Category Archives: Obama

Confounder in Chief Trump Cons America into Republican Repeal-and-Run of Obamacare


As the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as US president approaches, it’s still uncertain how exactly he is going to govern, since his actions before and after the election show his total disregard of accepted political norms.

He has surrounded himself with a billionaire cabinet whose members have political views that conflict with each other and himself; but this may in fact be how he intends to rule, elevating himself above clashing voices like a Mafia Godfather. The Washington Post comments: “A number of people have been given the highest level of White House jobs without a clear indication of who is in charge. By some accounts, Trump likes this sort of management chaos around him. But it is not conducive to policy creation.”

Trump specializes in creating political confusion while promoting his next “big reveal,” such as a “beautiful” health care plan with “insurance for all.” But regardless of these promises, the ultimate outcome of the chaos and corruption within his cabinet can only be the Republican agenda of dismantling state regulations and agencies on behalf of corporations and the plutocracy.

Healthcare is a concrete example of policy confusion that eventually defaults to the position of the Republican right. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act but at the same time save Medicare and Medicaid. He repeated his promise last weekend, telling the Washington Post he would unveil a nearly finished plan that would guarantee “insurance for everybody.” This conflicted with Republican rhetoric that they would focus on lower costs to ensure “access” to insurance, rather than universal coverage.

But Wednesday, the day of the confirmation hearing for Tom Price, his nominee to lead Health and Human Services, Trump backtracked on the promise in two separate interviews. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent comments: “While he reiterated that people without money will get coverage, he clarified that he’s considering a mechanism to do this: Medicaid block grants. … Progressives tend to oppose Medicaid block grants because they are all but certain to get cut, and because states would restrict eligibility requirements. … Thus, this idea – which seems likely to be at the center of the Trump/GOP replacement plan – would dilute the guarantee of coverage that Obamacare is striving to make universal. … Republicans just don’t believe health reform should guarantee coverage in the manner that the ACA does. … But the point is that Trump and his advisers are trying to obscure this. Trump does not want to be the guy who kicked millions off insurance. But it appears congressional Republicans philosophically cannot support anything that does not do this.”

In the confirmation hearings, Price himself twisted and turned to avoid answering a question from Elizabeth Warren if Medicare or Medicaid would be cut. Asked point-blank if dollars would not be cut, he replied: “We should put forward the resources to take care of the patient.” Earlier, he repeated the Republican line that individuals should have the opportunity to “gain access” to coverage, as opposed to “insurance for everybody.”

Trump’s role in this scenario is to create public uncertainty about what his administration is actually going to do about healthcare, a smokescreen for what Republican legislators like Price are preparing. This is a big deal because the deindustrialization of America has eliminated most unionized jobs with health benefits. The Republican rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act and remove coverage from up to 32 million Americans will affect many Trump voters who believed his promises of a better healthcare plan. But since the Republican strategy is to repeal the funding for Obamacare before a new plan takes effect – described by Elizabeth Warren on Sunday as “repeal and run” – it will be politically impossible to restore the taxes that will pay for any of the things he or his spokespeople have promised.

Many people who voted for Trump believed he would stop short of removing the coverage they were already receiving under the ACA. Greg Sargent reports a CNN feature about “people who live in Eastern Kentucky coal country and backed Trump because he promised to bring back coal jobs. Now, however, they worry that a provision in the ACA that makes it easier for longtime coal miners with black lung disease to get disability benefits could get eliminated along with the law. That provision shifted the burden of proving that the disability was directly caused by work in the mines away from the victim” and placed it on the owners.

Sargent argues that “while Trump did repeatedly vow repeal, these voters were absolutely right to conclude that he would not leave them without the sort of federal protections they enjoy under Obamacare. That’s because Trump did, in fact, clearly signal to them that this would not happen. … Yes, Trump said endlessly that he’d do away with the ACA instantly. Yes, his own replacement plan would leave millions without coverage. But here’s the rub: Trump also went to great lengths to portray himself as ideologically different from most other Republicans on fundamental questions about the proper role of governmental intervention to help poor and sick people without sufficient access to medical care. … Trump also repeatedly vowed not to touch Medicare, explicitly holding this up as proof he is not ideologically aligned with Paul Ryan on the safety net.”

Now the reality of Trump’s plans is not only causing extreme emotional distress but also imperiling the health of people currently covered by the law. Although under-reported, Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” organized a day of action against ACA repeal on Sunday. At least 40 rallies took place in different cities, the highest profile one in Macomb County just outside of Detroit, Michigan, drew up to 10,000 in below-freezing weather to hear Sanders call for the defense of the ACA and the creation of a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. Some in the crowd were Trump supporters now scared of losing their coverage. Elizabeth Warren spoke to 6,000 people at the historic Faneuil Hall in Boston – the rally was intended to be inside the hall, but had to be moved outside because of the size of the crowd.

In Price’s confirmation hearing, Democratic Senator Patty Murray told him: “My constituents are coming up to me with tears in their eyes, wondering what the future holds for their health care given the chaos Republican efforts could cause.” And in local meetings, Republican legislators are confronting angry constituents demanding answers on Obamacare repeal. The Houston Chronicle reported that far-right Ways and Means chair Rep. Kevin Brady, a vocal critic of the law, encountered 50 people at a meeting where he expected them to share “experiences with rising costs and loss of coverage and choice.” Instead they grilled him about his support for repeal without a replacement. “Don’t lie!” shouted Emily Hoppel, a 39-year-old with her 2-year-old son perched on her hip, when Brady moved from one goal of dismantling ACA to another of defunding Planned Parenthood, which he said used taxpayer money for abortion. “The Hyde Amendment,” she sputtered, incredulously, as Brady continued to talk over her. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rep. Justin Amash was repeatedly interrupted by constituents concerned about the repeal of the Act during a packed town hall meeting. After Amash referred to the healthcare law as “Obamacare,” a number of audience members interrupted to insist that he call it the “Affordable Care Act” instead.

The left needs to cut through the smoke-and-mirrors rhetoric that Trump, the Confounder in Chief, uses to dominate the media and work to build support for Sanders’ and Warren’s defense of the ACA, together with other movements of mass resistance to corporate hegemony. This means developing an organized opposition to the Democratic leadership which failed to mobilize the party’s voters in the 2016 election.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Affordable Care Act, Bernie Sanders, donald trump, Elizabeth Warren, Medicare, Obama, Obamacare, Stand Your Ground law, Uncategorized

To White American Progressives: Vote Down Trump with the Rest of America


The Republican and Democratic party conventions held in July both staged a virtual political reality well removed from what is happening in America’s communities. The Democrats produced a carefully choreographed appearance of unity that masked deep divisions between its establishment and Sanders-inspired delegates. The Trump-dominated Republican convention appealed to profound dissatisfaction with the country’s prospects, but stoked the demonization of immigrants to protect the billionaires who are actually responsible for outsourcing jobs.

Meanwhile, state legitimacy is dissolving because of unconstrained shootings of non-white Americans by trigger-happy police.

Clinton’s acceptance speech showed clear signs of the influence of Sanders’ campaign, denouncing factory closings, economic inequality, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and money in politics; but while her speechwriters are attuned to the outcome of the primaries, they are insensitive to the disenchantment of many Americans with the political establishment. For these people, contrary to her message, America is not great. There is a pervasive anti-establishment populist movement in society based on a decline in middle-class jobs and living standards – above all, on a perception that there is no prospect of a better future – that has produced a fundamental shift in the relation between the political elite and the public.

This has created a dangerous desire for a powerful leader who will fix everything. The Associated Press reported: “After a recent Trump rally in West Virginia, countless news articles and academics dismissed Trump’s pledge to bring back coal as impossible, tied to market forces and geology. Chuck Keeney, a professor of political science and history at Southern Community College in Logan, often hears his students dismiss the criticism as the establishment, the very machine that ignored them for so long, beating up on Trump now, too. ‘What they see in their minds is the elite that looks down on them, mocks them, makes fun of them, thinks they’re stupid,’ Keeney said. ‘They see all those establishment groups ganging up on Donald Trump and that makes them root for him more’.”

Trump has leveraged the reaction against globalization and the rejection of political authority to take over the Republican party. Although his convention speeches were politically chaotic, they nevertheless succeeded in convincing his base that he could be president. Moreover, it articulated the appeal of his authoritarian rhetoric to the security forces and the rightwing NRA – not to mention the KKK.

A star speaker at the Republican convention was an African American police officer who denounced the Black Lives Matter movement. Milwaukee county sheriff David A. Clarke told the delegates: “What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest and violate the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.”

This is the true danger of Trumpism – its affinity with the authoritarianism of repressive state agencies built up under Bush and Obama. Max Blumenthal commented: “Clarke opened with what was perhaps the most successful applause line of the evening: ‘Ladies and gentleman, I would like to make one thing very clear: Blue lives matter in America!’ … Invoked on the national stage by culture war icons like Sheriff Clarke, Blue Lives Matter has become an integral component of the Republican base. It is not only a catch-all for opposition to Black Lives Matter and virtually any effort to spur police reform, but also a brand that conveys the racial backlash sensibility cultivated by the Trump campaign.”

The Democrats began their convention with party organizers maneuvering to contain dissent from Sanders’ supporters, and ended with Obama and Hillary Clinton staking out the Republican territory of American exceptionalism to deliver a message of patriotic optimism. Their election strategy appears to be one of winning over moderate Republican voters disenchanted with Trump and to pivot away from the concessions made to Sanders’ representatives on the platform committee.

“America is already great. America is already strong,” insisted Obama in his convention speech. According to the New York Times, “Democrats sought to seize on the traditional core of Republican campaign messaging: America as a place of virtue, optimism and exceptionalism. … Democrats celebrated the country’s diversity, with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, the vice-presidential nominee, ladling on the Spanish.” It’s a welcome sign of the times – but, as Greg Grandin points out, while Kaine speaks Spanish to market the presidential candidate, he still supports “the policies of free trade and militarization that produced the poverty, the violence, and the immigration [from] Central America.” The party’s leaders are simply blind to the contradiction between their professed aims of social justice and their close connections to corporate financial interests.

Alternet reported that “for most of the 1,900 Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, the convention was a turbulent and trying affair. It began with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz being forced to resign a day before it opened, after WikiLeaks posted emails of aides plotting against Sanders, but then she was rewarded with a top appointment to the Clinton campaign. That didn’t just affirm their suspicions about DNC bias, but it more ominously signaled that the party and Clinton campaign didn’t care about them.” Luis Eric Aguilar, a delegate from Illinois, told Democracy Now: “The theme of the DNC was to unify the party, but the delegates for Hillary get there early, reserve seats in the front rows so it shows good to the media, and then they push us to the back. … They tried taking away these signs, the ‘No TPP’ signs. All the homemade signs were taken away from us. But that is taking away our freedom of speech.”

By day four of the convention, Sanders’ supporters were arguing passionately about what to do next. They had expected to have more of an opportunity to express their critique of Clinton, but found themselves being shut down. Melissa Michelson, a member of Sanders’ California delegation, told Alternet: “We kind of understand where Sanders is going. We understand that he doesn’t want Donald Trump to win. However, he also told us that the political revolution is about us, not him… A lot of us are going to start getting involved in local politics. … We’re still skeptical how things will work out with this new relationship, you know [with Sanders endorsing and planning to campaign against Trump]. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton and I will not vote for Donald Trump either.”

A different view was expressed by a Texas delegate, Fawaz S. Anwar. He said: “I’m scared that Trump’s going to win now. And now that Clinton is sagging behind Trump, the most misogynistic, sexist, sexist, racist person that the Republicans have ever nominated, Clinton is slipping up. I just—I don’t know how else to say it. But our democracy is in danger if Trump becomes president. I’m in agreement with Bernie. I’m going to vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.”

Now that Sanders activists have reached the limits of the Democratic nomination campaign, they face a decision about the presidential election. In a discussion between Robert Reich and Chris Hedges hosted by Democracy Now, Reich said he saw no alternative to supporting Clinton because under a Trump presidency there would be negative changes that would irrevocably worsen the structure of the country, including appointments to the Supreme Court. He suggested that it was still possible to build “a multiracial, multiethnic coalition of the bottom 90 percent that is ready to fight to get big money out of politics, for more equality, for a system that is not rigged against average working people, where there are not going to be all of these redistributions upward from those of us who have paychecks” in order to take back democracy.

Hedges, advocating a vote for Green party candidate Jill Stein, responded that corporate power has already seized all the levers of control and the Democratic party was identical to the Republicans in this respect. “We’ve got to break away from political personalities and understand and examine and critique the structures of power,” he said. Obama “has been as obsequious to Wall Street as the Bush administration. … I don’t think it makes any difference. The TPP is going to go through, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Endless war is going to be continued, whether it’s Trump or Clinton.”

However, the majority of Americans are not going to abstain in this election, nor vote for a third party. For African and Latino Americans this is not an academic debate. They will vote overwhelmingly for Clinton because a Trump presidency is literally life-threatening for them. It would give the police carte blanche to gun down minorities without cause and Trump the power to use state force to suppress political opposition. White liberals have the luxury of potentially abstaining or voting for a third party, but this implies walking away from a long-term fight within the ranks of the Democratic party, and within the communities outside it, in order to change its leadership. It means giving up the struggle before it has begun. The left cannot use its criticisms of Clinton to avoid going through the experience of voting down Trump with the rest of America.

1 Comment

Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, aggressive policing, Bernie Sanders, Chris Hedges, Democratic Party, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, political analysis, State legitimacy, Uncategorized, Xenophobia

Waking Up to the Minority Vote, the New, Decisive Force in Post-Obama Politics


The South Carolina Democratic primary voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton as presidential candidate, by a margin of 50 percent over Bernie Sanders. Rather than analyzing the meaning of this vote, the media and the campaign professionals immediately turned to the candidates’ prospects on Super Tuesday, when a large number of states hold their primaries.

However, there are some important messages here which are obscured by a narrow focus on the political process. African Americans in South Carolina turned out in unprecedented numbers to participate in the primary – 6 out of 10 voters were black. And of those, 83 percent voted for Clinton. The Associated Press reported that in exit polls about 7 in 10 voters said they wanted the next president to continue Obama’s policies, indicating ideological agreement with Clinton’s strategy of building on his legacy.

The first thing to note is that the result should be seen as a class vote against the possibility of a Republican president. The relentless media reporting of Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim propaganda, together with the pronounced right-wing rhetoric of the Republican debates, are perceived rightly as a threat to black workers. Trump has succeeded in making abundantly explicit the racist basis of the Republican party, empowering extreme white supremacists, and making the Republican brand anathema among minorities. This goes a long way to undermining the Republican strategy of delegitimizing Democratic presidents and may lose them the Senate.

African Americans voted pragmatically for what they saw as the best candidate to defeat a Republican, and specifically, Trump.  Janell Ross commented in the Washington Post: “Black voters in South Carolina cast 6 in every 10 Democratic primary votes, according to CNN’s exit poll data. That ratio is huge — and sets a record-high in South Carolina black voter participation rate. The previous high was 55 percent, set in 2008, when the first black president was on his way to being elected. … these are its outcomes when black voters are convinced of their ability and authority to fundamentally shape American democracy. It is a result that should begin to crush the popular and often repeated myth that black political behavior in 2008 and 2012 was nothing more than a blip, a fleeting kind of emotion-only engagement inspired by a singular and history-making black candidate.”

Second, although a number of prominent black intellectuals like Michelle Alexander and Cornel West are highly critical of the Clintons’ record of legislation in the 1990s that led to mass incarceration of African American men and the dismantling of poverty programs, that message hasn’t reached the black working class. The history that black people remember is the vilification of Bill Clinton by the Republican Congress over the Monica Lewinsky affair, and, as Toni Morrison indicated by calling him the “first black president,” identified with his being hounded by the establishment.

Third, most black workers get their politics from their local churches and mainstream Democratic party leadership. And that was pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders. “A host of well-known, influential and well-connected black elected officials and leaders of civic and religious institutions have made their support for Clinton quite clear. And they have done everything possible to identify themselves as people opposed to a Sanders candidacy. … And, almost as if to say that the shooting death of an unarmed black person is the modern uber-black experience, the Clinton campaign has collected endorsements from several grieving black relatives. The mother of Trayvon Martin has even stumped for Clinton and explained her pro-Clinton voting rather logically in some detail. … Clinton [frames] issues like childcare and the gender wage gap, voting rights and criminal justice and gun policy reforms in ways that make their importance to black voters clear.”

Her political positioning as a champion of African American workers was prefigured in the Nevada primary. Clinton’s victory there was mainly due to the votes of casino workers in Las Vegas, who thanks to the efforts of Nevada senator Harry Reid were given time and opportunity to caucus at their places of work. In These Times contributor Steven Rosenfeld reported from one of the casinos: “Calvin Brooks, a Louisiana native, has been a bellman for 19 years in this hotel. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he explained why Clinton was his choice. ‘This is a union state. This is a union city. The president that we need today is somebody that will stand with us, to keep us together as a whole,’ he said. ‘My mind is made up for Hillary, someone who has been in the White House, not around it’.” Erlinda Falconer, an African-American women and blackjack dealer at the casino for 18 years, told Rosenfeld: “The majority of us realize how serious this election is and the impact it will have on our country and state. This is very, very important. There’s a lot on the line This isn’t a popularity contest. This is trying to get back on track.”

While earlier in the campaign Sanders took on board the criticisms of Black Lives Matter activists, he was too late to the party. Radicalized black youth may have challenged Clinton over her role in the 1990s, but they haven’t influenced the older majority. On Wednesday she was confronted at a fundraiser in Charleston by Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter protester, who demanded she apologize for the consequences of her husband’s 1994 crime bill and for having called black youth “super-predators” in a 1996 speech on crime.

Moreover, white progressives have difficulty dealing with race. Sanders’ attempt to reduce racial issues to economics are in line with his social-democratic outlook. But this perspective is inadequate to deal with the complex interrelations of class and race in America. The Washington Post commented: “Clinton doesn’t shy away from race. Sanders talks about race, too, of course. But he seems to do so at a remove, and his attempts to make a convincing link between his economic message and race continue to fall short. … Clinton openly talks about the necessary role that whites must play in healing and bridging the racial divide.” This has resonated with African Americans who resent being told that they are responsible for dealing with white resistance to acknowledging the role of slavery and the defeat of Reconstruction in American society.

Whoever wins the nomination and presidency, the social, cultural and demographic changes in the US are asserting themselves in the elections. The narrative of an “anti-establishment” vote is being superseded by a class consciousness that empowers African American and Latino voters. The realities of class struggle in America today require tackling racism head-on, something that the left has not attempted since the 1930s when the American Communist party sent members into the South to organize black and white workers into unions, risking their lives in the process.

Rather than tying the fortunes of the left to Sanders’ coat-tails, it needs to address the movements that have built up around this election and build an inclusive and pluralist movement that takes the heritage of the Occupy movement into new territory.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, occupy wall street, Republicans, Uncategorized

Obama’s Last State of the Union: A Flight of Fancy Dedicated to a Neoliberal Presidency


Obama made his final State of the Union speech last week a rhetorical rebuke to Trump and other Republican presidential contenders. He deprecated the fear being generated against immigrants and minorities, especially Muslims: “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people?” he asked.

But he showed himself singularly insensible to the actual political struggles of his presidency when he bemoaned the fact he had not been able to achieve bipartisanship in the manner of Lincoln. His failure to grasp the social roots of Republican intransigence parallels his misjudgment of the contribution of his own neoliberal administration to the cynicism Americans feel about government. Trump is able to capitalize on this feeling together with the decline of the American Dream to win support from working-class whites by imagining a new “greatness” for America based on racist attacks and demagogic threats of military force.

Obama himself boasted of US military prowess and the killing of Osama bin Laden in his speech, essentially coopting Republican rhetoric. As Roberto Lovado commented in Alternet: “Democrats have either coded and softened the right-wing message and politics of decline (i.e. Obama and the Dems standing up for Syrian refugee children while simultaneously jailing and deporting thousands of Central American refugee children) or simply not offered the kind of unifying narrative that appeals to the solidarity between working-class whites and other non-white working-class groups.”

The fears that Obama hoped to counter don’t grow out of nothing. Trump’s supporters “feel marginalized economically, politically, and socially … [but] their concerns for our future have led to an overwhelming need to see all of our problems as someone else’s fault,” writes Kaddie Abdul, who went to a Trump rally in her hijab to engage his followers in a dialog. “The people who used to be Tea Partiers, who supported Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin or any one of a number of politicians who’ve used this rhetoric before Trump – aren’t going to go away. Whether Trump wins or loses, his supporters will still be out there, longing for another leader to ‘make America great again’.”

His indifference to the social protests that have arisen during his presidency – Occupy Wall Street, the struggle against police shootings of black youth, the Fight for 15 campaign of low-paid workers, the Chicago teachers strike, the DREAM movement – and his detachment from the causes of the protests was expressed in his abstract sermonizing that: “democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.”

Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza commented: “The thing that I think was glaringly missing from the conversation last night was really the conversation around not just gun violence broadly, although that is a major issue in our country, but police violence as it relates to black communities … many people who have been involved in this movement certainly wanted to hear President Obama, possibly the last black president in our country’s history, really talk about what’s going on in black communities specifically … about what kinds of proposals are on the table to ensure that black people can live full lives in this country like everyone else.”

Obama’s leadership failed because he was constitutionally incapable of harnessing the social coalition that elected him in 2008. Once elected, he uncoupled from this mass movement and appointed a cabinet dominated by Wall Street insiders and neoliberals, leading to political capitulation over banking regulation and healthcare reform, and an inability to control the workings of the vast federal bureaucracy. The net effect was that he did little to shield the most vulnerable Americans from predatory capitalism.

In his speech he appropriated the language of Martin Luther King to argue for a corporatist version of politics. “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino … but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. They’re out there, those voices … I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board.” This flight of fantasy only has a basis in workers clocking extra shifts because they fear the closure of their plants and losing their jobs as part of America’s industrial decline, not out of brotherly love for their bosses.

But while the social movement Obama energized in 2008 may have dissipated as a political force, it has morphed into many other forms of resistance. In particular, the American labor movement is not dead. Although major strikes are infrequent, thanks to repressive legislation, when they do take place they are solid. For example, workers at Wisconsin’s Kohler Company stayed out picketing for over a month at the end of last year after a 94% strike vote against a two-tier wage system that gave younger workers 35% less than those on the top tier. They won an increase in the lower wage to $15 an hour; older workers on the picket lines said they were expressing their solidarity for the younger generation.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union has also voted overwhelmingly to strike if necessary, for the second time in three years. In 2012, the discredited Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, also exploited civil rights rhetoric to cover a neoliberal push to force give-backs from the teachers. As Shaun Richman notes, the public on the other hand “overwhelmingly viewed the CTU as striking for the common good. Partly, this was thanks to two years of deep and meaningful community organizing and partnerships that the union diligently pursued knowing there would likely be a strike. And partly, this was thanks to the union bargaining for school resources demands that resonated beyond just their membership.”

The Fight for 15 is another sign of growing resistance. Richman argues: “Some have dismissed the series of rolling one-day strikes for increases in the minimum wage and organizing rights as mere P.R. stunts. But there is something deeply radical and significant at play here. Workers who don’t even technically have a union are proving their value—and their power—to their bosses by withholding their labor. … The great potential of Fight for 15 is that unorganized workers see reflections of themselves in the strikers and begin to fantasize about what a job action could look like at their workplace.”

Obama’s legacy is a disappointment to many who voted for him, but there is a potential for Bernie Sanders to energize the kind of political excitement that Obama did in 2008. While Hillary Clinton is tied by her umbilical cord to Wall Street, Sanders is getting major support for his anti-corporate message. He still has to reach many voters in the south, however, although his willingness to take on board actual movements of dissent is a huge positive. And as his poll numbers rise, he will get more exposure to potential supporters who would respond to his call for universal healthcare and free higher education.

Whether or not he succeeds in becoming the Democratic presidential candidate, his campaign has connected with the same kind of anti-oligarchic sentiment as did Occupy Wall Street. The hunger for real hope and change is stronger than ever.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bernie Sanders, Fight for 15, Neoliberalism, Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Uncategorized

Fifty Years after Selma: The Rebirth of the Radical Martin Luther King


This year, on Martin Luther King day, young activists challenged the political establishment’s sanitization and beatification of the Civil Rights leader so that they could recover the radical side of his heritage, using the hashtag #ReclaimMLK to coordinate protests across America.

Fifty years after the struggle King led, the black upper middle class has been integrated into the corporate world and the political establishment. But deindustrialization has created endemic poverty in many African American and Latino communities, and has led to the demonization and racial identification of minority youth with poverty and criminality. Civil Rights legislation has not prevented Black and Latino youth from facing police violence as a fact of everyday life.

At the same time, continuous reduction in the taxes paid by the wealthy has left state bureaucracies largely unfunded. Besides other social ills, racial profiling conceals an economic imperative to raise funds from fines generated by zealous policing of minor infractions – large numbers of citations represent a way to impose extra taxes on the poor while avoiding political fallout.

The new young leadership of the protests against police violence has undergone a rapid political development, coming into conflict with older activists who focus on organizing peaceful marches rather than the more confrontational civil disobedience actions favored by the youth. These new leaders have turned to King’s more radical speeches as justification for their tactics and to deconstruct the ideological narrative of a “post-racial” America.

The group Ferguson Action said in a statement: “We resist efforts to reduce a long history marred with the blood of countless members of our community into iconic images of men in suits behind pulpits.” Dante Berry, director of the New York-based Million Hoodies Movement, told the Washington Post: “MLK was a radical, very strategic and uncompromising in his strive for justice. It’s reclaiming our own history in a way that is truthful.”

The New York Times reported on Martin Luther King day protests in Atlanta, St. Louis, New York City, Philadelphia and Boston: “The [Atlanta] protesters argued that the holiday had become corrupted by corporate involvement, diluting Dr. King’s ideas about economics as well as race. With signs, slogans and shouts, they inserted themselves into the annual parade as it made its way down Peachtree Street, Atlanta’s downtown thoroughfare. … ‘We’re going to reclaim M.L.K.’s holiday!’ Aurielle Marie, 20, an activist and author, yelled at the Atlanta protest. … Similar events unfolded in St. Louis, where several thousand people marched from the city’s Old Courthouse, where enslaved blacks were once sold as property, to Harris-Stowe State University, where the marchers joined a packed auditorium for an interfaith service.”

About two dozen protesters disrupted the St. Louis service, taking the stage and seizing the microphone, chanting “No justice, no peace.” Harris-Stowe student Tory Russell told St. Louis Today: “This program is more of the same,” and accused the university of representing “the politics of respectability.”

The protesters identify with the radical nature of Martin Luther King’s struggle, firstly because he recognized that desegregation in itself would not settle the question of social and economic equality for African Americans; and secondly because he saw behind the imposition of Jim Crow segregation the workings of an imperialist state he called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” King’s genius lay not only in his profound understanding of the political moment, but also in his articulation of the way institutional racism was connected to poverty, corporate exploitation, and imperialist war.

Even though there are many more nonwhite police officers than in King’s time, the structural role of police in suppressing the poor has not changed. While the most publicized shootings of young unarmed black men generally involve white officers, the racial dynamic is more complex. After a major corruption scandal and subsequent reform of the Los Angeles police department in the 1990s, it is today majority nonwhite. But the victims of police killings still tend to be overwhelmingly black or brown. Connie Rice, an attorney who heads a national criminal justice reform organization and was a leader in the LAPD reform, said she found that police officers are more apt to shoot in poor and violent areas. “The biggest common denominator [in police shootings] is [neighborhood] income and class,” she said. “It is compounded by race.”

Matt Taibbi comments that the recent police slowdown in New York that led to a 94 percent drop in arrests for minor offenses unwittingly revealed the economic underside of the de Blasio administration’s “broken windows” policing. “First, it shines a light on the use of police officers to make up for tax shortfalls using ticket and citation revenue. Then there’s the related (and significantly more important) issue of forcing police to make thousands of arrests and issue hundreds of thousands of summonses when they don’t ‘have to.’… Both policies make people pissed off at police for the most basic and understandable of reasons: if you’re running into one, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to end up opening your wallet. Your average summons for a [quality of life] offense costs more than an ordinary working person makes in a day driving a bus, waiting tables, or sweeping floors.”

Politico reports: “‘The primary premise [of broken windows], whether spoken or unspoken, is about policing the poor,’ said Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. ‘The people who live in a neighborhood with a broken window and can’t afford to fix that window.’ In other words, if the NYPD is policing crimes that might have more to do with circumstance than malintent – selling weed because it’s a way to make money in an unfair economy, squeegeeing windows to afford a meal – then the agency is essentially criminalizing the behavior of New York’s most marginalized and disadvantaged communities.”

The visibility of the militarized police after Ferguson has created a crisis of legitimacy for the police and state forces. Frank Serpico, who was almost killed for exposing police corruption in the 1970s, commented: “citizens across the country are losing faith in our justice system, with brazen acts of police brutality frequently captured on cellphone videos; the militarization of police forces through the acquisition of war-machine surplus; continuing racial tensions coupled with a lack of initiative for community policing; and the sentencing of minor offenders to long terms in for-profit prisons, where they essentially become indentured servants.”

The reforms proposed by liberals after Ferguson are unlikely to change this situation. It’s structurally created by unemployment and the legacy of past discrimination. Institutionalized racism, as Martin Luther King perceived, is bound up with the economic and social oppression of the working class and poor in America. Even though there is now an African American president and attorney-general, police who kill unarmed black youth are still not prosecuted.

The continuing struggle against police violence and for a higher minimum wage is King’s true legacy, and the new, younger, leadership of Black Lives Matter is rapidly developing a political perspective that conflicts with that of the old guard of civil rights leaders. Obama cannot coopt the rhetoric of this new leadership in the way he did the Occupy critique of the plutocracy because the criminalization of poor African Americans and Latinos is at the heart of U.S. domestic rule. Whether the state adopts suppression or liberalization, the protests are not going to stop until minority youth stop getting shot.

Leave a comment

Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, broken windows, De Blasio, Ferguson protests, Martin Luther King, Mike Brown, New York City protests, Obama, police violence, poverty

Out of the ‘Minority Issues Box’: Americans Defend Rights of All Citizens against Police Violence


Across the US on Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters marched against the legal sanctioning of police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed young black men. In New York, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago and Oakland people of all races and ages marched under the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”

The ongoing protests have drawn in wide layers of society – especially youth from the millennial generation, together with privileged Yale law students and high school student groups. They have been protesting as citizens, not just in defense of the rights of African-Americans, but against the unjustified use of lethal force by increasingly militarized local police.

The Guardian’s Steven Thrasher described the scene in Manhattan as some 40,000 protesters flooded the streets: “The march was supposed to end at One Police Plaza but Foley Square, in front of it, was jam-packed – far more so than it was at the protest the night after the Garner non-indictment was announced. … Noticeable in the march was the presence of young people, from many infants to young white boys chanting, to young teenagers singing. … Noticeable too was a protest contingent as diverse as the city itself, with Muslim, Christian, Jewish, black, white, Hispanic, Native American and Asian New Yorkers out in large numbers. This, too, was very different from Occupy Wall Street.

At the 10,000-strong “Justice for All” march in Washington, led by Al Sharpton and civil rights organizations in the National Action Network, “before the procession left its gathering place at Freedom Plaza … a group of young demonstrators mostly from Ferguson seized the stage. Opposed to Sharpton, who they view as a celebrity activist seeking to take over a movement they started, they said young advocates who did the heavy lifting should be at the forefront of the march.” However, they were excluded from the platform, where relatives of African-Americans killed by police called on Congress to reform the criminal justice system.

UPDATE: Alternet reports that when organizers at the Washington march tried to get the Ferguson protesters offstage, they were met with loud chants of “Let them speak!”  “Ultimately, they allowed Johnetta Elzie of St. Louis to speak. Elzie, who protested in Ferguson for more than 100 days, explained that young people started the movement and it needs to continue that way. She later told the press: ‘I thought there was going to be actions, not a show. This is a show’.”

The protests have created new leadership groups who have quickly developed tactics to control demonstrations. The day after the announcement that there would be no charges against the officer who killed Eric Garner with a choke-hold, protesters “had seemed to roam the streets, intermittently splitting apart and converging to shut down traffic on several important highways and bridges around the traffic-heavy island of Manhattan,” reported the Guardian. But the following night, December 4, brought out many younger protesters who were far more organized: “a coalition of groups led demonstrators. On the Brooklyn Bridge some organizers wore headsets and stopped marchers for photographers.”

They have developed the moral authority to challenge “black bloc” groups trying to hijack demonstrations in Berkeley and in New York. According to the Gothamist, as the December 4 march wound into Tribeca, “some black-clad protesters turned over trash cans and dragged bags of garbage into the street, before protester Steve Saporito chased them away. … ‘I don’t want upper-middle class white kids coming down here and causing mischief so their rich parents can come bail them out, and fuck up what’s going on here,’ Saporito explained.”

But leaders of left groups in California are reluctant to criticize the smashing of windows and looting of stores during marches in Berkeley over last weekend. Alternet reports: “On Saturday [December 6], Berkeley police rioted first, viciously attacking protesters. Some protesters, young men, then vandalized chain stores. A day later, hours after a protest began where hundreds of people marched peacefully, a dozen or so young white men led a second vandalism spree. Before the next night’s march, organizer Yvette Felarca [of the group ‘By Any Means Necessary’] defended their reactions as a legitimate expression of rage. ‘You can never replace the life of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but windows can always be replaced,’ she said, using a megaphone to address a campus plaza filled with marchers.”

However, “moments later, a young African-American woman [a student at U.C. Berkeley] took the megaphone to made the opposite point. ‘I want to say that this is a nonviolent protest. It is a peaceful protest,’ she said, also prompting cheers. ‘I was beaten on Saturday night and please respect that… If you see any agitators, if you see any anarchists wearing black masks, please pay attention to them and call them out. Because they will try to incite a riot’.”

Long-time Berkeley resident and activist Cynthia Morse, who is white, described the vandals as “skinny white kids … coming from all over the country; homeless; need something to do. They start to show up. And then there’s homegrown people who want to attack capitalism this way,” Morse said. “There’s also the very valid point that without the cops behaving the way they do, there probably would be very little of that. Nobody would come here to fight the cops if the cops weren’t attacking.”

Felarca appeared to equate vandalism in Berkeley with the riots in Ferguson. But there is a difference: in Ferguson rioting was a spontaneous outpouring of rage within the community, while in Berkeley it was planned destruction under the cover of other nonviolent demonstrators which attempted to substitute personal anger for the movement of the community. Black bloc tactics in effect only provide the police with a convenient cover for military-style suppression of protests, stifling the perception that they are attacking citizens exercising First Amendment rights.

Obama’s tepid response to the grand jury decisions has frustrated protest leaders, particularly the claim he made that he’s “never seen a civil-rights law or a healthcare bill or an immigration bill result because a car got burned.” At a town hall meeting in Washington, activist and hip-hop artist Jasiri X said: “Guess what, President Obama? It was over 100 days of peaceful protest, but we didn’t get a meeting with you then. But now, when Ferguson burns, when protests are happening all over the country, now all of a sudden we can get your attention. Now when it burns down you want to have a conversation about putting cameras on police. Well, guess what—it was a video camera that showed Eric Garner being choked by NYPD.”

While Obama was able to co-opt some of the populist rhetoric of OWS, he can only make anodyne statements about police violence because, as an “earnest moderate,” in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, he is unable to defy state forces that maintain order, any more than he can prosecute CIA torturers. “Barack Obama is the president of a congenitally racist country, erected upon the plunder of life, liberty, labor, and land,” Coates argues. There are things that cannot be said in public discourse, he explains, such as: “America does not really believe in nonviolence … so much as it believes in order. What cannot be said is that there are very convincing reasons for black people in Ferguson to be nonviolent. But those reasons emanate from an intelligent fear of the law, not a benevolent respect for the law. … the death of all of our Michael Browns at the hands of people who are supposed to protect them originates in a force more powerful than any president: American society itself.”

While there is a lot of truth in what he says, particularly in relation to institutional racism, the protests this weekend are a sign of how American society is changing. As the population becomes increasingly nonwhite and more white people acquire minority relatives through marriage, they become aware of how racism affects people they care about. A commentator in Talking Points Memo, who is white, writes about how his Latino cousin was killed by police. He says that the way the Ferguson community mobilized and the video of Eric Garner’s death “are searing these facts of injustice into the minds of a broad swath of people for the first time, much like my cousin’s murder did for me. These issues have broken out of the ‘minority issues’ box.”

There is a perceptible difference between these protests and Occupy Wall Street. While OWS was equally pluralistic and imaginative in its tactics, it was a more abstract campaign against the power of the financial oligarchy, and could only mobilize those who could afford to camp out and get arrested (thus excluding many people of color who couldn’t take such a risk). Today’s movement is more diverse, inclusive and is defending the rights of all citizens against uncontrolled state violence.

Leave a comment

Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, black bloc, Eric Garner, Ferguson, Mike Brown, New York City protests, Obama, police violence

‘No justice, no peace’: Ferguson a microcosm of America’s alienation from government


The city of Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in anger on Monday after the grand jury’s decision that there were no grounds for indicting Michael Brown’s killer Darren Wilson. The verdict was widely anticipated, but the release of the evidence shows the way St. Louis prosecutors enabled Wilson to pose in front of the jury as the victim – allowing him to describe Brown in a four-hour testimony as a “demon” and that “it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots.” As Josh Marshall notes, “Wilson portrays himself as almost literally in the hands of a monster and in a fight for his life.”

Wilson’s defense was based on the racist stereotype of African-American men as violent thugs terrorizing innocent suburbanites. It was in line with the earlier police release of video of Brown taking a pack of cigars from a shop, setting him up as a criminal to imply he deserved his violent end. This strategy “has not only persisted; it’s been extended to the protesters now taking to the streets of Ferguson.”

Washington Post correspondent Dana Milbank pointed out: “[St. Louis prosecutor Robert] McCulloch essentially acknowledged that his team was serving as Wilson’s defense lawyers, noting that prosecutors ‘challenged’ and ‘confronted’ witnesses by pointing out previous statements and evidence that discredited their accounts,” while passing over inconsistencies in Wilson’s own statements and his supporting witnesses.

Brown had become the symbol of aggressive police repression of black youth across America, and in refusing to indict Wilson the St. Louis prosecutors gave notice that the federal “ghetto” strategy of military containment of minority communities would be continued and intensified. But now more people facing unemployment and house repossession are being drawn into struggle and will face the same tactics.

Nowhere was the disconnect between the political elite and reality more apparent than Obama’s talk of “enormous progress in race relations,” shown on TV news in a split screen with live images of teenagers in Ferguson trying to overturn a police car. In this sense, Ferguson is America. It is a microcosm of America’s alienation from government.

The demonizing of protesters as rioters has been recast as the official justification of militarized policing. The roles of police and military have been conflated: The Guardian reported that National Guardsmen took at least one demonstrator into custody on Monday night. The legal system has reinforced the ideological justification for unpunished police killings in defiance of public sentiment.

In a typically insightful comment, Gary Younge writes: “when it comes to the lethal use of force the police do not just constitute a special category, but a protected and elevated one … police power and black life [are set] at opposite ends of a value system which is not only morally indefensible but, ultimately, socially unsustainable. … [Wilson operates] in a culture where armed white men can cite their fear of unarmed black men as a defence. A fear so intense that they have to shoot them.”

The confrontational fury released by the decision was heightened by the hope that had been sustained over the past 100 days that the legal system would give some modicum of justice over the killing of an unarmed black teenager. Those hopes were dashed and the message rubbed in by the lead prosecutor. Director of Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut Jelani Cobb told Democracy Now, over the past few months “There was some small scale skirmishes, but largely, people kind of withheld their anger in hopes that the actual system of legal recourse would grant them some relief in a situation of Michael Brown’s death. That did not happen.”

The protests in Ferguson itself and in most major cities across the country and abroad were multiracial and political in nature, and the preparations of the authorities in Ferguson no less political. Black-owned business areas were left unguarded while white areas were swamped with aggressive police. Tory Russell, one of the founders of the group Hands Up United and a member of the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle, commented: “That lets you know not only does this country value property over people, they even put a special caveat on whose property. If you go to Clayton, you go to Kirkwood, you go to some of these affluent places in the city, National Guard … are already there, they’re stationed. You go to the black communities, you go on West Florissant, or the most black small businesses … Their dreams weren’t being protected. Meanwhile on South Florissant where the white property is, their dream was protected.”

The ongoing experiences of the protests and police reaction crystallized a political development among protesters, latent in a social movement that had had already been apparent in the responses to Trayvon Martin’s shooting and Zimmerman’s acquittal. At the same time that the Supreme Court and the right is chipping away at the civil rights won in the 1960s, African American youth want more than those achievements. With political and supposedly legal equality, they perceive the system denying their worth as human beings.

The Nation explained: “This new generation of protesters represents a marked break with the older generations of black leaders in the city. They disagreed with the tactics of the civic leaders and clergy members who, for example, urged protesters to obey police curfews widely viewed by the young people as disrespectful of the community’s legitimate outrage. Most of these older leaders already had a stake in the political process in St. Louis through nonprofits or as politicians.”

The Guardian reported on the broadening of the campaign: “A group of ad hoc organisations born out of alliances formed on the streets … used unrelenting, sometimes in-your-face protests to keep alive demands that the officer who shot the unarmed teenager, Darren Wilson, be put on trial. But as the campaign grew and gained momentum it shifted to a broader focus on racial profiling and the use of force by the police in Ferguson, St Louis and beyond. … [Ashley] Yates and other leading activists regard the tactics of an earlier generation as dated. She says what was right in pressing for specific goals such as ending segregation on buses or the right to vote is different from attempts to confront what she describes as a state of mind among many Americans that views black people ‘as a threat and savages’.”

St. Louis rapper and activist Tef Poe wrote in Time magazine of his disenchantment with Barack Obama’s disengagement from their fight: “We assumed that our beloved, black president would come to our defense and speak about the perils of police brutality, racial profiling, and Mike Brown’s unfortunate demise. Instead we felt as if he co-signed this unfair treatment and endorsed the brutal show of force the police displayed towards us. … The city is overflowing with civil unrest and we simply want answers for the many wrongdoings that have been committed against us. The officers of the Ferguson Police Department continue to stand in solidarity with their brother Darren Wilson. The entire system is corrupt from top to bottom.”

Obama’s presidency, despite his executive actions on immigration, is a spent force. In the midterm elections, when they were unable to mobilize their supporters to vote, Democrats proved themselves unable to answer voters’ sense of the political system’s corruption. A new politics is being born in the fight for justice and a living wage that will sweep aside politicians tied to corporate interests and Wall Street money.

Leave a comment

Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, broken windows, Ferguson, low-waged, Obama, police presence, Trayvon Martin