Category Archives: political analysis

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under donald trump, gun control, political analysis, public schools, racial justice, Republicans, social justice, Uncategorized

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


Screen Shot El Pais.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Coming Fall of Humpty Trumpty: Republicans Can’t Put Him Back Together Again


Humpty_Trumpty

Trump’s disastrous presidency is not only undermining the legitimacy of the US government, but also fracturing the Republican political coalition. His second Muslim travel ban has been blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland, and while he is forging ahead with budget plans that increase military spending and slash the social safety net, he is provoking resistance at every level of civil society.

Congressional Republicans are in disarray over their pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Hardline tea-partiers in the House, with gerrymandered constituencies guaranteed to give them a comfortable reelection, have a visceral ideological opposition to any law offering subsidies to the low-paid. More moderate Republicans in the Senate, however, do not want to lose the expansion of Medicaid that House Speaker Paul Ryan wants so badly to cut.

Greg Sargent writes: “By embracing Paul Ryan’s plan, which would dramatically slash taxes on the richest Americans while massively rolling back coverage for the poorest Americans, [Trump] is losing touch with the ‘populist’ message and ideological heterodoxy that helped drive his appeal to working-class voters. … But we are now learning that to cover as many people as Obamacare does, you have to spend far more money than the priorities of congressional Republicans will permit. Indeed, as the CBO report showed, the GOP plan gets a big chunk of its savings by cutting Medicaid spending by over $800 billion, resulting in 14 million fewer people benefiting from it — thus allowing an enormous tax cut for the rich. These are the priorities that Trump has now fully embraced, and his conservative populist allies understand the political danger of it.”

If Trump supports Ryan’s plan he will have openly betrayed those who voted for him believing his promises for bigger and better healthcare. If he doesn’t, he faces losing the legislative support of the tea-partiers. Either way, his administration’s first major piece of legislation is breaking apart on the ideological divisions in his party. Trump shows little ability or inclination to use his position to force the two sides together, and his disdain for mastering the details of complex legislation hobbles his desire for a quick and easy legislative win.

The Washington Post reports that the possibility Trump will sell out his base by going along with congressional Republicans has opened up a split among Trump advisers. “Some of them appear to be balking at such a course of action — and it’s telling that one of them is Stephen Bannon, because he is the keeper of the eternal flame of Trump ‘populism’,” it said. Republican strategists are also influenced by the vociferous protests at town hall meetings that have impacted the terms of political discourse. While Republicans have dismissed them as the work of paid liberal activists, they know that their core constituencies will punish them if they support legislation that will take away benefits the public depends on.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for example, was unprepared for the depth of anger from his town hall attendees. According to the Huffington Post: “a 25-year-old constituent pressed the senator on whether he intends to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s treatment protections for people with preexisting conditions. She then explained she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects the body’s connective tissues and blood vessels. ‘Without coverage for preexisting conditions, I will die,’ she said. ‘Will you commit today to replacement protections for those Arkansans like me who will die or lose their quality of life or otherwise be unable to be participating citizens, trying to get their part of the American dream? Will you commit to replacement in the same way that you’ve committed to repeal?’ The auditorium erupted in cheers as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.”

This may be why Cotton suggested last week that the push by his fellow Republicans to pass a healthcare reform bill was risking the GOP’s House majority. Don’t “walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate,” he warned.

The healthcare issue would seem to offer a perfect opportunity for the Democratic party to make political gains. But while party activists were involved in organizing protests at Republican town halls, the Democratic establishment is hanging on tightly to the control of leadership positions. Obama personally intervened to persuade Tom Perez to run for DNC chair in order to prevent Keith Ellison, who is associated with the populist surge within the party, from gaining the position. However, as the Washington Post pointed out: “In 2016, Sanders won the support of just 39 of the DNC’s 447 voting members — all of whom, infamously, were superdelegates to the party’s convention. Nine months after Sanders’s defeat, Ellison won the votes of 200 DNC members. Some, like the AFT’s Randi Weingarten, had been Clinton supporters, but plenty had been brought into the party by Sanders. … But in states where Sanders performed strongly in 2016, just as many activists were already in the middle of a takeover. It just didn’t happen in time for Ellison.”

Although Perez had to acknowledge this change by making Ellison his deputy, the Democratic party’s ability to head a grassroots movement is hindered by its corporate character. Struggles outside the party structure, such as the fight for union recognition at Nissan in Mississippi, are creating new coalitions of protest groups that are the main basis of changing the political climate.

Alternet reports that organizers across the country are working to build large popular assemblies to empower and connect communities targeted by Trump’s assaults. “With roots in the U.S. Black Freedom movement, Latin American encuentro and left formations across the globe, such forums appear to be gaining steam, as growing crowds cram into packed community meetings to plot out strategies for resistance. … While some popular assemblies are connected to regional organizations like the Atlanta-based Project South, others are springing up independently. ‘People are building new mechanisms of community power,’ David Abud, regional organizer from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told AlterNet.”

“Ayako Maruyama and Kenneth Bailey work with the Design Studio for Social Intervention in Boston. Since November, their organization has created a ‘Social Emergency Response Center,’ modeled after natural disaster emergency response centers, but designed to respond to the current political crisis. … Akuno underscored that ‘it is a constant struggle to build popular assemblies, keep them functioning, keep them vibrant, keep them responsive to the issues of the day and keep them from being sectarian vehicles. When done right, when done at its best, I think assemblies are the most profound tools of bottom-up, participatory democracy that holds the interests of the communities, unlike any other vehicle I have ever worked with’.”

Naturally not much of this reaches the mainstream media, obsessed as it is with Trump’s twisted tweets. However, the resurgence of civic activism is creating a new politics that will overcome the divisions within the 99 percent and bring together coalitions that will carry out a vital defense of pluralist democracy.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Black Lives Matter, Democratic Party, donald trump, political analysis, Trump, Uncategorized, white working class

Americans Rise Against the Neofascism of Trump and Bannon to Affirm the Foundation of the Republic: once again, E Pluribus Unum


Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia created chaos after its immediate enforcement at US airports on Saturday. Passengers with valid documentation and green cards were denied entry by immigration officials, a move that was both unconstitutional and illegal.

But Trump and his neofascist advisers did not anticipate the public response to this attack on the foundational ideas of America. At all major airports around the country spontaneous protests grew into thousands chanting: “No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here,” and hundreds of lawyers volunteered their services pro bono.

It’s clear that Trump has no idea about how to govern: after one week in power, his administration has provoked a constitutional crisis that pits the immigration bureaucracy, acting for the executive, against the legislature and the courts. While the botched executive order was crafted by neofascist Steve Bannon, it was defended by his tea-party fellow travelers Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan, revealing they are not only out of touch with the ideals and sentiments of the majority of  Americans, but actually believe their own lies about public hostility to Muslims.

According to the New York Times, Trump’s rush to enact his campaign promises bypassed all agency and legal reviews, and his executive order on immigration “had the most explosive implications. … But Mr. Bannon, who believes in highly restrictive immigration policies and saw barring refugees as vital to shoring up Mr. Trump’s political base, was determined to make it happen.” What Bannon really wants to achieve is to remove all checks and balances on Trump’s executive power. The sudden dismissal of senior officials at the State Department with no replacements in line, creating a vacuum of leadership, is designed to neutralize the agency in foreign relations. Angela Merkel was forced to “explain” to Trump the obligations of the Geneva refugee convention in a phone call on Saturday, reported the Guardian, in contrast to the toadying of British prime minister Theresa May on her recent visit.

The protests against the ban began on Saturday immediately after the news that two Iraqi refugees were being held at JFK airport in New York.  Gothamist reported the crowd numbered about 100 people shortly before 2 p.m., but 40 minutes later had doubled in size; people kept on coming until there were thousands lining the approach road and in the three floors of the parking garage overlooking the terminal. Shortly after noon on Saturday one of the Iraqi travelers was released. After nearly 19 hours of detention, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an interpreter who worked for more than a decade as a translator for the US in Iraq, began to cry as he spoke to reporters after his humiliation by the authorities. But he said of the protesters who surrounded him, carrying supportive signs, “This is the humanity, this is the soul of America. This is what pushed me to move, leave my country and come here.”

The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance tweeted that they would undertake a one-hour strike on pickups at JFK, to stand in solidarity with the people protesting the immigration ban. At the same time, the ACLU mounted an emergency habeas corpus petition in Brooklyn federal court. An ACLU lawyer, Andre Segura, was at JFK by 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. He said that the outside section of a restaurant in Terminal 4 was “entirely taken over by attorneys,” all working to file petitions for individual clients with the help of the clients’ families. He added, “The dynamic between what was happening inside the terminal with all the attorneys, and outside with massive protests and people holding signs — I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

According to the New York Times, US district Judge Ann Donnelly, “ruled just before 9 p.m. on Saturday that implementing Mr. Trump’s order by sending the travelers home could cause them ‘irreparable harm.’ She said the government was ‘enjoined and restrained from, in any manner and by any means, removing individuals’ who had arrived in the United States with valid visas or refugee status.” She had been alerted by the ACLU to the fact that a Syrian woman with a valid green card attempting to enter the country had been placed on a plane to take her back to Syria within the hour; government lawyers were unable to provide assurances about her safety on her return without additional information.  The Guardian reported: “Well that’s exactly why I’m going to grant this stay,” Donnelly replied to muffled cheers in the room.

Back at JFK, a Gothamist reporter described the continuing protest. All of those he spoke to “were angry, many scared. But they didn’t seem demoralized. They stayed, for hours and hours. Pizza boxes became impromptu signs. Parents held onto their kids, fresh out of dance practice in Manhattan or coming from their homes nearby in Queens. A group of Yemeni men stood around, chatting and filming the action. … I assumed the combination of cold and darkness would start to thin the crowd, but people were still showing up at 7 p.m. They flooded out into the streets, still chanting, ‘Fuck the wall, we’ll tear it down’ and ‘Not on our watch, not in our name.’ A few folks danced. It was electric. Around 9 p.m., when word of the stay came through, spread along the human mic, there was just a surging roar, punctuated by people drumming on buckets. The crowd started to sing.”

The judge’s ruling had immediate national repercussions. Minutes later, another judge, Leonie Brinkema of Federal District Court in Virginia, issued a temporary restraining order for a week to block the removal of any green card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport. The Washington Post reported: “In Seattle, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly granted an emergency stay preventing the deportation of two people detained at the Sea-Tac International Airport …  Just before 2 a.m. Sunday in Boston, two federal judges ruled for two University of Massachusetts Dartmouth associate professors — Iranian nationals who are permanent legal residents in the United States — who were held at Logan International Airport when they landed after travel for an academic conference. The judges there also put a seven-day restraining order on Trump’s executive action.”

However, the application of the ruling – which prevents deportations of people already on US soil – is being challenged by Homeland Security officials who are still preventing immigration lawyers from contacting people detained at airports. At Dulles airport in Virginia Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials were refusing to comply with the court order on Sunday, denying detained immigrants access to lawyers and turning away members of Congress who demanded officials comply with the federal court.

Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told reporters on Sunday morning: “Rogue customs and Border Patrol agents continue to try to get people on to planes. A lot of people have been handcuffed, a lot of people who don’t speak English are being coerced into taking involuntary departures.” Heller said in one case, an Iranian Fulbright scholar had been forced on to an Air Ukraine flight at JFK – hours after agents had received the court order to stop. “The flight started taxiing away from the gate,” Heller said. “She was on the phone with us and stood up and asked to get off the flight the crew just ignored her.” The attorneys made desperate calls to higher-level officials, and the plane was eventually turned around on the tarmac and the woman returned to detention.”

The New York Immigration Coalition announced Sunday that volunteer lawyers remain at JFK’s terminals to help travelers caught by the ban, as well as “non-legal volunteers, community members, and even people who had just gotten off their flights [who] offered their time and energy to support the effort.” Camille Mackler, director of the group’s legal initiatives, said: “I think people reacted to how fundamentally un-American the [Executive Orders] and values put forth are. This is what has propelled people to the streets, what has pushed people out there to protest and to keep showing up. Lawyers have a skill and want to put it to work—they came out to the point that we had to turn people away. This all has been overwhelming but amazing.”

Trump’s extremism has alienated Americans from all classes of society, from ordinary members of the public to legislators and lawyers. They immediately understood the deep betrayal of American ideals and the Constitution that Trump and his enablers are trying to impose, and which the authoritarian elements in Homeland Security are following to the detriment of the rule of law. The United States cannot be ruled by fiats or tweets.

Trump’s aggressive executive orders threaten the legitimacy of his government and the presidency itself. The executive branch has been hijacked by a group of dangerous men who have to be stopped before they have inflicted irreparable damage. The ground has been created for a mass movement unlike any seen before that aims to defend the fundamental pluralistic premises of the United States. The left in America and Britain needs to grasp this reality and participate without preconceptions about political leadership. And Theresa May is exposed as the appeaser of a would-be fascist dictator.

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Filed under donald trump, immigrants, immigration, muslims in america, populism, racism, Syria, Uncategorized

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Against the Party Machines: Momentum Boldly Asserts People Power in Britain, while US Progressives Fight for their Democratic Moment


Throughout Europe and the US today, the dominant political theme is how the public are shut out of meaningful decision-making at a time when globalization is having a devastating effect on people’s lives. This has led to protest voting that has unsettled the ruling elites: Brexit in Britain; in the US, support for the demagogic Trump.

The British political class, whether Labour or Conservative, believes that it is qualified to rule by virtue of family upbringing and attending Oxford or Cambridge, despite all historical experience to the contrary. What matters most is not its record of achievement – deindustrializing the economy, squeezing living standards with austerity policies, embroiling the country in a constitutional nosedive – but to be able to give the impression of administrative competence while presiding over one disaster after another.

In the US, on the other hand, the essential qualifications are money and support for the security state. That is why Trump continually talks up his mythical billions while never missing a chance to push his authoritarian vision for society. While Clinton “won” her first debate with him, the key question of the presidential election remained unacknowledged: the profound disenchantment of the public with the political system. Her message was directed at those who think the system is fundamentally sound and only needs modifying, while Trump appeals to those who think the whole thing should be blown up.

The left’s role is specific to the conditions in each particular country. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Momentum are taking political struggle outside of the party machine and into the communities. While the official Labour party conference last week resulted in the right keeping control of the party’s inner workings through overturning Corbyn’s majority on the National Executive Committee, Momentum held a vibrant alternate event, The World Transformed, at a nearby venue. It was able to maintain and expand its organization after Corbyn’s election as party leader, thanks to the master tacticians in the Parliamentary party who gifted Momentum a popular issue to mobilize around by renewing their challenge to Corbyn’s leadership.

Many of his supporters are from a new generation of “networked, horizontal, democratic, globalist and liberal young professionals,” writes Paul Mason, “who regard [the far left], largely, as oddities. When the man in charge of crowdfunding the Momentum fringe event approached me for help, I asked what had brought him into this. He’d studied social movements at university, he said, and spent five years in banking.”

The Independent’s Ashley Cowburn contrasted official Labour with Momentum’s activists: “One evening, back at the gloomy official conference, I am asked by a Labour MP: ‘How is it over there in cloud cuckoo land with the rainbows and unicorns?’ However, 28-year-old Emma Rees, a former primary school teacher and one of Momentum’s national organisers, dismisses the comment … ‘It discredits the very real experiences that lots of people are living through and I don’t think it’s rainbows and unicorns to actually want to discuss how we can do things better – how we can structure society so that it benefits more than just the privileged few. And I actually think that’s the founding principles of the Labour Party and movement, is to empower ordinary people and the decisions that affect their day-to-day lives’.”

It’s a straightforward message of empowerment and commitment to work towards a better society – no wonder Labour MPs think it a fantasy. Another Momentum supporter, Michael Segalov, explains: “Labour conference may have been consumed by party infighting, factional posturing, and endless debate of internal rules,” but at The World Transformed, “Sessions on phone banking, crowdfunding, community organising and planning were peppered throughout the long weekend, a clear sign that this new, invigorated membership is interested in more than rhetoric and backslapping.”

The situation is not so clear for Bernie Sanders’ supporters in the US. The presidential nomination process allowed a brief democratic moment around his campaign; now that Clinton has won the nomination and Sanders’ backing, the Democratic party establishment has shut down public participation in policy-making.

The dilemma of how to sustain the campaign organizationally has led to a conflict between Sanders’ professional political staff and his volunteers, who were responsible for the success of his fundraising.

Sanders introduced the promised independent organization designed to continue the fight for left policies, “Our Revolution,” through a national webcast. It sought to harness the campaign’s energy into support for candidates with a progressive platform in down-ballot elections. However, Our Revolution is to be structured as a 501(c)(4), in other words a legal entity geared to fundraising, not one able to interface directly with local political campaigns. This decision was taken apparently without consulting the volunteers who were the backbone of Sanders’ campaign.

According to the volunteer-run site Berniecrats.net, 210 downballot primary election candidates—a figure that includes local, state and congressional bids—were “Berniecrats,” meaning they endorsed Bernie Sanders and a similar progressive platform. Roughly half claimed victory. Since the primary season began on March 1, Berniecrats have won 238 of 379 races. Sanders told The Nation that “Our Revolution candidates have already won a lot of primaries. In Massachusetts, with the support of Our Revolution, a young attorney, a very progressive guy, beat a long-term incumbent. In Rhode Island, the majority leader in the House got knocked off.”

But Our Revolution is uncomfortably like MoveOn, a top-down organization sending out emails asking for donations. The difference is that potential donors are asked to contribute directly to the local candidates. While Our Revolution may develop other forms of political organization, the techniques that were successful in an electoral campaign are not the same as those needed to work with grassroots movements around the country that can change the political climate. Internet technology alone doesn’t build a movement – human interaction is the key to long-term change.

In fact, a number of leading Sanders’ volunteers resigned because of the decision to form a (c)(4) entity. Claire Sandberg, the former digital organizing director for the primary campaign, explained that this legal structure had already prevented them from doing effective organizing for candidates like Tim Canova, who stood in the primary against Debbie Wasserman Schulz; they were unable to coordinate phone campaigning with his campaign or mobilize Bernie supporters to participate in his field operation.

John Atcheson comments in Common Dreams, “Under its current framework, Our Revolution denies people that direct sense of agency, and is less transparent than it could be.  There is an explicit ‘trust me, we’ll do the right thing’ that is exercised by an intermediary. The appeal is based on the promise to support ‘progressives’ – an abstraction – rather than the specific list of policies Bernie offered.”

The challenge for the left in both countries is how to connect with the mass movement. In the US, millions of Latino and African Americans will be voting against Trump; in the UK, the left needs to reconnect with disaffected Brexit voters without compromising with racism. The ideological confusion on the left means that Sanders’ supporters are splintered, most probably voting for Clinton but some for third parties like the Greens.

November’s elections will show how the public responds to “Berniecrat” candidates at local and state level. The danger is that without a national caucus within the Democratic party they will be absorbed into the system without making headway on more progressive policies. For now, it looks like opportunities are greater for the left in the UK.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Brexit, Britain, British elections, British Labour party, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, latino americans, political analysis, Uncategorized

Why Voting to Stop Trump Is the Only Choice in 2016


After July’s conventions that anointed Hillary Clinton as Democratic presidential candidate and transformed the Republicans into the Archie Bunker party, the left is engaged in heated discussions about its orientation to November’s election.

Jill Stein of the Green party claimed that voting for her party was “saying no to the lesser evil and yes to the greater good.” This may sound good as a slogan, but it makes voting an individual moral choice, replicating the reduction of society to a collection of individuals that is the hallmark of a neoliberal, consumer-choice world.

Is there a mass movement today that is motivated by the progressive policies of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein? While there is a pervasive populist sentiment that has a distorted reflection in the Republican and Democratic parties, political anti-corporatism is concentrated among white liberals. What is certainly going on is an awakening of minorities to their social strength, and at this historical moment among Native, African and Latino Americans there is an overwhelming hostility to a potential Trump presidency. The left is in danger of isolating itself from this movement if it insists on its moral purity.

Electoral activity is no more than a strategic choice in the course of building a wider movement.  In this specific instance, while voting for the Greens in a state like Massachusetts will not affect the overall result, in a state like Michigan it could be crucial. The first-past-the-post electoral system limits the number of viable parties to two, making a vote for the Greens a symbolic gesture at best, and a spoiler at worst.

There are practical effects from voting, as Noam Chomsky points out, whether or not it offends someone’s individual conscience. He challenges the assumption “that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences … The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.” He recalls the ultra-left faction of the peace movement minimizing the dangers of a Nixon presidency in 1968, resulting in “six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left.”

A Trump presidency has a high probability of inflicting much greater suffering on marginalized and already oppressed populations than a Clinton administration, he considers; it would even strengthen the elite within the Democratic party because “far right victories not only impose terrible suffering on the most vulnerable segments of society but also function as a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment center, which, now in opposition can posture as the ‘reasonable’ alternative.” As far as the “lesser evil” argument goes, he says “this sort of cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing.”

Stein would argue that voting Green is a step in the creation of an independent third party, or as Socialist Alternative suggests, a “new mass party of the 99 percent.” But the history of the US shows that for an independent party to be established, it has first of all to be based on a real movement within society, closely connected with that movement, not outside of it. Socialist Alternative’s activities at the Democratic convention were directed at a political minority, organizing a highly visible walkout and encouraging Sanders supporters who came with them to join the Greens. They may have a limited success with a number of them, but the majority of Sanderistas at the DNC intend to stay within the party and not leave the field open to the right.

Members of the Sanders delegations at the DNC told In These Times: “Most delegates weren’t Bernie-or-Bust. We all understand that, ultimately, Trump needs to be defeated, and that—especially in swing states—you need to support Clinton.”  “Bernie’s not the ceiling of what we can achieve in the Democratic Party. He’s the floor … In the coming years there’s a lot of space for us to fight, both within and outside the Democratic Party. I don’t think all political change is going to happen in the Democratic Party. It’s just one field of battle.” “I think the Democratic Party is a battleground. You can either play on it to win, or you can abandon it to the enemy. And I would rather play on it to win.”

Sanders was the figurehead of a political movement that was oriented to restoring the New Deal philosophy of earlier Democratic administrations. Likewise Trump is the figurehead of a white backlash against the growing status of minorities while their own economic prospects slump. Both express an anti-establishment sentiment in society, but in different partisan ways.  Trump’s supporters are going to vote for him no matter what he may say. That is because their vote is not based on rational choice but on desperation – the major parties have ignored the plight of the working class in the deindustrialized Rust Belt and Trump is the only one speaking to them – and that could be a key issue in the mid-West.

Conservative author J.D. Vance explained: “What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by.  Heroin addiction is rampant.  In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes.  The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a ‘stepdad’ only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit … And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops. … Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.”

The Democratic strategy after their convention is to turn to disaffected middle-class Republicans rather than try to win over the white working class. But its plight is not something that can be written off as a political manifestation of right-wing extremism that can be countered by a left policy, as Stein does. There is a real social crisis here that requires the agency of the oppressed themselves to resolve. A radical, progressive agenda imposed from outside without any meaningful means of achieving it is not going to impress these people because they have been patronized and ignored for so long.

This movement is one driven by economic collapse and complete loss of confidence in the ruling elite. Widespread police abuse legitimized by the “broken windows” and “zero-tolerance” philosophies has undermined state legitimacy, and Black and Hispanic communities have begun to defend themselves; white workers are being written off and this is driving them into Trump’s arms. Clinton is certainly not the answer to these problems, but it will be infinitely easier to campaign on them under her presidency than under Trump’s. He will empower the police and security forces to do more than put protesters on trial: he will arm them to imprison and assassinate his critics.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, latino americans, populism, Uncategorized