Basta, Trump! Ramos Exposes the Ugly Side of The Donald’s Dangerous Words


Jorge Ramos, the immensely respected Mexican-American journalist, has single-handedly taken on Donald Trump’s outlandish attacks on immigrants. Ramos is the most trusted source of information for millions of Latinos who make up a large part of US society, hosting the most-viewed Spanish-language news program “Noticiero Univision” and the English-language program “America with Jorge Ramos.”

Trump evicted Ramos from his press conference for attempting to ask specifics about his proposals to deport 11 million people from the country, build a 1,900-mile border wall, and deny citizenship to children born in the US. Trump told Ramos to “go back to Univision,” echoing anti-immigrant threats, and branding the journalist a foreigner (he is actually a US citizen). Afterward, Ramos said: “This is personal, and that’s the big difference between Spanish-language and mainstream media, because he’s talking about our parents, our friends, our kids and our babies.”

He later told Megyn Kelly: “the problem is that he’s not used to being questioned, he doesn’t like uncomfortable questions … I think as journalists we have to take a stand when it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public lies, dictatorship, and human rights. And when he’s expressing those really dangerous words, we have to confront him.”

In this, however, Trump mirrors the political establishment that discourages and criminalizes challenges to authority – Bush and Cheney’s war on terrorism codified arbitrary abuses of power and the demonization of opposition. Even under Obama, prosecution of whistleblowers has reached an all-time high.

Ramos pointed out that to do what Trump actually promises, “he would need to use the army, use stadiums, public places. The only way to do that would be to use trains and buses and airports to deport millions of people. It’s in a scale never seen before in the world.”

Since the US economy cannot function without immigrant labor, Trump’s proposals are not intended to be realistic. They are part of a demagogic rhetoric that incites attacks on immigrants. When a homeless Latino man was beaten up in Boston, Trump took days to repudiate it; his initial response was to say that his supporters were “passionate.” Ramos told Anderson Cooper on CNN that Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous: “What many Americans say in their homes, with their friends, in their kitchens, now many of them feel that it is OK to say that to minorities, to Latinos and this is really creating a terrible backlash.”

[WATCH: A white woman tells another woman speaking Spanish to learn English or get out of the country. ]

Not a single Republican politician has challenged Trump’s agenda, because he voices the resentful anger of their base better than they can. Josh Marshall commented: “Not caring about those contradictions, not caring about racist provocations is rooted in the nature of Trump’s campaign. … He’s dominating the field … by owning the part of the GOP base (the lion’s share of it) who feel aggrieved and threatened and crave and respect dominance. … Tossing Jorge Ramos isn’t a problem with these folks, it’s a fantasy.”

English-language journalists did little to support him, some in fact criticizing him for speaking up without being called. Glenn Greenwald showed his disgust with their subservient opinions, defending Ramos as being part of the tradition of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite in speaking truth to power: “What is more noble for a journalist to do: confront a dangerous, powerful billionaire-demagogue spouting hatemongering nonsense about mass deportation, or sit by quietly and pretend to have no opinions on any of it and that ‘both sides’ are equally deserving of respect and have equal claims to validity?”

But the Spanish-language press has been forthright in condemning Trump, echoing Ramos’ earlier description of him as “the loudest voice of intolerance, hatred and division in the United States.” The Latin pop star Ricky Martin published an op-ed in Univision News last week, saying the fact that Trump “has the guts to continue to gratuitously harass the Latino community makes my blood boil. … What surprises me is that as Hispanics we continue to accept the aggressions and accusations of individuals like him who attack our dignity. Enough is enough!”

“Xenophobia as a political strategy is the lowest level you can sink to in search of power,” Martin continued. “This is an issue that unites us and we need to fight together, not only for ourselves but for the evolution of humanity and those who come later.”

Brittney Cooper writes in Salon: “The explanations that suggest that Trump’s ‘refreshing honesty’ and ‘lack of political corruption’ make him popular are surface-level truths that point to a deeper set of lies. Trump legitimizes the most irrational and base impulses of those on the right. He makes it seem OK to have views that are politically retrograde and fundamentally at odds with a democratic project. He makes white discomfort with progressive discourse and policy feel like a legitimate anxiety.”

The English-language press has become neutered by its corporate connections to the political system and is mesmerized by Trump’s apparent support to the exclusion of opposing voices. So we have to thank Spanish-speaking Americans for exposing this would-be emperor’s lack of clothing. The traditionally conservative Latino community is being motivated to get involved in US politics by Trump’s appeals to a dwindling base of right-wing bigots.

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Filed under Trump, Xenophobia, Jorge Ramos, Megyn Kelly, Dictatorship

Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter Trump the Billionaires

The Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders has been drawing huge crowds wherever he goes – more than 100,000 people in recent weeks – and is tapping into Democrats’ frustration with the Obama presidency and the corporate control of government. Sanders is campaigning on issues that actually affect most Americans, such as defending social security, ending student debt, and restoring regulations on bankers.

This is a much more important phenomenon than Donald Trump’s standing in the Republican primaries, something that obsesses the mainstream media. Trump’s success is due entirely to the fact that he knows how to speak directly to the Republican base that is cheering on his unabashedly xenophobic billionaire egotism. His open contempt for the broken political system resonates with their feelings of resentment.

What is more important than the personal attributes of either man is the social movements they are energizing. Sanders’ supporters are in the main white liberals, and his presidential campaign has collided on a number of occasions with Black Lives Matter activists demanding recognition of the issue of police violence. After his speech at Networks Nation was interrupted, another speech of his was shut down at a rally in Seattle. While Sanders himself, to his credit, has taken on board many of the activists’ criticisms, his Seattle audience was not as receptive to their message. They attempted to drown out the activists with chants of “All lives matter,” “We stand together” and “Which side are you on?” As well as their discomfort at Sanders’ speech being curtailed, their rejection embodies a long-held social-democratic view that economic issues are more essential than the fight against racism.

According to the Seattle Times: “Some in the largely white audience booed and chanted for protesters to let the senator talk. A few yelled for police to make arrests. Marissa Johnson, one of the protesters, shot back, ‘I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is, filled with its progressives, but you did it for me,’ accusing the audience of ‘white supremacist liberalism’.” The Stranger blog continued the story: “More vocal members of the crowd began booing in response to Johnson. Johnson spoke through the heckling, welcoming Bernie to the town of Seattle, where ‘white supremacist liberalism’ prevails. She called for four-and-a-half minutes of silence in honor of Michael Brown. … After some more booing, the crowd again silenced itself. During the silence, people screamed ‘Bernie matters,’ and ‘all lives matter’.”

Gerald Hankerson, president of the Seattle NAACP, said he was surprised at how hostile some in the liberal crowd were to the protesters. “I know they were there to hear Bernie, but what was missed was the message of these two women,” he said. “I would have loved to have seen Bernie respond to what they wanted.”

After the event, Sanders said he was “disappointed” at the disruption, but at a later rally that day announced the hiring of a new press secretary, Symone Sanders, a Black Lives Matter supporter. She said they had discussed the issue of racial inequality and she suggested to him “racial inequality and economic inequality are parallel issues,” a theme he took up in later press statements and a racial justice manifesto.

Brooklyn-based writer Syreeta McFadden commented in the Guardian: “Arguably, Sanders was less of the target of the message from the Netroots and Seattle Black Lives Matter protesters than were his supporters and their professed allyship. Those Seattle supporters, for instance, proceeded to prove the protesters’ point when they produced a counter chant to drown out the message from possible and probable future BLM protests at Sanders rallies.”

Jennifer Roesch, an activist with the International Socialist Organization, has made a serious attempt at a Marxist analysis of the way race and class intersect. She writes that the idea that racial inequality is a symptom of economic equality “fails to capture the dynamics by which capitalism was established in the United States and by which it is sustained. … Racism and capitalism grew up together in America [on the foundation of slavery] and cannot be separated from one another. Racism is not merely a product of economic inequality, but also part of how that inequality is produced and maintained.”

“Fighting economic inequality is insufficient — any challenge to capital has to be coupled with race-specific demands for reform,” she continues. “Mass incarceration, police violence, and resegregation have devastated black communities, and have to be understood as a corollary to a ruling-class program of austerity designed to permanently lower the standard of living in this country. But to analyze this relationship merely as cause (austerity) and symptom (racism and police violence) is to miss the ways in which racism and repression are indispensable parts of the ruling-class project.”

White leftists have a clear responsibility to engage with the issues that black activists raise, rather than rejecting them as disrupters. At the same time, there is a danger of making the campaign for social and economic justice a black-white issue. Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, told Al-Jazeera: “No matter how much people talk about how multicultural things are and how diverse they are, it seems to revert to black and white … How the hell do you break through that black-white way of looking at policy issues?”

The extension of police powers after 9/11 has empowered local forces to follow militaristic strategies of containing protest, encouraged by the open perversions of the rule of law perpetrated by the Bush administration. This is something that imperils all citizens. The Latino community in California, for example, also faces militarized policing. In Anaheim, “there were at least seven killings (by police) between 2011 and 2012,” said Gabriel San Roman, a writer for OC Weekly. Five were Latinos. On the three-year anniversary of the riots following the police shootings of two young Latino men in the town, unlike the large protests in Ferguson on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, politicians and protest groups have ignored the community.

Roesch argues: “For socialists, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement is one of the most important developments in recent years. It has exposed the depths of racism in this country, has brought tens of thousands of people — mainly black, but also white — into the streets, and has politicized millions more.”

She points out the challenges this poses for activists, stressing the need to find ways “to bring these struggles together with the social power of the working class.” However, the working class’s social power has been reduced considerably with the decline of the organized labor movement. What is needed today is the building of a pluralist and inclusive movement that confronts the reality of the racial hierarchy underpinning corporatized state power, while recognizing the right of minority groups to organize in their own way.

As I maintained in a previous post, “there is a connection between the fight for a living wage, the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle for immigrant workers’ rights: new coalitions of people and new forms of resistance are possible at their intersection.”

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Filed under African Americans, anaheim protests, Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter, death of sandra bland, Fight for 15, militarized police

The Death of Sandra Bland: Her Life Matters

A historic conference of Black Lives Matter activists took place last weekend in the midst of daily police killings of unarmed people of color. Over 1,000 activists from groups including Ferguson Action, Black Youth Project 100, and Baltimore United for Change traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to raise national attention to police brutality, immigration rights, economic justice and LGBTQ rights. The conference ended, almost symbolically, in a videoed confrontation between activists and transit police who had arrested a black 14-year-old.

According to the Washington Post, “a transit police officer in the city turned a can of pepper spray on a mostly African American crowd that had gathered as authorities were placing an intoxicated teen into a patrol car.” Conference participant Destinee Hinton said: “They begin to form a barricade around the car urging the police to let the young man go but they wouldn’t and when they were linking arms and doing chants one of the police officers began pepper spraying the whole line.”

Ever since 9/11, police departments have been showered with military hardware and trained to use lethal force as a first resort, leading to more and more cases of unjustified killings of unarmed people, most visibly African Americans. The resistance to these killings has begun to undermine the legitimacy of state violence and has also exposed the extent to which state power is founded on racial terror: for example, The Intercept revealed that the Department of Homeland Security was monitoring gatherings of people in mainly black neighborhoods, confirming the fear of state forces that black militancy will subvert the foundation of their authority. The growth of a multiracial society and erosion of white privilege is a tectonic shift that has created tremors at the base of the US state, fracturing the racial hierarchy that underpinned social relations.

The conference followed a week of protests across the country, beginning with the anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, followed by demonstrations calling for justice for Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail after being arrested at a traffic stop, as well as other black women including Kindra Chapman, an 18-year-old found dead in her jail cell in Alabama a day after Sandra Bland died, Joyce Curnell in Charleston and Ralkina Jones in Ohio, both found dead in their cells in the same week. Sam Dubose was shot down in Cincinnati during a routine traffic stop by a university police officer, who has been charged with his murder.

What happened to Sandra Bland is a microcosm of the social dynamic between police and African Americans. She was close to arriving at a new job at the historically black university Prairie View A&M in Texas, from where she graduated, and driving along University Drive. State trooper Brian Encinia was traveling in the opposite direction. When he saw her, he made a U-turn and sped up behind her vehicle.

She moved to the right lane to let him pass, but did so without signaling. Encinia turned on his lights – automatically triggering audio recording – and approached her car. At this point the interaction was strained, but civil. He checked out her license in his vehicle, and returning with a warning ticket written out, he saw something in her demeanor that told him she was not passively compliant. He asks why she seemed irritated. “I am, I really am,” she replied, “because I feel like it’s crap is what I’m getting a ticket for, I was getting out of your way, you were speeding up, tailing me so I moved over and you stopped me so yeah, I am a little irritated but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket, so.”

At this point, Encinia dismisses her statement with a curt “Are you done?” He deliberately escalates the confrontation by instructing her to put out her cigarette and she challenges his right to do this. He then ordered her out of her car, threatens to use his taser, shouting “I will light you up,” and arrested her after throwing her onto the ground.

The root cause of the confrontation was the clash between her consciousness of her constitutional rights and Encinia’s need to establish his authority by claiming physical dominance through intimidation.

Whatever happened in Sandra’s cell, she was transformed from an empowered young black woman and social activist to a victim of a Kafkaesque legal nightmare, needing $500 to make bail and possibly facing the loss of her job opportunity due to her arrest.

Her life should be respected in a way the authorities did not; Black Lives Matter activists were therefore justified in challenging Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley at the Netroots Nation conference to address the crisis of police violence. Protesters took over Sanders’ Q&A session, shouting “black lives matter,” and “say her name,” until he grew visibly frustrated.

The Washington Post reported: “Sanders threatened to leave the stage as demonstrators demanded that he repeat the name of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a Texas jail cell this month. Then he canceled a series of meetings he had scheduled with some of the activists following his appearance.” In a later appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders continued to cast the challenges minorities faced as primarily economic, again pointing to his lifelong support for the civil rights movement. According to CNN, “He pointed to soaring unemployment figures for young African-Americans, and blamed an ‘unsustainable level of income and wealth inequality’.”

Activist Patrisse Cullors told Democracy Now: “[The intervention] was about challenging the notion that there’s only the lens of the economic justice agenda … They were unable to really listen to the needs of the Black Lives Matter protesters.” Alicia Garza added: “There is nothing separate about wages from black life and the survival of black people than police violence and police terrorism … Police violence is the tip of the iceberg when it relates to the conditions overall of black people across the globe.”

While Sanders was slow to recognize the new dimension of the struggle against police brutality – although in his video-streamed house party on Wednesday he was upfront in attacking the institutional racism that led to Sandra Bland’s death and called for police reform – the intervention of the activists succeeded in changing the political dialog, to the fury of right-wing Fox TV pundits like Bill O’Reilly.

The protests in Ferguson showed all too well that the militarization of increasingly trigger-happy police forces across the country is a danger not only to African Americans, who are the most visibly targeted, but to Americans of all ethnicities. Police abuse of power affects everyone – and video of these abuses has affected all sections of society. As a Ferguson demonstrator said last year: “It’s not a racial thing. It’s a police thing. It’s America against the police.”

In the US, class and ethnicity are fused in a complex set of social markers. For example, well-heeled Cuban-Americans in Miami are much less likely to be stopped and shot than working-class Latinos in Anaheim, California, where unarmed Manuel Diaz was shot dead in 2012 while running away from police. The forces of law and order function to keep the rich safe from the poor – and brownness and blackness are perceived as markers of poverty and criminality. The huge transfer of wealth from the poor to super-wealthy billionaires has only exacerbated this tension.

Economic struggle, like the union-backed Fight for 15, doesn’t supersede the political struggle for racial equality and social justice. However, there is a connection between the fight for a living wage, the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle for immigrant workers’ rights: new coalitions of people and new forms of resistance are possible at their intersection. That’s why Sandra Bland’s life matters.

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Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, anaheim protests, death of sandra bland, Ferguson, Fight for 15

Old Habits Die Hard: Neo-Liberal Colonialism and Worsening Debt Peonage in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s governor Alejandro García Padilla met with 350 representatives of the island’s creditors on Monday, after he announced that it could no longer pay its debts. In an interview with The New York Times, he admitted: “The debt is not payable. There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics, this is math.”

Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the US Congress, Pedro Pierluisi of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, is sponsoring a bill to grant Puerto Rico bankruptcy protection along the lines of Detroit’s while it negotiates with its creditors, but the bill has been sidelined by Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. The Puerto Rican administration has already cut pension payments, raised property and small business taxes, increased water and gas prices, and laid off government workers. Now unemployment is more than twice the U.S. national rate, and its poverty level is nearly double that of the poorest U.S. state, leading to high rates of crime.

Over half of Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt is owed to hedge fund investors like the politically-connected Andrew Feldstein of BlueMountain Capital, Mark Gallogly of Centerbridge Partners, Paul Tudor Jones, closely involved in the conspiracy to oust the president of the University of Virginia, and John Paulson, principal investor in the Banco Popular and better known for making a killing by shorting subprime mortgages in 2008. Like Greece’s, Puerto Rico’s future lies in the hands of its creditors: Feldstein successfully sued in federal court last year to overturn a Puerto Rican law that would have allowed the electric authority to file for bankruptcy.

From 2006 to 2013, Wall Street financial firms and lawyers raked in around $1.4 billion in fees from selling $61 billion worth of Puerto Rico’s bonds, according to the Wall Street Journal, giving the island more debt per person than any state in the US. The bonds were highly popular with wealthy investors since they are free of federal, state and local taxes. John Paulson, for example, is investing $1 billion in Puerto Rican real estate to build high-end resorts and luxury homes for members of the one percent aiming to use island residency to avoid federal taxes. Puerto Ricans will see no benefits, and will be paying the taxes that Paulson’s buyers are legally avoiding: their sales tax has just been hiked from 7% to 11.5%. It is a monstrous version of the tienda de raya in the old sugar cane plantations, where workers had to buy groceries on the credit that the patrón granted in his store because their wages were so low, thus living perpetually in debt. [José Manuel García Leduc, Apuntes para una historia breve de Puerto Rico, San Juan: Editorial Isla Negra, 2003:202]

2006 is a key date in the growth of Puerto Rico’s debt load. The US Congress allowed tax breaks for manufacturers based on the island to expire, who promptly exited together with the jobs they supported. This encouraged more emigration to the mainland in search of work, shrinking the tax base and leading the government to borrow more funds to cover its budget. Because of Puerto Rican bonds’ tax advantages, there was a high level of demand for government debt, irrespective of Puerto Rico’s economic situation. Austerity measures only shrank the economy and led to more emigration: between 2005 and 2013, Puerto Rico lost 5.5 percent of its population.

After Governor Luis Muñoz Marin’s creation of the Commonwealth Status for the island in the 1950s (the paradoxical “Estado Libre Asociado”), in the latter half of the twentieth century, Puerto Rico benefited from post-war prosperity, but to a much smaller extent than the US, and the persistent economic downturns since the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement in the 1970s hit the island harder and longer. Adding to its economic problems are the under-capitalization of agriculture and the need to import most of its food: according to Puerto Rico’s business authority, “even though the island faces an unemployment rate of about 15%, half of its coffee crop hasn’t been harvested in recent years due to a shortage of laborers, representing a loss of about $17 million a year. Yet in the metropolitan areas, there are tens of thousands of people unemployed and willing to work.” Manufacturing, which is still the largest sector of the economy, was hit by the US’s push for free trade agreements  – exports to Latin American and Caribbean countries covered by the agreements fell by 15 percent, further contracting the economy.

Puerto Rico’s ambiguous status as a commonwealth means there is no provision for bankruptcy protections for its public utilities. But even bankruptcy, which governor Padilla is trying to persuade Congress to allow, would mean further cuts and privatization of public assets. Although the process would prioritize payments to Wall Street creditors ahead of expenditures on social programs and pensions, it would also impose losses on the hedge funds. For that reason, they are likely to use a barrage of court challenges and their political leverage with Congress to prevent it happening.

Former IMF officials recently produced a report recommending the restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt by eliminating public school teachers, raising property taxes and suspending minimum wage laws. It also demands the creation of a “fiscal oversight board,” an unelected authority that will remove the government’s already limited sovereignty. While Padilla is attempting to mobilize the Puerto Rican diaspora to pressure US politicians to allow bankruptcy, his administration has hired one of the report’s authors – Anne Krueger, the IMF’s former first deputy managing director – as a consultant.

Some US presidential candidates are floating the idea of statehood as a solution for the island’s problems, which would automatically allow the same bankruptcy provisions as other states. However, this is also likely to be opposed by the hedge fund billionaires and by Puerto Rico’s own oligarchs, who prefer the current status because it allows them to avoid taxes and federal regulations. So the future of Puerto Rico is to be decided by Wall Street and the US courts, leaving its people powerless – with the connivance of its own government – a new form of colonial exploitation enforced through debt peonage.

Juan Gonzalez pointed out on Democracy Now that since the US invaded in 1898, its corporations have taken huge amounts of profit out of the island, but now Puerto Ricans are being told that they have to pay for the debt themselves. “For the first 50 years, it was the sugar barons with their plantations in Puerto Rico. Then, the next 50 years, it was the pharmaceutical and the textile companies using Puerto Rico as a tax haven, made it the biggest source of profit to American companies in the world. And now you have the hedge funds and the banks that have been peddling all this debt to Puerto Rico for the last few decades and now are demanding payment before anything else.”

Although Puerto Ricans don’t face a collapse of their banks, they have in common with Greeks the fact that people of both countries face starvation austerity being enforced through treaties and legal shackles in order to extract the last ounce of exchange value from them. Elected governments are expected to discipline the population to accept this onslaught from the banks, whatever the public may vote for.

Many Puerto Ricans find their economic dependence on the US problematic. At the same time, however, there are multiple ties between the island and the mainland. The diaspora is the key to asserting political leverage: today, there are more Puerto Ricans in the US than on the island. While within Puerto Rico citizens are disenfranchised, in the US they are increasingly integrated across all classes and constitute an influential minority among Latinos, with Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor the most visible example of their growing political clout.

There can be no resolution of the perennial question of statehood unless the US itself abandons its racist treatment of Spanish speaking people and accepts a relation of equality, one of respect for Puerto Ricans as a people and a nation. For more than a century, Puerto Rico has been treated like a colony, and the latest round of austerity reiterates the view held by US and Puerto Rican elites of the island. Puerto Ricans in the US can unite with the struggle of other Americans for an end to the rule of the one percent to assert the rights of persons in Puerto Rico and the United States to a livelihood, dignity, and cultural patrimony against the predations of the plutocrats. Time to close down the tienda de raya.

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Filed under debt peonage, Hedge Fund managers, latinos, Puerto Rico, unemployment

After the General Election, What Next for British Labour?

The shock result of Britain’s general election last week, with Cameron’s Conservatives achieving a parliamentary majority against all expectations, masked the fact that, in England, the public could only choose between a blatantly bankers’ party and one that proposed minor restrictions on the activities of the super-rich. Even though Scottish voters decisively rejected austerity policies, the banking class won Westminster overall – attested to by the surge in the stock market after the Tory win. The UK is now headed for massive cuts in the welfare state and privatization of the National Health Service in order to force through more tax cuts for the rich.

The Guardian reported: “It couldn’t have been clearer who were the real winners from Thursday’s poll. Buy-to-let investors have dodged the threat of long-term, rent-controlled tenancies; City bankers have avoided a new bonus tax; utilities will not be forced to submit to tougher market intervention. As one Financial Times headline had it, ‘Wealthy breathe a sigh of relief at Tory victory’.”

The Conservatives didn’t so much win the election as Labour spectacularly lost it. The Tories were able to manipulate the first-past-the-post electoral system, targeting marginal seats in middle England with a fear campaign about Labour’s management of the economy, immigration, and how the SNP might dominate a minority Labour government, while Labour retained the hardcore loyalty of cities like Newcastle and Liverpool.

John Lanchester blogged: “Labour’s share of the vote in England went up by 3.6 per cent. That’s more than the Tories: their share of the English vote only went up by 1.4 per cent. … The Tories smashed it in the marginals. In the battleground constituencies Labour were down on their 2010 performance by 0.7 per cent. Labour’s overall improvement in England was driven by success on their own turf: 3.5 per cent increase in the North East, 6 per cent in the North West. Where there was a genuine contest with the Tories, the Tories did better. … The Tories out-campaigned Labour in the places where they needed to.”

Miliband was unable to answer the Tories’ fear campaign because his party is internally divided between Blairite neo-liberals and union-backed social democrats, with Miliband performing a delicate balancing act between the two. Labour therefore never challenged the Conservative narrative, endlessly repeated by the media, that Gordon Brown’s Labour government was responsible for the 2008 recession, bank bailouts and the size of the public debt, and so had made spending cuts inevitable.

Cameron had slowed down austerity after 2012, leading to a slight improvement in the economy that was mainly confined to the prosperous south-east, but Labour candidates in some declining northern towns whose constituents had been hammered by the coalition government’s austerity measures had to struggle to convince them to vote at all – and if they did, it was likely for Ukip.

According to the Guardian, “The more a seat looked like London – young, ethnically diverse, highly educated, socially liberal, large public sector – the better Labour did, on the whole. … Labour fell short with voters outside this ‘London core’, leaking support in multiple directions. The aspirational voters of suburban England – middle-class seats with falling unemployment and rising incomes – swung behind the Cameron-Osborne ‘long-term economic plan’, while Ukip surged in seats with large concentrations of poorer, white working-class English nationalists, many of whom sympathised with Labour’s economic message but not the people delivering it.”

What next for Labour? A special correspondent writes:

I am a Labour voter and, were I living in Scotland, I would be an SNP voter. I am very depressed at the outcome of a Tory government. The surprise defeat of Labour was a shock. The extent of the defeat is exaggerated by the voting system and the sudden resignations of three main party leaders, Ed Miliband for Labour, Nick Clegg for the LibDems and Nigel Farage of UKIP. All is not as it seems: Ed Miliband has not been a strong leader and Labour wanted rid of him before the election, although he ran a good campaign; Nick Clegg has been his party’s lightning conductor for their unpopularity when he campaigned on free university education and then participated in a 300% increase in university fees from £3000 to £9000 per year; Nigel Farage’s resignation is more Mirage than Farage as he proposes to stand for the leadership of UKIP again – he is just (temporarily) resigning to carry out a promise he made for the eventuality that he would lose his own personal election bid.

Labour were caught between two nationalisms: Scottish and English. They lost support in Scotland attempting to keep the Union together and campaigning with the Tories against Scottish independence and the Tories left them to it. The Tories’ reward for Labour was to accuse them of planning a coalition with seditious Scots whose main goal is to break the Union of England and Scotland. The Tories changed their election focus from their stewardship of the economy to attacking Labour for ‘siding with the enemy’ and from the outset of the Independence outcome, fuelling English nationalism.  The arguments on their ‘successful’ handling of the economy was founded on blaming Labour for the banking crash in 2008 when George Osborne opposed every attempt to regulate the banks at that time. As a global phenomenon emerging from dodgy US bank loans fuelling their housing boom, it is a transparent lie, but they have been successful with it.

The situation now faced by the new government is that they have stirred up a hornets’ nest of antagonisms between England and Scotland that can only lead to division of the union and with knock-on effects on Ireland, if not also in Wales and the Labour north of England. Statesmanship by the Tory party was noticeable only by its complete absence after the Scottish referendum campaign for independence. Short term party political interests were the only explanation for the stirring of English Nationalism by the “English Votes for English issues (?)” campaign that followed immediately after the referendum result.

We have divided parties: the Tories are split between its extreme anti-Europe right wing and its centrist ‘one nation’ Tories (an ever diminishing group); Labour is split between its Blairist centrist pro-business group that was able to work with Murdoch’s press and its more left-wing working class base; the LibDems are so shattered at all levels, local and national that its strong base of local activists in well-defined parts of the country is broken completely. The Scottish Nationalists are not split and have an inspirational leader: immediately on succeeding Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon produced an anti-austerity policy and an inclusive policy that I only wish Labour had had the strength to follow, instead of opposing.

The collapse of the Lib Dems also explains a lot that is unique to this election. Their 23% share of the vote fell to below 8% and it fell everywhere including all their regional strongholds. 5 years of taking the blame for the coalition’s unpopular policies had broken the base of thousands of local councillors and activists. The last coalition government, as a group, lost 22 seats plus the remaining 8 LibDems are no longer part of government, so the coalition lost 30 seats overall. This is not much of a victory, even despite the election arithmetic. The government majority has fallen from over 70 to 12. Six by-election defeats over a government lifetime is to be expected and in the last parliament, the coalition lost 8 seats and the Conservative won zero seats. Should that happen again this government will lose its majority, which is likely as the Conservative austerity programme is more severe than before as they were held back in their ideologically-driven cutting of benefits by their LibDem partners.

We have two winners of this election, both elected on opposing manifestos: The SNP were overwhelmingly elected on an anti-austerity, socially fair ticket, and the Conservatives in England were underwhelming elected on an anti-Scottish, anti-Europe, anti-benefits, anti-immigrants but pro-big business ticket. The SNP is united with strong leadership. The Conservative are split and despite all his bluster, David Cameron is weak, as his unconvincing clashes with the EU and indeed by his fear of UKIP reveal. The coming clashes between these two winners starts now, over the federalisation of the UK. It moves over 2 years of uncertainty onto the EU referendum, which Cameron is very likely to lose. The Tories big business backers oppose withdrawal from Europe but the English nationalism set lose by Cameron in his attempt to win back UKIP supporters is virulently against the EU as is the greater part of his party. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, has already posed the question that UK withdrawal from the EU requires all nations within the EU to agree to it. If the UK is a serious Union and not dictated to by its large English establishment, it must agree to this or accept the legitimacy of another referendum on Scottish independence should the UK take Scotland out of the EU against its wishes. The Scots overwhelmingly rejected austerity that England voted for and are very likely to vote for the EU when England doesn’t, as will the Irish too where the EU is also popular.

Where does Labour go now? It already has Tony Blair intervening saying it should abandon its left wing policies for a return to the middle ground. It certainly needs a more charismatic leadership, and not just the leader but all those who surround the new leader. I think the policies of Labour in 2015 were not its weakness but the failure to combat the Tory rewriting of history around the 2008 banking failures, the pincer movement of twin nationalism, so ably exploited by the Tories. The role of the press and the media including the BBC needs to be combatted by some means or other. Murdoch completely backed the Tory party as did the others, but Murdoch went further by promoting the SNP victory by the Scottish Sun while demonising them, on the same day, in their English Sun, the largest of the English gutter press. The model the Labour party needs to follow is already given to us by the one absolute success story, the SNP. For God’s sake, get an anti-inequality alliance and basic policies of gender and social equality and hence tax rises to pay for a rebuilding of the welfare state and decent jobs worth having. Form alliances with the SNP and the Greens on a platform of well-defined issues such as the environment and on federalism that is genuine. They can also support Scottish Nationalism and allow Scottish Labour to do its thing and be successful again in an independent Scotland. A successful social democratic state as our neighbour can only encourage English Labour to grow and fight harder. London and the North believe in more social justice, so there is a basis for change, even in the heart of England and those Tory shires. The problems of inequality, housing costs, soup kitchens and poverty are not suddenly going to go away.

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Baltimore: A Turning Point for Police Accountability

Protesters in Baltimore celebrated a victory last week after Friday’s dramatic announcement of indictments against six police involved in the death of Freddie Gray. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, acknowledging public demands for justice, stated that officers illegally arrested Gray without probable cause, and then ignored his pleas for medical help.

Paul Jay of Baltimore-based The Real News commented that the false imprisonment charges she announced have major implications for legally-acceptable probable cause: “They’re saying that that’s illegal to just grab somebody because they run and throw them into a van … in the context of Baltimore it’s quite a remarkable step. … It’s the beginning of some accountability, and that’s a big step compared to impunity.”

As well as the Baltimore protests, national attention on police shootings of unarmed young black men has changed the political landscape. Video footage of police violence has subverted the ideological narrative portraying African Americans as criminals, a narrative that shored up white support for police. The political elite now fears the erosion of state legitimacy, not only in African American communities, but among whites as well.

Tensions continue despite the indictments because citizens don’t trust the justice system to convict the officers, and have little confidence their political leaders can address the community’s larger problems. A massive multiracial celebratory march filled Baltimore’s streets after the announcement, but the Washington Post reported: “Residents also expressed concern over whether, in the long run, conditions would improve in the impoverished Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, where about half of working-age adults are unemployed.” The New York Times noted: “Amid the celebration, there was an undercurrent of anger, not only over police treatment of black men, but over the lack of jobs and recreation centers, as well as dilapidated housing for Baltimore’s poor.”

The huge class divisions in Baltimore have come forcibly to national attention. The city, which once supported a million people working in shipyards and the steel industry, suffered industrial devastation and massive depopulation after the relocation of manufacturing industries beginning in the 1970s. This led to grinding poverty, unemployment and drugs concentrated in African American communities on the east and west sides. Successive politicians have attempted to put the lid on social problems with aggressive broken windows/zero-tolerance policing of black communities, building up intense hostility to the militarized police. More recently, money has been poured in to revitalize the downtown Inner Harbor area for tourism and affluent whites, adding to resentment of black political leaders for not addressing the problems of unemployment and housing.

Paul Jay pointed out that the city’s elite has ignored chronic poverty and boarded-up housing in African American communities because “they want poor black people to get the hell out of the city. It’s a form of ethnic cleansing. … The driving factor is real estate speculation. There are thousands of houses that people are sitting on. The city’s sitting on them, [Johns] Hopkins is sitting on them, and the only thing that’s really stopping gentrification right now … is the school system is so bad you can’t get people to move into the city.” They want instead people “who will then come and pay a lot of money for renovated housing.”

The course of events shows clearly how these antagonisms were sparked into riots. Overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations all the previous week calling for justice for Freddie Gray – with little or no coverage in the media – ended in fighting on Saturday April 25 after drunken baseball fans’ racist provocations enraged a group of protesters outside Camden Yards, where they had gathered ahead of a game between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. A phalanx of police swept down to clear the street, leading to clashes with the remaining demonstrators, some of whom used a metal barrier to smash the windows of police cruisers.

The following Monday, the day of Gray’s funeral, police claimed there were threats of gang members targeting police and cancelled school buses, leaving students no way to get home. Eddie Conway, a former Black Panther leader in Baltimore, explained: “They [the police] closed the [Mondawmin] shopping center down, then … they let a high school out, then they closed down public transportation. So the students were released from school but they could not get on the metro system to go home or to leave the area. So they were stuck in that area and then massive police presence pushed them down to another area.” That is when the CVS got looted and burned – because of the intense anger of the youth being coralled by riot police and armored vehicles. “People are getting revenge, and they are just getting started,” Quatiarra Bonaparte, a 14-year-old schoolmate of some of those involved, told the Guardian.

It was in response to the chaotic violence on Monday night that gang members from the rival Crips and Bloods decided to join forces to defend the community, using their authority with the youth to protect them from police and keep others from rioting. According to the Guardian, as protesters prepared to defy the curfew on Tuesday, a confrontation was averted “only thanks to members of the notorious Bloods and Crips gangs, who teamed with community activists to push hundreds more protesters, who had demonstrated late into the evening, back to their homes as the curfew loomed. ‘It ain’t about me being a Crip,’ said Sin, 15, who wore lipstick and hair braids in the gang’s distinctive blue. ‘It’s about us coming together and making our community better’.” Another gang member told the Real News: “This is about people in poverty and people that are oppressed, regardless of what color you are. We have white Bloods. We have white Crips. It’s not about color. It’s not about race.”

This awareness of the need to come together to safeguard local communities is part of a national shift in consciousness: black lives matter, and protesters are asserting they need their own resources, not state forces, to safeguard them. DeRay McKesson, a leader in the movement for police accountability in Ferguson, told the Baltimore City Paper: “It’s this idea that protest is disruption, that protest is confrontation, but it’s also community. What happens is that you see people come together who never would have come together otherwise.”

Washington Post commentator Eugene Robinson looks to the state and federal government to fund the bulldozing of decayed housing to help inner-city Baltimore escape its poverty, social despair and dysfunction. But rather than top-down state intervention, the reconstruction of Baltimore neighborhoods must be the work of the community itself. The danger is that simply demolishing the run-down housing will lead to the black community being forced out and dispersed, as happened in New Orleans after Katrina, for the benefit of real estate interests who will construct high-rent luxury apartments.

That’s why the initiative by the One Baltimore United coalition should be supported. Spokesperson Todd Cherkis explained the project to In These Times: “We estimate that there are 40,000 vacant housing units in the city,” he said, pointing out that many of them are abandoned buildings now controlled by municipal agencies. Using local labor to rehabilitate these buildings could make a big dent in unemployment and the shortage of affordable housing. Neighborhoods need to be rebuilt by members of their own community, so as to raise their self-confidence and defeat the sense of hopelessness.

What the protests have achieved, above all, is to make Baltimore a beacon in the fight for police accountability, making the use of police to suppress social problems an issue for all Americans and not just the African American community. The court cases, however they go, will be held before a jury and everyone will see and hear the evidence. This gives the public transparency and marks a turning point in the struggle.

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Filed under African Americans, Baltimore, Baltimore protests, deindustrialization, militarized police, poverty, riots in Baltimore, street gangs in Baltimore

Fight for 15: For Economic Justice and Social Justice, Restoring Dignity and Humanity

The Fight for 15’s one-day strike on April 15 – tax day in the US – provides a welcome alternate perspective to the myopic media coverage of presidential hopefuls. It underlines the gulf between Republican rhetoric and the realities for most Americans, and creates an awkward challenge for Democratic leaders.

Not only did the strike involve more workers than ever before, it spread to wider and unexpected sections of the low-paid, such as 50 Brinks security guards in Chicago who spontaneously stopped work. In all, 60,000 workers joined the strike in over 230 cities. Fast-food workers, carwash workers, homecare aides, childcare providers, student and college campus workers, adjunct professors, airport workers and others were represented in the protests.

The campaign coincides with a sea-change in attitudes to growing inequality and the minimum wage: Seattle and Sea-Tac in Washington and San Francisco have raised their minimum to $15 an hour, and it will soon be on the ballot in both Los Angeles and the District of Columbia. The New York Times reported that one protestor in Seattle, who makes more than minimum wage, came out because “the disparity of wealth has reached alarming proportions and the salaries of business owners and executives are way out of proportion.”

Most Americans now place responsibility for low wages at the door of highly-profitable corporations, not on their underpaid workers. According to the same Times article, Leslie McCall, a sociology professor who closely analyzed opinion data on the topic, said: “People know Walmart and McDonald’s are doing pretty well … We’re into the recovery, the unemployment rate is going down. But most people aren’t doing well.” McCall found that even Republican voters believe the problem is caused by major corporations. “When asked to choose who should be most responsible for reducing inequality — the poor, the rich, the government, major companies, or that it did not need to be reduced — a plurality of Republican respondents, about 37 percent, chose ‘major companies’.”

Early morning rallies at McDonald’s franchises in Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Raleigh N.C., and other towns kicked off the day. In Chicago, at least 3,000 people marched to a McDonald’s in the downtown Loop area demanding “Stop Fooling Around, $15 and a union.”

The largest protests took place in New York City where the Fight for 15 strikers were joined by racial justice activists and union members. At 6:00 a.m. around a thousand people rallied outside a McDonald’s in Brooklyn and at noon crowds of protesters carried signs that read “Why Poverty?” and “We See Greed” to a McDonald’s in Manhattan. Shouts of “We can’t breathe on $7.25” preceded a four-minute “die-in” to protest police shootings of unarmed people of color.

Activist Karl Komodzi told the crowd: “Black people are subject to police violence in their neighborhoods and economic violence in their workplaces. Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter are about more than raising the minimum wage, about more than retraining some police not to kill us. This is a movement to chip away at the things that take away our dignity and our humanity.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 10,000 building workers rallied at the site in Manhattan where a major construction corporation is using only non-union workers to build one of the tallest residential buildings in the world. The union president, Gary LaBarbera, told the rally: “We know that the workers who are working on this project are only receiving twelve, thirteen dollars an hour. We believe that whether you work at McDonald’s or you work in a car wash, there’s really no difference between a low wage there and a low wage here.” The construction workers were able to overcome police barricades to block traffic for a short time, amid thunderous cheers, before joining other protesters at Columbus Circle for a march to Times Square.

New York Times journalist Steven Greenhouse told Democracy Now: “In this protest yesterday, what was new is [organizers] started working very closely with civil rights groups around the country, with Black Lives Matter. And labor unions, in general, are very involved … I went to Atlanta a few weeks ago to do a story for the Times about how they were very deliberately trying to combine this movement of the fast-food workers, the Fight for $15 movement, with the civil rights movement to show that it’s not just … trying to raise pay a few dollars an hour, but it’s an economic justice and social justice movement. … a lot of the language they’re using or rhetoric they’re using really comes out of the civil rights movement … ‘I am a man,’ ‘We want dignity,’ ‘$7.25 isn’t enough to support our families.’ … You know, now when I go interview a lot of these workers, they’re happy to give me their names. And usually when you interview workers, they’re very scared to.”

But the movement is not without its critics. Indypendent co-founder Arun Gupta claims it is not a “working-class struggle,” pointing out that the SEIU, which has largely staffed and bankrolled the Fight for 15, organizes in a top-down manner that excludes fast-food workers themselves from decision-making. The one-day strikes, he says, are mere spectacles aimed at the media and public opinion rather than building organization and militancy; it is “more of a legal and public relations campaign … than an organizing campaign.” The linkages with the Black Lives Matter movement, argues Gupta, “remain underdeveloped because of the top-down nature of Fight for 15.” The missing ingredient is the organized left: “It’s anarchists who made Occupy Wall Street happen, socialists who have revitalized many teachers unions, and socialists and the left that have turned $15 an hour into reality.”

While it is true that the left played a large role in the legislative victories in Seattle and San Francisco, it can’t take advantage of the space opened by the Fight for 15 without a clear perspective on the class forces involved. Gupta’s article is too one-sided to be helpful: he assumes that the political effect of the mobilization of the low-paid must be limited by the union’s goal of achieving a contract with McDonald’s, when it has already had an impact far greater than the organizers expected, and he devalues their efforts to combine economic and social justice issues. Moreover, Gupta doesn’t address the role of the Democratic party, which most workers still look to for political leadership. According to the New York Times, “Within the next several days, Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that deals with labor issues, plans to introduce a bill to increase the minimum wage, in steps, from its current level of $7.25 to $12 by 2020. … The party is determined to elevate the issue in next year’s congressional and presidential elections.” This poses complications for Obama, who has not taken a position on the Murray plan, and for Hillary Clinton’s electoral bid.

Republicans, of course, are attempting to defuse the issue by asserting that job losses would follow any increase in the minimum wage. Their argument is reminiscent of nineteenth-century economists who claimed that profits were only made in the last hour of a twelve-hour day. But juxtaposed to their support for tax cuts for the rich, Republican politicians’ opposition to minimum wage increases isolates them from even their own voters as the low-wage economy continues to grow.

While they have found it electorally expedient to coopt the low-paid movement, Democratic leaders are not only reluctant to jail corrupt financiers but also to prosecute police who have killed unarmed black men. In Baltimore, for example, where both the Democratic mayor and police commissioner are black, residents expressed outrage not only at the six officers who chased down 27-year-old Freddie Gray before he died from a severe injury to his spine, but also at their political representatives for withholding key facts about the case. Video shot by a bystander shows Gray screaming in apparent agony as police drag him to a van.

What is driving politics in America today is the corrupting effect of the exponential growth of the wealth of the one percent and the social effects of the imposition of a low-wage economy on the other 99. But the resistance to low pay and the courage of individuals who video acts of police violence, like the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, signifies a change in the political climate that is not reflected in the campaign rhetoric. At the same time, it is a continuation of the change in consciousness begun with the Occupy movement. Even though dispersed, its impact continues to reverberate throughout America.

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