Republican Supreme Court Triumph Against Background of National Discontent


Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a new Supreme Court justice is a pyrrhic victory for the Republicans. It achieves a solid right-wing majority on court decisions, but reduces the legitimacy of these decisions in the eyes of the public and the legal system.

His ranting attack on the Democrats at the hearing removed all pretence of judicial impartiality – it “pulled the cloak off the Wizard of Oz” as law professor Stephen Gillers put it, shattering public belief in the Supreme Court’s independent authority. It also exposed the supposedly moderate Republican senators who capitulated when Kavanaugh “pivoted to a pure message of aggression, anger and promises to fight the recognized set of political enemies that bind him to his mass and elite supporters … Early Thursday afternoon, Kavanaugh’s nomination was on life support. He went full Trump. And it worked,” Josh Marshall commented. “A scion of the [Washington] beltway political elite who received the country’s finest elite education, he made his name in the Bush White House. He is the epitome of the pre-Trump conservative establishment. Yet we can see here how seamless the transition was to full Trumpism, as it was for all the Republican Senators who rushed to his side after his Thursday afternoon performance.”

The right-wing bias of the court is now decidedly out of tune with the public on many issues, nullifying its role as a moderating bastion of government. The New York Times reported: “Several priorities of the conservative legal movement already conflict with public opinion. The movement’s biggest target is Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that identified access to abortion as a constitutional right, yet a poll in July by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showed an all-time high in public support for the decision, with 71 percent saying that Roe should not be overturned. The conservative wing of the court has also focused on upholding voting restrictions, gerrymanders and purges of the registration rolls. In the 2010 Citizens United decision, the same justices opened the door to a massive amount of spending to influence elections. Polls show, however, that more than 70 percent of Americans don’t like extreme partisan gerrymandering and want to overturn Citizens United.”

The importance of judicial appointments is clear from the pushback of some federal judges against Trump’s immigration laws and the separation of children from parents seeking asylum at the border. For this reason, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made the justice system a partisan battleground. According to the Washington Post, “he’s been very attuned to the power of the courts and made judges a top priority. He has described the 2016 blockade of Merrick Garland after Antonin Scalia’s death as one of his proudest achievements.” He is ready to push through 30 more lifetime District and Circuit court nominees before November’s mid-terms, though under Senate rules Democrats could delay them.

It is a dangerous moment in US politics because the Republicans have spent the years since Nixon encouraging a racist pushback against civil rights legislation, building an aggrieved and aggressive right-wing base that connected with white supremacist movements in the course of Trump’s election campaign. Josh Marshall sums it up: “The politics of aggression, norm-breaking, the penchant for conspiracy theories, the increasingly explicit white nationalism – these were all present in 2014, 2010 and in a more attenuated form in 2004. What Trump did was, through some malign and impulsive intuition, fuse these together into a workable politics. He took what was still the underbelly of Republican politics, which nevertheless provided it with the bulk of the GOP’s motive force, and made it the face, the brand.”

But what it also poses is how the public can claw back legal protections from state assaults. The guilty verdict on Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for killing black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014 shows a significant shift in public appreciation of state repression of African American youth. A dashcam video showing Van Dyke unloading 16 gunshots into the 17-year-old was allegedly suppressed ahead of the mayoral election in 2015, and mayor-elect Ralph Emanuel, a Democrat, together with the Chicago police department, was accused of overseeing a cover-up. In These Times reports: “In the aftermath of the video’s release, activists staged massive protests across the city, shutting down major business districts and thoroughfares. Soon after, then-Police Chief Garry McCarthy was fired by Mayor Emanuel. And later, States’ Attorney Anita Alvarez lost a high-profile election to reformer Kim Foxx. Last month, Emanuel announced that he will not be seeking re-election for a third term, meaning that the three most prominent officials associated with the alleged cover-up will soon no longer sit in their previous positions of power.”

The release of the video came after strenuous efforts of civil rights lawyers who challenged the city’s right to withhold it for more than a year. Together with civil rights organizers, “community members in and around Chicago refused to let justice die along with McDonald. It was not the notable activists and national leaders we see on television who ensured this story did not end like so many others before. It was the citizens who cared about their community and about justice being done,” writes the executive director for Human Rights Watch, Nicole Austin-Hillery.

Building mass opposition movements is important, but so is the battle for control of the state – as the sustained efforts of right-wing Republicans demonstrate. It has to be fought on all fronts. The Democratic base is furious at Kavanaugh’s appointment, but this has to be directed at mobilizing those who do not usually vote to come out in the November mid-term elections. That could overturn the Republican hold in both the House and the Senate, allowing the possibility of a renewed investigation into Kavanaugh’s misleading testimony and his potential impeachment.

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Judge and Fury: Kavanaugh’s Rage Exposes the Festering Politicization of Justice


For the last few days, America has been transfixed by the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. The entirely believable testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford was contrasted with Kavanaugh’s aggressive, blustering, and enraged response at her accusations’ damage to his shot at a lifetime Supreme Court judgeship.

The Court is the highest and most visible part of the justice system which is theoretically independent of the legislature and the executive branches of US government. Whatever happens with Kavanaugh’s appointment, the Court’s independence and the Senate’s legitimacy are now facing intense public scrutiny. That is why, after voting in favor of Kavanaugh on committee but then being confronted in an elevator by two angry victims of sexual assault, Senator Jeff Flake brokered a week-long delay on the final Senate vote in order to allow the FBI to conduct an investigation.

The Washington Post reported: “After this [hearing], public perception is going to increasingly be that it’s more a political body than a judicial one,” said Benjamin Barton, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who studies the federal judiciary. “To me, this will be a disaster for them.” Added Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia. “The court is a political institution, yes, but as much as possible it’s critical for the justices to be — and be regarded as — impartial, trustworthy and above the political fray. The justices have reason now to be concerned.”

Republican support for Kavanaugh is only the latest in extreme partisan interference in the normal workings of the justice system, with Senate leader McConnell delaying and frustrating Obama-era appointments until Trump’s election enabled them to fill hundreds of lower-court vacancies with conservative judges. The transformation of the judiciary into a weapon of mass incarceration is a project more important to the Republican leadership, it seems, than their success in the House and Senate mid-term elections.

The New York Times commented: “Party leaders have concluded that supporting Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, in the face of sexual assault accusations against him, will all but ensure that Republicans lose control of the House in November even as their fortunes may improve in some tough Senate races. … Even as Mr. Trump and Senate leaders acceded to an F.B.I. investigation into the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, Republicans say they did so grudgingly. Privately, they are determined to press ahead with the confirmation process despite the political risks and the possibility that Republican senators may still defect and oppose the nomination in the end.”

The Republican Senate committee members attempted to blame the Democrats for disrupting their staged confirmation by raising Dr. Ford’s objections. Kavanaugh himself raged: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” which apparently impressed Trump enough to tweet his support.

But the Democratic representatives are voicing a muted version of public hostility to the corruption of the political system that has been festering for many years before Trump took office. Kavanaugh is closely connected to this corruption: in earlier hearings, he lied skilfully about his involvement with formulating the legal justification for torture under the Bush administration, about his extreme partisanship during the Starr attempt to impeach Clinton, and the 2000 Supreme Court verdict that gave Bush the presidency.

The Democrats on their own could not prevent Trump and the Republicans from shifting the Supreme Court sharply to the right, endangering the Roe v. Wade decision and civil rights generally. But the glare of the spotlight on the raw machinations of power may well force a retreat on Kavanaugh’s elevation – who, despite the revelations about his character, will remain in an influential position on the Washington D.C. Appeals Court.

In any case, the Republican party has now clearly branded itself the party of white male entitlement, attracting those railing against the modern world that they believe “is hostile to their individual rights, political power and social status.” But in doing so, they are alienating themselves from the mass of people who don’t regularly vote, and may well be inspired to do so in November after the hearing’s demonstration of exclusive class privilege and of hostility to women.

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Labour’s crisis is over Israel, not anti-semitism


By Jonathan Cook, an award-winning British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, since 2001. Reblogged from jonathancook.net.

If there is indeed an anti-semitism problem in the UK’s Labour party, it is not in the places where the British corporate media have been directing our attention. What can be said with even more certainty is that there is rampant hatred expressed towards Jews in the same British media that is currently decrying the supposed anti-semitism of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Here is a piece of what I hope is wisdom, earnt the hard way as a reporter in Israel over nearly two decades. I offer it in case it helps to resolve the confusion felt by some still pondering the endless reports of Labour’s supposed anti-semitism “crisis”.

Racism towards Palestinians

In the first year after my arrival in Israel in late 2001, during the most violent phase of Israel’s suppression of the Palestinians’ second intifada, I desperately tried to make sense of the events raging around me. Like most new reporters, I searched for experts – at that time, mostly leftwing Israeli analysts and academics. But the more I listened, the less I understood. I felt like a ball in a pinball machine, bounced from one hair-trigger to the next.

My problem was exacerbated by the fact that, unlike my colleagues, I had chosen to locate myself in Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel, rather than in a Jewish area or in the occupied territories. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians seemed much more complex when viewed through the prism of Palestinian “citizens” living inside a self-declared Jewish state.

The Israeli experts I contacted deplored the brutality of the occupation unequivocally and in ways it was difficult not to admire, given the morass of anti-Palestinian sentiment and self-righteousness into which the rest of Israeli society was rapidly sinking. But each time I latched on to such an Israeli in the hope of deepening my own understanding, something they said would knock me sideways.

As readily as they condemned the occupation, they would laud the self-evidently bogus liberal democratic credentials of a Jewish state, one that I could see from my location in Nazareth was structurally organised to deny equal rights to its Palestinian citizens. Or the experts would echo the Israeli government’s inciteful claims that this largely quiescent Palestinian minority in Israel – a fifth of the population – was at best a demographic threat to the Jewish majority, and at worst a Trojan horse secretly working to destroy the Jewish state from within.

The very racism towards Palestinians in the occupied territories these experts eschewed, they readily flaunted when discussing Palestinians inside Israel. Were they really leftists or covert ethnic chauvinists?

Appearances can be deceptive

It was many months before I could make sense of this puzzle. An answer was only possible when I factored in the Israeli state’s official ideology: Zionism.

Israeli leftists who were also avowed Zionists – the vast majority of them – saw the conflict exclusively through the colonial prism of their own ethnic privilege. They didn’t much care for Palestinians or their rights. Their opposition to the occupation was barely related to the tangible harm it did to the Palestinian population.

Rather, they wanted an end to the occupation because they believed it brutalised and corrupted Israeli Jewish society, seeping into its pores like a toxin. Or they wanted the occupation to end because the combined populations of Palestinians in “Greater Israel” – in the occupied territories and inside Israel – would soon outnumber Jews, leading, they feared, to comparisons with apartheid South Africa. They wanted Israel out of all or most of the occupied territories, cutting off these areas like a gangrenous limb threatening the rest of the body’s health.

Only later, when I started to meet anti-Zionist Jews, did I find an opposition to the occupation rooted in a respect for the rights and dignity of the Palestinians in the territories. And because their position was an ethical, rights-based one, rather than motivated by opportunism and self-interest, these anti-Zionist Jews also cared about ending discrimination against the one in five Israeli citizens who were Palestinian. Unlike my experts, they were morally consistent.

I raise this, because the lesson I eventually learnt was this: you should never assume that, because someone has adopted a moral position you share, their view is based on the moral principles that led you to adopt that position. The motives of those you stand alongside can be very different from your own. People can express a morally sound view for morally dubious, or even outright immoral, reasons. If you ally yourself with such people, you will invariably be disappointed or betrayed.

There was another, more particular lesson. Ostensible support for Palestinians may in fact be cover for other ways of oppressing them.

And so it has been with most of those warning of an anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour. Anti-semitism, like all racisms, is to be denounced. But not all denunciations of it are what they seem. And not all professions of support for Palestinians should be taken at face value.

The vilification of Corbyn

Most reasonable observers, especially if they are not Jewish, instinctively recoil from criticising a Jew who is highlighting anti-semitism. It is that insulation from criticism, that protective shield, that encouraged Labour MP Margaret Hodge recently to publicly launch a verbal assault on Corbyn, vilifying him, against all evidence, as an “anti-semite and racist”.

It was that same protective shield that led to Labour officials dropping an investigation of Hodge, even though it is surely beyond doubt that her actions brought the party “into disrepute” – in this case, in a flagrant manner hard to imagine being equalled. This is the same party, remember, that recently expelled Marc Wadsworth, a prominent black anti-racism activist, on precisely those grounds after he accused Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth of colluding with rightwing newspapers to undermine Corbyn.

The Labour party is so hamstrung by fears about anti-semitism, it seems, that it decided that an activist (Wadsworth) denigrating a Labour MP (Smeeth) was more damaging to the party’s reputation than a Labour MP (Hodge) vilifying the party’s leader (Corbyn). In this twisted set of priorities, a suspicion of possible racism towards a Jewish MP served to justify actual racism against a black party activist.

But the perversion of Labour party values goes much further. Recent events have proven that party officials have decisively prioritised the rights of diehard supporters of Israel among British Jewry to defend Israel at all costs over the right of others, including Jews, to speak out about the continuing brutalisation of Palestinians by Israel’s occupation regime.

Hodge and the other Labour MPs trumpeting anti-semitism might be entitled to the benefit of the doubt – that they truly fear anti-semitism is on the rise in the Labour party – had they not repeatedly indulged in the kind of anti-semitism they themselves have deplored.

What do I mean?

When they speak of an anti-semitism “crisis” in the party, these Labour MPs – and the fervently pro-Israel lobby groups behind them like the Jewish Labour Movement – intentionally gloss over the fact that many of the prominent activists who have been investigated, suspended or expelled for anti-semitism in recent months – fuelling the claim of a “crisis” – are in fact Jewish.

Why are the “Jewish” sensitivities of Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth or Louise Ellman more important than those of Moshe Machover, Tony Greenstein, Cyril Chilson, Jackie Walker or Glyn Secker – all Labour activists who have found their sensitivities, as Jews opposing the abuse of Palestinians, count for little or nothing among Labour officials? Why must we tiptoe around Hodge because she is Jewish, ignoring her bullygirl tactics to promote her political agenda in defence of Israel, but crack down on Greenstein and Chilson, even though they are Jewish, to silence their voices in defence of the rights of Palestinians?

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

The problem runs deeper still. Labour MPs like Hodge, Smeeth, Ellman and John Mann have stoked the anti-semitic predilections of the British media, which has been only too ready to indict “bad Jews” while extolling “good Jews”.

That was only too evident earlier this year when Corbyn tried to put out the fire that such Labour MPs had intentionally fuelled. He joined Jewdas, a satirical leftwing Jewish group that is critical of Israel, for a Passover meal. He was roundly condemned for the move.

Jewdas were declared by rightwing Jewish establishment organisations like the Board of Deputies and by the British corporate media as the “wrong kind of Jews”, or even as not “real” Jews. In the view of the Board and the media, Corbyn was tainted by his association with them.

How are Jewdas the “wrong kind of Jews”? Because they do not reflexively kneel before Israel. Ignore Corbyn for a moment. Did Labour MPs Hodge, Ellman or Smeeth speak out in the defence of fellow Jews under attack over their Jewishness? No, they did not.

If Greenstein and Chilson are being excommunicated as (Jewish) “anti-semites” for their full-throated condemnations of Israel’s institutional racism, why are Hodge and Ellman not equally anti-semites for their collusion in the vilification of supposedly “bad” or “phoney” Jews like Jewdas, Greenstein and Chilson.

It should be clear that this anti-semitism “crisis” is not chiefly about respecting Jewish sensitivities or even about Jewish identity. It is about protecting the sensitivities of some Jews on Israel, a state oppressing and dispossessing the Palestinian people.

Policing debates on Israel

When the Guardian’s senior columnist Jonathan Freedland insists that his Jewish identity is intimately tied to Israel, and that to attack Israel is to attack him personally, he is demanding the exclusive right to police the parameters of discussions about Israel. He is asserting his right, over the rights of other Jews – and, of course, Palestinians – to determine what the boundaries of political discourse on Israel are, and where the red lines denoting anti-semitism are drawn.

This is why Labour MPs like Hodge and journalists like Freedland are at the centre of another confected anti-semitism row in the Labour party: over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-semitism and an associated set of examples. They want all the IHRA’s examples adopted by Labour, not just most of them.

There are very clear, existing definitions of anti-semitism. They are variations of the simple formulation: “Anti-semitism is the hatred of Jews for being Jews.” But the IHRA takes this clear definition and muddies it to the point that all sorts of political debates can be viewed as potentially anti-semitic, as leading jurists have warned (see hereand here).

That is only underscored by the fact that a majority of the IHRA’s examples of anti-semitism relate to Israel – a nuclear-armed state now constitutionally designed to privilege Jews over non-Jews inside its recognised borders and engaged in a half-century of brutal military occupation of the Palestinian people outside its borders.

To be fair to the drafters of the IHRA guidelines, these examples were supposed only to be treated as potentially anti-semitic, depending on the context. That is the express view of the definition’s drafter, Kenneth Stern, a Jewish lawyer, who has warned that the guidelines are being perverted to silence criticism of Israel and stifle free speech.

And who are leading precisely the moves that Stern has warned against? People like Jonathan Freedland and Margaret Hodge, cheered on by large swaths of Labour MPs, who have strongly implied that Corbyn and his allies in the party are anti-semitic for sharing Stern’s concerns.

Hodge and Freedland are desperate to strong-arm the Labour party into setting the IHRA guidelines in stone, as the unchallengeable, definitive new definition of anti-semitism. That will relieve them of the arduous task of policing those discourse boundaries on the basis of evidence and of context. They will have a ready-made, one-size-fits-all definition to foreclose almost all serious debate about Israel.

Want to suggest that Israel’s new Nation-State Law, giving Jewish citizens constitutionally guaranteed rights denied to non-Jewish citizens, is proof of the institutional racism on which political Zionism is premised and that was enshrined in the founding principles of the state of Israel? Well, you just violated one of the IHRA guidelines by arguing that Israel is a “racist endeavour”. If Freedland and Hodge get their way, you would be certain to be declared an anti-semite and expelled from the Labour party.

Grovelling apology

Revealing how cynical this manoeuvring by Hodge, Freedland and others is, one only has to inspect the faux-outrage over the latest “anti-semitism crisis” involving Corbyn. He has been forced to make a grovelling apology – one that deeply discredits him – for hosting an anti-racism conference in 2010 at which a speaker made a comparison between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. That violated another of the IHRA examples.

But again, what none of these anti-semitism warriors has wanted to highlight is that the speaker given a platform at the conference was the late Hajo Meyer, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who dedicated his later years to supporting Palestinian rights. Who, if not Meyer, deserved the right to make such a comparison? And to imply that he was an anti-semite because he prioritised Palestinian rights over the preservation of Israel’s privileges for Jews is truly contemptible.

In fact, it is more than that. It is far closer to anti-semitism than the behaviour of Jewish critics of Israel like Greenstein and Chilson, who have been expelled from the Labour party. To intentionally exploit and vilify a Holocaust survivor for cheap, short-term political advantage – in an attempt to damage Corbyn – is malevolence of the worst kind.

Having stoked fears of an anti-semitism crisis, Hodge, Freedland and others have actively sought to obscure the wider context in which it must be judged – as, in large part, a painful debate raging inside the Jewish community. It is a debate between fervently pro-Israel Jewish establishment groups and a growing body of marginalised anti-Zionist Jewish activists who wish to show solidarity with the Palestinians. Labour is not suffering from an “anti-semitism crisis”; it is mired in an “Israel crisis”.

‘Repulsive’ campaign

In their silence about the abuses of Meyer, Jewdas, Greenstein, Chilson and many others, Freedland and Hodge have shown that they do not really care about the safety or sensitivities of Jews. What they chiefly care about is protecting their chosen cause of Israel, and crippling the chances of a committed supporter of Palestinian rights from ever reaching power. They are prepared to sacrifice other Jews, even victims of the Holocaust, as well as the Labour party itself, for that kind of political gain.

Hodge and Freedland are behaving as though they are decent Jews, the only ones who have the right to a voice and to sensitivities. They are wrong.

They are like the experts I first met in Israel who concealed their racism towards Palestinians by flaunting their self-serving anti-occupation credentials. Under the cover of concerns about anti-semitism, Freedland and Hodge have helped stoke hatred – either explicitly or through their silence – towards the “wrong kind of Jews”, towards Jews whose critical views of Israel they fear.

It does not have to be this way. Rather than foreclose it, they could allow a debate to flourish within Britain’s Jewish community and within the Labour party. They could admit that not only is there no evidence that Corbyn is racist, but that he has clearly been committed to fighting racism all his life.

Don’t want to take my word for it? You don’t have to. Listen instead to Stephen Oryszczuk, foreign editor of the Corbyn-hating Jewish News. His newspaper was one of three Jewish weeklies that recently published the same front-page editorial claiming that Corbyn was an “existential threat” to British Jews.

Oryszczuk, even if no friend to the Labour leader, deplored the behaviour of his own newspaper. In an interview, he observed of this campaign to vilify Corbyn: “It’s repulsive. This is a dedicated anti-racist we’re trashing. I just don’t buy into it at all.” He added of Corbyn: “I don’t believe he’s antisemitic, nor do most reasonable people. He’s anti-Israel and that’s not the same.”

Oryszczuk conceded that some people were weaponising anti-semitism and that these individuals were “certainly out to get him [Corbyn]”. Unlike Freedland and Hodge, he was also prepared to admit that some voices in the Jewish community were being actively silenced: “It’s partly our fault, in the mainstream Jewish media. We could – and arguably should – have done a better job at giving a voice to Jews who think differently, for which I personally feel a little ashamed. … On Israel today, what you hear publicly tends to be very uniform.”

And that is exactly how Hodge and Freedland would like to keep it – in the Labour party, in the Jewish community, and in wider British society.

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Parkland Students Tell Politicians: Represent the People or Get Out!


Last Saturday, upwards of 300,000 school students and supporters packed Washington DC for a rally to demand politicians enact gun control. “Vote them out!” was the most common chant on the “March for Our Lives,” as the protestors pointed to the inaction of Congress after each tragic mass killing. A consciously diverse platform of school age speakers displayed the range of the movement’s support, which was replicated at hundreds of sibling rallies throughout the country. Reportedly, nearly a million people joined the protests worldwide.

The speakers, aged between 11 and 18, spoke with a passion and fearlessness that expressed a defiance of their own vulnerability, and demanded the government take responsibility for their safety by taking common-sense gun control measures, such as banning access to assault rifles. The active shooter drills that they are subjected to in schools across America have made even the youngest children sensitive to gun violence and the threat to their lives. They are responding to the public’s disaffection with the political system by taking things into their own hands.

Elena González, who survived the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, named all seventeen victims to humanize them and underline each individual tragedy. She then held the entire crowd for over four minutes of silence – not even requesting the audience to observe it – ending only when she had been on stage for six minutes and twenty seconds, the time it took for the gunman to shoot 17 people dead. Through her own mute stillness on stage, she was able to exert a moral authority unavailable to politicians of any political party. As the Guardian pointed out, “That a teenager unknown to the country until a little over a month ago could command such quiet respect and deep introspection among a rally of this size illustrates just how powerful the student-led movement to rise from the Parkland massacre has become.”

A key theme for all the speakers was to name shooting victims who went unrecognized by the authorities to celebrate their memory, and by extension assert the importance of their own lives. Many said they were there to represent their community and those who had died: they refuse to allow members of their generation to be treated as a statistic. Sam Fuentes, who was injured in the attack and still has shrapnel in her face, led the crowd in a rendition of Happy Birthday in honor of Nicholas Dworet, who was killed in the shooting and would have turned 18 on the day of the rally.

Edna Lizbeth Chávez, a high school senior from South Los Angeles, said that gun violence had become so normal in her community she learned to duck bullets before she could read. She spoke movingly about her brother, who was shot dead while she was a young child. “Ricardo was his name. Can you all say it with me?” she asked. And she ended by saying: “Remember my name. Remember these faces. Remember us and how we’re making change.”

The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne commented: “The unmistakably political character of this movement is another change. No phony bipartisanship. No pretending that everyone approaches this issue with goodwill. Thus the importance of ‘Vote them out.’ Thus the imperative of casting the NRA as the adversary and all who welcome its money and support as complicit … this march established the gun safety alliance as multiracial and intersectional, reaching far beyond its traditional base among suburban white liberals. Few voices echoing from the platform were more powerful than 11-year-old Naomi Wadler’s. She declared that young African American women who were victims of gun violence would no longer be seen as ‘simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential’.”

She also said: “People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own. People have said that I am a tool of some nameless adult. It’s not true. My friends and I might still be 11, and we might still be in elementary school, but we know. We know that life isn’t equal for everyone and we know what is right and wrong.” She added, “And we know that we have seven short years until we, too, have the right to vote.”

Another survivor of the Parkland massacre, David Hogg, declared that they would make gun control a major voting issue. “We are going to take this to every election, to every state and every city. We’re going to make sure the best people get in our elections to run, not as politicians, but as Americans, because this—this is not cutting it. … Now is the time to come together, not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans, Americans of the same flesh and blood, that care about one thing and one thing only, and that’s the future of this country and the children that are going to lead it.”

He was evoking a different America from the right-wing fantasies of Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association; he was evoking the memory of John and Bobby Kennedy and of Martin Luther King, symbolically underlined by the appearance of King’s granddaughter Yolanda Renee King on the platform. She told the crowd: “I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world, period.”

The students have succeeded in shifting the political dialogue in a way that had previously seemed impossible. Republican politicians, especially in suburban districts, are coming under increasing pressure to act on gun control. At a town hall in Denver, Colorado, Republican Congressman Mike Coffman faced a barrage of questions — his district includes the town of Aurora, the site of a deadly 2012 shooting at a movie theater. “We’re done with thoughts and prayers!” shouted out one constituent during a moment’s silence for the Parkland victims.  Other attendees held signs that noted the National Rifle Association’s contributions to Coffman’s campaign. One woman identified herself as the wife of a first responder who was at the scene of the Columbine high school shooting, also in Colorado. Her son had planned to see a midnight showing of the new Batman movie the night that the gunman attacked the audience in Aurora. Yet, she told Coffman, she hadn’t spoken out until watching students from Parkland campaign for new gun laws. “An avalanche is coming to Washington, sir, and it is going to be led by our children.”

Republicans have made gun ownership an ideological point of purity as part of a culture war against Democrats, championing primarily rural and white constituencies that want fewer immigrants and more access to guns. As a result, the NRA has a political influence out of all proportion to its real support in the country. But the message of Saturday’s rally is that the organization’s time has ended. The protestors’ practical focus is to “vote them out” in November’s elections. As Cameron Kasky, another Parkland student survivor, told the rally: “To the leaders, skeptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn: Welcome to the revolution. Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.”

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Democrat Jones’ Victory in Alabama: Beyond #MeToo


Election graphic from Washington Post

In a stunning political upset, Alabama Republican Roy Moore was defeated in Tuesday’s special Senate election. A complex combination of factors, involving shifts in multiple demographic groups, gave Democratic challenger Doug Jones electoral success in a state that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Despite the accusations of child molestation against Moore, 91 percent of those voters who identified as Republican still voted for him, as did 63 percent of white women. However, there was a significant swing of suburban voters against the Republican candidate, and white rural Republicans stayed home. A detailed analysis in the Washington Post explained: “Typically reliable and sizable Republican wins in the rural North and South of the state evaporated into razor thin margins. Between that and an increased margin in the Black Belt, Jones was able to eke out a 21,000-vote victory, while Republicans normally win by more than half a million votes … These swings can be seen in counties majority white and black, Republican and Democrat. And that means it couldn’t have just been a surge in African American turnout, or just rural Trump voters staying home, or just Republicans crossing over to vote for Jones. Jones’ campaign was able to achieve a combination of the three that drove him to victory.”

The increased margin among African American voters reflected an exceptionally high mobilization of this community, with grassroots activists joining an important ground campaign to get out the vote. The New York Times reported that black voters at Jones’ victory celebration had long found Moore’s brand of evangelical politics distasteful. “But many others said that the Jones campaign uncorked the intense feelings of alarm and distaste that many African-Americans harbor toward President Trump, who had given Mr. Moore his full-throated endorsement in the campaign’s final days.” Jones was not particularly known in the African American community, but he had a track record of successfully prosecuting two white Klansmen for the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church that killed four African American girls, and in the last weeks of the campaign he turned out to black churches and gained support from African American personalities, including Obama.

Michael Nabors was at the celebration with his wife, Ella. He told the Times that black voters were paying attention to Mr. Moore’s comments in September, in which he said that America was last “great” during the days when slavery was legal. He added that “they paid attention to Mr. Jones’s most famous case as a prosecutor. ‘Those four little girls are on their feet tonight at 16th Street Baptist Church, celebrating,’ he said. ‘They’re celebrating in spirit’.”

But despite the complex of factors at play in the historic result, the #MeToo women’s movement was quick to claim the credit for Moore’s defeat. Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty called the result “a watershed moment for the national movement around the issue of sexual abuse,” and Tarana Burke, the founder of the “#MeToo” movement tweeted: “I hope the 9 women who accused Roy Moore feel some vindication tonight.” Mother Jones reporter Pema Levy told Democracy Now “You can absolutely look at this election last night through the lens of the “Me Too” movement and say that they had a huge victory.”

The danger is that the Democratic party leadership will also view the victory through the lens of the #MeToo movement and will fight the next election with the same failing strategy of foregrounding identity politics and attacking Trump’s character, instead of energizing their base and independents by focusing on core issues of healthcare, tax cuts for the rich, jobs and housing.

This tendency of leading Democrats to prioritize corporate-friendly identity politics is manifested in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand coordinating statements by Democratic politicians that forced Al Franken to leave his Senate seat. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Franken stepped down one day after nearly all the Senate’s Democratic women — and most Democratic men, including the top two leaders — called for him to resign. Democrats appear determined to grab the moral high ground in an environment in which they hope sexual harassment becomes a wedge issue in the 2018 midterm elections — even if it costs them popular colleagues and political icons.”

Franken was a dogged and effective questioner of Republican appointees, including Jeff Sessions, then a senator, during his confirmation hearing to be attorney general in January. He pressed Sessions about reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, which he denied, later recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation which led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. He would have been a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and his downfall removes a rival from Gillibrand’s own ambitions.

The Hill commented: “Those sympathetic to Franken suggested it was craven for her to be the first out with a statement Wednesday calling for him to resign, and suggested she was both seeking attention and building her brand on a fallen progressive hero. Gillibrand has won headlines with her action that could be useful if she chooses to run for president in 2020 against what could be a crowded field. … ‘All this reeks of is political opportunism and that’s what defines Kirsten Gillibrand’s career,’ one Democratic strategist said. … When it came to Franken, Gillibrand was ‘twisting in the wind until the goose was cooked and then saw an opportunity,’ the strategist added.”

Law professor Zephyr Teachout writes: “I also believe in zero tolerance. And yet, a lot of women I know — myself included — were left with a sense that something went wrong last week with the effective ouster of Al Franken from the United States Senate. … Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality. As citizens, we need a way to make sense of accusations that does not depend only on what we read or see in the news or on social media. …

“We need a system to deal with that messy reality, and the current one of investigating those complaints is opaque, takes too long and has not worked to protect vulnerable women and men from harassment. And the current alternative — off with the head of the accused, regardless of the accusation — is too quick, too easily subject to political manipulation and too vulnerable to the passions of the moment. We don’t have the system I’m suggesting. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on process. … As citizens, we should all be willing to stay ambivalent while the facts are gathered and we collect our thoughts. While the choice to fire the television hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer were the choices of private companies, condemning a sitting lawmaker is a public choice and one our representatives should make judiciously.”

The absolutist nature of the political climate tends to create a moral equivalency between those like Franken and those like Trump or Moore. This has given opportunists an easy way of denigrating and neutralizing their political opponents, since context is omitted and all allegations are assumed to be true. A parallel development across the Atlantic in the UK has seen claims of anti-semitism and sexual harassment made against supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the course of vicious infighting within the British Labour party, even while the Tory government is falling apart over Brexit. In the case of one Labour MP, Clive Lewis, the party exonerated him after multiple witnesses made clear he could not have done what had been alleged. But there are other party members and MPs, like Luton North’s Kelvin Hopkins, who are still waiting their due process.

Denial of proper investigation and due process means that the media coverage of accusations and forced resignations is obscuring real problems of racism, ongoing sexual harassment for average women and men, and political corruption, as well as the real oppression of women and families – such as class war measures like defunding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the US while giving huge tax cuts to the rich. While high profile cases get pilloried in the media, punitive policies against middle and working class women go unchallenged. Only when the Democratic party addresses the unequal power and wealth relations that structure harassment and predation in our society will the opposition to Trumpism and the Republicans be a rallying point for the different constituencies that are needed for victory and real change.

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Filed under #MeToo movement, African Americans, British Labour party, Democratic Party, Feminism, Jeremy Corbyn, Uncategorized, US policy

A Wake-Up Call from Catalonia: Contrary to Kamikaze Puigdemont, The Majority of Catalans Don’t Want Independence


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Today hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona in favour of maintaining unity with Spain and rejecting separatist leader Carles Puigdemont’s aim of declaring independence next week, in effect a coup d’état. The situation in Catalonia is much more complex than the narrative circulated by the independentistas – that the demand for secession expresses a mass uprising against an oppressive Francoist state – as editorials in the Washington Post and the New York Times cautioned earlier this week. The demonstrations for the union in Cataluña today and those for dialogue yesterday have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that secession is not backed by a majority of Catalans.

The voices of unity are finally being heard above the cacophony of the separatist referendum and general strike. Until now those Catalans who do not support independence were actively intimidated by the separatists and their opinions suppressed in the Catalan media. Javier Pérez, a 36-year-old teacher, told reporters: “I joined the demonstration today because I believe there’s a problem between official Catalonia and those it silences, that doesn’t consider Spanish-speakers here as real Catalans. … I went because I want to stop being treated as a second-class citizen.”

According to the Guardian, the Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), who organized the rally, claimed as many as 930,000 people had taken part.  “I hope that nothing will happen,” said Juliana Prats, a Barcelona resident taking part in the protest. “[Catalonia] is going to lose more than [Spain] because businesses are fleeing from here already. I hope it will remain like it has been up until now: 40 years of peace.” Nobel-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa told the rally: “Besides Catalans, there are thousands of men and women from all corners of Spain who have come to tell their Catalan companions that they are not alone. We want Barcelona to once again be the capital of Spanish culture.”

The Observer reported Álex Ramos, president of the SCC, saying: “This is a revolution of the powerful, of Catalonia’s wealthiest classes, not the oppressed. It’s a selfish revolution. They mobilise, telling the world how hard done by they are, and then dismiss anyone who disagrees as a fascist.” One Barcelona native who didn’t wish to be named added: “No one talks about the state of siege brought on by the secessionists that has the rest of us watching what we say and what we do, or that we don’t post on Facebook just so that others don’t come down on us and call us fascist.”

The left in Britain and around the world has fallen uncritically for the secessionist line, ignoring a number of red flags, the most obvious being that the party leading the movement is the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCat), a center-right leaning party which represents Cataluña’s political and economic elite. Its history is worth noting. It began as Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), characterized by a pro-independence article in Jacobin as the party that represents big capital. “The CDC came to power in 1980 under the leadership of Jordi Pujol, initiating a long phase of conservative nationalist hegemony and closing the previous period when Catalanism was mainly dominated by its progressive currents,” it stated. During the post-Franco transition, Pujol presented himself as a moderate nationalist, but moved to the right after the late 1990s and was succeeded by Artur Mas, who chose Puigdemont as his successor after the failure of the “consulta” (survey) vote in 2014.

Puigdemont’s and PDeCat’s coalition with the left parties (CUP and ERC) hinges on the political necessity of the separatist project and not on any shared vision for what would happen in Cataluña in the aftermath of its independence. Such cynical political expediency should give outsiders and Catalans of all persuasions serious pause. They have played upon the legitimate frustrations of Catalans with austerity which have been successfully channeled against the central Spanish government by the separatists, with the help of the ultra-left propaganda of the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular. The CUP “played an important role in social activism, but remained politically marginal until the 2000s, when radical left pro-independence candidates began to win seats on local councils… Over the past five years, CUP has combined its commitment to the independence process with an anti-capitalist program. However, it has largely operated from within the independence movement’s framework” reports Jacobin. 

The fact that the separatist leadership is part of a right-wing regional government which in the past called out the Catalan police to violently disperse anti-austerity demonstrations has not seemed to matter to leftist commentators in Britain and the United States, including public figures such as Susan Sarandon. Puigdemont, the leader of the separatist movement, is not above sacrificing those Catalans who disagree with his kamikaze politics—as he calmly told TV3, the Catalonian government-controlled television station, he intends to declare independence based on the results of the vote on October 1.

He claims for the secessionists a legitimacy that they clearly do not have: neither by virtue of the vote, which, aside from its legality, had no regular processes in place to guarantee the legitimacy of the vote itself – no international observers, no control of how many and who cast votes – nor by virtue of the numbers: only 40% of Catalans support independence. That means that 60% of Catalans reject independence. Mariana from Madrid questioned the validity of the referendum’s results, and added: “Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions in Spain and its political elites have been involved in massive corruption cases in the last years. This is not a revolutionary process but a secessionist movement promoted by the elites.”

To accept the claims of Puigmont and the independentistas is to support a politician who would claim popular legitimacy to seize the apparatus of the state against the wishes of the majority of Catalans. This seizure could not be anything but violent, as it is going against the general will, and in its essence is an antidemocratic coup d’etat. All people of progressive conscience around the world rightly condemned the repressive maneuvers of the National Police on the October 1 vote, but it is baffling to read the same people uncritically supporting a man and a movement who would found a putative Catalan state on even greater repression.

For example, Red Pepper published an article describing the admittedly hard-line actions of the conservative Spanish government to defend the constitution as a “coup” against Catalonia, and the general strike as part of a popular uprising against a “brutal police occupation.” Images circulating on Facebook of demonstrations during the “general strike,” rather an employer-sanctioned work stoppage, involving some thousands of people, and those of the heavy-handed attacks by national police on citizens asserting their right to vote, seemed to support this interpretation.

To a great extent this binary narrative, people versus authoritarian state, has been manufactured by the left Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (the ‘Popular Unity Candidacy’) party who are in coalition with the extreme right. The Red Pepper article itself points out that the role of the CUP was crucial in creating the semblance of popular support for the referendum by encouraging supporters to form lines at the polling stations with their families in defiance of its illegality. “It is CUP, with its roots in the neighbourhoods, that initiated the coordinated defense of polling stations against the police,” it says. “It is CUP that was central to supporting the left trade unions and the community and social movement demands for the general strike today.”

The CUP makes the naïve claim that the events around the referendum have pushed independence organizing towards a popular democratic revolt; but, in reality, the rightwing leadership will dispense with the CUP and institute much worse austerity measures if they were ever to gain control.

The political context is vitally important. The situation in Catalonia is much more like that in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, rather than that of Scotland or Greece, the references used by Paul Mason in trying to understand the independence agitation. In those years, Northern Ireland also had a general strike called by the Ulster Workers Council against power-sharing which was solidly supported by sectarian loyalist workers. Republicans faced intimidation and suppression: a bus driver who continued working was shot by a paramilitary gunman. A leftist group (the Irish Communist Organization) in a similar way to the CUP argued that protestant Ulster was a separate nation with the right of self-determination, echoes of which continue to exist today in the contention that Ulster Scots is a separate language rather than a local dialect.

Elena Tavera, a Spanish national who lived in Northern Ireland and has now returned to Cadiz, opposes the separatists’ cultivation of enmity towards Spain and sees the parallels between Cataluña and Northern Ireland : “I have heard accounts of a secondary school student who reported that school staff asked students to raise their hands if their families were going to vote. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if teachers asked students if their families would support a Sinn Féin-orchestrated referendum about joining the Republic of Ireland. It would be called sectarianism. I have not read in the international press that on Sunday people in Catalonia could vote as many times as they wanted as reported by, for example, El País. I have not read either that the advice on the day of the referendum was to bring children and form big queues for the press to photograph, or that their regional police had instructions to watch from a distance.”

The popular support of any movement does not guarantee its progressive nature. More importantly, it is clear that the case for self-determination of Catalonia through popular sovereignty has been grossly abused by the secessionists, and much of the media in Britain and the United States has aided and abetted that fiction. Progressives who truly care about the peoples of Catalonia, Spain, and Europe should not enable the destructive fiction of an independent Cataluña, for in the hands of Puigdemont and his allies, it will be anything but free.

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Filed under aggressive policing, Catalonia, Catalonian independence, populism, Separatism in Europe, Uncategorized, Verizon Strike

The labour movement must carry out its own inquiry into the Grenfell fire disaster


The decision of the Metropolitan police to pursue charges of “corporate manslaughter” in the Grenfell tower fire is a victory for the survivors and their supporters. The Scotland Yard investigation has said there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect Kensington council and its tenants management organization (TMO) of guilt. This is a direct consequence of the survivors’ continuous struggle for answers and justice for the victims, but it is only a first step in achieving accountability.

The council has lost all credibility, and what the police and government fear is that the state as a whole will permanently lose legitimacy. All its agencies are therefore striving to restore some kind of confidence in the ruling elite. But even prosecutions for corporate manslaughter will not satisfy the demand for justice – only fines are allowable under the law – and while residents are calling for individuals to be jailed, the problem is much wider than the council’s responsibilities to its tenants.

According to the Guardian, “Anger among residents of North Kensington over the causes and consequences of the fire has been mounting in the past six weeks. Public meetings at which officials and politicians have attempted to respond to complaints and questions from members of the community have been conducted in an atmosphere of volatile fury and distress. Police representatives have been heckled and shouted down. Residents have demanded charges be laid against the council, the TMO and the suppliers of the cladding believed to be the cause of the fire’s rapid spread. They have repeatedly complained that the police are being too cautious in their investigation.”

Around 70 survivors were able to force their way into the first full meeting of the council on July 19 by entering through a fire escape, and constantly heckled its new Tory leader, Elizabeth Campbell, with calls for her to stand down, while Labour councillors called for the authority to be taken over by independent commissioners.  The Independent reported: “Eve Wedderburn, who presented a petition with more than 1,500 signatures calling on the council to resign, said the new leader ‘is discredited before she even begins’ and said she had a record of ‘dismantling children’s services’ in her previous role. ‘This village no longer recognises the legitimacy of your estate’, Ms Wedderburn said, turning on its head a comment that councillor Rock Feilding Mellen allegedly made in the aftermath of the fire that: ‘The village cannot dictate to the estate’.” Feilding Mellen is the council’s former deputy leader, who resigned under intense public hostility to the council leadership.

Residents at an earlier consultation meeting attacked local and national officials, politicians, and the council’s “damage limitation” exercise. “We don’t sleep, we don’t eat, we want change, and we want you to engage with us,” said one woman. Another resident said: “Everyone in this room has probably attended 50 meetings in the past four weeks. Every time people say they’re listening to us. But what we want is for you to do your job, and do it properly.”

Successive governments in Britain systematically scaled back building safety regulations, letting cost concerns outweigh the risks and allowing builders to wrap residential apartment towers in highly flammable materials, a practice forbidden in the US and in Europe. The New York Times reported: “Business-friendly governments in Britain — first under Labor and then under the Conservatives — campaigned to pare back regulations. A 2005 law known as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order ended a requirement for government inspectors to certify that buildings had met fire codes, and shifted instead to a system of self-policing. Governments adopted slogans calling for the elimination of at least one regulation for each new one that was imposed … ‘If you think more fire protection would be good for U.K. business, then you should be making the case to the business community, not the government,’ Brian Martin, the top civil servant in charge of drafting building-safety guidelines, told an industry conference in 2011, quoting the fire minister then, Bob Neill. (‘Should we be looking to regulate further? ‘No’ would be my answer,’ Mr. Neill added.)”

Even these pared-back regulations seem to have been ignored. A certificate issued by the building inspectors’ organization stating that on tall buildings the insulation used in the tower should only be used with fiber cement panels, which do not burn, was seen by The Guardian. Grenfell was fitted with cheaper combustible polyethylene-filled aluminium panels instead as part of a political drive to cut costs. “In June 2014, KCTMO [the tenants’ management organization] and Rydon [the contractor] reported: ‘We have been busy working with the council’s planning department on the type of cladding which will be used.’ The next month, samples of the cladding were erected ‘for the council’s planners to look at and approve’. But also in July, according to separate leaked internal emails, the council was looking for ‘good costs’ and cheaper cladding panels were substituted, saving almost £300,000.”

Council documents have revealed the contrast between the council’s wealth and its efforts to cut costs on the tower refurbishment. “The Conservative-controlled council raised £4.5m from the sale of two three-bedroom houses in affluent Chelsea. It spent just £3.5m on the whole of the cut-price cladding system for 120 homes, which burned with such ferocity last month … The two council houses on St Luke’s Street were close to the luxury shops of King’s Road in Chelsea and were originally priced at a combined £3.25m, but sold for £1.25m above that. One was bought by a multimillionaire property investor who has been granted permission to dig out a basement extension.”

The Kensington council is acting exclusively on behalf of its extremely affluent residents, which as well as billionaires include many government members and officials, and not on behalf of its poorer council tenants, who are treated as “subhuman”, in the words of one survivor. What was of more concern to the council officials was the aesthetic appearance of the cladding to the richer residents, not its fire-resistant properties.

The chair of the official government inquiry has not won any support from survivors and residents: he has made clear that his inquiry will be limited to the causes of the fire and why it spread so quickly, and will not investigate the wider issues. After an initial hearing, Jacqui Haynes, a resident, felt he was not responsive to the needs of the tenants. She said: “What a load of crap. We don’t want the [judge] who was handpicked by Theresa May.”

Jeremy Corbyn has called for a second inquiry into the national policy issues relating to the treatment of social housing residents. “It is vital that the voice of Grenfell residents and victims’ families are heard throughout the process and that they have full confidence,” he said. The survivors’ insistence on representation on the inquiry and exerting democratic pressure on its scope raises the issue of the state’s responsibility to all its citizens. But a wider inquiry means investigating not only the government’s successive cuts in social housing budgets, and its imperatives for privatization, but also the domination of all levels of the state by the interests of a narrow social elite.

This the government cannot do – it cannot investigate itself. The labour movement should therefore instigate its own inquiry, calling on tenants’ organizations, public sector unions, social activists, and all relevant experts on social policy and housing, to give a clear mandate for the next Labour government to tackle the housing problem on behalf of the many, not the few.

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Filed under Britain, British Labour party, british parliament, Grenfell Tower fire, Labour Party, Neoliberalism, Uncategorized