Justice for Michael Brown, Justice for the 99 Percent.


Students at Howard University show solidarity with Michael Brown

Students at Howard University show solidarity with Ferguson protesters

After a week of protests following the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, an inner suburb of St. Louis, the Missouri governor declared a state of emergency in the township. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot multiple times after surrendering with his arms in the air.

Some 200 protesters defied the resulting curfew, mostly younger African-Americans, who were unresponsive to older members of the community who urged them to go home. Their lives have become bound up with getting justice for Brown – they say that it was murder and the white policeman who shot him should be in jail. They feel that without the police being subject to the rule of law, their own lives are being treated as worthless.

Brandon Sneed was among those who stayed on the street. He told a Washington Post reporter that he was defying the curfew because “there is no justice.” “We are all Mike Brown,” he said. “By that I mean all people. We are the 99 percent. But the 1 percent rule the world.” Another protester, Timothy Booker, held an American flag upside down. “After Trayvon Martin, everybody turns the flag upside down because it shows there is no justice,” he said. “George Zimmerman got away with murder. The justice system is backward. So we turn the flag upside down.”

The initial protests after Brown’s death on Saturday a week ago were peaceful, but were met with a heavy-handed response from police in riot gear. On Sunday night a gas station near the site of the killing was torched and looted; in the following evenings, police in military-style uniforms, some carrying high-powered sniper rifles and wearing balaclavas, were accompanied by armored vehicles blocking the main street. They warned demonstrators to get out of the road or face arrest, before firing teargas, rubber bullets and wooden baton rounds into the crowds.

The Guardian reported on Tuesday night: “For 40 minutes, the protesters defied the threat. Some hung out of car windows, while others raised their arms aloft and repeated what has become their defining slogan: ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ A police helicopter swooped around the dark sky above, shining a bright spotlight on the faces of the almost entirely African American crowd.”

The slogan rapidly spread across the country as demonstrations against police violence transformed the universal symbol for surrender into a symbol of defiance and protest.

Protests continued on Wednesday, when local politicians and journalists covering the ongoing demonstrations were arrested. Wesley Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post, was arrested with another journalist in a McDonalds. Lowery, who is black, made it clear he was not resisting arrest, but was slammed against a wall and cuffed. “That is probably the single point at which I’ve been more afraid than at any point.” Lowery said after. “More afraid than the tear gas and rubber bullets, more afraid during the riot police. I know of too many instances where someone who was not resisting arrest was assaulted or killed.”

As images reminiscent of police attacks on 1960s Civil Rights marches flooded the media, Obama appealed for restraint and Missouri governor Jay Nixon transferred command for maintaining order in Ferguson to the state highway patrol, led by an African American captain. “We all have been concerned about the vision that the world has seen,” Nixon said. According to the Guardian, he admitted that Ferguson had come to resemble a “war zone.”

The results of minimizing the police presence were immediate. The Washington Post reported, “A stunning change in tone radiated through the suburban streets where protests had turned violent each of the last four evenings … [Highway Patrol Captain Ronald] Johnson spent a considerable amount of time talking to media, explaining that the decision to tone down the show of force was deliberate, a calculation he said was made by St. Louis County police officials.  … The protesters remained angry about Brown’s killing — but unlike Wednesday night when they furiously demanded the release of family members being detained, the scene was not tense.”

However, on Friday morning sharp conflicts between the state administration and local authorities surfaced. In an effort to smear Brown’s reputation, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson named him as the prime suspect in a convenience store robbery that occurred just before the shooting. The Washington Post reported: “Police dramatized the allegation, releasing security camera photos showing a person they identified as Brown towering over and menacing the store clerk, images that were circulated nationwide. Yet, despite the implication that Brown was stopped because of the robbery, Jackson later appeared to reverse himself, saying at a second news conference that the confrontation ‘was not related to the robbery.’ Instead, he said, Brown was stopped because he and a friend were walking in the street.”

Ferguson police released the images despite the objections of state and federal authorities, concerned that it would heighten tensions in the community. They may have been encouraged to do so by the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who was angered at the governor’s decision to take control of the scene away from St. Louis county police. “It’s shameful what he did today, he had no legal authority to do that,” McCulloch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.”

In a remarkable display of anger, St. Louis Representative William Lacy Clay attacked McCulloch on Friday. He accused McCulloch of attempting to influence a potential jury by the release of the robbery video at the same time the officer’s name was released. “Bob McCulloch tried to taint the jury pool by the stunt he pulled today. I have no faith in him, but I do trust the FBI and the justice department,” he said. The county executive is also leading a push to remove McCulloch from the investigation into Brown’s death because of bias.

Confrontation returned to the streets again after midnight on Friday, when police showed up in riot gear. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that several hundred protesters had been peaceful but faced off with the police, “some officers pointing guns at the crowd, some protesters pointing cameras at police. Police told the crowd over a loudspeaker to disperse immediately. … After several minutes, police turned and left, but as they retreated, they sprayed smoke bombs and threw sound cannons at the crowd.” This only served to incite the angrier elements in the crowd further.

It was after these incidents that governor Nixon declared a state of emergency at a public press conference. “The governor’s extraordinary action came as the attorney for a key witness described the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown as an execution-style slaying. … But after his opening remarks, Nixon quickly lost control of the crowd, with the images being recorded for a national television audience. ‘You need to charge that police [officer] with murder!’ one person yelled. Others demanded to know how the curfew would be enforced. ‘Going to do tear gas again?’ someone asked. When Nixon began answering that ‘the best way for us to get peace’ was for everyone to go home and get a good night’s sleep, another resident interrupted him, shouting: ‘We don’t need sleep! We need justice!’ ”

Many commentators have remarked on the effects of the militarization of local police using the Pentagon’s used equipment. Although this is important, especially to journalists who are illegally prevented from covering protests, in Ferguson it is combined with the re-segregation of the community by white flight. While the residents of the suburb are overwhelmingly African American, the police force is overwhelmingly white. It closed ranks in the face of public protests, refusing to release the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown or any details of the shooting for days after the event, underlining its alienation from the community and exacerbating the long-standing racial tensions between them.

According to the New York Times, “As African-Americans moved into [St. Louis] and whites moved out, real estate agents and city leaders, in a pattern familiar elsewhere in the country, conspired to keep blacks out of the suburbs through the use of zoning ordinances and restrictive covenants. But by the 1970s, some of those barriers had started to fall, and whites moved even farther away from the city. These days, Ferguson is like many of the suburbs around St. Louis, inner-ring towns that accommodated white flight decades ago but that are now largely black. And yet they retain a white power structure.”

Like Anaheim in California, where unarmed Manuel Diaz was shot dead while running away from police, political control of public order is retained by a white elite even though the residents are overwhelmingly nonwhite. Jim Crow segregation has been replaced by economic segregation, white flight, and the appropriation of resources from society by the super-rich.

However, the creeping militarization of the police is now challenged by the growing political self-consciousness of minority American youth. Their resistance has exposed disarray among the St. Louis state agencies and indicates an awareness of the need for an inclusive movement against oligarchy in America. As Brandon Sneed said, “We are the 99 percent. But the 1 percent rule the world.”

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Filed under African Americans, anaheim protests, Ferguson, Obama, police presence, Trayvon Martin, We are the 99 percent

Gaza invasion shifts American attitudes to Palestinian resistance


In Europe, civil society has expressed its revulsion at Israel’s attacks on Gaza with mass protests across the continent. Ireland, historically pro-Palestinian, has whole towns that are boycotting Israeli products, and one British cabinet minister has resigned.

In the US, by contrast, popular sentiment is divided. Once monolithic, cracks are appearing in the post-Nixon ideological consensus that justified its pro-Israel foreign policy. While up until now most criticism of Israel has been met with  denunciations and sanctions, vehemently equating it with anti-Semitism, individuals and groups have begun to speak out against the occupation.

On Sunday August 3, an estimated 10,000 people protested outside the White House in Washington, D.C., calling on Obama to end military aid for Israel. One demonstrator told reporters: “My reason for being here today is that my tax dollar is paying for 1,600 people dead in Gaza today, many of whom civilians, many of whom are children. And I regret that my tax dollar is paying for them.” At the demonstration, Professor Cornel West described Obama as a “war criminal” for facilitating “the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The Washington Post reported: “Many Jewish Americans were among the crowd, said Shelley Cohen Fudge, 57, of Silver Spring, Md. She is the D.C. metropolitan chapter coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace. ‘We have Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, people from Pakistan, people from all walks of life here,’ she said. ‘There are many Jewish Americans who are very upset by the very disproportionate situation — it’s not a war, it’s an assault and an invasion’.”

Smaller solidarity demonstrations have been taking place in major cities over the last two weeks, but have been ignored by the mainstream media. In New York City on Friday, several thousand braved driving rain to protest one-sided media reporting. “The US media is absolutely biased. All we hear is pro-Israel [stuff]. All the leaders we hear from on television are Israelis,” Palestinian-American Mohammed Hamad told Press TV.

In Washington, D.C., young Jewish-Americans protested outside the national office of the Jewish Federations of North America, calling on the organization to condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians and the bombing of UN schools. Huffington Post commented: “The protest is a reflection of broader trends among young Jewish Americans … while 70 percent of American Jews aged 18-29 believe there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, just 26 percent of people in that age group believe the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to reach that goal.” This is in line with national polling, which has found that American millennials were more likely to blame Israel for the current wave of violence than Hamas.

Most politicians – not just the born-again right, but the entire House and Senate, including Democratic progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – have proclaimed their unqualified support for Israel. Obama, while expressing distress at the plight of Gaza’s civilians, repeated and legitimized the Israeli rhetoric that it has an absolute right to defend its citizens from missile attacks.

In reply, Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress as well as the Synagogue Council of America, wrote in Politico that “Israel’s assault on Gaza … was not triggered by Hamas’ rockets directed at Israel but by Israel’s determination to bring down the Palestinian unity government that was formed in early June.” He asked on Democracy Now: “Couldn’t Israel be doing something in preventing this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human lives? … And the answer is: Sure, that they could have ended the occupation.”

According to the Guardian, the bombing “has emboldened diverse [Hollywood] figures to speak out – only in some cases to swiftly retreat. The actors Mark Ruffalo and Wallace Shawn, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and the director Jonathan Demme, have experienced jeers since taking a stand. … Two weeks ago Rihanna tweeted the hashtag #FreePalestine to her 36 million followers only to delete it eight minutes later, amid a surge of critical responses … Passions are running so high, however, that even silence from the likes of Spielberg, Streisand and Katzenberg is now considered a statement of sorts.” Pro-Israeli comedienne Joan Rivers yelled at reporters that Palestinians “deserve to be dead.”

One factor that explains American attitudes is the overwhelming partiality of the news media (with Diane Sawyer of ABC News showing footage of the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike on a devastated Palestinian family, which she then misidentified as an Israeli family), featuring Netanyahu prominently in newscasts and virtually nothing about Palestinians. However, reporters are beginning to question the official narrative.

At a State Department briefing, the spokesperson was challenged on the US resupply of weapons to Israel after the shelling of a school designated by the UN as a shelter. Alternet reported: “Matt Lee of the Associated Press dared to wonder about ‘consequences’ if the U.S. ever were to determine that Israel hit the U.N. school, and another reporter asked about U.S. munitions involved in these assaults on civilians.”

The Nation commented: “Already, there are anecdotal signs that conventional New York opinion, which tends to be liberal on everything except Palestine, is starting to shift. ‘If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them,’ wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells in a piece on New York magazine’s website last week, a sentiment that would have been hard to imagine coming from that publication a few years ago.”

Americans in general are not aware of the connection of Israel with European settler colonialism, and propaganda about Muslim terrorists after 9/11 has had a cumulative effect. Furthermore, the Israeli narrative meshes with the American founding myth. An op-ed in the New York Times pointed out: “… the story of a nation of immigrants escaping persecution and rising from nowhere in the Holy Land resonates. The Israeli saga — of courage and will — echoes in American mythology …”

What should not be overlooked is that from the mid-1970s the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC had secured great influence in Congress by building on a narrative that linked the ideological justification of Israel with the Holocaust to make criticism of Israel taboo. Since Jewish people in the US benefited greatly from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, when discrimination on the basis of race was outlawed, their votes became a pawn in AIPAC’s attacks on politicians who made even the mildest criticism of Israel’s actions.

What has changed is that politically significant sections of American society, especially the young, no longer believe the mainstream media and the spokesmen of their own government. While this may seem to be a minor change at the present time, growing struggles over the minimum wage and student debt will merge with this shift in attitudes to create potent new forms of resistance.

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, low-waged, Obama, political analysis, US policy

The Boeing 777: can Putin back down?


Originally posted on People and Nature:

This article by ILYA BUDRAITSKIS, a Russian historian, researcher and socialist activist, was published on Friday 18 July, on Openleft.ru in Russian and on LeftEast in English.

We can say with confidence that the tragedy of Boeing 777, which took the lives of 298 people, has brought the conflict in Eastern Ukraine to a principally new level. Now the main centers of power – Russia, the US, and the EU – must make themselves known and must take

The crash, seen from a nearby village

The crash, seen from a nearby village

the responsibility for stopping the war or, conversely, for its practical legitimation and expansion.  Even considering the possibility that the plane was shot down by mistake, it is events of such magnitude that divide history into “before” and “after.” “After” such an event the possibilities of “strange,” “hybrid,” and other “wars without war” have been exhausted.

Over the past several months, as an endless…

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Harris vs. Quinn: a Line in the Sand Against the Rights of American Workers


The majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down a series of reactionary decisions, theoretically narrowly-demarcated but in fact capable of being extended broadly. In each case the justices had to bend the law to the extent of legislating from the bench. As well as their highly-publicized verdicts restricting access to contraception for women, their ruling in Harris vs. Quinn hammered another nail into the legal status of unions, laying the ground for further attacks on collective bargaining.

The decision undermines the way unions are financed from “fair share” provisions that mandate contributions from non-union members covered by collective bargaining agreements. According to the Guardian, the majority ruled that only “fully fledged” state employees should pay these fees. “The ruling split off a whole class of workers – in this case homecare aides who are paid by the state but, in the court’s view, still essentially employed by the individuals they care for – and ordered that in these cases, compulsory union dues were a violation of free speech rights.”

The justices thus created a whole new category of “partial public employee,” who in their view were not represented by a union in collective bargaining nor deserving of workplace protections. Justice Alito, who gave the decision, reportedly wanted to go further and eliminate the requirement that all government workers contribute to the cost of collective bargaining; the scathing language he used indicates support for future legal challenges to the rule.

In These Times correspondent Moshe Marvit explains that the suit was originally restricted to whether unionized home healthcare workers could be subject to the “fair share” contribution. “However, once the case arrived at the Supreme Court in 2013, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation raised the stakes and argued that anything short of a right-to-work model—under which any employee covered by a collective bargaining agreement could forego paying any dues—for all public employees violated the First Amendment.  In the Court’s decision, a five-Justice majority held that fair share provisions for home healthcare workers were unconstitutional, and indicated repeatedly that the 1977 case that allows such provisions for all public sector employees is on shaky ground.”

The Legal Defense Foundation is funded by the National Right to Work Committee, formed in 1955 by Southern businessmen connected to the John Birch Society with the express purpose of undermining unions and applying to all public sector workers the so-called “right to work” laws that bar workers from obligating co-workers to join a union or pay dues, even in workplaces where a large majority vote to form a union. The Committee’s aim of de-funding unions to limit their strength has lately been coopted and financed by extremist billionaires (including the ubiquitous Kochs) and now been given the imprimatur of the Supreme Court majority.

However, this strategy of the one per cent is likely to blow back in their faces. Union bureaucracies have functioned historically as a way of controlling and diminishing labor unrest, and while the administration of unions will be hard hit by the elimination of part of their finances, the grassroots resistance to the plutocracy is growing irrespective of unions’ legal status. Workers and community activists are finding creative ways to organize despite legal restrictions, with groups like OUR Walmart and the campaign for a living minimum wage uniting activists with the low-paid to challenge the status quo.

Public sector workers already face legal constraints on union activity, such as laws making it illegal to strike. For example, New York City transit workers who struck in 2005 were fined a day’s pay for each day of the strike and their union fined $2.5 million. The leadership capitulated, but the members reorganized, elected a new leadership, rebuilt their strength and campaigned in the community they served for support, especially after they got the city moving again after Hurricane Sandy. They were able to generate enough political pressure on the state governor to gain a more favorable contract than other state unions were able to achieve.

Legal attacks are forcing a turn to a new pattern of trade unionism that turns outwards to connect with the community, like the Chicago Teachers Union, rather than the sectional pattern of industry-specific organizing that dominated the years after World War II.

In a parallel development, the two-party political system is being subverted by the successes of the Working Families party, the election of self-proclaimed socialists in Seattle, and moves by African Americans in the South to mobilize independently of the national Democratic party leadership. In Mississippi, African-Americans intervened in the Republican primaries to prevent an overtly racist and segregationist tea-partier from becoming their representative.

Political science professor Daniel Franklin comments: “The narrow re-nomination victory of six-term Republican Senator Thad Cochran in the Mississippi primary run-off may well mark a watershed moment in politics in the South. In his desperation to overtake Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel, who beat him in the first round of the primary, Cochran hit upon a novel idea: to invite the black community into the final stage of the Republican Party nomination battle. … Mississippi’s black leaders recognized and took advantage of this historic opportunity, by urging their compatriots to vote in the GOP contest to gain a measure of meaningful clout in Mississippi politics.” While turnout increased everywhere in the primary, it jumped highest in Cochran’s strongest counties, which have the highest concentration of African Americans in the state.

Whatever Cochran’s character, the assertion of political clout by African Americans in America’s most racist state is significant. But it upset the national Democratic party leadership, who had been hoping for an extreme Republican candidate in order to potentially elect a Democrat as senator (albeit one with politics marginally less racist than Cochran’s). Their outlook was reflected in Donna Ladd’s Guardian comment: “the GOP cannot suddenly welcome a bunch of black Democrats to their tent. They voted almost exclusively for the federal money Cochran brings home – not for the party that abandoned African Americans back in the 1960s.” Franklin points out an alternative perspective: “At the very least, Cochran will now have to be cognizant of who kept him in office – and if he keeps the pivotal support of African American constituents in mind, he may well moderate his politics to inoculate himself against pressure from the far right.”

African Americans’ insistence on basic rights in Mississippi is also reflected in the state NAACP’s launch of four new efforts: a ballot initiative to better fund public education, a push for voter rights, funding community health centers, and defending workers’ rights. It organized a march on Nissan’s auto plant in Jackson, where nearly 75 percent of the workforce is black, during celebrations commemorating the passage of the Voting Rights Act 50 years ago. Nissan has resisted the efforts of the UAW to organize the plant in the right-to-work state, where full-time workers get $24 an hour, but over a thousand temporary contract workers are employed at just $12 an hour.

Student activists joined actor Danny Glover and Nissan workers to demand Nissan allow a fair union election and respect the civil and labor rights of workers by stopping anti-union intimidation and threats of workers who want to form a union. Activist Monica Atkins said: “Our rally showed that as long as Nissan workers can’t exercise their fundamental labor right to form a union, which is a civil right, then the civil rights struggles of 50 years ago will continue. And young people, again, will lead the way in that fight.”

The Supreme Court’s majority ruling in Harris is the latest line in the sand in that fight, but American men and women will not accept a loss of natural and civil rights by legislative fiat. In Seattle, in Chicago, and especially in the South, new social coalitions are forming that will revitalize American democracy beyond political ideology and defend Americans’ rights to organize and fight.

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Filed under African Americans, chicago teachers, low-waged, OUR Walmart, political analysis, Republicans, Supreme Court, Tea Party movement, UAW, walmart strikes

Teachers Prepare to Fight for Public Schools and Students Against Plutocratic De-funders


A Los Angeles judge has declared California’s teacher tenure laws to be unconstitutional because, he alleged, they harm low-income students by allowing incompetent instructors to remain in the classroom. In the case of Vergara vs. California, purportedly brought by a group of minority students but in fact initiated by a billionaire-funded organization called “Students First,” Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the laws “impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education.”

It was a well-aimed blow against teachers’ unions, and in his summation the judge made it clear he was perfectly aware of its political implications. Within an hour of the verdict, Michelle Rhee, head of the StudentsFirst lobbying group, had announced a new website to put pressure on lawmakers in other states to abolish or weaken tenure and other teacher job protections.

Education is a multi-billion dollar public enterprise, and the plutocracy are anxious to privatize it by creating charter schools that will siphon off more affluent students, leaving low-income students to rot in defunded school systems, and to monetize the testing process. The rich intend to run education more “efficiently” by applying corporate methods of social control, such as the “value-added” metric, to teachers; tenure – which means teachers cannot be fired without due process – and union strength are primary obstacles to their strategy.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Treu’s ruling consistently echoed the arguments of the corporate legal team hired to bring the suit, crucially accepting that teachers can be evaluated fairly through a statistical analysis based on student test scores, despite testimony that empirical research shows little correlation between teachers’ effectiveness in class and students’ scores.

Even opponents of tenure found the judge’s opinion to be flawed. Law professor Orin Kerr commented in the Washington Post that it “would seem to require evidence of a causal connection between the laws challenged and the quality of teachers. But we don’t hear about that evidence. Instead, the judge notes that there are a lot of bad teachers in California. He then says that ‘on the evidence presented at trial’ the laws led to the bad teachers and therefore trigger strict scrutiny. But the judge doesn’t say what that evidence is. … I would think that a constitutional challenge here requires evidence, not ideology.”

Although he had scant evidence to support his opinion, the judge threw his legal authority behind the corporate narrative blaming teachers for failing schools, conspicuously comparing his ruling to the seminal desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education. Politico noted: “In adopting the language and legal framework of the civil rights movement, Treu gave a major boost to school reformers from both parties who have long argued that the current system dooms poor and minority students to inferior educations.”

There is an ideological campaign going on here to cloak attacks on public sector unions in the language of liberalism, appropriating terms like “social justice,” “civil rights,” and “equality” to convince the public that the interests of teachers and students are opposed. Educator Adam Bessie points out: “In much the same way that vouchers and charters have been sold via civil rights language, so too was Vergara v. California argued in court and marketed to the public as a moral imperative, with a solidly social justice lexicon, composing a compelling narrative which is attractive to liberals, while at the same time, appealing to economic conservatives who have long worked to abolish teacher tenure. …

“Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has hailed the verdict a victory, employing the same civil rights framing he has used in selling President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top. In other words, Vergara doesn’t just represent the point of view of billionaire businessmen, conservative scholars, nor an isolated, ‘activist judge’ – it now reflects the perspective of my Department of Education, and the President himself, who now believe that ‘bad teachers’ are the root of our educational challenges, rather than the wide-spread poverty and systemic racism which the original civil rights leaders fought against, and which still exist today.”

The significance of Vergara is that Silicon Valley billionaires have now successfully used litigation to push through political changes they could not achieve through the democratic process. Cal Poly history professor Ralph Shaffer explains that it is the culmination of a sustained campaign against California’s teacher tenure law. He writes: “In 2005 the anti-public education forces unsuccessfully attacked tenure with Proposition 74 under the slogan ‘Put the Kids First.’ This year the lawsuit masqueraded under the banner ‘Students Matter.’ If students really matter, the ‘reformers’ would attack genuine problems. But their real goal is to purge teachers whom they consider a threat to their reactionary view of American education. Prop. 74 was defeated by a sizable margin in 2005. This time the so-called reformers have achieved an even greater goal, wiping out entirely the tenure law. They didn’t have to face the possibility of voter rejection, they won their victory by the decision of a single judge.”

In 2008 the $16 billion budget shortfall California experienced as a result of the banking crisis led to thousands of teachers being laid off, many of them in low-income school districts. But plutocrats who want to reform education do not propose getting more resources into the schools. As teacher David Cohen notes, despite the huge sums spent on legal action, “Students Matter has done nothing that will put a needed book or computer in a school. Not one wifi hotspot. Not one more librarian, nurse, or counselor.”

The founder of “Students Matter” is David F. Welch, who in 2013 made $2.39 million in the fiber optics communications industry and lives in one of Silicon Valley’s most exclusive areas. But he is not the only billionaire to take an interest in the California education system. A heterogeneous group of rich individuals – including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, L.A. philanthropist Eli Broad, Netflix founder Reed Hastings, pomegranate juice titan Lynda Resnick, anti-Obama mega-donor A. Jerrold Perenchio, and the widow of Steve Jobs – broke all records for spending by outside groups last year in the Los Angeles Board of Education elections.

The LA Times reported that “this group united in Los Angeles behind education issues that have become national in scope, including the growth of publicly funded charter schools and the use of student test scores in teacher performance evaluations. Most want to reduce job protections for teachers and support the education agenda of the Obama administration. Some even want to limit collective bargaining rights for teachers. They believed that a successful stand in the L.A. Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school system and a hotbed of unionism, would have a sweeping effect.”

Teacher’s resistance to these corporate strategies is growing in school districts across America: in Portland, Oregon, teachers came within days of a strike before reaching an agreement that includes the hiring of 150 new teachers and cutting back the extent that teacher evaluations depend on test scores; in Chicago teachers in some schools refused to administrate the Illinois Standard Achievement Test, preferring to teach instead; and in Massachusetts teachers elected a new union president pledged to roll back high-stakes testing, field testing, and teacher evaluations.

In California, teachers are preparing for a struggle modeled after the successful Chicago Teachers Union’s campaign for community support. Adam Bessie reaches this conclusion: “The Vergara verdict must push teachers to make stars of themselves, by reclaiming their role as public servants working on behalf of social justice, working on behalf of students, working on behalf of communities and the country for the public good, working towards civil rights, and better opportunities for all students – or, it will signal the concluding act in public education, and a shot at the American Dream for all students.”

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Filed under chicago teachers, low-waged, Michelle Rhee, Neoliberalism, public higher education, public schools, state unions

Dangerous Demagogues Are Not the Answer to Corporate Oligarchs


Walmart moms protest for a living wage

Walmart moms protest for a living wage

The unexpected defeat of House leader Eric Cantor in the Virginia primaries shows that the Republican leadership has lost its grip on the populist forces encouraged by the party’s shift to the right. The pundits are characterizing Cantor’s unseating by tea-party challenger David Brat as the result of hardline opposition to immigration reform. More importantly, however, Brat leveraged a tectonic shift in the hostility of the Republican base to the ties of the Congressional leadership to big business and Wall Street.

Rightwing Brat supporter and radio commentator Laura Ingraham summed up this shift: “The American people are sitting by, seeing their wealth deteriorate, their prospects go under, their future dismal. Meanwhile politicians either throw up their hands or outright lie to them about the situation.” Conservative Bill Kristol called Brat’s campaign “a broad assault on GOP elites who put the interests of American corporations over American workers, of D.C. lobbyists over American families.”

Talking Points Memo notes that Cantor himself was chiefly responsible for “the loud, showy, total-war nature of Republican opposition — summoning up the forces that defeated him last night. From day one — literally, the night of President Obama’s first inauguration — Cantor was leading the charge to not just oppose Obama, but to delegitimize him … It was a deeply cynical maneuver, but a successful one. Cantor helped unite the Republican caucus around this scorched-earth strategy, and played a major role in the 2010 campaign that leveraged the grim results of that strategy into a new majority.”

Brat mobilized Republican activists not just by his intransigent opposition to immigration reform but also by connecting it with Cantor’s close alliances with corporate interests, channeling grassroots resentment of the Republican elite. During his campaign, he stated: “I am running against Cantor because he does not represent the citizens of the 7th District, but rather large corporations seeking insider deals, crony bailouts and a constant supply of low-wage workers.”

His rhetoric merged xenophobia with hostility to corporate control of Congress. John Nichols comments in The Nation: “Brat was aggressive in his opposition to immigration reform—attacking Cantor for making tepid attempts to move the GOP toward a more moderate position on the issue. But even Brat’s crude campaigning on immigration came with an anti-corporate twist. ‘Eric Cantor doesn’t represent you, he represents large corporations seeking a never-ending supply of cheap foreign labor,’ the challenger argued.”

The New York Times reports that the impact of Cantor’s downfall was felt most strongly on the New York Stock Exchange. “The share price of Boeing tumbled, wiping out all the gains it had made this year, a drop analysts attributed to the startling defeat. … Mr. Cantor’s loss is much more than just symbolism. He has been one of Wall Street’s most reliable benefactors in Congress. And Mr. Brat used that fact to deride the majority leader as someone who had rigged the financial system. In one recent speech, he accused lawmakers like Mr. Cantor of favoring ‘special tax credits to billionaires instead of taking care of us, the normal folks’.”

But Brat’s demagogy frames the economic crisis in national terms. This rhetoric is a dangerous diversion from real opposition to corporate oligarchy. As an extreme libertarian, he opposes an increase in the minimum wage; in fact, he opposes any kind of legislated minimum wage at all. While Brat appealed to the anxiety of his Republican base over their loss of prospects, low-paid workers are responding to the same erosion of living standards by striking for a $15 per hour minimum wage. Reportedly Walmart and McDonald’s, unlike Republican ideologists, are in favor of a move that would increase the buying power of the poor and also their corporate bottom line, but even with a higher hourly wage, employees are often scheduled to work fewer hours than will give them enough to live on.

“Walmart Moms” supported by Our Walmart held strikes in a number of major cities the first week of June, including Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, as well as Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Taking a leaf from the Occupy movement, they also demonstrated outside the home of Walmart board chairman Rob Walton in Paradise Valley, Arizona, demanding annual wages of at least $25,000, more full-time openings and an end to retaliation against workers who speak out against their conditions.

According to the Guardian, mother of three Linda Haluska said she was striking in solidarity with others who earn less, and what she described as worsening conditions at the company. “I’ve seen things change: the erratic scheduling, the lack of flexibility. It’s hard to get a day off when you want. They make it very clear that Walmart comes first. Your job is always on the line.” Haluska said that some of her co-workers on the night shift who can’t afford cars have to wait outside for up to an hour for the bus to arrive – a situation some staff said was potentially dangerous.

Erratic scheduling means that incomes fluctuate from week to week, making it difficult if not impossible to budget for a family. Sarah Jaffe writes “Gail Todd, who works at the Walmart in Landover Hills, Maryland, knows this struggle all too well. A mother of three, she used to have an ‘open schedule’ – meaning she had to be available to work anytime, day or night – so childcare was a constant problem. But when Todd limited her work available to care for her children, her hours got cut back, sometimes to as few as 12 per seven days.”

The Real News reported: “The Demos report [on low-wage industries] found that women who make an average hourly wage of $10.58 are disproportionately represented in low-wage retail positions and face unstable and inconsistent work hours, even with full-time positions. The study found that a wage floor of $25,000 per year at major retailers would amount to a 27 percent pay raise and, quote, ‘would lift hundreds of thousands of women and their family members out of poverty, and hundreds of thousands more would emerge from near-poverty’.”

The stark disparity between the subsistence standard of living between Walmart’s workers and the Waltons, who next to the Koch brothers are Americas most prominent oligarchs is an obscene scandal in a society which holds as its core values fairness and equal opportunity. But when government actively abets the growing inequality, it opens the doors to demagogues like David Brat.

Walmart managed to obtain $104 million in federal subsidies over six years because of tax deductions for “performance-based” executive compensation. Eight top executives were given more than $298 million in “performance pay” that was fully tax-deductible, despite Walmart’s poor economic performance over this period. CEOs and billionaire company owners have every incentive to use their wealth to distort the democratic process and cement their control over Congress. But in doing so, they have destabilized the democratic process and unleashed a dangerous political backlash. This can be countered by the men and women who across the country are fighting for a living wage that is fair for all.

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Filed under fast-food workers, Neoliberalism, occupy wall street, OUR Walmart, Tea Party movement, Uncategorized, Walmart, walmart strikes

Revive the spirit of Occupy to defeat re-segregation


Gary Younge raises the awkward truth that, on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation in the U.S., the country is far from showing progress toward racial equality in education and is in fact going backwards.

As white suburban dwellers secede from the problems of inner city school districts, setting up charter schools or carving out their own academic enclaves, race and class disadvantages are concentrated in systems with dwindling resources. Younge writes in the Nation: “Schools are re-segregating, legislation is being gutted, it’s getting harder to vote, large numbers are being deprived of their basic rights through incarceration, and the economic disparities between black and white are growing. In many areas, America is becoming more separate and less equal.”

Essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates, arguing the case for reparations for slavery in the Atlantic magazine, has described how the physical fact of inner city racial segregation was a result of government policy. He told Democracy Now: “In the 1930’s and the 1940’s, we set up the FHA [Federal Housing Administration], we set up the Home Owners Loan Corporation. We set up specific bureaus to make our communities look the way they look. In 1995, I took a trip to Chicago, my first time as an adult and I was writing down the Dan Ryan Expressway, and at that time there was the longest row of projects, public housing I think in North America along that corridor. And it struck me as a moral disaster. What I did not understand at that time was that this was actually planned, that African-Americans had been cut out of any sort of legitimate housing program during the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s. Instead we got was public housing built on a segregated basis at that point — in that particular case, on the Southside of Chicago. There’s no way to understand housing as it exists today without federal policy. Black people, as was the thinking at the time, could not be responsible home-loaners.”

Coates gives more detail of how African Americans were excluded from the suburbs in his Atlantic article. “It was the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation,” he says, “not a private trade association, that pioneered the practice of redlining, selectively granting loans and insisting that any property it insured be covered by a restrictive covenant—a clause in the deed forbidding the sale of the property to anyone other than whites.” He concludes: “The traditional terminology, white flight, implies a kind of natural expression of preference. In fact, white flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors.”

The political consequences of these racist presumptions is spelled out by Paul Kantor of Fordham University: “By the 1970s … the population movement to the suburbs and Sunbelt, together with national partisan electoral realignments, diminished the importance of central city electorates in national party coalitions. This triggered almost continuous political marginalization of the cities during succeeding years. Fueled by a powerful conservative tide and a new Republican political majority, the last decades of the century witnessed almost continuous withdrawal of the federal government from the cities and the elimination or diminution of national urban programs.”

One of the most politically divided states is Wisconsin, where there is an extreme concentration of Democratic voters in urban Milwaukee, and conservative Republican voters in the outer suburbs. White flight has made the city of Milwaukee majority nonwhite, while the surrounding suburbs of Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee are less than 2% African-American and less than 5% Hispanic. A recent in-depth article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that distance from urban centers, rather than income or education, is the best barometer of a community’s political orientation: whites in less densely populated outer suburbs are more Republican than whites closer in. In metro areas with concentrated urban poverty and crime, racial and political polarization is high. According to Wisconsin state legislator Mandela Barnes, concentration of poverty in Milwaukee feeds “this perception (outside Milwaukee) that there’s a ‘culture of takers.’ And that can become political fodder.”

Social divisions – between urban and rural, urban and suburban, even different parts of the same city – underlie today’s political polarization, but do not completely explain it. While the Sentinel article argues that racial segregation is driving political segregation, the antagonism is the result of the creation of an ideological myth that state welfare benefits a dependent urban (black) class at the expense of tax-paying suburbanites. White flight gave the myth a social basis, but ideological work had to be done to create the imaginary of the “welfare queen.”

Republicans from the time of Nixon and Reagan have leveraged this social estrangement to justify cutting social spending and to conceal business-subsidizing legislation behind “cultural” diversions. The super-rich have succeeded in pushing the Republican party even further to the right by sharpening the same ideological differences to an extreme through a barrage of propaganda and skewed cable news.

Although partisan polarization has created a political impasse in Congress, the American public is in remarkable agreement on class issues despite their partisan allegiances: preserving the remaining social safety net and the need for a living wage for the low-paid. Seattle city council has already passed a bill mandating a $15 an hour minimum wage, the California Senate passed a bill pushing the state’s minimum wage to $13 by 2017, and in Chicago, nearly half of the city council has signed on to a $15 minimum wage law.

It also was public pressure that took cuts to social security off the table, forced the government to make at least token reforms to the NSA, and forestalled military intervention in Syria.

There needs to be an ideological struggle against neoliberal tea-party ideas that the poor and socially deprived are the “takers” in society. It was because the Occupy movement so effectively dramatized the inequality that gives the top tenth of the top one percent all the increase in social wealth that it was so determinedly stamped out by the Obama administration. The left should change its focus from party political differences to campaign on issues that unite the American public.

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Filed under African Americans, low-waged, Neoliberalism, Obama, occupy wall street, poverty, public schools, Republicans