Water Wars Herald Fightback against Trump’s Presidency


Media speculation about Donald Trump’s wild and contradictory policy tweets is focusing on the wrong thing. Trump used Twitter during the election to create political turbulence that concealed his authoritarian objectives, revealed more clearly by the consistency in his extremist cabinet picks: they are all from the top executives of business and military organizations where they were able to give orders which would then just get done. That won’t happen with the federal government.

The election has created an unstable political structure, where the orientation of the executive branch is in conflict with the federal bureaucracy, something whose conservatism embodies the results of past social struggles in its laws and restrictions. This instability has been years in the making: for the entirety of Obama’s administration Republicans have campaigned to subvert government and make it less effective. They were able to do this because of long-term social processes connected to deindustrialization and demographic change that not only generated middle-class fear but also undermined political legitimacy.

Each of Trump’s cabinet picks seems designed to put longstanding opponents of the regulatory activities of each agency in charge. For example, Scott Pruitt, a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, installed as head of the EPA; Andrew Puzder, a fast-food chain executive and viciously hostile to the living wage campaign, as Labor Secretary; and Betsy DeVos, a charter-school activist and big Republican donor, as Education Secretary. Trump is surrounding himself, Ayn Randian style, with people who want to shrink the federal state to a minimum and act as a conduit for big business.

During his election campaign, Trump’s rhetoric built on many years of big business’s political disinformation strategies, “devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress. … In the 1970s, scientists at Exxon (now ExxonMobil) knew that their products were changing the climate, but the company nonetheless funded think tanks and organizations dedicated to denying the existence of global warming, such as the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Donald Trump has appointed Exxon’s chief executive Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, while Myron Ebell, who heads Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition, directs the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s anti-‘global warming alarmism’ Center for Energy and the Environment, an outfit straight out of the tobacco lobby’s handbook.”

Political science professor Leo Panitch argues that, compared to the more internationally-oriented Bush administrations, staffed by Republican patricians, Trump’s cabinet “has very little autonomy from the capitalists that it represents.” His insistence on recruiting authoritarian “deal-makers” is a shift away from neoliberal “rule-makers” like Robert Rubin who wielded power under the Democrats; but, Panitch says, “then it becomes more difficult for a state to act as the Executive Committee, as Marx once put it, of the whole bourgeoisie. It makes it more difficult for them to do a reading of what’s in the class interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole and, in that sense, what’s in the national interest of a capitalist United States, in a global capitalism. And this could lead – it could lead – to a lot of jerkiness and scandals and dysfunction in such an administration.”

The state of Michigan is a prototype of just such dysfunctional Republican rule and it also shows how the burgeoning mass opposition to it can develop outside of the two-party political structure. Just one of the many scandals of its Republican administration is the unjust denial of unemployment benefits to claimants by an $45 million automated system, which was found to be wrong in 93% of cases. And all indications are that the source of the Flint water supply health disaster lies in governor Rick Snyder’s austerity policies. Four former Flint officials, including two state-appointed emergency managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, have been charged with criminal conspiracy to violate safety rules.

ACLU investigator Curt Guyette, who helped bring the health crisis to light, told Democracy Now: “it was all an attempt to save money. They said that by using the Flint River for two years while a new pipeline was being built, bringing water from Lake Huron to Genesee County, they would save about $5 million. And so, their charge is to cut expenses, to bring the budget in balance, and at any cost. And in this case, the cost was the contamination of a city’s water supply. … they were in such a rush to save money and use the river, that they went ahead before it was safe.” Guyette added that the decision to use the river “ultimately came out of the Governor’s Office.”

Nayyirah Shariff, a director of “Flint Rising”, a coalition of activists and advocates in Flint, travelled to Standing Rock in North Dakota to support the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline. She said: “we’re in this nascent stage of these water wars. And hopefully, what’s happening at Standing Rock—we have the same corporations and the same ideology that is pushing for DAPL. It’s the same ideology that created the emergency manager law, this thing for austerity and privatization and resource extraction for short-term gain, without the impact—without humanity being in that equation.”

The emergency manager law was introduced by governor Rick Snyder and his administration to slash expenditure on schools, pensions, and welfare after giving a multi-billion-dollar tax break to corporations and the rich. As Michael Moore explains: “Then he invoked an executive privilege to take over cities (all of them majority black) by firing the mayors and city councils whom the local people had elected, and installing his cronies to act as ‘dictators’ over these cities. Their mission? Cut services to save money so he could give the rich even more breaks. That’s where the idea of switching Flint to river water came from. To save $15 million!”

The idea of emergency managers was pushed by a Republican think tank called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has urged the state since 2005 to employ drastic measures to fix budgets of local towns (in crisis because of the cuts in state funding) by sending in state-appointed financial czars who have the power to override elected officials and tear up union contracts. The group is closely tied to the Republican establishment in Michigan and its funders include the Koch brothers and the same Betsy DeVos who Trump has appointed Education Secretary.

The crisis in Flint is not over: residents still pay the highest water rates in the US (average $200 per month) for water they cannot drink or cook with, and have long-term health problems arising from lead poisoning. But the town’s plight would never have come to national attention if it had not been for its residents who faced arrest when they challenged officials who claimed the water was safe, and on their own initiative contacted the EPA before working with researchers from Virginia Tech to prove the water contained poisonous quantities of lead. They are continuing to fight the state of Michigan and, through groups like Flint Rising, are calling for the prosecution of governor Rick Snyder.

The Michigan Democratic party also reflects the political corruption of the state: its officials are still rigging elections for the discredited party leadership. Sanders supporters were physically ejected from a meeting to vote on delegates to represent Michigan on the Democratic National Committee, when they protested the lack of transparency and openness in the nomination process. “This [presidential] election was a repudiation of elitist politics. The establishment had their candidate and they lost,” said Sam Pernick, president of the Young Democrats of Michigan. “It’s time we started listening to the grassroots. If we have to do the work ourselves, we will. We won’t be stopped by violence and we will continue to peacefully protest and to actively work to change the party from within.” Pernick and other activists are organizing meetings across the state to encourage youth and progressives to engage with the state and local Democratic Party, and to push for reforms.

To break from the corporatist Democratic leadership – which cravenly is suggesting cooperating with Trump’s phoney infrastructure spending – requires a fight from both within and without the party. The resistance of Flint residents to being treated as expendable is a signal of the kind of opposition Trump will face when his corporate-friendly policies begin to bite and voters realize there will be no new working class jobs for them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Democratic Party, donald trump, fast-food workers, Flint, Michigan, Uncategorized

People Who Have Captured the Imagination of the Country: The Victory of Americans Standing Together at Standing Rock


The victory of Standing Rock protesters over the Dakota Access pipeline displays a microcosm of the social forces realigning themselves in the struggle against the rapacity of corporate America. The US Army Corps of Engineers finally denied permission for the section of the pipeline that would run under the Missouri river near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying there was “a need to explore alternate routes.”

The media has minimized the significance of the victory, like the Washington Post which editorialized that “these pipelines, at their core, are nothing more than routine infrastructure projects, thousands of which underpin the U.S. economy.” But like the blocking of the Keystone XL project, the protests have come to symbolize social resistance to corporate hegemony and have brought together many strands of struggle against state oppression.

The protesters had resisted not only the fossil fuel industry’s drive for the pipeline’s construction, but also the militarized local police and private security contractors who had unleashed attack dogs, water cannons (in subfreezing temperatures), rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas grenades in unsuccessful efforts to clear the “water protectors” off the land, resulting in the hospitalization of a number of people and the permanent maiming of Sophia Wilansky and Vanessa Dundon. Police use of military-grade equipment, including landmine-resistant trucks and armored personnel carriers, prompted Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II to appeal to the Justice Department to investigate civil rights abuses.

According to one eyewitness, “I watched as grandmothers with red feathers in their hair, Oglala elders in ceremonial regalia, and teens astride horses were teargassed, tased, and arrested. Cops fired rubber bullets at protesters and blasted them with earsplitting whines from Long Range Acoustic Devices. As the police marched down the highway, the crowd, echoing Black Lives Matter protesters, held their arms in the air and shouted, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot!’ ”

The optics of these attacks, recalling nineteenth-century slave patrols and military massacres of native peoples, galvanized a large contingent of US veterans to travel to North Dakota to defend the protesters against an expected intervention by the authorities on Monday December 5, the deadline set by the army corps for the protesters to vacate the site. They joined with representatives from over 200 native American nations, indigenous peoples from Norway to New Zealand, and environmental activists.

[UPDATE:] Wesley Clark Jr., the veterans’ contingent organizer, writes that upwards of 4,000 veterans arrived at Standing Rock to fight the pipeline, twice the number expected.

The announcement of the pipeline permit’s denial was a vindication of the nonviolent strategy advocated by tribal chairman Dave Archambault, who had used all his moral authority to prevent a confrontation between more militant native Americans and the police, insisting that the camp was a place of prayer. However, not all protesters believe that the path through official channels will result in their favor – citing years of bad experiences with the authorities.

The pipeline is being built to carry 470,000 barrels per day from the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois. It was originally set to cross the Missouri ten miles north of the state’s capital, Bismarck, but local fears of water pollution led the construction company to move the path south to a point less than a mile from the Sioux reservation.

Some media accounts emphasize that the Army Corps’ decision could be overturned by president-elect Donald Trump after his inauguration on January 20. But this is not as certain as might be assumed from his general support for fossil fuels. In the first place, the economic justification for the pipeline is fast eroding. It was started when oil prices were high as $100 a barrel, and shale oil production in North Dakota was projected to expand considerably. However, oil prices are now down to $50 a barrel and producers are likely to use the opportunity to shed their financial commitments to the pipeline.

The Economist reports: “The developers are rushing to finish the construction of the controversial pipeline because they are under financial pressure, not because of a need for increased local pipeline capacity, argues Clark Williams-Derry of the Sightline Institute, an environmental-research institution. According to court documents oil drillers have the right to void their contracts with ETP if the pipeline is not finished by January 1st, which could result in steep losses for the developers. … Mr Williams-Derry argues that the pipeline is a superfluous project being built to preserve the favourable contract terms negotiated by its developers before the oil price tanked.”

Secondly, if Trump were to send in state forces to push through a pipeline in which he himself has a financial interest, overriding the legal process set in motion by the Army Corps, that would establish his administration from the get-go as so corrupt as to warrant his impeachment. And thirdly, this would set him up against the federal bureaucracy, and given that his appointments to office have been selected from the wildly incompetent to the spectacularly inexperienced, he needs its cooperation. He will find it difficult to reverse years of federal law by executive fiat.

As climate change activist Bill McKibben wrote in the Guardian: “Trump, of course, can try and figure out a way to approve the pipeline right away, though the Obama administration has done its best to make that difficult. (That’s why, instead of an outright denial, they simply refused to grant the permit, thus allowing for the start of the environmental impact statement process). But if Trump decides to do that, he’s up against people who have captured the imagination of the country. Simply spitting on them to aid his friends in the oil industry would clarify a lot about him from the start, which is one reason he may hesitate.”

The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, now says it doesn’t need the permit from the Army Corps and they will continue to build, anticipating support from the future Trump administration. However, the lawyer representing the Standing Rock Sioux, Jan Hasselman, pledged continued court battles in that event. “If an agency decides that a full environmental review is necessary, it can’t just change its mind with a stroke of a pen a few weeks later. That would be violation of the law, and it’s the kind of thing that a court would be called upon to review. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to try.”

On Monday a hugely symbolic forgiveness ceremony connected the veterans with the Sioux nation. Wesley Clark Jr., son of the retired Army general, apologized to an assembly of tribal elders for actions of the US military against Native Americans, kneeling and begging forgiveness. “We took your land,” he said, “We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills.” While the veterans who joined him there had little interest in electoral politics, the reasons they gave for being there “demonstrate a commitment to fundamental American rights: to defend the Constitution, to protect innocent civilians, to protect water. They may have lost their faith in our politics, but their actions are still plenty patriotic,” commented Slate magazine.

Arthur Woodson, a Marine veteran from Flint, Michigan, told ABC News that he views the purpose of the growing veterans’ protest movement as being able to “stand up to the elites and the 1 percent.” The next destination for the group is going to be Flint, he said, where people still have to drink bottled water because of the high lead levels in the municipal system. “We don’t know when we are going to be there but we will be heading to Flint,” Wesley Clark Jr. said. “This problem is all over the country. It’s got to be more than veterans. People have been treated wrong in this country for a long time.” A surplus of bottled water that was donated to Standing Rock protesters could not be used, and will be rerouted to the Michigan city.

The multiracial alliance that has taken form at Standing Rock projects the future of resistance to right-wing corporate rule, uniting veterans with African, Latino and Native Americans. Trump is adept at seizing the headlines of the gullible media, but he is not going to win over Americans who remember his false promises and attacks on union officials. What is needed is clear opposition from leading Democrats to Republican efforts to dismantle Medicare and the remaining social safety net. They were notably missing from support for Standing Rock protesters, apart from Bernie Sanders and Hawaiian representative Tulsi Gabbard – although local Democratic party branches gave moral and material support – but nothing was heard from Hillary Clinton or even Elizabeth Warren, despite her claims to native heritage.

Opposition to the Trump agenda is going to come from within all layers of society, including the federal bureaucracy itself. Sanders’ supporters should get over their shock from the presidential election result, and make sure this opposition is expressed within the Democratic party as well as outside it, building multiracial alliances to defend the American public against the Trump administration’s expected onslaught on the $15 minimum wage, unions, civil rights, working class rights and environmental justice.

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Filed under aggressive policing, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, racial justice, standing rock, Uncategorized, US Veterans

Trump and May: Wrecking the Social Compact in the U.S. and Britain (if we let them)


Despite the different social contexts, there are significant transatlantic parallels between the political situation in Europe and America. Sarkozy’s humiliation in France’s centre-right presidential primary has been attributed to a “revolt by the French people against the political class” by François Fillon, the winning candidate. In the US, the election of Donald Trump is equivalent to a Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen achieving presidential office, against the wishes of the political class. Now the centralization of executive branch powers that continued under Obama will be handed over to Trump, whose politics are scaringly shallow.

In the UK, after the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the Conservative party establishment quickly asserted control over its anti-EU faction. Prime Minister Theresa May rode the Brexit tiger by moving the government sharply to the right, but while she maintains a Thatcher-like image of unflappable control, in reality she is improvising from day to day in negotiations over the country’s transition. She hints she will keep key industries in the single market while being able to reduce immigration from within the EU, which European leaders have already denounced as unacceptable.

Her Cabinet is reportedly split to the point of paralysis over what strategy to follow. A recent memo by a Deloitte analyst pointed out that more than 500 separate commercial treaties would have to be re-negotiated in the event of a hard Brexit (leaving the single market), which would need the recruitment of another 30,000 civil servants and would be far “beyond the capacity and capability” of the government.

Across the Atlantic, the Washington Post argues that “Trump took the elements of an independent candidacy — the lack of clear ideology, the name recognition of a national celebrity and the personal fortune needed to fund a presidential campaign — and then did what no one seemed to have thought of before. He staged a hostile takeover of an existing major party. He had the best of both worlds, an outsider candidacy with crosscutting ideological appeal and the platform of a major party to wage the general election.”

Now that he has been elected, however, Trump has turned to the Republican establishment for help in building his administration. Trump’s initial appointments, including the neo-fascist Steve Bannon, appear to be aimed at appeasing his energized base – the tea party and hard-right racist wings of the Republicans – but he is already negotiating with establishment figures like Romney and Priebus and has embraced Paul Ryan’s budget plans.

Political theorist Theda Skopcol writes that after his unexpected election victory, Trump’s inner circle “provided little in the way of expert allies to help him fill tens of thousands of federal government jobs and plan comprehensive policy agendas. Especially on the domestic side, Trump has responded by immediately outsourcing much of this work to experienced GOP officials, including key players in his emergent White House and in Congress who have long been groomed by the Koch network. After apparently denouncing and opposing GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan during the election campaign, President-Elect Trump did a quick about-face to fully embrace Ryan and his radical government-shrinking policy agenda.”

This means the Republican-controlled government will ram through the Koch policy agendas of privatizing Medicare, cutting taxes even more for the rich, busting unions, deregulating business and abandoning environmental regulation. Some Democratic politicians like Chuck Schumer advocate holding Trump to fulfil the more populist of his campaign promises. But this can only sow illusions about the new administration: it will be the most corrupt, anti-labor and anti-jobs government in the U.S. since 1776.

Trump’s plan for rebuilding infrastructure, for example, which sounds like it would create construction jobs, is in reality “a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. … Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring.”

Skopcol points out that “Liberals and Democrats could be so focused on Trump’s racial and international policies that they fail to mobilize widespread American popular support to save programs like Medicare. Ironically, however, the pending Koch-inspired eviscerations of the U.S. social insurance system are likely to disillusion many of Trump’s ‘make America great again’ voters. … With total GOP control of Washington DC about to happen, the Koch network dream of an enfeebled U.S. domestic government is on the verge of realization. Unless Democrats learn to speak clearly and organize in many states and counties, no one will even be available to make the key changes visible or explain what is happening to disillusioned voters.”

That’s the key issue: Democrats must speak clearly and organize against the dismantling of social entitlements, but that means overcoming the corporate Wall Street Democrats who are responsible for the party’s electoral defeat. Adam Green of the Progressive Change Committee criticized Clinton for not addressing the central issue of a rigged economy that was so important to voters. “The Democrats need to be willing to say that our economy is rigged against the little guy, our democracy is corrupted by big money and we will fight Trump’s pro-corporate agenda and dedicate ourselves to fixing this rigged system,” he said.

And Robert Reich slams the Democratic party for its corporate perspective. “The entire organization has to be reinvented from the ground up. The Democratic Party has become irrelevant to the lives of most people. It’s nothing but a giant fundraising machine. … “This new Democratic Party has got to show very vividly that Donald Trump … is fraudulent. And expose that fraud. And offer people the real thing, rather than the fake variety. … we need a political party, a progressive, new Democratic Party that’s going to be organizing in every state. And not only for the state elections, but also organizing grassroots groups that are active on specific issues right now in many, many states – including many of the groups that worked for Bernie Sanders – that need to be connected.”

While being in the forefront of the fight against the racist policies of the state, the left must participate in this struggle to change the Democratic party from within, as the only organization that can coordinate national resistance to Trump’s presidency. Millions of Americans are afraid of what they expect to happen and want to know what to do. They urgently need a roadmap of how to succeed in the fight for adequate housing, health, jobs, and a $15 minimum hourly wage; and a clear strategy to defend constitutional civil liberties and the hard fought gains of the Civil Rights Era. That makes it necessary to campaign on issues that will unite disparate groups and undermine Trump’s political support. A major battle inside and outside Congress to defend Medicare is an ideal opportunity to drive a wedge between Trump and those who supported him in the belief he cared about the needs of ordinary people like them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Medicare, political analysis, Trump, Uncategorized

WTF – Trump? America Runs on White Entitlement


Political commentators are explaining Donald Trump’s victory as the revenge of the white working class on the US political elite. The New York Times says it amounted to “a historic rebuke of the Democratic Party from the white blue-collar voters who had formed the party base. … To the surprise of many on the left, white voters who had helped elect the nation’s first black president, appeared more reluctant to line up behind a white woman.” The fact that Hillary Clinton relied on identity politics for much of her campaign and marginalized Bernie Sanders’ message that Americans had the right to healthcare, college and a living wage, was a major part of her undoing.

According to Juan Cole, Trump’s appeal to white workers was his rhetoric of economic protectionism, attacks on NAFTA and TPP over outsourcing jobs, attacks on Clinton’s well-paid speeches to Wall Street, and anti-immigrant sentiment. He added: “The Democratic Party’s refusal to do anything about Wall Street mega-fraud in 2009 and after came home to roost. In other words, the Clintons were inextricably entangled in the very policies that white workers saw as having ruined their lives.”

Hillary Clinton was probably the worst candidate the Democratic party could have chosen for this election. Author Thomas Frank blames the Democratic liberal establishment for selecting “an insider when the country was screaming for an outsider … She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. … And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest.”

For many citizens, the deindustrialization of large swathes of the country due to corporate globalization and the economic recession has destroyed the American dream – or illusion – an expectation of an ever-increasing standard of living.

But while attention is focused on the white working class, the white professional middle class also voted for Trump in large numbers. The racism of his attacks on Mexicans, Muslims and immigrants did not deter these voters from choosing the Republican ticket. Actual exit polls showed “the election result seems to have been more about the clear backing of America’s white and wealthy voters for Donald Trump – including white graduates, and white female voters. Far from being purely a revolt by poorer whites left behind by globalisation, who did indeed turn out in greater numbers for the Republican candidate than in 2012, Trump’s victory also relied on the support of the middle-class, the better-educated and the well-off.”

This was exemplified in Florida, which the Washington Post described as “a microcosm of the story in many contested states. Clinton and her allies had helped spur record turnout among Democrats and Latino voters in early voting, but Trump rapidly made up ground on Tuesday with record turnout in exurban communities and GOP-leaning counties.”

“People like me, and probably like most readers of The New York Times, truly didn’t understand the country we live in,” wrote Paul Krugman. “There turn out to be a huge number of people — white people, living mainly in rural areas — who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy. And there were many other people who might not share those anti-democratic values, but who nonetheless were willing to vote for anyone bearing the Republican label.”

So the ideology of white exceptionalism or white entitlement, which has its ultimate roots in slavery, was excavated from the national psyche and laid bare by the Trump campaign, attracting white supremacists and neo-nazis. CNN commentator Van Jones described it as “a white-lash against a changing country. It was a white-lash against a black president in part, and that’s the part where the pain comes.”

Populist resentment of political elites converged with white nationalism in the Trump “movement.” But what will happen when, like the British Brexiteers, he reneges on his promises to create jobs and disrupt the status quo? The Republican party is split between its Senate establishment and its fired-up base, but Trump’s policies are identical to those of mainstream Republicans except for his stance against trade deals.

The Guardian reported from Youngstown, Ohio: “Trump has set expectations for the presidency extraordinarily high. Millions of people voted for his promise to achieve an improbable reversal of the decades-long structural decline in American manufacturing. By November 2020, the voters of Mahoning County will expect results. ‘I want him to bring America back,’ said Kerri Smith, a 48-year-old carer for disabled children and a former Democrat. ‘Bring back the jobs, bring our country back’.”

There is now no question of renewing the bipartisanship that Obama attempted unsuccessfully to establish with the Republican leadership after 2009. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will have a much greater weight within the Democratic party: The New York Times noted “there is unlikely to be much appetite among Democrats for conciliating Mr. Trump, and — as Republicans found over the last eight years — the loudest and most potent voices in the party are most likely to be those of blunt ideological opposition.”

Already, thousands have protested against Trump’s victory across the USA, from Massachusetts to California. College students and activists angrily cried “not my president,” since Clinton won the popular vote, but not the electoral college. At Berkeley High School, California, about 1,500 students, or half of the entire student body, walked out of class before 9 a.m. in protest of Trump’s victory. Students tweeted “#NotMyPresident,” and pledged to unify.

“I was just devastated,” said Drae Upshaw, a 19-year-old college student in Oakland. “I come from a Mexican community. I have family and friends crying tonight in fear that Donald Trump will deport them.” Demonstrations spilled out on to the streets from a number of University of California campuses, an estimated 2,000 people rallying at UCLA.

One bright spot in this electoral cycle is the defeat of hardline anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, a major supporter of Donald Trump, when his bid for re-election was overturned by Latino voters in the state. “The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him. He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear,” said immigration rights activist Carlos Garcia. Arpaio’s so-called “saturation patrols, sweeps in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods in and around Phoenix, were routinely done without evidence of criminal activity, violating federal safeguards against racial profiling,” reported the New York Times. Arpaio faces the possibility of jail time himself, after federal prosecutors announced they’re charging him with criminal contempt of court over his refusal to end unconstitutional immigration patrols in Arizona.

The liberal left needs to get over its quest for ideological purity and align itself with mass social struggles – resistance to a rapid enforcement of Republican authoritarian policies will grow. Grassroots campaigns need to be linked with efforts to unseat rightwing Republicans at state level and in the next round of congressional elections, despite the gerrymandered constituencies. This will mean confronting the Democratic administration which is wholly to blame for Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, liberal establishment, Uncategorized, white working class

Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party?


Recently there have been recurring accusations of anti-semitism within the British Labour party. These accusations are spurious; that’s not to say that anti-semitism does not exist on the left at all, but the real source of racism and anti-semitism in Britain today is from the right, enhanced by the scurrilous anti-immigrant Brexit campaign.

In the US, there has been a spike in the number of anti-semitic messages on Twitter, directed especially against Jewish journalists, encouraged by Trump’s racist campaign. The Anti-Defamation League found that more than 800 journalists had been the subject of anti-semitic attacks, mainly from Trump supporters; Trump’s final election ad was grossly anti-semitic.

There is no question that the Jewish community is right to be concerned about the growth of rightwing movements in Europe who spout racism in more or less veiled forms.

Jewish communities have an emotional connection with Israel as part of their sense of identity, which has strengthened as identity politics became more pronounced in the postmodern era. However, the rightwing Israeli Likud government has taken advantage of this sentiment to exert political pressure on governments in its own interests. Most Jewish communities in the US are liberal politically, but the rightwing AIPAC has established an outsized influence on foreign policy.

This is facilitated by an ideological positioning of Jewish experience as exceptional, privileging their persecution in Europe – which has the effect of divorcing Jewish struggles from other oppressed groups with which they have often identified historically.

It is also cynically exploited by the British political establishment to attack the credibility of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. But where were they when Ed Miliband faced the dog-whistle anti-semitism of the Daily Mail and the Sun in 2015? Instead of defending him, the Jewish leadership in Britain attacked him for his principled defence of Palestinian rights.

Today the accusations of anti-semitism have been seized on by the Tories and PLP Blairites to attack the Labour party left and Momentum. Jim Cook contributes a guest editorial analyzing the conflation of anti-semitism with criticisms of the Israeli state.

During the middle ages the Ottoman Empire was seen as, and became, a place of refuge for Jews from Europe. I read many years ago of an English aristocrat who went, as tourist or diplomat, to the ‘Sublime Porte,’ the seat of government of the Empire and found, to his horror, that he, like all Christians, was rated as being at the same level as Jews. Jews lived quite comfortably, albeit like Christians as second class citizens, all over north Africa and through the Middle East including in Palestine and with even a few thousand in Jerusalem.

What changed all this was of course the betrayal of the Arabs by the British and French at the end of WWI. The British, Lawrence of Arabia for one, promised Arabs their freedom from the Ottoman Empire while the Turks tried to enlist Muslim solidarity. At the end of the war the British and the French reneged on any promises made to Arabs and, treating them with their accustomed imperial disdain, proceeded to carve up the Middle East in their own interests – albeit with the need to allow for some local interests to avoid continuous all-out war.

Concurrent with that was the 1917 Balfour Declaration that, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” meant about as much then as the rights of indigenous people in America, Australia, Asia and Africa, that is not very much. Jews bought up land in Palestine from absentee landlords and set about populating it with Jews and driving peasant families from their ancient homes. This, not surprisingly, led to increasing opposition from Palestinians who for some reason did not see their homeland as “A land without a people for a people without a land” – originally a Christian phrase for a way of getting rid of Jews – from Europe.

The Palestinian people have fought the invasion of European settlers for at least a century with loss of life on both sides, though increasingly more Arab lives lost than Jewish. In the course of this struggle Muslims worldwide have, not surprisingly, tended to support the Palestinian side. They too have experienced European, including via the USA, disdain, exploitation, humiliation, occupation and murder: things they can clearly see in Palestine/Israel. Many Muslims have continued to experience at least some of those injuries even after moving to Europe, or the USA.

It is a pity that some Muslims have picked up on European anti-Semitic tropes, perhaps on the basis of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. This is counter-productive to the Palestinian cause as it gives the Israeli government yet another stick to beat them with. It can also tend to alienate the many Jews worldwide who support the Palestinians in their struggle and also maintain a long tradition of liberal and socialist principle, not least during the height of the Civil Rights movement of the US.

But the bar is set exceptionally low for someone to be charged with anti-Semitism. When Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was accused of such anti-Semitism there were letters to the Guardian that said that opposition to Zionism was not anti-Semitism, Zionism is a political position not an attribute of Jewish identity. I fully agreed, and agree, with that. But I also started looking at the Jewish Chronicle (JC) to see what attitudes there were. I was a bit surprised to find that, yes, some Jews think that Zionism and support for the state of Israel are part of being a Jew.

For instance: Yehuda Bauer, professor of Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University, is quoted in JC September 7 2016 as saying: “Anti-Zionism is a slogan, there’s nothing real behind it. It’s anti-Jewish, it’s antisemitic.”

Melanie Phillips, JC September 29 2016 says in “My letter to the Prime Minister,” “The animus against Israel cannot be separated from hostility to Jews. Antisemitism singles out Jews for treatment applied to no other people: double standards, imputation of conspiratorial powers and false claims they are committing crimes of which they are in fact the victims. This is precisely the treatment applied to Israel.”

Josh Jackman in JC October 10 2016: “The Board of Deputies has condemned a planned event by a pro-Palestinian student group which aims to separate anti-Zionism from antisemitism.” And further, he quotes Marie van der Zyl, Board vice-president who claims: “For the vast majority of British Jews, political, cultural and religious affiliation with the state of Israel is a fundamental part of their Jewish identity.”

So Zionism is just another name for Judaism? And so anti-Zionism is just another name for anti-Semitism? This is nonsense. Zionism is, now at least, the assertion that Jews are entitled to take and live in the lands previously known as Palestine. It is a political assertion and as such these is no reason whatsoever why it should not be opposed without the opposition being labelled as effectively ‘immoral’, not wrong but morally wrong and basically disgusting. Anti-Semitism in itself is a form of racism and so, yes, immoral, disgusting, stupid and ignorant.

And now we have the report of the Home Affairs Committee “Antisemitism inquiry” which, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (October 16 2016): “Important is the committee’s valiant attempt to define what can be constituted as anti-Semitism in modern Britain, and by extension, in Western political discourse. “The report states what should be obvious but sadly is not – that the starting point for any discussion on anti-Semitism should be what the Jewish community and Jews themselves feel is anti-Semitic.”

Zionism was never a part of being a Jew. By some accounts it originated in European ‘Christian’ circles when all sorts of nationalisms were springing up. Jews could be “subjects” just like Protestants, Catholics and even Muslims but “citizens”? So some 19th century Protestants thought it would be a good idea to encourage Jews to go to “the Holy Land”, this would not only get rid of the Jews but also accomplish the divine plan of gathering Jews together in anticipation of Armageddon and the return of the messiah – a belief still held by hordes of American Christians to this day.

There can be lots of reasons why such a call for a ‘homeland’ might be opposed politically but that opposition cannot be defined in itself as ‘racist’ and neither can political opposition to Zionism be called anti-Semitic. Anti-Zionism is not part of the “racist” family but more like part of the ideological or political family that would include “Un-American”.

The main claim to Israel’s moral authority is of course the Holocaust: nothing else could even come close to excusing the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. But even the Holocaust grants no special privilege to Jews, Zionists or the state of Israel: how could massive hurt grant the right to hurt others?  It could perhaps justify a Jewish state in Germany but whatever the Mufti of Jerusalem may or may not have done in WWII the Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust. Even some of the survivors, not that there are many left now, were opposed to the use of the suffering of themselves and their fellows for narrow political ends.

There are Jews who are anti-Zionist: some of the most orthodox see the return by force of arms, rather than with the messiah, as blasphemy. But the most eloquent opponents of the Israeli state and of Zionism, in the English language anyway, are Israeli and American Jews. They are clearly not anti-Semitic so they have earned the even more ridiculous label of “self-hating Jews” – itself an anti-Semitic jibe. I must admit that in my reading about the Holocaust, Israel, Palestine and American politics, in books by respected Jewish and non-Jewish, Zionist and non-Zionist, historians and other commentators, I’ve come across several “self-hating Jews” and I can only admire their courage.

So what’s this ‘anti-Semitism in the Labour Party all about? Ken Livingstone is quoted by Lianne Kolirin, JC 5 September 2016, as saying on a radio breakfast show, “The simple fact is that until they started to undermine Jeremy, no Labour MP in my lifetime had ever said there was any issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party.”

Despite being the only nuclear power in the region, having the most effective armed forces in the region and having the world’s ‘super-power’ covering their back – and giving them lots of money to buy arms – it seems that Israel is facing an existential threat due to BDS. A Republican Congressman, Doug Lamborn, claimed in a phone call to the Jerusalem post that BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is “the re-emergence of the scourge of anti-Semitism. It is the same hatred just put into new clothing”.

The Israeli political elite is afraid of what they call “delegitimation;” the main thrust of that internationally is the BDS movement and they are afraid that the Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, might move from under the US foreign policy umbrella into support for the rights of Palestinians. Hence all this “anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” nonsense. The real movement of socialists, and many liberals, worldwide is for the state of Israel and its Zionist supporters to treat Palestinians as fellow human beings.

But the rulers, and the bulk of the inhabitants, of Israel are not Holocaust survivors. Many of them come from the United States and Europe and share the imperialist disdain for “the natives” that so many from the United States and Europe have held for centuries. They need, for their own long term safety and for the sake of common decency to work for a resolution of their differences with Palestinians – but there is little ground for optimism in this regard at the moment.

The Zionists feel that Israel is the natural “home” of the Jewish people everywhere, but the question must be asked, “What about the Palestinians?” And the answer of the state of Israel, the Zionists and the right wing Christian nutters in the US is, “What about the Palestinians?” And these racists have the nerve to call us anti-Semites.

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Fighting for Their Lives vs. Parliamentary Fictions: Members Reclaim the Labour Party for the People


Rank and file Labour party members in Britain, whether or not they support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, are acutely aware of the implications of major Tory cuts in benefits that affect thousands of people. This awareness has spurred sections of the membership into a new democratic activism that sets them against the parliamentary wing of the party.

Much of the Tory legislation was smuggled in by stealth, with some Labour MPs voting in favour, and is only now being put into effect. As a result, many families don’t realize the extent of the assault on their living standards about to take place – not even counting the Brexit effect on food prices due to hit them in the new year.

Liverpool city councillor Jane Corbett writes in the Guardian that 840 households in her city alone could soon face eviction. “They will all be affected by the new, lower benefit cap of £20,000 being introduced from 7 November. This follows a tsunami of regressive changes to the benefits system since 2010, including the bedroom tax, the freezing of benefit rates and cuts to equivalent working tax credits for those on universal credit. … Aside from the devastating social consequences and stress, in financial terms all this policy is doing is shifting the cost from the government over to the council, housing associations and our other local partners. This at the same time as we’re facing huge cuts to our budgets: £90m alone in the case of Liverpool city council over the next three years.”

These issues are literally life and death for many people: after losing their homes or being refused benefits, there has been a rise in incidents of suicide. Even Conservative councils have protested the loss of £600 millions of educational services grants despite being given a new legal requirement to run support services for local schools.

Ex-front bencher Angela Eagle recently showed just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is from the issues confronting poorer communities. She called on fellow MPs to develop Labour policy by answering “the questions that face people in their everyday lives” such as the abstractions of “growing automation and the loss of jobs,” rather than the immediate attacks on housing benefits or the withdrawal of support for the disabled. Her assumption that only MPs can determine policy is countered by party members’ beginning to assert their right to democracy within the party.

Likewise, at a time when the government plans to rapidly decimate social entitlements, Labour’s  soft left is obsessed with the electoral implications of Brexit and has decided to recover a lost political centre by restoring a native English collectivism. Jonathan Rutherford of “Labour Together” writes that Brexit “was a vote against globalisation and a reassertion of an English and British common national inheritance over the progressive cosmopolitan culture of the elites.” Jeremy Corbyn, he says, represents this elite, but the party needs instead “a new Labour political philosophy and political economy which draws on values that are widely shared amongst voters: family, work, decency, fairness and responsibility.”

Apart from the Tory assault on the social safety net, what Rutherford also omits to mention is the role of the Blairite years in fostering cynicism among working class communities about Labour politicians and the massive increase in inequality the Blair government helped to sustain. His celebration of “patriotic socialism” and traditional English values is essentially an ideological framing of the Brexit vote. Britain’s national inheritance, heavily fashioned by imperial privilege, also includes a mean-spirited and vindictive ruling elite that built its wealth on slavery and colonial exploitation, and is skilled in manipulating voters with propaganda masquerading as news.

It’s hard to disagree with Sam Tarry, Corbyn’s campaign director, when he told the Huffington Post: “there are a huge amount of people in the PLP who … have no skills in terms of community organising. No skills in terms of building a movement. No strategy for winning a general election and are kind of quite intellectually bankrupt.” “I think really this sort of new left that has been born in the Labour Party, that really is the only sort of strategy we’ve got at the moment, we’ve got to make it work,” he added. “That’s actually building a far bigger project than just Corbyn himself. He is a lightning rod, he’s a conductor, he’s that person who symbolises a more just, a more equal and more sustainable society.”

Corbyn’s supporters are determined to campaign against Tory cuts, and at the recent Labour Assembly Against Austerity in London made clear that they viewed it as their responsibility to decide Labour’s policies for the next election. That brings them into conflict with party’s MPs and right wing, which is mounting a rearguard action by suspending leading members of Momentum from the party.

Momentum’s next step is to fight for positions in the Labour party apparatus, not the issue of deselection of MPs. In London, the party’s regional board elections will take place in November, and Momentum’s candidates will face competition from the soft left as well as the right. The board is important not only because it will play an important role in councillor selections and dealing with the constituency boundary review, but also because it will hear appeals from people unfairly barred from voting in the leadership election.

Outside of London, Momentum activists have already won some victories in changing the leadership of some constituency parties. They have done so because of their readiness to fight on issues of inequality and social justice. Within Momentum itself there are frustrating issues of democratic structure, but it has enabled like-minded activists to find a network for political expression for the first time.

As Hilary Wainwright explains about her local Momentum group in Hackney, “we try to ensure that our meetings always include a discussion with local campaigns – like the occupation of empty council houses by Sisters Uncut, seeking to create and get council support for a centre for women facing domestic violence. We discuss with them how Momentum can support them, build their social base, their alliances and their political impact. We focus on this promotion of grassroots solutions alongside political education aimed at the young people enthused by the new politics and canvassing for the Labour Party and opening up local party structures to the creative initiatives around them. Our own institutions are being built to facilitate this dual strategy of reaching outside the Labour Party as well as working inside it.”

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Parliament vs. the People: Corbyn and a New Kind of Politics in Britain


Jeremy Corbyn has been able to win an increased majority for his leadership of the British Labour party after a bruising second election, which occupied much of the headlines over the past few months. Many Labour MPs had a difficult time disguising their hostility as he reorganized his shadow cabinet, but they have had to acknowledge that the party’s base remains solidly behind him. While new party members are enthused by Corbyn’s socialist stand against the super-rich, discredited ex-Labour premier Tony Blair found himself “baffled” by the turn politics has taken.

He is confused because Corbyn did not so much win re-election as Labour’s membership, assumed by Blair to be a passive group of subscribers, asserted its right to control the direction of the party. Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum represent a new kind of politics, one that combines electoral campaigning and locally-based activism. Critics who call him unelectable or not prime-minister-material miss the fact that he wants to build a different sort of party to the monolithic Labourism of the past, one that does not depend on silver-tongued orators like Keir Hardie or Neil Kinnock.

The legitimacy of parliamentary representation, in any case, has been undermined by the legacy of Blair’s New Labour and the Cameron coalition governments – most Labour MPs embraced the premise that austerity policies were inevitable, taking their lead from Westminster insiders and not from their constituents. Corbyn’s insistence on democracy within the Labour party is an assertion of popular sovereignty, which on principle is antagonistic to the British tradition of rule from above.

Parliament has not been the real seat of power since the Callaghan government capitulated to the IMF in the 1970s, but a parliamentary majority still remains the ultimate goal for the Labour establishment. Leftwing sociologist Hilary Wainwright explains why: “Underlying Labour’s devotion to the parliamentary system as a fixed point of reference and conditioning factor of their political mentality is deference to the moral authority of the British state … associated with the potent symbolism of the monarch as the entity to which MPs swear their allegiance – as distinct from the republican European convention of an oath to the people. … To suggest authority lies anywhere else is in effect a challenge to the authority of the state.”

The Labour party’s membership have long dreamed of making MPs and the party leader accountable to them, and are now raising again the demands for mandatory reselection of MPs and party control over policy that were aired by the Bennite movement of the 1980s. Like Benn, Corbyn seeks to legitimize forms of political democracy outside parliament, relocating sovereignty in the people. “Only with Corbyn’s first leadership campaign did the new politics come into the mainstream,” Asher, a Momentum volunteer, told Wainwright. “I get infuriated when people talk of the new politics as a Jeremy fan club. This isn’t and was never about just one man.” Another volunteer, Adam, adds that “Corbyn is ‘a figurehead of the new politics’ but ‘not in control of it’.”

Wainwright commented that Corbyn has demonstrated “he would open up spaces in politics for the disenfranchised and ensure they had a voice. … Gemma Jamieson Malik, for example, a London PhD student driven by housing costs to live out of London, explains: ‘It’s not that I’m a Jeremy Corbyn fan. It’s that he’s opened a space for a new politics I and my friends can feel part of. He’s generated a new energy around Labour’.” Emily, a Momentum volunteer, said: “It’s not good enough for a leader to speak for people, it’s about empowering those people to speak for themselves. In essence, it’s about creating a vehicle for the untapped potential of communities to collectively organise and lead the fightback.”

Corbyn, Wainwright argues, “supports an impressive range of struggles but he weaves a web of networks so they connect with each other, rather than going through him. At present, he can see that something new is going on, transcending traditional political allegiances.”

Paul Mason thinks that Corbyn doesn’t go far enough in that direction. “He is a symptom of the wider recapture of Labour by networked individuals and grassroots campaigners, but he doesn’t come from that tradition,” he maintains. “I think he could have been stronger in building Labour as a network and a movement, learning from the benefits this milieu can bring.”

Mason points out that in the first nine months of Corbyn’s leadership much effort was expended on changing Labour’s economic policy so that the party could present a realistic plan for improving people’s lives. “They brought forward a new fiscal charter and a proposal for state investment, there was a successful opposition to the government’s welfare reforms, they forced the resignation of Iain Duncan-Smith over disability benefit cuts. None of this would have happened if there had been a different kind of leader,” he said, even though Corbyn was hampered by lack of support (if not outright betrayal) from the parliamentary party and party headquarters staff.

However, parliament is not the place where real, rather than rhetorical, opposition to the Tory establishment is most effectively expressed. That’s why Momentum’s plan to turn outwards and campaign directly with the electorate is better than one of infighting in party meetings. Devolution of powers to English cities and regions offers opportunities to challenge government-led austerity, and a chance to change the terms of electability, “overcoming negative media onslaughts through sheer volume and quality of peer-to-peer political interaction,” the organization says. It plans to campaign in local elections over the next two years, building a base of activists who can mobilize party members and win power for left candidates locally, which it hopes will prepare Labour to fight the 2020 general election.

Momentum has a dual strategy, explains national organizer James Schneider: “We want to make the Labour Party more open, participatory, and democratic. We want it to be an activist party, organizing to win in every community, standing for Corbyn’s platform. … But we also want to provide a point of connection between the movements and the party, to use this moment to build popular power and increase capacity at the grassroots level.”

Momentum itself developed spontaneously at the grassroots level after Corbyn’s initial election victory in 2015. Groups emerged over the country, setting up Facebook pages and organizing meetings, before there was any kind of national organization. It was a form of horizontal democracy, like the Occupy movement, and only later was a form of governance structure created to coordinate the local groups’ activities. This distinguishes it from “Our Revolution” in the US, which seems to have failed to connect Sanders’ organizational apparatus with local activists’ energy.

But what is problematic about Momentum is that its leadership appears to have capitulated to the rightwing witchhunt alleging anti-semitism in the Labour party, removing the organization’s vice-chair, Jackie Walker. What distinguishes this ideological assault is the re-definition of anti-semitism as any criticism of Israel or of Zionism, coded as the “distinct nature of post-second-world-war antisemitism” by hostile MPs. In the US a well-funded assault of the same kind is taking place on college campuses against the campaign for divestment from corporations profiting from the occupation of the West Bank (BDS), where university chancellors have been pressured to define any defense of Palestinian rights as hate speech.

While British society accepts many of the premises of social democracy, its class history has produced an aversion to owning the consequences of democratic participation. The radicals in Momentum will have to find ways to overcome the strong social tendency to bureaucracy and sectarianism if they are to build a truly democratic movement; however, they can draw on the enthusiasm and determination of newly politicized millennial youth as well as the experience of older members who have recently rejoined the Labour party.

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