays about 25-50 percent of the total, with the federal government covering the rest. Essentially, how much health care is used determines the amount of federal funding.

The AHCA would instead give states a fixed amount based on the number of enrollees, an amount that the government will intentionally set very low. States with higher per-capita health-care expenditures--because they have sicker populations, because their property values are higher and for a host of other reasons--will have to figure out how to make up the difference.

Trumpcare also freezes all federal matching funds for new Medicaid enrollees after 2020. The CBO report estimates that this will reduce federal Medicaid expenditures by a staggering $880 billion over 10 years. This guts a key element of the U.S. social safety net to an unprecedented degree.

The resulting fiscal crisis will turn every state budget fight into an all-out war. Politicians will have to choose between enacting huge tax increases or approving equally huge cuts to Medicaid and other state-funded programs. Without a serious movement for taxing the rich, the latter will prevail.

The New York State Department of Health, for instance, estimates that the AHCA will cost the state $4.5 billion over the next four years. That figure includes reducing Medicaid enrollees ($1.6 billion), eliminating funding for undocumented immigrants ($1.5 billion), and cutting direct funding to other programs ($1.4 billion); these figures are probably low estimates, as they do not incorporate the impact of per-capita funding, which will significantly increase the state's expenditures.

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THE AHCA would eliminate almost every tax-based funding mechanism the ACA created. For the most part, Obamacare's funding had a progressive structure, meaning that higher-income people paid higher tax rates. Trumpcare does away with these provisions, turning it into a massive tax cut for the wealthy. Eliminating the Medicare tax surcharge alone will cost the program $117 billion by 2026. (This after the ACA already slashed federal Medicare expenditures by an average of $60 billion per year.)

It's a sobering fact that a bill that includes the largest tax cuts for the wealthy since the Bush era will end up reducing the federal budget deficit. This net gain comes from deep cuts to federal health-care funding.

The giant vacuum of wealth extraction from the bottom to the top will create a new epidemic of hospital and clinic closures and more consolidations and mergers, leaving private equity firms and the relatively more solvent academic medical centers to pick at now-bankrupt facilities' carcasses. In other words, like everything about Trump's first one hundred days, this is not a drill.

Just as they did when introducing the barrage of executive orders, the GOP and Trump have tried to justify this Robin-Hood-in-reverse barbarism by using racialized, gendered, and anti-poor scapegoating. This bill is premised on the belief that health care is not a right, and that it you want state benefits, you should be forced to work for them.

This argument will likely take shape in state legislation that ties Medicaid to work requirements. Indeed, Arkansas is already trying to apply Clinton-era welfare-to-work strategies to Medicaid.

The AHCA will also defund Planned Parenthood, immediately crippling the institution that performs over a third of all abortions in the United States as well as providing other critical reproductive and women's health services. This move not only reduces federal spending for health care, but also shores up anti-abortion support for health-care austerity, returns some favors to the Christian right, and scapegoats women.

Overall, the AHCA belongs with the rest of Trump's proposals so far: it massively favors the wealthy over the working class; it mines public goods for private profit; and it scapegoats historically marginalized groups to get the job done.

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AS HORRIFIC as the AHCA is, it's important to understand that it stands on Obamacare's shoulders.

The ACA fundamentally restructured health-care funding, reducing Medicare reimbursements and eliminating federal funding for the uninsured (known as Disproportionate Share Hospital funding). This helped stratify hospital care, buoying large academic medical centers that treat people with good insurance while undermining safety-net hospitals that rely on Medicaid and Medicare funds to care for the uninsured. For instance, the largest public hospital system in the country, New York City Health and Hospitals, now faces a $2 billion per year structural deficit.

Moreover, Obamacare advanced the neoliberal method of public-private partnerships in health care, funneling hundreds of billions of federal tax revenue into the health insurance industry.

The ACA promised to reduce health-care costs, but many participants found their plans unaffordable and their out-of-pocket costs rising. Because costs didn't decline, the bill gave health insurance companies license to raise premiums and limit benefits.

The best part of Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion, provided increased health care coverage, but it couldn't guarantee genuine access because funding cuts sent the doctors and hospitals that accept Medicaid reeling. This allowed Republicans to portray the ACA as the failure of socialized medicine, even though it was anything but.

Consequently, we are now in the midst of a worldwide political dynamic in which far-right-wing forces capitalize on genuine working-class resentment of neoliberal economic restructuring that, more often than not, was implemented by liberals and social democrats.

The political lesson is clear: you can't fight the right from the center. This is not only true electorally--although the abject failure of the Clinton campaign serves as remarkably convincing evidence. It's also true in terms of the kinds of reforms we fight for and the political vehicles we use in these struggles.

The corporate-controlled Democratic Party is not offering a political alternative to Trump and Trumpism. Obama wouldn't back a single-payer, Medicare-for-all plan that would have actually controlled costs and provided improved and universal access. This failure directly resulted in Trumpcare.

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IN THE face of the largest reduction to federal health-care spending since Medicaid and Medicare were introduced, it may seem ridiculous to call for a single-payer system, which would represent the most expansive increase in federal funding. But especially at the state level, the opening is larger now than at any point since the ACA was passed.

New York and California offer significant opportunities to build a real movement. Both of these states have a relatively wealthy tax base, active single-payer legislation moving through their legislatures, and strong nurses' unions throwing their full weight behind the effort. Both state governors are neoliberal Democrats who will soon be saddled with the serious political burden of massive federal funding cuts. Both should be looking for drastic solutions. In New York at least, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is eyeing the 2020 presidential race and, in the wake of the Sanders campaign, could be looking to shore up some progressive credentials.

But as everything after 2008 has clearly shown, crisis won't be enough to convince corporate-owned politicians to change course. Only massive pressure from below can make that happen. Even though the nurses' unions, with organizations like Physicians for a National Health Program, Health Care for All, and the Labor Campaign for Single Payer have done impressive work, the fight for universal Medicare hasn't reached the necessary level of a social movement.

For one, the rest of the labor movement needs to join the fight. The connection between the single-payer movement and large health-care unions like SEIU and AFSCME should be obvious, as these unions will be severely impacted by the changes in health-care funding. But this is true for the rest of the labor movement as well, given that most unions find themselves mired in protracted contract battles over who should cover rising health-care costs.

The AFL-CIO stridently opposes Trumpcare, but supported the Affordable Care Act. Its interest in single-payer has been half-hearted at best, thanks to its political allegiances to the Democratic Party establishment. This can change, but an organized, rank-and-file effort needs to be made.

Trumpcare faces unprecedented opposition from AARP, the American Medical Association, and the American Hospital Association as well as from dozens of other medical organizations. While this will help weaken its support, these forces are unlikely to join the single-payer movement anytime soon.

But new possibilities have recently opened up, as palpable, hyper-politicized, mass resistance to Trump's overall agenda is beginning to take shape.

The Women's March on January 21 was the largest day of action in American history and helped spawn a nationwide defense of Planned Parenthood. Organized actions took place in over 150 cities, with marches of 5,000-6,000 in San Jose and Minneapolis. Given that the AHCA will take away Planned Parenthood's public funding, the single-payer movement can directly connect with these activists. The Women's Strike on International Women's Day helped buttress the idea that women's liberation and economic power are intimately connected.

Similarly, a significant movement in defense of immigrants has emerged. Starting with the airport protests against the first Muslim ban, continuing with the Yemeni-owned bodega strike, and flowing into A Day Without An Immigrant protests, these actions have given the consequences of Trump's ruthless policies a human face and highlighted immigrant communities' agency and economic power. This movement should include the fight for immigrant health care, which Obamacare threw under the bus and the AHCA further threatens.

Bringing these movements together will have profound organizational effects and will help shore up the ideological resistance to neoliberalism. Scapegoating has always played a central role in neoliberal transfers of wealth. The single-payer movement should explicitly take up the racialized and gendered scapegoating embedded in Trumpcare to further underline who does and who does not benefit from Trump's agenda.

The AHCA's effects will reach deep into the lives of working-class people and produce additional anger and disillusionment. The left's ability to provide a viable political alternative will help determine where this frustration gets channeled. We must consider this dynamic both in choosing the reforms we demand and in building the organizations to fight for them. Luckily, there hasn't been a better opportunity to develop a real left alternative.

First published at Jacobin.

Categories: Political Action

The human face of the drug war

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:00

On January 24, 1985, Anthony Papa, a young radio and auto repair worker, was entrapped in a bust planned by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Papa, in his late 20s, was living in the Bronx with his wife and young daughter, and struggling to provide for his family. Down on his luck, he took a chance to make some quick cash by delivering a package of cocaine to nearby Westchester County. When Papa handed over the package to two undercover narcotics officers, he was arrested. Papa was found guilty and sentenced to two 15-years-to-life sentences under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, with their mandated minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes.

Although his time in prison would estrange him from his family and alter the course of his life, Papa didn't let his life go without a fight. During his 12-year stint at the notorious Sing Sing prison, Papa pursued multiple academic degrees, worked as a jailhouse lawyer and taught himself to paint. When his self-portrait was chosen for an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, it got the attention of then-New York Gov. George Pataki.

A growing chorus of criticism against the Rockefeller Drug Laws in general and Papa's own unceasing efforts on his own behalf won him clemency after 12 years behind bars. But instead of quietly disappearing into the long and difficult struggle to reintegrate back into society, Papa became an outspoken critic of the racist "war on drugs" and the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Over the next 15 years, Papa released a memoir, 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom, about his time in prison.

Papa continues his efforts to end the drug war as a part of the Drug Policy Alliance, including soliciting letters from prisoners about their experiences for the "Drug War Stories" project. His recently released second memoir This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency details his experiences attempting to reconnect with a family that sees him as a stranger and his struggle to settle back into the pace of daily work life while haunted by the experiences of prison. It also gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of efforts by reformers and organizers to fight the Rockefeller laws in the 1990s and the tireless energy spent trying to project the story of thousands of people caught up in the system of mass incarceration.

Julian Guerrero spoke with Anthony Papa right before he became the only person to have received clemency and a pardon in New York state about his new book, the ongoing fight against mass incarceration and what's ahead with Donald Trump in power.

Protesters demand repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws in New York (Families Against Mandatory Minimums)

AS PART of your Drug War Stories project, you humanize the people who have been incarcerated through the personal stories prisoners send you. Many people who leave prison want to forget that experience and distance themselves from it. In your book, you talk about the constant conflict between trying to overcome the habits and perceptions you developed in order to survive at Sing Sing and your advocacy for those who are still in prison. What led you to go back and fight for those who have been left behind?

YOU'RE RIGHT. For most ex-prisoners who do an extraordinary amount of time, they want to forget about the experience. But for me, I choose not to go that route.

I used my experience as a badge of honor, and I use it for my work as an activist. The fact that I did serve time for nonviolent drug offense is totally outrageous, and there's hundreds of thousands of people who go to prison who shouldn't be there because they used drugs.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is an organization that goes hand in hand with my philosophy about advocating for people, and we believe that people shouldn't be put in prison for putting drugs in their bodies.

If I didn't go to prison, I wouldn't think like this, but I've been in their shoes, and I can understand what it's about. You leave prison, but prison doesn't leave you. You're doing time on the other side of the bars, and you drag along all these survival mechanisms that were great in prison, but outside, they're a danger to you because they pop up without warning.

I want people to learn that a dangerous part of coming out of prison is coping with those mechanisms that you created to cope with being imprisoned. You realize that the anger just makes things worse, and you realize that you'll never make up that time that was lost. Once you realize that, your life as a free person is easier.

My life now is dedicated to changing the system and using my experience to help others cope with the same experience.

YOU WRITE in your book about the fear of being sent back to prison. The U.S. Sentencing Commission released a report recently showing that recidivism rates are very high for former federal prisoners (44.7 percent within five years) and higher still for former state prisoners (76.6 percent within five years). What can be done to lower recidivism rates for good?

CHANGE THE drug laws. Educate. The thing I want to do with this book is reduce mass incarceration one life at a time, by education.

The legal roadblocks that exist, difficulties finding housing and jobs--all these things work against former offenders. In the epilogue, I talk about how politicians need to change these laws in order for communities to accept ex-prisoners who try to re-enter society. With those laws against them, they don't stand a chance.

We have to change the way the systems are built. Prisons should be resocialization centers where education is stressed and every level of your incarceration is therapeutic.

SOME OF the most interesting chapters for me were those about the Drop the Rock campaign, which was aimed at reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws and mandatory minimums sentences for drug offenses. Andrew Cuomo collaborated with you in those efforts.

The Rockefeller laws were reformed in 2009, and today, Cuomo is governor, and there are a number of and efforts for further reform, such as the Raise the Age campaign. What are your thoughts on these campaigns and the response by the city and state government to them?

THERE'S BEEN a big change. The whole atmosphere has changed. States are now reducing prison populations to save money. They're letting out nonviolent offenders. Laws are starting to change.

The Brennan Center for Justice just released a report showing that 570,000 individuals are in prison with no good public safety reasons. They could be let out tomorrow, and nothing would happen. The gates of hell won't open.

Releasing these prisoners could save $20 billion a year, but they are in there because of archaic, draconian drug laws. Much of the prison population, some 500,000 people, is in prison or some form of incarceration/parole because of the war on drugs.

You have to look at the connections between the prison-industrial complex and the war on drugs because they fuel each other.

What we try to do at DPA is change the laws. That doesn't happen quickly. Take what's going on with marijuana. Half the states have some form of legalization of marijuana, whether it's recreational or medical usage of marijuana. Five years ago, nobody wanted this. The world is changing.

There are still people now in prison doing time because of marijuana even though it's now legal. I just sent two letters to Obama for this one guy who owned a dispensary, Luke Scarmazzo. If that crime had occurred today, he wouldn't have even gone to prison. He's been there 14 years already. He's got kids, so they wanted me to help out with his clemency.

IN YOUR book, you argue against people who seem too willing to compromise the end goals of criminal justice reform. At one point, you and Randy Credico helped form an organization of mothers whose children are in prison, called the Mothers of the New York Disappeared. The idea originated with the struggles of family members in Latin America whose relatives were disappeared during the military dictatorships supported by the U.S. government. This was a masterful idea as it put those directly affected by the Rock Laws at the center and it also gave them a political vehicle to hold politicians accountable.

What can grassroots activists do to build campaigns locally and nationally to address some of the most damaging laws of the criminal justice system?

WHEN I went to the Albany, I realized that change isn't going to come from the top. It has to be from the bottom up.

On May 25, 1998, we had out first rally in Rockefeller Center. All the press showed up. We had a little 10-year-old girl there whose mother was doing 20-to-life for drugs. We saw that was how we were going to change the drug laws in New York--by putting a human face to it.

It took a while, but seven year later, New Yorkers wanted to change the Rock Laws. We changed public opinion.

Before that, when we met with politicians, they would say that they knew these law didn't work, but they didn't want to look "soft on crime." When we heard that, we decided to make a point to change public opinion, and that changed what politicians did.

When David Soares ran against Paul Clyne--a right-wing, lock-em-up, Rockefeller type of guy--Albany County District Attorney, he beat Clyne. District attorneys started to win on Rock reform platforms.

People are tired of locking people up for enormous amounts of time for nothing. Like the Brennan Center report says, almost 570,000 could be let out tomorrow. They're served enormous amounts of time in prison, and if the states let them out, they'd save $20 billion a year.

The way to get change isn't from the top down but from the bottom up. That's why it's so important for activists to use grassroots means and couple it with the media. The media reports on your issue, and you can battle the powers that be. I did it to get out of prison, writing my own press releases from prison.

Learn how to create news, how to get your issue out there in a new way, and repeat that issue over and over until people get it.

Categories: Political Action

Why are there still famines?

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

How can hunger persist in a world of enormous wealth and technological advances? Tyler Zimmer explains how Marxists identify the capitalist system as the root cause.

THE UNITED Nations reports that the world is currently facing the most profound humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War in 1945.

At this very moment, more than 20 million people stand on the brink of starvation in regions of the Middle East and Africa. And this is to say nothing of the close to 800 million people in the world who are undernourished due to a lack of access to food.

The specific crisis that the UN is warning about is centered in four countries: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and the northeastern region of Nigeria.

One thread connecting these countries is conflict--all are gripped by civil warfare, but with the U.S. and other imperialist powers contributing to the violence.

In the case of Yemen, the U.S. is participating in a brutal war led by Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebels. According to the UN, in the past two years, more than 16,000 people have died in the conflict, many of them civilians killed by Saudi air strikes.

But hunger threatens to be an even bigger killer--UN officials say the number of Yemenis who don't know where their next meal will come from has increased by 3 million in just the past three months.

A malnourished child in a hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia (AMISOM)

The UN is pleading for $4.4 billion in order to combat the worst of the hunger in the four countries, but this figure is less than one-tenth of the increase in U.S. military spending that Donald Trump just demanded in his first budget as president. Indeed, even before that massive increase, the U.S. government could provide all of the $4.4 billion for three-quarters of 1 percent of the current military budget.

But even this understates the obscenity of what's happening on the ground in Yemen: This misallocated spending on the military is directly implicated in the killing of Yemenis, whether by U.S. drone attacks or support for Saudi Arabia's air war.

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SO WAR and violence are the proximate causes of the worst cases of hunger today, but this doesn't get to the heart of the matter. Undernourishment and hunger are worldwide problems of immense proportions that stubbornly persist, year after year, even in the face of rapid technological and economic growth. What explains this alarming fact?

You might think that the problem is one of physical scarcity: There's simply "too many" people on the planet and not enough food to feed everyone around the globe.

But the truth is that there is actually a surplus of food. Humanity produces far more food every year than everyone on the planet needs to survive. Because of modern technologies and economies of scale in agriculture, food production and storage, more calories per person are produced today than ever before in human history.

And yet millions stand on the brink of starvation or suffer from undernourishment or food insecurity. From a humanitarian or ethical standpoint, the solution to famine couldn't be simpler: Immediately transfer the surplus food that already exists to the people who need it most to save their lives.

Why doesn't this happen? Simply put: Because capitalism.

Profitability is what makes the wheels of the world economic system turn--and in many cases, it's more profitable to withhold or even destroy surplus food than to give it to those in need.

So long as food is treated as a commodity like any other, it will be produced and distributed according to market forces that tether food production and distribution to profit-based criteria and nothing else. What seems irrational at a macro level--destroying food when so many are hungry--in fact makes perfect sense from the perspective of the profit-seeking capitalist, competing in the marketplace.

Numerous examples illustrate this point. For instance, last October, the U.S. dairy industry dumped--that is, it destroyed--43 million gallons of "excess" milk.

Now, from a socialist point of view, there is no such thing as "excess" milk--nor any other basic commodity like it--so long as there is at least one person who needs it. But for the profit-seeking dairy industry, dumping milk made good business sense. From the perspective of profitability, there was a "glut" on the market that drove down milk prices and squeezed profits.

Seen in this way--through the lens of capitalism--destroying supply in order to prop up prices made perfect sense. At no time did the people who desperately need milk to survive register as significant, because profitability is what system responds to, not human need.

There are other more disturbing examples to show how run-of-the-mill capitalist economic activity leads to starvation and undernourishment.

Take, for instance, the 2007-08 global food crisis, when food prices soared to their highest levels in more than 150 years. What happened? As Alan Maass wrote for SocialistWorker.org: "Goldman Sachs happened."

The mega-bank encouraged a speculative frenzy in financial markets that gamble on the direction of prices of basic commodities, including food. Thus, Goldman helped drive up food prices to obscene levels in a short period of time--creating spectacular wealth for a few, and misery for millions of people who suddenly couldn't afford to feed themselves.

As food journalist Frederick Kaufman summarized at the time, "Bankers had taken control of the world's food, money chased money, and a billion people went hungry."

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THERE'S SOMETHING tragic about famine under capitalism that wouldn't have been the case in earlier periods of human history.

The tragedy lies not simply in the fact--horrific though it is--that people starve or go undernourished. In most cases in the distant past, if human beings starved, it was probably because of physical scarcity. There simply wasn't enough food to go around.

But that is never true under capitalism, because the productive power of modern technology means that it is possible to produce far more food than all people need to survive without working ourselves to death doing it.

The tragedy peculiar to capitalism consists in this: Modern technology makes it possible, for the first time in human history, to produce more than enough food to feed everyone--yet because of the capitalist system's obsession with profit, that productive power to satisfy unmet needs lies idle and underutilized, resulting in unnecessary misery and death.

To use Karl Marx's terminology, the productive forces--the technologies, tools and techniques human beings use to produce goods and services--have grown at an unprecedented rate during the last several centuries of capitalist development. Physical scarcity is a thing of the past--today, we have the technological and productive power to easily meet the needs of everyone on the planet.

But capitalist social relations--in particular, private ownership of the productive forces by profit-seeking capitalists--prevent humanity from using that productive power for liberatory ends.

The Marxist philosopher G.A. Cohen puts the point like this:

The productive technology of advanced capitalism begets an unparalleled opportunity of lifting the curse of Adam and liberating human beings from toil and want, but the production relations of capitalist economic organization prevent the opportunity from being realized. The economic form most able to relieve toil is least disposed to do so...Capitalism brings humanity to the threshold of abundance and locks the door.

Marx defines social revolution as a way of casting off the fetters of capitalist social relations and allowing humanity to use the productive power of modern technology to improve quality of life and reduce unnecessary toil for all. Such a revolution would therefore, in Leon Trotsky's words, involve the "forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny."

In other words, socialism is about allowing humanity to decide democratically how to make use of the enormous liberatory potential--thus far, largely unrealized--of modern productive technology.

Think of the radical implications that this building block of Marxism would have for problems like famine.

Famine occurs under capitalism because decisions about the production and allocation of food are made by shortsighted capitalists all competing against one another for profit. The people affected by those decisions have no authority to take part in them.

Neither do the interests of those most affected show up as significant in the decision-making of capitalist firms. The discipline imposed by market competition forces each capitalist to focus only on their bottom line. Thus, corporations are more likely to dump "excess" food than to distribute it to those in need.

But imagine how different things would be if the mass of people had the collective authority to decide how to use the tremendous productive powers of modern technology. Imagine if they had a say in how food would be produced and distributed. Imagine that they had the power and standing in the world order to make sure their interests are attended to and their wishes respected.

That, in a nutshell, is the ideal of socialism: ordinary working people democratically controlling the productive power of society and using it for the benefit of all.

Categories: Political Action

Capitalism brought us here

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

Luisa G. describes her family's experience of immigration from their native Colombia, and has a strong warning for anyone who says they have a problem with it.

MY NIECE posted the following status update on Facebook the other day: "Ojalá un Domingo cualquiera pudiera simplemente tomar un taxi y poder ir a arruncharme con mi abuela."

She wishes she could simply take a taxi and go visit her grandmother, who she has not seen in person in four years. That's the last time my mother could afford to take off work and pay for a trip to Colombia.

Yes, we are documented, but our story is the same in many ways as for those who are undocumented. I would venture to say that the majority of immigrants in this country, undocumented or not, aren't here because they wanted a change of scenery. They are here as a matter of survival. They are here because of the ravages of capitalism in developing countries.

We got our papers through my mother's brother, who petitioned her before I was born. It took over a decade. Most of my mother's family was here already. My grandmother and uncle left in the 1970s, when my mother was a teenager, and my aunt left in the early 1980s. My mother's family was broken up, and later, her own family would be broken up as well, by an unforgiving, bureaucratic immigration system that has no regard for human suffering.

My mother, my brother and I came to the U.S. in 1998. We came here because my mother wanted to take us away from the violence of poverty and the violence created by a civil war that began when she was a child.

By the age of 10, I had witnessed stabbings on the street, seen a dead body in the dumpster behind my house, and woken up to the sound of a bomb going off in the meeting hall next to my house--twice--all because of the conflicts and desperation created by capitalism.

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MY MOTHER tried. She tried her very best despite so many personal and systemic obstacles, like not being able to graduate high school.

She sang in clubs and parties on the weekends as her main source of income so that she could be home with us during the week. She sold lemonade on the street while I was in school. She scraped money together to buy a hot dog stand. She worked construction, despite the constant harassment of male co-workers. Nothing she did was ever enough.

She never wanted to live in New York. She hates the cold. She hates the number of people. She hates the grinding pace of this city. But she came and she stayed because of me. Because of my brother. Because of my sister and her kids.

She came here to clean wealthy people's homes--a job that has aged her body far beyond her chronological age, a job in which she is verbally abused and exploited by clueless assholes who have never had to clean a fucking toilet in their lives--in order to give her children and grandchildren opportunities and comforts she never had.

Every day, I think about all I've missed. My oldest niece was four when I left. Her sister was a newborn I only got to hold a few times. I have never met my nephew.

So when I hear that we are criminals, that we are monsters who lurk in the shadows to steal from hardworking (white) "Americans," I experience a very special kind of rage. Don't talk to me about stealing when three continents were literally stolen from Indigenous people.

We are here, we deserve to be here, and we will fight tooth and nail for the dignity and respect that we deserve. Trump, his gang of Nazi demons, and this whole inhumane system can go to hell. They commit unspeakable atrocities with the stroke of a pen, but we are the monsters?!?

Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos! Y si nos hechan, nos regresamos!

Categories: Political Action

Politicking without politics

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

Democratic elites are missing the obvious fact that you can't subdue the right without an alternative political vision, writes Paul Heideman in an article published at Jacobin.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Wikimedia Commons)

FOR A distillation of the Democratic Party's self-conception today, one could do worse than consult Nancy Pelosi's recent pronouncement: "We don't have a party orthodoxy--they [the Republicans] are ideological."

For some time now, this view of the political divide--Democrats are consummate pragmatists, Republicans are rigid slaves to dogma--has predominated in elite liberal circles. Hillary Clinton, after all, centered her campaign on competence and experience far more than any actual conception of politics.

And despite the resulting disaster, this desire to have a politics without politics--this strategy to build a coalition bereft of any clear values or principles--has continued to animate liberals' opposition to Trump. Democrats really believe, it seems, that they can subdue the reactionary right without articulating any alternative political vision beyond prudent governance.

The irony here is twofold. First, in clinging to an obviously failing strategy, elite liberalism reveals itself to be an ideology every bit as impervious to contradictory evidence as the reactionary Republicans it defines itself against. And second, for all of the Democrats' paeans to pragmatism, they are just as committed to their own version of neoliberal capitalism as the Republicans, and just as unwilling to brook dissent with it. In fact, only a few days before declaring the Democrats free of orthodoxy, Pelosi responded to a student's question about socialism by effusing, "We're capitalists. That's just the way it is."

When attacking the right, the Democrats are non-ideological and pragmatic. As soon as a challenge from the left is sighted, however, the party suddenly stops being coy and declares itself forthrightly in favor of capitalism. The result is an ever-rightward-moving political landscape that ends up abetting the very forces and figures that Democrats oppose--including Trump.

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EVEN BEFORE Trump's election, the Democrats' affinity for politicking without politics had landed them in unsavory territory.

Throughout the campaign, the Clinton camp would drag up whatever blood-drenched warmonger from the Bush administration they could find, exclaiming, "See? Even [John Yoo, Robert Kagan, Max Boot] thinks Trump has gone too far!" The short-termism should have been evident to all, as yesterday's disgraced imperial adjuncts were dusted off and presented as today's statesmen of reason.

Of course, this could hardly have been of concern to Clinton herself, who agreed with the neoconservatives on most of the fundamentals of American foreign policy. Those opposed to yet another discursive lurch to the right had more reason for distress. The Democrats were, quite literally, more comfortable opposing Trump with Republican figureheads than articulating any identifiable ideas of their own.

Since Trump's accession to power, Democratic elites have taken their ineptitude to new heights. Thus we have the tawdry spectacle of Rep. Ted Lieu tweeting in early February, "Last 24 hrs on Twitter, Donald Trump went on rant about 'death & destruction,' 'FAKE NEWS,' & 'evil.' Should he get mental health exam?" and then introducing a bill requiring a White House psychiatrist. Leaving aside the nasty history of using psychiatry to police politics, Lieu's complaint against Trump centered on the man's comportment, rather than any aspect of his policy agenda.

Frequently, Democrats have tried to fell Trump simply by catching him in some act of hypocrisy. This reached a fever pitch immediately after Trump announced his initial travel ban, as liberals of all sorts rushed to accuse the president of excluding countries where he had business ties. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan even raised the specter of impeachment over the supposed conflict of interest. Trump's flacks wasted no time exploiting the awkward position Democrats had placed themselves in, snarking, "If people in the media would like to recommend additional countries to be added, you can send us your suggestions."

And once again, Democrats had turned an opportunity to assail a noxious, unpopular political figure into a chimeric chase for a "gotcha" moment. Rather than pillory the measure as racist and xenophobic, they pursued an "apolitical" line of attack that looked no less partisan, while evading the real political issues raised by the ban.

Rachel Maddow fell into a similar trap in mid-March. After making breathless promises to reveal Trump's tax returns, the MSNBC host treated viewers to a 20-minute journey through all manner of speculations, from what could be in the tax forms to why Trump could have been hiding them. Over the course of the expedition--during which she sounded more than a little like a Tea Partier circa 2010 explaining Obama's Kenyan birth--Maddow covered such crucial topics as where Trump's financial backers parked their yachts and the connections between Azerbaijani oligarchs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And when she finally disclosed the contents of the tax returns, it was clear the big surprise was even more boring than the buildup. In brief, Trump made an obscene amount of money in 2005 and paid in taxes more or less what the super-rich usually do. Unable to dwell on a "gotcha" revelation, Maddow and her guest were forced to fill the remaining time with conjectures about what Trump would owe if his tax plan passed, or whether he himself had leaked the returns (now who's playing 11-dimensional chess?).

Throughout the program, Maddow insisted that "whether you're a Trump supporter or not," the returns, and Trump's initial refusal to release them, were A Very Big Deal. For liberals like Maddow, issues like these, supposedly above politics, are what will allow Democrats to discredit Trump and return the party to power. By the end of the show, however, it was doubtful whether even all of Maddow's faithful would consider the tax returns a major issue.

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UNDOUBTEDLY THE most insidious element of Democrats' hapless anti-Trump attack, however, has come around the president's relationship to Russia. Liberals appear positively elated at the chance to turn around and target conservatives for once with charges of treason. Democrats, it seems, have rediscovered the virtues of Cold War Russophobia.

Even ostensible progressives like Michael Moore have gotten on board, calling Trump a "Russian traitor." Bernie Sanders hasn't, thankfully, indulged language quite this inflammatory, but he has endorsed the substance of Moore's accusation, asking "whether our president's foreign policy represents the best interests of this country or the best interests of Russia." Both Moore and Sanders are old enough to remember when the slightest hint of dissatisfaction with American capitalism was immediately met with accusations of Russian treason. To see them rehabilitating this kind of rhetoric is nothing short of shameful.

And it will almost inevitably backfire. First, it's never good for the left when liberals start slinging around charges of treason. The McCarthyite purges, after all, began with Democrat Harry Truman's 1947 executive order establishing an investigation force to police "loyalty" among government employees. Truman, too, was concerned about citizens acting in the best interests of the U.S. rather than Russia. It is positively delusional to imagine that the Democratic hacks who view someone like Sanders as disloyal will not brandish charges of Russian collaboration against the left at the first opportunity.

Second, and more frightening, the Democrats appear to have embraced the most bellicose posture toward Russia as a way of playing up Trump's alleged cooperation with Putin. In January, Democratic Sen. Jack Reed ominously warned that "Russia's efforts to undermine democracy at home and abroad and destabilize a country on its border...cannot be ignored or traded away in exchange for the appearance of comity."

One does not have to romanticize Putin's brutal oligarchy at home or imperialist foreign policy abroad to find such declarations chilling. Ironically, the very same Democrats who accuse Trump of destabilizing world politics apparently have no qualms about moving from comity to confrontation with another nuclear-armed power.

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THE LIBERAL attempt to undercut Trump using some mythical higher standard, something "above politics," risks undermining the very resistance that's developed in opposition to his various initiatives.

Most centrally, this kind of strategy simply won't work. Even as liberals like Lieu express horror at Trump's outlandish behavior, it is plain that, for many of his supporters, Trump's refusal to behave like a traditional politician is precisely what they find appealing. The endless articles condemning Trump for his "unpresidential" behavior were no salve for those suffering plant closures and stagnant wages, for whom Trump at least represented the possibility of a break from politics as usual. The status quo, which Clinton vigorously defended, certainly wasn't working.

Over the longer term, the fruits of the Democrats' strategy are even more troubling. In framing their opposition to Trump as non-political, Democrats are perpetuating the crisis in American liberalism.

Obama initially appeared to be liberalism's savior, promising to redeem it from its abject failures during the Bush years. But eight years of managerial centrism left the party hollowed out both institutionally and ideologically. Without any real challenge from the left, Obama never strayed far from the path laid out by the banks and tech companies that funded his campaigns. While his personal gifts allowed him to win very high approval ratings for a two-term president, his policies did little to alleviate the growing misery in many parts of the country. Obama's inability to rewrite the political and economic rules of the game ensured that any candidate who lacked his talents would be unable to stitch together the same coalition.

It is this continued fidelity to American capitalism, this unwavering commitment to keeping things more or less as they are, that stands behind the Democrats' apparent fear of ideas. Any actual attempt to advance the principles that loom large in the American liberal imagination would entail some sort of confrontation with capital, and the Democratic Party, bought and paid for by capital, is unwilling to contemplate such a step.

Pelosi is, in a sense, right: While the Republicans have a clear ideology, a clear vision for society (gruesome as it may be), the Democrats can offer little more than meritocratic nostrums and technocratic tweaks. The social order should basically remain the same, their position seems to be, with an improvement here or there from smart, competent people.

While this social vision wins plaudits from the educated middle class, and the Democrats will always receive some support from the groups that the GOP most directly scapegoats, it is no surprise that they find themselves increasingly unable to mobilize support outside these core constituencies.

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FORTUNATELY, THE alternative to Democratic vapidity is not hard to find. It has reverberated through much of the popular resistance to Trump's presidency. When thousands of people gathered at JFK airport to protest the Muslim ban, they didn't make an hour-long subway trip to stand in the cold because they thought Trump was being hypocritical or unpresidential. They gathered because they felt Trump had infringed on core values of egalitarianism and fairness. They were moved by a basic sense of injustice. They were moved, in other words, by politics.

While the liberal evasion of politics gives the impression that the Democrats have no ideas they are confident enough to defend, mobilizations like the refugee solidarity protests do the exact opposite. When thousands of people assemble with signs declaring, "Refugees are welcome here," they stake out a political ground that directly confronts Trump. They provide a political pole capable of further mobilization.

Ultimately, it is only mobilizations like these that can thwart Trump and the Republican Party. Left to their own devices, the Democrats will continue proffering anemic managerialism, punctuated by the occasional self-pitying snark ("but her emails"), all the while leading us down the road to defeat.

Instead, the anti-Trump movement will have to unabashedly voice the political principles, like equality and solidarity, that motivate it. This will mean both developing our own conceptions about what these principles look like today, and developing our own organizations capable of advancing them. While the Democrats seek to oust Trump and return the country to Obama's status quo, our movement must base itself on a politics capable of confronting both Trump and the rotten elite liberalism that enabled his rise.

First published at Jacobin.

Categories: Political Action

Yes, they can find a way to respect nurses

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

The University of Missouri Hospital puts its workers last, explains one employee.

University of Missouri Hospital

AT THE University of Missouri, there's plenty of money to spend on executive pay and expensive advertising campaigns, but nothing but disrespect for the people who work there.

I am writing to you anonymously for fear of reprisals from my employer, the University of Missouri Hospital.

On March 6, ABC News in Columbia, Missouri, reported on findings from an audit of the University of Missouri system revealing $2.3 million in hidden payments and incentives to top administrators, including $1.2 million in incentives awarded to 18 executives and administrators over the past three years.

Luxury car payments, paid travel expenses to nonwork destinations--translation: vacations) and salaries for people who neither work nor have valid job titles is something that is typically associated with dictatorships, not university administrations.

Yet at UM, family members of officials have "positions" that pay salaries for which they aren't required to do anything. If you criticize this practice, the common reply is that we need to "compensate" these talented administrators to retain their services and attract new ones.

Meanwhile, employees of the University of Missouri Hospital are now being forced to "prove" both that our spouses are legal citizens of the U.S. and that our children are "ours" by sending in documents in order to be eligible for benefits, which we have been paying for.

This "proof" audit is being conducted by Conduent Corp., a spinoff of Xerox with annual revenue of some $6.6 billion. Conduent will oversee this audit in the hopes that the hospital can cut benefits for someone who hasn't submitted their proper documentation by March 31, and thereby save "us" money.

We now have a new proprietary employee assessment tool, provided by a small company called Gallup, Inc., which has been implemented to report how each of employee is performing their respective position. The price of this tool, StrengthsFinder, has yet to be determined.

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IF THAT'S not enough, the administration is giving $10,000 sign-on bonuses to new nurses, and while they need it, the hospital ignores the people who will train and develop these new employees to become great nurses. This is absolutely disrespectful to every nurse that is currently employed.

Our nurses don't get cost-of-living increases annually. We have had market-adjusted increases, due mostly to mass exoduses of nurses seeking higher wages, fewer patients and more flexibility.

While nurses clean up every possible fluid that can come out of the human body, care for the grief-stricken and hold the hand of a dying patient with no family, our hospital's reply to any constructive critique is "YES finds a way," the main slogan of an endless MU marketing campaign.

"YES" has certainly found a way--to pour millions of dollars into advertising and marketing campaigns for the kind of care that is provided at our hospital.

"YES" has found a way to make parking for a football game more important than allowing employees to leave their cars at the spot they pay monthly for.

"YES" has found a way to buy Super Bowl commercials in 2016 and 2107, but ignores the fact that Missouri nurses are the 34th worst-paid hospital nurses in the country.

The state auditor who reported the exorbitant bonuses of our administrators merely pointed out what many already know--that when it comes to budgets and "belt tightening," it's a shared goal for everyone, except those administrators at the top.

When will "YES" find a way to respect nurses, housekeepers, patient transporters, nurse techs, lab techs and all the other people who actually make this hospital a place where we would want our families to be cared for?

Categories: Political Action

The only guarantee of Polish independence

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 01:00

The following leaflet addressed to "Polish workers and soldiers in Russia" appeared in Petrograd 100 years ago on March 17, 1917 (March 4 according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia), days after the fall of the Tsarist autocracy with the February Revolution.

After the outbreak of the First World War, the bulk of Poland came under German occupation, after having previously been ruled by the Tsarist government. By 1917, roughly 3 million Poles--many of whom had been evacuated from Poland on the eve of the German invasion--found themselves under Tsarist rule. In response, Polish socialist parties began organizing the large groups of displaced Polish workers in industrial cities like Petrograd and Moscow.

Little is known about the initiators of the following appeal. Given its simultaneous stress on class struggle, internationalism and Polish independence, the authors were likely members of the revolutionary Marxist Polish Socialist Party-Left and/or the far left wing of the Polish Socialist Party (Revolutionary Fraction) (see the "Note on the Polish Socialist Party" below). Whereas most Polish nationalists and the moderate leaders of the Polish Socialist Party (Revolutionary Fraction) had throughout the war sought to promote Polish independence through a pact with German or Austrian imperialism, the following appeal makes the case for why national liberation could only be won through the struggle and solidarity of the international working class.

This leaflet was translated and the above annotation written by Eric Blanc. It is part of the an SW series giving a view from the streets during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The series is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

Thousands march through Petrograd to celebrate the fall of the Tsar and mourn the dead (Wikimedia Commons)

COMRADE WORKERS and Soldiers!

The Russian proletariat took the lead in the fight for the overthrow of the Tsarist government and the establishment of a People's Republic in Russia.

It toppled the despotic colossus, which for decades oppressed its own people and subordinated foreign nations, which headed the reaction in all of Europe by readily helping all the oppressors of Europe suppress the peoples' liberation movements. For decades, the Tsarist regime has been fought by Polish workers, who marked the road toward freedom with their warm blood and the suffering and tears of mothers, sisters and wives.

You comrades, both male and female, pressed forward, always constantly forward. This path led to the Tsarist gallows, which sacrificed as victims our brothers Ossowskich, Kunickich, Kasprzaków and Okrzejów.

In your fight you were alone in the country; the propertied classes because of the nature of their interests could muster only collusion with the minions of the Tsarist government. And your only allies in the arduous work of creating a brighter tomorrow were the Russian workers, who struggled hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder with you, next to the proletarians of the other nations oppressed by the Tsarist government.

Comrades! Today already we hope that our country will gain freedom and independence. Remember that we will not receive an independent Polish Republic from the governments and the bourgeoisie of Europe; remember that the oppressors of the peoples cannot be liberators; remember that the political independence of our country can be built only on the power and cooperation of the peoples; remember that the only real guarantee of the independence of the Polish people is not diplomatic acts and congress decisions, but the international solidarity of the peoples.

Comrades! Today you must fulfill your proletarian duty, your class and national interests. You must fulfill your duty to the Russian democracy, you must offer all your power and strength to help the Russian proletariat lead the so-bravely begun struggle to a victorious end and thus contribute to the victory of the proletariat of all nations. Since the fall of Tsarist rule in Russia undermines the existence of all bourgeois governments, it is a harbinger of the victory of democracy internationally.

Long live the Russian People's Republic!

Long live the Polish People's Republic!

Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat!

Long live socialism!

Polish socialist workers in Petrograd

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Source: Published in Archiwum Ruchu Robotniczego, volume 5, Warsaw 1977, pg. 273-74. Translated by Eric Blanc.

Note on the Polish Socialist Party: In 1906, the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) split. The majority of the party sided with the left wing, which stressed mass action, the need for empire-wide revolution and an alliance with Russian workers in particular; this organization henceforth called itself the Polish Socialist Party-Left. The minority was more hesitant about this orientation toward Russian socialism, stressing instead the struggle for national independence and armed struggle; this organization became the Polish Socialist Party (Revolutionary Fraction).

In 1917, the far left of the PPS (Revolutionary Fraction), unlike the rest of the party, was based out of central Russia and upheld a mostly internationalist orientation. The PPS-Left was consistently committed to internationalism and revolutionary Marxism and went on to co-found the Polish Communist party in 1918 together with Rosa Luxemburg's party.

A note on Russian dates: The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the "View from the Streets" series, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian ("New Style") date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.

Categories: Political Action

How did the Dutch far right get so far?

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

Pepijn Brandon, an assistant professor of history at the Free University Amsterdam, writes from Europe on the meaning of last week's elections in the Netherlands.

Geert Wilders

THE NETHERLANDS woke up the day after its elections to exceptionally warm weather, announcing the start of spring. But the high-strung commentaries from the international media and assorted heads of state made it seem like the country had jumped straight from winter to summer.

For months, opinion polls projected that the Netherlands would be the next country to experience a far-right victory. The fact that Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) finished second then could be spun as a win for politically moderate forces. But the left cannot be so complacent.

The election results, hailed by liberal commentators as a success for the center, in fact mark a dual victory for the far right.

First of all, the PVV won in purely numerical terms. Wilders managed to increase his vote to 13 percent, giving him 20 of 150 parliamentary seats. Meanwhile, the two government parties--the free-market conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the center-left Labour Party (PvDA) lost significantly.

The VVD went from 41 to 33 seats. Despite the loss, it remains the biggest party in a thoroughly fragmented parliament that is split between 13 parties. The Labour Party suffered a historic humiliation. It lost 29 seats, bringing its current total at just nine.

To the PVV's five seats, we should add the two seats claimed by the new Forum for Democracy -- the Netherlands' answer to the United States' alt-right. During the campaign, party leader Thierry Baudet called for ending the "homeopathic dilution of the Dutch people" by foreigners. He has also claimed in his writings that all women secretly long to be raped.

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APART FROM these numerical gains, the far right managed to set the agenda for the entire campaign season. Both the VVD and the Christian Democrat Appeal (CDA, which ended at 19 seats) waged a more explicitly racist and Islamophobic campaign than ever before.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte suggested that migrants (or their children, or their grandchildren) should "piss off" to their countries of origin if they refused to follow Dutch values--or, as he put it, "act normal." A VVD billboard described the hijab as a "head rag," a phrase Wilders coined.

Meanwhile, the CDA's leader, now in a position to enter a coalition government with the VVD, made the astounding claim that Islam contradicted the "thousands-years-old Christian-Jewish tradition of equality between men and women." Leaving aside the question of Christianity's historical track record, it is safe to say that the CDA and its predecessors have not exactly been in the forefront of the struggle for women's liberation over the past century.

These alleged moderates' willingness to turn Wilders' rhetoric into actual policy was underlined in the days before the election, when the Dutch and Turkish governments stoked a serious diplomatic riot for their own nationalist interests.

In this context, perhaps the most revealing remark on election night came from Rutte, who repeatedly insisted that the electorate had rejected "the wrong kind of populism." His implicit endorsement of "the right kind of populism" is by no means an accident: He and Halbe Zijlstra, the leader of the VVD's parliamentary faction, have systematically steered their party closer and closer to the PVV's racist line.

Thus, Wilders gained both numbers and political influence. He lost only in comparison to the even larger gains granted to him in the virtual reality the polling agencies created. This demands an important aside, for in recent years, such opinion polls themselves have become a major force in politics.

Suppose the worst polls had come true, and the PVV had indeed beaten the VVD to first place. As horrific as it would have been, Wilders' party would probably not have reached the 20 percent that Rutte's party did.

But the rhetoric matters more than the numbers. Describing those who vote for the far right as the "true voice of the people" has political merits even for the establishment. It justifies moving further to the right and delegitimizes even the most moderate left-wing agendas. But this is a double-edged sword, as it also boosts the far right's credentials.

Fifteen years ago, when the Dutch Islamophobe politician Pim Fortuyn was shot, many shrugged off his movement's electoral success as an anomaly. Today, the PVV represents a steady political force, often setting the tone for the national political debate.

Street organizations on its fringes, like the Dutch branch of PEGIDA, organize protests with burning torches outside refugee centers. Wilders' party's successes have left a rise in violent attacks on mosques and migrants in their wake. The PVV did not have to become the largest party to present a danger: it has been one for a decade already.

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IF THE PVV's steady growth does not represent a sharp political rupture, the Dutch Labour Party's complete collapse certainly does. The last 15 years have taken a toll on what was once, for better or worse, the political center of gravity for the entire working class movement.

Since 2002, the PvdA has risen and fallen again. It went from a historically low 23 seats in 2002--the year of Fortuyn's murder--to 42 seats a year later. After several electoral defeats, it bounced back to 30 seats in 2010 and picked up eight more in 2012. Its drop to nine seats--reflecting a mere 5.7 percent of the vote--is unprecedented in Dutch parliamentary history.

The rot goes deeper: The PvdA did not come in first in a single municipality, ranking fourth in Amsterdam and fifth in places like Zaanstad and Groningen, once cradles of the Dutch socialist movement. In working-class Rotterdam, still Europe's largest harbor and a city where social democracy once was completely hegemonic, the PvdA came in seventh.

The PvdA might regain its lost electoral ground at some point. Examples from around Europe show that, like the Dybbuk of ancient Yiddish legend, the dead soul of traditional social democracy finds ever-new vehicles to walk among the living. But the Labour Party will never recover its solid working-class base.

It's not hard to figure out why, but election strategists continue to believe they can sell large-scale attacks on social welfare and rising inequality as socialist programs, as long as they can demonstrate those policies' "fiscal responsibility."

Since the mid-1980s, the PvdA--like its counterparts across Europe--has been instrumental in introducing neoliberal policies. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, it helped reign in social provisions and allowed for the privatization of the railways, the postal services and health insurance, among others.

Under the current government, the PvdA's rightward shift took on a whole new meaning. The party gained significant ground during the 2012 elections by arguing that a vote for Labour was the only way to avoid a VVD-led austerity government. Immediately after the elections, the party turned around and started negotiating the formation of a coalition with those very opponents.

This government launched a massive austerity program, entailing almost 50 billion euros in cutbacks. PvdA ministers prided themselves on taking some of the most difficult posts, including social affairs and employment (PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher) and finance (Jeroen Dijsselbloem). A PvdA minister of the interior loyally executed the VVD's anti-refugee policies. And Dijsselbloem not only enthusiastically applied the European Union's fiscal stringency on the Netherlands, but, as chairman of the Eurogroup, became its main enforcer against the SYRIZA government in Greece.

Nothing could more fully demonstrate the PvdA's neoliberal drift than the fact that Alexander Pechtold, leader of the centrist Democrats 66, repeatedly suggested Dijsselbloem could continue to represent the Netherlands in Brussels "so that he can finish the job."

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DOES THIS mean that the center cannot hold, as so many have said in response to the current political cycle? The Dutch election's results do not bear this out, and the international left should pay attention.

The same anger and anxieties that created violent shocks to the political system--of which the PvdA's collapse is only the latest example--also continues to drive large numbers to vote for allegedly safe parties that they wrongly believe will at least not make things worse.

In fact, the VVD's and PvdA's losses were at least partly compensated by the CDA's and Democrats 66's gains (from 13 to 19 seats and 12 to 19 seats, respectively). These parties are as fully committed to neoliberal policies as the VVD and the PvdA.

And the big surprise winner of the elections, Jesse Klaver of GreenLeft (GL) not only campaigned on the basis of "the need for change," but also on being a 'responsible and trustworthy' political partner in a future coalition government, explicitly presenting himself as a reliable center-left candidate.

Compared to politics during the half century after the Second World War, the political center has become much more fragmented. But it has not collapsed and is not at the brink of doing so.

What the elections do show is that staying in the center no longer guarantees stability: Centrist parties bounce up and down violently from election to election. But parties on the two political flanks don't necessarily benefit from this unstable center.

Without social explosions that fundamentally reshuffle the existing structures of party politics, the parties that gain the most from this crisis of the center are, as often as not, other centrist formations.

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ONE OF the main reasons why the political center has been able to maintain itself has been the structural inability of the Dutch left to build a viable alternative. The Labour Party and GL do not even see it as their mission to provide such a challenge. The Socialist Party does, but has not managed to gain out of the historic collapse of the PvdA. Combined, the three big parties of the left lost 20 seats, winning only 37 total.

For the first time, the PvdA came in third among these three. The Socialist Party more or less stood its ground (14 seats, down from 15), while Justin Trudeau look-alike Jesse Klaver managed to bring GL from four to 14 seats.

Although Klaver's success has been met with considerable enthusiasm both inside and outside the Netherlands, his claim to lead the left rings hollow.

In the mid 1980s, GL formed through a merger of a number of smaller left-wing parties, including the Dutch Communist Party. Then, it was connected to the emerging antiwar and ecological movements, but the party made a historic right turn in the late 1990s, embracing social liberalism and supporting military intervention in both Serbia and Afghanistan.

Klaver became a party leader amid the debate over higher education cutbacks, during which GL actively campaigned for abolishing student stipends.

The party's decision to run a campaign for change came out of discussions with spin doctors from the U.S. Democratic Party. They advised Klaver to roll up his sleeves Trudeau-style and talk like Obama. In one case, Klaver took them literally and plagiarized entire sections of an Obama speech.

Of course, redemption is possible even on the left. But GL's turn came without any substantial discussion, moment of reckoning or break with the past. Klaver launched his campaign surrounded by the applauding party leaders of the last 15 years. When asked directly, he consistently refused to rule out joining a coalition government with the VVD.

Still, many voted for GL out of a sincere desire for change. The party's ability to project an image of youthful opposition to the right was mainly made possible by the absence of the real thing. Here, the Socialist Party bears great responsibility.

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IN CONTRAST to GL, the SP has consistently opposed neoliberal policies on the national level and enjoys considerable support from the labor left. It demonstrated against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and built a large street campaign last year against privatized health insurance. However, its overall visibility in protests has decreased significantly in the last decade.

The party's obsession with replacing the PvdA and becoming fit for government has weakened its activist wing. In Amsterdam, it joined a local government with the VVD, a pattern it has repeated in other cities. Nationally, this outlook was translated into the preposterous slogan "Take Power." When it became clear that the Socialists would once again perform below their own expectations, they silently ditched the tagline.

But the SP campaign had another crucial shortcoming. Due to its primarily workerist perspective, the party has combined its commitment to a traditional social-democratic platform with many concessions to racism and nationalism. For example, its campaigns against the European Union have always concentrated on the "loss of national sovereignty for the Dutch," rather than decrying the EU's neoliberalism and militarism.

Even more problematic has been the party's continuous refusal to directly challenge the far right. During a campaign that largely revolved around the attacks Wilders launched on immigrants and Muslims, the SP adopted one of three responses: remaining silent, making vague claims about the need to "live together," or, most damningly, going along with the attacks.

For many, the absolute low point came when the party's number three leader Lilian Marijnissen called Trump's victory "refreshing." While later excused as a slip of the tongue, remarks like this from leading SP members became too common to ignore.

And they cost the party dearly. For years, the party's electoral strategy focused on winning over the PvdA's base. With this base finally up for grabs, the SP couldn't gain a single seat.

In contrast to the global pattern, the Socialists are less popular among young voters than among the old. According to a post-election opinion poll, over a third of GL voters were under 36five, while less than 16 percent of this demographic support the SP. Of the major parties, only the PvdA found less support among young people.

All these points show that the Dutch left is in crisis. But just as complacency over the PVV's second-place finish is leading some to seriously underestimate the far right's danger, so could the left be lulled to sleep by Klaver's superficial success and the SP's ability to mitigate its losses.

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THE ELECTIONS revealed a level of fragmentation in the radical left that will be hard for people outside the Netherlands to understand.

The ecologist Party of Animals gained three seats and now holds five. Thinking Netherlands, a migrant party that split from the PvdA, won three seats as well. This party has a strong antiracist platform, but is thoroughly neoliberal, and its leaders have dubious ties to the Erdoğan regime in Turkey.

A split within this split, called Artikel 1, provided a glimmer of hope for those who want real renewal on the left. It combined a strong antiracist platform with street activism on a range of emancipatory issues. The party won 2.7 percent of the vote in Amsterdam, but, having been established only months before the election, it did not win a single parliamentary seat.

Still, there is spirit for a fight. The Saturday before the elections, Amsterdam was the scene of a Women's March against Trump and Wilders. Although none of the official left organizations called it, 20,000 people showed up, making it one of the biggest leftist demonstrations in the last few years.

Young women, people of color and LGBT activists dominated the protest. A large delegation of the trade union of domestic workers also attended. The slogans were militant, feminist, anticapitalist and political.

Many went home planning to vote for GL or to give the Socialist Party the benefit of the doubt one last time. Others cheered the large group of Artikel 1 candidates who marched with them. Still others have veered from one position to the other and back again.

If the radical left wants to overcome this fragmentation and provide a real basis to galvanize Dutch politics, it must combine the SP's anti-neoliberalism with the vibrancy, militancy and antiracism present at that march. Given the mainstream left parties' strength and conservatism, the road to such a recombination will surely be difficult. But the election results do not grant the Dutch left the luxury to let this crisis continue to simmer.

Previously published at Jacobin.

Categories: Political Action

The West and "African corruption"

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

Lee Wengraf, author of the forthcoming book Extracting Profit: Neoliberalism, Imperialism and the New Scramble for Africa, exposes some of the myths about corruption in Africa, in an article published at the Review of African Political Economy.

"The corruption and cronyism and tribalism that sometimes confront young nations--that's recent history."
-- President Barack Obama, address in Kenya, 2015

Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund (left) speaks alongside Senegalese President Macky Sall (Stephen Jaffe | flickr)

ON FEBRUARY 13, newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump signed a legislative order repealing a section of the Dodd-Frank Act that required disclosure of any funds received from foreign governments for deals in the extractive sector. Widely condemned as undermining transparency and anti-corruption efforts, Trump's move facilitates corporate accumulation in oil, gas and mining; as the Economist notes, "[t]he major beneficiaries of the rollback" are oil majors like Exxon and Mobil. At the same time, however, the Dodd-Frank disclosure rules assume "African corruption" is the source of the problem, a phenomenon, as Obama implies, peculiar to these "young nations."

The U.S. and other Western countries readily condemn the supposed "lack of transparency" of African regimes. In reality, multinational corporations operating in Africa benefit from the weak regulatory infrastructure inherited from colonialism and reinforced by neoliberalism alike. Corruption on the part of local elites rationalizes international policies and regulations imposed on African states but camouflage ongoing exploitation and the legacy of those weak states.

"African corruption" rooted in siphoned oil wealth, for instance, has generated incessant handwringing by Western public officials and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Human Rights Watch, for example, launched a campaign in 2011 demanding the Angolan government provide an explanation for $32 billion suspected "missing" from the state oil company, Sonangol. Certainly Angolan government spending priorities have been dismal: its 2013 budget allocated 1.4 times more to defense than to health and schools combined. And undoubtedly African rulers and officials in oil-rich countries have accumulated vast amounts of wealth.

Yet the emphasis of international campaigns on "African corruption" and "transparency" initiatives have distorted possibilities for social change for ordinary Africans. Development economist Paul Collier, for example, offers a host of organizational and policy "solutions" such as reforming the tax system and building institutional capacity to manage the process.[1] However, the narrow focus of such policy approaches paper over the impact of historical forces such as the ability of African states to build that "capacity" and how that past has produced the conditions of "corruption."

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INHERITED LAWS and policies have facilitated the theft of tax revenues and outward capital flows, illicit and otherwise. Grieve Chelwa, a contributing editor at Africa Is a Country, for example, describes how Malawi:

has a 60-year old Colonial-era Tax Treaty with the U.K. that makes it easy for U.K. companies to limit their tax obligations in Malawi. The treaty was "negotiated" in 1955 when Malawi was not even Malawi yet. Malawi (or Nyasaland, as it was known then) was represented in the negotiations, not by a Malawian, but by Geoffrey Francis Taylor Colby, a U.K.-appointed Governor of Nyasaland.[2]

Other historical examples include the longstanding case of U.S. oil companies in Nigeria whose "anti-tax campaign contributed to the regional and ethnic tensions that led to the outbreak of [civil] war."[3] And African states--with a legacy of colonial-era development patterns--tend to have weak infrastructure to enforce compliance.

Nicholas Shaxson argues that the year 1996 marked a "turning point" inside the World Bank, when its president, James Wolfensohn, put the issue of corruption on the "development agenda."[4] Major organizations such as Global Witness established a transparency framework with early reports on human rights and blood diamonds, as well as the oil industry, and in 2002, they joined with George Soros to launch Publish What You Pay, a program to introduce legislation in Western nations compelling oil companies to disclose payments to host governments.

More recently, official circles have offered a broader understanding of "corruption" and its roots. A U.N. report from 2016 on governance and corruption in Africa argues:

Accounting for the external and transnational dimension of corruption in Africa facilitates strategic decision-making that is holistic and helps to tackle the problem of corruption at its root. Foreign multinational corporations often capitalize on weak institutional mechanisms in order to bribe State officials and gain unwarranted advantage to pay little or no taxes, exploit unfair sharing of rents, and to secure political privileges in State policies.[5]

They continue:

[A]nti-corruption projects and initiatives all focus on cleaning up corruption in the public sector, which is often regarded as incompetent, inefficient and corrupt, while the private sector is portrayed as efficient, reliable and less corrupt. This view has been influenced by neo-liberal economic perspectives, which argue that the private sector is the main engine of economic growth and perceive Governments as being obtrusive.[6]

This narrative shift is likely a response to the staggeringly high levels of corruption and criminality by Western and other non-African firms. In a high-profile example, the oil-services company Halliburton was convicted by a Nigerian court for corruption carried out while none other than former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was at the helm.[7] In a report on "cross-border corruption in Africa" between 1995 and 2014, virtually all cases (99.5 percent) involved non-African firms.[8]

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THE ECONOMIC and historical weight of the "weak institutional mechanisms"--from privatization and the disinvestment of state power--is extraordinarily high. For one, budget cuts undermine the ability of states to collect taxes and enforce compliance. As the Tax Justice Network-Africa writes:

[T]he Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) employs approximately 3,000 tax and customs officers to serve a population of 32 million. Meanwhile Nigeria, with its 5,000 tax officials, cannot engage in a meaningful tax dialogue with its 140 million citizens. The Netherlands, as an example of an [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] OECD country, employs 30,000 tax and customs officials for a population of 10 million...This extraordinary lack of personnel is a product of decades of failed tax policy in Africa, where the role of tax administrations was squeezed as part of austerity programs prescribed by the international finance institutions including the [International Monetary Fund].[9]

Khadija Sharife's investigative reporting describes the range of tactics built into extraction contracts as incentives to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), from tax dodges to "trade mispricing," that is, the manipulation of prices to avoid payment of taxes. In Africa's largest copper producer, Zambia,

[the] copper industry is largely privatized, previously hosting one of the world's lowest royalty rates (0.6 per cent) with a corporate tax rate of "effectively zero," according to the World Bank...Despite Zambia since increasing copper royalty rates to 3 per cent, after missing out on the five-year commodity boom, [former] Zambian President Rupiah Banda has ruled out windfall taxes and generally opposed measures designed to prevent mispricing and other forms of revenue leakages.[10]

In 2012 Charles Abugre writes in Pambazuka News that approximately 65 to 70 percent of the upwards of $1 trillion that have exited the continent in illicit capital flows are due to trade mispricing and other "commercial activities."[11] The Tax Justice Network-Africa has also noted that structural adjustment-dictated changes to African tax codes have facilitated corporate accumulation, eased tax rates for the export of primary commodities and set favorable tax rates for African elites.[12] As a result, the average tax revenues in African states, at approximately 15 percent of GDP, are significantly lower than in the world's wealthiest nations (OECD; average 35 percent) and the European Union in particular (39 percent of GDP).[13]

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SOME MULTINATIONALS adopt "corporate social responsibility" (CSR) measures enabling them to secure what Padraig Carmody has called a "social license to operate": a minimum level of consensus to pursue the extraction of profits.[14] "Today most western institutions are preaching the values of good governance and democracy," the Financial Times describes. "Turning a blind eye to corruption and the abuse of political power is a recipe for political instability."[15] Yet despite such "best practices," corporations routinely ignore any obligations, often without repercussions.

The distortions and hypocrisy of Western leaders is stunning with regards to the issue of "corruption." As Sharife and her co-authors describe in Tax Us If You Can:

Business concerns tend to dominate thinking about corruption. For example, Transparency international's Corruption Perceptions index (CPI) draws heavily on opinion within the international business community, who first raised the alarm about the perils of corruption. While the CPI provides an invaluable ranking for investors trying to assess country risk, it is of little use to the citizens of oil-rich states such as Chad, Equatorial Guinea or Angola, to know their country ranks low.[16]

Meanwhile, as Tom Burgis' account of Africa's "looting machine" shows, "blue-chip multinationals" such as KBR, Shell and Willbros are blatantly corrupt, for example, attempting to leverage the Nigerian oil industry through multimillion-dollar bribes.[17]

"Good governance" regulations are notoriously weak in their enforcement capabilities and may in fact smooth over any reputational problems for multinational corporations. For example, in 2008, the Ugandan government approved the National Oil and Gas Policy outlining objectives on environmental regulation and investment of revenue derived from extraction. Yet as Jason Hickel points out in 2011 in Foreign Policy in Focus:

[T]he National Oil and Gas Policy is dangerously vague and absolutely toothless. The framework does not bear the authority of law, and includes no mechanisms that would make its proposed regulations mandatory. Even if the framework's proposals were to end up as actual legislation, it includes nothing that oil companies would not ordinarily promote in their attempts to erect a façade of legitimacy and burnish the image of an industry beleaguered by PR nightmares. In fact, the framework pays far more attention to creating a favorable investment climate for foreign companies than it does to ensuring the welfare of Ugandans...[18]

African neoliberal leaders have also embraced this emphasis. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)--the African Union's "development" arm--focuses on "governance" for the implementation of "NEPAD priorities," to include, among other practices, "handling of misuse of resources" and for "public officials to commit themselves to codes of conduct that negates corruption."[19] Ironically, some studies have found an inverse relationship between governance measures and FDI.[20] Others have pointed out that there is no consistent relationship between such measures and actual growth. Yet the notion of "African corruption" persists despite the reality of widespread and established practices of illicit activity in the West, and, crucially, the contribution and culpability of Western corporations and governments to "African" corruption. Understanding this reality begins the process of challenging the "corruption" narrative...and its hypocrisy.

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Notes

1. Magnus Taylor, "Paul Collier: Can Africa harness its resources for development?" African Arguments, November 1, 2011
2. Grieve Chelwa, "It's the economy stupid, N°2," Africa Is a Country, February 21, 2016
3. Kairn A. Klieman, "U.S. Oil Companies, The Nigerian Civil War, and the Origins of Opacity in the Nigerian Oil Industry, 1964-1971," Journal of American History, vol. 99, no. 1, June 2012, pp. 155-165.
4. Nicholas Shaxson. 2008. Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
5. United Nations Economic Commission on Africa. 2016. African Governance Report IV. Measuring corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters, p. ix
6. Ibid, p. 20
7. Jeffrey D. Sachs, "Nigeria Hurtles into a Tense Crossroad," The New York Times, January 10, 2012
8. United Nations Economic Commission on Africa. 2016. African Governance Report IV. Measuring corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters, p. 69
9. Tax Justice Network-Africa, Tax Us If You Can: Why Africa Should Stand up for Tax Justice, p. 25
10. Khadija Sharife, "All Roads Lead Back to China," Pambazuka News, June 7, 2011
11. Charles Abugre, "Could abolishing tax havens solve Africa's financing needs?" Pambazuka News, Issue 579, March 29, 2012
12. Tax Justice Network-Africa, Tax Us If You Can: Why Africa Should Stand up for Tax Justice, p. 41
13. Tax Justice Network-Africa, Tax Us If You Can: Why Africa Should Stand up for Tax Justice, pp. 16-17
14. Padraig Carmody. 2011. The New Scramble for Africa. Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity, p. 79
15. "Chinese model is no panacea for Africa," Financial Times, February 6, 2007
16. Tax Justice Network-Africa, Tax Us If You Can: Why Africa Should Stand up for Tax Justice, p. 8
17. Tom Burgis. 2015. The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa's Wealth. New York: PubicAffairs, p. 190
18. Jason Hickel, "Saving Uganda from Its Oil," Foreign Policy in Focus, June 16, 2011
19. United Nations Economic Commission on Africa. 2016. African Governance Report IV. Measuring corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters, p. 14
20. Roger Southall and Henning Melber, "Conclusion: Towards a Response," in Roger Southall and Henning Melber, eds. 2009. A New Scramble for Africa?: Imperialism, Investment and Development. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, p. 411

First published at Review of African Political Economy.

Categories: Political Action

Don't spill Texas seed

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

Cindy Beringer explains why a satirical bill in Texas may not be so satirical.

Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar

TEXAS LAWMAKERS who propose legislation restricting women's right to abortion could see their right to masturbate taken away--with a new bill that uses their own language against them.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar from Houston recently filed House Bill (HB) 4260, which would institute a $100 fine each time a man engages in masturbation, an act which extreme abortion opponents consider to be a crime against an unborn child and a failure to preserve the sanctity of life.

The bill also establishes a 24-hour waiting period for elective vasectomy or colonoscopy procedures or for Viagra prescriptions. A rectal exam must be performed before administering either procedure or prescribing Viagra--an exam that the bill acknowledges is medically unnecessary.

The other name for HB 4260 is "A Man's Right to Know," a title inspired by "A Woman's Right to Know," a booklet that Texas doctors are required by law to provide a patient seeking an abortion. In one section, the booklet for women lists "Breast Cancer Risk" as a potential danger of abortion, something that actual scientific research has debunked.

Farrar's bill requires a booklet for men similar to the women's booklet, and it "must contain artistic illustrations of each procedure."

According to the bill, the Texas Health Department must provide abstinence counseling, and doctors must champion "fully abstinent sexual relations or occasional masturbatory emissions inside health care and medial facilities, as a means of the healthiest way to ensure men's health."

As is the case with the anti-abortion regulations, according to the anti-masturbation bill, doctors have the right "to invoke their moralistic or religious beliefs in refusing to perform any elective procedures."

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ALTHOUGH MEMBERS of the media and Farrar refer to HB 4260 as satire intended to point out the insulting nature of Texas' abortion restrictions, there's much in the bill that's in line with the agenda of the rabid theocracy that has ruled over the state of Texas for many generations.

Students of theology have spent centuries pondering whether early Christian pundit Thomas Aquinas considered masturbation worse than rape or incest. The verdict is still out.

The crime of masturbation is codified in the book of Genesis. Onan had been ordered by Judah, the founder of the Israelite tribe of the same name, to impregnate Onan's brother's wife so his brother could have offspring. Knowing it wouldn't be his kid, Onan "wasted his seed on the ground."

This seed spilling was displeasing to God, so he zapped Onan, thus proving centuries before the appearance of Christ that masturbation was a deadly sin. Apparently extra-marital sex in the interest of child swapping is okay.

The Texas theocratic reign of terror has twisted ancient Biblical scriptures to stick their fingers into human sexual activity in many bizarre ways.

Before having an abortion, women in Texas must have a trans-vaginal ultrasound while they listen to the fetal heartbeat. A Texas judge recently blocked a rule that would require abortion clinics to bury or cremate fetal remains from abortions and miscarriages. Both procedures are expensive, not to mention insulting.

An anti-abortion priority for the current session of the Texas legislature was removing "wrongful birth" as a justification for medical malpractice lawsuits. Wrongful birth refers to cases where doctors could be sued for malpractice if they fail to warn parents of a genetic disability before birth or fail to advise parents that abortion is an option in such cases.

Opponents of the bill say it gives doctors the right to lie to their patients and prevents them from making informed decisions.

The anti-abortion groups argue that the bill would prevent doctors' lying to their patients to avoid litigation The bill's author, Texas State Sen. Brandon Creighton, doesn't believe that any births are "wrongful."

The Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously passed the bill and sent it on for consideration by the full Senate.

Seven states have passed "wrongful birth" lawsuits. In Texas such lawsuits are extremely rare, "almost non-existent" according to one source.

Texas Senate Bill 415 targets second-trimester abortion procedures that anti-abortion forces call "dismemberment abortions." Lubbock Sen. Charles Perry argues that his bill doesn't ban the procedure, it just requires the fetus to be dead first. According to abortion rights advocates, the current procedure is the safest for the woman.

Meanwhile, with many issues including school funding and crumbling infrastructure facing the Texas legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick consume time on local media ranting and raving against abortion rights, transgender bathrooms and sanctuary cities.

Come to think of it, in light of the Texas legislature's current shenanigans, $100 fines for masturbation and mandatory rectal exams are beginning to sound quite reasonable.

Categories: Political Action

The "alternative facts" that led to war on Iraq

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

Australian socialist Tom Bramble shows how the U.S. government and its allies used deliberate misinformation to make the case for war, in an article written for Red Flag.

George W. Bush speaks at the Pentagon flanked by Dick Cheney and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mike Mullen (left) (Marion Doss | flickr)

PRESIDENT TRUMP and his cronies are masters of "alternative facts." But they're not the first. Fifteen years ago, the offices of President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard ran a sustained propaganda campaign to justify the pending invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. They were assisted by compliant media that reported outright lies as unvarnished fact.

Now, thanks to the release of a highly redacted report written by a senior analyst in the Australian army, it's been confirmed that the case for war was a pack of lies from start to finish.

There were three components of the pro-war propaganda in the months leading up to the attack. One was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, and was ready to use them; it was only a matter of time, furthermore, before Iraq developed a nuclear capability. The second was that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was funneling assistance to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The third was that Iraq was flouting UN resolutions.

Originating mainly from the White House and 10 Downing Street, these arguments were eagerly picked up and run by Prime Minister Howard's government, the Murdoch press and large swathes of electronic media.

Even Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers, which gave more space to the antiwar case, did their bit. A Herald page-one headline in September 2002 read: "Saddam ready and able to strike. British PM claims Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes."

Despite this sustained propaganda offensive, most people were never won to the case for war. In January 2003, only 6 percent of Australians supported joining the invasion without UN backing. More impressive were the enormous antiwar rallies over the weekend of February 14-15, 2003, with 800,000 Australians turning out against the looming invasion, along with millions more in the rest of the world.

"No war for oil!" was our chant. For some, this meant that the war was solely about the U.S. stealing Iraq's oil and handing out "reconstruction" contracts to well-connected firms like Halliburton. Socialists argued that there was more to it than just outright theft; the attack on Iraq was driven by the United States' attempt to reinforce its hegemony not just in the Middle East but around the world.

By controlling the supply of oil from Iraq, one of the world's largest producers, the U.S. could gain leverage over established imperialist rivals in Europe as well as up-and-coming powers such as China, whose economies depended on Middle Eastern oil. It was about the U.S. using the one tool, military firepower, in which it had a distinct advantage over all its rivals, to show who was boss.

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WE DIDN'T stop the war. The result was perhaps even worse than we had anticipated. The attack on Iraq destroyed the lives of millions of people and fostered the regional chaos that has resulted in the growth of ISIS and the spread of sectarian warfare. And now, 14 years later, U.S., British and Australian armed forces are back in Iraq, while the occupation of Afghanistan grinds on.

But if we couldn't stop the war, our case against it has been proven in spades. It was a war justified by lies. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. No links with bin Laden were ever established. Hussein posed no threat to any of his neighbors, as U.S.-sponsored UN resolutions pretended. This has now been confirmed by countless inquiries, most recently the Chilcot Inquiry in Britain.

The recent release to the Fairfax press of a 572-page report by the Defence Directorate of Army Research and Analysis, written in 2011 and based on dozens of interviews with senior personnel in the military and with the benefit of full access to confidential documents, drives another nail into the coffin of the war propagandists. The author, Dr. Albert Palazzo, writes that the stated rationale for the war was nothing more than "mandatory rhetoric."

According to Palazzo, the main reason that Australia joined the U.S.'s "coalition of the willing" was to remind the U.S. of its value as a partner.

Palazzo argues that Australia's military contribution to the conduct of the war was negligible, a conscious decision by the Howard government and chief of the defense force, general Peter Cosgrove, who were acutely sensitive to the political unpopularity of Australia's involvement and anxious to minimize Australian casualties.

From the government's perspective, the deployment of Special Air Service Regiment and commandos, navy and air force was a political gesture aimed at reinforcing the U.S. alliance. Any military contribution these could make, Palazzo wrote, was "secondary to the vital requirement of just being there."

This report confirms that, far from the U.S. alliance "protecting Australia," it is the basis for Australia's involvement alongside the U.S. in bloody military conflicts all around the world. The main purpose of these interventions, invasions and occupations is to reinforce the power of the U.S. and its junior partners, both in the regions directly affected and on a world scale. The interests of Australian and U.S. civilians are irrelevant when the decision is taken to go to war.

But that fundamental truth can never be openly admitted. It must be covered up by a mountain of lies and obfuscation. That is the only way the system can work, based as it is on the rule of a tiny minority, the capitalist class, over the large majority, the working class.

First published at Red Flag.

Categories: Political Action

Soldiers, take power into your own hands!

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:00

One hundred years ago on March 14, 1917 (March 1 according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russia), the Social Democratic Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), supported by the Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries, issued an appeal to soldiers.

At that time, the Duma Committee and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies were striving to bring order to the revolutionary events on the streets and to prevent the Tsarist autocracy from restoring its control over the city. Dominated by moderate socialists, the soviet pursued a policy of cooperation with liberals in the Duma.

Nonetheless, the Soviet's "Order No. 1," issued on March 14 (March 1) in response to soldiers' pressure and published on March 15 (March 2), called for soldiers to elect representative committees all along the chain of command, stipulated that officers treat soldiers respectfully, and asserted the soviet's primary influence over soldiers by stating that they should obey only Duma commands that did not contradict soviet resolutions.

The Duma Committee announced the formation of the Provisional Government on March 15 (March 2), and Nicholas II abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. By March 16 (March 3), the autocracy had collapsed. Thus, the ground had been prepared for the period of "dual power" in Petrograd--between the rival Duma and Provisional Government and the Petrograd soviet--that prevailed between the February and October Revolutions.

The Interdistrict Committee, co-authors of the appeal below, wanted to rally all the factions of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDLP), but later in 1917 fused with the Bolshevik current. Their leaflet here presented a militant alternative to the Duma Committee's course. According to historian Michael Melancon, it circulated on March 14 (March 1), 1917, probably before Order No. 1 was issued, and may have influenced the wording of Order No. 1. Alexander Shlyapnikov, who published the leaflet in 1923, states that the cxecutive committee of the Petersburg Soviet confiscated it on the morning of March 15 (March 2).

This leaflet was translated and the above annotation written by Barbara Allen, author of the biography Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik. It is part of the an SW series giving a view from the streets during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The series is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

Russian soldiers celebrate the end of Tsarist rule following the February Revolution (Wikimedia Commons)

COMRADE SOLDIERS!

It has come to pass! You enslaved peasants and workers arose, and with a crash the autocratic government collapsed in disgrace.

Soldiers! The people were patient for a long time. The peasants long suffered under the power of the gentry landowners, the land captains, the district police officers and the whole gang of servants of the tsarist autocracy. Millions of peasants became swollen from hunger while the State Treasury, the monasteries and the landowners seized all the land, and while the nobles got fat from sucking the people's blood. Without land, the peasant cannot even put his chickens out to feed!

Brother soldiers!

As peasants, as workers, what do you need? All the land and full freedom--that is what you need! You did not shed your blood in vain. For two days Petrograd has been under the power of soldiers and workers. It has been two days since the dissolved State Duma elected a Provisional Committee, which it calls a Provisional Government. Still, you have not heard a word from [M.V.] Rodzianko [chair of the Duma] or [P.N.] Miliukov [Kadet Party leader and Provisional Committee spokesman] about whether the land will be taken from the gentry landowners and given to the people. The prospects are poor!

Soldiers! Be on your guard to prevent the nobles from deceiving the people!

What else to read

Read other leaflets, statements and documents from the Russian Revolution in this series titled "1917: The View from the Streets" edited by John Riddell.

Bolshevik leaflet
To the revolutionary students of Russia

Mezhraionka leaflet
The day of the people's wrath is near

Menshevik leaflet
Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace

Bolshevik leaflet
For a provisional revolutionary government

Mezhraionka leaflet
A day to prepare for conquering the enemy

Mezhraionka leaflet
For a general strike against autocracy

Mezhraionka leaflet
Soldiers, take power into your own hands!

Go ask the Duma: Will the people will have land, freedom, and peace?

Soldiers! Why does the Duma say nothing about this? Autocratic arbitrariness needs to be completely uprooted. The people's cause will perish unless we conclude the business by convening the Constituent Assembly, to which all peasants and all workers would send their deputies--not like in the current Duma, composed of the wealthy and highest ranks of society, which dooms the people's cause!

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TAKE POWER into your hands, so that this Romanov gang of nobles and officers does not deceive you. Elect your own platoon, company and regiment commanders. Elect company committees for managing food supplies. All officers should be under the supervision of these company committees.

Accept only those officers whom you know to be friends of the people.

Obey only delegates sent from the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies!

Soldiers! Now, when you have arisen and achieved victory, those coming to join you include not only friends but also officers, who are former enemies and who only pretend to be your friends.

Soldiers! We are more afraid of the fox's tail [intrigues] than the wolf's tooth [outright aggression]. Only the workers and peasants are your true friends and brothers. Strengthen your unity with them! Send your delegate-representatives to the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, already supported by 250,000 workers in Petrograd alone. Your representatives and worker deputies should become the people's Provisional Revolutionary Government. It will give you both land and freedom!

Soldiers, listen to us! Demand an answer from the Duma right now. Will it take land from the gentry landowners, state treasury and monasteries? Will it transfer land to the peasants? Will it give the people complete freedom? Will it convene the Constituent Assembly? Don't waste time!

Soldiers! Talk about this in your companies and battalions! Hold meetings! Elect from among you commanders and representatives to the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

All land to the peasants!

All freedom to the people!

Long live the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies!

Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!

Petersburg Interdistrict Committee of the RSDRP
Petersburg Committee of Socialist Revolutionaries

March 1917

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Source: Published in Russian in A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 306-308. Translated by Barbara Allen.

Historical References:
-- Michael Melancon, "From the Head of Zeus: The Petrograd Soviet's Rise and First Days, 27 February-2 March 1917," The Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies, The Center for Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh, November 2009, pp. 37-39. Melancon translates long excerpts from the leaflet.

-- Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 45-52, 101-102.

Historical Sources on the Mezhrayonka:
Here are some English-language articles on the Interdistrict Committee (Mezhrayonka), originator of this and several other leaflets in the "View from the Streets" series.

-- Melancon, Michael. "Who Wrote What and When: Proclamations of the February Revolution in Petrograd, 23 February-1 March 1917," Soviet Studies, volume 40 (1988), pp. 479-500.

-- White, James D. "The February Revolution and the Bolshevik Vyborg District Committee (In Response to Michael Melancon)," Soviet Studies, volume 41 (1989), pp. 602-624.

-- Longley, D.A. "The Mezhraionka, the Bolsheviks, and International Women's Day: In Response to Michael Melancon," Soviet Studies, volume 41 (1989), pp. 625-645.

-- Thatcher, Ian D. "The St. Petersburg/Petrograd Mezhraionka, 1913-1917: The Rise and Fall of a Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party Unity Faction," The Slavonic and East European Review, volume 87, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 284-321.

A note on Russian dates: The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the "View from the Streets" series, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian ("New Style") date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.

Categories: Political Action

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